Joy Never Ending — 2017

Genesis 28: 11 – 18;  I Peter 2 : 4 – 9;  John 15 : 9 – 17

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Abide in my love….  I do not call you servants, but friends.

What sweeter words can we hear from the mouth of Jesus than these words, my brothers and sisters?  As we sing so often: Friends of Jesus, servants no more.  These are not just words, they are the living reality of our lives.  Each one of us is a friend of Jesus, each one of us is loved by Jesus as Jesus is loved by the Father.

That is the gift of today’s celebration in a special way.  For today marks the 68th anniversary of the founding of Mepkin and the 24th anniversary of the Dedication of this house for the Church of Mepkin.  And this community and this house were founded on the bedrock of the incredible love of Jesus for each one of us; on the call that each one of us has received from Jesus: the 26 monks in the cemetery and the 14 of us living here today.  The call and the love are the same.

How often did our founding superior and first abbot, Father Anthony, preach these words to us?  How often did not our second abbot, Father Christian, repeat them?  And in Father Francis’ first talk to us as abbot he told us that what he wanted to do as our abbot was to “articulate an experience of Christ” who has loved us and manifested himself to us.  An experience he said all of us have had.

Today is a good day to reflect on this love of Jesus for us, a love so powerful that Jesus compared it to the love the Father has for him.  A love that draws us into intimate friendship with Jesus.  That is all Jesus wants: our friendship.

Was Trappist life hard when our founders arrived at Mepkin in November 1949?  Absolutely.  Does it remain hard for us living now in November 2017?  Certainly.  But the hardness of the life is not what they focused on nor is it what we focus on.  Our focus remains on the love of Jesus.  It is the love of Jesus which is our lodestar.  It is the call of Jesus in our inner hearts that stirs us up each morning to face the challenges and the tasks of the day.  It is the reality of Jesus as our friend which compels us to do what we do.

What did those who have gone before us do?  What do we do, in our turn?  We love as Jesus has loved us.  We strive to form a community of brothers who love one another, who respect one another, who encourage and help to build up one another.  For as the Psalm says, it is when people live in unity that the blessing of God comes down upon our earth.  What we strive to do is to be a place of reconciliation in a world torn apart by division and anger.

For we all know that the work of Jesus is the work of reconciliation.  As Saint Paul so well expressed it: God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.  And, so, the work of all who call themselves Christian is also the work of reconciliation.  In the words of Abbot Francis: “we are not here for ourselves…. (we are here to) give voice to every human longing for the… reconciliation of the world.

My brothers and sisters, we are involved in something that is much, much bigger than ourselves.  In the words of Saint Peter which we heard just a short while ago: We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that we may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

This past desert day I was given a personal word for the new year about to dawn on us.  It wasn’t a word I was expecting.  God’s words to us usually aren’t.  But I heard it clearly as I watched the movie, The Shack, and then a video of Pope Francis at Ground Zero on his trip to the United States in 2015.  It was a word I heard through the experience of forgiveness which was the core of the movie, and the need for reconciliation which was the core of the prayer service at Ground Zero.  Neither the world nor we can grow to our full potential without these twin realities: forgiveness and reconciliation.  Reading from their own Scriptures, one of the representatives of the many religions in the prayer service at Ground Zero said:  God judges us according to our deeds, not the clothes that we wear; that truth is above everything, and the highest deed is truthful living.  Know that we attain God when we love, and only that victory endures, in consequence of which no one is defeated.  Know that we attain God when we love, and only that victory endures, in consequence of which no one is defeated.  As Pope Francis expressed it in his sober remarks, In opposing every attempt to create a rigid uniformity, we can and must build unity on the basis of our diversity of languages, cultures and religions, and lift our voices against everything which would stand in the way of such unity.  Together we are called to say ‘no’ to every attempt to impose uniformity and ‘yes’ to a diversity accepted and reconciled…. (Let us) strive to be prophets not of tearing down but of building up, prophets of reconciliation, prophets of peace.

Saint Benedict desires nothing more of us as monks.  Our Cistercian forebears ask nothing more of us.  The three abbots who have gone before us have spent their lives as bearers of reconciliation.  And the word of the Angels in our crèche exhibit proclaim the same message.

May it be our task also, my brothers and sisters; may we follow in their footsteps and be ministers of peace and reconciliation in a world of diversity, a diversity accepted and reconciled.  Then will we be given as pure gift the Joy Never Ending the Father has prepared for us.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Abide in my love and share it with all.

And let the Church proclaim:  Amen.