Feast Day of Saint Benedict, Abbot July 11th

Community of Jesus St. Benedict iconToday’s hymn to begin the liturgy for our feast of St. Benedict begins with a prayer to our monastic forefather: “O precious jewel of the heavenly king, standard of the righteous, way of monastics, Benedict, withdraw us from the mire of the unclean world.”   Peter Damian, 11th C

The word “mire” can be used to describe a situation or state of difficulty, distress, or embarrassment from which it is hard to extricate oneself.  Is it truly possible to withdraw from a situation of difficulty or distress? I’m not sure, and it seems some suffering will always exist in our personal lives this side of heaven.  It is possible, however, to experience freedom from “mire-full” thinking. You know, those anxious thoughts that continuously make me feel inadequate, or that want to judge others and put them down. I experience feelings of panic and fear when I’m embarrassed, or when I don’t know how to finish a job by a deadline I agreed to.  We can be freed of these or any other thoughts, or “mire,” with a dose of St Benedict’s medicine.

Freedom from daily mire is part of what St Benedict’s way of life is meant to help us accomplish —  to be free to cherish Christ above all, to be free of our burdens so that we are available to listen to the Holy Spirit with the “ear” of our hearts.  Then, free to forgive ourselves, and genuinely desire union with Christ. In a relationship with Him, we are given the choice of freedom and with that an opportunity to become whole. Let us follow Saint Benedict’s path of prayer, obedience, and inward detachment from worldly cares which we cannot solve. 

 

Feast Day of Saints Priscilla and Aquila July 8

A first century married couple, Priscilla and Aquila are counted among the original Seventy Disciples. Described by the Apostle Paul as “fellow workers in Christ Jesus,” they’re mentioned six times in four different books of the New Testament.  They’re never referred to individually, but because of their depth of oneness in faith and love for Christ, are always mentioned as a couple. Here are the six Biblical references and significant facts gleaned from them:

    • Acts 18: 2-3    They shared the occupation of tentmakers with the Apostle Paul
    •  Acts 18:8        Priscilla and Aquila set sail from Corinth, Greece, with Paul
    • Acts 18:26      In Ephesus, they encountered Apollos, an eloquent preacher, who received and accepted accurate counsel from them regarding the tenets of Baptism
    • Romans 16:3 Paul sent greetings to Priscilla and Aquila, calling them his “co-workers in Christ who risked their lives for me.”
    • 1 Cor 16:19    Paul sent warm greetings in their name to the Church in Corinth
    • 2 Tim 4:19     Paul, under persecution and in fear, sent greetings to his
      kind and loyal friends, Priscilla and Aquila

 

  •  The missionary journey of Priscilla and Aquila began in Rome from which they were expelled by Emperor Claudius. They traveled to Corinth in Greece and established a tent-making shop and employed the Apostle Paul. They opened their home to gatherings of Christians and Paul himself baptized them there. Eventually, Paul took the couple with him to the Greek city of Ephesus, where they settled, while he traveled on to Antioch in Turkey. Their home in Ephesus was used as a place of worship, and the couple evangelized and taught many about the love of Christ. Upon the death of Emperor Claudius in 54 AD, Emperor Nero reversed the Jewish expulsion decree, and Aquila and Priscilla returned to Rome, where they were warmly welcomed by the Christian church. When “The Great Fire” occurred in Rome on July 19, 63AD, and destroyed 70% of the city, the Christians were ultimately blamed and Aquila and Priscilla were among those martyred.  

    Ruins of Ancient Corinth where Priscilla and Aquila made tents and employed the Apostle Paul

Feast Day of St. Thomas – July 3rd

St. Thomas, Cloister at Community of Jesus

Saint Thomas the Apostle was born in first century Galilee. Syrian Christian tradition maintains that he was martyred at St. Thomas Mount, Chennai, India, in 72 AD.  Saint Thomas was reportedly a reluctant missionary, but obedience overcame his misgivings, and he traveled as far as present-day India, converting many to Christianity through preaching, baptism, and the performing of miracles. He is honored as Patron Saint of India.

As we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Thomas, let us do so with eyes wide open. We’re blessed to know this man who personifies our own times of unbelief, our skepticism, and tendency to look first at the dark side of an unknown. I point my not-so-understanding finger and refer to “Doubting Thomas,” often not recognizing he’s one of us and a figure of hope, compassion, and forgiveness. His stubborn insistence on touching the wounds of Christ stand as a sacred witness to His Resurrection for all time.

Let’s turn to another page of Thomas’s story. In John 11:16 upon the death of Lazarus, the other apostles, knowing Jesus’s life was in danger, wished to avoid travel to Judea. Thomas, however, aware of the Lord’s great desire to go to Bethany, fearlessly proclaimed, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

In John 14:5, Jesus explains to the disciples that He is going away to prepare a place in heaven for them, where they will one day join Him. Thomas asks the obvious, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered him with that most treasured phrase, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Thomas, the practical, the skeptical, the stubborn, the doubter, the brave, and the loyal – so much revealed in so few words – left a legacy of faithful service.

