“We have seen His star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”
The now-famous star is just one more display of light associated with a theophany. The word theophany, meaning manifestation of God is similar to Epiphany, and that is, to make manifest to a magnified degree.
The concept of light has been most important from the first verse of the first book of the Old Testament. “Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep.”
God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.
Another theophany came with light when Moses saw the bush burning brightly.
Yet another was the pillar of fire at night that guided God’s people through the desert.
After the light of the star guided the Magi to Jesus, who is the light of the world, (light manifesting light as it were), then the same light continued to shine through the Transfiguration and finally at the Resurrection.
The light did not stop there. To St. Paul (this is still the year of St. Paul) the revelation of which he speaks in the Letter to the Ephesians, was made known in a brilliant display of light.
But as all terms that deal with God, there is the reality of a level that goes deeper than human language can explain.
We speak of light, the light that comes to us from the sun, from electrical bulbs, etc., but the Light of the World shines not for our human eyes but for the eyes of our faith, the eyes of our hearts.
And light always dispels darkness. The darkness of doubt, the darkness of confusion, the darkness of sin.
These are strange terms for a people who only believe in what can be described in human language or proven by physical experimentation.
So we celebrate the Light of the World manifesting Himself to the WHOLE world, not merely to a chosen few. That reality is displayed by the Magi coming from nations other than Jewish. They recognize something – someone- of great importance and they believed.
Now, BELIEF is the only requirement. Although Jesus came to save the whole world (“This is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for ALL– so that sins may be forgiven.”) His disciples did not completely comprehend that until Peter baptized Cornelius and his whole household without first making them Jews.
And Paul’s whole vocation was to go to the Gentiles – the non-Jews – to bring the light to them.
So we can look back (with 20/20 hindsight) to Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Jerusalem – Jerusalem, the symbol of the heavenly city. He says, “Jerusalem, Rise up in splendor, your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you. See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds the peoples, but upon you the Lord shines.” That is from the 60th chapter of Isaiah. Which is the full bloom of the many references to the anticipated salvation and how it is to be made known.
The prophet sees gifts that will be lavished upon God’s city, brought by caravans of camels, the best only way of transport then..
Basically, there would be a superfluity of wealth. Again the physical being used to describe the spiritual. Tangible gold, symbolizing the spiritual salvation, found in a renewed relationship with God. This salvation can only be described in other worldly terms, which make not sense to the unbeliever.
What other deeper truth or mystery can be found in the story of the Magi?
The one word GIFT.
And interesting study would be how the gift differs from the giver. Where does one stop and the other begin.
Obviously, we have just left the season of gift giving. The reason that we give gifts is because of today’s gospel passage. They brought gold, frankincense and myrrh. Gold fit for a king. Incense only offered to a deity and myrrh to foretell his death and to be used on his own dead body.
When we love, when we appreciate, or when we wish to repay, we give gifts. When we look below the surface we see that a physical gift is primarily a symbol of giving of self. “I wish that I could give you myself but I can’t, so I give you a token of me.” There are signs and symbols – and we all use them and need them. The Eucharist overflows with symbols.
When you come to Oceanside, you see a sign that spells O-c-e-a-n-s-i-d-e. The sign in not Oceanside but merely and indication that you are entering a geographic location termed Oceanside. But yesterday we had some clouds appear in the west. The clouds were a sign of rain but they also caused the rain.
The Eucharist is a such sign of God’s presence among us, becauset it also causes His presence to be made manifest.
The bread and wine are gifts from God’s providence to us. We bring those gifts of bread and wine, that God gave us, and we offer them back to God. But God doesn’t take them. He Himself enters into them on a level deeper than the physical or tangible and offers them (Himself) back to us
That is where the gift IS the giver. And He is asking us to give ourselves back to him on the same level – to the same degree that He has given himself to us.
But here the gift and the giver are not only blended into one, the giver and the receiver are now one.
So proper reception is as vital as proper giving and proper generosity.
How would you feel if you gave someone a gift and they refused it or misused it or discarded it? To receive generously is as important as to give generously. To receive lovingly is to encourage the giver to be even more cooperative with God’s grace to be generous.
But is there even a deeper message to gift-giving today?
Benedict XVI, our present Holy Father, gave a masterful presentation on the first day of this year on this very topic. Gift-giving and generosity.
He begins by speaking of Christ’s indescribable generosity to us in the negative. Mind you, the Holy Father’s deep concern for the whole Church must transcend national boundaries and international boundaries and even ignore them when his children are on both sides of those man-made boundaries. His message for the Day of Peace is that peace can never be realized as long as there is poverty in the world.
In a stroke of genius he introduced a Christ-centered approach to eliminating poverty in terms that can be easily understood today. He asks us to fight poverty WITH poverty. One of the evangelical counsels is poverty. That is, the freely chosen simplicity that combats the desire in everyone to possess – and even possess more than is necessary.
He says there is a poverty that Jesus made noble by the way he was born, how he lived his whole life and even how he died. Jesus, not only wished to become man but to become poor. The poverty of the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, besides an object of adoration for Christians, is also a school of life for man.
So there is voluntary poverty that offers dignity and there is a forced poverty that offends God and violates justice.
The Holy Father continues, “Misery cannot be efficaciously fought, if there is no attempt to make equality, reducing the unevenness between those who waste the superfluous, and those who don’t even have the necessary.”
Our responsorial psalm (72) “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” Continues with, “For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out. He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor. The lives of the poor he shall save.”
We know that what is happening in this country (and is being felt around the world) IS a Direct result of the desire to over possess--run wild. Give them enough rope and they will hang themselves and us too.
It is caused by greed. Greed is not against the law, in fact, the law is there to protect it and the greedy.
Just as lust is not against the law. The law protects it.
Avarice is not against the law, in fact every advertisement you see or hear is meant to enflame the desire to have what others have, to covert their possessions or whatever else they flaunt.
So today we are not only acknowledging the fact that God is made manifest, made one of us, (became man, so that we could be given divinity), we are also made aware of HOW he came and HOW he lived, so that His gift to us may be transformed into our gift to him. So that our lives may be Eucharistic.
Have we seen His star at its rising and have we come to do him homage?
Midnight Mass – 2010
No doubt, all you WHO may have been raised in another state, will remember the climate being a bit different. My own memory travels back my sixth year, to a crisp, below freezing, midnight with a clear sky and about a foot and a half of freshly fallen snow on the ground. I would struggle to step in the prints that my father had made ahead of me and the snow would crunch under my goulashes.
The church was packed and we all sang familiar carols but my mind kept going back to the presents under the tree.
And after Mass we went home and open our gifts and all was right with the world. Or so we thought. What is wrong with this picture?
Two things. 1. It was easy to get more interested in the trappings (like snow, songs and gifts) than the reason for the season. When the trappings change it is a challenge to keep our faith. And 2. It was just after Pearl Harbor and the world would not know peace for another four years. And maybe for decades or maybe it will never know peace.
We sang the glory tonight which is only a continuation of the hymn that was sung by the angels at the Birth of Jesus. “Glory to God in the highest and peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Or “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” That was one of the few occasions when Heaven spilled over unto the earth. Split open. Bethlehem for a brief moment in time was heaven.
So the angels gave glory to God. It was, at the Annunciation – the Incarnation, that Heaven and earth finally met and it was in Mary’s body. The union that took place was irrevocable. Humanity was now wedded to divinity. And what God has united, let no man divide. God’s love for us endured a long engagement – long by our reckoning. But now we are united with God for all of eternity. And because our minds are not capable of grasping things eternal we cannot fully understand what complete unity with God means, nor can we grasp the love that brought about this unity.
When we are included into God’s life there is no way we can escape from it but we can refuse the effects of it. We can run from unity with God but we can never run from God Himself. We can turn our backs on God but He will never turn his back on us. So if there is separation and DISunity it is our fault. If there is ultimate separation, in eternity, in Hell, it is because we will it, we desire it, not God. God’s will is that no sinner be lost but that he repent and convert and be saved.
So tonight we weakly mimicked the angel’s hymn of Glory. Glory to God because God alone is worthy of glory.
But the angels also sang of peace. And I would venture, that just as Bethlehem held heaven or was held in heaven briefly in God’s glory, so too the PEACE of heaven permeated Bethlehem. But oh too briefly. And peace is still illusive in the place where Peace Himself was born.
But that glory, that peace, and that unity inundated the whole world and has flooded its way into every human heart. It is there now but it is up to us to seek it. And when we find it we can never be the same. And if we revert back to our former ways, then we have not fully experienced the unity, the true peace nor the glory, to the point of allowing them, to influence our lives. .Any peace or unity that does not find its source in the unity of the Trinity and, especially, in the Prince of Peace in only a false peace and a phony unity.
Because heaven and earth have met, our hearts too are residences of divinity.
And divinity alone would be able to offer peace after the most painful and senseless act of violence imaginable. Yet the first word from his mouth after the Resurrection, when He came to His disciples, was PEACE.
Isaiah vividly describes what EVERYONE experiences on the deepest level.
Unfortunately those who never venture there (to the deepest level) for ignorance or fear can’t understand what he is saying. How can you tell people who are in the dark yet think they are in the light, that they are walking in darkness? Or how can you tell people who wish to remain in the dark that a great light has come for them?
Or that they CAN have abundant joy but that they are satisfied with superficial pleasure?
Or when you might point out to them that they are slaves and can have the yoke of slavery broken when they have chosen their slavery and revel or wallow in it?
It is all a matter of faith. FAITH that there is a level which IS NOT obvious but that it is as real or more real, than the one that can be experienced with our senses.
So when the prophet foresees that every boot that ever trampled in battle and every uniform soaked in blood will be burned in a cleansing fire, he is pointing to the ONE Only one, who CAN do and WILL do everything to change darkness to light, sadness to joy and war to peace.
And who is the only one that can Do that (and has done it)? His title is Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
It is from that very passage in Isaiah that we have chosen the Prince of Peace for our patron and our patron
He is the one who came from the royal line of “David but his kingdom is as different from David’s as light from darkness, joy from sadness and peace from battle.
His kingdom will not be governed by weapons, even weapons of Mass destruction, His peace will be a product of judgment and justice.
Judgment between right and wrong, judgment between good and evil and judgment between justice and injustice.
Those who allow heaven into their hearts cannot act but with justice.
And justice, not based on greed nor on rights, but on love and compassion. The same love and compassion that compelled The Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, The Prince of Peace to do for us what justice could never have accomplished.
Similar to a woman who was not graced with beauty but had her portrait taken. When she saw the result she was angered and cried out that she be given justice. The photographer said, “Lady you don’t need justice, you need mercy.”
Paul explains that to Titus when he says, Jesus Christ gave Himself for us to deliver us, lawless men, from lawlessness and so cleanse us, who were not able to cleanse ourselves. Not able to become lawless by ourselves.
