Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Father William's Funeral

It is amazing to think of all the different aspects of the Christian life that Fr. William explored and expounded during his lifetime: contemplative prayer, the meaning of Scripture, the communion that is monastic life. But there are two other aspects that are also important, both for Fr. William and for us: being a child of God and sharing in the kingship of Christ as we heard in today’s readings. They might seem like an odd combination, childhood and kingship, but they are essential to the Christian life. Let us see how they apply to Fr. William and to us?

            In the first reading, we heard those remarkable words of St. John: “See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.” Fr. William had a childlike streak in him, a little mischievous at times, a little stubborn at times, but with a desire to experience what a child experiences, namely, using the words he used to end his e-mails, to be happy, to be free, to be loving, to be loved. But there is something more astonishing about being a child of God. St. John puts it this way: “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we shall be has not yet been revealed…when it is revealed we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.” This is our privilege as children: we will be allowed to reach in behind the veil and see God as he is.

            The other aspect of the Christian life is sharing in the kingship of Christ. St. John had said that we shall see God as he is, but the Gospel shows us exactly what we are looking for. It is in the crucifixion of Jesus that we see God as he is: God bearing out of love all the suffering of his children; God bearing the insults of bystanders and criminals to win them over; God showing abundant mercy even to a thief, who, like a repentant child has won over the heart of his father and is allowed to steal heaven. Here we see God as he is: a king, but one that the soldiers jeer at, saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” This is the paradox of Christ’s kingship that we must share, the scandal and the glory of the Lord’s cross, and it is not easy.

            Now you may wonder why I am dwelling on this sharing in the kingship of Christ. But I’m sure you remember the story of how Fr. William was especially marked out for kingship. When Dom Thomas appointed him to supervise the young professed, he was asked, “And what would you like to be called? Fr. William immediately responded, “I’ve always wanted the title of king.” And so it happened. Henceforth, the Junior Professed when passing by would greet him with, “O King, live forever!” But I cannot help but think that this kingship had a deeper meaning. When Fr. William returned from his various surgeries, in my eyes he began to resemble more and more the king on the cross. And when the end came, standing before the Lord, I like to think that Fr. William could recognize him from his own experience of suffering, and could cry out, “O true king, live forever.” But the deeper mystery might have been our Lord’s response, “O King, you live forever, for you have lived in me.”

         These two elements of the Christian life are not easy: accepting our status as children of God means accepting our weakness, and accepting our share in Christ’s kingship means accepting our share in the cross of Christ. But despite all the challenges, I think Fr. William would assure us that it is all worth it. He would probably quote one of his favorite authors: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.” May Fr. William rest in peace. 

Dom Vincent's homily for Father William's Funeral.

Christ Jesus

 

This arresting image of Christ is a favorite of many of us and reveals El Greco's indebtedness to the icon painters of his native Greece. But while icons have brilliant gold backgrounds signifying timelessness and eternity, in this painting Christ is shown against a background of daubed and scumbled muddy browns. Thus it is that El Greco depicts Christ as absolutely of the earth, one of us. At the same time, his diamond-shaped nimbus, his right hand raised in blessing, and his left resting in dominion over the brown orb of Earth reveal that he is truly divine.

Truly human, truly divine, Christ Jesus is with us, truly with us in all things, always and everywhere.

The Savior, El Greco (and workshop), 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 72 cm x 55 cm, The Prado, Madrid.

Monday, February 22, 2021

At Her Heart


The church is…a living reality.  She lives along the course of time by transforming herself, like any living being, yet her nature remains the same.  At her heart is Christ.

Lines by Servant of God Romano Guardini.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Tested

 

Jesus is just back from the Jordan River, where he has received John’s baptism. God only knows why. He certainly did not have anything to repent of. Why was he there? Perhaps it is that he could do no less. He had to be there, with his people - with us - in all that embarrasses and burdens us, our regrets and our failures, all our soggy truth. Jesus has immersed himself in all of it. Only the passion of his love can explain his desire for baptism or any other one of his actions for that matter. Jesus perfectly expresses this determination of God to “share unreservedly”1 in our distress, to be with us in everything. Never distance or separateness but immersion and identification with us, so that we might know ourselves holy and beloved like him, through him. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us.

