Friday, March 27, 2020

His Wounded Side

Hail, the wound in the side
of our Savior,
from which rushed a spring
and fount of blood.
Medicine for the sorrow
of those who suffer;
And healing for
the wound of sin and error.
Hail, the wound in the side,
wide and fruitful.
Wash and cleanse thoroughly
all our sins...
in the sight of God
may our hearts rejoice. Amen.


Crucifixion by Diego Velasquesz, 1632. Lines from Ave vulnus lateris by Walter Erle (c.1515-1581). 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Annunciation

When Father Joseph was novicemaster, before he met a candidate, he would ask the vocation director, “Has he fallen in love?” In other words, does he have a heart that’s available and ready for love, a heart that will know what it’s like to be in love? Surely Mary’s heart was ready; her heart formed by the faithful love of family, the love she spoke each day in the shema – promising to love Lord, her God, with all her heart, with her whole being, and with all her strength. More recently her virgin heart has opened with tender love for Joseph. Today we celebrate this heart ready for love. We call this event Annunciation, but truly it is not an announcement at all but a request, better, a proposal. For we are witness in this scene to the pursuit of love, the God of love seeking love in response. And as God’s total outpouring is met by the loving openness of Mary, two loves are made one. Heaven is wedded to earth, and Mary becomes the Ark of this new Covenant. When you love, you are always waiting to hear what the beloved wants. You learn the habit of finding yourself by giving yourself away; trusting that the one you love will not manipulate or abandon you.  This self-gift and mutual exchange are the secret we all were made for.  We celebrate today because together Mary and God found this secret together.

But how? Mary is after all so small and insignificant, the unlikeliest – young, poor, without status, an unmarried girl from a backwater. She has nothing and is nothing at all; a real nobody, but she is perfect for God. God is hooked, it’s his golden opportunity. God has been searching relentlessly, and he is ravished by the delicate beauty of Mary of Nazareth. She is after all the perfect match for a God who is always captivated by what is humble and small, ordinary. God loses himself in her; God can’t help himself; for he always goes to the lowest place. We can well imagine God’s joy at his discovery; for his relationship with Mary will allow God to do what he has long dreamed of doing. Here at last is one who will not hide from him like Adam in the underbrush. In Mary God at last finds one who is not embarrassed at her nothingness, the stuff that can scare us half to death.[1] She lets it be; she has nothing to hide.

And amazingly, Mary’s smallness is room enough for God’s immensity. God’s condescension is so loving and tender that Mary’s humanness is not obliterated but exquisitely enhanced.[2] There in the mystery of her emptiness and nothingness, God finds ample space for his total outpouring, which becomes forever a possibility for us as well through her perfect availability to God’s self-gift. Mary as Godbearer, Theotokos, allows us to be Godbearers with her.

Through Mary, in Mary God can finally be what he could not be without her. She says how, she says yes, why not. And so, she becomes accomplice to God’s loving subterfuge. Through her God can sneak through enemy lines[3], like a warrior eager to conquer sin and death. God will depend on our cooperation too in order to break the bonds of sin and selfishness.

Still we may want to insist like Peter, “Leave me Lord, I am no match for you.” But God is not going anywhere. He continues to pursue us, as he pursued Mary, noticing us, lost in our isolation and confusion especially now. He rushes toward us to take us to himself. Adam may hide, Peter protest; Mary simply welcomes the mystery of God’s advance. She lets God have his way; she invites us with her to understand our emptiness and confusion as God’s opportunity. Too much has been happening. We all can feel it in our gut. But in this time of our intense vulnerability, when we can't pretend or hide, God in Christ may have more unrestricted access to our hearts than ever. If we understand the reality of his loving pursuit, we will see it’s God’s golden opportunity. He takes our flesh to be with us and mercy us. He is here begging at the low door of our humanity, longing to make his home in our empty, fearful hearts as he did in Mary’s.

