This week in the U.S. the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) will be convening in Scottsdale, Arizona. Let us pray for the leaders of women’s communities – and not solely for them – but for all levels of leadership in communities of women religious. May they be women of faith, alive in hope. They and all of us must live in hope with the assurance that however things turn out it makes sense in God’s plan. Our daily stance must be the words of the psalmist: Stay awake and be ready.
Several years ago, Mother Teresa appeared on the Hour of Power television program. The host, Pastor Robert Schuller, reminded her that the show was being broadcast all over America and in 22 foreign countries, including her native Yugoslavia. He asked her if there was one message she would like to convey to all those viewers. Her response was, “Yes, tell them to pray. And tell them to teach their children to pray.”
Sadly, we live in a generation where there seems to be little hope in our world. Jesus keeps reminding us to trust God. He encourages us to let go of our resentments, our doubts and our fears. He urges us to remember that there is never a storm so tumultuous that He cannot bring us to safety. There is no night so dark that His light cannot penetrate it. Nothing is going to happen to us that, with God’s grace, we can’t handle. When hurricane winds howl, and tornado winds whip around us or flood waters are rising we have to remind ourselves that prayer is our most powerful and most reliable force.
Sometimes it may seem that no one is listening. Do you recall how four-year-old impish Anna addressed God in Sydney Hopkins book: Mister God, This Is Anna? She had great conversations with her Mister God. So introduce yourself to God. God is listening. He will answer your prayers in His own time and in His own way. God said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” Be on the lookout for God’s touches in your life. One day Jesus may ask us: “Who touched me? …. I know someone touched me, power went out of me.” Be sure that your touches in people’s lives are God-like. How we get along with each other says a great deal about how we love God and the kind of people we want to be.
You know of many instances when Jesus healed with a touch. And how often do you say, or hear people say, “That really touched my heart.” Our words do touch people – our compliments and affirmations but also the barbs, rudeness or hurtful teasing. Our words leave their mark – will they be angry red scar marks or soft reminders of happy times? Remember the little girl who was saying her nightly prayers. (She said,) “Dear God, if you’re there and you hear my prayer, could you please just touch me?” Just then she felt a touch and got so excited! She said, “Thank you, God, for touching me.” Then she looked up, saw her older sister and got a little suspicious. “Did you just touch me?” The sister answered, “Yes, I did.” “What did you do that for?” she asked. “God told me to” was the reply.
Our big question is: Do we know how to pray as we ought? Do we merely ask for things, or do we dare ask to be transformed? When we do so, do we promise to follow the promptings of the Spirit? We can’t ask God to guide our footsteps if we are not willing to move our feet.
I will close with a portion of Nelson Mandela’s 1994 Inaugural Speech:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, successful, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory that is within us, it’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
We would think it bizarre for a traveler not to be prepared for a journey. We would feel pity for the poor traveler who never read his/her itinerary. Which of these hundreds of aircraft is my flight? Usually we have a destination in mind when we set out. It is rare that the journey is the destination. But it is a great feeling to just relax and enjoy the drive without wondering “are we there yet?”
This week Jesus invites us, “come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” There are four different parts to that statement – each one means something on its own: Come away. To a deserted place. All by yourselves. And rest a while.
Some people (surely not any of us) wear a badge of busyness as if it were a badge of honor. “How are things going?” “Well, it’s been pretty crazy, I’ve been busy all day. Not enough time for everything.” The implicit message being: “I’m worthwhile because I’m busy.” But, you and I know it’s not a badge of honor – it a sign of an imbalanced life … Remember the little saying: “all work and no play makes Jill a dull person.” There’s a better one: “Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
Let’s pick apart Jesus’ invitation. Come away, he says. It’s not just “going away,” but it’s “coming away” with Jesus, the one whose yoke is easy, whose burden is light; the embodiment of refreshment. Come away from the daily grind whatever that may be.
To a deserted place. Our retreat director, Abbot Primate Gregory Polan has written: “It is my conviction that monasteries are among the most important places to our world today … what we offer is a warm welcome, whoever you are and whatever your story in life tells; we say, ‘come and be with us and find healing in the Word of God that we offer you’.” During our days of retreat we have the opportunity to recharge our spiritual batteries – to get out of the busyness trenches – to keep company with God.
From the street our grounds are an oasis for world-weary guests. But the seeds we plant must be sown more deeply than the grass. How good would a farm be if the owners only painted the silos and mended the fences? If the farmer never sowed seeds: no veggies, no fruit, no dinner. Retreat is a time to steep ourselves in Scripture and the words of the retreat director, to have a head-conversation with an author you’ve been anxious to meet or take time to get better acquainted with a confrere.
