Why the world cannot receive Him

The great solemnity of the Holy Spirit is upon us, and we ask the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity to deign to come into our hearts, bringing His Light, His Peace, His Fortitude, His Consolation. But before this can happen, we must first receive the grace of conversion which brings with it the grace of amendment.

St Gregory the Great, in his commentary on today's Gospel, after reminding us of the word of the Lord If you love me, keep my commandments, remarks: "God comes to some hearts and yet does not make his abode in them: by means of a certain degree of penitence these perceive the presence of God,  but the temptations of this present life make them forget their repentance, and so they return again to their evil works, even as though they had never repented".  Indeed, as the Lord Himself says elsewhere: The world cannot receive Him nor does it know Him.

Might not this be the reason for which so many Christians distance themselves from the Church? Perhaps they had an authentic conversion at some stage, but the spirit of the world, which is the spirit of Satan, has taken over their hearts. They profess with their lips their belief, they might actually speak of it, trying to reassure themselves that they are on God's side, but they let themselves be led back into their evil ways. The widespread corruption of morals even among Christians who debase themselves with the idols of the day (money, power, pleasure) and give in to the prevalent loose-living, gives us a situation in which so many Christians are so only in name: instead of being the salt of the earth they are losing their savour, and the world remains tasteless, boring, senseless, deprived of all that is good and beautiful, bent more and more on a pagan lifestyle that allows for any and every form of sexual immorality and opens the flood-gates of every form of violence — As a reminder, any and every use of sexuality which is not the natural union of lawfully wed husband and wife who are open to life, is a mortal sin, it separates from God and makes it impossible to receive the Holy Spirit.

The only remedy is authentic conversion of heart, and this feast is there to remind us that it is always possible to return to God and to receive the Holy Spirit, who is Himself the forgiveness of sins. But there is a condition to that: one must empty oneself of all that is evil, one must be honest with oneself and stop trying to make believe that one is "OK"; one must humble oneself, confess one's sins (all of them, not just some....) to a priest. If one does so, one receives the forgiveness which comes to us through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. There is no sense in talking about receiving the Holy Spirit without true, sincere, and universal rejection of all that has been wrong in one's life — all of it, not just part of it.

Let me conclude these reflections with a few more words from St Gregory: "We do indeed love God and keep His commandments, when we deny ourselves our passions. For he who allows himself to be dissipated by unlawful desires does not yet love God, for he wilfully opposes Him. And my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.  Beloved brethren, consider how great is this honour: to have God arriving as a guest at the inn of your heart. Surely if some rich or noble friend were about to arrive at our house, the whole place would be thoroughly cleaned with all haste, lest there should be anything to offend the eye of this friend. Therefore let him who is preparing the home of his mind for God rub off the dirt of his sinful works."

Come Holy Spirit, renew the face of the earth, and begin with the hearts of those who profess thy Name! 

 

Exhortation given at the clothing ceremony for 
Brother Maximilian Mary (Dominic Swan)

My Dear Son, 

Nothing happens by accident; everything happens exactly when it is determined by Divine Providence. One year ago tomorrow we were consecrating the community to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the very same day she was receiving the hommage of all of Tasmania through our dear Archbishop. Nine months ago, on the vigil of her glorious Assumption, you knocked at the door of the monastery to be received as an aspirant, and subsequently a postulant. Today, in this month of Mary and on the feast of Mary Queen of the Apostles, you ask to be received as a novice and don the monastic habit.

We find ourselves liturgically in the octave of the Ascension of Our Lord, mystery in which we contemplate the glorification of the humanity of the Saviour at the right hand of the Father. The great lesson of the Ascension is expressed by our Father St Benedict at the end of the prologue: “By 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”. That is the bottom line of what monastic life is about: taking part in the sufferings of Christ, being assimilated to Him in His passion, with the hope, that is to say, the firm conviction, that we shall be admitted into the glory of His eternal realm in the Heavens. The theological virtue of hope is indeed the great grace of the Ascension. As the light of this mystery illuminates this liturgical season, may it enlighten every day of your monastic life, transforming even the dark days into a mysterious and pacifying radiance.

From the celestial throne where she takes part in the triumph of her Son, the Queen of Heaven is smiling down upon you today, offering you a special share in her maternal protection. She, the Queen of Heaven, is also the Queen of the Apostles, and it was around her that the apostolic college was united in prayer during those ten days that separated the Ascension from the outpouring of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost. What a beautiful thought that she is the one who unites our small community in prayer each day, obtaining for each of us the graces of which we stand in need in order to tread the path Jesus Our Lord has marked out for us! Today you will receive a most eloquent sign of her protection in the holy habit which, please God, will accompany you to your final resting place. May she give you to taste the joy of her presence, that sweet maternal presence which makes all that is bitter sweet.

Perhaps we can go a bit further and decipher in these two celebrations a providential sign for your own life: the Ascension, that is, the glorified Christ, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Many are the saints who have followed Jesus and enjoyed the closeness of Mary in their lives. Outstanding among them we can mention St Alphonsus Liguori, St Louis de Montfort, St Maximilian Kolbe. The latter penned this moving act of consecration to her that just might set the tone for your monastic life:

O Immaculata, Queen of Heaven and earth, refuge of sinners and our most loving Mother, God has willed to entrust the entire order of mercy to thee. I, N., a repentant sinner, cast myself at thy feet humbly imploring thee to take me with all that I am and have, wholly to thyself as thy possession and property. Please make of me, of all my powers of soul and body, of my whole life, death, and eternity, whatever most pleases thee. If it pleases thee, use all that I am and have without reserve, wholly to accomplish what was said of thee: “She will crush your head,” and, “Thou alone hast destroyed all heresies in the whole world.” 

Let me be a fit instrument in thine immaculate and merciful hands for introducing and increasing thy glory to the maximum in all the many strayed and indifferent souls, and thus help extend as far as possible the blessed kingdom of the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. For wherever thou dost enter, thou obtainest the grace of conversion and growth in holiness, since it is through thy hands that all graces come to us from the most Sacred Heart of Jesus. Amen.

Belonging entirely to the Mother of Christ, being an instrument in the hands of the Immaculata to bring many souls back to God and contribute to the glorification of Jesus and Mary through the spreading of the truth and the overcoming of error and darkness: is that not a practical realisation of the double tension we find in the feast of the Ascension: having our hearts with Christ in Heaven while using up every drop of energy on earth to bring souls to Him? What more fascinating destiny could one want or desire? And it is ours.

We know of course that such a program meets with resistance. Did not the Beloved Disciple tell us in his Gospel that the “light shone in the darkness but the darkness did not comprehend it” (Jn 1:5)? Did not the Lord Himself complain in the same Gospel that “the light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil” (Jn 3:19)? But we also know that this battle takes place in our very heart. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”. This thought was already largely present in our Christian Tradition. St Maximilian, for example, wrote, “No one in the world can change Truth. What we can do and should do is to seek truth and to serve it when we have found it. The real conflict is the inner conflict. Beyond armies of occupation and the hecatombs of extermination camps, there are two irreconcilable enemies in the depth of every soul: good and evil, sin and love. And what use are the victories on the battlefield if we are ourselves are defeated in our innermost personal selves?” St Maximilian would win that battle. Configured to Christ through an austere religious life, he would eventually give the ultimate witness to the Light and offer his life as a sacrifice for it.

In the monastery, we are well-equipped to follow in his footsteps and take part in Christ’s triumph over the world, the flesh and the devil. If we remember that “love lives through sacrifice and is nourished by giving” and that “without sacrifice, there is no love” (St. Maximilian Kolbe), we are, as it were, anointed for combat and prepared for what awaits us. The victory, my son, will be yours if you stay close to the Immaculate Virgin, if she holds your hand and if you hold her hand every day of your life. “Never be afraid of loving the Blessed Virgin too much. You can never love her more than Jesus did.” (St Maximilian)

As yet you have not asked

"Hitherto, you have not asked any thing in my name. Ask, and you shall receive" (Jn 16:24).

These words of Our Lord in today's Gospel are a gentle reprimand: you have not received because you have not asked. St James will add for his part: you do not receive because you ask in a wrong way. 

How do we ask, and how do we ask in the right way? St Augustine tells us that if we ask for things that are truly useful for our eternal salvation — and not for temporal goods —, then it is that we are praying in the name of Jesus. Jesus is Saviour, He has come to save, and to ask in His Name is to ask sincerely for all that will lead us to the eternal kingdom.

As if to respond to this holy admonition of Our Lord, this week the Church has us celebrate the Rogation Days, three days of penance and supplication that precede the Ascension and on which we beseech Our Saviour to have mercy on us and grant us to be freed from the many calamities to which we are exposed. Processions, including the Litany of the Saints and other prayers, are traditionally held. Let us therefore devote ourselves during these days to some extra practices of self-denial and let us beseech the Lord to have mercy on our poor world. 

In the same Gospel passage mentioned above, Our Lord goes on to say: "In that day, you shall ask in my name: and I say not to you that I will ask the Father for you. For the Father himself loveth you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came out from God" (Jn 16:26-27). What a reassuring revelation! The Father Himself loves us! And He does so because we have put our faith in His Son.

If things do not seem to go as they should, if we are oppressed with many evils, the answer is simple: we need to pray more. Prayer is always the answer, for it is the means by which we creatures take part in the Divine Omnipotence. God knows everything, God can do everything, and God loves us — He loves us!. All He needs, all He is waiting for, is for us to ask Him to intervene. When enough people pray, things change.

In this month of May, let us also have renewed recourse to the Immaculate Virgin, especially at the approach of the anniversary of the first apparition of Fatima, 13 May. Our Lady came to ask her children to pray the Rosary. If enough people pray, there will be peace. If not, there will be no peace, but evil will be multiplied. It's as simple as that. "Hitherto you have not asked anything". Since 1917, too few people have been praying and evil increases in power each day. That can stop, only if enough people have a change of heart and pray more.

So let's get on our knees and do what we're told. The Father loves us, the Mother of God loves us, but as any good parent, they want us to grow up and take our responsibilities. The fate of the world is in our hands.

It is expedient

In today's Gospel we hear Our Beloved Saviour tell His apostles that His imminent departure is "expedient" for them. The expression means that it is in their interest, for their good, that He is going to disappear from their physical vision. His words to St Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday morning relay the same message: "Touch me not, for I have not yet ascended to my Father". The Ascension of Our Lord is therefore necessary. It is so for Christ, for He must be glorified. That's easy to understand. But it is also necessary for us. That's not so easy to understand.

To do so, it is helpful to be reminded of the sublime dignity of our calling. Amazingly, and undeservedly on our part, God has destined us to nothing less than the vision of His glory in Heaven, the face to face realisation of His plan of love: to give us part in the very life of the Blessed Trinity. We certainly do not spend enough time contemplating this reality and what it entails for us. Heaven is not some sort of unending holiday on a gorgeous beach with nice people and delicious food. That is so far off the mark that it doesn't even give a faint idea of what Heaven really is. Seeing God face to face means being taken up into the life of God Himself; it means becoming a partaker of the Divine Nature, as St Peter tells the first generation of Christians (cf. 2 Pt 1:4).

This eternal destiny is so far removed from anything we can experience that it can only be accepted on faith. God has revealed it, and therefore it is true. But the grandeur of the vocation should help us understand the "expedience" of Christ's removing Himself from our gaze. Such a lofty calling is a reward for faith and for confidence, and such can only be real if we do not see the object of our faith. Christ's no longer being present to our gaze is necessary so that we can merit eternal life. It is in that sense that His absence, His disappearance, is expedient for us, it is good for us. It forces us, as it were, to take the plunge into the mystery of His love for us, with utter confidence that He knows what's best and that beyond the present trials and darkness, there is the eternal kingdom of light that awaits those who give their lives to Him.

His going away is also going to bring to us another inestimable gift, the Person that is Gift, the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit living in us, who gives us to take part in the Divine Life already in this world, and who leads us through the difficult stages of our earthly pilgrimage, constantly arousing us to deepen our faith and love and to trust in the Eternal and Infinite Mercy of God. The Mercy of God transforms the misery of our nature; it is an unlimited source of renewal for creatures who are broken by sin and many failings. The Holy Spirit, who is the forgiveness of sins makes it always possible for us to rise from the ashes of a broken life to the beauty and integrity of a truly Christian life, a life of virtue and holiness. 

Believe that with all your heart, and then you will understand why it is expedient for us that the Saviour return to the Father. From there, He draws us to Himself and awaits us with open arms.

The paradigm of child-birth

In today's Gospel, the Lord compares the sadness of His disciples to the birth-pangs of a new mother. Although I have never assisted at the birth of a child (except my own, but of that I have no precise memory!), I am told that there sometimes comes a moment when the mother thinks she will die, so great is the pain. She is in anguish, and the bringing forth of new life is, in a way, her death. In a way, only. And then, when the babe is born, she is, so to speak, reborn, and joy fills her heart that a man is born into the world.

It is very significant that the Lord would use this universal — though strictly feminine — experience to tell us something about the spiritual life. Birth-pangs can be terrible, they can be dangerous to the life of the mother, it still happens that women die in childbirth. 

The spiritual life is the life of God in us, but there is no proportion between us and God, and therefore the fruition of God's life in us is, of necessity, going to cause a crisis, a crisis that allows the soul to be born to God, only inasmuch as it dies to self. If the mother refuses to suffer, she cannot give birth, and the world remains deprived of offspring that will perpetuate the race. If the soul refuses to die to self, it cannot be brought into the life of God, and it cannot bring life into the world.

Good thing to remember. The Lord gives great joy when He reveals the beauties of life with him, just as the woman is caught up in the ecstasy of love with her husband which allows her to conceive. But for that conceived life to be brought into the world, there is only one path, and that path is fraught with danger.

To bring the life of grace into the world, Jesus the Good Shepherd had to die. In order for that same life He gives to be conveyed to others, the soul must suffer. And that is why spiritual paternity, like maternity, includes the anguish of childbirth. St Paul says as much when speaking to the Galatians whom he calls: "My children, for whom I am again in labor until Christ be formed in you!" (Gal 4:19).

That is why souls consecrated to God know what paternity and maternity are about. That is why when a soul perceives the call to give itself to God, it should not fear not having offspring. For souls, like babies, are born through suffering, and the consecrated soul is called to bring many souls to the life of grace. Such is the mystery of Easter: death leads to life, Calvary leads to the Empty Tomb, suffering leads to joy.

"When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So you also are now in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you". (Jn 16:21-22)

The shepherd must die

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

Astounding words those. No wonder some of the Jews thought He had lost His mind. What shepherd in his right mind would die to save his sheep? Is not the life of any human worth more than all the sheep in the world? And yet there is a greater gap between the life of the Word Incarnate and us than between and shepherd and his sheep.

Only love can explain the logic of this. And only the immortality of the soul can justify it. No sheep will ever be worth dying for, for when sheep die, they are simply dead. But a human is worth dying for, because his soul will go on living forever. The Good Shepherd dies so that His sheep may have eternal life and not be engulfed in eternal damnation which is very real and possible for all the sheep. The Good Shepherd dies because He knows that without His death, the sheep will be forever separated from God. And that is a very good reason to die: to save a soul.

All, but especially shepherds of souls, should take these words to heart. A man who undertakes the charge of leading souls must be ready to die for them, for if he is not, he runs the terrible risk of putting a lot of things before the needs of souls, and then he would no longer be a shepherd but a hireling, or worse, a wolf.

Pray for your shepherds, that the Good Shepherd may inspire them with a profound conviction of what's really at stake in this short time between Our Lord's resurrection and His second coming. When He returns, He will demand an account of us shepherds, and the time of mercy will have passed forever. Now is the day of salvation.

Exhortation at the clothing ceremony for Brother Augustine Mary Withoos

My Dear Brother, 

“Let it be done to me according to Thy word”. Those beloved words of Our Blessed Lady resound in our ears on this feast of the Annunciation. Once again we go in spirit to the humble house of Nazareth where we hear the discourse of the angel, and wait in awe for the consent of the Virgin upon which hangs the entirety of human salvation. We kneel in adoration as the Word takes flesh in the silence of her virginal womb, unknown to man. Today our salvation begins, today the power of hell is curbed until it is crushed by the Resurrection of the Victor Rex, the King who triumphs over death and lives forever.

As we contemplate the mystery of this day, we are moved to consider the relevance it has for for you, dear Brother, as you take this new step in the Lord’s service. In your younger days, you heard the call to the priesthood; configured to Christ the High Priest, and marked by the Holy Spirit, you mounted with joy the steps to the altar of God. That vocation led you to serve the Church in various ways over the past 18 years, including service to the Holy See and the Universal Church.

But today, another page opens in your life. For several years now, a void has been growing in your heart, a well has been dug, that only God can fill. The Lord seems to be beckoning you, calling you to something more. You have come to perceive the depth, the radical depth of a new call. And so, in a way, you can make yours those words of the great bishop of Hippo who applied them to his search for the true faith, but which apply to you in your search for the specific path in which He is calling you to serve Him now: “Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved thee. For see, thou wast within and I was without, and I sought thee out there. Unlovely, I rushed heedlessly among the lovely things thou hast made. Thou wast with me, but I was not with thee. These things kept me far from thee; even though they were not at all unless they were in thee. Thou didst call and cry aloud, and didst force open my deafness. Thou didst gleam and shine, and didst chase away my blindness. Thou didst breathe fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for thee. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. Thou didst touch me, and I burned for thy peace” (Confessions, B. 10, ch. 27).

Today, dear Brother, you burn for that peace, you long to die to the world. Up to now, you have appeared to the world in black, testifying thereby to your desire to die to the ways of the world. Today, Our Lady clothes you with her mantle, making death to the world sweet, for denying the darkness of creatures you are called to live in the sweet light of Mary’s fiat and become a light, an example of all the virtues to those you live with and meet. If black symbolises death, white symbolises the new life of holiness you are called to. Yesterday we celebrated the Dominica in albis deponendis when the neophytes were admonished, in taking off their white baptismal robes, to put on Christ and never let the old man regain place in their hearts. Today, you will don the shining white of Our Lady’s habit, placing yourself in a very special way under her Immaculate mantle.

In the Rule, Our Holy Father St Benedict warns the abbot not to readily receive a priest into the community. He admonishes the priest that he must not imagine his priesthood will avail him any special treatment. On the contrary, in the mind of our Holy Father, the priesthood holds with it the greater burden of responsibility for giving examples of humility, obedience and strict discipline, for the clerical life is already a step on the way to perfection. When you received the priesthood, the bishop prayed over you, asking the Holy Spirit to make you the model of a holy life. Today you seek to go further in the demands of that sacerdotal grace. If it is true, as St Thomas teaches, that the preaching of the priest ought to proceed from the fullness of contemplation (cf. IIa, IIae, 188,6), and if the priest truly takes to heart his role in the Eucharistic sacrifice and strives to imitate the One in whose Person he acts each day, the words of the Imitation of Christ take on all their momentum as you seek to add to the priesthood the monastic consecration: “Thou has not lightened thy burden, but art now bound by a stricter bond of discipline and obliged to greater perfection of sanctity. A priest ought to be adorned with all virtues and set the example of a good life to others. His conversation should not be with the popular and common ways of man, but with the angels in heaven, or with perfect men upon earth” (Bk 4, ch. 5).

A major part of that perfect life which we strive to live as monks is to sing the praises of the Divine Majesty. Seven times a day and once in the night, we come before the throne of the Almighty and offer, in the name of sinful and ungrateful humanity, the sacrifice of praise. We know that this is possible only if we love. To quote the Doctor of Divine Love: “Ament et cantabunt: let them love, and they will sing!”

But the program may seem immense, and it is. There may be days on which you think it impossible, but on those days, I entreat you to remember those other words of the Doctor of Divine Grace: “My whole hope is in thy exceeding great mercy and that alone. Give what thou commandest and command what thou wilt” (Confessions, B. 10, ch. 29).

That reliance on Divine Mercy must always lead you deeper into the ways of prayer, for the monk, if he is anything, must be a man of prayer. It is in prayer that he finds himself, it is in prayer that he finds God. As the greatest of the Latin doctors prays: “Let me no longer be distracted by many things, but gather me together to myself, and from myself to Thee, in such a way that my heart may always say to Thee: My face seeks Thee, Thy face, O Lord, I will seek” (Soliloquium 36, 5).

On this day, Mary conceives in her womb the Incarnate Son of God whom she will bring forth to the world on Christmas. Today you are, as it were, conceived in monastic life. May She give you to persevere and be born as a monk through monastic profession for the glory of Her Son and for the salvation of many souls.

And so my dear Brother and now also, in St Benedict, my Son, I say to you: “Stand with him and you shall stand fast. Rest in him and you shall be at rest” (Confessions, B 4, ch. 12).

Seeing, rejoicing and being sent to suffer

St John tells us in today's Gospel that when the disciples saw the Lord, they rejoiced. Seeing the Risen Lord gives joy, joy the world cannot know, joy that even the faithful cannot express, but only experience. That joy gives them to follow the Saviour and to go out on whatever mission He might send them.

St Gregory notes in his commentary on this passage: "The Lord sends His chosen Apostles, not to rejoice in the world, but to suffer in the world. Therefore, just as the Son is loved by the Father, and is yet sent to suffer; so likewise are the disciples loved by the Lord, and yet they are sent into the world to suffer. So it is rightly said, 'As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you': that is, When I send you forth into all the terrors of persecution, I love you with that love with which my Father loved me, when He caused me to come into the world to undergo my Passion".

We might do well to remember that in the midst of our paschal joys: The joy we experience in His resurrection is not the definitive joy of Heaven, but rather is destined to increase our love and confidence that, whatever might be the trials that lie ahead, the Risen Saviour holds us in the palm of His hand and will one day configure us to His glorified body, but only through the passion and the cross. Such is the deep meaning of the prayer: "Jesus, I trust you", popularised by St Faustina in the devotion to Divine Mercy. We trust the lead of God, and He leads us to Himself by means of suffering. 

Believe and trust. And we might add paraphrasing St Augustine: Believe, trust, and then you will understand.

Washing, serving and dying

Maundy Thursday brings before us the profound words of Our Lord to His apostles during the Last Supper when there was a dispute among them about who was the greatest:

"The kings of the gentiles lord it over them, and they that have power over them are called beneficent. But you not so. But he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger, and he that is the leader, as he that serveth, for which is greater, he that sitteth at table, or he that serveth? Is it not he that sitteth at table? But I am among you as he that serveth."

By washing the feet of His apostles, the Lord showed Himself to be the humble servant. But that word "service" reminds us of another passage where He said that the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many. And that was a clear reference to the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 who serves by giving His life.

It is good for us to remember, especially during these holy days, that the kind of service Jesus came to teach us is service unto death; it is offering one's life as a sacrificial oblation to save souls from sin and hell; it is the total gift of self, regardless of consequences, knowing that by dying to self we open ourselves up to the true life.

As we celebrate these holy days, let us ask for the grace to mingle our blood with that of the Saviour, pouring out ourselves so that others may come to see the light and embrace the truth.

Then the Lord will be able to say to us one day: "You are they who have continued with me in my temptations, and I dispose to you as my Father hath disposed to mea kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom, and may sit upon thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel."

 

Of palms and blood

It would be hard to find the equivalent, in terms of contrast, of the Roman ceremonies of Palm Sunday. It's easy to explain historically: Rome had long celebrated the Sunday before Easter as a commemoration of the passion of the Lord with all the pompous mourning of which she was capable. But then from the Franks came this other ceremony, quite joyful and even jubilant, of the procession of palms. And so we got this Mass of mourning preceded by a procession of joyful exuberance. Is it nonsense, or is there something else?

