Posts Tagged ‘Beatitudes’


Blessed Are We!

”Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”  This and the other promises that Jesus makes in the Beatitudes for a long time puzzled me.  To my literal way of thinking it all sounded like small consolation for having gotten the short end of the stick in life.  It also seemed to encourage passivity, suggesting that if we suffer patiently and with dignity now, then we’ll hit the jackpot when we reach the gates of heaven.  Conversely, wealth and happiness in the present life come with an ominous warning.  Enjoy them now because they’re not going to last forever.

I think the first time an alternate interpretation presented itself came as I watched a homeless person pushing a cartload of stuff down the street.  I assumed that cart held all he owned, and the Beatitudes seemed crafted precisely for someone like him.  But all the same there was a disconnect.  Clearly he was poor, and if the Beatitudes weren’t meant for him, then for whom were they meant?  But the nurture that he gave to his cartload of possessions gave a different message.  Was he in fact serving the stuff, rather than the other way around?  His possessions seemed to hold him captive, just as a bag of gold holds a miser in its thrall.  That’s when the light bulb came on.

04D4265C-690C-4C2C-BF7D-2EF2D34CD088I confess that for much of my life I thought of the Beatitudes as the promise of compensation for misfortunes suffered in the here and now.  Now I realize that Jesus probably didn’t mean it that way.  Nor did he ever intend that death open us to our first taste of the divine.  The experience of God actually begins in the here and now.

That, it seems to me, is the key to an appreciation of the Beatitudes.  So when Jesus blesses those who are poor he does not promise fantastic wealth in the hereafter.  Rather he says that an abundance or lack of stuff does not determine the value of a human being.  Whether rich or poor, all are created in the image of God.  All can experience the spark of the divine already, in this world.  Why would anyone want to wait?

The same holds for the other Beatitudes as well.  Each one sugggests that we should look at life from a broader perspective.  Each suggests that the opportunity to live a full life ought not be constrained by conventional wisdom.  Rich and poor can be sad, but rich and poor can be happy as well.  So much depends on whether we can take risks and open our eyes to life’s possibilities.

662C1934-8DD9-4D80-B986-45D51E5437A9Therein is the real value of the Beatitudes.  They are not a quid pro quo contract, with a promise and a reward.  Rather they are a code of wisdom to live by.  In them Jesus invites us to break out of the narrow band-width that determines how most of us choose to live.  Jesus invites us to cast aside those conventional views of wealth and happiness, and he invites us to take a chance on life.  Only then will the payback be enormous, and we should experience it now.

If we learn to relish the presence of God now, in both the best and worst of times, then the Beatitudes will start to make sense.  They are the promise that we can meet God now, and we need not wait until the end of time.  They are also the promise that when we do finally see God face to face, there will be no surprises.  The God we will meet then will be somebody we’ve already met before.


+On February 12th I flew from Minnesota to Naples, FL, where I visited friends of Saint John’s.  After days of cold and snow in Minnesota it came as a bit of a relief, though winter did not let go of me so easily.  The last act before driving to the airport included sweeping the latest six inches of snow from the car and navigating through snow-filled streets to get there.  All the same, several days of snow have left the Minnesota landscape just beautiful.

+Among the highlights of my visit in Naples was attendance at the Minnesota Men’s Breakast, which despite its name does welcome women. The speaker to the 400 gathered that day was Saint John’s alumnus General Paul Nakasone.  Paul commands U.S. Cyber Security and heads the National Security Agency.  His presentaiton was a real tour de force, and he fielded the technical questions adroitly.  I think everyone in the room felt better just knowing that someone like Paul managed such responsibilities.

+On February 16th I flew to Boston, where I had the opportunity to visit alumni of Saint John’s.  That said, the absolute highlight of the trip has been the chance to visit Jon and Beth, whom I’ve known for ages.  My friendship with Jon goes back to school days in New Haven, and years later I presided at their wedding.  It was great to see them again.

