Sunday, November 28, 2021

Into The Chaos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Advent Begins at Dusk


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

Thursday, November 25, 2021

On Thanksgiving Day

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Blessed Miguel

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Christ the King


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 19, 2021

Saint Mechtilde


Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Mechtilde, a thirteenth-century Benedictine nun from the monastery of Helfta in Germany. Mechtilde had a tender devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who opened His wounded side to her in love and gave her His Heart as a place of refuge and consolation. In one of her visions, Jesus told Mechtilde that His Heart was like a kitchen where we could go to get whatever we needed at any time. In another, He told her, "In the morning let your first act be to greet My Heart and to offer Me your own." Jesus continued, "Whoever breathes a sigh toward Me, draws Me to himself." 

It only takes a sigh. Let us sigh quietly, insistently, confidently, and go quickly into the royal Kitchen that is His Sacred Heart for all that we need.

Photograph by Brother Brian of a bas-relief crucifix by Suzanne Nicolas in the Abbey church.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

In Secret

With her husband not far behind infuriated at her constant almsgiving, the young Saint Elizabeth of Hungary is saved when the bread she is cradling turns into roses.

"Keep your deeds of mercy secret," recommends Our Lord. And in His providence, He accomplishes for Elizabeth, what His love has requested.

Illustration by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. 

Brother Justin's Clothing

O God, in that unutterable kindness by which you dispose all things sweetly and wisely, you gave us clothing, so that a triple benefit might be ours: we are covered with dignity, kept warm and protected in body and soul. Father, pour forth the blessing of your Holy Spirit upon us this morning and upon these clothes which your sons here before us have asked to receive, so that they may serve you faithfully in the Cistercian way of life.

On this past Sunday, November 14 our Brother Justin was clothed in the novice's habit during the weekly Chapter. We rejoice to have him as our brother in community.

Br. Justin, during our recent community discussion, I referred to St. Benedict’s saying, “the Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” So, I shouldn’t have been surprised – though I was a little – when you, the youngest in our community, offered an unexpected comparison – monastic life is like a GPS, used in cars to guide people safely to their destination. I had never thought of the comparison, but I think you are on to something.

But the first thing that is necessary is to enter a destination into the GPS. What would you say is the destination of a monk? Well, you may be aware that St. Benedict was an avid reader of Cassian’s Institutes and Conferences. If we look at his first conference with Abba Moses, I think we will find an answer to the question. Abba Moses says that our destination is twofold: there is an ultimate destination which Cassian and his friend Germanus identify as the kingdom of God, that is, sharing the eternal life of God. But he also says there is a proximate goal or aim that we must constantly keep our eye on if we are to reach our ultimate goal. This proximate goal is purity of heart. All we do in monastic life –vigils, prayers, work – must be done with that goal in mind. We must be like a farmer who tills his soil in every type of weather to bring forth a good harvest, or a merchant who overcomes every obstacle to make a profitable business transaction; or a soldier who bravely faces all battle conditions in order to win military honors. All the more so must monks keep their eye on the goal of purity of heart and do everything with that in mind, since our ultimate end is that much more difficult, namely, to gaze on God as much as possible. This seems to be our Lord Jesus’ injunction when he said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

But how can we purify our hearts? They are hidden from us and “more tortuous than all else is the human heart, who can understand it?” Thankfully, God is the one who gives us purity of heart. He “searches the mind and knows the heart.” Purity of heart is his gift. Our task is to accept, cooperate with, and follow the GPS directions that God has established. If we do, Abba Moses says, our heart will become unfettered from useless or evil habits; freed from anger, grudges, and self-pity; ready to accept the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit, or, as St. Paul puts it in Romans, of sanctification in the Spirit. The Apostle is even more explicit in chapter 13 of his letter to the Corinthians: a pure heart is a charitable heart – it is not rude or arrogant; it doesn’t insist on its own way; it is patient and kind, etc. Charity creates a pure heart.

The good news is that we have a GPS that will lead us to this charity and purity of heart. It is the monastic life in its fulness as St. Benedict has mapped out for us. The route this GPS makes us take is not always easy – sometimes through briars, sometimes through bogs – so much so that at times we might think St. Benedict got his directions mixed up, but we have to trust his GPS. We have to live in community and not avoid the irritations of the brothers; we have to keep vigil and the other hours of prayer according to our duty; we have to accept the work assigned to us without looking for ways to get out of it.

Monastic life is a royal road to our ultimate destination, but also a most difficult path with new stumbling blocks – interior and exterior – popping up every day. We have to make mid-stream corrections constantly as the Spirit prompts us and the Rule guides us. We can ignore the GPS – Oh, I know the way; I’ve been there before; I don’t need a GPS – but we are basically choosing another GPS whose ultimate destination is the land of misery and alienation. God has chosen us and formed our hearts to follow the GPS of the Rule with fidelity and thanksgiving, praising the Lord “…for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.”

