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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.
Homily for Sunday, January 15, 2017Published:
Brother Gregory Marshall, O.S.B.
January 15, 2017
We have, Brother Gregory, at last arrived at the day of your solemn profession, when you wish to make the words of our Holy Father Benedict at the conclusion of the Prologue to his Rule once and for all your own: “Never serving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.” By happy coincidence you are making your profession on the day we commemorate the first two disciples of St. Benedict, whose names are known to us, Sts. Maur and Placid. May they, and all other who have gone before us on this way, be your examples, your intercessors and your companions.
You have, of course, reached this day only with the help of many others. First of all, we – and you especially – owe an inestimable debt of gratitude to your family whom we are happy to have with us today, and especially to your mother and father. Our community is most grateful to you, Mr. and Mrs. Marshall and Joseph. We have your son and brother, Andrew, as our Brother Gregory first and foremost of all because of you; and we have reason to suspect that at times you were called upon to exercise significant amounts of patience and love. We owe likewise a significant debt of gratitude to Father Bill, who brought you into communion with the Catholic Church and who has, likewise with great skill and patience, encouraged you on your way and has come to celebrate with you and with our community today. It may, of course, a case of “seeing is believing” on his part. Special thanks are likewise due to Father Elias and Brother Tobiah, who have been entrusted with the important responsibility of forming you and others in our monastic way of life, and thanks are due as well to our monks in formation, who through you and for you have come to a more profound appreciation of these aforementioned words of St. Benedict: “We shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ.”
By happy coincidence again, the readings from Sacred Scripture assigned by the church to this Sunday prove uniquely apt for this celebration. As we learn through our cultivation of lectio divina, we are not to return continually only to those passages which are our favorites, which perhaps comfort rather than challenge us. Instead, we are to be open to the Word of God as it is addressed to us in its fullness, for our instruction and correction.
The response for the Psalm today is especially fitting for the occasion: Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will. You have indeed come to this day when you wish to bind yourself irrevocably to do God’s will. It has not been an easy journey, and has taken many turns and involved many flights from that will. But something has continued to draw you: to Baptism, to communion with the Catholic Church. Jim Day brought you one day, now a good number of years ago, to Belmont Abbey, and here you continued to return – and to run away. But four years ago you returned for one final time and, at last, with the help of many brothers, faced the pain and fear that comes with not running. And now we have arrived at this day.
But days of arrival are also days of new departures. For this day is only a beginning. For the words: I come to do your will, so noble and beauty are yet terrible, for God’s will demands a response that St. Benedict tells us must be neither “cringing or sluggish or half-hearted, but free from any grumbling or any reaction of unwillingness.” These words I come to do your will are indeed attractive to us, and we are generally willing to give something to them – but they demand we give all, and that terrifies us. You have spent a good part of your life running from that prospect of giving all, as have we all at various points in our lives, finding a variety of escapes in order to forget and not listen. But the inevitable unhappiness and total misery that brings make it unavoidably clear that it is only by letting go at last to those last things we want to hold onto for ourselves and giving in totally to God’s will that we will find any lasting happiness and peace. And so you have arrived at today, and the difficult path of a lifetime of conversion is set to begin. Here am I, Lord; I come to do your will. Truly making these words your own will demand far more sacrifice and difficulty that you have yet experienced. For God’s will demands our entire self without reservation, so that we may be reformed entirely anew in the image of the one who created us. You will learn the dire import of the Lord’s words: From one to whom much has been entrusted, much will be required. You will continually have to learn and relearn the sacrifice and discipline and patience that authentic love requires. We, your confreres, will give you infinite opportunities to do so.
You are, in the Apostle’s words to us today, called to be holy. And this is not just for yourself. It is for the salvation of the world. The words of the prophet, addressed once long ago to the People of Israel are directed today to you and to each of us here: I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth. Everyone baptized in Christ is sent to make God’s salvation known. You are committing yourself to the prayer, life and work of this abbey which, for one hundred and forty years has been building up the church in North Carolina, for monastic life, as any Christian life, must be evangelical. The monastery evangelizes by the witness of its very existence and life. By its very existence the monastery challenges the larger church community and the greater human community with its message that the Lord is God and Him alone are we to serve, and challenges people to consider the meaning and purpose of their life and their ordering of priorities. Through a life dedicated totally to seeking God in prayer, and by forming a community of men of the most varied ages, backgrounds, temperaments, personalities and weaknesses held in unity by the grace of Jesus Christ, the monastery strives to live the Great Commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind…you shall love your neighbor as yourself. By fidelity to the vows you are about to profess and by ceaselessly striving for holiness of life, you are to bring the light of God’s salvation to others, to us, your confreres, first; and then with us, to all who come.
Finally, the words of John the Baptist in today’s gospel sum up for us succinctly the entire meaning and purpose of our monastic life: Now I have seen and testified that he is the Son of God. The entire way of life Our Holy Father Benedict has outlined for us in his Rule is centered on Jesus Christ, the Savior who takes away the sin of the world and brings us back to his Father in the power of the Spirit. At the very beginning of his Rule, Saint Benedict challenges us to return to Him from whom we have departed through the sloth of disobedience by taking up the “strong and noble weapons of obedience to do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord.” In that obedience, he instructs us to imitate the Lord, “of whom the Apostle says: He became obedient even to death,” and urges us to “conform to the saying of the Lord: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. He challenges us to see Jesus Christ in those who are vulnerable, needy and weak; that is, in the guests who present themselves, especially the poor and pilgrims, in the sick, in the abbot. According to his Rule, We are to be so perfected in humility by the grace of Jesus Christ that we “will quickly arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear”, so that the virtue we once labored to acquire with difficulty we “will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue.” His final words in his Rule to us, his sons, are: “Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.”
And so, if you are willing to entrust your life from this day forward without reservation or holding back to the boundless love and mercy of Jesus Christ, he will by his grace save you from your self-absorption and give you his own strength to obey what he commands, so that conformed by Christ and through Christ to the image of Christ, the Father will come to share with you that fullness of eternal life and love which he has always shared with His beloved Son from all eternity. If, therefore, trusting in the grace of Jesus Christ alone, you are willing to commit your life from now until your death to monastic life in this community according to the Rule of our blessed Father Benedict, I ask you to come forward and state your intention before God and His saints, and His holy people gathered here.
On January 5, the monastic community together with members of the college faculty and administration joined the Board of Trustees for dinner during their annual board retreat.
Brother Gregory Marshall, O.S.B. made his Solemn Profession at the Conventual Mass on Sunday, January 15. Bishop emeritus William Curlin and priests of the Charlotte Diocese joined the monastic and college communities and oblates for the celebration.
Father Elias was one of the speakers for Belmont’s annual Unity Day Celebration, held on Monday, January 16.
Father Edmund McCaffrey died in Louisville, KY, on Sunday, November 13, 2016. Father Edmund and alumnus of the college and former monk of Belmont Abbey, and had served the community as abbot from 1970-1975. He had subsequently been incardinated into the Diocese of Charleston, SC. The funeral was celebrated on Monday, November 28, at St. Michael’s Church, Murrells Inlet, SC, where Father McCaffrey had been the founding pastor. Father David Kessinger and Abbot Placid represented the abbey at the funeral. The same day, the Conventual Mass at the abbey was offered for Father McCaffrey. May he rest in peace.
Abbot Placid was a guest of St. Andrew Parish Community in Clemson, SC, for the celebration of their 80th anniversary on November 30. The original chapel had been designed by Father Michael McInerney, a monk of Belmont Abbey.
Abbot Placid, Father Christopher, Father David Brown, and Father Elias joined the students on December 1 in the abbey basilica for the “United by Praise” Advent service of adoration and reconciliation. Father Matthew Kauth of the Diocese of Charlotte was the homilist.
The Abbey Players presented the annual “Christmas at the Abbey” celebration in the Haid Theater on December 3.
Abbot Placid attended the installation of Bishop Michael Burbidge, formerly the Bishop of Raleigh, as the fourth Bishop of Arlington, VA, in the Cathedral of Saint Thomas on December 6.
The monastic and college communities celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception with pontifical Mass on December 8. The day was also a holiday for the college. That evening many of the monks were president for the President’s Christmas Reception in the Haid ballroom.
The Abbey Chorus presented their annual Christmas Concert in the basilica on December 9.
Homily for November 13, 2016Published:
In today’s gospel, Jesus and his disciples are walking through the city of Jerusalem, and the disciples are impressed by the magnificence of the Temple there. Of course, the original Jewish Temple had been built by King Solomon and destroyed at the conquest by the Babylonians. The Temple being referred to in today’s gospel is the second Temple, built by King Herod the Great, in the first century before Christ. Temples come and go. According to the historian Josephus, Herod desired to perpetuate his name with great construction projects. In some ways it makes sense. After all, leaving behind permanent monuments to one’s existence seems like a good way to ensure one’s legacy. Of his many projects, Herod’s masterpiece was the Temple of Jerusalem. And elsewhere, in John’s gospel, it is mentioned in passing that the Temple had been under construction for forty-six years. It was truly a magnificent structure, a marvel of engineering in its time. Tacitus, another historian, speaks of the immense opulence of the temple. Among its treasures, there was a golden table, given by Pompey, and several golden vines of exquisite workmanship and immense size. As the disciples note today, the Temple was also adorned with costly stones and the many gifts people had brought to it in thanksgiving for divine favors that they had received. It was probably awe-inspiring, and likely not a few of the disciples thought it would last forever.
It is appropriate then, that Jesus uses this opportunity to give a lesson about the end of things. Jesus said, “All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” It is an important truth to keep in mind; all created things come to an end. There is a famous poem by Percy Shelley called Ozymandias. It goes as follows:
I met a traveler from an antique land, Who said – “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone stand in the desert… Near them, on the sand, half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, tell that its sculptor well those passions read, which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, the hand that mocked them and the heart that fed. And on the pedestal these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.
There is an appointed time for everything: buildings, cities, nations, peoples. They each have their beginning, but they also each have their end. And as Jesus says, eventually even the earth will pass away. In the end, the only thing that is timeless and enduring is God. Whatever God does will endure forever. And the word of God will not pass away.
Of course, the end of things applies to us as well. The Bible reminds us often of our mortality as human beings. You are dust, and to dust you shall return. The dust returns to the earth as it once was, and the life breath returns to God who gave it. Fittingly, Jesus’s words about the destruction of the Temple, could be applied to us as well. Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For those who are young, and in excellent health, they might even think of their bodies in the way people spoke of the Temple in Jerusalem: strong, magnificent, well adorned, and inspiring admiration. And yet the days will come when not a cell will be a left upon a cell in your body, that will not be separated. For the young, such a reality seems very far away. But life is uncertain, and we know not the day or the hour when it will end.
Why would God ask us to think about these things? Assuredly, the intent is not to be morbid or depressing. Rather, I think one purpose is to encourage us toward a freedom of spirit. The danger for human beings is to believe that anything on Earth lasts forever, and then overly to rely on it, to become dependent on it. Even great temples and nations are built and destroyed in their time. If we are too attached to something that is not permanent, eventually it will result in us being affected by anxiety and fear that we will lose it, and depression if we do lose it. This is not to say that we shouldn’t care about people and things. We should strive for and love good things and good people, as the Lord has given them to us. But everything in its proper context. If we love and depend on God first, then we have an anchor of stability in our lives, if and when we lose other things. Then we will have the ability to say with Job, the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
And there is also an agility of spirit and purpose to which we are called by God. The transience of all things will become more and more real for us, as we age. We may lose longtime friends and companions, either from distance or by death. We may lose material possessions. We may lose abilities, opportunities, and good health that were once available to us. But through all of these changes, we are called to understand that in every new circumstance of life in which we find ourselves, there is God. In every circumstance of life in which we find ourselves, we have our tasks and work to do alongside God, those good things that we are capable of doing. In life, there is no dead end. There is no point where we have nothing else to do. If we can no longer do what we once did, what is God calling us to do now? The challenge for us is that of continuing discernment. And the call of God to do new and different things is a continual blessing for us. Ultimately, working with God is life-giving for us and for others. The tragedy is not if we have something to do; we are happier and more fulfilled when we can make a contribution. No, the true tragedy is if we are unwilling to do something different, and refuse God’s invitation. So, are we agile enough in our spirit to respond to God if He calls us to do something new and different?
