Fr. Basil, Superior, has asked that I make clear that these reports represent my perceptions and not necessarily that of the monastery as such.
As I drove toward the monastery, everything seemed deep green with the sky pouting, all in expectant silence. Only an occasional patch of Black-Eyed Susan’s seemed to smile. By the time I reached the monastery, the anticipated much-needed rain had begun as sprinkles, off and all, continuing through the night. The most impressive addition was a new air-conditioning/heating unit for the Church. A Vietnamese friend of Fr. Basil’s, whose business is in St. Louis, did it for free. With the unit standing on a platform in the northeast corner, a rectangular galvanized conduit reaches the ceiling, and from there extends above the windows all the way to the rear -- with seven double-vents. A propane supply line was embedded from the kitchen. Underneath the unit itself, two compartments have been built to contain Mass supplies and utensils. The Credence Table, which matched the Altar, has been removed, replaced by the small table that was in the center of the rear aisle formerly for processions. When the unit operates, the sound is like that of a breeze among trees. The owner is presently considering if the conduit could be extended into the Guest Wing, with individual controls in each room. Also new is a large brown refrigerator in the kitchen, with a top-to-bottom freezer door on the left and a corresponding refrigeration door on the right -- with an insert designed on one door to provide ice cubes or crushed ice on demand. A repair man from Nixa has econditioned one of our washers and two driers. Unreported by me was a second washer purchased several months ago. Fr. Bruno has taken down two ailing trees along our rear parking lot, and moved our mail boxes to the other side of the road, anchoring them in concrete. The speaker in the Refectory, to amplify our noon-day reading during our meal, has been moved from the south to the east side, apparently for better acoustics. Over 40 indoor potted plants have assembled themselves outside in the cloister, eager to taste the last rays of the summer sun before returning for an indoor rest. Another exciting happening was when a solitary screw somehow invited itself into the weekly laundry; but it was finally captured in the dryer drum before it had caused more mischief. Fr. Michael has gone to Vietnam for two years of “training,” and another monk is likely to go there soon. A third monk is applying for theological studies in Minnesota, and Fr. Atcutis is temporarily away. At last count, we presently have eight resident monks. Superior Basil recently became a U.S. citizen. Fr. Joseph, Abbot of our Motherhouse in Vietnam, spent a week here recently, giving promise of support for Assumption Abbey. Because of the Covid crisis, we are slow in permitting retreatants. As for the Bakery, all is going well in the attempt to bake a record 31,000 fruit cakes this year, with orders usually beginning in earnest in October. The monks are presently signing up for Virus and/or Covid shots. My assignments were as Priest on Tuesday and Sunday, Deacon on Thursday, Communion Minister on Friday, Antiphon leader at all Offices, daily Server in the Refectory, and hearing several confessions. I drove Fr. Cyprian to Ava on Thursday and Friday to renew his driver’s license. The City Hall was on security alert as several threats had been received. The Benedictine Sisters were scheduled to have the Bishop bless their new bells on Saturday afternoon. The California foundation, where our former Superior Fr. Thaddeus presides, is hurting for monks, but recently two local men have volunteered to serve somewhat like our former “family brothers.”
Tuesday’s homily began with the statement that through the history of Christianity the “good news” of the Gospel has centered in one thing -- the forgiveness of sins. Today’s Responsorial Psalm says this well by declaring that “God is compassionate to all his creatures -- good, gracious, kind, merciful, and forgiving.” And in our reading from Colossians, St. Paul adorns this affirmation with rich imagery. “In baptism,” he says, “you were buried with Christ, and raised to life with him, for he has pardoned all your sins, nailing them to the cross.” And in our Gospel reading, we see Jesus coming down from the mountain, having prayed there all night, and there awaits him a multitude of persons from all over the country side, yearning just to touch him in order to receive his healing forgiveness. The language of scripture glows with corresponding images. We are told that forgiveness removes our sins as far as the east is from the west; and that God casts our sins into the depths of the sea. Freely used are such images as God “blotting out our sins,” as “no longer remembering them,” as having them utterly “forgotten,” and as having them “cast behind God’s back.” So clear, so simple, so wonderful -- that through forgiveness we can again become clean like a little child, starting life over again. And yet the statistics are alarming, indicating that fewer and fewer persons resonate with this incredible message that the church has to give. How can that be? I think the answer is the growing feeling among many persons today that they have no sins needing to be forgiven. If politicians are caught in an affair, they simply label it as a “mistake,” apologize, and that is the end of it. The word “sin” has almost entirely fallen out of usage, replaced by such words as “misunderstood,” “error,” or “forgetfulness” In fact, one of our large cities prides itself in being called “Sin City,” with its motto being: “Whatever you want to do, you can do it here.” Increasingly for many persons there is no longer any right or