Monday, October 31, 2011

Gobblin'

The Courier/Kim Anderson

This photo was published today by my hometown newspaper The Courier in Findlay, Ohio (www.thecourier.com). It was taken this past weekend along South Main Street in Findlay. To the best of my knowledge, this furry chocolate-lover is a real squirrel, and not a child in a Halloween costume.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Word at work


Sunday, Oct. 30, 2011
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10
1Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13
Matthew 23:1-12
Today’s readings offer sound advice for all leaders. And really, that includes each and every one of us. In one way or another, each of us has someone in his or her charge – whether it’s children, siblings, employees, patients, constituents, parishioners, etc. Even friends and co-workers. Someone is looking to each of us to set the example in some regard. And each of us fails in varying degrees to set a good example 100 percent of the time. But the ideal leader in each one of us must strive to serve our brothers and sisters and recognize that we all have one Father in heaven.
The first reading and the Gospel tell us how not to do this, how we so often fail. But sprinkled liberally throughout the text of the second reading are many ideas worth taking to heart in a positive sense. They tell us that we as leaders in our daily lives must be:
n      Gentle
n      Caring
n      Affectionate
n      Self-sacrificing
n      Hard-working
n      Willing to bear another’s burdens
n      Willing to proclaim God’s Word in word and deed.
n      Grateful
n      Generous
In short, Christians of any state or position of life are to serve one another and the world under one Father in heaven. The call is the same, though it is carried out in various ways. No matter our rank, we all have but one master, the Christ, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave … and because of this God greatly exalted him” (Philippians 2:6-7, 9).
This is the Word of God now at work in you who believe.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Humility

"A man is humble when he stands in the truth
with a knowledge and appreciation for himself as he really is."
The Cloud of Unknowing


Christ, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.

Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.

Because of this,
God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven
and on the earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of
God the Father.

Philippians 2:6-11

Friday, October 28, 2011

Ad multos annos!


Today, Saint Meinrad Archabbey bid a fond farewell to an institution of sorts--Linus Mundy, director of publications at Abbey Press. He is shown above with his wife Michaeline ("Mikie") after a luncheon in his honor this afternoon.

Linus worked 28 years at the Abbey Press, and an additional 14 at St. Anthony Messenger Press. In the mid-1980s, he came up with the idea of CareNotes, a booklet series to help comfort and care for those struggling with life's toughest challenges, such as grieving the sudden loss of a loved one. Today, more than 150 million CareNotes have been sold to churches, hospitals, funeral homes, and other care providers, who then typically offer the titles free of charge to those under their care. Without a doubt, CareNotes have touched and healed an untold number of hearts.

Linus, an alumnus who has assisted and supported Saint Meinrad in myriad ways, is also an accomplished author (as is Mikie). Among his many works, the 1995 book Prayer Walking: A Simple Path to Body and Soul Fitness garnered national atttention. As director of publications, he also oversaw the development of a number of projects--such as the enormously popular Elf-Help book series--that not only supported the work and prayer of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, but also extended a helping hand to those in need. Among his last endeavours was the successful purchase and redevelopment of Deacon Digest magazine.

Above and beyond all that, however, was the genuine dedication, concern, and good cheer he demonstrated each day toward his co-workers. When I came to the monastery and was assigned to work in the publications division at Abbey Press, Linus helped and supported me in numerous ways. I wrote an Elf-Help book, and several CareNotes (editing many others), and he gave me the opportunity to oversee one avenue of the division's recent growth into other directions--which has led to the Path of Life Publications imprint in my charge.

In retirement, he plans to write, do some part-time consulting and author-promotion work, travel, garden, and of course, spend time with his family. He will be missed at Abbey Press, though I know we haven't seen the last of him on the Hill. His Saint Meinrad roots are sunk fairly deep.

Now climbing into the saddle as the new director of publications is Phil Etienne, who has been the division's managing editor the last couple years, also heading up Deacon Digest. He has worked at Abbey Press since 1989--which, I told him at Linus's luncheon today--was the same year I began working in the newspaper field. You just never know where life's path may take you--best wishes to both Linus and Phil!

Autumn splendor


The fall foliage here in southern Indiana, it has seemed to me, has up until now not been quite as colorful and vibrant as last year. However, in the last couple of days, a whole new set of colors has burst forth and deepened.

