Sunday, August 30, 2015

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Having been baptized into Christ, each of us has been adopted into the household of God. By means of our common baptism, we are brothers or sisters one to another. The bond of love is the underpinning of our Christian life. The more we are conformed to Christ, the more we shall see each other as gifts. This is confirmed by the apostle to the Gentiles in his second letter to the church of Corinth. “We all, with unveiled faces, see the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, for this comes from the Lord Who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). Recognizing how gifted we are, we can say with Saint Paul: “We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you” (Col. 1:3). The reason for our gratitude is that we are enriched by our brothers and sisters, as we read in the Constitutions of the Order: “The community forms a single body in Christ. Each brother is to contribute to the up building of fraternal relations especially by sharing with others the spiritual gifts he has received by God's manifold grace” (CST. 14.1).

Family of Jesus

We come to know God more completely as we relate to one another more authentically in love. Saint Paul wants those who read his letter to know that they are the cause of His joy and gratitude. Surrounded by such a cloud of witnesses, such a community of brothers and sisters, he comes to know God as the Father, not only of Christ but also of the entire Body of Christ, the Church. In Christ, God the Father becomes the object of praise and thanksgiving because it is He Who blesses us with every spiritual blessing and boundless mercy. His name alone is our refuge and strength.

In the Gospel, Saint Luke mentions how, at daybreak, Jesus interrupted his ministry to seek out a place of solitude. There, at the beginning of a new day, the Son is embraced by the Father and reaffirms His desire to fulfill all that the Father wills of Him. It is our duty to seek the Lord where He can be found, in the solitude of our hearts. Because He is the giver of all good gifts, we intercede with Him on behalf of those who are afflicted in body, mind or soul. With the eyes of faith, we come to realize that a desert solitude is no threat to us since it is there that we meet the Lord, face-to-face. May we continue to be with Him until that day when He returns in glory to bring us all into everlasting life.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Faithfulness of Ruth in Scripture

“Do not ask me to abandon or forsake you for wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (Ruth 1: 15-16). The story of Ruth in Scripture gives us a beautiful example of spiritual accompaniment. Ruth places herself under the guidance and direction of a spiritual mother, Naomi. Ruth's resolution to bind herself in love and affection to Naomi demonstrates what is needed to make life within a faith community work. It is noteworthy that these two woman are from different countries. Ruth's affection for and commitment to Naomi are proof that love transcends kinship and socio-economic boundaries. What strong, courageous and loving women Naomi and Ruth were! This is what makes especially precious this
story about two women coping with a crisis on their own with the help of God and each other.

Ruth and Naomi

Ruth is an example of the grace of God, inclining the soul to choose the better part. Her mind was made up. Even though her husband had died, her heart would not be wrenched away from her mother-in-law. The length of the journey back to Naomi's homeland, its dangers, and the inevitable fatigue accompanying it, moved not her resolution.

We have much to learn from this heroic woman. Anyone who attempts to follow the Gospel Path without a steadfast mind, stands like a door half open, which invites a thief; but resolution shuts and bolts the door, resists the devil and his minions. The journey home is a pilgrimage of faith. Naomi became for Ruth the guiding pillar (like the cloud by day and fire by night that led the Israelites into the Promised Land) that led her to the Land of Promise. Our resolve must be as absolute as Ruth's, allowing nothing to separate us from the love of Christ.

The love of God is the first and greatest commandment. It is the sum of all the commands. The Gospel challenges us to look with some urgency for new and creative ways of carrying forward the proclamation of the Gospel of salvation in a society that has lost its anchor. If the world is to believe what we say, our love must be real and tangible. Our proclamation must be more than words. It has to be so all-embracing that people will say to us what Ruth said to Naomi: “Wherever you go, I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

Our proclamation of the Good News has to be more than carefully chosen words. We must not merely speak the Gospel, Our lives must become the Gospel for others to see and imitate. By how we live and by what we do, we will make known the heart of Christ’s revelation. A soul that is truly brought to Christ affectionately loves him, and heartily cleaves unto him, resolves in the strength of divine grace to follow him wherever He may lead us. As true believers, we must desire to have communion with none but Christ. Having been conformed to Christ, may we cooperate with the grace we have received. As Christ poured out His life for the life of the world, may we to pour out our lives for the sake of the Kingdom.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Fidelity to God/Love for People

It is important to keep in mind that the Pharisees were morally upright and religiously observant people. They were a reform group that was intent upon sanctifying the world by restoring Jewish life to its original purity. They firmly believed that they could bring about Messianic redemption if they could convince everyone to observe the dictates of the Law. They worked tirelessly to unify all the Chosen People in their fidelity to the God Who called them. This being said, why do the Gospels usually present the Pharisees in a negative light?

