Fr. Michael's Sunday Homilies

May 9, 2021

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

When I first think of laying down one’s life, I think of a one-time event like taking a bullet for someone or pushing someone away, so you get hit by the falling piano. Literally, physically dying for another. But when I think about it more, what if laying down own’s life is something we do every day for one another? What if laying down one’s life is our default way of doing our life?

Let me offer you an image of what I mean. I imagine this way of laying down one’s life is like spreading out a diner table for a great feast for others -- “This is my life for you.”

Just a few weeks ago, I visited my sister and brother-in-law in Maple Lake. Because of Covid, it had been months since my last visit. Before our vaccinations, we were careful because my sister is a breast cancer survivor and has immune deficiency. She cooked a great feast for us and even though there was only three of us, she literally emptied her kitchen cupboards and made everything. She made so much delicious food, so much more than she needed to make. Wow, what a feast! Since I hadn’t seen her for months, and I got my belly full, I just cried with happiness. The meal, to me, felt sacramental.

What if making a meal like that and spreading it out for others is like how we lived our life? Everything out of your cupboards for others! Nothing held back. Cook up a feast! “This is my life for you.”

Today being Mother’s Day, I believe we should speak about Mary, the Mother of God -- the mother that we all share together. Remember what the angel said to Mary, “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus…The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” What an announcement!

Even though the scriptures said that Mary “was troubled” her reply was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your will, O God.”

I believe there is a delightful recklessness, in Mary's "behold."  She was indeed troubled at the message of the angel, yet her self-gift still happened. In our life, also, there needs to be moments of great courage. Saying “yes” to God.

Mary is simply a woman whose acceptance of the will of God changed the trajectory of humanity. The implications for the rest of us are great. The implications for women are particularly impacting. If God worked through one woman to bring redemption, how is it that anyone can argue that God does not go on working through other women as well?

The case for devotion to Mary is a clear one: she is the mother, the woman, the human participant in the work of salvation by Jesus. She is the one who heard the Word of God in her heart and followed it to the end, whatever the cost to herself. By her unconditional “yes,” she became the great “yes” of God’s will that each of us would like to be. Her life belongs not simply to herself but the life of the world as well. That’s what mothers do!

Mary emptied the cupboards of her life for us all. Our table is overflowing. In Mary’s own words, “All generations will call me blessed.” We too are blessed as we lay down our lives for one another, as we spread the table of our life for others. Really, what is more important, what is more essential to our life, than love.

Mary, Mother of God, mother of us all, pray for us!

MAY 2, 2021

In the Gospel, Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” To me, being from Minnesota, the image of a vine is not very familiar. I haven’t been around a lot of grape vines. I like the image of an apple tree. I’ve been around apple trees all my life.

Apple trees are beautiful, especially around harvest when they are loaded with ripe apples. In our lives, we too experience real growth in our life. That is, we experience good fruit from what we accomplish. To nurture and encourage this, the College of St. Benedict was established. From your education, the sap is flowing and you’re a great blessing because you’re willing to study hard to produce fruit — abundant fruit that will make the world be a better place. I would say, take great joy and excitement in that.

There will be other times in life, however, when your familiar branches will be cut back and pruned.  It could be a change in your major or future career, the loss of a loved one, sickness or injury, leaving friends behind, moving to a new state, or the anxiety – “What am I going to do next?” Basically, it’s the change from the predictable and comfortable to the unpredictable and the challenging. I invite you to look at your life with some wisdom.

I believe if we ever get stuck with the way our tree, our life, should be — the attitude of, “This is my tree and it’s going to stay that way” then we’ll experience a fair amount of unhappiness and frustration. The more we can be at ease with the changes of growth, fruit-bearing, and with pruning, the more life will be satisfying and beautiful.

In other words, if we think life is only going to be all about growth and fruitfulness, we’ll be frustrated when eventual loss and pruning does come. “Look at my poor tree!” Life is more unpredictable and mysterious than only growth or only pruning. Life changes, often unexpectedly. Be resilient!

Think of the apple tree of your life as a tree in the four seasons of Minnesota. There will be times of, the potential of early spring buds, times of growing and harvesting fruit; times of dormancy; and times of pruning.

But life is really all about the true vine, the true trunk, it’s all about our deeper, spiritual life. Jesus said to his disciples and he says to us: “I am the true vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me and I in them will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.”

And so that’s the very big reason why we need to remain connected to God — the vine, the trunk, the One alone who doesn’t change. The Eternal One.

No matter where we are in life, whatever phase of life we’re in, we can absolutely be connected with God today, right here, right now. God is everywhere faithful. Gospel: ”I am the vine, and you are the branches.”  That’s an intimate connection!

I would say, let the love of God grow strong in your life. Let God’s roots grow deep within you. In life, as we experience both growth and pruning, and all the in-between, stay connected with God, the strong trunk, whose roots are deep. Let that connection, that communion, become the most fundamental and life-long connection you will ever keep. There is joy there, there is beauty there, to God be the glory in all things!

April 25, 2021

“I am the Good Shepherd…my sheep will hear my voice.”

Listen. Listen is an important Benedictine word! The first word in St. Benedict’s Rule. “Listen, my daughter, my son to the wisdom of the Master, and pay attention with the ear of your heart.”

Beautiful things will happen to our lives when we listen. To listen to the voice of God! On Earth Day a few of us monks watched a documentary entitled, “The Year Earth Changed.” It was about last year, especially when the stay-at-home policies were in order. When we, humans, stayed home and traveled a lot less, there was less noise in the world, and less noise effected animals. One scene was of a Cheetah mom and her cubs. When the mamma cheetah went hunting, she hid her cubs in tall grass. When she made a kill some distance away, she would call out to her cubs basically saying, “Supper’s ready!” But with noisy safari jeeps and obnoxious people with cameras, the cubs could not hear her voice and would not be able to eat. That all changed in 2020 when we all stayed home.

I say this because often there is exterior and interior noise and clamor that prevent us from listening and hearing to what will give us life. Namely, the voice of God.  I think it was St. John Chrysostom who said, “Open your heart, open your soul. Let your life be like a garden, a garden where God can walk.”

Listening, for me, is not really about listening to God giving me instructions. “Mike, thou shall do this. Mike, thou shall not do that!” Rather, listening is about inviting a friend into my life. The friend we have in God, the God who is our life. Opening the door to the garden.

How are you better able to listen? Is it walking in nature? Sitting on a bench near a lake? Is it during morning coffee? Just stopping your life for a time? For me, I listen best to God when I’m swimming. Having my body immersed in water is like being immersed in God. I listen to God best being in water. How do you listen to God? What noise prevents you, what opens you to listening to God’s voice?

God’s voice is a beautiful voice! This is what St. Benedict writes, in his Rule, about the voice of God, “Children, it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep, and having opened our eyes to the divine light, let us hear with attentive ears what the divine voice calls out to us saying, ‘If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.’ What, dearest ones, can be sweeter to us than this voice of God inviting us. See, in loving kindness, God shows us the way of life!” 

April 18, 2021

A story: I'm a believer myself, and the strangest thing happened at my place. I had a visit from the Christ! I knew he was coming; I prepared for it and gave him a very warm welcome. We had supper together, he likes baked fish, and he wanted to know all about me – my joys, my struggles. But for some reason I was a bot evasive, just talking surface level. He stayed overnight but slipped away very early in the morning. Later, when I got up, I found graffiti all over my walls. Imagine! And do you know what Christ wrote?! One word, “TRIVIA,” all over the walls, floor, and ceiling. TRIVIA. TRIVIA. TRIVIA. I was so angry. But when I calmed down, I looked about and realized, "Yes, its true." So much of what I saw was trivia, and most of what I heard was trivia. But what was worse, when I closed my eyes, all inside me was trivia. So, I left my Trivia Place and journeyed to the Deep Place. When I arrived, an elder took me inside the Deep Place and showed me around. "Take anything you want," she said. I looked around and finally chose The Cup of Connection; and with it I am drinking deeply of what truly matters.

The Place of Trivia. Weve all been there, perhaps much of our lives those trivial places that don’t really satisfy us, but we seem to spend way too much energy there. Let us journey, instead, to the Deep Place and drink from The Cup of Connection. Because life should be about giving to your life that which satisfies your life.  Joy comes not from cultivating trivia, but from cultivating connection.

In all the Gospels, that’s what Jesus was trying again and again to teach his disciples, “Peace be with you! Be connected to one another, be connected with me. I’m alive! I’ve defeated death.”

