Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Body is One

 

There were once, two sisters whose parents had died and left them well off. Neither of them married. These were both strong independent women. They shared a common faith and had great compassion and love for their brother, who was special needs, and even though he was high functioning, he still needed a great deal of their time and attention. The brother never spoke; he is not remembered as ever having uttered a single word. But the brother was open-hearted and gentle of spirit and loved for who he was.

This is a story about a mother whose only child was ill. We have all heard stories of parents going to any extreme to save their children. The love of a parent knows no limits. That is the type of mother this woman is, she was willing to risk embarrassment, humiliation, and possible rejection if it would save her beloved daughter, by swallowing her pride and seeking out the one person who could help her and her daughter.

Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve and could not have earned or expected, but received. This is a story about a man in his twenties who had finally come to the end of his luck; this man had a knack for getting himself in trouble but had managed to elude punishment for a very long time. As much as the man wanted to and tried to change, he felt it was beyond him. All was going well until it all caught up with him, he did something; he was apprehended and found he was unable to get out of it. But just when he thought this was it and had actually become comfortable with his fate, this man was given grace.

Saint Paul states a body is one though it has many parts and all the parts are of one body. The body is a beautiful example of necessity and complementarity. Every part has a job that it does well, in concert with all the other parts doing their job, all the components necessary for the whole. It is easy to see how all the parts work together in the body, but it can be challenging to see and understand just how this necessity and complementarity work in other areas. 

Look at the life of Christ, the three stories I opened with are scenes from his life, the first, the two sisters who cared for their special needs brother was a modern interpretation of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The second story is about the Canaanite woman seeking the help of Jesus because her daughter was possessed by a demon, and this persistent, loving mother knew that Jesus Christ was the only one who could and would help her daughter. Jesus did heal her daughter. The third story was about the repentant guilty thief who hung on the cross next to the innocent Christ. This man was a thief and a sinner but was able to recognize who Christ was. These stories show Jesus raising someone from the dead, forgiving the sins of another, and showing how Christ is available to all who seek him. Together they point to the fact that Jesus is the Christ,  the Redeemer, sent to bring His message of salvation to the entire world.

These people represent some of the most enlightening and easy-to-understand parts of Jesus’ life, and of course, there are others, not so easy to understand their necessity and complementarity. How many of Christ’s teachings would we have missed if not for the Pharisees and Sadducees? And it was the demons who were the first to recognize who Jesus was. Would we be able to know the light without the contrast of the dark? There is unity and necessity in all the parts, light and darkness.      


Photographs by Brother Casimir. Meditation by Brother Stephen.

 

Friday, January 21, 2022

With Saint Agnes

 

In Scripture, a mountain top is always a place of divine encounter. And in today's Gospel, Jesus majestically ascends the mountain and calls to himself those whom he desires to follow him closely, appointing a band of Twelve. And they come to him. As Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom, these twelve recapitulate the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. God’s reign in Christ Jesus has begun.

Saint Agnes, whom we celebrate today, was martyred as a girl of twelve for defending the virginity she had consecrated to Christ Jesus alone. Her following led her to the cross like her Master. Preferring Christ Jesus above all else, we too celebrate our chosenness and promise to follow the Lord wherever he leads us. 

Saint Agnes, attributed to the Master of the Straus Madonna, (Italian, active late 1300s–early 1400s), 1300s, tempera on panel. Worcester Art Museum.


Tuesday, January 18, 2022

that All May Be One

 

So much to pray for, our hearts are full. The Lord is attentive. We begin today the Octave of Christian Unity praying that divisions among Christian churches may dissolve.  

The division between Christ’s disciples is so obvious a contradiction that they cannot be resigned to it without feeling in some way responsible for it. The purpose of this particular week is to encourage the Christian community to devote itself more intensely to prayer, in order to experience at the same time how beautiful it is to live together as brothers and sisters. Despite the tensions sometimes caused by existing differences, these days give us in some way a foretaste of the joy that full communion will bring when it is finally achieved.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines by Pope Saint John Paul II.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

A Wedding at Cana


The Gospel today proclaims the mystery of the new spiritually inebriating wine of the Gospel manifested in the Marriage Feast at Cana; a passage found only in the Gospel of John. Most of John's gospel consists of the parts called “The Book of Signs” in chapters one through twelve and “The Book of Glory” in chapters 13 through 20. The Book of Signs is constructed around seven of what we normally call “miracles,” but which John prefers to call “signs” because they reveal the glory of Jesus in a way beyond the amazement at a miracle and a cure, for instance. The seven signs all point to the meaning of the ultimate manifestation of the glory of Jesus that is in the paschal mystery of Christ's passion, death, resurrection, ascension to heaven and sending of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit—through which wounded and sinful humanity is made whole and glorious in the sight of God.

