Solomon, Sodom and the Church

At the office of Matins today, Holy Church puts before our eyes the majestic temple built by King Solomon. This edifice, one of the wonders of the ancient world, was a prefiguration of the holy Catholic Church which would be established by the true Solomon, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and would extend its spiritual dominion to the ends of the earth. Solomon's temple was later destroyed, and the chosen people taken into captivity as a punishment for their lack of fidelity to the covenant God had so mercifully ratified with them.

Today's Mass sings of that Mercy of God, received in the midst of His Temple, that is, in the Church. It glorifies the Lord for building upon earth a temple to His glory, a city set on a mountain destined to be the light of the world.

Solomon and his temple prefigured not only the glory of the Church but also her trials. Throughout history, the Church has gone from rags to riches and back again several times. As Chesterton with his usual wit put it: "Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it had a God who knew the way out of the grave". 

But if it is fervour of spirit and devotion to God which bring prosperity to the Church, what is it that causes its demise? I suggest it is more often than not the same thing that caused the fall of Solomon: love of riches. This would seem to be confirmed by today's Gospel in which we hear Our Lord, somewhat surprisingly, praise a crooked intendant for his dishonest dealings. The man was condemned to lose his job, so what did he do? He reduced the debts of his master's debtors so that once removed from his post they would give him a warm welcome. Shrewd, treacherous, evil. Why then does the Lord praise him? Because he was smart. This steward does exactly what we should be doing: using the "mammon of iniquity", that is, earthly possessions and money, to relieve those in need. If God gives us prosperity, we must put it in God's bank, and God's bank consists of the poor of this world. 

If the Church had remembered this in every age, she may not have fallen into such hard times. Today the scandal of dioceses paying millions of dollars in court settlings causes outrage. Rightly so. But if those millions had been better used in the past, to relieve the needs of the poor, then perhaps we would have avoided the present scandals. 

The prophet Ezechiel scorns Sodom: Look at the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters were proud, sated with food, complacent in their prosperity, and they gave no help to the poor and needy (Ez 16:49). Sated with food, complacent in their prosperity. And what happened? They ended up in the ignoble vice which brought down fire from heaven. The same thing happened to Solomon: his riches brought him wives, many of them. And they perverted his heart. Lust brought low that man whom Scripture tells us was the wisest of all who ever lived. So true it is that as long as we live in this world, we must be on our guard against the monster that lies hidden in the heart of everyone of us. It is for having failed to learn that lesson that the Church is saddened today by so much filth in her bosom.

Let's take our cue from today's liturgy and ask the Lord for the grace to be prudent administrators of the goods God gives us. If we have much, we must give much, for much will be required of us. 

Then, and only then, can we hope that Mother Church will once again rise from the grave, and be the light on the mountain to which the nations converge, singing the praises of the Divine Majesty.

 

Of providence and fruits

This Sunday's collect tells us that God's providence never fails in its disposal of events. Never. Ever. From our very limited perspective, we might sometimes get the impression that something has gone wrong up there, that things should not be as they are. In those moments we need to remind ourselves of this oration and renew our faith that whatever God allows to happen — and this means absolutely everything that does happen — He does so for our conversion, sanctification and salvation. 

How many souls already in Heaven owe their salvation to what seemed, on the spur of the moment, a sad or tragic event! Without it, they would never have turned to God, and they would have remained and died in their sin, and they would now be in hell. 

The liturgy of this Sunday also speaks to us of fruit. In the Gospel, Our Lords puts us on our guard agains false prophets who come to us in sheep's clothing, but are actually ravenous wolves. "By their fruits you shall know them". In the Epistle, St Paul reminds the Romans that they derived no fruit whatsoever from the days when they pursued the interests of the flesh. The flesh, of itself, only produces illness and death. There can be no lasting fulfilment there.

Reading those words and reflecting upon many of the debates going on at the moment, one can only feel pity for those who give their lives to what we might call the culture of the flesh. All the demands for absolute licence in the moral realm are resumed in love for and even worship of the flesh. Whether it be about contraception, abortion, sodomy, transgenderism, euthanasia, etc. — all debates that shake our society to its very foundations — it's always about the flesh, about my body and what I do with it. It's all about me. I do whatever I want with my body, and nobody has any say about it. Period.

