Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Is 50:5-9a;  James 2:14-18;  Mk 8:27-35                                       

For everything there is a time: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to work and a time to rest.  When I went to Israel for summer courses in biblical studies, I learned there are three places where families like to go for rest and relaxation: first, swimming in the Mediterranean Sea; second, boating on the Sea of Galilee; and third, skiing on the slopes of Mount Hermon during the winter, and hiking along its beautiful streams and forests the rest of the year.  

From time to time Jesus and his disciples would try to get away by themselves to rest awhile. Once they went to Tyre and Sidon walking barefoot on the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean Sea.  Another time they looked for a deserted place on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. In today’s gospel Jesus and his disciples go to the spectacularly beautiful area of Caesarea Philippi, near the foot of Mount Hermon, with its lush groves of pomegranates and fig trees, hiking trails, and springs of water fed by the melting snows.

As Jesus and his disciples were enjoying this time alone he asked them: “But who do you say I am?”  Peter, God bless him, didn’t hesitate for a moment and said right away: “You are the Christ.” This had to be a truly happy moment for Jesus. Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve, the whole of creation waited for the coming of the Messiah.  Now he was here, and his disciples knew him.  

How appropriate that Jesus chose this particular place to ask, “Who do you say I am?” For thousands of years a rush of water,  the source of the Jordan River, has poured from the mouth of a great open cave at the foot of Mount Hermon. Very early in history this beautiful place was dedicated to pagan gods,  beginning with Baal, the Canaanite god of fertility.

After the conquests of Alexander the Great,  Hellenistic culture made it a shrine for Pan, the Greek god of nature, half man and half goat. Romans in their turn chose this place for a temple to the Roman god, Zeus, father of the heavens and ruler over other gods.  Here, where so many pagan gods were worshipped, Peter proclaims that Jesus is “the Christ,” the anointed One, the Messiah.  Today this entire complex of pagan shrines lies in ruins while the Church founded by Jesus on Peter, the Rock, stands strong.  

All that we have left from Pan,  the pagan god of lust who struck fear in his victims, is our English word for panic.  In one of the Peanuts comic strips, Sally Brown walks into a TV room just as the announcer at a golf tournament says, “There’s no tomorrow.” Misunderstanding his meaning, she goes into a panic. Running outside she yells, “There’s no tomorrow!! Hide! Flee! Run for the hills! Run to the rooftops!” In the last scene Sally, Linus and Snoopy are huddled on top of Snoppy’s doghouse waiting for the end to come.  Puzzled, Snoopy says, “I thought Elijah was supposed to come first.”

The apostles were equally puzzled when Jesus warns them not to tell anyone who he is,  and they were even more puzzled when he said that he must suffer greatly, be rejected and killed, and rise after three days. Peter panicked.  Taking Jesus aside he rebuked him.  This must never happen!  But Jesus, looking at his disciples, went even further and said:  “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The apostles wanted the kingdom without tribulation,  leisure without travail,  victory without a battle,  power without opposition. They had a long road to travel before they would share in the suffering and rising of the Messiah, of Jesus.

St. Teresa Benedicta, Edith Stein, writes: “Becoming one with Christ is our happiness on earth, the love of the cross in no way contradicts being a joyful child of God. Carrying the cross with Christ fills one with a strong and pure joy, and those who do so are builders of God’s kingdom, the most authentic children of God. … To suffer and be happy in suffering, to have one’s feet on the ground—walking on the dirty and rough paths of this earth—and yet to be enthroned with Christ at the Father’s right hand, to laugh and cry in this world while singing the praises of God with the choirs of angels—this is the life of the Christian until the morning of eternity breaks forth.1 She embraced being one with Christ and died at Auschwitz.

Jesus and his disciples never had another time of rest together. The final journey to Calvary began here, at Caesarea Philippi. As they set out on this last long walk to Jerusalem Jesus said,  ” … whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,  but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” Now this is amazing!  These weak disciples of little faith,  who feared suffering and death,  continued to follow Jesus.  even in their weakness and confusion.  And that is what we are trying to do.

When Cardinal Timothy Dolan spoke at a Symposium for International Religious Freedom, he said that violence against Christians continues around the world.  Then he said this most astonishing thing: that there are seventeen new martyrs for their faith every hour of every day all year long. And it’s getting worse,  not better.  Just look at Afganistan.  But do not panic and flee, for the Lord is our help,  we will not be disgraced.  For we know there is a time to work and a time to rest, a time to die and a time to rise!

  1. Saint Teresa-Benedicta of the Cross [Edith Stein] (1891-1942), Carmelite, martyr, co-patron of Europe Love of the Cross, 24/11/1934 (Institute of Carmelite Studies)
  2. Zenith,,  9-13-2012.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Sir 27:30-28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-35

Our monastic life is made up of a series of spiritual practices. These include, among others, chanting the Office, celebrating Eucharist, and observing times of private prayer. The entire day is composed of spiritual practices. They are intended to deepen our relationship with God. These practices shape our way of thinking and our wills. They do this for each of us by using one’s body, one’s soul (mind) and one’s spirit (heart). We use these dimensions of our existence as individuals and as a community. Because these spiritual practices structure our day and express common values, we enter community believing we have a common ethic. After all, we live by a Rule and the gospels. But… “It ain’t necessarily so.” So today we are given the spiritual practice of forgiveness.

