Saturday, September 26, 2020

Always With Us


In blue-green air & water 

God you have come back for us, 

to our fiberglass boat.

You have come back for us, & I’m afraid.

(But you never left.)

Great sadness at harms.

But nothing that comes now, after,

can be like before.

Even when the icebergs are gone, 

and the millions of suns 

have burnt themselves out of your arms,

your arms of burnt air,

you are with us, 

whoever we are then.

Lines from the poem, Icebergs, Ilulissat, by Jean Valentine.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Lectio Divina

Cultivating mindfulness of God throughout the day is the goal of each monk. Our Constitutions tell us: 

Careful lectio divina greatly strengthens the brothers' faith in God. This excellent monastic practice, by which God's Word is heard and pondered, is a source of prayer and a school of contemplation, where the monk speaks heart to heart with God. For this reason, the brothers are to devote a fitting amount of time each day to such reading....In a spirit of compunction and intense desire, monks devote themselves frequently to prayer. While dwelling on earth, their minds are occupied with heavenly things, desiring eternal life with all spiritual longing.

Photographs by Father Emmanuel & Brother Brian.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Intimates


The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him 
but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers 
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Luke 8

Certainly Jesus is not insulting his Mother or his cousins in today's Gospel. Indeed Mary's attentiveness to God's invitation at the Annunciation is the essence of her divine maternity and the enfleshment of the Word. She it is who first of all heard the word of God and acted upon it. In and through her, God is truly with us. In today's Gospel Jesus assures all attentive believers that they are truly members of his own family, members of the household of God. As we treasure the Word, treasure his words to us, we are intimates of the the Son of Mary.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Go Into My Vineyard

This morning we have from Jesus yet another parable on the kingdom. In it we have a landowner who goes out at various times during the day to contract workers to work in his vineyard. The first group he hires at the first hour of the day after agreeing with them for the usual daily wage. The last group he hires toward the end of the day and they work only an hour. At the end of the day each of the groups receive their pay beginning with the last. When the first group sees that the last group receives the usual daily wage, they assume they will receive more. However, to their consternation, their pay is the same, the usual daily wage. 

Those who were hired at the first hour grumbled against the landowner because to their mind he had violated the just order. The landowner takes one of the complainers aside and reminds him of the terms of the contract they had agreed upon, the usual daily wage. Therefore, the landowner had not done anything wrong but justly and honestly fulfilled the contract. He is in no way obligated to pay him more than they had agreed upon. The issue then is whether or not it was just to pay the workers hired at the end of the day the same pay as the first. For me the most straightforward and satisfying response I found was in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, which said that he was “free to [pay them the full daily wage] but he was not obligated to do it.” Justice requires that those hired at the eleventh hour “are owed wages commensurate with their work, which means they were only owed a small fraction of the usual payment. But justice is not violated if the landowner, having met his contractual obligations, chooses to be generous with some who are undeserving of more money than that.”

The parable clearly highlights God’s extravagant divine generosity and cautions us against envy. Envy, as we remember, is different from jealousy. When we are jealous, we desire to attain or possess what another person has. Envy is the sin of being upset at another’s good fortune. We can find ourselves falling into envy on the material level, at another person’s wealth, possessions, job, successes, but it is particularly troubling when it strikes us on the level of spiritual gifts. The brother, in whose gifts I ought to rejoice and thank God, first of all for his own sake, but also because his gifts not only do not take anything away from me but actually benefit me, is perceived by me as a threat. We wind up disturbed interiorly and setting ourselves against God and our neighbor.

How do we avoid envy and get out of its throes once we’ve fallen into its grasp? We are led out by the same thing that triggered it, that is, the divine justice and goodness. So that is what I’d like to focus on this morning, God’s justice and extravagant goodness.

Like we just saw in the parable, there is in an inner worldly or creaturely justice or righteousness that God respects. It belongs to the order of his creation, even in its fallen condition. On the other hand, as good and just in himself, God infinitely transcends our notions of what is good and just. We only know what they are just as we only know him because he has sent his only Son to make him known. As John says in his prologue: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (Joh 1:18 RSV)

When Jesus speaks of his Father, as he does in this passage, he always speaks out of his own experience.  If Jesus speaks of God as at one and same time sovereignly and freely righteous and the source of extravagant superabundant unmerited grace, this is because this is the God he knows.

To explore this a bit, I’d like to leave the world of Matthew to immerse ourselves in the world of John, at the point where we find Jesus at prayer among his disciples at the end of the Farewell Discourses, just before they are about to depart, and Jesus is betrayed, the disciples flee, and the passion begins.