In other words, He died for us even when, in justice, we did not deserve it.
So finally God’s plan, born of love, came to fruition. An unassuming couple in Nazareth, who would have been content to remain there, were providentially, forced by a pagan ruler to make a difficult journey. The One in whom heaven and earth met, were wed, was forced to take refuge in a makeshift shelter. The ruler of the whole universe and through whom every thing was made had to born in a smelly stable, not a clean one like we depict here. But at his birth when she, the gate of heaven, brought him forth, The angels burst from heaven or rather brought heaven to earth and at that point heaven met heaven.
And heaven is still offered to anyone who wishes to surrender himself or herself to the gentle Prince of Peace. The Christ child is weak and dependent. The Father entrusted him to (we could almost say, had faith IN the woman and her husband to see the child was not harmed. He never sent legions of angels to protect him. Nor did he have an army who would rescue him from torture.
This Solemn Feast for us, is not only an acknowledgement of what has been done for us but the magnificent invitation to that deeper level of life where real peace, true joy and lasting unity are discovered and never lost.
That is the good news of great joy. A savior is born for us, Christ the Lord!
Br. Thomas’s profession July 9, 2011
A hearty welcome to Br. Thomas’ parents, The Clark, Frs. Hayes and Cassidy and his many friends and also the oblates of this monastery.
“Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”
In that simple sentence, spoken but Samuel when he was an apprentice and helper of the priest Eli, is power packed.
Through Eli, Samuel was aware that it was God who was speaking to him. God was calling him.
He realized God had plans and was directing, if not everything, at least the life of Samuel. But Samuel was the one through whom God’s message was to be proclaimed. We see the intimate bond that God had with his chosen instrument. His messenger.
In this case the relationship that God had with Samuel and vice versa is apparent. However, what every word of Holy Scripture tells us is that we all have a Unique but common relationship with our creator, with our Father.
His call to us is just as certain as it was to Samuel but the means by which His will is made manifest and how we perceive it varies greatly.
As a priest, I hear so many times, “What does God want of me or from me?”
What is God’s will? He wants the same from us as he wanted from Samuel.
He wants to speak to us and He wants us to listen to Him.
And He speaks to us in so many ways. He speaks to us through our talents, which He wishes us to use as they were intended to be used. For the edification of others and the building up of His people. Never for selfish means or goals.
He speaks to us through others – through their advice, their love and by the opportunities that they offer us to be of service. Many times the latter is misunderstood as burdens or trails.
He speaks to us through the random circumstances in our lives. And it is still my conviction that there are no such things as accidents. IT is only when our will does not coincide or conform to His will that we consider ourselves unfortunate.
Samuel was given the gift of faith to believe that the voice he heard was that of His Lord. And with him having his bed near the Ark of the covenant must have been steeped in the revelation of God’s love and care for His chosen people.
But the most revealing part of Samuel’s response was his admission that he was only a servant and was only intent on paying attention to any order from his Lord.
“Your SERVANT is listening.”
He sees His true relationship to His Lord as servant to Master. Jesus, Himself, centuries later, would bring into proper focus this concept.
Luke 22:27 “For who is greater; the one seated at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one seated at the table? I am among you as the one who serves.”
That is the switch. The one to whom Samuel was a servant would eventually appear and turn the tables and become the servant.
We serve God and God serves us. There is the mutuality, there is unity, there is the love for the other, which proves the presence of divinity.
Now comes the duty and privilege of the servant. To LISTEN.
That is the first injunction of our Holy Founder ST. Benedict. “LISTEN.”
That order is much richer than merely hearing with the ears of our body. We hear thousands of sounds a day. They run the gamut from the least important to the ones that hit us in the heart – where we live and have the potential to affect our lives.
So Benedict follows by saying “Listen, my son, with the ears of your heart.”
As Samuel understood his relationship with the one speaking as with His Lord and Master, our teacher and father Benedict amplifies Jesus’ message of Father to Son and son to father.
Now no longer Master and servant. But now the relationship is one of love.
Love that the father has for the son and that the son has for the father. But both mutually giving completely to the other and of service to the other.
The only thing that is different is the mode by which the service is accomplished. But unselfish service is always the goal always the completion of the call.
So when we listen to the call of Samuel with our hearts, or we listen to the call of a monk by our Father Benedict - with our hearts, what do we hear? We hear the invitation, the calling to complete happiness in our worthiness to be of service.
The Second Eucharistic prayer puts it so well, “We thank you for counting us worthy to stand in you presence and serve.” Imagine that, worthy enough to be of servant.
So, is it sufficient to hear with the ears of our body or even with the ears of our hearts? No. The call is never complete until it is answered. And answered quickly.
The call of God is filtered through the superior, through the abbot, and because of the holy service they have professed, they carry out the order as promptly as if came from God himself. Such people as these immediately put aside their own concerns, abandon their own will, and lay down whatever they have in hand, leaving it unfinished. Almost at the same moment, then, as the master gives the instruction the disciple quickly puts it into practice and both actions together are swiftly completed as one.” RB.5
So we have the relationship, the call, the answer to the call but there is one thing left yet to write. Take your pen and write “The disposition of love.”
When we were children, we obeyed for two reasons, reward or fear of punishment. But we quickly grow out of our childhood, while still remaining childish and we rebel. But the motive of a mature person, who has left childishness behind while remain childlike, is love.
Our Lord did everything out of love. He chose the narrow gate, the way of the cross, the most painful of deaths. Yet he had the nerve to tell us that if we follow him he will give us rest and the burden which he places of us is
Light and the yoke not only light but sweet. Who is He kidding? They are not light, easy nor sweet. UNLESS they are done out of love. If you resent the burden and the yoke you are not yet in love.
Love changes the whole equation. No burden is too heavy, no yoke is too restricting, IF they are welcomed with love.
So Brother may your every motive be to follow the Lord, not only in his actions but in his willingness to offer His life in love.
Dear Family and Friends,
Well, here we are at another Christmas and it is certainly true that the older we get the faster time flies. It hardly seems possible that another 12 months have already sped by.
Although this has been a busy year it has also been one that was filled with graces and joys. To begin with, health wise I seem to be holding up very well with everything in control. In my whole life I have only been in the hospital for two successive nights a few years ago only under observation because of a slight case of vertigo. I was even born at home.
We are blessed to have our two new priests to help with all the priestly duties and we have had one monk make solemn profession and another take simple vows. Hopefully the Lord will send more men to us this new year.
Our retreat house is filled on most weekends and although most of the retreatants are Catholic, about 40 percent are from other denominations.
This has been a travelling year for me. In May I headed back to my roots in New York to visit relatives and friends. I was saddened to get there in time to officiate at the funeral of a very dear and life-long friend. I also spent some quality time with my only surviving aunt who since then passed away. She was the last of my parent’s generation. Where does that leave me (us)?
In June I headed for Idaho, where I was a visitator at a monastery. In our congregation every four years we must have an abbot and another monk come in and review all the aspects of our life. (We had one here in November.) While I had to change planes in Salt Lake City I took a few extra days to visit a Trappist monastery near Ogden. The previous abbot, whom I met with, taught Scripture at the seminary I attended in Oregon. That gave me a chance to drive up to The Grand Teton and Yellowstone for the first time in my life. Unbelievable beauty!
Southern Arizona was my destination in July where I gave a retreat to a small Benedictine community. They also run an RV park and are overrun with “snowbirds” in the winter.
British Columbia was my August experience. We had our General Chapter at a monastery there in a most spectacular location. That takes place every three years. On our free afternoon I got to do some hiking in the hills.
Now that my travels are over for the year I am able to get more serious about things in the monastery. Our visitators pointed out some items that would help me in my responsible tasks and make life here run even more smoothly.
At present I am Oblate Director for those lay persons who wish to be attached to the monastery and help in some of our works and also join us in our apostolate of prayer. We have about 450. One of our brothers is my assistant, who actually does much of the paper work and correspondence.
The grounds are all green at present. We have had some heavy and early rains. And even during the summer our weather was cloudier and cooler than usual so things did not dry out. Of course, we have a most favorable climate with the temperature seldom going above 80 degrees and never freezing. Because of the afternoon ocean breezes we never need air conditioning.
We have a volunteer who comes up here almost daily and has begun an organic vegetable garden which keeps us well supplied with squash, zucchini and tomatoes. And one of the monks has planted a large vineyard and many fruit trees, including about 20 avocado trees. So we are getting more use out of the land.
The brother who cares for the bees thinks that the world problem of the loss of the little critters is due to cell phones and the disturbance of their honing devices. That remains to be seen. But it is a major problem everywhere. I think it was Albert Schweitzer who said that if the bees go, within ten years human life on the planet goes. Our food supply is so dependent upon them.
So the world has all sorts of problems; political, social, educational, economic, religious, national, international, emotional, etc. etc. But these all point to the reality that peace cannot be found outside of the human heart. To look for it elsewhere is futile. So let us go there and welcome the Prince of Peace and follow His lead in spreading His message of genuine love.
If that isn’t the primary motive all other endeavors are useless.
Peace and Love,
Simple of Vows
Sep. 5, 2012
Although we have all known for some time that this day would come, it is still something for which one can never fully be prepared. I am beginning to believe that funerals are as much a reminder (or wake up call) for the living as they are a spiritual viaticum for the deceased.
Long before Fr. Herbert passed away I was trying to gather thoughts for this homily. Although the funeral homily is not a eulogy it is difficult to develop
Scriptural allusions about life and death without concrete examples.
When I asked myself, if I had to find one passage in all of Sacred Scripture that would describe Fr. Herbert, what would it be?
Without any hesitation it would be what Jesus said in the first chapter of John’s Gospel about Nathanael, when he saw him coming. “There is an Israelite without guile.” Newer translations have, “without duplicity”.
His actions and his whole life were actions and living in genuine transparency. No duplicity. With Fr. Herbert it was, “What you see is what you get.” There were no ulterior motives of selfishness or pride or possessiveness. And that was because of his powerful faith.
Jesus tells His disciples, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Have faith in God and faith in me.” If it weren’t for faith none of us would be here. That is, our own faith in Jesus Christ and the faith of so many who have gone before us and have paved the way with their life sacrifices.
It is so refreshing to have seen faith in action. It seems that a decreasing number of us, who say we believe, are not willing to prove it by our lives and our actions. No doubt that is because of fear. Fear of loosing an image, fear of loosing security and fear of loosing our lives. However, Jesus tells us that if we wish to save our life we must lose it.
So, the fear to which Jesus refers in today’s Gospel is the fear of dying. And how faith in him will earn a place in His Father’s house. When we are young, dying, OUR dying, seems light years away. However the closer we get to it the more the thought of it enters into our consciousness.
Jesus eases the fear of the disciples of their own death when he says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, I am going to prepare a place for you.” Then He says “You know the way that leads where I go.” Thomas says, “We do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
And then comes the startling fact that sets Christianity aside from all other religions.
Jesus says, “I am the way.” I am the only WAY to reach the Father’s house,
Where you may live forever. Because I am also the truth that is, I not only speak the truth but I AM the truth. And I am the life. I not only give life, protect life but I AM LIFE. In other words, outside or away from me there is NO life – only death.
So faith IN the way, the life and the truth, that is, in Jesus Christ, is the sure means by which we reach the destination that we all desire. Although we don’t always know we desire it, because we all long for peace and happiness but can get fooled into thinking that we can find peace and happiness here and now. Any peace and/or happiness that we may find here is only temporary.
But that faith also diminishes or dispels fear of any loss, fear of death, our own dying.
Jesus has destroyed death but the condition that must be met to be free of death is to be incorporated into life. That is the news that Isaiah brings to the People of God. He says, “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for his people.”
WE Benedictines prefer mountains or hills on which to build our monasteries. Hills or mountains can be inaccessible places of seclusion where peace and even silence can be experienced. But they can also be places of worship. St. Benedict chose Monte Casino as a place to worship the true God, although other gods had been worship there. He cut down the sacred grove and destroyed any structures dedicated to other gods. When seen in that light, we are encouraged to make the summits of our hearts the places where worship of the true God takes place. Not the false gods that clamor for our attention and our allegiance. The god of pride, the god of pleasure and the god of possessions. But the True God who gives us the gift that “No eye has seen nor ear heard nor has it even entered the mind of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him.
So, in reality the sacred high places are then, only symbolic of the high places of love which we have within us to where we can escape whenever we choose. St. Benedict guides us to the summit of those high places where prayer, our relationship with Jesus Christ, is achieved. The goal, for Benedict, can only be attained by humility and obedience. Never doing anything that we consider best for ourselves but for someone else and to obey even if the superior should be mistaken but the subject will never err by obeying. That is the reason we came into the monastery, not to accomplish something but to be remolded, to give permission to the Lord to reform into Himself,, Jesus Christ, who came not to do his own will but the will of The One who sent him.
On this mountain the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces because death is destroyed. As well as the veil that covers us. The veil of fear, the veil of ignorance, the veil of selfishness will be removed. And, by the cross of Jesus Christ we will be saved.
The cross, by itself is the most absurd thing in the world. Because the vertical bar of life is contradicted by the horizontal bar of death. It can be a very meaningless item or symbol by itself. But when you put someone on it, its meaning is no long empty or absurd. Because He was put on it to show that death is the condition of life. That Good Friday leads to Easter Sunday.
That we die to the lower part of our lives and live for the higher, or spiritual part. But without faith there is no way that that makes sense. For Fr. Herbert, it made sense.
Centuries before Christ, God’s people were bitten by serpents and Moses received the remedy from God. Make a brass serpent and put it on a wooden staff. There was nothing in the brass snake (that looked like the snakes that bit the people), that could cure snake bites. But it was a sign of Christ who was to come and be raised on the wood. He had the appearance of being guilty while being perfectly innocent. Jesus was held on the cross, not by nails but by love. He did it for love of us and our whole lives ought to be spend in developing and imitating that love.
As Benedictine monks we see the genius of Benedict in attempting to assist his followers in the growth and the mutual exchange of that same love. It is found in the concept of community. After describing the various types of monks Benedict says, “let us pass them by, then, and with the help of the Lord, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites. That is those who subject themselves to living in a community under an abbot. We could use St. Paul’s words to the fullest. “None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. Of course when St. Paul wrote that to the Romans he meant it for every Christian who believes that Jesus died for us and rose for us.
But for the professed monk, especially one who was professed for 78 years, it has a unique meaning, tied to commitment. Commitment is permanent and total. Unlike some who today say, “I was temporarily committed or I was partially committed.” Impossible, either you are or you are not.
So today now bury a Benedict committed totally to Christ, to his community and to his abbot for 78 years. There is one who is without guile.
He was not only obedient but looked for ways to be even more so.
He attended every common exercise that he was able to attend. And we know the pain he must have suffered in doing so. He would never be the first one in line, ever. When taking any food, he was certain that those after him would never come up short, even if he had to do without. He never said anything that I have ever heard that would put anyone in bad light. He would always find something edifying to say.
He had in his room cell ONLY ONLY what was necessary. He never looked for excuses to leave the monastery. When he had to do so, he was like the proverbial fish out of water.
Now for the capstone. Fr. Herbert was a priest – par excellence. Having been ordained 73 years. During that time he must have reverently offered Mass at least 30,000 times. But he knew that it was a participation of the one and only one true Eucharist – the eternal celebration of the wedding of the Lamb.
Fr. Herbert’s seemingly insignificant, quiet and unassuming life may go unnoticed in a world that holds other things more important. But the impact of his life with us and on us has made a greater impression than can ever be measured. His example of a monastic life of humility, stability and obedience has done more for us that dozens of Monastic conferences ever could. For this, I for one, am grateful beyond words and feel the loss of this living witness and teacher.
I tried, in my poor way, to assure him of his value as I regularly cut his hair and visited him almost daily in the hospital and in the skilled nursing facility and decided to bring him home to die among his brothers with whom he lived such a exemplary life of commitment.
But it is always too little too late. To show our appreciation for someone who deserves it. No doubt the song is still true, “Ya don’t know what ya got, till its gone.” Please God, his example will spur us into showing each other the appreciation and love that can only come with humility.
It is said that the greatest compliment is imitation.
He is now gone and we can, with our faith in the cross of Jesus Christ and in the sure way of St. Benedict emulate him as our greatest tribute to him.
AD MULTOS ANNOS
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace, AMEN!
Fr. Herbert's funeral
Recently I had my second bad cold in 6 months. I hope that will be IT for the rest of the year. However, it was not the flu, for which I am thankful.
When we look at the human body and all that could go wrong with the thousands of parts of which we are made, it is a wonder that more things don’t go wrong. With modern medicine and a better understanding of the body, we know that more of us are living longer.
I visit a woman every Sunday who is now over 100 and is still living by herself – with her cat. She does have someone come in occasionally to help her clean but for the most part she is very independent.
Last week I was in Los Angeles and saw a sign that boldly stated, “The first person to live to be 150 years old is alive today.” That may be true, but we must be cautious about putting all of our hopes on a long life, and making that our one desire. We could end up by having an even greater fear of death or even the loss of any idea of an afterlife (after death). By not being aware of the purpose of life we lose the joy and peace of experiencing the richness and depth of the other dimension of life – the spiritual; which is the part that does not, and cannot, die. Thus, we refuse the gift that reveals the inevitable passing of all created things and the possibility of already experiencing the life beyond this one. In other words, we settle for toys when we are being given real living miracles.
As Christians we must be careful to not love the gift while ignoring the giver; nor love the works of art and turn our backs on the artist; nor love creation while denying a creator.
In a world that seems to be heading for chaos, we hope that this little monastic corner of creation can be a beacon of hope that can guide lost souls to the safe port of the Father’s house, where we are assured, by Jesus, that there is room for everyone
Recently I had a chance to visit a part of the California desert that I had never seen before - along the Colorado River between Needles and Blythe and toward Joshua National Park. It seemed like over a hundred miles of really straight, narrow and flat road without even one building.
The one point of interest was a group of five wild burros, two of which refused to move from the road. Of course, with such little traffic they were pretty safe and seemingly, fearless.
Having much time to reflect on this unusual scene before I got to heavier traffic, it occurred to me that fear among humans varies as much as fear among animals. Fear is governed by what we consider as dangerous.
Jesus told His disciples, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and can do no more. Fear him who has power to cast into Gehenna after he has killed.” Of course we are all born with a very strong drive to live our human life, but with faith, we gradually understand that the soul, which can live forever, is of more value than the body which will eventually turn to dust or ashes sooner than we like.
With so much emphasis on staying young these days, we are losing the perspective of a life after this one. So our faith in everlasting life becomes weak and the means by which we can attain it seem senseless and even a hindrance to enjoying life.
In reality, nurturing the spiritual life can be much more rewarding and satisfying than the fear of dying or of even looking our age. So to prepare for our own inevitable death we must accept the fact that it will end. But faith informs us that death is only a step to another, better life. With that in mind and heart, fear of death can even give way to a joyful anticipation of what awaits us in heaven. Yes, the desert is filled with wisdom.
We have our usual “June Gloom” here along the coast. That is a condition where the thick marine layer works its way inland at night and usually burns off in the afternoons, starting to the east and working its way to the ocean. So, it can be sunny and warm a few miles inland but overcast in our location.
On the days when we don’t get to see the sun we still believe that the sun is up there even though it is not visible.
When we look at our faith it can be the same thing. Although we can’t prove that God is present everywhere, our faith tells us that He is. And that’s why faith adds a deeper dimension to our existence. We can experience the spiritual, as well as the physical, level which we all share.
To have a spiritual reality and not be aware of it or to deny it is like having two legs and only running on one, we are not a complete human being because part of our potential is being denied or ignored.
However, the greatest benefit of faith is peace. We gain a peace that can allow us to keep things in proper perspective. We could ask ourselves, how often we became upset about the loss of something. And then found out that we gained something more valuable than what we lost.
The Christian attitude must be, “whenever a door closes, another one opens”. The problem is that we are so preoccupied with the loss, with the door that closed, that we can’t see the gain that lies in the open door.
We must always make the best of things. I guess the good old way of saying it is, “If the world hands you a lemon, make lemonade”. But for the Christian, Christ is the necessary sugar. Let us use His name to expel bitterness from the world.
A recent added attraction at our monastery is spotting skydivers. The airport at the base of the hill has allowed a company called ‘Tsunami Skydivers” to operate. Although you might spot the distinctive orange and yellow flight plane during the week, most flights occur on the weekends. If, when the plane passes us on its way to 10,000 feet, we check our watches, and in about 13 minutes we can look directly overhead and see any number of multi-colored chutes heading back to land near the runway.
As monks, we are often succumb to the invitation to seek deeper meaning in most occurrences, especially when it comes to spiritual significance.
It is obvious that skydivers believe. They believe that the plane is safe, that the chute will open, that it is strong enough to hold their weight, and that their landing will not result in injury. For them, faith is the product of experience.
Our faith, while not completely different, is based on a belief that goes beyond mere physical experience. In fact, if we could experience, physically, all that we believe in, we wouldn’t need faith.
But just as the skydiver feels exhilaration and freedom brought about by his own trusting dive, so those of us who are called to a deeper belief in the unseen God, are continually graced with freedom that encourages our own ongoing and ever more meaningful leap of faith.
So, beside the many inspiring religious works of art, views of the ocean and mountains, the wonderful display of flowering plants to be found here, we now have yet another reminder, through the use of symbols, of God’s love for us and our freeing response to that love.
We are thankful for the ability to see and hear, with the eyes and ears of our hearts, the spiritual richness which lies just below the surface of every created thing and every human event. That is the only lasting exhilaration.
Judging by the weather report, summer has arrived with vengeance. Although the heat is staying away from us, there are some local hot spot near by. However, because we are close to the ocean, we seldom get above 80 degrees.
In recent years we have noticed more people are coming to the ocean either for a day trip or as vacationers. A few of the latter find their way to the abbey and are pleasantly surprised at what they discover. And I am always amazed at the number of local residents who have never visited us nor even heard of us.
But almost everyone in Oceanside and environs has heard of our most famous monk, Brother Benno Garrity, who died in 1992. Br. Benno was cofounder of the first “soup kitchen” in town.
The Brother Benno Foundation, which is now a separate corporation has, in the past thirty years, served over three and a half million meals. And beside that, there are a host of activities that they have started, from various recovery programs to housing for homeless women with children.
We work as closely as we can with the Foundation. In fact, I am on the Board of Directors, which has the responsibility of managing the various programs in line with Br. Benno’s vision to minister to the needy.
One of the most gratifying effects of this ministry is seeing the number of volunteers it attracts. There are literally hundreds of generous individuals who donate their time, talent and treasure to Br. Benno’s. Each year we host a reception here for some of them who can make it up our hill. It is at that time that we explain the monastic vocation how the love of the Lord works within all of us and calls us to give, not only of our possessions but of our very selves. And your recent donation to us helps keep the wheels of charity well greased
Scripture readings: 1st Corinthians 9:6-10; Psalm 112; John 12:24-26
No matter how much divine influence any endeavor has, it still takes human
cooperation to be successful. The Church is no exception. Jesus was the motivator and His teaching, His life and His death were the motivations for its growth. We, as Christians, believe that if the Church was only of human origin, it could not have grown and prospered for these twenty centuries. But its growth demanded adaptation.
Up until the 6th Chapter of the Acts of the Apostles the Church was an infant organization that was functioning quite well. However, some difficulties arose that needed immediate attention. It seems that the apostles found themselves overwhelmed with daily chores while also attempting to satisfy the demands of their liturgical and sacramental functions.
Their decision to enlist assistance was the beginning of a position in the church that has waxed and waned ever since: the diaconate.
The first seven deacons were chosen to do the menial tasks, like distributing food to widows. However, even before we come to the end of that 6th Chapter, one of the deacons was already preaching and proclaiming the divinity of Jesus and His union and equality with the Father. For this, Stephen was stoned to death. Philip too set out to preach.
Like all other offices in the Church, the diaconate grew and was well established by the mid Third Century when the subject of our feast, St. Lawrence, was martyred in Rome on August 10, 258, during the persecution of the emperor, Valerian. It is possible that the number of deacons for a diocese was set at seven because Lawrence is called the seventh and last of the deacons of Rome.
At the beginning of the month of August of that year, Valerian ordered that all bishops, priests and deacons were to be executed. On the 7th of August many priests, and deacons were lead to execution along with Pope Sixtus II. St. Ambrose relates that Lawrence was following the pope and asked where he was going without his deacon. The pope answered that Lawrence would follow in three days.
The memorial of Pope Sixtus II is on August 7. He, along with St. Cajetan, was mentioned here at the Mass on that day. The facts about which we are certain are that Lawrence was an historical person, he was a deacon, he was martyred on August 10, 285, and he was buried on a hill on which Constantine built a small chapel dedicated to him and to which Pelagius II and Sixtus III each added.
St. Ambrose further relates that Lawrence was asked by the prefect of Rome to surrender all the treasures of the Church and answered that he would in three days. When he appeared with most of the poor of Rome and pointed to them as the treasure of the Church, he sealed his fate as a martyr.
Lawrence’s concern for the poor and his courage in the face of martyrdom has made easy the choice of scripture readings for this liturgy.
In our first reading Paul reminds us that if we sow sparingly we will reap sparingly. But if we sow bountifully we will also reap bountifully. Paul always used Jesus as the ideal for his life and his teaching.
Jesus, himself, encourages His disciples to give as freely as they have received (Mat. 10:8). So generosity must be the hallmark of the Christian. But love must be the motive for giving. As it is said, “One can give without loving but one cannot love without giving”. And love never counts the cost. That is why Paul encourages the Corinthians to “give without sadness or compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”.
Then he refers to God by quoting from Psalm 112 from which our response was taken this morning, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” However, the author of that psalm is actually describing anyone who fears the Lord and loves His commands. That one is gracious and lends, conducts his affairs with justice and lavishly gives to the poor.
Jesus’ heart was always moved with pity for the poor and he was found among them at every opportunity. He even described his own condition as not even having a place to lay his head.
Our present Holy Father, moved by the same love that moved our Lord, is especially solicitous for the poor and the underprivileged. On his recent trip to Brazil he made it a point of visiting the favelas to be among the poor. Even the secular press termed him the “apostle of the slums”.
While there, he was quoted as saying, “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.” And, “No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world”.
A predecessor of Pope Francis, Leo XIII, in his concern for the poor, pointed to two of the greatest contributors to the perennial social woes of the world;
greed and envy. These two tools of the evil One give no rest, nor peace, to those who allow them into their hearts.
To a greedy person there is never enough. That results in the poor being marginalized. And Hollywood and Madison Avenue work on the human weakness of desiring things and benefits that others have.
But lest we consider things as our goal, we must also see the deeper significance of generosity. Things are only symbols of our desire and need to share with others.
Jesus capsulates his whole message with His reference to life and death. He gives the example of a grain of wheat. If the grain does not hit the ground and die, it is left to itself. But by accepting the change, by dying, it gives life to many new grains.
When He speaks of loving life, He refers to the selfish life which only has itself as a possession. But He uses the odd phrase, “Whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life”.
St. Luke tells us that Jesus used that same word to describe our attitude toward our family. “If anyone comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes even his own life too, he cannot be my disciple.”
Well we know that Jesus never asked anyone to do what he would refuse to do. He loved and honored His mother. He did not hate her. But the lesson is to love Him more than all others.
So He is asking our diaconal ministry. That is, to be of service to Him and, as good servants, to follow the Him. Faithful servants are always at the side of the Master. And if we are faithful to Him, He will be faithful to us.
He has already proved his faithfulness to us by sacrificing His life in place of ours. He has died so that we can life. To sustain that life, He has given us His own self, divinity and humanity, in the form of the Eucharist.
As Lawrence was fortified by the same Eucharist against the fear of death and given the burning desire to be the perfect servant (deacon) of the Lord,
let us call for his intercession to do the same.
January 18, 2014
There is an old saying that we have all heard hundreds of times that goes, “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Modern economics runs on that principle. The advertisers know that we have that weakness, so that is what sells products. The desire to have what someone else has. We envy at the best and covet at the worse. Both are sins.
Pope Leo XIII, in one of his teachings on social justice mentioned the two sins that seem to drive many in the society of his day and maybe even more so today. Envy and greed.
God knows us better than we know ourselves. He designed and created us.
Right from the start, He knew that we would never be satisfied with what we have. Adam and Eve weren’t. Cain wasn’t. The Israelites on their way to the Promised Land weren’t. And the People of God who were given, by God, everything they needed and most of what they wanted were always tempted to put their faith the god’s of their neighbors. It made more sense to worship, fear, appease and honor something that can be seen, rather than worship, fear, appease and honor a God that cannot be seen.
So they longed for some of the practices of the gentiles, the nations. The major one was royalty. The neighbors had kings and queens. So why shouldn’t they have them. So they complained. God heard them and was not happy about it but would give in after he told them, through Samuel, what would happen to them. The king would set them to his plowing and harvesting. To make weapons for war. Take their daughters as slaves for making ointment, cooking and baking. He would take the best fields for himself. He would take their servants for himself and their animals to do his own work.
Then God told them, “When the king does all this and you complain, don’t come to me”.
They responded by saying, “There must be a king over us. We too must be like other nations, with a king to rule us in warfare and in battle.”
So Samuel (The name of God) is sent to find someone to anoint as king.
God worked through Samuel who was born, like Issac and John the Baptist, of a woman thought to be sterile. God always turns the tables and brings good from what seemed to be hopeless.
God would guide Samuel to find a king for Israel.
. This morning’s reading gives us a pedigree of the would-be king. His father was Kish, his grandfather Abiel, greatgrandfather Zeror , great great grandfather, Becorath and great great great grandfather Aphiah, who was a Benjamanite.
After we learn his genealogy, his appearance is described. He was the most handsome child in all of Israel and he was very tall. So tall that he was head and shoulders above every one else and his name was Saul.
The boy Saul was sent to find his father’s lost animals, who wandered away.
He and a servant went all over the place looking for those animals for three days and so Saul was concerned that his father would end up worrying more about his return than the animals. So he decided to turn back but the servant told him about a seer who in the area and he might be able to tell him where the animals were.
As they went to the city some girls getting water told them that the seer was in town at that very moment and preparing to go to the high place and help offer sacrifice. Providentially, Saul ran into Samuel at the gate and asked where the seer could be found. Samuel said, “I am the one.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “This is the one about whom I spoke. Anoint him.”
Samuel then said to Saul, “You are to govern the Lord’s people, Israel.” What we did not hear is what Saul’s response was. “How can I do that and how can the tribe of Benjamin do that, we are the smallest clan in the smallest tribe.” Remember Gideon said the same thing.
God doesn’t need large numbers to accomplish large things.
So Israel finally got its king. They finally got to the green grass on the other side. They had what others had and they were happy. Or were they? What ever we wish for and get, outside of love or the cross, will usually end in disaster. As did eventually the royalty of Israel.
That is why it is necessary for us to examine what we wish for and ask ourselves if we really need it and if it is desired out of envy or greed or jealousy. Those are poisons usually found on the other side of the fence.
But Jesus calls us past those adolescent and selfish desires.
But if we are open to his call, as was Levi, Matthew, we will find true freedom.
The most famous painting depicting the call of Matthew is to be found in Rome in the Contarelli Chapel of the church of San Luigi dei Francesi. It is by Caravaggio and shows Levi sitting at a table with coins in front of him just before he realizes that Jesus is pointing at him. There seems to be a reluctance of the part of Matthew to look up and see what all the others around the table see. But we know that he did look up and saw, and left all that he had worked so hard to accumulate. His possessions became more of a burden that a freedom.
Mark tells us that, like the other tax collector, Zacchaeus, Matthew had Jesus over to his house for a meal. The scribes, who were Pharisees, saw Jesus at the house of a tax an collector and asked His disciples why Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus overheard them and answered for them. “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.”
Jesus came to heal all of us who are sick, those who are sinners and need to be cured, that is, forgiven. The difficulty that Jesus has always faces and will always face is that those who are the sickest will never admit it. Therefore they close themselves off from whom they need the most; the doctor who can cured them.
To respond to His call, His appointment, is to have Him come to our homes, under our roofs, and eat with us. He does that at this Eucharist where He is not only the guest but the meal. He gives Himself for our food. This is His prescription and He fills it as often as we wish.
We can rest assured that, because of Him and His remedy, we have the greener side of the fence and no need to be envious of what others have. He feeds us with the finest of wheat. He leads us to green pastures where he refreshes our souls. To Him be glory and praise forever. AMEN.
Few people realize that the word January comes from the Latin word janua, which means door or gate. Thus, this is the door or the gate to a new year.
Oddly enough, we also get the word janitor for the same word. The responsibility of taking care of the door, at the entrance to a place or event, was left to janitor.
Both of these, the door and the person who cares for the door, can be important in our appreciation of life. We have no control over time, no matter how many Januaries we have lived through. We cannot stop the clock. But each year we are given a new chance to pass through another stage (door) of our lives. Of course, we have that opportunity, each day. But it is more dramatically felt at the beginning of a new calendar.
That is why we make New Year’s resolutions. We think that this year will be different from all the other ones. However, when we get to the end of this year we will find ourselves in the same condition, or worse, as when we began.
This should not discourage us from trying to change the things in our lives that need changing. And when we hear the Lord say, “I am the vine, you are the branches, without me you can do nothing”, we should be aware that, left to ourselves, change is difficult or impossible. But with the God, all things are possible, even getting to life eternal.
Jesus says, “I am the sheepgate, whoever enters through me will be safe” (John 10:7). He calls Himself the gate and the one who takes care of the gate.
So, the best resolution we can make is to depend more on God, and that always helps us keep things in proper perspective. It also gives us more peace so that we will not easily get upset at the little difficulties that are a part of life and will be with us the whole year
As is becoming more obvious, we in Southern California, are experiencing a drought. For the last three years our rainfall has been much below normal. And we all know that without water, this would revert back to its semi-desert condition. Much of the vegetation we have here is not native and depends on more water than native plants. Although, even the native plants are already showing signs of drying out. Whatever the cause of this condition, we can’t deny that it is a fact. Maybe the answer is in the desalinization of ocean water. We live next to the biggest body of water in the world.
It is interesting how, in life, we have grown accustomed to so many conveniences and depend on them. We just take them for granted. However, in every serious situation that we encounter, there is always a lesson that has deeper meaning.
The first is, that we should never take anything for granted but be thankful for everything. Life and everything that is connected with it is pure gift given by God. So our relationship with, and dependence on, God is foremost, not on what man can do or make.
The next thing is the way we, at least in the Western World, have been wasting our natural resources. It is reported that over thirty percent of our food is thrown away. We waste water, energy and most of our consumer goods. That must stop.
And finally we should try, as much as possible, to share what we have with those who don’t even have the necessities of life. That is a good Christian precept that is encouraged by St. John in his First Epistle, “I ask you, how can God’s love survive in a man who has enough of this world’s goods yet closes his heart to his brother when he sees him in need?” (I John 3:17). The key word is “sees”. There are needy in every direction and we look at them but fail to notice them. If fact we do our best to avoid them, so our consciences are not bothered. In reality, the drought we are experiencing can be found on several levels. There is the natural resource plane, water included. Then the social level, where selfishness has become the accepted and protected ambition. And finally, the spiritual level that suffers when we become more attached to the world than to the creator or the world.
Welcome to a Eucharistic celebration. Although Thanksgiving is months away, we should always be thankful. Everything is gift.
There is a passage in Luke (3:7) that describes John the Baptist and his encounter with the crowds that came to him, either out of curiosity and/or to be baptized. He noticed some among them whose reputation arrived ahead of them. And in as much as he was preaching “repentance” and since repentance requires a change he asked those who were listening, how they intended to change.
“You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Give some evidence that you mean to reform. Do not begin by saying to yourselves, ‘Abraham is our father.’ (Meaning that they were saved by virtue of their belonging to Abraham’s posterity). John then says, “Don’t be silly, God can change these stones into children of Abraham.
The he speaks of the ax that hits the root of the tree and every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
This really has the crowd frightened. They say. “In that case, what can we do in order to be saved?”
John the Baptist knew well the passage that we had for our first reading today. He says, “Let the man with two coats give to him who has none. The man who has food should do the same.” In other words, be humane be charitable don’t take more than you need.
Then the tax collectors asked, “Teacher, what are WE to do?” John said , “Exact nothing over and above your fixed amount.” He knew that is how tax collectors became wealthy. They would charge much more than was required and keep the difference.
Then there were some soldiers there and they asked, “What about us?”
John said, “Don’t bully anyone. Denounce no one falsely. Be content with your pay.”
Although, on these points the two prophets, Isaiah and John, are parallel, this morning’s reading from Isaiah gives us an even deeper insight.
When you do what you were designed to do, that is to be charitable, then the work of God, in whose image and likeness you were created, will be obvious to others. It will affect others and it will even do something for you.
Your own sins, your own ills and spiritual handicaps will be healed. Why?
Because you will be turning away from yourself.
It will facilitate your relating to your creator and to be more like him. It will lead you to a change that will remove oppression. The oppression that you experience because of YOUR sins and the oppression that others suffer because of YOUR sins.
And as John told the vipers, you must be free from false accusations and malicious speech, which is always divisive.
Then Isaiah, to finish the picture, exhorts you are to feed the hungry and comfort those who have ANY sort of pain, affliction; physical, psychological and/or moral.
Then God’s being, His influence, His light, if you will, shall become like the light of noon. Noon is the farthest place from darkness.
Here is where Jesus, who also knew Isaiah, both in his prophecy and in his heavenly person, elaborates, amplifies on the theme of light, by calling his disciples “The light of the world.” He said THAT after he had proclaimed Himself the light of the world. We could consider that a contradiction. But when we see in John 9:5 Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” So we could take it two ways. 1. I am in the light of the world as long as I am IN the world but when I leave, my disciples will continue my work, my reality, by being the light. Or 2. Because I and my disciples are one, the same light can be seen and experienced no matter from whom it radiates or when it radiates.
But the lesson of Jesus and of Isaiah has the same conclusion. God will be revealed in the actions of true disciples. When your actions are the result of your love for God, it is God who is working, not you. And that is why God is glorified by your good deeds not you.
Jesus, being the masterful teacher that He was, He is, he adds a new element to the equation. SALT.
Salt, as we know is one of the basic ingredients in the preparation of food.
Some foods, maybe all foods have some salt in them but salt enhances their flavor. Salt brings out what is already there.
The disciples because of their infusion of light were now able to influence those for the good. Those who already had the capacity for good were now given the example of what goodness – Godness - is, so that they too may be blessed with the gift of faith and become disciples. After all, if you have the light and are the light, there is no way you can keep it secret.
As an example that I have used before: At the Catholic funeral of a man, a neighbor was heard to say, “I lived next to that man for 30 years and never knew he was a Catholic.” Imagine that!
So salt is different from the food it enhances, so we too must be different from the ones we wish to influence. If believers have nothing that distinguishes them from unbelievers, then like salt that has lost its saltness and therefore cannot make a difference.
For example, the American Psychological Association published a study several years ago that reported that if a child watches TV (sometimes as a baby sitter, for three hours a day, by the age of thirteen that child will have seen 8,000 murders and over 100,000 other acts of violence. Is it possible that may be an influence on their ability to be light and/or salt?
Violence and pornography wield a powerful influence of those tendencies that lie in each person at various degrees of activity.. But being light and salt helps us to distinguish what is right to do and what is wrong to do.
We must remember too that salt preserves and cleanses. The one who is salt not only identifies what makes spoilage and what cleanses, but is called to be a preserver and a cleanser.
Without light and salt the world would be in very bad shape. With light and salt the world become a safer and better place.
To follow Christ is always radical. The invitation in today’s’ readings is to be illuminated by ourselves. By grace we can participate in the light of God and cam become a means for spreading the light to others.
The gift which God gives us especially to become enlightened through his grace is, of course, faith. By faith our intellect is strengthened and raised up.
Let us become true followers of Jesus, just as Paul says in the second reading of today, proclaiming that Jesus Christ, and crucified through our lives, in action and speech, word and works and through their behavior.
This way we too can become the salt of the earth and the light of the world and our justice is a light in the darkness.
For this morning’s liturgy we have a choice of first readings. Both are from the Acts of the Apostles. One is Paul’s own description of his conversion event and the second is Luke’s rendition of the same event. But Luke draws some conclusions which are not found in Paul’s narrative so the second one was chosen.
There are many works of art that depict Paul’s encounter with the Lord on his way to Damascus.
Some of artists show Paul on the ground next to his horse. Nowhere in Sacred Scripture was a horse mentioned. Some of the restrictions observed by the Jews of that day, especially by the Pharisees, would make it unlikely that Paul had the use of a horse and would probably not have been able to afford one.
The one thing upon which all accounts agree is that Paul was traveling to Damascus to search for any men and women who belonged to THE WAY. Surprised by a very bright light, bright enough that he was blinded by it. He then fell to the ground and heard a voice. It said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me.”
Paul then asked, “Who are you?” And the response was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus could have said, “I am THE WAY”. Not only was the practice of the early Christians called THE WAY but Jesus referred to Himself as the Way.
He would say that but not meaning the Church but that it was through him that we gain access to the Father.
So Paul was blind for three days. His Lord was dead for three days and just as Jesus came back to life after those three days, and after three days, Paul’s eyes came back to life. The small shroud-like scales fell from them and he could not only see the physical things around him as usual but now he could also see what unbelieving men can never see.
He saw his Lord and Master and he also saw his ministry. He knew that he would never be the same. All of his actions, his motives and his religious awareness were changed. They were CONVERTED; turned around, faced in the opposite direction.
Although Paul’s conversion took place over a couple of days, the process took years during which he worked hard at his profession, was imprisoned, was beaten close to death. Five times, at the hands of his former brother believers, he was whipped with rods, he was stoned, shipwrecked three times and clung to flotsam a whole day and night before being rescued. He, in His travels, was always threatened by floods, robbers and even his own people.
He never took hardships for punishment by God for his previous vendetta against the Church of Christ. Too often when speaking with believers today, who are experiencing difficulty they wonder why God is punishing them.
“What have I done wrong?”
Paul saw pain and suffering as a privilege to suffer with the One who suffered intolerable pain for the whole world. It was not a punishment but an opportunity.
Our mind must also be turned around to accept joyfully what the world considers misfortune. A new way of acting, that those around us can recognize, because we are bold enough to allow the Lord to touch and inhabit our hearts.
Our conversion is certainly once for all but also a process that others can see.
Paul speaks of a thorn in the flesh. No one really knows to what he was referring. Some conjecture that it was his temper. We certainly know that his zeal found a ready companion in his anger. We would not assume that his witnessing of the stoning of Steven, the deacon, was without emotion.
It was the same Paul, with the same baggage that he had before his conversion. But instead of his venom being aimed at THE WAY, it was now the same venom aimed at the enemies of THE WAY. But no matter who acts out of anger looses the proper use of reason. Anger dulls and even negates reason.
It is one of the seven deadly sins along with pride, envy gluttony, lust greed and sloth. Parenthetically, these sins have counterbalancing virtues which are humility, kindness, abstinence, chastity, patience, generosity and diligence.
But whatever that thorn was, Paul lived with it and spent the rest of his time, his energy and his whole life bringing the Good News to the gentiles, the nations, the goim. He did more than anyone in the early church to convert non-Jews to the Lord. Christianity is for the most part today what Paul planted as the seed. For centuries Christianity, the Church, was one solid, well defined, easily recognizable entity. Yes, there were disputes, there were heresies, there were even intrigues. But, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church not only survived but was the greatest force in Western Civilization, the fruits of which we are enjoying today but which are also being either denied or ignored.
But the 15th and 16th Centuries ushered in the greatest tragedy of division that could ever happen. From that point onward, division after division, after division until what we have today is a whole cacophony of sects who claim to be Christian, each with its own set of rules, practices and even moral beliefs. There is little unity among these various groups.
Yet when we hear Jesus pray in the 17th Chapter of John, “I do not pray for them alone, (his disciples). I pray for those who will believe in me through their words (us) that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us. That they may be one as we are one.”
If we take Jesus at His word, Disunity is not only to be avoided but it is painful and harmful.
There was one who was bold enough to suggest and work for the rebuilding of unity among those who consider themselves as disciples of Jesus Christ.
We are now at the close of the Church Unity Octave. The Octave of prayer for Christian unity, which began last Saturday. The program, this movement began in 1908 with an Anglican 0priest of the Friars of the Atonement in Garrsion, NY. Fr. Paul Wattson.
That movement persisted and on June 5, 1960 John XX instituted the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, primarily as a preparatory Commission for Vatican II. And Paul VI confirmed it as a permanent dicastery.
From that point on Ecumenical Dialogue has been fostered and codified.
The first point to which Vatican II refers is “The brethren who believe in Christ are Christ’s disciples, reborn in baptism, sharers with the People of God in very many riches. And since these riches such as ‘the written word of God, the life of grace, faith hope and charity, along with other interior gifts of the Holy spirit and visible elements are accessible to all who have been baptized, Christians are in a position to communicate to each other in riches that the Holy Spirit develops within them. This community of spiritual goods is the first basis upon which ecumenical dialogue rests.”
There is so many attacks on Christianity on every level from outside we must pray that misunderstanding and prejudice may not injure it from within.
It is a matter admitting that other Christians have also been given gifts of the Spirit. We believe that the greatest gift that we have been given is the Eucharist in which we partake each day at this altar.
The Eucharist is a sign of unity. WE cannot pretend to be united if we aren’t in unity about the Eucharist. But we know too that the Eucharist is a source of unity. At least let us who receive it allow it to work to unite us who are partakers.
Jesus chose from the world to go and bear fruits that will last. To him be glory forever and ever. AMEN
The crowd cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David !” Jesus and his disciples enter the city of David to the shouts that acknowledged him to be the Son of David.
The gospel account that we heard outside has Jesus entering Jerusalem from the Jericho side to Bethpage on the Mount of Olives. Oddly enough in one of David’s sortee’s from His city he traveled the same route in reverse. It was about this place that Shimei threw stones at David and cursed him as he was escaping his son Absalom.
David going out in disgrace with curses hurled at him at one time and at another, his heir enters with acclamations. How fate, (God’s plan) vacillates
as history (His story) evolves.
All of the writings and verbal history of God’s plan for His people, for us., comes into focus these 8 days, beginning with the Messiah, God’s only son, being received as a prophet and ending in his being sacrificed but overcoming his death and our death. If we were asked to encapsulate all of Christianity, this is the capsule. All of Salvation History points to this week.
The Prophets longed for it and announced it. All believers hoped for it, whether they knew it or not. We long for it whether we know it or not. Those with faith and with eyes to see and ears to hear understand that this week has changed the course of human history and destiny and has made an impact on every human life since, even if it is not realized or appreciated.
He leads the way and indeed is the way. The example he has given us is to be followed. And His spirit The Spirit gives us the desire and strength to follow him and learn from the mistakes of others.
“I gave my back to those who beat me. My face I did not shield from buffets and spitting.” Yet we still defend ourselves.
Although he was in the form of God he did not demand it. He humbled himself. We shout out that we have rights.
He loved Judas even when Judas betrayed him. “Friend, what do you come for?” Yet we fail to love as he loved.
He ordained Peter and Peter not only denied him but became angry when caught in a lie. Experience teaches us that the guiltier one is the angrier he or she becomes when challenged to cover it up. To admit a lie is much easier than to have to live with. That takes much more energy.
Jesus said to Peter James and John, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”
When he returned they were sleeping. Our spirit, like theirs, is willing but the flesh is weak.
So today’s liturgy sets the tenor for our reception of all that will be reenacted during this week. With His help:
Let us admit our mistakes rather than defend ourselves.
Let our humility dictate that we do not deserve all the good we have been given. Only the suffering.
Let us be honest and not lie about our guilt but turn to him who loves us even though we are guilty.
Let us stay awake with him and pray with him so as to rise with Him, who satisfies every desire, especially to the desire to live for ever. AMEN
To those who have faith, everything is seen as a gift from God. God supplies every creature with what is necessary to grow and to be.
However, the gift of deeper faith is required to appreciate what we are commemorating this week. Not only do we acknowledge physical needs being met, we look deeper into the well of God’s love and see that His gift is actually His very Self. Himself.
His concern for and protection of His chosen people is manifested in our first reading. Those people were kept in slavery, thereby being forced to work merely to stay alive.
God gave them a leader who stood up to the one who controlled them
And with God’s direct intervention they were finally set free.
God revealed His plan, which, in part consisted of a meal. The meal was to be of a lamb or goat. And the blood of the animal was to be applied to the doorposts and lintel. The destroying angel would Passover the house thus marked and do the residents no harm. From that Passing over comes the name of the celebration still kept by our Jewish brothers and sisters. Passover.
Who could ever doubt that so many of our practices, as Christians, have had their origin and inspiration directly from Jewish tradition and God’s continuing revelation.
The belief in One God. The description and anticipation of a Messiah.
The priesthood. The sacrifice of sin offering. The formal prayers – especially the psalms, which are recited several times a days in this very church. Even the ark that held the commandments given to Moses, is duplicated in our blessed sacrament chapel.
Jesus, being a good Jew, used everything He had at His disposal to accomplish the gift that God had in store for us from the beginning.
His Passover meal The Last Supper, had been prepared. He and His own chosen People, his chosen twelve, reclined at table and in the traditional description found in gospels and that was passed on to Paul, “He took bread, and after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
So we have the Eucharist, called thus because of Jesus giving thanks.
Could anyone fully explain the Eucharist? Could anyone fully understand the Eucharist? Could anyone even fully appreciate the Eucharist? No No & No.
So why try? The Eucharist is the gift that keeps on giving. And although full appreciation of it is humanly impossible, it is so important in our lives that to not develop a love and desire for it would be disastrous to our spiritual life.
It is alarming to learn of the growing number of Catholics who, while respectful, for the most part, are losing their faith in the Eucharist, the Real Presence.
John Paul IIs encyclical ON THE EUCHARIST IN ITS RELATIONSHIP TO THE CHURCH, GIVEN FOR THE 25TH ANNIVERSARY OF HIS PONTIFICATE IN 2003 is valuable to anyone who wishes to deepen ones faith in the Eucharist.
He begins by echoing Vatican Council II’s statement that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. Then he follows immediately with a quote from the Decree on the Ministry and Life of Priests, “For the most Holy Eucharist contains the Church’s ENTIRE spiritual wealth: Christ Himself, our Passover and living bread. Christ is the totality in which the Church exists and by which she survives. And as long as the Eucharist is celebrated by Christ’s command, He is there. In His own words, “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”
And to insured that this thanksgiving, this sacrifice and the presence of Christ is not to die out but last for all ages, there is the sacred priesthood instituted at the Last Supper as He said to his chosen twelve, “Do this in memory of me.” They did. And with the laying on of hands, have passed it on in unbroken tradition by means of the priesthood.
Although we have incorporated many of the traditional beliefs and practices of the Jews of Jesus’ time, our priesthood is radically different.
In the Old Testament there were many priests. But in the New Covenant there is only one priest, Christ. The priest is someone who offers sacrifice. There were many animals sacrificed in the Old Covenant by the Jewish priests. However there is only one sacrifice and one victim in the New one. It is Jesus who sacrifices – offered Himself on the cross. He is the priest who offers, not an animal but himself. The Mass, then, is the one sacrifice of Jesus as THE priest of the New Covenant is extended to us through time and made present to us. It is not a new sacrifice but the same one, almost like a time warp. That is what makes the Eucharist much more than a mere liturgical action. It is entering into Christ’s action. So the priest is being used by Christ to continue His one sacrifice. The ordained priest is acting in Persona Christi. In the person of Christ.
Another aspect of the priesthood is the pronouncing of the name of God Yahweh. Jews were not allowed to pronounce it even when reading scripture. They would substitute Adonai. But the high priest could pronounce the divine name Yahweh once a year during the Jewish feast of Yom Kippur.
Jesus prayed at the Last Supper for his apostles by saying, “Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. So there is a newness in the relationship between the apostles and the name of God. So rather than one priest given the privilege of pronouncing God’s name once a year, the apostles have a new relationship with that name., because Jesus calls upon it for their protection.
And part of the Old Covenant rite of ordination involved washing. During the Last Supper, at which the priesthood was born and Jesus consecrated His Apostles as priest of the New Covenant, He washed their feet. We know that Jesus performed that action to teach His apostles to serve rather than be served, could we not say that it also resembles the washing that preceded the rite of ordination of priests of the Old Covenant. Jesus said to Peter, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later” Could it be that later they realized the full impact of that washing?
For most of human history, the basic means of transportation was by foot.
In that part of the country where I was raised we called that “Shank’s Mare.”
And with dusty and even muddy roads one’s feet would get dirty, tired and aching. A sign of true hospitality was the caring for those dirty, tired and aching feet. The service of bathing and soothing the tired feet was usually done by the house servants or slaves.
Travelers who made their way into strategically placed inns or rest houses along the highways were welcomed in that manner. Travelers worn out along the way could go into these rest houses and have food and a foot bath. Their energy thus restored they would be able to continue and complete their journey. That is how these rest houses go the name “restaurants”.
The disciples would have understood Jesus washing their feet in light of this cultural background. And for us it is a pointer to the meaning of the Eucharist we celebrate.
