The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Friday, September 30, 2011

Living stones of dedication

Twelve bronze sconces mark where the walls of the
church were anointed in 1997. The candle at each place is
only lit on this day each year to celebrate the dedication.
In the background is the shrine to Our Lady of Einsiedeln.

Today's homily delivered by Fr. Kurt Stasiak, O.S.B., the prior of Saint Meinrad Archabbey on this (for us) the Solemnity of the Dedication of the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln:

Fourteenth Anniversary of the Dedication
of the Archabbey Church

Genesis 28:11-18
Ephesians 2:19-22
Luke 1:39-56

History records the cornerstone of this Archabbey Church being blessed and laid on the Solemnity of the Assumption in 1900. Seven years later, on the solemnity of Saint Benedict, the monks of Saint Meinrad entered the church in procession for the first time.

History records two major renovations: one in the late 1960s; the other, which culminated in the dedication of the church in 1997, the anniversary we celebrate today.

Of course, neither the construction nor the renovation of a church is ever really finished. The needs of the worshipping community change a bit with each new generation of monks, and so there are always adjustments, modifications. As the years go by, nature takes its toll: plaster peels, roofs leak, and repairs are needed.

And, as Brother Jerome [in chargeof cleaning the church] will readily attest, every day some cleaning and dusting is needed. A church may have a historical beginning, and a fixed date for its dedication. But the work of constructing and renovating the church really never ends. Just like the construction of the church building, the construction of the church body—the community that calls this particular church its spiritual home—is never really finished once and for all, either. With each generation of monks, the community changes shape and style, and adjustments are made. Repairs are needed: sometimes to the body as a whole, certainly to its individual members.

The tools used for this regular renovation and repair are familiar: mutual obedience, the monastic good zeal, the ladder of humility being among them. And, as we can all attest, there is the necessary daily dusting off of our ideals and cleaning up of our hearts. Like the construction of the church building, the construction and renovation of the church body—the community that calls this particular church its spiritual home—is never finished once and for all.

We monks spend so much of our lives here. And what we do here shapes so much of our lives. We receive our confrere’s vows, ordain our priests, bless our abbots. We ask forgiveness, anoint the sick, and bury the dead. And we gather daily, to be fed on God's Word and on the Sacrament of his Son. And through it all, in this church we have invoked the loving protection of Mary, Our Lady of Einsiedeln. That centuries-old image of the Church and Mary as our mother is true. As any proud mother would, Mary has watched us grow. Protective as mothers can be, she shows us a mother’s vigilance. Soothing as mothers are, she watches over this house as we stay awake, and as we sleep.

Through her intercession, the Lord certainly has done great things for us! He has shown us the strength of his arm. He has, time and again, lifted us up when we’ve been lowly. And he has always filled our hunger by putting food on our table and his Son’s Body and Blood on our altar.

With these kinds of blessings, the question psalmist asks comes to mind. How can we repay the Lord for his goodness to us?

Some 16 centuries ago, Saint Augustine celebrated with his congregation the anniversary of the dedication of their church. Augustine reminded his people that the church building was not the only focus of attention. He said:

The work we see complete in this building is physical; it should find its spiritual counterpart in our hearts. We see here the finished product of stone and wood; so too may our lives [like that of Mary’s] reveal the handiwork of God’s grace.

Through Christ, and through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Einsiedeln, may we be held together, and grow into a temple sacred
to the Lord.

The cemetery where our monks are buried. Each tombstone is carved from
sandstone, the same material used to build our church. These "living stones"
of years past remind us that we are part of the same living tradition.

Monk tales

Today is the feast day of Br. Jerome, who professed vows as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in 1949.

Known in the past for his fiery personality, he will now shout (he's hard of hearing) to anyone within earshot, "I've mellowed, you know!" And he has.

These days, he cleans the Archabbey Church, helps out with meal duties in the infirmary, and dispenses the refectory wine. He's one of the first monks up in the morning. He gets up at 3 a.m. and puts the coffee on for everyone else to follow, and then takes a walk outside. In the evening just before Vespers, he can be seen strolling silently in the monastic courtyard, and in the evening just before Compline, he sits on a bench outside the church watching the sun set.

I sat beside him at dinner this afternoon, and was delighted when with a big smile on his face, he repeated to me one of the wisest things I've ever heard:

"As I always say,
I live peacefully
in a state of war."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Eternal rest grant him, O Lord

Yesterday, our Fr. Severin died after battling cancer. He was only 57. You may read his complete obituary by clicking here. The funeral will be next week.

Please keep him in prayer, as well as all our departed brethren, and also our aging and infirm monks. There has been quite a spike in health problems -- strokes, heart issues, severe falls -- among many of our confreres the last several weeks. Our infirmary is full, and our skilled, compassionate, and stellar nursing staff is quite busy.

... May the souls of all the departed rest in peace...

