It is Old Year’s Night.  We are still in the season of Christmas – a season of gift-giving and sharing.  This is the time…

In his message for the celebration of the World Day of Peace for 01 January 2021, Pope Francis chose as his theme “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace.”  There can be no peace without a culture of care.  And this culture of care necessarily entails that we see ourselves as connected to each other, where there is compassion, respect and acceptance.

In the concept of the Mystical Body of Christ, we Christians see ourselves as parts of one body – the body of Christ.  As we enter into the year 2021 and with the backdrop of the Christmas season, we ask ourselves tonight, “what do we bring to the body?”

What does this connection entail?  Does your connection to the body serve the purpose of building up the body?  Think of the parasite.  A parasite is connected intricately to the tree.  But does it enhance the tree in any way?  The parasite depends on its existence by drawing nourishment from the tree, eventually sucking the tree dry until it dies and falls apart.  A parasite has nothing of its own to offer to the growth of the tree.  It merely lives off the tree.  So you may be connected to a family, a community, a church, but the question remains, “what do you bring to the body?”

It was the thirty-fifth President of the United States of America, John F. Kennedy, who once said, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”  This raises tonight’s question: “what do you bring to the body?”  Are you a parasite that merely sucks the body dry or are you one of the branches on the Vine which is Christ?

In the context of our Christmas season, who is the central figure?  Obviously, the central figure is Christ and Christ as a baby.  We sometimes miss the boat when we fail to ask the question, “what will we bring to the Christ Child?  What will we bring to the cirb?”

These are the questions that are asked in a popular ligurgical Christmas Hymn: “What will you bring to the Christ Child? What will you bring to the crib?  What will you bring to the Christ Child? What will you bring to the crib?”

In today’s glitter and glamour of the celebration of Christmas, we often forget whose birthday we are celebrating.  We excite our children to unwrap their multitude of gifts. But we fail to teach the same children that we are celebrating the Birthday of a King and we need to have something to give to the Christ Child.

Are we like the parasite clinging to the tree for its own selfish motive?  Or are we like the branch that shares life with the vine, which is Christ?

Entering into 2021, we want to be persons who bring life and love to the tree upon which we hang.  And to paraphrase President John F. Kennedy, ask not what your family can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your family.  For us monks living here at Mount St. Benedict, we must not ask what our monastery can do for us.  We must ask rather what we can do for our monastery.  For all you faithful Catholics and Church goers, ask not what the Church can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your Chruch, which is the body of Christ.

And in the true spirit of Christmas, ask not what Christ can do for you, ask rather what you will bring to the Christ Child.  What will you bring to the crib?

It is in bringing ourselves to the Christ Child, it is in bringing ourselves to the crib, that we learn the true meaning of peace.  For it is from that Christ Child, it is from that lowly wooden crib that true peace emanates.

On behalf of all the monks here at the monastery and on my own behalf, I extend sincere hope that you will always seek to bring something to the Christ Child, that you will always approach the crib with love, so that peace may reign always in your homes and in your hearts.

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Imagine… Today we have come together to celebrate the anniversary of priestly ordination of Clyde, Christian and myself. And the very first words we hear Jesus saying in the Gospel this morning is ‘Beware of false prophets’. Quite interesting…

I think it is good for us to reflect at times on the authenticity of our witness. Have Clyde, Christian and myself, over these one hundred and nine years of our collective priestly ministry been disguised as sheep but underneath were merely ravenous wolves? There is a sharp contrast between a sheep and a wolf – the wolf being a dangerous enemy of the sheep. We are all familiar with the proverbs, ‘you cannot judge a book by its cover’ and ‘all that glitters is not gold’.

Clyde, Christian and I may look nice. We have on these lovely robes this morning. We may even glitter like gold. No offense meant to you, Fr. Hugh Joyeau, but it may be that for the past forty-two years in the Archdiocese of Port of Spain, there have been no priests ordained as handsome and as good-looking as Clyde, Christian and myself. We dress like priests, we look like priests and we real nice. But are we false prophets who look nice like sheep but underneath are merely ravenous wolves?

Jesus is challenging us in this morning’s gospel not to be carried away by external appearances. He tells us not to judge a person’s character by how they appear to us but by what he calls ‘their fruits’. For Clyde, Christian and myself to assess effectively the authenticity of our priestly ministry over the past years, we need to ponder on the type of fruit we have produced over time. We need to reflect on whether we have demonstrated in our lives, what St. Paul calls in his letter to the Galatians, the fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness, trustfulness and self-control.’

This is a message that is equally applicable to an individual person as well as collectively to a community, a society or a nation. This morning’s first reading from the second Book of the Kings, recounts the important discovery of an essential element of the spiritual schema of the Jewish Nation: the Book of the Law. It was discovered by the High Priest Hilkiah in the Temple of the Lord during the reign of King Josiah. King Josiah in the seventh century before Christ had ordered the High Priest Hilkiah to use the tax money which had been collected over the years to renovate the temple. It was during this time that Hilkiah discovered the Book of the Law.

