Saturday, April 30, 2011

Be not afraid

NOTE: In honor of Pope John Paul II, who will be beatified on Sunday, I am posting something here that I wrote shortly after his death in 2005. This column, written more than a year before I joined the monastery, appeared in The (Toledo) Blade, my former employer. Accompanying the column are some photographs I've added from various stages in the late pontiff's life. Blessed Pope John Paul II, pray for us!

John Paul II:
The truth of human dignity

By Craig Wagner, Blade Wire Editor
© The Blade, Toledo, Ohio, April 7, 2005

It was hard to watch Pope John Paul II struggle physically the last few years. The image of him attempting in all futility to speak from that balcony window a few days before he died is a difficult one to shake. Literally trapped in an eroding body, he was silently screaming in agony and frustration.

Such a contrast to a vigorous, beaming Karol Wojtyla proclaiming to the world in October, 1978, at his installation: "Be not afraid! Open wide the doors for Christ!"

But those are in essence the very words he was silently proclaiming to us as he weakened and died, fully aware that the world was watching him struggle. The message -- one of courage and human dignity -- is the same one he demonstrated for 26 years all over the world.

Oh, he should resign, some of us said. Just look at him. He's not doing anyone any good in that state.

However, the beauty -- and the difficulty -- of Christianity is its counter-cultural nature. It takes what society values most and turns it upside down to reveal what most of us would rather not look at or deal with. It is ugly in our limited vision, seeing the weak, the suffering, the dying, but is most precious in the sight of God because it is precisely here that he calls out to each one of us.

Many of us would rather avert our eyes from the disheveled man wrapped in a tattered blanket limping across a downtown Toledo intersection late at night, or from the lonely, wheelchair-bound widow we sometimes see in the window of a house just down the block. It's just too hard to look.

Pope John Paul II easily could have chosen in the last several years of his life to shut himself up inside the Vatican and conduct the business of the Church quietly behind the scenes as he deteriorated, refusing to let us see him. Instead, this most public of popes openly invited us to watch him. In a sense, it was a more powerful message than any encyclical he issued or homily he delivered.

Do not be afraid, he was telling us, to look deeply at what is painful to bear, to rejoice in the human dignity you see there. Let your heart be motivated to action by compassion that can only come by noticing the cross your neighbor is bearing, and like Simon aided Christ on the way to Calvary, pick it up and help.

This message is not one that Karol Wojtyla simply theorized about, contemplated or preached. He lived a life of hardship and persecution that gave him unequaled moral authority in our time to show us what Christ meant. His faith was a truth he shared with us from his own despair. It welled up in his grieved heart as he lost his mother at age 9, labored in a quarry as the Holocaust decimated his country, and witnessed his countrymen groaning under the weight of the Iron Curtain.

Long before he became Pope, he had endured enough hardship to turn any bright-eyed idealist into an embittered pessimist. His faith, however, prevented him from turning inward and bemoaning his own fate. Instead, he left his very self behind -- as Christ asks us all to do. He saw the human dignity in the downcast eyes of those around him, and he bent down to help pick them up, figuratively and literally.

He showed us how time and time again, whether it was providing peaceful words of encouragement to help lift the hopes of the Solidarity movement in Poland, reaching out and embracing a young AIDS patient, or looking into the eyes of his would-be assassin with love and mercy instead of hate and condemnation.

We all have value and purpose, particularly those whom society tends to disregard. It is precisely these most forgotten who are able to offer us life's most profound lesson -- the truth of human dignity.

One can do no better than reflect on and act upon some of the words from his own writings:
The sick, the elderly, the handicapped, and the dying teach us that weakness is a creative part of human living, and that suffering can be embraced with no loss of human dignity. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus teaches us to show a generous initiative on behalf of those who are suffering. He reveals His presence in all who are in need and pain, so that every act of helping the suffering is done to Christ Himself. This means suffering, intended to sanctify those who suffer, is also meant to sanctify those who help and comfort them.
Be not afraid.

Divine Mercy

A few days ago, I posted a short reflection on this coming Sunday's Gospel regarding the apostle Thomas' encounter with the risen Jesus, who invited him to touch his wounds and believe. During lectio this morning, I ran across this passage in Pope Benedict XVI's new book Jesus of Nazareth, Part Two: Holy Week, from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection. It is a wonderfully lucid insight, I think, as to how the cross of Christ heals us despite our objections. Even if we're OK with the Resurrection, we'd rather leave the Cross behind. However, they are one reality, and like Thomas, Jesus invites us to touch his wounds so that we may believe and be healed.  As the First Letter of St. Peter tells us: "By his wounds, you have been healed" (1Peter 2:24):
In Jesus' Passion, all the filth of the world touches the infinitely pure one, the soul of Jesus Christ and hence, the Son of God himself. While it is usually the case that anything unclean touching something clean renders it unclean, here it is the other way around: when the world, with all the injustice and cruelty that make it unclean, comes into contact with the infintely pure one--then he, the pure one, is stronger. Through this contact, the filth of the world is truly absorbed, wiped out, and transformed in the pain of infinite love.

Because infinite good is now at hand in the man Jesus, the counterweight to all wickedness is present and active within world history, and the good is always infinitely greater than the vast mass of evil, however terrible it might be.

If we reflect more deeply on this insight, we find the answer to an objection that is often raised against the idea of atonement. Again and again people say: It must be a cruel God who demands infinite atonement.  However, the real forgiveness accomplished on the cross functions in exactly the opposite direction. The reality of evil and injustice that disfigures the world and at the same time distorts the image of God--this reality exists, through our sin. It cannot simply be ignored; it must be addressed. But here it is not a case of a cruel God demanding the infinite. It is exactly the opposite: God himself becomes the locus of reconciliation, and in the person of his Son takes the suffering upon himself.

God himself grants his infinite purity to the world. God himself "drinks the cup" of every horror to the dregs and thereby restores justice through the greatness of his love, which, through suffering, transforms the darkness.
Of course, as I have mentioned in previous posts, the "Exclamation Point" to all this is the Resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate this Easter season, and hopefully, every day of our Christian lives. The Resurrection changed everything. It is our hope. If not, then why else did weak, frightened apostles who understandably abandoned Jesus on the cross suddenly find the courage and strength and motivation to gather and proclaim his name throughout the world?

If it were all a hoax, a lie, then why not simply fade into safe anonymity? Instead, they began building something wonderful--and most of them paid for it with their lives. If the cross and resurrection are not historical realities, then none of that makes any sense.

Therefore, the image of Jesus on the cross is not one of horror, but of human healing through the grace and peace of God. It is Divine Mercy -- the image of Beauty and Truth personified.

"Do not be unbelieving, but believe" (John 20:27)

Friday, April 29, 2011

'Do this in remembrance of me.'

Blessings and congratulations to my nephew Ian, age 8, who makes his First Communion on Sunday!

The exquisite piece of art you see above is by Ian himself (in case you can't tell). Each of the children preparing to receive First Communion was to make his or her own banner as a pew marker for the special day.

Prayer for First Communicants

You loved us so much
that you gave us the gift
of the Holy Eucharist.
Look graciously on the young children
who are about to receive you for the first time.
Protect them from all evil,
stengthen their faith,
increase their love,
and endow them will all the virtues
that will make them worthy to receive you.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Pursuing peace

Toblerones in Switzerland (See Postscript below)

In anticipation of Pope John Paul II’s beatification on Sunday, for table reading in the monastery refectory we are currently listening to The Pope’s Maestro by Sir Gilbert Levine (Jossey-Bass, 2010). In the book, the author—a Brooklyn-born Jew and son-in-law of a Holocaust survivor, recounts his almost two-decade long friendship with Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005. The two became acquainted in the 1980s when Levine became conductor of the Krakow Philharmonic. As we know, the Pope (Karol Wojtyla) was Polish and had been Archbishop of Krakow and then Cardinal before being selected Vicar of Christ in 1978.

Levine and the Pope collaborated in organizing a unique series of Vatican-sponsored, internationally broadcast concerts aimed at reconciling Jews, Catholics, and peoples of other faiths who have historically endured estranged and even violent relations. Through their shared love of music, the two sought and strove after peace. Along the way, Levine rediscovered the depths of his own Jewish faith.

Tonight we heard of Levine’s first visit to Krakow in 1987. At that time, Poland was still under Communist rule, the vestiges of a horrific world war that began when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union invaded in 1939. As we know, the young Wojtyla was profoundly affected and influenced by the foreign occupation of his homeland and the systematic degradation and murder of many Jewish friends and acquaintances. Even attending Mass was risky business in those days.

In tonight’s reading, Levine kept a promise to his mother-in-law to visit the Nazi extermination camp she had survived—the dreaded Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. More than 1 million men, women, and children from all over occupied Europe, most of them Jews, died in the camp—primarily in gas chambers, but also from disease, starvation, torture, and other unspeakable crimes. Bodies were disposed of in immense brick ovens, spewing the stench of death over the Polish countryside day after day. Truly hell on earth. (As a side note, the most strangely sparse yet harrowing account of the Holocaust I have read is Elie Wiesel’s Night. Its personal account of human madness is utterly sickening, but should be required reading for everyone.)

In The Pope’s Maestro, Levine describes the pall of death that still hovers over what is left of Auschwitz-Birkenau. As he walked through the camp in 1987, he recalls stooping down to scoop up a handful of earth, still riddled with human bone fragments more than 40 years after the war’s end.

No, it is not pleasant table reading, at least at this point. My stomach always curls up when I hear such things. However, no matter how much we all desire peace, we cannot afford to overlook or forget such a horrendous thing. It is simply unimaginable. Hideous. But true. Human beings—God’s children—did this to one another, and not so very long ago. And in many other ways throughout the world to this very day, they still do—we still do.

It may not be happening on the scale of World War II, but it is certainly happening, and ultimately, we all bear some responsibility. We are not isolated beings independent of one another. Quite the contrary, as St. Paul reminds us: “If one part of the body suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy. You are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it” (1Corinthians 12:26-27).

Although we are still celebrating the joy of Christ’s Resurrection this Easter season, the sober reality is that stark monuments of humanity’s capacity for evil still remain in need of redemption and reconciliation. The promise of our faith is that the Gates of Hell will not prevail. But in the meantime, we have a lot of bulldozing to do.

Pope John Paul II achieved a great deal in this regard, particularly in light of the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. Additionally, much of today’s ecumenical and interreligious dialogue grows from seeds he helped sow and cultivate. As he becomes Blessed (and possibly Saint) Pope John Paul II, let us pray for his continued intercession so that Christ’s peace may truly reign in all hearts, sowing faith, hope, and love througout the world.

POSTSCRIPTThe accompanying photographs have absolutely nothing to do with Levine’s book, Poland, the Holocaust, or the Pope. They are, however, remnants of World War II. I took these pictures in Switzerland last summer. Switzerland was never invaded by the Axis powers, but at one point during the war it was surrounded on all sides, and realistically feared that it would be. Switzerland was neutral in the war, but was ready to defend itself. The fact that neutral Belgium and Norway were invaded demonstrated this very real possibility for the Swiss as well. The objects shown—called toblerones and named after the famous Swiss chocolate bar of the same shape—are huge “concrete teeth” intended to obstruct Nazi tanks. They are covered with steel spikes. Miles of rows of these obstacles were installed throughout Switzerland. When I was at the Abbey of Einsiedeln, I talked to a few of the older monks who distinctly remember how real the threat of invasion was at the time. Some of the toberlones have been removed, but many have intentionally been left in place—reminders that the promise of peace must also be pursued through the love of God. Let us pray...

Touching the wounds that heal

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday)—A

Acts 2:42-47
1Peter 1:3-9
John 20:19-31

It is significant that in today’s Gospel, Jesus appears in the midst of the disciples gathered together on the first day of the week—a Sunday—to bring them peace and the promise of reconciliation in the Holy Spirit. When the apostle Thomas—who was not present at the time—finds the testimony of his companions—“We have seen the Lord”—difficult to believe, he does not mock their account in a spirit of cynicism. Rather, he honestly questions in a spirit of openness and faith. After all, he did come back the following Sunday.

Once again, Jesus appears in their midst, offering peace, and then inviting Thomas personally to touch the sanctifying wounds that crucified him and redeemed the world. Thomas responds by proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!”

What all three readings today offer us is a profound vision of the early Church that has been passed down to us. Together, we gather on the first day of the week, devoted to the teaching of the apostles, fellowship with one another, the Eucharist, and communal worship and prayer around the Word made Flesh.

We come with our wounds and our doubts, but we come nonetheless to proclaim, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus is in our very midst, offering peace and reconciliation in the Holy Spirit, and inviting us to touch the wounds that heal us.

The message is this: We don’t have to be whole and know all the answers to believe. We only need to gather in a spirit of openness and faith, willing to embrace our own and one another’s woundedness within the Body of Christ.

In this way, God, in his great mercy, gives us new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Where's the fire?

Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,
but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.
Luke 24: 15-16

In today’s Gospel (Luke 24:13-35) we hear again the post-resurrection account of two disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. They are disheartened. They still do not understand what it all means—Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

Then Jesus himself joins them, and still, they do not see—at least initially.

I have been thinking about this passage (one of my favorites, which we will also hear on the third Sunday of Easter). Sadly, the two lines above (verses 15-16) are all too descriptive of many Christians (monks included). Jesus draws near, he walks with us, and tries to show us the way. If we allow him, as the two disciples do in today’s Gospel, he will eventually get through in Word and Sacrament.

But how often do we really do that? So often, it seems to me, we are so intent on our routines, so “busy” with “important” matters, so eager to keep moving along to the next thing, that we leave Jesus there by the side of the road without even noticing him.

I can just imagine him calling out, “Hey guys, wait up!”

Sorry, we say politely, we’re late. We need to be going.

Or, even if we do allow him to join us, doesn’t it seem that all too often, we’re not really “there”? Preoccupied, we just go through the motions—even in the breaking of the bread.

First we do this, then that. Later comes this, that, and the other. We need to hurry, though.

But, what if we simply slowed down a little, and ...

... breathed deeply,
... allowed a little variation in the routine,
... entered into the sound of the gently falling rain and distant thunder,
... watched the evening sun sink beyond the horizon,
... read something without expecting to “get something out of it” or “do something with it”?

What if we noticed the journey rather than focusing on the destination?

What if we observed something without instantly analyzing or critiquing it?

What if we really listened to someone—anyone—without at the same time formulating our own judgment, response, or opinion?

What if we were simply present to the presence of Christ—God among us?

What if we just stood still to let Jesus catch up with us?

What else is so important, anyway?

Thinking about this reminds me of the refrain to the hit song a few years back by the popular country music group Alabama:
I'm in a hurry to get things done
Oh I rush and rush until life's no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
But I'm in a hurry and don't know why
Yes, as human beings, we need to be fruitfully occupied. But even noble or holy tasks can become ruthless masters. Life is not a series of tasks to be completed or appointments to be kept. Rather, life is about who we bring to those tasks and appointments—and who we leave with as we move from one to another. Hopefully, by the grace of God, who we bring and who we leave with is not quite the same person. There should be a discernible progression. We should become more like Christ—our companion along the Way. And that means spending time with him, for absolutely no other reason than because he is Jesus.

Earlier in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus tells the agitated Martha that her attentive sister Mary has chosen the better part. If Martha and Mary had been the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, I imagine Martha would be way out in front of Mary, worried about keeping good time, hollering back at her loitering sister to step it up.

Mary, meanwhile, would be wandering from one side of the path to another, absorbing the wonder of God’s creation all around her. Stopping to watch a butterfly or pick a flower, perhaps, suddenly Jesus would be there. They then walk side by side, leisurely but passionately conversing, totally absorbed in one another, and calling out to Martha, “Hey, wait up!”

Martha, though, simply mutters and quickens her pace.

When I happen to notice Martha in another person, or in myself—monks are not immune from the agitated “busyness” of the world—I can only pray as we did today at Vigils that all our hearts will burn within us (cf. Psalm 39:4; Luke 24:32) for the presence of Christ.

May it always be, so that as Jesus draws near and walks with us, our eyes recognize him, and our voices plead, “Stay with us, Lord!”

Or, in country music vernacular, we can sing (my apologies to Alabama):
I’m in no hurry to get things done
Oh I won’t rush and rush until life’s no fun
All I really gotta do is live and die
So I’m in no hurry, and Jesus is why

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pillar of Fire

This year's Paschal Candle in the Archabbey Church,
designed by Br. John Mark Falkenhain, O.S.B.

Easter lillies in front of the ambo
and Paschal Candle. Br. Kim Malloy,
O.S.B., decorates the Archabbey Church.
Easter is too good to leave behind after only one day of celebration. It is central to our Christian faith, and therefore to the liturgical year. MUCH BIGGER than Christmas (sorry, Madison Avenue). Easter is where it's at; what it's all about; why we are Christians.

It's why we continue to celebrate the Octave of Easter for the next seven days, and the Easter season until Pentecost -- 50 days, compared with Lent's 40. Even after Pentecost--or especially after Pentecost, one might say--the joy and mystery of Easter should continue to glitter within the grit of our daily lives, and it is there in the Church as well -- Baptism, the Eucharist, Scriptures, etc. It is all one. The Easter celebration of the Resurrection of Christ is simply the exclamation point that brings it all to life within us--the Body of Christ. It is a Pillar of Fire to guide us all year-round, which is what the Paschal Candle represents, and why it figures so prominently in the Easter liturgy.

So, since we're not quite through celebrating, following is the Exultet, or Easter Proclamation, which is sung in front of the new Paschal Candle during the Easter Vigil after it has been carried into the darkened church and used to light the candles of all those present as the sanctuary is gradually illuminated and the liturgy begins.

Can you tell that I really, really like Easter?

(Pass the dark-chocolate covered pretzels, please!)


Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God's throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Mother Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Savior shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God's people!

My dearest friends,
standing with me in this holy light,
join me in asking God for mercy,
that he may give his unworthy minister
grace to sing his Easter praises.
Cantor: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Cantor: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them up to the Lord.
Cantor: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.
It is truly right
that with full hearts and minds and voices
we should praise the unseen God, the all-powerful Father,
and his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam's sin to our eternal Father!

This is our Passover Feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

What good would life have been to us,
had Christ not come as our Redeemer?
Father, how wonderful your care for us!
How boundless your merciful love!
To ransom a slave you gave away your Son.

O happy fault,
O necessary sin of Adam,
which gained for us so great a Redeemer!

Most blessed of all nights,
chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

Of this night scripture says:
"The night will be as clear as day:
it will become my light, my joy."

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and all are reconciled with God!

Therefore, heavenly Father,
in the joy of this night,
receive our evening sacrifice of praise,
your Church's solemn offering.

Accept this Easter candle,
fashioned from the work of bees,
a flame divided but undimmed,
a pillar of fire that glows to the honor of God.

Let it mingle with the lights of heaven
and continue bravely burning
to dispel the darkness of this night!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

One world within another

Saint Meinrad Archabbot Justin DuVall's homily
from the Easter Vigil (very) early Sunday morning:

Genesis 1.1-2.2
Romans 6.3-11
Matthew 28.1-10

All the joy of the mystery we celebrate this night lies in the words of the angel to the women: “He is not here. He is risen.” That is Easter, the Paschal event that gladdens our hearts. But during those hours of Sabbath rest that first stood between the sadness of the cross and the joy of Easter, when our Lord Jesus Christ passed over from death to life, another mystery unfolded.

In the Apostles’ Creed we say about Christ’s journey that he “descended into hell.” Since we have no knowledge of the world of death, we can only imagine his triumph over death with the help of images which shed light on the mystery. The “harrowing of hell,” as the tradition names it, belongs to the mystery of the resurrection because it tells us that the healing Christ won for us reached back to the roots of it all, to the beginnings of the whole of creation. Redemption touches not just future generations, but every generation from Adam to the last.

The resurrection effects a new creation, even before this one is quite finished, and like the women at the tomb, those of us who encounter the Risen Christ begin the new life of that creation even while we live in this present world.

During this night of Vigil we have listened to the story of God’s people, beginning with the creation of the world. Our celebration of the paschal mystery takes us back to the first act of God, when he made everything that has come to be. All of this before that “happy fault” that led to the second creation in Christ.

