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Eastertide, May 2023 - Fr Paul Jones

Dear Friends,

The pain in my shoulders has recently spread into my back, resulting in periodic sharp pain. But on the way to the monastery, I was delightfully distracted by the shades of green that were being birthed -- as well as the game that the sun and clouds were playing. When I arrived, the sun was winning. With the recent record hot weather, the only sign that Spring has not yet given way to Summer was the size of the tree leaves. I waved to Fr. Albert #2 as he was hiking along the road with his ingenuous gnat-proof hat. The garden was still stripped clean as the planting has not yet begun. The fleur de jour is presently purple iris. The Garth is sporting a new “Gorilla Cart,” but, alas, it is grey rather being like the “little red wagon” of my youth. The birds are returning, and Fr. Bruno has gotten renters for the abandoned Orchid House. So at last count, the present resident population at Assumption Abbey is 9 monks, 5 chickens, and 8 swallows. Bro. Hillary will be returning to Vietnam at the end of the month to continue his studies, while three new monks are in the midst of immigrant red tape. During Mass we no longer have a procession with the elements, and for the first time since Covid all communicants may receive the wine, not just the priests. Apparently spring colds have ravished the community, but all are well except for two monks who have retained severe deep coughs. My assignments were presiding at two Masses, being a Deacon, the antiphon leader at offices, and being refectory server. Alleluias are sung at almost all of the daily offices.

At Wednesday Mass, I recalled that it was perhaps 20 years ago that I was walking along a beach in Hawaii and saw a tiny storefront with a sign that said something about honoring a person named Damien. I went in, and soon learned why he would be made a saint in 2009, a century after his birth. Today, May 10, we honor this saint who took seriously the mission established by the early church and affirmed in today’s readings -- to EXPAND. As the narrative goes, in Hawaii there is an island called Molokai, popularly called “Devil’s Island.” Lepers were regularly rounded up and taken by boat to a position off the island’s coast, and there they were thrown overboard. The few who made it to shore became part of an existing leper colony, notorious for its violence and immorality. There they were left to rot, fit only, apparently, for the Devil. But not for Damian, a Belgian, who soon after ordination went ashore himself, moving into the colony of 800 lepers. And there for 12 years; as he put it, “I made myself a leper with the lepers, in order to gain them for Christ.” Here he was following St. Paul whose motto was to become all things to all people in order that some might believe the gospel. Damian arrived with only a prayer book, but lots of love. And there he patiently transformed the island into a loving community centered in Christ. Then his life ended when with horrendous sores covering his entire body, he died a painful death -- a leper for lepers, committed to the principle that the gospel is for ALL people. Today’s reading from Acts presents the early church in turmoil, for some persons have come to the oHoAntioch church with the insistence that to become a Christian one must first become a Jew, undergoing circumcision. So the church sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to have the dissension settled, once and for all. All along the way they could not keep themselves from sharing with the churches about how the Holy Spirit had come to the Gentiles in conversion. When they reached Jerusalem, they shared this evidence, after which the Church made one of the most important decisions that she has ever made. If Gentiles had been converted by the Holy Spirit, then it is true that Jesus is sending Christians into the whole world to spread the good news to everyone, without exception. From then on, it was final -- that Jesus Christ makes no distinction, so that never again shall there be Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free -- for we are ALL ONE IN CHRIST. With this decision, the Church that had previously been a Jewish sect became uniquely the Universal Church of Jesus Christ -- from which not even our enemies are to be excluded. Appropriately our Responsorial Psalm shouts: “I rejoiced when I heard them say, Let us all go to the house of the Lord” -- the one Jesus called “the House of Prayer for all people.” And yet during the ages the Church has had a hard time knowing what to make of this principle of expansiveness -- does it really apply to ALL people and further, does it also apply to BELIEF itself -- not only the “who” but also the “what.” What did Jesus mean when he said: “I have much more to tell you but you are not ready; [so] I will send you the Holy Spirit and she will lead you into the whole truth”? John Henry Newman, the Anglican convert become Catholic saint, made clear that this expansion has to do not only with membership but with the Church’s understanding of its faith as well. The life of Christ, he says, is the beginning, and from there the Holy Spirit expands and deepens what we had been given. In explaining this, one of his favorite scriptures appears in today’s Gospel from John: “I am the vine and you are the branches; he who lives in me and I in you will produce abundantly.” In other words,HInn Christ establishes the roots, and the church blossoms them forth with its leaves and branches. Many saints have agreed, insisting with Newman that while the gospel never changes, its implications always will. I have been a theologian now for over seventy years. And I have come to realize how much my work has exemplified this approach of expansiveness -- not spending my time defending the gospel as established once and for all, but on presenting the stable roots of the gospel to my IMAGINATION to expand the rich implications of our faith. Thus the gospel in declaring the Incarnation of Jesus is actually revealing God as Himself Incarnate, visible everywhere in all of Creation for the eyes of faith to see. Likewise, the gospel in declaring the Crucified Christ discloses our God to be the “suffering Servant,” enduring all our pains and tragedies with us as our companion Presence. And the gospel in declaring that Jesus rose from the dead, is calling us to help build the Kingdom of God for all people in which death shall be no more. The gospel of Jesus Christ is like a Jewel -- that no matter how it is turned, it is newly glorious.

