Sunday, December 9, 2018

Prepare the Way

The Second Sunday of Advent opens with the cry of John the Baptist out of the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the Way’.  This cry is intended to pierce our hearts so that we may be ready for the new unfolding life of ‘the God who is to come’.  As we live into the hope of God’s gift that is coming, we are not to be lax in our preparation.  We are to do whatever is needed to prepare our hearts to receive what is coming. The hardened heart cannot receive the gift.  The heart that refuses to forgive or to offer compassion is not ready to receive what is to come.  The voice of the Baptist crying in the wilderness is one of ‘repentance’.  While we are not in Lent still this strong call to repentance is fitting for Advent: it is a call to turn from our ‘old’ ways of acting and responding.  Turn away from that old tape, that same old way of responding and turn towards the new that is coming to bring life and healing…with the advent of Christ comes the ‘new wine that asks for new skins’!  Will we be prepared to receive this gift?  Will we keep in mind that our preparation, which includes ‘repentance’, is to help us receive the Word with ‘new skins’?  We are to clear the inner channels so that they are open to receive the Coming One.
Without leaving the theme of John the Baptist’s call to ‘prepare the way’, I like to return to the text of Jean Danielou that I referred to last Sunday for the opening of Advent:  “The Christian does not have to break free from time in order to enter eternity…but is rather required to assume a state of waiting for the entry of eternity into time…”(Prayer, p.33).  We do not have to break free from ‘time’ to encounter our God…We wait in time…we prepare in time…we stay awake and listen with the inner poetic sense that we all have.  The sixth century Rule of St. Benedict opens with the words ‘listen with the ear of the heart’.  Poets, artists, musicians (if they are good!) along with monks are all to listen with the ‘ear of the heart’ for this is how they receive the creative gift, the gift of God’s enduring and prophetic life longing to be made visible through our lives.  ‘Listening with the ear of the heart’ is what we all are called to do. For it is this poetic or monastic inner sense that hears, feels, is able to apprehend the entrance of the ‘eternal’ into the historic moment that we are living in.  Christ is coming again into our historical time and he will not delay.  We only have to assume an interior state of waiting: empty, free of the old blocks and negative, fear filled voices, dwelling in the silence, listening with our poetic sensitivity for the in- breaking of the eternal Word into our humble, waiting flesh.
The eternal dwelling in time, God born in a humble stable, the human and Divine encounter one another in the mystery of Love, all creation glows with the sparks of God’s life, darkness ushers forth Divine light, the Word breathes with our very breath saying: ‘Do not be afraid, I will be with you even more now’.  He is coming and breathes with our breath, the small still voice of the Spirit is hovering over our expectant lives: let us be ready and open, heeding the Baptist’s cry to repentance, choosing the movement of faith, to turn from whatever it is that needs change….and to turn towards the One who is coming with the ‘new wine’ of hope, peace and love.  And let us, in the words of Bernard of Clairvaux: ‘Enter the inner room of the heart, straining to listen with the poetic sense to the tidings of God’s messenger’ for these tidings are bringing the ‘new wine’ of Divine life.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Entry of Eternity into Time

In our relation to the ‘God who is to come’ how do we wait?  What is the interior demeanor that is asked of each of us if we are to receive this new manifestation of God’s life within us and in our midst?  With our liturgy we have taken the first step into Advent; we are blessed to have these days to quiet down inside, to listen, to let go, to wait with our deepest longing.

The ancient patristic writers tell us of the ‘three comings’ of the Lord: the first being the historical birth of Jesus; the second is his coming in this, the present of our lives; and the third at the end of time where the Lord will come in glory.  It is always striking to me that the universal Church chooses the apocalyptic gospels in all three of the liturgical cycles to open Advent.  There is one thing for sure that these gospels do and that is to wake us up.  In Luke’s gospel for this First Sunday of Advent we hear: ‘Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life’.  Well if we say I don’t carouse; I don’t get drunk; still I do think we all become drowsy from the anxieties of daily life.  So the Advent call is there: ‘beware’ of this, don’t let it pull you away from the moment of God’s new gift of life for you!

