Homily #582 – Jesus Christ is Lord!

My dear friends in Christ,

In a few minutes we will witness what is probably our most beautiful and most powerful monastic ritual as Brother Lorenzo and Brother Louis de Montfort make their final and solemn profession of vows as monks of Mount Angel. It’s quite amazing to think that, having begun their lives in distant lands across the ocean—in the Philippines and in Vietnam—they’ve been led by the provident hand of God to this holy mountain, to spend the rest of their days as monks in prayer and work, in the pursuit of the holiness and peace that they desire in Christ Jesus the Lord. It is to set their hearts free for him that they are about to profess their final vows, and he shall be their peace…

The moving rite of their solemn profession will speak for itself—and eloquently so—and so I needn’t comment on it. I only want us to appreciate the happy coincidence that their profession has fallen on today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which provides such a wonderful reflection on monastic profession—as well, of course, as on the Christian life itself. On this feast we honor the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is on the Crucified that the professed monk strives to keep his eyes fixed, finding in the cross of Christ the sign of that endless love that inspires the monk’s own vowed love in return. We might say that the monk finds perched on that cross “the loving Pelican” that we sing of in verse 6 of the Benediction hymn Adoro Te Devote, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century:

Like what tender tales tell of THE PELICAN,
Bathe me, Jesus Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood that but one drop of, has the power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin. (Tr. Gerard Manley Hopkins)

In any case, on the cross was won the victory of our salvation, and so we boast and glory in the cross; we hail the cross and call it wonderful; in the cross we find the power and the wisdom of God. And so today, with profound gratitude, we exalt the cross of Christ, and I know that Brother Lorenzo and Brother Louis de Montfort treasure the beautiful words with which St. Benedict closes the Prologue of the Holy Rule, inviting them to share patiently in the cross of Christ:

49 But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, OUR HEARTS OVERFLOWING WITH THE INEXPRESSIBLE DELIGHT OF LOVE. 50 Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, WE SHALL THROUGH PATIENCE SHARE IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST THAT WE MAY DESERVE ALSO TO SHARE IN HIS KINGDOM. Amen. (RB Prol 49-50)

Of course, it is one thing to “GLORY IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST,” as the Entrance Antiphon has it, and it’s quite another thing to bear that cross! The trouble with crosses is that they tend to hurt! But even in yesterday’s Gospel for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), Jesus didn’t mince any words about the conditions of discipleship:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, and follow me. (Mk 8:34)

To be sure, on the cross and for its victory there is a price—the price of pain and suffering. Even in the soul of Christ there was horror and resistance at the prospect of the unspeakable cross that lay ahead of him. And in our own experience, too, we shy away from, and complain about, the weight of the cross; so often we’re not ready, as Jesus was, to submit to the Father’s will and to embrace the redeeming cross.

My brothers and sisters, perhaps that reality check about the cross and its nature to be painful brings us to an even greater appreciation for this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Indeed, the second reading from the Letter to the Philippians is a banner proclamation about THE ATTITUDE OF CHRIST JESUS in meeting his cross, which, says St. Paul, is the attitude that we should have in our union with Jesus. For us to contemplate the HUMILITY and the LOVING OBEDIENCE of the God-Man who was willing—out of love for us—to empty himself of his divinity and, slave-like, to render obedience to his Father’s will for our salvation, even to the point of death on a cross…

…and then for us to contemplate further that

Because of this, God greatly EXALTED him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of JESUS every knee should bend, …, and every tongue confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)

… is for us to understand why Brother Lorenzo and Brother Louis de Montfort would wish to offer their lives to such a Lord! O the pain? No!! O the LOVE!! O the GLORY of the CROSS of our Lord Jesus Christ!!

Homily #580 – Dominus Tecum

My dear friends in Christ.

It’s so wonderfully appropriate, isn’t it, for a monk to profess his vows on a feast of Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God… Last month it was on the solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption that I received the first vows of three fine young monks by the names of Gregorio, Oscar and Mauro at our priory in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and today here at Mount Angel Abbey we have the honor and pleasure of witnessing the first vows of two of our own beloved monks in formation, whose new religious names will have to remain a classified secret until the actual rite of profession in just a few minutes from now!

As I suggested a moment ago, there is something special, something appropriate, for a monk to profess his vows on a feast of Mary; one can’t really be closely connected with Jesus without caring for—and being cared for by—the Mother of Jesus. Abbot Marmion’s prayer of Consecration to the Holy Trinity ends by invoking Mary, with these words:

O Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of fair love, form us according to the heart of your Son. Amen. (Bl. Columba Marmion, O.S.B.)

How could we expect anything less from this “Mother of fair love” than that she would wish to draw the mantle of her spiritual motherhood over all those in whom she beholds the image of her beloved Jesus? Must it not be her greatest desire to draw hearts into loving correspondence with the heart of her Son?! And today, in the midst of the Church’s rejoicing over Mary’s birth, when our two brothers Joseph and Marvin step forward in the sight of God and in the sight of Mary herself and all the angels and saints… and publicly turn their lives over to her Son Jesus… how the heart of Mary must be moved with joy!!

But still, what connection, what inspiration, what “word” might we derive from this feast of Mary that we could offer to our two confreres in this important hour of their monastic profession? For one thing, the Gospels don’t tell us about Mary’s birth or early childhood or about her family. Those details—including that of her parents having the names of Joachim and Anne—are traditions deriving from an apocryphal work of the second century called the Book of James, and icons of the Birth of Mary generally correspond to that source. So when we turn to the lectionary to reflect on the readings for today’s feast of the Birth of Mary, what we find are Scriptures not about her birth but rather about what her birth led to, or made possible, namely the birth of her Son Jesus as source of peace and of salvation from sin. Thus that wonderful first reading from the prophet Micah, who writes so powerfully of the Messiah as man of peace:

He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; … his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; HE SHALL BE PEACE. (Micah 5:3-4a)

And in the Gospel for the feast of the Birth of Mary, taken from the first chapter of Matthew, the righteous Joseph is reassured concerning Mary’s pregnancy and is told that the son to be born of Mary was to be named “JESUS, because he will SAVE his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). In fact, according to a prophecy, this virgin-born son would also be named “EMMANUEL, which means ‘GOD IS WITH US’” (Mt 1:23)

My brothers and sisters, holding these two beautiful Scriptures in mind, I looked also at the famous infancy narrative in St. Luke’s Gospel, and here I found that “word” that I was looking for, that inspiration, that Marian connection that I wanted to share with Br. Joseph and Br. Marvin for their monastic profession on this feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. The announcement of the birth of Jesus in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospels says that the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was

MARY. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! THE LORD IS WITH YOU.” (Lk 1:26-28)

That’s what I was looking for; that’s what I want to say to Br. Joseph and to Br. Marvin today: DOMINUS TECUM—THE LORD IS WITH YOU! For Mary, those words “The Lord is with you” were the very definition of her blessedness! “Hail, favored one,” said the angel to Mary; and then he said why—because THE LORD IS WITH YOU! Br. Joseph, Dominus tecumThe Lord be with you! Br. Marvin, Dominus tecumThe Lord be with you! Although those words had a particularly unique meaning and realization for Mary, they remain strikingly true for you today, too, as you profess the Lord Jesus to be your Pearl of Great Price, that One to whom you prefer nothing else, that One, in fact, who is the very reason for your monastic profession this afternoon!

Dominus tecumThe Lord be with you… Let the truth of your profession—the truth that the Lord is with you as your one great Love—be unfolded day by day and year by year as you journey homeward… as a monk of Mount Angel and disciple of our holy father Benedict… and beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ. In accord with the promise of the prophet Micah in the first reading for this feast of Mary’s Birth, may this JESUS be your PEACE… And in accord with the angel’s word to Joseph in the Gospel, may you open your lives all the more surely to the power and saving grace of JESUS, Son of Mary… Yes, DOMINUS TECUM—THE LORD BE WITH YOU…! And in the end, may he himself be your greatest reward…!

#57 The Daily Manual Labor & Prayerful Reading (RB 48:T, 1)

Let us pray. Raise up, O Lord, in your Church the spirit which our blessed Father the Abbot Benedict served, so that, filled with the same spirit, we may strive to love what he loved, and practice what he taught. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

My dear confreres.

Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule, on The Daily Manual Labor, begins with that striking verse that says:

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading. (RB 48:1)

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Homily #579: Shaping a Vision

Solemnity of St. Benedict

Mt. Angel Abbey, July 11, 2015


My dear friends in Christ,

Over the past month or so, our monastic community has spent four and a half hours in two meetings with a professional facilitator in an effort to craft a so-called “vision statement” that would capture—in a phrase that the facilitator said needs to be concise, inspiring, memorable, compelling and attractive—the essence of who or what Mount Angel Abbey aspires to be as a Benedictine monastery, and what its “draw” or influence may hopefully be for present and future friends who come to know and experience and support the monks of Mount Angel. To produce a memorable and compelling “one-liner” that articulates such a vision is no simple challenge!

"To seek God… and share his peace… on this holy mountain… "

“To seek God… and share his peace… on this holy mountain… “

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#55 The Spiritual Elders (RB 46:5)

Let us pray. Raise up, O Lord, in your Church the spirit which our blessed Father the Abbot Benedict served, so that, filled with the same spirit, we may strive to love what he loved, and practice what he taught. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

My dear confreres.

As you know, there are in the Holy Rule two sets of chapters—23 to 30, and 43 to 46—that are referred to as the Rule’s “penal code,” those chapters that deal with making satisfaction for the faults that are part and parcel of the lives of even professional God-seekers like ourselves. Right at the end of that first set of chapters there is a particularly beautiful Gospel-inspired directive in just two words that indicate what should be the purpose and spirit behind any Christian penal system, namely “ut sanarentur—that they may be healed” (RB 30:3). Such is the hope that should underlie the imposition of a penalty: that the person may be healed…

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