I am just finishing a book on the Comanche tribe that was active in Texas and Kansas in the 19th century. The author claims they were the most powerful and fiercest tribe in American history. Their society was nomadic, and their whole way of life was built on hunting and on war — both of which they were unusually good at.

In a hunter-warrior society, a child is of no immediate value. A child is a burden, needing defending and nurturing before growing into a resource, someone whose strength and knowledge begin to “contribute” to the hunt and to the battle.

But in the gospel today, Jesus gives a child as a mirror in which to see the truth of ourselves: we are, in fact, children — no matter how skilled we have become. We are utterly dependent and needy before God — in great part because we are sinners, totally incapable of managing what is most important for us, our own salvation.

Learning that we are needy and dependent is not an easy lesson to learn. We’re brought up to take responsibility for ourselves, to give more than take. If we find our neediness hard to learn, we’re in good company — the apostles found it hard too.

But we have a lifetime to study it. And that is what we do each time we celebrate the Eucharist: Jesus himself is fairly useless from a practical viewpoint. He practiced an elementary trade; he gathered a band of unspectacular followers, and, after a teaching career of just three years, he was executed. We proclaim his humiliation and death, suffered for our sake, by taking a little bread, a little wine — not enough to nourish us in an earthly sense, just enough to remind us that, with him, we must become little — even the least — to enter the Kingdom of God.

Sanctuaries of Peace

         Homily by Fr. Ephrem Arcement, OSB

Readings: Micah 7:14-15, 18-20

                Matthew 12:46-50


The book of Micah reaches its climactic conclusion today in this prayer for restored peace and hymn of remembrance of God’s saving fidelity.  Beleaguered, oppressed, and exiled, the Judeans, once the beneficiaries of a land flowing with milk and honey, are now a tethered lineage torn apart.  Micah makes it clear—this is not God’s fault but Judah’s.  For Micah, punishment is inevitable as long as sinful behavior persists.  But God is constantly being pulled in the direction of forgiveness and mercy.  This tension resolves itself with mercy and forgiveness getting the final word.  Although broken and only a faint remembrance of her former glory, a remnant remains in Judah.  The faith of the people has not been completely snuffed and hope for restoration finds a voice:  “Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance, that dwells apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel.  Let them feed in Bashan and Gilead, as in the days of old.”

Carmel, which means a garden land and Bashan and Gilead are all noted for their excellent pasture land.  I can’t help but be struck by this idyllic image of a people dwelling apart in a woodland, in the midst of Carmel!  What a fantastic manifestation of God’s mercy is this image of a remnant of God’s people being shepherded by a loving God, feeding on God’s life-giving peace.

Some today, perhaps even many, question the validity of a life set apart dwelling in the pasture lands of a Carmel, like the one down the street, or like this monastery here.  But what an inestimable gift to the world is a monastery that intentionally creates peaceful brooks and fertile pasturelands for the beleaguered and oppressed multitudes.  Let us not underestimate the power of our common fidelity in creating sanctuaries of peace—in some mysterious way, it is what is helping keep our fragmented world together.

         In today’s Gospel, Jesus relativizes his blood relations in order to reveal a type of family made possible through such shared fidelity.  Why do monks and nuns leave family and friends behind and come to a monastery? Because they have a vision of what can happen when hearts and minds, which point in the same direction, come together.  It’s a vision of the kingdom of God manifest in this life where peace reigns and violence has no place at all.  Just maybe, our Carmels and our monasteries are more necessary in the world today than ever before!