Wednesday, July 31, 2013


The Son’s self-gift has its foundation in the Father’s self-gift, his total out-pouring of self in love of the Son and of the creation that has come forth from him. It is fitting therefore that the response of the creature should also be marked by total self-gift, by self-surrender, obedient service, and total availability to the divine will. The great prayer that sums up this whole perspective is the Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola. 

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. All is yours, dispose of it wholly according to your will. Give me love and your grace, for this is sufficient for me.

Reflections by Father Timothy.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Saint Peter Chrysologus

Saint Peter Chrysologus, whom we honor today, puts the following words on the lips of the Risen Lord Jesus, who still bears his wounds as he appears to his disciples:

In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no loss to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as you father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.

Indeed we are called to recognize our own humanity in both the Crucified and Risen Lord. In the incarnation Jesus reflects back to us, actually reveals to us, our own humanity. St. Leo the Great will add in a Lenten homily: “Is there anyone whose own weakness is not recognizable in Christ’s?” And he assures us: “The body that lay lifeless in the tomb, that rose again on the third day, and that ascended above the heavens to the Father’s right hand, belongs to us.”

Reflections by Father Dominic.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

One Thing

Our Father, Saint Bernard, compares the monastic community to a family, like the one Jesus visited at Bethany. In the monastic community we find Lazarus, the penitent; Martha, the active servant and Mary, the contemplative. All three are necessary to make the monastery what it ought to be. For Saint Bernard true monastic perfection consists in " the union of all three vocations: that of the penitent, the active worker and the contemplative." (Sermon for the Assumption) Thomas Merton agreed that while the contemplative life was to be  preferred to the active life, the "most perfect souls" would combine the vocations of Lazarus, Martha and Mary. 

Inside or outside a monastery the one who serves can only do so after having listened to and meditated upon the Word of God. The "one thing necessary" is the spiritual nourishment that we receive when we sit like Mary at the feet of Jesus. The Lord wants us to choose the better part. And when we do, it shall not be taken from us.

The Candidate's Cottage at the Abbey. And Reflections excerpted from a homily by Brother Emmanuel, a newly ordained Deacon.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Father Henry

We mourn the passing of our brother, Father Henry. Born in Palestine, Texas in 1920, Henry entered Spencer in 1956 after a successful teaching career as a science professor at UMass, Amherst. He served his brothers in varied ways over the years as beekeeper, orchard manager,  retreat master and accountant at Trappist Preserves. He was also, for many years, a respected theology professor for those monks in formation. 

May the angels lead you into Paradise.
May the martyrs guide you on your way
And take you to the holy city,
The new and eternal Jerusalem.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Mary Magdalen

The Spirit is God always surpassing our dreams or desires. The Spirit expresses for us the God in Christ who cannot be managed, who is “continually spilling over,” the God who is exquisitely present within yet ungraspable, indescribable, the Spirit who is the vital atmosphere that gives us breath and life, surrounding us and granting us greater intimacy with God, who keeps us open to the More that God is, beyond our imaginings or our manipulation. The Spirit brings unity, always respecting difference, enlivening reciprocity.

“The Spirit is at the place of our desire,” the inarticulate groan that begs for Christ to surround and indwell and sustain us in the incompleteness of love. And as monks we know that this is where we live- in this "land of desire," somehow suspended between heaven and earth, getting glimpses of heavenly communion, visits of the Word, noticing his kind and loving presence but more often left hanging, because our desire always outstrips our present capacity. And so we’re left suspended, longing for more, but often losing our way. We live in an in-between place- poised in faith between a promised heavenly homeland and an earthly home; puzzled and sometimes impatient because earthly existence even for all its ambiguities is at least tangible and real. And as we wait we keep on doing what we’re doing-  noticing the ordinary charged with mystery, in this place of already and not yet. 

And so Mary Magdalen comes to us again at the height of summer, falling at Jesus' feet, longing to embrace him whom her heart desires. She is our exemplar, the forgiven sinner, who desires God with all her heart. As Jesus reminds her not to cling to him, he is calling her to trust the depth of his love for her and to trust that he knows well the love she has for him.

Detail of fresco of Mary Magdalen by Giotto.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Come to Me

In the sultry heat of this mid-summer morning, we ponder the words of Jesus in today's Gospel, "Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest." And we recall the words of our Cistercian father, Blessed Guerric, "To come to the living water of Christ, you do not need merit, all you need is thirst." So many, too many are burdened and tired and thirsty, may they and we find in Christ Jesus our true refreshment.

Detail of The Savior by El Greco.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Our Falling

In a recent chapter talk, our Prior, Fr. Dominic, reminded us that our sinfulness is often the "fire alarm that wakes us up to the possibility of true repentance." He then offered us these words of Julian of Norwich: 

He allows some of us to fall more severely and distressingly than before—at least that is how we see it. And then it seems to us, who are not always wise, that all we set our hands to is lost. But it is not so. We need to fall, and we need to see that we have done so. For, if we never fall we should not know how weak and pitiable we are in ourselves. Nor should we fully know the wonderful love of our Maker. In Heaven we shall see truly and everlastingly that we have grievously sinned in this life; notwithstanding we shall see that this in no way diminished his love, nor made us less precious in his sight. The testing experience of falling will lead us to a deep and wonderful knowledge of the constancy of God’s love, which neither can nor will be broken because of sin. To understand this is of great profit.

