Daily homilies by the Prior of Pluscarden at the Quarr Abbey Retreat, 5-12 October 2016
Homily for Saturday Week 27 Year II, 8 October 2016: Luke 11:27-28
“A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!"
Jesus knew very well the desire of his Mother to pass by as far as possible unnoticed; to remain always in the background. He knew she hated having attention directed towards herself, or hearing herself praised in public. In his great love for her, and sensitivity towards her feelings, Jesus respected her desire. So it was on this occasion. He quickly turned the focus of the crowd away from his blessed Mother, and in doing so pointed to an important truth. There is a natural happiness belonging to any Mother who sees her Son grow tall and strong: all the more so if she sees him so completely good as Jesus was, so much now also a public figure, loved both by God and by the people. But even so great a happiness as that, Jesus says, is as nothing compared to the happiness God offers to all who come to him: for they will enjoy eternal life, and possession of God’s Kingdom.
In pointing beyond the blessing invoked upon his mother, Jesus did not actually contradict it. And in the light of faith, the Church has taken up these words of the unnamed woman, understanding them to have a deeper meaning and fulfilment. For the Mother of Jesus is indeed blessed, happy, beyond all others. She is blessed because she became, and remains forever, the Mother of God. And she is blessed because more than any other person in history, she heard the Word of God and kept it. The Word of God which penetrated her mind so completely, also entered her womb, and took flesh from her. And she did indeed keep that Word: it remains her possession for all eternity. For Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God and also the true Son of Mary, belongs to her, as to no other, forever; and she belongs to him with a fullness that nothing can rival, or ever diminish.
So now the glory that Mary sought to avoid in this life is given her, as of right, in heaven, and is proclaimed throughout the world. Mary enjoys now, we believe, the fullness of everlasting beatitude in heaven. And what is she doing there? Exactly what she did while on earth. She is magnifying the Lord, praising God’s glory, responding to his love with her love, through and with and in her Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
And we are all here now to do exactly the same: to magnify the Lord, to praise God’s glory, to receive his love and repay it with love, through and with and in Mary’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. We have come here in order to listen to the word of God, and through our participation in the holy Eucharist, we believe we will receive all the grace we need truly to keep it.
To listen to the word of God and keep it: this is the fundamental activity of the Church; what she exists for. It goes without saying that all Christians, each according to his own measure, should enter into this activity. With Mary each of us needs to listen to God’s word, to put it into practice, and to respond to it: in love and praise and thanksgiving.
But from the earliest times, some Christians have wanted to devote their whole life to doing nothing else. And from the earliest times, the legitimate pastors of the Church have recognised the value of their way of life: the monastic way. The Second Vatican Council echoed the whole tradition when it spoke of the “hidden apostolic fruitfulness” (PC 7) of monastic or contemplative life. It also described this life as “pertaining to the fullness of the Church” (AG 18).
After the model of our blessed Lady, we Benedictines normally avoid the limelight. Our aim is not to make a great noise in the world, but simply to pray and to work: to devote our whole life to listening to God’s word and keeping it. So in our monasteries we spend a serious portion of each day in holy reading. Then we respond to God’s word in praise and thanksgiving, expressed especially through the Prayer of the liturgy. We cultivate the spirit of silence throughout our day, even as we go about our duties and do our work; and we strive to live all the virtues, especially the Christ-like virtues of obedience and humility.
A Benedictine monastery that remains faithful to this vocation will be a powerful instrument of evangelisation. It will also be an important support and consolation to very many Christians whose faith is already everything to them; for whom nothing whatever is dearer than Christ. A school of the Lord’s service, it will also be a school of prayer, a place of Christian culture and learning, a place that opens its doors in welcoming hospitality. Today then, in the course of our retreat, and with the cry of the woman in the Gospel still in our ears, we recommit ourselves to this way of life. We re-affirm especially now our love for holy reading, and we ask for the grace, always and perseveringly, to respond to the Lord’s word with courage, generosity and trust.