As Father Peter reminded us in this morning's homily, Jesus calls us to repentance because he longs to be merciful and forgive us. The disasters and misfortunes that befall us are not God's punishment for our sinfulness, but they help us notice the precariousness of all human existence in a world in flux. Jesus' invitation is always to pray, to notice our need for God's mercy, our need to repent for his kingdom is near at hand.
Friday, February 26, 2016
In this morning's First Reading from the Book of Genesis, we see young Joseph rejected by his brothers, thrown into a cistern and then sold to a caravan of traders headed for Egypt for twenty pieces of silver. Like his forebear Joseph, Jesus our Lord will be rejected by his own, betrayed by a dear friend and sold for a mere thirty pieces of silver. Persevering in love and wisdom as Joseph and trusting in his identity as Beloved of his Father, Jesus will proceed with love to endure his passion and cross "heedless of its shame."
Beloved like him we want to "persevere in running the race that lies before us keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God."Heb 12 In our own trials we pray that with Jesus we may not grow weary or lose heart.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
On this cold Lenten morning, we are struck once again by the ardor of the Saint Polycarp. When invited to deny Christ Jesus his Master, the elderly Polycarp utters these words:
Eighty-six years I have served Christ,
and He never did me any wrong.
How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?
and He never did me any wrong.
How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?
We are at once humbled and inspired by the ardor of this second-century martyr. Martyrs truly are our forebears as monks. But what have I done for Christ, what am I doing or Christ, what ought I to do for Christ, how have I ignored or lost sight of him and put other things in his place?
Photograph of the lancet window in the transept of the Abbey church by Brother Daniel.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Jesus “took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.” Luke tells us that the face of Jesus changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white and that Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and spoke of the exodus or departure Jesus was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Christ's Exodus, his departure from Jerusalem is not going to be on a luxury jet but by way of a wooden cross and a cold stone tomb. He will be raised up in glory by the Father but only after suffering his saving Passion and Death for our salvation, his Exodus. Here as so often elsewhere in those places in the Gospels where we are allowed to read what Jesus is praying about, the subject is the chalice of suffering and death that he must drink for our salvation in union with the Father's will.
Thus, Luke's account of the prayer which occurs during the Transfiguration connects it to the description of the agony in the garden and the farewell discourses and prayer of Jesus at the end of the Last Supper in St. John's gospel. So we see how for Jesus it is by prayer that he leads us to follow him and to take up our cross each day. George Martin points out that for early Christians “to take up a cross” meant one was on the way to crucifixion and so to the final hours of one's life. He writes, “To take up a cross daily can mean to live each day as if it is one's last, focusing on the most important thing to do in one's life in one's remaining hours: unite oneself with Jesus as his follower.” Luke shows us that just as Jesus sought to unite himself with his Father's will for him through prayer, so must we in prayer unite ourselves with Jesus who shares the mystery of the redeeming cross with each one of his followers as well as the mystery of his transfigured and resurrected glory.
This plays out in this Eucharist, the prayer that is the source and summit of the Christian life, the prayer in which we offer the divine victim to God and ourselves along with it. In it, through the mystery of remembrance, of anamnesis, the saving cross and passion of Jesus Christ is made present to us even as the souls of all of us are filled with transfiguring, transforming grace through our celebration and reception of the sacrament which is not only our spiritual food for the day, but is also a pledge of future glory given to us--like the glory of the chosen Son and the Voice of the Father witnessed by Peter, John and James on Mount Tabor.Photograph by Brother Daniel of colored glass at the Abbey. Excerpts from Father Luke's homily for the Second Sunday of Lent.
Friday, February 19, 2016
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
It seems Jesus uses deliberate exaggeration in this morning’s Gospel. And somehow as we listen, we are all indicted; Jesus ups the ante for all of us. The Hebrew word Raqa means something like “airhead.” It may be embarrassing to admit, but which one of us hasn’t in a moment of pique uttered a less than kind remark under our breath when we were wearied even by someone we love? God forgive us.
Jesus asks us to love unremittingly; nothing less will do. We realize our helplessness, our sinfulness; once again our desperate need for mercy, the mercy that he is, the mercy that he promises is always ours when we seek it.
Detail of an initial in an ancient Cistercian manuscript.
Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Our weakness and temptations can be place of encounter with Christ. Down there with him we have the blessed opportunity to depend on him alone, to cry out in our helplessness and flee to him for refuge. Then he can save us, for his power is always completed in our weakness. Jesus is with us, and he shows us how to stand firm, grounded in our identity as beloved ones of God so that we can make the loving choice when faced with the possibility of doing otherwise. And most astounding of all, if we do give in to temptation, if we do sin, we have only to beg his mercy. He has promised always, always to bend down, pick us up, wash our wounds with the blood and water from his own wounded side and carry us home to the Father. What could be better than that?
