Homily from the Funeral Mass for Prior Timothy Horner, O.S.B. ; Abbot Thomas Frerking, O.S.B

Cry out with joy to God all the earth, O sing to the glory of his name.Come and hear, all who fear God. I will tell what he did for my soul. (Psalm 65)

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When he was in his late eighties, Father Timothy told the story of what he called his ‘Journey of Faith’, as a kind of witness during the Season of Lent.  This story was in fact his confession, or confessions, in the sense of Saint Augustine’s Confessions, that is, praises to God for the mighty works God had done in Father Timothy’s life.  Let us, under Father Timothy’s guidance, praise God for these mighty works.

Father Timothy’s beautiful and beloved Catholic mother; “I loved my mother,” he writes.  She taught him, as a little child, the fundamentals of the Catholic faith.  Before his First Communion, she went through each Sunday Gospel with him, explaining as necessary.  She taught him to read the Bible – rare in those days.  She taught him devotion to our Blessed Mother.  She taught him a religion of love rather than of fear.  Above all, there was her example:  when he was a schoolboy at Ampleforth, and with his mother during vacations, he went with her to Mass daily.  In her later years, she opened a hostel for homeless young women, and in the last years of her life she lived in the hostel with them.  They were very poor, and she was very poor.

Father Timothy’s father:  the first thing he says of him:  “My father served in World War I in Persia.”  He served his country, and was prepared to do so by serving it in battle.  He was not Catholic, he was Church of England.  But, as he prepared for marriage with Father Timothy’s mother, he made the promise, as was required in those days, that the children would be brought up Catholic, and he dutifully fulfilled that promise.

Father Timothy’s mother:  the Catholic faith.  Father Timothy’s father:  service, duty, engagement with the world, doing battle there for what is right and good.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures for ever.” (Psalm 117)

The journey from India:  his parents had met and married in India; his father, after World War I, joined the Indian Political Service; the father of his mother was in the Indian Civil Service.  Like so many English parents of the time, when the British Empire was still a force in the world, they faced the difficult decision whether to keep their child with them, their strong desire, or to send him back to England to boarding school, for his education, for his formation in his own culture, for protection from so many risks.  They decided on the latter, and, when he was only eighteen months old, his mother accompanied him back to England; he almost died of heat exhaustion in the Red Sea.  He was to live with his paternal grandmother, a widow and a member of the Church of England, and, at the due age, he was to begin his schooling.  His mother would teach him the faith when she and his father were at home on leave.  So, from the time of which he has his earliest memories, he was at home, yet not at home.  But through his worthy grandmother, and the people whom God placed in his path, he learned how to start growing up well, as a strong boy, yet alone.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Then, Ampleforth:  as Father Timothy approached his thirteenth birthday, his father decided that, in continuing fulfillment of his promise, he must arrange for his son to go to a Catholic school for preparation for university studies. From a relative who was a distinguished don in Oxford, he had heard well about Ampleforth, and Ampleforth was the choice.  John Michael Stuart Horner arrived there just after his thirteenth birthday, in the autumn of 1933.  There his Catholic formation continued and was strengthened.  The formation included daily Mass, visits to the Blessed Sacrament, night prayers in his house, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the solemn celebration of the great feasts, the Gregorian chant, some English hymns.  He says of all this, in his typical way:  “I liked this, and I liked to pray, but I could not say that I was particularly pious, and was certainly at pains not to show it.  In fact, I was disciplined on one occasion for fooling around in church.”  But the underlying reality was that he was beginning as an adolescent to embrace the faith, with a firmness he hardly noticed, and to embrace it in the form in which it was being presented to him, that is, the monastic form.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

The divorce of his parents:  about this time, his parents, who had returned to England, were divorced; his mother received custody, but with very little to live on.  Father Timothy never wrote, or to my knowledge spoke, anything about the divorce, other than recording or mentioning the fact.  As a child, he had been at home, yet not at home; now home had come back to him, and then shortly thereafter was shattered, and gone.  He had already learned to live alone, away from home, and so he took it.  At the same time, he was not only being formed in faith and religious practice at Ampleforth, but he was beginning to attain the age at which he could see and understand qualities in human beings, and see men of a sort he would like to become.  Most of these men were among his teachers, and many of them were monks.  Of the monks, some were brilliant, many were quite competent, and together they had a very wide range of interests:  talented artists, a cartoonist, photographers, metal-workers, calligraphers, lovers of books and of porcelain, musicians including several beautiful voices, good shots and excellent fishermen, and a surprisingly large number of very good athletes and of very good coaches – and in cricket, which was the game he loved, all his coaches were monks except the pro.  And he saw in them lots of spiritual common sense, straightforwardness, no mean streak.  They were embodiments of what, later, he would grant could be called Christian humanism.  He was much drawn to them and to it.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

In his last year or two at Ampleforth he explicitly asked himself whether he wanted to be a priest – almost all the monks were priests, and this was how the question presented itself to him.  He thought that if monastic life produced men of the kind just described, he could easily give himself to it.  But, he was also clear that he wanted to go to the University of Oxford, and to do so as a layman.  The question about monastic life he decided, then, to put aside for the time being – although it continued to recur in the coming years – and he devoted himself to preparing for application to Oxford.  By the end of his last year at Ampleforth, he was head of his house, he had won a scholarship to Christ Church, his father’s college in the University of Oxford, for the study of Greats, that is, Classical Languages and Literature, he was captain of cricket, he was an under-officer in the Officer Training Corps (many independent secondary schools in England have a beginning ROTC program), and the question of monastic life had presented itself.  Here were already to be seen the great gifts the Lord had given him, and the great directions in which the Lord was to lead him in his life:  a leader of communities of human beings; a man of great intellect and of great culture; a Christian humanist; a man in the mold of a soldier, a warrior; a man of simple, and great, faith, with the question of monastic life already presenting itself.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

At Oxford he did brilliantly:  already at the end of his first year he came very close to winning one of the most distinguished prizes in the Classics; he became President of the Newman Club; he played cricket, and squash the rest of the year; he joined the Artillery ROTC.  During the summer – the year was 1939 – he went on a bicycle tour with a friend through northern France; during the trip, they were not reading the newspapers.  Near the end of the trip, they decided to make a final visit:  to Cologne.  On August 26 they went to the train station in Paris for trains going to the east and asked to buy tickets to Cologne; the ticket agent looked at them, shook his head, and said, “You had better buy a newspaper instead.”  They managed to get back to England on September 1, the day Hitler invaded Poland.  So, now two new questions presented themselves.  Should he volunteer for the war? He had done OTC at Ampleforth; he was in the Artillery ROTC in Oxford; his father.  But the second question:  what about Oxford?  In the course in Greats, there remained three years to go.  Nowhere in his writings can I find any statement about this except, “I volunteered.”  He was like that:  when duty presented itself, he just did it.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

He presented himself to the Oxford branch of the Universities Joint Recruiting Board and asked for a commission as an officer in the Royal Artillery.  He was accepted, but in fact was not called up until a year later, in October 1940, so he was able to complete his second year in Oxford, finishing in Greats an intensified course because of the war, and obtaining the equivalent of the degrees of B.A. and M.A. in Classics, both awarded to him with the highest levels of distinction.  He was in the Officer Cadet Training Unit through the rest of 1940 and for the first five months of 1941.  Then, Second Lieutenant Horner, Royal Artillery, reported to the 136th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, on the South Coast of England, in May, 1941, as troop leader of about thirty men.  He was twenty years old.  Thus began the first great service of his life, service of his country in the military out of a sense of a call to duty.  Thus also began what was to turn out to be, for the next six years, an extraordinarily distinguished military career.  We have all heard about it, read about it, in one way or another:  courageous, persevering service, his life frequently threatened, all in some of the most difficult parts of the world, with a manifestation in military service of so many of the finest qualities of the English character.  At the end of his service his rank was that of Major, he had been twice Mentioned in Despatches, and afterwards was awarded the MBE, Member of the Order of the British Empire.  For the latter, he was summoned to the Royal Presence at Buckingham Palace, but by then was in the novitiate at Ampleforth, and was not permitted to go.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

