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Week of Pentecost

Dear Friends,                                                                   

           

            We had a harsh storm at the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center just before time to come to the monastery for my May week.  But by leaving time, and all along the way, there were on-and-off showers.  Clearly the flower of the month was the Daisy.  Upon arrival, most noticeable was Fr. Bruno’s work -- small evergreen trees planted at intervals along the road.  Apparent also were select fruit trees at the rear of the monastery, and it was reported that a number of trees have been planted in our abandoned vineyard further down the back road.  All the interior plants are now on the Garth porch.  The swallows have returned, but the homing pigeons have not come home.  Several mornings at daybreak we were blessed tenderly with a lemon-tinted fog.  In the Church is a lovely new rose plant, along with assorted cut roses -- likely the work of Br. Joseph.  For reasons unclear the Ping-Pong table was moved from the room by the bulletin board to the rearranged basement dressing room.  Spring planting in the garden has begun in earnest.  Fr. Basil has returned from the Mother House in Vietnam, and arranged for a monastic visitation.  This happened a week ago when a Vietnamese Abbot arrived, and after a short time living in the community and meeting just with the Vietnamese monks, concluded positively.  He said that the monastery in Vietnam, Assumption Abbey, and Fr. Thaddeus’ monastery in California are being considered as one monastic community. Brs. Kolbe and Lawrence are an excellent influence on our communal spirit, and are here for two years, hopefully longer. Br. Lawrence has assumed organ duties, with a style appropriate for a mortuary.  Fr. Alberic #2 is now visiting his mother, and from there will go to the Mother House in Vietnam for a three month stay.  Alberic #1 is at New Melleray for one of his two promised yearly months at his Mother House. We have had one man all week as retreatant.  Mary Tu has taken charge, having completed the grey paint overhaul of the monastic kitchen, and is planning to do the same with the Guest House kitchen.  Her menus are now totally Vietnamese, with an impressive wardrobe as corollary.  She and Jill have divided responsibilities amicably, and Jill is recovering nicely from her hip surgery.  At our noon meal, a tape machine is reading some old rabbinical manuscripts going back to post-exilic times.  My assignments were as Priest twice, and once as Deacon.

            The Tuesday homily began by recalling that just two days ago Ascension was celebrated on the same day as Mother’s day, but I was not at the monastery. So I wished to begin by sharing quickly what this convergence recalled for me.  For a long time, Ascension had little meaning for me, simply being a way for Jesus to exit the human scene.  But more recently, Ascension has become a central celebration.  What it means is that Jesus did not leave behind him the humanity that in the Incarnation he assumed.  Rather, he takes our humanity with him, so that in the Eucharist, along with the body of Christ, we lift the works of our hands into God, as an ongoing mini-ascension -- becoming co-creators with Him in bringing the cosmos into Kingdom completion.

            As for Mother’s Day, I had little desire to honor it either -- largely discounting with it the key role of Mary in our Catholic faith.  Then one day Fr. Cyprian said to me, “Paul, Mary can become for you the mother that you never really had.”  So she could; so she can; and so she did.  Therefore along with God as FATHER, I now have Mary the Mother of God as my MOTHER too -- and with it I can now affirm Jesus as the BROTHER for whom I have always yearned.  Yes!

            This brought us to the day’s central celebration -- the Feast of St. Matthias.  In our Acts reading, Peter stands before a large crowd of believers, and states in affirmative fashion that it was the destiny of Judas to betray Jesus.  He then asks the group to nominate candidates for his replacement.  They nominate two:  Joseph and Matthias.  Now notice the interesting way in which they make the decision.  They take what today we would call dice; they pray to God to make the decision; and then they throw the dice.  God decides for Matthias.  Cynics might discount this as superstitious gambling. Yet I wonder if our country might do better using this method for making crucial decisions.  Abandoning our terrible congressional partisan fighting, we could just ask the President to pray; then throw the dice.  Maybe.

            Regardless, today’s psalm indicates the gigantic responsibilities that Matthias is to assume -- as model for all Christians.  He and we are told that “God raises up the lowly from the dust; from the dunghill he lifts up the poor, and seats them with princes of his own people.”  Thus Matthias is never to forget that his ministry is to focus upon the poor, not the          rich; on the hungry and not the well fed; on the homeless and not those with mansions.  The gospel then makes clear what makes it possible for us to live this radically reverse way from that of society.  We can do it because, as Jesus says, “It is not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”  Not just Matthias but all of us have been chosen!

            And yet I wondered what happened to Joseph, the person who was not chosen in the dice toss.  I hope he was like Barnabas, who in seeing what God was doing in Antioch discerned that, instead of becoming their leader, he should go and find Paul -- confident that it was Paul and not himself whom God was choosing as head.  Barnabas knew that this made his role that of being Paul’s assistant.  Probably each of us knows what this is like -- not to be chosen, in having to be satisfied with being on the second team -- with being substitute for the substitute.  And although this role at times can be difficult, among the real saints are those chosen for the second or third teams.  These are the saints willing to do the insignificant things simply because they need to be done -- trusting today’s gospel where Jesus says, “As the Father loved me, so I have loved you; that your joy may be complete.”  Therefore whether the love of God chooses us to be first or last; leader or janitor; priest or the one who lights the candles -- all that matters is that God makes the decision, and that we accept it as having been made out of love.         

