Sunday, October 30, 2016

Jesus with Zacchaeus

Moved by grace Zacchaeus climbs a tree so that he can get a glimpse of Jesus as he passes. Jesus pauses and gazes intently at Zacchaeus. This gaze of Jesus floods into Zacchaeus' consciousness with an abundance of loving kindness, benignity and goodness. And then Jesus says that he wants to stay with him, and Zacchaeus is transformed in that instant. The experience of being loved divinely empowers him to make room for Jesus to abide with him. He pledges to give away his possessions. He is ready to endure the pain of loss; and even more significantly he commits himself to draw near to those he has defrauded, to draw closer to their pain and to make things right again with each of them. Divine love has flowed into human brokenness and brought healing and transformation.

Photograph of cottage pathway by Brother Brian. Meditation inspired by  Father Isaac's Sunday homily.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Joy and Tranquility

Someone who loves you, Lord, makes no mistake in his choice, for nothing is better than you. His hope is not cheated, since nothing is loved with greater reward...Here is joy because fear is banished, here is tranquility...
Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Saint Aelred of Rievaulx.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

A Celebration

God has come to be with us in all things. God has chosen our flesh, our weakness as his dwelling place.  God’s mercy has come dangerously, wonderfully near to us in Christ. And so a celebration has begun, it is the wedding of heaven and earth. This is why Jesus is hanging out and sharing meals with tax collectors and prostitutes- they know they are sinners who need his help. They are happy not to have to pretend otherwise. They are drawn to Jesus because he insists they can do better, but he never judges them.

Jesus beckons us to feast with him as well, and with all the other sinners like us at his table. There we will be transformed. For God doesn’t want my virtue, he wants my weakness. If I avoid it, deny it, hide it, I'll get stranded, working like mad to cover up the vulnerability, and running away from the very place where I can find Jesus waiting for me with a banquet of mercy. Thank God, there’s no merit system in the kingdom. My only credentials are my foolishness, my willingness to cry out for mercy. My weakness is after all the only thing about myself that I am absolutely sure of. Problem is, it’s also the one thing I most want to deny.

But I need have no illusions about who I am. Why bother? Jesus desires open hearts that he can mercy and unburden. We recall the foolish, stubborn older brother in the parable, who reminds his father, “I slaved for you all these years.” But Jesus has come to remind us that with him, we are not slaves but beloved children of his Father. He begs us to come in to the feast, “All I have is yours,” he says, “all this mercy, all that I am.” A very lavish banquet has been prepared for us; our ticket in is our sinfulness, the Bridegroom is at the door to bring us in. He doesn’t want our merit but our hunger. Why do we hesitate?

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Two Prayers

First there is a Pharisee, he has come to the temple to present his credentials to God; he does not pray to God, he stands tall and prays, literally- “toward himself.” This very good man, who clearly goes beyond the basic regulations of the Law in his religious regimen, has come to the Temple to remind God about all he has accomplished. Most embarrassing of all, the Pharisee compares himself with a tax-collector, who is clearly no match for his kind of holiness. He is sure he is better off than others, for he has fasted and tithed himself into a dither. And in the process he has blocked off the possibility of receiving God’s mercy; he doesn’t need it, he’ll redeem himself. This is, we suspect, what makes Jesus so frustrated. 

The tax collector on the other hand is disarmingly honest, vulnerable. He prays, “Be merciful to me a sinner.” And his humility disarms us; and it probably disarms God. This man comes to beg for mercy without a hint of illusion about who he is. Unlike the Pharisee, he knows he’s got nothing to recommend him to God. Tax collectors were among the most despised of Jews in Jesus’ day; for they extorted money from their own people. 

But this morning we witness this man’s conversion; he comes to beg forgiveness. And although Jesus does not tell us, perhaps we can imagine the scene just before this one, which precipitated the tax collector’s change of heart. It was the end of a typical day and the last person in line to make her payment was another old widow. Distracted, his head buried in his ledger, he shouts out an amount which of course includes his very generous cut, and he puts out his hand. And as she departs, stooped and frail, he looks up and recognizes her. It’s his best friend’s grandmother; she often looked after them when they were little, now here she is coughing and leaning on her cane. His heart is pierced; he thinks to himself, “What am I doing?” He’s up like a shot, pushes himself away from his table and rushes to her, pressing a fistful of coins into her parched hand. She stands still, astonished. And head lowered, he hurries off to the Temple.

Jesus tells us this tax collector will go home justified, acquitted of his sins, because he has had a change of heart and has come to beg for mercy. It’s just as Sirach declares in today’s First Reading: the prayer of the lowly one always “pierces the clouds.”

