The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Monday, December 31, 2012

Days of grace

"I begin again each day."
St. Anthony of the Desert

This is the last day of the year, so it is appropriate for us to take leave of the year in a Christian way. We are leaving a year behind us with its many days, its work, its cares, its disappointments, its bitterness, with the plans we have had, and which have perhaps come entirely to nothing or have only partly been realized. We are leaving it behind with our guilt, our failure—in fact with everything that our ungenerous hearts have made of the year. Let us bid farewell to the old year thankfully. God has given us all the days of this year. They have been gifts of his love, blessed days, days of grace and salvation.
Karl Rahner, S.J.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

In the snow

"Ice and snow, bless the Lord;
praise and exalt him above all forever."

Daniel 3:70

St. Benedict overlooks the monastery rock garden.

We had a pretty nice snowfall overnight here at Saint Meinrad--about 4 or 5 inches, by the looks of it. It's the first significant amount of snow we've experienced in a couple years (the post-Christmas blizzard earlier in the week mostly skirted by us here, although heavy snow did fall on other parts of southern Indiana not all that far away.) In any event, it's always nice to wake up to freshly fallen snow. It has such a soothing effect on the soul--at least mine, anyway. It seems to etch everything in stillness. So, after Mass this morning, I pulled on my coat and boots, grabbed my camera and headed outside. With the SCRUNCH of my first footstep (so good to hear after all this time!), I was enveloped by the snowscape I set out to frame. A few scenes from the winter wonder of this morning:
 
 
  
A peek into the monastery calefactory (living room)
from the rock garden. Can you see our Christmas tree?
 
The valley below the Hill. Look closely at the center, and you'll spot
the opening in the trees where the St. Joseph Shrine looks up at us.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
  
Not sure why, but I think this is my favorite. Something
very lonely and at the same time serene about it.

  
Upon re-entering the monastery, I heard a rumor that
a Yeti-like creature had been spotted in the courtyard.
Cautiously, I went to investigate...
 
No Yeti. Just a friendly snowman, courtesy of Br. Zachary.
In case you're wondering, those are orange peels
for eyes and mouth. How'd you like arms like those?
 
Our snowman has two faces, coming and going.
On this side, and from this angle, I can almost see
a snowman's impression of Marlon Brando
as Santa Claus. Can you see it?
It's all in the lips...or maybe I've been
outside just a tad too long. Still......
 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Pax et bonum

"My peace I give to you.
Not as the world  gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid."
 

John 14:27


May we
all invite
the embrace
of the mystery
Who comes
among us
as Peace.
 
MERRY CHRISTMAS
Br. Francis

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Small wonder

 
You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small
to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler.
 
He shall stand firm
and shepherd his flock
by the strength of the Lord.
 
His greatness shall reach
to the ends of the earth;
he shall be peace.
 
Micah 5: First reading
for 4th Sunday of Advent
 
 
 
“A body you prepared for me.
Behold, I come to do your will.”
 
By this “will,”
we have been consecrated
through the offering
of the body of
Jesus Christ
once for all.
 
Hebrews 10: Second reading
for 4th Sunday of Advent
 
 
 
“Blessed are you who believed
that what was spoken to you
by the Lord would be fulfilled.”
 
Luke 1: Gospel reading
for 4th Sunday of Advent

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Blossoming of Christ

"Make a highway for him
who rides on the clouds."
Psalm 68:4


Let the wilderness and the dry-lands exult,
let the wasteland rejoice and bloom,
let it bring forth flowers like the crocus,
let it rejoice and sing for joy.

Strengthen all weary hands,
steady all trembling knees,
and say to all faint hearts,
“Courage! Do not be afraid.

“Look, your God is coming,
he is coming to save you."

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
the ears of the deaf unsealed,
then the lame shall leap like a deer
and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy.

Water gushes in the desert,
streams in the wasteland,
the scorched earth becomes a lake,
the parched land springs of water.

And through it will run a highway
which shall be called the Sacred Way.

The redeemed will walk there,
for those the Lord has ransomed shall return.
They will come to Zion shouting for joy,
everlasting joy on their faces;
joy and gladness will go with them
and sorrow and lament be ended.

Isaiah 35
 

Monday, December 17, 2012

"O" Antiphons


This evening at Vespers, we begin singing the "O" Antiphons -- one of my favorite parts of Advent!

Last year, at this time, I posted an explanation of the antiphons. You can read it again by clicking here.

In addition, each day from Dec. 17-23 last year, I posted the antiphons we sing each evening in the Archabbey Church, along with some accompanying artwork. Click on the links below to go back and read each one for this year's corresponding date. A blessed Advent to you!

Dec. 17: O Sapientia – O Wisdom
Dec. 18: O Adonai – O Lord
Dec. 19: O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse
Dec. 20: O Clavis David – O Key of David
Dec. 21: O Oriens – O Rising Sun
Dec. 22: O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel – [Reference to Isaiah 7:14’s mention of Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”]

Free for God: Advent meditation


Flee your preoccupations for a little while. Hide yourself for a time from your turbulent thoughts. Cast aside, now, your heavy responsibilities and put off your burdensome business. Make a little space free for God; and rest for a little time in him.

Enter the inner chamber of your mind; shut out all thoughts. Keep only thought of God, and thoughts that can aid you in seeking him. Close your door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! Speak now to God, saying, I seek your face; your face, Lord, will I seek. And come you now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek you, where and how it may find you.

Lord, if you are not here, where shall I seek you when you are absent? But if you are everywhere, why do I not see you present? Truly you dwell in unapproachable light. But where is unapproachable light, or how shall I come to it? Or who shall lead me to that light and into it, that I may see you in it? Again, by what signs, under what form, shall I seek you? I have never seen you, O Lord, my God; I do not know your face.

Lord, you are my God, and you are my Lord, and never have I seen you. You have made me and renewed me, you have given me all the good things that I have, and I have not yet met you. I was created to see you, and I have not yet done the thing for which I was made.

Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me when I seek you, for I cannot seek you unless you teach me, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you by loving you and love you in the act of finding you.

-- From The Proslogion of St. Anselm

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete in Domino semper

“Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.”

Romans 12:15
Sunday, December 16, 2012
Third Sunday in Advent--C

Zephaniah 3:14-18a
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

“Rejoice!” St. Paul says in today’s second reading (in line with our Advent observance of “Gaudete Sunday” — Gaudete is Latin for “rejoice”).

How in the world are we supposed to rejoice in times like these—so full of suffering, evil, death?

Friday’s horrific reality in Connecticut resulted not only in the deaths of 27 people—most of them young innocents with now-extinguished futures—but also inflicted nightmarish wounds among survivors, relatives, and friends which will echo for a lifetime. There’s no getting around that pain and sorrow.

That unspeakable massacre grabs our attention because it is so concentrated into one time and place. Other horrors abound worldwide each day—almost at every moment. The slaughter of civil war continues in Syria. Violent unrest and repression persist in places like Afghanistan. Famine, pestilence, and scarcity of such necessities as water and medicine are the only realities generations of people in many under-developed regions have ever known.

Outwardly, this country enjoys relative peace and ease. Inwardly, though, it is at war. Addiction, sexual abuse, racism, and pure greed afflict untold thousands. Senseless violence, suicide, traffic accidents, cancer, and chronic illness wreak havoc with our lives. Homelessness, mental illness, unemployment, and poverty plague more people in this land of prosperity than we care to acknowledge. There is corruption and scandal. Spouses cheat on one another. Too many live by the adage, “If it feels good, do it,” while others suffer from despair, doubt, and loneliness.

Not fair. Why?

Right. I don’t know. Nobody does. None of it is God’s will (cf. Ezekiel 18:32).

Yet, for some reason we cannot begin to comprehend, God does allow it to occur. He respects our freedom of will enough to allow us to dwell, so to speak, in the muck we ourselves create (individually and collectively)—while many point fingers at one another and even blame the God some say doesn’t exist because he would never allow such horrors. It’s an age-old pattern humanity keeps repeating (cf. Genesis 3:12-13). Scripture itself is not immune. The Old Testament is bathed in blood. It is filled with the same sort of human ugliness we encounter today. We can’t help ourselves, and neither could those who came before us. It’s a wonder we’re allowed to exist at all—except that deep down, we know that in the beginning, we were created in the image of God, who is Love.

Something is obviously off.

Through it all, God beckons us through the voices of prophet after prophet, in effect saying, “My beloved children, have you had enough yet? Please, stop it. Turn back. Come to me. I will heal you, comfort you, forgive you, give you more than you can ask or imagine. Take my hand and come. I will lead you, though you cannot see. Do not be afraid. Trust me. Come to the feast.”

Few listen. One after one, prophets are killed for their words of wisdom. Finally, God himself comes among us. He inserts himself into the midst of the ugliness like a commando penetrating the enemy’s defenses to attack from within. He injects peace into the heart of war. He teaches. He works miracles. He leads.

And we kill him, too. But he's clever. He really dies, but he comes back—is resurrected (he told us he would, but we weren’t listening). God himself became sin, sucking up into himself all that pus oozing from disfigured humanity. Then, he allowed it to be destroyed forever in his body on a cross, so that like him, we might rise to new and eternal life, cleansed and transformed. Death is defeated. We are restored as children of God. What we can’t do for ourselves, God does for us.

That’s what they say, anyway. Thousands have taught that message, and suffered and died for it when they could just as easily have walked away and lived in relative ease. So, there must be something to it.

But the world is still a rotten place.

Yes, in some ways, perhaps.

Nothing’s really changed.

Hasn’t it? Do we see, know, understand everything that is, and will be—really?

What are we supposed to do, just ignore all the suffering and think happy thoughts all the time?

Of course not. That would be inhuman. As St. Paul says elsewhere, we must “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And so we do. It is only right. At this very moment, God’s goodness is pouring out in myriad unseen ways upon the people of Newtown, Connecticut, through those who console them. God's goodness was present in those teachers and administrators who risked and/or lost their lives for the sake of their students.
But why does it seem to take something so horrific to occur, so many innocent people to suffer, before that goodness is exhibited?

Good question. I suspect that most of the time, it’s there, quietly working, but it often flies underneath our radar until something like this heightens our senses. God is present among us every day in innumerable ways. We must look for the good, even amid the horrendous, and trust that somehow, he’s straightening out what we have made crooked.

But if death was defeated forever on the cross, why do the innocent still suffer? Why doesn’t God just put an end to it?

