Retreat Conference #7

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Retreat Conference #7, hosted by Fr Robert Hale




In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Compassionate God, teach us anew daily how to pray that we might be united with you in your passionate love. This we ask through Christ's Word. Amen. Today we finish our meditation regarding monastic practices. In fact, tomorrow I will offer a Lectio Divina on the text of Matthew 25, verses 1-13, the parable of ten bridesmaids. In these days, we have meditated the most important practices of monastic life.


Stability, attention to oneself or custody of heart, meditation and silence. We finish with prayer. I hope that you have seen the interior movement, not of my meditations, but our life in this order. Stability, attention to oneself, meditation, silence, and today prayer. Stability with its conversion opens us to attention to oneself, to vigilance. And together, conversion and vigilance, they constitute the base for meditation. But meditation has its goal in the deep silence of God.


And finally, prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is the most secret dimension of the spirit in monastic life. For me, this meditation will be, I think, a little bit difficult. Prayer is a fire of love. Prayer is a fire of love. For this reason, we must have a pure heart. For this reason, we must not have lovers in our life. No other lovers, but one lover, God. Prayer is a fire of love. Prayer is the most authentic gift which we have received as monks.


Monks pray. And when in the church people think of monks, immediately they think monks pray. Yes, monks pray. We pray. But what is prayer? If we want to paraphrase a famous maxim of the ancient church, the church makes the Eucharist, and the Eucharist makes the church, we can say that the monk makes prayer, and prayer makes the monk. Wonderful. In fact, every day we pray.


Monks make the prayer of the church. And we pray also for every human being on this earth. Monks make the prayer of the church and of all humanity. But at the same time, prayer makes us monks. In other words, we can say that monks become prayer, are a prayer in the presence of God. But what is prayer? Simple question. Very simple. But I think very difficult. To answer this question.


What is prayer? Perhaps we can begin with the image of contrast found in the parables of the Pharisees and the publicans. Luke 18, chapter 18, 9, 14. This parable is very famous. Everybody of us knows this parable. Luke 18, 9. Michael? Michael? Thank you. He then spoke this parable addressed to those who believed in their own self-righteousness, while holding everyone else in contempt. Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector.


The Pharisee, with head unbound, prayed in his fashion. I give you thanks, O God, that I am not like the rest of men, grasping, crooked, adulterous, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I pay tithes on all I possess. The other man, however, kept his distance, not even daring to raise his eyes to heaven. All he did was beat his breast and say, Will God be merciful to me, a sinner? Believe me, this man went home from the temple justified, but the other did not. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, while he who humbles himself shall be exalted. Thank you.


This text is very famous. The prayer of the Pharisee is egocentric. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself. It seems to me that he prays to himself. Terrible. His prayer consists in the difference which sets him apart from the others. God, I thank you that I am not like other men, or even like this tax collector. Terrible. He thinks to be just in the presence of God because he follows some religious exercise. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.


Our works. He is so full of himself that he has no room in his heart to receive anything as a gift. God is not in this prayer. There is the word God. There is the word, but there is not God himself. Here there is a big, a great high. High, high. But not God. The prayer of the true contemplative, on the contrary, overflows in love and compassion. Realizing one's need before God, his heart is open to the needs of others. Silence, which opens us to God, opens us as well to an acceptance of our neighbors.


The close heart of the Pharisee leads rather to exclusion. By contrast, the contemplative's union with Christ gives him a shared identity. The publican's prayer, instead, is a prayer for mercy. God, be merciful to me, a sinner. Simple prayer, but true. This prayer comes from the heart. In this prayer, there is God. Not only the word, but God himself. God, be merciful to me, a sinner. This prayer is true.


Comes from his heart. In this prayer, there is not only the word God, but he is present. He is invoked with love, as a son calls to his father. Thus, the publican is a perfect symbol of loving prayer to God. The same contemplative attitude is expressed in another text in the Gospel for Luke, a text which I love very much. That of the woman who is a sinner in chapter 7. Also, this text is very famous. Luke, chapter 7, verses 36, but we read only the first verses.


From 36. Dave? There was a certain Pharisee who invited Jesus to dine with him. Jesus went to the Pharisee's home and reclined to eat. A woman known in the town to be a sinner learned that he was dining in the Pharisee's home. She brought in a vase of perfumed oil and stood behind him at his feet, so that her tears fell on his feet. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissing them and perfuming them with the oil. Here again we can see the same contrast between the woman and Simon the Pharisee. Do you remember? Simon, realizing that the woman is a prostitute, sets himself above her and refuses to share a meal of fellowship with her.


