As I drove toward the monastery, the summer’s flower derby was nearing an end -- with Queen Anne’s Lace persevering toward the finish line. After receiving five inches of well-deserved rain in 24 hours, the green earth was grinning, ear to ear. The sample day has been sun, fluffy clouds, and temperatures never going beyond 83. Nice.
The significant news on the bulletin board was a letter announcing that on August 1 the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Grace at Aptos, CA would become official, the deed to be given by the Poor Clares to our former Superior, Fr. Thaddeus. Our Fr. Peter gave his life as its beginning, and Fr. Bruno has been working there for several years. Congratulations are much in order. Frs. Basil and Alberic will fly there on July 30 for the celebration; and on August 4 will return along with Fr. Bruno and two new Vietnamese monks, both named Peter. At the end of August, Brs. Ambrose and Gabriel will leave us to go to intensive English-speaking school in California, and then on to theological studies. Meanwhile Brs. Roberto and Ignatius are applying for U.S. visas. So much for our Trappist vow of stability!
My assignments were reader at Vigils, Sext, and Vespers, organist for Compline, Refectory Server, and cake decorator in the Bakery. The Garth is sprightly with Black Eyed Susans, scarlet Zinnias, Tiger and Day Lilies, yellow roses, a purple something-or-other -- and gold fish. The large flower planters recently built by Fr, Thaddeus have sprouted surprisingly with twelve tomato plants. Our original ten white pigeons have clearly not taken the monastic vow of celibacy, because there are now 25 of them dutifully lined up along the roof line urging the sun at every dawn. The garden is lushly filled with what-evers. The Orchid House is apparently complete, with two doors and two windows -- as 20 potted plants share the sand floor with some abandoned tools. Surprisingly, for the first time in quite a while, there were no flowers in the church.
What I suppose might be called our Cistercian Sports Academy has expanded its offerings. In addition to table tennis, pool, soccer, and exercise machines, we now have in the parking lot a netless basketball hoop on an official adjustable pole. Francis #2 and Austin, our new “explorers,” are being worked into the community with assignments in the liturgy. Jill’s daughter, who works as dispatcher with the local police department, has been exposed to a co-worker who now has the virus, requiring that both she and Jill be under quarantine. Br. Joseph is maintaining the Guest Wing. Retreatants are slowly returning, with six persons visiting at different times during the week, including Jim Delo, one of our Family Brothers.
The motor of our carpentry shop’s table saw has burned out. Fr. Basil and I removed it only to discover that the model has been discontinued -- requiring purchase of a whole new saw. This halts temporarily the building of new oak benches made skillfully with mortised joints.
At the Wednesday homily, I shared how it is helpful sometimes to rename some of the parables of Jesus to grasp better their meaning. Thus instead of the “Prodigal Son” it is more to the point to call it the “Yearning Father.” Instead of the “Lost Sheep,” it might be called the “Passionate Shepherd;” and instead of the “Lost Coin,” it might be God as “The Searching Widow.” In doing this, I find myself emphasizing God’s grace instead of our works, focusing on the “giver” rather than the “recipient.” So it is with the day’s parable about the farmer and his seeds. It is certainly not a lesson about effective planting, for the farmer violates every known rule of agriculture. Thus its meaning is best grasped by calling it the parable of God as “The Extravagant Sower.” This was brought home to me in 2011 with the new translation of the Catholic Sacramentary. At the key point in the Mass it now reads, “This is the chalice of my blood which will be poured out for you and for many.” I yearn for the former words -- that Christ’s sacrificial act was not “for many” but “for all.” The choice of focus is primary: should it be on the offer, or the reception of the offer; on the God who says “Yes,” or on those who say “No?” I find it far more meaningful when the focus is on God as being so madly in love with his creation that He extravagantly throws seeds everywhere -- behind dumpsters, in smelly landfills, in weedy lots, along plastic-strewn seashores -- wherever there might be someone, no matter how unlikely. The redemption that Christ offers is for ALL, no matter what the response -- for God is determined that everyone receive an invitation to his banquet, no exceptions. This is the hope, then, for whose of us who are rocky ground, who have shallow soil and little depth, who find ourselves in thorny places -- that God’s sowing is extravagant.
Bishop Leibrect, our retired bishop, visited on Thursday, sharing about building projects in the diocese; and answering a question about the status of Latin masses after Pope Francis’ recent decision. The nearby Benedictine nuns living on our property have a Latin mass daily. Since this is a matter for the diocesan bishop, he saw no problem.
After Vigils-Rosary early Thursday morning, a full moon was perfectly framed in my cell window. Friday dawn blessed us with a dense shroud of mystery-fog, filling the valley as if a chalice. Saturday’s surprise was 80 degrees at dawn, and our blessing was a visit from five of the Nazareth hermits to share our mass. Sunday’s scriptural theme was clear. It was about eating and drinking. In our Old Testament reading, a man brings Elisha a gift of 20 loaves of bread, only to be told to use them for the impossible task of feeding all the persons present. Yet he did, and plenty was left over. Our Responsorial Psalm delivered the message: that the “the hand of the Lord gives all living things their food in due season, so that all eyes may look hopefully to the Lord.” Then in John’s gospel, with Passover near Jesus in effect becomes Celebrant for the First Mass, providing a new Passover from death to life. He takes common bread, this time a little boy’s fish sandwich, and does the four things that have since become the structure of every Eucharist -- he “took,” he “thanked,” he “broke,” and he “gave.” These readings recalled deeply why I became a Catholic: yearning to be so fed. When I was a boy, to be rebellious resulted in being expelled; either from school or from church. Sounded good to me, on both counts! But in time a contrasting analogy took hold. Not to be able to go to church to receive the Eucharist would be like being sent to bed without one’s supper. Relatedly, I recalled when the local Methodist Church asked me to serve on their Building Committee to design their new Church. Each time we met, we received something to eat and drink. And in time I came to realize that the real community which this church experienced occurred after the church service --when a number of them went to a local restaurant for lunch together. I learned too that “covered dish suppers” were a favorite activity. So, I asked, wouldn’t it be appropriate, then, to place eating and drinking at the heart of the church design? After deep discussion, an altar was placed at the center of the plan. And so it has always been for Catholics, that the Eucharist is at the heart of almost every gathering -- lifting our joys and concerns onto Christ’ cross where they are taken into God, and then having returned the consecrated elements as “food for the journey.” And there is more. The “real presence” of the Incarnate Christ can sensitize all our senses so as to perceive everything sacramentally. Wisely Cyril of Jerusalem once suggested that after receiving communion, while our lips are still wet, to brush them with our finger and then hallow our forehead and all our senses. That way the whole world can become Eucharistic.
Dear friends, I hope that you do not have to go to bed without supper. J