Friday, March 27, 2020

His Wounded Side

Hail, the wound in the side
of our Savior,
from which rushed a spring
and fount of blood.
Medicine for the sorrow
of those who suffer;
And healing for
the wound of sin and error.
Hail, the wound in the side,
wide and fruitful.
Wash and cleanse thoroughly
all our sins...
in the sight of God
may our hearts rejoice. Amen.


Crucifixion by Diego Velasquesz, 1632. Lines from Ave vulnus lateris by Walter Erle (c.1515-1581). 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Annunciation

When Father Joseph was novicemaster, before he met a candidate, he would ask the vocation director, “Has he fallen in love?” In other words, does he have a heart that’s available and ready for love, a heart that will know what it’s like to be in love? Surely Mary’s heart was ready; her heart formed by the faithful love of family, the love she spoke each day in the shema – promising to love Lord, her God, with all her heart, with her whole being, and with all her strength. More recently her virgin heart has opened with tender love for Joseph. Today we celebrate this heart ready for love. We call this event Annunciation, but truly it is not an announcement at all but a request, better, a proposal. For we are witness in this scene to the pursuit of love, the God of love seeking love in response. And as God’s total outpouring is met by the loving openness of Mary, two loves are made one. Heaven is wedded to earth, and Mary becomes the Ark of this new Covenant. When you love, you are always waiting to hear what the beloved wants. You learn the habit of finding yourself by giving yourself away; trusting that the one you love will not manipulate or abandon you.  This self-gift and mutual exchange are the secret we all were made for.  We celebrate today because together Mary and God found this secret together.

But how? Mary is after all so small and insignificant, the unlikeliest – young, poor, without status, an unmarried girl from a backwater. She has nothing and is nothing at all; a real nobody, but she is perfect for God. God is hooked, it’s his golden opportunity. God has been searching relentlessly, and he is ravished by the delicate beauty of Mary of Nazareth. She is after all the perfect match for a God who is always captivated by what is humble and small, ordinary. God loses himself in her; God can’t help himself; for he always goes to the lowest place. We can well imagine God’s joy at his discovery; for his relationship with Mary will allow God to do what he has long dreamed of doing. Here at last is one who will not hide from him like Adam in the underbrush. In Mary God at last finds one who is not embarrassed at her nothingness, the stuff that can scare us half to death.[1] She lets it be; she has nothing to hide.

And amazingly, Mary’s smallness is room enough for God’s immensity. God’s condescension is so loving and tender that Mary’s humanness is not obliterated but exquisitely enhanced.[2] There in the mystery of her emptiness and nothingness, God finds ample space for his total outpouring, which becomes forever a possibility for us as well through her perfect availability to God’s self-gift. Mary as Godbearer, Theotokos, allows us to be Godbearers with her.

Through Mary, in Mary God can finally be what he could not be without her. She says how, she says yes, why not. And so, she becomes accomplice to God’s loving subterfuge. Through her God can sneak through enemy lines[3], like a warrior eager to conquer sin and death. God will depend on our cooperation too in order to break the bonds of sin and selfishness.

Still we may want to insist like Peter, “Leave me Lord, I am no match for you.” But God is not going anywhere. He continues to pursue us, as he pursued Mary, noticing us, lost in our isolation and confusion especially now. He rushes toward us to take us to himself. Adam may hide, Peter protest; Mary simply welcomes the mystery of God’s advance. She lets God have his way; she invites us with her to understand our emptiness and confusion as God’s opportunity. Too much has been happening. We all can feel it in our gut. But in this time of our intense vulnerability, when we can't pretend or hide, God in Christ may have more unrestricted access to our hearts than ever. If we understand the reality of his loving pursuit, we will see it’s God’s golden opportunity. He takes our flesh to be with us and mercy us. He is here begging at the low door of our humanity, longing to make his home in our empty, fearful hearts as he did in Mary’s.

God’s pursuit, his desire to communicate the depth of his love for us will be most clearly painted in the crucifixion. There we will see where God’s desire for our flesh and its liberation has led him. We are worth so much to God that he became human in order to suffer with us “in an utterly real way - in flesh and blood…in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence consolation is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love- and so the star of hope rises [4] (for us through Mary). Again, this morning she leans over and whispers to us as she did at a wedding in Cana: "Do whatever he tells you. Let him find you here in your nothingness and emptiness and fear now more than ever, for nothing is impossible for God. I know this for sure." Let us listen to her and go to him for all we need.
Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1438-47, fresco, 230 x 321 cm, Convent of San Marco, Florence.


[1] Thomas Keating, ocso
[2] See Robert Barron
[3] See Robert Barron and NT Wright.
[4] Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI.



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Joseph & David


Noting the significant relationship between King David and Saint Joseph, we explore how God works in each of them to achieve his saving will. In both cases we find a sincere desire to do God’s will, an intervention by God, and an obedient response.

Mary, Joseph’s betrothed, has been “found with child through the Holy Spirit”. Being a “just man” he tries to discern the proper course of action. The way a “just man” in the tradition of the Old Testament expressed his love of God was mainly through his love of the Law. Joseph’s experience of God then would come almost entirely through his faithful observance of the Law. The Law would have been his way of access to God and of discerning his will. He would have been well aware that according to the Torah an adulteress was to be stoned. Under Roman rule, however, capital punishment was not an option and the standard practice was divorce with a public trial. In any case Joseph thinks along much different lines. Joseph loves Mary and hesitates even to “put her to shame”, much less put her to death. But the Law, which up to now had governed every aspect of his life, suddenly becomes a burden. He attempts to be respectful both toward her and toward the Law and “divorce her quietly.”

King David proposes to build God a house, but God responds by promising to build David a house, the dimensions of which the king of Israel can scarcely imagine, a dynasty that will stretch out majestically over time and even into eternity. Saint Joseph proposes to quietly divorce his wife, and God responds through the angel, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." In both cases God intervenes and brings about a reversal.

There are important differences between David and Joseph. In David’s case, it is a matter of an ambitious plan that seems to be in accord with the divine will decided upon in consultation with a legitimate spiritual authority, the prophet Nathan, but which turns out to be based on presumption. In Joseph’s case it is a matter of a careful discernment of God’s will, with consideration of the divine Law and of the parties involved, based on the knowledge available at the time, but again a decision is made that is contrary to the divine will. In Joseph’s case, he is in the impossible situation of trying to make a difficult choice according to the standards of the Old Testament world, while, unbeknownst to him, living already in the New Testament world. The Incarnation is already underway and everything must now be centered around God’s Son. But in both these cases it is clear that God’s plans are immeasurably greater than anything they could have foreseen or imagined. David does not get to have his legacy established through his temple and massive building project, but becomes through Joseph, father of the eternal king, who rules over an everlasting kingdom, God’s own son, the very temple of God himself in the flesh.

Joseph has to make a deep renunciation of his original idea of marriage and its fruits, but gets to keep his beloved bride, and, with her, raises the very hope of Israel in his home in Nazareth. And not least of all, Joseph’s whole relationship to God is changed. He has passed over from the Old Testament to the New. His way of access to God is no longer based on the Law but on an intimately personal relationship. While not capable, obviously, of formulating a full doctrine of the Trinity, through his obedient faith Joseph has encountered God the Father in the appearance of the angel, God the Son, who has been entrusted to his paternal care, and God the Holy Spirit as the one through whom his wife has conceived. Joseph’s way to the Father is now centered on Mary and her son.

David and Joseph needed the interior freedom to hear and then obey God once his authentic will became known. This requires faith and love to be sure, but also detachment, the capacity to put all one’s powers and potential entirely at God’s disposal in order to be more and more ready to receive his grace when and as he gives it, And at the same time become more and more interiorly free, in order to respond to the grace received, that the Lord may be more and more free to act in us, as he pleases.

The more we grow in this way, the more capable we become of discerning God’s will for us, the more we are able to see the whole world around us with God’s eyes. In this way we become true sons of David and of Joseph and like Joseph we become fathers ourselves, fathers to ourselves and to one another, guardians of the Christ who dwells in each of us through the Holy Spirit, and genuine guardians of the Christ who dwells in our brother, the Christ who is always on his way to the Father, bringing us along with him to the Father.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a homily by Father Timothy.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Choosing Light

Yesterday we listened and watched as Jesus looked for the once-blind man and revealed his true identity as Son of Man - “I who speak with you am he.” Then the man gazing on the beauty of God in Christ sees and believes and instinctively bows down in worship. It’s what we all desire most ardently - to see his face, to hear his voice; for his voice is sweet, and his face is lovely.

We too have experienced his presence. We could deny it and slip back into a cozy darkness. It is always a possibility. But Jesus has come near, very near and changed everything. We have been anointed with the blood and water flowing from his wounded side; we belong to him. There is no going back. We were all once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. 

My brothers and sisters, the winter is over and past, the light is increasing now, flowers are already appearing on the earth; the voice of doves and little birds already fills the air, the day of our redemption draws nearer and nearer. Now with great desire Jesus desires that we become all light, all compassion in him. The powers of darkness are always on our tail. We desperately need him to teach us to how to keep choosing the light.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Once Blind

Many of us may fear the dark, but he had grown accustomed to the quiet isolation of what could never be changed. There was a strange peace to it, a grateful predictability that had become even comforting.  But always you had to be attentive, that was survival. Feeling for the corner of the table and knowing you were in the right place. Counting off the paces to the square; then sitting on the ground with an open hand, hoping for a coin or two. Folks pitied you; and maybe that wasn’t so bad. But there was always the murmuring. “Whose sin was it?” He’d heard it since he was a little boy; he could remember hiding under the table one day, listening to his parents whisper. “What did we do wrong? I don’t remember anything serious.” And then, “It must be his sin then.” The eerie possibility was that, without even knowing it, he himself had done something really horrible, maybe even while still in his mother’s womb. Blindness was the direct consequence of sin; everybody knew that, all decent Jews in Jesus’ day believed it. Sin leaves its mark, sin causes sickness. It had to be someone’s fault. Case closed. Dead-end.