My mother often spoke of my grandmother, sitting at the kitchen table reading the soldiers’ obituaries in the newspaper night after night during the Second World War, reading and sobbing. My mother would say, “Mama, you don’t even know who these boys are.” Grandma’s response, “Yes, but they are some mothers’ sons.” Identification and compassion. The brilliant logic of love.

So it is that Jesus is “driven” - literally pushed out - by the Spirit out to the wilderness to further immerse himself in our reality. And we find him this morning weakened by fasting and terribly lonely with only wild beasts as company. In this most vulnerable condition, he is tested by the evil one, tempted to give it all up and misuse his power. Satan desperately wants Christ Jesus to deny the self-forgetful love that he enfleshes, the love that will lead to his self-emptying even unto an excruciating death on the cross. This is tempting for Jesus, as we know from his later struggle in Gethsemane, but the Father’s will is always irresistible for him.

Today’s account from the Gospel of Mark is a conflation or even an abridgment of the longer temptation stories in the other gospels. And here again, the battle lines are set. It’s been building for thirty or so years; the evil one is fed up. Satan is itching for a fight. “Just show them who you really are. Just be divine. Why pretend you’re powerless? Why bother? C’mon, show us your stuff. Just be God; leave me to take care of the mess down here, and you get back to heaven.” The incarnation drives Satan crazy, for he knows it is his undoing - God and our flesh forever one. If only God would just stay in heaven if only Christ would leave the earth as Satan’s domain. If only God would deny this humanity – the incessant towardness of his love for us, enfleshed forever in Christ Jesus our Lord. If only….

It is the cross that will be his final answer to Satan. For on the cross, God will let himself be murdered for our freedom from all accusations against us, and death will die in him. With quiet trust and obedience to the Father, Jesus will contend with evil in weakness and vulnerability.2 And confront Satan not with a divine lightning bolt “but with his frail human nature, empowered by the Spirit.”The accuser doesn’t have a chance, knows it and he’s frightened to death.

And this morning we witness Jesus’ rejection of self-sufficiency; he is grounded in relationality; he belongs to the Father, and so to us, to whom the Father has sent him. His will is not his own; he has come to do the will of the One who sent him. And his temptation by the accuser is to be other than He is, God with us, God for us, God’s Beloved Son. Our temptations are perhaps a zillion variations on a similar theme - to be other than who we are - dearly beloved children of God.

Why do I continue to feel that relentless desire to have it my way, to resist and rebel? Why shouldn’t I. Jesus has somehow experienced it all and looked it straight in the eye - that demoralizing pull toward what entices, even as I realize it’s not right – that narrow place where we are tempted to be other than our truest selves, to live a lie and do the opposite. It is there that I see my heart is divided, pulled in opposite directions; I see that I am a sham. But that small embarrassing corner is a place where we can encounter him. We might want to ask, “Jesus what are you doing here?” His response, “Where else would I be?”

Jesus has come to sympathize with our weaknesses, tested in every way we are, yet without sin.3 He is very close to us in temptation. He cannot bear to have us go through it alone. And if we remember what it was like to have a friend simply sit by our side in illness or adversity, or come to offer us help when we were exhausted and say simply, “Please, tell me what I can do to help?” If we can remember how that transformed everything, then we get a tiny glimpse of what Jesus’ solidarity with us truly means. Identification and compassion.

Ultimately there is a hard grace offered to us in all of our temptations – the invitation to arrive at this place of utter helplessness and depend completely on Christ’s power working through our weakness. But we must be willing to reject the stubborn “misconception that we can be truly human without overcoming ourselves, without the suffering of renunciation and the hardship” of loss of self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, we may have been misled into believing that we could avoid “the patient endurance required by (this) endless tension” between what we should be and what we truly are.4

Like Jesus, we live with beasts, our own inner demons, but we too have angels ministering to us, if we dare notice. We are day in day out persecuted, beguiled, and tempted but never, never abandoned for we carry about in ourselves the dying of Jesus, so that his resurrection may also be revealed in us. This is our hard and beautiful destiny, our baptismal truth. We are in Christ. He is himself the Ark in whom we are being carried home safely to the bosom of our Father. He who is our refuge in all temptation is tempted today and is sovereign and victorious to reveal to us our power as members of his Body. We are majestic even in our fragility and our vulnerability because our flesh is his flesh. The Holy Communion we receive will make explicit once more this truth of our commingling with him.

