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Jesus:  A Surprisingly Good Shepherd

I’m not an expert when it comes to animal husbandry.  I appreciate it, of course, and I’m grateful for the toil that so many invest in it.  However, despite my general ignorance on the subject, something in Sunday’s gospel struck me as a little odd.

In John 10 Jesus describes himself as a good shepherd, and like a good shepherd he’s ready to lay down his life for his sheep.  That’s the part that bothers me.  To my way of thinking the really good shelpherd never gets killed in the first place.  The really good shepherd may lose a few sheep along the way, but if I were a sheep I would give a superior rating to any shepherd still alive at the end of the day.  In fact, the last thing I want to see is a dead shepherd at the front of the flock.

005FDE11-E7FC-4054-81EC-413DB781AFFAOne obvious consequence of a dead shepherd is the need to do a national search and conduct interviews to find a new shepherd.  My preference would be the applicant who wouldn’t fall victim to wolves or poachers.  Even if I were dumb as a sheep, I’m still smart enough to know that if the shepherd goes, we all go.  Is that logical, or what?

I feel the very same about any shepherd who would leave the 99 sheep to find one lost sheep.  If I were one of the 99 I’d fire that shepherd in a minute.  After all, if one of the sheep is dense enough to wander off, then the shepherd should cut his losses.  He should also show a little gratitude to the 99 who were loyal enough to stick around and make the shepherd’s job a lot easier.

That’s when I begin to appreciate what Jesus is up to when he tells us these stories.  Jesus knows that his audience is not stupid, and he intends to impress upon each and every one of his disciples the love he has for them.  The fact is, he’ll never abandon a single one of them.  He may seem to go off to search for the one lost sheep, but all the while he holds the other 99 by the wool of their necks.  He’ll not lose a single sheep, including the dummies who show poor judgement now and again.

Given that, I’m happy to have Jesus as my good shepherd.  It’s in that light that his death on the cross begins to make some sense.  Jesus did lay down his life for his sheep, but Good Friday was not the end of the story.  With Easter the story of his loving care for us resumes.  That’s when we realize that we are his sheep, whom he loves.

Jesus is no hireling who abandons us.  He is a surprisingly good shepherd, which has to be a comfort to all of us sheep who tend to wander off every now and again.

915CC3D5-638F-4F54-9352-ED7D2A7E9179NOTES

+On April 16th I said Mass for the San Francisco area members of the Order of Malta.  We met at Saint Dominic’s Church, where I had witnessed a wedding several years ago.

+On April 17th I gave a talk on The Saint John’s Bible at St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise, ID. They have begun a year-long program with The Saint John’s Bible.

+On April 21 I gave a session as part of a retreat day for provisional members of the Order of Malta, who will be invested in June.  This took place at Loyola High School in Los Angeles.

+This last week was a mixed bag when it came to travel.  My worst day in many years was on the 16th, when I flew from San Francisco to Boise via Salt Lake City.  Nothing went right, until the very end.  My flight, scheduled to leave at 4:15 pm, left San Francisco four hours late.  They had rescheduled my connecting flight to one leaving at 10:20, and so when we landed at 9:50 I felt pretty good.  But because there was no gate available, we sat on the runway for forty minutes.  Thankfully the connection was running late too.  It was now to leave at 11:00 pm, but no one was surprised when we left at 11:50.

The car rental desk in Boise was scheduled to close at midnight, and you can imagine my elation when the lady at the desk had wanted an extra hour and fifteen minutes — just for me.  Then, to her surprise, she could not find my reservation.  A neighbor at another desk explained that at midnight Alamo had merged with Enterprise, and now I was renting from Enterprise.  I got to the hotel at 1:30 am.

+On Wednesday I flew to Los Angeles and discovered that the place was teeming with pollen.  Since in Minnesota our pollen is still frozen, we Minnesotans are defenseless in a pollen jungle like Southern California.  I was a mess until I got back to Minnesota and inhaled the pollen-free air.  But I know our time will come.

68C09D46-587B-4DC1-9991-4BBFA122E350+Thanks to the kindness of a couple whose son graduated from Saint John’s, I was able to get a wonderful tour of Boise.  I’d never been to Idaho before, and I thoroughly enjoyed the cityscape.  Among the highlights was a visit to Saint Mary’s Church, which recently underwent an expansion.  The carvings are nothing short of stupendous.  The top three photos show a ten-foot ceremonial door, carved by an artist from Oregon.  The first photo shows a rendition of Noah’s ark, which overlooks the baptismal font inside the church.  On the obverse is a scene from the Book of Revelation, which faces people as they enter the church.  Most intriguing is a sculpture of the Virgin Mary, seated in the front pew, just below the pulpit.  With her arm draped over the pew, it looks like she is reserving judgement on the quality of the sermon.  It is wildly popular with children, who want their photos taken as they sit beside Mary.

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Lessons from St. Stephen

While St. Stephen’s feast day lands on December 26th, he seems much more at home in the Easter season.  It’s now that we recall what a firebrand preacher he was, and that he was the first martyr in the Christian community.  But he also gives us pause to consider what kind of impact he might have had on that community.

There’s no doubt that Stephen got under the skin of the religious leaders.  And when I say that, I don’t just mean the Jewish leaders, because he likely irritated some of the apostles too.  Lest we forget, Stephen was a deacon and not an apostle.  Even so, he got out ahead of the curve in preaching the resurrection of the Lord, and that likely alarmed some of the leaders in the Christian community.  What if Stephen’s zeal brought a crackdown on their community?  Might Stephen jeapordize everything they had worked for?

0EA15307-128F-4400-8959-57FBA9E156DFIf that’s what they were thinking, it was pointless.  Events moved too quickly for the cautious ones, and they were about to learn the wisdom of the high priest’s warning about zealots.  If Stephen’s zeal was of human origin, then it would fizzle out.  If it came from God, then there was no stopping it.

I suspect that a few apostles thought they were losing control of the church;  but if so, they were about to learn an important lesson.  They were about to learn that just because they had walked with the Lord, they did not have a monopoly on the message of Jesus.  The Holy Spirit was already calling new people who would follow in their steps.  And in Stephen’s case it’s not a little ironic that, 2,000 years after the fact, we know more about Stephen than we do about some of the apostles.

That’s a good take-away for all of us who have been involved in organizations that have been around for a long time.  In his Rule for Monasteries St. Benedict advises the abbot to cast his net widely when seeking advice, and he should especially make sure to include the youngest and newest members in that circle.  After all, the Holy Spirit is free to choose whomever to be carriers of divine wisdom, and so it would be foolish to ignore such obvious gifts.

780D7A67-13A4-4CD5-9023-C14C7036A3CBBut if that’s good advice for abbots, it’s also good for monks like me who’ve been hanging around the monastery for more than a few years.  It’s tempting for people like me to believe that I’m wiser than everyone else and that the Holy Spirit stopped doling out wisdom after I got mine.  But then I remind myself why the Lord keeps calling new people to the community.  They come, not to continue my work, but to continue the work of the Lord.  And if by chance they have a slightly different perspective on how to do things, then I am well-advised not to dismiss their wisdom just because I didn’t think of it first.

St. Stephen serves as a good example to all of us who are involved in communities and organizations. He’s a reminder that we came to do the work of the Lord and not our own work.  He’s a reminder that we need to make room for the new people who come into our midst, and not fear that they’ve come for the sole purpose of disrupting our own little worlds.

Most important of all, St. Stephen reminds us that none of us should assume we have a monopoly on how things ought to be.  Just as I am a gift from God, so are the late-comers to the vineyard of the Lord.  Of course we should always test the spirits of new people to see if they come from God, but while we’re at it we should not be afraid to take our own pulse just to make sure that we too come from God.

So these are the three points I take away for myself.  First, the Holy Spirit did not run out of wisdom after I got my share.  Second, the Holy Spirit keeps on calling others to the vineyard, whether I like it or not.  And third, the wisest course for me is to welcome those people into the church and into my life, as gifts from God.

242F865E-BC4C-48CA-9D7A-1C06BAEAFF02NOTES

+On April 9th I taught a class in monastic history in the novitiate.  This time I concentrated on the Cistercian reform in the 12th century.

+Later that day, on April 9th, I presided at the abbey Mass at Saint John’s.

+On April 14th I participated in a day of recollection for provisional members in the Order of Malta.  I gave presentations on the history of the Order of Malta, and the event took place at Sacred Heart School in Atherton, CA.

+On April 16th I presided at the monthly Mass for members of the Order of Malta in the San Francisco area.  Today’s post is a variation of the sermon that I delivered.

+Because I was away from the abbey, I missed out on what we hope is the last major snow of the season.

+The first photo in today’s post shows an altar frontal (ca. 1200) that once was in the church of Santa María de Taüll, in Catalonia.  It now is in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.  The remaining photos show the exterior and some of the interior windows of the church of St. Severin in Paris.

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The Lord Takes His Time With Us

With the hindsight of Easter it’s a bit of a stretch to believe that Peter in the Gospels is the very same Peter whom we read about in the Acts of the Apostles.  After all, as a disciple Peter had had his doubts about Jesus.  Then came his denial of Jesus three times on the eve of the crucifixion.  Finally, almost miraculously, Peter seemed to mature as an entirely different person in the Acts of the Apostles.

In Acts Peter does not hesitate to confess his faith in Jesus.  He becomes a take-charge sort of guy.  He heals;  he preaches;  and he’s not afraid to go out on a limb and lead the followers of Jesus far beyond the Jewish customs that had tethered them to the temple and synagogue all of their lives.  In short, he and the disciples gradually create a church.  And we’re left to wonder where all that gumption came from.  What could have transformed this timid soul into a bold prophet?

378D8DF0-E65C-4B3E-99B9-53AEA1B848B3We’re now a few days into the Easter season, and the references to Peter in the Acts of the Apostles serve as a reminder of the power of the risen Jesus.  The risen Lord transformed the disciples, and if he could do that with such a motley crew, then he’s probably capable of doing the same with you and me.  Frankly, I wouldn’t put it past him, because you and I are the very people whom the Lord came to save.

It’s entirely possible that by now our only souvenir from Holy Week is the memory of some beautiful and sometimes overly-long liturgies.  But it’s also possible to detect the hand of God at work, gently shaping and transforming us.

I for one would be naturally suspicious if Jesus were to turn my life upside-down, inside-out, in an instant.  He may have done that with Peter, or the writer of Acts may have instead compressed Peter’s long spiritual journey into a matter of a few days.  But whatever the Lord may have done with Peter, he’s taken an entirely different approach with me.  I for one know for a fact that the Lord has taken his own sweet time with me.  God’s given me length of years precisely for that reason.

92C6EAA3-A8EB-4C65-8CA3-D47C1F8B1FB1The same may be true for you as well.  If so, you’ve probably noticed how gradual and tentative your journey to the Lord has been.  And you’ve probably wondered why the Lord has not blesssed you with the audicity that Peter had.  Well, one reason for that is that the Lord deals with each of us differently.  But for most of us there is an air of deliberate calculation about it.  We may resist on certain days, but the Lord continues to chip away and sculpt and polish us into his good and faithful servants.  That, I think, shows just how persuasive the risen Lord can be.

In my own humble opinion God generally prefers not to bowl most of us over or hurl us to the ground.  That’s a lot of work for God, and besides, it’s the sort of stuff God reserves for those who are particularly stubborn.  As for me, I suspect, Jesus prefers to be patient and kind, and he draws me to himself in his own good time.  For that I am grateful.

That’s why I think it’s a good idea in this Easter season to pray that the Lord, who has begun such good work in us, bring it to completion.  But there’s no rush.

B57466FE-CD7F-4D14-B7B4-269EC2DB45BANOTES

+During the past week I taught two classes in the novitiate.  My main theme was the monastic tradition of the abbey of Cluny, which in time had some 350 priories within its orbit.  It was a major booster of the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela, and it built priories and hostels along the Camino.  Its 12th-century church was the largest in Western Europe, and it remained so until the construction of the new St. Peter’s in Rome in the 16th century — the one we see today.  In the middle of the design of St. Peter’s the architect had to add fifty feet just to make sure it was longer than the abbey church at Cluny.  Cluny is in Burgundy.  It’s a place I’ve always wanted to visit, but as of now it is still on my bucket list.

+From 3-8 April I gave a private retreat to a member of the Federal Association of Order of Malta from Chicago, who is preparing to make his Promise of Obedience in May during the Order’s regular pilgrimage to Lourdes.  It was his first visit to Saint John’s, where he stayed in the guesthouse.

+On April 5th I gave a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible to a group that included the president, some faculty and staff from Caldwell University, in New Jersey.  They stayed in the guesthouse at Saint John’s, and among other things I toured them through the new Bible gallery in Alcuin Library.