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — Friday, June 29

Saints Peter and Paul – Community of Jesus, Cloister

Each man has his own feast day.  Why then, do we celebrate the third feast, honoring both men together?  According to legend, both died as martyrs on the same day at the command of the Roman Emperor Nero. Because Saint Paul was a Roman citizen, he was executed by beheading;  Peter, a Jewish peasant, was crucified. Considering himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ, he asked to be crucified upside down.

Peter, originally named Simon, was a fisherman of Galilee. Jesus gave him the new name Cephas (Petrus in Latin.) Peter, His rock upon which He would build His Church, was both a bold and passionate follower. Impetuous, opinionated and head-strong, Peter none-the-less was chosen as shepherd of God’s flock and head of the Church.

Paul also received a new name. He was Saul, a Jewish Pharisee, and persecutor of Christians. His conversion along the road to Damascus, blindness and the subsequent return of his sight, led him to take the new name, Paul. In Hebrew, Paul means small or humble. He later earned the title “Apostle of the Gentiles”. His letters are an important tool of the New Testament, teaching us not only about his life, but the faith of the early Church.

We honor two strong and worthy men, one a fisherman, the other a well-educated Roman citizen. Both were impulsive by nature and tireless in their work as they proclaimed the gospel and shared  God’s love for mankind.

From a sermon of Leo the Great: About their merits and virtues, let us not make distinctions or draw comparisons; for both were chosen, they were alike in their labors, they were partners in death.

Peter and Paul, whom the grace of God has raised to such a height among all the members of the Church that He has set them like twin lights of eyes in that Body whose head is Christ.

 

Feast Day of Saint Irenaeus – June 28th

It is believed, although unrecorded, that Saint Irenaeus was born c. 120/140 in Asia Minor and died c. 200/230 in present-day Lyon, France. As a leader in 2nd century Christian theology, he served as bishop of Lugdunum (Lyon). Before becoming a bishop, he was a missionary to and peacemaker among the churches of Asia Minor.

Saint Irenaeus was a man to whom truth was a conciliator, uniting those caught in a web of disagreement, and opening hearts to God and His Son Jesus. He painstakingly researched doctrines of the various sects popular in the 2nd century, with particular emphasis on the Gnostics, a Greek word meaning “knowledge.”  Saint Irenaeus then wrote a five-book treatise – Adversus haereses – contrasting their intellectual and confusing pursuits with the teaching of the Apostles and writings of Holy Scripture, which Gnostics denied. First written in Greek and then translated to Latin, the treatise demolished the gnostic heresy, and firmly established the validity of the Christian Way.  Throughout his life, his goal remained that of winning the souls of his opponents to Christ as opposed to proving them wrong.  Controversy and confrontation, in his hands, became instruments of peace.

Feast Day of St. John the Baptist – June 24th

Today we celebrate the birth of Saint John the Baptist, cousin, and forerunner of Christ, our Lord.  In all but two notable exceptions, John being one and the Blessed Virgin Mary the other we commemorate feast days of Saints on the day of their death.

In discussing the relationship between Jesus and John, the word parallel often appears.  Parallel: a word meaning “marked likeness in the development of two things.” They grow side by side in similar circumstances but never quite join or interfere with one another. Each man, conceived by a miracle of God’s divine intervention, lived the fullness of their call. John was the only son of elderly parents, conceived well past their age of childbearing.  Jesus, the Son of God, was born to a Virgin Mother to whom it was said: The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God. Luke 1:30, 31  Both messages were delivered by the Angel Gabriel, the first to Zechariah, priest and father of John some six months before the promise given Mary.

John was a man of the wilderness, Jesus a sojourner there. Throughout his life, John proclaimed and prepared for the coming of Christ. His baptism was the baptism of repentance, but he declared that One would come who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire, whose sandals he, John, was not worthy to untie.  John and Jesus, the Messiah, first met at the Jordan River. This God-Man of whom John spoke joined the crowd to be baptized. Upon seeing him, John immediately cried out: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  In humility, Jesus desired to receive baptism.  In humility, John granted His request.

Both men endured wrongful arrest, imprisonment, and execution. John, who believed in, waited for and identified Jesus as the Messiah experienced a time of doubt and fear while imprisoned by Herod Antipas. From prison, he sent two of his closest disciples to Jesus. In his despair, confusion, and torment, he reached out to Him for consolation.  You are the expected one, aren’t you? Or do we look for someone else?

With infinite compassion, Jesus replied, Go and report (to John) what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. From Luke 7:19-22

It was the reassurance of love John was seeking and enabled him to face a heinous death with courage, dignity, and unwavering faith in God.

The Gift of Benedictine Vows

I recently was on a writing retreat on one of the Aran Islands of Ireland. When you step onto the island, you can feel the years of prayer steeped into the ruins of the monasteries.