In reality it is one of the historical developments in the liturgy that happened gradually, and immensely enriched the Roman liturgy, like so many other of the Frankish elements that were adopted by Rome (and many of which were jettisoned from the modern Roman liturgy). It was certainly willed by Divine Providence. Why? Because the triumphal procession of the palms is actually an anticipation of the Resurrection, which would only come about through the Passion.

When Our Lord aroused in the minds and hearts of the Jews the enthusiasm of the first Palm Sunday, He knew perfectly well that, a few days later, the same people would be crying out for His Blood. He knew it, and that's exactly why He wanted this first Palm Sunday procession to take place.

What does it mean? It means that the Passion is in reality a triumph. It means that, contrary to appearances, the One who is victorious on Good Friday is the one who is condemned to death. It means that the crown of thorns is actually a crown of glory, and that the cross is the most splendid title of honour and nobility that the world has ever known.

What does it mean for us, and why is the procession of the palms so important that the Church mandates that we reenact it each year? Because it teaches us in the most eloquent manner that it is through the cross that we come to glory. It shows us that it is when we are weak that we are strong. It makes clear to the whole world that the blood of martyrdom is the palm of glory. And that is why, in the Book of Apocalypse, the elect stand in the glory of the Lamb with palms in their hands singing Alleluia!

So let us, during this Holy Week, turn our eyes with greater intensity to Calvary, certain that the more we take part in the sufferings of our dear Saviour, the more surely will we participate in the glory of His resurrection. 

Don't forget the palms and the blood. They go together.

Was there no other way?

Passiontide which begins today again brings before our eyes the great and at once awful mystery of the cruel death of our Beloved Saviour. If we love Him in the least, or even if our heart is not so hardened that it cannot compassionate with One so cruelly and unfairly treated, then we may ask ourselves, "was there no other way to redeem the human race"? The question has been asked before, in particular by St Thomas, who replies that strictly speaking, yes, God could have redeemed the human race in many other ways. But, he adds, there was no more suitable way, and for this he puts forth five arguments (Summa theologiae, IIIa, 46, 3).

First, he says, because of the passion of Christ man knows for sure and without a shadow of a doubt how much God loves him. Who can contemplate the sufferings of the Lord, knowing that they have been inflicted for us, without feeling compelled to give Him love for love?

Second, the passion of Christ give us the example of the virtues most necessary to us, namely obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and others. That is why St Peter tells the first generation of Christians and through them us: "Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps" (1 Pet 2:21).

The third reason, says the Angelic Doctor, is that by suffering for us, Jesus not only delivered us from sin, but also merited sanctifying grace for us, thus reestablishing us in God's friendship and opening for us the path to eternal glory in Heaven.

A fourth reason is that, when man sees Christ suffer in this way, he is moved to refrain from sin, for he knows how truly terrible a thing it is to sin if the Son of God had to die on the gibbet of the cross in order to atone for it. That is what allowed St Paul to write to the Corinthians: "You are bought at a great price; glorify and bear God in your body" (1 Cor 6:20).

Last, but not least: as man had been overcome by the devil and had thus been brought low to death, it was most fitting that a man also vanquish the devil and death by undergoing death. And that brings us to the heart of Holy Week and Easter Week, to the precise instant that unites them in the Holy Sepulchre: by dying, He destroyed our death, and by rising He restored our life. And that was done by a man like us! No ordinary man, for sure, but a real and true man with flesh, blood and bones and human soul. The victory is henceforth ours and we have no reason to fear the devil who has been conquered by the passion of Christ. 

"Thanks be to God, says St Paul, who has give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:57), so that if we unite our life and death with that of Jesus, we too will conquer the evil one.

So let us, during these holy days, be generous both in contemplating the sufferings of our dear Jesus and in offering up serious penances for our sins and those of the whole world. St Leo the Great reminds us: "Sure and steadfast is the hope of promised blessedness for one who is a partaker of the sufferings of the Lord". No, Christ has not done it all; he wants us to do our part and bring to completion His passion for the sake of His body, the Church (see Col. 1:24). 

 

Rejoice Jerusalem

Today, Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church invites us to rejoice. You who till now were in the sadness of penitential practices, rejoice now, for we have reached the middle of our Lenten observance and the paschal solemnities are just a step away.

How can we be joyful in a world that offers so much bad news? What is the motive of our joy? There are essentially two, and both of them are based on faith. Joy is the fruit of hope, and it is even more the fruit of love. It is fruit of the latter, for as St Thomas tells us, "joy is caused by love, either by the presence of the one we love or by the fact that our own good is contained and preserved in the one we love". Since through faith we know that God is present to us and in us through sanctifying grace, our love for God should give us much joy. 

It is also an effect of hope, for even though we do possess God through grace in this life, our possession of Him is neither full nor definitive—we can lose God through sin. So the theological virtue of hope it is which gives us the assurance that, relying not on ourselves, but on God's powerful grace, we will make our way safely through all the temptations of this life and attain to the full and definitive possession of Him in eternity.

So if joy is lacking in our lives, perhaps we need to love more, and perhaps we need to make more frequent acts of hope and confidence in the divine succour promised to those who request it with a sincere heart and who do what lies in themselves. 

It is precisely the Most Holy Eucharist which is God among us and which is the pledge of eternal life. And that is the most profound reason for which on this Sunday the Roman liturgy gives us the miracle of the second multiplication of loaves in St John, ch 6. This miracle prefigures the the Eucharist, and therefore should give us a much greater love and trust in the Lord. And from love and hope spring joy.

I rejoice with those who say to me: Let us go to the House of the Lord. Already our feet are standing in thy vestibule, O Jerusalem, that is, in the Holy Church who, as our heavenly Mother, opens for us the gates to the eternal kingdom!

Go to Joseph!

Today we start the novena for the feast of St Joseph. Each evening after Vespers we will sing the Litany of St Joseph, and we invite you to join with us, for all the needs of our community as well as for the intentions of our benefactors. As a reminder here is the text of the prayer to this great saint that we recite each day after Holy Mass:

Prayer of St. Francis de Sales to St. Joseph

Glorious St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary, grant us, we beseech thee, thy paternal protection, through the Heart of Jesus Christ.

