Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Queen

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.
For centuries it has been the practice of monks to chant the Salve Regina at the conclusion of  Compline just before they retire. We are told that the Cistercians have chanted the Salve Regina daily since 1218.
We trust in Mary's care and intercession for us, we belong to her. Today we celebrate her as queen of heaven and earth, our path and gateway to all that her Son is for us.
Illustration of the Virgin and Child from a 12th century Cistercian manuscript.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard constantly places before us the major events of the life of Christ, and writes: “He was incomprehensible and inaccessible, invisible and completely unthinkable. Now he wishes to be comprehended, wishes to be seen, wishes to be thought about. How, do you ask? As lying in the manger, resting in the Virgin’s lap, preaching on the mountain, praying through the night, or hanging on the cross, growing pale in death, free among the dead and ruling in hell, and also as rising on the third day, showing the apostles the place of the nails, the signs of victory, and finally as ascending over heaven’s secrets in their sight.” Nat BVM 11.

Bernard tells us that the invisible God wished to be seen in the flesh and to live among humans as a human, so that he might recapture all the affections of humans and little by little, lead them to spiritual love. Christ Jesus uses our attraction to his human existence to take our disordered affections and desires and reconfigure them around himself. And as a person advances in love and contemplation, he is more and more present to God. “A person is present to God to the extent that the person loves him,” says Bernard. This will lead to the heights of the intimacy with the divine Bridegroom in unity of spirit.

Finally Saint Bernard stresses that the call to these heights is universal, it is open to everyone. Bernard writes: “Every soul, even if burdened with sin, enmeshed with vice, ensnared by the allurements of pleasure, a captive in exile, imprisoned in the body, caught in mud, fixed in mire, bound to its members, a slave to care, distracted by business, afflicted with sorrow, wandering and straying…every soul, I say, standing thus under condemnation and without hope, has the power to turn and find that it can not only breathe the fresh air of the hope of pardon and mercy, but also dare to aspire to the nuptials of the Word, not fearing to enter into alliance with God or to bear the sweet yoke of love with the King of angels. Why should it not venture with confidence into the presence of him by whose image it sees itself honored, and in whose likeness it knows itself made glorious? Why should it fear a majesty when its very origin gives it ground for confidence? All it has to do is to take care to preserve its natural purity by innocence of life, or rather to study to beautify and adorn with the brightness of its actions and dispositions the glorious beauty which is its birthright. Why then does it not set to work?” Sermon 83.1

Filippino Lippi, Apparition of the Virgin Mary to Saint Bernard, 1480, oil on panel, 83 x 77 in., Badia, Florence. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Solemnity.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

His Wounds

O Pelican of Mercy! O  Jesus Lord!
Unclean am I, but cleanse me in your Blood;
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Is ransom for a world's entire guilt.


In the image above we see the "pious pelican," traditionally a symbol of the wounded Jesus, since according to legend the pelican is the most loving of creatures and pierces her own breast to feed her young. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, our great Cistercian father and teacher, we ponder these words from his Sermon 61, On the Song of Songs: 

Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Savior? Indeed, the more secure is my place there the more he can do to help me. The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock. I may have sinned gravely. My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the the Lord: He was wounded for our iniquities. What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ? And so if I bear in mind this strong, effective remedy, I can never again be terrified by the malignancy of sin.
   Surely the man who said: “My sin is too great to merit pardon,” was wrong. He was speaking as though he were not a member of Christ and had no share in his merits, so that he could claim them as his own, as a member of the body can claim what belongs to the head. As for me, I can appropriate whatsoever I lack from the Heart of the Lord who abounds in mercy. They pierced his hands and feet and opened his side with a spear. Through the openings of these wounds I may drink honey from the rock and oil from the hardest stone: that is, I may taste and see that the Lord is sweet.
   He was thinking thoughts of peace, and I did not know it, for who knows the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The lance pierced his soul and came close to his Heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.
   Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of his heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously than in your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.
   My merit comes from his mercy; for I do not lack merit so long as he does not lack mercy. And if the Lord’s mercies are many, then I am rich in merits. For even if I am aware of many sins, what does it matter? Where sin abounded grace has overflowed. And if the Lord’s mercies are from all ages forever, I too will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. Will I not sing of my own righteousness? No, Lord, I shall be mindful only of your justice. Yet that too is my own; for God has made you my righteousness.

