Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Call

Let us pause a moment on this experience of meeting Christ who calls us to remain with Him. Each one of God’s calls is an initiative of His love. He is the one who always takes the initiative. He calls you. God calls to life, He calls to faith, and He calls to a particular state in life: “I want you here”. God’s first call is to life, through which He makes us persons; it is an individual call because God does not make things in series. Then God calls us to faith and to become part of His family as children of God. Lastly, God calls us to a particular state in life... They are different ways of realizing God’s design that He has for each one of us that is always a design of love. But God calls always. And the greatest joy for every believer is to respond to that call, offering one’s entire being to the service of God and the brothers and sisters.

...God’s call is always love: we need to try to discover the love behind each call, and it should be responded to only with love. This is the language: the response to a call that comes out of love, only love. At the beginning there is the encounter with Jesus who speaks to us of His Father, He makes His love known to us. And then the spontaneous desire will arise even in us to communicate it to the people that we love: “I met Love”, “I met the Messiah”, “I met Jesus”, “I found the meaning of my life. I found God.”

Photo by Br. Brian. Text from a recent homily by Pope Francis.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Discomforted

As we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we are discomforted by the hard truth that racial injustice is not a thing of the past. Pope Francis reminds us in Fratelli tutti  “a readiness to discard others finds expression in vicious attitudes that we thought long past, such as racism, which retreats underground only to keep reemerging. Instances of racism continue to shame us, for they show that our supposed social progress is not as real or definitive as we think.” We promise to accompany the excluded, all those whose dignity has been violated.  

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Speak, Lord.

Today’s readings are clearly ordered around the theme of the call. In the first reading we heard the charming story of the call of the young Samuel and in the Gospel the call of the first disciples. As you remember, Samuel’s mother Hannah had prayed at the temple before the Lord, in bitter tears over the humiliation of her barrenness, that she be granted a child, and when the Lord granted her desire, in gratitude, after the child was weaned, she brought the child to the Temple to be dedicated to the Lord, as she had promised in her prayer. Eli was responsible for his upbringing, education, and initiation into a life of service to the Lord.

Eli and John the Baptist are both entrusted with the important task of preparing future servants of God for their particular mission. Both are models for us because they recognize that a divine call is a very delicate thing. It is a mystery that comes entirely from the divine initiative and is perceived by the person in the secret depths of the heart. Both Eli and John manage not to interfere in any way with the divine initiative, yet on the other hand, they don’t step away from the responsibility of giving assistance.

Eli, we see, acts with much wisdom. When he suspects that it is the voice of God that Samuel is hearing, he simply advises him in being wholly available to the Lord with an open, peaceful heart. Go back to sleep, he says, and if you are called reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

With John it is similar. In today’s passage, he says just one thing. “Behold, the Lamb of God.” Everything else is left to the disciples and the Lord. This one phrase sums up John’s whole life’s meaning and purpose: to point people to the Lord. He did this by calling them to “make straight the way of the Lord” that is, restore the conditions of the original covenant relationship with God, where God can communicate himself freely and everything is light and fire. It is there that the heart of God will disclose itself, in the appearance of his beloved Son. It seems to me it would have been the same with his disciples, the aim would have been to bring them to  the purity of the original covenant, insofar as this is possible in our fallen condition, where they can respond freely to God’s free self-disclosure when it comes, in a state of watchful attentiveness, free of all calculation, setting up no conditions, presuming nothing, in pure love.

When Samuel believes that it is Eli who is calling him, he runs to him. Part of what is touching in this scene is Samuel’s spontaneous, natural, unaffected, and unguarded response. He believes he hears his guardian’s voice, rouses himself immediately from his slumber, and runs to him and says, “Here I am, you called me.” It is the response of a child, of one of the ‘little ones’ Jesus held up for our example.  It is the response God is looking for. It is the straightforward, simple, trusting gift of self that John no doubt hopes to instill in his disciples. It is the response Jesus is looking for from John’s disciples.