Perhaps it has to do with the recent rain. It had been a dry fall until earlier this week. In any event, here are a few scenes from around the Archabbey taken yesterday.

Such color -- along with the pleasantly cool weather, the World Series, and pumpkin pie -- is what makes Autumn perhaps my favorite season of the year. Spring, however, which is always just around the corner, comes close.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Seeds of hope

"[The Kingdom of God] is like a mustard seed that a man took and planted in the garden. When it was fully grown, it became a large bush and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches."
Luke 13:19

Consider how the Lord keeps reminding us of the resurrection that is to come, of which he has made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruits by raising him from the dead. Let us look at the resurrection that occurs at its appointed time. Day and night show us a resurrection; the night lies in sleep, day rises again. The day departs; night takes its place.

Let us think about the harvest; how does the sowing take place, and in what manner? The sower goes out and casts each seed onto the ground. Dry and bare, they fall into the earth and decay. Then the greatness of the Lord's providence raises them again from decay, and out of one, many are produced and yield fruit.

In this hope, then, let our hearts be bound fast to him who is faithful in his promises and just in his judgments.

-- Pope St. Clement

Monday, October 24, 2011

Joking Jesus?

A fictional scene from Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" (2004)
in which Jesus is amused by his mother Mary's reaction to a table he's built.

An amusing, thought-provoking little piece today on The Wall Street Journal's online magazine Speakeasy by Fr. James Martin, S.J., titled "Jesus of Nazareth, Stand-Up Comic?" It's not irreverent, trust me. Martin, who has just published a new book titled Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, offers a brief and honest commentary on Jesus as a "Man of Joy."

He takes a look at some of Jesus' parables, sayings, and playful comments that would have been appreciated as hilarious or full of good humor in his time, but which are lost on us today. Instead, we mistakenly tend to think of Jesus as always being gloomy, downcast, or deadly serious.

"Christians believe that Jesus was 'fully human and fully divine.' And being fully human means having a sense of humor," writes Martin. His mission was serious, but Jesus employed humor at times to drive his point home. And he loved a good joke as much as anyone else.

I agree. It's a wonderful reminder for all of us that one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is JOY. Christians should be serious but cheerful--why else would anyone be interested in becoming one?

Click here to read Martin's entire piece.

Incidentally, he has also authored a Catholic Perspectives CareNote for Abbey Press' Path of Life Publications on the same subject. It it titled: Rejoice! Finding Joy, Humor in the Spiritual Life. Highly recommended! Click here for more information.

A most blessed and joyful day to all!

Goose Island


We have four small lakes on the main campus of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Whenever I go for walks (which is almost daily), I usually find myself along one of them. They are beautiful, peaceful places to pray or just watch and appreciate various species of wildlife do whatever it is they are doing. I ran across these Canada geese over the weekend -- about two dozen of them in all. They had taken over a small peninsula of sorts that reaches out into one of the lakes at the edge of the property. From there, they launched out into the water, milled around along the shore catching up on the latest "goose-ip," or just honked for no other reason than to honk. Just being geese.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The bridge of grace


Some additional thoughts on today's Gospel. A mistaken notion--even among devoted Christians--has persisted for centuries. In some small measure, at least, we all give in to it. This is the idea that the Old Testament and the New Testament contradict one another, that the Old Covenant is about punishment, and the New Covenant is about mercy, and that Jesus came to do away with all that came before him. Somewhere along the line, it seems, God changed his mind about how to deal with us.

This short-sighted view overlooks what Jesus himself says very clearly: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfill" (Matthew 5:17).

God promised us a Redeemer from the very first moment after the Fall of our first parents (cf. Genesis 3:15). Jesus, the incarnate Logos (or Word) who reveals God the Father, pre-existed from the very beginning of creation, and through him all things came to be, as St. John tells us in the poetic opening lines of his Gospel (cf. John 1:1-5). In the Gospel of St. Luke (4:16-21), we are told that Jesus went to the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth, where he was handed a scroll from the prophet Isaiah to read a passage (Isaiah 61:1-2; 58:6) to those present:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, "Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
This shocked his listeners--his own townspeople!--who then tried to throw him over a a cliff. But he was there in the flesh--Emmanuel, God Among Us--just as the prophets had foretold, to bridge the gap between old and new, and to demonstrate God's love for the poor, captive, blind, and oppressed--terms that describe us all in one way or another. All of Scripture and Christian revelation is a unity, with Christ--fully human, fully divine--at the very center. All of it -- Old Testament and New Testament--points to, or is fulfilled in, Christ. God is One (and, as we know, One in Three), and God is love (1John 4:8, 16).