This is the path set before you today, Br. Justin, to follow the GPS of St. Benedict’s Rule and our Cistercian tradition. They will lead you to your destination. May the good Lord help you to keep your eyes fixed on the goal of purity of heart, doing all things for the sake of love. And one day, through the intercession of St. Benedict, may God mercifully lead you with all your brothers to everlasting life. 

Dom Vincent's address to Brother Justin and the community during the Clothing Ceremony.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Learning a Lesson

"Learn a lesson from the fig tree.
When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves,
you know that summer is near.
In the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that he is near, at the gates
Matthew 13

Certainly in this past year, we have all lived through too much distress and tribulation - pandemic, rioting and racial unrest, the climate itself seemingly in revolt. In so many ways, everything seems to be falling apart, still, we pray, we persevere, we beg to be loving and wise and available to spread random acts of kindness freely, we hope. Here we are. And this morning even as the Lord Jesus predicts the heavens in turmoil, he moves quickly to a little story begging us to notice with hope the sprouting of a fig tree in spring. “Notice this hope-filled sign, even amidst seeming destruction - I am near. Always. Do not be afraid.” 

So it is that after living the life of a wandering preacher, Jesus will be wrongly accused, and fall under the weight of the cross. And in the excruciating hour of his death, his body will be pierced and torn; all his beauty and divinity smeared over and concealed by the spittle and blood of his passion. But it is there best of all, in the poverty and turmoil and tribulation of his passion, that dying and distress will finally be turned completely inside-out by God’s weakness. This mess is opportunity; for God’s power is made perfect in weakness. Jesus will rise; God makes all things new.

Not long ago we heard about a disabled man named Walter who lives in a group home for the severely physically handicapped. Walter loves to dance. But this is next to impossible given his condition. And at parties when he has made attempts, wiggling and shaking, he has been restrained by staff who fear for his safety. Now one day the sounds of rock music and loud crashes are heard upstairs in the residence. The ruckus is traced to Walter’s room. Nurses rush upstairs, knock frantically, call Walter’s name, and burst into his room. They see him twirling around and falling to the floor as music booms. He is flushed and sweaty and laughing. And as they rush to help him up, he reassures them, “It’s OK, the falls are part of the dance.” The falls are part of the dance. It’s probably something we all learn sooner or later- how to welcome the falling, the mess, even the distress and see it as opportunity, knowing that grace cannot be far behind. I like neat, but more and more I come to see that God doesn’t work that way. God doesn’t do neat.

So it is that here in the monastery, we learn that the monastic life is not about our achievement, but about our readiness to make our weakness available to the mercy of God. Perhaps this is our most important work - to realize that we are in desperate need of this mercy and so to learn how to allow things to fall apart, allow the inevitable. Everything’s not OK. It’s much better than that: everything’s falling apart all around us, within us. And when we are clearheaded enough, we experience the blessed relief of not having to pretend that we’re self-sufficient or totally capable and good and in control. We don’t have to pretend anymore, for in Christ our tribulation and our distress have been grasped by the tender compassion of God, the God who is love. 

So intuition increases, a confidence that mess and disintegration may be the very place for re-formation, literally places ‘to be made beautiful again,’ for there the God of reversals and upside-downness can transform and re-form. We can somehow trust chaos, see through it. The good news is that everything is falling apart, but this falling apart is essential to the dance in which Christ Jesus longs to accompany us. It is after all why he has come - he wants to be with us, near us, in us. 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, perhaps most often in our failures, when he can sneak in and rescue us quietly without any 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. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Reflection by one of the monks with a final quotation from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Saint Martin


Saint Martin shares his military cloak with a shivering beggar, and Jesus notices. That night in a dream He visits Martin wearing the half-cloak he had shared. The beggar is Christ. A bit of unseasonable balminess this morning reminds us that in Italy a warm spell at this time of the year is called l'Estate di San Martino- Saint Martin's Summer. Legend has it that after Martin had shared his cloak, God made it a little warmer so that neither Martin nor the beggar would suffer from the cold with only a half a cloak each. 

Those who need us are the Lord Jesus in disguise. How will I encounter Him this day? 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Greek, 1541 – 1614, Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1597/1599, oil on canvas with wooden strip added at bottom, 76 3/16 x 40 9/16 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington.     Francí Gomar , Spanish, Aragon, active by 1443–died ca. 1492/3, Altar Predella of Archbishop Don Dalmau de Mur y Cervelló,  detail, Saragossa, 1456–1458, Alabaster, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

A Mystery

Today we keep the feast of the Pope’s own cathedral at Saint John Lateran in Rome. And as the Gospel ends, we will hear this most beautiful phrase, whispered to us by the Evangelist: “He was speaking of the temple of his body.” 

The temple that will be destroyed and raised up is not the Temple built of stones but the temple of Jesus’ own Body. Jesus is the new gift of God that replaces the former. The temple is no longer a place, but a person. Jesus declares himself now and forever this meeting place between God and his people, the place where God’s desire for us and our desire for God meet and merge. Washed in the blood and water flowing the open side of the sanctuary of his holy body, we are being formed into this most holy dwelling, to become his Body.

Because too often we have forgotten the awesome destiny that is ours, let us beg his mercy.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Watching a Widow

Clearly, in this morning’s Gospel, the simplicity and generosity of a poor widow are contrasted with the ostentation and greed of Scribes, who 
“devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers.” Jesus is always on the side of the poor. And today it seems he is speaking out against the “temple establishment” who have “manipulated” this widow into parting with the pittance she has to live on. Jesus is truly God with us, who as the Psalmist sings: always, always defends the orphan and the widow. He is the tender mercy of the heart of God, a heart always magnetized by poverty and littleness.

So then, we may wonder, is this poor widow to be imitated for her generosity or pitied as the hapless “victim of religious exploitation?” Well, I imagine her focus is simply on doing the right thing. Being generous is natural for her, and she wants to be in the mix, to do the communal act, get in line with the others, and throw in her two cents (literally.) It won’t make a big clang in the collection box like the offerings of the well-heeled, and she could stay on the sidelines and most people would pity her and understand, but she chooses to do otherwise. Duty, generosity are her way of being, and giving to God is everything for her. She freely chooses to give her all. She freely chooses to give from her poverty. And it is this exquisite choice that makes what she does, what she gives, so precious and ultimately so imitable. And of course, Jesus notices. How could he not, he himself is the extravagant outpouring of the Father’s reckless love for us?

I am reminded of a scene from my childhood. It’s the morning of my birthday, and I have just come in with the mail, anxious to open my birthday cards. I’m tearing them open. There is one from Aunt Rosie, recently widowed; two crisp dollar bills fall to the table. Spoiled brat that I am; I pay little attention. My mom is there in a flash, “Who sent you that card?” “Aunty Rosie.” “Oh, God. Call to thank her now, please.” “Hi, Aunt Rose, thank you for the birthday gift.” My mother snatches the receiver from my hand, “Ro, you know you shouldn’t have done that. You can’t afford it.” Rose was living on a wing and a prayer; she had worked in a little hat shop; Uncle Angelo had projected movies at the local theater. They had educated two kids. She had nothing. The gift was huge. My mother understood.

Like my mom, Jesus understands the widow’s gift and her predicament. Jesus notices the widow’s offering perhaps because it is his story too. Hounded, harassed, and eventually condemned by the local religious authorities, he too will freely choose to give over “all he has to live on,” his very lifeblood and his precious body because love is more important. Love and giving from the heart, real generosity always have the quiet power to overthrow oppression. Compassionate mercy is enfleshed in Christ Jesus. It is he alone who really truly understands- understands each of us, our context, our story, our stories.

And we are invited to have this compassionate mind in us, which was also in Christ Jesus. And so a huge part of our life together in this monastery is coming to understand each other, to learn the stories, and perhaps learn compassion. (There are so many questions when you first get here. Here’s one that got me. Why was one old monk constantly squirreling things away, cans and bottles among other things? Then you learn. A brother tells you he grew up in an orphanage; hoarding was how he managed as a kid. It made sense.)

Some years ago we heard the story of a parish conducted by an active religious order. In the community there was one priest who was the bane of the brethren, judged by all (but especially the younger men) as lazy and inefficient, always disheveled; clearly an embarrassment to the apostolate of this eminent Order. He slept in late and could only manage to preside each day at the noon Mass, then have lunch and go back to his room. They never saw much of him. And soon they never saw him at all. He didn’t show up for his Mass one day; and the rector found him dead in his cluttered, stuffy room. After he died the doctor told the rector of the rare incapacitating disease this priest had endured for years; the bone-numbing fatigue that was part of it. The rector recounted the priest’s daily routine- the one Mass, the drowsy lunch, the laziness. “Oh no, not laziness, Father,” the doctor assured him. “The little he was able to do was truly heroic.” 

Maybe we come to understand. So much has happened. So many stories here in this sacred space this morning, the stories that we are, that we carry within, stories that have formed and sometimes deformed and burden us still; so many triumphs and sorrows that have marked us. Only Jesus sees and really understands the little we have to live on, and what we live with. He always notices. And slowly but surely we are invited to begin doing likewise.

