Homilies - April 2013

Select a homily to read:
Third Sunday of Easter: April 14, 2013 by Fr. Gabriel
Fourth Sunday of Easter: April 21, 2013 by Fr. Joseph
Talk at Dedication of Monmonier Wing: April 21, 2013 by Abbot James
Second Perseverance of Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard: April 25, 2013 by Abbot James
Fifth Sunday of Easter: April 28, 2013 by Abbot James

Third Sunday of Easter

  • April 14, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Gabriel

  • Download

The gospel of John, the most exalted gospel, should end with the story of Doubting Thomas, which we heard last week. When Jesus says, “put your fingers in the nail-prints and your hand in my side,” it is the most physically intimate moment in the New Testament. This is followed by the promise, “blessed are those who have never seen and yet believe.” This exalts us who are at some distance from the historical resurrection. The story ends, “there are other things that Jesus did; these are written that you may believe and have life in his name.” The End, curtain, applause.

The applause called forth this epilogue, chapter 21, which we heard at length just now. When compared to the rest of John, it is unexalted, prosaic, and substandard. And yet, there are some jewels of spiritual insight if you look hard. These are some that I noticed.

Setting. The action takes place in Galilee, where the disciples lived and worked before they met Jesus. It does not take place in the sacred space of Jerusalem, the place of Jesus’ passion. For us this means that Jesus is not confined to what we consider holy space; rather he comes to meet us where we are, in our ordinary activities. It is our job to open our eyes and recognize his unexpected appearances.

Cast of characters. Nearly always Jesus interacts with the Twelve. In special moments he singles out Peter, James, and John. In this chapter we have seven characters. Five are identified by name, including Nathanael, the loud-mouth who once asked, “can anything good come from Nazareth?” At the other end of the spectrum is “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” the one who understands Jesus as deeply as possible. In between are five who are not one thing or the other, maybe ambivalent in their faith. Two are unnamed. They probably represent you and me, with our ambivalence and neither/nor qualities. They have mental reservations but are included anyway.

Plot. I am not so interested in the sensational catch of fish, which comes in another form when Peter is first called. More interesting are the responses to it. Peter dives impetuously into the water, thoughtlessly leaving the net for others to drag in. In contrast, the beloved disciple doesn’t need to behave impetuously because he has the eyes of love. It is he that first recognizes Jesus. The eye of the heart see more than outward eye. The eye of the heart stays open and watches when the space is empty. And so it is able to identify the Savior when his figure takes shape on the misty shore.

The first scene ends with that very odd sentence, “Now none of the disciples dared to ask, ‘who are you?’—they knew it was the Lord.” This suggests that spiritual encounter is not an easy or comfortable experience. On the one hand, Jesus sweetly says, “Come, have breakfast.” On the other, he is remote, not huggable. His presence is so awesome that the disciples dare not probe it. Even Nathanael, the loudmouth, even Thomas, who had that earlier intimacy, keep their mouths shut. There will be times when Jesus says, “touch me and see.” But there will also be times when Jesus stays in the background and won’t do it for us. We must learn to appreciate both experiences as times of connectedness and blessing.

Second scene: interrogation of Peter. I have never liked the emotionally harassing quality of this dialogue, “do you love me, do you love me, do you love me,” ending with Peter writhing like a worm on a hook. It is thought to be reparation for his three denials on the night of Jesus’ arrest, and gives the impression that God is after his pound of flesh for the various mistakes we are sure to make. It could be seen in more positive terms as Jesus’ effort to slow Peter down—to stop him from jumping in the water and neglecting the net. Real love requires such slowing-down. We are not so smooth in our first efforts, but that is no reason to give up. It is on the second or third or tenth try that we begin to figure things out, and it is worth the embarrassment of all those previous blunders.

Third scene: prophecy of Peter’s martyrdom. “You will be taken where you do not wish to go.” Grim thought. Yet accurate depiction of the negative obstacles that fall into our path. We can feel persecuted and trapped by such mishaps. Or is Jesus offering a liberating alternative? By connecting Peter’s defeat to Peter’s discipleship—this bad thing will happen to you but follow me anyway—is Jesus linking disappointment and victory in a way that is very alien to our usual thinking? Whether we suffer unjustly or whether we bring it on ourselves, it seems that pain always bears within itself the possibility of enlargement and transcendence. We do not come to this insight easily. We must stumble towards it gropingly towards it for a long time and in our own particular way. It is the sort of thing we must discover for ourselves, and are not granted in pre-packaged form. It is of course the heart of the Christian message, that out of death comes life.

