Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Now

In solidarity with those who feel voiceless, sick and tired of prejudice of any kind, sick and tired of sickness and separation and quarantine and hopelessnesss, we pray and pray. Now is not the time to hide from one another. It is a time to be vigilant and come together, for our King beckons us and leads us forth into battle. On one side are those forces within us and without that sow division, discord, and isolation. On the other side there are all those forces that nurture attachment, connection, and solidarity. And that’s where Jesus wants us to be, that’s where his kingdom is going to happen. It’s a showdown between cynics and optimists, a war between “rippers and weavers,” (David Brooks) that runs down the middle of every heart. With Jesus we need to be weavers, creating a tapestry of loving relatedness and bonds of trust. We must keep connecting and reconnecting and deferring to one another out of love.

God is with us, God among us; God like us in everything but our accusing and self-absorption. His sovereignty is realized in his littleness, his nothingness, his emptying out, his self-forgetful love, his sin-bearing. He only wants to be loved, and he desperately wants us to go and do likewise; our promise to compassion and mercy one another is our pledge of devotion to him. Life in the kingdom does not tolerate individuals, anybody on the fringes. His mercy always gathers, binds up, heals, and connects; it never excludes. That is his truth. God always wants to wash our feet and entice us to go and do likewise. And so, we live and rejoice in the “hard truth and ridiculous grace” (Tauren Wells) that abusers and abused, demagogues and peacemakers, well-heeled, solid citizens and weary refugees and migrants, black and white and brown and all colors and hues, bigots and oppressors and terrorists along with their victims, the sick and the healthy-for-now are all being invited with us to have a change of heart and come together for the feast in the kingdom. 
Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Our Thirst

The ultimate thirst of men cries out for the Holy Spirit. He, and he alone, is, at a profound level, the fresh water without which there is no life. In the image of a spring, of the water that irrigates and transforms a desert, that man meets like a secret promise, the mystery of the Spirit becomes visible in an ineffable fashion that no rational meditation can encompass. In man’s thirst, and in his being refreshed by water, is portrayed that infinite, far more radical thirst that can be quenched by no other water… The Holy Spirit is eternally, of his very nature, God’s gift, God as wholly self-giving, God as sharing himself, as gift. In that sense, the inner reason and basis for creation and salvation history do after all lie in this quality of being of the Holy Spirit, as donum and datum… He is the content of Christian prayer. He is the only gift worthy of God: as God, God gives nothing other than God; he gives himself and thereby everything. That is why properly Christian prayer, again, does not beg for just anything; rather, it begs for the gift of God that is God himself, begs for him.

Text from Pope Benedict XVI

Monday, June 1, 2020

Mary is Mother of the Church

Today we celebrate Mary as Mother of the Church. Saint Luke relates that the Apostles and disciples returned to the upper room and devoted themselves to prayer, waiting for the promise of the Father, the Holy Spirit. They were to be clothed with power from on high so that they could witness to the marvel of the Risen Lord. And Luke says that Mary, the mother of the Lord, was there. Mary’s role in preparing the disciples for the coming of the Spirit was very important indeed, for in her the disciples could see that what they were waiting and praying for– to be clothed with the Spirit– had already happened in Mary. The promise of the Father had already clothed her with power, the power that Jesus had: patient endurance; loving forgiveness; unshakable peace and joy– all fruits of the Spirit’s presence. The disciples realized that being clothed with the Spirit meant becoming something like Mary.

Mary’s role in preparing for the Spirit goes deeper. She was like an open window given by the Spirit to gaze into the very life of the Trinity. That is because like Jesus she had accomplished the work the Father had given her to do. Her one desire, like that of her Son, was to receive from the Father with grateful acceptance whatever he gave her; and once received, to give back to the Father her whole self in order to glorify him. Gazing through this window which is Mary, the disciples could glimpse the eternal life to which the Spirit was calling them.  

