Feeds:
Posts
Comments

A6BA7781-DD04-44C3-BD35-D61496DC2082

The Acts of the Apostles:  We’re Part of the Story

On Saturday the last chapter from the Acts of the Apostles supplied the first reading for Mass.  In that text the author of Acts leaves St. Paul in Rome, settling in to what sounds like a comfortable house arrest while he waited for his day in court.

It’s an abrupt ending, and I’ve always found it unsatisfying.  For one thing, it leaves readers completely in the dark about some of the most dramatic scenes in Paul’s life.  I would love to read about his trial before the emperor and his execution.  But no, there’s not a word about any of that.  Nor does the writer grab at the chance to craft a happy or sad ending.  The curtain comes down on Paul almost in mid-sentence, and then that’s that.

After Mass, over lunch in the refectory, my confrere Fr. Hilary shared his own feigned disappointment with the ending.  “Now we’ll never know whether Paul went to Spain!”  True;  and had Paul gone to Spain there would have been enough material for several more chapters.

FD591DA4-60A9-4978-AFBA-1047E2393B89His comment got me to thinking.  We know of course that Paul wanted to go to Spain, but did he actually make the trip?  Someday perhaps somebody will find Paul’s name in a first-century hotel register from Barcelona, but for now we’re free to speculate.

As unsatisfying as the conclusion to Acts might be for some, its silence on Paul was intended to speak volumes.  Acts was never meant to be the definitive biography of Paul, because it meant to set the stage for something else.  The postscript to Acts is really about all those nameless people who finally did take the good news of Jesus to Spain, and then on to places like France and India and finally into our own towns centuries later.  In other words, the Acts of the Apostles as a text is in no way complete until we figure out how we fit into the story.

If Acts ends with a variation on “to be continued”, the writer wants us to realize that we are the people meant to continue the story.  Certainly the Acts of the Apostles provides useful information on the apostles, on Paul, and on those who succeeded them in leadership.  But the story is presented for the benefit of those for whom the message of Jesus was intended;  and as near as I can figure it, that includes me and you too.

DEBC65F1-D12F-4095-9CAD-DC71CFD2354FThat has profound implications for our role in the Church.  Whenever I learn more about the shortcomings of leaders in the Church, it naturally gives me pain, if not a big dose of anguish.  But then I try not to stop there.  That’s when I remind myself that “Church” is not nor has it ever been co-terminus with its ministers and leaders.  The Church includes all the baptized, and all the baptized must do the equivalent of “pick up our mats and walk.”  All of us share in the mission to take the gospel to the ends of the earth, or at least to the end of the street where we live.

At Pentecost Jesus sent the Spirit for our inspiration, our consolation, and to be our constant travel companion.  With that gift comes the call to share in the commission that the Lord gave to his first followers.  Thankfully the work didn’t stop with them, and as a result a bunch of people had the gumption to take the gospel to Spain.

Others went even further afield, and so I’m left to wonder what the Lord expects of me on the feast of Pentecost.  Should I take the Spirit home with me?  To work or to the market?  At the very least I should take the Spirit to heart.  After all, the Lord meant that gift for me, as well as for you.

2758634C-3FCF-4796-A133-E5A198F8A040NOTES

+The farthest I travelled from home this week was to Minneapolis.  I drove down with one of my colleagues on June 6th, to meet with an alumnus of Saint John’s University and to attend a reception in the evening.  For lunch we stopped at Emily’s, for which I gladly give a plug.  It is a Lebanese cafe that has been a fixture in northeast Minneapolis forever.  Across the street is Saint Boniface Church, which the monks of Saint John’s Abbey staffed for over a century.  A block away is a Ukrainian Catholic Church, and between them is Saint Maron’s Maronite-Rite Church.  Since my colleague had never been to Saint Maron’s, I suggested we go in.  Once in the sanctuary he spied the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, which a donor had given to the parish.  On the way out we bumped into the caretaker, and I casually asked if Bishop Sharbel happened to be in.  Before I could stop him he called the bishop, and shortly he came out and we had a nice visit.  I attribute all that to the work of the Holy Spirit.

22CEC028-EB08-43E6-8464-06659B5A027A+Following the retreat that I gave in Malvern, PA, last weekend, I returned to catch the last part of our own community retreat at Saint John’s.