1 Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism.

2 Romano Guardini, The Lord.

3 Mary Healy, The Gospel of Mark.

4 Pope Benedict XVI.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319), The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled), 17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York. 

This morning's homily for the First Sunday of Lent.

 


Friday, February 19, 2021

Lent

Lent, the springtime of the Church situates us between two gardens - the garden of Eden, that lush middle Eastern paradise where the first Adam lost his innocence and the garden of the Resurrection on Easter morning where the new Adam wounded and resurrected will walk in peace having restored our lost innocence. In between like Christ Jesus, we will spend forty days in the desert, the place where wild beasts and demons are most at home, the place of trial and self-knowledge, where with Jesus we discover who we really are, what we really desire - better still, Who it is we really desire.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

On Ash Wednesday

            We have been talking recently about the great good of unity in the community. Lent adds another layer to this unity; it calls for unity even as we shed our extra baggage and walk with the Lord to Jerusalem—no coppers in our belts or extra tunics. Complacency has to go, because the poor Christ has a baptism to be baptized with, and we are called to join him. Coincidentally, the prophet Joel had to shake the people of Jerusalem out of their complacency—in his case, the imminent arrival of a famine in the land. It was no longer business as usual. It seems to me that the Lord has chosen this Lent to summon us out of any complacency we may have, faced as we are with so many challenges—Covid-19, political upheaval, death in our midst—we need our communal unity to press on to Jerusalem.

            Joel’s words are like a trumpet blast for us: “…proclaim a fast, call an assembly; Gather the people, notify the congregation; Assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast; Let the bridegroom quit his room and the bride her chamber…let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say, “Spare, O Lord, your people…” This call to the Church touches all the people of God from the eldest to the youngest. It touches us in a similar way: the seniors among us with their years of monastic experience; the newly arrived who are like infants at the breast, imbibing the wisdom of our forefathers; even those enjoying the embrace of the bridegroom—“His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me…”—are called to rouse themselves; and finally, the priests of the community whose task is to call on the Lord’s mercy on behalf of the community, as they minister the divine mysteries. We must all travel light, for the journey to Jerusalem and to the Father is arduous.

            The whole movement of Lent is, in fact, toward the Father. The Lord wants us to choose the one thing necessary, that is, the Father’s will, as he did, in “one spirit with him,” focused on what really matters, devoting ourselves as a community “…to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.” But even more, he wants us to choose that good zeal St. Benedict spoke of: “being the first to show respect for the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior…” not pursuing what we judge better for ourselves, but instead what we judge better for another. Let us sprinkle this zeal upon the other sacrifices we offer this Lent, that good zeal which creates one heart, one mind, and one voice.

            Lent is a communal activity. It is another layer of our unity as a community. For in our embrace of the Lord’s deprivations, we will find the one thing necessary—becoming one spirit with him and with one another on the journey to the Father. May the Holy Spirit bring this about.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Dom Vincent's homily for this Ash Wednesday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Mardi Gras

 

Shrove Tuesday 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 head to the refectory for homemade pizza, followed by ice cream and sweets. Then there’s clean-up followed by Compline, and the last time we can chant the Salve Regina with Our Lady’s window illumined until Easter Sunday. The sanctuary is then prepared for the Ash Wednesday Mass and the cross over the altar veiled in purple for the holy Forty Days ahead.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Rest in Peace

Our Father William Meninger, a renowned teacher of contemplative prayer, passed away suddenly on Sunday morning, February 14 after a prolonged diminishment. Up to the end, he had been speaking to a devoted audience via Zoom. 

Born, raised, and educated in the Boston area. Father William entered the monastery in 1963 after serving as a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston for five years. As a monk, William worked in the Abbey guesthouse for fifteen years, as well as teaching scripture, liturgy, and patristics to the younger monks. He also served as subprior, prior, and dean of the junior professed monks.

