Sunday, October 31, 2010

Saints, All

Center panel of Saint Meinrad triptych
by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.

Monday, Nov. 1, 2010
Solemnity of All Saints

Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14
1John 3:1-3
Matthew 5:1-12a

You are not alone. No matter how you may feel at the moment or what you are facing at this point in your life, that is the primary message of All Saints Day. In the Archabbey Church at Saint Meinrad, we are surrounded by reminders of this as we gather around the Altar of the Lord. The lives of the saints are depicted in the stained glass windows and shrines, and the relics of a good number of saints are present in the sanctuary.

However, when we speak of the saints, we refer not only to those officially recognized as such by the Church. We mean all the faithful, past and present, from the entire world—as John says in today’s first reading, “a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”

In the celebration of the Eucharist, time and space are transcended, and the Mystical Body of Christ stands united—including all who have gone before us and all who are still on their earthly journey. This communion is always a reality, but is especially present to us in the celebration of the Eucharist—anytime and anywhere it is celebrated.

In the Eucharist, we gather as children of God to gain a foretaste of what is to come—as illuminated in John’s vision and promised to us by Christ in the Beatitudes. Indeed, we are called not only to join the saints in their praise of God, but to become saints through our praise of God. As Pope Benedict XVI says, “To become saints means to fulfill completely what we already are, raised to the dignity of God’s adopted children in Christ Jesus.”

This is the hope that makes us pure.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Night and Day

Uphold me, O Lord, according to your promise, and I shall live;
and do not confound me in my expectations.
Benedictine profession formula (Psalm 119:116)

Paradox, according to Macmillan Dictionary, is "a person, thing, or situation that is strange because they have features or qualities that do not normally exist together."

I am always fascinated whenever the sun shares the sky with the moon in the full light of midday. The above picture was taken shortly before the time of this posting. I love it: a true paradox, in my mind.

Of course, as rational human beings, we tend to abhor paradox. We want answers (and we want them now!). We prefer either/or thinking to a both/and mentality. To be sure, this is a dualistic world. We dislike the tension of holding two apparent opposites together, so we deconstruct one and build the other up. We do it all the time.

Genuine Christianity is paradox at its peak. A Savior who is both fully divine and fully human. Life from death. Strength in weakness. And the biggest of them all, the Holy Trinity--one God in three persons, co-equal, co-eternal, and co-substantial. It gives the dualistic mind a migraine.

The sad thing is that Christianity is often reduced to dualistic thinking as well. We must get over that to be truly free. First and foremost, God is mystery, beyond all imagining. Our rational faith should lead us closer to the mystery of God and one another. Faithless rationality or irrational faith drive us apart--from God, ourselves, and one another.

Richard Rohr takes up precisely this issue in his recent book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says in the book, but he has some awfully important points to make about the forgotten richness of paradox in the Christian tradition. In the end, it is simply one of the best books I've ever read, and has had quite an impact on me (how's that for non-dualistic thinking?).

Anyway, I can state the matter no better than Rohr does:
Because paradox undermines dualistic thinking at its very root, the dualistic mind immediately attacks paradox as weak thinking or confusion, separate from hard logic. The history of spirituality tells us that we must learn to accept paradoxes, or we will never love anything correctly. Each one of us must learn to live with paradox, or we cannot live peacefully or happily even a single day of our lives. In fact, we must even learn to love paradox, or we will never be wise, forgiving, or possessing the patience of good relationships.

The whole picture is always both the darkness, the light, and the subtle shadings of light that make shape, form, color, and texture beautiful. You cannot see in total light or total darkness. You must have variances of light to see. The shadowlands are the only world we live in.

Reality is paradoxical. If we are honest, everything is a clash of contradictions, and there is nothing on this created earth that is not a mixture at the same time of good and bad, helpful and unhelpful, endearing and maddening, living and dying.
After all, it is always night somewhere.

And it is always day somewhere.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lover of souls

Sunday, Oct. 31, 2010
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time—C

Wisdom 11:22-12:2
2Thessalonians 1:11-2:2
Luke 19:1-10

In today’s Gospel, Jesus literally invites himself to the home of Zacchaeus. Do you find it surprising that Jesus would do this? After all, the two did not know one another, and Luke makes it clear that Jesus had every intention of passing through Jericho without stopping. But he does stop, and he tells Zacchaeus to come down from the sycamore tree because “today I must stay at your house.” He hadn’t even been asked!

