Category Archives: Homilies and Talks

Homilies

Homily 19th Week in Ordinary Time, August 12, 2018. Fr. Michael.

+THE BREAD THAT I WILL GIVE IS MY FLESH        19TH Sunday (B) , 2018

John’s gospel on the Bread of Life has a way of completely engaging our lives, calling us into the mystery of the Incarnation it so faithfully upholds. This is a great scandal to the people of his time as it is to ours. Unless our lives as Christians reflect the very life of Jesus, can we hold that we truly have the faith, that we believe in the person of Jesus Christ around whom the whole our Christian lives are centered?

From the very beginning of our gospel this morning we see the people of his own time scandalized by the person standing in front of them. Jesus, saying that he is the bread that came down from heaven and therefore is of God, is immediately questioned. They know who his father and mother are so how could he possibly claim to belong to God, to be God’s special messenger? Jesus goes so far as to say that: “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.. I am the bread of life.” Anyone, he tells them, who claims to have a real relationship to God comes to him.

There is something wonderfully earthly about Jesus being the bread of life. It resonates with our first reading from the book of Kings where Elijah is visited by an angel in his sleep and told twice to get up and eat. He’s told this, for his journey will be long, all of forty days and forty nights until he reaches Horeb and meets God. For us, Jesus is the “bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat of it and not die.. [Indeed] whoever eats this bread will live forever” for the bread that he gives “is his flesh for the life of the world.”

What does this mean for us, to eat this bread that has come down from heaven? St Paul helps us with this in the letter to the Ephesians. It is to become imitators of God as beloved children and live in love even as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God. To eat this bread, is to have our innermost being transformed into Christ, to let ourselves to become “kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven [us] in Christ.”

To eat this bread is not so much to transform it into our bodies but to allow it to transform our bodies into becoming his, free of all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling, free from all malice. As often as we do this, our very own lives become bread that is taken into Jesus own hands, broken and given to all in need. And don’t we experience this again and again in our own personal lives with loved ones, whether in family or community. If we look carefully at our lives, what is it that gives them the most meaning, makes us creative and initiating, leaving us with a lasting happiness. It is precisely our loving relationships, as often as we experience the selfless love of others, or care for them in a selfless and loving way.

Each one of us has been destined to share in the Trinitarian life of God, going out of ourselves as a selfless gift to the other. This is taking place as often as we eat this Bread from heaven, as often as we allow the Christ life that has been given us at Baptism, to grow and mature in our daily relationships with one another. To do this is to have our lives become one with the Bread of life consecrated at this altar, one with Him who is the Life of the world.  Amen 

 

Reflection at Eucharist, Fr. Michael Casagram 7/24/18

+(Micah 7:14-15, 18-20) At the heart of any of our Christian lives is our relationship to Christ Jesus. Our gospel shows us just how close Christ wants this relationship to be, one that makes each and all of us his very brother, sister or mother. The context of this episode in Christ’s life can give the impression that Mary is being turned away or looked down upon but it is really revealing what her true greatness is as one who not only gave him birth but one who gave her life entirely over to God.

As we truly seek to do the will of the Father in our own lives, we share in her very motherhood, become the very brothers and sisters of Christ, live in the closest communion with him. Dare we take his words seriously so as to realize the full potential of our lives?

We see how this happened in the life of St Sharbel,  whom we remember today in a special way. By simply living in his monastic community for 15 years and then as a hermit for 23 years his life he sought to do the Father’s will in everything. Many came to him in his solitude for spiritual direction and healing. After his death in 1898, thousands came to his tomb for healing of body and spirit, as many as 15,000 a day in 1950. Just so does Christ seek to become fully alive in each of our lives as we surrender to God’s will for us.

Homily by Deacon Lawrence for Sunday July 22

We live in a divided world. There seem to be two camps in just about everything, politics, religion, social media and so forth. Sometimes these are labelled, right and left, liberal and conservative, socialist and capitalist, idealist and fundamentalist. Few of us can avoid these categories; we may even wholeheartedly define ourselves by such labels. But mainly we use them to define and dismiss those who disagree with us. The word “liberal” in the mouth of a “conservative” is an insult, and vice versa. Nothing more needs to be said about a person. One word says it all. How can we overcome these divisions in our countries, in our communities and in our families? Only through the example of Jesus.

