This coming year Pope Francis has designated the “Year of St. Joseph” marking the 150th anniversary of Pius IX’s declaration of St. Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church. Francis describes Joseph as “a beloved father, tender and loving, obedient and accepting; a father who is creatively courageous, a working father, a father in the shadows.”
This weekend the Church turns our focus to Jesus’ earthly family with the feast of the Holy Family. It’s natural when we celebrate the birth of the child Jesus that we would reflect on His family. Do you realize that for every one year of his public life, Jesus spent ten years in family life? That helps us understand the importance and priority He gave to family life.
What might that mean to (and for) us as monastics who we live in an intentional family we call community. As Benedictines our lives are guided by the simple, yet profound, guidelines designed over 1500 years ago by the man Benedict. His Rule gives us a picture of a man of great wisdom, compassion and much common sense. (I believe, we can agree, his guidelines were influenced to a great degree by his twin sister Scholastica.)
It is the spirit of the Rule that has survived. Benedict had a knack for tempering discipline with compassion that makes the Rule come alive for so many. His prudence shines through when, in so many words, he says: this is what works for us now – if the arrangement of the psalmody, the daily schedule and other daily living details don’t fit your need, change it.
If we only know the first word of the Rule “LISTEN” what an impact it could make on our own happiness and harmony between peoples. To truly listen requires an attentive spirit … not a scramble to respond with advice, a witty remark or a “I’ve got a better one” or “I know exactly how you feel.” When we truly listen to another we can identify their feeling, let it resonant within and know that very often all the person wants is a signal that we care.
Benedict’s Rule is not intended to be a great and lofty treatise on prayer or spirituality. It’s just plain “down to earth” advice. He says let this rule be read 3 times, cover to cover, to the potential member so she understands exactly what she is getting herself into. The Rule is filled with practical guidance for ordinary people to live together peacefully. Benedict expected his followers to work hard, study hard and pray hard. He recognized much of the study and work is an interior process – a true “self-study” steeped in a quiet atmosphere that is broken only by the sounds of nature, farm machinery, a printing press or sewing machine or the scratch of a calligraphy pen. This kind of soul work begins in private prayer enriched in communal prayer.
I think Benedict must have valued the idea of cross-training. Given the rotation of duties and positions in community, all members do well to take to heart the advice and warnings given to the various community officials: the prioress, the guest mistress and the porter; the cellarer, the artisans and the sub-prioress. We all need to be aware of the final judgment – be strong, and at the same time, never be ashamed to have a tender heart.
From that first word in his Rule: LISTEN… to his advice to begin every good work with prayer … to keeping a lamp burning at night … and don’t loiter outside chapel if you are late … it is evident that Benedict saw God at work within the ordinary events of everyday life with all its joys and sorrows, struggles and high points, funerals and jubilees, comings and goings. In Psalm 27, and often as an antiphon, we pray: “One thing I seek: to dwell in your presence, O God, all the days of my life.” And, that presence does not refer only to our final day on earth or future eternal life in heaven. It is not found only in the Eucharistic presence in the chapel – it is EVERYWHERE – in the Voice of the Spirit working in our personal lives and in the voices of each other and the sounds of daily living.
So, LISTEN – to the Voice of your God within – and listen with your heart to your comrades’ hungers and longings. Just LISTEN – with your ears certainly but also with your eyes and heart and feelings. The quality of our life in community, is shaped by each of us.
~ Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB
First Reading Genesis 15:1-6; 21:1-3 Second Reading Colossians 3:12-21)
Gospel Luke 2:22-40
First, let me speak a bit about World Mission Sunday which is celebrated in parishes this weekend. The Society for the Propagation of the Faith was founded in 1882 by a young French laywoman, Pauline Jaricot, to aid the Church in preaching the Gospel in areas of the world where it had not been before. In our diocese, in answer to our baptismal call, the Propagation of Faith, Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities continue that mission. The “people in the pews” contribute their prayers, moral support and financial help, that collectively feeds, cares for and nourishes bodies and spirits of the needy all over the world. In the Responsorial Psalm we will pray repeatedly: “Give the Lord glory, glory and honor.” As always, the prayers of the faithful are the most treasured gift to the Missions – to God give the glory and thanks for the generosity of the “people in the pews” and missionaries, lay and religious all over the world.
Mention of the Propagation of the Faith reminds me of a story about another call to mission told to me by our late Sister Pauline. (Some may recognize the story.) When Pauline was a young Sister in community, she and Sister Rita O’Connell embarked on a “begging tour” up the east coast of the U.S. When they reached Boston, Sister Rita told Sister Pauline they were going to visit a “very nice” bishop – whose name just happened to be William O’Connell (notice the family name?). However, it seems when they arrived unannounced it was the auxiliary bishop … the future Cardinal Spellman in the office that day. (You may recognize his name as the author of THE FOUNDLING.) Sister Pauline was “parked” with the secretary – they became life-long friends. Pauline said hours went by – no Rita. When the secretary went to check, it seemed Sister Rita had exited another door and left for Ireland! Now there is proof of such a trip in Sister Rita’s passport, stamped June 14, 1934 – a steamship passage that would have taken 7-10 days each way. Bishop Spellman and his secretary quickly came to Sister Pauline’s rescue. She related happy memories of the “few months” (as she described it) at the home of the secretary’s family on Commonwealth Avenue. She kept up with the sons many long years. And, yes, eventually, Sister Rita did return and they continued their tour across the U.S.