O Thou whose infinite power reaches out to all our needs, rendering possible for us that which is impossible, look upon the concerns of thy children with thy fatherly countenance.

In the troubles and sorrows that afflict us, we have confident recourse to thee.

Deign to take under thy loving protection this important and difficult endeavor, the cause of our worries, and dispose its success to the glory of God and to the benefit of His faithful servants. Amen.

 St Joseph and the Child Jesus

St Joseph and the Child Jesus

Eyes always to the Lord

Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, says the psalmist in today's introit. My eyes are always turned towards the Lord, for He it is who will deliver me from the snares of my enemies. I am alone and poor, but the Lord is with me.

It is through the eyes that images are received into our minds and that thoughts are generated. What we see influences the way we think, and the way we think influences the way we act. 

The first step then in making good use of the eyes is to avoid looking at anything that could lead us into sin. The second step is to develop the reflex of not only turning away from evil, but also from ourselves. For the habit of the interior life leads to a life in which one examines oneself, and one should. But such self-examination can only have effect on our lives if we consistently turn the eyes of our soul to the Lord. Looking at ourselves will not get us anywhere. But forgetting ourselves, looking at the Lord, gazing lovingly upon Jesus, especially in His Passion, will give us the light, the strength, the courage to live according to God's commandments and save our soul and the souls of others. 

This was beautifully expressed in a letter written by St Elisabeth of the Trinity:

To forget yourself, for what concerns your health, does not mean to neglect taking care of yourself, for it is your duty and your best penance, but do it with great abandonment, saying to God “Thank you”, whatever may happen. When the weight of the body is felt and fatigues your soul, don’t be discouraged, but go in faith and love to the One who said: “Come to me and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). For your morale, don’t ever let the thought of your wretchedness get you down. The great Saint Paul says: “Where sin abounded, grace has abounded even more” (Rom 5:20). It seems to me that the weakest soul, even the most guilty one, is the one who has most reason to hope, and by this act of forgetting herself and throwing herself into the arms of God she glorifies Him and gives Him more joy than all the looking back at herself and all the examens that make her live with her infirmities, whereas she possesses at the centre of her own heart a Saviour who wants to purify her at every moment.

Do you remember that beautiful passage where Jesus says of His Father that “He has given Him power over all flesh, so that He might give it eternal life” (Jn 17:2)? That is what He wants to do in you: at every minute He wants you to go out of yourself, to leave every preoccupation, to retire to that solitude He has chosen for Himself at the bottom of your heart. He, He is always there, even though you don’t feel Him; He is waiting for you and wants to establish with you a “wondrous exchange” (first antiphon from Vespers of 1st January), as we chant in the beautiful liturgy, intimacy of Bridegroom to Bride; your weaknesses, your faults, all that troubles you, it is He who, through this continual contact, wants to deliver your from it. Did He not say: “I came not to judge, but to save” (Jn 12:47)? Nothing must appear to you an obstacle to going to Him. Don’t take so much notice as to whether you are inflamed or discouraged; it’s the law of exile to pass thus from one state to another. Believe then that He, He never changes, that in His goodness He is always bent over you to take you and establish you in Himself. If, in spite of all, emptiness and sadness overcome you, unite this agony with the Master’s in the Garden of Olives, when He said to the Father: “If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me” (Mt 26:39). Perhaps it seems to you difficult to forget yourself. Don’t be concerned; if you knew how simple it is… I’m going to give you my “secret”: think of this God who lives in you, whose temple you are (cf. 1 Cor 3:16); Saint Paul is the one who speaks thus, we can believe him. Little by little, the soul gets used to living in His sweet presence, she understands that she bears in herself a little Heaven where the God of love has settled himself. Then it’s as it were a divine atmosphere in which she breathes, I would even say there is nothing else but her body on the earth, her soul dwells beyond the clouds and the veils, in the One who is Unchanging. Do not say that it is not for you, that you are too miserable, for that is on the contrary an extra reason for going to the One who saves. It is not by looking at this misery that we will be purified, but by looking at the One who is all purity and holiness. Saint Paul says that “He has predestined us to be conformed to His own image” (Rom 8:29). In the most painful hours, think that the Divine Artist, in order to make his work more beautiful, uses scissors, and remain in peace under that Hand that is working on you. This great apostle of whom I am speaking, after having been taken up to the third Heaven (cf. 2 Cor 12:2), felt his weakness and complained of it to God who answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Isn’t that consoling?...

My eyes are always turned towards the Lord...

And He was transfigured before them… 

St Leo the Great, among others, tells us that the disciples were allowed to see Our Lord transfigured in order to strengthen their minds and hearts, so that when they would see Him in agony and handed over to evildoers, they would not lose faith and hope.

The Lord deals with His faithful souls in a similar way. Consolations are given to establish us solidly in His love, and when we meet with hard times we should be reminded of those moments of grace, lest we despair and think that all is lost.

What is true of souls is true of the life of the Church. There are periods of fervour and expansion in which the Church is seen truly as the city set on the mountain, the light on the lamp-stand that shares Her treasures with all nations and receives homage from them. Then there are other periods in which the beauty of the Church is obscured, when She is overrun by pagans, persecuted from without by the sword, or from within by heresies and evil members. 

It’s nothing new, but it is always hard when one is in the midst of it, when everything that we know and love appears to be collapsing, and the enemies of the Church shout victory. 

In such times, let us contemplate Our Lord transfigured on the Mount. He is the Eternal Son, the Word of the Father, the One who holds all things in His hand. “My sheep hear my voice. And I know them: and they follow me. And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish for ever. And no man shall pluck them out of my hand. That which my Father hath given me is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of my Father” (Jn 10:27-29).

The horizon is dark today. W find ourselves in the midst of a dreadful winter in which the faithful rarely find the warmth of solid doctrine and truth to nourish their souls. Let us not lose hope. Jesus is Lord, and we are in His hands. The Lord knows His own. The Transfiguration as not a dream.

