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Posts Tagged ‘National Catholic Youth Choir’

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Vengeance is no Way to Live

It’s a classic story.  The obnoxious brother irritates his siblings for years.  Finally their chance comes, but at the last minute they back off from killing him and instead sell him into slavery.  Years later, desperate for food, they meet their brother, who has risen to power in a foreign land and graciously saves them.  With the entire family now dependent on him, he waits for his father to die, and then in revenge he tortures and executes his wicked brothers.

That’s the story of Joseph — except for that last bit about biding his time to take revenge on his brothers.  Had he done that no one would have begrudged him.  After all, what they did to him was terrible.

F97A70F8-2935-44A7-8276-95AE907949F3For the last few days in the liturgy we’ve read the story of Joseph and his brothers, and it’s one that’s larger than life.  No wonder it’s provided fodder for movies and a musical, but tucked within the drama is a story of character.  Joseph grew up a narcissist and found redemption through his own suffering.  It was an extraordinary turn of events, and the Joseph that his brothers met in Egypt was scarcely the same person whom they had sold into slavery.

The desire for revenge is unique neither to Joseph’s nor to our own times.  It’s tinged with a sense of justice, which can make it particularly attractive.  It can even provide a moment of satisfaction.  But it’s no way to live a life.  Vengeance may be the Lord’s, but when we dabble in it ourselves it has a way of eating away at us from within.

Joseph grew to forgive his brothers because he had grown into nobility of character.  This same character is what Jesus urges on us when he encourages us to forgive others as we would have them forgive us.  In that prayer is the recognition that we may at times be the injured party, but seldom are we entirely faultless.

18E5FBE4-9E54-45F7-AD17-9B68BF5FBDB3So it is that the Lord invites us to join with Joseph to rise above our hurts and grievances and become people who are blessings to all whom we encounter.  At the very least it is a better way to live, and the return on the investment can be truly extraordinary.

NOTES

+This was a busy week for me and many of my confreres.  On July 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Benedict.  At that Mass our confrere Novice Jeremy professed his first vows, and I and five of my confreres renewed our vows on the anniversary of our profession.  It was a grand day, and I was happy to host as guests my two sisters, who had flown in from Oklahoma City, as well as several friends who attended the celebration.  After it was all over I could have slept for two days solid, but could only indulge myself for a day and a half.

+On July 14th the National Catholic Youth Choir completed its two-week residence at Saint John’s with a concert that preceded the abbey Mass.  Our confrere Fr. Anthony Ruff founded the choir twenty years ago, and the choristers always add a nice touch to our liturgies in the middle of the summer.

+The photo at top shows the chapter house in the foreground with the abbey church behind it.  Below that is the lower wing of the guesthouse, located to the east of the chapter house.  Next is a statue of Saint Benedict that is in the east cloister walk.  At bottom is a walk at the south end of the monastic garden.

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Think Small.  Achieve Big.

I recently ran across an article that encouraged people to “think small.”  By no means did the author urge people to slack off at work or scale back on their ambitions.  Rather, his recipe for success was simple and counterintuitive.  If people want to accomplish great things, then they should begin with the little things that over time will lead to bigger things, and more.

Common lore suggests that impressive results require grand masterstrokes.  However, in all too many cases those masterstrokes end up gathering dust on the shelf.  Who hasn’t been dazzled by brilliantly articulated but largely ignored mission statements?  Who hasn’t wondered why an organizational chart meant to turbocharge a company fell far short of goal?  The author argues that grand plans often leave people scratching their heads, wondering where to start.  By contrast, people can make a contribution through concrete steps that appear at first blush to be inconsequential.  However, done over time, with discipline and attention to detail, those modest steps have the potential to transform an organization.

A84FE2EA-D1E7-4327-827B-3AD15C9791C2If that’s true for organizations, it’s particularly true for individuals.  All of us have made grand resolutions that we’ve failed to accomplish, while we’ve also made simple resolves that we’ve been able to put into action.  There’s a world of difference between a new year’s resolution to “achieve good health in the new year” and one that prescribes “exercise for thirty minutes, three times a week.”  The latter may sound a bit modest, but it has a better chance of getting done.  Furthermore, done with discipline and dedication, it might even result in the better health that was the higher aspiration.

There’s little doubt that Jesus asks idealistic things of us, but all the same we’re lucky that he tended to emphasize the measurable, if not always the achievable.  For that reason he stressed the importance of little things, as he suggests in the parable of the mustard seed.  That seed may be tiny to start with, but it contains within it the germ of something really significant.  When tended and watered and nourished, the seed grows into something all out of proportion to its original size.  So it can be with us.

