Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Martyrs


In May of 1996 seven of our Cistercian brothers of Tibhirine in Algeria were found dead. These monks were kidnapped from their monastery and beheaded by a group of Islamic terrorists trained by the al-Qaida network. Caught in the conflict between the Algerian government and the extremist Armed Islamic Group, these monks chose to remain at their monastery amid threats from extremist elements and face death in solidarity with the Muslim neighbors whom they loved. We were pleased to learn that our Trappist brothers will be among the 19 martyrs of Algeria beatified on 8 December this year in Oran, Algeria. 

Pregnant Muslim women from the village adjacent to the monastery would often come to pray before the statue of Our Lady in the garden for safe deliveries. Muslims honor Mary as mother of Jesus the Prophet. We pray to her for an end to all terrorism, for peace, understanding and mutual respect between all Christians and Muslims. May these martyrs teach us to be models of Christian friendship, encounter and dialogue, and may their example help us build a world of peace.

The monks' story was treated in the film "Of Gods and Men," which won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.


Photograph of the abandoned monastery of Tibhirine in Algeria.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Arguing on the Way

“What were you arguing about on the way?” This question asked by Jesus in today's gospel and met with a stony silence then is still being asked of us, each one of us here individually and corporately as members of Christ's body, the Church. “What were you arguing about on the way?”  The word “way” was the ancient name for the Christian faith, both as a theory and as people following in the footsteps of Christ along “the Way.” Following and arguing! The stony silence of the disciples is the silence of shame and embarrassment.

To admit that they were arguing about who was or would be the greatest might make them feel foolish in the light of the fact that Jesus had just finished telling them for the second time of his imminent passion and death: that as Son of Man he would drink the cup of suffering for their sake and for all people. They had heard him say it, but their concern and really their minds were elsewhere: on their own advancement in their little world of discipleship—perhaps something even better if this Jesus guy pans out and really does establish a kingdom. 

There is so much in the news today about the damage that egotistical people cause in our society, our Church and our political system. Today's readings help us to understand that none of this is anything new.  St. James tells us the problem and a solution. He says, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” 

Jesus hugs a child and shows it to them. A child in that society was a nobody. He tells them to reach out in his name to all the people ranked by society as nobodies and serve them. This is certainly to go against the current cultural tide of contempt for the poor and oppressed in our nation and the world. “Losers!” people shout at them. Jesus tells us his disciples that if we wish to receive him and his Father into our lives, we have to begin by ourselves receiving the nobodies, that is, those we think are nobodies because of our foolish delusions of grandeur, and worse, our self-delusions of goodness and holiness.
      
The Lord of the Universe becomes a nobody in the Eucharist. Pure being, infinite Trinitarian life and love, the glorified humanity of Christ become manifest to us by faith in a little piece of  consecrated host that we receive into our very selves that we may all together grow in our graced identity as the Body of Christ. We can all stop arguing along the way, for He, Jesus Christ, is the Way.

Fritz von Uhde, Let the Children Come to Me, 1884Excerpts from Father Luke's Sunday Homily
        

Friday, September 21, 2018

Medicine

Many tax collectors and sinners came
and sat with Jesus and his disciples.
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples,
"Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"
He heard this and said,
"Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.
Go and learn the meaning of the words,
I desire mercy, not sacrifice.
I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." Mt 9

Each morning Jesus sits at table with us. We are sinners, so hungry for the Mercy that he is. We are sick and desperate for healing, and our Physician comes to give us the Medicine that he is.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

To the Cross

As we celebrate the Martyrs of Korea today, it is wise to remember that the cross happens when we love…or try to. And as we take up our cross, Jesus is our brave and compassionate companion along the way. In following him, we are made one with him. And he invites us to imitate him – in patience and hope in our Father’s most loving regard for us always.

Love always gives itself away; it cannot be unaffected by the beloved’s troubles. As each morning we go up to the altar for Holy Communion, we go up to the cross, where Christ’s body was first offered, where the bread that is his body, God’s wheat, was finely baked in the heat of his passion. May the passion of Christ Jesus our Lord become our own more and more, as we eat his body and drink his blood.

Vintage photo of the Abbey church.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Cross




This morning we listen as Jesus murmurs this hauntingly beautiful question to Peter and to each of us, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you?” Whatever we answer, however we have come to experience and love him, Jesus reminds us - the cross must be part of our relationship with him. We dare not shy away from it. And we can well imagine the apostles’ confusion as Jesus teaches them that he must suffer greatly and be rejected, killed and rise after three days. No doubt enjoying Jesus’ recent celebrity, they don’t want to hear about it. And Peter will go so far as to reprimand Jesus. 

