Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

If, then, we have died with Christ,
we believe that we shall also live with him.
We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more;
death no longer has power over him.
As to his death, he died to sin once and for all;
as to his life, he lives for God.
Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin
and living for God in Christ Jesus.
--Romans 6:7-11

Monday, March 25, 2013

A Reason to Live

ElieWiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel prize-winning peace activist, once said “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.” Indifference, a lack of concern or a refusal to act, is at the heart of human suffering. With this in mind, another holocaust victim, Saint Maximilian Kolbe (who was murdered at the Auschwitz concentration camp on August 14, 1941), described indifference as “the most deadly poison of our times.” In most cases, it is indifference born of comfort and complacency, that sense that “I shouldn’t get involved” or “it isn’t my business,” that allows injustice, abuse, and neglect to survive and flourish. The idea of an indifferent God (the “Divine Watchmaker” of the Enlightenment) is perhaps the greatest heresy ever dreamt by humankind.

Palm Sunday Procession at Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris
Passion (Palm) Sunday pointedly challenges our penchant for indifference. Marked by both the triumphant procession with palms and the reading of the Passion, this celebration brings together the conflicting values and drives that co-exist within the human heart:

It reminds us that at the moment of what seems to be the height of Jesus’ public acceptance also begins the process of His public betrayal, His public failure, His public abandonment. Only in the mind of God is Jesus any longer a success, it seems… On Palm Sunday, we are forced to remember the distance between apparent public success and personal commitment. Jesus stays the course to the end, we see, and so must we, despite all other pressures, both internal and social, to the contrary. Here in the Passion narrative, we trace the struggle, one scene at a time, between the Word of God and the ways of the world.
-Joan Chittister, O.S.B.,

However tempting it might be to pretend otherwise, there are things worth living for, suffering for, even dying for. The Cuban poet José Marti’s question, “When others are weeping blood, what right do I have to weep tears?” hints at the more essential question, “What is the value of a life that is lived without anything worth dying for?” The inconvenience, unease, and even pain we might feel if we open our hearts and broaden our vision to what is happening in and to the world around us is the only real antidote to the indifference that plagues us. Passion Sunday and Holy Week reveal a God who, in Jesus, is anything but indifferent and who is willing to die for love of His creation. A dear friend, Pastor Bear Waters, has reflected, “Jesus knew what was coming. But he didn’t turn and run. He followed the events through to the end, knowing that some things are more important than one’s own self. Knowing that love is more powerful than fear; and faith, more powerful than doubt.”
These sacred days challenge us to envision a life in which, rather than simply limping along from “mistake” to “mistake,” we take responsibility for our indifference, our poor choices, our sins, and our self-preference and grow in our love and care about what we do to others, to creation, and to our own bodies, psyches, and souls. Living the mystery of the Cross leaves no room for indifference because, as Saint Cyril of Alexandria observed, “Christ’s example of courage in God’s service will be of great profit for us, for only by putting the love of God before our earthly life and being prepared when occasion demands to fight zealously for the truth, can we attain the supreme blessing of perfect union with God” (Commentary on John, 12.19).

Although Palm Sunday’s ability to confront and confound our indifference can be startling and off-putting, the real grace of this celebration (and of Holy Week) is in the opportunity we are given to renew our commitment to life in Christ. Christian Tradition (embodied in the liturgy) understands how quickly we, like the crowd in Jerusalem, can move from crying “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him,” or, even worse, to simple silence. It isn’t by chance that the same palm branches we bless and wave on Palm Sunday become the ashes that are used to mark our foreheads on Ash Wednesday. Our experience of Lent allows us to enter into the enthusiasm and drama of Palm Sunday anew each year, hopefully more alive and faith-filled, having not forgotten the symbol of our shame and failure which marked the beginning of our 40 day journey.
More than four centuries ago, Saint Aloysius Gonzaga wrote,
See how the pillars of heaven have fallen… Very many priests and religious think but little of their vocation. How can God suffer longer such a devastation of His Kingdom? The faithful rob Him of honor through their carelessness; who is to make reparation? Woe to the worldly who put off their penance until the hour of their death; and woe to the clergy who slumber on! Such thoughts ought to rouse us from our lethargy and renew our resolution to do penance and to serve God with constancy and sincerity.
Saint Aloysius’ words, although they reflect a theological perspective that may feel very foreign to us, remind us that hard work of conversion and renewed-commitment has been and will continue to be a reality for each one of us. Palm Sunday, anticipating the mysteries we will celebrate during the Paschal Triduum, reminds us where true life can be found. As Pope Francis recently reminded the Cardinal Electors and the Church: "My wish is that all of us, after these days of grace, will have the courage, yes, the courage, to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Lord’s Cross; to build the Church on the Lord’s blood which was poured out on the Cross; and to profess the one glory: Christ crucified. And in this way, the Church will go forward" (Homily, March 14, 2013).

