Dear Friends, Mid-June 2023
I have been electronically disabled for over two weeks since my laptop did not appreciate the cup of coffee I gave it. My “salvation” was Michael, the computer whiz at the monastery. After two four-hour trips to his home, I am now at the monastery with the rebuilt result. If you receive this report, I will be electronically happy again.
It was a pleasant rain-deprived summer trip. The daisies were gone, replaced by Fleabane and Queen Anne’s Lace, with touches of a purple flower with petals pasted back like a puppy that has just been scolded. The garden was a bit spotty, and the Garth in need of some tender care. But there were sufficient harvested roses for the church. Br. Hillary has returned to Vietnam for several years to complete his theological studies. That now makes eight resident monks so that we are at our “outer limit.” As directed by the Diocesan Bishop, we now offer both the body and blood of Christ at all masses. At the direction of our Superior, we are no longer wearing cowls during the hot summer months. Fr. Thaddeus (our past Superior) and Fr. Basil (our present Superior) have both reached eligibility for becoming citizens of the U.S. Both are in process. At lunch our reading is about Pope John Paul II and remnant families of the Holocaust. Our chickens may have overdone their meandering, as they were last seen several days ago heading West past the dog feeding bowls. Jill is healing very nicely -- pleased with the surgery and the financial arrangements. A host of items have arrived from Walmart, charged to Fr. Alberic, about which no one seems to have any information. Fr. Alberic II has contributed a battery scale to our “fitness room.” Fr. Cyprian and I are approaching “old age” with new pills -- his are “water pills” for heart and mine are “pain pills” for arthritis. Five Vietnamese nuns were here for a week retreat. My labora for the week centered in being Presider at Tuesday and Sunday Masses; Reader at Vigils, Sext, and Vespers; and Server in the Refectory.
+++Tuesday was the Memorial for St. Anthony of Padua. He wanted so much to be a hero, or, very least, a martyr. As a Franciscan, he was sent to convert the Moslems in Morocco. What could be a better chance for him to be both! But health problems intervened and he was forced into a humble retreat. There at home under the consolations of Christ’s healing touch, he died at the age of 35, but not before becoming himself a consoler of lost persons and misplaced objects. One of yesterday’s scriptures would have been an excellent one for St. Anthony, where St. Paul in a short passage of seven lines used the same word seven times. That word was CONSOLATION. Hallmark Greeting Cards has made a fortune creating “consolation cards” -- or, as they call them, “Get Well Cards” Indeed, today’s world is badly hurting, in need of a great amount of consolation -- permeated as it is by sickness, sadness, suffering, depression, violence, and death. Mother Theresa could well serve with St. Anthony as “Co-patrons of Consolation” for our times. Now what does it mean to be consoled? The word means to be made “firm,” “solid,” “stable” -- to be enabled to stand on one’s own feet on one’s own ground. This connects well with today’s epistle when St. Paul continues his letter by declaring that to be consoled by the loving Christ is to be enabled to stand firmly with Him in the ability to say “YES.” As we have had occasion to say before, Christianity is often misunderstood as being a NO religion -- “don’t do this,” “never say that, “you are wrong” -- a religion of NO’S surrounded by warnings, threats, punishments, and even torture. But, in contrast, we are told that Christ came not to judge but to console -- not to reject but to love, enabling us to stand firm. I am convinced that there is nothing that Christ cannot console into healing -- whether the condition is depression, sickness, addiction, or rejection. Last week I took some time at the local store to read through the Get-Well Cards to see what message of consolation Hallmark Cards thinks the world needs to hear. These are the themes. “I am thinking of you.” “I am praying for you.” “I am with you.” All of these are variations on ONE theme -- “YOU ARE NOT ALONE!” Nietzsche once said, “It isn’t the suffering that is so hard; but it is the having to suffer alone.” It is to this condition of ours that the Christian Faith offers CONSOLATION of a very special kind. It is this: that through Jesus Christ, GOD ALL MIGHTY IS WITH US -- with us then, now, and forever, whatever happens! To never be alone again -- this is the promise that makes all the difference. And those of us who know this consolation through Christ Jesus know ourselves to be those whom today’s gospel identifies as the “salt of the world” -- those who can stand positively, firmly, and confidently for the good, the true, and the beautiful. As the old hymn puts it, “We shall not be moved.” +++
