Fr. Michael's Sunday Homilies
March 8, 2020
“Go first and be reconciled with your brother or sister and then come and offer your gift.”
When someone else does us harm, we’re connected to that mistreatment like a heavy chain. Forgiveness is nothing less than fidelity to an evil-combatting campaign.
So, it’s not an act of Minnesota nice.
It’s not being a doormat.
It’s really much more super-power than that.
Maybe retaliation or holding on to anger about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil, maybe it feeds it, because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy and even start to become them.
What if forgiveness, rather than being like a weak way of saying, “It’s ok,” is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters and snapping the chain that binds me? Like saying, “What you did to me was so not ok that I refuse to be burdened by it anymore. I forgive you.” Forgiveness is about being a freedom fighter and free people are awesome people.
Free people aren’t controlled by the past.
Free people laugh more than others.
Free people see beauty where others do not.
Free people can offer their gifts…well…freely.
February 23, 2020
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
When strangers introduce themselves on campus, what questions are you typically asked? Your name, where you’re from, what’s your major. Not bad. But what if you were asked, “Tell us something amazing about yourself!”
What would you say?
Frankly, people don't care about the data, the names, the dates, all those details that you're struggling to come up with in your mind. What they care about is you. They care about hearing your story. An amazing story is always better than data.
You can love your neighbor if you believe that everyone, yes everyone, has some hidden, amazing thing about them.
You can love yourself when you know that you are an amazing story. Learn to tell your story.
That’s what we celebrate when we hear the gospel proclaimed at Mass. We don’t hear about data, we hear about the amazing story of Jesus Christ, God with us and God still with us. We hear about God’s story intertwined with our story.
The story we hear today: Love your neighbor. Love yourself. Always prepare to be amazed.
February 16, 2020
Whoever is angry with their sister or brother will be liable to judgment.
Strong words! But did Jesus ever get angry? He did -- a number of times in the gospels. Once, he got so angry that he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple.
Anger. Is a Christian allowed to get angry? We imitate Jesus, who urges us to, “turn the other cheek,” who loves his persecutors, and even excuses them. On the cross Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing."
However, is suppressing anger healthy? Not really. Have I the right to be angry? Yes, at times. But, am I so stuck in my anger, that I become an angry person? Does my anger take away my freedom, my peace, and my happiness? Anger is certainly called for at times, especially because of injustice. But anger is a heavy burden, too heavy to carry all the time.
Recently, I walked past a Johnnie dorm and I heard angry yelling and ‘F’-bombs about every other word. I prayed and +, “Whatever he’s going through now, God, give him peace!”
A woman reminded me this week that: There is a double standard that gives men license to be angry in public but doesn’t allow women the same emotional freedom. The public anger of men is often seen as being strong. The public anger of women is often seen and being crazy. That’s unjust. In a more equal world, women would have the same freedom to publicly express anger as men.
How to deal with anger that doesn’t overwhelm us? Let me offer you practices.
1) One practice: Breath and smile.
In the anger of the moment, it's easy to say or do something you'll later regret. Take a few moments to collect your thoughts before saying or doing anything.
Breathing in, I know I'm angry.
Breathing out, I smile, and I let go of anger’s darkness. (x2)
As soon as you're thinking clearly, express your frustration in an assertive but non-violent way. State your concerns and needs clearly and strongly, without harming others or trying to shame them.
2) Another practice: Forgiveness.
When someone else does us harm, we’re connected to that mistreatment like a heavy chain. Forgiveness is nothing less than fidelity to an evil-combatting campaign. Forgiveness -- so, it’s not an act of Minnesota nice. It’s not being a doormat. It’s really much more super-power than that. Maybe retaliation or holding on to anger about the harm done to me doesn’t actually combat evil, maybe it feeds it, because in the end, if we’re not careful, we can actually absorb the worst of our enemy and even start to become them.
What if forgiveness, rather than being like a pansy way of saying, “It’s ok,” is actually a way of wielding bolt-cutters and snapping the chain that binds us? Like saying, “What you did to me was so not ok that I refuse to be connected to it anymore.” Forgiveness is about being a freedom fighter and free people are awesome people.
Free people aren’t controlled by the past.
Free people laugh more than others.
Free people see beauty where others do not.
3) Last practice: Receiving Jesus Christ
Today, gathered around this altar, we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, God with us and in us. Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace and our freedom. The gospel of John says, “You will know the truth, [who is Jesus Christ] and that truth will set you free.” Free to be angry at injustice. Free not to be overwhelmed by anger’s darkness.
Eat and drink that freedom today. Be free people.
January 19, 2020
Two Lutheran seminarians, both in their mid-20’s, visited me recently. They were interested in becoming oblates. What’s an oblate? Oblates are women and men, of any Christian denomination, who want to pattern their own life to the practices and values of The Rule of Benedict, making their commitment to a particular monastery. Both St. Benedict’s Monastery and St. John’s Abbey have oblates, many of who, are alums of our schools. Both have very active oblate programs.
I asked these two Lutheran seminarians, “Why do you want to become oblates?” They replied, “Because we think Benedictine spirituality is the future of the Church.” Wow -- an amazing claim! So, I said, “Tell me more about that.”
They said, “Because Benedictines believe in radical hospitality — welcoming one another as Christ. You’re committed to building real community that doesn’t exclude or judge, but rather includes and inspires. People desire an intentional, daily, prayer life and to experience meaningful ritual and Benedictines have been doing this for 1500 years! Christ is everything to you. That’s why we think Benedictine spirituality is the future of the Church. The Spirit is moving in you.”
Where the Spirit is, there is life, there is creation and creativity! In the gospel today, Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. All of us, Catholics and Protestants, have received this same Spirit at our baptism and confirmation. Through the elements of water, oil, and the witness of human community, we have received the Spirit which empowers us for service.
How is the Spirit moving in the Church today?
What about innovative? ‘Innovative’ is not the first word you may think of when you think of Church. However, we hope to be innovative in the way we engage in our local neighborhoods, create justice for people and reverence and stewardship for creation. Let’s become innovative in the ways we express ourselves as a community of believers.
What about incarnational? Incarnation means the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity can co-exist in the same place. We hope to be a community of people who create a space where the best of our humanity and the fullness of God can be expressed.
What about inclusion? Wherever people find themselves in life, as a person, and on their spiritual journey, we can welcome them to participate in our community.
What about empowerment? The Spirit, empowers each of us to say, “Here I am, Lord.” “Here I am!” -- is the most courageous and freeing thing you will ever say. It begins THE great adventure!
A few summers ago, I saw a friend of mine sitting by Lake Sagatagan, and to my surprise, she was talking out loud (praying, really) and drinking straight from a bottle of whiskey — a theology major! She looked agitated, to say the least. I asked her carefully, “Uh…what’s up?!” She replied, “I’m giving God one last chance to change God’s mind.” I gave her needed space and offered her a silent blessing.
She was feeling a call to professional ministry in the Church and the Spirit was speaking to her powerfully. She was having a serious conversation with God! The Spirit was making music in her, urging her “Don’t be afraid!” but to be generous with her life, to take a risk with her life. Simply, to trust in God. And, she did! And so can each of us!
How is the Spirit moving in the Church today?
Allow the Spirit to move in you!
January 12, 2020
Baptism of Our Lord
Water! We are people who live on a small, blue planet. Our planet is blue because it’s 71% water. From a million miles away, earth appears blue. Primordial earth was likely seeded by ice-rich comets crashing to earth which melted into water. Much later, our ancestors came out of the water, evolving from simple-celled to complex-celled creatures. We developed remarkably complex brains, as well, necessary to survive the constant, unexpected challenges of life. From primordial ages, God has been creating, and through the life-giving power of water, continues to create in this marvelous world we call home. Water is essential for creation on earth.
Our own life is a small, temporary flash compared to the vastness and age of the universe. Yet, each one of us often feels called to commit ourselves to things deeper and more meaningful in our life regardless, or perhaps because of 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 -- our vocation!
Medieval Benedictine, Saint Hildegaard of Bingen, wonderfully writes of God being the life and vitality within creation.
She writes in God’s voice,
“I am the breeze that nourishes all things green.
I encourage plants to flourish with ripened fruits.
I am the life-giving water coming from the sky
that causes the grasses to laugh with the joy of life.
So also, I cause the greening of the soul that is watered in me.”
The greening of our soul! What a wonderful expression!
This is the poetic language of vocation. Vocation doesn’t mean, however, finding that one, perfect, unchanging life or job. Vocation often changes throughout one’s life. Much of how we live our vocation, our baptismal calling, our greening is simply having an attitude of openness and receptivity in our life -- like the grass receiving rain. How do you create an open attitude?
Consider the story of bricklayers.
Three bricklayers are asked: “What are you doing?”
The first says, “I am just laying bricks.”
The second says, “I'm building a church.”
The third says, “I'm building the House of God -- Wow!”
The first bricklayer has a job. The second has a career. The third has a calling. Though many of us would like to be the third bricklayer, we often identify with the first or second. Every bricklayer has the same occupation, but their subjective experience - how they themselves viewed what they do couldn't be more different.
A lot of people assume that, what they need to do is find their calling. I think a lot of anxiety comes from the assumption that your calling is like a magical entity that exists in the world waiting to be discovered (but like trying to find a needle in a haystack)! A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find and stay there. It's much more dynamic and exciting. Don’t strive for the perfect; rather, cultivate openness.
Whatever you do, you can continually look in new ways at what you do and ask how it connects to other people, how it connects to the bigger picture, how it can be an expression of your deepest values, how it makes your life greener. Simply, live your baptism.
May 5, 2019
In the monastery dining room at St. John’s, there’s 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, Mike, and tell me how things are going with you.” I thought to myself, “Can’t you see I’m busy!” But my MN nice kicked in (dang it) and I sat down, and we had a nice, ten-minute, conversation. My brother monk was offering me hospitality -- “Sit down, let’s chat a bit.”
Hospitality is one of our core Benedictine values here at CSBSJU. Hospitality is a key, human value. Certainly, at the center of the Gospel – certainly the way of Jesus and his ministry and in today's gospel. We hear, “Jesus said to disciples, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Jesus then…took bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish.”
Breakfast with Jesus. Wow! It’s beautiful how Jesus takes ordinary stuff and creates of it -- salvation. Nets, boats, fish, bread, a lake. Simple words of welcome. A campfire on the beach. Fresh bread. Fresh fish. No formal invitation. No tuxedoes or gowns. No having first to be perfect. Simply an invitation we’ve all heard before, “Come, have breakfast.”
The invitation sounds almost too ordinary. It means: “Be strengthened. You’ve a full day ahead—you’ll need your strength. We’ve heard this from mom, dad, a spouse, or friends. But hearing it from Jesus?
God made flesh is a God of hospitality. Invitation! “Come, have breakfast.” Why do we make God so distant and unreachable when God is as close and natural in a serving role as a server who’s refilled the coffee 97 times this morning at Kay’s Kitchen?
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 the hospitality we offer and receive. God is found in the flesh and blood relationships with one another — real life! 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, "God is with me!" Was it during something extraordinary? Perhaps. But my guess is that it was during something very ordinary.
Our success, our happiness does not have a lot to do with how much money we make or the status we’ll build for ourselves. For all of you finishing up another academic year, and for those graduating, you’ll hear, “Do great things in your life.” I agree with this. But what you might not hear is this wisdom, “Do the ordinary well.”
Happiness and life-success have all to do with the quality of our relationships and the hospitality we offer. Praise the ordinary way of Saint Benedict!
How full of welcome is Jesus today. There is the disciples' fish, there is fresh bread, there is Jesus's charcoal fire on the beach, there is an invitation, “Come, have breakfast.” Eating together. Breaking bread, as recognition of Jesus -- the hospitality of God.
April 28, 2019
On the evening of that first day, when the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
The first day!
There’s a spirituality that tells us: live your life as if it is the last day of your life. I never found this wisdom very helpful -- maybe you have. Specifically, I don’t know what I’d do with my last day. Spend it with family and friends? Eat a lot of my favorite foods? Do something crazy? Buy a ticket to a place I’ve always wanted to go, and just go.
Instead, what if today is your very first day? Today.
You think this day is just another day in your life?
It’s not just another day. Today is your first day.
It’s given to you. It’s a gift.
It’s the gift that you have right now, and the one appropriate response is gratefulness -- “Alleluia!” Eucharist! If you learn to respond as if today is the first day of your life, then you will have spent this day very well.
The very first day, Genesis chapter 1, says it with dignity, “In the beginning, God created.” The first day, God created! “Let there be light.” Creation’s first day was a very good day. God, our Creator, continues to create. All our readings this Easter are about God creating new first days. Re-creating God’s covenant of love.
Today. Sunday of Easter season is a first day.
The disciples were hiding in fear behind locked doors. Thomas, so crushed by the death of Jesus, could not dare to believe that Jesus was alive. They all were having a very bad day -- the worst day. With hearts broken, it felt like the end of days.
Yet, God creates the first day, once again. Jesus, in his Divine Mercy, breaks through the disciples’ locked, fearful doors and proclaims, “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 in their midst calling them outside to something greater than themselves. Their blessing was found beyond their comfort zone.
The same is true with us! The fundamental question for an Easter Christian isn’t whether there’s life after death, but whether there’s life before death.
Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and is alive among us. Today. Alleluia! Gratefulness! Eucharist.
What if today is your very first day?
You think this day is just another day in your life?
It’s not just another day. Today is your first day.
April 14, 2019
In the gospel that was proclaimed in the Gathering Place, much was made of the colt, the donkey, which Jesus rode. There’s the whole bit about getting the donkey, “because the master has need of it.”
Contrast Jesus riding a donkey with the art which was produced in the time of Jesus and the time of Caesar. These images were of Roman kings riding a large warhorses, riding above all the people. The secular king’s power was all self-serving, power was all about dominating.
Jesus, God made flesh, rides a humble donkey. And donkeys a kind of funny looking, kind of funny sounding (“hee haw”). Jesus reign was not about self-serving power, but self-emptying, self-gift. Being on our level. Accessible. Generous! Generosity leads to joy.
Those riding warhorses are all dead. The one who rides humbly on a donkey, the one which stones want to shout “Hosanna” about is alive! Jesus Christ is alive and is with us right now.
March 31, 2019
Thea Bowman (1937-1990)
The man born blind had a lot of sass.
He encountered Jesus and made a stand for Jesus. The man stood up against the religious leaders of his day who thought Jesus was sinful for curing the man on the Sabbath (breaking the religious rules). And the man’s family basically kept their distance from their son because they were afraid to support his choice to accept Jesus as truly holy and good.
Those of you who are going to be baptized and confirmed are taking a stand also. It’s a big decision as an adult -- especially in this difficult time in the Church with the clergy scandal and the sexual abuse of minors. I love, love, love being a priest, but admittedly, it is sometimes embarrassing for me to introduce myself as a priest because of the scandal. But I stay in the Church and thrive in the Church because Jesus Christ is present in the people and in the sacraments.
The Church needs to go through a time of conversion. Less hierarchical, more lay empowered. Less pomp, more service. Pope Francis has said, "I prefer a church which is bruised and hurting because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
This Lent, I’m continuing a series of homilies based on the lives of contemporary, Catholic women. Women who changed the Church, women who changed the world. Women who had sass.
