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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.
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.