+I continue to get interesting comments on the geography post I produced three weeks ago.  In it I wondered how New London, MN, had gotten its name, speculating that it might be named for London UK or even New London, CT.  A friend of mine did the research and reported that New London MN is named for New London WI (who would have thought), which in turn had been named for New London, CT.  (Who would have thought.)

+Summer has finally arrived in Minnesota, and in addition to the weekend lake traffic going by on I-94 we have enjoyed the lush green landscape.  Save for the lilacs, the flowers are not yet in serious bloom, but we do have our first peonies, which is perfect timing.  They are also known as the Pentecost rose.

7571589A-8BFE-413B-96A9-B03C6E3F142A

B24996E4-652B-44AE-8B55-2C41C3B02DAE

From Tiny Acorns

When some people think of monks what generally pops into their minds are cowls, cloisters and books.  Eventually they think of chant, but then that’s it.  They’ve exhausted their imagination.

So it is that most people have little awareness of the importance of music in the monastery, and that goes especially for instruments like the organ.  Part of this is Saint Benedict’s fault, since he didn’t have one in his chapel.  But by the later Middle Ages most monasteries had at least some variation of that instrument at their disposal.

BCB3589D-D80A-4D53-8E8B-B830610E4ED4I’ve been fortunate to see a few early organs, and no doubt my favorite is the 15th-century instrument at the abbey of St. Savin, south of Lourdes.  It’s small and stubborn in its own way, which explains why it is among the oldest surviving organs in France.

In early modern times organs really came into their own, both in parish churches and in monastery chapels.  Some were astounding both in design and sound, and I count myself fortunate to have walked in and under one of the finest — the organ at the abbey church of Weingarten in Germany.

That brings me to the organ in the abbey church at Saint John’s.  It’s been nearly sixty years since the church was finished, and until now the organ has remained unfinished.  That explains why so very few people ever see it.  Through all those years a red cloth has screened the pipes from view, and first-time visitors often have to ask where all that sound comes from.  Soon enough they will wonder no more.

We monks finally decided to complete the incomplete organ, and later this summer designer and builder Martin Pasi will begin to install the pipes that will transform the organ into something truly extraordinary.  As a bonus, the abbey woodworking shop has been fashioning some of the largest pipes out of lumber harvested from our forest.  Not only have some of those acorns grown into mighty oaks, but a few select boards have become pipes weighing as much as 750 pounds.

52102235-048C-4854-8733-C1AF2DB3FDC9Last week some of us monks, donors and other guests gathered in the woodworking shop to watch as Abbot John blessed some of the largest pipes.   The staff also revved up a blower to pump air through two of them, and the deep tones literally shook the building.  Who knew the power of wind and wood!

In the common imagination there’s a lot about the monastic world that seems pointless and uneconomic.  Why would anyone want to search for God in relative obscurity in some cloister in the woods?  Why would anyone engage in an economically pointless exercise like prayer?  Why would anyone devote time, energy and resources to a musical instrument whose sole purpose is to transform air into sound, and all for a fleeting moment?

I’m not sure I have adequate answers for any of that, though I do have a question to counter the question.  “Why not?”  For centuries monks and nuns have devoted themselves to prayer.  They’ve worked and served guests.  And they’ve also devoted themselves to the pursuit of some very ephemeral experiences like music.  In the belief that traces of God can be found in the good, the true and the beautiful, Benedictines both ancient and modern have devoted their lives to that search.

115F89A8-F3DB-4D39-A56F-03B453A34350All things being equal then, the reasons for finishing the organ outweigh the reasons for not doing so, at least in my mind.  Not least of them is that its completion is a sign of hope.  There’s hope that in its majestic music we will catch a glimpse of God.  There’s hope that those pipes will inspire future generations of monks and visitors to thank us for the gift of music.

Finally, I should not forget to point out one practical benefit.  At long last the organ will be so large that the new pipes will flank the red screen that has always obscured the old pipes.  No longer will visitors have to ask where the pipes might be.  They’ll be obvious.  For our part we’ll be able to save some of our breath and devote it to singing the praises of God.

