Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Queen

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.
For centuries it has been the practice of monks to chant the Salve Regina at the conclusion of  Compline just before they retire. We are told that the Cistercians have chanted the Salve Regina daily since 1218.
We trust in Mary's care and intercession for us, we belong to her. Today we celebrate her as queen of heaven and earth, our path and gateway to all that her Son is for us.
Illustration of the Virgin and Child from a 12th century Cistercian manuscript.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard constantly places before us the major events of the life of Christ, and writes: “He was incomprehensible and inaccessible, invisible and completely unthinkable. Now he wishes to be comprehended, wishes to be seen, wishes to be thought about. How, do you ask? As lying in the manger, resting in the Virgin’s lap, preaching on the mountain, praying through the night, or hanging on the cross, growing pale in death, free among the dead and ruling in hell, and also as rising on the third day, showing the apostles the place of the nails, the signs of victory, and finally as ascending over heaven’s secrets in their sight.” Nat BVM 11.

Bernard tells us that the invisible God wished to be seen in the flesh and to live among humans as a human, so that he might recapture all the affections of humans and little by little, lead them to spiritual love. Christ Jesus uses our attraction to his human existence to take our disordered affections and desires and reconfigure them around himself. And as a person advances in love and contemplation, he is more and more present to God. “A person is present to God to the extent that the person loves him,” says Bernard. This will lead to the heights of the intimacy with the divine Bridegroom in unity of spirit.

Finally Saint Bernard stresses that the call to these heights is universal, it is open to everyone. Bernard writes: “Every soul, even if burdened with sin, enmeshed with vice, ensnared by the allurements of pleasure, a captive in exile, imprisoned in the body, caught in mud, fixed in mire, bound to its members, a slave to care, distracted by business, afflicted with sorrow, wandering and straying…every soul, I say, standing thus under condemnation and without hope, has the power to turn and find that it can not only breathe the fresh air of the hope of pardon and mercy, but also dare to aspire to the nuptials of the Word, not fearing to enter into alliance with God or to bear the sweet yoke of love with the King of angels. Why should it not venture with confidence into the presence of him by whose image it sees itself honored, and in whose likeness it knows itself made glorious? Why should it fear a majesty when its very origin gives it ground for confidence? All it has to do is to take care to preserve its natural purity by innocence of life, or rather to study to beautify and adorn with the brightness of its actions and dispositions the glorious beauty which is its birthright. Why then does it not set to work?” Sermon 83.1

Filippino Lippi, Apparition of the Virgin Mary to Saint Bernard, 1480, oil on panel, 83 x 77 in., Badia, Florence. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Solemnity.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

His Wounds

O Pelican of Mercy! O  Jesus Lord!
Unclean am I, but cleanse me in your Blood;
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Is ransom for a world's entire guilt.


In the image above we see the "pious pelican," traditionally a symbol of the wounded Jesus, since according to legend the pelican is the most loving of creatures and pierces her own breast to feed her young. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, our great Cistercian father and teacher, we ponder these words from his Sermon 61, On the Song of Songs: 

Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Savior? Indeed, the more secure is my place there the more he can do to help me. The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock. I may have sinned gravely. My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the the Lord: He was wounded for our iniquities. What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ? And so if I bear in mind this strong, effective remedy, I can never again be terrified by the malignancy of sin.
   Surely the man who said: “My sin is too great to merit pardon,” was wrong. He was speaking as though he were not a member of Christ and had no share in his merits, so that he could claim them as his own, as a member of the body can claim what belongs to the head. As for me, I can appropriate whatsoever I lack from the Heart of the Lord who abounds in mercy. They pierced his hands and feet and opened his side with a spear. Through the openings of these wounds I may drink honey from the rock and oil from the hardest stone: that is, I may taste and see that the Lord is sweet.
   He was thinking thoughts of peace, and I did not know it, for who knows the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The lance pierced his soul and came close to his Heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.
   Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of his heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously than in your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.
   My merit comes from his mercy; for I do not lack merit so long as he does not lack mercy. And if the Lord’s mercies are many, then I am rich in merits. For even if I am aware of many sins, what does it matter? Where sin abounded grace has overflowed. And if the Lord’s mercies are from all ages forever, I too will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. Will I not sing of my own righteousness? No, Lord, I shall be mindful only of your justice. Yet that too is my own; for God has made you my righteousness.