 After his discharge from the Royal Artillery, on the way back to England by ship from Singapore, he had long days during which to reflect about his future.  Before him had lain the possibility of continuing service in the military, with probable advancement to very high levels, but the spit and polish, and general inaction, of peacetime military service was not for him.  He could follow his father’s path into the law; he considered the possibility of a professorship in Oxford; but neither quite kindled his enthusiasm.  He considered banking, business, journalism, but enthusiasm was not there, either.  Of an altogether different and higher kind of importance, there was also the possibility of marriage.  While on leave back in England before the last period of his military service, he had met a young woman, a medical student, who was a cousin of friends of his mother.  He and she realized that they had begun to fall in love.  He knew that the question about his entering Ampleforth, which he had deferred at the end of his high school years, was still open, and he knew he had to make a decision about that.  They discussed this with one another, and it was an agonizing time; without the question resolved, he returned to southeast Asia for the last period of his military service.  But now, on the ship back to England, for good, as he supposed, all this was in his mind and heart.  Then, somewhere in the middle of the Indian Ocean, as he was walking round the deck, admiring the sunset and its afterglow, he realized that he had made his decision:  he would ask the Abbot of Ampleforth if he might join his community.  There was no vision, no voice, there were no spectacular circumstances, only two thoughts in his mind, that this, in some form, was what God wanted him to do, and that Ampleforth was the place.  But he knew that this was a call from God, and quite definite.  He said ‘Yes’ to the call.  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

The ship arrived in England in July of 1946, and almost at once he wrote to the Abbot of Ampleforth, Abbot Herbert.  He received a favorable reply, and was to arrive at Ampleforth in early September.  He told his family; his mother was both sad and glad; his father said it was escapism; in general the family said it was a rebound from the war, and would not last.  The young woman was now for a time in Kenya with her parents, who had a coffee farm there; he had to send her a sad letter, which, he said, took him a long time to write and a long time to get over.

Then, Ampleforth.  Entrance into the novitiate in 1946, temporary vows in 1947, solemn vows in 1950, ordination to the priesthood in 1953.  The years from 1946 through 1954 were fundamentally a very happy time, a time of confirming of his decision, a time of growth.  He adjusted to the great amount of silence, to the restrictions on one’s movements.  He remembers having one sad thought, that he would never see the U.S.A.  In the school year 1953 -54 he was teaching between 28 and 32 periods a week, coaching both cricket and rugby, was the school librarian, was pastor of a little parish two miles from the Abbey, had contributed the chapter on Saint Alban Roe to Ampleforth and its Origins, was faithful to the full round of monastic liturgies and to personal prayer and reading.  It took a soldier’s courage, strength and discipline to manage all this.  At the end of the summer of 1954 Prior Aelred Graham, who was a monk of Ampleforth but had been lent for a time to the then Portsmouth Priory, came to Ampleforth with a proposal from a group of lay people in Saint Louis, Missouri, that Ampleforth should found a monastery and open a school there.  The proposal was considered by the Abbot, considered by the Council, presented to the Chapter in January 1955 and approved.  Each monk had been asked, “If you were asked to go to Saint Louis, would you go?”  Father Timothy had not understood the question:  he had made a vow of obedience, why was it asked if he would go?  Then the team to go needed to be chosen.  It was clear, Father Timothy thought, that he would not be asked to go.  Then, on Good Friday 1955 the Abbot sent for him, and started with, “Father, I think you should sit down.”  Then, “Father, I am going to uproot you.”  This was the third time Father Timothy had been uprooted from home.  First, taken away from his parents as a child of 1½.  Then, his parents as it were taken away from him as a young boy in school.  Now, uprooted from his entire family, from England, from Ampleforth, uprooted from everything that had been home.  But Father Timothy had made a vow of obedience.  “Father Abbot, when will I be going?”  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Dear friends, you all know, in multifarious ways, much of the remainder of the story.  Father Timothy’s battleground was now to be, not Southeast Asia, but the Middle West of the United States; the enemy was now to be, not you, dear friends, not you indeed, for you were his fellow soldiers and his great consolation; no, the enemy was to be the principalities and the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavens (Ephesians 6:12).  Some of us, at least, look back on the early years of our abbey and its works and suppose that it was all a time of brightness, when all went well, growth steadily occurred, works were put in place and developed almost without effort.  It was not so.  Yes, indeed, God was with us at all times, by God’s grace you were with us at all times.  But the battles were many, the warfare progressing only with toil and suffering.  Yet consider, dear friends, what by the grace of God Father Timothy did.  The founding of Saint Louis Priory School in a few little barns in then semi-rural Saint Louis County; the first graduating class, of scarcely more than thirty, with boys thoroughly grounded in Catholic faith and practice, and at the same time accepted into Harvard, Yale, Brown, MIT, Georgetown, Notre Dame, many of the other most distinguished colleges and universities of the country.  The giving to the school of its fundamental mission, its fundamental structures, its fundamental methods, almost all of which have endured to this day 62 years later, yet which were also given by him the capacity to be adjusted not only to different conditions from 62 years ago, but to indeed a new world.  Consider, dear friends, what by the grace of God Father Timothy achieved in his years of scholarship after his Headmastership.  His great scholarship in the Classical Languages and Classical Civilization were now turned to that document from Late Antiquity which was to be one of the foundational documents of European Christianity and European Civilization:  that is, the Rule of Saint Benedict.  Among the team of scholars to prepare a new edition of the Rule in celebration of the fifteenth hundred anniversary of Saint Benedict’s birth, he was to be the one to prepare the actual translation of the Rule into English.  There were all the battles of determining the precise meaning of the text, of the review of all the great translators and commentators, of coming to decisions about what was true, and suffering the martyrdom of defending the truth against its attackers.  Yes, all this.  And by the grace of God, Father Timothy came forth with his translation, now widely used in the English-speaking world.  He gave, dear friends, to innumerable men and women, the words by which Saint Benedict was to speak to them.  Consider, dear friends, what by the grace of God Father Timothy achieved as Pastor of Saint Anselm Parish:  the first Benedictine Pastor, indeed, the founder of the Parish as a Benedictine Parish; the establishment there, as in the school, of the mission, of the structures, of the methods, so much of which has endured to this day, almost forty years later.  Consider, dear friends, his pastoring of all of you, not only in the parish, but also in the school, and in the entire Abbey Family:  he was here for you when you were born, he was here for you when you were Baptized, he was here for you when you received your First Holy Communion, he was here for you when you were Confirmed, he was here for you when you were a student in the school, teaching you, advising you, requiring of you your best, he was here for you when you were at college and university, he was here for you when you began your career, he was here for you when you were married, he was here for you when your children came, he was here for you when you were a parishioner, when you were a member of the Abbey Family, ministering the sacraments to you, listening to you, counseling you, befriending you, sharing with you your joys and hopes, carrying with you your griefs and sorrows, he was here for you when your grandchildren came, he was here for you when you were sick, and yes, for so many, he was here for them when they died, and they are with us here this morning, too, by the communion of the saints.  No wonder, after all this, that the English Benedictine Congregation bestowed on Father Timothy the titular dignity of Cathedral Prior of Ely, signaling that, in the judgment of the relevant authorities, he would have been worthy to govern that great establishment of Catholic England, the monastic community which was the Chapter of the Cathedral of Ely, the community central for the spiritual life of the diocese, important for state affairs, custodian of the magnificent cathedral itself:  early in the morning, with the mist still covering the fens, one sees in the distance its enormous mass, like a great and mysterious ship floating on a sea of clouds.  And then, dear friends, is there not this:  do we not, after considering all the service of the Lord he performed, hear him speaking to us the words said to be the last words of Saint Francis:  “I have done my duty, may God show you yours”?  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

Then, in 1995, at the age of 75, he came to the end of his tenure of the office of Pastor.  His activity continued to be very great.  The requests for his pastoral services, both from parishioners of Saint Anselm Parish, and from members of the Abbey Family as a whole, seemed scarcely to diminish.  His largest single writing project was the writing of the earlier part of the history of the monastic community and its works; Abbot Luke had asked him to undertake the project, and he was able to do so after 1995.  He found it initially daunting, and always heavy work, but the result was the splendid In Good Soil, an extremely valuable and detailed narrative of the first part of our history, but also told with color and verve, with lightness of touch and inimitable English humor.