+On April 5th I presided at the abbey Mass.  Today’s post is an expansion of the sermon that I gave that day.

+On April 6th I hosted Paul and Laura, graduates of our school, at whose wedding I will preside in the abbey church at Saint John’s this summer.  I don’t get to preside at many weddings, and so this will be a treat for me.

+Today, April 9th, is the feast of the Annunciation.  It’s a reminder that Christmas is upon us, at least in nine months, and we should prepare.  The photos in today’s post are from the church of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, and the uppermost is of the Annunciation.  If you’ve not seen Sagrada Familia, you definitely should put it on your bucket list.

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Who Will Help Us Roll Away Our Stones?

Easter has come and gone, and while the liturgies linger in my memory, it’s the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus that sticks out.  I owe that to Abbot John, who brought it up in his sermon at the Easter Vigil.  That evening, for the first time, it hit me as something of outsized importance.

Obviously that stone served a practical purpose.  It shut the dead inside and it kept the living outside.  But that’s what set up the drama that was to follow.  When people came to tend to the body of Jesus, they knew they weren’t strong enough to shove the stone aside.  And so they wondered aloud: “who will help us roll the stone away?”

An angel solved the problem.  However, to everyone’s surprise, there was no body to be seen.  Who had taken the Lord’s body?  Where might they find him?

230C1BEC-1D88-490D-89BF-A5F2BEB86099Further into the story we read of the many appearances of Jesus, but there’s symbolic value to this scene at the tomb that we shouldn’t leave behind.  In this particular case, it may have been an angel who rolled the stone aside and then gave access to Jesus.  But the angel represents much more.  That angel is one of many figures who will roll aside rocks and open up to us the vision of the Lord.  The angel is merely the first in a progression of people who step into our lives and push aside the impediments that obscure our vision.  Because of those friends and strangers, we gain access to the Lord; and it’s something that we could never achieve all by ourselves.

I’m fond of reminding any of my confreres who will listen that we all bring plenty of baggage with us to the monastery.  That baggage contains everything from pebbles to boulders, and they are the sorts of things that shape us, for good and for ill.  Some of those stones we can learn to live with, and they can even have a positive force in our lives.  Others weigh us down.  Even worse, a few can block us from becoming the loving people we are called to be.

9BC009AB-9EEE-4160-BF3F-CAED6AC3DA22At the very least the rock that sealed the tomb of Jesus is symbolic of all the rocks that I continue to tote around with me.  Obviously I would be better off without some of them.  Others I should have unloaded years ago.  Those are the ones that weigh me down, metaphorically at least, and they hobble me every time the Lord encourages me to run.

Is a big rock my take-away from Easter this year?  Perhaps.  For one thing it reminds me of the big stones that still have the potential to stunt my growth.  Even more, the stone in the Easter story reminds me of my need for help from my brothers.  It’s they, along with both friends and strangers, whom the Lord sends to help me roll away the stones that derail my pilgrimage and blind me to the possibilities in my life.

Some stones can seem too big to budge, but Jesus never asks us to move any stone all by ourselves.  He regularly sends others to help with the pushing, and I’m utterly convinced that Jesus himself will help roll those stones aside, if we but ask.

A last bit of consolation is that passage in which Jesus comforts all who find life weary and burdensome.  His yoke is easy and his burden light, he promises.  That lesson, it seems to me, is the one thing the disciples took away as they left behind a big stone and an empty tomb.

So who will help us roll away those big stones in our lives?  It will be the Lord — along with a host of angels and friends and strangers.

49BE4E49-7B49-477F-8C7C-9FAB237F3B37NOTES

+On March 27th I gave a class on monastic history to the novices.

+On March 28th I gave a presentation on Stability and Stewardship in the Rule of Benedict.  Given to a group of new faculty and staff, it was part of a series sponsored by The Benedictine Institute.

+On March 30-31 we monks were on retreat, in anticipation of the celebration of the Easter Vigil.

+On 31 March we were all surprised to wake up to a blanket of snow, amounting to some six inches or more.  None of us were dreaming of a White Easter, and I for one was hoping for a glimpse of crocus.  But it was not to be.  April is supposed to come in with showers, but the prognosis is for another seven inches of snow today.  That contrasts with the experience of my first year at Saint John’s.  On April 1st of that year it had been so warm that the ice went out on the lake.  This year it’s been so cold that the sap in the maple trees is still not flowing well.