Another good question. Perhaps the 11th Chapter of John’s Gospel holds some clues. Jesus’ good friend Lazarus is sick. Although he works miracles for many others whom he barely knows, Jesus does nothing. Lazarus dies. Jesus travels to meet Lazarus’ family and friends. The mourners, including Lazarus’ sisters Mary and Martha, ask Jesus in effect, “Why didn’t you do anything?”

Then we are hit with possibly the two most powerful words in all of Scripture: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He mourns with those who mourn. God suffers with us.

Then, he does something amazing—he raises Lazarus back to life. All this is meant to foreshadow Jesus’ own death, and by extension, each of ours. Shortly thereafter, Jesus is crucified while people around him say, “Save yourself! Why don’t you do anything?” Jesus cries out, “Father, forgive them. They do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34). God’s mercy descends on the undeserving, and three days later, there is an astonishing exclamation point: His Resurrection, and by extension, the promise of resurrection for each of us.

It is beyond our comprehension: God allows unspeakable evil and brings about unimaginable good. In the end, we are told, all will be ordered as it should be, as it was meant to be from the beginning, through the Alpha and the Omega (cf. Revelation 21:1-7).

So, everybody’s “off the hook”?

Not by a long shot. Christ crucified gives meaning to what otherwise is pure madness, decay, and death. As the French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it, but to fill it with his presence.” He became part of our suffering, part of humanity’s story, in order to redeem it from within, and thereby involve us in his divine work of redemption. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself,” Jesus said (John 12:32).

So, this is our story, too. It is the whole point of the Incarnation. As his disciples, we are called to make Christ present in the world through Word, Sacrament, and the example of a holy life, and to trust that somehow, God is redeeming the moment in a manner we can’t fully recognize or comprehend. That is our faith, though we are not always faithful.

Like the crowds in today’s Gospel reading, we may then ask: “What should we do?”

What are we told in today's Gospel? Share your food and clothing with those who have none. Be honest. Put away all greed, extortion, and treachery.

In addition, the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament tell us: Love the Lord your God above all else. Revere him. Worship him. Honor your parents. Do not kill. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not bear false witness. Do not covet anyone or anything (Exodus 20:2-17).

In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that the blessed include those who are poor in spirit, mourning, meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the clean of heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matthew 5:3-10).

To sum it all up, Jesus says simply, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples—if you have love for one another” (Matthew 22:37, 39; John 13:34-35).

Because it is humanly impossible for us to do this all the time, he died for us on the cross in loving self-sacrifice. But because he died for us on the cross, we must strive to do as he commands. Apart from him, it is true that we can do nothing (cf. John 15:5). But all things are possible for God (cf. Matthew 19:26). It is a work he begins and ends, but by the grace of God, it is one we participate in as the Body of Christ.

And so, as that Body, we pray together during Mass the words Jesus taught us to pray:

Our Father,
who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.

Thy Kingdom come,
they will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Moments later, we sing together, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us/grant us peace,” while the consecrated bread is snapped and broken into many pieces to be shared and consumed by each one of us. In us, those many pieces constitute the one Body of Christ, and so we are sent out: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”

Though we must still live with our wounded nature—our clay jars—we carry forth the treasure we have received in Christ “so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2Corinthians 4:7-10).

Because of this, we rejoice, on this day and every day, even in times like these—especially in times like these, even as we weep with those who weep. Together, “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ,” who is with us always, until the end of the age (cf. Matthew 28:20). As St. Paul (who, incidentally, was writing from prison) says in today’s second reading:


“Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” [Though not contained in today's Mass reading, the next verse continues: "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."]
We rejoice because while time is still unfolding the history of salvation, the moment has been redeemed in eternity. We rejoice because we believe that throughout it all, the holy innocents dance with delight around the Christ child. In harmony, these “eternal imitations” of Christ (Charles Peguy) rejoice in the hope that is stored up in heaven for all of us. 

Rejoice!

PRAYER TO THE
HOLY INNOCENTS

Holy Innocents, you died before you were old enough to know what life means.
Pray for all children who die young, that God may gather them into his loving arms.

Holy Innocents, you were killed because one man was filled with hatred.
Pray for those who hate, that God may touch their hearts and fill them with love.

Holy Innocents, you experienced a violent death.
Pray for all who are affected by violence, that they may find peace and love.

Holy Innocents, your parents grieved for you with deep and lasting sorrow.
Pray for all parents who have lost young children that God may wrap a warm blanket of comfort around them.

Holy Innocents, those around you certainly felt helpless to prevent your deaths.
Pray for all who feel helpless in their circumstances, that they may cling to God for courage and hope.

Holy Innocents, you who are now in heaven, pray for all of us,
that one day we may join you there to bask in God’s love forever.

Amen.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The God Emergency


Earlier this year, I asked writer, educator and retreat leader Alice Camille to write a piece for us at Abbey Press on the topic of Advent as part of our Catholic Perspectives CareNotes series. She did a wonderful job, and I was particularly struck by her focus on the season of Advent as a state of spiritual emergency--a truth that tends to be dimmed by the distracting glitter, glow, and greed of our culture's celebration of this season. It's a message that needs to be broadcast far and wide. While much of the world makes a mad dash toward December 25--decorating, buying, celebrating, buying, fretting, buying, baking, buying--in search of some nostalgic, yet vague sense of hope that, all too often, fails to satisfy and is kicked to the curb on Dec. 26, Christians (in theory) profess this period as Advent (from the Latin term adventus, or coming).