God’s pursuit, his desire to communicate the depth of his love for us will be most clearly painted in the crucifixion. There we will see where God’s desire for our flesh and its liberation has led him. We are worth so much to God that he became human in order to suffer with us “in an utterly real way - in flesh and blood…in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence consolation is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love- and so the star of hope rises [4] (for us through Mary). Again, this morning she leans over and whispers to us as she did at a wedding in Cana: "Do whatever he tells you. Let him find you here in your nothingness and emptiness and fear now more than ever, for nothing is impossible for God. I know this for sure." Let us listen to her and go to him for all we need.
Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1438-47, fresco, 230 x 321 cm, Convent of San Marco, Florence.


[1] Thomas Keating, ocso
[2] See Robert Barron
[3] See Robert Barron and NT Wright.
[4] Spe Salvi, Benedict XVI.



Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Joseph & David


Noting the significant relationship between King David and Saint Joseph, we explore how God works in each of them to achieve his saving will. In both cases we find a sincere desire to do God’s will, an intervention by God, and an obedient response.

Mary, Joseph’s betrothed, has been “found with child through the Holy Spirit”. Being a “just man” he tries to discern the proper course of action. The way a “just man” in the tradition of the Old Testament expressed his love of God was mainly through his love of the Law. Joseph’s experience of God then would come almost entirely through his faithful observance of the Law. The Law would have been his way of access to God and of discerning his will. He would have been well aware that according to the Torah an adulteress was to be stoned. Under Roman rule, however, capital punishment was not an option and the standard practice was divorce with a public trial. In any case Joseph thinks along much different lines. Joseph loves Mary and hesitates even to “put her to shame”, much less put her to death. But the Law, which up to now had governed every aspect of his life, suddenly becomes a burden. He attempts to be respectful both toward her and toward the Law and “divorce her quietly.”

King David proposes to build God a house, but God responds by promising to build David a house, the dimensions of which the king of Israel can scarcely imagine, a dynasty that will stretch out majestically over time and even into eternity. Saint Joseph proposes to quietly divorce his wife, and God responds through the angel, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." In both cases God intervenes and brings about a reversal.

There are important differences between David and Joseph. In David’s case, it is a matter of an ambitious plan that seems to be in accord with the divine will decided upon in consultation with a legitimate spiritual authority, the prophet Nathan, but which turns out to be based on presumption. In Joseph’s case it is a matter of a careful discernment of God’s will, with consideration of the divine Law and of the parties involved, based on the knowledge available at the time, but again a decision is made that is contrary to the divine will. In Joseph’s case, he is in the impossible situation of trying to make a difficult choice according to the standards of the Old Testament world, while, unbeknownst to him, living already in the New Testament world. The Incarnation is already underway and everything must now be centered around God’s Son. But in both these cases it is clear that God’s plans are immeasurably greater than anything they could have foreseen or imagined. David does not get to have his legacy established through his temple and massive building project, but becomes through Joseph, father of the eternal king, who rules over an everlasting kingdom, God’s own son, the very temple of God himself in the flesh.

Joseph has to make a deep renunciation of his original idea of marriage and its fruits, but gets to keep his beloved bride, and, with her, raises the very hope of Israel in his home in Nazareth. And not least of all, Joseph’s whole relationship to God is changed. He has passed over from the Old Testament to the New. His way of access to God is no longer based on the Law but on an intimately personal relationship. While not capable, obviously, of formulating a full doctrine of the Trinity, through his obedient faith Joseph has encountered God the Father in the appearance of the angel, God the Son, who has been entrusted to his paternal care, and God the Holy Spirit as the one through whom his wife has conceived. Joseph’s way to the Father is now centered on Mary and her son.

David and Joseph needed the interior freedom to hear and then obey God once his authentic will became known. This requires faith and love to be sure, but also detachment, the capacity to put all one’s powers and potential entirely at God’s disposal in order to be more and more ready to receive his grace when and as he gives it, And at the same time become more and more interiorly free, in order to respond to the grace received, that the Lord may be more and more free to act in us, as he pleases.

