Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Twenty-sixth Sunday

 

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?

Well. 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.

Undoubtedly in this cautionary tale, Jesus is reminding us that our actions have consequences. And something about the parable is surely meant to make us uncomfortable. Still, I don’t think Jesus is telling us this story just to scare us into being good. You know, “Be nice, or there’ll be hell to pay.” There’s something more. 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.

Now Jesus loved to eat and drink with rich tax collectors and sinners, a few of whom probably wore more than their share of purple and fine linen. He loved hanging out with them, for he knew they were poorer than they realized. Later Jesus himself will end up poor and suffering like Lazarus, crucified outside the gate, covered with “sores”- the cruel wounds of his passion. Like the rich man he too will be dressed in purple and fine linen, but it will be the purple cloak of his mockery and the linen of his shroud. Jesus is the Key to understanding this story. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Through his poverty we have become rich.

In his dying and rising Jesus, himself has crossed the “great chasm” between the place of comfort where Lazarus now finds rest and the place of anguish where the rich man is in torment. He is the Bridge. Ever disguised in the distressing face of the poor and most abandoned, Jesus is at the same time the wounded Healer, who has come back from the dead, not as avenger to zap us in the end if we mess up but as “forgiving victim,” his power expressed in the weakness of love. His own experience as the victim of his passion is not a place where he gets stuck. He neither curses his oppressors nor relishes his victimhood. He trusts that he is the beloved of the Father and so he is free to suffer because he knows it does not define him.* Now risen, he shows us that there is nothing to fear because like him we are at once poor, very wounded sinners and richly blest and most beloved.

We need not be afraid to welcome the poor one. For Lazarus isn’t the smelly, diseased other; he is me. Not other, but me. Compassion involves growth in this insight, this ease and desire to welcome the scary other and stop running away from him. Compassion leads us to union and intimacy with my very wounded inner self, the wounded neighbor who no longer needs to be avoided, and ultimately with the truly “other Other,” God most high who in Christ has become God most low, most lowly, wounded, vulnerable and always at the door, though we are so liable to miss him or close the door in his face.

How can we help but think of Saint Francis, who realizes one day that he must embrace that leper, the one from whom he had fled as the most repugnant of outcasts. Small wonder that soon after this embrace, Francis will hide in a cave and cry his heart out, grieving over all his sins. In the leper he has come too close to the trauma of bitter self-recognition, the place, the reality to be avoided at all costs, has become the scene of encounter, healing, and freedom. Jesus was right there, of all places, in his “distressing disguise.”

A drowsy complacency is always a temptation. How will I notice the poor one very near that I may find repugnant? Who is the ignored or forgotten outcast in my world, in this monastery, in my heart, in my mirror- the part of me that won’t go away, always begging to be let in even though I want to keep it at a safe distance?

We do not have to run away anymore. Christ Jesus is here at the door waiting to be let in, the sore-covered beggar, bearing the wounds of his own cruel passion, the wounds of our many passions. Each morning in the Eucharist the Divine Beggar invites us to Holy Communion with him. As we consume him, we beg that his merciful compassion may consume us more and more.

James Tissot, Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door. * See James Alison, Broken Hearts and New Creations. Homily by one of our monks.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

 

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me...From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 

We remember today Padre Pio, visibly, painfully marked by the wounds of Jesus. This was his unique privilege.  

In a far less dramatic but authentic way, each one of us bears our own wounds, unseen but very real. And our wounds too are Jesus’ wounds. The Lord would not have it otherwise. We too are marked with him, for him; hidden in his wounded Body.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Dishonest?

    After the three magnificent parables on forgiveness in Chapter 15 of Luke that were proclaimed last Sunday, we begin a new chapter on the use and abuse of money.  The prophet Amos gets us off to a rousing start in the first reading with his denunciation of the moneyed elite of the very wealthy northern Kingdom of Israel around the year 750 BC.  This date makes the prophetic utterance of  Amos the oldest written book of prophecy in the Bible.  It is sadly the case that the first thing the prophets had to address was our idolatry of money at the cost of our respect for God and the poor who are sold into slavery in payment of paltry debts which had the value of a pair of sandals—the poor were considered just as worthless. Why do horrible injustices like this one, which is so ancient, sound so contemporary?   Amos calls us to pay attention- "Hear this, you who trample upon the needy!”  Likewise, this deep listening to the word of God in the parables is recommended by Our Lord and the Evangelist in the Gospel of Luke.  Today we are to do that deep listening to the Parable of the Dishonest Steward.

        A lot of ink has been spilled by commentators trying to figure out if the Steward of today's gospel in forgiving the debts of his master's borrowers was doing something dishonest or not.

