Sunday, November 10, 2019

Connectedness

This morning we listen as the Sadducees try to stump Jesus with an impossible dilemma- “If she had seven husbands, whose wife will she be?” It’s an outlandish “what-if” scenario, the absurd possibility of six of the so-called “brother-in-law” marriages prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy. What makes it even more ridiculous is that the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection anyway. For them the dead are dead, period. It seems pretty clear- they only want to taunt Jesus. “Let’s see how he gets out of this one.”

Jesus is undaunted. With characteristic beauty, integrity and directness; he takes the Sadducees’ crazy story, flips it around and draws them and us into a more astounding revelation. Marriage in its beauty, intimacy and commitment is appropriate to this present age, but it will come to an end. (Joseph Fitzmeyer) And raising up heirs, so that family and race may endure, will be inessential in the age to come. Something new, breathtaking in its beauty, is to come- the reality of eternal life, unending intimate relationship with God and with those we have loved, in God’s Kingdom.

What is essential is connectedness, the relationships of love and real intimacy with God and one another that we are made for. All the rest is a lot of babble, a smoke screen. It may reminds us of the current political blathering, which can distract us from something very deep and sincere, something about who we are- that is value-driven, and if you will, even compassion and mercy-driven- loving, everlasting interconnectedness. This is what Jesus reminds we’re built for. The essential question is simply, “Where is your heart? What is your deepest desire? What do you want?” That is the most haunting question. - What do you want? And put even more directly for us as women and men of faith: Who do you want? This is the question that cuts through all the yammering.

For Jesus one thing is true- we live for God; and those who live for God are truly alive, forever. (Alois Stoger) God is the God of the living. And we are made for eternal life. Jesus’ vision of our destiny is something ample and full of delight- vast and truly beyond our full understanding. He beckons us toward the reality of eternal life and everlasting relationship with God and with one another, a reality beyond even the beauty and communion of marriage. Indeed all human connection and friendship, all our loving here and now, give us glimpses, beautiful glimpses, but only glimpses of the union and communion with God in Christ, with one another and with all creation that we are destined for, a communion that far surpasses anything we’ve experienced. And “those who are deemed worthy,” says Jesus, “will be raised up like angels; for they are the children of God.”

All during this month of November we’ve been enacting this breathtaking connectedness between heaven and earth, as we pray to all the saints and pray for the departed. We are in relationship with them all, for the heavens have been opened, and there is now easy interchange between heaven and earth. God’s dream of intimacy with his creation has come true in Christ Jesus.


Saturday, November 9, 2019

Solitude

Solitude…is experienced, first of all, at the fine point in the heart where each person is ceaselessly created within a dialogue, in the course of which he receives his own name from God. This is…continuous prayer, which is the monastic form of prayer par excellence.  Solitude is next experienced in all the deaths to the self which constitute the numerous, daily decisions that oblige us to choose … to remain faithful to the call we have received from Christ. This is what is known as continual conversion.  It is also experienced in all the concrete demands the arise from our commitment to live the Gospel with others under a common rule.  This is obedience...Solitude is neither Christian, nor even real, if it is not the other side of communion.  

Reflection by Dom Armand Veilleux.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Brother Meinrad

Very early this morning our Brother Meinrad passed away to the Lord. Meinrad brought joy and gentleness. He began his monastic journey at the Abbey of Gethsemani and came to our community about twenty years ago. Like all the monks Meinrad had worked at a variety of different jobs during his monastic life and as a young monk at Gethsemani had been one of Thomas Merton's typists. Origami was one of his favorite past times, and a few years ago Brother Meinrad made enough delicate white cranes to cover our enormous Christmas tree. Meinrad's distinctive country guitar music was always a special part of our annual Christmas gathering. A man of prayer and deep devotion, Meinrad will missed by his brothers of Spencer. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Creation

It is indispensable to regard the world in light of the resurrection...And yet God's creation is still something in its own right: it lies before our eyes and wants to be looked at. It is what it is, itself, and it must not be constantly asked about where it is going. It is precisely in its purposelessness that it glows before us.

Photograph by Brother Anthony Khan. Lines by Gerhard Lohfink.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

With Zacchaeus

Again, this morning Jesus is caught making friends with a tax collector. As we remember, tax collectors were among the most despised members of Jewish society. They took money from their own people for the Romans, and they were despised for this collaboration with an alien power. But this morning we watch as little Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector, climbs a tree to gaze down at the famous rabbi Jesus who is visiting his town. Jesus notices Zacchaeus noticing him, and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ home. 

We cannot help but notice with admiration this desire of Jesus to befriend a sinner and the openness of this notorious outsider to the presence of Christ. Jesus always praises the readiness of these outsiders - prostitutes and collectors of the tax - to change their minds and hearts. They are available – broken enough to know who they are. They have no illusions about themselves and so do not refuse an invitation to change, reform. They know they’re a mess, they know it all too well. They’ve got nothing to lose; they’ve lost it all already. And so, this morning we watch and listen as Zacchaeus makes his very generous promises to change.

