Category Archives: Homilies and Talks

Homilies

Homily – Fr. Lawrence – Do Not Be Afraid

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.

Fr. Michael Casagram – Contemplative Life in the World 7/22/20

+CONTEMPLATIVE LIFE IN THE WORLD                         22 July Presentation to LCG

Merton begins with comment about the “rigidly institutional character of the monastic life today.” This was true in his time when there was a book of regulations that governed the monks life and which the superiors were expected to maintain. This is no longer the case since from about the time Merton wrote about this rigid institutional character of monastic life, there has been a movement within the Order, furthered by Merton’s writings, that moved away from this kind of rigidity.

There was a rigidity in the whole of the Catholic Church at the time and one could say that the Second Vatican Council worked to unmask this rigidity and to get Catholic and Christians everywhere to build their lives more on the truths of the Gospels than on Church regulations. Instances of these in the Catholic Church were fasting from all food and drink from midnight if one was going to receive the Eucharist at Mass or never to attend a Church service at other than Catholic places of worship, Catholics not being allowed to eat meat on all Fridays of the year etc. When reading the gospel one cannot help but notice the times Jesus was accused of breaking the Law, not observing the Sabbath etc.

Merton gets into the “tug of war” that many experience between living in the world and living for God. “The monk has his sacrifices and his rule: but the rule of the world, its exacting demands, its inexorable pressures to conform, is clearly much harder than that.” As I can assure each and all of you, monastic life also has its “exacting demands” if one is going to be faithful to the schedule and the Divine Office for instance, but your life, especially in a consumer and throw-away culture can become far more demanding and I think Merton is trying to make us realize.

Because of the world we live in, the conflicts one faces in society are not absent in our monasteries. Merton offers lay persons a twofold solution to this problem:

“First, he must as far as possible reduce the conflict and frustration in his life by cutting down his contact with the ‘world’ and his secular subjections. This means reducing his needs for pleasure, comfort, recreation, prestige, and success and embracing a life of true spiritual poverty and detachment. Second, he must learn to put up with the inevitable conflicts that remain—the noise, the agitation, the crowding, the lack of time, and above all the constant contact with a purely secular mentality which is all around us everywhere and at all times, even to some extent in monasteries.”

Fr Louis gives some real insight into the world we live in, the complexity that is a part of our lives whether in the secular society or within a monastery. One assumes the monk has little or no contact with the world but technology has changed all this. With our use of internet, we too have access to all that is going on in the world today and while there is no harm being mindful of the needs of society, to become preoccupied with them is another matter and whether you are a person in the world seeking a more contemplative life or in a monastery, we need to be real honest about what occupies our time and absorbs our energy.

We need to be truly discerning in our lives if we want to be truly contemplative persons. One does have to remember that what I have sent you from Merton’s Inner Experience was written back in the later 1950’s or early 60’s. There have been some real changes in society since then and in some ways I do think members of the LCG have a better chance of being true to the contemplative life than Merton saw possible in his own time. Merton writes for instance that “even for those best endowed and prepared, the ordinary conditions of urban life today are so inimical to spirituality that they will have to keep up a ceaseless struggle if they are to enjoy even the most elementary kind of interior life.” My experience of some of your lives tells me this is less the case today, that your lives, if carefully thought about, can be conducive to living a contemplative way of life.

I don’t deny for a moment that as Merton goes on to write: “Only the exceptional man or woman, left to himself, will be able… to keep himself or herself free from the collective pressures and dictates which keep him or her in subjection to the spirit of the world and render him insensitive to the Spirit of God.” But I can assure you that monks too, struggle with these kinds of pressures. What is so important is that we be spiritually formed “in order to protect and foster something of an elementary contemplative spirituality.”

Merton then writes that:

“It is strange that contemplative monasteries are content simply to receive individuals as retreatants, encourage them to receive frequent Communion and make the Way of the Cross, but do not do more to form groups of men [and women] who could help and support one another. One thinks, for instance, of a kind of contemplative Third Order, connected with the Cistercians or the Carthusians. But as soon as you start thinking in terms of organizations, the issue becomes extremely confused. Such groups do not need to be organized. They simply need to form themselves, under the guidance and encouragement of priests who are already interested in contemplation.”

I feel this is exactly what the LCG has done through its founders. You all have taken the initiative and as you progress I trust you will continue to do this so that what you have organized and is so beautifully expressed in your Lay Cistercian Experience Project (though still going through revision), serves exactly what Merton saw as so important for our world today. You have realized his prophetic vision. He goes on to say:

“These groups could provide their members with books, conferences, direction, and perhaps a quiet place in the country where they could go for a few days of meditation and prayer. Here a little originality and initiative might be encouraged. Christian laypeople are often too passively dependent on the spiritual initiatives of their clergy and tend to think that there is no form of spiritual retreat other than the conventional meetings, with routine exercises, held in monasteries.”

Clearly you all have moved beyond what Merton feared of you being overly dependent on places of retreat. Being creative among yourselves will be a great means of realizing your calling as contemplatives. The resources are there, it is for you to make the best use of them, allowing the Holy Spirit to move freely among your group and intergroup sharing. I love Merton’s encouraging you “to ask the Lord to awaken your creative freedom, and consider some of the following possibilities:”

1) Moving to a place where you have time to think, live simply or poorly, close to the land. Merton actually gets into some of this own experiences at Gethsemani when he talks about being a “forest ranger or lighthouse keeper.” He loved to do this kind of thing on Gethsemani’s property. A Fire tower on the property is said have been his first attempt at hermit living. It is where watchmen would come to watch for fires in our area that might get started especially during the hot summer months.

2) Making to best of your day wherever you may be, especially the small hours of the morning. One can enjoy the early morning dawn that “is by its nature a peaceful, mysterious, and contemplative time of day—a time when one naturally pauses and looks with awe at the eastern sky. It is a time of new life, new beginning, and therefore important to the spiritual life: for the spiritual life is nothing else but a perpetual interior renewal.” These words are a wonderful description of the interior life. I know from my own experience that each day, each moment of the day is a divine gift, enabling us to allow Christ to live continually in our hearts so as to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit. More and more I have come to love the words of Jesus in John’s gospel where he says that “without me you can do nothing.“ Each moment we walk in love, is the working of grace in our hearts.

3) We are to keep holy the Sundays in our life. As Merton describes it:

“We stop working and rushing about on Sunday not only in order to rest up and start over again on Monday, but in order to collect our wits and realize the relative meaninglessness of the secular business which fills the other six days of the week, and taste the satisfaction of a peace which surpasses understanding and which is given us by Christ. Sunday reminds us of the peace that should filter through the whole week when our work is properly oriented.”

What a beautiful description of what Sunday can mean for us as a time to “taste the satisfaction of a peace which surpasses understanding and which is given us by Christ.” We are all easily caught up in the busyness of our world, the secular business of our lives. To let the joy of Christ’s resurrection penetrate our inmost selves is what makes us contemplatives, enables us to know firsthand the life that is to come even while we live in this distracted world.

I think this is why Merton used to encourage monks to go for a long walk on Sundays and not even take a book with them. He wanted them to experience God’s presence in nature all around them, experience what it is to simply be out among the created world around them. I know I can easily get into writing letters or notes to friends, into prep for the week to come. To make up for it, I do love to spend time with the bees, letting myself experience the wonder of their creative energy.

4) There is a discipline involved in being free for God on Sunday, making good use of the early hours of the day or just living simply. Along this line Merton would have LCG members give:

“Acceptance of the fact that he or she is not a monk and, consequently, of the fact that his prayer life must be correspondingly humble and poor. Active virtue and good works play a large part in the ‘contemplative’ life that is led in the world, and the uncloistered person of prayer is most likely to be what we have called a ‘masked contemplative.’ It will only do him harm if, tormented by his thirst for a clearer and higher experience, he tries to force the issue and advance his ‘degree of prayer’ by violent and ill-considered efforts.

I must admit that my own interest in what has come to be known as the Lay Contemplative sprang from Merton’s talk and writing about “masked Contemplatives.” What I have experienced from my contact with many of you is that you cannot confine the work of God in our world. We need cloistered monks and nuns but the grace of contemplative prayer is in no way limited to their way of life. From the earliest days of the life of the Church, the ideal way of living the Christian life was both active and contemplative. The greatest witnesses to our faith were women and men who combined a deep life of prayer with active ministry for the people of God. In either mode of living an honest discipline is necessary for their becoming fruitful and effective. Discipline is built right into your lives as Merton clearly reminds us when he says:

“The discipline of the contemplative in the world is first of all the discipline of fidelity to his or her duty of state—to his or her obligations as head of a family, as a member of a profession, as a citizen. This discipline, these duties can demand very great sacrifices. Perhaps, indeed, some of the difficulties of people in the world exact of them far greater sacrifice than they would find in the cloister… Their contemplative life will be deepened and elevated by the depth of their understanding of their duties.”

