“Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Wow, now that’s a challenge. Perfect?! I can hardly make mediocrity some days. But if we take this “be perfect” in the context of today’s gospel, let’s not imagine God’s perfection as God sitting on the heavenly throne, with angels orbiting God at the speed of light, with heavenly glory shining eternally from God’s blissful face. Certainly, God is glorious and transcendent, but today’s gospel sees that perfection, if you will, not as a transcendent noun (PERFECT!!), but as a messy verb that is in relationship with the real, imperfect world.
God is the one who tells us to: love and pray for our enemy; turn the other cheek; go the extra mile; and is generous to all without exception. That’s not easy. It will challenge us, and often it’s messy. But that’s what we’re called to do. That’s the path of perfection. That’s the way of God.
On this Sustainability Sunday, we are mindful that goodness towards creation is ultimately goodness to all people. The two are mutually connected. We’re all in this together! Pope Francis writes in his encyclical, Laudato Si, “The human person grows more, matures more, and is sanctified more to the extent that she or he enters into relationship, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all [creation]…Everything is interconnected.”
February 10th, just a couple days ago, was the feast day of Saint Scholastica. She was the twin-sister of Saint Benedict. Here’s her story: Benedict and Scholastica had the custom of meeting once a year in a house between their respective monasteries to spend the day talking of spiritual matters. One year, as dusk began to fall, Scholastica begged Benedict to spend the night that they might continue to share their stories. Benedict refused, citing the monastic rules, from which it was impossible to deviate. Scholastica then began to pray, and suddenly the sky erupted in a thunderous downpour that made travel impossible. “What have you done,” Benedict asked in alarm? Scholastica answered, “I asked you, but you would not listen to me. I asked my Lord and God listened to me. Leave now, brother, if you can.” And so, Benedict stayed with her and they shared happy conversation together. The moral of the story: Scholastica was heard by God, because she loved more, for God is love.
Benedict knew the rules, but his lack of love prohibited him from breaking the monastic rules, and following the greater rule of love. I mentioned this last Sunday: It’s not automatic that those who frequent God’s house, who know God’s mercy, know how to love their neighbor. It’s not automatic! You can know the entire Bible, you can know all the right prayers, you can know the whole of theology, but to know isn’t automatically to love. Love has another road. It requires something more. Let’s not forget: In front of the suffering of so many exhausted by injustice we cannot remain spectators. To ignore the suffering of people -- what does it mean? It means to ignore God! But If I do get close to that man, that woman, that child, that elderly person, I get close to God.
The words of Jesus in today’s gospel, “You have heard it said…BUT I say to you.” Challenging words! What things have we heard said? We should wall off, distrust, troll, hate, the stranger, who is my neighbor. Moreover, I can say whatever I want, even if it sounds hateful, because it’s my freedom. “But I say to you...” These are the words of Jesus, God made flesh. They call us to a high standard of love and compassion. We are given, in freedom, to choose the good. What is freedom? Catechism of the Catholic Church writes: [By freedom], one shapes one's own life. Human freedom is a force for growth and maturity in truth and goodness; it attains its perfection when directed toward God, our beatitude…The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to the slavery of sin. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just.
Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “You are the light of the world.” That’s a rather demanding challenge. Who am I to be this kind of light? Yet, as always, Jesus’ words are to be taken with the utmost faith.
Thursday before last, I met with my Catholic/Muslim dialogue group which gathers together once each month. I have been part of this group now for three years. These are my friends. One member of our group, whose name is Ayan, originally from Somalia, spoke of her experience a few years ago in a refugee camp. With strong emotion, she told us her story, “When I was in the refugee camp with my family, one thing kept us alive -- it was the hope, the hope, that someday we would be welcomed into a country and begin again. If you take away this hope from those in refugee camps, you kill their hope, and so you kill that person, because that’s all they have to live for.” Listening to my friend, Ayan’s story, was for me like a punch in the gut.
You are the light of the world. It’s not automatic that those who frequent God’s house, who know God’s mercy, know how to love their neighbor. It’s not automatic! You can know the entire Bible, you can know all the right prayers, you can know the whole of theology, but to “know” isn’t automatically to love. Love has another road, it requires intelligence, but also something more. Let’s not forget: In front of the suffering of so many exhausted by hunger, violence and injustice we cannot remain spectators. To ignore the suffering of people -- what does it mean? It means to ignore God! But If I do get close to that man, that woman, that child, that elderly person, that refugee, I get close to God.
Pope Francis, in “The Joy of the Gospel,” writes, “It is a compassionate love capable of seeing the sacred grandeur of our neighbor, of opening the heart to divine love and seeking the happiness of others just as their heavenly Father does. Here and now the Lord’s disciples are called to live as a community which is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. We are called to bear witness to a constantly new way of living together in fidelity to the Gospel. Let us not allow ourselves to be robbed of community!”
Love is not automatic, but could it be? Ok, here’s some science. There’s part of our brain, the amygdala which has a privileged position in the brain— it is our brain’s sentinel, constantly scanning everything we see for threats to our survival. The amygdala is that evolutionary hair trigger, which would rather be safe than sorry. When your amygdala detects what looks like a threat, like our ancestors seeing a saber-toothed tiger on their path; or for us, encountering someone very different than yourself, your amygdala puts you in a fight, flight, or freeze mode and impairs your response of love.
Between stimulus and response, there is a small space. In that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth, our happiness, our being neighbor to a stranger. The good news is, is that we can train our brain, just like any muscle, to be more compassionate by meditation, mindfulness, and prayer. We can make it a daily practice, by choosing again and again, to be compassionate. Love becomes more automatic the more we practice love. Don’t let your amygdala get the best of you. Be a light to the world.
If being a light for the world is too much for you today, let me offer you a simple practice. If every time you see another person, you wish for that person to be happy, then eventually, it will become your mental habit. Whenever you meet another person, let your instinctive first thought be, “I wish for that person to be happy. I wish for that person to be happy.”
Back when I was in college, at the University of MN, Morris, I walked in a Take Back the Night march. We chanted, "People unite, Take back the night. People unite, Take back the night." The Take Back the Night movement seeks to end sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, sexual abuse and all other forms of sexual violence. I realized that while I supported it whole-heartedly -- I marched, I chanted - as a male, I did not know this fear by experience. I could: walk alone at night feeling safe and date women and feel safe with them. After a friend of mine was sexually assaulted did I realize that we not only have to take back the night, we must take back the: dorms, the parties, the relationships that are supposed to be safe.
The Saturday before last, we witnessed the Women's March. There is much debate in our country about what such a march meant. I hope, though, that we all can agree that raising our awareness of the violence made against women is an important issue that needs addressing. Recently, I read of startling statistics, 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual assault. If we had 20% of the women here stand up in this church tonight, it would be a startling experience. Also, statistically, 1 in 10 men are survivors of sexual assault and 21% of transgender students are survivors of sexual assault. Do we accept, "That's just the way it is." Dare we accept this? No way! Donna Dunn, executive director of the MN Coalition Against Sexual Assault is quoted, "We've come to accept that this as a norm, [but] we've got to actually be outraged." A well-known motto at Saint John's is: "Johnnies don't hit other Johnnies." I wonder if we could expand that and say, "Johnnies don't harm Bennies." Or for that matter, any woman.
I had some anxiety on bringing this up in a homily, not because this isn't a very important issue, I just didn't want to sound like another celibate priest saying that the Church thinks sex is bad. So, let me be very clear, we are all created in the image of God. Each one of us, as being created in this image, is good. God, when creating the world, called creation, "very good." In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, our dignity as human beings is clear and wonderful. This dignity and sacredness of being human includes our sexuality. At your college age, your sexual drive is at a high level. And this is a good thing because you're created very good - just the way God has created and designed you to be. You also have freedom that you didn't have in high school. You're not living with your parents anymore. Put this together and...well, there's excitement in the air. But we also know that humans can turn a beautiful thing, like sexuality, into an ugly thing. We must be wise.
So, how can we be wise concerning sexual assault?
A) Broaden our sense of community.
-Look out for each other. Watch for compromising moments at parties, the bar, the dorms, or other places. Don't let people walk alone. For example: If a friend wants to leave a party, the library, etc., before everyone else, go with them. Be the good friend and walk with them.
-Most campus sexual assaults go unreported because the victim often knows the attacker. This has to change. Sexual assault needs to be reported no matter what damage of reputation is done to the attacker. If you're too afraid to make the report, then friends need to report for the victim. 1st reading from Zephaniah simply says, "seek justice."
-If you are a survivor of sexual assault, it's not your fault it happened. You never deserved it -- no matter what!
-Campus awareness. Special speakers and posters are helpful.
B) Speaking to the men here, and your dorm buddies.
-A "no" means "no". When a woman pulls back from you, even in the heat of the moment, that doesn't mean she's just playing hard to get. A pull-back means no, so stop what you're doing.
-You can't learn sexual norms from pornography.
-If you've had too much to drink (more than buzzed),you're not 100% irresistible and hot.
-When you talk with your buddies, let your conversation about women be honorable, and not about sexual exploits. Just because the president has made his boasts, doesn't give you permission to do the same.
-I know that you, Johnnies, want to be good men, so I encourage you to be good men and respect the women around you.
Let's get back to the positive.
Today at this Eucharist, we hear the words of Jesus, "Take this... this is my body given for you." These words of Jesus are good words. The word that is most important in this context is the word, "given." Our sexuality is a tremendous gift from God. God created human beings to have physical desires for one another. God created all this and God called it "very good." The Eucharist teaches us that we can only receive that which is freely given. Sex is to be received only when it is freely given. What belongs to another we cannot take by force. It is theirs alone to give. We are not meant to harm another. So, let us not only take back the night, let us take back our campuses. Be grateful and enjoy the attraction you feel for one another, and let us also respect one another.
Who, or what event in your life has been a light for you? Let me tell you about two people who experienced light.
The monk, Thomas Merton, (one of my heroes), on March 18, 1958: wrote this in his diary: "In Louisville, Kentucky at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun. It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race, though it is a race dedicated to many absurdities and one which makes many terrible mistakes: yet, with all that, God Himself gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race!"
Another example of a person experiencing light:
Scientist, anthropologist, Jane Goodall wrote. "Many years ago, in the spring of 1974, I visited the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. There were not many people around, and it was quiet and still inside. I gazed in silent awe at the great rose window, glowing in the morning sun. All at once the cathedral was filled with a huge volume of sound: an organ playing magnificently for a wedding taking place in a distant corner.
I had always loved music; but in the cathedral, filling the entire vastness, it seemed to enter and possess my whole self. It was as though the music itself was alive. That moment suddenly captured a moment of eternity. The impact was so powerful I suppose because it came at a time when so much was changing in my life, when I was vulnerable. When I was, without knowing it, needing to be reconnected with God---or perhaps I should say being reminded of my connection that already existed."
