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Chapter Talk – 11/11/18 – Fr. Michael – Developing a Contemplative Consciousness


Recently I have been going through a spiritual biography of Henri Nouwen called “ God’s Beloved” by a Michael O’Laughlin that came out back in 2004. Many of us are familiar with Nouwen as a spiritual writer who was especially gifted at articulating what goes on in many of our lives. As Robert Ellsberg recently said in his lecture at Bellarmine:

“By the time of his passing, thirty-two years later [after coming to the States from Holland] in 1996, he had become one of the most popular and influential spiritual writers in the world. His popularity was only enhanced by his willingness to share his own struggles and brokenness. He did not present himself as a ‘spiritual master,’ but—like the title of one of his early books—as a ‘wounded healer.’ Those who knew him were aware of how deep his wounds ran.”

In this Henri Nouwen was a lot like Merton who reached so many people through his Seven Story Mountain.Both had a living faith and a sense of their own vulnerability, weakness and sensitivity. As they shared their own experience, what was going on in the lives of countless readers was able to be articulated and understood perhaps, for the first time. There was a “down-to-earthiness” in both of them which takes on more and more meaning for our own time.

O’Laughlin quotes from Merton the following:

“Contemplation is not vision because it sees ‘without  seeing’ and knows ‘without knowing.’ It is a more profound depth of faith, a knowledge too deep to be grasped in images, in words, or even in clear concepts. It can be suggested by words, by symbols, but in the very moment of trying to indicate what it knows the contemplative mind takes back what it has said, and denies what it has affirmed. For in contemplation we know by ‘unknowing.’ Or better, we know beyond all knowing or ‘unknowing.’

This is an experience that all newcomers to the monastery go through and in fact, what those who are long members of a community may go through again and again, this experience of unknowing. There is always a way in which we want to have some grasp on what is happening in our lives, want, in a way, to make sense of it but this is where real faith can take place. You would think that someone like Henri Nouwen with all his popularity and success as a writer or teacher, would have been satisfied or fulfilled but the opposite was true. We are told that he “was afflicted by an inordinate need for affection and affirmation; he was beset by anxieties about his identity and self-worth; there seemed to be a void within that could not be filled.” This, it is suggested is what led him to make several moves in his life, from one place or project to another. He moved from Holland to America, to Notre Dame and then to Yale, to our monastery of Genesee and then to Latin America, to thinking of becoming an affiliate of Maryknoll, then to Harvard and finally visiting a number of L’Arche communities in France and Canada, he settled down somewhat at one in Canada.

In the midst of all this Nouwen was drawn into a contemplative experience, like that of Merton in many respects but one that was uniquely his own: He writes:

“We are called to be contemplatives, that is see-ers, men and women who are called to see the coming of God.. The Lord’s coming is an ongoing event around us, between us, and within us. To become a contemplative, therefore, means to throw off—or better, to peel off—the blindfolds that prevent us from seeinghis coming in the midst of our own world. Like John the Baptist, Merton constantly points away from himself to the coming One, and invites us to purify our hearts so that we might indeed recognize him as our Lord.. Thomas Merton invites us to an always deeper awareness of the incomprehensibility of God. He continually unmasks the illusions that we know God and so frees us to see the Lord in always new and surprising ways.” (The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice, pp 196-97)

When Nouwen speaks of Merton inviting us “to an always deeper awareness of the incomprehensibility of God” there is something unsettling about this but also clarifying and freeing. The danger of any of us is the inclination to try to tie God down or to cling to a certain understanding of God that then puts limits on God’s way of acting in our lives and in the lives of others. Again, it is only when we approach God with faith that we are able to allow God to move freely in our lives. This can be a real challenge and it certainly demands of us a deeper faith or trust if God is to act pervasively in our lives. As they yielded to this mysterious divine presence, there continually opened new horizons in both Merton’s and Nouwen’s lives, horizons that allowed them to accomplish all that they were destined to do.

Any one of us becomes open to these new horizons to the extent that we allow faith, hope and love take hold of us. To do so is to come to realize our full potential. We are all invited to participate in God’s very own life and in doing so our lives are transformed. We allow ourselves to accomplish all that we have been destined to do during our brief sojourn on this earth.


