Dec. 19: O Root of Jesse
"O Root of Jesse, You stand for an ensign of mankind; before You
kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse.
Come and save us and do not delay."
Isaiah prophesied the destruction of Judah and of David's kingdom.
However a stock, a root, a stump, if you will, would remain, the root
of Jesse, David's father. From that stock a sprout would burst forth
which would be more than David, Whose power and esteem would be
greater than that of the former kingdom.
Those of us living in the north can well appreciate this image.
Winter comes, long winter, and nothing visible of a perennial's
splendor remains. Hidden in the earth, the life, the promise waits in
the roots for spring. One clips the ugly remnant to the ground and
awaits the resurgence in the coming Spring. There was a long winter
of centuries for Jesse's Root, but, when its Spring came it flowered
forth Christ, the Messiah.
When Christ appears, He is, like the first sprigs of spring growth,
much smaller than the tree which had been felled, and seemingly
weaker and more vulnerable, yet His power and scope is far, far
greater than that of those who preceded Him. Just as in the
gentleness/strength contrast of ordering all things mightily and
sweetly, here the apparent weakness, smallness and vulnerability of a
new shoot is the embodiment of the greatest power imaginable. Jesus
IS God, but He comes in vesture that hardly brings to mind a power
broker. It is the topsy-turviness of the Gospel paradox.
This tender Sprig is actually an ensign for the nations, a rallying
flag for all peoples and it is so in a way that the mighty tree of a
kingdom which came first could never have hoped to be. Whatever may
have been the temporary influence and prestige of Israel's kings, it
was nothing compared to what is promised here.
What we translate as "nations" and Latin renders as "gentes" had a
very different significance for the Hebrews. By that term, they
really meant "Gentiles" everyone who was not Jewish which, of course,
included every nation- all the nations- other than themselves. Hence,
this term, easily missed as innocuous in English or Latin, is far
from it. It speaks directly to opening the promise of God's salvation
to ALL peoples, to the New Israel which is the Body of Christ, whose
membership is potentially the entire world. The tiny Branch will
break down walls and barriers.
This is the first day we add some special urgency to our daily plea
of "come!" We add: "and do not delay." The most casual glance at the
world's leaders and the state of things today will reveal that the
fullness of the Messiah's role as a rallying point for all, before
Whom all rulers shall be silent, is hardly just around the corner. We
affirm that by our urgency, by begging Him to hurry!
A final Benedictine aside, which I think plays so well with the
imagery of this antiphon may be found in a popular symbol for Monte
Cassino. The great abbey, so often destroyed in its long history, is
depicted as the stump of a huge and mighty tree, with a tender green
shoot growing from its center. The Latin motto which accompanies the
image is "Succisa Virescit" that is, "Cut down, it grows back."
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Prayers, please, for the happy death and eternal rest of Br. Tobias, OSB, for his monastic community, his family and for all who mourn him.
Please pray that the US Congress and the new administration will respect all human life, from conception till natural death.
Lord, help us all as You know and will. God's will is best. All is mercy and
grace. God is never absent, praise Him! Thanks so much. JL
January 20, May 21, September 20
Chapter 4: What Are the Instruments of Good Works
To fear the Day of Judgment.
To be in dread of hell.
To desire eternal life with all the passion of the spirit.
To keep death daily before one's eyes.
To keep constant guard over the actions of one's life.
To know for certain that God sees one everywhere.
When evil thoughts come into one's heart, to dash them against Christ
And to manifest them to one's spiritual mother.
To guard one's tongue against evil and depraved speech.
Not to love much talking.
Not to speak useless words or words that move to laughter.
Not to love much or boisterous laughter.
To listen willingly to holy reading.
To devote oneself frequently to prayer.
Daily in one's prayers, with tears and sighs, to confess one's past
sins to God, and to amend them for the future.
Not to fulfil the desires of the flesh; to hate one's own will.
To obey in all things the commands of the Abbess, even though she
herself (which God forbid) should act otherwise, mindful of the
Lord's precept, "Do what they say, but not what they do."
Not to wish to be called holy before one is holy; but first to be
holy, that one may be truly so called.
The first four on today's list are not very palatable to many modern
ears, but, like all of the Instruments of Good Works, they are
important, they are interrelated and each one helps one fulfill the
others. Arguably, one could say that the focus of the first four is
the fifth: "To keep constant guard over the actions of one's life."
We have largely "gotten over" dreading Judgment. We went from a
paralyzing, Jansenistic, scrupulous fear of it right into a smug
assurance that everyone passes the test with honors. Well, there's got to
be truth hidden between those two false extremes somewhere!
I know, beyond any doubt that I shall be both delighted and very,
very embarrassed and ashamed to meet God face to face, to find that
my faith has been confirmed. Ah, joy at the confirmation, but oh,
crushing shame at the simultaneous confirmation of how very far short
of Him I have fallen, through choice, through laziness, through
negligence, through sin.
One can dread that realization without thinking that God is some
intrinsically mean sort, just waiting for one to trip up, hunting for the
slightest loophole to nail us. Quite the opposite is the truth! God's awesome
Divine Mercy seeks every possible way to bring us to Himself and
His rewards of bliss. Every possible way!!
Let us admit that we have been all too good at tripping
on our own: God has no need to duplicate services there! Fearing
judgment is part and parcel of knowing who we are. We have all
sinned. And I know I have failed faith, hope and love, again and again
and again, usually with no more excuse than selfishness.
We keep goals in sight while training. Forget the Olympic gold and
you will quite likely forget why you are training so hard. For us,
between now and the "Olympics" of death, it is only the training that
matters. It is also good to recall that, as Benedictines, our goal is
NOT simply to "pass", but to stand on the podium.
That's not because we are any better, it is only because
we ourselves have added great holiness to our goal. Why else embrace
the Rule? Keeping "death daily before our eyes," we are ALWAYS at
the Olympics, thanks to our vow of conversion of manner of life, we
are daily in training, every minute, in fact.
All of these four lead to the fifth, keeping guard over one's
actions, or mindfulness. Here is a great connection between the
Benedictine way and the Buddhist way.
The Buddhists have a saying that monastics can preach a sermon just
by the way they walk. That's what the care of mindfulness can do!
Just wait till we get to the 12th degree of humility, which says that
the monastics' humility will shine through their outward appearance,
whether walking or sitting or working or praying.
Love and prayers,
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