Homily - 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Listen to our Prior, Fr. Joel, as he shares his thoughts during today’s homily:

Wisdom 2:12, 17–20
James 3:16–4:3
Mark 9:30—37

In Saint Benedict Center at the moment, there is a display of historical pianos mostly from the romantic period. Each piano comes with story about a composer or pianist who was around at the time or may have even played the piano. It reminds me of story I read about the composer Robert Schumann. It seems that on one occasion he played a rather difficult étude. Afterwards, one of the listeners asked him to explain the piece. Schumann thought a moment, then replied by sitting down at the piano and playing the piece a second time.

Today’s gospel seems to be a bit like the story from Schumann’s life. The disciples have already clearly heard Jesus’ announcement about the fact that he will be handed over, put to death and then rise on the third day. It seems they did not get it the first time so Jesus is repeating his piece a second time. In Mark’s Gospel today’s story is known as the second Passion prediction. I admit that Mark has added some variation to the theme but what has not changed is that the disciples just don’t get it. Unlike the man in Schumann’s audience, they are not about to ask for an explanation or a “would you play it again.”

Mark is blunt. The disciples do not understand and they are afraid to question Jesus. Yet, there is no need to be afraid because there is no crowd around; it is just Jesus and his disciples. What are they afraid of? Maybe it is the implications of following a Messiah who says point blankly that religious authorities and others will hand him over to be killed. If that is what will happen to the Master, what will happen to us? If he is headed for suffering, what are we headed for if we follow him? We know the temptation. In difficult times we are afraid to question, to go on seeking the truth. We don’t ask questions when our security in faith and life seem threatened. We probably hope the problem will go away. Maybe Jesus is just talking out loud and using his imagination. After all, the Son of Man he talks about is supposed to come in glory and judge us. We thought we could get in on that and have some seats next to him and share his glory. What is this about the Son of Man being handed over? Better not to ask. If we ask, then maybe our comfort zone will be challenged and we will have to rethink who this man is and what our discipleship is all about. If we ask him a question, maybe we will find out that being his follower is not what we thought it would be. Better not ask. Don’t disturb anything.

But the teacher was not talking to himself or playing music for his ears only. It is music that must course through the harmony of our lives as well. So when they are truly alone, “in the house,” he asks them bluntly what they were arguing about “on the way.” Now Jesus asks the disciples a direct question. What is their response? Silence. They say nothing. We find out that their arguing was about who was the greatest. They were more concerned about honor, status and rank among themselves than what it would mean that the master would be handed over and suffer death and then rise. The argument was all about power in the group or who was on top, the greatest, the most important. Can one blame them? This is the way the culture worked. You wanted to be as close as possible to any great and attractive figure such as Jesus was. Culture dictated that you would gain social status the closer you were to the Master, the more you were in his favor.

But their silence to Jesus’ question meant they were not repeating the piece they were playing on the way. Did they realize that what they were saying and what Jesus was saying did not match, that there was no harmony there? You cannot have Jesus speak about his being handed over to the power of men, killed and then rise and at the same time be arguing about who is the greatest, the most important, the powerful one in the group… That is not Kingdom logic…Jesus’ response? He does not default on his role as teacher. Interestingly, he does not reprimand them for what they were arguing about. He teaches by example, by a living parable.

They were interested in social status. So Jesus takes a child. Not that child whom we are to imitate and be like with all its innocence and trust. No, Jesus takes the child who has no standing in Palestinian culture, along with women and widows. Jesus takes the child who cannot offer anyone hospitality or put food on the table or wash your feet. Jesus takes the child as the least in the group and puts the child in the middle, yes in the middle. And he does what he never does to anyone else in the gospel, he puts his arms around the child; he embraces the child—something like the father does to his prodigal son. And then he says, welcome a child, the least among you, the one who cannot honor you in return because he or she has no honor. Welcome that child and you will be welcoming me and my Father. Welcome the one without honor and status and you will be welcoming the divine presence. Welcome the one without honor and serve them, then you will have honor by me.

You argue about status, jockeying for being on top no matter what your world is: business, politics, government, academics, the farm or factory. That is all about playing for power. That is not my way or the way of my Father. Our way is one of service, one of embracing the least, holding them in the middle of the community, surrounding them, honoring them.

Jesus is on a journey through Galilee; he is on the way, on the road, as we say. Eventually, his road will go to Jerusalem where the piece he is playing for his disciples today will be finished. We too are on the way, but what way is it? The disciples were on the way with Jesus, but after today, they find out that they were not really on the way of Jesus and the Father. They were on their own way, to the top, so they thought. But Jesus’ way is different from the world’s way. Our temptation is to be on Jesus way but see it in our terms. James says it well: when left to your way, it turns out to be a way of jealousy and ambition, grasping for power, which always seems to elude.

But that is not the wisdom we have from the Lord Jesus. His wisdom is a way that produces peace. It is grounded not in self, but in the good of others. The way of servanthood, the way that embraces the least, the vulnerable, those society easily pushes aside; that is the wise way according to our God’s standards……Oh yes, there is the temptation not to ask questions of this way because it means questioning my way.

We are in the house now. Jesus has pulled up his teacher’s chair. He is going to teach us. He can be trusted to teach us well. He knows how to give up status, he did not cling to equality with God but emptied himself and became a slave. And like many a slave, he was condemned to death. He said yes to our death, our helplessness. Such was his love for us weak ones who thought first was great. And for taking this road, for walking this way, he was raised up to new life. His way bore fruit.