But these years, too, were devoted to warfare, once again the warfare against the principalities and the powers, the world rulers of this present darkness, the spiritual hosts of wickedness – but this time battle against them on the battleground where they wage the fiercest battle against us, the battleground of our soul.  As Father Timothy passed his 80th birthday, then his 85th, then his 90th, then, despite his extraordinary physical strength, stamina, toughness, there had to be the surrendering of more and more activities, of more and more movement, of more and more experience of this world.  At times there could be anger, there could be periods of darkness; we his brother monks all know of times when he could even cry out that he wanted to go back to England, back to Ampleforth, back to home.  But he never said he was going to go back to home.  And, dear friends, what award could be given to the great soldier for the victory that he was to achieve over all this?  For, by the grace of the Lord, he fought the battle against all this, and came most beautifully to years of serenity.  With no diminishment of his straightforwardness and of his truthfulness of heart, the anger, the darkness, was less and less to be seen.  More and more the surrendering of various activities, of various degrees of mobility, of various works, was accomplished gracefully and graciously.  And in the inner space that was opened up, he welcomed a growing gift of prayer.  He had always said that the main job of a monk is his life of prayer and contemplation.  But now he began to speak of the closeness to God through praise and thanksgiving, of the mystery of the offices of the priest:  “This is my Body”; “I absolve you of your sins.”  And he began to devote himself greatly to intercessory prayer:  for all the members of the Abbey Family, all those in need of whom he came to know, for the Church, for the world.  One friend of the community spoke of him as a warrior of prayer, and through the network of pray-ers of which Father Timothy and this friend were members, healings were worked, some miraculous.  And then, with regard to home:  he looked back on his immense experience of this world, its places, its people, and he realized how what he had seen in it all was in the end the glory of God:  all human beings, all languages, all cultures in what was good in them reflected the glory of God, were manifestations of God, in response to which there could only be praise and thanksgiving to God.  Moreover, as images of God, and loved by God, all men and women were to be loved by us.  All this, he believed, had hugely increased his capacity to see, to accept, to value, to love.  And so, what was home?  In the end he could say that he had had a very happy life here in Saint Louis, in the United States, and that he believed he would have had a very happy life at Ampleforth, in England.  The life there and the life here would have been different, but both would have been very happy lives.  But neither place, then, was quite home.  What, then, was home?  Where was home?  How would he get to home?  Who would take him there?  “O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.”

 It was on Christmas Day 2015 that we took Father Timothy to the hospital, when we and he saw that something we had thought was a cold had become something much worse.  It was pneumonia.  From the time, some days later, that he was able to return to the monastery, his earthly life had, in fact, entered its last phase; from then on, although still remarkable in his mid-nineties, he needed some daily assistance and support in his life routines, and his physical world, from being much of almost all the continents, was shrinking to becoming little more than the space of his own room.  Again there were the battles against the powers and principalities; he had to use a three-wheeler, he could no longer manage the altar steps, at times he no longer had the stamina to be at events, to be with friends, at events he would never in the past have missed, with friends with whom he would never in the past have failed to be present.  We had, more and more, to give him directions about what he could and couldn’t do.  He might resist.  But he had said in his spiritual confessions that one thing in the monastic life was not difficult for him.  That was obedience, because, he said, he learned that in the army.  And in the end, and usually sooner rather than later, he did obey.  Then there came the day, not much over two weeks ago, when his doctor had to tell him, “Father Timothy, from now on, you must use a walker whenever you walk, even for the shortest distance in your room.”  “But I am an Englishman,” he protested, “and, as Englishmen do,” he continued, “I have always walked with a stick, did so as young man, do so now, and it is quite good enough.”  But the doctor insisted.  This would be the first device which he had to use which would give the clear message of infirmity.  How hard it would be, surely, to obey with regard to this.  Then also, only five days before April 27, he was with friends; someone had just returned from a trip to England, and started to tell him about it.  Then he began to speak about England, in great and loving detail, words pouring forth out of memories deeply in mind and heart:  the Ampleforth valley illuminated by the western sun; gracious lawns behind his grandmother’s house running down to the tranquilly flowing stream, a swan gliding upon it; the Needles off the west end of the Isle of Wight, three white rocks of chalk, one hundred feet high, the great ships making their way slowly up the Solent toward Southampton.  What was home?  Where was home?  Who would take one to it?

In the evening of April 26, he was bright and cheerful, his wonderful mind, although not so much his memory, still very much there, a conversationalist, as he had always been.  Brothers checked on him twice during the night; when briefly awakened, he was alert and well.  At the beginning of dawn, another brother checked on him a third time; he was well.  Two hours later came the fourth check; he was already gone.  It was clear that he had died while walking to go somewhere in his room.  He was not in his bed; he had got up to begin the day.  He had got up to start the battle again, the battle against all the diminishment, the battle against the hardness of so much, the battle of prayer for so many in need, the battle to keep mind and heart raised to the things that are above.  He fell, nobly, in battle.  What could be more fitting for the old soldier?  What could be more fitting for the son of Saint Benedict, Saint Benedict, who died standing up, held up by his brothers, who died standing up praising God?  The old soldier.  The son of Saint Benedict.  But there was one other thing.  There, beside him, was his walker.  His walker had fallen with him.  He had been using his walker to walk.  The last act of his earthly life, or the context of it, had been an act of obedience, an act of humble obedience, not celebrated, singled out for public acclaim in despatches from the jungles of Southeast Asia, but humble, unseen, within the confines of a little room.  Who knows but that in the eyes of the Lord this was his most glorious act of obedience, the perfect consummation of his monastic and soldiering life?  At that moment, the Lord came to him, and said, “Father, I have come to take you home.”

In the church, it must have been about when he died, we were singing this psalm:

How many are my foes, O Lord! How many are rising up against me! How many are saying about me: “There is no help for him in God.” But you, Lord, are a shield about me,my glory, who lift up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord. He answers from his holy mountain. I lie down to rest and I sleep. I wake, for the Lord upholds me.  I will not fear even thousands of people who are ranged on every side against me. Arise, Lord; save me, my God!  O Lord of salvation, bless your inheritance! (Psalm 3)

And this psalm, which sings of Sion, the heavenly city: 

And Sion shall be called ‘Mother’ for all shall be her children. And while they dance they will sing: “In you all find their home.” (Psalm 86)

And in the Mass of the day, that same morning, we discovered that this was the Gospel:

Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid. . . .In my Father’s house there are many mansions.  If it were not so, I would have told you. . . .I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you,  I will come back to you, and take you to myself, that where I am, you also may be. (John 14:1-3)

Cry out with joy to God all the earth, O sing to the glory of his name. Come and hear, all who fear God.  I will tell what he did for my soul.  O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.

 

 

Aidan McDermott
Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Easter; Father John McCusker, OSB
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Most of us know a family with an adopted a child. I have taught a few in our school, and it’s always remarkable to me to see the bond between an adopted child and parent, in spite of the lack of a blood connection. It is a testimony to the blessing of a relationship founded not on natural blood ties, but on love, of course it’s also a great leap of faith, taking an unknown child into one’s family and home.

In this Easter season, the Church asks that we reflect on the grace of our Baptism. The font is present in the sanctuary for all 50 days—a physical reminder to renew and deepen that foundational grace.

We heard about the effect of Baptism in Peter’s Pentecost sermon: “repent, and be converted, that your sins be wiped away.” Baptism first of all cleanses us of sin, both the original and personal. This is why water is the Sacramental sign—it effects, and actualizes the cleansing of the soul from sin like water cleanses the body.

And this, because as we heard in the second reading “He is the expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” This spiritual cleansing flows from his Passion, the blood and water poured out from his side on the cross. And it calls us again to renewed repentance and conversion.

But there is another effect of Baptism. We not only are cleansed of our sins, but receive a new birth as adopted sons and daughters of God. Water points to new life and birth, so it signifies and in the sacrament makes real our supernatural birth as sons and daughters of God. Our souls are born again, as Jesus said to Nicodemus, by water and spirit, in the Baptismal font which acts as the womb of the Church.

 Like those adoptive families we know, this adoptive relationship is founded not on natural ties—what claim could we possibly have to be a child of God, whose nature is infinitely above ours? Rather, it’s founded on love and faith and grace.

Blessed Columba Marmion, who was a Benedictine Abbot and great spiritual writer from the 20th century, wrote eloquently about this topic; if he were ever declared a Doctor of the Church, I think he would be the “doctor of divine adoption.” Here’s what he has to say:

“By nature, God has only one Son. By love, He [has] a multitude of them, without number. This is the grace of supernatural adoption… … [our] Holiness consists in [living] a life of adopted sons [and daughters], a life [with] grace as the mainspring … become reality through Jesus Christ.

To be holy means to live out of that adoptive relationship received in Baptism. St. John describes what this holiness looks like: “Whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in Him.” Being perfected in the love of God means fully embracing and living out of that deepest identity as the beloved son or daughter of the Father, revealed in his Word, just as Jesus realized his own perfection and holiness in his natural relationship to the Father.

Have you ever wondered why in His resurrection appearances Jesus is always saying “Peace be with you”? Because the Apostles were afraid, right?

Well the Jewish word is “shalom,” and it means much more than just ‘calm down.’

When there is “shalom,” between two people, it means the relationship is whole. When Jesus says “peace be with you,” it’s his way of saying “there is nothing missing in our relationship—I as God no longer have anything against you. We are reconciled.” Shalom.

Remember also the words Jesus gave to Mary Magdalene on Easter morning: “Tell my brethren, I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

That adoptive bond has been formed.

And like the Apostles when they saw the risen Lord were “incredulous for joy and amazed,” and then are later described as “continually in the Temple praising God,” our divine adoption leads to joy, praise, and thanksgiving.

This is the task for Easter—to us who have “received the power to become children of God,” it is for us to realize our adoption more deeply, live out of it, and in turn offer God glory and praise for this tremendous gift.

Aidan McDermott
All School Mass Homily for Friday in the Second Week of Easter, Father Laurence Kriegshauser, OSB
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Dear brothers, we are celebrating the joy of the rising of Jesus from the dead. He rose with his body and now reigns as Lord of heaven and earth. At the same time He is with each one of us. He reigns in heaven and draws us to himself while we live on earth. Part of us is already in heaven, you could say. We are members of his risen body.

This is what is taught us in the Catechism. That catechism as you know is divided into four parts. The first part is what we call doctrine, the mysteries of God and his plan for salvation. There we learn about the Holy Trinity, the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross to take away the sins of the world, his resurrection and his sending into the world of his Holy Spirit. These are all the truths we recite in the Creed at Mass every Sunday.

What is the second part of the Catechism? It tells how the risen life of Jesus is transmitted to us here and now. Jesus wanted to find ways to remain with us after his resurrection even though his visible presence was taken from us. That is why he created the sacraments, signs by which he comes to touch us bodily. Through physical signs like water and oil and bread and words he touches us, our very bodies, to connect them to his own body. These are the subjects of the second part of the Catechism. Through the sacraments Christ builds us into the Church, into members of his mystical body on earth. The sacraments are our sure connection to the risen Lord and his abundant life and love. We can never do without them. Today we heard about Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes. That was a symbol of the way he wants to multiply his physical presence so that it can become nourishment for millions down the ages, all those who are willing to humble themselves to receive it.

What’s the third part of the catechism? Well, if you are attached to the risen Lord by the sacraments, what’s going to happen in your life? You’re going to slowly change and behave like a member of the body of Christ. You will slowly learn the manliness of Christ, his patience, his courage, his tender love, his desire to serve, his integrity. This is what the third part of the Catechism is about, what we call the moral life or Christian behavior. The chief lesson of this part of the catechism is that as followers of Christ, members of his body, we are called to love one another as he loved us, just as Fr. Gregory reminded us on Wednesday. And we can do that because of the sacraments we have received, like baptism and the Eucharist.

So far we have three parts of the Catechism: doctrine or what we believe, the sacraments or how the life of Christ is transmitted to us, the Christian moral life. You can see how they flow logically one from the other. So what about the fourth and final part of the Catechism? There is still one element that is necessary in the life of a Christian if it is to be complete and successful, that is, ending in eternal life. That element is prayer. All that Christ has done for us, particularly his rising from the dead, his coming in the sacraments, his helping us to live a holy life, are only completed in us if we daily invite him in to our lives. He never forces himself on us. So the fourth part of the Catechism is about prayer and is a commentary on the Our Father. We have to ask God daily to give us our bread, our nourishment, especially the nourishment that is his own risen life. We have to ask for the forgiveness of our sins, for deliverance from evil. We have to open our hearts to the loving Father who is God so that we can receive all the gifts he has in store for us.

You know the Catechism from your theology classes. Try to remember those four simple parts for the rest of your lives. They are a program for happiness: the love God has revealed to us in his Son, the coming of God in visible signs, the living of a life modeled on Christ, and the daily inviting him into our hearts to help us carry our burdens and live our responsibilities. Glory be to God who through the life of his Son makes us his children on our way to life with him forever.

Aidan McDermott
Easter Vigil Homily: Abbot Thomas Frerking, OSB

Easter Vigil in the Holy Night                              

Dear friends, we come now to the high point of the Sacred Triduum, the first proclamation of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

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We believe the Resurrection on the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, who has revealed his Resurrection to us, he who is the Son of God, he who is God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived.  He revealed it to his apostles by prophesying it before his death and by showing himself alive to them after his death by many evidences during forty days.  He has revealed it to us by instructing his apostles to proclaim it to others and to instruct their successors, the bishops of his Church, to proclaim it, and so on, down to the present time, and by causing the proclamation of the apostles and their successors to be accompanied by the fulfillment of prophecy and by miracles, the two sure signs that the proclamation is the revelation of God.  In our own time, we know that the proclamation of the Church is the revelation of God because, by grace, we recognize, what even the natural reason is capable of recognizing, although only with much difficulty, that the Church itself, in Head and members, is the fulfillment of all prophecy, and that the oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of the Church are a moral miracle perduring through the ages.  Here are the sure signs that the Church’s proclamation is the revelation of God.  We believe the Resurrection, then, with supreme certainty.

What is the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead?  It is the resurrection of his body from death and the reuniting of his body to his soul, so that the whole of his human nature is living again.  But, it is not the resurrection of his body and soul to the earthly life he had been living before, but rather their resurrection to the state of glory; that is, his body, although remaining a true body, is no longer subject to pain and suffering, is no longer subject to death, and is now the perfect vehicle of his soul, and his soul, which, because he is the Son of God, had enjoyed already in his earthly life the Beatific Vision, the vision of God as he is in himself, is now utterly filled and informed by that vision.

What is the effect of Jesus’s Resurrection on us?  The Lord’s Resurrection, operating on us by means of the sacraments, in this life causes our soul to rise from the death of sin to the new life of grace, of sharing in the nature of God – this is especially the effect of Baptism; causes our soul to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and to act and to give witness by his gifts – this is especially the effect of Confirmation; and causes our soul already to possess eternal life and to abide in the Lord and he in our soul – this is especially the effect of the Eucharist.  The Lord’s resurrection in the life to come, where the sacraments have their ultimate effect, causes our soul to enter into the state of glory, and causes our body to rise from the dead, to be reunited to our soul, and also, together with our soul, to enter into the state of glory; causes us, filled in glorified soul and body with the Holy Spirit, to reign with the Lord; and brings us into the fullness of communion with the Most Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and with one another in the Triune God, in joy infinite and eternal.

