Wednesday, November 30, 2022

With Saint Andrew


As he called his first disciples Peter and Andrew, Jesus calls each of us. Like Saint Paul and all the saints, we long to depart to be with Christ. Daily we try to set our minds and hearts on things that are above where Christ is. We have died; our lives are hidden now with Christ in God. We consider everything to be nothing at all compared to knowing Christ Jesus, our Lord. Because of him, we have set everything else aside, because in comparison everything else is a pile of rubbish. And we want more and more to know only Christ and the power of his resurrection. We share in his sufferings even now and so are becoming like him in his death. And it is worth it if somehow we attain the resurrection. So we keep pressing on to make it our own because Christ Jesus has made each of us his own. Our drawing closer to him, following him, is only possible because he draws us to himself. We need only be constantly available for this "drawing."

Again and again, our Lord said, I am he. I am he. I am he who is highest. I am he whom you love. I am he in whom you delight. I am he whom you serve. I am he for whom you long. I am he whom you desire. I am he whom you intend. I am he who is all. Julian of Norwich

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, 1308-1311, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.


Sunday, November 27, 2022

The First Sunday of Advent

You may remember the story of the Johnstown flood; we read the book by David McCullough in the refectory some years ago. It had been raining for days in Johnstown, Pennsylvania in the spring of 1889. A poorly constructed damn has broken above the town; and water is rising rapidly, higher and higher, in the town below. All is pandemonium, utter chaos. But one well-to-do family residing on the hillside in a lovely Victorian home is trying to let life go on as usual. (Denial, I think is what we’d call it today.) Their lawn and garden are submerged, and water is moving up their front steps, as they calmly finish their formal luncheon, seemingly oblivious. The maid clears the dessert dishes. And finally, the father of the family puts down his napkin, rises, and declares that they must all leave the house immediately and walk up the hill outside their home to higher ground. Everyone departs. The father has his little daughter’s hand. After a few steps his wife, walking arm in arm with her sister and the maid, disgusted at all the mud and slop and chaos, declares: “I prefer to return to the house.” “I will follow you,” says her sister. They pull the little girl away from her father, and the women reenter the house. Water is rapidly filling the first floor. They climb to the second with water at their feet. Moments later they hurry up the narrow stairway to the attic. The water rushes on. There are no more steps. The women are trapped and drowned. Miraculously the little girl is thrust out of the attic window by the force of the water, and she lands on a mattress floating by! After a harrowing journey, she is eventually reunited with her widowed father. 

Something was happening right under their noses. And tragically they weren’t getting it. It had after all been raining for days. “They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away,” says Jesus. “Therefore, stay awake. For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Perhaps something is happening right under our noses too. There’s always that possibility that God in Christ is doing something, asking something of us, making a move in our direction and we’re just not getting it. There could be a flood of mercy and divine presence right at our door.

There is a wonderful twist in this passage, for as Jesus puts it this morning we have to stay awake- not to keep our house, our very selves locked tight to keep a thief out but vigilant instead to do the opposite– to leave our door unlocked for the Son of Man is very near; keep our hearts open, for Jesus the divine Thief, hidden in the dark of night, is looking for a way in.

Now the first question of course is this: What does a thief do? Well, he breaks in to take what does not belong to him. A second question follows. What is ours that a divine Thief would want? The answer? Our very selves, our sinful selves, our flesh, the mess we find ourselves in right now. He wants it all; He wants us. He is sneaking in to take it, to take us to himself now, to become with us, to become us at every moment- at every moment bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh; in an endless, relentless incarnation that is at the heart of His desire. For nothing that we are puts Him off. Our weakness draws Him; He wants to get in and take it all.

The Lord’s approach is so often unremarkable, so quiet that we need to keep awake or we’ll miss out. Aren’t we all still learning His way of doing things, how He moves in silence and obscurity? Hidden first of all in the warm womb of a very young, virgin mother, He then lives a sheltered small-town life as a carpenter and wandering preacher. Then in the excruciating hour of his death on the cross, all his beauty and divinity will be smeared, obscured by the blood and spittle of his passion. And finally, after His resurrection as He returns to his disciples; He will sneak in through locked doors and whisper, “Peace” and ask quietly for something to eat. The divine Thief is back, wounded and resurrected. And this is perhaps the best news of all, for this time He has come in through locked doors. Apparently, nothing can really keep Him out. The fear and need, the love and desire of His disciples for His presence, all of it absolutely magnetize Jesus’ heart and draw Him in. He can’t stay away.

So, in the end, our life of faith is always like that journey of the two disciples back from Emmaus as they reflect on their mysterious encounter with the Stranger. “It was the Lord,” they say.  “It was He all the time who was speaking to us, feeding us though we did not realize.” It is the Lord accompanying us, longing to enflesh himself in our ordinariness over and over though we may not always realize it. There is so much we just do not understand. It’s got to be that way. We believe, but we never get it all. How could we? God is Mystery. But rest assured it is our love and desire that give us a clear vision. Love is knowledge and assurance, because if we want to be with Him; He wants it more than we do.

God in Christ is hidden and yet revealing himself over and over, doing anything at all to get our attention, “playing in ten thousand places,” in nature and grace, over and over, all day long. Vigilance is essential, a willingness to be surprised at every corner of the cloister, as St. Bernard would say, because angels will be there- heavenly messengers- reminding us, as one did our Blessed Lady, that Someone is here. Someone is coming, stealing in; Someone wants to be our flesh now. Someone we love has seen our sad predicament and has come down to be with us now; always eager to turn things upside-down, He makes opportunities for mercy out of the disasters of our sinfulness.

Finally, perhaps His call to us this morning may be not so much, “Stay awake. Watch out,” with a threat of impending doom and divine retribution. Maybe it is a bit like the, “Watch this” of a kid just back from the field, from gymnastics or a dance class with a new play, a new move, a leap, or a twirl that she can’t wait to show off. “Look. Watch this. See what I can do.” Quiet as a thief on tiptoe, Christ Jesus is coming, present in a morsel of broken bread; the God of tiny violets and of tall, tall trees, too tremendous for us to grasp fully but also astoundingly, disarmingly ordinary. Let us open to this Thief; open the doors of our hearts to the flood. There is no need to seek higher ground; let us stay low instead so that we will be overwhelmed by mystery and mercy.

Homily by one of our monks.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Daring to be Thankful


A spring morning some years ago, I am lost in thought, puttering in the garden at the Cottage. Fr. Simon drives by in his motorized wheelchair, he is off to work in the treasury office, even though he is at this point bent and twisted and practically crippled with the Lou Gehrig’s disease that will eventually take him. He cranes his head toward me and pauses to say hello. “Oh Simon,” I say, “I’m so sorry.” “Sorry,” he says without missing a beat. “What’s to be sorry about? I have this wonderful chair.” And motioning to the hills, “And look at this beautiful place, our beautiful monastery. Nothing to be sorry about.”

Was the man simpleminded, overly pious, his sensibilities dulled after too many years in this place? I don’t think so; no, it was simply Fr. Simon’s natural self-forgetfulness. He could see far beyond his present situation and, trusting in the Lord, he shifted his focus to love, appreciation, and gratitude. My brothers and sisters, mindfulness of the gift received is always reorientation. It is after all what that one leper did, suddenly feeling his face soft and clean again, he realizes and rushes back to thank Jesus. What in our own experience will lead us to such gratitude?

This morning Jesus sees his Father’s outpoured love as the source of all blessings, and he rejoices exultantly. In the first movement of our Gospel narrative, his disciples return after successfully casting out demons in his name, and he reminds them most humbly, to rejoice not because of their newfound authority in using his name but because their names are written in heaven. In other words, they are remembered by the Father, fully known and beloved as he himself is. Jesus doesn’t dampen their enthusiasm; he reorients it; he ramps it up.

The power of Jesus’ name is effecting Satan’s demise, and he sees the Accuser falling like lightning. The kingdom is being established, the defeat of evil in all its forms has begun, and the dominion of Satan over humanity is over. And so Jesus exults in the Holy Spirit. How could he not? “At that very moment,” Luke tells us, Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and says, “I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little children.” The Greek word Luke uses to express Jesus’ exultation is agalliáō (ah-ga-lee-ow’); it means being so glad you could jump for joy in celebration. It is the same expression Our Lady uses in her Magnificat – her heart leaps for joy because God Most High has looked with favor on her lowliness. Like his mother, Jesus rejoices because he knows himself first of all as beloved child of the Father, dependent always on the Father’s “good pleasure.”

And so, his elation blossoms into this ecstatic prayer of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving, which is often referred to as the “Cry of Messianic Exultation;” it expresses his intimate communion with the life of the Father in the Holy Spirit and his self-understanding as channel for the abundant life and blessing that God is and wishes to bestow. Jesus delights that he is Son, Child of the Father. Jesus delights that he is Receiver par excellence and that all he has received from the Father, he will pour out on us his disciples.

