With all my Mite

Once upon a time, the son of a poor widow wins the lottery.  With his huge earnings, he decides to buy his poor mother a pet.  He goes to the pet store and asks about the most expensive pet in the store.  The owner informs him of an exotic parrot for $50,000.00.  It can recite the Ten Commandments and can speak back scripture.  He buys the bird and sends to his mother.  The next day, the son calls his mother.  “Mom, did you get the bird?”  “Oh, yes, son, she says, “it was delicious.”

Widows teach us about trusting God.

For example, the prophet Elijah visits the town of Zarephath.  He encounters widow gathering sticks.  She is gathering sticks for her last meal with her son.  Having no rights, no money, and no one to support her she prepares for death; that is, until the prophet appears.  He asks for water.  He asks for food.  The widow protests.  But Elijah insists and informs her of God’s design.  So, the widow of Zarephath gives her last bit of food to the guest.  And what happens?  She and her son ate, and they lived.

Today, widows teach us about trust in God.

St. Mark’s story of the widow’s mite is famous.  The word comes from the King James Version from a culture that called a small coin, a “mite.”  Basically, it was less than a quarter.  But let us look at the entire scene that Mark paints for us today.

In the middle of teaching, Jesus watches the scribes.  The scribes love to be greeted in public as dignitaries.  They compete for places of honor at the synagogues and at banquets.  And they cheat widows even as they recite lengthy prayers at the temple.  To illustrate, Jesus watches a widow come to the temple. Now officials often extract extra coinage from people to cheat them.  We are not quite sure why the widow dropped in everything.  But there might be several reasons.  First, maybe someone cheated her.  Second, maybe she wanted to give her whole life to God.  Third, if she gave everything, and had children at home, would not that be irresponsible?  There is no praise or criticism from Jesus as he watches this scene.  He calls over his disciples and uses tells them to look at her actions.

What do these widows and scribes teach us today?

They teach us several lessons but for now, we can learn about divine opportunity.  Human beings horde things.  We horde ideas.  We horde money.  We horde vision.  We horde friends.  We horde time.  We horde and then we hide.  But we cannot get away from God nor can we hide or horde. Jesus observes the widow as an example of giving her whole self.  Jesus observes the scribes as sycophant snobs.

There will come a day…and… maybe today is the day when God will show up while we are down and out…like the widow of Zarephath.  And while we are busy picking up the sticks of “woe-is-me-I-am-nobody” type of thinking, God will ask for something.  God will ask us for our whole life.  How will we recognize the question?  Has anyone of you ever had a nagging thought of becoming a priest or a religious?  Does your conscience keep whispering to you that it is not moral to walk over the poor?  Does a little voice inside keep telling you to pray more, go to church more and to read the scriptures more?  There will come a day when God will show up during our poverty and God will offer us salvation.  Hopefully, we will be eager…to run to him with all our mite!

Fr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

32nd Sunday

Ordinary Time

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Closing the Distance to the Kingdom of God

Once upon a time, an African Methodist Episcopal pastor and a white conservative rabbi walk into a diner.  Wait!  Is this some type of joke?  No!  This is where we stop with the story because the two clergy persons have something in common. They are bound by the “unspeakable grief of two unconscionable desecrations.”[1]   On June 15, 2015, a terrorist walks into a Church bible study and murders nine parishioners in Charleston, S.C.  On October 27 of last week, on Shabbat, a terrorist walks into a synagogue and murders eleven worshippers.  None of the defendants are Muslims.  None of the defendants are Latinos from the caravan from Central America.  Both terrorists are white American men.

We all know the Golden Rule.  We Christians are to love God with everything we have:  heart, soul and strength.  We are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. This is not a New Testament change.  Jesus does not add “neighbor” because it is missing from the Old Testament.  The people in the time of Christ are to love the neighbor. But they think that they are to love their Israelite Neighbors, their Religious Neighbors and their Going-to-the-Temple-and-Synagogue Neighbors.  They do not love the Romans.  They do not love the Greeks.  They do not love foreigners.   They do not love Samaritans, prostitutes, or the sick.

