Sunday, November 30, 2014

First Sunday of Advent

    At this beginning of a new liturgical year the Church invites us to lay aside all distress, worry and hopelessness in order to give the light of God’s Word a chance to penetrate our darkness. St. Paul assures us: God, who is ever faithful, calls us to communion with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  All our hope resides in that trustworthy call.  Would God deceive us and call us to something illusory?  But will we truly open our hearts and allow ourselves to become like expectant children, dazzled by reliable promises of a joyful life? 
    Today is also the first day of what our Holy Father Francis has declared to be the Year of Consecrated Life.  Though all Christians have been consecrated to God by baptism into Christ, there are in the Church those of us called to live this consecrated life in a particular manner, totally at one with all the faithful and in no way superior to anyone, yet witnessing before the whole world, by the specific form of our life, to what is of perennial value.
    With reference to us who are vowed to a contemplative monastic life, St. John Paul II has written, By their lives and mission, the members of these Institutes imitate Christ in his prayer on the mountain, bear witness to God’s lordship over history and anticipate the glory which is to come…In solitude and silence, by listening to the word of God, participating in divine worship, personal asceticism, prayer, mortification and the communion of fraternal love, they direct the whole of their lives and all their activities to the contemplation of God. In this way they offer the ecclesial community a singular testimony of the Church’s love for her Lord, and they contribute, with hidden apostolic fruitfulness, to the growth of the People of God. Vita Consecrata 8
    The Prophet Isaiah portrays for us the beginning of the contemplative call, in a way that may be summed up in the two words conversion and supplication.  We are called to the monastery not on account of any merit or special quality of ours—quite to the contrary: in his mysterious freedom, God calls us out of a condition of dire need, of radical dissatisfaction.  You have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt, the prophet cries out to God.  God’s apparent absence and rejection of us have plunged us into a threatening void, and we receive the grace not to turn to idolatry out of desperation but rather to seek the true God all the more fervently, imploring him with savage desire to come to our rescue and save us by showing us the light of his Face: Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for.  The very ability, energy and impulse to appeal deafeningly to God out of our misery is the greatest of graces. 
    It is sheer grace that makes us cry out to God instead of despairing, sheer grace that makes us lament our sins and desire with our whole heart that our life could start again, could assume a new shape (we are the clay and you are the potter), sheer grace even to imagine the joy of clinging to God permanently with all our strength.  Such is the desert place where a monastic vocation begins.  It is a place of precariousness because what goes on here is mostly supplication (the root meaning of “precarious”), pure begging for help, pure dependency, as we sink into the awareness that we can do nothing to save ourselves.  In this place Christ is experienced largely as a still unfulfilled promise, and the typical prayer that dominates this state of soul is the prayer of repentance: Lord, have mercy on me a poor sinner!

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. 
Excerpts from Father Simeon's Homily for the First Sunday of Advent.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Year of Consecrated Life

   Pope Francis has proclaimed 2015 a Year of Consecrated Life, beginning the First Sunday of Advent. This year also marks the 50th anniversary of Perfectae Caritatis, the decree on religious life, and Lumen Gentium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Church. During this Year the Church wishes to “make a grateful remembrance of the recent past” while embracing “the future with hope.”
   As a fitting way to begin this Year of Consecrated Life, the Abbot has invited us monks to gather in Chapter and respond to the question: Why have you come here? Or in other words: What brought you to the monastery? What attracted you? What drew you to write that first letter of enquiry? Or make that first phone call? Or come for that first visit? It has been moving and edifying to listen to each other tell the story of his vocation. The Lord is gentle, sometimes insistent even perhaps charming as He draws us to Himself.
O God, throughout the ages you have called
women and men to pursue lives of perfect
charity through the evangelical counsels of
poverty, chastity, and obedience. During this
Year of Consecrated Life, we give you thanks
for these courageous witnesses of Faith and
models of inspiration. Their pursuit of holy
lives teaches us to make a more perfect offering
of ourselves to you. Continue to enrich
your Church by calling forth sons and daughters
who, having found the pearl of great
price, treasure the Kingdom of Heaven above
all things. Through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with you in
the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.To open this Year dedicated 
to the Consecrated Life which begins 
on this First Sunday of Advent. Prayer for the Year of Consecrated Life

Thursday, November 27, 2014


As little children our parents would often tug at our sleeves when were given a gift or a small treat and remind us, “What do you say?” Recognizing all we have been given by God in his love and mercy, on this Thanksgiving Day we gather to pray and feast and remind one another, “What do you say?”