Now because this book had been lost to the people of Judah for such a long time, they had actually forgotten some of its precepts and had failed to practice them. This discovery of the Book of the Law was a massive turn around for the people of Israel, who now repented of their faults and gave their allegiance to the covenant.

When Clyde, Christian and I were ordained by the servant of God, Archbishop Anthony Pantin several years ago, we were anointed with oil and we were given the precepts to be faithful and holy priests. However, like the people of Israel, we have sometimes forgotten those precepts, and had taken other paths which were not in keeping with our priesthood. It was at times like those that, like the people of Israel, we were called to rediscover those precepts in the Temple of our Hearts. On a day like today, we need to rediscover once again those initial precepts, those first flames of our priestly vocation within the Temple of our Hearts. We need to keep asking ourselves: are we disguised as sheep but are merely ravenous wolves?

At this time, the prayer of the three of us, Clyde, Christian and John, is the prayer of the psalmist in this morning’s Responsorial Psalm:

Teach me the demands of your statutes
and I will keep them to the end.
Train me to observe your law,
to keep it with my heart.

Guide me in the path of your commands;
for there is my delight.
Bend my heart to your will
and not to love of gain.

Keep my eyes from what is false;
by your word, give me life.
See, I long for your precepts;
then in your Justice, give me life.






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There is a certain paradoxically peculiar pattern that often occurs around Good Friday in Trinidad.  It has to do with the appearance of the brilliant blooming of the Poui trees in the middle of the often severe dry seasons that we have been having in recent years.  The Poui, one of our most spectacular trees normally flowers a brilliant yellow or mild pink between April and May or nearer to the middle or end of the dry season.  The brilliance of the blossoming Poui trees is a fascinating sight to behold each year on the Mount.  This phenomenon can shed light on our celebration of Good Friday and can be a source of our spiritual reflection.

Imagine that we have not been having rain, imagine that the ground is dry and parched, imagine that rivers and ravines, reservoirs and resorts have much less water now that during the rainy season. Consider then that it is precisely at this time that the Poui comes to life in a most spectacular way.  It is the same with the cross, which we refer to as the tree of life, a symbol of mercy, wisdom, and liberation.  At a time when Jesus feels most abandoned, even by his heavenly father, at a time when his own disciples have deserted him, at a time when all seems lost, it is precisely at this time that the flower of our redemption is blossoming with the radiant beauty of our salvation.

It is a dry time for Jesus on the Cross.  And when he shouts, “I am thirsty”, he is only offered a sponge soaked in vinegar and held up to his mouth on a hyssop stick.  But something else is happening…

This reminds me of the words of chapter 35 of the Prophet Isaiah: “Let the desert and the dry lands be glad, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom; like the asphodel, let it burst into flower, let it rejoice and sing for joy… Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to the faint-hearted, Be strong! Do not be afraid.”

We read about many trees in the Garden of Eden.  However two of them are of extreme significance: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life.  Knowledge and life are divine prerogatives and can only be dispensed through God’s commands and volition.  But, as a fifth-century bishop would put it: “Adam was set a trial with regard to the tree of knowledge of good and evil, whereas the tree of life was proposed as his prize for keeping the commandment.”

We know the rest of the story.  Adam failed the test, but through the obedience of Christ, who willingly went to his death by hanging on a tree, Christ has once more made both trees accessible to us again.  The Cross is therefore understood by the Christian as imparting both the knowledge and the life originally meant for our first parents, and now accessible to all of us who believe.

Our first reading was taken from the fourth song of the suffering servant.  Although from the Jewish scriptures, we Christians have appropriated it to ourselves and see Christ foreshadowed there: “Without beauty, without majesty (we saw him), no looks to attract our eyes; a thing despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering, a man to make people screen their faces; he was despised and we took no account of him.”  And yet, it was precisely in this dry and despicable manner that the flower of our salvation bloomed.  This is the paradox of the Christian way of life.  It is what the late Fr. Henry Charles meant in his seminal thesis on Caribbean Theology.  It is precisely out of who V. S. Naipaul referred to as “Mimic Men” that life is born in our own Caribbean setting.

So when things seem to be falling apart, when we have lost our job and our wife, when everything looks rather bleak as is happening right here in our beloved land, let us learn the lesson of the Poui tree.  Let us learn the lesson of the tree on Calvary.  For it is precisely when there is drought, despair and darkness that life springs forth.

We are to learn about our own salvation from the Poui tree.  Blossoming at a time of drought and dryness, the Poui speaks of Jesus.  In the midst of pain, abandonment, thirst and dryness, our new life was born.  This is what we will celebrate tomorrow night at the Easter Vigil.  Love is born out of thirst, anguish and pain.  Indeed the words of the Prophet Isaiah are ringing true: “Let the desert and the dry lands be glad, let the wasteland rejoice and bloom; like the asphodel, let it burst into flower, let it rejoice and sing for joy… Strengthen all weary hands, steady all trembling knees and say to the faint-hearted, Be strong! Do not be afraid.”