Jesus will have none of that. And he states emphatically, to Peter, to each of us in our reluctance, “Get behind me.” In other words: “Just follow me. Come after me.” To follow, is to carry the cross as Jesus our Master does. And always it is our own cross, probably unexpected, invariably not one of our own choosing but our own. We all have one; we do not go shopping for it in the cross store. It comes, and we are invited to bear it with Christ Jesus our Lord; he in us, burdened with us, encouraging us, sustaining us, leading us forward in hope, teaching us confidence in the Father’s love and resurrection as our promised inheritance. For the cross is always, absolutely joined to the resurrection. They are inseparable, one event. Jesus asks us to take up our cross because it is the very narrow gate to love and risen life in him.

The cross is inevitable for Jesus, for it is the way he can love without limit. That is why he is so adamant with Peter – to deny him the cross would be to keep him from the fulfillment of his total self-gift, to be held back from it is unthinkable. The cross is the “marriage bed” granting him total, unremitting self-surrender to us, down to the very last drop of his most precious blood. This was always the goal of his Incarnation to share unreservedly in our sorrow, to rescue us from unending death and fear; and so, his coming down to us in Mary’s womb reaches its culmination on the cross, for there he can reveal the unimaginable breadth of God’s compassion. Jesus allows himself to suffer, because he can do no less. And it is there in this very weakness, the weakness of love, that he reveals the sublimity of his divinity. (Walter Kasper) On the cross God is most truly God. His power is made perfect in his weakness, and his power can reveal itself only in our weakness. And battered now as Church, angry and hurting, perhaps we have come to realize our weakness more than ever. Is it opportunity? Perhaps. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Our Lady of Sorrows

As the Church celebrates today a memorial in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows, we recall often 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 as God does, empathizes with Christ's sacred wounded Body 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. 

Virgin and the Man of Sorrow, detail, Simon Marmion, c.1485, oil on panel, Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Faithful Cross


Tradition credits Constantine's mother Saint Helena with the discovery of the buried cross of Jesus during the second quarter of the 4th century in Jerusalem. Immediately this relic became the object of tender devotion and lavish ritual. The pilgrim nun Egeria has left us a vivid account of the ritual for exposition and the procession to venerate the cross on Good Friday in Jerusalem. The true cross became a nexus of holiness, sacred presence and healing. Egeria even writes of one overzealous devotee caught biting off a chunk of the cross during the Good Friday Liturgy.

The Fathers of the Church loved to find in every reference to wood or tree, staff, rod or ark in the Hebrew Scriptures a type of the cross of Christ. Cyril of Jerusalem declares, "Life ever comes from wood!" Paulinus of Nola chants to the cross, "You have become for us a ladder for us to mount to heaven." And in an anonymous Easter homily inspired by Hippolytus, the tree of the cross reverses the destruction wrought by the tree of Eden: “For me this tree is a plant of eternal health. I feed on it; by its roots I am rooted; by its branches I spread myself; I rejoice in its dew; the rustling of its leaves invigorates me...I freely enjoy its fruits which were destined for me from the beginning. It is my food when I am hungry, a fountain for me when I am thirsty; it is my clothing because its leaves are the spirit of life.” Pascha IV

The poetic intuition of the Fathers found beautiful expression in the splendid processional hymns of Venantius Fortunatus. The Pange Lingua written to celebrate the reception of relics of the true cross by Queen Radengunde at Poitiers in 569 addresses the cross directly:

Faithful cross, O Tree all beauteous
Tree all peerless and divine!
Not a grove on earth can show us
Such a leaf and flower as thine.

The lovely Vexilla Regis hails the cross as a triumphant emblem of victory:

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow,
Where he as man who gave us breath,
Now bows beneath the yoke of death.

On this Feast of the Triumph of the Cross, we rejoice for the cross is the place where Jesus gave himself completely to us, there he shed his precious blood to free us from the inevitably of unending death.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

This Morning

The fairness of the day is come,
The radiant dawning of the sun;
And all the earth in every hue,
To brightly shine begins anew.

O Christ, who far outshine the dawn;
To know you perfectly we long;
To you we turn with hymns of praise,
Who live and reign through endless days.

Let all our speaking be sincere,
Our hearts by truth and goodness cheered,
That gladness, bright as dawning sun,
May light our minds when day is done.

As we sang this hymn at Lauds, we were reminded how much we long for Jesus and will depend on his loving-kindness all the day long.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from the hymn Sol Amoris.  

Monday, September 10, 2018

Be Opened

“And looking up to heaven Jesus groaned and said to him, “Ephphatha!”—“Be opened!” 

Regardless of how it comes about, the tragedy of spiritual deafness is that connection is broken. We can no longer hear the voice of God. We can no longer hear the voice of the people in our lives. It seems that the only voices we hear are the ones in our heads. The only conversation we have is with our self. Such spiritual deafness is ego-centered. When we are spiritually deaf, we assume that ours is the only, or the most important, voice to hear. We end up cut off from God and others, and progressively closed to new ideas, understandings, and experiences. This is one way of understanding “hardness of heart.” Closed to new ways of thinking, behaving, and relating, we continue business as usual and nothing ever changes. Sadly, that makes for a lonely, isolated, miserable existence. How different our daily experience would be if we let nothing go by without being open to being nourished by the inner meaning of that event in life!

