Sunday, June 26, 2022

Thirteenth Sunday

Today's gospel begins the fifth section of the Gospel of Luke, the Journey Section, the climactic narrative of the ever-ascending journey of Jesus to the Father. Last Sunday, because of Corpus Christi's special gospel, the normally read gospel was not heard. That gospel, Luke 9:22-27, is important for the proper understanding of what the journey embarked upon in today's gospel is about. Last week we would normally have heard St. Peter call Jesus the Christ or the Messiah of God, and we would have heard Jesus correct any erroneous notions that Peter and ourselves might have about that. Jesus claimed for himself the title The Son of Man who must suffer greatly, be killed and raised on the third day. Furthermore, he said that anyone who wishes to follow him must deny himself, take up his cross daily and thus follow him. The opening verse of our gospel today which is Luke 9:51 forms with Luke 24: 51 what is called a literary inclusion—these are like literary bookends that aid in the understanding of the passages between them. Luke 9:51 reads, “When the days for Jesus's being taken up were fulfilled, he set his face (here translated as “resolutely determined”) to journey to Jerusalem. Luke 24:51 reads, “As he blessed them, he parted from them and was taken up to heaven.” These verses both refer to the mystery of Jesus's Ascension—his being taken up into heaven, but they surround a journey narrative that takes us up to the heights of the preaching and teaching of Jesus—think of the parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son-- which inspire us to take up our own cross daily.

The journey of Jesus will take him up to the heights of Mt. Zion and the city of Jerusalem where all God's messengers have been rejected and slain. Thus, Jesus, like the Suffering Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, has to “set his face” to go to Jerusalem. The journey will take us up Mt. Calvary, Golgotha, where Jesus is taken up upon a cross to suffer and die for us, but then in three days to be taken up, raised up, “He has been raised!” Finally, the journey reaches its fulfillment as the risen Jesus leaves Jerusalem for Bethany, and there, as he raises his hands over his beloved disciples in blessing, (there he) is taken up to heaven by the Father. We are all of us on a significant journey—one called LIFE, better called Life, Death, and Eternal Life.

We are being poignantly reminded of this lately each day in the refectory as we reflect on Francie Nolan's life as a parable about our own lives growing up—I doubt that any of us felt it was easy, and as we get older and life's experiences become more challenging, we, like Jesus, have “to set our face,” that is, resolutely determine to continue on the Way in our prayer and in the way we live. This important Christian word “Way” was lost in translation this morning as we heard, “As they were proceeding on their journey...” The Greek, if translated literally, says, “As they went in the way...” The word “way” was used in the early days of the Church to describe Christianity itself which was seen as a following of Jesus who is the only “Way” to salvation. Today in the global Church renewal process called Synodality, the concept of the People of God being together on the Way has been emphasized. The word Syn-odality is derived from two Greek words meaning simply, “together on the Way.” The document from the bishops that introduced the process speaks highly of our particular way, the Rule of St. Benedict, with its remarkable chapter three about calling the whole community together for counsel - everyone from oldest to youngest. We know as followers of St. Benedict who followed Christ that our strength to persevere by the grace of God is enhanced immeasurably by our being and living here at the Abbey as a small but Spirit-filled manifestation of the Body of Christ, the whole People of God journeying together along the way—each one of us bearing his particular cross along the Way, but together with his brothers and sisters, not in isolation from one another.

Two other sections of Chapter Nine in Luke illuminate how we journey together with Jesus along the Way. One is Luke's description of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9:28-36, where we hear the voice of the Father telling us, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” We find the strength to follow in the very listening with goodwill to the words of the Lord in the Scriptures, in the teachings of the Church, the words of our Church leaders and the Abbot, the anointed words of our brothers and sisters, and sometimes the words of our worst critics and even enemies. Listen to Him! So, we are nourished and strengthened along the Way by our brothers and sisters, by the Word that we hear and obey, and finally and perhaps most especially, the Eucharist, which is also present in Luke's immensely rich Chapter Nine in the prefiguration of the Eucharist in the miraculous feeding of the five thousand that Fr. Dominic spoke about so beautifully last Sunday, Corpus Christi. Every Mass, like this celebration right now, is a milestone on our own ever-ascending journey to the Father—a milestone where there is time for the leisure that is liturgy where we are refreshed and made ready for the rest of our journey by the gathering of the community in the love of God and by the celebration of God's Word and Eucharist, the bread of wayfarers going to God. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them, and I will raise them up on the last day.

There is one more heavenly grace that strengthens us on the Way to the Father that is emphasized by far more in Luke's Gospel than in the others. Whereas the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Mark 3 times, four times in John, 5 in Matthew, the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit is mentioned in Luke 13 times explicitly and many more times if you count the references to the Spirit of God and The Spirit of the Lord which one would, of course, do. The introduction to Luke in the latest version of the New American Bible points out that “no other gospel writer is more concerned than Luke with the role of the Spirit in the life of Jesus and the Christian disciple.” The fact that in Luke the Holy Spirit is so intimately associated with the Virgin Mother Mary makes his gospel spirituality all the more attractive and life-giving. It is the Holy Spirit that gathers us to celebrate the Eucharist. It is the Holy Spirit that imparts life-giving power and meaning to the words we hear in the liturgy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Epiclesis of the Eucharistic Prayer is that prayer in which we “petition God to send the Holy Spirit so that the offerings at the Eucharist may become the Body and Blood of Christ and thus the faithful, by receiving them, may themselves become a living offering to God.” Fr. Thomas Stegman remarks in his commentary on the Epistle to the Romans that the Holy Spirit is “the empowering presence of God.” St. Paul, in this morning's reading from Galatians, exhorted us to LIVE BY THE SPIRIT! The Spirit gives us the power to “set our face” to go to our own Jerusalem to die to ourselves through, with and in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus and so live for others and for God who, at the end of our journey on the Way, will take us up in glory to the Kingdom.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Today's homily by Father Luke.

