September 13, 2020
This community is called to be Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross. That title has resonated with me often since both Lynn Levo and Mary Pellegrino talked about it in their presentations. So, as we look forward to the Feast of the Seven Sorrows next Tuesday, I would like to reflect on it with you.
The basic desire to be united in love with God, with one another, with all people, and with all creation shapes this community of faith. #20, IATW
During this period of cultural upheaval in our lives, that call to stand at the foot of the cross takes on even stronger meaning. There is so much suffering in our world: the pandemic creating sickness and death in numbers that are almost beyond imagination, grieving, hunger, prejudice, hatred, poverty, homelessness, loneliness, unjust detention and imprisonment, unjust treatment of immigrants and the list goes on and on. Jesus suffering on the cross, Jesus suffering today. Mary standing beneath the cross and standing with all who suffer in our world today. A black man pleads for his life simply because he is black: “Mama, I can’t breathe.” His black mother grieves for her son.
During the period when we were not able to receive communion, I found it very meaningful to sit in silence and contemplate people, especially the suffering people, who are our companions on this earth. This became the reception of communion for me, so much so that when were once again able to have Mass, I pondered what my belief about Eucharist had been. What does communion really mean? How conscious was I, through this act, of my call to be united with all people on this earth and beyond? Standing with Mary at the foot of the cross pulls it together – standing there before God with the dying Jesus and Mary with all the suffering peoples of the earth.
The Loretto Congregation, Loretto Community and Loretto Link are all part of this community of faith called to be sisters and brothers standing with Mary at the foot of a cross that includes all suffering humanity.
Thanks to the pandemic, (and our age) we here at the Motherhouse and elsewhere are not able to join in the peaceful protests or visit the border which we might have been doing in our younger years. What we can do is be with them in spirit. We can somehow be loving and compassionate even if we have no idea with whom we are standing on any given day. In some mysterious way God’s love flows through us to others. God is love and we are privileged to share in that love and pass it on.
In her book The Source of All Love, Heidi Russell refers to how we get so caught up in what is going on around us that we can become unaware of what is really needed. She writes: “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone’s responsibility and not our own.” That is not where we want to be, it is not in keeping with our call to stand at the foot of the cross and be in union with all God’s people. It requires attention and thoughtfulness on our part, a way of life at which we all keep working.
A perfect world, the beautiful world that was meant to be, would be one in which everyone has enough food to eat, a comfortable place to live, enough water, neighbors who care about them and peace. It would be a world that recognizes that all forms of life have a right to exist and that we already have an example from the natural world which works together as a healthy community until humans interfere.
In the midst of this world as it exists now and always, is LOVE in capital letters. LOVE revealed itself in Jesus who taught us how to live through his own example of concern for all types of people. That revelation took hold in some people and aggravated others so much that Jesus ended up hanging on a cross, suffering just as people experience suffering today. And below that cross stood Mary.
Over the body of her dead son, George, stands a mother, weeping as Mary did. At her daughter Briana’s grave, another mother weeps. Outside the hospital window of a parent dying alone from CoVid 19 stands a family separated from their lobed one at a tie when they most feel the need to be with him or her. In a crowded migrant camp with no means of escape stand persons separated from family, home and a life worth living. May we, a community called to be Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross, stand with them.
(1 Cor. 3:18-23; Luke 5:1-11)
+Today’s gospel shows us how Jesus uses the very circumstances of our lives to draw near to us and make them wonderfully fruitful. After preaching to the crowd, he tells Simon to put out into the deep water and lower his nets for a catch. Simon had a hard time with this because he and his partners had just done this all night long and caught nothing. We experience the same but this does not stop Jesus from using whatever work we may be doing whether in the kitchen, the Infirmary, the bakery, Liturgy, the fields, the administration of this place, to tell us to “lower our nets for a catch.’
Like Simon and his partners in the boats we feel often enough that we have worked the whole night and caught nothing. But then, if we are attentive to what Jesus is saying deep down in our hearts, aware of his presence and initiative, we too will find ourselves amazed at the great number of fish we’ll catch to where our nets are tearing and we fill both boats to the point that they are in danger of sinking.
