the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena, Giovanni di Paolo, Italian, Siena 1398–1482, tempera and gold on wood, 11 3/4 x 9 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena, Giovanni di Paolo, Italian, Siena 1398–1482, tempera and gold on wood, 11 3/4 x 9 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.
Tuesday, April 27, 2021
Br. Guerric, I understand that you like to read stories about the desert fathers. Well, on this day of your clothing as a novice, I thought we could look at a story that describes the clothing of one of St. Anthony’s disciples, namely, Paul the Simple. Paul’s story is recounted in a number of sources, but the one I like best is from the Lausiac History by Palladius.
As Palladius tells it, Paul was a “rustic herdsman, simple and entirely without guile, who was married to a most beautiful woman…” who, unfortunately, had a hidden weakness of character. Paul came home unexpectedly one day and found her with another man. He realized that God’s Providence had revealed this to him, and so he said “Ok,” and left the two to themselves, saying, “…I am going off to be a monk.” Maybe a first lesson to take from Paul is his attentiveness to divine Providence. He watched for the signs that God slips into our lives and tried to discern what was best and in accord with God’s will.
From there he traveled to the inner desert where Blessed Anthony lived. He knocked at the door, and when Anthony came out, he asked him, “What do you want?” Paul replied that he wanted to become a monk. Anthony proceeded to tell him bluntly that he was too old and to go back to his village and live as a simple Christian with thanksgiving. Then he went back into his cell and left Paul outside. Three days later Anthony had to go out again, and there was Paul. Anthony told him again that he was too old and couldn’t take the severity of the life. Paul replied that he would do whatever Anthony told him. Anthony responded that if he wanted to be a monk, he should go and find a community of brothers who would support him and put up with his weaknesses. Then he went back into his cell.
Br. Guerric, you and Paul have similarities and dissimilarities. You just responded to the question, “What do you seek?” with the words, “The mercy of God and the Order.” Paul the Simple was seeking the mercy of God with St. Anthony as his teacher. The mercy of God is what you are seeking, but you also added: “…and of the Order.” You are seeking the mercy of an Order, and in particular of a community of brothers in that Order who will support you and bear with your weaknesses, and who expect the same from you. You are saying that you want to share a specific way of life, approved by the Church and recognized by her as a gift from God, a way of sanctification and healing for both the Church and each member of the Order. To be even more precise, you are asking to join an Order of men and women – actually, 1,661 monks and 1,521 nuns, a total of 3,182 men and women out of a total of 7.8 billion people on this earth…a very, very tiny flock – but one dedicated and blessed to receive the mercy of God in a concrete way of life based on the gospel, distilled from the monastic tradition, and handed down to us by our Fathers and Mothers.
Like Paul, you are also ready to do whatever your Abbot, Novice Master, and fellow monks ask of you in accord with the Rule and the Constitutions of our Order. In other words, you are ready to follow Christ and to learn obedience from what you suffer. But notice how Paul proved his willingness to do whatever Anthony told him. He waited outside for three days in the heat of the desert. Anthony was not giving Paul an easy entrance, as St. Benedict would say. He was testing the spirits to see whether they come from God. And Paul was learning about all the hardships and difficulties that would lead him to God. So, it is with you. Your postulancy has been a time for the community (and you) to discern: does Br. Guerric truly seek God, and is he zealous for the work of God, for obedience, and for the humble and even menial tasks that can seem below one’s dignity? Your novice master and your brothers have discerned that the answer is yes, and so they invite you to enter more deeply into the monastic life.
