Sirach 11: 20-28; Colossians 3:12-17; Mark 10:17-30
In answer to Peter’s question in today’s Gospel, Jesus enumerates what is prepared for us, ending with the promise of eternal life. Eye has not seen nor ear heard, but we can imagine the scene which took place at 3 AM last Saturday, earth time. There was Robert running with open arms and there was Jesus, himself with open arms running to greet his child, his son, his beloved. “Come, enter into the joy of your master”. “Come, share the paradise of the Father — where the verdant pastures never end, where all the beauty you have seen on earth is magnified a hundredfold and where you can roam in field and forest, river and mountain, and never grow tired.
Joy, joy, joy. Such is the gift which Robert tastes now and forever. And such is the gift, I believe, which he gives to each one of us. Joy was his trademark. He always had a smile on his face. His greeting never left you wondering if you were welcomed. The smile was infectious.
But Robert has other gifts for us and our Readings at Mass and in the Hours, highlight them and help us to understand whence they have come. Because of our limited time, I will speak of just four of them. Joy itself, responsibility/availability, intellectual curiosity, and love.
Joy. Jesus speaks about the joy which no one can take from us. He certainly gave it to Robert in marvelous ways. Did we ever see him without a smile? Even a hint of a smile? Not to my knowledge. And his joy was not a surface thing. For he always had that smile. He always could make lemonade out of the most horrendous things which might happen. His smile said to us very powerfully: All will be well, all manner of things will be well. All is in God’s hands. Fear not. Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world. He had the unshakeable conviction that would not allow him to make mountains out of molehills, to take life too seriously, to see the things which happened in the wider perspective of God’s plan for him and for our world. This joy is Robert’s gift to us. Let us make it our own: the joy which comes when we give up all for Christ, when we believe that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, no temptation, no trial, nothing.
Responsibility/Availability. Robert lived the words of Sirach every day. “Hold fast to your duty… grow old while doing your task.” He never desired to be other than a laybrother, someone who found God in the simple things of life, a life of labor and a life of service. He could always be counted upon. As cellarer, I never had to worry that the chickens were being cared for, that the grass would be cut, that the gate would be locked and the thousand and one other things which Robert would do. When things broke (as they always do) they were fixed without muss or fuss. And Robert lived that phrase of St Benedict and St Paul to the full: “Anticipate the needs of one another”. How many times things were done and we had no idea who did them. And yet, behind them, we recognized the work of Brother Robert. His love for quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is legendary; his enthusiasm for solitary times for prayer and lectio out in the woods has left behind tree houses and lean-tos and myriads of paths through our forests; but whenever anyone needed anything, when a work was to be done, there he was, available at the drop of a hat or a word of request. Not reluctantly or under compulsion, as St Paul would say, but cheerfully, with that characteristic smile.
Intellectual Curiosity. I mean curiosity in the most positive sense possible. I have known monks who chose the laybrotherhood with greater intellectual capacities, but none who have read as much as our Brother Robert. From Bernard Lonergan to John Henry Newman, from Father Faber to Jean Guitton, from spiritual articles in every religious publication we receive to the latest book on his beloved Detroit Tigers, Robert’s mind was kept busy and filled with the longing and desire for God. For that was what his reading was all about: it nourished, strengthened and gave depth and meaning to his search for God. He never gave a sermon, never gave a class, and yet how many of us received little post-it stickies attached to an article or a book which he would recommend. My own friendship in this way began when I returned from my studies at Gethsemani in December, 1965, and he saw me taking out a volume of Newman’s sermons from the library. The next thing I knew he was suggesting what to read, the order in which to read, so that my understanding of Newman would be well-rounded. He was a great guide because he had already read almost everything Newman had written. Since that encompasses more than twenty volumes, that is no mean task. But that was our Brother Robert. This lasted right up to the end, when periodically I would find in my box an article on some topic we were discussing in community or which I was teaching in Chapter. And I have to say: they were always spot on. Robert’s prayer and monastic journey were founded on the best of our centuries old tradition of good books and spiritual mentors.
Love. As God’s chosen ones, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…. Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together in perfect harmony. How many times did Robert remind us that love was the ultimate measuring stick. Whatever we were discussing, whether it be silence or solitude or work or reading or hospitality, love always came first, love was always what we were to use to judge whether something was to be done or to be left undone. He had entered the school of charity when he became a Cistercian and he never backed down on this reality, no matter how unpopular it might be in certain circumstances.
There is another aspect of love which bears mentioning. In the Gospel passage from Mark we have just heard, perhaps the most potent words are words left out in Luke’s account of the same incident. Mark highlights that before Jesus asked the young man to give up all to follow him, he looked upon him and loved him. Robert knew himself as loved by God from an early age. He accepted it. He received this from his parents, especially his dearly loved mother Wanda and it drove his whole life. He never doubted it. It was at the core of why he could give so freely of his time and talent for whatever needed to be done. And it allowed him to say at the end of his life over and over: Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. It allowed him, in his words, to know how to wait. God loved him and would come to take him to himself at the time God desired. Robert would wait. Robert would sigh. Robert would say, Come, Lord Jesus, even as his body wasted away before us. He would not become bitter. He would not judge God harshly. He would keep that smile to the end. He would rejoice each day as I brought Holy Communion to him. He would nod his head when I asked if he wanted to pray. Jesus loved him and defying all medical expertise to the contrary, he remained responsive and conscious to the end. Call no one happy before their death, for by how they end, a person is known, we heard from Sirach. May our end be like that of our brother.