In this Eucharist, we pray for the grace to count our days aright, to know the shortness of our life, that we may gain wisdom of heart. And, may we be free to love and serve God in all of the changing circumstances of our life. Amen.
The monastic community helped welcome the largest entering class ever, over 430 new students, to Belmont Abbey College on Friday, August 19.
The Matriculation Ceremony for Belmont Abbey College’s Class of 2020 was held in the abbey basilica on Saturday evening, August 20. The college faculty join the monastic community for Solemn Vespers, along with the new class. During the service, the new class is formally handed over from the Admissions Office to the college faculty.
The monastic community began consideration of a new Customary at a community meeting on August 24.
Abbot Placid departed on September 4 for Rome to participate in the Congress of Benedictine Abbots at the International Benedictine College, Sant’ Anselmo, Sept. 4-16. This gathering held every four years, brings together all the abbots of the Benedictine Confederation from around the world. The most significant item on the agenda this year is the election of a new Abbot Primate for the Benedictine Order.
Homily for August 28, 2016Published:
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time “C”
I suspect we all spend a good amount of time and energy wondering what others think about us – our friends, supervisors, teachers, coaches, neighbors – and try to present ourselves in the best way possible so that these people think well of us. There is a whole advertising and fashion industry built on convincing us that, if we wear the right clothes, drive the right cars, etc. people automatically will think well of us. We do, of course, live in a culture which thrives on the superficial. We are even treated to the rather bizarre spectacle in these days of candidates for political office seeking to convince the voters that they have the experience and wisdom to safeguard our government and society by seeking endorsement by popular celebrities in the fields of entertainment and sports who have no recognizable expertise in the weighty issues facing us, and whose lifestyle often cautions against entrusting anything of value to them.
In the midst of all this, do I ever stop to take account of what God thinks about me? In the end, that is, of course, the only opinion that will matter. And God sees the heart. No amount of superficialities will ever blind God’s penetrating gaze.
This is the challenge presented to us, I believe, by the emphasis on humility in the instruction given us by the Word of God today. It is a virtue largely absent from consideration in the culture. And yet, next Sunday, September 4, thousands of people will be in Rome to celebrate the elevation by Pope Francis of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to the number of the saints -a woman who arrested the world’s attention by her simplicity and humility.
So, do we ever consider the virtue of humility? Certainly our first reading today recommends it and promises that, through humility, we will be loved and will find favor with God. St. Benedict, in his Rule, takes up humility in what is by far his longest chapter, giving twelve steps or signs that one is acquiring the virtue of humility. When all is said in done, I believe that true humility means that we see ourselves as God sees us. Since God can never be deceived and is Truth itself, to see ourselves as God sees us means that we have a true and accurate knowledge of ourselves, and thus can live truthfully, and thus can find peace.
St. Benedict’s first step of humility is that we keep the fear of God always before our eyes, and he tells us that to do that we have to keep our thoughts in order and struggle against our self-will. If we wish to develop this virtue, we have to be mindful, in the first place, of two things: we are creatures, and we are redeemed sinners. We are therefore entitled to nothing, but have received everything freely from God’s love and mercy. The minute we start to think that God owes us something, or that we can go ahead and chose what we want without concern whether it is what God wants, we set ourselves up for emptiness, unhappiness and disappointment. But we tend to do that all the time because, well, everyone else is doing it; or, since we allege it is not nearly as bad as what others are doing, God should let us get away with it. After all, no one got hurt – physically.
Thus one important component of humility is our recognition of our limitations and weaknesses. We all have them, and will have them for a lifetime. There are two challenges which arise from our weaknesses. On the one hand, we can ignore our weaknesses and fail to take seriously their amazing ability insidiously and surreptitiously to take control of our actions so that, almost without knowing it, our life becomes controlled by our vices. On the other, we can be overwhelmed by them and begin to think that we are hopelessly bad people and so give up on the quest for goodness. Authentic humility acknowledges that we have weaknesses, that we have sinned, yet also confesses that God loves sinners and has never stopped loving me. As the Apostle says: God proves His love for us in this; that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Thus true humility can give me the courage to acknowledge my sins and vices and not let them control my life; and true humility can keep me from losing heart, because it keeps me confident of God’s never-ending love and forgiveness for me, a sinner.
