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Archive for July 9th, 2018

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Are We Citizens of Nazareth?
On Sunday morning Abbot John performed a ritual that’s been repeated for 160 years at Saint John’s Abbey.  At morning prayer he clothed our friend Jeremy as a novice, and so that day Brother Jeremy began his quest to see whether life in our monastic community is the vocation to which God calls him.

Having been a monk for more than a few years now, I can say for myself that it’s been a fulfilling experience.  But I also have to say that I’m not the same person I was when I first came to this place, and I’m glad about that.  I hope that along with age I’ve also grown in wisdom.  Some of my talents I’ve developed, and some are still dormant, unused and perhaps unneeded.  But along the way I’ve come to realize that my fellow monks have respected my individuality even as they’ve nudged me to grow.

061A77FE-B389-4A87-8E3C-7E0ABB700CA5If there’s one thing I now realize about monastic formation, it’s this.  We as a community are not interested in creating clones of some idealized monk.  And so eventually Brother Jeremy will have to come to terms with a community of wildly contrasting individuals.  In our community we subscribe to the advice that Oscar Wilde offered, and it’s the advice I would give to Brother Jeremy.  “Be yourself.  Everybody else is taken”

I bring all this up in the shadow of today’s gospel passage about the return visit of Jesus to Nazareth, the place where he had grown up.  In brief, the people of Nazareth didn’t like what they saw, and they rejected Jesus.  I can only speculate about what it was that irritated them, but it’s clear that Jesus had grown up into someone they no longer recognized.

For the sake of argument, I’m going to concede that as a youngster Jesus was not hell on wheels, or they would have been happy to see some maturity in him — at last.  At the other extreme, I can imagine the possibility that they recalled the young Jesus as a good boy, perhaps a bit shy, obedient and respectful to a fault.  Perhaps the young Jesus had given the impression that he would grow up into someone who would not rock the boat — someone who would blend quietly into the small-town society of Nazareth.  He would become a clone of everyone else, and no one need worry about him.

636C5C33-69D3-4488-9198-0244451E7434Well, it didn’t turn out that way.  Jesus left home and he had changed;  and for many in Nazareth the change was just too much.  Whatever Jesus had become when he returned to Nazareth, he wasn’t what many had expected.  And some were downright upset by what they saw.

It’s also possible to assume that Jesus had grown up and changed, and the best term to describe what had happened to him was that he had blossomed.  He had grown in age and wisdom, as the gospels say, and the seeds of his vocation had taken root and sprouted.  He now knew that he had come to do the will of his Father, and not the will of the people of Nazareth.

That scenario, of course, leaves us with a rather unflattering portrait of the people of Nazareth.  They had created a stifling social environment that left little room for the kind of maturity that they now saw in Jesus.  Whether Jesus had come to do the will of his Father or not, there was no longer room for him in Nazareth.

If all of this matters in the life of Jesus, then it also matters in our lives as well.  In the monastery, to take the example with which I started, we test a novice to see if his calling is from God.  But the clothing of a novice is also a test of the community.  Are we senior monks still prepared to grow?  Are we willing to stretch ourselves just as much as we are asking a novice to stretch?  How we respond to these questions determines whether we flourish as a community, or whether we stagnate or become a clone of the town of Nazareth.

C0CE6599-42C2-43F5-8578-A39DC1F41670But just because you may not be a monk doesn’t mean you’re off the hook.  Until your last day the Lord continues to introduce people into your life.  Be that new person a friend, a spouse, a child, or merely a stranger on the street, all come as gifts from God.  Some will be brand new to you, and some will be people who’ve grown up and changed before your very eyes.  If, like the people of Nazareth, you choose to reject such gifts from God, then you may be choosing an early death — metaphorically at least.

So what’s the take-away from today’s gospel story?  For my part I think it boils down to the issue of hospitality.  Can we be hospitable to all sorts of people and welcome them into our lives?  Or do we slam the door on them because they threaten our routine or our settled ways?  Can we accept others as gifts from God who can add something to our lives?  How we respond to such gifts spells the difference between life in the Spirit or life as a curmudgeon.

One of the first things we learn in the monastery is Saint Benedict’s advice that we are privileged to see the face of Christ in others.  But we have to be alert, and we have to look.  Sometimes Christ comes disguised as one of our sick or elderly monks.  Sometimes he’s disguised as a guest or as the abbot or even as a novice.  But Christ’s ingenuity doesn’t stop there.  He’s equally visible as a husband or wife, or as a child or a co-worker or a stranger.  But however Christ chooses to be present to us, he’s there to call out the best from us.

Sadly, Jesus once came as the Christ to the people of Nazareth.  He came disguised as their brother and neighbor, but all they could see was a stranger that they did not like.  And so Jesus could do no great works there.  That’s sad to consider, but it’s a wake-up call to us.  Let’s make sure we don’t make the mistake of the people of Nazareth.  When Jesus comes calling, may he not find us to be clones of Nazareth.  Instead, may Christ find in us his brothers and sisters, his sons and daughters.  Amen.

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NOTES

+Our July 4th celebration was rather different this year.  Normally we have a picnic outside, but the intermittent rains prevented that.  Even so, it was a pleasant day.

+On Saturday July 7th I witnessed the wedding vows of Paul Lundberg and Laura Posthumus, which took place in the abbey church.  Paul is an alumnus of Saint John’s, while Laura is an alumna of the College of Saint Benedict.

+On Saturday July 7th our confrere Fr. Julian Schmeising passed away in his sleep.  Born in 1931, he grew up in the nearby town of Meier Grove, and he was 66 years a monk and 60 years a priest.  Good-natured in his best years and long-suffering in his decline, his only complaint was that other monks kept slipping into the line for heaven before he could go.

+On Sunday July 8th Abbot John clothed Jeremy Welters as a novice in our community.  Brother Jeremy grew up in nearby Long Prairie, MN, and he is a graduate of Saint John’s University.  He then did a year as a Benedictine Volunteer at Saint Benedict’s Prep in Newark, NJ, before returning to work last year in our prep school.  He is a runner and has run several marathons.  The other day he passed me as I was walking — definitely at non-marathon pace.  I later asked how far he had run.  “Only twelve miles today.”

+Also on Sunday the 8th I presided and preached at the abbey Mass.  Today’s post is the text of the sermon that I delivered.

+These days there are splotches of color wherever you look on campus, and in today’s post I’ve provided a sampling.  At top is Stella Maris Chapel, on the shore opposite the monastery on Lake Sagatagan.

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