Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Whatever you have

At once they left their nets and followed him.
Andrew and Peter’s response to the call of Jesus, Mt 4:20

Below is a snippet from a homily by St. Gregory the Great on this feast of St. Andrew the apostle. It was read this morning in the Archabbey Church during Vigils, and I thought it might be worth sharing. It is a good meditation for Christians at any time, but particularly during this season of Advent, which calls us to empty ourselves and long for the coming of the One who alone sustains and fills us.

As you read it, I invite you to meditate on possessions not only in terms of material goods, but the less tangible yet very real attitudes, desires, and expectations that often keep us from following Christ. These might include bearing a grudge, needing approval, jealousy, desiring to have the last word or to have things our way, guarding time to follow our own pursuits, or possibly that nagging and genuine tug of guilt associated with unacknowledged wrongdoing. The very last line of the meditation is what really caught my ear. What is it we possess and must let go to gain Christ?

Perhaps someone might say: “How much did these two fishermen [Andrew and Peter] give up at the Lord’s bidding? They had practically nothing!” That may be so, but what counts is motive rather than wealth. Those who keep nothing back for themselves give up much; those who abandon all they have, even if it is very little, give up a great deal.

We, on the other hand, are possessive about the things we have and covetously try to obtain those we do not have. Peter and Andrew gave up a great deal because they gave up even the desire to possess anything. So let none of us who see other people giving up great possessions say to ourselves: “I would like to imitate them, but I have nothing to give up.”

You give up much if you give up the desire to possess. The Lord looks at your heart, not your fortune; he considers the love that prompts the offering, not its amount. Peter and Andrew gave their nets and boats to purchase the eternal life of the angels. The real value of that is beyond price, but for you its price is just what you possess.

For Zacchaeus it was worth half his fortune. For Peter and Andrew it was worth the value of their nets and boat; for the widow it cost two small coins; another may buy it with a cup of cold water.

The kingdom of God costs whatever you have.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Shards of morning glory

The branch of the Lord will be luster and glory,
and the fruit of the earth will be honor and splendor
Isaiah 4:2

We had a wonderful sunrise here this morning at Saint Meinrad Archabbey (not ours alone, of course).

After Vigils and Lauds and then breakfast (around 6:30 a.m., before my second cup of coffee), I stumbled still half-asleep through the calefactory. I was awake enough, however, to catch a glimpse through the window of an illuminated sea of broken orange, red and pink clouds sinking into the hills on the eastern horizon and giving way to a clear blue sky.

Second cup of coffee in hand, I grabbed my camera and hobbled outside (I broke a toe this weekend) to admire the view and take some shots of it (the beautiful sunrise, not the ugly toe). The photo above was taken just outside the monastery door, and the one at the bottom of this post is from the same vantage point (with zoom lens disengaged), offering a fuller view of the fields, lakes, and woods below and beyond the Holy Hill.

Swinging around, the small photo to the right features a window (behind which is the Blessed Sacrament chapel) in the apse of the church reflecting the morning glory.

Don’t ask me how I broke my toe. There aren’t too many noble ways to do that, really. Let’s just say I was a little clumsy yesterday. Earlier in the day, while helping to set the tables in the monastery refectory for dinner, a drinking glass somehow flew out of my hand and smashed into another glass on the table, shattering both and spraying shards of glass everywhere.

At dinner, the glass set at my place had been replaced with one of the small plastic cups used by our elderly brethren. The red-faced snickering at the next table gave away the prankster. Though I got some strange looks from a few who were unaware of what had happened earlier, I quietly sipped out of my plastic cup.

Clumsiness aside, a broken toe can be endured with due care. At least I get to keep my leg. Unfortunately, one of our older monks, who has suffered terribly the last couple years, will lose one of his during surgery today. Your prayers are requested—that no matter what, God’s glory may shine through our brokenness and bring us to the dawn of the Resurrection.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

These words are trustworthy

"Yes, I am coming soon."
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all.

Revelation 22:6,20-21


The day is at hand
Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010
First Sunday of Advent—A

Isaiah 2:1-5
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:37-44

Are you ready?

