Promises, promises
by Stuart A. Wilson-Smith, CSP
July 30, 2014

A few of us made a quick trip down to DC this weekend to attend the Mass of first profession for the 2013-14 Paulist novice class. Four of them began in the novitiate, four of them made promises! It was a joyful day, complete with cake and ice cream. The four lads each had some serious family in town as well. If the lights in the chapel weren’t working, the camera flashes would have done the job with equal effectiveness.

I had to leave shortly after dinner. While I was packing a few things in my room, the framed recipe card on my bookshelf stole my gaze. This isn’t any recipe card. On it are the words of my first promise – the promise that every Paulist makes. The first line had a special impact when the four novices said it at Mass. First they said their names alone:  “I, Daniel Arthur, Michael Cruickshank, Paolo Puccini, Evan Cummings …” but then their voices came together harmoniously, “… believe that I am called to serve the Church as a member of the Missionary Society of St. Paul the Apostle …” It was a strikingly beautiful contrast.

Indeed, the Paulist promise has an almost song-ish quality to it when said together. The voices reverberate in the chapel, each of them sounding deeper and more forceful than they might on their own. Likewise, from time to time I am reminded that I am stronger, more effective, when the voice I use to proclaim the Gospel is joined with that of my brothers.

When I was looking at the words on my recipe card I could recall how it felt that day two years ago to say those promises aloud. When we said “I” together, we were really saying “we.” “We” promise to live an evangelical life. “We” promise to follow the example of St. Paul, and the charism of Father Hecker. The idea, then, is not only to live an evangelical life, but to live an evangelical life in communal support from those around you trying to do the same thing. Making Paulist promises is, as the previous Paulist president, Father Michael McGarry, put it on the day of my classes’ promises, “an intensification of our baptismal promises.” Again, this is the case not only because we follow Jesus and preach him to all who will hear, but because we preach him and live his command of love, together.

When I think of the four men that have just joined us my evangelical voice feels even stronger than it did before. It is my honor to join my voice with theirs, and a privilege to witness the gifts each of them bring blossom within the Paulist community and Christ’s Church. Never mind the length of time for which we make the promise: a year, a lifetime; we, and hopefully the Church, are the better for having made it at all.

Young men: consider the Paulists. We need your voice, too.