Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Eighteenth Sunday of the Year: 2016

I must leave it to the man who will come after me.  


I had hoped that somehow or other the readings for this Sunday would be relevant to my last Sunday at St. Francis. Be careful what you hope for. The readings are acutely relevant to the occasion but the fit is hardly flattering and easy.

The rich landowner in today's Gospel parable is simply concerned to make the most of the exceptional harvest for his own comfort. He is totally self-centered. 'I' and 'me' form his refrain. He does not consider anyone else, nor reflect that death, whenever it comes, will deprive him of his wealth and pass it to others.

The temptation for the priest at least is to imagine that he is the most important element in the life of a parish. The temptation for the parish is to encourage the priest in this massive illusion. This is especially so after the priest is gone. Fr. Rogers is someone for whom I have given thanks again and again but I also suspect that many things which are attributed to him he could not possibly have said or done. There is no authority like the authority of the absent. Perhaps I flatter myself that anyone would ever insist “Fr. Allen used to say” but my advice is to ignore these imperfect memories.  Better to say Fr. Allen had quite a temper. That is one thing said about Padre which is indisputably true. But you all loved him and me anyway.

The long and short of it is I have been loved despite my obvious inadequacies. This, Fr. Rogers, did teach you. “Love is like bread: You have to make it fresh everyday” read the little sign on Padre’s desk. Love, daily and no matter what.

'The Preacher' of Ecclesiastes, in the first reading, regards it as a 'great injustice' that the fruits of his own toil and strain should go to someone who has not labored for it. He is not glad that someone can inherit his riches. He certainly believes in God; but his God is incomprehensible in such a way that he dispenses pleasure and pain seemingly at random. In common with the people of his time the Preacher is unconvinced about an after-life. “I must leave it to the man who will come after me; and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?”

Another temptation for priest and parish.  For me more than a temptation. Will my legacy survive? Will some fool come along and tear it all down? But I am the fool. What I think I have done is probably at best transitory and passing. What good I do not know is what God has done. There is life after Fr. Allen as much as I and some of you may think there is not. So T.S. Eloit:

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless

St Paul in the Epistle points us to that wisdom under the baptismal images of putting off and putting on.  Primitively the catechumens changed clothes when they were baptized. , They put off the old man and put on the new. St. Paul says “put to death what is earthly in you”. This involves the obvious sorts of sins: impurity, evil desire, coveting . But it also involves putting off more familiar sins: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk. The whole idea of living out your life in a parish church is that you will be constantly experiencing these sins in yourself and others and so have endless opportunities to murder them, which is what the Greek text actually says.

And having put to death these to put on Christ.  St. Paul gives us another list to show  what this means: “holiness, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”.  “And be thankful”. Priest and people are always having to kill all which is not consistent with being raised with Christ. That is what I most thankful for in my time at St. Francis so many chances to die and be raised.

Dick Beadle was fond of saying to the children of the parish “have you finished educating your parents yet?” Certainly you all have been busy educating me these last twenty-three years, much more so than I educating you. And you will be busy in the future educating Fr. Matkin. Father has asked me to get together with him and show him the ropes, which I am happy to do. He did not mean tell him how to cense the altar; he knows that already. But  what I will tell him is that these folks are serious about living out their faith, however many times they fail to do so and they know what a priest is and they will foolishly and recklessly love you.

I must leave it to the man who comes after me.

And to all of you.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Eighteenth Sunday of the Year: 2016

I must leave it to the man who will come after me.  


I had hoped that somehow or other the readings for this Sunday would be relevant to my last Sunday at St. Francis. Be careful what you hope for. The readings are acutely relevant to the occasion but the fit is hardly flattering and easy.

The rich landowner in today's Gospel parable is simply concerned to make the most of the exceptional harvest for his own comfort. He is totally self-centered. 'I' and 'me' form his refrain. He does not consider anyone else, nor reflect that death, whenever it comes, will deprive him of his wealth and pass it to others.

The temptation for the priest at least is to imagine that he is the most important element in the life of a parish. The temptation for the parish is to encourage the priest in this massive illusion. This is especially so after the priest is gone. Fr. Rogers is someone for whom I have given thanks again and again but I also suspect that many things which are attributed to him he could not possibly have said or done. There is no authority like the authority of the absent. Perhaps I flatter myself that anyone would ever insist “Fr. Allen used to say” but my advice is to ignore these imperfect memories.  Better to say Fr. Allen had quite a temper. That is one thing said about Padre which is indisputably true. But you all loved him and me anyway.

The long and short of it is I have been loved despite my obvious inadequacies. This, Fr. Rogers, did teach you. “Love is like bread: You have to make it fresh everyday” read the little sign on Padre’s desk. Love, daily and no matter what.

'The Preacher' of Ecclesiastes, in the first reading, regards it as a 'great injustice' that the fruits of his own toil and strain should go to someone who has not labored for it. He is not glad that someone can inherit his riches. He certainly believes in God; but his God is incomprehensible in such a way that he dispenses pleasure and pain seemingly at random. In common with the people of his time the Preacher is unconvinced about an after-life. “I must leave it to the man who will come after me; and who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool?”

Another temptation for priest and parish.  For me more than a temptation. Will my legacy survive? Will some fool come along and tear it all down? But I am the fool. What I think I have done is probably at best transitory and passing. What good I do not know is what God has done. There is life after Fr. Allen as much as I and some of you may think there is not. So T.S. Eloit:

Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless

St Paul in the Epistle points us to that wisdom under the baptismal images of putting off and putting on.  Primitively the catechumens changed clothes when they were baptized. , They put off the old man and put on the new. St. Paul says “put to death what is earthly in you”. This involves the obvious sorts of sins: impurity, evil desire, coveting . But it also involves putting off more familiar sins: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk. The whole idea of living out your life in a parish church is that you will be constantly experiencing these sins in yourself and others and so have endless opportunities to murder them, which is what the Greek text actually says.