However, Zacchaeus—loathed as a wealthy tax collector and considered an outsider by the crowd—wants to see Jesus, and so receives him with joy. With the foot of Jesus in the door, so to speak, Zacchaeus is moved to repent and atone for his sins, and so Jesus tells him, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

It does not take much for God’s mercy to enter into our lives. All that is necessary is a small opening—often arriving in surprising ways and at unexpected times—and a willing reception. God will do the rest. God is good, and all that he has created is good, as the reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us. So he pursues those who have gone astray “little by little” and slips into any opening he finds. Why? Because you have been fashioned by the “Lord and lover of souls.”

Where might God be inviting himself into your life?

'Life is in you like a seed'

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed
that a person took and planted in the garden.
When it was fully grown, it became a large bush
and 'the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches.'
Luke 13:19

A passage from today's Gospel--a wonderful little kernel of truth to tuck away and meditate on this day and each day of our lives. God is the gardener. Christ is the tree that grows from the tiny seed. We are the birds, called (as our Fr. Ephrem Carr noted in his homily today in the Archabbey Church) to nest and rest in its branches. Each bird, Fr. Ephrem pointed out, is not distinguished by its color, age, size, or ability. Rather, he said, what distinguishes the birds (and us) is that we come together in the shelter of the tree--the very Life of Christ.

On that note, during lectio this morning, I also ran across the following passage from Caryll Houselander, who is a favorite of mine because of the consistent imagery she uses. Houselander was a British mystic and writer in the 1940s and 50s. (If you haven't noticed already, I have somewhat of a soft spot for women mystics, or as our Br. Luke would say, "Mystic Babes."). Enjoy:

Learn to love yourself, to forgive yourself, to be kind to yourself, by looking outwards to God, by accepting the fact that you are infinitely loved by Infinite Love, and that if you will only cease to build up notions of the perfection you demand of yourself, and lay your soul open to that love, you will cease to fear, and you will cease to be exhausted as soon as you stop fighting one part of yourself with another.

Realize that in you is the power, strength, and love of Christ, that you can carry all that darkness and not go under. If you realize that in you Christ lives his risen life, you will soon be convinced that you will also come right up through the darkness into the light. Try to believe that life is in you like a seed, pushing, striving, struggling up to light. Instead of fighting yourself, let this seed of supernatural life fight its way out through the darkness, just as an ordinary seed fights up through the darkness and heaviness of the hard, frozen earth.

First it has to sharpen its own green blade in the night and cut through the ground, but suddenly it breaks into flower, and when it does that, it does not see its own beauty. The world outside sees that. What it sees is the glorious sun that drew it up out of the darkness and into Light.

-- The Letters of Caryll Houselander, Her Spiritual Legacy

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Looavul or Looeyville?

Once about every three months, all the juniors and novices at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, along with the novice-junior master and socius, go on a little outing in the region. It is not only a break of sorts, but an opportunity to spend some relaxed time with one another in a different context. On Saturday, we had our fall outing, and the eight of us went to Louisville, Kentucky, which is about an hour and 20 minutes' drive east of Saint Meinrad.

We spent a couple hours browsing downtown Louisville--a bookstore, a museum, etc. Then we attended a late-afternoon performance of  The Mystery of Irma Vep at the Actors Theatre of Louisville before having dinner together and coming home. The play was a farce in keeping with the season, and had us in stitches, and the meal was very good.

While we were downtown, Br. Philippe Tchalou (above) requested that his picture be taken when he noticed that I had brought a camera. Br. Philippe is a junior monk from Monastère de l'Incarnation, a Benedictine monastery in the West African country of Togo. He is living with us while attending Saint Meinrad Seminary. When he arrived here a little over a year ago (the first time he'd ever been away from Togo), he knew very little English but now speaks it quite well in addition to his native French.

So well, in fact, that he is able to offer an opinion on a pronunciation puzzle that many ponder in this region--just how exactly does one say "Louisville" ? As the sign above spells out, there are a number of variations, and depending on who is saying it, you are likely to hear them all.

Br. Philippe's official position (with which I concur) is: Looeyville.

Then again, neither one of us is a native of the Louisville area. Novice Michael is. He pronounces it: Looavul. To be sure, the first two options on the list seem to win out among the region's natives.

