Sunday, September 15, 2019

Prodigal Love

 Image result for rembrandt prodigal son etching
This morning we hear again the story of the foolish extravagance of the father’s love, his prodigal love. There was a very prosperous man with two sons, so the story begins. Soon we see the younger son coming to his father with a misguided request. “Please give me my share. I want what’s coming to me.” The boy’s is self-assured but blinded to love’s responsibilities. And so, he’s off with his share of the estate- in Hebrew law, one third of the estate - since he is the younger son. It’s an incredibly large amount of money. And he wastes it all.

Then there’s a famine. And now the boy gets so desperate, he's happy to feed pigs. And so he makes himself totally unclean! And he's starving; but even more it seems, he is longing for someone to notice; yearning to be loved back to life. For, Jesus tells us, “No one made a move to give him anything.”

And then this bright idea: “I will be a servant. I don’t deserve anything. I have messed up totally, but I will return. How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough. Yes, I will arise and return to my father.”

Now mercy, the father’s dear old face buried in his son’s unwashed neck. He’ll have none of the boy’s protestations; he responds only with extravagant love. The son wants to be treated as a slave, instead he will be treated as an honored guest - as the son he never ceased to be. 

Enter the sweaty, hardworking, dutiful son. For weeks he’s been nursing a grudge big as Gibraltar. “Why, you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends,” he says to his father. The father might have answered – “You never asked me; I’d give you anything.” Tragically, this boy has lost sight of all the love that’s available for him. He too is lost, desperate, though he doesn’t realize it. “Please come in,” his father says. “You are always with me. All I have is yours.” 

The younger son wrongly believed that he no longer deserved to be called a son, but this older son is even more deluded, for he thinks he deserves something because he’s been ‘slaving’ for years. But he’s not a slave, he is a son just like his brother.

So, two lost sons learning about love, that it is extravagant, even reckless, far beyond the rules of justice, our too small equations. They are learning what it means to be a son, a child of God, the God who is Love without measure, the God who has given us everything, everything in Jesus his Son. Indeed “All I have is yours” is another name for Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam), 1620–69, etching, pen and ink, 6 1/8 × 5 7/16 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Triumph of the Cross

This ancient sign of horror and excruciating torture has become for us a tree of life. For the precious blood of Jesus our Lord has drenched its branches. We rejoice under the cross, because by his cross Jesus has rescued us from sin and shame and death.

So it is that Saint Paulinus of Nola will chant 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. 

We exalt in the Cross of Christ, for this Cross is a royal throne upon which Love has triumphed and transformed our pain, misery, human fragility and foolishness into a royal gateway to life and hope and immortality. Death no longer has the last word in our lives, the Love of the wounded and risen Lord Jesus does. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel of our veneration cross embedded with a relic of the True Cross, enthroned in the transept of the Abbey church for today's feast.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Name of Mary

Today the Church celebrates the name of Mary, a name we call on in all of our needs. As the poet Hopkins assures us, Mary has "one work to do - let all God's glory through." Her desire is always to bring us closer to her Son. As Saint Bernard will remind us:

If squalls of temptations arise, or you fall upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the star, call upon Mary.
If you are tossed by the waves of pride or ambition, detraction or envy, look to the star, call upon Mary.
If anger or avarice or the desires of the flesh dash against the ship of your soul, turn your eyes towards Mary.
If, troubled by the greatness of your sins, ashamed of your guilty conscience, terrified by dread of judgment, you begin to sink into the gulf of sadness or the abyss of despair, think of Mary.
In dangers, in anguish, in doubt, think of Mary; call upon Mary.
Let her be ever on your lips, ever in your heart; and the better to obtain the help of her prayers, imitate the example of her life.
Following her, you will not stray;
invoking her, you will not despair;
thinking of her, you will not wander;
upheld by her, you will not fall;
shielded by her, you will not fear;
guided by her, you will not get weary;
favored by her, you will reach the goal.
And you will experience for yourself how good is that saying: 'And the Virgin's name was Mary'

Drawing by Giuseppe Cesare.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Impassioned

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple. Luke 14

In his impassioned words this morning, Jesus speaks to us of the high cost of our discipleship. He wants our love for him and the Kingdom to transform all our relationships and ways of being and acting. There is to be no space, no part of our lives that is to be separate from him and his love.


