Posts Tagged ‘Benedictine Volunteer Corp’

IMG_0016Christ is Truly Risen.  What Now?

We can only hope that for most Christians around the world Easter services were a truly moving experience.  At Saint John’s a familiar set of rituals carried us through Holy Week and into Easter, but that familiarity also provided moments of insight.  The music in particular was eloquent, and the abbey schola introduced a few new pieces of music.  Still, those new pieces were imbedded in a round of hymns and chants that have by now become part of our bones.  As a result, we don’t always need to glance at the text to sing the notes and words.  That comfortable familiarity, it seems to me, is a necessary ingredient for transforming liturgy from theater into prayer.

Of course the focus of the Triduum is not the music but the message.  Jesus is truly risen, and so Easter is more than a celebration of an unjustly-accused guy who got the last laugh on his persecutors.  The message is more profound, and it’s this:  “God so loved the world that he sent his only-begotten son.”  Not only did that son share in all the difficulties of what it means to be human, but there’s one thing more.  When all is said and done, there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves.  Rather, salvation is God’s gift to us.  It’s God who gently tugs at our sleeves and persistently pulls us toward the eternal.  It’s God who keeps whispering in our ears, inviting us into eternity.  That initiative is part of what it means when we say that God has mercy on each and every one of us.

IMG_7174So now that we’ve celebrated the resurrection, what’s next?  Well, we might rest content in the belief that God has mercy on us, the Lord has saved us, and there’s nothing more to do.  But there is more.  Believe it or not, God intended that Easter be only a beginning.  At Easter God coopts us into a lifetime of showing mercy in an often merciless world.

When Pope Francis proclaimed a year of mercy, I have to confess that my reaction was a less-than-hearty “ho-hum.”  The very idea seemed abstract and general, like many of the bland petitions we recite before the Offertory at Mass.  Who isn’t for peace on earth and an end to world hunger?  Who wants to see more disease and injustice?  But that of course creates some tension within us.  Who among us is really in any position to do anything about these gargantuan challenges?

For all those reasons and more, I thought of the Year of Mercy as little more than a pious exercise, and I prayed that someone would wake me when it was over.  But all that changed when I casually turned the pages of Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book  on mercy.  There, right in the middle of the text, he roots the Year of Mercy in what used to be familiar territory for most Catholics.  As bland as a Year of Mercy might seem at first glance, that year is planted in the soil of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.

IMG_1134Just when I was about to exempt myself from the need to solve problems that existed primarily on the other side of the world, Kasper reminded me that pretty much all I need to do when it comes to mercy is local.  In fact, his words are an uncomfortable wake-up call.  Unless I am willing to treat as Christ the people living down the hall or across the street, then there is really no point to the high-minded aspirations about people who live 6,000 miles away.  In short, if it’s true that charity begins at home, then so do the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.  That, it seems to me, is part of the takeaway from Easter.  If at Easter the Lord shows mercy by reminding us that we cannot save ourselves, then the irony is that God uses us to reach out to others.  We become conduits of God’s mercy to family and friends and co-workers — and even to strangers.

IMG_1130In the renewal of our baptismal vows at Easter the Lord enlists us to be the hands that do his work of mercy in our own little world.  We feed the hungry.  We visit the sick.  We bury the dead.  And it is we who perform all these day-to-day works of mercy that demonstrate God’s continued love.  These are among the many ways in which the Lord shows mercy to each and every person, and it’s our awesome responsibility to do our part.  As professed Christians it’s the commission from which we cannot excuse ourselves.

So now that we’ve celebrated Easter, we can rightly ask ourselves what comes next, and the answer is simple.  You and I are channels of God’s mercy, and it’s not enough to say that the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are just lovely aspirations.  They are in fact the checklist of what it means to be Christian.  It’s not enough, then,  to be hearers of God’s word to us.  For better or for worse, we must be doers as well.


+While the music over the Triduum in the Abbey was both moving and meditative, we did have one lapse that reminded us that we have not yet reached perfection.  The Psalm tone for the Magnificat on Holy Saturday evening was new to us, and it showed from beginning to end.  We never did get it right, and so the abbot’s side of choir reverted to a tone that we remembered from somewhere else.  The prior’s side of choir never could make up its mind, and they sang three versions simultaneously.  The whole thing brought smiles and even chuckles, which was okay because it was after all the eve of Easter.  Like Amish quilters who always add a mistake to remind themselves that only God creates perfection, so our Magnificat that evening demonstrates that God still has work to do with us.

IMG_1129+We were delighted to host several guests for the Triduum, including several Chinese priests who are doing graduate studies in the United States.  Sponsored by Maryknoll, they joined two priests from China who are currently living and studying with us at Saint John’s.  The vocations office conducted a three-day retreat that included several graduates of our Benedictine Volunteer program, and several of the monks participated by giving conferences to them.  Meanwhile Fr. Dale conducted a Triduum retreat at the Abbey guesthouse.

+On Easter Sunday morning we woke to a thin blanket of snow that reflected the change to white in the color palate of the liturgical season.  Thankfully it was gone by 9:30 am, and by afternoon we were looking at green lawns once more.  The latter are a harbinger of the green of Ordinary Time.

+The top photo in today’s post is one I took looking east over San Francisco Bay in February.  I opened the curtains to behold the rising sun, and I realized that the view would not last for long.  So I rushed outside with my phone camera, and it turned out to be a photo that I knew would appear in an Easter season post.  The second photo is of an icon by Aidan Hart, enthroned in the Abbey church.  The other photos illustrate the dusting of snow that greeted us on Easter morning.

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