Opening verse from the hymn Adoro Te Devote. Photograph of a mosaic in the sanctuary of the Abbey church by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How It Works

Overheard this morning in the cloister. 
One young monk off to morning work, pauses to help a senior monk, 
who expresses thanks for his assistance. 
The younger whispers, "Teamwork makes the dream work."

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear...   from Chapter 72 of The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ahead of Time

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” When I look at the various situations and circumstances of my life, the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the hopes and disappointments, the struggles and accomplishments, I realize that I really want to believe that the Lord is somehow present to me in and through them all. I really want to believe that the Lord speaks to me through all the events of my life. And I don’t think I am alone in this desire. My guess is that we all want to believe that our life and existence are somehow more than the particular circumstances that unfold throughout our lives. We want to know and experience that God is really with us through it all. We long for something beyond the particular circumstances. I’m talking about believing through the circumstances rather than in the circumstances. When we believe this way the circumstances no longer limit or confine us but become portals of God’s intimate presence with us.

The kind of believing I am talking about is an "Elizabeth and Mary kind of believing." Neither one of them should be or could be pregnant. One is too old. One is too young. One is barren. One is a virgin. Yet both are pregnant. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary allowed the particular concrete circumstances of her life to limit God’s presence and action in her life. Neither allowed the circumstances to define who she was or who she would become. Elizabeth believed she was more than just a barren, childless, old woman. And Mary refused to accept that she was a no-one, another unmarried, scandalous woman, but rather believed that somehow she was the instrument of God the Most Holy.

Mary didn’t have it all wrapped up right from the beginning with a crystal clear understanding as to how her life would unfold. I am sure that her “how can this be” question to the angel Gabriel was not the last time in her life that she asked that question. As her life unfolded it wasn’t a bed of roses for her. A sword would pierce her soul she was told when her son was an infant. She will lose him for three days when he is twelve. She’ll think he’s gone mad when he’s thirty. And God only knows the despairing anguish she experienced during those three days following his crucifixion. And yet, throughout all the circumstances of her life her “let it be” never ceased to resound. In fact, what we are celebrating today: Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was somehow contained in her original “let it be.”

In today’s gospel we hear Mary’s “let it be” continue to unfold in her Magnifcat; which is essentially her song of praise and thanksgiving. Barbra Brown Taylor, the Episcopalian priest, author and theologian offers a powerful insight into Mary’s Magnificat when she reflects on Mary’s willingness to trust in God as she writes: “All she has is her unreasonable willingness to believe that God who has chosen her will be part of whatever happens next---and that apparently is enough to make her burst into song. She does not wait to see how things will turn out first. She sings ahead of time.” That expression stopped me in my tracks. Praising God ahead of time. Thanking God ahead of time.

I remember when it dawned on me that in the Ignatian practice of the Examen of Consciousness which one is advised to make at the end of the day, it is recommended to review your day in thanksgiving. It is not a matter of reviewing the day in order to pick and choose what you will be grateful for but to look back on the day, all of it and everything that occurred, with an attitude of thanksgiving. And now here we have Mary singing ahead of time, expressing her gratitude for all that will unfold in her life- being grateful ahead of time.

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is not just concerned with Mary. It is meant to touch our lives, in all the magnificent and not so magnificent circumstances of those lives. Mary’s fulfillment, which we celebrate today, began in and through all the circumstances of her life. Today, on the Assumption, we celebrate and acknowledge the culmination of that fulfillment - a fulfillment that we are all meant to one day share in with her. She invites us today, personally, to trust in a way that isn’t limited to what is reasonable, explainable or even acceptable. To trust that in every moment of every circumstance of our life the word of God is really being fulfilled if we but offer our own “let it be.”

Orazio Gentileschi, The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1610, The Fogg Art Museum. Excerpts from Father Damian's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It Is I

As Father Aquinas reminded us yesterday, we are very often like the disciples. We too often seek reassurances from Jesus, "If it is truly you, tell me to come to you across the water." Our faith is not strong enough. Jesus encourages us, "Take heart; it is I. Have no fear." What could be more reassuring? Once we realize who is calling to us, we may be embarrassed at having been alarmed. Didn't we know? Jesus always assures us that he will save us and protect us.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Whispering

Having sensed the Lord’s loving presence in the “tiny, whispering” of the ordinariness of our lives, we long to hide in the “shadow of his wings.” He comes near to us, stretches out the hand of his mercy and assures us, “Come to me and do not be afraid.” Why do we doubt? Why is our faith so tiny? The Son of God Most High has made his dwelling place within us. And nothing at all can separate us from him.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Friday, August 11, 2017

God’s Beauty

We continue our reflection on the words of Rowan Williams. He concludes that in the monastic life "...the world can be seen at one and the same time in its wholeness and in the light of a presence that is everywhere and nowhere. And it points to worship as the culminating and fulfilling form of self-dispossession or self-giving. It is about joy in the routine and everyday – not simply a persistent human happiness but a pervasive confidence that God’s beauty is there waiting for our homecoming. It certainly is not that monastic communities unfailingly exemplify all this; only that this and this alone makes sense of the monastic life as a ‘sharpening of the focus’ that exists in all Christian life."

God's beauty awaits us, beckons us; let us be attentive always.

Photographs by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Incarnational

The author Rowan Williams will characterize the monastic life as follows: “A humanity serving God in steady engagement with the material world and in mutual giving and receiving…a humanity shaped by Christ.”

He goes on to remind us that the monk’s life is "incarnational," always lived in and through Christ Jesus. As Williams writes, the monastic life is: “always modeled on Christ’s human life (and) open to the divine at every moment; it is not that God the Word deigns to take up residence in those parts of our lives that we consider important or successful or exceptional. Every aspect of Jesus’ humanity and every moment of his life is imbued with the divine identity, so that if our lives are to be images of his, they must seek the same kind of unbroken transparency.  Likewise, Jesus lives out in his humanity a complete dependence on God as Father, the eternal dependence of the Word on the divine Source, and is thus also capable of living a human life that is not anxiously in search of the highest degree of autonomy: he receives gifts, receives friendship and hospitality. A life that values every dimension of experience, including the routine, the repetitive and prosaic, one that assumes mutual need and invites generosity at the same time as offering it in hospitality – this is a life that is not merely apostolic but Christlike and illustrates the freshness of what the Gospel makes possible.”

Christ Jesus longs to be ordinary in us and with us and through us.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vigilance

Signaling the end of the summer, flocks of Canadian geese have already returned to rest and and feed in the Abbey fields on their way north. An ancient Roman legend tells of the Capitoline geese who honked their warning and saved Rome from the invasion of the Gauls. Since then geese have been used in literature and art as symbols of vigilance and divine providence. As we keep watch in vigils and prayer, the geese are our late August companions. Autumn is not far away.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On Tabor

This morning we ascend Mount Tabor with Jesus and eavesdrop as the Father says, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is our truth as well. Baptized into Christ, we too are the beloved of the Father.

To be sure, the brilliance of this morning’s Transfiguration and points us to another hilltop, that of Calvary. There the Beloved one will give himself away to us completely. His clothes, his flesh once bright with light on Tabor will be torn and stained with the spittle and blood of his passion.

Empowered by his Father’s love, Jesus will freely give himself up for us. Trusting in the Father’s love, we too may be transfigured and fearless enough to be self-forgetful like Jesus. Let us open to him. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Where I Live

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live… the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

Let us go frequently to our inner room, the room of our heart. This is the place of prayer. There we will find the Lord Jesus awaiting us, inviting us into quiet and relationship. 

Photograph of Della Robbia bas relief of Tobias and the Angel Raphael in the monastic refectory by Brother Brian. Lines from The Catechism of Catholic Church, 2563.

Friday, August 4, 2017

We and Zacchaeus

First Monastery at Tracadie
He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. Luke 19
Our Lady of the Valley
God’s interventions in our lives are always unexpected and surprising. We cannot plot them out ahead of time or predict them. And more often than not they smash our so-called certitudes. All Zacchaeus wanted to do was get a better glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus surprisingly and unexpectedly (scandalously according to the bystanders) intervened and invited himself into Zacchaeus’s home and life. And Zacchaeus was never the same after that. Perhaps his faith in God’s constant, loving, intervening care enabled him to move into a future, not with certitude, but with trusting faith. Zacchaeus was faithful to Jesus’s surprising self-invitation; we too can be open to that very same invitation on the part of Jesus. And ultimately it is because Jesus was faithful to his Father’s unfailing love, even unto death, that we can live in his promise to be with us until the end of time.
The New Church at Spencer 
As Abbot Damian reminds us, it is this promise of Jesus that has sustained our community’s life throughout its existence; from Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie to Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island to Saint Joseph’s Abbey here in Spencer. There have been all sorts of ups and downs, ins and outs, lights and shadows, fires and re-buildings from the ashes throughout these past 192 years. What, where and how our future as a community will unfold, we do not know. But what we do know and can stake our lives on is that the Lord’s faithfulness to us will never ever fail. And it is that faithfulness that we celebrate. Let us rejoice and be glad.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Ceaseless

Come, true light; come life that never ends; come, hidden mystery!
Come, nameless treasure; come, name that can never be uttered!
Come, inconceivable One; come, joy without end!
Come sun that never sets!
Come, name well-loved and ever repeated!
Come, joy that knows no end; come, untarnishing crown!
Come you whom my poor soul has longed for, 
and longs for still!
I give you thanks that you have become one single spirit with me. 

We are called to ceaseless prayer, Saint Augustine will name this living in ceaseless desire for God. Ever-mindful of this, we treasure these lines from a hymn of Saint Simeon the New Theologian. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dedication


Today we celebrate the Anniversary of the Dedication and Consecration of our Abbey Church. This is a special solemnity that is ours alone. This rose window pictured above, composed as it is from fragments of glass from the large lancet window in the church of the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley, is an apt symbol of the many transitions that have marked our community's history.

Our community first took root at the monastery of Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie, Nova Scotia in the mid-nineteenth century. But in 1892 and again in 1896 disastrous fires devasted the monastic buildings.

Soon the monastery moved from Nova Scotia to Lonsdale, Rhode Island. The small community, accompanied by their livestock arrived in the summer of 1900, and regular monastic life was resumed on August 2. Their new home was called Our Lady of the Valley. When in 1950 this abbey was ravaged by fire, the community of one hundred and forty persons was homeless.

Fortunately they had already purchased a large dairy farm in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1949. And the fire only accelerated the community's projected move. The monks soon adapted the farm buildings for monastic purposes. And on December 23, 1950, eighty monks took possession of Saint Joseph's Abbey. We continue to discern God’s loving plan in  our common life in this place and look forward with great hope to the future.

Detail of Abbey church rose window by Brother Jonah.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Treasure

Each of us knows that letting go and forgiving does not mean that nothing has happened.  Too much has happened to each and everyone one of us. We do not deserve the bad deals and short ends we have received. And forgiveness does not happen all at once or once and for all. It takes time and needs to be redone, rehearsed and repeated.-seventy time seven times. 

But we have Christ Jesus as exemplar and dear companion. With him we can understand that forgiveness is worth the joy and love and freedom, the unburdening, the opportunity that it brings. With him, through his grace we can choose to love and forgive. Indeed forgiveness takes time. It may begin with a desire to forgive, or even a desire to desire to forgive. And our willingness to let go of lesser goods brings with it a sobering realization that we must lose something, some things to gain everything, but we can rejoice because this everything is a Person, who is worth it. He our pearl, our one treasure is worth all we can risk and surrender. For he is the one who proclaims and enfleshes God’s love, compassion and forgiveness. He has forgiven and freed me. Finding the treasure and selling all means I try to do likewise out of love for him. And what is more delightful than this knowledge that nothing, nothing whatever can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Finally there is most beautiful secret: Jesus gives us himself, God’s own self each day in the Holy Eucharist. Love himself descends into the darkness of our flesh: as first into the dark mystery of Mary’s virginity, so now each morning into the dark warmth of our hearts; there to be dissolved in love into our very selves in this Eucharist. In this great mystery of his outpouring, his lavish self-gift, Jesus finds himself to be most himself as he gives himself away to us, finding in our humanity, in our flesh his treasure. When we come to know ourselves as loved so much, we must go and do likewise. 

