Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Prodigal Son - 3

So, two lost sons learning how to return home, learning how to love - one son learning how to love responsibly, the other son learning how to let himself be loved. Most importantly both must learn what it means to be a son - to learn love and respect and responsibility. This is after all what it means for each of us to be children of the God who is love beyond measure - we must relish all the love lavished upon us and love in return. 

We remember some years ago chatting with a wizened old missionary; he had worked for years in Belize. On the road constantly in his dilapidated jeep; numerous Masses at different mission stations all day on a Sunday and often having to transport sick Mayan children to the hospital in the middle of the night during the week. He had so many stories; finally, he smiled and said, “You know, there's one thing Saint Paul didn’t say about love - it’s also very often quite inconvenient!”

What could we add from our own experience? Love is self-forgetful; love is always toward the other. Love by its nature longs to express itself; it is not neat and tidy; it cannot be contained. What is more, love longs to be loved in return. Love is not self-sufficient but in need of the other. When we love, we are vulnerable, easily hurt, easily elated. How amazing then that God is love.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The Prodigal Son - 2

A pause. Enter the sweaty, hardworking son. The rage and jealousy, and righteous anger are almost palpable. He is full of kid’s justice - what we all said as children - "Dad, that’s not fair!” How it cut our parents to the quick. Now the younger son certainly needed to learn that love entails responsibility. But this older son will have to learn that dutiful love must always be accompanied by mercy. And if we'd been around a couple of days earlier, we might have heard a discussion between this guy and his wife concerning their son. It went something like this - “He’s being irresponsible. I expect more of him. He shouldn’t forget; he should know better.” His wife’s response - “Honey, take it easy, he’s only five years old.”

Imagine how hard he is on himself when he makes a mistake – “I should have known better.” Or when something goes wrong – "I got what I deserved.” For weeks since his brother left, he’s been nursing a grudge as big as Gibraltar, going off to work each morning with a giant chip on his shoulder. He’s very good at balancing the books. He’s soon to be appearing in another parable, where we’ll hear him say - “Pay me what you owe!” Confident in his dutifulness, and in all he has accomplished; he is the very good, reliable son. 

Now the younger son was right, perhaps he no longer deserves even to be called son. Love alone makes him worthy. But this older son is even more deluded, for he thinks he deserves something because he’s been slaving for his father for years. But he’s not a slave but a son like his brother. But somehow he feels he has to defend his father’s rights and reputation. He’s embarrassed at the weakness that his Father reveals in such extravagant love. He can’t deal with it. “The fatted calf? C’mon.”

And then there’s this little phrase, almost too painful to hear – “Why you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends.” The father might have added - “You never asked me; I’d give you anything. Please tell me what you want.” This guy’s been so busy doing the right thing, he’s lost sight of his deepest desires (there’s true blindness for you.) He’s totally clueless, has no sense of all the love that’s available for him. He too is lost, really desperate, though he doesn’t know it yet. But let’s not be too hard on him; his father’s certainly not. “Please, please come in,” he says. “You are always with me. All I have is yours.” (Such an incredibly beautiful phrase that really sums up the whole parable.) Perhaps this older son will learn love in a new key today; learn that love is extravagant, even reckless - far beyond the bounds of justice and our own too small equations.

Photograph by Brother Brian.


Monday, February 26, 2018

The Prodigal Son - 1

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This is a story we know so well, the story of the foolish extravagance of the Father’s love - the story of the Father who loved too much.

There was a very prosperous man with two sons so the story begins. Soon we see the younger coming to his father with a misguided request. “Please give me my share. I want what’s coming to me. I’ve got to get out of here. This farm’s too small for me. I’ve got some big plans.” It’s so clear he’s making a really dumb move. He’s clearly been loved, perhaps to excess, even spoiled. He’s probably experienced his father’s love repeatedly, and he’s been empowered by that love, so freely given. The boy is self-assured but blinded to love’s responsibilities. He trusts in a father who’s probably indulged him and trusted his initiative in the past. Imagine the love that allows this boy to take such a risk- even one as hair-brained as this one. And so he’s off with his share of the estate- in Hebrew law, one-third of the estate since he is the younger son. It’s an incredibly large amount of money. He’s full of ideas, big plans. And he wastes it all.

Now we hear that phrase - “dissolute living” - everything gone; he’s spent it all, every last tiny coin. All squandered. What’s worse, there’s a famine. It’s very bleak. And then, praise God, the boy gets desperate. O blessed desperation! Jesus tells us he's happy to feed pigs. Pigs! And so he makes himself totally unclean! Notice him, starving yet somehow too embarrassed even to snack on a few husks. And then this odd phrase: “No one made a move to give him anything.” Is he ever hungry, starving; but even more, it seems, he is longing for someone to notice; he’s yearning to be loved back to life. “No one made a move to give him anything.”

And then he has a new, brilliant idea. We might call it creative humility. “I need only be a servant, and then I won’t go hungry. I don’t deserve anything. I have sinned, messed up totally, but I will return. How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough.” See the exquisite freedom of those who can recall ever so slightly that they are loved, they have experienced themselves as beloved; see the confidence that undergirds a change of heart. “Yes, I will arise and return to my father.”

And then all mercy, the father’s joy, his dear old face buried in his son’s unwashed neck. He’ll hear none of the boy’s protestations, or if he does, he responds only with extravagant love. The son wants to be treated as a slave but instead, he will be treated as an honored guest - as the son he never ceased to be. “I just love you so much, and I am so happy to have you home with me again.”

Sunday, February 25, 2018

This Morning


Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them;
from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Mark 9

This morning the Father’s voice is heard on the mountaintop as Jesus is transfigured. His disciples gaze upon the blazing beauty of their Lord, a beauty previously hidden from them. And we eavesdrop, as the Father names his Son beloved. Baptized into Christ, we have been baptized into this belovedness. This is our blessed truth, our indelible dignity with Jesus, in Him, through Him. We hear today with Jesus the voice of the Father’s eternal love and good pleasure, the pleasure of the Father in the Son with the Spirit. This is our truth, we are beloved in Him. Far beyond our foolishness and frailty and sins and tendencies toward sin, our belovedness in Christ is a dazzling reality that nothing can eclipse. Nothing can separate us from the Father's love. As Jesus prepares for his self-offering on the altar of the cross, we are given a glimpse of his resurrected radiance, the radiance of the Father's love for his beloved Son which is ours in Him.

photograph by Brother Jonah

Friday, February 23, 2018

An Understanding

I understood Christ's passion as the greatest and overwhelming pain. And yet it was revealed to me in an instant, and it quickly became a consolation. For our good Lord would not have the soul frightened by this ugly sight...because of the tender love which our good Lord has for all who will be saved, he comforts readily and sweetly, meaning this: It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and every kind of thing will be well. These words were revealed most tenderly, showing no kind of blame to me or anyone... Julian of Norwich

Taught so well and so often that difficult was better - no guts, no glory; no pain, no gain - the readiness of Christ's forgiveness may embarrass us. Like Saint Peter when Jesus wants to wash his feet, the sense of Jesus' condescension is disorienting. But his passion is all love and mercy. This is what Julian of Norwich will name in another passage as Jesus' "courtesy."  We are unworthy; his love alone makes us worthy.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Small

Ordinariness is where the Lord most always comes to meet us. God in Christ has come to be ordinary. Why else would he choose to be a child, why else a carpenter and a wandering teacher? Why else allow himself to be done in by thugs and jealous bureaucrats? Why else choose to be hidden in a morsel of bread on the altar? The ordinary is where God encounters us. God loves what is small and ordinary.

In the words of Luis Maria Martinez, “The divine Word belittled himself and he has remained pledged to smallness…he loves smallness…Jesus seeks smallness because he knows very well that there is nothing so truly great upon earth as that which is insignificant…small is the manger, small is the boat, narrow is the cross…He clothes the small with the immensity of his love, and to the little ones he entrusts great missions…” 

Vintage photograph of Father Adrian and Brother William in the early days at Trappist Preserves.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Mind of Christ

Today the Church presents us with a very short but rich version of Jesus’ sojourn in the desert. He has just been baptized, and with the impulse of the Spirit, his Father has sent him into the desert. In the silence, Jesus can turn over and over in his mind the words his Father had pronounced with such solemnity: “You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.” These words are the treasure that Jesus will hold fast these forty days, nourishing him like no bread could do. Jesus wants us to understand that these words are intended for us as well, who by the Spirit have been baptized into him. For the Father speaks to us as he did to Jesus: “You are my beloved sons and daughters; with you, I am well pleased in my Son, Jesus Christ.” 

The reality of the desert also includes the obstacles that Jesus faced, some of which we will also face this Lent. First, there were the needs of his body. Jesus, like us, was flesh and blood, and being in the desert for forty days certainly tested his physical endurance. Second, there was the presence of Satan, the same evil spirit that had hounded the People of God from the beginning. He has not gone away but seeks every chance to deceive us. Third, there were wild beasts, those irrational forces that permeate our world, bringing new forms of hatred and violence. Finally, there was the clear awareness of the risk he was taking. Jesus would not have us be ignorant of these obstacles; truly we cannot have the mind of Christ without trials. 

And to understand the mind of Christ we must embrace the urgency of his mission. If the Spirit has brought Jesus into the desert to ponder his Father’s words, he will bring him back from the desert to announce that the “time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel.” At the beginning of another Lenten season, the Church wants us to hear Jesus’ words and to change our minds from what is deceitful, away from those beasts lurking in the hidden parts of our hearts. 

Excerpts from Father Vincent's Homily for the First Sunday of Lent.

Friday, February 16, 2018

His Compassion

At the sight of the crowds, Jesus' heart is moved with pity. This is literally in Greek his inward parts, the guts. With every fiber of his flesh and blood and divinity, Jesus expresses this compassion that God feels for us. Our sufferings, and pains and the trap of our sinfulness wrench Jesus’ guts, he feels it all in his innards - a “visceral” love. Jesus is moved; he is the mercy of God enfleshed. And this mercy gushes forth from his heart; he can’t hold it back; his mercy expresses itself as he cures “every disease and illness.” And even now his heart is brimming over with tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy for us, because, he sees that we are “troubled and abandoned.” Jesus sees into our hearts, knows all the stories we are, the stories we bring. He sees our confusion, pain, and incompleteness, our sinfulness, and his heart is magnetized by our need for him. 

Photograph of the lancet window in the transept of the Abbey church by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ashes



In his Confessions, Saint Augustine will say to God: “You were within me and I was outside of myself, and I searched for you in that exterior world.” How often is our treasure in that “exterior world?”

Have you ever had the sense that you just are not good enough? Have you ever spent time comparing yourself to others? Have you ever spoken or acted in a particular way in order to get someone’s approval? How much of your sense of self-worth or value is tied to what others say or think about you? Have you ever tried to prove yourself by working harder and longer? Have you ever put up a good front, pretending to be someone you were not, just so you would fit in and be accepted? If you recognize any of these attitudes in your life, then you probably know what it is like to search “in that exterior world.”

Searching in that exterior world can be risky and heart-wrenching because you will eventually realize, as Augustine did, that you are not who you thought you were. This is who I thought I was and wanted to be. This is the recognition, praise, and approval I have longed for and searched for. And yet, it is not really me. As painful and humbling as such an experience can be, it is also a grace-filled experience.  Such experiences are opportunities to discover that who we are in God - and not in the eyes, opinions or praises of others - is who we most truly are. Such experiences can become the first step in our journey home, home to our true self. This is what Lent is really all about.

