Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Beloved with Christ

It’s a wonderful insight to grasp the core of Jesus’ message by realizing the magnitude, the depth of the divine embrace, the depth of Jesus’ ardor for you. It is spiritually inebriating if you let it touch you as deeply as Jesus intends.  But there is more! The more here is simply the realization moment by moment that each of us is always and everywhere the beloved of God, someone with whom God is madly in love.

When we live this out, we allow grace to transform our eyes, our minds, our hearts. We experience our brothers and sisters as the beloved ones of God, and interact with them in such a way that this foundational spiritual realization grows in them and in us. We empower one another in family and community to believe this saving gospel truth by the very manner in which we relate to one another. 

The greatest gift we can give at Christmas is to so honor our brothers and sisters in our interactions that they realize they are the beloved ones of God.  Such honor grants them, as it were, the gift of faith; it makes the truth of the Divine Child's revelation believable. And what is more, something very mysterious happens. Because this is a spiritual gift, the more you give it away, the more it becomes your own.  The more you give others the capacity to believe they are the beloved of God, the more you realize it yourself. Unlike material goods, the more you give spiritual goods away, and so empty yourself of your claim on them, the more the infinite God can fill you. 

Orazio Gentileschi, 1563–1639, Madonna and Child detail from Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1628. Meditation by Father Isaac.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Loving Knowledge

Ordinary people not unlike you and me came to experience something in the living person of Jesus, something in who he was, in what he said and did, in how he lived and died, that was like the opening of a door to faith in him as the Son of God, the incarnate divine Wisdom or Word who was with God from the beginning, through whom all things were made.

The “Light that shines in the darkness” first shone in the person of Jesus—in his birth, life, death, and presence in the community of believers today. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the angels from on high, saw something of this light and life in the baby whose birth we celebrate.

As we celebrate Christmas, we are drawn to a newborn baby in whom we experience the face and heart of God our Father. We do not have to reach to something infinitely beyond ourselves, but only embrace Someone who gives himself to us, even as a baby. Ultimately, it is our experience of Jesus Christ, a person born in human flesh who “pitched his tent among us,” that precedes our faith in him as the Son of God and revelation of the Father.

St. Augustine was convinced that we cannot really know something if we do not first love it. Karl Rahner echoed him when he wrote:

Only the heart knows in the full sense of the word. Really interior knowledge, knowledge that grasps something completely and is more than a list of facts, is knowledge of the heart, of the human center, which knows by experience and by suffering – the human center where spirit and body, light and love dwell undivided in one chasm. In the final analysis, knowledge is but the radiance of love… 

And now God says to us what God has already said to the earth as a whole through his grace-filled birth: “I am there. I am with you. I am your life. I am your time. I am the gloom of your daily routine . . . I am your joy. Do not be afraid to be happy; ever since I wept, joy is the standard of living that is really more suitable than the anxiety and grief of those who think they have no hope . . . I am present in your needs. I have suffered them and they are now transformed but not obliterated from my heart. This reality—incomprehensible wonder of my almighty love—I have sheltered safely and completely in the cold stable of your world. I am there. Even if you do not see me now, I am there. It is Christmas. Light the candles. They have more right to exist than all the darkness.

Drawing by Jerome Quigley. Excerpts from a Christmas homily by Father Dominic.

Friday, December 26, 2014


      “Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy.” The word ‘joy’ appears more often in Luke’s gospel than in any other New Testament writing. In the theological world view of the Gospel of Luke we live in a world redeemed and transformed by the birth, life, ministry, passion, death and resurrection of JC. In such a world there can be no other Christian response than joy!
     Is joy an integral part of my response to life? I would like it to be. On Gaudete Sunday Pope Francis, in his Angelus address said, “It is not a joy that is merely anticipated or set in paradise….here on earth we are sad but in paradise we will be happy. No. It is not that. Rather, it is a joy that is already real…” Is this angelic proclamation of good news of great joy just something that pertains to a past event or a future heavenly reality? It cannot be just that. Or, we are all wasting our time celebrating Christmas.
     Several years ago the author Ronald Rolheiser was treated for cancer. Following his diagnosis and treatment, here’s how he described his experience: “Life is what happens while you are planning your life; so too conversion. Having cancer taught me some lessons other than the ones I planned. Most important among these was this: Like everyone else in this world, I’ve always wanted joy in my life---friendship, love, celebration. But, and this has been the big handicap in finding these, I have always (however unconsciously) felt that the joy I so longed for could only come my way when I was finally free from all anxiety, emotional tension, pressure, overwork, illness, frustration, and stress of all kinds. We nurse this strange fantasy that it is only after all our bills are paid, our health is perfect, all tensions within our families and friendships are resolved, and we are in a peaceful, leisured space that we can finally enter life and enjoy it. In the meantime, we put our lives on hold as we perpetually gear up, get ready and wait for that perfect moment to arrive where we can finally rejoice within life.”
     What if it is God who is waiting. Waiting for us to wake up to something, SOMEONE who is already here!] Waiting for us to really hear and believe the good news of great joy. “Today in the town of David.” This today is more than just a chronological date. It is the now; the ever-present now of God’s eternity bursting forth in time.
      This joy is fundamentally God’s doing. In fact, it is the overflow of God’s joy in our lives. The very joy that God takes in creating us; in being close to us---so close as to become enfleshed; the joy that God takes in redeeming us and forgiving us. Such joy can in no way be produced on demand. The deepest joys in our lives sort of creep up on us when we aren’t looking.
     And this joy doesn’t take away the reality of threat or risk or suffering. But how can I know this joy in a world that is so full of atrocity and injustice? How can I know this joy when I am so aware of my own failures, my own shabbiness, my own depression? I have no theoretical answer to such questions. Because it has nothing to do with theory. It is not something you can get your head around. It simply happens this way. It is just here as sheer gift! In the “today”of the here and now of our concrete lives. Not somewhere else. Not later. Today!
     There is nothing theoretical about God’s closeness to us. And this closeness is offered to us not as some sort of a guarantee of a perfectly happy life, in the sense of one that is free from tension, pain or disappointment. But to affirm that whatever happens in this unpredictable world---sometimes wonderfully, sometimes horribly unpredictable---there is a deeper level of reality at work, a world within the world, so to speak. This is at the heart of the Christmas mystery and the source of our joy. God, the creator, becomes a creature. The infinite God becomes finite---a crying, hungry, defecating baby, who will grow up and develop and teach and heal and suffer, die and rise…in order to be close to us with a closeness that is never, ever removed. God’s closeness does not come and go. We may come and go but God doesn’t. God never withdraws from us. 

