The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Requiescat in pace (again)

Fr. Eric Lies, O.S.B.
October 13, 1919 -- January 30, 2012

Yesterday we had the funeral Mass for Fr. Donald. Hours later, just as we were finishing dinner in the monastery refectory, the infirmary sent word that Fr. Eric had just died. He was 92, and had been in declining health for some time (when I was a novice, I was Fr. Eric’s valet).

Interestingly, both Fr. Donald and Fr. Eric professed their monastic vows on the same day: Aug. 6, 1940. And they were both artists, though in different mediums. Fr. Eric is well-known around here for his calligraphy. During his monastic life, he was a teacher in the seminary, associate editor/art director of Grail Magazine at Abbey Press, and general manager of the Abbey Press. He also worked for more than 25 years in the Development Office, and gave many retreats for guests.

May he rest in peace.

Click here to read Fr. Eric's full obituary.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Requiescat in pace

Fr. Donald Walpole, O.S.B.
May 1, 1917 -- January 27, 2012

NOTE: This afternoon, the most senior member (in terms of age) of our monastery died. He was 94, professed as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey for 71 years. Though he was the oldest, there are three surviving monks here--all in their 90s--who have been professed just a little longer. While Fr. Donald had been in declining health of late, up until several months ago, he was still belting out psalms in choir each day with the rest of us and making the rounds of the monastery for community functions on his motorized scooter. With his death, the eldest monk here is now former Archabbot Bonaventure Knaebel, who is 93 and is still very much with it. Posted below is a piece on Fr. Donald I wrote for our vocations website when I was a novice. May he rest in peace. -- Br. Francis

Fr. Donald Walpole’s life as a monk is a portrait of obedience, not a mystery, he says.

Ever faithful to Saint Meinrad’s daily rhythm of prayer and work, he does his best artwork between 8 and 11 p.m., yet is up at 4 a.m. to quietly reflect on the things of God. He loves a good joke, has a sharp memory and a penchant for telling stories, and he takes no prisoners during card games.

“Being a monk is not a mysterious thing, although you might think it is,” he says. Although his murals and mosaics adorn the walls of the monastery at Saint Meinrad and churches throughout the country, he also points out that being a monk is not about the work one produces. “Monks come to seek God. When you take the vow of obedience, you may be given a number of different things to do, but it has to be the way of life, seeking God, that attracts you and keeps you going. That is our primary work. Other work is more general.”

His work, he says, has typically been a result of faithfulness to the vow of obedience, although it has usually allowed him to express his artistic identity. After joining the monastery and being ordained, he was sent to the Art Institute of Chicago, where he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree. Upon returning, he taught art history and related art subjects in the seminary college for 48 years, all the while taking on additional assignments and producing a vast array of artwork. Some of his art students included future abbots and bishops – whose grades he is still able to recall.

"I never dreamed I’d be involved in everything I have done,” he said, remarking that he expected initially to be assigned to the Abbey Press, where he did accounting work before being ordained. “I wanted to be a monk and to seek God. Beyond that, I was willing to do whatever was required, whatever I was assigned to do.”

As a young monk, Fr. Donald helped Dom Gregory de Wit, O.S.B., paint the ceiling of the Chapter Room for one summer, and he painted the crucifixion scene with Saint Gertrude in the area leading into the Chapter Room. Later, he painted the Stations of the Cross that now hang in St. Joseph Oratory in the crypt of the Archabbey Church. His mural depicting the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt adorns the wall outside the oratory. The monastery refectory, where the monks gather to eat each day, contains a number of his works, and his Last Supper painting is in the Newman Dining Room.

His works are displayed not only throughout the monastery, but also around the country. His glass mosaics, murals, window designs and linen hangings are in cathedrals, parish churches, monasteries, convents, chapels, schools, mausoleums and universities, from the Bahamas to Notre Dame to San Francisco.

Asked which piece he is most proud of, Fr. Donald chuckles. “I don’t think I’m completely happy with any of them,” he says. Pressed further, he acknowledges that his favorite work is his “Madonna of the Desert,” which hangs in the home of the bishop of Phoenix. By far, he says, his favorite subject is Madonna and Child. “I’ve done more of those than anything else.”