In the face of these glorious and utterly saving truths, what is there to do but to shout for joy, to praise and give thanks to God, to receive a renewal of the Lord’s salvation and to proclaim his salvation to others?  So in this Easter Vigil, the greatest of the Church’s solemnities, with joy and praise and thanksgiving, we renew our Baptismal vows, we commemorate our Confirmation, we receive the Most Holy Eucharist, and, through the liturgies we celebrate, and through the testimony of our lives, through all the fifty days of this glorious Easter Season, we proclaim to the world and to all creation:

Christos anesti! 

Alithinos anesti!

Christus surrexit!  Surrexit vere!

Christ is risen!  He is truly risen!

 

 

 

Aidan McDermott
The Instruments of Good Works: Father Augustine Wetta, OSB

Do not give way to anger.
Do not cultivate a desire for revenge.
Do not return evil for evil (cf 1 Thes 5:15; 1 Pt 3:9).
Do not no injury, yea, even patiently to bear the injury done us.
Love your enemies (cf Mt 5:44; Lk 6:27).
Do not curse those who curse us, but rather bless them.
Bear persecution for the sake of justice (cf Mt 5:10)
 
       --The Holy Rule of Saint Benedict,  Chapter 4: The Instruments of Good Works

A few weeks ago, I was out of town giving a day of recollection to a group of confirmation students.  Some nuns had invited me. It’s part of their apostolate to host retreats and that sort of thing.  I didn’t know the kids, and they didn’t know me, but something felt a little off. I mean, the kids were super nice—very quiet and patient, and respectful—but there was something about them that I couldn’t quite figure out.  And it wasn’t until pretty recently that I realized what was the matter.  It was this: the kids were exhausted. They were 12, 13, 14 years old, and they were worn out, drained, war-weary. And so were the nuns.  Every one of them had that strung-out, strained, up-all-night look about them.  It made me uneasy.

And that uneasiness followed me all the way back home.  And then it was like one of those new tunes you hear that suddenly, wherever you go, seems to be playing in the background.  I began to notice it all around. The folks in the airport looked exhausted, the folks on the airplane looked exhausted, and when I got home, I noticed that my brother monks looked exhausted. In fact, looking out now at you guys…you look exhausted. No offense. I mean, you look great, but you also look like you could use a nap. Go ahead, if you feel like you need it.  I won’t have my feelings hurt.

So this has me wondering: what is it that is wearing us out?  I’ve been mulling this over all week, and I can only come up with one answer: we’ve had a difficult year.  And by we, I mean all of us––well, everyone in America.  And by difficult, I don’t mean starvation and pestilence difficult. I imagine there are some Sudanese child soldiers who would be pretty amused to learn that I had a difficult year—that any of us had a difficult year. Our lives are not in danger. We sleep in comfortable beds. But still, we have had a difficult year. And difficult (ironically) because we ourselves made it difficult.

We spent the year wringing our hands and shaking our fists about…well…about everything: the pope, the president, the Church, the Press, our neighbors, their neighbors, people who wanted to be our neighbors and other people who didn’t want them to be our neighbors.  We railed against racism and sexism and liberalism and feminism and conservatism and relativism and chauvanism and fascism and pretty much anything we could tack an -ism onto.

And to be sure, this has been a year worthy of much fist-shaking and hand-wringing—maybe even worthy of fist-throwing.  As my students say, “When you ask ‘what would Jesus do,’ remember that kicking over tables and beating people up is not out of the question.”  But I read an article on Thursday that put some of this in perspective.  The article quoted the great 20th-century theologian, Matt Damon as having said, “We live in a culture of outrage.”[1] And I thought, “that’s exactly it.  Matt Damon, peace be upon him, hit the nail on the head.  We are all exhausted from being so darn full of rage.”  A few years ago, when the whole Ferguson thing went down, I gave a sermon about learning to listen to one another. Now I’m beginning to wonder if I missed a step.  Sure, we need to listen to one another. But first, everyone needs to pipe down.  I mean, for crying out loud, there are plenty of excellent reasons to be outraged, scandalized, appalled, and disgusted at one another.  But haven’t there always been? Doesn’t anyone feel like we could use a break from it?

I keep hearing this expression “zero tolerance”.  “We should have zero tolerance for (this or that) sort of behavior.” But isn’t that the very definition of intolerance?  And what happened to compassion?  What happened to loving our enemies?  We can blame our cell phones and our leaders for all this stress, but I think we’ve manufactured most of it ourselves.  Saint Benedict forbids his monks to grumble because it tears down the community and tears down its leaders, but most of all because it tears down the soul of the grumbler himself. 

I don’t know what Pope Francis is up to out there in Rome, but I’m pretty sure there are some Cardinals who will keep him from slipping up in a really serious way. And I can’t begin to predict what our president is going to say or do next, but I’m pretty sure there are enough politicians in DC to keep him from doing any real damage. And even if there aren’t, I’m pretty sure my relentless, droning, litany of despair would have very little effect one way or the other.  So maybe it’s time to set aside the outrage, and lighten up a little.  Because what did we expect when we signed up for this? Did someone tell us being a Christian was going to be easy?

My dad gave me a book several years ago that has been sitting unread on my shelf until last night. It’s a book about the Chosin reservoir campaign. In late November, 1950, a contingent of 15,000 marines, who thought they were wrapping up the Korean War, suddenly found themselves surrounded by 120,000 Chinese infantry.  Long story short, the men fought through 78 miles of icey mountains to the coast, and saved the lives of 98,000 civilian refugees. But on the way, there were some dark moments.  Some soldiers were so cold and exhausted and discouraged, they actually sat down in the snow and died. But those who fought on are known this day as the Chosin Few.[2]  By all accounts, it was an ugly situation; and by all accounts it was a defining moment—the greatest moment—in the history of the Marines.

I bring this up because for some of us, this may feel like our Chosin Reservoir Campaign.  There are bullies at this school.  Mean kids who say mean, stupid things.  (Don’t get me wrong…there are mean kids everywhere.  Kids get picked on in high school.  I got picked on.  Robby Frei got picked on. His peers called him a “try-hard”.  Well, the BBC is here today filming Robbie for a series called “Bright Sparks” so I guess that’s where “try-hard” gets you.)

We’re going to have to stand up to those mean kids. And it may feel sometimes as though we are losing the fight—surrounded on all sides, beaten and bloody, low on numbers and morale—nonetheless, this is what we signed up for. And if we thought that being Christians was going to be a picnic of candy canes and cotton candy, then we were sorely mistaken. We signed up for a war, and war is what we’re getting.  It hurts.  We’re taking casualties.  Some men are going to give up and die.  Others will cut and run. And of course, there is nothing soldiers like more than to complain.  Because failure is a real possibility, and that’s scary. But it has to be, or it wouldn’t be a real war, would it?  There would be no real opportunity for heroism or sacrifice.

I was talking with a friend this morning right before this assembly, and he said, “Stand up to a bully?  Are you kidding?  If I stand up, I’ll be the next kid that gets picked on!”  He’s right.  Stand up to a bully, and you will get bullied. But you won’t be bullied alone, because Jesus will be standing beside you.  And maybe I’ll be there too.  And maybe there’s a kid in this very church right now who will see the two of us standing there—and maybe he’ll stand with us.  If you’re that kid, then make the decision now.  Stand up.

1) I don’t know the context of this quote, and I’m glad I don’t because I prefer not to be in the position of having to defend Matt Damon’s star’s behavior. 

[2]  “We’re surrounded?” Colonel Lewis ‘Chesty’ Puller supposedly said, “Good.  That simplifies the problem.” And when asked if they were retreating, replied, “Retreat, hell. We’re attacking in a different direction.” 

