St. Benedict, Abbot

It is with great fondness that I observe this feast of St. Benedict the abbot, and father of western monasticism. My Benedictine roots stem from my college days at Benedictine University in Lisle (then called Illinois Benedictine College), and I have a deep fondness for the monks of St. Procopius Abbey, who staffed the college, and in whose monastery I made my Priesthood retreat before I was ordained. Every now and then I go there for a few days of prayer, which helps me to be ready for whatever ministry is bringing my way. The motto Saint Benedict chose for his order was “Ora et Labora” – Prayer and Work — and for me it is a constant reminder of the balance we are called to have in life.

A wonderful source of inspiration to me while I was working in the corporate world, and still today, is reading from The Rule of St. Benedict, which is a great reflection on living life in such a way that it makes possible our salvation. It was also one of the most groundbreaking works of spirituality and monastic rule at that time. It remains a spiritual classic today. Recently, I read a quote from the rule that spoke of something the abbot of a monastery should bear in mind. My reflection on it got me to thinking it was also extremely wise counsel for pastors of parishes, and even fathers – and mothers – of families. It’s from the second chapter of the rule and here’s what it says:

Above all, the abbot should not bear greater solicitude for things that are passing, earthly, and perishable, thereby ignoring or paying little attention to the salvation of the souls entrusted to him. Instead, may he always note that he has undertaken the governance of souls, for which, moreover, an account will have to be rendered. And if perhaps he pleads as an excuse a lack of wealth, then he should remember what is written: “First seek the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be added unto you” (Mt 6:33), and again: “Nothing is lacking to those who fear him” (Ps 34:10).

But it’s the second to last chapter that puts our lives into perspective.  This chapter teaches us to see others with patience and love as well as prioritizing what is truly important in life:  Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and to life everlasting. This zeal, therefore, the monks should practice with the most fervent love. Thus they should anticipate one another in honor; most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of character; vie in paying obedience one to another—no one following what he considers useful for himself, but rather what benefits another—; tender the charity of brotherhood chastely; fear God in love; love their Abbot with a sincere and humble charity; prefer nothing whatever to Christ.

Prefer nothing whatever to Christ.  That’s a real challenge for us.  We have so many things that seem shiny and nice and call out to us.  But none of them can save our souls.  And the real truth is, Christ prefers nothing whatever to us.  So we need to be zealous about our love for the Lord and show it in the way that we treat one another.  When we follow Christ with this kind of zeal, Benedict says we can look forward to the ultimate reward: And may He bring us all together to life everlasting!

Saint Benedict, Abbot, Founder of Western Monasticism 

It is with great fondness that I observe this feast of St. Benedict the abbot, and father of western monasticism. My Benedictine roots stem from my college days at Benedictine University in Lisle (then called Illinois Benedictine College), and I have a deep fondness for the monks of St. Procopius Abbey, who staffed the college, and in whose monastery I made my Priesthood retreat before I was ordained. Every now and then I go there for a few days of prayer, which helps me to be ready for whatever ministry is bringing my way. The motto Saint Benedict chose for his order was “Ora et Labora” – Prayer and Work — and for me it is a constant reminder of the balance we are called to have in life.
A wonderful source of inspiration to me while I was working in the corporate world, and still today, is reading from The Rule of St. Benedict, which is a great reflection on the balance we are called to in life. It was also one of the most groundbreaking works of spirituality and monastic rule at that time. It remains a spiritual classic today. Recently, I read a quote from the rule that spoke of something the abbot of a monastery should bear in mind. My reflection on it got me to thinking it was also extremely wise counsel for pastors of parishes, and even fathers – and mothers – of families. It’s from the second chapter of the rule and it goes like this: 
Above all, the abbot should not bear greater solicitude for things that are passing, earthly, and perishable, thereby ignoring or paying little attention to the salvation of the souls entrusted to him. Instead, may he always note that he has undertaken the governance of souls, for which, moreover, an account will have to be rendered. And if perhaps he pleads as an excuse a lack of wealth, then he should remember what is written: ‘First seek the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be added unto you’ (Mt 6:33), and again: ‘Nothing is lacking to those who fear him’ (Ps 34:10).

But it’s the second to last chapter that echoes the Gospel reading today. Jesus calls all of us disciples to stop making excuses and take up our crosses. Saint Benedict says it this way: Just as there is an evil zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from vices and leads to God and to life everlasting. This zeal, therefore, the monks should practice with the most fervent love. Thus they should anticipate one another in honor; most patiently endure one another’s infirmities, whether of body or of character; vie in paying obedience one to another—no one following what he considers useful for himself, but rather what benefits another—; tender the charity of brotherhood chastely; fear God in love; love their Abbot with a sincere and humble charity; prefer nothing whatever to Christ.

When we follow Christ with this kind of zeal, Benedict says we can look forward to the ultimate reward: And may He bring us all together to life everlasting!

Saint Scholastica, Virgin

Today’s readings

Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Scholastica, who is known as the sister of Saint Benedict. Some traditions speak of them as twins. Pope Saint Gregory the Great tells us that Benedict ruled over both monks and nuns, and it seems as if Saint Scholastica was the prioress of the nuns.