So, in today's Gospel (Matthew 22:34-40), Jesus draws on two Old Testament passages (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:18) to summarize God's "greatest commandment": "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

And in St. John's Gospel, during the Last Supper on the night before he died, Jesus tells his apostles (and us): "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

During the second reading at Vigils this morning, we heard from St. Augustine on all this. Here is what he has to say:
Open the Bible at any page and you will find it extolling love. [The ancient peoples of the Old Testament] saw that all the precepts and promises of the old covenant, geared to the capacities of an unregenerate people, prefigured a new covenant, which the Lord would bring to fulfillment in the last age. The Apostle [Paul] says this quite clearly: The things that happened to them were symbolic, and were recorded for us who are living in the last age. When the time for it came, the new covenant began to be openly proclaimed, and those ancient figures were expounded and explained so that all might understand that the old covenant promises pointed to the new covenant.

And so love was present under the old covenant just as it is under the new, though then it was more hidden and fear was more apparent, whereas now love is more clearly seen and fear is diminished. For as love grows stronger we feel more secure, and when our feeling of security is complete, fear vanishes, since, as the apostle John declares: Perfect love casts out fear [1John 4:18].
From this perspective, both the Old and New Testament are in perfect harmony. What is being revealed to us through both is this: human frailty (nature) gives way to divine power (grace) -- with Christ as the bridge supporting our journey from one to the other.

Scripture must be read with a view toward the whole, in the light of Christ. And when we do this, we see that from the very beginning the message has been clear, simple, and consistent in the Old Testament and in the New: God loves us. We are to love God. We are to love ourselves as created by God. And we are to love others as God loves each one of us. Period. That's it in a nutshell. And Christ--given to us in Word, Sacrament, and the Living Tradition of the Church--is what makes it all possible from our end.

But we have to accept this Good News on the basis of faith first. Contrary to the world, we must believe, and then see. And this doesn't mean everything will be crystal clear or easy as pie from that point onward. This is why we cry out along with the father of the disturbed child in Mark 9:24: "I believe; help my unbelief!"

That is the most powerful confession of faith we can possibly utter. In it, the human longs for the divine, nature for grace. And if we accept and respond to it, by divine grace we become what we desire.

"Behold," God tells us, "I make all things new" (Revelation 21:5).

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Close encounter


Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A


Exodus 22:20-26
1Thessalonians 1:5c-10
Matthew 22:34-40

NOTE: There is no better commentary, in my view, on this week’s readings than the opening paragraphs of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2005 encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love). So, rather than writing my own, I have posted the Pontiff’s opening words below. The sentence in bold is particularly profound. The encyclical is worth reading and meditating on in its entirety, and is available on the Vatican’s website. Click here to read it. – Br. Francis
“God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1John 4:16). These words from the First Letter of John express with remarkable clarity the heart of the Christian faith: the Christian image of God and the resulting image of mankind and its destiny. In the same verse, St. John also offers a kind of summary of the Christian life: “We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.”

We have come to believe in God’s love: in these words the Christian can express the fundamental decision of his life. Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction. St. John’s Gospel describes that event in these words: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should ... have eternal life” (3:16).

In acknowledging the centrality of love, Christian faith has retained the core of Israel’s faith, while at the same time giving it new depth and breadth. The pious Jew prayed daily the words of the Book of Deuteronomy which expressed the heart of his existence: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might” (6:4-5). Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbor found in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18; cf. Mark 12:29-31).

Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 John 4:10), love is now no longer a mere “command”; it is the response to the gift of love with which God draws near to us.
-- Pope Benedict XVI

Friday, October 21, 2011

Path of progress


O God,
let me know you
and love you
so that I may
find my joy
in you; and
if I cannot do so
fully in this life,
let me at least
make some progress
every day, until
at last that
knowledge,
love, and
joy
come to me
in all their
abundance.