 

Aidan McDermott
Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent Year B, Father Ambrose Bennett, OSB
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Today’s gospel tells us of the Transfiguration of Christ, when he took Peter and James and John to a high mountain and there revealed to them his divine glory. This was a foretaste of the glory of his risen body and a sign of the dawning of Christ’s Kingdom. This was true of Jesus’ other miracles, for they were all signs of the Kingdom and manifestations of his power: yet in his other miracles, Jesus’ majesty was veiled in his humanity. At the Transfiguration, the veil is lifted for a moment, and the apostles behold Christ, not in his humiliation but in his splendor as Light from Light and true God from true God.

Now for the apostles, the Transfiguration was part of their training, an experience that was meant to lead them to belief in the divinity of Christ and to cling to it, even in the face of his coming Passion and Death. We know that they were overwhelmed by what they saw: not only was Jesus transfigured before them, so that his face shone like the sun and his clothes were brilliant in their whiteness, but Moses and Elijah also appeared in his company and conversed with Jesus.

Why Moses and Elijah? Because Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets: that is, they represent God’s revelation to Israel, recorded in the Scriptures. Moses and Elijah also point us to the Resurrection of Christ. Of Elijah, we read in the Second Book of Kings (2 Kg 2.11) that he was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind, with chariots and horses of fire. Of Moses, it was a pious belief among Jews that, shortly after his death, he was also assumed bodily into heaven since, as the Book of Deuteronomy tells us, no man knew the place of his burial (Dt 34.6). The Letter of Jude (Jude 9) in the New Testament seems to allude to this pious belief concerning the assumption of Moses into heaven.

Like Jesus himself, Moses and Elijah, by being taken into heaven, body and soul, had in some way anticipated the general resurrection. And now, these two, Moses and Elijah, appear in Jesus’ company, testifying that Jesus is even greater than they; and the very voice of God speaks out of the cloud, saying: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (Lk 9.35).

According to Catholic tradition, the saints of the Old Testament would not yet have had the beatific vision of God since Christ had not yet opened the gates of heaven by his death and resurrection. So the vision of Christ’s glory would be for Moses and Elijah the foretaste of a supreme joy that would soon be theirs: for they had at last seen the Messiah.

Why, you may ask, did Peter then suggest building three tents or tabernacles on the mountain? Peter did so because this is what Jews did when they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles: they would build tents or temporary dwellings or tabernacles in memory of the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness on the way to the Promised Land. Devout Jews believed that when the Messiah would come, this miracle would be renewed, and Israel would again dwell in such tents and the presence of God would be manifest among them once more. Now it may seem strange that they would be nostalgic about that time in the desert. From a human standpoint, it was actually an utterly miserable experience: the Israelites were afflicted with hunger and thirst, they were bitten by serpents, they rebelled against God and Moses and were terribly punished for it. As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb 10.31). And yet, despite all that, the Jews remembered with longing that time when God was so incomparably close to them, when God led them through the desert in the form of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and when God fed them with manna, the bread from heaven. It was that nearness of God’s presence that was forever burned into Israel’s memory, and which they longed to see once more in the Messiah’s kingdom.

And so we see what Peter meant: that the age of the Messiah had come at last, that Christ is the new Moses, and that like the elders who accompanied Moses up to the holy mountain, so the apostles, too, should remain there with Christ.

St. Luke says that after Peter had spoken, a cloud overshadowed them. The Greek word for overshadowing is episkiazein; it appears earlier in Luke’s gospel, in the words of the angel Gabriel to Mary:

The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow (episkiasei) you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy (Lk 1.35).

The divine overshadowing by the Holy Spirit began with Mary at the Annunciation. At the Tranfiguration, we see that this overshadowing by the Spirit now includes the saints of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New Covenant, as well. Peter does not need to build the Lord a tabernacle, a tent: by becoming man in the womb of Mary, the Lord has already overshadowed us and set up his own tent among us. That is the literal meaning of St. John’s words in the Prologue of his gospel: “And the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us—tabernacled among us—full of grace and truth” (Jn 1.14). We see also that salvation in Christ is not liberation from an evil or illusory body, as many religions have held, but the redemption and sanctification of both body and soul. This integral redemption and sanctification of mankind began with Mary, when she assented to the angel’s message, and it has been fulfilled in Our Lady’s bodily Assumption into Christ’s heavenly glory.

In this life, we are still pilgrims and must still bear the Lord’s Cross, knowing that “our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will change our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body, by the power which enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil. 3.20-21). St. Benedict in the Prologue of his Rule tells us that if we wish to dwell in the tent of this kingdom, we will never arrive unless we run there by doing good deeds. But let us ask with the Prophet (Ps. 15.1), Who will dwell in your tent, O Lord; who will find rest on your holy mountain? After this question, brothers, let us listen well to what the Lord says in reply, for he shows us the way to his tent… (Rule of St. Benedict, Prol. 22-24). Let us open our eyes to the light that comes from God (the deific light), and our ears to the voice from heaven that every day calls out this charge: If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps. 95.8) (Prol. 9-10)

Still today, the Father’s voice speaks from the luminous cloud, telling us, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him” (Mk 9.7; cf Lk 9.35). In the mystery of the Transfiguration, in the midst of this long desert journey of Lent, we ascend the holy mountain. There in faith we catch a glimpse of the glory of Christ and of our own destiny:  what St. Paul sums up simply as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1.27).

Aidan McDermott
3rd Sunday of Lent Year B, Father Ambrose Bennett, OSB
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In this morning’s gospel, we see Jesus himself, the Holy One of God, cleansing the Temple itself, the Holy Place. What was the situation?

First, recall that the key moments of our Savior’s life always had some connection to the Temple in Jerusalem, either directly or by implication. As an infant, he had been presented to the Lord forty days after his birth (Lk 2.22-39). St. Luke’s gospel tells us that the Temple was central in the lives of Mary and Joseph, as well, and that they always went up to the Holy Place for every Passover (Lk 2.41). On one such occasion, when Jesus was twelve years old, Jesus caused his mother great distress by remaining behind in the Temple in order to be about his Father’s business (Lk 2,46-49). And it is clear that our Lord’s public ministry was patterned by his pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the great feasts of the Jewish liturgical calendar.

And now we come to the great and dramatic episode of the cleansing of the Temple.

According to St. John’s Gospel, it was near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He had already performed his first miracle at Cana, when he changed the water into wine; perhaps he had spent a week there for the wedding festivities. However, the Passover was approaching, and Jesus wanted to be in Jerusalem for the holy day.

After a brief detour to Capernaum, Jesus and his disciples arrived in Jerusalem and went to the Temple, together with a vast throng of pilgrims. In the Temple complex itself, there was a series of courtyards. One was called the Court of the Gentiles, and pagans were allowed to enter it. In Jewish law, this court was still considered holy ground; yet it had been turned into a place of commercial traffic in sacrificial animals and in currency exchanges. The use of Roman coinage was not allowed in the Temple precincts, since Roman coins bore the image of the emperor and had to be exchanged for acceptable currency before the Temple could accept the contributions. No doubt there was some dishonest practices that went on at these religious festivals; yet that was not the primary fault that our Lord found with them when he made a whip of cords and drove out the sellers and the money-changers. Jesus did this because they were desecrating a sacred place, as his very words tell us: “Take these things away; you shall not make my Father’s house a house of trade” (Jn 2.16).

Think about the situation: in the holy city of Israel, with huge crowds of pilgrims around, and in the Temple precincts themselves, Christ takes upon himself to cleanse the Temple. One wonders why he encountered no greater resistance from the sellers and money-changers, why the priests did not simply arrest him for daring to take upon himself such a role. There must have been something majestic and overwhelming about Jesus’ person at that moment that prevented anyone from standing in his way; and then again, for religious Jews, Jesus’ rebuke had stung their consciences, at least for a moment. And they knew that God had sent prophets in the past who had done and said similar things, and that God had promised a Messiah, a Son of David. Could there have been a thought that this might be the one whom they had awaited, come at last, after so many centuries?