Lent is not a journey from bad to good or from sinner to saint. It is the journey of coming to ourselves and returning home to who we really are. And so we all need to be careful that the very things we choose to give up or take on or do for Lent, don’t become our Lenten treasures to which we give our hearts. Let us never forget that our practices and disciplines are fundamentally about teaching and helping us to give our hearts to God and to each other. They are not the means of gaining God’s acceptance, approval or love, for we cannot gain these things. We can only accept and receive them. God’s love and acceptance is already ours or we would not exist.

My brothers and sisters, where we begin our Lenten journey is not as important as where it takes us. In the same way, what we give up, take on, or do for Lent is not as important as what those things do for us. May we all come to the end of Lent with completely empty hands. Empty because we have learned throughout the course of Lent to open ourselves more and more to the completely free gift of God’s unqualified love, approval and acceptance. 

Reflection by Abbot Damian.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Mercy

To receive mercy, to be receptive to the mercy Jesus longs to lavish upon us, we must know our need; we have to be satisfied to be somehow inefficient, to do all we can to be attentive but most of all to depend totally on Christ’s kind favor; simply depend on and trust in his gracious mercy and loving-kindness. Christ only wants our weakness, frail flesh where he can dwell. Christ Jesus longs to take our flesh to himself as he did in Mary's womb. There He embraced our reality, our story, took it to himself - the utter inefficiency of our ordinariness. We can be receptive to his compassion if we dare embrace our incompleteness.

God’s compassion for us, will lead him straight to the cross. He submits because he trusts that he is the Beloved of the Father. Like us, with us, for us, it is he himself who will be “harassed and torn apart.” There suspended on the cross, bullied and hounded, his heart will finally be torn open so that an unending torrent of compassion may gush upon us, heal and anoint us.  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

A Leper

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus dares to touch an unclean leper; he stretches out his hand to him, as he will on the cross, and he heals him. The compassion of God has invaded the earth; the kingdom is happening in and through Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus proclaims and enacts the kingdom, with compassion and healing down to his very fingertips. Jesus restores this man to family, kinsfolk, and friends. He restores him to connectivity and relationship. He no longer needs to be isolated or shunned. Compassion will not allow that. Such is the truth of our belovedness in Christ - we all belong to God and to one another; no one is to be excluded or isolated. Jesus enacts what he will pray for, what he will die for - that all may be one in love and in compassion. This is the costly, exquisitely compassionate way to be kingdom.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection with thanks to Father Isaac.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

His Notice

His disciples answered him, “Where can anyone get enough bread
to satisfy them here in this deserted place?”
Still he asked them, “How many loaves do you have?”
They replied, “Seven.”
He ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground.
Then, taking the seven loaves he gave thanks, broke them,
and gave them to his disciples to distribute,
and they distributed them to the crowd.
They also had a few fish.
He said the blessing over them
and ordered them distributed also.
They ate and were satisfied.
They picked up the fragments left over–seven baskets.
There were about four thousand people. Mark 8


Jesus notices our hunger and longs to give us what we need. We can tell him what we want. Always attentive to our desperation, he longs to fill us with himself. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Desperate

A Syrophoenician woman will interrupt Jesus this morning. She’s an outsider on two counts: a non-Jew and a woman now alone with a man.*  And she knows that she of all people has no right to make demands on Jesus, so she does what she has to do- she falls at his feet, and she begs. She’s got nothing to lose; she’s lost it all already, she’s desperate, her life is in shambles.

Jesus seems uninterested and insists that he has come only for the children of Israel, not for dogs. She is undaunted by his very blunt metaphor.

“Fine, then, call me a dog if you want. But even dogs get the scraps. Please, Lord, give me a scrap, just a scrap of your mercy.”

Jesus is outdone by her forthrightness, won over; his heart stirred by her anguish and her need. He is transformed in the encounter. And he reveals himself as amazingly, humanly relational.

What do you want? Perhaps the message this morning is to take this woman’s lead and be a bit insistent, even desperate. Jesus is never ever unaffected or unresponsive.

