The chastity of Judith

Clearly Our Blessed Lord has a soft spot in His Heart for widows. The distress of the widow of today’s Gospel touches His Sacred Heart and He raises her son from the dead. This widow is of course a type of the Church who weeps for her dead children, those who have lost the life of the soul and are in a state of mortal sin. There are many in the Church today who are spiritually dead. Sin ravages countless souls. Vice is carrying them off to the grave of eternal damnation. But if holy Mother Church intercedes for them, Christ Our Lord comes out to meet the funeral procession. He touches the bier, and it stops. His touch alone is enough to restore grace, to bring back to life, to renew all things. 

But there is another widow in today’s liturgy. At Matins, we started the book of Judith which portrays the valiant intervention of a holy woman who puts her life on the line in order to save her people. The situation the chosen people found itself in was dramatic. Humanly speaking there was no solution. Surrounded by deadly enemies, the leaders of the people had resolved to give in, to hand over to pagans the inheritance of their fathers. It is at this critical point that Judith steps in. She reproaches the leaders for their lack of faith and for putting God to the test. She rises to the task of interceding for the people and obtaining its victory when the leaders failed.

In our day, too, the Church laments losses in numbers. Her prestige among the nations of the world has been gravely compromised both by false doctrines and immoral practices. In the eyes of her enemies, she is being carried off to the graveyard of history. Many of her children, dismayed by the situation, would like to create a new church, as if to give Christ another bride. Like the leaders of Bethulia, they would like to compromise with the world, to seek common ground that would make the Church acceptable to the world. But there is only one God; there is only one Christ and there is only one Church, the one that Christ founded, and she has only one constitution that was given her by her Lord. 

It is time for us to be valiant like Judith. Her two weapons were prayer and fasting, and it is thanks to these two spiritual weapons that she remained chaste. The sacred author of her life takes pains to stress this point. After the death of her husband she knew no other man. When she was taken to the chamber of Holofernes, she remained pure. And even after the victory of the Hebrews when she has become famous, she remains a widow till death. In this, she is a type of the Church, the bride of only one man, Christ.

The example of her penance inspires us to be faithful to our monastic life. We know that this is what will save the Church. Just as in the period of the Reformation, when souls were leaving the Church in droves, the counter reformation began with souls seeking to live authentic lives of evangelical purity. So today, the true reform of the Church moves forward whenever a soul renounces itself and spends more time in prayer and self-denial.

Let us close with the very words used by Judith in her prayer to God. These are inspired words, and like the psalms, they can be prayed in the name of the Church, with the same divine efficacy they had in her day:

“I beseech thee, O Lord God.. Thou hast done the things of old and hast devised one thing after another: and what thou hast designed hath been done, for all thy ways are prepared; and in thy providence thou hast placed thy judgments… The Lord is thy name. Lift up thy arm as from the beginning, and crush their power with thy power. Let their power fall in their wrath, who promise themselves to violate thy sanctuary, and defile the dwelling place of thy name, and to beat down with their sword the horn of thy altar… Give me constancy in my mind, that I may despise him: and fortitude that I may overthrow him. For this will be a glorious monument for thy name, when he shall fall by the a hand of a woman. For thy power, O Lord, is not in a multitude, nor is thy pleasure in the strength of horses, nor from the beginning have the proud been acceptable to thee: but the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased thee. O God of the heavens, creator of the waters, and Lord of the whole creation: hear me a poor wretch, making supplication to thee, and presuming of thy mercy. Remember, O Lord, thy covenant, and put thy words in my mouth, and strengthen the resolution in my heart: that thy house may continue in thy holiness, and all nations may acknowledge that thou art God: and there is no other besides thee.” (Judith ch. 9).

Your Father knows

“Be not solicitous. Do not worry. Your Father knows what you need.”

The words of today’s Gospel, taken from the Sermon on the Mount, are among the most familiar passages of the entire Gospel. They constitute part of the proclamation of the New Law, in which Our Lord presents himself as the new Moses, sent by God to bring to its fulfilment the Revelation of God’s love for humanity.

It would seem there are at least two responses to this text, and we all oscillate between them both. The first is one of admiration for the purity and sublimeness of the doctrine. It rings true. God’s voice is only too clear. We all feel deep down this urge to abandon ourselves to God, not to worry about the future. But then comes the second attitude. That’s all very good and true, BUT life is hard, we need to make a living, we are surrounded by sharks and if we don’t defend ourselves, we will starve to death on the street! 

That is precisely why Our Lord is so insistent. “Do not live like the pagans! They spend all their time and energy providing for their temporal prosperity, making sure that for the morrow they will have all they need and more.”

But does the Lord really forbid us to make plans for the future? Certainly not. What He forbids is the worrisome attitude that precludes the absolute and total abandonment of ourselves to God. We are always falling back into the attitude of one who is alone and has to do everything for himself. Our Lord’s words remind us that we are not alone, but that there is Someone greater than us, who holds the world and our life in the palm of His hand, who cares more for us than we do for ourselves. It is an act of supreme wisdom to trust an omnipotent good God. As St Teresa of Avila said:  “He knows all things, He can do all things, and He loves us!” 

But we can go a step further, and seek to identify the underlying cause for our Lord’s injunction. By forcefully pointing out to us that we must not be solicitous for tomorrow, that we must not worry about our food, our drink, our clothing, our housing…., is He not inviting us to make a supreme act of trust and confidence in His infinite goodness? And if that is true, would it not mean that if we fail to do so, we are lacking confidence in God? And what could be more painful to the heart of God than to see His children mistrusting Him, going about their lives as if everything depended on them, and forgetting that there is an all-loving God?

Whatever might be our place in life, today’s Gospel is there to remind us that, by handing over all our worries into the Heart of Our Lord – even while we go about providing for ourselves –, we give Him immense joy, for then he knows that we trust Him. And what could please more the heart of a father than to experience the unconditional trust of his child?

From the perspective of the world, tomorrow does seem bleak. There are dark clouds on the horizon. But if we are men of faith, we cannot remain at that level. We must remind ourselves constantly that we are loved. Things might get worse. The worse they get, the more we need to trust, for the greater the need, the greater honour we do to God by trusting that He will sort things out. 

Such was the message of Our Lord to Father Dolindo Ruotolo:  “Why do you confuse yourselves by worrying? Leave the care of all your affairs to Me and everything will be so peaceful. I say to you in truth that every act of true, blind and complete surrender to Me will produce the effects that you desire and will resolve all your difficult situations. O Jesus, I surrender myself to You, take care of everything!… And when I must lead you on a path so different from the one you see, I will prepare you and I will carry you in My arms. I will let you find yourself, just like children who have fallen asleep in their mother’s arms, on the other side of the river. What troubles you and hurts you so greatly are your reason and your thoughts and your worry and also your desire at all costs to deal with what afflicts you. O Jesus, I surrender myself to You, take care of everything!…You are sleepless, you want to judge everything, direct everything and see to everything. And you surrender to human strength and worse to men themselves, trusting in their intercession. This is what blocks My words and My views. How much I wish from you this surrender, so I can help you. And how I suffer when I see you so very agitated. Satan tries to do exactly this, to agitate you and to remove you forever from My protection and to push you into the grip of human concerns. So trust only in Me, rest in Me and surrender to Me in everything. O Jesus, I surrender myself to You, take care of everything!” 

Clothing of Brother Anthony Mary (Xavier Piat)

7 September 2019

St Regina

My dear Son,

Once upon a time, in the early centuries of the Christian era, in a small town of Gaul, still under Roman occupation, there was a young girl whose name was Reine, Regina. She was of humble extraction, and yet she truly had the qualities of her name: she was a Queen. Her title of nobility was that she had been betrothed to the King of Heaven to whom she had vowed her virginity.

Regina was a beautiful young girl, and as was only to be expected, she was soon coveted by a number of men. But how could the bride of Christ become the bride of a mortal man? For her refusal, Regina would pay with her blood which was poured out and so sanctified the small town of Alesia, in the very spot where the Gauls had fallen under Roman rule. She conquered the enemy and won the crown of martyrdom, and this was charmingly expressed by a medieval engraving which read: “Here Cesar conquered Gaul; here a Christian virgin conquered Cesar”.