With Jesus and in him, we too are receivers, God’s own children, ever dependent on the gifts our Father delights pours out on us. Our greatest reason for rejoicing then is that we are endlessly remembered by God, our names written in heaven. We are unforgettable to God; his faithfulness is absolutely unwavering. And the scars forever engraved on the wounded body of the risen Lord Jesus are proof of God’s everlasting remembrance of us. This is our reason for hope, a hope beyond hope, in promises beyond our imagining. Gracious, open-handed receiving is our endless duty because receiving what does not end is itself endless. What is more, by humbly receiving ourselves in this way, we truly become ourselves and become conduits of grace for others with and in Jesus.

Still, how dare we rejoice and give thanks at this time? It can seem hare-brained, crass, and insensitive. Thanks for what? Things are falling apart everywhere – endless acts of terrorism and senseless gun violence in our country, daily calamity and heartbreak in Ukraine, Haiti, and erratic shifts in climate that signal our globe’s utter precarity. It’s all too much. Thanks? Better to say our prayers quietly and forget about it. But we dare not, for that would be to give Satan ascendancy. No, we do better, for though we do not see, we believe that the Lord is endlessly at work incognito - in us, through us, through our prayer, pouring himself out in love endlessly. Our faith demands this reorientation.

Empowered by our faith in his love, we dare to hope and give thanks, and even rejoice. The kingdom is coming to birth, and Satan is falling as Jesus the Messiah comes to reign. Blessings keep blossoming in the midst of despair. Our belovedness can never be trammeled, for God is doing everything to transform all creation - with us, through us; no defeat or terror too daunting for the interruption of his love. As his very beloved children in Christ, we acknowledge his dominion in our lives and together pledge our surrender to his mercy. And so, like Fr. Simon we reorient our vision and refuse not to give thanks, thanks born of confidence in God’s power and love, thanks for the humility that Jesus is.

As one ancient sage will assure us, “though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to tread on the heights.” Hab. 3 With hope and joy and gladness then let us go up to the altar of God.

Homily by one of our monks with insights for this piece from the USCCB website, Pope Benedict, “With the Heart of a Child,” an address given in 2011, and  Jean-Louis Chrétien: A God of Speech and Beauty by Christina M. Gschwandtner and the writings of Gerhard Lohfink.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Blessed Miguel Pro

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

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

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

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

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

The Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Today we celebrate the tradition that Mary was dedicated to the Lord even from her childhood. She is presented in the Temple, but she herself will become the temple of God Most High.

Mary is the perfect medium for God’s self-expression- because most of all she is the unlikeliest, so small, among the most powerless. This is the brilliance of God’s unprecedented breakthrough in Mary - her of all people. She is young in a society that values age and wisdom; female in a world where men run everything; poor at a time when poverty implies divine disfavor; unmarried in a society in which a husband and children would grant her status, protection and validate her existence.* She has nothing and is nothing at all; a nobody, but she is just right for God. God is smitten. Mary is the perfect match for a God who is always captivated by what is little, humble and small; God who always prefers the lowest place, who always notices what is seemingly incongruous, upside-down, the least likely choice; a God who always surpasses human logic or expectation. Nothing is impossible for a God like that. The “never-to-be-surpassed” self-expression of God in Christ Jesus, the immensity of God’s beauty will dwell, hidden in nothingness, in the womb of Mary.* And God’s infinite pleasure in Mary’s nothingness will effect a marvelous exchange, for when God takes her flesh, God takes our flesh, as it is now. And nothing at all is impossible.

Mary models for us our human capacity to be God-bearers: every fiber of our being, our very selves totally available to God, for what God wants. And so at the Annunciation, we are witness to the surrender of love, the surrender of mutual desire that happens in any real relationship. Mary and God lose themselves in each other. If we take the Incarnation seriously, this is perhaps exactly what is so scandalous about God becoming human. God has lost himself in love, in the self-forgetfulness of love. Through Mary God is now subject to the laws of nature, of human flesh, its smells, its aches and heartaches, its narrowness and limitations, even its unpredictableness.

Tempera on panel by Andrea di Bartolo, 1400-1405. And insights from Luke Johnson, Luke: Sacra Pagina and Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Christ Our King

       On Thursday of this past week, we celebrated the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary.  I like to think of her feast as a prelude to today's Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of the Universe. She was born in 1207, the daughter of King Andrew II of Hungary and Queen Gertrude who was the sister of our beloved Cistercian oblate, St. Hedwig.  At the age of 4, she was sent to Germany to be educated and prepared for her arranged marriage (which took place 14 years later) to the princely lord, Ludwig the Landgrave of Thuringia.  Despite her exalted station in life—or perhaps because of her Christian insight into what true rulership is---she devoted much of her time and eventually all of her own wealth to personally feeding and clothing the poor and to nursing the sick poor in the hospitals she founded. When her beloved husband Ludwig died she was unceremoniously thrown out of the castle with her newborn baby in her arms by Ludwig's stuck-up and horribly cruel relatives. Her devotion to the poor—personally serving them, clothing them, nursing them—was too much for these so-called “nobles” to stomach. Elizabeth had taken to heart the gospel teachings on the corporal works of mercy and had seen in them the only way that an authentic Christian ruler reigns legitimately and so gives honor to the King of Kings, Jesus Christ the Lord.  Even among the saints, she is one of the most perfect examples of a person being conformed to the image and likeness of Christ—to the point of accepting in her own life the stark experience of His rejection and His suffering in her own life because she chose to follow him so radically.

        Jesus himself never uses the title “King.”   He knew it would confuse people into thinking he was leading a violent political movement.  His own chosen designation is “Son of Man” which so identifies him with us and yet hints also at his divine nature through the prophecy of Daniel.   However, when others use the title “king” about him, he does not deny it.  In the last chapters of St. Luke's gospel, Jesus ascends the mountainous road from Jericho to the Holy City of Jerusalem.  At Jericho, a blind man with spiritual insight calls out to Jesus and his royal status, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Jesus does not correct him and responds to the man wholeheartedly, curing his blindness and granting him the grace to follow him.  As Jesus enters Jerusalem, He is riding on the colt of a donkey in fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah of how the messianic King would manifest himself to Israel and all the nations.  Seeing him, the people cry out, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!  Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!”  Hearing the crowd so hailing Jesus, the Pharisees order Jesus to tell his disciples to stop what they consider blasphemy.  Jesus answers, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”  Yes, the very stones would shout out that He is the anointed, the messianic King come to save us.  In the trial of Jesus, Pontius Pilate asks him straight out, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  To which Jesus answers with subtlety, “You say so!”  The matter is settled by Pilate when, with great irony, he writes out the inscription above the Cross, “This is the King of the Jews.”  This is the Gospel in miniature--first written by a pagan--because we know from the words of Jesus in John that “Salvation is from the Jews.”

       Recently, we heard that King Charles III would be firing 100 of his servants from one his residences to save on costs to the Royal Treasury.  This confirmed in my mind, at least, the worldly notion that kings are people who are served by their subjects and their legions of servants.  Christ the King turns that notion on its head.  He tells us, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   The life of that royal person St. Elizabeth of Hungary echoes the life of Christ in her stripping away from herself all her possessions and wealth for the sake of the poor.  But the original sound of which that was the echo was the sound of Jesus letting himself be stripped of his very life as he is nailed to the cross for the life of the world.   We see him as the true King in today's gospel nailed to his crucifix throne with the banner over him proclaiming his identity, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS and so of all the nations on earth, as the prophet Zechariah foretold.   As the King of kings, he issues forth the decrees most proper to truly noble kings, namely, pardon, forgiveness, and mercy not only to the ignorant men who crucified him and to the repentant thief but to all people of all times everywhere.  May we surrender to his reign of love and mercy! Surrender to his reign of love and mercy!

       In the lifting up of King Jesus on the throne of the cross, he drew all people to himself to such a degree that those who surrender to the grace of the Redemption won by the cross, themselves become kings and queens in his Kingdom.  As the prophet Daniel foretold: “The holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom to possess it forever and ever.”  Paragraph 786 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it all up it so beautifully, “... the People of God share in the royal office of Christ.  He exercises his kingship by drawing all men and women to himself through his death and resurrection.  Christ, King and Lord of the Universe, made himself the servant of all, for he came 'not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.'  For the Christian, 'to reign is to serve him,' particularly when serving 'the poor and suffering in whom the Church recognizes the image of her poor and suffering founder.' The People of God fulfills its royal dignity by a life in keeping with its vocation to serve with Christ.”

       Royals are noted for their sumptuous banquets.  Jesus the King has prepared this Eucharist for us his royal adopted sons and daughters—a banquet to sustain us on the Way as we serve with Him and divine food to transform us into living icons of Christ the King.  He calls out, “The banquet is ready! Come to the feast!”   Today's homily by Father Luke.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

Saint Elizabeth's Secret

With her husband not far behind, annoyed at her constant almsgiving, the young Saint Elizabeth of Hungary was saved when the bread she had been carrying became a fragrant bundle of roses.

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

Illustration by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

With Saint Gertrude


O Sacred Heart of Jesus, Fountain of eternal life, your Heart is a glowing furnace of love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary. O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which yours is inflamed. Pour down upon my soul those graces which flow from your love. Let my heart be united with yours. Let my will be conformed to yours in all things. May your will be the rule of all my desires and actions.