What about you? What about me? Are these two examples out of the sphere of our own experience? I don't think so. Think for a moment about your own history. Remember that circumstance in your life when your heart warmed; that certain thing that went right to the heart and something permanently changed in you. Wasn't there a compelling light during a time in your life when there was too much darkness? For Thomas Merton, it was a moment of experiencing the people around him filled with light. For Jane Goodall, it was the experience of beauty.
And for you? Has there been a light in your darkness? Someone who helped you when no one else cared? That quiet walk and the world was phenomenally beautiful? What about falling in love for the first time? The amazing kindness of a friend who valued you? That moving song that you can hum over and over and over again? The dull homily that moved no one - but you? These circumstances of light do happen and they do matter, but what is more important is that God is in your circumstances of life. Jesus is the one who comes to you all the time even in our common day-to-day events, like repairing fishing nets. God is that light we hear about in the 1st reading from the prophet Isaiah, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone." The voice of the one who says, "follow me" matters greatly. In fact, it is the most important voice we'll ever hear in our lives. Saint Benedict says as much in his Rule: saying, "Listen carefully, my daughter, my son, to the voice of the Master and attend to them with the ear of your heart."
Amazing, the lengths to which God will go to get our attention. Be ready, be awake, be amazed!
Have you ever been to a store and have seen "Dummies" books for sale? There's lots of them: Cooking for Dummies, Plumbing for Dummies, Computers for Dummies, even Catholicism for Dummies. I could have a whole library! Here's a true story: I heard of a guy who wanted to learn to dance, so he bought, Dancing for Dummies. He was engaged to be married, and his fiancé was an excellent dancer. He was worried that at the wedding reception, at the first dance between he and his new bride, that he'd look like a klutz. So, he got the book out and read it. He even made paper footprints, taping them to the floor and numbered them. 1,2,3 & 1,2,3. After some practice, and feeling overly confident, as men are prone to do, he showed his moves to his fiancé's best friend. She saw him dance and thought, "He is sweet, but kind of a dummy!" Why? He didn't take out the music CD in the back of the book to practice with music playing. She said, "You can't dance without music!" So, he started dancing to music, and in the end, did a fine job dancing with his new bride.
This story is funny, but not unusual. We Christians too, are prone to follow the book, follow the rules and follow the obligations of our faith while ignoring the music! We go to Mass, do our daily prayers, read our Bible, and we put on a friendly, Christian smile, yet stiffly walk on to the dance floor of the Christian life with no music in our hearts. The power of God, the realness of God, is the Holy Spirit humming in our heart. The Christian life without the Spirit living in us, making music in us, is lifeless - just 1,2,3 & 1,2,3. We got the beat, but no spirit.
The Spirit is the music of God for my life.
The Spirit is difficult to describe, because Jesus says the Spirit is like the wind which "blows where it pleases." Perhaps the most common mistake made regarding the Spirit is reducing the Spirit to just a power, an energy, or a force perhaps. Not a bad description -- wind is an invisible force --but more meaningful is that the Spirit is a person. The Spirit is a person, empowering us to say, as in today's Psalm, "Here I am Lord." "Here I am" is the most courageous and joyful thing we will ever say. It begins the great adventure!
Another story: A few years ago, I saw a friend of mine sitting by Lake Sagatagan, and to my surprise she was smoking and drinking from a bottle of whiskey. She looked agitated, to say the least. I asked her, "What's wrong?" She said, "I'm giving God one last chance to change his mind." She was feeling a call to professional ministry and the Spirit was speaking to her powerfully. Even though she was honest in her struggle in claiming her vocation (I mean, hey, that was real prayer going on by the lake), the Spirit was making music in her, urging her to move forward, to seek deeper meaning in her life, to take a risk with her life, to trust. And she did!
The Spirit is the music of God for my life.
What I want to point out today is that it is essential that we know, we know, we know, the music, the Spirit, is in us and is for us. No need to go elsewhere. Someone said to me: I just can't seem to find God, it's like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Maybe God is not the needle but the haystack! God, in the Spirit is making music all around us. Ask the Spirit to move in your life and then listen. Listen to the Real Music! For those of us who've spent too much time trying to do God's job, instead of letting God be God of our life, it's like learning to dance only to a book. We think we know what we're doing, we got everything together, all the moves, and we even fool ourselves, but surprise, something's missing - the music!
St. Teresa of Avila once wrote, "Just these two words God spoke changed my life, ‘Enjoy Me!' What a burden I thought I was to carry -- my pitiable life. But love once said to me, ‘I know a song, would you like to hear it?' And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, God changed my life when God said, "Enjoy Me!" "Enjoy Me!"
The Spirit is the music of God for my life.
Back when I was in college at the U of MN, Morris, my friends and I decided to take a drive out into the country to see the stars. It was a clear night, and we were tired of the town lights. About three miles out of town, we parked on a gravel road out in the middle of the country. We got out of the car, and we all gasped - "Ah!" The northern lights shone like I've never seen before. Green and red colors whooshing through the entire sky, even in the south. It's one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. But for me it also caused fear. I was going to an Evangelical church back then, and there was a strong emphasis that the second coming of Christ was coming anytime. The pastor frequently ranted, "The US is becoming godless and there's war in the middle east. Look at the signs. Christ is coming soon! Are you ready?" When looking up at the sky, I thought, "Is this the end?! Am I ready?!" And I was quiet and fearful for the rest of the evening. Christ didn't come. The signs in the heavens were just caused by turbulent solar flares releasing energy, ionizing the earth's magnetosphere creating beautiful northern lights. My scientist friends would say to me, "Dummy!"
However, today's second reading from the letter to James we hear, "Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient." For 2000 years, Christians have been patient for the second coming. Is it for real or is it just a scare tactic to make people act moral out of fear? We profess in the Creed that indeed, Christ "will come again to judge the living and the dead." What are we to make of this in 2016?
What I find very helpful is not to call Christ's second coming, the second coming, but Christ's third coming. What do I mean? St. Bernard of Clairvaux, that great medieval Saint, once wrote, "We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The second is between the other two...In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh as a little baby and in our humanity. In the third coming he will be seen in glory and majesty coming on the clouds at the end of time. In this middle coming we see him" [today in the person of our neighbor, in creation, and in the sacraments. Christ dwells even in ourselves.] "Fill your soul with richness and strength, because this coming abides between the other two - Christ comes to us now."While some Christians can't wait until the end of the world and forget about the needs of the environment and condemn people who are different than they, we are called to reverence Christ in the world today.
In the Gospel, John the Baptist asks Jesus, "Are you the one, or should we wait for another?" Jesus indeed is the one! But it's easy to be in a kind of protective bubble here at CSBSJU and say, "I'm doing the college thing. Finals, you know! That's all I have energy for. Christ?! Later..." But that's not enough. Our lives, even our joy calls us to live not just for ourselves but for one another. What breaks my bubble? What wakes me up? What helps me to see, each day, the second coming of Christ? Three words. "I love you." To our family, our friends, our spouse, our parents, our kids, our siblings, our monastic brothers and sisters, our neighbor, our earth. Three words. "I love you!"
There's a song for that:
Lean on me when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
Till I'm gonna need somebody to lean on
You just call on me, brother, when you need a hand
We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you'll understand
We all need somebody to lean on
Lean on me when you're not strong
And I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on
For it won't be long
Till I'm gonna need somebody to lean on.
That someone, that friend, that stranger we lean on, and who leans on me, is the second coming of Christ for us today - right now.
The Catholic soul is thoroughly sacramental. Laudato Si, Pope Francis. "Through our worship of God, we are invited to embrace the world. Water, oil, fire, [bread and wine] are taken up in all their symbolic power and incorporated in our act of worship. Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature. The Son of God has incarnated in his person...the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is made...a temple of the Holy Spirit and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world's salvation."
Cake image by Fr. Kevin Seasoltz
•1) Modern world: 2 layered. Spirit on top, real world on bottom.
•2) Catholic: Rum cake. Rum saturated completely within the cake.
IN OUR MASS TODAY, IN THIS CHURCH:
WATER (at baptismal font)
-Ice-laden comets, melt ice, life formed in water
-We are all created, knit together, in the amniotic waters our mother's womb. Nine months in this water!
-Born again in the sacramental water of baptism.
-We touch the waters, recommitting ourselves to remember who we are (bearers of the Gospel/Good News), and whose we are (child of God). Be intentional about making the sign of the cross. Ritual can get too casual.
BREAD AND WINE (at the altar)
-Bread: Nothing is more ordinary than bread. God humbled himself to become what is so common. Bread is the humility of God.
-Wine: wine is celebration. Wine is the intoxication of the presence of God. First communion, "That's Jesus!"
OIL (where the oil will be)
-Anointing of royalty. We are daughters & sons of the King od kings.
-Peace. Noah after the flood. Dove with the olive branch
-Signed with the fragrant oil, the baptized receives an indelible character, the seal of the Lord...giving them the grace of proclamation. 2 Corinthians, "For we are to God the pleasing fragrance of Christ."
-Smell it before you leave. Myrr. Balsam. Frankincense.
HUMAN PERSON (gesture around; grab my arm)
Our own bodies, skin, blood and bones - are temples of the Holy Spirit. Sacraments are not meant to make up closer to Jesus Christ. That's the big mistake. Sacraments are not meant to make us closer to Jesus Christ, they are meant for us so that we become Jesus Christ. No separation.
Saint Irenaeus (150 AD): "God became man, so man could be God."
Saint Paul: Gal 2:20 "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me."
Fr. Kevin: Christ is the rum in our cake. No separation.
We hear in the first reading, "In the days to come the mountain of the Temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills. All the nations will stream to it, peoples without number will come to it."
This sounds very good, very encouraging. But it raises the question, "Who are all these people climbing the mountain?!" Are they Catholics from Stearns County? Lutherans from Stevens County? No, because they're from "all nations." Are the mountain climbers only Christians? That's the big question! Who are the climbers? If I too am climbing this Mountain, am I just doing my own thing - leave me alone everybody, can't you see I'm busy climbing? Or do I strive for the mountain top and notice those climbing next to me?
The Gospel's sole requirement is that we live out in concrete terms the commandment that we love God and love our neighbor. That's it! We often find ourselves living, working, and going to school with those whose background, be it: socially, politically or spiritually are very different than my own. Jesus' admonition in the gospel to "Stay Awake," I believe in large part, means paying attention to my neighbor, being awake to my neighbor. And in that very attention, we are called to stretch ourselves. The goal of staying awake is quite simply to have the opportunity to encounter one another on the Mountain of the Lord.
By climbing the Mountain of the Lord together, we can be shaped and inspired by another's religious enthusiasm, whether or not that person belongs to the same faith tradition as ourselves.
