Friday, February 12, 2016

Mercy in Lent

During dinner in the monastic refectory on Ash Wednesday, we listened to a reading of Pope Francis’ Lenten Address. The Holy Father reminds us that love alone is the answer to our “yearning for infinite happiness." And so we must be vigilant “to open the doors of our hearts to Christ who knocks on them in the poor."

Through acts of mercy and charity we touch “the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering." In the corporal works of mercy we touch Christ in those “who need to be fed, clothed, sheltered, visited.” And in “the spiritual works of mercy - counsel, instruction, forgiveness, admonishment and prayer,” we care for Christ as well. Both the corporal and spiritual works of mercy are essential for us as Christians.

As we reach out to those who are poor and suffering in our midst, we may come to understand that as sinners we are all poor and desperately in need of the mercy of Christ.

Photo by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday


A priest was talking to a friend. He told her that he found himself working really hard to always get it right, to have the correct answer for everyone, to always know what to do, to speak the right words, to be strong and in control, to accomplish what he set out to do with perfection. On and on he went describing the expectations he had for himself. And finally he said with a bit of exasperation, “It’s not working; I can’t hold it all together; Things aren’t turning out as I planned.” 

When his friend stopped laughing, she said, “Well, welcome to the human race. Who do you think you are?” She could just as well have said, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” He finally realized that somewhere along the way he had forgotten his dustiness. He had forgotten his mortality; that he is human and a creation of God. To hear these words and remember our dustiness and mortality is the first step in healing the many ways our lives become distorted and disrupted. It is the beginning of the reordering of our lives and re-establishing ourselves in Christ. 
           
Whether it is fear, arrogance, pride or the illusions of success and accomplishment; we often forget that we are dust and to dust we shall return. When we forget, we may begin practicing our piety before others, hoping to be recognized and praised. Sometimes the other is ourselves and our own self-preoccupation, self-monitoring. Merton once referred to the doppelganger, the self who is always looking over own shoulder at what we are doing and how we are doing. Once we have forgotten our own mortality, we have no need for the immortality of God, the immortality offered us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The immortality offered us through the acknowledgment of our own weakness, frailty and sinfulness. Perhaps such forgetfulness is really the birthplace of sin; the distortion of who we really are as beloved sons and daughters of God. 
           
Ash Wednesday interrupts the cycle of forgetfulness. It declares clearly and unambiguously that enough is enough and that each one of us is enough in God’s eyes. And that there is another way. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Photograph by Brother Colombo. Excerpts from  Abbot Damian's Homily for this Ash Wednesday.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Peter

In this morning's Gospel according to Luke, Peter makes his first appearance and states, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." No doubt these words are his spontaneous response to the the miraculous catch of fish, and in time these words will gradually sink in. But the full import of his self-understanding as sinner will hit him with full force only when Jesus looks at him in the courtyard of the High Priest's house. Then come the bitter tears, and gradually Peter comes to understand what love there is in Jesus' willingness to forgive his great betrayal. More and more Peter realizes that it is precisely as a sinner that he can trust in the love of the One who said, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners." It was only in falling so low, that Peter could believe in such love.

The Gospel is not about greater than life-sized heroes. It is about broken men, whose being chosen is unpredictable and unmerited, men so well exemplified by Peter. Indeed each of our vocations is not intended to turn our lives into striving for some unattainable goal of personal perfection, but rather to proclaiming Christ's message by our example of love and service. And so we can make our own those words of Saint Paul, "I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle..But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective." We too are what we are- sinners; but God's grace has not been ineffective in us, nor will it ever be.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, late 17th - early 18th century, Nicholas Dorigny , 1658 – 1746, etching and engraving on paper after a tapestry cartoon by Raphael, 1483 - 1520, Victoria and Albert Museum. Text excerpted from Father Gabriel's homily at this morning's Mass.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Stranger

It is not always easy to recognize Christ in others, especially if we find them difficult or different. And in the Church, even in a monastic community, it is natural for us to gravitate to a smaller group of like-minded people. Jesus threatens the whole matter of community in his first sermon in Nazareth, and it almost gets him killed. He reminds his own people that God’s sense of community is bigger than theirs. He offends them by telling not one but two stories about how God had passed over them in order to minister to strangers- first, the widow from the wrong side of the tracks in Zarephath, and then Naaman the Syrian, who was an officer in the army of Israel’s enemies (Luke 4.21-30.)

Even now the “company of strangers” is a huge issue, as we Americans bitterly debate the question of immigration. And it is a huge issue that threatens to crumble the European Union, as refugees from elsewhere desperately seek to cross national borders. It is a huge issue among people of different faiths, and even among Christians, when controversy surrounds questions such as: “Who’s in? Who’s out? Who belongs? Who’s a misfit, failure or threat?”

It is easy to see the other as stranger, as soon as we do not agree with them, or love different things, or define ourselves by different choices. But it is not a very big step to then begin regarding the stranger as enemy. If we are honest, we are at least a little disturbed or offended when we realize that God actually loves the people we don’t like, that they belong to him just as surely as we do.

Naaman the Syrian and the widow of Zarephath are not simply distant figures that triggered a violent reaction that day in the synagogue, when Jesus was addressing his own people; they have other names in our lives today. The company of strangers is no less uncomfortable or offensive to us. Jesus presents himself in the Gospel as one who cares for the stranger, and he continues to come to us as stranger, reminding us that while he is with us he does not belong to us, but rather we belong to him. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Candles

As The Catechism tells us, the Catholic intuition “creatively combines the divine and the human…spirit and body,” the material and the spiritual. So it is that yesterday on the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord candles were blest, and today candles are used to bless our throats as we pray for the intercession of Saint Blaise. Candles help us to notice the sacred in the ordinary.

In yesterday’s homily Father Dominic reminded us that the candle is an apt symbol of Christ, for as it burns it holds nothing back but spends itself to give us light. The candle is a perfect symbol of Christ’s total self-sacrifice. What is more, Christ invites each of us to give the gift of ourselves for others. We are invited to become like candles, giving off light and warmth and consolation, so as to scatter the darkness of our world and warm hearts with new hope.

Photos by Brother Brian.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Together

The poor Christ is always coming toward us to give himself to us. We never go to him alone, we always go together. And so our life as monks is lived out in community in an ordinariness that is ultimately transformative for each of us from the novitiate until our last moments in the infirmary.

As we persevere in community day in day out, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. For truly we have no other way to discover that we are poor men following the poor Christ. And the deeper our personal awareness of our poverty grows, the more the compassion and mercy of the poor Christ can flow into us, into our community and into the whole Church. 

Postcard from our monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island. Meditation from a Homily by Father Isaac.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Father Robert

We mourn the passing of our dear Father Robert, who died in the Abbey infirmary this morning at about 7:30. He had been ailing for a number of weeks. Father Robert entered the monastery on the 10th of September in 1954. Hardworking, devoted to prayer and a lover of this place, he discharged many duties in his more than sixty-one years of monastic life. Father Robert was responsible for revamping the monastery's Holy Rood Guild in the 1970's. And just before his recent illness, he was Director of Trappist Preserves. He also served as forest manager and farm manager for the Abbey lands. Father Robert was a respected and popular retreat master in the monastery retreat house. He treasured the give-and-take of community living, the commitment to prayer, the intellectual atmosphere and the responsibility of hard work. With characteristic enthusiasm he said that monastic life was "the most fulfilling life" he could imagine. May he rest with Christ in peace.