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Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Today’s readings are to be situated in the context of WISDOM literature. No references are made to the Torah or to the Law.  All is derived from observations of nature and the phenomenon of birth, child-bearing and child-rearing.  The Hebrew Scriptures from which our Christian Scriptures is derived has a three-fold division: Torah (the law), Nevi’im (the prophets) and Ketuvim (the writings). The Hebrew Bible is thus referred to as TANAKH (T = Torah; N = Nevi’im; K = Ketuvim).  These are the Scriptures on which Jesus would have grown up.  Jesus would thus have been schooled in the understanding that revelation is not merely confined to the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  There is also a revelation which comes from the observation of nature and our surroundings. These are part of the wisdom literature which is contained in the third part of the TANAKH, Ketuvim.

With this as a backdrop, we realize how Jesus would have found it quite in order to look to his natural surroundings to get a word about what God may be saying to us.  And so he looks to the birds of the sky and the flowers growing in the grass to learn the lessons of His Heavenly Father. And these are lessons of trust!

In his Encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis underlines this in several passages.  He says, God has written a precious book, “whose letters are the multitudes of created things present in the universe” (L.S. 85), and again, the entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us.  Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God” (L.S. 84).

Even St. Paul, that great teacher of the law, once wrote to the Philippians: Finally, brothers, fill your minds with everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honour, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Paul had also attained that level of enlightenment which would have enabled him to identify the voice of God even in created things. God does not speak to us only in the words of the Law and the Prophets; he does not speak to us only in the holy things like churches and sacraments.  God also speaks to us, as He did to Jesus, in the birds of the sky and the flowers growing in the grass.

However, in order to hear God’s voice in the natural surroundings, we must be silent and still in its presence.  We must exercise a certain sense of awe and reverence among the flowers, the trees, the birds and the things of the earth.  It is the same God that we worship in Church who we encounter on the very ground on which we walk as we leave the doors of the Church.

We must cultivate a heart that is still and receptive.  And this can only be achieved by placing our trust in the same God who made us.  We do so by reflecting on the words of this morning’s responsorial psalm: “In God alone is my soul at rest; my help comes from him.  He alone is my rock, my stronghold, my fortress: I stand firm.”

And when we continue to observe our natural surroundings, the birds, the flowers, the trees, and so on, then we will begin, like Jesus, to learn the truths of our Heavenly Father, particularly the truths that “tomorrow will take care of itself” and that “the Lord will never forget you.”

Zion was saying, “The Lord has abandoned me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the son of her womb? Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you. (First Reading from Isaiah)

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The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago is a twin island state, just 7 miles off the coast of Eastern Venezuela.  These two islands are the most southerly of the Caribbean Archipelago and feel the constant lapping of the waters of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.

The Abbey of Our Lady of Exile is snugly nestled in the hills of the lush flora and fauna of Trinidad’s northern range six hundred and sixty feet above sea level.  After the conquest of the Spaniards by Christopher Columbus in 1498 and the decimation of a large portion of the Indigenous peoples, the re-population of the islands drew from a wide spectrum: African slaves, East Indian indentured labourers, French land-owners, English aristocrats, Spanish conquistadors, Chinese labourers, Portuguese, Syrians, Jews, etc. With this potpourri, came an attendant array of customs, rhythms and belief systems, all intermingling with each other and drawing as well from the vestiges of the Indigenes.  Although the British assumed political control in 1797, French was spoken in several quarters and Roman Catholicism held its own.  Today English is the lingua franca.  Hinduism, Islam, Protestantism, Pentecostalism, the Orisha Faith, the Spiritual Baptists and Roman Catholicism all co-exist, at times with a bit of syncretism, side by side with each other.

Into this microcosm came the monks from the ancient abbey of São Bento in Bahia, Brazil, in the year 1912.  They were fleeing religious persecution.  On their arrival at Tunapuna, they dedicated the land to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of “Our Lady of Exile”, as the account from the Gospel of Matthew reminded them of their own flight.  Under the astute leadership of Dom Mayeul de Caigny and Dom Hugh van der Sanden, the monastery of Mount St Benedict flourished and soon became part of the spiritual landscape of Trinidad and the wider Caribbean.  Inspired by the open spirituality of the Rule of St Benedict, the monks opened the ears of their hearts and their monastery to the diverse peoples inhabiting these lands.

Today a small band of ten monks continue faithfully the work begun by their forefathers one hundred and four years ago.  Observing the daily round of prayer and monastic community living as prescribed by St Benedict, their main task is the Liturgical Ministry to the pilgrims, hundreds of whom visit the monastery on a daily basis seeking prayer and guidance.  A “parlour” ministry meets the needs of those who seek a more direct contact with the monks and where often the Sacrament of Reconciliation is sought.  There is a retreat ministry which caters for both individuals and groups.  Wood work, poultry farming and kitchen gardening are also activities at the abbey.  “PAX” Yogurt, a product of the abbey, is sold at the “Pax Abbey Shop” on the grounds of the abbey and in all the major supermarkets on both islands of Trinidad and Tobago.  The “Pax Abbey Shop” also offers religious books and items for both devotional and doctrinal use.