So, for example, the sixth sign in John, the healing of the man born blind points to the messianic identity of Jesus the healer of blindness and other diseases, but more importantly the healer of our spiritual blindness through the paschal mystery which illuminates our souls with the grace of his glory through the Holy Spirit. “I was blind, but now I see.” is not really a quote from a popular hymn but is rather one from this sixth sign (chapter 9 of the Gospel of John), the healing of the man born blind, a description of self with which we can all identify. The point is that we not only marvel at a miracle but are ourselves along with the blind man transformed by a sign-- just as in this Eucharist we marvel at the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but we glory in being changed ourselves, divinized by the reception of the sacrament—for example, given eyes that see as God sees, no longer spiritually blind. “I was blind, but now I see.” are our own words.

Cana is the first of the seven signs that precede the Book of Glory. Cana is also the most important of the signs in the first part of John's gospel because the other six signs, in a sense, all refer back to it even as they refer forward to the Book of Glory. This is analogous to our sacramental theology of the Eucharist in which all six of the other sacraments are bound up with the Eucharist and oriented to it. The miracle aspect of Cana involves the changing of a very large quantity of water used for ceremonial cleansing into about 120 to 180 gallons of excellent wine for pure rejoicing at a marriage reception which in the tradition of the Jews of the time lasted most of a week and was, indeed, the actual marriage ceremony. To have run out of wine in the middle of the event would have been terribly embarrassing, a social calamity. The sign value of Cana is precisely the superabundance of spiritual inebriation and joy (as symbolized in the wine) celebrating the union that is the marriage of heaven and earth in the real Bridegroom who is Jesus. Jesus is the source of all spiritual life and joy, transcending any wine or any other earthly joy.  The book of Genesis tells us of marriage that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” In Jesus Christ, we have all become one flesh with the Son of God who has taken on our flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation in order to offer to us participation in his divinity. This is the superabundant life we receive in the Eucharist. What cheer. The mystery of the water becoming wine at Cana points as a sign to the mystery of the water and wine prepared for this celebration becoming the blood of Christ in this Eucharist—this Eucharist through which we come to share in the divinity of Christ.

The mystery of our reception of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, is itself a sign pledging to us a sure and blessed place at the wedding feast, the ultimate Cana, the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. The prophet Isaiah sums it all up beautifully in today's first reading:


No more shall people call you “Forsaken,” 
or your land “Desolate,”
But you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the Lord delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you.
And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.

Wedding at Cana by Paolo Veronese, detail. This morning's homily by Father Luke.

Friday, January 14, 2022

Hope

 

We dare to hope because our help is in the name of the Lord, Jesus our Hope, who is forever with us, on our side.

May this be the day

We come together.

Mourning, we come to mend,

Withered, we come to weather,

Torn, we come to tend,

Battered, we come to better.

Tethered by this year of yearning,

We are learning

That though we weren't ready for this,

We have been readied by it.

We steadily vow that no matter

How we are weighed down,

We must always pave a way forward.


This hope is our door, our portal.

Even if we never get back to normal,

Someday we can venture beyond it,

To leave the known and take the first steps.

So let us not return to what was normal,

But reach toward what is next.


What was cursed, we will cure.

What was plagued, we will prove pure.

Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,

Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,

Where we weren't aware, we're now awake;

Those moments we missed

Are now these moments we make,

The moments we meet,

And our hearts, once all together beaten,

Now all together beat.

Come, look up with kindness yet,

For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.

We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,

But to take on tomorrow.


We heed this old spirit,

In a new day's lyric,

In our hearts, we hear it:

For auld lang syne, my dear,

For auld lang syne.

Be bold, sang Time this year,

Be bold, sang Time,

For when you honor yesterday,

Tomorrow ye will find.

Know what we've fought

Need not be forgotten nor for none.

It defines us, binds us as one,

Come over, join this day just begun.

For wherever we come together,

We will forever overcome.

Amanda Gorman, "New Day's Lyric." 

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

Homily for Brother Roger's Funeral

I’d like to begin by sharing my strongest image of Brother Roger, which I also cherish as an ongoing gift from him.

Yesterday at Sunday Chapter we gathered as a community to share our personal memories and stories about him—and there were many! My first encounter with Brother Roger was when I was a novice, taking my turn working with him in the laundry. For us novices, he was a delight and an important part of our formation.

But over the years, I believe I got to know him best during the Infirmary Mass, to which I am usually assigned one week a month. There was Brother Roger, parked in his wheelchair always in the same spot with his oxygen concentrator sometimes beeping, looking right at me with the most open, receptive, smiling expression—fully attentive, engaged, and clearly happy to be present. He struck me as totally himself and completely at home in prayer. He radiated a transparent joy, depth, and presence that I found both inspiring and genuinely brotherly. In a word, he made it good for me to be there. And then, usually, soon after the Consecration, he would fall asleep, but almost always wake up for the Our Father and Kiss of Peace—then back to sleep before I could give him Holy Communion. When I got to him, he wasn’t always easy to rouse, but when he did wake suddenly, he’d flash a big smile and be focused on the small piece of Host I was placing in his hands. (I probably would have grumpily pushed me away at that point.) And so, what struck me time and again was his remarkable human and spiritual depth that never failed to encourage me. A gift.

