By Sunset Septuagint
One of my favorite things to contemplate in the Church of the Transfiguration’s mosaic apse is the New Jerusalem above Christ in Glory. The tesserae sparkle in brilliant shades of red, blue and gold. Buildings of different sizes line the path, and lead to a tiny door (almost like Alice in Wonderland) in the top center of the apse.
I look at all the buildings and wonder: will my whole Community family be in one big building, or will I be in one of the tiniest ones that look so welcoming? I do know one thing. God will be with me, and will wipe away every tear from my eyes, and there will be no more mourning or crying or pain. (Revelation 21:3, 4)
But how to get there? One of the clergy gave a little sermon about giving up everything to follow Jesus. He described a man who went to heaven carrying only a small suitcase of his most treasured possessions. He was welcomed at the door and given a new robe to put on. But the suitcase would not pass through the sleeve of his robe, so he had to leave it at the door.
Fortunately, most of us are not called to give up all our worldly possessions all at once, but we are a long way from one small suitcase. The more I unpack here, the less I’ll have to leave at the threshold of that tiny door to the New Jerusalem — and the more room I’ll make for Jesus.
By Sr. Fidelis
It never fails to amaze me that the texts chosen for a particular week in the Church Year have layers of meaning for us. This final week before Advent begins is no exception. The Introit takes verses from Psalm 85: “He will speak peace unto His people and to His saints, and to those who turn to Him in their hearts.” (RSV) The Latin actually says, “and on those who are converted to Himself.” On this threshold we receive assurance that if we are turned toward Him, that He will speak peace to us in the gift of His Son. The psalmist invites us to expect and prepare for the Prince of Peace.
By Melodius Monk
“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.” This is a most suggestive beatitude. If we had been writing it, we would have said, “Blessed is he who never has sinned.” But if it read thus, it would have no comfort for anyone in this world, for there are no sinless people here.
The language of this psalm can be so commonplace to church-goers that we easily run right past its true meaning. If we pause a moment and think about the phrase, “Blessed is the man whose sins are forgiven,” it’s mind-blowing. What do we do to forgive our sins? Nothing! It’s pure gift. And in addition to this gift, we are blessed. What type of God is this who blesses those who tell Him what they did wrong? If I stole something and then turned myself in, I would still be guilty of that crime; but with God this is not so. When confessed, our sin is covered, obliterated, and never used against us. Do we live in gratefulness to this love? I think the answer for most of us most of the time is, “Sadly, no.” But what a privilege this gift of sin-covering is. It’s a gift that promises us a hope and a future. It’s a covering that allows us to not live in fear. Ever since our first ancestors hid from God in the garden out of fear and guilt, we have followed suit. Perhaps I can be courageous enough today to step out of hiding toward God, and gratefully accept my blessing.
By Sr. Fidelis
Last week I had the privilege of touring the magnificent Siena Cathedral in Italy, where there was an entire library off to the left of the main sanctuary containing chant books from the 15th century. The whole room was outlined with book after book of the most beautiful Graduals and Antiphonaries filled with stunning illuminations. The amount of beauty and detail in these jewel-toned miniatures took our breath away. But perhaps the greatest blessing for the two brothers and me as we went from book to book was being able to recognize and softly sing the chants that have become so beloved and familiar to us over the years. This wonderful experience made the sense of joining a living tradition of worship even stronger.
By Rachel Srubas
When the time comes for one of the divine offices to begin, as soon as the signal is heard, everyone must set aside whatever they may have in hand and hurry as fast as possible to the oratory. . . The essential point is that nothing should be accounted more important that the work of God. — Chapter 43, Saint Benedict’s Rule
A singular, demanding note,
the bell of disciplined devotion,
intervenes in the day. Didn’t I already pray?
What more is there to say, so soon?
You. Your name,
the ancient phrases of the faithful
fill my mouth. My mind,
the most defiant part of me,
lingers over what I set aside
to hurry to this work.
To aspire to ceaseless prayer requires me
to live as though you were my highest priority.
I say you are, yet I resist, internally preoccupied
while singing psalms so seemingly sincerely.
Help me. I’m a master of little but self-division:
my body is present, apparently, prayerful;
my attention, anywhere but here.
Find me and remind me whose I am,
what my deepest joy is,
why I need much practice
as well as your forgiveness.
Excerpted from Oblation: Meditations of St. Benedict’s Rule, published by Paraclete Press.
My little four-legged friend has upbraided me for not heeding him, and tells me that I have been far too serious for too long. He wants to say that love overcomes all.
Indeed it is true, and he is right. Love is the only unconquerable power and the all-conquering power. I try to imagine, as I look at him, how small a world his eyes see in comparison to mine, and yet it is his whole world. I see his short four legs and how little of the world he could experience on his own. Heights of any greatness are denied him under his own power; closed doors are a barrier to any progress. Water or snow more than six inches deep could mean death. Yet he has traveled far, gone high, passed through many doors, seen much, and endured great depths of water and snow. How? I carry him. He goes with me. Why? Because I love him.
So it is with our Savior. It is his love that carries us in much the same way. Our small world, our littleness—the closed doors, the great heights—are available to us because we go with him. His love overcomes our lack. He show us that loving others with his love is a conquering power over all troubles, all darkness. No barrier exists to his love. In the end, we must succumb to his love. He waits for us to be a vessel for his love to others.
By Sr. Fidelis
I recently had the privilege of working with a small group of people for a day’s workshop on Gregorian Chant. We started with a brief review of some basics; the four line stave, the square notation, etc. After singing some simple chants, we launched into a more complex piece from the Graduale Triplex, and discussion ensued about the light hieroglyphics that appeared above and below the square notation. As I explained that these were the original neums from the early manuscripts, they were intrigued. I fortunately had included a snippet from an actual manuscript, and we were able to chant the opening of the piece straight from that. One woman piped up and said it was easier to sing from the original notation, than from the square neums. I then asked them, that judging from the appearance of the ancient neums, how did they think the chant must have sounded back then. They all agreed that it must have been light and speech-like, with places of emphasis. We also talked about the value of the square notation that showed us the actual note relations. We concluded that to have both…the “best of both worlds” so to speak, gave us the best possible way to study, interpret and chant these divinely inspired songs of prayer.
By Faithful Finch
In February, I visited the Donatello exhibit at MOBIA in NYC. Monsignor Timothy Verdon spoke about each sculpture in depth. In addition to the Donatello sculptures, there was Giovanni d’Ambrogio’s “Gabriel of the Annunciation” and the “Virgin Mary of the Annunciation.” I found “Virgin Mary” especially provoking, as Mary appeared to be a young man.
Monsignor Verdon explained that d’Ambrogio had sculpted her this way to communicate that God so loves and respects each and every person, whether man or woman, that if we will say, “yes” as Mary did, He will send His Son to live inside of us. How simple but profound!
My dog continues to teach me about the love of God.
The latest lesson came one day when he was displaying the customary surrender a dog gives its pack leader or the human he loves: roll over and expose the soft underbelly. This is where he is most unprotected: death could come quickly with the inner organs perforated or destroyed by exposure. There is no hard bone here between victim and predator. This is also the spot he most likes scratched and petted when we have “love-in” moments.
As I watched this small creature display his trust and dependence on me, I felt such a yearning to be this trusting of Jesus Christ—opening to Him the soft vulnerable places of my life. I thought about how many times I try to put hard bone over these places, hardening my heart to God and everyone. In so doing, I deny myself the experience of the tenderest of loves. Here in the vulnerable hidden parts of my life, love of my savior would bring security, comfort and a strong foundation of peace. If God loves these parts of me, then I will know I am truly loved. If I can trust him in the risk of rejection, then I am truly forever safe in the heaven of His arms. May I have the spiritual courage to greet you, as your small creature greets me.
Excerpt from Eyes Have I That See: Selected Poems by Fr. John Julian
(Available at Paraclete Press or Priory Gifts)
Soul of Christ, O, consecrate me;
Flesh of Christ, emancipate me;
Blood of Christ, intoxicate me;
Water from Christ’s side, repair me;
Sufferings of Christ, prepare me;
O good Jesu, deign to spare me;
In thy wounded bosom bear me;
From thy presence never send me;
From the Enemy defend me.
When I come to die, protect me,
And to join thee, Lord, direct me.
With thy blessed saints upraise me,
That forever I may praise thee. Amen.