Now the one-handing-him-over had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him’
Wednesday, March 31, 2021
Tuesday, March 30, 2021
This is what we have vowed to do by our conversatio as monks- to continually allow our hearts to be broken open. Perhaps this is why Saint Benedict will remind the monk to keep death always before his eyes. As monks, we are meant to live on the edge, in a place of urgency that perhaps many will only experience in the wake of horrible tragedy or on their deathbeds, a place where all we have to depend on is God’s mercy. This is a place where there is nothing else left but Him.
Image from the series of prints known as the Miserere by Georges Rouault (1871-1958).
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Our Lord’s entrance into Jerusalem, and our participation in it, begins the fulfillment of his words in St. John’s gospel: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…Now is the time of judgment on this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” Jesus is drawing our community into this great mystery which has many elements: witnessing and passing through judgment; being drawn to the one lifted up; and making a choice, a radical choice. Our community has a special mission in these holy days: to allow ourselves to be drawn to the Lord, and thereby contribute to the lifting up of the Church and the world.
Let us begin with our being drawn into the judgment on this world. Our Lord was waiting all during his earthly ministry for the final confrontation with the ruler of this world, the father of lies whose nature is to lie, and who draws as many people as he can into his lies. Today’s gospel gives us many examples of this: the denial that springs from fear; the secrecy of a betrayal; the indignation when one’s security is threatened. We saw this played out by the different characters: Peter, Judas, the chief priests – choices made, hearts revealed – each person choosing either to allow himself to be drawn to the one who has been lifted up or to the one who has exalted himself with subtle lies from the beginning. The Lord is drawing our community into this great confrontation.
But let us come back to this question: how exactly does Jesus draw us; how does he touch us; how does he move us so that we will allow ourselves to be drawn? The passage from Philippians gives us the answer: He does it by his emptying, his kenosis. He draws us down by attracting us to his humility, and then he lifts us up by opening a path to the glory of God the Father. We see his goodness, and we want to be with him. We see his love outpoured and realize it is worth more than a life of independence, isolation, or holding fast to a piece of this world. Better to lose that life in order to gain the other.
Perhaps another way to put this is that we are drawn by Our Lord’s good zeal. He always tried to be the first to show respect for the other, even to those who opposed him. He showed the greatest patience for the weaknesses in body or behavior of those around him, especially his intimate community of disciples. He did not pursue what he judged best for himself, but only what the Father willed and what would be good for us. It is the beauty of his good zeal which draws us, and at the same time leaves us with a choice – will we allow ourselves to be drawn?
Brothers, the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. We are being drawn into that mystery and are passing with the Lord through the judgment on this world. The Church relies on us. She urges us during this Holy Week to allow ourselves as a community to be drawn through the kenosis of humility and obedience, so that she, too, and the whole world may follow in our footsteps and be drawn to the one who was lifted up for our sake.
Giotto, The Entry into Jerusalem. Dom Vincent's homily for this Palm Sunday.
Saturday, March 27, 2021
My song is love unknown my Savior’s love to me.
Love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I that for my sake,
oh, who am I that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?
He came from heaven’s throne
salvation to bestow;
but they refused, and none
the longed-for Christ would know.
This is my friend, my friend indeed,
this is my friend, my friend indeed,
who at my need, his life did spend.
Safet Zec, Deposition, detail, 2014. Lines from the Lauds hymn for Lent, Love Unknown by John Ireland.
Thursday, March 25, 2021
Imagine God’s joy. Through Mary, in Mary God can finally be what He could not be without her. In Mary God finds one who trusts Him absolutely. Mary is a flawless nesting place for God, who is always captivated by what is little, humble, and small.
There are so many annunciations, so many invitations to embrace our littleness, our nothingness, that great open space as a privileged place of encounter with the God of love. How to allow ourselves to be tenderly overshadowed by the God who loves us beyond all telling?
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
As monks we are called to be poor with the poor Christ, poor with Christ's own little ones, we regret our hesitation and ambivalence and our failures and beg the Lord's mercy, trusting in the prayers of the Bishop, Saint Oscar.