+The first three photos in today’s post show art housed in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.  At top is an altar frontal that dates from ca. 1200.  The next two are panels from an altar retable dating from ca. 1340.  One of those panels is curious for its depiction of the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The final two photos show some of the snow that accumulated in the courtyard of the quadrangle at Saint John’s.

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Sitting at the Table of the Lord

It’s a fact that somebody went to a lot of trouble to set up the Last Supper.  As the gospels make clear, Jesus and his disciples did not just pop into a restaurant, sit down and order off the menu.  No, they were from out-of-town, and somebody needed to find and reserve a room suitable for at least thirteen.  Then someone had to set the table and arrange the room, order decent food and wine, and see to it that the evening went well.

The organizers likely had high hopes, but not everything went according to plan.  It was not a relaxed evening with friends, because tension began to percolate through the room.  It surfaced as a few realized this might be their last meal with Jesus.  One in their number had come into the room with treason in his heart, and he left early.  And for his part, Jesus knew what was about to happen.  This was supposed to be a sacred meal, but it was anything but serene.  So it had to be a big disappointment for those who had worked so hard to make it a success.

6E0BE8B2-38E2-42E4-BA03-75DE9D4E7898I mention this because of all the things that we monks have to do to prepare for Holy Week.  We may make it look easy, but contrary to popular belief, it’s not all peace and serenity.  For one thing, there’s a ton of work that takes place in the sacristy and church.  There’s hours of practice for cantors, choirs and musicians.  There are also rehearsals for the liturgy and sermons to be written.  Then there’s the refectory, where somebody has to plan out several days of special meals.  In short, for a lot of monks Holy Week stretches both patience and charity, and it’s easy for the work to sideline the sacred.

This brings to mind the evening when Mary and Martha hosted Jesus for dinner.  The gospel text suggests that Martha did the heavy lifting at that dinner, while Mary made the most of the chance to visit with Jesus.  The fact that Jesus gave his personal nod to Mary suggests to me that the discussion likely took a turn toward the intense after Jesus went home.  We’ll never know, of course, but it’s fun to speculate.

9865D3CF-F2E4-4853-BE56-0AF7F8AC9BDAI’ve naturally thought of Martha and Mary as polar opposites, representing those who value work more highly than the chance for human interaction.  It’s a nice thought, but I suspect it’s better to accept the fact that both Martha and Mary are resident within each of us, and each of us feels the tension once in a while.  Each of us, for instance, has work that we absolutely must do;  but there are times when our devotion to duty can sap the joy from life.  That, I think, is what concerns Jesus as he warns not only Martha and Mary, but us as well.

Work certainly is part of life, and in the monastery the work of Holy Week can easily sideline what should be a deeply religious experience.  For one thing, work can leave us too exhausted to appreciate what’s really going on.  But attention to detail can also shove aside the religious experience that is the whole point of Holy Week.

Of course this isn’t just about Holy Week.  It’s about life.  Work we will always have with us, but if we allow work to blind us to the joys of life then it’s time to get a grip on ourselves.  That, I think, is at the core of Jesus’ message.  Jesus came to give us life, not to enoucourage us to smother our best energy in the tasks that fill our everyday routines.  Work we have to do, but we should always remember the preference we should give to sitting with the Lord and his friends at the table of life.  It’s ours for the asking, so let’s make sure we make a reservation at that table this Holy Week.

B64BAF7A-A362-4C29-BD0A-79C349C09D25NOTES

+On 24 March the Arboretum hosted the first of its two-Saturday Maple Syrup festival.  Some 500 people helped to gather sap and learn about making maple syrup.

+On 25 March I attended the Saint John’s Preparatory School’s production of Les Miserables.  The musical was staged at the Paramount Theater in St. Cloud, and the students performed amazingly well.

+In last week’s post I wrote about a box sent from my office to Florida, where I waited fruitlessly for it.  Instead of in Florida, it turned up in New Jersey, and we asked the Post Office to return it to Minnesota.    That was where I left the story last week.  This week we discovered that they forwarded it to Florida anyway, despite the fact that I was no longer there.  The office in Naples alerted us, and once again we asked that they return it to Minnesota.  It arrived in record time — two days — and the contents were a shattered and jumbled mess.

+The photos in today’s post illustrate the Palm Sunday liturgy, which began in the Great Hall with the blessing of the palms, and then continued into the abbey church.  As one photo indicates, we are still blessed with the persistence of piles of snow.