The Abbey of Our Lady of Exile, Mount St Benedict, Trinidad, is the home of the Benedictine monks who live and work in Trinidad and Tobago.  It is a place where people of all faiths and of no faith are welcome.  It is a place apart where the Way of St Benedict is lived and offered to all those who visit.

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Sixth Sunday in Easter, Cycle C

SUNDAY 01 MAY 2016


It was almost thirty-one years ago on a Friday evening in September that my younger sister and my mother brought me up to the monastery.  I had come to join.  I had come to do what I had wanted to do for a very long time.  I had come to become a monk!  My sister drove the car into the car park in front of the Abbey church near to the Religious Shop.  I had two bags with me.  I got out of the car and was met by one of the monks.  I embraced my mother and my sister and my eyes were full of water.  There was sadness in the faces.  I said farewell and was directed by the monk to my room in the monastery.  It was a sad moment for me.  I felt as though I was leaving behind two persons that I had grown to love in a very real way.  I felt that something was being torn apart from within me.  It was sad!  That night I cried.  Later I learnt that my sister and my Mom had also cried.  I felt the pain of leaving home.


Unless we bid farewell to familiar faces and places we are unable to move on.  If I had not bade farewell to my family, I would not have moved on to do what I really wanted to do with my life – to give my life to God as a monk of Mount St Benedict.  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to tell her sisters: “in order to cleave, you have to leave.”  You have to leave behind what you had grown to love and to do.  You have to leave behind ways of thinking and acting in order to open up yourself to new ways of experiencing life.


My experience of leaving home came to my mind as I read today’s Gospel.  Jesus is taking leave of his disciples.  He is preparing them for the fact that he would soon no longer be with them.  Today’s gospel is part of the farewell discourse of Jesus.  And Jesus is bidding farewell to the ones that he had grown to love, his disciples.  It must have been a difficult moment for them.  It must have been very sad!  I could understand how they must have felt.  “Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.  You heard me say: I am going away …” Jesus is preparing his disciples for his departure, by telling them farewell.  But he does not want them to be troubled.


Saying good-bye is an important part of being human, especially when it is said at crucial junctures in one’s life.  Unless we are prepared to say “good-bye”, unless we are prepared to sever ties with the familiar – both persons and things, we would find it very difficult to progress, to move on in life.  Some marriages never get off the ground because one of the parties never really bade farewell to his or her blood family.  In order to cleave, we must leave.


The great figures of the Bible recognised the value of saying “farewell”.  In the Book of Genesis, Jacob gives a farewell discourse to his twelve sons just before his death.  The entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell discourse to the people of Israel just before he dies.  Just before Joshua dies at the age of 110 years, he gives a fairly lengthy farewell discourse to the people of Israel.  In the Book of Chronicles we read King David’s final discourse to all the officials of Israel, just before he dies at a good old age.  In Miletus, Paul gave a farewell discourse to the elders of the Church of Ephesus.  And in today’s gospel reading we heard part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to his disciples.  Jesus had to move on so that the Holy Spirit would come down on the apostles.


The very last word in the first reading is the word, farewell.  And on the following Sabbath, Paul and his companion Barnabas are expelled from the territory.  But what is very significant about the first reading is that the apostles want the early Christians to say “farewell” to their Jewishness.  The early Christians are being asked to let go of ideals that seemed absolutely essential but were turning out to be obstacles to the new comers.  Instead of helping faith and allowing others to know God through the Risen Lord some practices were hindering them.


Like the early Christians, we are continually being asked to take leave, to let go, to bid farewell to things that may appear to be important to us, but are not essential to the faith.  In some instances these may be hindrances to others joining us.  Let us not become too attached to our own ways of thinking and acting.  At times, we must say farewell even to these.  All that is important is love.  And Jesus tells us in today’s gospel: “If anyone love me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him, and make our home with him.”


Making a home for God is what our Christian life is all about.  We make a home for God in our families when the word of God is present there.  We make a home for God in our society when we read its events through the lens of Scripture.  Our task as Christians is to make a home for God in our hearts, in our families, in our work places, in our society and in our world.  And we do this by keeping God’s word in our hearts.  This is what will transform our lives and the lives of our people.  And then we will have no reason to cling to things so closely that we would not be able to say “farewell” when God is calling us to move on.

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THE WORD OF GOD as foundational to the Religious Life






9:00 am to 10:00 am

THE WORD OF GOD as foundational to the Religious Life

We will first consider two key phrases in the title of this presentation: “The Word of God” and “Religious Life”.  Both “the Word of God” and “Religious Life” pre-date Christianity.  For several decades of the Christian era, the Word of God was mostly the Jewish Scriptures, and the Jewish Scriptures make up the bulk of what Christians today refer to as “The Word of God”.  A large percentage of the early Christians were Jews and they sought the meaning of the Christ event in their own Scriptures.  Religious Life also has a long pedigree and if we are to keep within the narrow boundaries of what is generally referred to as “Salvation History”, then we must limit its roots to the Jewish religious landscape.  The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and the excavation of Khirbet Qumran on the northern shore of the Dead Sea have raised considerable speculation for several decades about the “monastic” character of the Essenes and their relationship with the origins of Christian monasticism[1].  However, the vow of perpetual celibacy, as practiced by Christian Religious Communities today, would have been contrary to traditional Jewish theology, which regarded the injunction of Genesis 1:28 to increase and multiply as the first commandment of the law[2].  A Christian justification of the celibate state was to be found in a particular interpretation of the New Testament Scriptures (Matthew 19:12ff).  The “Therapeutae”, another Jewish sect which flourished in Alexandria, consisted of persons who left behind family and property and pursued a contemplative life.

John Cassian (360-435), Christian monk and theologian, is noted for bringing the ideas and practices of Egyptian monasticism to the early medieval West.  In one of his major works, “The Institutes”, he affirmed that the first Christians of Egypt were obviously monks, and thus monastic life was given an apostolic origin[3].  The evangelist Mark was the first to rule as bishop over the city of Alexandria, and established his Church along the lines of the early Christian Community in Jerusalem as recounted in the Acts of the Apostles:  The whole group of believers was united, heart and soul; no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, as everything they owned was held in common. The apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus with great power, and they were all accorded great respect. None of their members was ever in want, as all those who owned land or houses would sell them, and bring the money from the sale of them, to present it to the apostles; it was then distributed to any who might be in need. (Acts 4:32-35)

And in his other major work, “The Conferences”, John Cassian underscores the apostolic origin of the monastic life.  He states in his eighteenth conference as follows: The discipline of the coenobites took its rise at the time of the apostolic preaching. For such was the whole multitude of believers in Jerusalem, which is described thus in the Acts of the Apostles (see biblical quote above). (Con 18.V.1)

A significant contributor to the history of Christian spirituality and the development of monasticism is Origen of Alexandria (184-254).  He made a clear distinction between action (praxis) and contemplation (theoria).  However, it has nothing to do with the modern distinction and opposition between the apostolic and the contemplative life.  Origen’s distinction refers to two aspects of a person’s spiritual life that are both overlapping and complementary.  For Origen, the active life is the ascetic combat through which we cultivate virtue and root out vices.  They are more aspects of the spiritual life rather than stages.  Origen is the first to interpret the Martha-Mary story of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 10:38-42) as referring to the higher value of contemplation[4].

Scripture played an enormous role in the development of religious life, beginning with the monastic movement.  Pachomius (292-348), generally recognized as the founder of Christian Coenobitic monasticism, wrote a Rule in which he stated that there should be no one in the monastery who does not know by heart at least the New Testament and the Psalms.[5]  Each candidate had to learn to read on being admitted to the monastery so as to be able to learn the Scriptures.  And once this was accomplished it became a constant source of meditation or rumination all day long both in public and private.  And in his Rule, Benedict (480-547) suggests that one of the ways the monk can spend the time between Vigils and Lauds is to study the Psalms (RB 8:3).  Here he underlines the importance of the psalms as a tool for Lectio. Benedict uses Scripture profusely in his Rule, and he also recommends it to his monks.  In the last chapter of the Rule, where he describes the Rule as “this little rule”, he encourages his monks to read scripture.  “What page, what passage of the inspired books of the Old and New Testaments is not the truest of guides for human life?” (RB 73:3).  Benedict is following in the footsteps of the ancient desert fathers who themselves were saturated with the Word of God.  And the psalms played a vital part in their spiritual life.  In his book, AD MONACHOS, Evagrius[6] Ponticus (345-399) says: “In the one singing psalms, irascibility is quiet; and the long-suffering one, fearless shall he be” (#98).

As has already been stated, The Word of God, as it has come down to us, is largely Jewish.  In order for it to be embraced by the Christians, it therefore had to be a matter of interpretation.  William Barclay gives us a very clear explanation of how this would have been easy for them to do: “The early Christians had appropriated the Jewish Scriptures – the Old Testament had become the Christian book.  And in the Jewish scriptures, they saw Christ there.  This was a fairly easy transition as the early Christians were mainly Jews and had been trained in the technique of interpreting scripture at different levels.  It was a Jewish belief that all Scripture had four meanings – Peshat, which was the simple meaning which could be seen at the first reading; Remaz, which was the suggested meaning and the truth which the passage suggested to the seeking mind; Derush, which was the meaning when all the resources of investigation, linguistic, historical, literary, archaeological, had been brought to bear upon the passage; Sod, which was the inner and allegorical meaning.  The initial letters of these words, PRDS, are the consonants of the word PaRaDiSe, and to enter into all these meanings was as if to enter into the bliss of Paradise.  Now of all the meanings Sod, the inner, mystical meaning was the most important.  The Jews were, therefore, skilled in finding inner meanings in Scripture.  It was thus not difficult for them to develop a technique of Old Testament interpretation, which discovered Jesus Christ all over the Old Testament.”