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from this morning's homily.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

If Only

This morning Saint Paul prays that we may be “rooted and grounded in love, (and) may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that (we) may be filled with all the fullness of God.

We are struck by the breathtaking beauty of our call as Christians- to be filled with the fullness of God which is Christ; he in us, we in him. And so we recall again the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well, “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.” Christ Jesus is moving near, longing to surround us. If only we knew. If only we understood who it is who wants to make his home in our hearts, we would ask him over and over, and he would come to us in secret and fill us. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Little Ones

Young visitors to our monastery remind us that gentleness and leisure are places where prayer can begin. 
We are reminded again that God in Christ was a child who played and babbled and gurgled.
Sometimes as we sing the Divine Office we can hear little ones gurgling as they wriggle in the arms of parents and grandparents who have brought them inside our guest chapels. Their babbling is prayer; it mingles with our own efforts at chant and makes a very joyful noise. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Widow and the Ex-Marine

Like most of Jesus’ parables, today’s is open-ended, leaving the hearer to puzzle over its meaning. With its unusual characters and startling ending, it jolts Jesus’ hearers into a new way of seeing. It asks them to leave behind stereotypes and wrestle with unfamiliar notions about what God is like, and what justice in the reign of God is like, and how it is achieved. Above all, it challenges them and us to emulate the widow’s pursuit of justice in efforts to embody the reign of God here and now, while courageously awaiting the time of future fulfillment. When the widow is seen as the God-like figure, then the message of the parable is that when we doggedly resist injustice, face it, name it, and denounce it until right is achieved, we are acting as God does.

I recently read about a young ex-Marine who acted very much like the widow in today’s Gospel when he exposed details about the dehumanizing and violent hazing carried out by drill instructors at Parris Island. In boot camp there, he learned to endure extreme physical abuse: when one instructor repeatedly bashed his head against a doorway, he kept quiet. But what he eventually could not take was the lying that covered up the widespread abuse. Despite his personal vulnerability and the threat of ruinous retribution, he cried out for justice after one drill instructor tumbled a Muslim recruit in a hot clothes dryer and hazed another Muslim repeatedly, shortly before the recruit lept to his death from the barracks. To my mind, the ex-Marine is a modern day version of the parable’s widow- he doggedly resisted injustice, faced it, named it, and denounced it until it was eventually addressed by higher Marine commanders. For his role in exposing this abuse and injustice, he got no kudos or promotion: even though he graduated from boot camp at the top of his class and was awarded an exceptional promotion, soon after reporting the abuse he was given a punitive discharge from the Marine Corps. He says this has become a “badge of shame” on his record and makes it hard to find work. He feels that his future was taken from him. Still, he is committed to bringing the culture of secrecy, criminal abuse and injustice at Parris Island to light, and something is now being done about it.

The widow (and this young ex-Marine) reveal something of God’s power in seeming weakness, when their persistence achieves the victory for right. The ludicrous image of a powerful judge fearing a seemingly helpless widow may be Jesus’ wry comment on the futility of resorting to violence in working for justice. In any case, the message of this parable achieves its fullest force in the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ own seeming helplessness in the face of his executioners is transformed into the very defeat of the powers of sin and death. That is the Good News for us this morning. We, as followers of Jesus, are invited to take up this same stance: to draw on the power of apparent weakness to overcome the injustice that is so evident in the human suffering that goes on all around us, as well as globally. This is where the Kingdom of God credibly “breaks in” to our world – a much needed witness that “might doesn’t make right,” but in Christ there is strength in weakness, and hope where there apparently is none.

Photograph of the Abbey's Lac Marie by Charles O'Connor. Excerpt from this morning's homily by Father Dominic.

Friday, October 14, 2016


Pouring out a thousand graces,
he passed these groves in haste;
and having looked at them, 
with his image alone,
 clothed them in beauty.

Recent photographs of Autumn at the Abbey by Brother Brian . Lines from The Spiritual Canticle of Saint John of the Cross.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


Rising very early before dawn, Jesus left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35

Jesus learned from his solitude. Dom André Louf points out that “he first acquired and exercised his full stature as a man in the desert.” Significantly, that was the beginning of his public life immediately after his baptism in the Jordan. The other “bookend” of his life, was that Jesus experienced the greatest solitude of all during his last hours—there was no greater “deserted place” than the cross.    