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What Should We Do About Jesus?

There’s an ominous tone that starts to bubble up in the liturgical readings of the last days of Lent.  It begins to surface as the gospels shift from an almost exclusive focus on the teaching and ministry of Jesus.  Slowly the curtain opens to reveal the anxiety that grips the religious elite of Jerusalem.  That anxiety then morphs into paranoia and finally into panic, as they wonder what in the world to do about Jesus.

Like many others, I take some little comfort in thinking that evil is identifiable and that we can point our fingers at it.  In my own mind the evil is in the officials standing in the shadows, worried.  That image remains a comfort to me until the awful truth dawns on me.  I could very well be standing there alongside them once in a while.  The fact of the matter is, along with them I too sometimes wonder what I’m supposed to do about Jesus.

8985B3D8-DF16-4E76-BCC0-2255DB78502EEvery time I try to take consolation in the thought that the bad guys in the gospel story were the religious authorities, I need to pinch myself.  The reality of it is, Jesus had no quibble with authority in and of itself.  What did irritate him to no end were those who used religion in order to control other people.  Jesus was absolutely consistent in his condemnation of those who would use the spiritual as leverage over others.

I shudder when I realize that I’ve probably done that myself.  Each time I point out the sins of others in light of my own stellar behavior, then I’ve done it.  Each time I dismiss the good intentions of others, I’ve done it.  Each time I exalt myself at the expense of others, then I’ve done it.  Those are all times when I quietly slip over to join the religious leaders in their collective self-satisfaction.

Like the religious leaders in the gospel, I too sometimes wonder about Jesus.  In my case, however, I wonder what he might be asking of me.  I’m challenged as I try to figure out how well or how poorly I’m following in his steps.

Thankfully there’s something in the story of Lent and Holy Week that is ironically reassuring.  For one thing, in my doubts and in my struggles, I’m in surprisingly good company.  After all, I stand in the company of the brightest religious minds in Jerusalem, who felt threatened by Jesus.  I’m also in the company of Peter, who denied Jesus three times.  And certainly least of it but not the last of it, I’m in the company of the disciples, who all ran away when the chips were down.

Together with them I sometimes wonder what I will do about Jesus.  Then I recall the second reassurance we take from the gospel story.  We may wonder what we should do about Jesus.  But thankfully, Jesus never wonders for a second about what he will do with the likes of us.

3E172A00-EB0A-4846-B2CE-318D492AC382NOTES

+On March 16th I presided at the abbey Mass.  Today’s post is an expanded version of the sermon that I delivered that day.

+On March 17th I spoke on The Saint John’s Bible to ninety students from St. Olaf College, who spent the day with us at Saint John’s.

+On March 18th I presided at Vespers in the abbey church.

+Last week I wrote about difficulties with my iPad, and my frustration at the Apple Store in Naples, FL.  On Thursday I resolved them with a visit to the Apple Store in Minneapolis.  In addition to the problems that I could list, the analyst found something that truly surprised him, and he traded my old iPad for a brand new one.  He then sent my old one to the Apple labs for an autopsy.  I shed no tears as I said goodbye.

+This was the week for one other challenge.  My office at Saint John’s had sent a box to me while I was in Florida, which was intended to be given as a gift of appreciation to someone.  It was scheduled to arrive in Naples on Monday.  On Tuesday I drove forty-five minutes to pick it up, only to discover that it had not arrived.  Worse still, a search of the US Post Office tracking number turned up nothing — it was nowhere.  On Friday, however, the box turned up in New Jersey.  No explanation was forthcoming as to why it chose to go there.

+This week I finished Candice Millard’s book entitled Hero of the Empire (Doubleday, 2016).  In it she details the exploits of Winston Churchill’s escapades in the Boer War in South Africa at the end of the 19th century.  It’s a great read, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys history as well as adventure.

+In the liturgical calendar for Benedictines there is a trifecta of feasts that have always provided a mid-Lenten time-out in the monastic horarium and table.  On March 17th we enjoy the feast of Saint Patrick.  On March 19th we celebrate the feast of Saint Joseph.  And on March 21 we commemorate Saint Benedict.  The stained glass in today’s post are windows from the Great Hall at Saint John’s, built in 1879 as the abbey church.

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No Need for an Appointment with God

I know it’s not a good idea to attribute human qualities to an iPad.  For one thing, it’s not human.  Nor does it share in the effects of original sin.  And  to my knowledge it’s entirely devoid of human emotions like joy, sadness or depression.  And despite the fact that I really do love my iPad, I know it’s not a healthy relationship for the simple fact that the love is not mutual.  My iPad will always remain entirely aloof from me.

On the other hand my iPad does seem to share a few human traits, and that’s what makes me nervous sometimes.  Every now and again, for instance, I get a notice that my iPad has a bug.  It’s news I ignore at my peril, because that can lead to something far worse.  I also know that my iPad can come down with its version of the flu, just like people.  That seems to be its latest problem, and that’s what has me worried right now.  Lately, it will not charge up unless it feels like it — leaving me to wonder if it will be comatose by the end of the day.  On top of that, it ignores the keyboard at really inconvenient times.  That means I can get a message but can’t respond.  And finally, there are times lately when it’s a challenge to wake it from its sleeping mode.  If it were a teenager, that would be okay.  But it’s not.

F3BFFD73-7D34-4D54-A8EC-F702E3940384Anyway, I took my iPad to see the iPad doctor at the Apple Store in Naples, FL, last week, and my experience there was akin to using the National Health in the UK.  It was spring break, and thousands of kids had flown south to Florida for the chance to visit an Apple Store in shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops.  It was exhilarating for them, but it was a nightmare for me.  I was desperate as I got in line to speak to someone about making an appointment to speak with someone about my sick iPad.  But the minimum wait to see the iPad doctor was two hours.  So I left mad — mad at the tech world, and mad especially at my iPad for putting me through all this.

I don’t mean to belabor the point, but my experience with the iPad does have the potential for allegorical interpretation.  No doubt about it, my iPad does wonderful things, when it feels like it.  But it also comes with bugs and illnesses that are particular to its talents.  In this case its primary talent is the access it gives me to connect with people all over the world.  But conversely it comes with the ability to deny that access, and that’s when it hurts.  That’s when I feel especially helpless.

084E680C-92A9-4C1F-9CEF-5FA128F6E162Therein might be the angle that Jesus might exploit to turn this into a parable.  As is the case with computers, you and I are blessed with an abundance of apps and capacities and other gifts.  We have the ability to do amazing things.  But we also have bugs that need tending to, lest they grow and get out of control.  We can also have issues with reliability, and our friends and colleagues can share stories of how we have let them down in the course of their lives.  That’s the effect of sin.

No computer is ever perfect, nor will we ever be perfect.  We, like the machines we rely upon, need maintenance;  we need updates;  we need rebooting; and sometimes we need a major overhaul.  All of that requires self-awareness, and it’s better to be self-aware long before the bugs get out of control.

Of course I can’t discuss any of this with my iPad.  But I’m privileged to have other options.  So when I feel the effects of bugs in my life, and when I sense that I’m about to crash, it’s important to seize the opportunity to talk with friends and colleagues, and especially with God.  That’s what they’re there for.  And in the case of God, there’s never a need for an appointment.  And as busy as God might seem to be, there’s never a two-hour wait.

FBC76FD1-ED8A-44B9-8326-A776FB63BFB5NOTES

+On March 5th I flew from Minneapolis to Fort Myers, FL.  I was fortunate to get away, just as a major winter storm was about to hit the airport in Minneapolis.  At Saint John’s we had nearly ten inches of snow, and I was sorry to miss the vision of that — but not sorry enough to turn around and try and get back to see it before it melts.

+On March 6th I attended a reception in Naples, FL, that served to introduce our Immokalee Scholarship Program to potential supporters.  Present were Alex and Osbaldo, two of our students from Immokalee.  They each gave fine presentations to the assembled friends of Saint John’s.

+On March 10th I gave a day of reflection to members of the Seattle Area of the Order of Malta.  I’ve been privileged to give this retreat day for several years running, and it takes place at the Catholic student center at the University of Washington.

+The photos in today’s post show scenes from the life of Jesus, from an altar retable now housed in the Museum of Catalán Art in Barcelona.  It was made by Jaume Serra for the Monastery of Santa Maria de Sixena, ca. 1370.  From the top the panels depict The Last Supper, The Child Jesus Teaching in the Temple, The Baptism of Jesus, The Crufixion, and The Dormition of Mary.

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