Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt. 13:44-52 ]
Once there was a cheerful, bouncy, eight year old girl who saw a necklace of costume jewelry in the mall, a string of pearls. She pleaded with her father to buy it. “Please” she said. “Please?” Her father was sweet and very loving. He couldn’t resist his daughter’s request. She wore the necklace every chance she had. It made her feel beautiful and grown up.
At bed time her father would read a story to her. One night after the story he asked, “Do you love me?” She replied, “Oh yes, Daddy, I love you.” Then he said, “May I have your necklace?” Tickled by the thought, she laughed saying, “Daddy! You can’t wear a pearl necklace.” He smiled and replied, “I guess you’re right,” and he kissed her good night.
Next evening, after another story, he said, “Jenny, do you really love me?” She responded with a beautiful smile and shining eyes. “Daddy, I do. I do love you!” Again he asked the unthinkable, “May I have your pearls?” This time she didn’t laugh, but looking straight into his eyes she replied, “Oh, let me give you my kisses instead.” She kissed him and he said, “Thank you, Jenny. I love you, too.”
The next night when he asked for her necklace his daughter was shaken, “Please, Daddy, not my pearl necklace. Please? You know I love you.” And he did. So he said to her, “Yes, I know. You are so precious.”
Once again, the following night he came to read a bedtime story. When he entered her room Jenny was sitting on the bed with her legs crossed Indian-style. As he came closer, he noticed her chin was trembling and a tear rolled down her cheek. He asked, “What is it, Jenny, what’s the matter?” She extended her hands to him, and there, resting in her palms, was the pearl necklace. With a quiver and a smile she said, “Here, Daddy, it’s for you. I want you to have it. I love you.” With tears in his own eyes, Jenny’s father reached out with one hand and took away the string of costume pearls. With his other hand he reached into his pocket and pulled out a blue velvet case nesting a golden strand of genuine pearls and gave them to her. She opened her mouth wide, gasping at their beauty, and then flung her arms around his neck kissing him with tears of joy. All the time he was waiting for her to give up her costume necklace out of love for him and he would give her genuine treasure.
If we do not experience the joy of giving up whatever is asked of us for love of God, perhaps it is because we are more in love with ourselves and costume jewelry than with God. Whatever the cost, nothing comes close to the infinite value of God’s love. But let us be careful, because we are capable of betrayals that will end in weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In ancient Rome, there really was a pearl of great price, so beautiful and rare that no merchant could afford to buy it. But Julius Caesar was much more than an ordinary merchant or a regional king. He ruled an empire. His biographer, Suetonius, writes how Julius Caesar purchased that singular magnificent pearl at the extraordinary cost of sixteen tons of gold. Then the emperor did a most astonishing thing. Caesar gave it away as a present to the mother of his protege, Markus Brutus. Not long afterwards the hand of Brutus was among the assassins who plunged their knives into Caesar. In anguish at this unthinkable treachery, the dying emperor whispered those painful words of a betrayed friend against such devilry, “Et tu, Brute?”
Compared to the value of God’s love in the kingdom of heaven, Caesar’s gift was a piece of costume jewelry. Our Father, out of sheer love for us, offers us genuine treasure. Yet, we are also capable of betrayal, of turning our hearts against divine love by acting like devils, loving selves more than Jesus who emptied himself by dying on a cross for us.
Let us not be afraid to follow Jesus, to suffer some emptying of self because “all things work for good for those who love God,” and, “the sufferings of the present time are nothing compared with the glory to be revealed,” (Rom 8:18 and 28). May we have a heart like St. Paul who said, “… because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord … I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them as so much rubbish, [so much dung], that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Phil. 3:8-9).
After all the stories and parables, at the end of the Gospels, Jesus asks, “Do you love me, do you really love me more than all these other things?”
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 2Kgs 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15]
What does a miracle cost? Have you ever thought about the price that is paid for a miracle? Here's a miracle I played out in my imagination that helped me to appreciate the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, related in this morning's gospel, and how much that cost.
