The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Birthday of Peace

"He is our peace."
Ephesians 2:14

God’s Son did not disdain to become a baby. Although with the passing of the years he moved from infancy to maturity, and although with the triumph of his passion and resurrection all the actions of humility which he undertook for us were finished, Christmas still renews for us the holy childhood of Jesus born of the Virgin Mary. In adoring the birth of our Savior, we find we are celebrating the commencement of our own life, for the birth of Christ is the source of life for Christian people, and the birthday of the Head is the birthday of the Body.
Every individual that is called has his own place, and all the children of the Church are separated from one another by intervals of time. Nevertheless, just as the entire body of the faithful is born in the font of baptism, crucified with Christ in his passion, raised again in his resurrection, and placed at the Father’s right hand in his ascension, so with him are they born in this Nativity.
This is true of any believer in whatever part of the world, that once he is reborn in Christ, he or she abandons the old paths of original sin and passes into a new being by being reborn. He or she is no longer counted as part of an earthly father’s stock but that of the Savior, who became the Son of man in order that we might have the power to be the children of God.
For unless he came down to us in such humility, no one could reach his presence by any merits of his or her own.
The very greatness of the gift conferred demands of us reverence worthy of its splendor. For, as the blessed Apostle teaches, We have received not the spirit of this world but the Spirit which is of God, that we may know the things which are given us by God. That Spirit can in no other way be rightly worshipped, except by offering him that which we received from him.
But in the treasures of the Lord’s bounty, what can be more in keeping with the glory of Christmas than that peace which at the Lord’s Nativity was first proclaimed by the angels?
It is precisely this peace which brings forth the children of God. This peace is the nurse of love and the mother of unity, the rest of the blessed, and our eternal home. This peace has the special task of joining to God those whom it removes from the world.
So, those who are born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God, must offer to the Father their harmony as children united in peace. All of them, adopted parts of the mystical Body of Christ, must meet in the firstborn of the new creation. He came to do not his own will, but the will of the One who sent him; and so, too, the Father in his gracious favor, has adopted as his heirs not those that are discordant, nor those that are unlike him, but those that are one with him in feeling and in affection. The hearts and minds of those who have been reformed according to one and the same image should be in harmony with one another.
The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace: for thus says the Apostle, He is our peace, who made both one; because no matter who we are, through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.
-- From a sermon by Pope Saint Leo the Great


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Good news of great joy

"Do not be afraid ...
A savior has been born for you
who is Christ the Lord."
Luke 2:10-11


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New abbot of Einsiedeln

Congratulations and blessings to Fr. Urban Federer, 45, who was recently elected as abbot of Maria Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey’s mother abbey in Switzerland. Einsiedeln’s monastic community elected Fr. Urban to a 12-year term on November 23, a choice that was confirmed this week by Pope Francis.
Fr. Urban is the 59th abbot of Einsiedeln (by comparison, here in Indiana, Archabbot Justin DuVall is the ninth abbot in Saint Meinrad’s history). As abbot, Fr. Urban succeeds Fr. Martin Werlen, who resigned earlier this year. The official installation will take place December 22. Incidentally, both men studied for a time here at Saint Meinrad when they were younger. Both are wonderful persons.
Yesterday at lunch, several confreres at my table were discussing the selection, and one joked that when the new abbot goes on retreat, everyone can refer to it as “urban renewal” (which elicited both groans and chuckles).
If you’d like to practice your German, you can read the official announcement on Einsiedeln’s website here (a translation application may be employed to render a somewhat reliable English facsimile of the text).
Best wishes to the entire monastic community at Einsiedeln—for which, after my visit there in the summer of 2010, I reserve a special place in my heart.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Why wait?

There was a news item that I recently ran across about Amazon’s experimentation with drones for product delivery. Yes, drones – the same unmanned aerial vehicles employed to assassinate suspected terrorists and conduct remote-controlled surveillance of foes (and maybe a few questionable friends).

Researching a little further, I discovered that a German delivery service is hoping to use drones to reach isolated regions with such essentials as medical supplies – which certainly seems reasonable enough. However, it also is becoming quite clear that many commercial firms in the United States and abroad are looking at ways to utilize drone technology in an effort to move more goods faster from manufacturer to warehouse to consumer—this before necessary regulations are in place. As the Washington Post reports: 
Cargo companies are waiting for the Federal Aviation Administration to finish drafting a set of guidelines for integrating commercial drones into the nation’s airspace, a process that isn't expected to wrap for several years. But that isn’t keeping companies from making as many preparations as they can.
Meanwhile, an editorial in USA Today advises:  
The drones aren’t just coming, they’re here. If authorities want to avoid the aerial equivalent of the Wild West, they would do well to move their rule-making along.
Before this turns into a rant against the civilian use of drones (leaving aside the ethical questions regarding military/espionage applications), I acknowledge that there are likely legitimate uses for the vehicles – such as those that would aid law enforcement and health and safety agencies. Beyond that, however, widespread commercial use of drones obviously presents numerous logistical challenges (not to mention concerns over safety and privacy). An excerpt from a Wikipedia entry paints a rather frightening picture:  
A congressional mandate to integrate [drones] into U.S. airspace protocols is forecast to grant FAA licenses more broadly as early as 2015, the agency expecting that five years after it unveils a regulatory framework for [drones] weighing 55 pounds or less, there will be 7,500 such devices in the air.
Imagine that! Amazon’s proposal involves being able to deliver a product from one of its “fulfillment centers” within 30 minutes of its being ordered online. The drone would then fly to the customer’s preferred delivery location and drop the product safely (?) to the ground to be retrieved by the eager consumer.

