Homilies - July 2013

Select a homily to read:
Third Perseverance of Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard: July 3, 2013 by Abbot James
Fourteenth Sunday of the Year: July 7, 2013 by Fr. Boniface
Fifteenth Sunday of the Year
: July 14, 2013 by Fr. Joseph
Sixteenth Sunday of the Year: July 21, 2013 by Fr. Gabriel

Third Perseverance of Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard

  • July 3, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Abbot James

  • Download

This is the talk that Abbot James gave when the monastic community met on the evening of Wednesday July 3, for the “third perseverance” ceremony of the three novices, who are now three quarters of the way through their year of canonical novitiate.

Dear Brs. Isaiah, Samuel, and Bernard: You are now three-fourths of the way through your novitiate year and presumably have by now learned by experience—as well as by reading and through your regular classes—a great deal about how the Benedictine life is lived at this particular monastery. Among other things, you know that unlike later religious congregations and orders, we vow stability to a particular community, which will be quite similar to other Benedictine houses in some respects and rather different in others. Among the similarities, I think it is fair to say that all monks following the Rule of St. Benedict lead what that prominent Trappist author Michael Casey gave as the title of one of his books: An Unexciting Life. I’m sure Michael Casey would be the first to admit that the ongoing search for God can and should have a definite degree of excitement, a certain invigorating character, for it is this more than anything else that keeps us running along what St. Benedict calls in his Prologue “the path of God’s commandments.” Nevertheless, the kernel of truth in Casey’s phrase is that this ongoing search is normally conducted in a setting that will be pretty much the same day by day, regardless of the season of the year. Our very horarium, which varies only slightly between weekdays and weekends or between the school year and summertime, is but one obvious sign of this. The great Benedictine historian David Knowles was pointing to the same thing in his booklet The Benedictines when he wrote:

… the monk who in ordinary circumstances takes to any work with a zeal which burns out his fire of strength and health is departing from what is for him the way of salvation. It is not a virtue for the monk, as it might be for the missionary, to lack time in which to attend the common recitation of the Divine Office, read a certain amount, and mix with his community. And hence there should be in the Benedictine monk a certain restfulness, a contentment, not in doing nothing but in doing the familiar, even the monotonous and the ritual; an ability to remain physically unmoved and unexcited, to produce, in fact, that stability which his Founder [St. Benedict] made a distinguishing and on occasion a unique religious vow, the vow of stability, the family vow.1

As you draw near the end of the novitiate year, what in the parlance of my home town would be called “the home stretch,” it is worth pondering such words and asking yourselves—just as all of us professed monks should regularly ask ourselves—to what extent we allow this outwardly rather unexciting life to be the vehicle for an ever deeper life of union with God and one another in love and prayer. I was recently reading from a book that we might someday have read during meals in the refectory, a collection of essays that were originally separate booklets published by St. Meinrad Archabbey. The chapter on prayer began with a reference to Fr. Theodore Heck, a monk of that community who died four years ago at the very advanced age of 108, having spent 85 of those years as a monk. The monk who wrote the chapter calculated that Fr. Theodore would have gone through the Psalter well over 2,000 times in the course of his life, and I think it entirely possible—even likely—that he never grew tired of it.

Here, as you know, we pray the same three Psalms at Compline every night just as St. Benedict prescribes, whether in choir or, on some days, privately. Some other monasteries vary the Psalms at Compline, presumably to introduce greater variety into the service, and certainly St. Benedict allow for some adjustments to his scheme, but I nevertheless dare say that Psalms 4, 91, and 134 are so timeless in their sentiments that we could never really get tired of reciting day after day such lines as these from Psalm 4:

I will lie down in peace and sleep comes at once,
For you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety

Or the Lord’s address to us at the end of Psalm 91:

When he calls I shall answer: “I am with you.”
I will save him in distress and give him glory.

Or again, from Psalm 134:

Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord through the night.
May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made both heaven and earth.

The basic attitude in those and so many other Psalms is one of joyful trust and confidence in God, and this is what we should convey to others not just by words but by our actions and very demeanor. A couple weeks ago those of us on the Abbey School’s development committee had a conference call with a woman who has become a national leader in promoting the development of Catholic organizations, and prior to the call itself we were all given a short piece that she had written. Much of what she wrote captures what I consider to be a fine summary of the spirit that should pervade any religious community, especially such lines as the following:

Resist negativity and cynicism in all its insidious forms. In fact, learn to recognize it in others as a sign that you are onto something of consequence, that your positive and hopeful outlook is rattling the cages of those who would rather resist any form of change. Learn to proclaim the good news of your [community] and how it is making a measurable difference in the world. Believe that people want to hear good news and to be part of something life-giving, successful, and, yes, holy…. It’s all about joy. Be joyful…. Be expansive of spirit and magnanimous of heart.2

None of that denies that there will be difficult times in any of our lives, times when we will be asked to take on tasks for which we have little interest or don’t feel ourselves well-suited, but if we have taken to heart what St. Benedict writes at the end of chapter 68 of his Rule—that even in such circumstances we can go forward, trusting in God’s ever-present help—then even such occasions will not blot out the underlying joy and peace that should be a hallmark of Benedictine life. I trust that it is in this spirit that you will now embark on this final quarter of your year’s novitiate.

Abbot James Wiseman
(Back to top)

1 David Knowles, The Benedictines: A Digest for Moderns (St. Leo, FL: The Abbey Press, 1962), 36.
2 Kerry Robinson, “Imagining Abundance: The transformative potential of Catholic fundraising,” written July 21, 2008 and privately distributed.

Fourteenth Sunday of the Year

  • July 7, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Boniface

  • Download

The Kingdom of God is at Hand

The Gospels of the 12th, 13th and 14th Sunday form a unit on the following of Christ. On the 12th Sunday Jesus asked each one of us, “Who do you say I am?” and Peter replied for all the disciples of Christ down through the ages. Immediately following on this, Jesus made the prediction of his passion and proclaimed to his disciples then and now that “Whoever wishes to be my disciple must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps.” In Last Sunday’s Gospel Jesus emphasized the total commitment to Christ that must distinguish the Christian. “Nothing must be preferred to Christ (RB 4:21) and the Kingdom of God.

The readings in today’s liturgy express great joy, joy in God’s promise fulfilled. It begins with a jubilant Isaiah proclaiming the end of the exile: “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad because of her…exult, exult with her, all you who were mourning over her.” It continues through our responsorial psalm with its refrain: “Shout joyfully to God, all the earth” and St. Paul’s exclamation in our second reading: “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ through which the world has been crucified to me.” And it finds its fulfillment as Jesus continues his ministry through the agency of his disciples: “The seventy-two returned rejoicing (from their mission), and said “Lord, even the demons are subject to us because of your name.” Jesus rejoiced with them saying: “I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky… Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

In Matthew and Mark it is only the twelve who are sent on this primitive mission. In Luke it is seventy-two disciples. It is not only the small original group that is concerned. Even though there are missionaries called to a special vocation of bringing the Good News to the ends of the earth, today’s Gospel emphasizes the obligation of all Christ’s disciples to share in Christ’s mission.

Jesus’ mission includes not only the positive ministry of proclaiming the Good News. Its other aspect is the combat we endure singly and as community with the powers of darkness wherever they may appear and with Christ to bring about an end to Satan’s rule. Jesus always confronted evil wherever the enemy of the human race was at work and crushed it.

There are many levels in the human person. There are the levels in which we feel pain and sorrow. The level out of which these missionary disciples operated when they cured the sick, cast out demons and successfully preached the coming of the kingdom was the level in which they were connected with God and so became channels for divine life and healing.. This is the real reason for their success. They should not rejoice because they have new powers but because they are cooperating with God’s ongoing creation, helping to bring in the kingdom, and so become part of the kingdom themselves.1

There is an immediacy to the coming of the Kingdom that urges Jesus on to his goal, an urgency which runs through all the Gospels. I am afraid that as a people we have lost much of this urgency that characterized the early Church and gave it a particular dynamism. The Lord’s coming was expected immediately and all the world needed to be gotten ready for his coming. Two thousand years have made us a little too comfortable, perhaps, because we count time by our own life span rather than seeing it from God’s perspective. Jesus will come soon, and if not for the world in my generation, then at least when he calls for me individually.

This message is so urgent that the disciples are not to be hindered by any baggage. They are on an emergency mission and to carry only what they must. Food and housing are to be supplied by God. What a witness to our affluent, consumerist society! We must get rid of anything, even thoughts and attitudes that are so much baggage that hinder not only us on our journey to Christ, but because they also hurt the mission on which Christ sends us. The message is so urgent that the disciples are not even to waste time in pleasantries; their whole focus should be on their mission. Nothing should interfere with carrying out the will of God for them and for the world.

The only valuable is peace, which the disciples are to offer generously. This “peace” is a sign of the messianic times, a work of the Spirit. It is especially associated with Christ and is one of the beautiful fruits of the Easter victory.2 This peace arises from a restored relationship with God. Destroyed by sin, peace and harmony between God and us are restored in Christ. A blessing, like a curse, has a force of its own once uttered. It will eventually come to rest at some point, even if that means returning to the one who utters the blessing.3

It falls to all Christians, to fulfill the mission given to each of us, knowing that we are working toward the victory of Christ that has already begun. It is also the source of our joy, since in working with Christ for the sake of the Kingdom; we cannot but grow in union with Christ.4   Jesus tell us in the Last Supper discourse: “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and who ever receives me receives the one who sent me” (Jhn 13:20). The disciples became Jesus to such an extent that the degree to which the people received the disciples and their message was the degree to which they received Jesus and the One who sent him.5

We are called by our baptism to continue Christ’s ministry to the world. We are all called to be the salt of the earth and light of the world. Our mission is to bring the peace of Christ wherever we go and to all we meet.  In a time when many are confused and disillusioned and searching for meaning in money, pleasure, drugs and shallow relationships we can carry Jesus to them by our love and respect.6

Preaching is only one way of spreading the good news. The most effective one is by the example of our lives in all the things that make up our daily lives. Many were converted to Christianity by the heroic witness of the martyrs but many were also converted by the love the Christians showed one another, Jesus, the lover of the human race, was filled with joy when his disciples reported back to him all that took place. And then he whispered into their ears and the ears of all the people who would continue his mission until the end of time. “Rejoice, Your names are written in heaven.”7

Fr. Boniface Von Nell
(Back to top)

1 John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, Year C (Collegeville, Minn., Liturgical Press, 2006) 191
2 Days of the Lord: The Liturgical Year, v.6 (Ordinary Time, Year C) (Collegeville, Minn., Liturgical Press, 1991) 117
3 Roland J. Faley, Footprints on the Mountain (N.Y., Paulist Press, 1994) 469
4 Days of the Lord, 118
5 John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, 1186
6 Desmond Knowles, Voicing a Thought on Sunday (Dublin, Columba Press, 1991) 338
7 John Shea, The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers, 193

Fifteenth Sunday of the Year

  • July 14, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Joseph

  • Download

It is no doubt by design that today we have readings that feature the two great law-givers of the Bible, Moses the great lawgiver of Mount Sinai and Jesus the great Teacher of the Sermon on the Mount. Moses ends his exhortation today with, “You have only to do it,” referring to the Law, while Jesus exhorts His hearers to, “Go, do in like manner,” referring to the example of the Good Samaritan.

Israelite law went through various stages of growth. Moses, speaking in Deuteronomy, would be referring to the whole law, the Torah. Much earlier in Deuteronomy he gives the great exhortation,” “Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone. Therefore you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole being, and with your whole strength.” This is the famous “Shema` Yisrael,” the prayer that every pious Jew recites twice a day, morning and evening. The traditional number of laws is 613; and if you have trouble remembering that, just recall that it is supposed to be the same number as the bones in your body.

The pious Jew does not consider the law burdensome, but delights in bearing the yoke of the law. However, the truly observant Jew is confronted with a number of dietary laws, which must have led to complications. In addition to the actual laws, there are a number of rules about how to observe them. Once I was having a Sabbath dinner with an orthodox Jewish couple and the wife lights the candle to mark the beginning of the Sabbath (you may remember the beautiful scene when Golde did it in “Fiddler on the Roof”). However, on this occasion, when the wife had lit the candle, she blew out the match (you would, too, wouldn’t you?). But the husband reproved her: “You shouldn’t have blown it out; you should have shaken it out instead.” She looked so crestfallen that I said, “That’s all right, Ruth, we won’t tell anyone”—which didn’t cheer her up in the least.

There are so many ways in which laws are now expanded from their original import. One of the early groups that made up Israel was the Kenites; they were metal smiths (that’s what the name Kenite means—“smith”). It has been suggested that the prohibition of lighting a fire on the Sabbath began as a Kenite law: for a smith to light a fire is to begin work. Now this law is interpreted to include striking a match or flipping on a light switch. If you want light during the Sabbath, you have to turn it on before sundown on Friday. The story is told of Levi Cohen who had forgotten and was lamenting that he would have to spend the Sabbath in darkness. But then he spied Pat Riley and thought, “I’ll invite Pat in for a drink, he will see it is dark, and turn on a light.” So he called Pat over, Pat came in and turned on the light; they had a drink, chatted a little, then Pat got up to leave—and, on his way out, turned off the light. (An observant Jew told me that one.) “You shall not boil a kid got in its mother’s milk” is now interpreted to mean not to have milk products and meat at the same meal. (That is why cheeseburgers are not kosher.)

