Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Body is One

 

There were once, two sisters whose parents had died and left them well off. Neither of them married. These were both strong independent women. They shared a common faith and had great compassion and love for their brother, who was special needs, and even though he was high functioning, he still needed a great deal of their time and attention. The brother never spoke; he is not remembered as ever having uttered a single word. But the brother was open-hearted and gentle of spirit and loved for who he was.

This is a story about a mother whose only child was ill. We have all heard stories of parents going to any extreme to save their children. The love of a parent knows no limits. That is the type of mother this woman is, she was willing to risk embarrassment, humiliation, and possible rejection if it would save her beloved daughter, by swallowing her pride and seeking out the one person who could help her and her daughter.

Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve and could not have earned or expected, but received. This is a story about a man in his twenties who had finally come to the end of his luck; this man had a knack for getting himself in trouble but had managed to elude punishment for a very long time. As much as the man wanted to and tried to change, he felt it was beyond him. All was going well until it all caught up with him, he did something; he was apprehended and found he was unable to get out of it. But just when he thought this was it and had actually become comfortable with his fate, this man was given grace.

Saint Paul states a body is one though it has many parts and all the parts are of one body. The body is a beautiful example of necessity and complementarity. Every part has a job that it does well, in concert with all the other parts doing their job, all the components necessary for the whole. It is easy to see how all the parts work together in the body, but it can be challenging to see and understand just how this necessity and complementarity work in other areas. 

Look at the life of Christ, the three stories I opened with are scenes from his life, the first, the two sisters who cared for their special needs brother was a modern interpretation of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The second story is about the Canaanite woman seeking the help of Jesus because her daughter was possessed by a demon, and this persistent, loving mother knew that Jesus Christ was the only one who could and would help her daughter. Jesus did heal her daughter. The third story was about the repentant guilty thief who hung on the cross next to the innocent Christ. This man was a thief and a sinner but was able to recognize who Christ was. These stories show Jesus raising someone from the dead, forgiving the sins of another, and showing how Christ is available to all who seek him. Together they point to the fact that Jesus is the Christ,  the Redeemer, sent to bring His message of salvation to the entire world.

These people represent some of the most enlightening and easy-to-understand parts of Jesus’ life, and of course, there are others, not so easy to understand their necessity and complementarity. How many of Christ’s teachings would we have missed if not for the Pharisees and Sadducees? And it was the demons who were the first to recognize who Jesus was. Would we be able to know the light without the contrast of the dark? There is unity and necessity in all the parts, light and darkness.      


Photographs by Brother Casimir. Meditation by Brother Stephen.

 

Friday, January 21, 2022

With Saint Agnes

 

In Scripture, a mountain top is always a place of divine encounter. And in today's Gospel, Jesus majestically ascends the mountain and calls to himself those whom he desires to follow him closely, appointing a band of Twelve. And they come to him. As Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom, these twelve recapitulate the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. God’s reign in Christ Jesus has begun.

Saint Agnes, whom we celebrate today, was martyred as a girl of twelve for defending the virginity she had consecrated to Christ Jesus alone. Her following led her to the cross like her Master. Preferring Christ Jesus above all else, we too celebrate our chosenness and promise to follow the Lord wherever he leads us. 

Saint Agnes, attributed to the Master of the Straus Madonna, (Italian, active late 1300s–early 1400s), 1300s, tempera on panel. Worcester Art Museum.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

that All May Be One

 

So much to pray for, our hearts are full. The Lord is attentive. We begin today the Octave of Christian Unity praying that divisions among Christian churches may dissolve.  

The division between Christ’s disciples is so obvious a contradiction that they cannot be resigned to it without feeling in some way responsible for it. The purpose of this particular week is to encourage the Christian community to devote itself more intensely to prayer, in order to experience at the same time how beautiful it is to live together as brothers and sisters. Despite the tensions sometimes caused by existing differences, these days give us in some way a foretaste of the joy that full communion will bring when it is finally achieved.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines by Pope Saint John Paul II.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Wedding at Cana


The Gospel today proclaims the mystery of the new spiritually inebriating wine of the Gospel manifested in the Marriage Feast at Cana; a passage found only in the Gospel of John. Most of John's gospel consists of the parts called “The Book of Signs” in chapters one through twelve and “The Book of Glory” in chapters 13 through 20. The Book of Signs is constructed around seven of what we normally call “miracles,” but which John prefers to call “signs” because they reveal the glory of Jesus in a way beyond the amazement at a miracle and a cure, for instance. The seven signs all point to the meaning of the ultimate manifestation of the glory of Jesus that is in the paschal mystery of Christ's passion, death, resurrection, ascension to heaven and sending of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit—through which wounded and sinful humanity is made whole and glorious in the sight of God.

So, for example, the sixth sign in John, the healing of the man born blind points to the messianic identity of Jesus the healer of blindness and other diseases, but more importantly the healer of our spiritual blindness through the paschal mystery which illuminates our souls with the grace of his glory through the Holy Spirit. “I was blind, but now I see.” is not really a quote from a popular hymn but is rather one from this sixth sign (chapter 9 of the Gospel of John), the healing of the man born blind, a description of self with which we can all identify. The point is that we not only marvel at a miracle but are ourselves along with the blind man transformed by a sign-- just as in this Eucharist we marvel at the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but we glory in being changed ourselves, divinized by the reception of the sacrament—for example, given eyes that see as God sees, no longer spiritually blind. “I was blind, but now I see.” are our own words.

Cana is the first of the seven signs that precede the Book of Glory. Cana is also the most important of the signs in the first part of John's gospel because the other six signs, in a sense, all refer back to it even as they refer forward to the Book of Glory. This is analogous to our sacramental theology of the Eucharist in which all six of the other sacraments are bound up with the Eucharist and oriented to it. The miracle aspect of Cana involves the changing of a very large quantity of water used for ceremonial cleansing into about 120 to 180 gallons of excellent wine for pure rejoicing at a marriage reception which in the tradition of the Jews of the time lasted most of a week and was, indeed, the actual marriage ceremony. To have run out of wine in the middle of the event would have been terribly embarrassing, a social calamity. The sign value of Cana is precisely the superabundance of spiritual inebriation and joy (as symbolized in the wine) celebrating the union that is the marriage of heaven and earth in the real Bridegroom who is Jesus. Jesus is the source of all spiritual life and joy, transcending any wine or any other earthly joy.  The book of Genesis tells us of marriage that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” In Jesus Christ, we have all become one flesh with the Son of God who has taken on our flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation in order to offer to us participation in his divinity. This is the superabundant life we receive in the Eucharist. What cheer. The mystery of the water becoming wine at Cana points as a sign to the mystery of the water and wine prepared for this celebration becoming the blood of Christ in this Eucharist—this Eucharist through which we come to share in the divinity of Christ.

The mystery of our reception of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, is itself a sign pledging to us a sure and blessed place at the wedding feast, the ultimate Cana, the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. The prophet Isaiah sums it all up beautifully in today's first reading:


No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” 
or your land “Desolate,”
But you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the Lord delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you.
And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.

Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, detail. This morning's homily by Father Luke.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Hope

 

We dare to hope because our help is in the name of the Lord, Jesus our Hope, who is forever with us, on our side.

May this be the day

We come together.

Mourning, we come to mend,

Withered, we come to weather,

Torn, we come to tend,

Battered, we come to better.

Tethered by this year of yearning,

We are learning

That though we weren't ready for this,

We have been readied by it.

We steadily vow that no matter

How we are weighed down,

We must always pave a way forward.


This hope is our door, our portal.

Even if we never get back to normal,

Someday we can venture beyond it,

To leave the known and take the first steps.

So let us not return to what was normal,

But reach toward what is next.


What was cursed, we will cure.

What was plagued, we will prove pure.

Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,

Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,

Where we weren't aware, we're now awake;

Those moments we missed

Are now these moments we make,

The moments we meet,

And our hearts, once all together beaten,

Now all together beat.

Come, look up with kindness yet,

For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.

We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,

But to take on tomorrow.


We heed this old spirit,

In a new day's lyric,

In our hearts, we hear it:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne.

Be bold, sang Time this year,

Be bold, sang Time,

For when you honor yesterday,

Tomorrow ye will find.

Know what we've fought

Need not be forgotten nor for none.