Friday, June 24, 2022

His Sacred Heart

 

Words have lives, they evolve. Such is the word, passion. It comes from the Latin passio meaning to bear and endure. It is the origin of the word patient. Later in its life, passion came to mean suffering. Further on, the passion would describe erotic love and soon after any ardent emotion or enthusiasm. How fitting then that we use the word passion with all of its nuances and resonance to describe the suffering and death of Jesus our Lord. For all that Jesus endures because of his tender love for us is most truly his passion. “For the joy that lay before him, Jesus endured the cross despising its shame.” Patiently, passionately, most ardently Jesus gives himself away to us, for us. And when he feels things, he’s moved to his very guts. Jesus is thus the perfect enfleshment of this passion of God’s self-forgetful love for us. He has come to establish an intimacy with us that signals our access to everything he has received from his Father, even the glory that is his as Beloved Son.* Jesus’ passion is to draw us into God. Today we celebrate the wonder of this divine passion for us perfectly enfleshed in his broken Heart.

In the First Reading Ezekiel the prophet has given us God’s self-description as loving shepherd, this, in turn, becomes a template for Jesus’ own understanding of his vocation as Beloved Son of the Father. Jesus is the good shepherd who will relentlessly search, run after and rescue all who are lost, even just one lost sheep. We might say, “Why bother? Why put the other ninety-nine at risk?” But this is who God is. And Paul assures us that this passionate desire of God in Christ for us is expressed in a great gush of graced love lavished upon us through God’s own Spirit – “poured into our hearts.” When we go to prayer, when we wake and walk and work and eat and breathe our day, God is drawing us, ceaselessly, searching and coming after us.

This desperation of a God in love, whose burning desire for us is unquenchable and unending, is in evidence constantly in the gospels. Jesus’ heart is constantly magnetized by desperation. A sobbing widow following the bier of her dead son knows she’s now without resource, destined now for a life of leftovers and condescension. I want to see, cries Bartimaeus. My son is at home dying, my dearest young slave, my daughter is possessed. Do something, I beg you. I’ve been to every doctor, tried every cure. But now, if only I touch his tassel. They have no wine, it’s only the first day of the celebration, and everything will be lost. Lord, wake up we’re going to drown, don’t you care. Lord, the one you love has died. And so best of all, last of all this dead-end that was always looming ahead will be destroyed by his passion and death on the cross. Because Jesus could not bear to have us live in fear of this final terror. He tramples down death by death because he is all Life. If only we knew the gift of God. If only understood his passion for us. He has given himself away totally, lavishly, foolishly, unreasonably.*

He cannot make us love him, still, he boldly exposes his broken Heart for us, longing as any man would for a loving response. He is not embarrassed by the vulnerability and desperation he reveals, he puts his Heart right out there. Perhaps all the tenderness and divine vulnerability are too much, perhaps even tasteless or off-putting. It is after all, way beyond a certain manly coolness and detachment. But Jesus loves us to folly, and he is not about to be evasive or diplomatic about it. How could he be? He’s on fire with it. And his love for us is not some disembodied theological premise or a refined, pious sentiment but a deeply felt, very raw, and real emotion. Jesus feels things deeply in his gut.

Today’s solemnity is all about this Divine Exposure. All falsehood, pretense, and sin; all the pain and suffering he endured and we endure, all the love we long for but dare not express, there too in his wounded Heart we see all the sorrow and suffering in Ukraine and Uvalde and Buffalo - it’s all right there in that Heart - exposed for all to see, in its bleeding, gut-wrenching beauty, the vulnerability of God. He shows us who he is, who God is, and who we are meant to be. The invitation is to go and do likewise – to love until it hurts, though often we might like to think there is an easier way. In the wounded Heart of Jesus, we see our reality and our sublime destiny, as individuals, as Church, as monastic community.

If like Jesus we dare to open our wounded hands and hearts to one another, with nothing to hide - at ease with the awkwardness and embarrassment of loving, at home with our vulnerability the kingdom can happen. At best two desperations will meet. Jesus’ desperate passion to share God’s love and our desperate need for the healing, grace, and love that only Father, Son, and Spirit can bestow. We cry out in a confident appeal that is always the echo of God’s first desperate longing for us.

In the humility of his passion for us, Jesus has come to give himself away. As we gather together around this Table to consume Christ’s wounded body and drink the blood of God poured out for us, we find ourselves once again overpowered by the mystery of his love, by the unquestionable reality of the mystery of a God who is love,* a God who even now desperately desires to offer us his precious body and blood even his wounded heart.

The Sacred Heart by Odilon Redon. References: 1. Sandra Schneiders. 2 Robert Barron. 3. Adapted from Karl Rahner. Today's homily by one of the monks.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Birth of John the Baptist

Something utterly unprecedented in God’s graciousness was about to occur, something so exceptional in Israel’s history, that a forerunner would be essential, someone to prepare the hearts of the people for God’s radical inbreaking. John is that man. His call to repentance, to absolute honesty, justice, and care for the poor will prepare Israel for the immense reversal that will take place in the person of Christ Jesus. For Jesus will indeed be the Messiah, but not the one everyone expected.

And this morning we look back at the infancy and early childhood of John and notice with him the Lord calling him even “from his mother’s womb.” John will kick and stir in the long-barren womb of his mother Elizabeth at the nearness of Christ in Mary. And miraculously when his father names him John, the name given him by an angel, his mute father’s tongue will be loosed. And so today the local folks all wonder, "What, then, will this child be? For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.” We might also imagine what they said, as they saw him as a young man sneak off to the desert, and then preach and baptize with such urgency. “Not surprising at all; I always saw it in him,” they might say. “He was always different, not like the other kids; a kind of fire in him; a thoughtful kid; he liked to pray…” Maybe like things our friends and family said when we came to the monastery.

So it is that we celebrate today a kind of feast of sacred retrospection. Sacred retrospection. Tradition reflects back on the life of John the Baptizer and wonders at the holiness and uniqueness it sees even from his birth. We know this is a typical motif in Scripture and in accounts of many of the saints’ lives. And these stories were very often depicted in art. A favorite example is a relief of the infant St. Nicholas resting in his mother’s left arm. As she offers him her right breast to nurse him, Baby Nicholas raises both of his little hands, as if to say, “No thanks, Mom. I’m good.” Amazingly, it seems he has weaned himself; already quite a little ascetic and brimming with self-control even as a baby. The message is clear: Nicholas’ sanctity was obvious, even from any early age. Really? To the believing mind perhaps it’s not as ditsy as it sounds, but instead an unsophisticated expression of the truth which faith offers us.

Today on this Birthday feast of the Baptist, we celebrate a God who is constantly “acting on our behalf, out of love for us;” God drawing us to our truest identity. And since God preserves the universe in being, we believe that he acts in and with every creature in each and all its activities. This is not to say we are stuck in some plan, some occult predestination, but that God is always, always calling, beckoning us, drawing us to himself, longing to fill us with himself, drawing into the Trinity. We name this divine Providence.

