The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Friday, July 17, 2015

Uplifted hearts and voices

We all need a little life-giving music in our lives. The selection above certainly qualifies--a hymn sung during the preparation of the altar Thursday in the Archabbey Church for our eucharistic celebration of the Solemnity of Our Lady of Einsiedeln. This beautiful piece was sung by a combination of monks and interns with the One Bread One Cup program, along with George Hubbard and Sr. Jeana Visel, O.S.B. The organist is Brent Stamey.

Prepare to be awed, inspired, and soothed. I certainly was.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Chosen, then qualified by God

"The place God calls you to is the place where
your deep gladness 
and the world’s deep hunger meet."
Frederick Buechner

A reflection on the Mass readings
for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B):
Amos 7:12-15; Ephesians 1:3-14; Mark 6:7-13

Just who were the Twelve Apostles, really? Nobody special. They were not "high-class," or well-educated, or upstanding citizens. Quite the contrary is true. They did not apply for the position, and they were not vetted for particular credentials. In fact, they were not qualified at all.

And yet, unqualified, unprepared and flawed as they were, Jesus “called” them, as Mark’s Gospel states (6:7-13). He sent them out to preach the gospel, gave them authority, and instructed them. He chose them, and then he qualified them. “You did not choose me but I chose you,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John (15:16); “Apart from me, you can do nothing” (15:5).

The prophet Amos, prefiguring the Christian response to God’s call long before Jesus’ time, knew the nature of this gift. “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son,” he says. “I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people.’” And so he went—nobody special, yet accomplishing God’s work (Amos 7:12-15).

Today, all Christians have precisely the same call—in different ways and circumstances, to be sure, but the call to live and preach the gospel is universal. Not everyone hears the call, or responds to it. Some take their time answering. Others simply (and sadly) refuse. But the call is there.

In a beautiful and theologically rich passage from the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14), we are told that God blesses and chooses each one of us “before the foundation of the world.” Think about that for a minute. It’s an astounding declaration. Before the One God in Three Persons created the universe, before anyone was born, before Jesus as God the Son came into the world, God chose us. Otherwise, we simply would not be. And knowing us completely—more fully than we will ever know ourselves—God understood beforehand how unqualified we would be, how unprepared, how flawed. He knew that we would all turn away from him, would sin, and would know failure, sorrow, and pain.

Yet he still chose us. He knew before anything was that Jesus would enter into a point in time to show us the way to God. He knew that a Savior would be necessary before sin existed, before we existed—to make us holy, to adopt us, to redeem us, to make himself known to us, and to involve us in his plan to “gather up all things” in Christ (Ephesians 1:10). As St. Paul says elsewhere, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). We are, as the Letter to the Ephesians says, chosen and destined by a God who accomplishes all things, to “live for the praise of his glory.”

This is a wonderful mystery that cannot be fully grasped. We must simply let it grasp us, guide us. But that is difficult to do, isn’t it?

A couple years before coming to the monastery, I had a discussion with a very wise priest. I knew I was being called to something new, to something that was both exciting and terrifying, simply because it was unknown. I felt totally overwhelmed and unqualified for whatever it was that God had in store for me (at that time I didn’t know precisely what it was, but I felt the pull, so to speak). “I can’t do it,” I told the priest. He listened to my reasons, and then gently said, “If God is calling you to something, he will give you everything you need to accomplish it. Do not be afraid. He is always with you.”

It took me a while longer to realize that indeed, God calls first; then he qualifies. We do not—and cannot—qualify ourselves first. Once I was granted the grace to understand that, I was able to make a leap of faith that I never could have foreseen; such an act went completely against the grain of how I typically operated. In fact, some people thought I had gone nuts!

New parents, no doubt, feel completely overwhelmed and unqualified. But God calls each newborn child into this world and into the lives of his/her parents for a reason. With the infant’s unwitting (and malodorous) assistance, God qualifies each parent after choosing them. Years later, each child is called along his or her own vocational path. In one way or another, each of us is called to participate in God’s plan to “gather up all things” in Christ.

At one level, these Scripture passages revolve around vocation, and the fact that everybody has one where God is concerned. No one is qualified. No is one is prepared. Everyone is flawed. Yet God still calls. However, at a still deeper level, Scripture emphasizes God’s initiative and his providence. We love because he first loved us before the foundation of the world (cf. 1 John 4:19; John 1:1-5).

Ultimately, vocation is not about what we do, but about who we are. Just like the Apostles, we are nobody special—but chosen nonetheless. We are chosen by God to give what we do not have, to bestow in Christ every spiritual blessing from absolute nothingness, to live in the mystery of God’s will in order to gather up all things in Christ. And he is with us each step of the way.