Thea Bowman, born in 1937, is one of the great treasures of the American Catholic Church. Ablaze with the spirit of love, the memory of struggle, and a faith in God's promises, she impressed those around her not just with her message but with the nobility of her spirit.
Born in rural Mississippi, she converted to Catholicism while attending parochial school. Later, as a Franciscan sister, she found herself the only African American in a white religious order, but she had no desire to "blend in." She believed her identity as a black woman entailed a special vocation. She believed the Church must make room for the spiritual traditions of African Americans -- the hope and resistance reflected in the spirituals, the importance of family, community, celebration, and remembrance.
Gifted with a brilliant mind, beautiful voice, and a dynamic personality, Thea Bowman shared the message of God's love through a teaching career. After 16 years of teaching, at the elementary, secondary and university level, the bishop of Jackson, Mississippi, invited her to become the consultant for intercultural awareness.
In her role as consultant, Thea, gave presentations across the country -- lively gatherings that combined singing, gospel preaching, prayer and storytelling. Her programs were directed to break down racial and cultural barriers. She encouraged people to communicate with one another so that they could understand other cultures and races. She was electric! Filled with the Spirit!
In 1984 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She continued to travel and speak, even in her sickness, even from her wheelchair. In Thea’s own words, "I don't make sense of suffering, I try to make sense of life. I try each day to see God's will." She died on March 30, 1990, at the age of fifty-two.
The U.S. bishops endorsed the process for her to be named a Saint just last year. Those who knew Sister Thea, a convert to the faith, in person or through her work, see her cause as a new opportunity for the Catholic Church to offer a faithful witness to Christ in a nation still struggling with racism.
Thea Bowman, pray for us!
(I put some pictures of her on the table in the Gathering Place. After Mass, I invite you to say “hi” to her.)
March 24, 2019
What’s going on in the gospel? Well, Jesus is being all radical again! Surprise! The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman culturally shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Samaritan = branched off from Jewish orthodoxy. Worse than Protestant/Catholic divide during the height of the Reformation.
A woman = men didn’t speak with unknown women.
Nevertheless, Jesus crosses the barrier and speaks with her first. Jesus offers her and us this abundant promise in today’s gospel, “the water I shall give will become within them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Within them!
So often we look for validation from what’s outside of ourselves – from other people, status, material possessions, etc. But really, there’s a well-spring of living water within each one of us -- the Spirit of Christ. You will know him, you will discover him, when you are calm, at peace, prayerful. Pope Francis, “The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already here, waiting for us with open arms.”
The Samaritan woman drank deeply, satisfying her thirst. Being shunned by her village didn’t stop her from proclaiming this Living Water– “Many of the Samaritans of that town began to believe in Jesus because of the word of the woman who testified.” Theologian, Sandra Schneiders, writes, “in Jesus’ command to ‘Go,’ Jesus commissions the Samaritan Woman as the first Apostle [to the Gentiles].” The tradition of the early Church is that the disciples gave her the name, Saint Photini, which means ‘filled with light.’ She is remembered by the Church as an Equal to the Apostles.”
I believe this Samaritan woman, Saint Photini, would joyfully say to us tonight, “Jesus is the Living Water. Drink up!”
March 17, 2019
The Life of Venerable Madeleine Delbrêl (1904-1964)
The transfiguration of Jesus is stunning, beautiful! The deeper meaning, though, is that Jesus desires that we are transfigured. We are changed. We become a light.
This Lent, I want to do a series of homilies based on the lives of contemporary, Catholic women. Women who changed the Church, women who changed the world. Women who were changed, who were transfigured, by the encounter with God!
“God is dead. Long live death!”
These may not be words one would normally associate with a Saint, but last year Pope Francis set the woman who wrote them, Madeleine Delbrêl, on the path to Sainthood.
Delbrêl wrote her atheist manifesto at age 17 while living in Paris in the early 1920’s. Delbrêl, a wealthy teenager with trendy short hair and clothes she designed herself, studied philosophy at the Sorbonne by day and impressed her parents’ agnostic intellectual friends by reading from her writing in the evenings. She decided that if life were “more absurd by the day” and death was all she could count on, she should live her youth to its fullest. She and her friends threw extravagant parties under the theme, “Life is meaningless.”
Delbrêl’s early adulthood became very difficult. When she was 20, her fiancé broke off their marriage engagement. Around the same time, her father and mother became estranged from one another. Delbrêl found herself returning to the question of whether God existed. It was possible, she concluded, and if it were possible, then she ought to search for God.
She describes her conversion: “By reading and reflecting, I found God; but by praying, I believed that God found me, and that God is living reality, and that we can love God in the same way we love a person.” And Delbrêl loved people strongly. Her friends describe her as a compassionate listener, always quick to jump to their defense, engage in deep conversations or extend a warm, friendly hug.
After her conversion, around the time that the Great Depression hit France, Delbrêl founded a house of hospitality with two other working women in a suburb of Paris, where she lived until her death. This, along with her prolific writing and social justice work, being a voice for the poor, often led people to call her the “French Dorothy Day.”
Members of Delbrêl’s house promised simple living, faithfulness to Jesus Christ, and they worked primarily for workers’ rights and the unemployed while also evangelizing.
Delbrêl’s most important contribution may have been her writing on the missionary role of the laity, which she first mentioned in 1933, years before the idea would be picked up by official church teaching at the Second Vatican Council.
Her most popular book, We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, outlines in detail how lay people can be missionaries in daily life. In one particularly moving passage, she describes how a lay missionary sees the world:
“From the top of a long subway staircase, dressed in an ordinary suit or raincoat, we ordinary people overlook, on each step, during this busy rush-hour time, an expanse of heads, of bustling heads, waiting for the door to open. Caps, berets, hats, and hair of every color.
Hundreds of heads - hundreds of souls. And above us, and everywhere, is God.
God is everywhere—and how many souls even take notice?
Lord, Lord…My eyes, my hands, my mouth are yours.
This sad woman in front of me: here is my mouth for you to smile at her.
This child so pale he’s almost gray: here are my eyes for you to look at him.
This woman so tired, so weary: here is my body so that you may give her my seat, here is my voice so that you may say softly to her, ‘Please sit down here.’
This smug young man, so dull, so hard: here is my heart, that you may love him, more strongly than he has ever been loved before.”
For Delbrêl, evangelizing did not mean giving someone faith, which she believed only God could do, but telling “people, who don’t know, who Christ is, what Christ said, and what Christ did—so that they do know it...in order that they may know what we believe and what we are sure of.”
Now proclaimed by the title, Venerable, by the Church, the step before beatification and then sainthood, Delbrêl is a saint for all of us—for people who may never travel far, but who hope to say “yes” to God in a many little ways every day, who believe with all their might that this street, this world, where God has placed us, is their place of holiness.
God became alive for Madeleine Delbrêl. She once was a woman who believed that God was dead, and death was the only certainty. Yet, Madeleine Delbrêl became a woman transfigured. It was good for her to be with God, and she brought God to others.
Generosity leads to joy!
Venerable Madeleine Delbrêl, pray for us!
February 24, 2019
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
Johnnie/Tommie game “F” you. Oh ya?! Well God bless you! (Great moments in Benedictine hospitality!)
God’s love and mercy is like last Wednesday’s snowfall -- it fell everywhere, and it was deep. In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we are to imitate God, to love, forgive, not judge, to show mercy, to be generous -- everywhere and deep.
Today’s Gospel is God’s vision statement of love to those who follow Christ. This way of mercy and love is radical. It’s a high standard, but it is God’s way, and is to be our way also!
So, what Jesus is telling us is hard, but it’s not impossible. And it’s necessary, too, because ultimately, God is inviting us not only to generosity, forgiveness and love but to something else: freedom and happiness. Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you is liberating. Hate, suspicion, holding a grudge, judging prevents us from being free people. Jesus is offering us a way out of all that.
Hate takes a lot work, and it’s heavy and burdensome, it’s like chains binding us. Love, on the other hand, is work also. But love makes our life easier and lighter. Love is the way of God, everywhere and deep.
February 17, 2019
They are like a tree planting near running water. The stability of a tree is a symbol of our life being happily rooted in the life and love of God. Rooted in God, we’re blessed!
We offer our own voices in praise of God, our creator. Every tree, every lake, every deer, every rabbit is given a voice, that harmonizes with that of the moon, the sun, and the stars. We know our spiritual stability, our home, when we find ourselves rooted in God’s majesty, when our voices harmonize with those rooted around us.
As we gather around this altar, let our lives be stable, rooted in the life and love of God. Rooted in God, we’re blessed!
February 3, 2019
Super Bowl Sunday
What to do when it’s Super Bowl Sunday? First, you have to find the best place with the best and biggest TV. 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 Rams or the Patriots? The Rams for me because the Patriots have just been too dominant for years.
I’ve been asked, “Do monks at Saint 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’ big screen awesomeness. Many of my brothers aren’t sports fans and won’t watch the game but will come anyway for the food, adult beverages and some good laughs. We call it community.
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 are you here? Why am I here? Good question.
Statistically in the US, 37% of young adults call themselves, “spiritual, but not religious.” Or another way of saying it, “religiously unaffiliated.” People like this often believe in God and they’re good to their neighbors. But one thing a spiritual, but not a religious person often lack 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 -- the sex abuse crisis, right? So, while they still believe in God, they are leaving the church because of its judgmental and unloving people. The Church is indeed of renewal. The world is in need of renewal and it’s often young people who begin the revolution of renewal!
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 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? Get a spirituality app on my cell phone, pray with its help, and see who else is praying with me at the same time in the world? Cool! But how really real is that experience?
What I hope, is for none of us to walk alone in life. Life can be difficult. It’s difficult to walk alone. You get lost. You get confused. You can walk the wrong path, or you can be walking around in circles, in a maze, or worst, you can stop because you get tired of walking in life. Always walk hand-in-hand with those who support you -- with those who help you to keep going. And in turn, be a source of hope for others. God, working through community, helps me to remain streamlined like a ship traveling through troubled waters.
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 the Buffalo Wild Wings every Sunday. The habanero mango sauce my communion. Amen! But that’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 TV with others. Or maybe it’s best to just come together for the food and a few laughs. Fine.
What also to do on Super Bowl Sunday?
Pope Francis has said, “No one is saved alone, as an isolated individual, but God calls us to a web of relationships that’s found in the human community.”
It’s good to have all of you here. This Eucharist is one of the highlights of my week. I know my life is better because of our time together. I’m grateful! Hashtag: #BennieMassBlessed. So, keep coming back to Mass. Keep coming back to this imperfect community. Invite others to join us this coming week.
January 27, 2019
Jesus said to them, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” Really, what Jesus is saying is, “You know these words you just heard about good news, liberty, renewed sight, freedom? Well these words are about me. They’re about me, for you. This is what I want to be, for you!”
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,” Jesus asked. I knew he had me. I brought up excuses: "My life, you know…me…my past...I’m afraid because I’m not good enough.” There was a sword hanging on the wall. He took it and gave it to me and said, "Here, with this sword, you can cut through any barrier." 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 Jesus said was true. But the next day I returned the sword. How can I live without my fears?
God is always for us, seeking us out, desiring to cut through our barriers of fear. Love calls us to belong to something holy, beautiful, fantastic. To belong to God!
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 look spiffy and make our way throughout the day.
But with God, fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. 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 a god who seems always disappointed in us.
Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to have everything right and perfect in our life. Rather, it requires us to simply accept and claim who we really are — above all, a child of God, infinitely and eternally loved. To be a child of God is something we can’t jump in and out of. It’s God’s gift! I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God!
We might doubt, “Is being a child of God really 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.”
Not enough. We're not thin enough, we're not smart enough, we're not good looking enough. We’re two seconds too late of being really cool. We’re not strong enough or smart enough or successful enough. We don’t have enough money. Ever. Before we sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we judge ourselves as inadequate, already behind, already lacking something. These thoughts may drag us down all day.
We have a choice to step back and let go of the mindset of scarcity -- to let go of “not enough.” 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. I am a child of God. I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God!
One of my favorite moments in the Eucharist is when the body and blood of Jesus Christ, present in the elements of bread and wine, are lifted up. The Eucharistic Ministers lift the plates, they lift the chalices for you and for me. Jesus Christ is indeed present to our eyes today.
Look intently, for we can rejoice. It is a beautiful thing for me to say to you, “Behold the Lamb of God! Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed is indeed are those called to the supper of the Lamb!”
Child of God -- look intently. You are blessed as you are.
Grace is more than just sufficient; God’s grace is abundant.
January 13, 2019
Baptism of the Lord
“…And heaven was opened…”
When we experience something really great in life, we say, “Oh, that was just so heavenly!”
-Seeing a glorious sunrise in the country -- “heavenly!”
-Hearing beautiful music -- “heavenly!”
-Eating a delicious Thanksgiving dinner -- “heavenly!”
Well, heaven is never, ever far away. In fact, heaven is close, heaven opens its doors to us all the time.
In the modern world we often think the world is like a two layered cake. Heaven on top, our real world on bottom. But our Catholic faith teaches us that the world is more like a rich, rum cake. Heaven is saturated completely within the world.
The Catholic soul is sacramental. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual reality. Simply put, the stuff of creation is the way we encounter God. Bread, wine, water, oil, our human bodies. No separation! Heaven’s doors are opened for us in creation. Heaven and earth are filled with God’s glory!
WATER AND OIL
We are gifted with heavenly life in the waters of baptism and the oil of confirmation. We touch the waters as we enter the church, recommitting ourselves to remember who we are (our lives proclaiming the Gospel), and whose we are (a child of God).
BREAD AND WINE
The great mystery of the Eucharist is that heaven is opened in the simplest way - eating and drinking. We receive Jesus Christ in the form of bread and wine, fruit of the earth and work of human hands. Saint Augustine wrote, at Holy Communion “make a throne of your hands to receive the King of Kings.”
Our own bodies, skin, blood and bone – are temples of the Holy Spirit. Next to the Blessed Sacrament, each of you, and your neighbor siting right next to you, is the holiest object presented to you this today.
Heaven is opened to you in your neighbor. Remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
Do you sometimes feel that God is distant? I would say, help your neighbor in need. For that person is a door to heaven.
Through our reverence of God, we are invited to embrace the created world. Water, oil, bread and wine, the human body, are taken up in all their sacred power and is our act of worship. Encountering God does not mean running away from this world or turning our back on creation. Jesus Christ, the eternal Word made flesh, has incarnated in the created world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. Our world is a sacrament -- saturated through and through!
Do you sometimes feel that God is distant? I would simply offer this bit of advice. Come down to earth. Heaven is never, ever far away. In fact, heaven is very close. Heaven opens its doors to us all the time in the world we live.
December 9, 2018
Glory! The word, “glory” appears six times in the first reading from the prophet Baruch.
Splendor of glory; glory of the eternal Name; glory of God’s worship; glory as on royal thrones; glory of God; light of God’s glory.
This reading is for uplifting. It sounds to me like a sporting event when the home team is losing, their heads hanging low, their energy has left them. Then the hometown crowd stands up, hoops and hollers, claps, stomps and cheers, energizing the players once again. We’re cheered on, “Lift up your heads. You’ve got glory! You’ve got glory!”