And so they asked for a sign, saying, “What sign have you to show us for doing this?” (Jn 2.18). Jesus replied in a cryptic way, saying, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2.19). St. John tells us that the Temple of which Jesus spoke was the Temple of his body; but Jesus’ hearers thought he was referring to the great Temple that had been under construction for forty-six years already. This seemed preposterous to them. They had asked for a sign, and then he had given him this strange answer that sounded either like a threat of destruction against the Temple, or else as some sort of claim to BE the true Temple. In either sense, Jesus’s words seemed strange and shocking. As Simeon had said to Mary, Jesus was to be a sign of contradiction.

It is only in the light of faith that one can see in Christ, crucified and risen, the true Temple, the dwelling-place of God himself within our very humanity, the Savior in whose body we can worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth (Jn 4.21). Only in this light can we see the meaning of Christian discipleship as one of consecration in Christ, so that we ourselves become living temples.

This divine in-dwelling is called grace. The Lord’s cleansing of the Temple reminds us that that there is no cheap grace, that being consecrated in Christ by our baptism will not avail us if we do not live lives of discipleship. In other words, we must not preach cheap grace. And what is cheap grace? Isn’t grace, by definition, a pure gift of God, freely given and un-earned? Indeed it is. It was the Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was put to death for his opposition to the tyranny of Hitler, who explained what he meant by criticizing the notion of cheap grace. Bonhoeffer described cheap grace as follows:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate (The Cost of Discipleship, p. 47).

Now Bonhoeffer was much drawn to the monastic life and spent long periods at the Benedictine abbey of Ettal in Germany; I think that, if he had lived, he might have become a Catholic in the end: his writings about discipleship come close to the Catholic understanding of seeking holiness, sainthood. His respect for monastic life was surprising for a number of reasons. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran, and the ex-monk Luther had bitterly attacked the monks and their vocation; Bonhoeffer had been raised in that anti-Catholic prejudice against monks and nuns. Yet Bonhoeffer came to see something in the monastic vocation that blesses the whole Church, for a man or woman who professes religious vows is one who gives up all in faith for the Kingdom of Christ. It is in this sense that the Church has infallibly taught the greater perfection of celibacy and religious vows as means to the holiness to which all Christians are called. Precisely by being an icon of discipleship, the monastic life, especially in its contemplative form, draws down countless graces that enrich the whole Body of Christ and every true Christian vocation within it. For this reason, it is especially important that young men and women seriously consider whether God is calling them to vowed religious life; and it is similarly important that Catholic fathers and mothers encourage their sons and daughters to think about a vocation and to assure them of support if they wish to try that vocation.

For this is the paradox of the Christian life and especially of the religious life of nuns and monks: grace is freely given and yet costs us everything, for the grace of Christ requires of us the surrender of our very selves.

Aidan McDermott
Meditations on the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Most Holy Rosary

PAX

"When Jesus saw His Mother and the disciple whom he loved there He said to His mother: "Woman, behold thy son." 
Then He said to the disciple: "Behold thy mother.”

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During this holy season of Lent we to turn our hearts back to the holy mysteries we dedicate our prayer to during this season.  And our hearts naturally turn to the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  There we see the culmination of Jesus’s mission on earth, there we see the Blessed Mother with her Son to the end.  Our Blessed Mother ever faithful to her Divine Son throughout His life and Mission on earth.  She teaches us the virtues we need for this holy time of the Church’s liturgy year.  The virtues of hope, faith, prudence, courage, and charity.

Our Blessed Mother begins Her life with Christ, at the Annunciation, where she accepts the Father’s will in her FIAT.  She shows us her humility, courage, faith, and submission of her will, obedience, and total giving of herself.  She also is an example to us of the contemplative life.  Her life always looking upon the Lord with love and waiting for Him to speak to her heart.  She always open to Him from the beginning her life with Him united to Him through the power of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation. 

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord.  Let it be done to me as you have said."

"Our Lady listens attentively to what God wants, ponders what she doesn't fully understand and asks about what she doesn't know. Then she gives herself completely to doing the divine will: 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.'" (Christ is Passing By,173, 4)

Mary’s fidelity to her Son in constant.  We look in a particularly way at her faithfulness as Christ begins His public ministry at the Wedding at Cana.  This first miracle of our Lord is important to us because of its relation to our Lord’s sacred Passion.  In this mystery, Our Lady teaches us a way to pray.  In the gospel, the servers at the feast, have run out of wine.  Our blessed Mother tells Jesus, “they have no wine.”  She knows He will answer her request, her prayer to Him.  But Jesus says, “Woman how does your concern affect me?” “My hour has not yet come.”  Jesus seems as though He’s not going to answer the request, but our Blessed Mother does not lose hope.  Our blessed Lord, gives them new better wine.  In this gospel, our Blessed Mother is near our Lord, contemplating Him and interceding for men to Him.  Jesus refers to her as woman, which He will do on the Cross, when He gives her to his beloved disciple.  So, in this gospel we see the foreshadowing of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord.  We see the Sorrowful Mysteries.  Jesus in telling His Mother, “My hour has not yet come.” He speaks about the hour of His Suffering and Death, the hour of His glorification.  And in the wine, we see the foreshadowing of the Holy Eucharist. 

In the First Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, Jesus suffers His agony in the garden.  We don’t hear anything about Mary being with Jesus in the garden.  But we do know our Lord in His great suffering and torment is not far from our Lady’s heart.  We see in Him the human side of His Divine and Human nature, which the Church teaches is the hypostatic union; the two divine and human natures in the one person of Christ.  We can’t help but believe, our Blessed Mother was suffering with our Lord.  We know mothers have a deep sense of compassion and knowledge of when their children are in trouble or hurting.  They just know, something isn’t right.  Even more so, we might understand this in the Blessed Mother.  In Her most pure and Immaculate Heart is united in a more intimate way with the sufferings of Her Son.  How can our Blessed Mother forget the words of the Prophet Simeon?  “You yourself a sword will pierce…that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Lk. 2

Our Blessed Mother, later told the mystic Saint Bridget of Sweden centuries later that “she felt great anguish over what Simeon said after that. She said “On that day [of the Presentation, the day of the prophecy] my pain was increased. For though, by divine inspiration, I knew that my Son was to suffer, yet this grief pierced my heart more keenly at Simeon’s words when he said that a sword would pierce my soul [Luke 2:35], and that my Son should be set for a sign to be contradicted [Luke 2:34]”. She realized even more forcefully than before how much Jesus’ message would be rejected and how much He would suffer during His Passion for our redemption.

‘Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote poignantly and poetically of Simeon’s Prophecy, “from that moment on, every time she would lift infant hands, she would see them fall across them, the shadow of nails.”’

In the Second Sorrowful Mystery Jesus is taken before Pontus Pilate.  He is scourged by the Roman soldiers who were taunted by the angry mob. 

“Then Pilate released Barabbas unto them; and when he scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”  Mt 27.

Here our Lord begins to undergo His great sufferings for all of us.  In this mystery we meditate on our Lord’s love for us.  We pray during this mystery for the virtue of purity and goodness.  A purity of heart, to allow our Blessed Lord to come into our hearts and souls.  To be near Him as our Blessed Mother is so near to Jesus.  We can’t help but believe, the loving Mother was very near our Lord at this time.  She knew what was happening, the message of Simeon and the Angels were coming to fulfillment.  The Son of Man had been handed over. 

In the Third Sorrowful Mystery Jesus is crowned with thorns.

In this mystery, we recall Jesus scourged and crowned with thorns. After He had given Himself into the hands of His enemies to be a victim for our sins, He was condemned by the officials, presided over by the high priest, and brought before, Pontius Pilate. He was insulted, mocked, acclaimed king and ridiculed, scourged and crowned with thorns. The Gospel says Pilate, having recognized Jesus was innocent, gave Him over to be scourged: “Then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers gathered a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and dressed Him in a purple robe; they came up to Him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ and struck Him with their hands” (Jn 19:1-3).  Before ordering Him to be scourged. Pilate asked Jesus if He was a king. “Jesus answered, ‘My kingship is not of this world… I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the Truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice'” (Jn 18:36-37). It was this answer which gave the soldiers a pretext for making fun of Him as king.

