Saturday, March 29, 2014

Light from Darkness


  Somehow there had been a quiet comfort in the darkness, a grateful predictability. People left you alone, pitied you and that wasn’t so bad. You listened more, you had to really. You noticed things- the plumpness of a fig, the tiny fingers of a little girl’s hand. And always counting the steps- from bed to hearth, from hearth to door. Feeling the smooth corner of the table and knowing you were in the right place. And then off to the town square to beg- about 83 paces. Then sit on the ground, hands open and ready, listening for a familiar voice. 
  Today everything changes for this blind man, as he hears a new voice, the voice of Jesus. Then the spitting, the mud, the gritty slime on his eyelids. In a flash he is dashing to the pool to wash, panting. Now stooping down, now kneeling on the edge of the pool. Then splash, splash, splash. And then- light- an explosion of light. Squinting. Learning color, noticing sparkle, lovely shadows. Voices have faces. Not smell and sound and touch alone; no more bumping into, no more feeling for edges, no more grabbing at the air. Now light. Too much to see. But he does see, and he knows that it is good, very, very good.
  Jesus has come unbidden and interrupted the quiet darkness. He is Light, sometimes perhaps even a glaring brightness; a Light that changes, renews and reverses. Jesus never kowtows to darkness- of any kind. Darkness like death is gathering all around him. And he knows he has to make a move. Sabbath or not. Perhaps he should have known better. 
  But there’s no time to lose. Disgusted with darkness, Jesus spits. Knowing himself to be our health and salvation, his very spittle is medicine. He bends down and makes an ointment of saliva and dirt. And once again as in the beginning, the Word is bringing life out of the clay of the earth. Again, “Let there be light.”
  No wonder that for centuries this Gospel has been used in preparing catechumens for their baptism. For Baptism was called enlightenment; washing away original blindness and setting us free. How could we have known- most all of us brought to the water as infants in dainty christening dresses. Enlightenment changes everything. Little did we know. Little does this once-blind man realize. But he finds out soon enough!
  Dodging furniture, being careful not to stumble into fire or well, living his own small, dark existence; all of that had been simple and manageable enough. His life has not become easier with sight. But he has become a disciple, he steps up with grace and boldness and outspoken clarity to speak the truth of his experience of Jesus. Harassed by the Pharisees, he is unflinching, “All I know is, I was blind and now I can see.”
  In the end the Pharisees are so outraged by his audacity, that they throw him out bodily. Sore and dusty, he is by now probably more bewildered than ever. But last of all, best of all Jesus seeks him out once again. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks. Unhesitatingly he responds, “Yes, where is he?” “You have seen him," says Jesus, "the one speaking with you is he. And then as he gazes on the sublime beauty of God in Christ, this once-blind man instinctively bows down in worship. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Conversion of Heart

In the monastery we live in a kind of in-between place; a place where the urgency of God’s just demands on us is always coupled with the ample grace of His ever-present mercy. And if Christ Jesus calls us so urgently to repent, to a complete change of heart, it is because He longs to be Mercy for us, to have access to our broken hearts and be compassionate to us. Christ Jesus our Lord is constantly turning toward us in love and mercy. And He asks us to do likewise- to keep turning to Him and to one another in love and mercy and reconciliation over and over again. 

This is what we have vowed to do by our conversatio as monks- to continually allow our hearts to be broken open. Perhaps this is why Saint Benedict will remind the monk to keep death always before his eyes. As monks we are meant to live on the edge, in a place of urgency that perhaps many will only experience in the wake of horrible tragedy or on their deathbeds, a place where all we have to depend on is God’s mercy. This is a place where there is nothing else left but Him. 

Image from the series of prints known as the Miserere by Georges Rouault (1871-1958).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Annunciation

As divine presence draws near, perhaps Mary senses her inadequacy, the fear of incapacity, a space too modest for God. And so for all its beauty, the scene is essentially, tremendously frightening. Imagine the existential loneliness of Our Lady at this moment. How wise the Angel Gabriel is to remind her not to be afraid. This heavenly messenger knows too well that Mary will need great courage as she abandons herself to God's desire.

Perhaps Mary understands in this moment of all moments the pure, almost intolerable desire for God alone which is deep within her, deep inside each of us, this space that only God can fill. And perhaps even as she realizes and experiences most deeply her emptiness and longing, she senses that it is in this very moment that all of her will be most available to God. 

