My dear friends,
Recently, I have been recalling that it is almost a year since we closed the Guesthouse and Chapel. You will remember those days. We began hearing about this new virus and the reports of mounting deaths. Soon we were horrified to discover that it had reached this country. Today, nearly half a million people have died from Covid-19 in this country, and almost 2.3 million around the world.
In many ways, these last 11 months have been a time of disfiguration, as many have been disfigured by disease and death. Some who have recovered continue to feel the effects and are living with post-COVID-19 syndrome.
If this has been a time of disfiguration in terms for our bodies, it has also been a time of disfiguration for our body politic. Around us we see the effects of systemic racism, and the lingering consequences of slavery. We have seen our government literally assaulted, and what happens when civil discourse is replaced by lies, corruption, and self-interest; where compromise and negotiation are seen as signs of weakness; and schools, churches, and business shuttered, leaving behind economic and social problems that will require years to heal and repair.
As a monastic community, we too have been disfigured. In an instant, our life was turned upside down. The closing of the Guesthouse and Chapel has had a profound impact. Our community life has been radically altered. While we all remain healthy, we are discovering our need for human contact and the context of a larger community of friends, family, and sisters and brothers in Christ. We miss the company of women, which our Rule speaks of when it says, [we] value the gift of friendship with women, as Jesus did; without it we run the risk of spiritual and personal impoverishment.
This is a season of disfiguration. Yet it is also a time of hope.
Just a few weeks ago we celebrated Christmas and remembered God’s act of divine self-emptying when God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.”
John’s gospel reminds us that the Word became flesh and lived among us. In this act divine self-emptying, God did much more than simply take on human flesh. God took on our limitations, our finitude, even our disfiguration, by submitting to death, disease, and loss; pain, grief, and sorrow; boredom, loneliness, and fatigue; worry, anxiety, and disquiet. God took all this on in the person of Jesus, and that is a thing full of wonder.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus, a fourth-century bishop and theologian, reminds us that which God has assumed, God has healed; that which is united to God is also saved.
Today we find ourselves in a time of disfiguration, and the message of the Gospel is that God has been here before us. God has transfigured what in us is disfigured.
Even now in a world gripped by pain, loss, and grief, the light of God’s glory is breaking through. As St. Paul reminds, all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another… (2 Corinthians 3:18)
We may be tempted to see only disfiguration as we look at the world, or our own lives, but that is not the whole truth. The whole truth is that which God has assumed, God has healed.
So, take heart. God in the person of Jesus has been here before us, and even now is transforming and transfiguring our disfigured world. In so doing, God in Christ is making all things new once more, and that includes even you.
Please know that all of you are constantly in our prayers. We wish you a holy beginning to this season of Lent.
Faithfully in the One who is making our world new,
James Koester SSJE