Towards the very end of the prayer, Jesus prays, “O Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you; and these know that you have sent me. I have made known them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Right here, when his hour has arrived, when the commission he and his Father have agreed upon from all eternity is about to reach its fulfillment in the Cross, he addresses his Father as righteous. The Hebrew word behind this word signifies ‘right conduct in faithfulness’. Both Father and Son will go forward to the Cross exercising right conduct in faithfulness. They are true to another, trust one another completely; each faithfully follows through on their arranged plan to bring the world back to God through the Cross and resurrection. A closely related term signifies ‘right which comes into effect as salvation’, and often occurs in contexts of care for the poor and oppressed. According to Gerhard von Rad, it contains a sense of urgency, it expresses the right which must at all costs be put into force on earth, the right that also has the power with God to have its way. In their mutual love, the Father and the Son have bound themselves to one another to bring about this righteousness on earth despite all human resistance and obstacles. Here is the obedience that Jesus must live at its most demanding and unyielding. In our parable, God’s righteousness convicts envy and defends his right to dispense his grace as he sees fit.

We can fill out this righteousness if we add another term which Jesus uses frequently in this prayer -  ‘glory’. Jesus willingly undergoes this obedient self-surrender to the way of the Cross so that he may glorify the Father, that is, honor the Father and make him known. “Father, he prays, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” In this we see the whole of the motivation of Jesus’ existence, which is to seek only the glory of the Father, which takes the form of carrying out the mission, the commandment or commission the Father has entrusted to him. Totally renouncing his own will, all acting in own power, all speaking in his own authority, for Jesus, everything is ordered around making the Father known. For the sake of the Father’s glory he has become poor. And from this poverty he makes the humble request to the Father to glorify him.

On his side, the Father has put all of his authority and power behind glorifying the Son, honoring him and making him known. Here, in the unreserved self-emptying love of the whole of the godhead poured out on him without measure, we find Jesus’ experience of the Father’s freely given superabundant grace which he then bestows on his creatures.

When we turn from the book of the experience of Jesus to the book of our own experience, we see a great and unbreachable chasm arise between them and may cry out like St. Bernard and St. Paul, “O God, who is like you!” Having gazed upon the justice and glory of trinitarian love we call out for God’s mercy and are filled with hope. For this radiant love is not something they have held on to for themselves but has been handed on to the Church through the Spirit, that through the gift of the Spirit we may become one spirit with them. Just as the Father and the Son have glorified one another by establishing the divine righteousness on earth in the whole of creation, so do they wish to glorify one another now by rooting out all evil from our souls, each striving to make of ourselves a pure gift to the other, from Son to Father and from Father to Son, whole and fully restored.

It is from this position of humble self-awareness within the vision of God’s goodness that the folly of a vice like envy becomes apparent. How foolish to alienate ourselves from God and our neighbor on account of the gifts God has given to another. Forgetting ourselves, we can begin the walk back with God toward union with him and our brother. We know, and above all God knows, that this is a process. Freedom does not come in an instant.  The thing is, to be open to receive God’s offer of his mercy, and to take up his commandment to love one another as he has loved us, to be prepared to bend down and wash our brother’s feet, and to undergo the Cross on his behalf. We may still find ourselves victims of envy and other vices, but they weaken their hold on us, because our attention is elsewhere, someone else has a hold on us, someone else who has already conquered our sin and drawn us into his life.  

Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Timothy.  

How to Say Yes

We’ve all heard of the “terrible twos” And probably you can remember a child you knew, a nephew or niece when at around two years old they learned the power of no. “No.” It's embarrassing to admit, but I don't think I ever outgrew the grip of that no. I think my terrible twos morphed into the terrible twenties, forties and now worst of all now the terrible sixties. Deep inside there’s a repeating sound bite that often goes off automatically when I’m asked to do something. It goes like this: “Not yet. When I’m good and ready. I’ll think about it. Maybe. I’ll see.” Or simply, “No, I won’t.” Or “No one’s gonna tell me what to do.”

This morning that hauntingly beautiful phrase from St. Paul cuts through all the babble: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (That is the more literal translation of “attitude” in today's second reading.) Have Jesus’ beautiful mind in you. Beautiful to ponder, but seemingly impossible. Perhaps we feel too sharply the reproach of our reality, our own no. Too often I have grumbled, too quickly said, “No,” out of fear, because of what I may have to lose, what hardship may be involved or simply because I’ll to do it my way. After all, where might my yes lead?

