Their work for the winter season completed, these shovels wait to be stored away until next winter. Humble tools serve us all day long. Saint Benedict reminds the cellarer of the monastery and implicitly all of the monks to regard the tools and utensils of the monastery "as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar." Sacredness is hiding in what is ordinary, if we are attentive.
Photograph by Brother Jonah.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Liturgy means "service;" it is first of all God's service of us in Word and in Sacrament. All that we do in the Liturgy, our prayer, thanksgiving, petition and contrition, is ultimately our response to God's initiative. All during the Easter season our response is joy-filled gratitude, expressed in our chants and psalmody and prayers. As the Preface for Easter in the new Missal puts it, we are "overcome with Paschal joy.'' Indeed, the springtime landscape mirrors our joy and expands our hearts in gratitude.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
During Eastertide our recitation of the Angelus at dawn, noon and before retiring is replaced by the recitation of the Regina Cœli:
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.
O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
Spring has come early to our area of New England, and violets are blooming in profusion on the edges of sidewalks and hedges all around the monastery. The low-growing violet is a symbol of humility. And our Father, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, described the Virgin Mary as the "violet of humility." In paintings the violet was also used to denote the humility of Christ in assuming our humanity. The violets we see remind us of the Virgin Mary and her Son, risen from the dead.
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
We are struck by the serenity and deep quiet of this fresco by Piero della Francesca. The atmosphere seems clear, crisp; and the landscape communicates the transformation that Jesus' rising has accomplished- to his left all is barren, at his right all the trees are in full leaf.
The guards doze oblivious, as a majestic young Christ steps confidently out of his marble sepulchre. His voluminous mantle is rosy pink- the color of dawn's first brightening, the color of spring blossoms, the color of healthy young flesh. His hair swept back, blood trickling from his wounded side, Jesus is depicted by Piero as an athletic, victorious warrior just back from his battle with all the powers of sin and death. His divinity and humanity are perfectly merged. Jesus carries a furling banderole of victory and pauses to gaze at us. "It is really I; do not be afraid. Sin and death no longer have any power over you."
Resurrection, Piero della Francesca, fresco, c. 1460, San Sepulcro, Italy.
Tuesday, April 17, 2012
We share excerpts from Father Luke's recent homily. Father Luke currently serves as the Abbey's Director of Novices.
In 1997 Blessed John Paul declared Saint Thérèse of Lisieux to be a Doctor of the Church. She could be called the Doctor of Mercy. Thérèse lived at a time when fear of God, fear of Hell were major motives in religion. In her autobiography Thérèse emphasized the loving mercy of God in ways that were often very dramatic. She wrote, "I'm going to be doing only one thing. I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally, the Mercies of the Lord. Most of all I imitate the conduct of Magdalene; her astonishing or rather her loving audacity which charms the Heart of Jesus also attracts my own. Yes, I feel it; even though I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go, my heart broken with sorrow, and throw myself into Jesus' arms, for I know how much He loves the prodigal child who returns to Him. I go to him with confidence and love." The witness of Thérèse to the mercies of the Lord and the effect her witness has had upon the universal Church in giving hope to the weak and sinners was so profound that Pius XI called her “the greatest saint in modern times.
Our own Cistercian Father Saint Bernard of Clairvaux was one of the greatest preachers of Divine Mercy. In a sermon he delivered to his monks, Bernard describes himself as "burdened with sins, enveloped in darkness, enslaved to pleasure, tormented with desires, dominated by passions, filled with delusions, always prone to evil, easily accessible to every vice, in a word, full of all shame and confusion.” We should not dismiss this self-description by Bernard as humble posturing. This was indeed an accurate account of what Bernard had discovered about himself. Instead of this being something that filled him with fear, in his openness to God's grace he had mercy upon himself, as it were. This inspired him to have mercy upon all his brothers in their misery. And this opened him even more to a knowledge of the Father of Mercies. He discovered that Mercy's natural home is our misery. That's the destination to which it rushes like the wind. Like Saint Thérèse would, centuries later, Bernard wrote and proclaimed: “The mercy of God is from eternity. Surely there can be nothing co-eternal with the Father save the Son and the Holy Spirit. And each of these two is not so much merciful, as mercy itself. But the Father himself is also Mercy. And these three are not three mercies, but one mercy.”
Faced with our own misery, the only sane response to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters, who likewise suffer, is to have mercy, to practice the forgiveness of sins; and thus to know and proclaim the God of Mercy. We encounter the merciful Risen Lord in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Mercy. Here we receive the body of Christ given up for us, and the Blood of the new and eternal covenant poured out for us for the forgiveness of sins. Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we place all our hope in you.
