Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Lessons from the Ursuline Sisters

Saint Angela Merici went out and taught many people about God. She is the foundress of one of the first teaching orders, the Ursuline Sisters. The Ursuline Sisters went out and taught in the entire world about Jesus. They were the first group of missionary teaching sisters to come to what would be the Americas. They came to New Orleans before New Orleans was even in the United States, to teach all of these different people. Why there? Because New Orleans was one of the few places that was, at that time, Catholic. 

Saint Angela Merici

They came, and the sisters were very courageous and very zealous to teach people about God. They knew that whatever they were teaching them, whether it was math or science or religion or whatever, all of it brought them closer to God. Why is that? Because Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.  So if Jesus is the truth that means that everything that you learn in school, if it is true, then it is from God. Everything. Everything is ordered by God, even mathematics.

Math. What you think about math? 2+2 = 4, 3+2 = 5 and so on. Does 2 + 2 = 4 just because of the laws of mathematics? Or is it because God put order in the world? That order is to help us through our lives. And so who made 2+ 2= 4? God because He made order. He created all things. It is not true because some mathematician or scientist somewhere said it was true. It is true because it reflects the order of God. And that is what the Ursuline sisters found so amazing about teaching. So when they came into this country, they were pretty awesome. These were sisters who really knew their stuff. St. Angela Merici lived hundreds of years before this, but think, what we do now can affect people hundreds of years later when we let God work through us. 

Ursuline Sisters landing in New Orleans

When these sisters came to New Orleans, they were nuns who wore the whole religious habit from a long the veil all the way down to a very long skirt and long sleeves. They look very beautiful and very regal, but guess what? Do you think you want to be dressed like that in 90 degrees in New Orleans where all the mosquitoes are around? The sisters actually had to be put in cocoons. They were put in a canoe and a covering was put over them and tar was used to light their way so that they could get through the swamps to the places where the schools would be. Thye were all covered like that because so many people died while going there from different diseases from the animals and the bugs. Can you imagine that? If somebody said to you, “Hey! There are some kids that need to be taught some lessons about Jesus, but here is the catch. You are going to be put into a cocoon and floated down the river because you might die from a bug bite.” What would you say? “Uhhh. . . .” It would be a little scary, wouldn’t it? 

However, the sisters decided that the people on the other side of the swamp needed Jesus and they needed to learn the truth and so the sisters did it. And that is why these Ursuline sisters were women of great courage. They went where no one else would go so that people would learn the truth, not just in school about mathematics and science but also the greatest truth which is that God loves them.
And so, what lengths are you willing to go to to teach somebody that God loves them? What lengths are you willing to go? Maybe it is standing up for the person who is being picked on. Are you willing to stand up for that person? Even though it might be hard. To say yes, that person is loved by God and I am going to treat them nicely. Or the person that drives you the most crazy. Maybe it is in school. Maybe it is at home, maybe it is a little brother or sister, whoever it is, but they are driving you nuts. Are you willing to go that extra mile and say, “I’m not going to go nuts. I am not going to blow up. I am going to love them and I am going to nice.” Are you willing to go that extra mile? What are you willing to do? St. Angela Merici and all the sisters involved with her were willing to do great things so that other people might love God. What are you going to do today so that others might know God through you? I hope none of you have to be rolled up in a cocoon and floated down a river so that you will not die from a mosquito bite. However, if God called you, would you go? Let us pray for the strength to know when others need us, to to show others God’s love them when we just rather be lazy.

--Father Jacob Meyer

Monday, January 26, 2015

Fishers of Men and Fishes of Faithful

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the lake—for they were fishermen. 19And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ 20Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. (Matthew 4: 18-22)

Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.

This reading is always very nostalgic for any priest because it is the Lord calling his first priests, in fact, his first bishops of the Church. He is calling them out of the work of the world and setting them aside for a special mission and purpose, that is for gathering all of the people into God’s holy Church that he might rescue us, pull us out of the dangerous sea and get us to the place that he has prepared for us. The bark of Peter is that ship that takes us unto our heavenly home. So that is a wonderful thing.

And I was praying about this Gospel this week, I have to admit that, although I do not generally have attention deficit disorder, I do when I pray, because as I am praying and thinking about the Gospel, I would love to be caught up in the glories of heaven. But in my prayer, when thinking I was called to be a fisher of men, the only thing I could think of was the movie Finding Nemo. Which fish would I be? Because even though I am called to be a fisher of men, at one and the same time, I am also called to be a fish. We are all called to be fish! And I was not exactly thrilled about that idea. I do not like fish. I do not want to be a fish. And thinking about being caught in a net—I did not like that imagery. I was struggling with that. 

