Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Saint John Vianney

The tender mercies of our Lord Jesus are far too vast to remain hidden or forgotten. And John Vianney is so sure of this desire of the Lord to unburden his little ones, that he will often spend 10 to 12 hours a day in the confessional. He reminds us again this morning as he did the faithful in his village church at Ars so many years ago, "The Lord is more anxious to forgive our sins than a woman is to carry her baby out of a burning building."

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Brother Francis

Our dear Brother Francis passed to the Lord last evening, 1 August. He was raised in a devout family and would tell of Sunday afternoon car rides with his parents and brother when he was growing up that usually ended with a visit to a church for prayer. Francis came to Abbey as a young man in his twenties after  some art studies and brief employment as a delivery messenger in Manhattan. 
Brother Francis was a perfect example of the hardworking Cistercian laybrother. Among other jobs, in his early years he helped with tailoring at the The Holy Rood Guild. And in recent decades, Francis worked tirelessly in Trappist Preserves kitchen. 
He was also the Abbey's liturgical master of ceremonies. And all of us will recall his patient assistance, as he taught us the rubrics for masses on solemnities and for religious professions. 
But most of all we will remember Francis for his gentleness and his self-effacing manner. He was an example of contemplative prayerfulness and generous service at work. And he blended these two aspects of our life seamlessly. We will miss him terribly.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Please note. Due to the Covid pandemic, we cannot allow guests to attend Brother Francis' funeral.

Two Trains

The purpose of getting on a train is to go from one place to another, with the arrival at the destination being the high point of the journey. Here is a story of two people on two train rides that took unexpected routes. The first is about a man in his early twentiesnot the brightest or most charming, but with lots of potentialthis young man was taking a long train ride, he wanted some adventure, he wanted some excitement in his lifeThe second traveler was a woman, she was in her thirties, not only was she intelligent, she was smart, hard-working, with a great big heart. Now she was not looking for excitement or adventure. This woman was looking for rest, she was seeking peace and quiet, a time of personal and spiritual renewal.  Both of these people believed they would simply be going from here to there, but each had encounters that changed everything. 

The young man looking for adventure was me, I was going from Boston to Gainesville Georgia, to do some hiking on the Appalachian trail, my encounter was with aolder woman Hannah the other traveler was of course the woman that would become St. Teresa of Calcutta, she was going on retreat when she received her “vocation within a vocation.” Christ spoke to her saying that He wanted her to serve and tend to the poorest of the poor and lowest of the low.  At that moment she was in the presence of Christ, how could she say anything but yes?  She did what she was asked. Mother Teresa served the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low for the rest of her life.  

My encounter was with a woman named HannahHannah boarded the train in New York City. When Hannah boarded the train, she could not find an empty seat, so she asked if she could sit next to me. I thought why not, it is going to be a long train ride, and some company would be good. Hannah got off the train in Washington D.C.; I should really say, Hannah was removed in Washington D.C. Mother Teresa encountered Christ on the train, I encountered a crazy person.

Over the course of our journey I, along with everyone else in that particular train car, got to know Hannah’s story. It came out piece by piece, often repeated and always disjointed. You had to keep track of the threads of her life, because they would be suddenly dropped only to be picked up again a while latter. I was able to piece together the quilt of her life - a childhood of poverty and neglect, emotional, sexual and physical abuse, then at least two broken marriages, leading to drug and alcohol addiction and finally having to be institutionalized. Hannah was on the train because she wanted to go back home one last time. Hannah was originally from Georgia, and she felt she had spent enough time around all those northerners. She was able to get away from where she was living and found herself next to me on a train. Hannah's only possession was an overnight bag. It fell open once, and it looked like she had raided a vending machine; it was filled with snack cakes, chips and candy. 

was young and somewhat na├»ve about many things such as how God should behave, and I was mad for Hannah, for the way her life had turned out. But one of the things I found most fascinating about Hannah was her faith, and her belief that God was always with her. Time and again she stated that she was often confused by God and did not understand him, but that she always felt Him with her and that in His time everything would turn out alright. Sometimes the only thing she could do was hold on to His light and His presence. Hannah would not allow anything to separate her from the love of God.  

The experience of Mother Teresa encountering Jesus on the train is well known and her work with the poor helped make her a saint before and after her death. That’s why it came as such a surprise teveryone when it was discovered she had gone through a spiritually dry period for decades. First, she gets a visit s from Christ, gets a few instructions, and then she gets left alone, almost for the rest of her life. Mother Teresa often condemned herself and asked, Where is my faith?”  I would like to put forth that Mother Teresa’s faith never left her. It takes faith to ask the question, “Where is my faith?”  That little woman not only moved mountains by her faith, she moved the world. It was a painful experience for her, but her own doubt could not separate her from God’s love. On the surface she may have had doubts, but God never did. How else could she have accomplished so much in His name. 

In the second reading we are asked the question, “What will separate us from the love of God?” Then comes a list of things that could - anguish, distress persecution famine, nakedness peril or the sword.” The answer that the author gives is a resounding no, no because we are conquerors through God, because He loved us. But my thought is, this can also be a list of excuses. How often do you hear the sentiment expressed, if God loved me this or that would not have happened, or because I’m unhappy with the situation, I do not love or believe in God, or my faith is shaken? And yet at the same time, don’t we all know people who have lived through conditions and situations that would and almost should have pushed them away from God, but instead it has drawn them closer. I think of Fr. Simon, as he was dying, he did not complain to God, about his condition, he prayed for all the people who had the same disease as he did but were not able feel the love of God and the love of the people around them. 

In last week's gospel were heard the parable of the pearl of great price.  A pearl merchant after searching his whole life finds the pearl of pearls, the one that would bring completeness and meaning to his life. He gets rid of all that he has to obtain his treasure.  It sounds a little biographical for most of us. We gave up our old lives and everything we owned for this pearl. I can still hear Fr. Eddy telling how he gave up everything he owned to come here. He said all he owned was a bike, but it was a really nice bike. The pearl of great price has different meanings for different people, but for some of us the pearl was to experience the love of God more fully.  

But the question is what is this love of God that we want more of and cannot be separated from?   We can all give examples of how God’s love can make us feel good I would like to think we all felt like this when we took vows or were ordained.  But what about when things are not so good? I know every person here has a story that would break your heart, and here we are, still willing to say we are loved by God. God’s love is not always easy to understand, not always easily felt or experienced. But the fact that we are here is proof of its existence. The fact that we can ask the question is proof of its existence. And yes, I have more questions than answersWe can convince ourselves that we can be separated from God’s love, but it is always there, we just not always looking through the right lenses or with the right heart.  

The way I like to think about this goes something along these lines. God created the plants the flowers and the trees, the mice, the birds the whales and everything in between. He created mountains and deserts, rivers and oceans, moons and suns and planets past counting. And then to this one rock hurtling through space, He sent His only Begotten Son to be born of a woman and become servant to all and hung from a cross. All done out of God’s inseparable love for us.  
Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Brother Stephen.