While much of our consumer society has already begun celebrating the “holiday season” (weeks ago, it seems), we are told on the First Sunday of Advent: “Stay awake! Be prepared. At an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

How do we prepare for the unexpected? Perhaps the answer is simpler than it seems. When we are expecting a special guest to come into our home, we usually know the approximate hour, but our true focus is really not on the time of the guest’s arrival. Rather, it is on being fully present to that guest whenever he or she arrives. We want the guest to feel welcome, comfortable, at home.

As Christians, we believe Jesus already dwells among us—in Word and Sacrament, and in the life of the Church of which we are members. But are we present? Have we, as St. Paul says, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” and made him at home within us? Are we attentive to the moments and circumstances into which the unexpected light of the Lord is born?

Our annual celebration of Advent—which means “Coming”—invites us to become increasingly present to the arrival of our Savior each and every day of our lives. By preparing for his coming year after year, we prepare for the Final Coming of Christ—that hour that encompasses eternity.

Let us, then, be present, for “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sing ... Seek ... Serve

GIVE THANKS to the Lord, invoke his name;
make known among the nations his deeds.
Sing to him, sing his praise,
proclaim all his wondrous deeds.

Glory in his holy name;
rejoice, O hearts that seek the Lord!
Look to the Lord in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.

                              -- 1Chronicles 16:8-11

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thank God for humanity

In early August, 40 hours before I returned home to a muggy 99 degrees at Saint Meinrad, I was standing at 12,736 feet in a brisk 29 degrees at the top of the Little Matterhorn. In front of me and to the right was Switzerland; at my back, Italy; and far to the left, France. Immediately below me was the raw power of centuries-old glaciers, frozen water slowly sculpting the hard, barren rock and soil. Far below, in the lush and green valley town of Zermatt, from which I had ascended, it was a balmy 80 degrees.

It seemed to me that all the complexities, contradictions, and conundrums of this earth had converged and risen to that very mountain peak. At no other point in my life had I plainly seen so many incongruities laid out before me in such a harsh yet profoundly exhilarating manner that suddenly made all the sense in the world. In fact, it was the only thing that made sense in the world.

What made this so was not the view itself, as beautiful as it was. Rather, it was something in the foreground that paradoxically put everything into perspective. It was a towering, weather-beaten crucifix [heading this blog]. Of itself, that is not unusual; a crucifix is planted on practically every mountain peak in Switzerland. What caught my eye was a small engraved plaque beneath the corpus. It bore a simple message in several different languages:

Be more human.

With those three words, what I have been searching for the last seven years—beginning with my spiritual “reawakening” in 2003, through three years of prayer and discernment, and four years in monastic formation at Saint Meinrad—came into fuller view. The scene atop that mountain, I realized, reflected the landscape of my soul—with all its harsh yet beautiful complexities, contradictions, and conundrums. And at the center of it all stands Christ crucified—God made man—urging me, “Be more human.”

I had long ago intellectually and spiritually accepted the paradox of two natures in the one person of Christ—fully human, fully divine. Like many others, however, I have struggled to accept that truth in human terms, to live with imperfection in the process of being redeemed by Christ—in regard to myself, others, and in the circumstances of ordinary life.

In a striking moment that can only be called grace, the reality of that seemingly incompatible co-existence of humanity and divinity was finally evident to me from a mountaintop perch halfway around the world. Paradoxically, to become more human is to become more like Christ, who, “coming in human likeness, humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).

I realize now that I am called to become more human, and I have my monastic vocation to thank for that. Though it is a call not without difficulty, it nonetheless gives me joy I never knew was possible. And this joy—divine delight may be a better term—energizes me with gratitude. So, I thank the One and Triune Source of this delight for:

 My very being as a child of God, and my redemption through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
 My “spiritual reawakening” in 2003 and ongoing conversion.
 My family and friends.
 My sobriety (going on eight years)
 My vocation.
 My participation these last four years in the life of Saint Meinrad Archabbey—the place, the people, the life of prayer, work, study, and the relationships I have begun to build here.
 All of life’s challenges—the complexities, contradictions, and conundrums—that have stretched me and helped me persevere and grow amid difficulty.
 The opportunities I’ve had here to contribute to worthwhile projects, to study, to travel, to live a life of prayer with a group of very different men committed to the same way of life and community.