But where did he get that? He was a character, quirky like the rest of us, often a charmer and humorous, sociable and kind, yet always his own person. But it was particularly at these simple, engaging moments during the Eucharist that I found he communicated something so much more than himself—yes himself, but more than himself. Trying to understand that has been my preoccupation this past week. The Gospel we just heard (Mt 11:25-30) shed some light for me, and that’s what I’d like to try to share with you now.

The Gospel selected for today is really about two things: the revelation Jesus brings, and the kinds of people who accept it. This is the context in which Jesus speaks about his special relationship to the Father, and his willingness as Son to share that relationship with others. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” There is a deep mystery here that takes us right to the heart of what it meant to be Jesus (and, I would suggest, what it meant for Roger to be Roger).

As Jesus announced God’s kingdom and put God’s powerful love to work in healing, forgiving, and bringing new life, he obviously realized that the people he met, including the religious leaders, didn’t have the same awareness of his Father that he had. His knowledge of God was more intimate, more real, that of a son . . . .

In this regard, it is good to remember that for a millennium and more Jewish writings had spoken highly about the “wisdom of the wise” as the key to knowing God. There was a long tradition of Torah study and piety that indicated that only those who devoted themselves to learning the law and to teasing out its finer points would become wise, would ultimately know God. An elite few—way out of reach for the average Jew.

But Jesus had come to know his father the way a son does: not by studying books about him, but by living in his presence, listening for his voice and learning from him as an apprentice learns from a master, by watching and imitating. He was now in his ministry (this scene takes place halfway through Matthew’s Gospel) and discovering that the wise and learned were getting nowhere—it was rather the poor, the sinners, the unpretentious ordinary folk who were discovering more of God simply by following Jesus, than the learned specialists who declared that what he was doing didn’t fit with their complicated theories.

As a result, by the time of this scene in the Gospel Jesus came to see that he was himself acting as “a window onto the living God.” Where he was, and through his words, some people were coming to see who God (“the Father”) really is. Jesus was the “human face” of his Father, of God, and the humble and burdened easily responded to him. This is what moved him now to make the most welcoming and encouraging invitation ever offered: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” And he speaks of a different “yoke.” His “yoke” was not the heavy burden of the Jewish law with all its commandments, but a “yoke” that, because it came from his mercy and love, was easy to bear. But what strikes me here as crucially important is that he as son is simply offering what he has in himself to offer; the welcome he offers, for all who entrust themselves to his mercy, is the welcome God offers through him. This is the invitation that pulls back the curtain and lets us see who “the Father” really is—and encourages us to come into his loving, welcoming presence. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

I believe this is what Brother Roger (in some analogous way) did for me, time and again at the Infirmary Mass. The key to all this is something St. Elizabeth Ann Seton told her Sisters. I find it significant that it was on her Feast Day that Brother Roger died. We heard her say at Vigils: “I will tell you what has been a great help to me. I once read or heard that an interior life means only the continuation of our Savior’s life in us. He only cares about communicating that to us, for the whole goal of his mission is to lead us into the sweet land of promise, a life of constant union with himself.” (In light of today’s Gospel, we could say that the one who knows his Father as a son desires to live in and through us, so that we too, as sons and daughters, may know the Father, and in turn, share that love and life with others just by being who we are in the Son.)

With Brother Roger in mind, then, I believe this Gospel passage tells us that the meaning and fruitfulness of our lives is not a matter of how “wise” we are, or that we are professional ascetics or contemplatives, or that we give good example or do good deeds—but only that we allow the Lord’s own interior life (which is nothing other than his love for his father and for each one of us) to continue in us, in our humanity just as it is. None of us has to be anything special. Unwittingly, we then become for one another (like Christ “our life,” in the words of St. Paul) “a window onto the living God.” In other words, we offer to one another simply what we have in ourselves to offer, Christ’s living presence. There is no better gift, and this is what I believe I received from Brother Roger, even when he was telling me a hilarious story or playfully greeting me in French, knowing that I could only stammer like a fool in reply.

 This gift is concretized in many simple yet unforgettable ways over the course of a lifetime. I’d like to end with just two examples that came to my attention in the last few days. One was told by Brother Raymond of Snowmass. When he entered Spencer decades ago at 6’7” and couldn’t fit on the small wooden bed in his cell, it was Brother Roger who immediately offered to make him a 7-foot bed—a kindness Brother Raymond never forgot. I also heard from Brother Colombo of Gethsemani, who got to know Brother Roger during a long visit here some years ago. He wrote in an email: “With expressions of deep sadness and deep joy at the passing of Brother Roger. (He of all people would appreciate the absurd paradox.) He and I had some good laughs at his corny jokes. He had profound wisdom and humility too. When I told him I had been a cook at the Generalate in Rome, he said he had too, but nobody knew it! . . . . He will be missed.”

