The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, November 29, 2014


"I am coming soon."
Revelation 22:12

When the “holiday season” kicks off each year—which used to happen around late November, although it now seems to be much earlier—much of the world makes a mad dash toward December 25. Along with ordinary tasks, the days are filled with decorating, buying, celebrating, buying, fretting, buying, baking, buying—in search of some nostalgic, yet vague sense of hope that, all too often, fails to satisfy and is kicked to the curb on Dec. 26.

By contrast, Christians (in theory, at least) profess this period as Advent (from the Latin term adventus, or coming).

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

Eternity will be what each of us makes of today.

While it’s fine to engage in a little holiday cheer when the time comes, we do well to remember that Advent calls for a joyful anticipation of the Kingdom of God—yesterday, today, and forever. We must recall that the celebration of Christmas (which actually begins Dec. 25 and runs for many days thereafter) evokes that mystical event when God became man in the person of Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means “God saves.” That should indeed bring us great joy—but not the fleeting, superficial, artificial joy so often peddled in the month of December. It is a daily joy tempered by the reality of the crucifixion, a wonderful paradox that gives rise to rejoicing with the psalmist: Lord, “there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered” (130:4).

Advent and Christmas, then, are solemn occasions steeped in true, everlasting joy as we await throughout all our days the full coming of the Kingdom of God. As author Alice Camille points out in her booklet Waiting for God: The Grace of Advent, there is more to it than a cute baby in a manger. It’s serious business. Advent, she says, is a state of spiritual emergency.

Advent involves a different type of urgency than the festal fretting that so often surrounds us before Christmas even begins. We are reminded of this throughout the year at each Mass after the Lord’s Prayer, when the priest says, “Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and forever.

-- From the Abbey Press book
Grace in the Wilderness, © 2013

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Turkey trouble

Just for of the funniest Thanksgiving sitcom moments in American television history, from the late 1970s show (note the hair and clothes fashions!) "WKRP in Cincinnati." A classic, especially the very last line of the nearly 13-minute segment. After a little turkey and pumpkin pie, sit back and enjoy...

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving


And on a more solemn note, I recently ran across a 2007 article from The Boston Globe about the true historical and spiritual roots of the secular holiday we now call Thanksgiving. It is quite interesting, stating that "the modern holiday would horrify the Puritans, who observed a tradition that was quiet, deeply religious, and concerned with betterment, not bounty." Give it a read: "The Opposite of Thanksgiving".

While we may not celebrate Thanksgiving today like the Pilgrims did, let us at least center grateful hearts on the Giver of All Good Gifts, reflect honestly on our lives, and ask for the grace to give of ourselves as God does for us.

A Blessed Thanksgiving to all. 

"The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth," by Jennie Brownscombe (1914)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Mystery of faith

"The Christian does not think God
will love us because we are good,
but that God will make us good
because he loves us."
C.S. Lewis

Friday, November 14, 2014

Check it out

Monk Life is a quarterly electronic newsletter featuring articles on various aspects of the monastic life, written exclusively by the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. The online publication is produced by the Office of Monastic Vocations in conjunction with the Development Office's Department of Communications. Each issue aims to reach out to young men discerning a possible religious vocation with stories about how living under the guidance of the Rule of St. Benedict brings us closer to Christ. I encourage you to check it out -- just click on the logo above, which will take you to the Saint Meinrad website where you can access current and archived issues of the newsletter.

For the time being

"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom
and knowledge of God! How inscrutable
are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways."

Romans 11:33

NOTE: Following is a thought-provoking meditation by my patron saint, Francis de Sales, on the wonder of God's providence which we can only marvel at until the end of time. It is an excerpt from a commentary we heard read at Vigils this morning in the Archabbey Church. Here, Francis de Sales shows that we must trust that the Divine Clockmaker brings order, meaning, and purpose from all things, no matter how insignificant, confusing, or unlikely some things may seem at the moment. As an aside, one of my brother monks later commented that in this digital age, it may not be too far into the future when someone reading this will not understand the analogy--clocks with lots of tiny, moving parts? Since when?!  -- Br. Francis

Entering into a clockmaker’s shop, we shall sometimes find a clock no larger than an orange, but has within it a 100 or 200 pieces. Some pieces serve to show the time, others to strike the hour or give the morning alarm. We shall see within it little wheels, some turning to the right, others to the left, one by the top, another by the bottom. We shall witness the pendulum, which with measured beats, keeps rising and falling on either side.

We wonder how the clockmaker could join together such a number of pieces, with just the right correlation and precision. We do not know what purpose each little piece on its own serves, or why it is made so, unless the master tells us. We know only in general that all serve either to point out or to strike the hour.

In this manner, we see the universe—but especially human natures—to be a sort of clock, composed with so great a variety of actions and movements that we cannot but be astonished at it. And we know in general that these so diversely ordered pieces serve all, either to point out, as on a dial-plate, God’s most holy justice, or as by a bell of praise, to sound the triumphant mercy of his goodness. But to know the particular use of every piece, how it is ordered to the general end, or why it is so, we cannot conceive, unless the sovereign Workman instructs us.

For the time being, he conceals his art from us, so that we may admire it with reverence, until in heaven he delight us with the sweetness of his wisdom. There, in the abundance of his love, he will show us the reasons, means, and motives of all that has transpired in this world toward our eternal salvation.

--St. Francis de Sales
Treatise on the Love of God
Book IV, Ch. 8

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Consider the ravens

The raven makes its first appearance in Scripture in the Book of Genesis after the Great Flood. It was an “unclean” raven that was first dispatched from the ark by Noah. Large and black, carnivorous and voracious, greedy and plundering, solitary and restless, haunting and hoarse, this predatory bird is associated with death.

It makes sense that before Noah would dare to send out a “clean” dove to seek evidence of life on earth, he would first dispatch the death-seeking raven, which “went to and fro until the waters were dried up” (Genesis 8:7). One can picture the raven feeding on the floating carcasses around the ark, picking the earth clean, as it were. Unlike the returning dove, Noah did not bring the raven back into the ark.

The raven, according to God’s command to Moses, was among those animals considered unclean, “detestable among the birds,” an “abomination,” and unfit for human consumption (Leviticus 11:13-15). And yet, it was—and is—one of God’s creations. Before the rain began to fall, God commanded Noah to take the clean and unclean animals into the ark. God’s providence sheltered them all, and all had a part in his plan.

Two themes that are consistent throughout the Gospel of Luke are Jesus’ compassion and his demand that followers be absolutely detached from the wealth of this world. “Do not worry about your life,” he tells his disciples, urging them to store up eternal wealth in heaven. “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing” (Luke 12:22-34).

He says this after someone in the crowd asks him to intervene in a dispute over a family inheritance. Cautioning against greed, covetousness, and the false security offered by an abundance of possessions, Jesus tells the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21), whose entire focus was on his wealth and how to hold onto it and enjoy it. Not considering that a fool and his wealth are soon parted, as the saying goes, he plans to build larger storehouses for his surplus.

Turning to his disciples, who had given up all to follow him, Jesus goes a step further and encourages them to put their complete confidence in the care of God, who provides for all. Concern over the necessities of life—even food and clothing—is not to distract the disciples from their foremost mission of spreading the Gospel.

Most of this passage parallels the one in the Gospel of Matthew (6:19-34). Both make explicit references to King Solomon, who asked God only for wisdom and was given all else besides (1 Kings 3). His splendor paled in comparison to that of the lilies of the field, which neither toil nor spin, Jesus says in both gospels.

Drawing on another image, Jesus refers to the “birds of the air” in Matthew. However, in Luke he is more specific: “Consider the ravens: They neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:24; some translations use the word “crows” for “ravens”).

This specific reference to the raven can’t be accidental. The unclean raven, having no barns for stored wealth like the rich fool, and which must go “to and fro” to find food just as it did in Noah’s time, relies completely on God. The disciples—who are of much greater value—must do the same, for “who provides for the raven its prey when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food? He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry” (Job 38:41; Psalm 147:9).

Ultimately, Jesus is providing a lesson in faith to his disciples. If hungry, restless, unclean ravens are provided for; so will the disciples be.

