Friday, December 30, 2016

Holy Family

The Feast of the Holy Family is not just about Jesus, Mary and Joseph but about our own families and our monastic community; for the Holy Family of Nazareth is a model for all families. Pope Benedict XVI has said that "the house of Nazareth is a school of prayer where one learns to listen, meditate on and penetrate the profound meaning of the manifestation of the Son of God, following the example of Mary, Joseph and Jesus." May our monastic family become a school of prayer where we listen to the voice of God, who daily calls us to conversion and purity of heart.

Painting by Henry Ossawa Tanner. Meditation by Father Emmanuel.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

At the Crèche

At Christmas we celebrate the huge step God takes towards us to bridge our estrangement from him, to teach us what we dearly need to know again and again: namely, how deeply and personally he loves us. He continues to do this by making himself disarmingly approachable, meeting us exactly where we are, in our human ordinariness and need.

On Christmas in 1971, Blessed Paul VI said: “God could have come wrapped in glory, splendor, light and power, to instill fear, to make us rub our eyes in amazement. But instead he came as the smallest, the frailest and the weakest of beings. Why? So that no one would be ashamed to approach him, so that no one would be afraid, so that all would be close to him and draw near him, so that there would be no distance between us and him. God made the effort to plunge, to dive deep within us, so that each of us can speak intimately with him, trust him, draw near him and realize that he thinks of us and loves us . . . He loves you! Think about what this means! If you understand this, you will have understood the whole of Christianity.”

As we pause by the crèche, let us realize anew that God chose to be born a tiny child primarily because he wanted to be loved. At Christmas, we are called to say “yes” with our faith, not to the Master of the universe, and not even to the most noble of ideas, but precisely to this God who is himself humble Love to and for us. 

He comes to us in our own “Bethlehems”—that is the unfathomable beauty of Christmas. He always takes the initiative in our lives, and where we are loveless, he puts love, and draws out love, our love, so that we might love him through the very love he has for us. The grace of Christmas brings love to birth in our hearts once again and teaches us what we dearly need to know at any moment: that we are loved, and changed by love.

Photograph of the crèche in the Abbey church by Brother Jonah. Meditation by Father Dominic.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Loved

It takes work to get back to the peace of knowing yourself completely loved. And perhaps we never fully get there while we’re here. But the desire is set deep inside us, that incompleteness, the ache for the surprise of love to find us. Perhaps some of us follow certain old scripts handed on to us by our own histories, stories filled with fear and failure. The script often reads- don’t trust, don’t hope. Jesus, God’s tender Word comes to us and offers us a new script, new words to rewrite our story and reimagine the old hopelessness as possibility and opportunity for grace; even allowing ourselves to believe that we are rejoiced over.

Jesus invites us back to this place where we can learn to receive life and love as underserved and unexpected blessings. We may sense the near impossibility of opening our hearts to make a space for love and hope, a place inside us where God’s rejoicing can sprout and blossom from the hard, unpromising stump of our tired old fear and loneliness. And so we each morning we go up to the altar again to receive his precious Body and Blood, the promise of his rejoicing over us.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Shimmering Divinity

The flesh that Jesus assumed is our flesh- human, weak, vulnerable, needy, suffering. Christmas celebrates Christ’s birth into all of these things, not his removal of them or from them. The incarnate God really is Emmanuel, God-with-us. Our world and our lives remain wounded; painfully so. But the reality of the Incarnation assures us that God really is present. The late Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles put it this way: “The Incarnation does not provide us with a ladder by which to escape the ambiguities of life and scale the heights of heaven. Rather, it enables us to burrow deep into the heart of planet earth and find it shimmering with divinity.” This shimmering divinity is offered to us each day in the Eucharist, at the altar manger, under the unassuming signs of bread and wine. Come, let us adore. Come, let us consume.

Madonna and Child by Sandro Botticelli. Excerpts from Dom Damian's Homily for Christmas Mid-night Mass.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Christmas

Shepherds are the first ones to hear the good news of great joy that a Savior has been born. Shepherding was a despised occupation in the first century. Shepherds were scorned as shiftless, dishonest people, who grazed their flocks on other people’s lands. Yet these outcasts are the ones who not only first hear the proclamation of a Savior but are the first to respond to it. For them it was more than just a birth announcement. It was an invitation, an invitation which they accepted. “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste…” These unlikely outcasts really knew how to hear and respond to God’s approach. You cannot miss the echoes of Jesus own words later in his life, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.”    

We remember that it all began with an angelic announcement to a young virgin, who then had to explain to her betrothed that she was pregnant. (Imagine what that was like for Mary.) It took another angelic visitation for Joseph to recover from the shock and dismay. After that you would think that things would have gone a bit more smoothly. But no. This couple has to make a long journey late in the pregnancy. They are really refugees, and the time for her to deliver arrives. They are forced to find a make-shift maternity room in the squalor of a place that is no more than an animal shelter. 

A couple of weeks ago I saw a photo in the newspaper. It was of a dining room table around which sat three young children and two adults. Their hands were folded saying grace. A lighted Christmas tree was in the corner which cast its glow over the scene. The story that went along with this photo said that these were grandparents who had adopted their grandchildren. The kids’ parents were both addicted to drugs and were unable to care for them. The story went on to say that there are thousands of kids in similar situations. I experienced a moment of surprise, bordering on shock. The scene in the picture was not at all what I thought it was. 

When I went back to look at the photo, which I did several times, what I began to see was a Bethlehem manger scene. And now I know, more deeply than ever before, that what we are celebrating is true. It is true for me, for you, for parents, for grandparents, for children, for everyone. It is “good news of great joy…for all the people. No one is excluded.

Every manger of darkness 
is filled with the Light of Life;
Every manger of confusion and self-doubt 
is filled with the Wonderful Counselor;
Every manger of weakness and impossibility 
is filled with the Mighty God;
Every manger of chaos and conflict holds the Prince of Peace;
Every manger of guilt and regret is filled with the Merciful One;
Every manger of fear and lostness is filled with the Good Shepherd;
Every manger of hunger and poverty and thirst and desire 
holds the Bread of Life;
Because of the manger of Bethlehem, 
the manger of our humanity now cradles God. 
from Michael Marsh

Photograph of the sanctuary of the Abbey church at Christmas by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Dom Damian's Homily for Christmas Mid-night Mass.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve

Later in his ministry, Jesus will remind a follower that he, “the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” But for now the Infant Jesus rests in the arms of Mary and Joseph, hidden with them in an ordinary life of pleasures, small joys, sorrows and aches and pains like ours. And still he asks each of us if he can rest his head against our heart.

Friday, December 23, 2016

O Emmanuel

This evening in the final O Antiphon we chant to Christ Jesus:

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, 

Savior of all people:
Come and set us free, Lord our God. 


Emmanuel is God with us, in all that we go through, in our joys and sorrows. 

As monks it is our duty and privilege to become attuned to the Lord's continual advent. For if it is true, as we believe, that one day the Lord will return once and for all to gather us all together and bring us home to the Father in the end time, we also know that his coming toward us is a relentless, already-happening reality. And we are meant to be experts-- experts at waiting, attentiveness; experts at emptiness, the emptiness that is constantly clearing a space for him. In Christ Jesus, our Emmanuel, God has made a giant leap towards us. Jesus our Lord is always drawing near. And attentiveness to his presence is the secret we were made for. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

O King!

This evening at Vespers we chant:

O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one.  Come, and save man whom you fashioned out of clay. 


King may be a title we need to remind us of the place we want Jesus to have in our lives, in our hearts. But it is simply not a title Jesus chooses for himself. He has come to serve, not to be served. And so he tells us: "Whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me."  He, the highest, speaking from his throne of glory, thus declares himself to have wholly passed over, in his actual existence on earth, into “the least”, and these, the lowest, he also claims as his own brothers and sisters. Christ’s eternal origin in his heavenly Father, dynamically mediated through the Incarnation, creates a new brotherhood among all human beings. This is not a natural brotherhood, existing by the mere fact that we are all human beings.  This is a supernatural kinship that comes into being at a specific moment in time, as a new creation, when the eternal Son assumes the fullness of our humanity into his divine person in the womb of blessed Mary.  

Meditation by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

O Dawn

This evening we call, out to the Lord Jesus:

O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Faith is light. In John’s Gospel, Christ says of himself: “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” John 12:46 

“We therefore are not the origin of this light but it is the great gift of Jesus as light of the world. As Jesus exclaims to Peter after his confession, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’ ”

The consequence of this supernatural gift is that “Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes the risen Christ, the morning star that never sets.” And with the light of faith we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see. This vision is never simply the assimilation of an idea, for faith  “is born from an encounter with the living God.”  And the “living God calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives.”

This love calls us to go out of ourselves, it summons us to a new life. When we respond, love transforms us. Through love “we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.” Faith “sees to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter in to the horizons opened up by God’s word.”

Reflections on Lumen Fidei, the encyclical letter of Pope Francis, by Father Timothy.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

O Key!

This evening we call out to Jesus as "Key of David." Keys open doors. Jesus is the key to our freedom from all that would frighten, cripple or close us in on ourselves. He offers us the small, fragile hand of God beckoning us not to be afraid. Whatever our fears, our sins, Jesus notices and offers us accompaniment and a way out. He assures us that we are more than all that. He has come to save us from all that would paralyze and hurt us. 

Now in Him we have the power to forgive, not because “It’s alright. It’s nothing.” No, the opposite is true- very much has happened. We’ve been hurt, ignored, whatever, but we can absorb the hurt and forgive because we trust in Christ Jesus who is at our side, even within us, assuring us that pain and fear and suffering are powerless to define who we truly are. We belong to him. He is our Key.

O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

Monday, December 19, 2016

Root of Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings are speechless,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer!

We chant this evening’s antiphon, acclaiming Jesus as “Root of Jesse.” And we recall that he is the Origin and Source of all our good, all our hope, all our longing. This antiphon is a kind of gloss on the words of the prophet Isaiah:

On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the peoples—
Him the nations will seek out;
his dwelling shall be glorious.
On that day,
The Lord shall again take it in hand
to reclaim the remnant of his people
…He shall raise a signal to the nations
and gather the outcasts of Israel...

Jesus is truly the One who gathers and joins together in hope all peoples, scattered by hopelessness, hate and fear. As we name his “Root of Jesse,” we pray especially for all refugees.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

O Adonai

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

This evening in our Vespers antiphon we address Jesus, using the Hebrew title for Lord "Adonai." Indeed Jesus is for us Lord of lords, Master and Ruler of all creation, present in the burning bush on Sinai, and still with us now in all our ordinariness. We recall the words of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning: 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees takes off his shoes.

Let us notice and honor the Lord in the ordinary events of our day.
Abbey colored glass photographed by Brother Daniel.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

O Wisdom

As we begin this evening our novena in preparation for Christmas, we name Jesus first of all "Wisdom." And we recall Paul's words to the Corinthians, "Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God." So it is that the promised Messiah, God Most High, will come to us hidden, small, clothed in the flesh of our precarious humanness. This is the wisdom of God, God's way of doing things.

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and, reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Image from an ancient Cistercian manuscript.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Do Come

As monks we are meant to live in incessant desire for God, to become all longing and hunger for him. The season of Advent, its prayers and readings speak to us of a mutuality of desire. For indeed if we long to see the face of God, so God's desire to come to us outstrips our own desire and takes flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Jesus God's face has been revealed. This revelation stokes our desire for more intense experience of his presence and divine embrace. During Advent we celebrate the emptiness that makes us totally available for all that God wants to give us in Christ. We are joyful in our neediness and longing, for God longs to fill us with God's own Self in Christ more than we dare imagine. Amen. Come Lord Jesus and do not delay!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

John of the Cross

If we were to go to Saint John of the Cross with a problem or complaint, perhaps he would remind us that of course "the road is narrow" and those who wish "to travel it more easily must cast off all things" and use the cross as their "cane," and be ready to suffer all things willingly for the love of God.

Because sometimes we may have preferred other crutches or cushions to the cross of Christ, we beg the Lord's mercy.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Mary's conception, free of original sin, was unique among all created persons. But it is our re-conception in Christ, our rebirth in Christ, our re-creation in Christ and our vocation to be holy and blameless, without blemish, immaculate before the face of God in love. This is something we all share with Mary. It seems an impossible vocation. Mary, our model, teaches us how to follow it and prays for us as we do.

There is a famous quote: “Pray as if everything depended on God and work as if everything depended on you.”  But if we were to ask the Virgin Mother Mary about it, she would perhaps say: “Pray and work knowing that it all depends on God. Everything depends on God.”  She would be in agreement with St. Paul in his saying, “What do you have that you did not receive?  If then you received  it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?”  The notion that each of us is called to be “holy and immaculate before the face of God in love” only seems impossible when God is left out of the process. Mary learns from the angel that nothing will be impossible for God: she, a virgin, but she will have a son who is the Son of God.

In the Magnificat, Mary never once uses the pronoun “I”. Her prayer is not a prayer of praise about herself, but about what God has done for her, for Israel, and for all generations of the lowly who know that nothing is impossible for God. Mary prays in praise of him who is her savior, a God who looks not on egocentric accomplishments but rather on our lowliness and poverty and hunger for Him, a God who ever remembers to have mercy upon us to make us blessed and holy and immaculate as we live and pray before his face.

Reflection by Father Luke.

       

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Gaudete Sunday

The Church does not invite us to rejoice as some kind of liturgical diversion from the pain and conflict all around us. Just the opposite; we are invited to rejoice only because, as the prophet Isaiah tells us this morning, God is very near despite all indications to the contrary: 

Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
with divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;

then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
he lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.


We dare to rejoice because hope, mercy and compassion are with us and always coming closer in Christ Jesus our Lord, the God of all consolation. Hope is beside us. Not false hope (there’s never ever been anything false about hope) for now in Christ, Hope is a Person who is searching for us. Love and mercy are relentlessly coming to us as an undeserved and surprising gift. Isaiah reminds us that “a pattern of reversal” is unfolding in our midst.” And we are being invited to collaborate in the divine subterfuge. For God is taking disaster, pain and contradiction as his opportunity for grace, and he begs our cooperation.

Photograph of Abbey window by Brother Daniel.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Saint Juan Diego

We recall these words of Our Blessed Lady to Saint Juan Diego:

Listen, Juan, my dearest and youngest son….know for sure, my dearest… that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth. I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints and heal all their sorrows, hardships and sufferings…

Like the Son she carries in her virgin womb, Mary very much wants to console us. She is transparent to the mercy that he is for us. Mary and her Son hear our weeping and our sorrow. God and his mother are very near.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Immaculate

As we celebrate Our Lady today, we recall these words of our own Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:

In dangers, in doubts, in difficulties, think of Mary, call upon Mary. Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer, neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.

Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Nicholas and Oscar

Today the Church celebrates Saint Nicholas remembered through the ages for his generosity to the poor. We recall these words of the martyred archbishop Blessed Oscar Romero, which we imagine the holy bishop Saint Nicholas would have appreciated.

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God — for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

Photograph of the Abbey after our first snowfall by James O'Kane.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Fulfilled in Him

He said to the one who was paralyzed,
“I say to you, rise, pick up your stretcher, and go home.” 

The heart of Jesus brims over with the most tender and efficacious compassion. He speaks and healing occurs. God’s love in Christ breaks through; God’s Word as in the beginning is fruitful and full of power. For the love of God enfleshed in Christ Jesus has no patience with evil and sickness. Jesus is opposed to all that oppresses and burdens us; his power is expressed in humble, loving, compassionate mercy. Jesus gives this once paralyzed man back to his friends, to his family, to his community.  And so the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled in Jesus:

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.


Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci. Meditation on today's Mass readings by one of the monks.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Upside-Downness

Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
the calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra’s den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder’s lair.


In this morning's First Reading the prophet Isaiah speaks of the wondrous upside-downness that will characterize the presence of the Messiah, the presence of the kingdom, the presence of Christ Jesus in our world.

Ultimately our work as monks, indeed as Christians, is all about attentiveness to the Lord's invitation to reconcile the opposites in our lives and in our world. We are invited to move away from a world of us vs them, good guys vs bad guys, holiness vs everything else. This does not mean relativizing moral distinctions, but seeking ways to bring healing and peace and forgiveness to situations that seem irreconcilable. We speak the truth in love while continuing in prayer, confident that with God nothing is impossible, for God is reconciling all things in Christ Jesus our Lord.


Saturday, December 3, 2016

Drawing Near

No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher. 

One whom we long for, even though we may not always realize the depth of our desire for him, he himself longs to draw near to us. And so he will lower the heavens and come down, hiding in Mary’s womb. There in the bridal chamber that is her flesh, he will assume our flesh.

At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned.

God Most High has noticed our need for him, and God’s heart enfleshed in the pitying heart of Christ Jesus comes very near, revealing God’s intimate understanding of all that troubles us. We no longer need to be afraid.

Woodcut by Eric Gill. Meditation on today’s Mass readings by one of the monks.