Friday, December 3, 2021

Xavier

Today we remember Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first companions of Saint Ignatius Loyola. They always remained close friends and exchanged letters while Francis Xavier was on mission in the Far East and Ignatius stayed in Rome. One letter from Ignatius to Francis Xavier concludes poignantly, "I shall never forget you. Entirely your own, Ignatius.” 

Imagine the deep friendship between these two saints. We hear an echo of the words of our own Cistercian Father, Saint Ælred of Rievaulx. Indeed, it is through the love of those we love, that we may learn what God is like.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Today

On this Advent morning in the first reading at Mass, the prophet Isaiah presents us with his vision of a real place where all of God’s promises will be fulfilled for us:

On this mountain, he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord God will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.

In the proclamation of the Gospel, we see this place of fulfillment. It is Christ Jesus our Lord. He himself is the fulfillment of Isaiah's dream:

Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame,

the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet,

and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed

when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking, and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Into The Chaos

The incarnate Word is a sword of tender flesh, but a sword nonetheless. This is what Advent and Christmas reveal to us. This new liturgical year is ushered in by a gospel passage that contemplates the return of Christ at the end of history. The intense narrative comes to us from the very lips of the Lord of history and of the cosmos. Today Jesus wants to teach us to see Christmas—his first coming among us—as a reality closely intertwined with the Judgment of the world at his second coming. Scripture tells us that with the Incarnation of the Word the end of time already has begun. In Christ, God has uttered his last Word; there now only remains to see whether or not we want to hear it. God’s final Word comes at Christmas to walk the earth. But it is a radical Word, “sharper than any two-edged sword. [And] everything is naked and uncovered in the eyes of him to whom we must give an account”. 

The interval of time between the historical Birth of Jesus of Nazareth and the Last Judgment is therefore not a time of empty waiting; it is, in fact, the kairós or divinely “appointed time” that is granted to us to make daily the great decision of either embracing or rejecting the incarnate Word, who already dwells among us in a hidden way. St Augustine says that time is a creation of God’s merciful compassion, meant to give us the opportunity to convert our hearts and return to the God who is always seeking us. Christmas, thus, is not primarily a ‘nice’ feast, consisting of easy nostalgia and childhood memories; Christmas is rather, as von Balthasar says, the celebration of the impotence of God’s love, a love that only by dying can demonstrate its omnipotence.

St Paul’s first message to us today is that the whole of Christian existence should be oriented toward the Second Coming of Jesus so that when our Lord comes he will find us ‘blameless in holiness’. This means that the whole Christian life should consist in waiting with active hope for the Lord who is about to come. But how can we practice this active hope? Its first concrete imperative, according to Paul, is the commandment to love, to love not only our fellow Christians but for all beings. Waiting for the coming of our Lord, we Christians should occupy ourselves only with loving, because only what love has created, suffered, and enjoyed will stand firm in the end. Loving and waiting are inseparable activities of the soul, and the gift of Advent is now given us that we may grow in love by waiting for the fulfillment of our greatest desire.

Secondly, however, again according to St Paul today, we must ask the Lord for a steadfast heart. Only divine power acting in us can ensure that our love of neighbor remains truly Christian and does not instead dissolve into a vague humanism or mere comfortable neighborliness. When we appear before Christ’s tribunal, he must see enough of his holiness in us that he will be able to welcome us with joy into the ranks of his saints. Consequently, Jesus’ words in this gospel are very strong, indeed shocking: Be vigilant at all times and pray, he declares, that you may have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man. Our inevitable appearing before the Son of Man and standing steadfast before him is not a literary fiction or apocalyptic fantasy; for just under these images we perceive the marvelous reality of our supreme face-to-face encounter with our Creator and Redeemer, which is to say the ultimate event for which we were created when all the veils will be removed and everything will be seen in its most naked reality. Then, in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, three realities will converge on a single plane: 1. the history of humanity both private and public; 2. the dazzling processes of nature and the cosmos; and 3. the sovereign preeminence of the Kingdom of God. And Christ the King will then manifest himself as glorious Lord and Judge over all three. It depends wholly on us and the choices we make right now whether we shall encounter him as ruthless Prosecutor or as long-awaited Bridegroom.

What Jesus commands his followers to do in the face of the cosmic catastrophes he describes is the very thing that for others is the worst catastrophe imaginable, but which for his disciples should instead be the source of the greatest hope: When these things begin to happen, he instructs us, stand erect and raise your heads, because your redemption is at hand. As if he said, ‘Go right into the catastrophe without hesitation because there am I awaiting you in the midst of it!’ The others have their hearts burdened because they have not offered them to God; they have not been attentive to the presence of God in their spirit and lives. As a result, they have dissipated and wasted their human substance in the blessed time allotted them in mercy, as if neither the future nor the Judgment nor God himself had any reality. They behave as if their own immortal human soul did not exist.  