And he will be! May his soul and the souls of all the departed through the unfathomable mercy of God rest in peace.   Amen.

Given by Father Dominic.

Sunday, January 9, 2022

The Baptism of the Lord

 

"And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.’"

Today marks the end of the Christmas season; with the baptism, the years of the Lord’s hidden life have come to a close and Jesus takes up his public ministry. The time of Israel’s expectation has been fulfilled. The long-awaited Messiah has appeared. The whole time of the preparation of the Old Testament, of Israel’s election, the covenant, and the mission entrusted to it, converges here on this one figure, in this one very concrete time and place in human history. With the eyes of Easter, we can see how all the fragmentary images presented in the Old Testament find their unity and unveil their meaning precisely here in Jesus.

For thirty years Jesus has been immersed in the beliefs, customs, and traditions of Israel and its covenant relationship with the God who chose them and formed them as his people; and in and through them matured in the mission that he and the Father had decided upon in eternity. Jesus’ baptism by John shows that Jesus emerges from the midst of this history.

When Jesus descends into the river, he shows himself in solidarity with that part of Israel that heeded the voice of God proclaimed through John, with all who confessed their guilt and were willing to dive into the water of judgment and salvation, who acknowledged themselves as sinners and ready to face the divine judgment on their sin and receive the salvation that can only come from God. Along with them, Jesus, too, shows himself obedient to the voice of God through John, ready to be called by this voice out of the hidden life and to take up his public life at this moment.

His humble submission to being submerged in the waters is fulfilled immediately by the affirmation of the voice from above. In this obedient act the Israel that has been made ready for God and the God who has entered into the covenant with Israel come together as one; finally, in a manner unforeseen by Israel and that it was in no way able to accomplish on its own. Upon him alone the Spirit descends in bodily form as a dove. He is the one designated as the chosen one, and on him, the Spirit will remain as his abiding inspiration.

The voice from heaven confirms and interprets this event: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Here is the one to save Israel. Here is the fulfillment of the image of the mysterious Servant of the Lord prophesied in the first reading from Isaiah, the obedient one who was to become a ransom for the people: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.”

Through his humble submission to baptism, Jesus becomes the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, through whose mouth come words of ‘spirit and life’ (Jn 6:63). At the same time, the image of the Holy Spirit and fire points us forward to the completion of his mission: he will become one who baptizes in fire by way of the cross on which he will be burnt as a holocaust, as the lamb of God, in whom sin and death will be consumed. His whole mission points to this event. As he says later: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” In the baptism, Jesus appears as God’s judgment on Israel and on the world. He is God’s definitive appearance in his saving power.

As God’s beloved Son, Jesus’ mission is qualitatively different from that of the prophets who preceded him. Not only is his mission unique, but he himself is unique. In the case of the prophets, no matter how generously they handed themselves over to their mission, it was always at least relatively possible to distinguish their mission from their person; but in Jesus no such distinction between person and mission is possible. There is no before and after in terms of awareness of his mission, no sense that it is something added on to an identity that preexisted it, no time in which he acts outside of his mission. Rather, everything points to his being identical with his mission. Throughout the Gospels, he appears as nothing other than the one whom God has sent, and it is impossible to imagine him otherwise. He is the one of whom Paul says that God sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin and condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” (Rom 8:3-4). His mission and his being are identical.

In today’s Gospel John the Baptist himself witnesses to this new order, when he says, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In the Gospel of John, we read “There was a man sent from God whose name was John…He was not the light but came to bear witness to the light.” Of this light, he says that God sent his Son “in order that the world might be saved through him.” At work here is something more radical than the mere appointment of a messenger or representative or even the choosing of a prophet (even prophets chosen “from the womb”, like Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Paul.) Later in John, Jesus will say of himself (“I proceeded and came forth from God”). The sending of Jesus by God, therefore, is rooted in this prior “proceeding” from God, which points us back into his eternal life with God, where he was always and had always been, “with” God. Jesus is God’s Word sent to his people. He is the Word that was in the beginning, that was with God and that was God. His earthly mission is nothing other than the expression of his eternal procession from the Father.

In Jesus, the heavens have been opened, here, at the baptism, through his manifestation as God’s beloved Son, and then throughout his public ministry by his unfailing fidelity to his mission. Guided by the Father through the Spirit, in all that he said and did, he never deviated from his Father’s will. In all his interactions with others, in his preaching, his prayer, his miracles, his formation of his disciples, right on to his “hour”, his passion, death and resurrection, his mind, intelligence, and free will were wholly oriented to making the One who sent him, known, believed, and honored. In him, we have access to the world of God, and therefore to his universal design for all mankind, which is to be “in Christ”.