The origin of Religious Life in the Church is synonymous with the rise and development of the monastic movement in the early centuries of the Common Era.  In addition to its prophetic role as an alternative way of life to one conditioned by materialism and hedonism, it consisted often of a personal and direct response to the word of God as indicated by Holy Scripture.  Several of these monks can identify scriptural texts which catapulted their insertion into this way of life.  Anthony of Egypt (251-356), for example, was deeply touched by a passage which he heard being read in Church and that transformed his entire life.  St Athanasius (296-373) writes: “Six months had not passed since the death of his parents when, going to the Lord’s house as usual and gathering his thoughts, he considered while he walked how the apostles, forsaking everything, followed the Saviour, and how in Acts some sold what they possessed and took the proceeds and placed them at the feet of the apostles for distribution among those in need, and what great hope is stored up for such people in heaven. He went into the church pondering these things, and just then it happened that the Gospel was being read, and he heard the Lord saying to the rich man, If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  It was as if by God’s design he held the saints in his recollection, and as if the passage were read on his account.”

Hans Urs von Balthsar (1905-1988), one of the most important Roman Catholic theologians in the twentieth century, once said: “Theology for a thousand years was a science of the knees.  It has now become a science of the seat of the pants.”  This is an adequate description of what became of theology from the eleventh century onwards with the rise of scholasticism.  In an address by Fr. Michel de Verteuil (1929-2014) in Rome in 1992 on “The Theological Background to Inculturation – LECTIO DIVINA”, he makes a clear distinction between Monastic and Scholastic theology.  “Monastic theology involved the whole community, whereas scholastic theology was for specialists, an elite group”.  This has led to a compartmentalisation of life, the creating of dichotomies between the spiritual and the secular realms.  It has led us to create a false dichotomy between prayer and action, the contemplative and the active person.

“He now went up onto the mountain and summoned those he wanted.  So they came to him and he appointed twelve; they were to be his companions and to be sent out to proclaim the message, with power to drive out devils” (Mark 3:13-14).  In our Religious Life, we have often separated these two dimensions of the call of Jesus, the companionship and the ministry.  The companionship is what I propose as the contemplative dimension of the call of Jesus.  Anyone who has been in love does not need to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships where words are unnecessary.  It is the same as our relationship with God.  Wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One Who loves us has a name in the Christian tradition – contemplatio, contemplation.  We learn to let go of our own words – we simply enjoy the presence of the other.

The centrality of the scriptures and especially the psalms (as in the Divine Office) to our religious life is essential in our response to the challenges which beset all our communities today.  I think what is needed today for the rejuvenation of Religious Life and Religious communities is a return to the central role of The Word of God in the Scriptures and particularly in the psalms.  The beautiful story of the Road to Emmaus is especially relevant at this time.  The two disciples were rejuvenated by the Risen Christ (Luke 24:27) as he opened the Scriptures for them and beginning with Moses and the Prophets, “he explained to them the passages throughout the scriptures that were about himself.”  And we are told by Luke that as Jesus did this, their hearts started to burn within them.  Can this happen to us religious, when we too have our heads downcast?  St Augustine said that God wrote two books, the Book of Scripture and the Book of Life.  We need to read these two books and place them alongside each other.  We must allow the Book of Scripture to throw light on the Book of Life.

The Church since the second Vatican Council has entered upon a road of self-examination.  Religious communities as well have been asked to return to the spirit of the Gospel: Since the ultimate norm of the religious life is the following of Christ set forth in the Gospels, let this be held by all institutes as the highest rule. (Perfectae Caritatis 2a) It is through the Word of God, by reflecting on it continually, that the renewal of religious life lies.

The Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in its message to Consecrated Men and Women for the Year of Consecrated Life, “REJOICE!”, underscores the importance of the Word of God for the renewal of Religious Communities: Fidelity in discipleship occurs through and is demonstrated by the experience of community, a theological reality in which we are called to support each other in our joyful ‘yes’ to the Gospel. “It is the Word of God that inspires faith and nourishes and revitalizes it. And it is the Word of God that touches hearts, converting them to God and to his logic which is so different from our own. It is the Word of God that continually renews our communities”. FRANCIS, Meeting with the Clergy, Consecrated People and Members of Diocesan Councils, Assisi (Perugia), 4 October 2013.

The Word of God needs to be interpreted in a particular way. There are several problems in trying to reconcile some of the accounts in the Jewish Scriptures with the Gospel of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The repeated commands in Deuteronomy, Joshua and Judges, for example, attributed to God to wipe out the inhabitants of the Promised Land find difficulty to be reconciled with the preaching of Jesus. The problem is often dealt with by allegorizing and applying a spiritual interpretation[7]. Interpretation is the key to the use of the Word of God for the renewal of Religious Communities. However, the emphasis must always be on doing the word. The Word of God is not for itself but rather to inform our lives and the lives of our Religious Communities.

