Palm Sunday

“What do you think? That he will not come to the feast?” These are the last words of yesterday’s Gospel, and they act as a sort of cliffhanger as we enter into Holy Week. All last week we saw the tension between Jesus and the Jewish officials rise. On Friday Jesus declared openly that He is the Son of God, and so the Jews picked up rocks to stone Him for blasphemy. On Saturday the Sanhedrin began to plot His death, and so He could no longer walk about openly. The time of Passover was drawing near and the people wondered what would happen. Could He, would He go up to Jerusalem for the feast? And if He did…what then?

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In today’s first Gospel the answer comes; Jesus does go up to Jerusalem, not only openly but in victorious procession! The tension has snapped, this is it! This is what the people have been waiting for as they’ve watched and wondered these past few years. He is the Messiah, the promised Son of David, the anointed King! He’s going to claim the throne!

King Solomon claims his father’s throne

King Solomon claims his father’s throne

Jesus rides into Jerusalem seated on a colt as the people spread their cloaks upon the road and shout for joy. They proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” Why the colt? This was how King David passed his kingship on to his son Solomon; having gone to Gihon to be anointed king, Solomon entered Jerusalem riding on David’s mule as the people cried, “Long live King Solomon!” When he had entered Jerusalem, Solomon took his place on the throne to reign in David’s place.

Did the people really understand what was happening? Did they understand this triumphal entry as a proclamation of His kingship? Look what they did; they spread their cloaks upon the ground in front of Him. What a strange thing that would seem to be, except that it is exactly what happened when Jehu was abruptly anointed king. It is the only other time such an event is mentioned in the Bible. When King Jehu told his master’s servants that he had been anointed and proclaimed king by the prophet Elisha’s servant, “at once each took his garment, spreading it under Jehu on the bare steps, blew the trumpet, and cried out, ‘Jehu is king!’” (2 Kings 9:13)

There was no ambiguity about this entrance. In fact, when some of the Pharisees told Jesus to rebuke His disciples he replied, “I tell you, if they keep silent, the stones will cry out!”

Just when Israel is expecting Jesus to muster troops to free the nation from Rome’s domination…the readings suddenly shift. Jesus is betrayed by one of the Twelve in the nighttime and is taken before the Sanhedrin before anyone realizes what is happening. His disciples scatter, Peter denies even knowing Him. Finally, instead of mounting a throne Jesus mounts the cross.

What happened? How did the cries of “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord” become cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!” What went wrong?

Nothing went wrong. It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t fulfill the people’s expectations, it was that their expectations were too small! Jesus is the King, but He was concerned with bigger enemies than Rome. He didn’t come to free Israel from Rome’s oppression; He came to free all people from sin and everlasting death. His weapons weren’t swords and spears but steadfast and persevering obedience, obedience even to death on the cross.

Palm Sunday’s liturgy is an preview for the coming week. It shows us the trajectory we’re about to embark upon as we enter the holiest week of the year.

Holy Week Schedule

Sacred Triduum Schedule

Palm Sunday Usual monastery schedule

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Holy Thursday

  • Matins-Lauds —6:50 AM

  • Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM

  • Mass of the Lord's Supper—5:00PM Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament inside the nuns' monastery. No Compline.

Good Friday

  • Matins-Lauds—6:50 AM

  • Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM

  • None—2:40 PM

  • Celebration of the Passion of the Lord—3:00 PM No Vespers

  • Compline—8:15 PM

Holy Saturday

  • Matins-Lauds—6:50 AM

  • Rosary & Sext—11:30 AM

  • None—3:00 PM

  • Vespers—5:30 PM

Easter Vigil is private. Closed to the public.

Easter Sunday

  • Lauds—6:40 AM

  • Holy Mass—8:00 AM

  • Sext—12:00 PM

  • None & Rosary—3:10 PM

  • Vespers—5:30 PM Compline, closed to the public.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

Today’s Gospel might be more well known for what it doesn’t tell us than what it does. Everyone wants to know—what was Jesus writing on the ground?!

Some, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, believe that He wrote the words of Jeremiah (“O earth, earth, listen…write down this man as sterile”) while others have thought He wrote the same words which he spoke (“Whoever among you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her”). In Gill’s commentary he writes that some think Jesus “wrote in legible characters the sins of the woman’s accusers,” while he himself thinks it most likely that “Christ on purpose put himself into this posture, as if he was busy about something else and did not attend to what they said.” He also offers another opinion, that Jesus was writing the names of the accusers in fulfillment of Jeremiah 17:13.

But let’s look at it another way.

Jesus was seated in the temple area teaching the people. The scribes and pharisees brought a woman caught in the act of adultery to Him and asked His judgment on the case, after reminding Him that “in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.” In response, to their utter confusion Jesus bends down to write on the ground. (So we aren’t alone when we find this part confusing, the scribes and pharisees didn’t understand either, at least at first!) It is only after they continue to ask that He straightens and judges that the one without sin be the first to cast a stone….before returning again to write in the dust.

So what was He writing? Let’s look a little closer.

The scribes and Pharisees brought the case to Jesus for judgment in order to test Him; they didn’t realize that when they appealed to Jesus (“Moses said this, what do you say?”) they were appealing to the New Law! Jeremiah prophesied about the coming of the New Covenant and the New Law: “I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (31:33) While the Old Law was originally written by the finger of God on stone tablets, those tablets were shattered when the Israelites worshiped the golden calf, the Egyptian god Apsis. The Israelites received new stone tablets, but this time God didn’t write on them with His finger, Moses did (Exodus 34:27). Thus when the scribes and pharisees say “Moses commanded us” they were speaking more truth than they understood. But the New Law of the New Covenant is written by God in man’s heart. The word for man in Hebrew is adam (אָדָם), which also means earth or ground. And here we see Jesus, the God-man, descending to the earth and writing on the earth/adam/man with His finger, just as Jeremiah prophesied.

But the Scribes and the Pharisees did not understand this prophetic action of Jesus, they continued to ask Him. They thought that they had backed Him into a corner where He must explicitly reject the Law of Moses or abandon His own teaching. What they didn’t know was that Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) So He rose from the dust to speak to them before once again descending to write, showing that His judgment…which left the woman unstoned and the old law unbroken…was the fulfillment of the old law, it was the new law.

It wasn’t just His writing on the ground that was prophetic, His descending to the earth and rising again from it were also prophetic actions, speaking of God’s descent to the earth as Man and, after death, Christ’s resurrection. By His death and resurrection, into which we are baptized, our accuser is silenced and our sins are forgiven.

The day we've all been waiting for!

The day we’ve all been waiting for has arrived! Tomorrow (Monday), April 1st (no, this is not a joke!) our new centennial wing opens! This past Wednesday afternoon we received our temporary certificate of occupancy and by Thursday morning we had moved the bulk of the gift shop to its new home. All hands were on deck to get everything moved in, and we can hardly believe the transformation! Not everything in the new wing is moved in, in fact most isn’t! But the public public section is ready. The new main door will open with the same hours as the chapel doors, 6AM-7PM. The Cloister Shoppe will also open for its usual hours, from 9:30AM-4PM (give or take a few minutes) Monday-Saturday. The door connecting the new wing to the chapel vestibule will be kept open. Along that hallway are two single toilet bathrooms. The lack of a bathroom has been a real cross for our visitors, and we are so glad to open not one but two! The two parlors will also open tomorrow for use.

What’s not done: everything else!

Below are two of the guest rooms, ready for furniture to move in!

Fourth Sunday of Lent

So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.
Luke 15:20-24

Today we heard in the Gospel reading one of the most famous of Jesus’s parables, that of the Prodigal Son. The younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance; he asked to have right away the good things that would come to him on his father’s death. He was so greedy that he literally couldn’t wait for his father to die! The father, surprisingly, granted his son’s wish. Not surprisingly, the son quickly spent everything he was given and ended up destitute. Remembering his father’s goodness to his servants, he resolves to return home to beg forgiveness and to be treated as one of the servants. The father sees him coming and runs to him, welcoming him home with all of the grandeur of a prince.

Neither of his sons knew his father; the younger cherished material wealth above his father and even when he recognized his father’s goodness to his servants he failed to recognize his father’s goodness to his sons. He didn’t know that his father was daily watching for his return, ready to welcome him home with open arms, forgiving everything. He thought that his sin of first obtaining and then squandering his inheritance stood between them, changing the relationship.

We often fall into the trap of thinking like the younger son. Especially in today’s world of instant gratification, waiting to receive the good things God has for us can be hard. Sin so often is a choice to forsake a greater good later for an instant, but lesser, good now. Just as the younger son wanted his inheritance immediately without regard to his future, so we also will settle for less now rather than more and better later. When we realize our mistake and turn back to God we can fail to see Him as the loving and forgiving Father He is. We see that He is good, and just, but we fail to grasp the magnanimity of his forgiveness and love. We can think that that very goodness and righteousness is a barrier to love rather than a conduit. We’ve fallen again and again, covered figuratively in the mud of the pigs as the younger son might literally have been, and seeing the state of our soul we lose confidence in approaching Our Father, we lose confidence in His forgiveness and His love.

When the father saw his younger son returning, he ran to him and embraced him! The sin didn’t stop him, not even the smelly mud of the pig pen would keep him from embracing his son. Jesus told us this parable not so much to teach us about ourselves, but to teach us about Our Father. It is important to be able to recognize the depths to which we have fallen in order to truly see the depths of God’s love for us as He reaches out His hand to lift us back up and to embrace us, mud and all.

We’re now at the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday. Rose replaces the penitential purple of the liturgy this Sunday, encouraging the faithful to persevere in their Lenten observance as Easter is quickly coming! In today’s liturgy we experience a little preview of the Easter joy to come. We’ve spent Lent examining our conscience, coming to know personally our own need for salvation. Today we focus on God’s amazing love for us. Yes, we’ve come to see how weighed down in sin we are, but today we hear the joyful news that there is nothing to keep us from God’s love except our ourselves. He’s waiting with open arms, watching eagerly for our return.

Nothing you have done is too much for God to forgive, there is no person so broken that God cannot heal, no person so lost that God cannot find. You may feel a million miles from God, but He’s only one step away, waiting for you.

Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation

Yesterday, it was our postulant Sr. Lauren’s turn to give the sermon at our Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation. Her talk is below:

In the linguistic history of the word ‘sin’, we find the word originally used to describe the deviation of an arrow from its target. Sin then is understood as a sort of degradation. The archer, seeing his end, fails to pierce it by reason of his sin. This description captures something of what has been lost to many in their current understanding of sin in perceiving it as a ‘wrong action’, or a violation of an arbitrary set of rules.

In a talk on the corruption of love in our culture, apologist Jason Evert uses this image of the archer to highlight the great good of desire when it is properly ordered. While Evert focuses on the target, that is on Communion with God as our ultimate end, there is much to be gained by consideration of the analogy’s other elements and key areas that cause us to fall short of that target, for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God’ (Rom 3:23).   

Two aspects stand out: the integrity of the arrow and the skill of the archer. It is clear that a broken arrow is unlikely to move far from the string, and anyone who has seen my attempts to shoot even a good one understands the importance of skill. Let us then examine these more closely, using the example Evert cites in demonstrating the principle: The Annunciation of the Lord.

 “Hail, Full of Grace!” – The Arrow & The Integrity of Desire:

An arrow is something that penetrates, that pierces through all resistance to its proper resting place. In the spiritual life, we liken this to the desire of the creature to penetrate the mystery of the Creator, to reach through the veil and find the rest that is beholding the face of God.

Similarly, as the integrity of the arrow rests on the condition of its basic elements, in the spiritual life, the integrity of our desire rests on the conformity of the soul to the Truth. The impact of sin is obvious, for it rots the core of the shaft, blunts the tip and strips the feathers that give our desire direction.  

In the Annunciation, we see the wonder of Our Lady’s virginal integrity and the perfection of God’s grace in his intended ideal. As one ‘Full of Grace’, Our Lady is in perfect interior unity – mind, will and emotions ordered towards the ultimate target – a desire designed to succeed. In the ‘Dialogue of St Catherine of Siena’, the Lord describes this interior unity by way of a unique interpretation of Matthew 18:20 referring to the powers of the soul: ‘where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’ During this Season of Lent, by fixing our eyes on Christ, we gather ourselves in His name and allow the Lord’s grace to enter in and restore the elements of our integrity, redirecting the arrow of our desire.  

“How can this be?” – The Archer & The Immolation of the Fiat:

The question of the archer is less intuitive and misunderstanding it has worked much damage in society. The deficiency of Man’s skill as archer is plain; despite many claims to the contrary, there is a drive to improve ourselves. Even those who defy all religious definitions of the human person believe in an infallible idea called ‘Progress’. The result is a bevy of reform programs, the outcomes of which have varied from the inane to the catastrophic.

The true principle to be gained in this consideration, is revealed throughout salvation history – from Abraham and Isaac, to our own example of the Annunciation – and it is one of utter immolation. The key to perfecting our skill in archery is to forgo our own ability altogether, to ‘be still and know that He is God (Psalm 46:10), and to surrender ourselves to His steady hand. God is the Supreme Archer, the only one able to return His creatures to Communion with Himself.  

At the Annunciation, we see this play out in Our Lady’s questioning of the angel: ‘How is this to be, since I know not man?’ (Luke 1:34) The imminence of her human powers turns her attention to them. Desiring to serve the Lord, she humbly asks what she should do, considering her position. As the angel makes plain to her that this is to be the Lord’s work and His alone, she does that which is often unthinkable to us. She abandons every conceivable means of her own, and bows her head to the Will of the Father. The staggering result is that the ineffable Word of God takes on her finite flesh.

This is the fruit of holy immolation.

Conclusion:

Ultimately, Evert’s argument is this: if we know how incredibly destructive deviant desire can be, understanding the Glory of God, how can we fail to anticipate the immensity of its power when properly ordered?

As contemplatives, this question bears a special significance, for it is the very foundation for our vocation and the true hope that we possess. Seeing the many powers given to us by the Father, and met with the need to birth these into the world, to give life in proportion to our nature, we have been met with the baffling invitation to lay it all down in humble futility. This invitation is a sign that contradicts the utilitarian drive of this generation, which so readily vests its future in its own integrity and skill. To such, the question is rephrased: ‘What can possibly be gained by this incalculable loss?’

The Annunciation makes it clear: by her virginal integrity Our Lady brings forth the arrow of infinite desire, laid down in the holy immolation of her fiat. Met there by the power of the perfect Archer, the result is an inexpressible reality – and the invitation to bring this life into the world still remains.

As we approach the Paschal Season, then, I pray we may renew the promises made, enter fully into the invitation to immolation Our Lord has offered and stand in perfect faith that by Him we will bear richly the fruit we so ardently desire.

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