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Homily for Sunday, June 9, 2017Published:
Today we celebrate and worship God, the most holy Trinity. As we know and profess in our faith, there is only one God. God is one essence and also three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Tradition has taught us that if we look around us at Creation, we can perceive aspects of the Trinity. For example, St. Augustine noted that the rational part of the human soul has memory, intellect, and will. And in meditating on how these three relate to each other in the human soul, while at the same time they are one soul, St. Augustine recognized aspects of the Trinity. And certainly it makes sense to look for signs of the Trinity particularly within ourselves, especially as we are made in the image and likeness of God. But looking for signs of the Trinity in Creation is something we do after having been informed about the Trinity. Direct knowledge of the Trinity would not have been accessible to human reason alone. Rather, it was and had to be revealed by God, and it is through God’s revelation that we know. The Trinity is one of those “mysteries that are hidden in God, which can never be known unless they are revealed by God.”
With regard to the Trinity, the readings in mass today invite us to think especially about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. St. Philip, one of Jesus’ disciples, on one occasion said to Jesus, “show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Moses had said something similar in the Old Testament. Speaking to God he said, Lord, “please let me see your glory!” Who doesn’t want to see God? At that time, God’s response to Moses was, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim my name, ‘Lord,’ before you, … but you cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” This was the truth that had been stated in the past: no one could see the full glory of God and live. So on that occasion, God placed Moses in the cleft of a rock and covered him with God’s hand while God passed by, and then removed his hand so that Moses could see God’s back. We hear that to love God is the fullness and fulfillment of our existence. I wonder then if the problem with seeing God, is not that we die for doing something that is forbidden, but rather that if we were to see the full beauty and goodness of God, the true object of all our desire and the purpose of our desire, our longing would be too great and we would no longer have the strength to live apart from it?
Whether this is true or not, the desire to see God has always remained, and hence Philip says to Jesus show us the Father and that will be enough. Jesus’ response to Philip is illuminating. Philip, whoever has seen me has seen the Father. So, it is Jesus who reveals the Father, and allows us to see God. As it says in the Prologue of John’s gospel, “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, revealed him.” And certainly, that to see Jesus is to see the Father is in fact what one would expect, if we say that God is One. If there is one God and not multiple gods, to see Jesus is to see the Father, and to see the Holy Spirit. But somehow, there has always been this temptation to believe that the Father is different than Jesus, and that might be the thought that Philip was revealing in himself when he requested of Jesus, show us the Father. One way in which the Father is often thought different is in mercy versus justice. In this division, Jesus is seen as the merciful one, the Good Shepherd who seeks after the lost sheep and carries it on his shoulders, and the Father is in contrast the ultimate judge and bringer of justice, who will mete out punishment to the nations for their sins and wickedness. So is it true that the Father is not as merciful as the Son?
If we look carefully at Scripture, it becomes clear that it is not true. In our first reading, when Moses encounters the Lord on Mount Sinai, God identifies himself as: “The Lord, the Lord, a merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” In Jewish religious tradition, these words of self-description are considered some of the most important words concerning God’s nature and identity in the Hebrew Bible, if not the most important ones. The same idea, God is full of merciful love for us, is repeated frequently by the prophets, and it is perhaps the most frequently repeated idea concerning God. And Jesus reveals the same nature of God the Father in our gospel reading today. Jesus says, God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish, but might have eternal life. God gave his beloved Son, his only one, to us, handing Him over to crucifixion and death, so that we might not perish nor be condemned, but so that we might be saved through Him and have eternal life. There is no denying that that is the action of a being whose primary nature is merciful love. The Son and the Father are One, to have seen the Son is to have seen the Father.
And yet, it remains a prominent temptation to believe that God’s love for us is finite. And thus, the person can often say to himself, yes God loves me, but after a few more sins, God’s love for me will pass and be replaced instead by anger. And the person can point to difficulties and failures in their own life, and say, aha, proof that God has stopped loving me. Invariably, this is a self-projection onto God, for in these cases, the person assumes that his own self-loathing is shared by everyone else, including God; it is a fundamental lie that the devil tries to get us to believe. This instead is the truth. From eternity and for all time, God the Father has begotten his only beloved Son, God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God. And the love they share is of such fecundity and power that all things in creation came to be through it, intentionally and purposefully made to share in the love present in the Trinity. And the same Father full of merciful love for you, gave the Son to you, and the Son, full of merciful love for you, willingly descended from heaven and became like you, taking on your nature as a human being. To think that such unlimited and overpowering love could be ended or even be curtailed by our own sins, becomes then a laughable and ridiculous thought. Ultimately, the object and goal of our pilgrimage here on Earth, is to enter into the Trinity, to share in that same relationship of merciful love that is the identity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and which we, made in the image and likeness of God, were destined to share from the beginning.
In this Eucharist, let us pray for the grace to believe in and accept God’s love for us, so that we may truly live. Amen.
Homily for Wednesday, May 24, 2017Published:
We are privileged to have as our Patroness Mary, the Mother of God, under her title Help of Christians. It is our joy today to honor her, who has so faithfully watched over her abbey and college through the years, and thus paying homage to her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of all her privileges and singular virtue. There could be, I think, no better way to honor Mary and celebrate her feast at her abbey than to celebrate the monastic profession of someone who has come to seek God in her abbey, as we are doing for our Brother Columban today. Our dual celebration today honors not only our Patroness, Mary Help of Christians, but also in a special way presents her, the first among all the disciples of her Son, to you, Brother Columban as a model of those virtues specially recommended by our Holy Father Benedict for those who seek God according to his Rule and way of life: humility and obedience.
The Virgin May herself notes that God has looked upon His servant in her lowliness, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. Aware that she, a poor and insignificant young girl, unknown and unrecognized, had no claim to anything in her own right, she acknowledges that all her blessings come from God because of His fidelity to his oath to Abraham and his descendents forever. In that clear-sighted truthfulness that genuine humility imparts, she acknowledged that she was merely the handmaid of the Lord, and by thus acknowledging her total dependence on the Lord’s command, she was able to be full of grace beyond all other creatures. Her humility is witnessed by the divinely inspired Scriptures, where she, who above all others played an irreplaceable role in God’s plan of salvation in the Incarnation of His Son, appears only rarely, disappearing as proper for the Lord’s servant, behind the figure of her Son.
In St. Benedict’s Rule, the lengthiest and most difficult chapter is Chapter 7, “On humility”. One of the ways St. Benedict’s Rule and way of life seeks to bring us to God is by that virtue of humility which brings us to see clearly our true state, viz. that we are those who have drifted away from God through the sloth of disobedience. He shows us the way of return as he admonishes us: “This message of mine is for you, then, if you are ready to give up your own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.”
Because of her humility, because she possessed herself, knew clearly and accurately her true state in life, the Blessed Virgin Mary was able to be perfectly obedient. In her response to the Angel Gabriel, Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word, she gave up her own will once and for all and gave herself totally and completely over to the vocation given her by God. She remained faithful and steadfast in her obedience every moment of her life. We should not imagine that her obedience was somehow easy and without effort. Again and again she undoubtedly had to repeat her initial words recorded in the gospel: How can this be? In her unwavering trust that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled, no matter how mysterious the manner obedience was required, she exemplifies for us the fourth step of humility, namely, “In this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, [the monk’s] heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape.” Her fidelity eventually led her to the foot of the cross, where, without seeking escape, she shared more profoundly than anyone else, the agony of her only Son. The child to be born to her, she had been told, would be called holy, the Son of God, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the House of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. How can it be that it had come to this? In her steadfast obedience she penetrated to the profound truth of the words of the Apostle we heard just now: Those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. For the glory Mary was intended to share in was nothing other than the glory of her Son, who, in the inscrutable plan of God’s love, was glorified by being lifted up from the earth and becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross. And having learned obedience through what he suffered, he became the source of eternal life to all who obey him, for God raised him high and bestowed on him the name above all other names. Because she was obedient under these “difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions”, Mary is the exemplar for us likewise of the words of St. Benedict at the conclusion of the prologue to his Rule: “We shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.” Having shared more profoundly than all in the sufferings of Christ, she has been taken up as first to share fully in the glory of the resurrection.
As we have heard as well in the Acts of the Apostles, Mary’s obedience continued in the church. We find her, after the Ascension, obedient to her son’s command: Remain in the city until you are clothed with power from on high. She, who was full of grace from the very first moment of her existence did not need to await the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Nor did she need the assistance of the Spirit as one who was to be sent as an apostle to announce the Good News. Rather she is present with the apostles and disciples to support them by her prayer. In this, too, she is specially our model for our life and our abbey. For the days are now finished when the pastoral care of the faithful for the building up of the Church in North Carolina was entrusted to us. Rather, we have now been directed to continue building up this church by the witness of our monastic life, supporting our brothers and sisters in the faith by steadfast prayer, giving witness to the power of God by continued intercession. For we have been instructed in these days of retreat from the Conferences of St. John Cassian: “The end of every monk and the perfection of his heart incline him to constant and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer.”
Finally, the gospel text itself, by which the Lord speaks to us today, gives us perhaps the most compelling images of Mary to be our model. She, who trusted that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled, turns to her Son and, by her unshakeable faith and her charity for a newly married couple, brings forth from the profound depths of the love of God made visible in Jesus Christ Our Lord, the first of the signs of his saving work among us.
If you, Brother Columban, are willing to heed the words of the Mother of God, Do whatever he tells you, I invite you to come forward now and make your vows before God and His saints in the presence of the community assembled here.
Homily for Sunday, May 21, 2017Published:
On this sixth Sunday of Easter, a major focus of the Church in the readings presented to us is the Holy Spirit, and this is fitting as we are in fact only two weeks away from Pentecost, when we will once again enter into the mystery of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on God’s people. So, I invite you to take a few moments with me today to ponder the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in today’s gospel, I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth. Of this Spirit of truth, the Holy Spirit, it is also said, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We know that God is love. In the Holy Spirit, God gives love, that is his very self, as his gift to us. For Christians, it started at Pentecost, but has continued with new Christians ever since. We heard an example of this giving of the Holy Spirit described in our first reading today. At Philip’s proclamation of the gospel, the people of Samaria accepted the word of God. As part of their initiation into the Church, the Apostles Peter and John went down to them, laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit.
