Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Father Laurence

A preeminent chapter in the history of the Trappist community at St. Joseph's Abbey ended late Friday evening, December 12, 2014, with the passing of our Father Laurence Bourget. Born in Central Falls, Rhode Island, he was thoroughly immersed in Rhode Island's Catholic culture. He entered the Abbey of Our Lady of the Valley, Lonsdale, Rhode Island, in 1933 and, after a fire in 1950 that forced the closure of that monastery, he moved with the rest of the monastic community to St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer. 
Father Laurence pronounced his solemn vows in 1938 and was ordained a priest in 1942. Throughout the span of his long career in monastic life he filled many posts: organist, abbot's secretary, enrollment secretary, choir master, guest master, retreat master, archivist, professor of history, patrology, philosophy and scripture, claustral prior, counselor to the order's Abbot General in Rome for English speaking monasteries in North and South America and English, French, French and English translator at General Chapter meetings.
The last living link to the earliest history of the Trappists in North America, Father Laurence's formative years were cultivated by monastic elders who had lived and prayed in the original 1825 foundation of Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie, Nova Scotia. He was a passionate witness to the cultural richness inherent in the traditions he handed on. In the hearts of the monastic community Father Laurence remains a figure of considerable effect in the history of St. Joseph's Abbey. With gratitude for the gift of his presence among us, the monks commend his soul to your prayers.

Photographs by Brother Colombo Weber.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Our Lady of Guadalupe

At Tepeyac the Virgin Mary depicts herself as a pregnant, olive-skinned Indian maiden. Like the Son she carries in her womb, she identifies herself with the little ones. She imagines herself as one of them.

On an icy cold day in December of 1531, she promises Juan Diego that he will find many flowers blossoming on the hilltop where he first met her. He does as she says and gathers roses, lilies, carnations, iris, fragrant jasmine blossoms, yellow gorse and tiny violets. The Virgin arranges them all in the fold of Juan’s coarse cactus fiber tilma.

When they fall to the floor before the dumbfounded bishop in Mexico City, he sees Our Blessed Lady’s lovely handiwork. She has painted her self-portrait with spring blossoms in winter.

Jesus and his dear Mother long to be with us; and even now they are doing everything, anything to get our attention. Very often perhaps we have ignored His mercy-laden advances; or perhaps forgotten her promise and desire to console and protect us. No regrets, for once again Mercy and His Mother come to us like spring in the midst of winter.

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?
from Our Lady's  words to Saint Juan Diego.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Work of our Hands

Since we live by the work of our hands,  we were grateful to learn that our new monastic product, Spencer Trappist Ale, was just named one of the best 25 beers of the year by Draft Magazine.  Here is the link:

Photo by Brother Daniel.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Immaculate Conception

You have heard, O Virgin,  that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
   The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.
   Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.
   Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.
   Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word. 

Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Excerpt from a homily In Praise of the Virgin Mother by our Cistercian Father, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Second Sunday of Advent

Probably most of us were baptized when we were infants, and we were not aware of what was being done for us. But God sees into our hearts. And it is up to each of us now to make a real investment in our own baptism, to internalize it and to give it a value for ourselves. Then it will become for us, in the words of today's Gospel, "a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins." And it is through this forgiveness of sins that each of us will be prepared for the Birthday of the Messiah, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Excerpts from Father Aquinas' homily. Photographs by Father Emmanuel.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Witness and Communion

    Witness and communion, are well described in St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians:  In Christ Jesus … you were enriched in every way [by the Father], with all discourse and knowledge, as the testimony to Christ was confirmed among you, so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.  This means that the fullness of charisms has been poured out upon us by the Holy Spirit, and that there is nothing God could have done for us that he has not done by giving us Christ and by rooting our lives in Christ’s own life.  Both the Father and the world should look at the faithful monk and see nothing but Christ: this is what it means to bear living witness.  The unimaginable fidelity and goodness of God have taken the form of his bringing us into deepest communion with the beloved Son, truest koinonia, that is, intimate sharing of the divine life and mystery, as if it were by nature our own!  Such intimacy in love may indeed be said to constitute, in a certain way, the vision of God—seeing God in the experience of the living Christ.  In Christ, we have seen God’s Face and we have been saved!  Such union with the Beloved and vision of him is the end of all contemplation and the utmost fulfillment of the monastic calling.  Through word, sacrament, and prayer God has rooted us in Christ as our very Ground of Being, and the prayer typical of this state could be nothing other than thanksgiving and praise.
    Like calls out unto like, and only if we become humble through conversion, watchful through keeping vigil, loving through service, and witnesses of Christ’s splendor through our whole lives, will we be able to embrace as we ought, at Christmas, God in his form of humiliation as the Babe of Bethlehem.

Photographs of our first snow by Brother Casimir. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014


With all his being the monk must try not to wander away from God through infidelity, and fall back into the condition of hardness of heart out of which God’s grace had brought him.  He must take very seriously his new identity as servant of God, put in charge of a particular work within Christ’s household.  His humble, obedient service out of love must embody the selfless goodness of the physically absent Master, who could return at any moment.  The practice of vigilance is, therefore, essential to a person who is not living for himself or by his own tastes and criteria, but whose joy and fulfillment in life consist in being faithful to the will of the One who has done so much for him, the Lord who has trusted him to care for what is most precious to God’s Heart.  The monk owes such service and vigilance not only to the Lord himself, but to the Lord’s Bride, the Church.  The monk keeps vigil both figuratively and literally, says John Paul II, because for him “eschatological expectation becomes mission, so that the Kingdom may become ever more fully established here and now” (Vita consecrata, 27).  The monk who shuns the practice of vigilance does so at his own peril.  He runs the risk of turning in upon himself and becoming enslaved to desires that are far below the delight God promises.  But the vigilant monk again echoes Isaiah: My soul yearns for you in the night, my spirit within me earnestly seeks you (26:9).  This is what a loving heart is always doing: searching for the Beloved in the night.
St. Benedict wishes that his monks should keep protracted vigil during the hours of the night, while the rest of the world sleeps.  It is as if an essential part of the monk’s calling—something he owes both the Church and the world—is this generous watchfulness in prayer.  His sluggish lower nature may not at all like it, but he is appointed to act as a link of love between the slumbering world and the ever-wakeful tenderness of God.  The monk is called to be the willing vehicle for God’s tender mercy traveling through the darkness.  Could it be that my fidelity in keeping vigil in the night here at Spencer could, by virtue of the circulation of graces in the Mystical Body of Christ, bring relief from terror to one little girl in Syria or Iraq tonight?  Our faith tells me it’s in my power to have this effect, or rather in the power of Christ who dwells within me.  In this aspect of monastic life, the prayer of waiting without idols is typical.  Christ is experienced as the ever-present Teacher who through lectio, fraternal relationships, and in the depths of the heart instructs the monk and draws him ever more closely to his own Heart.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon