Friday, April 30, 2010


I received a letter from Anita last week. Anita is a long time friend of mine and she has a granddaughter who is seven years old and her name is Emma. Anita often writes about her grandchildren. They bring her a lot of joy. She closed the letter with a little story about Emma. “I was playing a game on the floor with Emma,” she wrote. “In the midst of the game, she suddenly wrapped her arms around me tightly, said that she loved me so much she was going to faint, and then flopped over. It does not get much better than that.”

The heart of a child is impetuous. The Thesaurus gives these other meanings of the word: Impulsive, rash, hasty, hotheaded, reckless, unthinking, sudden, spontaneous.

I have heard these same words applied to Saint Peter. The gospels are rich in these traits of his – jumping out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee and then sinking when he loses faith. Telling Jesus that he loves him, again and again. He was a man who jumped to conclusions a bit too fast, and often they were the wrong ones, but he always had a change of heart and came back.

He is a good model for what is so weak and human and loveable in each of us.

I do not know what Emma will be when she grows up. I hope she never loses her spontaneity of heart. It will help her enjoy the game, and will also help us better understand the heart of Peter, a man much loved by the Lord.

At certain levels, the church moves with caution through history and it moves slowly. At other levels, far below the level of the elevated throne of Peter, it can and does move with haste, for there are those who in the midst of the game will wrap their arms around the world and flop over with love. Overcome as they are by love, they let go of the need to win, to be right, to be on the cutting edge. They keel right over with love, then get up and move back into the game of life. They are the church. And it does not get much better than that.

Question and Answer

Recently we had a big, fancy dinner here at the monastery. We hosted a gala-like banquet for the religious of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. It is an annual event and has always been a wonderful evening. The guests mingle with the monks at a wine and hors de oeuvres reception and that is followed by the dinner.
The religious comprise many varied spots on the continuum of spirituality. There are teachers and chaplains, parish ministers and religious coordinators, consecrated virgins, contemplatives and more active devotees of following the call to find and serve God. In the large and beautifully decorated room where we had the meal, it is a safe bet to way that a good percentage of the myriad and sometimes conflicting roads to the holy were sitting and chatting at the tables, all in a very friendly way. Of course that is not always the case since religious persuasions tend to divide religiously professionals on some rather touchy issues.
I heard a funny story about something that transpired at one table.
There were eight or so people at the table. A young guest sat next to one of our novices and asked him if our monastery was liberal or conservative. Not the most comfortable of questions, I suppose, since the response could have chilled the atmosphere at that particular table. Wisely, the young novice looked across the table and there sat one or our senior monks. He put the question to him and the senior monk looked at him, thought for a moment, then turned to the young guest who asked the question and replied, “About two-hundred and eighty-thousand bags. That’s right. Two-hundred and eighty- thousand.” The older monk is hard of hearing and his hearing aid did not work well for him that night. The young man who asked the question looked at him and thanked him. I suppose he thought it best not to unravel the response. And so the meal continued with everyone making peaceful chit-chat and, well, never finding out whether our home is conservative or liberal. Later, it was discovered that the older monk thought the question had something to do with how many bags of concrete it took to build our abbey church. He must have been asked the question before because his accounting was right, according to local legend.
And so it was that we went our separate ways that night, our hearts filled with good cheer. The young man who asked the question received a truthful answer to his entirely unrelated question and the older monk in all innocence gave a reply that was truthful to the bags but wayward to the original question.
The meal continued with unresolved questions and answers.
And so it went.
A year will pass before we host the group again. Maybe, by that time, the old monk will have gotten the question right and the young guest will have discovered the meaning behind all those concrete bags. And they may even once again share the same table. And the young man will look at the older man and ask “It sure took a lot of bags to make up this church.” and the older man, having mulled over the conservative-liberal question for a year, will look at his young guest and then, his eyes scanning the other tables, will smile and say, “Bags? Church? Well, yes, most of us are geezers. But we are a progressive bunch.”
And so it goes.