The more we grow in this way, the more capable we become of discerning God’s will for us, the more we are able to see the whole world around us with God’s eyes. In this way we become true sons of David and of Joseph and like Joseph we become fathers ourselves, fathers to ourselves and to one another, guardians of the Christ who dwells in each of us through the Holy Spirit, and genuine guardians of the Christ who dwells in our brother, the Christ who is always on his way to the Father, bringing us along with him to the Father.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a homily by Father Timothy.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Choosing Light

Yesterday we listened and watched as Jesus looked for the once-blind man and revealed his true identity as Son of Man - “I who speak with you am he.” Then the man gazing on the beauty of God in Christ sees and believes and instinctively bows down in worship. It’s what we all desire most ardently - to see his face, to hear his voice; for his voice is sweet, and his face is lovely.

We too have experienced his presence. We could deny it and slip back into a cozy darkness. It is always a possibility. But Jesus has come near, very near and changed everything. We have been anointed with the blood and water flowing from his wounded side; we belong to him. There is no going back. We were all once darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. 

My brothers and sisters, the winter is over and past, the light is increasing now, flowers are already appearing on the earth; the voice of doves and little birds already fills the air, the day of our redemption draws nearer and nearer. Now with great desire Jesus desires that we become all light, all compassion in him. The powers of darkness are always on our tail. We desperately need him to teach us to how to keep choosing the light.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Once Blind

Many of us may fear the dark, but he had grown accustomed to the quiet isolation of what could never be changed. There was a strange peace to it, a grateful predictability that had become even comforting.  But always you had to be attentive, that was survival. Feeling for the corner of the table and knowing you were in the right place. Counting off the paces to the square; then sitting on the ground with an open hand, hoping for a coin or two. Folks pitied you; and maybe that wasn’t so bad. But there was always the murmuring. “Whose sin was it?” He’d heard it since he was a little boy; he could remember hiding under the table one day, listening to his parents whisper. “What did we do wrong? I don’t remember anything serious.” And then, “It must be his sin then.” The eerie possibility was that, without even knowing it, he himself had done something really horrible, maybe even while still in his mother’s womb. Blindness was the direct consequence of sin; everybody knew that, all decent Jews in Jesus’ day believed it. Sin leaves its mark, sin causes sickness. It had to be someone’s fault. Case closed. Dead-end.

But now Christ Jesus comes to this dead-end; he steps into the primordial darkness and says, “God won’t have it. Let there be light.” For the Light that Christ Jesus our Lord is cannot abide the darkness, the shame and isolation. And so, God’s light in Christ breaks in, breaks through to heal and make whole again. Jesus the kind Physician bends down to the ground and makes an ointment, mixing his own spittle with the dirt, the dust, the earth that we are; and so he reenacts creation. And as in the beginning, the Word is bringing new life out of the dust of the earth. Jesus who is sent by his Father to heal and redeem and relieve, now anoints with a muddy ointment and sends the man to wash in the Pool that is called “Sent” (Siloam). But it is Jesus himself who is the refreshing Pool, he the Light that recreates and reverses. And even as he confronts darkness, Jesus knows that the darkness of rejection is hanging over him, oppressive, inevitable, a great heavy weight. But he does not hold back, he moves steadfastly into it all.

And so, it is, that Sabbath or not, Jesus has to make a move. It’s what drives the Pharisees so absolutely crazy, for a real Messiah would know better. But that’s the whole point - Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath; his sovereignty is his compassion. The Sabbath is his Day.  For he is the in-breaking of God’s regenerative intimacy with us, and we see here in this story the perfect prelude to what he will accomplish on Calvary in his Hour. There he will pour himself out, the blood and water gushing from his hands and feet and from his wounded heart will drench and anoint the earth, from this sacred clay a new creation will blossom. And all of creation gone hopelessly astray will be released from the burden of sin and all darkness and shame and Satan’s constant deceptions. Things must made right again. Light will indeed conquer darkness once and for all, because God will allow Godself to be crushed by death or darkness. They will be duped and reversed, for they are no match for the light that he is. 

Photo by Charles O'Connor.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Anniversary


On 21 March 1950, the Feast of Saint Benedict, the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Lonsdale, Rhode Island was ravaged by a devastating fire. The original wing was destroyed; the church was rendered structurally unsound and would have to be demolished. The community of 140 monks was homeless.



Well before the fire the monks had been searching for a new location that would insure their solitude and economic stability, since the population in the area around the monastery had increased considerably. And by 1949 the community had purchased a large agricultural property, Alta Crest Farms in Spencer, Massachusetts. The 1950 fire merely accelerated the community's projected move. In God's providence the end of one story became the seed for a new one. As we live through the confusion and suffering of the current pandemic, we continue to trust God's providence. God's tender mercy will never be outdone.



Friday, March 20, 2020

Our Task

Our richness, then, is the poverty of having nothing, no power other than that of begging with faith. And this is a charism that are given not for ourselves alone, but to be able to bring to fulfillment the mission of the Son who is the salvation of the world...The need to safeguard or recover one’s health, which all feel in this moment, perhaps with anguish, is also a need for salvation, for the salvation that keeps our life from seeming meaningless, buffeted by waves without a goal, without the encounter with Love that is given to us in every instant to reach and eternally live with Him.

This awareness of our primary task of prayer for all must make us universally responsible for the faith we have, and the liturgical prayer with which the Church entrusts us. In this moment in which it is imposed upon the greater part of the faithful to renounce the communal Eucharist that gathers them into churches, how much should we feel responsible for the Masses that we can continue to celebrate in our monasteries, and for the prayer of the Divine Office that continues to gather us in choir! We certainly do not have this privilege because we are better than others. Perhaps it is given to us precisely because we are not, and this makes our begging more humble, poorer, more effective before the good Father of all. We should be more aware than ever that none of our prayers and liturgies are to be lived without feeling ourselves united to the whole Body of Christ that is the Church, the community of all the baptized reaching out to embrace all of mankind.

Each evening, in all Cistercian monasteries in the world, we enter the night by singing the Salve Regina. We must do this also with a thought toward the darkness that often shrouds mankind, filling it with the fear of being lost in it. In the Salve Regina we ask that, over the whole “valley of tears” of the world, and over all the “exiled children of Eve,” there shine the sweet and consoling light of the “merciful eyes” of the Queen and Mother of Mercy, so that, in every circumstance, in every night and peril, the gaze of Mary will show us Jesus, show us that Jesus is present, that he comforts us, that he heals us and saves us. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a recent letter of Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, O.Cist.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Joseph

Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife. For that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Joseph our patron, we go to him as our great exemplar in faith and faithfulness. Perhaps brokenhearted, disappointed, surely confused, Joseph trusted God, and he trusted Mary. He let his life be turned around by God's desire to take our flesh. Saint Bernard will say that God had found in Joseph one to whom He could entrust His dearest secret. Joseph made a home for God in Christ.

Statue of Joseph at the lavabo; photographs by Brother Brian and Father Emmanuel..

Sunday, March 15, 2020

At the Well

As we hear the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well, “If only you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him instead and he would have given you living water,” we are struck with the breathtaking beauty of our call as Christians - to be filled with the fullness of God in Christ; he in us, we in him. 

Christ Jesus is moving near, longing to surround us. If only we knew. If only we understood who it is who wants to make his home in our hearts, we would ask him over and over, and he would come to us in secret and fill us.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, March 13, 2020

How?


Both of today’s Mass readings point to the painful reality of jealousy and competitiveness in our lives. Joseph is sold by his brothers for twenty pieces of silver, and the son in the Gospel sent to the vineyard is put to death. Both of these images point us to Jesus, our Brother, God’s Beloved Son sent to us – our best Hope, our Mercy, our Freedom and Redemption, who is rejected and finally crucified.

How does my selfishness compete with or ignore all of the messages and inklings of Jesus’ kind presence in my day? How can I open my heart more and more in compassion, moment by moment to all that he presents?

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

How to Love

"It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say, because I come to see who I am."
Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines by Thomas Merton.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Transfigured

Actually the opening three words of today's Gospel are, “After six days, Jesus took Peter, James and John...and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them...” What happened six days ago? Peter had his day in the sun when, illumined by the Father he acknowledges Jesus to be the Messiah, the Son of the Living God. Jesus blessed him and told him the Church would be built upon him, that is, upon Rock Bar Jonah. Also, six days ago, Peter and the other apostles had their day in the depths of sadness, as Jesus followed this blessing of Peter with the first prediction of his suffering and death.  Peter, still basking in the all the glory, protests strongly, “You, suffer, die? God forbid!”  As we know, Jesus then calls Peter a satanic tempter who is an obstacle to him and to what God wills.

The three words “After six days” also send us back to the Book of Exodus and the story of Moses wrapped in the cloud of God's glory for six days, before God called to Moses on the seventh day from the midst of the cloud and the consuming fire of his glory. Here Matthew continues his portrait of Jesus as a new and transcendent Moses who has come with a new Torah, a new teaching summed up in the truth of Jesus himself, the truth that is God's love. In the various accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus, Matthew alone among the evangelists describes the face of Jesus as shining in a way reminiscent of the face of Moses whenever he was in intimate converse with God.  Peter, true to form, grasps at this glory radiating from the face and clothes of Jesus and from Moses and Elijah who appear conversing with Jesus. Peter says, for all intents and purposes, “Wow, this is great! Let's camp out here indefinitely! I'll set up some tents.” Peter has found a place so congenial to his ideas of what is good for Jesus and the followers of Jesus - namely, a place of unimaginable glory, a place without fear, without suffering.  Again, the Father speaks to Peter and to all of us, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”  This phrase is also part of the portrait of Jesus as the new Moses; it alludes to the prediction in Deuteronomy 18 that God would raise up a prophet-like-Moses, and “Him shall you hear!” 

Peter, James and John and all of us must indeed hear and listen to him, as John Meier says, “not only when he confirms the joyful revelation of the glorious Messiah and Son of God, but also when he adds the disturbing revelation of the suffering Son of Man.” The disciples fell prostrate in fear when they heard the voice of the Father.  Jesus touches them and tells them, “Do not be afraid.” Certainly, he is not telling them to have no reverential fear of God. Rather, he is telling them not to be crippled by fear from hearing of the cross that Jesus himself and, by implication, all his followers must somehow bear. As St. Paul says in the Second Letter to Timothy we heard proclaimed today, “Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” We are enabled to share the hardship for the gospel, the daily cross, because the Holy Spirit of the Lord shares with us the glorious resurrected life of the Lord Jesus. Jesus touches them and tells them,“Arise, do not be afraid!”

The Transfiguration, (in the original Greek metamorphosis) which follows the prediction of the Passion is a revelation of the truth that glory for Jesus and for all of us follows upon or is even simultaneous with the embrace of the suffering.  The further discovery is that the cross itself is a glorious cross.  St. Paul says in Second Corinthians, “all of us, gazing on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed (transfigured) into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.”  Peter learned eventually not to grasp at glory, nor even to grasp at safety.  He learned to receive hold of the cross, the will of God for him, and found at last the true glory that is eternal.

The Eucharist is our food, for this spiritual journey from cross to glory and from glory to cross. It is the source and summit of the Christian life.  To it we come on this Mount Tabor in Spencer, not just to gaze on the Lord's glory, but to receive the glorified body and blood, the Risen Lord whole and entire within our very selves, to be transfigured into the very image of God, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Then we too must go down the mountain figuratively, actually to glorify the Lord by our lives.                      
Icon written by Brother Terence. Excerpts from today’s homily by Father Luke.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

A Time of Grace

Lent is…a time of grace, a time for letting God gaze upon us with love and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life. So, let us not turn our hopes and God’s dream for us into powder and ashes. Let us not grow resigned. You may ask: “How can I trust? The world is falling to pieces, fear is growing, there is so much malice all around us, society is becoming less and less Christian…” Don’t you believe that God can transform our dust into glory?

All around us, we see the dust of death. Lives reduced to ashes. Rubble, destruction, war. The lives of unwelcomed innocents, the lives of the excluded poor, the lives of the abandoned elderly. We continue to destroy ourselves, to return to ashes and dust. And how much dust there is in our relationships! Look at our homes and families: our quarrels, our inability to resolve conflicts, our unwillingness to apologize, to forgive, to start over, while at the same time insisting on our own freedom and our rights! All this dust that besmirches our love and mars our life. Even in the Church, the house of God, we have let so much dust gather, the dust of worldliness. Let us look inside, into our hearts…

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a homily by Pope Francis, 2020.


Friday, March 6, 2020

Impossible

This morning Jesus raises the bar, calling us to more, fine-tuning the Law to fever pitch. There is to be no name-calling; we’re not allowed to call anyone a blockhead (that’s what raqa means after all). That kind of language, any hurtful words, are out of the question in the Kingdom. Jesus the Word reminds us, that tiny as they are, words can be deadly, even murderous. We know it, we’ve all felt it. And so  Jesus invites us to love, as God loves.

But as Jesus calibrates and ups the ante on discipleship, we may wonder, “Who can measure up?” We are trapped, wonderfully trapped; it is impossible for us, but not for God. We will have to lose our footing and fall backwards into his mercy. Christ Jesus mercies us into loving, as we have been loved.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Dust

We begin the Lenten Season by receiving ashes.... The dust sprinkled on our heads brings us back to earth; it reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. We are weak, frail and mortal. Centuries and millennia pass, and we come and go; before the immensity of galaxies and space, we are nothing. We are dust in the universe. Yet we are dust loved by God. It pleased the Lord to gather that dust in his hands and to breathe into it the breath of life. We are thus a dust that is precious, destined for eternal life. We are the dust of the earth, upon which God has poured out his heaven, the dust that contains his dreams. We are God’s hope, his treasure and his glory.

Ashes are thus a reminder of the direction of our existence: a passage from dust to life. We are dust, earth, clay, but if we allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we become something wondrous. More often than not, though, especially at times of difficulty and loneliness, we only see our dust! But the Lord encourages us: in his eyes, our littleness is of infinite value. So, let us take heart: we were born to be loved; we were born to be children of God.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a homily by Pope Francis, 2020.

Monday, March 2, 2020

When Did We See You?

‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’

These words of Jesus from Matthew's gospel are echoed in those he will speak to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus - "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting."

What we do to the least, we do to the Lord.

How am I noticing the Lord in the midst of my day? 

We pray to be more attentive to Christ Jesus, for as the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us, 
"...Christ plays in ten thousand places, 
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his. 
To the Father through the features of men's faces."

The Conversion of Saint Paul by Caravaggio.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Tempted

Jesus is the blessed face of God’s mercy.[1] And in who he is, in all that he does, he reveals the tender compassion of the Father for us, and so he shows us what it would be like if God were always in charge.[2] This is what the kingdom of God means. And so my brothers and sisters, we can be certain of this - if Jesus wants the kingdom, desires to establish God’s reign of mercy with every fiber of his being, Satan always, always will 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 beguile Jesus the warrior. 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."[3] And even though he tempts Our Lord this morning, Satan knows he doesn’t have a chance in hell; he knows it and he’s furious. And he’s not backing down.

And so as Satan taunts Jesus this morning, “If you are the Son of God;” we hear an echo of the ridicule that will be barked at him on Calvary. “If you are the Son of God, come down from there.” Jesus’ victory over Satan this morning in the desert anticipates his victory on the cross. For it is there on the cross that Jesus will express perfectly his love for the Father and each of us. This will be his supreme act of filial obedience.[4] There in his agony Jesus will dupe Satan once and for all, trampling down death by death.  

But here in the desert this morning, Satan’s still 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.[5] There on the cross he will sink into sorrow and untold pain, all to reverse their power over us. Then taken down from his cross of agony, he will fall into the arms of most sorrowful mother.

It strikes me that the scene that precedes his temptation is fundamental to our understanding. For there at his Baptism Jesus 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. Perhaps for too long we 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 we got it wrong. God in Christ is never that far away, he’s 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; he has been tempted in every way that as we are - yet without sinning. He has taken upon himself all that we are. 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. 

