Dear Friends Mid October, 2022
I was not eager to leave the Hermitage SpiritualRetreat Center, with the lake shimmering in the October sun as migrating Pelicans glided across the surface like queenly swans. After over two month’s without any measurable rain, I didn’t expect much of a colorful fall. Only as I went further south was there a mixture of lighter green and some hints of yellow, with dark scarlet dogwood and brilliant red sumac as an occasional accent. Sort of nice, but there was little to serve as harbinger of a splendid fall.
The outside of the monastery showed only small changes. There was a mysterious four foot pile of wood chips in front of the RetreatCenter. The Orchid House was abandoned, with its doors and windows standing open -- a haven for abandoned garden supplies. The garden itself remained lush. The Carpentry Shop has been totally rearranged. A group of men, who for years has been using our many acres for hunting, began “repaying” the monastery by replacing the markers of our exterior Stations of the Cross. More recently they have leveled our graves, placing the crosses in perfect alignment. They have now promised to refurbish our cemetery crosses, one by one, and to serve as Cemetery stewards. In the Garth, the newly built concrete “Mountain” has, as anticipated, received visitation by a two foot tall grey Mary, making the whole creation about six foot tall. Wiring and plastic piping give promise of a future waterfall.
Inside, the most notable addition is in the church. Our Superior, Fr. Basil, has returned from an accountability session in Vietnam, bringing with him a painting, on an oval cross-section piece of oak, of a romantic version of a white St. Joseph, a white boyhood Jesus, and a white lily. It has been mounted, with candle, on the right side of the tabernacle, complimenting our Virgin Mary with Infant Icon mounted on the left -- with five words that I cannot translate. By Thursday it had gained a garland of plastic ferns. A note on the Bulletin Board indicated that our Superior has approved that a neighboring couple, who regularly attends Mass here on Sundays and Feast Days, is permitted to receive Communion by mouth. Only the priests presently receive the wine at Mass. Fr. Cyprian now has glasses. Family Brother Loren Schrier with us for the week making his next promise on Saturday. Peter, Mary, and their daughter, our Vietnamese Benefactors from Chicago came Tuesday for two weeks. The waterfall finally happened sometime early Tuesday morning -- water flowing from three sides, with dripping stones, illumined by solar lights. Impressive. We were blessed by two inches of rain on Wednesday. Michael Hampton, our “hippie” employee, for some reason or another, has cut off his long pony-tail. Fr. Jesus of Nazareth Hermitage met a Mama Bear and her two Cubs along the trail to Fr. Leon’s old hermitage. Fr. Joseph, Abbot of our Vietnamese Mother House, was here last week, promising support for Ava by sending more monks, beginning with Br. Ignatius arriving November 2. Colds may be subsiding. The dogs have returned. All in all, there seems to be a peace here as the ten of us are forming a gentle, committed nucleus.
