In his Sermon 71 on the Song of Songs our father Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, paraphrasing Jesus in today's Gospel, says that the man who knows that his brother has anything against him would offer his gift at the altar in vain and that God would not look upon the sacrifice of Cain because he did not walk righteously with his brother. The gift and sacrifice to which Bernard refers is our monastic observance thought of as a gift offered to God. A monk living in this particular vanity of being unreconciled is, for Bernard, a disobedient monk living out self-will in opposition to the will of God. Therefore the monk's gifts to God instead of smelling like lilies, just plain stink. Bernard says to us, “I fear there may be some among us whose gifts the Bridegroom does not accept because they lack the fragrance of lilies, it will not be acceptable to him, and he will find no fragrance in my fasting, since its odor is not that of the lily of obedience, but the weed of self-will. And the same thing, I feel, may be true not only of fasting but of silence, vigils, prayer, spiritual reading, manual labor, and indeed of every detail of the monk's life when self-will is found in it instead of obedience to his masters.” Indeed self-will and disobedience are manifested when we rationalize away our obligation from the Master Jesus to reconcile with one another.
Our Master Jesus, who has won our salvation by his sacrifice of self, tells us this morning to put aside all our anger, our insults and alienation from one another to offer a sacrifice with a pleasing aroma to God—the sweet fragrance of love. He calls us to reconciliation, to respect for the dignity of persons, to faithful love and to truthful living. When Jesus speaks in the words over the chalice this morning and says that his blood is shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven, he is not only referring to God's forgiveness of our sins, but also to the strength given to each of us in the sacrament of his body and blood to forgive those who sin against us and to seek reconciliation with those we have sinned against. The New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given to the faithful through faith in Christ. It works through charity; it uses the Sermon on the Mount to teach us what must be done and makes use of the sacraments to give us the grace to do it. “If you trust in God, you too shall live; he has set before you fire and water—to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.”
Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from this morning's homily by Father Luke.