Monday, March 22, 2021
the Son of God, how He
Died on the tree our souls to save,
Think of the nails that pierced Him through,
Think of Him, too, in lowly grave.
the spear the soldier bore,
Think how it tore His holy side,
Think of the bitter gall for drink,
Think of it, think for us He died.
Think upon Christ Who gave His blood
Poured in a flood our souls to win,
Think of the mingled tide that gushed
Forth at the thrust to wash our sin.
Think of repentance timely made,
Think like a shade our time flits, too
Think upon death with poisoned dart
Piercing the heart and body through.
Photograph of Abbey processional cross by Brother Brian. Text of traditional Gaelic hymn.
Sunday, March 21, 2021
There’s really no graceful way to fall. Losing your balance. Losing your foothold. Who wants that? Slipping on the ice a few weeks ago - I’m upright and suddenly I’m aching in a heap on the ground, and not really sure how I got there. Thinking about my mom; she was always falling down on the ice. Every winter it would happen at least once; the poor thing was bottom-heavy. Or was it weak ankles? Whatever. She seemed to have a sixth sense for every unsanded patch of smooth ice, and she would tumble, falling back on her bottom. I’d watch in anguish as a child. "Oh, mommy. Are you ok?" My dad would simply glance back, look over his shoulder and say, "There she goes again." Grown too accustomed to her falling. For him, it was an inevitable part of a New England winter. Or the story of that foolish college student, drunk, partying with his friends, he scampers up the stairs to dance on the roof of his dorm and suddenly, carelessly steps over the edge and descends story past story and lands on the hard blacktop. But amazingly he is unharmed because he is limp, relaxed, and pliant. He rises quickly and is on his way.
Jesus is the seed, the grain of God’s own wheat sown by the Father in the dark, damp earth of our humanity. God himself in Christ has descended, fallen. First into the dark womb of Mary and thirty or so years later into the hands of evil men to be mocked and scourged and crucified. God who collapses and falls under the weight of a burden too heavy to bear – a cross - our sins and stubbornness. Falling freely, free-falling out of love. Falling like that foolish student, who stepped over the edge. Jesus wounded and bloody, dying, falling freely, confidently into the dark arms of the Father’s love. And "Where I am there will my servant be," he says. (Recall images of the gnadenstuhl - the seat of mercy - the Father holding his crucified Son, the Son resting in the Father’s arms.)
"Unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies..." If only we dare to fall. But who wants that? No way to do it gracefully. Or is there? Like Jesus, we are meant to fall headfirst into God’s arms, as dark and damp as the earth after a spring rain. Like a grain of wheat, falling into the dark damp earth to have the hard shell of the kernel rot away and then freely to sprout and flourish. Out of death and darkness abundant fruit. The way to fall gracefully? Like that drunken kid, stepping out and over and down, confident in the love of a Father who cannot, will not ever abandon or forget us. Falling into the ground the humus - the humble, embarrassing reality of who I am - in a loving letting go, a falling that is ungraceful, unwanted, awkward but unavoidable, and as inevitable as my mom on the winter’s ice. Letting go of all the absolutes this world would impose on us. Jesus promises us that such a loving letting go will bear much fruit and lead to our being honored by our Father who loves and notices us and lifts us up. (See Francis Moloney.)
Now in this hour, in this way. Now. Now shall the Son of Man be lifted up on the cross. Now anguish and exaltation are one; in this hour when the Son chooses to abandon himself to the Father’s will. This time of anguish and confusion, this time of what never should have happened, this time of pandemic and grieving. Now. Now. Can this hour truly be the hour of exaltation? What would it be like to believe that all your anguish and uncertainty is exaltation, to believe that confusion is grace? That confusion is grace. Christ the Victor drawing us into his dying and rising, hidden in the Father’s love. Our sins, and failures, what we have done or failed to do or regret sadly. Letting it all go, confident that our collapse, our falling, our descent into the dark earth of reality though inevitable will not be for our destruction but our one hope for life in him. Doing the fall of self-forgetful love, like a foolish kid, dancing on a rooftop, drunk with the wine of God - Jesus, Wine of love. Jesus, Wine of hope. Jesus, Wine of my dying and rising. Jesus, Wine of self-forgetfulness. Jesus, Wine of pain that breaks open into new life.
Gnadenstuhl, in the Blutenburg chapel in Munich from 1491, by Johannes Polonus. Meditation by one of the monks.
