Sunday, December 31, 2017

In The Temple

After celebrating Christmas for a week or so with perhaps too much mirth, we are given the sober tale of the great meeting in Temple. The newborn Jesus is brought to be presented to the Lord, as is the long-established custom. And very soon the story of a commonplace religious ritual becomes fraught with great mystery. Two holy elders, Simeon and Anna representatives of the Old Covenant, recognize the Child as the Christ. Jesus is indeed the messenger of the New Covenant, embodying the binding up of heaven and earth, accomplished through his Incarnation. He is God with us. Old and New Law meet in a sacred encounter.

So it is that in the etching by Rembrandt, all is ordinariness and heavenly mystery at once. We see Simeon's dim eyes and reverent caress and blessing of the Child cradled in his arms, Mary and Joseph kneeling awe-struck, Anna folding her hands as she bows and notices the Child which an angel is boldly pointing out to her, and finally the little serving girl who gazes out to us and the crippled man departing to the left, both adding quiet drama to the scene. 

"Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel."

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Presentation in the Temple with the Angel, c. 1630, etching, 4 x 3 in. Alva de Mars Megan Chapel Art Center, Saint Anselm College. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Incarnation

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.” The truth is, on any given day probably many of us do not really know or recognize “the light that enlightens us” - the Word, the Son of God, who in the fullness of time was born into our world to make the invisible visible. Because of the Incarnation, there is now an unsuspected and astonishing closeness between the human and the divine, even if at times it is lost on us. The Good News of Christmas is that the divine touches our ordinary lives far more than we can know.

Of all the revelations of Christianity, the Incarnation must surely remain one of the least understood. God was somehow present in an innocent child, born in a Bethlehem stable, already destined to be one like us in all our poverty, pain, and failure. And yet in all the “mess” of human life, we encounter this newborn baby, come to us as our long-awaited Savior, lying in an ordinary feed trough.

As the Gospel tells us, “He came but the world did not know him.”  We ourselves often do not know or recognize him, but the Incarnation we celebrate urges us to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again until we recognize the divine light glimmering deeply within.

The birth of Christ reveals and completes what the document Gaudium et Spes calls “the mystery of our humanity.” Avery Dulles once wrote: “Christmas does not give us a ladder to climb out of the human condition. It gives a drill to burrow into the heart of everything that is, and there, find it already shimmering with divinity.” That is essential to the meaning of “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Christmas surprise is that now “flesh is inspirited and spirit is enfleshed” in a way that changes all of us, indeed all of creation, forever.

This is Good News! The deadly dualism between heaven and earth collapsed that first Christmas morning. Nature and grace are now forever intertwined. They have become inseparable in Jesus. His Birth among us teaches us how to recognize the everyday God who comes to us disguised in the shadow and light of our lives, to keep reminding us of the closeness of a God whose home is always here.

Christmas reveals that there is a light within the darkness, a love within the Cross, a life within each death. Our sins and certainties, our wayward compulsions, our despair and desperation, the wars and poverty we collude in - all are redeemed by the One whose birth we celebrate. The Baby looking up into our faces from the manger is the human face of God, and he reveals to us who we ourselves truly are - flawed but immortal diamonds reflecting the beauty of God. Who would have ever expected that?

The Nativity, attributed to Zanobi Strozzi (Italian, Florence 1412–1468 Florence), ca. 1433–34, tempera and gold on wood, 7 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Excerpts from Father Dominic's homily from Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Surprising

Christmas celebrates, reveals, communicates God’s dynamic life bubbling and boiling over from eternity into time. The God we believe in is a God whose very nature is to share life. There is nothing of God that is not sharing or giving or boiling over. The God we believe in is the God who holds nothing back. This is the divine nature. God gives what God is. From all eternity God bestows and gives - this mutual bestowing and self-giving are what God is all about.

