Friday, April 22, 2022

Finding One's Truest Identity in the Crucified-Risen Savior


Looking intently at the brokenness in myself and in my neighbor and finding my truest identity in the Crucified-Risen Savior
An Easter Reflection
Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB

An important theme in Acts 3:1-10 is “looking intently.” Peter and John looked intently at the man lame from birth and the lame man looked intently at them. After the miraculous cure the crowd looked intently at Peter and John. The man born lame looked intently at Peter and John with the expectation of receiving money, but Peter said to him, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk.” Peter looked intently at him, recognizing his identity. I feel certain that Peter performed the miraculous healing of the man lame from birth, not primarily as a demonstration of the power of the Spirit of Christ working through him, but as a recognition of a shared identity. I believe that Peter’s words and the miraculous healing flowed from Peter’s identifying in faith with the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord, whose identity is revealed most intimately in that suffering man lame from birth; in the same way that Jesus’ healings, when he was on earth, flowed from his own intimate identification with the suffering person with himself. It is to Jesus also that Peter later directs the attention of the crowd in Solomon’s Portico. The crowd looked intently at Peter and John with the amazement of having seen power go forth from them. But Peter redirects their attention away from himself and John to the one who is the source of the healing spirit: the Crucified-Risen Lord, Jesus Christ, saying, “. . .why do you look so intently at us as if we had made him walk by our own power or piety?” It is to Jesus as the Crucified-Risen Lord and source of the Spirit of healing that Peter draws the attention of the crowd, and thereby draws their attention to the identity that is theirs in the Crucified-Risen Lord through faith. We hear about the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord in the Book of Revelation which says, “Then I saw standing in the midst of the throne . . . a Lamb that seemed to have been slain.” In his glorified state, the wounds of crucifixion shine forth to proclaim his identity. When the Risen Lord appeared to his Apostles, his identity was confirmed by the presence of the wounds of crucifixion: “. . . he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced . . .” And to Thomas: “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” It was precisely his wounds which identified the risen Lord as their Lord of mercy and God of love. When Peter offered the healing Spirit of Christ to the man lame from birth, he was offering to that man, not what was his own, but what he already shared in common with that man: their mutual identity in the Crucified-Risen Lord. The healing, as miraculous as it was, was not the essence of what was taking place at that moment. The true miracle that was taking place at that moment is the miracle of redemptive suffering endowed with resurrection life. It is the manifestation of the Passion of the Crucified-Risen One as strong as death, and the longing of the love of a Creator-Redeemer as fierce as Sheol. “Its arrows are arrows of fire, flames of the divine. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor rivers sweep it away.” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7) The Passion and Death of Christ manifests a love stronger than death, and bestows resurrectional life, even in the here and now. Faith in Jesus is not just a consent to a belief in the power of Jesus to save. Faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah and Son of God is not just a belief system, but is a sharing in a Passion as strong as death and a Spirit of Love as unquenchable as Sheol, because such a faith is a sharing in the very identity and life of the Crucified-Risen Savior. So it is that our faith should never be reduced to just a belief system, but should become ever increasingly a most intimate and personal identity: a most intimate and personal identification with the Crucified-Risen Lord, not only in our moments of heartfelt joy, but especially through our earthly sufferings which fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Colossians 1:24) Faith is a shared identity, shared in the Body of Christ. Faith recognizes this identity even in brokenness. Faith recognizes the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord in our broken/wounded neighbor and in our own personal brokenness. And as we hear in the Gospel reading (Luke 24:13-35), faith recognizes the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord also in the broken/opened Scriptures, and in the broken/Eucharistic bread. Just as faith allowed Peter to encounter Christ through the broken/suffering man lame from birth, so faith inflamed the hearts of the disciples as Jesus broke open the Scriptures to them on the way, and faith recognized the identity of the Crucified-Risen Lord in the breaking of the bread.