Any of this sounds familiar today?  Dylann Roof walks into the Methodist Episcopal church spewing racial hatred.  Robert Bowers ploughs into a Jewish synagogue yelling, “Death to all Jews.” We upright moral people might rush to judgment and condemn such actions, and, condemn these actions and thinking we should.  But, and there is always that word, BUT, we all have one person in our lives whom we despise, or, whom we do not like, or, with whom we do not sit, or, for whom we do not want to relate.  There is at least one person in my heart for whom I reserve a place in the deepest pit of hell. If this is so, is there a fine line between Dylann Roof who murders nine Christians in Charleston, Robert Bowers who murders eleven Jews in Pittsburgh, and me?  Is a gun the only difference between us?

St. Clement says that when we love our neighbor we acknowledge the presence of Christ.  St. John Chrysostom says that the love of God and neighbor is the “summit of virtue.”  If I do not have love for you, why am I here today?  The God I love in me is the same God I am required to love in you.  When I finally admit that loving you is the greatest thing I can do to save the world then I close the distance to the kingdom of God.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

31st  Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B

[1]https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/03/us/pittsburgh-synagogue-charleston-emanuel.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage

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The Factual Density of Vision

Someone once asked Helen Keller if there was something worse than blindness.  She remarked, “Having no vision.”

We usually say, “What’s wrong with you, are you blind?”  But this is what we ought to be saying to one another when we fail to see the signs of the times: “Have you no vision?” Today, St. Mark tells us that not only does Bartimaeus want to see again.  He wants vision.

Some theologians say that when a character’s name is retained in the Gospel, then there is factual density.  In other words, Bartimaeus is a real person and maybe is alive when Mark’s community retells this story.  Maybe even Bartimaeus is present to tell the story himself, the story about Jesus. He tells them about the question: “What do you want me to do for you?”

This is the same question Jesus asks James and John last week.  Last week, the Twelve fights over who is the greatest in the kingdom. Today they attempt to shut up Bartimaeus.  He is blind.  He is a beggar.  He is dirty. He is loud and obnoxious. He is embarrassing. And-he-is-exactly-the-type-of-disciple-Jesus-calls-to-belong-to-the-kingdom.

I am going to argue that Bartimaeus used to possess his eyesight.  Translations often fail but Bartimaeus responds to Jesus, “Rabbi, I want to recover my sight.”  When he sees there will be no more begging at the gate.  When he sees he will regain his family and friends. When he sees, he regains his place in society.  More importantly though, Bartimaeus is going to see life differently- Bartimaeus will have vision.

We can define “vision” as the “ability to think or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.”  We have problems in our country.  Election day is in eight days.  If we do not the study the issues of our country and do not plan to vote, where is our vision?  We have problems in our church.  If we choose to leave the church, or, if we stop our donations to the parish, people will lose their jobs and social services stop.  Where is our vision?  Bartimaeus teaches us to channel our anger, our disappointment and our irritation at the lack of righteousness and justice around us.

When Jesus calls him, Bartimaeus throws off his begging cloak, jumps up and runs to the Teacher.  We too stand up and come forward.  Communion is a daily-weekly vision that you and I are the Body and Blood of Christ.  May St. Bartimaeus accompany us on our journey!

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

30thSunday Ordinary Time Cycle B

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Does that Someone Belong to Me?

When the readings speak about marriage and divorce, people ask me if I’m going to talk about marriage and divorce.  I tell them no- I’m not married nor am I divorced.  Nor am I remarried.  But, I do know something about friendship and mentoring which may be at the heart of our reflections.

The book, Tuesdays with Morrie is the best mentoring story I ever read.  The subtitle is: “An old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson.”

Morrie is dying and one of his former students by the name of Mitch Albom hears about his calamity.  He commits himself to visit his college mentor every Tuesday.  And one Tuesday, they talk about family…they talk about love.  This is how the conversation goes between Morrie and Mitch: “’Love each other or perish.’”  I wrote it down.  Auden said that?  ‘Love each other or perish,’ Morrie said.  It’s good, no?  And it’s so true.  Without love, we are birds with broken wings.’”

My brothers and sisters, we all belong to someone.  But does that someone belong to us?