Look around! There remains so much to discover on this Mountain ascent! The blockade of discovery is that when I believe that my own climbing route is the only path of ascent to God. By welcoming the questions, challenges and ideals that other faith traditions cause to be asked, we can broaden our own parameters of who God is and how God acts in the world. To speak differently of God is not necessarily to speak of a different God.
One of my heroes is the Benedictine, Fr. Christian de Chergé, +1996. He and his monastic community lived in Algeria. He wrote, "Once, to tease my Muslim friend, I asked the question: 'At the bottom of our well, what will we find? Muslim water or Christian water?' My friend gave me a look, half-amused and half-rueful: 'Come on now, friend, we've spent all this time walking together, and you're still asking me this question! You know very well that at the bottom of that well, what we'll find is God's water!'"
Wells that we drink from and the Mountain that we climb. Do I do it alone or only with those who are most like myself? "All the nations will stream to the Lord's Mountain, peoples without number will come to it; and they will say: 'Come, let us go up to the Mountain of the Lord." What does this take? It takes love; generous, "love your neighbor as yourself," Jesus kind of love. It takes good ol' Benedictine hospitality. The kind that's willing to let swords be turned into plough shares and our spears into pruning hooks.
Back when I was in college at the University of MN, Morris, I took an intro class in political science. The first class began like this: the professor came walking in very purposefully. He turned around to us and said in a loud, thick-German accent, "If you remember one thing in this class, just one word in this class, it would be this, 'Power!' (x3). Those with the most power will rule the world." I thought to myself, "Oh my gosh, this guy is probably wanted for war crimes!?" I guess it stuck with me, because that's the only thing I remember from that class. Power. Strange prof. I'm sure all the CSBSJU professors are completely normal - ha!
Power. On this Solemnity of Christ the King we see an radically, unexpected kind of power -- the kind of power that doesn't come from domination but of self-giving love. This is really difficult for us to understand. Isn't power about: who wins and who loses?
In the gospel, the King of kings is hanging on the cross. Most are jeering the King, "If you are King of the Jews, save yourself." But Jesus came to reveal and bring a new kingship, that of God. Jesus Christ came to bear witness to the truth of a God who is love, who wants to establish a kingdom of justice, love and salvation. Christ doesn't choose who will be forgiven, the cross forgives all. Jesus last words, "It is finished." The power of the Kingdom of God is not about hate and domination, but of forgiving and for giving.
The people standing around the cross couldn't understand what Jesus was about. "If you are the Christ, then save yourself." "He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Christ of God." The power of Jesus Christ is not self-serving, it is sacrificial. "He saved others" -- it was always about that. Saving others.
Real power is the gift of one's self in love. Sacrifice is perhaps the greatest power we will ever know in life. Think about your own life. When someone you loved sacrificed something for you, was it not deeply meaningful? Or when you went out of yourself, sacrificed something of yourself for another person, isn't that what life is all about! Sacrifice goes right down deep into the heart. It's real! Love is only real when there is sacrifice, when there is self-gift.
Power. What is real power? That is the message of today's feast - Christ the King. 1 Corinthians 1:20, 22-24, "Where is the one who really understands? For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength."
So, what else is there to sing: I Bind Unto Myself song
This past summer, myself, a sister from this community, and 11 CSBSJU students had the great blessing of attending World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. About 2 ½ million young people were there from some 187 countries. It was a powerful experience of the Universal Church. For all the many challenges we faced organizing and traveling on this pilgrimage, we knew that so many Catholics from other countries had to be much more courageous than us.
For instance, Rand Mittri, of Aleppo, Syria, was one of the people to give testimony to Pope Francis and to all of us as we gathered for the Sunday Vigil of Prayer, in a large, open area named The Field of Mercy.
She spoke these words to all of us (and I'll quote her at length), "Hello. I am 26 years old, and I am a graduate of the College of Natural Science in Syria. I am currently working on a Master's degree at the University of Aleppo, in Syria. As you may know, our city has been destroyed, ruined, and broken. The meaning in our lives has been canceled. We are the forgotten city. Through my meager life experience, I have learned that my faith in Christ supersedes the circumstances of life. This truth is not conditioned on living a life of peace that is free of hardship. More and more, I believe that God exists despite all of our pain. I believe that sometimes through our pain, He teaches us the true meaning of love. My faith in Christ is the reason for my joy and hope.
No one will ever be able to steal this true joy from me. In the end, I ask the Resurrected Lord to grant me, everyone living in Syria, and people around the world, the grace to show a touch of mercy and plant joy in the hearts of every wounded, sad, and abandoned person. This is the message for every Christian on the face of the earth."
Rand Mittri's experience, as well as so many people, must feel like today's gospel speaks to their experience, that, "The days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down." But Rand Mittri also obeyed the words of Jesus, "It will lead to your giving testimony."
As believers in Jesus Christ, let us pray for our sisters and brothers here in the US and throughout the world. Because of violence, intolerance, and racism, many fear for their present and their future. Let us pray and act that we will save our lives by our perseverance and courage. May the whole world be a field of mercy.
"When are you?" Has anyone asked you that, "When are you?" We often hear, "How are you" -- greeting & variety of answers. Or, "Where are you" -- getting a phone call. Or, "Who are you." Greeting someone. We never hear, "When are you?" It doesn't make sense by itself. We would assume more information, like, "When are you finally going to turn in that paper that was due a week ago?" "When are you?" doesn't make sense, because we would automatically answer, "What do you mean?! I'm right now, aren't I?!" "I'm right now..." Is that answer true?
I like to look at bumper stickers on cars. My favorite was on Father Stan's old car. It showed a clock with no hands. Words: "God's time. Let it be." God's time is eternal time. Ecclesiastes 3:11: "God has made everything beautiful in its time. God has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." The ancient Greeks had two words for time:
1) Kairos time = timeless, God saturated time.
2) Chronos time = Years, months, days, minutes, and seconds.
Chronos time is the time we're used to. We're a people with many clocks and calendars. Many of us have full schedules! We have to be at a certain place at a certain time. And we have to be on time! People nowadays often need calendars to decrease the likelihood that we'll be in two or more places at the same time or that we'll forget an event. Calendars organize the preverbal statement, "I'm just so busy!" Also, the page of a calendar can become a template not simply for organizing our time but also for visualizing what we may think time is all about: a sequence of little boxes, each waiting to be filled. My role in life can push me to look on these boxes and make sure all of these boxes of time are filled - the more the boxes that are filled, the better our life. Right?! Time can become a commodity. But, "When are you?" Really?
There's another clock not hung on a wall, or worn on the wrist, or on our cell phone, it's the clock that is gifted inside us -- a clock that influences our desires, memories and perspectives - it's the God clock (Kairos time), eternity in the human heart. A clock with no hands. Eternity. I remember when my mom was dying and was close to death. I was with her and she said to me very tenderly, "Mike, I'll miss you!" I replied to her, "Mom, to God a 1000 years are like one day. If I live to be 100 years old, that means when you're gone and in God's time, you'll see me in seven minutes."
When are you? Today's Gospel sees Jesus, once again, in conflict with the Jewish leadership. The Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife. Jesus' refutation to them was that God "is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for all are alive in him." This wonderfully means that we all are made for eternity. From the very beginning of our life, we are created to live forever. "All are alive to God," because once alive, we are alive forever. To be alive, biologically, is to have a heartbeat and brain activity; but to be alive in God is to know the eternal love of God. Nothing is more practical than falling in Love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your day, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in Love, stay in love, and it will decide everything. Forever.
When are you? When are you your truest and deepest self? In each of us, there is a clock with no hands! God's time. Let it be. Let it be.
Zacchaeus we read, was the "chief tax collector and a wealthy man." This means Zacchaeus was used to getting what he wanted. His height didn't hold him back. He wanted to see Jesus, but he got more than he bargained for -- "Zacchaeus, I must stay at your house." So, his first thought from behind the leaves, "I only wanted a peek at you, nothing more than that!" Big decision! What will he do? What about us?
To come out from behind the leaves, and climb down the tree quickly, and open our house to Jesus, will cost each one of us something we thought was once dear. For Zacchaeus, it was "half his possessions" and with that, most likely, his financial reputation. For us, there will be a cost. However, if we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. We even gain salvation. Zacchaeus, "received Jesus with joy" and opened the door to his life.
People were sitting around Zacchaeus asking him questions. His answers were so beautiful. When the others had run out of questions, there was a long pause. Then I heard myself asking, almost to myself, "What do I need to know?"
Zacchaeus didn't answer - just kept looking at me. He looked happy.
Someone nudged me, "Ask him a different question."
"No," Zacchaeus said, "That's the best question. Ask it again, I love hearing it."
The room became silent. "Venerable one," I insisted, "please, what do I need to know?"
"Good," he answered. "Trust this: I will give you-Jesus, and that will be enough."
In today's Gospel, Jesus presents two people at the Temple in Jerusalem -- opposites in Jewish society, really. First there was the Pharisee (the religious leader); secondly, there was the tax collector (a person who not only sold out his Jewish culture by collecting taxes for the Romans who occupied Israel, but who was likely to take more taxes than was needed by taking the extra for himself.)How they each presented themselves at the Temple was also opposite. The Gospel says something deep about these two people. What was important to them? Really, what did they desire in life? The gospel also speaks to us today, of course. What do we desire in life?
The Pharisee's desire in life was for himself when it comes down to it. The Gospel says that when he prayed, "he spoke his prayer to himself." "To himself," in my mind, doesn't mean he was praying silently, but that his desire was for how good he looked, how perfect he thought he was, and the desire to be "not like the rest of humanity." Simply put, he was his own god. His so called prayer, "O God" never went beyond himself. The Tax Collector, on the other hand, was a person whose desire was God. He was a person of great need, a person with the desire like the open hands of a beggar. His real prayer, "O God" came from the depths of his heart, away from himself, and towards the mercy of God.
One of the ancient desert monks liked to say, "Give to the heart what satisfies the heart." Give to your desire what really satisfies your desire. What, in life, really satisfies our desire? The fact is, in our journey of the spiritual life, we have three options to deal with our desire:
1) To be distracted- We drug and distract ourselves to try to avoid the ache of desire inside. But in the end, these quick fixes are always worse than the ache itself. To be distracted is to live a life only on the surface, never touching what is deep within oneself.
2) To be dead- The Pharisee was dead. It was all about being, thinking, acting better than everyone else. How lonely! "I'm not like other people." He was a fake. He looked good on the outside, but inside he was dead.
3) To be alive- The desire of the Tax Collector looks toward an unlimited horizon - namely, God. As the Psalm says, "O God, you are my God, for you I long. For you my soul is thirsting." The tax collector realized that his self-serving life never satisfied the hunger and desire inside himself. So he came before the temple of God, repented of his selfishness, and with open hands, knelt before God, to the One alone who truly satisfies.