Whose coming do we await? In faith, hope, and love, we await the coming of Christ--God among us--who comes to save humanity from the condition it has itself rendered. In the person of Jesus, he has come once to take on our humanity and redeem it. He will come again to fulfill God's promise and take all things to himself. And he is coming now, at this very moment. Eternity will emerge from how we respond daily to God's eternal presence in the mystical Body of Christ. Eternity will be what each of us makes of today.

While's it's fine to engage in a little of the season's cheer, we do well to remember that Advent calls for a joyful anticipation of the Kingdom of God--yesterday, today, and forever--and that Christmas (which actually begins Dec. 25 and runs for many days thereafter) recalls that mystical event when God became man in the person of Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means "God saves." That should indeed bring us great joy--but not the fleeting, superficial, artificial joy so often peddled today. It is a joy tempered by the reality of the crucifixion, a wonderful paradox that gives rise to rejoicing with the psalmist: "Lord, with you is found forgiveness; for this we revere you!"

Advent and Christmas, then, are solemn occasions steeped in true, everlasting joy as we await the full coming of the Kingdom of God. As Camille points out, there is more to it than a cute baby in a manger. It's serious business. Urgency is involved, as we are reminded at Mass after the Lord's Prayer, when the priest says, "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

And, as Camille writes, this "God emergency" involves active hope:
Too often our religious expectations for this season are for the cute-and-cuddly (and totally manageable) infant Lord who slips easily into the manger pre-molded to fit him. Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr invited us to consider that the arrival of God into history is better understood as "an emergency." An emergency literally concerns something which emerges--unexpected and not always entirely welcome.

When God--who created all--becomes manifest in time, place, and person, such an emergence constitutes a real state of emergency for each of us. What will we do with the Holy Presence in such proximity to ourselves? If God is this close, is that bad news to us or good?

The "God Emergency" in our world is another way of talking about the gospel announcement of the Kingdom. When we pray "Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done" in the Lord's Prayer, the phrases on both sides of the comma describe the same event. God's will and its fulfillment happen together as in the Creation story: God speaks, and the words become the world. "Kingdom come" and fulfillment of God's purposes are the same event.

Our Advent waiting is precisely directed toward this wonderful fulfillment. God promises a new creation of justice and peace. Is this what we're hoping for, too? If so, our waiting can't be a matter of sitting on our hands till Christ walks through the front door on the Last Day.

Heaven can't wait. Hope is not a passive pastime. The grace of Advent is available when we embrace the coming Kingdom now.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Just for fun

My 5-month-old nephew Evan chills out in some unusual spots.

While visiting my brother Kevin in Cincinnati recently
for a series of oblate talks, I prayed the Divine Office
from my breviary each day with the aid of Ebony,
who is always eager to engage in horizontal meditation.

Feeding time for Evan over Thanksgiving, when my family visited
Saint Meinrad. This was my first meeting with Evan. Seated to my left
is my other nephew Ian--who promises to set a good example for his bro!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Marana tha!

"Our lives are an Advent, a time of waiting,
listening and hoping, a time of openness
to the unimaginable gift of God."

Maria Boulding, O.S.B.


ADVENT PRAYER

Lord God,
During this Advent period
of preparation and anticipation,
help us to be vigilant
in the true spirit of the season,
to put away all that would distract us,
and eagerly await with renewed hearts
the coming of Christ--
receiving within us
the Light who has come,
the Light who will come again,
and the Light who is with us always,
so that your promise may be fulfilled
and we may be at peace.
Amen.
 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Something to smile about

"THE EVANATOR"

My word, it has been a full two weeks since I posted anything on this blog. My apologies, but it has been a full two weeks in many respects. Shortly after Fr. Simeon's funeral, I headed to Ohio for nearly a week to give oblate conferences in Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati (the topic was "Listening Willingly to Holy Reading: How We Evangelize Ourselves through Lectio Divina"). In between conferences and traveling from city to city, I had a chance to catch the new movie Lincoln--highly recommended--and also visit with my brother Kevin in Cincinnati, as well as his girlfriend Wendy, her daughter McKinsey, and their pack of hounds--Ebony and Cobe.

During that period, I learned that the father of my best friend back in Findlay, Ohio, passed away at the age of 84 after several years of battling cancer. May he rest in peace (and please pray for his family).

So, I asked for a couple additional days away from the monastery, and made the trip up to my hometown, where I stayed with my mother and--as so often happens--had the opportunity to see many friends and acquaintances at the funeral home in addition to offering encouragement and support to my best friend and his family.

Last Wednesday, a day after returning to Saint Meinrad, and as had been planned for weeks, my mother, Uncle Kenny and Aunt Norma, my cousin Patty and her boyfriend Mike, my sister Shannon and her husband Ty, his 10-year-old son Ian, and my brand new nephew Evan (now 5 months) came to visit me here over the Thanksgiving weekend--Wednesday evening through Saturday morning. It was great to have them all here, and of course, I especially enjoyed finally meeting Evan in person. What a little grace-filled bundle of joy he is--or, as Fr. Harry called him, "the picture of possibility." Evan is a very observant little fellow, and his big blue eyes took in everything and everyone around here. He smiled and cooed a lot, fussed and cried some, and spit up quite a bit -- sometimes all at once!

