In a small insignificant town of Nazareth, in a humble house of a poor carpenter, an angel from Heaven came to Mary to tell her that she will be the mother of the Creator of the Universe! John said that everything was created through Him (the Logos) and nothing exists that did not exist through Him. What divine irony! The most important message ever delivered to a human being and for the sake of all human beings happened quietly in a small poor obscure looked-down- upon town of Nazareth and given to a young woman who did not even understand what is being told her and its full implication; a maiden who cannot even determine whom she wants to marry.
Zifarelli, the Italian director, many years ago made a movie, entitled Jesus of Nazareth. There he made the best version of the Anuncation acted out. Mary was sleeping and suddenly she hears the voice. She was not dreaming. Zifarelli used light in a dark dingy little house. Not a direct light but a light softly shining on Mary. It was as if God was caressing her with the soft life. Mary looks at the light and the dialog begins. Zifarelli used the technic of “thinking out loud” in movie monologues. It happens in her innermost being. She was not dreaming as Joseph was addressed by an angel to take mother and child and flee to Egypt. Zifarelli understood the heart and person of Mary.
Most important and significant things happen best in silence and simplicity of the heart, in complete trust in God. I used to smile when priests giving homily on the annunciation waxed dramatic: “And there was Mary humbly kneeling in front of the angel Gabriel waiting for her answer. And the whole inhabitants of heaven, the universe were waiting in suspense for her answer. Nice, but not close. With Mary there is no answer but yes. Not by constraint but out of love. She dedicated herself body and soul to God her Beloved. That is why she was a virgin by choice.
It is the belief that if God wants to do something with us He can and God should be allowed to do so freely. The Annunciation is first and foremost about a God whose very essence, whose very being is a self-Sharing Being, God is Trinitarian; Mary is not a favorite of God. God’s favorite is humanity, God’s children, all of us. As a matter of fact she played a role in God’s plan of salvation. But he found favor in Mary because she is the perfect human born of human. Mary is at the center of God’s purpose. She is immaculate because she will be conceiving an immaculate son. Mary was immaculate not for her own sake, she became the mother of God not for her own glory. Her fiat is an assent to God’s plan of salvation. It was a fiat to her Beloved. That God’s son will live and die and resurrect among humans. Mary’s fiat is a complete trust in a God who wants only the good for his children. The Annunciation therefore is the first Christian Trinitarian revelation on the nature of God – God is Love and Love has to be shared. God is love and therefore is passionate about human beings. God is a loving saving God. Mary is God’s realized plan of what all human beings should be. But since there is no one to be found among human beings that would win God’s favor therefore He graced Mary by freeing her from sin through the merits of His and her own son.
The great passion of God is not Mary, it is us, human beings, all human beings. Mary by her fiat joins God in His loving plan and therefore she loves us as her Son and the Father loves us. The great passion of God is to save humankind through Mary. But even God’s saving act has a purpose. It is not simply to forgive sins. If it was only that then it would for us a kind of Paradise Revisited, or a One-More-Time-But- This- time –with-feeling thing, or back to the future. Forgiveness leads to a share in the very nature of God because we are united in God if we join ourselves with His Son Jesus our Lord in his passion and death and thus resurrection. The life of resurrection transforms human beings into children of God. Not simply a cleansed humanity. The relation of Adam and EVEN before the fall is strictly God to creature. If they obey they will benefit the generosity of God. Mary is much more than Eve. Mary is daughter of the Father and spouse of the Holy Spirit. We have become sons and daughters in Christ. This is not said of Adam and Eve even before their fall. God’s love for us is absolutely free. God is not obliged to save us in the way He did. It is simply that God is acting out his very essence. Love essentially shares. This should be the spirit of all human actions – an attitude that is based on the LOVE of God for all. Christians are at the forefront and are the missionaries of this LOVE – to love, nourish, defend all human beings and if they need to die then they must die for others. Wouldn’t it be great that if one day a huge announcement is made to all peoples of the world who have not heard of God’s love – who are lost to explain the evil and sadness in the word – the Christians are coming, the Christians are coming.
The Gospel: Matt 1:16, 18-21, 24A
Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Of her was born Jesus who is called the Christ.
Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.
When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together,
she was found with child through the Holy Spirit.
Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man,
yet unwilling to expose her to shame,
decided to divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when, behold,
the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said,
“Joseph, son of David,
do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.
For it is through the Holy Spirit
that this child has been conceived in her.
She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus,
because he will save his people from their sins.”