By his death and resurrection, we are now “in Christ”. And thanks to his self-gift,  an acting area has been opened up within himself in which the whole of mankind is granted the opportunity to share in his mission, and in that, become conformed to the idea that God has of each. Blessed and destined for holiness from the foundation of the world, we are for the first time able to become what we are. Not simply according to the fulfillment of our natural endowments, but according to the particular meaning and purpose for which we have been created. In Christ, man is no longer condemned to ceaselessly circle round and round in the vanity of his own unfulfillable transcendence. Rather the world of God has been opened up to him. We now have the opportunity to discover God and ourselves in a way hitherto impossible.

What this means for us then, as followers of Christ, is that we are to “act” in the acting area that has been opened, that is, in Christ, in such a way as to bring our innate nonidentity between our being and our mission into an ever-closer approximation to the perfect identity that Christ enjoys in himself. In other words, we are to bring our own “self” more and more in line with our God-given mission and to discover in this mission our own identity, both personal and social.

For us, as monks, this assimilation comes about through our prayer, our patient slow attentiveness to God’s living Word in lectio divina, our participation in the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, the service of our work, in a word, in the whole of the monastic conversatio, and the particularity of our charism. This is our acting area, in Christ. Losing ourselves in these, in the blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, we undertake a journey of discovery: of God, by our obedience, of our brothers and all those we encounter, by our service to them, and of ourselves, because it is only in such service and obedience that we truly encounter ourselves.

It is the Lord who has proposed this task to us, let us call upon him to infuse us with his same perfect readiness to carry it out. 

The Baptism of Christ by Perugino. This morning' s homily by Father Timothy.

Friday, January 7, 2022

Afflicted

 

This miracle of the healing of a man afflicted with leprosy drives home the point that the Lord Jesus is concerned with the salvation and restoration of the whole human person, here and now, and not only with people’s spiritual welfare. Every endeavor of the Church to restore the human person to the fullness of humanity as intended by the Creator—physical, mental, social, as well as spiritual—consequently is a vibrant work of the Gospel and a manifestation of God’s will to save: hospitals, counseling centers, schools, soup kitchens, prison chaplaincies, and so forth. We Catholics have in the past, I’m afraid, been too spiritualistic in our outlook, perhaps as a pious way of fleeing demanding responsibilities. The Church ought to be passionately engaged in the well-being of people as God created us, endowed with body, mind and spirit. All works of Christian charity are true epiphanies of God’s will to save in Christ.

Jesus always brings with him to every encounter the reality of what his name means: Yehoshua‘—God saves, heals, restores to wholeness; and he does it by means of both word and deed, both of which require his dynamic presence and involvement in needy people’s lives.

This Gospel begins very casually: “It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was…” Here we see the blessed convergence of the paths of the afflicted man and of the merciful Lord Jesus. For this merging of paths to occur, both Jesus and the man had had to make themselves findable to one another, going out into the unknown. There is a reciprocity between human need and divine mercy and power, a reciprocity that needs to be activated for miracles of healing to happen. The incarnate Word has made himself available as God’s healing Power in our midst; but we, for our part, need to respond to that compassionate Presence by approaching the Lord intimately and full of trust, getting close enough to him to allow him to “stretch out his hand and touch” us with his will to heal. We can be sure that the Holy Spirit is always the driving force impelling the one who seeks out Jesus in order to be healed by him, because, as St John proclaims today in his First Letter: “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” And bodily and mental afflictions are among the negative forces of “the world” that need to be overcome by faith and the healing power of God. This is an important aspect of our being regenerated by our act of faith in Jesus’ true humanity as a manifestation, in our midst, of the creating and re-creating power of God.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon.

 

Extravagant

In yesterday’s Gospel from St Luke, the epiphanies continue concerning the nature, person, and mission of the Lord Jesus. The setting, in the synagogue in Nazareth on a Sabbath, stresses the unified sweep of divine revelation. Though offering to the world an unheard-of portrayal of the being and action of God, Jesus nonetheless does do out of the heart of Jewish worship and tradition. Luke stresses the rootedness of the eternal Word in this world, with very specific local and personal references: “He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” How beautiful, I think, this familiarity and ordinariness of Jesus’ mode of existence in his native Galilean environment! 

The occasion signals the beginning of Jesus’ “public life” and activity in Luke. All of Jesus’ future mission is here shown to flow from a most human setting and situation, and at the same time from an act of worship, a proclamation of the prophetic Word, and its interpretation by the Incarnate Word himself as Jesus preaches his “homily”. But everything occurs harmoniously, through the strict, orderly observance of ancient religious traditions and rituals, since these had themselves been established according to the ordinances of the Law of the living God, given out of love for his chosen people. Yet, the utter newness of the situation is that the Word of God, which previously had been spoken through the mouths of the great prophets, now appears in person, in the human form bestowed on him by Blessed Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, the very power that now impels Jesus forward into his mission. The extraordinary event hides under everyday appearances.