+In a chronicle one normally talks about events in the past, but I’ll violate that rule by noting that today I will go to Kennebunk, ME, for lunch with an alumnus.  Then tomorrow I will leave for Amman, Jordan, where I will join members of the Order of Malta from California on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  I’ve not been there for a long time, and please say a prayer that all goes well.


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Take a Chance on a Life Well-lived

[What follows is a sermon I delivered at the Abbey Mass on the Feast of All Saints]

Ordinarily the readings from the Scriptures are meant to be good news as we walk on our pilgrimage to the Lord.  They encourage us in the best and in the worst of times, and they remind us of the heavenly banquet that awaits us.

But then again there are passages that can scare us to death rather than offer assurance, and today’s readings from the Book of Revelation (7: 2-4, 9-14), and the Gospel of St. Matthew (5: 1-12), have the potential to do that.

The words from Revelation conjure up a vision of 144,000 elect who will sit in the company of the saints.  It sounds like a lot, and it was meant to sound like a lot.  It certainly wasn’t the biggest number that the writer could think of, but that wasn’t the point.  It had symbolic value, and it signaled the immensity of God’s generosity and hospitality.  More people than you and I will ever know, or can ever imagine knowing, will enjoy communion with the Lord.

IMG_7543Even so, there are those who have taken that number literally.  In New Testament times there seemed nothing to worry about, but by the Middle Ages, with tens of millions of Christians, the literalists among us grew nervous.  They concluded that the odds of getting into heaven were getting slimmer with each new baptism.  If only 144,000 would be saved, could there be any chance of salvation?  This began to generate a lot of anxiety about God’s generosity, and that anxiety was never meant to be.

As for the Beatitudes, which the gospel of St. Matthew recounts for us, there is also a rather dark tone.  It’s nice to know that the poor in spirit and the needy and those who mourn will find welcome in the kingdom of heaven.  It’s a comfort that the persecuted and the reviled will find reward that is proportionate to what they suffered.  But do all of us have to endure these things to qualify for a seat at the heavenly banquet?  I for one don’t find that prospect all that appealing.

Thankfully I long ago realized that the Beatitudes don’t demand that suffering be the price we pay for entry into eternal life.  And they make that clear after a careful reading.

IMG_7584Take, for example, the point that Jesus makes about those who mourn.  It’s easy to conclude that Jesus wants us to suffer or be doormats as the price we pay to know him.  But while the words of Jesus may seem to suggest that, in fact he is asking us to be bold.  He’s asking that we not be afraid to take some big risks in our lives.  Consider that the people who mourn do so to mourn the loss of something or someone important to them.  Something that they valued.  Something in which they’d invested.  Something for which they risked their lives.

That’s the point Jesus wishes to make in the Beatitudes.  He does not want us to go through life minimizing risks so as to avoid the day when we might have to mourn.  When we avoid all risk, when we avoid any possible discomfort, we also miss out on the rewards that come with the risk.  We miss out on the rewards that make life worth living.

In the Beatitudes Jesus invites us to take big risks in life.  He asks us to consider doing the right thing despite the possibility of failure or rebuke.  We should strive for a sense of purpose in our lives, even if there may be days when we might fail.  We may have to mourn, but we’ll also celebrate a life in Christ.

In the Beatitudes Jesus asks us to take the risk of a life well-lived.  Life is a gift, and it’s too precious a gift to live it on the sidelines, for fear of getting hurt.  Life is what Jesus came to give us, and he came so that we might have it in abundance.



+On November 1st, the feast of All Saints, I presided at the Abbey Mass.  The post for today is the text of the sermon that I delivered.

+On November 2nd we celebrated the feast of All Souls.  By long custom we monks gathered for noon prayer in the Abbey cemetery.

+On the evening of November 2nd I spoke to a gathering of alumni of Saint John’s University, convened in Moorhead, MN.  The occasion for the talk was an exhibit of folios from The Saint John’s Bible, at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.  (For the record, the Center is pronounced as it is written:  yemkomst.)  For those unacquainted with Minnesota geography, Moorhead is located on the Red River, a stone’s throw from Fargo on the other side.  So I extended a particularly warm welcome to those alumni and friends who had driven all the way from North Dakota to join us.