My specific assignments were recitation of Antiphons for our services, serving our daily meals, being Deacon on Thursday, and Priest on Wednesday and Sunday. Our Wednesday reading from Galatians harshly declares that to follow Jesus means undergoing crucifixion with him, having our flesh crucified with all its passions and desires. Although martyrdom is the graphic example, most of us will need a concrete alternative. Therefore it is helpful to examine the anatomy of sinfulness that we are supposed to crucify. Helpful are the temptations that Christ himself had to undergo, not only for forty days and nights, but periodically for the rest of his life. There were three, which on occasion we have identified as POWER, PRESTIGE, and POSSESSIONS. Each of us has been tempted by “power”-- to lord it over others, to have them do whatever we want then to do, to win in every game. We are also tempted by “Prestige”-- being envious by comparing ourselves with others, and desiring to be at the center of whatever is going on. And each of us is tempted by “Possessions” -- to have more than other persons, with greed to possess more than anyone else. While in today’s gospel from Luke Jesus illustrates these temptations in terms of the Scribes and Pharisees, we can better illustrate them in terms of all of us who have been caught up in the modern rat-race of competition on its various levels. And on closer examination what we discover is that all three of these temptations are really different ways of trying to cover over our emptiness, to cloak over our inadequateness, to hide our finitude. And if we continue this competition for what society continually dangles before our eyes, we will discover that it doesn’t work, for our nakedness is never totally covered for long -- that we are never able finally to pull off the charade of pretending to be whom we are not. Brought to such a realization is to undergo CRUCIFIXION -- for there will always be someone more powerful than we; always someone more popular than we; someone with more possessions than we. Enough is never enough. Therefore it is only through such crucifixion that we are emptied in order to be filled. Only when we stop competing will we be quiet enough to hear the Word. Only when we confess our nakedness will there be room for the gift of gifts -- the gift called GRACE because it is given graciously -- never capable of being earned by our own efforts. Christians are beggars who show each other where to be fed. In the end, all that any of us really need, all for which we all secretly yearn, is to be loved. And Christ is the only Lover who can give us the unconditional kind of love that can truly fill us -- the gift that is given not as a “because” but always as a “nevertheless.” The front seats of honor in Christ’s Kingdom are reserved not for those who seek them, not for those who come expectantly wearing tuxedos. They are reserved for those who only want permission is wash dishes in the Kingdom’s kitchen, wearing stained aprons.
I began the Sunday homily by sharing that as a boy what fascinated me most about Sunday worship was the Blessing, called the Benediction as a dismissal.There were three in particular that I memorized as my favorites.Listen carefully as I share them with you.The first one:“And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord;and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always,Amen.”Powerful!The second one:“Now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever.Amen!Powerful!!And the third one:“Now the God of peace, who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Powerful!!! Maybe you can understand why I could never understand persons who would leave the Service before receiving such a blessing. I have found today’s readings helpful in understanding more deeply why I felt as I did 80 years ago. Let’s begin with the reading from Exodus, about Israel’s battle again Amelak. What they discovered was that when Moses raised his hands in BLESSING, Israel’s army experienced a power that gave victory. We recall too when Isaac gave his BLESSING to Jacob -- that even though by trickery it was given to the wrong son, it was permanent, and could not be undone. One of the Psalms shares the lament when in exile they could no longer say to one another, “God’s BLESSING” be upon you,” and thus were deprived of the joy of hearing the response, “And BLESSING to you in the name of the Lord.” Further, Jesus gave the summary of his teaching as the Beatitudes, meaning BLESSINGS. And when Jesus sent out his disciples two by two, he instructed them in each town to find someone with whom to stay, and give them their BLESSING; but if the house proves unworthy, then let your BLESSING return to you -- and the consequence will exceed the punishment dealt out upon Sodom and Gomorrah. Furthermore, Jesus declared that one of the key marks of faith is one’s ability to BLESS those who curse you. Likewise, Jesus BLESSED the little children, making them models for membership in His Kingdom. And Christ’s final act at the Ascension was to BLESS his disciples before sending them out to convert the whole world. But for Catholics, perhaps the most powerful BLESSING is what happens when a priest takes simple bread and common wine and BLESSES them. Thus we have countless illustrations of the power contained in the act of BLESSING. And in becoming a Trappist, I have learned the special power of BLESSING in a community of committed silence. At first, when I passed someone in the hall, I intentionally looked down at the floor. But in time I have discovered the power of a BLESSING when in passing a fellow monk, to raise one’s hand as a BLESSING, or to make a mini-sign of the cross -- and how meaningful it is to have such a gesture of BLESSING returned. This is what Christian community is all about -- the power to give blessings to each other, and, in fact, to BLESS everything. Thus St. Francis BLESSED the sun and the moon, every animal, every insect, and every water creature -- BLESSING them, each and all, in the name of the Lord. Yes, our response to being BLESSED daily by God is for us to BLESS all of God’s Creation in return.
And now let us BLESS one another, as God is BLESSING all of Creation with the gift of autumn color
May God BLESS you,