Tuesday, October 27, 2020

In The Kingdom


Jesus said, “What is the Kingdom of God like? 
To what can I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches. Luke 13

Jesus loves what is simple and seemingly insignificant. And he sees the great potential in what is small; he knows that little things done with love are transformative. And then the kingdom becomes reality, a place where the Father’s love and truth will be enacted.

In his kingdom we join with one another, depending only on the Father’s kind regard, on our common need for forgiveness, our common need for him, and for one another, now more than ever. It is a time to be confident that the little we do matters - random acts of love and lovingkindness.


Sunday, October 25, 2020

Loving With All Your Heart

To the Jewish people, the law was fundamental. There are more than 600 commandments in the Old Testament, so people such as the Pharisees and Sadducees spent a great deal of time interpreting the laws. Trying to understand which of the laws bore greater importance and which lesser, this was done to educate and instruct people in the right way to live, with their neighbors and with God. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were on top of this process for quite a while, and then some rabble-rouser named Jesus came along and got things all stirred up.  

The Pharisees and the Sadducees were losing ground in their battles, trying to outwit Jesus Christ. So, the Pharisees and the Sadducees did what any two rival gangs would do; they joined forces to defeat their common foe. One day, a Pharisadducee gang member stood up and asked Jesus which commandment is the greatest (remember there were more than 600). The Pharisadducees thought they could trick Jesus. Instead, Jesus quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy, "You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," and then Jesus quoted Leviticus adding, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Hundreds of pages with thousands upon thousands of words, and countless years of human experience, with God's interventions, are all contained in two sentences. Simple to read, easy to comprehend. but what are they like to live? 

There was once a beautiful bouncing baby girl born to a loving but somewhat older couple. This baby had a stable and well-off home and very grateful parents; after all, they had waited a long time for their precious bundle of joy to arrive. This child grew into a compassionate young woman who had a safe and secure life, even if it was somewhat sheltered. Until one day, while in her home, she found herself alone with an intruder. A stranger had gotten into her protected environment. This was a new experience and not a good one. The young woman became apprehensive. She did not know what was going to happen next. Then this stranger spoke to her and said, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with the Lord." This intruder was a messenger from God, and Mary was told she had chosen for a very particular task, and her reply was "yes."  

Mary said "yes" because she loved God with all her heart and soul and mind. Mary kept saying yes to God and trusting in him and did not ask what would be happening next.  

Mary went from living a quiet life under her parents' roof to being married to one man, but carrying the child of someone else, having to take a long road trip, while being enormously pregnant, with the only transportation available having four hooves. I'll bet that saddle was not a pillow top. She had to give birth in a stable surrounded by noisy, smelly animals, and speaking of stinky, out of nowhere, some random shepherds drop by. Then three extravagantly dressed men, who only spoke broken Aramaic, stopped in. There's always that rumor about some kid going around banging on a drum. You must think what next? But because Mary loved her God with all her heart and soul and mind, she said yes to this and more. Mary did not know what was coming next, but she trusted out of love for her God. From her encounter with the angel Gabriel to watching her beloved Son, bloodied and beaten, die on a cross, like a common criminal, for the sins of other people. She gave everything she had for God.  

"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." The Old Testament meaning of love is different than ours is. Love is not an emotion. That warm fuzzy feeling inside that can take someone in a whirlwind and just as suddenly disappear. No, love is a responsibility. To love means you have value in someone else's life. Love is bringing light into someone else's life and not expecting anything in return. Love is an unconditional commitment to the imperfect.  

"You shall love your neighbor as yourself" before you can love our neighbor, you must first love yourself. But why should we love ourselves - because each one of us is a unique, one-of-a-kind creature. In Psalm 139, we hear, "You formed my innermost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb, I praise you, so wonderfully you made me." No one is here by accident; many things had to happen for you to come into the world. What if your great grandparents had only the standard 2.5 children instead of eight? What if your grandparents lived in different towns and never met? What if your mother had married your uncle and not your father? If any one of countless variables had been different, you would not have been born. The chances of you coming into existence are 1 in 400 trillion. You would not have lived the life you did nor be sitting here now. The creator made you and then breathed life into you. You are made in the image and likeness of God, and no matter how we tarnish or pervert or sully the image, there is still a part of you that is pure and perfect and divine, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves of that.  