Perhaps the author of Luke is also making another subtle allusion, one with a twist. In the Old Testament, after announcing to King Ahab a three-year drought to illustrate that it is God alone who governs life and death, the prophet Elijah is cared for by ravens, who bring him bread and meat at the command of God (1 Kings 17: 4,6).

Interestingly, the prophet Elijah, and after him, John the Baptist, have long been associated with monasticism as a prototypes, or forerunners, of sorts. In the Christian tradition, monks, like Elijah and John the Baptist before them, are those who experience God’s call to live apart from the world in order to witness to it that God alone governs life and death—and does so impartially and generously. By their way of life, which seems strange to many, monks seek union with God in the “desert,” so to speak, to put their trust in divine providence and demonstrate, as the Letter of James states, that “every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).

And so, we honor God, acknowledge that we are not God, and cry out as in Psalm 119 (also the monastic profession formula), “Uphold me, O God, according to your promise, and I shall live, and do not confound me in my expectation.” In this way, to return to the Letter of James, we hope to fulfill God’s purpose of becoming “a kind of first fruits of his creatures” (James 1:18), generating the same life-giving goodness for all.

For this reason, in artwork depicting monks, we often spot a raven or two. For example, if you read the legends of either St. Benedict or St. Meinrad, or look at paintings or sculptures illustrating those legends, you will discover that ravens caring for and protecting the saints. Ravens are prominent in the modern insignia of both Saint Meinrad Archabbey and her mother house, the Abbey of Maria Einsiedeln in Switzerland.

Those “detestable,” “unclean” birds are not only provided for by God, but play a part in his plan of salvation for all!

And most importantly, given all this, we should reflect on Jesus’ words: “Consider the ravens. Of how much more value are you than the birds! … Strive for [the Father’s] kingdom,” and all else will be provided, “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Luke 12:24, 31, 34).

Elijah Fed by the Raven, c. 1510,
Giovanni Girolamo Savoldo,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Advent reading

This is not my room, though it would be nice!

At an oblate conference I was giving in Bloomington, Indiana, this week, I was asked if I had any suggestions for Advent reading (the conference was on the topic of prayer and the psalms). Following are a few ideas from my own bookshelf. If you have further suggestions, please feel free to comment. (Advent, by the way, begins November 30.)


-- A Coming Christ in Advent by Raymond E. Brown (One of the best--can't go wrong with Brown).
-- The Reed of God, by Caryll Houselander
-- Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, various authors
-- Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, by Pope Benedict XVI
-- Eternal Seasons: A Liturgical Season with Henri J.M. Nouwen, edited by Michael Ford

-- She Laid Him in a Manger: The Birth of Jesus from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, by Harry Hagan, O.S.B.
-- Waiting for God: The Grace of Advent, by Alice Camille (Catholic Perspectives CareNote)

-- Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer, by Michael Casey
-- The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life, by Henri J.M. Nouwen

-- Pleading, Cursing, Praising: Conversing with God Through the Psalms, by Irene Nowell
-- Bread in the Wilderness, by Thomas Merton

-- The Path of Life, by Cyprian Smith, O.S.B.

-- Jesus: A Pilgrimage, by James Martin, S.J. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

ALL Souls

“Today many people visit the cemetery, which, as the word itself implies, is the ‘place of rest,’ as we wait for the final awakening. It is lovely to think that it will be Jesus who will awaken us. Jesus himself revealed that the death of the body is like a sleep from which he awakens us. With this faith we stop—even spiritually—at the graves of our loved ones, those who have loved us and have done good deeds for us. But today we are called to remember everyone, to remember everyone, even those who no one remembers. We remember the victims of war and violence; the many ‘little ones’ of the world crushed by hunger and poverty. We remember the anonymous who rest in common graves. We remember our brothers and sisters killed because they are Christians; and those who sacrificed their lives to serve others. We especially entrust to the Lord those who have left us over the last year.”

--Pope Francis, All Souls Day 2014

Death to life

“The hour is coming in which
all who are in the tombs will hear his voice.”

John 5:28

I heard a voice from heaven say,
“Write this: Blessed are the dead
who die in the Lord from now on.”

“Yes,” said the Spirit, 
“let them find rest from their labors,
for their works accompany them.”

Revelation 14:13