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Homily – Fr. Lawrence – January 16, 2022 – God is Filling our Emptiness

Dear Brothers and Sisters – You who are our guests today may think it scandalous, but our community watches movies several times a year. Our Christmas movie this year was “Lion,” l-i-o-n. It’s the true story of a young man who literally lost his family in India – he became separated from them at five years old when he fell asleep on a train that took him nearly a thousand miles from home. He was put in an orphanage, and then adopted. When he reached adulthood, he became obsessed with finding his original family. I’m probably not giving too much away when I tell you that he eventually found them – after all, there wouldn’t be a movie otherwise. The brothers who saw the movie said that it was very affecting. I heard some sniffling in the room, not least from myself.

In the discussion afterward, Fr. James pointed out that this sort of story, a quest story, is effective, is touching, because it reflects our own search for a true home. We may come from relatively happy families, we may have a happy family of our own, but there is still something that calls us past that, past the home we knew as children or the home we have built or found as adults. There seems to be innate in us a longing which is never entirely satisfied with a material home, however comforting it may be. Fr. James said that as humans we are built to long for something beyond what this world can ever offer us.

There is another movie that many of you may have watched this past Christmas season. In “It’s a Wonderful Life,” George Bailey longs for something that seems to be out of his reach. He thinks that this longing will be fulfilled by going out into the world and accomplishing big things. But every time he is on the brink of beginning what he thinks is his real destiny, circumstances get in the way. His unfulfilled ambitions and frustrated dreams eventually lead him to contemplate suicide. He thinks he knows what that great longing inside him is for, but he is mistaken.

That we have this great longing within us can be disconcerting. We might experience it as a great emptiness at our centre which can never be filled. The presence of this hole inside us can be very painful. Some of us try to fill this hole with various things or activities. These can be relatively harmless, we may become an obsessive collector of model trains or china figurines. We may believe that this person or that will fill our longing, and the first flush of love may seem to do exactly that. However, most of us eventually discover that, even in a relationship, we are still fundamentally alone. The quest to fill this hole may drive us to succeed in business, or in politics, or conversely, it may lead us to give up, to become a loner, or even a criminal. And this hole can be so painful that some of us turn to addictive substances to mask its presence. At its extreme, it can drive us to suicide, when the pain of simply living from one day to the next with this emptiness inside becomes intolerable.

However, there is another way to look at this hole inside us. As we said before, this emptiness is caused by a great longing. In fact, the emptiness IS our longing. It is our desire, our true desire. This week, we are having our community retreat, and we are privileged to have Bishop Eric Varden with us, a Cistercian like us, to give us our conferences. In his first conference on Friday evening, he said that our waiting IS our desire. The emptiness, therefore, is the gap between now and the time to come, the gap between our lives as they are, our selves as incomplete and contradictory, and the assumption of our true natures, as unique and shining like the sun.

So, we’re right to feel that we are not like everybody else, that we don’t quite fit in, because we are unique, one of a kind. I heard about a guy starting an AA talk once by saying, “I’m just like all of you. I’m different.” Our uniqueness need not be a cause for despair, but for celebration.

St. Paul reminds us of this. He lists the various ways which God can use us, the various gifts we possess. The one with the gift of prophecy is not the same as the one with the gift of healing. The one with the gift of wisdom is not the same as the one with the gift of mighty deeds. But all are necessary. And as he says elsewhere, the hand should not want to be an eye, or the foot a head. We are built to be a certain thing, and no one else is built in exactly the same way.

Isaiah shows us how our desire will be fulfilled. God reassures Israel that it will one day be secure and prosperous. “No more shall people call you ‘Forsaken’ or your land ‘Desolate,’ but you shall be called ‘My Delight,’ and your land, ‘Espoused.’” Notice that Israel does not accomplish this by its own grand deeds or fine merits. God accomplishes it through grace, simply because God “delights in you.” Grace is the manifestation of God’s delight in us.

In our Gospel, Jesus changes water into wine as the first sign of his divinity in John’s Gospel, the first revelation of his vocation. In doing so, he demonstrates one of the main characteristics of his vocation – transformation. Let’s look at the jars in the story. They’ve been made for a purpose, to hold water, but are not at the moment fulfilling their vocation. Note that the jars don’t have much agency. They don’t fill themselves. They are filled through Jesus. Their job was to stand empty, to wait, to endure the discomfort of their unfulfilled yearning. But then, by waiting, by yearning, they are filled to the brim, right to the top. But things don’t stop there – Jesus’s gift, his grace, goes beyond their expectation. The water is turned into wine. They are given their real vocation – to be vessels of transformation.