Baruch calls it, “putting on the splendor of glory” -- put on the Robe of Glory. A Glory Robe! God desires us to wear this Glory Robe. Wake up your faith and with child-like imagination, just imagine that you’re wearing this Glory Robe right now...Your Glory Robe is more luminous than the sun at noon. Brighter than a galaxy of stars. Looking on your Glory Robe doesn’t hurt your eyes. In fact, it’s more real and true than anything you’ve ever worn. You thought yourself so ordinary, but this Glory Robe makes you look fantastic, extraordinary!
Your Glory Robe is not earned. You don’t have to buy it. You didn’t receive your Glory Robe as a reward for having your life all together. Your Glory Robe is a gift from God because you’re a daughter, you’re a son, you are a child of God. God weaves, she creates this robe made of love.
John the Baptist. In the silence of the wilderness John the Baptist claimed his Glory Robe. Because Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilot, and Herod didn’t give glory. They craved power, so they forced oppression, slavery, and made people feel defeated. The priests, Annas and Caiaphas, didn’t give glory, they laid heavy burdens in the name of religion, on people’s shoulders.
And the word of God came to John in the wilderness. John cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”
Only God will give you the Glory Robe that lasts forever. We all wear clothes (sweaters, pants, jackets, etc.) that keep us warm and is a way we express ourselves. But all these clothes wear out after time. The clothes God desires and gifts us to wear are eternal -- Glory Robes that will last forever and ever.
The prophets, the angels, the communion of Saints, the most Holy Trinity, are all in the home stands. They’re on their feet, stomping, shouting, clapping, cheering us on, “Christians, you’ve got glory, you’ve got glory! Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction and put on, forever, the beauty of the glory from God. Put on the Glory Robe that comes from God. Put on your head the Glory Crown of the Everlasting -- for God will show your splendor everywhere under heaven. For God will give you the name, God’s Glory!”
December 2, 2018
First Sunday of Advent
In the gospel today, Jesus speaks strong words, “for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” For 2000 years, the Church has been awaiting the second coming of Christ at the end of all things. Is it for real or is it just a scare tactic? We profess in the Creed that indeed, Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead and his Kingdom will have no end.” So, what to make of this today?
What I find very helpful is not to call Christ’s second coming, the second coming, but his third coming. What do I mean? Bernard of Clairvaux, that great medieval Saint, once wrote, “We know that there are three comings of the Lord. In his first coming, our Lord came in our flesh as a little child and in our humanity. In the third coming Christ will be seen in glory and majesty coming on the clouds at the end of time. In this middle coming he is in the person of our neighbor, in creation and in the sacraments. Christ dwells even in ourselves. Christ’s second coming is today, right now!”
God is closer to us than we realize. Fill your soul with richness and strength, because Christ comes to you today. Jesus warns, “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy.” To have hearts that are awake, is to be an openness to the world and the people around me. It's easy to be in a kind of bubble at CSBSJU and say, “I’m doing my own thing. That’s all I have energy for.” But God desires more for us. Our lives, even our joy, calls us to live for one another.
What breaks my bubble? What wakes me up? More than any loud alarm clock, stronger that the strongest cup of coffee, more refreshing than any vigorous run on a chilly morning, are three words. “I love you.” To our family, “I love you!”; to our friends, “I love you!”; to a spouse, “I love you!”; to parents, “I love you!”; to kids, “I love you!”; to siblings, “I love you!”; to my community, “I love you!”; to your roommate, “I love you!”; to a stranger, “I love you!”; to Christ, whose second coming is today, the three words that wake me up, “I love you!”
Practice: Sometime during the Offering, look around you in this church. Notice someone you don’t know and say to yourself, “That’s Christ.” Because that person really is Christ! Thank God for that person and offer a simple prayer of blessing for that person.
November 25, 2018
Christ the King
Just over a year ago, I walked into the chemotherapy infusion area at the Coborn’s Cancer Center in St. Cloud. My sister was having her first chemo treatment. I walked past room after room of those receiving chemo treatment. I remember thinking, “Where is God in all this?” When I got to my sister’s room and as we were talking for a while, a Eucharistic Minister stopped in and asked, “Would you like to receive communion and may I pray for you?” How beautiful! I realized, Christ, in the Blessed Sacrament just entered this chemo room. But even more than that, the Eucharistic Minister was Christ also. And even more, Christ was in my sister. So, Christ entered the room, carrying the Body of Christ, to be given to Christ.
Christ the King is the sacrament, our encounter with God in the world. Jesus says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”
I believe that today we’re at the very mystery of God, the mystery of the universe, the way of the mystery of love. God chose to experience those places in our lives that are often the most difficult. In Jesus, the heart of God with a human face, we are meeting with the very mystery of God. God chose not to avoid the suffering of this world. We hear the statement, “Where suffering is, love is. And where love is, God is.”
We are at the very heart of the incomprehensible mystery of God whose kingship is not only as Lord of all Creation, but who is surprisingly experienced in those who are lonely, suffering, and whose lives, for whatever reason, is just not working.
Jesus Christ is the one who suffers — the thirsty, the hungry, the naked, the prisoner, the stranger, the one who mourns. Jesus is not saying that you are to treat that person like you would treat Jesus, Jesus is saying, “I am that person.”
It needs to be clearly said that the nature of God is not to avoid suffering; that the nature of love is not to avoid pain or the places of pain. That’s the way love is. That’s the way God is. We all hope that. Intuitively, we trust that of God. People who love, do not use their resources and connections to avoid the pain of their loved ones. If we love someone, we’ll do anything for that person. And God? Christ the King says to you and to me. “I love you. I am with you. I am Alpha and Omega. I will strengthen you. No matter what your situation, I will be with you in the middle of your pain. I am you!” No separation. As J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “The hands of the king are the hands of a healer, and so shall the rightful king be known.”
Christ the King. Is today’s celebration about Christ being a King who is robed in glory? I suppose in a certain sense, yes. Living in a rural area we look up in the stars and marvel at God’s creation and even marvel more so of the Creator. There is so much that is more wonderful and wild than we could possibly imagine. But Christ is nearer than the stars, Christ is nearer than the sky. “Where is God in all this?” Christ is each one of us. Christ is you. Christ is me.
November 18, 2018
But the wise shall shine brightly like the splendor of the firmament. and those who lead the many to justice shall be like the stars forever.
Wisdom. Benedictine spirituality is a wisdom tradition. If you were to give wisdom a face what would that face look like? The first face I imagined was Obi-Wan Kenobi -- then Gandalf, then Dumbledore. But what do these three have in common? They’re all old guys with beards. That’s pretty narrow. I googled “wisdom images” and was happily surprised by what I saw. No old guys, but mostly feminine images for wisdom. Sophia: Greek for Wisdom.
These feminine images for wisdom appeal to me experientially in a powerful way. After Sunday Mass, back in my former monastery at Blue Cloud Abbey, SD, a lot of people would go downstairs to have coffee and cookies together. Often, I would sit with four elderly, Native American women. These were wise women to me. Why? It was because they listened to what life taught them. Their lives weren’t easy. On the reservation they had seen life at its worst — drug and alcohol abuse and a high suicide rate, especially among young people. They had seen much hardship and sorrow. But these elders, these grandmothers (in Dakota the name for grandma is, Oonchee, and I called them that, my Oonchee), these women of wisdom held their tribe together.
How? By their own example, they reminded the people of their deep and meaningful heritage. By their example and words of wisdom they reminded the people that life is fundamentally sacred and good.
And that God, the Great Creator, was with the people always. They also knew the power of humor and laughter and that life could be beautiful together. Their grief they didn’t forget; but it didn’t darken their hearts, it taught them wisdom. Wisdom comes from living and grounding oneself to what is fundamental in life — namely, the importance of community and living in a sacred way. Sounds very Benedictine!