And having put to death these to put on Christ.  St. Paul gives us another list to show  what this means: “holiness, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive”.  “And be thankful”. Priest and people are always having to kill all which is not consistent with being raised with Christ. That is what I most thankful for in my time at St. Francis so many chances to die and be raised.

Dick Beadle was fond of saying to the children of the parish “have you finished educating your parents yet?” Certainly you all have been busy educating me these last twenty-three years, much more so than I educating you. And you will be busy in the future educating Fr. Matkin. Father has asked me to get together with him and show him the ropes, which I am happy to do. He did not mean tell him how to cense the altar; he knows that already. But  what I will tell him is that these folks are serious about living out their faith, however many times they fail to do so and they know what a priest is and they will foolishly and recklessly love you.

I must leave it to the man who comes after me.

And to all of you.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Sixteenth Sunday of the Year: 2016



A woman named Martha received him into her house.

It is curious that we so rarely find Jesus in a domestic setting. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.” Jesus is born not in a home, but in a makeshift stable, presented publicly in temple and finally lost and found in the streets of the big city, where he will spend most of his time.  And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.” After that, the screen goes blank until his baptism.  From that point on it is not the cozy old home place but the road to Jerusalem, to the fickle crowds, to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he sweats blood and wrestles with his agony, and finally to the Cross, the nails and death.

The story in the Gospel this Sunday is the great exception to the rule: a bit of joy in the approaching darkness: the little house in Bethany, filled with pot and pans, water on the boil, chores, obligations, love and the company of two women.  

One is always busy, ruling over things, always behind schedule, and concerned that everything will come out right.  At the same time she contributes a note of verisimilitude: the tension, the stress, the impatience, the anger, which is also inevitably a part of family and home: "Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me."

The other sits at the feet of Jesus and listens like a precocious child who cannot lose the opportunity to hear from a guest, attentive the way only a child can be at story-time.

This passage has often been interpreted as an allegory of the contemplative and active lives and of the superiority of the contemplative over the active: “one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her."

But St.  Augustine’s take on this episode is a different.  He points out that we are not to read it as a criticism of Martha’s service. If we took it in this sense, "then people ought to stop ministering to the needy; they ought to choose "the better part," which will not be taken from them; they ought to devote themselves to the Word, to be eager for the pleasant teaching; occupy themselves with the knowledge that saves; not care whether there is a stranger in town or whether someone needs bread or clothing, someone needs to be visited, or to be bought back or to be buried.

Well, then, what is the meaning of Jesus concluding remark? Augustine thought that the clue lay in the observation that Mary’s "better part" would not be taken away from her, that is, her part was better precisely because it would never be taken away. The two women stand for two lives, the life of this age and the life of the age to come. This life is full of troubles and difficulties, fears and temptations, and to meet them Martha gets to work. But in the next life there will be no need of Martha’s efforts  because there will be no hunger or thirst or nakedness or illness. But Mary’s activity of listening to the Word of Truth himself will continue in the next life, when instead of the crumbs that she and we can gather now we and she will be feasting at the full table of the Lord. "We now are where Martha was; we hope for what Mary was.

Two centuries later St. Gregory the Great said that the two lives were united in Christ who worked miracles in the city and also spent nights in prayer on the mountain. He thus provided an example, teaching us not, out of love of contemplation, to neglect the care of our neighbors, nor again so to engage in care of our neighbors that we abandon contemplative pursuits; but to keep the two together in our minds so that the love of our neighbor does not interfere with the love of God and the love of God, transcendent as it is, does not cast out the love of our neighbors.


To be sure Mary chose the better part at Christ’s feet because our listening to the Word will never be over and done with. But Martha the busy one, the one with whom likely most of us sympathize, was not so different from her sister. She came in and out, keeping the kitchen door open, and with her hands down in the flour, listened with one ear and loved.


A woman named Martha received him into her house.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A modern Latin hymn to St. Benedict by Dom Anselmo Lenti, OSB



Légifer prudens, veneránde doctor,

qui nites celsis méritis per orbem,

dénuo comple, Benedícte, mundum

  lúmine Christi.



Flóruit per te novus atque miro

géntium nexu sociátus ordo;

iúribus sacris tua vox subégit

  dúlciter omnes.



Líberos Iesu paritérque servos

régula magna statuísti alúmnos,

quos amor fotus précibus revínxit

  et labor unus.



Iamque fratérne, duce te, labórent,

mútuo certent pópuli favóre,

gáudeant pacis refovére semper

  dona beátæ.



Cláritas Patri genitæque Proli,

Flámini Sancto decus atque cultus,

grátia quorum tibi tanta laudis

  glória lucet. Amen.


 Wise law-giver, venerable doctor,
You who by your high merits shine throughout the world,
Fill the world anew
With the light of Christ.

Through you a new society of nations flourished
Knit together in  a wondrous order
Your voice sweetly subjected all to holy laws.

 Equally free and servants of Jesus
By the great rule you did direct your disciples
Whom love nourished and prayers and one work
Conquered. 

By your leading may the peoples work and strive
In brotherhood and mutual favor.
May they rejoice ever and cherish
The gifts of blessed peace.

Glory to the Father of the begotten Son,
To the Holy Spirit  honor and worship,
By whose glorious grace shines forth such
Praise to you. Amen.