And if today’s Solemnity strikes us as somewhat folkloric, this is not to diminish its truth. We are invited to look back and notice the finger of God - God acting in John’s life, and in our own. And so jubilantly we imagine John chanting to us with the Psalmist, “I praise you, for I am wonderfully made.” Each of us is invited to do the same, to reflect on our own lives with a kind of road-back-to-Jerusalem-from-Emmaus insight - “It was the Lord all the time, though I did not recognize him. It was you Lord, calling, using anything at all to bring me to you, to my truth, to the secret for which I was made.” It was, it is God’s finger in my life day in day out, all through the years.

This is what our candidates discover as they compose their autobiographies and tell us their stories in preparation for entrance, a kind of prayerful inventory that notices the earliest echoes of God’s call, what was always there, though they might not have named it that back then. 

In the end each of us is meant to say with Isaiah, “The Lord called me from my mother’s womb; he pronounced my very name…” Divine Providence had been at work all the time in our individual stories, in our personal histories, through all the blessings and reversals. These graces must be named and celebrated as God’s work in us, through us, for us.

God’s Providence is with us; God behind and before us, using anything at all, everything to draw us to himself. And so he invites us once again to this altar to our ultimate identity: Holy Communion, Holy Communion with him and with one another. And if our hearts leap for joy as did the infant John in Elizabeth’s womb, it is a good thing for the Lord Jesus is indeed very near.

Domenico GhirlandaioThe Birth  of the Baptist, fresco in  the Cappella Tornabuoni of  Santa Maria Novella, Florence.  Homily by one of the monks.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fire Safety

Fire safety at the Abbey is a priority, and drills are held on a regular basis. Because of the immense size of our property, The Spencer Fire Department has kept a substation here at the monastery which houses equipment for their own use in town and for use here at the Abbey in the event of an emergency. F.D.S.J.A. Station 2 was established to assist the Spencer Fire Department. We are blessed to have the concern of our local fire department. 

Many of our monks have volunteered for training and manning the station through the years.  Brother Benedict has been Captain of our little station for some time, and a group of monks has recently been outfitted for turn-out gear. And they meet regularly for training. Pictured above with Engine 4 are Brothers Guerric, Kenneth, Benedict, Michael, and Andrew.

We pray that these services will never be needed, but it is a comfort to know we are prepared.


Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Saint Aloysius

 

We are always inspired by the ardor and single-heartedness of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who died as a Jesuit scholastic at age 23 while caring for plague victims in Rome in 1591. Indeed, so confident was Aloysius in God's tender love for him, that one day as he was playing ball with the other young Jesuits, Saint Robert Bellarmine approached him and asked what he would do if he were told he was going to die the next day. "I would go on playing ball," said Aloysius. So may we always trust in the Lord's merciful love.

As Cistercians we are happy to recall that on his deathbed Aloysius asked his brother Jesuits to read to him from Saint Bernard's Sermons on the Song of Songs, a text that he always found consoling.

The Vocation of Saint Aloysius (Luigi) Gonzaga, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian, Cento 1591–1666 Bologna), ca. 1650. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Corpus Christi

She saw the moon hanging in midair, in the sky. Although the moon was shining bright, there was a single black spot on it. This became a recurring vision that for years Juliana couldn’t figure out. One day the Lord told her that this vision of the moon was a symbol of the Church, so bright with all its feasts, but the black part of the moon meant that there was no feast to honor the Sacrament of the Altar in a special way. (At that time the celebration of this Mystery was only observed on Holy Thursday, but on that day it is mostly Christ’s sufferings and death that are thought about.) So the Lord told her that he desired another day be set apart to celebrate his real Presence in the Eucharist. In 1246, St. Juliana, an Augustinian nun, and prioress persuaded the bishop of Liège to initiate a special feast on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday to honor the Blessed Sacrament. Fifteen years later, in 1261, Pope Urban IV, formerly Archdeacon of Liège, ordered the whole Church to observe this Feast of Corpus Christi. He also asked his personal friend, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose the hymns and antiphons for its celebration. (St. Juliana spent her last years, and died, in a Cistercian abbey.)

I find that the particular significance of today’s Feast is communicated well by the three fundamental actions we carry out in celebrating it: first of all, we gather around the altar of the Lord to be together in his presence; secondly, we process with the Blessed Sacrament from the church, through the cloisters, and back into the church; and thirdly, we kneel before the Lord in adoration. (Of course, this adoration already begins in the Mass and accompanies the entire procession but culminates in the final moment of Benediction, when we all prostrate ourselves before the One who stooped down to us and gave his life for us.) I’d like to offer a brief reflection on each of these three specific actions of today’s liturgy through the “prism” of today’s Gospel.

First of all Corpus Christi reminds us that being Christian means coming together to be in the Presence of the one Lord, and to become one with him and in him. We gather together in order to celebrate the Eucharist, and the culmination of our gathering is communion.

In the Gospel, which is Eucharistic through and through in language and imagery, Jesus spoke to the crowds about the kingdom of God, and he healed those who needed to be cured, but as the day was drawing to a close he gathered them more intimately by having them sit down in groups of about 50 in order to feed them: he “took the bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it” to over 5,000. We come together every day to the Eucharist with our fragile identities, often enough constructed over against each other. However, the Body and Blood of Christ is not just received by us but transforms our gathering so that we now corporately share in the Lord’s own identity. The climax of the Eucharist, which we call “Holy Communion,” is nothing less than our homecoming to each other and to God. How is this so?

Looking back to the Last Supper, we know what it means for Jesus to give his body to us in the form of bread. It is a gift totally given and completely received. “Take this, all of you and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.” Of course, we know that eating food is not primarily a matter of ingesting nutrients, any more than speaking is just a question of making noises. In every culture, except increasingly in our own, eating and drinking is about sharing life and being at home with one another.

Here is a simple but compelling illustration of this. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss noticed that in simple restaurants in the south of France where the workers ate everyone sat at a common table. A bottle of wine was placed before each person, and each began by pouring wine into the glass of his neighbor. Claude Lévi-Strauss observed: “No one has any more wine than he did to begin with. But society (community) has appeared where there was none before.” 

Infinitely more so, the Body and Blood of Christ is where we are at home with each other in Christ. It brings about the greatest embodiment of our “gathering” together: namely, communion with and in Christ. There is no bond of human communion comparable to that effected by the Eucharistic Body of Christ. It is called “the Sacrament of Unity.” BWhy? The Body of Christ is the bond which unites us to him: eat it, or we will have no part in him. And Jesus gives us his Blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant, poured out for us as his total self-gift: drink it, lest we despair of ourselves. Yes, his blood was shed because of the human thirst for violence. But it is also the blood of birth. For St. John, it was the moment when Jesus gives birth to a new community, the Church. His side is opened by the soldier’s spear, and out pour water and blood, the sacraments of the new community. St. John Chrysostom wrote, “It is from his side, therefore, that Christ formed his church, just as he formed Eve from the side of Adam….Have you seen how Christ united to himself his bride? Have you seen with what food he nurtures us all? Just as a woman nurtures her offspring with her own blood and milk, so also Christ continuously nurtures with his own blood those whom he has begotten.”y participating in the Eucharist, and by feeding on it, we are incorporated into a communion that does not admit divisions. This is because the Christ present in our midst, in the sacramental signs of bread and wine, requires that the power of love exceed every laceration and, at the same time, become communion with the poor, support for the weak, and fraternal attention to those who are struggling to carry the weight of everyday life—that refers to us all!

Secondly, the Feast of Corpus Christi is distinguished by a procession. The procession became the feast’s most prominent feature and experientially represents walking with the Lord. Remember that in the Gospel Jesus feeds the crowds precisely so that they will have strength for the journey home. He himself is “food for the journey”—food for the journey Home. “Viaticum.” We have our “First Holy Communion,” and we have our last, which is traditionally called “Holy Viaticum.” We all need this sacramental food to sustain us on the journey, and not only at the end of life. Many of us can hardly move, or can barely trudge along, but through the gift of himself in the Eucharist, the Lord sets us free from our spiritual “paralysis,” helps us up, and enables us to proceed (i.e. to take a step forward,  and then another, and then another), and thus he gives us strength through the nourishment of the Bread of Life…..The Corpus Christi procession, traditionally in many places a full-blown pageant, teaches us that the Eucharist seeks to free us from every kind of despondency and discouragement so that we can once again set out on the journey with the strength God gives us through Jesus Christ. Who can face the pilgrimage of life without God-with-us? Our procession is literally walking with the Lord. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of the God who does not leave us alone on the journey but stays at our side and shows us the way. Indeed, he made himself the “way” and came to walk together with us so that in our freedom we should also have the criterion we need to discern the right way and take it. Our Corpus Christi procession expresses in a solemn and public way the grace of the “ordinary, obscure and laborious” daily journey of our heart home to God.

And thirdly, our celebration of this Feast Day culminates in our kneeling before the Lord in adoration. Adoring the God of Jesus Christ, who out of love made himself bread, broken and given to us, is the most effective and radical remedy for whatever helplessness or separation from God we may experience along the way. Kneeling before the Eucharist is a profession of faith, of need, and of freedom: we prostrate ourselves before a God who first bent over us like the Good Samaritan to assist us and restore our life; like the Lord who first knelt before us to wash our dirty feet before giving himself to us as a covenantal food. Adoring the Body of Christ means believing that there, in that piece of Bread, Christ is really present and gives true sense to life: to the immense universe as well as to the smallest creature, to the whole of human history as well as to the briefest existence. Eucharistic Adoration is prayer in which we continue to be nourished by the Real Presence of Christ.

In conclusion, on this Feast of Corpus Christi our gathering, walking, and adoring together fills us with a special joy and grace. Even more, the Eucharist is an encounter of the heart when we recognize Presence through our own offered presence. In the Eucharist, we move beyond mere words or rational thought, and go to that place where we don’t talk about the Mystery anymore; we begin to chew on it. Jesus did not say, “Think about this,” or “Stare at this,” or even “Worship this.” Instead, he said, “Eat this!” We must keep eating and drinking the Mystery, until one day it dawns on us, in an undefended moment, “My God, I really am what I eat! I also become the Body of Christ.”

Photograph of the Abbey Corpus Christ procession by Father Emmanuel. Father Dominic's homily for the Solemnity.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Boredom?

Visitors or newcomers often ask if monks get bored. I suppose I do - not bored by our rhythm of liturgy, work, and prayer, but bored by me. It is perhaps the most difficult part of our ascesis - to see clearly over and over again the sad, boring truth of who I am. The truth is - I bore myself constantly with my sinfulness and stubbornness. Having seen and understood that painful, neuralgic reality all too well, over and over again, the challenge is there and then to allow God in Christ in that very moment to gaze on me with love and exquisite tenderness. It seems utter madness to allow myself to be the object of Christ’s love and attention and mercy precisely in that moment. This is the wonderful trick of the monastic vocation - I thought I was coming to the monastery to gaze upon Christ, but it is Christ Jesus the Lord himself who wants to gaze upon me in my lowliness and poverty. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by one of the monks.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

On Trinity Sunday

 

Today the One who cannot lie—the very one who is “the Way and the Truth and the Life”—addresses us as his intimate friends and makes us a solemn promise: I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. As the source, foundation and final end of all lesser truths, surely the Reality of God’s Triune Being as a mystery beyond words, but embraced in faith and adored with love, is the deepest and most precious revelation that the Holy Spirit makes to the Church and to humanity.

This Mystery of the Holy Trinity that we celebrate today is eternally unfathomable, infinitely more so than the magnificence of all universes, real or imagined. Yet this ineffability is really no valid excuse for muteness, because mystery is the very spice of celebration, and human celebration requires language, no matter how imperfect and groping—rather like a blind person trying to describe the bright splendor of the sun while only feeling its heat.

But we shouldn’t approach God’s Tri-Unity as a head-splitting conundrum we must wrestle with once a year to make a dutiful bow to dogma. If I have grasped anything in today’s readings it’s that the Trinity is not a remote, abstract puzzle, forever frustrating my feeble attempts at believing it. The triune God revealed to us in our Lord Jesus Christ is not some abstract, mystifying construct but a perennial, personal Event of life and joy, endlessly overflowing over all creation with grace, love, compassion and transformative power. The God we believe in as Christians—the Blissful Trinity—is, purely and simply, Eternal Life outpoured and perfectly received.