Friday, March 19, 2021
Joseph the just, Joseph, noble and faithful, who could have been more brokenhearted, felt more betrayed than he? He is betrothed to Mary; they are formally committed to one another by contract and bride-price. According to Jewish law, she belongs to him, and then she is found to be pregnant. Imagine how his most private joy and expectation, his tender love and dreams are turned to heartbreak. Certainly, he must have been bewildered, brokenhearted, as his world, his plans, his dreams fell completely apart. But Joseph is somehow consoled, heartened by the message of an angel in a dream - "Don’t be afraid." It's what angels always say. "God's mercy, God's tenderness will not be outdone." It is only Joseph's faith and faithfulness that could transform tragedy into the wide possibility of God's powerful presence hidden in Christ. Joseph allows God's dream to become his dream. He hands it over.
How could he possibly have done it? Only because he finds God and Mary trustworthy. What has he experienced of God's love and faithfulness to him, to his people, and his ancestors that has empowered him? What has he experienced of Mary's goodness, beauty, transparency and truthfulness, and deep love for him that makes the illogic of the angelic message seem absolutely trustworthy and worth the risk? It could only be love - the experience of being loved by God, by Mary that could empower this young bridegroom-to-be. Joseph, man of prayer and faith, trusts God, trusts his experience of God's love in Mary's love, and so is able to move from what is surely a thoughtful, compassionate decision- to divorce Mary quietly and save her from scandal - to a response of deep faith and most self-forgetful love.
Only love founded on trust could give Joseph such courage, a boldness to see beyond tragic disappointment to God's opportunity. He sees what hopefully we learn to see - that everything isn’t linear, the way we planned, neat, tidy. There are so many opportunities for each of us to hand it over all day long, over and over. To become aware over and over that something more can happen, learning how to be counterintuitive.
God's dearest desire is entrusted to Joseph. God has awaited Joseph's response no less than he did Mary's sweet fiat. Joseph receives Mary, his wife, into his home. And so, God is given a worthy home in which to dwell, Joseph's home. "Go to Joseph," the laybrothers remind us; and with good reason, for it is what God himself did with His dearest desire, his dream. He went to Joseph and found there a heart like his own. Joseph's availability to unexpected grace and divine reversal, divine possibility gives God a home in Nazareth, that place of ordinariness.
God in Christ who has taken our flesh and come down to us learned to speak words from listening to Joseph and Mary. He learned the trade of carpentry from Joseph. Scholars believe that for the years of Jesus’ so-called hidden life he probably went off to work with Joseph as an itinerant carpenter to the grand city of Sepphoris which was being renovated at the time. It was a trip of about three and a half miles northwest of Nazareth. We can imagine them going off each morning chatting, carrying their tools and the lunch that Mary had packed for them.
And finally, when we hear Jesus say, "Into your hands, I commend my spirit," he is doing what Joseph did with Mary at Nazareth, just what Mary did at her Annunciation - placing his life totally in God's hands. Jesus now mature in wisdom and grace, his heart formed at Nazareth under the watchful loving care of Joseph with Mary, hands himself over.
Guercino, Cento 1591 - 1666 Bologna, , red chalk on paper laid down on canvas, 11 x 9¾ in. Opening lines by Saint Bernard. Meditation by one of the monks.
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Tuesday, March 16, 2021
O Pelican of Mercy! O Jesus Lord! Unclean am I, but cleanse me in your Blood; Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt, Is ransom for a world's entire guilt.
In this mosaic, we see the "pious pelican," traditionally a symbol of the wounded Jesus, since according to legend the pelican is the most loving of creatures and pierces her own breast to feed her young.
Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Savior? Indeed, the more secure is my place there the more he can do to help me. The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock. I may have sinned gravely. My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the Lord: He was wounded for our iniquities. What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ? And so if I bear in mind this strong, effective remedy, I can never again be terrified by the malignancy of sin.
Monday, March 15, 2021
So often, perhaps too often in the past, we may have thought that the way of discipleship was one of peace and unbothered happiness. Instead, we learn that the path to salvation is through emptiness, the way of the crisis. A form of the Greek word "turning point in a disease which indicating either recovery or death." Surely then it is so often at these crisis points that we experience God loving us and saving us, when are wise enough to cry out to Him. Our desperation is good news when it turns us humbly to the Lord Jesus, our Rescuer, our Rock.