It defines us, binds us as one,

Come over, join this day just begun.

For wherever we come together,

We will forever overcome.

Amanda Gorman, "New Day's Lyric." 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Homily for Brother Roger's Funeral

I’d like to begin by sharing my strongest image of Brother Roger, which I also cherish as an ongoing gift from him.

Yesterday at Sunday Chapter we gathered as a community to share our personal memories and stories about him—and there were many! My first encounter with Brother Roger was when I was a novice, taking my turn working with him in the laundry. For us novices, he was a delight and an important part of our formation.

But over the years, I believe I got to know him best during the Infirmary Mass, to which I am usually assigned one week a month. There was Brother Roger, parked in his wheelchair always in the same spot with his oxygen concentrator sometimes beeping, looking right at me with the most open, receptive, smiling expression—fully attentive, engaged, and clearly happy to be present. He struck me as totally himself and completely at home in prayer. He radiated a transparent joy, depth, and presence that I found both inspiring and genuinely brotherly. In a word, he made it good for me to be there. And then, usually, soon after the Consecration, he would fall asleep, but almost always wake up for the Our Father and Kiss of Peace—then back to sleep before I could give him Holy Communion. When I got to him, he wasn’t always easy to rouse, but when he did wake suddenly, he’d flash a big smile and be focused on the small piece of Host I was placing in his hands. (I probably would have grumpily pushed me away at that point.) And so, what struck me time and again was his remarkable human and spiritual depth that never failed to encourage me. A gift.

But where did he get that? He was a character, quirky like the rest of us, often a charmer and humorous, sociable and kind, yet always his own person. But it was particularly at these simple, engaging moments during the Eucharist that I found he communicated something so much more than himself—yes himself, but more than himself. Trying to understand that has been my preoccupation this past week. The Gospel we just heard (Mt 11:25-30) shed some light for me, and that’s what I’d like to try to share with you now.

The Gospel selected for today is really about two things: the revelation Jesus brings, and the kinds of people who accept it. This is the context in which Jesus speaks about his special relationship to the Father, and his willingness as Son to share that relationship with others. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” There is a deep mystery here that takes us right to the heart of what it meant to be Jesus (and, I would suggest, what it meant for Roger to be Roger).

As Jesus announced God’s kingdom and put God’s powerful love to work in healing, forgiving, and bringing new life, he obviously realized that the people he met, including the religious leaders, didn’t have the same awareness of his Father that he had. His knowledge of God was more intimate, more real, that of a son . . . .

In this regard, it is good to remember that for a millennium and more Jewish writings had spoken highly about the “wisdom of the wise” as the key to knowing God. There was a long tradition of Torah study and piety that indicated that only those who devoted themselves to learning the law and to teasing out its finer points would become wise, would ultimately know God. An elite few—way out of reach for the average Jew.

But Jesus had come to know his father the way a son does: not by studying books about him, but by living in his presence, listening for his voice and learning from him as an apprentice learns from a master, by watching and imitating. He was now in his ministry (this scene takes place halfway through Matthew’s Gospel) and discovering that the wise and learned were getting nowhere—it was rather the poor, the sinners, the unpretentious ordinary folk who were discovering more of God simply by following Jesus, than the learned specialists who declared that what he was doing didn’t fit with their complicated theories.

As a result, by the time of this scene in the Gospel Jesus came to see that he was himself acting as “a window onto the living God.” Where he was, and through his words, some people were coming to see who God (“the Father”) really is. Jesus was the “human face” of his Father, of God, and the humble and burdened easily responded to him. This is what moved him now to make the most welcoming and encouraging invitation ever offered: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” And he speaks of a different “yoke.” His “yoke” was not the heavy burden of the Jewish law with all its commandments, but a “yoke” that, because it came from his mercy and love, was easy to bear. But what strikes me here as crucially important is that he as son is simply offering what he has in himself to offer; the welcome he offers, for all who entrust themselves to his mercy, is the welcome God offers through him. This is the invitation that pulls back the curtain and lets us see who “the Father” really is—and encourages us to come into his loving, welcoming presence. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

I believe this is what Brother Roger (in some analogous way) did for me, time and again at the Infirmary Mass. The key to all this is something St. Elizabeth Ann Seton told her Sisters. I find it significant that it was on her Feast Day that Brother Roger died. We heard her say at Vigils: “I will tell you what has been a great help to me. I once read or heard that an interior life means only the continuation of our Savior’s life in us. He only cares about communicating that to us, for the whole goal of his mission is to lead us into the sweet land of promise, a life of constant union with himself.” (In light of today’s Gospel, we could say that the one who knows his Father as a son desires to live in and through us, so that we too, as sons and daughters, may know the Father, and in turn, share that love and life with others just by being who we are in the Son.)