D204A134-8625-4A98-B94A-DDB55AD1A512NOTES

+On May 27th, Memorial Day, an honor guard from the local American Legion gave its customary salute to our deceased monks and neighbors who served in the military.  I find that service in the abbey cemetery to be a poignant ceremony, though the startled squirrels usually disagree.  I am always amazed at the number of our deceased monks who served as chaplains or soldiers in the military.

+On May 29th I gathered in the carpenter shop with fellow monks, friends and neighbors for the blessing of some of the pipes that will be installed in the organ in the abbey church beginning later this summer.  At the ceremony Fr. Bob Koopmann, who has led this project, spoke, as did Fr. Lew Grobe.  Fr. Lew and his colleagues in woodworking have had the honor of crafting some of these extraordinary pipes.

+On 30 May I flew to Philadelphia, and from that day through 4 June I am participating in the annual retreat of the Subpriory of Our Lady of Lourdes of the Order of Malta.  This particular group comprises members from the American and Federal Associations, and the retreat has taken place at Malvern Retreat House, located outside of the city.

+Three of the photos in today’s post show scenes from the blessing of new pipes for the abbey organ.  Included among them is a signature board which will be fixed to the largest of the pipes.  The bottom two photos show the organ from the Abbey of Weingarten in Germany.

A41F691E-1CC2-4CDC-9085-9AC80457A67F

DD1FEE88-2C87-4067-8822-403D8D2420AF

Hold Your Questions Until After the Ascension

Despite all the subtle hints that Jesus gave to his disciples, they were completely taken aback by his return to the Father.  Perhaps it’s just as well that they didn’t see it coming.  Had they known, they likely would have drawn up scrolls and scrolls of questions for which they wanted answers.  But there simply was no time for that sort of thing.

Whatever else there is to say about Jesus, he was definitely not a micromanager.  After all, many of his parables seemed more like riddles;  and the wisdom he imparted to his disciples tended to create as many questions as answers.  That, it seems to me, is precisely what Jesus intended to do.

BA6E5A56-D682-41A6-9AF5-EDA77EAA530EPerhaps a comparison between the Commandments and the Beatitudes sheds some light on this.  The Ten Commandments are quite specific.  It is wrong to kill;  wrong to commit adultery;  wrong to worship other gods.  By contrast the Beatitudes don’t even come packaged in command form.  They’re more like nuggets of wisdom.  “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  “Blessed are those who mourn.”  Therein lies the quandary.  At the end of the day you pretty much know whether you’ve killed somebody or not.  But how sure can you be that you gave peacemaking an honest effort?

Jesus made that point throughout his teaching.  Again and again he stressed that God prefers a pure heart rather than birds and bullocks sliced open on an altar.  God also prefers a self-examined life over pretty much anything else.  Perhaps, then, that explains why Jesus made a surprise exit before the disciples could pin him down with all sorts of questions that required yes or no for an answer.

In four days we celebrate the Ascension, and perhaps what we should celebrate most of all was the decision Jesus made not to leave us with a block-long scroll of non-negotiable demands.  Far from it, and for very good reason.  Jesus didn’t answer all the questions before the Ascension because he expects us to ask them after the Ascension.

So the next time we wonder what God means for us to do with our lives, we might do what Jesus did when he was in a tight spot:  pray about it.  It’s certainly what the disciples started to do after the Ascension.

B1687FBF-A851-4B59-B3BE-35A547415094NOTES

+On May 23nd I made a brief trip to Long Island to give a talk on The Saint John’s Bible at the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation in Garden City, NY.  I’d seen the church from the outside but had never been inside.  It’s an imposing gothic presence on a handsome site in the center of town.  The interior is equally beautiful.  While there I was surprised to discover that a friend and former history colleague of mine from Saint John’s University is now an assistant bishop in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island.  Before his retirement Bishop Bill Franklin served as Episcopal bishop of western New York.

+On May 25th Saint John’s Preparatory School celebrated graduation with commencement in the abbey church.  Presiding was Fr. Jonathan Licari, who is retiring after serving as head of school for several years.  However, monks never really retire, and this fall he will continue as a faculty resident in one of the residence halls of the University.

+I received several intriguing messages in response to last week’s post about my travels through Milan, Montevideo and Nassau.  My friend Don, who used to live in Austin, MN, wrote to describe one of his favorite bike rides.  He would start out in Austin, bike to London, and after breezing through Moscow he would finish in Austin, for a total of 35 miles.  That prompted my own questions about New London, MN, which is forty miles from Saint John’s.  Is it named for London, MN?  Or London UK?  Or New London, CT?  I’m sure someone knows the answer to that.

Long-time friend Jon wrote to describe a drive from Quincy, IL, to St. Louis.  En route he passed through Payson, IL, which he found “disappointingly rural given the august name” — Payson happens to be his surname.  From there he went through Mexico, Poland and Russia — all in the space of one day.

+The photos in today’s post show a fantastic reredos in the cathedral of Toledo in Spain.  When I saw it three years ago I was mesmerized by the depiction of the Ascension, which I have placed at the head of the post.  All the same I do not believe that it definitively answers the question of whether we will need shoes in heaven.

4E8A40B1-12FD-4A5D-9789-A202CF4F37CF

7B516445-9DB1-4FA0-89E0-1C34CD945A81

What’s in a Name?  Perhaps Integrity

Recently, in the space of one afternoon, I visited Milan (not in Italy), Montevideo (not in Uruguay) and Nassau (not in The Bahamas).  I did all this as I and a colleague drove around western Minnesota on the way to Madison, which is just a short drive from Appleton, unlike in Wisconsin.  And just in case all of that was not enough, there was the South Dakota border, a tantalizing ten miles away.  But we resisted because we did not want to overdo it.

I’d never been to that part of Minnesota.  While I had heard of Madison, MN, these other towns came as a complete surprise.  So I had to wonder what possessed those otherwise sober Norwegian settlers to concoct such an eclectic urban mix out on the prairies.  Did they mean it as a long-range urban plan?  Was it meant to be a joke?  What were these people thinking?

D1A0F8EC-752B-4BB8-9AD7-9DC4E453EE10Perhaps they did it with a nod to their neighbors in central Minnesota.  Within a stone’s-throw of Saint John’s there are nice German towns like Saint Anna, Saint Wendel, Saint Stephen, Saint Joseph, Saint Augusta and Saint Nicholas.  There’s also New Munich and Uppsala, the latter of which is an outlier in anybody’s book.  So if people in central Minnesota longed for a bit of Germany, maybe the Norwegians of western Minnesota thought they could do better.  They didn’t leave Norway just to replicate it on the prairies.  No, perhaps they were inclined to be a bit more adventurous.  Perhaps thoughts of South America and the tropics and the Mediterranean may have been coursing through their minds.  Perhaps it was no coincidence that all of these places happened to be warm places.  Maybe they also thought warm.

Anyway, names bring in their train all sorts of baggage.  Well or poorly chosen, they can evoke aspirations that we set for our communities and ourselves.  And much like place names, the names we attach to people serve the very same purpose.  Names tell others who we think we are and what we hope to become, and they remind us of the dreams which we fashion for ourselves.

When there’s a disconnect between who we claim to be and who we really are, then we generally fool no one, except maybe ourselves.  In the gospels Jesus railed against the hypocrisy of those whose personal disparities were so glaring.  These were people who cut themselves lots of slack but expected an awful lot from the people around them.  Some of these people even accused Jesus of hypocrisy as he hung on the cross.  “He saved others, but he cannot save himself.”

2998EA26-8183-409A-AC86-380029599DC3Given all that, in the Easter season it’s paramount that if we claim to be Christian then we should actually give it our best shot.  We need to align our name with the reality of our lives.  So it is that if we believe that what we do for the least of people we are doing for Jesus himself, then we should act that way.  If the Beatitudes are the Christian equivalent of the Ten Commandments, then it might be nice to read up on them every now and again.

In theory, of course, this sounds easy;  but for all of us there are days when it’s a real challenge.  It’s a comfort to know that we’re not alone in this struggle, however.  As the Acts of the Apostles relate, it took the followers of Jesus years to come to terms with who they would be called and how that name would shape their lives.  Only in time did they realize they would be Christians and not Jews and that they would have to translate this into a way of life.

Selecting a personal brand is the fad of the moment, and in one sense that’s okay.  However, if our brand is only veneer-thin it advertises the shallowness of our lives to all whom we meet.  But choosing to be Christian is more than putting on a mask or adopting a veneer.  Our name and our very lives must feed upon one another.  They must give rise to a deep and ongoing self-examination.  And the product of that exercise is the joy that comes from being truly authentic.  We become Christian not only in name but in word and deed.

05B5DDCA-8FEF-4CF9-A0A8-51666AC8321ENOTES

+On May 14th I drove with one of my colleagues from Saint John’s University to meet an alumnus and his wife who live outside of Madison, MN.  In the course of the trip we passed through the other towns noted in today’s post.  It left me realizing that there is so much of Minnesota that I have yet to see, including the town of Ghent, which was just beyond our reach.  As you might expect, it was settled by immigrants from Belgium.

+On May 15th I flew to San Francisco, and on the 16th attended the board of directors meeting of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA.

+On May 17th I said Mass and gave a talk to members of the Order of Malta who live in Monterey, CA.

+The photos in today’s post show glass made in the 15th and 16th centuries from the cathedral in Milan (in Italy, not Minnesota).  At top is Saint Matthew, followed by Jonah preaching to the people of Nineveh, a view of the city of Betulia, and the Tower of Babel.  At bottom is an interior shot of the cathedral of Milan.  For the record, unlike its namesake in Italy, Milan, MN, is pronounced just as it is spelled:  MY-lan, with the accent on the first syllable.

D777D220-7BB3-4F3D-A4FD-01389868ADFA

BE7BE8D9-C21E-4EB9-8C00-D7FFE1F0C55F

Why We Feebly Struggle

Chapter 11 of the Acts of the Apostles describes a group of Christians in Jerusalem, irate that Peter feels free to eat anything he pleases.  Even worse, he has welcomed Gentiles into their community.  By whose authority did he do this, they demanded to know.

Peter’s explanation was simple:  the Holy Spirit told him to do it.  And their response?  It was the equivalent of saying: “Oh that’s wonderful.  Why didn’t you say that in the first place?”

I have a hard time believing that Peter escaped their wrath so easily, because in fact he didn’t.  What Acts 11 fails to tell us is that the Christian community argued about these sorts of things for decades. Such questions were at the heart of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.

953E75EC-1CEA-47F1-9899-6373B04F6704It’s tempting to wax nostalgic for a strife-free Church, but such nostalgia would be misplaced.  It would be misplaced because there never really was such a Church.  When Jesus ascended he didn’t leave behind a community that had all the answers.  In fact it was a community with too many questions.  But that was the whole point behind the gift of the Holy Spirit; and through the centuries the Spirit has guided the Church in its quest for the truth.

We primarily have Jesus to blame for the struggles we’ve faced over 2,000 years.  After all, his original point was that the sacrifice of birds and bullocks may be a nice gesture, but what God really prefers is purity of heart.  That purity of heart comes from the daily struggle to understand and follow through on God’s will for us.

If the Church has struggled for 2,000 years, we should not lament that we also feebly struggle at times.  It might be nice were life to have no challenges, but such a life would not be real.  Struggle is a sign that the Holy Spirit works within us.  As gold is refined in the fire, so the Spirit nudges and sometimes even pushes us around.  And the Spirit does so to awaken us to the presence of Christ within us.

NOTES

+My return trip from Lourdes last week was largely uneventful.  Last year’s return was also uneventful, but mainly for the lack of an event that was supposed to happen.  Last year a strike meant no trains, and that left some of us stranded in Lourdes.  This year the French trains ran efficiently and at a steady 300 kpm, and they are a marvel to ride.

AFB10947-CCDB-495F-9820-2AC1085C28E1+On May 12th we celebrated graduation at Saint John’s University, and for me it represented a milestone.  Six years ago two friends of mine, John Lyden and Jack Marshall, conceived the idea of bringing students from Immokalee High School, FL, to Saint John’s for college.  Our first two students, Alejandro and Jaime, graduated this Sunday, and it was a great day for them and their families.  For their support of these great students Saint John’s president Michael Hemesath conferred on Jack and John honorary B.A.s.  What made it even better was the fact that neither John nor Jack saw this coming.  It was a total surprise.