It's a pity that the countless souls ensnared in this vicious outlook on life do not take to heart those brief words of the apostle: you have lived long enough for the flesh, so STOP, because the flesh only ends in vice, in disease, in death, in rottenness, in despair. The fruit of the flesh is dark death and eternal misery. "Now the works of the flesh are manifest: which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:19-21).

So humble yourself before God, lift up your heart on high and get out of that dark hole you have dug for yourself! God wants your happiness and fulfilment infinitely more than you do! But He wants your WHOLE fulfilment, body and soul. If you produce the fruit of the Spirit, which is "charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity (Gal 5:22-23), then you will not only reap peace of heart in this life, but you will also inherit eternal life.

And this is where we see the link with providence: the provident one is the person who foresees from afar the true good, the fruit that lasts, and in order to make that true good a reality, he uses the present moment in a wise, prudent, virtuous way. It is by the practice of the virtues, in particular by pursuing a chaste life, that one takes part in the providence of God, that one becomes provident in turn. Then it is that one can begin to see God in events and in people: "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God" (Mat 5:8).

 

Christopher Dawson Centre Colloquium 28-29 June 2018

Any room for priests, monks and nuns in an atheistic world?

Let me begin with a story. 

It was my first Christmas Eve in Tasmania, at a time when I was doing some of the groundwork in preparation for the monastic foundation the following year. I was going for an early afternoon stroll in Hobart. As I was making my way down the sidewalk, I spotted two men, probably in their late twenties, early thirties, sitting in the grass, smoking and drinking as they conversed…. 

They were intrigued by what they saw: a man walking down the street wearing a long white robe, a spectacle for sure. “What are you”? When I explained that I was a monk, and that I spent a fair amount of time praying to God, one of them proceeded to explain to me that he was an atheist. Later in the conversation, I would discover that, even though he did not believe — or said he did not believe — in God, he certainly did believe in Satan. Actually, I got the clear impression that he was a big fan of Satan against God.

At one stage in the conversation, I asked them if they knew what tomorrow was. They did. They knew that it was Christmas. So I asked if they knew what Christmas was. They knew that too: the birth of Jesus. Then I asked if they knew why Jesus came into the world. At that, one of them replied, “To make money”. 

After a moment of surprise, I tried to explain that Jesus actually came into the world in order to, following the expression of St John, “dissolve the works of the devil”, and this he did by teaching the practice of virtues, especially the virtues of humility and chastity. Well, that didn’t sit so well with them, and our conversation came to an end. It reminded me of the word of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: “Atheism, nine times out of ten, is born from the womb of a bad conscience. Disbelief is born of sin, not of reason”.

As I was preparing this talk, I was reminded of that sad Christmas Eve encounter which so dramatically describes the plight of modern man who lives without God, and drifts along, tossed about by his passions, a continual and all too easy prey to the ideology of the day that seeks to use him and then discard him after having robbed him of his dignity, the kind of ideology that inspired John Lennon’s Imagine: a pure utopia in which one blames religion for the ills of humanity when one has never been able to live up to the demands of true religion, which alone can give peace to a broken world. Lennon’s world is the search for a paradise on earth that never existed and never will exist. It is the betrayal of the homo sapiens into the hands of the homo insipiens who, fallen from a state of divine intimacy, can now only wander aimlessly in the land of estrangement from himself in which his pursuit of sensual satisfactions leaves him empty, sad, inclined to despair, and prone to the realm of darkness.

For indeed, when there is no spiritual principle to things, when man is not motivated by thirst for the absolute, then he is on a deadly spiral downwards into the  bottomless pit of unsuccessfully and frustratingly seeking to satisfy his instincts. But it never stops there. It keeps going down and down, to the world of darkness. For all evil is darkness. “This is the judgment: The light is come into the world and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil” (Jn 3:19). The dark presence that hovered recently over Hobart is a sad example.

Lennon sings: “Imagine all the people living for today.” “Living for today” is opposed to living for the tomorrow of eternity; it is living just for what we can see and enjoy here and now, as do animals. The tragedy is that, to a large extent, Lennon’s dream has come true. Even if there are still many people who profess and practice a religion, life is organised more and more etsi Deus non daretur. All that matters is matter. And whatever you need to do to satisfy your personal desires of the moment, that is good, as long as you do not interfere with your neighbour’s attempt to do the same.

For the moment in the west we are in a kind of twilight zone in which the progress of technology has made it possible for most people to enjoy lives of uninhibited search for leisure and pleasure, while leaving God and eternity in the background. It has given the illusion that life without God is perfectly possible, for the material things that we used to ask God for are now given to us by our computers and machines. But what will become of Lennon’s dream the day technology, for whatever reason, fails? The extremely fragile stability of modern economy will one day crumble, and then what will become of that imaginary world? Lennon forgot a fundamental truth: people rarely kill for religious reasons. They most often kill to get something they don’t have. People kill for money, they kill for a job, they kill for a lover, they even kill for food, drink and clothing when there’s not enough of them to go around. And that scenario is sure to come.

Many years ago I was invited to address a gathering of young adults, and I took as my theme: “The Purity of Faith and the Purity of Morals”. In that talk, I made a point of showing that faith and morals stand or fall together. One cannot have a solid faith in the living God, in His Son Jesus Christ, and go on living a life immersed in the satisfaction of one’s instincts. Conversely, it is impossible to live such a life and not arrive at the purity of faith. That is precisely why the Church, from the very start, was always very careful, even meticulous, about defining what we believe, for those definitions have far-reaching consequences on the way we live. If God is a slave-master, then his adherents will duplicate that mentality, and other people will be treated like chattel, which is what happens in the Islamic world. If God is self-sacrificing love, then other persons become an object of merciful compassion, which is what ideally happens in a Christian world, even if, alas, many Christians do not live up to that lofty standard.

This essential correlation between faith and morals has been expressed in many ways by a number of great minds in recent times, but I know of none who has said it in so few and so powerful words as St Pius X, who was Pope from 1903 to 1914. In a little known letter written in 1910 to condemn the French social movement called “le Sillon”, he wrote: “There is no true civilization without a moral civilization, and no true moral civilization without the true religion: it is a proven truth, a historical fact”. In other words, it is only by fidelity to the true God and His divinely revealed true religion that humanity can live in accordance with the truth of its own being; and this, in turn, can alone ensure that the future of the world will be peaceful and harmonious, just as the absence of God and that of his Church guarantees wars and conflicts. The liturgical oration for the feast of Christ the King in the traditional Roman Missal makes this clear when it asks that “the families of the nations, separated by the wound of sin, may submit themselves to the sweet rule of Christ” (cunctae familiae gentium, peccati vulnere disgregatae, eius suavissimo subdantur imperio). It is only in the submission of the mind and heart to the truth of Christ that grace is given to establish peace and harmony on earth.

What consequences can we draw from all this? I suggest that we need to ask ourselves a few questions. First and foremost: do I really believe it? Is it part of my life? Or have I let my faith dwindle under the influence of the ambient spirit of living without God inspired by cultural marxism? In a world which has abandoned nearly all of its moral principles, a world in which we breathe on a daily basis the infected air of the times, “for the days are evil” (Eph 5:16), if we do not make an effort to react against it, we will be swept along like everybody else. As GK Chesterton astutely remarked: “only what is dead flows with the current”.

 

 

After having asked ourselves these questions, and answered them rightly, we need then to start asking other people. A true believer is in many ways like Socrates. He must go about asking questions, questions which will provoke his contemporaries, forcing them to enter into themselves and think, hard questions which demand hard answers and that cannot be silenced, questions which may very well lead the questioner to the same end as  Socrates. Socrates lived in what in many respects was a pluralistc society. There were many gods, and many opinions. But Socrates could not be tolerated because Socrates would not keep quiet about the absolute. As in our day, Socrates’ age was one in which you can think and say anything you want except one thing: if you say there are moral absolutes, beware! “All animals are equal,” we are assured, but it isn’t long before we learn that “some animals are more equal than others!” And so it is with everyone who truly believes, whose faith is not only in words but in deeds.

And that brings us to the heart of the considerations I would like to share today. 

For those who are truly convinced, who are and want to remain on the right side of this battle — this is important for the victory already belongs to Christ and only those who remain with Him in the heat of battle will be crowned with Him — there are today, as there have always been, two possible reactions. 

One is to continue, plodding along, striving to found and raise a truly Christian family and form the men and women of tomorrow. It involves being out there in the public square, standing up for God, for Christ, for the moral order. This is done through writing, teaching, seeking to influence political life and the decisions that will affect the lives of many. I am personally convinced that we need many more of those brave men and women who fearlessly remind our wayward world of the unchanging reality which is God and His eternal law. At the same time, I give thanks to God for those we already have among us.

But there is also another path, a path which the first generations of Christians discovered quickly. It is the path of those who have been so deeply touched by the thought of the brevity of this ephemeral life and the only definitive reality which is eternity, that they decide to give their entire lives to God in prayer, silent adoration, hard work and sacrifice, in order to secure their own salvation for sure, but also to be an example to others and a source of light and love that will influence the world in a salvific way. Such is the category of men and women known to us as monks and nuns. For some here today, the thought might seem eccentric. Why go off into seclusion, on the margin of society, grouped into houses that are, for all practical purposes, invisible to the eyes of the world? Should these not join ranks with the laity in their efforts to bring God back to the world?

To answer that question, we need to know a little bit more about what monastic life is. And I would hope, by these few words, to open up a new vista, a new world perhaps for some, unsuspected, certainly unfashionable.

In his first epistle, St John tells the first generation of faithful to be on their guard against what he calls the “concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 Jn 2:16). Those three sources of unhealthy and unholy coveting which undermine the work of God in souls, are precisely the three archenemies which the religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience counterattack. 

The religious life and especially its monastic form, is, of its very essence, contrary to the essential tenets of the world. What the world adores, it scorns; what the world loves, it hates; what the world promotes, it rejects. Why? Because, as St Paul told the Corinthians: “the fashion of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:31), this world which St John tells us, “is seated in wickedness” (1 Jn 5:19). 

It is only by living the Gospel values to the full that religious souls can truly be the leaven in the dough, the grain of seed which, apparently insignificant, actually bears within itself all future life, the salt that gives savour to culture, the light that saves the world from darkness. In a culture that is dying out, losing hope in itself and in its own posterity, the source of true renewal is found in those souls who stand firm amidst the whirlwind of contemporary culture, or rather, lack thereof.

Even though a Benedictine, the motto of the Carthusian order has always inspired me: “Stat crux dum volvitur orbis”: which we could translate: “the cross stands motionless while the world goes around in circles”. Only in fidelity to the One who died on the cross and taught us thereby the power of redemptive suffering, only through souls who accept to live that redemptive suffering to the full, renouncing even the legitimate goods of human life, can the world be saved from the annihilation caused by the roaring waves of deviant subhuman ideology.

This is something the founders of all religious orders understood so well. It is what inspired the first generation of anchorites to go out and live in the desert; it is what led St Benedict to leave Rome when a prosperous life of fame and pleasure smiled upon his youth; it is what caused St Francis and St Dominic to embrace the evangelical poverty which has been the hallmark of the mendicant orders ever since; it is what led St Ignatius to place his future in the hands of the Son of God, offering his whole life to serve in the ranks of the sacred militia; it is what filled the monasteries and made them beacons of hope for the world. It is, today, what continues to inspire young men and women to forego the purported freedom of a worldly life, to renounce the legitimate joys of marriage and parenting, the attractions of a career and belongings. It is what leads them to embrace what is hard for nature: solitude, penance, long hours of prayer and devout study of divine things, humble work that does not earn a salary, but serves the needs of the community he lives with.

Monastic life holds within it a profound mystery: a soul, enamoured of God and desirous of living in His presence, crosses the threshold of a monastery door, taking cover under the shadow of God’s wings as it were, saying goodbye to loved ones and loved dreams, making an act of faith that the God who calls will not fail. The soul, like Abraham being called to leave his home country and family, sets out on a journey, not knowing where he is going, oblivious of where the path is leading, and not really caring where it leads, because he knows it leads to God.

Once such a soul finds the courage to take that step, he finds himself in a world he had not dreamed of before. He discovers that though he is in solitude, he is not alone; though he is poor, he is immensely enriched; though has given up the love of a woman, he is given unexpected insight into the love of the Three Divine Persons and the joys of fraternal charity, radiance of the divine love for which he is made and into which he longs to immerse himself; he realises that religious life is essentially a love affair between Christ and the soul: we can even say it is Christ chasing the soul, begging its love, and rewarding beyond measure those who allow themselves to be seduced. The young man who leaves a world of unbridled freedom and finds himself in the ranks of a stricly ordered community life, is astonished to realise that such apparent servitude is actually the greatest emancipation: the soul, by having its daily decisions made for it, is thus free to love God, to serve Him, to go carefree through the verdant prairies of conventual life. An ancient monk expressed it this way: “We are given the name of monk (monos, sole, unique) because of the life of undivided unity by which, drawing back our mind from the distractions of many things, we thrust ourselves forward to union with God and the perfection of holy love”.