In the end, I suppose, it doesn't really matter one way or another. Indeed, we all live as though pilgrims in a foreign land.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Morning mewsings

After Vigils and Lauds each morning, we typically have about 75 minutes for silent prayer, reading, reflection, and attention to personal needs before Mass begins at 7:30. Each of us has his own little routine. I usually duck into the Blessed Sacrament chapel for a few minutes directly after Vigils and Lauds, check the bulletin board for prayer requests and other announcements, and then yawn and stretch my way into the refectory, where we eat breakfast casually and in silence. Without really watching each other, we know what everyone else usally eats: one has toast, another yogurt and a banana, this one prunes (not moi), and that one a sweet roll. I usually opt for a bowl of cereal--two-thirds bran flakes and one-third a combination of granola and Cheerios, with blueberries on top.

After breakfast, I pad into the calefactory, grab a cup of coffee, my Bible or other spiritual reading, and a chair near the window. For the next 15 or 20 minutes (sometimes longer, sometimes not), I do lectio divina--usually with the upcoming Mass readings.

Rinsing out my cup, I then usually head outside, if the weather is favorable, for a short walk. No particular goal or destination. It's really an extension of lectio for me; I observe the slowly rising sun, the cloud patterns, the rustle of leaves in the slight morning breeze. I try to notice something new each day, something I've seen before a hundred times, but revealed in a new way through the dawning light. The sandstone, the steeples, a rosebush, the surrounding hills slowly shaking off sleep.

I listen to the manner in which the birds greet the coming day, and in my own way, inwardly join in their song of praise to our Creator. Occasionally, some cows from a distant pasture will chime in, or a howling dog. If I am fortunate enough, I will see a deer springing across a nearby meadow. Sometimes a guest will walk by, and we may chat a little, but usually a nod, smile, or simple "Good morning" is sufficient.

On this particular morning (when I took the above photographs), I found Socks, the unofficial monastery cat, in her customary hangout spot--the guesthouse porch. Socks--a black cat with white paws, chin, and chest--showed up out of nowhere a couple months back as a scrawny but friendly little kitten. She gets plenty of attention--among other things--around here from monks, guests, and students. So, she has stuck around, and has grown in the process. Every once in a while, she'll be seen strutting about with a mouse in her jaws. Good for her; we certainly don't want them.

This morning, she wound herself through my legs, mewing and purring, at one point hopping up onto a chair to inspect my coffee cup (I had two cups this morning) and ruefully noting that it contained no milk. Curious at first about my camera, she eventually lost interest and curled up against the sandstone wall of the guesthouse to doze.

On the way back to my cell, I stop in the laundry room. One of my daily little chores is to sort through and shelve all the numbered packages of laundry for all the monks to pick up later in the day (each monk has an assigned number for the outside laundry service, which returns the clean clothes early each morning). I read each number, and if I remember, say a little prayer for this or that monk as I shelve each package. Returning to my cell before Mass, I brush my teeth and busy about with a few odds and ends (how's that for a euphemism?).

Sometimes, I'll have a few more minutes to spare and will read a bit more or simply sit in the quiet of my cell before the bells summon us all back into the church for Mass. There for the next 30 minutes or so, we join and lift up our hearts to the Lord before stepping out into whatever the day has in store for us, nourished anew by our good and gracious Creator. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Piercing the clouds

Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time—C

Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18
2Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
Luke 18:9-14

Some of the descriptive words employed by the inspired authors in Sunday's readings are telling. Sirach speaks of the weak, oppressed, orphan, widow, and the lowly. St. Paul, meanwhile, is imprisoned and knows that “the time of my departure is at hand.” He also is lonely. “Everyone deserted me,” he says. The Pharisee in the Gospel parable derides the greedy, dishonest, the adulterous.

In one way or another, and at one time or another, these terms describe us all. Surely, we may think, the God of Justice has no use for any of these. Our hope, though, comes in the most unlikely of persons: Jesus points to the tax collector, considered at that time to be the most despicable of all human beings. There, in the corner of the temple, he humbly acknowledges who he is and asks for God’s assistance. The tax collector, though far from perfect, recognizes his need for God, and so is justified in His sight.

The self-righteous Pharisee, on the other hand, has done many commendable things, but takes credit for them himself. He doesn’t really need anyone, including God. As Sirach points out, “the prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds.”

A truly humble person, the author of The Cloud of Unknowing said, “stands in the truth with a knowledge and appreciation for himself as he really is.” When we approach God with that kind of transparency, as the tax collector does, the Lord stands by us and gives us strength—and the “crown of righteousness” awaits us. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

May the Pants be with you

Being in a somewhat playful mood these days (can you tell?), I'd like to share the following wonderful column by Mark Shea, courtesy of the National Catholic Register (used with permission). It's humor with a point, which is really the only kind. And it fits so well into the quest to "Be More Human," as suggested by that little plaque on the base of the crucifix planted on top of Switzerland's Little Matterhorn. Enjoy.  -- Br. Francis

We Laugh. We Cry. But Why?