She is made for this moment of all moments. And her fear turns into a vast, ineffable joy. “How can this be? I do not understand, but I trust. Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me.” God’s power is made perfect in weakness, in Mary’s smallness, her emptiness, in our seeming human incapacity for God. Mary has the courage to trust God’s choice of her. Her nothingness, our nothingness is space enough for God to overshadow and make fecund and fill to overflowing.
..
Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1438-47, fresco, 230 x 321 cm, Convent of San Marco, Florence.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Gift of God

   “If only you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink, ‘you would have asked him instead and he would have given you living water.” If only you knew. Achingly beautiful and somehow disorienting. Hearing these words, this Word, we are reminded that Someone is very near,  but we may be somehow unaware of the gift and the presence. 
   Today Jesus comes to the well, that place of sacred encounter, a place that quivers with meaning. For this is the place of betrothal, where Jacob kissed Rachel his future wife and wept for joy. What will happen here? Jesus comes to this place of sacred communion, exhausted and very thirsty. And he meets a Samaritan woman with a history of infidelity.
 She senses immediately the inappropriateness of Jesus’ familiarity, “Why are you talking to me, a Samaritan and a woman?” She is female, Samaritan and promiscuous- the one who should be excluded, ignored by a rabbi, a prophet, certainly unworthy of the encounter.* Jesus should know better, but he does not; he does not back away, and neither does she. There is real lively exchange, real connection; and she gradually experiences Jesus’ self-revelation even as she reveals herself to him, and he tells her the truth about herself.* She hears the truth, receives it and is freed by it. And she recognizes Jesus as the “one who told me everything.” And this Samaritan woman of all people becomes disciple according to John’s criterion- for she puts everything aside to follow Jesus- she leaves her water jar and goes to tell. She has been understood, she has heard the truth, experienced the freedom and loving regard and she believes. She has been brought home to herself, to God, to her community. She knows, “This is He who was to come.” 
   “If only you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink…” What we hear in this Gospel is a kind of sacramental transformation of dialogue in which all that is said is symbolic, fraught with meanings that are bubbling over with heavenly effervescence. Back and forth, a mutual, marvelous exchange. Whose voice is whose? Who’s the thirsty one; who’s giving who a drink? Where’s the water? If only you knew.
   In as many words Jesus says to us: “If only you knew the gift of God, if only you knew that I am your Refreshment. I am the living spring who thirsts for you. And I am the well, the wellspring, for my heart was pierced for you on the cross. I am Life, your life. Without me you cannot live. And If only you understood that I cannot live without you. I AM speaking with you now, beside you, here within you. If only you knew it. Give me a drink; better still ask me for a drink. No wait, I am your drink; but wait it is you who are refreshment for me.”

* See Sandra Schneiders, Written That You May Believe. Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Everything













‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’


In Christ Jesus, who will give himself entirely for us on the cross, we have everything, everything we need. As today's first Reading from the Prophet Micah tells us, the Lord "delights in clemency and will  have compassion on us." It is by Jesus' passion and death that he will tread "underfoot our guilt" and "cast into the depths of the sea all our sins" revealing God's utter faithfulness to us. Everything God has and is is thus given to us in abundance in and through Christ Jesus our Lord.


Excerpt from today's Gospel according to Saint Luke.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Obedient Faith

Certainly a key effect of Joseph’s obedient faith is his participation in God’s plan to overcome the effects of sin in the world. The English word sin is derived from the German term Sunde, which carries the connotation of sundering or dividing. The Greek word diabolos, from which we get our word devil, the evil one, basically means “scatterer”. In the Book of Genesis, the original sin – incited by the serpent – amounts to a sundering of the human relationship to God (expulsion from the Garden) and a radical division and scapegoating among creatures. Separation, suspicion, mutual hatred, blaming – all are signs that the scattering power of sin is let loose.

God, on the other hand, gathers. The history of Israel is the story of God’s gathering of his people into one through the power of his covenant. It is the story of Israel’s hope for unity, a hope kept alive through the suffering of periodic separation, of division, and even exile because of their infidelity to that covenant. All of it is God’s narrative, the unfolding of his plan for Israel and, through Israel, all of humanity. In the sending of his Son, God gives definitive expression of his power of gathering.