* See Donahue & Harrington, Sacra Pagina: Mark, p. 237.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Paradise

Here is Saint Bernard’s description of the “claustral paradise” 

“The monastery is truly a paradise, a region fortified with the rampart of discipline. It is a glorious thing to have men living together in the same house, following the same way of life. How good and pleasant it is when brothers live in unity. You will see one of them weeping for his sins, another rejoicing in the praise of God, another tending the needs of all, and another giving instruction to the rest. Here is one who is at prayer, another at reading. Here is one who is compassionate and another who inflicts penalties for sins. This one is aflame with love and that one is valiant in humility. This one remains humble when everything goes well and the other one does not lose his nerve in difficulties. This one works very hard in active tasks while the other finds quiet in the practice of contemplation.”

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpt from Saint Bernard's Sermon: in Div 42.4.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

To Him

Day after day atrocities beyond imagining all over the world. And so again this morning, every morning, we bring each other, we bring the world in its suffering and despondency and seeming hopelessness to Christ, longing for the intrusion of his grace, longing for his touch. Like all those who come to the door in this morning’s Gospel, we come to the door of his wounded, open heart seeking refuge, healing, true peace. To whom else shall we go? Impeded, and broken like Job, perhaps even sometimes on the verge of giving up hope, not knowing how to speak our need and real longing, and perhaps now inured to tragedy, still, we come back to this church in hope; we close our eyes, open our hearts and pour them out to him.

Christ Jesus assures us that he hears, he understands; that he is with us, he himself praying, articulating our desire in words beyond words. This is what our prayer is best of all: our desire groaned by Jesus for us, within us. It is this very groaning of God in Christ that brings healing to our world. We go to him, we accompany one another. We never go to him alone. He who is most kind Physician begs us to open ourselves to him. He longs to meet us at the door of our sorrow.

Christ Crucified, Diego Velázquez, 1632, 98 in × 67 in, oil on canvas, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Our Seniors

By the example of their faithfulness in prayer and generosity at work, by their kindness and wise admonitions, our senior monks teach us wisdom. Here we see from top to bottom Brother Matthew Joseph, Brother Jerome, Brother Roger, Father Patrick, Father Matthew, Brother Robert and Brother Bernard.








Friday, February 2, 2018

Presentation of the Child


When Mary and Joseph brought the Child Jesus into the Temple, Simeon held out his arms to receive him. As Ruth Burrows describes the moment: “An old man stretches out for the Child; the Child comes to him like a bird to its nest.” I think that is a wonderful image! “An old man stretches out for the Child; the Child comes to him like a bird to its nest.” (At the end of the Gospel, it seems that their roles will be reversed: it will be Christ with arms outstretched on the Cross to receive Simeon and all of us into the Kingdom of his Father.)

But here this morning, at the Presentation of the Lord, here is a picture of what can be, of what should be. “He always comes to waiting arms.” Arms outstretched to him is something we have all done, especially in times of need or distress, of desolation and uncertainty, and in moments of great desire, gratitude and joy.

Yet even our reaching out to the One who comes to save us is itself his gift. It doesn’t begin with us, for it is he who first moves our hearts, quickens our hopes and expectation, and opens our eyes to recognize his sudden entrance into our lives, our ordinary and incomplete lives which he makes the privileged place of encounter with God. “Suddenly the Lord whom we seek comes to the temple.” To waiting arms “he comes like a bird to its nest.” 

Today, also known as Candlemas, Jesus comes to us as light. Let us ask him for the courage and desire to extricate ourselves from all that enmeshes us, from all our inner shadows. Let us ask him to show us how our arms are kept back from stretching towards him. Let us begin all over again to live for him - arms outstretched and a candle in our hand!

Today we receive a candle, symbol of “Christ our Light.” Let us receive it today with great faith and ask Christ with our heart’s strength to enkindle a fire of love within us. Just as it is the nature of a candle to consume itself as it burns, so let us hold back nothing of ourselves for ourselves, but spend ourselves for the Lord and his friends—just as he did for us.

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. Meditation by Father Dominic