Yet, from the get-go, we know that this wily steward is squandering his master's money and, once he is caught, is not trying to convince anyone of his innocence.  Just as last week we heard that the prodigal son squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation, so now today this cunning steward has been squandering his master's money probably in a similar way. His only goal after being caught is to prevent himself from going from a very remunerative and cushy position in the great estate of his master to ending up a day laborer or, worse, a begger. The bottom line about him is in the eighth verse of chapter 16 where the Lord of the estate commends the “dishonest steward” for his shrewdness in feathering his own nest by abusing the position the Lord had not yet publicly taken from him to reduce without permission the debts owed to his Lord and master.   The steward is dishonest from beginning to end in the parable.  The parable is written in such a way that it is difficult to tell if the “Lord” who ironically commends the dishonest steward at the end is the rich man of the parable or the Lord Jesus who is telling the parable. That is, perhaps, intended.

        A hint as to what might be going on is found earlier in Luke where the Son of Man, Jesus, compares himself to a thief who breaks into a house at an unexpected hour.  Well, perhaps it is that just as Jesus can refer to himself as a thief for the sake of making a point, so can Jesus refer to us his followers as “dishonest stewards.”  Misusing his not-yet-taken-away position, the dishonest steward imitated the largesse of his great Lord and forgave substantial amounts of the indebtedness of all so that he, the dishonest steward,  would be welcome in their homes after his dismissal.  Tongue in cheek, Jesus commends this cunning snake, this man of the world, to us the children of light who mutatis mutandis are likewise called to imitate the largesse of our great Lord and Father by forgiving the sins of everyone in debt to us—as the Lucan version of the Lord's prayer clearly obliges us to do--"Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone in debt to us”.  It is only in being stewards of forgiveness—whether of financial debts or sins--that we can come to understand, to know the Father's forgiveness of our own sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Our Lord and Savior who has ascended to his heavenly home draws us by the power of the Spirit to ascend with him to what will be OUR heavenly home as well.

       The Second Reading today tells us that God our Savior wills everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Our Lord in his love cannot wait for us to come under the roof of his heavenly home. Now, in this Eucharist,  though we might feel unworthy, though we might even feel DISHONEST,  he desires to be with us intimately under our roof to forgive us and heal our souls—to love us unconditionally.  He knocks at our door.  Let us turn, open to him, and welcome him. He says to us: "Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write PAID IN FULL.  Now, let's have a banquet!

Photograph by Brother Daniel. Today's homily by Father Luke.

 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Mother of Sorrows

 

As the Church celebrates today's memorial in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows, we recall images of Our Lady collapsing in Saint John's arms as Jesus breathes His last on the cross. Perhaps she was braver than that. 

As Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, she empathizes with Jesus' wounded Body even now. Even now Mary, given by Jesus to all his beloved disciples as their Mother, feels with us all the aches and sorrows of our hearts and minds and bodies. She is Mother of Compassion, with us always; His sorrows, her sorrows, and our sorrows are one. Let us go to her.

Painting by Safet Zec,

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Triumph of the Cross

Jesus reminds Nicodemus this morning that the Son of Man must be lifted up. For in that hour as the Son abandons himself to the Father’s will upon the cross, Death’s stranglehold will be destroyed. Anguish will become exaltation; the cross a gateway, the new ark, our only hope.

We glory in the cross of Christ Jesus our Lord, for by his cross Christ Jesus has trampled down Death by death. What would it be like to really believe that confusion is grace, that through our sins, and failures, what we have done or failed to do and deeply regret, we can find Mercy waiting for us?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Saint John Chrysostom

 

But what do I care about heaven, when I myself have become heaven?

On his feast day, we recall these beautiful words of Saint John Chrysostom reminding us of the great dignity that is ours as God's own children and of the responsibility that such dignity requires. His words become intensely real when we receive the Blessed Sacrament each morning during Mass. And we try to be mindful of this reality all day long.
Two monks are pictured in an etching by Margaret Walters, (1924 - 1971), completed for Saint Joseph's Abbey.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Excess of Divine Compassion

Please listen with me to this snippet of a conversation: “If you hadn’t given him all that money, he would still be here with me. How could you have done it? His full share of the inheritance? You’ve become the laughingstock of the entire district. God only knows where he’s gone to. And still every day you sit on that front porch waiting, watching. I see you there, and it breaks my heart.” “Don’t worry, my dear, he’ll be back. He’s a good boy. He asked me, and I gave him what he wanted; I couldn’t hold him. But I know him. Trust me, he’ll be back.” And so, he waits; he will not stop loving, longing, and waiting, always waiting.