+Following graduation ceremonies we monks hosted the newest group of Benedictine Volunteers, as well as their families, at a reception and dinner in the courtyard of the Quadrangle.  Save for the chill in the air, it was a delightful event.

+On May 13th I presided at the abbey Mass, and today’s post is the transcript of the sermon that I delivered.

+It was a bit of a shock to record an inch of snow earlier in the week, but green is now the dominant color in the landscape at Saint John’s, as the photo of the monastic garden at the head of this post illustrates.  The second photo shows senior Alejandro Guzman from Immokalee, FL, with Saint John’s President Michael Hemesath.  Below that is a photo of my friends Jack and John after receiving their honorary degrees.  At bottom is a photo of four of our Cistercian student-monks from Vietnam, who received Master of Divinity degrees on Sunday.  They are pictured with a confrere from California and a friend from Minnesota.

8B4FF820-0863-49ED-A37B-9F6CD9CC60ED

321CDCE4-0C3E-490A-B8F0-C1E63222B07E

Letting Go of Spiritual Baggage

[The following is a sermon that I gave at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, on 2 May.]

One of the consistent refrains we’ll hear this week is that Lourdes changes all who come here.  I know that might sound trite, but it’s true.  Through our encounters with people, through the liturgies we share, and through the experience of the place, we all change in ways we might not have expected.

Now that we’ve gathered for our first liturgy our education has already begun.  The first lesson we all have to absorb is this:  Lourdes is the land of hurry up and wait, and there’s a reason for that.  With so many people to move around, that has to be the way it is.  But it’s also the chance for each of us to be sensitive to our neighbor.  This is one place where being ready and on time is one of the highest forms of virtue.  It is our chance to show respect and charity for our neighbor.

ECD3CF40-ACCB-4683-919F-808475A2D763Lourdes is also a place where the sacred and the secular stand in sharp distinction.  To get to this chapel we ran a gauntlet of shops that cater to all tastes and none.  But it all stopped once we reached the gates of the shrine.  Nowhere that I’ve ever been have I seen such a sharp contrast between the material and the sacred.

More than anything else, however, Lourdes is a place where we take time out from the routines that shape our lives.  Whether we like it or not, Lourdes has a way of calling the question on the meaning of our lives.  It’s different from any place we’ve been, and it forces us to reflect on where we’ve come from and where we are going with our lives.  Eventually we all have to ask whether and how we will be changed when we return home.  Will we return to lives that are in a metaphorical desert, or will we return to lives of renewed intensity — lives we’d not thought possible?

Lourdes touches all who come here, and experience forces us to confront our own mortality.  When we leave this place how do we intend to use the years and weeks and days that God has reserved for us?  Will we fritter our time away?  Or will we resolve to use our time wisely and treat it for what it really is —a wonderful gift from God?  Only we can answer that, but I hope it’s a question we’ll all mull over during our days here.

Tucked away in the materials that prepared us for this pilgrimage was a very simple warning.  “Don’t bring too much stuff.”  For those who thought they couldn’t live without the extra four or five pounds of stuff, you’ve already begun to pay the price.  It may have seemed to be indispensable, but it also turned out to be heavy and bulky.  I know that experience, because I’ve had it too.  But I quickly learned I never need as much as I think, and if I forget something there are always stores, even in France.  But more than that, I’ve learned to keep asking one question of myself:  will my stuff serve me, or will I serve my stuff?

7479A1F1-96B9-418C-952E-19B09C1FCA9ABut that stuff is not the only baggage that we brought along.  Certainly we brought material baggage, but we’ve also brought along spiritual and emotional baggage that can be both very heavy and very distracting.  Perhaps even at this moment you’re sorting through some of the emotional baggage you’ve brought along.  If so, that’s okay, because in Lourdes we want to pay special attention to all the baggage that can so easily become a ball and chain on our emotional lives.  It’s a part of us; and while we could leave our material baggage in our hotel rooms this morning, this spiritual burden is something we’ve dragged along with us into the shrine.