Finding Nemo

Of course, all analogies have their limits. None are perfect. However, I do think that realization of being caught in the net of Christ is a good image. While I was grappling with it, I realized two things: one is that if I was going to be a fish, I would be one of those puff fish with the spikes that expand so that, if someone is trying to eat you, they cannot. 

That realization was not important but this one is. I was thinking that this beauty of being caught, the beauty of being within the net of the Lord, is probably the most counter cultural understanding of the faith. We who so desire to be free, we who so desire to be the arbitrators of our own destiny, we who wish to follow our own path and do things our way, would actually desire to be caught in a net, to give up the mastery of our own lives and and give mastery to Christ. It seems very much unlike us at first because we think of this mastery in terms of the world. When we give up our freedom and give it to someone else, we can be abused. And we see that time and time again. Throughout the history of man, people abuse their mastery over others.

But the difference between that mastery and ultimately what God is calling us to is that, when we are caught in this net, our master becomes the one who knows us better than anyone else, who knows the very workings of our hearts, who made us, who loves us beyond all other things that are desirable. He wants the best for us. So, in other words, who else would we want to lead us? Ultimately there is the realization that we would rather be a slave to Christ then be free in the world. For in that slavery to Christ we find our truest freedom. That is the paradox of the Christian life, for when we are slaves to Christ we become who we are meant to be. Christ sees us and desires us to be who we are, who he created us to be, for he is the one who made us. And this is so important.

If I can't see the danger, is it really there?

But at the same time, the reality is that the net is not all-encompassing. As all fishermen know, there is always the fish that got away. We do not have to be caught. We do not have to let ourselves be caught. We as fish have the ability to swim deeper. And, as you know, in deep water, you can go deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, and it is darker and darker and darker and the dangers increase, but you are, in a sense, free in the ways of the world. The danger is that if you stay in these deep waters eventually you do not even see the light because you are so used to the darkness. That is the nature of fish.  Some fish like to be in the dark and that is because they are used to it. Think of the Lord of the Rings, of Gollum, that little weird gray guy. “The sun! It hurts us.”

How often do we find goodness painful? How often do we, when we leave someone who has radically surrendered themselves to God, how often do we call those people the goody two shoes? Or we say, “That is just someone who is really into it. They are a little bit on the edge.” In reality, they have embraced that goodness, they have come out into the sun. And we who are so used to dwelling in the shadow of sin, sometimes we cannot take that sun, not all at once. But we know we need it. And so this is the invitation that God is making to us--to repent and to believe in the Gospel, to turn away from sin, to come towards the light, to recognize that ultimately we are destined to give ourselves to God in a radical way, to allow our lives to be led in that way that might label us the crazy ones, the fish that want to be in the net. We desire it.

And people might think that you are crazy, that you are giving up your freedom in the ways of the world. No! We are gaining so much more than we are giving up because here is a reality, if I can take this analogy a little farther. Those of us who are the fish caught in the net-- we are not going to your local seafood restaurant. We are not going to be in a butter cream sauce. The Lord is taking us fish, you who are caught in the net, to the aquarium that is prepared for us. He is going to take us, not to enslave us, not to fry us up, but to a place where we will be safe, where we have everything that we need. We will have creation as it ought to have been, free of all danger. 

Boundaries don't hem me in. They keep me safe.

And so our first step is to repent, to allow the fisherman to catch us, to allow ourselves to dwell in the net and not leap out. Everyone who is sitting here at Mass hearing me preach is in the net. My words are holding you captive now. I am giving this homily in church. You can’t get out! Do not leave Mass early! Why are you in this net? Are you caught in this net because you want to be here? Did you jump into the net or are you here because your parents woke you up and dragged you out of your bed with various threats and got you into the car to come here? Are you here simply because you know you are supposed to be, but you would rather be out there? Where are you in your relationship with God?

If you want to be in a better place, a happier place, then hear the words of God and follow. Repent. Believe in the Gospel. Do not believe in only a part of the Gospel. Do not believe in the Gospel as it suits you. Do not believe in the Gospel whenever it is nice or easy, but actually believe in the Gospel and change your life. Start small. Start with confession. People say, “Well, Father, you are preaching about confession all the time.” Well, yes! Because on those Saturdays when I sitting in the box, I am only all alone. I want to see more people! People think that you can measure the health of a parish if no one is coming to confession because that means everyone is a saint! No! As priests, we measure the health of the parish by how many people are struggling to repent and believe in the Gospel, how many people are struggling to put aside sin, to swim out of the darkness into the net and into the light, even though it is hard. How many people are struggling, for it is in struggling that we will be perfected. So there is nothing more devastating to a priest than to sit in the confessional bored out of our minds. Because essentially that means that our fish are happy in the dangers of the world and do not even desire the light. So pack me full on Saturday. Give me what I deserve. You want to be busy, Father? We’ll show you. You’ll be hearing confessions until you go to bed! Praise God!

