Leftovers from the Lord’s Blessings

•Saturday, February 16, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Saturday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on February 16, 2019 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Genesis 3:9-24; Psalm 90:2-6, 12-13; Mark 8:1-10

That is a lot of leftovers: seven baskets of fragments from a meal that has fed four thousand people (cf. Mk. 8:8-9). The evangelist is clear: the Lord provides more than enough to go around. But Mark does not tell us what happens to what is left over. It certainly would have been a huge waste to throw that much away.

leftovers from multiplication

Perhaps, the evangelist is offering us this tiny detail to remind us of something else. He wants us to recall that, just ten verses before this massive feeding, there is a Canaanite woman who had approached Jesus and begged Him for scraps from the table (cf. Mk. 7:28). There is definitely more than enough here for a doggie bag—and then some—for her and her daughter. Mother and daughter would not have to settle for crumbs; they could actually enjoy a full meal!

Seven baskets of leftovers: it is a tiny detail in the Gospel. But it is also a morsel of a bigger message that we often forget: that our Lord’s superabundant blessings are only wasted when we fail to share them.

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A God Who Banters

•Thursday, February 14, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Thursday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on February 14, 2019 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Genesis 2:18-25; Psalm 128:1-5; Mark 7:24-30

In our own day, this would have been a huge public relations nightmare. Picture the tweetbomb: Jesus calls poor foreign lady a dog! (cf. Mk. 7:27) It would not matter that all the other Jews would have said the same thing; everyone on social media would insist that Jesus should have known better.

canaanite woman

Unfortunately, the shock value of Jesus’ seemingly dismissive response to the desperate mother distracts us from the playful repartee that is going on between the two of them. We know that this is not how strangers talk to each other. It is the woman’s response that reveals to us the tone of their conversation: it is classic banter, the kind that we would usually reserve to our closest friends, those whom we know can “take it.”

This, I think, is the real shocker in this episode in the Gospel: that our God is willing to banter with any of us. It really should not come as a surprise: this is the God who haggles with Abraham (cf. Gen. 18:20-32), who wrestles with Jacob (cf. Gen. 32:25-31), who argues with Moses (cf. Ex. 32:7-14). This is a God who is willing to go to great lengths—to use our language, to communicate the way that we know how, to take on even our very flesh—to do everything just to get to us.

Now that is Good News that is worth retweeting any day.

Our Rightful Place

•Wednesday, February 13, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Wednesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on February 13, 2019 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Genesis 2:4-9, 15-17; Psalm 104:1-2, 27-30; Mark 7:14-23

“Dirt is matter out of place” (cf. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo by Mary Douglas, p. 36). But, when dirt comes in contact with God, when it gets so close to God that He can breathe into it, dirt is transformed: it becomes a living being (cf. Gen. 2:7). That is grace: when matter finds its rightful place in the hands of God.

We are dirt and to dirt we shall return (cf. Gen. 3:19). But, when we draw near to God, when we get so close to Him that He can breathe into us His Holy Spirit, we too are transformed: we become more alive than we ever were before. That is our grace: when we find our rightful place in the hands of God.

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Location Makes All the Difference

•Tuesday, February 12, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Tuesday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on February 12, 2019 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Genesis 1:20-2:4; Psalm 8:4-9; Mark 7:1-13

The difference between soil and dirt is location. It is soil when it is outside; it is dirt once it gets in. This distinction is based on the study of ritual purity and pollution by the British anthropologist Mary Douglas. She defines dirt as “matter out of place” (cf. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo by Mary Douglas, p. 36).

Based on her definition, the issue in the Gospel today with the unwashed hands of the disciples (cf. Mk. 7:2) is not one of hygiene. That is a modern concept unknown to the Pharisees. Rather, it is an issue of location: dirt is supposed to stay out; it is never invited to the dining room table. Anyone who breaks this rule, according to the Pharisees, is nothing but a disgrace (cf. Mk. 7:5).

pharisees

In the Gospel, Jesus does not make a public service announcement about handwashing. (Although we certainly wish that He does!) Instead, He turns the tables on the Pharisees. The issue, He explains, is indeed one of location. But it has nothing to do with the Pharisees trying to stay away from what is dirty (cf. Mk. 7:3-4). It has everything to do with them staying far away from God (cf. Mk. 7:6). The Pharisees fear that they might touch matters that are out of place. They do not realize that they have gotten out of touch with what really matters. This, Jesus says, is hypocrisy (cf. Mk. 7:6): a heart out of place.

Today, the Lord asks us where we plan to place our own hearts. The location, He tells us, makes all the difference.

Anything but Ordinary

•Monday, February 11, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Homily for Monday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time
Preached on February 11, 2019 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Genesis 1:1-19; Psalm 104:1-2, 5-6, 10-12, 24, 35; Mark 6:53-56

Today, on this World Day of the Sick, we recognize that there is a great hunger for healing throughout the world. In places like Lourdes, people still flock from all over seeking a miracle. Those who find one go away changed because they know that they have come in contact with the Holy.

It is not a normal day when one encounters the Divine. It isn’t in places like Lourdes. It wasn’t in Gennesaret where the mere touch of the tassel of the cloak of Jesus brought wholeness to those who were sick (cf. Mk. 6:56). How much more would it be here in this Church where we receive a piece of the Lord? Surely that most Holy Communion should make our day anything but ordinary.

tassel of the cloak

Never Give Up

•Sunday, February 10, 2019 • Leave a Comment

Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Preached on February 10, 2019 at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad IN
Readings: Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

We have to hand it to Simon Peter: he is the first one to admit that Jesus can do better than to choose him as an apostle. He knows that he is not the best candidate out there for the Lord’s right-hand man and we can go down a long list of things that rule him out.

First of all, Peter is not at all that religious; he often forgets to observe the finer points of the Law. Later on, he will be called out by the Pharisees for not washing his hands before a meal (cf. Mt. 15:2; Mk. 7:5) and for picking grain from a field on the Sabbath (cf. Lk. 6:1-2). He should know better, but, not being a Pharisee, he really does not. Second, Peter does not always think before he talks. At Mount Tabor, he gets the chance to see Jesus in all His glory and to meet Moses and Elijah. But, the first thing he does is to open his big mouth and suggest that they should camp out there (cf. Lk. 9:33). Third, he is prone to violence. He is the one who draws a sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant (cf. Jn. 18:10). Finally, Peter does not always get dressed up for work. There is at least one incident wherein he is practically naked while he is out fishing in the lake (cf. Jn. 21:7).

Any Human Resource Department will tell Jesus that this reckless recruit from the docks is a walking liability. Jesus can do better than to hire this sinful man. He can easily go down to the local synagogue and find more qualified applicants there.

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“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

We have to hand it to Simon Peter: he is the first one to admit that Jesus can do better than to keep him as an apostle.

Scripture scholars point out that there are two episodes that feature a miraculous catch of fish in the Gospels. The first is this episode from Luke (cf. 5:4-7); the second is from John (cf. 21:5-6). There are similarities and differences in the two episodes, but the biggest discrepancy is the timing: Luke locates the miracle at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry; John places it after the Resurrection. Some scholars have wondered whether Peter’s remark— “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8) –makes more sense if it were said after the Resurrection. Peter then would be telling Jesus that He can do better than to keep him as an apostle, especially since he had abandoned Jesus and denied Him three times. Peter then would be ashamed, not because he feels unqualified for the job, but because he was nowhere to be found when Jesus needed him the most. “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8). Peter here is practically begging Jesus to let him go. Any Human Resource Department will tell Jesus that Peter is no longer just a liability; he has been a failure.

Yet, in both episodes, Jesus ignores the advice of every Human Resource Department and calls this flawed fisherman to be a fisher of men (cf. Lk. 5:10) and sends this failure to feed His flock (cf. Jn. 21:15-17). What is incredible here is not Jesus’ seemingly bad judgment that goes against good business practice, but rather His stubborn trust in someone who has proven himself unworthy of it. Yet, this is what our world cannot comprehend: Jesus knows that He can do better than to stick with Simon Peter; but He also knows that, if He departs from him, Peter will remain just a sinful man. If Jesus stays with him, Simon Peter can be a changed man: he will step up and he can become a saint.