Perhaps more revealing about Fr. Donald than what is depicted in the contemporary design of his art is that he vividly recalls the people involved with each project, who provided assistance, and how each work came together, right down to the materials that were used.

De Wit [a Belgian monk who visited Saint Meinrad in the 1940s] was a tremendous influence on him artistically. “I wouldn’t have attempted much of what I’ve done without his help. I learned so much from him.”

Growing up as Martin Walpole in Indianapolis, Fr. Donald attended St. Patrick parish and school. He was interested in art at a young age. “Growing up, in the kitchen we had a blackboard, and I was the only one who used it. I used to draw all over it. I even drew pictures on the ceiling,” he said, his smile widening. “There were seven kids in the family. Mother had to keep us busy with something.”

His older brother Robert began the path toward diocesan priesthood by attending high school at Saint Meinrad. Young Martin, a bit more tentative, attended high school in Indianapolis before coming to Saint Meinrad as a minor seminarian. Later on, during his studies for diocesan priesthood in the major seminary, he discerned that he was being called to monastic life, and received permission from then-Archbishop Joseph Ritter to shift to that pursuit.

“I was attracted by the liturgy here, the beautiful chant – in Latin then, of course,” Fr. Donald said. “The idea that the monks were sacrificing all also appealed to me. I liked the way of life, the work, and the quiet, although the place wasn’t very beautiful then like it is now.”

His parents were resistant at first. “They didn’t know what a monk was,” he said. “My mother cried. She thought she’d never see me again. When I came here, I thought that was it, that I had left my family.” However, he was often sent to Indianapolis to help with Mass and confessions, “so she ended up seeing more of me than my brother, who was a diocesan priest.”

Since then, Fr. Donald has witnessed many changes, at Saint Meinrad and within the Church. He remembers when the monks had to play baseball in their habits and when a good game of bridge was considered common indoor recreation.

“Nobody plays cards anymore,” he said. “There’s too much else going on.”

The biggest challenge, he said, was adjusting to the changes in the Church after the Second Vatican Council, when the Divine Office each day began to be prayed in English rather than Latin.

“I still recall a lot of the Latin verses. English has helped other people understand everything that’s going on in the liturgy, but the Latin helped convey the depth of spiritual meaning better and still helps me to be more aware of the presence of God,” he said. “But most of us saw the necessity of the change. We did lose some things, but nothing more than we gained for the benefit of the whole Church.”

Throughout the decades and the changes, Fr. Donald has held fast to his calling within.

“Never did I feel I had made a mistake. I was called here, led by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit opened up avenues here that seemed to fit me.”

Fr. Donald recalls his own experience of becoming acquainted with Saint Meinrad in offering advice to those who may be considering monastic life. “It takes meeting the monks and discussing the life with them, not just seeing them in church. You must not only be inspired by their service, but see the reality of the life.”

That reality of the life, Fr. Donald says, is the means by which the monk seeks the mystery of God – whether in the daily round of work, the art of creation, or in the darkest silence before the bells summon the monks to the Archabbey Church each morning.

“People come here to seek God. God doesn’t have a face like ours. He is goodness and pure truth, and that’s what we seek, according to the Rule of St. Benedict.”

Click here to read Fr. Donald's full obituary.

The real deal

Sunday, January 29, 2012
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

Deuteronomy 18:15-20
1Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28

Jesus taught as “one having authority and not as the scribes,” we are told in today’s Gospel. He was authentic, the real deal, no question about it. The implication is that the scribes – the synagogue “authorities” – were not. They may have been good people, and their teaching may have been correct, but their motives were suspect. They did not teach with valid authority.

In the first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses relays God’s message to the people that he will eventually send a prophet like Moses, one to whom they should listen. As we know from the Old Testament, many great prophets succeeded Moses, and they all prefigured the Great Prophet, who is Christ. However, there were also false prophets, and in the first reading Moses warns the people against them. Again, they may have been good people, and their teaching may have been correct, but their motives were suspect.

Even the most sincere among us must acknowledge that, as commentator Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, C.P. writes, we carry some “measure of dishonesty and bias, of partial blindness to the truth and favoritism toward our own insights and personal causes.” Our motives, if we are completely honest with ourselves, our often suspect and driven by concern for self above all else. Even “good” people do the right things for the wrong reasons. In a sense, as imperfect human beings, we are all inauthentic.

In his mercy, love, and compassion, God desires nothing more than to restore our authenticity—to reveal who we are truly meant to be as children created in his image. He does not wish us to be anxious, distracted, or divided by suspect motives—to be false selves. And so, as the first reading prophesies, God raised up for us Jesus, the Great Prophet, from among us. He was flesh and blood like us, yet filled with the Spirit of God the Father, and this Spirit he breathes upon us, into us, casting out with authority all that is false and divisive.

In the passage from the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel read at Mass today, Jesus enters the synagogue, teaches with authority, and then encounters a man with an unclean spirit who recognizes who Jesus truly is. It is an important scene, setting the tone and direction for the entire Gospel.

Jesus the Great Prophet comes with the authority of God to save, heal, and restore. He enters the synagogue of our souls, and fills God’s temple within us with the Holy Spirit. There he encounters our false selves, the divided heart guided by suspect motives. Then, with compassion for us, he condemns not the human being, but rebukes the evil spirit within:

“Quiet! Come out of him!”

After being baptized, announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and then calling his first disciples, these are the very first words of Jesus’ public ministry. It is what he came to do. With authority, he drives out all that divides our souls, our selves, from their true dignity, ultimately heaping all that is false on his own shoulders and nailing it to the cross, where all division, anxiety, and distraction is defeated forever. And in the hope of the Resurrection that is ours, he restores our true selves, our authenticity.

If we let him in, open our hearts to him, ask him to stay with us through the gifts of prayer, Word, Sacrament, the life of the Church, and the practice of virtue, then we can truly say as did St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galations 2:20). If we listen to him as one having authority, then the unclean spirit within will obey and come out.

It may require a lifetime to align our motives with all our thoughts, words, and deeds in order to become our authentic selves in Christ through the love of God and his Holy Spirit. However, Jesus assures us that “I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

In the end, as the “good thief” crucified with Jesus demonstrated (cf. Luke 23: 39-43), it is not perfection that counts, but authenticity. As St. John wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:8-9).

That, thanks be to God, is the real deal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Silence and word

NOTE: Pope Benedict XVI has some interesting things to say today in his annual message for the upcoming World Communications Day, observed May 20, 2012 (the message is always released several months beforehand on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists). Copied below is the entire text of the message. Or, if you like, click here to read it on the Vatican's website. -- Br. Francis

Silence and Word: Path of Evangelization

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As we draw near to World Communications Day 2012, I would like to share with you some reflections concerning an aspect of the human process of communication which, despite its importance, is often overlooked and which, at the present time, it would seem especially necessary to recall. It concerns the relationship between silence and word: two aspects of communication which need to be kept in balance, to alternate and to be integrated with one another if authentic dialogue and deep closeness between people are to be achieved. When word and silence become mutually exclusive, communication breaks down, either because it gives rise to confusion or because, on the contrary, it creates an atmosphere of coldness; when they complement one another, however, communication acquires value and meaning.

Silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist. In silence, we are better able to listen to and understand ourselves; ideas come to birth and acquire depth; we understand with greater clarity what it is we want to say and what we expect from others; and we choose how to express ourselves. By remaining silent we allow the other person to speak, to express him or herself; and we avoid being tied simply to our own words and ideas without them being adequately tested. In this way, space is created for mutual listening, and deeper human relationships become possible. It is often in silence, for example, that we observe the most authentic communication taking place between people who are in love: gestures, facial expressions and body language are signs by which they reveal themselves to each other. Joy, anxiety, and suffering can all be communicated in silence – indeed it provides them with a particularly powerful mode of expression.

Silence, then, gives rise to even more active communication, requiring sensitivity and a capacity to listen that often makes manifest the true measure and nature of the relationships involved. When messages and information are plentiful, silence becomes essential if we are to distinguish what is important from what is insignificant or secondary. Deeper reflection helps us to discover the links between events that at first sight seem unconnected, to make evaluations, to analyze messages; this makes it possible to share thoughtful and relevant opinions, giving rise to an authentic body of shared knowledge. For this to happen, it is necessary to develop an appropriate environment, a kind of ‘eco-system’ that maintains a just equilibrium between silence, words, images and sounds.

The process of communication nowadays is largely fuelled by questions in search of answers. Search engines and social networks have become the starting point of communication for many people who are seeking advice, ideas, information and answers. In our time, the internet is becoming ever more a forum for questions and answers – indeed, people today are frequently bombarded with answers to questions they have never asked and to needs of which they were unaware.

If we are to recognize and focus upon the truly important questions, then silence is a precious commodity that enables us to exercise proper discernment in the face of the surcharge of stimuli and data that we receive. Amid the complexity and diversity of the world of communications, however, many people find themselves confronted with the ultimate questions of human existence: Who am I? What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope? It is important to affirm those who ask these questions, and to open up the possibility of a profound dialogue, by means of words and interchange, but also through the call to silent reflection, something that is often more eloquent than a hasty answer and permits seekers to reach into the depths of their being and open themselves to the path towards knowledge that God has inscribed in human hearts.

Ultimately, this constant flow of questions demonstrates the restlessness of human beings, ceaselessly searching for truths, of greater or lesser import, that can offer meaning and hope to their lives. Men and women cannot rest content with a superficial and unquestioning exchange of skeptical opinions and experiences of life – all of us are in search of truth and we share this profound yearning today more than ever: “When people exchange information, they are already sharing themselves, their view of the world, their hopes, their ideals” (Message for the 2011 World Day of Communications).

Attention should be paid to the various types of websites, applications and social networks which can help people today to find time for reflection and authentic questioning, as well as making space for silence and occasions for prayer, meditation or sharing of the word of God. In concise phrases, often no longer than a verse from the Bible, profound thoughts can be communicated, as long as those taking part in the conversation do not neglect to cultivate their own inner lives. It is hardly surprising that different religious traditions consider solitude and silence as privileged states which help people to rediscover themselves and that Truth which gives meaning to all things.

The God of biblical revelation speaks also without words: “As the Cross of Christ demonstrates, God also speaks by his silence. The silence of God, the experience of the distance of the almighty Father, is a decisive stage in the earthly journey of the Son of God, the incarnate Word …. God’s silence prolongs his earlier words. In these moments of darkness, he speaks through the mystery of his silence” (Verbum Domini, 21). The eloquence of God’s love, lived to the point of the supreme gift, speaks in the silence of the Cross. After Christ’s death there is a great silence over the earth, and on Holy Saturday, when “the King sleeps and God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages” (cf. Office of Readings, Holy Saturday), God’s voice resounds, filled with love for humanity.

If God speaks to us even in silence, we in turn discover in silence the possibility of speaking with God and about God. “We need that silence which becomes contemplation, which introduces us into God’s silence and brings us to the point where the Word, the redeeming Word, is born” (Homily, Eucharistic Celebration with Members of the International Theological Commission, 6 October 2006). In speaking of God’s grandeur, our language will always prove inadequate and must make space for silent contemplation. Out of such contemplation springs forth, with all its inner power, the urgent sense of mission, the compelling obligation to communicate that which we have seen and heard” so that all may be in communion with God (1 Jn 1:3).

Silent contemplation immerses us in the source of that Love who directs us towards our neighbours so that we may feel their suffering and offer them the light of Christ, his message of life and his saving gift of the fullness of love.

In silent contemplation, then, the eternal Word, through whom the world was created, becomes ever more powerfully present and we become aware of the plan of salvation that God is accomplishing throughout our history by word and deed. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us, divine revelation is fulfilled by “deeds and words having an inner unity: the deeds wrought by God in the history of salvation manifest and confirm the teaching and realities signified by the words, while the words proclaim the deeds and clarify the mystery contained in them” (Dei Verbum, 2).

This plan of salvation culminates in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the mediator and the fullness of all revelation. He has made known to us the true face of God the Father and by his Cross and Resurrection has brought us from the slavery of sin and death to the freedom of the children of God. The fundamental question of the meaning of human existence finds in the mystery of Christ an answer capable of bringing peace to the restless human heart. The Church’s mission springs from this mystery; and it is this mystery which impels Christians to become heralds of hope and salvation, witnesses of that love which promotes human dignity and builds justice and peace.

Word and silence: learning to communicate is learning to listen and contemplate as well as speak. This is especially important for those engaged in the task of evangelization: both silence and word are essential elements, integral to the Church’s work of communication for the sake of a renewed proclamation of Christ in today’s world. To Mary, whose silence “listens to the Word and causes it to blossom” (Private Prayer at the Holy House, Loreto, 1 September 2007), I entrust all the work of evangelization which the Church undertakes through the means of social communication.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2012, Feast of Saint Francis de Sales.


© Copyright 2012 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Be holy

My favorite portrait of St. Francis de Sales.
Unlike many others, it is not overly pious.
Pictured here is a wise but humble man,
gentle, and -- if you look closely -- playful.
A saint who was a human being.

Today we celebrate the feast day of my holy patron, St. Francis de Sales. One of his central tenets--and one emphasized by Vatican II nearly 400 years after his death--is the universal call to holiness. That is, everyone is called by God to live a holy life. It is not the perogative of an elite few.

Each one of us is called to be a saint. Those we know as saints were just as human as the rest of us, but through the grace of God they were committed to living holy lives. The same is possible--and necessary--for us, no matter who we are or what we do. "Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy," God tells us in Leviticus 19:2. "Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect," Jesus says (Matthew 5:48).

Our trouble in comprehending or acceptiing this divine mission is often rooted in our perception of what holiness or perfection truly is. Holiness does not mean superhuman, esoteric piety. It is a commitment to follow Christ, to be conformed to his image, our true image, by our very lives. Mistakes, failures, misfortune, pain, sorrow, and sin will trip us up at times. However, what is impossible for us by nature, God supplies by grace to the receptive and faithful soul, no matter how erring. As the saying goes, God writes straight on crooked lines. Bones that are broken and then heal properly become even stronger. Christ was not crucified for nothing. He is, after all, a Savior.

St. Francis de Sales directs our eyes toward Calvary as we strive for holiness and walk the path of perfection. In his most famous work, Introduction to the Devout Life, he speaks very succinctly in practical terms about what it means to live a life of holiness--or devotion, as he terms it. The straightforward wisdom he offers is firm and tradition-tested, but also gentle and compassionate. More than anything else, he emphasizes genuine love of God, an interior disposition that discovers true joy and freedom in following Christ within our daily obligations and relationships. God's holiness is above all, but given to all who are willing to receive and live that holiness.

An excerpt from Introduction to the Devout Life that aptly summarizes his thought:
Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God.

Devotion is exercised in different ways. Its practice must be adapted to the strength, activities, and duties of each particular person.

Devotion does not consist in the sweetness, delight, consolation, and sensible tenderness of heart that move us to tears and sighs and bring us a certain pleasant, relishful satisfaction when we perform various spiritual exercises. Many souls experience these tender, consoling feelings but still remain very vicious. Consequently, they do not have true love of God, much less true devotion.

True devotion consists in a constant, resolute, prompt, and active will to do whatever we know is pleasing to God. Live Jesus!
St. Francis de Sales,
pray for us!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Call to conversion

"Come after me,
and I will make you fishers of men."
Mark 1:17

NOTE: My apologies for neglecting to post my customary commentary on Sunday's Mass readings. Other duties prevailed this past week. However, below, I offer an excerpt of the fine homily delivered Sunday in our Archabbey Church by Fr. Joseph Cox, O.S.B. -- Br. Francis

Sunday, January 22, 2012
3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

Jonah 3:1-5, 10
1Corinthians 7:29-31
Mark 1:14-20
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” -- Mark 1:14-15
St. Mark’s Gospel begins the account of the work and ministry of Jesus with these key verses. These are the first recorded words of the Lord. They are important. In a sense they set the program for the gospel and summarize what Jesus proclaims as gospel, as good news, which is fulfillment, the nearness of the kingdom, and therefore the need for repentance and for faith. First he calls for repentance, and then he calls the first disciples to himself.

Repentance means a change of heart and conduct, a turning of one’s life. It is a choice to trust and to make a personal commitment to live God’s way in the world. Jesus tells us, “The kingdom is a hand. Repent and believe this, and act like you believe.” It is a choice to put God first in our lives.

Conversion is an effort we make throughout our lives. We need the desire to change. We have to want conversion. It also depends on God’s grace. We cannot advance at all without God’s help.

The disciples called by Jesus knew this. They were in continual need of conversion, and so are we. Our goal is nothing less than a faithful pilgrimage to God. When our journey through life begins to go in any direction other than to God, then it’s time for renewed repentance and conversion.

Blessed Mother Teresa said that success is not in succeeding. Success is not giving up trying. This is what God asks us to do.

-- Fr. Joseph Cox, O.S.B.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saint Meinrad, pray for us

Today we celebrate the feast of Saint Meinrad--hermit and holy martyr. He is often called the "Martyr of Hospitality," a virtue held dear by Benedictine monks. Upon the site of the hermitage (Einsiedeln in German) where he was killed by two robbers in 861 was built the venerable monastery of Einsiedeln in Switzerland. Centuries later, the monks of Einsiedeln establised an American foundation--Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana. Pictured above is a 15th-Century block book from Einsiedeln's library on the Life of St. Meinrad. The artwork depicts the martyr's death. Notice the two ravens, which are part of the insignia for Einsiedeln--and Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Click here if you would like to read an English translation of a 10th-Century Latin account of the life and death of St. Meinrad.

NOTE: On this feast of Saint Meinrad, please pray for the monks of the Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland, especially Abbot Martin Werlen, who suffered a serious head injury in a sporting accident last week. And to our brethren at Einsiedeln: Gottes Frieden!

Artwork by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Seeking God

Congratulations and prayerful best wishes to our newest novice, Matthew Scheeser, who received his corona and scapular this evening in a brief ceremony just before Vespers.

Matthew, originally from northwest Ohio (Sandusky), comes to us from Virginia, where he worked as a liturgical music director. (Read more here.)

Novice Matthew joined us as a candidate a couple of months ago. Now, as a novice, he will begin a year of discernment and formation according to the Rule of St. Benedict. May God bless him with peace. We are glad to have him here.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Christian unity


Almighty ever-lasting God,
who gather what is scattered
and keep together
what you have gathered,
look kindly on the flock
of your Son,
that those whom
one Baptism has consecrated
may be joined together
by integrity of faith
and united in the
bond of charity.
Through our Lord
Jesus Christ,
your Son,
who lives and reigns
with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God,
for ever and ever.

Prayer for the Unity of Christians
Roman Missal

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Desert wisdom

St. Anthony of the Desert, honored this day
as the father of monasticism.

"Whoever you may be,
always have God
before your eyes;
whatever you do,
do it according
to the testimony
of the holy Scriptures."

St. Anthony of the Desert

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Here's looking at you

"Come, and you will see."
John 1:39

Sunday, January 15, 2012
2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—B

1Samuel 3:3b-10, 19
1Corinthians 6:13c-15a, 17-20
John 1:35-42

There is a lot of looking going on in today’s Gospel reading.

John watched Jesus walk by.

Behold, the Lamb of God, John says.

Jesus turned and saw John’s disciples following him.

What are looking for? Jesus asks.

Come, and you will see, Jesus says when they ask where he’s staying.

They went and saw where Jesus was staying.

Finally, when Andrew brings along his brother Simon, Jesus looked at him before identifying him and then giving him the new name Peter.

God knows precisely who we are. He knows us better than we know ourselves. His gaze on us is never diverted elsewhere, and it is not a gaze of harsh condemnation but one of tender compassion and love, for “I am meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29). God looks at us, loves us (cf. Mark 10:21), and invites us to follow him. There is no coercion involved. “Come, and you will see,” he says, almost playfully.

