Saturday, May 6, 2017


On Monday, May 8, I will begin giving a retreat to the Sisters of Charity, in their “Villa,” or retirement home, in Convent Station, N.J. (We could use your prayers, please!). The following is a conference that I plan to give, much of it borrowed from Fr. Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B. in his book Flowers in the Desert, pp 69-70. I got a lot from writing it, so I’m offering it to you in the hope that you may find something helpful in it as well.

Think for a moment about your idea of God: most of us think of God as someone close to us, who loves us and supports us, who is always at our side to lead and guide and protect. But this can be a very misleading view of God:

If your God is someone you can understand and comprehend, and can be comfortably grasped by your limited human intellect, then sorry, but that can’t be God. God is, in his deepest nature, an incomprehensible far beyond our ability to comprehend.

A good illustration of this point is the story of the two disciples who were walking the seven miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, on the first Easter morning, sick with discouragement:  Jesus was dead, and so were their hopes. Suddenly, the risen Christ joined them, and started walking beside them on the road. But, St. Luke tells us, “their eyes were prevented from seeing who it was.” Jesus, their beloved friend,  had become a stranger to them.

"but they did not recognize Him."
How could this have happened? Well, it was simply because they had had expected something  from the earthly career of Jesus that was completely different from what God had planned. “We had hoped that he would be the one to liberate Israel.”

When Jesus, the would-be Messiah, had been executed, their eyes had become closed to the possibility that he could still be the Messiah. The risen Jesus had become a stranger to them because he did not fit their preconceptions – they were not looking for a failed Messiah, a suffering and crucified Savior.

Are you expecting to meet in your life a crucified Savior, or do you sometimes complain that you don’t understand why God has allowed for so much suffering in your life? The risen Jesus, as stranger, represented the mystery of God’s way.

To enter into this divine mystery, the two bewildered men  had to put aside their old ideas as they listened to Jesus give them a new interpretation of the Scriptures, “Then he began with Moses and all the Prophets , and explained to them the passages which referred to himself in every part of the Scriptures.”

By this time they had reached their home village and Jesus was about to leave them. But, having opened their minds and hearts to them, the two also opened their home to them as well. “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening, and the night is coming on.”

As they broke the bread of hospitality with him, “Their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” What they recognized was more than the familiar features of their friend: They were suddenly awakened to a new insight and a new wisdom that attuned them to the mysterious ways of God.

They saw that the darkest part of the divine mystery
-- the dying of the Messiah -- had become the occasion for the most glorious victory -- the Resurrection of Jesus!

They had come face to face with the cloud, and then, with the guidance of Jesus, the cloud was suddenly transfused with light.

Luke also highlights, in Acts, the heroic hospitality required of the Jewish Christian Church, made up entirely of practicing Jews, as they are challenged to accept the gentiles into the new community of God’s people.

A Jewish-Christian church making room for the once despised Gentiles is a model for all of us who find it almost impossible to accept some change in our carefully planned lives -- whether the loss of a dear friend, a forced retirement, the diminishment of our various powers that comes with the aging process.  

But, all openness comes at a price. Our instincts tell us that to be open is to risk being hurt, or being deceived by others or making mistakes and being laughed at.

But being open also makes it possible for us to encounter Jesus in the Cross
and allows God to give us the gifts of grace, and growth and newness.

St. Benedict has a lot to teach us about openness: He couches it in terms of hospitality in Chapter 53 of  the Holy Rule, when he tells us to receive the stranger as we would Christ himself, Benedict has in mind much more than simply how we should treat guests: this chapter has a vastly wider application to our entire way of being in the world, and especially to our spiritual quest for God: Benedict knows that hospitality as openness of heart and mind is essential to the life of any Christian.

Openness is one of the basic prerequisites for intimacy with my fellow humans, and is just as necessary for intimacy with Christ.  I have to be ready to greet our Lord in everything and everyone, but especially in the CROSS: in the unexpected, when my plans or projects get fouled up, in the unsettling, when someone points up a glaring fault of mine. in the new,  when I’m in a new job, move to a new town, or find myself in a new stage of life,

Benedict knows that we have to leave ourselves open to the spirit without any restrictions. This seems to me to be the underlying message of Chapter 53 of the Holy Rule: his own experience as well as Christian tradition tell him that it is precisely in the new, the unsettling, and the spiritually challenging that we are most likely to find the God we seek.

During this season when the church offers us the examples of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, and of the earliest Christians who were heroically hospitable to non-Jews who asked to join their community. Let us pray for one another that the Risen Lord will find us as open as they were to his unexpected presence in our lives.  

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