Sunday, November 29, 2015

Jesus the Rainbow

In the Book of Genesis God speaks after the great flood, “I establish My covenant with you... neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth...This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.”

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells that, when we see him, the Son of Man "coming in a cloud with power and great glory," we need not be afraid. We can "stand erect" and raise our heads because our "redemption is at hand." In his homily this morning Father Aquinas wisely referred to Jesus, as the Rainbow. Since he is our Redeemer, the Messenger and Embodiment of God's eternal covenant with us, we need not be afraid. 

Things may be falling apart all around us, but Jesus comes to us, calls us to himself, to a space that transcends collapse and ultimate deterioration. The Son of Man is the new place for us to stand secure, for the waters of chaos cannot overpower him. He is the redemption that is offered to us in the midst of a perishing world. We must be aware, awake and stand on higher ground, rooted, grounded and built up in Christ. As worlds fall apart around us, our task is prayer and vigilance, standing secure as companions of the Son of Man who saves us. And so, far from shrinking from the inevitability of collapse, we can lean into it, holding on to him who is our Hope.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Transformed by Gratitude

The Hebrew word hodah, which is generally translated as “give thanks”, means “confess, profess or state publicly.” In the Bible to give thanks means to state in a public way that at this moment, this concrete, historical moment God was at work. This biblical concept of thanksgiving as public witness to God’s action is prominent in Luke’s account of the cleansing of the ten lepers. Ten were healed, but only one returned and publicly gave thanks to Jesus- the Samaritan, the outsider, the one least expected by a Jewish audience to do so since his very identity as a Jew was suspect. Maybe the other nine felt that Jesus, as a brother Jew, owed this healing to them. The Samaritan knew that he was owed nothing; he knew that it was all sheer gift. And so gratitude publicly and powerfully expressed was the only adequate response. We assume that all ten were grateful, but only one was transformed by gratitude. Only one really tasted and savored the presence of God’s closeness and action in his life.

This is what the Pilgrims did in the autumn of 1621. They took time, after a rich harvest, to offer thanks for having survived their first year in the new world. As one of them wrote, “By the goodness of God, we are so far from want.” A number of years ago Peter Fleck a Unitarian minister suggested that perhaps the Pilgrims were not thankful because they had survived, but maybe they had survived because they were grateful. In other words maybe their gratitude transformed them, much as that healed Samaritan was transformed by his gratitude.
Indeed as one scholar has noted, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” And so Saint Ignatius Loyola recommends taking time to savor and relish God’s advances in the extraordinary and seemingly insignificant moments of our lives. Still we may question whether there are reasons to be grateful. In the wake of persistent unemployment, endless financial woes, threats of terrorism at home and abroad, serious illness... gratitude may seem not only inaccessible but ridiculous to suggest. Yet in times of struggle, gratitude is even more critical. We need not deny the dark in order to see the light. Darkness can make spots of light even more brilliant; like stars shining in a dark sky. May our lives be ever more brightened and transformed by gratitude.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Photo by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Autumn Moon

This evening's moon rises above the Abbey hillside. We are reminded that the moon is symbol of the Virgin Mary, since it receives its light from the sun, just as she receives her light from Jesus the Sun of Justice, the Dayspring from on high who dawns upon us.

Photograph by Kathleen Trainor.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

O Jesus

Jesu, rex admirabilis
et triumphator nobilis,
dulcedo ineffabilis,
totus desiderabilis.

Mane nobiscum, Domine,
et nos illustra lumine,
pulsa mentis caligine,
mundum reple ducedine.

O Jesus, wondrous king
And noble conqueror,
Inexpressible sweetness,
Wholly to be desired,

Stay with us, O  Lord,
And enlighten us with your light,
Scatter the darkness of our minds,
Fill the world with sweetness.

At this morning's Eucharist the Abbey schola sang this hymn by Palestrina with stanzas once thought to have been composed by Saint Bernard. We were moved by the text, its ardor and directness. Jesus is our hope, wholly to be desired.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Saint Mechtilde

Today we remember Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn, a 13th century Cistercian nun from the convent of Helfta. Even in her lifetime Mechtilde was renowned for her humility, fervor and gentleness. Her prayer was marked by the great familiarity and intensity with which she lived her relationship with Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

It was said of Mechtilde that, "the words of the Gospel were a marvelous nourishment for her and in her heart stirred feelings of such sweetness that, because of her enthusiasm, she was often unable to finish reading it.” In one of her visions, Jesus opened the wound in his heart and said to her, "Consider the immensity of my love: if you want to know it well, nowhere will you find it more clearly expressed than in the Gospel. No one has ever heard expressed stronger or more tender sentiments than these, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.’ 

In another vision Jesus showed Mechtilde his heart and said that it was like a kitchen where those he loved could go whenever they wanted nourishment. With Mechtilde we hasten to the wounded heart of Christ for all that we need and long for.

Insights from an address of Pope Benedict XVI and from Scholars and Mystics by Sister Mary Jeremy, OP.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Too Much

Amidst all the horror and fear and uncertainty of recent days, with terrorist attacks in Paris and so many grieving here and abroad over too much pain and violence over and over, we pray. We go to our inner room, the inner room of our heart, and we pray. Too much sadness, far too many tragedies. Too much death and suffering- countless innocent people, martyred Christians, flocks of refugees, too many parents cradling wounded children, far too many soldiers killed. Our hearts are stretched, yanked open. So much to pray for; too much sadness. We feel helpless. Still we hope, we believe though we cannot see, that our praying is efficacious. The wounded and risen Lord Jesus is our only Hope. He hears our prayer. That is enough.