With Brother Roger in mind, then, I believe this Gospel passage tells us that the meaning and fruitfulness of our lives is not a matter of how “wise” we are, or that we are professional ascetics or contemplatives, or that we give good example or do good deeds—but only that we allow the Lord’s own interior life (which is nothing other than his love for his father and for each one of us) to continue in us, in our humanity just as it is. None of us has to be anything special. Unwittingly, we then become for one another (like Christ “our life,” in the words of St. Paul) “a window onto the living God.” In other words, we offer to one another simply what we have in ourselves to offer, Christ’s living presence. There is no better gift, and this is what I believe I received from Brother Roger, even when he was telling me a hilarious story or playfully greeting me in French, knowing that I could only stammer like a fool in reply.

 This gift is concretized in many simple yet unforgettable ways over the course of a lifetime. I’d like to end with just two examples that came to my attention in the last few days. One was told by Brother Raymond of Snowmass. When he entered Spencer decades ago at 6’7” and couldn’t fit on the small wooden bed in his cell, it was Brother Roger who immediately offered to make him a 7-foot bed—a kindness Brother Raymond never forgot. I also heard from Brother Colombo of Gethsemani, who got to know Brother Roger during a long visit here some years ago. He wrote in an email: “With expressions of deep sadness and deep joy at the passing of Brother Roger. (He of all people would appreciate the absurd paradox.) He and I had some good laughs at his corny jokes. He had profound wisdom and humility too. When I told him I had been a cook at the Generalate in Rome, he said he had too, but nobody knew it! . . . . He will be missed.”

And he will be! May his soul and the souls of all the departed through the unfathomable mercy of God rest in peace.   Amen.

Given by Father Dominic.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord

 

"And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.’"

Today marks the end of the Christmas season; with the baptism, the years of the Lord’s hidden life have come to a close and Jesus takes up his public ministry. The time of Israel’s expectation has been fulfilled. The long-awaited Messiah has appeared. The whole time of the preparation of the Old Testament, of Israel’s election, the covenant, and the mission entrusted to it, converges here on this one figure, in this one very concrete time and place in human history. With the eyes of Easter, we can see how all the fragmentary images presented in the Old Testament find their unity and unveil their meaning precisely here in Jesus.

For thirty years Jesus has been immersed in the beliefs, customs, and traditions of Israel and its covenant relationship with the God who chose them and formed them as his people; and in and through them matured in the mission that he and the Father had decided upon in eternity. Jesus’ baptism by John shows that Jesus emerges from the midst of this history.

When Jesus descends into the river, he shows himself in solidarity with that part of Israel that heeded the voice of God proclaimed through John, with all who confessed their guilt and were willing to dive into the water of judgment and salvation, who acknowledged themselves as sinners and ready to face the divine judgment on their sin and receive the salvation that can only come from God. Along with them, Jesus, too, shows himself obedient to the voice of God through John, ready to be called by this voice out of the hidden life and to take up his public life at this moment.

His humble submission to being submerged in the waters is fulfilled immediately by the affirmation of the voice from above. In this obedient act the Israel that has been made ready for God and the God who has entered into the covenant with Israel come together as one; finally, in a manner unforeseen by Israel and that it was in no way able to accomplish on its own. Upon him alone the Spirit descends in bodily form as a dove. He is the one designated as the chosen one, and on him, the Spirit will remain as his abiding inspiration.

The voice from heaven confirms and interprets this event: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Here is the one to save Israel. Here is the fulfillment of the image of the mysterious Servant of the Lord prophesied in the first reading from Isaiah, the obedient one who was to become a ransom for the people: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.”