Through Joseph’s generous and humble act of placing his whole being at the service of God’s word  God was able to catch Joseph up into his life and impress on his being his own way of thinking and acting. We can imagine Joseph’s obedient faith was immeasurably pleasing to God, first of all for its own sake because he loves to make man holy, and because it enabled him to make of Joseph a very effective instrument of his divine gathering. One way to look at the fruits of Joseph’s obedient faith is to see it as assisting God in his project to overcome the division and alienation brought about by the disobedience of the first couple.  

First of all, by his obedience Joseph helped overcome the first alienation which was that between man and God.  In his self-gift to Mary and united to her in their mutual “yes” to God and to one another, and in their humble service to the divine plan as the parents of Jesus, Joseph helped overcome the consequence of the first alienation, which is alienation within the human being and between human beings, which first happened between the man and the woman, manifesting itself as shame of each before the other, showing that the original harmony between body and spirit had been disturbed. In his daily work and by introducing Jesus into his trade, Joseph helped overcome another alienation which is that of man from nature and the world. Finally, by embracing the call to the renunciation of normal conjugal relations and biological fatherhood, Joseph participated in the Cross of Christ, through which God overcame the most important alienation of all, death, thereby overcoming the final obstacle to gathering into his kingdom all those who say ‘yes’ to his call and promise.

Sin divides. God gathers. St. Joseph shows us the path for allowing God’s gathering and reordering power to do its stuff in our hearts and in our relationships. Following it, we will no doubt find God surprising us with a renewed identity in him. 

Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for yesterday's Solemnity.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Saint Joseph

...the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home

Saint Joseph has faith in God, faith in Mary. He is obedient, trusting and trustworthy. We love to imagine his tender care for the household in Nazareth. Our life in the monastery is like Joseph's life with Jesus and Mary- ordinary, obscure and laborious. 

 Fragment of a wooden  carving of Saint  Joseph in one of the corners of the Abbey. Verses from today's Gospel according to Saint Matthew.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Transformed

  In St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, he says, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” This passage came to mind as I read today’s gospel of the Transfiguration and pondered the events that led up to it at Caesarea Philippi. I wondered, how does the Spirit bring about our inner transformation as He did with the apostles? I think it must have to do with at least three factors: our free choices; the mystery of suffering; and the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Let us begin with our free choices.
  Six days before the Transfiguration, after asking Peter and the apostles what people thought about Him, Our Lord turned the question to them: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, inspired by the Spirit, said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” He spoke from the depths of his conviction, not fully enlightened perhaps, but he took a stand and declared what he really thought. That is all Jesus wanted. He could work with that, and His Spirit could move Peter further down the road of transformation accordingly.
  This is a perfect question for us this Lent, and the Spirit urges us to answer it: Who do we say that Jesus is? What is our conviction? What is our faith? When Jesus asks the question, He leaves Himself vulnerable, knowing we could reject him. But He also knows that it is our dignity to answer freely and in that answer to be transformed. So He waits patiently somewhat like the Bridegroom in the Song of Songs who said, “My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the secret recesses of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and you are lovely.”
  Immediately after Peter’s confession of faith comes the next opportunity for transformation – Our Lord predicts that He “must…suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes.” Peter quickly rejects the idea – God forbid that Peter’s Christ should be a Christ crucified!
  Faced with this divine mystery of suffering, I think Peter experienced a kind of inner panic, a little like that of Moses at the burning bush when Moses “…hid his face, because he did not want to look at God.” Moses hid his face because of the awe of it all, but also because he did not want to be sent to Pharaoh. He tried to talk God out of it. Peter hid his face, metaphorically, because he did not want to look at the face of a suffering God or, perhaps, face the possibility that suffering that might be his by association. We can either hide our face from this mystery of suffering, or with the grace of the Spirit accept this reality about our God and ourselves and be transformed.
  Finally, we come to the Mount of Transfiguration which, in a way, Peter could not have approached without his earlier transformations. Here the Spirit allows the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God” to shine upon Peter. Peter hears the Father proclaim His Son’s beloved-ness; he sees the Son in the unity of the Spirit radiating the goodness and glory of His Father; and he marvels at the cloud of glory by which the Spirit envelopes the whole. This knowledge of the Trinity both integrates all Peter’s other transformations and impels him forward to another and deeper cycle of transformation.
  Now think a moment about the Church – what humility she must have when approaching this glorious sight of the Transfiguration, what holy fear. I wonder if the Church must first be like Rebekah who, when seeing Isaac at a distance, veiled her face out of the deepest respect. This veil the Spirit will lift when the Church enters into the presence of the Holy Trinity. Then in the boldness of childlike and bridal confidence, she will gaze on the Lord with face unveiled and be transformed from glory to glory.
Father Vincent's homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, 2014.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Vocation