If we are truly looking for him, listening for him—in prayer, Scripture, the life of the Church, our relationships, our work, our everyday encounters, sorrows and joys, successes and failures, illness and health—we will find the Messiah as Andrew and Peter did. Even when we are not looking or listening, Jesus walks by, turns and sees us, and continually invites us: “Come, and you will see.” He knows us, comes to meet us where we are, and then beckons us to follow him to where he is, to whom we belong, to become who we are called to be.

A sense of divine familiarity pervades all today’s readings. Samuel “was not familiar with the Lord,” yet God called out to him as he slept, waiting patiently for him to respond, “Speak, Lord for your servant is listening.” Though Samuel up to that point knew nothing of the Lord, God knew him through and through. In the second reading, St Paul reminds us that our bodies are members of Christ, that we are joined to the Lord and are one Spirit with him. “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” he says. “You are not your own.”

We belong to God, who is intimately familiar with us.

That is a message today’s world needs to hear, to believe, to live. Each of us in our own way molds an image of who we think we are, who others think we are, and we struggle daily to live up to those false idols. God calls us gently away from our own ideas and notions. In revealing himself to us, he shows each and every one of us who we really are, who we are meant to be, who we can become. Like with Simon Peter, God calls us to follow him, to glorify God in our bodies, and take on a new identity in Christ while still remaining ourselves.

Peter did not change instantly. Under the gaze of God, he remained a deeply flawed man. But he had discovered Christ, and his potential self in Christ, and he was willing to follow him. He was on the way. So it is with each one of us.

Jesus sees you, knows you.

“What are you looking for?” he asks.

"Come, and you will see who you will become through me."

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Steadfast love

The Lord is strength, my rock,
my fortress, my savior.

Psalm 18:2-3

Even though everything turns and changes around us, we must always remain unchanging and ever looking, striving, and aspiring toward God.

No matter what course the ship may take, no matter whether it sails to the east, west, north, or south, no matter what wind drives it on, the mariner's needle never points in any direction except toward the fair polar star.

Everything may be in confusion not only around us, I say, but within us as well. Our soul may be overwhelmed with sorrow or joy, with sweetness or bitterness, with peace or trouble, with light or darkness, with temptation or repose, with pleasure or disgust, with aridity or tenderness. It may be scorched by the sun or refreshed by the dew.

For all that, ever and always our heart's point, our spirit, our higher will, which is our compass, must unceasingly look and tend toward the love of God, its Creator, its Savior, its sole and sovereign good.

-- St. Francis de Sales
Introduction to the Devout Life
You, O Lord, are my lamp
my God who lightens my darkness.

Psalm 18:29

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bathed in light

"You are my beloved son;
with you I am well pleased."
Mark 1:11

Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him, and rise with him.

Jesus comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God.

Today let us do honor to Christ's baptism and celebrate his feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of humanity, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven.

-- St. Gregory of Nazianzus

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Raise your eyes and look about

They were overjoyed at seeing the star.
Matthew 2:10

Sunday, January 8, 2012
Solemnity of the Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12

“Raise your eyes and look about,” Isaiah tells us in today’s first reading. “Your light has come. Upon you the Lord shines.” We must keep our gaze on heaven above but also “look about,” to the circumstances and people on earth through whom the light of Christ shines. He is in each of us, all around us, yet we must first raise our eyes, viewing everything from an eternal perspective that reveals God’s immense love, mercy, and compassion.

Elsewhere, St. Paul tells us, “If you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). As baptized Christians, we are raised with Christ in his baptism (which we celebrate Monday), on his cross, and in his resurrection. Raised with Christ in this light, God’s glory shines upon us, and as Isaiah says, we then become radiant at what we see, and our hearts will throb and overflow.

This is illustrated for us in today’s Gospel story of the Magi. In Jerusalem, very near the town of Bethlehem where Christ is born, King Herod looks all about, but not above, and therefore is “greatly troubled.” The light of Christ is close by, but he cannot see it. On the other hand, the three Magi from a distant land have their eyes uplifted to see Christ’s star at its rising. So, they are impelled to look about for him, guided by the light above. They knew who they were looking for, and in a spirit of humility, gratitude, and joy, they found him and gave themselves to him by presenting their treasures.

