Monday, September 29, 2014

With the Angels

In the presence of the Angels, joining them in their endless praise, we gather over and over during each day to raise our minds and hearts to God. We beg the Lord that our voices may fittingly join with theirs. 
As our Constitutions remind us, even while on earth we are to be "citizens of heaven," and "strangers to worldly behavior." In our life of solitude and silence we long for the "interior quiet in which wisdom is born."

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Gift

Each day in the Eucharist Jesus gives us infinitely more than we could ever deserve- his very self, his sacred heart, his precious body and blood. The best we can do is simply, joyfully, most gratefully open our hands and receive this Gift. Learning how to receive this Gift, how to open our hearts to be transformed by this Gift- this is everything.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Our Praying

So many write and call and drop off messages requesting our prayers for family members, for friends, for their own needs. We are humbled, and we place these requests on the bulletin board at the southwest corner of the cloister. We pass the board over and over during the day and are reminded that our praying, truly our lives belong to Christ and his Church. We remember that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God." In our praying as in all else, we learn that we must depend on the Lord who wants the good we desire much, much more than we know.

 Photograph by Brother Daniel. Scripture quotation from Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans, 8.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Unfair

It is that in the final scene of today's Gospel when the foreman doles out the pay that we are witness to the extravagant compassion of the landowner, (a cipher for the extravagant mercy of our God.) All the workers, even the last ones who worked for only one measly hour, receive a denarius. Aware of their need and the desperation of their situation; the landowner knows that less than a denarius will be not enough for a man and his family for a day. And he wants them all to go home happy and satisfied. Now that’s not fair; it’s excessive. But if we were part of that last crowd who had worked for only an hour, we’d be overjoyed at the landowner’s outlandish generosity.

How often I murmur because things aren’t fair. And true enough it’s the constant plea of psalmist and prophet, “Why is it Lord that the way of the wicked prospers? Why is it that you let the sun and rain and all good things come to the just and the unjust?” It’s not fair. But the good news is God’s Kingdom is not about fairness or entitlement, only mercy; never about “confidence” in my own accomplishments or sacrifices.* It’s not ever about rewards but grace- not something earned but a gift freely given in love. My brothers and sisters, God is not fair. He is abundantly, incomprehensibly merciful, way beyond our imagining. He knows we don’t always do enough, don’t always pull our weight or labor long and hard enough, that sometimes I loaf and dawdle and wait too long and make bad decisions. He sees it all, and he is merciful. It doesn’t mean that everything’s always OK, not at all. No, I mess up, and God is merciful. I am unkind, impatient, stingy, and God is merciful and gives me another chance.

Imagine if God were only fair. Imagine if he gave me what I really deserve. I’d be in big trouble. Certainly God looks into our hearts and notices the good we do, but the kingdom is all about his mercy, never payback for a job well done. It is on the contrary completely, utterly, totally gift. Gratuitous, absolutely surprising, way beyond what I am “entitled to.” Simple gratitude is the only response. For what do we have that we have not received? God is not fair, but all loving, all giving, all forgiving. We’re all latecomers and God is always switching things around. It’s called mercy. And Jesus invites us this morning not to succumb to jealousy, to literally “having a wicked eye” which will not allow us to see clearly as God sees.


Photograph of geese in the Abbey fields by Brother Anthony Khan. Excerpts from this morning's homily. *Insight from Matthew: A Commentary, Robert Gundry, 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ordinary Work

There are many trails on the Abbey property that the monks use for contemplative walks. From time to time these paths must be cleared of fallen trees and brush. Here we see Brother Matthew Joseph at work. 
Photographs By Brother Anthony Khan and Brother Jonah.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Patience of Love

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, love is not pompous,
it is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.



As we hear Saint Paul's words, Love is patient, we remember that our love must wait patiently. A life lived in wonder, in patient loving and loving prayer, waiting on the Lord, waiting on His divine pleasure, such a life is what we have professed, promising to be totally available to Jesus, to one another, and ultimately to his Body the Church. We have given ourselves over to a relationship of patient love, promising to go the distance.

But how shall we tolerate- bear patiently, lovingly- the ordinariness of God in Christ, the ordinariness of one another? How shall we remember to love patiently and kindly and give as Christ Jesus did? How can we manage the overwhelming, truly astonishing love and patience and kindness of Christ for each of us? The truth is we cannot manage such love; we can only wonder, we can only try to accept it as simple mercy and try to go and do likewise, each day, moment by moment. We take heart because the God who is Love is with us. And every moment He is doing what Love loves to do- giving Himself away to us; patiently, kindly and with great tenderness. 

Photo by Brother Brian. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Her Sorrows

As the Church celebrates today a memorial in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows, we recall often images of Our Lady collapsing in Saint John's arms as Jesus breathes His last on the cross. Perhaps she was braver than that. As Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, she feels with God; she compassions with God, empathizes with Christ's sacred wounded Body even now. Yes even now Mary, given by Jesus to all his beloved disciples as their Mother, feels with us all the aches and sorrows of our hearts and minds and bodies. She is Mother of Compassion, with us always; His sorrows, her sorrows and our sorrows are one.