Now he puts himself in front us in this house: his broken body in the food; his life blood poured out in the cup. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we are embracing him, his way, and the Father who lifts us up, not to be first but to continue to serve in the world till all are honored and restored.

Fr. Joel Macul, OSB

A Message from the Prior

st_benedict.jpg

St. Benedict is realistic about work. He assigns periods for it in the course of the day. But it is not a nine to five period. Rather work is part of the total rhythm of the day, the other elements being common prayer and lectio. Work is essential to human life, practically and transcendently. Part of its essential nature in Benedict’s perspective is that it is balanced. It is not all consuming, it is not the only identifying factor of being human. Work does not run our lives. It has its place in the life and spirituality of the human person. One is not less human because one works but it is possible that that the kind of work and the context and way in which it is carried out can dehumanize.

We are created to work. In fact our work is meant to be a contribution to the ongoing process of creation. If work is creative, then in its roots it is also sacred, it shares in what our God is doing and what Jesus is doing, for he says that he is doing the work of the Father.

If we follow God’s creative rhythm of work, then we know there are times when work ceases and rest begins. And it is that rest that creates the balance with work and can fill it with meaning. When we enter the prayer part of the rhythm of our lives, we are in touch with the Spirit that guides and directs our hands, our minds. We stand in wonder before our creator. Then when we turn and pick up our tools, whatever they may be, we are bringing that holy world we encountered in prayer to touch our everyday labor. Those tools, and Benedict calls them sacred, become part of that labor force by which God is making the world anew.

“In the beginning” we were created to care for the garden that God planted. That work of caring, in all its varied forms, goes on still.  It is at its best when it is part of the larger rhythm, the balance, that makes one world out of spirit and the humble matter of our planet and its peoples.

Homily - 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Our Prior, Fr. Joel gave the homily this morning: 

Deuteronomy 4:1–2, 6–8
James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

The gospel we have heard introduces a theme that comes up time again in Jesus’ teaching and practice. But Jesus himself refers back to the prophet Isaiah. This makes the theme an old one that the prophetic tradition had to address also. With this reference to the prophets, Jesus reminds us that the theme is one that seems to be part of our human nature. The theme—the relationship between my inner self and my outer self. Or what is happening in my heart actually governs what I say and do.

The Pharisees function in the gospel as a negative example. The Pharisees were actually a very observant group of Jewish believers. One of their characteristics was meticulous observance of details in the Mosaic Law. Their observance went so far that they added prescriptions to the Law to preserve the Law in its purity; these became the traditions we hear about. According to Jesus, these meticulous demands of the Law made the Law a burden. The focus went from the heart of the Law to external observances. The result was that the purpose of the Law to make concrete love of God and love of neighbor got lost.

Jesus does not condemn the ritual observances, even the ritual purity laws that are mentioned today about the washing of cups and the body so as not to incur defilement. Admittedly, this is not something that Christians today immediately relate to. But what Jesus does do is make it very clear that limiting the law to external observances in fact destroys the Law. In our day, doing the religious observances could mean frequenting the sacraments and devotion to prayer. Jesus would not condemn our practice of these any more than he did in his own day. But he would challenge whether our prayers and our participation in the sacraments come from the heart or are just merely ritual actions that we do out of duty and mere habit. Do we share in the sacraments and say prayers without a thought as to what we are doing or what we are saying? To use the words of the prophet Isaiah, are we saying the words, using our lips, but in fact our minds are elsewhere?  Or do our religious observances come from the heart and do they in turn affect the heart? If we listen to Jesus and understand him, as he asks of us today, he is looking for changed hearts, a life of conversion. Are we members in his Body the Church who are other-centered? It is clear that God, let alone Jesus, is not looking for lip service followers.

As we listen to Jesus today, we hear him use many contrasts: clean and unclean; inside and outside; human tradition and teaching and God’s commandments, lips and heart, within and without. If we were to line them up, we would hear clearly the central thread: heart, clean, inside, God’s commandments. Each one of those is connected to the other. Together they form the whole and the perspective that Jesus is looking for. What matters is a heart that centers on and acts out of God’s commandments and in doing so is clean and undefiled.

It would seem that the scrupulous observance of the Pharisees has led them to kind of pride. They compare themselves with others and when they see that others do not observe as they do, they have a tendency to think of themselves as superior. The result is self-righteousness and an attitude of being judgmental toward others. This is a common trait of those who think their observance is the true and only valid one, back then and today. They have become the point of comparison. Gone is the very purpose of the commandment or ritual which is to align oneself with God’s love, concern and compassion for others. The critique of Isaiah and Jesus is that the religious rituals became an end in themselves. …We are not exempt today from making liturgical and ritual observances an end in themselves. If we do, we fail in fulfilling the very purpose of sacrament and common prayer. And that purpose is to remember and celebrate the overwhelming gift of God’s presence and love. Ritual observance is about enhancing the relationship with our God, who as Moses says today is so close to us. It is the awareness of God’s closeness that prompts us to a fullness of religious ritual and obedience to the commandments. Law and ritual give structure to the closeness of God.

Jesus wants us to avoid one of the great downfalls of religious observance, namely, forgetting that the commandment or the Torah is ultimately a gift from God. Observance of the commandments is meant to awaken in us the very love that motivates God to remain close to us. This love is felt and reflected on first of all in our hearts. And from there, it directs our external behavior. Our liturgical actions have their root in recognition of the supreme gift that is God’s presence. Meticulous observance, such as Jesus condemns, can end up placing the focus on me, on what I am doing. But observing and keeping the great commandments or even the ritual of sacraments should make me aware of others. Keeping the commandments is in fact maintaining and enhancing relationships, with fellow human beings, fellow Christians and God.