Spiritual deafness is one of the primary causes of conflict in our relationships with one another, within our communities and families, within our nation and world. It’s not hard to see how deafness of the heart destroys relationships.

We are deaf when we become self-preoccupied, self-referential and refuse to forgive. We are deaf when we are too busy to really listen and be present. We are deaf to the teaching of Jesus when judgment triumphs over mercy, and indifference rather than compassion and love defines our relationship with our neighbor. We are deaf to God’s presence when we refuse to be still, quiet, and listen.

Deafness abounds all around us and within us. The media today gives plenty of evidence that talking heads are a dime a dozen, but listening hearts are few and far between. So what about us? We all can admit to having poor “connections” in at least some of our relationships. What, then, are the places in which we are closed? Where is our life disconnected? To whom or to what are we deaf? And what can we do about it?

According to the Gospel, the cure for our deafness is not “to hear” but “to be opened.” Hearing follows openness. “Ephphatha!” That’s what Jesus tells the deaf man. He says the same thing to you and me. Jesus is always saying “Ephphatha!” to the closed parts of our lives, so that he might dwell in us. “Ephphatha!” is Jesus’ prayer to God, his commandment to the deaf man, and his longing for each and every one of us. 

Photograph by Brother Daniel. Reflection by Father Dominic.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

On Our Lady's Birthday

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is attested from the earliest days of the Church. And the oldest known written version of a prayer to her is found on an Egyptian papyrus from the Third Century. It is the prayer we sing to her each Sunday evening:

We place ourselves in your keeping, holy Mother of God. Refuse not the prayer of your children in their distress, but deliver us from all danger, ever Virgin, holy and blessed.

She will never forget us or neglect us, for her Son has entrusted us to her care. How fitting that we remember her Birthday, for she is gateway to the Hope, Holiness and Peace which is ours in Christ Jesus, her Son. 


Thursday, September 6, 2018

Beloved

If only we understood our dignity in Christ; if only we knew God’s gift. If only we knew God’s desire for us, then everything would be changed, transformed. “His desire gives rise to yours,” says Saint Bernard, “and if you are eager to receive his word, it is he who is rushing to enter your heart; for he first loved us, not we him.” We are embedded in God, in his image, in God’s beauty, God’s Light. 

Do we know our truth, our reality - that we are indeed sinners, often selfish and hardhearted but always beloved of God? If not, says Saint Bernard, “What glory is there in having something you do not know you have?” 

Photograph by Brother Brian. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

By Love

How does the Father draw us? By love. For God is love, as St. John tells us in his First Letter. And love is known only by love. In the experience of being drawn, we experience nothing less than the logic of love: Amando trahitur, Augustine says, it is through the pleasure of loving that one is drawn. “Give me a man who loves, and he will understand what I say,” he says. As William of St. Thierry says, “In the things which pertain to God, the sense that allows the mind to attain them is love.” Love, William explains, is nothing other than a will that is vehement and well-ordered. And this love that is able to receive and be drawn by the God of love comes to us as a pure gift. When God comes to us as love, he brings with him the love that we need if we are to believe him and know him. In other words it is by remaining open to and accepting the grace of love offered by the Father through the Spirit of Truth that we come to the Son and through him to the Father. In this process our hearts are purified, strengthened and set free, so that we can let go of idolatrous ways of thinking. 

It is in the gift of Charity that the genuine encounter with God’s takes place. Our task is simple readiness to receive this gift when and as God wishes to give it and then to give it away, in praise and thanksgiving to God and in the love and service of our neighbor. Our guide and example in this open readiness is Mary, who in her assent, received the fullness of God. May she come to our assistance, that we may conceive him in our hearts and come to see him as he is. 

Picture by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Timothy.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Not Idol But Icon

In this morning's Gospel we see Jesus exasperated with the Pharisees because they have made an idol of religious observance and lost sight of the deeper truth of God's commandments, as they "cling to human tradition."

But Jesus proclaims the law of love and compassion. He is the Icon, the perfect image of the Father's love, transparent to the beauty and truth that God is. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation from Father Timothy's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

On This Saturday

In today's Gospel we hear the parable of the talents. Our Father Simeon comments on the passage, "Our greatest talent and treasure is our ability to love, and in this enterprise the champion is the greatest risk taker, which means the one most willing to invest himself."

As we celebrate Our Lady on this Saturday, we recall that it is Mary Our Lady who was most willing to risk everything in love and "invest" herself completely in God's plan. Thus she became most fruitful and gave us our one Treasure, Christ the Lord.

Picture by Brother Brian.