This is the way we encounter the Crucified-Risen Jesus in our daily lives: in our broken/wounded neighbor, in the broken/opened Scriptures, and in the broken/Eucharistic bread. If I am truly living a life of mercy and charity, I touch the wounds of the Crucified-Risen Lord with the finger of self-sacrificial love toward those who are most in need. If I am truly living a life of mercy and charity, I am penetrating the wound in the side of Christ with my hand of loving service to the poor. If I am truly living a life of mercy and charity, I am living a resurrectional life in the here and now, because I am living, in the here and now, the life of the Crucified-Risen Lord. If we are truly living a life of mercy and charity, we are living a resurrectional life, and, living a resurrectional life, we will not die. We will not die in the sense that the life we live in Christ now, continues beyond death. “Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” When we live as Jesus calls us, there is a continuity between this life and the next, because the next life is, in fact, present in us in the here and now, with the loving presence of Christ present in us by his Spirit dwelling in us - our heart dwelling in heaven even as our mind and body remain in the world; and we continually encounter the Crucified-Risen Lord in the brokenness of this world: in our own broken/wounded self and in our broken/suffering brothers and sisters, in the breaking open of the Scriptures, and in the breaking of the bread. 

A Personal Note: I have previously recounted the episode at the 1964-65 World's Fair in Flushing, NY, when I was with my family at the Vatican Exhibit. I was seven year’s old at the time. As I was standing before Michelangelo’s Pietà, feeling very sick. I was looking so intently at that statue for a long time. I was so mesmerized. I was too young to interpret the sense of what I was experiencing at that moment. But, reflecting on the healing that took place, and what my father said to me afterward, “You are Pietà,” and, hearing my father, for the rest of his life, calling me by the name, Pietà, rather than the name, Peter, given to me at birth, has served to confirm that it was in that moment that I was gazing for the first time at that which was my truest and deepest identity in the Crucified-Risen Christ: Pietà. At that moment, I came to know my most intimate identity in the Crucified-Risen Jesus, embraced by my most loving and compassionate Mother, Mary. My deepest identity in the Crucified-Risen Lord is to be Pietà: to be able to look intently at my own brokenness and at my broken/suffering brothers and sisters and
 encounter the Crucified-Risen Jesus, and to be moved by the compassion which is stronger than death that flows from the Crucified-Risen Lord, and, wounded by the arrows of loving concern for my brothers and sisters in need, dedicate myself daily to loving service of those around me.

So, as we journey along with the Lord Jesus and relive His post-resurrection encounters with his disciples, may we be touched by the love that is stronger than death which flows from Him, let it’s arrows wound us with loving concern for our brothers and sisters in need, and may the undying flames of divine love be so kindled in us that we dedicate ourselves untiringly to loving service of those around us. Amen

Spreading the Infection of the Joy of the Gospel


Contagious Laughter, Infectious Joy, Resurrection Life
An Easter Reflection
Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB

The last three days we have been re-telling, re-enacting, and re-living the Gospel mysteries of the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. But, if we are truly living a Christian life, every day of our life will be an “Easter Triduum” in which we re-tell, re-enact, and re-live the events of these Gospel mysteries through the daily events of our life, especially those events which bring the most challenges and stresses our way. Let me share a couple of personal examples. In 2020, I had to deal with an acute episode related to the congenital condition called Tarsal Coalition in my feet, as well as a bout with Lyme disease. At that time, my meditations tended to focus on the solitude of suffering. I recognized that, even though others can be with me when I am suffering, as the wonderful monks here are, they cannot do my suffering for me. I have to do my suffering. But I also came to the insight that suffering is solitude because it is the occasion of a most profound encounter with God, a loving Father, who makes his deepest encounter with me in the passion of Jesus. But this most profound encounter can only occur in solitude – in the solitude of my suffering. It is in the context of suffering that, stripped of the distraction of the worldly pleasures of the senses of the flesh, my spiritual senses can then be freed to perceive and contemplate the Father’s eternal embrace of divine mercy. But recently, as I was suffering with COVID-19, a different kind of encounter with the loving Father emerged: the encounter with God as a laughing Father whose laughter and joy are contagious. Laughter became a theme in my recent suffering. I know that sounds strange. Contrary to what happened in 2020, when I would frequently awaken from sleep with a startle response from something scary happening in my dream, during the last four weeks, I have frequently awakened from sleep laughing because something funny happened in my dream. I think that the recent experience of having a fever and developing bronchitis brought me back to my childhood. I think that this is a good thing. When I was a child, I was prone to get high fevers, and would sometimes develop bronchitis. My mother would be fearful because of her experience of me having high fevers when I was an infant and my going into convulsions. My mother would make me stay in bed and I would feel very bad because I would think about my brothers playing and enjoying themselves and I couldn’t be with them. When my father would come home from work he would come to my room to visit me. When he would see that I was feeling sad he would sit on the bed near me and tell a joke or a funny story to try to cheer me up. If the joke or story didn’t help to cheer me up, he would just start laughing, and I couldn’t help but start laughing too. His laughter was contagious. His joy was contagious. The same thing would happen with guests. My father loved to entertain guests and loved to tell stories, and would often tell a joke or funny story. If nobody started laughing at a joke or a story that he himself thought was funny, he would just start laughing, and then everyone else would start laughing. His laughter was contagious. You couldn’t help laughing with him. But most importantly, his joyfulness was contagious. I have always felt that when it comes to joy, I hope that I am infected and become contagious. I won’t mask up for that! While it is true that God the loving Father makes his deepest encounter with me in the passion and suffering of Jesus experienced in my own suffering, that same loving Father channels resurrection life and resurrection joy through the same human passion of Jesus; and I would say that the laughter of my loving earthly father was and is now an echo of the resurrection life and joy that the heavenly Father communicates to me through the human passion of his Son. I do not experience resurrection life directly in this life, but the joy of resurrection life constantly resonates in and through me by means of my daily spiritual encounter with the crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ who constantly conveys to me the joy of the Gospel. Laughter is an echo of that joy.

Spreading the contagion of the Joy of the Gospel

Evangelii Gaudium, the Joy of the Gospel - the papal exhortation by Pope Francis - has increasingly become the central theme of my vocation. Joy is an infection I want to get. I want to be contagious. I want to be contagious and spread the infection: I want to spread the joy of the Gospel. That is my vocation. That is the kind of contagion that we should, as a community, both individually and collectively, be spreading. We need to go forth unmasked: shedding the mask of grievances, grudges, and bitterness; shedding the mask of self-righteous rationality, and judgmentalism; and let the breath of joy of loving encounter with Jesus flow forth. We are now very conscious about spreading contagions. We mask up a lot, as a result. The contagion that we should not mask up for, and should spread unhesitatingly, is the contagion of joy - the joy of the Gospel. As Pope Francis exhorts us: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day . . . The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew . . . I wish to encourage [all] the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy.” And let this joy be infectious. When I think about what gifts I have to use in the loving service of other people - intellectual ability in math and science, ability to help special needs students, ability to listen and establish a therapeutic relationship with a client so as to be an effective counselor, capacity for work in general - I consider none of these as important as the capacity for joy and laughter. This is the gift that I hope that I can use in loving service for others. This is the gift that I pray that this community continues to foster: the gift of joy - the joy of the Gospel, the joy of resurrection life - that we can spread infectiously. This is the contagion that I pray that this community be infected with and spread to all those served by this community.

Let us all become infected today with that contagion and not masked by fear, self-pity, selfish interest, petty grievances, or anger, let us spread the infection of resurrection joy to all around us.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Transforming Power of the Cross


Transforming a lifestyle into a lovestyle by the transforming power of the cross of Christ

A Lenten Reflection for the 3rd Sunday of Lent
By Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB

Introducing the Penitential Rite

I searched the internet for a good Lenten diet. I found the perfect Lenten diet: It's a five-course meal: (1) Eat your words, (2) Swallow your pride, (3) Digest God’s Holy Word, and, (4) For dessert, indulge your appetite for prayer and meditation. (5) This Lenten meal is always begun with the holy appetizer of repentance of heart. What a menu for Lent! This daily meal is only be completed worthily by engaging in loving service. Let us begin our five-course Lenten meal today with the holy appetizer of repentance of heart, ruminating on our sins and confessing them to the Lord.