Thank you, thank you Lord from the bottom of our hearts for all you have given so freely, so lavishly. Our hearts are full, filled to overflowing, for what do we have that we have not received? Wonder, praise, thanksgiving become one.

And so fittingly, wonderfully, jubilantly we celebrate Eucharist on this day. Eucharist means thanksgiving. God never stops giving God’s very Self to us. God is love. Love never ends. And even as we come to thank and praise God for all he has given us, it is he who is gathering us at this Eucharist to feed us once again with himself. Our thanksgiving overflows.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Christ Our King

    We are all too familiar with how the human family has been divided and scattered in our days: in family life and marriage; through vast migrations due to wars, drugs, and terror; even within the Church there is a vast alienation of so many Catholics. It seems to me that the mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, is to reverse this wholesale scattering of peoples and families by gathering them once more under His gentle and liberating rule.
    The words of the prophet Ezekiel seem particularly important here. Ezekiel speaks of the true king who like a loving shepherd would gather the Israelites from every place where they were scattered. Listen to the words of this king: “I myself will look after my sheep…I will rescue them…I will give them rest…I will seek out…bring back…bind up…heal.” Is there a better description of what Our Lord Jesus did to reverse the forces of scattering? He took responsibility for us. Perfectly one with His Father, He made Himself perfectly one with us, identifying Himself with the least of His brothers and sisters. When it was “cloudy and dark,” as dark as it can get, He fought and overcame our great enemy – death itself – and He frees us from the fear of death. He seeks out disfigured families and gives a word of consolation and mercy; He stirs up aid for those who are forced from their homes; He offers healing to the disaffected in His Church, and by the wounds in His hands and His side He shows them how much they mean to Him.
    These are all reasons for hope that the forces of scattering will not prevail. But there is another reason that all this is important for us. At our baptism we were anointed by the Spirit of God to share in the kingly mission of Our Lord. It’s part of our spiritual DNA. In the ordinary events of our monastic life we share in this mission: in the Infirmary we bind up and heal; in the kitchen and refectory we are very well pastured; in the Guest House we welcome strangers and offer them a blessed rest; in our daily encounters with one another, we bring back, we bind up, we give rest, and we free one another from the fear of death. Our humble services make it possible for us to gather daily around Our Head and King. And I’m sure that much the same happens in the ordinary lives of our friends who are gathered with us today.
    Brothers and sisters, today we celebrate the kingly mission of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and like Our Lady we share in His mission. Our prayer is united with His prayer and with the prayer of the Queen of heaven and earth. And with them we gather into one the People of God until the last and least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters are gathered to share His life-giving bread and sacred wine. Let us thank God for this marvelous gift and mission! “Christ, King of Glory! Christ, Prince of nations! Christ our King of Kings! To Him only is victory, all praise and jubilation, through all the endless ages of eternity. Amen!”

Photograph of a bas relief of the Resurrected Christ in the Abbey orchards by Michael Rivera. Father Vincent's Homily for the Feast of Christ the King.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Presentation of Mary

An ancient tradition holds that Mary was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem as a little girl. And so today the Church celebrates Mary as Ark of the Covenant and House of Gold, the dwelling place of God Most High who chose her chaste body as his nesting place.

At this morning's Mass we heard the Gospel reading in which a woman from the crowd listening to Jesus is so taken with him that she cries out, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed."  Jesus responds, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep  it.” Jesus tells us that we are like his mother when we hold on to the words he speaks to us and ponder them in our hearts. Then like Mary we become Christ-bearers.