In case you missed it, the invitation Jesus extends to us for this time of retreat is to be “All by yourselves.” Jesus really means it. Thus especially during retreat we foster an environment of quietness and prayer, alone and together in chapel, so that each of us can delve into spiritual practices that “tightened the bonds that bind us ever closer to God and each other.”
And finally, Jesus says: Rest a while. This isn’t laziness. It’s not a perpetual state. It’s temporary. It’s for a while. But, for that while, it’s about rest. We cannot just minister to others day by day, month by month. We won’t be able to take care of others if we don’t make time to cater to ourselves and our own needs. We need to embrace the spiritual practice of rest. And, while some may think you’re a little crazy…you’ll be crazy in all the right ways.
So, how will you prepare for your journey into our annual retreat?
First, forget technology exists – except maybe for some soft, calming music. Use the down-time in the retreat schedule to explore your feelings and get to the core of changes you need to make. Seize the opportunity to enjoy nature, try new exercises physical and spiritual, time to just BE.
The retreat time gives you the excuse to try something different, to step out of your comfort zone and experience something new – to read about, pray about new things, new ways of living, and give yourself options for how you may want to make changes when you get back to “the real world” of everyday. In other words, a retreat can lift you out of a rut and be restorative for body and soul.
During these graced days of retreat let us pray for each other – and for all who will benefit from our “time apart by ourselves.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
First Reading Jeremiah 23:1-6 Second Reading Ephesians 2:13-18
Gospel Mark 6:30-34
Luke and Matthew relate the same story heard in this gospel from Mark. With Luke, you realize, it was hearsay … he was not there to give an eye-witness account. It’s interesting to see the minor, but specific differences in the three accounts. For example, where Mark says, “take no money,” Matthew specifies, “take no silver, gold or copper coins.” He was covering all the bases, not just the currency in current use. He notes other details that let you know he was there and must have been a high sensate on the Myers-Briggs scale. He begins the story with Jesus reminding the disciple-missionaries: “You received without paying, so now give without being paid.” Where Mark says, “whatever house you enter,” Matthew is more aggressive: “Look for someone to welcome you.” And, if when you wish them peace and it is not returned, “take back your greeting.” Both Luke and Matthew, in the list of what not to take on their journey, quote Jesus saying: “take no beggar’s bag.” They were to live dependent on the hospitality of the community, just as Jesus depended on others to provide for his needs. Remember what he told one of his potential followers – “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Jesus expected his disciples to “eat what is served, be satisfied with the bedding provided, follow their schedule, and don’t try to go it alone.” Remind you of Benedict’s norms?
But, that’s enough about what NOT to take on your life’s journey. Let’s look at what Jesus says is appropriate for our journey in order to carry on the mission of Jesus.
The first thing Jesus recommends that we travel two by two – life is not a solo venture. He is reminding us not to try to go it alone. We need a good support system as we experience life’s ups and downs. Sharing the good times is as important as it is to share the not so great times. Benedict recommends the same when, in the first chapter of the Rule, he describes the kinds of monks: “First, there are the cenobites, those who belong to a (community) a monastery.” Jesus sent the twelve in pairs not only for safety but for companionship, encouragement and help.
Remember that God is always with us, so we are never really alone. But Jesus acknowledges that just as he is a member of the trinity, so we humans, social creatures made in God’s likeness draw life from companionship.
Jesus recommends sandals for our feet and a tunic, but not a second one. Jesus asks us not to carry so much. Take off that extra tunic – the worries that we carry can bring us down. Stuffing them in our gunny sacks does nothing to change the situation – just adds wrinkles to our brow and sours our spirit. Do what Jesus says: “shake the dust off your feet” and don’t look back and wonder what might have been, or might you have done.
Jesus asks us to carry and use a walking stick, so we can keep moving when we encounter ruts and pebbles in the road or to hold us up when we became worn out, tired and weary. Maybe we even wander off the edge of the road until we hear the sound from the rumble strips. A good walking stick helps us stay upright and get past mistakes which could hinder our spiritual growth and practice of conversio. And, beyond that, it’s a fact that in order to do what we say in our Corporate Commitment (that is) “to meet the hungers of the people of God with the compassion of Christ” we must first be compassionate with ourselves.