When Jesus appears to the disciples in today’s gospel, it seems surprising that Jesus wouldn’t have just said, “Look at me, see my face, you’ll recognize me by my face.” Rather, Jesus says, “’Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I, myself. Touch me and see’…and as Jesus said this, he showed them his hands and his feet.” Isn’t that what connection is all about? Connecting with those people in our lives that we love enough to show them our wounds and those who love us enough for them to show us their wounds?

Real connection with others comes when we can share our wounds and accept those wounds in one another. If we’re always trying to look good and perfect, our connection with others will be trivia, trivia, trivia — nothing deep and meaningful will be shared. So, there’s a beautiful, trusting intimacy here in the gospel — “Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself.”

Jesus Christ, the one Alive forever, desires that we too have life in him, today and forever. And so…

        Because He lives, I can face tomorrow
        Because He lives, all fear is gone
        Because I know He holds my future
        And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

April 11, 2021

Easter is a frightening prospect. For Thomas, for the women at the tomb, for the disciples hidden behind locked doors, for the two walking on the road to Emmaus, the only thing more terrifying than a world with Jesus dead was one in which he was alive. What do I mean?

We know what to do with grief and despair. We have a place for it. We may feel stuck with it. We know how to look around at racism, the struggles of families at the border, and feel darkness. We know what it’s like to watch the body count rise after a mass shooting, only to have the country shrug because we’re too addicted to our violence.

Hope is much harder to come by. When the women went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, they did not go to the tomb looking for hope. They were searching for a place to grieve. They wanted to be left alone in despair.

The terrifying prospect of Easter is that God called these disciples to return to the same world that crucified Jesus. But, with a very dangerous gift: hope in the power of God, the unending reservoir of forgiveness and an abundance of love. It would make them seem like fools. Who could believe such a thing?

Christians, at our best, are the fools who dare believe in God’s power to call dead things to life. (x2)

That’s what happens in the gospel today!  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 with them, calling them to an unlocked, new-life proclaiming life. The same is true with us! This same Jesus still speaks those powerful and glorious words, “Believe! Don’t be afraid. I am the first, I am the last, the one who lives. Once I was dead, but now I am alive forever and ever.”

 

Happy Easter! What if the most reliable way to know God is not through a sin and punishment program, but through a person. What if the most reliable way to know God is to look at how God chose to reveal God's self in Jesus?

Because if Jesus is alive, forever, that changes everything. The God of Easter, the God who brings life out of death doesn't want to make you impressive. This God isn't satisfied with making you good or nice. If you think that's what resurrection looks like, you might be wrong. Because God isn't about making you spiffy. God isn't about making you pleasant. God is about making you new. Unlocked room, new.

May this celebration of Eucharist empower all of us to experience the new, Jesus’ life which is ours as the baptized! Christians, at our best, are the fools who dare believe in God’s power to call dead things to life. 

March 21, 2021

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.

In the summer, I love to work in our abbey garden. Until the harvest, gardening is all about planting, weeding, and watering. Weeding is pretty satisfying. You weed, and all that remains are the vegetables. Watering too, is an obvious work, you pick up the hose, turn the water on, and water.

Planting seeds is more mysterious. You entrust the seed into the darkness of the earth -- in the garden, the field, the orchard. I join a short prayer with each seed planted and covered with earth, “Be still and know that I am God.” Try a short prayer while doing repetitive work, like doing dishes, “Be still…”

Seeds. Seeds remain dormant until conditions are right for germination. Seeds need water, oxygen, and proper temperature in order to germinate.  When a seed is exposed to the proper conditions, water and oxygen are taken in through the seed coat. The embryo's cells then start to grow. Amazing! The seed is no longer a seed!

Jesus often used the language of creation in parables. Our life is like a seed. Simply the seed is designed to become a plant. A seed must die to just being a seed. So, a seed is entrusted, is entrusted, to the earth in mystery. And what I mean by mystery is not (shrug shoulders), “I don’t know how a seed grows?” Rather, mystery is the reverence and the awe of life!

Our life is full of happy mystery. The purpose of our life is not to solve the mystery, but to deepen it. The focus of our life is mystery, the process of life is mystery, the outcome of our life is mystery. The reason is simple, since the purpose of our life is to encounter God, who is the source of mystery, the nature of life must be a mystery and start to finish.

To be a seed planted in the earth is to be planted in mystery.

Our life is a seed that has to die to just being a seed. We must entrust ourselves to mystery. Entrust ourselves to that which is will make us grow -- be that: our family, our friends, our work, our vocation. Ultimately, we entrust ourselves to God.

Entrust. Take this word with you if you forget all the others I say today. Entrust. To entrust your life, is the seed of vocation. I understand vocation not as a goal to be achieved but as the mystery to be received.

Our vocation, our entrusting ourselves, our being a seed that dies, is not some fully formed thing that you hopefully find and stay there. It's much more dynamic. Whatever you do you can continually look anew 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.

What do you entrust your life to?

Who do you entrust your life to?

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 love you -- with those who entrust themselves to you.

Poet, John Soos writes:

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.

March 14, 2021

light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light… whoever lives the truth comes to the light.

One year ago, yesterday, March 13, all students at CSB/SJU were told you had to leave campus. Just a week before that we thought, “We won’t close campus, that’s crazy. Or, if we go home, we’ll be back in a month.” March 13, 2020 was a hard day. I remember driving around St. Ben’s and walking around St. John’s on the 13th and there was your family, helping you pack your things to leave. It looked like it was the end of the school year or even graduation. Normally a happy sight!

Those of you who were seniors in high school have your own tough stories: your parents scrambling to figure out what learning at home meant, not seeing your regular friends. No graduation, really.

But others have flourished. Perhaps the introverts did better than the extroverts. There were those who tried to learn something new, create new things, FaceTime or Zoom with friends and family members that they’ve not connected with in a while. Or you’ve made new friends. I’ve been enjoying recently Zoom nature seminars giving by experts in their field on squirrels, turtles, and lichens. Amazing creatures.

The doctors, nurses, and medical researchers are, to me, are the great heroes.  We were told, “It takes at least five years to create a vaccine. But with determination and scientific collaboration, we got a vaccine in one year! We need to reach out and still support our medical personnel. After such hard work and emotional trauma, they must not be forgotten. 

We’re still in Covid and there is a lot that’s hard, but we do live in hope as vaccinations and social distancing are working. The experts are saying, “Just hold on for a bit longer.” Tough! I’m getting pretty squirrely!

I bring this reality up because we need to grieve, we need to grieve, and we need to be people of hope.

I hope we have learned through the pandemic the growing value of community. We are our sister’s and our brother’s keeper. What will be our new normal? What wisdom have we, and are, gaining?

Our motto at CSB is “Sic luceat lux vestra”

“Let Your Light Shine.” A better translation of the Latin is EVEN so, let your light shine. Even so, to me means, even in the darker times, or because of the dark time, let your light shine.

Jesus speaks of light in the gospel today. “light came into the world, but people preferred darkness to light…but whoever lives the truth comes to the light.”

Choose light, not darkness.

What has been light for you during this pandemic?

One student said that it made her had that another student opened the door for her and better yet, introduced himself and asked her name.

For me, we had a very happy Morning Prayer yesterday morning. Because of vaccinations, our elderly brothers from St. Raphael Hall (our in-house “retirement” area) were able to join the community in the church for the first time in about a year. They got an applause of welcome!

This poem by Norwegian poet, Olav Haug, has given me light.

This is the dream we carry through the world

that something fantastic will happen

that it has to happen

that time will open by itself

that doors shall open by themselves

that the heart will find itself open

that mountain springs will jump up

that the dream will open by itself

that we one early morning

will slip into a harbor

that we have never known.

Bennies and Johnnies, Even so! Let your light shine!

 MARCH 7, 2021

“You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

A few days ago, I went to IT Services to get my Outlook email fixed on both my iPhone and iPad. I got both devices just this past year, so brand-new stuff. The student who was helping me said, “Wow, I’ve never seen a monk with such nice stuff.” I felt a embarrassed and replied, “Well, wait five years and I’ll still have these.” I feel grateful to have new stuff right now, but I might be coveting my neighbor’s iPhone in five years.

Covet. That’s kind of an old-fashioned word, isn’t it? But the emotion of wanting something which someone has is certainly not old fashioned. We can want others: friends, their vehicle, their clothes, their talent, their looks. Basically, what covet means is, “I’m not satisfied with myself.”

Saint Benedict, in his Rule chapter 33 and 34 on “Private ownership” and “distribution of good according to need,” knew that his monks, and to extend that, to all of us, have different needs. Some need more, some less. Benedict writes though in a different way than we would think. Basically, Benedict says that for those who need more it should be considered as a weakness, and for those who need less, they should thank God and don’t worry about it.

In our materialistic society, we normally think that those who have more somehow deserved it and they’re really happier because they have more. Benedict’s view is just the opposite, if you need less, you’re better off.