The divisions in the world reflect divisions within us. It seems to be the human condition that we are not entirely whole, that there are two sides or more to us. St. Paul tells us in Galatians [5:17] that the flesh is opposed to the spirit, so that we cannot do what we want to do. That does not mean that the body is bad and the soul is good, it just means that we often have contradictory impulses inside ourselves, and very little we do is done with a whole heart.

Ephesians tells us that Jesus reconciles those who are near and those who are far off. In a literal interpretation, this probably refers to the Jews and the Gentiles. Jesus’ message is for both, and makes the two into one, one community of Christians. But we may also look at this passage as more personal. Jesus makes divisions between people into one but he also makes the divisions inside us into one. Our contradictory impulses are reconciled through him. He makes two into one, both in him and in us. How can he do this? Through his example.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus offering his disciples a respite from the work they have been doing, evangelizing and healing throughout the towns of Galilee. But when they arrive at what they expected to be a deserted place, it is already full of people. How might we react if we were in the place of Jesus or his disciples, expecting solitude and finding crowds of needy people instead? I can only speak for myself here, but you may recognize one or more of these reactions. There are at least three ways that I can think of.

First, we might simply be annoyed. We are trying to get away from these crowds and have a little well-earned peace and quiet. Jesus himself promised us. We deserve at least that much for all the good work we’ve been doing. Mark tells us that the disciples haven’t even had enough time to themselves to sit down and have a proper meal. They’ve been travelling around with no provisions at all, teaching and healing these people. Can’t they see we are tired? We may be tempted just to turn around and leave, or tell all these people to go home and stop bothering us for a day or two. We might be tired and annoyed.

There is a second way we could react. We might be flattered. So many people have come out just to see us. We have been doing a lot of good, and folks appreciate it. We must have been doing something right. In our old lives, very few people cared about us one way or another, and here great crowds are acclaiming us as miracle workers, and wanting to be near us. We might take their presence personally, as if we are now special people.

There is a third way, too. Although we are tired and really want some time for ourselves, we stay and tend to the people there. But secretly we hope that someone is paying attention, and noticing just how kind and generous we are. We don’t necessarily do these good things only to win approval, but if we do get other people’s good opinion as a kind of side effect, that’s fine. Our impulse is to do something good, but we also hope to gain something for ourselves at the same time. This doesn’t mean that we are bad people, it just means that we have contradictory impulses working in us at all times.

As I say, I can only speak for myself, but these are three ways I might react to such a situation. I know this because I actually have reacted in these ways to various circumstances in my own life. These reactions are at least partially grounded in my self-interest. I am tired. I am flattered. I want to be noticed for the good things I do. How can I overcome my internal divisions and self-absorption? Only through the example of Jesus.

Let’s look closely at how Jesus reacts. What example is he giving us to follow? You might have already guessed that he doesn’t react in any of the three ways above, with annoyance, feeling flattered, or for the good opinion of others. Instead he does something extraordinary. He sees these people. To him they are not there to bother him, or because of who he is or something he has done, or that he might do more good in order to gain more fame. They are not objects to him, they are people. He sees that they are there because they are lost. They are there because they are broken. They are there because they have a hunger in their hearts for love. He will not reject them or use them for his purposes. He has no need to do this. He is not divided inside, like us. He is whole. It says in the Gospel, “his heart was moved with pity.” The original Greek can be translated “pity,” but also as “compassion.” He was moved with compassion, right here, deep inside.

Jesus is truly moved by these people. He wants to understand them, he welcomes their problems and difficulties, their wounds and illnesses. He wants to care for them, to be their shepherd, all of them. He doesn’t ask what their political leanings are, he doesn’t ask if they are conservative or liberal Jews. He loves them all.

How can we overcome seemingly unbreachable divisions in our countries, in our communities, in our families and in our own hearts? Through Jesus’ example. Jesus does not judge on the basis of the labels we apply to ourselves and others. He is willing to listen to the true longings of each individual’s heart. He can see past our posturing, our squabbling, our self-absorption and reach and touch our true longing.

Real community means living with others who do not agree with us. We not only accept them, but honour their differences. We may argue, we may be short-tempered, we may even be dismissive at times, but deep down we understand that we don’t hold the exclusive rights to truth, that God alone is the final judge. In Christ, our divisions cease to matter so much. In Christ, labels fade to nonsense. In Christ, love triumphs over judgement. In Christ, we are shepherds of one another. In Christ, we are one person.

July 23, 2018: Fr. Anton

Reflections by Fr. Anton at Eucharist: July 23, 2018

Introit: O Lord, you have given everything its place in the world – and no one can make it otherwise! It is your creation – the heavens, the earth, and all they contain – You are the Lord of all!

My brothers and sisters, the poet Paul Claudel has famously said:
“God draws straight with crooked lines.”

Let us now say we’re sorry,
and ask God to draw in His one-and-only way with the lines of our lives.
I confess, etc…

The Gospel Matt 12:38-42
Some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Jesus,
“Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
He said to them in reply,
“An evil and unfaithful generation seeks a sign,
but no sign will be given it
except the sign of Jonah the prophet.
Just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale three days and three nights,
so will the Son of Man be in the heart of the earth
three days and three nights.
At the judgment, the men of Nineveh will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah;
and there is something greater than Jonah here.
At the judgment the queen of the south will arise with this generation
and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth
to hear the wisdom of Solomon;
and there is something greater than Solomon here.”

After the Gospel:

‘Give us a sign that we can see,
that would prove what You claim to be.’
That sounds like most of us, we’re fascinated by spectacular events.
How many Christians look for signs like miracles, voices from heaven, bleeding stigmata. I still treasure Mary’s image on a rose petal, the one I received at Brother Carmelo’s healing service, seven years ago.
But Jesus points us in a different direction, away from spectacular signs.
He has only one sign to give us – Himself after the Resurrection.
The Resurrection is not only His – it’s a gift He offers us … our own Resurrection… the gift of eternal life.
When we finally come to believe that Jesus loves us enough to give us that gift, it will involve a huge change of mind and heart,
a new way of seeing and feeling about Jesus, ourselves and others.
It’ll be a complete make-over.
Maybe that’s what St Paul means in Philippians, ‘I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse… that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection.’
It’s not that he doesn’t know the power of Jesus’ resurrection, of course he does… through personal revelations.
Rather he’s saying: ‘I want to know everything there is to know about the power of the resurrection. I want to experience it and have it change my life. I want God to transform me, take me out of the power of sin where death is, to the power of life, where righteousness is, so that I become a completely new person.’
The sign of the resurrection, greater than the sign of Jonah, that’s the sign the Lord Jesus promised to this generation.
It’s the sign of changed lives.
That’s what the power of the resurrection is all about.
So we have the courage to pray, “Yes, Lord, I will accept your gift, and I will work for it! I will suffer the loss of all things, count them as refuse… that I may know Jesus, and the power of His resurrection. Amen.”

Fr. Carlos’ homily for 7/15/18 – Living in the Light of the Coming of the Kingdom

In Jesus’ time in Palestine, people had five articles of clothing:  the long inner tunic, the outer cloak, the cincture or belt, the sandals and the oriental headdress.  In the gospel today we must remember that Mark has been emphasizing the signs of the coming of the Messiah and therefore also the end time.  In the context of the Messiah’s coming and His Kingdom, there is a sense of urgency that Jesus wants his disciples to understand.  With the coming of the Messiah and His kingdom they will have no need for anything.   In His kingdom they will not need anything.   So they should not worry about what they should bring. The most important thing is to tell the people to change their ways, to repent, to devote themselves to entering the kingdom and not to concern themselves with things in the world that will soon end.   Jesus even tells them not to discuss but simply preach the good news and if people do not believe them they should shake of the dust off their sandals.   This does not sound like Jesus who came to call sinners to save them, the Jesus who did not want sinners to die.  Remember however Mark is describing the end time where the last chance is to be given to everyone.

We may not be  missionaries but as Christians we are living in the end time.  Monks renounced everything from the world, we live an obedient life and we live in simplicity.  We support each other in life materially and spiritually.   This means we are people waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God.  If we have really have this spirit of urgency then the result would be a happy life for us.  But if we worry too much about ourselves, about how important our opinions should be, about our self importance, about our families and friends and so many other things that can occupy our minds, then it is a sign we are not waiting for the coming of the kingdom.  We wish to build a kingdom here on earth according to human designs.  We still are worrying about our kingdom here on earth.  We rely on the leadership of one person, on this or that party, the strength of our armed forces etc.  We have an idea who belongs to our society and those who are not.   We are short sighted when it comes to things that matter and are lastingl

There is also a reason for not having unnecessary things.  It is to free us from worrying about these things  and if we are free from worries then we should lead happy lives.  Worries makes people sad.   Christian life should be lived in the light of the coming of the Kingdom.  However, this does not mean that Christians deny the reality of everyday life.  What the disciples are saying is to change our thinking which will change our way of life.  In short repentance.  To participate in peace making, to render justice in our life, to forgive, to make others feel wanted, not to exclude anyone from entering the kingdom.  After all to think that we could exclude anyone from the Kingdom is only in our mind.  God does the judging.  If we heed the message of evangelist then demons will driven out of our lives and society, and many sick will be cured.   One wonders  why many Christians  are not happy,  what they are worrying about.  Is there something really worthwhile to worry about besides the Kingdom of God?  One wonders  what they are waiting for?

Fr. Michael – Reflection at Eucharist 7/4/18

(Penitential rite) It is a day of celebration, a day for gratitude for the freedom and independence this nation experiences but it is also a day to be contrite for our national and personal failures to provide liberty and justice for all. the failure to resolve the tragic situation of immigration along our southern border, the racial tension and violence on city streets. So let us be mindful of our need.

______________________

(Scripture reflection) Our Declaration of Independence reminds us as a Nation that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It seems to me that today’s reading from the Prophet Amos is perfect for the occasion: “Seek good and not evil, that you may live; Then truly will the Lord, the God of hosts be with you as you claim!.. Let justice prevail at the gate.”  To live these values today as our ancestors did in their own time means facing the demons of our own culture and place as we see Jesus doing in the gospel today.  As we own them, we also come to realize that they can only be cast out by the finger of God.  And so we celebrate the mystery of God’s great love for us and ask for the grace to enter ever more into it as a people destined for freedom.

Amos 5:14-15, 21-24; Mt 8:28-34

Fr. Seamus homily for feast of Sts Peter and Paul

St Peter and Paul – 2018:  – Acts: 12:1-11; TIM 4;6-8, 17-18;
MT 16:13-19

Yesterday, June 28,  we celebrated the feast of St Irenaeus (ca 130 –
ca.200), bishop and martyr, one of the most important thinkers in the
early Christian Church. St Irenaeus calls the Church at Rome, “the
greatest and most ancient Church, founded by two glorious apostles, Peter
and Paul.” Peter and Paul are often mentioned in the same breath, and both are the principal patrons of Rome. The conversion of Paul is celebrated
January 25.

Yesterday, June 28, in a ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican,
Pope Francis, successor to St Peter created 14 new cardinals. During the
ceremony, Pope Francis said, “The only credible form of authority is born
of sitting at the feet of others in order to serve.”

During the ceremony, the Pope explained, “It is the authority that comes
from never forgetting that Jesus, before bowing his head on the cross, did
not hesitate to bow down and wash the feet of his disciples. None of us
must feel superior to anyone; none of us should look down at others from
above. The only time we can look at a person in this way is when we are
helping them to stand up.” The Pope said that Jesus’ statement to his
disciples that “whoever would be first among you must be slave of all”
should be the beatitude and the Magnificat that we are called to sing
daily. The church’s authority grows with this ability to defend the
dignity of others, to anoint them and to heal their wounds and their
frequently dashed hopes.”

The pope reflected in his homily on a portion of Mark’s Gospel where Jesus
walks ahead of the disciples as they journey to Jerusalem. “The evangelist
does not shrink from disclosing secrets present in the hearts of the
disciples as they journey to Jerusalem: their quest of honors, jealousy,
envy, intrigue, accommodation and compromise,” Francis said. “This kind of thinking not only wears and eats away at their relationship, but also
imprisons them in useless and petty discussions. Jesus teaches us that
conversion, change of heart and church reform is and ever shall be in a
missionary key, which demands an end to looking out for and protecting our own interests, becoming effective ‘roadblocks,’ whether because of our
shortsightedness or our useless wrangling about who is most important.”

There are now 125 Electors – cardinals under the age of 80 eligible to
vote in the next conclave to elect a new pope,  successor to St Peter.
_______________________________________________________

Relying on God – Reflection by Fr. Michael 6/26/18

+So often along our spiritual journeys, it is only when we realize that we are in a situation very much like that of king Hezekiah and the people of Israel that we really grow in a life of prayer, come to know what it is to truly rely on God. When we begin to see that we are far outnumbered by enemies within and without, in our own hearts and in the society around us, that we come to fully rely on God to save us.

It is then that the Lord sends his angel to strike down those forces that would overwhelm us. It is when we fully trust in God’s power and not our own that our prayer becomes authentic and is sure to be heard.

It seems to me that this is when we enter the narrow gate Jesus speaks of in our gospel, that leads to life. No longer relying on our own strength, we come to know the power of God. Learning humility, we come to know what it is to live by the grace of God. It is then that we are filled with God’s love, ready to do for others what we would have them do for us.

2 Kings 19:9b-11, 14-21,31-35a, 36  Mt 7:6,12-14

Homily by Br. Lawrence – Feast of Sacred Heart

Dear brothers and sisters, the Gospel of John, as we have just heard, describes the crucifixion and death of Jesus and the two criminals crucified with him in explicit detail. It is a sorry and miserable story. To imagine the agony of those men is impossible for us. The only point of a torture like this was to strike dread in those who would even think of committing a crime whose punishment was so drastic. It has no redeeming value otherwise. Except that we know what happens next in the story. Jesus rises from this awful death to appear to his disciples and promise them, and us, the very same resurrection.

But, while we might see how Christ’s death was necessary, as he himself had said many times during his ministry, was it necessary that it be so bloody and gruesome? It is so repulsive that we want to avert our eyes, to skip straight to the resurrection without stopping to sit under the cross and to consider what was happening in that very moment.

Let’s do that for a few minutes. Let’s just sit with the dead body of Jesus, not trying to run from it or jump to the happy ending we all know so well. Let’s stay under the cross with Mary and ponder what this pitiful body means to us.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us, “The origin and growth of the Church are symbolized by the blood and water which flowed from the open side of the crucified Jesus….As Eve was formed from the sleeping Adam’s side, so the Church was born from the pierced heart of Christ hanging dead on the cross.” (766)

The pierced heart of Christ. Although it was no longer beating, no longer alive, the blood and water that flowed from it provided the Church with its foundational sacraments – water for baptism and blood for the Eucharist. Baptism brings us into the Church, makes us part of the body of Christ, and the Eucharist sustains and renews us throughout our lives.

Even before the resurrection, then, the body of Christ was already overflowing with graces. The Church was founded on this dead body. His wounds were not merely signs of torture and death, but of life and grace. They are portals through which we are all baptized, sustained, and made members of this same body, our Church.

Gertrude of Helfta, the thirteenth century Cistercian nun, also known as St. Gertrude the Great, had this vision. She was speaking to Jesus and doubting that the promises he had made to her could possibly come true. To demonstrate his pledge, Jesus opened up the wound in his side, and put her hand inside his body, on his heart. Then he closed the wound over her hand. Christ’s heart is accessible to her through the wound in his side. Because of the wound, she can touch his heart, feel his love for her as a physical thing, beating, in her hand.

In today’s reading, Hosea speaks of God’s love for us as that of a mother holding her infant. This is possibly the most intimate love we can know from one human to another. But even a mother and her infant are separated by their bodies. Christ offers us an even more intimate love by opening his body to us. He invites us to enter into him through the very wounds which killed him.

In the sixty-first sermon on the Song of Songs, Bernard of Clairvaux talks about the cleft in the rock in which the beloved hides. He says that the rock is Christ, and the clefts are the wounds on Christ’s body. “Whatever is lacking in my own resources,” he says, “I appropriate for myself from the heart of the Lord, which overflows with mercy. And there is no lack of clefts by which they are poured out. They pierced his hands and his feet, they gored his side with a lance, and through these fissures I can suck honey from the rock and oil from the flinty stone….The secret of his heart is laid open through the clefts of his body; that mighty mystery of loving is laid open, laid open, too, the tender mercies of our God.”

The Song of Songs pictures the face and body of the beloved as a lush landscape, with bushels of wheat, towers, and flocks of sheep. Bernard here pictures the body of Christ as it hangs on the cross as a landscape, too, inside which we live and move. It is rich with oil and honey. Christ’s body is transformed from a broken, dead object to a fruitful land. The body is dead, but a source of grace.

So we sit under the cross and watch. Jesus’ body still hangs there, but we have seen that even when he is not alive, Jesus is life-giving. Blood and water become the foundation of the Church. The wounds that were the cause of his death become portals through which we can see, touch and even enter into the divine love. His body is transformed into a lush landscape, stretching beneath our feet, inviting us to explore the clefts made by instruments of torture and death, but filled with mercy and love, to enter and to live and be sustained there.

And where is this fruitful land? It is all around us. It is this ground, on which the monastery of Gethsemani stands, on which we are standing right now. This land, on which so many have lived and died, is Christ’s body. And in this fruitful land, where is Christ’s heart to be found? Ephesians tells us that Christ can dwell in our hearts, through faith. We find Christ’s heart in our own hearts and the hearts of others. Christ’s heart is in our brothers, our neighbours, our family members, in the stranger sitting beside us. It is the tender love of God for us, poured into us and overflowing in the form of our love for others. We have only to reach to the person next to us to touch the living heart of Christ.

 

Hospitality: A talk by Br. Lawrence to the LCG on 6/24/18

The Rule of Benedict devotes one of its longer chapters, chapter 53, to the reception of guests. But there are a couple of things in this chapter I would like to point out.

First, and most obviously, there is a chapter in the Rule completely devoted to hospitality. And as I say, it’s one of the longer chapters. It’s shorter than the big chapters, 4 and 7, but longer than most. In the top 10 anyway. There are all kinds of rituals laid down there which we no longer follow, such as the washing of the feet of the guests by the whole community. Can you imagine trying to do that when there were 240 monks here? Your retreat would be over before they were done. Also, the Abbot’s table is always with the guests. We can presume that this was not for the advantage of the abbot, better food or whatnot, but for the guests, to honour them. What this means is that guests are not an intrusion on the life of the monastery, but an integral part of it. Benedict says regarding guests, that “monasteries are never without them.” A monastery without guests, then, is not a complete monastery. And this has been true from the very beginning of monasticism.

Even in the desert, the monks had guests. St. Anthony famously fled further and further into the desert to escape the crowds which tended to congregate around him. One of the most extended discourses in the Life of Antony, by Athanasius, occurs during the visit of some philosophers. Cassian was a travelling guest when he collected his Conferences. Here’s a story from the Apophthegmata, the Sayings of the Desert Fathers. One of the eternal questions for the desert fathers and mothers was whether a monastic should set aside his or her regular practice, the normally Spartan diet, for the sake of guests. So, the story goes that it was the week before Easter, and all the monks had been ordered to fast. But some guests came to Abba Moses, so he cooked a meal for them. Some nosy neighbours noticed that there was smoke coming from his chimney, and since the fire wasn’t probably to warm anybody, they concluded he was cooking. They went to the elders of the community and told them about this. The elders said, “We’ll take care of this.” On Saturday, when Moses came in for the synaxis – explain a little? – they put him in front of everyone and told him, “Good for you, you broke the laws of men but obeyed the laws of God.” There are many other similar stories. Guests have always been a part of monasticism.

That’s the first point I wanted to make – that monks and nuns do not accept guests out of the goodness of their hearts, or tolerate them as a necessary evil (well…), but that guests are an integral part of monasticism and have always been.

The second point I wanted to make is obvious from the way Chapter 53 begins. “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” You can see this quote just outside the front door of this very retreat house. It is our intention to welcome everyone who comes here as Christ. We probably fall short many times, but you guys keep coming to give us more chances. But this chapter goes on to say the same thing twice more. In verse 7, it says, “By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them.” And just in case we haven’t gotten the point yet, in verse 15, again Benedict tells us, “Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received.”

So three times he reiterates the same point – that guests are to be received as Christ. I can’t think of another place where Benedict is so insistent on a point – ok, maybe about the evils of murmuring – but he is rarely so insistent. The guest as Christ, then, is central to Benedict’s theology, shall we say, of hospitality.