Let’s first relish the following confession of love that God’s Wisdom herself sings to the universe, lifting the veil on God’s inner life: “The Lord possessed me, The beginning of his ways…I was [his] delight day by day, Playing before him all the while, Playing on the surface of his earth; And I found delight in the human race.

For God to be Trinity means that God explodes with delight from within. Such delight requires mutuality of persons, for it is delight at knowing and being known, delight at belonging to Another, delight at the inability of having one’s own existence apart from that Other, delight in never—for all eternity—having been absent from the life of the beloved Other, delight that celebrates its freedom in a playful, unstoppable dance that has as stage the whole enraptured cosmos and that thrills in abiding with the blessed Two who are Persons other than Oneself. This explosive, world-creating energy of delight wells up from the bosom of the Blessed Trinity like the most powerful of geysers bursting forth from the heart of the earth. 

What is good is “diffusive of itself”, says St Thomas Aquinas, quoting Aristotle, I believe. God is too good, and therefore too “diffusive” of himself—too exuberant and squandering of his Being—to keep his secret delight to himself. The action of a divine self-outpouring is a central biblical category already at work from the first verses of Genesis: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…. And the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light.’

Each of these verbs—creating, moving and saying—imply a dynamic outward movement on God’s part, beyond the sphere of his own self-sufficient Being and into the void of nothingness, that he might pour himself out into what is Not-God. Note the Trinitarian undertones present in Scripture from the outset: God creates not out of a splendid isolation but with the collaboration of “the Beginning (the Archê)”—that is, the First Principle, who says: I was beside him as his craftsman—and God sends out their common Ruach (or Breath) to flutter lovingly like a mother-bird over the primal egg of chaos, to incubate a beautiful, orderly cosmos. And when God says, Let there be light, this implies his uttering his all-powerful Logos or Word as foundation of the universe. The Father created all things in the Word through the Spirit. 

Every action of God is a self-outpouring of divine life that in no way depletes the Being of God. This unending divine action, however, does not first occur with regard to creation—that is, with regard to ourselves and all other creatures—but within the interior life of God himself. This is crucial. For, if God is to be love for us, he must first be love within himself, and this implies eternal Relation, Mutuality, which in turn requires radical difference of Persons within absolute unity of Being. This is the meaning of Tri-unity. We have heard Wisdom affirm: From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth… I was brought forth while as yet the earth and fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world. Wisdom herself insists here that she was generated eternally, before the creation.

God is love means, necessarily, then, that God, already in himself and quite apart from creation, is Community of Persons, since genuine love, whether in God or man, must circulate incessantly from Self to Other and back.

The expansive throbbing of God’s triune Heart can never quite contain itself because in God there are no “separate egos”; from here flows the delight which is the primary quality of the utterly free joy and in-joy-ment that blossom wherever Persons are in Love, are Love, beginning in the depths of the Uncreated Godhead. The beaming forth of that primal, triune Joy then provides the blissful pattern for all created love and friendship. From the Trinity we learn that our own greatest joy should be to fill someone else with life. Joy, in fact, may be said to be but another name for God; for what is joy but the spark that jumps from heart to heart at the sight of one another’s beauty? And where does this fire blaze more magnificently than among the divine Persons?

Jesus says to his disciples, I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. Here Jesus is communicating to the disciples the essence of his being, which is his relationship to Father and to Spirit—their triune Joy in one another as the very substance of their common Life. My joy is Jesus’ superbly original name for his relationship with his Begetter and their common Breath. And this outpouring of Christ’s joy into our hearts reaches its culmination in the intimate Pentecost of the Cenacle. There Jesus, eight days after his Resurrection, breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’. The Greek text literally says that Jesus breathed [the Holy Spirit] into [them]. The unusual verb enephýsêsen (in English we could clumsily say insufflate) graphically evokes mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and this word in John 20:22 duplicates down to the last accent mark the word we find in Genesis 2:7 concerning the creation of Adam: The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into (enephýsêsen) his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.

Thus, the ecclesial event in the Cenacle amounts to nothing less than a re-creation and resurrection of the human race in the person of the apostles. The Breath they receive from Jesus’ mouth is the very Breath that sustains the life of the Three Divine Persons. All post-Resurrection encounters with Jesus imply and effect the resurrection of the apostles themselves. Jesus comes to transmit his own New Life to them, and only in that context does he give them his final commands and their mission to evangelize the world.

No wonder Christ immediately gives them the power to forgive or to retain sins, clearly a divine prerogative, now shared with weak and fallible human beings; but this enormity, which continually scandalized the Pharisees when practiced even by Jesus himself, can be explained only by the fact that Jesus, by this insufflation, is making the apostles “partakers of the divine nature”. No wonder either that St Paul today feels entitled to proclaim the astounding doctrine: We boast in hope of the glory of God … because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us!

What is, then, the practical conclusion we ought to draw from the majestic mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the central article of our faith? I suggest the following: If we—as Trinitarian communicators of life who have received the Holy Spirit into us—do not pour out our lives in selfless service, infusing God’s Breath into the breathless and loving them with God’s own creative Love, now active within us, then we will be denying in practice what we proclaim in word and rite: namely, that the God who indwells us, and whom we worship and glorify, is for us a revitalizing Trinity of Persons.

But we should never forget that “selfless service”, lovely though the idea sounds, can be learnt only with Our Lady at the foot of the Cross: for it was from the Cross that the most palpable and overwhelming divine self-outpouring of all occurred. On Golgotha, Jesus quite literally emptied himself for our sake when one of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

In giving us Jesus, the Father has poured out to us the Beloved of his heart and given us all things desirable along with him. Our communion in Jesus’ Flesh and Blood will in a few moments fling open for us the entryway into God’s ecstatic swirl of expansive delight. May we allow the playful Wisdom of Father and Son come and delight in us, too, and thoroughly possess us and so heal all our sadness with the Joy that is God.

Today's homily by Father Simeon.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Reverence

 

But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, 
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Mt 5


Which of us in anger or frustration has not once, at least in our head, used an undesirable name for someone who bothers us? And we recall with amusement that the epithet, Raqa, literally means "blockhead." But in God's kingdom, there is no place for name-calling. Jesus begs us to respect and reverence one another, no matter what we have suffered at their hands.

Lord Jesus, teach us to be gentle and accepting, to swallow the bitter remark and instead give a blessing. 