+Normally there is one prior per monastery, and that’s certainly the case at Saint John’s.  Saint Benedict wrote about the need for a prior, especially when there is too much for the abbot to contend with.  Normally the prior does all those things that the abbot either cannot or does not want to do.  On 4 November priors from sixteen monasteries joined us for a four-day meeting on the job of the prior.

+Early on the morning of November 4th we had about five inches of snow.  I thought it was wonderful, but I didn’t need to drive in it.  The photos in today’s post illustrate the beauty of the day, and at the bottom you can see winter’s version of the photo that normallly appears on the masthead of this blog.




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img_4113Better to Have Lived and Loved

[I delivered the following sermon on 29 January as guest preacher at Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral in Fargo, ND.]

I feel myself quite privileged to be with you this morning, particularly during a week of the year in which many Christian communities pray for closer ties, if not for some sort of unity in the Lord.  That said, we have to acknowledge that this is one of the few really big things for which we pray where we’ve actually made progress over the years.  We pray for world peace, and yet world peace eludes us.  We pray for an end to hunger and disease around the world and wonder if we ever make any headway.  But when it comes to better relations among churches, we’ve made astonishing progress over the last fifty years.

We could read from a long list of encounters between various leaders of the churches, but none of that matters unless we experience something on a personal level.  In my own case the Episcopal Church has impacted me especially when it comes to music.  It’s no secret that for the last five hundred years the Anglican Communion has had a near-monopoly on all the best hymns in English;  and thankfully it’s shared them with churches far less blessed.  In high school I first discovered the richness of The 1940 Hymnal.  Then at Saint John’s Abbey, where I’ve been a monk for more years than I care to say, The 1982 Hymnal remains the source of first and last resort when we’re in need of a good hymn.  If and when you visit Saint John’s, you’ll discover a copy of that book sitting alongside two other hymnals in our choir stalls.  And if you sing with us you’ll realize how much that musical tradition has contributed to our worship.

img_4328Last year I happened to walk along Park Avenue in New York, and as I passed Saint Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church the sign outside the door caught my eye.  The message was simple, warm, and very familiar to me.  It came from The Rule of Saint Benedict, and it’s something that guides our day in the monastery.  “Let all guests be received as Christ.”  If that’s appropriate for a monastery, it’s even more so for a church.  It’s a reminder that the parish church is not some exclusive club.  And if we see the face of Christ in our guests, then it means that Christ is out there walking in the streets.  He’s not just sitting in our sanctuaries.  That, it seems to me, is both a sobering and yet wonderful thought.

In today’s gospel passage from Matthew we read once again the Beatitudes.  It’s a passage we could all afford to read a little more often, because it’s a job description for what it means to be Christian.  The Beatitudes rely upon the same passage which inspired Saint Benedict’s thoughts on guests, and it’s familiar to us all.  Jesus tells us that what we do for the least of people, we do for him, and the Beatitudes translate that high-minded sentiment into lived reality.  They distinguish Christians as a people set apart.  And if by chance we seem out of step with society, it’s not because we are eccentric.  We’ve elected instead to view all of life from the perspective of Jesus Christ.

img_4292I have to confess that for much of my life I have had some difficulty with the Beatitudes.  The fact is, Jesus has taken some undesirable experiences and turned them upside-down and inside-out.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” for example.  Who among us really wants to be poor in spirit?  Even if I knew exactly what Jesus meant by that, it still sounds like depression to me.  “Blessed are they who mourn.”  Who wants to spend time mourning?  Wouldn’t we rather be happy 100% of the time?  “Blessed are the meek.”  In my experience people trample all over the meek.  “Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  Isn’t that something of a lost cause?  “Blessed are the merciful, the peacemakers and those persecuted for the sake of righteousness.”  At first glance all of these blessings seem to be thankless tasks, if not curses.  Who really wants a life based on these experiences?

