Tuesday, March 30, 2021


 The character of Judas looms large in the story of Jesus' Passion this week. He raises questions for us as we ponder.  The gospel passages at Mass feature him on Tuesday and Wednesday

Judas Iscariot went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. (Matthew 26:14-16)

 Judas is a question mark: why did he do it? Matthew tells us what Judas did, but he doesn’t tell us why. Down through the centuries, readers and commentators, librettists and screen writers have filled in the blanks: he did it for the money, he did it because Jesus had failed to live up to his expectations of a political messiah, he did it because the devil made him do it, he did it...well, no one knows why he did it.

 As we read, Judas becomes a mirror the Gospel holds up to us. In it we see the face of our own betrayals looking back at us. Piety may forbid us to see anything but horror in Judas for what he did. After all, he sold Jesus to his torturers and murderers. But honesty requires us to admit that he is not alone in having sold for small change the one thing that mattered. How many of us have sold our prayer for entertainment, our integrity for power or prestige, our life’s work for an easy ride? Is selling God’s gifts for a handful of trifles any less heinous really than selling the Savior?

 Come now, you’re probably saying, there’s no comparison. I’ve made my little compromises, sure, but nobody died for it. Is that really true? Jesus, Son of God, died in a few hours on one particular afternoon whose echoes have reverberated among believers and doubters alike ever since, but we, now made children of God, die no less decisively when we trade away our own God-given truth over a lifetime of little compromises. St. Basil the Great defines sin as the use of God's gifts for purposes other than those for which they were given. Most grievous, he says, is the misuse of love—our love for God, our love for those among whom we were planted in this world, our love for those to whom we can offer some service through the talents and tasks God has given us. A gifted storyteller puts the gift to use writing trash for cash.  A gifted artist devotes a lifetime to producing commercials peddling luxuries rather than painting great masterpieces.  A gifted singer forces a soaring voice into a style that damages it for the sake of a place in the top ten.  A gifted parent sacrifices time for the family in favor of clean and lovely surroundings or a weekend in front of the TV or a fishing trip. Not major crimes, surely? Ah, but the serpent’s tooth poisons by small bites. And the serpent’s whisper is well disguised as “everybody does it” or “you owe it to yourself ” or “come on—be practical.”

 After a while, maybe, we forget we have options. The good news that seems to have fallen on deaf ears in the tragic Judas is laid out before us during Holy Week in all its urgency. We may well have our little stash of silver coins hidden somewhere, rewards for our betrayals of true selves, but it’s never too late to trade them in again for forgiveness, freedom, life. The loss may be painful, the prospect of change frightening, the way back long and hard. But the offer is always there.

 It was there for Judas. Jesus forgave Peter, who denied him, and the other disciples who abandoned him, and even the men with hammer and nails who crucified him. Surely he was just as ready to forgive Judas. Why didn’t Judas accept? Why didn’t he allow the Savior to save him from his own despair? Why did he hang himself after three years in the company of God’s mercy made flesh (Matt 27:5)? I wonder if it was because he had so eroded his soul with a lifetime of betrayals that he could no longer see the outstretched hand. Having walled himself into the very small cell of his own self-interest and shame, perhaps he could no longer recognize that the door stood open. And who knows? Maybe, in the privacy of one of those moments of anguish and mercy that go unreported by the evangelists--who had reason to think ill of Judas anyway--God's finally managed to pry open Judas' fist and fill it with something far better than thirty pieces of silver. I hope so. But what went on for Judas in his darkness remains as much a question as his motives.

If Judas is question, puzzle, thorn in the flesh of the Christian mind, he is also, like all of us, mystery. How many of us can really fathom in ourselves the depths where betrayal and grace meet? I would rather not reduce Judas to a simple explanation. I would rather allow him to remain a mirror. If I can’t see into his soul, perhaps he can let me see into mine. My prayer is for the courage to look. 

Reprinted from Sauntering Through Scripture: A Book of Reflections by Sister Genevieve Glen, OSB. Published by The Liturgical Press: Collegeville, MN, 2018. Reprinted with permission from the Liturgical Press.  Copyright 2018 by the Abbey of St. Walburga.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Palm Sunday: Two Faces

 As many of you know, our Abbey was founded in 1935 in Boulder, Colorado, by nuns from our German motherhouse, the Abtei St. Walburg.  We lived there until 1997, when the exigencies of a growing community and the generosity of benefactors prompted a move to our present location in Virginia Dale, Colorado, 100 miles north of Boulder.  This week, we grieve deeply with and for all those in Boulder who are suffering in the wake of the fatal shooting at a Boulder grocery store, not far from our former home. And, moved by the example of Jesus who prayed from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do," we pray for the shooter and for all those whose lives are enmeshed in violence against others.  Please pray with us during this Holy Week of Jesus' passion.

On Palm Sunday, we are confronted by a sudden and troubling transition.  As Mass opens, whether we are participating in person or watching on live streaming or simply remembering Palm Sundays past, we gather outside the church to remember Jesus' moment of apparent triumph, when the crowds greeted his entry into Jerusalem by stripping nearby palms trees of branches and taking off their own cloaks to spread on the road before him, as if he were a king.  The words of the prophet Zechariah echo in the background: Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow will be banished, and he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zech 9:11).  The prophecy will be fulfilled, but not as the crowds on the road to Jerusalem imagined.  We join them in spirit, processing with blessed palms in hand as we enter the church.

But then the entire tenor of the liturgy changes.  Palms are laid down and forgotten. We plunge very quickly into the somber reading of Isaiah 50:4-7, where we see Jesus' face in the prophet's description of the Suffering Servant is beaten and mocked. We sing verses of Psalm 22 with the refrain "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me," part of the story of the crucifixion as recorded in Matthew's Gospel.  And we hear the story of Jesus' passion and death as recorded by St. Mark (14:1-15:47, or abbreviated to 15:1-39). Where the story is read in parts, we suddenly hear crying out in the voice of s the crowd of spectators crying out to Pilate, "Crucify him!" (Mark 15:3).

In the space of only a few minutes, we are confronted with the truth of our own two faces.  On good days, we are more than willing to enter into the Church's prayer of praise in psalms and canticles.  "Praise the Lord" and "Thank you, Jesus" come easily when we know ourselves surrounded by God's love.  But there are other days when we might speak those words with our lips while our hearts are filled with bitter complaint against this same God who seems suddenly to have heaped us with trouble and sorrow.  In these past months of pandemic, all-consuming wildfires, and riots on every side, we have learned again that complaint is easier than hosannah's and palms.  

This Holy Week, we will hear both chapters in the life of Jesus and of his first community.  On Holy Thursday evening, we already see our own two faces in the disciples' protestations of undying loyalty when Jesus speaks of his impending death and their sudden vanishing act after his arrest just hours later.  We could avoid the whole contradiction, of course, by simply denying not Jesus, as Peter did, but our own reality as sinners in need of salvation.  We would, of course, then be proclaiming with all our frightened might that Jesus could have skipped all this week's drama because we really don't need the redemption he won for us.  

On Good Friday, we will hear Jesus saying to Pontius Pilate, "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth," and Pilate responding "What is truth?"  He had evidently already decided that for him, truth was expediency, the value of his own skin, because he immediately went out and let the crowd decide who would die, Barabbas or Jesus.  But Jesus had said that not only was he sent testify to the truth but also, "Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” That's us, to whom St. Benedict says again and again, "Listen with the ear of your heart."  And that listening means always to keep an ear cocked for the words of the Word made Flesh, Christ, God's ultimate word of love to us and for us.

Real love is always honest.  Real love always tells the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth in the courtroom of life.  And the whole truth is that both of tjpse faces laid bare in the Passion story are ours, whether we like to see it or not.  And the whole truth adds that we may indeed be laying down palm branches before our king and savior and then crying out "Crucify him" because we have recognized him as a danger to whatever complacent self-satisfaction we may be hiding behind. In both these sides of ourselves, repeated with far less drama in daily life, the whole truth is that are above all else loved by the One who thought death on the cross a price worth paying for us.  

Our best response is not to deny either face but to seek always, as Benedict's disciples, to allow the Crucified and Risen Savior to look upon as we are (he will anyway!) and transform these inner divisions into the wholeness we call salvation.  In other words, our best response is to continue the life of honest conversion to which we have committed ourselves.

Then on Easter, sinners and saints though we will still be, we can in all honesty and joy sing out "Alleluia!"

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Mass Texts for the Solemnity of the Passing of Saint Benedict

This year the Solemnity of the Passing of Saint Benedict is celebrated on Monday, March 22, rather than the usual March 21, since the latter falls on a Sunday of Lent.  Since this feast is celebrated only by Benedictines, the texts do not appear in resources such as missalettes, so they are printed here for your prayer and reflection.  They are very rich texts that make for excellent lectio divina all week!


There was a man of venerable life,
Benedict, blessed by grace and by name,
who, leaving home and patrimony
and desiring to please God alone,
sought out the habit of holy living.

O God, who made the Abbot Saint Benedict
an outstanding master in the school of divine service,
grant, we pray,
that, putting nothing before love of you,
we may hasten with a loving heart
in the way of your commands.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

FIRST READING          Proverbs 2:1-9
My son, if you receive my words
and treasure my commands,
Turning your ear to wisdom,
inclining your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you call to intelligence,
and to understanding raise your voice;
If you seek her like silver,
and like hidden treasures search her out:

Then will you understand the fear of the LORD;
the knowledge of God you will find;
For the LORD gives wisdom,
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He has counsel in store for the upright,
he is the shield of those who walk honestly,
Guarding the paths of justice,
protecting the way of his pious ones.

Then you will understand rectitude and justice,
honesty, every good path.

RESPONSORIAL PSALM          34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9, 10-11

R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord or: I will bless the Lord at all times.

I will bless the LORD at all times;
praise shall be always in my mouth.
My soul will glory in the LORD
that the poor may hear and be glad.

R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord or: I will bless the Lord at all times.

Magnify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
I sought the LORD, who answered me,
delivered me from all my fears.

R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord or: I will bless the Lord at all times.

Look to God that you may be radiant with joy
and your faces may not blush for shame.
In my misfortune I called,
the LORD heard and saved me from all distress.

R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord or: I will bless the Lord at all times.

The angel of the LORD, who encamps with them,
delivers all who fear God.
Learn to savor how good the LORD is;
happy are those who take refuge in him.

R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord or: I will bless the Lord at all times.

Fear the LORD, you holy ones;
nothing is lacking to those who fear him.
The powerful grow poor and hungry,
but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
R. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord or: I will bless the Lord at all times.

ALLELUIA          Matthew 5:3
Blessed are the poor in spirit;
for theirs in the kingdom of heaven.

GOSPEL          Matt 19:27-29
Peter said to Jesus,
"We have given up everything and followed you.
What will there be for us?"
Jesus said to them, "Amen, I say to you
that you who have followed me, in the new age,
when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory,
will yourselves sit on twelve thrones,
judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters
or father or mother or children or lands
for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more,
and will inherit eternal life."


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Making Space for Joy

March 14 is traditionally called Laetare Sunday because the opening word of the entrance chant in Latin is "Laetare", which means "Rejoice!"

Really?  During Lent? Only two weeks away from Palm Sunday?

Yes, really.  The Church's liturgical calendar on both the Second and Fourth Sundays of Lent urges us to look up!  Take your eyes off your feet, growing sore and weary on that desert road. Discouragement is one of the traps the Enemy sets on our Lenten way because it turns all our attention to ourselves (cf. Psalm 140:5-6; Psalm 142:4), Look instead at Jesus on that same road to Jerusalem so long ago, no doubt encountering the same snares. He kept his eyes on his destination and drew from it the determination to keep going.  He was headed toward his death, and he knew it.  But that death was only the last narrow gate through which he would pass to reach his final destination:  the Resurrection.  On Lent's Second Sunday, we caught sight of the fire of Easter already burning in the transfigured Christ.  On the Fourth Sunday, we hear the greatest argument against discouragement ever written: "...God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life" (John 3:16).  Rejoice indeed!

Not too long ago--and I'm sorry I can't remember exactly what day that was--we read "“Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you” (Luke 6:37-38).  The blog entry entitled "The Work of Lent" (February 16, 2021) considered some of the tools St. Benedict recommends for clearing away the thorns that prevent God's word from taking root and flourishing in our lives. Today, we look again at clearing space in our hearts, this time by uprooting the really bad habit of sitting down by  the roadside to contemplate all our grievances against others.  We can't keep Jesus in sight on that Jerusalem road if we do that.  But it can be so much more comfortable, can't it, in this season of penance and conversion to catalogue everyone else's faults while ignoring our own? 

Instead, says the Gospel, take that Lenten pruning hook to this particular thorn bush.  Clear out all those criticisms of everyone else, be they people you know (even people you love?) or all those people you don't know but whose faults you find readily catalogued on in the news or on the web.  Are the flaws of the British royal family or of American politicians really worth the cost of the time and energy you could otherwise have spent on your own Lenten work of conversion?  When you remove all those faces from your personal rogues' gallery, you may be amazed at how much inner space you've freed up. 

But Jesus warns of the danger of empty space recently vacated by your personal demons.  They'll be back, he says, with all their destructive families and friends (Luke 11:25).  Instead, open all your inner doors to the Holy Spirit, the breath of God's creative love bearing a new set of vocabulary into whatever dark corners you've opened up.  It's an invitation God never refuses.  Oh, and don't get preoccupied with another catalogue, this one of all the judgemental habits you've now become ashamed of.  That's another trick to make you sit down again and focus on yourself and fill up with guilt, shame and remorse.  

No, Jesus says that all the space you've made by clearing away your grudges is space God will fill with the Spirit, that love that impels God's never-ending work of redemption.  And one of fruits of the Spirit's presence, says St. Paul in Galatians 5:22, is joy! 

So, make space!  Laetare!  Rejoice!  The risen Christ is already breaking through, even here and now two weeks away from Holy Week. 

Copyright 2021 Abbey of St. Walburga