St Regina’s remains were religiously kept for over a millennium by the monks of Flavigny who entrusted themselves to her protection and over whom she watched with maternal sollicitude, sending vocations and providing in many other ways.

Today, on the other side of the world, in this small town of Colebrook, or rather, Jerusalem, as it was originally named, this same St Regina smiles down upon your first step in this monastery which claims her as a secondary patroness and whose relic we are privileged to possess. She has many things to teach us. At first sight, it would seem incongruous that monks who dedicate their lives to celibacy would have such great affection for a young girl who lived so long ago. Apparently, our lives are so different and have nothing in common. That Our Lady and St Joseph would be our patrons makes perfect sense. That St Mary of the Cross, first Australian canonised saint, would be dear to us, is most fitting. But what does St Regina teach us? 

Regina teaches us, first and foremost, to “prefer nothing to the Love of Christ” (Rule ch 4). The acts of her martyrdom have not left us as many details as that of, for example, St Agnes, but we can take inspiration from the latter to gain insight into the way Regina considered her union with Christ. “I love Christ; to Him alone do I commit myself, whose Mother is a Virgin and whose father knoweth not a woman. The instruments of His music sound sweetly in mine ears. When I love Him I am chaste; when I touch Him I am pure; when I possess Him I am a virgin.” 

Regina teaches us monks to love Christ even to the shedding of blood. Nothing can stand in the way of our union with the Lord of the universe. With St Paul she can say: “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation? Or distress? Or famine? Or nakedness? Or danger? Or persecution? Or the sword? (As it is written: For thy sake, we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.) But in all these things we overcome, because of Him that hath loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rm 8:35-39).

In this way St Regina teaches us endurance in times of trial, those times when we would wish to run away, when our little world seems to collapse and we are up against an apparently insurmountable obstacle. “Be patient”, she says to us. Through patience, we monks are called to take part in the passion of Christ, as our holy Father reminds us at the end of the Prologue.

Today’s oration also gives us a powerful insight into St Regina’s inspiration for us. It reminds us that she triumphed over the threats of the enemy (saeviente), and we ask for the victory over his caresses (blandiente). That is to say, even though we may well be confronted one day with cruel threats because of our fidelity to Christ, more often than not we must wage war against the seductions of a crafty and persuasive enemy. By keeping our eyes fixed on the crucifix and relying on the intercession of the saints, we will avoid such pitfalls.

The history of monasticism is replete with examples of men who waged war with the enemy of our salvation and overcame both the open attacks of the evil spirits and the allurement of subtle temptations. Our holy Father St Benedict is one that comes to mind, as do many of the ancient anchorites such as St Paul the First Hermit and St Anthony the Great. But there are also those who proved themselves valiant in open contest, but were overcome by the pursuit of pleasure. King David faced incredible hardships in leading the people of Israel to an era of peace. He had astounding magnanimity in forgiving his persecutors, but then, caught off his guard at a moment when his men were on the battlefield, he is brought low by the beauty of a woman. But David humbled his heart, did penance, and gave us one of the greatest monuments of his penance in the penitential psalms, especially the Miserere. The inspired words he has bequeathed to us form the substance of our life of praise.

And here I believe we can see a profound link between St Regina and the liturgy. For so many centuries, the remains of the Virgin were kept in the abbey church of Flavigny, and each day and night the sweet melodies of the Divine Office rolled over them like the waves of a divine symphony. She must have found great pleasure in seeing her mortal remains accompanied by the unceasing chant of God’s word. In this way, the monks mingled their praises on earth with those of the holy virgin in Heaven.

Would it be an exaggeration to say that she thus shines out as a model of monastic virtues: love of Christ above all things, fidelity to the praise of God amidst the winds and waves of temptation and trial? If that is so, then St Regina can certainly help along the way of our monastic life. I sincerely believe that she is happy to see that her relics have reached the antipodes and that henceforth, her monks in Burgundy are not the only ones to glory in her protection.