The Beatitudes can seem singularly unattractive, and they are until we realize what our world would be like without the people who practice them.  If then the Beatitudes describe people who go through life as doormats or shrinking violets, consider for a moment the alternative.  What if the Beatitudes read like this:  “Blessed are the warmongers.”  “Blessed are the suspicious and paranoid.”  “Blessed are those who are merciless.” “Blessed are those who never have to mourn — ever!”  “Blessed are those who never endure insult because their lives stand for nothing.”

img_4278You could devise your own additions to this list, but you get the point.  The Beatitudes may seem benign, until you realize what life would be like without them.  Could life on this earth even be possible if no one aspired to such principles?  How long would it be before we descended into chaos?

So the first point I would make is this.  The Beatitudes are a blueprint for a good and purpose-filled life.  They virtually demand that we lead active rather than passive lives.  They presume that we would take charge of our lives and live them with the greatest intensity and thoughtfulness.  Even more, they encourage risk-taking.  Taking chances includes the risk of failure, but that’s the point of stepping up to be counted.

I can’t go through all of the Beatitudes, but for just a moment let’s consider the words of Jesus when he says that they are blessed who mourn.  In popular culture people avoid mourning like the plague.  But consider that a life free of mourning is risk-averse.  Such lives are pointless, Jesus teaches, precisely for this reason.  People who mourn, however, are people who have taken risks.  They have taken chances.  When they had the chance to love others, they chose love.  When they had the chance to help someone in need, they helped.  When they had the chance to clothe the naked, feed the hungry and so on, they did it, regardless of the potential risk.  And they did all this for the sake of the kingdom.

img_4299Only those who never love or never care get spared the mourning.  Meanwhile, those who take chances reap the rewards, much as the folk wisdom reminds us: “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

In his Rule Saint Benedict urged his monks to keep death daily before their eyes.  Many assume that this is an invitation to depression, but in fact it’s an invitation to live life with intensity.  We have so few days, and why would we choose to be risk-averse and hide our lamps under a basket?  On the contrary, Jesus came to give us life, so that we might have it in abundance.  How we pursue our lives is the creative opportunity — the gift — that God gives to each of us.

The Beatitudes are a recipe for life lived to the fullest.  They are an invitation to live life with passion.  And if by chance there are moments of mourning or setback along the way, then it means we are making progress.  We are making good use of the gifts God has given us.  So let us conclude with this prayer:  “May God, who has begun such good work in us, bring it to a wonderful and happy conclusion.”


+On January 24th I presided at the Abbey Mass at Saint John’s.

+On January 27th I drove to Fargo, ND, and on the 28th I preached at Gethsamane Episcopal Cathedral.  That evening I gave a presentation on The Saint John’s Bible.  Fr. Mark Strobel, the dean of the cathedral, received a graduate degree at Saint John’s and remains a periodic and welcome visitor to campus.  He and his fellow church members offered hospitality that was truly Benedictine.

I cannot recall when I last went to Fargo, but it was before the Cohn brothers made the movie to which Fargo lent is name.  Being mere feet from Minnesota, you’d think there would be scant difference between the two; but you’d be wrong.  Fargo manages to flourish in its own culture, perhaps because of the independent spirit of the prairie.  For example, at the 10:30 Mass at the cathedral there was a baptism that almost stole the show.  This was one tough baby, and he remained stoic despite the very cold water and being held by the pastor for three minutes or more.  That befits a youngster who was baptised “Odin.”  Yes, Odin.  I was stunned by that name.  Then Fr. Mark told me it was the second Odin he has baptised at the cathedral.  Further, his son’s swimming coach is named Thor.  So just when I thought the Norse gods had faded from memory, I discovered that they have a home in Fargo.  How charming.

img_4285+Two weeks ago I presented photos of the exterior of the church of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  The exterior is certainly monumental, and one wonders whether the interior could be up to the challenge of carrying its own drama.  It does, and it succeeds in a way that just overwhelms.  Visitors cannot quite grasp the immensity of it, and these photos scarcely do it justice.  Throughout the church there are sweeping vistas bathed in light, and nooks and crannies that surprise.  The photo at the bottom is of the choir loft, and were I up there I would be too nervous to sing.

