Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Advent Puzzle

On the one hand, the season of Advent is a season of joy and hopeful anticipation as we approach Christmas; on the other hand, it is filled with sober reminders of what will happen when the Lord comes. The prophets are particularly sensitive to this paradox. 

St. John the Baptist certainly knew the ups and downs associated with the Lord’s coming. His whole prophetic mission was focused on it. He had spent years in the desert preparing; he fearlessly rebuked the religious leaders as a brood of vipers and called out the king for his adulterous behavior; he had seen the heavens opened and the Spirit descending like a dove; and finally, he was bound in prison for his witness to the truth with only his conscience for company.

Someone might think that Jesus would do something to assist John. But when his disciples bring John’s question to Jesus, that is, whether Jesus is the one who is to come, Jesus doesn’t send a rescue squad. He doesn’t offer words of sympathy. He simply relates the works that he has been doing and allows John to complete his glorious witness.

Jesus goes on to speak to the crowds about John, and higher praise could hardly be given. John is the messenger sent before the face of the Lord to prepare his way. He’s not a reed swayed by the wind. If there is any example of someone standing firm in the truth, it is John – and under what conditions! I can only imagine John repeating to himself over and over again the words of Isaiah: “Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak, say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God!”

Jesus concludes with the puzzling statement: “Among those born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist.” It is hard to know what the rest of the statement means: “…yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” One thing is clear: now that John is in the kingdom of heaven, there are very few who are closer to God than he. John prepared the way of the Lord, and we are all his beneficiaries.

I would like to mention one other prophet in the context of Advent – a modern prophet – St. John Henry Newman. Newman, too, knew the paradox of being a prophet of the Lord. He had been one of the most influential Anglicans of the 1800’s; but his prayer and study led him to a perplexing question. Just as John had found it necessary to ask the Lord if he were the one who was to come, Newman was led by to ask something similar, but with a slight twist if I may so phrase it: “Are you she who is to come, or should we wait for another?” He meant the Catholic Church. Was the Lord’s coming inseparable from her coming? Was she the Bride of Christ?  When Newman reached the conclusion that she was, he asked to be received into the Church. His adherence to this truth and to the voice of his conscience cost him dearly, but he stood firm, and now he is a guide for countless believers.

What do these two great prophets have to do with us? How do we fit into this puzzle which is Advent? The coming of the Lord is near, but so is his Paschal Mystery. The prophets patiently awaited and prepared the way for the Lord, and we must too. We, both monks and laity, have a prophetic mission in the Church. As monks we rarely see whether we are making any difference in the world. We are hidden away in the bosom of the Church. Our prophetic mission is to go continuously before the face of the Lord and ponder his majesty and lowliness. We must witness to the truth in our communal life, often in the darkness of faith. Like the Eucharist we are about to receive, so hidden from the eyes of the world, let us stand firm hidden yet prophetic in the bosom of the Church and rejoice in the Lord always! 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from Father Vincent's homily for Gaudete Sunday.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

At Guadalupe

At Tepeyac the Virgin Mary depicts herself as a pregnant, olive-skinned Indian maiden. Like the Son she carries in her womb, she identifies herself with the little ones and pictures herself as one of them.

On an icy cold day in December of 1531, she promises Juan Diego that he will find many flowers blossoming on the hilltop where he first met her. He does as she says and gathers Castilian roses, lilies, carnations, iris, fragrant jasmine blossoms, yellow gorse and tiny violets. The Virgin arranges them all in the fold of Juan’s coarse cactus fiber tilma.

When they fall to the floor before the dumbfounded bishop of Mexico City, he sees Our Blessed Lady’s lovely handiwork. She has painted her self-portrait with spring blossoms in winter.

Jesus and his dear Mother long to be with us; and even now they are doing everything, anything to get our attention. Very often perhaps we have ignored His mercy-laden advances; or perhaps forgotten her promise and desire to console and protect us. No regrets, for once again Mercy and His Mother come to us like spring in the midst of winter.

Do listen, do be assured of it, my littlest one, that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For am I not here, I, your mother? Are you not in the cool of my shadow? In the breeziness of my shade? Is it not I that am your source of contentment? Are you not cradled in my mantle, cuddled in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?
       
from Our Lady's  words to Saint Juan Diego.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Insignificant

Seeing tiny bird tracks in the new snow, we are reminded of God's desire to be small and hidden in Mary's womb and even now in our own daily experience - always waiting for us there.


The divine Word belittled himself and he has remained pledged to smallness…he loves smallness…Jesus seeks smallness because he knows very well that there is nothing so truly great upon earth as that which is insignificant…small is the manger, small is the boat, narrow is the cross…He clothes the small with the immensity of his love, and to the little ones he entrusts great missions…


Lines by Luis Martinez.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Believe Beyond Believing

There are so many annunciations; God makes so many overtures to us all day long, trying to get our attention. There are so many invitations to embrace our fears, our inner loneliness as privileged places of encounter with as much courage as the Virgin Mary, who allowed herself to be invaded, tenderly overshadowed by Mystery, a Mystery who loves us beyond all telling to
...believe beyond believing,
That life can spring from (fear and) death;
That growth can flower from our grieving;
That we can...turn transfixed by faith. 
Let us step quietly, perhaps even a bit forlornly, into this place of deep trust.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Lines from the Advent hymn Each Winter as the Year Grows Older.

Monday, December 9, 2019

Immaculate

The Abbey's cloister garth is a kind of secret garden surrounded by the four cloisters. This garden enclosed is a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her beauty, and fragrance set apart for Christ alone, a place where he could nestle and grow. 
On this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception we celebrate Mary's chosenness. And we rejoice in her privilege, for she reveals the breadth of our human capacity for God, the breathtaking beauty of our availability to all that God wants to accomplish in us. 

A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. 

Lines from the Song of Songs. Photographs by Brother Brian.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Child for Us

Jesus invites us into a place of deep trust and freedom, where fear is conquered by the weakness of love. It is, after all, what he says over and over again to his disciples after his resurrection. “It is I, do not be afraid.” And so we are trying to learn that God’s love for us casts out all fear. We can simply fall backwards into him, into that confidence, that knowledge that we like him are beloved ones of God. This is the work of trusting, choosing to believe. For our belovedness is simply the way things are. No one can take it away. God is with us, on our side; we can stop running.

A group of doctors from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston went to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. A young woman oncologist told the story of being totally overwhelmed by the situation in a very primitive tent hospital. There was a seemingly endless barrage of impossible medical traumas without proper medicines or instruments. And at one point she became paralyzed by her helplessness and fear. She was just then at the bedside of a little boy, whose leg had been amputated a few days earlier. It was all too much for her. Suddenly unable to function any longer, she began sobbing uncontrollably, her face hidden in her hands. It was then that this little boy about six or seven years old, saw her tears and her trembling and with a smile lifted his head from his pillow and encouraged her to move on to some other kids nearby whom he knew needed her attention more than he did. And remarkably she found she was able to do so. It was a numinous moment for her. For in that moment the power of death, the horror and hopelessness and fear were broken open. She witnessed in that little boy the triumph of love over pain and fear. See Boston Globe, Spring 2010.

Now in Advent we look for the little hand of God beckoning us not to be afraid. Whatever our fears - great or seemingly insignificant, great traumas or smaller nagging ones - Jesus our kind Lord notices and offers us accompaniment and a way out. You and I are more than our fears. This is why he comes for us, to save us from all that would paralyze and hurt us. We can hope, we can dream with Isaiah and be “confident and unafraid,” daring to discover our “strength and courage” in the Lord, our Savior, and so come to draw the water of hope and life and joy flowing from his wounded open side. Jesus comes to show us that we are deeply, indescribably loved and even liked by our Father God, a God who is very interested in us, on our side. We are loved more than we can imagine.

And so, in these darkest days of the year, the shortest days, “as the year grows older and the chill sets in,” let us make a place for Christ, a place where hope can grow in us, as he did in the womb of his Virgin Mother. Perhaps the best way to do this might be to be honest about our own fear and helplessness and dare to open this creaky, low door to the Divine Child of Hope, “the Child of ecstasies and sorrows;” and see fear as an invitation, an opportunity, a great open place where we can welcome him. From this most unlikely of places - like the smelly stall and the crib of straw in Bethlehem -  a tiny hand reaches out toward us. God is crying a message that “we are able not to be afraid.” Like that little boy in Port-au-Prince, we can point each other in the right direction, toward love and kindness. We can be unafraid; we are dearly loved by a God who dares to become a little Child.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Meditation by one of the monks.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Advent

In darkness and the gloom of these shortest days of the year, we pray for Christ's nearness, even as we know he is never far. He is always, always with us, within us. Still, in these days we want to deepen our desire, stoke our yearning, remembering with broken hearts our desperate need for the God who dwells within. We pray then for attentiveness to the One who is always and everywhere "toward us," drawing us to himself. We beg to be more and more deliberate in our awareness of our own desperate desire for him and his even more desperate longing for us. For as Saint Augustine reminds us, God thirsts to be thirsted after.