In the beginning, so writes Genesis. In the beginning, we are not meant to be alone.  But to whom do we belong?  We do not belong to our pets…they are loyal; they never betray us; they never treat us cruelly.  We go and get another animal when our pet dies.  But “…imagine someone saying to you after the death of a beloved spouse or child: ‘Oh, I am so sorry to hear that.  Are you going to get another one?’” so writes Naomi Rosenblatt in her book, Wrestling with Angels.  We are not meant to be alone, but, in the words of Naomi, “Loving another human being is a lot more challenging” than getting another pet.

Genesis writes that in the beginning we are not to be alone but also, we are not meant to dominate other people.  Often, we hear that woman comes from the rib of the man; woman is made from man.  But the language does not suggest made from man or a part of man therefore suggesting male domination.  The language says that woman is made from the side of the man.  According to Naomi Rosenblatt, Genesis implies “that man and woman are two halves of a larger whole,” and, “Adam is utterly smitten with the appearance of his new human companion, his missing female half.”  Two halves make a whole person!

We all belong to someone, but does that someone belong to us?

In our assembly today, we are widows and widowers, married and divorced, single and vowed religious.  I belong to a monastic community but does that community belong to me?  I belong to this Villa community, but does it belong to me?  I belong to my spouse, but does my spouse belong to me? What is important for us to remember is that no matter what our state in life…we still belong to someone.  We need other people.  Humans are not meant to be alone.

But sometimes we wake up one morning and we are alone.  Every divorce is a death of a relationship.  Every physical death of a loved one is a great divide.  Sometimes love dies and our wings break.  Wings break and sometimes stay broken when we feel unable to handle someone’s passing.  However, we always have the project of existence called, “friendship.” According to the moral theologian, Dr. Paul Wadell, friends help us be good! Friends forgive.  The community tells us the truth.  Friends help us stay focused on the important things.  The community helps to repair our broken wings.  And when we Christians befriend each other, we consecrate each other in Christ Jesus.  That is why he calls us his brothers and sisters…because I belong to you and I want you to belong to me.

There is no better mentor than Christ and there is no better mentoring story than the Gospels.  Here we find God’s friendship in his son, Jesus.  He mentored the Twelve.  He befriended the Twelve, called them to task and ultimately transformed them.  Without love, their broken wings did not heal.  God can heal us and do more than if we would just let people belong to us.  In the words of Morrie Schwartz, “It’s good, no?  And it’s so true.”

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Cycle B

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Truth and the One Blind Eye

I was in pain last week watching a prosecutor interrogate Christine Blasey Ford and a group of senators fight over the person of Brett Kavanaugh.  All I could think of is, “Truth, truth, who’s got the truth?

It reminds me of a story.  It is not a funny story but a moral to learn.  Once upon a time, there lives two businessmen who were great rivals. When one gets a computer the other gets two. When one gets a cell phone the other gets two. When one builds a storehouse the other builds two. One day an angel appears to one of them and offers, “You can ask for anything you like, and you will get it. However, your rival will get two of whatever you ask for?” “You mean” he asks, “if I asked for $1,000,000 I would get it?” “Yes, you would get it.” answers the angel, “but your rival will get $2,000,000.” “How soon do I have to answer?” asks the businessman. “I will be back tomorrow morning for the answer.” That night the businessman tosses and turns but when the angel comes back he has his answer ready. “I will settle” he says, “for one blind eye!”

When I think that I am the only one with the truth, and you did not have the truth, I am the one eye blind man thinking and hoping that all of you are totally blind.

Look at Joshua.  In ancient times, seventy elders get some of Moses’ spirit.  Two elders, Eldad and Medad, who forget to go the meeting tent of God also receive this same spirit.  And, Joshua is jealous.  “Stop them,” he tells Moses.  “Stop them from prophesying since they did not go to the meeting tent of the Lord as we instructed them.”  How does Moses respond?  “Would that all of us would prophesy!”

Look at St. John.  He witnesses a stranger casting out a demon in the name of Jesus.  But this stranger is not one of the Twelve.  The stranger is not even one of the seventy-two disciples.  And John, and, probably the other apostles, are jealous.  “Stop him,” they tell Jesus.  “Stop him from casting out demons since he does not belong to our elite group of apostles.”  And Jesus says, “If they’re not against, they support us!”

Joshua is angry that the two elders did not obey him.  St. John is irritated that he cannot heal someone, but a fellow Jewish guy can heal. When I think I alone possess the truth and you do not have the truth, I am a one-eyed ignoramus hoping that you go fully blind.

These scriptures today speak to us about our country’s politics and our Catholic Church.  Last week we became witnesses how blind our government is in Washington.  And now we are unearthing the blind divisions within our Church with the criticisms of Pope Francis by Cardinal Burke and Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano.  Truth, truth, who’s got the truth? If I think that I own the facts, and, when I think that God belongs to me and no one else then I am sorely wrong.

In the words of Alice Camille, “The bottom line is that truth belongs to God, like any other spiritual reality, and it is up to God where it may be found.”  To put it exactly, we read from Vatican II in Nostra Aetate that the “Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy” in other religions.  “She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all [men].”  To believe otherwise, brothers and sisters, you better find a way to gouge out your brain.  It is better to enter the kingdom of God mindless then to be thrown into the fire with a brain fully intact.

As we approach the altar for Holy Communion, may we all prophesy, may we all be healers.  And when we leave this sacred place hopefully we will admit that everyone who loves God and does the will of God often reflect a ray of Truth in the world.  Amen.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

26th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B

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Pull Out the Mittens!

Once upon a time, the teacher helps one of her kindergarten students put on his boots. He asks for help and she can see why. With her pulling and him pushing, the boots still didn’t want to go on. When the second boot was on, she had works up a sweat. She almost whimpers when the little boy says, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She looks and sure enough, they are. It isn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it is putting them on. She manages to keep her cool as together they work to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announces, “These aren’t my boots.” She bites her tongue.  Once again she struggles to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off. He then says, “They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear them.” She doesn’t know if she should laugh or cry. She musters up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. She says, “Now, where are your mittens?” He says, “I stuffed them in the toes of my boots…”

Brothers and sisters- this little story is a parable of the Christian life.

The teacher is Christ.  Patient and kind, Christ is the quintessential teacher.  We are the kindergarten kid who appears helpless and cranky.  And the boots, what do they stand for in our lives?  They stand for the cross.

Jesus says, “If you want to accompany me; if you want to walk side by side with me, lose your self-interest.  Then bend down and pick up your cross.”  But what kind of cross do we carry? In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Be careful- we could suffer and still not follow Christ.”

We carry the cross with a lower case letter “c.”  This is older age, our infirmities.  It is a physical challenge.  It is the death of a spouse, a parent, a family member and a friend.  It is an addiction or a chronic physical condition.  It is a disease that ravages a body. My main task as a Christian is to carry this cross well.  And, I must be very careful not to add a cross to this already huge load by way of my anger, my crabbiness or my disgusting disposition.  Christ is patient with us.  We must be patient with one another.  Christ is kind to us.  We must be kind to one another.  Christ stops to help us.  We must stop and help one another.

We also carry the cross with an upper case letter “C.”  This is living the Gospel by living holy lives: feeding the poor; housing the homeless; counseling the bereaved; saving the orphan.  This cross speaks Truth to power, whether that power is the Church or the Government, God’s justice must win.  It chooses right over wrong.  Even when the whole assembly jumps off the bridge, I follow my conscience even to the point of abandonment or martyrdom.

However, beware of the other crosses. Sometimes we suffer for the wrong reasons.  In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Be careful- we could suffer and still not follow Christ.”

Carrying the Cross depends on how we understand Christ.  In Jesus’ time some thought that he was just like John the Baptist- a far out preacher.  Some thought him to be Elijah- a wonder worker.  Other said that he is a prophet- one who speaks for God and tells oracles.  Peter got it his title right but misunderstands the mission.  If he is the Christ, then the Cross comes with him.

Here at the Eucharist we grow up from a kindergarten kid to a Christian adult.  We can learn how to slip on those difficult boots! Just pull out those mittens!

~ Fr. Becket Franks, O.S.B.

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Why Do You Stay?

Once upon a time, the computer company where Tina works distributes a corporate-clothing catalogue that includes a pair of cuff links for the men, and, a double-sided pendant for the women.  One side of the pendant is inscribed Ctrl (Control) and the other Esc (Escape), the same for the cuff links, just as they look on a computer keyboard. At lunch one day with colleagues, Tina inquires about the lettering.  A friend speaks up and says, “They would make good presents for our spouses,” she says, “if only to remind them of the two things they can never have.”