Through his humble submission to baptism, Jesus becomes the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, through whose mouth come words of ‘spirit and life’ (Jn 6:63). At the same time, the image of the Holy Spirit and fire points us forward to the completion of his mission: he will become one who baptizes in fire by way of the cross on which he will be burnt as a holocaust, as the lamb of God, in whom sin and death will be consumed. His whole mission points to this event. As he says later: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” In the baptism, Jesus appears as God’s judgment on Israel and on the world. He is God’s definitive appearance in his saving power.

As God’s beloved Son, Jesus’ mission is qualitatively different from that of the prophets who preceded him. Not only is his mission unique, but he himself is unique. In the case of the prophets, no matter how generously they handed themselves over to their mission, it was always at least relatively possible to distinguish their mission from their person; but in Jesus no such distinction between person and mission is possible. There is no before and after in terms of awareness of his mission, no sense that it is something added on to an identity that preexisted it, no time in which he acts outside of his mission. Rather, everything points to his being identical with his mission. Throughout the Gospels, he appears as nothing other than the one whom God has sent, and it is impossible to imagine him otherwise. He is the one of whom Paul says that God sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin and condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” (Rom 8:3-4). His mission and his being are identical.

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist himself witnesses to this new order, when he says, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In the Gospel of John, we read “There was a man sent from God whose name was John…He was not the light but came to bear witness to the light.” Of this light, he says that God sent his Son “in order that the world might be saved through him.” At work here is something more radical than the mere appointment of a messenger or representative or even the choosing of a prophet (even prophets chosen “from the womb”, like Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Paul.) Later in John, Jesus will say of himself (“I proceeded and came forth from God”). The sending of Jesus by God, therefore, is rooted in this prior “proceeding” from God, which points us back into his eternal life with God, where he was always and had always been, “with” God. Jesus is God’s Word sent to his people. He is the Word that was in the beginning, that was with God and that was God. His earthly mission is nothing other than the expression of his eternal procession from the Father.

In Jesus, the heavens have been opened, here, at the baptism, through his manifestation as God’s beloved Son, and then throughout his public ministry by his unfailing fidelity to his mission. Guided by the Father through the Spirit, in all that he said and did, he never deviated from his Father’s will. In all his interactions with others, in his preaching, his prayer, his miracles, his formation of his disciples, right on to his “hour”, his passion, death and resurrection, his mind, intelligence, and free will were wholly oriented to making the One who sent him, known, believed, and honored. In him, we have access to the world of God, and therefore to his universal design for all mankind, which is to be “in Christ”.

By his death and resurrection, we are now “in Christ”. And thanks to his self-gift,  an acting area has been opened up within himself in which the whole of mankind is granted the opportunity to share in his mission, and in that, become conformed to the idea that God has of each. Blessed and destined for holiness from the foundation of the world, we are for the first time able to become what we are. Not simply according to the fulfillment of our natural endowments, but according to the particular meaning and purpose for which we have been created. In Christ, man is no longer condemned to ceaselessly circle round and round in the vanity of his own unfulfillable transcendence. Rather the world of God has been opened up to him. We now have the opportunity to discover God and ourselves in a way hitherto impossible.

What this means for us then, as followers of Christ, is that we are to “act” in the acting area that has been opened, that is, in Christ, in such a way as to bring our innate nonidentity between our being and our mission into an ever-closer approximation to the perfect identity that Christ enjoys in himself. In other words, we are to bring our own “self” more and more in line with our God-given mission and to discover in this mission our own identity, both personal and social.

For us, as monks, this assimilation comes about through our prayer, our patient slow attentiveness to God’s living Word in lectio divina, our participation in the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, the service of our work, in a word, in the whole of the monastic conversatio, and the particularity of our charism. This is our acting area, in Christ. Losing ourselves in these, in the blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, we undertake a journey of discovery: of God, by our obedience, of our brothers and all those we encounter, by our service to them, and of ourselves, because it is only in such service and obedience that we truly encounter ourselves.

It is the Lord who has proposed this task to us, let us call upon him to infuse us with his same perfect readiness to carry it out. 

The Baptism of Christ by Perugino. This morning' s homily by Father Timothy.