If the contemporary mind has trouble with belief in the resurrection, it likely follows from trouble believing in the doctrine of creation. These days we hear a lot about respect for “nature,” and an endless line of celebrities eagerly jump on the ecology bandwagon. But the Church has a more developed approach. What a Christian believer should see when he looks around at the world is not merely one reality, either creation or nature; the Christian believer should look with both eyes, seeing, as it were, one world within another; not only nature, but also creation, “radiant with the beauty of God in every part” (David Bentley Hart).

Everything in this world, even if glimpsed through the veil of death, bears the image of God’s handiwork, because nature is the sacrament of creation. For this reason, the things of nature find a rightful place in our celebration of the Paschal mystery tonight. Fire, water, flowers—and the things made by human hands which share in God’s creative work: candles, cloth, bread & wine—all of these things recall for us the marvelous works of God who delighted in his creation.

When we carried our candles in the darkness of this church earlier, they twinkled with the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would be “as countless as the stars of the sky.” Nature’s wax burned with the Word of creation’s God. And yet, we know too well how the beauty of God’s handiwork was spoiled—not destroyed—but in need of deep repair. God, who at the beginning of days looked on his creation and saw that it was very good, would not let it perish in chains. With faith in the God of creation, we have gathered in vigil and heard once again the beginning of our story.

But the story of creation and all the other readings of this Vigil Night are not merely records of the past; they are the prophecies of the future which the living Christ fulfills now in our hearing. The Gospel of the resurrection proclaims God’s handiwork of a new creation. At the resurrection, a great earthquake shook more than just the ground; it shook the authority of the guards at the tomb, and it shook the sorrows of the women who came to the tomb.

We’re quite familiar with the natural destructive power of an earthquake from the recent photos of the devastation from Japan. It was a natural disaster. And in the gospel nature is again the symbol of a new creation. But there the earth erupted in a rolling belch to let out what it could not digest because more than nature was involved. The God who created the earth was again at work to create something even more wonderful than the first creation.

When those women arrived at Jesus’ tomb, carrying their dashed hopes and their modest expectation, nothing could have prepared them for what they found, and what they did not find. Death—and the familiar stink of its decay—had vacated the tomb, leaving it as empty as their own hearts. Instead of the natural silence of death, they heard the shocking words of an angel saying that Jesus “is not here, but he has been raised, just as he said.”

That straightforward announcement reversed everything they knew about how life and death are supposed to work in this world. If Jesus had been raised, then the power of God can repair anything, even the final corruption of death; and if death is no longer the end of it all, then everything is made new. The Kingdom of God does not simply follow the contours of nature or obey its logic; rather, to all who believe the power of God’s creation, it is opened by way of a natural absurdity: an empty tomb (Hart). Out of that tomb the life of the new creation spills forth.

If this long night of our Paschal Vigil is to be more than a pageantry of fire and water, song and incense; more than a once a year variation of our usual routine; if the Church, for having celebrated this night of resurrection, is to speak to the heart of the world with conviction of the new life it shares from the empty tomb; then we must allow ourselves to be plunged into the mystery of Christ’s resurrection, and to shudder with the exhilaration of coming up from the deep, gasping for air.

This is the joy of Easter: in the resurrection love has been shown to be stronger than death and destruction, and we are free. Love made Christ descend into hell, and love is also the power by which he ascends, the same power by which he re-creates our human nature (Pope Benedict XVI). Now, as those who belong to the new creation, we share in this new life.

St. Paul says, “We have been buried with Christ through baptism into his death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” The life of Christ in us is real, as real as the face of death, but overcoming death in all its hold over us. This victory is the heart of our celebration of the Paschal mystery today, and the power for our living every day beyond today.

That dreadful hour, when Jesus was all alone and for all appearances dead and gone, had swallowed him up, but it could not hold him. So also, we may face threats of sin and defeat throughout our lives, but in the end they cannot hold us. Christ’s victory over death assures our new life, if we hold fast to him. Clinging to his Body we have life, and in communion with his Body we reach the very heart of God. Only in this way is death conquered, we are set free and our life is hope (Benedict XVI).

The more deeply we plunge ourselves into the life of grace, despite the real shortcomings that we will inevitably find in life, the more deeply we discover the power of Christ’s resurrection at work re-creating the world, defeating the forces of death, and making the glory of God shine as brilliantly as the sun.

Our long night of vigil has all but given way to the approaching dawn of Easter. Today is the Day of Resurrection, so let us rejoice in this first day of the new creation, and let us embrace one another in the peace of Christ. Let this day be our joy. Healed of our ancient mortal wound, let us also speak of peace to any who hate us, and in the Resurrection let us forgive everything—for Christ is risen—he is truly risen—and in him we are born to new life!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Life and Light arise

Mercy and faithfulness have met;
justice and peace have embraced.
Faithfulness shall spring from the earth
and justice look down from heaven.
Psalm 85

Easter, April 24, 2011
Easter Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection—A

Genesis 1:1-2:2
Genesis 22:1-18
Exodus 14:15-15:1
Isaiah 54:5-14
Isaiah 55: 1-11
Baruch 3:9-15, 32-4:4
Ezekiel 36:16-17a, 18-28
Romans 6:3-11
Matthew 28:1-10

With the dawn of this new day, we celebrate the mystery of our common faith and baptism in the Risen Christ. As we listen to today’s readings, we recall that in Christ, we:

Are the light of the world, created in the image of God.
Are blessed abundantly through the faith of Abraham.
Like the Israelites, have passed through the waters of sin and death to everlasting life.
Are called back from our infidelity to the tender mercy of God.
Seek and call on God, who is always near.
Walk toward splendor by the light of the wisdom of God who comes among us.
Live with God’s spirit within us.
Die with Christ so we may also live with him.
Run with joy to tell the world what we have seen and heard and believe.