And so, today’s Gospel may seem to be a great allowance, perhaps we're off the hook. After all, if the notorious sinners can get into the Kingdom, certainly there’s a crack in the doorway for me, right? Like the first son, I’m willing to change my mind, perhaps not in a hurry, but eventually. The two groups of people whom Jesus presents as examples for us this morning were among the most despised members of Jewish society. Tax collectors took money from Jews for an alien power, and prostitutes sold their favors most often to Roman soldiers. But even the tax collectors and prostitutes, despised for their collaboration with the Romans, are admirable because of their openness the message of Jesus and his cousin John.* Jesus praises the readiness of these outsiders to change their minds and hearts - they’re broken enough, they know they're outcasts and sinners. They have no illusions about themselves and so are open to Jesus' invitation to reform. They know they’re a mess, they know it all too well. They’ve got nothing to lose; they’ve lost it all already. So, what am I afraid to lose?

Jesus tells there were two sons, neither have the ideal response, but one had the good sense to step up. And most importantly the Liturgy this morning offers us the reality of a third Son -Jesus, the Son who was always yes. “For in him every one of God’s promises is a yes.” And only through him we can say our yes to all God wants for us. Again we hear that hauntingly beautiful phrase: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The beautiful mind of Jesus. There is one thing on his mind, filling his mind- love, which is self-forgetful, gives itself away. Love makes Jesus defenseless, he will do anything at all for the Father who loves him, and so for all of us- those whom the Father has given to him.

And in the freedom of his self-emptying love even unto the cross, Jesus becomes utterly powerless, a slave, obedient unto death. Love makes Jesus’ yes unqualified, instinctive. (We remember a candidate a few years ago. He had donated a kidney to his dad; it saved his life. I said to him, “What a beautiful thing you did.” Without missing a beat, he responded, “Father, how could I not do it? It was a no-brainer.”) Automatic. A no-brainer. Love triumphs over fear, second thoughts. And so it with Jesus. He lowers himself. And his cross becomes the marriage bed where he can give over everything for his bride - all of us. Bleeding, broken to pieces on the cross, there we see the beauty and breadth of Jesus’ unqualified yes to all that the Father asks of him. He could dare to do so because he knows himself beloved Son.

Perhaps we might imagine all the things Jesus could have spoken from the cross but did not: “This is so unfair. I feel so misunderstood. How could you have done this to me?” And so, on Good Friday we put the Reproaches on his lips: “My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me. I gave you manna, I gave you water in the desert...” Perhaps we need to hear these words, so that we can plumb the horror of his passion. But Jesus will have none of it. He says only that he is thirsty, he forgives his torturers, gives us his mother, promises Paradise to a brigand, cries out to his Father in desperation, and finally gives over his spirit willingly on our behalf.

He never ever reproaches us. Instead he empties himself. God in Christ gives himself away to death and so reverses everything, trampling down death by death. Death is foiled. Our freedom is assured. Love triumphs. The beautiful mind of Christ triumphs over the primordial no of death, the no of our resistant matter, the no of our flesh that fears and cringes. We need not fear any longer the defenselessness of love. Nothing will be taken from us; in fact, everything is given to us in Christ. We have only to be faithful to our greatest discipline as monks: to believe ourselves God’s beloved ones, even as we know the shabby possibilities of our broken, wounded selves. This deep knowledge alone can change everything. Then we too can empty ourselves in self-forgetful love.

God has fallen madly in love with what he created. Jesus the most obedient Son has come down to the vineyard of our humanity; our flesh is God’s flesh forever. Christ Jesus is God’s never-ending yes to us. Our yes to God, no matter how late, or reluctant or fainthearted is only possible for us through Christ Jesus. And at this altar the mind of Christ dreams of a way to enable us always to have his mind, even his heart always within us - he gives us his own Body and Blood as food and drink, medicine and lasting presence.

*Daniel Harrington.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Reflection by one of the monks. 

 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Geese and Monks

Signaling the end of the summer, great flocks of Canadian geese have returned to rest and and feed in the Abbey fields on their way south. We are told that since early Roman times, geese have been used in literature and art as symbols of vigilance and divine providence. An ancient legend recounts that geese on the Capitoline hill honked their warning and saved Rome from the invasion of the Gauls. As we keep watch in vigils and prayer, the geese are our September companions.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Both And

In the Ratio one of the important documents of our Order, we read that "a humble docility born of faith, hope and love" will make the newcomer to the monastery "instinctively open to both the solitary and communal dimensions of Cistercian life." Indeed, our life is one of alternation and rhythm - a life of social warmth and interchange and deep interiority. Seeking God in all things, in this life entirely devoted to contemplation means that whatever we do, wherever we are, we are available to the overtures of Christ Jesus, to his drawing near and seeking refuge in our wounded hearts.