Friday, September 30, 2016

Silence

Silence is a participation in the world to come, a participation in eternity, in God’s simplicity, a great Mystery beyond words. Love seeking me is the reason for silence. The monk's wonder-filled response to God’s seeking is the silence of love and the longing to be absorbed in wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One who loves him. Those in love need not say anything. They want simply" to be with," to be agendaless, resting in each other's presence. God longs for our openness, a great empty space within us, an emptiness that is not nothing but is availability. In silence I can notice God noticing me. In practicing silence, allowing silence, allowing the empty space, I make an open space for God. 

Ancient statue of Saint Benedict brought from the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island at the time of Spencer's founding. Photograph by Brother Daniel.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Angels

With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they ‘always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven’ they are the ‘mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word.’

Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels: ‘When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him.’ They belong to him because they were created through and for him: 'for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities - all things were created through him and for him.' They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan.

From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God "brings the firstborn into the world, he says: 'Let all God's angels worship him.' Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church's praise: "Glory to God in the highest!"  They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been.  Again, it is the angels who "evangelize" by proclaiming the Good News of Christ's Incarnation and Resurrection.  They will be present at Christ's return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement. In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.

In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

Paolo Veronese, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1572, Italian, active in Venice and Verona, 93 x 63 1/2 in., oil on canvas, The Ringling MuseumExcerpts from The Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Saint Vincent de Paul

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. 2 Cor 8 

In Christ Jesus our Lord God most high has become most low, most lowly, wounded, vulnerable, ever disguised in the distressing face of the poor and always at the door, though we are so liable to miss him. 

A drowsy complacency is always a temptation. How will I notice the poor one very near that I may find repugnant? Who is the ignored or forgotten outcast in my world?

Like Saint Vincent de Paul  whom we remember today, we want to be more and more attentive to the poor in our midst.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Poor Lazarus

A rich man is hosting a dinner party. He and a few special friends are reclining on cushions, as platters of exquisitely prepared food are presented for his approval. Servers bow and exit; courses follow one after the other. There’s silly chit-chat, bursts of laughter and a good deal of belching. The food is, after all, very good; and there’s lots of it. Now huddled at the door is that beggar Lazarus, he’s always in the neighborhood; he’s no trouble at all; doesn’t ever bother anyone. It’s just that he’s infected and covered with sores. Sometimes they get so itchy; he even lets dogs lick them. (And everyone knows where a dog’s tongue has been.) Keep your distance, Lazarus is definitely unclean. If anyone dares come close enough, Lazarus always extends an open hand waiting for something; truth be told he’d be happy to have a few scraps left on the floor after one of these banquets; but no one’s offered. 

How the poor who followed Jesus must have loved hearing him tell this story of divine reversal, relishing the ending as the rich man gets his, burning in Hades while poor Lazarus has at last found rest, nestled in Abraham’s bosom at the heavenly banquet. You get what you deserve after all; no one fools God. Right?

Still it’s clear that both characters in the parable are very poor and wounded, Lazarus through neglect and misfortune, but the rich man is poorest of all, blinded in his complacency. Poor Lazarus has nothing more to lose. But the rich man is frightened to death; he’s got everything to lose. And he’s so clueless that even from Hades he’s trying to get people to do things for him. Now we know that oppressors usually oppress because they themselves have been oppressed, abused, ignored. Perhaps not that long ago, the rich man in our parable was himself poor and ignored, and he knows he doesn’t want that life again. Keep it all out there, so it’s not near me, so I won’t see it; leave the pain at the door begging to be let in. But the invitation is to be brave enough to break the cycle by refusing to do unto others what’s been done to me. My poverty, the sores and wounds of my own misfortunes are not places to live; licking my wounds or lashing out because of them will lead me nowhere.

God’s heart is always riven by the cry of the poor. Jesus invites us to have hearts like God’s heart. He invites us not to be afraid to embrace the poor wherever we find them.

James Tissot, Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Saint Pio

Padre Pio spent much of his priestly life under suspicion, false accusation, endless investigations and censure. His reputation for holiness came not from the fact that he bore the wounds of Christ's Passion but because of his docility, humility and obedience. He was able to make the words of Saint Paul his own, "I have been crucified with Christ....I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me."

Meditation by Father Emmanuel.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

His Power

Talk of Satan or the Evil Spirit may make us uncomfortable, frightened or superstitious. But it is simply part of the reality of our life in Christ. For if we desire God, deeply desire Christ Jesus, desire to belong to him, to choose his way, then simple logic will tell us that the unclean spirit, the Evil One will want the opposite. The Evil Spirit wants to distract and confuse us and draw us away from the Lord, drown out his tender voice and invitation. But Jesus’ power in us through the Spirit is utterly opposed to the power of the demonic; his voice, his promise is steady, lovingly tender even as he challenges us to be more.

