Abbot Phillip: ‘It is the Condition of Poverty that Draws our Attention’

It’s been years since I visited Christ in the Desert monastery outside Abiquiu, New Mexico. But the experience has never left my heart. It’s an amazing place: off the grid, home of the original “electronic scriptorium,” deeply rooted in desert hospitality, prayer, and eucharistic work. I’m grateful that Abbot Philip’s weekly homilies are available online. Last week’s was particularly insightful. (I’ve included the scripture readings at the bottom.):

My sisters and brothers in the Lord: One of the great tragedies of our Christian life is that very few of us live it so strongly that our lives give testimony without words.  Surely we could say, playing on the words of Gandhi, that if we Christians lived what we preach, the whole world would be Christian.

Today’s readings encourage us to look at our lives and to ask ourselves about the way we live, not about the way others live. We are called to love others, especially the poor and the oppressed, those who have no rights in society, those do not have the means to live, etc. The Gospel does not give us an easy road in this.  We cannot say to ourselves:  Well, those people don’t work, those people want welfare, those people don’t think right, etc.  Instead, it is only the condition of being poor and oppressed, the condition of having no rights, the condition of not have the means to live – which is supposed to draw our attention and love. 

We need to think of our Lord Jesus and the woman at the well.  She had been married many times and he does not reject her. We need to think of Simon the tax-collector who had wealth but no belief and was not rejected by Jesus.  We need to think of the many lepers who came to Jesus and found acceptance in him.  We need to think of the immense crowds fed by Jesus, not even asking if they had food. Jesus delights in proclaiming God’s love for all.  Jesus delights in helping everyone. Jesus turns no one away.  Those who leave Jesus leave Him because of their own decisions or because they see that what He asks of them will part them from things or people that they value more than Jesus.

Jesus calls us to radical conversion.  Perhaps we cannot make that decision yet, to give our lives to Him totally and without reserve. We can begin to walk with Him, however, knowing that at some point He will invite us to give everything for Him. Walking with Him now can be a preparation for total self-giving.

Remember the parable of the workmen invited to work in the vineyard.  Some came early and some came late and some in between. Jesus accepted them all and gave them the same wages.  What is important is to strive to stay with Jesus, trying to give our lives over to Him, no matter how imperfectly we do that now. Then, with His grace and love, we may be invited to give all and have the courage and strength to do so. Our God is compassion and love.–Abbot Philip, OSB (The Monastery of Christ in the Desert Homily for February 2, 2011)

Readings for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Thus says the LORD:  Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own.  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed; your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.  Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer, you shall cry for help, and he will say:  Here I am!  If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday.–Isaiah  58:7-10

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.  For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling, and my message and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of Spirit and power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.–1 Corinthians  2:1-5

Jesus said to his disciples:  “You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?  It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.  You are the light of the world.  A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.  Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”–Matthew  5:13-16

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