And so, repent. Let us begin that journey. We are a world that has turned away from God. Let us listen to the words of the Lord and repent and stave off the evil that awaits us if we remain in the darkness.

Father Jacob Meyer, Visitor, Confraternity of Penitents

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Founders of the Monastery of Citeaux

The Founders of the Monastery of Citeaux 

            Our monastery celebrates the Founders of our Order, Robert, Alberic and Stephen Harding. Grateful remembrance of the past leads us, as we listen attentively to what the Holy Spirit is saying to the Church today, to implement ever more faithfully the core elements of our consecrated life.It seems fitting that we use this passage from Sirach as we commemorate our holy Founders. "These also were godly men whose virtues have not been forgotten; their wealth remains with their descendants” (Sir. 44: 10-11). We apply this reading to them since they won mercy for themselves, were full of mercy, and it was in his mercy that God gave them to us. As members of the Cistercian Family, we honor the spirit of our Founders and claim as our patrimony their desire to seek God in austere solitude and loving compassion. 

Image from the  Abbey of Citeaux

            These holy men of faith set out on a pilgrimage of faith comforted by the fact that they were servants of the one true King, Jesus Christ. Their only intention was live in accordance to the Rule of Saint Benedict in austerity and solitude. They had heard the voice of the Bridegroom and desired to follow Him wherever He might lead them. In the wilderness of Citeaux they sought to build a Paradise where they might more tenaciously love both the place and the observance of the Rule. Knowing themselves to be a monastic Church and members of the Body of Christ they supported one another in prayer as they bore the burden of the day. For our founders the Rule was meant to be an expression of the Gospel and a means of living the Gospel to the full. For them, the ideal was Christ; they sought to be interiorly united to him and thus to be able to say with Saint Paul: “For to me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). Their monastic consecration was seen as a concrete expression of this passionate love for Christ. Through it they sought to share in the self-emptying of Him Who died for them so as to be made rich by His poverty. 

            Having left the comfort of Molesme, they set out for the desert-place called Citeaux. The foundation documents refer to it as a place rarely approached by men because of the thickness of bramble and thorn bush but inhabited by wild beasts. They knew that their citizenship was in heaven and not on earth. To their mind, the more despicable and unapproachable the place was to seculars, the more suited it was for the monastic observance they desired to follow. There, in austere solitude they hoped to offer a service to the divine majesty that was at once humble and noble. Saint Bernard described this ideal in these words: “Our order is humility, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Our order is silence, fasting, prayer and labor; and above all, to follow the more excellent way, which is charity.” 

Exterior of the Abbey of Citeaux

            The letter to the Hebrews notes that "Faith is the conviction of things not seen."  This aptly describes the radical nature of our founders’ decision to establish the New Monastery. From the start their venture was rooted in that kind of faith that springs from the assurance of God's loving providence. By faith they were able to see a garden of delight where nothing but bramble bushes grew. By faith they were able to hear the angelic choirs singing the praises of God where only wild beasts howled. By faith they were able to build up the City of God even though no one knocked at the gate. By faith they were able to be poor with the poor Christ. Seeking to embody the Gospel in their own lives, they strove to be images of Christ the Lord, fostered through perpetual recollection and humility. Dedication to work, prayer and Lectio enabled them to transcend the limits of their humanity by elevating it to the life of God. 

            Jesus reminded us of how difficult it is for us to serve the one true King while being distracted by the abundance of the world or by focusing on the troubles, difficulties and wrongs around us. Unless we are willing to divest ourselves of all that we hold dear and treasure and focus on the one thing that really matters, we will never seek Christ and His will for us. If we embrace our poverty, we will come to know what we truly need to be --  Children of God. Only if we walk by the light of faith will we be able to enter our heavenly homeland where we not only love God but also come to know that we are loved by God. Following the example of our Founders, let us strive to be poor with the poor Christ. Like them, let us distance ourselves from the busyness of the world’s affairs and keep our lives simple. Holding fast to Christ, let us walk in the light of faith, conscious that the Holy Spirit spurs us on. Let us clothe ourselves in Christ and set out anew with our hearts expanded by love on the path of His commandments.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO