Saturday, March 25, 2017

Annunciation

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–
but who was God.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1438-47, fresco, 230 x 321 cm, Convent of San Marco, Florence. Lines from the poem Annunciation by Denise Levertov.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Revelations?

Moments of temptation are revelatoryof who we are and of what’s going on inside us. There is so much we are meant to learn from them; we grow by them.  Like Jesus in the desert, in struggling with our temptations we begin to know ourselves not only as weak but also filled with and led by the Spirit. The temptations by the devil called forth in Jesus the confirmation of his baptismal identity, and it was that identity by which he overcame the temptations. The remarkable thing is that Jesus ended up knowing and experiencing the truth about himself (his sonship, his belovedness, and his Father’s pleasure) in a confirmatory way precisely in response to temptation. And this is what prepared him to then go on to speak to the people of Nazareth immediately afterwards. The same is true for us. Our struggle with temptations (regardless of whether we are successful or not in resisting them at the moment) teaches us volumes about ourselves, and confirms our deepest identity and relationship with God, even if through weakness we momentarily give in to them. (That, after all, is what compunction is about.) Perhaps we do better to think of temptations not as judgments but as revelations.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Temptation

The good news is that our temptations, struggles, and “wilderness experiences” offer an opportunity for us to become more whole, more integrated, more fully ourselves, because they teach us about ourselves, they gradually form our self-understanding, and they even return us to ourselves. That is what they did for Jesus, and that is what they can do for us. The desert monks certainly saw it this way. Saint Antony the Great, the father of monasticism, goes so far as to say: “Without temptation no one can be saved.”
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fire at Our Lady of the Valley


This is a day of remembrance for our community. For on 21 March 1950, the Feast of Saint Benedict, the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Lonsdale, Rhode Island was ravaged by a devastating fire. The original wing was destroyed; the church was rendered structurally unsound and would have to be demolished. The community of 140 monks was homeless.

Friends and neighbors of the monastery look on
as the flèche goes up in flames.
laybrother assists the firefighters.

Well before the fire the monks had been searching for a new location that would insure their solitude and economic stability, since the population in the area around the monastery had increased considerably. And by 1949 the community purchased a large agricultural property, Alta Crest Farms in Spencer, Massachusetts. The 1950 fire merely accelerated the community's projected move. In God's providence the end of one story became the seed for a new one.

We dare not compare the plight of a few monks with the trauma of so many homeless people, especially refugees in the Middle East. Nonetheless it is good for us to open our hearts in prayer for them, recalling that we monks were once homeless as well.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Joseph

There is no doubt that the Joseph to whom the Savior's mother was betrothed was a good and faithful man. In him the Lord found a man after his own heart to whom he could safely confide his most holy and secret design. To him he revealed the unfathomable, hidden depths of his wisdom and granted him knowledge of that mystery which was known to none of the princes of this world. In a word that which many kings and prophets had longed to see and had not seen, to hear and had not heard-that was granted to Joseph.

Saint Joseph was a man of faith and faithfulness. He trusted God; he trusted Mary. Living in close union with Christ Jesus and Our Lady in their home at Nazareth, with Mary he loved the person of Christ most tenderly. Joseph most faithfully cared for Mary and their Son in a hidden workaday life that was undoubtedly “ordinary, obscure and laborious.”

 Fragment of a wooden  carving of Saint  Joseph in one of the corners of the Abbey. Lins from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Woman of Samaria

A number of biblical scholars have suggested that the Samaritan woman is a symbol of her people with whom Jesus wishes to enter into a relationship as Bridegroom and Messiah. Seen from this perspective, a marvelous dialogue unfolds between Jesus and his potential bride-to-be. And it is appropriate that he would speak of a “gift” to show the seriousness of his intent. Jesus’ gift is not gold or silver but “living water” that wells up to eternal life.

The Samaritan woman asks Jesus to give her this living water. But before Jesus can give her this gift, she must be ready to receive it. So Jesus tells her to go and bring before him the main obstacle, her husband. She must bring before him her principal sin. Jesus wants us to bring him the big things, in which the contradiction between sin and grace is seen by us in all clarity.

The woman hesitantly accepts the Lord’s challenge by confessing a partial truth: “I have no husband.” She has nevertheless taken a new step. Jesus accepts her half-confession. But being Jesus, he looks right through her, sees her whole previous life and tells her so. He wants candor on both sides; he needs a full confession.

“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet”, she says; meaning, you look right through me; you see what I am and what I was.  Jesus has not given her the least reproach. He does not ask for anything more. Freed now from sin, she goes immediately to the essential and asks about worship. How am I to pray? She looks for guidance, she says to Jesus “I know that the Messiah is coming, the one called the Christ; when he comes he will tell us everything.” With this open, straightforward confession of faith, the woman creates a space for the Lord to disclose himself to her with a fullness and clarity not yet given to anyone up to this point in John’s Gospel: “I who speak to you am he.”

With this she is prepared for mission, to go forth and bear spiritual children for the Lord. But the Wedding Day as well as the handing over the promised gift is yet to come. We will celebrate it in a few weeks in the events of Holy Week, when Jesus will make the ultimate sacrifice in undergoing the humiliation of the Cross, that from his pierced side living water may flow, slaking the thirst of all who believe in him and washing away all their sins. Here on the Cross Jesus will be united to his Bride, with whom he will dwell in all eternity.

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319)Christ and the Samaritan Woman, 1310-1311, tempera and gold on poplar panel, 17 x 18 1/8 in., Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Third Sunday of Lent.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Lost in Love

In his great love for us, Jesus became the Lost Son. Coming down to us from his heavenly home, from his Father's house, he squandered himself for our sake, even unto death, death on a cross. But God exalted him, raised him up. And so we rejoice in Jesus crucified and risen, for baptized into Christ, we too are God's beloved sons and daughters. Jesus has brought us all back to our Father's embrace.

Stubborn in our sinful pride, we may forget who we are, to whom we belong. But the Father reminds us over and over, "All I have is yours." In Christ Jesus wounded and risen for our sake, all the Father has is ours. Jesus is ours. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

With Patrick


Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

In the midst of our Lenten observance we pause to remember and celebrate Saint Patrick. The words of his own prayer called the Lorica or Breastplate remind us where we can find Christ Jesus from moment to moment.

Excerpts from The Breastplate of Saint Patrick with photos of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Love Unknown

My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me.
Love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I that for my sake,
oh, who am I that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?


He came from heaven’s throne
salvation to bestow;
but they refused, and none
the longed-for Christ would know.
This is my friend, my friend indeed,
this is my friend, my friend indeed,
who at my need, his life did spend.


Photograph by Brother Brian. Text from our Lauds hymn this morning, Love Unknown by John Ireland.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Consoled

Faced with various challenges and difficulties, we were consoled this morning during Vigils as we recited these words from Psalm 72: 

Yet I was always in your presence;
you were holding me by my right hand.
You will guide me by your counsel
and so you will lead me to glory.

What else have I in heaven but you?
Apart from you I want nothing on earth.
My body and my heart faint for joy;
God is my possession for ever.


O Lord, teach me to love you more and more with my whole heart and all my energy. Let me ever look toward you, that I may radiate your peace.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Transfigurations

Sometimes we are so bogged down with the distractions and preoccupations of daily life that we miss the everyday transfigurations that are waiting for us. They are not dramatic and we do not have to climb a mountain to experience them. We encounter them in the quiet moments of prayer. When reading or listening to the Scriptures something jumps out at us and commands our attention. When we are captivated by the beauty in creation, awestruck by a sunset, moved to tears by a passionate piece of music or the radiant smile of a friend, Christ is in all of these experiences and many more that we take for granted. 