When God begins this life among us, God inaugurates a new way of being with us. God communicates the gift of divine life for us through a human life like ours. Christmas isn’t just the discovery of something about God but also about humanity. The God we believe in is not a God that has to be lured down from heaven by our efforts at trying to be very, very good. We are dealing with a God who does not have to be persuaded to be interested in us. Jesus our Emmanuel is with us and for us through a solidarity and identification so deep and total that when we see Jesus, we see a God who values us beyond all imagining.

We may be led to think that the Christmas mystery is limited to some sort of self-congratulatory, feel-good reality. It is all about looking with speechless amazement at every human face we see, and realizing that God thought this face, this person I see, was worth everything. God thinks that there is no gift or risk too great to bring the fullness of life and joy to this person. For many of us, this could be the most challenging dimension of Christmas for us to absorb - that radical sense that wherever we turn we see a humanity God believes to be supremely worthwhile. Wherever we turn the human life we see is a life as valuable as our own.

Let us pray this Christmas that we never lose the sense of surprise - the kind of surprise that prevents us from ever thinking of God as some distant autocrat we need to placate, satisfy or amuse. And may we never tire of that surprise which prevents us from thinking of any human being as a lost cause, not worthy of our attention, care and love.  

Our Christmas ought to be a very surprising time, a time when we look at our faded and stale images and thoughts about God and about humanity. Let them be refreshed by the very astounding newness of what comes into our world at Bethlehem - a God who overflows with love and a humanity in which God reveals the depth of divine life. 

Detail of Madonna and Child by Caravaggio. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily at Midnight Mass.


Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mice and Spiders

I once overheard a remark which started me thinking about Christmas in a new way. Until then I had seen it through the medium of the Christmas card, Christmas flowers, snow and a plentiful sprinkle of glitter-frost that we could buy at 2 pence a packet… The remark which made me begin to think was “There must have been mice and spiders in the stable at Bethlehem.” Yes, Christ was born not into a fanciful world, but into our real world that includes mice and spiders.

Read the gospels for Christmas and you will see the likeness between Christ’s day and ours. It is almost shocking. You recognize Herod, the murder of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, the homeless refugees in a strange land, the young mother trudging from door to door, seeking somewhere to give birth to her baby, and posted on every door in Bethlehem the notice, so familiar, “No vacancy.” The likeness is also in the minds of people. Christ came into a world sickened with persecution, obsessed with fear….not unlike our own. 

Nativity by Lauren Ford. Excerpt from an article by Caryll Houselander, 1945.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Like Mary

As Father Aquinas reminded us this morning in his homily, God always initiates. He makes the first move toward us, always the Giver of all good gifts. Like Mary, we are invited in our freedom to respond to God's initiatives and invitations. We want to be more and more continually attentive to all that the good God desires for us. When we say yes to all God offers, we may become like Mary – Christ-bearers.

Of her flesh he took flesh: 
He does take fresh and fresh, 
Though much the mystery how, 
Not flesh but spirit now 
And makes, O marvellous! 
New Nazareths in us, 
Where she shall yet conceive 
Him, morning, noon, and eve; 
New Bethlems, and he born 
There, evening, noon, and morn— 
Bethlem or Nazareth... 

Fragment from the poem, The Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mary's Flesh

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God. In the fullness of time, in our time God spoke to us a Word most tender, Jesus our Lord. Jesus reveals all that God could say. Christ Jesus enfleshes the love God has for us, the love that pours itself out constantly. In Christ God loses himself in self-forgetful love. God Most High becomes God most low, emptying Himself in quiet into the womb of the Virgin Mary, becoming who we are, hidden now in our midst. This is God’s dream of intimacy with us. In stillness, the Lord comes to take Mary's flesh, our flesh. As in the Eucharist, he comes small and defenseless. Awe-filled adoration is our fitting response.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Wonder

As the great Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity draws near, we try to remember how to wonder.