And so for us, as we consider the mission of the Church on this Mission Sunday, is the Church self-serving like the Pharisee, or is the Church like the tax collector, living in the desire for real relationship? Pope Francis has said concerning the Church's mission, "I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. [...] The church sometimes has locked itself up in small things, in small-minded rules. The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you."
Last night I had supper at my sister and brother-in-law's home. They live only 40 miles away. What is always predictable about my visits is that the food is always great. We had fish tacos with pico de gallo sauce. Awesome yummy. What is unpredictable about my visits is who is actually going to be there at supper. My family has a tendency to invite anyone who seems to need not only a tasty meal, but some laughter and good company - this could be: my niece and nephews and some of their friends, a widower at the local bar, my brother-in-law's business partners who are on the road a lot, a couple of my brothers from St. John's, or a next door neighbor.
Around that supper table, whoever is there, is family. We're at table not just to eat and laugh, but to be a real support to one another -- helping one another. You know, we shouldn't afraid to help or receive help from others. Sometimes we think getting help is seen as a weakness, but helping others and receiving help from others is what makes life meaningful and worthwhile. In the first reading from Exodus we read, "Moses' hands grew tired, so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset." Alone we tire easily. As the old proverb goes, "A hardship shared is a hardship halved, a joy shared is a joy doubled." Even Moses, strong person as he was, got help from others.
And the widow in the gospel. She was strong and persistent, even though widows really had no power in ancient Israel. I wonder though, "Were there people in her life who could support her?" We all need help in life.And receiving help is not just something we do when we seem to fail because we can't do it alone; rather, being there for one another is what life is supposed to be all about -- all the time. Relationships are our life-long and most meaningful project.
So we need to stop asking each other, "What do you want to be when you graduate from college?" and start asking, "How do you want to be when you graduate from college?" You might simply reply, "I want to be better off than my parents."
That's the American Dream, right? To be "better off." But, the "new better off," as many have come to call it, is less about investing in the house with the white picket fence that keeps your neighbors away or the perfect amount of money we want to make in a year, and more about investing in imperfect relationships, whether that's relatives living under one roof; a campus community; a monastic community like St. Ben's or St. John's; or just a bunch of neighbors who pledge to really know and look out for one another. It's good common sense, right? And yet, hyper-individuality has often made us dumb about reaching out to others. The most reliable wealth is found in human relationships. What makes one rich is the gift of one another.
Honestly, relationships are hard work. Meaningful relationships don't have to be perfect. Perfect families don't exist. We know that families can be challenged by many, many things that tempt us to say, Are relationships really worth it? Maybe I'm better off alone?"
The church needs to make sure that families who are going through difficulties always have a home of support, patience, and compassion. Not only from its leadership, but especially from families who've been through the same, tough times. Why? Because we too, all of us, are gathered around an altar, a table, as an imperfect family. Right here. We need each other! Pope Francis has emphasized, "The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak. The church is not a tollhouse; it is the house of the Father, where there is a place for everyone, with all their problems."
To have this same, gracious perspective, maybe we can give families the benefit of a doubt that they're really trying to do their best, even if that best rarely looks perfect. Family life can be beautiful, but it can also be tough! Mostly, it's both at the same time. We know this by experience.
Here at this Eucharist, at this table, we gather together to hear the greatest story ever told -- about God loving us so much that God would take on human flesh, live a life with its ups and downs, and who, even today, right now, is truly and deeply connected to our own life story. We gather together at this sacred banquet, we eat and drink, as the family of God.
The rich man in the gospel today had many opportunities to help Lazarus, but he didn't. We don't know why, but he ignored him again and again, stepped right over Lazarus at his own doorstep, all the while Lazarus was getting sicker and sicker until he died. It's sad. How might we relate this parable of Jesus to us today? Who is Lazarus today? This has been troubling me a long time, but I believe the Lazarus that is on our doorstep is the environment. It's the planet!
Pope Francis wrote the encyclical, "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home" a little more than a year ago. It's a tour de force, a call to action to renew humanity's relationship with creation.
Laudato Si's opening words soberly parallel today's gospel. "Our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor."
The rich man in today's gospel did not notice Lazarus. If the environment is really on our doorstep, what to do about it? Ignore or act? If we wish to act, then we first have to:
1) PAY ATTENTION TO THE EARTH
Pope Francis writes, "If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behavior."
The first day of Autumn was just last Thursday. Have you noticed how beautiful the trees are becoming now that their leaves are changing color? Take some time to notice that - wonderful! Take a long look at the world. Amazing! Pick up a handful of those fallen, autumn leaves. Give them a good smell - wonderfully spicy. You are creation. I am creation. There is no atom in our bodies that is not from and of the earth. We too are made of earth, sacred and very good.
Pope Francis writes, "As Christians, we are called to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale. It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God's creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet."
2) CARE FOR THE EARTH
You are Bennies and Johnnies. You're smart, otherwise you wouldn't be here. The world needs your intelligence, your creativity, your voice. Saint Benedict, in his Rule, chapter 3, "Summoning the Community for Council" writes, "Whenever any important business has to be done...call together the whole community...because the Lord often reveals to the younger what is best." That's you!
Is healing creation an impossible task? The rich man wasn't called to end hunger and homelessness, but he was called to help Lazarus at his doorstep. That he could do. How might we be able to do our part, be it big or small?
A) What about your major? Environmental/Poly Sci studies = you will be the challenge we all need. You will lead us. Business major = will you call us to simply be consumers, or will you inspire us to act for the common good? Nursing majors = a healthy environment creates a healthy person. Preach it! Theology major = How might you speak about world as a sacrament of communion? How might evolution and science inform our way of speaking of God acting in creation? Other majors = you, too have a voice.
B) In what ways can all of us strongly promote making our campuses more sustainable? Sustainability can be our first priority. The CSBSJU sustainability website is very informative. The 2016 Week of Sustainability starts tomorrow. Did you know also, the College of St. Benedict has a climate neutrality goal of zero net emissions by the year 2035? We can do this together!
C) Eating at Gorecki or the Reef? Take only what you plan to eat. Waste not, want not. Even better, want not, waste not.
D) Take the Link instead of driving your car.
E) Don't litter. If you see litter, even if it's not yours, pick it up be it on campus or in St. Joe.
F) Go on a nature walk. Creation! Touch, see, smell, love it. Speak to God as present in creation.
G) Or other ideas?
Creation, wounded and ignored, is on our doorstep. It's not too late to see and heal creation. Pope Francis writes, "As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning... Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life."
You cannot serve both God and money.
The key word here is "serve." Whatever we serve, by definition, has authority over us. To serve money means that money has power over us -- we don't control money, money controls us. Jesus is not saying that money is bad, he's saying it has the potential to have too much power over our life. Money can be our master, and we can only have one Master.
About a year ago, I had the opportunity to stay at the homes of two families. They were both wealthy, but what a difference between them!
a) The first family. They showed me their expensive stuff and they told me that they often go on big, expensive trips. But I could just sense that they were really unhappy behind the façade of their wealth. Why? Because I think they knew deep within that all their wealth couldn't bring them true and lasting happiness. They were addicted to their life as they lived it and they didn't know how to get out of it. Also, there was no well-loved center to their lives. Just, "Did you see this expensive thing...did you see you that expensive thing...and did you know we're going to Paris next month...blah blah blah." Money was their master.
b) The second family. Their place was beautiful and expensive and they enjoyed it. But I experienced that their wealth was not first of all for them. They were generous to others; their home was a place of hospitality; they loved sharing their life and their wealth with others. And I heard that they didn't just offer hospitality to other rich people, but that their home was open to all sorts of people. The center of their home was the kitchen and dinning room. That's where people met, prayed and gave thanks, drank wine, ate good food, laughed, and enjoyed each other's company.
This family was obliviously much happier than the first because they experienced that true wealth comes not from material wealth, but quality relationships! And this fact can be backed up by science!
I love to watch TEDTalks! One talk (and it's so good that it should be required for incoming first-year's) was about what makes for a happy and satisfying life. Important! The talk was based on the longest study (78 years of study as of 2016!) of human development that began following the lives of Harvard University graduates selected in 1938 and tracked every aspect of their lives. Each year, the graduates' physical and emotional well-being are assessed. Many conclusions have been gleaned, but there's one clear takeaway: The happiest and healthiest participants in this groups were the ones who maintained close, intimate relationships. Those satisfied in their relationships were happier and healthier. 78 years of ongoing study -- It was that simple.
Robert Waldinger said in this TEDTalk. "People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who [have good relationships]." According to the study, the commercial projection of a good life - wealth, fame, career success - won't bring us health or happiness. It's the work we put into maintaining meaningful connections with other people that will. Casual relationships, like the ones forged on social media won't do. This is pretty important to know when you're in college. What, actually, is going to make your life satisfying? Material wealth? No. Meaningful relationships? Yes.
Most of the graduates in 1938, when they were young, believed that career achievement equated the good life. But the 78-year study says that while a good career is important, what's more important is to work more intently on relationships. The spiritual traditions have been saying this for centuries. It's good to back this up with science! As a Benedictine college, community is one of our core Benedictine values. We are committed to forming stable relationships in the community. You cannot serve both God and money. As Christians, we experience the sacred, we experience God is our daily lives with those we love and care for, and those who love and care for us. Let our relationships take priority over money and material wealth.
Life is all about what story we choose to believe.
The younger brother tells a story. It's his version of his story, and as he heads home in shame after squandering his father's money, he rehearses the speech he'll give his father. He is convinced he's "no longer worthy" to be called his father's son. That's the story he's telling, that's the one he's believing. It's amazing, then, when he gets home and his father demands that the best robe be put on him and a ring placed on his finger and sandals on his feet. The son is treated as family. Although he's decided he can't be a son anymore, his father tells a different story. One about return and reconciliation. One about his being family again.
The younger son has to decide whose version of his story he's going to trust: his or his father's. One, in which he is no longer worthy to be called a son; or another, in which he's a robe, ring, and sandal-wearing son who was dead but is alive again, who was lost but has now been found. There are two versions of the story -- his and his father's. He has to choose which story he will live in, which story he will believe, which story he will trust.
The father's story begins before the son returns home. I imagine the father at breakfast with his morning coffee, working in the fields, just before going to bed, always looking down the road for his lost son. "While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly." He recognizes his son even though the son has changed. His son is thin, his clothes are in tatters, his face has a hard look on it that only deep disappointment and shame can bring.
Life is all about what story we choose to believe.
The older brother. He too has his version of his story. He tells his father, "All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me..." The older brother claims that his father has dealt with his younger brother according to a totally different set of standards. He thinks his father is unfair. He thinks he's been wronged, shorted, shafted. He's furious about it and complains all with the party in full swing in the background.
The father isn't rattled or provoked. He simply responds, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." And then the father tells him that they have to celebrate. In one sentence the father manages to tell an entirely different story than the older brother has told himself. I imagine the father with the older son at breakfast, sitting across the table from his son. The son rarely spoke to him and if he did, he only spoke about work needing to be done and things that needed to be tended to. The son never enjoyed his life and his face too had a hardness that comes from only living a life of duty.
