The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We know not how

"The kingdom of God
is as if someone would
scatter seed on the ground,
and would sleep and rise
night and day,
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he does not know how.
The earth produces of itself,
first the stalk, then the head,
then the full grain in the head.
But when the grain is ripe,
at once he goes in with his sickle,
because the harvest has come."

Mark 4:26-29

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Sticks and stones...

"A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger."
Proverbs 15:1

NOTE: Following is the biblical commentary read at Vigils this morning in the Archabbey Church (commenting on Acts 14:8-15:4). It is a sermon delivered by St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) more than 1,500 years ago, but one that bears striking relevance for us today as well. -- Br. Francis

"They stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, leaving him there for dead."

Believe me, brothers and sisters, we may now be required to suffer more than Paul did. Those ruffians injured Paul with stones. At times, however, an attack with words can be even worse than an attack with stones. What should we do when this happens? The same as Paul did: he did not respond with hatred toward those who stoned him. On the contrary, after they had dragged him out, he re-entered the city and showed himself a benefactor to those who had treated him so shamefully.

If you put up with someone who insults you and does you wrong, then you too have undergone a stoning. After all, what offense had Paul committed that he should have been pelted with stones? He was announcing a kingdom, he was leading people away from error and bringing them to God, benefits worthy of crowns, not of stones!

Paul, however, did not resent their hatred. Quite the contrary. So when such things happen to you, don't be put out. Preach the word with gentleness. Has someone insulted you? Hold your peace and bless your enemy, and you will be preaching the word, giving a lesson in gentleness and meekness.

Many people do not suffer nearly so much from physical injuries as they do from verbal attacks. Physical violence hurts the body, words wound the soul. Has anyone spoken ill of you? Pray for him. Has he insulted you? Speak well of him. Has he plotted against you? Do him a kindness. If you care for his salvation, pay him back in the opposite way. Don't seek to avenge your suffering.

Look at the wrongs God himself suffered. He sent prophets and they killed them. So he sent them his Son. The more they insulted him, the more benefits he lavished upon them.

Anger is a fire, it is a quick flame that needs fuel. If you don't feed the fire it will soon go out. Anger has no power of itself; somebody else has to feed it. There is no excuse for you. Your antagonist is possessed with madness and doesn't know what he's doing. But when you act in the same way, what excuse can you make? You, at least, ought to know better!

That's why St. Paul says, "Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them." We ought to train our tongues to speak nothing but good so as to make ourselves always pleasant and amiable. But indeed, things have become so bad that people boast of the very things that ought to make them blush for shame.

Speaking ill of someone doesn't do him any harm at all. Let's return to our senses, let's sweeten our speech and get rid of all evil talk. That's the way to avoid sin and draw down on us the divine pleasure from above. We should follow St. Paul's example; that's how we may win God's mercy.

-- St. John Chrysostom, Sermon 31 on Acts

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Turning the wheel

“No man is an island,” John Donne observed. Similarly, former Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “No man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another; through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.”

In other words, we’re all in this together. God is the Island, who draws us into the Divine Presence. As we draw near to God, we become closer to one another. Calling to mind an image used by Abba Dorotheos of Gaza (6th century monk and hermit), imagine a large wheel with many spokes. God is the hub--or center--of the wheel, while each of us stands along the circumference. If we each turn toward God and move toward the hub along the spokes (let’s say these represent Scripture, prayer, a life of faith, etc.), two things simultaneously occur as the spokes gradually converge on the hub. As we draw closer to God, we become closer to one another. And, as we become closer to one another, we become closer to God. Of course, the reverse is also true. The farther we travel away from God along a spoke, the farther we become from those on the other spokes.

But it’s not so easy to accomplish in practice, as we all know. People have difficulty being together at times—whether in a family, neighborhood, workplace, faith community, city, or country.  We’re all different, and we’re all at different points on that wheel—if we’re on it at all. The whole thing hinges, it seems, on turning toward God and genuinely moving toward God through Scripture, prayer, a life of faith, etc. The rest will take care of itself. We have difficulty doing this because at some point along our individual “spoke” or path to God, we tend to stall. “OK, that’s far enough,” we seem to say. We become our own little hub, unconnected with anything, really, and certainly not helping the overall wheel’s design.

It’s a great consolation (and a challenge) that the early Christians struggled with this as well. The New Testament letters are replete with descriptions of communities torn by all sorts of divisions and disputes. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” Paul admonishes the Galatians (6:2). “Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive,” the Letter to the Colossians states (3:13).

We are to bear with and forgive one another. Jesus is pretty clear on that, too—many times over. Not easy, but true. If we truly take to heart what we’ve read or heard in Scripture, and then actually apply it to everyday situations and act on it, we will feel closer both to God and to our neighbor. But if we stall along the spoke and become our own little hub, our own island, we will invariably feel unconnected to either, and wobbling off course.

The key, as mentioned, is taking that first step—turning toward God, and then moving forward. It seems to get easier as long as we keep moving. Scripture provides the fuel for that motion. If we have the fuel (desire), the Holy Spirit will map out plenty of opportunities to keep the wheel of love turning around the Love of God.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The patience and mercy of God

NOTE: If you haven't noticed, Pope Francis has been giving some very straight-forward, inspiring, and touching homilies (you can find and read them on the Vatican website by clicking here. The homily he delivered this past Sunday, April 7, I found particularly striking, and have posted it below. ... And by the way, I do hope to post my own words here soon and more frequently. The past few weeks have been fairly busy on several fronts. In the meantime, I present our Holy Father--the "other" Francis ;-)
Today we are celebrating the Second Sunday of Easter, also known as “Divine Mercy Sunday.” What a beautiful truth of faith this is for our lives: the mercy of God! God’s love for us is so great, so deep; it is an unfailing love, one which always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up and leads us on.

In today’s Gospel [John 20:19-31], the Apostle Thomas personally experiences this mercy of God, which has a concrete face, the face of Jesus, the risen Jesus. Thomas does not believe it when the other Apostles tell him: “We have seen the Lord”. It isn’t enough for him that Jesus had foretold it, promised it: “On the third day I will rise.” He wants to see, he wants to put his hand in the place of the nails and in Jesus’ side. And how does Jesus react? With patience: Jesus does not abandon Thomas in his stubborn unbelief; he gives him a week’s time, he does not close the door, he waits. And Thomas acknowledges his own poverty, his little faith. “My Lord and my God!”: with this simple yet faith-filled invocation, he responds to Jesus’ patience. He lets himself be enveloped by divine mercy; he sees it before his eyes, in the wounds of Christ’s hands and feet and in his open side, and he discovers trust: he is a new man, no longer an unbeliever, but a believer.

Let us also remember Peter: three times he denied Jesus, precisely when he should have been closest to him; and when he hits bottom he meets the gaze of Jesus who patiently, wordlessly, says to him: “Peter, don’t be afraid of your weakness, trust in me.” Peter understands, he feels the loving gaze of Jesus, and he weeps. How beautiful is this gaze of Jesus – how much tenderness is there! Brothers and sisters, let us never lose trust in the patience and mercy of God!

Let us think too of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus: their sad faces, their barren journey, their despair. But Jesus does not abandon them: he walks beside them, and not only that! Patiently he explains the Scriptures which spoke of him, and he stays to share a meal with them. This is God’s way of doing things: he is not impatient like us, who often want everything all at once, even in our dealings with other people. God is patient with us because he loves us, and those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive. Let us remember this in our lives as Christians: God always waits for us, even when we have left him behind! He is never far from us, and if we return to him, he is ready to embrace us.

I am always struck when I reread the parable of the merciful Father [Prodigal Son; Luke 15:11-31]; it impresses me because it always gives me great hope. Think of that younger son who was in the Father’s house, who was loved; and yet he wants his part of the inheritance; he goes off, spends everything, hits rock bottom, where he could not be more distant from the Father, yet when he is at his lowest, he misses the warmth of the Father’s house and he goes back. And the Father? Had he forgotten the son? No, never. He is there, he sees the son from afar, he was waiting for him every hour of every day, the son was always in his father’s heart, even though he had left him, even though he had squandered his whole inheritance, his freedom. The Father, with patience, love, hope and mercy, had never for a second stopped thinking about him, and as soon as he sees him still far off, he runs out to meet him and embraces him with tenderness, the tenderness of God, without a word of reproach: he has returned! And that is the joy of the Father. In that embrace for his son is all this joy: he has returned!