After four days, Anthony was afraid that Paul would die outside his cell, so he finally allowed him to come inside, but he continued to test his resolve. Paul had not had any food for four days, but when Anthony brought out some loaves of bread – dry loaves which had to be soaked in order to make them edible – Anthony noticed that Paul did not grab at them to devour them: he waited for Anthony to pray and bless them. He ate what was put before him. And when Anthony invited him to take more, Paul replied that he preferred to follow Anthony’s example and only eat as much as Anthony. Anthony replied that he would not eat more, because he was a monk. Paul said, “I want to be a monk, too.” This reminds us of St. Benedict’s degrees of humility in which he urges us to do only what we see the elders doing and what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery. When Anthony gave Paul some palm leaves to weave, he made a mess of them. When Anthony corrected him, Paul patiently unwove the leaves and began over – without grumbling or murmuring. We can hear St. Benedict’s refrain: “Above all else, we admonish them to refrain from grumbling.” Palladius goes on to report that when Anthony had been fully satisfied after the specified months – even the desert fathers had novitiates! – he gave Paul a sheepskin cloak and built a cell for him at a distance, telling him, “Behold, you have become a monk! Stay here by yourself in order that you may be tempted by demons.” Br. Guerric, you have begun your journey as a monk. We exhort you to stay here with the community so that you may join us in battling with the demons who rule the world.
There is one last scene from the life of Paul that I would like to relate. Some people brought to St. Anthony a person possessed by the Prince of Demons, and asked him to cast the demon out. In his humility, Anthony said that he had not been deemed worthy of such power, and said, “This is a job for Paul.” He led the possessed man to Paul and told him to cast out the demon. Paul replied, “What about you?” Anthony answered that he was too busy and had other things to do. So, Paul rose up, said a prayer, and told the demon, “Father Anthony has said that you must leave this man.” The demon cursed him, calling him a lazy old man, and refused to leave. Paul took off his sheepskin cloak, rolled it up, and smacked the man on the back, “Father Anthony has told you to go.” But the demon cursed both Paul and Anthony and poured more abuse on them. Finally, Paul threatened the demon that “…if you do not leave, I will go tell Christ and woe to you what He will do.” The demon cursed all three of them and absolutely refused to leave. Paul was infuriated, so he went out into the desert at high noon – a time when the Egyptian desert is not unlike the Babylonian furnace – and said, “You see, Jesus Christ, you who were crucified under Pontius Pilate, that I will not come down from the rock of the mountain, or eat, or drink…unless you cast out the spirit from this man and free him.” The demon came shrieking out, crying out, “O the violence…the simplicity of Paul drives me out…” Paul’s humility won the day. His simplicity drove out the demon. May the Lord help you win the crown of true humility and the grace of blessed simplicity.
Sunday, April 25, 2021
We all recognize the voice of someone we love; we can recall what that voice stirs up in our hearts - joy, peace, expectation, longing.
When we are attentive, we can hear the voice of the Lord Jesus our Shepherd. He assures us that we belong to him. We have been given to Jesus by his Father. As we belong to the Father, so we are the Father’s gift to the Son; we are and will always be God’s children in the Spirit. “No one can take you out of my hand, no one,” says Jesus. This is our truth, our reality. Jesus whispers this truth, calling us by name. But perhaps too often, so often there are other voices that beckon us, competing with Jesus’ voice for our attention - desires, temptations, the things we think we need.
But the Shepherd keeps calling, searching; he won’t stop. He is always drawing us, rescuing us from the brambles of our foolishness and pride, calling us away from the things that cannot possibly satisfy us. He wants us to come to him for everything we need. And in the Holy Eucharist, he will give us everything – all that he is. He sets the table and invites us to sit, rest, eat and drink. We belong to God. God is for us, God is with us, he wants to refresh us. Please, let us remember how hungry and thirsty and weary we are and come to him.
Image by Bradi Barth.
What we here call the creativity of Jesus' poetic imagination is quite precisely his ability—at the same time moral, aesthetic, and redemptive—to behold human suffering, accurately sum up its symptoms in a pregnant image, and assume that image's content as his own life's reality. In the divine logic at least, visceral compassion—a churning of one's "innards"—is the only fitting response to the sight of innocent, flayed sheep. In the Passion and on the Cross, Jesus himself would become flayed, mangled, torn asunder, not merely "harassed" or "vexed". The deep historical evil Jesus confronts in the Pharisees' abandonment of the people of Israel in favor of their own religious theories and observances is very actively destructive indeed, and Jesus sets out to save the lives of "his people"—that is, all of humanity, beginning with the house of Israel.
