mutual obedience and glorified wounds
I was at Incarnation Monastery in Berkeley on Mercy Sunday to celebrate the beginning of Br. Bede’s term as local prior there. This was my homily for that occasion.
There are two themes that jump out at me from today’s readings, both of which seem apropos to the celebration today of the beginning of this new era and new leadership here at Incarnation. The first is drawn from the reading from the Acts of the Apostles that starts out with that delicious phrase, The community of believers were of one heart and mind. That is the best description of a community as I can imagine.
I often use the image of the energy and the vessel. Romuald and the Camaldolese charism and tradition are the energy for our spiritual life, our monastic life. It tends to be a little on the solitary side, especially at New Camaldoli since it is a hermitage. But I have found the Camaldolese in general tend to be very focused on their individual spiritual journeys, tend to be singular warriors. I think this is what many of our oblates are attracted to, especially those who find themselves rather singular and solitary in the their spiritual lives in the world. That being said, it is the Rule of Benedict and the Benedictine tradition that provides us with a vessel for the energy. It holds it, protects it and keeps it from flying apart. Of course that also means that it is community life itself, those who we live with and share life with, and who keep us together and supported, our ecclesia, our koinonia, our cenobium. But it’s not just rules about the communal life that the RB gives us: it’s the spirit of the communal life, probably most eloquently chapters 71 and 72. Don Benedetto Calati taught that we should start with those two chapters and go backwards.
Saint Benedict makes such a big point throughout the Rule about humility and obedience, as if they go together and together form the basis for all monastic life, the cardinal virtues of the monk. But obedience isn’t just obedience to the abbot or to the Rule: Benedict names chapter 71 Ut oboedientes sibi sunt invicem––“That they may obey one another”! He says that, “Obedience is a blessing to be shown by all, not only to the abbot but also to one another as brothers.” And then, in the next chapter, he quotes Romans 12:10, They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, adding “supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what they judge best for themself, but instead what they judge better for someone else.” That’s real humility, and it’s tied to obedience, it’s tied to service, it’s tied to charity. I always say that this is why our own Saint Romuald puts his hermits under the Rule, to ensure that even solitude is based on obedience and humility, and so, ultimately, to lead to charity. This is the hallmark of a Christian monastic community––that we are each servants to the other. Before we remember Easter we have to remember Jesus at the Last Supper, washing his disciples’ feet. Humility and obedience mean that I care about you over me. Both Fr. Thomas, before I was elected prior, and Don Alessandro, immediately after, emphasized to me that being prior also was an obedience, first of all to be accepted, and secondly, as Alessandro said at my installation, “Now you must obey your brothers!” That turned the tables!
What this has to do with the reading from Acts: Benedict quotes this, the 4th chapter from Acts, three times in the chapters on material goods, 33 and 34 on private ownership and distribution of goods, and then again in chapter 55 on the distribution of goods––each according to their need. We have to keep in mind that these early monastic founders were building what they thought was an apostolic community, in response to the Gospel, in response to Easter. The first abbots of Cluny saw their monastic enterprise as a new Pentecost. And so this is an image that we must always keep in mind,
Secondly, one of the most touching things about Andrew’s ministry as prior and beyond was always and still is, as Fr. Robert says, his “warm humanity.” I think this too is a characteristic learned from Don Benedetto, and a spirit that has always pervaded Incarnation Monastery, as evidenced by the devoted friends who gather here for spiritual nourishment. And that is particularly what we celebrate on this Sunday, with the appearance of the Risen Jesus to Thomas. In this reading from the Gospel of John (20:19-31), we are learning several things about the glorified body of the Risen Lord. This is not just a resuscitated body like Lazarus’ was, but neither is it a ghost or some kind of disembodied spirit. It can walk through walls and yet it can eat fish. The disciples on the road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke didn’t even recognize him, as the apostles at first didn’t either at the breakfast on the shore. And Thomas asks just the right question. He wants to see the wounds. This is the proof that this really is the body of Jesus. This is also a remarkable feature in the story: the glorified body of Jesus still has his wounds! We have a doxology that we say at the end of one of our canticles for Vigils during Eastertide: “Your glory shines forth from wounds you still bear.”
Jesus’ humanity is glorified in the resurrection. Therefore humanity itself is glorified; therefore our humanity has been glorified with the resurrection of Jesus. This is the odd thing about Christianity, as Paul says: we boast of our weaknesses; we boast of our wounds. We wear our wounds on the outside, because we believe that it is out of them God’s glory shines. You know the Leonard Cohen song “Anthem,” in which he says, “There’s a crack in everything / that how the light gets in.” We say, that’s how the light shines out. Our glory shines forth from our wounds too, because the cross and grave have ended in resurrection hope.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are they who have not seen and yet still believe.’ He was talking about his resurrected glorified body. We are not going to get to see that; we are not going to get to do exactly as Thomas did. But if we ask Jesus if we can see his wounds, he will show them to us. First of all Jesus will show his wounds to us in ourselves, every time we look in the mirror, because what was not assumed by Christ was not healed. In other words, Jesus lived and therefore redeemed the human condition. Jesus felt every ache that a human being can feel especially the terror of death hanging on a cross crying, ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’ So we can cherish our own wounds because it is out of these that our own glory will shine. And Jesus will also show his wounds to us in each other, in our sisters and brothers, because he said, ‘Anything you do to the least of these you’ll do for me.’ Ronald Rolheiser asked why we are “so enthralled by a person like Padre Pio who carried the wounds of Jesus in his hands and his feet, and yet remain blind to the wounds of Christ in the face of the . . . person [next to us that] we try so much to avoid?” This brings us back to monastic community and to community in general, as St. Benedict says, “supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behavior,” supporting each other’s wounds. So the wounds of our brothers and sisters are the wounds of Christ. And finally we see the wounds of Christ in the Eucharist, that sort of brings all three together: because it’s not just a meal, it’s a sacrificial meal; it’s not just bread and wine, it becomes body and blood; and not just body and blood but broken body and spilled blood! And not just broken body and spilled blood but the resurrected, glorified body of the Risen Lord whose glory shines forth from the wounds he still bears. And we, we are waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will also transform our lowly bodies into glorious copies of his own and our glory will shine forth from our wounds too, through him, with him and in him!
cyprian, 8 april 18, mercy sunday