I imagine Brother Placid hard at work in his garden one morning and, at one point, he looks up and is amazed to see Archbishop Jerome Hanus standing at the end of the cabbage patch, dressed in his episcopal robes. He greets Placid and waves him over. With some gravity, the Archbishop says to Placid: “As you know, Brother, we're in the midst of the worst drought since the middle of the last century. For weeks and weeks the Catholic faithful have been praying to God, begging Him to send rain. Well, our prayers have been answered. Jesus, Jesus Christ Himself showed up for mass at a parish in Des Moines last Sunday. And it's been raining there ever since; pouring down buckets of rain, non-stop for a week, isn't that wonderful? Here's the problem: It's only raining in Des Moines. No place else is getting a drop of rain, just Des Moines. Farmers all over the rest of the state are losing thousands of acres of crops. So”, the Archbishop tells Placid, “Jesus called all the bishops of Iowa together for a meeting and said to us: 'How are we going to get water to all those farmers?' One of the bishops said: 'A hose?' And Jesus said: 'Bring it to me. Bring me the hose.' And that's why I'm here,” the Archbishop tells Placid, and pointing to his feet says: “Brother, I need the hose.” “You want my garden hose?” Placid says. Says the Archbishop: “We're going to need all the hose we can get.” Now, Placid, is alarmed. We're in the middle of a drought. If he gives away his garden hose to the Archbishop, he's not going to be able to water his vegetables, but Placid is an obedient monk, and without another word spoken, he complies, and hands over the hose. But in his mind he's saying to himself: “If this works, it'll be a miracle.”
What does a miracle cost? Hearing some people speak you would think miracles are for free. What do you think? Was the miracle of the loaves and the fishes, described in today's gospel, a miracle people enjoyed for free? It may have been free for most of the five thousand people who witnessed it, but for one of them it cost a lot. It cost him everything. Jesus didn't say to the boy: “Give me three of those loaves and one of those fish. You'll need a bite to eat yourself after all . . .” He said: “Give me the loaves and fishes. Give them to me. Give me everything, all the food you have to eat, so that I can give it away to strangers.”
Brothers, if God is going to do a miracle, somebody's going to pay for it. Show me a really great miracle and I will go to the biblical record and produce for you an invoice that proves someone paid for it, and paid dearly. Was the covenant entered into by Yahweh and Israel a miracle? Here is the invoice: “Abraham, take your son, your one and only son, Isaac, the son you love more than anything in the world, and slay him; slay him on a pile of wood as a sacrifice to God.” The greatest miracle of all was the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and he paid for it with his life. When God works a miracle, countless numbers of people receive it as a free gift, but one person pays a terrible price.
Reflect a moment about the perseverance of a monk, of each one of us monks gathered here this morning. Our perseverance in the monastic way of life is a miracle; and we paid a price for it. On the day we took our Solemn Vows, Jesus said to each one of us: “Give it to me, give me everything that is yours.” “There's not much here Lord” is what most of us told him in our hearts. But he was insistent: “Give it to me.” and we gave it to him, everything: our possessions, our bodies, the possibility of marriage, children, a career, our stubbornness, our selfishness, our cowardice and unbelief, everything we had we gave to Jesus, in a transaction which, for most of us, happened many years ago . . . and we're still here. That, brothers, is a miracle. For our guests and neighbors, this miracle is enjoyed for free. But not for us.
Preparing for an abbatial election in less than a year, we are now making our way through a rather arduous “transition process.” We are going to have a new abbot at New Melleray, after living together under abbot Brendan for thirty years. What are the implications of a change of an abbot after 30 years? What is going to change when Dom Brendan steps down? Well, I've done this one time before at Holy Spirit Abbey. I watched Dom Augustine Moore retire after a quarter of a century as abbot. What changed at Holy Spirit after he retired? In subtle but significant ways, almost everything. Why does everything change? We don't know. It just does. Everything is changing. It's, evidently, an idea God got into His head a long time ago. Does what I am saying make you nervous? Does it make you happy? Brothers, Jesus is saying to you now: “Tell me. Tell me what you're thinking and feeling. Talk to me.” Jesus wants to know what your thoughts are about a change of leadership at New Melleray. He is actually asking you to talk to him about that. Questionnaires are showing up in our mailboxes with questions like: “What is your personal vision for the future of New Melleray?” Don't ask: “Whose idea was this questionnaire anyway?” Don't say: “Who is asking me all these questions?” It is the Lord.