Photograph by Charles O'Connor of sunset over the Abbey church.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Truly Wise

Faced with dismissal for mismanaging his master's resources, and without further options, truly with his back to the wall, the wily steward in today's Gospel concocts a strategy for survival that will actually further deplete his master's resources. And amazingly his master commends him. He so values this steward's resiliency and effective action that he praises him for acting shrewdly- literally in the original Greek of the text- "for being wise."  

Jesus has told us that those who hear his words and put them into action are like wise people who build their houses on solid rock. Winds, rain, floods will not be able to make that house fall. Those who are wise survive the storms.

The "take-away" from today's Gospel story is clear. When the followers of Jesus realize that their spiritual life is threatened, they must act wisely and decisively in order to survive. The dishonest manager has been wiser in his deviousness, than we often are in our own inner lives. We must remember that we are "children of light" whose consciousness has been illumined by the Good News of Jesus. We must prioritize and make certain that everything in our lives conforms to the Gospel. We must choose rightly and so act lovingly, justly, wisely.

Photo by Brother Brian. Excerpts inspired by Father Aquinas' Sunday homily.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Our Lady of Sorrows

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

If ever you have silently accompanied someone you loved as they lay sick and dying, and had to trust that your quiet presence alone would somehow suffice, then you understand the power and beauty of Mary's presence with Jesus our Lord in his agony and death. Loving presence means everything. 

As he died on the cross, Jesus gave us his Mother to be our Mother as well. Now and always she lovingly accompanies us in all that we suffer.

Weeping Madonna (detail), Dieric Bouts. Netherlandish,  ca. 1415 – 1475.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Exultation of the Cross

Hail precious cross that received honor and beauty from the limbs of the Lord! Hail cross that was hallowed by the body of Christ and by his limbs was enriched as with pearls.

Tradition credits Constantine's mother Saint Helena with the discovery in Jerusalem of the buried cross of Jesus during the second quarter of the 4th century. Immediately this relic became the object of tender devotion and lavish ritual. The pilgrim nun Egeria has left us a vivid account of the ritual for exposition and the procession to venerate the cross on Good Friday in Jerusalem. The true cross became a nexus of holiness, sacred presence and healing. Egeria even writes of one overzealous devotee caught biting off a chunk of the cross during the liturgy! 

The Fathers of the Church loved to find in every reference to wood or tree, staff, rod or ark in the Hebrew Scriptures a type of the cross of Christ. Cyril of Jerusalem will declare, "Life ever comes from wood!" Paulinus of Nola chants to the cross, "You have become for us a ladder for us to mount to heaven." And in an anonymous Easter homily inspired by Hippolytus, the tree of the cross reverses the destruction wrought by the tree of Eden: 

For me this tree is a plant of eternal health. I feed on it; by its roots I am rooted; by its branches I spread myself; I rejoice in its dew; the rustling of its leaves invigorates me...I freely enjoy its fruits which were destined for me from the beginning. It is my food when I am hungry, a fountain for me when I am thirsty; it is my clothing because its leaves are the spirit of life. 

We exalt in the Cross of Christ because this Cross is a throne upon which Love has triumphed and transformed our pain, misery, human fragility and foolishness into a royal gateway to life and hope and immortality. Death no longer has the last word in our lives, the Love of the wounded and risen Lord Jesus does. 

The Crucifixion, ca. 1315–20. Attributed to Ugolino da Siena  (Italian, Siena, active by 1317–died ?1339/49). Tempera on wood, gold ground. Overall with engaged frame, 25 1/4 x 18 5/8 ". The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

God's Incomprehensibility

I know many things but I do not know how to explain them. I know that God is everywhere and I know that he is everywhere in his whole being. But I do not know how he is everywhere. I know that he is eternal and has no beginning. But I do not know how. My reason fails to grasp how it is possible for an essence to exist when that essence has receives its existence neither from itself nor from another. I know that he begot the Son. But I do not know how. I know that the Spirit is from him. But I do not know how the Spirit is from him….His judgments are inscrutable, his ways are unsearchable, his peace surpasses all understanding, his gift is indescribable, what God has prepared for those who love him has not entered into the heart of man, his greatness has no bound, his understanding is infinite. Are all these incomprehensible while only God himself can be comprehended? What excessive madness would it be to say that. Saint John Chrysostom

Saint John Chrysostom reminds us that a God who is comprehensible would not be God at all but something of our own creation. God is Other but closer to us than we can know. God is always near, always drawing nearer to us and always beyond. Our response is wonder; we bow down and worship.