Opening verse from the hymn Adoro Te Devote. Photograph of a mosaic in the sanctuary of the Abbey church by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How It Works

Overheard this morning in the cloister. 
One young monk off to morning work, pauses to help a senior monk, 
who expresses thanks for his assistance. 
The younger whispers, "Teamwork makes the dream work."

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear...   from Chapter 72 of The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ahead of Time

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” When I look at the various situations and circumstances of my life, the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the hopes and disappointments, the struggles and accomplishments, I realize that I really want to believe that the Lord is somehow present to me in and through them all. I really want to believe that the Lord speaks to me through all the events of my life. And I don’t think I am alone in this desire. My guess is that we all want to believe that our life and existence are somehow more than the particular circumstances that unfold throughout our lives. We want to know and experience that God is really with us through it all. We long for something beyond the particular circumstances. I’m talking about believing through the circumstances rather than in the circumstances. When we believe this way the circumstances no longer limit or confine us but become portals of God’s intimate presence with us.

The kind of believing I am talking about is an "Elizabeth and Mary kind of believing." Neither one of them should be or could be pregnant. One is too old. One is too young. One is barren. One is a virgin. Yet both are pregnant. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary allowed the particular concrete circumstances of her life to limit God’s presence and action in her life. Neither allowed the circumstances to define who she was or who she would become. Elizabeth believed she was more than just a barren, childless, old woman. And Mary refused to accept that she was a no-one, another unmarried, scandalous woman, but rather believed that somehow she was the instrument of God the Most Holy.

Mary didn’t have it all wrapped up right from the beginning with a crystal clear understanding as to how her life would unfold. I am sure that her “how can this be” question to the angel Gabriel was not the last time in her life that she asked that question. As her life unfolded it wasn’t a bed of roses for her. A sword would pierce her soul she was told when her son was an infant. She will lose him for three days when he is twelve. She’ll think he’s gone mad when he’s thirty. And God only knows the despairing anguish she experienced during those three days following his crucifixion. And yet, throughout all the circumstances of her life her “let it be” never ceased to resound. In fact, what we are celebrating today: Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was somehow contained in her original “let it be.”

In today’s gospel we hear Mary’s “let it be” continue to unfold in her Magnifcat; which is essentially her song of praise and thanksgiving. Barbra Brown Taylor, the Episcopalian priest, author and theologian offers a powerful insight into Mary’s Magnificat when she reflects on Mary’s willingness to trust in God as she writes: “All she has is her unreasonable willingness to believe that God who has chosen her will be part of whatever happens next---and that apparently is enough to make her burst into song. She does not wait to see how things will turn out first. She sings ahead of time.” That expression stopped me in my tracks. Praising God ahead of time. Thanking God ahead of time.

I remember when it dawned on me that in the Ignatian practice of the Examen of Consciousness which one is advised to make at the end of the day, it is recommended to review your day in thanksgiving. It is not a matter of reviewing the day in order to pick and choose what you will be grateful for but to look back on the day, all of it and everything that occurred, with an attitude of thanksgiving. And now here we have Mary singing ahead of time, expressing her gratitude for all that will unfold in her life- being grateful ahead of time.

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is not just concerned with Mary. It is meant to touch our lives, in all the magnificent and not so magnificent circumstances of those lives. Mary’s fulfillment, which we celebrate today, began in and through all the circumstances of her life. Today, on the Assumption, we celebrate and acknowledge the culmination of that fulfillment - a fulfillment that we are all meant to one day share in with her. She invites us today, personally, to trust in a way that isn’t limited to what is reasonable, explainable or even acceptable. To trust that in every moment of every circumstance of our life the word of God is really being fulfilled if we but offer our own “let it be.”

Orazio Gentileschi, The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1610, The Fogg Art Museum. Excerpts from Father Damian's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It Is I

As Father Aquinas reminded us yesterday, we are very often like the disciples. We too often seek reassurances from Jesus, "If it is truly you, tell me to come to you across the water." Our faith is not strong enough. Jesus encourages us, "Take heart; it is I. Have no fear." What could be more reassuring? Once we realize who is calling to us, we may be embarrassed at having been alarmed. Didn't we know? Jesus always assures us that he will save us and protect us.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Whispering

Having sensed the Lord’s loving presence in the “tiny, whispering” of the ordinariness of our lives, we long to hide in the “shadow of his wings.” He comes near to us, stretches out the hand of his mercy and assures us, “Come to me and do not be afraid.” Why do we doubt? Why is our faith so tiny? The Son of God Most High has made his dwelling place within us. And nothing at all can separate us from him.
Photographs by Brother Brian.