The Child Mary Asleep, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1630-1635, oil on canvas,  Galerie Canesso, Lugano.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Mechtilde, a thirteenth century Benedictine nun from the monastery of Helfta in Germany. Mechtilde had a tender devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, who opened His wounded side to her in love and gave her His Heart as a place of refuge and consolation. In one of her visions Jesus told Mechtilde that His Heart was like a kitchen where we could go to get whatever we needed at any time. In another He told her, "In the morning let your first act be to greet My Heart and to offer Me your own." Jesus continued, "Whoever breathes a sigh toward Me, draws Me to himself." 

It only takes a sigh. Let us sigh quietly, insistently, confidently.

Photograph by Brother Brian  of  a bas-relief crucifix by Suzanne Nicolas  in the Abbey church.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beyond Fairness

    What sort of fairness is going on here? We are obviously not talking about fairness at all. What we are talking about is a higher level of consciousness where the normal rules just do not apply. This is a theoretical story told to make a point about three kinds of people.  Each of the three responds to the divine good fortune differently.  In neither case is the amount of money determined by the servant “earning” it. Neither of them deserves anything. We think that because we are good and work hard, it is only fair that we should be rewarded. This is fairness in the way of the world. However, Jesus is not talking about that kind of “fairness.” He is trying to raise our consciousness to a divine level. His Father who sent Him loves him (and loves us), unconditionally and without limit.  Five talents or two talents or one talent are all irrelevant in this story. In this parable the first two servants got this point and were not afraid to risk losing their gifts. After all, the same source who gave them their talents out of a divine, unlimited goodness would continue to be good to them. They knew that. They might as well use this money as a way of being grateful.  It had nothing to do with deserving or earning God’s goodness. It had everything to do with gratitude.
    In the section which follows this parable just before the Passion, Matthew tells another story with the same theme. This is the story of Mary of Bethany who anointed the head of Jesus with costly ointment. She is strongly defended by Jesus when the others begin to criticize her extravagant expression of love. In both stories, we are dealing with a new level of logic. We are at the heart of the mystery we call the Incarnation.  The world,and all its comparisons of good and bad, more and less, success and failure, have just been made irrelevant. The only one in the crowd who seems to have gotten the point is this woman, who extravagantly emptied her jar of perfumed oil all over the head of Jesus. The men of the world and the followers of the world’s rules are horrified. Jesus gives solemn testimony, not only to the woman’s spiritual wisdom and understanding, but also to her courage in daring to go way beyond the logic and the normal rules of human affection and courtesy.
    Now, it is our turn. We are invited to risk everything and place all our trust in this divine level of life.  Let us take the risk of believing in this mystery of unlimited, but at the same time, incarnate love, which goes way beyond all our pathetic human rules.  

Photograph by Michael Rivera. Excerpts from Father Robert's homily for the Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time.                                       

Friday, November 14, 2014

Praying in Him

   Truly Jesus is our place of prayer. All of our praying takes place in his heart; for we can only pray in him, through him. Indeed, we can only pray at all because he prays first, begging the Father incessantly on our behalf. And each time we step into the Abbey church, we enter Christ’s wounded heart, the sanctuary that he is for us. In our praying through him, in him we are becoming more and more with him a most beautiful temple, a life-giving flood of mercy gushing from our woundedness, if we will allow it. 
   This transcendent beauty of the wounded, resurrected Jesus is what we reveal as individuals, as monastic community and as Church. We are his most beautiful body, a temple meant to overflow with mercy and compassion. He is our broken wounded Self, forever risen and pierced.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Saint Martin

Saint Martin shares his military cloak with a shivering beggar, and Jesus notices. That night in a dream He visits Martin wearing the half-cloak he had shared. The beggar is Christ. A bit of unseasonable balminess this morning reminds us that in Italy a warm spell at this time of the year is called l'Estate di San Martino- Saint Martin's Summer. Legend has it that after Martin had shared his cloak, God made it a little warmer so that neither Martin nor the beggar would suffer from the cold with only a half a cloak each. 

Those who need us are the Lord Jesus in disguise. How will I encounter Him this day? 

El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos), Greek, 1541 – 1614, Saint Martin and the Beggar, 1597/1599, oil on canvas with wooden strip added at bottom, 76 3/16 x 40 9/16 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington.     Francí Gomar , Spanish, Aragon, active by 1443–died ca. 1492/3, Altar Predella of Archbishop Don Dalmau de Mur y Cervelló,  detail, Saragossa, 1456–1458, Alabaster, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Used with permission.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Temple

“He was speaking of the temple of his Body.” The temple of his Body. The temple that will be destroyed and raised up is not the temple of stone but the temple of Jesus’ own body. The temple, the sanctuary, will no longer be a place, but a person. Jesus declares himself now and forever the meeting place between God and his people, the place where God’s desire for us and our desire for God merge.

Jesus will restore the meaning of temple as sacred place of wonder and worship; the sanctuary where we may encounter God’s mercy. Jesus himself is God’s Lamb who will be slain once and for all. His self-offering in its bitterness and pain, in its immeasurable mercy and compassion will fulfill all that the temple liturgy aspired to. Jesus’ sacrifice will reinvigorate the meaning of all liturgy, for it means service- leitourgía. And liturgy is always, always first of all God’s service of us. This is the true meaning of worship: our celebrating with gratitude and praise all that God in Christ is doing for us. It is not about us, our service of God, but God’s astonishingly humble service of us in Christ. Jesus as physician, healer, and messenger of the new covenant comes to serve us, to heal and feed and console us. It is his risen and wounded body that is our sanctuary. 

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” says Jesus. He is referring to his Hour, the Hour of his passion, death and resurrection. For it is most of all in this Hour that he will truly become the place where we can encounter the most tender, self-emptying love and service of the Father for all creation. For when Jesus’ body, his heart, is gashed open and shattered by the horror of the passion, it becomes that wonderful leaky temple of Ezekiel’s vision in the First Reading, life-giving waters flowing from his wounded body, recreating the beauty of Paradise. For in his Hour death dies, for Jesus’ Hour includes his final lifting up, the resurrection, accomplished by the Father’s love.

Antique corpus in the Abbey Hermitage photographed by Brother Brian. Excerpts from this mornings homily for the Feast.

Friday, November 7, 2014

The Work of God

We believe that the divine presence is everywhere
and that "the eyes of the Lord
are looking on the good and the evil in every place."
But we should believe this especially without any doubt
when we are assisting at the Work of God.
To that end let us be mindful always of the Prophet's words,
"Serve the Lord in fear"
and again "Sing praises wisely"
and "In the sight of the Angels I will sing praise to You."

Let us therefore consider how we ought to conduct ourselves 
in sight of the Godhead and of His Angels, 
and let us take part in the psalmody in such a way 
that our mind may be in harmony with our voice.

Photographs of monks at the Divine Office by Brother Brian. Text from Chapter 19 of  The Rule of Saint Benedict. 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


We notice transitions as autumn wears on; transitions subtle and bold; and the leaves dying and falling in this most beautiful of ways.  
Nature helps us, as we learn how to welcome the dying, the falling, all the alternations and transitions in our lives together as opportunities for God, opportunities for hope, opportunities for grace. 

Monday, November 3, 2014

Saint Martin de Porres

Born in Peru in 1579, the illegitimate son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black slave, Martin de Porres embodies quite literally the often conflictual encounter between the cultures and races of very different worlds.  But as a barber-surgeon and Dominican tertiary with the heart of Jesus his Lord, Martin knew how to become an instrument of universal reconciliation through active mercy, ardently loving and serving the poor and the sick.  He truly "regarded others humbly as more important than himself, putting their interests before his own,"(Phil 2:3-4) and so he emptied himself through works of outpoured love.  Let us, too, welcome this same action of transforming grace in our own lives.

Meditation by Father Simeon.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls

Today we think of the last things, as we marked this solemn day with our traditional procession through the cloisters and the blessing of the graves in the Abbey cemetery. The dear departed, our brethren, friends, relatives and benefactors, belong to us and we pray that the Lord Jesus will raise them up to himself. With them we belong to God in Christ; we are filled with hope because he promises us that he will raise us up with them on the last day.

Photograph by Brother Brian.