Inebriated with the Spirit

These men are not drunk, given it is but the third hour of the day.

Thanks to these words of St Peter we know the precise time of day of the descent of the Holy Spirit: the third hour, the hour of Terce, that is, according to our modern reckoning, nine o’clock in the morning. The hour of Terce has thus become the hour of the Holy Spirit, and each day we invoke Him at that hour to come into our hearts and give voice to our praise. We ask Him to take possession of our whole being, that it may be entirely given over to the praise and glory of God.

True, the apostles were not drunk with wine, but they were inebriated with the Holy Spirit. It was He who inspired them with words they knew not, with languages they had not learned, with boldness and prodigious deeds that astounded the witnesses and, to this day, make of this event one of the most holy days of the year, the day of the foundation of the Church.

On this day, the preaching of the Gospel rings out for the first time. The apostles, from weak, timid and ignorant men, are transformed in an instant and become the source of the faith of the entire Church. Power is given to them beyond the forces of nature. As men inebriated with the Holy Spirit, they become fearless in proclaiming to the world the truths it does not want to hear.

Indeed, what does St Peter tell us in this first Pentecost Homily? He makes three points.

First of all, he cites the prophet Joel as having foretold the event. In so doing, he links the Old and New Testaments. The Gospel does not appear out of nowhere, nor is it in a vacuum. For centuries God had been preparing this moment, and it has come.

Secondly, he proclaims that Jesus was sent by God, His countless miracles bearing witness to His divine mission. “This Jesus whom God sent to you as Saviour, you rejected Him, you killed Him. But God raised Him up on the third day and made Him Lord of all”. Here too St Peter quotes the Old Testament, this time a psalm, showing that the resurrection of Jesus had been prophesied all along and has actually now come to pass.

The third point draws the conclusion. You need to repent and be baptised in Jesus’ name for the forgiveness of your sins.

It is now easy to see why and how this first apostolic sermon is paradigmatic for all subsequent preaching in the Church. The Holy Spirit, as third Person of the Blessed Trinity, unites all periods of history, He shows the beauty of God’s plan who, from the beginning did not abandon the human race but promised a Saviour and announced His coming in so many different ways. And now in these latter days, His plan of salvation is made manifest, and it is incumbent upon us to welcome the message and turn to Jesus for the salvation of our souls.

St Peter’s words at the end of his discourse are addressed to every generation, but seem to be spoken to us today with growing vehemence: “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation”. If we desire salvation, we must turn our backs on the corrupt world around us, for there are, sad to say, always many souls who refuse the message of Christ crucified and risen, who close themselves to the saving power of the Holy Spirit, and who therefore reject the forgiveness of their sins. They go on sinning and are lost.

And so my dear friends, let us not be among those who resist the Holy Spirit, but rather let us open ourselves wide to His saving grace. Let us become drunk, not with the debilitating pleasures of the senses and the world, but with the invigorating presence of God’s Spirit.

If we do, then we too will find the strength to proclaim to the world the truths it does not want to hear but which it so dearly needs to hear, for they alone can save it. May the Spirit of truth and love inspire us with zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of all souls, through the intercession of Mary Immaculate, Mother of God and Mother of the Church.

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The feast of hope

The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ, 40 days after Easter, should fill us with great joy and confidence. We know that Our Lord took the long, hard road to glory. We know that He was plunged into the depths of the most excruciating sufferings and desolation, humiliated even into the very bowels of the earth. But today we see Him lifted up in glory, seated at the right hand of the Eternal Father, bringing our humanity to sit for all eternity upon the throne of glory – Deus Creator omnium, homo in fine temporum, we sing in today's hymn.

In the midst of this valley of tears, let us lift up our eyes – My eyes are always turned toward the Lord, we sing in psalm 24 – let us lift up our eyes to our beloved Saviour, confident that He will draw us after Himself. Let us not allow ourselves to be bogged down. No, that is Satanic defeatism. We lift up our eyes to the Lord, and we march on to victory, because we know that He holds us in the palm of His hand, and no one can snatch us from Him.

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Patience obtains all things

I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.

With these words of today’s Gospel, Our Blessed Lord wishes to help us understand the ways of God. God is not like man. Man is weak, and because he is weak, he seeks feverishly to amass knowledge and wealth. God is omnipotent, and because of this, He is in no hurry. He knows what He will do, and His plan will infallibly be realised. God is patient because he is strong. Man is impatient because he is weak.

In today’s epistle, St James admonishes us to be slow to speak and slow to anger, but prompt to listen. Prompt to listen to God, but also prompt to listen to man. So many evils are avoided when one knows how to be silent, to listen, to wait. 

I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. If we accept the pace of God, if we embrace the slow, persistent, relentless growth of nature and of grace, we will learn many things that we cannot bear now.

This morning at Matins, we heard St Cyprian sing the praises of the virtue of patience:

“If God is our Lord and Father, let us follow after the patience of Him who is both Lord to us and Father, for it belongs to servants to be obedient, and it becomes not children to be degenerate. It is patience which both commends, and preserves us to God. It is this that restrains anger, bridles the tongue, governs the mind, guards peace, regulates discipline, breaks the impulse of lust, binds down the violence of pride, quenches the flame of hatred, controls the power of the rich, comforts the want of the poor, maintains a blessed integrity in virgins, in widows a studious chastity, in the married a singleness of love, makes men humble in prosperity, brave in adversity, mild toward injuries and contempts; teaches quickly to pardon them that offend: teaches the offender to make entreaty long time and often; conquers temptations, bears persecutions, leads passions and martyrdoms to their consummation. It is this that firmly fortifies the foundations of our faith.” 

In our spiritual life, more than in any other domain, we need to arm ourselves with patience. We are often impatient to become saints, and we imagine that, given all the efforts we have already put into our spiritual progress, we should already be on a pedestal or in a niche. But God does not ordinarily make saints overnight. He takes His time, He has all eternity.

This is something our Holy Father St Benedict knew from experience, and it is without a doubt the reasons he concludes the prologue of the Rule with the reminder that it is by patience in the monastery that we take part in the passion of Christ. Passionibus Christi per patientiam participemur – persevering in His teaching in the monastery until death, we shall share by patience in the sufferings of Christ, that we may deserve to be partakers also of His kingdom.

St Teresa of Avila too knew well the sovereign importance of patience. Let nothing disturb thee, let nothing afright thee. All things are passing, God alone suffices. Patience obtains all things. 

Just a little while

Just a little while, and I will see you again.

These words are without a doubt some of the most consoling in the Holy Gospel, designed as they are to ward off that most deadly of temptations: give up and turn back. Our human frailty is such that we all too often listen to those insidious words of the Tempter: “you’ll never make it; it’s too far; it’s too hard; you can’t persevere for a hundred years doing all these prayers and penances, etc.” 