Individual needs can, of course, get way out of balance.  Our Catholic Social Teaching has been very critical of the vast chasm between the rich and the poor. Saint Ambrose, in the 4th century said this, “It is not from your own possessions that you give to the poor; it is a portion of their own that you are restoring to them. The Earth belongs to all. So, when you give to the poor, you give only what was theirs in the first place.”

In today’s gospel, we see a Jesus who is pretty ticked off! Where did our gentle Jesus go? The Temple had become a noisy marketplace. Instead of people coming to experience the presence and power of God in that sacred place, they were met with animal vendors who sold the animals at a large price for those who wanted to make sacrifice. People were coming from different parts of the area and would have to exchange one form of currency for another. The sacred and reflective just became clamor and transaction. Jesus did something about that -- he drove them out!

Jesus clears the Temple, so Jesus desires to clear out the Temple within each one of us. The God who spoke those strong words 3500 years ago, “You shall not covet” is the same God, in the face of Jesus Christ who says, “Clear out all the garbage in you. Clear out that which really doesn’t satisfy you. Clear out that which you know will not bring you happiness.”

For St. Benedict was really against grumbling. In the same chapters I mention in the Rule Benedict simply writes, “Bless God and do not grumble.” If we grumble, we will think that our life is not satisfying enough. If we bless God, we will find even in the small things in our life, reasons for gratefulness and we experience ourselves as more blessed.

Second Sunday in Lent

February 28. 2021

In today’s gospel, Jesus is transfigured before the disciples. Not surprising, the disciples wanted to stay right there; “Lord, it is good that we are here.“ We don’t blame them! The disciples saw a whole, new Jesus --  like window shades opened for the very first time to a brilliant sunrise in the spring. Joy!

Lord, it is good that we are here. Admittedly, because of Covid restrictions, it’s sometimes difficult to say nowadays, “Lord, it’s good to be here.” I’m thinking specifically about Covid protocols -- social distancing, masks, and limiting who we see or not see, and where we can, or cannot go.

It’s easy to rather say, “Lord, it will be good to be here when all this pandemic stuff is over.”

In our liturgy team meeting, one of our students said, “We can be grateful. We can we be happy where we are. Right here.

But how? Jesus. Simply Jesus. This same Jesus, who blew the socks off the disciple by the transfiguration, is here, right now, within each one of us.  Rather than a homily, tonight, I want to guide you through the Christian practice of contemplative prayer. I want to lead you in prayer. I believe, this will help you claim Jesus within.

(Sit)

Ok, a fundamental. As Christians, we believe that God is everywhere. There’s no where we can go that God is not there also. So, prayer is not trying to make God closer to us. It’s not a prayer that we try to get “good spiritual feelings.” Simply, God is here, and we’re in God’s presence. So, don’t think of prayer as success or failure. Because God has begun a relationship with us, God has made our prayer “successful” for us. God always gives Godself to us. Contemplative Prayer is simply our response by giving ourselves to God.

 

  1. Choose a word or short phrase as a focus word. Keep this word, don’t change it. Jesus, Be still, thank you, Our Father, peace. Light of Christ.

 

  1. Sitting comfortably and attentively and with eyes closed, take a few, deep breaths (oxygen gives us energy), then silently pray that word or phrase as a focus that you’re in God’s presence, then let the word go.

 

  1. When you find yourself quite distracted, no problem, just gently return to that word or phrase and bring your attention to God having this attitude: God is here. God is giving Godself to me. I now give myself to God. If you’re distracted 100 times, again, no problem, that gives you 100 times to return to God.

  1. Time yourself. Tonight, we’ll do 3 minutes. If this becomes something you like, you may find 20 minutes a good time for you.

Practice: “Christ’s light” Christ’s light in your:

        1) chest, strong, bright, radiant

        2) Christ’s light in your arms, your hands, your fingers. Christ’s light in your legs, your feet, your toes.

        3) Christ’s light in head, and now your face.

        4) You are filled with the light of Christ. God is everywhere. God is in you. Lord, it is good for me to be here.

First Sunday in Lent

February 21. 2021

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert

When I first read this gospel, I had this image. Jesus and the Spirit driving in a car together. They arrived at their desert destination, Jesus got out and the Spirit said, “see you in 40 days” and rode off towards the sunset. That didn’t happen.

But how did the Spirit speak to Jesus to urge him to go out into the desert? Was it a clear voice? A feeling in Jesus’ gut he couldn’t shake? Maybe the Spirit spoke through his friends or his mother, Mary? Maybe the Spirit spoke to Jesus in nature -- the wind blowing in the trees? How does the Spirit speak to us? The Spirit is the same Spirit! My experience is that the Spirit speaks to us in many, many ways. Quiet and intuitive. A eureka moment that hits us between the eyes. Through our conversations with others. Many ways.

Jesus heard the Spirit. Going out to the desert was something Jesus had to do even though It was difficult. The Spirit compels. The Spirit compels us. We feel a strong pull, “You gotta do this.”

This was the case of a fellow graduate student I knew. She was discerning going into ministry in the Church -- a theology teacher. Yet she had fought against the Spirit. She had other plans. I saw her one day on a bench near Lake Sagatagan, arguing outload. Ok, I’m not recommending this discernment tool -- she was drinking directly from a bottle of whisky. I slowly approached her and asked, “Are you ok?” She replied, “I’m giving God one more chance to change God’s mind.”

I think the Spirit is also sometimes less direct and gentler. One of my favorite childhood memories is visiting my grandma when I was a child. She only lived a block away, so I would often visit her. My loving image of grandma is her making chicken gravy (the best!). She would make us lunch and she asked about my day, how I was, ever so happily curious and she would give her own, gently advice to me. 

That’s a good image of the Spirit to me. The Spirit as grandma. In the New Testament, the Greek word for Spirit is pneuma which is feminine. And the Greek word for Wisdom is Sophia.

Maybe you’ve had one of those God moments where you were at the right place at the right time. How did that happen? One of my brother monks told me this recently. A couple weeks ago he was in his office and felt an inner tug, “Go to the church.” He did and he saw a student praying in the church. The student saw him and said, “Father, can we talk?” They did.

One of our Benedictine values and the first word of Benedict’s Rule is “listen.” Listen. Listen with the ear of your heart. In what ways are your ears open? In what ways are you listening to the Spirit?

At our confirmation, we were anointed on our foreheads with the beautiful, fragrant, and blessed chrism oil. Hands were silently placed on us and the congregation present prayed over us to receive the Holy Spirit. “Veni, Sancte Spiritus…Come, Holy Spirit.” And, we received the Spirit. That same Spirit who spoke to Jesus is in us. Listen. Listen. In us the Spirit speaks, a supernatural voice, a sacred voice. Listen. Listen.

 ASH WEDNESDAY 2021

“Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

It’s a great thing to be dust. Say it again. It’s a great thing to be dust.

There are two ways to live as dust: First, to feel that everything we have, and much more is deserved, is really owed to us. Second, to believe that everything, including life itself, is a gift, impossible to be deserved and gratefully lived. To be dust. In the creation story and in the story of evolution, we are dust and to dust we shall return. Everything that exists, everything that is, every atom in the universe, is a gift from God.

Remember, you are dust. So, why dominate if everything is gift? Rather, accept that we are in a beautiful and wonderful relationship with all that is.

Pope Francis writes in his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, “The human person grows more, matures more and is sanctified more to the extent that he or she enters into relationships, going out from themselves to live in communion with God, with others and with all [creation] …everything is interconnected.”

Remember, you are dust -- which means that we are interconnected with all of creation even down to the very atoms that make up our body. Science will tell you this. Our atoms are not our own, each is a gift. Ever think about this?

Every atom of your body is billions of years old, has almost certainly passed through stars on its way to becoming you.

We are each so atomically numerous and so creatively recycled that a significant number of our atoms once likely belonged to mountains, trees, lakes, other people, and all sorts of critters. Your body is an ancient miracle. Your body is that collection of atoms, dust, that God scoops together, blows into us the Spirit of life, and like a grandmother, knits us together in our mother’s womb, and forms us not just for ourselves, but for relationship with all that is. Listen to your body, your atoms will tell you that you are dust, and that’s a great thing!

It is by gladly accepting that we are dust that we join the communion of creation. To turn away from sin is to turn away from being disconnected to our relationships. To be dust is to accept that we are in fellowship with the world, rather than an individual fighting against it.

There are two ways to live as dust: First, to feel that everything we have, and much more is deserved, is really owed to us. Second, to believe that everything, including life itself, is a gift, impossible to be deserved and gratefully lived.

You are dust. And that’s a good thing.