In a Benedictine community, the soul discovers something else, namely the undreamt of depths of that wellspring which is the Sacred Liturgy. It finds itself drawn more and more into the mystery of Divine Worship, the form of which the Church has received from God Himself in the psalms and in the other inspired texts of Holy Scripture. The monk, like the nun, finds himself seven times a day and once in the night, admitted to join the angelic choirs in singing the praises of the Triune God. The “Holy, Holy, Holy” of the Seraphim is no longer just an expression: it is his life, a life now placed like incense on the hot coals of Divine Love, rising into the vaults of creation, ravishing the Heart of God as it consumes the heart of the man who is blessed to have been chosen.

This small army of men and women who spend their lives in cloisters, standing for hours a day in their choir stalls, thus becomes the representative of humanity before God. In a world that forgets God when it does not reject Him completely, the monk sings, he chants, he shouts with all his strength: “God alone is good, God alone is holy, God alone is worthy to be served and praised. Let my life be consumed in that holocaust, let me lose my life as long as by it a bit more love may be returned to the Sacred Heart, so that when He looks out over the world, at least there, in that humble choir stall, a heart may beat with pure, holy love of the Creator.”

Such a life is one of which our world is in dire need. The French author Paul Valéry once wrote that the day is fast coming when, in order to find free men, one will have to go into the cloisters. That day has come. The light of civilisation is disappearing over the horizon, and humanity is now handed over to barbarians whose ruthless dispatching of all we hold to be sacred has no parallel in recorded history. Just as the fall of the Roman Empire saw not only faith but also culture being preserved in the monasteries throughout the dark ages, so now, as we embark upon an even darker age, let us pray that the light of Christ, the light of God, will be kept aflame in monasteries where growing numbers of monks and nuns will turn their backs on a decadent world, only to find that they have stepped into the enchanted world of peace, truth, love and holiness, a universe in which the divine oxygen of purity and authentic virtue makes for a life truly fulfilled, filling to the brim every human desire.

Then, and only then, will the tidal wave of ungodliness, worn out and reduced to nothingness by its own culture of death, fall; then will armies of souls, purified by years of prayer and sacrifice, go forward to help rebuild an authentic civilisation in which love reigns because God reigns. Monks indeed are “eschatological signs”, signs of the eschaton, signs of the world to come. By their very existence, by their habit and their tonsure, they point to the end of time and beyond. They are the constant reminder that there is something else, there is Someone else. There is not just this world as we see it. 

But a final question needs to be asked — I will not venture a response: If, from the eyes of faith, such a life is essential to the world’s survival, is there, in the eyes of the world, room for it? Will there really be tolerance for it in the future? We are seeing more and more that tolerance is just a weapon in the hands of ideology. It is used to demand respect for wayward forms of life that the ancients proscribed. But when the promoters of such ideologies rise to power, there is not likely to be tolerance for those who believe and preach and teach and live moral absolutes. In a world of relativism, everything goes except the absolute. 

History has given us examples of religious, monks and even nuns ripped from behind their grilles, persecuted, condemned, guillotined, for their refusal to bend the knee before the idol of the day. History repeats itself, and the descendants of the monsters that laid waste Europe in the mid-twentieth century have spread their tentacles now to the most remote corners of our world. We can expect rough times ahead, for all of us who stand with Jesus and His Church. But we move forward fearlessly, because we know that the victory belongs to the One who allowed Himself to be crucified. Love conquers the spiral of hate. Life comes after death. Spring follows winter. And after the storm ensues a great calm.

The blood that continues to flow

Today the traditional Roman Liturgy honours the Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The desire of the Church is that we turn our minds and hearts to the contemplation of how much our redemption cost our dear Saviour, and the infinite value of that Blood shed once on Calvary, and daily poured out on our altars in atonement for sin.

Many of the saints came to understand the importance of spending time with Jesus on Calvary, allowing His Precious Blood to purify them and becoming a channel through which it could reach many others.

Among them St Thérèse of Lisieux writes: St. Thérèse: “One Sunday, looking at a picture of our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls. The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: ‘I thirst!’ These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls. As yet, it was not the souls of priests that attracted me, but those of great sinners; I burned to snatch them from the eternal flames.” (Story of a Soul).

Let us then turn ourselves towards the crucifix; let us kneel there for a long time in adoration and thanksgiving; let us unite our little sacrifices with His big sacrifice, confident that it will contribute to the salvation of souls. "I complete in my flesh the sufferings that are wanting to the Passion of Christ for the sake of His Body which is the Church" (Col 1:24).

He shall bring joy

The angel had told Zachariah that the birth of John would bring great joy to many. Isn't it moving that today, over 2,000 years later, the birth of that little boy continues to bring great joy to souls? What is the source of that joy? It is this: the birth of the Baptist announces the coming of Christ, that Jesus whose ways John was to prepare. And so we rejoice for all that has come to us through this child as it is recorded in the sacred history of the New Testament.

But we can also see in the Baptist the forerunner of all those who are called upon to prepare the paths of grace in souls. Nothing gives greater joy to a man than to lead a soul to Christ. John the Baptist says as much in the third chapter of the Gospel of John: 

"He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, who standeth and heareth Him, rejoiceth with joy because of the bridegroom's voice. This my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase: but I must decrease" (Jn 3:29-30)

The bridegroom is our Lord Jesus Christ who has come into this world in order to lead each soul to the intimacy of divine nuptials with Himself. John the Baptist is the prototype of souls who are called to work together with Christ, to bring souls to Him, to prepare them for such a lofty destiny. And then, once he has lead them to Christ, he steps aside: He must increase, I must decrease.

Such is the mission, the honour and glory of priests and all those who work in the Lord's vineyard to lead souls to Jesus. May our joy become full indeed by the sight of legions of souls discovering their calling to become bride of Christ!

Launching out into the deep

Today's Gospel of the first miraculous catch of fish in Luke chapter 4 was the obvious choice: after the octaves of Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart, the memory of the Church, which is the Holy Spirit Himself, brings back to our minds what happened on Pentecost, and which was already prefigured at the beginning of the public life of our Lord: The Saviour sends out his disciples, transforming them by the power of the Holy Spirit, from fishers of fish into fishers of men. 

It is not without significance that the miracle takes place after the Lord has nourished the people with His word, for the marvels of God's triumph over the world and its vices come about when we spend time listening to Him, in reading the Holy Scriptures, meditating upon them, letting them sink into our minds and hearts.

Then are ready to obey the Lord's command to launch out into the deep. St Peter tells the Lord that they have laboured all night without any success. Obviously, there can be no fruit of eternal life as long as the Lord is not with us. It is only at His behest that the harvest of souls becomes possible.

Peter has laboured all night already, but Peter has the humility to do what he's told. And that is how he is given the grace to preside, for all ages, over the apostolate that will bring the Word of God to souls.

In John chapter 4, Our Lord tells the Samaritan woman: "the fields are white, ready for the harvest", and here we see that the sea is full of fish, waiting to be caught with the net of truth and love and thus transported into the eternal shore of Heaven. 

Just as in those days, the Lord today is looking for labourers to go out there and catch His fish: the souls He created, and wants to bring into HIs kingdom. Let us pray that more and more souls, the souls especially of young men and young women, will hear the call to go out there, to launch out into the deep, the deep first of all of their own hearts, to examine them and confess their sins, and then the deep of a life given entirely to Christ and His Church in the religious and monastic life.

Never before in history have there been so many souls out there, ripe for the harvest. Lord, send labourers onto Your harvest! Raise up legions of souls who will dedicate their lives to listening to the wonderful Lady of Cana telling the servants: "Do whatever He tells you".  Then will there be plenty of delicious wine, that is, the sweet love of God, of which our world is in such dire need. 

The terrible God of the Eucharist

There is a somewhat surprising adjective used to refer to God in Psalm 75 (76). It is used thrice in the psalm, and it is "terrible". "Thou art terrible, and who shall resist thee?... Vow ye, and pay to the Lord your God: all you that are round about him bring presents. To him that is terrible, even to him who taketh away the spirit of princes: to the terrible with the kings of the earth".

God is terrible, then. Let's say He inspires terror and fear, He is so awesome that when one comes face to face with Him, one is overcome by trembling. That's the idea. It's important to keep in mind the context of the psalm in which a remembrance is made of the defeat of God's enemies: those who oppose Him have reason indeed to fear, for what appeared to be their might will be shattered to pieces by His omnipotence.

But all that is Old Testament theology, right? Wrong. It's so wrong that the Church of the New Testament thought it appropriate to use the verse in the sacred liturgy at, of all places, the communion verse on the 17th Sunday after Pentecost. It might seem out of place to put this verse on the lips of those who are about to approach the altar to receive the Bread of Angels. Or is it? 