If the love of Jesus fills us, if we realize he is right in the boat with us, our lives like that of St Gregory whom we remember today, become wonderfully fruitful even to the point where our boats are sinking.
+YOU ARE THE SALT OF THE EARTH Solemnity of St Bernard 2020
St Bernard was one of the most outstanding men of his time, making the newly founded Order of Citeaux outstanding not only for his own time but ours as well. His parents were members of the Burgundian aristocracy so he received a better education than most. The third of seven born to Aleth and Tescelin, his early schooling was at Chatillon-sur-Seine run by the secular canons of Saint-Vorles. Early on he had a great taste for literature and devoted himself to poetry for some time. But with the death of his mother Aleth when he was only 17 or18, the experience set him on his “long path to complete conversion” as he put it.
There was fulfilled in him the words from the book of Wisdom we just heard “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne.” Having sought the counsel of the Stephen Harding, an early abbot of Citeaux, he decided to join this new and austere community in its effort to restore Benedictine life to its more primitive observance. Little did he realize that in doing so he would become a light that could not be put under a bushel basket but would be set on a lampstand that would give light not only to this monastery but to the whole of the Church and society of his time.
While it took him awhile to terminate his domestic affairs and to persuade his brothers, some 25 of family and friends joined him as he entered Citeaux. Within three years he was asked to found Clairvaux from which he was to shine before others throughout the world. What is so moving in Bernard’s thought is the way Christ is so one with our human nature that he takes hold of our hearts. It is a divine initiative that engages us in a love relationship whatever may be the unique circumstances of each of our lives. Bernard’s own heart was so touched by Jesus that he craved to be one Spirit with him. When satisfied, he effectively shared the same to all around him.
The mystery of the Incarnation is at the center of his spirituality and much discussed by the theologians of his time, a mystery especially dear to our early Cistercians. Bernard and others saw this mystery as overflowing into our own lives as when Jesus tells us in the gospel today, “your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” God became human so that men and women of all time might be won over by love. For Bernard, God becomes totally lovable by taking on our human flesh. In his treatise on the Degrees of Humility and Pride, Bernard shows us how God becoming incarnate in Christ “learned by experience that particular form of mercy of which he had previously been ignorant and which consists in sharing the suffering of others in the flesh.” Bernard sees this “sharing in the suffering of others in the flesh” as revealing the beauty of God so as to win over our hearts totally to this mystery of love. His sermons on the Song of Songs reveal the heart of Bernard as one divinely inebriated, making him such a great light for peoples of all time.
It is this mystery of Divine Love that we celebrate each day at this altar. The simple elements of bread and wine here become the very Body and Blood of our glorified brother Jesus. The mystery of God’s self emptying loves takes place right here before us, that we may be filled with gratitude and be vessels of this gift for all with whom we live. Nothing would more delight the heart of Bernard than to see the wisdom he learned made our own.
20th Sunday of the Year – Yr A
Today’s readings might well be seen simply as a continuation of the readings for last Sunday. In that section we saw Peter failing in his faith: “Why did you doubt, O you of little faith!”. Today we see a foreigner. an alien, and a woman – praised because “O woman, great is your faith!
Peter and the other disciples had been with Jesus for quite some time, and yet they were still lacking in faith. But this woman comes before Jesus for the first time – and yet her faith is great! How to account for this? The other readings today give us insight into this mystery. Isaiah shows us the mysterious choice of God extends to those whom one would least expect: foreigners – but “foreigners who love the name of the Lord” and consequently are fully aware of their own deficiencies and profound need for the Lord, and can fully enter into the house of the Lord, which is to be called “a house of prayer” = a house where all can fully depend on the Lord alone. And Isaiah tells us that “the gifts of the Lord are irrevocable”. God’s plan of salvation for all must be received as sheer gift, and the way that one accepts this gift is by fully acknowledging our need – our powerlessness = our total impotence of ourselves –
The history of salvation is a repeated story of our human tendency to feel that, while it is nice to have God’s help and love, yet ultimately we can really do it by ourselves. But Paul reminds us that “God has consigned all people to disobedience that He may have mercy on all”. That disobedience is our deep human tendency to think that “I can really do this on my own”.