Photo of grisaille glass in Abbey church by Brother Daniel.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Our Retreat

We are most grateful for the many graces of our days of retreat. Father Joseph Jones, CP, an old friend of the community, was our retreat master this year. He is an experienced director and clearly a holy man. Father Joseph said that he was certain that our prayer had supported him in his ministry through the years in the States and abroad. He reminded us repeatedly of the ramifications of our monastic vocation, emphasizing that our faithfulness to the ordinary daily rhythm of work and prayer is a blessing for the Church and all the people of God. Perhaps we monks sometimes forget this.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Entrusting Ourselves

Our annual week-long retreat begins tomorrow, a time for greater silence and focus; a time of less work and more time for praying. As we prepare for this subtle shift in our rhythm, we remember why we have come to this place; we are aware of our desire and Christ's desire somehow coinciding. We share these reflections by our Father Simeon which speak to us at this time.
Like a sculptor or potter Jesus is creating what he wants out of the shapeless clay of our natural persons, choosing us and taking us just as he finds us.  By going toward him we are entrusting ourselves fully into his creating and molding hands.  This movement toward Jesus, a real paschal “exodus” out of our previous existence, requires courage and generosity because we know we shall not remain the same, and such awareness is, for our poor fallen nature, both thrilling and frightening.  
By calling us to himself on the high mountain of his divinity, and inviting us to enter his own dwelling-place with the Father, Jesus is telling us that he intends to make us over, according to his own Heart.  By the creating power of God, he is forming within us a new heart, a heart of flesh like his own, to be inserted into the place of our old hearts of stone; a heart capable of feeling, thinking and loving like God himself, a heart transplanted into us when Jesus breathes his Spirit upon us. How could we love in such a perfect, divine manner unless Jesus were himself doing the loving within us and out of us, but in such a unified way that his loving in and through us is also truly our loving out of him?

Jesus cannot freely do his work within us unless we become totally available to his shaping touch. By responding and going to him we are willingly moving into a great unknown, because who can guarantee that we will continue to cooperate in faith until the end?  Who can guarantee that revolt and infidelity will not dominate us eventually?  But this risk is infinitely worth taking, because we know that the power and the ability to be faithful until death are already given us within the call itself: our fidelity itself is not of our own making, but is itself a gift of grace.  He who is all-wise would never have called us to himself unless he also intended to confer on us the gift of fidelity.  Our fidelity must be born out of our total trust in his.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Our Prayer and Love

Perhaps most especially for us as monks, loving our enemies will mean praying for them, for to pray for those who hurt us is to love them. And if you’ve ever tried it, you know how dumb and awkward and even phony it can feel. But we also know that not to do so may have dire consequences. For soon the inner room of our heart will no longer be a place for prayer but a shoddy hovel for wound-licking. We pray for those who hurt us, even though it sometimes it feels impossible.   

It is our work, our duty, our promise is to pray. And we know it is the only way to make sense of hurts- individual, communal, national. And so we pray- after the clergy scandals, after 9/11, after Sandy Hook, after the Boston marathon bombings. We pray. We pray for victims and for perpetrators, for politicians who believe what we do and for those who might seem to disregard our cherished values. And our praying helps us parse the incongruity, make some sense of it. Prayer helps us get to the core of things. We pray; for craziness and hurt and broken hearts are too many. We can pray because we know our own poverty; we have come to know our own foolishness. We pray because we realize that we are no better than the worst. No better.

Our praying is always for; it is our humble privilege and responsibility. In a life marked by, what our Constitutions describe as, a “hidden apostolic fruitfulness,” what we do here matters, because it lies at the heart of the Church, very close to the heart of God who sustains all things.

Our life of prayer affords us the extravagance of luxuriating in our helplessness and utter dependence on God. Our praying is always unaccomplished but perfect in in that it allows God to accomplish all things in us and through us. And perhaps our perfection as monks consists most of all in this- that we accept willingly the burden and responsibility of honest attention to our weakness, the weakness that lets us pray. This is the secret we were made for. 

Photograph of the Abbey's Manning Hill by Brother Anthony Khan,  Excerpts from today's Homily for July Fourth. 

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Mission of Jesus

“When the days for his being taken up were fulfilled, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” For Jesus, this is not merely some self-determined project, not the pursuit of some personal ideal. Jesus sets his face to go Jerusalem because he is responding to the call of his Father. He goes because it belongs to his mission to do so. He has wholly interiorized this mission; it engages all his faculties and powers. It is an act of dependence on and submission to the Father.  We see here his astonishing freedom.

His decision to go to Jerusalem is striking because we know his journey will not be an easy one. The Greek word translated here as “being taken up” is literally “ascension”; which evokes his ultimate return to the Father, but also the whole Paschal Mystery, his being lifted up on the Cross, his death and resurrection.

At the ground of all of this is love; eternal, divine love; the ever new mutual exchange of love between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that has not been kept for itself but has been poured out on creation and is now made visible in the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus has set his face to go to Jerusalem because before his face he always has the face of the Father. It is the Father whom Jesus loves that draws him in love irresistibly, even inexorably forward. It is only in him that Jesus finds his rest. The procession of the Son from the Father becomes mission and looks like this: total self-gift in the form of obedient service. Everything else is relativized. 

Resurrection,  Piero della Francesca, fresco, c. 1460, San Sepulcro, Italy, detail.
Excerpts from Father Timothy's Homily for the Thirteenth Sunday of the Year: C.