A Letter from Marlene

Marlene is a good friend of mine and she lives far from here. She writes me letters and sends me cards, and fills me in on people we know in common. We grew up together and our parents were long-time friends.
She sings in her church choir and loves it.
She wrote me recently and mentioned in the letter that the choir is going to sing “Verdi’s Requiem” at Sacred Heart Basilica in Newark, New Jersey. I was ordained there in 1974, and back then it was a cathedral – not yet designated a basilica. That honor was to come much later with a visit by Pope John Paul II.
Marlene wrote that the “Requiem” needs a lot of practice, for as beautiful a piece as it is, it is also very difficult.
She also mentioned that she recently had dinner with a priest, a mutual friend of ours and she was telling him about the rehearsals and the challenging nature of the song and he told her that what is interesting is that Verdi was an atheist. She did not elaborate on that comment but I suppose that the comment was meant to highlight a marked contrast between what Verdi wrote and what he believed (or did not believe). Which made me think a bit long after I put the letter down.
“God” is not an easy topic for discussion. The very notion is God is problematic for a lot of people, and certainly is a hot issue between peoples of varying expressions of faith. It is odd that a word that is supposed to signify a common experience among many different people has been in fact one of the most divisive words in history – and our times are certainly no exception.
Verdi was an obviously highly gifted man, a man intensely inspired by beauty and a genius when it came to expressing that beauty through music. What did he know of God enough to dismiss his existence? Perhaps very little, like all of us humans. Perhaps he had a very sour experience of the religious practices and institutions of his day, an experience that would certainly have forced religious inquiries to take a permanent back seat in light of his passion for music.
Maybe God was in the front seat all along, a God who would not have recognized the trappings of religiosity in the back seat as having anything at all to do with him. It was the front seat ride that was important, whispering as he did in the ear of Verdi some of the most beautiful notes and scales known to humanity.
Some years back I read an appeal from a writer whose name escapes me now but whose appeal does not. He expressed a desire for a musical approach to human solidarity – basically meaning that since most everyone loves music and since music is good for the heart, people should get together and sing, dance, clap their hands and get to know each other through the wondrous strains of music. I really like that idea and I do think that God would be right there, even though his or her name might not be mentioned or even sought after. God is in the music and in what it does, where it comes from.
Marlene has a beautiful voice and will surely give the “Requiem” the time and the concentrated effort needed to sing it as near perfect as possible. And she perform it in a gorgeous basilica, built in honor of God. And all around that basilica, there will be other songs, music playing through the open windows of summer, music playing from CD players carried by young and not-so young on the street, music played from Ipods all across the city. Hearts will rise to the beat, and will feel good, not thinking much about God, a God who does not mind because he is in the music. You do not have to know about God to experience him, to love the music. Verdi did not have to know that. But he sure does now.
Life indeed would be a near perfect blend if we could all get the music right, and the words right, and find a way to harmonize them so that we could all get together. But that is a long way off, and we still need to work hard, practice hard. Someday we will all sing like we found the road to paradise. And then we can know what Verdi knew, and why he put it to music.
Some folks do not think about God too much but they sure know how to play him.


There is a story that was run in the New York Times a year or so ago. It was written by a woman who was married to her husband for a long time. One day, her husband told her that he needed time to find himself. He left her and their children, telling them that he was not sure when he would be back, if he was to come back at all. The woman stood her ground, but she was standing on a remarkably sure plot of earth. She wrote that she knew him, loved him, trusted him and that she let him go. She wrote that she harbored no recriminations, no plots of revenge, no marshalling of retaliatory weaponry. She waited, secure in her knowledge of him, a knowing rooted in love and a hope that he would come back. He eventually did. Perhaps he found himself, or realized how he had lost himself and had to go back to recover who he really wanted to be.
The article generated thousands of responses from husbands, wives and lovers from all over the world. By far, most of the responses were ones of gratitude, written from places in lives where human hearts needed a reaffirmation of the need to trust in the seasons of love, and how some of those seasons ask that we wait, and perhaps wait long. Apparently there are a lot of people in this world who have risked waiting for love to come back and the gamble paid off.
Admittedly that woman’s experience is not typical. In fact it is probably quite rare. When love walks out the door, it is more common that the door is slammed shut and the memories of what could have been left out on the street.
We hear this gospel every year and are quite familiar with it. Some of us may identify with the lost and found son. Or we may identify with the resentful son. The father may strike a responsive chord in our experience – or perhaps the absent but surely present mother of the boy, who may have well had much to do with softening the heart of the father, urging him to wait and wait with love.
Whatever our resonance with the story of the Prodigal Son, we all have one thing in common. We look for love, need love, and when it comes it arrives as a gift. Sometimes it stays, sometimes it walks out the door. It may or may not come back.

You Get What You Neede

I ad driven a long way and when I reached my destination, I pulled into the parking lot and sat there listening to the radio. I looked at the mileage meter on the dashboard and noted that I had covered almost five hundred miles. The music played softly on the radio, a country western song about love and loss. I heard an unfamiliar sound and it came from a distance but was getting louder and nearer. I looked out the window, and then looked up and I saw them. Hundreds of geese, flying in V formations. There was wave after wave of them, and as I watched, a large portion of the sky was gradually filled with one large and moving V after another. The sound I heard was the honking of the geese as they flew from one corner of the other, emerging from one corner of the sky and fading into another. The formations rose and fell slightly as the geese deftly rode the winds. I noticed how a every so often the lead goose would recede a bit and make way for a new formation leader.
Watching them, I wondered how long they are able to stay up there before coming down for a breather, for some water and food. Their energy astounded me. I am quite sure that they cover a great distance. I could not estimate the expanse “up there” that I could see from below, but even that span of sky was of a considerable distance, easily much more than a mile. And as the geese became tinier and tinier as they vanished from sight, they showed no inclination to head back down for a rest.
I tried to imagine myself running a much shorter distance, say from one end of parking lot to another, and wondered if I could do it. I did not try but did not have to do so to know that it would nearly kill me. I just do not have the strength or the wind for that at my age. So it fascinated me that those birds could flap those big wings at a rather rapid pace and not even take time to rest. Those birds were sure of their destination and the Creator had given them all that they need to get there. For they were equipped with wings perfectly made for high and direct flight. Feathers and a tail to give a lightness to their bodies and a living rudder with which to sail and navigate the winds. A sense of radar that is nothing short of uncanny. And a pair of eyes to match, eyes that maybe do not even blink in a direct confrontation with some pretty strong winds. Geese need no weight management seminars. They eat just enough to live and just enough to guarantee a lift-off to the sky. All without flight training seminars.
I have asked around but no one I know seems to know how long geese can stay up there. By now maybe they have reached their destination. I hope so.
What of us humans? If geese know how to get from one place to another and are equipped with all they need to get there, what of our journey here below? We can do amazing things – even take to the skies and build radars and go on needed diets. But in all our travels and amidst all our technological marvels, we lose our way and more often than we would care to admit, we cannot get off the ground.
Maybe God made us for an interior journey to get home to him or her in this life. We do not have wings but we all have hearts, and the human heart knows how to soar and cover a lot of ground. A forgiving and compassionate heart can cover vast distances. We have a kind of seeing that can see clearly, despite however strong the winds against us may be.
And we know that we cannot get anywhere alone. We were born for a made for each other. Our formations may not take the shape of a V. Our formations are based on patterns of love and respect. They are formations that keep us all grounded, but moving in the right and only direction that will eventually get us home to where we once came from.

Easter 2010

The first word Jesus speaks from His Risen Life is “peace.” Some commentators suggest that the way it was spoken cannot be understood apart from Jesus’ breathing his spirit into them. And with the gift of that Divine breath, the frightened disciples exhaled fear and inhaled a divine gift of peace.
We cannot remember our first breath, the first expansion of our lungs, lungs that were tiny, brand new, awaiting their power to stir a baby to the necessities of this life – of breathing, crying, wailing. It all begins with an intake of air. And with more breathing, life as we know it begins. And grows.
Most of us have been with a loved one when he or she breathes the last breath. A lifeless corpse is stunning in its stillness, its absence of the living man or woman who inhabited it. Where do the dead go? We speak of Paradise and yet do not know what it is, where it is, whether it is of matter or pure spirit, whether it is near, or far.
We only have hope that there is a place for us after this life. We hope that when we exhale that last time, that the next and immediate inhale will be that of the taste of the breath of God – the only breath that gives us life, eternal life.
As recently as last week, Walter Cardinal Kasper said that the path that the church is on is irreversible. When you think about it, the path is not of our making. It winds behind us as a gift, and looms ahead of us, also as gift. And there is a wind at our backs, moving us forward, even when we fear what lies ahead, fear what we may lose by leaving the past, the familiar, as the road before us is strange, unknown, frightening. But move we must, sooner than later. A church that hopes to settle in a certain time or place or mode of being cannot be. It cannot hold its breath for long. It must breathe, move, discern. And breathe again. Its life is of and from God. We do not live from ourselves. God brings life from the womb, brings life into our days, and brings us through death to life. We gather this morning to recall the first one to rise from the dead. We share in that mystery. We are sons and daughters of God, a God of love who is the deepest and lasting meaning of it all. What God creates cannot end. It is only transformed anew, ever anew. The road ahead stretches on forever. And it sheds its light on how we are to walk with each other in this life, as we grow in and through this gift we call life.
Peace does not exist apart from Jesus. In giving peace, he gives himself. Peace is not the fruit of a plan or a treaty. It cannot be worked out in time. It cannot be temporary. Nor can it be an absence of conflict, violence or war. It is a presence that can and does exist in the midst of trials, or in a combat zone, or amidst divided hearts. It lives and is known when and where even the most fleeting gesture of peace is shared, and hopefully shared again. It will grow for its life is stronger than any death that surrounds it or seemingly overwhelms it. God has breathed his very life into us and on this Easter morning we share that presence through the clarity offered by sacramental ritual. On behalf of our Order, of Francis Michael our Abbot, I wish you blessed Easter, to your families and loved ones, to those who await a peace that is never ours to possess but only give away.
The Earth and What it Holds for the Telling

There is a tree in the corner of our cloister and it blooms every year, just before spring. It is in bloom now, with hundreds of beautiful pink blossoms. Usually, the blossoms quickly fall to the ground but this year they have remained on the tree, giving it a full brilliance of deep and light pinks. One of the monks said that the best view of the tree was to be had from a third floor window, where you can look down and into the tree and the petals fill your field of vision. Nothing to see but abundant beauty.
A few days ago, I walked through the cloister and noticed another tree, across from the one in full and abiding bloom. This particular tree had lost its petals earlier and some were strewn on the ground. I looked down at them and since I had my camera I took pictures of them. They were already fading, but had a beauty all their own, a different kind of beauty as they lay dying, waiting again to be absorbed into the earth and regenerated as some kind of new life, or perhaps become food for small creatures, or a smidgen of nest stuffing. Nature seems to assure that nothing of its largesse goes to waste.
Not long ago I was on my way to Wichita and drove through Arkansas. I drove through a place called Fort Smith and realized that I was driving along the same highway on which my nephew Peter lost his life when the van in which he was riding was forced off the highway by the reckless and never found drive of an eighteen wheeler. That was many years ago. Peter was thirteen years old when he died. I thought of him for miles, remembering him as he was as if he was with me in the car. Maybe he was. I hope so. My thoughts wandered, to his mom – my sister Mary, and to her husband, Brian. They were expecting a new grandson any day. He would be born three days a later and would be called Remick, after my dad. Dad died back in 1995. Mom passed on almost two years ago – I have pictures of them holding Peter. I have them here with me.
Meghan, my niece and Remick’s mom, was here a few days ago. The baby is beautiful and his name is officially Remy, for short, just like my dad’s. And I have James, after my twin who died a long time ago, and there is also Hannah Rose, my sister Meg’s daughter, named after our grandmothers. And there are more. Names that live on in new lives, new loves.
We walk and live and love on the firm ground of this earth and there are countless lives who sleep below us. We give back to the earth our dead. And, like all other forms of life, we await a rising, someday. Lots of living things once dead have obvious and other natural uses. For there are nests, and new trees that feed from what is below, and seeds that break open, grow and mature, and then pass on and enter a new cycle. We enjoy the shades and comforts of young and old trees, rising trees and dying trees. We rarely name them.
Easter is a time of wondering about rising. It is a time we ask blessings for each other, a blessing that the joys of Easter be given and given in abundance.
The trees come back. But the earth holds those I have loved and they are not coming back in this life. What is that saying? That they live on in spirit, in the lives of those left behind. Me and you. We carry their names, their looks, their genes, their goodness to us.
But I want to see them again. I hope and want them to rise.
The tree is yet in full and glorious bloom. And, not far from it, there are the fallen petals of a less fortunate, less robust tree whose beauty faded and fell fast. Such is life – we too know the pain of the death of youth, the memories we all have of those we have lost on our highways of life. It hurts to think about them. I want to write that I am grateful that I knew them, was loved by them, and hopefully warmed their lives with whatever love I am capable of giving.
I do not think beauty dies. At least I have never heard about such a thing. It lives on, all around us. Sometimes it is in full bloom, while at other times, right close by, it lies where it has fallen. But its beauty is no less. And its destiny is the same – to become again something beautiful
Beauty has a built in continuity. Something eternal. It always has been and always will be.
Trees have no name. But God calls each of them to rise, bloom, live, fall and rise again.
We humans need name those who come from our bodies and who grow and learn to love and then fall and await a rising to beauty.
I thought of these things on a highway where a boy I loved became a new living beauty. He would delight in a nephew just born to him, a baby whose name is Remy, and is as beautiful as a baby boy can be. I wish him full and lasting bloom. He enters this life gifted with much love, named for a man who loves him from a near yet far place.
I think that the life that is God lives in everything. God lives in trees and is the beauty of their blooming blossoms. God is the beauty of humanity and is our eternal blossom. We may come to the full blossom of our years. Or we may die young. We may rise and shine high, or lie seemingly forgotten on some path of this life.
Easter blessings. We bless each other with a wish – that we may see Easter everywhere, in the young and old, in all that lives and is rising. Beauty lives everywhere, awaiting our recognition, either from a third floor window or with a glance down at our feet. It is everywhere, growing at different rates, brilliant in all its glory, asking us to believe in the eternal life it comes from and to which it all returns.