Just a little while, says the Divine Truth. So short is our life that we will hardly remember it when it is over. We even have difficulty remembering the brief years we have already spent here. But our life will pass, like the flower that blossoms today and fades tomorrow.

Just a little while, says Our Beloved Lord. Your difficulties at the moment may be many, your challenges hard to face, your cross heavy to bear, but what you have suffered already you will never suffer again. It is over, finished, and today you are closer to your eternal reward than you have ever been.

Just a little while, says our Good Shepherd. The path by which He leads us sometimes seems long. It winds, it goes up and down. There are crags and torrents. There are precipices on each side. Perhaps more dangerous still, there are many attractions along the way which seek our attention and could cause us to stray. But He leads us with His rod and His staff, and He knows where we are going. 

So where are we going? I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no one shall take from you. The whole of our life is about going to the One we love. It is about going to Love, being absorbed into Love, that very Love which created us and longs at every moment for our love. The time we have to learn true love is so very short. Just a little while. Let’s learn the lesson well, for we have only today to learn it.

Mother of Pure Love, Sweet Lady of Cana, transform those little efforts we make each day and which often taste like insipid water, into the delicious wine of Divine Love. Our own love is weak, it is fragile, but through Your intercession it can become strong, lasting, eternal. Tell Jesus we have no wine. We have no love in our hearts. Give us yours, sweet Mother, for with it, we will no longer drag our feet along the way, for the true Lover runs with enlarged heart. 

“The Lover flies, runs, and rejoices, he is free, and is not held…. Love feels no burden, values no labours, would willingly do more that it can; complains not of impossibility, because it conceives that it may and can do all things” (Imitation of  Christ, Bk 3, ch. 5).

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St Joseph's Magnum Opus

Today the Church honours St Joseph under the title of “Worker”. In the face of the Communist ideology of human work as a means to temporal prosperity and conquest, reducing human work to just another cog in the great wheel of evolutionary "progress", the Church through Pope Pius XII wanted to remind us that the Son of God Himself laboured in this life in the company of and under the command of St Joseph. By doing so, He sanctified human work, elevating it, and giving it the capacity to sanctify souls when accepted in a spirit of obedience to God the Creator and in a spirit of atonement for sin. Work is an essential part of human life, and as such, is one of the primary means of sanctification. It's not for nothing that Benedictines are known to “pray and work – ora et labora".

Let's not forget however that St Joseph's great work was the upbringing of the Word Incarnate and, by extension, fostering and protecting of Holy Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ. Such was the meaning of the feast of the patronage of St Joseph instituted by Bl Pope Pius IX. We can pray to this great saint today to bless the Church, to protect her from all harm, to guide her shepherds in fidelity to the fulness of truth and in the way of eternal salvation so that they may lead the faithful there as well.

We may also consider that the work of our individual sanctification can be entrusted to St Joseph. He is a great master in the ways of prayer. So on this day, let us renew our devotion to him.

St Joseph is also secondary patron of our community; to him we entrust the task of building us a monastery, but even more importantly, of building monks, and also, building us a solid group of faithful friends and supporters, so necessary to any community, but even more so in its beginnings: “Vera amicitia in aeternum". We also thank him for all the support we have already received, and pray to him for all our benefactors.

Prayer of St Pius X to St Joseph, Model of Workers

Glorious St. Joseph, model of all who are devoted to work, obtain for me the grace to work in a spirit of penance, in order thereby to atone for my many sins; to work conscientiously, putting devotion to duty before my own inclinations; to labor with gratitude and joy, deeming it an honour to employ and to develop, by my labor, the gifts I have received from Almighty God; to work with order, peace, moderation, and patience, without ever shrinking from weariness and difficulties; to work above all with a pure intention and with self-detachment, having always before my eyes the hour of death and the accounting which I must then render of time wasted, of talents unemployed, of good undone, and of my empty pride in success, which is so prejudicial to the work of God.  All for Jesus, all through Mary, all in imitation of thee, O Patriarch Joseph! This shall be my motto in life and in death. Amen. 

Happy feast day to all!

First Vespers of the feast of St Joseph in our temporary chapel. Only part of the community fitted into the photo!

First Vespers of the feast of St Joseph in our temporary chapel. Only part of the community fitted into the photo!

Quasimodo geniti infantes

Today’s oration has us ask the Lord that, having celebrated the paschal solemnities, we may keep them in our way of living, moribus et vita. Yesterday, a similar oration asked that having celebrated the paschal solemnities, we might attain to eternal joys, gaudia aeterna.  

Easter is truly the celebration of eternity, eternal life. This it is that the eternal Lord has won for us by undergoing death in time. And this is the great grace of paschaltide: we are an “Easter people” because we are heading towards eternal life, thanks to the seed planted in our souls at Baptism and which we are called upon to irrigate by frequent reception of the other sacraments and use of the prayers and sacramentals of the Church, along with the practice of good works. Keeping the mystery of Easter moribus et vita means living out in the day to day activities the paschal mystery, that is to say, the passion, death and resurrection of Our Lord. But what does that mean? 

It means we must learn to die to ourselves each day, as St Paul says of himself: “Quotidie morior: I die each day” (1 Cor 15:31). It means “always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10). It means “reckoning ourselves dead to sin, but alive unto God, in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:12). Because of this, we may not allow sin to reign in our mortal bodies by obeying the lusts thereof. For again, “if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God. Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth.  For you are dead: and your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col 3:1-3).

It means that we who put on Christ can no longer live like the rest of the world. It is interesting that St Paul attributes the vices of worldlings to their loss of hope: “Henceforward walk not as also the Gentiles walk in the vanity of their mind: Having their understanding darkened: being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their hearts, who despairing have given themselves up to lust, unto the working of all uncleanness, unto covetousness” (Eph 4:17-19). They have not hope, and so abandon themselves to despair. What is abandoning oneself to the vices of the flesh if it is not a form of despair? To seek to gratify oneself with dust and mud. No wonder then that after several decades of forgetfulness of eternity and preoccupation with the things of this world only, we now have the sad state of a Church plagued with vice. If there is no hope of eternity, despair sets in, and if despair sets in, the vices of the flesh become god, a cruel, blood-thirsty god who allows no rest to souls and no peace to hearts. 

But when one has put on Christ, when one knows with absolute certainty that Christ Our Lord is risen from the dead and that He is drawing us towards the eternal kingdom, the aeterna gaudia, then one has hope, one is filled to overflowing with joy that if we are but faithful for a few brief moments in this ephemeral life, we shall take part in eternal life with Christ.

My dear friends, in a world gradually immersing itself more and more in matter and in despair, the witness of monks, indeed the witness of all true Christians, must be that there is something higher, there is eternity, and on the day of our death the only joys we will have are the thoughts of the good things we did for God, the passing things that we gave up for God. For God is great, and He is worth losing all for. 

This is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith, and it is given to those who make themselves quasimodo geniti infantes, as newborn babes who, taking in the sweet milk of the truth of the Gospel, in their innocence glow with peace and joy. “Unless you become as little children, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven”  (Mt 18:3).

Everything can change at Easter

The wicked had just achieved the most devastating victory in history. The Son of God had been defeated. He was dead. He was gone. And with him all hope of anything good ever happening again. There was nothing to do but despair. No wonder the two disciples go off to Emmaus to try and drown their sorrow.

Early that morning the women come to the tomb, not having a clue as to how they would roll back the heavy stone that required several stout men.

And then comes one of the verses of the whole Bible that I personally find to be the most inspiring: They looked up and saw that the stone had been rolled back!

Everything is reversed. All of a sudden, and without warning, God intervenes. And when God intervenes everything can change. Everything.

The worst defeat becomes, in an instant, the greatest victory.

So fear not, beloved friends, everything can change at Easter.

Christianity, as GK Chesterton wrote, has died many times in the past, but it has also risen many times, for it has a God who found the way out of the grave.

All the monks send you their love for an Easter overflowing with paschal joy.

Surrexit vere, alleluia!

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Notre Dame and Holy Saturday

Here in Australia it is already Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is Our Lady's day par excellence. She alone kept the faith in that dark night when everyone else, including all the apostles, had lost it. This is the origin of Saturday as Our Lady's day.

Yesterday just before the Mass of the Presanctified, a couple of unexpected visitors appeared at St Patrick's Church in Colebrook. A woman, unknown to me, when hearing that we were “Notre Dame Monastery", asked if we were the same one that recently burnt down…. When I perceived that she was referring to the cathedral of Paris, I understood that she must not understand the meaning of “Notre Dame”, which of course is French for “Our Lady”.  She didn't, and so I explained it to her. 

But this led me to reflect upon our own community and why it is dedicated to Notre Dame. Actually last Tuesday when the news came of the devastating fires in Paris, one of the first messages I got went like this: “We need Notre Dame more than ever now that fire has ravaged ‘her’! Keep up your great efforts to build the Monastery “. Interesting, I thought. Notre Dame Paris is burning, and Notre Dame Tasmania is building. But why do we bear that name to begin with? 

Of course, the choice was influenced by my 32 years in France. The expression Notre Dame is one of those traits of French genius that captures in two words a whole universe of grace. Another example is the way the French refer to the feast of Corpus Christi, calling it “Fête-Dieu” literally “God's Feast”. That innate Catholic sense allowed them to see that Corpus Christi is God's special day, for on it we honour no longer one of His invisible mysteries, nor just one of his saints, whose relics we might happen to possess, but God Himself in the flesh living among us.

So it is with the title Notre Dame, Our Lady. Mary is a Dame. The word is still used in English, in particular to refer to solemnly professed nuns of certain religious orders. You might hear of Dame Margaret, or Dame Hilda, or Dame Elizabeth… It refers to a mature woman, one who is no longer in her youth, one who has achieved and who lives in accordance with the dignity of pure, compassionate, loving, and strong womanhood. It denotes a woman who is fully conscious of the privilege she has received from God of being a sister of Notre Dame, a sister of that great Woman in whose womb God became incarnate and who stood at the Cross while God her Son was dying. A dame is a woman who, by her gentle but firm command, orders her household with prudence and wisdom. She inspires in younger women zeal for purity, integrity, attentiveness to others. Young women learn, by contemplating a true lady,  a true dame, that self-centredness has no place in their lives, but that woman is, by nature, created to nurture, protect, help, guide and save life, and lead it to maturity.

Our Lady, Notre Dame, is thus a model for all women, and that model has never been more crucially needed than today when the world strives by every means to deprive women of their true grandeur, convincing them that to succeed that have to compete with men, or worse, that they must get rid, as soon as possible, of that most precious gift of virginity and avoid at all costs the eminent dignity of maternity. Mary is honoured with the double privilege of virginity and maternity. The modern world would deprive them of both, leaving them barren of both natural and spiritual progeny.

Our Lady, Notre Dame, because of her virginity, her prudence, her prayer, her openness to the divine plan, is also a model for men consecrated to God. That is why, all over France, monasteries were founded that called themselves Notre Dame of…. So sweet it is bear that name of the Great Lady who bore God in her womb, and who inspires to this day legions of men and women to imitate her purity in the religious life.

And so it was that, when this monastery was founded, instinctively it was to Notre Dame that I turned. 

On this day of Our Lady par excellence, let us turn to her and ask her to rebuild the magnificent cathedral of Paris and raise to the glory of her Son a much more modest edifice, though truly beautiful and great in its own right, here in Tasmania, where future generations will come to sing the praises of that humble maiden whom the whole world knows under the name of Notre Dame. 

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Priest, Victim and Altar

Maundy Thursday

18 April 2019

With the celebration of the Sacred Triduum, we arrive at the climax of the Church’s liturgical life. To the events commemorated and relived during these days, we can trace the very foundations of all that we hold to be true and sacred. Indeed, it all came about quite unexpectedly. The tragic denouement of Our Lord’s life gained momentum and speed in those final weeks. To all appearances, the brilliant career of the wonder-worker of Nazareth came to an abrupt and disastrous end. He was rejected by the chief priests and crucified as a blasphemer. Even the apostles did not realise at the time that the events, tragic though they were, were actually the fulfilment of the prophecies according to which the Messiah would be, all at once, Priest, Victim and Altar.

In the Old Testament, the priests took animals and offered them in sacrifice on the altar by shedding their blood as an act of atonement to the Divine Majesty. It was all a prefiguration of the Divine Mission of the Redeemer, for the blood of those animals could only be a symbol of our desire to atone, it was powerless to obtain forgiveness. The only victim pleasing to the Father and capable of wiping out sin, was the Lord Himself, and so he would be the sacrificial lamb destined to offer satisfaction for the sins of the world. The altar would be his own Body. It is on the cross, hanging, bleeding, losing his very life blood, that the Incarnate Lord realises the prophecies, brings them to fulfilment, and offers to God the Father the one and only sacrifice capable of appeasing His wrath and satisfying for sin. That is why, in the New and Eternal Covenant, there is no other sacrifice but that which the Lord offered on the Cross on Calvary. 