In 1979 Father William transferred to Saint Benedict's Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, a daughter house of Spencer, where he served as prior, vocation director, master of novices, and teacher of theology and scripture. Later he spent three years in Israel where he studied Scripture and taught at the École Biblique in Jerusalem and at the Trappist Monastery of Latrun.

Father William returned to Spencer a few years ago and was a welcome presence, sharing his wisdom in homilies and classes. We monks and his many friends and students grieve his passing. May he rest in peace.

Healing

Lepers were among the most piteous of people in the ancient world. Although little was known about the origin of the illness, it was considered to be contagious and greatly feared. Since there was no known cure, the only solution was to isolate the person and not allow them to have contact with other people. Those with the disease were often ostracized and treated with contempt. What was probably more tragic is that many who were branded as lepers could have been suffering from some other disease altogether, like cancer, eczema, or some other skin disease.

In today’s first reading from the book of Leviticus we hear kind of primitive diagnosis. “If someone has on his skin a scab or pustule or blotch which appears to be the sore of leprosy, he shall be brought to Aaron the priest who will declare him unclean.”

Whether the person really had leprosy or not, the judgment was severe: “A man infected with leprosy must wear his garments torn, his head bare and his mouth covered and cry out unclean, unclean. . . He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.” It was a sentence of indefinite exile from society. Given the misery that came from a judgment of uncleanness and the imposed isolation, it not surprising that leprosy became a metaphor for sin. Like the disease which quarantined its victims, sin alienated the sinner from society.

The scene in today’s gospel from Mark opens with a leper approaching Jesus, falling to his knees, and begs Jesus to heal him. The man’s faith shows in his heart-rending appeal, “If you want to, you can cure me.” Moved with compassion, Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it, be made clean.” What Jesus does here is significant. Not only does he let a leper come close to him, but he also touches him. By doing so he rendered himself ritually unclean. With little regard for the rules of ritual impurity and with great concern for the suffering of the leper, he breached the quarantine society had imposed and healed him.

One commentary on this scripture passage explained that, “in all societies, there are special people authorized to ‘cross the line’ and deal with the unclean of that society: police engage criminals, doctors treat the diseased, ministers deal with sinners, etc. These special people might be called ‘limit breakers.’ Jesus was just such an agent. He did not cross those lines because he belonged to the world of the unclean. Rather, he had the power to heal, and to make whole and holy, all who were unclean, both by virtue of disease and by virtue of sin.” (The Social World of Luke-Acts, Jerome H. Neyrey, 1991)

In the late 1970’s I lived in Jamaica with the Friars of the Atonement at their mission on the outskirts of Kingston. One of the places that we visited weekly was a home for lepers. Leprosy is known today as Hansen’s disease (named after the scientist who discovered it). It can be treated with medication and is only contagious after prolonged physical contact. I had seen pictures of people with leprosy, especially those of Fr. Damien and his lepers on Molokai, but it was the first time that I encountered anyone suffering from the disease. It was appalling. I found it hard at first to look at the physical disintegration of their faces and limbs. (I will spare you the details). After visiting them on a weekly basis I soon got used to their physical deformities and was surprised by their joyful, welcoming attitude and the depth of their faith. There was one elderly woman there with hands and feet that were eaten away by the disease who used to say to me, “Isn’t God good?” Good? If I were in her place would I be able to say that? I would probably be saying; God, why did you do this to me? What have I done to deserve this? For most of us, suffering is an unwelcome guest.

We live in a society that idolizes beauty and youth. Aging, physical illness, and suffering of any kind is something we dread. Go into any pharmacy today and you will see isles of cosmetics for women and men. God forbid someone should see me as I really am! What is the leprosy that we want to hide?

After the leper is cleansed by Jesus, it is not the end of the story. He has to ‘re-enter’ society, to be reintegrated into the community. He had to get an official endorsement of his being healed. He is told to go to the priests who will examine him and pronounce him fit to return to a normal life.