Easter Road

Cormac McCarthy has written several novels and that traffic the reader through the inhumanly brutal and darkly violent. His last book, The Road, was published to critical acclaim. It has already been mentioned as an early entry for one of the best novels of this yet adolescent century.

The novel is as dark as those that preceded it. A global holocaust has taken place. Life as we know it is gone. There is not a single mention of color in the book. The only characters are small groups of savage like people who resort to anything, even cannibalism, to survive. There are a few wandering individuals who appear and then disappear in the book. No character has a name. The two main characters in the book are a father and his little boy who are making their way to whatever is left of the coast. There is no sense of direction in the book, only the slow movement of the father and son. The father pushes a grocery cart in which their few belongings are kept, including bits of food and scraps of clothing taken from the ruins of cities and houses. They confront one life threatening horde after another, and from luck or chance they manage to keep moving.

McCarthy goes to great lengths to remove all comforts from the road the two must walk. Desperation, desolation, and lifelessness mark each page. It is a novel that does not back off stripping the reader of every and any illusion as to what we might possibly become, because of what we have made We have made a world that looks so comfortable and advanced, at least for some, and yet which hangs over an abyss of our own making.
At the end of the book there is a beginning. The last pages are like a fresh buds growing from sand. The book closes with a hint that there is salvation, that life will go on, that there is something good burning within us that will light our way, make us do wondrous things, help us become who we really are when we have lost everything and everyone and have to know love in the darkness of our own doing. All during our life and death in this world, there is another world within it, awaiting a word to rise.

Easter is bright. Churches are filled with the color and aromas of flowers. Everyone has hoped for a sunny day, a day with no rain.

But the only way we got here is through yesterday and the two days before. Jesus knew abandonment, desolation, agony and a sense that even his god had left him. And there is the absence that was yesterday, when the creator has taken leave of the universe and it is not known where he went, or if he can or will come back. For he has gone to the non-place of death.

And he has risen from that place, and because of that, death is a place of new life and this life is, as the abbot mentioned early this morning, a passage, a road on which we learn to love.

Perhaps we cannot know that until all our attempts at making this world unto our own style and fancy have hit a wall. Perhaps it is when we can no longer hope from our own resources that something remarkable and miraculous happens. The light that is within us burns and shines, revealing its power to obliterate death and finality. It is place God will bring each of us when he places us on a road that is not of our own making, a road called Passion that is the only sure direction to a place called Easter.
Sweet Inspiration