Photographs by Brother Brian.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

At Bethany

As Cistercian monks we celebrate today the memorial of Mary, Martha and Lazarus- Hosts of the Lord. And so our Gospel this morning took us to the house at Bethany after Lazarus has been raised by Jesus. There is a dinner being prepared in the house of his dear friends. Martha is preparing the feast, Lazarus is at table and Mary takes a liter of costly perfumed oil and anoints Jesus' feet most tenderly and dries them with her hair.

For Saint Bernard each monk must somehow unite in himself "all three vocations: that of the penitent, the active worker and the contemplative." This happens as we hear Jesus' call to come out of the tomb of our sinfulness into the light of his mercy as did Lazarus. It happens when we serve one another in love as Martha. It happens, when attentive to Christ Jesus, we listen to his words and cherish them in our hearts like Mary. In all three ways of love we can choose the "better part," which Jesus promises shall not be taken from us.

The Candidate's Cottage at the Abbey.  Reflections excerpted from a Sermon by Saint Bernard for the Assumption.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Finding Our Peace

What a fragile thing a monastery is, how easily the living flame of Godward zeal can be reduced to a cinder.  We must all work together to keep the flame alive. How? We know the answer: Prefer nothing to the love of Christ; embrace whatever share of the cross the Lord may give you, finding there your peace; be faithful to the Work of God, to lectio, to prayer; always put the common life first; bear each other’s burdens; nurture your yearning to see the face of God. If we live by these tenets, the bedrock of our Rule, we resist the lethargy of passing time. We re-kindle our first love. There will be a spring in our step, a founders’ spring, a clear orientation towards the supernatural.

Our job is to dispose ourselves as best we can to receive with thanks whatever the Lord grants in his love, for his glory and our thriving. It is surely essential that, while keeping death before our eyes at all times, we really live, remembering that life is pure divine gift, to be received reverently, responsibly, gladly.

Photo by Brother Brian. Excerpt from Dom Eric Varden's retreat conference: 1. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Preferring Christ

Inspired by Saint Benedict, Western monasticism is the heir of the great number of men and women who, leaving behind life in the world, sought God and dedicated themselves to him, "preferring nothing to the love of Christ." The monks of today likewise strive to create a harmonious balance between the interior life and work in the evangelical commitment to conversion of life, obedience and stability, and in persevering dedication to meditation on God's word (lectio divina), the celebration of the Liturgy and prayer. In the heart of the Church and the world, monasteries have been and continue to be eloquent signs of communion, welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things of the spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the earthly city itself, in expectation of the heavenly city. 

Our hearts are filled with "the ardent love of spouses," preferring nothing whatever to Christ, we monks are called to love the Lord Jesus with our whole heart, all our soul and all our strength- in our praying, in all our work, in our silence, even in our conversations no matter how brief.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Vita Consecrata of Pope Saint John Paul II.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Weeds

In today’s Gospel, we continue Jesus discourse in parables directed to the large crowd gathered by the shore, which we began last week. Matthew places his discourse in parables at an important juncture in his Gospel. Jesus is being rejected by the Jewish leaders, who are already plotting to kill him, his new community is just being formed, and the inclination of the people as a whole is in the balance. Jesus delivers his parables to the crowd in a situation of conflict and increasing polarization.

After having delivered his parables, he dismissed the crowd and went back into the house. His disciples approach and ask him to explain to them the parable of the weeds. 

Unlike the parable of the sower, which we heard last Sunday, in which there is one sowing and the seed is a symbol of the good and powerful word of God which generates believers, in the parable of the weeds there are two sowings, that of the good seed sown by the Son of Man, which are the children of the kingdom, and that sown by the devil, which are the children of the evil one.

Matthew doesn’t give any characteristics of the children of the kingdom except that thy are righteous, but it is easy enough to back over the text to draw a good picture: these are the ones who accept the lordship of Jesus over their lives; he is their only teacher, to whom they come for instruction. They have eyes to see and ears to hear. As we heard last week, they are the rich soil that hears the word and understands it, who indeed bear fruit and yield a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. 

A constant question therefore for the Christian, and for us as monks is: “If I am to be counted among the good seed, how can I learn to see and hear better, that I may come to understanding, and therefore have the possibility to bear much fruit?” 

For us monks the Lord as light of the world comes to us in the forms which he has given us, in which he has chosen to appear: Scripture, Liturgy, the Rule, the common life, the brothers, and so on. With these, Jesus calls us in turn to be lights of the world. We can choose to give them the vivid attention of an attentive artist and shape our monastic conversatio into a strong monastic life.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for this Sunday's Eucharist.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Gathering Us

Do not allow pride to swell in you, let it shrivel instead, and rot. Be disgusted by it, throw it out. Christ is looking for a humble Christian. Christ in heaven, Christ with us, Christ in hell – not to be kept there, but to release others from there. That’s the kind of leader we have. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, but he is gathering us up together from the earth: one in this way, one in that; by favoring this one, chastising that one, giving this one joy and that one trouble. May he that gathers gather us up, otherwise we are lost; may he gather us together where we can’t get lost, into that land of the living where all deserts are acknowledged and justice is rewarded.

Shunning all that could keep us from Christ, we long to be filled more and more with the ardor that so formed the heart of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Fresco from the Arena Chapel in Padua by Giotto. Excerpts from Saint Augustine, Sermon 70A, 1-2

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Light in the Cloister

 
"The sunlight did not know what it was before it hit a wall," said the American architect Louis Kahn. Buildings that matter have spirit and meaning and are never merely functional. We are grateful for the quiet beauty of this place.

In your light, we see light.
Ps 36

Photograph of early morning sunlight in the southwest corner of the cloister.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Sower

In his explication of the parable of the sower in today's Gospel, Jesus details the various ways in which the unprepared heart fails to embrace the Word. The twelfth-century Cistercian father, Isaac of Stella, comments on the parable as follows: “There are those with hearts trodden down and unyielding. The Word reaches their outer ears but their hearts give it no welcome.  The seed has fallen by the wayside, since the way of faith and obedience is not theirs.  Faith, we are told, does not reach all hearts; some do not obey the call of the Gospel. Poised between their ears and hearts, the devil bars the way to the heart, as the saying goes, by taking out through one ear what has entered by the other. As a preacher rises to proclaim the Word exteriorly, the devil prompts the counter- utterance within, denies the truth of what is said, changing its meaning, criticizing the preacher, distracting the hearer with drowsiness or daydreams.”

When Isaac says that “the way of faith and obedience is not theirs,” we recall the  Prologue of the Holy Rule, which promises that, “the labor of obedience will bring you back to Him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience.” If indeed the labor of obedience in faith represents the most fundamental preparation, it is not the only kind of work required. Corresponding to the stony ground, Isaac says that “There are others who find no difficulty in obeying, but lack the virtue of endurance…Ever prepared to mend their ways, they are still more prone to relapse. To all appearances they are live-wood, but in fact they are dead-wood, time-servers and shallow-minded. Lacking the taproot of love, they cannot believe and endure to the last. In time of peace they keep the faith, but in time of temptation, internal or external, they fall away. They are chaste while passion slumbers, courageous when no one opposes them, meek if left alone. Their devotion depends on how well things go.  They are the sort who praise God as long as he blesses them.”