Excerpts from Abbot Damian's Homily for Christmas Midnight Mass.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Guests

We welcome our guests to join us for all the liturgies of Christmas. On Christmas Eve Vespers will be at 4:40 PM. Solemn Vigils begin at 12:50 AM with Mid-night Mass at 2 AM. On Christmas Day Lauds will be at 7:30 AM with an Aurora Mass immediately following. The Solemn Day Mass is at 11 AM; Christmas Vespers begin at 5:10 with Benediction to follow. The other Offices are celebrated at the usual times. Let us rejoice and be glad, for Someone who longs for us and loves us with love beyond all telling is drawing near- ever and always. Let us dare to open our hearts wide in welcome.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Open to Him

How to welcome One who longs to visit us from on high, longing to dwell in our hearts, in our very flesh? If I pause and ponder too long and hesitate, stubbornly insisting that God could not possibly want to dwell in my broken heart, my too wounded, sin-scared flesh, then I may miss the opportunity that my neediness affords me. He only wants my weakness, that rough straw for his bed. The Desire at the heart of all our desiring is begging at the door of our hearts. Let us open in haste and hope and almost rash confidence. His desire for me trumps my unworthiness and makes my flesh his flesh. 
Madonna after Carlo Crivelli at the entrance to the Abbey church.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


"Behold, the virgin shall be with child."
Let us stay close to the Virgin who said, "Yes."  For there we will be near to her who accepted the fullness of light, she who received grace without fear, Our Lady who looked upon love and accepted it fully.
Let us follow in her footsteps.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Father Laurence

A preeminent chapter in the history of the Trappist community at St. Joseph's Abbey ended late Friday evening, December 12, 2014, with the passing of our Father Laurence Bourget. Born in Central Falls, Rhode Island, he was thoroughly immersed in Rhode Island's Catholic culture. He entered the Abbey of Our Lady of the Valley, Lonsdale, Rhode Island, in 1933 and, after a fire in 1950 that forced the closure of that monastery, he moved with the rest of the monastic community to St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer. 
Father Laurence pronounced his solemn vows in 1938 and was ordained a priest in 1942. Throughout the span of his long career in monastic life he filled many posts: organist, abbot's secretary, enrollment secretary, choir master, guest master, retreat master, archivist, professor of history, patrology, philosophy and scripture, claustral prior, counselor to the order's Abbot General in Rome for English speaking monasteries in North and South America and English, French, French and English translator at General Chapter meetings.
The last living link to the earliest history of the Trappists in North America, Father Laurence's formative years were cultivated by monastic elders who had lived and prayed in the original 1825 foundation of Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie, Nova Scotia. He was a passionate witness to the cultural richness inherent in the traditions he handed on. In the hearts of the monastic community Father Laurence remains a figure of considerable effect in the history of St. Joseph's Abbey. With gratitude for the gift of his presence among us, the monks commend his soul to your prayers.

Photographs by Brother Colombo Weber.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

At Tepeyac the Virgin Mary depicts herself as a pregnant, olive-skinned Indian maiden. Like the Son she carries in her womb, she identifies herself with the little ones. She imagines herself as one of them.

On an icy cold day in December of 1531, she promises Juan Diego that he will find many flowers blossoming on the hilltop where he first met her. He does as she says and gathers roses, lilies, carnations, iris, fragrant jasmine blossoms, yellow gorse and tiny violets. The Virgin arranges them all in the fold of Juan’s coarse cactus fiber tilma.