We all have our mountaintop experiences, even if they are brief and fleeting and we should cherish them. Being on the mountain is a wonderful experience, but Jesus himself did not remain there. He came down to be with the people in their pains and sorrows, in their fears and anxieties, in their neediness and their sins. When we come back down the mountain we also return to the ordinariness of daily life. All the same problems, challenges and disappointments are there but in some way changed. We begin to recognize, little by little, the things that are really important in life. We are freer to experience God’s presence in our daily life. The full meaning of a mountain top experience often does not become clear until we return to the ordinary.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation excerpted from Father Emmanuel's homily for the Second Sunday of Lent.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Transfigured


Today with Jesus we hear the Father speak to us on the mountaintop, “This is my beloved.”  Belovedness is our name written on God’s heart. We are beloved in Christ. And nothing can separate us from that love. Baptized in Christ, we have been baptized into his belovedness. Still this is an identity that is somehow offered to us over and over, for our choosing, for our believing. When we dare to trust that we are so loved by God, we can go and do likewise. Those who have been amply loved, find it easy to be lovers themselves. Believing in our belovedness, we are transfigured. Let us hear today with Jesus the voice of the Father, and imagine the pleasure of the Father with the Son in the Spirit gazing upon us.

Photograph by Brother Daniel.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

A Merciful Heart

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God. Isaac of Ninevah

Friday, March 10, 2017

Respect

But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, 
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Mt 5


Which of us in anger or frustration has not, at least in our head, used an undesirable name for an opponent? And we sometimes recall with amusement that the epithet, Raqa, means "blockhead." But in God's kingdom there is no place for name-calling. Jesus begs us to respect and reverence one another, no matter what we have suffered at their hands.

Lord Jesus, teach us how to be gentle and accepting, to swallow a bitter remark and instead to give a blessing. 

Photograph of the Abbey scriptorium by Brother Brian.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ask

For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds;
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 
Which one of you would hand his son a stone
when he asked for a loaf of bread,
or a snake when he asked for a fish?
If you then, who are wicked,
know how to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your heavenly Father give good things
to those who ask him. Mt 7


Who have I made God into? Could God be at least as good as my best friend? At least as good as I would be with someone whom I love very much? 

Loving God and Father, help me to trust that you are the giver of all good gifts. Help me to trust in your provident love, your constant care and attention, though often I do not understand your ways.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

His Face

O Christ, on you the many-eyed cherubim are unable to look because of the glory of your countenance, yet out of your love you accepted spittle on your face. Remove the shame from my face, and grant me to have an unashamed face before you at the time of prayer. Isaac of Nineveh

The Savior by El Greco.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Forgiving

"If you forgive men their transgressions,
your heavenly Father will forgive you.
But if you do not forgive men,
neither will your Father forgive your transgressions." Mt 6

Lord Jesus, as you forgave your torturers from the cross, teach me how to forgive. Teach me to desire to forgive, even to desire to desire to forgive from the depths of my heart as you do. Have mercy on me for my hardness of heart.


How gracious is the Lord, and just;
our God has compassion.
The Lord protects the simple hearts;
I was helpless so he saved me. Ps 115


Photograph by Brother Brian.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Consoled

"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened and I will give you rest." So it is that Jesus calls to us; let us not keep our distance. If our sins are countless that is all the more reason for going to him, for we are the kind of people he is calling. ..He is the God of all consolation, of mercy, because unceasingly he consoles and encourages the unfortunate ones and the afflicted, even if they have committed thousands of sins...Let us be content to surrender and go to him and never leave him. Saint John Chrysostom

Photograph by Brother Brian.  

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Tempted

If we look closely at the three temptations recounted by Matthew, we see that in all three the devil seized on the apparent discrepancy between what Jesus knew about himself (that he was the Son of God) and what he was immediately experiencing (the denial of all comfort, the refusal of food and drink, the solitude and abandonment of the desert). “If you are the Son of God,” the tempter says, “then you should not be hungry, you should not be unheeded, you should not be powerless.” At the end of his life, on the Cross, Jesus will again be mocked: “If you are the Son of God, come down and save yourself....”

