Sunday, September 25, 2016

Poor Lazarus

A rich man is hosting a dinner party. He and a few special friends are reclining on cushions, as platters of exquisitely prepared food are presented for his approval. Servers bow and exit; courses follow one after the other. There’s silly chit-chat, bursts of laughter and a good deal of belching. The food is, after all, very good; and there’s lots of it. Now huddled at the door is that beggar Lazarus, he’s always in the neighborhood; he’s no trouble at all; doesn’t ever bother anyone. It’s just that he’s infected and covered with sores. Sometimes they get so itchy; he even lets dogs lick them. (And everyone knows where a dog’s tongue has been.) Keep your distance, Lazarus is definitely unclean. If anyone dares come close enough, Lazarus always extends an open hand waiting for something; truth be told he’d be happy to have a few scraps left on the floor after one of these banquets; but no one’s offered. 

How the poor who followed Jesus must have loved hearing him tell this story of divine reversal, relishing the ending as the rich man gets his, burning in Hades while poor Lazarus has at last found rest, nestled in Abraham’s bosom at the heavenly banquet. You get what you deserve after all; no one fools God. Right?

Still it’s clear that both characters in the parable are very poor and wounded, Lazarus through neglect and misfortune, but the rich man is poorest of all, blinded in his complacency. Poor Lazarus has nothing more to lose. But the rich man is frightened to death; he’s got everything to lose. And he’s so clueless that even from Hades he’s trying to get people to do things for him. Now we know that oppressors usually oppress because they themselves have been oppressed, abused, ignored. Perhaps not that long ago, the rich man in our parable was himself poor and ignored, and he knows he doesn’t want that life again. Keep it all out there, so it’s not near me, so I won’t see it; leave the pain at the door begging to be let in. But the invitation is to be brave enough to break the cycle by refusing to do unto others what’s been done to me. My poverty, the sores and wounds of my own misfortunes are not places to live; licking my wounds or lashing out because of them will lead me nowhere.

God’s heart is always riven by the cry of the poor. Jesus invites us to have hearts like God’s heart. He invites us not to be afraid to embrace the poor.

James Tissot, Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Saint Pio

Padre Pio spent much of his priestly life under suspicion, false accusation, endless investigations and censure. His reputation for holiness came not from the fact that he bore the wounds of Christ's Passion but because of his docility, humility and obedience. He was able to make the words of Saint Paul his own, "I have been crucified with Christ....I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me."

Meditation by Father Emmanuel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

His Power

Talk of Satan or the Evil Spirit may make us uncomfortable, frightened or superstitious. But it is simply part of the reality of our life in Christ. For if we desire God, deeply desire Christ Jesus, desire to belong to him, to choose his way, then simple logic will tell us that the unclean spirit, the Evil One will want the opposite. The Evil Spirit wants to distract and confuse us and draw us away from the Lord, drown out his tender voice and invitation. But Jesus’ power in us through the Spirit is utterly opposed to the power of the demonic; his voice, his promise is steady, lovingly tender even as he challenges us to be more.

Photograph by Charles O'Connor of sunset over the Abbey church.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Truly Wise

Faced with dismissal for mismanaging his master's resources, and without further options, truly with his back to the wall, the wily steward in today's Gospel concocts a strategy for survival that will actually further deplete his master's resources. And amazingly his master commends him. He so values this steward's resiliency and effective action that he praises him for acting shrewdly- literally in the original Greek of the text- "for being wise."  

Jesus has told us that those who hear his words and put them into action are like wise people who build their houses on solid rock. Winds, rain, floods will not be able to make that house fall. Those who are wise survive the storms.

The "take-away" from today's Gospel story is clear. When the followers of Jesus realize that their spiritual life is threatened, they must act wisely and decisively in order to survive. The dishonest manager has been wiser in his deviousness, than we often are in our own inner lives. We must remember that we are "children of light" whose consciousness has been illumined by the Good News of Jesus. We must prioritize and make certain that everything in our lives conforms to the Gospel. We must choose rightly and so act lovingly, justly, wisely.

Photo by Brother Brian. Excerpts inspired by Father Aquinas' Sunday homily.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our Lady of Sorrows

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

If ever you have silently accompanied someone you loved as they lay sick and dying, and had to trust that your quiet presence alone would somehow suffice, then you understand the power and beauty of Mary's presence with Jesus our Lord in his agony and death. Loving presence means everything. 

As he died on the cross, Jesus gave us his Mother to be our Mother as well. Now and always she lovingly accompanies us in all that we suffer.

Weeping Madonna (detail), Dieric Bouts. Netherlandish,  ca. 1415 – 1475.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Exultation of the Cross

Hail precious cross that received honor and beauty from the limbs of the Lord! Hail cross that was hallowed by the body of Christ and by his limbs was enriched as with pearls.

Tradition credits Constantine's mother Saint Helena with the discovery in Jerusalem of the buried cross of Jesus during the second quarter of the 4th century. Immediately this relic became the object of tender devotion and lavish ritual. The pilgrim nun Egeria has left us a vivid account of the ritual for exposition and the procession to venerate the cross on Good Friday in Jerusalem. The true cross became a nexus of holiness, sacred presence and healing. Egeria even writes of one overzealous devotee caught biting off a chunk of the cross during the liturgy! 

The Fathers of the Church loved to find in every reference to wood or tree, staff, rod or ark in the Hebrew Scriptures a type of the cross of Christ. Cyril of Jerusalem will declare, "Life ever comes from wood!" Paulinus of Nola chants to the cross, "You have become for us a ladder for us to mount to heaven." And in an anonymous Easter homily inspired by Hippolytus, the tree of the cross reverses the destruction wrought by the tree of Eden: 

For me this tree is a plant of eternal health. I feed on it; by its roots I am rooted; by its branches I spread myself; I rejoice in its dew; the rustling of its leaves invigorates me...I freely enjoy its fruits which were destined for me from the beginning. It is my food when I am hungry, a fountain for me when I am thirsty; it is my clothing because its leaves are the spirit of life. 

We exalt in the Cross of Christ because this Cross is a throne upon which Love has triumphed and transformed our pain, misery, human fragility and foolishness into a royal gateway to life and hope and immortality. Death no longer has the last word in our lives, the Love of the wounded and risen Lord Jesus does. 

The Crucifixion, ca. 1315–20. Attributed to Ugolino da Siena  (Italian, Siena, active by 1317–died ?1339/49). Tempera on wood, gold ground. Overall with engaged frame, 25 1/4 x 18 5/8 ". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

God's Incomprehensibility

I know many things but I do not know how to explain them. I know that God is everywhere and I know that he is everywhere in his whole being. But I do not know how he is everywhere. I know that he is eternal and has no beginning. But I do not know how. My reason fails to grasp how it is possible for an essence to exist when that essence has receives its existence neither from itself nor from another. I know that he begot the Son. But I do not know how. I know that the Spirit is from him. But I do not know how the Spirit is from him….His judgments are inscrutable, his ways are unsearchable, his peace surpasses all understanding, his gift is indescribable, what God has prepared for those who love him has not entered into the heart of man, his greatness has no bound, his understanding is infinite. Are all these incomprehensible while only God himself can be comprehended? What excessive madness would it be to say that. Saint John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that a God who is comprehensible would not be God at all but something of our own creation. God is Other but closer to us than we can know. God is always near, always drawing nearer to us and always beyond. Our response is wonder; we bow down and worship.

Photograph of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel.