Thursday, November 23, 2017

On Thanksgiving Day

God wants to regale us. "God is to be enjoyed," says St. Augustine. A banquet is prepared; he is the banquet. But maybe too often we lower our heads and come to him with bowls that are much too small. We don't want to be greedy, or risk being disappointed. But Jesus wants to fill us with an infinity of compassion and mercy.

The Lord reminds us, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. For I, the Lord, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior. I give Egypt as ransom for you, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you and nations in exchange for your life.” Is 43

Pope Benedict has called this the "law of excess or superfluity;" the too-muchness of God. And it runs through the whole of salvation history and reaches its perfection in Jesus. This superfluity is perfectly expressed in Jesus, in his signs and words, in his passion, dying and resurrection; it is he who reveals this boundlessness and immeasurability of God's love and compassion and mercy. Extravagant abundance is the sign of the day of salvation in Christ- never ever skimpiness, meagerness, and need. God's very self is overflowing life, and he longs to share this life with us so that we may love as he loves. Rejoicing, gladness, thanksgiving and the promise to share the abundance - these are our proper response.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

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 19, 2017

All Those Talents

We are always awed by the infuriated response of the very disappointed master in today's Gospel when he learns that his timid servant has buried the sum that was given to him. 

We imagine that he might have said, "You buried it? Invest it, even spend it, waste it, enjoy it, share it with others. Be creative, thoughtful and loving with all I have given you. But please do not hide it all underground."

How do we use all that has been entrusted to us?

Painted initial from an early Cistercian manuscript.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Our Lady on Saturday

A friend, who has suffered for years with the burden of a chronic illness and has tried every therapy imaginable to no avail, told us not long ago that he sometimes feels like a gangster in an old movie. After a furious gunfight, there is an eerie quiet and his house is surrounded. And then a cop outside the door starts shouting to him, “You might as well just come away quietly.” The message is clear: “Give up; you’ve got no choice. Just surrender.” Surely it is an honest response but tinged with resignation, un-freedom, and real sadness.

In her response to the Angel Gabriel, Mary offers us a far more breathtaking alternative. For she surrenders to God’s desire with serenity, dazzling availability and even quiet joy: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." 

Drawing by Giuseppe Cesare.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Notice

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, the lust for power, and idle talk. 

Give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to your servant.

O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own transgressions and not judge my brother, for blessed are you for all ages. Amen.

This prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian is a fitting reflection for the close of the day, as we notice blessings as well as those times when our love was too small.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Transformation

The hundredfold is ours. God has spoken His Word to us, as to the lost son’s older brother, “You are always with me. All I have is yours.” Jesus is himself this message of the Father’s deep love. Christ Jesus our Lord is himself the hundredfold he promises. He has pressed himself to us, to our humanity in its shabbiness and breathed new life into us. In his passion and resurrection, he has healed and refreshed, renewed and transformed it all.

And if, as Saint Benedict exhorts us, we are to prefer absolutely nothing to Christ, it is because he has first of all preferred absolutely nothing at all to each of us, accepting even death, death on a cross for our sake. We are invited to lose everything in order to gain everything. Jesus himself is the everything; Jesus who is the gift given to us a hundred times over. Beyond our wildest dreams, the love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit is now ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord. 

Icon written by Brother Terence.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Kindness of Christ Jesus

But, brethren, from all that might be said of His character I single out one point and beg you to notice that. He loved to praise, He loved to reward. He knew what was in man, He best knew men's faults and yet He was the warmest in their praise. When He worked a miracle He would grace it with Thy faith hath saved thee, that it might almost seem the receiver's work, not His. He said of Nathanael that he was an Israelite without guile; He that searches hearts said this, and yet what praise that was to give! He called the two sons of Zebedee Sons of Thunder, kind and stately and honorable name! We read of nothing thunderlike that they did except, what was sinful, to wish fire down from heaven on some sinners, but they deserved the name or He would not have given it, and He has given it them for all time. Of John the Baptist He said that his greater was not born of women. He said to Peter, Thou art Rock, and rewarded a moment's acknowledgment of him with the lasting headship of His Church. He defended Magdalen and took means that the story of her generosity should be told forever. And though He bids us say we are unprofitable servants, yet He Himself will say to each of us, Good and faithful servant, well done.
Detail of The Savior, El Greco (and workshop), 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 72 cm x 55 cm, The Prado, Madrid. Lines from a Sermon of the poet, Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, preached on November 23, 1879, at Bedford Leigh.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Martin

In this two-tiered manuscript painting of The Legend of Saint Martin, the story begins on the bottom level. There the Roman soldier, Martin, cuts his military cloak in half to share it with a shivering beggar. The upper tier shows Martin's dream vision that night in which Christ appears to him wearing the cloak and thanks him for his generosity. Our Lord's message is clear, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." We want to notice the needy one in our midst; Christ Jesus assures us that He is the Needy One.

St. Albans Psalter, English, early 12th century, Dombibliothek Hildesheim, Germany.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Saint Paul's Insight

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

These words from the twelfth chapter of Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans are a beautiful distillation, a kind of prĂ©cis, of Jesus' Beatitudes. 

Detail of an early Cistercian illuminated manuscript.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Radiance

"Who are these wearing white robes?” says an elder to the narrator in the Book of Revelation, as he glimpses all the Blessed in heaven. The elder then answers his own question, “Why these are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Now anyone who has ever tried to remove even a small blood stain from a piece of clothing can understand that it must have been a near-impossible task in first century Palestine, long before OxyClean, Spray and Wash or Shout. And so we can only wonder at the perfectly ridiculous image of robes made radiantly white by washing them in lamb’s blood. But this is not just any lamb. And the offbeat beauty of these words reveals the truth of the dazzling, unprecedented victory of the Lamb of God, which he has “achieved not by domination and aggression” but by his loving acquiescence even unto death.It is Jesus’ self-forgetful love that has created this radiance.

Photograph by Brother Anthony Khan. *Insights from Wilfrid Harrington.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

On Sunday

They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'
As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.'
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called 'Master';
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." 
Mt 23

The heart of Christ is always drawn to what is small and seemingly insignificant. This is natural since he himself has come among us as One who serves. He is the One who humbled himself accepting derision and crucifixion to unburden us, free us. Because of his exquisite, loving, crucified self-forgetfulness, the Father exalted him on high. 

But how to fittingly follow the humble Lord, God Most High, who became for our sakes God most lowly? We are reminded of the words of Saint Ignatius Loyola: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?”

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Heart of the Law

Jesus takes us to the very heart of the Law, the substance on which all other laws depend, namely love of God and love of neighbor. And if one does not keep these two commandments, then all the other laws have no meaning. 

If we do keep these two commandments, loving God alone above all else and our neighbor as ourselves, we will be keeping all the Law.

Whatever we do, if to the question - "Is it based on love of God and love of neighbor?" - we can answer, "Yes," then we can be assured that our life has meaning because it respects love, the root of all human life.

Meditation by Father Aquinas.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

All Souls Day

The month of November is dedicated to special prayer for the faithful departed. On All Souls Day we processed through the cloisters in the predawn darkness. We paused in the south cloister chanting psalms as the Abbot and his assistants went into the cemetery to sprinkle the graves of our deceased brethren with holy water. The Abbot reminded us as we began the Liturgy that we pray for the dead because we "need to." For the departed "life is changed, not ended;" they have entered the great mystery of Christ's resurrection. As we beg the Lord in prayer to draw all the faithful departed to himself, we remember our love for them and our connectedness with all those who have gone before us in faith.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Beatitude

The Beatitudes are not a checklist for the holy, but a call to imitate the wounded Christ and allow him to reform our hearts so that they conform to his broken heart. This is the grace of Beatitude - a way to imitate Christ Jesus, who is all mercy, all peace, all mourning turned to joy, imitate him in whom we are becoming Beatitude. We are invited to take on the mind of Christ in our embrace of our own poverty and neediness and inadequacy. The saints are here to remind us, “Don’t be afraid. It’s not about you. It’s about him; let him transform you.”

Jesus invites us to step into the poverty and helplessness we need no longer fear and flee or deny - because we will find him and our brothers and sisters down there. What Jesus enumerates are attitudes and ways of being that come from relationship - with him and with one another - attitudes arrived at by the hard road of humility, vulnerability and doing the opposite of what my first snarky reaction might be. For when I finally recognize how poor and mercy-hungry I am, maybe, just maybe I begin to notice that I am not alone, that others are needy like me - they need mercy and peace like me. Then hopefully, my heart gets broken open.

In the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus this morning, a revolution is happening, with vulnerability at the center. Inadequacy, vulnerability are the key to Beatitude, the source of all that gives us life and joy, love, belonging and connectedness. For when I am vulnerable, I realize that I desperately need God; I realize that I desperately need others. I come to understand that I am imperfect, inadequate and on the way along with my brothers and sisters, and so I am connected.* It is this loving connectivity that is true Beatitude. To be poor, merciful, to mourn over all the tragedy that surrounds us, to allow ourselves to be rejected for doing the right thing - this was Jesus’ way. It is to be our way, as it was for all the saints. But bear in mind, when you love like this you bleed like Jesus did and your robes get stained but absolutely radiant.

Our way is imitation of Christ, not dumb impersonation, but likeness that will lead to transformation. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I that live, but the wounded Christ living in me; the life I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. This is what the saints wanted with all their hearts, what Jesus longs for - for each of us - this deep inter-subjectivity and connectivity. And so, because he loves the humble beauty of our inadequacy, our need of him, he comes to abide with us in Holy Communion. Let us open to him.

*See Jamie Arpin-Ricci on Brené Brown in Huffington Post blog for April 8, 2015.