The soldiers left Him in a pitiable state. Pilate, seeing Him like this and still wanting to save Him, brought Him out once more to the people, declaring Jesus was innocent: “‘Behold I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no crime in Him.’… They cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ Then he handed Him over to them to be crucified” (Jn 19:4,15-16).  We might see our Blessed Mother in the back of the crowd.  She sees Her Son disfigured and bruised like an animal.  She hears the lies and awful things the people speak in life of Her son from the bloodthirsty crowd.  She feels isolated but in her goodness and love is even more united to Her Son in His sufferings. 

In the Forth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus Carries His Cross.  In this mystery Jesus after suffering the scourging of the pillar and offering His himself for our sins, He now takes up the Cross for us. 

“Then therefore Pilot delivered Him to them to be crucified.  And they took Jesus and led Him forth, bearing His own Cross.”  Jesus is acting out of obedience to the will of the

Father.  He is following the example of the Blessed Mother, who was obedient to the will of the Father in asking Her to be the Mother of His Son.  She knew from the very beginning the sufferings He would have to undergo.  We can imagine the Blessed Mother following at a safe distance from Her Son.  In her agony watching Him being put to such sufferings.  Her Son, a loving Mother, wanting to go to Him, and console Him.  But she knows He must be put to the sufferings of the Cross for the salvation of the world.  She is being obedient in Her role as the Co-Redeemer of the human race.  We might reflect she is praying deeply for her Son the whole way to the foot of Calvary.  We reflect on Jesus bearing His Cross and falling beneath it, again opening the blows of the soldiers wounds with each fall.

The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery, Jesus is Nailed to the Cross, 

"When Jesus saw His Mother and the disciple whom he loved there He said to His mother: "Woman, behold thy son." Then He said to the disciple: "Behold thy mother.”  From the Cross, when Jesus gives the Blessed Mother to the beloved disciple, Saint John He calls her woman just as He did at the miracle of the wedding at Cana.  Jesus sees His Mother and says something about the future continuation of His mission in the Church.  He uses this formula to teach something about the spiritual relationship between Him and His disciples.  Jesus hands on His life to the disciple to the universe, to all of us, through His Sorrowful Mother.  Jesus refers to our Blessed Mother as woman, in reference also to the Fall, where man lost Divine Grace.  Jesus isn’t only talking to His Mother but is giving His Divine Life to the whole world by referring to Her as mother.  From the Cross, Jesus is speaking about himself, Mary, and the beloved disciple as the divine family of God.  Our blessed Mother becomes the new Eve a spiritual mother to all the disciples of Christ.  Eve was the mother of, “all the living.”  Mary is the mother, “of all believers.” 

In spite of all these beautiful spiritual and theological realities, Mary stands beneath the Cross, watching her only Son suffer.  She has been with Him through it all.  There’s nothing she can do to change the reality.  All she can do is simply be present to her Son.  She looks on Him, “whom they have pierced.”  This powerful but sorrowful grace-filled image makes us think of the holy Mass.  During the Canon, we are reminded of this image of the Cross, we meditate on it.  We bring the sorrows and needs of our heart to it. The Canon is silent because of the reality of what is happening, we are in awe waiting for our Lord to come down upon the altar.  We also imitate Mary, as she was beneath the Cross, in sorrow for our sins and need of conversion, we adore the Lord in silence, by looking upon Him, our hearts are transformed by His grace, we receive the Divine Life lost at the Fall in our hearts.  Saint Padre Pio says, “If you want to assist at Mass with devotion and with fruit, think of the sorrowful Mother at the Feet of Calvary.”   We shall also by imitating the pain of the Sorrowful Mother, bring our pains and those we love to the sufferings of Christ on the Cross.  We ask our blessed Mother’s intercession that through Her prayers and her tenderness, we may find relief and consolation.

 

 

 

Aidan McDermott
Mass for 60th Anniversary of Priory

For the full album of photos from the mass celebrating the 60th Anniversary of Priory, please click here

DAVID ILLIG
Homily on Mutual Influence of the Mystical Body
 

Fr. John McCusker, OSB
Sunday, September 27, 2015 – Year B
Homily on Mutual Influence of the Mystical Body
(Nm 11:25-29, Jas 5:1J-, Mk 9:38-43, 45, 47-48)

 

In the Spring of 2002, I was a Freshman in college, and in addition to dealing with the adjustment to college life, I was discovering the riches of our Catholic faith. But Lent that year was a painful time for Catholics. Serious scandal had arisen due to the ugly behavior of her priests. I was insulated from having my faith shaken due to the example of many faithful priests I had known since I was young. I suspect most of us could say something similar. But for some Catholics, this scandal led them to sin—it became a reason to stop practicing. To call it quits.

Now, those priests who caused scandal did not intend that their behavior would eventually shake the faith of so many. Similarly, all those faithful priests you and I have known did not set about to help preserve our faith during Lent of 2002. It just happened that way. These were the unforeseen consequences of the fidelity of the one group, and the infidelity of the other.

We can recognize here a principle: for a Christian, there is no such thing as a purely private deed. Because we are all members of one another through Christ’s Mystical Body, the actions of one always end up affecting the whole. Our private fidelity to God brings health and growth to the entire Church, just as healthy blood benefits the entire body.

To put it in corporate terms, every single member of the institution has an impact on the bottom line.

In our first reading, Moses said to Joshua, “Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets! Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!”

This desire of Moses was fulfilled in the New Covenant. In our Baptism, when the minister poured the water and anointed our head with chrism, we were conformed to Christ as priest, prophet, and king, and given a share in his Spirit. It is our job to use the gifts we’ve been given, even to exercise that spirit of prophecy.

How is this done? Don’t prophets live in the desert, raving about repentance? Really a prophet simply conveys a message from God, and acts as a sign pointing to the truth about God. So the grace we received at Baptism is meant gradually to shape us into a living message from God, a “word” of God, a sign which often quietly, unobtrusively, but firmly points to Jesus Christ, to His Church, to the ultimate destination we are meant to receive.

I’m sure we could each name individuals have given to us this prophetic witness: a grandmother, a relative, a coworker, a friend whom we were able to see up close in their very ordinary Christian lives, the extraordinary grace of God.

And more often it is in the seemingly little and insignificant actions which by God’s grace become prophetic, that form us in holiness, that cause the Kingdom of God to arrive on earth in a small way. These small events are like the insignificant, poor baby born in a cave, which also meant the arrival of the Kingdom.

It’s in that small choice to pray, to be honest when cheating would be so easy, to remain faithful to our spouse and family in trial, or in the face of confusion and darkness, to continue trusting and believing in Jesus.

These “yes’s” to God, so often completely hidden from the eyes of men, are not only very pleasing to Him, but they contribute mightily to the upbuilding of the Body of Christ, and have ripple effects on our neighbor.  

And these ripple effects are far greater than we can imagine, and most often we are unaware of it. Remember those priests whose faithful witness insulated us from taking scandal during the abuse crisis—without realizing it, they had given a prophetic testimony, pointing to the truth: the Church is good, don’t believe the newspapers; and prepared their flock for the time of trial. Or on the flip side, think of Pontius Pilate, in putting an innocent man to death just once to placate the crowd, without realizing it he condemned to death the righteous one, the eternal Son of God. 

It is in part to manifest these influences that there will be a final judgment: So that we can see, before God and all the angels, the wonderful unknown consequences our cooperation with God’s grace has had on so many, on the whole Body of Christ; and so that those who have obstinately resisted God’s grace see the full consequences of their destructive choice on themselves and on others.    

We live in an age of nihilism, when many are convinced their lives are devoid of meaning, and desperately try to be distracted from it by entertainment, or whatever. But for the Christian, this cannot be—every moment is shot through with meaning, eternal meaning, because everything we do can be directed to Christ and to His People.  

And our Lord promises a divine payment for everything, no matter how insignificant: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to me, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward.” This reward, the crown of our good influence, will be beyond anything we can imagine—the reward is God Himself.  

In the words of St. Paul: “We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

 
DAVID ILLIG