The Lebanese-American poet, Kahlil Gibran (who did not associate himself with any religious tradition) included this prayer for us in his reflection The Crucified:

O, Crucified Jesus, who art looking sorrowfully from Mount Calvary at the sad procession of the Ages, and hearing the clamor of the dark nations, and understanding the dreams of Eternity: Thou art, on the Cross, more glorious and dignified than one thousand kings upon one thousand thrones in thousand empires.
Thou art, in the agony of death, more powerful than one thousand generals in one thousand wars.

With thy sorrows, thou art more joyous than Spring with its flowers.

With thy sufferings, thou art more bravely silent than the crying of angels of heaven. Before thy lashers, thou art more resolute than the mountain of rock.

The wreath of thorns is more brilliant and sublime than the crown of Barham. The nails piercing thy hands are more powerful than the scepter of Jupiter.

The spatters of blood upon thy feet are more resplendent than the necklace of Ishtar.

Forgive the weak who lament thee today, for they do not know how to lament themselves.

Forgive them, for they do not know that thou hast conquered death with death, and bestowed life upon the dead.

Forgive them, for they do not know that they strength still awaits them.

Forgive them, for they do not know that every day is thy day.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Blessed in grace and in name

Today, Benedictines throughout the world commemorate the death of Saint Benedict, Patriarch of Western Monks, on March 21, 547.  Many thousands of men and women from every state and condition of life have followed his Rule and have called him their Holy Father.

In Chapter 72 of his Rule, Saint Benedict wrote: 
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (cf. Romans 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another's weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love. Let them prefer nothing to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life. 

Although Saint Benedict's vision for the lives of his followers is firmly rooted in the Christian monastic tradition, Benedict was also a layman writing for lay disciples. The spirituality of his Rule rests on elements that are accessible to every person of faith: prayer, lectio divina (prayerful reading), life in a community, balance, humility, a listening spirit, and good stewardship of the things and people entrusted to our care (including the earth itself).  Benedictine spirituality is, then, a practical way to live the Gospel today and, in a complex world filled with brokenness, isolation, and indifference, Saint Benedict calls us all back to basics, whether we are a consecrated religious or not. 

There is a story recounted by Sr. Joan Chittister:
Once upon a time, the story goes, a preacher ran through the streets of the city shouting, "We must put God into our lives. We must put God into our lives." And hearing him, an old monastic rose up in the city plaza to say, "No, sir, you are wrong. You see, God is already in our lives. Our task is simply to recognize that."
It is to recognition of God in our own time that the Rule of Benedict calls us.
Saint Benedict, pray for us.
+ A hymn for the Saint Benedict +

"Blessed are the pure of heart" - The "Transitus" of St. Benedict
from the Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln
Saint Meinrad Archabbey

Our blessed Father, Benedict,
sure guide in dark and troubled days,
has shown his countless children here
the paths of peace, the Lord's own ways.

He dwelt in heaven while on earth,
true man of God and man of prayer;
For him, the love of Christ was all
and God was present everywhere.

He left all things that bind the heart,
in poverty to find release;
Unmoved among the things that change,
He sought and found a lasting peace.

He died among his many sons
while lifting up his hands to pray;
In glory clothed, he lives again
Whose monks rejoice in him today.

Now Benedict, with all his sons
around him like a crown of gold.
Gives praise to you, blest Trinity,
In splendid light and time untold. Amen.
(Text: Stanbrook Abbey, 1971)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Patriarch and a Pope

"Saint Joseph, the Carpenter"
by Georges de la Tour (1640s)
To celebrate Saint Joseph is to celebrate the Mystery of the Incarnation. In fact, Joseph’s life and witness are so tied to the mystery of the Word-Made-Flesh that Joseph has come to hold a privileged place among the saints and in the life of the Church.

