Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Silence is a participation in the world to come, a participation in eternity, in God’s simplicity, a great Mystery beyond words. Love seeking me is the reason for silence. The monk's wonder-filled response to God’s seeking is the silence of love and the longing to be absorbed in wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One who loves him. Those in love need not say anything. They want simply"to be with," to be agendaless, resting in each other's presence. God longs for our openness, a great empty space within us, an emptiness that is not nothing but is availability. In silence I can notice God noticing me. In practicing silence, allowing silence, allowing the empty space, I make an open space for God. 

Ancient statue of Saint Benedict brought from the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island at the time of Spencer's founding. Photograph by Brother Daniel.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

In Our Tatters

We once heard this story of a monk who dies and finds himself before the judgment seat in heaven. Angels solemnly carry out the tapestry of his life. He looks in horror at the faded, threadbare tapestry. There for all to see is the tattered reality of his sinfulness- the broken silences, harsh words spoken, petty jealousies, regrettable secret sins all right there. He lowers his head in remorse and embarrassment and calls out for Our Lady’s help, “O Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, our Hope.” Mary quickly comes to the monk’s rescue. She steps forward and whispers instructions to the angels. They reverse the worn-out tapestry and turn it upside down. Then with her finger Mary traces the outlines of her Son’s wounded face in the tatters.

You know at the beginning of a new year The New York Times and other magazines often publish the Year in Pictures, a collection of telling images from the past twelve months. Probably each of us has our own collection, our own interior year in pictures, first of all successes, graced choices; then failures, embarrassments- our poverty. And surely there is another big section of things that just happened, when we simply had no choice. (That is what it means to be poor after all- to have no choice.) The Mother of God shows us how to find the face of Jesus in all of these places.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Our Founders

Today we celebrate the three founders of the Cistercian Order, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen. Their ideal was a more authentic monastic simplicity and evangelical poverty. On 21 March in 1098, Robert, abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Molesme, France set out with twenty-one of his monks to the wilderness of CĂ®teaux to begin a new reformed monastery. By 1100 Robert had been called back to Molesme and Alberic was made abbot. We are told that Alberic had a tender devotion to Our Lady and received the Cistercians’ characteristic white cowl from her. Stephen Harding, an Englishman, succeeded Alberic as abbot and composed the Carta Caritatis, a kind of constitution which binds all the monasteries of our Order to a common observance of rules and customs.

These early monks of our Order wanted to be “poor with the poor Christ” and are said to have been “lovers of the brethren and the place.” We pray that we may be true to their example and beg their prayerful intercession as we strive to persevere in this place.

Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Do whatever he tells you."

We share excerpts from Father Dominic's homily for last Sunday.

The result of the miracle at Cana is the first manifestation of Jesus’ glory and the consequent budding faith of his disciples. Today’s story, then, is above all about transformation: namely, the different dimension of reality that comes into being when Jesus is present, and when, as Mary tells the servants, people do whatever Jesus tells them. The transformation from water to wine is meant by John to signify the effect that Jesus can have on people’s lives, and can still have today. He came that we might have life, life in all its fullness.

Mary’s words are addressed to us: “Do whatever he tells you.” We all experience at one time or another that “the wine” in our life has run out. Life falls apart on us, in ways big and little. It is always a bitter moment to realize that it is beyond us to recover it, to replenish it. It is then that the mother of Jesus tells us simply: “Do whatever he tells you.”

But what does that mean? Typically we receive no dramatic directive from heaven of how to remedy a situation, no sudden strategic inspiration that can turn our life around. Rather, we can expect a simple, practical “word” addressed personally to us, such as in today’s Gospel: “Go fill some stone water jars and take them to the steward.” Or something as simple as what I’ve been hearing during unexpected and difficult moments these past few weeks: “Be still, and know that I am God.” This is a life-giving word not clearly aimed at fixing a specific problem but at changing me. Will I do “whatever” he tells me? Do I even have “ears to hear” in the first place?