The Magi’s encounter—God revealed to foreigners in a strange land through the newborn Christ—made them stewards of God’s grace and co-partners in God’s promise of eternal salvation revealed through the gospel. Herod, though a native of the land, remained troubled. Fearfully looking all about but without raising his eyes to heaven, he attempts to kill all the newborn children in Bethlehem to preserve his own treasures. In doing so, he remains in the dark, unable to see the light so visible to the Magi from so far away—and eventually loses everything.

As we reflect on the mystery of the Epiphany—God’s manifestation to all peoples through Christ’s birth, his visit from the Magi, his baptism, and his first miracle of changing water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana—we do well to ask ourselves these questions:

n      Are we greatly troubled?
n      Have we first raised our eyes to heaven?
n      Do we then look about the earth for the light of Christ with humility, gratitude and joy, eager to find him in the most unlikely of people and places, and offer there our greatest treasures?

May our encounter with Christ make us radiant at what we see, our hearts throbbing and overflowing with the gift of God’s grace manifested to all the earth. Let us raise our eyes and then look about. Then this light, this life, will be ours forever, and likewise will be offered to all around us who are greatly troubled. May we all become co-partners in God's promise of eternal salvation revealed through the gospel.

“Your light has come. Upon you the Lord shines.”

Friday, January 6, 2012

Living in gratitude

"Do not grumble or speak ill of others.
Place your hope in God alone."

of St. Benedict, Ch. 4:39-41

Living in gratitude is not so easy. We don't always feel grateful or blessed, and we often complain. However Scripture (cf. 1Peter 5:6-7; Colossians 3:16-17) calls us to strive for the ideal of a grateful heart and trust in God.

St. Benedict's Rule exemplifies this ideal for us. He exhorts his followers to live in gratitude, and to refrain from grumbling. In his Rule, Benedict uses the Latin term for "murmuring" -- what we would call grumbling. He is adamant that grumbling is not to be tolerated, not only because it indicates a lack of gratitude and trust within the individual monk's heart, but because it can be so damaging to those around us.

At its root, chronic grumbling is a lack of faith in God's provident care; it is prideful frustration that seeps into our hearts when things don't go our way or we don't get what we want. It is a refusal to bow under the mighty hand of God, trusting that everything will work out, and that things are often better than acknowledged. St. Benedict urges us to live in gratitude each moment, if for nothing else than for the simple facts that we are God's children, created and chosen, redeemed by Christ, and promised eternal life.

If we truly consider those essentials, nothing else matters, and we can live in gratitude all our days.

Br. Francis

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Iesus hominum salvator

"At the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven
and on earth
and under the earth,
and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of
God the Father."

Philippians 2:10-11

Sunday, January 1, 2012


"The Word became flesh.
Woman, behold, your son.
[Disciple] behold, your mother."

John 1:14; 19:26-27 

Sunday, January 1, 2012
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Numbers 6:22-27
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:16-21

NOTE: Today’s reflection is by one of the Greek fathers,
St. John Damascene (c. 674-749):
We proclaim the holy Virgin to be in strict truth the Mother of God. For inasmuch as he who was born of her was true God, she who bore the true God incarnate is the true Mother of God. For we hold that God was born of her, not implying that the divinity of the Word received from her the beginning of its being, but meaning that God the Word himself, who was begotten of the Father timelessly before the ages, and was with the Father and the Spirit without beginning through eternity, took up his abode in these last days for the sake of our salvation in the Virgin’s womb, and was without change made flesh and born of her.

For the holy Virgin did not give birth to mere man but to true God: and not only God but God incarnate, who did not bring down his body from heaven, nor simply passed through the Virgin as a channel, but received flesh from her, of like essence to our own and subsisting in himself.

For if the body had come down from heaven and had not partaken of our nature, what would have been the use of his becoming man? For the purpose of God the Word becoming man was that the very same nature, which had sinned and fallen and become corrupted, should triumph over the deceiving tyrant and so be freed from corruption.
"God became man
so that man might become god."

St. Athanasius