The Gospel passages related to Saint Joseph, including today’s account of Mary and Joseph finding the Child Jesus in the Temple (Luke 2:41-51a), remind us that, while Joseph’s relationship with the child entrusted to his care was unique, he loved Jesus with a father’s love. Joseph accepted the responsibility entrusted to him in a spirit of humility and silent submission and the Gospels praise this “Righteous Man” (Matthew 1:19) who acted in faith, doing what God asked of him. A tradesman (i.e. tektōn, cf. Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3), Joseph was Jesus’ first teacher and he would have trained him in his craft and in the ways of faith and life in the world:

Those who work with their hands “maintain the fabric of the world” (Sirach 38:34). Joseph’s work for daily bread taught the child the value of the effort to gain eternal life. Later on, Jesus remembered his work as a carpenter when he said in the synagogue at Capernaum, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). His work as a carpenter and as the Messiah has really maintained the fabric of the world. (Lucien Deiss, C.S.Sp., in Joseph, Mary, Jesus).
 Joseph’s goodness and love for Jesus ultimately enabled the boy to discover in his earthly abba (“daddy”) the image of the Father in heaven.

For centuries, this special relationship between Joseph and Jesus has inspired Christians to turn to Saint Joseph in times of need. For this reason, Blessed Pius IX, at a difficult time in the Church’s history, declared Saint Joseph to be the special patron and protector of the Church. Pope Leo XIII later reflected, “It is fitting and most worthy of Joseph’s dignity that, in the same way that he once kept unceasing holy watch over the family of Nazareth, so now does he protect and defend with his heavenly patronage the Church of Christ” (Quamquam Pluries [1889]).

As we celebrate the solemn inauguration of the pontificate of Pope Francis, we are especially aware of our need for the witness and prayers of the poor, silent man from Nazareth. As we, under Pope Francis’ pastoral guidance, confront the challenges facing our world and the Church today, let us pray that we will be blessed with the same spirit of faithfulness and purity of heart that inspired Joseph in serving the Incarnate Word (cf. Blessed John Paul II, Redemptoris Custos, 31).


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Forgetting what lies behind

Blessed Charles de Foucauld (d. 1916), a soldier and explorer, monk and priest, missionary and martyr, once wrote, “We are all children of the Most High. All of us: the poorest, the most outcast, a newborn child, a decrepit old person, the least intelligent human being, the most abject, an idiot, a fool, a sometimes sinner, the greatest sinner, the most ignorant, the last of the last, the one most physically and morally repugnant—all children of God and sons and daughters of the Most High... We should love all humankind, for they are all children of God.” Our dignity and worth as persons is simply based on the reality that we are all daughters and sons of God. All the good that is within us—our hope, our faith, our love—are gifts from our Creator.

The story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) reminds us that sin, turning away from God and denying our own dignity and worth, is not an ending. Because God’s love and mercy are unlimited, the gift of a renewed, ever-deepening life in Christ is available to each one of us. The cultural and religious leaders, enraged by the woman’s actions, no longer saw a child of God in front of them. Instead, they saw only a sin to be punished. Jesus recognized her for who she was, forgave her sins, and restored her relationship with God: “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”


Healing and reconciliation are always possible. Reflecting on this, Saint Ambrose wrote, “See what a mystery this is, and see the goodness of Christ! While the woman is being accused, Christ bends down; when her accusers go out he looks up. If you want to know the meaning of the words, ‘Go, and sin no more,’ let me tell you. Christ has set you free. Let grace now set right in you what punishment has been unable to correct” (Letter 26).


Our hope is founded on the new life offered to each one of us by the Risen Christ. Our life’s work, then, is to know Christ and to experience the power of the Resurrection by sharing in the Cross. Like Saint Paul, we are called to forget what lies behind us and move forward, as pilgrims journeying together "in pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God's upward calling, in Christ Jesus" (cf. Philippians 3:12-14). Then, and only then, can we, like the woman of the Gospel, find forgiveness and claim our true dignity and identity as a beloved child of God.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Lion Man

Leander was born in Cartagena, Spain, to a noble Arian-Christian family. His younger brothers, Isidore and Fulgentius, and his sister, Florentina, are all numbered among the saints. Leander’s father served as governor of the Province of Cartagena but, following an attack on the city by the Byzantines, the family resettled in Seville. Leander’s mother later converted to Catholicism and it was because of her the children accepted the Catholic Faith. Leander had a significant influence on his siblings and was responsible for the education of his brother, Isidore, who is honored as one of the Doctors of the Church. Commenting on this relationship, His Holiness Benedict XVI said, “[Isidore] owed much to Leander, an exacting, studious, and austere person who created around his younger brother a family environment marked by the ascetic requirements proper to a monk… Leander and Isidore’s home was furnished with a library richly endowed with classical pagan and Christian works. Isidore, who felt simultaneously attracted to both, was therefore taught under the stewardship of his elder brother to develop a very strong discipline, in promoting himself to study them with discretion and discernment” (General Audience, June 18, 2008).