Most of all, I am grateful to be a monk of Saint Meinrad, and to be a human being made in God’s glorious image. Blessed be God forever!


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Brothers in Cincinnati

The Genius of Water fountain in Cincinnati's Fountain Square

This past weekend I had the pleasure of making a short visit to my home state of Ohio—the Buckeye State. One of my “jobs” at the monastery is to occasionally travel to meet with various chapters of our oblates and give spiritual conferences on some aspect of Benedictine life. (Benedictine oblates, for those unfamiliar with the term, are laypeople who commit themselves spiritually to a particular monastery and to living out the Rule of St. Benedict within their own state in life. Saint Meinrad has some 1,400 oblates around the country.)

Over the weekend, I visited the Dayton and Cincinnati chapters in Ohio. Speaking Saturday at St. Luke Parish in Beavercreek (a suburb of Dayton) and St. Gertrude Parish in Madeira (a vibrant parish run by Dominicans just northeast of Cincinnati), I gave a conference titled Praying the Painful Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours.

This is the third year I have made this particular trip. I look forward to it each year not only because of the fine oblate chapters in Dayton and Cincinnati, but also because it is a rare and precious opportunity for me to visit and spend time with my brother Kevin.

Kevin outside Holy Cross
Immaculata Catholic Church
Kevin, the Midwest sales manager for Eclipse Awning Systems, is three years my junior (we grew up in northwest Ohio) and lives in Eden Park just northeast of downtown Cincinnati. It is a lovely area, featuring a large park sprawling around Mount Adams, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, and Krohn Conservatory. I arrived late in the afternoon Friday and benefited from my brother’s generous hospitality by staying with him through Sunday afternoon (Dayton is only about an hour north of Cincinnati on I-75).

On Friday evening, we enjoyed dinner at a restaurant on Cincinnati’s famous Fountain Square (remember the opening credits of WKRP in Cincinnati in the late 1970s?) —which, a full week before Thanksgiving, was decked out for Christmas and filled with people enjoying a live television broadcast featuring various choirs belting out holiday hits. A little too surreal for my tastes; lucky for me, we found a Graeter’s ice cream store nearby. I am still (and will always be) an ardent devotee of genuine Italian gelato and Dietsch Bros. Ice Cream in my hometown of Findlay, Ohio, but I must say that no American ice cream experience is complete without a scoop (or two) of Graeter’s super-premium ice cream. Seriously—trust me; I’m an “expert” on this subject, remember?

Fountain Square features the 43-foot Cincinnati landmark Genius of Water fountain. My earliest memory of this fountain is from one day in October 1973, when the square surrounding it was packed with Cincinnati baseball fans after the Reds defeated the New York Mets in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Although the Reds eventually lost the series, I still remember the game. The Mets’ Tom Seaver was pitching a 1-0 shutout until the Reds’ Pete Rose and Johnny Bench hit solo home runs in the eighth and ninth innings to win it. I was eight years old, and recall sitting on my father’s shoulders waving my brand new Reds cap like mad and shouting with the entire crowd of 54,000 as Bench stepped onto home plate. It was the first baseball game I’d ever attended. Kevin (only 5 at the time) didn’t get to go, and he was pretty darn steamed about it, as I recall.

But, I digress …

On Saturday after I returned from Dayton, Kevin and I watched the second half of the Ohio State football team’s comeback victory over Iowa on television (go Bucks!). While doing so, we enjoyed homemade chili Kevin had made—using our Uncle Joe’s top-secret seasoning (Uncle Joe gives Kevin bags of his ready-made seasoning, but won’t reveal all the ingredients—yet). Later, we went to a movie and took in the sights at Newport on the Levee in Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from downtown Cincinnati. Nice view … and I think we witnessed a marriage proposal along the river (from the looks of it, she said yes).