I find the parable of the mustard seed useful in a couple of ways.  First, that seed is symbolic of each bit of potential still latent within us.  All of us have a variety of talents, and some we have developed and some not.  Yet all of them have the potential to accomplish something of value, and we should never forget the undeveloped potential within us.  There’s still lots for us to do in life.

27F20C59-69FE-424F-B098-EE93287FE826Second, you and I are the mustard seed that Jesus speaks about.  Now and again we’re all tempted to discount our worth as persons and our ability to make much of a difference in life.  But God doesn’t see us that way, and Jesus came to remind us of the possibilities within each of us.  We are created in the image of God;  we matter;  and God invites each of us to live to the full the life we’ve been given.

There can be moments when the two great commandments can seem much like the mission statements that are far beyond our reach.  Who of us can possibly love God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbors as ourselves?  I suspect that Jesus appreciated the challenge of such pie in the sky expectations, and so he encourages us to think about the small things that can turn us ever so slightly in the direction of the bigger aspirations.  And so, if we can’t quite seem to love our neighbors as ourselves, then treating them as if they were Christ for thirty minutes, three times a week, is a good start. It’s measurable;  it’s achievable;  and it might even lead to bigger things.

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NOTES

+Last week was rather quiet for me, and I spent the entire week without leaving Saint John’s.  However, on June 14th I did host two people for a tour of the Bible Gallery and a luncheon.  The day came courtesy of a bid the two had made at a silent auction at the annual gala for Vocal Essence, the choral group led by Dr. Philip Brunelle.  Philip had asked me to make this offer, which I gladly did.  It was a delightful experience, though I didn’t have the nerve to ask what they had paid for the winning bid.

+This was a blessed week for two alumni of Saint John’s University.  Fr. Bill Lies, CSC, was elected the provincial of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, and as such oversees the 500 members, whose work includes the sponsorship of the University of Notre Dame.  Fr. Bill is an ‘84 graduate of Saint John’s, and he majored in English with minors in French and philosophy.  He later received his Ph.D. in Latin American Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.  For the last several years he has been on the faculty of Notre Dame.

EAF9573D-C50A-43B6-8D83-0EE3DBB5AA2FFr. Gregory Mohrman, OSB, is an ‘86 alumnus of our School of Theology and Seminary, and he has been elected to serve as abbot of Saint Louis Abbey in St. Louis, MO.  At Saint John’s Abbot Gregory lived with us in the monastery for four years, and during that time he became a beloved and respected colleague before returning to his community.

+There are quiet moments in the summer at Saint John’s, but this was not the week for them.  Through most of the week we hosted nearly 500 high school students who attended the annual American Legion Boys State.  They were great guests, and they used virtually every class and seminar room on campus.  At the end of the week the annual camp for the National Catholic Youth Choir began, and on Sunday the choir sang at the Abbey Mass.

+Until recently the plantings on campus had not yet reached the point when they seemed ready for photography.  But in today’s post I present the first of many summertime photos from the Abbey gardens.  Of particular note are the ladyslippers, which are the state flower of Minnesota and rather uncommon.

+The article to which I make reference in today’s post was a short online essay by Bob Cohen, principal at the wealth management firm of Tamar Fink in Minneapolis.

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Is It Too Fine a Point?

English understatement has always amused me.  Take, for instance, the following statement by the British economist and one-time editor of The Economist, Lady Barbara Ward Jackson.  “If anything is more clear, simple and precise in the Gospel…it is that those who don’t feed the hungry will go to Hell — not to put too fine a point on it.”

Lady Barbara offered that comment in 1967 as she addressed the graduating seniors of Saint John’s University.  Last week those same graduates gathered to celebrate their 50th reunion, and among other things they recalled this bit of wisdom that Lady Barbara had delivered fifty years earlier.  Back then her words must have resounded powerfully, and not just because they came from a woman speaking to an all-male class of graduates.  They were equally arresting because economists then — and now — normally didn’t say those kind of things.  And just as startling, she delivered this line as if there were nothing more to say on the matter — which of course was and still is true.

IMG_6485Undeniably, Jesus pretty much did say words to that effect, and he did so on more than one occasion.  Doubters need only recall the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, and the point comes through crystal-clearly.  And so it may suffice to say that we might not like what Jesus had to say on this particular subject, but that Jesus said it is something over which we cannot quibble.

Because of what Jesus said, Christians throughout history have busied themselves with feeding the hungry.  St. Paul took up collections for the poor in Jerusalem.  Fifth-century congregations took care of widows and orphans.  Today organizations like Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services tend to the needs of the sick and the poor as only the most recent response to the words of Jesus.  And they do so, not because it seems like a nice thing to do (which of course it is), but because there’s strong evidence that Jesus commanded it.

All of us are capable of offering at least some bit of support for the work of these and similar organizations.  Still, we should never assume that a donation acquits us of any further need to act.  The truth of the matter is, we bear at least some responsibility on a personal level, and as evidence I cite the corporal works of mercy.  Granted, non-profits and NGOs are more efficient at feeding the hungry and clothing the naked on an industrial scale.  But the corporal works of mercy were not written with those groups in mind.  Rather, somebody drew up that list with each one of us in mind.

IMG_6527That expectation of personal initiative explains why many people get involved in groups in which they can give both their treasure as well as their time and talent.  In my own case it explains why I’ve chosen to devote some of my energy to the Order of Malta.  Certainly on a corporate level the Order ministers to the sick and the poor, but able-bodied members engage in such activity as a matter of course.  From my perspective this is a practical matter, because we believe that we see the face of Christ in the sick and the poor.  If we truly believe that, then why in the world would anyone want to delegate the exclusive rights to that vision to some corporate office?  Not to put too fine a point on it, but I too wouldn’t mind having just a peek at the face of Christ, thank you.  An official statement that the corporation had beheld the face of Christ is nice enough, but frankly I’d rather have the vision myself.

On any given day many if not most of us are not in a position to be out on the sidewalks giving food to the hungry.  It’s not impossible to do that, of course, but on a metaphorical level other ways of serving the hungry abound.  Offering a word of encouragement to someone who’s discouraged with life is but one instance.  Being a healthy example or mentor to a young person trying to set a course for a good life is another.  Visiting the sick and elderly who often lack visitors is still another.  And trying to be the face of Christ to someone who’s never met him is perhaps the greatest privilege of all.

IMG_6538With all due respect to Lady Barbara, I think the fires of hell may be a necessary motivation for some, but God has other arrows in the divine quiver.  Make no mistake about it, if feeding the hungry will spare me from the fires of hell, then I’m all for me feeding the hungry.  But perhaps even more enticing than the chance to avoid the fires of hell is the chance to make real the kingdom of God, right here and right now — in our families, in our neighborhoods and in our own little world.

I for one have lived on the premise that life on this earth is in many ways a foretaste of our eternal destiny.  If that is true, then I think it’s better to turn my little world into a slice of the kingdom of God rather than turn it into a bit of hell on earth.  I hope that’s not putting too fine a point on it.

IMG_6501Notes

+On June 23-24 Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict hosted 1,700 alumni and guests at summer Reunions.  This is the third year for the event, and its growth over last year suggests it’s an event that’s here to stay.  The only slight negative were the unexpectedly cool temperatures on Saturday.  By 1 pm it had reached only 57 degrees, which prompted a run on sweatshirts and jackets at the bookstore.

+On Sunday the 25th I attended a luncheon at which Saint John’s Abbey and University conferred the Pax Christi award on liturgical music composers Marty Haugen, David Haas and Fr. Michael Joncas.  These three have had an enormous impact on liturgical music in the United States, and at the luncheon we sang five of their compositions.  The Pax Christi is an award given in recognition of distinctive contributions to religion and culture.

+On June 24th we celebrated the feast of the birth of St. John the Baptist, our patronal feast.  Abbot John presided at the community Mass and preached.

+On Sunday the 25th we hosted an especially large congregation at the Abbey Mass.  We also had three choirs, including the Abbey schola, the Saint John’s Boys Choir, and the National Catholic Youth Choir.  The latter group gave a half-hour concert before the Mass.

IMG_1845Coincidentally, a film crew from one of the major television networks was here for Mass as well as for morning and evening prayer on Sunday.  Abbot John did not command the monks to sit up straight and to look alert, but many of us did anyway.

+The photos in today’s post begin with an icon of St. John the Baptist by Aidan Hart.  In this instance it was placed on a pedestal in the hall leading from the monastery into the church.  Before processing into the church we monks were lined up on either side of the icon, and we passed by it as we proceeded into church.  The second photo shows a portion of the tents set up for a picnic for homecoming festivities, and the third and fourth capture a gathering in front of the Steven B. Humphrey Auditorium.  To the right of this paragraph is a statue of St. John the Baptist by artist Doris Cesar of New York.  It sits in the baptistery of the abbey church, but somehow Fr. Lew managed to cart this heavy item into the sanctuary of the church for the feast of Saint John the Baptist.  At bottom St. Benedict surveys some of the homecoming activities.  That sculpture is by our confrere Brother David-Paul Lange.

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