Infringement is a word that some creative people worry about. People who are drawn to artistic self expression risk the chance of running into the legal entanglements of copyright infringement – creating work that resembles so closely to the work of another artist that the latter sues the former for stealing. And the demands of the plaintiff can translate into millions of dollars.
If God can be likened to an artistic type who shares his inspiration with others, it would seem that he has no interest in securing a definitive signature to his work. It is not long ago that the Sprit was believed to be most at home on a Catholic inspired canvas. The church has a huge catalogue of religious art, texts, statues and hymns that are readily catalogued as religious. I think he has been at work beyond that space.
I once heard a monk say that the plastic chairs in the cloister should be removed because they were not Cistercian. I still wonder what a genuine Cistercian chair looks like. Maybe it can be trusted for its style of stability. The monk who said that eventually moved on. He changed his stability. The chairs are still here, very stable.
God seems to have a larger catalogue that has used the mediums of all cultures that have been known to sense the spirit and to give it form through beauty. And God has yet to suggest that there has taken place an infringement. In fact, the opposite would seem to be true – that God is generous beyond measure with his gift of inspiration.
The church at its best follows the workings of the spirit in the world, the spirit that blows where it wills and that, like the wind, reserves its origin and destination to itself. It may lead the church to strange yet beautiful places, places that will demand a new way of seeing and trusting. It should have no fear of losing its uniqueness as it moves into what is different from itself. It should not fear an infringement of its style. The spirit inspires the sharing of all that is life. It is not about loss. Its sole mission is to teach life to all, and to expand our palettes to express that in every color and variation that God gives through people who seek him.

Different themes can be gleaned from the teachings of Jesus that give more than a hint of the ways, the personality of God. One such theme is generosity. If a stranger asks for your shirt, give him or her your coat as well. Forgive not seven times, but seventy times seven. Go that extra mile in the giving of more than is expected. Love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. Give from your want, not from your abundance. Give all you have to the poor, and follow. Welcome the stranger, embrace the despised, pray always. A net is cast into the sea and soon is filled with fish, to the point of almost breaking. A near empty basket provides food for thousands. A wedding feast has no wine, but soon has it in overflowing measure.
The God of Jesus knows no bounds when it comes to the giving of gifts. The life of Jesus is ours as gift. Our ability to share that life with others is as well a gift.
We are easily awed by what is around us, if we take note of it. Tiny creatures give birth to hundreds of offspring. Stars beyond measure fill the night sky. There are more galaxies than there are grains of sand on the earth. The created world is orchestrated, overflowing with countless examples of abundance, of seemingly more than is ever needed. From diversity there flows life. From variation there emerge patterns of living beauty. From less there is always more.
Jesus looked about and compared the largesse of nature to the generosity of God. And he also took note of the human heart. His words served as a reminder to those who heard them to learn from abundance. It is not an easy lesson to learn, to take to heart, because we do not know what to do with abundance other than take what we can from it. Our generosity is often cheapened by our need to enjoy the feast and then calculate the server’s tip to the nearest possible penny. We seem to dabble well with the fractional and are awed by the incremental, the limitless.
God said of himself that his ways are not our ways. But that apparent unlikeness did not prevent him from sharing it.
It is Divine Mercy Sunday.
We are asked to imitate Jesus.
We are asked to be a sure road for those who are lost.
A source of hope for those who feel they have lost it for good.
A home for those who may have never had one.
A source of comfort for those who have only known rejection.
A way home for those who are stranded and who feel that the last train to life has long left the station.
A wellspring of forgiveness for those who have been denied a last court of appeal.
Today we take to heart a promise that mercy is special in its uniqueness. It is reserved in ample measure precisely for those who cannot ever hope to earn it or deserve it. Of all that God deals to us, mercy is the trump card that clearly shows his hand.
Thursday Homily

After J.D. Salinger’s death a few months ago, there was a not-surprising surge of stories about him in the media. The highly reclusive writer rejected the public arena for most of his life. Ironically, his self imposed exile from society moved him more and more into the penetrating glare of media scrutiny. One of the articles that appeared after his death praised him for venturing into new territory with his fiction. The fiction that nurtured him was written with the well worn plot structure of beginning, middle and end. Salinger rejected the literary spoon that fed him and raised the bar by writing fiction that was more impressionistic, that left more of an image than plot in the mind of the reader. He paved the way for writers like Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Frederick Batheleme and others who would craft enduring images with words and leave the niceties of plot to writers of thrillers and mysteries.
I am attracted to a similar contrast offered by our readings these days.
The first readings are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Each section is open ended, awaiting the next part of the story as the early church experiences its fits and starts as it sputters to life and embarks on its journey of self discovery through the spirit. There is no neat structure. Something is known as being scripted by the Spirit and that kind of authorship surely broke the mold in terms of religious writing. The divine was permanently moved from the narrative myths of Olympus to the streets and traffic of humanity. And it is still moving, with twists and turns, an ongoing assault of the unpredictable.
We then have the gospel readings from John, taken from the farewell discourse, where the language is high, eloquent, and very amenable to plot. Each selection is beautifully crafted and there is even mention, as if in gratitude, of how Jesus is speaking in language that is not veiled, language that can be understood. Each section is almost self-contained, rich enough to be the theme of a full length book, which in fact has proved to be the case for centuries of reflections that are bound between book covers.
One of the best teachers I had in the seminary was Leo Farley, who taught us moral theology. I thought his homilies were wonderful. He had an inquisitive mind and relished valuing all sides of an argument. He had a genius for walking in the moccasins of the other and knowing that world of difference. He had no instinct for wrapping things up, for closure, for knowing the end of the story. When he preached, he would lay out some fascinating thoughts, let them hang in the air for a while, and then he would look about, smile, and say “Well, okay then” and leave the pulpit. I liked it. It drove others crazy.
And so we have our contrast in the readings. For those who like the plotted version of Jesus, there is the farewell discourse. And for those who want to know where and how the farewell hit the downtown area, we have the Acts of the Apostles. The message took life and took off, drawing us into the mysterious novel of God that is taking place around us and through us, breaking open with unexpected grace the daily events of life.