I like to think of my mind as a warehouse, and in it I carry all sorts of stuff that gives me life but also burdens me enormously at times.  Included in its inventory are memories of good times and bad;  the experience of sickness and health;  and the joys and sorrows of life.  In that mental storage bin I carry the scars of sin — sins that I’ve committed and sins that have been committed upon me.  I know that I’m not alone in this experience, because these things haunt you as well.  It’s the price we pay for the knowledge of good and evil which we’ve inherited from Adam and Eve.  And if rightly we cherish the good memories, we can also let the negatives become a cancer that turns us into people we never imagined we would be.

One of my favorite stories from the gospels is the parable of the prodigal son.  It’s the story of one son who wasted his inheritance and finally came back to beg forgiveness from his father.  Most of us don’t identify with this son, but sometimes we should.  The fact is, we all have stuff from which we should repent.

Then there’s the older son.  He’s done everything right, and he’s the perfect son in all things but one.  As the writer David Brooks once pointed out, that son has no empathy for his younger brother.  There’s no forgiveness in his heart.  On occasion we all share his resentment, but we shouldn’t.  We shouldn’t because not one of us is as good as we think.

4B4A8CDF-056C-48F7-9A49-7712D1097CD4Finally there’s the father who has to forgive two sons.  As Brooks also observes, each of his sons is deeply flawed, but he forgives them because he loves them.  He wishes each was better, but they are who they are.  And who knows, perhaps his own love might have the power to transform hem.

To my mind the parable invites us to take the father as our model.  He too may have once stood in his sons’ shoes, but he also knows how powerfully sin can grip us and transform us into people we never intended to become.  Still, he refused to let hurt and resentment burden him.  He refused to let it transform him.  Sin — whether it was his own or that of his sons — would not become baggage he would carry through life.  So he walked away a free man.

Senator George McGovern of South Dakota once remarked that he gave up holding grudges because he couldn’t remember who he was supposed to be mad at.  Whether he did it for religious reasons or not doesn’t really matter, because the result was wonderful.  He was free to get on with life, and the burden of at least some evil lost the power to call the shots in his life.  And that, I would submit, is part of the reason we have come to Lourdes.

D36C2FE1-5755-44EA-818A-7EBF3293D81AIn a few moments we will participate in the sacrament of reconciliation.  This is our chance to let Jesus wash us free from sin.  It’s our chance to leave all sorts of spiritual baggage behind us as we put it in the hands of Jesus.  It’s the chance to move on with our lives.

At every turn Lourdes reminds us to leave behind that burden of sin.  In the baths we let the water wash away the memory of sin. And if need be, when we cross the river each time it’s a good idea to toss in the worst of our memories and let the waters wash them out to sea.  It’s futile to chase after them, and it’s a sign that that sort of baggage no longer has a place in our lives.

And so, I would conclude, if you resolve to leave all your heavy stuff in the hands of the Lord and in the care of Our Lady of Lourdes, you’ll go home with a lot less baggage.  You’ll go home a free person.  You’ll realize that this pilgrimage was worth every minute and every step that it took to get here.

NOTES

+On April 30th I arrived in Paris, where I stayed the night before continuing on by train to Lourdes.  As I realized too late, this was taking a big chance, since May Day — May 1st — is usually reserved for raucous demonstrations in the city.  Sometimes the trains are on strike as well, as was the case last year.  Thankfully I made it to Lourdes with little difficulty.

+On May 2nd I delivered a homily at a penance service for members of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.  Some 350 gathered in the chapel of Saint Bernadette.  I’ve presented this homily in today’s post, and I apologize for the length.  I didn’t know what to cut out, so I leave it to readers to figure that out for themselves!

8D1ABBA1-DE50-4551-9BBC-8049714EA2E7+As I noted in the sermon, in Lourdes there are shops for every taste and none, and so far one friend of mine has come up with two champion gifts.  First prize goes to the inventor of the Lourdes combination back scratcher and shoe horn.  It’s the gift for someone who thought they had everything.  The second item falls into the category of the slightly bizarre.  In one shop my friend found a tiny statue of Mary that had been carved from a bullet, and the casing was highly polished to provide housing for the statue.  I tried to put the best face on it, by thinking of the exhortation to beat swords into plowshares, but I’m still not quite sure what market niche this gift intends to fill.

