Our annual community retreat has come to an end, but the words of Sister Maureen—her stories, her personal sharing, the rich array of quotes from our Cistercian fathers and mothers, both old and new—are still fresh in our minds. For the sake of our guests, Sister Maureen is the former Abbess of our Trappistine sisters in Wrentham, MA. It seems that the Lord chose her to bring his words to us, words filled with Spirit and life. And as we are sent back into the vineyard of our monastic life, I think Jesus wants to give us a word in continuity with and complementary to what Mother Maureen offered. And that word is the first reading from Deuteronomy.
The Book of Deuteronomy was a long reflection on the Israelites’ covenant relationship with God. On almost every page, the author (or authors) of Deuteronomy remind the Israelites of the mighty deeds that God had done for them and the need to reform their lives and renew their commitment: that is, to “heed the voice of the Lord, your God…and keep his commandments and decrees…” Our retreat was something like that, with the Spirit reminding us through Sister Maureen of all that Jesus has done for us personally and as a community. The Book of Deuteronomy goes even further combining reminders with forceful warnings. But we need those warnings, lest we become complacent towards the awesome responsibility we have received. It is no less than this: to be a hidden sign of Jesus’ prayer, his obedience, his common life with his Father and his brothers and sisters. This is our mission for his bride the Church.
There is another aspect of Deuteronomy that complements our retreat conferences: a sense of urgency - “when you return to the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.” The urgency was expressed gently by Sister Maureen but frequently; Deuteronomy expresses it very strongly (which must have put the fear of God into the Israelites): “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you. I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life then that you and your descendants may live.” And for us that means choosing over and over the ordinary, obscure, and laborious joy of our monastic vocation. Brothers, our Lord has a fire to cast upon the earth, and he rightly expects that his monks will be the tinder.
Finally, the reading from Deuteronomy concludes with these words: “This command I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky…Nor is it across the sea… No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out." The word of the Lord that has been given to us is indeed very near, a word that stands by our side, a Paraclete. Sister Maureen’s retreat conferences were a kind of Paraclete. When Deuteronomy spoke of the word as being very near to us, St. Paul interpreted that the mean the nearness of the word of faith, a word brought near by the Spirit who breathes into us the gift of faith. The Spirit puts into our mouths the confession that Jesus is the one Lord and in our hearts the realization that God raised him from the dead. This word is not too mysterious and remote for us; it is very near, the pure gift of the Spirit and life.
Brothers and sisters, the word of the Lord is in our mouth in our hymns of praise and in our heart as the seal of our hope of the resurrection. In a few moments the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus himself will be in our mouths and in our hearts. That will truly be Spirit and life for us.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Today's homily by Father Vincent.