Indubitably the spirit of Advent calls us to interior quiet, to prayer, where in the words of Jean DaniĆ©lou, “we must not only deepen certain spiritual attitudes but also affirm our convictions” (Prayer, p.31).  I would say that the most essential spiritual attitude that needs to deepen in this Advent season is a faith-filled waiting.  We already ‘know’ experientially something of ‘the God who is’ and ‘the God who was’; in fact this experienced ‘knowing’ is what anchors our faith and keeps us open to the new ‘gesture’ of God’s love.  A faith-filled waiting, a faith-filled openness leans us into what is to come!  ‘Waiting’, with this level of faith and conviction, overshadows us with expectancy.  It is not a fearful waiting for some possible bad news, but a waiting that brings us back to our ‘yes’, a ‘yes’ that says we need this new birth and we are ready to receive it and to carry the new Christ life fully into our daily lives, no matter the cost involved.

Jean DaniĆ©lou further states: “The Christian does not have to break free from time in order to enter eternity…but is rather required to assume a state of waiting for the entry of eternity into time…”(p.33).  Dear sisters, this is the spirit of Advent: the eternal God coming once again into the present history of our lives: the commingling of God and humanity…the Christ of God becoming even more flesh of our flesh…Love becoming more present and expansive in and through each human life, each human life with her tiny seed of faith receiving the gift freely given, the gift of God’s beloved Son.  And ‘the Word was made flesh’…and the Word is still becoming flesh of our flesh.

Let us not lose sight of this Christian reality: the eternal God meets us, encounters us in the present history of our lives.   In this Christmas birth eternity and time unite. Pope Francis in one of his commentaries on the Advent apocalyptic gospels says: “The Gospel does not want to scare us, but to open our horizons to another, greater dimension, one which, on the one hand puts into perspective everyday things, while at the same time making them precious, crucial.  The relationship with the God-who-comes-to-visit-us gives every gesture, every thing a different light, a substance, a symbolic value” (Angelustalk-2016).  This is the outcome of Christ’s new birth in our lives this Christmas: everything becomes fresh and new, touched, overshadowed by the breaking in of God’s eternal gift.  The horizon of our lives will not be the same…they will be expanded…how we see, how we feel will be different….Imagine: the same old stuff being transformed by this birth.
To underline this last point, here is what Pope Francis says: “In this season of Advent, we are called to expand the horizons of our hearts, to be amazed by the life which presents itself each day with newness.  In order to do this, we must learn to not depend on our own certainties, on our own established strategies, because the Lord comes at a time that we do not imagine.  He comes to bring us into a more beautiful and grand dimension” (Angelustalk-2016).  This, sisters, is the ‘entry of eternity into time’, of the Christ life being born in the humble stable of our personal history and the present history of our world.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

That We May See

The gospel reading of this Sunday from the gospel of Mark (10:46-52) is the story of the encounter between Bartimaeus and Jesus: it is an encounter of faith.  Let’s look at the elements of this utterly simple and amazing encounter.  Bartimaeus is along the roadside begging.  On hearing that Jesus was passing by “he began to cry out and say, ‘Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.’”  What happens next?  The people tell him to keep silent and even ‘rebuke’ him.  And what does he do?  He keeps calling out all the more and even louder than before!!!  What do you think is motivating him?   It is evident that there are two factors:  his faith in Jesus and his longing to see.  

Let us for a moment put our selves in this story, that is, to each one of us encountering Jesus. Pope Francis, as you may recall, in The Joy of the Gospel, invites us to a “renewed personal encounter” with Christ, and he goes on to say “or at least an openness to letting him (Jesus) encounter them; I ask of you to do this unfailingly each day….The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms” (p.1).   Openness to a renewed encounter:  are we desiring, are we open for this?  Is our faith large enough for this encounter, remembering it only has to be the size of a tiny mustard seed?  Pope Francis goes on to say (and it is a text I have quoted often, but to me it is ever-fresh), he says: “Thanks solely to this encounter…with God’s love…we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption” (p.4).  I would say we are also liberated from our fears and worries: how often do we hear Jesus say in the gospels: ‘Do not be afraid’.

After the loud cry of Bartimaeus, Jesus responds and says, ‘Call him’.  Bartimaeus throws aside his cloak, springs up and goes to Jesus.  And then the question of Jesus: ‘What do you want me to do for you’?  Can we hear this question pulsating in our heart’s depths?  And what will our response be?  Bartimaeus simply says ‘I want to see’.  Well, sisters, so do I:  I want to see, heal my blindness, so that I can follow your way, O God, and not mine!  After Bartimaeus’ simple and unencumbered request, Jesus says, ‘Go your way, your faith has saved you.’   Let us ponder how our lives would be different if we would unfailingly each day, like Pope Francis asked us, to dare to enter this renewed encounter with Jesus, crying out for whatever is our deepest need…and not forgetting that it is an encounter with God’s love.

In this gospel, basic to this encounter of faith is the desire to see.   To quote Hans Urs von Balthasar: “Bartimaeus’ longing for light is part of what causes Jesus to grant the healing, which in turn makes it possible for the man to follow him.  This following after Jesus shows that the longing for light was a longing for something more basic: a longing for the right path, …a longing for the path that leads to God, a path whose direction and stages one must see if he or she is to embark upon it” (Light of the Word, p.247).  Bartimaeus’ request is granted because of his faith…faith brings him, and faith brings us to the encounter:  and then we are given a word of life, a word of hope, a word that heals, a word that gives the light we need to discern our way forward, a word that mediates God’s unrequited Love and Mercy.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

The Cup of Jesus

‘Can you drink the cup that I drink?  Can you be baptized with the baptism which I am baptized?’ (Mk 10:38).  These are Jesus’ words to his disciples and to each of us, his ‘would-be’ disciples’.  These two questions of Jesus are in response to the favor James and John are asking, the desire for personal glory.  In one sense or at one level there is nothing ‘wrong’ per se with this desire.  It comes down to the motivation of the heart, does it not?  Is this desire for ‘me’, to build myself up?  Our egocentric self is always quick to put ‘me’ at the center. Or is it for the glory of God, to serve God before everything else?  

We have made our public commitment to God at our monastic profession.  However, to have this commitment reach its fulfillment we daily have to re-affirm our ‘yes’, and then to embody this ‘yes’ in our lived lives. This is no small order because it is daily!  With the gospel reading of this Sunday, then, can we each day pray:  ‘yes, I can and will drink the cup of salvation and yes, I can and will be baptized with the baptism you are baptized, dear Lord’.  We say this out of a living faith because we do not know what the cup will hold for each of us and for our community (the two are not separate)…nor do we know what each baptism will ask…baptism in this gospel text is a metaphor and at its core meaning is about surrender: surrender to the will of God, surrendering my willfulness so that it is transformed into willingness, a willingness that expands the heart and mind enabling one to serve with joy.

Sunday’s gospel ends with the statement: ‘The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mk 10:45).  It is my sense that this is the ‘key’ to understanding the first part of the gospel:  that to be at Jesus’ right or left side is a gift given out of service…Is this not true, that one life lived, truly and authentically, lived in self-less service becomes a ‘ransom’ for others?  In other words, this profound witness holds the possibility to free others from their bondage or it offers others freedom or, it opens the door to freedom.  As we serve, rooted in Christ, his life freely given, gives us the courage to do the same…so the reign of God spreads: the reign of love, mercy, and forgiveness.  

How does the consciousness of Christ expand?  How does the body of Christ become a powerful force of transformation and healing?  In, with and through Christ we drink the cup given us; we willingly go down into the baptismal waters where our hearts are converted so that we become authentic vessels for proclaiming God’s word of life. Abbot Joseph was such a witness. These words from Tsokuyi Rimpoche quoted in a card to Joseph from our Sr. Veronique I read to him on Monday: “Life begins with love, is maintained with love, and ends with love”.  Joseph lived these words as fully as any human person can in this life.  He was a person of deep faith…No matter what was before him, his demeanor was always one of hope, his presence uplifting.  Now we have an advocate for us that we can lean on as we strive to walk as Jesus walked, running “on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love” (RB, Prologue: 49).