Jesus is about the heart of the matter, the center of the Law. And when asked what that is, he affirms that it is love, love of God with our whole self and love of neighbor as our self.  Those who see people living the commandments see wisdom, see God and how near he is. Jesus’ teaching today questions any disconnect between our religious ritual life and our inner moral life.  They are one. We cannot say “yes” on the outside but inside are saying and thinking “no.”

May it be that our hearts are clean and our thoughts are those of peace and our actions those of love.

Homily - 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Today's Homily, by Fr. Thomas Leitner. 

Focus:  All that God has done for us in our lives can fill us with gratitude.  We are called upon to make good choices an, “to prefer nothing to Christ” in our lives.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, 0. a. The canonization of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero, is scheduled for Oct. 14 this year.  At his beatification in 2015, Pope Francis stated, “His ministry was distinguished by a particular attention to the most poor and marginalized.”

Blessed Oscar Romero was truly a bishop of the people. Frequently he visited his parishes, even the remotest ones, which often involved hours of walking.  After celebrating the various sacraments with the people, he stood in line, plate in hand to receive his food, just like everyone else.  And he sat among the children, the young people, women, and the old folks; he also visited the people’s homes. 

Romero became archbishop in 1977, during the turbulent times leading up to El Salvador’s civil war.  Only at that he time he took full notice of the social injustices toward the poor, the assassinations and tortures that went on in his country.  And he began to speak out against them.  In his weekly sermons and radio talks, he listed disappearances, tortures, murders and much more, committed with the support of the government.  Death threats against him mounted; but Monseñor remained firm and faithful; he found his confidence, even his joy in Jesus Christ.

On March 24, 1980, Romero suffered his martyrdom.  He celebrated Mass in a hospital chapel, one day after a sermon in which he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights.  As soon as he finished his sermon, Romero proceeded to the middle of the altar and at that moment he was fatally shot.

In today’s gospel, we find Jesus’ contemporary disciples involved in decision-making at a moment of crisis.  Some leave him, others remain with him.  The words that Jesus had spoken about himself were scandalizing to them.  Can this very human person from Nazareth in Galilee, be, at the same time, the One who came from God and who knows the Father as nobody else does?

As the Bread of Life discourse, whose conclusion we heard today, progresses, Jesus words became even more scandalous.  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”  What does this mean?  Many probably simply didn’t understand at this point.  Jesus, according to the account of John’s gospel, anticipated on that day after the multiplication of the loaves the institution of the Eucharist.  For Jews, blood was a symbol of life.  With his whole person, Jesus would become food for others.  He would give his life for them.

A Messiah who dies by shedding his blood?  This didn’t seem to make sense.  And being friends with one who will die a violent death might also be dangerous, to say the least.  Is the cost of being a disciple of Jesus too high?

Today’s first reading is taken from the concluding chapter of the OT book of Joshua.  Joshua, the successor of Moses, reminds the people of how God has gathered, liberated and guided them on all their ways, throughout their long journey.  And he gives them a choice: to serve the LORD or to venerate other gods.  He ends with the confession, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”  The people also pledge their allegiance to God.

The equivalent of this commitment in the gospel is the response of Peter, who replies, in the name of the Twelve, in spite of all that is difficult and challenging,  to the question of Jesus, “Do you also want to leave?” with “Master, to whom shall we go?  You are the Holy One of God.”

For us Christians, there is a difference, however, between these two passages from the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The people of the Old Covenant experienced the persistent and insistent love and care of God for them in events.  Time and again they realized: God’s providence and God’s power was at work on their behalf. Jesus, over and above that, the Holy One of God, personifies God’s love.  In him it has become palpable and tangible.       

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, today’s Scripture texts can serve as a reminder for us of all that God has done for us in our lives.  This can fill us with gratitude.  And they call upon us, to make good choices, and as St. Benedict would put it, “to prefer nothing to Christ” in our lives.

It is in Holy Scripture, that we find nourishment and guidance.

The Eucharist invites us each time we attend it, to bring our lives to God, just the way they are.  Whatever we hold out to him is being transformed and deepens our oneness with him.

Sometimes it is right and necessary for us to speak out when around us and in our society injustice is committed, human life is destroyed or human dignity disregarded.

Blessed Oscar Romero ,who will soon be Saint Oscar Romero, prayed even in moments of darkness and fear and so was able to make good choices even in the most difficult circumstances. So he became the people’s great example of faithfulness.  Looking to him can inspire us, too, to make the right decisions, even when it’s not easy to do so and to say to Jesus as did Peter in the gospel, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”                                        

AMEN

Homily - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Prior Joel's homily from this mornings Mass. 

Exodus 16:2–4, 12–15
Ephesians 4:17, 20–24
John 6:24-35

Grumbling, complaining. That is the way the Exodus story starts today. Not very uplifting, but at least it is honest and reflects an attitude that is often our own. After we get what we want, we are still not satisfied. The people have passed through the Red Sea and are on their way to Mt Sinai. They are in the wilderness, i.e. the desert area. The food they packed with them on the night they left Egypt has run out. So they start complaining. It was better back in Egypt. At least we had plenty to eat; better to have died there well-fed than out here in the desert.

Strange isn’t it? In Egypt, the people cry out in their slavery. God hears them and then with Moses helping, he leads them into freedom with great power. And now, they want to go back to the old routine, even though it was painful and degrading. They would rather be slaves and well-fed, than free and on a journey following the one who gave them freedom. It is amazing what will change our view of the past, change our memories of what we experienced. We want to be free from many things: free from fears, from cravings, from bad habits, from being abused. But being free means that things will be different. Like the Israelites, we will be in a new place and the food will be different. But there will be a new life.