Wonder beckons us to notice, to step into God’s world, to see as God sees, and to take nothing for granted. Wonder can be poisoned by cynicism and the need to analyze or trivialize or dissect, or by a silence of negativity, withdrawal. And our response may become: "It’s just too ordinary after all" - whether it be the subtlety of light falling upon a monastery wall, a butterfly bobbing over a garden full of lilies, the kindness of a friend or a little Child napping in the hay.

This is the scandal of God’s enfleshment, God has become ordinary and has come looking for his creatures. It is wonderful, unprecedented, beyond belief - we do not have to understand - it is alright not to understand - we only have to wonder. We can let go of questioning and simply wonder, trusting that God wants to give himself to us. To allow Christ in means we do not have to understand- instead, we wonder, we believe. We pay attention to his moving towards us. For this, we must be silent. 

Dear friends just sent us this picture of their grandchild.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Newness And Surprises

The special quality of the joy that we celebrate on this Gaudete Sunday stems precisely from what is new about the Good News. Though God’s promised deliverance was often foretold in the Old Testament, the way it finally came to pass turned out to be a great surprise, a wild going beyond all expectation.  The Promised One would be the very Son of God made a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

The newness offered to the men and women of old is offered to us. We have already experienced newness of life in Baptism, as in a seed, then in a personal way when, at some crucial moment in our adult lives, we resolutely committed ourselves to Christ. All of this is a promise of the full working out of the Gospel newness at each moment of our lives, always leading us onward. 

When the Messiah finally came there was great surprise. "They had expected might and there came weakness – speech, and there came silence – royalty, and there came poverty – war, and there came peace."* The lessons learned from God’s providential “surprises” are meant also for us. The great grace of Advent is watchfulness, knowing how to wait, ever on the lookout for God’s hints in the dark.

Consider then offering to the Christ Child this Christmas, a new take on those we live with, being aware of the positive things about them which we so often filter out. Let us learn to lay aside the tired old images of them we carry around in the pigeon holes of these calabash heads of ours.

*Prayer in Faith, Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ. And excerpts from Father Gabriel's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Friday, December 15, 2017

During Advent

As the days of Advent progress, we recall these words of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero:

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 by K'een Trainor.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Stillness

Saint John of the Cross, whom we remember today, teaches to trust the emptiness we experience as a place which the Lord may visit in stillness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Am I Not Here?

Today we remember Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of our Land. Each year on this day we have a special shrine in the transept of the Abbey church. Mary is our Mother and our Refuge in all tribulation. We are greatly consoled by her words to Saint Juan Diego in 1531:

Do listen, do be assured of it, my littlest one, that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For am I not here, I, your mother? Are you not in the cool of my shadow? In the breeziness of my shade? Is it not I that am your source of contentment? Are you not cradled in my mantle, cuddled in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Marvelous Exchange

           Today’s responsorial psalm has a plea which captures the mood of Advent: “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” It is a heartfelt prayer, simple in its aim. The psalmist wants mercy; he wants God’s kindness and salvation. He wants God to respond and intervene because the harshness of life and the anxieties of the world can overwhelm us.
            The Prophet Isaiah – or better, Deutero-Isaiah, or Second Isaiah, as scholars refer to him – was facing this harshness of life. His fellow Israelites had been defeated in war and enslaved in Babylon. They realized their guilt and accepted their punishment, but their servitude was a bitter humiliation. So the words of today’s psalmist found a ready place on their lips: “Lord, let us see your mercy, and grant us your salvation.”
But this plea was only one side of a back-and-forth between God and his people. Even as the people were acknowledging their misery, God was promising to renew his covenant with them and intervene on their behalf. Speaking through Isaiah, he said: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” This is the rhythm of Advent: a plea for kindness, a promise of comfort and expiation; a longing for salvation, and a promise that exceeds what the mind can conceive. Back and forth – a kind of marvelous exchange with the creature imploring and the creator intervening.
We see something similar in the scene from today’s gospel. “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out…and were being baptized by (John) in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” It must have been quite a sight. John standing there, clothed in camel’s hair, and the people going down into the Jordan, confessing their sins: “Lord, let us see your mercy, and grant us your salvation.” And John, in turn, responding, “One mightier than I is coming after me…I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy spirit.” Back and forth, back and forth: each plea of the people increasing their longing for a response from God who alone could calm their anxiety.
Even we, brothers and sisters, fortified as we are with the fullness of God’s promises in the Eucharist, continue this back and forth: our pleas rise up from the difficulties of life and the anxieties we face, and his words of comfort sustain us. So it will be until the final coming of the Lord Jesus. “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” 
Copper beech tree in the Abbey garth in the snow. Homily from today's Mass by Fr. Vincent.