On our first day, one of our teachers gave us some wise instruction. She recommended that we relax and let the “island do its work.” (We all had traveled a great distance to attend the retreat and were spiritually hungry. We wanted to get everything we could and not waste one moment of our time there.) It was so comforting to trust that the “island” was there for us, and had the power to touch those places in us that needed healing and renewal!

I was amazed throughout the rest of the retreat to hear the Holy Spirit speak to me, especially when I remembered to, “let the island do its work.” These words kept coming back to me, and I began to think that our life is like an island. If we can let go of control and trust the Lord to take charge, He will do the work. I began to consider the vows that I have taken as a member of a monastic community, and their part in my journey let go and trust.

The vow of Conversion- When there is a struggle going on in my life, I feel I must do something to both make sure the outcome is what I want it to be, and also to make sure the change I want to happen in me occurs. (This is where the vow of conversion comes in. Only God can change me!)

The Vow of Obedience- If I am obedient to the small things that I know are important to help keep me close to Jesus, life will stay in focus It’s when I don’t want to give up those things that seem so precious that I decide it doesn’t really matter if I’m not exactly obedient. Being obedient brings blessing, and it also brings grace, so conversion can happen much easier and faster.

The Vow of Stability- If I will put my roots down, and choose to stay stable in Jesus, right here in my call with these people, that is more than half the battle. I will remain present and face the things in me that are not like Jesus. What a blessing to have that light to know when I’ve wandered a bit! If I am part of the problem, I can allow the Lord to change my heart after I acknowledge there may need to be a change.

Vows are gifts made out of love and deepen our love. If you ever question God’s love for you, search for the promises He has made to you in the Bible. If you want to increase your love for Him, consider what vow you can make in your heart that may strengthen your relationship. One example from the New Testament is James, who vowed to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

A Ring of Joy

We had a large group of bell ringers join us for a day of ringing recently. They traveled from Australia, England, Canada, and the US., primarily from the Boston – Cape Cod area.

We served soft drinks and snacks and provided a picnic lunch for all. These gatherings are an excellent opportunity for us to show Benedictine Hospitality while honing our bell-ringing skills. We also can share the fantastic ten change-ringing bells that we are so blessed to have.

Surrounded by a band of seasoned ringers is an excellent way to learn and to recognize our weaknesses. They are most helpful in teaching and instructing us and in a relaxed and accepting way set us straight when we get lost or out of rhythm.

I find these days very encouraging because no matter what level you are on, you can join in. Challenging sequences are made clearer, and you start to understand the inner workings of the method you are attempting. No question is stupid or unnecessary! You must put down your pride and jump in. Let others guide you when they notice you’re wandering out of sync with the band. Being open to instruction helps you learn faster. Listen and go with it! The only way to improve is to and stay in the discomfort of being lost and keep trying to get on track with the rest of the group. Isn’t this a perfect life lesson?!

Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t be scared to step out and join something when you don’t feel confident. I guarantee that you will make mistakes. Mistakes are part of the process, perhaps the most essential part.  You will hold up the group while you find your way, and in so doing, learn to trust them.

What I love most about ringing is watching the joy on the faces of people who love and are committed to what they’re doing.  We’re part of an ancient and historic tradition, sacred and beautiful, and yet available to all who wish to participate.

Whatever new skill or activity appeals to you, be open and flexible. Take risks! Ask questions! It’s a journey worth taking!

 

Feast Day of St. Barnabas – June 11th

Community of Jesus St. Barnabas, Cloister Saint, Church of the Transfiguration

St. Barnabas, Cloister Saint, Church of the Transfiguration

Saint Barnabas was among Christ’s earliest followers and by tradition honored as part of the seventy-two most respected men of the early Church.

His birth date is unknown, but according to Acts 4:36, he was a Cypriot Jew. His Hellenic Jewish parents named him Joseph, but the Apostles later changed his name to Barnabas, defined as “son of consolation.” His story is told primarily in the Book of Acts, with some mention in the epistles of Paul.

Barnabas became a close associate of Saint Paul, and it’s believed they both studied theology in the Jerusalem school of Gamaliel. Their relationship was, as most true friendships are, a rocky one. It survived because of their commonality in love and devotion to their Lord Jesus Christ. Saint Barnabas introduced Paul to Peter and others of the Twelve. The two men felt called by God to become the “Apostles of the Gentiles,” and they sometimes were at odds with Jewish traditions and St. Peter’s insistence on their inclusion.

Either during Christ’s public ministry or after his death and resurrection, Barnabas chose to donate all he had to the Church. He sold his large inherited estate and gave the proceeds to the fledgling band of Apostles, and the spreading of the Gospel.

He died a martyr, stoned to death in 61 AD by an unruly mod in Salamis, Cyprus. His enviable epitaph, given him by St. Luke in Acts 6:24, describes Saint Barnabas as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.’ His reputation spoke of exceptional kindness, personal holiness, and openness to unbelievers.