My Son, as you take upon yourself today the livery of our holy Father St Benedict, as you don the white habit of Mary Immaculate on this first Saturday of the month, as the gates of the monastery open to you and you set out to walk in the footsteps of so many holy monks who heard the call: “If you will be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor and come follow me, and you will have a treasure in Heaven”, may the virgin of Alesia guide your every step from the Jerusalem of earth to the Jerusalem of Heaven. “Non commovebitur in aeternum qui habitat in Jerusalem – He shall not be moved forever, who dwells in Jerusalem”.

A lesson from St Mary of the Cross

There is a small little book, worth its weight in gold, called Uniformity with God's will by St Alphonsus Liguori. It is outstanding for its capacity to help the soul read all the events of its life in the light of God's will. God has a plan for each of us and “for those who love God, all things work together unto good".

Today on the feast of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop, we read at Matins this extract from a letter she wrote on the feast of the Ascension in 1874, and which is consonant with St Alphonsus’ teaching. It's a gem and needs to be meditated. I share it here with you:

“Oh, Father, I cannot tell you what a beautiful thing the will of God seems to me. For some years past, my Communions, my prayers, my intentions have all been for God's will to be done. I can never pray for a particular intention, a particular person, or anything particular about our own Institute, but in God's loved will, that is - whilst I desire with all my heart to pray for these, I cannot help at the same time desiring that He only use my prayers for the intention that His own will most desires at this time. Thus I feel a joy when things go well, for I see His will in this, and an equal joy when they seem to go wrong or against our natural desire, for there again I see His will, and am satisfied that He has accepted my prayers and those of many more for some other object at the time nearer to His adorable will. To me, the will of God is a dear book which I am never tired of reading, which has always some new charm for me. Nothing is too little to be noticed there, but yet my littleness and nothingness has often dared to oppose it, and I am painfully conscious that in many ways I still in my tepidity offend against it without perceiving what I am doing. But such dear lessons as you gave me the other evening then come to my aid and encourage me, for the love of my sweet Jesus is too strong, too beautiful, and His merits too great, for me not to cling to Him.”

When you know the numerous trial she went through, in particular her unjust excommunication, you can only admire. Let's learn from the lives of the saints. St Mary of the Cross, pray for us.

We have received Mercy

In today's introit, the mercy of God is extolled. “We have received Thy mercy in the midst of Thy temple". What is the temple of God if not the Church? It is in and through the Church and her sacraments that mercy is shown to the world and to each soul in particular.

But the Sacred text goes on to say: “Thy right hand is full of justice”, giving us to understand that God's mercy makes us just and holy. It is all the working of grace. But that working demands our cooperation, that is to say, our acquiescence to it, our taking steps towards God. And when his grace has been received, it makes us just, really and truly, and not just in appearance. We are truly God's children by adoption, we are part of his family.

Only the poor and humble can experience it. “Thou dost save the humble people, and thou dost humble the eyes of the proud”. And when the poor have been saved, they sing God's praises, to the ends of the earth. There is no limit to it. God's salvation is not for just a particular people, but for all. Everyone is called to enter the Church and to receive that grace.

Interestingly, the verse "Suscepimus” (we have received thy mercy O God) is prescribed by St Benedict at the time of the reception of guests. He considers the arrival of guests to the monastery as a special token of God's merciful watchfulness over the community, for it gives the monks the opportunity to practice the word of Our Lord: “As often as you did it to one of these least brethren, you did it to me".

This is the origin of the legendary Benedictine hospitality. The good monk always sees the mercy of God in the arrival of guests, especially when they are poor or when they are on a pilgrimage, for then it is that the monks can more readily give than receive.

In our world, most of the people who come to monasteries come there to receive spiritual support. From that perspective, they are all poor and they are all pilgrims.

May the sons of St Benedict today always have the faith to see Christ in guests and the love to serve their spiritual needs with all due diligence.

The Providence that never fails those who love

The best commentary of this week's oration which contains that magnificent and ever consoling expression, “Deus cuius providentia … non fallitur – God, whose providence never fails", must certainly be St Paul's words to the Romans: "we know that to them that love God all things work together unto good” (Rom 8:28).

How consoling is that! Amidst all of our tribulations, sufferings, humiliations, in the face of criticism, persecution and betrayal, we know for certain that if only we love God, everything works together for our good in the end. EVERYTHING, without exception, including our mistakes and past sins as well as the sins of those who hurt us. God's providence is that great, that powerful, that if only we love God, we know that His providence will never fail, and it will lead us to Himself.

But since our hearts are often so cold, let us ask Our Lady of Cana to tell Jesus: “They have no wine”, and then we can be sure that if only we sincerely do all we can to do whatever He tells us, the insipid water will become the sweet and delicious wine of unfailing love. “Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:8).

The Greater Love

During the Discourse after the Last Supper, Our Blessed Lord gave us the sign at which His true disciples can be recognised: At this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. That fraternal love is exemplified in today’s Gospel in which Our Lord, repeating but perfecting the commandment Thou shalt not kill, puts us on our guard even against giving in to thoughts, words or actions inspired by anger against one of our brothers.  This is just one of the instances where we see the perfection of the New Law over the Old. The commandment to love our neighbour as ourself reaches its full scope, and we are admonished to take utmost care not to offend a brother who, like us, has been redeemed with the Precious Blood of Our Lord and who is called to enjoy with us the beatific vision of God in eternity.

Our Lord instructs us to leave our gift before the altar in order to be first reconciled with our brother, for God loves us more than our gift and, if we are lost through lack of love for our brother, then our offering will not avail us. The Lord speaks of a brother “who has something against us”, which can imply a real offence of our brother or even a supposed one. The implication is that we need to do everything in our power to be reconciled with our brethren. St Benedict in the chapter four of the Rule, teaches us to “make peace with one’s adversary before sundown”.

But what if the adversary does not want peace, or does not accept our offer of peace, or what if, in verbally accepting it, it is clear that he hasn’t digested it? And what if we were not at fault at all in the matter? What if he has concocted the whole thing and made himself out to be the victim whereas in reality he is the one at fault? Our Lord’s words referring to the brother “who has something against us” make it clear, so it seems to me, that every effort should be made on our part to reconcile, to make up. If our efforts prove to be futile, or if, given the situation, it seems that those efforts will only make the matter worse, what then? As far as it lies in us, we must always be ready to forgive, to forget, to reconcile. We must not, to quote the Rule chapter four once again, “nurse a grudge, hold guile in one’s heart, make a feigned peace, or forsake charity”. As far as we are concerned, we must forgive all offenses, and should our adversary be so entrenched and bitter, we must pray with the Lord on the cross, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Even were we to be betrayed and slandered, our heart must always go out to the offender, begging the Lord to forgive, and being ready to offer forgiveness when it is requested. To use a scholastic expression, “in praeparatione animi” we should always have pardon ready in our heart and, as soon as the favourable occasion arises, on our lips.  This sometimes demands patience, awaiting the opportunity, when things have calmed down and the dust has settled.

The Matins reading this morning gives us an astounding example of such a disposition of soul in David. Saul had on numerous occasions tried to kill him, but David, out of respect for the king, refused to lay his hand on Saul when he had the opportunity to do so. To raise his hand against the anointed one of the Lord, no never! Not only does he wait, without results, for Saul’s conversion, but when he learns of his death, he gives himself over to lamentation. Saul was king, Saul was a benefactor, Saul had been chosen by God, Saul was a soul created for God, and Saul was lost. David cannot hide his heartache, he weeps aloud, leaving us one of the most poignant lamentations in Holy Scripture which our liturgy gives to us in the legendary antiphon “Montes Gelboe”.

