Monday, December 31, 2012

Days of grace

"I begin again each day."
St. Anthony of the Desert

This is the last day of the year, so it is appropriate for us to take leave of the year in a Christian way. We are leaving a year behind us with its many days, its work, its cares, its disappointments, its bitterness, with the plans we have had, and which have perhaps come entirely to nothing or have only partly been realized. We are leaving it behind with our guilt, our failure—in fact with everything that our ungenerous hearts have made of the year. Let us bid farewell to the old year thankfully. God has given us all the days of this year. They have been gifts of his love, blessed days, days of grace and salvation.
Karl Rahner, S.J.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

In the snow

"Ice and snow, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever."

Daniel 3:70

St. Benedict overlooks the monastery rock garden.

We had a pretty nice snowfall overnight here at Saint Meinrad--about 4 or 5 inches, by the looks of it. It's the first significant amount of snow we've experienced in a couple years (the post-Christmas blizzard earlier in the week mostly skirted by us here, although heavy snow did fall on other parts of southern Indiana not all that far away.) In any event, it's always nice to wake up to freshly fallen snow. It has such a soothing effect on the soul--at least mine, anyway. It seems to etch everything in stillness. So, after Mass this morning, I pulled on my coat and boots, grabbed my camera and headed outside. With the SCRUNCH of my first footstep (so good to hear after all this time!), I was enveloped by the snowscape I set out to frame. A few scenes from the winter wonder of this morning:
 
 
  
A peek into the monastery calefactory (living room)
from the rock garden. Can you see our Christmas tree?
 
The valley below the Hill. Look closely at the center, and you'll spot
the opening in the trees where the St. Joseph Shrine looks up at us.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
  
Not sure why, but I think this is my favorite. Something
very lonely and at the same time serene about it.

  
Upon re-entering the monastery, I heard a rumor that
a Yeti-like creature had been spotted in the courtyard.
Cautiously, I went to investigate...
 
No Yeti. Just a friendly snowman, courtesy of Br. Zachary.
In case you're wondering, those are orange peels
for eyes and mouth. How'd you like arms like those?
 
Our snowman has two faces, coming and going.
On this side, and from this angle, I can almost see
a snowman's impression of Marlon Brando
as Santa Claus. Can you see it?
It's all in the lips...or maybe I've been
outside just a tad too long. Still......
 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Pax et bonum

"My peace I give to you.
Not as the world  gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."
 

John 14:27


May we
all invite
the embrace
of the mystery
Who comes
among us
as Peace.
 
MERRY CHRISTMAS
Br. Francis

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Small wonder

 
You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small
to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler.
 
He shall stand firm
and shepherd his flock
by the strength of the Lord.
 
His greatness shall reach
to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.
 
Micah 5: First reading
for 4th Sunday of Advent
 
 
 
“A body you prepared for me.
Behold, I come to do your will.”
 
By this “will,”
we have been consecrated
through the offering
of the body of
Jesus Christ
once for all.
 
Hebrews 10: Second reading
for 4th Sunday of Advent
 
 
 
“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you
by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
 
Luke 1: Gospel reading
for 4th Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blossoming of Christ

"Make a highway for him
who rides on the clouds."
Psalm 68:4


Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult,
let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,
let it bring forth flowers like the crocus,
let it rejoice and sing for joy.

Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees,
and say to all faint hearts,
“Courage! Do not be afraid.

“Look, your God is coming,
he is coming to save you."

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.

Water gushes in the desert,
streams in the wasteland,
the scorched earth becomes a lake,
the parched land springs of water.

And through it will run a highway
which shall be called the Sacred Way.

The redeemed will walk there,
for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.
They will come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them
and sorrow and lament be ended.

Isaiah 35
 

Monday, December 17, 2012

"O" Antiphons


This evening at Vespers, we begin singing the "O" Antiphons -- one of my favorite parts of Advent!

Last year, at this time, I posted an explanation of the antiphons. You can read it again by clicking here.

In addition, each day from Dec. 17-23 last year, I posted the antiphons we sing each evening in the Archabbey Church, along with some accompanying artwork. Click on the links below to go back and read each one for this year's corresponding date. A blessed Advent to you!

Dec. 17: O Sapientia – O Wisdom
Dec. 18: O Adonai – O Lord
Dec. 19: O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse
Dec. 20: O Clavis David – O Key of David
Dec. 21: O Oriens – O Rising Sun
Dec. 22: O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel – [Reference to Isaiah 7:14’s mention of Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”]

Free for God: Advent meditation


Flee your preoccupations for a little while. Hide yourself for a time from your turbulent thoughts. Cast aside, now, your heavy responsibilities and put off your burdensome business. Make a little space free for God; and rest for a little time in him.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts. Keep only thought of God, and thoughts that can aid you in seeking him. Close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek. And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you.