Unlike Moses, Jesus does not turn to God and beg him to appoint a shepherd, for God has already done so. Jesus is that universal shepherd. It is as if the cry of Moses had continued to echo, apparently unheard, throughout the centuries of Israel's history, and as if only now, in the person of Jesus, does that cry find the ear of the heart able to bear it.
Jesus, unlike Moses, does not turn to God in the face of the misery he witnesses before him. Jesus is God; and, simply by having compassion, he presents to the Father dwelling within him this heart-rending image of Israel: an odd, scattered grouping of wretched humans is transformed by God's loving glance into outcast sheep. God's imagination does not exaggerate; it merely uncovers the whole truth where we would rather see only the banal and the negligible.
We know every day of thousands of people who are falling to the ground like slaughtered sheep, struck down by the natural virus, but also of thousands of people who are hunted down and persecuted like animals by the unnatural virus of oppressive hatred and racial prejudice. I wonder which of these is worse?
Jesus makes himself our food and drink, and we are only too eager to be nourished in this Eucharist, for we are a kingdom of priests and a holy people. How could we then, in turn, refuse to make ourselves food and drink for the hungry and suffering of this world? Freely have we received Christ the Lord, and freely should we give him! Because only when we give him away with joy shall he continue to grow in ourselves.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon
Friday, April 23, 2021
We hear this question in today's Gospel. Given who Jesus is and who he longs to be for us, a better question might be - how could he not? How could he not desire most ardently to feed those he loves with his very Self? How could he not long to be hidden in us?
To whom else shall we go when we hunger but to him who is truly our Portion, our Food.
Photograph by Brother Brian.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
I do not try to reach your lofty heights, O Lord, since my understanding is in no way equal to that. But I do desire to understand your truth just a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand. For … unless I believe, I shall not understand. Saint Anselm of Canterbury
The dark mystery of a hidden humble faith brings us to a depth of understanding born of humility. We believe, even as we acknowledge what do not know or may never know or completely understand. In humility, we acknowledge our limits and finiteness. We let God be God, magnificent, extravagant but also hidden and quiet and unremarkable.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
This reflection of Pope Francis is a sobering reminder. How to welcome humiliations?
Monday, April 19, 2021
As today’s Gospel opens, the disciples, gathered in the room, are hearing the account of the two disciples who have just returned from Emmaus after a powerful experience of meeting the Risen Jesus. All of a sudden there is Jesus among them. And he says to them, “Peace be with you.” They were dumbfounded and could scarcely believe their eyes.
The disciples’ first reaction, however, is one of fear and trepidation, not joy. They were terrified. Jesus is dead and so this must be his ghost. “Why are you troubled?”, Jesus says, “And why do questions arise in your hearts?” But Jesus reassures them. He invites them to touch him and feel that he is real. He shows them the wounds of his crucifixion on his hands and feet. “A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have,” it’s not your imagination. He was alive! How can this be? After all, they thought that they had lost Jesus forever. In one sense, this is not the Jesus who died on the cross, it is the resurrected Jesus. He can appear through closed doors and in different locations, but it is still the same Jesus they had always known.
Now their feelings turn to inexpressible joy. As they look on him with a mixture of happiness and wonder, he pushes them a bit further and asks for food to eat. I’m sure that was a surprise. Ghosts don’t eat! Jesus is truly risen; he is still fully in our world and part of it, although in a very different way from before Good Friday.
He now, as he did with the disciples on their way to Emmaus, explained how what had happened to him was all clearly foretold in the Scriptures. His suffering and death were not tragedies; his resurrection was no surprise. It was all part of God’s plan. But it doesn’t stop there. In the name of that Jesus who suffered, died and rose, forgiveness of sin, that is, total reconciliation with God, was to be proclaimed to the whole world. The First Letter of John says: “Jesus is expiation (sacrifice) for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”
And then comes their mission mandate: “You are witnesses to this.” (the Resurrection) We see this mission being carried out as Peter speaks to the people in today’s first reading. He explains the real meaning of what happened to Jesus and how they are to respond to the message. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”
Obviously, this mission and mandate is also for us. It is not enough for us just to hear the message and implement it in our own lives, as we sometimes think that it is all that is required of us. Again, in the second reading from the First Letter of John we hear: “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.” Strong words.
