ABBOT ELIAS DIETZ, O.C.S.O.
Homilette – Presentation, February 2, 2019
The Light and The Glory
It is really only today that we complete the Advent-Christmas season. And it is clear that the church wants us to carry something with us from this time into the rest of the year. Just like our procession this morning: we carry candles as we go forward; we carry with us into the future the light and glory we have discovered in the Christ Child during the darkest part of the year.
Notice, too, how the liturgy reminds us each day of the Advent and Christmas seasons, grounding us daily in the events surrounding the Incarnation: we sing Zechariah’s song at Laud’s, Mary’s at Vespers, and Simeon’s at Compline.
In the case of Simeon, it is a song of gratitude and completion: “I have seen your promise come true; now I can go in peace.” To sing these words at the end of each day is to see our daily lives as the arena for these same deep and significant events.
Ideally the Lord becomes incarnate and grows in the hearts of all believers who recall him each day. If we are attentive like Simeon, God’s work unfolding in our lives will be as real as the warmth and weight of a Child in arms. And if we are as deeply grateful as Simeon, we will be ready at the end of each day to say: “Lord, I have seen your salvation; I’m ready to go in peace whether for this night or for all eternity.
HOLY FAMILY – (C) – DEC. 30, 2018 + RDNGS: 1 Sm 1:20-28; 1 Jn 3:1-24; Lk 2:41-52
(Optional Intro: The biblical idea of family boundaries could be quite porous. Blood relationships were important, but the second sense of being a family came from acts of love and loyalty. Blood brothers like Jacob and Esau could split permanently over acts of betrayal, while unrelated persons like Ruth and Naomi (Ru 1:16-18) of David and Jonathan (1 Sm 18:1-4; 20:14-17) could establish covenant relationships with each other that were even stronger than their ties to blood relatives.)
[AD LIB: It’s all about family – Mention Gethsemani’s Family Guest House: e.g. Br Raphael’s large extended family coming from MO every year .. by bus! … and Br Christian’s also … from NH, with his niece’s friend with them – a teenage girl … “No, I’m not family – I never met Br Christian before” she told me … whose own family, she said, “never does anything together” … ” ]
Finding one’s place in God’s household is the reality to which today’s first reading and Gospel speak. Samuel’s parents were not members of Israel’s priestly tribe, but because of Hannah’s love and loyalty, Samuel was welcome in God’s house. It took some time, however, for Samuel to find his place as the leader of Israel.
Jesus also needed time ‘to find his place’ in God’s house. He was God’s Son and, at age 12 he felt at home in the temple where he spent his time listening and asking questions. It is likely that the astonishment that his teachers showed came less from his display of supernatural knowledge and more from his intelligent, perceptive questions. (Home schooled? 😊 )
He had not yet discovered his role. Luke reminds his readers that Jesus still needed time to “advance in wisdom” before he found the place God intended for him. This is a great lesson for all of us who are searching for her/his place in God’s divine plan … for spiritual discernment … on what to do next on our journey of faith.
Jesus’ response to his distraught parents, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” are His first recorded words in scripture … and it’s a question … as was Mary’s first recorded words in scripture … also a question … to the Angel Gabriel, “How can this be since I know not man?”) Why is Luke connecting these? Perhaps this is the summit towards which today’s gospel moves? It has a profound meaning: Mary and Joseph’s complete incomprehension clearly point to this. Jesus, a child like others, obeying his parents, yet clearly possessing an incomparable wisdom, has a mysterious relationship with the Father. The mystery of his person is only revealed, little by little, through his obedience to the will of God. (And we say goodbye to Joseph … who has never been quoted … This Temple scene is/was his final appearance in scripture, he is never mentioned again … but Luke tells us he went home with Mary and Jesus … and we applaud all those parents who have also sacrificed their lives solely for the good of their children!)
Going back: We notice that Luke has Jesus travelling with his parents to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover. We see here a spiritually-rich literary coherence: The next time Luke portrays Jesus on his way to Jerusalem will be for the Feast of Passover … again … and that will be Jesus’ last trip to Jerusalem … the Jewish feast will coincide with his own “Personal Passover” … his death and resurrection … for each of us … love personified.
Going back again: The veil will not be completely lifted, however, until Easter, which is already on the horizon. We can’t help but notice that Jesus is found in the Temple – or we could say “reappears” – on the third day after his absence, as it will be three days between his death and resurrection. Also, the incomprehension of Joseph and Mary evokes that of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:25) whom the resurrected Jesus reproaches by saying to them, “What little sense you have!” … or as some translations put it, “Oh how foolish you are! Did not the Messiah have to undergo all this?” … or “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” These words clearly reflect Jesus’ words to his parents in the Temple: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Can’t help but realize how direct Jesus is … as he sometimes is with us (through others) as we look for Jesus in our lives.
Seems to me that at some point, each of us needs to follow a similar path. We know we are always welcome in God’s house, but eventually we need to discern the specific role we will play in the divine family. Isn’t this what Lectio is? Only by imitating Jesus’ extended listening and questioning will we be able to mature in the wisdom necessary to discern who we really are and where we’re going … to follow Christ. This process of discernment and our decisions may well mystify our family and/or those who know us best, but when we find the place God has made for us, we will know … and we will feel right at home. One thing is certrain: Each of us has a unique role to play in the divine family … It’s the on-going drama of the divine plan. I hope and pray we all believe this. Have we discerned what our role is? We may never fully know until we carry our cross – suffer – and hang there – naked in others’ eyes – and die to ourselves for the sake of all in God’s family … “to suffer these things and enter into his/our glory.”
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ABBOT ELIAS DIETZ, O.C.S.O.
Homily – Christmas Day Mass, Dec. 25, 2018
In Him it is Always Yes
This wonderful and mysterious Prologue to John’s gospel is the deepest expression of what we celebrate at Christmas: Jesus come among us as the Word made flesh.
But to avoid staying in abstractions, it might be helpful to consider what that Word sounds like. Saint Paul tells us that “the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, … was not Yes and No; but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him (2 Cor 1:19–20). So, the Word with a capital W is a Yes with a capital Y, and it comes through loud and clear from all eternity.
From the moment of creation the Word was spoken: Yes, let there be light; Yes, what I have created is good. And in our case he meant what he said: not only did he affirm that our flesh is good, he became that flesh; God’s ultimate Yes to creation.
To paraphrase John’s Prologue: What came to be through him was life, and this life was his Yes to us, and his Yes drowns out any Nos, and no No can overcome his Yes.
We hear this Word made flesh most concretely in the garden of Gethsemani: not my will, but yours be done—the Son’s Yes to the Father.
All the important Yeses in history are echoes of the eternal Yes. Mary’s fiat, ‘let it be done’, is the key one.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.
No wonder the angel called Mary “full of grace.” It takes a lot of grace and an expansive heart for a small human Yes to echo the eternal Yes of God’s Word, itself full of grace and truth.
And so a good question for you and for me this Christmas Day is how clearly this Yes echoes in your heart and in my heart. Am I saying yes when invited to stretch my willingness to help, to take part, to learn something new? Is my gaze on the world and on those around me like God’s gaze—yes, it is good—or is it a disapproving gaze and succession of nos? Ideally we will follow Mary’s lead and leave plenty of room inside for the eternal Yes to echo, and like her be filled with the grace and truth that come to us through Jesus, the Word made flesh.
ABBOT ELIAS DIETZ, O.C.S.O.
Homily for Funeral Mass of Br. William Leone, OCSO December 18, 2018
[Is 25:6a, 7-9: 1 Jn 3:1-2: Mt 11;11-15]
The Violent Bear It Away
Although it is not a usual choice for funerals, this gospel from Matthew keeps us in the Advent mode. And, since it is an extremely enigmatic passage, it also keeps us in the “William” mode.
As an older translation has it, Jesus says; “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent bear it away.”
One of the more common interpretations of these words is that there is a sort of holy violence by which some people attain the kingdom of heaven at the cost of hard renunciations. There are many callings in the Church, and, although this one may sound off-putting, it nevertheless deserves respect when it is authentic.
I associate Br. William with this passage, because I always perceived a kind of violence in his fundamental choices. It seems that early on—perhaps even before he entered the monastery—he settled on a rather extreme understanding of religious life and stayed with it. It implied a radical renunciation of self that sometimes came out in odd ways. His stubborn independence was the flip side of his desire not to matter and not to be noticed. It is as if time stopped for him when he became a monk. He showed little interest in current events and did not seem to take into account that people and communities change over time. To the day he died he seemed surprised that he could not do what he did fifty years ago. He did not willingly talk about himself or volunteer memories of the past. Most of us maintain interpersonal connections through shared memories, which we are constantly reinforcing by telling stories and recalling past events. Br. William pretty much opted out of that part of life, with the result that many of us experienced him as unknowable.
Somehow, directly or indirectly, he picked up on some very old monastic advice and ran with it. Here are some of those recommendations from the Mirror of Monks, an anonymous little work now 800 years old;
[The monk] should not accept any kind of gift from anyone. Let him have no one as his intimate friend. In everything he should flee whatever marks him off as exceptional or worthy of admiration. When he speaks let him say nothing that would lead people to think of him as very learned or very religious. […] Let him remember that God is present to him in his every action or thought. And let him regard as squandered every moment when he did not think of him. The monk should be like Melchizedek; without father, without mother, without ancestry. He should call no one upon earth his father. Rather, he should think of himself such that it is as if he and God alone exist. (CSQ 45 ; 439-440)
Eight centuries later, in a day when health, wellness, and connectedness are among our top values, these may seem like questionable spiritual choices. The gospel we just heard can help us suspend that judgement and see in those choices a sort of violence for the sake of the kingdom. And in William’s case, the proof of authenticity would be in the obvious and more attractive virtues we all saw in him; a generally sweet and obliging disposition, unwavering dedication to prayer, and a love of quiet, unnoticed service.
Jesus’ enigmatic words about the violent bearing away the kingdom invite us to shift our perspective and perhaps even invert our point of view. In the very experience of being nonplused by William, we actually knew him perfectly well; that is who he was. And, whether the kingdom is obtained by patience or taken by force, everyone who perseveres in his or her unique vocation is a sign of hope that the kingdom is there, on the horizon. After all, the sweet and abiding mysteries of Advent and Christmas carry within them the seeds of the violence, suffering, and glory of Holy Week and Easter.
So, we bury our Br. William with gratitude for the shared opportunity the Lord gives us to keep moving toward his kingdom on the unique path marked out for each of us.
And, lastly, we might have some thought for the unfortunate angel, whose duty it will be to explain to William that it is now time to relax and enjoy eternity!