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 

February 10th, just a few days ago, was the feast day of Saint Scholastica. Scholastica was the 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 – it was inappropriate for them to be away from their own monasteries at night. Scholastica then began to pray, and suddenly the sky erupted in a thunderous downpour of that made travel impossible. “What have you done,” Benedict asked in alarm? Scholastica answered, “I asked you, but you wouldn’t listen to me. I asked God and God listened to me. Leave now, brother, if you can.” He couldn’t! So, Benedict stayed with her and they shared happy conversation together…Narrator: “The moral of the story: Scholastica was heard by God, because she loved more, for God is love.”

It’s a humorous story, but it also offers us good wisdom! Benedict knew the rules, but his lack of love prohibited him from breaking the lesser rules to live the greater rule of love. I mean, Benedict, she’s your sister! She needed you! Come on! Sometimes you just have to be more flexible!

And then there’s Jesus, our Teacher. We hear in the gospel today, “The man (the leper) went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. Jesus remained outside in deserted places.”

Why was Jesus not able to enter the towns openly? Was it because becoming more and more popular, he would have been overwhelmed by the crowds needing him, needing his healing? Sure, perhaps.

But what if it was because Jesus broke the rules? What rules? If Jesus would have followed the rules, like in today’s first reading, Jesus would have rejected the leper – “Go away! You’re not allowed to come near me. Unclean!” What a horrible word, “unclean.” But because Jesus touched an unclean leper. Jesus himself became unclean by contact. In that world, which was spiritually logical and ordered, the clean here and unclean far, far away over there, Jesus made the clean people nervous. Jesus crossed those rule barriers. The constant complaint of the religious leaders was, “Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus would answer, “Rules will not love you.”

You know, it’s not automatic that those who frequent God’s house, 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 major in theology, but to know isn’t automatically to love. Love has a better road. It requires something riskier. 

Let’s not forget: In front of the suffering and discrimination of so many, 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 person who seems “unclean” to me, I get close to God.

When today’s Mass is ended, we leave this church and depart. Depart into what? Into the real and messy world. In the gospel, Jesus was not afraid to minister to, to touch, to encounter the mess of this world.

Pope Francis, in his encyclical, The Joy of the Gospel, encourages us, “Let us not be robbed of the joy of going out! I invite you to immerse yourself in the joy of the Gospel and nurture a love that can light up your vocation and your mission…The Lord’s disciples persevere in joy when they sense his presence, do his will and share with others their faith, hope and evangelical love.”

February 7, 2021

 “Is not our life on earth a drudgery. Remember that my life is like the wind. I shall not see happiness again.”

That’s from today’s 1st reading from the book of Job. Wow, couldn’t we pick a happier, more upbeat reading?! I mean, Job is the epitome of “my life stinks.” But perhaps we’ve all been like Job at some point, and perhaps we’re there right now – we can’t sleep, everything we do is hard, we’re unhappy.

Job’s words, though, are honest words. He was going through a extremely tough time – he lost his children and he lost his home.  Job’s words came from the depths of a crushed heart. I believe that when we’re going through a rough time in life, we need to be open about it and not hide behind fake smiles, a facade. There are many, many people who go through hard times, and it’s ok, it’s really ok, to express honestly, how bad we feel, and just as important, seek to get help. Don’t be afraid of not looking perfect. The stigma of sadness, depression and mental illness needs to end.

I wonder about Jesus. How did he handle all the stress and demands in his life? In today’s gospel, the disciples tell Jesus, “Everyone is looking for you!” I bet he heard that every day. If I were Jesus, sometimes I would also want to run away and hide.

In college, there are many demands made of you – everything needs your attention. When is it going to stop? The pandemic! Restless nights anyone? Turn to Jesus. Turn to Jesus.

We hear, “Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” I would say, find that time of peace and friendship with God also. Not out of duty, but out of love and friendship. Friendship is beautiful when it is cultivated. I’m convinced that for all the demands in our life, everything is secondary to meaningful relationships.

I really admire my abbot at St. John’s Abbey. He has lots of demands, but he stays energetic and quick to good laughter. I asked him once, “How do you do it all?” He said, “I exercise, and I do my lectio divina.” (spiritual reading. read the bible) Simple.

Through good times and in bad times, for everything in between, draw close to those who love you and to those you love. Draw close to God your creator.

Saint Augustine once famously wrote of his accepting God in his life, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside. You were with me, but I was not with you. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me. I drew in breath and now I long for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. Our hearts our restless, O God, until our hearts rest in you.”

January 31-2021 - PSALM 95

If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.

This scripture verse reminds me of robust words from the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict. “With eyes opened to the divine light, we hear with thunder-struck ears God’s strong voice inviting us daily, saying: ‘Today, if you shall hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.’”

Let me tell you about two people who experienced God’s divine light. The first, a monk; the second, a scientist.

The monk, Thomas Merton, in 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 is gloried in becoming a member of the human race. A member of the human race!”

The scientist and 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.”

Are these two examples out of the sphere of your own experience?  I don’t think so. Has there been light in your life when the door to eternity cracked open, even just a little?  The amazing kindness of someone who valued you.  A silent, peaceful walk in winter’s stillness. Hearing fantastic music. What about falling in love, your heart all a-flutter? Those certain moments in your life, whatever those moments may be, that opened the gate of your soul. Believing, believing that the light of Christ is in and with you! Add your own…

Sadly, a hardening of one’s heart occurs when one chooses darkness over light. But when I hear God’s word with the ear of the heart, God’s own heart is opened to me. It’s characteristic of St. Benedict that listening goes hand in hand with the heart. We’re not dealing with simply external hearing but rather with an opening of our interior, inner life -- listening with the ear of the heart. Deep listening.

The desert monk, Abba Amoun said, “Give to your heart that which satisfies the heart.” That is, choosing light over darkness.

In our life, experiences of light, of transcendence, do happen, and they do matter. For us, St. Benedict strongly motivates us to be people who are open to the divine light of God and the amazing creativity to which God will go to get our attention. Open your heart, open your ears, open your eyes, open your life to light. Be amazed at the divine light!

1-24-2021 — MARK 1:14-20

“they were mending their nets”

I wonder how many times the disciples had to fix their nets? Of course, they had to. Catching fish would stretch and break the nets, the nets would snag on rocks and tear, and nets needed to be untangled. That’s how fishing works -- you have to have good nets to catch fish. Nets. Jesus called the disciples from netting fish to start netting people. What about you and me?  In the gospel, Jesus’ words are direct, “Follow me.”

What Jesus didn’t say is very encouraging to me.  Jesus did not say to the disciples, nor does he to us, “Hey, first fix up your life, mend your tears and holes in your life, get your life perfectly together, and then follow me.” Jesus didn’t say, “Hey Peter, first clean up your act, get a degree in Theology, then follow me.” In the Gospel of Luke, after Jesus called Peter, Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.”  If Peter would have instead said, “Yes Jesus, I’m the best person for the job — you made a good call.” I would imagine Jesus saying, “Oh my!  In that case, forget it, because you would rely on your own ego rather than my power.” But Peter said, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man.”  Jesus ignored Peter’s response of unworthiness and said, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will fish for people.”

Often times, we might think that in our life, we’ll never be any good or of much use to others and God unless somehow we first “fix” ourselves and untangle our life of all that gets in the way of living for God.  Always trying to fix ourselves can paralyze us in a way, because we’re often too hard on ourselves. Of course, we work on bettering our life, but God calls us where we are, just as we are. God has the power to use us today. That’s God’s way.

In fact, it’s often through our woundedness, through the very holes and tears in our life that we can begin to witness to our faith.   Jesus is a profound healer of lives and souls, and God also abides and dwells in the middle of life’s torn nets. God offers unconditional love even in ambiguity and imperfection.  As Christians, we follow a Savior, a Savior, and that means our God is the one who saves.  When someone asks me, “Are you saved?” I reply, “Yes, I am — and I need saving every day.” 

Mending nets. We really don’t want to talk about the tears and holes in the net we call our life. We’re often not willing to talk about it. We hide what needs repair.  Yet the best way to experience God’s love and power, is to talk about our tears, to let it out in the open — to become vulnerable.

However, most of us put on the mask to look different than we are.  We like to look spiffy in front of others and ourselves, all the while we think, “How can I ever fit into God’s plans when my life is so full of holes and tears?”

God calls us! God’s love calls each one of us by name to belong to something holy, beautiful and fantastic.  To belong to God!

Most of us use the terms “fitting in” and “belonging” interchangeably. Like many of us, us find ourselves 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.