And so we pray for a continuing willingness to forget our foolish pride and to let go of any myth of self-sufficiency and give God our emptiness and neediness - always.
Sunday, March 14, 2021
And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.
The episode of the bronze serpent seen as a type for Christ’s passion, as John uses it here, is a very rich, evocative, but also mysterious image. To get the most out of it, I have found it helpful to see it within its context in the Book of Numbers. This context is what I’d like to focus on this morning. A good part of what motivated me to take this direction was our discussion topic of asceticism. The episode takes place at a turning point in Israel’s journey in the desert. It is Israel’s seventh and final rebellion since leaving Sinai and before they reach the plain of Moab.
These seven rebellions make up almost eleven chapters, about a third of the book, and are laid out in a carefully constructed chiastic structure. Clearly, a lot of thought and purpose has gone into it. As the last of the rebellions, the episode of the bronze serpent serves both as an inclusio with the first rebellion and an end of a sequence toward which the others tend. My take is that to read them simply as a series of individual sinful acts with corresponding divine punishments is not to do them justice. God’s aim is rather the purification of the dispositions underlying Israel’s actions in order to prepare his people for the blessings he has promised and to live out its call to be a blessing for all the nations. For this to happen it needs to undergo a purifying fire. I will give a brief overview of the first four.
The first occurs just three days after leaving Sinai and goes like this: the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes; and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp. 2 Then the people cried to Moses; Moses prayed to the LORD and the fire abated. (Num 11:1-2 RSV)
Israel complains in a very general way about its “misfortunes”. The text doesn’t specify what these were but, evidently, the people thought that placing themselves under the divine protection and guidance would mean that they would be spared difficulties or misfortunes, so they began to make noise when the divine will and plan began to chafe against their own. The takeaway I think here is that the beginner in the spiritual journey or the experienced disciple who is undertaking a new spiritual discipline, needs to be ready for the unexpected trial or difficulty, that these too comes from God, and, above all, to learn patient endurance, to be ready for the long haul, and take it day by day.
In the second rebellion, the rabble are overtaken by craving and cry out, "O that we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." (Num 11:4-6 RSV).
As we would expect of the chiastic structure, the sixth rebellion is similar. It is the episode of the waters at Meribah. There the people complain about the lack of water. These rebellions, therefore, focus on matters of food and drink and concern the whole realm of bodily goods and desires. We need to be able to say no to the desires of the body – whether good or bad – in order to be free to pursue the higher goods corresponding to our call, to learn to be satisfied with the food and drink that is offered us as a gift from the Lord, with thanksgiving and a peaceful heart, confident that it is sufficient to sustain us. According to this passage, to do otherwise is a form of rejection of the Lord.
In the third rebellion, Aaron and Miriam challenge Moses’ leadership. The fifth is similar, which is the rebellion against Moses by the sons of Korah. The pretext is that Moses has married a Cushite woman. Their complaint is: “"Is it through Moses alone that the LORD has spoken? Has he not spoken through us also?" (Num 12:2 NAB) Here, we have moved from a rebellion by a fringe element of the people, the rabble, to a rebellion among the leaders. The movement is both inward and upward, from lower bodily desires to the higher parts of the human. It touches upon all the issues around identity, personal worth, and status. From this incident, we can learn to watch out for all temptations around the desire for position in the community, to be part of the inside group, or at the top. We always need to be on guard regarding our motivations, and trust that where I am is where God wants me to be, and if he has other plans for me, he will arrange things accordingly.
The fourth rebellion is at the center of the chiasm and is the most serious. God has led the people to the very edge of the promised land. Everything is ready for them to enter into the blessings they have been promised. And they refuse. The consequences are severe. They must spend another forty years wandering in the desert. The present generation is not to enter the promised land. Aaron, Miriam, and even Moses will die.