The comments Pope Francis made to the members of the Curia before Christmas may help us work towards an answer to this question: “We are therefore required... to live ‘speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love’.” At the core of fidelity to the covenant must be the love of God and the people He loves. The Pharisees replaced the love of God with slavish compliance with tenants of the Law.

Like the Pharisees of old, we get into trouble when we obsess on the minor details of ritual devotion and cease to be single-heartedly devoted to the God Who loves us. What starts as a desire for religious piety gradually evolves into self-righteous and hypocritical formalism. The Pharisees provided a great service in teaching and preserving the word of God. How tragic that they were not able to let go of their preconceptions and embrace their Messiah when He came to them! Even though they saw Him, they did not recognize Him. Even though they heard His voice, they did not listen.

Our faith tells us that God has perfect knowledge of us and loves us. As people of faith, all our thoughts and actions are laid open before him. Because God is personal and relational, it is important that we meditate on Divine truths, applying them to our own cases, and that we ponder them with hearts in prayer. In a few months the Synod on the family will meet in Rome. It’s too early to predict the results of that meeting. Are we willing to grapple with the possibilities should the Synod propose solutions to so many difficulties and innumerable challenges that families must confront; to give answers to the many discouragements that surround and suffocate families that some might consider unacceptable – pastoral practices that when dealing with the Pharisees Jesus called “your own traditions”.

Are we willing to confront the temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the Spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. St Augustine, in his Commentary on the Gospel of St John, says: ‘let it therefore be a commitment of love to feed the flock of the Lord’ (cf. 123, 5); this is the supreme rule of conduct for the ministers of God, an unconditional love, like that of the Good Shepherd, full of joy, given to all, attentive to those close to us and solicitous for those who are distant (cf. St Augustine, Discourse 340, 1; Discourse 46, 15), gentle towards the weakest, the little ones, the simple, the sinners, to manifest the infinite mercy of God with the reassuring words of hope (cf. ibid., Epistle, 95, 1).” May we all hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

--Fr. Jerome Machar, OSCO

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The Assumption of Mary

When the Servant of God Pius XII defined the dogma of the Assumption, he pointed out that Mary was closely associated with the salvific plan of the Redemption. She shared in Christ’s sinless conception, His life of ministry, His passion, and His resurrection. We celebrate our Order's patronal feast as members of a monastic church where nothing is preferred to the praise of God’s glory and where we strive to be totally conformed to Christ. Christ triumphed over death with the omnipotence of his love. This love impelled Christ to die for us and thus to overcome death. In a word, love alone gives us access to the Kingdom of life! This then is at the root of our celebration of the Assumption. We believe that Mary, like her Son, overcame death and is already triumphant in heavenly glory, in the totality of her being, "in body and soul". Enthroned as queen of heaven and earth, Mary invites us to know the Word of God, to love the Word of God, to live with the Word of God, to think with the Word of God.

The Church has traditionally referred to Mary as the new Eve. Standing in the shadow of the Tree of Life, she is the Mother of Life just as Eve, standing in the shadow of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, became the Mother of Death. By the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, the Word took flesh of the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. As the Offspring of the Woman, He entered into mortal combat with the ancient serpent and rose victorious from the tomb. Because of the bond of love that existed between Mother and Son it seemed proper that the struggle that was common to the Blessed Virgin and her divine Son should be brought to a close by the glorification of her virginal body. We have only to recall these words of the apostle to the Gentiles. "When this mortal flesh has put on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is overcome by life" (1 Cor. 15: 54).

We can only imagine the tenderness with which the disciples entombed her body after she had fallen asleep in the Lord. As her body lay there, wrapped in its burial clothes, we can imagine that the heavens opened and a stairway appeared joining heaven and earth (Cf. Gen. 28: 12). We can picture how the Angel of the Lord opened the tomb and filled it with heavenly light. The Lord of Glory approached the place where her body lay and took her by the hand, saying: “Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come away with me” (Song 2:10). At the voice of the Master, Mary opened her eyes and entered into her heavenly homeland where she shared in the joy of her risen Son.