And lest we attach too much importance to the role of human agency, Isaac reminds us that it is the Father, “the heavenly husbandman who through the Holy Spirit has made us capable of receiving the seed, the Son. The fire of love that he has poured out upon our hearts has burnt up the thorns, cleansed our field, has enabled us to endure and to yield a harvest thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.” The seed of the Word is God’s gift of himself, and our ability to receive it is also God’s gift.  Our job, in the end, is to make ourselves ready to accept and treasure that gift. The Word is God’s gift of himself. And in order to receive such a gift, we must prepare our hearts to welcome a person, a beloved guest, whose presence will grow within us and heal us, enabling us to bear fruit some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

The Sower, 1850, Jean-Fran├žois Millet, 40 x 32 1/2 in., oil on canvas, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Excerpts from Father William's homily at this morning's Mass.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Retreat

"The love of God has been poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Love itself moans, love itself prays; against it he who gave it cannot close his ears. Be free of anxiety; let love ask and God's ears are there.

During this coming week the community will be on its annual retreat, a special time for greater silence and solitude. Daily conferences will be given to us by Dom Erik of Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Great Britain. We will pray for all of our family, friends, relatives and benefactors. 

Lines from Tractate 6: On the First Epistle of John, by Saint Augustine.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mercy

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

As we ponder Jesus' words in today's Gospel from Saint Matthew, we are reminded of Pope Francis' message in Misericordia Vultus: 

“He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, he casts the wicked to the ground” (Ps 147:3, 6). In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy. “For his mercy endures forever.” This is the refrain that repeats after each verse in Psalm 136 as it narrates the history of God’s revelation…With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. The signs he works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.

Friday, July 7, 2017

An Infirmary

Very many tax collectors and sinners came and sat at table with Jesus in Matthew's house. The Pharisees are scandalized and ask the disciples why the Teacher eats with such people. Well aware of who we are, we want to respond to the Pharisees' question with something like, "Thank God Jesus has chosen to sit at table with sinners like us." 

Our hearts overflow with gratitude for Christ's condescension to us in his mercy. For we are desperately in need of a physician who understands, a wise physician who knows where it hurts and why. Each morning he brings us the perfect remedy- his own body and blood. Jesus our Lord is our physician and our medicine. And we come to understand more and more, it is just as our Cistercian father, William of St. Thierry has reminded us- the monastery is in fact a giant infirmary where the sick, those disfigured by sin, have come to be healed and made whole again.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Together

On these warm summer mornings the windows of the Abbey church are open to the fields, the twittering of birds and chortling of little beasts. As we chant the Divine Office we join them in praising the Lord of all creation.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What Perhaps We Monks Can Offer

On this Independence Day amidst all the divisions in our nation and our world, even in our families; the terrorism and fears that threaten us from from all sides, what can we do as monks to make things better? In his homily this morning Father Vincent invited us to do what Saint Paul recommends to the Philippians: "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." 

Doing As Paul suggests will lead us to heartfelt thanksgiving for all the blessings we have received; we will turn aside from cynicism and negativity. Then living in a spirit of deep gratitude, our hearts will be led naturally into prayer and contemplation. As monks we trust that this praying is never ever private for as our hearts are stretched open, they embrace all of God's people. This is perhaps our most important contribution.

The monks strive to remain in harmony with all the people of God and share their active desire for the unity of all Christians. By fidelity to their monastic way of life, which has its own hidden mode of apostolic fruitfulness, monks perform a service for God's people and the whole human race.  Constitutions of the Order.
Photographs by Brother Brian. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Losing Everything

In this morning's Gospel Jesus tells us once again, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." 

Just as Jesus "lost himself" in his desire always to do the Father's will, we long more and more to lose ourselves in him, finding our true selves in the self-forgetful love he embodies. We long to give Christ Jesus all our possibilities, making his Kingdom the horizon of our desire. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Our Lady on Saturday

We celebrate the Mass and Office of Our Blessed Lady again on this Saturday. She is everywhere in the Abbey watching over us, her images and icons in sacred spaces and in the workplaces. Mary protects us and accompanies us; we trust in her powerful intercession.

We place ourselves in your keeping, Holy Mother of God. Refuse not the prayer of your children in their distress, but deliver us from all danger, ever Virgin glorious and blessed.