Holy Thursday 2018

‘He goes before us…’:  Do we desire life, do we long for freedom, do we want the love that is stronger than death, and the joy that makes our lives complete, then we must follow.  Holy Week is like a ‘bas relief’ painting:  it puts front and center the Paschal Mystery, a mystery that is woven in our lives.   Our lives are stamped with the ‘paschal mystery’, stamped with this paradigm of Life that rises up out of death, the precious life that expands, with each surrender to the Divine will.  We are to follow with a living faith…a faith alive, a faith that can move mountains of doubt and transform negativity, despair, and hopelessness.  He goes before us showing us the Way, embodying the Way that is to be our way to life and unconditional love.  He goes before us right now.   What will this ‘renewed encounter with Jesus’ offer us, what will it ask of us, what will it open up for us as we follow? 
The Holy Thursday liturgy revolves around two rituals: the Eucharist and the washing of the feet.  I continue to re-read Br. Christophe’s journal, Born From the Gaze of God.  It is one of those books where entries that I did not focus on before suddenly jump out and speak new things that were not there before!  The three short, pithy texts that I will read give us a glimpse into Christophe’s encounter with Jesus.  To me these texts express Eucharist and what Jesus is communicating in the washing of his disciples’ feet.  The first: “To be sowers of love just where we are” (p.xiv).  Next: “It’s better to be the Body of your Presence resolutely and simply, to be simply there in a relation of love, vulnerable, exposed” (p.xiv).  The third: “Yes, to be your body here” (p.8).  These words of Christophe bring Eucharist into daily life; they are a way of washing another’s feet in whatever relationships we meet in ordinary moments of our lives.  We are called, each one of us, to be Christ’s body, the body of his Presence as we follow the Way of the gospel. 

What is the force, the power behind the Paschal Mystery?  It is Love…unconditional Love.  This is what comes to us in the encounter.  As we receive this Gift, we are transformed within our heart’s depths and almost imperceptibly we begin to embody this same unconditional Love….Of course, we will fall many times along the way.  Still, with each ‘renewed encounter with Christ’, we will once again be met by unconditional Love.  What will be the outcome if we engage in this living encounter with Love?  It will be impossible not to live by and give what we have received.  We will be more like Christ in mind and heart, and this will spill over into our choices and relationships.

Listen to another encounter of Br. Christophe: “Since here you are hard at work in my heart.  Ah, first of all: disarm it.  And if the thing is not too hard—this whole self of mine—purify me then I may perhaps be able to help you a little to LOVE” (p.201).  To pray: disarm my heart puts us in relationship, in an encounter with Love.   Such an authentic encounter with Christ will disarm us of our defenses, of our false sense of self, of our self-righteousness, of whatever keeps our hearts hardened.   This disarming, this opening of the heart, then enables us to receive the Love that is always coming towards us…the Love that can heal and transform the powers of darkness and death.  Yes, with this disarmed, converted heart, we become co-workers with Christ, helping to build up this body of God’s Love and Life!  And it does not matter what we are doing or how small the act: ‘sowing love right where we are’.

The gift of God’s Son: what we meet in the Eucharist is the gift of God’s unconditional Love…Love incarnate.  Through, with and in the One we are following, we encounter a Love that is fully surrendered, the only Love that is stronger than any power of evil and darkness. 

I conclude with yet another encounter of Christophe with Jesus:

“Today you tell your terrified disciples to row with the wind against them:
Courage: I am.  Do not be afraid.
If one understands the Eucharist, one understands everything” (p.29).


Living the Truth

Fourth Sunday of Lent

I like to begin with the last sentence from the gospel of this Sunday and then move to the beginning two sentences of the same gospel.   The last sentence reads: ‘Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his or her works may be clearly seen as done in God’ (John 3:21).  Is this not something we all aspire to, to live the truth?  This is what brings meaning to one’s life; this is what makes us free and joyful.  It is what reveals our true face and helps us glimpse the face of God.   But ‘living the truth’ is no small matter.  It involves I think what is said in the first two sentences of the gospel: ‘Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that he gave us his only Son…’ (John 3:14-15).  Jesus offered his life totally and was raised up, and in his raising, he opened for us life, life that is divine and so ‘eternal’.  The image of ‘lifting up’ has a ‘saving effect’.  For us, living the truth involves surrender, dying to all that is not true, and is not giving life.  We die, like the seed falling into the ground, for more life, for more of the truth of God’s life and our lives to be revealed….As we surrender we are lifted up to a more profound level of seeing and believing: we see more the truth of our selves and one another….We are lifted up to see yet again the love God has for us.

The commentators that I read all refer to this gospel as revealing the immense love of God.  Von Balthasar says it the most clearly:  “The Gospel gives us a chance to revise our understanding of divine judgment during a time of repentance.  The decisive point is that whoever scorns God’s love condemns himself.  God is not at all eager to condemn people.  God is nothing but love, love that goes as far as his sacrificing his Son out of love for the world” (Light of the Word, p.177-178).  It seems to me that ‘living the truth’ is possible only so far as we know and receive this love that God has for us…and we know it most concretely through the self-offering of Jesus.  The closer we can come to Christ in his Word and through how he lived, the closer we are to experiencing and receiving God’s love.

The reality that Jesus became fully human says his humanity is bound up with ours, whether we are aware of it or not.  This is how close God’s love is.  To read again from von Balthasar’s commentary: “The whole question is whether we accept God’s love so that it can prove effective and fruitful in us, or whether we cower in our darkness in order to evade the light of love” (p.178).  These are powerful images:  our acceptance of God’s love makes this love ‘effective and fruitful in us’…imagine this!  Or, dear sisters, do we rather ‘cower in our darkness’ fearful of the truth of where we are in any given moment…forgetting that love encompasses any truth.  We are raised up to a deeper and fuller truth by love.

To summarize what I gleaned in my lectio on this gospel:  to live the truth involves dying, surrender, letting go and we will be raised up by love.  To live the truth pivots around our faith: do we accept God’s love for us moment within moment.  Our faith is not static; it needs to be renewed daily.  So we are ushered into the fourth Sunday and week of Lent remembering God’s great gift of love given to us in Jesus.


Transfiguration - Transformed in Love

The gospel for the Second Sunday of Lent is always the Transfiguration; it parallels the First Sunday   What immediately precedes the Temptations of Jesus is his baptism in the Jordan.  As Jesus comes up out of the waters he hears the voice of his Abba, ‘You are my beloved Son’.  Michael Casey in his book, Fully Human Fully Divine, translates this phrase with a slight change:   ‘You are my Son, you are loved by me, in you I find my delight’ (Mark 1:11).  Here in changing ‘beloved’ to ‘you are loved by me’ we sense more powerfully that God has poured the fullness of his Love into his Son.  Jesus faces the temptations in and through the experience of knowing the depth and breadth of love from his Father.  Today’s gospel of the Transfiguration of Jesus repeats once again the total Love of the Father towards his Son.  As Jesus is transfigured once again a voice is heard.  And what does it say?  Using Michael Casey’s translation:  ‘This is my Son whom I love.  Listen to him’ (Mark 9:8).  Unconditional love bestowed on Jesus at his baptism and re-affirmed at his Transfiguration as his ministry is taking a final turn, leading him to his death and Resurrection.
of Lent, which always has the gospel of the Temptations.

Unconditional Love:  this is the face we behold at the Transfiguration, this is the One whom we are to become more and more like…this is the One in whom we move, and live and have our being.  Michael Casey writes: “By being instructed to listen to Jesus, the disciples are being informed that he is God’s voice on earth because this man is, in reality, the Son of God’s love” (p.195).  The Son of God’s love, the face of Christ is the face of unconditional Love, the Love that Jesus has received from the Father.  And we see through Jesus’ life how this unconditional Love is incarnated in both word and deed.  The Jesuit scripture scholar Fr. John Donahue comments the following on this gospel: “Such a mystery of total self-giving is rooted in the very nature of God, ‘who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us’(Hearing the Word of God, p.44).  These words I believe give us some idea of what unconditional Love is: total self-giving…The incarnate face of God’s unconditional Love is Christ.  Jesus gave his Self totally for us…at the root of unconditional Love is the gift of Self.