So humility has something to do with acknowledging our weakness. But to stop there would be to have an incomplete, a distorted understanding of humility. Too often we find people thinking that humility has something to do with self-abasement, with deflecting praise, with pretend that we are not really as good as we know we are. That is not true humility.
Someone who is truly humble can easily acknowledge gifts; can admit calmly that he or she does some things very well, perhaps better than most people; that he or she is talented. If the person has the virtue of humility, he will also acknowledge that all these gifts and talents are gifts from God. By acknowledging them and developing them, he is not being proud, but is giving praise and thanks to the giver of the gift. These gifts and talents do not make us a better human being than others, but they do give us a responsibility to use these gifts for others.
This is why I believe true humility is seeing ourselves as God sees us, in other words, to see ourselves truthfully, as we really are, and to live in accord with that truth. A truly humble person is centered and integrated, and is so aware of both his faults and his talents, that he does not need to depend on the often shallow and passing approval of others – like the people seeking the first place in today’s gospel. Rather, we can acknowledge, that, as we have just heard in the Letter to the Hebrews, by God’s grace and baptism we have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven… Let us, then, in all humility, live this truth.
Let me conclude with the final verses of St. Benedict’s chapter seven, on humility, for he outlines for us a beautiful vision of the perfection of humility which God can, and wishes, to work in each one of us: “Now, therefore, after ascending all these steps of humility, the monk will quickly arrive at that perfect love of God which casts out fear. Through this love, all that he once performed with dread, he will now begin to observe without effort, as though naturally, from habit, no longer out of fear of hell, but out of love for Christ, good habit and delight in virtue. All this the Lord will by the Holy Spirit graciously manifest in his workman now cleansed of vices and sins.”
Novice Augustine Basque made his first profession of vows on July 11. Brother Augustine serves as sacristan for the abbey basilica. He will be taking courses in the college’s Theology Department in the fall.
In June, Father Elias preached the Forty Hours retreat at Immaculate Conception Parish in Hendersonville, NC.
Abbot Placid attended the abbatial blessing of Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, O.S.B., at St. Meinrad Archabbey, IN, on July 26.
Father David Kessinger visited Mary Mother of the Church Abbey, Richmond, VA, July 30-August 13, where he assisted the community by celebrating the Conventual Mass.
Our four Benedictine Volunteers for this year left for Africa on Sunday, August 14. They will be working at Benedictine communities in Tanzania for the next nine months. They were commissioned and sent forth with a blessing by the monastic community at Lauds on the 14th after spending a week with us in the monastery.
Abbot Placid, Father Elias, Brother Gregory, Brother Anselm, Brother Ephrem, Brother George, Brother James and Brother Augustine attended the opening retreat for college faculty, staff and administrators on Monday and Tuesday, August 8-9, to begin the new school year.
Father Christopher, Brother Anselm, and Brother Ephrem will be teaching in the college this fall. Brother Edward will resume his duties in Campus Ministry, Brother Paul will continue his responsibilities in the Athletic Department, and Brother James will be working again this year in the Residence Life Office. Brother Gregory, Brother James and Brother Augustine will be attending classes in the college.
Homily for August 15, 2016Published:
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
We join the whole church today in celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. It is fitting that we gather here at this abbey, dedicated to the Mother of God, the Help of Christians. Falling as it does each year in the midst of preparations for the beginning of a new school year, this feast is likewise a fitting opportunity to seek the intercession of the Mother of God for the work we are about to enter into together.
One thing we should not do is think that we are somehow benefitting the Blessed Mother by our celebration, as though somehow we could contribute to her happiness, add to her blessedness or confer some honor or benefit. For she, having entered into the radiant joy of that eternal life to come and, truly full of grace, the very life of God who is life, cannot receive any increase to the fullness of life and love she has received as first among the redeemed. Rather, our celebration can increase our joy, as we see the fulfillment of what we, too, hope one day to receive. For we, like Mary, have been redeemed by the death and resurrection of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. She, who of all human beings was most closely united with her Son in his passion and death, is also the one most closely united with him in his resurrection, so that, having passed through death, she is the first to share fully in the resurrection of the dead. For if we profess with the divinely inspired Scriptures that God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life with Christ…raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavens in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4-6), and believe that in Jesus Christ’s created human body, in which he ascended into heaven, we see the anticipation of the resurrection of our own body, what we are celebrating in the Blessed Virgin Mary is simply the fulfillment of our faith. Indeed, today’s feast is the celebration of those truths we hold and profess in faith.