But God knew that human nature, which He Himself had created, needed a sacrificial act. In reality there can be no true religion without sacrifice offered to God. How was it then possible for Our Lord to both offer the one sacrifice pleasing to the Father, once and for all, and at the same time, bequeath to His Church a real and true sacrifice such as required by human nature? To answer that, let’s read one of the most beautiful and compelling pages of Catholic history, the decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass promulgated by the Council of Trent: 

“Forasmuch as, under the former Testament, according to the testimony of the Apostle Paul, there was no perfection, because of the weakness of the Levitical priesthood; there was need, God, the Father of mercies, so ordaining, that another priest should rise, according to the order of Melchisedech, our Lord Jesus Christ, who might consummate, and lead to what is perfect, as many as were to be sanctified. He, therefore, our God and Lord, though He was about to offer Himself once on the altar of the cross unto God the Father, by means of his death, there to operate an eternal redemption; nevertheless, because that His priesthood was not to be extinguished by His death, in the last supper, on the night in which He was betrayed,--that He might leave, to His own beloved Spouse the Church, a visible sacrifice, such as the nature of man requires, whereby that bloody sacrifice, once to be accomplished on the cross, might be represented, and the memory thereof remain even unto the end of the world, and its salutary virtue be applied to the remission of those sins which we daily commit,--declaring Himself constituted a priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech, He offered up to God the Father His own body and blood under the species of bread and wine; and, under the symbols of those same things, He delivered (His own body and blood) to be received by His apostles, whom He then constituted priests of the New Testament; and by those words, Do this in commemoration of me, He commanded them and their successors in the priesthood, to offer (them); even as the Catholic Church has always understood and taught.” 

This admirable text, written to confound the errors of the Reformers, shows with admirable clarity that, by Divine institution, Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the very night He was betrayed, that is to day, on this night, knowing full well what would ensue the following day, anticipated his bloody sacrifice by instituting the sacramental sacrifice of the Mass, in such a way that whenever a priest, obeying the command of His Lord, pronounces those awesome words of consecration, the very sacrifice of Calvary, in its essence, is made present on the altar. In that way, every generation of the Catholic faithful can come into living contact with the very source of redemption. Calvary is not an event engulfed forever in the past; it is an event transcending time and mystically made present on our altars.

And so, tonight, my dear Friends, as we witness once again the unfathomable love of Our Blessed Saviour, let us open our hearts to Him in profound thanksgiving for such an inestimable treasure which gives us eternal life. Let us renew our fervour and devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament. Let us resolve never to receive Him unworthily, that is, in the state of mortal sin, and to preclude that from happening, let us make sure we remain close to His eucharistic presence, basking in the eternal light which leads us out of darkness and gives us a share in the very life of God.

On this night, let not Judas, but rather Magdalen and the good thief be our models, both of whom, from enemies of Christ, became close friends and were received into the eternal kingdom. May such be our grace too as we walk with Christ to the Cenacle, from there to Calvary, and from Calvary to the Empty Tomb and so on to the Eternal Passover.





Patientiae documenta

Only a very inattentive observer could fail to observe the contrast in today’s liturgy. We began in triumph, processing with the palms of victory and the olive branches of peace and soothing mercy, singing the glory of Christ Our King with joy and jubilation. Like the Hebrews of that first Palm Sunday, we could easily be carried away into thinking that now, at last, the reign of Our Lord has come.

But then we were swiftly swept off into the darkest mystery of human history, the moment when the Incarnate Word of God, God of God, Light of Light, True God of True God, takes the plunge into the inexplicable mystery of human suffering. He drinks to the dregs that most bitter chalice of His Passion, accepting to be mistreated, misjudged, wrongfully condemned to crucifixion, that “most horrible and most cruel form of punishment”, as Cicero styled it.

From a triumphal celebration to the bitter darkness of the most intense pain. Such is the path we have walked together in this morning’s liturgy. What does it mean? We know of course historically that the ancient Roman Mass of the Passion was later supplemented by the Gallican practice of the procession of Palms, both coming together to form what might seem at first sight a rather heteroclite and ill-fitting mixture of texts. In reality, it was by divine inspiration that the Roman Church decided to place these two contrasting celebrations side by side in the very same ceremony, for it holds a very great mystery for us, one upon which we would do well to meditate every day of our lives.

The mystery is that we are indeed called to glory, to joy, to celebration, to unending bliss in the radiant ecstasy of the Blessed Trinity. Only, there is a path that we must take to get there, and that path, that Way, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He not only showed us the way, He is the way, and the closer we get to replicating that divine model, the more assured we are of taking part in His resurrection. For that is what it is about. The procession of the palms, as the texts themselves make clear, is an anticipation of the glory of the resurrection. We must all go down deep into the mystery of suffering, for suffering alone purifies. We must all descend into the valley of humiliation. Humiliation alone makes humble. Humility alone makes great. Humility alone saves. Just as pride is the source of all the problems in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in the church, in society, so humility is the remedy to all those woes. 

Today’s oration makes it clear that God gave His Son to us as a model of humility. By admiring Him, by contemplating Him, we learn how to deal with our own passion, our own cross. We find in His meek acceptance of pain the means to make our cross lighter. We find in His silent acquiescence to injustice the way to transform injustice into atonement for ourselves and even for those who make us suffer. How is that possible? Only by learning from the Lord’s patience, those “patientiae documenta” the oration refers to. What are these “documents of patience” if not teachings (docere in Latin means to teach) of how to be patient. And what is patience if not the art of accepting suffering (patience comes from the Latin word “pati” which means to suffer). And so we see that the Lord, in His passion, teaches us to be patient, He teaches us to suffer.

So, my dear friends, let us, on this Palm Sunday, ask Our Lord for something that is extremely counter-cultural, but something that is capable of renewing our world, of salvaging it from disaster as it has done many times before in other historical circumstances that were no less tragic. Let us ask the Lord to increase our capacity for suffering. I do not mean that we are to go looking for extra sufferings, but that we may be able to accept all those that come without running away. The Lord did not run away from His Cross. He embraced it, He carried it. It then carried Him, through  Calvary to the Resurrection. The better we know how to suffer, the closer we are getting to the Crucified One, and the closer we are to Him, the more certain we are of the blessed resurrection. 

The Word of the Cross

With today’s liturgy we enter into what the Church calls passiontide, that is, the two weeks leading up to Easter, and during which our thoughts and meditations are continually drawn into the mystery of the sufferings of the God Man, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Oddly enough, at the very time we are invited to contemplate the crucifix, the Church takes the crucifix from us, she hides it behind a dark coloured veil. There are indeed two ways of increasing desire. One is to put before oneself the object of one’s longing. Another is to hide that very object from sight. This latter method is chosen by our Mother the Holy Church. It is as if she is saying to us: you are accustomed to seeing the crucifix every day over the altar of sacrifice. Just keep in mind that this mystery is much greater than you will ever understand, and therefore it is good for you to have to make an effort to see, to comprehend, to delve deeper into the ocean of Divine Mercy and Justice, both of which are made manifest in the cross. 

