Tuesday, October 15, 2019

With Saint Teresa


Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.


We are always heartened by these words of Saint Teresa of Avila. 
As autumn days grow cooler with first frosts at night, we notice that 
some flowers continue to bloom. Patience gains everything. We pray; we wait; we trust. God never ever abandons us.



Brother Brian's photographs of Brother Gabriel's garden.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ten Lepers

Commenting on this morning’s Gospel, N.T. Wright poses an intriguing question. “Which is more surprising: the fact that one leper came back, shouted for joy, fell down at Jesus’ feet and thanked him? Or the fact that the nine others who were cleansed on their way to see the priests didn’t?” Typically, throughout his Gospel Luke focuses on Jesus’ attitude toward the outsider, the foreigner—in this case, a Samaritan. The implication is that the Samaritan had less reason to return to Jesus than did the other nine. On the other hand, perhaps the nine lepers who were Jewish were understandably afraid to go back and identify themselves with Jesus, who by now was a marked man. Or perhaps, having realized they had been healed, they were so eager to get back to their families from whom they had been isolated all the time the disease had affected them that they simply didn’t think to go back and look for Jesus. Luke, in any case, implies that they were less grateful. With disappointment Jesus asks: “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?”

Clearly, the miraculous cure from leprosy is only half the story here, for Jesus then says to the one who returned to give thanks, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has saved you.” His words suggest that the Samaritan received more than the physical healing that all ten lepers received. As the biblical commentator Pablo Gadenz points out, “the word for ‘get up’ is a word early Christians would have recognized as having to do with ‘resurrection.’ Like the prodigal son, this man ‘was dead, and is alive again.’ New life, the life which Israel was longing for as part of the age to come, had arrived in his village that day and had evoked a faith in him he didn’t know he had. Once again, we see that faith and healing go hand in hand. But it is grateful faith in the person of Jesus that leads to salvation.

What about us who fail to thank God “always and for everything,” as St. Paul exhorts in Ephesians? Albert Schweitzer wrote in his Reverence for Life: “The greatest thing is to give thanks for everything. Whoever has learned this knows what it means to live…They have penetrated the whole mystery of life: giving thanks for everything.” Ingratitude is of a corresponding magnitude. The Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann identified ingratitude as the sin of the fall: humanity’s discontent with all that God freely gives. Other thinkers through the ages have ranked ingratitude among the greatest sins, as a repudiation of the good, a form of rejection that strikes at the heart of community, relationship and continuity. We can conclude no one can understand life who is ungrateful for it; no one can totally misunderstand life who is grateful.

We know that God is the giver of all good things, and that we have nothing that we have not received—all good gifts are from his generosity. Now, there is an old spiritual discipline of listing one’s blessings, naming them before God, and giving thanks. This is exactly what the Canadian writer Ann Voskamp endeavors to do in her bestseller book One Thousand Gifts. She claims that thanksgiving—eucharist—is the central symbol of Christianity, the essence of what it means to live the Christ-life.

She marvels in her poetic style:
Doesn’t Christ, at His death-meal, set the entirety of our everyday bread and drink lives into the framework of eucharistēo? . . . Eucharistēo—thanksgiving—always precedes the miracle. Think how Jesus once took the bread and gave thanks, and then the miracle of the multiplying of the loaves and fishes. How he now took the bread and gave thanks, and then the miracle of enduring the cross for the joy set before Him. How Jesus stood outside Lazarus’s tomb, the tears streaming down His face, and He looked up and prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me”—and then the miracle of a dead man rising! Thanksgiving raises the dead!

I would suggest that the Good News of today’s Gospel is that Jesus counts thanksgiving as integral to a faith that saves. In other words, we only enter into the fullness of life if our faith gives thanks. For how else do we accept His free gift of salvation if not with thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives. Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! to his grace. Thanksgiving is therefore inherent to a true salvation experience, as we see in the case of the Samaritan leper. What we do at every Eucharist is to remember with thanks, and it is precisely this that is held up to us this morning as the foremost quality of a believing disciple.