The power of solitude is that it shuts us off from everything and everyone else, and takes us back to our own nothingness. It teaches us how to be ordinary, frail and in need of help. It teaches us our limitations, our insignificance, and releases us from many of our false ideas and illusions, from myths of every kind. Even more solitude turns out to be a privileged place of encounter with God, even as it was for Jesus.

Though we have deliberately come to “a place apart,” we do not seek out solitude in order to find God. Rather, to find God is to find solitude. True solitude is not the absence of people, but the presence of God.  All of our human solitudes are merely relative approaches toward the perfect solitude that is faith.

As Dom André Louf tells us, "Each and every solitude throws us back upon ourselves and God, back upon our extreme poverty and God’s immense love and merciful kindness. In this, the faith in our heart is burrowed out and an unsuspected depth of our being is laid bare."
Meditation by Father Dominic. Photographs by Brother Brian.

Monday, October 10, 2016


The cultivation of silence is both the result of and the path to fraternal charity.  It is only by continually striving to live with God, to “listen to him with the ears of our heart”, sincerely praying for each one of our brothers and sisters, that we are transformed by divine Love and enabled to love others truly.  Just as St. Paul reminds us that we do not know how to pray as we ought; so should we remind ourselves that we do not know how to love as we ought.  This is perhaps what lies behind St. Benedict’s somewhat puzzling advice “that there are times when good words are to be left unsaid out of esteem for silence.”   Even our best intentioned words may not accomplish the good we hope for.  On our own, we do not know how to love others, we do not always know what to do or say to help, comfort, or correct them.  This is something we can learn only in the silence of the heart.

The summit and the great model of holy silence is Our Lady, for she welcomed the Word of God into her womb and contemplated him, truly present in the silence of her heart.  After nine months she brought forth the Love of God into the world, and accompanied his saving mission to the end, always “keeping these things in her heart”. Silence is Mary’s gift to us.

May we rejoice in it, cherish it and grow together in it.

Reflection by Father William.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


“Everything is possible to the one who has faith,” Jesus says to the father of the boy who was healed of the demon, “Lord, I do believe,” the father replies, “help my unbelief.” 

People who have had to endure some kind of tragedy or painful loss in their life will often say that when tragedy and loss happen you have only two choices, abandon your faith or abandon yourself to God’s will. That’s where spiritual strength lies.

Faith is not meant to change the circumstances of our lives, it is meant to change us. Living in faith does not shield us from the pain and difficulties of life. It does not undo the past and it will not guarantee a carefree future. Rather, faith is the means by which we face and deal with life– the difficulties and losses, the joys and successes, the opportunities and the opportunities missed. Faith is the way in which we live in openness, trust and love for Christ. In other words- we allow Christ to guide our decisions, our words and our actions. We cooperate with His grace.

Cardinal Basil Hume once wrote about St. Therese of Lisieux: “In 1987 I visited St. Therese’s cell in the Carmel of Lisieux. By the door of her cell, scratched into the wood, she had written, ‘Jesus is my only love.’ That was not written in exaltation but in near despair. She was thus crying out to her Beloved that even when she experienced nothing but absence, emptiness and darkness, she clung to the assurance of being loved and carried in his arms. That is faith at a heroic level– that is trust, clinging to God when everything in our experience would seem to contradict his very existence, or at least his love for us.”

We may all want a deeper faith, but the question is not about more but how we are living the faith that we have. We have enough. The mustard seed is already planted within us. 

Photo of Lac Marie by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Emmanuel's Homily for The Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Saint Francis of Assisi

One day Francis of Assisi realized that he had to embrace the leper, the one from whom he had fled as the most repugnant of outcasts. Small wonder that soon after this embrace, Francis would hide in a cave and cry his heart out, grieving over all his sins. In the leper he had come too close to the trauma of bitter self-recognition; Francis encountered the wounded man he himself was. In the leper the reality to be avoided at all costs, had become the scene of encounter, healing and freedom. Jesus too was right there, of all places, in his “distressing disguise," in the wounded other. 

In Jesus the Lord God most high has become God most low, most lowly, wounded, vulnerable and always at the door, though we are so liable to miss him.

Crucifion, Pietro Lorenzetti (Italian, active Siena 1320–44), 1340s, tempera and gold leaf on wood, 16 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Saint Thérèse

If you are willing to bear in peace the trial of not being pleased with yourself, you will be offering the Lord Jesus a home in your heart. It is true you will suffer, for you will feel like a stranger in your own house. But do not fear, for the poorer you are, the more Christ will love you.

We are always consoled by these words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, as she reminds us that Jesus' power is made perfect in our weakness.