So, the Holy Spirit is love, poured into the heart of Christians by God, as if God were pouring into us his very self. But what does the Holy Spirit do? Here is what the Catechism has to say: “Because we are dead or at least wounded through sin, the first effect of the gift of love is the forgiveness of sins. The communion of the Holy Spirit, in the Church, restores to the baptized the divine likeness lost through sin.” We know that one who receives baptism has all of their sins forgiven. The Holy Spirit, rushing upon the one who is baptized, purifies them, making them fit to live the inner life of the Trinity itself. But we also know that we are beset by weakness, and frequently fall into sin again. The Holy Spirit is involved in forgiving sins there as well, in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Part of the formula of absolution that the priest says makes it plain: God has sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins. The Holy Spirit empowers the ministry of the Church, so that penitents are granted pardon and peace. But the forgiveness of sins is as it were, merely the preparation for the major work of the Holy Spirit in us. Once we are reconciled to God and to each other as a necessary precondition, it is the Holy Spirit who makes us spiritually alive and fruitful, who sanctifies us, and ultimately makes us into other Christs. It is in the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit on Mary that Christ is incarnated. Likewise does the Holy Spirit form Christ in us as well. The Holy Spirit “gives us the ‘pledge’ or ‘first fruits’ of our inheritance: the very life of the Holy Trinity.” The Holy Spirit would have us be transformed so as to be able to love as God loves.
One of the chief points concerning the Holy Spirit in today’s readings is how we can tell if the Holy Spirit is present. It is interesting to note that the early Church was able to identify if new Christians had or had not yet received the Holy Spirit. This is seen in our first reading; the Church knew that the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on any of the new Christians in Samaria. And this ability of the Church to identify the presence of the Holy Spirit is mentioned on other occasions as well in the Acts of the Apostles. In contrast, in today’s gospel, Jesus says that the world neither sees nor knows the Holy Spirit, and because of that, it cannot accept Him. It is the mark of the world not to see or know the Holy Spirit, and actually to be oblivious to the working of the Holy Spirit. All too frequently, the world does not accept what it does not see, and what it cannot control. But on the other hand, Jesus also tells us today that unlike the world we know the Holy Spirit, because he remains with us, and will be in us. So, do we recognize the Holy Spirit in us? I suggest to you that we can look for the following initial signs of the presence of the Holy Spirit, which come directly from the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Wherever there is forgiveness and reconciliation present, there is the Holy Spirit at work. Forgiveness and reconciliation is divine. From the beginning, the effect of sin has been to divide us, from each other and from God. God reveals his identity and his power in undoing and healing the effects of sin. But this is also a warning for us: if we decide to hold onto grievance, resentment, or unforgiveness in our hearts, we are likely grieving and opposing the Holy Spirit. So, on the day you are able to forgive anyone, freely and fully from your heart, rejoice and be glad, you know the Holy Spirit is with you and in you.
Second, if we see present the ‘first fruits’ of our inheritance, which mark our transformation into Christ, and especially if we see them increasing, then we can also know the presence of the Holy Spirit. In Catholic tradition, these fruits are charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity. There is an old song that says that they’ll know we are Christians by our love. In a very real way, we will know the presence of the Holy Spirit in us by our love of God, and of other people.
So, forgiveness and reconciliation, and the fruits of the Spirit. But really these are only to start. The Holy Spirit is no gossamer or ephemeral spirit. If we are open to the work of the Holy Spirit in us, if we are docile before the inspirations and movements of the Holy Spirit, then there is the potential for great and spectacular things to happen. As the Scriptures tell us, the wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. One who offers no resistance to the Holy Spirit is likened to the wind, snatched and instantaneously moved from place to place, given the correct words to say at just the right time. There is literally no limit to what God can do in us.
In this Eucharist, we pray that our lives testify to the increasing presence of the Holy Spirit. And may we be increasingly open to the work of the Holy Spirit in us. Amen.
Homily for Good FridayPublished:
April 14, 2017
Exhausted, drained of life by the cost of this fearful conflict, the dead body of the Son of God hangs lifeless on the cross. How terrible the conflict, which could snatch away the life of the Lord of Life.
Yet there is about to be revealed an awesome mystery, a mystery kept secret for long ages (Rom. 16:25), the mystery hidden from ages past in God who created all things (Eph. 3:9), namely, that Christ is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things he himself might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile all things for him, making peace by the blood of his cross, whether those on earth or those in heaven (Col. 1:18b-20). For the body of the Lord is but resting after the exhaustion of this dread struggle with the final enemy, death. Because it was in this humanity that he share with us that the Son had exercised his unwavering obedience to death, even death on a cross, the power of God is about to suffuse this body so fully that it will rise glorious never ever subject to death again. And in this rising, the power of death and sin is broken for all eternity.
But today we are confronted with the dead body of the Lord of Life, abandoned, tortured, spit upon and murdered. And in this, the terrible mystery of evil is laid bare and exposed to our gaze. This stark presentation of the consequences of sin should shake us from our complacency to recognize the consequences, so often unintended but relentless in their destructive power, which flow from our own sins. The blatant cruelty and cynical injustice of the death of the Savior should sensitize us to the surreptitious and insidious ambush of evil in our lives and in our world. How easily evil can appear as a mere clinical procedure, masquerade under the guise of care, and dress itself up to deceive. We know well the Apostle’s lament: Sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin, worked death in me through the good…What I do, I do not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate… Miserable one that I am! The leaders in Jerusalem regard Jesus as expendable: You know nothing, do you not consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people? Pilate’s cowardice collapses before the demands of the mob and hands over to death a man he knows is innocent. Religious leaders, outraged that Jesus so easily steps over the boundaries they so carefully place around God ignore the plain evidence of his signs and his message. How easily we are deceived, how facilely we rationalize our failings, how little we trust in the power of the truth when faced with the overwhelming pressure and fear of the violence of the crowd. Yes, the power of evil in the world is mysterious, and we ought rightly fear it, for it has blighted all creation and disfigured the divine image in which we were created.
Yet in that same dead body of the Lord of Life we are also faced with the mystery of the God who is love – a mystery so incomprehensible that we can ponder it only in awe and amazement. We see paradoxically realized in the crucifixion of the Lord the Apostle’s words: Where sin has abounded, grace has even more abounded. Who is this God who, having created a frail creature out of nothing and endowed it with the gift of his own life, responds only with compassion when that same frail creatures hurls insults and betrayals without end? Who is this God who, to redeem a slave, gives away His Son? Who is this God, who responds to the depths of cruelty and hatred with fathomless mercy? Who is this God on the cross, who loved me and gave himself up for me? It is an awesome mystery, one so exquisite in beauty that it is almost too painful to contemplate. This is the God who reveals himself to us today in the dead body of the Lord of Life hanging on the cross – the God who is love and who ceaselessly offers us the way to return to that familiar friendship He shared with us when he first created human beings on the earth.
In the face of such beauty we can respond only with the Apostle’s exclamation: Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Homily for Holy ThursdayPublished:
Mass of the Lord’s Supper
April 13, 2017
In our table reading in the monastery this past week, there was a passage from a work by St. Bernard which illustrates for us the mystery of God’s love into which we enter in a special way in the Easter Triduum, which we have now begun for this year. St. Bernard writes: “First, there is a peaceful person who merely renders good for good as far as possible and wishes to harm no one. Then, there is another who is patient, who does not render evil for evil and is able to endure being harmed. Finally, there is the peacemaker who renders good for evil and is willing to be of service to the one who harms… The first, as far as possible, has peace; the second holds fast to peace; the third makes peace.”
Jesus is clearly the one who “makes peace”. As we are told in the Letter to the Ephesians: He is our peace (Eph. 2:14). He is our peace because, as the Son of God come to dwell in our human nature, he lives unceasingly and inseparably with that life of God which is love. In the perfect obedience, which is the fruit of that eternal, uncreated love of Father and Son, he is about to enter into that awesome contest with the great enemies of love, hatred, envy, cruelty and, the last enemy, death. In this contest, he will reveal to us in his own person for all time that the power of that uncreated love, the source of all that is, is far more powerful than the emptiness of death.
As the fullness of the revelation of God, Jesus is first and foremost of all the peacemaker, who renders good for evil and is willing to be of service to the one who harms. As the gospel reading tells us, Jesus knew who would betray him. Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, whom the devil had already induced…to hand him over. Judas is there among those whom Jesus loved as his own in the world, and whom he loved to the end. He washes Judas’ feet as he did those of all the others disciples. Jesus displays great peace and perfect possession of himself. This is not superficial peace, present because he is at a solemn and festive meal with his closest friends. As the gospel tells us, Jesus knew that his hour had come to pass from this world to the Father. In a few hours, he is to face the hideous cruelty of the cross. No, his peace is that of one who has unshakeable trust in the all-encompassing power of God’s love. Rendering good for evil and willing to be of service to one who harms was the whole reason for his coming into the world. From the beginning of mankind, God has been acting so. In the beginning, as the Genesis account tells us, the devil induced our first parents to betray the love of God which had brought them into being and given them every good thing. From that time on, the same story, repeated endless in human history, comes to its climax on this night. For at this supper, the devil had already induced Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot, to betray him. And lest, in our hardness of heart we fail to grasp this great revelation of the love of God, Jesus, who had washed their feet, those of Judas included, instructs them: Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me “teacher” and “master”, and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. And shortly thereafter he himself brings this model to life when he gives himself over into the hands of evildoers, and for them, and for all of us whose sins have brought him to his cross, he lays down his life. And foreshadowing this greatest manifestation in creation of God’s love, he takes bread and wine at this meal and gives them to us as his true body and blood. And so it is down to this very celebration this night, he continues to give himself over to sinners so that he continues, until he comes again, to render good for evil and to be of service to us who have so often betrayed him.
If this were not enough, in another great revelation of the surpassing love of God for us, he invites us to become like himself: I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Not only does he invite, he also empowers by the gift of his very self in the most wondrous sacrament of the Eucharist. Never forgetting in his immense love for us his plan that we are to live as His very image and likeness in creation, and never abandoning us in spite of our endless betrayals great and small, God holds out the confident hope to us that we may be not merely those who have peace, or who keep peace, but, transformed into the image of his Son, may be those who make peace.
But how difficult this is for us to come to this perfection of divine love! Even the passage of the Apostle we have heard, who tells us of what the Lord did for us on this night, reminds of how desperately we resist this call to be makers of peace. If we wish to know why he wrote this to the Corinthians, let us read what precedes this passage: First of all, I hear that when you meet as a church there are divisions among you…When you meet in one place, then, it is not to eat the Lord’s supper, for in eating, each one goes ahead with his own supper, and one goes hungry while another gets drunk…Do you show contempt for the church of God? And all too often it sadly continues. We struggle mightily to be even those who are willing to render good for good and who wish no one evil. As the sad events of the world and even our own hearts tell us, too often our thoughts are to return evil for evil or even evil for good. Rather than trust in the power of God’s love and preserve our peace when faced with the difficulties of others, we prefer to be rid of them so that we may remain undisturbed. And we let pass by without regard the great gift held out to us by a generous God to participate in God’s own love and mercy by showing love to those who are wounded and hurt, just as God on this night has so generously manifested his patience with our brokenness.
But on this night, the Lord Jesus Christ, almighty in his divine nature, steadfastly facing his death in our human nature, prepares to make peace once and for all by the blood of his cross. In his immense love, he gives us his very self as our food, that in the strength of his life and his grace, we, too, may come to share in that great peace – peace with God, with ourselves and with one another. In awe of so great a love, in thanksgiving for so great a gift, let us, as he ask asked us to do, keep watch and pray with him this night, so that made one with him in his love, we too might be one with him as those who render good for evil and are willing to be of service even to the those who would harm us.
Homily for Palm Sunday, April 9, 2017Published:
With our Lenten observance for this year about at an end, we have reached the week we call Holy, during which we will make present this year in a special way the mystery of the dying and rising of our Savior. In a fitting way, we are beginning observance with our celebration of Palm Sunday. At the beginning of our celebration today, we raised our voices in the words of that crowd of long ago who welcomed into Jerusalem Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” And just now, in the account of the Passion from the Gospel of Matthew, we have raised our voices in the words of that crowd of long ago – many of whom had undoubtedly been among those joyfully welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem – Crucify him! Crucify him! It is fitting, because we, who have been given the dignity of the name “Christian” by our baptism, at times welcome Jesus with joy – especially if it is safe to do so when everyone else is doing the same – and all too often by our sins, find ourselves among the crowd requiring his death. How well this Holy Week fits us.
The reading from the Apostle explains in beautiful simplicity the drama that has unfolded for us in the narrative of the Lord’s Passion: Christ Jesus, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself…becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Or, as the Letter to the Hebrews instructs us elsewhere: Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.
But what does this mean when we say becoming obedient to the point of death, or he learned obedience from what he suffered? For surely it was the perfect love and obedience of the Son, who from all eternity, in the life of God which is love, returns all that he has received from the Father back to the Father in the power of the Spirit – it was this perfect love and obedience by which he had already emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. It was thus in the same humanity which he shares with us, always united to the person of the Son of God, that Jesus faced the last enemy, which is death with its ultimate challenge of absurdity and meaninglessness, and gave witness that the love of God is ever more powerful than death can ever be. So it was that Jesus did not have to learn obedience for himself – he who was obedient in love from all eternity. Rather, he experienced obedience in that humanity he shares with us so that we, his body, might learn from him, our head. It was for our sake that he loved us unto death, even death on a cross. As the Letter to the Hebrews states elsewhere: Since the children share in blood and flesh, he likewise share in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and free those who through fear of death had been subject to slavery all their life. We are the ones subject to slavery, and thus too often we join the voices of those requiring Jesus’ death, as we did just now. For in our weakness and our ignorance we struggle against the fear of pain and nothingness and meaninglessness, and our sins are so often a distorted attempt to grasp as some pleasure, or security or satisfaction to dull our fears. Yet through the power of evil, we grasp at partial, or distorted or incomplete good as though it were ultimate. And so it took an immense love, willing to suffer the bitter death of the cross abandoned and alone; it took an immense love by which the Father did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all to give us the hope to trust that only by unwavering obedience to God and unshakeable trust in God’s immense love can we come to that never ending love, joy and peace which will fulfill our deepest longings. This was the lesson which Adam and Eve so fatally ignored in the account of the Fall. This is the lesson which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ teaches us today in the account of his Passion and Death.
So let us, too, make the words of the Prophet our own: I have not rebelled, have not turned back…The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
It is in the power of the Spirit that the Son has loved the Father in perfect obedience for all eternity, that he took flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was led to the cross. It is in the power of the same Spirit that he rose glorious from the dead, never to die again. That same Spirit has been imparted to us in Baptism and Confirmation. So that we may always live in the power of the Spirit, I invite you, urge you and beg you to join with the whole church in the celebration of the coming Easter Triduum, either with us here or in your own parish, that by the church’s liturgies of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper Holy Thursday evening, the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday, and the Great Vigil on Holy Saturday night, we may be strengthened in the power of the Holy Spirit through these celebrations of God’s love. For we are to be so conformed to Jesus Christ that we may by patience share in his sufferings, be conformed to him finally by a death like his trusting in the Father’s great love, so that, with him, we may live forever with all our loved ones and his holy ones.
Homily for Sunday, April 2, 2017Published:
5th Sunday of Lent “A”
It seems to me that there we could find the theme of a journey to be a central motif of this Fifth Sunday of Lent.
We are journeying through Lent this year, and are coming close to the end of our journey. We have now completed more than half of Lent. Next Sunday, Palm Sunday, will begin Holy Week, during which we will sanctify this entire year by the solemn commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus, our Lord and our Savior.
The Word of God, which has spoken to us today for our instruction, also speaks of journeys of various kinds. The Prophet Ezekiel is speaking to the Israelites living in exile in Babylon. They had not journeyed there of their own accord; they or their parents had been brought there as captives after the destruction of Jerusalem and of Solomon’s Temple. It was a time of unparalleled disaster in the Old Testament. Ezekiel is speaking to a people who have lost all hope, who feel God has forgotten and abandoned them. He promises in figurative prophetic language that God is surely going to raise them from the death of their hopelessness and bring them back to the land of Israel once again.
In the gospel, Jesus and his disciples journey from across the Jordan back to Bethany in Judea, Martha, Mary and the disciples have to journey from doubt to faith, and Lazarus journeys from the place of the dead back to life.
St. Paul speaks of our journey as Christians from life in the flesh to life in the spirit and very clearly sets out our journey as Christians through life and through death to eternal life: If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit dwelling in you.
So where are we on our journeys? Could it be that, by this time in Lent, we have slipped a bit in the initial fervor that got us started? We set out on Ash Wednesday with hope on our Lenten discipline, in order, as St. Benedict says, “to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.” The danger is for us to become discouraged and give up on this Lenten journey because we have not kept our resolutions as well as we had hoped. But our Lenten resolutions are not some marathon to see how much we can achieve. Rather, they are intended to turn us away from sin and to God. It is not about what we do, but what God can do in us. We may have done well or poorly, but there is always the opportunity to start again and set out on our journey towards Easter. The Prophet Ezekiel has spoken to us this morning as clearly as once, long ago, he spoke to the Children of Israel in exile in Babylon.
The gospel, I think, may give us the best mirror to reflect for us where we may find ourselves on our journey through life and faith, for with this journey Jesus is beginning his final visit to Jerusalem where he will face his death.
Thomas, called Didymus, and the other disciples say they are ready to go back to Judea with Jesus and to die with him, as though they are going along to support Jesus and help him. Yet we know that, when the time comes to die with Jesus, Thomas and the others run away in fear, leaving Jesus to face his agony alone. Are we like them? Do we like to think we are so strong and confident that Jesus can rely on us rather than we rely on Jesus? When we are faced with fundamental decisions in life, which force us to chose between following Jesus or following some other lord, how often have we abandoned Jesus because we were afraid? Is there a danger that instead of faith, we have instead merely a self-improvement program?
Or are we like Martha? She takes the initiative to go out and meet Jesus and speaks with him face to face, telling him, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. She gives the correct responses in her conversation with Jesus: I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day. She even professes her faith: Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world. But when the time comes to trust, to have confidence in Jesus’ and his power to save, she falters. When Jesus commands: Take away the stone, Martha objects: Lord, by now there will be a stench. He has been dead four days. How often, when faced with a decision to bet our life on Jesus and power of his resurrection – or not – do we falter as well, and shrink back from trusting Jesus as our Lord, our Savior? Our journey in faith is likely to be as halting, or more so, than Martha’s. Would that we could be more like Mary. Only when called by the Lord does she come. Unlike Martha, who faces the Lord as an equal, she falls at his feet. And if she is indeed the woman in Luke’s Gospel who washed the Lord’s feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, she merits to hear yet again today: Because she has loved much, much has been forgiven her. She speaks the same words as her sister, Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died, but falls at Jesus feet bringing only her tears of sorrow and her absolute trust in Jesus’ unfailing mercy. And her sorrow and trust move Jesus so deeply that he acts, and he weeps. That should be our model for our Lenten observance – to fall at Jesus’ feet with tears of sorrow and absolute trust in his mercy.
Or, finally, is our journey like that of Lazarus. He has to come back from the place of the dead in response to Jesus’ command. Is that not us? There is a marvelous illustration of this moment in the St. John’s Bible. It shows this event from the perspective of Lazarus. We are in the dark tomb standing just behind Lazarus, looking toward the brilliant light where Jesus is standing at the entrance to our tomb. We have a choice. Do we want to come out into that light where Jesus is waiting to receive us? He has told us himself: Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. The darkness can seem so comfortable, even though we are stuck in deeds of darkness that can never satisfy our longings, locked in fear of failure, without hope that we can ever break away from the tawdriness of our sins and come to the peace of virtue.
Yet, on this day of our journey in life, the Lord speaks to Lazarus the words he so wishes to speak to each of us: Unbind him. Let him go free. Are we, who have professed in our baptism that I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world, also willing to bet our lives on Jesus, and to trust that he can unbind us from our sins, our works of darkness, our fear?
We are now arriving at the closing weeks of our Lenten journey for this year. Let us pray that God be pleased answer that prayer we made at the beginning of this Mass both for the remainder of this Lenten journey and our journey through life: “By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death.”
Holy Week began on April 9th with the pontifical Mass for Palm Sunday. The complete schedule of liturgies for the Easter Triduum can be found here.
On April 11th, Fr. David Kessinger and Abbot Placid celebrated the Chrism Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Charlotte with Bishop Jugis and the priests of the diocese.
The abbey and college communities welcomed nearly 900 youth to campus for the annual Bishop’s Youth Pilgrimage for the Diocese of Charlotte on April 1st. Abbot Placid celebrated Mass for the participants in the morning. There were talks and presentations during the day, which closed with Bishop Peter Jugis addressing the participants and leading a holy hour and Eucharistic Procession with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
On March 30th, the college’s annual Cuthbert Allen Lecture, named in honor of Father Cuthbert Allen, O.S.B., was given by Dr. Stephen Barr on the topic the relation between science and religion.
The abbey community celebrated the Solemnity of the Dedication of the Basilica on March 28th. That evening, Abbot Placid, Father Christopher and Father Elias assisted at the Lenten penance service sponsored by the students in the college.
The Benedict Leadership Institute at Belmont Abbey College presented the first Benedict Leadership Award to Carl Anderson, Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus, for his work in aiding Christian refugees in the Middle East on March 24th. The celebration began with Solemn Vespers of the Annunciation and continued with dinner and an address by Mr. Anderson.
On March 21st, Bishop Peter Jugis of Charlotte and priests of the diocese, together with the Sisters of Mercy and members of the college community joined the monks to celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Benedict with Mass and a luncheon.
Brother Augustine joined students from the college for an Alternative Spring Break service project with the Missionaries of the Poor in Jamaica.
Father Elias assisted with the visitation of the dependent priory of Assumption Abbey in Tibatí, Colombia.
Abbot Placid and Father Christopher presented the annual parish mission for St. Aloysius Parish on March 12th and 13th in Hickory, NC.
The monastery and college communities began Lent on March 1st with Mass for the distribution of ashes.
Homily for Sunday, February 19, 2017Published:
Today we are commanded by Jesus to love our enemies. The first question that might come to mind in hearing this commandment from Jesus, is one that comes from Scripture itself, for it seems that God himself at times does not follow this commandment, but is said to hate sinners and enemies. As it is written of God in the psalms, You are not a god who delights in evil; no wicked person finds refuge with you. You hate all who do evil. A bloody and fraudulent man the Lord abhors. In answer to this apparent contradiction, St. Thomas Aquinas responded as follows. Two things may be considered in a sinner: their nature and their guilt. According to their nature, which they have from God, they have a capacity for happiness and fulfillment in God. This is a capacity which all human beings share, and forms a commonality and similarity between human beings far greater than that which can exist between human beings and other things. Therefore, we ought to love sinners, out of charity, in respect of their nature. On the other hand, the guilt of sinners (the consequence of their evil deeds) is opposed to God, and is an obstacle to their happiness. Therefore, in respect of their guilt whereby they are opposed to God, all sinners are to be hated, even one’s father or mother or kindred. For it is our duty to hate, in the sinner, their being a sinner, and to love in them, their being a person capable of happiness and fulfillment in God. And this is to love them truly, out of charity, for God’s sake.
Echoing some of the same thoughts, St. Augustine says the following: “You have enemies. For who can live on this earth without them? Take heed to yourselves, love them. In no way can your enemy so hurt you by his violence, as you hurt yourself if you love him not. For he may injure your property, your prospects, your friends, or your family; or at most, if such power be given him, your body. But can he injure your soul, as you can yourself? Reach forward, dearly beloved, I beseech you, to this perfection. Yet let it not seem impossible to you. I know, I have known by experience, that there are people who do love their enemies. If it seem to you impossible, you will not do it. Believe then first that it can be done, and pray that the will of God may be done in you. For what good can your neighbor’s misfortune and ill do you? If he had no ill, he would not even be your enemy. Wish him well then, that he may end his ill, and he will be your enemy no longer.
Ultimately, we know that God himself does in fact live by this commandment, love your enemies. God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. God proves his love for human beings, in that while we were still enemies, Christ died for us. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him. Thus Jesus can say, do likewise, love your enemies, and be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. And it is precisely in loving your enemies that you will show that you are children of God. On the day when you love only those who love you, and greet only your friends, be convinced that you will be living that day as the pagans and the unbelievers do.
So, it is clear that if we wish to be followers of Christ, we must love our enemies. But acknowledging this as true does not make it easy to do. It is far easier to return evil for evil, to give as good as we get, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. What can we do to avoid acting in retribution and revenge, which can do so much damage to our own souls? First of all, I suggest that we approach the challenge as it truly is, a spiritual battle. Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the evil spirits in the heavens. We must spiritually prepare ourselves for the struggle. We must be receiving grace, through prayer and sacraments. We should also not neglect to invoke the assistance of the angels and saints. These are things we should be especially attentive to doing when we know we will be around our enemies. It is frankly impossible to love our enemies without being filled with the grace of God. Such an attempt would be like the person who attempts a grueling physical exercise without having eaten sufficiently. All that is left to see is when they will collapse and their effort will fail. In like manner, we must feed ourselves spiritually so that we are strong for the contest.
And as Jesus says, pray for those who persecute you, praying selflessly for them. Pray for the success of their good endeavors; pray that they might live life more abundantly; pray for their beatitude. Among the many prayers lauded by the Church in spiritual trials, the rosary is particularly noteworthy. Praying the rosary for the intentions and good of one’s enemies is an excellent practice. And if we have the opportunity, do good to our enemies. If they are in need, rush to their assistance. Greet them warmly in the marketplace and wish them well. It is a simple truth that when we fill ourselves with good will toward someone, it pushes out ill will.