As humans, as monks, we are not quite as passive as stone jars, but the principle is the same. God has made us to be unique individuals, to serve a unique purpose. If we can discern and cooperate with that purpose, which is a lot of hard work, and find our vocation, we can be happy and content with our lives. Chances are, we are already doing God’s work, but we may not know it. We may think that our lives are routine, ordinary, and unfulfilling. Like George Bailey, we may be dissatisfied, sure that we have been kept from our real vocation by poor decisions or missed opportunities which continue to haunt us. But after all, George’s real vocation was to help the people around him, to bring new life into the world, to love Mary his wife, simple things which he was already doing. It took an angel, grace personified, to show George who he really was, how he was built, to show him his real desire. God’s will for us is not some great mystery, out there somewhere, where we are not. There is no contradiction between God’s will for us and our own deepest desire for ourselves. In fact, they are the very same thing.

As monks, we’ve been fairly conscious about our vocation. We’ve chosen a relatively uncommon path, and we’ve vowed to stay on this path for the rest of our lives. That doesn’t mean that our struggles are at an end, of course. We will have bad days, we will be irritated with our brothers, we may sometimes even feel that our lives are ordinary, obscure, and laborious. But we are also conscious at times that God has been at work in us. The hole at our center will never be entirely filled in this world, but we may be surprised that a certain vice no longer has a hold on us, or that this brother who used to drive us bonkers is actually a kind and generous soul. We begin to recognize that our yearning and desire is actually a capacity for love, love of God and of our brothers and sisters. We have become vessels of transformation. God is slowly filling our emptiness, our waiting, our desire, with the water of life, the water of compassion, which will be transformed, in his time and by his doing, into wine, the very blood of Christ in us.

Abbot Elias – Homily for Christmas Day 2021

Christmas Day Mass 2021

Last year was the first time in the living memory of our community that we celebrated Christmas with no guests. We can be grateful that at least our doors are open this year. Nonetheless, the heavy times of uncertainty continue. The good tidings and comfort we just heard about from Isaiah can seem distant and faint. As is often the case, the Psalms articulate our state of mind better than we do. At Vigils on Christmas Eve, we prayed Psalm 12:

How long, O Lord, will you forget me?

How long will you hide your face?

How long must I bear grief in my soul,

this sorrow in my heart day and night?

How long shall my enemy prevail?

We don’t want these low points. And yet, there is something solid and even reassuring about them. It’s in the gullies and low places that the water flows. And, if we keep moving, the way ahead is the way up. So, along with the psalmist’s prayer, ours goes beyond questioning and complaining:

Look at me, answer me, Lord my God!

Give light to my eyes lest I fall asleep in death,

lest my enemy say: “I have overcome him;”

lest my foes rejoice to see my fall.

To ask is already to have hope. And notice what the psalmist asks for: to be seen (“look at me”); to be spoken to (“answer me”); and to see (“give light to my eyes”).

Christmas itself follows this pattern. The feast of the Lord’s Nativity is celebrated at the low point of the year, the quietest time, and the darkest time. But the slow, unstoppable momentum of the earth moves on. God’s answer to our complaint and prayer is not with common words. As we heard in the letter to the Hebrews,

he has spoken to us through the Son,
whom he made heir of all things
and through whom he created the universe,
who is the refulgence of his glory,
the very imprint of his being,
and who sustains all things by his mighty word.

God’s answer to our heavy hearts and feelings of uncertainty is on a whole other level. His coming into our lives is as unstoppable as the momentum of the planet, and the light he brings is unimaginably more than the little brightness we asked for: he brings—or rather he is—the radiance of God’s glory and God’s love.

No doubt, this mighty word will impact each of us in a different way. But there is nothing to prevent us from answering with the psalmist:

As for me, I trust in your merciful love.

Let my heart rejoice in your saving help.

Let me sing to the Lord for his goodness to me,

singing psalms to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram – Christmas Midnight 2021

+TODAY IS BORN OUR SAVIOR                        Christmas Midnight 2021

A freelance writer, Valerie Schultz, tells the story in Give Us This Day, of how she as a young woman brought a baby to midnight Mass. She thought the baby would sleep right through it but the church was hot and crowded, and when something startled her she cried, and cried.

Valerie tried to nurse it on the sly but this didn’t work. As a young and inexperienced mother she was mortified as she received smiles and some frowns from those around her and finally had to leave the pew. Later she came to realize that a baby crying at midnight was exactly why they were all there.