In the care of angels

For you has he commanded his angels,
to keep you in all your ways.
Psalm 91:11

NOTE: This morning's biblical reading at Vigils on this feast of Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, Archangels

When the wedding celebration came to an end, Tobit called his son Tobiah and said to him, “Son, see to it that you give what is due to the man who made the journey with you; give him a bonus too.”
Tobiah said: “Father, how much shall I pay him? It would not hurt me at all to give him half of all the wealth he brought back with me. He led me back safe and sound; he cured my wife; he brought the money back with me; and he cured you. How much of a bonus should I give him?”
Tobit answered, “It is only fair, son, that he should receive half of all that he brought back.”
So Tobiah called Raphael and said, “Take as your wages half of all that you have brought back, and go in peace.”
Raphael called the two men aside privately and said to them: “Thank God! Give him the praise and the glory. Before all the living, acknowledge the many good things he has done for you, by blessing and extolling his name in song. Before all men, honor and proclaim God’s deeds, and do not be slack in praising him. A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be declared and made known. Praise them with due honor. Do good, and evil will not find its way to you. Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than abundance with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold; for almsgiving saves one from death and expiates every sin. Those who regularly give alms shall enjoy a full life; but those habitually guilty of sin are their own worst enemies.
“I will now tell you the whole truth; I will conceal nothing at all from you. I have already said to you, ‘A king’s secret it is prudent to keep, but the works of God are to be made known with due honor.’ I can now tell you that when you, Tobit, and Sarah prayed, it was I who presented and read the record of your prayer before the Glory of the Lord; and I did the same thing when you used to bury the dead. When you did not hesitate to get up and leave your dinner in order to go and bury the dead, I was sent to put you to the test. At the same time, however, God commissioned me to heal you and your daughter-in-law Sarah.
“I am Raphael, one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the Glory of the Lord.”
Stricken with fear, the two men fell to the ground. But Raphael said to them: “No need to fear; you are safe. Thank God now and forever. As for me, when I came to you it was not out of any favor on my part, but because it was God’s will. So continue to thank him every day; praise him with song. Even though you watched me eat and drink, I did not really do so; what you were seeing was a vision. So now get up from the ground and praise God. Behold, I am about to ascend to him who sent me; write down all these things that have happened to you.”
When Raphael ascended they rose to their feet and could no longer see him.
They kept thanking God and singing his praises; and they continued to acknowledge these marvelous deeds which he had done when the angel of God appeared to them.
-- Tobit 12:1-22

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Rock

The Lord is my rock,
my fortress,
my deliverer,
my God,
my rock
in whom
I take refuge,
my shield,
and the horn
of my salvation,
my stronghold.
Psalm 18:2

Monday, September 26, 2011

Deeper desires

Much contemporary spirituality strives for balance in life, and the hectic pace of modern life makes it an attractive goal. St. Benedict, however, roots the practices of his Rule in a rhythm that ebbs and flows according to the demands of the time.

He does this is two basic ways. He establishes a regular rhythm to each day through his careful arrangement of the times for prayer, work, eating, and sleeping. But he also recognizes the rhythms coming from outside his ability to arrange things. So, for example, he says that when the crops are ripe, the monks should occupy themselves with the harvest and know that "when they live by the labor of their hands ... then they are really monks (Chapter 48:8). He recognizes that the daily schedule of the monastery has to change with the seasons, since the monks of his day depended on sunlight and not the local power company!

St. Benedict's openness to the different rhythms of life reveals his mind and how it undertsood that God makes himself known to us in these rhythms. The emphasis on rhythm offers lessons of patience, of trust, of courage, and of discernment, all of which affect the quality of one's life.

The attention to rhythms of life has struck a chord in many people who, while not professing vows in a monastery, nevertheless find in the Rule a voice that speaks to their hearts and a set of practices that pave the avenue for their return to God. St. Benedict recognized the need for a way of life that responded to the deeper desires of the human heart.

It's not uncommon for us to have a sense of something missing in our lives, a blank spot for something more, despite the many blessings that we do enjoy. There is a deeper desire for something to come along and transform us beyond our present problems and struggles. But we so often settle for far less than what God wants to give us.

The search for God does not necessarily mean living an extraordinary life; it does mean living an ordinary life in an extraordinary way. The practices of monastic life are not so differerent from the everyday tasks of ordinary people. Those who find a kindred spirit in St. Benedict through his Rule strive to share his mind on God, the world, and themselves. And they find in the practices he gave to his monks a way of living their lives in accordance with the spirit of his Rule. Those practices put into action the way we understand God, the world, and ourselves.

We do not have to choose between being spiritual and being religious. A life where desire and practice are inseparably linked in faith is a mindful living in God's presence, embodied in practices. Anyone in any walk of life can step into the rhythms of God and walk toward that joy for which we have all been made--here and now, yes, but also for the life to come.

Archabbot Justin DuVall, O.S.B.
Saint Meinrad Archabbey
from the Introduction to the new book

The bond of Peace

Strive to preserve the unity of the spirit
through the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:3

"What binds us together as a Church is faith in Jesus Christ. ...Where we come from is much less important than what we believe. Otherwise, faith becomes a prop for culture, instead of culture being an expression of faith."

--Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput,

Sunday, September 25, 2011

What is your opinion?

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Ezekiel 18:25-28
Philippians 2:1-11
Matthew 21:28-32
In his new book Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr states something very simply that is integral to the message of the Gospel and so obvious, but something many of us fail to grasp (and I count myself one in that number). This is what he says:
“Jesus is never upset at sinners; he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners!”
Well, duh! We all know that!
But I wonder if we really do. Do we really believe, on one hand, that if we have sinned but have a change of heart and genuinely seek reconciliation and a firm purpose of amendment, that we are truly forgiven? We are cut free—forever, even though odds are we will sin again, and God knows that we will.
Do we really believe, on the other hand (and more pertinent to our discussion here), that this very same generous, even unfair offer of mercy is extended to everyone around us? In other words, do we sometimes unfairly judge others, placing ourselves above them, and primarily consider their shortcomings without regard to our own? Are we among those who do not think ourselves sinners (though we clearly are)?
Today’s Gospel is a good companion piece to the passage we heard last week (Matthew 20:1-16a) of the workers in the vineyard. The message—even the setting, a vineyard—is much the same. Latecomers, sinners, the ones who initially refuse to do the will of God but who eventually have a change of heart, will enter the Kingdom of God. Meanwhile, the early arrivals, those who consider themselves upstanding religious and good Christians who say they believe and promise to act as believers, but who do not actually do so, will find themselves outside the Kingdom of God.
“The last will be first, and the first will be last,” as Jesus said in last week’s Gospel, or as he says in today’s: “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”
It is worth nothing that today’s Gospel passage comes shortly after Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, where he knows he will be put to death. One of his first actions in Jerusalem is to reclaim his Father’s house, clearing out the temple area and declaring, “My house shall be a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves.” This did not sit well with the religious leaders of Jerusalem, and they began questioning Jesus’ authority. In response, Jesus relates the parable from today’s Gospel.
What he is effectively saying is this: “I’m not interested in lip service and empty ritual for ritual’s sake. I am interested in true, deep conversion of heart—in both worship and daily lives that demonstrate your belief in me.” As Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, says in his reflection on this week’s readings at, “The parable is a lesson for those who claim to be Christian, but do not worship as Christians or live the Christian life; compared to those who come to know Christ later but never claimed to be righteous.”
This parable also echoes the famous story in Luke’s Gospel (18:9-14) of the Pharisee (i.e., upstanding religious) and the tax collector (i.e., the repentant sinner) who both went into the temple area to pray. The Pharisee spoke this prayer: “O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity – greedy, dishonest, and adulterous – or even like this tax collector…” Meanwhile, the tax collector simply bowed his head in humility and said, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” The latter, Jesus said, went home justified, not the former.
If we are completely honest with ourselves, there is a little of both the Pharisee and the tax collector in each of us. If we recognize that and assume the humble posture of the tax collector, then we are like the first son in today’s Gospel—the one who at first refuses to do his father’s will, but then changes his mind, and therefore is allowed entrance into the Kingdom of God. However, if we assume the posture of an “upstanding” Christian, paying mere lip service to all that involves like the second son in today’s Gospel, and like the Pharisee “thanking God that we are not like the rest of humanity,” then we are in for a very harsh surprise.
I am reminded of a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, which drives home this point in humorous but seriously ironic fashion. In this excerpt, demon-trainer Screwtape is advising demon-in-training Wormwood about how to handle the human “patient” who has been entrusted to him (the "Enemy" refers to God):
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. … It is quite invisible to these humans. … When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like "the body of Christ" and the actual faces in the next pew.

It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. … Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous.

At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of "Christians" in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. ... What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk.

At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favorable credit-balance in the Enemy's ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these "smug," commonplace neighbors at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.

Satan, you see, doesn’t necessarily want Christians to become atheists. He wants us to become Pharisees. That is why we must, as St. Paul says in today’s second reading, strive daily to have “the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped …”

Friday, September 23, 2011

Down the upward path

I am reading an excellent book right now, Richard Rohr's Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. He offers some very well-informed, balanced, and insightful food for thought for this journey we call life.

Basically, his point is that we as human beings need to spend the first part of our lives learning the rules, being built up and finding our identity within our comfort zones. Eventually, though, we will come to a point--for each person, the time and circumstances vary--when we must let go of and transcend all that to truly become who we are meant to be. Often, this is painful, and against our will -- challenges, mistakes, loss of control, and suffering in its many forms.

But Rohr effectively argues that if we accept this experience, and allow ourselves to be led through it, we will come to know life more fully beyond anything we could possibly have imagined. He draws on a long chain of Scripture and Church tradition, literature, and classical thought to bring to light an idea that it is not really new at all (i.e., Jesus' words, "Those who lose their life for my sake will find it,"  Dante's Divine Comedy, Homer's Odyssey). And that idea is this: Paradoxically, we only move upward if we first fall down.

This is a mystery that today's culture desperately needs to rediscover and engage for its own sake. I highly recommend this book. Here is an excerpt:

Judeo-Christian salvation history is integrating, using, and forgiving of the tragic sense of life. Judeo-Christianity includes the problem inside the solution and as part of the solution. The genius of the biblical revelation is that it refuses to deny the dark side of things, but forgives failure and integrates falling to achieve its only promised wholeness, which is much of the point of this whole book.

Jesus is never upset at sinners (check it out!); he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners! Jesus was fully at home with this tragic sense of life. He lived and rose inside it. I am now personally convinced that Jesus' ability to find a higher order inside constant disorder is the very heart of his message--and why true Gospel, as rare as it might be, still heals and renews all that it touches.

Faith is simply to trust the real, and to trust that God is found within it--even before we change it. This is perhaps our major stumbling stone, the price we must pay to keep the human heart from closing down and to keep the soul open for something more.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

God is generously unfair

"Through the devil's envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it."
Wisdom 2:24

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011
25th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Isaiah 55:6-9
Philippians 1:20c-24, 27a
Matthew 20:1-16a
Sometimes God offends human reason, and he means to do so.
When we hear the parable from today’s Gospel of the workers in the vineyard, it is natural for us to be just as offended as those laborers hired to work in the vineyard at the very beginning of the day. They receive the payment promised to them, but expect more for bearing the day’s burden and heat when they see that others who bore far less receive the same payment.
If we are honest, we may feel the same way when we hear Luke’s Gospel account of the repentant criminal crucified alongside Jesus. He is promised entry into Paradise, the Kingdom of God, despite a life of sin.
That is unfair! If you’ve ever worked with someone who receives the same pay but seems to get away with doing far less than you, then you know how the first laborers in today’s Gospel feel. According to human standards of justice and reason, it is totally unacceptable.
But that is precisely the point. As God says in today’s first reading from Isaiah, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” God is generous in forgiving beyond all human expectation or sense of justice and reason.
As the landowner (i.e., God) says in today’s parable recounted by Jesus, “Are you envious because I am generous?”
We are being asked to consider something very important, crucial to our very salvation: Do we—deep down—consider ourselves worthy of the Kingdom of God? Do we place demands on God’s mercy? Do we who are “good” feel entitled to God’s mercy, to entrance into the Kingdom, becoming envious when someone less worthy in our eyes receives the same “reward?”
Or are we simply grateful for and responsive to God’s mercy – toward all, even the most “undeserving?”
The Kingdom of God cannot be earned—by anyone. It can’t be done—absolutely impossible. We know this, profess this, but often secretly wish and act as if it were not true, especially in today’s culture of rampant entitlement.
As Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB, says in his reflection on this week’s readings: “Not one of us deserves the blessings that God has prepared for us. Our grumbling and lateral gazing often lead to serious resentments that are hard to shake off. All our good works give us no claim upon God. How much less do we have the right to demand, even if we have done everything we ought to do, that we should be honored and rewarded by God in a special manner as if we were such meritorious indispensable persons in his service? The word ‘entitlement’ does not exist in the vocabulary of the Kingdom of God” (Read his excellent reflection in its entirety on by clicking here).
If you read all the Gospels closely, this is a very persistent and consistent theme. Consider, for example, the parable in Luke that is well-known as “The Story of the Prodigal Son.” The elder son remains faithful and loyal to his father, while his younger brother acts shamelessly, disgracing his father’s name. But the younger son repents, comes home, and is joyfully greeted by his father, who then throws him a big party! That is unfair! And the older son tells his father so.
The father (i.e., God) tells his older son (i.e., you and me) essentially the same thing as the landowner in today’s Gospel: “My son, everything I have is yours.”
He, too, was invited to join in the feast—to enter the Kingdom of God. But his own resentment prevented him from crossing the threshold. He wasn’t shut out. His envy—a capital sin—prevented him from entering. It was his choice, not that of the father, who begged him to put that aside and come in along with everyone else.
What God is telling us throughout his Word is that the bold sinner who genuinely repents is much closer to the Kingdom of God than those of us who “play it safe” and measure our worthiness against that of others. He asks us to accept the fact that the Good Shepherd will relentlessly pursue the one lost sheep out of a flock of 100 to bring it back to the safety of his fold, where he invites us all.
God’s love is radical. It is relentless. Just as the landowner in today’s Gospel went out not once, not twice, but five times throughout the course of the day to bring more people into his vineyard, so he pursues each one of us. He is crazy in love with us, and wants us to share in his joy and love for us, to come to the banquet, to enter the sheepfold, to go into his vineyard, to cross the threshold of the Kingdom which penetrates our hearts—they all mean the same thing.
God's love is not stingily measured out.