Virgin and the Man of Sorrow, detail, Simon Marmion, c.1485, oil on panel, Groeninge Museum, Bruges, Belgium.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Triumphing in the Cross

In Christ we never have to look back with regret, pining with melancholy to recapture what we have lost, or sorrowfully longing to undo what cannot now be undone.  In Christ, nothing that is truly precious in the entire experience of our lives will ever be lost to us.  Everything good and love-worthy and dear to us from every minute of our whole life’s experience is safely stored in the Heart of Christ for us to encounter and enjoy again in God’s good time.  Alive in Christ, living his own life by his gracious Mercy, every day we can, if we want, again become “like newborn babes”, wholly enjoying the present moment offered us (that and that only, for only that is real), wholly occupied with drinking milk from the breasts of Christ’s consolation and sharing that milk with every other thirsty person we know.

Do you think for a moment that he, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, is ignorant of the endless deaths that continually gnaw away at our hearts, souls and bodies?  Don’t you think he knows far better than we do what those deaths are all about and what needs to be done to leave them behind?  Christ, in fact,  knows intimately our impulse toward decay, because once he too truly drank the bitterness of his and our common mortality, drank it down to the dregs, so that it is your and my specific death that he triumphed over, and not merely some abstract idea of death.  The wounds in his body swiftly banish all such abstraction.  The one thing that a follower of Jesus can be sure of is that he or she will never be alone, because in the act of following at least two are always involved.  So, if we follow him into his death, he will lead us out of it into his life.

Plaque with the Crucifixion, Monvaerni, 15th century, Limoges, France, Painted enamel on copper, 9 7/16 x 8 7/8 x 1/16 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.  
Meditation by Father Simeon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mary's Name

We rejoice as we celebrate today the Name of Mary, a name we call on when we are in distress. We remember someone years ago railing about Mary’s feast days: “I don’t understand what they all mean. They give her too much, make her too privileged.” We like to imagine what Mary’s response to him would be, maybe something like this, “I was, I am, as amazed as you are. All I can tell you is that the Almighty has done great things for me. He has looked on his servant in her nothingness. This, this alone is why all generations have called me blessed. It has little to do with me; it’s all about Him, His pleasure, His delight in my nothingness.”

Clearly to be distracted by Mary’s privileges would be to miss the point. For her story, is our story, individually and as Church. For the Virgin Mary of Nazareth shows us our true self- as total capacity for God in Christ. She shows us the exquisite, breathtaking beauty of our own virgin-self, as totally available to God.

Now certainly we come to our nothingness by a route much different than Mary’s- perhaps through the somewhat bitter self-knowledge of who we really are, what embarrasses us most, our sinfulness. God is not daunted by any of it. He chooses it, wants to transform it, reform it, and inform it with his love and tender mercy, with Himself. And so with Mary we dare to believe in the reality of God’s delight in our nothingness. 


Francisco de Zurbarán, The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1660-62.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9/11

today special tolling of the abbey bells
remembering and praying
for peace
for an end to terrorism
for forgiving hearts

Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Beatitudes

Jesus is real flesh and blood, resurrected and still here with us; and his place is always with the downtrodden and needy, for he is small like them. And this morning once again he pronounces God’s blessing on human poverty, a promise of blessing for all who are oppressed. Commentators remind us that the Greek word for “poor” in the Beatitudes means literally “beggar” not just a poor person with a few possessions, but a beggar.The truly poor are those who have nothing at all; the poor are those who have no choice. As monks we want to take our place with them.
In some way our poverty is all we have to offer the Lord. There is too much- so many things exteriorly, more so interiorly; and we may feel like we are stuck with it all. In the monastery we become more and more keenly aware of the reality of our very real inner woundedness and poverty and our desperate need for Christ, a need, a longing to be mercied continually. 
But this poverty is everything to us; it is all we have to offer Christ, offer the Church - the reality of total dependence on the mercy of God from moment to moment.  Ours is certainly not the crushing poverty of the economically poor and destitute; we dare not compare it. Still it’s all we’ve got- all the stuff we’ve got no choice about. And we believe it’s the very place where blessing and mercy can intrude and take root- poverty as blest by God’s loving regard. We are truly blessed, when our poverty is blest as an emptiness to be filled to overflowing with Christ’s peace and most affectionate compassion. This is everything for us as monks. And what is more, we believe that our true blessedness depends upon our willingness to become ourselves mercy-doers, mercy-makers for all who are poor.
And so we hope, and each morning we go to the altar of God, the God in Christ who alone gives us joy and freedom and peace- his very self as food. So much needs yet to be accomplished and prayed through. Our lives lived together in this monastery help to notice and watch and pray.
Photograph by Brother Daniel.
*Daniel Harrington

Monday, September 8, 2014

Our Lady's Birthday

We monks love Our Lady and rejoice to celebrate her birthday. We go to her with all our needs and place ourselves in her keeping.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Birth of Mary, detail, 1486-90, Fresco, width 450 cm, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Won Over

We all need to be won over, for, as St. Paul says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The question is: how are we won over? From what and to what are we won over?