But this woman is great. Also for our spiritual experience. The woman, knowing who she is, does not seek to hide her identity, but brings all that she is before Jesus. But let us try to experience the same condition of this woman. Today, probably, I will be long. You can follow about the text. When she learned where Jesus was,


she brought an alabaster flask of ointment. We must see this sequence. When we read the Gospel, especially the Gospel, we must have a little bit of fantasy. To see the figures, Jesus, the other man, woman, the situation, the concrete situation. Not also the physical, but the spiritual situation. This is my method, for example. This woman is not foolish. When she learned, I have the conviction that this woman waited for something in her life. She is a prostitute. Okay.


But she is a human being. She has a soul. I have the conviction that this woman waited for something in her life. And when she comes to know of Jesus, she must go to him. I think that to understand this meeting between the woman and Jesus, we must meditate on her human condition. Follow me, please, about this reflection. Human condition, her human condition. And we men cannot understand the physical, the psychological and spiritual situation of this human prostitute.


She sells herself. She gives her body and often she experiences strong humiliation. She touches men whom she does not love. This is terrible, believe me. I have a great compassion for prostitutes, because I think they intuit what true love is, as opposed to false love. This is paradoxal. But I think they know, probably better than we, how much a sexual relationship only is false. They reveal it with their own bodies, which sometimes are consumed. But often the prostitutes have a great heart, which waits and yearns for a true love.


Therefore, there is this woman who is waiting for something in her life. She is waiting for an interior peace, for a profound experience of love. She seeks her love. For this reason, she comes in the Pharisee's house and she comes bringing an alabaster flask of ointment. This is a wonderful picture. Do you see it? She comes with all her personal situation, but she has this alabaster oil in the flask. Wonderful and beautiful. She comes with a perfume.


What is perfume? I don't know here in America, but in Italy and in many countries of Europe, when a man gives perfume to a woman, it means that he loves her. The perfume is the gift, the symbol, of a love. And she comes with this perfume. There is this perfume in our life, especially in our prayer. What is this perfume in our prayer? Now this woman comes with her symbol of love and standing behind him at his feet, that is, she becomes his disciple.


She becomes a disciple of Jesus. In fact, in the ancient world, disciples sit at the feet of their master. Do you remember in the Gospel of Luke, Mary, the sister of Martha, sat at the Lord's feet. Very interesting. When we become disciples of Christ, we sit down at the feet of our master, Jesus. Therefore, this woman comes with the perfume of love, decides to become a disciple of Jesus, and without saying a word, no words in this text,


no talking, what does she do? She weeps. I have a great respect for those who weep, because when a person cries, he or she receives the gift of the tears. I have cried many times in my life, and I have known what it means. I don't know you. The gift of tears. Do you remember? Also Saint Romuald had this gift. I remember that Saint Romuald had this gift,


the gift of tears, and said, Oh Jesus, my kind Jesus. Mio Gesu, mio buon Gesu. When we weep regarding our personal situation, it means that we want truly to change, to convert our life. In other words, the woman, knowing who she is, does not seek to hide her identity, but brings all that she is before Jesus. She becomes to wet his feet with her tears, and wipes them with the hair of her head, and kisses his feet, and anoints them with ointment.


She does not say one word. Perfect silence. Here there is only a silence of presence. There is only a prayer, which is pure love. A silence which is a fire of love, which is a dialogue with sound words. Here the tears speak, the kisses speak, the perfume speaks. The striking aspect of this share is the openness with which she approaches Jesus. Everything in this text is true,


authentic, authentic love. There is no attempt to hide who she is, and if it is true that she uses all of her erotic art to manifest her love for Jesus, and some scholars say that prostitutes in that time and place used this technique in their work. It's true. She used all her erotic art to manifest her love for Jesus. But it is also true that the sense, the orientation of her manifestation of love is a revelation of Adab. This woman is great


because she truly loves Jesus. Though we can say that her love is her prayer. In fact, it is a common experience of the mystics that in genuine prayer God not only reveals who he is, but who we are. And in this experience of prayer, prayer of love, there is a transfiguration. God reveals to us, but also we change. We know our profound identity, the image sought by God from eternity. We find our true you


in this prayer of love. If we really try to abide in him in radical simplicity, the true nature of ourselves will be revealed to us. Thus, the testimony of the mystical tradition is that the road to union can only be through purification. The woman of Luke 7 is a powerful testimony that we can dare to bring our true self to contemplation with all our darknesses, our unbelief, our anger, our boredom, our disappointment, our feeling of inferiority. And Jesus always receives us.