For many today, the Eucharist is essentially a holy meal at which we partake to be strengthened on our Christian path of life. But it is often forgotten that the One contained in the Holy Eucharist is the same God who is here, in this psalm, described as "terrible".

St Paul understood that when he wrote to the Corinthians (1 Co 11:27-29): "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself".

Such a teaching is based upon the reality that God is great, He is awesome. Before Him, the creature must humble himself, ever ready to receive God's grace, but conscious of the fact that it is not something he is entitled to. 

And this is pre-eminently true when it comes to the Holy Eucharist, which contains the entire spiritual good of the Church. We must be immensely grateful for this ineffable Gift of God's presence, and strive to make ourselves less unworthy by confessing our sins before approaching the altar, firmly resolved to part with any evil-doing in our lives. Otherwise, the encounter with the all-loving God at Mass might end up being a worsening of our deeds, a provocation of the "terrible God".

On this feast of Corpus Christi then, let our love, devotion and and joy grow, but side by side with our respect, our adoration, our wholesome and God-saving fear of the Divine Majesty.

Being there

In her not well-known enough prayer to the Trinity, St Elisabeth of the Trinity, after having asked for the grace that her soul might be God's "Heaven, His cherished dwelling, His home of rest", adds: "May I never leave Thee there alone, but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring and wholly surrendered to Thy creative action". 

Do we not recognise ourselves in this? How often, spiritually speaking, are we "with it", or rather "with Him"? It reminds me of St Augustine's "Thou wert within, but I was without!". We don't have to go far to find God. He is right there in our hearts, offering His love and begging for ours. But we are all too often elsewhere.

Of course, we have all sorts of "important" things to do, all sorts of items that need our attention: but it's all at the price of a sometimes unending forgetfulness of the Divine Guest of the soul. 

On this feast of the Most Holy Trinity, let us spend a good amount of time contemplating this revealed reality: God, the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, dwells in the souls of the just (that is, the souls who are in the state of grace, meaning baptised and without mortal sin), He sets up His dwelling there and seeks to share with us the secrets of His divine life.

And even souls who are not in God's grace,  God is calling them to enter into themselves and be moved by the grace of conversion, to return to Him and be saved through the sacraments of the Church.

How foolish we are not to take Him up on His offer, spending all our time in the far away regions of a thousand distractions! Let us return to our heart, and may we find the Beloved there, and may He never be saddened again by our untimely departure.

Prayer of St Elisabeth of the Trinity

O my God, Trinity Whom I adore! help me to become utterly forgetful of self, that I may establish myself in Thee, as changeless and as calm as though my soul were already in eternity. May nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth from Thee, O my immutable Lord! but may I penetrate more deeply every moment into the depths of Thy Mystery.

Give peace to my soul; make it Thy Heaven, Thy cherished dwelling, Thy home of rest. May I never leave Thee there alone, but be wholly present, my faith wholly vigilant, wholly adoring and wholly surrendered to Thy creative action.

O my beloved Christ, crucified by love, how I long to be the bride of Thy heart; how I long to cover Thee with glory, and to love Thee... until I die of very love! Yet I feel my weakness, and ask Thee to clothe me with Thyself, to identify my soul with all the movements of Thy Soul, to immerse me in Thyself, to possess me, to substitute Thyself for me, that my life may be but a radiance of Thy Life. Come into me as Adorer, as Restorer, as Saviour!

O Eternal Word, Utterance of my God! I yearn to spend my life in listening to Thee, to become wholly docile, that I may learn all from Thee. Then, through all nights, all emptiness, all helplessness, I long to gaze on Thee always and to dwell beneath Thy lustrous beams. O my beloved Star! So fascinate me that I may never again withdraw from Thy radiance!

O consuming Fire! Spirit of Love! come upon me and reproduce in me, as it were, an incarnation of the Word, that I may be to Him another humanity wherein He renews all His mystery.

And Thou, O Father, bend towards Thy poor little creature and overshadow her, beholding in her none other than the Beloved, in Whom Thou hast set all Thy pleasure.

O my “Three,” my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity wherein I lose myself! I surrender myself to Thee as Thy prey. Immerse Thyself in me, that I may be immersed in Thee, until I depart to contemplate in Thy light the abyss of Thy greatness!

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!