Reflection for Dedication of St John Lateran by Fr. Michael

+Our gospel presents Jesus cleansing the temple where he found those selling oxen, sheep and doves and the money changers. The temple serves well as the place where God resides. It may be a basilica, a symbol of the Church that is going through a lot of cleansing at this time due to the sexual abuse in its midst and it can represent what goes on in each of our own hearts. We all know how easy it is for any of us to become occupied with persons or things in a way that hinders our spiritual growth.

As baptized Christians, Jesus does not allow us to do this for he knows the harm this can do to our Christian life. Our participation here in the Eucharist is inviting him to cleanse the temple of our hearts. To truly enter into what takes place at this altar removes all that stands in the way of our being truly Christian. Just as Jesus spoke of himself as God’s temple, each of us is to be a living temple of God in our society.

There is to flow from us as members of Christ’s Body those living waters of which the prophet Ezekiel speaks in the first reading. Wherever these waters flow, “every sort of living creature that can multiply shall live.. and along its banks, fruit trees of every kind shall grow.”

Fr. Michael’s presention on Thomas Merton at Bellermine 10/20/18

+MERTON AS PROPHET FOR OUR TIME                                                       20 Oct. 2018

The reason for our gathering this weekend, let me suggest, is the way Merton still speaks to us, perhaps more clearly than ever. At the time of his death fifty years ago, he was articulating what was unfolding in Church and society in a way like few others of his time. As scripture scholars have long pointed out, the prophet is not so much a predictor of the future as one who sees clearly and disturbingly what is actually happening in the present. What I want to suggest to you during this presentation is how Merton is addressing human life and society today as much as he ever did. He had the courage to face himself, to own his false interests to a degree that not only opened his eyes to God’s presence within his life, but also, within the Church and the whole of society. Will we dare to go there?

In his book Raids on the Unspeakable, Merton writes: “prophecy is not to predict, but to seize upon reality in its moment of highest expectation and tension toward the new.”(repeat) Throughout his life, Merton became more and more grounded in the present moment in his own life and in all of life around him. He became intensely aware of where human society was moving. The reason he was able to do this, from my own experience of him, as I watched his life unfold, was because of his own inner transformation of consciousness. Through living the monastic life, he came to see how critical it was for him to move away from the false self so as to realize his true self. As he did so, his eyes were opened with an ever growing clarity. There grew within him a Christ consciousness, a growing ability to see all that was unfolding within and around him in the light of Christ, risen in glory. What happened especially the last ten years of his life was a building awareness of God’s loving presence in our world and along with this, of all that was resistant to this transformative love / power.

Merton is inviting us here this morning and each day of our lives to enter into this same inner transformation. He is challenging us now as much as he ever did during his life time. He continues to touch so many lives In the recent book, What I Am Living For, in the selection by James Martin, SJ, he tells of how he came to recognize his own false self through Merton’s writings. This completely changed his life. When we are in touch with the true self open to God, a new path is opened for us and we see God’s presence all around us.

In a brief essay called Hagia Sophia, Merton writes: “When the helpless one awakens strong at the voice of mercy, it is as if Life his Sister, as if the Blessed Virgin, (his own flesh, his own sister), as if Nature made wise by God’s Art and Incarnation were to stand over him and invite him with unutterable sweetness to be awake and to live. This is what it means to recognize Hagia Sophia.” Merton’s appreciation of the feminine dimension of human life and creation speaks loudly to our world today, whether we consider global warming, what happened during the recent Supreme Court selection or how women in general are treated. Merton invites us more than ever to question the misuse of power and to respect the divine presence in all of creation. To be free of our false selves is to become fully integrated, made in the very image and likeness of God.

My brother Paul Quenon recently reminded me of Merton’s article in Faith and Violenceabout “Events and Pseudo-Events.” We are exposed in the media Merton warns us to “countless pseudo-events, the come-ons, the releases, the statements, the surmises, the slanders, the quarrels, the insults and the interminable self-advertising of the image-makers.” He does not wish to deny for a moment that we need authentic news, reliable journalism. It’s just that is often hard to perceive the truth in what is written or said in the “news” unless we ourselves are on this journey of inner integrity, able to discern what is actually taking place all around us. Only the pure eye, the pure heart understands clearly.

Merton’s horizons were ever expanding as was his God consciousness. His awareness of the divisions within society gave him insight even then into polarization so prominent in our own time. The racism, the misuse of military power, political agendas are blinding us to the richness of human diversity. Even within the Church our way of using doctrine too often restricts our living of the gospel. Or as Fr George Kilcourse has pointed out to me, Merton knew “the Church is best when not focused on organization and structures.. but when her members are present among the poor, all those subjected to any form of injustice.” We have in Pope Francis one who shares a similar vision and moves the Church toward greater integrity.

Merton saw so clearly the tremendous value of bringing East and West together. He befriended outstanding members of Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian and Islamic background with a view of enriching all of humanity. How blessed we are amid our diversity!  God is at work amid all these religious traditions. Merton got us to look at all forms of violence, unmasking the self-hate that gives rise to them. He is continually inviting us to realize our true selves. I could go on and on but hopefully what I have shared will lead to some valuable sharing of your own. Thank You.

Homily – Fr. Seamus – 10/14/18 – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?”

TWENTY-EIGHT SUNDAY: Cycle B 2018: + WIS 7:7-11; HEB 4:12-13; MK 10:17-30

When offered the choice between true knowledge or riches, Solomon prays for wisdom. When given the choice between following Jesus or remaining attached to his riches, the man chooses his possessions. God’s word challenges us to be attached to Jesus, and to him alone. Seems our readings are about choices.

Let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel. A rich young man asks Jesus, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” In response, Jesus, after looking at him with love, says to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.”

Selling what you own is a pretty radical thing to do. Just think what you own: a house, a bed, a car, … and that’s just the beginning …. there’s also a computer, a cell phone, a T.V. , etc. etc.

Early in Christian history, people who sold everything they owned set up religious orders so they could live together and share what they needed. ..e.g. St Francis. As a result, Jesus’ exhortation to sell what you have and give to the poor is usually interpreted as a call to the religious life. Understood in that way, Jesus’ advice to the rich young man is one of the evangelical counsels of perfection… poverty, chastity and obedience. It explains what we have to do to be perfect in this life.

But here’s a puzzle worth noticing: You don’t have to be perfect to go to heaven. You don’t have to be a member of a religious order to go to heaven. The rich young man was asking Jesus about going to heaven: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The answer Jesus gave him should have explained to him what you have to do to get to heaven. A counsel of perfection is by its nature not an answer to the rich young man’s question.

Or to put it another way. If selling all he has and giving it to the poor is what the rich young man needs to do to inherit eternal life, what about everybody else? Does everybody have to sell what he has in order to go to heaven? If we don’t sell everything we have, are we going to hell?

The answer to this puzzle is to think about Mark’s description of the young man asking Jesus the question: we don’t even know his name … (we know the name of the tax-collector whom Jesus called … “Matthew” … we know his name because he chose to follow Jesus immediately … and became one of the four Evangelists!) But all we know all about this young man is that he is richIn other words, his gift lies in his wealth!

But aren’t there many types of gifts? … each peson here has many gifts: gifts of education and learning, musical gifts ( Speaking of which, at LAUDS this morning I couldn’t help but notice that the music of the hymn we sang was composed by Fr Chrysogonous back in 1976. Fr Chrysogonous passed away in November, 2008, app 10 yrs ago, but the gift of music he shared with us is still being given to us in service to this community. Then there are also mechanical, electronic and computer gifts, … organizational and leadership skills, etc. But whatever a person’s gifts are, they are meant to be given back in service to the Lord. We cannot bury our gifts or our talents in the ground and hope to please the Lord.

So, here is what we need to do to inherit eternal life: we need to follow Jesus and use our gifts to the full by serving others when we do.

Or, if we don’t want to do that, like the rich, young man, we can go away sad.