When Joseph awoke,
he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him
and took his wife into his home.
After the Gospel:
Happy Feast Day, Br Giuseppe, Br Joseph, as we join in celebrating your patron saint!
Twenty-four years after arriving here, our founding monks certainly weren’t living thru The Good Old Days! In fact, they faced an uncertain future.
The years surrounding the War Between the States had been filled with troubles,
they were begging and borrowing money, two dozen monks lay buried in the cemetery, and there were no new monks … all of which was wrapped up in their prayer.
That’s when the community chose St Joseph as the Patron, Protector, and Defender of the Monastery of Gethsemani, asking him to increase the merit and number of the brethren …
They were confident that the one who had preserved the Christ Child from the plots of a wicked Herod was able to protect Gethsemani from dying out.
The big stone tablet on the front porch bears witness that since 1872, St Joseph has protected Gethsemani.
Of all the saints to choose from in an hour of need, why did the monks pick St Joseph?
Because of all men to choose from, God had selected Joseph for one special service:
to be Husband of Mary, Head of the Holy Family.
For the Son of God to become Man,
a human Mother was needed,
a foster father was needed to protect them both.
Without Mary, without Joseph, the whole thing would have fallen apart.
The monks saw how Joseph was the Silent Partner through it all,
not a single word from him recorded in the Gospels, his language is silence.
He paid attention to angel voices in his sleep;
prompt and generous obedience was asked of him;
and his manual labor earned Jesus the reputation of being “the son of the carpenter.”
But about Joseph himself, there’s little else …
So, what is it that made him such a good friend of God and of our monks?
Joseph was a “Righteous Man,” that’s how St Matthew describes him.
In the dictionary, “Righteous” means
consistently acting in accord with divine or moral law,
free from guilt or sin,
honorable and fair in dealings with others.
They chose him because Joseph believed God was present in his life,
he wanted to follow God’s law and live a life of faith,
was content to be behind the scenes, hidden,
an ordinary craftsman with no personal greatness to make him stand out,
not always in control, not always making the decisions,
following along quietly, always silent and obedient,
remaining in the shadow of the mysteries of Jesus,
seeing a little heavenly light thrown upon the mysteries every so often by an angel.
They chose Joseph because he trusted the Lord enough to allow Him to be his Shepherd,
guide him through the hardships …
Hardships which came one after another…
Starting after his engagement in Nazareth… discovering his intended wife was pregnant,
but coming to believe it was God’s work, and accepting it.
Then forced to go to Bethlehem…
– 90 miles – walking in winter with a heavily pregnant woman…
a birth in a cave because there were no welcoming relatives or friends with a spare bedroom…
a second forced march to flee a killer…
– 430 miles – walking to Egypt, with a woman and her young baby,
carrying their own provisions… Skins of water, a lot of bread.
In Egypt … living as refugees,
treated as foreigners by an alien people of strange language and religion and customs,
then, after three years, walking all the way back to Nazareth … 500 miles …. having to start all over again back where they started from.
Somewhere under those adversities, many of us would have given up and quit…
Joseph, however, didn’t. Nor did he ask how the story would end:
How would Jesus save his people?
Most of us would’ve had questions ….WHY .. HOW ???
or requests .. to help things work out…
A big house for the mother and child to live comfortably… …
Servants to help with the chores, the garden, the food, to fetch water and firewood.
Protection from sickness and troubles …
A few coins each month for safe measure …
After all, this is the Son of God we’re talking about…
Joseph’s story, however, isn’t about perks and privileges,
it’s about a God who has a plan, and needs co-operation …
a God willing to stoop down to become like us… in all things but sin …
however, but He needs a Yes.
Joseph was willing to work along with God’s plan, whatever that plan might be.
Willing to be a carpenter and work like everyone else in the village to support a wife and child,
live through troubles and sickness like everyone else,
not knowing what tomorrow would bring.
Willing to become a partner in God’s plan of redemption,
even though he couldn’t see what the whole plan would look like,
even though he might not live long enough to see it happen.
He was a man filled with faith,
he loved God, trusted God enough to say Yes,
because he knew how faithful God was.
It was his “Yes” that brought down God’s blessings:
Joseph became the legal and foster father of Jesus,
able not just to see God and to hear him,
but take him in his arms and kiss him, wash him, clothe him,
show him to people or hide and protect him.
Eight days after the birth of Jesus,
it was Joseph presiding over the Jewish rite of circumcision
that made the new-born child one of the chosen people.
When the Magi arrived, Joseph was not only present but the one who received them
as Head of the Family.
This year’s feast of St Joseph is certainly bittersweet,
with the world facing an uncertain future, with so many churches shut down.
We’re blessed to be able to celebrate Mass as a Community, to bring all our concerns wrapped up in prayer.
We’re blessed to gather in honor of our Protector,
the Joseph whose “Yes” enabled Jesus to come into our world and save it,
the Joseph who saved the Christ Child from the plots of a wicked Herod,
the Joseph who has protected Gethsemani over the years.
Saint Joseph, Pray for us now! Be our Patron, Protector, Defender in 2020! Amen.
This is a talk that Fr. Michael Casagram gave to the LCG members and friends on 3/18/20 in light of the coronavirus.
Text of Fr. Michael’s Talk:
+Some Reflections on: Things we can do in troubled times? How to pray in troubled times? How not to be afraid in troubled times?
There have been various ideas and worries about what is going on because of the coronavirus pandemic. Let me share with you what I find meaningful but hopefully this will also give some of you a chance to share out of your own experience.
A few days ago I asked Dr Emily Cash, a psychologist who works with St Luke’s Institute in Louisvile: “What is a healthy psychological response to what’s going on in our world today in regard to the virus?” Her immediate response was that “it is good to remember it is temporary.” It is something passing and I would add that it is good to remember too, that God is right in the midst of all that is going on.
It is so important I think not to get caught up in the fear or pre-occupation this is creating for a lot of people. One wants to know what’s going on and what to do in the face of interacting with someone with the virus but here too, you don’t want to be overcome with anxiety at what might happen.
The monastic community must be ready to face the possibility of one of the monks getting the virus and what we might do. As someone said to me, it could even be one of the nurses who cares for our infirm who would introduce us to the illness. One can worry endlessly but this really doesn’t help and will only makes things worse.
I have often thought that sooner or later most of us probably, are going to get the virus and hopefully, even if over 60, our immune systems are going to be healthy enough to resist serious illness or death as the result of it.
Jokingly I recently said something to Dr Jane Thibault who occasionally comes to the abbey to speak to any of the elderly who would like to meet with her for advice. She has written a number of books on how to make the best of one’s later years in life. She obviously has a wonderful appreciation of how God is at work at all stages of our human development. Kidding about the danger of the virus, she said to me, though not her exact words, this may just be a good way to pass from this limited world into one much more rewarding. We laughed but she is right on. There is a way of seeing all this in a larger context, as part of each our journeys to our lasting place with those we love, as part of a divine design.
I suspect there is more here than just God’s permissive will and that it is an awaking call for all of the human family to work together for our common good. We are capable to something far more creative and life-giving if we just move to a more loving care of one another. All our lives are deeply interdependent on one another. This is so true of the Church as well, there are wonderful resources available for the building up of the Body of Christ if we will only make room for them, allow them to prosper. Part of what I am hoping from this session is that others here will be able to voice what they find as meaningful with all that is going on and enrich the whole community gathered here in this zoom sharing.
One of the thoughts I had was: is there a gospel episode that is equivalent to what is happening with the virus. It would be interesting to hear from you all where you see parallels in our gospels with what is happening to us today? The episode that came to my mind was that of Jesus out in the boat with his disciples and all at once there is a storm at sea and the ship is in danger of sinking because of the waves. Jesus is asleep in the boat and the disciples awaken him, telling them they are perishing and he tells them not to be afraid as the storm calms down. Right away I am aware of just how crucial in our own lives is this practice of faith at this point, that we remain confident that God is watching over us, is right in the middle of all that is happening.
I just read in the National Catholic Reporter of a woman who has been busy working with her children now that schools are closed. Her 11 and 12 year olds have lots of questions about all that is happening. “Could coronavirus be a punishment from God?” she asked her children. In no way, they said. In fact, my son argued that even a virus was God’s creature. Let me tell you, conversation with kids is rarely boring!”, the mother said. How often the young have insight we elders fail to see and thereby enrich our lives.
They have a way of being connected, of seeing what is right in front of our eyes! And this would be my main offering to all of you, that what is happening all around us, has an element of mystery that we will only begin to comprehend if we are persons of faith and prayer, allow ourselves to see all that is happening in the light of a Divine Presence. God has not abandoned us, is not punishing us for our sins, but is seeking to open the eyes of our hearts to a presence and a reality the is larger than we can get our heads around. If we let ourselves become aware of the divine presence right in the middle of all that is going one, we will begin to see it in a new light, one that will enable us to respond in a wholesome and creative way.
Recently I came across this quote from St Teresa of Avila which I think to be very appropriate for this time of stress and I will end with this:
Let Nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing:
God alone suffices.
(18 March 2020)
THIRD SUN. OF LENT – “A” + RDNGS: Ex 17:3-7; Romans 5:1-2, 5-8; John 4:5-42
St John’s Gospel tells the story of a woman who, by the standards of Jewish society at that time, was a worthless outsider.
Jesus had sent his disciples off for food, and he is sitting alone at a well … known to both Jews and Samaritans as “Jacob’s well,” situated on the border between Jewish land and Samaritan land. He has no cup or vessel of any kind, so he can’t quench his thirst. He’s alone when the woman comes to draw water. Now, according to the social and religious restrictions of his Jewish community, there are three good reasons why Jesus shouldn’t begin a conversation with her – or even greet her.
First, she is a woman. When his disciples return with the food, and find Jesus talking to her, without even a chaperone nearby, they are quite surprised … but don’t say anything because of their respect for Jesus.
Secondly, she is a Samaritan. She recognizes Jesus is a Jew, perhaps by the fringe on his cloak or by his Galilean accent. As she herself points out to Jesus, Jews don’t talk to Samaritans. Samaritans, from the Jewish point of view, are self-made outcasts. Self-respecting Jews stay away from them.
And, thirdly, this particular Samaritan woman has the sort of history that makes women outcasts even in their own communities. Jesus knows her status, and lets her know that he does. She has had five husbands – and she is currently living with a man to whom she is not married.
We might expect Jesus to start preaching to her, but he doesn’t, does he? No, he asks her to help him… to give him a drink, knowing full well that Jews would never use the same vessels as Samaritans. In so doing he is pictured as treating the Jewish religious and social restrictions as simply unimportant.
So he opens the conversation with her by asking her to give him a drink. Then we hear Jesus explaining the virtues of the well, or the wells, in scripture and, comparing the diverse waters, reveals the secrets of the divine mystery. For it is said that those who drink the waters of the earthly well will still be thirsty, but in those who will have drunk the waters given by Jesus “a spring of water will well up to eternal life” (John 4:14) In another Gospel passage, there is no longer a question of springs or well, but of something more important: “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture says: ‘Rivers of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:38). And then, look how the story ends: she brings her belief in Jesus to her village, and the villagers come to Jesus because of her!
So she isn’t a worthless outsider, is she? On the contrary! She takes her place among Jesus’ disciples. She becomes one of them. The evangelization of her village is her accomplishment.
So when Jesus asked her to care for him by giving him a drink of water, he dignified her and started a process that brings her from being worthless to being the apostle to her village… from being an outsider, to becoming one of his disciples.
The remedy of love for what some consider human worthlessness is modeled for us in today’s Gospel. We will never be able to measure what our love for those who are considered “outsiders” may accomplish.
___________________________ END ______________________________
SATURDAY 3/7/20 – SECOND WEEK OF LENT – Lk 15:1-32 + “PRODIGAL SON”
This parable is a high point in the revelation of the tenderness and mercy of God … it is a parable Jesus told to those who complained, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” It’s a parable that assumes its full meaning in the context of Lent. All the works of Lent have only one motive and one goal: the fatherly love in God’s heart and our love of our neighbor.
We can’t help noticing, that the father in Jesus’ parable … does nothing by way of looking for his son. Nothing!
It reminds us of those powerful words in one of St Augustine’s sermons:
“God created us without us; but he will not save us without us.” (CC 1848) Our salvation is up to us. We must take the initiative. We must cry out from the depths of our heart, ” Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”
What’s stopping us?
God knows that we have free will; that nothing can stop us from returning to Him. Like the father in Jesus’s parable, He will always welcome us with open arms, and kiss us tenderly … we are – and always will be, his children.
As for the other son? Don’t be like him. On our part, and our love of neighbor, nothing should gladden us more than the return of our brothers and sisters from “far away.” Whatever they may have done, whatever the reason for their “conversion,” “Here I am, dying from hunger. I shall get up and go to my father” – we must always be merciful, we must always welcome them without hesitation. Any comparison we make between our brothers’ and sisters’ behavior and our own would be complaining against God, who takes pleasure in forgiving sins. He’s telling us, “We must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he who was lost has been found.” Did the other son eventually enter the house and give his brother a warm welcome home hug?