Please see below Fr Chad's Homily from Sunday 22nd March 2020
I’m Fr Chad and on behalf of our Abbot and our monastic community, I welcome you to this first Mass of the Dispersion, the fourth Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday, when the church invites us to rejoice. These are testing times, stormy times - is our house built on rock or on sand, as individuals, as families, as communities, as a nation? I would encourage those participating today by listening, to light a candle, to share your prayers with ours - you are supporting us as much as we are supporting you – as we join together to offer this sacrifice that takes away our sins, our fears, our isolation.
For all of us this is new, extraordinary, unprecedented and ‘new’ means scary, threatening, overwhelming, at best something to be endured. For so many in this country it’s not physical suffering, it’s massive anxiety, insecurity, fear of the future, logistical upheaval. Is it facile to see new as an adventure, a time for discovering hidden resources, within us and those around us, for putting down deeper roots in our homes and families, for putting down roots in our faith? The early monks taught simply: ‘stay in your cell and it will teach you everything.’
Our vow of stability points to the blessings that can flow from remaining in one place: ‘the tree that is often transplanted cannot bear fruit’. Will immobility drive you stir crazy, or will it bring you to a new depth, a new way of seeing yourself and the world around you? On this Laetare Sunday can you rejoice – even when you are anxious or fearful, when your life’s been turned upside down, when you’re now stuck at home with your family for who knows how long? How can we all find joy, not just a grim humour or a determined cheerfulness, but joy in the middle of difficulties, like a parent getting up in the middle of the night for their baby, like a monk getting up in the early morning for their prayers. You cannot manufacture joy, it is a fruit of a life whose roots are peace, peace amid thorns. Paul learned through all his difficulties: nothing can come between us and the love of Christ.
In today’s gospel Jesus tells us ‘I am the light of the world’. We need that light in the darkness, to show us the way, to reassure us, warm us, to enable us to meet whatever challenges, whatever horrors lie in front of us, even the valley of the shadow of death. The enemy of joy is fear – are you afraid of death? The central conviction running through the New Testament is : ‘if we die with him, we shall live with him.’ Death is not to be feared, it is a doorway. The centrality of mass is that unflinching confrontation of death. We celebrate one man’s death, because that brings us to true life, because we live in the light of his resurrection, because we know that we are loved, that we have a purpose and a destination – and if we have that peace and that joy, like putting that airplane oxygen mask on ourselves first, we will be in a position to help others, we will not be panicking, not anxious, we will be sharing the love we have received, the peace and the joy.
Samuel tells Jesse in today’s first reading that the Lord does not see as we see. He looks not at appearances but at the heart. Can this strange open-ended time be a chance to move from appearances to the heart, to discover each other anew? For us in the monastery here it feels like a second novitiate, no guests, no students, no commitments taking us away. We have just each other as we pray together, eat, work and relax together, and like any human community that will bring stresses and strains. But those can call forth a greater patience, tolerance and, crucially, a greater compassion and forgiveness. St Benedict talks of the good zeal, to animate the monastic community, ‘bearing with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body and behaviour.’ Our communities, whether monastery or family, provide us with support but also with accountability – and we all face that temptation to opt out, to stay in our own room, a psychological rather than social isolation. Any community will only get through together. As St Benedict prayed: ‘may he bring us all together to everlasting life’.