There’s a story you may have heard, and I’ll probably get this wrong because I’m just going from memory. A woman living by herself saw a vision of Jesus in a dream and he told her that he was going to visit her in person the next evening for dinner. Well, she was the sort of person who believed in dreams. So, the next day she bustled around – he didn’t give her much notice – went shopping, bought the best ingredients she could afford, and cooked up a storm. When she was done, and everything was ready, she went outside to wait at the door. An elderly man was walking down the street coughing, obviously sick. He came up to her and asked if she had anything she could spare to give him to eat. At first she was reluctant, because she was expecting Jesus, but thought that if she gave him the soup she had made, there would still be enough for the two of them. So she went inside, got the soup and gave it to the old man. She kept waiting. Then she spotted a beggar coming toward her, staggering, probably drunk. She thought, Oh, no. He came right up to her – he smelled really bad of B.O. and alcohol. He said, “Ma’am, I’m starving – I haven’t had anything to eat for two days, been on a bender. I hate to ask, but do you have anything you could spare?” Again the woman hesitated. After all, this guy had gotten himself into this pickle, it was his fault if he’d spent his money on booze instead of food. But she thought, ah, darn, I suppose I could give him the vegetable dish I’ve made – we’ll still have the main dish when Jesus gets here. So she went inside, got the nice vegetable dish she had made, with all the spices, and brought it out to the drunk guy. She kept waiting. It was getting late. Then a young woman came along carrying a baby. The young woman was very thin. The baby was crying. The woman said to herself, Watch, she’ll come right up to me. Sure enough, the young woman came up to her. She said, “Please Ma’am. I’m living on the streets with my little baby. I’ve got no husband and nowhere to go, and I don’t have any money to get food for either of us. Might you have something to spare?” The woman hesitated. That she had no husband meant that she had been rather loose, and probably her family had disowned her. Why was it her problem? But then she thought, Oh, well, it’s really late now. Something must have happened to keep Jesus away. And how would he get hold of me to tell me? I’d have to be dreaming for that to happen. So she brought the young mother inside, sat her down at the table and took out the roast lamb she had prepared and they ate it together. Then she warmed some milk for the baby. Finally she said, Look, it’s dark outside now. Why don’t you stay the night here? The young mother was very grateful, so the woman made up her own bed for the mother and her baby and went to sleep on the couch in the kitchen. She only had, like, the two rooms. So in the middle of the night, she woke up, and standing at the foot of the bed was Jesus, all bathed in light looking at her. She said, “Jesus! Now you show up! Where were you? I waited all evening! Well it’s too late now. I don’t have a scrap left to give you. And it serves you right. Showing up at this hour.” And Jesus said, “I did come to you this evening, three times, and three times you served me. And the last time, I brought my own mother with me, and you gave us both shelter.” And the woman could see the young mother then, standing at Jesus’ side.

So I tell you this story to illustrate something fundamental about thinking of guests as Christ. We might believe that we are receiving guests as if they were Christ, that is, we are behaving toward them as we imagine we should if they were Christ, but of course they really aren’t. You know the verse from Hebrews, “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” This gives the impression that every so often a guest might come along who is actually an angel in disguise. Or that Jesus may pop round disguised as a drunk, so we ought to be on our toes just in case. If we think this way, we are acting out of our own self-interest – what would we say if Jesus told us he had visited us and we did not feed or clothe or visit him. We’d be stuck over there with the goats. So we better watch our step.

We might think that this is what Chapter 53 in the Rule is telling us. Receive guests as if they were Christ. But I would challenge that. In the other two iterations of nearly the same words in this chapter, Benedict says, both times, that Christ IS received in the guest. We bow or prostrate to a guest, because “Christ is to be adored, because he IS welcomed in them.” And again, we welcome the poor since “in them more particularly Christ IS received.”

What does this mean then? You might remember St. Augustine, in the Confessions, saying to God, “You are more intimate to me than I am to myself.” God is not only around us, or above us, but inside us. This is all over the New Testament – how many times does John have Jesus describe the mutual indwelling he shares with the Father and the disciples? “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.” (14:20) “Remain in me as I remain in you.” (15:4) Just two examples. Paul says, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to bring to light the knowledge of the glory of God on the face of (Jesus) Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). I could go on, but you get the point.

What I would like to suggest is that this is not a metaphor. Christ actually does dwell in our hearts, literally. We can be more or less conscious of him there, but he is always there.  This means that he dwells in everyone’s heart. So when we welcome a guest as Christ, we are actually welcoming Christ, not in disguise, but in person.

This has ramifications beyond the guest – host relationship. I think that one of the great tragedies of modern culture is that the human being has been understood primarily as an individual. Particularly in the west, the idea of the self-made woman or man is pervasive. To stand on your own two feet is a great virtue. To fend for yourself, to stand up for yourself, to make your own way, to blaze your own path, all of these are familiar phrases which indicate the ubiquity of this idea. We are taught that we are responsible for our own success, or failure. As a result, many, many people feel isolated and alone. We can be surrounded by people at a party and feel lonely. We can walk down a street filled with other people and feel like we don’t belong. We can feel like an alien in the midst of our own family.

The truth is that we are primarily social creatures. You only have to look at a map to see that. We congregate. Generally, human beings are not found in isolated areas. It is in our nature to gather together into towns and cities. We were made by God to need other people. Augustine, again, once said that “Self-sufficiency is the greatest sin.” It is the sin of Satan – Satan did not want to need God. We should not be measured as individuals, but as communities. The community is our fundamental unit, not our selves. We are only truly human in the company of other humans. Certainly we are unique, every one of us, and we have specific talents and gifts, and flaws, that are unlike any other person’s on the planet. But these gifts are meant to be shared, these flaws are meant to be seen by others. This is how we practise compassion.