The Eucharist is the place of restoration for people on the way. The life of the Christian in the world is a pilgrimage, a long, hard journey. Along the way we get tired and worn out and we are tempted to give up and turn back (that is turn back to our former selves). But Jesus has provided us withy the Eucharist where we can get refreshed in body and soul for the journey ahead. The Eucharist is viaticum not only for the sick but for all of us on our upward journey to God.
Peter was uncomfortable with having Jesus wash his feet. He would have preferred to see himself do the washing, that is, washing the feet of Jesus and even of the other apostles. Sometimes it is harder to receive than it is to give. But having our feet washed and washing the feet of others are two sides of the same coin we call Christian life.
The first is that we allow the Lord to wash us. As He said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me”. First, the Lord washes us clean (is of service to us) and then we belong to Him. Only then are we qualified and empowered to wash the feet (be of service) to our brothers and sisters in the Lord. When this finally sunk into Peter, he cried out, “Lord, not my feet but also my hands and my head.” Are we humble enough to let the Lord wash us clean?
The other side of the coin is as important. After our feet have been washed, that is, we have allowed Jesus to be of service to us, then we MUST GO and wash the feet of others. “You call me teacher and master and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the Lord and master, 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.” That is not an option, it is a command.
Jesus establishes a close link between him washing the disciple’s feet and the disciples washing the feet of others. If the Eucharist is the place where the Lord washes us, refreshes us, feeds us, daily life is the place where we too must wash, refresh and feed others. Jesus, who broke the bread of the Eucharist, also washed the feet of his disciples. We must follow his example both at the altar of the Eucharist and the altar of life. Amen.
It is said that one thing we can count on is change. Everything changes.
There are those who claim that we are going through a climate change, more rapidly than in the past. We know that change is taking place in the educational system, Common Core, in the financial world, in governments, in politics, in morality and in family life, and in religion. The stock statement that I heard recently is “I am moving closer to God but farther from religion.”
Whatever your opinion on change, the two that we honor today are pillars of a religion that changed the world; in thought, education, law, family, ethics and literally touched every aspect of human life. The religion supported by faith which down the ages has spread around the world through their ministry and witness and the ministry and witness of those who follow.
The laws and practices of Judeo-Christian origin have shaped life and love for centuries and although there was at time of an uneasy truce, but for the most part there was harmony and cooperation. In this past century that truce began to fall apart and the resulting repercussions split each from the point of neutrality several decades ago to what it is today; outright attack against Christianity in general and the Catholic Church in particular.
It would be so easy for us to say that we recognize our enemies as Peter and Paul were able to do. It is easier to fight an enemy when you can identify him. But today it is much more complex. Adversaries are without and within.
One Pogo cartoon said it so well, “We have met the enemy and it is us.”
We, in our General Chapter have spent much time in discussing vocations – primarily, vocations to consecrated life in and more specifically in monastic life. This is where the topic of change truly hits home. How religious life has changed over the past few decades or rather, how those who are entering the consecrated life are different and most conditions under which they enter are also different.
But there are similarities and they are found in one’s dedication and witness, as were present in Peter and Paul and everyone who decided to follow Christ since then.
Peter, the fisherman from Galilee, was called by Jesus with his brother Andrew at the beginning of his ministry to become a “Fisher of men.” He witnessed the most important moments of Jesus’ public life, such as the Transfiguration, his prayer in the Garden of Olives and after the paschal events, entrusted him with the task of tending God’s flock in his name. He didn’t say, “Peter do you love me? Feed your sheep. He said, “Feed MY sheep.”
This morning’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us a great insight on how God’s desire to have HIS sheep fed, by protecting Peter.
Luke tells us that the Church was under great threat – even more than we see today – James the brother of John had been killed by the sword and Peter was taken into custody without bail. But the Church prayed for him. Then the details of the number of guards which must have been later related to him by Peter. Four guards of fours soldiers each. He was secured by double chains and sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door other guards kept watch.
Then God intervened and an angel tapped him, woke him up and commanded him to get up quickly. Then the unbelievable took place. The chains just fell from his wrists, and they walked, unnoticed, past all the guards, at least 16 of them. Even the gate to the city opened of its own accord.
God had plans for Peter. And He had plans for his sheep. Not only does He free us (His sheep) from physical chains, that is, habits that hold us from being what we are designed for, but offers the ointment of forgiveness which he gave to the Church when he said “ Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men’s sins they are forgiven and if you hold them bound they are held bound.”
That was the vocation of the Church which Peter was called to lead and feed.
And Paul who had also experienced the unbelievable. He was changed in an instant from the wolf who attacked and killed God’s sheep to a meek lamb himself. From being an enemy of the Church to one who spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to most of the known world. From stalking the
Church to preaching it.
And after scales fell from his eyes he was able to see much better, especially with the eyes of his heart. He was able to see the Lord, whom He was persecuting, in each one of the sheep. His trials did not stop with chains or guards or prisons nor shipwrecks but with the sufferings that His master also suffered. He, as John the Baptist, decreased so his Lord could increase. The name Paulus, literally means small, little or less. So after his unbelievable encounter he was able to say, “I am the least of the Apostles, but I have labored more abundantly than all of them, yet not I but the Grace of God was with me. And I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me”.
These were God plans for his two pillars of the church.
God has plans for us. He knows that we are trapped, imprisoned by our sins of selfishness, pride. Yet he wishes to free us in spite of the odds. He does it in an unbelievable way.
He calls each one of us to do something and to be someone. And by being that someone, whom the Lord calls, helps and frees us in our obligation of assisting others to realize their vocation. We aid each other. We are natural and supernatural resources for others.
To not appreciate our resources or worse yet, to horde them, is to deny the giver of those gifts.
Yes, times have changed and continue to change, from having more family influence on our Christian vocation, from good Catholic education and from having the witness of good Christians around us, we can consider these times as empty.
However, as certain as God assured Peter and Paul that He would be with them, He is also with us. And he is asking us to respond, and respond quickly and not get stuck in the University of Perpetual Discernment. ACT NOW.
In their apostolic mission, Sts. Peter and Paul were obliged to face difficulties of every kind. But far from detering their missionary activity, these difficulties reinforce their zeal for the Church’s welfare, the safety and growth of the flock and for the salvation of all mankind. They were able to overcome every trial because their trust was not based on human resources but on the grace of the Lord. As the readings of today’s liturgy recall, God delivers his friends from every evil and saves them for His kingdom.
It is the same God who calls, protects, and sustains each one of us. Yes, the Lord delivers his friends. This awareness must instill courage in us as we face every-day difficulties.
So we can reflect on at least two points this morning. !Yes, the world has changed and we can ask ourselves, “How responsible are we for the condition of the world and dysfunction within the world?”
And what can be done about it.?
Using Peter and Paul as guides and mentors we should ask ourselves, what chains are preventing us from being who we are called to be?
In changing times, is our faith changing? Is it stronger or weaker than in the past? Many of us who are in religious life can ask, “If we had to do it all over again, would we still decide to join today, knowing what we now know?”
Our faith is constantly being tested. Can we work with the threat of imprisonment, increasing restrictions, moral and emotional shipwrecks and even the prospect of giving our lives for Christ?
Peter was asked to strengthen the faith of his brothers and sister.
So how does the laity (all you who join us in prayer) respond to religious life. We have over 400 religious represented here this morning. We are alive and well, but we need also need you, the laity in order to survive. How can you help? Prayer, encouragement of young men and women to listen carefully so as to hear if God is calling them to the religious life. And to realize fully your own vocations to the Christian life in spite of what is happening around you; in spite of change. WHY? Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever and ever
We call this day, Good Friday. It is the day when Jesus was tortured, beaten, made to carry a load too heavy for Him, was stripped of his clothing, was nailed to a cross, and died a painful death. Not much good about that.
Of course we know that all that He suffered was for our good and not for his.
It is the Good Friday for us.
Sacred scripture gives us so many wonderful images of Jesus; a kind teacher, a healer of diseases, one who has compassion on all who suffer, feeder of the hungry and even one who raised others from the dead. These biblical snapshots of Jesus give us comfort. But the picture of someone suffering such great agony is unsettling. There is a difference between being an eye witness to suffering and have it happen 6,000 miles away or 2,000 years away. How can we be moved to make the suffering of Jesus meaningful in our lives? The answer is love. If we love someone and he or she suffers, our love is measured on how much we empathize with that person. That is, not feel sorry FOR, but feel pain WITH the other.. The love that Mary, the mother of Jesus had for him and that He had for her was so great and so perfect, that the pain of one was the pain of the other.
There is pain and suffering all around us.
When we read of a couple of hundred teen agers drowning off the coast of South Korea, hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in this country each year, several hundred still missing and presumed dead in an airplane mystery, a hundred school girls kidnapped in Nigeria, hundreds dying each day in civil conflicts all over the world, hundreds murdered each year in Tijuana, hundreds violently killed each DAY in this country, what should we think but, THANK GOD such misfortunes haven’t affected me. These things are happening but as long as I am free of pain and live is good – Good Friday means very little.
What we just heard is a drama that could have been written by George Bernard Shaw, Tennessee Williams, or William Shakespeare.
But it was written by God Himself. It is meant to underscore the human depravity to which evil has progressed. Mind you, the evil that is in us.
“No one can rise higher than the highest which is in each of us and no one can fall lower than the lowest which is in each of us.”
We can easily say to ourselves, “If I had been there to witness Jesus going through all His agony, I would have helped him, I would have fought for Him, I would have, I would have , I would have.” You and I would have joined the others who ran away or did absolutely nothing. Or even worse, call for Barabas, as we do when we sin.
If you think differently, why do you keep running from him and even adding to his agony by your sins? No, you would have made yourself scare or even lied like Peter.
Violence has always been a part of human history ever since Cain smashed his brothers head in.
So the potential lies in each of us. There are varying degrees of violence and even subtle violence that is disguised as good or loving. Like the violence that began with a kiss by a friend. Or the spreading of a rumor that is meant to take away the good reputation of someone. Violence. Or even lying to get what we want is a form of violence that injures others.
But this is Good Friday.
The travesty of that kiss is that it was insincere and even used as a signal to identify the Lord. But violence was just around the corner.
We may not be affected by violence to others or we may not be violent to others but it is our sins that caused violence to Jesus, he had to go through his Good Friday. It is sin that does violence. Sin, the cause death, came into the world in a garden and Jesus who overcame sin by death was buried in a garden. Full circle. The first Adam sins, the New Adam sets things right by taking on the blame for the sins of others.
The concept of having someone take the blame for what we did wrong is a difficult one to accept, let alone understand. And we will never understand it fully this side of our own graves. Because we are attempting to grasp DIVINE motives and actions in Human terms, human language. To speak of an infinite act in (finite) temporal terms is impossible.
The closest we can come to understanding what Jesus has done for us is what Maximilian Kolbe did. He volunteered to die so that another might live. He took his place. Jesus, not only took our place by assuming our guilt, but he even suffered the punishment that we had coming because of our guilt, because of our sins.