Where did David find the virtue to love his enemy to the point of weeping at his death? Is it not in his love for Jonathan who, in this particular passage, represents Christ? David tells us that Jonathan's love meant more to him than the love of women. When we think of the serious trouble David’s passion for women got him into , we can only admire the noble sentiments of this chaste friendship with Jonathan, which is the model of the consecrated soul’s love for Christ. It is in our love for Christ that we draw love for neighbour. It is in our spousal love for Christ that we learn to embrace the hardships of being warriors for God without the satisfactions of the flesh. The love of Christ, a personal love for Him as our God and our All, is the motor behind all the prodigies of monastic history. It is there that one learns to practice all the virtues, from zeal for the liturgy and for sharing the truths of the faith and of eternity to the forgiveness of offenses and fidelity to the duties of each day. 

On this day, let us ask the holy king and prophet David, whom the Book of Sirach tells us, “with his whole being loved his Maker and daily had His praises sung”, to teach us to “prefer nothing to the Love of Christ” and to find in that love, all the grace and courage we need to bring Christ to others, and others to Christ.

Solemnity of St Benedict

Vir Dei Benedictus, so we sing in today’s liturgy. Benedict was indeed a man of God, a man sent by God, a man intent on God, a man whose whole life was about and for God. And this is perhaps the first thing Benedict has to teach the world today. There is a God who created us and who made us for himself. Benedict, still quite young, understood this well. He left everything for it, and it is what he teaches his disciples. God alone is great, and God alone is worth dedicating our entire life to.

St Gregory also tells us, in a text we meditated on last Sunday, that Benedict “habitabat secum - he lived with himself”. But what does it really mean to live with oneself? Or rather, what is “oneself”? So many people imagine they are living for themselves when they really have not succeeded in knowing who they are. There are a number of layers under which our real self is hidden, and our asceticism is meant to roll back those layers, one by one, opening access to our heart of hearts, where God awaits us.

St Benedict did that work on himself during those three years in the cave in Subiaco. Far from the world, its noise and distractions, he allowed himself to be purified by the ray of the Divine Light, and emerged a new man, one who could take on the conversion of the world. Living in himself, he found himself, and became a pathfinder for generations of sons and daughters.

Today’s Gospel reminds us that the following of Christ entails the leaving behind not only of self but of all created persons and things. The Lord enumerates father, mother, brother, sister, spouse, children, field, house, etc. The soul that wishes to go to God cannot allow anything or anyone to stand in the way. Everything must go. But in exchange, the Lord promises not only eternal life, but even the hundredfold already in this life. You leave one brother, you get a hundred others, you leave a bit of money and prosperity and all your needs are provided for. In St Mark’s account of this promise, he tells us that Our Lord also foretold that those who leave all things would received the hundredfold with persecutions. And we see that in the life of our holy Father. He is persecuted to the point of being nearly murdered on at least two occasions. Amazingly, the would-be murderers are not pagans, but monks, a neighbouring priest… Let’s not be surprised if we encounter opposition in our desire to serve God. The servant is not above his master. If Jesus was betrayed and crucified, if St Benedict had to take flight to save his own life, who could imagine himself beyond such persecution for the reason that he seeks to serve God? It’s actually the service of God that is the cause of the persecution, and monasteries that are built on the cross are the ones that last.

Today, my dear friends, the whole Church honours our Holy Father. We are honoured to be his sons and daughters. Let us address our prayers on this day to St Benedict, asking him to watch over this poor little flock of monks here in Tasmania. Our labours and pains, if they are made heavier by the criticism and rejection, even persecution, of some, are made lighter by the help of true friends who do not abandon us in the hour of difficulty.

Holy Father St Benedict, on this day we come before thee, before thy relic present on this altar of sacrifice, and we humbly ask that thou wouldst deign to recognise in our fledgling community thy true sons. We ask that thou wouldst not look upon our failings, our lack of virtue, our unworthiness, but only upon the great desire of our hearts, that desire by which we long to establish in this land a monastery that will last for ages, so that future generations of Tasmanians and Australians may discover here in all truth a place where God is sought and found, a place where prayer rises incessantly before the throne of the Almighty, to make reparation for the sins and ingratitude of so many, and console the Sacred Heart of Our Lord. Holy Father, thou didst breathe forth thy soul after being fortified with the Bread of Angels, the most Holy Eucharist. Teach us to make of our lives a holocaust to the Divine Majesty and to find in the Most Blessed Sacrament the strength to walk with courage and perseverance to the Holy Mountain of God.