However, not too long after their return to Holy Name, the superior was informed that their “begging tour” had not been approved by the Propagation of the Faith and the funds were to be returned. The rest of the story is lost to history awaiting a deeper dive in the archives.
But to focus on the Gospel…. Pity Jesus – what a set up. According to Matthew’s account it sounds quite deliberate. “The Pharisees plotted that they might entrap Jesus in speech.” Then comes the set up. They open the encounter with: “We know you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God … and you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion.” Ever felt like someone was trying to program your response? I had a friend who more than once would start out sounding like she was looking for advice. But soon her tune would change: “Now, I’ve been praying about this, and God told me that this is what I – or you – should do.” That said, who am I to argue with God?
Or perhaps you’ve been handed a gift by someone who says: “I just know you’re gonna love what I bought you!” She’s standing right there waiting for you to look in the gift bag or unwrap the present. So, smile! And, hope you can fake it if it’s not something you wanted all your life.
It’s obvious, in such instances, only one answer can be right. Are they talking to hear their own voice rather than looking for information, allowing for some feedback or a sincere response? By stating a preference up-front, all chance of discussion is cut off. What’s worse, the listener is unlikely to honestly answer my question unless they feel like taking up the task of a debate.
What did Jesus do? He turned the tables on the group – the ones quizzing him were the anxious by-standers. “Why are you testing me.” He knew full well the answer. But he did not walk away. He gave them a chance to examine the coins in question. He knew the skill of engaging in a win-win dialogue. It’s true – He is God and would have the know-how. But being fully human, He had to have learned and practiced that skill somewhere. First in his family, then among neighborhood playmates, then, out, as they say “in the world.” Remember what is said about him when he was found in the temple? “After three days his parents found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”
Interactive, social skills, interpersonal communication skills are learned behaviors. They take practice. Learning how to “start – continue – stop” takes repetition and rehearsal. Jesus is the perfect model. As you lectio with Scripture notice his style. As Paul says in tomorrow’s Second Reading: “Our gospel did not come to us in word alone, but also in the power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction.” Jesus modeled what he prescribed. He prayed, he listened, he engaged others in verbal exchange. He complimented, he corrected, he appealed to the listeners’ best selves. He promoted self-learning and self-correction. And, yes, Jesus challenges us: “Why are you testing me?”
~ Reflection by S. Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
1st Reading Isaiah 45:1;4-6 2nd Reading 1 Thessalonians 1:1-5b
Gospel: Matthew 22:15-21Continue Reading
A poem by S. Mary David HydroContinue Reading
The posters have gone up. The invitations were mailed; the Facebook word spread, it’s all over social media, the parish bulletin insert was published and the homemade summons posted on the town bulletin board. The word has spread, maybe further and wider than you really wanted. The “www” prefix in our website address was true to its meaning: “world wide web.” Almost literally EVERYBODY has heard about it. “Everything is ready, come to the feast!” What feast? Well, in the Gospel story it’s a wedding feast.
A word of caution! Don’t be too quick to conclude that the only kind of “feast” this parable is referring to is the Eucharistic banquet. In our everyday lives, it may well be a Eucharistic celebration. Or it could be the daily Divine Office or a Communal Prayer service or maybe a Community party or meal or – please NO, a meeting! Or perhaps, (for many of us) it’s a T4 (DVDs) viewing and discussion. Or maybe a ZOOM invitation to a spiritual topic conversation, or an invitation to engage in an enrichment or professional development topic dialogue. Could also be a call for help with a volunteer project, a driver needed, help in the kitchen or garden, or someone to do laundry or clean a bathroom. Perhaps a listening ear, or little tech assistance, or a walking companion.
Paul in his letter to the Hebrews presents the word of God as a “consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:29). We’ve all witnessed – at least on TV – the all-consuming nature of fire. It ravages and devours everything in its path including animal and human life who cannot outrun its unpredictable path. The wind shifts and one house is saved while a nearby structure goes up in flames.
But you’ve also heard of “controlled burns” – fires that are deliberately lit, protected and coaxed along – for a number of reasons. By ridding forest areas of dead leaves, tree limbs, and other debris, a prescribed burn can help prevent destructive wildfires, reduce insect populations, destroy invasive plants and rejuvenate the forest floor or a huge farm field.
When to extinguish? When to coax the flame? Does it have to remain static? Listen intently! Because in the case of God’s word, YOU – can’t – control – it! The “burn” is in God’s control. And, it’s “burning” to be heard.
Listen intently – with the ear of your heart. God’s word; your special word, probably won’t be broadcast with stereo amps or scrolled along the bottom of the TV screen. Most likely it’s being whispered in your dreams, as you waken, and everywhere you turn. Hear it? “Everything is ready, come to the feast!”
As today’s parable ends, we are reminded we’d best do our homework – come prepared. Jesus says, “Remember to bring your party garment.” So, you better check out the party theme: is it a costume event or a black tie affair or a “come as you are” gathering? And, I dare say, in the case of this party – God’s party – you better come on time. When the door is closed, it will be locked from the inside – you can’t use your key or whisper a password. There is no back door to seek in. You can’t ride on the Blessed Mother’s cape tails. When the door closes, “outside there will be weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
All the while, be comforted, and assured, by the words of Paul in the Second Reading: “My God will fully supply whatever I need, in accord with God’s glorious riches.” “Everything is ready, come to the feast!”
~Reflection by S. Roberta Bailey, O.S.B., Prioress
Maternity of Mary Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10 Second: Philippians 4:13-20 Gospel Matthew 22:1-14
From our friends at Emmanuel MonasteryContinue Reading