I was only slightly aware that Friday was to be the “Solemnity of the Most Sacred eHeart of Jesus,” which meant little to me. But when a special rehearsal for it was called on Thursday evening, the practice of Chants and the Te Deum made me a bit more attentive. This would be a first for me at the monastery. Previously I had only known that some of the “artistry” for this day suggested a lesson in anatomy in which Jesus was performing a self-autopsy. It seemed to be another of those Catholic accretions that we ex-Protestants somehow had to waddle through -- anticipating soon an Office adoring his spleen. :-) One such picture was hung for the day beside the Tabernacle. But the day began with a surprise, when I was given to read for Vigils my favorite scripture -- St. Paul’s declaring that “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.” I began noticing special features such as the four beautiful bouquets that Br. Joseph had created for the occasion. So after Vigils, beginning about 4:30 AM, I was draw into researching the Catholic Encyclopedia -- discovering that this celebration had no known originator. Instead, it had simply happened, emerging slowly in time. And so it was with me. In the silence of my cell, I slowly read and reread all the readings for the day throughout the day. The conclusion with which I was being gifted was that what had emerged around this celebration tended to be poetic hyperboles rooted in deep thanksgiving. For my theological mind, far preferable would be the imaginative image of “Crucified Love.” This Solemnity is the declaration that the HEART of God is best characterized in terms of God’s wounded passion for His suffering Creation. If a visual is needed, I recalled the statue on a hillside at Gethsemane monastery in Kentucky where Jesus is on his knees, hands covering his face, his head almost touching the ground. “Behold your God.” All day long the Offices kept reiterating for me this theme, beginning to render this Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus one of the most important of Solemnities. The visiting nuns feasted with us -- a menu that included fried chicken, wine, and ice cream. Then, as a perfect setting, the day ended with a much-needed rain. On Saturday, for the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Nazareth Hermits were our guests for Mass.
The last Sunday on which I had done a homily at the monastery was on Mother’s Day, and here I was preaching on Father’s Day as well. This ignited in me the awareness that at the beginning of our Bible God looks out in delight over the creation that He has just made, and exclaims, “Now let us make some people in our own image . . . male and female He made them.” Male/Female, then, would seem to be an apt image of who God is! So during this Father’s day Mass we used such nomenclature in our liturgy, asking forgiveness for tending to make the masculine normative.
+++During Tuesday’s Mass we had identified the human dilemma as one of loneliness -- of feeling as if no one cares, that we have been forgotten, that we are not loved, that somehow we have been abandoned -- in a word, that we belong “nowhere.” How many persons, especially as they age, look back over their many years and conclude that they have really been a nameless blob lost in a crowd of nameless blobs? But thankfully all of our scriptures today speak otherwise to this situation. Our Gospel from Matthew begins by describing our dilemma in this fashion: “At the sight of the vast crowds, the heart of Jesus was moved with pity, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.” And so he summons his disciples and tells them that they must now begin to gather a unique people for a new “Reign of God” by making them sheep WITH a Shepherd. They are to do this by “curing the sick, healing the lepers, and expelling the demons” -- offering to others “the gift with which they themselves had already gifted.” And what is the result of being so gifted by God? All of today’s scriptures tell us: it is to be given an IDENTITY, a status, a name, a belonging. So in our Exodus reading we are told that God has bore us up on Eagle’s Wings -- and has made us “God’s own special possession, dearer than all other people on the face of the earth, members of God’s own “Holy Nation.” Our Responsorial Psalm identifies us as the “Sheep in His/Her flock,” gathered by God alone, the ones that God especially tends. And in Romans, Paul insists that because God is our Lover, we are God’s “Beloved.” When I was a boy, the most important thing that ever happened to me was becoming a Boy Scout. Here I was, a skinny little runt of a kid, in a tiny forgotten coal mining town, born into a poor family -- a nobody -- but one who became somebody. When I joined the Troop, I received a uniform, was encouraged to earn 50 merit badges, and in time became a prestigious Eagle Scout. I was someone -- not by lording it other others, not at all. Rather, I had become someone because I could now show other boys how to BELONG -- TO HAVE AN IDENTITY. But all of this was only a mild analogy for the identity that I and all of us receive when we have become Christians. Then it is that we are given an eternal status, a name, a belonging. The composite of today’s scriptures says it all. WHO are we? God’s Chosen People! WHAT ARE WE? The sheep in his flock! WHERE? In the Kingdom of God! HOW? Through the forgiveness of our sins! WHY? Because we are the beloved of Christ!. WHEN? Now, right now! FOR WHAT? Eternal life! Just as were the original disciples, so today’s gospel declares that each of us is the “Pearl of Great Price.” What better identity could one ever want? +++
May we live out our identity courageously, together, in full awareness of how wondrously different this makes us.
Love, beyond the end,