Sunday, September 16, 2018

A Love the Knows no Bounds

On Thursday for our Morning Prayer we had a reading from Leviticus 19, verses: 1-2, 17-18, 33-34.  This reading was chosen by the editors of Give Us This Dayas their Morning Prayer reading to complement the gospel on this same day.  The gospel reading for the Mass from Luke opened with these verses: “Jesus said to his disciples: ‘To you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well’” (Luke 6:27-29).
Here is what struck me about the Leviticus reading with its selected excerpts: it reads with a dynamic sensation that builds…like a musical composition that starts soft and crescendos into a climax. In verses 1-2 we hear God saying: ‘Speak to the whole community of Israel: Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy’.  What for God is ‘holiness’?  I think from this chapter 19 we could say it is ‘love’.  For the next verses, 17-18 say this:  ‘You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin…You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord’.  Here in these verses ‘neighbor’ is one’s own kin…it is the people of Israel. Then the circle expands to whom ‘love’ must be extended.  In verses 33-34 we hear this: ‘When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien.  The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself…’  Loving one’s kin and loving the alien as yourself:  the extent of God’s love is given more breadth, height, width, and depth.
Looking at both Luke and Matthew’s gospel passages we see how Jesus interprets ‘holiness’:  he extends God’s commandment of love to include one’s enemies:  whether those enemies are one’s own kin or alie
ns, strangers, foreigners, politicians of a different persuasion or religious belief. ‘You have heard it said…’ (Mt 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43) but I say to you ‘love your enemies’ (Mt 5:44).  No more ‘eye for eye and tooth for tooth’ (Mt 5:38). This is true holiness.  This is non-retaliatory love…loving without any conditions, loving without lashing back with tongue or some other non-verbal communication.  No: loving as Jesus loved…loving with the love God loves us with, suffering for love’s sake…suffering in this way brings forth God’s redeeming and saving love, a love that transforms the power of darkness.
In the tools of Good Works of the Rule we hear Benedict putting Jesus’ teaching and Paul’s evangelization of the gospel way of loving into concrete practice. All of these tools offer us what it means to be holy…a reality not disconnected from our humanity and motivated by the love that Jesus embodied.
Jesus in his teaching asks: ‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’  His reply: ‘The one who does the will of God, this is my brother and sister and mother’ (Mk 3:33-35). It occurred to me that the one who strives to love as Jesus loved, forgiving as he forgave, showing compassion as he did, challenging hypocrisy while still extending mercy, indeed these are his brothers and his sisters and these are those who do the will of God

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Listen, Child of God

Ephphatha, be opened.  What opens the ear to hear?  Is it not true that when the heart is open we are able to hear?  Feel into this reality for a moment: when my heart is closed or hardened by harsh judgments, hurt, presumptions, shadow stuff, worries, and you can add to the list, we do not hear.  We hear only our noise.

The voice of God speaks: Ephphatha, be opened.  As the heart opens so does the ear!  If we turn to the Rule, St. Benedict’s teaching is a like a straight arrow in depicting the essence of this reality.  The first word in the Rule is ‘obsculta’, ‘listen’, and this emphasis on one word ‘listen’ is followed in the first sentence with even more emphasis: ‘incline the ear of your heart’.  Here is a dynamic (free) translation of verse 1 of the Rule: 

“Listen, child of God, to the guidance of your teacher.  Attend to the message you hear and make sure that it pierces to your heart, so that you may accept with willing freedom and fulfill by the way you live the directions that come from your loving Father.”  

Attend to the message, make sure the message pierces your heart… make sure you incline or bend the ear of your heart: what is heard with the ear is connected to the heart.  This first verse of the Prologue frames the whole Rule!

If we, right now, were to go outside and listen to the sounds of nature, those sounds would come to our ears pure and unadulterated; the ear connected to the heart would immediately receive these peaceful sounds of nature’s life.  To change experiences, if we begin an ordinary simple conversation with another person this experience gets way more complicated…what we hear stirs up the heart, ours and the person we are conversing with.  We quickly can feel how what we hear has multiple resonances in the heart!  I believe this awareness is important to our ‘listening’, in order to help to deepen our listening both within and without to our neighbor.   This is especially true as we hear the Word of God, which directly touches the many layers of the heart.  The monastic practice of lectio divinacultivates a listening heart; it teaches us how to open interiorly to the Divine voice that speaks to the ‘ear of the heart’: ‘Today, if you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts’ (Psalm 94).

Returning to the Rule, Sr. Aquinata Bockmann says: “Incline or bend always occurs in the Rule in the context of humility” (Perspectives On the Rule of St. Benedict, p.17).  What if in our exchanges with one another we kept this attitude in our awareness: that is, as we receive what the other says we bend the ear of the heart to listen and take in what they are saying.  This interior gesture of inclining or bending to hear keeps the heart open.  Sr. Aquinata adds: “Many might open their physical ears and hear sounds, but if they don’t bend their hearts, they will never experience truth.  Most biblical texts speak of the inclining of the ear…; but they also add that it is the heart to which the Word of God speaks” (p.17). Let me repeat what Sr. Aquinata is saying: we will not experience truth: the truth of ourselves, the truth of the other, the truth of a situation, the truth of God, if we don’t bend the heart to listen!