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imageBlessed Too Are the Paranoid

Sometimes the Beatitudes seem idealistic to the point of absurdity.  Take “purity of heart,” for instance.  What in the world does it mean to be pure of heart?  What’s so blessed about it?  And why would any intelligent person want to be pure of heart anyway?

At first blush the pure of heart appear to be little more than innocents abroad.  They’re the sort of people with whom conmen and muggers have a field day, because with them the pickings seem so easy.  They are the lambs who happily march off to the slaughter, oblivious to the fate that awaits them.  Who in their right mind would opt to be such docile prey?

Were Jesus to rework the Beatitudes for a 21st-century audience, and were he playing to the crowd, he’d definitely have to make some accommodation to modern tastes.  For one thing, he’d need to account for the street-smarts that many value as a virtue today.  Out would be ideals like purity of heart, because they only lead to trouble.  In would be a radically different perspective on the world, and better Beatitudes would naturally follow.

image“Blessed are the paranoid, for they will see enemies behind every bush.”  “Blessed are the deeply suspicious, for they’ll never be disappointed.”  And “blessed are the pessimists, for they shall see things going from bad to worse.”  Those would be Beatitudes better suited to our brave new world.

Well, here’s a chance for Christians to put on their counter-cultural hats and stick to the words of Jesus with a rigid literalism. The fact is, Jesus very likely meant what he said about the pure of heart, and he had not a shred of doubt that such people are truly blessed.

It’s important to keep in mind that Jesus never advised his disciples to be naive or simple, and on at least one occasion he counseled them to be sly as serpents and innocent as doves.  So attentiveness to the world and its ways is a must, he suggests.  Precisely because of that, the disciples of Jesus must be sure that their eyes always are wide open, so that they can survey the entire panorama.  They can’t spend all their time looking for the demon behind every door, because that’s only part of the picture.  In fact, there’s all sorts of other stuff going on, and they ought not miss any of it.

Given what’s out there to see, through what filter do we want to sift all the data?  Do we really want to gaze out with unabashed purity of heart?  Do we really want to be people in whom there is no guile?  What’s the benefit of such an approach?

imageOne quick pay-back is a freshness of vision as we see things we’d not noticed before.  If we’re open to others, for example, we might very well discover some of the goodness we had overlooked in them.  If we begin to trust others, we could very well conclude that a great many people are worthy of our trust.  If we begin to give others the benefit of the doubt, we might find that some people — if not a whole bunch of people — are trying to do the right thing and to do the best they can.  And as an added bonus, we just might realize that others trust us in return, and they try to give us the benefit of the doubt.

At the risk of reducing the Beatitudes to a series of either/or options, then, I do think that Jesus intended just such an approach when he speaks about purity of heart.  There are indeed two ways of looking at life, and we have to choose.  On the one  hand, we can look at life through the lens of paranoia, and we’ll see evil lurking everywhere.  In such a world the devil roams freely, unchecked, and things only get worse and worse.  People, as instruments of the evil one, can scarcely be trusted, ever.  And since people generally live up to the expectations we heap on them, we’re never disappointed when we expect the worst of them.

imageBut consider the alternative — the lens of purity of heart.  There’s no denying that the world is a mixed bag of good and evil, but the pure of heart are lucky enough to get frequent glimpses of the good.  They’re not afraid to draw the curtains open and discover that God is at work in the world after all.  The pure of heart also have the courage to let the scales fall from their eyes, just long enough to realize that God does some pretty awesome things.  And God does them through our friends and neighbors, and even through strangers.  Who would have thought!

Anyway, that’s my take on purity of heart.  The pure of heart get the chance to enjoy the big picture, and they’re privileged to see God using some very imperfect people to do great things.  Meanwhile, the paranoid have their work cut out for them too, even if the world they survey is much narrower.  Ironically, blessed indeed are the paranoid, because they always seem to find what they’re looking for.  But blessed too are the pure of heart, for they get to see God.  That’s not all that bad of a choice.


