Saturday, March 31, 2012

By this cross

Path of Reflection through Scripture
Holy Week


Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord
Gospel for Sunday, April 1, 2012: Mark 14:1-15:47
Read it here


Staggering under the weight,
too weary to even stumble.

Strength is sapped.
Life is poured out
in tears, sweat, blood.

Anguish deeper than pain.

There is simply nothing left.

Nothing.

Welling up, this nothingness cries out.

Yet, its very sound is one of hope -- faint but fearless:

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Ears open to the voice of sincerity, humility, faith.

I can hear my nothingness.

See my dignity.

Touch my identity.

Something sterner than death arises.

Beating in harmony with a force other than being.

There is light, and it sings.

This cross I have, I must need.

Why is beyond the mind’s eye,
guarded by Truth and Love.

The reply rises softly, lingers, prods.

It is unmistakable.

Always present.

Rarely heard:

If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves
and take up their cross daily
and follow me.

 This is my Beloved Son,
with whom I am well pleased.
Listen to him.

Yes! By his wounds, I have been healed:

 Lord, help me with this cross.
Now I know it only makes sense
if it is borne for another's sake.


Mystery enlightens.

Weakness is made strong.

The back straightens; feet become steady.

This cross is still here.

But now it embraces all.

Through,
with,
in
One:

 Truly,
this man
was the
Son of God.

My soul shall live for him,
declaring to all:

It is accomplished;
these things
the Lord
has done!
 
By this cross.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Flowering--from the ground up


Path of Reflection through Scripture
Fifth Week of Lent

Gospel for Sunday, March 25, 2012: John 12:20-33
Read it here

Spring always arrives early here in southern Indiana—or so it seems to someone who, before coming to the monastery, spent 40-plus years living primarily in northern Ohio. In that region, winter usually lingers long past its welcome. This year, however, spring is particularly early here at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. An unusually mild and warm winter broke into spring weeks ago. Nearly everything is in full bloom, the daytime temperatures are in the 70s and 80s already, and the grass is green (and has already been mowed several times). Colorful blossoms are everywhere, offering varying hues of hope for the once-dreary landscape and the often weary soul. Hope indeed springs eternal.

What does this hope, this blossoming, spring from? Seemingly, it arises from lifelessness, which is why the season gives us an extra spring in our step. Everything is new and promising again. What was dead (or seemed so) has come back to life. A tiny seed planted long ago in the dark, cold earth has decayed, fallen apart—to reveal a green sprout, then a stalk, and eventually branches, blossoms, and fruit held high above the ground. Whether it’s early or late, it happens every year.

The very tangible effects of this mystery beckon us to recall an even greater one—the flowering of eternal salvation for all of humanity from what was dead (or seemed so). In today’s Gospel, Jesus uses very tangible terms and familiar images to draw us into this mystery: “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me.”

With these words, of course, he is indicating his approaching death and resurrection, by which he gives all baptized Christians life. However, he is doing much more than that. He is calling us to follow him in the same manner. He is not telling us to loathe our existence and abhor the world in which we live. Rather, he calls us to give new life to the world by dying to ourselves—to our prejudices and preconceived notions, our selfishness, pride, greed, lust, anger, desire to control and consume. For instance, am I holding a grudge against someone? Jesus calls me to sink it into the ground, bury it like a seed, pray for the heavenly dew of mercy, fertilize it by extending forgiveness, and prune myself for reconciliation. Sooner or later, the Light of the Resurrected Christ will bring what was dead back to life, raise up a shoot, an olive branch of peace which bears fruit for many.

Through the death of one tiny such seed, life springs forth. Eternal salvation buds from what had seemed dark, hopeless, and lost.

Like all growing seasons, this is a gradual process requiring many laborers in the field. At the beginning of today’s Gospel, some Greeks (foreigners, not Jews, not the “chosen ones”) approach the Apostle Philip (who speaks their language) and say, “We would like to see Jesus.” In other words: “We, too, want to believe. Show us how.” Philip tells Andrew, and both tell Jesus. The Greeks—like all believers—needed help in coming to the Light, and it didn’t happen all at once.

Viewed from this perspective, Jesus’ “grain of wheat” analogy takes on universal significance.  “It was for the purpose that I came to this hour,” Jesus says—the hour of his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.”

Everyone means everyone. But each one must allow himself or herself to be drawn—to accept the seed of faith, plant it in our hearts, cultivate and care for it in our everyday lives. Then, in due season, we can watch it grow and breathe deeply of the fragrance of its blossoms.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Our Christ

"Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom."
"Amen, I say to you, today
you will be with me in paradise."
Luke 23:42-43


True reverence for the Lord's passion means fixing the eyes of our heart on Jesus crucified and recognizing in him our own humanity.

No one, however weak, is denied a share in the victory of the cross. No one is beyond the help of the prayer of Christ.

The Christian people are invited to share the riches of paradise. All who have been reborn have the way open before them to return to their native land, from which they had been exiled. Unless indeed they close off for themselves the path that could be opened before the faith of a thief.

Who does not share a common nature with Christ if he has welcomed Christ, who took our nature, and is reborn in the Spirit through whom Christ was conceived?

The body that lay lifeless in the tomb is ours. The body that rose again on the third day is ours. The body that ascended above all the heights of heaven to the right hand of the Father's glory is ours. If then we walk in the way of his commandments, and are not ashamed to acknowledge the price he paid for our salvation in a lowly body, we too are to rise to share his glory.

-- Saint Leo the Great, Pope

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Straight ahead


NOTE: Following is the very fine homily delivered this morning in the Archabbey Church by Br. Guerric Letter, O.S.B. (who was serving as deacon) on this Solemnity of Our Holy Father Saint Benedict. The Gospel passage being commented on here is Luke 9:57-62. Br. Guerric is a monk of Conception Abbey in Missouri, and has been living in the monastery here at Saint Meinrad for several years while studying in our Seminary. In a couple months, he will return to Conception and be ordained a priest. -- Br. Francis

***
As a kid growing up on a farm, I was 15 years old when my father took me out into the field and taught me how to plow for the first time. He sat in the driver’s seat of the tractor, and I was next to him. The plow of course, was hooked up behind the tractor. Without me noticing what he was doing, he lined the tractor up with a tree way on the other side of the field. He stood up, and had me sit in the driver’s seat. He then proceeded to point out the tree on the other side of the field. He said: “If you want to make a straight line in a field, you must first find an object on the other side of the field, and drive straight at that object.”

As any nervous 15-year-old would, I slowly put the tractor in gear. I put the plow down into the ground, and proceeded to move forward. Of course, I immediately turned around to see what was behind me, and in doing so, I turned the steering wheel of the tractor. My father grabbed the steering wheel and reminded me to keep my eyes on the tree so as to make a straight line.

I took my eyes off the tree in the field because I was worried about what was happening at that present moment--that is, what was happening behind me. The tree seemed so far off, and it seemed as though taking my eyes off the tree even for a second would not make that big of a difference.

It is so easy for us to become bored to the point that we become nonchalant as we cross the fields of our lives. We begin to watch the birds in the sky, or what another farmer is doing in his own field. We forget about Christ. We forget that our journey in this life is to get to live with him in the next.

The Gospel tells us that “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.” As in farming, we have landmarks in our own lives toward which we focus to keep us in line. In life we are to follow Christ. We are to fix our gaze on him who is the Tree of Life, and not turn our eyes away from him.

The stained glass window in the northwest corner of the Archabbey Church has the Tree of Life growing up into the Cross upon which Jesus Christ hanged. We as Christians find our life and our salvation through the Pascal Mystery. The problem is that we can so easily become distracted with the things of the world and take our eyes off Christ.

Saint Benedict started his journey in life by going to study in Rome. He put his plow in the ground, and found that he could not fix his gaze on Christ with all the distractions and sin around him. So he left the city of Rome and climbed a mountain just outside of Subiaco. He stayed in a cave for three years with his eyes fixed on Christ. With his eyes fixed on Christ, he was able to write a Rule for monks that would be a guide for them to fix their gaze on Christ.

He says in the Prologue of the Rule: “Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (Prologue 48-49).

Saint Benedict knows that the outset of our spiritual journey will be narrow. He knows that we are going to be the young kid who is compelled to turn away from God. Saint Benedict also knows that if we follow God’s commands, we will be able to RUN--to run with inexpressible delight.

