July 4, 2015


 Mother Rebecca

Vs 50:  “Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall through patience share in the sufferings of Christ that we may deserve also to share in his kingdom.  Amen.”


This last verse of the Prologue brings us exactly where we want to be – with Christ!  We are reminded that sharing in God’s kingdom is not a matter of our personal achievements but of the closeness in our relationship to Christ.  And in this relationship we can be assured that we will enter into the sufferings of Christ.  Yet this is not to be feared but to be treasured!  We have all experienced that when we suffer something together a unique and deep intimacy can emerge.  In suffering together a special bonding occurs.   When we unite our sufferings with Christ not only does a deep intimacy emerge, but it also becomes redemptive.  To follow this precept there must be patience.           

Patience first occurs in the Rule as an attribute of God.  Vs 37 says “the patience of God is leading you to repent”.   Now, in this verse, ‘patience’ refers to us…taking on this attribute of God.  Our patience also leads us to conversion and an opportunity to be like Christ.  But how are we invited to share in Christ’s sufferings?

                One way is expressed in Ch 72:5 - “by supporting with greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behavior”.   Michael Casey writes, “Patience means we break the causal chain of evil.”  If I am treated unkindly it takes effort not to be unkind in return or to throw it on to someone else who innocently passes by!  Or as Casey asks: if I am in a bad mood do I make everyone around me miserable?  “In this way suffering is passed from one to another…but patience calls a halt to this {craziness}”.  What I hear him saying is that patience involves self-transcendence - the ability to transcend our emotions and thoughts in order to stand firm in love.  Casey said patience is “the foundation of all contemplative experience”…I would assume that it is because of this self-transcendent quality.  An example that comes to mind is St Therese who spoke of her irritation in prayer when the sister behind her would rattle her rosary beads in choir.  But instead of remaining annoyed, St Therese learned to turn the clatter into a musical rhythm of her prayer.  When something annoys me, can I hear the music of our daily life?  We have many opportunities to transform, through patience, our irritations into prayer!

                Casey goes on to say, we are called as monks to recognize that weaknesses exist in members of the community.  Instead of being scandalized, a true monk continues to tolerate the weaknesses which remain in their sisters.  A genuine monk does not complain or campaign for their amendment, but remains steadfast and unshaken in their affection for them.  It calls us to accept the painful consequences of another’s sin rather than to abandon love.

                 Cassian says patience does not depend on the absence of provocation.  Withdrawing from social interaction may reduce the level of conflict, but it does not heal the inner disorder which is its source.  Solitude and isolation can trick us into thinking we are patient but eventually the turmoil within us will surface.  It reminds me of a desert father story:  A monk goes to his abba and says that he wants to live in solitude because the other monk’s behaviors are making him angry and hampering his contemplation.  So the abba tells him to go off to live alone in quiet and peaceful prayer.  All seems good for a while but then one day he is drawing water in a bucket and it tips over.  He gets upset.  He draws another bucket of water and it too flips over.  He is now angry.  He does it a third time and it falls over and he is furious and in a rage.  He then came to his senses and realized that no one created his anger – he carried it within.  But he also learned that his community was an essential tool in which he could learn the necessary virtue of patience.  He learned that his brothers were not the cause of his sin but the doctors who would help in his healing.  Through patience he was led to repent and returned to the rubs of community life.

                Perseverance doesn’t mean never stumbling or falling but that we get up again and persevere.  Fr Brendan once told us that a monk is one who falls and gets up, falls and gets up, and falls and gets up again…all this can happen even before the bell rings for Lauds!!  This entails not focusing on our failings and weakness but on God’s love and fidelity.   But patience is not simply the ability to wait - it's how we behave while we're waiting.  In order to be patient and persevere we need single-hearted devotion, a desire to be like Christ, to love as Christ loves.

                And what better way to end the Prologue than to talk about love – a love that suffers through hardships and a love that runs with inexpressible delights.  The purpose of our life and our monastic vocation is simply to Love.  And we cannot love like Christ without Christ.   Love is both a suffering and a sweetness.   In Jesus’ Incarnation, in His hidden life, in his public ministry, and even on the cross, He both suffered and delighted because of love.  Christ never postponed love – never hesitated - it was always abundantly present.  How are you doing in your perseverance of love?  How are you doing with patience?  If the answer is less than you would desire, unite your sufferings to Christ so that it can be redeeming and healing.

                I close with a quote but I don’t know where it comes from.  (It reminds me of that Proverb about how we are to learn from the ant.)…“Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence.”  So let us learn from the ants, the trees, and the grasses…but most of all, let us learn through each of our sisters how to love in perseverance and persistence.  For by this “patience we share in the sufferings of Christ so that we may also deserve to share in in His kingdom.  Amen.”


July 2, 2015

Knowing and Loving God and Neighbor

 Mother Rebecca
June 28th 2015

                Mk 5:21-43
In chapter today I am going to share what I am personally studying and reading these days but in the end try to incorporate that into today's gospel.   So  what comes out of this combination may seem a bit strange but hopefully not too incoherent!  I have been reading bits and pieces of Julian of Norwich's “Showings” or “Revelations of Love”.   For those who do not know her that well, she had a visionary experience in 1373 when she was 30 years old.   From this she received 16 revelations centered on Jesus’ Passion.    In chapter 2 of the “Showings”, Julian expresses a desire for three gifts from God.   “The first is the mind of (Christ's) Passion.”  She explains in this first desire, wanting to experience being at the foot of the cross with Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalene in order to more deeply understand the sufferings of Christ's Passion.   Our Cistercian Fathers talk frequently about the more we know God the more we love God.   Here with Julian, the more she loves God the more she desires to know Him.  The second gift she requested was bodily sickness in her youth – to experientially know the sufferings of Christ in her own body.   She explained that her deeper desire in this request was, through this suffering, to be cleansed by God’s mercy and open her heart to a greater longing for Him.   The more she understood His suffering for her; the more she would understand God’s love.  The third gift she longed for was to be given from God three wounds.   The 3 wounds she desired were the wounds of compunction, compassion, and greater longing for God.  (ch 2)  So with that background, I would like to reflect briefly on these three wounds.
                A wound implies an opening...a painful one.   The first wound she requested was compunction.  The word does not mean just “a pin prick” but to be pierced through completely.  The Hebrew word “saw-reed” means to puncture.  One use of the word is found in Jeremiah 31 (vs1):  “The people who ‘survived’ {or punctured by} the sword found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest the Lord appeared.”   The remnant of Israel was not a people who escaped disaster but who were able to persevere through them to the other side…and not only found rest, but the Lord!   Compunction is to puncture the heart that has become hardened by sin, distorted desire, or disordered loves.  Yet it is a piercing, or repentance, that is full of joy.  Merton calls compunction “the great poverty that is the beginning of joy” - repentance through knowledge of our sin; joy through knowledge of God’s love.  We can think compunction is for beginners in monastic life or the spiritual journey – but it is all through our life, changing us forever.  We are never w/o God’s mercy holding us up.
                This compunction opens us to understand other people’s sufferings with compassion.  This is because it is the false self that has been pierced through.  We could say compunction is about me; compassion is about others – expanding the circle.   According to Merton, the only way to transform from self-centeredness is if God pierces through me to act and love in me.  This opens the door of the heart to universal compassion.  No longer judging others, but in solidarity, we see we are all together in need of God’s mercy and healing.   So the wound of the heart opens wider through compassion - softening the heart - and this leads to Julian’s third wound or gift:  a greater longing and union with the Body of Christ and the whole world in all its suffering.   
In Chapter 75 Julian speaks of God’s longing for us.  “Ever He draws and drinks and yet ever He thirsts and longs”.   In her revelations, she saw “3 longings in God”.  The first is that He longs to teach us to know him and love him.  Second, God longs to bring us joy.  Third, God longs to complete that joy in total union with Him.  But I was reading an article by Domenico Pezzini and he brought up an interesting observation.   He said “it is only natural that what is inferior, and as such wanting, should tend towards the one who is supreme, complete, and infinite:  this movement is what we call desire.  But if we consider desire only, or mainly, as an expression of want or lack, it may seem scandalous to associate desire with God, who is fullness of being and in need of nothing.”  But, while desire means that we want what we do not have, it may also express the longing to share what we do have.  “In this case, desire is not a lack, but a vigorous dynamic power, which...draws all created things towards union.”  Longing becomes a love that wants to share everything. 
                Whereas Julian, a healthy woman, longs to experience suffering and sickness as the means of intense longing and union with Christ, the woman with the hemorrhage in today’s gospel is the opposite.  She has had chronic suffering and sickness and longs for healing as a means of union with Christ.  Then we have Jairus who displays compassion – a desire for the healing of another who suffers.  We see how compunction heals our soul, compassion heals another, and longing for God heals our world.   It is faith that brings about healing for all three.  Julian, in suffering through compunction, reveals God’s mercy and love.  Jairus’, suffering through compassion, seeks wholeness for another through the healing power of Jesus' love.  Then there is the hemorrhaging woman, suffering illness, seeks for a healing that will bring her the completeness of joy.                          
                Faith here is the key and they are all changed forever.  Julian 20 years later re-writes her revelations because through meditating on them all her life she gained more and more knowledge of God and love of Christ manifested in the Cross.  The bleeding woman no doubt is changed forever though she is never mentioned again.  Jairus through faith changed not only himself but brought new life to his daughter as well.  They each sought out Jesus in mercy, love, and union.
                Do we realize the power of these 3 things – compunction, compassion, and longing?  Do we experience them – meditate on them - and so change our life forever!...Opening the door ever wider – entering into the wounds of Christ.  Do we use our suffering to unite us deeper to Christ?...and to others who suffer in the world?  Does our suffering lead us to compassion for the whole Body of Christ?  Or do we look for escapes to suffering? or focus on our self?   Do we embrace them with the passionate desire of Julian?  When we suffer it doesn’t suffocate desire; rather it opens the door wider.  Meditating on Christ on the cross puts our own sufferings into perspective and makes our love for God boundless.  This is our joy.  This is our longing.
All three of them had different journey.  Julian desires suffering to know God’s love; the bleeding woman desires healing to understand God’s love; Jairus desires healing for others because he himself has experienced God’s love.   What do we do with our suffering?  (Not only the suffering that pierces through our heart, but the pin pricks.)  St Therese spoke of these daily pin pricks as a martyrdom of love.  Let us not waste them!
                Today we learn from these three that our wounds are doors opening us even wider to union with God.  Let us be like Julian who sits at the foot of the cross, or the bleeding woman desiring to just touch the cloak of Jesus; or Jairus seeking Jesus for consolation and joy not for himself but the whole body of Christ.  This is the challenge of today’s gospel…do our wounds lead us to Christ?  To greater Love?  To intense longing for God?  To fullness of joy?