Lord, if you are not here, where shall I seek you when you are absent? But if you are everywhere, why do I not see you present? Truly you dwell in unapproachable light. But where is unapproachable light, or how shall I come to it? Or who shall lead me to that light and into it, that I may see you in it? Again, by what signs, under what form, shall I seek you? I have never seen you, O Lord, my God; I do not know your face.

Lord, you are my God, and you are my Lord, and never have I seen you. You have made me and renewed me, you have given me all the good things that I have, and I have not yet met you. I was created to see you, and I have not yet done the thing for which I was made.

Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me when I seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you by loving you and love you in the act of finding you.

-- From The Proslogion of St. Anselm

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete in Domino semper

“Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.”

Romans 12:15
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Third Sunday in Advent--C

Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

“Rejoice!” St. Paul says in today’s second reading (in line with our Advent observance of “Gaudete Sunday” — Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice”).

How in the world are we supposed to rejoice in times like these—so full of suffering, evil, death?

Friday’s horrific reality in Connecticut resulted not only in the deaths of 27 people—most of them young innocents with now-extinguished futures—but also inflicted nightmarish wounds among survivors, relatives, and friends which will echo for a lifetime. There’s no getting around that pain and sorrow.

That unspeakable massacre grabs our attention because it is so concentrated into one time and place. Other horrors abound worldwide each day—almost at every moment. The slaughter of civil war continues in Syria. Violent unrest and repression persist in places like Afghanistan. Famine, pestilence, and scarcity of such necessities as water and medicine are the only realities generations of people in many under-developed regions have ever known.

Outwardly, this country enjoys relative peace and ease. Inwardly, though, it is at war. Addiction, sexual abuse, racism, and pure greed afflict untold thousands. Senseless violence, suicide, traffic accidents, cancer, and chronic illness wreak havoc with our lives. Homelessness, mental illness, unemployment, and poverty plague more people in this land of prosperity than we care to acknowledge. There is corruption and scandal. Spouses cheat on one another. Too many live by the adage, “If it feels good, do it,” while others suffer from despair, doubt, and loneliness.

Not fair. Why?

Right. I don’t know. Nobody does. None of it is God’s will (cf. Ezekiel 18:32).

Yet, for some reason we cannot begin to comprehend, God does allow it to occur. He respects our freedom of will enough to allow us to dwell, so to speak, in the muck we ourselves create (individually and collectively)—while many point fingers at one another and even blame the God some say doesn’t exist because he would never allow such horrors. It’s an age-old pattern humanity keeps repeating (cf. Genesis 3:12-13). Scripture itself is not immune. The Old Testament is bathed in blood. It is filled with the same sort of human ugliness we encounter today. We can’t help ourselves, and neither could those who came before us. It’s a wonder we’re allowed to exist at all—except that deep down, we know that in the beginning, we were created in the image of God, who is Love.

Something is obviously off.

Through it all, God beckons us through the voices of prophet after prophet, in effect saying, “My beloved children, have you had enough yet? Please, stop it. Turn back. Come to me. I will heal you, comfort you, forgive you, give you more than you can ask or imagine. Take my hand and come. I will lead you, though you cannot see. Do not be afraid. Trust me. Come to the feast.”

Few listen. One after one, prophets are killed for their words of wisdom. Finally, God himself comes among us. He inserts himself into the midst of the ugliness like a commando penetrating the enemy’s defenses to attack from within. He injects peace into the heart of war. He teaches. He works miracles. He leads.

And we kill him, too. But he's clever. He really dies, but he comes back—is resurrected (he told us he would, but we weren’t listening). God himself became sin, sucking up into himself all that pus oozing from disfigured humanity. Then, he allowed it to be destroyed forever in his body on a cross, so that like him, we might rise to new and eternal life, cleansed and transformed. Death is defeated. We are restored as children of God. What we can’t do for ourselves, God does for us.

That’s what they say, anyway. Thousands have taught that message, and suffered and died for it when they could just as easily have walked away and lived in relative ease. So, there must be something to it.

But the world is still a rotten place.

Yes, in some ways, perhaps.

Nothing’s really changed.

Hasn’t it? Do we see, know, understand everything that is, and will be—really?

What are we supposed to do, just ignore all the suffering and think happy thoughts all the time?

Of course not. That would be inhuman. As St. Paul says elsewhere, we must “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And so we do. It is only right. At this very moment, God’s goodness is pouring out in myriad unseen ways upon the people of Newtown, Connecticut, through those who console them. God's goodness was present in those teachers and administrators who risked and/or lost their lives for the sake of their students.
But why does it seem to take something so horrific to occur, so many innocent people to suffer, before that goodness is exhibited?

Good question. I suspect that most of the time, it’s there, quietly working, but it often flies underneath our radar until something like this heightens our senses. God is present among us every day in innumerable ways. We must look for the good, even amid the horrendous, and trust that somehow, he’s straightening out what we have made crooked.

But if death was defeated forever on the cross, why do the innocent still suffer? Why doesn’t God just put an end to it?

Another good question. Perhaps the 11th Chapter of John’s Gospel holds some clues. Jesus’ good friend Lazarus is sick. Although he works miracles for many others whom he barely knows, Jesus does nothing. Lazarus dies. Jesus travels to meet Lazarus’ family and friends. The mourners, including Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, ask Jesus in effect, “Why didn’t you do anything?”

Then we are hit with possibly the two most powerful words in all of Scripture: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He mourns with those who mourn. God suffers with us.

Then, he does something amazing—he raises Lazarus back to life. All this is meant to foreshadow Jesus’ own death, and by extension, each of ours. Shortly thereafter, Jesus is crucified while people around him say, “Save yourself! Why don’t you do anything?” Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34). God’s mercy descends on the undeserving, and three days later, there is an astonishing exclamation point: His Resurrection, and by extension, the promise of resurrection for each of us.

It is beyond our comprehension: God allows unspeakable evil and brings about unimaginable good. In the end, we are told, all will be ordered as it should be, as it was meant to be from the beginning, through the Alpha and the Omega (cf. Revelation 21:1-7).

So, everybody’s “off the hook”?

Not by a long shot. Christ crucified gives meaning to what otherwise is pure madness, decay, and death. As the French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it, but to fill it with his presence.” He became part of our suffering, part of humanity’s story, in order to redeem it from within, and thereby involve us in his divine work of redemption. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself,” Jesus said (John 12:32).

So, this is our story, too. It is the whole point of the Incarnation. As his disciples, we are called to make Christ present in the world through Word, Sacrament, and the example of a holy life, and to trust that somehow, God is redeeming the moment in a manner we can’t fully recognize or comprehend. That is our faith, though we are not always faithful.

Like the crowds in today’s Gospel reading, we may then ask: “What should we do?”

What are we told in today's Gospel? Share your food and clothing with those who have none. Be honest. Put away all greed, extortion, and treachery.

In addition, the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament tell us: Love the Lord your God above all else. Revere him. Worship him. Honor your parents. Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet anyone or anything (Exodus 20:2-17).

In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that the blessed include those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:3-10).

To sum it all up, Jesus says simply, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another” (Matthew 22:37, 39; John 13:34-35).

Because it is humanly impossible for us to do this all the time, he died for us on the cross in loving self-sacrifice. But because he died for us on the cross, we must strive to do as he commands. Apart from him, it is true that we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5). But all things are possible for God (cf. Matthew 19:26). It is a work he begins and ends, but by the grace of God, it is one we participate in as the Body of Christ.

And so, as that Body, we pray together during Mass the words Jesus taught us to pray:

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,
they 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.

Moments later, we sing together, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us/grant us peace,” while the consecrated bread is snapped and broken into many pieces to be shared and consumed by each one of us. In us, those many pieces constitute the one Body of Christ, and so we are sent out: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Though we must still live with our wounded nature—our clay jars—we carry forth the treasure we have received in Christ “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2Corinthians 4:7-10).

Because of this, we rejoice, on this day and every day, even in times like these—especially in times like these, even as we weep with those who weep. Together, “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” who is with us always, until the end of the age (cf. Matthew 28:20). As St. Paul (who, incidentally, was writing from prison) says in today’s second reading:


“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, 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.” [Though not contained in today's Mass reading, the next verse continues: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."]
We rejoice because while time is still unfolding the history of salvation, the moment has been redeemed in eternity. We rejoice because we believe that throughout it all, the holy innocents dance with delight around the Christ child. In harmony, these “eternal imitations” of Christ (Charles Peguy) rejoice in the hope that is stored up in heaven for all of us. 

Rejoice!

PRAYER TO THE
HOLY INNOCENTS

Holy Innocents, you died before you were old enough to know what life means.
Pray for all children who die young, that God may gather them into his loving arms.

Holy Innocents, you were killed because one man was filled with hatred.
Pray for those who hate, that God may touch their hearts and fill them with love.

Holy Innocents, you experienced a violent death.
Pray for all who are affected by violence, that they may find peace and love.

Holy Innocents, your parents grieved for you with deep and lasting sorrow.
Pray for all parents who have lost young children that God may wrap a warm blanket of comfort around them.

Holy Innocents, those around you certainly felt helpless to prevent your deaths.
Pray for all who feel helpless in their circumstances, that they may cling to God for courage and hope.

Holy Innocents, you who are now in heaven, pray for all of us,
that one day we may join you there to bask in God’s love forever.

Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The God Emergency


Earlier this year, I asked writer, educator and retreat leader Alice Camille to write a piece for us at Abbey Press on the topic of Advent as part of our Catholic Perspectives CareNotes series. She did a wonderful job, and I was particularly struck by her focus on the season of Advent as a state of spiritual emergency--a truth that tends to be dimmed by the distracting glitter, glow, and greed of our culture's celebration of this season. It's a message that needs to be broadcast far and wide. While much of the world makes a mad dash toward December 25--decorating, buying, celebrating, buying, fretting, buying, baking, buying--in search of some nostalgic, yet vague sense of hope that, all too often, fails to satisfy and is kicked to the curb on Dec. 26, Christians (in theory) profess this period as Advent (from the Latin term adventus, or coming).

Whose coming do we await? In faith, hope, and love, we await the coming of Christ--God among us--who comes to save humanity from the condition it has itself rendered. In the person of Jesus, he has come once to take on our humanity and redeem it. He will come again to fulfill God's promise and take all things to himself. And he is coming now, at this very moment. Eternity will emerge from how we respond daily to God's eternal presence in the mystical Body of Christ. Eternity will be what each of us makes of today.

While's it's fine to engage in a little of the season's cheer, we do well to remember that Advent calls for a joyful anticipation of the Kingdom of God--yesterday, today, and forever--and that Christmas (which actually begins Dec. 25 and runs for many days thereafter) recalls that mystical event when God became man in the person of Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means "God saves." That should indeed bring us great joy--but not the fleeting, superficial, artificial joy so often peddled today. It is a joy tempered by the reality of the crucifixion, a wonderful paradox that gives rise to rejoicing with the psalmist: "Lord, with you is found forgiveness; for this we revere you!"

Advent and Christmas, then, are solemn occasions steeped in true, everlasting joy as we await the full coming of the Kingdom of God. As Camille points out, there is more to it than a cute baby in a manger. It's serious business. Urgency is involved, as we are reminded at Mass after the Lord's Prayer, when the priest says, "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

And, as Camille writes, this "God emergency" involves active hope:
Too often our religious expectations for this season are for the cute-and-cuddly (and totally manageable) infant Lord who slips easily into the manger pre-molded to fit him. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr invited us to consider that the arrival of God into history is better understood as "an emergency." An emergency literally concerns something which emerges--unexpected and not always entirely welcome.

When God--who created all--becomes manifest in time, place, and person, such an emergence constitutes a real state of emergency for each of us. What will we do with the Holy Presence in such proximity to ourselves? If God is this close, is that bad news to us or good?

The "God Emergency" in our world is another way of talking about the gospel announcement of the Kingdom. When we pray "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer, the phrases on both sides of the comma describe the same event. God's will and its fulfillment happen together as in the Creation story: God speaks, and the words become the world. "Kingdom come" and fulfillment of God's purposes are the same event.

Our Advent waiting is precisely directed toward this wonderful fulfillment. God promises a new creation of justice and peace. Is this what we're hoping for, too? If so, our waiting can't be a matter of sitting on our hands till Christ walks through the front door on the Last Day.

Heaven can't wait. Hope is not a passive pastime. The grace of Advent is available when we embrace the coming Kingdom now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Just for fun

My 5-month-old nephew Evan chills out in some unusual spots.

While visiting my brother Kevin in Cincinnati recently
for a series of oblate talks, I prayed the Divine Office
from my breviary each day with the aid of Ebony,
who is always eager to engage in horizontal meditation.

Feeding time for Evan over Thanksgiving, when my family visited
Saint Meinrad. This was my first meeting with Evan. Seated to my left
is my other nephew Ian--who promises to set a good example for his bro!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Marana tha!

"Our lives are an Advent, a time of waiting,
listening and hoping, a time of openness
to the unimaginable gift of God."

Maria Boulding, O.S.B.


ADVENT PRAYER

Lord God,
During this Advent period
of preparation and anticipation,
help us to be vigilant
in the true spirit of the season,
to put away all that would distract us,
and eagerly await with renewed hearts
the coming of Christ--
receiving within us
the Light who has come,
the Light who will come again,
and the Light who is with us always,
so that your promise may be fulfilled
and we may be at peace.
Amen.