In quick summary: twelve spies are sent to reconnoiter the land. When they return, they show the fruit and declare that it is a land “flowing with milk and honey.” Caleb says to Moses and the people, "Let us go up at once, and occupy it; for we are well able to overcome it." Caleb is optimistic, he trusts in the goodness and faithfulness of the Lord and his promises. (Num 13:30 RSV). But other spies exaggerate the difficulties and sow fear and anxiety among the people. "The land, through which we have gone, to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants; and all the people that we saw in it are men of great stature. 33 And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim); and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Num 13:32-33 RSV)
Basically, they lie. This is untrue. The people cry, weep, and complain. Their anxious fear leads to despair. They can’t do it; it is beyond them. They’d be better off if they were back in Egypt. This is their major sin, not envy, greed, sexual sin, or pride, but their anxious fear that renders them incapable of action. The promised land is there for the taking, they can have it, but it’s too much work. They choose to settle for less. Ethicist and theologian David Stubbs likens it to the traditional vice of sloth and quotes St. Thomas: sloth “is the negligence of a man who declines to acquire spiritual goods on account of the attendant labor” (ST I-II Q84.4). Our monastic tradition would call it acedia, the noonday devil. But then Stubbs goes on to say: “but because negligence is combined with a lack of hope and skepticism that the future is even a good one, perhaps despair is even a better title.” (Numbers, Brazos Theological Commentary, p. 191.)
This seems to me, actually, very much apropos of the role of Laetare Sunday. This call to rest and rejoice is precisely a way to ward off any potential spiritual torpor that people might feel by this stage of Lent. It is a call to keep our focus on the goal, the blessings of the promised land, that is, of the resurrection and the gift of eternal life, to remember that God is trustworthy, that it is all worthwhile, that he is with us and will lead us through any trial, that he will conquer our enemies, in fact, he has already conquered them; lest at this stage we should lose courage and become negligent or even give up our Lenten practices. Rather we should return to them strengthened and take them up with renewed vigor and hope.
And to conclude now with the final rebellion. The people have once again become impatient and complained again over their misfortunes, so the Lord sends among them fiery serpents, and many die from their bites. The people go to Moses and say: "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the LORD and against you; pray to the LORD, that he take away the serpents from us." (Num 21:7 RSV) So Moses prayed for the people and at the Lord’s instruction made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. The last line of the last of the seven rebellions is this “and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Num 21:9 NRS) After this Israel once again takes up its journey.
To come before the bronze serpent is to make an implicit confession of sin. It is to know that it is on account of my sin that the serpent has bitten me, that I am sick, and that I am going to die. When the sick gazed upon the serpent, they saw the deceiver who had poisoned their thoughts so that they had lost trust in the goodness of God, his providential care, and his plan. But no one is ever healed by only looking at their sin. More importantly, they saw there the victory of God over sin and over death. They knew through God’s word and their own experience that anyone who looked upon the bronze serpent would live. This was an act of faith, and an encounter with God’s mercy and goodness, a recognition that he alone is their savior and, implicitly, a recommitment to take up the journey among God’s people once again.
The bronze serpent, however, is only a type of the Son of Man who has been lifted up on the Cross. In a way that fulfills and infinitely surpasses the symbol of the bronze serpent, when we look at the Cross, we also see these two things, our sin that followed from our listening to the deceiver who poisoned our thoughts, actions, and relationships, especially with God, and led to the Lord’s crucifixion. But again, most importantly, in the Cross we see God’s victory over sin and death, that God has not come to condemn the world but has sent his only Son, God himself, to save it, that in him everything has become newness of life, participation in eternal life. And so, that we must never lose confidence or become slack but always turn again from the darkness to the light, where we find the God of mercy. In this mercy then, brothers, let us rejoice.
Snowdrops are blooming all around the Abbey. This morning's homily by Father Timothy.
Friday, March 12, 2021
Thursday, March 11, 2021
God of love and peace,
you invite us in this time of penance
to steer our course towards self-mastery and self-giving,
but not towards sadness.
Give us the grace
to find our joy and our security in love,
through Jesus, the Christ, our Lord.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Proclaiming All Your Wonders, Dominican Publications.