And so each day, we bring each other, we bring the world in its suffering and despondency and seeming hopelessness to Christ, longing for the intrusion of his grace. Awkward, impeded, our tongues thick, not knowing how to speak our need and longing, and perhaps deafened by too much tragedy. Still we come back to church in hope; we close our eyes, open our hearts and pour them out to him. Christ Jesus assures us that he hears, he understands; he is with us, he himself praying in us, articulating our desire in words beyond words. This is what our prayer is best of all: our desire groaned by Jesus for us, within us. It is this very groaning of Christ that will bring healing to our world.

 Crucifix of Fra Innocenzo da Palermo, 1637, Assisi, Convento di San Damiano. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Holy Forebears

Remain in me as I do in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

Today we monks celebrate the Feast of All the Saints of the Benedictine Order, all our holy forebears who lived according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. And we ponder these words from today's Gospel according to Saint John, well aware that all we have and all we are comes from Jesus, who has called us here to the monastery to remain with him. We thank him for calling us, we praise him for those who have gone before us and show us that fidelity and perseverance and true holiness are possible.
We share archival photos from Saint Joseph's Abbey  (at top) and Our Lady of the Valley (below.)


Tuesday, November 10, 2015


You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
   John 15:12-17    
What might it be like to know myself liked by God, truly appreciated, loved with great tenderness, understanding, compassion? Could God be at least as good as my best friend, a friend who knows my goodness as well as my sometime cantankerousness and angularity and still just loves being with me?  What might it be like to imagine a God like that?

Photograph by Brother Jonah.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Becoming Compassion

Jesus really understands the poor widow’s gift and her predicament. Jesus notices the widow’s offering perhaps because it is his story too. Hounded, harassed and eventually condemned by the local religious authorities, he too will freely choose to give over all he has to live on- his very life blood and his precious body- because love is more important. Love and giving from the heart, real generosity, always have the quiet power to overthrow oppression. Compassionate mercy is enfleshed in Christ Jesus. It is he alone who really truly understands, understands each of us, our context, our stories. We are invited to have this compassionate mind in us, which was also in Christ Jesus. And so a huge part of our life together in the monastery is coming to understand each other, to learn the stories that we hold within us, the stories that we are. Then perhaps we can learn compassion.

Some years ago we heard the story of a parish conducted by a certain religious order. In the community there was one priest who was the bane of the brethren, judged by all as lazy and inefficient, always disheveled; clearly an embarrassment to everyone. He slept in late and could only manage to preside each day at the noon Mass, then have lunch and go back to his room. They never saw much of him. And soon they never saw him at all. One day he didn’t show up for his Mass; and soon after the superior found him dead in his cluttered, stuffy room. After he died the doctor told the superior of the rare incapacitating disease this priest had endured for years; the bone-numbing fatigue that was part of it. The rector recounted the priest’s daily routine- the one Mass, the drowsy lunch, the laziness. “Oh no, not laziness, Father,” the doctor assured him. “The little he was able to do was truly heroic.”

Maybe we come to understand. So much has happened. So many stories, stories that have formed and sometimes deformed and burden us still; so many triumphs and sorrows that have marked us. Only Jesus sees and really understands the little we have to live on and what we live with. He always notices. And slowly but surely we are invited to begin doing likewise. Even now, the little things we do no matter how unremarkable give Jesus pleasure. And His promise to us, as to Elijah’s widow in today's first reading, is that when we are generous, we will have more than enough to get by. We can afford it. Our task is to keep noticing with the compassionate, merciful eyes of Christ and so to get on our way to becoming compassion for one another. 
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Exposing the ‘False Self’

How can I deal with my ‘false self? There are ways of exposing it. One is humor: suddenly glimpsing my seriousness about myself and my efforts, even those stubborn efforts to be good and improve myself; perhaps glimpsing in a moment of delicious self-awareness, how ridiculous I am. Ideally I come to realize that there is a whole world out there that is not about me. What a relief! I can relax and learn to part of it, without having to be at the center of it all.

Another way of exposing the ‘false self’ is self-compassion. I may finally realize that I am being ridiculous or obsessive and really stuck in destructive patterns. But I cannot just stop or deny them. I have acknowledged them. Perhaps now I can be gentle with myself. I am a fragile, broken creature, but I am held by the love of God. I am not perfect. Being compassionate with myself does not mean being self-indulgent. Rather simply accepting my powerlessness and being gentle with my own creatureliness involves true humility. And it can lead me back to others and to the world around me-  at last more self-forgetful, and truly compassionate.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a recent chapter talk by Abbot Damian.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Eight Thoughts

The fourth-century Egyptian monk, Evagrius of Pontus, spoke of eight ‘thoughts’: gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory and pride. These eight thoughts are self-protecting, self-promoting, self-indulging habits of mind that keep me firmly at the center of my concern. They tend to blind me to the reality and needs of others. And they generate the illusion of separation from God, from others and from the world around me. These eight thoughts suggest to me that the necessities and goods of life need to be possessed rather than received as a gift, coming from the providence and generosity of God.

Jesus lived in responsiveness to God’s abundance and mercy, trusting his Father as the ultimate reality despite all the world’s violence and even in the face of death.  Jesus cut through the great illusion of separateness. The paradoxical truth is that, if you want really to live, you must receive your life as gift and not something to be grasped at; if you want to be connected to the source of all life, you cannot isolate yourself by way of self-protection or self-promotion. You must learn to ‘let go’ and entrust yourself to God’s love, care and concern for you. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it,” says Jesus.

Reflection by Abbot Damian. Photographs by Brother Brian.