Baptized into Christ Jesus, we are beloved in him. Death and evil, Satan and all his wiles, even when we feel like we’re up to our neck in temptation and sin- none of it ultimately has any power over us, we belong to Christ Jesus. He has won the victory for us once and for all and longs to fill us with himself more and more.
Vintage photo from Our Lady of the Valley.
Sunday, February 14, 2016
If Jesus wants the kingdom, desires to establish God’s reign of mercy with every fiber of his being, Satan will always, always want the opposite. It’s that simple. So it is that this morning in the desert, the battle lines are set. And we see Satan desperately trying to dupe Jesus. Though he is vulnerable and weakened after a prolonged fast, Jesus holds his ground. Fresh from the waters of his baptism, he has heard the Father’s voice, “You are my Beloved One.” He knows who he is, to whom he belongs, what he is about.
And so he rebuffs Satan’s attacks decisively. Jesus won’t be fooled. He is the new Adam who will remain faithful just where the first Adam had given in to temptation. And he will perfectly fulfill Israel's destiny; for in contrast to those who provoked God during forty years in the desert, Christ Jesus reveals himself as God's Servant, totally obedient to the Father. Jesus will be Satan’s conqueror; he will "bind the strong man."Catechism of the Catholic Church And even though he tempts Our Lord this morning, Satan knows he doesn’t have a chance; he knows it and he’s furious.
And so here in the desert this morning, he’s on the attack. Jesus is ready for him. Make bread out of a rock? No, I don’t think so; for his food is to do the will of his Father. Have secular rule over all the kingdoms of the earth? Why bother. It’s not going to happen, for Jesus is with us to inaugurate the kingdom of God, a kingdom of justice and compassion and mercy where it is the poor and lowly will be lifted up and set on thrones. As for leaping off the top of the temple, the only plunge Jesus is going to take in Jerusalem will be into the depths of death.There on the cross he will sink into sorrow and untold pain, all to reverse their power over us. Then un-nailed from his cross of agony, he will fall into the arms of most sorrowful mother.
But it is the scene that precedes his temptation that is so fundamental to our understanding. For it is there at his Baptism that Jesus has descended into the murky water that is our humanity- soggy, sin-prone and unpredictable, ever-vulnerable to temptation. Jesus has immersed himself in all of it.
For too long we may have thought that God was after us, trying to catch us, watching from far off to see if we would mess up and give in to temptation. Maybe, just maybe, we got it wrong. God in Christ is never that far away, he’s here with us; he has come to share unreservedly in all that we go through. He is always able to “empathize with us in our weaknesses,” because he has been tempted in every way that as we are- yet without sinning. He has taken upon himself all that we are. It’s who he is. He’s not far away spying on us; he’s down here with us in the mess, accompanying us, even in the confusion of our temptations.
The First Temptation, Stained Glass Panel, Champagne-Ardenne, France, ca. 1170-1180, Victoria and Albert Museum.
Friday, February 12, 2016
During dinner in the monastic refectory on Ash Wednesday, we listened to a reading of Pope Francis’ Lenten Address. The Holy Father reminds us that love alone is the answer to our “yearning for infinite happiness." And so we must be vigilant “to open the doors of our hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor."
Through acts of mercy and charity we touch “the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering." In the corporal works of mercy we touch Christ in those “who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited.” And in “the spiritual works of mercy - counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer,” we care for Christ as well. Both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are essential for us as Christians.
As we reach out to those who are poor and suffering in our midst, we may come to understand that as sinners we are all poor and desperately in need of the mercy of Christ.
Photo by Brother Brian.
Wednesday, February 10, 2016
A priest was talking to a friend. He told her that he found himself working really hard to always get it right, to have the correct answer for everyone, to always know what to do, to speak the right words, to be strong and in control, to accomplish what he set out to do with perfection. On and on he went describing the expectations he had for himself. And finally he said with a bit of exasperation, “It’s not working; I can’t hold it all together; Things aren’t turning out as I planned.”
When his friend stopped laughing, she said, “Well, welcome to the human race. Who do you think you are?” She could just as well have said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” He finally realized that somewhere along the way he had forgotten his dustiness. He had forgotten his mortality; that he is human and a creation of God. To hear these words and remember our dustiness and mortality is the first step in healing the many ways our lives become distorted and disrupted. It is the beginning of the reordering of our lives and re-establishing ourselves in Christ.
