Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Light in the Cloister

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

In your light, we see light. 
Ps 36

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Sower

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 10, 2017

Retreat

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

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

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

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mercy

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

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

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

Friday, July 7, 2017

An Infirmary

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

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

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Together

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

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What Perhaps We Monks Can Offer

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

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

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