Dom Bernardo, Abbot of our monastery of Novo Mundo in Brazil, visited us this week. Formed at Spencer and a monk of our Abbey for 14 years, he spoke with joy of discovering his vocation in this place. Bernardo reflected with us that religious vocation always begins with a theophany, an experience of God’s living presence in a specific place with a particular community. He believes that, as was his experience, the candidate comes to the realization that God can be encountered in this place, with these men, and he grows in the desire to find his place among them.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Yearning

Like the deer that yearns for running streams,
My soul longs for you, my God! 
Psalm 42

Photograph of deer browsing in Abbey woodlands by Kathleen Trainor, 2014.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Father Simeon

Give me that I may give. 
Saint Augustine


Father Simeon entered the monastery in April of 2003 and was ordained to the priesthood in May of 2013. An accomplished author, preacher and retreat master, Simeon is currently editor of the Monastic Wisdom Series for Cistercian Publications. In addition he often leads retreats in the Abbey Retreat House, pitches in as community cook and does his part in the regular round of chores.


Father Simeon tells us that he treasures: "the rhythm of  the common life that draws me back to essentials even when I am most distracted or concerned with more relative things."


Sunday, March 9, 2014

The First Sunday of Lent

This small but dazzling panel painting by the Italian master Duccio tells the story of today's Gospel. In a barren, craggy landscape we see Satan sooty black and hairy, an ugly beast with bat wings, long fingernails and spiked hair. He is frightening but ultimately ineffectual. He is trying to distract Jesus, who is depicted as strong and noble, serene, upright and majestic, undaunted by Satan's overtures. And all the candy-colored kingdoms Satan offers appear small and toy-like. Jesus dismisses him with a simple, direct gesture, "Get away!" And angels sneak in to offer heavenly comfort.

Jesus is dressed in a crimson red robe- red the color of clay, of earth, of ruddy flesh, the color of blood and fiery passion. And he wears a great cloak of brilliant celestial blue, the color of the heavens, of the ether, the color of divinity, even of pure water- the baptismal water from which he has very recently emerged. Indeed, Jesus' clothing says it all; for he is earth and heaven wed together once and forever.

This unity, this Incarnation, is God's power and majesty at once divinely brilliant and veiled in our flesh. Tempted like us in all ways, God in Christ knows us from the inside out and has come to shield and defend us with his very Self.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319)The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled),
17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Bridegroom

Today we hear Christ Jesus refer to himself as Bridegroom. Our fast and Lenten observance are meant to increase our longing for him and deepen our awareness of his love for us. As Cistercian monks we are called to cling to Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church and of each Christian. Especially through the Eucharist, he teaches us the intimate nature of what it means to belong to him: gratuitous, total, ongoing and life-giving love that invites reciprocity.

And so we are called to give concrete priority to prayer, understood as gratuitous giving and receiving, experienced as loving faith anticipating the coming of the longed-for Bridegroom. We promise to work at the discipline of love, a love based on truth that opens us to self-knowledge and mercy in the face of our own misery and the misery of others.

Icon of Christ the Bridegroom.  Lines adapted from Dom Bernardo Olivera, 2002.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Ash Wednesday

Remembering that we are dust, we are heartened because Jesus himself has became our dust, our fragile flesh, our nothingness because of his immeasurable affection for us.  His life is hidden within our sinful flesh. Jesus' words to us this morning, "when you pray, go to your inner room, and pray to your Father in secret," remind us us that we can find God there, hidden within, in the depths of our hearts, our own inner room. Our lives are mingled together; God in us, we in God. Nothing can separate us. When go to our inner room, we wait for him in confidence


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras in the monastery brings our “farewell” to the Alleluia at this evening’s Vespers, as we chant an elaborate Alleluia at the conclusion of the office. Then we head to the refectory for Brother Patrick’s homemade pizza, followed by ice cream and sweets. Then there’s clean-up followed by Compline, and the last time we can chant the Salve Regina with Our Lady’s window illumined until Easter Sunday. The sanctuary is then prepared for the Ash Wednesday Mass, and the cross over the altar veiled in purple for the holy Forty Days ahead.