So what we know about Saint Scholastica is what we have from Saint Gregory, and his account tells us of a spiritual kinship between she and Benedict that was extremely close. They would often meet together, but could never do so in their respective cloisters, so each would travel with some of their confreres and meet at a house nearby. On one such occasion, the last of these meetings together, they were speaking as they often did of the glories of God and the promise of heaven. Perhaps knowing that she would not have this opportunity again, Scholastica begged her brother not to leave but to spend the night in this spiritual conversation. Benedict did not like the idea of being outside his monastery for the night, and initially refused. With that, Saint Scholastica laid her head on her hands and asked God to intercede. Just as she finished her prayer, a very violent storm arose, preventing Benedict’s return to the monastery. He said: “God forgive you, sister; what have you done?” She replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused it. I asked it of God, and He has granted it.”

Three days later, Saint Scholastica died. Saint Benedict was alone at the time, and had a vision of his sister’s soul ascending to heaven as a dove. He announced her death to his brethren and then gave praise for her great happiness. Just like Saint Scholastica, we are called to spend our days and nights in contemplation of our Lord and discussing his greatness with our brothers and sisters. What a pleasant change that would be from some of the conversations we have, I am sure! If we would do this, we too might find as the Psalmist says today, how wonderful our God is, in all the earth!

Saint Benedict, Abbot, Father of Western Monasticism

Today’s readings

It is with great fondness that I observe this feast of St. Benedict the abbot, and father of western monasticism.  My Benedictine roots stem from my college days at Benedictine University in Lisle (then called Illinois Benedictine College), and I have a deep fondness for the monks of St. Procopius Abbey, who staffed the college, and in whose monastery I made my Priesthood retreat before I was ordained.  Every now and then I go there for a few days of prayer, which helps me to be ready for whatever ministry is bringing my way.  The motto Saint Benedict chose for his order was “Ora et Labora” – Prayer and Work — and for me it is a constant reminder of the balance we are called to have in life.

A wonderful source of inspiration to me while I was working in the corporate world, and still today, is reading from The Rule of St. Benedict, which is a great reflection on the balance we are called to in life.  It was also one of the most groundbreaking works of spirituality and monastic rule at that time.  It remains a spiritual classic today.  Recently, I read a quote from the rule that spoke of something the abbot of a monastery should bear in mind.  My reflection on it got me to thinking it was also extremely wise counsel for pastors of parishes, and even fathers – and mothers – of families.  It’s from the second chapter of the rule and it goes like this:

Above all, the abbot should not bear greater solicitude for things that are passing, earthly, and perishable, thereby ignoring or paying little attention to the salvation of the souls entrusted to him. Instead, may he always note that he has undertaken the governance of souls, for which, moreover, an account will have to be rendered. And if perhaps he pleads as an excuse a lack of wealth, then he should remember what is written: ‘First seek the kingdom of God and his justice, and all these things will be added unto you’ (Mt 6:33), and again: ‘Nothing is lacking to those who fear him’ (Ps 34:10).

This is the same kind of advice Jesus gave to his Apostles in the Gospel reading today, and also the kind of advice that Hosea was telling Israel it should have been following all along.  For the Apostles, they were to preach the Gospel and proclaim the Kingdom, and do everything they could to bring many souls with them.  For the Israelites, Hosea was telling them that they have been forgiven for their many past iniquities, so now would be a good time to stay on the straight path that the Lord sets forth for them.  It’s good advice for all of us.  Earthly things are always passing; things of the Spirit endure forever.  Seek first the kingdom, proclaim the kingdom, witness to the Gospel, and, as Saint Benedict also wrote, “And may he bring us all together to life everlasting!” (RB 72)

Saint Benedict, Abbot

I must say that today, I observe with great fondness this feast of St. Benedict, abbot, and father of western monasticism.  My Benedictine roots stem from my college days at Benedictine University in Lisle (then called Illinois Benedictine College), and I have a deep fondness for the monks of St. Procopius Abbey, who staffed the college, and in whose monastery I made several retreats.   I have also on occasion celebrated Mass at Sacred Heart Monastery, praying with the sisters who were so influential to me during those college days.

Saint Benedict’s motto is Ora et Labora – Pray and Work — and it’s a constant reminder of the balance we are called to have in life.  A lot of people want to say that their work is a prayer, and yes, that may in fact be true, but it’s not supposed to be the only prayer we make.  Saint Benedict points out the complete necessity of taking time for prayer throughout the day, in order to sanctify the day and to be joined as one in Christ.

A wonderful source of inspiration to me while I was working in the corporate world was a daily reading from The Rule of St. Benedict, which is a great reflection on the balance we are called to in life.  You can easily read and reflect on a chapter in five minutes, making it a perfect break-time devotion.  Some of it obviously pertains specifically to monastic life, but an awful lot of it applies to all of us.  What greatly edifies me about the Rule is its acknowledgment that community life is necessary to lead us to the communal life we call heaven.