Friday, December 8, 2017

A Garden Enclosed

This is the Abbey's cloister garth in early summer- a secret garden surrounded by the four cloisters. This garden enclosed is a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her beauty, and fragrance set apart for Christ alone, a place where He could nestle and grow. On this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception we celebrate her chosenness. We rejoice in the Virgin Mary's privilege, for she reveals the breadth of our human capacity for God, the breathtaking beauty of our availability to all that God wants to accomplish in us.

A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. Song of Songs 4

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Fulfilled
















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.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as water covers the sea. IS 11

The dream of the Prophet Isaiah in today's First Reading is fulfilled in the Person of Christ Jesus. He is the Holy Child who will bring together all the seeming dichotomies, all that separates and divides us - encounter, reconciliation, peacemaking - are all real and possibilities in Him.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Watch



















Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.  Is 63


As Father Isaac reminded us in this morning's homily, the cry of the people of Israel as articulated by the prophet Isaiah is ultimately answered in the person of Christ. And so according to Matthew, at Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan the heavens are indeed torn open and the Spirit comes down upon Jesus. 

It is he whom we await, he whom we watch for, he who is coming to us constantly though often hidden and disguised. It is he the Lord Jesus who is himself God for us, God with us. This event of his constant presence in our midst is truly God's awesome deed on our behalf, always more than we could hope for.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Amidst Turmoil

 As the visions during the night continued, I saw
One like a son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
He received dominion, glory, and kingship;
nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7


Amidst all the turmoil and terrorism, the totality of geopolitical strife and instability, in the midst of all our fears, the prophecy of Daniel seems remarkably timely and consoling. The prophet reminds us that God's love and dominion are everlasting, very real and will not be outdone. We delight to entrust ourselves to God's providence.

Photograph by Brother Brian. A meditation inspired by words of Father Isaac.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

God’s Great Desire

It is God’s great desire to be among his people and to see not only that they are shepherded rightly but that he himself be the good shepherd, who is among them, attentive, walking with them in justice and mercy. Here God rules his people as the good shepherd. In his kingly freedom, God has the power and authority to choose a people and to form them, but his care remains limited until he sends his Son. In the Incarnation, God no longer contents himself with intervening from heaven on the side of the poor: he crosses over to him as a man. In the Incarnation God enters into human fellowship. In the process, he shows himself the divine ground and origin of all fellowship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Incarnation, the foundation of all reality is shown to be Trinitarian love. God can address the individual human person as a “Thou” because he already has a “Thou” in himself. Because he is a Trinity of Persons, God can be among his people in the most intimate manner conceivable while remaining sovereign Lord of the universe. 

Jesus, fulfilling his Father’s will, goes about his life on earth, moving toward death, unwaveringly faithful to his commitment to serve rather than to be served, and to give his life as a ransom for all; succeeding indeed in pouring out his blood for the new covenant for all. This gift changes everything, for from now on, every one of our fellow-human beings, whatever their relation to us, whether friend or enemy, is in the words of St. Paul, ‘the brother for whom Christ has died’ and, from now on, whoever sins against his brother or sister sins against Christ. Because God’s chosen and beloved only Son has borne the guilt of every human being and has died for them, he can identify himself with every human being. And when he comes as King in his glory at the last judgment, he has the authority to say, “Whatever you have done to one of the least of my sisters or brothers, you have to me. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a Homily by Father Timothy.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Eucharist

Is there anything he can refuse us in the future, if already in the present he gives himself to us as our food? The Eucharist is our one happiness on earth. 