Monday, April 16, 2012
Today in the monastery we celebrate the memorial of Saint Benedict Joseph Labre. Many of the monks are fond of him and greatly admire his simplicity. Benedict Joseph attempted unsuccessfully to enter a number of monasteries. He never fit in, was judged unstable and was always sent on his way. He ended up as a wandering pilgrim, praying incessantly. Our missal entry for this morning's Mass listed him as Saint Benedict Joseph, Fool for Christ. As we celebrate his life and holiness this day, it seems it would be of little use use to us and give him no fitting honor, should we try to imitate his so-called foolishness. Benedict Joseph did not set out to be a fool. Like all who are truly poor, he simply had no choice. It would seem that deep within him two forces met and struggled- on the one hand his very real physical and psychological weaknesses and incapacities and on the other his very ardent desire to love Jesus with every fiber of his being. It was this love that gratefully took over his life. It is only this folly of love that we dare to imitate. May all our personal weaknesses and disabilities of whatever kind make us depend more and more on Christ Jesus, whose power will be made perfect in our weakness.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was born in Amettes, France in 1748 and died as a beggar in Rome in 1783. The portrait was painted by Antonio Cavallucci in 1795.
Saint Benedict Joseph Labre was born in Amettes, France in 1748 and died as a beggar in Rome in 1783. The portrait was painted by Antonio Cavallucci in 1795.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
A whole Sunday is set aside by the Church to celebrate the abundance and constant availability of Jesus' mercy. As we see Thomas put his hand into Jesus' open side, we pray with our Cistercian Father, Blessed William of Saint Thierry:
Those unsearchable riches of your glory, Lord, were hidden in your secret place in heaven until the soldier's spear opened the side of your Son our Lord and Savior on the cross, and from it flowed the mysteries of our redemption. Now we may not only thrust our finger or our hand into his side like Thomas, but through that open door may enter whole, O Jesus, into your heart, the sure seat of your mercy, even into your holy soul that is filled with the fullness of God, full of grace and truth, full of our salvation and our consolation. Open, O Lord, the ark door of your side, that all your own who shall be saved may enter in, before this flood that overwhelms the earth. Open to us your body's side, that those who long to see the secrets of your Son may enter in and receive the sacraments that flow therefrom, even the price of their redemption. Open the door of your heaven, that your redeemed may see the good things of God in the land of the living. Let them see and long, and yearn and run...
William of Saint Thierry, Meditations, 6.11-12
Friday, April 13, 2012
We recently found this reproduction of a page from a Renaissance gradual with an antiphon that we still chant during Eastertide- "I arose and am still with you. Alleluia." Many chant pieces are still sung in Latin during our Liturgy. And this year the opening chant of the Great Vigil of Easter was sung in Latin for the first time in many years. As we emerged from the library where our new fire was still blazing in the hearth, there were two bold signs posted by our liturgy coordinator- Lumen Christi. Deo Gratias- "The light of Christ. Thanks be to God." And so we were reminded as we processed through the cloisters in the semidarkness what our response to the cantor this night was to be.
Through all darkness and always, always when we can barely find our way, may we glimpse the flickering light of the Easter candle, the Light of Christ, leading us forward. May we hear the cry, Lumen Christi, and remember to respond wholeheartedly, Deo Gratias.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Within the day to day routine of prayer and work, we monks are committed to ongoing attentiveness to Jesus' presence in our midst. But even here in the monastery of all places, we may often fail to recognize him in the ordinariness of our day. Like the disciples on their way to Emmaus, when we reflect on a day's activities oftentimes our eyes are opened and we recognize that the Lord Jesus has indeed been accompanying us in all the details of our day, interested in us and our needs and joys from moment to moment, though we may have failed to recognize him.
Photograph of monastery landscape by Brother Casimir.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
Here we present excerpts from Father Abbot's homily for Easter:
The tomb is empty. He is risen, and we rejoice. It is also important to realize that untroubled elation does not capture the whole of the original Easter experience. What happened on that first Easter morn? According to Mark, Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James and Salome went to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus. Upon arriving, they see the stone rolled away. A “young man” announces that Jesus has risen and instructs the women to tell Peter and the disciples that they will find Jesus in Galilee. The response of the women is crucial here. In the wake of the news that their friend and teacher has risen from death, what do they do? Mark tells us that “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Why fear and not joy? Again, why is there fear on Easter and not just unmitigated joy? The significance of this initial reaction is important for us to grasp if we really want to be taken up into the fullness of the Easter grace.
This initial reaction of fear has been powerfully described by the theologian James Alison in his book, Raising Abel. According to Alison, “The stone put aside and the absence of the corpse were not in the first instance a motive for rejoicing, but for terror. Terror because what had happened was quite outside anything that could be expected…Terror because now there was no security, no rules, nothing normal could be trusted in….Whatever Christian hope is, it begins in terror and utter disorientation in the face of the collapse of all that is familiar and well known.” Shock, fear and silence, these are the primal emotions that greet the breaking forth of eternal life.
There is fear on Easter because God did not kill Jesus. We did. And according to the moral calculus of the world- “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” -our own lives are now in the balance. Vengeance is now the order of the day. Because of our sin, our lives are now under a death sentence. A life for a life, the calculus goes. Remember the story of Cain and Abel. After Cain slew Abel, God asks him, “Where is your brother Abel?” Cain replies, “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And the Lord responds, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”
Easter according to the world’s moral calculus is not good news for the guilty. It is not good news to find out that your victim is alive. We know what’s coming. If Jesus is alive, if the victim has come back, we better high tail it in fear, just like the women in the gospel. I wonder if this fear has something to do with why the disciples hid themselves behind locked doors. This is how those who first heard of the resurrection expect the story to go. The victim has been wronged, and is now back and we’re in for it! Everything in human psychology and moral history---and even in the Bible up to this point---suggests that Easter shouldn’t be good news for the perpetrators, the ones who betrayed, fled, stood at a distance, washed their hands, called out for his death. All these, and you and I, are now going to face the victim. And we don’t expect it to go well for us. After all, we have blood on our hands. We are guilty!
In a way we cannot comprehend, and whenever there is incomprehension in the Bible, that’s a sure sign that grace is breaking in, the story goes in a different direction. The blood of Jesus does not cry out for vengeance as the blood of Abel does. The Letter to the Hebrews says that the blood of Jesus “speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” What is this better word? Where Abel’s blood cries out “Vengeance;” the blood of Jesus cries “Peace!” Where Abel’s blood cries “Guilty,” the blood of Jesus cries, “Forgiveness.” Nothing will ever be the same again. It is a whole new creation. There is a whole new moral calculus. Or rather, there is no calculus. For a calculus entails limit, computation and measurement. Mercy knows no limit. It is immeasurable. This is not the judgment day we were expecting. The victim returns to us and shows us the wounds we inflicted, yet brings to us not hate, blood lust, condemnation or revenge, but only love, forgiveness, grace and peace. The joy of Easter, it seems, requires a first wave of fear. A first wave of fear is part of Easter, because Easter joy is the joy of relief, a joy of finding ourselves inexplicably, surprisingly forgiven. There is no explanation for it. It is totally surprising to the point of being disconcerting. And in accepting this forgiveness we step into a whole new story, a whole new way of being, a new heaven and a new earth.
Today is Easter! Today we proclaim that our victim has come back from the dead and is now looking for us. It is news that makes us want to hide in fear and cry out, “What shall we do?” By any human reckoning Easter should not be Good News. But it is! Our Easter celebration invites us once again to come out of hiding and allow our victim who is seeking us to find us and to taste once again the incomprehensible relief of being immeasurably, incalculably loved and forgiven.
Sunday, April 8, 2012
The Lord is risen from the dead. We rejoice in hope, as we celebrate the great fifty days of Eastertide. During this holy season, we will chant over and over at the Offices and at Mass, "Alleluia," which means literally "Praise God!" In the chant repertoire there are myriad variations. Some alleluias convey a quiet joy, a sense of joyful repose after a long ordeal. Others are more exuberant; so many ways to express the almost inexpressible. With our Alleluias we give voice to our joy and thanksgiving for all that the Father has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord, now risen from the dead.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh...
from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday
In the stillness of Holy Saturday we await all that Christ's Resurrection will bring.
Illustration by Eric Gill (British, 1882-1940).
Friday, April 6, 2012
By mocking and striking Jesus, they are causing the destiny of the Suffering Servant to be literally fulfilled in him. Abasement and exaltation are mysteriously intertwined. As the one enduring the blows, he is the Son of Man, coming in the cloud of concealment from God and establishing the kingdom of the Son of Man, the kingdom of humanity that proceeds from God. Something new is beginning. All through history, people look upon the disfigured face of Jesus, and there they recognize the glory of God.
Pope Benedict XVI
Detail of the crucifix that hangs above the altar in the Abbey church with corpus
by Lambert Rucki (French, 1888-1967)
Thursday, April 5, 2012
The brethren assemble in the Abbey Chapter House
just prior to the celebration of
the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper
for the Mandatum, the Footwashing Liturgy.
Those designated prepare to wash their brothers' feet.
Father Abbot washes and kisses the feet of Father Dominic,
our Prior. He is assisted by Father Vincent.
The Liturgy continues as the monks chant,
"A new commandment I give to you,
that you should love one another,
as I have loved you, says the Lord."
Brothers Robert, Bernard and Jude wash their brothers' feet.
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
The time has come to go to Jerusalem.
All the things the prophets have foretold
concerning the Son of Man,
Shall now be accomplished
In his Palm Sunday homily Father Abbot compared all that the passion will entail to a gathering storm, the "perfect storm" into which Jesus will travel in faith, in love for us and faithfulness to his Father. With Jesus our Lord we journey to Jerusalem in these days. There in his sufferings we will see and experience our own sufferings and the sufferings and burdens of so many of our sisters and brothers in need. May our own hearts be stretched opened in compassion, as the heart of Jesus was broken open by the soldier's lance.
Photograph of stained glass in Chapter House doors.
Holy Week Introit Antiphon.