Control and Escape are two words that relate the feelings of some of the people following Joshua.  Canaanite temple worship is very inviting.  They build temples and they form statues of their gods.  And when a Canaanite person worships in the temple they offer food and money and participate in temple prostitution.  All of this attracts the Israelites when they arrive at Shechem. Joshua reminds the people of the presence of the One True God.  He retells the stories of the crossing of the Red Sea and the miracles of the manna, and quail and the water from the rock.  Then Joshua leads the people in a rededication ceremony to recommit them to the One True Unseen God.

Control and Escape describe the feelings of some of Christ’s disciples.  They are scandalized when Jesus tells them to gnaw on his body and drink his blood. Jesus’ words are so difficult for some of the disciples that they stop following him and return to their former ways of life.  Even years after the Resurrection, a group of Christians called the Gnostics deny that the bread and wine at the Eucharist could possibly be the real body and blood of the Savior.

Jesus poses an important question to his disciples, “Do you also want to leave?”  Last week, we spoke about abusive priests and bishops who covered for them. Watching a panel of Catholic men and women who were sexually abused by priests, all but one said that they no longer consider themselves Catholic.  This is fully understandable. Church attendance has fallen ten percent from twelve years ago to about 24%.  Roman Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination in the US, 66.6 million.  However, in the last ten to twelve years, over 28.9 million people no longer identify themselves as Catholic.[1]  And those who do identify themselves as Catholics, 50% are unaware that the Catholic Church teaches that the consecrated bread and wine at Mass are The Real Presence of Christ in the midst of the congregation.[2]But here’s the question, “Why do youstay in the Catholic Church?”  If you’re gay, why do you stay?  If you’re divorced and remarried, why do you stay?  If you’re female, why do you stay?

I stay because I find Christ in the Liturgy.  I stay because I find Christ in the sacraments.  I stay because I find Christ in the community.  I stay because I love the theological and spiritual writers, and, the social encyclicals of the Church.  I stay because I find Christ in the Tradition.  Within these I find beauty, hope and great grace.  AND, they belong to all of us.  WE ARE THE CHURCH. Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, Priests and Deacons do not own the Church nor control it.  And we do not need to escape.  Holy Mother Church belongs to me and she belongs to you.  It is the best place where I hear and ponder the words of St. Paul today, “Live in love.”  It is the most important reason for approaching the altar for Holy Communion.

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

21stSunday  Ordinary Time Cycle B

[1]http://cara.georgetown.edu/caraservices/requestedchurchstats.html

[2]http://nineteensixty-four.blogspot.com/2013/05/hypothesis-confirmed-knowledgeable.html

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Watch Carefully How You Live: Holding Abusive Clerics Accountable

Fr. Gabriel tells a story when he stopped at a McDonald’s for lunch in northern Ohio.  As he sits down to enjoy his Big Mac hamburger, he notices an Amish family come in for lunch.  The bearded father leads the family of seven into the restaurant.  Each one places an order and they sit down and very quietly enjoy their meal.  Following them is a group of young girls from a Christian summer camp. They are loud and very, very giddy.   Following them is an Orthodox family of four led by the priest in cassock and cross.  Following them is a Muslim family with mother and daughters with hijabs. Following them are two young orthodox Jewish men, with black hats and prayer shawls under their shirts.  All are welcomed at the McDonald’s.  All of them eat in peace.  All of them love God.   No one hurls an insult, like terrorist, or Christ killer, or separatist.  In fact, when the Orthodox priest goes to pay for a gallon of windshield fluid and forgets his wallet at the table, the Muslim father offers to pay at the cash register.  In essence, God gives Fr. Gabriel a glance into the eternal banquet of Christ.  Can you believe it, at McDonald’s:  Taste and see the goodness of the Lord?

That vision of people eating in peace at the McDonald’s is the very same thing that is to happen here in this chapel as Roman Catholics.  Here wisdom sets her table with bread and wine and we enter into the presence of God.  Here we leave behind sophomoric behaviors and we leave as holy wise people- skilled experts in the faith.

But some of our ordained leaders have not left the liturgy as wise men, skilled experts in the faith.  They left the Eucharist as predators, sick men who abused children over and over again, so says the Statewide Investigating Grand Jury Report in the state of Pennsylvania.  The Vatican calls this clerical sexual abuse of children “criminal and morally reprehensible.”  The abuses that over 1,000 people experienced are horrific.  What is even more horrific is how priests’ bishops covered up the abuses.  The PA attorney general called the cover-ups “a playbook for concealing the truth.”   What an expensive playbook, all $3 billion dollars worth!

In the words of St. Paul, Watch carefully how you live, not as sophomoric people but as skilled experts who are faith-filled. But to assure that our priests and bishops grow as faith-filled experts, brothers and sisters, some things must change.  In 2004, the US Bishops commissioned the John Jay Report to study the root causes of these horrible actions.  Two root causes stood out:  seminary formation and leadership.  There was an organizational failure and a failure of leadership.  The issue is not sexuality.  The issue is not celibacy.  In the words of a priest friend, Fr. Michael Papesh, the issue is the clerical culture, the “good ole’ boys club.”  Briefly worded, the issue is the lack of confronting the psychosocial problems of unhealthy seminarians and unhealthy priests because they were deeply immersed into “The Club,” the clerical culture.  It-must-end.

We priests do not own the Eucharistic table. We are not the dispensers of the Sacraments.  The priest leads the assembly in worship and prayer, but together we are The Church.  In the words of Blessed John Card. Newman, the Church would look foolish without the lay people. Jesus says, “Eating my flesh and drinking my blood- we become one, you and I.  It is the Life of the World.”  As you and I receive Holy Communion from the hands of the Lord, may we priests work well to restore your trust!  It is not my church.  It is OUR church.  And if we priests answer honestly the call of Christ to be skilled experts in the faith, then we must be accountable to you, The Church.  If McDonald’s can bring together people of faith at the table, so can the Catholic Church feed people in peace, trust and justice! Amen!

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.

20thSunday Ordinary Time Cycle B

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Be my Broom Tree, Lord!

Ever lose heart? Ever say, “Forget it, I give up, I am not doing this anymore?”  Ever lose heart in a friendship, a project, a paper, a job, a relationship, a marriage, or a community?  Of course we have…of course we lose heart at times.  We are human beings.

Elijah loses heart.  He defeats the priests of Ba’al and Queen Jezebel wants him dead.  The great miracle worker runs into the desert in fear.  One does not just “go to the desert” for fun.  The desert is the boiling hot steamy place where wild animals exist from which a human being never returns.  That’s the place to which Elijah travels. When he arrives, he sits down under a broom tree and prays for death. “God, I give up.  ‘This is enough.’ Forget this prophet stuff. Take me.”

Notice that Elijah sits under a broom tree. There is an old Bedouin saying that says, “God planted the tree knowing that we would need shade.”  Most likely the broom tree of Elijah’s time is just like today’s acacia tree.  The trunk and the branches go straight up and spread out like the letter “T.” Elijah’s rest under the broom tree symbolizes God’s support and protection and God’s refusal to answer negativity. We all need shade when we are in distress and so does Elijah need shade.  But there is more.  Listening to Elijah’s loss of heart, God sends an angel.  “Get up and eat.”  “Get up and eat.”  Twice the angel touches Elijah to care for him so that he can make the journey to the holy mountain.

Look at someone who did not lose heart- Jesus.  How many times do we hear that when Jesus goes home his own town folk revile him?  “Where did this guy get all of this preachy-miracle-I-am-the-Bread-of-Life stuff?  We know his parents, his mother (the woman who had to get married…wink-wink) and then his carpenter father. How can he be from heaven?”  Those comments alone would make me lose heart.  Instead, Jesus avoids the bitterness.  He refuses to revile his detractors.  Who is his broom tree? It is God his Father, and his deep prayer life.

Who or what is your broom tree?  Do you have a person who shades you in times of trouble, that person who cools you off or protects you?