So, as we renew our baptismal promises and gather around the table of our Eucharistic Lord on this Resurrection Day, let us illuminate the Church and the world with the One Flame given each of us by Christ. May our hearts shine as children of light so we grow more fully into the Light of the World as the Body of Christ.

As St. Augustine said, “You are the mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table. You receive the mystery that is yourself. To that which you are, you will respond.”


Friday, April 22, 2011

We are weary, given no rest

I am reckoned as one in the tomb.
Psalm 88:5
Artwork by Saint Meinrad monk Fr. Donald Walpole, O.S.B.
This piece is placed in front of the reliquary
in the Archabbey Church
for Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
(Fr. Donald, by the way, turns 94 next week).


Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us;
   look, and see our disgrace!
Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
   our homes to aliens.
We have become orphans, fatherless;
   our mothers are like widows.
We must pay for the water we drink;
   the wood we get must be bought.
With a yoke on our necks we are hard driven;
   we are weary, we are given no rest.
We have made a pact with Egypt and Assyria,
   to get enough bread.
Our ancestors sinned; they are no more,
   and we bear their iniquities.
Slaves rule over us;
   there is no one to deliver us from their hand.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
   because of the sword in the wilderness.
Our skin is black as an oven
   from the scorching heat of famine.
Women are raped in Zion,
   virgins in the towns of Judah.
Princes are hung up by their hands;
   no respect is shown to the elders.
Young men are compelled to grind,
   and boys stagger under loads of wood.
The old men have left the city gate,
   the young men their music.
The joy of our hearts has ceased;
   our dancing has been turned to mourning.
The crown has fallen from our head;
   woe to us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our hearts are sick,
   because of these things our eyes have grown dim:
because of Mount Zion, which lies desolate;
   jackals prowl over it.

But you, O Lord, reign for ever;
   your throne endures to all generations.
Why have you forgotten us completely?
   Why have you forsaken us these many days?
Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored;
   renew our days as of old—
unless you have utterly rejected us,
   and are angry with us beyond measure.
"Come to me all you who are weary
and are burdened, and I will give you rest."
Matthew 11:28

Triduum horarium

Things are a little different around here during the Holy Triduum. It is a precious time that breaks away from the normal monastic routine. Primarily, it is a time when things slow down in the sense that the world views such things. However, our prayer, reflection, silence, self-denial, liturgical celebrations, and other community activities intensify dramatically. Strangely, it is both spiritually restful and physically exhausting!

Below is the modified horarium (or daily monastic schedule) we observe here in the monastery for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday. As you can see, on Friday and Saturday, we begin a little later than normal (instead of 5:30 a.m.), but spend a lot more time in church. Today--Friday--is particularly intense. Inbetween the times listed, individual chores and responsibilities are taken care of (some, like me, may even still be attempting to finish up papers for class!). For those who are musicians or singers (which I am not), there is even more to do because of all the preparation that must occur prior to the liturgies.

The liturgical celebrations are quite beautiful and even stirring. Occasionally, there are even emotional moments for some--whether monks, guests, students, or retreatants. It is a blessed time to enter more fully into the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, so that we may be transformed by the mysteries we celebrate and live them more genuinely the rest of the year.

I am deeply grateful to be granted the privilege--and responsibility--of observing the Triduum in this fashion each year in the monastery.

A most blessed Triduum and Happy Easter to all!

Holy Thursday of the Lord's Supper
+ 5:30 a.m -- Vigils and Lauds
+Noon -- Midday Office, followed by lunch (casual)
+1:30 p.m. -- End of recreation until Easter; house silence observed
+5 p.m. -- Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper (during which the Abbot washes the feet of 12 monks, guests, students, or retreatants)
+7 p.m. -- Holy Thursday Dinner (shared with all guests)

Good Friday of the Lord's Passion and Death
+6:30-7:15 a.m. -- Breakfast
+7:15 a.m. -- Vigils and Lauds
+ Noon --Midday Office, followed by lunch (formal, silence, table reading)
+3 p.m. -- Liturgy of the Passion and Death of the Lord
+5:15 p.m. -- Chapter of Faults (monks only: this is where we openly confess our public faults and weaknesses--NOT sins--and ask for the community's prayers.)
+ 6 p.m. -- Supper (formal, silence, table reading)
+7 p.m. -- Compline

Holy Saturday of the Lord's Rest
+6:30-7:15 a.m. -- Breakfast
+7:15 a.m. -- Vigils and Lauds
+ Noon --Midday Office, followed by lunch (formal, silence, table reading)
+5 p.m. -- Vespers
+6 p.m. -- Supper (formal, silence, table reading)