Manifestations or interruptions?

One of the world’s most popular comic strips is Hagar the Horrible. In one strip we find Hagar kneeling in prayer. “It’s not easy to believe in you, God. We never see you. How come you never show yourself? How do we know you even exist. . .” Then in the next few frames we see a flower springing into life beside Hagar, a volcano erupting in the distance, an eclipse of the sun turning the sky black, a star shooting across the stratosphere; a tidal wave rushing over Hagar, lightning flashing, a bush burning and not being consumed, and finally, a stone rolling away from the entrance to a tomb. In the last frame Hagar is pulling himself from the mud, dripping wet, surrounded by darkness, saying. “OK, OK. I give up! Every time I bring up this subject, all we get is interruptions.” Perhaps this is why we, too, miss opportunities for encounter with the Lord. The things that we often consider as interruptions of our encounter with Christ are actually the very occasions of encounter. By considering them interruptions, we miss the encounter. One of the images in that cartoon was the image of a bush burning without being consumed: a reference to the burning bush from which the Lord communicated with Moses. It made me realize that God is frequently, throughout every day, making his presence felt, giving me opportunities of encounter with him, communicating with me from a burning bush: the bush of every fellow human being that I come in contact with. Each human being is a burning bush, burning with the flame of the image and likeness of God in them, burning but not consuming. It made me realize that I am standing on holy ground whenever I encounter a fellow human being, especially when I encounter a fellow human being in need. That person is a burning bush through which God is communicating his love to me and commissioning me to convey that love to others, to deliver others from their consuming sufferings. So many people, though the flame of the Spirit of love burns within them without consuming, yet they are being consumed by the combustive energy of sin. I am called to help to deliver God’s people from this enslaving and consuming force. Through the burning bush of my neighbor, God is challenging me to lead his people through the red sea of suffering into a land of the milk and honey of grace and charity.

The last time I talked to a Bush

President George Bush was speaking at a rally. As he was speaking he saw someone in the crowd who looked just like Moses. When the rally was over, he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to meet such a well-known biblical celebrity. So he quickly made his way over to the man and said, “Are you Moses?" He didn’t say anything and just walked away. Bush then told his security agents to go over to interrogate the man. His lead security agent went over to the man and said, "With the beard, the cloak, the staff, the wrinkled skin... you look exactly like Moses." Moses replied, "That is because I am Moses." Confused, the security agent asked, "Why didn't you just tell the President that then? What harm could it have caused?" “Well,” replied Moses, "The last time I talked to a Bush, I was stranded in a desert for 40 years." God asked Moses to lead his people into the wilderness where they sojourned for 40 years because it was in the desert where the Lord was able to transform the Israelites lifestyle - the lifestyle that they learned during their 400 years in Egypt - from a lifestyle into a lovestyle. That is what the 40 years in the wilderness was about - a transformation of a lifestyle into a lovestyle. The Lord said to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering.” This is a message of love - the love of a Father for his children - the love that feels the suffering of the beloved. Yet his beloved children were not responding to that love. Their lifestyle prevented them from responding to love with love. He needed to transform their lifestyle into a lovestyle. That is the purpose of our 40 days of Lent, commissioned by God from the burning bush of our humanity, to allow the Lord to transform our lifestyle into a lovestyle.

A Lifestyle is what you pay for. A life is what pays you.