Two images of prayer. The first is the poor public in the temple. A prayer of words, loving words, but in the second image we have a prayer of silence, and this prayer is a fire of love. No words, but everything here speaks the silence of the fire of love. But we have a third image of prayer, and it is also from St. Luke's Gospel. You know that the Gospel of Luke is the Gospel of prayer. And our text is


chapter 12, 35-40. 12 verses 35-40. Randy? Thank you. Thank you.


In this parable, another famous text, the master of servants is off to a marriage feast with fire. Our Lord is fire. The servants do not know when he will return, but their love keeps them vigilant. But their love keeps them vigilant. Also here there is a love. The master will come when he is ready. They don't know when, whether in the first, second, or the third watch. We don't know. The servants are not anxious to argue him. But when the master comes and knocks,


Alessandro, Alessandro, the servants are ready to receive him. We are ready. But at this point, there is a shift in the parable. We don't know. We don't know when the Lord comes, if in our youth, in our maturity, or when we are old. We don't know. But we faithful servants know that he will come. And when he will come, he will gird himself and have them sit at a table. And he will come and serve them. This is the shift in our times. What is this shift? If we want to use the same image of the parable,


we will become the lords. And the lord will become our servant. It's paradoxal, but it's true. We will become the lords, and the lord will become our servant. That is, outside the story of the parable, in very truth, he will love us, and we will experience his love. In this light, the prayer becomes the place of the nuptial chamber, where God will say to us, I love you from eternity. I love you from eternity.


Do you see this movement of prayer? Prayer of lips. In the prayer of the publicans in the temple. We use the words, and of course it is necessary. We speak. We are human beings. But in our experience, probably in our maturity, our love of Christ grows within us. Always. More and more. And our prayer becomes only silence of fire of love. And then, in another experience, we experience the love of God. And for me, this is the true prayer.


When our lord becomes our servant. Do you remember, in the Gospel of John, chapter 13, Jesus washes our feet. Jesus loves us. God loves us. And in the prayer, we experience this love. What is our prayer? What is? We know it, and we don't know it. We know it, and we don't know it. It is our secret. Let us tell nobody. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Merciful God, fill our hearts with the love of your spirit, that we may await with faithfulness and vigilance the coming of the bridegroom. This we ask through the saint, Christ our Lord. Amen. Amen. Good morning. Today we finish our retreat. Someone will say, finally. I don't know. Personally, these days have been very intense. They have been for me a personal occasion


to recall in my monastic life the essential center of my vocation. I have tried not only to offer some meditation, but also to present the profound sense of our call. Through the scriptures, the tradition, and through my personal experience as a commandment monk. And I hope not to have expounded a cold doctrine, but rather to have opened up a bit the gift of a monastic life. In this light, a monk is always a person opened up, laid bare to the grace of God. When we read the Bible, we open ourselves to the God, to the Word of God.


When we pray the Liturgy of Hours, we open ourselves to the prayer of the Fathers in the faith. When we celebrate the Divine Liturgy of the Eucharist, we open ourselves to the Trinitarian love of the Paschal Mystery. When we speak, or when we experience a silence of meditation or of prayer. When we work, or we study, or we read. When we meet brothers and sisters, or when we are alone. Always, we are open to render vulnerable to the grace of God. A grace which is a friendly presence. Though I want to conclude this retreat,


this is a parable. The parable known with the name of the Ten Bridesmaids. Our text today is Matthew 25, 1-13. Thank you. But at midnight there was a cry,


the bridegroom is here, go out and meet him. At this all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish one said to the sensible ones, give us some of your oil, our lamps are going out. But they replied, there may not be enough for us and for you. You had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves. They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. Lord, Lord they said, open the door for us. But he replied, I tell you solemnly, I do not know you. So stay awake because you do not know either the day or the hour. The parable known with the name of the Ten Bridesmaids.


I think that probably at the end of our Lectio Divina, I present a Lectio Divina today, not a meditation, but a practice, a monastic practice. We are able to call it with another name. I have already explained in a homily that the parables of Jesus are not fables. They don't want to offer a moral teaching or to interpret the law of Moses. They have a theological meaning. And for this reason, they are often difficult to understand. Jesus wants to communicate in human words the dynamics and the reality of the kingdom of heaven. Though he takes for analogy some human examples, but then he transforms them from within,


often surprising his own errors. Thus, in our parable, Jesus takes as example a feast of marriage. But this wedding is very strange. For example, where is the bride in this marriage? We know that the bride is very important in every marriage. And sometimes we wait for error. But where is the bride in this text? Why does the bridegroom delay? It is the contrary, often. Why do these maidens take the lamps? The lamps are for the night.