You see a younger son has gone off with his share - in Hebrew law, one-third of the estate. It’s an incredibly hefty sum of money. And asking for his inheritance while his father’s still alive amounts to wishing him dead. And then, Jesus tells us, he wastes it all. What’s worse, there’s a famine. And he hires himself out to a Gentile to feed pigs, pigs; so now he’s even lost his religious identity. No faithful Jew would ever conceive of such a thing. And all the while he is so hungry. And finally, the Gospel says, “he comes to himself,” as if to say he has been delusional, out of touch with reality.

Desperation and hunger bring him back to his senses. And he remembers, “Even my father’s hired hands have more than enough. I’m going home.” This change of heart is surely fired by the remembrance of how much he has always been loved. He hurries home, all the while rehearsing a speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I don’t deserve to be called a son…I do not deserve anything.”

From afar his father sees him and runs out, panting, heedless of his dignity; he embraces and kisses this lost son, burying his dear old face in the boy’s unwashed neck. And a speech, so carefully rehearsed, is interrupted. His father won’t hear of it, he wants only to love and forgive, and he responds with unheard-of, even ridiculous extravagance. This son wanted only to be treated as a hired hand but will instead be indulged as most honored one – with ring, robe, sandals, and a banquet in his honor – loved back to life as the son he never ever ceased to be, for he was thought to be dead but is alive.

Soon the older son, the reliable guy is back from work. Ever since his brother left, he’s been nursing a grudge as big as Gibraltar. He wipes his brow on the back of his sleeve, wipes his sweaty face and neck with his bandana. And he listens. Music and dancing? And what, our best fatted calf? Clearly, his father has gone overboard, he’s making a fool of himself, and he doesn’t want any part of it. “Look, I’ve been slaving for you for years; you never even gave me a kid goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” The father might have answered, “You never asked me. I’ll give you anything you want. Just ask. You are always with me.” And then finally, this most beautiful phrase: “All that is mine is yours.” The phrase sums up the entire parable. “All that is mine is yours.”

This is what my Father and your Father is like, Jesus tells us in this parable. And even more, the parable amounts to Jesus’ self-disclosure, “an extension of the mystery of his own person,” Donald Senior for he himself is the foolish, immeasurable extravagant excess of divine compassion enfleshed for us. In him, through him, the Father says categorically: “All that is mine is yours.” In Jesus, everything we want; everything is given to us.

And this is, in fact, what the ministry of Jesus discloses. Water is changed into galloons and gallons of wine, so that a party may continue for days; a boy’s few loaves are transformed into a banquet of bread for five thousand with heaps of leftovers. Numberless desperate individuals are healed by his touch, even the dead raised up at his word.

And this excess of God’s self-gift to us in Christ will be most perfectly revealed in his passion. There, Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son loses himself in love for our sake. On the cross, he squanders himself for us even unto the shedding of his last drop of blood in order to rescue us. But he will rise and return to his Father and take us with him. We must rejoice for we were lost and have been found by God in Christ forever. God wastes himself for us, God has given himself away to us.

Worthiness does not figure in the calculus of such love. In Jesus, the reign of God has arrived; the day of salvation is here and now. And this lavish gift of God in Christ begs only our openness to receive its exuberant abundance. It's all there for us, our work then is ceaseless receptivity and availability along with the responsibility to become conduits for this incessant overflow of divine compassion.

Which one of us is worthy of such ceaseless loving regard? It’s never been about worthiness. Still, the extravagance of mercy and compassion that always awaits us is worth the self-examination that will lead us to desperation and real hunger, as we realize we have nothing to recommend us but our need for God which is a faint echo of his burning desire to fill us with himself. At best this will not lead us to complacency but hearts rent with the desire to go and do likewise, to give and not to count the cost, to pump out mercy wherever we can in this place and trust its overflow to the entire world in hidden mystery.

I think of so many friends and family who have left the Church out of boredom, anger, or because they think the institution hypocritical, too legalistic, and ultimately irrelevant. And we must admit that we deserve to be critiqued. But still, my heart breaks because a flood, a banquet of joy, the fullness of consolation, and even exhilarating challenge is waiting for them, Jesus the Lord of love waiting and waiting for them. And in the end, aren’t we all like those two sons learning that we are loved more than we can know or imagine?

Here again, at this Table, we will consume this humility and immeasurable love that God is. Let us hold back nothing of ourselves for ourselves, so that he who gives himself so completely to us may receive us entirely in return. adapted from Saint Francis of Assisi For here and now in this Holy Eucharist, the wounded and risen Christ rushes toward us to bring us home and buries his most beautiful face in the dirty crook of our neck. The broken Bread we share is itself his kiss and divine embrace. Let us go to him.

Today's homily by one of our monks, with insights from Gerhard Lofhink and Pope Benedict XVI.