In the Gospel, we hear Our Lord pronounce some terrifying words to the Pharisees:

He who is of God hears the words of God. Therefore you hear them not, for you are not of God.

St Gregory tells us that, if this is so, then we must all ask ourselves if we hear the words of God. Which words? The Word that tells us to overcome the desires of the flesh, to turn away from the world’s honours, to not covet what is not ours, to give what is ours to those in need. Let each one of us ask ourselves if we hear these words of God deep down in our heart, for just as there are many who do not even make an effort to listen to the Word of God, so there are many who hear the Word with their ears, but do not embrace it with spiritual longing, and there are also many who hear the Word willingly and even are moved to tears of repentance, but afterwards return to their evil ways. These do not hear the Word of God since they neglect to put it into practice.  

The Word of God is also the Word of the Cross, to employ an expression of St Paul to the Corinthians: “verbum crucis”. That word is folly to the worldlings who live for the ephemeral satisfactions of this life. But it is a word that contains a divine logic. “They who at present,” writes the author of the Imitation of Christ, “willingly hear and follow the word of the cross, shall not then be afraid of eternal condemnation. The sign of the Cross will be in heaven, when the Lord shall come to judge. Then all the servants of the cross, who in their life time have conformed themselves to Him that was crucified, shall come to Christ their judge with great confidence” 

So, my dear friends, just as Moses was told to execute the plans of the ancient tabernacle according to what he had seen on Mount Sinai, so let us all strive to realise the model that has been shown to us on Mount Calvary. Let us seek to be conformed more and more to the image of a Lord who chose to offer His life for us in order to open the gates of eternal blessedness. Let us apply ourselves to hearing, to listening, to the Word that rings out, throughout the ages, wherever is to be found the image of the Crucified Lord. Folly it might be to the pagans; for us, it is power of God and wisdom of God.

Rejoice and go back!

Rejoice Jerusalem, all you who love her.

Rejoice with the Church, the Holy Catholic Church, all you who love her. She is our Mother, and as such she is endowed forever with an abundance of grace and consolation that can never be taken from her. She is tried, often by her own children, she is persecuted both from within and from without, but the Church, the new Jerusalem, can never lose any of the divine prerogatives received from her eternal Bridegroom, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s epistle begins with the word “Laetare” which word has given its name to this Sunday placed in the middle of our Lenten austerities. It is there, in the desert, in the heart of trial and in the midst of our privations, that we are reminded of the superabundant joy to come.

And what is the source of that joy? We are to be filled with the “breasts of her consolation”, that is to say, with her maternal milk, a beautiful image of all the spiritual treasures of the Church that nourish the soul, each of our souls, who are like little babes in the arms of Mother Church.

For our souls are in need of nourishment, they are utterly reliant upon Divine Grace which comes to us through the sacraments. And that is why it is no surprise that in today’s Gospel, we find the multiplication of the loaves as reported by St John, event which prefigured the institution of the Most Blessed Sacrament. For just as the great numbers of the crowds could not possibly exhaust Our Lord’s power to provide, so the great number of the faithful spread throughout the world over centuries and millennia, cannot possibly exhaust the treasures of the the Most Blessed Sacrament. This sacrament, indeed, contains all the spiritual treasure of the Church, for it contains the Lord Himself, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. 

And so, let us, on this day, as loving children of Holy Church, revel and delight in the sweet milk that is offered to us in the Eucharistic banquet. Let us taste and see how good the Lord is. Let us spend time in thanksgiving after Holy Communion allowing the Lord, our Beloved Jesus, to console us in the midst of our sorrows, letting Him to open up for us the gate to greater hope and trust, for, whatever might be the present needs of our soul, of our Church, of our world, they can never be so great that the Lord does not have the power to bring a lasting remedy. The darker the hour, the more we must remain close to the source of light. The more famished we are spiritually, the more we need to approach the source of all nourishment.

In the Gospel, we see Our Lord putting Philip to the test to try and find a way of satisfying the needs of the crowds. Philip tried to find a solution, but had to admit it was beyond his own capacity. The evangelist stresses that Jesus knew what he would do. Today too, we find ourselves in a similar situation. We know not how the Church will be renewed and restored, how she will survive the seemingly unending trials. But Jesus knows.

We might think the future of the Church depends on our inventiveness to forge new paths, to create new methods of evangelisation, to adapt the Church’s teaching to a changing world. But Jesus knows what he will do, He has the answer, and the answer for us is always to go back to Christ, to go back to what is proven as solid and lasting. Oftentimes the path forward consists in going back, going back to what is solid, to what produced lasting fruit in past ages. The Tradition of the Church has the answers. So let us go back, and we shall find ourselves going forward. Otherwise we run the risk, under the appearance of novelty, of being deceived, of being lured into ancient errors that come from the serpent and prevent us from attaining the eternal novelty of the New Man who is created in justice and in the holiness of truth. Going back to Christ means going forward. Going forward to novelties means backsliding to the old wiles of the enemy.

Rejoice, Jerusalem, Your Bridegroom is here. Unite with Him and you will once again bear abundant offspring that will fill up our churches, repopulate our monasteries and convents, and bring everlasting light to a world now wandering in the dark.

I rejoiced when they said to me: Let us go to the House of the Lord. Jerusalem, strong city, impregnable fortress, let us go up to thee, bringing thee children and posterity forevermore. Amen

The real paradigm shift

How shall this be, for I know not man?

When Our Lady hears the angel’s words, telling her she is to have a son, this is her only question. How can it be for I know not man? Those words ring out with all the clarity of a pure, vibrant voice, amidst the din of yesterday’s and today’s sensual cacophony. They inaugurate a new era for humanity. They set the tone for a true paradigm shift. They are words which open the doors of monasteries and transform from the inside the creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

Indeed, those words tell us two things. First of all, that Mary has no intention of being intimate with any man whatsoever, reserving her heart and her body for God alone. Secondly, and more importantly they tell us that such was God’s plan, to enter the world through a virgin, to be a virgin Himself, and to invite legions of souls, men and women, to forego the natural attractions of the senses, the natural and good gratification of the desire to procreate and leave behind part of oneself in the children brought into the world.

How shall this be, for I know not man?

Mary’s words tell us that a new way of being mother and father has entered the world. Henceforth, one may choose to become the bride of Christ, to give birth to souls, and to be a sign that eternity has entered time. 