Photograph of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Lost and Found

In this morning’s familiar Gospel story, a lost son squanders his very large inheritance with riotous, wasteful living. He returns home in desperation and sorrow, and amazingly his father rushes towards him to mercy him. And his father's amazing response is: “Let us celebrate with a feast.” God longs to fill us with more than we deserve. As we come to him with humble, contrite hearts, God in Christ is running toward us to mercy us. And even when we resist, he will beg us as the father in the Gospel story, “All I have is yours.”  This is what the Holy Eucharist accomplishes; for there on the altar God in Christ gives himself away to us.

In the Eucharist Jesus rushes toward us in an overwhelming surrender of love. With astounding overabundance God in Christ loses himself in love for us. Jesus becomes our food, so that he can be dissolved in us. “Love means letting another’s existence define me,” says Father Jeremy Driscoll. It is what Jesus knew and experienced on the cross, as he gave himself away for us, to us. And by surrendering himself to us in the Sacrament of the Altar, Jesus draws us into the very life of God, into the very self-forgetfulness that is God. Thus it is that the Eucharist accomplishes this amazing blurring of boundaries. As Saint Bernard writes, “He consumes me that he may have me in himself, and he in turn is consumed by me that he may be in me, and the bond between us will be strong and the union complete. For I shall be in him, and he will likewise be in me.” In the Holy Eucharist God squanders himself on us.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Firm Foundation

I will show you what someone is like who comes to me,
listens to my words, and acts on them.
That one is like a man building a house,
who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock;
when the flood came, the river burst against that house
but could not shake it because it had been well built.  Luke 6


We are grounded in our love for Christ Jesus Our Lord; we stand on the rock of our belonging to him. Still he assures us that our reception of his message must be enfleshed, sacramentalized in what we do, in how we act with one another. Having been loved so completely by Jesus, we must go and do likewise. As Saint Paul will tell us in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, "The love of Christ impels us." We are constrained, compelled by that love, for as Paul will continue, "He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised." Saint Ignatius Loyola will echo centuries later, “Love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words.” 

Photograph of the Abbey church by Brother Brian.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

On Her Birthday

Christ Jesus is moving near, longing to surround us. And as we celebrate Our Lady, we recall Jesus’ words to the 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.” If only we understood who it is who wants to make his home in our hearts as he did in Mary's womb, we would ask him over and over, and he would come to us in secret and fill us with himself.

And so the invitation is to be disarmed by God’s desire for us, “for he longs to be longed for, loves to be loved and desires to be desired.”* Our prayer affords us the extravagance of luxuriating in our helplessness and utter dependence on God, our confidence in a God who loves and loves. With Mary we encounter the almost absurd, baffling extravagance of God’s desire for us. He can’t help himself. God is helplessly, recklessly, in love. He has fallen in love with our flesh. Mary’s chosenness reveals in a particular way the reality of our chosenness. God wants each of us completely for himself. God in Christ desires to surrender himself to us. And it is the secret we were born for. Our unending work is to let ourselves be defenseless, utterly defenseless, like Mary, in the face of such self-offering; utterly nonresistant to God’s desire for us, for our body, our whole selves. And so we have to let ourselves be loved, not because we’re worthy, but because God wants it. Mary shows us how to give Jesus unrestricted access to our hearts. 

Drawing by Leonardo, 
*Maximus the Confessor.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Saint Teresa of Kolkata

In Rome this morning, our beloved Pope Francis is canonizing another beloved person Mother Teresa, as a saint.  The experience of Christ's suddenly turning with a powerful new word of life and discipleship described in today's gospel was one that was “pivotal” in her life.  She was born in August of 1910 in the Albanian city of Skopje into a devout Catholic family.  At the age of 18, Gonxha Agnes Bojaxhiu entered the Sisters of Loretto in Ireland and took the religious name Teresa after St. Therese of  Lisieux whose interior life she was to be called by God to imitate in ways that the novice Sr. Teresa could not have imagined.  As the Book of Wisdom said this morning, “Who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends.” After the year-long novitiate she went to India to the Loretto convent school in Calcutta (now called Kolkata.) In 1937 she made solemn profession and became, in her own words, “the spouse of Jesus for all eternity.”  As a solemnly professed Sister Teresa was now called Mother Teresa. The Loretto convent was a beautiful monastery with a fine school that served the children of the wealthy.  Nevertheless, Mother found great happiness in her self-sacrificing work as the school's principal and in her religious life of consecration to Jesus in a dedicated and loving community of sisters. Her twenty years at Loretto were profoundly happy and filled with consoling prayer, even mystical prayer, as well as demanding service to the young. She was a faithful follower of the Lord.  She was, indeed, like the great crowds we just heard about, traveling with Jesus. 

Then, beginning on a train ride to her annual retreat in 1946, Jesus suddenly pivoted.  He turned to her by means of interior locutions and visions and spoke to her heart filling it with Jesus' own thirst for love and for souls, particularly the most neglected and unloved.  He revealed to her that he sought out “victims of love” like her who would “radiate his love on souls.”  “Come be my light” was his call to her—she would describe it as her “call within a call.”  As we all know, she did truly become His Light. She and her thousands of Missionaries of Charity became a Light of Compassion and Mercy to the whole world, religious and secular. 

The Vatican website biography of Mother Teresa says that: “The whole of her life and labor bore witness to the joy of loving, the greatness and dignity of every human person, the value of little things done faithfully and with love, and the surpassing worth of friendship with God...But...hidden from all eyes...was her interior life marked by an experience of a deep, painful and abiding feeling of being separated from God, even rejected by Him, along with and ever-increasing longing for His love. She called her inner experience, 'the darkness.'  The 'painful night' of her soul, which began around the time she started her work for the poor and continued to the end of her life, led her to an ever more profound union with God.  Through the darkness she mystically participated in the thirst of Jesus, in His painful and burning longing for love, and she shared in the interior desolation of the poor.” (unquote)  Again, who can know God's counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends?  I believe that she took so seriously her commission from the Lord that the Lord himself chose to reveal Himself to her no longer in prayer (although she remained faithful to it) but only through the faces of those she met, especially the poorest of the poor.  

On May 21, 1976 Mother Teresa went out of her way from her full schedule at Holy Cross College and elsewhere to come here to the Abbey and have tea with us and then pray with us in choir at the office of None. Fr. Marius had written inviting her but never heard back. The visit, therefore, came rather spontaneously when she realized her opportunity: there was a Jesuit priest who would drive her here.  At our tea party with Mother Teresa, Br. Edmund asked her what she thought we should be doing.  She answered: “Continuing faithfully to live out your Trappist vocation.” Br. Jude saved her tea cup, never washing it.

In the Eucharist we will encounter the most important Person we will meet today. If we do this with the spirit of  Saint Mother Teresa, every  person we meet today will be the most important person we meet today!

Excerpts from Father Luke's Sunday Homily.



Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Place For Us

When we look at one another, especially at those who disappoint us, or disagree with us, or even humiliate us, can we not try to glimpse buried beneath their failures and sins and apparent “unworthiness” the seeds of a desire for God, the attempts to love (however botched), or the hunger for holiness (perhaps muddied and misdirected, but still there)? As we take our place at the “table” of life, can we not be a little more amazed at people’s goodness and try to glimpse the secret beauty and depths of their hearts, depths that only God truly knows? If we do, it’s not so hard to give up our “place” to another.

The guest list Jesus proposes for the banquet in the kingdom of God is unthinkable for those who are concerned about their own status or personal benefit. We all have a “guest list” of who we invite into our lives. How inclusive is it? Who is missing from it? Who is left out? Who else can we welcome? These are good questions to prepare us for entering once again into the blessedness of the inclusive table companionship to which every Eucharist so graciously invites us. Jesus came to offer us a place at his banquet table beyond all our deserving and expectation!

Photograph of Brother Adam in the Abbey vegetable garden taken by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Dominic.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Move Up Higher

 He told a parable to those who had been invited,
noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table.
“When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet,
do not recline at table in the place of honor. 
A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him,
and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say,
‘Give your place to this man,’
and then you would proceed with embarrassment
to take the lowest place. 
Rather, when you are invited,
go and take the lowest place
so that when the host comes to you he may say,
‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’  Luke 14

Jesus is talking about the way in which people of his day were jostling for position in the eyes of God. They were eager to push themselves forward, to show how well they were keeping the Law in order to maintain their own purity. Jesus is pointedly turning things upside down for them, as he has done before by associating with the wrong kind of people, by touching the untouchable, and by calling the nobodies. Hopefully we don’t miss the point that he is turning things upside down for us as well.

Pride is the great cloud which blots out the sun of God’s generosity: if I reckon that I deserve to be favored by God, not only do I declare that I don’t need his grace, mercy and love, but I imply that those who don’t deserve it shouldn’t have it. Jesus spent his whole life breaking through that cloud and bringing the fresh, healing sunshine of God’s love to those in its shadow.

The climate in our own day is not so different. This Gospel confronts our small-mindedness which sometimes asserts itself at the expense of others. While the image of jockeying for position at a banquet may not resonate with us, there are no doubt plenty of other ways of seeking self-promotion and personal enhancement in everyday exchanges. We might ask ourselves: What opportunities are there for us to take a back seat or forego a place at the head of a line? What ways are open to us to seek to serve the needs of others before our own? The human tendency toward elitism, entitlement, and defending our status and rights is not foreign to any of us. This is in fundamental contrast to the example Jesus gave us at the Last Supper, where he speaks of himself as one who has come to serve, not to be served. He expects us, whom he calls “friends,” to do likewise.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.