What kind of marriage is this? It is clear that in our parable, Jesus offers, through the example of human marriage, an image of the divine wedding with us. Now, our text is divided in two parts. The first consists in the verses 1-4 and the second the verses 5-13. In this parable, the beginning is very important, decisive. The kingdom of God shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. We know that there was a tradition in Palestine to accompany to the synagogue the bride and the bridegroom with the procession of friends and relatives.


Also today, in our tradition, we do a procession with cars towards the church. When I have been in Palestine, I have seen a wedding, very intense, with colors, dancing, singing, sounds, beautiful. And after the celebration followed a feast, which lasted long, sometimes for many days. In our tradition, in one day there is all, celebration, feast, good lunch. But in Palestine, also today, many days of feast. The lamps were lighted at night and were not used during the procession.


Therefore, I think the ears of Jesus were astonished by this parable, by this very strange marriage. What are these lamps? In my interpretation, lamp is our existence. Our life is like a lamp. We are living lamps which burn. We are a lamp. Now the Palestinian lamps were small and of terracotta, and they directly burn oil. I don't know if you have an oil lamp in your cell.


However, one always has to be attentive, because consuming quickly oil, it goes out easily. Also our life, if we have not interior oil, can extinguish anytime, day after day. In other words, we can have very clear our goal, to go to meet the bridegroom. This is our goal. But not to have enough oil within us. An oil which burns, an interior spiritual energy, a profound and strong sense of our existence. From this point of view, the parable establishes that among the ten maidens, five of them were foolish and five were wise.


The first were foolish, for when they took their lamps, they took no oil with them. But the wise took flags of oil with them. This is the difference. Everybody has a lamp. Everybody has an existence. But I don't know if everybody has oil, enough oil. This distinction in the parable is neither a moral judgment of Jesus, nor an injustice insofar all ten maidens start with their lamps and with oil.


But five of them are wise because they think also of oil. This is the vigilance, the previdence, the wisdom, the hidden wisdom. The wise are wise because they think not only of their lamps, but also of the flags of oil. There is here an attention, a vigilance for the most important thing, oil. And also we find again this word flags. Do you remember yesterday? Yesterday we had a flag of perfume. Today it is a flag of oil.


Now, who are these ten maidens? Who are? I think that they are the bride. There is a bride in this marriage. They are the bride. These ten maidens are the church, the believers of all ages. And of course they are also the monks of all ages. Five of them are wise because they are attentive about the interior oil of their monastic vocation. And five of them are foolish because they are only worried about their exterior monastic life. But for everybody the bridegroom was delayed.


And so they all slumbered and slept. Everybody. Also the wise. Very interesting. Because we are often tired, faint, everybody. All because we are tired of waiting, of waiting. Yesterday the last example, the parable of the watchful servant. We have found this servant ready, watchful. But sometimes we are tired of waiting. We risk not to enter into the nuptial chamber for this reason. Because we are tired or because we sleep.


No, not for this reason. So the first part of the parable finishes and the second sequence starts. It begins with a cry. Behold the bridegroom, come out to meet him. It seems to me that here there is something implicit. Which is not said explicitly. In fact, who cries out? It is not true that all sleep. The majority sleep. But someone keeps awake. But we don't know who. I believe that in our history, in our church, in our community, in my personal life,


many prophets have cried, Behold the bridegroom, come out to meet him. I am thinking, for example, of John XXIII. Gandhi, in our century. Your Martin Luther King. Many others. They have cried out and probably they were not heard. The bridegroom has come and only a few have recognized him. But also in our life there is a midnight. Rather, there are many midnights. As in history, in our church, many midnights.


What is this midnight? Why does the bridegroom come at midnight? In this verb, midnight. It is the fullness of the night. The moment of meeting. There is a time of waiting, but also a time of visit. And this time is night. A dark night. And here the experience of the mystics is very important, essential for us. The help for our life. A dark night. I don't know about you, but in my life there have been many midnights.


And sometimes I remember these Cairos in my life. For example, the gift of my parents, of my family. Two teachers in high school. Some good friendships. My discovery of camaraderie. My decision to become a monk. The solemn monastic profession. Many Cairos. Many midnights. In which God has visited me. And in which he has always asked me for something. When the Lord comes, visit us. But for something. Though midnight, after midnight, I have grown.