But let’s listen to a saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “To love Christ is undivided love in chastity. Chastity is not just not getting married, not to have a family. Chastity is that undivided love, ‘no one and nothing’. And for that we need the freedom of poverty, and we must all be able to experience the joy of that freedom; having nothing, having no one, we can then love Christ with undivided love. And if we really understand that we belong to Jesus, that He has called us by our name, then obedience is natural. A total surrender: He can do with us what He wants, when He wants, whatever he wants. He can cut us to pieces, yet every single piece is only His. We belong so totally to Him that He can use us without consulting us; and so, to be able to love Christ with undivided love in chastity, we need that total surrender. And now service, our wholehearted service, whatever work has been entrusted to us by obedience, is the fruit of that Chastity, the fruit of that undivided love for Christ. That is why, for a priest who has made that total surrender to God, who is completely free, completely free to love Christ with undivided love in chastity, the work that he does is his love for Christ in action. The Precious Blood is in his hand, the Living Bread he can break and give to all who are hungry for God. Therefore, his chastity, how chaste it must be; his purity, how pure it must be; his virginity, how virgin it must be, to be able to love Christ with undivided love through freedom of poverty in total surrender, in obedience and in wholehearted service”.

A sublime program, one which should not fail to inspire us, but which has its challenges. How can we persevere? Let’s listen to another modern saint, St JoseMaria Escriva: “And what is the secret of perseverance? Love, Fall in love, and you will not leave Him”.

On her glorious feast day, may Mary Immaculate inspire many souls with this desire to belong to Jesus alone, to fall in love, and to love to the end.

God needs no numbers

My eyes are always towards the Lord, for He it is who delivers my feet from the snare. For I am alone and poor (Ps 24).

The loneliness of the servant of the Lord is a theme that is quite frequent in Holy Scripture. The common experience of the prophets was that they had a mission to accomplish alone. When God intervenes in history, it is usually through one man who changes the course of history. But that one man is often rejected, persecuted, sometimes put to death. 

In chapter 63 of Isaiah, the Messiah is presented to us under the traits of a warrior who must fight alone. “I have trodden the winepress alone, and of the Gentiles there is not a man with me: I have trampled on them in my indignation, and have trodden them down in my wrath, and their blood is sprinkled upon my garments, and I have stained all my apparel. For the day of vengeance is in my heart, the year of my redemption is come. I looked about, and there was none to help: I sought, and there was none to give aid: and my own arm hath saved for me, and my indignation itself hath helped me” (Is 63:3-5).

As for the psalmist, in today’s Introit he insists that he is not only poor but alone - unicus sum. And in other psalms he must act “singulariter”, that is to say, alone. 

So let us not be surprised if we find ourselves alone with a mission that seems impossible. God never does anything with numbers. He does not need numbers. All he needs is Himself and a soul, just one, that is open to the task God wants to give. 

Time and time again in history, God’s people is saved or reformed thanks to the zeal of one man or one woman, a soul that has no care for its reputation or its comfort, a soul that is ready to take up the cross and die. With that soul, God can transform all things.

So let us, to use St Ignatius’ expression, give greater proof of our love and distinguish ourselves in whatever concerns the service of the Eternal King and the Lord of all, not only offering ourselves entirely for the work, but acting against our sensuality and carnal and worldly love, making offerings of greater value and of more importance.

If we do, then we will be following the apostle’s pressing recommendations in today’s epistle; we will be imitators of God, the God who took flesh and offered Himself as an oblation, a sweet-smelling sacrifice for the salvation of the world.

The wisdom of St Gregory

This Lent I am reading again part of St Gregory's Morals on Job. I thought I would share a few of his words of wisdom on this Friday in Lent. The saint wonders why God allowed the holy man Job to be so afflicted with evils while the ungodly prosper. Hear his answer and pay particular attention to the role of eternal retribution, both for the good and the evil:

“While blessed Job is undergoing such losses in his substance, and grieving over the death of so many children whereby he is smitten, while he is suffering such numberless wounds, while he scrapes the running humour with a potsherd, whilst, running down in a state of corruption, he sat himself upon a dunghill, it is good to consider how it is that Almighty God, as though in unconcern, afflicts so grievously those, whom He looks upon as so dear to Him for all eternity

“But, now, while I view the wounds and the torments of blessed Job, I suddenly call back my mind's eye to John (the Baptist), and I reflect not without the greatest astonishment, that he, being filled with the Spirit of prophecy within his mother's womb, and who, if I may say so, before his birth, was born again, he that was the friend of the Bridegroom, [John 3, 29] he than whom none hath arisen greater among those born of women, [Matt. 11, 11] he that was so great a Prophet, that he was even more than a Prophet, he is cast into prison by wicked men, and beheaded, for the dancing of a damsel, and a man of such severe virtue dies for the merriment of the vile!  Do we imagine there was aught in his life which that most contemptible death was to wipe off?  When, then, did he sin even in meat, whose food was but locusts and wild honey?  How did he offend even by the quality of his clothing, the covering of whose body was of camel's hair?  How could he transgress in his behaviour, who never went out from the desert?  How did the guilt of a talkative tongue defile him, who was parted far from mankind?  When did even a fault of silence attach to him, who so vehemently charged those that came to him?  O generation, of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? [Matt. 3, 7]  

“How is it then, that Job is distinguished above other men by the testimony of God, and yet by his plagues is brought down even to a dunghill?  How is it that John is commended by the voice of God, and yet for the words of a drunkard suffers death as the prize of dancing?  How is it, that Almighty God so utterly disregards in this present state of being those whom He chose so exaltedly before the worlds, saving this, which is plain to the religious sense of the faithful, that it is for this reason He thus presses them below, because He sees how to recompense them on high?  And He casts them down without to the level of things contemptible, because He leads them on within to the height of things incomprehensible.  From hence then let everyone collect what those will have to suffer There, that are condemned by Him, if here He thus torments those whom He loves, or how they shall be smitten, who are destined to be convicted at the Judgment, if their life is sunk so low, who are commended by witness of the Judge Himself.” 

Taken from St Gregory, Morals on Job, Book 3, 11.

Fear not

Fear not, Joseph, Son of David. Fear not to take Mary your betrothed wife into you home. Fear not, for what is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. Fear not, for you will be as father to this child. Fear not, for you will give Him the Name above all names, the name that will be loved and adored to the ends of the earth until the end of time. Fear not, for God is here.

The words of God realise what they express. When God speaks to a soul in turmoil: “fear not”, then that soul ceases to fear. Just as, at the dawn of creation, God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light, so when God says to a soul, “Fear not”, that soul no longer fears.