Each of us has stored up inside, a few pieces of crusty old bread, a few dozen feet of cracked old garden hose. Jesus is asking us to give that to him, our thoughts about the future. Not the ones we like or decide are the most presentable. He wants all of them. Don't tell Jesus: “I really haven't much to say . . .” Just say it. Give it to Jesus. And yes, what you are saying to yourself in your thoughts is quite true: “If this transition process works it'll be a miracle.”
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 1 Kg 19:9-13; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33 ]
One of the most prominent messages of the New Testament is that Jesus Christ came to announce the nearness of the kingdom of God in his words and to inaugurate its presence in the world through his actions. As Christ’s disciples we are called to carry on his mission with our words and our actions. For the past three Sundays and also at the daily Eucharist beginning last week we have been listening to chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew; which is one of the concise summaries of Jesus’ teaching on the kingdom of God. At the risk of going over the obvious I find it helpful to reflect on some of characteristics that chapter 13 tells us about the kingdom.
In the first place Jesus does not give detailed descriptions of what the kingdom of God looks like. God’s kingdom has its beginning in this world, but its fulfillment is always beyond the world we experience and know. Jesus uses images and parables to point us toward the kingdom and encourage us when we may think we have lost our way. The kingdom of God is like seed which the sower scatters on the ground. We cannot control how other people will accept our witness to the kingdom. Our task is to live according to our faith in the gospel to the best of our ability, and leave the results to the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of those we meet. We may think our contribution is insignificant, but it is God who gives growth to the seed we sow and who brings it to fruition in his way and in his time.
The kingdom may be hidden from our view like leaven in flour or like a treasure in a field. To recognize its presence in obscure beginnings and in unexpected places we need the Holy Spirit to enlighten our hearts and our minds so that we may discern the kingdoms’ presence in our midst. First and foremost we need to be searching for the kingdom ourselves and willing to sacrifice our less important concerns when God calls us to leave them behind. We cannot receive the gifts God has in store for us if we are clinging to what we already have.
As the values and attitudes of secularism gain increasing strength in our society it may seem like anything we do or say will be choked out of existence. We are not the masters of the harvest. God is! We are God’s workers and we need patience to trust that God’s ways are wiser than our ways and will prevail even in the face of what appears to be defeat. God did not prevent the crucifixion. He answered with the resurrection.
Judgment is not a popular theme these days. Nevertheless it takes a very skewed reading of the New Testament not to realize that there will be a sorting out of the just from the unjust. We can all be grateful that God is patient and gives us time to come to our senses. Still we will eventually give an account to God of how we have used the gifts and opportunities he has given us. God is always ready to forgive our failings, but we must have the honesty and humility to admit our sins and persevere in the way of conversion.
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Gen 18: 20-32, Col 2: 12-14, Lk 11: 1-13]
Bible translations sometimes convey meanings not intended by the original Greek or Hebrew text. One version of today’s parable says that when a neighbor kept persistently knocking on the door after being told to go away, the householder got out of bed, opened the door, and “gave him what he was asking for.” I can see it now, a punch right to the man’s kisser.
But that’s not what our Lord was thinking when he told this parable urging us to persevere in prayer, is it? Yet, it seems that some prayers do go unanswered, not with a blow to the face, but with an unopened door, just plain ignored by our divine Friend. This can’t be caused by a lack of care for us on God’s part, who we know loves us. So, if some prayers go unanswered, is it our fault, because we are sinners?
That some prayers go unanswered also seems to be taught in the Bible itself. The prophet Habakkuk cries out, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?” And the Psalmist laments, “How long, O Lord, will you forget me?”
That some prayers go unanswered also seems to be taught by experience. People die in wars, and by abortion. People suffer violence by rape, physical abuse, or character assassination. Others are afflicted by disease, accidents and breakdowns. Is every famine, every plague, every death a monument that a petition was not granted? They sought and did not find.
Yet, Jesus says, “Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks the door will be opened.” Jesus teaches that our prayers always have infallible efficacy. They are always valuable, always worthwhile, always answered, never wasted.
That some prayers could go unanswered because the one asking is a sinner is completely contrary to the teaching of Jesus. The guilty tax collector prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” and went home justified, while the Pharisee who did not think he needed forgiveness, didn’t ask, and was not reconciled with God. The sinful woman who touched Jesus and washed his feet with her tears, heard Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven.” On Calvary a thief asked to be remembered, and Jesus promised him heaven that day. The prayer of a sinner for mercy is always answered.