It is absurdly abundant, excessively extravagant, and garishly generous.

His kisses are wet and sloppy (cf. Luke 15:20)!
And God’s love also is unfair according to our standards of measuring up. All are called, but few are chosen. Those left standing outside the Kingdom of God are there through their own choice.
So we need to reflect on the question from today’s Gospel:
“Are YOU envious because I am generous?”
If we truly accept God’s lavish generosity toward ourselves and others, then—and only then—can we live as St. Paul asks us in today’s second reading: “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.”
And it is a Gospel of generosity—unfairly so.

Let us take what is ours through God's generosity, and live it just as unfairly.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Clothed in majesty and glory

I am no photographer, by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy "seeing what I can see" with a simple digital camera--trying to put a little frame around a corner of God's creation that normally goes unnoticed. Doing this really caught on during my trip to Europe last summer. Lately, I've been spending a lot of time in the early mornings in the monastery rock garden -- getting up close and personal. Sometimes, I am splendidly surprised. This butterfly showed up out of nowhere, and I prayed for it to remain still long enough for me to get a good shot off. Its juxtaposition with the globe in the background is mere happenstance. I just love this photo. It makes me want to sing lines from Psalm 104:

Bless the Lord, my soul!
Lord God, how great you are,
clothed in majesty and glory,
wrapped in light as in a robe!

How many are your works, O Lord!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your riches.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Christian koan

"Through Jesus, God was pleased to reconcile to himself
all things, whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross."
Colossians 1:20

Apse mosaic in the Basilica of Sant' Apollinare in Classe in Ravenna, Italy.

NOTE: Wednesday this week the Church celebrated the Feast of the Holy Cross (or "Exaltation" or "Triumph" of the Holy Cross). Although the feast day itself is over, the message it presents for all Christians is relevant year-round. In fact, it is integral to our faith. Fr. Harry Hagan, O.S.B., is the celebrant this week for the conventual Mass at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, and on Wednesday he delivered a very succinct and insightful homily on the message of the Cross, how it triumphs and exalts us. I thought it was worth sharing, and he graciously agreed to supply me with a copy of the text to post here.  -- Br. Francis

Feast of the Holy Cross – September 14, 2011

Numbers 21:4b-9
Philippians 2:6-11
John 3:13-17

In Zen Buddhism, a novice is given a koan to meditate on. A koan is a story or question which cannot be understood by rational thinking. The most famous of these koans, at least in the West, is the question: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

The answer is obvious, but typically the novice tries to manufacture some kind of answer. The sound of one hand clapping is rain. The voice of a friend. Thunder. With each wrong answer, the novice is sent back to meditate more.

The true answer is nothing. Although one can ask the question, it is an absurd question because one hand cannot clap, and so one hand cannot make a sound. So the answer is nothing.

The point of the meditation is not really the discovery of the correct answer. Rather the Zen monk should, as I understand it, come to accept the cold reality of the way things are. According to Zen, there is great peace for those who can accept reality, accept the way things are.

The Cross of Christ, it seems to me, is the Christian koan. To accept the Cross is to accept the way things are. The Cross is not about the way things should be. The Cross is about the stark reality of what happened to Jesus of Nazareth—the ignominy and injustice, the betrayal and inhumanity, the fear and the sin of it all.  To accept the Cross is to accept this cold reality.

However, unlike Zen Buddhism, as I understand it, Christian believes that if you accept the cold reality of the Cross—whatever that may look like in a person’s life—if that reality is embraced, then we believe that redemption and reconciliation and salvation will flow from the Cross and bring us communion with the Risen Christ.

Therefore,  the Cross appears in the apses of the basilicas in the early Church not as an image of ignominy but as a great, jewelled Cross. We see this in Sant’ Apollinare in Classe where a gold cross studded with great jewels floats in a radiant blue sky filled with luminous stars. The cold reality of the cross reveals this glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ if we but embrace it.
-- Fr. Harry Hagan, O.S.B.
Saint Meinrad Archabbey

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mourning into dancing

Today--the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows--I am very grateful. It was five years ago on this date, September 15, 2006, that I officially arrived at the monastery to begin my monastic journey. I came as a candidate filled with expectation, hope, doubt, and fear, all loaded into a pickup truck with what was left of my personal belongings. A little over four months later, I was invested a novice.

It seems like such a long time ago, but also just like yesterday. In the weeks leading up to that day, I had been very busy making preparations to come to the monastery: selling my house, selling and/or giving away all my possessions, divesting myself of financial holdings, leaving my job, saying good-bye to many people who would no longer be a daily part of my life. Obviously, family relationships and friendships continue, but in a different way, and we didn't know at that point what that would look like.

Hardest of all, I think, was giving away Dixie, my faithful canine companion of 13 years. It was SO hard. But I did it because I knew God was calling me to this, and Dixie had a good home for the remaining year and a half of her life.

After my house was sold, I spent a few weeks living with my mother in Findlay, Ohio -- to rest, to pray, to take a deep breath. On the morning of Sept. 15, 2006, I went to Mass with my mother at St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Findlay, Ohio (where others prayed for and said good-bye to me), packed up the truck, gave my mother a big hug, and drove the five and half hours alone to Saint Meinrad.

Fr. Anthony, the vocation director at the time, met me at the guesthouse and helped me unload the truck--I still remember him riding my bicycle down the hall to park it in the bottom of the stairwell, which made me laugh. Br. Jacob, the socius at the time, showed me where to sit for Vespers, Br. Martin showed me how to set my choir book ... and my monastic life was under way.

That evening, all alone in my cell with my still-unpacked boxes, intense fear and sorrow overcame me. Fear of the unknown, and sorrow over losing so much I had known. In the months to come, there would be more of that. Never in my life had I taken such a risk, done something seemingly so illogical. It was all very unlike me--or the me I thought I was then. I remember lying sleepless on my bed that night thinking, "What have I done?"

But in the five years since then, it seems that God has repeatedly answered me with one good thing after another, saying to me, "Look at what I can do!" Yes, there have been--and will be--challenges. Many of them. But all my expectations have been exceeded beyond imagining, and God has granted me so many wonderful opportunities, showered me with so much grace. The unknown, in the hands of God, builds courage, and though I have certainly mourned losing things I had known, I have gained so much more than I had ever known possible, believe me.

I could not be happier or more grateful, and can only hope to partly return this limitless gift of love through the context of my monastic vocation.

For those of you reading this who may be experiencing an interior nudge in the direction of monastic life, all I can say is: "Come and see." What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Spectacular view of Madison and the Ohio River from the inn
and restaurant at Clifty Falls State Park (where I had dinner).
I explored the large park some, even spotting a wild turkey
and two frolicking deer. Also ran into a Red Hat Ladies
convention at the inn. Talk about wild life! 

This past weekend I had the opportunity to spend some time in Madison, Indiana, a town along the Ohio River about a two-hour drive northeast of St. Meinrad. I was there to give a conference to the chapter of oblates in the city who are affiliated with Saint Meinrad Archabbey (the topic was "Living in Gratitude: Reflecting on the Rule's Caution Against Grumbling"). The chapter was very gracious and hospitable toward me, as all our oblate chapters are.

After the meeting, I took some time to look around the town before driving back to St. Meinrad. The last time I had been to Madison for an oblate talk (about two years ago), I had failed to do that and was roundly (but good-naturedly) admonished by many of my confreres. "It's a lovely town," they said.

Broadway Fountain -- one of only four
like it in the world. You don't often see
fountains like this in small Midwest towns.
I'm glad I listened this time, because Madison is certainly a very lovely town, nestled along the Ohio River and surrounded by steep hills and cliffs with waterfalls offering outstanding views. The Ladies Home Journal, according to the Madison Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, calls it "The prettiest Small Town in the Midwest," and Charles Kuralt once called it "The most beautiful rivertown in America." Those are some pretty impressive testimonials.

Settled in 1809, Madison became a prominent city with the arrival of the steamboat and river trade. It now boats the largest historic district in Indiana with 133 blocks (!) on the National Register of Historic Places, three National Historical Landmarks and a National Historic Landmark District designation. There is some very well preserved and functioning architecture throughout the town exhibiting a number of different styles--both private homes and public structures. I've never seen anything quite like it for a town its size (about 12,000 population).

I thoroughly enjoyed my short visit, and have posted a few photos for your enjoyment. If you ever have the chance -- definitely worth it!

Gorgeous gorge wrapped in solitude at Clifty Falls State Park.
Could have stayed in this spot all day. Alas......