I want to say, “Jesus, what are you doing down here? What can it mean that you were tempted, you who said, 'My will is to do the will of him who sent me?'" Yet we see that he was tempted to do otherwise and has to stand his ground. Like us in all things but sin; he knows the reality of what it means to be pulled in the wrong direction. So much does Jesus love us, that our temptation to sin has become his temptation. And by identifying with us down there, Jesus has paved the way for us to share the righteousness that characterizes God himself, “so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.” That is our destiny.

Some years ago in the flush of new fervor for my faith, and a love for Christ I had never before experienced, I think I felt a bit rarefied and somewhat above the common fray. And I remember one afternoon a temptation sneaking in, softly, suddenly, insistently. I was embarrassed, lost my balance. Imagine feeling such things again; I was supposed to be way beyond that now. Ha! And as I tried to pray through it, I sensed Jesus somehow saying to me, very quietly but definitely, “Would you be less than I am?” “Would you be less than I am?” which is to say, “I went through all of these things, I was tempted in every way as you are. I am, I will be with you, in you, through all of it. Trust me, rely on me alone. Don’t you want to be like me?”

Our weakness and temptations can be places 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 this morning how to stand firm, grounded in our identity as beloved of God, so that we can make the loving choice when faced with the possibility of doing otherwise. And most breathtaking of all, if we do give in to temptation, if foolishly, weakly, deliberately we do sin, we are able to beg for his mercy and forgiveness. He has promised always, always to bend down, pick us up, wash our wounds with the blood and water flowing 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 at all over us; we belong to Christ Jesus. He has won the victory for us. 




[1] See Pope Francis, Misericordiae Vultus

[2] See N.T. Wright, Simply Jesus.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church.

[5] See Luke Timothy Johnson, Sacra Pagina: Luke.

Reflection by one of the monks. 

Friday, February 28, 2020

Spring

The word "Lent" means spring. Let us pray that in these days of fasting and prayer the hard soil of our hearts may be tilled and softened to receive more fully the Seed, the Word of God, whom we so long for and desire.

Let us acknowledge our sins, even our tendencies toward sin, and beg God's mercy.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

On Ash Wednesday

"When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them…But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your father in secret.” I imagine that most of us would rather curl up and die than to pray at a street corner so as to be seen by others. Let alone, have a trumpet fanfare accompaniment. Even so, the possibility of prayer being a performance, contaminated by self-consciousness, is an ever-present danger in subtle and pervasive ways. It can involve wanting to look good before others. Or it can involve, more insidiously to my mind, wanting to look good to ourselves - staving off neurotic guilt, being pleased with ourselves and our prayer ‘performance’. Jesus is clear and unambiguous about this. No matter how subtly, even subconsciously, it happens, when our prayer is in service of our appearance to others or to ourselves, then that’s the reward we get - we look good….and that’s it! There really is no such thing as reward when it comes to prayer!

True prayer is always open to and receptive to the gift of transformation. It always leads us beyond the limits of our self-consciousness and self-absorption. It’s always vulnerable---pushing us from the solid and secure ground of the shore, where we feel safe. True prayer doesn’t keep one eye on what it looks like or what is going on or what isn’t going on. The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, after all. The attentiveness of true prayer is always single-minded, one-pointed, undivided. Its horizon is always God alone. “When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door (and I would add - don’t look behind the door,  and don’t look in the mirror) and pray to your Father in secret.” “In secret.” Hidden. Beyond anything we can imagine or, much less, manipulate.

If this is what true prayer is all about, it seems almost like an impossibility. Personally, I know how intrinsically self-conscious I can be when it comes to prayer, to leaving myself behind, to pushing off from the shore. Who is the self that is doing the leaving, and who is the self that is being left behind? Sometimes I feel like a dog chasing its tail. The difficulty, as I see it, is that we can’t let go of self-consciousness by an act of the will. We can’t decide to be undivided. No matter how hard we want to get out of the way, to hand ourselves over to God, there always remains a ‘me’ trying to hand myself over, whom I just can’t seem to get behind! I guess St. Paul really did hit the nail on the head when he wrote “…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words…”

Lent is a special time for prayer, for consciously coming into the presence of God; for letting go and making space for God to be God for us. A time for consenting, again and again, to be displaced so that God’s Spirit can pray within us. A time to be and to live undividedly towards God and so to release ourselves and others from the countless reciprocities of blame and bitterness in all their various shades. A time to grow in being increasingly content to be handed over, again and again, with no self-protection to the sheer loving goodness of God our Father.

Photographs by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Damian.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

"Fat Tuesday"

Mardi Gras in the monastery brings our “farewell” to the Alleluia at this evening’s Vespers, as we chant an elaborate Alleluia at the conclusion of the office. Then we rush (albeit with quiet monk-like decorum) to the monastic refectory for a festive supper of Brother Patrick's homemade pizza, followed by ice cream and sweets. Then there’s clean-up and finally Compline, and the last time Our Lady’s window is illumined during our chanting of the Salve Regina until Easter Sunday. The sanctuary is then prepared for the Mass on Ash Wednesday, and the cross over the altar veiled in purple for the holy Forty Days ahead.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Connectedness


God is love. We remember some years ago chatting with a wizened old missionary, who had worked for years in Belize. On the road constantly in his dilapidated jeep; numerous Masses at different mission stations all day on a Sunday and often having to transport sick Mayan children to the hospital in the middle of the night. He smiled gently and said, “You know there's one thing Paul didn’t say about love - it’s also often quite inconvenient!”

What could we add from our own experience? Love is self-forgetful; it is always toward the other. Love by its nature longs to express itself; it’s not neat and tidy; it cannot be contained. What is more love longs to be loved in return. Love is not self-sufficient but in need of the other, always toward. When I love I am vulnerable, easily hurt, easily elated. Love includes, it gathers, it blurs away differences. It shows no partiality but is convinced of our absolute connectedness as human persons made in God's own image. True loving is thus total and complete. This is what Jesus is trying to get at when he tells us today to be perfect as his Father is perfect - no one gets left out.

God has fallen in love with his creation, and there’s nothing left for Him to do but to continue to give everything. And that's just what God does in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Jesus God gives Godself completely to us always and especially in the Eucharist. In Christ the Father says to us, “All I have is yours.”  “All I have is yours,” is another name for Jesus.

On the cross God’s measureless love is made perfectly clear. He can forgive because he knows we are all connected, absolutely. Because he could not bear to have us oppressed by sin and pain and death. And Love has the last word, as Jesus is raised up.

When we were lost and could not find the way home, God loved us more than ever and sent us his Son Jesus. He became lost on our behalf, to show us the way home to God in our connectedness. Jesus squandered his most precious life trusting in the Father’s promised mercy. He rose and returned to His Father and has taken us with Him. We must rejoice for we all were lost together and have been found by God in Christ forever. In the wounded and risen Christ, God rushes toward us to bring us home, embraces us and buries his beautiful face in the dirty crook of our necks.

Photograph by Brother Brian.


Friday, February 21, 2020

Following

Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,
take up his cross, and follow me. Mark 8


The invitation of Jesus to deny oneself always seems rather daunting. And the root meaning of the Greek expression implies a radical turning away from something.  Truly there can only be one good reason, one perfect reason to turn away from myself - Jesus. Once I become fascinated by the beauty, goodness and truth of who He is and what He wants for us, how could I not turn away from my too familiar mediocrity and attraction to anything less? 

Small wonder that one of the favorite prayers of Saint Thérèse was - "Draw me," words taken from the Song of Songs - "Your name is a flowing perfume...Draw me after you! Let us run!" With Thérèse let us run after the Lord, forgetful of self, our eyes fixed on Him, drawn willingly into the mystery of joyfully carrying our own cross behind Him, our Lord and Master.


Andrea del Verrocchio, Christ and Saint Thomas, detail, bronze, 1483, Orsanmichele, Florence.