The opposite of grace is our refusal to trust God's retelling of our story. We all have our version of events. We believe all sorts of negative things about ourselves. What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God's version of our story. It's a brutally honest, exuberantly liberating story, and it's Good News. It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved. Forever. That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of our world; in spite of our sins, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts; in spite of what's been done to us or what we've done, God has made peace with us. Done. Complete. Jesus' last words on the cross, "It is finished."
Life is all about what story we choose to believe.
Two choices. We can trust God's version of our story or we can cling to our version of our story. We're at the party, but we don't have to join in. Undeserved robes, rings and sandals, undeserved feast all await with an open invitation.
The younger brother believes that he's cut off, estranged, and no longer deserves to be his father's son because of all the terrible things he's done. His problem is his WORTHLESSNESS. (x2) The older brother believes that the reason he deserves to be a son is because of all of the good he's done, all of the rules he's obeyed, all the days he's "slaved" for his father. The truth, is that the older brother is separated from his father as well, even though he's always lived at home. His problem is his WORTHINESS. (x2)
So, each son would say the same thing: The younger son, "Father, look what I have done!" The older son, "Father, look what I have done!" But they mean totally different things from each other, don't they? Rather say, "Father, look what you've done!" Neither son understands that the father's story was never about that. Love is not about worthiness or worthlessness. Love is not about any of that!! God's love cannot be earned and God's love can never be taken away.
It just is. It's a feast. A celebration!
It uncorks the champagne bottles. It's without beginning and without end. It goes on, well into the night, and into the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next.
Without any finish in sight
They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith. Perseverance.
Life vows as a monk: sign of peace. Give a word. New monks said, "Welcome aboard!" (coming aboard a cruise) and then Fr. Julius, my spiritual director, said, "Persevere!"
In this homily, I want to talk about what it means to persevere in this life of ours. What does perseverance look and feel like? Is it positive or negative? Perseverance, I would well imagine for a lot of you is THE word as you get closer to the end of the academic year! Is perseverance life giving or something we just have to get through?
Persevere. I admit I don't like this word. To me it doesn't have life to it. It sounds like just putting up with something difficult until better times come along.
I've always been attracted by St. Benedict's promise in his Holy Rule to those who dynamically persevere in this life. He writes, "Do not be daunted immediately and run away from the road that leads to salvation; it is bound to be narrow at the beginning. But as we persevere in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God's commandments, our hearts swelling with the inexpressible delight of love." X2
When I first read this, it sounded very attractive, and then my suspicious nature came in. I thought, "It promises so much, I thought, but is it true? Is Saint Benedict putting us on?" I asked my formation director, Fr. George, this and he replies "You give yourself as gift to God and others, and you find life can be beautiful." Beautiful! Fr. George used that word quite a bit. I would imagine that this "delight of love" depends a lot on the way we persevere.
Love is the theme of the gospel tonight, isn't it? Jesus tells us, "love one another; just as I have loved you, you also must love one another."
I googled for good stories about human love and perseverance because people like to hear stories in homilies, and I couldn't find anything I really liked. Then I thought to myself, "Good grief, what about stories from your own life?" I remember my mom. She passed away from cancer about five years ago. When she was dying, my sister and I would take turns staying at her apartment each week to take care of her. When I stayed there, one thing we would do is celebrate Mass on her kitchen table each day. The benefit of being a priest, is you can have Mass anywhere, anytime. I knew that she was dying, so Mass was a time I could show my gratefulness to her. She gave me birth, she took care of me, she worked at a job she didn't really like for years so that I and my sister could have a decent living. This was commitment of love. Hers was a persevering love.
What kind of image comes to you when you think of perseverance with love? How are you committed in love for others? How are others committed to you? Most of us want to love, but love can't just be a vague, nebulous thing. It must show itself in real, flesh and blood, life ways. How is love and perseverance real to you today?
In the gospel, Jesus' tough love was there even among his doubting, fearing, betraying for 30 pieces of silver apostles. Jesus washed their feet and shared many meals. God's love is a love that perseveres.
Jesus tells us this in a series of parables -- about a woman who loses a coin and lights a lamp to find it; a shepherd who loses a sheep and roams about the countryside until the shepherd finds it; and a father who loses a son and is always looking down the road for his return.
The stories aren't ultimately about things and people being lost; the stories are about things and people being found. The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn't give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn't give up. Ever.
John 13:31, "It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end."
Today, the idea of persevering in any commitment perhaps seems unwise or even foolish. Everything changes so rapidly. Much can disappoint. Shouldn't we just protect ourselves? I believe that perseverance can be very positive, very dynamic, and very life giving. Perseverance is not dependent on the imagined perfection of college life, family life, the Church, or society. Perseverance is grounded on the unchanging fidelity of God in the middle of it all. Things change, people disappoint us, and we sometimes fail. It is our trust in God's faithfulness that enables us to keep on keeping on.
They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith."
In the monastery dinning room at St. John's, there is a little room off to the side we call the snack room. It's a place to get a cookie, coffee, or a place to eat when you don't have time to eat with the community at our regular meal time. Recently, I was having a busy day, and I was standing in the snack room, rather hurriedly eating a bowl of soup for lunch. An elder monk was in there too sitting down having a cookie. He looked at me and said, "The way you're eating is not very Benedictine. Sit down with me and tell me how things are going with you." I thought to myself, "Can't you see I'm busy!" But, I sat down and we had a nice conversation. He's the same monk who knows many of current school alumni. When a student asks to have a meal with him in the Reef, he tells them, "Well, give me half hour at least with you so we can have a real conversation." "Besides," he says with a smile, "I'm old and slow." My brother monk often shows hospitality like this.
Hospitality. I would like to speak today about the Christian virtue of hospitality. It is one of our core Benedictine values here at CSBSJU. Our webpage says as much, "We practice hospitality and respect for all persons. We offer warmth, acceptance and joy in welcoming others. Let all be received as Christ."
Hospitality is a key universal Christian value, perhaps even at the center of the Gospel - certainly the way of Jesus and his ministry on earth. Jesus ate and drank with whoever - the religious people and those on the outs. Hospitality is the way of Jesus in today's gospel reading. We hear, "Jesus said to disciples, 'Come and have breakfast.' Jesus then...took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish."
Sheer genius how Jesus takes ordinary stuff and forms of it salvation. Nets, fish, boats, light garments. Simple words of welcome. Burning charcoal. No ponderous treatise. Not a footnote in sight. No formal invitation, tuxedoes or gowns. No rehearsals, no having first to be perfect, simply a call we've heard before, "Come, have breakfast."
The invitation sounds almost too ordinary. But on closer look it means: "Be strengthened. You've probably not eaten for twelve hours or more. You're looking woozy; food will energize. A full day ahead-you'll need your strength." We've heard it from mom, dad, spouse, or friends. But hearing it from Jesus? Even better: what if we thought he'd died? The scene in today's gospel occurred soon after the resurrection. The disciples had just heard scattered rumors that Jesus was alive. And there Jesus is, on the shore, calmly placing bread on the grill, asking for more fish. "Come, have breakfast."
Why do we make God so distant, perfect, unreachable, and glorified, when God is as close and natural in his serving role as a waitress who's refilled the coffee 97 times this morning at Kay's Kitchen?
Jesus looks on the disciples fondly: dripping, bedraggled, dazed with grief and sleeplessness, sloppy. Dear. He intersects that moment of their hunger and calls them by their deeper identity, "Children, children, have you caught anything to eat?" How intimately Jesus knows human hunger, felt its ache himself. Feeding that hunger is the necessary prelude to any lofty mission. To be near Jesus, even the less reckless might jump into the lake and swim towards him.
St. Ben's and St. John's are Benedictine schools. Benedictine spirituality is ordinary. I hope you catch that here. The sacred, the holy, is in our ordinary relationships, our ordinary day-to-day activities, in our hospitality with one another. God is not to be found above us, in the clouds, but in the flesh and blood relationships with one another - real life! God is certainly transcendent, greater and more beautiful than we possibly can imagine, but God is Word made flesh. God is in the very bone and blood of our ordinary lives. God is in all the places of our lives. When were those times in your life when you could say, "Here is the lord." Was it during something extraordinary? Perhaps. But my guess is that is was during something very ordinary. Love of Jesus translates into love of people, the love of the fabric, the weave and woof of life.
Our success in life, really how we do life right, is so often misunderstood. Happiness does not have to do with how much money we make, or the status we'll build for ourselves. Studies show that to be true. Watch a TED talk! So many people make that mistake; Rather, happiness and life-success has all to do with the quality of our relationships and the hospitality we show to others.
So, how full of welcome is Jesus today. There is the disciples' fish, there is Jesus's charcoal fire, there is a savory breakfast. Eating, the breaking of bread, as recognition of Jesus -- the hospitality of God.
I'll end with a quote from Pope Francis, "Let us have the awareness that each moment, each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto himself this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with his affection and penetrating it with his light."
In the back yard of the monastery at St. John's there is a great old, elm tree. It's about 150 years old and has given shade to generations of monks. It's just now beginning to bud out from limb to limb, once again living and growing. It's one of those trees that people are just drawn to stand under its boughs. One of my favorite times of the week is after the St. John's Mass on Sunday morning. We have about ½ hour after Mass and before lunch, so many of us monks walk out to the back yard, just to enjoy one another's company while standing under this old and powerful tree. This tree is a symbol for me of the strength of life and of the joy of a generous, life-giving community.
A tree, strong and green, is an ancient symbol for a healthy Church. A church that has as its chief message of avoiding hell or not sinning will never be the compelling story. A church that calls us to be a lamp on a lamp-stand rather than be merely nice people to those we know and can accept is a blessing. A church that exchanges shallow fundamentalism for deep mystery sees the whole world as sacred. A church that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the "in-ness" of one group at the expense of the "out-ness" of another group will not be true to the Big Story, the Good News, we read in the gospel today - about Jesus breaking into the lives of the disciples and telling them to "go out into the world" while they were in hiding behind locked doors. A church that hides is not a church at all. Thank God the disciples did indeed accept the peace of Christ - the peace that gives courage, gives joy, and gives radical vision. Alleluia!
So, we joyfully welcome those who will be confirmed by the Church today. We call upon the Holy Spirit that the Spirit may pour out power upon these people that they may experience an authentic, gospel life. This Eucharist is for all of us gathered here as we seek renewal and as we seek the greening of our lives.
That's what happens in the gospel today! Jesus, in his Divine Mercy, breaks through the disciples' locked doors and their fear, and says aloud, "Peace be with you!" But peace for the disciples wasn't keeping safe in a locked room from those who would harm them. Their peace wasn't being safe in their fear -- "We've found a great hiding place!" No, their peace was Jesus Christ calling them out to something greater than themselves. The disciples were to grow from seed to tree. The same is true with us! This same Jesus still speaks those powerful and glorious words, "Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe...Do not be afraid. I am the first and the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever."
May this celebration of Confirmation and Eucharist empower all of us to experience the glory and new life which is ours as Christians! May all of us be like a tree in springtime. Life-giving. Strong. Green. Alleluia!
In the Gospel today the case seems clear-cut. A woman is caught in the very act of adultery. She's before us wearing nothing but a single sheet she quickly grabbed as others grabbed her from her bed. The evidence is indisputable. It's very easy to point a finger at this woman. The law is clear: it's just a matter of carrying it out. Stone her! When we point our finger at an obvious wrong in a person, we might think that we are carrying out our Christian duty to rid the world of what is immoral. Yet in that very act of accusation, we think of ourselves as being so much better. Pope Francis, when a journalist asked him about his experience as a confessor to homosexual persons, endeared himself to many, when he simply said, "Who am I to judge?" We thought that that was his job. But, surprise.
A story: A brother did a great wrong in the monastery and when a community meeting was called about it, they sent for the holy Father John, but he refused to come. So the monks sent someone to him, saying, "Come, the community is waiting for you." Father John got up, and picking up a large basket with a hole in the bottom, filled it with sand and placed it on his back. When he arrived at the meeting, those who came out to meet him said to him, "What's this father?" The old man said, "My sins trickle down out behind me and I do not see them and yet I have come today to judge someone else's sins which I do not see." When the community heard this, they didn't say anything to condemn the brother, but forgave him.
In Rule of St. Benedict, in the 7th chapter "On Humility," St. Benedict writes, "that a person not only admits with their tongue but is also convinced in their heart that they are inferior to all."
This is not an opportunity to do a nose-dive into an unhealthy low self-esteem, but rather that I have more evidence against myself than I have for any other human person. That is, my conscience tells me that I am far from perfect, whereas I only know by hearsay of the wrong done by others. Even if I can point a finger to and put an exact name on someone else's sin, do I ever see the whole picture of a person's life? There may, at times, be an occasion when we have to correct someone, but my guess is that before we can that, it first takes a real relationship with that person, and we treat that person as a person who we really care for, rather than someone simply to be corrected. Even so, judgment and correction should never, ever become condemnation. Jesus doesn't even do that.
The Scribes and Pharisees (the religious guys with all the answers) are intent on being able to condemn the woman with transgressing the law. Today, 2000 years later, are we not we sick and tired of the men in power always controlling, blaming, stoning, and maiming women in the name of God? In the gospel today, where is the man the woman was with? I've heard some say, "Well, it's probably because the man was stronger and was able to escape." The truth is, unfortunately, as a woman blogger wrote, "We still believe men are incapable of making rational decisions when it comes to sexual behavior and we force women to take on the role of managing or even outright controlling those behaviors. When something goes terribly wrong, we look to blame women because men just can't help themselves!" So, to the men here at Mass I strongly say, "Like Jesus, be another man against violence against women!"
The religious powerful want to justify violence by quoting the Law of Moses to Jesus and press him for his verdict. While they wait for an answer, Jesus bends down and begins to write on the ground with his finger what's that about?
Much ink has been spilled by commentators who speculate on what Jesus wrote. St. Jerome proposed that each onlooker saw their own sins being written. That's sobering! I suggest that Jesus, being a man, and confronting religious men, bent down as an act of non-confrontation. If Jesus would have said the same thing, "He who is without sin, cast the first stone" while looking face to face and eye to eye with the male accusers, that is a position of confrontation, and likely the men (especially the younger hot-heads first) would have thrown the stones because they felt threatened.
So in the act of bending down, looking at the ground and writing, Jesus words of challenge are left in the hands of the accusers, and so they have to deal with their own words. The elders and wiser leave first.
In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, the times when we are tempted to condemn another, we must not think that God is right there with us ready to point a finger and throw the first, hard stone. Rather, God, in the person of Jesus Christ, is bent down, and he's writing on the ground. What is he trying to tell us? He's not standing with stone in hand like so many of us. He places himself, beautifully and radically at the level of the accused. We know, after all, that Jesus did die like a criminal, like one accused, on the cross. Jesus took the sins of the whole world upon himself, not for the sake of condemnation, but something much more beautiful and powerful: our salvation!
Life is all about what story we choose to believe in.
The younger brother tells a story. It's his version of his story, and as he heads home in shame after squandering his father's money, he rehearses the speech he'll give his father. He is convinced he's "no longer worthy" to be called his father's son. That's the story he's telling, that's the one he's believing. It's stunning, then, when he gets home and his father demands that the best robe be put on him and a ring placed on his finger and sandals on his feet. The son is treated as family. Although he's decided he can't be a son anymore, his father tells a different story. One about return and reconciliation. One about his being family again.
The younger son has to decide whose version of his story he's going to trust: his or his father's. One, in which he is no longer worthy to be called a son; or another, in which he's a robe, ring, and sandal-wearing son who was dead but is alive again, who was lost but has now been found. There are two versions of his story -- his and his father's. He has to choose which one he will live in, which story he will believe, which story he will trust.
The father's story begins before the son returns home. I imagine the Father at breakfast with his morning coffee, working in the fields, just before going to bed, always looking down the road for his lost son.
"While the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly." He recognizes his son even though the son has changed. He's thin, his clothes are in tatters, his face has a hard look on it that only deep disappointment can bring.
Life is all about what story we choose to believe in.
The older brother. He too has his version of his story. He tells his father, "All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me!"
The older brother claims that his father has dealt with his younger brother according to a totally different set of standards. He thinks his father is unfair. He thinks he's been wronged, shorted, shafted. He's furious about it and complains all with the party in full swing in the background.
The father isn't rattled or provoked. He simply responds, "My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours." And then the father tells him that they have to celebrate. In one sentence the father manages to tell an entirely different story about the older brother.
I imagine the father with the older son at breakfast, sitting across the table from his son. The son rarely spoke to him and if he did, he only spoke about work needing to be done and things that needed to be tended to. The son never enjoyed life and his face too had a hardness that comes from living a life of duty.
The opposite of grace is our refusal to trust God's retelling of our story. We all have our version of events. We believe all sorts of negative things about ourselves. What the gospel does is confront our version of our story with God's version of our story. It's a brutally honest, exuberantly liberating story, and it's Good News (x2). It begins with the sure and certain truth that we are loved.
That in spite of whatever has gone horribly wrong deep in our hearts and has spread to every corner of the world, in spite of our sins, failures, rebellion, and hard hearts, in spite of what's been done to us or what we've done, God has made peace with us. Done. Complete. Jesus' last words on the cross, "It is finished."
Life is all about what story we choose to believe in.
We can trust God's retelling of our story or we can cling to our version of our story. We're at the party, but we don't have to join in. Undeserved robes, rings and sandals, undeserved feast all await with an invitation.
The younger brother believes that he's cut off, estranged, and no longer deserves to be his father's son because of all the terrible things he's done. His problem is his WORTHLESSNESS.
The older brother believes that the reason he deserves to be a son is because of all of the good he's done, all of the rules he's obeyed, all of the days he's "slaved" for his father. The truth is that the older brother is separated from his father as well, even though he's lived at home. His problem is his WORTHINESS.
So, each son would say, "Father, look what I have done!" (x2) But they mean totally different things from each other, don't they?
Neither son understands that the father's story was never about that. Love is not about any of that!! God's love cannot be earned and God's love cannot be taken away.
It just is. It's a party. A celebration! It uncorks the bottles. It's without beginning and without end. It goes on, well into the night, and into the next day, and the next, and the next, and the next.Without any finish in sight.
It's a story we can choose to believe in.
Homily relying a good bit on Rob Bell's book, Love Wins.
I received this email from a friend of mine just a couple days ago. He's part of a group of men and women who live the spirit of St. Benedict in their daily lives - they're called "Oblates." Both St. Benedict's Monastery and St. John's Abbey have oblates. My friend writes, "There was a couple in our group who are new oblates. They spoke of some serious problems they were having with their daughter who is taking drugs and was recently arrested. They spoke very emotionally about their great worry about their daughter's life." My friend continued, "I was reminded of the very real and urgent problems people have to face. We ended our meeting by praying over them. I got a big hug from both of them and they told us that our presence in the group was so important to them. Just our presence would help them through. I realized no one needed to offer any advice to them. We didn't have to DO anything, but just BE present. That was a little moment of clarity for me. Despite our differences, the group grows closer. The Lord is at work here!"
Why do bad things happen to people, like this daughter with a drug problem, especially in the belief of an all loving and powerful God? In today's Gospel, that's what Jesus knows what people are thinking when they report to him about those whom Pilate murdered and the people who were killed when a tower fell on them. Why do these bad things happen - who's at fault?
There may, indeed, be sinful causes behind these events in the Gospel, but not on the part of the victim. Pilate, who carries out violent executions of innocent people, embodies a sin-wracked system of people in power. Deaths caused by a tower falling could be because of shoddy workmanship or cutting corners, when profit is prized over human safety, are the result of sinful practices but not those of the ones who fall victim.
In the Gospel, Jesus does not answer the more complex question of why bad things happen to people. What he emphasizes in his response is the need always to be prepared: our end could come quite unexpectedly. Jesus is saying to us, "Are you ready today?"
There is a story about the famous 18th century writer and ecologist, Henry David Thoreau. When he was on his deathbed, a concerned friend came to him and asked, "Henry, don't you think you need to make peace with God?" Henry responded, "I didn't think we were fighting." The Gospel today invites all of us to enter more deeply into such a relationship with God, where we too can say we are ready at any moment, and are even at peace with God.
Coming back to the gospel, the examples of people dying in unexpected ways are not meant to scare us into repentance. They are a sobering reminder, however, that our time to respond to God is limited. We might never get a chance to live a tomorrow. We can miss the opportunity to enter more deeply into the heart of God and into care and love for one another and even be gentler to ourselves.
The story my friend told at the beginning of this homily is a good example of how, even in the middle of our many "whys?" we need to draw closer to God and one another. My friend had wisdom and right compassion when he wrote, "I realized no one needed to offer any advice to them. We didn't have to DO anything, but just BE present." Our job is not to fix anyone, no matter how broken they are at the moment. Unfortunately, we usually don't really listen with the intent to understand. We listen with the intent to reply. BE present to one another. That is what our God does for us today. God is present when we are gathered together in God's name. Yes, God is present deeply now, and God's love is poured out for us in his precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
A story: I asked God to take away my grief, and God said, "No." God said "it is not for me to take away, but for you to work through." I asked God to make my broken heart whole, and God said, "No." He said, "your spirit is whole; your pain is only temporary." I asked God to grant me patience, and God said, "No." He said "patience is a by-product of tribulation, it isn't granted, it's earned." I asked God to give me happiness, and God said, "No." God said, "I give blessing; happiness is living in that blessing." I asked God to spare me pain, and God said, "No." God said "suffering brings you closer to me and to those you love." I asked God to make my spirit grow, and God said, "No." He said "you must grow on your own, but I will prune you to make you fruitful." I asked God if he loves me, and God said, "Yes. I gave my only Son who died for you, and you will be in heaven someday because you believe." I asked God to help me love others as much as He loves me, and God said, "Ah, finally you have the idea."