Robert, last Saturday Jesus came and took you to himself and left us bereft. From your place in the verdant pastures of God, keep smiling down upon us. Teach us Joy and Responsibility and Curiosity and above all Love. Then we, your brothers, family and friends, will join you in that most loving koinonia and community before the face of God, the God who is all mercy and love. Amen.
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Blessed Christmas, my brothers and sisters. Blessed Christmas from the monks of Mepkin to each one of you and to all your families. There are hardly any sweeter words we can say to one another than these: Blessed Christmas! Merry Christmas. And so, let us turn to each other and say it!Read More »
Genesis 28:11-18; I Peter 2:4-9; John 15:9-17
Today is our feast, my brother monks. Today we celebrate something that is very, very personal to each one of us. Today we celebrate 65 years of monastic life in this place in the LowCountry of South Carolina called Mepkin. Sixty-five years! Today we celebrate 21 years in this house, this holy building, consecrated for the Church of Mepkin. Today is our feast, my brothers. Today we celebrate ourselves, we celebrate what God has done in our midst through our own hands. And to each one of you who are here celebrating with our monastic community I say: Today is your feast also, all of you who find, in some way or other, your spiritual home in Mepkin. All of you, whether you have been coming to Mepkin for over twenty years or whether — like Miss Shirley and some of our young cub scouts — this is your first visit.Read More »
1st rdg Ez 18:25-28; psalm 25; 2nd rdg Phil 2:1-11; gospel Mt 21:28-32
Jesus powerfully teaches on the theme of conversion in offering the story of the two sons and the vineyard in this passage from Matthew’s gospel. Who among us has not said yes to God and reneged or said no and revisited and changed our decision. Ongoing conversion – at the heart of our vow of conversatio morum – means that we are dealing with a process. This is not like shutting on or off a switch. The conversion of one’s heart as well as the conversion of one’s mind precede the behavioral changes that manifest the consistent turning to God a life of conversion entails.
When the prophet Ezekiel speaks the words: ‘turn from your transgressions’ – we realize that first there must be some comprehension of having transgressed which means there is an awareness that there is a way and an appreciation that that way has not been followed. We hear Ezekiel enter a dialogue acknowledging the disposition many – even today – have to say that God is unfair – when in truth, that accusation is a means of trying to excuse oneself from the good behavior that is the mark of a Godly person. So rightly Ezekiel asks – is it God’s way that is unfair or rather the reverse?Read More »
1 Kgs 3:5-12; psalm 119; Rom 8:28-30; Mt 18:44-52
Jesus’ teaching in today’s gospel invites us to ask ourselves: Do I think of myself as on the way home to heaven? I do and I suspect you do as well. Perhaps more deliberately at some times than at other times, nevertheless it is living toward heaven. In today’s gospel Jesus offers three parables, each having to do with heaven, what we value and what we strive for. They lend encouragement to, give or lend impetus to a little more thought – but not worry – on this important consideration. Paired with this gospel our first reading presents us Solomon answering God who has invited him to ask for something, Solomon asks for an understanding mind and receives both a compliment and the gift he asks for. This exchange pertains to the consideration of what we give our lives to – what we sell everything for – what we value. In writing to the Romans, in the very powerful 8th chapter of this letter, Paul calls us to be mindful that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. Now there’s a passage to spend time with in lectio!! Be it treasure in a field, or pearls of great value or a net filled with a variety of fish – these conceptions stir us to think and to evaluate our way of being engaged with God – the way we live our faith!
Homily was given on July 13, 2014 by Abbot Stan
Isaiah 55: 10-11; Romans 8: 18-23; Matthew 13: 1-9
“The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.”
Are not our hearts burning within us, my brothers and sisters, when we hear the parable of the sower? When we see Jesus broadcasting the seed liberally, scattering it on every nook and cranny of the field; when we hear of the harvest of thirty and sixty and a hundredfold? Do we not spontaneously burst forth into a heartfelt prayer: Lord, make me good ground, break up the clods that have formed in my heart, drench it with the water of your grace, soft’ning it and making it fertile and fruitful?
We know intuitively that the seed which Jesus scatters is the word which comes forth from his mouth. And if that’s not enough, the Church helps us by giving us the reading from Isaiah. Jesus’ word, Isaiah tells us, is a word which does not return to him void; a word, a seed which has the power to transform us, to make us fruitful beyond our imaginings. And we want that word to do just that. Our deepest desire, our innermost longing, is to be reborn into everlasting life, is to be transformed and transfigured. In the words of the desert father: to become all light, all fire. Or to keep the metaphor of the seed, to die to our individuality and to become fruitful thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.Read More »