Merton is saying something here that is of immense value for anyone aspiring to live a contemplative life. Contemplative awareness or prayer is something that is build right into whatever way of life we may be living as honest human beings. If we are true to ourselves in the circumstances in which we find ourselves we will experience the nearness of the Divine Presence. Letting it guide us, makes us the children of God were destined to be. To simply own our need for God, our need for divine accompaniment is to realize our deepest selves and what it is to be God’s very own sons and daughters. This means facing our own limits, knowing the truth of Christ’s words that without him we can do nothing of any lasting value. Or as Merton says it so well: “One must penetrate the inner meaning of his or her life in Christ and see the full significance of its demands. One must carry out his or her obligations not as a question of form, but with a real, personal decision to offer the good he or she does to God, in and through Christ.”

5) Finally Merton points out that for the married contemplative:

“It is by his or her marriage that one bears witness to Christ’s love for the world, and in their marriage that they experience that love… The union of man and wife in nuptial love is a sacred and symbolic act, the very nature of which signifies the mystery of the union of God and man in Christ. Now this mystery is the very heart and substance of contemplation. Hence, married love is a kind of material and symbolic expression of man’s desire for God and God’s desire for man. It is a blind, simple, groping way of expressing man’s need to be utterly and completely one.

One can hardly find a more beautiful expression of what lies and the very heart of the Contemplative experience, to see that “the union of man and wife in nuptial love is a sacred and symbolic act, the very nature of which signifies the mystery of the union of God and man in Christ.” What we as contemplatives are seeking is living into this mystery of God united to our humanity in Christ. “Christ has married human nature,” Merton goes on to say, “united man and God in Himself, in one Person. In Christ, the completeness we were born for is realized. In Him there is no longer marrying or giving in marriage. But in Him all are one in the perfection of charity.”

This seems to me the perfect note on which to end. As I have said early please feel free to ask anything or question anything I have shared. Thank you for your time and attention.  Amen

Homily – Fr. Anton – Weeds and Wheat – 7/19/20

Subject: SUNDAY July 19 2020 16TH SUNDAY in Ordinary Time
The Gospel  Matthew 13:24-43
Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field.
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off.
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well.
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field?
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them.
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning;
but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
He proposed another parable to them.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the ‘birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.’”
He spoke to them another parable.
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast
that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour
until the whole batch was leavened.”
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables.
He spoke to them only in parables,
to fulfill what had been said through the prophet:
I will open my mouth in parables,
I will announce what has lain hidden from the foundation
of the world.
Then, dismissing the crowds, he went into the house.
His disciples approached him and said,
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”
He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,
the field is the world, the good seed the children of the kingdom.
The weeds are the children of the evil one,
and the enemy who sows them is the devil.
The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.
Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire,
so will it be at the end of the age.
The Son of Man will send his angels,
and they will collect out of his kingdom
all who cause others to sin and all evildoers.
They will throw them into the fiery furnace,
where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Then the righteous will shine like the sun
in the kingdom of their Father.
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
After the Gospel:
It was such a frustrating parable!
The easy part was   “An enemy has done this!”
because of the usual village quarrels
where a man ended  up having  his crops burnt,                 
his olive tree cut down,                     
  his well  poisoned with a rotting carcass …           
all under cover of darkness by the enemy…
or a good field … sabotaged…
not just an annoyance,   a hazard  … especially if the weed were darnel, 
called “poison darnel,” because it carries a fungus that spoils the flour
    when it’s ground together with wheat,     causes nausea and vomiting when eaten,
also called   “wheat’s evil twin,” because it looks so much like wheat until maturity.
What puzzled them was:  “Let both of them grow together until the harvest!”       
Even His explanation  was frustrating!       
It was a picture of  God’s Kingdom!  He said.
God Himself has a field – the whole human race –      
in which  a divine purpose is being worked out.
In his field, people who do God’s will       live side by side
    with people who do the work of the evil one, the confuser of  minds and hearts.
The angels will collect the harvest at the close of the age,
in a separation  that deals with lawlessness and unrighteousness.
Until then, it’s God’s field.  Let Him  sort it!
Let God guide the history of  mankind to the end that fulfills His aim.
For his servants to go trampling through it, could even be dangerous,
tearing up good wheat along with those they thought were weeds;
they could harm, even destroy, good plants in an effort to weed out the bad,
they could prevent good crops from becoming mature  and eventually bearing fruit.
Until the harvest, have  confidence that God knows how human history is proceeding, 
      how the Church is proceeding,
how  wheat and weeds are growing side by side,
how his rain falls  on the virtuous and on the wicked,
his sun  rises on the good and on the evil. 
He knows that His kingdom is like a dragnet cast into the sea,  which  catches fish of every kind,
good fish sorted into containers,  the bad thrown  away.…
He knows there are both wise maidens and foolish ones in His  kingdom,
and a dishonest steward  —
     praised by his master for shrewdness and industriousness in saving himself…
and one son who said “Yes, I’ll do it!”  but didn’t … 
    along with his brother who said, “NO!  I won’t do it!”  but did …
In His kingdom you’ll find  a  Good Samaritan  who is a  hero,
even though he was an  unclean , forbidden type …
    because  Jesus himself associated with the unclean, the outcast.
And there’s a Prodigal,  who ran away,  went well astray from his father,
lived a misspent life,  and when he had noplace else to go,
heard deep down in his heart his father’s voice: 
      ‘Return as far as you can, and I will come the rest of the way to meet  you.’
And Feasts.  There are always Feasts in His  Kingdom,    notes  of joy  celebrating Repentance.     
In fact, Jesus said his Spouse, the Church,
was like a king  who gave a great wedding feast for his son,
but when the invited guests didn’t come,
the king sent servants out to the highways,
to bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame,
to compel people to come in, so that his house would be filled.
To compel everyone … as many as they could find … both bad and good … so that his house would be filled.
Frustrating  or  complex it may seem,  that’s how Jesus describes  His kingdom, His field,
His Church, as He assures  us:  God  knows what He is doing  and remains in control.
Let them grow together, Jesus says, three things for sure:
First:      Evil will be destroyed.
Second:  A judgement will come, as much as we don’t like to hear that word …     because judgement implies laws, right and wrong.
Even though  we’d like to be judge and jury,
we only see the outside, we  can’t  see the inside or know the heart … 
    So the judgement will be God’s domain, not man’s.  
Third: Don’t bet on when, because the judgement  won’t  come  yet … it’ll be in God’s time. 
Meanwhile, it’s a bad miscalculation to think   people who do God’s will
    bow down and keep silent.
On the contrary, the Sacrament of Confirmation has commissioned us,
    just like the Apostles, to a balancing act of action and prayer,
commands us  to keep on growing and being nurtured,  
keep on  bearing  good fruit,  bearing witness to what is good and true in our lives…
It empowers  us  with  voices of truth and justice …
commits   us to speak out, to name evil,  meaning, we can’t  keep silent.
–  we can’t be complicit and just stand by….
We’ve been given  the will to fight evil,
    and given the greatest tool of all to strengthen our action : Prayer! 
Look what happened a week and a half ago…
After seven years of unending court battles to save their ministry,
seven years of being threatened  millions of dollars in fines as they served the elderly and dying,
seven years of being in the news, standing on courthouse steps in their black habits and grey veils,
       the Little Sisters of the Poor finally got protection.
The nuns who all along said: “More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.”
The nuns who, like St Augustine, believed that weeds could change,
who  prayed for  God’s limitless grace to  work in the world, so weeds could actually change and become wheat! 
When the angels come back, carrying their sheaves,
may there be much singing and rejoicing,
because of the marvels the Lord worked for us,
because of all the weeds who became wheat before the harvest!

Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram – Our Lady of Mount Carmel 7/16/20

+ (Penitential rite) The memorial this morning of Our Lady of Mount Carmel is largely a Carmelite feast, the Order that goes back to the late 12th century and the first Carmelite hermits living on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land. Our first reading from Isaiah compares acceptance of our sinfulness and that of others to a woman giving birth, writhing in labor pain. So let us be mindful of our sins.

(After the Gospel)  St. Teresa of Avila called Carmel “the Order of the Virgin.” St John of the Cross credited Mary with saving him from drowning as a child, leading him to join the Carmelite Order. St Therese of the Child Jesus believed that Mary cured her from an early illness that endangered her life and spoke of Mary frequently during her final sickness.

Our gospel is especially fitting for this memorial of Mary. Peoples everywhere are burdened with all that is going on because of the pandemic. There is a lot we do not know about the life of Mary, faced as she was with the rejection of her Son by her own people. As the spread of the corona virus is taking place, many are ignoring basic requirements for staying healthy. Christ’s invitation to learn of him for he is meek and humble of heart is more relevant than ever before. Only then will we find the rest we seek and know firsthand that his yoke is easy and his burden light. The promise of Isaiah will become true: O Lord you mete out peace to us, for it is you who have accomplished all we have done.”

Is.26:7-9, 12, 16-19; Mt. 11:28-30

Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram – All Creation is Growing – 7/12/20

ALL CREATION IS GROWNING                                             15th Sunday (A) 2020

Our Scripture readings this morning have a way of grounding us like few others. Jesus is inviting us to become rich soil that produces fruit, a hundred or sixty of thirtyfold. One may say that our whole gospel text is asking each and all of us what kind of ground we want to be. Everything depends on how receptive we are, if God’s living word is going to take root and bear fruit.