Wednesday, March 10, 2021
It seems the needier we are, the more impossible our impediments, the greater the opportunity for Jesus’ graced entrée, for God longs to be ordinary. 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 altars? It is why Jesus has come, God with us, near us, in us. Our messes personal, communal are charged forever with his kind, incessant presence. God longs to encounter us there. Jesus has come to stay with us, now right now. His mercy finds us here over and over again. Eternity is always interrupting. The amazing yet ordinary things- the beauty, the sorrow in human experience and in all of creation- beckon to us and draw us to him, who is constantly seeking opportunities to engage us, here and now, without fanfare.
It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light ... Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? .... Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm. Marilynne Robinson, Gilead.
Photograph by Brother Brian.
Tuesday, March 9, 2021
Where to find souls of deeper interiority, contemplative souls? Among the crowds and coteries vying for recognition from one another, seeking attention for themselves? A true interior soul is found only when these drives are conquered. These souls are of course not just in cloisters and monasteries, living in solitude. Some may be living next to us. There is no unmistakable sign to indicate them, but if we look closer, we may notice a hint. Even while content or affable or engaging, they are captive to a solitude they cannot escape even in company with others. But of course, they are not actually alone. They have a companionship even when it may seem they are plunged far into their desert aloneness.
Photograph of Brother Adam by Brother Brian. Selection from Donald Haggerty, Contemplative Provocations
Sunday, March 7, 2021
Unlike the other gospel writers, who place the Cleansing of the Temple at the end of Jesus’ ministry, John places this event at the beginning, right after the wedding feast at Cana. Both events are signs highly symbolic of purification and transformation. But in contrast to Jesus’ low-profile rescue of a wedding celebration by miraculously replenishing the wine, in this morning’s Gospel, we have a wild scene of disruption in the Jerusalem Temple. Here, the as yet unknown prophet from Galilee comes in and turns everything upside down. We can imagine the commotion, the screaming, the noise of the animals, the sound of money falling to the ground as Jesus, filled with “zeal for his Father’s house,” overturns tables and chases the animals out. The whole place is suddenly in chaos! Familiar with the story, we may not appreciate just how shocking this was….
The Temple, we have to remember, was the beating heart of Judaism. It was the center of worship and music, of politics and society, of national celebration and mourning. It was also the place where you would find more animals (alive and dead) than anywhere else. But, towering above all these, it was of course the place where Israel’s God had promised to live in the midst of his people. The Temple was the focal point of the nation and the national way of life.
Back to the story. In their resentment, the merchants and money-changers rush to find the Temple priests. They, in turn, want to know with what authority Jesus is creating such an outrage: “What sign can you show us for doing this?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course, they did not understand him. His own disciples would come to an understanding only in hindsight after the resurrection. But the evangelist clues us in: “He was speaking about the temple of his body.”
Jesus is revealing something totally new. The Temple of Jerusalem is, and always will be, a place of holiness. Now his body, his very being, is the new Temple, the place of holiness where God dwells. Jesus is indicating that life and love and healing and forgiveness will flow from him, through his body, his broken and risen body, as was prophesized by Ezekiel, who saw life-giving and healing waters flowing abundantly out of the new Temple. God is no longer far off in the heavens, symbolized by the great beauty and majesty of the Temple of Jerusalem, but he has pitched his tent among us in the Body of Jesus. “He was speaking about the temple of his body.”
We know from the Acts of the Apostles, that the early church took the metaphor further as it came to understand that the creator of the world does not live in ‘a house made with hands’ but in the hearts of his people. Both individually and corporately, we are temples of the Holy Spirit. What this might mean to us on a personal level, especially as it relates to the prayer that goes on in our hearts, is what I would like to focus on briefly this morning.
John O’Donohue, Irish teacher and poet, wrote in one of his books: “Deep below the personality and outer image” – and we could add ‘our awareness’ – “the soul is continuously at prayer ... The most vital and creative prayer is always happening within us even though we never fully hear it. Now and again we catch the echoes of the inner music of prayer.” (I hear echoes here of Paul’s words: “His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God... Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”)
The Good News for us is that, because of Jesus’ death and resurrection and all that he is, deep within us, in the heart of the temple that we are, the sanctuary lamp continues to burn; the union with God, that we both seek and avoid, is already happening, though we are not always aware of it. Again, as O’Donohue put it: “The most vital and creative prayer is always happening within us even though we never fully hear it.” I would suggest that this prayer is the ongoing cleansing and transformation of the temple we are.
