NOVEMBER 19, 2003, ST. MECHTILD OF HELFTA- HOMILY: LUKE 19: 11-26
JESUS SPOKE TO THE CROWD IN A PARABLE: I AM A HARD MAN, PICKING UP WHAT I NEVER PUT DOWN AND REAPING WHAT I NEVER SOWED! The better known, more popular of Jesusí parables make the point that God is loving, merciful, quick to forgive the penitent, longing for the return of those who go astray. Todayís gospel text is one of a group of stories that remind us that there is another feature of Godís dealings with us that must not be overlooked. He can also be stern, exacting and resolute when, by neglect, lack of foresight, carelessness or willful disobedience we anger him. The five foolish virgins hear the bridegroom tell them that he does not know who they are. Their lack of foresight causes them to be excluded from the wedding feast. In another parable, those who are taken up with accumulating wealth will have a rude awakening when they are called to account the very night they determine to enlarge their storehouses. In todayís story the lesson is brought home forcibly that we must risk all that we have received in the way of talent, energy and gifts of mind and heart or the Lord will not approve of our stewardship. He does not insist that all of us be equally successful in our efforts; he does demand that we dare to do all that we are capable of. Each of the servants received ten gold pieces; one made ten more, but the one who made only half as much was praised equally, though rewarded proportionately. Note that, though not as successful as the servant who doubled his money, he like the first put out at interest all he was given.
It is the one who through fear of failure gained nothing because he risked nothing who is condemned and is deprived of all he had received. The lesson here, then, would appear to be that we must give our best, overcome fear and timidity and, at some point, risk our all for the sake of the kingdom. Should we prove to be timid and reserved in our approach to life, and hold back the Lord will take away the little we have. Life is a risk and it takes courage and trust to engage it with all we possess, including our very self.
Today is the feast of St. Mechtild of Hackeborn, a nun of Helfta in the 13th century who exemplifies a disciple of generous and enlightened courage. She put her great talent as a singer and her gifts as a teacher at the service of her remarkable community. Mechtild at the same time led an intense interior life. She was the recipient of uncommon mystical graces and able to express them with fluency. She along with her sister who was the abbess and some other gifted persons made Helfta a remarkable center of contemplative prayer. She was formed in the Cistercian tradition and owed much to St. Bernard as did her sisters. The community lived according to the Constitutions and usages of the Order though it was not officially a member. Mechtild was not the only outstanding mystic in the community at the time. She was instrumental in the education of St. Gertrude the Great from the time that Gertrude was given to the monastery as a five year old girl. Mechtild became her second mother, being in charge of her formation and serving as her spiritual guide. Her young ward proved to be worthy of her teacher. Not only did she display outstanding intellectual powers and achieve a high level of culture, she also received rare graces of contemplation including visions of our Lord. The high culture, the abilities and the holiness of these two nuns represent one of the heights of monastic spirituality. Both witnessed to a more explicit and fervent understanding of the love of Christ as symbolized by his Sacred Heart and contributed to the development of devotion to this mystery of Christís sacrificial love for our race. They were able to create a fresh, creative form of monastic spirituality because they knew how to use their minds and dared to give their hearts love in seeking intimate union with the Lord Jesus. In short, they show us what it means to risk our all as men and women who truly seek God, using all our talents and energy in the service of his Son and the Gospel. &
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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