We have just celebrated the Solemnity of St Benedict. His Rule is all about preparing the ground of our hearts to receive God’s word that each of us and our community may be abundantly fruitful. When Benedict opens his Rule with “Obsculta,” “Listen,” he immediately adds “incline the ear of your heart.” It is never enough to hear with our ears if we do not incline our hearts, our whole being to whatever God may be saying in our lives. What a beautiful call it is to commune with the living God in the depths of our being.

To incline the ear of our hearts to God’s word is to receive it with understanding. To stay with it, whenever tribulation or persecution arise because of it, to remain free of worldly anxiety and riches that will choke it all too easily, allows our lives to become not only fruitful and deeply satisfying. We are to be “Hearers of the Word” in our innermost selves as Karl Raher loved to call Christians. What a gift it is to be exposed to the Word of God all day long in our way of life.

Becoming fertile for God’s Word involves the whole of our lives as St Paul reminds  us in our second reading, telling us that “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” All of creation “awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God. Especially as we get older we look forward to the resurrection of our bodies but as St Paul beautifully reminds us, this is true of all creation.

More than ever we have become aware that if creation is going to “be set free from the slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God,” then we must be willing to be honest about what creation is telling us in our own time. More than ever in human history, we are seeing how creation has become “subject to futility.”

Climate change has become a global emergency. In the last four years we have seen record breaking storms, devastating fires and historic floods. Besides what is happening because of the pandemic, urban and rural communities alike have suffered huge economic losses because of these natural disasters. Even as I speak, many homes and businesses along the east coast are suffering heavy damage from the tropical storm Fay, the earliest such storm on record for this season. In our day millions of Americans are being denied access to clean, safe drinking water and even the most basic wastewater infrastructure.

More than ever it has become crucial for life on our planet that we become true Hearers of the Word, let it lead us along the paths of truth and love. The Eucharist is a daily reminder of what Christ desires to take place in our world as the very substance of bread and wine are transformed into his very own Body and Blood now gloried at the right hand of the Father. Here at this altar the word of the living God bears the perfect fruit for which it has been destined.

(Is. 55:10-11; Rom. 8:18-23; Mt. 13: 1-23)

Homily – Fr. Michael Casagram – July 4, 2020

(Am: 9:11-15; Mt 9:14-17)

“You put new wine in fresh skins, then both are preserved” Jesus tell us in our gospel  this 4th of July weekend. And in our first reading from the prophet Amos we heard how Yahweh shall plant his people “in their own country and they shall never again be rooted up from the land which I have given them.” Though taken from ordinary time, these readings are entirely fitting for today’s holiday. If we are true to what the original authors of the Declaration of Independence tell us, we will indeed be new wine in fresh skins and will never to be rooted up from the land which has been given us.

The pandemic our country and the whole world is experiencing and the way we are having to face the reality of racism in this country and elsewhere, are clear reminders of the wisdom of the founders of this land. They told us of the self-evident truth that all human beings are created equal, are endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights. More than ever the demands of our time are calling us to truly live as brothers and sisters created equal and made in the very image and likeness of God. It is simply a matter of seeing every living person as a member of Christ’s Body. It is this Body we are about to receive at this Altar, under the appearance of bread made of ground grain and wine made from many grapes. If we feel pressed or ground at times, let us not be surprised how we too are drawn into Christ’s redeeming love.

Homily for 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Sisters of Loretto)

HOMILY FOR FOURTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME

July 5, 2020

“The Spirit of God dwells in you!” Powerful words, Transforming words. “The Spirit of God dwells in each of us.” What do those words mean to you? Are they just words or do they really help to see life differently?

Years ago, S. Maureen McCormack and I lived in Houston together and on Saturday mornings would go downtown to Sacred Heart Church to help prepare children with learning difficulties for their First Communion. One of my students, Beth, was about nine years old. For weeks we started every session with pictures of animals and asking the question “What is this” She would name the animal and I would ask “Who made this animal?” and she would respond “God.” After a few minutes of that exercise she would be likely to run off to something else that interested her. That was about as far as we ever got so progress was pretty much nonexistent in my estimation. We never even got to the point of talking about Jesus.

I was very wrong. I obviously wasn’t the one in charge of her education. The Spirit of God was at work in Beth. One day at home she was looking at a catechism book that had a picture of a chalice with a host above it. Her mother noticed her and asked: “What is that?” Beth answered simply “Jesus.” That was it. That was all she needed to know.