In the first place, we are invited simply to marvel at this revelation of God, the Most Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, who is living, creative love. Mary’s dignity as Mother of God, and her assumption body and soul into heaven, are signs of God’s free and sovereign choice in love. Today’s celebration, therefore, is a reminder to us of the free gift of life and of eternal life given to us, through no merit or deserving of our own. We too, like Mary, have received the pledge of eternal life; a pledge guaranteed to us by God’s grace. We have only to accept it and hold fast to it. So often we lose our focus and see only the trials and difficulties facing us. We are invited today to join in Mary’s song of praise: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior… for He who is mighty has done great things for me. We are invited today to contemplate and to return thanks for our many and abundant blessings, especially the gift of eternal life, which itself alone outweighs whatever trials and difficulties come our way.
Our celebration today is a profession of faith in the very heart of the good news, the gospel, namely that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead, as we were reminded in our second reading. This is not some detached intellectual assertion, but takes concrete form in the celebration of the life of Blessed Mary, body and soul, in heaven. In Mary, the first of those saved by Christ, the resurrection of Jesus Christ shines forth in the restoration of the beauty of creation from the death and destruction of sin. For the Lord’s resurrection, realized now in his mother, reveals to us the meaning of our own life. In the face of the so many things which would try to convince us of the meaninglessness of our existence, of the lack of any real purpose to life, our celebration reminds us that we have a destiny beyond the short space of time of this life. The celebration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is a concrete expression of the profession we will shortly make in making in the Creed: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” In Mary, that which we profess has become a reality. However, in the midst of our busy lives, in the weakness of our sinfulness, we can all too easily lose a right perspective on things. We become caught up in the immediacy of demands which may not really be all that important. Time and time again, we are tempted to chose short-lived gratifications, and we thus forfeit lasting joys. We are invited today to consider our life in the perspective of that life which is to come, to examine our priorities and, if necessary, to set them again in proper order. We are given the opportunity to look at our life and see whether we are living in a manner worthy of the call we have received to be disciples of Jesus, whether we are doing our best to fulfill the vocation which is ours at this time.
Finally, our celebration today is an encouragement to us not to lose heart in our struggle to live our faith with integrity. In our first reading, from the Book of Revelation, the woman clothed with the sun, about to give birth, represents both the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the church. The sign of the great red dragon with the seven heads and ten horns, waiting to devour the child the woman is about the bear, presents for us in vivid imagery the continual and deadly struggle in which we must engage with the power of evil. As the Scripture warns us: Our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens (Eph. 6:12). We know only too well the reality of the struggle, realized in our constant battle with temptation and sin. Furthermore, in the world in which we live, evil, always deceitful, can seem to have the upper hand, to prevail over goodness, justice, truth and love. The vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, assumed into heaven and made radiant with the glory of divine life, reminds us of the Apostle’s words: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are a nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us (Rom. 8:18). Her surpassing dignity as the Mother of God led her to stand at the foot of the cross and witness the barbaric execution of her only Son. Even after the indescribable joy of her Son’s resurrection, the Lord withdrew in his Ascension, and Mary had patiently to endure the trials and challenges of the first spread of the gospel, until at the time of his choosing, her Son called her to share in his triumph over the final enemy, death. Our celebration today strengthens us in our own struggles, and, in the face of the evil at work in the world, encourages us not to lose heart. Mary knew that He who is mighty had looked upon the lowliness of His handmaid. Trusting in His might, and not in her own weakness, she trusted that the Lord’s word to her would be fulfilled. Through her prayer and example may we be likewise trust.
Let us, therefore, rejoice in the blessings this feast prepares for us: the invitation to acknowledge our many blessings and to return thanks; the vision of that everlasting life and joy in store for all the redeemed, in light of which we can order our priorities aright; the encouragement to remain steadfast in trial, trusting in the power of our Savior and Lord. May the Mother of God and Help of Christians intercede unceasingly for this abbey and college, dedicated to her, and help us make of this new school year a fitting offering of praise to our good God.