Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving

As little children our parents would often tug at our sleeves when were given a gift or a small treat and remind us, “What do you say?” Recognizing all we have been given by God in his love and mercy, on this Thanksgiving Day we gather to pray and feast and remind one another, “What do you say?”

Thank you, thank you Lord from the bottom of our hearts for all you have given so freely, so lavishly. Our hearts are full, filled to overflowing, for what do we have that we have not received? Wonder, praise, thanksgiving become one.

And so fittingly, wonderfully, jubilantly we celebrate Eucharist on this day. Eucharist means thanksgiving. God never stops giving God’s very Self to us. God is love. Love never ends. And even as we come to thank and praise God for all he has given us, it is he who is gathering us at this Eucharist to feed us once again with himself. Our thanksgiving overflows.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christ Our King

    We are all too familiar with how the human family has been divided and scattered in our days: in family life and marriage; through vast migrations due to wars, drugs, and terror; even within the Church there is a vast alienation of so many Catholics. It seems to me that the mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is to reverse this wholesale scattering of peoples and families by gathering them once more under His gentle and liberating rule.
    The words of the prophet Ezekiel seem particularly important here. Ezekiel speaks of the true king who like a loving shepherd would gather the Israelites from every place where they were scattered. Listen to the words of this king: “I myself will look after my sheep…I will rescue them…I will give them rest…I will seek out…bring back…bind up…heal.” Is there a better description of what Our Lord Jesus did to reverse the forces of scattering? He took responsibility for us. Perfectly one with His Father, He made Himself perfectly one with us, identifying Himself with the least of His brothers and sisters. When it was “cloudy and dark,” as dark as it can get, He fought and overcame our great enemy – death itself – and He frees us from the fear of death. He seeks out disfigured families and gives a word of consolation and mercy; He stirs up aid for those who are forced from their homes; He offers healing to the disaffected in His Church, and by the wounds in His hands and His side He shows them how much they mean to Him.
    These are all reasons for hope that the forces of scattering will not prevail. But there is another reason that all this is important for us. At our baptism we were anointed by the Spirit of God to share in the kingly mission of Our Lord. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. In the ordinary events of our monastic life we share in this mission: in the Infirmary we bind up and heal; in the kitchen and refectory we are very well pastured; in the Guest House we welcome strangers and offer them a blessed rest; in our daily encounters with one another, we bring back, we bind up, we give rest, and we free one another from the fear of death. Our humble services make it possible for us to gather daily around Our Head and King. And I’m sure that much the same happens in the ordinary lives of our friends who are gathered with us today.
    Brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the kingly mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and like Our Lady we share in His mission. Our prayer is united with His prayer and with the prayer of the Queen of heaven and earth. And with them we gather into one the People of God until the last and least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters are gathered to share His life-giving bread and sacred wine. Let us thank God for this marvelous gift and mission! “Christ, King of Glory! Christ, Prince of nations! Christ our King of Kings! To Him only is victory, all praise and jubilation, through all the endless ages of eternity. Amen!”

Photograph of a bas relief of the Resurrected Christ in the Abbey orchards by Michael Rivera. Father Vincent's Homily for the Feast of Christ the King.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Presentation of Mary

An ancient tradition holds that Mary was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem as a little girl. And so today the Church celebrates Mary as Ark of the Covenant and House of Gold, the dwelling place of God Most High who chose her chaste body as his nesting place.

At this morning's Mass we heard the Gospel reading in which a woman from the crowd listening to Jesus is so taken with him that she cries out, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed."  Jesus responds, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep  it.” Jesus tells us that we are like his mother when we hold on to the words he speaks to us and ponder them in our hearts. Then like Mary we become Christ-bearers.

The Child Mary Asleep, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1630-1635, oil on canvas,  Galerie Canesso, Lugano.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Mechtilde

Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Mechtilde, a thirteenth century Benedictine nun from the monastery of Helfta in Germany. Mechtilde had a tender devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who opened His wounded side to her in love and gave her His Heart as a place of refuge and consolation. In one of her visions Jesus told Mechtilde that His Heart was like a kitchen where we could go to get whatever we needed at any time. In another He told her, "In the morning let your first act be to greet My Heart and to offer Me your own." Jesus continued, "Whoever breathes a sigh toward Me, draws Me to himself." 