It is clear that by “keeping the commandments” he means, above all, the need to follow the commandment of unconditional love, to love others as he has loved us. Years ago there was a brother here who used to say, “I don’t have to like you, but I have to love you.”
Jesus has invited us to touch his wounded hands and feet and allow us to be more convinced of his profound love. St. Bernard reminds us that, “The wounds of the Savior are a place of firm security for the weak.”
It’s unfortunate that the phrase: ‘unconditional love’ and the word, ‘peace’ has become so trivialized in recent decades. They were the ‘feel good’ words of the 1970’s. I used to cringe whenever I would hear them used in a way that displayed absolutely no understanding of what they really meant. Unconditional love is not about having warm and fuzzy feelings for other people, and peace is much more than just the absence of conflict. If you really want to know what unconditional love is about, gaze on the crucifix. There is no greater love than that.
In an Easter message in 2003, Pope St. John Paul II said: “Peace is born from the deep renewal of the human heart. It is not the result of human efforts, nor can it be achieved only through agreements between persons and institutions. Rather, it is a gift to be accepted with generosity, to be preserved with care, and to be made fruitful with maturity and responsibility. However troubled the situation may be, nothing can resist the effective renewal brought by the risen Christ. He is our peace.” (Easter message, April 23, 2003)
It is for each one of us to ask ourselves how effectively we communicate this message of unconditional love and Christ’s peace to one another. The truth is we often fail, but how often do we try? Our efforts will never be perfect, but the results of our efforts will spill over the walls of this monastery and into the larger Church, and indeed, into the whole world. That is our mission as contemplatives: to bear witness to the Risen Lord. From that we learn humility and gain courage from the Risen Christ to continue the path of holiness.
The fullness of Christ’s victory over sin and death is communicated to us by that one word, “peace.”
May Christ’s peace reign in your hearts during this Easter season.
Photograph by Brother Brian. This Sunday's homily by Father Emmanuel.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
All of us like the disciples need to go backwards to begin our resurrection story, backwards to a sober, painful place, the place of ‘This should never have happened!’ So many things, events painful, rudely embarrassing from our past, in our present. They should never have happened. But they did happen, the whole bloody mess - like crucifixion, a disaster, our worst blunder - putting God’s Lamb to death. And now we can see our helplessness, in the helplessness of God crucified. ‘This should never have happened!’ But it did. We go backwards to own it, to see it clearly, appropriate it; to mourn our losses - the real pain - and so to move on in hope, choosing life for ourselves and for one another. Then we beloved ones can recognize the risen Lord and all he’s doing on our behalf, remembering like the disciples the typical extravagance of his ordinary available lovingkindness, reversing all that we may have believed was a dead-end; retrieving, reversing what ‘should never have happened,’ noticing the wounded Jesus who is noticing us. It’s what beloved disciples like us are meant to do - open our eyes and hearts and name the blessings we are receiving here and now, noticing the sacred in all its ordinariness. For without this knowledge, this insight, and mindfulness how can we go on?
I am reminded of a distraction during prayer, years ago when I was on retreat. I was trying to focus, feeling I should be thinking of Christ Jesus. I was on retreat after all. And I was feeling guilty. ‘This shouldn’t be happening,’ I thought, for I was beleaguered by the memory of someone dear to me - remembering walks and meals together, loving conversations. And then distraction turned to prayer as somehow I understood the Lord saying to me, ‘How else would you know what I look like?’ Without this person? How else? Indeed without the love of those we love, on whose kindness and forbearance we depend, even without the challenge of those we find it difficult to love, how would we, how could we hope to recognize the blessing, the presence of the Risen One in our midst; not so very far away, this Son of Man with a beautiful wounded head, hoping against hope that his best friends will recognize him.