Thomas Merton seems to confirm this when he wrote:
In prayer, we discover what we already have.
You start from where you are and you deepen what you already have, and you
realize you are already there.
We already have everything, but we don’t know it and don’t experience it.
Everything has been given us in Christ. All we need to do is experience what we
The crunch is in the last line: “All we need to do is experience what we already possess.” But how to do that? From time to time we do experience this mystery. But coming home to ourselves, to others, and to God involves a lifelong journey that is frequently challenging. During the long season of Lent each year, it is liberating to rediscover the importance of accepting, trusting, even embracing the ebbs and flows of experience. There will be harvest days when we feel our lives are coming together as they should, and we feel connected to God. And there will be days (usually further down the road) when we won’t feel like that when scarcity rather than abundance is our experience.
No matter. Starting from where we are, as Merton suggests, is essential for authentic prayer. We need to pray as we can, not as we can’t. And sometimes that means bringing the mess of our uncertainty and anguish to God. Even Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemani went through an agonizing struggle before he reached the place where he could say, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit.” For the Christian, “to pray”—before all else—is to let this prayer of Jesus happen in us, to allow him to pray in us.
As we begin the 3rd week of Lent, we can count on grace mercifully “upsetting” and “dismantling” some of our Lenten agendas, and the self-importance and self-control that often underlie them. Whether through prayer or life’s challenges, we gradually are being dismantled in order to create a more hospitable space, open to finding God in places and situations we would perhaps prefer to have avoided. What is being dismantled are our walls that defend against and exclude other people, God, or parts of ourselves that we can’t accept. But regardless of who we are, regardless of what we’ve done or left undone, or how we see or judge our life, in Christ, as his Body, we are the temple of God, and there is One who stands in the temple of our life calling us back to who we’ve always been—a place for meeting the Holy in ourselves and in one another. Here, through “holy disruption,” we receive all our life from God, by virtue of the death and resurrection of his Son.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Dominic.
Wednesday, March 3, 2021
Seeing our potential for conversion, Jesus wants to cultivate the soil, the humus, the humble reality of who we are. And he can accomplish in the humble heart, what spring brings about in nature. But he never forces his way. Christ Jesus is on our side, but always, always waiting upon our request, our admission of our sinfulness to do his work. We must open to him, even a tiny crack will do.
Jesus the good gardener only wants us to depend on him, repent and beg his mercy, the Father’s mercy that Jesus is for us. Beg his care, his way, his life, his compassion. Only his tender mercy can retrain our tendency toward sin. Tendency literally means, we’re naturally inclined, leaning toward it, stretching out toward it haplessly like vines programmed to cling to the nearest solid thing.
But always, always he begs our cooperation, not to resist the painful trimming, the smelly fertilizing, the shock of his loosening the hard soil at our feet and the sudden drenching with clean, cool water. Our privileged task is the repetitive work of humility- continually returning to the back door of the church and standing there in the dim light, our heads lowered, begging with the publican, “Lord be merciful to me a poor sinner.”
Such is the treasure, the challenge of our conversatio as monks, as baptized members of Christ’s body - constantly to depend on, to cooperate with the desire of God’s mercy enfleshed in Christ. For God’s mercy in Christ is an endless treasure, a deep, rich mine where we can dig and dig for more brilliant jewels of mercy, forgiveness. Jesus’ call to repentance is not a mandate from a far-off tyrant but a loving plea from One who wants a way in; calling us to the courage of constant conversion, relentless turning around to him, to one another. Turning, turning.
He begs for our constant availability to his mercy. This is God’s deepest desire for us. God never tires of giving us second chances but waits for our admission of need. He longs for access to our broken, guilt-ridden hearts, our very innards, but he can’t get in unless we open up. And if God forbid, we refuse to repent, we’ll be stranded, held back from the mercy that is our lifeline in Christ. Time is running out but in Christ, there is still time.
Christ Jesus our Lord knows well that we have the potential to bring forth sweet fruit of peace, justice, and reconciliation. He asks only that we take a small step into the reality of our tendency, our truth, our sinfulness, and invite him in to do His work, over and over again. There is still time. He has witnessed our affliction, the burden of our guilt, and has come down to rescue us, to feed us, to mercy us with His Body and Blood.