Belonging is the deep, human desire to be part of something great and beautiful. Fitting in doesn’t work because fitting in is forced.  True belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to God and the world. Here I am! So, let God both heal you, and also abide, to be, in those holes and tears that still remain in you. God can handle that. Done. As followers of Christ, we tell the story, the Good News, of how God has touched those very tears and holes.  So even now, right where life finds you and me, the words of Jesus are still powerful and true, “Come, follow me!”

DECEMBER 13, 2020 GAUDETE SUNDAY

God has clothed me with a robe of salvation and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bridegroom adorned with a diadem, like a bride bedecked with her jewels.

A few years ago, I had the honor of being best man at my college roommate’s wedding. Just before the wedding, while we put on our tuxes, my friend, who was really giddy and nervous asked me, “Mike, how do I look?” I looked at him head to toe, and said, “Uh, Alan, you look great, but you forgot to put on your shoes and socks.” We both started laughing.

In our Catholic tradition there are many ways we as Church and individuals describe our relationship with our God.

1) A friend -- the one who is a companion, always with us, walking side-by-side with us. Jesus himself said, “I no longer call you servants, but friends.”

2) A father or mother -- the image of a loving parent, the one who takes care of us, who will always be there for us.

3) An everywhere God -- who surrounds us, who is in all things, especially experienced in the created world, in nature.

I want to suggest an image that you might not have thought about before -- that of a lover. When I think of my friend who was getting married, so happy, so giddy, I think of God who takes delight in each one of us. The prophet Isaiah, chapter 62, speaks of the very thing, “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.”

The third Sunday of Advent we name Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete means, “rejoice!” We normally think that it’s up to us to rejoice. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. But what if we think of this day, Gaudete Sunday, as God rejoicing in each of us Sunday.

To express God’s delight and love for us, many religious traditions have simply used the intimate and blissful language of a loving marriage. Here’s a few examples:

From the poet, Hafiz, a Muslim writer:

Take God, your lover into your arms

the way you did when you first met.

Let tenderness pour from your eyes

the way the sun warms the earth.

Sing a few wild songs. Say, “I love you! I love you!”

Let’s stop just reading about God.

We will never understand God completely.

Jump to your feet, wave your fists,

threaten and warn the whole world

that your heart can no longer live

without real love!

From the poet, Mirabai, she was a Hindu writer:

In this whole world only God is ours, no one else have I found, nobody else is truly ours. I have lost my attachments. I let go of status and trivial stuff. I enjoy the company of lovers. When I see a fellow seeker, my heart is happy. Beloved God, I am yours, please keep me at your side. My beloved is divine and forever. Those who find are so blessed.

From a poem of Catholic author, St. Theresa of Avila:

“Just these two words God spoke changed my life, ‘Enjoy Me!’  What a burden I thought I was to carry -- my pitiable life. But God 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 place in the sky. In my prayer, God changed my life when God said, "Enjoy Me. Enjoy Me. Enjoy me, my love!”

These poets express the heart fully open to God’s self-giving love. The God of these poets is so giddy with love, that God forgets to put on shoes and socks.

Gaudete Sunday. Rejoice. God takes delight in you!

2nd SUNDAY OF ADVENT

If you’ve haven’t read The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, I highly recommend you do. In these books, Aslan, the Great Lion, is a prominent character. Hearing the stories of Jesus Christ at Mass or your own reading of the Gospels, you know that Aslan is a strong and very beautiful Christ figure. Aslan is Christ.

A scene from one the books: Mr. Beaver. "Why, don't you know? Aslan is the King. Aslan is the Lord of the whole wood. Aslan is a lion. The Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh," said Susan. "Is he quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion." "Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Who said anything about safe? Course Aslan isn't safe. But he’s good. Aslan is the King, I tell you.”

Not safe, but good. That’s God in the gospel today and John the Baptist is with God in the desert. The desert is silent, completely simple. The desert is there like the bare skeleton of being: spare, sparse, austere, utterly tough, testing us to invite prayer and reverence. John, like Israel being freed from their slavery in Egypt, had to learn to be dependent and intimate with God in the barrenness of the desert.  God alone! God became for John, the one thing necessary -- not safe, but good.  The prophet Hosea spoke of God, “I am going to allure her, Israel, I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her.”

What was John the Baptist like, really? I mean, what was his personality like? I rethought John this week. In the past, I saw him as severe, tough, strange, a bit cranky. I changed my mind. You might laugh, but I think John was like one of the Bennie graduates I know.

Back in 2016, myself, Sr. Nina, and 11 Bennies and Johnnies went to Poland for World Youth Day. About 2 ½ million others from throughout the world also went. Talk about no social distancing. The Bennie I have in mind, who is now a nurse, has a great spirit of adventure. From the experience of that pilgrimage and seeing her Facebook posts, she’s often in nature, and wild nature at that. Recently she was on some rugged mountain hike in Iceland. You’ve met these people. They are simply alive in creation! In her posts, her eyes are always bright, her arms outstretched embracing it all. Her expression, “It’s good to be alive!”

That’s my new imagine of John the Baptist. I imagine John as a person full of joy, embracing it all, sparkly eyed, alive with the love of God. That’s why so many went to him to hear him, to be baptized by John. We hear, “The people of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him to be baptized.

John is calling to simplify, calling us to up our trivia and baggage and give ourselves to mystery and wonder.  

The same God of John the Baptist is with us here today, right now.

Author, Annie Dillard writes powerfully,

“On the whole, I do not find Christians sufficiently sensible of our conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so casually invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? In church, we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our chairs. For the sleeping god may wake, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

And that’s a great thing. Not safe, but good.

1ST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

When I was in college, I belonged to an Evangelical church. The pastor, because of the many stresses in society had been preaching that he thought it was nearing the end of the world and Christ’s second coming. One night, when I was driving with my friends out in the country, we stopped and we saw the whole sky lit up by green swooshes of light! Wow! My imagination flared and I thought, “Is this the end?” Later that night I prayed, “God, I love you, sorry for things, I’m ready.” The next day, and life was back to normal. No end. I read that the solar flares were very prominent, and that the earth’s magnetosphere was being ionized by solar radiation. Northern lights. My science friends would say to me, “Dummy!” But still…

In the first reading today from Isaiah we hear, “Oh, that you, God, would rend the heavens and come down to us.” For 2000 years, the Church has been using this type of dramatic language to speak of Christ’s Second coming. The apocalypse. The word “apocalypse” comes from two Greek words meaning “to uncover.” Many today, very mindful of the many problems in this world, are wondering if we’re headed to some kind of apocalypse.  Will the heavens soon be uncovered with the second coming of Christ? Is this 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 apocalyptic language today?

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?

Bernard of Clairvaux, that great medieval Saint, 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 at Bethlehem 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 Christ is in the person of our neighbor, in creation and in the sacraments. Christ dwells even in ourselves. Christ’s second coming is each day. Today. Right now!”

In the gospel, Jesus encourages us to, “Be watchful and alert!” 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 CSB/SJU 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 and grandparents, “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 the stranger, “I love you!”; to Christ, whose second coming is each day, today, right now, the three words that wake me up, “I love you!”

“Oh, that you, God, would rend the heavens and come down to us.”

You have God. You have come to us. In the Body of Christ which we eat today.

 

CHRIST THE KING 2020

Just a couple years 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?” “Yes!”

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.

As Catholics, we believe that Christ the King is our sacrament, 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.” To see the face of suffering on a person is to see the face of God.

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 and messy.  In Jesus, 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 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.”

People who love, choose not 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 wilder 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 15, 2020

“Well done, good and faithful servant.” That’s nice to hear! Recently, one of my brother monks said to me, “Michael. Thank you! Thank you for all you do here. Thank you for just being you!” I deflected the compliment saying, “I’m just doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I…I don’t need your…” My brother interjected, “You shush. Thank you!”

 “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What a happy thing to hear from those around us – a friend, our family, a roommate, from God. What a happy thing to be acknowledged by another, to be given an authentic word of gratitude for what we do and who we are.

 In the first reading from Proverbs we hear, “Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting.” So often we look for validation from others from just our surface level -- how I look, what I wear, my body type. But Proverbs offers us the wisdom of what is of greater value. We hear, “she brings about good, and not evil, all the days of her life. She reaches out her hands to the poor and extends her arms to the needy.”

 A person is praised not just because of surface appearance, but what they are able to do generously for the good of others. God praises the work of our hands. There’s our surface appearance, which is fleeting, and there is something deeper and more lasting -- unselfish, generous love.

 As Proverbs puts it, “Give her a reward for her labors, and let her works praise her at the city gates.”

In the gospel, Jesus praises those who are able to be generative, making ten talents from five. In our American culture, we do praise productivity, hyper-activity, doing lots of things. However, we often can believe that quantity of activity is more important than quality of activity.