God is not without feelings toward the grumblers. Now he hears the grumbling. But going back into slavery is not an option. He will feed them on the way.  But then the community discovers that the new food is not like the food back home. It is different. “What is that?” they ask when they look at white stuff on the ground. It is the same question we ask ourselves when we see food from another culture, another people. We ask “What is that?” It is a question mixed with curiosity, reluctance and disdain all in one. We want food, we get food, but it is not like what we were used to. Living this new life of freedom is not easy.… We can recognize ourselves in the scene. We may have found ourselves in a dysfunctional situation or in addictive behavior, and suddenly, a door opens and we are free from the situation and it looks like a wide open space in front of us. But then, reality hits: this freedom is work, this freedom is new territory and I have never been here before. It is possible I cannot face the reality of freedom and so there is the temptation to go back to our old life caught in desires that are not satisfying. In our imagination that old life looks good. This new life comes with responsibility. Oh my, I’m not used to that.

Freedom means new life, but a new life with God who leads. With freedom comes a new self. But our freedom and our new self is not bought–it is a gift. So freedom means eating what someone else offers, what God offers. We don’t make it ourselves. Moses’ answer “This is the bread God gives you,” does not have to do with the content of the food, but rather where it comes from. It is bread which the Lord gives.  The food and the substance we hunger for are met not just by any bread or food, but only the food that God provides.  The bread the people are given is to lead them to the one who is giving it. The bread is God’s care for them along the journey. It is not just bread; it is God caring for the community in their new freedom. This is a new experience. Their memory of the past was focused on something physical, the stomach and good taste, but the freedom they now have opens them up to a relationship with the one who cares for them. The bread on the ground is communion with the God who liberates.

The scene in the desert is echoed in the gospel. The crowd in the gospel is following Jesus. But Jesus challenges the reason why they follow him. It seems they are only interested in another act of power, a miracle. Perhaps even another free meal. They seem to be focused on the bread that fills the stomach. They are interested in satisfying physical desires. But something more is needed for the journey. Jesus sees the bread as a sign, a sign of what? Of the Father’s care, the Father’s love, ultimately of the Father’s desire that his people live and not die. The crowd, like the people in the desert, seem to have a bad memory. They think Moses gave the bread. They forgot that Moses made it clear where the bread came from. The bread came from the Father not from Moses and certainly not from anyone of them.

Jesus is trying to have the crowd move from what is bread to who is giving the bread. The bread is not an end in itself. The bread, says Jesus is a sign, a sign of the giver. The giver is the Father and the gift, the bread, is the Son. Jesus is inviting the crowd to recognize the Father at work and to believe in the Son. Like the manna in the desert, the Son has come down from heaven. And like the desert manna he gives life and sustains us.

Jesus’ dialogue with the crowd makes clear what our work is. It is the work of believing in him. Jesus extends an invitation to us to leave behind all the allurements that promise satisfaction. Jesus invites us to leave the junk food behind and come to real bread, namely himself. That is a risk. Bread is a thing, we can control it, capture it, store it, throw it out. But if we come to the bread that the Father sends, then we are coming into a relationship, we are meeting someone deeply personal. Instead of our picking up bread, we meet a hand who will lead us, sustain us and comfort us. The bread the Father offers is a living person with whom we interact, who can speak and whose word is wisdom and love and comfort and, yes, challenge. When Jesus says that our work is believing in him, he is saying that our life’s task is listening to him, responding to him, living with him, eating his bread only and loving him from the depth of our heart. It is also accepting that he loves us and that this bread is truly a sign of that love.

When we are doing that kind of believing, then we are truly alive and all other bread matters little. With such a relationship with our bread, we can leave our slavery behind and move into new life and freedom in God. We can, as Paul says, put on the new self because we have learned Christ. Indeed he is living and moving in us and we in him. Then truly we will hunger and thirst no more.

Joel Macul OSB

Homily - 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Our Prior, Fr. Joel Macul gave the homily this morning: 

Jeremiah 23:1–6
Ephesians 2:13–18
Mark 6:30–34

Woe! Doom! to the shepherds of the flock of my pasture, says the Lord. Jeremiah’s prophetic word woe should make us sit up straight. Something has gone terribly wrong with the leadership in Israel. The evidence is seen in the flock. It has been misled and it is scattered. This accusation of the leadership of God’s people is not just poetic license on the part of God or the prophet. This was the situation for Jeremiah in the 7th century before our era. The monarchy and leadership in Israel was generally defunct. The direct result of the failure of leadership was that the people, the flock, was taken away and scattered in exile. They were no longer at home. The Lord reproaches the shepherds for irresponsibility, for not caring for the community, for offering no guidance especially in difficult times. Elsewhere he says they abused the community economically as well, making the poor poorer and the leaders getting fatter. They key word to describe the flock is ‘scattered.’ They were scattered physically, they were scattered religiously. There was no king, there was no temple. The symbols and institutions that could hold them together were disappearing. The sin of leadership was to cause the flock to fall apart, to have no sense of coherence around the God who made covenant with them. The sin of the leadership was that they no longer walked with the people but had their own life aloof. The result was the breakdown of both community and shepherd. This judgement could easily hold today even in our Church, sad to say. We need only think of the aftermath of the sexual abuse scandal that has pulled us apart in this country and elsewhere. What Jeremiah condemns is not confined to 7th c. Israel. It is repeated in politics and religion over the centuries.

But God remains the Lord of his people. And so he himself will take on the care of his people. And what does God’s care look like? I will gather the remnant wherever they have been scattered, I will bring them back, none shall be missing, says the Lord. The Lord’s way of shepherding is to bring together what is lost, missing, disoriented, scattered. The Lord is not about pushing away, separating, dividing people into near and far. The Lord is about a unity that brings us together. When he says that no one will be missing, that means that care is personal, each is accounted for. The Lord is the one who knows each one of those in the community. We are not anonymous but named. That is the Lord’s care, the recognition of the dignity of each person in the community. And not just recognition, but a guidance that allows each one to grow into their gifted self. The community the Lord is creating is a community not based on fear of the other; in the community that Lord gathers, all can be present without trembling in front of one another; all are at peace with one another, reconciled and made whole.

Jeremiah goes on with a word of hope about leadership, about the shepherd, about the one who leads. The Lord promises that out of the stump of David’s line, there will be a new leader who knows how to lead. The Lord of the covenant remembers his promise to David. While leadership is now defunct, it will not always be so. There will be someone from the community to carry on the David’s line of ruler. There will be wisdom and justice in this new leader. This new ruler will be characterized by justice. He will restore the right relationship between the community and God, between the members of the community with one another, between the community and the new king. The prophet even goes further to give a name to this new shepherd: “The Lord our justice.”

We joined in this hope for a true shepherd, a true leader and guide in our response “The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want.” This is our act of faith in what Jeremiah promises. It is a true expression of our desire. The Lord is the leader of his people. He it is who guides us through the darkness of our lives and leads us to pastures where we feed at a wonderful banquet. What we receive from this Shepherd is goodness and kindness throughout our life.

Now fast forward from Jeremiah’s time about 400 years later. And what do we find in the hills and by the Sea of Galilee? We find this man called Jesus who looks like one of us. But when he steps out of a boat looking for a quiet spot to rest and eat with his followers, he is confronted with the reality of the community. People coming and going; a vast crowd that seems disoriented, scattered in spirit to say the least. Mark says that Jesus saw them like sheep without a shepherd—just as Jeremiah saw them centuries before. A crowd waiting for a leader, for someone who will gather them, a person who will bring them together. They have heard and seen something attractive in this Jesus and they run after him, the crowd of sheep.

And what happens to Jesus at this moment with this mass of humanity looking for something and perhaps not being able to articulate it. Mark records that when Jesus stepped out of the boat he looked, he saw. The first sign that something different was happening here. He saw and recognized the situation. He did not run, he did not grumble that his time alone with his followers was to be interrupted. No, he stayed with what he saw. The first act of the shepherd is to see, to truly see—he saw a scattered disjointed humanity. That is what Jesus the shepherd saw. And what he saw grabbed him at the core of his being. The translation says “his heart was moved with pity for them.” The word for pity is really the word for ‘gut’. What he saw, he felt in his gut. What he saw caused a reaction of a deep movement of care for these people. What Mark is trying to convey is that what Jesus saw with his eyes stirred up a feeling of deep love and compassion in his heart. Behind this feeling lies the Hebrew word rahamim. It says it best. What Jesus saw awoke in him a womb-like love, a love like a woman has for her very own child. Jesus, says Mark, saw his own flesh and blood scattered, lost fragmented. This moved the Shepherd in him to compassion and so he began to teach them. What they needed first was to be fed with a word, a word that would hold them together as one.

What is compassion? Compassion is a love that moves us toward another. That will be the root of the Good Shepherd’s care. Compassion is what will bring the community together. Jesus the Good Shepherd will be the leader of the community. It is his compassion, St. Paul says, that will break down any wall of separation and bring us together. Unity is God’s ultimate goal and now there is a shepherd leader who can teach us about the compassion that is at the heart of unity, that is the thread that can bind us into one person. Truly in Jesus has come the King who both makes the unity among us happen and teaches us how to make the peace from the unity flow into our times.

It all begins by stepping out of the boat of our lives and looking and allowing what we see, the scatteredness, the fragmentation, the separation, to move our hearts. Then, we disciples of Jesus join together with him in a compassion that binds together, heals and works for peace.

Homily - 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

What "stones" do we each carry in our knapsacks?

Today's Homily by Fr. Thomas Hillenbrand

TRAVEL LITE THRU LIFE

This is a knapsack.  And it’s heavy.  It’s filled with rocks.  If I went hiking with this, this afternoon, I don’t think I would get very far.  I would have to sit down and rest very often.  I would get tired pretty quick.

I often smile at little school children going to school with these huge backpacks.  I think if they would fall over they will never get up.  Sort of like a little turtle on its back.  Or like Charlie Brown with all his winter gear on with his arms sticking straight out and he yells out: “How am I supposed to get thru the door.”

We can all smile and shake our heads at these little kids carrying all that stuff in their backpacks or at Charlie Brown.  But we adults are the very worse for carrying heavy stuff in our backpacks, and we do it every day. We can’t get thru the door because we are carrying a lot of stuff.

In the Gospel today Jesus tells the 12 Apostles to travel lite.  “He instructed them to take nothing on the journey but a walking stick, no food, no sack, no money in the their belts.”  And he also gave them authority over unclean spirits. 

In a sense these two things go together.  Traveling lite, and authority over unclean spirits.

Most of us travel with way too much stuff.  I know I do when I travel.  I want to pack things for every possibility or occasion, for every kind of weather.  My suitcase is heavy and hard to carry.