Before he goes, Jesus gives him a stern warning not to say anything about it. Why? The healing was for the man’s sake. It was not done to enhance Jesus’ public image as a healer and to collect followers. The healings that Jesus works in the gospels cannot be understood apart from his teaching, otherwise, they are just sensational displays of power.

As the man goes on his way, he does exactly what Jesus asked him not to do, talking about it freely and telling the story to everyone. But really, if you were a leper, forced to live as an outcast from society, perhaps for many years, and we suddenly healed, wouldn’t you want to tell everyone?

Because he “publicized the whole matter – it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” so Jesus remained outside in deserted places. It’s ironic, Jesus switched places with the leper, now he was on the outside. However, it did not keep people from coming to him from everywhere.

What is the message of this gospel for us? No one here has ever had suffered from the disease of leprosy and probably never will, but we all suffer the leprosy of sin. It is not visible on the outside, but it eats away at our insides - the ugly and distorted parts of us that I do not like to look at or let anyone see. I’m afraid there are no cosmetics for that.

With the leper of today’s story, each of us can cry out, Jesus, “if you want to you can cure me!” I want to be made whole again. Then we can say, what that Jamaican woman said to me with such confidence and love, “Isn’t God good.” 

Photograph and homily for the Sixth Sunday of the Year by Father Emmanuel.

Sunday, February 14, 2021

A Leper

With every fiber of his flesh and blood and divinity Jesus expresses this compassion that God feels for us. Our sufferings, and pains, and the trap of our sinfulness wrench Jesus’ guts, he feels it all in his innards, a “visceral” love. Jesus is moved; he is the mercy of God enfleshed. And this mercy gushes forth from his heart; he can’t hold it back; his mercy expresses itself as he cures “every disease and illness,” including the leper in today’s Gospel

And even now his heart is brimming over with tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy for us, because, he sees that we too are “troubled and abandoned.” Jesus sees into our hearts, knows all the stories we are He sees our confusion, pain, and incompleteness, our sinfulness, and his heart goes out to us. His heart is magnetized by our need for him.

The heart of Jesus is always riven by the cry of the poor, and this morning his compassion expresses itself as he cures this leper. Perhaps what Jesus is doing best of all is returning this afflicted and isolated fellow back to ordinariness. Jesus’ healing restores him to family and friends. Blessed ordinariness is after all where he always comes to meet us.

God only wants to be ordinary. It is why Jesus has come, God with us, near us, in us. The ordinary is charged forever with his kind, incessant presence. God longs to be ordinary, not taken for granted, but here, always here with us. Why else would he choose to be a child, why else a carpenter and a wandering teacher? Why else allow himself to be done in by thugs and jealous bureaucrats? Why else choose to be hidden in a morsel of bread on our altar?

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

At Lourdes

Today's memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, is also World Day of the Sick, which surely has added significance for us during the current pandemic. Mary is gateway to all the compassion that Jesus longs to be for us. Through her intercession, we pray for all the sick, for all physicians and health care workers, and all who do medical research. We rely upon Our Lady's attentiveness.

Like Saint Bernadette, we stand beneath the watchful gaze of Mary. The humble maiden of Lourdes tells us that the Virgin, whom she called “the Lovely Lady”, looked at her as one person looks at another. Those simple words describe the fullness of a relationship. Bernadette, poor, illiterate, and ill, felt that Mary was looking at her as a person. The Lovely Lady spoke to her with great respect and without condescension. This reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life. They never become simply objects. If at times they appear merely passive, in reality, that is never the case.

After her visit to the Grotto, thanks to her prayer, Bernadette turned her frailty into support for others. Thanks to her love, she was able to enrich her neighbors and, above all, to offer her life for the salvation of humanity. The fact that the Lovely Lady asked her to pray for sinners reminds us that the infirm and the suffering desire not only to be healed but also to live a truly Christian life, even to the point of offering it as authentic missionary disciples of Christ. Mary gave Bernadette the vocation of serving the sick and called her to become a Sister of Charity, a mission that she carried out in so exemplary a way as to become a model for every healthcare worker. Let us ask Mary Immaculate for the grace always to relate to the sick as persons who certainly need assistance, at times even for the simplest of things, but who have a gift of their own to share with others.  