The presence of God is enough of itself to remove all fear. Who could be afraid when conscious of the loving protection of the Almighty? This is all the more necessary when one receives a mission from God. God calls us to perform a task, to go on a mission, to stand up for the truth, to lead others. He sometimes gives tasks that are nearly impossible, as He did to Joseph when He put him into the impossible situation of figuring out what was going on with Mary. St Jerome says it well when he writes that Joseph resolved to bury in silence the mystery he did not understand. An impossible situation that only humility could resolve. Fear not, Joseph.

And so it is with us. We each have a mission. None of our missions will ever come anywhere near the dignity of Joseph’s. Joseph is the only man on earth whom the Son of God looked up to. God  Himself called Joseph “Papa”. It is only with emotion and trembling that we can become conscious of that awesome reality. The sanctity of Joseph should make our head spin, so far does he tower over us in grandeur. And yet, we all have our mission, a mission that we alone can perform, that will remain eternally undone if we do not perform it. Whatever it might be, let’s make sure that we do not fear. Let us ask St Joseph to help us hear those divine words: “fear not; go forward, I am with you. And if I am with you, what is there to fear”?

The patriarch Joseph had reason to fear. His brothers wanted to kill him. His master’s wife falsely accused him and he found himself in prison though innocent. But when we read the story through its happy ending, we know he had no reason to fear. God was with him in those darkest hours of his life, and those hours are precisely the ones which helped him grow in holiness, that is, in humility, and become the great patriarch we look up to in admiration.

St Joseph had reason to fear. His wife is pregnant, and he is not the father. His wife tells him nothing, leaves him in the dark. In that dark hour, Joseph makes the wrong decision. He thinks he has to leave, but God wants him to stay. When we look back and read the story through its happy ending, we know that he had nothing to fear, not even from his mistake made in good faith. God guides and blesses the humble soul who is always ready to change course when the divine will becomes clear, when the word is spoken through those who speak to us on God’s behalf. It is consoling to know that the saints were sometimes mistaken. After much prayer and discernment one can still be mistaken. It remains that the hallmark of the holy soul is the capacity to acknowledge that it can be wrong, and the readiness to adjust its position. God blesses the humble.

God wanted Joseph to stay. At other times, God wants us to move on. There is a time for staying and a time for going. “May the Lord bless your coming in and your going out”, says the psalm. Is not life composed of such goings and comings, of doors opening and others closing? Through it all, all that really matters is that we are seeking the Face of the Living God. Joseph was one of those seekers of God, who really want to see God. Quite unexpectedly he would be the first, with Our Lady, to see God in the face of a newborn Babe. He would see Him a short time later in the paths of the exile into Egypt, and still later in an unexpected three day runaway of the Divine Adolescent. In all things, Joseph sought the face of the Living God. May we, like him, be among those who not only seek, but also find; those who know that the path of God leads to the Cross, or rather through the Cross, to the Resurrection.

Transfiguration and religious life

There are a number of affinities between the Transfiguration of Our Lord and monastic life. In his apostolic exhortation Vita Consecrata, John Paul II used this event as a sort of paradigm for religious life in general. 

In it we see the Lord taking a few chosen disciples, singling them out for an event that would not be shown to all. He invites them to leave the crowd, to go into solitude, to climb a mountain. Those who have been to Mt Tabor in the Holy Land know that it takes some solid effort to reach the top of that mountain. Finding Christ in solitude always does. There is first the effort to get away, to leave behind all the distractions of the world. Then there is the effort to persevere in ascending the steep path, letting Jesus take the lead always.

We know from St Luke that when Our Lord reached the top of the mountain, he began to pray. The apostles were accustomed to such prayers of our Lord. These could last a while. The apostles tried to imitate Him. But, weak men that they were, they soon dozed off into sleep. They were awaken by an unexpected phenomenon: Jesus is still there, in the position of prayer, but he is not the same. Now he seems to be enveloped in light, he seems to be light. His face shines bright like the sun. His garments themselves become white as the light. 

That alone was a sight to hold the apostles in ecstasy. But there was something else: two men are with him, Moses and Elijah, speaking with Him. Once again we can thank St Luke for informing us of the subject of their conversation: they were speaking of His “exodus”, His going out of this life, that is, His passion. The mysterious words referring to the passion at the very moment of His manifestation of glory are not without a profound lesson. They remind us that, as long as we are in this mortal life, we must prepare ourselves for labour and suffering, whatever might be the consolations received. Such consolations are given to strengthen us and prepare us for the battles which lie ahead. 

We might ask ourselves: what exactly could they have said? For my part, I sense that Moses reminded the Lord of all the types that prefigured the Messiah in the Old Covenant, going back to the dawn of ages, with the murder of Abel, the sacrifice of Isaac, the paschal lamb, to name just a few. Elijah was there to remind Him of all the prophecies referring to His passion and also that the prophets always had to suffer at the hands of those they were sent to.

If you have seen Fr Angelico’s fresco portraying this event, you will remember that he depicts Our Lord standing in glory with arms outstretched, in the position of the crucifixion. A constant theme in Christian meditation, one that we will find in just a few weeks time on the paschal candle: the Eternal Light shines, but marked with the wounds of the passion. The Lamb is glorified, but seen as  it were immolated.

How could one express more clearly the fact that the way to glory is that of the cross? If we will be one with Christ in glory, we must be one with Him in suffering. If we wish to rise glorious with Him on the last day, we must accept to be sown into the ground and die, we must accept persecution. All those who wish to live in a godly way in Christ Jesus must undergo persecution. If we wish to follow the Lamb of God, we must know that He is heading towards Calvary, but Calvary is not the end, it’s only a stop on the road, the real goal is Easter, the eternal Pasch, to which we aspire and for which we were made.


Under the shadow of His wings

On this first Sunday of Lent, we enter the desert with our beloved Saviour and we take up the arms of our spiritual combat: solitude, silence, fasting. Holy Lent is a time when we intensify our longing for God and our struggle against the powers of darkness. Doing so exposes us more than is the custom to the onslaught of the evil one. It is undoubtedly for this reason that, from the earliest times, the psalm that sets the tone for Lent is psalm 90, the psalm of refuge under the shadow of the Most High. 

Our spiritual Mother, Holy Church, knows only too well how weak we are, how easily we can be dissuaded from doing good, how fearful we can be of the future. The words of this psalm, which our holy Father St Benedict puts on our lips every night at Compline, should give us great security and peace.

You who live in the shelter of the Most High, who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.

The snare of the fowler reminds us of those treacherous temptations the Enemy of our human nature hides stealthily under the mask of passing beauty, false riches, fake glamour or even apparent good. The Christian soul, and in particular, the monk, must be wary at all times, lest he find himself held captive by the fowler of souls. The deadly pestilence is everything which comes from sin or leads to it; it is the temptations, the impurity, the slander, the opposition to which all good servants of Christ are exposed. Let us never forget those words of St Paul: “All those who wish to live piously in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution”, and again, “All abandoned me”. In the midst of all these trials however, 

“he will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.” 