+On June 19th and 20th I was in San Francisco to attend the annual investiture of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.  I had two good reasons for being there, the first of which was my sponsorship of new member Maureen Wright, a long-time friend.  I was also a member of the planning committee for the investiture, so I had a personal stake in the smooth running of the events.

On the 19th the investees and their sponsors gathered for a two-hour vigil service at Mission Dolores, the 18th-century mission founded by Junipero Serra.  The next day we gathered for the investiture and Mass at the Jesuit Church of Saint Ignatius, a gorgeous baroque church on the campus of the University of San Francisco.

It was a good liturgy by the Jesuit definition, since no one got hurt.  All in all things turned out wonderfully, despite one small disappointment.  At the hotel entrance, as we waited for our transport to Mission Dolores, a small crowd had gathered outside.  Naturally we assumed they were there to greet us, but we were wrong.  They were waiting for the Boston Red Sox, who boarded the bus in front of ours.  And unlike the Red Sox, no one asked for our autographs, except when it came time to pay the bills.

image+Occasionally I write articles for various publications, and here is the link to a piece I wrote  last winter on Pope Gregory the Great, who served as pope from 590-604.  The article appeared in the spring 2014 issue of The Journal, the newsletter of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.  It is part of a series of profiles of several doctors of the Church.

+During the past week four of our monks in simple vows have been attending the annual formation program for young monks, held this year at Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, PA.  In addition to hearing about monastic topics, it gives monks in formation from houses across the country the chance to meet and compare notes.   Brothers Richard, Lucian, Eric and David are attending the two-week conference.

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imageBlessed Are Those Who Mourn — Really?

There are times when Jesus seems to put the best face on something that no sensible person would really want.  Take mourning, for instance.  Who’s really all that keen on mourning?  Is there anyone who enjoys a good grieving these days?  Is there anyone who gets a thrill out of losing someone or something dear to them?  There may be such people, but thankfully I don’t know where they live.

Was Jesus just a little haywire when he suggested that mourners are blessed?  Certainly it’s a nice thought that someday they’ll be comforted, but is that promise of comfort enough to justify all the current sadness?  Frankly, I’m more than a little skeptical, and I’d be willing to forego both the mourning and the comforting, if that’s an option.

imageHeaven knows there’s plenty of opportunity in life to mourn, and most of us have already tasted a little bit of it already.  We also know how tough it can be to pull ourselves through such an experience, and comfort often comes only after prolonged struggle.  It’s never a picnic, and no sane person would wish to mourn — until you consider the price you must pay to avoid any and all mourning.

How might it sound if Jesus were to turn this whole Beatitude around?  At first blush, “Blessed are they who never mourn” sounds like a terrific option to me.  What a blissful existence never to lose anyone important to you.  How delightful never to lose anything of value to you.  What a blessing that would be — or would it?

Not to put too fine a point on it, but invulnerability to all pain and suffering might very well extract a heavy price.  It could demand that we be unfeeling and devoid of emotion.  It could require that we steel ourselves against any potential hurt or disappointment.  Would such a pain-free life be worth it?

imageSeen from that perspective, those who never have to mourn may be the ones to be pitied.  Because they’ve risked nothing, they’ve nothing to lose nor nothing to mourn.  Such people lead risk-averse lives.  Such people find it difficult if not impossible to make commitments, be they in marriage or in friendship.  Such people hold back from loving others, for fear of being hurt.  Such people dread closing off their options in life, lest they compromise their freedom.  Ironically, such people can cherish a bundle of competing dreams, but eventually they find they’ve never fulfilled a single one of them.

When we meditate on the Beatitudes it’s always good to see them for what they are: wisdom.  So when Jesus says that they are blessed who mourn, he’s merely pointing out the consequences of a life well-lived.  This Beatitude is an invitation to participate fully in life, knowing that along the way there will be ups and downs.  But long before we reach the finish line of life, we’ll know that it was worth all the effort just to run the race, as Saint Paul reminds us.

imageUnlike those who never have to mourn, those who do mourn do so because they’ve risked something of themselves.  They’ve loved other people and extended themselves to others.  They’ve made commitments, fearless in the hope that something good will come from them.  They’ve closed out some options, knowing that wisdom and common sense demanded it.  And they’ve chosen one dream and left others aside, just because it’s important to get on with life.