After a pleasant morning walk through Eden Park on Sunday, Kevin and I went to Holy Cross-Immaculata Catholic Church atop Mount Adams for Mass on the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ. One of the highest points in Cincinnati, Mount Adams offers a spectacular view of downtown and the Ohio River (artillery was installed during the Civil War to defend the city from the Confederate States, but was never used). Today Mount Adams is a historic neighborhood district (i.e. pricey), and is popular for its restaurants, cafes, and bars. It gets its name from President John Quincy Adams, who in the mid-19th Century gave the dedication speech for the Cincinnati Astronomical Society’s new observatory on the hill.

Downtown Cincinnati as viewed from Mount Adams
The observatory was later moved (because of smoke from the increasing number of factories) and the building became the Holy Cross Monastery in the 1870s. (It was a monastery for the Passionist religious order, not Benedictine monks.) The monastery closed in the late 1970s and is now an office building.

However, the Mount Adams community still retains (in its own way) some of the monastery’s heritage. There is a Monastery Street, a fountain featuring a statue of a rather plump and possibly inebriated monk (or is it a Franciscan friar?), and a bar called Monk’s Cove. This establishment operates the Monk Mobile, a fluorescent green minibus which shuttles patrons on football game days to and from downtown where the Cincinnati Bengals play. On this particular day, the Bengals were playing the Buffalo Bills, two teams with a combined record of 4-16. Apparently, these “monks” take their penance seriously.

Holy Cross-Immaculata, the church where we went to Mass, is the site of an interesting tradition that stretches back to pre-Civil War times. On Good Friday each year, thousands of pilgrims pray the rosary while climbing the 150 steps to the church from the base of Mount Adams. The “Praying the Steps” tradition has drawn pilgrims from all over the world.

After Mass, Kevin and I walked to the Bowtie Café (across the street from Monk’s Cove), to grab some coffee and a light breakfast. The café, I am told, is owned by Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones. As we were leaving, the Monk Mobile pulled up to Monk’s Cove and a herd of Bengals and Bills fans piled in. I’m not positive, but among them I may have spied my confreres Fr. Denis and Fr. Godfrey (the rector and vice-rector, respectively, of Saint Meinrad Seminary). Fr. Godfrey was likely the one wearing the Bills hat with horns. I always wondered what those two did after Mass on Sundays. Evangelizing, to be sure.

Anyway, I was off then to the Cincinnati oblate chapter meeting at St. Gertrude, and then back to my monastery, Saint Meinrad. It’s always good to come back home, but I’m already looking forward to the next “Brothers Weekend” with Kevin in the Queen City.

Thanks, bro.

Looking east along the Ohio River from the top of Mount Adams

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

He remembers us

Where do you see yourself?
Fresco from Church of St. Martin, Ludesch, Austria

Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010
Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King—C

2Samuel 5:1-3
Colossians 1:12-20
Luke 23:35-43

Soon we will hail the humble arrival of a newborn king lying in a manger. On Sunday--the last of the liturgical year before we begin the season of Advent—we honor a crucified king.

God tends to turn everything on its ear, revealing himself in ways we can’t imagine and don’t expect. God embraces humanity by becoming one of us; the King of kings and Lord of lords is nailed to a cross; and he rules by redemption. That’s not the type of Messiah people were expecting.

Try placing yourself in today’s Gospel scene. Where do you see yourself? The rulers and soldiers surrounding Jesus call him “chosen one,” “Christ,” and “King of the Jews,” but only to mock him. “Save yourself,” they sneer. In other words, “If you’re God, prove it.”

One of the two criminals crucified with him wants to be saved, but demands salvation on his own terms and in bitter desperation. The other criminal, however, does something surprising. He acknowledges his crimes, and then in calm hopefulness addresses Christ the King by name: “Jesus [in Hebrew, 'God saves'], remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Facing death and all evidence to the contrary, a crucified criminal recognizes God’s saving presence and proclaims it from his own cross when Jesus had been abandoned by most of his followers. For this act of faith, Jesus promises: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

This King offers peace by the blood of his cross. Why?

Because "He remembers us and he will bless us" (Psalm 115:12).

Silent symphony of the reeds


 Emptiness is the beginning of contemplation.