Today Jesus sends us out again, with authority over unclean spirits … over the rancor, the violence, the rudeness, the degrading language and actions, the insensitivity … the list can go on and on … we can conquer the darkness with a refusal to lower our behavior, language and standards. We can “shake that dust from our feet” and support actions on behalf of justice and peace because we are traveling “two by two,” with the sturdy walking stick of community and prayer, and wearing the sandals of our vows. Like the disciples, we heed Jesus’ admonition to stay put in the house where they took us in, we can anoint others with inclusivity and peace. Pray God we stay the course…
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
First Reading Amos 7:12-15 Second Reading Ephesians 1:3-14
Gospel Mark 6:7-13
In last week’s Gospel, Jesus emphasized that there is no way to predict His final coming to each individual. He reminded us that we must remain vigilant and ready to receive our God and Savior at any time. Now, in the weekend’s Gospel Jesus talks about the same concept this time using economic metaphors. As he describes it, before the master leaves on a journey, he entrusts to his servants with various “allowances.” He discerns the amount of the gift according to each servant’s ability. But, you know the story. Upon his return, he finds that the first and second servants have doubled their money, and, thus, both recipients are rewarded. The third servant, however, afraid that he would lose his allowance, only conserved what he received. He risked nothing; he did not even deposit the money in a bank to earn interest. This servant is chastised, his money taken back and instead given to the servant who brought the greatest return.
We can’t be reminded too often that our gifts, or talents, are given to us for the service of others. If we fail to use these gifts, God’s judgment on us will be severe. On the other hand, if we make use of these gifts in service to others we will be rewarded and entrusted with even more responsibilities. Sadly, some people deliberately fail at a job or chore they don’t like so they won’t get asked to do it again.
What about us and our talents? Do we let dislike of a job, or the threat of failure, or someone else’s critical eye hold us back from exercising a God-given talent? Or a more mundane question: We get an earthly allowance each month – do we bury it or use it for the good of others so it keeps moving forward, good upon good…
Benedict teaches us several lessons about “journeys.” He speaks most directly to, and about, those who go on the journey … He doesn’t pass out money to those left to tend the vineyard, but he certainly leaves them a legacy.
Beginning with the opening words of his Rule one can sense a journey motif. Benedict bids us: “Listen! The labor of obedience will bring you back (“coming back” requires a journey, doesn’t it?) You’ll come to him from whom you have drifted…” “Let us get up then (he says) at long last, (journey from the land of our dreams) for the Scriptures rouse us when they say: “It is high time for us to arise from sleep… run (speed along on your journey) while you have the light… go out (leave the familiar territory you call home) to seek workers in the multitude of the people ….” Listen to Benedict: “moving on in your journey of faith, (and life in the monastery) “You will say, Here I am Lord.” And, then he tells us how to prepare for our journey: “Clothed with faith and the performance of good works, let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide…. Be just in all your dealings, speak the truth from the heart and do not practice deceit or listen to slander.”
Beyond the Prologue of the Rule, Benedict offers guidance for our conduct on the voyage of life. After giving us an overview of what we will need in our toolkit, Benedict hastens us on our journey when he tells us: RUN on the path of God’s commandments, never swerving.”
By the time Benedict wrote chapter 67 one can tell he’s had some experience with monks who journeyed afar from the home monastery. We know that Benedict, in his youth, has escaped “big city life.” So he wanted to protect his monks from the evils and temptations of the prevailing society. Notice he does not say … those who go on a journey. Rather, those who are sent on a journey. Those at home are to remember the absent ones in prayer … which means the gathered community may have “counted” noses” but not for the sake of taking roll but to pray for their confreres safety and protection from temptation.
I have to smile when I read what Benedict cautions next. He certainly knew human nature: “no one should presume to relate what was seen or heard outside the monastery.” Sounds to me like he’s witnessed some cases where “curiosity killed the cat.” Benedict didn’t want stories of the world to creep in and cause dissension or dissatisfaction with the home experience to rankle or upset his community. Times haven’t changed much over the passing years, we still need to on guard that we balance chartable interest in each other versus the drive to know every intimate detail about what was seen or heard by the other.
Benedict is solicitous of his monks on a journey that they not appear embarrassingly shabby. He makes provision that they be LOANED underwear (that’s right with their long tunics their everyday wear might not have included underwear).
In line with the admonition to pray always, Benedict reminds his monks on a journey to keep an eye on the sun … listen for the bells from neighboring abbeys announcing prayer times. … so, (Benedict reminds them) though at a distance too far to join the community they might “observe the prescribed hours” as best they can. Thus, probably began the custom of the Angelus … the dialogue between Angel Gabriel and Mother Mary, a modified version of Sext (or Noon Prayer) that could be memorized so as not to neglect their “measure of service.”
The Rule closes with this journey-question: “Are you hastening toward your heavenly home? Then keep this little rule … as you set out for loftier summits of the teaching and virtues we’ve mentioned.” Then Benedict echoes his message first heard in the Prologue with this promise: “under God’s protection” (together) we “will reach” our heavenly home … this is the self-same promise Jesus extends to us in the Gospel: Because “You were faithful in small matters … come, share your Master’s joy.”
~Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB, Prioress
Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time Sunday, November 19, 2017
First Reading Selected verses Proverbs31 Second Reading 1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
Gospel Reading Matthew 25:14-30
Last Sunday we heard Jesus’ observation about the contributions being made to the temple treasury and the example of sacrificial giving that he saw in the poor widow’s offering. If we read Mark’s gospel continuously from that incident to yesterday’s Gospel, we also know about Jesus’ prediction about the destruction of the Temple, his teaching about the costs of discipleship, the woes that will accompany the end times and Jesus’ instruction to his disciples about the need for watchfulness so that they will not be caught unprepared for the final judgment.
This past Sunday’s Gospel continues Jesus’ teaching by offering signs to look for that will indicate that the coming of the Son of Man is near. His words and images draw upon Old Testament imagery, especially images found in the Book of Daniel. In the historical context, Jesus is actually describing the coming destruction of the Temple and the ruination of the nation, as both fall under GOD’s judgment at the hands of the Roman Empire.
Next, Jesus says: “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” The emphasis, of course, is not on what kind of tree – the warning is: WATCH. Jesus could have said citrus trees or olive trees. But, he says “fig trees” and happily for us we have a lot of experience with fig trees that we had right outside our dining room windows at the old monastery. When the branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, we know that another season of fruit is near.
After Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree, He gives several brief parables to show what the response one should have when the signs appear.
We know that Jesus’ words are not spoken to frighten his disciples, nor should they frighten us. The prophetic Word of God is as sure and secure as the rest of His message. They are offered to prepare us for the changes we will experience during our lifetime and at the end time. Our consolation and hope is found in the lasting nature of Jesus’ words and God’s never-ending love for us.
When you see the things happening that Jesus talks about, know that he is near, at the gates. “But,” says Jesus, “of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Then, He assures us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Or, said still differently, the coming judgment and destruction that Jesus predicts will be the very signs that will vindicate his message.
Let’s drill down a little deeper into one phrase of the text — “of that day or hour no one knows.” We do not know exactly what Jesus in his prophetic ministry would say to us in our moment of history, but we do know that the general thrust would be similar to what he has already said: In the face of struggle, persecution and difficult times, when the tide of public popularity turns against God’s people, I tell you: remain faithful even though you do not know the future, even though you do not know the day or hour of your deliverance.
So, how, as followers of the Jesus, do we prepare? In the face of struggle read the signs of the times. How well do you read signs? Can you train yourself to be more observant of the signs? By personality do you notice signs in nature? Road signs? How well do you read non-verbal body language? Do you work to sensitize yourself to recognize everyday signs? How do you heighten your sensitivity to spirit signs? Do you use Scripture, the Rule, the example of a favorite saint, a confessor or a friend-guide? What helps you to listen more keenly to your heart? In the quiet of the night – when sleep eludes you – or out walking or driving along a familiar road; riding alone in the elevator, climbing the stairs, passing through the hall at a leisurely pace; setting the table, readying yourself for communal prayer in the chapel – do you hear God’s whisper in your heart?
Cultivation of the inner spirit helps prepare us to see the direction of the cultural wind we face, whether agreeable or antagonistic. God does not usually shout to us in fury or in a tumultuous hurricane. Much of the time God speaks softly – so stay tuned. In the face of cultural garbage and shifting government structures or a changing church, we steady ourselves not to be tempted to hoard food and possessions. We guard against the temptation to build a hermitage and hide out. We pray to be strengthened to stay in the fray? Many things will just happen in our lives – things not scheduled by the calendar or our clock or our watches or the bell. With all the scheduled things to do we are called by today’s Gospel to also keep our hearts attuned to the significance things that just happen.
As individuals that form this community I believe we make valiant efforts to sift through all that bombards us and continue to make the choice (our corporate commitment) to meet the needs of the left-out, locked-out and dropped-out?
How can we do this day in and day out and year after year? By heeding Jesus’ directive to the disciples who accompanied Him in the garden the night before his death: stay here, watch and pray. Watch: seek GOD in and about the events of the day asking for GOD’s Wisdom to let us see GOD’s perspective so we discover our moment within our cultural context.
And, pray: clear off space in our lives for GOD. Remember, to pray is not to read books about God, about spirituality or prayer, or to think about those topics. To pray is simply – pray! We don’t even have to start the conversation. Simply let God in and sit in expectant silence, with a listening heart. A disciplined, determined prayer practice, sustains us (individually and as a community) in the battle of our heart’s faithfulness to the LORD.
Let us strive to keep in mind that we are called not so much to DO the Good News – though faith-in-action is important. We are called to BE the Good News – a model of all that is implied when we call ourselves Christian and Benedictine.