Many scholars insist that Jesus was an observant Jew, and in many ways He was; He had tassels on His garment, went to Jerusalem for Passover, celebrated other Jewish festivals, He taught in synagogues and in the Temple. However, He did not observe with the punctilio required by the Pharisees, especially not in those points that were added to the laws. Apparently He did not wash His hands before meals—at least His disciples didn’t and they undoubtedly would be following His example—and He defended them against those who accused them. And He was not being observant when He told the crowds that “nothing that enters one from the outside can defile a person; the things that come out from within are what defile.” On this Mark comments: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

I think Mark’s report on Jesus’ encounter with the lawyer is more original than what we have just read from Luke. In Mark a scribe asks Jesus “Which with the first of all the commandments?” (With 613 to choose from, it’s not an easy question.) And Jesus answers in the words of the Shema` Yisrael—not properly one of the commandments at all—and adds from a totally different context, “The second is like this, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus is the one who joins them as a perfect rule of life. Luke tells as he does so that the lawyer can ask the question about who is the neighbor.

But that still leaves the question: “who is my neighbor?” The answer should be clear even from the OT: it is in Lev (19:18) that we read “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And not far away (Lev 19:34), “You shall treat the alien who resides with you no differently than the native born among you; have the same love for him as for yourself.” Thus it is Jesus who thus likens love of God and love of neighbor when He says, “The second is this …. There is no commandment greater than these.”

The words are easy to say but not always easy to put into practice. In Jesus’ parable both the priest and the Levite pass by. It wasn’t fear that they would be rendered unclean by contact with a corpse; they just didn’t want to get involved. How often do we hear, “I didn’t want to be involved”? Notorious is the case of Kitty Genovese, a young woman who, in 1964, was stabbed in Kew Gardens, a residential complex in New York. She screamed for help, to no avail, and lay helpless for half an hour, until the murderer returned and completed the crime. Whoever may have heard her screams did not want to get involved.

However, contrast the Good Samaritan, one who was willing: he saw the wounded man and “was moved with compassion.” It involved labor, time, and expense. Hoisting an unconscious man unto his donkey could not have been easy. He was no doubt on a business trip, but he delayed his business in order to help. The traveler had been robbed of all he had, so the Samaritan paid for him to be taken care of at the inn. That’s what it means to “do unto others.”

Some of the Church Fathers, instead of seeing here a parable, i.e., a story that teaches a lesson, treat it as an allegory in which each element had its meaning: Jesus is the Samaritan, the injured man the human race; the oil and wine, the inn, the innkeeper, the two coins, each had to have an allegorical sense. But we don’t have to resort to allegory to see Jesus personified as the Good Samaritan. He was indeed moved to compassion, not for the human race but for each person; all of us are, individually, in need of what He does for us. For Him it’s not a matter of neglecting His business to tend to us: we ARE His business. It’s not a matter of giving us to an innkeeper’s care: He left the warmth, comfort, safety of His heavenly home to enter a world often hostile in order to care for us Himself; He came to teach us about God, teach us that the way to God is love, and give us an example of what it means to love. Some of His ways we probably can’t imitate, e.g., His miracles of healing or feeding the multitude. But there are little ways that we can imitate: i.e., His acts of kindness, His acts of forgiveness.

Therefore, imitating Jesus in order to be Good Samaritans doesn’t involve anything we can’t do. We can “do unto others” with acts of friendliness, kindness, generosity, forgiveness—forgiveness can be difficult, but remember what Jesus says is the fate of the unforgiving: their sins will not be forgiven. We may not be able to feed multitudes, but we can offer generosity to the poor and hungry. We may not be able to cure the sick, but most of us have occasion to care for them from time to time. And everyone can smile. (Let’s try it now!) Remember St. Teresa’s saying “God deliver me from sad-eyed saints!”

A smile doesn’t cost anything. A smile, a wave of the hand, is an act of friendship. Smiles can lift spirits. We should not be like the priest and the Levite; we should be willing to be involved, at least with the friendship of a smile.

Fr. Joseph Jensen
(Back to top)

Sixteenth Sunday of the Year

  • July 21, 2013
  • Year C
  • by Fr. Gabriel

  • Download

As a preacher I constantly worry that I have nothing to say, or at least nothing interesting or insightful to say. It is part of my vanity that I don’t want to say the same old thing that has been said a thousand times before. It is nice when I have some personal anecdote or movie scene. This will entertain and, alas, be remembered more than the scriptural insight it is meant to illuminate. That is valuing the horse instead of the cart. Most weeks I do, with much sweat and grief, get something on paper, knowing that a manuscript is inferior to simple spontaneous speaking. But if I’d try that, my mind would go blank, as it so often does.

This is one way I sin against Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount: “be not anxious for tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself. Consider the birds of the air and lilies of the field. If God provides for them, will he not much more do so for you?” I realize that Jesus was originally talking about food and clothing, necessities of life. To give a good homily is not a necessity to me; my physical needs are will be provided by my religious community no matter how I perform. It is not a necessity to you. Someone else will speak intelligently when I can’t. The church has survived for two thousand years, with preaching that is mostly “uninteresting.” Cleverness is not a necessity.

All this connects me more with Martha who worried, than with Mary who knew how to relax. But let’s focus on Mary a bit. Is it coincidence that there are so many Mary’s in the gospel? Or are we meant to mix them together a bit? Today’s Mary is a little bit like Mary the mother of Jesus in her capacity for stillness and her receptivity. Today’s Mary is a little bit like Mary Magdalene: not in the lurid past attributed to her by tradition but in a tendency to emotional extremes. Today’s Mary later washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, and is commended for this. Mary Magdalene is usually pictured clinging to the cross, wild with grief. This continues in her tears by the tomb where she recognizes Jesus when he calls her by name. Both women might be thought hysterical. But they have the advantage of profound intuition that only comes to those who go all the way. The mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany: you can distinguish their personalities, but also trace a strong thread of commonality. Each of them loved the Lord in a passionate way. They challenge our lukewarmness and mediocrity.

Mary of Bethany’s domestic situation was highly unusual. She lived with her sister and brother; none of them married. Does this suggest a dysfunctional childhood, an inability to grow up? Economic necessity at the time demanded marriage; why did they stay together? Was Lazarus always sickly? Was he overly dependent on Martha, who was clearly head of the house? Was Mary the youngest, always indulged, and therefore self-centered, heedless of duty, slightly lazy?

In choosing Mary to talk to, Jesus shows his preference for the defective and pathetic, those who can’t quite make it on their own. Those whom St Paul calls “the foolish.” This is what makes true Christianity so exasperating to the strong and self-reliant.

What did Mary learn when she sat at Jesus’ feet before dinner? She should have learned, “Get up and help your sister, so we can all sit down together, and enjoy the fellowship of a tranquil evening.” We do not know what Jesus said, but presumably it was not small talk. We ourselves feel a certain indignation on Martha’s behalf, a sympathy with her. We cannot understand why Jesus says that Mary chose the better part. It seems insensitive; it seems unfair.

All this takes the story too literally. It is meant to be symbolic of various conflicting internal tendencies. Martha represents the apostolic life, faith in action. Mary represents the quiet, inner, contemplative stance: the seemingly useless life of prayer. Christians, and other religions, honor such uselessness. They believe it to be the foundation for any worthwhile human pursuit. Each aspect needs the other. Contemplation without a concern for the world is self-indulgent; action without inner prayer becomes frenetic and hollow.

Deep inside we know that we want and need such integration, but we usually cannot achieve it, or articulate it. This can make us cynical, as Abraham’s wife Sarah seems to have been, when she laughed at the possibility of giving birth in old age. Yet prayer, to be authentic, requires honesty before God. It requires our willingness to say what we feel. Thus, when Martha, hand on hip and sweating in her apron, “lets fly,” she might be as prayerful as Mary sitting still. Her spontaneous outburst allows Jesus to speak to her; it makes her stop and listen.

If we can unpack the second reading (Colossians 1.26-28), we find a message similar to what Jesus taught Mary and Martha. But we must break it down and simplify. “You want to understand God’s message in its fullness?”—the author asks. “I assure you the mystery that is hidden can be revealed and experienced. The mystery is that Christ is in you, giving you a glorious future. So take this in, and you will become wise, complete, and mature as God intends you to be.”

When we slow down and stop complaining as Martha needs to do; when we notice and contribute as Mary needs to do; then we find completeness and maturity. We find spiritual health, as Lazarus did when he was brought back from the dead. We find in ourselves less worry, and more simplicity and trust. It becomes a little more natural to have the simplicity of the birds and lilies who do not have to worry.

Fr. Gabriel Myers
(Back to top)