Photograph of the Abbey scriptorium by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Light in the Cloister

 

"The sunlight did not know what it was before it hit a wall," said the American architect Louis Kahn. Indeed, buildings that matter have spirit and meaning and are never merely functional.

With the assistance of local architects and contractors, monks designed and built our monastery in the 1950s. Their vision formed the architecture, and its beauty has continued to form succeeding generations of monks. We remain grateful for their care.
Photograph of early morning sunlight in the southwestern corner of the cloister.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

On Pentecost Sunday

 

            Our community could not exist without the gift of the Holy Spirit. Only the Spirit of the Father and the Son can make communion possible among us: "being of the same mind…united in heart, thinking the same thing.” The Lord has called us to a special charism in the Church: forty-five men of all ages and backgrounds, living and working together day in and day out, without wives and children, at all hours of the night and day in church, obedient to a Rule and an abbot – this charism is impossible without the Holy Spirit. It is all too easy to see what happens in the absence of the Spirit – community life dissolves, discipline is non-existent, a monastery becomes a home for numerous groups of sarabites whose law is to do whatever pleases them. Only the Holy Spirit can keep this from happening.

          That is why Our Lord’s appearance to the disciples on Easter night is so important for us. It is the final act of Jesus’ hour, St. John’s version of Pentecost, in which the Spirit is given to the disciples to overcome fear and create communion. The Lord’s glorification on the cross culminates in this pouring out of the Spirit on his first little community. He continued to pour it out on our Fathers of Citeaux, and he does the same for us today. The Spirit reminds us of our charism as a cenobitic, Cistercian community. As the Father has loved the Son; as the Son has handed all things over to the Father; as the Spirit continues this divine exchange among us, so now the Spirit draws us into this ever-deepening communion of self-emptying.

          What else does Jesus reveal to us about our charism of communion? First of all, it is a grace that enables us to live in peace, even in the midst of the hardships and obscurity of Cistercian life. “Peace to you,” the Risen Lord says, breathing out his Spirit. The Spirit casts out that false peace that the world gives and which the prophet speaks about, “‘Peace, peace,’ they say when there is no peace.” The Spirit convicts the world – and us – when we give a false peace, but he gives the fruit of righteousness to those who sow and cultivate true peace. We are to cultivate this peace by laying down our lives for our brothers.

          Jesus then showed the disciples his hands and his side. In this gesture the Spirit is reminding us of our special calling to contemplate the Lord’s mission. Everything else must be at the service of this. He labored with his hands and only completed his labors when his hands were nailed to a tree. He bore within his heart his undying adherence to his Father’s will until that heart was pierced for us so that his faithfulness could be poured out on us. In our own humble way in the daily tasks of our common life, we are to allow the Spirit to use our hands and our heart to build communion.

          Finally, Jesus says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Our charism includes being sent forth as Jesus was. The Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for forty days. He has sent us as a community into the desert for a lifetime. It can feel like a wasteland of howling desert where acedia abounds, where demons prowl, “Until the spirit from on high is poured out on us. And the wilderness becomes a garden land and the garden land is deemed a forest.” Jesus sends us out where the Spirit can complete his work of purification and sanctification. The silence and solitude of the desert is meant to become the home of men and angels for the sake of the whole Church and mankind.

          How earnestly we must thank God for the gift of the Spirit! Just as the disciples without the Spirit were unable to set out and proclaim God’s communion with humankind, so we could never persevere in our common life without the breath of the Spirit. Come, O Holy Spirit, and fill the hearts of this community, and enkindle in us the fire of your love.

Gnadenstuhl, Blutenburg Chapel, Munich, 1491, by Johannes PolonusPhotographs by Father Emmanuel. This morning's homily by Abbot Vincent.


Thursday, June 2, 2022

Enkindle

Come, Creator Spirit,
visit the minds of your children,
and fill the hearts you have made,
with heavenly grace.

You are called the Comforter,
the gift of God most high,
living spring, and fire, love,
and spiritual anointing. 

You are sevenfold in your gifts,
the finger of God’s right hand;
you are the Father’s  true promise,
endowing our tongues with speech. 

Enkindle your light in our senses,
infuse your life in our hearts;
strengthen our bodies’ weakness
by your never-failing might.

Drive far away our foe,
and grant peace without end,
that with you to lead us on,
we may escape all harm. 

Grant us, through you,
to know the Father, also the Son;
may we ever believe in you,
the Spirit of them both.
Amen.

In preparation for the great Solemnity of Pentecost, we pray our novena to the Holy Spirit. And each evening at Vespers, we chant this ancient Latin hymn. We share a fine translation completed by one of the monks.

Learning to Find Christ

Ever since Jesus’ return to the Father at the Ascension we are now enabled to encounter, love, and minister to Jesus in every human being, and this not as a fragment of our mystical imagination but as a concrete existential fact and an act of obedience to Jesus’ own commandments!

Jesus’ going to the Father, and our gladly letting him go to the One who begot him, is what enacts Jesus’ Real Presence in every member of humanity and makes him accessible to us at every turn. The mystery of Christ’s Ascension results in the harmonious merging of the two previously distinct commandments of love of God and love of neighbor, so that they, in practice, become but a single commandment. At the Ascension, Jesus of Nazareth becomes the universal, cosmic Christ. What an extraordinary explosion of love!

This explosion of love, this drowning of the whole cosmos in the tumultuous ocean of divine love by the re-creating action of the Divine Spirit, has very concrete consequences in our way of life…Inspired by our good Master’s teachings and example, should we not strive to practice habitually a hermeneutic of reconciliation, which seeks to find all possible common ground with the other, and never doubts the indestructible and always redeemable goodness of all God has created? To seek God’s dynamic grace as always at work in the souls of those we may be tempted to dislike or even to despise, naturally speaking: this is the concrete way to live out, day by day, encounter by encounter, the Paschal Mystery of Christ. 

Consider the way in which St Paul earnestly pleaded with the contentious Christians of Corinth: God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. So, we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:18-21). The Reconciled must become the Reconcilers, or else they are living in flagrant hypocrisy. Only the assiduous practice of agápe-love can make us ambassadors for Christ. Only a reconciling love shifts our viewpoint radically so that it merges with God’s own. Only putting the good of others before our own good confers on our soul a new manner of vision like Christ’s, capable of seeing the invisible. This vision fills us, in turn, with divine life: In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live you also will live (Jn 14:19). By ‘the world’ Jesus here designates those who cannot see past their own noses.

We should strive to seek Jesus, then, where he truly is, where he has chosen to be, where he wants us to find him, that is: in his Word heard in the Liturgy, lectio, and silent prayer; in the Eucharist and in the community that celebrates it; and not least in the men, women, and children of this world, with each of whom Jesus has intimately identified himself. If we learn to find Christ in these privileged places of his presence, then we will also know how to find him authentically in the silence and solitude of our hearts. The Jesus of the monk’s heart, of any Christian’s heart, will never be a private, comfortable Jesus bringing personal consolation to a select few. The Jesus of the Christian heart is total, cosmic Christ, the risen Lord of all, Head of his Body the Church, and of all suffering humanity.

How does Jesus—who is Truth and Love and Life incarnate—give himself to us? Where is he to be found without fail? He is now to be found precisely where he chose to take up mystical residence at the Ascension: namely, in the Word and Eucharist, we receive and in the members of his humanity, in whom he offers himself to our selfless love. Of the offered bread and wine on the altar, the King of glory astoundingly declares: This is my Body, this is my Blood. And of all our brothers and sisters he declares no less astoundingly: Truly I say to you, whatever you did to one of the least of these, you did to me (Mt 25:45).

This is what the universal circulation of God’s love has accomplished through the Risen Jesus: His Body in the Eucharist, inseparable from his Body in humankind; ourselves invited to revere and serve both Real Presences and thus attain the indestructible bliss of God himself. These palpable Presences of Jesus contain the whole Easter Mystery and powerfully fuel our whole life of faith. Jesus’ manner of presence to us after the Resurrection has forever changed the nature of our relationship with God and with one another. May its irresistible force transform us and make us alive with God’s embodied glory!

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a homily by Father Simeon.

 

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Visitation

 

The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged!
The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a mighty savior;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
and renew you in his love,
He will sing joyfully because of you,
as one sings at festivals.
 Zephaniah 3

With Our Blessed Lady, we too are tabernacles of the Most High God; the Lord is within us. As the Lord rejoices over us, singing joyfully because of our openness to him, we rejoice greatly with Our Lady for all that the Lord in his mercy has done for her, accomplished for all of us through her.


The Visitation, c. 1495, attributed to Rueland Frueauf the Elder, German (c. 1445 - 1507), oil on panel,  27 5/8 x 14 15/16 in., Fogg Museum, Cambridge.

Monday, May 30, 2022

On Memorial Day

The practice of decorating graves with flowers on specific days in spring is an ancient custom and may be the remote origin of what we celebrate now on the last Monday of May as “Memorial Day” in commemoration of those who have lost their lives serving their country.

“Decoration Day” (as it was originally called) began in the bloody wake of the Civil War, when women, especially in the South, began tending to the graves of fallen soldiers, often regardless of which side they fought for. Their willingness to overlook past divisions was lauded in the North, and their kindness was viewed as an olive branch to many—exactly what we need in our polarized country today.

In the Gospel this morning, Jesus tells his disciples that they will have trouble in the world, but to take courage and have peace in him. This always begins with humbly acknowledging our sins.

Meditation by Father Dominic.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Over and over during these final days of Eastertide, we have been listening to excerpts from the Last Supper Discourse, about four chapters long in the second half of the Gospel of John; today’s Gospel is from the concluding section of the Discourse. And this morning we eavesdrop on the prayer of Jesus the Beloved Son to his Father. It’s as if we’ve barged in on Jesus in the midst of a very intimate conversation. But Jesus draws us into the very heart of his prayer to the Father. So I listen, but I lose my bearings.

There is surely a beauty to the language but also a circularity. It’s just not a simple, linear narrative. I get confused, and I want to analyze. I want to say to Jesus, “Wait, wait. What do you mean?” But clearly, that’s the wrong question. Asking what it means would be beside the point. It would be like standing at the Grand Canyon and saying, “Wait I don’t get it, what does it mean?” Or like asking a person who is doing an unexpected kindness for you, “What exactly do you mean?” Or like interrupting someone who’s kissing you very tenderly, “Excuse me, what do you mean?” 

So it is that we hear Jesus speak to the Father about us this morning, his deepest desire for us, “Father, they are your gift to me. I wish that where I am they also may be with me, that they may see my glory that you gave me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world also does not know you, but I know you, and they know that you sent me. I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them… that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”

We are embedded in God, as beloved as Jesus is; the relationship is ours. Simple, astounding. We are invited to let ourselves be swept into the reality of mutual love that unites Father and Son.1 For, “God is to be enjoyed,” as Augustine says. My brothers and sisters, it’s big, it’s happening, we’re in it. And first and foremost, we don’t have to do anything. If we simply let it sink in, then the possibility that we will go and do likewise is very real. And then the unity that Jesus prays for may happen- that we may become one with him, with believers all through the ages, a community of friends. Non-resistance is crucial; it’s like driving on ice, you don’t put on the brakes, but drive into the skid gently, attentively.

Perhaps what we hear in today’s Gospel is the reality of divine Eros- God’s self-forgetful love; the joy and peace and exhilaration and self-realization we know when we love, please and comfort and console someone. This is who God is for us. God has lost himself in love for us. God is most truly Godself when He gives Himself away. This is the glory that Jesus has come to reveal- this glory of divine love.

And so it strikes me that if we want to understand this Discourse; we might have to go backwards in the Gospel, back to the washing of the feet, a scene that directly precedes the Discourse. We know that foot washing was something a Gentile slave could be required to do, but never a Jewish slave. Foot-washing was typically something wives did for their husbands, children for their parents, and disciples for their teachers. There is undoubtedly a level of intimacy involved in these last scenarios. And in Jesus' case, there is an obvious reversal of roles.Jesus calls his disciples his friends. And by washing their feet he overcomes in this act of loving intimacy the inequality that exists between them. And so he establishes an intimacy with them that signals their access to everything he had received from his Father, even the glory that is his as Beloved Son.He does what he sees the Father doing.

Perhaps Jesus was inspired to wash their feet because he had been so touched by what was done for him at Bethany six days before Passover when Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil and anointed his feet most tenderly and dried them with her hair. Was this something that inspired his own most loving action on this night before he died? I like to think so. In any event, Peter cannot bear the thought of his teacher doing this. Perhaps it was something his wife had done for him many times. And doubtless, he like the others is embarrassed by the intimacy of it, the touch, the loving condescension, and the unaffected tenderness, the unmanageability of the love that is so available. It’s disorienting. We see now it is a parable, a parallel to what he would do on the cross the next afternoon.

