Blessed James Kern
by Fr. Ambrose Criste, O.Praem.
Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival (Luke 12: 37).
On October 20 we celebrate the beautiful shining light of our Norbertine Order Blessed James Kern. He has already manifested his powerful intercession and loving care of our community in the healings of our own Father Thomas and a member of our lay order. Looking back at the very beginning of his short life just over 100 years ago, we might say that he was something of a Norbertine even before he ever actually became a Norbertine. When he was still a little child, Francis Alexander Kern found his strength and the direction of his life in Christ before the Blessed Sacrament. He loved to pray before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. He had the Eucharistic heart of a Premonstratensian even before he received the habit and his religious name Jacob.
The Master found His servant young Francis vigilant there before the tabernacle, and so He placed in that little boy’s heart the desire for priesthood, the inspiration to consecrate himself to Our Lady, and the grace to make a vow of chastity even as an adolescent. As Francis Alexander grew closer and closer to Our Lord, he already had that priestly instinct that his life was meant to be one of a mediator and an intercessor. One of his grade school friends named Aloysius was going to have to have his diseased leg amputated, but Francis prayed for his healing before the Blessed Sacrament, and Aloysius miraculously kept his leg.
In Christ Jesus you who once were far off have become near by the blood of Christ. For He is our peace. (Eph 2, 13)
What is that dividing wall that Our Lord breaks down? In the temple precinct in 1st century Jerusalem, when St. Paul was writing to the new Christian Gentiles in Ephesus, there was actually a physical wall that separated the Jews from the Gentiles. It was called the soreg, and it was a low stone wall that enclosed the sanctuary part of the courtyard all around the temple. Non-Jews could come into the outer courtyard area, the court of the Gentiles, and they could even worship God there (cf. the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8); but only the Jews (if they were ritually clean) could pass through the dividing wall and approach the sanctuary. [None of that arrangement was from the Old Testament period, but rather it was part of all those man-made-laws that the Pharisees and their ilk piled upon the laws of God … making all of it so impossible to live.]
Since we have been washed in the blood of Christ, not only is there no wall keeping us away from Him where He dwells, but Our Lord even desires to come and make His dwelling within us, to come to us in Holy Communion, to make His abiding presence within us through sanctifying grace. Maybe He will ask some gift of victimhood from us as He asked of our confrere Blessed James; or maybe we’ll live as those who are waiting for His return for another 40 or 50 or 70 more years … It really doesn’t matter, because there is no longer any dividing wall. He is our peace and He has made us one with Him.
If we take a closer look inside our hearts today, maybe we’ll find some illusory walls that threaten to keep us from approaching the sanctuary, that place of peace and freedom there in our heart of hearts where we can give ourselves completely to the Lord, and where He gives Himself completely to us, washes us clean in His Precious Blood, creates in Himself one new man in place of the two. Those walls that we build up are not of the Lord’s making, but they are of our own creation … or simply in our own imaginations; because in point of fact when Our Lord comes and finds us, His servants, waiting, He promises – and this is so wild that it just has to be true – He promises that He will gird Himself, have us recline at table, and proceed to wait on us!
His desire for you is even stronger than your desire for Him; and He is the one to break down whatever walls you have constructed that seem to keep you from the sanctuary. October 18th marked the 100-year anniversary of James’ reception of the Norbertine habit at Geras, October 18, 1920. Four years and 2 days later, when he was only 27 years old and only 2 years a priest, Blessed James wanted his last reception of Holy Communion on his deathbed (before that last painful chest surgery) to be as beautiful as his first. We have the tremendous privilege of being able to receive the Divine Master in the Blessed Sacrament as His good servants here in just a little while. May we allow all the walls within our hearts to crumble; and may we so give ourselves to Him even as He comes and gives Himself to us that He can do with us and with our lives whatsoever He wills.
Ps 29 –
The voice of the Lord shatters cedars,
The Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon …
The voice of the Lord rends the oak tree …
In his temple they all cry, “Glory!” …
Earth is illumined by the sun more than by a distant star. No matter how dark the night, the sun’s rays are inescapable when daylight returns.
One of the most beautiful things about the mysteries of our faith is that, even though we return to them year after year, they can be as fresh and amazing as the first time we heard of them, if only we turn our hearts to them with humility and love.
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