There is a large area above our garage. Years ago, it was home to a number of monks. They lived up there while the larger monastery structures were being built. From what the monks have told me, the style of life in those days had a lot of rough edges. Father Anthony tells me that there were mornings when it was so cold that the water in the holy water font turned to ice. There are still some tell-tale signs from those days. There are hooks on the wall and small cabinets where the monks stored their few personal belongings. Pairs of old well worn leather boots can be spotted here and there, as if patiently waiting to be filled with the feet they once protected. The area has been used as a storage area for many years. There are all sorts of things up there.
There are old books on shelves. Books about farming and seeds, machinery and soil. The books are all more than sixty-years old. I noticed one book that was lacking its binding. I took the book from the shelf, brushed off a layer of dust and opened it. It was a New Testament and from the light brown stains on the upper corners of each page, it was a well read book, the finger prints of a long ago seeker of God’s wisdom still quite evident on every page. The binding looked as if it was chewed off. The rest of the cover was in good condition. A mouse must have gnawed off the entire binding as use for making her nest. I suppose that she could have gone for the entire book, but probably took just what she needed for her dwelling. Or perhaps she moved on to more mundane texts, though I did not see any other books that were missing bindings or covers.
I thought about some things later.
Great care has been taken over the centuries to record God’s Word and to preserve it. Many a scholar has devoted an entire career to analyzing ancient biblical texts in the hope of securing a surer footing as to its origins, its place in the emergent body of religious literature, its possible contribution to the seemingly ever elusive search for the truth as to how God has entered history and what that entrance means for us. And so it is natural that biblical texts are of irreplaceable importance as prime source material.
The mouse of course had no idea of all of this. She needed a home, a place to birth her young. And the Bible binding must have fit the bill perfectly. Somewhere up in that space above the garage, there is a nest with sacred shreds, shreds that are inextricably woven in with whatever else the mouse found to make her nest. So, the mouse put the sacred binding to good use.
I wonder if I have done the same over the years.
Maybe there is something to learn from that little creature.
In a flight of fancy, imagine that there was only one bible left on the earth, and it was hidden in that space above our cars by a long gone monk who hoped to preserve the last extant Bible. Believing that the Truth was to be kept safe, little did he know that time would pass and that the book would be chewed to bits and made into a nest. New born creatures would be given shelter and warmth by God’s very word, and they would be oblivious to it. But the written word would have proven itself true in the very making of a nest, a secure dwelling place.
The truth is not in the sacred text. The text points to a truth outside of itself, a truth that is growing, a truth that is fashioning hearts and hopes, horizons and possibilities, patterns of forgiveness, love and mercy as these are fleshed out in our lives. The truth lives all within us and about us. We do not find it as much as live it. It does not come to us. It is already here, in the wisdom that monks, among others, follow. It is the wisdom that finds what it needs and builds a nest for new life. And it is the wisdom that makes me hope that God is taking the stuff of our lives and building a home where we will be born anew, a place divinely made, a place made of hearts and hopes, tattered lives and dreams that we once thought were lost forever.
That little mouse did well, being about her business and making a home for her young. Such a modest creature reminds me that God is doing much the same for all that He has made, from monks seeking wisdom to mice that have somehow found it. .
Some Thoughts on Difference