                                                            *

            At the conclusion of lunch on Wednesday, our Superior Fr. Basil shared that his 59 year old brother had been in a long coma.  The family decided that it was time for an ending.  He is now dead.  Fr. Basis would leave immediately for the funeral.  Prayers for his brother, and for the whole family.  On Friday afternoon, Fr. John did a presentation on sign-language for the deaf, with Fr. Cyprian supplementing it with examples of sign language used by earlier Trappists.

                                                            *

            Our Sunday readings provided us with two very contrasting interpretations of Pentecost -- of how the Holy Spirit comes into our midst.  In our Acts reading, we hear what can be called the extravert version -- one filled with noise, wind, tongues of fire, uproar -- with everyone speaking all at once in tongues.  Apparently this was the energizing joy that these Christians needed in order to share the good news to all the world.  Out of curiosity, I went once to a Pentecostal service -- and there, when the pastor gave permission for the Spirit to flow, they all began talking at once in tongues.  Like this  &$#.  For me, it was gibberish; but clearly it provided for that congregation the joy that they needed in order to speak the good news in varying ways. In radical contrast, today’s Gospel portrays what we can call the “introvert” version of Pentecost.  The scene has the disciples locked in the upper room, fearful for their lives.  Suddenly Jesus appears, and says exactly what they need to hear:  “Peace be with you.” Then he breathes silently upon them, and shares these words:  “Receive the Holy Spirit.” No noise, no fire, no strange speech -- only the peace that they needed to hear -- the peace for which the world yearns, but which the world can neither give nor take away.  The Spirit was given to them in this manner so that they could exist in deep inner peace, no matter the outer threat of death.

            Either version, the goal is the same.  As today’s psalm puts it:  “Lord, your spirit renews the face of the earth.”  What’s more, the Holy Spirit is the very breath that we breathe in order to live.  Breathe.  Expressed minimally, St. Paul in today’s Epistle declares that simply the ability to declare one’s self a Christian is ample witness to the Spirit’s working -- for “no one can say that “Jesus is Lord” except through the Holy Spirit.”  

            The question to which we now turn is how can we experience more deeply this presence of the Holy Spirit.  For a long time I have been exploring the spiritual practice called “Contemplation.”  What I am learning is that there are three basic types of contemplation possible, rooted in the Trinity. In the first kind one becomes open to God as CREATOR, as the Father of all things, who sustains everything in every second -- otherwise nothing would exist.  In order to experience God in this manner, one needs to enter into stillness, into the bottomless silence where we can begin realizing ourselves as being totally undergirded by the Creator as our Source. At the bottom of our existing there is God, always.  Appropriate words might be “mystery,” “suspended,” “upheld.”

            The second kind of contemplation is an openness to Christ through whom God becomes incarnate as our Companion.  Christ is closer to us than we are to ourselves -- being within us, by us, and for us.  Thus even though there will be times when we are alone, never should we feel lonely -- for Christ has promised: “I am with you always, even to the end of the ages.”  Appropriate words for this type of contemplation might be “acceptance,” “friendship,” “presence.”       

            The third kind of contemplation is the one to which Pentecost particularly witnesses. It entails sensing deep in us and within everything that exists, a restlessness to become whole.  This deep yearning is as if one is being lured and urged and drawn toward fullness and completeness.  Augustine called this being restless until we find our rest in God.  Here we touch the outer edges of the Spirit’s own yearning, urging us in our creativity to participate in the becoming of God.  Here one’s imagination can feel intoxicated by promise, sensing as call the Kingdom vision of the new heaven and new earth.  Appropriate words might be “magnetized,’ “inspired,” “motivated.”

            Today is Pentecost, and so, whether one is introvert or extravert, how good it would be if we could stroll along a tree-lined path  this afternoon and feel surging within us the Pentecostal Holy Spirit that likewise is thrusting forth into fullness all the leaves and life around us.  

                                                            *

 

And so friends, we now enter into “Ordinary Time” to live and work in the Spirit for the next 33 weeks, climaxing the year on November 24 with the celebration of “Jesus Christ King of the Universe.”  Perhaps one of these times we will no longer need to begin again with Advent.                         

                                               

                                                May God bless us all.

                                                           

                                                            Fr. Paul

 

NOTICE:  I recently completed a booklet entitled “A Short Life of Jesus” (32pp)  If you would be interested in receiving a FREE copy, send me an email at hsrc3@juno.com   -- saying “Yes” and providing your name and mailing address.

 

 

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