Recently, I got the following fortune in a fortune cookie: “A lifestyle is what you pay for; a life is what pays you.” It got me thinking about the difference between lifestyle and life. A lifestyle is the sum total of all of the work, recreational, social and religious activities that one engages in daily. It includes the use of many things that are paid for to acquire or to engage in, including education and training, transportation, all kinds of devices, utilities, rent and mortgage payments for facilities, etc. But life is not paid for. Life is a gift. This makes me think of an episode with my students. One day two of my students were having an argument. After yelling at each other for a while, one of them said to the other, “Get a life!” The other responded, “Can you get me a gift card for that.” “I don’t know,” said the first, “is it expensive?” A lifestyle can be expensive, but when we live life according to the highest level of our calling as human beings, we will not be paying: life will be paying us from the hidden store deep within us - the store which flows from the image and likeness of God in us; the store of the Spirit of love that dwells in us. This flow of love - this gratuitous divine-life-payment - may, in fact, result expenditure of economic and human resources on our part, but the expenditure will be more directed to community building and support of the life the community to which I belong, and less directed to self-building and support of my own life primarily. Our lifestyle is transformed into a love-style. What we will be expending will be expended more from self-sacrifice in the service of love, rather than in the service of self-advancement and self-interest. That is what Lent, and the perpetually Lenten life of the Christian, is all about: through prayer, abstinence, and self-sacrificial service, constant decreasing of my investment in lifestyle, while constantly increasing my investment in life - that is, the constant increasing of my freedom from the self-centered demands of lifestyle in order for God to be ever increasingly able to invest true life - that is, divine life - in me, and, through me, to invest his divine life - his divine love - in the world. Lent is about God paying us - making a personal investment in us - and the Lenten exercises clear our accounts payable of worldly expenses and make our accounts receivable ever more to his divine payments of grace and of love. And this all happens by the transforming power of the Cross of Christ encountered in and through the burning bush of my fellow suffering human beings.

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Look Towards the Manger and Be Radiant With Joy


Look Towards Him And Be Radiant With Joy

Poetic Reflection based on Colossians 1:15-20 and Psalm 34:6
By Maximilian P. Buonocore, OSB

Through the eyes of faith, I look at the child in the manger and I see, the one who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Through the eyes of hope, I gaze at the infant in swaddling clothes, and I behold, the one in whom were created all things in heaven and on earth. 
Through the eyes of love, I look upon the babe that the Blessed Mother holds at her breast, and I see, the one who is before all things, and in whom all things hold together. By the light of faith, I see in that newborn, the one who is the head of the body, the church. By the power of hope, I behold in that little one lying in a manger, the one who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. And by the power of love, I come and bow down at that manger altar, and I worship that infant, in whom all the fullness of deity is pleased to dwell, and through whom the Father is to reconcile all things for himself, making peace by the blood of his cross.

For the child born today is the bearer of joy.
He is born from eternal love, this little boy.
Look towards him, and be radiant with joy.
Look into his eyes and see the light
The light of a Father’s gaze so bright
Who looks down to earth from heav’nly height.

Infinite and eternal is his gaze of love.
The generating light that begets a Son above
Who in turn generates with the Spirit a Dove
Generates us children as thanksgiving gifts
To the Father in heav’n whose wisdom lifts
Each one of us heav’nward upon the Swifts.
This infant in the manger a heav’n descent
In bodily form a divine advent
To regenerate man by God’s assent.
For the child born today is the bearer of joy.
He is born from eternal love, this little boy.
Look upon him, and be radiant with joy.

I followed the star to that manger bed
By the guiding light of wisdom led
I fall prostrate before like one who’s dead.
How could this be: A birth? A death?
A dying that yields the Spirit’s breath:
Death gives life, a child divine breath?
In an infant I found a love so great
Love surpassing life in this earthly state
Yes, dead am I before love so great.
I carry this death within my soul
A death, a longing with an endless goal
Unfathomably drawn to a celestial pole.
For the child in that manger is the bearer of joy.
He is born from eternal love, this little boy.
Look towards him, and be radiant with joy.

A royal son, anointed by chrism of myst’ry
An heir of humanity, a birth of divinity
Reborn in this birth, I find a vict’ry.
Look into the eyes of this babe agaze
Look into the eyes of heav’n ablaze
Look into the eyes of endless days.
A child is born the Angels sing
Glory in the highest with outstretched wing
Glad tidings to humankind they bring.
For the child in that manger is the bearer of joy.
He is born from eternal love, this little boy.
Look towards him, and be radiant with joy.