 Saint Benedict, in addressing work, ministry, or service, is more concerned about how the work is done rather than what is done. To illustrate this, I recently heard a story told by Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk. He was participating in an extended period of living at the Zen Mountain Center in California. All the participants were assigned work during this time, which included dish washing. At the end of this Zen experience, the participants were asked to leave written instructions for the successor on that job. Brother David dutifully wrote the instructions and added, “According to Saint Benedict, ‘the pots and pans are to be treated as reverently as the sacred vessels of the altar.’” Months later, he visited another Zen community in New York and was surprised by being asked, "Are you Brother David, the Dishwasher? We have your quotation from the Rule of Benedict above our sink...very practical advice."

So, the surface level of our appearance versus the deeper level of our good works. The surface level of quantity versus the deeper level of quality. The surface level of dishes in the sink versus the opportunity to reverence the ordinary. God is in the dishes!

Here at this Eucharist, Jesus, like the Lover in Proverbs, “entrusts his heart to us.” Jesus gives his whole self to us in this Eucharist. On the surface level, we are given bread and wine -- the good work of God, the awesome generosity of God. In a profoundly deeper level, the bread and wine are truly his body and blood. “This is my body and blood given to you.” Eat and drink. Love others as I have loved you, so that when you see me face to face, I will take delight in saying to you, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Come, share your master’s joy.”

HOMILY — NOV 8, 2020 

Wisdom. She is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her.

Wisdom. If you were to give wisdom a human 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 personified” and was happily surprised by what I saw. No old guys, but mostly female images for wisdom.

These feminine images for wisdom appeal to me experientially in a strong 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? They listened! 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. Still, 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, is 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 female. Let’s take another step. What about God as female? When I think of God as 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.” Yet 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 God, "cries out as a woman in labor." In the Psalms, God is a nursing woman on whom the one praying is "content as a weaned child on its mother’s breast." In Hosea, God claims to be a cuddling mother who “takes Israel in her arms.” In Genesis, 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," and, "raises her voice in the streets," and, "is the one who welcomes the world to her table" shouting as she does, "Enter here! Eat my food, drink my wine." In the book of Wisdom, “Wisdom 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 given in scripture, 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 -- Spirit, Being, Love! 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.

God is supremely more majestic than our human language. Yet the Bible gives us permission to address God using diverse metaphors. Some of the metaphors are gendered, yet any single image gives us only a glimpse of the breadth and glory of our God who is love and is with us more closely than we can possibly imagine.

HOMILY — ALL SAINTS 2020

I visited my sister last week and we talked about our regular, family gatherings coming up. Can we do Thanksgiving and Christmas together this year safely? My bro-in-law and have sister seven kids, all grown up, living in different parts of the country. Can we gather safely during this pandemic? The tough answer, “No.” Covid has changed nearly everything of our 2020 plans and how we gather together as family, fellow students and friends. So much of our regular routine has changed. 

Saint John Henry Newman, who lived in England in the 19th century in a famous sermon said, “There are two worlds. Two worlds, ‘the visible and the invisible,’ as the Creed speaks, - the world we see, and the world we do not see. And the world which we do not see really exists as the world we do see. It really exists, though we see it not. The world that we see, we know to exist, because we see it. All that meets our eyes forms one world. It is an immense world. It reaches to the stars. It is everywhere. And yet in spite of this visible world which we see, there is another world, quite as far-spreading, quite as close to us, and more wonderful. Another world all around us, though we see it not, and more wonderful than the world we see.

In today’s gospel, what we call the Beatitudes -- “blessed are those” -- really only make sense in the context and addition of the invisible world. Any situation we’re in, even in this year 2020, is blessed. Why? Because God is with us in every life situation. God is with us. The invisible world is with us.

On October 10 of this year a young Italian named Carlo Acutis was beatified at a special Mass in the city of Assisi, putting him one step away from sainthood. It allows Catholics to venerate him as, “Blessed Carlo Acutis.” He is the world’s first Millennial to be recognized as such.

Acutis died of leukemia in 2006 at the age of 15, but not before he had the chance to make an impact on this world. This Italian teenager was an example of holiness to those around him and he used his computer skills to create an online website documenting miracles of the eucharist. He knew how to use the internet to transmit the Gospel, to communicate values and beauty. He was a gamer and loved to play Pokémon.  

He loved the Mass and encouraged many others to join him. Before his beatification, his family and friends described him as an “influencer for God” who spread light in an online landscape often clouded by darkness. 

None of us here are called to be anyone else than who God has called us to be. We’re meant to be ourselves and to allow God to work in and through our own individuality, our own, unique story, our gifts. The 15-year life of Blessed Carlo Acutis sheds a more relatable, down-to-earth light on the Saints. Acutis lived very well in two worlds -- the visible and the invisible.

The Solemnity of All Saints.

Will an athletic team play better with a crowd cheering them on in the stands? Yes!

Will a choir, a band, will actors perform better with an audience cheering them on in the seats? Yes, absolutely!

The imagination of the early church envisioned our life together in this visible world as a marathon. All of us running toward the goal. Yet, we’re not competing against one another, we’re encouraging each other -- “Don’t give up. You can do this! Yes, run!” All along this marathon road are the Saints and those who have gone before us -- the invisible world all around us. They’re cheering us on, they’re praying for us, they’re joyfully (emphasis on fully) shouting, “Run the race well! The goal is so worth it!”

There are two worlds, the visible and the invisible.

Believe.

Be blessed.

HOMILY -- OCT 25, 2020

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

When strangers introduce one another on campus, what questions are 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?

Really, people don't care about the data, the names, the dates, all those details that you're coming 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. You’re more than a collection of data. Learn to tell your story.

 That’s what we celebrate when we hear the gospel proclaimed at Mass. We don’t hear about God data, we hear about the amazing, true story of Jesus Christ, God with us and God who still with us. We hear about God’s story knitted together with our story.

What story do we hear in today’s gospel? The religious leaders are basically asking, “Religion can be very complex — too many rules. So, what do we really need to know?” Jesus answer, “Love God. Love neighbor. Love yourself.” Prepare to be amazed.

I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  That “as yourself” is something that gets skipped over much.  Author, Brené Brown in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, has been helpful to me lately. Her way of loving herself is through her acceptance of her own imperfections and letting those imperfections be her strength to become more open to people and their own struggles. To be loving, one can love oneself, regardless of our imperfections, our own wobbliness in life.  My spiritual director often says to me, “Hold yourself gently.”

We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and amazing selves to be deeply seen and known. Love is something that we nurture and grow. Everything else in life is secondary to love.

If loving your neighbor is too much for you today, let me offer you a simple practice. If every time you see another person, your neighbor, you wish for that person to be happy, then eventually, it will become your default habit. Whenever you meet your neighbor, let your first thought be, “I wish for that person to be happy. I wish for that person to be happy.” Why should I wish this for my neighbor? Because each one of us here wishes to be happy. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

What I hope for is for you all not to walk alone in life. Life is difficult. It’s difficult to walk alone. You get lost. You get confused. You can find 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 loves you and with those you love. Share your amazing story with those around you. You are more than data, you are a story, and an amazing story at that!

HOMILY -- OCTOBER 18, 2020 

 One word struck me in today’s gospel. That word is, “repay.” The text does not say “pay” to Caesar and God -- but repay. Repay means to pay back again. I’m interpreting repay as to receive and then to give back.

 Repay. Let’s take an example of this from creation. You probably have noticed that the autumn leaves around the area this year have simply been beautiful. I’m happy to see many people getting outside, walking through the woods, taking pictures, children giggling and tossing up leaves for the sheer happiness of it. I love the sound of leaves crunching under my feet and their spicy aroma.

 Repay. I have a lot of respect for leaves. Leaves are very good at repaying during these autumn days. What I mean, is that trees have received energy from the sun through the process of photosynthesis. With winter coming, that energy will move to the tree’s trunk. Since the leaves are no longer needed, they are cast off, but not waisted, for leaves become crucial to forest health. Countless tiny creatures: beetles, millipedes, centipedes, slugs, earthworms and others slowly shred and break up the leaves into tiny pieces for food.

 Then, vast numbers of fungi, bacteria and other microbes living in the soil take over. Using enzymes, they reduce the remaining bits of plant matter to basic nutrients. The substances will enrich the soil and nourish trees, wildflowers and other plants for next spring’s growth.

 What the trees have received from the sun, the trees repay back to the earth in the form of fallen leaves. There is wisdom in this.

 Receive, repay. Receive, repay. That’s the way of creation.

 The Eucharist is a good teacher for this also!  We bring bread and wine to the altar, and the presider prays in the name of the community, “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread and wine we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread \of life and our spiritual drink.”

 That’s the way the Eucharist works. God is the Creator of all things. We work in creation to make bread and wine that we bring to the altar. And we offer back, we repay, bread and wine to God so that God will change them into Christ’s own Body and Blood. We receive this sacrament and when the Eucharist ends, we go out and repay ourselves generously to a world in need.

How can we cultivate this same way of being in our own life? The word “Eucharist” means, gratefulness.  Gratefulness. Begin with gratefulness and it will then be easier for you to cultivate generosity -- to repay God and to repay your communities.

 How to cultivate gratefulness? Let me offer you a tool.

How do you cross a street? We learned this as a child.

STOP. LOOK. GO

 STOP your busyness even for a minute. LOOK around you and witness what to be grateful about: the beauty of nature, a person you love, good tasting food, the students on our campus, etc., and then GO about your day.        Stop, look, go.

Gratefulness is to acknowledge that we have received much in life.

 Receive, repay.

To repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, or to repay to God what is God’s, is to realize that everything in our life is really about gift, and we repay that gift back to community and to God.  Receive, repay. That’s the way of creation -- even the trees.

 

 HOMILY — October 11, 2020

On this mountain, God will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations.

A couple years ago, I was having supper at Bello Cucina and saw a great contrast — two tables, two couples. At one table was a Bennie and a Johnnie, probably on a date, but good grief they were both clicking away on their cell phones, occasionally peeking up uncomfortably at one another. But then a different table, another Bennie and Johnnie, certainly on a date. Only this time, they were laughing, looking deeply into one another’s eyes, both flirting and thinking “Mmmm…good looking!” That was, for the second couple, life well lived. There was no veil between them.

When the veil is taken off and the web destroyed between myself and another, I discover one important thing: Well then, the world is a much nicer place than I thought! I can experience something truly human — simply being in relationship with another person.

There’s a beautiful promise from the prophet Isaiah, chapter 25, “On this mountain (symbol for the presence/ abode of God) the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food 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 divides all peoples, the veil that covers all nations.

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 endless pasta and breadsticks? Or will it be more magical like a feast at the school of Hogwarts? We don’t know.  “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 people and God destroys the veil between peoples. In the banquet of heaven, God will bring us together. No partiality. No conservatives here and liberals there; no people of one skin color here and another skin color there; no Christian here and other religions there. Segregation is done. Over. The veil is removed, the shroud destroyed. Alleluia!

If God’s promise is that we all eat together on God’s mountain, if that's what God is ultimately going to create, why wait till heaven? Why not live that promise today!

Fr. Christian de Chergé, a monk who died in 1996, in Algeria while living in a predominately Muslim area, wrote in his journal, “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 an amused look, ‘Come on now, 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!’”

HOMILY – OCTOBER 4, 2020

“The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.”
You are created in the image of God. Each one of us here is created in the Image of God. How to describe this sacred image? I describe it as dynamic -- Yes, dynamic! A dynamic image is very compelling to me. With autumn here, we have witnessed creation in the process of growing during the spring and summer. We see the many ways God is creating new life. This is a dynamic way to claim ourselves as being made in the image of God. We are made in the image of a Creator God -- our God of standing ovation imagination. Just voice, “Wow!” for the whole earth as a dazzling masterpiece.


To be made in the image of God is to be life-giving, generative, creative, full of fecundity. To create is to be in communion with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God, who’s very being is a communion of life-giving creativity. All of us are gifted with creative potential. How has God gifted you to be creative? What do you create?

We’re not merely consumers, we’re creators! Creators of peace and justice. Creating justice and dialogue among people. Creating art, music, writing, cooking, baking. Planting and cultivating life. Creating an education for others. Creating love and support for our families and communities.  Our gifts, whatever they may be, is simply to create a better and more life-giving world. Creating, because the Kingdom of God is like a vineyard!


God is a really amazing Creator! Praise God for the diversity of creatures that run, walk, swim, slither, waddle, hop, and fly. As creation, we offer our own voices in praise of God, our Creator. Every tree, every lake, every deer, every rabbit, every loon, every creature is given a voice that harmonizes with that of the moon, the sun, and the stars. We too are creation. We are grounded in God’s majesty when our own voices harmonize with all of creation in worship.
The first words of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created!” Why did God create and continues to create? Creation’s unique design fundamentally moves towards interconnection and communion. The focal point of the universe, the reason of the universe, is love. Everything God creates is an expression of love. The scriptures summarize this in three words: “God is love.”  It’s essential to understand this because if we are to claim our role in the creating process, we, too, must be sure that our life is an expansion of love.


The movement that Jesus Christ, the human face of God, started was not for the self-absorbed, but a movement of creators -- bearing fruit as the vineyard of the Lord. Because of social unrest and the pandemic, today is a rough patch in our vineyard. Our vineyard is also small because of Covid. We have to stay in place more than we would like. Yet, how do we help each other to share, to grow, to create? Jesus also speaks about the soil of our life which Jesus
casts seeds upon. Rich soil produces goodness and fruitfulness for the world. Everything we do in life is an expression of either how much we allow ourselves to be stifled by sharp thorns, rocky ground, thieving birds, scorched sun, or how alive our souls are in God’s rich soil.


The kingdom of God might be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit. All of us are created in the dynamic image of God. We are co-creators with God. In this world, we need to be more than just consumers, we have the opportunity to be creators.


How has God gifted you to create?
What do you create?

September 27, 2020

One of my brother monks at St. John’s who I make a point to greet every morning is our Fr. Mel. Originally from Ireland, he speaks with a wonderful Irish brogue. When I greet him, he always starts by saying, “Good morning, child of God.” I like that! I like being called a child of God.

 

I’m taking up this practice too. When I see a Bennie or Johnnie walking around campus, and especially if they look a little down, I’ll smile with my eyes (because of my mask), and say “Good morning, child of God.” And that person usually lights up a bit.

 

In today’s gospel, a man has two sons. One son represents the elders and priests (the church people) and the other son, tax collectors and prostitutes (the non-church people). Both are called ‘sons’ -- and you could say “daughters” of course.

 

To be a daughter, a son, a child of God -- what an amazing source for our personal identity. How we often view ourselves could just be limited to what we: Browse and consume on our screens, what we eat and drink, what we wear, what we purchase. This identity is very superficial and fleeting in nature.  

 

Jesus speaks about another identity, all the time, in the gospels. This identity is that each of us are infinitely loved as a child of God.

 

Jesus tells us about God seeking us out because of this love in many parables throughout the gospels -- 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; about a father who loses a son and is always looking down the road for his son’s return.

 

These stories aren’t ultimately about things and people being lost; these 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.

 

If you’re lost, you might say, “God, why do you care for me. I am not worth much.” If you’re a lost sheep, you may say, “Why do you care about me? You have 99 others. Leave me alone. I’m not worth searching for. Why are you searching for me?!”

 

Because God says, “You are mine.” “You are mine” “You belong to me, child of God!”

 

My sister visited me this week at St. John’s and she shared with me this song, "You Say" by Lauren Daigle. She sings about claiming her identity, claiming her forever identity as a child of God.

I keep fighting voices in my mind that say I'm not enough
Every single lie that tells me I will never measure up
Am I more than just the sum of every high and every low?
Remind me once again just who I am,

because I need to know.

 

You say I am loved when I can't feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don't belong, oh, You say I am Yours


And I believe, oh, I believe
What You say of me
I believe

 

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N8WK9HmF53w

September 20, 2020

Today I want to talk about our higher calling in life. Some people use the term “vocation”, but that word can be a bit churchy. So -- higher calling.  Simply, “What I love to do with my life.”

Consider the story of the bricklayers. Three bricklayers, working on the same project, are asked:

What are you doing?

The first says, 'I ‘m just laying bricks. Yuck!' 
The second says, 'I'm building a church. Pretty Good.' 
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 higher 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 how they viewed their work couldn't be more different.

Angela Duckorth, in her book entitled, Grit, writes, “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. A calling is not some fully formed thing that you find and stay there. It's much more dynamic. Whatever you do, you can continually look anew 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.”

The workers, in the gospel, who started in the morning, grumbled and murmured after a hard day’s work, “It’s not fair, we endured the labor and the heat of the day.” They endured, rather than simply being happy and grateful working in the Master’s vineyard.

In our life what is our focus centered on? If we focus on the “heat of the day,” that is, just the pain in the butt burden of our work and study, then we’ll be less happy -- we’ll be unsatisfied in the present moment.

If we’re envious of other people -- like those who worked longer than those who worked less, we’ll be less happy -- we’ll be unsatisfied in the present moment.

Just enduring, just envious, that’s not what working in the vineyard in about. The Vineyard.

Jesus’ own words, “The kingdom of heaven is like a vineyard.” The vineyard is not just the place where people happen to work. Rather, the vineyard is a symbolic place of celebration, of God’s joy, of God’s eternal covenant with us. I mean, a vineyard produces wine for the world!              

Whatever vineyard God calls you to be in, and I to work in,

No matter what your bricklaying is, let it be as the Vineyard of the Lord. Because that’s what the Kingdom of God is like, that’s what a vocation, a higher calling, a ‘I love to do this’ is like – being happy in the Vineyard of the Lord. Wine for the world! Cheers!

 

September 13, 2020

He seized him and started to choke him.

 I was walking past a Johnnie dorm (Tommy Hall) when I heard a student yell out many, angry ‘F’-bombs. Whoa -- I didn’t judge him,

I just prayed “Lord, give him peace!” and blessed + him.

One student mentioned to me, “We just need to become more understanding as a society. See where people are coming from and why they do what they do.” 

 Anger. Am I allowed to get angry?  This comes up now and then in conversations and in confession.  We want to imitate Jesus, who tells us to, “turn the other cheek,” who loves his persecutors, and even excuses them. On the cross, "Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing." At great cost on the cross God has forgiven us our sins. We receive radical grace and forgiveness. We too, then can be very forgiving of others. 77+ times!

 Anger. Have I the right to be angry?  Yes, especially because of injustice.  Injustice. But, am I so stuck in my anger, that I become an angry person? Does my anger take away my freedom, my happiness?  Anger is called for at times, yes, but anger is also a heavy burden, too heavy to carry all the time.

 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 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, 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 judge others less.

 But, how? The strong emotion of anger is very similar to a storm.  We need to create a safe area within us that will protect us and others from these destructive powers.  We can’t keep saying, “Here’s that old anger again, I can’t do anything about it. It’s just the way I am.” R

 When anger arises, especially when another person or situation triggers my anger, it's best not to react irrationally, saying or doing something we'll later regret – “F” bombing for the world to hear. Nor is it helpful to suppress it, shoving it in some dark place where it will fester. It’s best to give our anger some gentleness.

   A couple, simple suggestions how to deal with anger.

 1) Pray in stillness before God.

St. Benedict writes that “We believe the presence of God is everywhere.” Everywhere means everywhere! Turn off your phone, put your homework down and just sit in God’s presence. Just sit.

 A simple, breathing prayer is helpful here. Since we hold anger in our body, it’s wise to pray with the body. Breathing:       

Breathing deeply in, I know I'm angry.

        Breathing out, I smile, and I let go of anger’s power and give that anger over to God.

        Repeat

 2) Go for a walk in nature.

For me, walking is not so much about thinking as it is about not thinking, or at least not about anything complicated. It’s never been my experience that things get more complicated when I walk. On the contrary, everything becomes simpler and clearer.

 In the land around St. Ben’s and St. John’s there is a wealth of trees and paths. When my problems and my anger are too much to bear, I tell myself, “I need to walk among my elders, that is, trees.” I need to clear my head by breathing in fresh air. I need to hear the wind through the trees. I need to hear the birds. So, no earphones!

Walking in creation is very healing. Again, by walking your body releases the anger that festers in your body.

 Anger. Anger paralyzes life; love releases it. Anger confuses life;

love harmonizes it. Anger darkens life; love illuminates it.

  

SEPTEMBER 6, 2020 

Sisters and brothers: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.

I remember some time back at my former monastery at Blue Cloud Abbey in SD, about 9:00 PM, an angry man, was yelling up a storm downstairs around our kitchen. I didn’t know what to do — call the police, run? One my brother monks came up to him and asked simply, “Hi, I’m Fr. Tom, are you hungry?” “I am,” said the angry man. Both went into the kitchen and made something together from leftovers and ate together. Later, I saw them, and the angry man was now laughing man, “Oh, thanks father I needed that!” Fr. Tom said, “I needed that too!”

 Fr. Tom acted in such a way to show love to that angry man. He was willing to reach out his hand, to risk an encounter, to lend an ear to someone in need. Loving one another meant grabbing some leftovers at 9:00 at night, and taking time to hear someone’s story, even if that story was filled with anger. Offering practical kindness transformed anger to healing laughter. Fr. Tom gave the man hope.  

 Hope! Pope Francis, is a recent TED Talk, said, “A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And [when that hope is given to another] there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an "us."  When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution -- the revolution of tenderness. What is tenderness? It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”

Sisters and brothers: Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.

 I believe loving one another is totally worth it, but as we know, it takes a lot of work, patience, and intention. If loving others is too much for you today, let me offer you a simple practice. If every time you meet another person, you wish for that person to be happy, then eventually, it will become a more, regular habit. Whenever you meet another person, your neighbor, let your first thought be, “I wish for that person to be happy. Simply, happy.”

 During this time of pandemic where we have to social distance in so many ways, it’s frustrating to be so far from one another. I mean, look around at all of us spread out in this place. It’s strange. It’s unfortunate. The space between us -- there seems to be a lot of empty space between us. But what if we think of this space not as empty space but as filled space. A space filled with the presence of Christ. Between you, me, the ministers, your neighbor. A space filled with Christ. From today’s gospel, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Christ in each of you also. St. Augustine wrote, “God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.” And as the Sufi mystics say, “God is closer to us than we are to our own blood.”

 To conclude: As Christians, these things we approach with reverence and with spiritual joy: participation in the holy sacraments; the tables where we eat our meals together; and the bowl in which we wash one another’s feet.

 

AUG 30, 2020 

A good, Benedictine practice is paying attention to the wisdom and good, life-experience of other people.

A brother monk of mine at St. John’s, Fr. Bernardine, who I respect very much, recently came back to the abbey after 40 years as a missionary in Guatemala. These were difficult years as he ministered to the rural poor. He even saw his best friend, Bishop Juan Herardi, killed by a cinderblock by the corrupt government and drug lords for speaking out about defending the poor.  But my brother is one of the most naturally happy people you would ever meet. I recently asked him, “How did you do it all those years?”

 He told me, “Years ago, I let this be a symbol for my life – OPEN HANDS.  Open hands.  When your hands are open, you can: receive freely from God and those you care about.  When your hands are fists, you’re just fighting life. When your arms are crossed, you’re just being stubborn with life.

 When your hands are open, you can: give freely without clinging or grasping to anything. When your hands are open, you can be the light that God wants you to be.” 

 One of the great “successes” in our life is simply how open I am to the world around me. Am I an openness or a closed-ness? In all the gospels we witness how open Jesus was -- as he draws close to the outcasts of society, eats and drinks with sinners, touches lepers, crosses cultural boundaries.

Jesus Christ, the human face of God, was all about gift, self-gift.  On the cross, Jesus’ hands were open, completely open as an ultimate act of self-gift. And this very gift is given to us at this Eucharist.

Inspired by Jesus, the Wisdom of God, let us enter fully into the fabric of society, sharing the lives of all, listening to other’s concerns, working for racial justice, be good stewards of creation, rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep, wearing a mask to keep others safe. In solidarity with others, we are committed to building a more just and sacred world. Let the gospel be more powerful than our hate, more powerful than our despair, more powerful than our arrogance, more powerful than our confusion.

 To take up your cross. See your cross not as a burden, but as a gift -- let yourself be a gift. 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 where there is sacrifice, where there is a gift of self.

As we begin this academic year, I encourage you to open your hands to life. Open your hands to life! Happiness is not cultivated with fists. Happiness is not cultivated with crossed arms. Happiness is cultivated with open hands.

  A poem by Norwegian poet, Olav Haug.

 This is the dream we carry through the world

that something fantastic will happen

that it has to happen

that time will open by itself

that doors shall open by themselves

that the heart will find itself open

that mountain springs will jump up

that the dream will open by itself

that we one early morning

will slip into a harbor

that we have never known.

March 8, 2020

Matthew 5:20-26

“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.

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 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

Matthew 5:38-48

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

Matthew 5

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

John 1:29-34

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

John 21:1-14

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 CSB/SJU. 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

John 20:19-31

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.

Today.

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

Palm Sunday

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

John 4:5-42

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

Luke 9:28-36

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

Luke 6:27-38

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

Psalm 1

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

Luke 1:1-21

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.”

HUMAN BODIES

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

Baruch 5:1-9

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 CSB/SJU 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

DANIEL 12:3

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

MARK 12:38–44

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

MARK 12:28B–34

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

JEREMIAH 7:31-39

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

MARK 10:35-45

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

Mark 9:38

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

Mark 9:30-37

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. Judgment 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

MARK 8:27-35

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

James 2:1-5

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 neighbor!

My brothers and sisters, show no partiality. Show no partiality in the classroom. Show no partiality in the dorms. Show no partiality 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.