After the third time, once Samuel had received Eli’s instructions and gone back to sleep, the text says that Lord came to Samuel’s bed and stood there, calling out to Samuel by name as before. Clearly, the intent is to portray a great paternal care and intimacy on the part of the Lord toward Samuel. God appears first as a voice that for Samuel is indistinguishable from a human voice. Next, he is said to be standing next to his bed. This is not an angel sent by God but God himself. Obviously, this is metaphoric language; nevertheless, remaining God, he all but becomes flesh. Yet he comes in the darkness of night, in the realm between sleep and wakefulness, where all is unseen and remains in mystery. By God’s own initiative the borders between the divine and the human are as thin as possible.  Samuel responds to the Lord with the same simple, unaffected spontaneous simplicity he had shown before.

In the Gospel, the two disciples in their own way show the same trusting gift of self that Samuel did. On the basis of the Baptist’s witness, they follow Jesus. There is nothing naïve, imprudent, or headlong about this. God can ask for this kind of response because once he makes himself known, we are immediately caught up to him, and he imprints us with his seal. At once a claim has been made on us and calls for a response. It cannot be ignored or undone. A choice must be made. The simpler, purer, more open, and genuine the interior space is that this encounter finds, the more spontaneous and generous the response.

The disciples ask the Lord, “where are you staying.” Jesus answers, Come and you will see.” When the disciples accept his invitation, they begin the process of being introduced into his world, which is primarily his life with the Father in the Spirit, the deepest thing he wants to share. In the farewell discourses, Jesus makes much of this staying, abiding, or remaining with him in the Father. He tells them that although he is going away, he is preparing a place for them in the Father’s house, where there are many rooms; that where he is they may be also.

Abide in me, he tells them, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me… Abide in my love, he says. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” His commandment is that they are to love one another, even as he has loved them. By this, all will know that they are his disciples if they have love for one another.

For the apostles, this loving one another will take a particular shape: carrying out their mission as apostolic witnesses. For Samuel, it meant carrying out his prophetic calling. In neither case will it be easy. Abiding in God will have its cost. To close, I want to look at Samuel’s first taste of this abiding. After Samuel says, “Speak, for your servant is listening,” the Lord tells him his intention to condemn the house of Eli once and for all on account of the blasphemous behavior of Eli’s sons Hophni and Phineas. Thus Samuel is entrusted with his first prophetic act. It is a moment of crisis for him. When morning comes, Samuel is afraid to tell Eli the vision. But Eli insists and Samuel tells him everything, holding nothing back, just as Eli has requested of him. By this act, Samuel manages to maintain the same simplicity he had before, and his union with God and his neighbor is not only maintained but strengthened. In him, the way of the Lord has been kept straight. He continues to abide with the Lord in the light and fire at the heart of the covenant.

The text continues:  "Samuel grew up, and the Lord was with him, not permitting any word of his to go unfulfilled. Thus all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba came to know that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, manifesting himself to Samuel at Shiloh through his word. Samuel's word spread throughout Israel.   

For us, this abiding takes the shape of our monastic conversatio. Through it the Lord is constantly calling us to abide with him, to remain with him where his light and fire can transform us and make our lives fruitful and where we experience a share in the joy he has with the Father. This journey does not always go smoothly, as was the case with Jesus’ first disciples. But the Lord, who loved to the end those who were his own, through his cross and resurrection established the means to right the relationship no matter badly or how often his followers have gone astray. Fortunately for us, he is always ready to begin again. So let us take up his invitation to “come and see” by continuing our celebration of this Eucharist.

Photograph by Brother Brian. This morning's homily by Father Timothy.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Alleluia with Father Patrick

Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; and when he had said this he breathed his last.