But a heavy suitcase or knapsack is not what really makes us tired or wears us down.  We don’t carry them around every day.  What really makes us tired and wears us down and drains our energy are the heavy and dark thoughts we often carry around every minute of every day.  And we just get used to them being there, so we carry them around every day.  They weigh us down so much sometimes that we sometimes dread getting up in the morning, fearing the light of another day, dread going to work, hate meeting people.  We are tired all the time and even at night we toss and turn.

Remember way back when they were selling “Pet Rocks.”  How crazy is that. Selling pet rocks in stores when we can pick up a rock anywhere at any time.  But we do have pet rocks that we pick up.   We have pet thoughts that we  pick up and carry around with us all day.  We are jealous of someone for whatever reason.  We are really angry at a worker or a relative for what they did to us.  We lust after someone at work or among our friends.  We carry the heavy rock of unforgiveness in our heart against one particular person.

Or maybe we are just a worry wart.  We worry about everything.  What people think about us, how our children or grandchildren are doing, about our job or about money or our health. 

So what are we going to do about all these “Pet Rocks” that we carry around all day?  These pet thoughts that we cuddle and feed all day long, and weigh us down.  What do we need to do in order to travel lite as Jesus tells us in the Gospel?

We need to do 4 things.

1) BE AWARE – Always we need to be aware and alert to the thoughts in our head, to the fantasies in our imagination.  There are two kinds of thoughts.  Thoughts that pull us down and thoughts that lift us up.  And we have to be alert to them.  The thoughts that pull us down, those dark and brooding thoughts, those sinful thoughts, those heavy “pet rocks’ have to go.  They are toxic, they are poisonous.  They will make us sick.

2) BE QUICK – When these dark and heavy thought come into our mind, thoughts of anger, jealousy, self-pity, lust, fear, anxiety,  we must throw them out immediately.  Don’t give them a second thought.  If we do they will quickly take over our mind and heart and spread like a wild-fire.  Tell them to go to hell immediately.  St. Benedict tells us to smash them against the rock which is Christ.  And Christ is the one “pet rock” and the only “pet rock” that we should carry around with us every minute of every day.  That rock will save us.   Pope St. John XXIII tells us how to deal with temptations. He said: “Shoo them away like a pesky fly or mosquito.”  And do it quickly.

3) BE FIRM – Don’t be like good, ole wishy-washy Charlie Brown.  When it comes to these toxic, poisonous thoughts, we need to say “No” to them and stick to it. If we try to do mental battle with them, if we try to play around with them, we will lose every time and the devil will win.  The Devil loves to play with our mind, and if we let him.  He wins and we lose.

4) STOP THINKING – START PRAYING.    We think almost every minute of every day.  We think way too much, we over think especially our hurts, our anger, we over think that particular person we hate, we lust after, we are jealous of.  We lick our wounds. We keep picking at them and they never heal. We often throw a pity-party for our self.  We think way too much and pray way too little.  We need to wrap our toxic, poisonous thoughts in prayer. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have to overcome the Devil.  It puts Jesus in charge and we get out of the way.  We get out of the boxing ring with the devil and let Jesus take over.  

“Jesus sent out the 12 and gave them authority over unclean spirits. He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick and a pair of sandals.”  If we travel lite we will have authority over our unclean spirits.  Just carry one “pet rock”, and that rock is Jesus.

 

 

From Student to Father - A Short Trip to Africa

Prior Joel Macul OSB.  Each year for the past six years I have made a trip to Tanzania and Kenya in the first half of the year. This year I left for East Africa a few days after Easter. The trip has a clear focus—to visit the student monks in East Africa who are living together in two study houses. It is a service to our Ottilien Benedictine Congregation as the Congregation Study House Advisor. It is understood as a fraternal visit to our student monks to listen to them about how their studies are going, to assess their living situation and to make recommendations to their superiors regarding the various academic institutions where the monks are studying. For the most part these student monks are taking courses in philosophy and theology in preparation for ordination.

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My visit this year began with the monks studying at Jordan University College in Morogoro, Tanzania ( 120 mi west of Dar es Salaam). There are nine monks studying there at the moment. They come from the four abbeys we have in Tanzania plus a monk from the priory in Zambia. Five of the brothers are in the philosophy or theology program while four of them are taking courses in the area of accountancy and business. The four abbeys are large communities and skills are needed in several areas. The need for financial transparency in the monasteries means that young monks are being trained in this area to better serve their communities. Jordan College is a young, small educational Catholic institution with a strong program in education among other areas. This means that our communities that have schools can take advantage of the college for training their future teachers.

Homily - 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time-2018

Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24
2 Corinthians 8:7, 9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43

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We all know what a sandwich is: two pieces of bread with some kind of filling in between. You need the two pieces of bread and the filling in between to have a sandwich. You cannot have a sandwich without the filling and two pieces of bread alone do not make a sandwich.

Mark the evangelist seems to like a sandwich, a literary one that is. Today he has given us a sandwich story. He starts a story about Jairus, a synagogue official who makes a dramatic entrance and request of Jesus for his young daughter. Then suddenly out of nowhere Mark introduces a nameless woman suffering from menstrual type bleeding. We can hear ourselves saying, finish one story first then tell us the next. But no. We hear one story start and this is interrupted with a seemingly unrelated second story and when that is finished, we return to the first story. When we finish the whole story, we find two scenes that seem very different, but maybe underneath it all there is just one thread. There is only one sandwich.