And do not neglect the power and grace of forgiveness. If by chance, we have sinned against our enemies, ask them for forgiveness. And do this, even if they do not respond in kind. In forgiving, we are commanded to act unilaterally, if need be. If they do ask for forgiveness, forgive them freely. If they do not ask for forgiveness, express forgiveness in one’s heart for them anyway. And repeat the action. Forgiveness can sometimes be an ongoing work, a daily and repeated intention. There is great grace and blessing in engaging in this work of forgiveness, especially if it is difficult.
These things are not easy to do, and sometimes we fail. At those times when we do fail, we should try to learn from our mistakes, so that we do not repeat them. And we should simply try again without growing discouraged. Every day we should begin the task anew, if necessary. Ultimately we can have hope if we never stop seeking God, and trying to love him more. For the more a person grows in love of God, the more a person will love his neighbor, out of charity, for God’s sake, and the more will he put enmities aside. It is similar to how, if we loved a certain man very much, we would love his children even though they were unfriendly towards us. Thus, even if all of our other strategies and efforts fail, if we continue to grow in our love for God, we will arrive at love of our enemies.
In this Eucharist, we pray for the grace to make whatever next step we need to, in order to love our enemies. Amen.
Homily for Sunday, February 5, 2017Published:
Two weeks ago, we had the gospel describing the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and at the time we heard very dramatic language. Jesus’ coming was nothing less than a great light breaking upon a land that before had been in perpetual gloom. It shone upon a people who had been accustomed to living and walking in darkness, and it was utterly captivating. In Jesus, people could see that they were meant for far more than just a humdrum existence, that there was far more to life than just surviving and moving through another day, that God’s plans for them were life not death, that each of them has the potential to receive the glory of being a child of God. And He showed them what that looked like. As the gospel of John says, what came to be through Jesus was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
What is this darkness? It is a darkness of not knowing how to live in a way that produces enduring joy, and instead pursuing transient pleasures, that only end in emptiness and pain. It is a darkness of not knowing how to be fed by God, and so eating food that is unsatisfying and unnourishing. It is a darkness marked by anguish and distress, and all the human sufferings of the heart. Ultimately such darkness is caused by humanity’s turning away from God, and looking at other things instead. As St. Augustine famously said, our hearts are restless, until they rest in you, O God. Now it is true, human beings are also very capable of causing anguish and distress to each other. But the person in this case has first turned away from God, as a necessary precondition. And then he or she is simply spreading the darkness that is within them to others, in the same way that we can spread the light that is within us to others. And so, it leads to the same conclusion: ultimately the cause of spiritual darkness is a human being’s turning away from God. How often it is that human beings fall into darkness. As in the time of Jesus, so it happens today as well.
And thus we have today’s readings. They are our marching orders as followers of Christ, the great Light of the human race. The problem before us is that when people fall into darkness, it is often the case that they cannot find the light on their own. Someone has to show them the light. Someone has to bring them the light. In God’s plan, that someone is us. Jesus came first and showed us how to do it, and now He asks us to do the same.
What does a human being that bears the light of Christ within them look like? What is it that we are supposed to be like? That is the teaching of our first reading today and of many other scriptures. The person who bears the light of God within them does not seek to take advantage of others or to use others for selfish purposes, which is the complete opposite of love. This person opposes and does not tolerate oppression, the cruel and unjust treatment of others. This person does not engage in false accusation and lies about others. This person does not engage in malicious speech: gossip and detraction about others, either for ridiculing amusement or revenge. This person acknowledges God before others, and is not ashamed of identifying themselves as a follower of Christ. This person speaks with wisdom, not foolishness. This person, in engaging with other people, leaves them better off for having had the encounter, imparting goodness, peace, and joy to others, and in some cases even healing. This person is charitable and generous with people around them, especially those in any need, because ultimately this person is a child of their Father in heaven, and is therefore filled with the love that comes from their Heavenly Father.
So, when we leave this church, and go out among the world, engaging all of the people whom we encounter, family, friends, and strangers, do we shine? Perhaps one danger is that we simply extinguish ourselves when we leave here, and blend in with others, even those who live in darkness. After all, it can be difficult to stick out and draw attention to oneself. In certain circles, it might even make one unpopular. And the fear of rejection is a very real fear. And so people do cover themselves with a bushel basket, and pretend to be as unlit as all of the people around them. To those who would do that Jesus says: your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. For they are depending on you to see the light. If they do not see it in you, they may not see it at all.
But another possibility is that we are not actually fully lit yet, perhaps we are burning only dimly. Apart from Christ, the world can be a cold place, and if we separate ourselves from Christ, we can indeed become dim or even extinguished. To be a true light in the world, we must become light itself. Jesus said, I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a great fire of love in the heart of Christ. It is the true source of His light. If we are to be lights, we must spend time close to the fire that is Christ. The flame of his heart will melt our hearts, even if they be of ice or stone, and they too will ignite. There is nothing that can resist the force of His love. The more time we spend in spiritual reading, in thinking about God, in talking to God, in helping God in our neighbors, the more time we will be spending close to the fire of Christ’s love, and the more blazing we will be. If we are fully ablaze, we will be like the saints, who are nothing less than direct extensions of Christ’s love present in the world. Their impact in the world is like that of sparks passing through stubble. Everything they touch catches on fire. That is nothing less than the impact that each of us can have, is called to have on the people around us.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus today tells us that we are to be the light of the world. As in the days of Christ, there are many people today who walk in darkness. Will we do our part to shine and show them a different way? Or will we leave them in the darkness? The choice is ours.