Bernard of Clairvaux, in the Steps of Humility and Pride, talks about the three degrees of truth. First, we must face the truth about ourselves. We are fundamentally broken and unable to fix ourselves. We are utterly dependant on God. Second, we understand the truth about others. They are in the same boat as we are. Our self-examination, which results in our utter helplessness, leads us not to despair, but to compassion for others. This is so important. Our journey inside leads us back outside. We are not stuck in ourselves, waiting eternally for an answer which just won’t come. Instead we look outside and see others as ourselves, all part of a bigger family, a bigger community, all struggling with the same things. I saw a movie once, called “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser,” a German movie (by Werner Herzog, if you happen to know him). In it a young man is found who had been kept all his life in a cellar, without any contact with other human beings. The movie shows his gradual awakening to the wonder and pain of human interaction. He dies at the end – spoiler alert – too late – but on his death bed relates a vision he had. He said that he was on a mountain toiling up a mountain, and around him were all kinds of other people, young, old, men, women, rich, poor, some alone, some in groups, all struggling to climb the mountain. And at the top of the mountain, he said, was death. That sounds a little depressing, but in essence what he had learned, in learning about himself, was compassion for others. We are in the same boat, or on the same mountain.

To get back to our point about Christ dwelling inside us, we see and treat each other as Christ not in the off-chance that the other person may be Christ or an angel in disguise, but because in the other person Christ is actually standing before us. And if Christ is in her, and Christ is in me, then we have a connection beyond our physical interaction. The Christ in her and the Christ in me are the same Christ, so we are both part of something larger. The Catholic church calls this the mystical body of Christ. It is well attested in the New Testament. Paul says several times that we are members of Christ’s body, “we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another” (Rom 12:5) and tells us not to be discouraged if we are an ordinary hand rather than a glamourous eye. The hand is no less useful to the body than the eye (1 Cor 12:13ff). We each have a place in Christ’s body. Again, we are unique and loved as individuals, but we are also part of something larger, and our gifts, our talents and even our weaknesses are not ours alone, but something to be shared.

I want to say something specifically about our weaknesses, as a side note. Our weaknesses are usually something we wish we didn’t have. We wish we could overcome them, and have probably tried to do so. In some few cases, we may even have been successful. But for the most part, our weaknesses remain. However, they are not to be dismissed as so undesirable. First, our weaknesses are what force us to recognize our dependence on God. Bernard’s first degree of truth depends on our weaknesses. Second our weaknesses and others’ are an opportunity for us to practise compassion. Some of you probably knew Fr. Matthew. He was my confessor. When I was a novice, I had an issue with another novice. I just didn’t like the guy. He irritated me beyond all bounds, and I tended to avoid him. When I brought this to Fr. Matthew he perked right up. “He’s your prince!” he said. “He’s going to teach you how to love.” We need people in our lives whom we would not have voluntarily chosen to be with, precisely in order to practise true charity. Someone once said that if we do not have any problem monks in the community, we’d have to go out and hire some. But that is the beauty of true community – the people we have to live with or associate with are not of our own choosing. And so we have the opportunity to try to see Christ in them as well. We don’t get to heaven as individuals, on our own, but as part of community, with the help of others.

Here’s a Cistercian story. A fellow was taking a tour of heaven. St. Peter was showing him all the sites, the mansions, the great choir of angels, and so on. But the guy noticed a big group of men and women camped outside the pearly gates. They seemed to be having a good time. Every so often, Mary would step outside the gates to have a chat and a glass of wine with them, before heading back in. The guy said, “Hey, who are those people outside the gates?” St. Peter said, “Oh, those are the Cistercians.” The guy said, “What are they doing outside the gates? Why don’t they come in?” St. Peter said, “Oh, they’re waiting until they’re all there.” We enter heaven, not as individuals, but as a community. I’d love to think that the brothers and sisters of the Cistercian family who have gone before me, particularly those I’ve known and loved here at Gethsemani, are waiting for me, the slowpoke, to make my way through however many levels of Purgatory to get up there with them.

So this is where Benedict’s teaching on hospitality has led us. We welcome guests not as if they were Christ, but because they are Christ. And because they are Christ, they are related to us, we who are also Christ. Our world is enlarged, we are no longer alone, there is no need to feel lonely, because our brothers and sisters are always around us, forming a larger body, the body of Christ, our great human family.

To find Christ, you do not need to meditate for hours, or study scripture for years, or go to some remote place for a retreat. All of these are good, of course, they help us to focus, they refresh us, and they inform us. But to find Christ, all we have to do is look at the person sitting next to us.