Words of Brother Joseph Cassant, monk of our Order.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The King's Call

Now in this interim period, while Christ reigns until he has put all his enemies under his feet, we are allotted the time to fulfill the commandment of the king to serve the least of his sisters and brothers. As John Chrystostom pointed out long ago, we do not hear “I was sick and you healed me” or “I was in prison and you liberated me.” What is being asked for here are very simple, everyday things, that don’t require a lot of special skills, resources, or even special grace. Yet, we know that in practice they can actually be quite difficult in the sense that we have to ready to put aside our plans and be willing to be placed in situations or engage with persons we may find unpleasant or difficult. It was precisely sensitivity to these small tasks that made Therese a saint. This Gospel reminds us that our time on this earth is limited and what we do with it matters.

Performing these services is no small thing in the building up of the kingdom. Providing food and drink for the hungry and thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, visiting those in prison: all of these participate in the fulfillment of the prophecy of what God said he will do for his people in the First Reading: the Lost I will search out, the strays I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal. Through the gift of the Spirit, we are his actors. In this Eucharist, we receive our Lord whom we serve in our brothers and sisters. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Timothy.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

His Kingship

Jesus has not taken our flesh to make power plays or control others as worldly kings do who try “to make their importance felt.” God’s gentle mastery of all creation has come in Jesus. And from the very beginning of his ministry, he has refused to be “Super-Jesus.” Ignoring Satan’s prodding when He was tempted, “C’mon, you can do it. Change these stones into loaves of bread. Jump off the top of the Temple,” He says emphatically, “No! Be gone.” He has come to serve, to heal, to console and feed and to wash our smelly feet.

Always he speaks of and embodies a different kind of power, the power of love and self-offering that come from deep trust in his Father. His dominion has nothing to do with pushing others out of the way so that he can be number one and have control. He will enter Jerusalem meek, riding on a little donkey. And soon after he will receive the only crown we could manage to offer him - one woven out of cruel thorns. And so we may call him king if we understand that he has turned the whole idea of power and majesty absolutely upside-down, inside-out; it is debunked. For his power is made perfect in littleness and weakness.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Connectedness

In this morning's Gospel, the Sadducees are playing games, trying to stump Jesus with an impossible dilemma - “If she had seven husbands, whose wife will she be?” It’s an outlandish “what-if” scenario, the absurd possibility of six of the so-called “brother-in-law” marriages prescribed in the Book of Deuteronomy. What makes it even more ridiculous is that the Sadducees don’t even believe in the resurrection. For them, the dead are dead, period. It seems pretty clear- they only want to taunt Jesus. “Let’s see how he gets out of this one.” And we can imagine his frustration.

But Jesus is undaunted. With characteristic beauty, integrity and directness; he takes the Sadducees’ crazy story, flips it around and draws them and us into a more astounding revelation. Marriage in its beauty, intimacy, and commitment is appropriate to this present age, but it will come to an end.* And raising up heirs, so that family and race may endure, will be inessential in the age to come. Something new, breathtaking in its beauty, is to come - the reality of eternal life, unending intimate relationship with God and with those we have loved, in God’s Kingdom.

What is essential is connectedness, the relationships of love and real intimacy with God and one another that we are made for. All the rest is a lot of babble.

Photograph of grisaille glass in the Abbey church by Brother Daniel. *Insight from Joseph Fitzmyer, Luke: Anchor Bible Commentary.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

On Thanksgiving Day

God wants to regale us. "God is to be enjoyed," says St. Augustine. A banquet is prepared; he is the banquet. But maybe too often we lower our heads and come to him with bowls that are much too small. We don't want to be greedy, or risk being disappointed. But Jesus wants to fill us with an infinity of compassion and mercy.