-- St. Anselm

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Calling all monks


X
Today Matt Scheeser joined us as a candidate in the monastery, where he will live and work. God willing, he will be invested as a novice in January, receiving the scapular and tonsure and beginning his novitiate year of formation and discernment. We are glad to have him here. May God bless and guide him, and grant him peace as he embarks on the monastic journey.

Your prayers are requested for Matt and for all who may be called to our way of life.

And for those of you reading this who may be experiencing an interior nudge in the direction of monastic life, I will repeat what I said in a post last month: "Come and see." What have you got to lose?

True happiness


A word from St. Augustine:

Search out the life of happiness. Ask for it from the Lord our God.

Many have discussed at great length the meaning of happiness, but we do not need to go to them and their long drawn-out discussions. Holy Scripture says concisely and with truth:
Happy is the people whose God is the Lord.
We are meant to belong to that people, and to be able to see God and live with him forever, and so the object of this command is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience and a sincere faith.

In these three qualities, "a good conscience" stands for "hope." Faith, hope, and love bring safely to God the person who prays--that is, the person who believes, who hopes, who desires, and who ponders what he is asking of the Lord when he says:
Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdome come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day
our daily bread,

and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those
who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Whom will you serve?

A denarius: Worth a day's wage in Jesus' time.

Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Isaiah 45:1, 4-6
1Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Matthew 22:15-21
We hear a lot today about separation of church and state. There is considerable tension between the two—and at times, either corrupt collusion or catastrophic conflict. At its core, however, the issue is nothing new. Only the circumstances have changed throughout human history.
In a very real sense, such a tug of war is our own doing. We have created the conditions under which we strain against. The real question may be: “What does this perpetual struggle tell us about ourselves, about what we value, about what we desire and strive for?”
From a biblical perspective, the sacred writers relate the answer to us quite clearly:
What does the Lord your God require of you? Only to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord your God and his decrees that I am commanding you today, for your own well-being. … Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. The Lord your God you shall fear; him you shall serve, and by his name alone you shall swear.
    --Deuteronomy 10:12-13; 6:6, 12-13                                 
Later, Joshua tells the chosen People of God: “Choose this day whom you will serve.” And the people respond by saying they will serve the Lord, “for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed” (Joshua 24:15, 17).
From the very beginning, humanity was not meant to be governed by anyone but God. The Lord God was King. But our ancestors in the faith, like us, had short memories. It wasn’t long before they envied what pagan nations had and chose against God. They pleaded with the prophet and judge Samuel to give them a “real” king: “There must be a king over us. We too must be like all the nations, with a king to rule us, lead us in warfare, and fight our battles” (1Samuel 8:19-20).
Samuel resisted, but God told him, “You are not the one they are rejecting. They are rejecting me as their king.” Give them a king, he told Samuel, but warn them what that will mean (1Samuel 8:6-9). So Samuel told the people that if he anointed a king over them, their rulers would become greedy, cruel tyrants and thieves, seeking to conquer only for their own personal survival and comfort. Still, they insisted: “Give us a king!”
“Crucify him!” would be the cry many years later, essentially saying the same thing: “We want a king after our own image—to rule ourselves. We don’t want God.”
So, Samuel gave the ancient Israelites a king—Saul—and nations and peoples have been torn asunder ever since (the occasional God-fearing leader notwithstanding, for even good leaders make mistakes). This scenario has played out repeatedly over the course of human history. Remarkably, God is still waiting patiently for us to choose the right path.
So what does Jesus mean in today’s Gospel when he says, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”?
First of all, the passage must be considered in context. In the preceding passages in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has entered Jerusalem, where he knows he will be put to death. He has claimed authority over the temple, and then challenged the religious leaders of the day with parable after parable about unworthy servants. They are offended and angry, and they mean to pay Jesus back everything he has coming to him.
So the question the Pharisees and Herodians ask in today’s Gospel — “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?”— is not asked in good faith. The questioners are not interested in the answer, but only in finding a way to do away with Jesus, to put him to death and get him out of the picture. Their malicious intent is evident in the fact that the Pharisees and Herodians had directly opposing political views (the Pharisees resisted Roman rule; the Herodians favored it). But they were willing to join forces to get rid of Jesus, and the question they asked was meant to entrap him. There was no right answer.
But Jesus saw through all this, and therefore refused to engage the evil present in the question. Instead, he asked for a coin and asked a question of his own: “Whose image is this?”
“Caesar’s”
“Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (Here, I can envision him flipping the coin back to the group).
With this answer, Jesus is not taking any position on the issue of separation of church and state. He is not advocating any human government or revolutionary movement. Instead, he implies that the very conditions giving rise to the question are a result of our own sinfulness, our turning away from the God who made us. He may as well have said, “You asked for a king!”
And that is the key to the whole episode. The religious leaders still want a human ruler, a king, even though the King of Kings, God of gods, stands directly in front of them. Like Joshua, Jesus again is asking the question, “Choose this day whom you will serve.”
So, whatever choice is placed in front of us, we must ask ourselves in Jesus’ own words: “Whose image is this?” If it is “Caesar,” then we must act accordingly. However, what it all boils down to is this: Each one of us—even “Caesar”—is made in the image of God. God’s image is imprinted on every human heart, just as Caesar's image was imprinted on ancient Roman coins. Whether we acknowledge it or not, it is God to whom we belong and whom we must love and serve—with all our heart, soul, and mind.
As Jesus says elsewhere: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Do not be afraid


The senses suddenly cry out in terror to the soul:

"Unhappy one, now you are lost, you have no resource left!"

And faith, with a stronger voice, replies at once:

"Keep firm, advance, and fear nothing."

-- Fr. Jean-Pierre de Caussade, S.J.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Is it time yet? Yes!

Photo by Br. Matthew Mattingly, O.S.B.

Found a nice little reflection on time and eternity and our place within it. From the blog Beginning to Pray, a post titled The Present Moment -- Eternity Begun and Still in Progress.

Worth reading, reflecting upon, and responding to. Now is the time -- forever!

Monday, October 10, 2011

From glory to glory


NOTE: We've had some beautiful fall weather here lately, and this afternoon I took advantage of it by taking a little walk with my camera to put some little frames around the changing of the seasons. Posted here are a few perspectives, along with some prose suitable for the season by the abbot of Conception Abbey in Missouri.

The single goal in life for the Christian is to become like Christ. Our experiences of death to self and of bodily death find special meaning in a passage from St. Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians. There St. Paul writes, "All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit: (2Corinthians 3:18).

When he writes of "glory," St. Paul refers to the paschal mystery of Jesus into which we are all incorporated--that is how our own life, suffering, and death are now sharing in the resurrection of Jesus. But for St. Paul, our glory includes not only the promise of resurrection, but all the experiences of our life that are united to Jesus' own life, suffering, and death.

There is a little "sacrament" in nature that reminds us that our death to self is beautiful in the eyes of God. In the autumn of the year, the leaves that are turning brilliant yellow, bright orange, and deep red are actually in the process of dying. Their colors are deepest, brightest, and most brilliant as they are "in the process" of their death.

That is also true for us. Our lives mirrror the beauty of God's plan for us as we die to self, and as we prepare to enter the eternal life for which we were created.

The whole process is the paschal mystery--new life through death!

-- Rt. Rev. Gregory Polan
Abbot, Conception Abbey, Missouri



Sunday, October 9, 2011

Come as you are, but change

Ghent Altarpiece-Adoration of the Lamb, Belgium.

Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Isaiah 25:6-10a
Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20
Matthew 22:1-14
What should I wear?
It’s one of the first questions we excitedly ask ourselves when we receive an invitation of some sort. It’s not a frivolous question. A tuxedo would be out of place at a backyard barbecue, and shorts and sandals would be inappropriate for a wedding. Likewise, business attire is expected for those called to company meetings, but old jeans and a T-shirt are more suitable for a friend’s invitation to a painting party.
Most of these cultural expectations persist, though in recent years the boundaries may have become a bit blurry. How we dress for an important function (formal or informal) to which we’ve been graciously invited says something about our degree of receptiveness, gratitude, and respect for the host and other guests. And it’s not always easy. I’m the first to admit that I’m much more comfortable in backyard barbeque and painting party apparel! Fortunately for me and those who have to look at me, a Benedictine habit “cleans me up” a bit!
In today’s Gospel, Jesus once again speaks in parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven. It must be kept in mind that he speaks these words to the chief priests and elders of his own time, who did not exactly meet with his approval. However, the message of today’s parable is no less urgent for us in the Church today. Clearly, the king in the parable is God, and the son is Jesus. The king plans a great wedding feast for his son, and invites many guests. “Everything is ready; come to the feast,” he says.
But the invited guests refuse to come, ignore the invitation to attend to “more important things,” or even worse, mistreat and kill the messengers bearing the invitation. There are many in today’s world and in ages past who have responded in such ways to God’s generous invitation to the banquet of grace, mercy, and peace. Because of their own refusal, they are deemed unworthy of the Kingdom of God. It is a personal choice.
But some do come. Some accept the invitation, and all are welcomed. As today’s passage states, when those first invited failed to show up, the king’s servants “went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike.” This is the Church’s invitation to us all. The Church—particularly through the Eucharist—prefigures (albeit imperfectly) the heavenly banquet to which we are all invited. No one is to be excluded.
The Church’s role is to gather all she finds, bad and good alike, for the banquet of grace, mercy, and peace. We are the king’s servants sent out to fill the hall with guests, and we are also the guests gathered in by the king’s servants.
However, though the invitation is open to all, bad and good alike, we must dress for the occasion. We need to ask ourselves, “What should I wear?” Being invited and accepting the invitation is not enough. We must also have the proper degree of receptiveness, gratitude, and respect for the most gracious invitation we have received. As the last line of today’s Gospel states, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.” The Church invites all, but entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom and full participation in the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb requires a lifelong, full-hearted response. The “chosen” are the ones who choose to do this.
In today’s Gospel, the king encounters a guest not dressed in a wedding garment, the appropriate attire for the occasion. Yes, the guest had been invited, but his response to the invitation was not full. It was half-hearted. In essence, he “chose” to be cast out.
Jesus was speaking allegorically. The issue at stake is obviously not about clothing. What Jesus persists in telling us throughout the Gospels is that while all are invited to God’s feast—bad and good alike—in order to be truly “chosen,” we must genuinely express the proper degree of receptiveness, gratitude, and respect. The Church is to welcome all, but there will be a Last Judgment for each one of its members. What we are “wearing” at that moment will matter enormously.
Jesus insists on reminding us of this reality. For example, in Matthew 13:47-48, Jesus says, “The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” Elsewhere, he speaks of separating the wheat from the weeds, the sheep from the goats—not now, but at the Last Judgment. Until then, all the guests are allowed to mingle with one another at the banquet provided by the Church.
The point is this: Mere church membership, lackadaisical observance, and doing only what is necessary to fulfill minimum requirements are not guarantees of entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven at the Last Judgment. We must have on our wedding garments. We must respond faithfully throughout our lives—in every aspect of our lives—to something very specific.
This is no esoteric formula beyond our reach. In the Gospel of John, as Jesus begins his ministry at the wedding at Cana, Mary (representing the Church) says to the servants (us): “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you.”
And what does Jesus tell us to do? In the Gospel of Luke (10:25-28), a scholar of the law asks Jesus directly: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus responds with a question, implying that the scholar already knows the answer: “What is written in the law?” And the scholar replies: “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus tells him: “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
This is what we must wear as God’s invited guests to the banquet of grace, mercy, and peace. We must put on the wedding garment of pure and total love of God, and our neighbor as ourselves. St. Paul elaborates: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Colossians 3:12-14).
It is a simple command, but not an easy one to carry out. This wedding garment chafes a little at first. Like a pair of new shoes, it takes a while to wear it in. The good news is that we don’t have to do it all alone. This is why God gives us the Church, the Eucharist and other sacraments, Scripture, public worship and private prayer, the ability to perform good works, and faith. These are not gifts we give to God, but things he gives to us for our benefit, for our being built up for the Kingdom.
As St. Paul says in today’s second reading, “God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” In other words, come to the feast, and Christ himself with hand you the wedding garment to put on as you enter the banquet hall.
With the help of Christ the bridegroom, we all “clean up pretty nice,” bad and good alike. We can come as we are, but must change. If we so choose.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Down under


Saint Meinrad Archabbey's Bede Hall is reflected in one of the small lakes at the edge of campus. I took this photograph during a walk on a spectacular fall afternoon yesterday. The circular ripples in the water are the traces of a turtle diving to escape sight. The turtle was actually what I was trying to photograph. If you walk along the shores of these small lakes at any given moment, you will literally see dozens of turtles floating and wafting happily on the surface of the water. But they are awfully shy creatures. Any hint of movement or sound from dozens of yards away sends them diving deep below the surface in a split second--faster than a click of the camera.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Hope conquers fear


"We must fight our battle
between fear and hope
in the knowledge that
hope is always the stronger
because he who comes
to our help
is almighty."

St. Francis de Sales

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fruit of the vine


Sunday, Oct. 2, 2011
27th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Isaiah 5:1-7
Philippians 4:6-9
Matthew 21:33-43
During the Liturgy of the Eucharist, at the Preparation of the Gifts, the priest holds the chalice filled with wine and praises God with these words: “Blessed are you, Lord, God of creation. Through your goodness we have this wine to offer, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become our spiritual drink.” And the People of God respond, “Blessed be God forever.”
Since the priest is acting during the Mass in persona Christi, or in the person of Christ, this is a very profound mystery to consider. It is together with Christ that we offer our gifts to God and praise the Father. It is a participation in the very life, death, and resurrection of Christ, so that we may go out and offer our very lives—the work of human hands. But at the same time, all we do, say, or think in the name of Christ is God-given grace, the fruit of the vine. All that is good which we offer to God was first given to us. Through Christ, we bear fruit for the Kingdom of God as stewards of the divine mysteries.
This theme is present throughout Scripture, but perhaps nowhere more explicitly than in John 15, when Jesus tells his disciples on the night he was betrayed: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. … Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me, and I in them bear much fruit, because apart me from you can do nothing” (John 15: 1, 4-5). The point is clear: we must remain connected to, or tapped into, the life-giving force (the “sap” as it were) of Christ the True Vine, to bear an abundant harvest of fruit—our good works—in building up the Kingdom of God, God’s vineyard which he gives to us.
Once again, as in recent weeks, in this Sunday’s Mass readings we return to the image of the vineyard. The parable in today’s Gospel is an allegory used by Jesus to do several things: to confront the religious leaders of the time for being unfaithful stewards of God’s grace, to point out the numerous prophetic voices they have ignored, to predict his own death as the fulfillment of these prophetic voices, and to foretell the fruition of the Church. You and I are the “other tenants” to whom the vineyard has now been leased by the vine grower, God the Father.
But we are not alone. The vine we tend as stewards also tends us. Christ joins us in the vineyard of the Church as the True Vine, giving us life so that we may in turn, with him, produce abundant fruit in praise of the Father—the fruit of the vine and work of human hands. In short, it is Christ who gives life to the Church. It was born on the cross, when water and blood—his very life—poured out from his pierced side. Christ is our sap. And if we remain tapped into him through the Eucharist, in common worship, in prayer and Scripture, in the sacraments and tradition of the Church, we will bear his fruit as faithful tenants of the vineyard, saying with him, “Blessed be God forever.”
The key to all this, in the context of today’s Mass, is St. Paul’s message to the Philippians in the second reading. “Have no anxiety at all,” he urges, “but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
Like the religious leaders in Jesus’ day, we all tend to beat down or “kill” the prophetic voices within and around us. It happens in numerous ways. Ignoring someone who clearly needs our help because we’d rather not bother, or because the person is someone we don’t particularly like. Becoming so immersed in our outward activities that we squelch God’s tiny whispering sound deep within and lose focus on what’s really important in life. Worrying to the point of despair rather than trusting in God’s providential care. There are myriad ways of disposing of prophetic voices sent by God to help us with care of the vineyard.
What St. Paul is saying is that through prayer and praise, we remain connected to Christ the True Vine. We participate in the mystery we contemplate. We listen to to the prophetic voice of God deep within and around us. Our hearts and minds find the peace that the world cannot give. We bear abundant fruit--fruit of the vine and work of human hands—for the world to feast on and (hopefully) find peace as well.
But without Christ, we can do nothing. Before we can harvest the grapes, savor the wine, and pour it into the hearts of others, we must let the True Vine grow within us, give us life, and produce his abundant fruit.
Then, with the Psalmist, we can say:
How can I repay the Lord
for his goodness to me?
The cup of salvation I will raise;
I will call on the Lord’s name.

                 -- Psalm 116:12-13