The pinion reminds us of the bird that shelters its young under its wing. The young bird is secure there. It feels the maternal protection and it has confidence. But like the bird’s pinion, our shelter can sometimes feel rather feeble. In the eyes of the world, our place of refuge might seem insignificant, and yet we know that it is in reality a mighty shield and buckler and even an impregnable fortress, because it is God Himself who is our surety and safety.

We will then no longer fear the terror of night or day, nor that of noonday, that is, the acedia which tempts all souls who seek to serve the Lord with patience and perseverance. We may see many fall or turn away from the right path, we know that we are secure, because our shelter is the Most High Himself. We find ourselves in abscondito faciei, hidden in His presence, far from the troubles of men.

Then it is that with St Paul we may be found worthy of our ministry even in afflictions and hardships. We may be treated as impostors, and yet we will be true; we may be considered good as dead, but we shall live; we may be punished, but not overcome; we may look sorrowful, yet we shall always be rejoicing; poor we may be, yet making many rich; we may have nothing, and yet we will possess all things, for ours is the treasure of the universe, the Sacred Heart of God Incarnate who by dying destroyed our death and by rising restored our life.

Love puts up with it

Holy Mother Church has been warming us up. Two weeks ago on Septuagesima Sunday she reminded us of the seriousness of life: “Many are called but few are chosen…. Run to win!” Last week we read the parable of the sower with its sober reminder that the seed, in order to grow, must fall on good ground that is cultivated and kept, lest it be overrun by the weeds of earthly desires. Today, along with the prophecy of Our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, we are treated to the Hymn to Charity from St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians. 

It would seem that, as we prepare to enter the arena of Lenten restrictions, our good Mother the Church wants us ever to keep in mind that, whatever penance or self-denial we might impose upon ourselves, we must never forget the very heart of the New Law, which is love for God and neighbour. This is all the more important when we know by experience that giving up certain things requires effort and can cause stress. When that happens we need to remind ourselves that in the end, the only thing that we will really be judged upon is our love. Do I love God? Do I prefer the love of Christ to all things? Do I show true love and compassion for neighbour, this neighbour who is right here at my side and who is perhaps getting on my nerves? Let us never forget that, in the end, we will be judged on our love.

St Paul’s profound teaching on charity, in the 13th Chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, has intrigued commentators for centuries by its amazing precision in describing the attributes of true Christian love. It would be fastidious in a homily to enumerate them, but we can have a glance at a few of them.

Love does not insist on its own way; it is disinterested; it knows how to put aside its own views. St Benedict tells us that one of the instruments of good works is to seek not what is useful for self but what is useful for others. Especially in community life, this can be hard, but it is the hallmark of true fraternal love.

Love is not irritable or resentful. It does not become exasperated, whatever it might have to endure. It always has the gaze of one who seeks the true good of the other because the other is created in the image of God. In the world one can often encounter a certain manifested esteem or respect without which life together is impossible. But that is not Christian charity. Christian charity loves the other for himself because the other is destined to see God. Christian charity loves the other because Christ loved that other to the pont of shedding the last drop of his blood for him. That’s the bottom line.

Love bears all things. It – to quote a modern exegete – puts up with everything for a limitless duration; it waits patiently not only because it deals patiently with the loved one but also because it recognises that the right timing plays a huge part in securing the welfare, the true welfare, that is to say, the eternal salvation of the other. 

In the end that is what love is about, and that love is offered to us in the Most Holy Eucharist. Let us approach then with faith and trust that, nourished by this heavenly bread, we can learn how to love, even unto death.

The sower went out to sow his seed

This Gospel always reminds me of the Meditation on the Three Classes or Groups of Men in the Spiritual Exercises. To refresh our memories, the meditation is situated in the middle of the Second Week when the retreatant is on the verge of making his discernment concerning the choice of a state of life. He has just meditated on the Two Standards, the one of Christ and the other of Satan, and his intellect has been enlightened to understand the tactics of the enemy who seeks to lead him from Christ by means of worldly attachments. He has also understood that following Christ means detaching himself from all that is created. If the Two Standards brought light to his mind, the Three Classes is designed to bring strength to his will. 

The first class of men hear the word, they receive it with joy, they are filled with enthusiasm about it, they speak of it to others, they might even lay the foundations for some great work for God and His kingdom, but the fact of the matter is that time goes by, and they do nothing. When the hour of death comes, they are empty-handed: the seed sown by the Son of God was eaten up by the birds of the air, the distractions that prevented the soul from allowing that seed to take root and grow.

The second class go a bit further. They have a strong desire to put their good thoughts into practice. But there is one little problem – they are attached to a number of things or people whom they do not want to give up. And so they start bargaining with the Lord, as it were. They are most happy to do anything the Lord might ask, to go anywhere they might be sent, but only as long as… only if they can retain what is so dear to their heart. They don’t succeed in breaking the bonds, leaving themselves and their petty interests. They spend their whole lives trying to convince themselves that they are good people who are doing all they can, but when the hour of death comes, they perceive with horror that their basket is empty – they have no fruit to offer the Lord, their whole life was a vain illusion.

The third class really get it. And they get it because they have let their hearts be seduced by the Divine Sower. They have weeded out their garden, painstakingly pulling up all the sinful habits and unhealthy, worldly attachments; they have broken the bonds with loved ones, loved places, loved things; they have allowed the Divine Gardener to till the soil, to rip into it with the sharp blade of the plow, overturning illusory facades, burying them deep in the ground where they die; they have accepted the divine fertiliser, the grace that comes through the sacraments of the Church and frequent prayer. Everything is ready for the seed. The sun and the rain come, and that seed rises and bears much fruit.

With Lent just 10 days off, Holy Mother Church wants us to understand on this Sunday that there is work that needs to be done in our soul so that the upcoming 40-day fast – understood as a time of giving up a bit of food and practicing a few other penances, but fundamentally a time of detachment from all created things – can bring us real conversion and help us set out on an entirely new path. If only we will accept to let God do His work and cooperate with Him as He seeks to make us perfect, we will see things change in and around us for the better.

The example of the Doctor of the Gentiles, the great St Paul, whose autobiographic notes are presented in today’s epistle, cannot fail to touch us. How right Our Lord was when He told Ananias: “I will show him how much he must suffer for my Name”. Yes indeed, St Paul became a great saint because he accepted to walk with the crucified Saviour whose grace was not received vain, but was welcomed in a good and wholesome heart, and bore fruit through patience, producing the marvels of sanctity. So will He do in us if only we let Him…