With the memorial Mass that we had for Val McKee I was very moved by the different ways the family saw their mother…grandmother.  She lived…she reflected ‘unconditional love’.  Obviously it was not 100% of the time, but this was what she was growing into; she lived it enough, embodied it enough that this was one of the main memories left in the heart and consciousness of the family.

What precedes the gospel of the Transfiguration in all three synoptic accounts is the first prediction of the passion of Jesus.  Then, right after Jesus’ prediction of his passion he says: if you are to be my disciples you must take up your cross and follow me, for whoever wants to save their life will lose it and whoever surrenders their life will find it.  There is no following of Jesus, there is no Transfiguration without the cross.  There are no attachments with unconditional Love…it is unrequited…expecting nothing in return….surrender, letting go free us to love without condition.  We live it when we take up our own cross, when we die to our selfish self for greater life and love.  What transforms evil, what transforms those dark, negative pulls into what is not life?  It is only the power of Love…love transforms, love absorbs the darkness and transfigures it into life.  We see this lived fully and completely in Jesus and as his followers this is the work of discipleship that we are called to continue.

What passages in the gospels show us show us Jesus embodying ‘unconditional love’?   What in the writings of St. Paul do we find him speaking of this Love that is stronger than death?  To name a few from the Gospels:  how many times must I forgive?  Jesus says, ‘70 times 7’, that is infinitely.  With the woman caught in adultery from John’s gospel: Jesus says ‘Whoever has not sinned throw the first stone?’  One by one the accusers leave and Jesus goes a step further with the woman:  ‘Woman, I don’t condemn you…go and do not sin again’.    And this saying: ‘If you are struck on one cheek offer the other as well’.  Don’t return hurt for hurt.  And, ‘Love your enemies’.  Loving those who love you is easy…but love your enemies.

If we turn to St. Paul:  the Philippians hymn about Jesus is a hymn of unconditional Love; ‘his state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God…but emptied himself….’  In Romans St. Paul tells us that nothing can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ…this is the power of Love. 

The message of today’s gospel is to be transformed in love, that is the love that has no conditions and expects nothing back for its self-offering.  This is the love that is ready to stretch itself in the shape of a cross.  This is the love that Jesus meets us with daily.  To paraphrase Pope Francis from a talk several years ago: ‘stop and contemplate the face of Jesus’…do this in order to transformed in love and to put into practice this love with which we are loved.  With Jesus we can love unconditionally.


What are you seeking?

‘What are you looking for?’  ‘What are you seeking?’  This is the first question in John’s gospel.  It is God’s question addressed by Jesus to his first would-be disciples and now, in this present moment, this Divine question Jesus addresses to each one of us.

As important as our questions are, what about God’s questions to us?  The interior dynamic shifts, does it not?  Can you sense or feel the difference?  God, addressing us personally, in the form of a question and if we let it in, God’s question speaks to the heart.  ‘What are you looking for?’  Or, as another translation has it, ‘What are you seeking?’  As we let God’s question circulate around our heart and listen, how will we respond, how will we engage this eternal question?  If we truly feel into this question of God, I think we will discover that contained in the question are at least these two things:  first, God desires relationship with us, and second, God is searching out the essence of who we are. 

This whole idea of God’s questions came to me from Sr. Jeremy Hall’s book Silence, Solitude, Simplicity.  She has several chapters on this theme and points out that there are over 350 questions of God in the Bible.  She was a scripture scholar and still it is evident from her writing that she has prayed with God’s questions in her own life.  Listen to what she says:  “If we hear God’s questions in the depth of our hearts, hearing personally as they are personally addressed, they will call us; they will challenge us; they will sometimes unsettle us.  But they can bring us, by God’s grace in the power of those words themselves and in us, to freedom, to more life, to deeper love” (p.126).  So, dear sisters, can we hear Jesus asking us right now: ‘What are you looking for?’  ‘What are you seeking?’