The brethren came to the Abba Anthony and said to him, “Speak a word; how are we to be saved?”  The old man said to them, “You have heard the Scriptures.  That should teach you how.”  But they said, “We want to hear from you too, Father.”  Then the old man said to them, “The Gospel says, if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5:39).  They said, “We cannot do that.”  The old man said, “If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.”  “We cannot do that either,” they said.  So he said, “If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil,” and they said, “We cannot do that either.”  Then the old man said to his disciple, “Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids (make a little porridge).  If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you?  What you need is prayers.” (Anthony, #19)

This was one of the more frequent questions in the desert: Give me a word!  The other was “What should I do?”  Very often the elder would refer the seeker to the Scripture.  The word of the Scripture and the word of the father were one and the same.  The Father was a living text.  In today’s story, Anthony merely referred the brethren to the scripture.  The scripture and the psalms in particular give us a language to speak about the life of God in our lives and the lives of others.    The desert fathers were so saturated with God’s word that they would always have a response, a word to offer.  One cannot give what one doesn’t have.

The dialogue does not revolve around the meaning of the text, but on whether or not the brothers are able to do it.  What was important was the emphasis placed on doing the scripture.  The psalms and the scripture led the monk to live in a particular way.  One had to do the scripture.

A story from the apophthegmata shows clearly this relative importance of reading compared with the absolute importance of the contents of Scripture:

At a time of great cold, Serapion meets in Alexandria a poor man who is completely naked. He says to himself: “This is Christ, and I am a murderer if he dies without my having tried to help him.” So Serapion takes off all his clothes and gives them to the poor man, then he remains naked in the street with the only thing he has left, a Gospel under his arm… A passer-by, who knows him, asks him: “Abba Serapion, who has taken away your clothes?” And Serapion, showing his Gospel, replies: “This is the one who has taken away my clothes.” Serapion then goes to another place and there sees someone who is being taken to prison, because he is unable to pay a debt. Serapion, seized with pity, gives him his Gospel, so that he can sell it and so pay his debt. When Serapion returns to his cell, no doubt shivering, his disciple asks him where his tunic is, and Serapion replies that he has sent it where it is more needed than on his body. To his disciple’s second question: “And where is your Gospel?’ Serapion replies: I have sold the one who continually told me: Sell your goods, and give to the poor (Luke 12:33); I have given it to the poor that I might have greater confidence on the Day of Judgment” (Pat. Arm. 13, 8, R: III, 189).

[8]For Anthony, representative par excellence of the anchoritic life, as for Pachomius, representative of the coenobitic, Scripture is above all a Rule of life. It is even the only true Rule of the monk. Neither Anthony nor Pachomius wrote a Rule in the sense in which it would be understood in the monastic tradition after them, although a certain number of practical rules of Pachomius and his successors have been brought together under the name of the “Rule of Pachomius”.

What is important is not merely to read scripture but to live it.  The Desert Fathers were always searching the Scriptures for a Word.  We learn from them a particular way of reading scripture, a way to reach out the whole of our religious life.  The tradition was an oral one.  They passed on the wisdom to others by the word.  And they did not pass on their word but God’s Word.

The Word of God is the foundation on which Religious Life is built and renewed.

Abbot John Pereira, O.S.B.

Mount St Benedict, Trinidad and Tobago

[1] Fry, Timothy, O.S.B., RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English with Notes, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press) 1998, c1981

[2] Fry, Timothy, O.S.B., RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English with Notes, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press) 1998, c1981.  See also: Nugent, Andrew, O.S.B. “The Slow Release Miracle” Chapter 9, p. 65.

[3] “John Cassian and the formation of authoratative tradition” by Mark Sheridan, OSB

[4] Fry, Timothy, O.S.B., RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict in English with Notes, (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press) 1998, c1981

[5] Lectio Divina as school of prayer among the Fathers of the Desert, by Armand Veilleux, O.C.S.O.

[6] “Evagrius of Pontus (ca. 345-399) was educated philosophically and theologically under Basil and Gregory Nazianzus.  He was deacon for Gregory in Constantinople and seems to have been helpful to him in carving out the solution to the Trinitarian problems faced by the council in that city in 381.  An amorous attachment to a lady highly placed in imperial circles caused him to flee to Jerusalem, where the monastic communities of Rufinus and Melania on the Mount of Olives received him.  Under the influence of Melania, he retired to the deserts of Egypt to complete his monastic conversion … He was among the first of the desert fathers to articulate in writing the wisdom of the spiritual tradition of the monastic movement.” (J. Driscoll)


[8] “Lectio Divina and the Fathers of the Desert”, article by Armand Veilleux, O.C.S.O., November 1995.  This is the source of these two paragraphs.