By Mark Shea
National Catholic Register Correspondent

I have encountered a new species of humor. Take any famous line from a movie, song, poem, book or play, then replace a key word with pants. It makes everything funny. Examples:

Star Wars: “I find your lack of pants disturbing.” It’s a Wonderful Life: “Every time a bell rings an angel gets his pants.” The Lord of the Rings: “Gondor has no pants. Gondor needs no pants.” Pop music: “What the world needs now is pants, sweet pants.” Hamlet: “To pants or not to pants, that is the question.” Braveheart: “PAAAAAAAAAANTS!”

“Pants” is a funny word. But that’s not why we laugh. We laugh because we perceive the dissonance between something serious and something silly. That’s why it’s futile for scolds to say “Serious things are not a matter for humor.” On the contrary, serious things are the only matter for humor.

As G.K. Chesterton pointed out, the opposite of “funny” is not “serious.” The opposite of funny is “not funny.” It is not, in fact, possible to be funny about things that don’t really matter. It is only possible to be funny about things that do. So, for instance, what makes the above lines funny is not so much the word “pants” as the fact that the trivial subject of trousers is being overlaid on the desperately important matters of faith, angels, kingship, love, suicide and freedom.

By themselves, pants aren’t funny. Walk into your local Kmart and stand contemplating a rack of jeans for an hour, and, chances are, they will not elicit the smallest chuckle. But juxtapose those pants with something serious, like honor, and cry, “With great pants comes great responsibility!” Comedy gold.

The point is this: Both comedy and tragedy depend on the seriousness of the human condition. Comedy is funny because we are serious. And comedy is funny precisely because there is something wrong with us — and we know it. C.S. Lewis once remarked that much of Christian theology could be deduced from two facts. One, we laugh at coarse jokes. Two, we feel the dead to be unearthly.

These facts of human nature reflect something at the root of both comedy and tragedy: namely our sense that there is something deeply unnatural about the present (fallen) relationship between body and soul. Our soul is related to our appetite-driven body as a rodeo rider is related to his bronco. We find ourselves half-terrified and half-tickled to death with this absurd, out-of-control bag of bones that St. Francis nicknamed “Brother !@#$%."

Dogs don’t see anything funny about being dogs and reproducing as dogs do. They are entirely businesslike. But many people find endless amusement and amazement at sex and make jokes about it constantly. It’s as if we are not at home in our bodies, as if we fell and lost control of them.

The same thing is seen in our fear of the dead (surely, says Lewis, the least dangerous of all our dangerous species). What do we fear? We fear the mere fact of them, because the dead show us something that ought not to be: that the dislocation and estrangement of body and soul is headed for total dissolution into the corpse and ghost seen in tragedy.

In comedy, we see the crazy jalopy of the body being badly driven by the hapless motorist of the soul. In tragedy, we see the jalopy and the driver finally destroy each other in a fiery crash that expels the soul from the body completely.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ says that comedy and tragedy are right: Human beings are desperately important. Otherwise we would be neither comic nor tragic. But the Gospel goes further and insists that, in the Resurrection, body and soul will be knit back together and rightly ordered again. Thanks be to God!

Read Shea's column at

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

When they work with their hands, they are really monks (RB 48)

Scenes from the monastery courtyard today
as the novices and juniors worked on new shrub
and flower beds as part of the "Re-creating Eden"
project of assistant novice-junior master Br. John Mark:

How many monks does it take to start a sod-cutter?
Novice Michael, Novice Timothy, and Br. John Mark
(left to right) ponder one of life's deeper questions.

Kick it Novice Michael!
Yes, that usually works.

Br. John Mark:
"Look guys, if you roll up the sod like this,
you can lay it out somewhere else.
I'm going to put this in my room
so I can walk barefoot through the grass
without going outside!"

(We like to humor him.)

Br. Luke digs it.

Br. Francis:
"Hey, Br. John Mark, after the shrubs are planted,
don't you think that paved corner back there
might make a good spot for a gelato stand?"

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Our help is in the name of the Lord

Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time—C

Exodus 17:8-13
2Timothy 3:14-4:2
Luke 18:1-8

“Be persistent” in proclaiming God’s Word, St. Paul says in today’s second reading. Likewise, St. Luke’s Gospel records Jesus’ parable of the persistent widow to illustrate the need to “pray always without becoming weary.” Prayer is fundamental to the Christian life—not because God needs to hear us, but because we need to hear and express our faith in the Word, which equips us for every good work.

Moses—who prefigures Christ—demonstrates this in the first reading. Overlooking the battle atop a hill, Moses guides his forces to victory by keeping his arms raised in the form of a cross. Two details are key. First, others must support his arms. Second, he holds the “staff of God,” which accomplishes through Moses all God’s mighty works—such as dividing the Red Sea and drawing water from a rock.

In our day, we are armed with the Word of God in fighting our spiritual enemies if we are persistent in remaining united in prayer through faith. To “pray always without becoming weary” means that, together, we believe “our help is in the name of the Lord.”

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Autumn incandescence

On this gorgeous (and unusually warm) Sunday afternoon, I grabbed my camera and took a walk to soak up the radiant fall colors on the grounds of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Although it has been very dry here (I don't think we've received even a quarter inch of rain since I returned from Europe two months ago), the foliage is doing its best to put on a show.

Along the way, I ran into my good friends Cinnamon and her human, Sr. Diane Pharo, a faculty member at the Seminary and School of Theology. Cinnamon agreed to pose for the price of a Fig Newton.

My favorite time of year.

How paradoxical that the leaves are most brilliant as they are dying and falling to the ground in preparation for the cold, dark days of winter -- only to be outdone by the bursting of fresh buds and tender blooms each spring.

The Light of Creation reveals to us the radiant promise of the Resurrection with each new day and season. Blessed be God forever.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

You may have noticed ...

... that things look a bit different. Hopefully, it's a bit of an improvement--cleaner to read and easier to browse. Same blog, though; just a different design. I think I have it set now, although I may tweak it here and there as time goes on.

Incidentally, I took the photo at the top of the blog this past summer in Switzerland from the Little Matterhorn (12,736 feet) looking toward the Breithorn. It's one of my favorite photographs of all those I took this summer. Why? It's hard to explain. It is visually stunning, of course, but even more striking in my view is a plaque below the corpus of the crucifix mounted at the summit of the Little Matterhorn. It contains a short message in several different languages: Be more human. More than anything else, that is the spiritual message I took away from the entire experience--and there it was, near the end of the trip, spelled out for me on a mountaintop in a foreign country.

The small photograph to the right with my profile was taken by Br. Matthew in our Archabbey Church here at Saint Meinrad as I was making my first profession in January 2008. Pictured with me is Fr. Harry, who was then the novice-junior master.

Finally, the photo accompanying the archive (yes, intentionally chosen) is a photo I took from our cemetery here at Saint Meinrad.

As monks, after all, we are to "keep death daily before your eyes" and "prefer nothing whatever to Christ" so that he may "bring us all together to everlasting life."

Br. Francis

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


Sunday, Oct. 10, 2010
28th Sunday in Ordinary Time—C

2Kings 5:14-17
2Timothy 2:8-13
Luke 17:11-19

As Christians, we are called to be a people of gratitude. And to be truly grateful, we must take the time to remember all that God has done for us. As St. Paul says in today’s second reading: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead.”

In the first reading, Naaman the Syrian, after having been cleansed of his leprosy, remembers to give praise to God, and in Luke’s Gospel, the Samaritan, healed by Jesus along with nine other lepers, is the only one to remember to glorify God. Jesus tells him, “Your faith has saved you.”

It is important to recognize that diseases such as leprosy were associated with sin in an ancient world not acquainted with our modern medical advances. So these texts, as do so many others in Scripture, point to something beyond miraculous physical cures. They speak of God’s desire to heal us spiritually. What’s more, they present the theme of universal salvation. Both Naaman and the Samaritan were not only lepers, but foreigners and outsiders. They were not considered a part of God’s people. Yet they were healed because God’s generosity excludes no one.

As God’s people today, do we remember that generosity, and express daily through lives of faith our gratitude for the God who heals all?

Friday, October 1, 2010

In a new light

I'm not sure why, but this morning during the Eucharistic Prayer at Mass in the Archabbey Church, I looked up at this set of windows high above one side of the altar, and saw them in a completely new light. This, even though they've been above me every day now for four years. Strange. But they captivated me and drew me through them in a way I cannot explain. It was not a distraction from what was going on at the altar so much as it was a new lens through which to participate in the mystery being celebrated. I could not avert my eyes.

After Mass, wanting to "capture" the image for myself, I hurried to get my camera and went back to the church to take this photo. The windows were still there, of course, but the light in which I had seen them previously had dissipated. I took the photo anyway, but it just goes to show that the Light of God's Love cannot be captured, but rather captures us--one ray at a time.