These are words of Saint Gertrude the Great, a Benedictine nun of the thirteenth century, whom we remember today. Her ardor inspires us to follow Christ more fervently. One of her visions finds her resting at the open wound in Christ's side and listening to the beating of his Heart. Let us go with Gertrude to Christ's side and rest there.

O God, you are my God. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. Psalm 62

Andrea del Verrocchio, Christ and Saint Thomas, bronze, 1483, Orsanmichele, Florence.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Thirty-third Sunday

Only two weeks from today we will celebrate the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of a new Church Year.  I don’t know about you, but every year Advent sneaks up on me like a thief; I then feel the ending of a period in my life, but also the birth of a new hope, a new beginning.  By means of this cycle of the liturgical year the Church, in her wisdom, sets before our eyes very vividly the reality of the unavoidable end of our lives and of the history of the world, and the expectation of good things to come: The day is coming, says the prophet Malachy to us today, blazing like an oven when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. … But for you who fear my name, the sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings.  We do well to contemplate this reality of the day of reckoning with our minds and with our hearts, through the words and teachings of the Lord Jesus himself.  The great challenge posed to us by this meditation is to decide what will be our attitude in the face of this impending reality of the End of Time, when we believe that the Lord Jesus himself will come in glory, to judge and to save. 

Let us start by asking what emotions are evoked in us when we imagine this awesome reality of our encounter with the Lord at the end of our lives.  What do we feel?  Fear?  Joy?  Excitement?  Curiosity?  Satisfaction?  Hope?  Disappointment? Relief? What we feel spontaneously in this connection will probably tell us, if we are honest, a great deal about the state of our relationship with God and of our relationship with this world and everything it offers us.  Are our hearts truly fixed on God, so that we long for union with him above all things?  Do we conceive of the coming of Christ to us as a liberation and a fulfillment of our greatest desires?  Or, are we so attached to the persons and things of this world that, even though we profess Christ with our lips, nevertheless in our hearts we are very sad that life as we know it will come to an end?  Do we see our relationships with all those we love as a means of helping one another fulfill our destiny of eternal communion with God in Christ?  Or, rather, do we see marriage, family, friendships, lifestyle, and work as ends in themselves, as absolute sources of meaning and salvation?  In a word, is the primary relationship in our lives that with God or rather that with other persons, projects and possessions?  What is really more important to us: truth, justice, mercy, or pleasure?

To get our bearings, let us look for guidance in the sacred texts the Church offers us today. In the gospel we hear a part of what is called Jesus’ “eschatological discourse” according to Luke, that is, his long sermon on the end-time.  The location is the temple in Jerusalem, where many people are enthralled with admiration, looking at the impressive solidity of the temple and the very costly stones and offerings that embellish it.  It seemed to the Jews that the temple would last forever, because it was the grandest building they had ever seen, and also because it had been granted to them by God himself.  And yet Jesus says that all that magnificence will come tumbling down one day.  For the Jews, this was a great tragedy that announced the end of the world.  Jesus takes the occasion to describe a number of historical and natural catastrophes, like earthquakes and wars, that point to the world’s end.  But then comes the most important part of the sermon, when Jesus warns his disciples sternly, saying: See that you not be deceived, for many will come in my name, saying, “I am he,” and “The time has come.” Do not follow them! 

This warning of the Lord is crucial for us Christians because it means that the end of the world will not occur mechanically enforced by some law of destiny allegedly inscribed in the stars and proclaimed by all kinds of charlatans and impostors.  No!  The end of the world will occur only with the coming of the one and only Jesus, Lord of history and creation, and the moment of this coming depends entirely on the freedom of God’s gracious will, which always seeks our good, and not on any impersonal process of history or nature. This is why Malachy prophesies that those who fear God’s name have nothing terrible to fear as they await the end of the world.  The coming of the Lord Jesus, the one who loves us and has shed his blood for us, can never be a reason for fear for the Christian.

To reassure us, his followers, and give us courage, the Lord Jesus next pronounces a clear and strong teaching, full of hope and power, in four points.  In this teaching, he tells us what the interior attitude of our heart should be and how, consequently, we should behave in this world as we await his coming.  For the true Christian, the thought of Christ’s Second Coming should never cause anxiety, fear, panic, idle curiosity, speculation, and gossiping.  We must simply remain clear-head and realistic, anchored in faith and hope, that is, anchored in Christ:

1.   witness through persecution First of all, Jesus says that we will be persecuted because of his name; but this very persecution becomes an opportunity to preach the Gospel and give witness to the Savior and the coming of God’s kingdom.  The very fire that will destroy some here becomes a purifying fire of mercy—an occasion for the disciples to finally become disciples fully! 

2.  infused wisdom Second, Jesus says: Remember, … I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.  In other words, it is the active presence of the loving Jesus and of the power of his Spirit within us that is the only source of our hope and strength. In the midst of persecution, we can have peace and joy, because we know we are in fact already living the very life of Christ and performing the redeeming work of God as his apostles.

3.   powerful protection Third, despite all appearances to the contrary, Jesus promises that not a hair on your head will be destroyed.  Yes!  Despite all the violence that human beings can inflict, we believe that they cannot harm the core of our being because the power of Jesus’ Resurrection is the operating principle of each of our lives: we are, after all, the living and indestructible Temple of the Body of Christ, and we, therefore, share with Christ both his Passion and Death and his Resurrection! 

4.  persevere! Finally, Jesus’ concluding statement today sums up everything else in a most practical teaching: By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.  After he has given us so much, the one concrete thing that Jesus asks from us is to persevere, that is, not to give up hope in him and his promises, not give in to worldly pressures and threats, but to continue living our lives in him and by his power come hell or high water, in the certain knowledge that his wisdom and love and fidelity will always triumph in the end.

I would like to conclude on a very practical note, particularly relevant to us monks but, I think, also applying to all Christians.  Today’s reading from St Paul’s Second Letter to the Thessalonians has a very specific focus, which is this social teaching: If anyone [is] unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.  At once we wonder what this homey teaching has to do with the end of time and the coming of Christ….  The context indicates that what occasions this teaching from Paul is the problem of busybodies in the community of Thessalonika, people who go around not minding their own business but creating trouble by spreading rumors and speculations concerning the day of the Lord, which they insist is at hand.  These trouble-makers have been seized by the mania for pseudo-prophecy.  They think they have a private, superior knowledge, and have consequently decided that, since the Lord is coming soon, they don’t really need to work.  They prefer to spend their time chattering away about the end time and sowing unrest in the community. Besides troubling the peace of the Church, they think everybody owes them a living.  They have, in fact, become pious parasites!  Paul’s answer to them is that he himself has worked night and day in toil and drudgery, so as not to burden anyone, and that this is the example everyone should imitate. 

The very monastic point these readings leave us with, therefore, is this: that the only fitting Christian manner to await the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, whenever he chooses to come, is for us to persevere in leading everyday “ordinary, obscure, and laborious lives”, peacefully praying and working, and serving one another with selfless love quietly and intensely, and so building up the Body of Christ in this world.  The genuine Christian apocalypse that truly reveals the presence of Christ in glory does not happen loudly and dramatically like exploding fireworks or crashing towers.  Christ never comes with fanfare.  The more quietly we live, the sooner we will meet the Lord Jesus. 

The Christian apocalypse is contained in each moment of our existence, in each encounter, in each event, no matter how hidden, because it’s under the ordinary veil of everyday life (as under the ordinary veil of the appearances of bread and wine, soon to be offered on this altar) that the extraordinary Christ is waiting for us, to take us to himself and, along with himself, to the everlasting embrace of the Father’s joy.

Homily by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Feast of the Dedication of the Church of Saint John Lateran at Rome

Today we honor the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, the cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict. It was in the year 324 that Emperor Constantine erected this great basilica in honor of the Savior. And its baptistery was later dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The Lateran basilica reminds us of our history as Church. It is filled with treasured relics. Its high altar is built over an ancient wooden table said to be the one on which Saint Peter celebrated the Lord’s Supper with the first Christian community of Rome. But we are not simply remembering some faraway church that most of us have never visited. No, we celebrate a greater reality- the unity and universality of our faith- the reality that we are Church with Christ Jesus as our cornerstone. Though sinful we are even now being made into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit.

The Liturgy of the Word this morning provides a dazzling blast of images. And we are being invited to enter the world of symbol, where we must suspend a demand for clear-cut clarity and allow ourselves to be taken under the spell of the Word’s symbolic language, a world where meanings expand and explode all at once. And if perhaps the question of today’s Liturgy is: “What is the Church?” We are invited this morning to open our hearts to the fullness of the mystery revealed to us in symbolic texts that gather meanings- words are used, but the experiences, the realities are really beyond words. 

Such is the nature of symbol. How to describe a kiss, the embrace of one we love, a meal shared, a small kind word or a smile that can erase a hurt, the vision of a sunrise through morning mists, or the experience of sitting quietly beside someone as they lay dying? How to describe the nearness of God in Christ through the Spirit? How to describe what we experience as real but really indescribable? And if ever you have loved, or fallen in love, and known your friend, the one you love, as refuge, safe haven; their beauty, their body, their kindness and presence as home and even sanctuary, then perhaps you get an inkling of what Jesus is saying this morning when he refers to his body as temple.