Excerpted from Grace in the Wilderness:
Reflections on God's Sustaining Word Along Life's Journey
by Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B., Abbey Press, 2013

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tinker, tweak, tidy

No need to reboot your computer. Just re-arranging a few things. It's been a while since I've freshened up this site. I'm trying to streamline a little. Same old blog, though. Everything's there. Things may look a little funky for a while. Now, where did I put that whatchamacallit...?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Praying the Word

A prayer based on today's Mass readings for the 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B): Ezekiel 2:2-5; 2Corinthians 12:7-10; Mark 6:1-6.

Speak to me, Lord God.
May your Spirit enter into me,
and set me solidly on feet of faith.

Help me to hear your word,
to go where you send me,
and to speak as a prophet.

May your grace be sufficient.
Perfect me through my weakness,
so that the power of Christ dwells with me.

For the sake of Christ, help me
to endure weakness, insult, hardship,
persecution, and limitation.
In these, I am truly strong.

Open my eyes and ears
to your wisdom, so I may experience
your mighty deeds all around me
and proclaim them to others.

Increase my faith, Lord!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Liturgy of the Frogs

There are many things about our temporary lodgings in Anselm Hall while the monastery is under renovation that I find agreeable. Other things, not so much. Home is home, and we all long to be there. The temporary move, however, has been a good opportunity to practice virtues like charity, patience, simplicity, and surrendering expectations.

In any event, one thing about my room in Anselm Hall I enjoy very much is the symphony outside my window each evening. My third-floor room overlooks two courtyards--one directly below me, and another just off to the right. Dwelling near the small pond in each courtyard is at least one frog, though I have never seen either. Each evening--say, about 8 p.m. or so--one of them pipes up. The other, occupying the courtyard on the other side of the wing that separates them, responds in kind. And they continue in this manner, first one and then the other, back and forth. For hours. Soon, a couple seemingly smaller, less throaty specimens join in--forming some sort of amphibious backup chorus. 

(There also are three box turtles in the courtyard directly below me--having been transported from their previous confines in the monastery, where it would be too dangerous for them to be right now. Unlike the frogs, however, they don't say much.)

I find the little nightly concert very relaxing, peaceful, and soothing. A good way to end the day. I sit in my chair and listen to the frogs perform each evening (I can hear them distinctly even with my windows closed and the air-conditioning on) before turning in for the night. Of course, I have no idea what they are communicating to one another, or even if they know what they are doing, but there is a beautiful symmetry and harmony to it all. Creatures praising Creator by simply being what they were created to be.

Back and forth, one after the other, listening and responding, making music together. Like monks chanting the Divine Office.

A couple evenings ago, I opened a window, placed my laptop on the sill, and used a sound-recording function to capture this "Liturgy of the Frogs." Novice Timothy--a fellow frog-lover who hails, as I do, from Findlay, Ohio--joined the audio recording to a few images from around Saint Meinrad Archabbey, producing the two-minute video above (and enabling me to post the result here). Many thanks to him.

Enjoy the show (remember to turn your volume up). Another live performance due up in a few hours... 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

We know not how it grows

By Br. Peter Sullivan, O.S.B.

A reflection on the Mass readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
(Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)
As beautiful as it is, nature can sometimes seem harsh and indiscriminate—whether it’s the environment we’re talking about, humanity itself, or all the natural forces that direct them. The storms of life fell many trees in the world, both literally and figuratively, and the body, mind, and soul are not exempted.

While it is necessary and healthy to survey and mourn the damage wrought by the occasional tempest, focusing on it can severely limit or distort our perception of all the good surrounding the storm—or even arising from it. We must, as St. Paul says, “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Life certainly takes many unexpected twists and turns, but God’s promise to us is that he is always at work in the world—whether we see it or not, or even whether we believe it or not. Like a tiny seed slowly sprouting, taking root, maturing, blooming, and striving toward the sun, the Kingdom of God continues to grow upward and outward. “See, I am making all things new,” God promises, for “all things work together for good for those who love God” (cf. Revelation 21:5; Romans 8:28).

As Jesus states in Mark’s Gospel (4:26-34), “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” God gently beckons every withered tree to bloom, put forth branches, and bear fruit, so that all may dwell beneath the shade of the Almighty (cf. Ezekiel 17:23-25; Mark 4:32).

By God’s promise and grace, through the Tree of Life that is Christ, the Kingdom of God is sprouting and growing night and day, in war and peace, in raging storms and restful stillness … though we know not how.

by Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B., Abbey Press, 2013

Prayer as punctuation

Punctuation can make a world of difference in our understanding of written communication. … In a similar way, the regular praying of the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours is a grace-filled gift to keep us centered and headed in the right direction. The Divine Office literally punctuates—or interrupts—the flow of the hours of the day to supply them with the structure and meaning that otherwise risk being lost amid our other activities and concerns.

(An excerpt from my article in the latest issue of America magazine. To read the article in its entirety, click here.)