Ss. Bonaventure and Leander
by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo
Around the year 575, Leander became a monk in Seville. Four years later, the people of Seville elected him to serve as their bishop. Finding himself at odds with the civil authorities (followers of Arius, whose sect denied the divinity of Jesus), he was exiled to Constantinople. While there, he met Saint Gregory the Great, who was serving as Papal Legate to the imperial court. The two became lifelong friends and Gregory dedicated his famous treatise on the Book of Job to Leander.
Leander was eventually allowed to return to Seville and he soon became a champion of the Catholic Faith in Spain. He convoked the Third Council of Toledo, which decreed the consubstantiality of the three Persons of the Trinity, and it was Leander who ordered that the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed should be recited at Mass—a custom that has endured to this day. Leander is credited with bringing about the conversion of Spain’s last Arian king, whose acceptance of the Catholic Faith insured the peace that comes with political and religious stability. Gregory the Great, who had been elected Pope in 590, sent the pallium to Leander, marking the bishop’s close ties to the See of Rome. Remembered as a gifted and prolific author, Leander is especially honored for the monastic rule he wrote for his sister, Florentina, and a sermon, “On the Triumph of the Church;” his many other works have, unfortunately, been lost.
Praised by his younger brother, Isidore, as having been “a man of suave eloquence and eminent talent” who “shone as brightly by his virtues as by his doctrine,” Leander died on March 13, 600/601. Saint Isidore succeeded him as bishop of Seville.
Leander lived in a time and place in which divisions and unrest were justified by religious intolerance and appeals to cultural and ethnic allegiances. Although the theological questions that divided the orthodox Catholic-Christians from the followers of Arius were significant, Leander was unswerving in his dedication to the truth, which he promoted with pastoral zeal, wisdom, and through the integrity of his life. Isaiah’s words in the First Reading of today’s Mass (of the Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent) embody the prophetic role that Leander understood to be an essential part of his call to serve the Church as a teacher and pastor:
"In a time of favor I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you;
and I have kept you and given you as a covenant to the people,
to restore the land
and allot the desolate heritages,
Saying to the prisoners: Come out!
To those in darkness: Show yourselves...
I will cut a road through all my mountains,
and make my highways level.
See, some shall come from afar,
others from the north and the west,
and some from the land of Syene.
Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted" (Isaiah 49:8-9a, 11-13).
The prophet is the one who is able to discern the presence and action of God at work in the world, who is sent to communicate God’s will for the world. Throughout the history, women and men, like Saint Leander of Seville, have courageously engaged the world around them, admonishing, challenging, inspiring, and changing the lives of those whom they encountered, giving voice to God’s presence and desires for every person.
In his Sermon “On the Triumph of the Church,” Leander declared, “How sweet is love and how delightful is unity you know well through the foretelling of the prophets, through the divine word of the Gospels, through the teachings of the apostles. Therefore, preach only the unity of nations, dream only of the oneness of all peoples, spread abroad only the good seeds of peace and love… It remains, then, that we should all with one accord work for one kingdom and that, both for the stability of the kingdom on earth and for the happiness of the kingdom of heaven, we should pray to God that that kingdom and nation which has glorified the Christ on earth shall be glorified by Him not only on earth, but also in heaven.” Leander reminds us that lasting union, peace, and concord can only be found and fostered in the love of Christ and in our love for one another—that same love that is both the starting point and the fulfillment of our lives as Christians.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

On loss

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt
Anyone can wander away from God’s love, seeking their own path, believing that, even as we “leave home” and assert our own independence and identity, we are still walking at God’s side. Henri Nouwen reflected, “Leaving home means ignoring the truth that God has ‘fashioned me in secret, moulded me in the depths of the earth and knitted me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).’ Leaving home is living as though I do not yet have a home and must look far and wide to find one” (from “The Return of the Prodigal Son”).
Life’s losses (whether they be  of home, family, opportunities, or identity) are an invitation for renewal and re-creation. “Learning the value of loss is,” as Joan Chittister, observes, “a trip to a foreign land… The loss of the sense of self that defeat brings in its wake is the struggle we cannot name and the devil we cannot rout” (from “For Everything a Season”). The “Prodigal Son” teaches us that we come to know ourselves through losses that can free us to see who we really are and what we’re really made of. The gift of self-knowledge we gain is, above all else, a lesson in humility—a simple and unimpeded view of ourselves as we are before God. Through faith and trust in God’s provident love, patience, and willingness to always welcome us home, loss and adversity can become opportunities for conversion, reconciliation, and joy (Luke 15:20 passim).