I mentioned at the beginning that this question to us is inviting two things from the side of God:  God is seeking relationship with us and God is searching out the essence of who we are, of who we are becoming.  ‘What are you looking for?’  Am I looking to be right?  Am I looking for this job, this title?  Am I looking to have my way?  Sr. Jeremy says that this question is a momentous one because “what or whom we desire is who we really are” (p.131).  She will go on to place this question in the context of Merton’s distinction of false and true self.   What is striking to me is that each question of God is pregnant with life in its challenge, in the utter truth it is breathing forth.  In the question, God is reaching out to help us find more of our essence, of our truest self…. As we receive God’s question, we will recognize those inner movements of where our pushy or hurt ego extinguishes any hope of the Spirit speaking its wisdom, or where this clamoring ego loses any sense of purity of heart and intention.   The Divine question helps reveal the false movements that come up in our hearts and that come up with a lot of emotional intensity and self-righteousness…Allowing the question of Jesus to be our anchor in the moment can lead us back to our center, to that self which is true and knows to whom and to what it longs to serve.

At the beginning of John’s gospel we have Jesus asking: ‘What are you looking for?’  Near the end of the gospel Sr. Jeremy points out that when Jesus meets Mary Magdalene at the tomb he asks her ‘Whom are you looking for?’  Is this not a profound movement of the journey, like the stroke of an artist’s paint brush, a stroke that completes the painting.  These two questions of God to us are inextricably linked.   And they can invariably lead us home to our true self and to the God whom we are devoting our lives to and ready to give all at any moment.  ‘What’ are you seeking, and the movement to ‘whom’ are you seeking: intimacy deepens…the relationship to God becomes stronger, more real, more embodied.  Our true self in Christ grows as we allow God to encounter us in these questions, questions that are so full of potential life and love.

Feast of our Cistercian Founders, Sts. Robert, Alberic |||amp; Stephen

How do we honor today, in this 21st century, the founders of our Order, Sts. Robert, Alberic & Stephen?  What can we draw out from the sketchy and spare details we have of their beginnings to tell us what their vision was, what the impulse was, what was the force behind their movement to begin a new community, which in a relatively short time developed into a full fledged Order?  If I had to choose two words to capture the essence of what propelled these courageous and dedicated monks they would be these: ‘mystical’ and ‘contemplative’.  Once a monastery and even an Order becomes established, the greatest risk for both is losing sight of what is vital to its way of life.  To renew ourselves we always have to return to the vision, to re-vitalizing what gives monasticism its perduring reality.  And these two words bring us face to face before the essence of monastic life.

‘Mystical’ and ‘contemplative’, words that carry so much history and meaning, words also that have been misused and misunderstood.  We might wonder how we understand them right now in our monastic lives.  ‘Mystical’ is related to ‘mystery’, not an extraordinary reality, rather a reality that one cannot grasp or understand through a mundane or profane consciousness.  Mystery is experienced and apprehended in a non-rational way; we perceive the divine reality with a consciousness that is rooted in the intuitive, poetic, imaginative, inspirational dimension of ourselves.  The ancients used the expression of ‘seeing with the spiritual senses’.   Michael Casey, in an essay titled “Contemplation”, writes: “What monastic life offers is a slow process of purifying the heart so that it can perceive the deep mystery in which we have been immersed” (Strangers To the City, p.158).  And, indeed, one of the beatitudes tells us that ‘the pure of heart will see God’.   The ‘pure of heart’ will see, a heart open to daily conversion ‘sees’ because each moment of conversion roots us in a more encompassing truth, God’s truth and our own.  Michael Casey offers this understanding of ‘mysticism’:  “When we speak of mysticism…we are speaking of our capacity to be drawn sometimes into a zone beyond the familiar world of space and time, a zone in which all our interior faculties come alive.  What transpires during those graced moments is beyond language.  God is a reality that we can never explain or prove” (p.159).  It is this other ‘zone’ that informs a consciousness that is sensitive and open to receiving and perceiving the Spirit’s ever-so subtle promptings and whisperings in our hearts.  In these moments it is so true that our ‘interior faculties come alive’, they expand and root our consciousness so that we truly begin to take on the mind and heart of Christ.

Our founders sought to cultivate this monastic or mystical consciousness both in the inner life and without, in their physical environment.  One may wonder: did they not have this at Mosleme?  Or, did life there become too institutional, too rich, too excessive in its liturgical practices, that the simplicity and essentials of what they sought got buried beneath all this wealth and success?  God is found as much outside of formal prayer times as within them, in nature, in serving one another, in a loving gesture given to us by another.  But how do we perceive these moments throughout the day?  We are not to make a split between finding God in the church and not finding God in our daily work.  It is this mystical consciousness that holds together the sacred and profane, that enables us to see and experience God in our everyday experiences.   Only a mystical consciousness can perceive God’s hand at work in the vulnerability of our sister and in our own vulnerability.  We are imperfect wounded beings.  Do we then see one another with the eye of criticism or do we see with a more encompassing eye, beholding as well the beauty of each one of our sisters and brothers?  ‘I thank you because you have created me so wonderfully’, says the psalmist.  Prayer, meditation and the process of conversion are the main practices we have to cultivate a contemplative, mystical way of seeing and being.  The monastic adage: ‘to pray unceasingly’ is not so much about ‘saying’ prayers as it is about living with our spiritual senses fully awakened and alive.  A mystical, contemplative consciousness has to do with awareness, awareness of entering this other ‘zone’ at different times throughout the day; awareness of when we have fallen into a cut-off consciousness, cut off from our heart center, cut off from our God.

Surely we honor our founders by growing into the consciousness that will enable us to perceive the face of Christ, the reality of God’s life present in these ordinary experiences.


Christmas Eve – 2017

 What does the Incarnation bring us?
St Joseph with the Child Jesus
Love, God’s love: At the center of Christmas is the mystery of God’s Love.  Are we aware of the immensity of this gift?   Are we aware of the implications this Love brings to and for our lives, and for our world?  This Love brings intimacy in our relation with God and with one another.  It is a love that transforms the power of darkness into life and has the power to continue to do so.  This Love that is at the center of Christmas will not only gift us in profound ways, but it will also ask something of us.  It is a Love that stretches us in the shape of a cross because it asks that we first (daily) carry our own cross into life and healing.  It is a Love that calls us and enables us to shoulder the burdens of one another….And it asks of us, which I know often feels impossible, that we love our enemy….that we stretch to love the one who is different….even more to love the one who has hurt us…How we concretely do this or how we move in this direction is not for now.  What is for now is that we are given the gift, the loving power to do this in small and larger ways.  This Love given ‘to and for us’ is truly a miracle for what it can work in human lives!

Now, hodie, we are given the possibility because of Christ…because of God’s gift to us in Christ…we are given the power of an unrequited Love….it is holding us right now…it is sustaining us right now….and it is to become even more flesh of our flesh.  Fr. Alfred Delp writes: “What this celebration is about is the founding of a final order for the world, a new center of meaning for all existence.  We are not celebrating some children’s holiday, but rather the fact that God has spoken His ultimate Word to the world.  Christ is the ultimate Word of God to the world.  One must let this idea really sink in these days when people are seeking new values” (Give Us This Day, p.277).  This Divine birth is about a ‘new center of meaning’ out of which we are to live our lives.  It births forth the ‘new values’ that help us live more like Christ in our views and perspectives, and in our relations with one another.   It enables us to embrace paradox so that the ‘new values’ or new wine of the gospel take root and become embodied in our lives and in this community.

The Incarnation happened two thousand years ago…and it is still happening today.  Fr. Delp emphasizes that we need to let the reality of the Incarnation sink in, sink into our heart, sink into our consciousness.  I think he is right on…we, most of the time, are not even aware that it is at the center of our lives especially when we get pulled into ‘I-It’ stuff forgetting why we are even in a monastery or why God has placed each of us on this precious earth.  Letting the reality of the Incarnation sink into our lives: this gift of God’s very life given freely to us: this gift, ever-new, ever hopeful, ever bringing wisdom, ever bringing the new of God that can heal all division and conflicts within our selves, with one another and in the larger world dynamics that affect all of us daily.  The Incarnation of Christ is radical in the breadth and depth of its power to transform and to save…in its capacity for freedom and joy, for bringing meaning and hope, for showing a way forward when one can not find their way.  A light is shining in our darkness and the darkness cannot quench it…and this light is to be even more manifest because like Mary we are ready to receive it, receive it with our ‘yes’, receive it by giving our flesh and blood to incarnate God’s gift and not quench it, bury it, or put it under a bushel basket!

We just received Jim Loney’s Christmas card.  He writes so simply, so profoundly the following:
Good news joy
                                    born in
                        deep night waiting
                                    here, this
                        manger will do.

Dear sisters: the manger of our lives will do….because we are each here….here like Mary with our ‘yes’….there is nothing more we need to do…just to be here, here with a living faith and the right intention.  Yes, with these we will receive the gift that awaits each one of us this Christmas.  Amen.


Third Sunday of Advent – December 17, 2017

This is Gaudete Sunday, which means in one word: Rejoice!  I think as we delve a little into the readings we will see how apropos this title is for describing the Third Sunday of Advent!  The first reading from Isaiah opens with this announcement: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me’.  It follows with a kind of delineation of what this anointing of the Spirit means.  And all of this is pointing to the Coming One: Christ.  The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians gives an orientation for our lives in the context of the One who is coming:  first, ‘rejoice always…pray without ceasing…in all things give thanks’:  doing this the reading tells us is the will of God in Christ.  Then comes the warning:  ‘Do not quench the Spirit.  Do not despise prophetic utterances.  Test everything: retain what is good.  Refrain from every kind of evil’.  Now if we are to heed the voice of John the Baptist who is crying out in the wilderness, again on this third Sunday of Advent, we have in concrete terms what we are to both heed and do!

‘Do not quench the Spirit’:  as I have already said in an earlier chapter talk the Spirit is hovering over our lives, ready to birth forth the NEW of God in our lives.  Do we even notice the Spirit hovering?  ‘Rejoice’, ‘pray’, ‘give thanks’:  what if these three realities were our default?  What if even one of them each day was our default?  It feels to me that if we anchor our lives around praying, giving thanks, rejoicing we have found the medicine that keeps us open to receive this Divine birth and to live from this newness that the Coming One longs to grace us with.

Another way of helping us receive God’s gift is to ponder:  How do I quench the Spirit?  I encourage each one of us to give time this week to note down some ways I do this, for just doing this little task (this inner work) will open us more and keep us more attentive to the new gesture of God hovering in and around our hearts.  The next phrase is even stronger: ‘Do not despise prophetic utterances’.  There is one prophetic utterance, which tells us what Advent is all about:  God is coming…in spite of our selves…in spite of our fears, our doubts, our hopelessness, our negativity.  Are we ready and willing to pray the grace to believe…to live into this reality that our God is coming?

A final comment on the Thessalonians reading:  ‘Test everything: retain what is good.  Refrain from what is evil’.  The heart is complex…it is the receptacle for this new birth…still it has the potential to not serve the good.  ‘Test everything…’:  this is not about being over scrupulous; it simply means to reflect upon our intentions as they come up, to sort through those different voices that pull us one way or another: am I doing this act out of jealousy, out of hurt, out of rebellion because no one cares?  We could all add on different scenarios that come up in our human relationships.  And still the Spirit hovers over our lives.  God will not disappoint.  We rejoice because this is the season of God’s immense gift to us and to our world; we pray, even more, so as to be open to receive and to be bearers of this gift; we give thanks because we are humbled, as we already ‘know’, we already feel these stirrings of life, of the Coming One, who will take root even more in the ‘hodie’ of our lives.  Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent

"Prepare the way of the Lord’:  this is the proclamation for the Second Sunday of Advent.  Jean Danielou wrote over 40 years ago these words that so aptly describe our present day reality:  “The Baptist’s message is addressed to a world held captive by sin and death, powerless to free itself, a world destined for death and incapable of justice, a world without hope.  And his happy vocation is to proclaim that all the bonds will be broken and that love will overcome.  This is already the message of grace” (Prayer, p.37).  Christ is always coming—‘he comes, comes ever-comes’, writes the poet Tagore—Advent emphasizes the God ‘who will be’ and so John the Baptist continues his proclamation so needed right now for salvation: for the saving grace that will free us from hopelessness, from self-centered ways, from narrowness in perceptions, from rigidity that compromises our ability to receive the Spirit hoverin
g over our lives.  John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness of our hearts and in the wilderness of our lost world: ‘prepare the way’….prepare your hearts, prepare your lives….this message hidden only if we are living at a distance from our ‘center’, from what is most true, authentic, compassionate…from what is most God-oriented.  Turn for a moment into the silent depths: there his voice will be heard once again….‘prepare the way’…in John’s message there is already grace…for it contains light to guide us forward to receive God’s gift….it is a message of comfort, it opens up for us and our world a way of salvation:  a way of peace, of healing, of forgiveness.