The ending of chapter 21 is not as theologically strong as the close of the Doubting Thomas story. But it is touching, especially considering the previous austerities (none of the disciples daring to ask; do you love me; you will go where you do not wish to go). “There are many other things that Jesus did. If they would be written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the number of books which would have to be written.” All these books are our stories, each one precious, each one unique. It is good to think of our journey as the boat moving towards the shore, where in the mist Jesus awaits us.

Fr. Gabriel Myers
(Back to top)

Fourth Sunday of Easter

  • April 21, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Joseph

  • Download

My family used to like to collect little sayings that were just off the mark, like "I never saw a green tie that I didn't notice" (unless you notice a thing, of course, you don't realize you've seen it); once we heard someone come out with, "as I always say, 'little things come in small packages'." The saying, of course, is "good things come in small packages"--and it's often true; for example, expensive jewelry. And it certainly is true of today's second reading and gospel, both of which are very brief and very precious.

I remember Abbot Alban once saying, with reference to that second reading, that there is something very comforting about that "huge crowd which no one could number" standing before the throne--"comforting" because the bigger it is, the better the chance we think we have of being in it.

Actually, this "great multitude" cannot be properly understood without the opening of this chapter, with which it stands as the second part of a diptych, i.e., the signing of the 144,000. The Book of Revelation, is an apocalyptic composition, and, as most apocalyptic writings, sees humankind divided into two groups, the faithful, the elect, the chosen, "the servants of our God," and those who are persecuting them (in this case, the Roman Empire, but Rev refers to them as "the inhabitants of the earth," the ones whose names are not written in the book of life, who worship the beast, who are deceived by the beast, who have had intercourse with Harlot Babylon). There are going to be several series of seven plagues, but they cannot begin until "the servants of our God" have received the seal upon their foreheads. You can think of it as a seal of approval, if you wish, but its function is protect them from the plagues that are to come on "the inhabitants of the earth." Once they have been sealed, the plagues can begin.

Although it speaks of 144,000 sealed from all the tribes of Israel, this is symbolic; it is the square of 12 (the number of Israel in apocalyptic) multiplied by a thousand. This a symbolic way of representing the new Israel, a NT designation for the Christian community. I doubt that there are still fundamentalists around who believe it means the number of the saved--it would be a pretty small percentage of the billions of souls God has created. Jehovah Witnesses do believe it's the total number of those who go to heaven (others can enjoy and earthly happiness), and they can know who they are. Jim Miller, our Oblate of happy memory, who came from a JW family, said his mother was supposed to be one of the 144,000.

The rest of the chapter, which I call the other part of the diptych, presents a clearer and happier picture, with its "great multitude, which no one could number, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. The two parts of the diptych represent the same group, the one symbolically, the other in more concrete terms. It also reminds us of that first Pentecost Sunday and of that great crowd of pilgrim from all over--Parthians and Medes, Cretans and Arabs, Judeans and Asians, Egyptians and Libyans, and how they all accepted the preaching and were baptized into one body through the coming of the Spirit. In another way it is reminiscent of today's first reading, also from Acts, which shows Paul and Barnabas turning from their attempt to convert Jews to the Gentiles, who heard them gladly, so that the believers now swell to a multitude no ne can number and encompasses those from all peoples and all tongues and colors.

It also fits nicely with today's gospel of Jesus the good Shepherd. Although it reminds us of the parable of the Good Shepherd, it has closer affinities with a passage in Ezekiel. Elsewhere in this chapter of John, Jesus contrasts Himself with the robber who does not enter at the gate and with the hireling who flees when the wolf comes, so also in Ezekiel's oracle, the LORD begins by excoriating the bad shepherds who slaughter the fatlings, pasturing themselves instead of the flock, and ends--this is the LORD GOD Almighty--by saying, "As a shepherd tends his flock ... so will I tend my sheep." Half a millennium later we have Jesus, God Incarnate, saying the same thing. Jesus proves He is not a hireling who flees when the wolf comes; as He says, "I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." This is metaphor rather than parable, but there is nothing symbolic about laying down His life for the sheep; it is what we celebrated during Holy Week.