Scripture itself really affirms that our prayers are always answered. To Habakkuk, whose cries for help seemed to go unheard, the Lord himself replied, saying, “The vision awaits its time, yet it hastens to the end, it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay” (Hab 2:3). Very often the answer takes time. We ask for our daily bread, but the seed takes months to grow. We ask for healing, but flesh and bones need time to mend. We ask for patience, but virtues are habits formed by many repetitions. All good things come to us from above, but many take time. When the time is fulfilled, we rejoice because of our possession of the good we sought.
What about our experience of suffering and death, aren’t they monuments to unanswered prayers? Not according to Jesus. He teaches that every prayer is infallibly answered with good gifts. “What father among you will give his son a serpent if he asks for a fish, or a scorpion if he asks for an egg? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give good things, even the Holy Spirit, to those who ask him.” We need to pray, not to change Gods’ will, but to fulfill it. For there are many gifts that God wants to give us because we pray for them. When St. Catherine Laboure had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, she saw precious stones on each of Mary’s fingers emitting rays of light that fell upon the earth. But from some of these stones there were no rays of light at all. Asked why, our Lady replied, “[These] are graces for which I am not asked.”1
When we pray, the answer will not infallibly be the one we desire, the one we are looking for, because we might ask for something harmful. But God will always answer with something good. I’ve read that C.S. Lewis once said we will spend eternity thanking God for those prayers of ours that he didn’t answer the way we wanted.2 If an illness is not cured, may we not receive instead the strength to share in Christ’s work of redemptive suffering and bring healing to the hearts and souls of those we love, which is a greater good than our physical healing? A person whose death is not averted finds instead the better gift of eternal life and happiness. There is no evil that can fall upon us from which God cannot bring greater good to those who ask. Elizabeth Leseur writes, “I know that no cry, no desire, no appeal proceeding from the depths of our soul is lost, but all go to God, and through Him to those [for whom we pray.]3 [Someone says,] ‘I can do nothing for her but pray.’ Nothing but that! But that is everything!“4 “Not one of our tears, not one of our prayers is lost, and they have a power that many people never suspect.”5 Elisabeth was married to a wealthy but adamant atheist. Out of love for him, she offered her life for his conversion. After her premature death in 1914, while reading her diary he was slowly converted, entered the Dominicans, and was ordained in 1923. No prayer is unanswered!
Once the only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed fervently to God to be rescued, but no one came. Eventually he built a little hut to protect himself from the elements. Then one day, after scavenging for food, he came back to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. He was stunned with grief and anger. He complained, “Oh, God, how could you do this to me!” But a little later, a ship came and rescue him. He asked. “How did you know I was here?” The captain replied, “I saw your smoke signal.” It’s easy to get discouraged when things go badly and prayer seems to go unanswered. But don’t lose heart, for God is at work in our lives, bringing good even out of pain and suffering. So, remember, the next time your little hut is burning to the ground it might just be the beginning of an answer to your prayers.
1. Omer Englebert, “Catherine Laboure and the Modern Apparitions of Our Lady,” P.J. Kenedy and Sons, New York, 1959, 34-35.
2. Quoted by Ronald Rolheiser, “Against an Infinite Horizon” p. 173.
3. Elizabeth Leseur, “My Spirit Rejoices” p. 55.
4. Ibid, p. 69.
5. Ibid, p. 101
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Gen 18:20-32; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13]
I’m sure all of us recall memorizing the Lord’s Prayer when we were children. My grand-nephew, Jonah, learned it at his mother’s side. He was 4 years old and he and his mom, my niece, Holly, had been working on it for several nights. Finally, he was ready to go solo. Holly listened proudly as he knelt by the bed, reciting it perfectly right up to the end when he said, “…lead us not into temptation, but deliver us some e-mail. Amen.”
As children we learned the Lord’s Prayer by memory; we came to the monastery to learn it by heart. Someone once said that the Lord’s Prayer is the sum total of religion and morals. Thoughtful reflection on the prayer has shown that over the centuries. Those who have studied this prayer have found that each of the seven petitions in the prayer reflects one of the seven foundational virtues of the Christian life.
