Homilies - January 2013

Select a homily to read:
Feast of the Epiphany: January 6, 2013 by Abbot James
Baptism of the Lord: January 13, 2013 by Fr. Hilary
First Perseverance of Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard: January 24, 2013 by Abbot James
Third Sunday of the Year: January 27, 2013 by Fr. Christopher

Feast of the Epiphany

  • January 6, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Abbot James

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As you know, back on October 11 last year, the day that marked the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council, the Church began observing a Year of Faith that will continue all through the current liturgical year, ending just before the next season of Advent. There is, of course, a sense in which every year is a year of faith, for as St. Paul once wrote to the Corinthians, in our life on earth “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). But there are particular reasons why, in our own time, a year of faith is called for. In his homily at the opening Mass of this special year, Pope Benedict said that in many respects we are today living in a spiritual desert. Here is part of what he said on that occasion:

In the Council’s time it was already possible from a few tragic pages of history to know what a life or a world without God looked like, but now we see it every day around us. This void has spread. But it is in starting from the experience of this desert, from this void, that we can again discover the joy of believing, its vital importance for us men and women. In the desert we rediscover the value of what is essential for living; thus in today’s world there are innumerable signs … of the thirst for God, for the ultimate meaning of life. And in the desert people of faith are needed who, with their own lives, point out the way to the Promised Land and keep hope alive.

Surely we could all name some of these exemplary “people of faith” who point out the way for the rest of us. In a very interesting interview that he gave a few years ago, one of the Protestant “delegated observers” at Vatican II, the theologian George Lindbeck, said that people like “Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa have done far more to sustain continuity with Jesus and the apostles than have theologians with their ever-changing explications of the faith.”1 This is very much in accord with something that Pope Benedict has said a number of times in the course of his life, namely, that the two most powerful and effective witnesses to the Gospel have always been the saints and the great Christian artists. There is, however, something ironic in Professor Lindbeck’s statement. For years people thought that Mother Teresa was practically living the heavenly life of full, clear vision already here on earth, but with the publication of her letters to spiritual directors we learned that this was not at all the case. In one of the most striking passages from that correspondence, she wrote the following to Fr. Joseph Neuner:

… Father, since 1949 or 50 this terrible sense of loss, this untold darkness … such that I really do not see … The place of God in my soul is blank.—There is no God in me…. He is not there.—Heaven—souls—why these are just words—which mean nothing to me.—My very life seems so contradictory. I help souls—to go where?—Why all this? Where is the soul in my very being?2

We may readily agree with her spiritual director that Mother Teresa was here undergoing that dark night of which saints like John of the Cross have written, and we may further agree that there is nothing one can do in that state but persevere in bearing it “in the assurance of God’s hidden presence and of the union with Jesus who in His passion had to bear the burden and darkness of the sinful world for our salvation,”3 but that may not do much to lighten the difficulty of faith in our own lives. As Mother Teresa’s great friend and supporter, Pope John Paul II, said in his address to two million young people at World Youth Day in Rome in the year 2000, “It is hard to believe in the third millennium. Yes, it is hard. There is no need to hide it.”4

And if we ask why faith can be so hard, for one answer we need look no farther than our reading from the prophet Isaiah for this feast of the Epiphany, where Isaiah speaks of Jerusalem bathed in the splendor and glory of God, with other nations walking by her light and their leaders walking by her shining radiance. What we see instead is a city beset by bitter contention, while the entire land of Israel, what we are wont to call the Holy Land, is mostly known for outbreaks of violence and the threat of further open warfare. Where is God, where is the Prince of Peace, in all of this? Those are real questions, and perhaps the only satisfying answer is to recognize that we need to live more than just by faith alone. After all, there is the second theological virtue, hope, which sometimes gets overlooked but which is crucial if we are to persevere in our Christian discipleship. In fact, hope and faith depend on each other, and only with both may we find “not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering.”5

Moreover, it is hope that helps us live a life of love, the kind of love that never despairs no matter how many horrors at places like Newtown and Aleppo we hear and read about, a love that makes no distinction between persons on grounds of race or ethnicity or religion. In the solemn blessing that we will use to close this celebration of the Eucharist, one of the petitions goes like this: “Since in all confidence you follow Christ, who today appeared in the world as a light shining in darkness, may God make you, too, a light for your brothers and sisters.” We will be that light only if we live after the example of people like Mother Teresa or Dorothy Day, no matter how much darkness we might sense around us or even in our own hearts. Through our reception of the sacramental body and blood of Christ at this Mass, may we be epiphanies of the Lord Jesus as we continue our pilgrimage through the desert of this life toward the radiant land that has been promised us.

Abbot James Wiseman
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1 George Lindbeck, “Performing the Faith,” The Christian Century, Nov. 28, 2006, p. 29.
2 Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Come Be My Light, ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 210.
3 Joseph Neuner, quoted ibid., 214.
4 Quoted by George Weigel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John
Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy
(New York: Doubleday,2010), 247.
5 Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope (London: SCM, 1967), 21.

Baptism of the Lord

  • January 13, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Hilary

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 “Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,  . . .  
Love has come again, like wheat that riseth green.”  

You may recall these lines from the longer hymn that we sing at the cemetery in our commemoration of deceased community members on All Souls’ day.  

Baptism, especially in the form of immersion of the head or more, is a symbol of dying, dying to sin and rising to a new way of life. . Jesus needed no forgiveness, but his baptism was the occasion of God the Father’s blessing, as we heard, “You are my beloved Son, with you I am well pleased.”  

So began Jesus’ ministry, his preaching, choosing of Apostles, working of miracles, until he became too difficult for the administration, was crucified, died and rose again to new and risen life.  

I would expect that most of us here were baptized as infants. Some years ago I had the privilege of being the leader in a parish Christian Initiation program for adults. Preparation for Baptism and Confirmation took about a year, weekly meetings of prayer, instruction in doctrine and sharing on the life of faith, and all aspects of Catholic life. All this reached its climax in the Initiation through receiving the Sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation  during the Easter Vigil, the great celebration of the Resurrection of the Lord. All that made for a heartening if lengthy activity.

Baptism and Confirmation call us all to a life of Christian responsibility, of a life of charity. There are many answers to the question of just how that is done, can be done. Recent events raise the issue of weapons readily available to deranged individuals. The practice of charity, not only giving but also loving, has many degrees and dimensions.

Sincere and active participation in the liturgy enables us all to go deeper in our Christian lives, our charitable lives. As we remember and celebrate the Baptism of the Lord, let us, remembering them or not, celebrate our own baptisms, and recommit ourselves to live as children of God, sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ, and heirs of heaven!

Fr. Hilary Hayden
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First Perseverance of Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard

  • January 24, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Abbot James

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The following is not a homily, but a talk given by Abbot James. In our English Benedictine Congregation novices are to be approved by the abbot’s Council every three months it they are to continue their novitiate, after which the abbot is to give a talk at what is called a “perseverance ceremony.”

Our English Benedictine Congregation’s Ritual says that the talk to be given on the occasion of a perseverance ceremony should actually be “an exhortation” to the novices, in other words, a talk that should encourage you, spur you on to ever greater faithfulness to the way of life you have chosen. As far as I can judge, you are already fervent and generous in the way you live among us, but we all need encouragement from time to time simply because of the tedium that can set in as we go on day after day, each day more or less like any other. There’s even a book about monastic life titled An Unexciting Life. That, however, is only one side of the coin, for if our way of life is not marked by a lot of outward excitement and variety, the very journey to God—what St. Benedict calls running on the path of God’s commandments—can be exhilarating indeed if only we keep our eyes on the goal. You’ll recall that when we were reading and discussing some of John Cassian’s Conferences a few months ago, we saw how his very first conference makes a distinction between our ultimate goal, the kingdom of heaven, and the proximate means of getting there, which he calls purity of heart. The main point I want to make this evening is that if you take seriously and reflect often on the main reason you chose monastic life—what St. Benedict calls “the seeking of God”—then other things will tend to fall into place.

And since the three of you are not the only ones listening to this talk, I would remind all of us of the responsibility that we, the professed, have in this matter. A fine monastic author recently wrote the following lines: “In a world of many distractions, people enter monasteries with a view to concentrating their lives on the one thing necessary. The greatest service that the community can do is to keep reminding them of the ultimate purpose of the choice they have made.”1 We do this, I think, not mainly by reminding you of this verbally but by showing in the way we live that this is the goal that keeps us excited in what might be, in other respects, “an unexciting life.” But you might also want to remind yourselves verbally from time to time, just as St. Bernard is said to have done. One of his early biographers writes that in order to maintain the constancy of his resolve, the saint would regularly say to himself, “Bernard, Bernard, why have you come?”

One other way to keep this all-important goal before our eyes is to take seriously what we do every time we come to this chapel for one or another of our liturgical services, for if we are attentive at those times, then the very words of the Psalms that we pray and the readings from other parts of the Bible or other sacred writings to which we listen will inevitably shape our conduct and our outlook, often in ways that might surprise us. I forget if any of you were already here as visitors or postulants when we were having read during meals a book by Sr. Meg Funk in which she recounted a time in Bolivia when she and some companions were caught in a flash flood and she narrowly escaped death. She wrote that while she was being swept along in the rushing waters, phrases from the Psalms that she had been praying for many years kept coming to her mind, both comforting her and convincing her that no matter what happened, she was in God’s hands. In her words, “Again and again, one after the other, the psalms rose unbidden by my mind and flowed from me, the words echoing the pain and honesty of the psalmist all those centuries before. Like him … I called for sanctuary, and like him … I hoped against hope that the isolation, dread, and terror might be eased and I might be returned to the safety of dry land and shelter before the morning light.”2

People sometimes say that when faced with death, their whole life passes before their eyes. I’m not sure just what that means, but in any case I think it would be better if on such an occasion the whole Psalter would pass before one’s eyes just as the Psalms passed before Sr. Meg’s eyes, for we have in these prayers practically every conceivable sentiment that should mark our relationship with God. As you know, Cassian singles out a particular verse from Psalm 70 as especially suitable for the practice of constant prayer—“God, come to my assistance; Lord, make haste to help me”—but I wouldn’t want to exalt that verse over so many others that could serve equally well. In fact, very similar to Cassian’s verse is one from the very next Psalm, the twelfth verse of Psalm 71: “God, do not stand far from me; my God, hasten to help me.” Or another, from the same Psalm: “You are my hope, Lord; my trust, God, from my youth.”

Any of us could go on and on choosing such verses as particularly helpful on one or another occasion, but the main thing is to be willing to linger over them, whether in what is our rather slow and reverent pace of recitation during the Liturgy of the Hours, or when doing lectio divina at other times. The important point is not to rush. In this connection, I just happened to come across an instructive paragraph from a very elderly Benedictine sister as I was disposing of a lot of the newsletters that accumulate in the calefactory. Sr. Lenora Black begins the paragraph with a reference to the early days of our country, something we heard a lot about during our recent refectory reading of the life of Alexander Hamilton, and—accurately or not—Sr. Lenora contrasts the situation then with what we have down on Capitol Hill today. Here’s what she wrote:

The founders of our country certainly had disagreements, even violent ones, but they shared certain principles and goals and held them deeply enough to work together unto death. It is hard to find that kind of commitment in our governing bodies today. What has changed? I am no sociologist, but just in my 86 years of life, it seems that almost everything has [changed]. The most obvious is the pace of life. The speed and quality of travel and communications have enormously widened our horizons. [But] we drown in data until our mental circuits are flashing OVERLOAD!... Rarely do we spend time assimilating the challenge and wonder of it all.3

To be sure, there are some phrases in the Rule of St. Benedict that could incline one to rush, such as his urging us to run on the path of God’s commandments, but Benedict’s horarium with its leisurely balance among the practices of divine office, work, and several hours of lectio daily make it clear enough that he would have agreed with the classical adage festina lente: make haste slowly. May you and all of us do so in our common journey to our ultimate goal, the kingdom of heaven or, better and more personally, union with the Father through Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. I pray that you will indeed persevere in this journey.

Abbot James Wiseman
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1 Michael Casey, The Art of Winning Souls: Pastoral Care of Novices (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2012), 23.
2 Mary Margaret Funk, Into the Depths: A Journey of Loss and Vocation (New York: Lantern Books, 2011), 97-98.
3 Sr. Lenora Black, OSB, “Imagining a New Reality,” Spirit and Life, Jan.-Feb. 2013, p. 5.

 

Third Sunday of the Year

  • January 27, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Christopher

  • Nehemiah 8 (excerpts)
    1 Cor. 12, 12-14,27
    Luke 1, 1-4;
    4, 14-21

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Matthew, Mark, Luke … A, B, C. We are in Year C in the liturgical cycle. That means we will hear excerpts from St. Luke’s gospel during the season of ordinary time. Ordinary time? Don’t we live in the fullness of time when every minute of every day of the year is grace-filled? The Son of God has taken on our humanity, suffered, died, and been raised to be our Savior. He has revealed all we need to know of God the Father’s loving plan for fullness of life in a new creation. Can time really be ordinary now?