Excerpts from Pope Francis'  Message for the Twenty-fifth World Day of the Sick: 2017

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Saint Scholastica

Once upon a time Scholastica went to visit her twin brother Benedict. They spent the day in spiritual conversation and dined together. As it began to get dark, Scholastica begged her brother to stay there all night, so that they could continue speaking of the joys of heaven. But Benedict could not be persuaded. The sky was clear and cloudless, as Scholastica joined her hands, bowed her head, and prayed ardently to God.  Suddenly there was such a rainstorm with lightning and thunder, that Benedict could not possibly depart. He was very annoyed and said to his sister, "God forgive you. What have you done?" She answered, "I wanted you to stay, and you would not listen to me; so I asked our good Lord, and he  granted my request." And so, they spent the whole night in heavenly conversation and comforted one another. 

Reflecting on the power and efficacy of Scholastica's prayer, Saint Gregory the Great will remark, "It's no wonder at all. Those who love more can do more." It is love after all that must empower our prayer. We beg God's mercy because sometimes, we have not loved enough. 


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Snow

We long for spring, even as we enjoy the beauty of the Abbey in winter.

Frost and chill bless the Lord; 
praise and exalt him above all forever.
Ice and snow bless the Lord; 
praise and exalt him above all forever.  Daniel 3

A collection of photographs taken by Brother Joseph.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Bakhita

We are always amazed by the story of Saint Josephine Bakhita, whose feast we celebrate today. Stolen from her family and sold into slavery when she was only about nine years old, Bakhita’s childhood was filled with cruelty and suffering. Her young body cruelly tattooed, whip marks on her thighs, and one leg forever damaged by brutal kicking, so much so that she limped for years thereafter. Children are great survivors. But surely this was a little girl who suffered far too much. Hounded by pain and death from her girlhood, Bakhita somehow learned early on how to live as if death did not have the last word. 

And finally years later when she hears about Jesus, she is magnetized and seeks baptism with a tenacity and conviction that astound us. As she gazes at the cross, she is transfixed. The cross is key to her self-understanding, her true self-identity, her freedom, her hope. Jesus, an innocent victim like her, bestows life, her survival has meaning at last. She is drawn into his reality, his death-defying death. And so she calls Jesus her Paron – literally her “Big Daddy,” her Master; at last a Master she can serve with joy and freedom, one who will never, ever hurt or do any violence to her. Light as a feather on the breath of God, Bakhita is lifted up into him and becomes most truly herself. 

Surely we dare not compare ourselves with Bakhita. But we all have scars of our own, so many stories brief or lengthy of infirmities of mind or heart or body or soul; illnesses and unhealthy tendencies inherited or acquired; so many things we cannot change, past hurts and abuses endured. In his wounded, resurrected body, Jesus has drawn all of our stories into his story. Our stories are no longer dead-ended, but filled with life and hope. We do not need to avoid our death, our dyings, for now we can discover Jesus our Master there.

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Everyone

A large, crowd has been following Jesus; this morning’s Gospel goes so far as to say that in fact, everyone is looking for Him. Jesus has captivated their imaginations and their hearts. And as they seek Him, His compassion flows abundantly, and He heals their sick.

I recall a friend telling me about his sister and her too taciturn husband, a reserved guy with a big job. They had been married only a few years, and she could always tell when something was worrying him. But he would just shut down. So, as they were snuggling at bedtime, she often would demand, gently, insistently: “Tell me, tell me what’s wrong, what’s bothering you.” She knew, women always know, something was up, and she wanted to be let in, to accompany him. The intimacy, the relationship demanded it, the relationship demanded it. But he couldn’t do it. And unfortunately, the marriage floundered and eventually ended; he was simply not a communicator.

Our relationship with Christ demands the same intimacy. Many of us - monks, “prayers,” so accustomed to praying - might be apt to say, “But Jesus knows; He knows everything. He knows what I need, what I want; I don’t have to say anything.” True enough, but when we say it, we get to hear it; we hear ourselves, hear our neediness, our poverty, and know our real, desperate need for Christ. This can often happen during spiritual direction or a deep conversation when we say something and are surprised by the honesty, the truth we've revealed. Prayer is relationship; there are times to be quiet, times to sit together, times to talk a blue streak to someone you love, whom you know will listen compassionately. Jesus must be at least as good as that. The people in the Gospel know what they want – desperately – and they flock to Jesus this morning to tell Him, to show Him where it hurts.

Our need, our poverty makes Christ happy, not because He wants us to feel bad, but because it allows Him to save us, to give Himself to us completely, which is what He desperately wants to do. The admission of need is an act of faith in Him who can do all. As Jesus Himself will often say, “Your faith has saved you.” Our faith will save us too, faith articulated in desire, lovingly expressed. We rush toward Jesus and having experienced His compassion, we want to follow him on the way. This is ultimately the way of the cross, the way of betrayal, the way to Jerusalem where He will be tortured and crucified. Are we ready?

What do you want? What do you want so much, you can almost taste it? Perhaps something you never dare to say. Perhaps something that just rises up in your heart, but you feel you need to talk yourself out of; perhaps something that seems even less than ideal, perhaps even tending toward sin. Never mind, I know it’s in there, nagging at me and I can’t deny it. Just say it to Him, tell Him. Go to Him, the Lord Jesus. He hears us and understands and longs to heal and purify our desiring, so that we will be able to see our deepest desire hiding beneath all that other stuff. And best of all, hopefully, eventually, we come to realize that our deepest desire is not for something, but for Someone, for Jesus who is the heart of all desire.

The expressed desire is an act of faith in Him who is above all, over all, and in all; He who surrounds us and truly likes us. When we speak our desires from the shallowest to the loftiest, we are heard, and we grow in intimacy with Christ Jesus. That alone is worth the effort. Who do you want? Who is worth everything? Everyone, as the Gospel says, everyone (whether they realize it or not) is somehow looking for Jesus, seeking the healing, wholeness, and peace that only He can give. Let us go to Him. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of the monks of the Abbey.

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Enough

Jesus admonishes his disciples this morning to “take nothing for the journey but a walking stick–no food, no sack, no money in their belts.” What are we to do? What shall we take with us as we go? 

In our heart of hearts we know, Jesus alone is enough for us. We cry out to him with the Psalmist, “You alone Lord, make me dwell in safety. It is you who are my portion and cup. The lot marked out for me is my delight.” 

Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatever I have or hold, you have given me; I restore it all to you and surrender it wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your grace, and I am rich enough and ask for nothing more. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Prayer of Saint Ignatius Loyola

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Candlemas

As Mary and Joseph brought the child Jesus into the temple, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him. The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Presentation in the Temple with the Angel, c. 1630, etching, 4 x 3 in. Alva de Mars Megan Chapel Art Center, Saint Anselm College. Meditation by Saint Sophronius.

Monday, February 1, 2021

At Capernaum

In the gospel this morning, we encounter Jesus early in his public ministry entering the synagogue in Capernaum. As an adult male member of the community, he follows the custom of the time and takes his turn at teaching those gathered there. Interestingly, we are not told that his audience is impressed with his learning, but only that they marvel at the authority with which he speaks. Unlike the scribes, who gave insight and answers based on biblical and other traditional precedents, Jesus speaks clearly and directly in what might be described as a prophetic manner. In other words, his authority rests solely on God’s claim on his life; he makes appeal to no other source or authority.

In commenting on this passage, Michael Casey makes a key observation that I’d like to focus on this morning. He says in Fully Human, Fully Divine:

The evangelist has interwoven two themes which at first sight may seem to us unconnected. The power which Jesus manifests in expelling the demon is deployed through the instrumentality of his teaching.

The reaction of the bystanders to the miracle is significant: “What is this thing? This is a new teaching with power so that he subdues unclean spirits, and they obey him.” Notice that not a word is said about the beneficiary of the miracle, nor about the exorcism itself. When the crowd remarks on the newness of Jesus’ teaching, they are not referring to any novelty in its content. Rather, as Michael Casey puts it:

The wonderment is directed towards the new teaching which is a channel of contact with the wonder-worker, and mysteriously purifies those whom it touches from demonic influence . . . In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ ‘teaching’ was a matter of an ongoing and lasting relationship, closer to personal formation than to the mere communication of information or knowledge. 