When they fall to the floor before the dumbfounded bishop in Mexico City, he sees Our Blessed Lady’s lovely handiwork. She has painted her self-portrait with spring blossoms in winter.

Jesus and his dear Mother long to be with us; and even now they are doing everything, anything to get our attention. Very often perhaps we have ignored His mercy-laden advances; or perhaps forgotten her promise and desire to console and protect us. No regrets, for once again Mercy and His Mother come to us like spring in the midst of winter.

Do listen, do be assured of it, my littlest one, that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For am I not here, I, your mother? Are you not in the cool of my shadow? In the breeziness of my shade? Is it not I that am your source of contentment? Are you not cradled in my mantle, cuddled in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?
from Our Lady's  words to Saint Juan Diego.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Work of our Hands

Since we live by the work of our hands,  we were grateful to learn that our new monastic product, Spencer Trappist Ale, was just named one of the best 25 beers of the year by Draft Magazine.  Here is the link: http://draftmag.com/the-25-best-beers-of-2014/.

Photo by Brother Daniel.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Immaculate Conception

You have heard, O Virgin,  that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
   The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
   Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
   Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
   Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word. 

Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Excerpt from a homily In Praise of the Virgin Mother by our Cistercian Father, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Second Sunday of Advent

Probably most of us were baptized when we were infants, and we were not aware of what was being done for us. But God sees into our hearts. And it is up to each of us now to make a real investment in our own baptism, to internalize it and to give it a value for ourselves. Then it will become for us, in the words of today's Gospel, "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." And it is through this forgiveness of sins that each of us will be prepared for the Birthday of the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Excerpts from Father Aquinas' homily. Photographs by Father Emmanuel.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Witness and Communion

    Witness and communion, are well described in St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians:  In Christ Jesus … you were enriched in every way [by the Father], with all discourse and knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  This means that the fullness of charisms has been poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit, and that there is nothing God could have done for us that he has not done by giving us Christ and by rooting our lives in Christ’s own life.  Both the Father and the world should look at the faithful monk and see nothing but Christ: this is what it means to bear living witness.  The unimaginable fidelity and goodness of God have taken the form of his bringing us into deepest communion with the beloved Son, truest koinonia, that is, intimate sharing of the divine life and mystery, as if it were by nature our own!  Such intimacy in love may indeed be said to constitute, in a certain way, the vision of God—seeing God in the experience of the living Christ.  In Christ, we have seen God’s Face and we have been saved!  Such union with the Beloved and vision of him is the end of all contemplation and the utmost fulfillment of the monastic calling.  Through word, sacrament, and prayer God has rooted us in Christ as our very Ground of Being, and the prayer typical of this state could be nothing other than thanksgiving and praise.
    Like calls out unto like, and only if we become humble through conversion, watchful through keeping vigil, loving through service, and witnesses of Christ’s splendor through our whole lives, will we be able to embrace as we ought, at Christmas, God in his form of humiliation as the Babe of Bethlehem.

Photographs of our first snow by Brother Casimir. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


With all his being the monk must try not to wander away from God through infidelity, and fall back into the condition of hardness of heart out of which God’s grace had brought him.  He must take very seriously his new identity as servant of God, put in charge of a particular work within Christ’s household.  His humble, obedient service out of love must embody the selfless goodness of the physically absent Master, who could return at any moment.  The practice of vigilance is, therefore, essential to a person who is not living for himself or by his own tastes and criteria, but whose joy and fulfillment in life consist in being faithful to the will of the One who has done so much for him, the Lord who has trusted him to care for what is most precious to God’s Heart.  The monk owes such service and vigilance not only to the Lord himself, but to the Lord’s Bride, the Church.  The monk keeps vigil both figuratively and literally, says John Paul II, because for him “eschatological expectation becomes mission, so that the Kingdom may become ever more fully established here and now” (Vita consecrata, 27).  The monk who shuns the practice of vigilance does so at his own peril.  He runs the risk of turning in upon himself and becoming enslaved to desires that are far below the delight God promises.  But the vigilant monk again echoes Isaiah: My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you (26:9).  This is what a loving heart is always doing: searching for the Beloved in the night.
St. Benedict wishes that his monks should keep protracted vigil during the hours of the night, while the rest of the world sleeps.  It is as if an essential part of the monk’s calling—something he owes both the Church and the world—is this generous watchfulness in prayer.  His sluggish lower nature may not at all like it, but he is appointed to act as a link of love between the slumbering world and the ever-wakeful tenderness of God.  The monk is called to be the willing vehicle for God’s tender mercy traveling through the darkness.  Could it be that my fidelity in keeping vigil in the night here at Spencer could, by virtue of the circulation of graces in the Mystical Body of Christ, bring relief from terror to one little girl in Syria or Iraq tonight?  Our faith tells me it’s in my power to have this effect, or rather in the power of Christ who dwells within me.  In this aspect of monastic life, the prayer of waiting without idols is typical.  Christ is experienced as the ever-present Teacher who through lectio, fraternal relationships, and in the depths of the heart instructs the monk and draws him ever more closely to his own Heart.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon