Friday, March 7, 2014
Today we hear Christ Jesus refer to himself as Bridegroom. Our fast and Lenten observance are meant to increase our longing for him and deepen our awareness of his love for us. As Cistercian monks we are called to cling to Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church and of each Christian. Especially through the Eucharist, he teaches us the intimate nature of what it means to belong to him: gratuitous, total, ongoing and life-giving love that invites reciprocity.
And so we are called to give concrete priority to prayer, understood as gratuitous giving and receiving, experienced as loving faith anticipating the coming of the longed-for Bridegroom. We promise to work at the discipline of love, a love based on truth that opens us to self-knowledge and mercy in the face of our own misery and the misery of others.
Icon of Christ the Bridegroom. Lines adapted from Dom Bernardo Olivera, 2002.
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
Remembering that we are dust, we are heartened because Jesus himself has became our dust, our fragile flesh, our nothingness because of his immeasurable affection for us. His life is hidden within our sinful flesh. Jesus' words to us this morning, "when you pray, go to your inner room, and pray to your Father in secret," remind us us that we can find God there, hidden within, in the depths of our hearts, our own inner room. Our lives are mingled together; God in us, we in God. Nothing can separate us. When go to our inner room, we wait for him in confidence
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Mardi Gras in the monastery brings our “farewell” to the Alleluia at this evening’s Vespers, as we chant an elaborate Alleluia at the conclusion of the office. Then we head to the refectory for Brother Patrick’s homemade pizza, followed by ice cream and sweets. Then there’s clean-up followed by Compline, and the last time we can chant the Salve Regina with Our Lady’s window illumined until Easter Sunday. The sanctuary is then prepared for the Ash Wednesday Mass, and the cross over the altar veiled in purple for the holy Forty Days ahead.
Thursday, February 27, 2014
Allen reports that “Christians in the early 21st century are the world's most persecuted religious group. According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians. In effect, our era is witnessing the rise of a new generation of martyrs. Underlying the global war on Christians is the demographic reality that more than two-thirds of the world's 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West, often as a beleaguered minority up against a hostile majority- whether it's Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea. In Europe and North America, Christians face political and legal challenges to religious freedom." Allen tells us that most often these new martyrs suffer in silence.
Our hearts are broken open; we pray for all of our Protestant and Catholic sisters and brothers around the world who are maltreated and harassed because they are followers of Christ Jesus.
Holy Father, we humbly beseech you,
graciously endow us with your Holy Spirit,
who takes away everything
that estranges us from one another.
that estranges us from one another.
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”
We recently heard this story. A couple was seeking custody of a little boy they had cared for as foster parents. The child had been horribly abused, physically and emotionally, sent to bed each night in a small dog’s cage where he had to sleep huddled and cramped with his little knees under his chin. The foster father said that even when he and his wife put the boy to bed- in a real bed, his own bed- he continued to sleep huddled up, his knees angled up and taut. The man said that he and his wife would sneak in at night on tip-toe to relax the boy’s knees, ease them down gently, insistently so that he could relax and sleep more peacefully. But it would take many nights of repeating that gentle, steady gesture before the boy could finally trust and lie down and rest in peace and security.
When terrible things happen to little kids, they usually believe it’s their fault. Even though it’s not true, their logic is: “If I weren’t naughty, this wouldn’t have happened.” Perhaps we too think we know what we deserve. We are sinners after all, we’ve messed up and we deserve it (whatever it might be).
This morning Jesus shows us a different way. He takes the child, the little child within, the place where we are vulnerable and frightened; he embraces this little child, “putting his arms around it.” Then amazingly he identifies himself as the child. Jesus is the small, vulnerable one.
Only love, God’s forgiveness, can ease the rigidity of our fear and knee-jerk responses. Only the warm embrace of Christ Jesus can ease and heal and teach us not to scrunch and clench and hide. We have “received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The Spirit of Christ empowers us to be strong, secure enough as the Father’s beloved ones so that we can trust, even relax and fall back into that love and then go and do likewise- forgiving as we have been forgiven. Not because nothing has happened, too much has happened- I have often made a mess of things, I have hurt, and I have been hurt. But forgiveness renews and recreates possibility, even restores lost innocence.
Sunday, February 23, 2014
As we chanted this morning in our responsorial psalm, "The Lord is kind and merciful." Jesus knows, Jesus understands. He shares our flesh and blood and knows well what yanks at our hearts because “he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy” all that threatens to draw us away from God. Imagine the sympathy of Jesus; literally he feels the same as we do. He speaks to us always not from above, but from deep within. If, as we believe, Jesus is fully human, fully divine, like us “in every respect” but sin then he knows well the vagaries of our human hearts. But unlike us, though tempted, his heart was always set on the Father’s will and desire, for the human heart of Jesus expresses perfectly the infinite love of God.
And so Jesus offers to take us into his own sacred heart, a heart pure and free, a heart unencumbered by the compulsion to sin and turn away from the Father. Broken and wounded, torn open on the cross by our sin, his heart teaches us and forms us in wisdom so that more and more we too may want only what God wants.
We may feel that so much is out of our control, that our hearts are permanently sin-bent, trapped in un-freedom and tendency toward sin. But if tendency means literally to lean in the wrong direction, then what Jesus offers us in his life-giving death and resurrection is true religion. For religion means literally a binding back, a binding fast. Like the best Gardener, Jesus realigns our hearts, tending as they do to lean and twine like invasive, weedy vines around things that will not lead to life. Jesus binds our wayward hearts back to himself, on the trellis of the Cross.
Still we must do our part, refusing to be mastered by evil and rushing to his wounded side, even into his open heart, to be taught there how to choose wisely, choose what the Father wants. We dare to rejoice for "The Lord is kind and merciful;" grace and tender mercy abound. And in the Eucharist Jesus hands over to us his own body and blood, indeed his innermost Self, his very own heart. “Therefore let us draw near with boldness.”
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Perhaps our most important work as monks is to allow things to fall apart and to notice that as things fall apart we more available for Christ's mercy. Perhaps part of our work is to normalize this fragmentation for one another- normalize the falling apart as the means to a most glorious end- life in Christ Jesus. This is not a careless, presumptive laziness, (“I’m broken, you’re broken; Christ will rescue us. No problem!”) Neither is it the blind leading the blind into a catastrophic fall. It is rather the weak leading the weak into a willing acknowledgement and celebration of the inevitability of our fragmentation and weakness as the great good news that will lead to our transformation in Christ.
Jesus’ question to Peter, to each of us in this morning’s Gospel, situates us with Peter poised to listen to our Master as he whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us in the depths of our hearts, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you? What is your experience of me in your life, in your history? How do you experience me now?” What will we answer? Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately beloved by God in Christ, then with Peter we can say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and with Paul, “All I want is to know (you) Christ Jesus and the power flowing from (your) resurrection. Now nothing else matters.”