But no matter how many times we attempt to reach success in life, we are inevitably brought face to face with our inability – or need for God’s mercy. And that mercy is extended when we realize that I am nothing but a poor dog, seeking the scraps from the master’s table. This is what it means to live in “the house of the Lord” – it is only by realizing our constant need for the Lord’s power – not mine – in order to reach our goal.
The Cananite woman stands as an exemplar of this attitude, whereas Peter stands as an exemplar of the spirit of trust in himself until he is on the cusp of drowning. Then he also realizes his helplessness and cries out to God alone – which is what a house of prayer is to be.
St Benedict calls the monastery a “house of prayer” – a house where we can all live in this awareness of our total dependence on God alone. But we know that we do not habitually live with that awareness. All too often we tend to live in a sense that “I can do this of and by myself”. But then we run into situations daily which show us that such is not the case – that we are helpless and constantly in need of the mercy of God and of the brethren. This is why Benedict places obedience and humility as the cornerstones of this house of God- the two virtues which we all daily struggle with and all too often fail in. This is our daughter who all too often is caught by a demon.
But all that is required of us is to follow the example of the Cananite woman and turn to the Lord with the humble cry: “Lord, save me! I’m drowning.”
Perhaps that is something of what this time of pandemic is to teach all of us – to bring us to fully cry out: “Lord, save me!”
Before I begin, I would like to begin – by saying that it is a misunderstanding to consider Our Lady’s
St Clare was only 18 when she heard sermons of St Francis at St Giorgio church in Assisi and was deeply inspired by his message. Toward the end of her life she said to one of St Francis’ followers, that “ever since experiencing the grace of Jesus through his servant Francis, I have never in my whole life met with any pain or sickness that could really hurt me.” One sees in her the child Jesus placed in the midst of his disciples saying, that whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
According to Bultler’s Lives of the Saints “She always wanted to be the servant of servants, to wash and kiss the lay Sisters’ feet when they returned from begging, to serve at table, and to look after the sick: ‘Do what you want with me. I am yours because my will is no longer my own. I have given it to God.’” She had learned that humility Jesus speaks of in our gospel, that knows that all one has of worth is the gift of God, so that Christ was able to accomplished great things through her even into our own time.
There is a lot to be afraid about these days, even from our relatively stable vantage point here at Gethsemani. The world out there seems like a chaotic place. Things are happening which we don’t understand. We don’t have control. There is a virus going around which no one seems to have a handle on. Why does it kill some people and have little to no effect on others? How is it spread? We don’t know. Some political leaders keep trying to minimize the danger, repeating that they are doing a great job containing the virus, yet people are dying at an increasing rate. There are demonstrations in cities across the country and around the world demanding change regarding our attitudes toward racial inequality. Some of these demonstrations have turned violent, sometimes with the police as instigators. The demonstrations were sparked by charges of brutality against young black people by the police, the very force that is supposed to protect them. We might suspect that the people we have trusted, the laws we have trusted, may not be trustworthy. Or, on the other hand, we may see some of the protesters using the demonstrations as an excuse to loot and destroy property, with police and local governments unable to stop the violence, and fear that the rule of law is breaking down. The virus has broken the most ordinary social customs, going out for dinner, to see a movie, to watch a baseball game, or even to visit friends for a summer barbecue. And the demonstrations make us wonder if the streets of our cities are even safe for a solitary walk. And even here, our parking lot is empty, our guest house remains deserted, Sunday mass lacks the usual crowd, and our entranceway is blocked by yellow caution tape. The once familiar is looking uncomfortably strange. We wonder if the world will ever return to normal, or if there is even a normal to return to. The ground is shifting underneath our feet, as if we were in a boat in a storm.
Fear is possibly the most destructive of human reactions. There is, certainly, such a thing as salutary fear – fear of crossing a busy street, fear of a growling dog, fear of falling from a great height, or even a not-so-great height as we get older. These healthy fears help to keep us safe, to keep us from taking unnecessary risks. Destructive fear, though, tends to focus on less tangible things. Fear of change. Fear of losing what we have. Fear of other people, particularly those who are different from us. Fear of the unknown. Such fears are the bedrock on which dictatorships are built. Fears have started wars, fuel prejudice and hatred, and are the root cause of much crime. In a fairly recent incident, a man was slowly driving his truck toward a demonstration and was approached by another man on foot carrying an AK47 rifle. He thought this man was threatening him, so he pulled out his own pistol and shot him, killing him on the spot. The one man was carrying a rifle because he feared for his safety, the man in the truck was carrying a pistol because he feared for his safety. The demonstrators are tired of living in fear for their lives at the hands of an unjust justice system, the police are afraid for their lives at the hands of an unruly mob. Fear feeds on fear and almost always results in violence. It destabilizes the ground under our feet, as if we were in a boat in a storm.
The disciples were already afraid because of the storm. The wind and the waves were preventing them from crossing the eight miles to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. They’d been trying to get across all night, and it was now the very dead of night, about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning. But when they saw Jesus approaching, their fear turned into panic. “They were terrified,” Matthew tells us. He seemed to them like a manifestation of the storm itself, an apparition rising from the wind and water. He added to their fear rather than dispelling it. Jesus came to them walking on the water, on top of the raging waves, against the powerful winds. He didn’t calm the water first in order to stroll along undisturbed, he walked in the midst of the storm, in the dead of the night, while it was at its worst.
This is not perhaps where we might look for Jesus. We look for him in church, in prayer, in the calm of ritual and meditation. We look for him in friendships, in consolations, in love and gratitude. When we are disturbed, when we are threatened, when we are afraid, we tend to look to ourselves – how do we get out of this one? We do not look to find Jesus in the very center of the pandemic, in the midst of the demonstrations. Yet we can be sure he is there. I mean, we know this intellectually, sure Jesus is everywhere, particularly in trouble, Scripture tells us this, we know lots of stories that tell us this, but we may not trust it entirely, especially at first, when the trouble happens to us. Our first reaction to fear is inevitably fight, flight or freeze, and Jesus asks us to counter all of these natural reactions. So we may see Jesus as an obstacle, or, more likely, we might look right through him as if he wasn’t there.
Elijah also sees God in an unlikely place. From his hiding place in a cave, he is waiting for God to manifest. A mighty wind cracks mountains, an earthquake shakes the ground, and a fire ravages the forest, all obvious signs of divine activity. But God is not in any of them. Instead, God is in the still, small voice, the “tiny whispering sound,” in our translation. Elijah had to be attentive, to be really listening, to hear it. God comes in unexpected ways, in this tiny whisper, and walking in the very midst of all our confusion and turmoil.
And what does Jesus tell us? “Do not be afraid.” He asks us to give up our fear. Peter wants to walk on the water too, and Jesus surprisingly agrees. And what is more astonishing, he actually does walk on water. Peter has the ability to walk on water. At least for a moment. Then fear returns, and he begins to sink. Notice that he doesn’t just plop into the water as he might if he just stepped out of the boat on an ordinary day. No, he sinks slowly enough that he has time to cry out to Jesus for help and there is still time for Jesus to take his hand and catch him. It is faith that gives Peter the ability to walk on water, and fear that causes Peter to sink.
Across the world today, and particularly in the United States, fear is causing people to sink, to sink into despair, loneliness, and even violence. Jesus asks us to give up our fear. This is hard for us to do – we think our fear is keeping us safe. People are buying guns in record numbers out of fear, to keep themselves safe. But fear is its own biggest threat. Without fear, there is no need for violence, we don’t need to feel that we are in constant danger, our neighbours don’t turn into enemies, our brothers and sisters are not a threat. That’s not to say that bad things won’t happen to us, they most certainly will, but if we follow Jesus and give up our fear, we don’t even fear death, because we know that death is not the worst thing that can happen to us.
Fear is the opposite of love. Fear closes us off from others, love opens us up. Fear leads to mistrust and hatred, love leads to trust and faith. Fear leads to violence, love leads to peace. But we cannot give up our fear entirely on our own, just as we cannot know love entirely on our own. We must recognize our helplessness, recognize that on our own we can only sink, and call out to Jesus for help, and to reach out our hands so that Jesus us can catch us and take us back to solid ground.