There were no retreatants this week. But on Wednesday, Bishop Leibrecht had a meal and dialogue with the Nazareth hermits, and in the afternoon swapped stories with our community. He indicated that the three top concerns disclosed by the Sodality conversations in this area were the role of women in the church, evangelization, and the absence of young people. He asked prayers especially for his brother who fell down a long pair of stairs at a funeral, resulting in unidentified sources of internal bleeding. Then Wednesday evening through Friday we finally received the long promised rain.

In Sunday‘s scripture from Acts, we find coming true what Jesus had promised -- that “those who believe in me will do even greater things than those that I have done.”

And so we find the disciple Phillip in a town of Samaria, a region hated by Jews. So what is he doing there? He is obeying the instruction of Jesus that we established in Wednesday’s homily, to go out into WHOLE world and declare the Good News to EVERYONE. As a result, Philip can call out shrieking spirits, command paralytics to rise, invite cripples to walk, and cure the sick of every imaginable kind of disease. As a result, “the town rose to fever pitch.” The only thing even slightly like this that I ever experienced was when I was a boy. There was a man named “Willie” on whom everyone had long ago given up -- for he was the infamously hopeless town drunk. Then one day he began being seen around town with clean clothes, his face shaved, his hair combed, and a smile on his face. The only explanation that he cared to give was this: “Jesus found me, and I found him.” Yes, “miracle” is the name for what God can do. So in foretaste our Responsorial Psalm shouts that the God who changed the sea into dry land in order to save his chosen people, will never refuse his kindness to all people. Then in his epistle Peter states that we should always be ready to share with others the nature of God’s kindness for us. Now what is the kindness that Christ provides? It will be expressed a bit differently by each of us, but however we may put it, it will be a variation on the theme that “Christ has done for me what I could never have done for myself.” So in today’s Gospel Jesus promises, “Love me and I shall send to you whatever you ask.” And as though knowing in advance for what we will ask, he promises to send to us the Paraclete so that as the Spirit, Christ will be with us always. This is the ABIDING PRESENCE for which I have yearned all my life, but it has taken me a long time to realize it. As you may recall, as a child there was deep within me a fear of being ABANDONED, of being an ORPHAN -- experienced as a deep stroke of loneliness. And I am finding that in this I am far from being unique, for just last week the Gallup poll disclosed that “loneliness” in our nation has reached epic proportions, becoming one of the main causes of death. All of this is brought into focus because today is Mothers Day. Have you ever notice that the huge men who drive thunderously around town on their Harleys have almost all of them a tattoo on their arm of a large heart enclosing the one word “Mom.” Yes, there seems to be a tender spot deep in each of us, for Mom perhaps, but actually it is a yearning to be loved -- somehow. Interestingly the Holy Spirit that Christ promised to send us is feminine. Thus our God is both male and female -- both Mother and Father, loving us with a love that no human parent is ever able to give. This has been very hard for me to learn, for as a boy the only God that I was taught was God the Father -- strict, demanding, punishing, and always WATCHING! Some nights in fear I would cover my head with the covers so that God might not be able to see me -- for all he ever seemed to want was to catch me doing something wrong. Therefore you can imagine how changing it was when I really heard for the first time today’s gospel reading. It seemed to have been written just for me -- Christ promised to send the Holy Spirit so that we might know that “I am in the Father and you in me and I IN YOU.” Then comes the punch line: “I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU ORPHANED . . . I WILL BE WITH YOU FOREVER.” There it is -- all that I ever needed -- never again to feel orphaned, never again to fear being abandoned. And once so grasped, God’s declaration appears everywhere. So we read in Monday’s Compline that “unwearied is God's love for us.” And in the first Reconciliation Mass used today we are promised that in the Eucharist, God “binds us with Him in a love that cannot ever be broken.” How perfect that this theme of abandonment and unconditional love should come on Mothers’ Day -- as the heart of the Divine maternal message that all of us most need to hear.

God’s love to us all!

Fr. Paul

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May 22, 2023

Praying the pain goes away in your shoulders.

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