abby cemetery

abby cemetery

According to Bishop Fulton Sheen, Jesus’ first word of his public ministry was “come”.  His final word to his disciples was “go”.  “Come follow me.  Go out into the world”.  I wonder how many of us really follow these simple instructions.

Even the Monks here at Gesthemani have mastered the first part, but they haven’t really mastered the second part.  They’ve come alright.  But once they come they pretty much stay.  There’s no question that they welcome visitors, each year by the thousands.  And they do their best to share the good news through their actions.  But as far as going out into the world, that’s more up to you and me.

abby keep out


Last night in one of only two sessions the monks hold with visitors Father gave us something to really reflect on.  We all know that we’re supposed to see Jesus in the poor, the sick, the elderly, in anyone who needs help.  When we look into the face of that person, we’re seeing Jesus.  We may not always act on it, but we do know it.

But what about the helper.  Isn’t he/she Jesus too?  In his book Rediscover Jesus, Matthew Kelly tells the story of a group of men hurrying to catch a New York City Taxi.  In their haste they run into a blind lady’s vegetable cart, knocking all the produce to the ground.  Only one of them stops to help.  His friends urge him to hurry up or he’ll miss his plane but he stays behind to pick up the spilled fruit and vegetables.  Dozens of other pedestrians hurried by but no one else stopped to help.  When he had everything picked up and neatly arranged, he handed the blind lady some money to pay for the damaged goods.

The lady is very grateful and asks the man, “Are you Jesus?  When I heard the fruit hit the ground I prayed to Jesus for help.  Then I heard you picking it up.   Are you Jesus?”

“Oh, no ma’am”, he said.  He ends up missing his plane and has to spend another night in New York which gives him plenty of time to think and pray about what happened.

The story begs the question, “When was the last time someone wondered if you were Jesus?”

My recent health problems have forced me to rely on others much more than I like to.  I’ve always been very independent.  At first, I fought this dependence with all my might.  I don’t want to have to depend on others.  That’s a sign of weakness.  But as Father told us last night, when we refuse the help of others we take away their chance to be Jesus.  We’re actually being selfish.

People like to help.  It makes them feel good inside.  When we let our egos take charge and refuse to let others help us, we’re taking that good feeling away from them.  As I’ve hobbled around Gesthemani Abby this week, I’ve had any number of people offer me help.  Before Father’s talk last night I was my usual egotistical self.  But now I see that by letting them help me, I’m actually helping them.  And I get to see Jesus.

Now the cynic might say, “You’re on a retreat.  You’re surrounded by holy people.  Most people are like those New Yorkers who just kept on going, not stopping to help.”  I don’t agree.  I think most people want to help, wherever they are.

I have to say something here about my wife.  For the last year, she’s literally done all the heavy lifting.  She carries things.  She picks things up when I drop them (which is constantly).  She drives most of the time (except at night when she can’t see.)  She fills out forms and signs things.  She has been the perfect caregiver.  Occasionally she gets impatient with me (who wouldn’t).  But if you want to see Jesus, take a look at my wife.  Or at anyone who takes care of someone else.


The Ten Commandments

For centuries there was no debate about the Ten Commandments.  Moses brought them down from the mountain and everyone took them to heart.  “Thou shalt not kill.”  “Thou shalt not steal.”  Nothing controversial about that.

But here in the twenty first century, things are different.  Misguided people have found problems with God’s commandments.  First you have those who don’t believe that killing an unborn child is wrong.  They call their stand “pro choice” and say that it’s about women’s health care.

I’ll say this.  Thou shalt not kill also applies to capital punishment and I’m against that too.  But, at least I can understand why someone would think it’s ok to execute a convicted murderer.  I don’t agree, but I can understand the reasoning.  But how anyone could possibly think it’s ok to murder an innocent, unborn baby is beyond my comprehension.  It just doesn’t make sense to me.  Anyone who would like to try to explain it to me, take your best shot.

Then we have the issue of atheists who believe the Ten Commandments are religious and so have no place in the public square.  Again, an argument I can’t comprehend.  A murdered atheist is just as dead as a murdered Christian.  In fact, in our belief system even more so.  Why is being opposed to murder or stealing or any of the other eight commandments a religious principle that violates anyone’s rights?

Every society, whether they’ve even heard of Moses, has some sort of moral code that looks an awful lot like the Ten Commandments.  They may be codified in the Bible, but they’re not religious.

Remember “Shacking up”?

I don’t eavesdrop.  I think it’s rude.  But when you’re in a restaurant and the people at the next table speak loudly enough for everyone in the place to hear, it’s hard to ignore them.  The loud-talkers in question were two young women, maybe late twenties or early thirties.  One of them had just broken up with her live-in boyfriend.

This is the part where I hate to make myself seem like an old codger, but I remember when that particular living arrangement was called “shacking up” and those who chose that lifestyle tended to keep it to themselves, not broadcast it for strangers to hear.  It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.

Here’s the thing, the jilted party, we’ll call her Ann for the sake of brevity, was very upset that her former roommate/lover had dumped her.  She couldn’t understand how he could just up and walk away.  But, isn’t that the nature of the unmarried relationship?  Other than a few pieces of furniture, there is no commitment.  In fact, studies show that roughly 50% of people living in sin never get married.  [Note:  You don’t hear the term “living in sin” very often anymore and my using it might offend some.  Maybe, if we called it what it is more often, it might not be thought of as just another lifestyle.  Sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin.]

So, our friend Ann shouldn’t have been so shocked.  Her lifestyle choice has no more chance of success than a coin toss.  But wait, there’s more!  Of the cohabitators who do finally tie the knot, more than 3/4 of those marriages fail.  In other words, the chances of Ann’s little premarital love nest developing into a life-long relationship are around 1 in 10.

Sadly, this isn’t the picture portrayed in TV and movies.  From their standpoint, it’s all fun and games.  The process goes like this:

Meet a guy; jump into bed; move in together; fall in love (maybe); have a baby or two; get married.  If you doubt any of this, check out CBS’ line-up of sit coms.  Is it any wonder that talking about cohabitation is no longer taboo.  You would be surprised how many couples approach me for marriage preparation with both parties giving the same address.  You would also be surprised at how shocked they are when I suggest that this might be a problem.

On the other hand, how much do we discourage this particular variety of sin when the test we give them to determine their compatibility includes a special section for “cohabiting couples”?  I guess I’m ranting here because I’m the guy who’s charged with convincing them that what they’re doing is wrong even when everyone else (often including their parents) is telling them it’s OK.  I end up looking like the bad guy.

I believe we clergy, given the privilege of preaching the Gospel have let our people down.  When was the last time you heard a homily on this subject.  [Hint:  The last time I preached on extramarital sex, two couples who heard the homily decided to get married.]  So I guess I’ll keep preaching about it and counseling engaged couples on it, and one-by-one, maybe make a difference.