We may be asking ourselves how this can be done. It is done by an act of faith--puting the plow into the ground and moving forward. Blessed Guerric of Igny says: “Brethren, if we push God behind our backs as if we had no faith, so that putting aside fear of him we fix our attention rather on empty things, in what way do we think he will look on us? He will look on us, but with what sort of gaze?” (Sermon 25:6)

My brothers and sisters, as we till the soil of our own hearts, are we focused on Christ, or are we focused on the things of the world? Have we cast God aside, or have we fixed our gaze on him? As we continue on our Lenten journey, may we fix our gaze on Christ, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate with great joy the Holy Season of EASTER.

Saint Benedict, pray for us


Raise up, O Lord,
in your Church
the spirit with which our
Holy Father St. Benedict
was animated, that
being filled with the same spirit,
we may learn to love what he loved
and put into practice what he taught.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rejoice!



Path of Reflection through Scripture
Fourth Week of Lent

 Gospel for Sunday, March 18, 2012: John 3:14-21
Read it here

As Christians, Lent is a season for intentional reflection, repentance, and renewal. The penitential observances and atmosphere of this season are meant to remind us that as sinful human beings, we are ultimately dependent on God’s mercy and grace. The increased emphasis on prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and other works are designed to “clear away the clutter,” so to speak, so we may focus more intently on improving our relationship with God and responding in our daily lives to the grace he provides.

However, lest we become discouraged or too intent on “redeeming ourselves," we also need to recall that as Christians we are a people of the Resurrection! The Fourth Sunday of Lent, traditionally referred to as Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday, offers us a mid-Lent pause or break from the season’s austerity. We are reminded that Christ not only died for our sins, but rose from the dead, ascended to the Father in heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to assist us in following him—the entire Paschal Mystery.

On Laetare Sunday, also known as “Rose” or “Refreshment” Sunday, the violet color of vestments and altar cloths are replaced with rose. Churches stripped of flowers for Lent may have them this Sunday. The Introit for Mass beckons: “Rejoice, Jerusalem!”—referring to Isaiah 66:10-11. In other words, we are provided a foretaste of Easter glory, a refreshing reminder that we are called to be people who live joyfully in the Light of the Resurrection. This is what every Sunday celebration of the Eucharist is meant to provide us: “Do this in memory of me.”

Many phrases from today’s readings offer comforting words recalling God’s immense love for us and the reason for our rejoicing: “he had compassion on his people… God, who is rich in mercy… by grace you have been saved…we are his handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works that God has prepared… for God so loved the world… God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him… whoever lives the truth comes to the light…”

At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus points to Moses as his precursor, promising eternal life to all who look upon him for salvation. Here, he recalls an Old Testament passage (Numbers 21:4-9), in which Moses mounts a bronze serpent on a pole for the people (who have been bitten by venomous snakes) to look upon and be healed. Likewise, for our sake, God made him (Jesus, God made Man) to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ (cf. 2Corinthians 5:21).

We look to the Cross, where our sin is nailed in Christ, and beyond it to the Resurrection, where we have been raised with Christ from the dead to live in the Eternal Light of God. Now, that is something to rejoice about!!!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

God's zealous love


Path of Reflection through Scripture
Third Week of Lent

Gospel for Sunday, March 11, 2012: John 2:13-25
Read it here

The American Heritage Dictionary defines zeal as "enthusiastic devotion to a cause, ideal, or goal, and tireless diligence in its furtherance.” It might also be said that zeal is simply love that stops at nothing.

As Jesus cleared the Jerusalem temple of those who sought profit from religion at the expense of the poor who sought only entrance into a true relationship with God, the disciples were reminded of Psalm 69: “Zeal for your house consumes me.” They recognized at some level (though still not fully understanding) that the zealous love of God stops at nothing in claiming God’s “house” for himself and his beloved people with whom he wishes to dwell. He wants to be alone with us, to have our undivided attention, and he is not polite in clearing the room to make this happen.

Within a generation after this episode, the Jerusalem temple was destroyed by Roman authorities while Jesus’ risen body had ascended to his Father’s house in heaven. After the Resurrection, the disciples recalled that during Jesus’ cleansing of the temple, he had said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” Their understanding of Jesus’ purpose then came into fuller view, and that he was speaking of the “temple of his body.”

God’s zeal for his people strives to drive away all that prevents them from entering into a true relationship with him, so much so that he claims each person’s heart for himself. He destroys our “false temples” and raises instead the Body of Christ, of which we are all members as baptized Christians, to be with him in heaven. The “temple” of Jesus’ body also belongs to each one of us because he has invited us in. There, he desires to dwell within the inner room of our hearts, just as the Holy Spirit filled the Upper Room and descended on the apostles at Pentecost.

As St. Paul says, “You are God’s temple, and his Spirit dwells in you” (1Corinthians 3:16; cf. 1Corinthians 6:19).

So, we must ask ourselves, especially during this season of preparation for the Paschal Mystery of Easter, do we share God’s zeal for his temple, which is our body within the Body of Christ? Have we allowed the “inner room” of our hearts to be claimed by Jesus? What is being “bought and sold” there that needs to be driven out so that God’s Spirit may dwell in you?

Today, it is good for us to recall that God’s zealous love for us stops at absolutely nothing. We have only to let it consume us.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Back to the future


Path of Reflection through Scripture
Second Week of Lent

Gospel for Sunday, March 4, 2012: Mark 9:2-10
Read it here

Yet again, the significance of the Gospel passage for this second Sunday of Lent is best considered in light of what immediately precedes it (Mark 8:31- 9:1). After predicting his passion and death and outlining the self-sacrificing conditions of authentic discipleship, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John (three apostles who will later take on important leadership roles in the early Church) up a mountain. There, he is transfigured before them in a sight almost too wonderful to behold. Also appearing with him are Elijah and Moses, representing the Prophets and the Law, which are fulfilled in the person of Christ, the Son of God (cf. Luke 24:44; 4:24).

Notice the distinct Trinitarian elements in the account. Three apostles. Law, Prophets, and Fulfillment. And, finally, God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In a scene remarkably similar to that of the baptism of Jesus, a cloud descends, and from it a voice declares, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” God reveals himself to the three apostles, giving them a brief glimpse of Christ in his glory, and connecting his appearance with all that has happened before him throughout salvation history. For the moment, Peter, James, and John are simply terrified and mystified. Later, after the Resurrection of Christ, the Ascension to God the Father, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, this will all make more sense to them as they begin their work of laying the Church’s foundation.

Most interesting are three words at the beginning of the Gospel passage that are not actually read at Mass from the Lectionary: “After six days…” Six days after what? These three words tie together what follows—the Transfiguration—with what preceded it—the prediction of Jesus’ passion and death, along with the costly demands of discipleship (which Peter, at least, didn’t want to hear). So, seven days after Jesus lays it all on the line and tells his disciples what to realistically expect, he reveals his glory. The three future leaders of the early Church are given a heavenly foretaste of what self-sacrifice in Christ, and through Christ, will mean for all disciples through all ages. In other words, after the harshness of what was told them six days earlier, on the seventh day, they were given hope.

And that is precisely what we celebrate this Sunday and every Sunday—the seventh day, and the beginning of all the days that follow. We celebrate the hope of the Resurrection that is ours in Christ, and we enter into God’s rest. This was prefigured in Genesis’ story of Creation: God “rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy” (Genesis 2:2-3). On the seventh day, we rest in our hope in the New Creation that comes to us through Christ. We are given a glimpse of the transfiguration that awaits all the faithful who deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus.

Truly, it is good for us to be here. Today, we behold the Resurrection and the Life, and know that whoever believes in him, even if he dies, will live, and that everyone who lives and believes in him will never die (cf. John 11:25-26).

So, as Jesus asks Martha in John 11:27 before raising her brother Lazarus from the dead: “Do YOU believe this?”

Let us listen to him.
***
The great reason for this transfiguration was to remove the scandal of the cross from the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, and to prevent the humiliation of his voluntary suffering from disturbing the faith of those who had witnessed the surpassing glory that lay concealed.
With no less forethought he was also providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. The members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed in Christ their head.
The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death. If we are steadfast in our faith in him and in our love for him, we win the victory that he has won, we receive what he has promised.
-- Saint Leo the Great, Pope