We have grown. But every midnight has been a Cairos of grace and of testing. Every midnight, every visit of the Lord. The same experience of these ten maidens. Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. When the Lord comes in our life, it is always a moment of truth. Always. We discover if we have enough oil in our lamps. In other words, we discover if we are on the road of divine wisdom or not. And every midnight is an occasion of conversion.


Now, in our parable, there is a difficult passage. Which often we don't understand very well. And I have not understood this passage for many years. And if I say the truth, for me this passage was a scandal for my faith. When the five foolish maidens asked their wives for a little oil for their lamps. Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out. And their answer is no. No. The translation in English, also in Italian, modern language, is a nuance.


But in Greek, it is strong. No. And for our religion's concept, this is a scandal. No. Why? They are the wise, good Christians. And they said no. Terrible. Difficult passage. We would expect a positive response. And they seem to us bad. Why this reply? Which seems to us a contradiction. But because they cannot give their oil. Because they cannot give their oil.


They cannot divide their own oil with the foolish maidens for their lamps. And they cannot, because this oil cannot be divided. Only now we must understand very well what this oil is. The lamp is our existence. But within our existence, there is this oil. And in every one of us, there is this oil. As a lamp is useless without oil, so our life does not have sense without this oil. For some, this oil is faith.


For others, it is hope. But for me, this oil is our love. Without love, our life does not have vitality. It is not light. A lamp has sense when it lightens. Also our life has sense when we are a light of love. Especially in monastic life. A light of love. But there is a difference between the oil which burns and the light of the lamp which lightens. Be careful.


Light is the effect of our oil. That is, of our love. I cannot hand over my own personal love to another person because this love is my profound identity. This love is me. This love is a gift of God. It is the gift of God to myself. It is the very presence of God in myself. For this reason, they cannot divide their own oil with the foolish maidens for their lamps. And they cannot because this oil cannot be divided.


Therefore, when I love, I illumine, I am a light. I spread good light. It is clear that in a Christian interpretation, I can also totally consume my oil. That is, I can die for another person. And we have murders in the church, in the world. But also in this case, that person does not receive my oil love. That person receives rather the effect, the good of my love. The light of my oil. We human beings cannot share this oil act of loving.


We can give only the fruit of our love. Only God, who is love, gives to us not only the good of his love, for example, the creation, but also he shares with us his own love. But God is God. God is love. And for this reason, he can share his love with us. But we are human beings. We are only reflection of this love, which is God. Or better, who is God. And for this reason, we can only to light, to burn our oil, and to do good.


In this sense, we can understand how we are the image of God. We are a concrete reflection of God's love. But we cannot ontologically share it. Because this oil love is not ours. I am not of myself. Now, we can comprehend the deep sense of our parable. We cannot buy this oil, an illusion. Tell me where, I go immediately. Tell me, I go immediately. Where is the store of love? Many persons today try this love in many experiences.


But this is an illusion. This oil is already within us. Every one of us is this oil. Where do these foolish maidens go? Where? What do they buy? If oil is our most profound identity, if it is our own being, a gift of God, what kind of identity can these maidens find elsewhere? Only a mask. And for this reason, many times we are one, one hundred, one thousand, many masks. But we have a deep identity within us.


We have this oil within us. This is the image, the true image of God within us. The foolish maidens go to seek that which is possible to find, if not in God. And a friend of mine has said to me that the strategical mistake of these foolish maidens has been not to trust in the love of Christ. Though they were everything, on the contrary, they could stand firm and hope in the love of God. They could say, Oh Lord, we have not loved enough. And now we are without oil.


Have mercy on us. And according to my friend, they could then meet the bedroom too. Very interesting. But they prefer another solution. To seek, I don't know, where is this oil? What kind of oil? And this big mistake for their life. Though they waste everything. Thus we can understand the verse of Scripture for to him who has will more be given and from him who has not even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.


That is, he who loves not only will find new love within but also he will receive the same love to his God. And he who does not love not only will never find love within but also will not meet the bridegroom. They will say, Lord, Lord, open to us. Lord, Lord, open to us. Do you remember? It is interesting to read this parable with Matthew 7.21.23. The same situation. Please. Matthew 7.21.23.


It is not those who say to me, Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of heaven but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven. When the day comes, many will say to me, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name? Then I shall tell them to their faces, I have never known you. Away from me, you evil people. Be careful to the reply of Jesus. He is terrible, this answer. But I don't know you. We ask not to enter into the kingdom, not because we have slept, no, not because we are tired and feeble, fragile,


no, for this reason. But because we don't have enough oil in our life. They will say, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he will answer, I don't know you because love recognizes only love. And for me, the true title of this Bible is the oil of love. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.