The Christian, to be sure, is by no means exempt from the vicissitudes of history or from the most serious earthly upheavals, such as this pandemic we’re presently enduring. Christians are vulnerable like everyone else and feel fear when faced with great threats. The only difference between believer and non-believer—but what a difference it is!—is that the Christian has persevered in believing the promise of the God who proclaimed through Jeremiah: I will cause a righteous shoot to spring up for David, who will exercise judgment and justice in the earth.  In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live quietly, and [my people] will be called, ‘The Lord-our-justice’. Our justice (or righteousness) before God, and therefore our peace and joy and security, cannot possibly come from ourselves, from our virtues, actions, and intentions. Justice (that is, holiness) comes only from God, and from the growth in us of this Righteous Shoot planted in us by God as a gift of grace. 

But once the Righteous Envoy has been received by us, once he has made his dwelling in us, then we ourselves must become what he is, because the Father has given him to us as truly ours; and therefore our own most intimate name becomes The-Lord-our-Justice. The holy life of God becomes our own most intimate and true life, by merciful participation. If we accept with faith and trust the sharp sword of the Word, this sword of judgment is transformed into a shoot rich in life, a sword of tender flesh which, like a good surgical instrument, communicates life and not death. 

In the face of extreme catastrophe, our peace can be based only on the vision that at every moment we are progressing, through human events, towards the Person who is our liberation, and nothing can impede this progress.  The impetus that is always driving us to go forward to meet our Judge is none other than this same Lord-our-Justice, who lives so truly in our hearts that he has become our very identity. Only in an intimate union with Christ, to the point of sharing with him an identity of names, hearts, and wills, can we please the Father and so be saved. Here, too, is the whole meaning of the Sacrifice we are now about to offer on this altar. And so a new cycle of mercy, hope, and salvation is offered us today, a new beginning. Let us not waste this gift of sacred time through routine, indifference, distraction or plain old boredom. Both God and our soul deserve infinitely better. Let us rise from our torpor!

Photograph of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel. Today's homily by Father Simeon.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Advent Begins at Dusk

 

As monks we are meant to live in incessant desire for God, to become all longing and hunger for him. The season of Advent, its prayers, and readings speak to us of mutuality of desire. For indeed if we long to see the face of God, so God's desire to come to us outstrips our own desire and takes flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Jesus God's face has been revealed. This revelation stokes our desire for a more intense experience of his presence and divine embrace. During Advent, we celebrate the emptiness that makes us totally available for all that God wants to give us in Christ. We are joyful in our neediness and longing, for God longs to fill us with God's own Self in Christ more than we dare imagine. Amen. Come Lord Jesus and do not delay!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

On Thanksgiving Day


We remember our parents tugging at our sleeves when we were given a gift or a small treat and reminding us, “What do you say?” Recognizing all we have been given by God in his love and mercy, on this Thanksgiving Day we gather to pray and feast and remind one another what to say.

Thank you, thank you Lord from the bottom of our hearts for all you have given so freely, so lavishly. Our hearts are full, filled to overflowing. What do we have that we have not received? Wonder, praise, gratitude become one as we realize that all is gift.

And so fittingly, justly, jubilantly we celebrate Eucharist on this day. Eucharist means thanksgiving. God never stops giving God’s very Self to us. God is love. Love never ends. And even as we come to thank and praise God for all he has given us, it is he who is gathering us at this Eucharist to feed us once again with himself. Our thanksgiving overflows.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Blessed Miguel


Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.

You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.

Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

These words of Saint Ignatius' prayer The Suscipe, sum up most poignantly the self-offering of the Mexican martyr, Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro. as a young manMiguel renounced everything and entered the Society of Jesus. After his ordination, he carried on his priestly ministry in spite of the grave religious persecution of the Church in Mexico in the early 20th century. Often in disguise and continually foiling the best efforts of the Mexican secret police to arrest him, Miguel was eventually captured. On 23 November 1927, after forgiving his executioners, he extended his arms like his crucified Lord and was shot by a firing squad as he proclaimed, "Hail, Christ the King!" 

Jesus' life, his passion, and death are all about self-offering, self-forgetfulness, and loving obedience to the Father. Indeed, Jesus reinvents the meaning of kingship. How well Miguel Pro understood this; how beautifully and completely he imitated his King. How will we give Jesus all that we have, all that we are?

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Christ the King

 

Today’s Feast of Christ the King wraps up the liturgical year by taking the long view forward to the final coming of Christ “amid the clouds at the end of time to receive everlasting dominion, glory and kingship from his Father.”  (So we just heard from the prophet Daniel and the Book of Revelation.) But we have to remember that in Christ “every end is a new beginning,” which means that his kingship isn’t something way off in the future but breaks in upon us now, at this very moment. The problem is that this “in-breaking” of his kingship is no more recognizable to us than it was to Pilate in this morning’s Gospel, who asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?”