wrong, but only personal opinion. Even deeper, Pilate scoffed, “What is truth?” -- and we thought that we knew. But never before has an ex-president been indicted four times, and yet millions of his followers dismiss all of this as a hoax, believing against all evidence that he is actually the elected President. He boasted that he could murder a person at Times Square in broad daylight and his followers would still vote for him. Democrats, too, practice their own kind of projection. The ethics of the Supreme Court is at an all time low. And wherever we turn, we encounter advertising making all kinds of extravagant claims. Furthermore, no matter what one’s behavior, one can find it being practiced on social media, where lies are repeated until they become truth, and truth is sufficiently ridiculed to become an illusion. We can now use Artificial Intelligence to create seemingly indisputable documentation rendering true anything that we ask of it. Commonplace has become such expressions as “fake news” and “alternative facts.” Truth is coming to mean “whatever I say it is.” What possible sense, then, can forgiveness have in this age of such “relativity?” And yet, our consciences will not remain silent -- even though their echo is experienced in new ways. Never before has a society had such a high percentage persons suffering from a host mental problems -- with anxiety, despair, obsessions, and suicides at epidemic proportions. Psychiatrists and social workers are being consulted in record numbers. but they can only offer temporary relief -- for they cannot offer the words that alone can bring genuine healing. The words that can are the ones that Peter and John spoke to the lame man outside the Temple Gate: “In the name of Jesus Christ, your sins are forgiven; pick up your bed and walk.” This is the remedy that through the Church is so graciously available to all people -- but those who do not hear are those who have not yet made the correct diagnosis of their problem.
In Sunday’s homily, I shared that forgiveness actually has two parts. The first part was the subject of Tuesday’s homily -- Christ’s offering of unmerited forgiveness for the wrong we have done, a forgiveness that the “relativity” in which our society is immersed denies as necessary. And now today we share the second part of forgiveness, the part that is often more difficult for us than the first. This is the need to forgive the sins that others have done to us. The reason that today’s Responsorial Psalm gives for doing this is that just as God is merciful to us, so should we be forgiving toward others. In today’s gospel Peter asks how many times he should forgive his brother -- seven times? “No,” says Jesus, “seventy times seven.” In other words, our forgiveness of those who have hurt us is to be without limit, because Jesus’ amazing forgiveness is extended to us who have hurt him in multiple ways -- even unto crucifixion and death. The prophet Sirach realistically brings self-interest into the formula when he says, “If we nourish anger against our neighbor, how can we ever expect to be forgiven by God.” But there is more. In my many years as a spiritual director, I have been brought to a deeper reason. I have not dealt with anyone who has not been scarred in some way, or at least badly bruised, by what he or she has had to experience in the past at the hands of one or more persons. No one. Thus, for example, in trying to help a person understand why he is so hard on himself, we have had to dig into his past until we uncovered that as a child that person has had a domineering father, or mother. “You can’t do anything right” are the words heard over and over again by that parent -- until these words take on a life of their own, becoming that person’s own harsh feelings regarding himself. Or it might be that the reason why a person has difficulty with intimacy is because in her early years her trust has been betrayed by someone dear to her. And if we do not deal with such scars, they become festered, as our memory keeps recalling them. Thus when a hurt that happened long ago gets replayed over and over again, the scar keeps being torn off, making us continue to bleed. As we read today from the prophet Sirach, anger is a hateful thing, for it is like having a rusty knife thrust into one’s heart, only to have our memory continue to twist and turn it. Bernard of Clairvaux identified this as having dirty footprints on one’s soul, or lacerations on one’s heart, or the gnawing of a worm within. To forgive others for how deeply they have hurt us is difficult, and yet if we do not forgive them, we permit the original hurt to re-occur, over and over. We are not asked to like them, but we cannot ever become a healthy and loving person until with Jesus we can say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they did.” I may have told this story before, but it bears repeating. I wanted for a long time to explore the Florida everglades. Finally I did, first stopping at a Ranger Station for advice. What he told me was always to stay on the main path, and for no reason to go down any side ones, for these are “alligator paths” -- and at the end of each there is likely to be an alligator waiting. So it is in life. We must identify the one, two, or three Alligator Paths in our lives, and then ask God to help us install a gate with a pad lock at the entrance of each. This means that from then on, at the very moment that one’s memory tries to enter one of these alligator paths, we can remember that we with Christ have posted a “No Entrance” sign at that gate, for in having granted them forgiveness, we are truly free.
Dear friends, may we shuffle contentedly through autumn’s colorful leaves, freed by having been forgiven, and in forgiving.