Perhaps you've experienced a movie at a theatre that was so powerful that when it was finished and the credits were rolling, the audience was just silent, not being able to move. I remembering that happening when I saw the movie "Shindler's List." It was about Oscar Shindler who saved many Jews from concentration camps during WWII. About 10 seconds into the credits, one teenage boy, probably a good bit immature, made a wise-crack and laughed out loud, breaking the silence. I think half the audience gave him an immediate "shhh!"
Powerful experiences often make us speechless; we're held in the moment; and we know that interrupting the powerful moment with talking or even moving, would somehow diminish the reverence of the moment.
That's the gospel today. Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John. We hear simply, "[The disciples] fell silent." But then there's Peter opening his loud mouth, "Master, it's good that we're here; let's make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." But Peter did not know what he was saying. Peter was an idiot in the face of glory.
Glory, glory! The transfiguration of Jesus offers us a hint at what glory is about. Glory reveals something really great in this world, something to be stunned about, something that somehow dwarfs and overshadows all of our regular daily life. Often glory comes when we least expect it.
Glory is closely connected with one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit called "The Fear of the Lord" or "Wonder and Awe and Wow in God's Presence." An encounter with glory takes your breath away and, indeed, brings about a kind of fear-not a fear that makes you want to run and hide, but a fear that makes the whole world seem wonderful and all together holy; and oneself, as small and insignificant.
When you glimpse glory in your life, you're like Moses at the burning bush, you take off your shoes because the very ground seems holy or like Peter at the transfiguration you may start mumbling about "building tents" so you can stay in that moment forever. Or maybe it makes us want to get our phone out, take a picture quickly, and post it online right away and say to the world, "Look where I am!" but without deeply processing the experience in silence, awe, and reverence.
Creation, for most, if not all of us, is that place where we often stand in awe, are silent, we savor the beauty that is our world. Pope Francis, in his encyclical, "Laudato Si" writes, "From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine. To sense each creature singing the hymn of its existence is to live joyfully in God's love and hope. This contemplation of creation allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since for the believer, to contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a [sacred] voice."
To listen is one of the most valued of Benedictine virtues. Indeed, Benedict tells us to, "Listen [deeply] with the ear of the heart."The heart, for Benedict, meant the whole person -- every fiber of our being. To listen and to be open with everything we got. It's not possible to really listen without being open to conversion and the willingness to be changed. Silence is the immediate experience that something wonderful is happening inside of us.
In our busy life, that pushes us around too much with constant pinging of texts, calendars always filling up, and endless emails, let us be open nevertheless to savoring life, to be open to the transfigurations that come to us all the time. In the spirit of St. Benedict, we live the Liturgy of Life, doing our ordinary tasks of ordinary daily existence under the eye of God and in the spirit of reverence and thanksgiving. God's glory is everywhere.
Let me conclude with a poem entitled, "Stand in Awe" by the American conservationist, Wendell Berry.
"We must learn to acknowledge that [life] is full of mystery; we will never entirely understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For I do not doubt that it is only on the condition of humility and reverence [in life] that our species will be able to remain in it."
I was looking at CNN.com the other day and an article interested me. It was entitled, "The Changing Face of Family." The article has many photos of people in different forms of relationships. It also tells of their love and dedication that sustains them living as families and the many challenges they experience. One person is quoted, "Family is all about giving and receiving love and affection. It's about feeling protected and connecting with other human beings." It's not easy. There are a lot of trials and tests, but it's worth it. Photos of love and commitment. I love them! These photos are on our Facebook page, our screen saver, on our desk, on our fridge, in our wallet or purse, wherever. They're the best pictures aren't they! Take a moment and bring to mind one photo of yours that shows love-it's beautiful, isn't it? But we know each photo also contains a deeper story. The people that we love are people that over and over and over again we choose to commit ourselves to and we choose to act with love in the best way we know how. Everyone loves the feeling of love that makes the heart melt or makes the chest expand and the love that feels spontaneous, easy, and free. Love feels great. But love, deep love, is a choice made thousands of times over and over again in our life. When I worked on this homily, I looked around my room at my photos of those I love. There's: my dad and I changing oil in my car; my mom and I clinking a glass of beer; a black and white photo of my maternal grandparents when they were young, arms around each other, ready to conquer the world; my sister and brother-in-law, laughing about who knows what, both wearing green at a St. Patrick's Day parade; my niece and two nephews (wow, it's been wonderful watching them grow up); and my community at St. John's, they're my brothers who day by day I pray with, eat with, and goof around with. I love them! Each one of those relationships has seen its share of testing. Absolutely. If we love anyone in this life, there will be tests, for sure. You can count on it. That's what it means to be human. Jesus, the human face of God, was tested three times in the gospel today. His tests were not about giving the correct scripture answers, although we might interpret that with a superficial reading. No, these tests were fundamentally aimed at who Jesus was, what he was about, and the tests would decide his future. His tests were really about what kind of continued relationship he was to have with his Father and with each and every one of us. Jesus was tested with us in mind. John 10:10, "I came that they may have life, and life more abundantly."
1st test = In his great hunger to change stones into bread. To take the quick and easy route. To end the test immediately. To not be strong.
2nd test = To gain the whole world with one bend of the knee. To grasp for something that is fundamentally against one's own convictions and conscience. To choose stuff over love.
3rd test = Throwing himself off the temple with the promise that angels would be his soft landing. To take advantage of and cheapen love.
What about the tests you're going through? Maybe you're confused about your future? Maybe your family is going through a difficult time? Maybe happiness seems to evade you? Maybe you're thinking about coming out of the closet? Maybe you feel overwhelmed? Maybe you just went through a test and are thinking, "What was that all about?" These are real tests. They're human tests. Whatever the tests you might be going through right now, or will go through, or have gone through, there are two choices really. 1) Implode, become a black hole, and get all bitter and think life is just unfair and distance yourself from love; or 2) See tests as ways for grace and love to work in you and to deepen your relationship with God and those you love: those in your photos. Love tested leads to deeper love. It really does. Love is always the sweetest after a difficult time of testing. That's when love becomes real and truly amazing! It really does. And finally, Happy Valentine's Day.
What to do when it's Super Bowl Sunday? First, you have to find the best place with the best and biggest HDTV. And you also have to have things to eat. Pizza, chips and dip, Buffalo wings. Yummy! Maybe before that, you have to choose a team to root for. The Broncos or the Panthers? I'm rooting for the Panthers because they haven't won a Super Bowl before. I've been asked, "Do monks at St. John's watch the Super Bowl?" You bet we do! But we don't watch it alone! Tonight we'll have one room for food and beverages and the game is shown in another room a small theatre in the Quad. 20' x 10' of Super Bowl screen awesomeness. But some of my brothers aren't sports fans, and won't watch the game but will come anyway for the snacks, adult beverages and a few laughs. Good.
What also to do on Super Bowl Sunday? It seems like all of you, like me, have also decided to go to Mass. Why? Why go to Mass? Good question.
Statistically in America, 37% of young adults call themselves, spiritual, but not religious. Or in another way of saying it, "religiously unaffiliated." I can really respect people who are spiritual. Often they are really trying to find God and they're good to their neighbors. They're authentic people. But one thing a spiritual, but not a religious person often lacks is the support of other people, they lack a faith community.
Young adults especially, are disillusioned, disenchanted, and in some cases, downright disgusted with organized religion. So while they still believe in God, they are leaving the church because of all its judgmental, hypocritical, and anti-everything people. One student recently asked at a Campus Ministry event, Why is the church often against things and not for things? Good question, that.
But the situation remains. We are people who still desire a deeper experience of community and the sacred. What to do? If I leave the church behind, who do I pray with? Who do I worship with? Who do I sit next to on a Sunday? Who will walk with me on my life-path?
If I leave the church behind, am I all alone in my search for God? And if I'm on my own, how do I set out on this search? Go to Amazon.com to the spirituality section, buy a book with the best customer reviews, download it, read it, and see what happens? Is my experience of God limited if it's just about me alone?
Any person can find God in the sunrise. If you find God in nature, great, but can you find God in cancer? Do you find God in depression? Maybe. But my guess is that you need community to wrestle with that. Individualized spirituality works ok for a while until life gets crazy. Then where do we turn? Community gives us a place to work life out when our assumptions and beliefs break down in the face of life and death and everything in between. Life is hard, why do it alone? God works through other people and situations creating a strong web of relationships. In today's gospel, Jesus calls his disciples; but he calls them to walk and work together. The same today.
Community is a great blessing, but a blessing that is challenging too.
It takes a certain maturity and step of faith to find church in the person sitting next to you who has a totally different world view than you do. Consider the recent Iowa caucuses: the Democrats and Republicans. America has an "us against them" mentality. How do we be with one another? Community is where the rubber meets the road. People challenge us, ask hard questions, disagree, need things from us, require our forgiveness. It's where we get to practice all the things we preach. It's where we break bread together. Author, James Joyce, once wrote that Catholic means, "Here come everybody." We can be so afraid of the demands of community. We don't want to offend people, so we're afraid to ask for help or simply be with one another. God does speak to us. Other people are put into our life so we can hear and follow the voice of God. God doesn't seem to speak out from the thunder of the sky, but through the quieter voices of friendship and community. In our relationships we discover our life-path, our vocation. And of course, vocation doesn't just mean those in the priesthood or religious life. Let's get over that. God has a plan for everyone!
In some ways it's easier to go it alone. If I could make up my own individualized religion, God would let me go to the Church of Buffalo Wild Wings every Sunday. The habanero mango is transcendent. Amen! I like that religion, but it's not going to do much to change me or the world. All I'll get out of that is a pile of chicken bones and a gut ache.
What to do when it's Super Bowl Sunday? You know, it's not very enjoyable to watch the Super Bowl alone? It's best to cheer with others, it's best to eat with others, it's best to crowd around the big-screen HDTV with others even though they might cheer for a different team. Or maybe it's best to just come together for the snacks and a few laughs. Fine.
What also to do on Super Bowl Sunday?
It's good to have all of you here. The CSB Mass is one of the highlights of my week. I know my life is much richer because of you. Every Sunday that I get to preside at Mass, and hopefully say something meaningful to help you on your journey of life, I'm grateful. Hashtag: BennieMassBlessed. So, keep coming back to Mass, keep coming back to community. Even better, invite others to church this coming week. Jesus tells us, "Be fishers of people." Let's meet God together. Ra ra Jesus!