All I can say is, Alleluia.” These are the words I mentioned in Chapter that Fr. Patrick shared with Gertrude, our night nurse. It’s a moving statement, a summing up of his life. “All I can say is Alleluia.” And in today’s gospel, we have Our Lord summing up his life in the words: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Today’s liturgy is an opportunity to learn the similarities between these two statements and to learn from both Jesus and Fr. Patrick what it means to commend our spirit into the Father’s hands with an Alleluia refrain.

I’ve heard that among Fr. Patrick’s many contributions to the construction of our monastery, one stands out—his work on the bell tower of our church—and I can believe it. He had the strength and drive to do masonry and roofing work, climbing ladders, and scaffolding to reach the peak of the bell tower. As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of an illustration I had seen long ago which depicted little Trappists climbing up and down Jacob’s ladder and angels flying around trying to keep them from falling off. One of the Trappists had slipped off the ladder and was hanging upside down with his foot barely caught on one of the rungs. Two angels were trying desperately to keep his foot in place and pulling and tugging to get him back on the ladder. Monastic life can be like that sometimes. God allows our life to be turned upside down. He wants to shake out all the loose change in our pockets, all the lizards, all the candy, and whatever else we may have shoved into those pockets over the years. In other words, he wants to lighten our load, and hanging us upside down is a very good way to do it. Maybe this is what Fr. Patrick experienced when God allowed his world to be turned upside down with the onset of Parkinson’s disease and the accompanying dementia. But that was God’s way of preparing Fr. Patrick for the commendation of his spirit to the Father.

Today’s gospel also speaks of those helpers who assisted Jesus in his final hours: Joseph of Arimathea who took courage and asked for the body of Jesus; and the women who accompanied him from Galilee and now brought spices to the tomb to anoint his body. Fr. Patrick had his angels, too. In fact, maybe it was these helpers who helped him make his final commendation to God. Let me share with you what Gertrude recorded of their late-night conversation.

“Sometime before Fr. Patrick began hospice care, I had a conversation with him while he was having his favorite midnight snack, a bowl of cereal. Normally Fr. Patrick was very quiet, but sometimes he would speak quite freely, and this was one of those occasions."

“Fr. Patrick shared that he felt the time had come. When I asked what he meant, he replied that he had come to the end of the line, that is, his life on earth. He was not surprised and said that he was almost ready. He had had the most severe pain in his stomach days before—horrific, wicked pain all morning—but he prayed to God, and the pain passed. He said he never thought it would be so hard. When I asked what would be so hard, he gave a hearty laugh and again said the end of his life – it was a BIG challenge. He had not expected it to be this hard, but he was very happy; and all he could say was ‘Alleluia.’ Then as he finished his Cheerios, he added one more thing: 'Thank all the girls for me.' "

My brothers and sisters, Fr. Patrick said that he was almost ready to go. It is gratifying to know that he was well prepared to commend his spirit to the Father. May we, too, be ready to commend ourselves into the hands of our heavenly Father and add with Fr. Patrick the Alleluia refrain.

Dom Vincent's homily for Father Patrick's funeral, Wednesday, 13 January 2020.

 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Poor

Among the homeless poor whose lives mingle with the litter of the streets, a nuisance to many in their grime and smell and soliciting eye, not all are deranged and lunatic. Surely some are true souls of despair who have embraced a life of forsakenness to enclose and silence within themselves a mistake now long past. And if these latter have a stifled passion we do not suspect, and a recurring thought that another life was possible with a different choice, in some cases the occupied faces hurrying past them may share more kinship than they realize with their own crossroad when they could have chosen differently...‘The poor you have always with you’. And yet it is rather easy to look at the derelict poor and consider self-inflicted the scars from alcohol and drugs that mar their faces – easy to harbor disdain for their indecency. But then surely we sometimes miss a lonely man’s eyes looking up in a wish that his face will not provoke this time a glance of revulsion. And perhaps the same look of these eyes was also in the eyes of Jesus as he carried the cross to Calvary.

Lines from Contemplative Provocations, by Father Donald Haggerty.