It is emptiness like the hollow in the reed,
the narrow riftless emptiness, which can have only one destiny:
to receive the piper's breath and to utter the song that is in his heart.

The pre-Advent emptiness of Our Lady's purposeful virginity
was indeed like this. She was a reed through which
the Eternal Love was to be piped as a shepherd's song.

I am your reed, sweet shepherd, glad to be.
Now, if you will, breathe out your joy in me
And make bright song.
Or fill me with the soft moan of your love
When your delight has failed to call or move
The flock from wrong.

Make children's songs, or any songs to fill
Your reed with breath of life; but at your will
Lay down the flute,
And take repose, while music infinite
Is silence in your heart; and laid on it
Your reed is mute.

Caryll Houselander

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sweetest in the gale

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I've heard it in the chilliest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

                                                                            -- Emily Dickinson

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Be possessed

Sunday, Nov. 14, 2010
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—C

Malachi 3:19-20a
2Thessalonians 3:7-12
Luke 21:5-19

The Gospel and first reading offer an odd mixture of terrifying imagery and comforting reassurance. The day is coming, we are told, which will blaze like an oven—yet also arise with healing rays. Wars, earthquakes, and persecution will besiege us, but not a hair on our heads will be destroyed.

What are we to make of such language?

It is not an easy question to answer, but ultimately God’s Word is always a message of hope. In a fallen world distorted by sin, “such things must happen,” Jesus tells us. In the meantime, maintaining proper perspective, patience, and purpose of mind are essential. The Kingdom of God is both “now” and “not yet," so as Christians, we strive daily to effect what we yearn for.

Since grace is a gift that imparts responsibility, we must “work quietly” amid life’s contradictions and place our hope in God alone. As the Vulgate translation of the last verse from today’s Gospel promises: “in patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestras,” or, “in your patience you shall possess your souls.”

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How lovely is your dwelling place

The Lord in his love shows us the way of life.
Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 20

Christus in the apse of  the Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln,
Saint Meinrad Archabbey (Book says: 'I am the Life')

Last evening, the Chapter--the voting body of fully professed monks--approved my petition to make solemn vows as a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. These vows--made for life, like a marriage vow--include obedience, stability, and conversion of life (which includes poverty and chastity). The ceremony will be January 25, 2011.

I cannot adequately express how happy this makes me! Although I'm trying to contain myself, I feel as though I am walking on air right now. This wonderful journey is something I could never have asked for or imagined several years ago. And it is only just beginning. GOD IS GOOD.

The Christus image above, incidentally, is highly symbolic for the monk making final vows at Saint Meinrad. It is toward this image, standing before the altar and the abbot who respresents Christ in the monastery, that the monk faces while professing his vows--with the entire community gathered around him. It is a symbolic moment of dying to the old self and rising to new life--the 'making' of a monk.

Thank you all for your continued prayers (don't stop now!), and be assured of my own as we all strive to "prefer nothing whatever to Christ, that he may bring us all together to everlasting life" (Rule 72:11-12).

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord God of hosts.
They are happy, who dwell in your house, for ever singing your praise.
Psalm 84

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Little fishes of Christ

Funerary stele of Licinia Amias with Christian motto in Greek: ‘Fish of the living’
Museo Nazionale Romano

A modern-day Ichthys many will recognize
One of the classes I am taking this semester in the Saint Meinrad School of Theology is Early Church History, taught by my venerable confrere, Fr. Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. We were recently given an assignment to write a very brief essay based on research into a number of different possible topics. I chose to research and write about the ancient Christian symbol ΙΧΘΥC, or ichthys, which many people today have probably seen in one form or another. I promise not to bore you with all my class assignments, but I thought this one was worth sharing. I have revised it slightly for this blog (assuming you don’t want to read footnotes, etc. Fr. Cyprian does). Also, on a personal note, I ask your prayers, as the full Chapter of fully professed monks here at Saint Meinrad will soon be voting on my petition to make solemn vows this coming January, God willing. Prayers after the vote, one way or the other, are just as necessary and appreciated as those beforehand.   PAX – Br. Francis

Fish (along with bread) are mentioned frequently in the Gospels and are typically associated with Christ in a Eucharistic context. All four Gospels contain various accounts of the multiplication of loaves and fish by Jesus—twice in Mark and Matthew, and once in Luke and John. Fish are also eaten by Jesus and his disciples in the post-resurrection appearances recounted at the end of Luke and John. Not coincidentally, several of the apostles were fishermen, to whom Jesus called, “I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19).

So it is no surprise that the fish became a primary symbol for the early Christians, who apparently used it from the beginning, particularly in artwork and funerary slabs, until the Constantinian era, according to the Encyclopedia of the Early Church. “It almost always clearly represents Christ, though sometimes standing for the Christian, and its history can be traced from its appearance in the [early] second century down to the fourth, when it begins gradually to disappear on Christian monuments,” writes C.R. Morey in a 1910 article in the Princeton Theological Review.

The symbol of the fish represented Christ, and signified not only the Eucharist, but baptism, the Last Supper, the Resurrection, and eternal life, and “as the cross denoted the ever-present danger of persecution until the middle of the fourth century, the fish identified individuals as Christians,” writes Diane Apostolos-Cappadonia in the Dictionary of Christian Art.

In this light, its popularity among the early Christians, who sometimes needed to be careful about how they identified themselves, is due to the acrostic formed by the ancient Greek word for fish, ichthys. The word is formed with the initial letters of the five Greek words for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour” (Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter) and the acrostic is recognized as “ΙΧΘΥC”. As such, the acrostic, or the image of a fish, or both, comprised a profession of faith in the divinity of Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, states The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Believers, then, became “little fishes,” sharing in Christ’s baptism and resurrection through the Eucharist. Just as a fish cannot live out of water, the Christian cannot live outside of Christ. These images are often combined in some writings of the early fathers, and particularly in artwork and inscriptions contained within the Roman catacombs.

One of the most famous examples of this is from the early Christian writer Tertullian (b.150), who in his treatise On Baptism wrote: “We little fishes are born in water, after the example of our Ichthys Jesus Christ. And we have safety in no other way than by permanently abiding in water.”

This type of representation also appears in the ancient epitaph of Abercius, a second-century bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia, which Joannes Quasten, in his four-volume work Patrology, calls “the queen of all ancient Christian inscriptions.” Written in a metaphorical, mystical style common to its day, it is a good text for meditation in any age. In part it reads:
Everywhere faith led the way
And set before me for food the fish from the spring
Mighty and pure, whom a spotless Virgin caught,
And gave this to friends to eat, always
Having sweet wine and giving the mixed cup with bread.
This is the oldest monument of stone mentioning the Eucharist, and as Quasten explains, Abercius is describing a journey on which he shared the Eucharist with fellow Christians: “The fish from the spring, mighty and pure, is Christ, according to the acrostic ΙΧΘΥC. The spotless Virgin who caught the fish is, according to the language of the time, the Virgin Mary, who conceived the Savior.”

May all “little fishes” share in this feast!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Children of the Resurrection

Sunday, Nov. 7, 2010
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—C

2Maccabees 7:1-2, 9-14
2Thessalonians 2:16-3:5
Luke 20:27-38

Some translations of today’s Gospel passage interpret the phrase “the ones who will rise” as “children of the resurrection.” What a wonderful promise!

While it is quite common today—and through many previous ages—to believe in life after death, it is often conceived as a spiritual resurrection only, even among many Christians. It is a mistaken notion, and not what the Church teaches. What today’s readings make clear is that ours will also be a bodily resurrection.

One needs to look no further than the resurrection of Christ himself. Jesus was raised from the dead with his own body—albeit one that was spiritually transformed and glorified. Fully divine, and fully human, he announces to us: “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Those who receive him also receive the promise of his resurrection on the Last Day.

Precisely how this happens is a mystery, but the real question for us to ponder is this: If Jesus’ resurrection embraces our humanity, then how does our humanity embrace his resurrection? In other words, how are we living the resurrection today, with the bodies and souls given us by God?

We are God’s children now (1John 3:2), Children of the Resurrection! May the Lord direct our hearts to this promise.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blessed are YOU

One of the tapestries by artist John Nava,
Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels, Los Angeles
Homily by Archabbot Justin DuVall in the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church for the Solemnity of All Saints on Monday:

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

Many older churches, like our abbey church, have windows stretched throughout the length of the church which depict various saints. It’s a colorful way of calling to mind the communion of saints, those men and women of ages past whose lives were marked by fidelity to the grace of God.

In a variation on this theme, the newer cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles has interior tapestries instead of windows, and these tapestries show a procession of saints heading toward the altar, as if in line for Communion along with the worshippers themselves. There are the apostles, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis, St. Clare ... and on and on, with their names over their heads.

But scattered among those saints are people without names, people who don’t appear in Butler’s Lives of the Saints: a teenage girl, a young man from the barrio, and children in contemporary clothes. They are the saints whose names are known to God alone.* It’s as if the abyss between this world and the next had closed over and the procession pulls in people of every age, from the mount of the Beatitudes to the New Jerusalem of the Apocalypse.

When Jesus spoke his Beatitudes to the crowd, he set in front of them scenes from their everyday lives, all too familiar things that they could easily recognize. He began with poverty, and the poor in the crowd could look down and see nothing but their open hands. The mourners stared at him with faces that sorrow had furrowed with tears. The browbeaten had hearts grown gaunt from looking for justice. Even those who earnestly looked for the kingdom of God—the merciful, the pure of heart, the peacemakers—saw their good deeds so often punished with ridicule and scorn.

But when Jesus looked out on the crowds, he saw more than crowds; he saw blessedness in their midst. When we look out at people who fill our everyday lives, it’s a challenge to see beyond appearances. The Beatitudes are a tall order for faith, but they open our eyes to the truth of God’s power to save, to roll back the borders of this present world. We’re keenly aware of the limitations of our human condition, perhaps too keenly aware of them in others, yet we constantly bump up against those limitations in ourselves as well.

The startling clear eye with which Jesus looked out at the crowds respected the truth of his audience’s lives. He saw shepherds, fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers—all the usual suspects—who would never get on the list for canonization. But he pronounced them blessed, a subversive challenge to a one-dimensional view of the world that kept them on the edges of compassion. To all those ordinary folks—people like us in many ways—Jesus opened the borders of the Kingdom of God in which there are no illegal immigrants.

The blessedness that Jesus pronounced on the crowds who covered the hillsides is no relic of the past. It is the legacy and the glory of his followers through the centuries and into the future. As part of the Communion of Saints, the Church is the community of those who live out the Beatitudes through their life of Christian faith. We who believe in the power of Christ's death and resurrection, made present to us here at this Eucharist, have been initiated into a community of saints established by the Risen Christ. This way of life is God’s gift to us. It numbers us among that vast multitude envisioned by John in the Book of Revelation, a multitude drawn from every nation, race, people and tongue, who know that salvation comes from God.

The Beatitudes teach us that authentic joy is not a dream that belongs only to a far-off future, but it is a gift of God for living in our present world as well. The voice of God calls to us daily in our Christian lives and opens our hearts to the hope of heaven in whatever circumstances we encounter.

St. Benedict tells the monk in his Rule that he should “hasten to do now what will profit him for eternity,” not because holiness is merely the price of the life to come; it is the unshakable communion with God’s life in us now and forever. To see the world in this fashion is to have the eyes of Jesus himself. It is to be a person of the Beatitudes for every age.

The message of the contemporary figures mixed in among the known saints in the tapestries of the Los Angeles cathedral is the message of the Solemnity of All Saints. These unknown saints are just as blessed as the ones who are known. They look like us. They look like people we might pass on the street.

If they can be saints, we all can be saints. Saints are ordinary people who allow God to have his way with them. The feast of All Saints is a celebration of the wisdom of Christ at work in men and women of every age, our own included.

*Deacon Greg Kandra used this illustration of the Los Angeles cathedral for an All Saint’s Day homily on his blog, “The Deacon’s Bench.” Credit goes to him for his good imagery, and I acknowledge that I have borrowed from it here and at other points.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Eternal rest grant them, Lord ...

... and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May the souls of the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God,
rest in peace.