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

We have to hand it to Simon Peter: he speaks on behalf of everyone who has ever felt unworthy of following the Lord. We can count in that company the prophet Isaiah, the apostle Paul, and many other great saints who would be the first to admit that they are sinners like the rest of us. Peter speaks for all of us who feel unqualified to be called to the service of the Lord. He speaks for all of us who feel that we have disappointed Him because we have worked long and hard and have nothing to show for it (cf. Lk. 5:5). Yet, even though we are ready to call it quits, Jesus does not give up on us, just as He does not give up on Simon Peter.

We sometimes think that we cannot get over our shameful past and our sinful present. Jesus though chooses to see only our glorious future with Him in Heaven and He invites us to leave behind everything that holds us back—especially our shame and insecurity—and follow Him.

“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8).

It is true that, like Simon Peter, we are unworthy. It is true that, like him, we have sometimes been a disappointment. Yet, in spite of it all, the Lord Jesus still entrusts us with His mission. At a certain point, we have to stop repeating Simon Peter’s plea: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8). We have to accept the fact that there is nothing that we can do that will make the Lord forsake us.

Instead, we can echo Simon Peter’s other remark, the very refrain that we chanted this morning at Lauds: “Master, we have worked long and hard, and yet we have nothing, but at your command, we will try again” (Lk. 5:5). That would be a fitting reminder that we should never give up in following the Lord who never gives up on us.

Mercies Unspent and Unexpected

•Monday, December 31, 2018 • Leave a Comment

The following is the annual letter that I sent to family and friends for Christmas 2018, recounting the blessings of the past year.

Christmas/Pasko 2018
New Year/Bagong Taon 2019

The peace of the Christ-Child be with you always!

After a year and a day in the novitiate, I professed my temporary vows as a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey last August 6 during the celebration of Vespers for the Feast of the Transfiguration. Before God and the relics of His saints, and in the presence of Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, OSB, and the monks assembled there in choir, I promised for three years stability in this community, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience, according to the holy Rule of our holy father, Saint Benedict. I read the hand-written charter of my vows from the ambo and, for the first time, said aloud my new name in religion: Mateo.

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The vow chart for my temporary Profession as a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. I did the calligraphy and Br. Martin Ersparmer, OSB, added the artwork.

The custom of most monasteries, including our own, is that no two monks share the same name. Since we already have a Fr. Noël (Mueller), OSB, here, I knew that I had to change mine. I presented three choices to the Abbot—Mateo (after Matthew the apostle and evangelist), Quentin (after the martyr of Amiens), and Pio (after Pope Pius V)—and he graciously picked my first choice. This new name is yet another reminder that I have entered a new and different life: the old Noel is no more; I am now Mateo. It takes time to go by a new name, just as it takes time to be that new man in Christ. But, every time I introduce myself, I recall my vocation to prefer nothing—not even everything that I had before—to the love of Christ.

My novitiate though was not without sorrow. I lost three of my uncles during that time: Bapang Siu (Deogracias S. Zamora), my Dad’s eldest brother and the patriarch of the Zamoras of Salapuñgan; Uncle Frank (Francisco C. Lim), my Aunt Cel’s husband; and Uncle Ron (Ronald W. Bennett), my Aunt Lyna’s husband. In February, my Dad underwent an emergency craniotomy to remove an acute subdural hematoma. I had to forego burying my uncles and attending to my father on his sickbed, because, as a novice, I was not allowed to spend a night outside the cloister. I had known that this was part of the deal even before I had entered the monastery. It was a price that I was willing and ready to pay. I just did not expect that it would have been demanded from me so soon.

That year as a novice, I found myself making Job’s prayer my own: “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21).

By God’s grace, two weeks prior to my profession, my Dad was cleared by his neurologist to fly from sunny California to southern Indiana. He and my Mom were among the 35 guests who traveled to witness my vows. My aunts Lyna Bennett and Lita Natac, and cousins Lorenzo and Theresa Natac also flew in from California. My sister Ivy and her family drove down from New Jersey. My cousins Elda and David Jamora drove up from Tennessee. Some of my closest friends from the Filipino community in Kentucky as well as parishioners and brother-priests from the Diocese of Lexington also came in for the celebration.

After my profession, I received permission to spend some time with my family while they were here in the Midwest. I took them to visit Runnymede, the famed horse farm of Fr. Chris Clay’s family in Paris, Kentucky. I also introduced them to Kits and Tess Rivera who feted us with a Filipino feast in their lovely home in Lexington. But, most of all, we got to tour the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, the one Kentucky destination that my late Uncle Ron had hoped and had planned to visit before his untimely death.

Sorrow often follows sorrow in this vale of tears. But, “the mercies of God are not spent” (Lam. 3:22) and His consolations come in manners and moments that are often unexpected.

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My family and I (and Br. Joel Blaize, OSB) visiting Runnymede Farm in Paris, Kentucky.

As a junior monk, I continue my work as the Archabbey Stipendiarius. I receive, acknowledge, record, and schedule requests for Mass intentions to the monastery. I have also been welcoming vocation guests in the monastery as the juniorate guest master. I have also been assigned as the valet to our Fr. Bonaventure Knaebel, OSB, who, aside from having served as the fifth abbot (and second archabbot) from 1955 to 1966, is also the senior monk in the Swiss-American Congregation by age (100 years), profession (80 years), and ordination (75 years). I read him his mail, write his letters, and do other small chores for him.

Fr. Abbot Kurt, OSB, has given me permission to continue my work as a Defender of the Bond for the Tribunal of the Diocese of Lexington, writing animadversiones (canonical briefs) on annulment cases. He has also allowed me to teach a practicum class for Advanced Homiletics here at our seminary this past fall semester. I will teach another practicum class here for the spring semester, this time for Introduction to Homiletics. He has also sent me out to preach on behalf of our monastery and the seminary and I have promoted our mission at parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and in the Dioceses of Evansville and Owensboro.

I continue to be heavily involved with our Benedictines Oblates (the faithful who are affiliated with the archabbey and have promised to live by the Rule of Saint Benedict in their daily lives). I have been able to present my reflections on the Rule to the various chapters of our oblates in Indiana (Bloomington, Evansville, Indianapolis, Jasper, Muncie, St. Meinrad, Tell City), Kentucky (Louisville), and Ohio (Cincinnati and Dayton). I was thrilled to direct my first ever retreat to our oblates in New York this past Labor Day weekend. It went so well that they have invited me to return for their next retreat in the summer!

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Giving instructions at the Archabbey Church prior to the Investitures of our Oblate-Novices and the Oblations of our Oblates in December 2018

That retreat in New York also allowed me to visit family and friends out east. On the way to New York, I was able to visit my former bishop, Bishop Ronald Gainer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and I was able to see his mother, Mrs. Anna Krolick, and give her my blessing a week before she died. Before the retreat, I got to stay with my friend from college, Marni (Aguas) Alvarez, in her home in Rye, New York, and we got to watch together the musical Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theater. She also got me a ticket to see Hamilton on Broadway! After the retreat, I spent several days with my sister Ivy and her family in East Windsor, New Jersey, before I drove to see Fr. Matt Buening at the Newman Center at Towson University in Maryland.

God and chapter willing, in three years, I hope to profess my solemn vows as a Benedictine monk on the Solemnity of the Assumption of our Lady on August 15, 2021. I would then be excardinated (canonical term for a complete transfer) as a priest of the Diocese of Lexington and would be bound permanently to those vows and to this monastery until death.

Please include me in your prayers that I may continue to persevere in my monastic vows. Know that you are always in my mind and heart every time the bells beckon me to go to the Archabbey Church and pray. I pray that all of us may learn to prefer nothing to the love of Christ and may He bring us all to everlasting life!