Sunday, January 10, 2021

Two Backs

Not long ago a friend showed us this image of the central tapestry of the Baptism of Christ by John Nava which hangs in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. More recently we came upon this heart-rending image of a runaway slave named Peter.

The story is told that one day in the early spring of 1863, Peter removed the shroud of rags that partially concealed his back to reveal a vast network of scars for a crowd of soldiers and medics who looked on. The wounds from the whip of an irate overseer also lashed the sensibilities of these observers and others who were soon able to see Peter’s back in a photograph that was mass-produced on a wallet-sized carte de visiteSee Boston Globe, 2016.

Soon the back of Jesus, whom we see baptized this morning in the Jordan River by his cousin John, will be brutally lashed like the back of the slave Peter. One day we hope to embrace the risen Lord Jesus who, we know, still bears the wounds of his passion. Perhaps we will feel his scars.

Where is the wounded one in our midst even now? How shall embrace him?

John & Jesus

John the Baptist seems already to have had many disciples among the children of Israel, especially among the ’anawim, the simple believers who day and night begged for mercy and forgiveness from God. Implementing Isaiah, John demands that people prepare the way of the coming Lord and strive for conversion of heart in view of the remission of sins. But what precisely is the meaning of this too familiar phrase, the way of the Lord? God never asks that we build a road in front of us as do over-confident pioneers, and then walk along it in order to go to encounter him.

In fact, God asks the exact opposite: our assigned task is to clear the road which he is making, on which he is to reach us as he comes towards us, seeking us. The road is not ours but the Lord’s, and the initiative, the intention, and the project are all his! This road, in fact, is nothing other than the Incarnation of the eternal Word, an exclusively Trinitarian endeavor. As in the Parable of the Ten Virgins, the Bridegroom makes his own way toward us. Here is your God! Here comes with power the Lord God, who rules by his strong arm. In our eventual encounter with Christ, he will gather us up in his arms like lambs and carry us in his bosom, and the glorious tryst results solely from Christ’s search for each one of us, and not from our own initiative. God traces a way of mercy and forgiveness toward us, and we can meet him along that way only if we first acknowledge our sin. Our humble confession of sin is the “toll”, so to speak, that we must pay for transiting on the way that belongs to the Lord.

The Lord always precedes us, anticipates us. It is not for nothing that Jesus said: I am the way. Once John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, he then immediately disappears from the scene, but not before uttering these weighty words: One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. Such symbolic stooping and loosening of thongs express John’s peculiar ministry as the forerunner. He is affirming that he is not worthy to serve Jesus even as his slave. John’s whole task and mission is to set the stage for another, Jesus. John doesn’t even dare to pronounce the holy name of Jesus, and yet (O wonder!) he identifies Jesus as his own disciple. Pointing to Jesus, John calls him the one coming after me, which is biblical language for the one following me as a disciple. What an inconceivable paradox, grounded in the Incarnate Word’s humility and his ardent desire to share our sinful condition! But the clairvoyant John discerns perfectly that this one following him is, in fact, mightier than he. This topsy-turvy inversion of the conventional roles of lord and slave at the social level is a mystery that touches each of us deeply. For we know that he, the Lord, Jesus the Messiah, made himself our slave, too, at the Last Supper and on the Cross, and he expects us to follow suit in our relationship with one another if we truly want to participate in his divine life.

John also confesses the difference between his baptism and that bestowed by Jesus: John’s is in water only, the other in the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God that the Messiah possesses in fullness and will give to those who believe in him. Here too we have unsurpassable fulfillment: “John announces the coming of one who will immerse humanity in the Spirit of God. [Jesus], for his part, not only performs a rite to prepare for that encounter but truly realizes, enacts [in us], communion with God himself.” This happens when the divine Child is born of Mary as Bread for a hungry humanity, to nourish and heal us with the very substance of God, who has become flesh in himself.

The Baptism of Christ Piero della Francesca, c. 1448-1450,  Tempera on panel, 66 x 46", National Gallery, London. Meditation by Father Simeon.