It is incumbent upon us. We have been given a sacred trust - it is our duty to reveal the risen Lord to one another. How else will we know what Jesus looks and feels like. Perhaps it’s too obvious. You’ve heard all this before - finding God in all things - in the ordinary. But then again. How to keep the awareness and the longing for the blessing of his presence? Christ Jesus is always playing in ‘ten thousand places. Lovely in eyes and lovely in limbs not his through the mirror of faces’*that we know and see and love and even find it difficult to love.
Panel painting by Duccio. * Line of poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins, in this meditation by one of our elderly monks.
Saturday, April 17, 2021
A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It "consents," so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea that is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation.
Monday, April 12, 2021
Our life is praise. And in these days of Eastertide, there is an urgency to our rejoicing, singing Alleluias over and over in endless variation. Such is the Work of God which Saint Benedict tells us we must always prefer. Our work is praise, which is somehow wonderfully useless - it accomplishes nothing- what we "get" out of it is the "inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God."
Sunday, April 11, 2021
Again, this morning Jesus steps very quietly through the locked doors of the upper room and exposes his wounds for Thomas and for each of us – holes in his hands and side. And there are others we don’t see, but they’re there alright - in his feet, of course, and still others we probably never hear about, narrow deep holes in his head from the soldiers pounding on the thorns in his crown and definitely angry welts on his back from his scourging. These last were made vividly clear for me a few weeks ago when I came upon a Civil War-era photograph of an elderly slave; he looks away from us with his back to the camera. The man had endured daily lashings for years; deep ridges furrow his old black back. A history of cruelty engraved there in his flesh. Jesus’ back is probably like that. And one day if we embrace him in heaven, perhaps we’ll feel those ridges. My brothers, Jesus will always, always bear wounds in his risen body.
But why? It baffles me still, especially as I remember the hours spent anguishing at bathroom mirrors over the state of my skin. Examining each inch. Has the pimple gone away? Will a new one appear? What’s that over there? Will the scar disappear before a dance, a party? What if I don’t look presentable? Better to put a dab of lotion, something to disguise it. Bella figura, we call it in Italian. Craziness and vanity are more like it. How different the quiet beauty of the risen Lord this morning. He simply, most gladly shows us his wounded body. Why? These holes reveal what love has done to God – what love has done to God - torn him apart, even broken his heart. He is not embarrassed by the intimacy of baring these wounds for us. Why would he be? He gladly shows us because these are the radiant sacraments of his compassion, bright jewels that proclaim the boundless love of God for us.
Jesus has become our sin, taken on the depth of our guilt and depravity, swallowed it up, because he could not bear to have it burden us. And his crucifixion is the fullest expression of God’s outrage at sin. And we see on Christ’s body what the ugliness of sin has done – our stupidity and jealousy, rage and mistrust, our betrayals and denials, our potential for cruelty and scapegoating – it’s all right there. In his “passion to set right our sin-filled, disjointed universe,” God has allowed his body to be torn apart - because of love - so that he might gather our world “into the bliss of divine life.”1 And now his body is left with marks that won’t ever go away.
God indeed is love, and Love is never ugly. Saint Augustine assures us, God’s love is always creating beauty in place of irregularity and unevenness.2 God in Christ forever disfigured out of love reveals true, divine beauty, far beyond aesthetics, mere prettiness, or the cosmetic perfection I was looking for in a bathroom mirror. Jesus’ love has transvalued3 our sin and the big mess we’ve made of things, flipped it around. His crucifixion in all its brutality and revulsion has put an end to all we may have believed about beauty. The love of Christ poured out on the cross has reversed the ugliness of sin into the beauty of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. And so, in his wounded body, the incomprehensibility of God is blindingly, beautifully revealed. The wounds Jesus bears, the marks of our most heinous act of hatred and rejection, are transcendently beautiful because he forgave those who inflicted them, because he, God’s Lamb absolutely refused to retaliate, because he trusted that love is always more powerful, because he trusted in his belovedness, trusted that his Father would not let his Beloved One know decay.
His wounds make clear what Love has endured, what love and forgiveness can accomplish, what love and forgiveness demand of us – getting wounded like him, even unto suffering and death. And this morning Jesus’ greeting of peace and his breathing forth of God’s Spirit empower us to go and do likewise – to transform by forgiveness, love, and compassion. A wounded God continues to show us his wounded body in ten thousand places, whenever we long to see him.
Being merciful as God is merciful is now possible for us if we too dare to open our wounded hands and hearts to one another, with nothing to hide. At ease with the awkwardness of our woundedness, we have nothing to lose. Then perhaps we can begin to act with compassion, as we see more easily that we all bear the same sins and sorrows. Honestly seeing our own mess mercied by Christ, we can forgive ourselves, forgive one another. Forgiveness transforms – forgiveness has the power to create beauty out of chaos, the beauty of mercy.
As we gather together this morning to consume Christ’s wounded body, let us rejoice for we are what we eat and what we are becoming - more and more his beautiful, broken body.
Christ and Saint John by Verrocchio; 1. Robert Barron, 2. Saint Augustine, 3. Von Balthazar.; Meditation by one of the monks.
Saturday, April 10, 2021
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Sunday, April 4, 2021
“O blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead.” It is fitting for us to turn to our holy mother the Church to put into words and give voice to the awe-filled mystery of this holy night. She has been drawn into the bridal chamber of her beloved, and she alone can tell us something of the wonders of his love.
It must start with praise of our unseen Father, our creator, who made the world precisely so that we would have so great a redeemer! Indeed, how wonderful is his care for us! How boundless his merciful love! To ransom a slave, he gave away his Son, not only to the womb of the Virgin but to the hands of sinners and to the nether world of oblivion so that allowing him to become like us in all things, he might become a merciful high priest on our behalf.
Her praise must continue with praise of the Lamb whose blood of the covenant consecrates the lips and homes of all believers. This is Jesus Christ, the true Lamb who was slain, who like Jacob, has risen up and rolled away the stone from the deep well of his tomb to wash his beloved Rachel, that is, the Church, with the nuptial bath of regeneration. How long and how hard he labored to win her for himself. It cost him his life, his honor, his blood! What else is there for his bride to do but to weep for joy – cleansed of guilt, restored to lost innocence, freed from all defilement – she knows and has found him whom her soul loves.
Finally, her praise must include that most holy Spirit who alone could make her worthy to sing these Easter praises. Her bridegroom was raised by the glory of the Father. The Spirit is this glory, the outpouring of praise of the Father for his beloved Son and of the Son for his all-powerful Father who has not let his beloved know decay. It is the Spirit who weds not only heaven and earth but the lowly bride, our Mother the Church, to her crucified and risen Lord. The Spirit is the flame undivided, the pillar of fire that is the glory of God. Never will this light be dimmed but will continue to burn in the hearts of believers until the Morning Star, who came back from the dead, draws us to the throne of grace where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever!
Dom Vincent's homily for the Easter Vigil.
Resurrection, Piero della Francesca, fresco, c. 1460, San Sepulcro, Italy.
Saturday, April 3, 2021
What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son. The Lord goes into them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. ‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise. ‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise. Let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.
In the stillness of Holy Saturday, we await all that Christ's Resurrection will bring - Life, Immortality, boundless Hope, everlasting Beauty.
Friday, April 2, 2021
Our Lord Jesus has been drawing us deeper and deeper into the great mystery of his mercy during this Triduum. And today he emphasizes a theme that will become dominant after Easter: Do not be afraid! Today the Letter to the Hebrews invites us to approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. Jesus wants to strengthen our confidence. He is not only a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness, but he has the commission to draw us to the Father with confidence to receive his mercy. That is our Father’s great delight. I’d like to look at two examples of confidence and boldness, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, to get a sense of how God draws us to himself so that he can bestow his great mercy.