Wisdom as feminine. Let’s take another step. What about God as feminine? When I think of God as being feminine, I think of my Oonchee. There’s a growing movement to reclaim feminine images of God. Of course, we must avoid simplistic gender stereotypes. Nevertheless, the divine and the feminine are still compelling images, although often forgotten in the Christian tradition. Jesus did call God, “Abba, Father.” But Jesus, the human face of God, also described himself as a mother. In Matthew 23 Jesus cries out, “Jerusalem! Jerusalem! How often I’ve ached to embrace your children, the way a mother hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” St. Julian of Norwich, a Doctor of the Church, called Jesus, “Mother Jesus.”
The Hebrew scriptures have many feminine images for God. In Isaiah (42:14) God, "cries out as a woman in labor." To the psalmist (131:1-2), God is a nursing woman on whom the one praying is "content as a weaned child on its mother’s breast." In Hosea (11:3-4) God claims to be a cuddling mother who “takes Israel in her arms.” In Genesis (3:21) God is a seamstress who makes clothing for both Adam and Eve. And in Proverbs, God -- she, wisdom, "is there with God 'in the beginning," (8:22-31) and, "raises her voice in the streets," and,
"is the one who welcomes the world to her table" (9: 5) shouting as she does, "Enter here! Eat my food, drink my wine." In the book of Wisdom (7:24-25), “For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness, she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God, and a pure outpouring of the glory of the Almighty.”
Clearly, after centuries of ignoring the feminine imagery and attributes given in scripture, it’s no wonder we’re also limited about who God is. And it’s not surprising that there is so much gender inequality in religion. Our images of God, then, must be inclusive, for God is both mother and father. God is infinitely more -- God is Spirit, Being, Life! God is more than any image that we can represent. The self-naming of God in Genesis, "I AM WHO I AM" – is a name without gender. The third commandment, “Do not make a graven image (a confined image), of God.”
God is always more majestic than our language. Yet the Bible gives us permission to address God using many metaphors. Some of the metaphors are inevitably gendered, yet any single image only gives us a glimpse of the breadth and glory of the Creator God who is love and is with us more closely than we can possibly imagine or ever dream.
November 11, 2018
One of the pillars of Catholic Social Teaching is the preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.
In the gospel, we witness the generosity of the poor widow. However, we may wonder what the social conditions were like that caused her to be so poor in the first place? She only had two, small coins. So, we do get a clue from earlier in the gospel -- the Scribes (religious elite) and the wealthy, “devour the houses of widows.” The powerful devour the poor and vulnerable. Her poverty was unjust. This woman should never have had so little money.
The basic moral test of our society is how our most vulnerable members are being cared for and respected.
November 4, 2018
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength
with all your mind.
Of course, love is not a one-time, slam-dunk. Love grows, love matures, love accepts challenges and ambiguities. Love is thousands of choices throughout our life. Above all, love is cultivated. When love of God is cultivated, so does our experience of God mature and broaden.
One of my earliest images of God that I can remember was when I was seven years old. The original Star Wars came to the local movie theatre for two weeks, and I saw the movie eight times. I was right there with Luke Skywalker when Obi Wan started speaking about the Force, “The Force is what gives a Jedi [our] power…It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.” That sounded like God to me. When I brought up the idea of the Force being like God to my Sunday school teacher, I think she thought I was getting away from the Sunday School lesson book a bit much. No matter…
And then the next movie, The Empire Strikes Back, and my guru, Yoda. I love that little, green guy, “For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is…Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes.” Wow! I became a 10-year-old Christian, Jedi -- I embraced it. Maybe that’s why I became a monk. I dig the robes!
So, what about today? How has my experience of God changed since I was 10? How has your experience of God changed since your childhood or even high school?
As love matures, so does love broaden -- love extends beyond ourselves. In the gospel, the Scribe wanted to know the greatest commandment. What’s the most important thing I need to get right? Jesus says what’s most important is to love God with everything we got, yes, but also to love our neighbor. Love God, love neighbor is ONE commandment. In Jesus’ own words, “there is no other commandment (singular) greater than these.”
As college students, you learn and are challenged by so much almost every day. These challenges are good – even when they expand how we experience God. A maturing love goes from beyond just “me and God” (vertical) to express practical love for our neighbor (horizontal).
And who is my neighbor? Don’t classify others in order to see who a neighbor is and who is not. You can become neighbor to whomever you meet in need -- a person you just met, your roommate, someone going through a tough time just down the hall, even someone you don’t like. And you will be neighbor if you have compassion in your heart. That is to say, if you have that capacity to suffer with someone else.
Our neighbor is not just persons. The neighbor we can love is creation, Mother Earth. To reverence and protect. Author, Larry Rasmussen, in Earth Honoring Faith writes, “The water of life is my neighbor, as is the soil-womb from which we come. The air we breathe is my neighbor.”
When we love our neighbor (and by love I don’t mean a warm, fuzzy feeling, but rather, our default way of acting), then our life is more beautifully connected with others. What I hope is for none of us to walk alone in life. Life can be difficult. It’s difficult to walk alone. You get lost. You get confused. You can walk the wrong path, or you can be walking around in a maze, or worst, you can stop because you get tired of walking in life. Always walk hand-in-hand with those who love you -- with those who give you hope. And in turn, be a source of hope for your neighbor. Even in life’s ambiguities, let us choose love and goodness to others. Sister Michaela, "Living the good life is not first about feeling good, but being good."
Love God. Love neighbor. There is no greater commandment.
A poem by John Soos:
To be of the earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed
the darkness of being planted
the struggle toward the light
the pain of growth into the light
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit
the love of being food for someone
the scattering of your seeds
the decay of the seasons
the mystery of death and
the miracle of birth.
October 28, 2018
Tonight, I’d like to speak about hope -- renewing hope during difficult times. Author Anne Lamott writes, "Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: You don't give up. You don't give up "
Hope. First of all, what is hope?
1) One way is to think of hope is like being lucky.
-"I hope I win the lottery." Even though I have a 1 in 300 million chance.
-"I hope I get an A in class." Even though I did C work.
So, this type of hope has a strong element of unpredictability. We're not surprised if our hope doesn’t come true because our hope was unlikely to become reality in the first place.
2) Christian hope, on the other hand, is hope that is based on God's promises, God's unshakable covenant. Who God is. It's based on God being able to do what God has promised to do and you and me trusting that.
Hope. The prophet Jeremiah, in today’s first reading, saw the destruction of Jerusalem and the holy temple in about 600 BC. The people of Israel were in exile. The destruction was still fresh in the memory of the people, and we can only imagine their emotional trauma. They were refugees. Under these conditions, Jeremiah’s mission was to be the voice of God, to go to the exiled tribes of Israel, to bring them hope, and to encourage them to return to their native land.
Jeremiah offered this promise: “God will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but God will console them and guide them; God will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble.”
Jeremiah offered hope that God can redeem and heal the most impossible of situations. God is ever faithful. Although they go forth weeping, carrying seed to be sown; they shall come back rejoicing, carrying their sheaves.
What gives me hope every day is God’s presence and providence — knowing that God is going to give me the strength for whatever I face, knowing that nothing is a surprise to God. God says to us today, "I can handle it. Place your hope in me.”
As an old revival song goes:
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus' name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
All other ground is sinking sand.
What gives me hope is witnessing God alive in the people around me.
The sisters here at St. Benedict’s Monastery! For their witness to justice, wise living, and great sense of humor and play. I regard many of them as my mentors.
My brother monks at St. John’s Abbey -- their generosity. Who show up with me for community prayer, our voices singing to God prayer and praise. What’s more hopeful than singing!