The ancient world knew more about kings than we moderns do. Where kings still exist today, they rarely are “absolute” monarchs, autocratic dictators, but mostly live and work within a carefully constructed framework as “constitutional” monarchs. They can bring only subtle pressure to bear on politicians and serve mainly as figureheads of state. In the ancient world, on the other hand, kings were “absolute” monarchs and could rule according to their own wishes and whims. It was also clear to everyone how kings became kings: either the crown passing from father to son (or to some other close male relative), or from time to time there would be a revolution. The way to the crown for anyone not in the direct family line was through violence. This was so among the Jews as much as among the pagans. An example would be Herod the Great, who 30 years before Jesus was born, had defeated the Parthians, the great empire to the east. In gratitude, Rome allowed him to become “King of the Jews,” though Herod had no appropriate background or pedigree for this title and role.

So when Pilate faces Jesus, having been told that the chief priests have handed him over because Jesus thinks he is king, Pilate is compelled to question Jesus directly on this point. He asks straight-out, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Of course the idea is so ludicrous that Pilate knows within his own frame of reference what the answer is. He sees before him a poor man from the wrong part of the country. He has a small band of followers, and they’ve all run away. Of course he is not the king. But maybe he thinks he is. Maybe he’s really deluded. Pilate has to ask him and find out.

Jesus’ answer is both apparently incriminating and profoundly revealing. Incriminating, because he agrees he has a kingdom, and Pilate seizes on this. Revealing, because he says his kingdom doesn’t come from this world.

It is worth noting that Jesus doesn’t say, as some translations have it, “my kingdom is not of this world”; that would imply that his “kingdom” was altogether other-worldly, a spiritual or heavenly reality that has nothing to do with the present world at all. He says, rather, that his kingdom does not come from or belong to this world. (That makes sense especially in John’s Gospel, where the “world” stands for the source of evil and rebellion against God.)

In this interrogation, then, Jesus is denying that his kingdom has a this-worldly origin or quality, but he is not denying that it has a this-worldly destination. Or, to say it another way: he is telling Pilate that his kingdom doesn’t come from this world, but that it is for this world. In fact, that is why he has come into the world, and why he has sent, and will send, his followers into the world.

The next verse is the key, revealing moment in this morning’s Gospel, when Jesus tells Pilate: “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Philosophers and judges don’t own it. N.T. Wright expresses this insight well: “It is a gift, a strange quality that like Jesus’s kingdom actually comes from elsewhere but is meant to take up residence in this world. Jesus has come to give evidence about this truth. He is himself the Truth.”

Pilate, of course, can only see things from a this-worldly perspective. As far as he knows, the only place you get truth is out of the sheath of a sword – political “truth” – my truth against your truth, my sword against your sword. And ultimately, for a Roman governor, my power against your weakness, my cross to hang your naked body on . . . .

Ah, but the truth that Jesus testifies to in this exchange with Pilate is the truth that belongs with Passover, the truth that says one man dies and the others go free. At time of this scene (the day before Passover), Barabbas, a revolutionary, perhaps himself either a would-be king or a supporter of someone else’s failed messianic movement, also faces execution. Somehow, through the plots and schemes and betrayals and denials, the Truth stands there in person, taking the death that otherwise would have fallen on Barabbas. This is what the cross will mean. This is what truth is and does. Truth is what Jesus is; and Jesus is dying for Barabbas, and for Israel, and for the world, and for you and me.

To bring this home to ourselves, we might ask: what concretely is the “Good News” for us here? I would suggest that in this final interrogation before Pilate, and in his very kingship that is now “center-stage,” Jesus is revealing the “brightest presence in the darkest places.”

It is as king not from but for this world that Jesus is the truth that enables us to experience God in the middle of the mess and mystery of each day, as we continue to “dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.” In other words: he is not a king or a truth too heavenly to be of any earthly use – on the contrary, he stands before us, as before Pilate, to reveal to us that God’s brightest presence is hidden in our darkest places. His kingship means that there is nothing in life so scientific, so secular, or so sinful that we cannot find God in it—that we cannot find God’s truth, reign and victory accomplished in Jesus Christ and extended to us. Through Christ’s kingship, grace now finds its victory in the monotony, pain and ordinariness of daily life, and makes of us an intimate dimension of the glory of God. (As St. Paul says, “a radiance of his glory.”

This is a staggering revelation! This is Jesus Christ’s last attempt to explain who he is and his mission just hours before his execution. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” And, in response, we acclaim on this Solemnity celebrating his universal kingship: To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, who has made us into a kingdom, priests for his God and Father, to him be glory and power forever and ever. Amen.   

Icon written byb Brother Terence. Today's homily by Father Dominic.