Every morning at about 6:50, I walk out of my room at St. John's, walk down some stairs, enter the church, sit down, and pray Morning Prayer with my brother monks. Being with my brothers. It's amazing and crazy thing really having so many people praying together early in the morning. I sit with all my brothers. None are the same. Some have coffee breath; some wheeze and cough too much; some have a wonderful singing voices; some squirm all the time; some seem so centered; there are a couple suffering from cancer; many are FR's in their dorm and probably stayed up late talking with troubled undergrads yet still make it to prayer. Praying with my brothers. It's real. It's human. It's a good thing. Morning Prayer helps the rest of my day feeling sacred. It's my habit. And it's never really gotten old for some 19 years I've been doing it. God is the only real source of stability in life, so I think, "I better hang on to my prayer life and make it a habit."
Habits. Sometimes habits stick with us our whole lives, sometimes our habits change radically. Although the Son of God, Jesus changed habits. His life began in a small town learning and then doing the trade of a carpenter. It's pretty beautiful that for 33 years Jesus remained hidden and shared a human life like so many of us. But the Father was calling him to a new change, a new habit, of new way of being Jesus.
You can imagine, in the gospel today, Jesus in his hometown. He was up to be the reader in the synagogue. In last Sunday's gospel he read things like, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord."
Today's gospel continues the same scene. Jesus rolled up the scroll and basically said, "This is me now. This is what I'm going to do now, you're seeing it live, 'This is fulfilled in your hearing.'" You then could hear a pin drop, and then the home team started complaining, "What? What did he say?! Isn't this the son of Joseph?! Who does he think he is? Jesus, get back to your carpenter shop and act like you're supposed to!"
Jesus didn't listen to the home team, he listened to his Father. How was Jesus, and how are we able to step forward, to do something new? How are we able to live out who we're called to be? Rarely do we just decide something, and it continues easily and automatically. We have to change our habits - we change how we do our life. And that's a day by day decision. Choices made again and again become habits of being. I know there's some mornings, maybe I didn't sleep well, or the bed is just too warm and cozy, especially in winter, and I say, "I don't want to go to Morning Prayer (ok, I admit, sometimes I do stay in bed), but when I do intentionally get up and pray, I experience that often prayer is even better for me - that God "rewards" that sacrifice of praise. I feel it in me.
All of us have habits. Minor habits: how we put on our clothes, where we sit in class; Or major habits: how we decide over and over again about how we are to treat ourselves and our neighbor.
All moments are teaching moments. The philosopher, Confucius, once wrote, "If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself. You can and should learn from everyone, be it a crook or a saint. Every life is a story filled with lessons ripe for the picking."
I believe Benedictine spirituality has a very positive outlook on what life can be. St. Benedict's Rule viewed the human experiment as a place where people could live together in mutual peace and respect. Not easy, so Benedict called his monastery, "a school of the Lord's service." This school is all about learning to be aware of our habits - basically, moving from self-centeredness to generosity; from anger, judgement and blame to being the first to honor the other person; from fear to love. These are many choices that become habits. Basically, it's what kind of person I choose to be again and again. Reflection becomes awareness; awareness becomes choice; choice becomes habit; habit becomes who I am. It's takes a lifetime.
But how? We know that all moments are moments of stimulus and reaction. Life is about recognizing what needs to be changed in my life, and with daily patience and intentionality, create new habits that are life giving. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg writes, "Champions don't do extraordinary things. They do ordinary things, but they do them without thinking, too fast for the other team to react. They follow the habits they've learned over and over again."
And, of course, there is the grace of God. Wow, what a help! Grace is never far from a Christian. St. Benedict, with his heart always on the empowerment of grace, knew that a person could always better themselves. Life is a school. Jesus is our Teacher.
In the first reading, God speaks to us through the prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you."
"I knew you." You. Is "you" a noun or a verb? We are always changing. You, me, we're not nouns, but verbs - lots of change, lots of familiar habits, and new one's too. God's grace is with us always. Have no fear of change. Be courageous.
Jesus said to them, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Powerful words! Fulfilled?! That sounds like it has two words in one - full and filled. Can Jesus be that?
Here's a story: "Why not? Why not!" that was the first thing Jesus said to me. I had never spoken to him before - hadn't said a word. "Why not," he asked. I knew he had me. I brought up excuses: "My life, you know...me...my past...not enough time...I guess it's because I'm not good enough." There was a sword hanging on the wall. He took it and gave it to me. "Here, with this sword, you can cut through any barriers." I took it and slipped away without saying a word. Back home I sat down and kept staring at that sword in my lap. I knew that what he said was true. But the next day I returned his sword. How can I live without my excuses?
The love of God is always for us, seeking us out, tries to cut through our barriers - our, I'm not-good-enough's. The love of God. A bit on love. Love is difficult. Love is hard. Love is sacrifice. For God, love even bleeds, dies, and lives again. Love doesn't let go. God's love calls us to belong to something holy, beautiful and fantastic. To belong!
Most of us use the terms "fitting in" and "belonging" interchangeably. Like many of you, I find myself trying to fit in social situations. We know how to hustle for approval and acceptance. We know how to look, we know how to make small talk, know how to make people smile, we know how to chameleon our way throughout the day.
But fitting in and belonging are not the same thing, and, in fact, fitting in gets in the way of belonging. When we try to fit in with God, we may never really believe that we're ever good enough and that we stand before an angry, disappointed God.
Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to have everything right and perfect in our life; rather, it requires us to be and claim who we really are - above all, a child of God. To be a child of God is something we can jump in and out of. God has made us a child. Done.
We might argue, "Is being a child enough?"
In her book,The Soul of Money, Lynn Twist addresses the myth of scarcity. She writes, "for me, and for many of us, our first waking thought of the day is I didn't get enough sleep. The next one is I don't have enough time. Whether true or not, the thought of 'not enough' occurs to us automatically before we even think to question or examine it." We spent most of the hours and the days of our lives hearing, explaining, complaining, or worrying about what we don't have enough of. We're not thin enough, we're not smart enough, we're not good looking enough. When we're with others, we're often one second too late of being really cool. We're not strong enough or smart enough or successful enough, or have enough money. Ever. Before we sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, were already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. At the end of the day, we go to sleep burdened by those thoughts that we have an unfulfilled life. These thoughts may not be our constant thoughts, but I would guess that all of us have been there at one time or another.
So, we have a choice to step back and let go of the mindset of scarcity. Once we let go of scarcity, we discover the surprising truth of sufficiency. By sufficiency, I don't mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn't two steps up from nothing and one step short of everything. Sufficiency isn't an amount at all. It's an experience, a promise from God we claim, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough - as is. We're a child of God. Done. Sufficiency is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are.
In closing, let me offer you a meditation from an ancient Christian writer, Saint Simeon. Experience yourself in this Saint's words to us. If you wish to close your eyes, it can help you focus.
I wake up today in Christ's body
as Christ awakens my body,
and my poor hand is Christ.
He enters my foot, and is infinitely me.
I move my hand, and wonderfully
my hand becomes Christ, becomes all of Him.
I move my foot, and at once
He appears like a flash of lightning.
Do my words seem crazy to you?
Too good to be true?
Then open your heart to Christ
and let yourself receive the one
who is opening to you so deeply.
For if I have any love for Him,
I wake up inside Christ's body
where all my body, all over,
every most hidden part of it,
is realized in joy in Him,
and He makes me, entirely, worthy.
Everything that is hurt, everything
that seemed to me dark, harsh, shameful,
broken, ugly, messed up, is in Him transformed
and recognized as whole, as lovely, and radiant in His light
in every last part of my body.
NASA's Mars rover, Curiosity, has snapped photos of rocky outcroppings that jut out from the alien soil, and scientists say they look like the remnants of an ancient river bed where water once flowed on the surface of the red planet. Scientists looked at all this and came to this conclusion: "This is a rock that was formed in the presence of water." Water is important, of course, because it's necessary for life. Curiosity's mission is to search for evidence that Mars was once capable of supporting life. If evidence of life is found on Mars, then that opens the probability that the whole cosmos is filled with life. Most likely, there is life all over the universe, we just want to see the evidence first hand.
What does the Curiosity rover have to do with today's feast, the Baptism of the Lord? Simply, water equals life.
Water. Most of us were baptized as children, perhaps a few here as adults. When we were baptized, our parents, guardians, or sponsors were placing each one of us before the life giving waters of God's grace. Today, when you walked in church, there is the baptismal font at the front. It's there because it's first through baptism which makes us People of God and members of the Church. By touching the waters and making the sign of the cross, we recommit ourselves to this very life. We recommit our baptism. Water. There is great power and significance in water. We are primordially tied to all things watery. Our bodies are 60% water, and our brains about 75% water. Some people are air-heads, but we're all water-heads. Our relationship with water is fundamental to our life.
Let me wax scientific. We are people who live on a very small, apparently unique, blue planet. Our small planet is blue because of water. From a million or even a billion miles away, earth appears blue. Primordial earth was seeded by ice-rich comets crashing to earth which melted into water. Much later, our ancestors came out of the water, evolved from simple-celled to complex-celled creatures - from swimming to crawling to walking. Creatures developed remarkably complex brains, as well, necessary to move successfully through nature encountering constant unexpected challenges, like college! From ancient times, God has been creating us, and through the power of water, continues to abide in the midst of a most marvelous creation. Our lives are a minuscule, temporary flash by comparison to the vastness and age of the universe. Yet, each one of us often feels called to commit ourselves to something deep and meaningful in our life regardless our smallness. In the universe, life begins in water. In the Christian life, water baptism is the life-giving sacrament which begins our journey and calling.
Medieval Benedictine, Saint Hildegaard of Bingen, wonderfully writes of God being the energy that causes us to be able to live, and move and have being. She write of God:
"I am the breeze that nourishes all things green.
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripened fruits.
I am the life giving water coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.
So too I cause the greening of the soul that is watered in Me."
God as life-giving water for the greening of our life. Wonderful! Get a life! No matter what your calling and gifts, and they are there, let it be uniquely and authentically yours that you offer the world. Live your higher calling. Make a difference in other's lives - that's where simple, lasting happiness is.
As William Wordsworth once wrote, "No matter what your calling and service, let what you are doing be organic. Let it be in your bones. In this way, you will open the door by which the generosity of heaven and earth shall stream into you."
As Christians, we understand this event of Jesus' baptism as not just a one time event in history, 2000 years ago. The Bible is not a history book. Baptism is also our event - it's for us. Indeed when we were baptized, heaven was ripped open and heaven continues to be open for us. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy, four fundamental words, "The Doors are Open." The words of the Father to Jesus are also the Father's words to each one of us, "You are my beloved. My daughter, my son." Make your life great!