Jesus points us to the cross, to his excruciating self-offering in all its bitterness and pain. There on the cross his infinite mercy and compassion will burst all bounds. Baptized into him, Jesus wants us with him, embracing our own crosses. Our self-offering joined to that of Jesus will make us with him a source of life and hope for all. The cross is a bridge, a gateway. In Jesus' death, death will die, for the Father will not allow his Beloved to know decay. Jesus' resurrection will be accomplished by the Father’s love. This is where our cross-bearing with Jesus will bring us. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Brother at Work

God only wants to be ordinary. It is why Jesus has come, God with us, near us, in us. The ordinary is charged forever with his kind, incessant presence. God longs to be ordinary, not taken for granted, but here, always here with us. Why else would he choose to be a child, why else a small town carpenter and a wandering teacher? Why else allow himself to be done in by thugs and jealous bureaucrats? Why else choose to be hidden in a morsel of bread on our altar? God in Christ delights to be with us - "ordinary, obscure and laborious." 

Our ordinary life allows us to accompany Christ Jesus in his ordinariness.

Photograph of Brother Matthew Joseph by Kathleen Trainor.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Guest List

At the feast in the Kingdom, the guest list includes the old woman in the moth-eaten fur coat who carries her kingdom in plastic bags, the crippled man who hobbles when others walk briskly by, the blind who long for the warmth of a fire they cannot see, the lonely ones who never get invited anywhere. These are the ones who will be led to the seats of honor in the Kingdom, the little ones who cannot return invitations but nonetheless long for the company that table fellowship provides. Jesus embraces these people into importance. In the upside-down world of the Kingdom, what appears to be foolishness is great wisdom and beauty. The love of Jesus looks beyond appearances; it pierces disguises and dignifies the lowly. Let us love like this always.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation extracted from a homily by Father Aquinas.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

His Word

Jesus rebuked him and said, "Be quiet! Come out of him!"
Then the demon threw the man down in front of them
and came out of him without doing him any harm.
They were all amazed and said to one another,
"What is there about his word? Luke 4


Indeed, what is it about the word of Jesus? How his word consoles and heals us; rouses us from our drowsy complacency and despondency. Jesus' word breaks in, comes to dead ends and says, “Enough. Be quiet.” For God’s word is divinely efficacious. Jesus is the Word made flesh and what he opens no one can close. We listen attentively when he speaks to us. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

His Banquet


What are we to do, for we all love our favorite guests? Perhaps not to have this uncle or that once-friendly friend come would be OK. But certainly we delight to feed those others we like with what we have most carefully prepared. Jesus great Concierge, says no, that old list will not do, instead invite those who cannot possibly have you over to their place next week or thereafter. Invite hobbling cripples and lonely widows, blind eyes who can yet smell and taste our fare. Such is the kind of guest list in the Kingdom.

We should have remembered after all; those were the first invited when his birth was announced. It was unheard of at the time, for the custom in the ancient world, long before engraved announcements or telephones or iPhone or email, was that when a baby was born to a respectable family, messengers would be sent out to announce the birth to the “right sort of people,” friends of the family’s social class in the best neighborhoods of the city. And so, as God's baby Son is nursed by his Virgin Mother, heavenly messengers announce his arrival to shepherds, those very poor and smelly, “lowest-esteemed laborers.” They are “right sort of people” for our God, people of God’s own social standing. And the right sort of people must be informed. Could it be that they are people like us?

The banquet in the Kingdom is prepared; the table is set, let us take the lowest place, for we will find that He has preceded us there.

Photograph by Brother Brian.