All for Jesus,
Fr. Max

The Manger of My Heart


Jesus Desires to be Born in the Lowly Stable of a Humble Soul
Christmas Reflection by Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB

It was the night of the Christmas Nativity play. Johnny went to the auditions a few weeks earlier feeling very confident that he would get cast for the part of Joseph. He felt that he was best qualified for that major part. He was therefore very upset when he was, instead, cast for the minor part of the innkeeper. He was still feeling annoyed when the play started, and, as a result, when the time came, he didn’t remember his one line. When Joseph and Mary arrived at the inn and asked him, “Is there room in the inn?” Little Johnny, the innkeeper, quickly replied, “Sure, come on in!” The boy playing Joseph, knowing that he and Mary were not supposed to stay in the inn, but were supposed to end up in the stable, thinking quickly, looked around and said, "Nah. This place is a dump. I'd rather stay in the stable." Then turning to Mary he said, “Come on, Mary, let’s go to the stable.” Our soul can be like the inn where Jesus prefers not to stay. Jesus prefers not to stay in the inn adorned with vainglorious decorations of selfish ambition, and the comfortable bed of self-serving contentment; with a bar where one can consume the spirits of jealousy, envy and anger, then go to one’s room of isolating grudges to rest on one’s pillow of self-satisfying judgment and self-justification. Jesus prefers to stay in a soul that is a humble stable, in the manger of a pure heart.

Poem by Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB

Behold, a star with heav’nly light
Shines forth from deep within me.
It beckons me to Bethlehem
The House of God within my soul;
To the Place of Incarnation
To the Place of Divine Begetting Love,
The Place of Creative Love, of Charity.

It’s light, now faint, now bright:
The goal of this alluring light,
The path to where it beckons,
Mountains and hills confront, oppose,
Rough streets and winding roads
Countervailing valleys to traverse.
Mountains of pride, hills of greed,
Valleys of sadness and of grief,
Anxiety winds the roads
Made rough by anger and offense.

But I travel defiantly on that opposing path
Eyes fixed in contemplation of alluring light,
The paternal light of Divine Remembrance,
Drawing me with Divine Compassion
An Infant to embrace: a King.
Alas, with lively prayer, I come!
Before the throne of a King I stand
With gold of humble self-sacrifice,
With the frankincense of praise,
Offering myrrh of deep compassion
Before a Newborn King’s throne:
The manger of my heart.

Even those interior mountains and hills,
Once opposing, dance with joy!
Valleys of mourning and sadness shout
Their rejoicing at the sight,
Exulting in the presence,
In the Bethlehem, in the stable of my soul
The place where Incarnational Light
Conceives, gives birth, and rests a child,
A King, in the manger of my heart.

Come, O my dear Father, place
In the humble stable of my soul
The dearest infant Jesus
In the manger of my heart.
My Father looks forth from heaven
'Tis a wondrous sight to see,
He gazes upon his work of art
In the humble stable of my soul:
The place where baby Jesus rests,
The manger of my heart.

Come, O Holy Spirit, plant
The seed of life within my soul;
Come, O Holy Spirit, plant
The seed of love within my heart.
A flame descends from heaven
'Tis a wondrous vision to behold,
A seed of fire: a spark
In the humble seedground of my soul,
And a Mystical Child is conceived
In the womb of my heart:
The Child of Life, the Child of Love,
Infant wisdom: faith,
Filial reverence and expectation: hope,
Charity: the olive branch of divine love!

Yes, dear infant Jesus, rest
In the manger of my heart.
My soul is not a palace, blest
With gold and precious art.
It is a humble stable where
The beasts of burden dwell;
The beasts that bear the yoke so dear
Of meekness and humility, and till
The soil of the spirit for
The seeds of holiness to plant
On fertile ground so rich in grace
For Jesus’ love to grow, and grant
Fruit of kindness and of charity
To all the poor and needy, who
Are naked and cold, hungry and thirsty
Like you, O infant Jesus, too.
So feed ye beasts of burden
From the manger of my heart,
'Tis filled with grain of life, and in
Its depths the living waters start
To flow to life eternal;
For there lies the Child of Life
In the manger of my heart.