I enjoy my duties here at the monastery. Among the several that I have, the one that draws my mind and heart in many different directions is the job of guest master in our retreat house. I meet a lot of people who come to us for as many reasons as there are those who come here. Last week, a group of high school students came for the day. They came from Druid Hills High School in Atlanta. We first met in a large room in the retreat house. I gave them a brief talk about our life here and then encouraged them to ask questions. And ask they did, all kinds of questions. After that, we headed out to the Abbey Store and then on to the bonsai area. I then had the chance to chat with them more informally. And it was fascinating. In a relatively short span of time, I met and chatted with students from Bulgaria, Afghanistan, Mexico, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Russia. I am sure that there were other students from other countries but the time was short and I was not able to speak individually with all of them. They were such a friendly group. The student from Bangladesh asked a lot of questions about monastic life, and the images he saw in our church. He told me he was Moslem and that he was glad we spent four hours of each day in church. He them told me that he walks two miles every day, twice a day, to his mosque and that if he had more time he would be there for the required five prayer times every day. He smiled and said that he could not be there all those times because he had much to do at home. I was astounded that he was able to make the two visits each day.
I took a lot of pictures of them and they are now one of my favorite screen savers. As I read or write a letter, their faces glide by on my computer screen, faces that are bright, hopeful, smiling and happy.
We live in a time when religious and cultural certitudes are no longer as certain as they once were. Many of us can remember times when persons of different religious and cultural affiliations were more isolated from each other. The reasons for isolation were many. People did not readily mix due to the distance imposed by miles, or mistrust, or dislike or even hatred. It is no secret that these and other distances still plague many of the peoples of this earth. Difference among us is inevitable. What we do about those differences is one of the most challenging dilemmas of our age. We cannot simply exist side by side as if difference does not exist. Human difference has a claim on our respective self-understandings. We are gradually learning something quite significant about ourselves and God in this process of being with and among others who differ from us.
I think of the above a lot. Our country is undergoing a wondrous and exciting transformation. And it is as close as Druid Hills High School or even your own block. The ways of God are among us, mixing things up and inviting us to learn about the Divine from what is ever new, ever smiling, ever hopeful, ever bright.
I look at my screen saver and see people from all over the world.
I look at them and wonder as to the God who is within them, a loving mystery in our midst who promises more that the saving of computer screens. In the smiles of those young people, I see the presence of God who will work through them, teaching a new generation what it means to make a loving presence from the gift of difference.

Luke 5, 27-32

After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. "Follow me," Jesus said to him, 28and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
 29Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and 'sinners'?"
 31Jesus answered them, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
I have been writing up talks for a retreat I am going to give up in Wichita, Kansas.  The retreat is on the Beatitudes and I was working on a section that has to do with leaving everything behind at the call of Jesus, and what it means to do that and follow him.  I was struggling with the radical implication of such a call. Everything is, well, everything and leaving it behind means just that – not going back.  So, I maybe fudged a bit in the direction I took, writing out something that softens the blow.  Like, maybe it takes time to follow Jesus, takes time to leave everything, takes time to be a real and true disciple of the road, with no baggage and just a walking stick. 
Then I heard the above gospel at Mass.  I probably would not have paid close attention to it, but the writing about the call was fresh in my mind and when I heard the few lines above, I thought that things ain’t so bad. 
Levi must have been rich.  Nice guy, too.  He got up right away and left everything.  Sort of.  For then we hear that he must have gone back the house, like, you know, turned around and got out all his pots and pans and the fatted calves and wine and grapes, lamb and maybe some chickens, and whatever folks had for dessert back in those days.  Maybe lamb cookies, or olive flavored ice cream.  Anyway, it was, we are told, a large crowd.  All sinners, too – and there is that mysterious word “others.”  I have always felt at home with others.  So that is good.  I would have had a good time at the big party.

Well, I won’t revise what I wrote for the retreat.  But I will keep the above Scripture quote in mind.  For those who seek a strict interpretation of what it means to leave everything and worry about failing to respond to the call because of all the stuff they have and cannot leave behind, there is hope.  They can say yes, oh yes, and get up and run out of their house and get in their SUV’s and watch everything fade in the rear view mirror as they drive down the road following Jesus.  But then they can stop at the nearest Sam’s Club, stock up on everything they need for a feast for all the others they know, and then go back and have a banquet that will be as grand as can be, and that will by necessity leave till later the call of the wild.

Oh, one more thing.  Jesus was at that feast too, having left behind all his stuff someplace else. At least for a while.