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A moment in our hearts

Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Sirach 27:30-28:7
Romans 14:7-9
Matthew 18:21-35
Coincidentally, today’s Mass readings focusing on forgiveness were chosen decades before the horrific events of September 11, 2001. Then again, as Christians, as people of faith, we know that there really are no coincidences. God writes straight on the crooked lines of humanity which veer from his will this way and that. And he does so with supreme foreknowledge of the disastrous effects our erroneous exercise of free will often visits upon humanity, ourselves included.
So, today, in line with the Church—which even in her flawed existence serves as a beacon of hope for the world to see and take refuge in, whether acknowledged or not—we are called to reflect on the meaning of forgiveness and how it is tied to God’s mercy. Yes, even--especially--on this date marking the 10th year since the terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. And especially amid all the violence and pain and hatred still present in the world, even at this precise moment.
As God’s people, we need to forgive, to know how to be forgiven, and the peace of forgiveness will radiate out to transform the world.
We see all too clearly—as we did on that frightful day 10 years ago, in the time since, and for centuries before that—what effects hatred, vengeance, and lust for control have on our world. But be assured, God will not be thwarted. He cannot be defeated. In Christ, the victory has already been won—and I am not even remotely speaking here in military, political, cultural, ideological, or even religious terms. This is the truth of a spiritual reality that transcends all else, yet permeates everything in both manifest and hidden ways.
Jesus—God made man—allowed himself to be nailed to a cross by his own misguided creation, and cried out: “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” And before he died on that cross, God made man turned to the repentant criminal hanging beside him—someone who never acknowledged him until facing his own death--and said: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
And three days later, Jesus rose from the tomb, showing us that his life conquers death. Then, he ascended into heaven as both God and man, the only way humanity is capable of entering Paradise.
Be assured that this mercy, this forgiveness is at work in the world, at this very moment. It will not be replayed over and over on CNN like the hatred, vengeance and lust for control will be. But it is there, and it is much more powerful than anything that confronts it or grabs the attention. God takes our broken humanity in all its wickedness and ugliness and redeems it through his very being.
As we prayed this morning at Vigils here through Psalm 68: “You have gone up on high; you have taken captives, receiving men in tribute, O God, even those who rebel, into your dwelling, O Lord … He bears our burdens, God our savior. This God of ours is a God who saves. The Lord our God holds the keys of death.”
Who has rebelled? Each and every one of us. Yet God’s mercy, his redemptive grace, is extended to each one of us. But it isn’t something we can just take for ourselves. It is a gift we share—the gift that keeps on giving, as the saying goes.
There is hope, there is peace for those who embrace this and believe in it, despite any seeming evidence to the contrary. Jesus did not come to fight humanity, to condemn the world, but to save the misguided creation he loves without end.
There is an infinite amount of peace in that if it is reflected upon long enough. And that peace IS in the world, small but growing, like the mustard seed or the yeast in the rising dough that Jesus compared with the Kingdom of God. Basically, we have two choices—either to consume and become that mustard seed, or that yeast of mercy, in our daily lives, or to instead cling to our wrath, which ultimately consumes and overtakes us.
As Sirach says in today’s first reading: “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight.” The one who cherishes wrath will die in it because he or she has refused the gift of mercy which God freely offers to all.
Yes, mercy is a gift with a personal price, but one that pays innumerable dividends for all. It is not easy, and it is not quick. But it is the only thing in this world that truly heals. When we forgive, we receive forgiveness, all through the God of Mercy.
Can we forgive on this day—especially on this day?
Jesus is quite clear in today’s Gospel and also in his teaching on prayer: “Our Father….forgive us our trespasses AS WE FORGIVE those who trespass against US.” When we do this—especially on this day—we cry out with Jesus from the cross, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
And this is not some vague, over-arching effort directed toward the world at large. It starts in the heart, within the particular circumstances and relationships of our daily lives and radiates out from that. Peace does not enter our hearts from the world. Peace enters the world from within our hearts.
It starts with that small mustard seed, that bit of yeast, God made man as an infant in a stable manger. And it works slowly but surely, rising and converging into the Bread of Life.
Healing is not instant. The scars from 10 years ago, and so many others we inflict upon ourselves in myriad ways, are still there, and they run very deep. But as Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P., points out in is biblical meditation for this day:
“Even the healthiest of human bodies needs time to recover from sickness and be totally healed. While the act of forgiveness takes only a moment, the full effects cover a longer sweep of time and require careful attention…Forgiveness, too, involves a process.”
But it is a process that begins with a moment—a moment in our hearts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

We are not alone

"Even though Jesus appears
to be abandoned by the Father
as he dies on Calvary,
yet for the eyes of faith this is
the crowning moment of salvation,
the triumph of the Cross,
the hour of our Savior's  glorification.”

Pope Benedict XVI
General Audience, St. Peter's Square
Sept. 7, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Be at peace

Do not look forward in fear
to the changes of life;

Rather look to them
with full hope that as they arise,

     God, whose very own you are,
will lead you safely
through all things;

And when you cannot stand it,
God will carry you
in His arms.

Do not fear what may happen tomorrow;

The same everlasting Father
who cares for you today

     will take care of you
today and every day.

He will either shield you
from suffering
or will give you
unfailing strength to bear it.

Be at peace
and put aside
all anxious thoughts

St. Francis de Sales

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What is prayer?

Prayer is God's invitation
to dedicate our time and being
to a fuller appreciation of the divine
so that our vision broadens
and our hearts expand through Love.
It is a lifelong rhythm
of listening and responding
to God's call for conversion
of heart -- personally and communally.

Br. Francis

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Polishing with love

Sunday, Sept. 4, 2011
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
Ezekiel 33:7-9
Romans 13:8-10
Matthew 18:15-20

We become persons—the true persons God created us to be in the image of the Holy Trinity, who is One God in Three Persons—in relationship with others. Our destinies are intertwined, whether we can see it or not, believe it or not. We are interdependent, particularly so as Christians.

Recognizing that is one thing. Living it is another. It is not easy.
When I first came to the monastery, I was talking to Br. Martin one day, and he compared living in community (in our case, a monastic community) with a big revolving mixer filled with many stones. Some of these stones are big, some small. Each has a different shape and color, and texture, and some are quite jagged. A wonderful thing happens as the mixer is turned, and all those stones begin scraping and scuffing one another. Over time, they become smooth and round and polished—a few may even become sparkling. This occurs (hopefully) by the grace of God working through our relationships with one another.
In light of today’s readings, as a Christian community witnessing to the world, we must polish one another, but this must be understood correctly. The Church is in the business of saving souls, not in preserving its own life within contemporary social, economic, or political realms. The Body of Christ does not exist for its own welfare, but for that of souls– all souls, throughout the world, for all time. Anything else ultimately corrupts and compromises the Church’s spiritual mission (though God is capable of making “all things work together for good”).
Ironically, those who lose sight of this—attempting to turn the revolving mixer to their own beat—put their own souls at risk. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it,” Jesus says (Luke 9:24; similar passages are found in all four gospels). Polemic and finger-pointing have never impressed me (yes, at times, I too have engaged in them). Fundamentalism, whatever its form (and every “camp” has it to some degree) has never worked throughout the course of human history, and has often led to unspeakable crimes against humanity.
All of this is not genuine fraternal correction, the loving care of souls, as today’s readings exhort us to demonstrate. Turning the revolving mixer to one’s own beat (or the beat of a particular camp) without charity and care of souls as its ultimate end is the absolute worst kind of sin, the one that got Adam and Eve into trouble in the first place – PRIDE.
Yes, as Ezekiel says in today’s reading, we are each responsible for warning sinners and helping them turn to God. But in today’s Gospel, Jesus lays out a very measured, practical, and pastoral approach. In the occasion of sin (and he was talking about serious sin, not minor annoyances, offended sensibilities, or ultimately trivial disagreements), we are to take a brother or sister aside privately. Grievances aren’t to be aired publicly or through gossip. If that doesn’t work, Jesus, says, bring a couple of others along – a firmer approach, what we would today call an “intervention.” Last of all, if nothing else works, the matter is to be brought to the attention of the entire community.
Implied throughout is the call for prayer, for “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” It is also significant that following this Gospel passage in Matthew is the parable of the unforgiving servant, who is punished for his lack of compassion, patience, and mercy when he had been forgiven a far greater amount. In other words, we all fall short of God’s grace, and we must always keep that in mind, whether a fellow sinner repents or not.
I had an uncle (God rest his soul) who loved to collect seemingly ordinary rocks and then cut, shape, and polish them into decorative works of beauty. He had his own shop filled with rocks and tools, and he gave his finished pieces to family members and friends. I still have one in my office at the Abbey Press. It is simply beautiful to look at, more so because my uncle was able to see the hidden beauty within and lovingly draw it out, make it sparkle. There were no sledgehammers in his workshop. He polished with love.
Public accusation, rebuke, and humiliation seem to be increasingly in vogue these days—from both the left and right, and everywhere in-between, whether it’s in the Church or the world. It’s become quite wearisome, and is, quite frankly, the lazy way out. It is applying a sledgehammer with one ear-splitting blow rather than a polishing cloth privately and quietly over many hours, even days or weeks. In one case, the aim is really only to prove that might is right, to prove the other wrong. In the other case, something much deeper and longer-lasting is at stake—gently drawing out the reality of another’s inner Truth, with tenderness and patience.
My uncle—and he was no pushover--cared for his rocks, and the people who would enjoy them. The sledgehammer wants only to drive home a point for its own sake. Both may have good intentions, valid motivations, but ultimately, the sledgehammer seeks its own life, while the polishing cloth seeks life at its own expense, ultimately wearing away.
We are responsible for one another’s salvation, yes, but with a view toward the genuine welfare of the other, not our own, not for the mere sake of "winning an argument." As St. Paul says in today’s second reading: “Love is the fulfillment of the law.”

This is the way we really and truly sparkle.

Even if a person is caught in some transgression,
you who are spiritual should correct that one
in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself.

Galatians 6:1

Friday, September 2, 2011

Wounded Healer

By HIS wounds, YOU have been healed.
1 Peter 2:24

From the film "The Passion of the Christ."

Christ Jesus
is the image of the
invisible God,

the firstborn
of all creation.

In him
all things

hold together...

making peace
by the blood
of his cross.

Let the peace
of Christ control
your hearts.

Colossians 1:15, 17, 20; 3:15