An essential ingredient of John the Baptist’s message is repentance.  This is not Lent but it is a time to turn inward for there is the gift….there will be born more of Christ’s life for each one of us in a personal way.  Contemplative space, silence, inwardness: this helps prepare the way: step out of our busyness, take space from the noise of the political landscape right now…the One who is coming, the One to be born will bring peace…it is important first that this gift begins with us….it will ripple outward….each one of us together forming a living body of faith where the God of unconditional love will be manifest.

Danielou says that Advent is a “pedagogy of faith”, but not a faith that God exists, more strikingly that “God intervenes in history” (p.38).  God intervenes in our personal history and in the larger history of humanity.  This is a miracle, is it not?   Our ‘living faith’ pivots around this miracle.  This is how close the Divine life is to us…in and through this personal relationship with the Christ of God we are given the Love that no one can extinguish.

Our God is coming bringing the new of hope, the new of compassion, of peace, of a way of meeting the ‘other’ who is different from us.  This newmanifestation of God’s life is what we all need right now.  Amen. 


First Sunday of Advent 2017 - Awakening the Spark Within Us

‘Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not’?  This is how Advent opens with the first reading from Isaiah (63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7).  Left to our selves we wander from the ways of God, our hearts become hardened almost unnoticed because we are living without much awareness of what is happening inside, within the heart.  Once we become aware and notice more, we may feel moved to cry out, ‘Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down’…or simply, ‘Oh that you would come to change my heart’.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh
The reading continues with this plea:  ‘Would that you might meet us doing right, that we were mindful of you in our ways!’  And then this finale which has all the elements of a song of longing – ‘You O Lord are our father’: meaning, you are our Source, you are our Creator: we are the clay, which is a humble posture of acknowledgement and awareness of who can shape us anew – we are the clay and you, our Creator, the potter.  Finally the Isaiah reading concludes with this existential reminder: ‘We are all the work of your hands’.

So here dear sisters we have our entrance into Advent…does more even need to be said?  Jean Daniélou wrote: “To talk about Advent implies that someone or something is coming or will come.  The liturgical time of Advent is a waiting for divine action, a waiting for God’s gesture toward us” (Prayer, p.32).  And how are we to wait?  The gospel tells us to be awake, watchful.   I wonder if the beginning of Advent awakens a little spark within us.   Have you noticed a small, quiet stirring, a movement of anticipation that we each need to stay close to?  Already just the word ‘Advent’ stirs our hope, our longing.  This stirring already knows before we even do (!) that more of God is coming into our lives…God will not disappoint!  But let us remember it begins small: in ways that we can easily miss, so we are to attend with the ‘ear of the heart’, listen for those silent movements of the Spirit…we are being over-shadowed by the One who seeks us, who seeks to grace us with new life, with His life.

Pope Francis, in his 2014 homily for the First Sunday of Advent, offers insight into how we are to wait and be watchful.  He says that this eschatological gospel is not trying to frighten us but is “‘to open our horizons’ to further dimensions, giving meaning even to everyday occurrences.  This perspective is also an invitation to ‘sobriety, to not be dominated by the things of this world’ but rather to keep them in their proper place”.  Is this not why the beginning of Advent calls us to turn inward, to be vigilant and watchful?  This new moment of God’s manifestation is for each one of us.  It is so important for us to receive this gift of new life, for how are we to incarnate Christ’s life if we do not first become receptive vessels, like Mary, of this newness wanting to birth forth? 

We all need change; any true change in our lives must have its root within otherwise it lacks the solid rock on which our house is to be built.  This is what this Divine birth can and will bring to each one of us.  Pope Francis says in the same homily: “‘We are called to enlarge the horizons of our hearts, to be surprised by the life that is presented each day with its newness.  In order to do this we need to learn to not depend on our own securities, our own established plans.’”  To be bearers of the Divine gift means we can only receive this grace if our posture is open and attentive, open that is to changing our ways, even a small movement of change makes us ready bearers of this new life that is to be ‘given to us and for us’.  During this short Advent season, let us ponder:  in what way or ways do the boundaries of my heart need to be enlarged?  What small change do I need to be ready to receive God’s new gesture of grace?  Just the honest intention of praying for change brings the Coming One close, very close indeed.

A prayer:  Oh you the Potter, you who shape and form us into a vessel worthy and humble enough to bear your life, come enlarge my heart, soften its hard edges, prepare it for your new ‘gesture’ of love.  Grant me a living faith that knows you will not disappoint me in my desire.  Amen.

Sr Kathy DeVico, Abbess


Sunday Homily: Love of God, Love of the Stranger, and Love of Self

30stSUNDAY in ORDINARY TIME – A       October 29, 2017     br. Daniël
[Ex 22:20-26;  1Thess1:5c-10;  Mt 22:34-40]

   Jesus is involved in a series of debates with the Jewish religious leaders. As soon as the Pharisees learn that Jesus has silenced the Sadducees, one of them comes up with a new question: ‘Teacher, which commandment in the Law is the greatest?’ As a good Jew, Jesus begins by quoting the most fundamental one: ‘Love God with all your capacities, heart, soul and mind’. However, Jesus immediately attaches to this the commandment of love for the neighbor, as being one and the same with the commandment of love for God. Indeed, it is impossible to love God without loving the neighbor.
     The Evangelist Mark has a parallel text in which this story has an interesting epilogue. The same Pharisee who – according to Matthew – tries to put Jesus to the test, gets so deeply impressed by Jesus’ answer that he exclaims: ‘Exactly Master, you have said it very well!’ And Jesus, seeing that his interlocutor has opened his heart, replies: ‘You are not far from the Kingdom of God’.
     Not all Jewish Pharisees were as bad as our traditional picture suggests. Besides, in the Rabbinic tradition vivid debates with sophisticated questions about the Torah were quite normal. Usually, the intentions were not bad. The purpose was: challenging one another to penetrate into the unfathomable depth of the Sacred Text. However, this traditional game assumes an evil character when some are questioning Jesus just to find a pretext for sueing him and having him put to death. In such a case, religion becomes an aggressive hypocrisy aiming at destruction because of mere power. Nevertheless, we should correct the traditional picture of ‘the Pharisee’: in Mark we see that the dialogue is held in an atmosphere of mutual respect beyond separating boundaries.
     This brings us to the theme of respect, also concerning what seems to be strange in different religions and cultures. In the first reading we heard the commandment of respect towards the stranger, ‘for you were once strangers yourselves in the land of Egypt’. Without denying our Christian roots, love for the neighbor requires to open our hearts also for strangers. Not always easy, especially today, as our Christian faith is rapidly losing its influence upon society and other religions are playing a more important role, especially the Islam.
     However, Xenophobia is not the answer. Also the Islam, originally, is a tolerant religion, just like Christianity, in spite of all violence happening in its name. In the Koran, in fact, the second Soera says: ‘Those who adhere to the Jewish faith, as well as the Christians who believe in God and in the Last Day, who are acting by virtue, will have their reward from their Lord; they will have nothing to fear and will not be saddened’. And a little further, the same Koran even refers to the Covenant of God with the Israelites: ‘You shall serve God only. Be good for your parents, your relatives, the orphans and the needy’. Thus, two Islamitic passages that come very close to our readings of today: respect for the stranger and justice to those who cannot defend themselves.        

     But today’s Gospel also invites us to remain close to ourselves. ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’. We need a healthy amount of self-love to be able to love others. We should not just open our hearts for others and strangers without being in touch with our innermost self. ‘Know yourself’. A humble self-acceptance, as a fruit of sincere search for God, is a condition to make love possible for our neighbor. Love for God, our Creator, and love for the neighbor are the two sides of one and the same medal. A heart can be open for strangers only to the extent to which it is at home with itself. May this be for us the basis of an authentic religion, coming from a heart that includes all people – notwithstanding their origins – as children of one and the same God.
See Older Posts...