The Bennies and Johnnies in Campus Ministry, who, despite all the scandal in the Church by priests and bishops, still have a passion to live as the Body of Christ. Mad. Sad. Bennie article in “The Record”.
For those who embody our Benedictine values of: community, hospitality, humility, listening, stewardship of creation, encouraging us to see the face of Christ in our neighbor.
What gives me hope today is all of you, gathered around word and sacrament, standing on the Solid Rock who is Jesus Christ. Who is present to us, right now, for Christ has promised, “Where two or three are gathered together, there am I with them.”
October 21, 2018
It was a beautiful night just a few weeks ago. A few of my brother monks and myself were near the monk dock on the north side of Lake Sag. The stars were brightly shining, and we had a warm campfire going. One brother had a guitar, some had drums, another a fiddle, I had my Indian flutes. The guitarist strummed, and we all began singing:
Yeah, yeah, God is great.
Yeah, yeah, God is good.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us,
just a stranger on the bus,
trying to make her way home.
I love that song! What if God was one of us? Our heart desires that such a thing could really be true. What if God was one of us? What would God be like? What would God want us to be like?
James and John in the gospel got God wrong. It’s revealing what they wanted from Jesus. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” They wanted to sit. To sit and have power. Now that’s pretty self-indulgent. I don’t know where they got that idea about power. They didn’t get it from Jesus. Jesus goes out! Anytime Jesus sits, he’s not there to be adored by people coming to him. He’s sitting eating and drinking with tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
What if God was one of us? What would God be like? What would God want us to be like? Here’s a story.
A certain community was going through a crisis. People weren’t kind to one another. Downright nasty. A lot of anger. They rarely spoke to one another. And when they did, they argued a lot and they loved to shame each other. One day a Holy Woman appeared in the community -- on a motorcycle, in fact. What a sight! She got off her motorcycle, stood up and proclaimed, “I have a secret for all of you! A wonderful secret! One person living in your community, yes, this community, is actually the Christ, the Messiah, but living in such a way that no one can recognize.” She then got back on her motorcycle and with a roar of the combustion engine and the smell of burnt rubber, quickly peeled away.
The whole community stood there, mouths wide open. The Christ! Here? In our community!? Who could it be! From that day, the community began to treat one another with greater respect and humility, even awe -- knowing that the person they are speaking to could be the Christ. They began to show more love for one another, their common life became more generous and their common dialogue more respectful. They took joy in serving one another. Slowly people began to take notice of the new spirit in the community. This is how we’re supposed to live together! And you know what? Someone living in our community is actually the Christ! How great is that!
What if our Great God was one of us? What would God be like? What would God want us to be like?
October 14, 2018
Saint Oscar Romero
Today in Rome, Pope Francis, in the name of the Church, declared the martyr, Oscar Romero, a Saint.
It’s amazing how the gospel of Jesus Christ can transform a person! No one would have guessed Romero would be converted from a shy, predictable and ho-hum Archbishop into a bold advocate for the poor -- a courageous voice for justice and a moral leader for the nation of El Salvador.
-Romero publicly challenged the corrupt wealthy, the drug-lords, those who oppressed and murdered the poor.
-Romero called for a non-violent movement in the tradition of: Martin Luther King; Gandhi; Buddhist monk Maha Ghosananda; Catholics, Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.
-Romero was martyred while presiding at Eucharist on March 24, 1980.
Quote: A church that doesn't provoke any change, a gospel that doesn't unsettle, a word of God that doesn't get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn't touch the real problems of the society — what gospel is that? Let us not tire of preaching love; it is the force that will overcome the world. Let us not tire of preaching love. Though we see that waves of violence succeed in drowning the fire of Christian love, love must win out; it is the only thing that can.
Saint Oscar Romero, pray for us!
September 30, 2018
Cut off in traffic. Made me angry enough to want to do it myself, “Well, if that person can do it, so can I! No, Mike, that’s not the good way to be.”
It’s the source of human aggression -- believing that I’m more important than everyone else. Even in the ways we drive. Or in debate and discussion to cut a person off when they’re speaking. The person who says the most words loudest wins, right? If I make myself first, I’ll be better off, right?!
That’s the American Dream, right? To be “better off.” But, the "new better off," as some have recently called it, is less about investing in “me first,” and more about investing in community -- whether that's relatives living under one roof; a dorm; a college community; a monastic community; 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, putting ego first in life has often made us dumb about reaching out to others, and letting others reach out to us. The most rewarding wealth is found in our relationship with God and with those around us. Love God, love neighbor! Don’t cut God from your life or your neighbor from your life; rather, cut off that which impedes you from being a good person.
At St. John’s Abbey a number of us have coffee together after Morning Prayer. As conversations tend to do, they head south. That is, conversation turns to murmuring and complaining. We have a fix though. Someone interjects, “Up, up, up!”
So, if you want to be “better off,” offer peace today. Bring a smile to someone’s face today. Say words of healing today. Offer a word of gratitude to God today. Forgive today. Love today!
Pope Francis, in his document, "Amoris Laetitia" (The Joy of Love) writes, "Love needs time and space; everything else is secondary. Time is needed to talk things over, to embrace leisurely, to share plans, to listen to one other and look in each other's eyes, to appreciate one another and to build a stronger relationship.”
Cutting off stuff frees us by letting go of what doesn’t add value to our life—whether physical object, habit, or emotional distraction—and replacing it with what makes your world and life freer.
The words of Jesus in the gospel are not literal (please, don’t cut off any body part), but they are exaggerated to make a strong point. Cut off that which makes your life a hell on earth. Jesus uses the word, “Gehenna.” Gehenna was the name of the local garbage dump near Jerusalem where the garbage was always smoldering and on fire. Jesus, in other words is saying, “Whatever is garbage in your life, get rid of it.”
The core concept is this: If we continually cut off what doesn’t help us, we’ll be left with more of what does—more peace, space, sacredness, and time to make our relationships with God, with ourselves, and one another right and good. Now that’s being better off!
September 23, 2018
They were afraid to question him. They were afraid to question Jesus.
I am sure many of us feel uncomfortable to admit that sometimes we are afraid to question God. Why, God? How? When? What?? I mean, isn’t faith supposed to be about, “God, you’re awesome! God you always make everything clear! Also, the stars, the universe…super job, Thumbs up!” Exclamation point! But what about, “Why, O God?” Is that ok? The disciples were afraid to question Jesus.
Honest faith, honest prayer gives me permission to tell God exactly how I feel, even if I may cringe and are fearful at expressing it so raw and seemingly so untrusting of God. But, questions are a way of clearing the air between God and myself when real doubts arise. Question mark faith is, humanly speaking, very honest. What is more valuable in our faith and prayer life than honesty? Good prayer is honest prayer. God calls us “friends” and friendship is all about honesty. God can handle questions.
The Psalms, for instance, are the bread and butter of our Benedictine prayer life. I did a search of all 150 Psalms. In them there are 152 question marks and 200 exclamation points. If your own prayer has more question marks than exclamation points, fine. It’s in the Psalms, after all, 152 times. That’s good, honest prayer. Don’t be afraid.
To be transparent, I question God also. Lately, my questions have been: Why is a close family member suffering from depression? Why did my sister have to go through chemo and radiation because of breast cancer? Why, God, didn’t you create all people to be just more naturally kind to one another?
“They were afraid to question him.” What follows in the gospel, is telling. The disciples argued, “who was the greatest.” It happens that we tend to look down on others when we are so unsure of ourselves. Judgement often follows fear.
Jesus then turns the conversation from, “who is the greatest” to “being a servant of all.” When we question God; when we question life, the universe, and everything, we may be tempted toward self-pity or we turn on other people. Questions will arise, for sure. Serious questions. That’s fine. That’s honest.