The Scriptures say that the disciples “devoted themselves to the teaching of the Apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” It was in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus that the two disciples first recognized the Risen Lord. Perhaps something similar happened in the upper room. During the breaking of the bread, the disciples not only recognized that the Lord Jesus was present; but they recognized in Mary what the Spirit intended them to become – one spirit with the Lord; “a chosen race, a royal priesthood”…a people set apart to declare the marvelous works of the one who had brought them out of darkness into his own marvelous light. In the breaking of the bread the Spirit would bring forth the Church, patterned on Mary. 
Reflection by Father Vincent.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

On Pentecost Sunday


Joe had applied for a new job in a large corporation in GB. He had gone through various stages of the application process and now was standing before the committee who had the final word. The first words out of his mouth after he heard the chairman’s decision were: “I couldn’t possibly do that! Who do you think I am?” The chairman had just offered him, not the job he had applied for but a job two paygrades above it with tremendous responsibilities - the senior position in the whole division. He would be running an entire dept with a huge budget. Joe didn’t feel he was up to it and that it was beyond his capabilities. The chairman thought otherwise and assured Joe of all the help and support he would need.

“I couldn’t possibly do that!” Now let’s turn to today’s gospel. These words of Joe stuck in my mind as I read it. You could say from the corporate conference room to the upper room. Jesus says to the disciples: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…” Now for a little eisegesis, my reading into the text which I personally find helpful in appropriating it. I can imagine the disciples, on a much more profound level than Joe, saying something like: “Are you crazy, Jesus! Who do you think we are? We’re only human and only God can forgive sins. “Who do you think we are?” And it would be understandable that they would feel like this. Who in their right mind would take on the task of forgiving sins! And Jesus responds: “You are right. Only God can forgive sins. And God is going to forgive sins through you.” Now back to the gospel text itself. Jesus is convinced that the disciples can do this. In fact, he is not asking them if they would like to do it. He’s giving them a command. They are to go and do it. But, and this is essential, this command comes only after the crucial promise and gift: “…he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit. Jesus’ own spirit. The Spirit which is the Father’s special gift to God’s people. And the point of receiving the Holy Spirit is clear and obvious. The gift of the Spirit is not essentially to give the disciples, then and now, new ‘spiritual experiences’, although there may be plenty of these as we heard about in the first reading from Acts. Nor is the gift of the Spirit meant to set disciples apart from ordinary people,  as some sort of holier than thou hierarchical club. Though, to be sure, disciples are called to live rich, full and deep lives of devotion and dedication modelled on Jesus’ own life. But the point of the transmission of the Holy Spirit is so that disciples, through the ages, can do in and for the world what Jesus had been doing in Israel. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

I would like to offer a cautionary note here in the form of a question. How does the unique achievement of Jesus (and it is unique; there is only one Jesus of Nazareth, a first century Palestinian Jew). How does his unique reality and achievement (life, death and resurrection) affect all other times and places and peoples? For it is meant to have an effect always and everywhere. What Jesus was doing in and for Israel is meant to continue throughout the ages. Jesus was clear: “As the Father has sent me so I am sending you.” As the Risen Jesus says in Mark’s gospel: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

The unique achievement of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is not meant to be limited to one particular time and place. It is a reality, a process really, that the disciples in Jesus’ time and in our own time are meant to be a part of and continue. And this process is not a matter of replication or duplication. Baptism and life in the Spirit isn’t a matter of replicating or duplicating multiple “Jesuses” throughout the ages. There was only one Jesus of Nazareth who lived, died and rose again. And the Holy Spirit is not some sort of spiritual toner that produces identical copies of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, rather, enables us in our own unique, unrepeatable lives and times to continue the reality of Jesus’ incarnation and redemption. We believers are really meant to continue the incarnation and redemptive work of Jesus. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

There are lots of images of the Holy Spirit that have been used throughout the tradition: wind, fire, tongue, water, dove are the most scripturally based ones. However, I came across one recently that I find particularly poignant and meaningful. It was a reference to the Holy Spirit as God’s Midwife. A midwife is someone who assists a woman giving birth to a child. The Holy Spirit can be seen as God’s assistance to us as we give birth to new things in our lives; in the concrete, sometimes challenging, circumstances of our lives today. As we continue to enflesh Jesus Christ in and for our world. 

What I find particularly helpful about this image of God’s Midwife is the respect it shows to our personal participation in the process. A midwife doesn’t replace the mother. A midwife doesn’t do it for her but rather sits facing the mother offering encouragement, advice and sometimes pressing on the mother’s abdomen to encourage the child to come out. In the same way, the Spirit of God does not replace us. Our initiative, our insight, our effort are all necessary. The Spirit doesn’t do it for us. But the Spirit sits with us encouraging us, advising us and sometimes exerting some pressure. We have to do the work. We have to be the one who pushes. But most importantly we need to trust the Spirit’s presence. Trust that Jesus’ words are really addressed to us; no matter how inadequate or unprepared we may feel: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” An encouraging, advising and sometimes pressuring presence that always and unfailingly leads to new and transformed life.  
Abbot Damian's homily for this Pentecost.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Interiority


The Holy Spirit brings the living, transfigured Christ into humanity.  Thus does Christian interiority arise.  This does not mean that one becomes profound in a mental sense:  it means the opposite of squandering oneself in what is exterior.  It implies that there is a depth in man in which Christ lives.  It is possible to live with this Christ.  He can become the very content of life.  Then the New Man comes into being.  The old man is the one he was before, but now the New Man is sown in him.  How this happens cannot be described.  It can be that certain persons experience this reality so powerfully that they can no longer feel at home in the world.  This is how monasticism arose.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from  a Sermon by Romano Guardini.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

To the Holy Spirit

As we continue our novena to the Holy Spirit, we share the following poem by Edith Stein:

Who are you, sweet light, that fills me
And illumines the darkness of my heart?
You lead me like a mother’s hand,
And should you let go of me,
I would not know how to take another step.
You are the space
That embraces my being and buries it in yourself.
Away from you it sinks into the abyss
Of nothingness, from which you raised it to the light.
You, nearer to me than I to myself
And more interior than my most interior
And still impalpable and intangible
And beyond any name:
Holy Spirit eternal love!

Are you not the sweet manna
That from the Son’s heart
Overflows into my heart,
The food of angels and the blessed?
He who raised himself from death to life,
He has also awakened me to new life
From the sleep of death.
And he gives me new life from day to day,
And at some time his fullness is to stream through me,
Life of your life indeed, you yourself:
Holy Spirit eternal life!

Are you the ray
That flashes down from the eternal Judge’s throne
And breaks into the night of the soul
That had never known itself?
Mercifully relentlessly
It penetrates hidden folds.
Alarmed at seeing itself,
The self makes space for holy fear,
The beginning of that wisdom
That comes from on high
And anchors us firmly in the heights,
Your action,
That creates us anew:
Holy Spirit ray that penetrates everything!

Are you the spirit’s fullness and the power
By which the Lamb releases the seal
Of God’s eternal decree?
Driven by you
The messengers of judgement ride through the world
And separate with a sharp sword
The kingdom of light from the kingdom of night.
Then heaven becomes new and new the earth,
And all finds its proper place
Through your breath:
Holy Spirit victorious power!

Are you the master who builds the eternal cathedral,
Which towers from the earth through the heavens?
Animated by you, the columns are raised high
And stand immovably firm.
Marked with the eternal name of God,
They stretch up to the light,
Bearing the dome,
Which crowns the holy cathedral,
Your work that encircles the world:
Holy Spirit God’s molding hand!

Are you the one who created the unclouded mirror
Next to the Almighty’s throne,
Like a crystal sea,
In which Divinity lovingly looks at itself?
You bend over the fairest work of your creation,
And radiantly your own gaze
Is illumined in return.
And of all creatures the pure beauty
Is joined in one in the dear form
Of the Virgin, your immaculate bride:
Holy Spirit Creator of all!

Are you the sweet song of love
And of holy awe
That eternally resounds around the triune throne,
That weds in itself the clear chimes of each and every being?
The harmony,
That joins together the members to the Head,
In which each one
Finds the mysterious meaning of his being blessed
And joyously surges forth,
Freely dissolved in your surging:
Holy Spirit eternal jubilation!


Prayer-poem to the Holy Spirit by St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein 1891-1942).

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Here

We continue to hold fast to the Lord's promise, for only love and surrender to him can quiet our questioning. Jesus is taking us to himself. And as we hold fast to him in faith, all is still deep, dark mystery. As monks this where we live - in this land of desire, somehow suspended between heaven and earth, getting glimpses of heavenly communion, noticing his kind and loving presence but more often left hanging, because our desire often outstrips our understanding. We are left suspended, longing for more, but often losing our way. So we live, in this in-between place, poised in faith between a promised heavenly homeland and our present earthly existence; puzzled and sometimes impatient because earthly existence even for all its ambiguities is at least tangible and real. And here we wait in joyful hope, doing what is ordinary, for this is exactly where Jesus promises to find us.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.