Twentieth Sunday of Ordinary Time

When I began discerning a vocation to New Melleray, Fr. Neil was the Vocation Director. He cautioned me not to come here thinking I would find happiness. Today, Jesus seems to be saying something similar: “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” This division begins interiorly. The fire He starts is desire.

God desires to liberate us by drawing us to his Son. We have this vague desire in our hearts for happiness. We seek it both in God and in what the world holds as important. A “world” is a context which defines what matters. What matters makes certain courses of actions stand out over others. It is a story that gives sense to our lives. Our monastic separation from the world calls us to repeatedly decide which side we are on, which story we will live out, which courses of action we will take. “The world” says to live for satisfaction. We can’t help but acknowledge the deceptive attractiveness of that idea. Christ says to live for values that are pervasive, enduring, and deep. If we choose this, we choose a story in which we are encouraged to pray intensely that our graced desire for God be strengthened, so that it comes more and more into harmony with God’s desires.

As one scholar put it, “The struggle that results from God’s …call of grace and our finite ability to respond is the central dynamic in the process of conversion.” Struggle is a good sign that the heart -our affectivity- is being engaged. Our desire is becoming deliberate. If it is not, there will be little change, little conversion.

Conversion in us means being torn out of one mind-set or world and being placed in another. The first is that of fallen humanness, the second is divine. This is the division Jesus brings. He brings poverty and insults. There is no earthly reason why a person should prefer poverty and insults to riches and honors. 

So…the reason lies elsewhere. Bearing the poverty of our personal resources and the insults to our most cherished values is a type of martyrdom. In the marital and monastic ways of life one does not accept martyrdom out of loyalty to an institution. One does not die for New Melleray Abbey, or the Order of Cistercians or even for the Catholic Church. One dies for a relationship.   

This relationship is born in us, as it was in Christ, when at baptism we are declared to be the Beloved of God. We respond by falling in love with the person of Jesus.  Yielding to the attractiveness of Christ makes it possible to yield to the non- attractiveness of His way of poverty and insults. This yielding consists in emptying ourselves.

Jesus tells us there is a baptism He must undergo and He is in aguish until it is accomplished. Christ is the truth. In the struggle of conversion, the struggle with dark spirits and those of light we must resort to the truth. When a dark spirit tempts us to doubt that we are the beloved of the Father, the surest way to dispel it is to ask the simple question “Is it true?”

We need two attitudes to do this: firmness and freedom. In firmness we join with Jesus and confront the Dark Spirit saying “I know who you are.” And in freedom we realize that with this we have done our part. The rest is up to God.

In choosing which side of this division we will take, we become, like Christ, a cup. A cup must be empty before it can be filled. If it is already full it cannot be filled again except by emptying it out. Apart from being hollowed out it cannot receive. This is especially true of God’s word, Jesus Christ.

He can take root only in a hollow. And if He is preferred, we will receive His desire…and we will set the world on fire!