Isaiah prophesied 500 years before Jesus suffered, that the Messiah was to be wounded for our sins. “He was pierced for our offenses. Crushed for our sins, upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.
We can sort of understand that, and what Jesus did for us, but the question is still, “What difference does the suffering of Jesus make in my life – NOW?
We answer that question with another question. How much do I love Jesus?
He gave suffered for me, How much am I willing to suffer with Him? All the misery of the world, past, present and future added together, could not match the suffering of Jesus.
Suffering in itself does not make us holy. It is only when we unite it, out of love, to the suffering of Christ that it has meaning. Suffering without love is wasted pain.
Because of what he did for us, this is Good Friday.
How much we can do with Him today, makes this not Good Friday but THE BEST FRIDAY.
May we always glory His cross as we venerate a two very tiny particles of it today and may all say willingly, Father into your hands I commend my spirit.
Drought in 2014
Everything is gift
St. Paul's Conversion
Sts. Peter & Paul
If you didn’t make it to church on Ash Wednesday, welcome to Lent, 2016.
And if you are searching for a reason to be sincere about observing Lent to its fullest, no better plan could be found than is expressed in the Collect, the opening prayer of this Mass. “Grant, almighty God, through the yearly observances of holy Lent, that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ and by worthy conduct pursue their effect.”
To begin with, we admit that there is a God and that He is in control. He has the power to reveal hidden things. And is anxious to have us learn them.
What are these hidden things? They are things that, may influence science, but cannot be explained by science. So we enter a whole new dimension. Those who believe and have been raised in that dimension know what it is. It is the dimension of faith. Without faith our knowledge is stunted, is stopped, blocked, incomplete.
But when one believes, there is another whole world that opens. Faith shows how one can be rich while having little money, how one can be healthy while ill and one can be learned while never having set foot in a classroom.
But everyone here, I assume, already knows that, but the prayer specifies a revelation of the riches that are hidden in Christ.
We can only say that those riches can never be completely known or found because the deeper we enter into the mystery of Christ (God’s Word) the more there is to know. It is like entering a cave. The farther you go in, the larger it becomes.
But how can we enter the cave? We pick up the guide book and start to read. You heard from it this morning. It is the book that tells everything about Christ, who He is, how His Father prepared the world for His coming into it, how he was received by the world, how much love he had for us that he gave up even his life. Etc. Etc. Etc. There are at least five quotes from that guide book that we either heard or will hear this morning.
The first was from the Book of the Second Law. Deuteronomy. That is the Greek word for the Second Law.
This passage is a rubric, a direction of how thanksgiving was to be made to the One who protected the people from whom Jesus would come. The first of any produce was to be put into a basket and given to the priest, who would in turn place it at the foot of the altar. But a formula was to be recited. Basically it was a recalling of who Jacob was and what he did. He was, like most of the people of the time, a descendent of the nation of Armenians. And he found himself in Egypt and we know how his son Joseph, was so instrumental in keeping the family, the clan alive. And in Egypt they became great or at least very numerous, and were slaves of Pharaoh. But being God’s chosen people, destined to produce the savior, they were freed from slavery and by means of God’s power, they were led to, and given, their own land. A land so bountiful that it was said to even over produce milk and honey. That is one of the passages which is quoted today in defense of Israel claiming all of what was given to them by God. HE GAVE US THIS LAND.
So AS the Lord was generous, offering was made back to him. The giver, the protector, was in turn offered the best, the first of the produce. And was shown homage, “You shall bow down in his presence.”
The cave now reveals a little of God, of his works and of his people.
But God is still seen as someone away, far away, far above. But coming into focus as the mist clears, we see that God takes on the shape of a man. But not a man that is given homage but one that is taken advantage of and even approached by the Arch enemy of the Father, the devil himself. This is a revealing to us that the eternal struggle between good and evil is still taking place in our very sight.
So what does this part of our journey reveal? That the God-man is being enticed to act like a mere human. What human would ever refuse wealth and power and pleasure? No mere human would or could resist. But this tells us a great deal about the power of God in His weakness, in His humanity. He is able to resist although he was hungry and deprived and weak. Now we are beginning to see the secrets that those without faith cannot see and even refuse to see.
But let us not stop there. So far we have seen that there is a God, one who is far away but concerned about His creation, His creatures, His people. Now he shows himself as one of us. And one whose concern for his people –prompts him to even suffer for his people, for us.
So there is God, There is His Son. Now the next chamber shows us something quite unique. Not only God and His son are there but all the others who are with us become visible. We are many.
And not only individuals but “Brothers and sisters, “Now, The word, the creator, the revealer is near you. He is in your mouth and in you heart.
This new dimension broadens to pierce the human condition to reveal the oneness of God with his people and the oneness of his people with each other. There is no longer Jew or Greek, black or white, male or female, young or old, learned or illiterate, rich or poor, all are one. What a revealed secret? WOW!
So this knowledge expands but we still have to complete what we prayed for at the beginning of Mass. Grant that we may grow in understanding of the riches hidden in Christ AND by worthy conduct pursue their effects.
Now, become worthy to act, to do something. To exercise this privilege, this God given power to grow as God wishes us to grow. The more you know the more you grow.
So the message is to not stop with what little knowledge you have but realize that there is a wealth still waiting for you to discover. The riches still hidden in Christ.
It is not sufficient to only know what we have, that is union with God and one another but to act as we believe and do more to strengthen that union with God and each other and thus gain the same strength that Jesus had in overcoming the temptations.
Because the next step takes us to an even greater reality. The last two words in today’s Gospel give us one great insight. The last sentence is “When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him, FOR A TIME.
FOR A TIME. Only temporarily did the devil go away.
The devil is still there, the devil is still tempting the body of Christ. He is not only tempting Jew and Greek, black and white, male and female, young and old, learned and illiterate, rich and poor, but everyone who is part of the body of Christ. You are part of the body of Christ that is still being tempted.
And when one part is tempted the whole body is tempted. And the whole body is affected by the determination to resist or the failure to resist. What happens to one happens to all. The lesson here is, union, being in union, being one and what does that mean to me, to you. The answer to that is found by the more deeper one penetrates the darkness of the mystery to the light who is Christ Himself.
Welcome to Lent. Welcome to a greater knowledge of Christ and a greater determination to identify temptation and to resist. In an age when sin is no longer seen as a danger to happiness but a way to happiness. When sin is no longer seen as a hindrance to unity but an achievement of individual rights. When sin is no longer seen as a block to salvation but as a denial of the need for salvation. We are in trouble.
And we can ask with the psalmist as we did today.
“BE with me, Lord when I am in trouble.
So the final lesson for today is not only vision of God, the vision of God-man, the vision of evil and the vision of unity but now the vision of dependence upon the only one who could lead his people out of slavery. The only One IN whom is found perfect peace and perfect unity.
We can fast forward to the unity not mentioned, but implied in our guide book, the Eucharist, the instrument of unity par excellence. Which gives us the power and thirst for even greater unity if we receive worthily.
Christianity is not a static organization but a dynamic journey that will not end until we see the Light of Christ and be taken up into that light and become light with Him.
Welcome to the body, welcome to the journey, welcome to Lent.
Freedom from Self-made prison.
Homily, April 6, 2015
We now continue the drama of the Church’s beginnings. At first the disciples were afraid of reprisals and if the powers to be could have Jesus killed on trumped up charges, what would prevent them from having the disciples of Jesus killed too. And being unlettered they felt fearful because they were unprepared or unfit to preach to anyone, especially when being watched closely by the powers to be. Although they were free, fear kept them, as it were, in prison.
However, with Pentecost, everything changed. They were no longer fearful of anyone in authority because they were convinced that God was on their side and their strength came not from human authority but divine. So they were released from their fear which restricted them. But that freedom put them back in a prison.
That is where the story picks up today in the Acts of the Apostles. Not only was God on their side but he looked after them, sent an angel to open the locked prison gates. The high priest at that time was a
Sadducee. (Luke makes certain that we know that fact)
Sadducees did not believe in angels nor in an after life so it is ironic the apostles’ deliverance from prison was by an angel who set them free. He led them through the locked gates just as Jesus came to those apostles through locked doors. The gate remained locked.
The angel said, “Go out now and take your place in the temple precincts and preach to the people all about this new life.”
From now on their place would be as teachers. And teachers gathered their students in the temple area. There were no such things as classrooms them.
So their place was to teach and their place to teach was the temple. Of course the apostles taught about Jesus and the new life he brought to the world.
The high priest, after he had them imprisoned called together the Sanhedrin. Mind you, they still thought that the apostles were safely in prison. And they were to appear for the trial. Remember, the High priest also was a governmental official because Israel was a theocracy.
So they sent for the prisoners but when the soldiers returned they said that prisoners were not there. However the guards were still on duty and the gates were all locked.
This left them all in a quandary. Then news came that the apostles were again teaching in the temple area. So orders were given to recapture them but this was done discretely for fear that the crowd would object. The crowd would object not only be because of the teaching of the apostles, which had already attracted many hundreds, but because they worked signs or as the apostles would say, the Lord worked signs through them. “The people carried the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mattresses, so that when Peter passed by at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. Crowds for towns around Jerusalem would gather too bringing their sick and those who were troubled by unclean spirits, all of whom were cured”. ALL OF WHOM WERE CURED. (Acts 5:15-16)
Let us be quick to add that they were all cured because they all had faith and believed that they could be cured through the apostles, especially Peter.
Jesus always required faith in order to perform a cure. As in this morning’s gospel, “ God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him may not die.” (John 3:16-21)
So we hear John juxtapose his two favorite topics; life and death, and light and darkness.
These are the two set of elements that challenge all of us. Do we really believe or do we only pretend to believe. If it is the latter, then we are using God for our own purpose. We are manipulating God
And we are not living in the truth. We are in prison. The prison of our own making. Because of fear of change we are kept in bondage, afraid to change, lest it should bring about my having to admit that I was wrong. However, admitting that we are wrong is to open the gates of fear which keep us in prison. Amen, the truth shall make you free.
There are many ways of being in prison. But the Lord wants to help us.
He is opening the gates and freeing us but we usually prefer the comfortable prison rather than the challenge of giving in to God’s will.
Our prayer should not only be so sincere that it reveals God’s will in our lives but that it also allows God’s angel to release us from our selfish prison we have made for ourselves.
Before each Mass we are asked to acknowledge our sins. Admit that we are sinners but sinners in our thoughts and words and deeds. By thinking we can sin. By speaking we can sin. And in doing wrong and failing to do good we can sin. That should keep us busy in examining our consciences, as we do before each Mass.
As our faith is challenged daily, hourly, only with God’s grace can we desire to be free and thus really believe and be cured in the shadow of God’s angels.
1st Sunday of Lent
Freedom from self...