The gospel mentions two ways. First, there is the individual witness of others: sometimes with persuasive and reasoned arguments; sometimes with fiery emotion; sometimes with silent and long-suffering example. These individuals are trying to call forth the best in us, and their insistence can move us to conversion. Then there is the communal witness of the Church. At times this witness comes with an authoritative word filled with objective truth – and rather bluntly. Sometimes it comes with the gentle tact and earnest care of a mother, encouraging us to take another path. We need both these witnesses.

But from what do we need to be won over? Ultimately, we need to be won over from hardness of heart, a hardness that plugs up our ears. That is the root of the problem: hardness of heart that manifests itself in plugged up ears.

So what do we need to be won over to? I think to a deeper embrace and immersion in our unique vocation and mission. We all have a place prepared for us by God in the Body of Christ. Especially through prayer God clarifies what we are to do for the good of the Body of Christ and the world. Prayer and mission are the way our ears are unplugged and our heart softened.
               
The Eucharist is the whole reason for being won over. Here we have the feast of the Lamb whose blood is the source of all winning over. Let us rejoice in this Eucharist with all the saints who have been won over by this same blood. The Lamb is in our midst, for we are all gathered in His name.

Excerpts from Father Vincent’s Sunday homily on Matthew 16:21-27.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Our Only Hope

Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.

Too much sadness, far too many tragedies are there in the newspapers that are put out on the large table in the solarium of the monastery, a common gathering room. Too much death and suffering- martyred Christians, flocks of refugees, too many parents cradling wounded children, countless innocent people, far too many soldiers killed. We monks see the photographs, read the stories; our hearts are opened. So much to pray for; too much sadness. Our Constitutions assure us that our Cistercian monastic life has a “hidden apostolic fruitfulness,” assure us that, though we cannot see, our praying is efficacious. We feel helpless; we believe but so often do not understand. Our wounded and risen Lord Jesus is our only Hope. He hears our prayer. That is enough.

 Crucifix of Fra Innocenzo da Palermo, 1637, Assisi, Convento di San Damiano. Quotation from an essay by W. B. Yeats.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

At Your Command

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” Lk 5

“But at your command…” So much seems frustrating; too often hitting the wall of my stubbornness and selfishness. “But at your command,” with you beside me, in my boat, I can move forward. At your command I will continue out into the deep, and lower my nets, trusting your vision of abundance hidden below. You only want my least effort, my docility to your will.

Teach me to do your will, for you are my God;
Let your good Spirit lead me in ways that are level and smooth. Ps 143


Reflection on this morning's Gospel.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

At Capernaum

We can imagine a typical Sabbath in the synagogue at Capernaum- people gathering, greeting one another; small groups of men in conversation, perhaps a few women; younger men entering and giving each other a nod. And then they all notice the possessed man coming in. Weariness, some irritation. “Why does his family even let him come here?” The younger men are grinning at one another, a couple of winks, as they recall a recent Sabbath when this guy blurted out an embarrassing truth about one of the elders. They loved that. This ought to be good, they think. What he will come out with today? Then Jesus enters. Some recognize him too. He sits with them, speaks a word, and teaches them simply, clearly, lovingly- not from on high but as friend and brother. For many this is a moment of astonishment as they hear his word of truth and feel their hearts broken open. They close their eyes, their heads lowered. Then it happens, you-know-who starts up: “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are- the Holy One of God.” Now there’s even more astonishment. This crazy man has uttered blasphemy on the Sabbath; even though, truth be told, some of them have been thinking the very same thing as Jesus was speaking. “Could he be the One?”

Imagine the gall of that demon shouting out Jesus’ name- for speaking a name is to have power over the other. He blurts out Jesus’ name, as if to pick a fight with him. But Jesus sees into the heart. He knows it’s the demon speaking, not the man. And Jesus does not kowtow or spar with demons. He simply says, “Quiet.” “Stop. Enough. Come out of him; leave him alone. Get out of here. Be gone. Demons do not know me. The poor, the sick, the lost, little ones, they know who I am. They may call upon my name for I have come for them.” 

Imagine this most tender and most efficacious compassion of Jesus. He speaks and the evil spirit knows he’s done for. And as once Jesus spoke to the turbulent Sea of Galilee, to its crashing waves and the raging winds above, “Quiet. Be still,” so now he rebukes the demon who has taken this man’s voice away. “Be still and know that I am God.” Jesus gives him back his voice, his freedom, gives him back to himself, to his family, to his community.

We can only wonder what took place after his convulsion on the floor of the synagogue. What did freedom and fluency feel like? Did he praise God in a loud voice? Did he bow down and worship Jesus as Lord, like so many others who were cured? How did freedom change him? 

Reflection on this morning's Gospel- Luke 4.31-37.