I could have spent hours just watching Evan discover his new world. He was also quite the trooper, as he accompanied us on various tours of the campus here, to liturgies in the Archabbey Church (he seemed very interested in the chanting at Compline), to a couple dining excursions, and to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial located only a few miles from Saint Meinrad (Young Lincoln lived in this area from the age of 7 to 21). He--as well as Ian, who was also visiting Saint Meinrad for the first time--also got to meet and speak (so to speak) with many of the monks here. Ian even interviewed a few for a school social studies project.

In the midst of all this, I also came down with a bad cold. So, I am looking forward to some serious "recovery time" before re-entering the daily rhythm of ora et labora. In the coming weeks, I have many projects to attend to. Hopefully, I will blog some as well. Amid the many challenges, many things to be thankful for, and to smile about.

Sunset on the Ohio River as seen from the Overlook Restaurant
near Leavenworth, Indiana, where we ate Friday evening.

 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fr. Simeon's moment of grace


Fr. Simeon Daly, O.S.B.
May 9, 1922-November 10, 2012

On Saturday evening, Fr. Simeon Daly, O.S.B., died at the age of 90. Although he had encountered a number of health problems—some quite serious, even approaching death a time or two—in recent years, he was still quite fit mentally, and active physically, up until just a few days ago. May he rest in God’s peace. (Read his full obituary here.)

Fr. Simeon was the Archabbey librarian for almost 50 years. More recently, he helped out in the Development Office, and even penned a couple items for us at the Abbey Press (the last being just a few months ago). He was also a primary impetus in the book project I am currently completing at the Abbey Press—which will feature the Stations of the Cross artwork of the recently deceased Fr. Donald Walpole, O.S.B. Fr. Simeon took it upon himself a couple years ago to catalogue all the work Fr. Donald had done and which is displayed all over the country, so that there would be a record of it for posterity’s sake. He had also helped the Development Office put together some devotional booklets on the Stations for Saint Meinrad alumni a few years ago.

I am still getting used to the reality that he is gone. Of the 11 monks that have died in my 6 years here, I was probably closest to him—though many others certainly knew him longer and better. Fr. Simeon passed on some valuable insight to me, particularly when I was a novice, and I was always edified by his monastic example—his regular presence at the Divine Office, his pitching in to do dishes shortly after his recovery from yet another health scare, his daily commitment to feeding an ill confrere too weak to look after himself, and his genuine joy in arm-wrestling with One Bread One Cup participants.

I will miss him.

In a way, he was the first monk of Saint Meinrad that I became acquainted with in-depth, due to his writing. Although he was not what one might call a prodigious or prolific author, he was a story-teller, and wrote from the heart. On my first visit to Saint Meinrad Archabbey as a retreatant in August 2005, I purchased his newly published book Finding Grace in the Moment: Stories and Other Musings of an Aged Monk, a collection of short, simple, but personally profound, entertaining, and heart-warming essays, poems, homilies, and reflections he penned over the years. Many of these had grown out of stories he had told but had never intended to be published. Friends and benefactors encouraged him to record them (first on cassettes, then on CDs), and eventually, to put them into writing. All of these are now on his personal website, which he took a great deal of pride in: http://www.fathersimeon.com/index.asp (I still have my copy of both the book and CDs).

The website also contains a number of photos from his life and musings, and if you visit it, you will instantly be greeted by Fr. Simeon personally in a short video. Through all these, you can see for yourself that he was a sentimental, thoughtful, gracious, caring, gentle, humble, sweet, and genuinely holy monk. All in all, a good man—about as good as they come, and he sincerely touched the hearts of many, many people during his lifetime.

When I was a novice, I was assigned to Fr. Simeon on a couple occasions to help him clean out his office. This was after his recovery from a serious health crisis, and it was time for him to downsize, and to begin to put things in order, as it were. He would no longer need an office; all the items within it— large and small—had to be disposed of in one way or another.

My mistake at the time was to view it as just another assignment—some work which I was anxious to complete so I could move on to the next thing. I began picking things up, stacking them, carting them, and then impatiently awaiting instructions on what to do with it all. Fr. Simeon was in no hurry. Every single object or scrap of paper had a story, some special significance. Sensing my antsy nature, he finally said to me, gently but firmly: “Put that down and just listen. Don’t be in such a hurry.” And so I did, reluctantly at first. Then, as he began unfolding his memories of people, places, and events behind all the piles of what I initially viewed as just stuff, I became drawn into them, intrigued, and enamored.

He passed on a lot of wisdom in the process, and even gave me a memento or two. Eventually, I began looking forward to my few hours with Fr. Simeon, and the time seemed to pass too quickly. I don’t think we really got much work accomplished, but I realize now that wasn’t the point. He had a story to tell. He needed someone to hear it, and he needed someone to help him close what must have been a very difficult chapter in his life. He didn’t need someone to lift boxes as much as he needed someone to listen. It was one of my first monastic lessons. Fr. Simeon taught me, as the title of his book suggests, to find grace in the moment. As a novice, I needed to learn that lesson. So, we both had something to offer the other as we each transitioned into new chapters in our lives.

The following is a short poem Fr. Simeon wrote about 30 years ago, during another transition in his life--when he moved from his cell in the old monastery to what was then the newly built one. He had lived in that old cell for more than 30 years, and the poem attests to his keen sense for the significance of the seemingly simple, and of his ability to find grace in the moment:


Farewell
From one who leaves this place,
Knowing full well,
No other space will so long serve his needs
Before he’s gone.

 Since August 16, 1951,
You have harbored one
Not kind to your face,
But who loved his place
Where you sheltered his comings and goings.

Thank you!

Fond aieu,
Sweet door!
Nevermore will you welcome or hide
This one who is grateful for the shade
You have so long provided.

Rest in peace, Fr. Simeon. Pray for us who are still on the other side of that narrow door through which you have passed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rapt in serenity

"A mist quickly heals all things."
Sirach 43:22

It was a still and foggy morning here at Saint Meinrad Archabbey today. On my way to work at the Abbey Press, through the mist I spotted this squirrel having breakfast--or counting its toes; I couldn't tell which. I wanted to get a bit closer, but was afraid of spooking the bushy-tailed varmint. In any event, I was entranced by the contrast between the murky, moisture-laden air and the bronchial-like web of barren tree limbs which the squirrel navigates so effortlessly and securely. The only thing better than a foggy morning, I think (unless you have to drive somewhere in it), is a snowy twilight, or perhaps a rainy evening in a warm room under a metal roof. Gifts of stillness meant to envelop and soothe us with God's unyielding presence.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lectio moment

Musée national du Moyen Âge

Reflecting on today's Mass readings (Philippians 2:12-18 and Luke 14:25-33), two phrases caught my attention:

From the first reading: "hold on to the word of life."

From the Gospel: "everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

Here we have a call to let go of everything that does not lead to Christ, and to hold on to everything that does. This doesn't mean everyone must literally divest themselves of all material possessions. It does mean that we must regularly examine what we truly value, and how what we possess (whether it's money, status, goods, time, talents, habits, attitudes, desires, dispositions, etc.) is ordered toward our foremost priority.
1. So, what do I value most--really? Where does it point me?

2. How do I prioritize all that I possess? Or, do these things, whatever they are, really possess me? Are they leading me toward life as God promises it, or to death?

3. How do I let go of what I possess (or what possesses me) and instead hold on to the word of life?
This is not an observation on yesterday's election results--far from it. No comment in that regard. I did, however, wake up this morning with one of my favorite verses from the Psalms springing to mind, which complements today's Mass readings well:

"Lord, I have seen that all perfection has an end,
but your command is boundless."

Psalm 119:96

(Along all those lines, and in the spirit of promoting Benedictine values, I direct you to another blog post by Jennifer Fulwiler for a timely and beautiful reflection on The Big Picture. Enjoy -- and come and see what it's all about some time, whether it's Mount Angel or Saint Meinrad.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

PAX


The Lord bless us
and keep us.

The Lord make his face
shine upon us,
and be gracious to us;

The Lord lift up
his countenance upon us,
and give us peace.

Adapted from Numbers 6:24-26


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Election Day


All too often, I am dismayed by how politicized and polarized our culture has become. Too many Christians have fallen into this trap. The Left shouts, the Right shouts back. Does anyone listen? The discussion, it seems, is rarely respectful, substantial, or thought-provoking. Personality prevails. Winning is the only thing that matters.

I try to summon the virtue of patience by recalling that up until about 10 years ago, I was a Grade A Political Junkie and Newshound. So for much of my life, I have been just as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Now, I loathe what I myself used to love (or thought I loved). So, allowance must be made for the path others are on.

Still, I cannot help but think: Our Savior is Jesus Christ. He is not a Democrat. He is not a Republican. He is not a member of the Tea Party. He is the Son of God, who calls all people to himself through the Cross on which he was nailed for the sins of all. He is Love Himself. If we truly cast our "vote" in his direction, we shall be saved, and will be directed along the right path -- no matter what happens or who emerges victorious in any earthly election.

Perhaps providence whispers a reminder through the Gospel reading on this 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Mark 12:28b-34), which just so happens to fall two days before the election:

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"
 
Jesus replied, "The first is this:
 
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
 
There is no other commandment greater than these."
 
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
 
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
 
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
 
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
 
 

Friday, November 2, 2012

All Souls Day

 
One of the primary ways the Body of Christ overpowers death is through prayer, individually and communally. Praying for the dead--or more aptly, praying that the faithful departed may enjoy the fullness of Life--has been a vital component of the Catholic tradition since the early days of Christianity.

The Church identifies praying for the dead as one of the seven spiritual works of mercy. It is one way in which the compassionate stranger's touch and voice overpower death and unite all members of the Body of Christ--in this life and the life to come. The dead need and depend on our prayers just as the living do. St. Thomas Aquinas said that praying for the dead is the greatest act of charity one can perform on behalf of anyone--living or dead. Just as we pray that our loved ones may enjoy good health in this life, we must--to an even greater degree--pray that the faithful departed enjoy the fullness of eternal life.

This solidarity in Christ beyond death is the unity of the Church, which prays through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Father on behalf of the entire world. Our prayers assist the departed on their heavenly journey precisely because they are the same prayer Christ offers for us. Our voices in him and his voice in us is what touches, heals, and overpowers death to give eternal life.

-- Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B.
from "Praying for the Dead"
Catholic Perspectives CareNotes
Abbey Press

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings
so closely, and let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."

Hebrews 12:1-2


There are saints among us. But we often fail to recognize them... We invoke them as though they were all in heaven and able to bestow on us only invisible and supernatural favors. It would seem to be a presumption on our part to imitate them… It seems ridiculous that someone whom we have seen and touched, whose weaknesses, foibles and faults we have observed, whose life has been involved in our life and whose brow was adorned by no halo, should have trod the path of holiness before our eyes without our having any inkling of it…We must learn to recognize the saints who live beside us and even the saint who is within us. The least movement of love is enough to reveal the saint in us and in others… It is courage that makes the saint; and courage is no more than confidence in grace that comes from on high and is always available.
 
-- Louis Lavelle, The Meaning of Holiness

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pray much, speak little

X
To pray for a long time is not the same as to pray by multiplying words. Lengthy talk is one thing; a prayerful disposition which lasts a long time is another. Excessive talking should be kept out of prayer. To talk at length in prayer is to perform a necessary action with an excess of words. To spend much time in prayer is to knock with a persistent and holy fervor at the door of the One whom we beseech. This task is generally accomplished more through sighs than words, more through weeping than speech. He places our tears in his sight, and our sighs are not hidden from him, for he has established all things through his Word and does not seek human words.
-- St. Augustine

Basset hound blues


This photo from my hometown newspaper in Ohio, The (Findlay) Courier, is too good not to share. Pictured is a contestant (and his "human") in the Flag City Basset Waddle and Games this past weekend. Besides howling, contests included longest tail, saddest face, and longest ears. Findlay, incidentally, is also well-known for its annual Dachsund races. (Courier photo by Nick Moore)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mary, our partner in prayer

X
Acts of the Apostles 1:13-14; 2:1-4
 
[After the Ascension of Jesus, his disciples returned to Jerusalem.] When they entered the city, they went to the upper room where they were staying—Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers. When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
 

The reflection I gave this afternoon at the Monte Cassino Shrine:

“Pray for me.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

Most of us have said these things—or something similar—at one time or another. They are expressions of faith in a God who cares for us, but they also communicate the hope we have in one another as believers. We draw strength from knowing that we are united with one another in prayer. So we keep prayer lists. We form prayer chains. We join prayer groups. We participate in pilgrimages such as this at Monte Cassino Shrine. And, of course, we come together in the Liturgy—especially the Eucharist—to pray for the world as the Body of Christ and offer ourselves as a spiritual sacrifice. We believe Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel (18:20): “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

Whether we pray together or alone, of course, we do so as the faithful on earth in communion with one another, but also with the saints in heaven and the souls in purgatory. We are never really alone. We are all partners in prayer, imploring the gifts of the Holy Spirit, drawing strength from Christ, and seeking guidance during our earthly journey toward God the Father.

When we pray the rosary—either individually or as a group—we certainly honor Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the Mother of the Church, the Body of Christ. When we pray the Hail Mary, we acclaim the Mother of God using the words spoken by the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation, and those addressed to her by her cousin Elizabeth at the Visitation. We also ask her to pray for us, saying, “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” Mary is certainly our foremost partner in prayer.

However, we do not simply pray to her, asking her to intercede for us. We also pray with her as the first Christian disciples did—as recounted above in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Mary prays with us, directing our gaze toward Christ, and preparing us for the continual outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all the members of the Body of Christ. After the risen Jesus had ascended to the Father, all the Apostles, along with some women, Mary, and other relatives of Jesus, went back to Jerusalem to the Upper Room—the same room where Jesus instituted the Eucharist during the Last Supper the night before he died on the Cross. There, we are told, “all these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer.” Mary prayed with all of them as they awaited Jesus’ promise to send the Holy Spirit upon them.

Later, during the feast of Pentecost, we are told that “they were all in one place together,” and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit,” which enabled them to proclaim the Good News.

Tradition asserts that Mary was present for all this. Just as the Holy Spirit had descended upon her at the Annunciation to give birth to Christ, now the Holy Spirit descends upon the first Christian assembly in Mary’s presence to give birth to the Church, children of the Father as one Body of Christ.

Mary had already been overshadowed by the Holy Spirit at the Incarnation. She had been with Jesus from the moment of his conception to his last breath. The rest of the disciples, however, had not yet received the Holy Spirit. They were still waiting, and were not sure what to expect. Imagine their confusion and anxiety considering all that had happened in the preceding days—the Crucifixion of their Teacher, his Resurrection, his post-Resurrection appearances to them, his command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:20), and his Ascension. They were not sure what it all meant, or how they should respond. They were afraid, the Gospel of John tells us.

Already a recipient of the Holy Spirit and the perfect model of faithfulness to God’s Word, Mary remained with the Apostles and other disciples to strengthen and prepare them for what lay ahead. As Blessed Pope John Paul II said during a general audience in 1997, “Unlike those in the Upper Room who were waiting in fearful expectation, Mary, fully aware of the importance of her Son’s promise to the disciples, helped the community to be well-disposed to the coming of the Paraclete.” She was involved “in preparing the minds and hearts of those around her.”

She was their partner in prayer, and remains so for us.

The reading from the Acts of the Apostles is the last mention of Mary in the New Testament. She was the only follower of Christ who was with him at every stage of his life—from conception and birth to his death, and now his new birth in the first community of believers who will carry on his work in the world as the Church. As John Paul II said, “Mary's prayer has particular significance in the Christian community: It fosters the coming of the Spirit, imploring his action in the hearts of the disciples and in the world. Just as in the Incarnation, the Spirit had formed the physical body of Christ in her virginal womb, now in the Upper Room the same Spirit comes down to give life to the Mystical Body” (May 28, 1997, general audience). … “As Mother of the Church, Mary ‘continually brings to birth children for the Mystical Body of her Son. She does so through her intercession, imploring upon them the inexhaustible outpouring of the Spirit” (2002 Encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae).

Mary is our partner in prayer—from the moment of our birth in Christ at Baptism until the hour of our death. She prays not only for us, but with us, just as she did with the first community of believers in the Upper Room at Pentecost.

To illustrate this point further, let us take a very brief look at one episode from each of the four sets of mysteries of the rosary. We’ve already examined Pentecost, the third Glorious Mystery. If we turn to the Visitation, the second Joyful Mystery, we encounter Elizabeth crying out with joy as the child John leaps in her womb at Mary’s greeting (Luke 1:39-55). Mary, who had come to assist Elizabeth in her old age in giving birth to John the Baptist, responds to her cousin with the words of the Magnificat, the ancient hymn from the Gospel of Luke which we sing each evening at Vespers. As John Paul II wrote (Encyclical Redemptoris Mater), the Magnificat is an “inspired profession of faith, in which Mary’s response to the revealed word is expressed with the religious and poetical exultation of her whole being toward God. The Church, which even amid trials and tribulations does not cease repeating with Mary the words of the Magnificat, is sustained by the power of God’s truth.” As we can see, Mary was not only physically present to Elizabeth. She was also spiritually present, praying with her--and that prayer continues through the ages in the voices of people everywhere who pray the Magnificat.

In the Wedding Feast at Cana, the second Luminous Mystery of the Rosary, “Mary places herself between her son and mankind in the reality of their wants, needs, and sufferings” when she tells Jesus that “they have no wine” (John 2:1-5). Also, when she says to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you,” Mary “presents herself as the spokeswoman of her son’s will” (Redemptoris Mater). Here again, Mary prays with the people, presenting their needs to Jesus, and conveying to them how important it is to listen to him.

Finally, at the Crucifixion, the fifth Sorrowful Mystery, Mary and the beloved disciple stand with Jesus who has been nailed to the Cross. Jesus says to Mary, “Behold your son,” and to the beloved disciple, “Behold your mother” (John 19:26-27). Here, he entrusts all disciples to Mary, and calls all disciples to honor Mary as Mother of the Church. In essence, he makes them prayer partners.

Aspects of intercession or partnership are evident in all four of these mysteries—the Visitation, the Wedding Feast at Cana, the Crucifixion, and Pentecost. If we look more closely at each one of them, we can see that Mary makes herself prayer partners with four distinct groups of people. In the Visitation, it is relatives. At the Wedding Feast at Cana, it is friends. At the Crucifixion, it is family—both physically and spiritually. And at Pentecost, it is the entire community of believers. Mary joins herself in prayer to all these people—both at that time and right now. She prays with and for relatives, friends, families, and the entire Church.

We participate as partners in prayer through the reading of Scripture and through praying the Rosary—which Mary, in essence, recited through the very experiences of her life. We pray with Mary in the secret recesses of our hearts, pondering as she did the unfolding of these mysteries in our own lives. And we pray with Mary in the Liturgy, such as at the Divine Office during the singing of the Magnificat, and especially at the Eucharist. We must recall that through the Incarnation, when the Holy Spirit first descended upon Mary, Jesus, the Word made Flesh, received his earthly flesh and blood from her. It is this same humanity he gives to us sacramentally during the celebration of the Eucharist. “She who had lived in close union with Jesus in the house of Nazareth now lives in the Church in intimate communion with her Son, present in the Eucharist” (Paul Haffner, The Mystery of Mary).

All of this points to the timeless nature of Mary’s prayer. Pentecost was not a one-time event in the history of salvation. “Pentecost is still happening,” said John Paul II in a homily in 1980. “Every place where the disciples of the Lord gather is an extension of that original [Pentecost].” As the Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium stated, “The entire body of the faithful pours forth instant supplications to the Mother of God and Mother of men that she, who aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers, may now … intercede before her Son in the fellowship of all the saints, until all families of people, whether they are honored with the title of Christian or whether they still do not know the Savior, may be happily gathered together in peace and harmony into one people of God” (LG 69).

So, Mary remains with us as our partner in prayer--today and each day of our earthly sojourn. “In our time, she is no less present to the Church than she was at Pentecost, gathered with the Apostles in prayer. With her prayer and presence, she will surely support the new evangelization just as she supported the first. In times of difficulty and pain, Mary has been an unfailing refuge for those seeking peace and healing. In churches, chapels and homes, the image of Mary reminds people of her loving presence and her maternal protection” (Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia in Oceania).

Like the first Christians, let us devote ourselves to prayer together with Mary, the mother of Jesus. Let us make Mary our prayer partner, praying not only to her but with her as we contemplate the mysteries of Christ. Let us place ourselves in the Upper Room at Pentecost, imploring the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so that “the prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2679).

Let us say together: “Mary, pray for us.”

… And believe in our hearts that she is saying to us: “I’ll pray for you.”