The Lord reminds us, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. For I, the Lord, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior. I give Egypt as ransom for you, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you and nations in exchange for your life.” Is 43

Pope Benedict has called this the "law of excess or superfluity;" the too-muchness of God. And it runs through the whole of salvation history and reaches its perfection in Jesus. This superfluity is perfectly expressed in Jesus, in his signs and words, in his passion, dying and resurrection; it is he who reveals this boundlessness and immeasurability of God's love and compassion and mercy. Extravagant abundance is the sign of the day of salvation in Christ- never ever skimpiness, meagerness, and need. God's very self is overflowing life, and he longs to share this life with us so that we may love as he loves. Rejoicing, gladness, thanksgiving and the promise to share the abundance - these are our proper response.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Today we celebrate the tradition that Mary was dedicated to the Lord even from her childhood. She is presented in the Temple, but she herself will become the temple of God Most High.

Mary is the perfect medium for God’s self-expression- because most of all she is the unlikeliest, so small, among the most powerless. This is the brilliance of God’s unprecedented breakthrough in Mary - her of all people. She is young in a society that values age and wisdom; female in a world where men run everything; poor at a time when poverty implies divine disfavor; unmarried in a society in which a husband and children would grant her status, protection and validate her existence.* She has nothing and is nothing at all; a nobody, but she is just right for God. God is smitten. Mary is the perfect match for a God who is always captivated by what is little, humble and small; God who always prefers the lowest place, who always notices what is seemingly incongruous, upside-down, the least likely choice; a God who always surpasses human logic or expectation. Nothing is impossible for a God like that. The “never-to-be-surpassed” self-expression of God in Christ Jesus, the immensity of God’s beauty will dwell, hidden in nothingness, in the womb of Mary.* And God’s infinite pleasure in Mary’s nothingness will effect a marvelous exchange, for when God takes her flesh, God takes our flesh, as it is now. And nothing at all is impossible.

Mary models for us our human capacity to be God-bearers: every fiber of our being, our very selves totally available to God, for what God wants. And so at the Annunciation, we are witness to the surrender of love, the surrender of mutual desire that happens in any real relationship. Mary and God lose themselves in each other. If we take the Incarnation seriously, this is perhaps exactly what is so scandalous about God becoming human. God has lost himself in love, in the self-forgetfulness of love. Through Mary God is now subject to the laws of nature, of human flesh, its smells, its aches and heartaches, its narrowness and limitations, even its unpredictableness.


Tempera on panel by Andrea di Bartolo, 1400-1405. And insights from Luke Johnson, Luke: Sacra Pagina and Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

All Those Talents

We are always awed by the infuriated response of the very disappointed master in today's Gospel when he learns that his timid servant has buried the sum that was given to him. 

We imagine that he might have said, "You buried it? Invest it, even spend it, waste it, enjoy it, share it with others. Be creative, thoughtful and loving with all I have given you. But please do not hide it all underground."

How do we use all that has been entrusted to us?

Painted initial from an early Cistercian manuscript.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Our Lady on Saturday

A friend, who has suffered for years with the burden of a chronic illness and has tried every therapy imaginable to no avail, told us not long ago that he sometimes feels like a gangster in an old movie. After a furious gunfight, there is an eerie quiet and his house is surrounded. And then a cop outside the door starts shouting to him, “You might as well just come away quietly.” The message is clear: “Give up; you’ve got no choice. Just surrender.” Surely it is an honest response but tinged with resignation, un-freedom, and real sadness.

In her response to the Angel Gabriel, Mary offers us a far more breathtaking alternative. For she surrenders to God’s desire with serenity, dazzling availability and even quiet joy: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." 

Drawing by Giuseppe Cesare.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Notice

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, the lust for power, and idle talk. 

Give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to your servant.

O Lord and King, grant that I may see my own transgressions and not judge my brother, for blessed are you for all ages. Amen.

This prayer of Saint Ephrem the Syrian is a fitting reflection for the close of the day, as we notice blessings as well as those times when our love was too small.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Transformation

The hundredfold is ours. God has spoken His Word to us, as to the lost son’s older brother, “You are always with me. All I have is yours.” Jesus is himself this message of the Father’s deep love. Christ Jesus our Lord is himself the hundredfold he promises. He has pressed himself to us, to our humanity in its shabbiness and breathed new life into us. In his passion and resurrection, he has healed and refreshed, renewed and transformed it all.

And if, as Saint Benedict exhorts us, we are to prefer absolutely nothing to Christ, it is because he has first of all preferred absolutely nothing at all to each of us, accepting even death, death on a cross for our sake. We are invited to lose everything in order to gain everything. Jesus himself is the everything; Jesus who is the gift given to us a hundred times over. Beyond our wildest dreams, the love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit is now ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord. 

Icon written by Brother Terence.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Kindness of Christ Jesus

But, brethren, from all that might be said of His character I single out one point and beg you to notice that. He loved to praise, He loved to reward. He knew what was in man, He best knew men's faults and yet He was the warmest in their praise. When He worked a miracle He would grace it with Thy faith hath saved thee, that it might almost seem the receiver's work, not His. He said of Nathanael that he was an Israelite without guile; He that searches hearts said this, and yet what praise that was to give! He called the two sons of Zebedee Sons of Thunder, kind and stately and honorable name! We read of nothing thunderlike that they did except, what was sinful, to wish fire down from heaven on some sinners, but they deserved the name or He would not have given it, and He has given it them for all time. Of John the Baptist He said that his greater was not born of women. He said to Peter, Thou art Rock, and rewarded a moment's acknowledgment of him with the lasting headship of His Church. He defended Magdalen and took means that the story of her generosity should be told forever. And though He bids us say we are unprofitable servants, yet He Himself will say to each of us, Good and faithful servant, well done.
Detail of The Savior, El Greco (and workshop), 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 72 cm x 55 cm, The Prado, Madrid. Lines from a Sermon of the poet, Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, preached on November 23, 1879, at Bedford Leigh.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Martin

In this two-tiered manuscript painting of The Legend of Saint Martin, the story begins on the bottom level. There the Roman soldier, Martin, cuts his military cloak in half to share it with a shivering beggar. The upper tier shows Martin's dream vision that night in which Christ appears to him wearing the cloak and thanks him for his generosity. Our Lord's message is clear, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." We want to notice the needy one in our midst; Christ Jesus assures us that He is the Needy One.

St. Albans Psalter, English, early 12th century, Dombibliothek Hildesheim, Germany.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Saint Paul's Insight

Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality. Bless those who persecute you, bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Have the same regard for one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not be wise in your own estimation. Do not repay anyone evil for evil; be concerned for what is noble in the sight of all. If possible, on your part, live at peace with all.

These words from the twelfth chapter of Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans are a beautiful distillation, a kind of prĂ©cis, of Jesus' Beatitudes. 

Detail of an early Cistercian illuminated manuscript.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Radiance

"Who are these wearing white robes?” says an elder to the narrator in the Book of Revelation, as he glimpses all the Blessed in heaven. The elder then answers his own question, “Why these are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Now anyone who has ever tried to remove even a small blood stain from a piece of clothing can understand that it must have been a near-impossible task in first century Palestine, long before OxyClean, Spray and Wash or Shout. And so we can only wonder at the perfectly ridiculous image of robes made radiantly white by washing them in lamb’s blood. But this is not just any lamb. And the offbeat beauty of these words reveals the truth of the dazzling, unprecedented victory of the Lamb of God, which he has “achieved not by domination and aggression” but by his loving acquiescence even unto death.It is Jesus’ self-forgetful love that has created this radiance.

Photograph by Brother Anthony Khan. *Insights from Wilfrid Harrington.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

On Sunday

They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues,
greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi.'
As for you, do not be called 'Rabbi.'
You have but one teacher, and you are all brothers.
Call no one on earth your father;
you have but one Father in heaven.
Do not be called 'Master';
you have but one master, the Christ.
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." 
Mt 23

The heart of Christ is always drawn to what is small and seemingly insignificant. This is natural since he himself has come among us as One who serves. He is the One who humbled himself accepting derision and crucifixion to unburden us, free us. Because of his exquisite, loving, crucified self-forgetfulness, the Father exalted him on high. 

But how to fittingly follow the humble Lord, God Most High, who became for our sakes God most lowly? We are reminded of the words of Saint Ignatius Loyola: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I do for Christ?”

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Heart of the Law

Jesus takes us to the very heart of the Law, the substance on which all other laws depend, namely love of God and love of neighbor. And if one does not keep these two commandments, then all the other laws have no meaning. 

If we do keep these two commandments, loving God alone above all else and our neighbor as ourselves, we will be keeping all the Law.

Whatever we do, if to the question - "Is it based on love of God and love of neighbor?" - we can answer, "Yes," then we can be assured that our life has meaning because it respects love, the root of all human life.

Meditation by Father Aquinas.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

All Souls Day

The month of November is dedicated to special prayer for the faithful departed. On All Souls Day we processed through the cloisters in the predawn darkness. We paused in the south cloister chanting psalms as the Abbot and his assistants went into the cemetery to sprinkle the graves of our deceased brethren with holy water. The Abbot reminded us as we began the Liturgy that we pray for the dead because we "need to." For the departed "life is changed, not ended;" they have entered the great mystery of Christ's resurrection. As we beg the Lord in prayer to draw all the faithful departed to himself, we remember our love for them and our connectedness with all those who have gone before us in faith.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Beatitude

The Beatitudes are not a checklist for the holy, but a call to imitate the wounded Christ and allow him to reform our hearts so that they conform to his broken heart. This is the grace of Beatitude - a way to imitate Christ Jesus, who is all mercy, all peace, all mourning turned to joy, a way to imitate him in whom we are becoming Beatitude. We are invited to take on the mind of Christ in our embrace of our own poverty and neediness and inadequacy. The saints are here to remind us, “Don’t be afraid. It’s not about you. It’s about him; let him transform you.”

Jesus invites us to step into the poverty and helplessness we need no longer fear and flee or deny - because we will find him and our brothers and sisters down there. What Jesus enumerates are attitudes and ways of being that come from relationship - with him and with one another - attitudes arrived at by the hard road of humility, vulnerability and doing the opposite of what my first snarky reaction might be. For when I finally recognize how poor and mercy-hungry I am, maybe, just maybe I begin to notice that I am not alone, that others are needy like me - they need mercy and peace like me. Then hopefully, my heart gets broken open.

In the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus this morning, a revolution is happening, with vulnerability at the center. Inadequacy, vulnerability are the key to Beatitude, the source of all that gives us life and joy, love, belonging and connectedness. For when I am vulnerable, I realize that I desperately need God; I realize that I desperately need others. I come to understand that I am imperfect, inadequate and on the way along with my brothers and sisters, and so I am connected.* It is this loving connectivity that is true Beatitude. To be poor, merciful, to mourn over all the tragedy that surrounds us, to allow ourselves to be rejected for doing the right thing - this was Jesus’ way. It is to be our way, as it was for all the saints. But bear in mind, when you love like this you bleed like Jesus did and your robes get stained but absolutely radiant.

Our way is imitation of Christ, not dumb impersonation, but likeness that will lead to transformation. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I that live, but the wounded Christ living in me; the life I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. This is what the saints wanted with all their hearts, what Jesus longs for - for each of us - this deep inter-subjectivity and connectivity. And so, because he loves the humble beauty of our inadequacy, our need of him, he comes to abide with us in Holy Communion. Let us open to him.

*See Jamie Arpin-Ricci on Brené Brown in Huffington Post blog for April 8, 2015.