When Jesus says, "I have other sheep who do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd," we have again the universalistic note we found in the first two readings--the apostles now proclaiming the gospel also to the Gentiles rather than to Jews alone, and so we have that crowd impossible to number of Parthians, Medes, Elamites, Egyptians, Libyans, Jews, Cretans, and Arabs which made up the early Christian community.

We who live in a primarily Gentile, primarily white society, can tend to forget this universalistic aspect, but that would be to our loss. We are intended to recognize and appreciate the richness of our heritage. There is no room for xenophobia, racism, sexism, or the like. As St Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for me, but also for all those others. The unity that Christ desired and prayed for to His Father, "that they may be one as we are one," can be attained only by imitating the Good Shepherd--not necessarily by laying down our lives, but at least by loving all others as Jesus did, by being a servant to all, as Jesus was.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
(Back to top)

Talk at Dedication of Monmonier Wing

  • April 21, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Abbot James

  • Download

This is the talk that Abbot James gave on the afternoon of April 21 as part of a ceremony dedicating a renovated wing of the monastery
Click to read more about the blessing

A reading from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 37: The Elderly and Children

1Although human nature itself is inclined to be compassionate toward the old and the young, the authority of the rule should also provide for them. 2Since their lack of strength must always be taken into account, they should certainly not be required to follow the strictness of the rule with regard to food, 3but should be treated with kindly consideration and allowed to eat before the regular hours.

I chose this chapter for our reading this afternoon because it is especially appropriate for a service dedicating a wing of our monastery that was renovated in order to provide better facilities for some of our elderly monks. What St. Benedict writes in this particular chapter is very much in accord with the whole tenor of his Rule. To illustrate this more exactly, let me first say a bit about a somewhat earlier document that did influence Benedict in some respects. We don’t know the name of its author, but this earlier piece of monastic legislation is called the Rule of the Master. Among the deficiencies that prevented it from having stood the test of time and still be followed today is its insistence that every member of the community be treated in exactly the same way. In some ways that sounds pretty good: no possibility of playing favorites, absolute equality. What this overlooks, of course, is that different people have different needs and so require different kinds of treatment.

St. Benedict, recognizing this, makes all kinds of allowances in various parts of his Rule. For example, in the chapter entitled “Distribution of Goods according to Need” (RB 34), he begins by quoting a verse from the Acts of the Apostles: “Distribution was made to each one as he had need” and then adds this comment: “By this we do not imply that there should be favoritism—God forbid—but rather consideration for weaknesses. Whoever needs less should thank God and not be distressed, but whoever needs more should feel humble because of his weakness, not self-important because of the kindness shown him.” In a later chapter, “On Constituting an Abbot” (RB 64), he writes that in giving orders, the abbot “should be discerning and moderate, bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said: ‘If I drive my flocks too hard, they will all die in a single day.’ Therefore, drawing on this and other examples of discretion, the mother of virtues, he must so arrange everything that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.”

We see the very same principle at work in the chapter that was our reading this afternoon: knowing that the elderly or the very young do not have the same degree of strength as those in the prime of life, Benedict has the strictness of the Rule relaxed on their behalf. The specific mitigation he mentions is the matter of food. When I read that, you may have felt it rather insignificant that he allows the very old and very young to eat earlier than the rest of the community, but it’s important to know that in early monasticism it was normal for the monks to have but a single meal during much of the year. From mid-September till the beginning of Lent, this meal took place in mid-afternoon, and in Lent it was served not long before sunset. In those days, allowing the physically weaker monks to eat earlier was therefore something really significant.

It is surely in accord with this basic principle of Benedictine life that we have renovated what we once called “the old north wing” into an area with certain amenities appropriate for the more senior monks who will be living there, including a private bath, better temperature control for individual rooms, and no longer any need to climb stairs to get to their room. At the present time, Abbot Aidan and Fr. Hilary have already moved in, and others will eventually be moving there from their current second-floor rooms.

Before we turn to the blessing itself, you may like to hear something of the history of this wing. It was built in the early 1940s and originally intended to be a common novitiate for both our monastery and our sister house in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. After only a year or two, however, all the novices were moved to our 1930 building, which we now usually call the Tudor building, and this wing served as our high school from 1942 until 1955, when we opened a separate school building about fifty yards to the north. Subsequently, the wing had many uses: Various monks lived and slept in rooms there at one time or another, including Fr. Aelred Walsh and Fr. Daniel Kirk, both deceased, as well as some of our current monks. One room was a storage space for books, papers, and leaflets of liturgical music, two rooms were used for our library, one was the vocation director’s office for a few years, and so forth. When Fr. Simon was our superior a few years ago, he felt that we really needed what he called “a seniors wing.” After various modifications and simplifications of the original plan, our community officially approved the idea at a chapter meeting, and we subsequently raised enough money to hire an architectural firm, begin working with a general contractor that had already done some fine work on our property, and see the work to completion more or less on schedule and actually under budget, a rather remarkable achievement. I was especially happy at one of the last biweekly construction meetings when the project manager and site supervisor commented on how much they enjoyed working with us and how remarkably free of acrimony those meetings had been, unlike the atmosphere at many of their other projects. I’d like to think that some of this was due to the fact that we monks try to take seriously what St. Benedict says at various points in his Rule, such as this line from chapter four: “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way,” or, later in the Rule and quoting St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, “Each should try to be the first to show respect to the other.”

Needless to say, we could never have made this renovation without the generous help of benefactors, some of whom are present here this afternoon. We are deeply grateful for your kindness to us, and you are inscribed in our hearts even more permanently than on the plaque now hanging in the corridor of the wing.

I will now conclude our Midday Prayer service with a prayer of blessing, after which I will walk through the renovated wing, which we have named in honor of our third headmaster, Fr. Hugh Monmonier, and will sprinkle the rooms with holy water. All of you are then invited to walk through the wing yourselves. Feel free to look into any of the rooms, and afterwards please come to the calefactory for some refreshments.

So, let us pray:

Lord Jesus Christ, you promised to prepare a home in heaven for those who follow the evangelical counsels. Bless this residence and surround it with the wall of your protection. Grant that all of our monks who will live there may preserve the bond of love as taught us in the Gospel and in the Holy Rule of our Father St. Benedict. We thank and praise you for their long years, lived in faith and in doing good. Grant that they may have the loving support of their community and of their friends and relatives, so that in good health they may be cheerful and in poor health not lose hope. Sustained by the help of your blessing, let them spend their old age giving praise to your name, for you live and reign forever and ever. R. Amen.

Abbot James Wiseman
(Back to top)

 

Second Perseverance of Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard

  • April 25, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Abbot James

  • Download

This is the talk that Abbot James gave when the monastic community met on the evening of Thursday, April 25, for the “second perseverance” ceremony of the three novices, who are now halfway through their year of canonical novitiate.

Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard, since you are still novices you are seldom or never in our school’s academic building, and when Br. Samuel was a student there I don’t think the current entrance to the academic building had yet been renovated, so it’s possible that none of you have noticed a Latin saying near the ceiling just inside the entrance. It reads, “Rursus incipiemus nunc et semper.” I’m also not sure how far along you are with your Latin studies with Abbot Aidan, but you will have come across at least a few of those five Latin words. Literally, the sentence means “Now and always, let us begin again.” This strikes me as a useful admonition about perseverance, for if any one of you asks yourself just what it is you are requesting this evening, it is surely not simply to continue for three more months until the time of your third perseverance, but rather to persevere as a disciple of Christ Jesus for the rest of your life, ideally and hopefully as a member of our monastic community but in any case as someone who will remain faithful to the baptismal vows once made for you in infancy and ratified by you at the Easter Vigil each year.

The reason why that Latin saying speaks of constantly beginning again is in accord with one of the best-known sayings of the Desert Fathers. When one of them was asked what he did day after day, he replied, “I fall and I get up, I fall and I get up.” There is a healthy realism to that desert saying, for none of us can expect to avoid all sins and offenses, much less all imperfections. The important thing is never to get discouraged but rather to persevere in such a way that there be fulfilled in you what Jesus says in the 24th chapter of Matthew’s Gospel: “Many false prophets will arise and deceive many, and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:12-13).

What I’m talking about, therefore, is perseverance in the sense of never giving up, never doubting the ever-present grace of God, never doing what Jesus elsewhere warns against: putting your hand to the plow and looking back. At times this can take a lot of courage. Let me give you an example. It is taken from the world of sports but is, I think, pertinent to our topic this evening. I’m one of the few persons here who reads the sport section in the newspaper, which is fine with me because this means that it’s usually available. In addition to accounts of various games, there are occasionally some very thoughtful columns, one of which appeared about a month ago. I’m sure you are all aware to some degree of the man who is now again ranked number one in the world—Tiger Woods—and how a couple years ago his world fell apart: He was found guilty of adultery because of multiple liaisons with various women, went through a bitter divorce, can no longer be with his two children on a daily basis, was the butt of countless jokes on late-night television shows, and lost many very lucrative endorsements (which had actually brought him far more money than any of his tournament winnings). As a result of all this turmoil, he began playing such mediocre golf that his world ranking plummeted.

At that point, Woods could understandably have just given up. Instead, he spent many weeks in seclusion at a therapy center for sexual addiction, began taking seriously again the religious tradition in which he had been raised (in his case, Buddhism), and has gradually put his life back into some sort of order. Some writers have doubted the sincerity of his public avowals of contrition, and perhaps some of his expressions were crafted largely with a view to restoring his public image, but I nevertheless think there is a lot we can learn from all this. We need not hold him up as some paragon of virtue to admire the way he dealt with humiliating adversity. The sports column to which I referred, written by Thomas Boswell, included the following paragraph: “If some people don’t identify with what Woods has been through for the last 40 months, then perhaps they’re lucky. But they’re also not like a lot of us. It’s hard to find a life that never blew up. If that weren’t true, all the helping professions would be out of work.”

I sincerely hope that none of your lives will ever blow up in anything like the way Woods’ life did, but you will inevitably have times and occasions when you will be tempted to discouragement or confusion. Those are the times that will determine what your are made of, for it’s easy enough to talk glibly about perseverance when everything is rosy. For the more challenging times, it is important to keep in mind those words of the Lord that I quoted earlier about persevering to the end, even as St. Benedict speaks the same way at the conclusion of the prologue to his Rule when he speaks of “faithfully observing [God’s] teaching in the monastery until death” (Prol. 50). Another great saint, Catherine of Siena, whose feast we will celebrate this coming Monday, is also a trusted teacher and guide about perseverance. As you may know, we have from Catherine not only her classic work, The Dialogue, but also hundreds of letters. In one of them, addressed to her followers back in Siena when she was away from her native city, she had this to say:

To Sano Di Maco and All Her Other Sons in Siena: In the Name of Jesus Christ crucified and of sweet Mary: 

Dearest sons in Christ sweet Jesus: I Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in His precious Blood: with desire to see you strong and persevering till the end of your life. For I consider that without perseverance no one can please God, or receive the crown of reward. He who perseveres is always strong, and fortitude makes him persevere.

All of us wish you, dear novices, that kind of perseverance as you continue to run along what St. Benedict calls “the path of God’s commandments” (Prol. 49).

Abbot James Wiseman
(Back to top)

Fifth Sunday of Easter

  • April 28, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Abbot James

  • Download

All of us have various affiliations, whether to clubs, political parties, athletic teams, or the like. If you ever want to learn about the affiliations of someone whom you don’t know well, there are two general ways of finding out. One is to listen to that person’s words so as to find out what he or she is committed to and really believes in, and the other is to observe his or her behavior. This latter way is perhaps the better of the two, at least if you accept the old proverb that actions speak louder than words.

Well, about twenty centuries ago, pagans who did not know much about the new religious movement that came to be called Christianity likewise had two ways of finding out what it was all about: they could ask the followers of Christ what they really believed in, and they could observe the way they lived. To oversimplify a bit, what the early Christians believed was that Jesus of Nazareth was truly the Son of God, raised from the dead and still present with them both in the Eucharist and in the least of their brothers and sisters. As for the way they lived, at least at their best, this was summed up by what some Roman pagans said of them: “See how these Christians love one another.”

Jesus’ own teaching about how his followers are to live is nicely summed up toward the end of today’s Gospel, where he says to his disciples at the Last Supper: “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). And just how are we to do this? By following his own example, as he says just one verse earlier: “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another” (Jn 13:34; cf. Jn 15:12). I would therefore like to reflect in this homily on love and some related realities, and to begin I want to quote two sentences from St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s treatise On Loving God. That great medieval saint once wrote, “Love is one of the four natural passions. There is no need to name them, for they are well known.” Well, they may have been well known to readers of his day, but I had to look them up in another source, and I expect you would have to do the same. I’ll save you the trouble by saying that the medievals considered the four natural passions to be love, fear, joy, and sorrow.

What most interests me—and I hope you as well—is the interrelationship among these four basic emotions, out of which all the other emotions are traditionally said to be composed . Joy and sorrow are clearly incompatible. If one of these two prevails in your life, the other will to that extent be absent. As Jesus said to his disciples at the Last Supper, “You will be made sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy” (Jn 16:20). On the other hand, joy and love go hand-in-hand, for joy is defined as the emotion that accompanies the possession or expectation of something that is greatly desired, and what could be more desired than God, who is himself love (1 Jn 4:8, 16)?

What about fear? How does it relate to some of these other basic emotions? St. John again helps us here, for he tells us perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn 4:18)—a truth repeated by St. Benedict at the end of his treatment of humility in the seventh chapter of his Rule—and we could go on to say that the joy that accompanies perfect love is likewise incompatible with fear. This is actually the main point I want to make. You might recall that some thirty-five years ago, when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected pope, practically his first words to the whole world were ones that the risen Christ had once spoken to his disciples: “Be not afraid.” More than any other season of the church’s year, this Easter season is one when we need not be afraid of anything, for it is preeminently a season of joy. There are five prefaces from which the priest may choose for use in Masses during this season, but every single one of them contains the following words addressed to God: “We praise you with greater joy than ever in this Easter season, when Christ became our paschal sacrifice,” as well as the words, “The joy of the resurrection renews the whole world.”

The joyful fearlessness I’m talking about is very evident in Jesus’ disciples after the first Pentecost. We heard in our first reading that after Paul and Barnabas had proclaimed the good news in Derbe they returned to Lystra. That doesn’t sound remarkable, but it does if you note that in immediately the preceding verses, not included in today’s Lectionary reading, Luke writes that it was precisely in Lystra that Paul had been stoned by some angry Jews from Antioch, dragged out of the city, and left for dead. Yet now we find him going right back there. Still earlier he had had to flee the city of Iconium because of a mob, but none of this, or any of the other dangers that he faced, even came close to making him abandon the preaching of the Gospel. There was no place in his heart or mind for fear, so full was he of joy. It would, in fact, be very instructive to go through St. Paul’s letters simply noting all the times that he speaks of his joy. Here are just a few examples. To the Romans he writes: “I urge you … to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf … so that I may come to you with joy by the will of God and be refreshed together with you” (Rom 15:30-32). In one of his most personal letters, his second to the Corinthians, he writes: “I am filled with encouragement; I am overflowing with joy all the more because of all our affliction” (2 Cor 7:4). To his favorite community, the one in the Greek city of Philippi, he writes: “My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord, beloved” (Phil 4:1). I could go on about St. Paul’s joy, but you get the point.

The really important thing is to realize and be convinced that the same joyful confidence can be ours. Yes, things may and often will go wrong in our lives. We may make mistakes, even serious ones, whether in our families, our workplaces, or elsewhere, but if we trust in God’s help we need never fear. Instead, we will be able to take heart in the words of God addressed to all of us through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, words that have also been set to music in a slightly different version and are sometimes sung at liturgies: “Be not afraid, for I have redeemed you…. When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior” (Is 43:1-3).

Even as we may rightly take heart at these words, we may know other persons around us who need to hear them, persons who may be despondent at the loss of a loved one, or the breakup of a marriage, or the loss of job, or a medical diagnosis of some serious illness. Our Christian faith is not pollyannish. We know that things can go wrong, that some mornings we’d just as soon stay in bed, but we also know that ultimately the Lord never lets us be tempted beyond our strength. As St. Paul writes in the beautiful eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?... No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Rom 8:35-37). Let us take heart in these words, and in whatever ways possible help others who may be oppressed by sorrow or fear to know the love of God that casts out all fear and turns all sorrow and grief into year-round Easter joy.

Abbot James Wiseman
(Back to top)