It only takes a sigh. Let us sigh quietly, insistently, confidently.

Photograph by Brother Brian  of  a bas-relief crucifix by Suzanne Nicolas  in the Abbey church.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beyond Fairness

   
    What sort of fairness is going on here? We are obviously not talking about fairness at all. What we are talking about is a higher level of consciousness where the normal rules just do not apply. This is a theoretical story told to make a point about three kinds of people.  Each of the three responds to the divine good fortune differently.  In neither case is the amount of money determined by the servant “earning” it. Neither of them deserves anything. We think that because we are good and work hard, it is only fair that we should be rewarded. This is fairness in the way of the world. However, Jesus is not talking about that kind of “fairness.” He is trying to raise our consciousness to a divine level. His Father who sent Him loves him (and loves us), unconditionally and without limit.  Five talents or two talents or one talent are all irrelevant in this story. In this parable the first two servants got this point and were not afraid to risk losing their gifts. After all, the same source who gave them their talents out of a divine, unlimited goodness would continue to be good to them. They knew that. They might as well use this money as a way of being grateful.  It had nothing to do with deserving or earning God’s goodness. It had everything to do with gratitude.
    In the section which follows this parable just before the Passion, Matthew tells another story with the same theme. This is the story of Mary of Bethany who anointed the head of Jesus with costly ointment. She is strongly defended by Jesus when the others begin to criticize her extravagant expression of love. In both stories, we are dealing with a new level of logic. We are at the heart of the mystery we call the Incarnation.  The world,and all its comparisons of good and bad, more and less, success and failure, have just been made irrelevant. The only one in the crowd who seems to have gotten the point is this woman, who extravagantly emptied her jar of perfumed oil all over the head of Jesus. The men of the world and the followers of the world’s rules are horrified. Jesus gives solemn testimony, not only to the woman’s spiritual wisdom and understanding, but also to her courage in daring to go way beyond the logic and the normal rules of human affection and courtesy.
    Now, it is our turn. We are invited to risk everything and place all our trust in this divine level of life.  Let us take the risk of believing in this mystery of unlimited, but at the same time, incarnate love, which goes way beyond all our pathetic human rules.  

Photograph by Michael Rivera. Excerpts from Father Robert's homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time.                                       

Friday, November 14, 2014

Praying in Him

   Truly Jesus is our place of prayer. All of our praying takes place in his heart; for we can only pray in him, through him. Indeed, we can only pray at all because he prays first, begging the Father incessantly on our behalf. And each time we step into the Abbey church, we enter Christ’s wounded heart, the sanctuary that he is for us. In our praying through him, in him we are becoming more and more with him a most beautiful temple, a life-giving flood of mercy gushing from our woundedness, if we will allow it. 
   This transcendent beauty of the wounded, resurrected Jesus is what we reveal as individuals, as monastic community and as Church. We are his most beautiful body, a temple meant to overflow with mercy and compassion. He is our broken wounded Self, forever risen and pierced.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saint Martin


Saint Martin shares his military cloak with a shivering beggar, and Jesus notices. That night in a dream He visits Martin wearing the half-cloak he had shared. The beggar is Christ. A bit of unseasonable balminess this morning reminds us that in Italy a warm spell at this time of the year is called l'Estate di San Martino- Saint Martin's Summer. Legend has it that after Martin had shared his cloak, God made it a little warmer so that neither Martin nor the beggar would suffer from the cold with only a half a cloak each. 

Those who need us are the Lord Jesus in disguise. How will I encounter Him this day? 


El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Greek, 1541 – 1614, Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1597/1599, oil on canvas with wooden strip added at bottom, 76 3/16 x 40 9/16 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington.     Franc√≠ Gomar , Spanish, Aragon, active by 1443–died ca. 1492/3, Altar Predella of Archbishop Don Dalmau de Mur y Cervell√≥,  detail, Saragossa, 1456–1458, Alabaster, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Used with permission.