But what do we imagine Jesus was teaching on this occasion? Probably it had to do with purity codes, a favorite topic of scribal discussion. The particular context this morning is a man with an unclean spirit. Now, it was commonly believed that a person could become not just tormented but defiled by contact with an unclean spirit. In fact, the simple presence of the unclean spirit in the synagogue would contaminate the entire synagogue. And so, the standard scribal advice was avoidance: people were holy to the degree they kept their distance from what was unholy – whether it be certain actions, foods, or people. Simply to be in the presence of someone possessed by an unclean spirit was to become impure; and hence, scribal teaching was: “Steer clear!”

The unclean spirit knows this and counts on it. But it senses something different in Jesus. So it asks, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?”  It knows that Jesus is the Holy One of God and that it is unthinkable that God’s Holy One would risk defilement. So the implication of the question is that Jesus should stay away.

But Jesus does not respect purity boundaries. He trespasses them. The false theology of the unclean spirit, its only hope to continue its vicious domination of God’s good creation, is silenced. Mark tells us: Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”  With that command, that whole way of thinking, rooted in ineffectual fear, is over. A new teaching is being articulated, and it comes into existence with power and authority. Convulsing and screaming, the unclean spirit leaves the man. It does not go willingly. It has not been argued into submission. It has not met its match. Rather, a higher authority has appeared and will be obeyed. The people are amazed because they have seen another way to deal with the fear of impurity. Do not avoid it; bring your own stronger purity to it and cleanse it. This teaching is indeed new.

What can all this mean for us this morning, who are not in the Capernaum synagogue but in this abbey church? Surely the story of the exorcism serves as more than an account of Jesus’ mercy and compassion towards a tormented individual. The people in the synagogue would recognize here an eschatological sign, for they knew that the eschaton or “end time” was to be marked by Yahweh’s definitive conquest of evil. All the evangelists point to this concretely again and again when Jesus confronts evil wherever it is lodged – in sickness, demonic possession, natural upheaval, or death. As Jesus repeatedly cures the afflicted, evil in its various forms is vanquished.

I would suggest, then, that the Good News this morning is that Jesus in his teaching makes himself known as the authoritative victor over evil – over our sins, our demons, over all chaos and evil. With the authority of the Holy One of God, with the authority of the Son of God, he also speaks to our hearts as we struggle with whatever our particular demons may be. He never leaves us alone in our darkness, but invites us to believe that through his life, death, and resurrection he has indeed already overcome our guilt, shame, fears, and tendency to run away from evil in our lives. Yes, probably most of us tend to be avoiders, but he speaks a saving word with an authority that means nothing less than eternal life. He asks us only to believe and trust in him. So often he asks his disciples: “Why were you afraid?” And appearing to them many times after his resurrection, his first words invariably are: “Do not be afraid.” Truly, he is more than a prophet who bears God’s effective word. The opening verse of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “In times past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a Son” (Heb 1:1).

As I reflected on today’s Gospel, St. Anthony of the Desert came to mind, for in tomb and fortress and wilderness over a lifetime he faced demonic adversaries and the conflicts of his own heart with an intensity we probably can’t imagine—and yet he came to believe that he could not be harmed by any opponent of Christ, precisely because Christ’s victory over demons, sin, and death was already his. As an old man encouraging young monks in the desert to be at peace and unafraid in all circumstances (especially when tempted or tormented by demons), he taught them that it was his faith in Christ’s victory over evil that made him fearless and serene, and in turn, created almost comic panic in the demons who live off human anxiety. Rather than succumb to fear, we too should marvel at the “authority” of the Lord, the Word who constantly visits and heals us in his teaching. I think Michael Casey captures the Good News of this morning’s Gospel exquisitely when he says:

Nobody else can reproduce the power inherent in Jesus’ teaching. Jesus was for his disciples and can be for us, a teacher who imparts himself rather than some external knowledge or expertise. His words reach out to heal what is wounded and defective in us. They are our salvation—our means of access to the divine sphere: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). P


hotograph by Brother Brian. Homily by Father Dominic for the Fourth Sunday of the Year.