Whether it is fear, arrogance, pride or the illusions of success and accomplishment; we often forget that we are dust and to dust we shall return. When we forget, we may begin practicing our piety before others, hoping to be recognized and praised. Sometimes the other is ourselves and our own self-preoccupation, self-monitoring. Merton once referred to the doppelganger, the self who is always looking over own shoulder at what we are doing and how we are doing. Once we have forgotten our own mortality, we have no need for the immortality of God, the immortality offered us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The immortality offered us through the acknowledgment of our own weakness, frailty and sinfulness. Perhaps such forgetfulness is really the birthplace of sin; the distortion of who we really are as beloved sons and daughters of God.
Ash Wednesday interrupts the cycle of forgetfulness. It declares clearly and unambiguously that enough is enough and that each one of us is enough in God’s eyes. And that there is another way. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
Photograph by Brother Colombo. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's Homily for this Ash Wednesday.
Sunday, February 7, 2016
In this morning's Gospel according to Luke, Peter makes his first appearance and states, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." No doubt these words are his spontaneous response to the the miraculous catch of fish, and in time these words will gradually sink in. But the full import of his self-understanding as sinner will hit him with full force only when Jesus looks at him in the courtyard of the High Priest's house. Then come the bitter tears, and gradually Peter comes to understand what love there is in Jesus' willingness to forgive his great betrayal. More and more Peter realizes that it is precisely as a sinner that he can trust in the love of the One who said, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners." It was only in falling so low, that Peter could believe in such love.
The Gospel is not about greater than life-sized heroes. It is about broken men, whose being chosen is unpredictable and unmerited, men so well exemplified by Peter. Indeed each of our vocations is not intended to turn our lives into striving for some unattainable goal of personal perfection, but rather to proclaiming Christ's message by our example of love and service. And so we can make our own those words of Saint Paul, "I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle... But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective." We too are what we are- sinners; but God's grace has not been ineffective in us, nor will it ever be.
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, late 17th - early 18th century, Nicholas Dorigny , 1658 – 1746, etching and engraving on paper after a tapestry cartoon by Raphael, 1483 - 1520, Victoria and Albert Museum. Text excerpted from Father Gabriel's homily at this morning's Mass.
Friday, February 5, 2016
It is not always easy to recognize Christ in others, especially if we find them difficult or different. And in the Church, even in a monastic community, it is natural for us to gravitate to a smaller group of like-minded people. Jesus threatens the whole matter of community in his first sermon in Nazareth, and it almost gets him killed. He reminds his own people that God’s sense of community is bigger than theirs. He offends them by telling not one but two stories about how God had passed over them in order to minister to strangers- first, the widow from the wrong side of the tracks in Zarephath, and then Naaman the Syrian, who was an officer in the army of Israel’s enemies (Luke 4.21-30.)
Even now the “company of strangers” is a huge issue, as we Americans bitterly debate the question of immigration. And it is a huge issue that threatens to crumble the European Union, as refugees from elsewhere desperately seek to cross national borders. It is a huge issue among people of different faiths, and even among Christians, when controversy surrounds questions such as: “Who’s in? Who’s out? Who belongs? Who’s a misfit, failure or threat?”
It is easy to see the other as stranger, as soon as we do not agree with them, or love different things, or define ourselves by different choices. But it is not a very big step to then begin regarding the stranger as enemy. If we are honest, we are at least a little disturbed or offended when we realize that God actually loves the people we don’t like, that they belong to him just as surely as we do.
Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Zarephath are not simply distant figures that triggered a violent reaction that day in the synagogue, when Jesus was addressing his own people; they have other names in our lives today. The company of strangers is no less uncomfortable or offensive to us. Jesus presents himself in the Gospel as one who cares for the stranger, and he continues to come to us as stranger, reminding us that while he is with us he does not belong to us, but rather we belong to him.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016
As The Catechism tells us, the Catholic intuition “creatively combines the divine and the human…spirit and body,” the material and the spiritual. So it is that yesterday on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord candles were blest, and today candles are used to bless our throats as we pray for the intercession of Saint Blaise. Candles help us to notice the sacred in the ordinary.
In yesterday’s homily Father Dominic reminded us that the candle is an apt symbol of Christ, for as it burns it holds nothing back but spends itself to give us light. The candle is a perfect symbol of Christ’s total self-sacrifice. What is more, Christ invites each of us to give the gift of ourselves for others. We are invited to become like candles, giving off light and warmth and consolation, so as to scatter the darkness of our world and warm hearts with new hope.
Photos by Brother Brian.