Thursday, August 18, 2022

Abbey Geese

 

Signaling the end of the summer, flocks of Canadian geese have returned to rest and feed in the Abbey fields on their way north. We are told that since early Roman times, geese have been used in literature and art as symbols of vigilance and divine providence. This is because of the ancient legend of the Capitoline geese who honked their warning and saved Rome from the invasion of the Gauls. As we keep watch in vigils and prayer, the geese are our late August companions.


Photographs of geese in the Abbey fields by Charles O'Connor and Brother Brian.

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Being His Body

 

The Church shares its spiritual riches with its members through its common faith, its sacraments, its Liturgy and worship, its gifts and talents and most of all in charity, the love which makes us one with Christ and one another.

The Communion of Saints represents the notion that all who are in Christ serve one another in love. As Christ’s body, the Church, we are called to communion, holy communion. Our ambition is not to glorify ourselves but to bring others to Christ. For us as monks we are not called to evangelize. Our life itself is our witness. Our prayer, silence, hospitality, charity and our joy will attract others to Christ. That is our ambition. To paraphrase the words of St. Francis of Assisi to his friars: “Preach to the people, but only use words when necessary.”

Initial from an early Cistercian manuscript. Meditation by Father Emmanuel.

Monday, August 15, 2022

On Assumption Day

There is nothing that pleases me more, and nothing that terrifies me more than to preach on the glory of the Virgin Mary. For, see, if I praise her virginity, I see that there are many who have offered themselves as virgins after her. If I preach on her humility, we will find, perhaps, even a few who, taught by her Son, have become meek and humble of heart. If I want to proclaim the greatness of her mercy, there are some also some very merciful men and women. There is, however, one thing in which she does not have someone like her, before or after, and that is her joining the joy of motherhood with the honor of virginity. This is Mary's privilege, and it is not given to another: it is unique, and it is also something that words cannot perfectly describe. Nevertheless, if you pay attention closely, you will find not only this one virtue, but even other singular virtues in Mary, which she only seems to share with others. For can one even compare the purity of the angels to that spotless virginity which was found worthy to become the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit and dwelling place of the Son of God? How great and how precious was her humility, together with such perfect innocence, such wisdom without fault, and such a fullness of grace? How did you obtain such meekness, O Blessed Woman, such great humility? You are indeed worthy, whom the Lord considered carefully, whose beauty the King desired, on whose lap with its sweetest fragrance the eternal Father was brought to rest. Behold, with these acts of devotion we have meditated on your ascension to your Son, and we have followed you as though from a distance, O Blessed Virgin. Let the grace of your mercy, the favor that you found with God, be made known to the world: may your prayers obtain mercy for the condemned, remedy for the sick, strength of heart for the lowly, consolation for the afflicted, aid for those in peril, and freedom for your holy ones. And on this day of celebration and gladness, may Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, through thee, O merciful Queen, pour out the gifts of His grace upon all those who invoke the sweetest name of Mary with praise, for He is the God of all things. 

Fra Angelico, The Dormition and the Assumption of the Virgin, 1424-1434, (detail.) Tempera with oil glazes and gold on panel. The Gardner Museum.  Lines by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Sunday, August 14, 2022

New Beauty, New Fire

 

John the Baptist had promised that Someone would come to reverse things - Someone who would baptize us with fire and water- wash us clean and even burn our sins away. At last, Someone who would restore our lost innocence. That Someone, that Fire is here among us. It is Christ Jesus our Lord. And we hear the echo of the Exsultet. It is after all, what we sing about at the Easter Vigil- ‘the power of this night restores lost innocence, humbles earthly pride.’ Easter night, when the wounded Savior rises in quiet majesty. Someone at last who understands us from the inside and knows our misery. Someone who looks into our hearts, and does not judge by appearances, Christ Jesus our Lord who through his dying and rising has reversed everything. For when God refuses to resist pain and suffering, everything gets turned upside down.