Mary and Joseph in our gospel story did not expect Caesar Augustus to decree the whole world to be enrolled. Joseph going up from Galilee to Judea with Mary now many months pregnant was not the best of times but decided that this is what they needed to do.

Then there is no room in the Inn. Mary begins to feel the contractions that tell her and Joseph the time for giving birth to her firstborn has come. Wrapping him in swaddling clothes as best she could, she lays him in a manger, the feeding trough for animals serving as a crib. Just then angels appear to poor shepherds in the fields nearby. To these low income workers is born the good news of great joy. From caring for their sheep, they suddenly become the messengers of great joy, that a Savior has been born for the whole human family.

We too, live in unexpected times when there are lots of tensions in our government and even within the Church. The US president and Medical authorities are warning us all about the new Covid variant, its potential to spread. In our own State of Kentucky, we have just been exposed to some of the most destructive tornadoes of our history. And it is the low income people who are struggling the most, and yet as others reach out to help, they experience a loving Presence in their lives. It is right in the midst of all this, like the baby crying in the arms of its mother during  midnight Mass, that a Savior is being born for us, a Child given to us.

Isn’t this the deepest meaning of the very Eucharist we celebrate at this sacred table. Right here as wafers of unleavened bread and a few cups of wine become the very Body and Blood of God’s most beloved Son, we are given to share in the deepest meaning of all of creation. God’s eternal Word, having taken on our human flesh allowed his life to be handed over in sacrifice on a cross out of total love for each and all of us. Having entered completely into our human condition, Christ wants nothing so much as to share his very own joy, love and divinity with us.

Let us then be filled with gratitude this night, not only for what Jesus has done but for being so near to each one of our human lives, like the baby being held and embraced in its mother’s arms.

(Isaiah 9:1-6; Titus 2:11-14; Luke 2:1-14)

Reflection: Fr. Michael Casagram 12/19/21 “The Quiet Waiting of St. Joseph”

(Jer. 23:5-8; Mt 1:18-25)

+This years has been dedicated in a special way to St Joseph by Pope Francis. Our gospel tells us a lot about the person he was when Mary was found to be pregnant before they had come to live together.

We are told how Joseph was a righteous man, one who obeyed the Law, yet was unwilling to expose Mary to shame. Joseph shows himself ready to deal with the mystery that is so much a part of this season. His respect for Mary, his decision to divorce her quietly tell us volumes about the person he was for our own lives. There is a lot going on in our Church and society today that is not easy for any of us to get our heads around but if we go into the quiet waiting of St Joseph we can be sure that God will send to us as well, an angel who will quiet our fears.

Christ is seeking to be born more fully in each one of our lives. If our hearts share in the faith and quiet waiting of St Joseph we can be sure that we too will be ready to carry out all that God is asking of us so that Christ may be born in our world today.

Homily – Fr. Alan Gilmore – 3rd Sunday of Advent 2021

+           3rd Sunday of Advent – “Gaudete Sunday “ (C) +
Dear Brothers and Sisters

If today were a week day we would be celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of all the Americas, nevertheless this memorial ,as it were, of  the Advent of Christianity in the New World – can add to our rejoicing on this 3rd Sunday of Advent – “Gaudete  Sunday” Just one  more word on that  In the beautiful image of Our Lady of Gualalupe – she appears to be pregnant.  Consider the faith and hope of Mary and St Joseph as they approached what might be called their equivalent of the 3rd Sunday of Advent. Consider our own faith and hope today.
Some years ago, on the 3rd Sunday of Advent, a senior monk shared with me a
comment from an article – that Christ is not hidden from us. He is already with us…it is we who are hidden, hidden from him by layers of distraction. Not least among these layers of distraction during Advent, during our preparation for Christmas, can be our absorbtion in temporal affairs, with that spirit of commercialism that is so prevalent in our society today. Yes, it can even influence the inhabitants of monasteries.  This is why the Church gives us this 3rd Sunday of Advent! We need to be reminded of our cause and reason  for rejoicing;” Jesus is near! Let us rejoice and be glad! Nevertheless,  we must also make straight the way of the Lord. The ways of humility and truth are necessary to dispose ourselves for this advent of the Lord.
John the Baptist is the prominent figure in today’s Gospel.  In being the ‘near-
peer’ of  Jesus,  John  has given us a model of humility and truth and total commitment to God and to God’s will. This involves real poverty of spirit, purity of heart, manifested through humility, and self-effacement , words that describe a life-style far removed from the values reflected in our contemporary culture.
This Gospel today with its consideration and contemplation of John the Baptist  urges us to reflect  on our own vocation. The readings invite us to reflect on the question “Who are you?” and “What have you to say for yourself?”  The honesty of our spiritual lives hinges on how we relate to what  might be called “psychological inflation”, in other words Pride.  John the Baptist’s humility today reminds us of our own need of selflessness.t.
As we joyfully await the Birthday celebration of Jesus, let’s rejoice (as Paul exhorts us in today’s second reading) .  “Rejoice!  I say it again, rejoice, the   Lord is near!. Dismiss all anxiety from your minds.” We should indeed rejoice, for we  know who we  should turn to for true peace and happiness.
As we approach the Eucharist this morning, as we behold the Lamb of God ,  make a straight way for the Lord, by willing what God wills for us.  Let us rejoice in Jesus, the faithful witness who comes to establish the reign of God in our hearts, that we , as members of his body, informed by his Holy Spirit may be fitting, joyful instruments to bring his Good  News, in the manner proper to our particular vocation, to all our Brothers and Sisters.  “Rejoice! The Lord is Near!’
(Zeph 3:14-18a, Phil 4:4-7, Luke 3:10-18)      – Fr Alan