So where exactly will we who mourn find the comfort that Jesus promises?  Well, I think that one part of that comfort is in knowing that Jesus will walk with us every step of the way, no matter what.  The second comfort is like it.  In the course of a life filled with risk, we will meet fellow travellers.  We will not walk alone, and one of life’s joys is to be found in sharing life with others rather than in insulating ourselves from them.

Finally, we’ll likely gain a little wisdom along the way.  I’ve always puzzled over that other promise of Jesus, when he said that those who lose their lives for his sake will find them.  I may be risk-averse by nature, and I love predictability; but like most other people I also like surprises.  I just hope I’m open enough to let Jesus surprise me now and again.


+On Sunday, June 15th, I celebrated Mass at the Church of Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Rockville, MN, and you can find my sermon on The Feast of the Holy Trinity in Presentations.  Rockville is a village only thirteen miles from Saint John’s, and it wears its German heritage on its sleeve.  The small church, holding about three hundred, is just the right size for a parish church, as far as I am concerned.  One highlight of the Mass came when the children were invited to bring their offerings up and place them in the basket, which I held out to them.  One two-year-old dutifully dropped a dollar into the basket with one hand, and then reached in to retrieve another bill with the other hand.  His four-year-old sister put a stop to that.

+This week in the Abbey we did something that we rarely do:  we gave up on a book we were reading at table in the refectory.  We had been reading The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, but Abbot John summed up the feeling of many when he declared it to be “pretty tough going.”  We’ve now started Massimo Faggioli’s John XXIII: The Medicine of Mercy.  At the very least, we can all imagine Pope John as someone who would be more than happy to sit down and join us for dinner.

image+Now that we are into the summer season, all sorts of groups have begun to appear on campus.  Last week we enjoyed the unlikely juxtaposition of two groups who coexisted happily as they shared the campus.  For years we have hosted an annual retreat of Buddhists, led by several elegantly-robed Buddhist monks.  This year all 250 of them did their daily rounds of silent meditation at one end of campus, while at the other end we hosted a weeklong camp for the Woconia High School Marching Band.  I wish I could have gotten a group photo of them together, but that was not to be.

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imagePosition Opening: Peacemaker

Given the constant flow of screaming headlines, you’d think there’d be a high demand for peacemakers.  With all the shrill rhetoric about the need to resolve a myriad of disputes, you’d naturally assume that mediators could command princely fees, plus a hefty bonus once peace had broken out.  But alas, they don’t; and the reason is quite simple.  As long as people cling to the smallest shred of hope for victory, peacemakers are as welcome as the plague.

There’s a perverse irony to this, because war actually isn’t good for business.  No one in Europe made a lot from World War I, for example.  Nor did the Lebanese civil war boost the local economy all that much either.  And as far as I can tell, there have been few corporate sponsors for the strife in Syria.  In each instance two or three good peacemakers could have saved a lot of people an awful lot of money; but no one gave a thought to hiring them until it was way too late.  Where was the chamber of commerce when people needed it?

imageWhen Jesus blessed the peacemakers in our midst, you can bet he meant to include more than just the professionals.  Of course Jesus would be happy were international peace to erupt spontaneously; but he’d never be entirely satisfied until such peace filtered down to the local level.  Not until peace reigned in our hearts and in our homes would Jesus be at peace himself — at least that’s my theory.

When it comes to being peacemakers on the local level, many of us stall out.  We simply don’t know what in the world one person can do, and we generally have no idea where to start.  But of course there’s lots we can do, and perhaps it’s useful to consider what we ought not do.