But now Christ Jesus comes to this dead-end; he steps into the primordial darkness and says, “God won’t have it. Let there be light.” For the Light that Christ Jesus our Lord is cannot abide the darkness, the shame and isolation. And so, God’s light in Christ breaks in, breaks through to heal and make whole again. Jesus the kind Physician bends down to the ground and makes an ointment, mixing his own spittle with the dirt, the dust, the earth that we are; and so he reenacts creation. And as in the beginning, the Word is bringing new life out of the dust of the earth. Jesus who is sent by his Father to heal and redeem and relieve, now anoints with a muddy ointment and sends the man to wash in the Pool that is called “Sent” (Siloam). But it is Jesus himself who is the refreshing Pool, he the Light that recreates and reverses. And even as he confronts darkness, Jesus knows that the darkness of rejection is hanging over him, oppressive, inevitable, a great heavy weight. But he does not hold back, he moves steadfastly into it all.

And so, it is, that Sabbath or not, Jesus has to make a move. It’s what drives the Pharisees so absolutely crazy, for a real Messiah would know better. But that’s the whole point - Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath; his sovereignty is his compassion. The Sabbath is his Day.  For he is the in-breaking of God’s regenerative intimacy with us, and we see here in this story the perfect prelude to what he will accomplish on Calvary in his Hour. There he will pour himself out, the blood and water gushing from his hands and feet and from his wounded heart will drench and anoint the earth, from this sacred clay a new creation will blossom. And all of creation gone hopelessly astray will be released from the burden of sin and all darkness and shame and Satan’s constant deceptions. Things must made right again. Light will indeed conquer darkness once and for all, because God will allow Godself to be crushed by death or darkness. They will be duped and reversed, for they are no match for the light that he is. 

Photo by Charles O'Connor.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Anniversary


On 21 March 1950, the Feast of Saint Benedict, the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Lonsdale, Rhode Island was ravaged by a devastating fire. The original wing was destroyed; the church was rendered structurally unsound and would have to be demolished. The community of 140 monks was homeless.



Well before the fire the monks had been searching for a new location that would insure their solitude and economic stability, since the population in the area around the monastery had increased considerably. And by 1949 the community had purchased a large agricultural property, Alta Crest Farms in Spencer, Massachusetts. The 1950 fire merely accelerated the community's projected move. In God's providence the end of one story became the seed for a new one. As we live through the confusion and suffering of the current pandemic, we continue to trust God's providence. God's tender mercy will never be outdone.



Friday, March 20, 2020

Our Task

Our richness, then, is the poverty of having nothing, no power other than that of begging with faith. And this is a charism that are given not for ourselves alone, but to be able to bring to fulfillment the mission of the Son who is the salvation of the world...The need to safeguard or recover one’s health, which all feel in this moment, perhaps with anguish, is also a need for salvation, for the salvation that keeps our life from seeming meaningless, buffeted by waves without a goal, without the encounter with Love that is given to us in every instant to reach and eternally live with Him.

This awareness of our primary task of prayer for all must make us universally responsible for the faith we have, and the liturgical prayer with which the Church entrusts us. In this moment in which it is imposed upon the greater part of the faithful to renounce the communal Eucharist that gathers them into churches, how much should we feel responsible for the Masses that we can continue to celebrate in our monasteries, and for the prayer of the Divine Office that continues to gather us in choir! We certainly do not have this privilege because we are better than others. Perhaps it is given to us precisely because we are not, and this makes our begging more humble, poorer, more effective before the good Father of all. We should be more aware than ever that none of our prayers and liturgies are to be lived without feeling ourselves united to the whole Body of Christ that is the Church, the community of all the baptized reaching out to embrace all of mankind.

Each evening, in all Cistercian monasteries in the world, we enter the night by singing the Salve Regina. We must do this also with a thought toward the darkness that often shrouds mankind, filling it with the fear of being lost in it. In the Salve Regina we ask that, over the whole “valley of tears” of the world, and over all the “exiled children of Eve,” there shine the sweet and consoling light of the “merciful eyes” of the Queen and Mother of Mercy, so that, in every circumstance, in every night and peril, the gaze of Mary will show us Jesus, show us that Jesus is present, that he comforts us, that he heals us and saves us. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a recent letter of Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.