A star shines forth from heaven
'Tis a wondrous sight to see.
It shines upon this work of art.
The place where baby Jesus rests
In the humble stable of my soul:
The manger of my heart!

All for Jesus,
Fr. Max

Being Members of a Royal Family


We Are Members of the Extended Family of Christ
Reflection by Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB

On this day when we commemorate the Holy Family of Christ, I think a lot about family life. I think of the monastic community as a family. It does function like a family - not always like a holy family - but always like a family. Let me give you an example of family life in the monastery at Newark Abbey. Decorating the church columns requires that I get on a high ladder. When I do that job, I like to have someone to assist me to do, among other things, hold the ladder so that it doesn’t slip and I do not lose my balance and fall as I am trying to secure the swags and bows. I was asking to see if anyone was available to assist me. Everyone had something to do, and making their apologies, told me that they were not available. Well, I wasn’t going to settle for no. So I said, for others to hear,” That’s OK, I’ll just work on that high ladder by myself. I’m not worried. If I fall, I am ready to meet the Lord.” Fr. Ed quickly said, “No! Don’t do that. That would ruin my weekend.” Then Br. Bruno spoke up, “I will come to help you. Heaven forbid you should ruin anyone’s weekend.” Well, I got the help I needed and I didn’t ruin anyone’s weekend. That is family life: your confreres are always ready to help you in time of need; and, if they're not, it is easy to persuade them to help you. It is about fraternal charity, even if it is imperfect charity.

I remember there was a period when a certain confrere would say, referring to our monastic community, “This is not a family. This is hard work.” I explained to him that he was half right. It is indeed hard work when it comes to loving one another. But the idea that we are a family is not only not excluded by the fact of the hard work, but being a family is fostered by the hard work. Our monastic community is indeed a family. That is why it is hard work. You’ve heard the old adage: a family that prays together stays together. Well, I would assert that the better adage would be: a family that prays and works together stays together. Ora et labora is in the DNA of a family in Christ, because the DNA of a family in Christ is love. Ora et lobora - prayer and service - is the double helix of coding for divine life.

Christ has two immediate families that he belongs to: his divine immediate family which is the Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – and his human immediate family – Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. But he also has a vast extended family. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, brought to fruition in the Incarnation of the Son of God, the Lord’s extended family is engendered, and continues to grow. His human extended family is the Body of Christ. As members of the Body of Christ, as People of God and children of the Heavenly Father, we are members of Christ’s Holy Family – his extended holy family. Yes, we are members of the Holy Family: “My mother and my brothers and my sisters are those who hear the word of God and do it.” That is how we should see ourselves, whether with regard to our family of origin or our monastic family - these families, to which we belong, are an extension of the Holy Family of Christ. It is not just a question of following the example of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but of allowing the reality of our kinship with them to govern our attitudes and behaviors as we interact with our sisters or brothers in Christ in our monastic or home family. The blood of kinship in us is the Spirit of Christ which is transmitted through his very blood that was shed on the Cross and which we receive daily at the Holy Eucharist.

Being a true member of the extended Holy Family of Christ means being able to respond to the Lord’s presence in my brothers and sisters with the self-sacrificial passion of love. Just like Mary, whose heart was pierced by the sword of immolating self-sacrificial love, and Joseph, who, after hearing the voice of the angel tell him about the divine origin of the child in Mary’s womb, took Mary under his roof, so I too must, hearing the voice of the Spirit, deep within me, telling me of the divine origin of that person who has hurt me, or annoys me, or challenges my patience - being, as she or he is, created in the image and likeness of God - fear not to take that sister or brother into the shelter of my heart, under the roof of compassion. I have to listen to the voice of the spirit of Christ in me, the voice of the angel of the Lord, saying to my heart that that person who has hurt me is a child of God. That person has within him or her Christ, who comes to me as a challenge to my growth in patience and charity. This is how I live as a true member of the Holy Family of Christ : always ready to meet the Lord when he comes to me in my brothers and sisters; ready to meet him when he comes to me through them with consolation and enjoyment, but also when he comes to me through them with challenges that may make me fume and challenge my growth in patience and charity. It is then that I, like Joseph did, take the mother of the Lord under the roof of my heart for her to bear Jesus in my soul as mercy and compassion for that child of God who is most challenging to me.

We should meditate upon this very carefully. A break in the bond of friendship between two members of the community constitutes a rupture in the Holy Family of Christ here on earth. Every division, every fracture, that happens in relationships, whether in the monastic community or in a home community of family of origin - whether it be because of anger, or envy, or jealousy, or unwillingness to forgive a hurt - constitutes a division or fracture in the extended Holy Family of Christ. We are called to live as true members of the household of Christ, with the very blood of Christ pulsing from the heart and coursing through our spiritual veins; with the very Spirit of Christ - the breath of love - breathing divine life through the spiritual lungs of our soul, making us sons and daughters of God in a divine family, living by the life-force of faith, hope and love. This is how we are called to live: Like Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as members of the Holy Family of the Lord: A family of kings and priests - a royal Holy Family.

All for Jesus,
Fr. Max

Following the Star of Faith


Faith is taking a stab in the dark
Reflection by Fr. Maximilian Buonocore, OSB

"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he treads on, he must close his eyes and walk in the dark." (St. John of the Cross) Faith, I believe, is the ability to navigate through the darkness of mystery. As St. John of the Cross makes clear in his mystical works, the light of God is dark to our soul in its present state in our earthly life. His light is always there ready to prompt our hearts in the right direction on the spiritual journey to God, but we do not - at least not most of the time - experience divine light in the same way that we experience created light, that is, as an energy that stimulates the clear vision, not only of the path that we must follow to arrive at the object that we are pursuing, but also of the object itself that we are pursuing. This is not how the divine light in us works. The stimulus action occurs at a deeper place within us and its action is most of the time imperceptible and mysterious. I would like to offer an example of how this manifests itself. I have a student who has declared that he does not believe in God. One day, however, I got word that a young man, whom I was preparing, along with his fiance, for marriage, which was planned to take place in about 9 months, was in the hospital in critical condition because of COVID-19. I asked my students to pray for him. The student who doesn’t believe in God spoke up and said, “Fr. Max, I don’t believe in God, but I will pray for your friend just in case.” This sounds rather ironic. But I would say that this is actually a sign of divine light working mysteriously within that boy. He was willing to take a stab in the dark. I think that the first movements of faith are usually like taking a stab in the dark, like navigating through darkness, through the dark and often stormy seas of adversity and hardship toward the unknown. Although we cannot perceive it, the divine presence, the divine light, is always there with its mysterious impulse goading us toward the good, toward himself. It is like the star which, from afar, beckons, allures the Magi to venture through the unknown - to journey through darkness and rough ways toward a place unknown, in search of an unknown king. It is the distant light that helps us to navigate through spiritual darkness.

But navigating through spiritual darkness does not mean that we are free to ignore or disengage with the world around us. No, in fact, the very action of navigating the spiritual darkness will heighten our sensitivity to what is going on around us, especially our awareness of the needs of those around us who are suffering and in want. As a little example: Because of my OCD I can get very worked up when the students drop scraps of paper or other items on the floor. One day as I was walking toward the back of the class to help a student, I noticed scraps of paper and some food crumbs that had been dropped by students on the floor. I stopped and, with a tone of annoyance, said, “It really annoys me when I look and see all these scraps of paper food crumbs, and other items strewn about on the floor.” One of the students spoke up and said, “Fr. Max, just don’t look at it and then you won’t get annoyed.” What he said actually characterizes a defensive position that I am strongly tempted to take with regard to problems, issues and sinfulness in and around me. I am strongly tempted to just ignore them. But if I am being truly prayerful and truly spiritual, I will not only not be ignoring them, but my awareness of them will be even more heightened. The difference is that, if I am experienced at navigating the darkness of mystery spiritually, I will be able to engage more effectively, with more positive effect, responding with patience and compassion, as I navigate through the darkness of ignorance and sin in the challenging situations of daily life.

All for Jesus,
Fr. Max