We are reminded today that it’s never ever about the entitlement of a know-it-all Scribe, but always about compassion. The Gospel reveals to us a Jesus who sees with perfect clarity- names the pretentions, sees most clearly the unfairness, the injustice, and above all notices the generosity of one who gives without counting the cost. Even now, our generosity, the little things we do no matter how unremarkable give him pleasure. Please believe it. His promise to us, as to Elijah’s widow in the First Reading, is that when we are generous, we will have more than enough to get by. We can afford it.

Our task is to keep noticing with the compassionate merciful eyes of Christ, to have his compassionate mind in us, and so to get on our way to becoming compassion for one another. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. To become compassion; we must consume Compassion himself at this altar.

Lord, teach us to be generous.
Teach us to serve you as you deserve;
to give and not to count the cost,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labor and not to ask for reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will. Ignatius Loyola

Reflection by one of the monks with some insights from Donohue & Harrington in Sacra Pagina.

Friday, November 5, 2021


When Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd, the one who leaves the flock to search for the one lost sheep, we realize that we are the sheep who are worth his search. As his beloved ones, perhaps our most important work is allowing the Lord to rescue us.

Art by Bradi Barth.

Monday, November 1, 2021

With All The Saints

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints, known and unknown. We have special days for a great number of the known saints; so, I will talk about one who is not known by anyone here and almost anywhere else: Saint Jeanette LaFond, who died in the attack on the World Trade Center 20 years ago this past September 11th. Her sister Anita wrote in the current Smithsonian Magazine about her sister's death and how God revealed Jeanette's sainthood to her.  On that terrible day, Anita began her workday as usual by calling Jeanette who worked on the 94th floor of the WTC North. Jeanette did not pick up.  One of Anita's co-workers told her to look on her computer at what was happening—she saw that Jeanette's floor had taken the direct hit from the airplane.  Anita writes, “It didn't take long before we saw the building collapse. And that was it... I knew in my heart that I would never see my sister again.  At four o'clock that afternoon, I was sitting in my living room in New Jersey, looking out the window...My only thought was, 'Where is she?'  As a Catholic, I'd always had faith in God, but I don't know that I expected an answer.  It wasn't like a burning bush or anything, but I suddenly had a feeling—not even necessarily in words—of God telling me, 'Don't worry. She was so close to heaven, up on the 94th floor, that I just reached down and took her by the hand. She is safe now.'” “From that moment, I knew that I would miss her terribly, but I was able to move on with my life.” 

As I read this testimony of love and faith, for one nano-second I was tempted by the Evil One to say, “wishful thinking,” but then the better side of my mind and heart took over to see in Anita's experience the same trust in God to make us saints as we can read in the writings and sayings of Saint Paul, St. Therese and so many of the other doctors of the Church.  Every saint we celebrate today was on a kind of perilous 94th floor with dark forces hurtling toward them, and every one of them would tell us and will tell us as we encounter them in prayer that YES that's how I was sanctified: God reached out his hand to me through our incarnate, crucified and risen Lord Jesus and I let him take my hand.  Praise the Lord, I let him take my hand!” Each and every saint would tell us, “In the power of his Holy Spirit and the gracious gifts of grace in his sacraments celebrated in his body the Church, especially the Eucharist, I was led to a life of holiness that was beyond anything I could achieve—far more than I could ask or imagine.”  As that Saint of Saints, Our Blessed Mother proclaims in her Magnificat, “He that is mighty has done great things for me; and holy is his name.”

In our desire to respond to what is termed the “universal call to holiness” we can become discouraged by our frequent failures.  When I was a neurotic novice, my abbot, Dom Thomas, recommended I read Benson's book The Triumph of Failure.  I got the point—at least I started to get it. Our failures teach us to adopt the attitude of those blessed ones called the poor in spirit, the attitude of our Blessed Mother and of all the saints—to so realize our personal poverty of spirit that we rely on the Lord for all that we need.  All. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us:  that the charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God; that grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and all people: that the saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.  The Catechism then asks St. Therese to back this up with an excerpt from her beautiful prayer, The Act of Offering: “Lord God, after earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone...In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes.  I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” Yet, we know that at least one of Therese's hands was not empty when she appeared before her Heavenly Father, because, like the hand of Saint Jeanette LaFond, it was grasped by the hand of the Man from Galilee, her beloved Lord Jesus. 

Jesus will soon place himself—body, soul, and divinity—in our hands in the Communion rite that we may receive the pledge that we will ever be in his hands, the pledge of eternal life, the pledge of being a saint among all the saints, known and unknown. “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more that all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.” 

Details from tapestries by John Nava in Los Angeles cathedral. Today's homily by Father Luke.