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GENESIS 15:1-6,21:1-3; PSALM 104:1-6,8-9; COLOSSIANS 3:12-21; LUKE 2:22-40

When I read about Anna in today’s Gospel – a woman of 84 years who spoke in a welcoming way about the child Jesus – I remembered my own grandmother who also lived to the age of 84.  I remember how once I had done something really bad, and I felt very sad about it.  And the only person to whom I could have gone to was my grandmother.  (My parents were abroad at the time).  There she was, lying down on her bed.  I lay at her side never speaking a word, but I knew that she had understood.  And I felt better for it.  Like the old woman Anna, who welcomed Jesus into her life, my grandmother had also welcomed me at her side.

Today, we are invited to look at the relationships that exist in our own families and to see how the Holy Family can bring greater understanding among us.  We may be tempted to view the Holy Family (Father, Mother and Son) as the model for the nuclear family unit that has become so prevalent today.  In this model there is often no room for the elderly.  The nuclear family model is in direct opposition to the old West Indian concept of the extended family, which included “Granny” and “Tanti” and a host of elders, all living side by side with the young.  But the Gospel of Luke presents a scenario of old and young all loving and respecting each other.  And it is in this milieu that Jesus was nurtured.  The old man Simeon accepted the young girl Mary, giving her a word of wisdom about her new-born son.  And the elderly Anna is overjoyed at the sight of the child Jesus.  There is mutual love between old and young.  Today’s Gospel reminds us that the young and the old need each other, that they both have a role to play, and that in order to create families of love, we need to grow in mutual respect.

Our first reading tells us about the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah, two aged persons:  Abraham being a hundred years when Isaac was born, and Sarah having past the age of child bearing.  This is a lesson that it is possible for the elderly to give life.

According to Erik Erikson, one of the most influential figures today in the field of human development, the aging person is potentially the one most able to benefit humankind.  He bases this on his concept of the life cycle, whereby during the course of one’s psychological development, we pass through eight stages, the highest of which is attained during old age.  The elder is the one who can bear the fruit of the seven previous stages.  Erikson speaks about the wisdom that is accessible at this time.  Having the hindsight of myriad experiences over such an extended period of time, and having come to terms both with these experiences and with the experiences of the significant others during this time, the old person seeks for order and meaning.  Erikson calls this integrity.  In direct contrast to this, is the onset of despair!  This comes about to the extent that the old person has not been able to accept his/her life cycle in its totality.  Time is seen as too short to change one’s course, and despair steps in.  He becomes crotchety.  Wisdom is achieved to the extent that integrity overcomes despair.  The acceptance of one’s past is the crucial factor in the attainment of this wisdom.

In our family relationships there is often suspicion and tension.  The elderly are often seen as “useless” and merely to be tolerated.  On the other hand, the elderly view the young as immature and not capable of doing anything good, often criticising their efforts.  In order to restore love and harmony in our homes, we need to grow in respect for each other: young for old and old for young.  In this way the gifts of the young can be channelled with the wisdom of the aged to bring out the best in our homes.

The elderly Simeon and Anna made it possible for the youthful Mary and her child Jesus to fulfil the requirements of the law.  The young Mary needed the aged Simeon and Anna for her to fulfil what needed to be done.  On the other hand, the aged Simeon and Anna needed the young Mary to attain what they had longed to see all their lives: the Messiah.  On this feast of the Holy Family, let us grow in a deeper appreciation for each other: young for old and old for young.  In this way, our families may become more and more like that of the Holy Family.

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ACTS 6:8-10,7:54-59; PSALM 30:3-4,6,8,16-17; MATTHEW 10;17-22

The Lebanese Poet Khalil Gibran says, “Your joy is your sorrow unmasked…  Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?  And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?  When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.  When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”  Joy and sorrow lie down on the same bed and we can often look back at the times of sorrow in our lives as the origin of our present joy.

The confinement of the swaddling clothes in which the child Jesus was wrapped in the crib foreshadows the shroud in which Jesus will be wrapped by another Joseph (Joseph of Arimathaea) after he took him down from the Cross.  And the wood of the crib in which he lay as a baby foreshadows the wood of the cross on which he will lie as a grown man. Already the birth of Jesus tells us something about his passion and death.  But the birth is “news of great joy.”  Indeed, the joy of the birth already includes a foretaste of the passion.  Joy and sorrow often sleep in the same bed.

And so, the Church thinks it fitting for us to celebrate the Feast of a Martyr today immediately after celebrating with such joy the birth of the Saviour yesterday.  It is a potent reminder that joy and sorrow do sleep in the same bed very often.  Just as Jesus came to give Himself totally to us and the Father, so Stephen, by his death, gave himself totally to the Father.  This is also our fate.  It is only when we give ourselves wholeheartedly can we experience the joy that comes with total union with God.

So one day after celebrating Christmas, we are listening to the words of Jesus: “Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues… You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  We must always stand firm in our witness to the name of Jesus.  Regardless of the hardships that will accompany us for this, Jesus tells us that it is the man who stands firm to the end who will be saved.  Such a man was Stephen, the first martyr.  We are called to be new Stephens who always stand firm to the end.

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