The beginning of St. Luke’s gospel is uniquely autobiographical, giving his reasons for writing a reliable account of the events based on eye-witnesses’ testimony. In other seasons we hear his version of Jesus’ infancy, the baptism and the temptation in the desert. Today we hear St. Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

The gospel and the first reading from the Book of Nehemiah can be seen as a diptych, describing somewhat similar events that occurred about 600 years apart. The Jewish exiles back home from Babylon are gathered at the Watergate in the ruined walls of Jerusalem listening to the Ezra the priest read to them the word of God from daybreak to noon. The townspeople of Nazareth are assembled in the synagogue listening to a native son reading the assigned lesson from the prophet Isaiah for that Sabbath. Ezra reads the book of the Law of Moses, interpreting its meaning as he goes along. Jesus reads a passage from the last chapters of Isaiah, and claims that what he read is fulfilled in their hearing.

Those hearing the Law of Moses with its severe sanctions for not keeping it, not being obedient, react with sadness and weeping. Ezra the priest and the governor Nehemiah encourage the people to feast and rejoice in the Lord, because they assure them, “Today is holy to the Lord.” They encourage them to rejoice in the Lord who will give them strength. Those in the synagogue, hearing Jesus’ claim that the prophetic Good News is fulfilled in him, are pleased with his interpretation and teaching.

As we will hear next Sunday the townspeople’s positive response was short-lived. They know that Jesus is the son of Joseph the carpenter, their neighbor. They know his mother, his brothers and sisters. He and his claims are too much for them. Soon they drive him out of town and try to throw him over a cliff.

How sad that Good News is dismissed, even opposed by some hearers? How is it that we, mere mortals, resist the Creator’s plan for our temporal and eternal well-being, which is truly good news? God has given us guidelines for a good life: the commandments, the law of love. In spite of all that revelation and aid, we know that sinfulness is a reality and that we experience the cumulative effects of it individually and collectively in spiritual blindness and weak wills.

St. Paul describes our sad state as an internal war between the law of the flesh and the law of the spirit. But there is hope. “There is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus!” In the morning office the scripture reading was from Paul’s letter to the Romans, the beginning of chapter 8. His words are so appropriate to our reflections I want to quote them at some length. He wrote:

“The law of the spirit, the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, has freed you from the law of sin and death. The law was powerless because of its weakening by the flesh. Then God sent his Son in the likeness of sinful flesh as a sin offering, thereby condemning sin in the flesh, so that the just demands of the law might be fulfilled in us who live… according to the spirit. ….you are not in the flesh, you are in the spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

Two thousand years later here we are assembled on the Sabbath to hear the word of God and offer a suitable sacrifice to our creator and redeemer. So let’s make the diptych a triptych. Like the Jews in the Nazareth synagogue, our eyes are fixed on Jesus and the word fulfilled. At his baptism Jesus was anointed with the Spirit of God. He the holy one, the sinless one, empowered the waters of baptism to wash away our sins. Paul reminded the Corinthian believers - and us along with them - that at baptism we were anointed with the same Spirit, becoming members of Christ’s body.

As members of Jesus’ mystical body, is it really too bold for each of us to say, Today the Spirit of the Lord is upon me and has anointed me? We should rejoice to be able to make that claim, while sobered by remembering the mission that goes with it. Like Jesus’ disciples we are told to go spread the good news, to set captives free, heal the sick, feed the hungry and clothe the naked. There are many members but one body; there are many gifts but one Spirit. Let us grow in sharing the material and spiritual resources we have been given to promote the good of others, to offer some relieve for the terrible effects of sin in the world.

In the opening prayer we asked God to direct our actions to abound in good works in the name of Jesus and for God’s honor. We can only do that by letting Jesus’ love for us warm and soften our hearts, by letting the Spirit of Jesus enlighten our minds and strengthen our wills.

As we return to the Eucharistic table, let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. By taking to heart his word, by uniting ourselves with his acceptable sacrifice, by receiving his sacramental body and blood, we are emboldened for the mission he has given us. Today is holy to the Lord. Rejoicing in God will be your strength. So to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit let there be given honor, glory, praise and obedience always, now and forever. AMEN

Fr. Christopher Wyvill
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