It seems to me that Mary illustrates in this morning’s Gospel what is critical here. She knew better than anyone that her Son never meets us only “from without,” but always from within our deepest selves, within who we truly are. Like Mary, we must listen to Jesus, not as to someone who stands “outside of us” as an image of some sort, while we remain fragmentary and untouched in the deepest parts of ourselves. Rather, the Good News this morning is that every time he speaks to our hearts, and within our hearts, he manifests a moment when heaven is opened to us, a moment when the transforming power of God’s love bursts into our personal world – and like the disciples in today’s Gospel we consequently find ourselves coming to a deeper belief in Him. We are changed even more than the water was changed into the best of wines. Changed how? Fundamentally, as St. Paul tells the Corinthians, we come to know Him more truly as we are known by Him.

Monday, January 21, 2013


We are told that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that, “joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Joy is the fruit of real confidence in God's ineffable mercy. This is our joy as monks- we see over and over again our fumbling and our sinfulness, our very real tendencies toward sin, but we learn to rejoice because Christ's mercy is always available and because, as Saint Catherine of Siena once remarked, God "has fallen in love with what He created." This is true joy.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Father of Monks

Yesterday we celebrated Saint Antony, Father of Monks. He is our example, for beleaguered by numerous temptations- demons of all sorts, which artists through the ages have often depicted quite dramatically- Antony holds fast to Christ Jesus, realizing they are powerless in their attacks because of the Lord's constant care and kind regard.

The Temptation of Saint Anthony Annibale Carracci, 1597.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Snow Again

A new storm, and we never tire of the beauty.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Baptism of the Lord

At his Baptism Christ Jesus enfleshes both our sinful fragility and our restored innocence in his nakedness and vulnerability as he stands dripping wet in the Jordan River. With us in our sinful flesh, he will restore us to God through his passion, death and resurrection. Today's scene is a kind of prelude to the dereliction of the cross. There Jesus will be somehow "liquefied"- blood streaming from his wounded body, blood and water flowing from his open side, a fountain of rejuvenation for us. 

The heavens are opened, the Father’s voice is heard, “This is my beloved Son.” Jesus our Savior, the Beloved Son of the Father, has come to cleanse and heal us and draw us into God's Fatherly love and tenderness- our belovedness.

The Baptism of Christ Piero della Francesca, c. 1448-1450,  Tempera on panel, 66 x 46", National Gallery, London.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Saint Aelred

Today as Cistercians we celebrate the life and teaching of our own Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, a 12th-century monk of Great Britain. In his well-known treatise, Spiritual Friendship, Saint Aelred declares rather boldly that "God is friendship." This is his own gloss on Saint John's words, "God is love." And clearly it expresses Aelred's own experience of God's intimacy.

If God can indeed be named "friendship," as Saint Aelred proposes, we can imagine the awesome implications. We could say then that God is spontaneous, gentle, available, most understanding, etc. Could God be at least as good as our best friend?

Thursday, January 10, 2013


Jean Vanier, the founder of L'Arche an international alliance of group homes for people with developmental disabilities and those who assist them, says that "community is the place where our limitations, our fears  are revealed to us," the place where we "discover our poverty and our weaknesses."

While this may seem a rather grim view of life in community, what Vanier is saying is that by living closely with others we come to see how needy, vulnerable and broken we are. He points out particularly that those who may have joined a L’Arche community to be helpers come to realize that they too need help, perhaps in a different way but just as much as the so called disabled members of the group.

Living closely with others, we realize that while we have many gifts to share, we also have many gifts to receive from them as well. Living, praying and working closely with our brothers, we come to see clearly that we need each other and most of all that we desperately need God and his mercy. This is in the end very Good News.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


The Christmas story is meant to reflect, shed light and bring us more deeply into the narrative of our lives and of our own journeys, with all their ups and downs, joys and sorrows.

The Magi follow the star, find the newborn king, and upon seeing him, place their gifts at his feet. Historically we do not know much at all about them. They apparently came from somewhere in the East. They were guided by a star, which may have been a super nova or a confluence of planets. The story mentions three gifts, so it was assumed there were three people. It is highly likely that there were a lot more than three. People who traveled distances in those days did so in sizable caravans with lots of attendants for safety reasons. Whatever the number, Matthew brings them into the story as representatives of those outside the Jewish religious tradition who come to the knowledge of the birth of this Child initially through nature and the stars.

What happened to the Magi afterwards? We don’t know what happened to them afterwards, and that is exactly the point. Their slipping away into anonymity is a crucial part of the plot line of the Christmas narrative and a vital dimension of their gift to our Infant King and to us. What I am saying is that they now disappear, because they can now disappear. They are now free enough to do so. They followed their star. They completed their journey. They realize that the end really is in the beginning. They have placed their gifts at the feet of the Infant King and can now leave everything they have and everything they are safely in his hands. They have no need to fight for their, until then, central place in the story. They now happily cede everything to him. They can disappear. Can you hear the echo of Simeon’s prayer? “Now, Lord, you can dismiss your servant!” We can die! We are in safe hands.

Brothers and sisters, the Christmas story tells us that we are in safe hands. Our God is really one of us, among us and with us through all the sometimes dark and disconcerting journeys of our lives. However, remember, the main journey of the Christmas story is not our journey to God but God’s journey to us; God with us, forever.

The Adoration of the Magi, Giotto di Bondone (Italian, Florentine, 1266/76–1337), ca. 1320. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.  Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Heart of Our Desire

During these days of Christmastide we often sing a hymn with these opening words: Jesus, the Heart of all desire, born of the Father's splendid light; You are the Sun of morning bright, coming to us in darkest night. With our focus on the Lord, we believe that all of our lesser desires find their fulfillment in Him alone, Jesus alone is at the heart of all our desiring. He alone is our refuge and consolation, our One Desire, though in our lostness we may lose sight of Him hidden and waiting beneath all else. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Solemnity of the Mother of God

Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” It must be a heart of some amplitude and capacity. She notices the poor shepherds with messages from angels. She is well aware that she, a poor, young virgin from an undistinguished family has received an angel’s message and become pregnant with God. And she may be wondering (after all we are more than 2000 years later) why, if God has so favored her, would he allow this fulfillment of his plan to take place in a cattle stall, where she must place the Son of the Most High to sleep in an animal’s feeding trough. It makes no sense. In her heart she puts together all these incongruities. She holds them all together and wonders and reflects.  The word in Greek is sumballousa; it means literally to throw things together.  We get the English word symbol from this same Greek expression. And it is what we spend our lives doing as persons of faith, trying to notice God’s ways, trying to put it all together, catch the meaning, and get a glimpse of the transcendent behind/within the physical reality and the sometime absurdity. And very often like Mary, we believe, but we don’t really understand. We don’t have to.

Mother of God, Mother of Divine Love, Mother of God’s poverty and incongruity, Mary gives her whole body unreservedly to God’s desire, God’s desire to come near, to be small and insignificant. For the truth of who God is for us requires a body, a heart under which he can rest, a supple heart that will throw things together and let them be. Her response to the angel’s declaration nine months earlier was, “Be it to me, let it be done in me. May God grow there under my heart; I will be God’s own serving girl.” Mary is generously open to the seemingly mismatched ways of God, with an attentive curiosity. “How will this be? Why me, a poor, unmarried girl from a backwater? Why a census at the worst time possible. Why, after all our careful preparations, a stable, the hay, the trough, the barnyard smell, and strange shepherds with angelic reports instead of family and friends, familiar faces with best wishes and small gifts. Why?” The Mother of God shows us how to read the "why" and translate it into a "why not." Why not me? Why not now? Why not God with me, with us, here and now, here of all places?

Because of what Mary does, how she receives the Word and responds, the body of our earthly existence is now laden with God’s presence and transcendence. Now with faith in her Son, following her lead, we can discover that the emptiness, ambiguity and incongruities in our lives may be pregnant with presence and possibility even divinity. The Mother of God shows us how to throw it all together, trusting in the God, who does not deceive but has come to be on our side, to be with us and protect us; with him all things will be possible. If we dare trust and abandon ourselves like Mary, it is just possible that something of unsurpassed goodness and beauty will be born, not obviously but really. If like Mary we put and faith and love where we do not find it at first, we may find God in our flesh, in our reality. Let us pray this day through her intercession for peace in our world, a peace that only her Son can give.

Statue of the Virgin and Child in the cloister garth of the Abbey retreat house.