Our first request of “Our Father” is that His name be hallowed. God’s name reveals Who He is. To hallow that name means to recognize its holiness. We ask here not that His name be made holy—it already is—but that we recognize it as such. In praying this we pray that He open our heart to reverence Him, to prefer Him to self. This is the virtue of Faith. It knows God in a manner not possible apart from grace. That we ask this of “Our” Father means this will be done within the community of the Church.
Next we ask that “Thy kingdom come.” Our hearts long for a state of perfect justice, love, and understanding. In short, we long for ultimate happiness. This is the virtue of Hope. When our hope is informed by faith we pray that this kingdom of God, this ultimate happiness, come to pass in us.
The kingdom of God is where all happens according to His will. Thus, our next petition is that “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This is the purpose of the heart. Here we ask God for the virtue of Love so that we are able to keep His commandments by loving Him and neighbor. Love is the virtue of this petition because in heaven—where we see God face-to-face—love will remain when faith and hope are no longer needed.
The first three petitions, then, orient our hearts to our end: union with God. The last four petitions strengthen the heart here on earth by making it mindful of the means to that end.
“Give us this day our daily bread.” “This day” refers to our present life and the bread we seek, according to Thomas Aquinas, is the bread of wisdom. We are nurtured in our journey to God not by just edible bread, “but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Here we are asking for the virtue of Prudence, of the practical wisdom to know the truth and take it seriously.
The petition of the Lord’s Prayer that is least commented on in the Tradition is “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Forgiveness is the restoration of right relationship with another. Right relationship with others is also the practice of the virtue of Justice. Here we pray for a right relationship with God and with our neighbors. This is so important that of all the petitions this is the one Christ commented on further at the end of the prayer in the gospel of Matthew.
When we ask that God “lead us not into temptation” we ask for the virtue of Temperance. Obviously we will not be exempted from any temptations, but as one saint said, “We will not be conquered by temptation; it will not lead us where we do not want to go.” To not “want to go” means that we have been given the grace of temperance to enjoy the good things of life in moderation because our hope is set on the kingdom.
The final petition is to “deliver us from evil.” This does not mean we will be spared from experiencing evil, but that through the virtue of Fortitude it will never defeat us in our efforts to place our faith, hope, and love in the Father, in His kingdom, and in living for His will. It is important to remember that we are not asking for this deliverance for our personal comfort, nor so that we might be admirable to others. It is sought so that the display of His power, which does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, will occasion us and others to give God glory.
In this prayer, then, we pray that we become people that are enabled to enjoy true happiness that comes only from God, our Father. To enjoy that happiness we need the foundation of theological virtues to turn our hearts to God. We need the moral virtues to build on that foundation by using rightly the gifts He has given us.
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: 2Kgs. 4: 42-44; Eph. 4: 1-6; Jn. 6: 1-15 ]
There can be little argument that in this morning’s second reading St. Paul presents an ideal of peace and unity that has an immediate appeal. The contrast with the egoism, violence, dishonesty and lack of concern for others that is all too prevalent in the mass media cannot be missed. While the contrast is probably less pronounced, our own everyday situations fall short in varying degrees from the peace and unity that St. Paul presents. The misunderstandings and divisions within the Church are a painful reminder that we are not yet completely one body and one spirit united in one hope. We realize that an ideal is precisely that: something we have not yet achieved, but toward which we work. Nevertheless, while it is unrealistic to expect our ideals to be a here and now reality, a too ready realism can prevent us from acknowledging that we can and should make a greater effort in working toward a closer approximation to our ideals.
We can in humility admit our faults and persevere in the way of conversion. We can work at being more gentle and patient in our relationships with one another, and put a check on our self-centered behavior and egotistical and at times demeaning speech. I don’t doubt that with a little reflection each of us could produce a list of personal behaviors and attitudes that need to be corrected if we are to live with each other in peace and unity. The bright side of what may appear to be a too dim view of human nature is that Christianity presents us with more than ideals; the words of scripture and the sacraments support us on the way toward making our ideals a reality. The teachings of Jesus present us with the means we need to work toward peace and unity, and Jesus himself is the way to a life that brings peace and unity. The Eucharist, which is the fulfillment of this morning’s gospel reading, is the sacrament of unity. The sacrament of reconciliation allows us to repair the disunity and disharmony we introduce into the body of Christ.
When I was reflecting on this morning’s gospel the character other than Jesus himself who stood out for me was the boy who had the five loaves and two fish. We know nothing about him other than he was present and had five barley loaves and two fish. He is mentioned in only one verse of the gospel. Yet, after Jesus he was the person responsible for the others being fed. When we think of the ideals to which the gospel calls us and the contradictions within our personal situations to say nothing of the world at large, we may tempted to throw up our hands in despair and say it is all too big for us to make any difference. Left to ourselves that would be true; but we have not been left to ourselves. What Christ asks of us is that we offer him what little we have, and he will multiply it.
Our celebration of word and Eucharist this morning incorporates us into Jesus Christ and unites us with one another and with the whole body of Christ. We are not isolated individuals faced with an impossible task. Encouraged by the words of scripture and strengthened by the bread of life, in honesty and humility with faith and hope let us continue on the way to peace and unity.
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: Gen 18L:20-32, Col 2:12-14, Lk ll:1-13]
Lord to Thee be praise, to You our hymns are due, to Thee All Glory and to Your only Son, with the Holy Spirit forever and ever more.
This is the Day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad. And like all days it is good. Like the day one hundred years ago when God blessed my parents, my family, with a son, and Mother said, “Glory be to God.” And Father’s voice echoed, “Glory be to God.” You may question, how did I know? Because I was there!
It is a day to celebrate God’s Love as He reciprocated their love for Him in their fidelity in adding with His blessing, a son to their family.
God forbid that the son one hundred years later should take to himself any honors. Mother’s Glory be to God and Father’s echoing Glory be to God rang through the family and was carried on by their daughter Margaret, Sister Mary Ferdinand, of The Dominicans at Sinsinawa. God called Sister to her reward shortly after her Profession.
The son, Daniel, baptized Daniel, after spending a third of his life in the material world, wherein he served his country, learned of a monastery where Glory to God could be sung many times a day from hearts and voices filled with love for God and for one another. Having made inquiry and then applying and being accepted, he entered Our Lady of New Melleray Abbey. Was it a coincidence that the Abbey was dedicated to Mary, and that the name of the parish where Daniel was born and raised until entering the Abbey was the Visitation of Mary Parish?
On entering I discovered a great number of monks who silently went about the monastery, prayed and worked and dreamed. Their dream? It was a time when vocations were not lacking and the Abbey was in need of housing to care for newcomers. Not dreamers in the usual sense of the word, they were not, but workers as I soon found out. They had plans for putting finishing touches on
the original buildings. Their dream was to help others who would come in the future, to have more time, more space, and a larger church in which to express their love, a love that the world, at large, didn’t know about or sidestepped, having not understood the plans of God.
And the plans? If we slip back in time and remember, as kids, as school children, we learned a lesson and memorized it. Question: Who made you? God made me. Why did God make you? God made me to know Him. And what else? To love Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in the next. Simplicity personified.
And what does that have to do with a monk. A monk loves God. To love someone is to desire to please that someone. To bring about God’s Will, to win the World for God.
I, and all of us monks, are indebted to those dreamers who accomplished what they set out to do in the building of The Abbey. Many of them resting in peace, having been been rewarded for their labor of love. Indebted, too, to one another as we celebrate God’s Infinite love, sharing it in our silent commitment to one another and to flesh out those dreamers with love that never wanes.
And Your bond – our bond
of love – is the Eucharist, as we
continue our celebration.
PRAISE OF OUR GOD.
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: II Kings 4:42-44; Eph 4:1-6; Jn 6:1-15.]
As part of our celebration of the founding of our monastery in 1849, the abbot had some early historical manuscripts read in the refectory. These were the early days, before all the pine trees were planted. Day of horses and buggies, when the brothers had to get up at 2 a.m. to drive oxen to Garryowen so that they could be home by nightfall. Their whole day seemed taken up simply by the effort to provide basic necessities of life. How could they endure it?
In less than 100 years, there has been a tremendous change in our culture. We demand speed and couldn’t tolerate what they considered normal. We automatically expect things will be better. This year’s firework show will be bigger and better than last year’s. The new computer up-grade will be faster. The I-pod makes email look like primitive communication.