In the Gospel of John, we always stand contemplatively before the figure of Jesus. And in this morning’s passage, we notice him as he calls the Jewish leaders to acknowledge the true meaning of the temple: it is the meeting place of God and the people, not a place for business, but his Father’s own house. No wonder he is so driven to clear out what does not belong there. “What right have you to do this?” the authorities ask him. Jesus’ right is the “right of Truth to name flagrant infidelity and to demand righteousness,” to demand more. They refuse to see the true mystery of the temple in all its gracious demands; they refuse to see the mystery now present in the person of Jesus.

“Destroy this temple,” he says, “and in three days I will raise it up.” And then we hear this most beautiful phrase whispered to us by the evangelist, “He was speaking of the temple of His Body.” The temple of his body. Jesus declares himself now and forever the meeting place between God and his people. The narrator explains that the Temple that will be destroyed and raised up is not the temple of stone but the temple of Jesus’ body. Jesus is the gift that replaces the former gift.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” Jesus says referring to his Hour, the Hour of his passion, death, and resurrection. For it is in that Hour that he will become most truly temple. For it is most of all in that Hour of great sorrow and emptying, that he will truly become the place where we can encounter the most tender, self-emptying love of the Father for all creation. For in that Hour Jesus’ body will be broken open, destroyed by the horror of his passion and so become the life-giving temple of Ezekiel’s vision, the temple from which living, life-giving waters flow. Jesus’ crucified flesh is the temple overflowing with the Father’s love. Life-giving power gushes out of the sanctuary of his pierced heart and recreates paradise with its waters. Here and now, Jesus reveals himself as the place where the Father’s love abides and flows out. Jesus wounded and risen is the most perfect symbol, the perfect embodiment of the Father’s restless desire for us.

If we add to this St. Paul’s theology, then things really begin to percolate. Paul sees all of us together as Christ’s body, God’s temple, built upon the foundation that is Christ and made into a holy dwelling place for God in the Spirit. Like Jesus, we are God’s building, God’s temple. He and we are this pierced temple, a life-giving uncontainable flood gushing from his wounds and from our brokenness as well.

And so, images of body, temple, and Church become somehow interchangeable, and mystery unfolds. Jesus’ body is the temple that overflows with healing grace; we are Jesus’ body, the Church. Jesus is the body that we are in our brokenness. For Jesus, Son of the eternal Father, Son of Mary, makes his own “the least movements and deepest wounds of our humanity and even now fill(s) them with the life of his Father.” Our hope is built upon the fragile cornerstone of God’s body, Christ’s wounded and risen body. The transcendent beauty of the wounded resurrected Jesus is what the Church reveals. He is our broken wounded Self, forever risen and pierced. For he is the temple whose walls and doorways leak profusely, a great river that draws us to the Father, to one another, and makes us more and more like him. It is he who leads us beyond ourselves, to cross and tomb and resurrected life and makes us Church.

And we like him become living symbol, sacrament of encounter with the Most High God. The tabernacles of our wounded hearts overflow. When we feel safe enough to be wounded together, dare to become transparent, then we like Ezekiel’s temple, like Jesus' body become most truly a great meeting place, a place of encounter with the living God who has poured himself out for all. Then it is that we meet God in the sacred, broken, leaky temple that is Christ’s body, the Body that the Church is, the Body that we are together. Healed of divisions, revealing our wounds to one another as places healed by the blood of Christ, we become temples of encounter. Then it is that we are truly Church.

Like those who fall in love, we are meant to become more and more like the beloved, Jesus our Lord, he who is our priest, our altar and our sacrificial lamb, our gift of finest wheat. Here at this table God’s restless desire for us and our restless desire for God meet and merge. For here at this table, we become who we are most of all. Here we become what we eat- Temple, Church, true Body of Christ, wounded, risen, present. Real but really indescribable.

Reflection by one of the monks with insights from Schneiders: Written That You May Believe and Corbon: The Wellspring of Worship.

Tuesday, November 8, 2022

The November Moon

As we gaze upon the full moon, we recall that it is a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Just as the moon receives its light from the sun, so Mary receives and radiates the True Light who is Christ Jesus our Lord, the Sun of Justice, the Dayspring from on high who dawns upon us. The Virgin Mary's one desire is to reflect his light and radiant beauty.

Photographs by Kathleen Trainor.

Sunday, November 6, 2022


There is a growing interest in what has come to be known as ‘Near-Death Experiences.’ If you Google NDE you will be amazed at the results. You’ll find dozens of people giving personal testimonies, videos, and even support groups for people who have had a near-death experiences. For many, these experiences have been life-changing, especially for those who previously were agnostic or did not believe in God. Most say that they were overwhelmed by the all-embracing love of God and because of that are convinced of the existence of heaven and no longer have any fear of death.

One of the most pressing questions any of us has in this life is what happens when our life is over? For Christians “Belief in the resurrection of the dead has been an essential element of Christian faith from its beginnings” (CCC 991). “For those who die in Christ’s grace, it is a participation in the death of the Lord so that they can share in his resurrection” (CCC 1006). Our belief in the resurrection of the dead is based upon a faith relationship with God. We believe that “those who die in God’s grace and friendship live forever with Christ. As we read in the Catechism, “Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC 1024). But there are many in the world who don’t believe or are not convinced of this concept of heaven.

Our gospel reading today presents us with the Sadducees, who did not believe in the afterlife, posing a hypothetical case to Jesus. The Sadducees were basically a sect within the Jewish community. They included many of the priestly class and elite wealthy families. They were not as numerous as the Pharisees, but they held the highest offices. They did not accept beliefs found in other parts of the Hebrew bible. They refused to believe in the existence of angels or the resurrection from the dead.

I was reminded of that dramatic scene in the Acts of the Apostles when Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of the Jews, and said, “My brothers, I am on trial for hope in the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a rowdy dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection or angels or spirits, while the Pharisees acknowledge all three. (See Acts chapters 22 and 23)

To put this reading in context, it is important to know that the Sadducees only accepted the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Pentateuch, the Torah. They said that they found no evidence of the resurrection in those five books, so they rejected the idea. It was based on this that they presented a problem to Jesus designed to show how false the whole idea of resurrection was.

They used as their argument Levirate marriage, (Deut. 25: 5-10) by which a man was expected to marry the childless widow of his brother. This was so that the dead man’s name would be carried on to the next generation. However, in their challenge, the Sadducees propose an extreme case where seven brothers, all who die before having children, are married successively to the same woman. They conclude by asking, “At the resurrection which of the brothers will be the wife’s husband, since she was married to them all?” The Sadducees felt that without belief in life after death, there is no problem, their hypothetical question was unanswerable, if not absurd.

Jesus answers their question on various levels. First, he implies that life after death is not the same as the physical existence that we now experience. Secondly, Jesus raises a point that is woven through the whole of the Gospel message. All those who are in Christ enter into a new relationship with God and other people. These relationships transcend family ties and marriage. Jesus says, “The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain the coming age, and to the resurrection of the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage. They can no longer die, for they are like angels, and they are the children of God because they are the ones who will rise.” In this light, the argument of the Sadducees collapses. It is seen as very ‘this-worldly’ and narrow-minded.

Jesus ends his response by quoting a passage from Exodus, about Moses and the Burning Bush. “That the dead will rise,” Jesus says, “even Moses made known in the passage about the bush, when the Lord called out, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, (Ex 3:6).” And God, Jesus tells the Sadducees, is God, “not of the dead, but of the living; for to him, all are in fact alive.” The Sadducees fall silent. They could not contradict the Word of God coming through Moses.

In general, the theme of today’s Mass is that Jesus is the Lord of life, a life that is not terminated by physical death. We see this in today’s first reading from the Book of Maccabees. The mother and her seven sons willingly die rather than transgress the laws and customs of their ancestors. All of whom give their life because of their belief in the resurrection. As the second brother said before dying, “The King of the world will raise us up to live forever.” And the same with the fourth, “It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by Him.”

We must admit that we do not possess adequate knowledge or the language to describe what the resurrection will be like. I remember that soon before Fr. Gerald died one of the brothers asked him, “what is it like to die?” With his typical dry humor Fr. Gerald answered, “I don’t know, I’ve never done it before.” Jesus’s teaching in today’s gospel is that heaven cannot be understood as an extension of our present existence. We can’t simply assume that the life we live now will be the life we have in eternity. To this, I think many would say, ‘thank God.’

The stories in today’s liturgy present human situations which cry out to teach us the resurrection of the dead. Innocent suffering on behalf of truth, as depicted in the Maccabees, demands that the just God give a final rationale for human suffering, which is the perennial question of every generation.

Christian belief in immortality is unique and special. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, we believe, is the Good News of the fullness of life in this age, and of resurrection in the age to come.

In the final line of the Creed we say, “and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” This belief, that at our resurrection our body joins with our spirit to continue our existence in eternal life, no one fully understands, at least not in this life. What we do know is that this life isn’t all there is. 

Today's homily by Father Emmanuel.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Autumn at the Abbey


A Portfolio of Autumn Photographs by Brother Brian.