The first thing we notice is that real weakness is essential to this story, to Jesus’ experience of temptation and to ours. He’s hungry, alone, suffering the human weakness we find in ourselves. He identified, moreover, with that most fundamental purpose we all share as human beings: to seek God, find God, and belong wholly to God. This is what is at stake—for him and for us, in any temptation. But it is hard.

We know personally that in times of temptation we experience our own weakness acutely; it can take us by surprise and thoroughly disconcert us. A good Lent will be full of temptations, and temptation brings us face to face with our weakness like nothing else. From this morning’s Gospel we can be sure that Jesus knows our weakness first hand, and takes his place by our side in every temptation. He is neither ashamed nor disdainful of our weakness. Saint Paul goes so far as to claim that he chose us on account of our weakness, for in our weakness his strength will manifest itself, his grace will bring about new life. It is not an exaggeration to say that our weakness is what God loves most about us. 

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319)The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled), 17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York. Excerpts from Father Dominic's homily for the First Sunday of Lent.



Saturday, March 4, 2017

Sick

The Pharisees and their scribes complained to his disciples, saying,
"Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?"
Jesus said to them in reply,
"Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do.
I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners." Lk 5


It is always sobering to recognize our sinfulness, to realize that we are sick at heart and desperately in need of forgiveness. What a relief to know that Christ Jesus has come to heal us. The sick know their need for God. No wonder that our Cistercian father, William of St. Thierry, will refer to the monastery as giant infirmary, where we sick monks have come for Jesus' therapeutic mercy.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Fasting

Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn
as long as the bridegroom is with them?
The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them,
and then they will fast." Mt 9

Fasting is a spiritual as well as a bodily exercise, meant to reawaken our drowsy hearts. God acts in our lives; all is his grace. But we must do our part. The fasting, almsgiving and prayer of Lent can help to make us “infinitely vulnerable” to the beauty of the world and its suffering, “infinitely vulnerable” to the God who is Love. This is freeing, but it is work, a response of abandonment and of love. 

Photography by Brother Brian. Reflection inspired by Olivier Clément.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Losers

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. Luke 9


Jesus invites us to be losers with him, losing everything to gain everything. He is the everything. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ash Wednesday

Traditionally Lent is a time of renewal and commitment; Committing ourselves to the disciplines and practices that are meant to deepen our personal awareness of the continuing journey of transformation- practices such as prayer, fasting and acts of service. What is critical is that such practices (including receiving ashes) not become merely ritualistic formulas. "It’s Lent and so I’m going to give up this or that and do a bit more of this or that and then feel pretty good about my Lenten discipline and pious practices." 

In today’s gospel Jesus offers us the key to a fruitful Lent. And it is all about letting go of self-consciousness and any sense of our prayer or religious practices as a performance. “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them.” The possibility of prayer as performance, poisoned by self-consciousness, is subtle and pervasive. It can involve wanting to look good before others, or worse yet, wanting to look good to ourselves, a way of holding off neurotic guilt by taking pride in our self-discipline. Jesus’ point is that, however subtly even sub-consciously it happens, when our prayer is in service of our appearance to others or ourselves, then we already have our reward.
True prayer and authentic acts of service are meant to lead us beyond the boundaries of our self-consciousness and self-absorption. It is never keeping one eye on what it looks like; it is never allowing the left hand to know what the right hand is doing. “Whenever you pray, go into your inner room and shut the door." Don’t look behind you, don’t look in the mirror, just shut the door and “pray to your Father in secret.”

Such prayer may sometimes seem like an impossibility. The difficulty may be that we cannot simply let go of self-consciousness by an act of the will or a decision to be undivided. We might sincerely want to get out of our own way, to hand ourselves over in complete simplicity to the loving presence of God. But there always seems to remain a “me” who is trying to hand myself over, a “me” whom I just cannot seem to get behind; a “me” who wants to stay in charge and in control. Lent is a time to begin again; to start over; and to never tire of continually trusting and hoping in the loving transforming goodness of God, no matter what my seeming successes or failures may be. 
Photographs by Brother Brian. Excerpts from  Abbot Damian's Homily for this Ash Wednesday.