Easter Sunday of the Lord's Resurrection
+3 a.m. -- Easter Vigil and Lauds/Eucharist (ending approximately 6 a.m.)
+Recreation after Lauds/Breakfast 45 minutes after Lauds
+11:30 a.m. -- Midday Office, followed by community social
+12:30 a.m. -- Dinner (No table reading, talking allowed)
+MORE NAP TIME!!! (or whatever)
+5 p.m. -- Vespers, followed by buffet supper (casual)
+7 p.m. -- Compline

The world is gathered here

If the Lord were not to help me,
I would soon go down to the silence.
Psalm 94:17

The people are coming up slowly
to kiss the cross--
hardly moving, because the crowd is so big;
moving slowly,
like waves of a calm sea
gently surging forward,
caressing the quiet shore
with a single wave
that breaks on the steadfast rock,
whose touch disperses
the sea's sorrow of shipwreck
in spray of delicate foam;
like the hair of Mary Magdalene
shining wet with tears
over the feet of Christ.

The word is gathered here,
kissing the cross.
They are not afraid:
they have made the Way of the Cross;
they have nothing to fear any more.

Christ with them,
Christ in them,
strength of them--
every one:
Christ, with His cross on His back.

In a single wave of love,
breaking upon the shore,
they are singing inaudibly,
"Consummatum est!"

Caryll Houselander,
The Adoration of the Cross, 1942

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wait quietly for salvation

The six bells in the Archabbey Church's two towers
have been silenced until the
Gloria at the Easter Vigil.

I am one who has seen affliction
   under the rod of God’s wrath;
he has driven and brought me
   into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
   again and again, all day long.

He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
   and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
   with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness
   like the dead of long ago.

He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
   he has put heavy chains on me;
though I call and cry for help,
   he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,
   he has made my paths crooked.

He is a bear lying in wait for me,
   a lion in hiding;
he led me off my way and tore me to pieces;
   he has made me desolate;
he bent his bow and set me
   as a mark for his arrow.

He shot into my vitals
   the arrows of his quiver;
I have become the laughing-stock of all my people,
   the object of their taunt-songs all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness,
   he has glutted me with wormwood.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
   and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
   I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, ‘Gone is my glory,
   and all that I had hoped for from the LORD.’

The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
   is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
  and is bowed down within me.

But this I call to mind,
   and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
   his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
   great is your faithfulness.
‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul,
   ‘therefore I will hope in him.’

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
   to the soul that seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
   for the salvation of the LORD.
It is good for one to bear
   the yoke in youth,
to sit alone in silence
   when the Lord has imposed it,
to put one’s mouth to the dust
   (there may yet be hope),
to give one’s cheek to the smiter,
   and be filled with insults.

For the Lord will not
   reject for ever.
Although he causes grief, he will have compassion
   according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict
   or grieve anyone.

When all the prisoners of the land
   are crushed under foot,
when human rights are perverted
   in the presence of the Most High,
when one’s case is subverted
   —does the Lord not see it?

Who can command and have it done,
   if the Lord has not ordained it?
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
   that good and bad come?
Why should any who draw breath complain
   about the punishment of their sins?

Let us test and examine our ways,
   and return to the LORD.
Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands
   to God in heaven.
We have transgressed and rebelled,
   and you have not forgiven.

You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,
   killing without pity;
you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
   so that no prayer can pass through.
You have made us filth and rubbish
   among the peoples.

All our enemies
   have opened their mouths against us;
panic and pitfall have come upon us,
   devastation and destruction.
My eyes flow with rivers of tears
   because of the destruction of my people.

My eyes will flow without ceasing,
   without respite,
until the LORD from heaven
   looks down and sees.
My eyes cause me grief
   at the fate of all the young women in my city.

Those who were my enemies without cause
   have hunted me like a bird;
they flung me alive into a pit
   and hurled stones on me;
water closed over my head;
   I said, ‘I am lost.’

I called on your name, O LORD,
   from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close your ear
   to my cry for help, but give me relief!’
You came near when I called on you;
   you said, ‘Do not fear!’

You have taken up my cause, O Lord,
   you have redeemed my life.
You have seen the wrong done to me, O LORD;
   judge my cause.
You have seen all their malice,
   all their plots against me.

You have heard their taunts, O LORD,
   all their plots against me.
The whispers and murmurs of my assailants
   are against me all day long.
Whether they sit or rise—see,
   I am the object of their taunt-songs.

Pay them back for their deeds, O LORD,
   according to the work of their hands!
Give them anguish of heart;
   your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
   from under the LORD’s heavens.

This is BIG

I waited, I waited for the Lord, and he stooped down to me.
Psalm 40:2

Holy Thursday, April 21, 2011
Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper—A

Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14
1Corinthians 11:23-26
John 13:1-15

God’s love for humanity is so big, so immense, and so high, that he makes himself small, insignificant, and low to lift us up. In John’s Gospel, we are told that Jesus, the Word made Flesh, “rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist,” and then began washing the disciples’ feet.

God stoops down, literally taking the form of a slave, to cleanse those enjoying the banquet with him. In doing this, he strips himself of divine privilege and wraps himself in the towel of servile humanity. However, Jesus does much more than simply wash the disciples’ feet. This action symbolically illustrates what he will do in reality on Good Friday, when he will be stripped of his garments and nailed to a cross to cleanse and free humanity—just as the slaughtered lamb at Passover saved the children of Israel in Egypt. In doing so, he offers all a seat at the heavenly banquet.

