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June Monastic Week, 2024

Dear Friends,                                                             


I fully intended to leave the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center on Monday the 10th.  But at the end of the previous week a severe rash reoccurred on my left shoulder and arm, bringing severe itch.  Went to the Walk-in Clinic, for salve and a shot -- no help.  Informed Fr. Alberic and Fr. Cyprian that I would be delayed.  Then to my main doctor for a stronger Prednisone treatment; no effect.  So had to cancel my visit, and on Saturday I am feeling a bit better.  But the phone report is that all is well at the monastery.


Last report I shared the completion of my booklet entitled “A Short Life of Jesus” (32pp.) that I would send to you FREE. This is my last offer.  If you want a copy, email me at simply providing your snail mailing address.


I was scheduled to be the Priest today.  So for those of you who might be interested, included now is the “world premier” of a sermon never to be preached.  The beginning was an introduction to confession:  “The secular world celebrates this day as Fathers Day.  Jesus’ favorite name for God is Father, or a better translation is ‘Daddy.’  What a fine tribute to his own father Joseph, and what a special way of understanding our own intimacy with God.  And so as we now ask our Daddy for forgiveness, let us remember with regret those times when we conceived him as being wrathful, vengeful, and fearsome....”


The homily begins with stating today’s theme as one that runs through a number of Mass readings.  It is the theme of the “Reign of God” -- or, as it is more commonly called, “The Kingdom of God,” or as one of our Mass liturgies even names it, “The Empire of God.”

Actually this theme is the heart of the Gospel itself, for from the beginning Jesus summarizes his message as: “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”  The last time that I preached on this theme, I indicated that when we look at scripture as a whole, there are at least SIX contrasting images of what Jesus could mean by “Kingdom.”  The conclusion that I drew was that Jesus used different analogies for the Kingdom in different contexts in order to communicate just with the particular group with whom he is speaking.  This is what today’s gospel indicates in saying “To the crowds Jesus spoke only by way of parables but to his disciples he explained things privately.”


Thus we are forced to ask, why didn’t Jesus just explain things plainly to everyone?  The explanation is that for Jesus to have explained the meaning of the Kingdom openly would have meant his immediate execution at the hands of the Roman invaders.  In a real sense, Jesus is an insurrectionist, affirming himself to be King of a Kingdom that turns the values of his society and ours upside down.  What then is the version of the Kingdom that Jesus chooses in today’s scripture for being able to preach to the gathered peasants without those in authority being able to understand?    


He uses agricultural imagery, for they are farmers, poor and uneducated, who have no ability to change anything but their own selves.  So in today’s gospel Jesus uses parables whose theme is growth.  He likens the coming Kingdom to a farmer who sows seeds, and then, through         no power of his own, watches day after day as the crop emerges --          blade to ear and finally into wheat.  His task is to WAIT -- wait for what God is doing, and when all is ripe, THEN shall be the time for wielding the sickle, for all shall be ready for the harvesting.     For those with eyes to see and ears to hear, this is really a parable of judgment upon the rich and the powerful, providing these peasants with hope that God is providing the growth by which, in due time, the Kingdom will be theirs  to harvest. 


Does this mean that in the meantime they are to do nothing but wait?  The scholars who arranged our Lectionary readings provide us with an Ezekiel passage as answer.  God will cut off the top of a towering cedar, Ezekiel says, and plant it on the highest mountain where it will become majestic -- so that all the rest of the trees shall know that the Lord brings low the high trees, and lifts up the lowly ones, and that God withers the green trees and makes the withered trees blossom.  As Jesus himself puts it, “The first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”  Today’s psalmist understands this to mean that those who acknowledge         themselves as deserving to be last, these alone will grow to become like cedars of Lebanon -- even the very oldest of us.


Thus the analogy that today’s scripture uses for the Kingdom focuses on the individual growth that each person is to nurture -- declaring that the Holy Spirit plants a seed of yearning deep in each of us, and that by nourishing it, we can grow large enough for the birds of the sky to find a home in our branches.  The peasants who listened to Jesus that day were like us.  We are all wounded, or at least badly bruised -- and whatever in our past has caused this, there is deep within us a fear of rejection, a sense of failure, and/or an awareness of being unworthy.  As I have previously confessed, my own wound is a fear of being abandoned, and thus being thrown away as not being worth keeping.   Whether we try to hide our woundedness through arrogance, or by always blaming others for what goes wrong, or by taking blame for everything so as to be shadowed by depression, or by seeking escape in wasteful sensuality -- whatever form our self-deception takes, the seed fails to grow.  They may rot.


Growth is possible only by being nurtured by the unconditional love of God.  As seeds, we must first die to all our false efforts, confessing ourselves of these failures.  Only those who do so will be readied to rise by the sunlight of the resurrected one.  The miracle of miracles, the cure of cures, the answer of answers -- these can all be summed up as occurring when we finally accept the gift of knowing, once and for all, that “nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” -- no thing, no time, no where -- never.  As for the big things, like the coming of the cosmic Kingdom, Jesus tells the peasants to wait, trusting that to God’s hands.  Meanwhile, for us the lowly withered ones, it is sufficient for us to give up our dead-end efforts, and instead accept the gift of unconditional love by the God who undergoes even crucifixion for us.  


Hopefully I will be ready for the July monastic visit.  In the meanwhile, may you be able increasingly to perceive the real presence of Christ in all growing things.  And may the Grace of God bless us all. 

                                                                         Fr. Paul

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