The first example is Queen Esther. You remember that she and the Jewish people were in mortal danger because of the wicked Haman, who had convinced the king that the Jews were a threat to his reign. Queen Esther was filled with dread, but because of her faith in the God of Israel, she spent the night in prayer, clothed in sackcloth and ashes. It was her prayer of faith that gave her boldness to go to the king, that is, to approach his throne uninvited, something that could be punishable by death. But Esther’s boldness was rewarded. Though her heart was shrunk with fear at the time, she became an early model of confidence that would reach fruition in the New Testament.
But there is another example of someone approaching the throne of grace that I think is apropos for us today. It is Our Lady. What trust she must have had in God to stand firm near the cross of her Son. While she herself deserved every kind of sympathy, she approached what must have seemed the most unlikely throne of grace to receive mercy and grace for the Church about to be born. She held in her heart the compassion she saw in her Son. That is what happens when we are drawn to the Lord: we become compassionate like him. In fact, we begin to share in his priestly offering on behalf of all.
May the Lord draw us to the throne of grace today. He has opened the way to it by allowing his side to be pierced. Now he waits for us to express our confidence by entering in through the veil of his flesh.
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Last Sunday I mentioned the words of Our Lord, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.” Today we see another moment in his being lifted up and drawing us to himself. He gives us a memorial before the fact of his Passover to the Father which will take place the next day. He lifts up the cup of his blood to seal his solemn covenant with us. It is a covenant in which he shares his life of communion with his Father and his Spirit, but also draws us into his mission of casting out the ruler of the world. He gives us everything in this covenant and expects us to do the same.
This new covenant is in continuity with the covenants of Old. People have always expressed their mutual bonds through covenantal agreements - covenants of mutual help, of brotherhood, of friendship, and especially of marriage. Every covenant has mutual benefits and mutual obligations for the two parties. Today’s first reading pointed to the most important covenant in the Old Testament: God binds himself to free his people from slavery and bring them to the promised land, but they must follow Moses unwaveringly and avoid the worship of pagan gods. He is faithful to his side of the agreement by having the destroying angel pass over the houses where the lamb’s blood had been applied. But on the other hand, there are consequences of rejecting the terms of the covenant: when the people grow impatient and worship the golden calf, the tribe of Levi joins with Moses to slay their own brothers, friends, and neighbors who broke the covenant. This is a rather stark example, but it shows how serious God takes his covenants. But we should have no doubt that the covenant which Jesus has established is no less momentous. He has committed himself to free us from the greater slavery of sin and cast out the ruler of this world. The zeal of Moses and the Levites was nothing when compared with Jesus’ zeal in his battle for the truth against the Father of Lies.
But we might ask: what is the benefit which Jesus will gain by taking on this covenant in his blood? Only this: that his Father’s plan of salvation be fulfilled, that the Father receive ever greater glory, and that we share in his communion with the Father, which for us is eternal life in the Spirit. For this, he will consecrate himself in truth that we also may be consecrated in truth. And what does Jesus ask and expect from us? Two things: that we love one another and wash one another’s feet, as he did; and that we remember his covenant daily by taking up the cup of salvation, that is, the cup of his blood in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his gift of self even unto death.
One other thing came to my mind as I thought about what Jesus expects of us. He has blessed us with the grace of our charism as Cistercian monks. He foresaw this grace before time began as perfectly suited to who we are with the mission the Father had prepared for us. In our profession of monastic vows, we committed ourselves to a total gift of self, sealed in the blood of his covenant. And he drew us into the hidden yet unfathomable grace of the Cistercian conversatio: intimate communion with the Blessed Trinity; union in his hidden and intercessory prayer to the Father; union in his mission to save the world by casting out the ruler of this world. We are privileged participants in a unique but humble covenant for the salvation of the world.Brothers, Our Lord is drawing us deeper into this covenant of his blood. He loves us and has chosen us to follow in his footsteps. May he draw us in the fragrance of his holiness.