Of Dust, Ashes and Fire

 

One week ago, Holy Mother Church reminded us that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. In doing this, she sprinkled our heads with ashes made from last year’s palms. The ashes are therefore the produce of fire, but they are used with words that remind us of the dust of the earth. Why do we not just use dirt on Ash Wednesday? It’s hard to say, but one of the reasons might be that ashes came through fire, their substance was burnt in the flames in order to produce this “dust”. Why is that relevant? Perhaps because, as St Peter reminds us:

The day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up. Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat?But we look for new heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice dwelleth (2 Pt 3:10-13).

If this be so, then the use of ashes at the beginning of Lent not only serves the purpose of reminding us that we shall return to dust through the rot of the grave, but also that the world as we know it will come to an end throug fire, a universal conflagration that will dissolve the universe. Will this come about by direct divine intervention or will God use a meteorite or some other heretofore unsuspected catastrophe? Or will it be man himself who destroys the planet through the technology he is no longer able to control? Whatever the case, it will all go up in flames.

So what purpose is served by living as if this were not so? As if we were to remain here forever? It is high time we came to our senses, and lived with the parsimonious wisdom of people who know they are not owners, but only tenants, and that they will have to give an account of their every thought word and deed when it all comes to an end.

Such thoughts are austere, for sure, but they are salvific. We must look the truth in the face, not just once in a blue moon, but every day. If we do, our life will be much more peaceful, for it will be much more true. Salvation and peace and come only from and through truth.

If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be (Isaiah 30:15)

Going out and going in

It's been too long since my last blog. My excuse (a good one of course!) is that internet access in our new priory is quite unstable. It works, it doesn't work... same for the phone... So be it, it's a very small way of taking part in the Lord's poverty. 

I wanted to write something about Septuagesima, and here we are on Quinquagesima Sunday, with Ash Wednesday just around the corner. Let it suffice to point out the incredible richness of this time of "pre-Lent". If we take only the Gospels for the three Sundays, there is an amazing pedagogy going on. We are first summoned to go to work in the vineyard of the Lord, not to lose our time in any kind of idleness, for even though all are called to the Kingdom, few are in the end chosen for it, and this not out of any lack of mercy on God's part, but for lack of diligence on ours. Then on Sexagesima Sunday, the parable of the sower reminded us that many hear the Word without it actually bearing any fruit in their lives, the great lesson being: listen and take to heart; put into practice what you hear. Today, the Lord announces His coming Passion and Death, and by curing a blind man, teaches us that it is precisely that saving death of His that will restore our spiritual eyesight. 

We could do as much with the epistles and other texts of the Masses of the season, but for today, I would like to say just a few words about the lessons for Matins. Abraham, our father in the faith, is summoned by God to leave his country, the house of his father and all his kindred and to go into a land that God was showing him. It was a huge leap in faith. Beyond the meaning it might have for those of us who have actually been called to leave the land of our birth, it has a more profound meaning for all, which is that we must leave ourselves, our petty calculated self-interest, and learn how to put out into the deep waters of absolute trust in Divine Providence who is guiding us to Himself.

We see in this way that going out of ourselves always involves going into God and His mystery. If we are brave enough to take that leap of faith, to actually hand over our lives to God, then we can be sure that the result will be marvellous. The future was hidden from Abraham. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us he did not know where he was going, but he went in faith, and the result was a posterity more numerous than the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore. All of sacred history follows upon this leap of faith.

Something similar happens whenever a person accepts to walk in faith as did Abraham. This is particularly visible when a young person accepts to renounce his or her career in order to follow Christ in religious life. It is a a going out of all that is known to and loved by that person, and this can be hard for nature, especially at the start, but it is also a going into God's plan; it is allowing God to open a path in this world, a path of salvation for that person, but also, and sometimes precisely for those loved ones he or she leaves behind.

God is never outdone in generosity. Give all and you will find all. Go out of yourself, and let yourself be led into God. You won't regret it. 

 

The Wonderful Lady of Cana

Here at Notre Dame Priory we celebrated yesterday our first patronal feast as a community. As you may know, there is no existing feast of Our Lady of Cana in the Roman Liturgy, even though the mystery is commemorated today, the Second Sunday after Epiphany. We have, with provisional permission from the  Archbishop of Hobart, put together, thanks to the copious writings of the saints on this mystery, a proper office for the feast which we celebrate on the Saturday after the Epiphany — which this year, was yesterday — and for which we hope to get approval from the Holy See.

Why is the mystery so important? And why was it chosen as the guiding star for our community? Our Lady's humble but clear petition to Her Son has always been an inspiration for authentic prayer: one makes known in all simplicity one's needs to the Lord, without going into all the details, for He knows them and He loves us. One presents one's need, in utter confidence that, since He loves us, He will answer our prayer in the best way possible. The need at hand in Cana was wine. On a purely literal reading, it would appear that Our Lord stoops down to give something that seems quite worldly and not essential. In this sense, His great love and compassion are made manifest.

But there is much more. The water symbolises us, our frail efforts at doing good to please God and save our soul. But whatever effort we put into it, it remains insipid, there is no energy, no sweetness. The wine symbolises the sweetness and warmth of the divine love that truly gives life, eternal life to our actions performed in time.

So if we feel that we are running out of wine, or if we have long been without it; if we can sense that our spiritual life is not getting anywhere, then let's go to the Lady of Cana, and ask Her to go to Jesus for us, and asks Him to transform our weak efforts into something sweet, something warm and lasting, that we may relish the sweetness of God. 

There is also the entire mystic of the nuptials. Salvation history begins with a wedding, that of Adam and Eve; and it concludes with the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb, God who weds all the elect to Him in a spousal union. And in the middle of this history, Our Lord chooses to perform His first miracle at a wedding. For sure, Our Lord's presence there sanctified marriage and raised it to the level of a sacrament, but it also symbolised the spousal  nature of our very existence and our call to love and eternal fidelity to God. 

As monks, we vow our entire lives to God; we forego the joys of married and family life to taste, already in this life, the peace of a spousal union with God. But that does not make us oblivious of married couples and families, on the contrary; it gives us a great desire to help them live up to the marvellous plan God has in store for them. And this is all the more important in an age which seeks to destroy the family.

May Our Lady of Cana bless all married couples; may she open their hearts to welcome with generosity all the children God will give them without seeking to dictate their desires to God; may she heal the hearts of all those who have a distorted notion of the real meaning of married love and family; may she heal the broken families, and mend all wounds of the soul; and may she give to those who are consecrated to virginity or celibacy the grace to be faithful to so lofty a calling and to thus be a model of unconditional love and surrender to the Eternal Bridegroom.

Monks and Families

Today, the traditional Roman calendar celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. This devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a family is rather modern in its expression. It is undoubtedly one of the providential ways in which God sends us in every age the devotions that we need most. Today, the family is endangered in its very existence. Forces hostile to the name of Christ, nay, hostile to man himself, seek to dismantle the family, considering it as a social construct inherited from what is derisively referred to as a patriarchal society. The destruction began with divorce, gained momentum with contraception, had victory in sight when it succeeded in making abortion legal and then a “right”, and won the day when it was totally severed from the very concept of what it is by same-sex “marriage”. The battle for the family has been lost. Lost, that is, in our western apostate societies which have bent the knee to the idols of the day. That battle however is only a battle in a war, one that we know leads to the ultimate victory of Christ the King and those who seek to follow Him. 

The question might be asked: what role do monks play in that war? What do they do for the family? How can they, by running off into solitude and fleeing the responsibilities of a family, help the family. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that monks also get married. A homily by St Augustine, which we will read next Sunday, makes it clear that those who have left the world to consecrate their chastity to Christ are “not without nuptials”. Their consecration to God is essentially a marriage with God; it is the realisation in time of the eternal nuptials that God will establish with all the elect in His Kingdom. It is this very reality which gives the monk so much love and esteem for the human family which mirrors on earth the fidelity and fecundity of the Most Holy Trinity. “Whoever denigrates marriage”, writes St. John Chrysostom, also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be particularly good. It is something better than what is admitted to be good that is the most excellent good.” 

As monks dedicated to Our Lady of Cana, we are particularly interested in the future of the family. The presence of Our Lord and Our Lady with the first apostles at that wedding inspires us with great veneration for the state of matrimony which Christ sanctified on that occasion. The example of faithful and generous married couples inspires us to be faithful to our own marriage with the Lord, and we hope, by our fidelity to be an inspiration to them to persevere when they meet with difficulties, tensions, sickness, death. Our retreats seek to be the privileged space where we seek to be a consolation and a bulwark to families. To fathers and mothers, spouses who long to conceive but who are frustrated in their desire, young men and women seeking a good spouse, we hope to provide the spiritual sustenance they need to move forward in their pursuit of God’s will in their lives.

May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, protect and bless all our families and all our communities, and lead us all together to the eternal fatherland where we will be in very truth the Family of God.

The wise and the brave

Wise men, Magi as they are called, come from the East in search of the great King, the one who had been announced as the Saviour, the very one who, from the beginning was promised as the woman’s seed and who would crush the head of the serpent. The Wise Men come from a pagan country to the capital of the revealed religion, and what do they find: a fool reigning over the Jews, and Jewish priests and scribes all too ready to curry favour with him and serve his interests. Just how wicked and depraved this king was would sadly be made all too clear with the horrendous episode of the Innocents.  But no matter. He is king, and so we must remain in his favour. So thought the misguided Jews at the time. They thought they were wise, and they were fools. The long sought after King had come, He is at their door, and they do not take a single step to go and find Him! How often it is that the “wise” of this world are put to shame by the unexpected appearance of total strangers who are not supposed to be in the know, who are supposed to be pagans, but who in reality are truly searching for God.

It is striking that the Magi do not fear to go to the intruder Herod — who was not a Jew, and the Magi knew this — and speak to him of the “King of Jews.” What courage! What faith in the God who had guided them. Fearlessly they enter his palace and proclaim what they have seen and what they know: a brilliant star has guided them thus far, and they have come to adore the newborn King. It was risky for them, and the mysterious dream warning them to return another way only proves it.

Our world too has its powers that be, and that for the most part are bent on destroying the Christian order, or rather, what sparse elements of it that remain, and replacing them with a man-made paradise on earth, a new Tower of Babel that can only end in utter confusion. Our world also has its priests and scribes who should know the truth, but who, alas, are all too often bent on making sure they do not offend the powers that be, on maintaining their comfortable position without rocking the boat. But like the scribes of today’s Gospel, that attitude is one that risks turning them into accomplices of the most heinous crimes. No matter. God is good, everyone is saved, so they try to convince themselves, backed by scribes who, far from being real theologians, are in reality ideologists reading their own dreams into Sacred Writ, with one goal in mind: don’t rock the boat, maintain the comfort zone.

Assuredly, it is not easy to speak out against evil when evil is in power; it demands courage; it demands the virtue of fortitude, which is one of cardinal virtues. But it also demands the Gift of the Holy Spirit by the same name. And as St Thomas teaches, the Gifts are necessary for salvation, because there are situations in which only a mighty inspiration of the Holy Spirit can save us from mortal sin and keep us in the right path. Heroism is not always optional, it is sometimes of necessity, as in the case of the martyrs who were threatened with death should they refuse to adore false gods.

There is a popular, somewhat vulgar, expression that nevertheless means what it says and expresses it quite well: “When the going gets tough, the tough (meaning, the brave) get going”. Well, today the going is tough for the true faith and for true Christian morals; so either we get going and get tough in our profession of the true faith and of true authentic morality, or we will lose both: there can be no orthodoxy of faith without orthodoxy of practice and morals: the two stand or fall together. What is, is; what is not, is not. It’s that simple.

May the grace be given us, through the intercession of the Virgo Potens — the Virgin most powerful — to be among the truly Wise, those who do not fear what may befall them should they profess the truth publicly. May this new year bring with it an increase in fortitude.