We should love our neighbor the way we would want to be loved, and we should love ourselves the way our neighbor would want to be loved. As it is written in Colossians, "Put on then as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another."  

And who is our neighbor? Yes, it is easy to recognize some of our neighbors, such as our employees, the delivery people, the folks who live in town, the other side of the state, the people on the other side of the country, and even the other side of the world. But what about the people on the other side of the aisle or the other side of the lunch buffet?  

"You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind," and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." As Pearl Baily said, "People see God every day; they just don't recognize Him." 

Photograph by Brother Anthony Khan. Today's homily by Deacon Brother Stephen.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Saint John Paul II

As today the Church celebrates Saint John Paul II, we remember his words: “Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows 'what is in man'. He alone knows it."

There may seem to be too many solid reasons to be afraid, especially now, but Jesus reminds us, and Saint John Paul II echoes the Lord's exhortation: "Do not fear, I am with you always."

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

A Tragedy

You may know the story of Jack Boughton. He’s just returned to his small, sleepy hometown of Gilead, Iowa. He has always understood himself as the outsider in a family of seven children, always on the sidelines, the rebel and renegade; he knows, has always known that he’s the bad boy who doesn’t belong. But he’s come home now, trying to piece things together, trying to come home to himself really.

Jack’s life is in shambles. First, there was the thing with that poor, underage girl; their baby died tragically years ago. And in the meantime, Jack has done some time in prison. He has been been in and out of jobs and has let down his family and friends so often that he is haunted by his own inadequacy.  He’s been trying to keep sober during this visit home, but the other night he was desperate and started drinking. And then he tried to take his own life out there in the old barn. Gratefully his sister caught him.

But how his family loves him. They just can’t stop. His frail, aged father, a retired minister tells Jack how hard it has been to keep on loving him in spite of everything. “So many times, over the years,” he says, “I’ve tried not to love you so much. But I just couldn’t stop loving you,” (even though truth be told, it’s just about wearied the old man to death.) Jack’s response, “Well that’s been the problem all along: I’m not worth your time, your interest, your love, any of you. I don’t want you to give a damn about me.” But they can’t stop. They refuse to not love him.

Now Jack’s father is near death; and the Reverend Ames, his best friend, has come to celebrate the Breaking of the Bread with him in the parlor. The family gathers, prayers are said; the bread is broken and shared. But when the holy bread is offered to Jack, he steps back, head lowered, hands closed. He won’t receive it. The love is unbearable; he excludes himself, so certain are he of his own unworthiness.* A tragedy. 

Which of us is worthy - of love, of real relationship, of communion, of Holy Communion? Only the love of the other, earthly or divine; only that gaze of love can draw me into the reality of my belovedness. Small wonder the intuition of the Church has placed this prayer just before Communion - O Lord, I am not worthy. We are perhaps not worthy but certainly loved. Only Love has made us worthy. Indeed, in his desire for me, for you, in his dying and rising for us, Jesus has loved us into worthiness. He refuses to not love us.

* See Marilynne Robinson, Home. Reflection by one of the monks.

 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

How To Repay?

The first two readings this morning from Isaiah and from First Thessalonians spoke to me, and I hope to all of you, of the love that God has for us.  The Gospel, to my mind, speaks not about taxes, but about our reciprocal love for the God of love.  The very remarkable passage we heard from Isaiah tells of Cyrus II the King of the Medes and Persians who is chosen by God to rescue God's chosen people, the Israelites, from their oppression and captivity in Babylon in the 6th century before Christ. The passage, although describing an event of grand geopolitical consequence, namely, the conquest of the Babylonian Empire by Cyrus II, yes, this passage describing Cyrus is filled with the vocabulary later used to describe Jesus Christ and all who acknowledge him as Lord.  Cyrus is called in Hebrew “Mashiah (Messiah),” in the Greek bible “Christos  (Christ),” and in our English bibles “My Anointed One,” whom God “calls by name” to his service of the chosen people, Israel. Gods says of him, “I grasp his right hand.”  Even though the passage also says of him “though you do not know me,” there seems to be in Cyrus a kind of knowing God implicity without knowing Him explicity in that Cyrus is spoken of by historians as a benevolent monarch.  The Jewish scholar David Weisberg writes that “Cyrus's policy toward the peoples of his empire was one of tolerance and understanding.”  My point is that God's choice of Cyrus would seem to have affected this great monarch interiorly, to have left God's imprint or image upon him whether Cyrus was aware of it or not. The most notable evidence of this being the encouragement and help he gave to the captive Jews to return to Judah and rebuild the Temple of Jerusalem. God works in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.