Of course, it is not easy in the midst of terrible, horrific circumstances to believe that we have every reason to “always and everywhere give thanks.” But even then we may experience a stark moment of awe in which we realize that the simple fact that we are is an abiding gift of God to us. Perhaps this is what happened to the Samaritan leper in a particularly poignant way when he suddenly realized he was healed. So for us as well: to receive ourselves constantly from the hand of God and to thank him for this isn’t circumstance-based but belongs to our essential being, even if we are rarely conscious of it. But the moment we intentionally “return” to give thanks to the one who gives and renews our life day after day, this moment of gratitude always sets us right. In a moment of simple gratitude everything between God and ourselves will come to life, and things will be right. Perhaps it is gratitude more than anything that allows us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.

I’d like to conclude with a good word from the 14th century English mystic Julian of Norwich:
The highest form of prayer is to the goodness of God…. God only desires that our soul cling to him with all its strength; in particular, that it clings to his goodness. For of all the things our minds can think about God, it is thinking upon his goodness that pleases him most and brings the most profit to our soul.

To “think upon His goodness” is to “give thanks” to Him. Someday the Lord will show us how He received our gift of thanks, and that will be a part of our blessedness!
Father Dominic's Homily for the Twenty-Eighth Sunday.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

For Self-transcendence

The existence of Christ as an exemplary existence reaches its high point when he is opened out on the cross.  This is why he can then say, announcing his death and explaining it: I go away and I come back to you (Jn 14.28).  It is as if he were saying: ‘By my going away the wall of my existence, which at present hems me in, is broken open.  Therefore, this event of my going away is my true coming to you because, through it, I fully actualize what I truly am: namely, the One who incorporates everyone into the unity of my new being, which is not a barrier but unity itself.’

On the cross, the outspread arms of the Crucified show him to be an adorer; but, at the same time, that gesture gives a new dimension to adoration and defines the specifically Christian glorification of God.  These open arms are the expression of perfect adoration precisely because they express Christ’s total surrender of himself to human beings.  These open arms are the gesture of embracing, of total and undivided fraternity.  From the standpoint of the cross, the theology of the Fathers found in the Christian gesture of praying with outspread arms the perfect symbol for the concurrence of adoration and fraternity, a symbol that represents the inseparability of service to humankind and glorification of God.

To be a Christian essentially means to transition from being-for-oneself to being-for-one-another. But no form of self-transcending by human beings can ever suffice by itself.  The person who wants only to give and is not prepared to receive, the person who only wants to be for others and refuses to recognize that he or she, too, derives his or her life from the unexpected and unprocurable self-giving of others: this person misconceives the fundamental principle of being human and, therefore, cannot help destroying the true meaning of being-for-one-another.  If it is to be fruitful, every form of self-transcendence requires also the capacity to receive from others, in the final instance to receive from the Other—from him who is truly the Other of all humankind and is, at the same time, One with it: namely, the God-Man Jesus Christ.

Detail of painting by Safet Zec. Text: Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity (II, i, iv, Exc., 2)


Monday, October 7, 2019

Our Lady of the Holy Rosary

We remember with joy and gratitude our mothers and fathers, grandparents and scores of our older family fingering their beads before and after Mass, in the car or sitting in their favorite chair. Clearly it was their way to deep prayer. The mysteries of the Holy Rosary - joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous - are the mysteries of our own lives. As we pray the Rosary we beg Our Lady to draw us closer to Him who is our Light and our only Hope.

Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Bernard, Filippino Lippi, 1485-1487, oil on panel, 83 x 77 in., Badia, Florence.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Servants

Why would Jesus want us to remember that we are useless, doing only what we are supposed to do? To put us in our place? Yes. I think so, but not to make us feel bad but because he wants company down there. He reminds us that our place is down there with him, in the lowest place where he has gone before us. And where else would we want to be? Jesus has come to serve not to be served. And this morning he is speaking to us about life in the kingdom not giving us protocols for the workplace. We follow not a way but the Way, Jesus. He is our Master not our boss. We are his disciples, learning that life in the kingdom is never about accomplishment but about doing what God wants; in the kingdom, I am not what I do, but what I am – the beloved of the Father with and in Christ Jesus. And what do I have that I have not received from him? What could I possibly do without his grace? Nothing at all. I’m useless without him.