On the day of her First Communion, Beth was kneeling in the center of the altar rail looking down the line and watching as the priest gave each child Communion. When he got to her, she looked up and said: “Is it my turn?” After receiving the host, she turned from the altar rail with hands pressed together and a huge smile on her face. I had nothing to do with that child’s experience on that day, but I have never forgotten her simple, trusting, loving faith.  “Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

The Spirit of God dwells in you. What does that mean to each of us? I think about the people of color struggling for justice. Do they know that the Spirit of God dwells in them? Knowing it doesn’t eliminate the struggle but somehow strengthens the ability to keep going, to have hope, to know that they are not alone.

Think about the refugees and immigrants fleeing from torture, enslavement, rape, murder, starvation or war. Think of those arriving at the border of our country have hoped they would be protected and accepted. When they are turned away or locked up in a detention center, do they know that the Spirit of God dwells in them? Can they possibly imagine God’s love as they endure the suffering their situation puts on them? I suspect many of them are aware that God is with them on their journey and that may be the only thing that inspires them to keep moving, to keep trying, but what about the others who don’t know? Does our prayer help them? Does our silent walking with them give them hope?

Do the people suffering from CoVid 19, dying from CoVid 19, know that the Spirit of God dwells in them: Do the nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, EMS workers , and family members know that they are not alone, that God is with them? Is that what gives them the strength to continue?

Perhaps the people most in need of our prayers are those who do nothing to prevent the spread of CoVid 19. The people who focus on themselves and their personal wishes, comfort and needs to the detriment of those around them are part of the problem. They just don’t seem to understand the seriousness of the situation.

Lest you think the Spirit of God is resting in these difficult times, look at the thousands of people who are so generous with time and help – who look after their neighbors, who work in food banks, who give generously to those in need, who help others in ways small and big. There are children with their little lemonade stands helping raise money for food banks. There are strangers driving by nursing homes just to greet the residents by waving and blowing their horns. There are choirs gathering in the streets or virtually to entertain people who are isolated with song and there are strangers delivering food to those have no transportation. The list goes on and on all over the world.

In the notes from her talks to the Motherhouse Community last week, S. Lynn Levo, CSJ, spoke of hope as “the refusal to accept or confirm the closed world of despair.” I can’t think of another time in my lifetime when there has been a greater need for hope and an awareness that the Spirit of God is always with us, helps to fuel hope. As we mature and perhaps grow a little more cynical, it may be difficult to maintain that simple faith and trust in God that Beth had. We may even think of it as inappropriate in an adult. It is easy to be discouraged by the political scene, the defilement of Mother Earth, systemic racism and the pandemic that have all come together in our times. But in today’s gospel Jesus says: “Come to me all you who labor and are burdened and I will give you rest.” In other words, stop and listen to the Spirit of God at work in you. Simple faith, quiet trust, gentle love will give us and others hope in a troubled world. Rejoice! The Spirit of God dwells in you.

Homily – Fr. Carlos Rodriquez – The Solemnity of St John the Baptist – 6/24/20

When John was born and named by his father, the people said at the time of his birth that he was a child touched by the finger of God.”  This happens when events in a person’s life cannot be explained or be understood by the human mind:  his mother was very old, his father became dumb after being visited by an angel, spoke again when he uttered the name of his son as John when no one in the family line is called by that name.  In the eyes of people such a person is touched by God and they wondered with awe and fear and perhaps even sorry for the child and his parents.  God was at work with the child.   He was destined to be a prophet, but as everyone also knew that to be a prophet would be a life of hardship: refusal by the people to listen, hatred for their negative sayings, and finally being killed by the people and authorities.  Jesus himself confirmed this.  The authorities have their own prophets who tell them only favorable things, things they would like to hear.  If John were with us today he would cause havoc.  He is a man of truth and tells it as it is.  Many could not afford to tell the truth and  very few have clear motivations.  Many show an entirely other persona outside of themselves  and  hide the one which they do not like or are not in control of.  Human beings live with so much cover ups.

The greatness of John is his humility and in understanding his role in relation to the Messiah.  He knew his duty was to introduce the Messiah.  This was His joy.  He is not to attract people to Himself but that he should lead them to the Messiah.  This ought to teach a lesson to those who aspire for a special charisma or gifts from heaven but in truth are only seeking approval and admiration.  Prophets have lots of doubt too and at times they complain of their calling.  Humility means to serve God and to serve others.  We serve God by leading others to God.  Unlike the disciples of Jesus at the beginning who wanted to sit on His right and left at His kingdom.  This is not the true Christian spirit.  We lead one another to Christ.  Formation is leading the newcomers to Christ first and foremost.  Our christian  life can only make sense if we have been led to Christ.  If not, our life is merely filled up with rituals, which our culture has enough already.   When God calls He leads the person to places where they do not want go, to think what they do not want to think, to trust another when they want to trust themselves.   John did all for the sake of the Messiah.  His joy is to see the Messiah increase and he decrease.