And so, as Saint Benedict instructs toward the end of the Rule, “Let [us] prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.” (RSB, 72)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter [A]

Today’s readings

I can see by your attendance here today that you were not caught up in the rapture last night.

I bring this up not so much to poke fun at those who mistakenly predict the end of days, but rather to use this occasion to talk about exactly what we Catholics believe about the end times.  I think at some level all of us want to know when the end is coming and what it will look like.  We don’t get a clear roadmap of that, for reasons I’ll discuss later, but we do have some theology around the issue.

Whenever we want to know what we believe about something, the first places we should look are in the scriptures and in the Liturgy.  So I’ll start with the Liturgy, and point out the scriptures along the way.  The Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which we pray each Sunday and Solemnity, includes two statements of belief about the end of time.  The first comes at the end of what we believe about Jesus Christ.  It says:

He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.

The second statement comes at the very end of the Creed, in the part that summarizes our belief about the Church, the sacraments and eternal life:

… and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.

So the Creed gives us five pieces of information about the end times.  First, Jesus will come again in glory.  In our Gospel today, Jesus tells us: “I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be…”  In his glorious return, Jesus will make manifest his kingdom in heaven and on earth, and all those who have believed in him will be taken to himself.

Second, Jesus will judge the living and the dead.  Recall the scripture about the sheep and the goats, Matthew 25:31-46, in which those who have ministered to Christ made manifest in the poor and lowly of the world will inherit eternal life, and those who have failed to do so inherit eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  We believe that it is our responsibility to live the Gospel and a failure to do so manifests a rejection of Christ that is a choice to live in torment, distanced from God in eternity just as was done in life.

Third, we believe that when Christ returns, his kingdom will be everlasting.  The devil may well appear to hold sway in our own time, and all it takes is a glance at the news to confirm this.  But when Christ returns, all will be made new, as we read in the book of Revelation, chapter 21 (1-4): “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband…”

Fourth, there will be a resurrection of the dead.  We believe that because of the death and resurrection of Christ, death is not the end for us.  Those who die before Christ returns will be raised up to participate in the new, everlasting kingdom.  Saint Paul tells us in his first letter to the Thessalonians (4:13-14), “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope.  For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

And finally, we believe in eternal life.  In today’s gospel, Jesus says: “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.  If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you?”  So we know that heaven is a place where we are to go, once we have been purified by death, and possibly purgatory (but that’s another whole homily!).  Eternal life is a life of joy in heaven forever.

Getting back to the news of the last few days, in which Harold Camping of FamilyRadio.com predicted a rapture and the beginning of the end yesterday at 6pm local time, I would like to say two things.  First, you’ll notice that I didn’t discuss in the five points I just made a belief in the rapture.  That’s because there isn’t such a thing.  Those who believe in a rapture claim that prior to the great tribulations which will precede the end times, those who have believed in Christ will be taken up, leaving everyone else “left behind.”  That belief led to a whole series of popular books in the last decade.  While the tribulations that precede the end were foretold by Jesus, a rapture was not.  It wasn’t until the 1800s that some American fundamentalists really defined and pushed that belief.  The Catholic Church has never acknowledged a rapture, it has never been revealed in Scripture or authentic Tradition, so we can dismiss it.

Second, a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to calculate the end of it all.  Mr. Camping calculated that May 21st would be the end.  I won’t get into how he got there, because I think the failure of it dictates that it not be given much attention, and if you really want to know, there’s a lot on the internet you can find about that.  I will say that he previously predicted that the end would come in 1994, based on the same information, and claimed it didn’t come to pass due to a mathematical error on his part.

What I have to say about this is based on what Jesus tells us in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 24, verse 36: “But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone.”  I think that’s pretty clear: nobody gets that big picture except God the Father, so it’s extremely presumptuous to think we could ever figure it out.  Shame on us if we waste our time trying.

So what do we do with all this?  Should we be prepared for the end of the world?  I would say absolutely yes, and always.  Going back to First Thessalonians (5:2), Saint Paul tells us, “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief at night.”  Since we don’t know when the end will come, but are positive that there will indeed be an end, we need to be always prepared.  That preparation should be that we continue to nurture our relationship with God by participating regularly in the sacraments, and immersing ourselves in prayer and reading of the sacred scriptures.  It also includes living the Gospel: finding Christ in the poor and needy and extending ourselves to lighten their load.  It means proclaiming the word by the lives that we lead and the words that we speak.  It means bringing everyone we can find with us to the kingdom.

There’s a lot at stake in our Scriptures today.  There is a world that needs to know Jesus so that they too can know the Father and experience the joy of a real home.  There is a world that needs to know the touch of Jesus so that they can be healed and strengthened for life’s journey.  There is a world that needs to hear the Word of Jesus so that they can come to the way, the truth and the life.  It’s on us now, none of us can be passive observers or consumers only.  As St. Peter says today, we “are ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that [we] may announce the praises’ of him who called [us] out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We are not home yet, but we can get there through our Jesus, our way, our truth, and our life.

As Saint Benedict says, “And may He bring us all together to life everlasting.” (Rule of St. Benedict, 72)