In the 2nd reading St. Paul reminds us that we who are brothers and sisters loved by God have been chosen.  Just as Cyrus, God's Messiah, His Christ, God's Anointed One was chosen, “called by name” by the  Shepherd of Israel to serve the chosen people, so does our Good Shepherd Jesus call each of us “by name” to become other Christs for the work of faith, the labor of love and the endurance in hope in our life in the Church of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ through the word and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  In Ephesians it says, “... the Father chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.”

In saying all this I am touching on what Jesus means in the Gospel when he catches the Pharisees in their hypocrisy and makes a profound statement about us and to us. The Pharisees think they have Jesus in a trap: if he says pay the tribute tax he will have the nationalist Zealots after him; if he says don't pay the tribute, which had to be paid in Roman denarii, then the Roman authorities will arrest him for tax revolt.  When Jesus casually asks the Pharisees to show him the coin, he catches them in their hypocrisy.  Here they are, these zealots for the purity of the Jewish faith, in the sacrosanct precincts of the Holy Temple with these abominable pagan images in their purses. They themselves, who publicly resist the tribute, must indeed have been on their way to pay it and didn't mind sullying the purity of the Temple as they did so. On the coins is the image of the Roman Emperor and the words: “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.”  To a righteous Jew this is pure blasphemy, and yet here are the Pharisees in the Temple itself with these blasphemous objects.  In doing so they are implicitly acknowledging that they themselves are indeed Caesar's subjects.

The question of Jesus about whose image this is and his instruction to give the coin to that person then culminates in one of the greatest sayings of Jesus about who we really are and about the image of God that we are all stamped with from the foundation of the world: “Then repay to God what belongs to God.”  If a measly denarius stamped with Caesar's image belongs to him, so do we belong to God stamped as we are with God's image and likeness.  When he canonized Pope Paul VI in 2014, Pope Francis remarked that “'Rendering to God the things that belong to God'” means being docile to his will, devoting our lives to him and working for his kingdom of mercy, love, and peace.”   The image of God that we are must express itself in love of God and neighbor.  Fr. Joseph taught us in novitiate that “love diffuses itself.”

“How can I repay the Lord for all the great good done for me? I will raise the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.  I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people. I will offer a sacrifice of praise and call on the name of the Lord.”  The Lord Jesus has called each one of us by name. Let us now call on the name of the Lord in this sacrifice of praise, our Eucharist, and in receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, repay to God what belongs to Him: all that we are. 

This morning’s homily by Father Luke.

 

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Heart


O Heart of love, I put all my confidence in you, for I fear everything from my own wickedness and frailty, but I hope for all things from your goodness and bounty. Let your pure love imprint itself so deeply on my heart, that I shall never be able to forget or be separated from you. 

Lines by Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, 1647-1690

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Way


For our Jewish forebears Torah - the Law - was the way. Jesus tells us that he is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Jesus has come not to destroy the Law but to fulfill it. All that he is, all that he proclaims, all that he accomplishes in his dying and rising reveals the fullness of God's desire for our well-being and salvation. Indeed the whole Law has been set before us in Christ Jesus, our Lord; he whose Body is forever marked with the wounds of his passion. His wounded body is our sacred text wherein we read the truth of who we are - the truth of our wounds, whatever they are, as gateways to new life and hope in him.

Photographs by Brother Brian.


Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Autumn

All the earth prepares for the icy slumber of winter. Trees will lose their leaves in this most beautiful of ways.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Invited

Apparently, the custom was that special garments were handed out to guests upon entering a wedding feast, so that they would all blend in and not distract from the beauty of the married couple. The poor fellow who is chided for not wearing the proper attire then has refused to follow protocol. Our protocol as vagabond guests invited to the banquet in the kingdom is to accept in all humility the grace and mercy that will transform our sinfulness and misery. Jesus our Lord is all Mercy. When we clothe ourselves with Christ, we fit in, all of us saved sinners, remarkably beloved and clothed with divine mercy. The Lord is always welcoming us sinful vagabonds in from the byways to his royal Feast, the Holy Eucharist. He wants his hall, his Church to be filled with guests with whom he can share his very Self. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel along with insights from his homily this morning.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Falling

He allows some of us to fall more severely and distressingly than before—at least that is how we see it. And then it seems to us, who are not always wise, that all we set our hands to is lost. But it is not so. We need to fall, and we need to see that we have done so. For, if we never fall we should not know how weak and pitiable we are in ourselves. Nor should we fully know the wonderful love of our Maker. In Heaven we shall see truly and everlastingly that we have grievously sinned in this life; notwithstanding we shall see that this in no way diminished his love, nor made us less precious in his sight. The testing experience of falling will lead us to a deep and wonderful knowledge of the constancy of God’s love, which neither can nor will be broken because of sin. To understand this is of great profit.

Father Emmanuel's photograph of Lac Marie in the Abbey woodlands. Lines from Julian of Norwich.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

As We Celebrate Our Lady of the Rosary

The Holy Spirit teaches the children of God how to pray. The tradition of Christian prayer is one of the ways in which the tradition of faith takes shape and grows, especially through the contemplation and study of believers who treasure in their hearts the events and words of the economy of salvation, and through their profound grasp of the spiritual realities they experience.

We remember with joy and gratitude our mothers and fathers, grandparents and scores of our older friends fingering their beads before and after Mass, in the car or sitting in their favorite chair. Clearly it was their way to deep prayer. The mysteries of the Holy Rosary - joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous - are the mysteries of our own lives. As we pray the Rosary we beg Our Lady to draw us closer to Him who is our Light and our only Hope.

Because of Mary's singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church loves to pray in communion with the Virgin Mary, to magnify with her the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her.

Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Bernard, Filippino Lippi, 1485-1487, oil on panel, 83 x 77 in., Badia, Florence. Quotations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Bored

Visitors or newcomers often ask if monks get bored. I suppose I do - not bored by our rhythm of liturgy, work, and prayer, but bored by me. It is perhaps the most difficult part of our ascesis - to see clearly over and over again the sad, boring truth of who I am. The truth is - I bore myself constantly with my sinfulness and stubbornness. Having seen and understood that painful, neuralgic reality all too well, over and over again, the challenge is there and then to allow God in Christ in that very moment to gaze on me with love and exquisite tenderness. It seems utter madness to allow myself to be the object of Christ’s love and attention and mercy precisely in that moment. This is the wonderful trick of the monastic vocation - I thought I was coming to the monastery to gaze upon Christ, but it is Christ Jesus the Lord himself who wants to gaze upon me in my lowliness and poverty. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by one of the monks.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Brother Bernard: In Memoriam

Shortly after I was elected abbot, I had an opportunity to speak at leisure with Br. Bernard. I asked him if he had any thoughts about priorities that a new abbot should be aware of. After some discussion, the topic turned in a direction you might expect – his experience as a lay brother at Spencer. I could sense we had entered into deep territory; he was speaking from his depths. So, stimulated in part by today’s gospel, I thought I’d share with you what I heard, how Br. Bernard followed his lay brother vocation as the way, the truth, and the life which Jesus had willed for him and given to him as a gift.

            But first a slight diversion – today we heard a section of St. John’s gospel. You may be familiar with the description of John’s thought as a spiral, returning again and again to certain themes but always at a higher level. Well, I have to admit there were times when I’d finish speaking with Br. Bernard and feel that the spiral had been significantly compressed; in fact it was more like I had just been circling on the same level for the last hour. But maybe it was just that Br. Bernard’s spiral went up in very small and concentrated increments. I can remember, for example, how he would tell me about reading Pope Francis’ encyclical on faith – he took a whole year!; or how he would work his way slowly through six months’ worth of L’Osservatore Romano; or how he seemed to deepen in admiration every time he would walk up the lavabo stairs and look out on the beauty of the cemetery and surrounding buildings. There was a contemplative dimension of his life as a lay brother – an uncomplicated relationship with the God of simplicity, as our Constitutions put it.

            In today’s gospel Our Lord says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith in me also.” Many times Fr. Damian would quote Br. Bernard’s words to me, “Father, we are in God’s hands.” As true as that is, I assume Br. Bernard had his own moments when his heart was troubled, perhaps especially during the time that the lay brother vocation as he knew it was being dismantled from above. Yet he persevered to the end, faithful to his vocation as he perceived it. When we had the conversation mentioned above, it was not that he had an axe to grind about the history of the lay brothers. If I understood him correctly, it was more of a hope, or a concern, or even a sense of satisfaction that the value and importance of the lay brothers’ vocation would eventually be understood, that in fact the complementarity of the two vocations, monk and lay brother, would be made clear. “In my Father’s house there are many rooms,” not separate dwellings with no interaction, but distinct rooms of mercy where the full beauty and complementarity of God’s house would become manifest in the Body of Christ.

            This morning at vigils we heard from St. Bernard’s ode to his brother Blessed Gerard. At one point he says of Gerard, “Your involvement in the business of the house gave me the leisure and privacy for more prayerful absorption in divine contemplation, for more thorough preparation of doctrine for my sons…I must repeat that through you, my dear brother, I enjoyed a peaceful mind and a welcome peace; my preaching was more effective, my prayer more fruitful, my study more regular, my love more fervent. Alas! You have been taken away and (with you) these good offices too…” But it was not as though, as St. Bernard points out, that Gerard’s involvement in the business of the house lessened his charity. It overflowed for the good of the whole community, for the poor, for strangers, and for those who came to the monastery. This, I think, is what Br. Bernard was trying to communicate as something of importance for the new abbot and for all of us to understand.

            Finally, Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The way for Br. Bernard was his vocation as a lay brother. He persevered in this way to the end, raking up leaves and mopping the cloister floor to the end; holding fast to the truth revealed to him by the Lord and the life which was his service to the community. Let us, too, hold fast to our vocation in troubles and in joy, and enter anew the rooms of mercy that the Lord has prepared for us, lay brothers and monks, under the mantle of her who is our life, our sweetness and our hope, Our Lady of Spencer.

Dom Vincent's Homily for Brother Bernard's Funeral Mass, Saturday, October 2, 2020.



Freedom in Him

Today’s Gospel points to the painful reality of jealousy and competitiveness in our lives. When finally the beloved son sent to the vineyard is put to death, we know that this poignant image points us to Jesus. He is God’s most precious Gift sent to us by the Father, Jesus our Lord, our Hope for mercy, freedom and redemption, who will be rejected, spat upon and crucified.

Tragically, I often reject his invitations, as my selfishness competes with or ignores his voice. When will I be able to open my heart more and more readily to all that he offers?


Friday, October 2, 2020

Connectivity

As one commentator has pointed out rather convincingly, we are witnessing a worldwide movement toward antipluralism, an ideology that takes many shapes – nationalism, authoritarian populism, racial and religious separatism. He sees these movements as “reactions against diversity, fluidity and the interdependent nature of modern life.” Antipluralists he says, “yearn for a return to clear borders, settled truths.” There is a worldwide fear about what is not pure, what is other, different, integrated. And he witnesses to the reality that for a very long time in America, the network of relationships, connectedness and trust that everything else relies on has been failing.*

In recent months with the pandemic and the mandate for distancing and isolation, and the growing racial tension that has been unmasked once again; we see clearly our real need for one another and our dependence on human connectivity and compassion. And most of all, best of all for us as Christians, we have been given a grace, perhaps difficult and unforeseen, to understand more clearly our desperate dependence on that Someone who alone can give us hope and help us reconnect. 

*See David Brooks. Photograph by Kathleen Trainor.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

With Saint Thérèse

 

If you are willing to bear in peace the trial of not being pleased with yourself, you will be offering the Lord Jesus a home in your heart. It is true you will suffer, for you will feel like a stranger in your own house. But do not fear, for the poorer you are, the more Christ will love you.

We continue to be consoled by these words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; she reminds us that with Saint Paul we dare to rejoice in our weaknesses, for it is there that the Lord Jesus' power is made perfect. And we are sure to find Him  waiting for us in this lowest place.