The difference between cultures is not just the number of new techniques and tools at our disposal. It is a whole way of experiencing life that is different. The culture, milieu, the symbolic environment is different. This milieu or environment conditions the very way we perceive problems and respond to them. Even before we think about it. We are in immediate contact with it. It sustains and nurtures us; the culture forms us and is the medium in which we communicate with each other and understand the meaning of our lives.
Maybe this explains the appeal and sense of wonder the stories of multiplication of loaves and fish can still have for us. Our culture can appreciate them. They are EFFORTLESS actions. No sweat or labor, no time-consuming processes. They are SENSATIONAL, AMAZING, and they BEWILDER OUR SENSES. The readings today emphasize the disproportion between the material available and the results achieved. “Of what use is so little for so many?” And they are UNQUESTIONABLY AND UTTERLY VALUABLE. What could be more worthwhile than to provide food for hungry people? This is the dream of every civilization.
These signs seem to eliminate evils, which dog and vex our lives. They are effortless instead of the curse of labor: the long, tedious, time and energy consuming processes, the submersion of self and enjoyment in a process, in the production of commodities. They are sensational instead of the dullness and opaqueness of most of our experience, senses, and imagination. We feel stifled by routine, repetition. Our only salvation lies in entertainment or the increased heightening sensation to overcome narcotic addictions. And the unquestioned value of these signs, meeting universal human needs rather than the sense that we are cut off from anything significant, that our life has become a succession of distractions and dispersions, that we can’t really make serious connections.
But perhaps we can fall into a trap which even most of those early witnesses and contemporaries of Jesus fell into. The multiplication of loaves and fish was a real event, but it was a sign of a deeper transformation that Jesus intended. And unless the transformation touched the unspoken cultural milieu and environment, the miracle became void and was aborted of its real meaning. The miracle was a sign, meant to engage a transforming belief in the hearts of those who witnessed it. Otherwise, it was just a magic trick, perhaps a fictional tale for the gullible. Those who witnessed this miracle were ready to incorporate this wonder into their own worldview, into their own cultural milieu. They were privileged to receive this gift, but assumed it meant they were to be a privileged people. They wanted to bring Jesus as KING into their closed world of domination and power. This is a temptation that remains alive in our culture.
It seems to me that what Jesus is doing in the gospel is seeking to transform the cultural milieu of 2000, 100 years ago, of today into a Eucharistic milieu and culture. He seeks to transform our world of labor and work, of sensation and attention and physicality, of search for meaning and communion into a world open to the presence of God. I think this is indicated by the three actions recorded in the Gospel:
1) He took bread. He took the little that was available, he used the material in his hands, and he overcame the objections and maybe even the scorn of his disciples. He honored the work of human hands, the labor and effort, which are symbolized in simple and complex human achievements.
2) He gave thanks. He acknowledged the living presence of his father, source of all creation, the provider, the One who is Good. In receiving, he kept his hands open and gathered in memory the history of himself and his people and all peoples.
3) He distributed the bread. He recreated the bonds of humanity and solidarity, which is only discovered by service of the needs of others. This is the hospitality of God which excludes no one. This is the abundance which is created in forgetfulness of self.
A culture, a milieu which is Eucharistic is one which is moved at its heart to do this in memory of Christ, to live in his memory, to bind together the actions of sensitivity in creation, acknowledgement in praise of the Father, and unlimited sharing of who we are in recreating the hospitality of God in our world.
Seventeenth Sunday of Ordinary Time
[Scripture Readings: I Kgs 3:5, 7-12; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 13: 44-52]
Last Sunday, July 17, 2005, a photo news appeared in Des Moines Register (Iowa) about the championship event for the World Series of Poker which took place in Las Vegas. The Australian, Joseph Hachem, defeated an American final contender in the long fight for the crown and the prize. Shown before him was a stack of cash amounting to $7.5 million. The photo event which featured him in big smiles was captioned, “The King of Bluffs.”
Mr. Hachem won the prize, a treasured amount, possibly in a day and after countless tries and experiences on the poker table. I wonder how long he would be able to keep that much amount of money before he loses it to future poker bets. If shortly so, the King of Bluffs is bluffed by the elusive material treasure.
Two years ago, in 2003, when Microsoft Corp. was involved in lawsuits filed by other competitors contending its monopoly of certain software products, an unkind email story about its founder Bill Gates circulated. Most likely, the management group would have just replied, saying, “No doubt, an enemy’s hand was behind it!” Anyway, the story goes like this: it is said that upon the death of Bill, he went to heaven and there he was met by St. Peter. He seemed to have made it to heaven. However, the saintly keeper of the keys asked him for the last time as to his eternal preference. He was shown a scene of the Stock Exchange pricing for his products which kept going up. He thought, I have had enough of that! The next scene was a slum area with crowded poor housing units somewhere in an indigent urban section of India. Bill expressed his displeasure for he had given lots of charitable donations already in his lifetime to different countries of the world. The final scene was presented to him. It was a tropical paradise resort in the Bahamas by the sea. There was the air of tranquility. His villa was adorned with the latest computer-operated technologies. He could practically have anything and everything that he wanted. The preview was not yet over, and at once, Bill told St. Peter that he preferred the last scene. So the saint granted his request to the great delight of the computer software magnate. Then off he went to enjoy his prized reward. A week later, he returned to St. Peter with complaints. He said that he opted for the third scene. However, it is the confusing mass of human conflicts was what he was into. There might have been a mistake, he told St. Peter. “Oh, I’m sorry,” the gatekeeper of heaven said, “I forgot to remind you that what you saw were screen savers.”
Well, we can call that story as the parable of the screen saver. On our computers, we can choose the fitting designs on screen savers to make us feel being on top of the world. Nonetheless, they are but illusions. In real life, this happens too, especially in our search for the treasure of our life. In hearing today’s Gospel parables about the treasure in the field or the pearl of great price,, there is excitement involved in finding any of them. No doubt, we exert most of our efforts to discover the hidden treasure to make life more pleasant and enjoyable.
Let us recall for a moment our wish list. What is it that I consider a treasure that I wish to find or keep in my life, either for the moment or on a prolonged basis? It could be the completion of studies and getting high-paying jobs. It could be the promotion in one’s business endeavor. It could be settling one’s mortgages on a dream house. It could be the quest for Mr. Right or Ms. Perfect. It could be the rare chance to win lots of cash, like Hachem, in a casino or lottery game. It could be to have an attractive body and a beautiful face. The list can go endless. Indeed there are lots of treasures to aspire for in this life. Some succeed in finding them, but how many end up disillusioned? A family was struggling hard to have a more comfortable life. When this was materially attained, it started to disintegrate because of misplaced emotional relationships.
How we wish we could be asked by the Lord as to what our wish in life be! However, the question is whether what we ask for would give us true happiness. We could at least be guided by King Solomon in his prayers to the Lord,. He was grateful to whatever has been given him. Among other things, he simply asked to be granted “an understanding heart to judge properly and to distinguish right from wrong,” . This humble appeal of Solomon was pleasing to the Lord. He has wisely asked not for long life, riches, vengeance against his enemies. But with a core gift of wisdom, the Lord granted Him all these things besides. It echoes what Jesus exhorts us to seek: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all other things will be given to you,” .
What the parables of the treasure and of the fine pearl tell us is that we should search for the Kingdom of God. May we appreciate it as the greatest find or discovery in our life! We devote all our attention and energy on the treasure we look for in this life. May we also focus all our efforts in this search for God’s Kingdom. It spells joy and fellowship. But it demands sacrifice. One needs an eye of faith to perceive beyond the appearances of things or events that may occur in life. The loss of a material wealth may be a cause for grieving, but it may give way to lasting treasure of quest for holiness and moral uprightness. The loss of a family member is pathetic, but it could result in one’s compassionate outreach to the sick, the orphans and the disabled. One who searches for God’s kingdom can say with St. Paul these words of wisdom: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose,”. In faith, one can see through human frailties and weaknesses and understand the love and mercy of God for oneself and the others. There is never a total wreck, failure or loss in one’s life for one who relates to God in faith. In truth, St. Paul himself attests that from the time that he has found Christ, a complete set of values became the focus of his life. He says, “I have come to rate all as loss in the light of the surpassing knowledge of my Lord Jesus Christ. For his sake I have forfeited everything; I have accounted all else rubbish so that Christ may be my wealth,” .
For a moment, let us look back into our life, say for the past year, two years, five or decade. What treasure was I in search before? How about now? Where do I focus all my efforts? Could I say, the treasure I look for is God and my intimacy with Him? Here is one amazing thing in this quest: We may be searching for God; in the end, He finds us.