For starters, it might be helpful to turn the words of Jesus inside out.  As near as I can tell, Jesus never said “blessed are the war-mongers.”  Nor did he ever bless “those who sow strife and try to get on people’s nerves.”  Nor did he ever praise those who deliberately press other people’s buttons to get them all riled up.  Certainly not blessed are those who walk into a roomful of people and immediately raise their hackles.  No, that’s not the sort of person Jesus had in mind when he thought of peacemakers.

imageIf these words describe the non-peacemakers in broad strokes, I’m sure all of us can embellish them with detail from our personal experience, or at least from hearsay.  To carry it further, we aren’t peacemakers when we spread malicious gossip, nor when we chip away at people behind their backs.  We aren’t peacemakers when we play one person off against another, nor when we undermine someone’s self-confidence.  When we leave people fearful and in doubt and paranoid, we definitely are not peacemakers.  What we’ve really done is to gather tinder and all but put the match to it.

Put positively, being a war-monger sounds like a ton of work, and frankly it can be a pretty dangerous business.  There’s always the risk that we can get burned.  Worse still, we can get sucked in and become a participant in the war we merely wanted to watch and enjoy.  But it is, in my opinion, far more prudent to take the road of the peacemaker.  It may not seem very entertaining to see our friends and neighbors getting along, but it’s certainly a lot safer for us.

imageThis last weekend Pope Francis hosted leaders from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, as well as Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople.  There’s no denying that there were times when none of their predecessors got along; and to say that two in their number still don’t see eye to eye is putting it mildly.  Given all that, the invitation that Pope Francis extended to come to Rome and pray must have seemed laughable to many.  After all, if war and hate can’t achieve peace, what good could prayer possibly do?

Two things struck me as I eyed the video from the gardens of the Vatican.  First, two sworn enemies were enjoying an hour or so of peace.  Did they enjoy it?  Was the taste of peace enough to whet their appetite for more?  Second, there were two long-time rivals who have long since made peace, and all because of prayer.  For nine hundred years and more, pope and patriarch were bitter foes.  But for fifty years they’ve enjoyed a peace that the world cannot give.  Prayer brought Paul VI and Athenagoras together, and this weekend two friends — Francis and Bartholomew — showed two implacable foes that it can be done.  I hope that wasn’t lost on anyone.

imageConventional wisdom says that if you don’t like war, then fight harder to bring it to an end.  If you don’t like your neighbors, then irritate them some more and maybe they’ll move away.  And if you don’t like people in the office or in your family, then bug the heck out of them until they avoid you like the plague.

But when all else fails, and all that hard work is for naught, then extend the olive branch of peace.  If it fails to work, you’ve really lost nothing.  If it does work, you’ll be the big winner.  And you’ll know finally what Jesus meant when he said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”


+Early last week I received a letter announcing that the Grand Master and Sovereign Council had on 27 May created the Historical Institute of the Order of Malta, and had appointed me to the Commission for Research and Educational Programs.

+Last week the monks of Saint John’s Abbey held their annual retreat, under the direction of Sister Margaret Michaud, a Benedictine of our sister-house Saint Benedict’s Monastery.

+On June 5th I attended the annual dinner of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, held in Minneapolis.

image+On June 7th eight monks arrived at Saint John’s to spend two months with us in a program of English as a Second Language.   In the group is a retired abbot from Austria, two monks from the monastery of Christ in the Desert in New Mexico, one monk from our priory in Japan, one monk from the Philippines, and three Cistercian monks from an abbey in Vietnam.  Happily, we have confreres who can speak those languages; and we noted how appropriate it was that they arrived on the eve of Pentecost.  Their presence reminded us once again that the Church and the Order of Saint Benedict gather together peoples from all nations.

+On June 8th Fr. Brad celebrated the abbey Mass, his first with us as a newly-ordained priest.

+Spring has finally come in a big way, as the pictures in today’s post suggest.  Among the surprises was the blooming of the peonies on Pentecost.  Affectionately knows as the “Pentecost Rose,” they rarely bloom on their feast day at Saint John’s.  But in our gardens some of the white ones opened alongside the yellow iris, and elsewhere pink and red are just coming into their glory.

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