Thursday, July 31, 2014

Saint Ignatius Loyola

We are told that Saint Ignatius Loyola reminded spiritual directors that the "Lord wants to deal directly with his creature," meaning that the director should never impede but enhance the Lord's access to a person's heart.  Ignatius was so certain of the Lord's deep love for each person, that at the conclusion of his Spiritual Exercises he invites the retreatant to ponder: quanto el Señor desea dárseme (how much the Lord wants to give himself to me.)
Given this endless loving desire of our God and Lord, our only work minute by minute all day long is to allow the Lord easy access to our hearts. He only asks us to crack the door open. If we give him even just a little opening, he will enter and love and transform our hearts, our very selves.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Loved Sinners

One of the monks told us that he read recently about a man named Brendan Marrocco. He’s a 26-year-old veteran who lost his arms and legs in 2009 in Iraq when a roadside bomb struck the vehicle he was riding. First he was given two new prosthetic limbs. That surely was hard enough, but he got them working. Then in December 2012 he was given two new arms- not prostheses, but donated, real arms- that were transplanted onto his shoulders. Unbelievable. “I hated having no arms,” he said. “It takes so much away from you. You talk with your hands; you do everything with your hands. When I didn’t have them, I was kind of lost.” He said he could now focus on what’s ahead. Imagine his courage. After such a risky double-transplant surgery, he now faces years of grueling rehabilitation to gain full use of his two donated arms.

This monk told us, “It was so humbling, even humiliating to read about this brave young man. But I guess for us as monks, that’s not such a bad place to be. I thought of all the petty things that sometimes concern and annoy me in the monastery. God forgive me. I wanted to say, ‘Depart from me Lord, I am a sinful man.’ Well, the hardest part is that he won’t go away, even with my stubbornness and stupidity. Jesus is not going anywhere.”

When, despite our foolishness, our sinfulness, all our resistances, we dare to say yes to the Lord, we are blessed indeed. For then we come to inhabit a place where all things are possible, a place where we can even rejoice in our nothingness as Our Lady did. As always it is a matter of letting ourselves be loved and daring to believe, to trust in Another’s love and desire. Perhaps we could call it- holy allowing. Those who are in love have always known that. They know enough to trust in the foolishness of another’s fondness and partiality. How good it is to put everything else aside each morning and go to him, up to the altar of God to receive this Best Gift of his Body and Blood, which each day reminds us who we are- deeply loved sinners, from whom Jesus our Lord will never ever depart.

A rendition of the sanctuary of the Abbey church in an etching by Margaret Walters, (1924 - 1971). 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Cistercian Feastday

Since we as Cistercians celebrate today Mary, Martha and Lazarus- Hosts of the Lord, our Gospel took us to Bethany. After Lazarus has been raised by Jesus there is a dinner in the house of his dear friends and Mary washes Jesus’ feet. This often reminds us of another scene in John’s Gospel- Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. We know that foot washing was something a Gentile slave could be required to do, but never a Jewish slave. Foot-washing was typically something wives did for their husbands, children for their parents, and disciples for their teachers. There is undoubtedly a level of intimacy is involved in these last scenarios. And in Jesus' case, there is an obvious reversal of roles.* Jesus calls his disciples his friends. And by washing their feet he overcomes in this act of loving intimacy the inequality that exists between them. And so he establishes an intimacy with them that signals their access to everything he had received from his Father, even the glory that is his as Beloved Son.* 

We like to imagine that Jesus was inspired to wash their feet because he had been so touched by what was done for him at Bethany six days before Passover, when Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil and anointed his feet most tenderly and dried them with her hair. Was this something that inspired his own most loving action on this night before he died? Perhaps. In any event Peter cannot bear the thought of his teacher doing this. We can imagine that probably it was something his wife had done for him many times. And doubtless he like the others is embarrassed by the intimacy of it, the touch, the loving condescension, and the unaffected tenderness, the unmanageability of the love that is so available. It’s disorienting. We see now it is a parable, a parallel to what he would do for us on the cross the next afternoon.


*See Biblegateway.com. and Sandra Schneiders Written That You May Believe,.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Inefficiency

All week long at work, we monks try to be efficient at work, whatever it is- cleaning, cooking, making jam and ale, more chasubles in fewer minutes, whatever. But very soon we realize that the efficiency and discipline required for making great jelly, a great ale or the perfect vestment, all of that is not going to be much help when we go to pray. We’ll need a very different set of tools for that. Perhaps we could call them tools for inefficiency. For at prayer we have to be satisfied to be helpless and small, attentive and totally dependent on Christ’s kind favor; simply trusting his loving-kindness; ready to depend and listen, to trust our emptiness; eager to surrender. Make no mistake; this is work too, a very different kind of work- the discipline of relaxing into our powerlessness. We rejoice for Jesus comes to meet us there.

The rose window at  the west end of the Abbey church.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Hope

We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained;
perplexed, but not driven to despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned;
struck down, but not destroyed;
always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body.
For we who live are constantly being given up to death
for the sake of Jesus,
so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 
2 Cor. 4

Paul's words from today's first reading tell us what it is like to live always in hope. Simply falling backwards into Christ’s compassionate embrace in our desperation is always disconcerting but an exquisite refuge and relief. This is because, as Paul tells us elsewhere, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" Christ Jesus will never forsake us. And our dyings, daily defeats, disappointments and near despair are endless opportunities to trust and rely on Him, "so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh." Each of us then becomes a finely detailed icon of the crucified and risen Jesus. Surrendering in hope to the contradictions that our lives present day by day, moment by moment, we can say with Paul, "I live now not I, but Christ lives in me."

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Magdalen

We love Mary Magdalen because of the way in which the boldness of her love for Jesus made her stare death down beyond all human logic or hope.  For her there is no question that the Messiah of Israel, sent to redeem all humankind, and the Beloved of her most intimate heart are one and the same person.  She perseveres in weeping at the entrance to the tomb because she perseveres in her love: the presence and actions of Jesus in her own life had taught her that love is indeed stronger than death.  Against all odds and logic, in a sort of sublime madness, she clings to her Jesus dead or alive; and she does not reason about a her relative physical strength when she says ironically to the man she thought was the gardener, “Tell me where you laid him, and I will take him away.” Because she loves Jesus so much, she is prepared to carry his body away single-handed.

Such passionate intensity surely was born from her gratitude at having had no less than seven demons driven out of her by Jesus.  As one transformed by the healing power of Jesus’ love, she becomes “the apostle to the Apostles,” since more than any of them she can easily believe in Christ’s Resurrection. For all time St. Mary Magdalen stands as the foremost embodiment of the soul thirsting for God, the soul passionately seeking God.  And in the end she does find him.  “He whom her heart loves” is also the Beloved of the Father who had first come seeking her.  Mary could find him because he first chose, in utter love, to put himself within her reach.

Reflection by Father Simeon.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weeds

In this morning's homily Father Robert spoke of the interior garden of our thoughts and desires. The good seeds point to those loving, selfless desires planted in our hearts by the divine sower. They grow in the moist soil of our hearts and ripen into good and holy choices to be loving and selfless. It is then that we experience the Kingdom planted within us. 

Selfish thoughts are those weeds sown in our hearts by the evil spirit and need not worry us, for God the divine gardener will take good care of us. We are not our thoughts or temptations, we are known by our choices. We must be humble enough to live with the real admission of the existence within us of competing thoughts and real temptations. We let the weeds grow with the wheat. Faced with the reality of our poverty, in silence and simple faith we rely on God's unlimited and unconditional love. 


Friday, July 18, 2014

Clouds

The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
And the firmament declares the work of his handsPsalm 19

The majesty of storm clouds reminds us of God's ways, which are "higher than the earth," so beyond our imagining. God is generous and loving to all, forgiving us over and over again. While I might often want to clutch a grudge, coddle an old hurt or cling to my sense of guilt, God's desire for me is much different. Clouds can teach us many things.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Childlike



At that time Jesus exclaimed: 
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,
for although you have hidden these things
from the wise and the learned
you have revealed them to the childlike.
Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will.
All things have been handed over to me by my Father.
No one knows the Son except the Father,
and no one knows the Father except the Son
and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”

This morning Jesus invites us to view things from below with the “childlike” in a very low place called the kingdom. Accustomed as they are to their own fragility, the childlike are well aware of their need for protection, sustenance and nurture.  Jesus invites us back to this place of immense littleness, where with wonder and deep reverence, we will be one with him and so truly children of the Father, learning over and over how to reverence each other, reverence the earth as home and indeed all creation as kindred. 
Photograph of Virgin and Child in the Abbey library by Virgiinia Raguin.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Parable of the Sower

A sower casts seed on four kinds of ground: first, on the packed ground of a footpath, then on ground that is full of rocks, then on ground that is thick with thorns, and finally on good fertile ground. Depending on where they land, the seeds are eaten by birds, or spring up quickly and then wither away, or get choked by thorns, while only some of them, perhaps only a fourth, take root in good soil. Hearing all that, it is easy to start worrying about what kind of ground I am on with God—how many birds in my field, how many rocks, and how many thorns. How can I clean them all up, how can I turn myself into a well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized field for the sowing of God’s word? It is easy to start worrying about how the odds are three to one against me—those are the odds in the parable, after all—and begin thinking about how I can improve on them by cleaning up my act.

It has been known for centuries as the parable of the sower, which means that there is a chance that we’ve got it all backwards. We hear the story and think it is a story about us, but what if it is not about us at all, but about the sower? What if it is not about our own successes and failures, and birds and rocks and thorns, but about the extravagance of a sower who does not seem to be fazed by such concerns, who flings seed everywhere, scatters it with holy abandon, who feeds the birds, whistles at the rocks, picks his way through the thorns, delights at patches of good soil—and just keeps on sowing, confident that there is enough seed to go around, that there is plenty, and that when the harvest comes at last it will fill every barn in the neighborhood to the rafters?

If this truly is “the parable of the sower” and not “the parable of the different kinds of ground,” then it begins to sound quite new. The focus is not on us and our shortfalls but on the generosity and strategy of our God—the prolific sower who does not obsess about the condition of the fields, who is not stingy with the seed but who casts it everywhere, on good soil and bad, who is not cautious or judgmental or even very practical, but who seems willing to keep reaching into his seed bag for all eternity, covering the whole creation with the fertile seed of his truth.

Of course, we would not do it that way. If we were in charge, we would devise a more efficient operation, a neater, cleaner, more productive one that did not waste seed on birds and rocks and thorns, but concentrated only on the good soil and what we could make it do. But Jesus seems to be suggesting that there is another way to go about things, a way that is less concerned with productivity than with plentitude—a sign of his Father’s mercy, of his holding nothing back for our good, for everyone’s good. The seed is the Word of God, and this surprisingly is how the divine Sower acts.

Vincent van Gogh, The Sower, (after Millet),  1881, pencilinkwatercolor, Rijksmuseum, Netherlands. Reflection by Father Dominic. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Little Ones

In the verses that precede today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus has pronounced woes on the cities where he has performed miracles, deeply disturbed, perhaps even saddened that so many have not been open to the breakthrough of the Father’s compassion revealed in his mighty deeds. They missed it all. Apparently God in Christ wasn’t big enough to meet their expectations.
But in this morning’s passage there is a lightness in Jesus’ heart, as he exclaims, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones.” These little ones are ne’pios, in Greek- infants, helpless little children. Jesus rejoices because they cannot depend on their own wisdom, sophistication or intelligence but know only how to love and depend on their Father.
To them the Father reveals- literally uncovers- the hidden mysteries of the kingdom. Their loving, indeed their need for love transforms them; their burdens are light, born out of love. Jesus is first among these little ones of the Father; he is the Littlest One, for he has emptied himself and taken the lowest place; his only food to do what the Father desires.
Jesus invites us back to a place of immense littleness, where with wonder and deep reverence, we will be one with him and so truly children of the Father. Perhaps he is even inviting us back to what we might call the anguish of littleness. Not to put us down, but because he knows the immense freedom that is hiding there beneath our frustrations and defeats and surrender. He points to a treasure hidden in that low place where we can only depend on God our Father to provide for us. He knows, because this is how he lived and died and rose. A treasure is there because God understands; God is waiting to meet us down there in a low place, welcoming our need of him.
During this coming week the community will be on our annual retreat. We promise our prayer for those who follow our blog. Please pray for us.
Photograph of the north road by Brother Brian.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence Day

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me. Then the God of peace will be with you.

We heard these words from Saint Paul's Letter to the Philippians at this morning's Eucharist. They remind us that as Catholic Christians, as American citizens we must make wise choices, choosing for ourselves and for one another what is life-giving, life nurturing- whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Saint Thomas

“Put your finger here and see my hands, 
and bring your hand and put it into my side, 
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”  
Thomas answered and said to him, 
“My Lord and my God!”

Today's Gospel brings us back to Eastertide. We return to the upper room, the Apostles are huddled together, and this time Thomas is with them. And very quietly Jesus comes in to be with his disciples though the doors are locked. Gloriously risen from the dead he is not boastful or grand but almost shy; the very unpretentiousness of his presence is overwhelming. Jesus is at once wonderfully familiar, tenderly physically present, real flesh and bones and yet totally Other; utterly transcendent and yet forever full of holes. “Come touch me,” he says. “Put your finger, your hand. Believe it.” The wounds confirm Jesus’ living presence; they confirm his identity as God for us. God in Christ, in his divinely resurrected humanity, is revealed as living and real through his vulnerability literally his woundableness

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Two New Novices

On this past Sunday, June 29, during Chapter our Brothers Charbel and Micah were clothed in the novice's habit. Charbel comes to us after working at L'Arche community in Florida; Brother Micah had just completed his master's degree in theology at Villanova. 




O God, in that unutterable kindness by which you dispose all things sweetly and wisely, you gave us clothing, so that a triple benefit might be ours: we are covered with dignity, kept warm and protected in body and soul. Father, pour forth the blessing of your Holy Spirit upon us this morning and upon these clothes which your sons here before us have asked to receive, so that they may serve you faithfully in the Cistercian way of life.




The brethren come forward to embrace the new novices.



They gather for pictures in the Abbey garth.

A photo of those who are in formation with their directors. From left to right in the front row: Brothers Micah, Michael and Charbel, our novices. In the back row: Brother Stephen, simply professed; Brother Daniel, Submaster of Novices; Father Luke, Novicemaster; Fr. James, Dean of the Simply Professed; Samuel Benichou, an observer. Brother John our other simply professed was unavailable for the photo.

These photos by Brother Brian.