Reflection at Eucharist on 12/7/21 – Fr. Micheal Casagram

+This memorial of St Ambrose is a great example of what can happen in a more synodal Church. In 374 when the Bishop of Milan had died, the local Church was terribly divided and on the verge of terrible violence Ambrose the provincial governor went to the basilica to speak to the people in an effort to find a peaceful solution. A cry rose up from the people “Ambrose for Bishop” leaving him horrified for he wasn’t yet baptized. Within a week he was baptized, confirmed, ordained and consecrated Bishop of Milan.

So as we enter into this Eucharist celebration, let us be mindful of where we may not be open to the presence and working of the Holy Spirit in our own lives!

What is your opinion, Jesus asked in our gospel this morning. How ready are we to leave the ninety-nine in search of the sheep that has gone astray? It is this kind of love Jesus pours into our hearts each day, all that is necessary is to allow our hearts to be filled with it. To do so, it won’t take us long to notice the ninety-ninth and who knows, it may be you or me in need of such loving care. May we be filled with it.

(Is 40:1-11; Mt 18:12-14)

Homily by Fr Carlos of Gethsemani on Dec. 5th, 2nd Sunday of Advent

Homily by Fr Carlos of Gethsemani on Dec. 5th, 2nd Sunday of Advent

In many cultures of the ancient world,  kings, heroes and leaders were ushered in by omens and portents, nature wonders and astral alignments.   In the Judeo-Christian faith it is through a human being in the person of John the Baptist that ushered in a Savior.  Luke saw to it that the historical-incarnational aspect of the last prophet is rooted in human history.  It is a real person situated in a particular place and time.  The Precursor and Savior is found in our time and space, in our world and their influence is still with us today.   We like John the Baptist must decrease and He, the Lord must increase in our private and social life.    The rulers that Luke mentioned should not really have been there because in the beginning Israel did not have a king.  God rule over them and God took care of them as long as they were faithful.  But no, Israel would rather have a king to rule over them even against the warning of Samuel.  Human kind today is just as stubborn.  We would like to be governed, we rely on our systems that are so inadequate and only a few benefit from it.  We are people who do not look into the future.  Our plans are all in short terms.  John came and announced the coming of the Savior who future is beyond time and whose power is beyond earthly power.  Did they listen then?  Are we listening now?
In John’s time Israel went through trying times:  alien rulers have taken over, a far cry God’s rule which they once enjoyed, the kingdom was divided into four parts, and even worse, where there should have been only one high priest for life each time, there were two high priests:  Caiphas, the high priest then and his father in law Annas also was a high priest and both were the power behind the throne because of Anna’s forceful character.   And yet, inspite of all these irregularities it was God’s time.  It was not just by chance that God sent his Son during the time of the Roman Empire.   St. Paul formulates it well:  When the fullness of time came God sent his own son, born of a woman, born under the law to deliver from the law those who were subjected to it, so that we might receive our status as adopted children.  Whatever one may say about the shortcomings of the Roman Empire it was providential for the arrival and the spread of Christianity.  When the time was fulfilled, the designated time had come the word of God came to John in the desert.  A quiet place where the word of God can be heard, where one meets the Lord.  John was the last prophet and his greatness does not lie on his role as prophet but that he was faithful the word of God spoken to him.  His humility in serving the Word.  His total self-lessness in front of Jesus that he should decrease and Jesus must increase.   Christians today are to take up the role of John to proclaim the kingdom that is to come by their conviction as shown in the way they live to a hostile and unbelieving world.  Christianity for many has become a myth, an elusive reason to celebrate the real reason having receded back into our subconscious.   Fully alive Christians should awaken the subconscious reason in the hearts of many why we celebrate.  We become precursors too.  We prepare for the coming of Christ the Lord now and in the future.  Whenever a king came for a state visit in the Orient, highways had to be made in the desert, hills and mountains leveled off and valleys filled up with soil and gravel.  A way makes it possible to travel.  The Lord came to us and we can go to the Lord.  John the Baptist preached about Christ.  This is the role we have taken as Christian: to make known Christ to the world.  We personally must prepare the way for the Lord, cutting off the hills of our pride and filling the valleys of our indifference, filling up our defects, filling them with sincerity and a desire for his coming.   Our faith is not based on myth or legend.  It is a reality just as you and I are real for the Precursor of the Savior lived in the same world as we are living subject to time and space.  Subjected to the powers that were. The humility of the precursor is a good preparation for the coming of Christ on Christmas.