And so with the Twelve this morning, their feet still a bit damp, we hear the Lord reminding us that the self-forgetful love and intimacy of Father and beloved Son is where we belong. Jesus begs his Father that we may be swept up into the reality of God’s own “mutual love and indwelling.”4 There is room for everybody in this divine embrace. As Jesus tells his Father, his desire is “that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”

This is after all the reason the Gospel has been written- that all of us who contemplate this Gospel may be brought into “a union with Jesus which will plunge (us) into the depths of God’s very life, the life Jesus shares with the Father.”5 It is this mystical union of disciple with God in Christ through the Spirit that we see happening for Saint Stephen in the first reading. He has spoken boldly and proclaimed Christ Jesus as crucified Messiah. His Jewish hearers find his testimony unbearable and drag him away to stone him. He looks up intently and sees the heavens are thrown open and Jesus standing at God’s right hand.

If we too look with great intent, intention of heart, ardent desire, we may see him with us, above us, near us, beside us, within us. And if in the Book of Revelation we hear Jesus say this morning, “Behold, I am coming soon,” it is our desire that will open our eyes to the presence of “the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star,” who even now is coming to feed and comfort us at this Table. 

Homily by one of our monks. References: 1. Sacra Pagina: John, Francis Moloney, p. 479. 2. See Biblegateway.com. 3. Written That You May Believe, Sandra Schneiders, p. 173. 4. Sacra Pagina: John, Francis Moloney, p. 479. 5. Sandra Schneiders, p. 15.


Thursday, May 26, 2022

Ascension

 

How to explain the experience of Jesus after his resurrection? There is the drastic reality of his physical presence, wounds and all; he is disarmingly familiar, but there is also, mysteriously, something much more, what we might call a transformed physicality. He walks through a door, eats a piece of fish with his disciples then disappears; he suddenly shows up again wishes peace, then opens the wound in his side for Thomas to touch, and vanishes again. This coming and going happens over and over again and then after forty days, these appearances no longer occur. At this juncture the Ascension describes the event of his exaltation and enthronement as Israel’s Messiah, seated at God’s right hand; he is at last victorious Lord of the world, and he commissions his followers to act on his behalf and inaugurate this new epoch of his reign.

It seems a bit incongruous, but I keep thinking of a scene from a Neil Simon comedy. The actress Anne Bancroft is just back from the supermarket; cradling armloads of groceries, she struggles to open the door to her apartment. Once inside her jaw drops, the place is in shambles, ransacked; drawers opened, valuables missing. A few moments later her husband played by Jack Lemmon comes in, he looks around and says, “What happened?” “We’ve been robbed,” she says. “Robbed? What do you mean?” “Robbed,” she yells, “You know, first it was ours, now it’s theirs. Robbed! Gone, disappeared.”

My brothers and sisters, we have not been robbed. Jesus has not disappeared into the ether, only to be seen again in a heaven far, far away. Ascension is instead the great feast of intersection and interconnectedness. Jesus’ Incarnation has come full circle – the One who took our flesh in Mary now takes our flesh with him into the bosom of the Father, God’s most loving desire for us is now in its ascendancy. And as our Vespers hymn expresses it, the angels, those bodiless adorers, are baffled and trembling as they see their turf invaded by our lowly humanity. “Flesh has purged what flesh had stained, and God, the flesh of God has reigned.”

What the Ascension of Jesus makes clear is that our flesh is very precious to God, this wounded, embarrassed body that we are. Jesus loves our humanity; he has embraced our flesh longing to rescue it and bring it home to his Father. Today is the festival of the future of our flesh, a sign of things to come for all of us and for all creation, a great sign of hope, for it reveals the destiny God intends for each of us. Our homeland as human beings is heaven, and the Ascension of Jesus is the first moment of our own definitive disappearance into God. In the meantime, we are not left down here left waiting and wondering. Jesus has assured us, “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go?” His bodily departure is better for us, because, through the gift of his Spirit, he will be with us always and everywhere, not time-bound, or Palestine-bound but “always, until the end of the age.” Jesus has not gone anywhere, he’s gone everywhere.

“Heaven is not light-years away, but closer to us than we are to ourselves.” Certainly, there is more to come, a Paradise with joy beyond telling. But as those two men in Acts insist, we often run the risk of looking in the wrong direction. Jesus is not up there somewhere. Mysteriously, wonderfully for faith-filled eyes, Jesus is seated at God’s right hand and most fully present with us here. The “withdrawal of Jesus is not so much an absence” as it is a more superabundant presence made possible by the Spirit. We are continually being drawn more deeply into a new life of friendship with God; beckoned into a beyondness, invited into the ordinariness of Mystery, the ordinariness of incessant intimacy with Christ Jesus, at once hidden, discernible only to the eyes of faith but very, very real. This is where we live.

Jesus will be seen clearly when we act with compassion in his name and create a community of friends, where rivalry and pretension are things of the past. And even though our love may be uneven, we hope to live again with Jesus in heaven, because in reality even now in him our body is already there. We hope to find ourselves with him and with those we love, even with those we may have found it difficult to love; all of us a heaven of souls in bliss. This is imaginable if ever we have loved anyone, and we would understand it even better if we were to love more and to believe that the kingdom of God is among us and depends on us.

There’s a lot of talk now about what “the new normal” will be. Seems to me, what’s normal is never new but the same old astonishing reality – what’s been normal all along – that things are continually falling apart, that change is constant and inevitable, that life is, of course, fragile and precarious, always was, but that best of all, truest of all, most normal of all - God in Christ is always, always right here with us in this mess. The only place he has disappeared is into our precarious humanness now as always. In our prayer no matter how dry or desolate, in our fear no matter how overwhelming, God is with us – especially when we make the least effort to love and forgive as he does.  Jesus has not gone anywhere; he’s gone everywhere. And most especially when we are privileged to gather for Holy Eucharist, with our hearts and voices joining those of the angels and saints, we are in heaven with him, better still, we become heaven in him. 

Homily by one of our monks. Ascension in an Initial V Niccolò di Ser Sozzo (Sienese, active 1348– died 1363) The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.