But what is at stake for us in all of this? Nothing short of eternal regeneration to the life of God by the energy of the same Holy Spirit, as he transforms us into members of Christ’s Body. Jesus’ actions and words in the synagogue are tantamount to this 30-year-old Nazarean declaring himself the Messiah of God: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, he affirms. And St John applies this momentous revelation to each one of us when he declares: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is begotten by God.” The incarnation of the Word, Jesus’ undertaking his public mission, his interpretation of Scripture, and his declaration concerning himself in the synagogue, all have but one goal: our rebirth in him as children of the same heavenly Father. Let us not squander such extravagant divine generosity!

Reflection by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Intractable Divine Mysteries

 

The two readings today present us with two strongly contrasting aspects of Christian experience. In his First Letter, St John writes: “We have come to know, and to believe in, the love God has for us.” The wording is significant because it implies that such a profound realization and conviction took much time to sink in and transform the lives of the disciples. It was not grasped automatically from the beginning of discipleship. In the Gospel, St Mark witnesses to this same laborious process of growing from worldly unbelief into fullness of faith when he writes that the disciples were “completely astounded” at the event of Jesus walking on the sea, because “they had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened”.

We can surely sympathize with the disciples for this unbelief, and for their fear and the sluggishness of their hearts because, after all, the full reality of Jesus’ presence and the meaning of his words and actions is so extraordinary and profound, so beyond the normal ken of human experience, that they confound the unaided human reason and imagination. In fact, we can marvel that they stuck to Jesus at all and continued following him despite the enigma that his person confronted them with at every step. A mysterious force of attraction must have been operating in their hearts that they barely perceived but that, nevertheless, was stronger than the demands of worldly reason and the conventions of human behavior and commonly accepted “meaning”. They were sensitive to the drawing power of Jesus’ mere presence and of the puzzle to their consciences and emotions that his every word presented. How were they to know that in Jesus the very Wisdom and Majesty and Lordliness of God were walking the earth? Was it not worthwhile, however, to risk even shipwreck and drowning in a violent storm in order finally to hear from his own lips—should they come through it unscathed—the comforting words that no other man had ever uttered to them: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid”?

The Gospel, then, portrays with raw dramatic verve what it felt like to be a disciple of Jesus at a critical and painful stage of his followers’ training by the incarnate Word when they had to wrestle daily with intractable divine mysteries that at times put their very existence at risk. St John, strongly contrasting this drama, portrays rather the serene faith and understanding of the mature disciple, won at a great personal price. When he writes: “We have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world”, it is because the frightened disciples, overwhelmed by a storm, had first indeed seen Jesus walking on the sea and stilling the storm by getting into the boat with them. And where Jesus is, there is the fullness of love which “drives out fear”. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Brother Roger


Dear Brother Roger passed to the Lord late last evening. He will be remembered for his playfulness and good humor as well as his profound wisdom, humility, and quiet holiness. Roger worked hard as a lay brother in the early years of our foundation here at Spencer.

We share excerpts from a remembrance of Roger composed by one of our monks:

The person I have in mind is ninety-seven years old, still very much mentally with it, ...  A quick note about his origins is in order. He is of French-Canadian descent and hails from Pawtucket Rhode Island...  Most of Roger’s forebears migrated to southern New England to work in the mills and had remained a closely-knit community. French was the language people used at home and among neighbors. Outside the confines of that neighborhood, few spoke English. As for his English, even after all these years, Roger speaks with a heavy accent. Almost everyone gets a kick out of the way he expresses himself because he doesn’t bother hiding the way he murders grammar along with the heavily accented French-Canadian tone of his voice. Indeed, that adds a special charm when having a conversation with him.

As with that culture and generation, Roger was a devout Catholic and remains so. He’ll speak of religion in a way you don’t hear much about nowadays...As for a conversation, it’s no picnic. Part of Roger’s affliction is an inability to speak clearly because of some problem with muscles in his throat. However... this affliction...one among a multitude...has nothing to do with his mental acuity. He has to put up with it all the time which naturally requires constant attention. You’d think after a while, even a short while, this would be bothersome. Such is clearly not the case. People are thrilled to be in his presence and watch, simply watch how joyful he is, almost constantly being transfigured... Many have remarked that never have they encountered this before, even among holy people.

An interesting, indeed somewhat humorous side note. Regardless of the temperature (the facility where he lives is kept quite warm), Roger always dresses in woolens: shirt, pants, and his trademark winter hat. Never is he without that hat. I’ve heard that he wears it at night along with heavy pajamas.

So, what, after all, makes this man tick? Again, for all intents and purposes, he’s a quadriplegic and has been for approximately twelve years... At this time of life, two general things happen. First, you’re pretty much off everyone’s radar screen except for family members. Chances are they’re dead, so you’re left hanging out there with people waiting for you to die. For all practical purposes, you are a dead person among the living. That’s solitude in the extreme, a challenge many of us are destined to face and part of why people who’ve met Roger are fascinated by him. He treats it all so lightly. 

Each of us comes to this place and must decide what to do. One thing is certain. We must move forward and forward we go, passing beyond the veil. We know there’s a chance of not making it and won’t find this out until it’s done. Should we manage the transitus, we see why this whole thing is incommunicable and must leave it as such. Explaining it away is a waste of time. Roger and his carefully calculated silly grin is the best testimony of one who is in the process of making the passage successfully. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Our Littleness


Today’s Gospel further develops the Epiphany’s manifestation of Jesus as merciful Lord of Glory. It presents Jesus as the ever-watchful Shepherd who is full of compassion for the people and who sates their hunger: first, of the Word of Truth by his teaching, and then with the Bread of Life—himself. He has the people “recline on green pastures” just as the Good Shepherd does in Psalm 22. The people then form groups of 100 and of 50, which recalls Israel’s trek through the desert wilderness in Exodus 18. The apostles receive the task of distributing the bread, just as Moses delegated some of his work to the judges in that same chapter. In all of this, Mark is portraying Jesus as the new and ultimate Moses, who rules the people of God and cares for them with both strength and tenderness. Jesus divides the people into distinct “communities”, to which he assigns the twelve apostles, who are to dispense the Bread of Life through word and sacrament.

Crucial to the text is the fact that the multitude is successfully nourished—both spiritually and physically—as a result of the synergy between Jesus and the apostles. He provides the power of the Resurrection and his command; they provide their ready faith and obedience: a miracle of collaboration between God and man then occurs.

But, to accomplish such an alchemy of love, human hearts first have to be converted away from narrow habits of empirical quantification (“Are we to buy 200 days’ wages worth of food?”) to God’s way of seeing and doing things—against all logical evidence: ‘Give them food yourselves! Feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! Don’t you realize that “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, [into your hearts and hands,] so that [all] might have life through him?” Is this not enough?’

Yes, God has the power to transmute the little we can offer so that it becomes sheer overabundance. The one prerequisite, however, is that we take the radical step of truly offering up, to his blessing, everything we have and are, no matter how paltry and insignificant it seems to us. God treasures our littleness, while we either wallow in self-disdain or lust for super-achievements…. How beautiful, by contrast, the mystery revealed to Georges Bernanos’ country priest, after he had undergone much heartache: “O sweet miracle of our empty hands! To be able to give to others what we ourselves do not possess!”

Vintage photograph of the monastery cobbler from Our Lady of the Valley, our first house in the US. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Epiphany

The kings of Tarshish and the seacoasts shall bring him tribute, the kings of Sheba and Saba offer gifts. All kings bow before him, all nations serve him. For he rescues the poor when they cry out, the oppressed who have no one to help. He has pity on the needy and the poor and saves the lives of the poor. Psalm 72

"We have seen his star and have come with gifts to adore him." Magi, wise visitors from the East, come to pay their homage to the Infant Jesus this morning. And in this ancient mosaic they are of three different ages, and they advance with great intention, holding with arms extended their fantastically-shaped gifts. These Magi represent all that is opulent, foreign, extraordinary, even esoteric and exotic. They wear Phrygian caps, colorful leggings, gold and jewel-encrusted tunics and capes. They are all the nations and ages of humanity with their wisdom and accomplishments, acknowledging the preeminence of Christ Jesus, he who is all Beauty, all Wisdom, all Truth. 

Come let us bow down and adore him. Let us bring him our gifts, our talents, all that we have, all that we are. Let us march ahead as the kings in our mosaic, leaning forward, always toward him, who is our only Hope, our Desire, our End and our Beginning. Even as we remember that he the Lord Jesus is our first and best gift, given to us by Mary, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bones.

What good fortune...See, Jesus is offered to you: run to him open-handed, throw out your arms and enfold him in your embrace. Prove your devotion in love and deed: take him to yourself without a qualm, this Son who is given to you; embrace him lovingly and linger with him always pressed to your heart.

The Three Kings, mosaic, Byzantine School, 6th century, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy. Lines from the Second Sermon for Christmas of Blessed Guerric of Igny.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Mother of God

It was the custom in the ancient world, long before engraved announcements or telephones or iphones or email, that when a baby was born to a respectable family, messengers would be sent out to announce the birth to the “right sort of people,” friends of the family’s social class in the best neighborhoods of the city. And so the scene is set in today’s Gospel, as heavenly messengers announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds. Notice who gets invited to visit the baby. The very poor, these “lowest-esteemed laborers,” receive the birth announcement of God’s own Son. They are the “right sort of people” for our God, people of God’s own social standing. One scholar remarks that this open “traffic” between heaven and earth is the great sign of the awesomeness of the event of the Nativity. The heavens are opened, angels are everywhere. There is now easy interchange for God’s dream of intimacy with his creation has come true i
n Mary’s womb. Through Mary Heaven has been irrevocably wedded to Earth in Christ Jesus. And the right sort of people must be informed. Could it be that they are people like us?

Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” It must be a heart of some amplitude and capacity. She notices the poor shepherds with messages from angels. She is well aware that she, a poor, young virgin from an undistinguished family has received an angel’s message and become pregnant with God. And she may be wondering (After all we are more than 2000 years later.) why, if God has so favored her, would he allow this fulfillment of his plan to take place in a cattle stall, where she must place the Son of the Most High to sleep in an animal’s feeding trough. It makes no sense. In her heart, she puts together all these incongruities. She holds them all together and wonders and reflects.  The word in Greek is sumballousa; it means literally to throw things together. We get the English word symbol from this same Greek expression. And I suppose it’s what we spend our lives doing as persons of faith, trying to notice God’s ways, trying to put it all together, catch the meaning, and get a glimpse of the transcendent behind/within the physical reality and the sometime absurdity. And very often like Mary, we believe, but we don’t really understand. We don’t have to.

Mother of God, Mother of Divine Love, Mother of God’s poverty and incongruity, Mary gives her whole body unreservedly to God’s desire, God’s desire to come near, to be small and insignificant. For the truth of who God is for us requires a body, a heart under which he can rest, a supple heart that will throw things together and let them be. Her response to the angel’s declaration nine months earlier was, “Be it to me, let it be done in me. May God grow there under my heart; I will be God’s own serving girl.” Mary is generously open to the seemingly mismatched ways of God, with an attentive curiosity. “How will this be? Why me, a poor, unmarried girl from a backwater? Why a census at the worst time possible. Why after all our careful preparations a stable, the hay, the trough, the barnyard smell, and strange shepherds with angelic reports instead of family and friends, familiar faces with best wishes and small gifts. Why?” The Mother of God shows us how to read the why and translate it into a why not. Why not me? Why not now? Why not God with me, with us, here and now, here of all places?

Because of what Mary does, how she receives the Word and responds, the body of our earthly existence is now laden with God’s presence and transcendence. Now with faith in her Son, following her lead, we can discover that the emptiness, ambiguity, and incongruities in our lives may be pregnant with presence and possibility even divinity. The Mother of God shows us how to throw it all together, trusting in the God, who does not deceive but has come to be on our side, to be with us and protect us; with him, all things will be possible. If we dare trust and abandon ourselves like Mary, it is just possible that something of unsurpassed goodness and beauty will be born, not obviously but really. If like Mary we put and faith and love where we do not find it at first, we may find God in our flesh, in our reality.

You may remember the story of the monk who dies and goes before the judgment seat in heaven. Angels solemnly carry out the tapestry of his life. He looks in horror at the faded, threadbare tapestry. There for all to see is the tattered reality of his sinfulness- the broken silences, harsh words spoken, petty jealousies, regrettable secret sins all right there. He lowers his head in remorse and embarrassment and calls out for Our Lady’s help, “O Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, our Hope.” Mary comes to the monk’s rescue. She steps forward and whispers instructions to the angels. They reverse the worn-out tapestry and turn it upside down. Then with her finger, Mary traces the outlines of her Son’s wounded face in the tatters.

You know at this beginning of a new year The New York Times and other magazines publish the year in pictures. Each of us has our own scrapbook, our own interior year in pictures- first of all, successes, graced choices; then failures, embarrassments (Why couldn’t I just have kept my mouth shut!) and there’s another great big section of stuff that just happened when we simply had no choice. (That’s what it means to be poor after all - to have no choice.) The Mother of God shows us how to find the face of Jesus even there.

Countless generations have called her blessed and tender, have depended on her mercy; have placed themselves in her keeping. Perhaps in great part, because she helps us accept, even receive with joy, what we don’t understand; she can help us to give ourselves over in faith and faithfulness, to trust when things seem like they absolutely do not fit together, how to do sumballousa, how to throw things together.

Mary throws it all together, like a really good cook with lots of confidence and experience but only leftovers on hand and a big crowd on the way. “Let it be to me; let be done in me.” Like my mother, perhaps yours, when I would get infuriated, impatient with my father. ”Why does he say that? Do that?” My mother would say, “C’mon now. You know how he is. That’s just your father. You know he loves you.” Perhaps the Mother of God wants to say the same to us, “You know how your Father is; the way he does things. Let him have his way.” Perhaps what she can even show us, is how to “forgive” God, to let him be with us as he wants in all the incongruities and ambiguities of our lives.

Now typically and best of all, he chooses very small gifts, bread and wine, to come near to us; and he depends on us to throw it all together.

Adoration of the Shepherds, 1622, Gerard van Honthorst, oil on canvas, 164 × 190 cm, Wallraf-Richartz Museum, Cologne. Meditation by one of our monks.