Saturday, November 10, 2012

Serve God

Serve God

November 10, 2012
Memorial of Saint Leo the Great, pope and doctor of the Church

I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.  I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.  Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress.  Philippians 4:12-13 

Hallelujah!  Blessed the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commands. Lavishly he gives to the poor; his righteousness shall endure forever; his horn shall be exalted in honor.  Psalm 112:1,9 

“No servant can serve two masters.  He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon."  Luke 16:13-14


St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
Laybrother of the Society of Jesus

HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.  (Gerard Manley Hopkins)


Today’s psalm details for us the blessings received by those who remain close to God by obedience, stability, and humility.  Among their blessings are children, wealth that enables them to be magnanimous, and virtue by which they encourage others.  The just person is an affront to the wicked, whose hopes remain unfulfilled.

Today the Church remembers St. Leo the Great.  While I am sure that had we known St. Leo personally, we would probably understand how he exemplifies the character detailed in Psalm 112.  However, it also brings to my mind another Leo – Leo Haid, abbot and monk, and another abbot and monk, Rev. Oscar Burnett, OSB.

Abbot Leo left his home community in Latrobe, PA in the late 19th century to accept the donation of land in rural North Carolina.  With two of his brothers from St. Vincent’s Abbey, they founded a college named initially for the Mother of God.  Today, that institution is known as Belmont Abbey College.    

Abbot-Bishop Leo served the community 39 years as its “abba” and the infant Catholic Church in North Carolina 36 years as its shepherd.  School history teaches us that Abbot Leo was an exemplary monk, gifted preacher, and inspirational leader who helped those around him grown in their piety, study and action.  Through the miracle of apostolic succession, he was followed in this leadership position by several others who left their indelible mark on the people who made Belmont Abbey home for a few years or the rest of their life.  

One of those successive leaders was Oscar Burnett.  Fifty years ago in 1962 as the Second Vatican Council was convening in Rome, Oscar was ordained and stepped onto the path of obedience, stability and conversion as a monk following the same rule of St. Benedict as Abbot Leo had taught.  Oscar served his community as a worthy successor to Abbot Leo as abbot from 1991-1999. Before joining the Benedictines, Abbot Oscar was an attorney in Savannah (GA).  Since his monastic profession and priestly ordination, he has filled virtually every office in the monastery (e.g., abbot, prior, subprior, novicemaster, procurator) and college (e.g., teacher, dean, chaplain, chief administrator). Abbot Oscar has also served as head of inter-faith relations, leading the Ecumenical Institute then sponsored jointly by Belmont Abbey College and Wake Forest University. 

This weekend, Abbot Oscar will celebrate Mass with his brothers and family and friends marking his five decades of humility and obedience.   From his beginning as a lawyer in Savannah, there is no doubt that he could have risen through the halls of power much like a naval engineer from nearby Plains, Georgia, rose through the political ranks in state and national politics.  However, Fr. Oscar chose differently.  He chose a path that rewarded him with many children – his brother monks, his Sisters in Charity from nearby Sacred Heart, countless students at Belmont Abbey College have called him "abba."  He chose the path that through the vow of poverty, made him infinitely wealthy.   He chose the path of virtue serving the Lord that in all things that God may be glorified.  Abbot Oscar to this day serves as a beacon on the hill – teaching us that we can not serve two masters.  Long before a millionaire talk-show celebrity commandeered this famous initial, Abbott Oscar was our "Big O."
In a week when the nation made a momentous political decision, when the stock market reacted with eruption, and Hollywood wooed us to forge a new “bond,” Oscar continues on the same path he chose in 1962. With apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins, we celebrate!

“Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Belmont, North Carolina, Oscar watches over us all.”


Reflect this weekend on how your life can be enriched with the lessons of St. Benedict’s little rule.  A little humility goes a long way.  A little obedience frees you up from selfishness.  A little conversion will help you to step back from the magnets pulling you deeper into the confusion and uncertainty of modern society. 

That Benedictine rulebook can be a toolbox for us all to live a balanced life.  Too bad I for one, did not learn more about it when I spent four years on campus.  But Abbot Oscar and Jesus does not give up on any of us.   

Thank you, Big O!

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