So this means that some one who is touched by the hand of God has a mission from God which at times is not very clear to the one touched.   As a matter of fact, it may well be that he does not know it at all.  Often times we readily apply to ourselves some christian traits by virtue of our baptism or our vocation..like we are all prophets, we are all priests, we are all healers, etc. by virtue of our baptism.  This is not the biblical sense.  In Scriptures people touched by God are instruments in the divine plan of salvation of many.  They take part in carrying out God’s  plan for all humankind.  Are there still people in our times touched by the hand of God.  Certainly!  Our God is the God of Moses, Isaac and Jacob.  He is God of the present.  Prophets are the people who speak out for the values of the gospel which our times have forgotten or refuse to heed.  One does not have to be a Christian or a Catholic for that matter to be touched by God.     Mahatma Ghandi, St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King, and in our own time, George Floyd etc.  Incidentally, why is it that the death of an unknown man like Floyd could waken the consciences of peoples around the world to the injustice caused by racism.  We can combine all the beautiful treatises against racism, theologies exposing its sinfulness, articles in magazines and journals, the great preachers (I don’t know of any Catholic preacher who is world renown for his struggle against racism) and yet all these combined could not raise the level of awareness to the injustice of racism as did the death of George Floyd, previously a nobody before his death.  It is simply because the finger of God has touched him..These are people who are instruments to awaken the conscience of the world who have become complacent in the status quo.  They made an impact on society and the world –  preaching justice, liberation, detachment from material things, to share wealth,  equality and dignity of all because all are  children of God.  It really would make this reality of being touched by the finger of God cheap if we easily appropriate this calling to ourselves by virtue of being baptized.  On the contrary, we are beneficiaries of these people touched by God.  We are graced.  We need them.  They save us from our complacency.  They have  a mission from God to touch many millions to be aware once more of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  To save all from the imprisonment of sin which is the cause of inequality, injustice, racism, bigotry.  And these are deeply rooted in the hearts of men.  So before we claim greatness because of our baptism, we better rethink what it really means to be baptized.  It has to cost us.  There is no earthly comfort in it.  It brings one to live in the desert.  People avoid such a person.   And to such a person like John and our own present day people touched by God have only God to affirm them.

Homily – Fr. Anton – Feast of the Sacred Heart – June 19, 2020

The Gospel: Matt  11:25-30
At that time Jesus exclaimed:
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to little ones.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
After the Gospel:
“The Lord set his heart on you, and chose you,”  Moses told the people in the first reading. 
God took the initiative,  reached  out, in the beginning of a love story which continues in  one of our most widely-practiced Catholic devotions, The Sacred Heart of Jesus.
How many of our churches … our homes … have a statue or picture of Jesus, his wounded hands pointing at his wounded  heart – aflame with love for you!  
It began as the Crusaders returned from the Holy Land,  giving rise to the Stations of the Cross, and devotions in honor of the Five Wounds of Jesus.
Saint Bernard famously preached that the piercing of Christ’s side revealed his mercy and the love of his heart for us, which  echoed in his Commentary on the Song of Songs.
St Francis of Assisi asked: “Who is there who would not love this wounded heart?
    Who would not love in return   Him, who loves us so much?”
St Lutgarde, a Cistercian mystic of Belgium, experienced a vision of the pierced Heart of the Savior.
St Mechtilde and St Gertrude the Great  recorded visions, where Jesus bid:  love Him, and  honor his Sacred Heart in the Blessed Sacrament.
They all laid the foundation for the first feast of the Sacred Heart, celebrated in the Seminary of Rennes, France,  August 1670.
   A feast of the boundless, long-suffering love of the heart of Christ for all humanity.
Tragically, however,  where there’s Love,   there’s often Love Unreturned.
Think of all the novels and films  driven by plots of unrequited love,    love given out but never returned,   stories of people longing to be loved back, but it may never come:
one-sided romances, where one person lives in a hope that love will be reciprocated,     but it’ll never come true,  
or marriages that grow cold and distant,
or families where unloving parents or rebellious children turn against each other,
all of them so painful    because  so much love has been heavily invested in a particular person,  who either  cannot or will not return that love.
Just as it is in real life:  No one has the power to make another love them.
Which is also the flip side of the Feast of the Sacred Heart.
“Who  wouldn’t love in return, this wounded heart who loves us so much?” St Francis asked.
That’s the risk.  Christ knowingly took it.
A risk, because the almighty King of the Universe has no power to make us love Him in return.
                                       
Someone asked Jesus, as he passed through a village on his  way to Jerusalem:
“Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
Just the thought probably broke his heart,  His merciful heart which longed that everyone take advantage  of the gifts  of his love and  mercy.
He was pained that such gifts might not be willingly accepted.
Instead of  answering directly,  He said:
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many will try to enter and will not be able to.”
                                       
You wonder how many of Jesus’  prayers were  made with a quivering voice or through teary eyes as he realized that all his redemptive work …
becoming human … his Passion and suffering … dying on the cross  …could be in vain.
In the Temple,  Jesus once lamented:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers!
How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
Closer to His Last Supper, Jesus  actually wept over Jerusalem, wept over their defiant ignorance:
“If only you had known the things that make for your peace!
The day will come when your enemies will surround you,
hem you in on every side, tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you,
not leaving  one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
                           
Whether God is offering love,  or humans are offering love,
it is  not always  received …   Love  can never be forced!
Yet Jesus never gave up on saving anyone.
On the Cross,  as  the Romans were putting him to death,
as His own people were mocking Him… 
      his heart was moved with a pity that  comes from genuine love,
he prayed for their forgiveness.
When others would have cried out for vengeance,  Jesus cried out for mercy.
That’s the glory of God …  his  unending love and his unfailing mercy.
Mercy means giving someone better than they deserve – 
    Isn’t  that how God has dealt with us all along:
          He’s always  given  us better   than  we deserve.
St. Paul said: The wages of sin is death,  that’s what we’ve earned,
but God’s mercy means
He’s offered us a second chance, new beginnings,
He’s  more than fair with us.
Francis Thompson, the poet, rightly described  God as The Hound of Heaven, always pursuing us,  never giving up.            
He’s also  the God who goes in front of us,
sometimes turning  around to see if we’re following,
if we’re holding up our side of the bargain.
Of all Feasts, today should be the day we specially return His love.

Bernardo Olivera, CNS Rome 2019: Fidelity – Perseverance

FIDELITY – PERSEVERANCE

In Monastic Life

(Guidelines for reflection)

(Bernardo Olivera, CNS Rome 2019)

 

– A Divine Attribute

If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:13)

– He has chosen us before we ever chose Him.

– Meaning of the Words

– Faithfulness or fidelity: love that perseveres through time, as though time were eternal.

– Amen. Amen. Amen!

– Question and Answer

– Why do some faithful persons persevere and others do not?  A mystery!

– Fidelity is not easy. We need to accept God’s gift, but correspond to the grace we

receive.

– The Difference between Monks and Nuns

– In many countries and throughout the ages, the “instability” of men seems to be one of the cultural reasons for their lack of perseverance when facing difficulties.

– Nuns seem to be more faithful and persevering than monks.

– Causes of the Problem

– The absolute and definitive nature of the monastic vocation requires a personal transformation.

– Monastic conversatio, when it is lived well, is the way to this transformation.

– When primacy of place is given to “umbilical” fascination (egoism), fidelity is impossible!

– Present-day western culture thinks that it is “natural” to change our opinion and commitments.

– Factors that Help

A sense of belonging: feeling oneself identified with monastic life in our particular tradition.

– It is a process of giving oneself to a community that lives a charism and knows how to

accept it.

Creativity: the faithful person does not just “stick it out,” but “re-creates” himself.

– It is important to be flexible and to adapt, to bend without breaking oneself.

Motivation: which means wanting to catch fire and being oriented accordingly.

– Superiors should continually nourish and channel such motivation.

Clarity concerning the end in view, namely the hope and experience of happiness.

– Cenobitic happiness is achieved by giving oneself to the community, to each person and

to the Lord.

Above all: communal and personal relationship with Jesus Christ by a life of prayer.

– To be faithful one has to have faith and always return to one’s first and most

meaningful love

– I believe and trust Him who called me. That is why I stay here with Him.

Other important factors:

  • The example of persevering old-timers.
  • A solid monastic formation during the first years.
  • Learning the art of discernment, so as to choose willingly and wisely.
  • Personal self-appropriation of the Cistercian charism.
  • Spiritual accompaniment for a long period of time.
  • A communal core of persevering vocations.
  • A clear and strong community spirit:
  • The abbot’s teaching on the Gospel, the Rule and the Constitutions.
  • Reciprocal and welcoming love between younger members and older ones.
  • Generational groups and mutual support.
  • Study groups.

Limits

– Since fidelity is a mystery, to be faithful can require, in certain exceptional cases, a change of the road one is following, so as to keep following.

– Sometimes the cause of infidelity or lack of perseverance is, for different reasons, in the community. There can be an incapacity to welcome others, a lack of motivation, a “liquid” monastic life, little ability to discern or to accompany a process of discernment, a twisted view of human nature, superiors who lack flexibility or who are unable to promote and accept originalities and differences….

 

Bernardo – October, 2019