So being told that we are unworthy and unprofitable might not be so bad, you know, for it unburdens us of all expectations. And as the disciples ask Jesus this morning to increase their faith, his response points to the reality that a little faith goes a long way, in the end perhaps their faith doesn’t need to be increased but simply activated. “If you only had faith the size of a teeny mustard seed,” he says. We learn to trust that the little we have is enough, trust that we are enough, that the little we do is enough, even as we acknowledge our total inadequacy.

We have come here to be transformed, emptied of ourselves. And in our service, we are constantly exposed, diminished, vulnerable as we discover over and over again, if we’re honest, in our work as well as at prayer, our total incapacity. To change, to be open to be conformed to Christ, does not mean that we will necessarily get better or holier or nicer but that we will be opened to the harrowing wonder of disequilibrium and our desperate need for him.Then our failures, our worthlessness may become gateways to intimacy with the poor Christ.

We are slaves of Christ Jesus, and we need to be where he is. Serving with Jesus does not allow for illusions of self-merit or entitlement but only humility,2 a humility that can lead to joy and confidence and real freedom. I am only a servant, after all, doing what the Father desires, with Jesus. The One who says again and again, “I have not come to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” The Father’s desire drove him, it was his food. And assuredly Jesus’ single-hearted focus on the Father’s will was more about the loving self-abandonment of eros rather than any dogged jaw-clenching drudgery. Jesus wants to draw us into that same loving freedom. Why resist? We follow One who leads by falling down, being spat upon, shoved, tortured and crucified. That’s what Primal Leadership is like in the kingdom, self-forgetful love. But who can manage it?

We labor with him, for him, and he alone is our reward.3 All we do and endure  is, after all, only our duty, an inestimably privileged way for us to be with Jesus, the Suffering Servant who for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame. We rejoice to be identified as useless because he was thought to be so, despised and ridiculed as a blasphemer by those who should have known better. Our only joy and worth are in gaining Christ and being found in him; life without him would be intolerable. As Saint Paul will put it, “I have suffered the loss of all things, that I may gain Christ - indeed, I regard them all as dung…” So driven is Paul by his love and conviction that he can express it only by using the most vulgar term for filth or dung in Greek skubalon, because it connotes total worthlessness and revulsion.4

In the monastery we live in two worlds. All day long, we try to be efficient at work, whatever it is - cleaning, cooking, making jam or beer or chasubles. But we know that all that efficiency is not going to be of much use when we go to pray. There we need a very different set of tools - we must be satisfied to be helpless, worthless and inefficient; totally dependent on Christ’s kind favor, his gracious mercy and loving-kindness, ready to listen, confident in our emptiness and uselessness. And this is work too, a very different kind of work - the discipline of being at home with loss of control, at home with wonder and unknowing. It is in this lowest place, that contemplation can happen. For finally, perhaps, we are worthless enough in our own eyes to realize we have nothing to be proud of.5 This is our ultimate credential in a life dedicated to incessant prayer.

My profitability is only in my availability, my obedience, my emptying out for him. In a life that is ordinary, obscure and laborious with its promise of hidden fruitfulness, it’s all about allowing ourselves to be used continually by Christ for purposes we cannot possibly imagine.6 Jesus has gone down to the lowest place, because he wants to wash our feet. And not only that; even though he has just come in from a very hard day, he invites us to sit down; he wants to wait on us and serve us at table. Let us, in all humility, allow him this joy.




Photograph of the Holy Thursday Mandatum by Brother Brian. 
1Sister Miriam Pollard?, 2 James Edwards, Pillar Commentary on Luke. 3 St. Ignatius Loyola, 4 Daniel B. Wallace, 5 Michael Casey, 6 Fr. Simeon Leiva.

Friday, October 4, 2019

With Francis

We are told that Saint Francis decreed that his friars not have pockets in their habits. How he wanted them to be poor with the poor Christ! How to depend on Jesus alone for all we need? How to cling to Him, a Treasure always ready to hand and heart?

Detail of Saint Francis Of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata by Giambattista Tiepolo.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Angel Guardians

Consider, dearest brethren, how careful we ought to be to show ourselves worthy of such noble company and so to live in the sight of the holy angels that they shall see nothing in our conduct to displease them...There are many things which afford them pleasure and which they are glad to find in us, such as moderation, chastity, poverty freely chosen, frequent short prayers to God, prayers offered with tears of contrition and pure intention of heart.

Design by Charles Voysey. Lines by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.