This is always the case, when we sinners dare to open our homes, our hearts to Christ Jesus. In the brilliant light of his awesome beauty, of his divine presence, we see clearly who we are, what we need to do to be more faithful to him and his gospel.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

On All Souls Day

In the miracle of adoration we are already with God, entirely with God, and the boundary between time and eternity is removed. It is true that we cannot now comprehend that adoring God will be endless bliss. We always want to be doing something. We want to criticize, intervene, change, improve, shape. And rightly so! That is our duty. But in death, when we come to God, that all ceases. Then our existence will be pure astonishment, pure looking, pure praise, pure adoration - an unimaginable and unnameable happiness. 

Lines from Gerhard Lohfink.

Friday, November 1, 2019

With The Saints

"Who are these wearing white robes?” says an elder in heaven to the narrator in today’s First Reading from the Book of Revelation. The elder then answers his own question, “Why, these are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Now anyone who has ever tried to remove even a small blood stain from a piece of clothing can understand that it must have been a near impossible task in first century Palestine, long before OxyClean or Shout. And we can only wonder at the perfectly ridiculous image of robes made radiantly white by washing them in lamb’s blood. But this is not just any lamb. And the offbeat beauty of these words reveals the truth of the dazzling, unprecedented victory of the Lamb of God. It is Jesus’ self-forgetful love that has created this radiance.

He is the radiant, blood-stained Lamb, who is seated on the throne at God’s right hand. We live now in the period of his sovereign rule over us. But it is a reign that is, nonetheless, far from complete. And ultimately the Beatitudes describe those who are helping to make the kingdom happen. And as all the saints would remind us, it’s all about Christ Jesus - losing ourselves for him, in him, and ultimately becoming transparent to him. Today is this great feast of transparency and transformation.

Jesus tells us, “How blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” he invites us to recognize ourselves among the lowly and insignificant - those who look to God for everything (see Dennis Justison.) He speaks as a wisdom teacher, faithful to his Jewishness (see Daniel Harrington). Indeed, the Beatitudes are replete with wisdom from Torah. For our Jewish forebears, Torah was the Way. But it is Jesus who affirms and completes Torah in all that he teaches, in all that he accomplishes, in all that he is. Jesus is Torah perfectly fulfilled and enfleshed, for he is the way, the truth and the life. The Beatitudes are ultimately then not his philosophy but a way to be kingdom, a way to live as if God were truly in charge, the way to live in him, who is our Beatitude, our way to true happiness.

My brothers and sisters, the way of the Beatitudes continues to be counter-cultural, counter-intuitive. It is the way of doing the opposite of my first inclination. And each time I hear these Beatitudes, I see too clearly how far away I am from all that Jesus calls blessed and happy. I am not dependent enough on him alone; I too readily seek consolations beyond him; I can too often be haughty, silly and unrecollected, self-absorbed and caught up in my own pettiness; too quick to judge and withhold compassion; and very often I don’t want to forgive or make peace, I just want to have things my way.

So, like the apostles, I want to say, “Then who can be saved?” Or better still like Peter, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Perhaps that’s the grace - to realize humbly, even joyfully, my inadequacy. The Beatitudes are not a checklist for the holy, but a call to imitate the wounded Christ and allow him to reform our hearts, so that they conform to his broken heart. This is the grace of Beatitude - a way to imitate him, who is all mercy, all peace, all mourning turned to joy, imitate him in whom we are becoming Beatitude. We are invited to take on the mind of Christ in our embrace of our own poverty and neediness and inadequacy. The saints are here to remind us, “Don’t be afraid. It’s not about you. It’s about him; let him transform you.”

Jesus invites us to step into the poverty and helplessness we need no longer fear and flee or deny - because we will find him and our brothers and sisters down there. What Jesus enumerates are attitudes and ways of being that come from relationship - with him and with one another - attitudes arrived at by the hard road of humility, vulnerability and doing the opposite of what my first snarky reaction might be. For when I finally recognize how poor and mercy hungry I am, maybe, just maybe I notice that I am not alone, that others are needy like me; hopefully my heart gets broken open.

In the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus this morning, a revolution is happening, with vulnerability at the center. Inadequacy, vulnerability are the keys to Beatitude, the source of all that gives us life and joy, love, belonging and connectedness. For when I am vulnerable, I realize that I desperately need God; I realize that I desperately need others. I come to understand that I am imperfect, inadequate and on the way along with my brothers and sisters, and so I am connected (see Jamie Arpin-Ricci on BrenĂ© Brown). It is this loving connectivity that is true Beatitude. To be poor, merciful, to mourn over all the tragedy that surrounds us, to allow ourselves to be rejected for doing the right thing - this was Jesus’ way; it is to be our way, as it was for all the saints. But bear in mind, when you love like this, you bleed like Jesus did and your robes get stained - but in the process absolutely radiant.

Our way is imitation, imitation of Christ, not dumb impersonation, but likeness that will lead to transformation. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I that live, but the wounded Christ living in me; the life I now live in the flesh I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me. This is what the saints wanted with all their hearts, what Jesus longs for, for each of us, this deep inter-subjectivity and connectivity. 
Detail of painting by Fra Angelico. Reflection by one of the monks.