But there is something that holds this literary sandwich together. It is simple and most common: death. Death joins Jesus to Jairus, his young daughter, and to the hemorrhaging woman, and death joins the two women to one another. Jairus only approaches Jesus because his daughter is at the point of death. It is a desperate situation for the father. He is begging for life. The woman with the blood flow is already dead on one level and it is threatened with it on another level. The woman is considered unclean because of her blood flow. This uncleanness separates her from her relatives, from any relationships with people and makes it impossible for her to worship in temple or synagogue. She is an outcast and belongs to no one—socially and even religiously she is dead. After 12 years of hemorrhaging she is also physically at the point of death, like the young daughter of Jairus. You can only sustain loss of blood for so long and survive. She has seen many doctors but no cure. She has been losing her life in her blood for 12 years-a long, slow death. But she has within her something that has also been growing. Her life is draining away but her faith has been growing; her courage and perseverance are strong. This life Jesus in his turn recognizes and commends her for: you may think, it is power from me that has cured you, you may want to touch my clothes, but what has saved you, you have been carrying all along, your faith. In your faith you have placed your hand on what has power to heal, you are now made whole.

Yes, death is certainly common to both the young girl and the adult woman. But death is not the only filler in the sandwich. We hear and see another part to the sandwich that is holding it together, that is faith.

After the adult woman is healed, saved and restored to community life, we hear the news that death has come to the young girl. Jesus ignores the idea that he should change his plans and not bother to respond to her father’s plea. He tells the father not to be afraid and to have faith. The man has lost his daughter but Jesus points him in another direction. He says there is more than death here, more than death in your life. See that, touch it and come with me toward death. And so Jesus goes with the father to stretch out his hands toward the girl. He challenges the crowd’s view of what death is and takes the child by the hand and raises her up. A resurrection? I think so. Mark tells the story thinking so. Now the young girl is restored to her family and the full meaning of her 12th year is opened for her: she is now able to complete her womanhood with marriage and childbearing. Truly a resurrection for this girl. She is able to live her life to the full and her family, by having her back alive, is also restored to life.

Both women are daughters. But because of their deaths that identity has been taken away. The adult woman has been treated as one without family, without heritage, without a community of faith. And Jesus has restored her dignity, her place in the community. She has been given more than a cure; she has been given the intimacy of a relationship beyond imagining: “Daughter, faith has saved you–go, healed.” Daughter of Abraham, daughter of Jesus in his new family, daughter to the one Father in whose image she was created from the beginning….The father-daughter relationship is what has gotten our whole story started in the first place. A father about to lose his daughter at age 12, just when she is about to become a woman and enter society as an adult. And now she dies. The father is about to give up hope for his daughter….But Jesus says to the father, death is not the end for you and your daughter. The father held on to his faith and Jesus raises his daughter and gives her back to her parents….the loving relationship is healed and her potential is restored.

Yes, what looks like two stories has at least three threads making it one: women, death and faith. But in the middle is Jesus. Jesus is the filling in the center of the story. Jesus is offering his risen life to the women of the community; offering them a wholeness of body and spirit and heart—in biblical terms saving them. Jesus is the one who transforms death and turns it into a moment of new life and hope.

Today we gather to meet the Risen one as he reaches out a hand and lifts up.  We meet the risen one allowing himself to be touched by the unclean, the ostracized, the nameless. We meet the Risen one stopping to treat each of us as persons worthy to be heard and touched. Today we hear Risen Lord saying to us, “Daughter” “Son,” “Rise and go, live your life to the full in the image of the one who made you.”

Joel Macul OSB
1 July 2018

The Feast of Corpus Christi

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Mk 14:12-16, 22-26   Ex 24:3-8   Heb 9:11-15

focus: We are called to give up ourselves for others in imitation of Christ.
function: Our promise is freedom and life in fullness.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord,

“The body of Christ. Amen.  The blood of Christ.  Amen.”  When we celebrate Mass, these words are being spoken over and over again.  They are like a litany.  They give witness to Jesus’ complete gift of self to us and for us, but also to the self-surrender to which our Christian living calls us.

The Eucharist, we could say, is like a precious diamond at which a person can look from various sides; and it shines forth in ever new colors. The Eucharist was a meal and must be seen as an extension of the many meals that Jesus shared with people, rich and poor, respected and despised.  He established communion with them all.

The Eucharist points us to and is a foretaste of that great banquet to which we hope to be invited one day in heaven.  Today’s readings speak to us about the Eucharist as sacrifice.

Our first reading tells about the holocausts that were offered as Moses had received the Law, God’s order of life for God’s people, on Mt. Sinai.  Moses splashed the blood of the sacrificial animals on the altar and sprinkled it over the people.  A covenant was sealed in which the people promised to God, who had set them free from slavery:  “All that the Lord has told us we will heed and do.”

Today’s gospel presents us with the institution of the Eucharist.  Jesus is going to give his body and pour out his blood for many, for all humankind.  Bread and wine will forever be sacramental signs of God’s new covenant of unconditional love with the people sealed by Jesus.

The letter to the Hebrews, finally, carefully explains how the self-sacrifice of Jesus, surpasses and takes the place of all previous animal sacrifices.

God who is love did not need a sacrifice of something in order to become merciful toward humanity.  Rather, Jesus laid down his life on his own accord and so gave witness to his message about the God of love.  Pope Benedict pointed out in his 1st encyclical that Jesus himself became the shepherd seeking the lost sheep—and paid with his life for it.

The Eucharist is a memorial of Jesus’ Last Supper and makes it present for us.  The Church draws her life from the Eucharist,” Pope John Paul once said.  “This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith,” he continued, “but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church.

In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfillment of the promise, “Lo I am with you always to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist through the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity.  Ever since Pentecost, when the Church, the pilgrim church of the New Covenant, began her pilgrim journey toward her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope.