Being a monastic is important to each of us. It makes a difference—an important difference—and so we care about it deeply. It affects the way we perceive the events of our lives, what we pay attention to. It puts into action our disposition for the noble. It is our identity, who we know ourselves to be and desire to become. Identity is best understood by looking at our most important relationships…and they are in community. These three dimensions are integrated by means of committed action to form one’s character. Our aim is to develop the character of Jesus Christ. We have found what matters most.

We cherish having that in common with one another. It forms relationships so close that we call one another “brother” and “sister.”  We share a closeness at our very deepest level. So, when we hurt another or become hurt in these relationships, it can be devastating. We didn’t think it could happen. But it has.

In today’s gospel the offense is financial. That is not likely to be the case in the monastery. The offense is likely much deeper, and more personal.

Since forgiveness is an important spiritual practice we are likely to employ it, but what happens if the offender is unrepentant, if she defends her mistake? It seems possible, even likely, that the offender would offend again… and perhaps they do! How does one get over it if it’s not over? One can forgive, but an unrepentant offender will not experience it and the victim will need to “on guard.”

In the gospel, the unforgiving servant is handed over to torturers. The unforgiving remain in bondage to the past; their torture is that the past offense still determines their present behavior and feelings. That’s a hard way to live in community.

So we begin our day around the Eucharistic table enacting forgiveness ritually so that we can perform it away from the table. In other words, we live by something more important than the offense and the offender. We keep our commitment to what matters most. We’ll still feel the pain (that’s why the offense is called a “sin”), but it will not distort our perception through constant attention to it; it will not sour our disposition toward the noble by turning us to vengeance; and our identity as a disciple of Christ will remain constant.

The constancy of our discipleship is the key factor in forgiveness. Injury reminds us of our vulnerability, our powerlessness. It is then that we sincerely seek the power only God can give. “Call on me in the day of distress” the psalmist says. We call on Him for help because we remember when He forgave us…and how it transformed our lives. We give the glory to Him. And then, as monks and nuns, we will forever live in grateful contemplation of He Who presides over us all.                               



Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time at Mississippi Abbey

Scripture Readings: Sir 27:30-28:7; Rom 14:7-9; Mt 18:21-3

A 12 year-old girl had an unusually beautiful singing voice. Her parents weren’t sure whether to send her to music school or have her voice professionally trained. They asked a celebrated musician to listen to her and advise them. She sang for him. When she finished there was a long silence. Finally he spoke. “She sings beautifully,” he said, “When her heart has been broken, she will sing sublimely.”  Why is that? 

There is a difference between what breaks the heart of a little girl and what breaks the heart of a woman. Why is that?  Recall a time when you have been loved beyond what you knew yourself to deserve. 

A short time ago we chanted in Psalm 50 that “God does not spurn a broken heart.” Our hearts are vulnerable to what they are set upon. When the heart is set upon something less than God, it is set upon something that can be lost. And when it is lost and the heart broken, and if, rather than fix it, we listen to it, we may find God, Whom we can never lack when we love Him.

The wicked servant’s problem is that his heart was not broken by being forgiven, by being loved beyond what he knew himself to deserve. His pride was too great. He forgot something. As Deuteronomy 8 says, when we forget Who brought us out of the land of Egypt, the place of bondage, we become “haughty of heart.” Moses said to never forget this because, “Otherwise, you might say to yourselves, ‘It is my own power and the strength of my own hand that has obtained for me this wealth.’”

Love is seeking the good of the other for the other’s own sake. Our hearts find it difficult to believe that we can be loved without achievement. Since the world we know does not run on unconditional love, the heart finds it difficult to accept the gift of love as true. So the heart sets out to make sure of its own lovableness by its own striving.

Because God is love and we are made in His image and likeness, we don’t invent love; we participate in it. God first loved us.We are commanded to devote our lives to passing it on. Similarly, as the master first forgave the servant, and as Moses reminds us, God first forgave us so we are to pass it on. And as the Lord’s Prayer reminds us, if we pass it on it will come “back to us like a bad penny” that has been shined up!

The wicked servant sinned when he failed to give his master what was due. And he sinned again when he failed to pass on forgiveness to his fellow servant. Sin arises out of our striving to protect the lovable self we have made in order to avoid vulnerability. In short, sin arises out of pride.

It is said that God holds each of us by a string. When we sin, we break the string, the connection between self and God. When we realize we have broken it and ask for forgiveness He ties the string and thus makes it a little shorter. We sin and repent again and again and He keeps tying it and thus drawing us gradually closer to Him. The key here is realizing our wrong and our forgiveness. To do this we must renounce pride. We break the power of sin when we realize that we are in fact so much loved apart from our achievements and our virtue.

The precise and definite aim of the Cross of Christ is to destroy our pride by persuading us to accept a gift which we do not deserve, by giving us something we could not possible pay for. There is no more dangerous or subtle pride than the pride of being righteous without God’s help.

So again I ask, have you ever been loved beyond what you knew yourself to deserve?  Did it break your heart?  Forgive your sister from the heart…a broken heart that has been listened to.