To illustrate, there exists a spiritual retreat program called, “Rachel’s Vineyard.”  It is a program to assist men and women to confront, pray and seek forgiveness for their abortions.  One such session includes a young couple whose marriage teeters on collapse.   They come to the retreat angry and tense.  As the program progresses they realize that their marriage is not the problem, it is the abortion that never ever discuss. The husband throws himself into his work day and night.  The wife denies her feelings of loss and abandonment since she got pregnant before her husband leaves for the military.  Since he was not around during the pregnancy, and, they had little money, she makes the decision to abort without him.  He feels lost not knowing how to support his wife or even feel like a husband.  But during the retreat something happens.  There is a role-play called the “Lazarus Exercise.”  The group invokes the name of Christ to set them free and give them life.  Then the team asks the participants to wrap that part of the body that needs to be set free. “When the team came to wrap a part of their body they had chosen, the wife decides to have her left hand wrapped. She says, ‘This is the hand that my wedding ring is on, and I want to see our marriage restored’. The husband says, ‘You have to wrap my heart . . . it is just broken. It’s been broken ever since I got the call that the abortion was over and my child was gone’.  So we wrap accordingly. After prayer, when we got around to the unwrapping, two of the team went to the wife to unwrap her hand and her husband stops them, and says, ‘No, no, please, let me do it — I think this is my place as her husband. I want a partnership to begin that we never have had. I want to be there for her, not so distant any more.’ And so, he unwraps her hand. She, in turn, unwraps his heart and asks forgiveness for her bitterness toward him. They then embrace for about 5 long minutes. To see the husband keep drawing his wife close to him after the Lazarus exercise, was such a heart blessing.”[1]

Brothers and sisters, this is “The Bread of Life Come Down from Heaven.”  This is the Eucharist in action.  This is God-Our-Broom-Tree.  In the words of St. Paul, we are the fragrant aromas in the world today.  We must keep fresh the aroma of God within us. This week may we find cover under Jesus, our Broom Tree! And may we become that same broom tree for one another.

~Fr. BecketFranks, O.S.B.

[1]http://www.rachelsvineyard.org/men/stories/testimonies.htm

Sun peeking through the tulip tree

Breathing Space- Put Away the Mad!

Once upon a time, there exists a monastery of women where the sisters can speak only every ten years.  So, in her first year, Sister Novice stands before Mother Superior and says, “Food lousy.” Ten years later she again stands before Mother Superior and says, “Bed hard.”  Finally, after twenty years, Mother Superior asks this same sister about her life and she responds, “I quit.”  “Good,” responds Mother Superior, “Since you’ve been here all you’ve done is complain.”

You know something?  We complain an awful lot.

Look at the Israelites. God saves the Israelites from slavery.  But they get lost on their way back to the Promised Land.  They have no food.  They are thirsty.  God strikes the rock and they drink.  God sends the quail and they eat.  God shows them how to make bread from a plant and they complain.  The word is “manna.”  It means, “What is this?”

We complain a lot. And we like to complain.  St. Benedict names it as “murmuring.”  It tears apart a community.  And it keeps us from going deeper with God.

Last Sunday Jesus feeds the five thousand. He multiplies the loaves and the fish.  And yet they are still hungry. And, I am quite sure there is a lot of complaining.  According to St. John, the people look for the wrong things. They yearn for more- more miracles, more signs and more wonders. What they need to search for in their lives is more meaning.  This is why we murmur…we still search for meaning in our lives.

A few years ago one of our abbey cooks tells me about her cooking for the priests at the retirement center, St. John Vianney, next to St. Mary Margaret Church, Naperville.  She used to make the same dinner for them as for the monks. “They complain a lot about the food,” she says.  I walk away from the conversation worrying that I will grow up to be a crabby old monk.

In the words of St. Paul: thisisnothowwelearnedChrist.  If Jesus is the truth, then it is time to speak the truth:  we can be crabby people.  And, no one wants to be around (let alone live with) crabby old people.  When we come to mass and receive the Eucharist, put away the mad.  When we walk out of this chapel, put away the mad.  When we say our morning and evening prayers, put away the mad. If we want the world to come to Christ, then we must let Christ come to us!

Our murmuring attitude keeps us from experiencing the full effects of the Eucharist. Jesus says to work for those things that are meaningful.  What will render all these wonderful holy things meaningful is that we put away the mad. Remember, we are working for meaningful food. In the words of Pope Benedict XVI from his encyclical, Caritatis in Veritate:[1]  “Without the perspective of eternal life, human progress in this world is denied breathing-space.”

The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.,

18thSunday in Ordinary Time

[1]“Charity in Truth,” June 29, 2009, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate_en.html

New Cross (2)