Monday, July 6, 2020

Our Retreat

Jesus invites us back to a place of immense littleness, where with wonder and deep reverence, we will be one with him and so truly children of the Father. Perhaps he is even inviting us back to what we might call the anguish of littleness. Not to put us down, but because he knows the immense freedom that is hiding there beneath our frustrations and defeats and surrender. He points to a treasure hidden in that low place where we can only depend on God our Father to provide for us. He knows, because this is how he lived and died and rose. A treasure is there because God understands; God is waiting to meet us down there in a low place, welcoming our need of him.
During this week the community will be on our annual retreat. We promise our prayer for those who follow our blog. Please pray for us.
Photograph of the north road by Brother Brian.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

In the Spirit

Today we begin our annual community retreat. It is an important moment, not only as a special time to reflect on our monastic life, but also to think about our future and the transition to new leadership. So what is our situation? What is God asking of us at this time? What is the one thing necessary, or the two or three things? Thankfully, we can trust that God will give us a word that speaks to our situation today, and I think he does, if only we will listen to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are like a window into his intimate relationship with his Father. In Luke’s version Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father…such has been your gracious will…No one knows who the Father is except the Son…” One thing necessary for our vocation is to look through this window of Jesus’ praise to see this intimate and familiar exchange of glory and honor that proceeds from the Father through the Son and back again from the Son to the Father – an eternal round of glory to glory. But not only are we to gaze upon this glory, but actually to participate in it. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. The one thing necessary is to allow the Holy Spirit to clear away what the wise and the learned find so absorbing, and receive from him a share in the mutual and unending gift of self that proceeds from the Father and the Son, which, in fact, is the Holy Spirit.

But there is a second thing that is necessary in our vocation. Zechariah points to it when he says: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to continually urge “daughter Zion” and “daughter Jerusalem” – that is, the Church – to move in the direction of her meek and humble king, the one who by his death and resurrection removes all her indebtedness to the flesh. The Spirit accomplishes this movement by stirring up the friends of the Bridegroom to cry out, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!
’ Brothers, we are those friends of the Bridegroom. The Spirit wants us to cry out, not so much by words as by humility.

This is one of the mysteries of the Spirit. On the one hand, he manifests himself in overwhelming ways – think the giving of the Law on Sinai, when the Spirit enveloped the mountain in fire; or when Elijah was challenging the prophets of Baal, and the Spirit came down as a consuming fire and devoured not only the sacrifice, but the water, the wood, the stones, and even the dust! On the other hand, the Spirit manifests himself in hidden and discrete ways, or as the Catechism puts it so wonderfully, with a “properly divine self-effacement.” He does not speak on his own, but only what he hears. He comes to Elijah on Mount Horeb as a tiny whispering sound. He guides the Church into all truth, the very foundation of humility. This is a third thing necessary for us: to witness to humility in the heart of the Church.

This time of retreat is a blessing for us, a time to reflect on the things really necessary in our vocation and mission, that is, in the Spirit to participate in the self-giving love and glory of Father and Son; to abide in the heart of the Church like leaven kneaded into three measures of flour; and to follow the Spirit’s lead on the ladder of humility. Let us entrust our retreat to Our Lady of Citeaux. She is the Spirit’s exemplar of participation in the life of God. Her humility draws the Church to the gate of the Eucharist and to the gate of our beautiful monastery.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Today's homily by Father Vincent.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

July Fourth

On a sober note Father Emmanuel reminded us in this morning's homily that our country has still far to go in reaching the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. For,  as recent events have made clear, racial prejudice still lurks in many hearts.

We pray this day that, as we chanted in our responsorial psalm, justice may flourish in our land and fullness of peace forever. We pray that we may be loving and wise, choosing for ourselves and for one another what is life-giving, life -nurturing: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, July 3, 2020

With Saint Thomas

We are always touched by the humility of Christ's accommodation to Thomas' request. He does not chide him for his lack of faith. Instead he simply shows him his wounded hands and side. And it is amazing to notice, particularly during this time of quarantine and isolation, that Jesus invites Thomas to touch him and to inspect the holes in his body. 

Our own willingness to be vulnerable with God and with our brothers and sisters always brings about transformation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In The Same Boat

As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?” Matthew 8

Today's Gospel narrative strikes us as one of the most humorous in all of Scripture. If the boat was being swamped by waves, wasn't Jesus getting soaked? Clearly exhausted after a full day of preaching and healing, Our Lord naps peacefully while a storm rages. The Man was definitely a very heavy sleeper.

We imagine him, suddenly roused by the disciples. He wipes his face with one hand, then runs both hands over his dripping hair. He rises and with a finger to his lips, he says, "Shhhh. Quiet down." - to his disciples and to the sea. Amazement. Grateful peace. 

The Lord Jesus is in the same boat as we; soaked to the bone, with us in all that rages around and within us. We long more and more to yield control and relax into his loving presence. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Two Saints

There was once a very devote man, he was independent, made a good living. He was self-sufficient, well educated in his religion and strong in his belief. He had been taught who and what was right, and who and what was wrong. Everyone knew where they stood with him, an upstanding member of his community and someone others looked up to, even perhaps envied. He was, as some people would say, “living the dream”.  He was a man of action, a leader, someone in command, when you had a difficult job that needed doing, this was the man you wanted. One day while on a road trip with some associates. As they were moving along and bragging about how successful they had been and what their next move should be. Amid all this babel, one by one something caught their attention, they noticed something in the sky, a light so bright it blinded them and struck them to the ground. Then this one man heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  Saul was in darkness, having been blinded, and he could not find his own way. His friends had to help him do what the risen Christ had told him to do. This is of course the story of Paul's conversion, and I trust we all know what happens from here. 

Peter and his companions had been fishing all night and had nothing to show for their effort. Again, and again they dropped their nets into the waters and hauled them back up empty again and again in the dark of night. Not even the breeze brought any comfort, it just gave them a chill, making the long night downright wretched. What was worse than the physical tiredness was the mental exhaustion.  Peter knew no fish meant no livelihood, no money, and no way to cover expenses. But after fishing in the dark, with the light came Christ, and with Christ came the light. 

In the First Reading we find Peter bound by chains, surrounded by guards, asleep in prison. But Peter was not bound by one set of chains but two, to call them uncomfortable would be an understatement. Peter had guards not only outside his cell but inside his cramped stuffy cell, next to him, around him day and night, with him for every breath he took.  And yet in all this confinement, how do we find Peter, was he awake and nervous, was he mumbling that his life was better before he encountered Jesus, was he pleading to be set free because he was wrongly accused? No, no and no. Peter was asleep, between two smelly and snoring, armed soldiers. Peter slept. Peter slept, because he knew he was free, Peter had become free by allowing himself to be bound, to Christ. 

On the road to Damascus after the risen Christ spoke to Paul, he responded by saying “What shall I do, Lord”? In that moment everything shifted for Paul. He realized what he thought was freedom was not, and that true freedom means being bound to Jesus Christ. Paul found that freedom was wanting what God wants and loving what God loves, not a life devoted to his own ambitions and ego, but to the will of God. Paul became a prisoner of Christ.   

Peter was a simple hard-working man, just trying to eke out a living doing the same job done by his father and his father’s father before him and his ancestors going back for generations. He was trying to keep food on the table. Peter was doing all that he could, he was bound to the life passed down to him, but in the end, he kept coming up empty. Then Jesus comes along and says, “Put out into deep waters and let down your nets”. Now if I had been there, I might have something along the lines of: “We’ve been doing that all night, and it ain’t workin.” But Peter responded, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets”.  And this is the moment everything changed for Peter, this is when Peter obtained freedom by binding himself to Christ. This was Peter’s way of saying “What shall I do Lord”? He recognized who Christ was in the boat. 

The fact that Peter recognizes Christ was apparent when they got back to shore. What is the first thing Peter did? He fell to his knees and told Christ to get away from him, because Peter knew he was a sinful man. One of the many paradoxes of faith and the spiritual life is that sometimes when you encounter someone who is strong in faith and love of God, instead of feeling blessed you feel dirty and unclean, because every wrong thought you have ever had and every wrong action you have ever done comes back to you. And you think to yourself, “I am a sinner”. I am sure that that does not come close to describing how Peter felt when encountering Christ. But Christ had plans for him, he was to become a fisher of men.

In the Gospel reading it is Peter who recognizes Jesus and says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.  Peter was able to recognize who Christ, and Christ had plans for Peter. Peter would be the rock upon which Christ would build His Church because Peter had faith and was able to see Christ and to know what direction he should go. Like Paul, Peter found freedom by binding himself to Christ. 

Peter and Paul were very different men. And they did not always agree on how to carry out the will of God. But the closer you look the more you find the had in common.  They were similar in their faith in Christ, it was the same Christ that they both bound themselves to, and by doing so gained their freedom. As different as they were, they were brought through darkness into light. They both knew that no matter what happened to them, if they remained faithful and trusted in the Lord all would go according to His plan. They both knew that everything would pass away, and in the by and by they would receive their reward. Another thing they had in common was love, yes love for God, love for people. This love is more than emotion, this is love as a verb. They wanted to share the gifts they had received; they wanted to go out and give what they had been given. 

They both suffered and were persecuted for their faith, and in the end were both martyred. We heard some of Peter's story today. In the Letter to the Corinthians Paul states that he was flogged, beaten with sticks, stoned, shipwrecked three times, the list goes on. There was physical and mental abuse for both. When Peter and Paul turned their lives over to Christ, Christ never promised it would be easy, but they knew it would be worth it, so they did what they were asked.   

The legacy of Saints Peter and Paul has been handed from one generation of faithful to the next, in many forms and shapes. One of the best examples is right in front of us, here at the Abbey. What bound Saints Peter and Paul together was far greater than what separated then, and what binds us together is far greater than that which could divide us. Like Saints Peter and Paul, we have all turned our backs on our former lives and bound ourselves to Christ in faith and love, in an ever-deepening relationship with God.  
Brother Stephen, our newly ordained deacon's homily for today's Solemnity.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

First Vespers of Saints Peter & Paul

Perhaps Peter and Paul whom we celebrate today would not mind if we noted that neither of them has much to be proud of. Peter who even as his best friend is being slapped and sentenced insisted to a serving girl in the glow of a charcoal fire that he did not even know who that man was; and self-righteous Paul who became notorious for dragging the first followers of Jesus from their homes to prison and persecution. 

Both Peter and Paul find themselves discovered by the Mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who identifies himself as the betrayed one, the persecuted one. Peter is forgiven by Christ at a breakfast on the shore after the resurrection; Paul thrown from his horse finds himself discovered by the mercy of Jesus who begs him, "Why are you persecuting me?" They will be empowered by mercy and compassion and forgiveness they receive from Jesus. We celebrate two men desperately in need of transformation, a transformation that happens in their encounters with their most merciful betrayed and persecuted Lord.