Duc in altum

Put out into the deep

The fickleness of our human nature is such that we all too often content ourselves with the superficial, the facade, the appearances. It takes effort to move beyond, to enter into the depths of our heart, to “put out into the deep” waters of real and authentic spirituality, to accept to not only wade out into the shallow waters but to actually plunge into the depths, without fear, trusting in the infinite love of Godhead into which we are invited to immerse ourselves.

In every age of our world, in every stage of our individual lives, the word of Our Lord “Put out into the deep” is there to goad us on to an ever deepening relationship with Him, with the truth, with Love. St Augustine’s journey, so masterfully presented int the book of his Confessions, and which remains paradigmatic for any true conversion, is there to show that fallen man is constantly being dispersed here and there on the surface, his mind and heart are continually drawn away from the real realities, the essentials of our very being, and such distractedness distends and disfigures the very fabric of our soul and body created in the image and likeness of God. 

And so it is that every return to God, every conversion, of necessity, starts with a progressive return to the interior, to the depths of that heart created by God and thirsting for Him. “I was on the outside, but You were on the inside”, writes Augustine. I was running after the shadows, and in so doing, was running away from the reality.

Let us welcome then, Our Lord’s invitation on this day to put out into the deep. Let us not fear to spend time with ourselves, to live with ourselves, as St Gregory tells us the young Benedict did in his three years he spent in Subiaco. Habitabat secum. There are few who really live with themselves, for there are few who accept to look straight into their own heart, to face the shadows that are there, allowing the bright light of Christ to penetrate and dispel the darkness. It is sad, but most men and women make great efforts to not allow themselves to go into the deep waters of the knowledge of self, the gnothi seauton of Socrates, the accedet homo ad cor altum of psalm 63, the deep well in Samaria where Jesus Our Lord meets the adulterous woman and inaugurates in her heart a path of conversion.

What does it mean for us monks? It means first and foremost that we must be men of the interior life, that we must never be afraid to let ourselves be drawn into the deep waters of our own being, of our own heart. There, in that heart that was created by God and for God, we will find God. If you find your own heart, you will find the Sacred Heart, for at the bottom of every human heart there is the Heart of God, that burning furnace of love which is continually calling us to love.

The difficulty is that in calling us to love, God is calling us to sacrifice. No one can approach God in sensuality. No one can approach God by being content with his own light. God dwells in inaccessible light, and only when we accept to go down into the darkness of the deep can we really find Him because we have really found ourselves.

It means that we monks, at every moment of the day and night, must have one passion: that of seeking and finding the Divine Lover, the one who is hidden in our heart. It means being passionate about God, about nothing but God, of sacrificing everything for that relationship with Him, including our most cherished ideas and plans. “Give all and you will find all, for all consists in dying” , says the Imitation of Christ, and we know that in Christianity, dying leads to the resurrection.

If we succeed in doing that, then we will be able to say in all truth with the psalmist in today’s introit: Dominus illuminatio mea, The Lord is my light, for I have no light of myself, but when I receive the light of God, it can then shine not only for ourselves, not only for our small monastic community, but for all those who come to us, who meet us, who see us, who look in  the direction of the monastery for truth and love in a world abandoned to the ephemeral and unsatisfying pursuit of the shadows.

It is also then that we make our contribution to making the ways of the world more peaceful, and of helping the Church enjoy that tranquil devotion referred to in the oration of this day. 

For in God alone there is peace and we, as Benedictines whose motto is PAX, must be always and everywhere men of peace, men who, because they are always in the depths of the ocean of divine love, can hardly feel the turmoil of superficial tempests. There, in the depths of the Sacred Heart, that is, in the depths of our own heart where we meet the Divine Heart, there alone is eternal peace and eternal stability. 

Veniat. Fiat. Let it come. Let it be.

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.


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.


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).


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!

Resurrection2Les femme.jpg

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. 


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.