Saturday, April 9, 2011



He’s a kid who I like and who always comes to say hello before and after class. We’ve talked at some length about his family life, especially about his very problematic father; I found that there are some things that he's unwilling to talk about. I know that he’s been under some academic pressure lately, too. So yesterday (Friday) with less than a minute left in my Religion period he shouted an obscenity at a fellow student. I couldn’t ignore such inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, and so I walked back to reprimand him. By the time I got back there he was squaring off to fight yet another student. When I confronted him he couldn’t keep his mouth shut; he seemed compelled to answer me back every time I said something. That kind of loss of control if it happens out on the street can cost a young Black man his life these days. Yet as I spoke with him I could see that he wasn’t able to hear me. I was worried that he would get himself into in a fistfight within the next five minutes, and so as he left the room I set off in search of some help.


That evening I prayed the Stations of the Cross by myself. As I moved from one station to the next (each of the fourteen is represented by a small ceramic picture attached to the south wall of the abbey church) I kept seeing my suffering student in the various stations, especially the ones about carrying the cross and falling three times under its weight. Then other people started joining the walk to Calvary. I could see in my mind a friend who is worried sick about one of her adult children (the eighth station: Jesus meets the weeping women of Jerusalem and tells them “Weep not for me but for your children”), a friend who has serious medical issues, a woman I met recently whose husband is suffering from Alzheimer’s…. We made quite a sad parade as we walked with Jesus toward his crucifixion. I began feeling depressed about this whole business of suffering. The thirteenth station, Jesus is taken down from the cross (represented by Micheangelo in his Pieta), always evokes for me a vivid image of a certain young mother holding her dying child on her lap and looking at me.


This morning I was back in church for my meditation period, still feeling the sadness of last night’s sorrowful parade to Calvary. I decided to start off by reading the chapter assigned for today in Pilgrim Road. It was about my visit to Assisi. Here’s an excerpt:

I smile as I remember the story from the Fioretti, a collection of edifying legends about the deeds of the wonder-worker Francis. On a cold winter’s day not unlike this one, the tale goes, Francis stopped in front of a bare almond tree and said, “Sister almond tree, speak to me of God!” And with that, the almond tree burst into a mass of lovely blossoms.”

That was quite an eye-opener at 6:10 in the morning! Here was the Lord challenging me to face all those negative feelings, all those suffering people I'm holding in my heart, and ask each of them to say something to me about God.

I thought again about my angry student, and how the episode had ended after school. I’d been so worried for him that I’d spent fifteen minutes after that class period yesterday tracking down Ivan Lamourt, our Assistant Headmaster and experienced guidance counselor, to tell him to grab this kid before something bad happens. During homeroom later in the day my sophomore friend found me and said “I’m sorry for what I did in class today.... And thank you for telling Mr. Lamourt about it; we talked and he’s going to help me.” I shook his hand and said "Apology accepted;" then I added, "Okay, now gimme a hug!" Surely he was speaking to me of God.


But when I tried to see the blossoms on some of those other trees of suffering from last night I had less success. Then I remembered a conversation I’d had recently with someone who had given a theological talk to the monks. He said that the typical Christian emphasis on the suffering and death of Jesus, on the crown of thorns and the nails, tends to obscure the more important underlying plot and in fact the very purpose of the whole thing: The central fact is not Jesus’ agony and death, but rather that THIS ENTIRE MYSTERIOUS SERIES OF EVENTS WAS INITIATED BY GOD OUT OF LOVE FOR US. It’s not so much about nails and scourges as it is about God’s boundless unconditional and infinitely incomprehensible LOVE for each one of us and for the whole world.

When I walk the Way of the Cross, then, with my suffering sisters and brothers, I need to keep before my eyes the underlying truth that the whole mystery of Calvary and of the resurrection and ascension, is first and foremost an expression of God's boundless love for all of us.

But since this love is infinite it will often be, by definition, incomprehensible to us. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Is. 55:8). The cross stands for the truth that God’s love is far, far beyond our logic and our human ability to understand.

In the Letter to the Romans Paul spends three chapters (9-11) trying to fathom the problem of what is to become of the Jews under the new dispensation. Is God going to abandon his covenant with them? After three chapters he has still not managed to figure out what God has in mind. So he ends his long but unsatisfactory meditation with this exclamation:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?" "Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid?" For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33-36)


This evening I’m going to go and sit under a skylight in the lovely but forlorn novitiate study hall on the top floor of the monastery. As our community continues to shrink in numbers, this study hall has not seen a novice in ten years. And I’m going to say:
............"Okay, empty study hall, speak to me of God.”

.........................An almond tree in blossom

1 comment:

  1. This may be off topic but I must say that you have a great style in writing. it is definitely creative and unique.