God is always waiting for us, he never grows tired. Jesus shows us this merciful patience of God so that we can regain confidence, hope – always! A great German theologian, Romano Guardini, said that God responds to our weakness by his patience, and this is the reason for our confidence, our hope. It is like a dialogue between our weakness and the patience of God, it is a dialogue that, if we do it, will grant us hope.

I would like to emphasize one other thing: God’s patience has to call forth in us the courage to return to him, however many mistakes and sins there may be in our life. Jesus tells Thomas to put his hand in the wounds of his hands and his feet, and in his side. We too can enter into the wounds of Jesus, we can actually touch him. This happens every time that we receive the sacraments with faith. Saint Bernard, in a fine homily, says: “Through the wounds of Jesus I can suck honey from the rock and oil from the flinty rock (cf. Deuteronomy 32:13), I can taste and see the goodness of the Lord” (On the Song of Songs, 61:4). It is there, in the wounds of Jesus, that we are truly secure; there we encounter the boundless love of his heart. Thomas understood this.

Saint Bernard goes on to ask: But what can I count on? My own merits? No, “My merit is God’s mercy. I am by no means lacking merits as long as he is rich in mercy. If the mercies of the Lord are manifold, I too will abound in merits.” This is important: the courage to trust in Jesus’ mercy, to trust in his patience, to seek refuge always in the wounds of his love. Saint Bernard even states: “So what if my conscience gnaws at me for my many sins? ‘Where sin has abounded, there grace has abounded all the more’”(Romans 5:20).

Maybe someone among us here is thinking: my sin is so great, I am as far from God as the younger son in the parable, my unbelief is like that of Thomas; I don’t have the courage to go back, to believe that God can welcome me and that he is waiting for me, of all people. But God is indeed waiting for you; he asks of you only the courage to go to him. How many times in my pastoral ministry have I heard it said: “Father, I have many sins”; and I have always pleaded: “Don’t be afraid, go to him, he is waiting for you, he will take care of everything”. We hear many offers from the world around us; but let us take up God’s offer instead: his is a caress of love. For God, we are not numbers, we are important, indeed we are the most important thing to him; even if we are sinners, we are what is closest to his heart.

Adam, after his sin, experiences shame, he feels naked, he senses the weight of what he has done; and yet God does not abandon him: if that moment of sin marks the beginning of his exile from God, there is already a promise of return, a possibility of return. God immediately asks: “Adam, where are you?” He seeks him out. Jesus took on our nakedness, he took upon himself the shame of Adam, the nakedness of his sin, in order to wash away our sin: by his wounds we have been healed. Remember what Saint Paul says: “What shall I boast of, if not my weakness, my poverty? Precisely in feeling my sinfulness, in looking at my sins, I can see and encounter God’s mercy, his love, and go to him to receive forgiveness.

In my own life, I have so often seen God’s merciful countenance, his patience; I have also seen so many people find the courage to enter the wounds of Jesus by saying to him: Lord, I am here, accept my poverty, hide my sin in your wounds, wash it away with your blood. And I have always seen that God did just this – he accepted them, consoled them, cleansed them, loved them.

Dear brothers and sisters, let us be enveloped by the mercy of God; let us trust in his patience, which always gives us more time. Let us find the courage to return to his house, to dwell in his loving wounds, allowing ourselves be loved by him and to encounter his mercy in the sacraments. We will feel his wonderful tenderness, we will feel his embrace, and we too will become more capable of mercy, patience, forgiveness and love.

-- Pope Francis

Clay in the hands of the Potter

"We are God's
work of art,
created in
Christ Jesus
for the
good works
which God
has already
to make up
our way of life."

Ephesians 2:10