What I hope is for you all not to walk alone in life. Life can be difficult. It’s difficult to walk alone. You get lost. You get confused. You can walk the wrong path, or you can be walking around in circles, in a maze, or worst, you can stop because you get tired of walking in life. Always walk hand-in-hand with those who love you -- with those who give you hope. And in turn, be a source of hope for others. Even in our questioning, especially in life’s ambiguities, let us choose love and goodness to others. Don’t be afraid!
A poem by John Soos:
To be of the earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed
the darkness of being planted
the struggle toward the light
the pain of growth into the light
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit
the love of being food for someone
the scattering of your seeds
the decay of the seasons
the mystery of death and
the miracle of birth.
September 16, 2018
Take up your cross. Take up your cross!
This is the opposite way we normally think! Jesus flips common sense. Isn’t saving one’s life all about being free of what’s heavy and difficult?! Take up your cross?! Why?! Because to carry a cross is to carry a higher purpose, it’s to take a risk. The willingness to carry a cross is to have a goal in mind -- even the promise of something amazingly great.
Why carry a cross? The motivation is important. Often, we do things because we want to be happy. Simply happy. Everyone wants to be happy. We want others to be happy But, what is lasting happiness?
Spiritual masters of many traditions have posited two types of happiness: Pleasure and Higher Purpose.
1) Pleasure: This type of happiness is about always chasing the next pleasurable distraction. Pleasures are often good, but it’s a difficult type of happiness to maintain because it’s very temporary by nature. Pleasure comes and pleasure goes.
2) Higher Purpose: This type of happiness is about being committed to something that has significant meaning for you — something bigger and greater than oneself.
One compelling feature about these two types of happiness is their varying sustainability. The happiness that arises from pleasure is highly unsustainable. Once the pleasurable stimulus ceases, then your happiness returns to your default level (Woo Hoo! Häagen-Daz ice cream. Eat, eat, happy, happy. 1/2 hour later, back to normal or “Oh, my aching stomach!”). Been there, done that.
Happiness arising from higher purpose, in contrast, is highly sustainable and is the most gratifying. It lasts! Higher purpose is a form of happiness that has an altruistic and selfless origin. It’s not just about me. Higher purpose, carrying a cross, brings others into my life.
Easier said than done. Like the gospel, there is Peter. Peter who rebukes Jesus. Peter who wants to play it safe. Peter who can’t see the value of the cross. Who is the Peter in your life? Your family or friends who think you shouldn’t take risks? Maybe it’s Peter in the back of your own mind who accuse, “You’ve failed before, you’ll do it again. You’ve dropped a class. Others are smarter, more charismatic, better looking, etc., etc., etc. Just more…than you.”
The words of Jesus are strong, we need them, “Get behind me Satan! Get behind me accuser. Get behind me fearful thoughts. I am carrying my cross which is my higher purpose.”
In the news lately, we’ve heard of a woman named Jocelyn Bell Burnell. In 1967, when she was a 24-year-old grad student, she discovered a new type of star we now call a pulsar. That discovery was awarded a Nobel Prize. However, since she was just a young student, and a woman, she did not get any credit for the discovery. It was only recently that she was credited with the discovery and awarded three million dollars in the Breakthrough Prize. Bell Burnell’s representatives also stressed the importance of her teaching and leadership contributions in astronomy. Over the past five decades, for instance, she has headed the Royal Astronomical Society and served as the first female president of both the Institute of Physics and The Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Bell Burnell has since announced that she will be donating the three million dollars in order to establish a special scholarship fund for women, especially underrepresented groups and refugee students, who are interested in pursuing a career in physics. Wow!
Conviction is the seed of happiness. Struggle and failure are the building blocks of higher purpose. The cross is the way to glory and life. If your idea of life is to always know where you are and to be inside your zone of competence, you never do crazy, new stuff. You have to tell all those play-it-safe voices, whether it is your own or others, “Get behind me! Get behind me!”
September 9, 2018
My sisters and brothers, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.
Showing partiality means that we favor one person over another -- showing favoritism. In the context of the Letter of James, there's a warning against favoring the rich over the poor. James is saying, when you come together, treat everyone as equals, treat all people as your sister and your brother. Here at St. Ben's and St. John's, it's perhaps easier to befriend and eat with those who are most similar to oneself. However, our schools and the school of life calls us to befriend diversity.
I love it when diverse people come together. At St. John's Abbey during our meals, it's a joy for me to eat with a diverse group of my brother monks who are attending school here from other parts of the world. These monks are from Mexico, Korea, Vietnam, China, Tanzania, even Wisconsin (ha). It's very catholic, and catholic means, "here comes everybody!"
There's a beautiful promise from the prophet Isiah, chapter 25, "On this mountain (symbol for the presence/abode of God) the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich foods for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine - the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain God will destroy the shroud that diveds all peoples, the veil that covers all nations; God will swallow up death forever."
This passage is deeply embedded in the spiritual imagination. The Great Banquet of Heaven where all people are invited and where division, fear, and hatred are ended! What will that banquet be like? Like an Olive Garden commercial, people laughing with, I mean really endless pasta and breadsticks? Or will it be more magical like a feast at the school of Hogwarts? We don't know. First Corinthians 2, "No eye has seen, nor ear has heard, what God has prepared for those who love God." Meaning -- it will be better than we can imagine.
God prepares a feast for all (dict: all means all) people and God destroys the veil between peoples. In the banquet of heaven, we'll all be together. No partiality. No, wealthy here and poor there; no people of one skin color here and another skin color there; no Christian here and Muslim/Jew there. All people will be together -- the segregation is done, over. The veil is removed, the shroud destroyed. Alleluia!
If our hope is that we all eat together on God's mountain, if that's what God is ultimately going to create, why wait till then? Why not live that promise today!
As Jesus did in the gospel, so may Jesus open our ears to hear our neighbor. May Jesus open our mouth so that we may speak to our neighbour!
My brothers and sisters, show no partiality. Show no partiality in the classroom. Show no partiality in the dorms. Show no partilaity on the Link. Show no partiality eating together in Gorecki or the Reef. Eat and drink together in your diveristy. Lose your ego. Lose your fear. Let the banquet start today. Let God's mountain be here at St. Joe and Collegeville.
September 2, 2018
World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation
Have you noticed something beautiful this week? I was here at St. Ben’s a couple nights ago, that time of day which photographers call “the golden hour.” That time when the sun is low on the horizon and light caresses creation. The sun was shining through an old tree and it was like a Saintly halo encompassed the tree. I had a strong experience of beauty and the sacredness of this place.
One of our schools’ Benedictine Values is, “We reverence all creation.” Reverence. That’s a strong word.
Pope Francis wrote the encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” about three years ago. It’s a tour de force, a call to action to renew humanity’s relationship and reverence with creation.
“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 challenge for us is always self-absorption. Our opportunity is communion, going beyond ourselves -- paying attention, taking joy in, and loving the world we live in.
Pope Francis writes again, “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.” I love that!
Have you noticed something beautiful this week? Take some time to really notice the world. Take a long look at the world. Amazing! Pick up a handful of earth. Give it a good smell – a sacred aroma! You are creation also. 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.”
You are Bennies and Johnnies. You’re smart, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Sustaining and honoring the environment needs your intelligence, your creativity, your voice. Saint Benedict, in his Rule, chapter 3, 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!
What could we do here at St Ben’s and St. John’s?
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, of course.
B. In what ways can all of us strongly promote making our campuses more sustainable? The CSB sustainability website is very informative. Sustainability pledge.
C. Eating on campus? 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. I need to do this!
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 who is present in 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.”
Here at this Eucharist, we do celebrate life. We offer to God fruits of creation and work of human hands -- bread and wine. The Spirit consecrates, and bread and wine become the sacrament of our salvation.