+Alumni of Saint John’s University pop up everywhere, and I was surprised to meet up with Lino Rulli.  Lino has a radio program — The Catholic Guy — that airs across the country on Sirius Radio.  He was at Lourdes with Cardinal Dolan of New York, who was also part of the Order of Malta pilgrimage.

973853A0-3D7E-4D8B-8826-62CB15209F25.jpeg

496FFDA7-460F-4E5B-93BC-FF4D17B51696

Thomas and the Virtue of Doubt

Among the apostles I find Thomas to be perhaps the most curious and thoughtful.  While the others quickly confessed their belief in the resurrection of Jesus, Thomas alone hesitated.  Unless he touched his wounds he would not believe.  And furthermore he wasn’t about to believe solely on the testimony of his fellow apostles.  After all, could anyone really trust the word of disciples who had run away when the chips were down?

But was there more to Thomas’ doubt — something he did not share with his more impetuous colleagues?  It’s entirely possible, and it had to do with what might come next.  It was all well and good to affirm his belief in the resurrection of Jesus, but what might come next?  Would there be other shoes to drop?  Would Jesus ask of him things he was not yet prepared to do?  Would Jesus ask too much of him?  That may help explain why Thomas doubted.  Certainly he had doubts about the risen Lord.  But Thomas had doubts about himself too.

A5C6B58B-532D-4C6C-8C57-90282ACBD891At the Easter Vigil we participants in the liturgy renewed our baptismal vows, and in the creed that we profess on Sundays we do much the same.  And while those statements were crafted long after Thomas professed his faith in the risen Lord, they mirror the words of Thomas.  They are our way of saying “My Lord and my God.”  They are our way of saying “Lord I believe; help my unbelief.”  They are our confession that we don’t always know what the Lord has in mind for us; but despite all this we believe that the Lord will walk alongside us on our earthly pilgrimage.

In our culture doubt can seem to be a flaw.  When unquestioned self-confidence seems to be the ideal, we often see doubt as a sign of weakness.  And yet I would submit that doubt is actually a gift.  Doubt is part of any solid relationship — be it with a spouse or a friend or even with God.  Doubt is part of any pilgrimage that is going somewhere wonderful, because when there is no doubt then there is no adventure.  And there are certainly no surprises.  Do we really want to live a life in which there are no surprises?

The Acts of the Apostles demonstrate that it’s okay and perhaps even wise for us to doubt now and again — or often.  Thomas doubted and on that doubt he built a relationship that blossomed and flourished.  As for us. If we had certainty about everything and doubts about nothing, then we might misunderstand what it is the Lord asks of us.  Given that, we could very well panic and look for some sort of detour.

So it seems to me that doubt is not so bad a thing.  There is virtue to be had in doubt.  However, there is one doubt that Jesus invites us to put aside, and it has to do with his promise to be with us —  always.  Never for a moment should we doubt the word of Jesus, who plans to walk with us, even until the end of time.

746CB303-6CDC-4C31-9648-56FA6D63BDB9NOTES

+My week began quietly and ended with a flurry of activity.  On April 25 I flew to White Plains, NY, located a stone’s throw from my destination, Stamford, CT.  In the umpteen years of flying to Connecticut for school and then for work on behalf of Saint John’s it had never dawned on me to fly into that airport.  I am truly amazed at how oblivious I was to geographic reality.  But this discovery also shows that learning is a life-long opportunity, with lots of rewards.

+On April 28th I gave a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible at Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church in Darien, CT.  Following that I preached at one of the services, and today’s post is an excerpt from that sermon.  I have passed through Darien many times but had never stopped there.  It turned out to be a wonderful experience, and among others I met a couple whose grandparents are buried in the abbey cemetery at Saint John’s.  I would go back to Darien in a heartbeat!

+While the fire at Notre Dame deeply touched me and all those who revere that church, it also served as a reminder of the great architectural heritage that France shares with the world.  Among my favorite churches is the medieval abbey of Saint Remi, in the city of Rheims.  The cathedral there overshadows this Romanesque structure, and visitors seldom walk the half-mile to see it.  But like so much in France, it is well worth the extra steps.

+Today I leave for the annual pilgrimage of the Order of Malta to Lourdes.  That may explain my preoccupation with France of late.

FCFC1B61-FA09-44E8-9DBE-4712C418260D