All this, of course, echoes the famous Christian hymn in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:7-8):
He emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Tonight, we recall again God’s self-sacrificing love for us as demonstrated through posture while we commemorate the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection in the Liturgy of the Eucharist. God stoops down to us, allows himself to be broken and shared among us, so that we who are so broken may together become the whole Christ, blessed and shared with all.

Like Peter, who at first won’t allow Jesus to wash his feet, we who are so small want a God bigger than us, perhaps because that would "let us off the hook" in so many respects. Though God is bigger, he becomes small enough to be placed in our hands and on our tongues in the Eucharist. Kneeling before his disciples at the Last Supper, stripped of all dignity on the cross, and in the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist, the Son of God gives us his very self so that we may live in him and he may live in us.

Then, Jesus asks us as he did the apostles:

“Do you realize what I have done for you?”

Our honest answer must be, “No.”

However, our honest prayer can be, “Not yet. Wash me.”

Sometimes growing in maturity means merely recognizing our capacity for it—and being small enough to ask for it. Stooped down, broken and shared in love for the life of the world, we are raised as the Body of Christ higher than we ever imagined.

God is at work in you both to will and to do.
Philippians 2:13

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scattered stones

How the gold has grown dim,
   how the pure gold is changed!
The sacred stones lie scattered
   at the head of every street.

The precious children of Zion,
   worth their weight in fine gold—
how they are reckoned as earthen pots,
   the work of a potter’s hands!

Even the jackals offer the breast
   and nurse their young,
but my people has become cruel,
   like the ostriches in the wilderness.

The tongue of the infant sticks
   to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
   but no one gives them anything.

Those who feasted on delicacies
   perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
   cling to ash heaps.

For the chastisement of my people has been greater
   than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
   though no hand was laid on it.

Her princes were purer than snow,
   whiter than milk;
their bodies were more ruddy than coral,
   their hair like sapphire.

Now their visage is blacker than soot;
   they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shrivelled on their bones;
   it has become as dry as wood.

Happier were those pierced by the sword
   than those pierced by hunger,
whose life drains away, deprived
   of the produce of the field.

The hands of compassionate women
   have boiled their own children;
they became their food
   in the destruction of my people.

The LORD gave full vent to his wrath;
   he poured out his hot anger,
and kindled a fire in Zion
   that consumed its foundations.

The kings of the earth did not believe,
   nor did any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
   the gates of Jerusalem.

It was for the sins of her prophets
   and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed the blood of the righteous
   in the midst of her.

Blindly they wandered through the streets,
   so defiled with blood
that no one was able
   to touch their garments.

‘Away! Unclean!’ people shouted at them;
   ‘Away! Away! Do not touch!’
So they became fugitives and wanderers;
   it was said among the nations,
   ‘They shall stay here no longer.’

The LORD himself has scattered them,
   he will regard them no more;
no honour was shown to the priests,
   no favour to the elders.

Our eyes failed, ever watching
   vainly for help;
we were watching eagerly
   for a nation that could not save.

They dogged our steps
   so that we could not walk in our streets;
our end drew near; our days were numbered;
   for our end had come.

Our pursuers were swifter
   than the eagles in the heavens;
they chased us on the mountains,
   they lay in wait for us in the wilderness.

The LORD’s anointed, the breath of our life,
   was taken in their pits—
the one of whom we said, ‘Under his shadow
   we shall live among the nations.’

Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom,
   you that live in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
   you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.

The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished,
   he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter Edom, he will punish,
   he will uncover your sins.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lift your hands to him


What can I say for you, to what compare you,
   O daughter Jerusalem?
To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you,
   O virgin daughter Zion?
For vast as the sea is your ruin;
   who can heal you?

Your prophets have seen for you
   false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
   to restore your fortunes,
but have seen oracles for you
   that are false and misleading.

All who pass along the way
   clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
   at daughter Jerusalem;
‘Is this the city that was called
   the perfection of beauty,
   the joy of all the earth?’

All your enemies
   open their mouths against you;
they hiss, they gnash their teeth,
   they cry: ‘We have devoured her!
Ah, this is the day we longed for;
   at last we have seen it!’

The LORD has done what he purposed,
   he has carried out his threat;
as he ordained long ago,
   he has demolished without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you,
   and exalted the might of your foes.

Cry aloud to the Lord!
   O wall of daughter Zion!
Let tears stream down like a torrent
   day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
   your eyes no respite!

Arise, cry out in the night,
   at the beginning of the watches!
Pour out your heart like water
   before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
   for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
   at the head of every street.

Look, O LORD, and consider!
   To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
   the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
   in the sanctuary of the Lord?

The young and the old are lying
   on the ground in the streets;
my young women and my young men
   have fallen by the sword;
on the day of your anger you have killed them,
   slaughtering without mercy.

You invited my enemies from all around
   as if for a day of festival;
and on the day of the anger of the LORD
   no one escaped or survived;
those whom I bore and reared
   my enemy has destroyed.