Sunday, September 21, 2014

Unfair

It is that in the final scene of today's Gospel when the foreman doles out the pay that we are witness to the extravagant compassion of the landowner, (a cipher for the extravagant mercy of our God.) All the workers, even the last ones who worked for only one measly hour, receive a denarius. Aware of their need and the desperation of their situation; the landowner knows that less than a denarius will be not enough for a man and his family for a day. And he wants them all to go home happy and satisfied. Now that’s not fair; it’s excessive. But if we were part of that last crowd who had worked for only an hour, we’d be overjoyed at the landowner’s outlandish generosity.

How often I murmur because things aren’t fair. And true enough it’s the constant plea of psalmist and prophet, “Why is it Lord that the way of the wicked prospers? Why is it that you let the sun and rain and all good things come to the just and the unjust?” It’s not fair. But the good news is God’s Kingdom is not about fairness or entitlement, only mercy; never about “confidence” in my own accomplishments or sacrifices.* It’s not ever about rewards but grace- not something earned but a gift freely given in love. My brothers and sisters, God is not fair. He is abundantly, incomprehensibly merciful, way beyond our imagining. He knows we don’t always do enough, don’t always pull our weight or labor long and hard enough, that sometimes I loaf and dawdle and wait too long and make bad decisions. He sees it all, and he is merciful. It doesn’t mean that everything’s always OK, not at all. No, I mess up, and God is merciful. I am unkind, impatient, stingy, and God is merciful and gives me another chance.

Imagine if God were only fair. Imagine if he gave me what I really deserve. I’d be in big trouble. Certainly God looks into our hearts and notices the good we do, but the kingdom is all about his mercy, never payback for a job well done. It is on the contrary completely, utterly, totally gift. Gratuitous, absolutely surprising, way beyond what I am “entitled to.” Simple gratitude is the only response. For what do we have that we have received? No, God is not fair, but all loving, all giving, all forgiving. We’re all latecomers and God is always switching things around. It’s called mercy. And Jesus invites us this morning not to succumb to jealousy, to literally “having a wicked eye” which will not allow us to see clearly as God sees.


Photograph of geese in the Abbey fields by Brother Anthony Khan. Excerpts from this morning's homily. *Insight from Matthew: A Commentary, Robert Gundry, 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ordinary Work

There are many trails on the Abbey property that the monks use for contemplative walks. From time to time these paths must be cleared of fallen trees and brush. Here we see Brother Matthew Joseph at work. 
Photographs By Brother Anthony Khan and Brother Jonah.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Patience of Love

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.



As we hear Saint Paul's words, Love is patient, we remember that our love must wait patiently. A life lived in wonder, in patient loving and loving prayer, waiting on the Lord, waiting on His divine pleasure, such a life is what we have professed, promising to be totally available to Jesus, to one another, and ultimately to his Body the Church. We have given ourselves over to a relationship of patient love, promising to go the distance.

But how shall we tolerate- bear patiently, lovingly- the ordinariness of God in Christ, the ordinariness of one another? How shall we remember to love patiently and kindly and give as Christ Jesus did? How can we manage the overwhelming, truly astonishing love and patience and kindness of Christ for each of us? The truth is we cannot manage such love; we can only wonder, we can only try to accept it as simple mercy and try to go and do likewise, each day, moment by moment. We take heart because the God who is Love is with us. And every moment He is doing what Love loves to do- giving Himself away to us; patiently, kindly and with great tenderness. 

Photo by Brother Brian. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Her Sorrows

As the Church celebrates today a memorial in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows, we recall often seeing images of Our Lady collapsing in Saint John's arms as Jesus breathes His last on the cross. Perhaps she was braver than that. As Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, she feels with God; she compassions with God, empathizes with Christ's sacred wounded Body even now. Yes even now Mary, given by Jesus to all his beloved disciples as their Mother, feels with us all the aches and sorrows of our hearts and minds and bodies. She is Mother of Compassion, with us always; His sorrows, her sorrows and our sorrows are one.
Virgin and the Man of Sorrow, detail, Simon Marmion, c.1485, oil on panel, Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Triumphing in the Cross

In Christ we never have to look back with regret, pining with melancholy to recapture what we have lost, or sorrowfully longing to undo what cannot now be undone.  In Christ, nothing that is truly precious in the entire experience of our lives will ever be lost to us.  Everything good and love-worthy and dear to us from every minute of our whole life’s experience is safely stored in the Heart of Christ for us to encounter and enjoy again in God’s good time.  Alive in Christ, living his own life by his gracious Mercy, every day we can, if we want, again become “like newborn babes”, wholly enjoying the present moment offered us (that and that only, for only that is real), wholly occupied with drinking milk from the breasts of Christ’s consolation and sharing that milk with every other thirsty person we know.

Do you think for a moment that he, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, is ignorant of the endless deaths that continually gnaw away at our hearts, souls and bodies?  Don’t you think he knows far better than we do what those deaths are all about and what needs to be done to leave them behind?  Christ, in fact,  knows intimately our impulse toward decay, because once he too truly drank the bitterness of his and our common mortality, drank it down to the dregs, so that it is your and my specific death that he triumphed over, and not merely some abstract idea of death.  The wounds in his body swiftly banish all such abstraction.  The one thing that a follower of Jesus can be sure of is that he or she will never be alone, because in the act of following at least two are always involved.  So, if we follow him into his death, he will lead us out of it into his life.

Plaque with the Crucifixion, Monvaerni, 15th century, Limoges, France, Painted enamel on copper, 9 7/16 x 8 7/8 x 1/16 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.  
Meditation by Father Simeon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mary's Name

We rejoice as we celebrate today the Name of Mary, a name we call on when we are in distress. We remember someone years ago railing about Mary’s feast days: “I don’t understand what they all mean. They give her too much, make her too privileged.” We like to imagine what Mary’s response to him would be, maybe something like this, “I was, I am, as amazed as you are. All I can tell you is that the Almighty has done great things for me. He has looked on his servant in her nothingness. This, this alone is why all generations have called me blessed. It has little to do with me; it’s all about Him, His pleasure, His delight in my nothingness.”

Clearly to be distracted by Mary’s privileges would be to miss the point. For her story, is our story, individually and as Church. For the Virgin Mary of Nazareth shows us our true self- as total capacity for God in Christ. She shows us the exquisite, breathtaking beauty of our own virgin-self, as totally available to God.

Now certainly we come to our nothingness by a route much different than Mary’s- perhaps through the somewhat bitter self-knowledge of who we really are, what embarrasses us most, our sinfulness. God is not daunted by any of it. He chooses it, wants to transform it, reform it, and inform it with his love and tender mercy, with Himself. And so with Mary we dare to believe in the reality of God’s delight in our nothingness. 


Francisco de Zurbarán, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1660-62.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11

today special tolling of the abbey bells
remembering and praying
for peace
for an end to terrorism
for forgiving hearts

Photograph by Charles O'Connor.