The heart: the early monastics saw the heart as “the core of the person with its power of loving, but also the power to think” (p.17).  So no wonder our listening must be connected to it!  Fr. Terrance Kardong in his commentary writes the following on this first sentence of the Rule: “The first verse explains the full significance of listening: complete attention of the whole person; good will; implementation. ‘Hearing’ has priority over seeing and activity in both the RB and the Bible” (Benedict’s Rule A Translation and Commentary, p.5).  Here is Fr. Kardong’s translation of verse 1 of the Prologue:

Listen, O my son (daughter), to the teachings of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart.  Willingly accept the advice of a devoted father and put it into action.

Listening, hearing is foundational to the monastic way.  Fr. Kardong like Sr. Bockmann lay out this pattern from the one simple verse that opens the Rule: “hear, ponder, implement” (p.7).  We hear and ponder with the heart and implement what we have received as coming from the voice of God.  To incline, to bend the ear of the heart is pivotal to hearing and receiving; otherwise the ego remains king or queen and we hear nothing more than those habitual voices, which form only a very partial view of life.  The voice of our God is much more subtle and silent…it does not shout at the street corners…but speaks as a small still voice.

‘Be opened’: these words of Jesus are addressed to the ear of the heart…the Divine voice cries out daily: ‘Be opened’.   And, then, ‘ponder, implement’.   This simple instruction evangelizes our heart and makes them ready to be an authentic witness and voice of the gospel.  Amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Silence - the Womb of the Word

“Through God’s Word the monastics are trained in a discipline of heart and action to be responsive to the Holy Spirit and so attain purity of heart and a continual mindfulness of God’s presence” (CST 2). This is a profound statement given right at the beginning of our Order’s Constitutions, which explicate the ‘nature and purpose’ of Cistercian monastic life.   How can we be responsive to the Holy Spirit, how can we attain purity of heart, how can we be mindful of God’s presence without silence?  Obviously in a monastery there is to be more than a modicum of silence in the outer environment.  Further, what of the silence within our heart’s depths? Surely a modicum of silence there is not enough!  Let me add one more sentence from our Constitutions: “Living in solitude and silence they aspire to that interior quiet in which wisdom is born” (CST 3). Who does not want ‘interior quiet’? And then who does not want to receive and be motivated by the voice of wisdom?  This voice of wisdom escapes a noisy interior life!

Sr. Aquinata Bockmann has an excellent commentary on RB 6 in her book: Tools of Good Works to the Heart of Humility.  I offer this morning excerpts from her commentary and I will conclude with a suggestion for this coming week.  She writes:

“Silence enables…listening and good words; silence is the womb for the word” (p.101).

“If monachus signifies to be one, then the importance of silence is clear so that the restless voices inside and outside can be quieted.  An important tool for doing this is to guard one’s tongue” (p.103).

“Keeping silence also means not to judge.  When we are silent we know we stand before God and do not make comparisons” (p.103).

“‘I was silent about good things.’  Those who want to share everything good that arises in them become talkative and eventually garrulous.  Here the emphasis is on discretion, on recollection, and on the fact that when words are born out of silence they are authentic” (p.112).

“As motivation for keeping silent, we see in RB 6 avoiding sins in order to listen, to find inner recollection, and perhaps to facilitate words that can be life-giving.  We would add: in order to strengthen unity in the community” (p.121).

Bockmann notes that it is “apt to view silence as a virtue of wisdom” (p.121).  She supports this by indicating that in RB 5 most of the scriptural references are from the New Testament where in RB 6 this changes and the scriptural references are from the wisdom literature.

“We also grow together in silence, not only when we communicate with each other.  Bonhoeffer says:  The word that creates a new community and unifies it is only a word that emerges out of silence” (p.123).

Indeed Sr. Aquinata’s words tease out the essence of silence as put forth in chapter 6 of the Rule.  Even though this chapter of the Rule is on ‘silence’, in my view, this chapter could as well be titled: ‘Cherishing Silence for the Sake of the Word’!  Let us, then, hold in our consciousness this reality:  that ‘silence and the word’ belong together.

I propose for this coming week, that we give special attention to the practice of silence.  Observe the words that we speak: have they come out of this ground of silence or do we notice that they have the noise of anxiety, of busyness, of judgments toward a sister?  Notice what happens when we just sit in silence…do we get quiet enough to hear the ‘silent still voice of the Spirit’?  Pay particular attention when listening to God’s Word at Mass or during lectio, can we sense the silence that is woven into Jesus’ words?  The Word of Life is a word born out of silence…it is a Spirit infused Word and thus this word woven with silence is always a word of Life, a word of healing, a word of compassion, a word that forgives and unites.  Amen.