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – Opening Ourselves to the Advent Mystery 12/5/21

+OPENING OURSELVES TO THE ADVENT MYSTERY    ChapTalk 5 Dec. ‘21

Last week I spoke of Advent as Sacrament of Christ’s presence, drawing on Merton’s reading of our early Cistercian fathers. In Chapter two of his Seasons of Celebration, he asks if Advent, because of how it is actually experienced is “Hope or Delusion?” He wants us to take a close look at how we actually experience this time of the Church year.

Because of it being such a busy time for us here at Gethsemani, we may feel it difficult to enter fully into this Liturgical season but far more is involved. How Advent and Christmas are programed in our world today is often at variance with what goes on in the monk’s heart and to experience this is really a healthy sign. The season has become so commercialized, it is not be easy to discern its real meaning.

Merton sees the figure of John the Baptist as an authentic example of what takes place in the monk’s heart. He writes:

The Advent Gospels, like most of the other liturgical texts of the season, are sober to the point of austerity. Take for example the question of St John the Baptist in Herod’s prison, where he was about to undergo a tragic death that was at once cruel and senseless: “Are you He who is to come, or look we for another?” Strange and even scandalous words, which some have never been able to accept at their face value! How can John have meant such a question, when he had seen the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the Jordan? Yet the directness with which the question was asked was the guarantee of its desperate seriousness: for at the close of his life, John was concerned not only, as we might say, for the ‘success of his mission’ but more profoundly still, for the truth of his own life, the truth of Israel, indeed the truth of Yahweh Himself. (p. 89)

Not long ago I read a respected commentary on this questioning of John in prison and it explained it as really spoken for the sake of his disciples and not from out of his own inner struggle. Merton takes a very different perspective and I think he is right. As he puts it:

We must be willing to see Him [the Christ] and acclaim Him, as John did, even at the very moment when our whole life’s work and all its meaning seem to collapse. Indeed, more formidable still, the Church herself may perhaps be called upon some day to point out the Victorious Redeemer and King of Ages amid the collapse of all that has been laboriously built up by the devotion of centuries and cultures that sincerely intended to be Christian. (p. 91)

Are we seeing in our own time something of this collapse of which Merton writes? The interplay of Cultures, Customs and Church practice have changed dramatically as the result of the Covid crisis. The Christmas celebration that many of us experienced in our youth, is no longer viable and is giving way to a new presence of Christ in our world. Merton asks us if we are not being called in our time to better:

understand the kenotic quality of the Advent mystery? The Christ who emptied Himself taking the form of a servant, dying on the Cross for us, brought us the plenitude of His gifts and of His salvation. But He continues in us a kenotic and hidden existence. The fullness of time is the time of His emptiness in us. The fullness of time is the time of our emptiness, which draws Christ down into our lives so that in us and through us He may bring the fullness of His truth to the world. (p.93-4)

Many of us heard about this sharing in the self-emptying love of Christ  at the night Office yesterday morning. To allow ourselves to experience this is something wonderfully freeing for it takes us along the path a pure faith so that Christ takes over the center of our lives. By allowing ourselves to enter into this kind of faith we do away with the false ideas of our own accomplishments, opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit who comes to rest on the humble and poor. Let me conclude with one last quote from Merton:

The Advent mystery in our own lives is the beginning of the end of all, in us, that is not yet Christ. It is the beginning of the end of unreality. And that is surely a cause of joy!