Today is a feast of great hope for all, who like Mary, know themselves to be the handiwork of God and who prefer nothing to the love of Christ. In the Woman clothed in the sun, we come to know what St. Paul meant when he wrote to the Church in Philippi: “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Like Mary, we need to be detached from the things of this earth and cling to God alone. Her death was union with God, for He alone was her treasure and the resting place of her heart. Because she ended her life as she had lived it, death was not bitter; rather, it was very sweet and dear to her; because by it she was united more closely to her Son in the Community of the Trinity. Mary who was at home with God's word, who lived on God's word, who waspenetrated by God's word, has been taken up body and soul into Heaven. May He Who drew His virgin mother into heaven strengthen our faith in eternal life. May He make us people of hope who work to hasten the coming of the Kingdom.

With St Bernard, who sang the Blessed Virgin's praises, let us beg the intercession of her whose Assumption into heaven we celebrate on August 15. "We pray you, O Blessed One, for the grace that you found, for those prerogatives that you deserved, for the Mercy you bore, obtain that the One who for our sake deigned to share in our wretchedness and infirmity, through your prayers may make us sharers in his graces, his bliss and his glory, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who is above all things, God blessed for ever and ever. Amen" (Sermo 2 "de Adventu", 5: PL 183, 43).

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Transfiguration: This Is My Beloved Son. Listen to Him.

The Feast of the Transfiguraton feast reminds us that God has not abandoned creation; that the body is not discarded as though it were an article of clothing, that it does not exit history as though it were a theatrical role. In the shadow of the Cross we know that creation moves toward transfiguration in this very way. Remember how the Lord invited His disciples to “Come away to a desert solitude where they could rest a while” (Mk. 6:31). He is the Good Shepherd Who knows our needs and provides for the needs of those whom He has called to Himself. By the grace of our Christian calling, Christ has invited us to follow Him into the wilderness where He can purify our hearts and make us reflect His glory.

Transfiguration of Jesus with Moses and Elijah

We have been invited to follow Christ as He climbs the heights where we can encounter the Father in the communion of the Spirit. There, separated from the concerns of secular society, we gaze upon the radiance of Christ’s face, who is the image of God in the flesh. (Cf. 2 Cor. 4:4). For a moment we are surrounded by the splendor of uncreated light. For a moment, the veil is lifted and we are caught up in the glory of eternity.

The experience passes all too quickly and we are brought back to day-to-day reality, where we see only Jesus in the ordinariness of His human nature. The Transfiguration marks a decisive moment in the ministry of Jesus. It is a revelatory event which strengthens the faith in the disciples' hearts, preparing them for the tragedy of the Cross and prefigures the glory of the Resurrection. Jesus' divinity is lifted up on the cross. Only when we put the two together can we recognize the Beloved Son for Who He truly is. With the apostles, we contemplate the transfigured face of Christ whose radiance brightens the countenance of the Church which is His Body. The more we are conformed to Christ we will manifest the glory of God to all the world.

Gazing at the transforming Glory, we come to know the great power that abides in the person of God's beloved Son. The Word made Flesh makes tangible the love of the Father. As companions of the Incarnate Word we are invited to taste a sweetness, and feel a power, and see a glory that is truly divine. Immersion in the Scriptures disposes us for heavenly vision.

Deep in his heart the disciple must find his way by relying on the call of faith, by trusting in prayer, by seeking to encounter Jesus Christ. In this way we become men and women who are profoundly good, pure and mature. In the countenance of Jesus, the "image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15) and the reflection of the Father's glory (cf. Heb 1:3), we glimpse the depths of an eternal and infinite love which is at the very root of our being. Those who let themselves be seized by this love cannot help abandoning everything to follow him (cf. Mk 1:16-20; 2:14; 10:21, 28). Like Saint Paul, they consider all else as loss "because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ", by comparison with which they do not hesitate to count all things as "refuse", in order that they "may gain Christ" (Phil 3:8).

The vision atop Mount Tabor is awesome and wonderful but God has more than bright lights to show us. The vision he confers gives direction as well as light. His direction is clear: “Listen to my Son.” Not only does this instruction complete the vision but it also ensures greater vision in the future. If we obey Jesus Christ, we will see greater things (Jn 1:50). If we follow him. he will lead us to the light and we will see all things by it. But note this--where Jesus leads is not always easy. In order to obey the Father’s command that they listen to Jesus, they are going to have to accept Christ’s instruction that they follow him to Jerusalem and the cross. Only in this way will they see all things by the light of Easter glory.

May God grant us vision, especially as we receive Him in Holy Communion and He is present substantially within our hearts and souls.

--Father Jerome Machar, OSCO