WHEN JONAH PREACHED THEY REPENTED, AND THERE IS SOMETHING GREATER THAN JONAH HERE. The human heart is a great abyss of mystery. How could it be that people who listened to Jesus preach and observed his manner of life and knew of his miraculous deeds did not accept his message and repent their sinful ways? Almost as mysterious is the related question: why is it that some people who hear the prophetic word of an inspired man, far inferior to Christ, do take to heart that prophetic word and submit to it in profound repentance? Ultimately the answer is God's grace, of course, but that only removes the mystery to a deeper level, the point at which God touches the human heart and transform it by virtue of His action. This confronts us with the mystery of human freedom and God's efficacious assistance to render that freedom effectual in pursuing our true interests.
All of us here present to hear these words of Jesus today are confronted with a choice. Do we open our heart to this invitation to repentance for our failings? A call to live the monastic life is a daily call to repentance that leads to an ever greater response to God's merciful love. So also attendance at mass is a opportunity for those who hear the word of God to decide to live faithful to God's will day by day. This decision is what is meant by conversion. Conversion, however, is not merely a single event that effects a permanent change of heart for our lifetime; rather it is the beginning of a journey that carries the faithful ever further along the path that makes us truly a new person. It is this process of inner transformation that is the essential substance of our vocation.
The monastic life appears to many on the outside as a monotonous daily round of duties and practices that offer but little satisfaction to the human heart so restlessly seeking for gratification. That concept of monastic life is false to the reality to which we are called. For the real sense of this vocation is the most exciting of all conceivable activities, namely the divinization of the human person. This divinization is a process that is a gradual assimilation to Christ. Since he is both God and man he leads us from within by virtue of his Holy Spirit to a higher way of being. Such a transformation entails repeated conversions from the ways of selfish pursuit of satisfactions that disappear in the enjoyment to an ever greater capacity to find joy and fulfillment in the things of God that are eternal. This form of fulfillment alone gives full satisfaction to the human person.
Let us resolve to be deeply honest with our self as we hear the word of our Lord inviting us to examine our life so as to turn away from those attitudes of pride and criticism that have blinded so many and have led to divisions and bitterness St. Benedict warns monks against a bitter zeal that is disobedient and critical of others, and which leads to loss of grace. It is recognized by a lack of respect toward one's superior and toward those who support him. This day grace is offered to each of us here to respond with that good zeal which engages us in the work of building up through love, cooperation and obedience to those who represent Christ for us. Today may each of us take up the challenge given us by the words of our Lord and generously enter upon this inner work of transformation so that we become capable of living with him in joy for all eternity. The Eucharist we are offering is a pledge that he will accompany us on the way and make of our life here together a preparation for an eternity of praise in the house of God our Father.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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