All this leads me to ask two questions. First, do we really want the air above us perpetually teeming with low-flying, commercial drones (not just Amazon’s, but likely those from UPS and countless other companies as well) zooming about, dropping packages (even pizzas!) all over the place? The sources cited above indicate that this scenario is a foregone conclusion. Perhaps it is. Second, and most importantly, why do we want this? Simply because we can have more stuff faster? Modern-day delivery is already pretty quick – a day, two days, three, maybe a week. Not so long ago, the standard was six to 10 weeks—now considered an eternity.

Lament over our increasingly consumer-driven society is well-documented by now. Everything, it seems, revolves around how many goods can be produced and how many can be sold. This has been going on for decades now. However, this mindset fuels not only economies and job markets, but also is progressively affecting us individually as persons on many levels—self-worth, what we consider as needs, and how we perceive daily circumstances and the people around us. And this says nothing of that “unseen” multitude exploited in the process of manufacturing more and more of what we can never get enough of. Productivity is winning out over personhood.

These days, not only do we want more, we want it now. We hate to wait—not just for products, but for anything. Our perceived needs must be fulfilled instantaneously. We get frustrated if they aren’t, and even if they are, another perceived need soon supplants our illusive satisfaction.

Where does all this end? I’ve spent a considerable amount of time thinking about these things lately, and it seems like utter madness when it’s spelled out like this, doesn’t it? Yet, in the course of our day-to-day circumstances, it’s difficult to realize and acknowledge that it's even occurring. Therefore, I do not exonerate myself.

It seems to me as though our flawed human nature dwells too much in the future rather than in the present. We anticipate not from where we are or what we have, but from where we think we should be or from what we think we should have. As a result, we are anxious people who find it difficult to be truly present to this moment, this circumstance, this person in front of us. We are always somewhere up ahead—looking for that package to be dropped from the sky above us.

The Advent season is the perfect antithesis to all this—and even it is becoming increasingly ignored in today’s world. Advent is meant as a respite—an opportunity to re-orient ourselves to what is true and ponder those things in our heart. It is a time to slow down and appreciate the journey, to wait with eager—rather than anxious—expectation. Advent invites us to be still and know that God is God, and we are not, and that only God can provide what we truly need.

Advent is a time to truly live within a present moment that still recalls what is past and longs for what is to come. Advent reminds us that God breaks into human history, this moment, to restore our human dignity as persons. If we allow it (difficult, I know), Advent can help us to re-assess and re-order our priorities according to the things that are above. It can show us how to give birth to eternal realities in a way that looks beyond our own perceived needs, providing hope for a dark and lonely world largely living within its own self-enclosed future of ever-increasing and unsatisfied desires.

Where we already are and what we already have has great meaning, and if we examine it closely and embrace it fully, we discover that the eager expectation of what is to come has enormous implications for us right now. In other words, there is meaning in the waiting. This is the title of the Advent book we are listening to these days in the monastery refectory each evening: The Meaning Is in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent, by Paula Gooder. It is a wonderful meditation for this season, and offers a revealing glimpse of what it is we’re waiting for and why. An excerpt from the book’s introduction:
Waiting is not something most of us do easily. Our frustrations at waiting begin at an early age and are hard to outgrow.

Antipathy to waiting is exacerbated, if not encouraged, by the world in which we live. All around us we encounter, day after day, the encouragement not to wait but to have want we want now. Our credit-driven society urges us to abandon all thought of waiting and to buy now; so many adverts have as their underlying message “why wait?” Improvements in communication only erode the notion of waiting further: we are told that people feel aggrieved if they have to wait for more than 24 hours to receive a reply from an e-mail and mobile phones help us to be available even when we are out. Waiting is, increasingly, a strange notion. We have become accustomed to immediacy and swift action.

A re-invigorated and renewed vision of Advent lies in waiting; a waiting that rests not in frustration but in stillness; not in frenzied anticipation but in an embracing of the present. If we want to appreciate Advent fully we need to re-learn how to wait, to rediscover the art of savoring the future, of staying in the present and of finding meaning in the act of waiting.

The loss of an ability to wait often brings with it the inability to be fully and joyfully present now. Instead, we are constantly looking backwards to better times we used to know and forwards to better times that may be coming. The more we do this, the more we miss the present. Not only that, but it becomes hard to appreciate the future moment even when it does come. Many people speak of the feeling of deep anti-climax on Christmas Day when that long-anticipated day does not live up to expectations. Often the reason for this is that we live forever in the future so that, when the future becomes the present, we are ill-equipped to deal with it and have lost the ability to be fully present, right now.

One of the many reasons why we wait in Advent is so that we hone our skills of being joyfully and fully present now. After a month of doing this, Christmas Day can gain a depth and meaning that would otherwise fly past in a whirl of presents.

Such deep attention to the present cannot help but transform us as we learn – or relearn as the case may be – how to live deeply and truly in the present moment so that we are content to linger in our lives as they are now and not be forever looking forwards, striving onwards to the next goal.

The paradox is that sometimes the fulfillment of that for which we wait robs us of what we were waiting for and that we discover to our surprise that the meaning is in the waiting and not in the fulfillment.

Entering the biblical world view, which focuses on the future culmination in glory of all our present suffering and woe, changes the present because it invites us to strive to make real in the present a little of that glorious future held open for us through the past death and resurrection of Jesus. The concept is mind-blowing, and we will almost certainly fail to grasp it in all its fullness in this life, but grappling with it is, in my view, part of what Advent invites us to do.

Advent calls us into a state of active waiting: a state that recognizes and embraces the glimmers of God’s presence in the world, that recalls and celebrates God’s historic yet ever-present actions and that speaks the truth about the almost-but-not-quite nature of our Christian living, which yearns for but cannot quite achieve divine perfection. Most of all, Advent summons us to the present moment, to a still yet active, a tranquil yet steadfast commitment to the life we live now. It is this to which Advent beckons us, and without it our Christian journey is impoverished.
This Advent, let us wait together each moment for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, and today, and for ever (cf. Hebrews 13:8). Let us find meaning in the waiting, giving birth to Christ in the present moment. We’re worth it.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


When the First Week of Advent rolls around each year, it seems that much of our consumer society has already been celebrating the “holiday season” for weeks. But not us—not yet. Instead, we are told: “Keep awake! Be ready. The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

How do we prepare for the unexpected? Perhaps the answer is simpler than it seems. When we are expecting a special guest to come into our home, we usually know the approximate hour, but our true focus is really not on the time of the guest’s arrival. Rather, it is on being fully present to that guest whenever he or she arrives. We want the guest to feel welcome, comfortable, at home.

As Christians, we believe Christ will come again, but we also must adhere to the belief that he already dwells among us—through the Holy Spirit, in Word and Sacrament, and in the life of the Church of which we are members. However, are we present? Have we, as St. Paul says, “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (cf. Romans 13:11-14) and made him at home within us? Are we attentive to the moments and circumstances into which the unexpected light of the Lord is born?

The annual celebration of Advent—which means “Coming”—invites us to become increasingly present to the arrival of our Savior each and every day of our lives. By preparing for his coming year after year, we prepare for the Final Coming of Christ—that hour that encompasses all eternity.

Let us, then, be present this moment, for our “salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers” (Romans 13:11).

--Adapted from Grace in the Wilderness:
Reflections on God's Sustaining Word Along Life's Journey
by Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.
© 2013 Abbey Press, Path of Life Publications

Monday, November 25, 2013


As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday and prepare for the beginning of Advent, here are just a few of the things that I am thankful for:

n  First and foremost, 2013 is the 10th anniversary of both my spiritual reawakening and sobriety. Without that grace of God, I don’t know where I’d be—certainly not where I am.

n  My monastic vocation; God is good—and strange!

n  Family, friends, colleagues, and confreres—both past and present. It takes all kinds, I’ve learned—and continue to rediscover. A fairly decent contingent of family members is arriving later this week to spend Thanksgiving on the Hill, so I’m looking forward to that.

n  The many gifts and opportunities I’ve received or benefited from. Among these is tomorrow’s official publication by Abbey Press of my new book, Grace in the Wilderness: Reflections on God’s Sustaining Word Along Life’s Journey—a book made possible, among other things, by the grace of my vocation, the request by the Abbot a few years ago to write commentaries for the Sunday Mass readings, and this blog and its readers (many of the book’s reflections originally appeared here). Incidentally, the book has garnered at least one online review of which I’m aware (read it here.), and will be one of those featured at a book signing I’m attending at the Catholic Supply stores in St. Louis on Saturday, November 30 (read more about the event here.).

n   Many, many others. Here’s hoping that each takes the time to recognize and be grateful for all of life’s blessings, putting them at the service of one another.

One last note: because of my family visiting and the upcoming trip to St. Louis, I will not be posting again here until after the holiday weekend. Of course, you are always free to peruse what’s already here.

A Blessed Thanksgiving to all!
--Br. Francis

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The center

He is the image of the invisible God,
the first-born of all creation.

Colossians 1:15

Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
King of the Universe—Year C

2 Samuel 5:1-3; Colossians 1:12-20; Luke 23:35-43
NOTE: Following is an excerpt of Pope Francis' homily today at St. Peter's Square in Rome, marking the occasion of this solemnity, which closes out the Church's Year of Faith and points us toward the beginning of Advent (next weekend already!). If you'd like to read the homily in its entirety, you can do so on the Vatican website.
Today’s solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the crowning of the liturgical year, also marks the conclusion of the Year of Faith opened by Pope Benedict XVI, to whom our thoughts now turn with affection and gratitude for this gift which he has given us. By this providential initiative, he gave us an opportunity to rediscover the beauty of the journey of faith begun on the day of our Baptism, which made us children of God and brothers and sisters in the Church. A journey which has as its ultimate end our full encounter with God, and throughout which the Holy Spirit purifies us, lifts us up and sanctifies us, so that we may enter into the happiness for which our hearts long.
The Scripture readings proclaimed to us have as their common theme the centrality of Christ. Christ is at the center, Christ is the center—Christ is the center of creation, Christ is the center of his people and Christ is the center of history.
The apostle Paul, in the second reading, taken from the letter to the Colossians, offers us a profound vision of the centrality of Jesus. He presents Christ to us as the first-born of all creation: in him, through him and for him all things were created. So the attitude demanded of us as true believers is that of recognizing and accepting in our lives the centrality of Jesus Christ, in our thoughts, in our words and in our works. And so our thoughts will be Christian thoughts, thoughts of Christ. Our works will be Christian works, works of Christ; and our words will be Christian words, words of Christ.
Also, Christ is the center of the people of God. We see this in the first reading which describes the time when the tribes of Israel came to look for David and anointed him king of Israel before the Lord (cf. 2 Sam 5:1-3). In searching for an ideal king, the people were seeking God himself: a God who would be close to them, who would accompany them on their journey, who would be a brother to them. Christ, the descendant of King David, is really the “brother” around whom God’s people come together. It is he who cares for his people, for all of us, even at the price of his life. In him we are all one, one people, united with him and sharing a single journey, a single destiny. Only in him, in him as the center, do we receive our identity as a people.
Finally, Christ is the center of the history of humanity and also the center of the history of every individual. To him we can bring the joys and the hopes, the sorrows and troubles which are part of our lives. When Jesus is the center, light shines even amid the darkest times of our lives; he gives us hope, as he does to the good thief in today’s Gospel.
Whereas all the others treat Jesus with disdain—“If you are the Christ, the Messiah King, save yourself by coming down from the cross!”—the thief who went astray in his life but now repents, clings to the crucified Jesus and begs him: “Remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Lk 23:42). Jesus promises him: “Today you will be with me in paradise” (v. 43), in his kingdom. Jesus speaks only a word of forgiveness, not of condemnation; whenever anyone finds the courage to ask for this forgiveness, the Lord does not let such a petition go unheard. Today we can all think of our own history, our own journey. Each of us has his or her own history: we think of our mistakes, our sins, our good times and our bleak times. We would do well, each one of us, on this day, to think about our own personal history, to look at Jesus and to keep telling him, sincerely and quietly: “Remember me, Lord, now that you are in your kingdom! Jesus, remember me, because I want to be good, but I just don’t have the strength: I am a sinner, I am a sinner. But remember me, Jesus! You can remember me because you are at the center, you are truly in your kingdom!”
Jesus’ promise to the good thief gives us great hope: it tells us that God’s grace is always greater than the prayer which sought it. The Lord always grants more, he is so generous, he always gives more than what he has been asked: you ask him to remember you, and he brings you into his kingdom!
-- Pope Francis

Friday, November 22, 2013

Our quest and aim

“Peace is a daily, a weekly,
a monthly process,
gradually changing opinions,
slowly eroding old barriers,
quietly building new structures.
And however undramatic
the pursuit of peace,
the pursuit must go on.”

John F. Kennedy

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Upper reaches

"Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles."

Isaiah 40:31

NOTE: One final excerpt from Jean-Pierre de Caussade's
Abandonment to Divine Providence

A holy soul is one, which, by the help of grace, has freely submitted to God's will, and all that follows this free consent is the work of God and never that of man. That is all God asks of us.

So come! Never mind weariness, illness, lack of feeling, irritability, exhaustion, the snares of the devil and of men, with all that they create of distrust, jealousy, prejudice and evil imaginings. Let us soar like an eagle above these clouds, with our eyes fixed on the sun and its rays, which are our duties. We cannot help being aware of all these evils, of course, and we cannot be indifferent to them, but let us never forget that ours is not a life governed by feelings.

We must live in those upper reaches of the spiritual life where God and his will are active in a process which is eternal and unchanging. There, he who is uncreated, immeasurable and cannot be described by human words, will keep us far removed from all the shadows and turmoil of the world. We shall feel through our senses countless disturbances, it is true, but they will disappear like the clouds in a windswept sky. God and his will are the eternal objects which captivate every faithful soul; and when the day of glory arrives, they will be our true happiness.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The healing power of weakness

"When I am weak, then I am strong."
 2 Corinthians 12:10

NOTE: Yet another wonderful excerpt from Jean-Pierre de Caussade's
Abandonment to Divine Providence

Those in whom God lives are often flung into a corner like a useless bit of broken pottery. There they lie, forsaken by everyone, but yet enjoying God's very real and active love, and knowing they have to do nothing but stay in his hands and be used as he wishes. Often they have no idea how they will be used, but he knows.

The world thinks them useless, and it seems as if they are. Yet it is quite certain that by various means and through hidden channels, they pour out spiritual help on people who are often quite unaware of it and of whom they themselves never think. For those who have surrendered themselves completely to God, all they are and do has power. Their lives are sermons. They are apostles. God gives a special force to all they say and do, even to their silence, their tranquility and their detachment, which, quite unknown to them, profoundly influences other people.

They themselves are influenced by others who, by grace, unknowingly benefit them; and, in turn, they are used to guide and support other people who have no direct connection with them. God works through them by unexpected and hidden impulses.

In this respect, they are like Jesus, who produced a secret healing power. The difference between him and them is that they are often unaware of this discharge of power and so do not cooperate with it. It is like a hidden scent which gives off its sweetness unknowingly and is quite ignorant of its strength.

Sunday, November 17, 2013


Gray and Gold, John Rogers Cox, 1942, Cleveland Museum of Art

33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C
 Malachi 3:19-20a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19

“Persevere, Novice Craig.” I would hear those words addressed to me from time to time during my novitiate in the monastery. Honestly, I didn’t find them very helpful. And they’re not—if by perseverance one means dogged determination, or to “grin and bear it.” The truth of the matter is that absolutely no one, under any circumstances whatsoever, can summon and sustain such perseverance, such self-will. We are, after all, only human.
Perseverance, I have come to realize, is much more than simply holding on for dear life, and sticking it out to the end. Tenacity, however strong, only goes so far. It must be underpinned by something else. To persevere, The American Heritage Dictionary (Second College Edition) states, means to “persist in or remain constant to a purpose, idea, or task in the face of obstacles or discouragement.” It involves believing that however arduous (or even evil!) things may be, there is purpose and meaning within them capable of being directed toward the good. Something—or someone—makes it all worth it in the end.
From a Christian perspective, this underpinning, purpose, or worthwhile aim is faith, pure and simple. And faith is not something anyone can produce, pursue, or possess on one’s one. It is a gift from God, without whom we can do nothing, and with whom all things are possible (cf. John 15:5; Mark 10:27). Faith is what enables us to persevere amid trying circumstances. Faith makes it possible for difficulties to be transformed into pathways toward the good (cf. Romans 8:28). In this way, as St. Benedict writes in his Rule for monks, “hardships and difficulties” will “lead [the novice, or Christian] to God” (58:8).
The only way to receive faith is to sincerely ask for it. “Lord, increase our faith!” the apostles asked Jesus. And receiving it means participating in the means by which God bestows it. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “To live, grow, and persevere in the faith until the end, we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be ‘working through charity,’ abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church” (No. 162). Scripture, prayer, good works, and the tradition and life of the Christian community are what bestow and build our faith—therefore helping us to persevere in difficult times.
By definition, disciples of Christ will meet with difficult times, and therefore need to nourish the faith that strengthens our ability to persevere. That was true in Jesus’ time. It is true in our own time. And it has been true in every age in between. Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are unsettling. Christians in this beautiful yet fallen world will not escape wars, natural disasters, hardships, disease, and especially persecution. “They will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name,” Jesus says. However, he promises the faithful follower that from an eternal perspective, it will all be worth it—that hardships and difficulties are indeed capable of leading one to God, not just in the future but today, at this very moment. For the one with faith, it all contains meaning and purpose, the capability of bringing about good.
“Not a hair on your head will be destroyed,” Jesus says. “By your perseverance, you will secure your lives.”
And so, as the other readings today point out, we must work quietly, mind our own business (rather than everyone else’s), and trust that “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays” amid all the trials and difficulties we find ourselves in. As the prophet Micah wrote, “You have been told, O mortal, what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: only to do justice and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
This is faith, and with it we persevere.

Friday, November 15, 2013


NOTE: Another gem from Jean-Pierre de Caussade's
Abandonment to Divine Providence.

We are now living in a time of faith. The Holy Spirit writes no more gospels except in our hearts. All we do from moment to moment is live this new gospel of the Holy Spirit. We, if we are holy, are the paper; our sufferings and our actions are the ink. The workings of the Holy Spirit are his pen, and with it he writes a living gospel; but it will never be read until that last day when it leaves the printing press of this life.

And what a splendid book it will be -- the book the Holy Spirit is still writing! The book is on the press and never a day passes when type is not set, ink applied and pages pulled. But we remain in the light of faith; we understand nothing. We shall be able to read it only in heaven.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The eye of faith

NOTE: Another excerpt from Jean-Pierre de Caussade's
Abandonment to Divine Providence

All creatures live in the hands of God. By our senses we can see only the action of the creature, but faith sees the Creator acting in all things. Faith sees that Jesus Christ lives in everything and works through all history to the end of time, that every fraction of a second, every atom of matter, contains a fragment of his hidden life and his secret activity.

After the Resurrection, Jesus Christ took the disciples unawares by his appearances, showing himself to them as if disguised and then appearing when he had revealed himself. And it is this same Jesus, ever living and ever active, who still surprises us if our faith is not strong or clear-sighted enough. There is never a moment when God does not come forward in the guise of some suffering or some duty, and all that takes place within us, around us and through us both includes and hides his activity. Yet, because it is invisible, we are always taken by surprise and do not recognize his operation until it has passed by us.

It is faith which interprets God for us. Without its light we should not even know that God was speaking, but would hear only the confused, meaningless babble of creatures. As Moses saw the flame of fire in the bush and heard the voice of God coming from it, so faith will enable us to understand his hidden signs, so that amidst all the apparent clutter and disorder we shall see all the loveliness and perfection of divine wisdom. Faith transforms the earth into paradise. By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven.

Every moment reveals God to us. Faith is our light in this life. By it we know the truth without seeing it, we are put in touch with what we cannot feel, recognize what we cannot see, and view the world stripped of all its superficialities. Faith unlocks God's treasury. It is the key to the vastness of his wisdom. It is by faith that God makes his presence plain everywhere.

Monday, November 11, 2013

No time like the present

"Jesus Christ is the same
yesterday and today and forever."

Hebrews 13:8


Shortly after my spiritual reawakening (as I refer to it--in the spring of 2003), I was drawn to delve deeply not only into Scripture, but also the writings of a great number of saints and other spiritual authors (such as St. Josemaría Escrivá, St. John of the Cross, and Thomas à Kempis). This was an entirely new direction for me—something I had never felt inclined to do before. Although I’ve always been a reader, for most of my adult life up to that point, most of what I read was in the realm of current affairs or history. What’s more, I was a journalist, and spent the majority of my time each day either editing or writing news stories. So after work, I often preferred to do things other than read (which we won’t get into; let’s just say that the traditional newspaperman stereotype fit me well in many respects).

During this early stage of my spiritul reformation, one of the first authors that I developed a particular affinity for was Jean-Pierre de Caussade, whose most well-known work is Abandonment to Divine Providence (or The Sacrament of the Present Moment). De Caussade was a French Jesuit priest who lived from 1675 to 1751. This slim book of his—really a collection of letters he wrote to women religious that were gathered and published after his death—contains a wealth of wisdom accessible to anyone. Early on, it helped me to connect the dots between aspects of the inner life of the spirit and ordinary, everyday life (later solidified for me by St. Benedict’s Rule on the monastic way of life). Every moment in life, de Caussade states, is a gift or sacrament from God, one that calls us to respond with praise, gratitude, peace, joy, faith, and love to each circumstance, task, or person. In short, we must at all times abandon our own self-interest and judgments to the will of God. “If we have abandoned ourselves to God,” he says, “there is only one rule for us: the duty of the present moment.”

This point of view, of course, fits neatly with the teachings of many of the saints and other authors mentioned above, although each expressed it in different ways. All of them, really, are simply rooted in the fertile ground of the Gospel, and are therefore merely instruments of the Holy Spirit as Divine Author.

From time to time, I am still inclined to pick up Abandonment to Divine Providence and soak up its abundant insight. In doing so, I have discovered another remarkable similarity—to that of the writings of my patron saint, Francis de Sales (1567-1622). The two, of course, were both French, were very nearly contemporaries (though not quite), and had both been educated by Jesuits. De Caussade was also a spiritual director for a community of Visitation sisters in France—the very religious order de Sales had founded earlier along with St. Jane Frances de Chantal.

Although de Sales died more than 50 years before de Caussade was born, the latter was certainly influenced by the life and writings of de Sales. Francis was a recently canonized saint when de Caussade was young, and his reputation and influence—especially in their native country of France—would have been considerable for those interested in spiritual matters. De Sales’ classic Introduction to the Devout Life was still immensely popular at the time (as it remains today). In fact, I am struck by how similar Abandonment to Divine Providence and Introduction to the Devout Life really are in many respects. The two were definitely on the same spiritual wave-length, and they teach practically the same thing. Both books are today generally considered to be among the most significant and helpful spiritual guides available (and accessible to anyone).

Along these lines, in his 1975 translation of de Caussade’s work, John Beevers notes in his introduction: “Although Caussade was a Jesuit and held several important posts within the Society, his teaching owes far more to Salesian and Carmelite spirituality than to that of St. Ignatius. It would, of course, have been impossible for him not to have come under the influence of St. Francis de Sales…”

So, with all this in mind, I thought that over the next several days, I would post some snippets from Abandonment to Divine Providence here, sharing the wisdom he imparts in the Catholic tradition of such authors as de Sales. In this first excerpt, de Caussade advises a religious sister in a matter we can all relate to—dealing with difficult people (notice the gentle humor inherent in the phrase “the person whose place it is to wait upon you”): 
You have reason to bless God, my dear sister, for having preserved in your heart peace, gentleness, and charity for the person whose place it is to wait upon you. He has given you a great grace. Perhaps He may still allow that, either through ignorance, thoughtlessness, or even, if you will, out of caprice, or bad temper, she may give you occasion to practice patience. Then, sister, try to profit well by these precious occasions which are so adapted to gain the heart of God.

Alas! We offend this God of all goodness not only through ignorance and thoughtlessness, but deliberately and maliciously. We want Him to forgive us, and this He most mercifully does, and then we will not forgive others like ourselves. And we recite every day the prayer our Lord taught us, “Forgive us, Lord, as we forgive.”

We must remember also the words of our God, telling us that He would act towards us as we act towards our neighbor; therefore we ought to bear with our neighbor and to show him consideration, charity, gentleness and condescension; and God who is faithful to His promises will treat us in like manner.

Charity, patience, meekness, and humility of heart, benignity and the renunciation of your own ideas—these little daily virtues faithfully practiced will procure you a rich harvest of graces and merits for eternity.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

God of the living

I look forward
to the resurrection of the dead
and the life
of the world to come.

Closing lines from the Profession of Faith
(Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Seeking the good

31st Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C
 Wisdom 11:22—12:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:11—2:2; Luke 19:1-10

Zacchaeus was not a good person—or so it seems. Though the image of the short man climbing a tree to get above the crowd may be charming or even comical, Luke tells us that he was both a tax collector and a wealthy man. In themselves, those are not evil designations. However, tax collectors in the time of Jesus were generally loathed because they worked on behalf of the Roman governors at the expense of their own people. Presumably, a tax collector was more concerned with his own wealth and status than the welfare of his kinfolk and countrymen.

What’s more, Zacchaeus was exceedingly wealthy because he was corrupt (as verse eight indicates). He was a swindler, taking from his own people more than what they owed to his foreign employers in order to stuff his own money pouch. Living under Roman rule was harsh enough for the Israelites; tax collectors (themselves Israelites!) like Zacchaeus added insult to injury. Anyone who profits from the misery of others is detestable.

Yet something inside this detestable man wanted to see Jesus. Surely, Zacchaeus had heard about the good things this man called Jesus had been doing. Like so many others, he was drawn toward him—if for no other reason than simple curiosity. So he climbed the tree.

This was enough to get Jesus’ attention. However tiny may have been the single speck of goodness within Zacchaeus’ greedy heart, Jesus acknowledged it. He recognized Zacchaeus’ action for what it was—a sincere desire to seek the good. In a moment of grace, Jesus calls out to this seeking heart by name: “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” The tax collector could have waved him off and refused to come down from the tree, but instead, Zacchaeus responds to this in-breaking of grace: “He came down quickly and received [Jesus] with joy.”

What is being portrayed here is conversion—something which is always initiated by God but which also must involve a willing response. Zacchaeus responded to Jesus’ call and joyfully received him. As a result of this profound encounter with the Messiah, Zacchaeus vows to make amends for his avaricious life—giving half of his holdings to the poor and also repaying four times over those he had extorted (which went far beyond the demands of the Law). Zacchaeus’ moral compass shifts toward the goodness he encounters in Jesus, who had acknowledged the goodness (however meager) in him. Notice also that this onset of moral rectitude follows rather than prompts the encounter with God’s grace. It is the natural response to grace, which is never earned—a key distinction we all do well to heed.

Jesus does not excuse Zacchaeus’ crooked ways. Neither does he condemn. He simply appeals to the goodness he knows still exists at the core of the tax collector’s being. And for Zacchaeus, this changes everything. His inherent goodness as a child of God is rediscovered and affirmed. What was lost has been found. This fills him with joy, and greed is transformed into exceeding generosity. “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost,” says Jesus, fulfilling his earlier parable (Luke 15:1-7) of the shepherd seeking the one lost sheep out of 100.

Seeking the good leads Zacchaeus, who is not living a good life, to Jesus, who is Goodness Himself. Jesus seeks the good which he knows is within Zacchaeus, whose goodness then beautifully unfolds and blooms extravagantly—outdoing his previous ways. Why does this happen? Perhaps today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom holds the key:
[Lord], you love all things that are, and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated you would not have fashioned. … You spare all things, because they are yours, O Lord and lover of souls, for your imperishable spirit is in all things.
Despite the distortion in human nature caused and perpetuated by the Fall, we are each created in the divine image of God, who is good. The Love of God manifested in Jesus seeks to hold up that mirror of goodness for us to gaze upon so that we may rediscover our true value and spend it accordingly. Wherever we may be and whatever we may be doing, Jesus calls us by name at every moment, encouraging us to receive him with joy and be the good we seek and rediscover in him.

And part of being the good involves holding that same mirror up for all the Zacchaeuses in today’s world. We must not be like those in the crowd in today’s Gospel, grumbling because all we can see in another is a sinner. Like Jesus, we must seek the good, the imperishable spirit in all things, because as the Body of Christ, we ourselves are commissioned to seek and save what is lost.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Fiery love

"All who die in God's grace and friendship,
but still imperfectly purified,
are indeed assured of their eternal salvation;
but after death they undergo purification,
so as to achieve the holiness
necessary to enter the joy of heaven."
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030

All Souls' Day
Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

NOTE: An excerpt from this morning's commentary read at Vigils in the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church.
There is no joy save that in paradise to be compared with the joy of the souls in purgatory. As the rust of sin is consumed, the soul is more and more open to God's love. Just as a covered object left out in the sun cannot be penetrated by the sun's rays, in the same way, once the covering of the soul is removed, the soul opens itself fully to the rays of the sun. Having become one with God's will, these souls, to the extent that he grants it to them, see into God.

When God sees the soul pure as it was in its origins, he tugs at it with a glance, draws it and binds it to himself with a fiery love. God so transforms the soul in himself that it knows nothing other than God. He will not cease until he has brought the soul to its perfection. The soul becomes like gold that becomes purer as it is fired, all dross being cast out.

-- St. Catherine of Genoa,
Purgation and Purgatory

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Everyday saints

"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Matthew 5:3

Solemnity of All Saints
Friday, November 1, 2013
Revelation 7:2-4, 9-14;
1 John 3:1-3; Matthew 5:1-12a

NOTE: Following is the homily delivered Friday by Archabbot Justin DuVall, O.S.B., in the Archabbey Church of Saint Meinrad.


In his Wednesday general audience this week, Pope Francis focused on the Communion of Saints, an article of the Creed that we profess at the Eucharist every Sunday and Solemnity. The saints have always been controversial. In the popular understanding they are men and women who have corrected all moral flaws, and above all, have erased every offensive personality quirk. No wonder they are prime fodder for detractors of religion who believe in the far more evident dark side of human nature.

But the true saints are not those who have done everything correctly and never made mistakes; they are people who have learned to accept the gift of life from the Source of all good gifts, God himself, and in doing so have uncovered a lasting happiness in the midst of life’s hardships.

And the Communion of these Saints is founded in Christ. It is not the result of valiant individual efforts at sanctity, but rather it is the fruit of the Paschal Mystery by which Christ has redeemed our human nature despite its flaws and with all its quirks. Today’s feast celebrates a real communion born of faith in the One in whom we have been made a new creation.

The crowd that heard the Beatitudes from Jesus on that hillside was filled with people for whom the hope of holiness and redemption seemed far off. Yet to them Jesus brought the consolation of God’s Kingdom, not as a distant dream, but as a real communion for their everyday lives. He was not promising the poor and the miserable and the sad and the cheated some better life after death; instead he opened their eyes to the power of God that can and does change everything here and now. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”— his words spoke of the present. If the beatitudes had only been about consolation offered after death, then Jesus would have emptied the world of God’s saving presence.

The Kingdom of heaven is at hand, making hoped-for relief attainable. Jesus called the poor, the hungry, the weeping, blessed—not because their weeping, hunger, and poverty were good things, but because God’s intervention NOW allowed them to experience salvation in a measure beyond all telling, although not without opposition from forces intent on maintaining the status quo. Jesus was put to death for something more than just his beautiful words.

To the crowd that had gathered to hear his word, he offered the fascination of the Kingdom, which demanded a change in who rules in this world. Through him God banished the isolation of sin and gathered the poor, the miserable, the sad, and the cheated into a people of his own choosing. To them belonged the faces of saints, made so by the gift of communion.

The power of God to save touches every age, ours included. As part of the communion of saints, the Church is the community of those who live out the Beatitudes through their lives of Christian faith. We who believe in the power of Christ’s death and resurrection, made present to us here at this Eucharist, have been initiated into a community of saints established by the Risen Christ. This way of life is God’s gift to us. It numbers us among that vast multitude envisioned by John in the Book of Revelation, from every nation, race, people and tongue, who know that salvation comes from God.

The voice of God calls to us daily in our Christian and monastic life and opens our eyes to see the hope of heaven in every circumstance of our life here on earth. We not only hope for a future life in heaven, but we believe that in our communion in Christ heaven already is breaking in on us. Its effect is as close now as the warmth of a lover’s breath against one’s cheek, a nearness that makes the heart race and the skin tingle, leaving us certain that the only thing yet left to come is the kiss.

Such faith numbers us among that vast multitude from every nation, race, people and tongue whose lives the Reign of God has changed by the power of love.

[Friday's] feast of All Saints is a celebration of God’s Kingdom pressing in on men and women of every age, our own included. It assures us of a place in the great heavenly procession when we accept the gift of grace and then live accordingly. If we are to know the real joy of the Beatitudes, then we dare not fail to become what we celebrate in this Eucharist: Christ’s body broken and his blood poured out for the life of the world. It is our communion with the vast multitude of saints in their eternal happiness.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Taste and see

Lord, your promise
is sweeter to my taste
than honey in the mouth.

Psalm 119:103

Monday, October 28, 2013

Like living stones

Brothers and sisters:
You are no longer strangers and sojourners,
but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones
and members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the Apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.
Through him the whole structure is held together
and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord;
in him you also are being built together
into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Honest truth

30th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C
Sirach 35:12-14, 16-18; 2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18; Luke 18:9-14
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—
greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This parable from today’s Gospel does not merely recall the situation 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem. It is played out every day all over this planet in our own times—in our homes, workplaces, schools, communities, in the media, and especially in our churches. The first sentence makes the point that the story goes on to illustrate: “Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else.” That same message is for all of us today.

The Pharisee in each one of us likes to think that we’re always correct, that we are doing what is right, and that some of those around us are clearly wrong, and essentially beneath us. We may pay lip service to God, but inwardly we congratulate ourselves for our virtues while condemning others for their shortcomings. This is the sin of pride committed first by our parents in the Garden of Eden, who sought to “be like God.” The Pharisee in this parable, although socially considered devout and “religious,” thinks so much of himself that he does not really need God, let alone the rest of humanity.

However, in our more honest and reflective moments, the tax collector in each one of us makes no attempt to appear good in the eyes of others, to take credit for any virtue, or to point fingers at what is wrong with someone else. Rather, we simply and humbly acknowledge who we truly are, and place our confidence in God’s mercy alone. The tax collector in this parable, although socially considered the most rotten of sinners (like the prodigal son and the good thief on the cross, Luke 15:11-32 and 23:39-42), knows who he really is, and that he needs God.

And so despite all appearances, Jesus says, the sinner is justified, not the self-righteous.

This is not about beating ourselves up for our faults and failings. Rather, it is about honestly owning up to who we really are in God’s sight, aware of our need for his mercy and grace for all the good we accomplish. As the author of the Cloud of Unknowing puts it:
A man is humble when he stands in the truth with a knowledge and appreciation for himself as he really is. And actually, anyone who saw and experienced himself as he really and truly is would have no difficulty being humble, for two things would become very clear to him. In the first place, he would see clearly the degradation, misery, and weakness of the human condition resulting from original sin. From these effects of original sin man will never be entirely free in this life, no matter how holy he becomes. In the second place, he would recognize the transcendent goodness of God as he is in himself and his overflowing, superabundant love for man. Before such goodness and love nature trembles, sages stammer like fools, and the saints and angels are blinded with glory.
The truth is that while God’s salvation is offered to all, only those who genuinely acknowledge their sinfulness and look to God will be justified. Faithfulness is required, not perfection. No sinner is beyond redemption. In fact, Satan doesn’t bother with the truly wayward (God is the one who pursues those in that state). Rather, Satan’s primary purpose is to lure the devout and “religious” into a state of mind that exalts their own righteousness while holding others in disdain. Illusion is Satan’s game.

Those who are sincerely committed to the spiritual life, and those who are engaged in lives of ministry and service--whether in the clerical or lay state--are perhaps more subject than anyone to this temptation of spiritual pride. Satan would like to make Pharisees of us all.

This calls to mind a passage from C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Screwtape Letters (if you haven’t read the whole book, it’s well worth your time, conveying spiritual truths in biting, yet entertaining fashion). In this passage, the demon-trainer Screwtape advises demon-in-training Wormwood about his human “patient” (the “Enemy” referred to is God):
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. … It is quite invisible to these humans. … When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbors whom he has avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbors. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like “the body of Christ” and the actual faces in the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. … Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of “Christians” in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. ... What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favorable credit-balance in the Enemy's ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these “smug,” commonplace neighbors at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can.
Let us pray:

O God,
be merciful to me,
a sinner.
You promise
that the prayer
of the lowly
pierces the clouds.
Make me
humble of heart
as I pour myself out
like your Son.
Help me
to keep the faith,
to finish the race.
Stand by me
and give me strength,
and bring us all safely
to your heavenly kingdom.
 Agnus Day appears with the permission of