Dear sisters and brothers in the Lord, we are called to give up ourselves for others in imitation of Christ.  Our promise is freedom and life in fullness.

What are ways in which we give to others, not only something, not only words, not only gifts, but ourselves, our body and blood, our whole person?  What is the new life that we experience as fruit of this self-surrender?

Are we aware of any “dead works,” as the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, that keep us from imitating Christ and from which we need to be cleansed?

Let us take today’s feast as an occasion of marveling about Jesus’ loving self-surrender and about his abiding presence in the Eucharist.  St. Thomas Aquinas’ prayer words can become ours:

“Godhead here in hiding whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.”
AMEN.

Fr. Thomas Leitner, OSB

Trinity Sunday Homily-2018

Our Prior, Fr. Joel Macul shares his homily for Trinity Sunday:

Deuteronomy 4:32–34, 39–40
Romans 8:14–17
Matthew 28:16–20

Trinity Sunday is about mystery, the mystery of our God, the God of us Christians. Trinity Sunday is not really a celebration of a dogma or doctrine or the Church’s teaching. Dogma is a statement, a distilled statement of the content of belief. One studies a statement to find out its meaning. But behind the dogma is a mystery. That is what our gathering here today is about. We are about acknowledging and celebrating the living God as community, as community of persons. That community of persons that is our God is what we are remembering and celebrating today. However, if we take the word that we have heard this morning seriously then we cannot speak and hence cannot celebrate the mystery of our God as communion without at the same time acknowledging that we are also a community with that God. The story, the tale of God as community, as Trinity, is a story that includes us as part of that community. The story of Trinity, the story of the community of Father, Son and Spirit is a story of love that reaches us and includes us. The experience of our God is an experience of God bringing us into that communion and making us a people with him. If we profess God as Trinity, as a community of persons, we are also professing ourselves as having a share in that communion, in that life, in that love.

The gift of today’s feast is clear. God is all about relationship, about community. God is one in being together. God is all about relationships. To profess God as Father, Son and Spirit is to profess God as essentially relational. When this God touches the human story, God will touch it as community. When God touches humanity, then he reveals himself as an open community. God will slowly draw humanity into his own community. If God is fundamentally relational, and that is what belief in the Trinity means, then God will bring humanity into that relationship.

Each reading today makes it very clear that God is about making relationships happen between him and humanity and among members of humanity. Moses reminds Israel that the wonderful events of the Exodus are people forming events. God is making a nation for himself out of these people. It is unheard of that a god should set about making a nation, a community for himself out of human beings. But our God is a people- forming God. He does it by fighting on our behalf, by liberating us, by speaking to us directly, by giving us his word. What is unique about our God? He stands with us, shapes us into community and then guides our frail human condition to its ultimate communion with him. Trinity means involvement, commitment, covenant.

Paul explains how God builds on this first people-making event of Exodus and Sinai. God moves to a more intimate level than just a nation or a people. God moves toward the intimate relation of son and daughter. Now the relation is one of kin, or sharing a likeness. We have become relatives of God. This happens through God’s own Son, Christ. It happens through Jesus our brother. When we join him in his self-emptying on the cross, then we will share in the life of our brother Jesus. The mystery now is that God chooses to become human. When God becomes human, we who are human are now open to sharing in the heart of God himself. Paul calls it adoption as children of God. In the Spirit of adoption, we are now able to actually say who God. We find our voice and say, “Abba, Father.” This word given us by the Spirit expresses the intimacy and familiarity that is ours with God. God has made us his kin, his relatives.

Where does involvement in this relationship with a relational God begin for you and me? It begins at baptism. We are accustomed to receiving a new name at baptism: a saint or the name of an ancestor. What we often forget is that the name we actually receive is the name of our God. Baptize them, says Jesus, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are baptized into a communion of persons; we are baptized into a relationship of love and creativity; we are baptized into something alive and active. We are baptized into the mystery of God. We are baptized in the name of Father, Son and Spirit. This is our identity; this is the source of our very life.  

Those of us who have been given this identity also receive a task, a mission. We are to live our discipleship with Jesus in such a way that all humanity will be drawn into the mystery of the relationships in God. Make disciples of all nations—the Trinity is open and all embracing. Social and cultural boundaries are dissolved. Nationality, ethnicity and gender are not the defining identity. Plunged in baptism into the Triune God, that God and living with that God becomes our identity.

The wonder and mystery of the Trinity is that now we are not only God’s very own children but that we can and must live with others in such a way that they will recognize that they too are brothers and sisters of Jesus and ultimately children of  God.

Joel Macul, OSB

Prior's Message

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It looks like the Easter season ends with Pentecost, with the coming of the Spirit in the great drama of wind and fire and tongues. But the Spirit is not the end of Easter, it’s beginning. When John tells the Easter story, we find Jesus walking into a room with the doors closed and an atmosphere of fear paralyzing his followers. He tries to console them with the greeting of peace. But then he must use more than his words, he must breathe on them, that which keeps him alive.

They are like dead people, frozen, in shock. The only way forward is to share his breath. He must repeat the creative act that brought humanity into being. Indeed, he is creating a new community and new humanity. This time its stance is not one of fear, of being closed off, of having to hide. With Jesus’ breath flowing through it, humanity can become human again; it can breathe, it can find life. It can be about restoring relationships of all kind. Yes, the breath Jesus breathes on us is one that loosens us to forgiveness and love. When that happens, the Spirit is known, Pentecost is alive and well; it is the beginning of a new life. The Spirit is not the end of the story; it is the door to a whole new way for us, for our Church, for our world.

–  Fr. Joel Macul, O.S.B  –