God’s reign has begun, the kingdom- not a neat and tidy world, but a world of messy dynamic beauty, beauty wrought out of struggle and pain. The very messy beauty of life when Jesus is preferred above all else, he who restores our lost innocence; not a facile, tawdry beauty but a terribly expensive beauty wrought out of acceptance of differences, reconciliation of opposites, the tension of the terrible truth of my holiness reconciled with my unremitting tendencies toward sin. The truth of who I am, the truth about the Body of Christ that we are together- differences, ambiguities, bad and good patiently, exquisitely juxtaposed, blended and accepted and made one in Christ. Our truth- neither monsters nor lambs but something better more beautiful wrought out of patient acceptance. What I want to eliminate in myself or in my brother now accepted in humility and with longing for Christ’s healing and peace. He who is our Beauty, our Hope, our innocence restored, He who has covered our sins, forgotten and forgiven them, Beauty Himself who is forever scarred and wounded, holes in his heart, hands, his feet, thorn scars on his brows. His cruel death has reconciled all that separated us from him from one another from our deepest most authentic selves. A very new beauty-filled reality - not a world of all or nothing, but a world of both and. The world, the kingdom where we are wounded and beautiful like Jesus, who has reconciled all things in himself making peace through the blood of his painful cross, the blood of his Fire. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of our monks.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

With Saint Clare

Jesus alone is our reward. All we do and endure is, after all, only our duty, an inestimably privileged way for us to be with Jesus, who for the joy that lay before him, endured the cross, heedless of its shame. Like Saint Clare, whom we celebrate today, we rejoice to be identified as useless because he was thought to be so, despised and ridiculed as a blasphemer by those who should have known better. Our only joy and worth are in gaining Christ and being found in him; we know that life without him would be intolerable. As Saint Paul will put it, “I have suffered the loss of all things, that I may gain Christ - indeed, I regard them all as dung…” So driven is Paul by his love and conviction that he can express it only by using this most vulgar term for filth in Greek - sku’balon - because it connotes total worthlessness and revulsion. (See Daniel Wallace.)
 

In the monastery, we live in two worlds. All day long, we try to be efficient at work, whatever it is - cleaning, cooking, making jam or chasubles. But we know that all that efficiency is not going to be of much use when we go to pray. There we need a very different set of tools - we must be satisfied to be helpless, worthless, and inefficient; totally dependent on Christ’s kind favor, his gracious mercy and loving-kindness, ready to listen, and confident in our emptiness and uselessness. And this is work too, a very different kind of work - the discipline of being at home with the loss of control, at home with wonder and unknowing. It is in this lowest place, that contemplation can happen. Finally, perhaps, we are worthless enough in our own eyes to realize we have nothing to be proud of. This is our ultimate credential in a life dedicated to incessant prayer.


Photographs of the Abbey Cottage and its gardens by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Saint Lawrence the Deacon

 

As we celebrate the saints, we sometimes imagine them smiling a bit sheepishly; their heads lowered. And as we chant in their honor, perhaps they are more than a bit embarrassed by all the hoopla. They point quietly to the wounded Christ. “It’s not about us,” they insist. “It’s all about Jesus, what his tender mercy has accomplished in us.”

The saints, like Saint Lawrence whom we celebrate this morning, ultimately know themselves as mercied sinners, who have been transformed by the love of Christ. 

Small wonder that even as he was being roasted over a slow fire, Lawrence could joke, "Turn me over. I think I'm done on this side." The love of Christ transformed him and made him brave, unfailingly generous to the poor, self-forgetful, and even silly.

_____________________________

You gain nothing, you prevail nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from your devices, and, when Lawrence departs to heaven, you are vanquished. The flame of Christ's love could not be overcome by your flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within. You but served the martyr in your rage, O persecutor: you but swelled the reward in adding to the pain. For what did your cunning devise, which did not redound to the conqueror's glory, when even the instruments of torture were counted as part of the triumph? Let us rejoice, then, dearly beloved, with spiritual joy, and make our boast over the happy end of this illustrious man in the Lord, Who is wonderful in His saints, in whom He has given us a support and an example…

St Lawrence, Limoges polychrome enamel plaque, late 16th century–early 17th century. The quotation from a sermon on Saint Lawrence by Saint Leo the Great.



Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross

Pope Francis encourages us to notice the holiness that the Lord shows us through the humblest of his people. He quotes these words of Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein):

The greatest prophecy and sanctity figures step out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Indeed, the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.

We are reminded of words in our own Constitutions which speak of the monastic life  as having "a hidden apostolic fruitfulness." In the mysterious reality of prayer for and in the mystical Body of Christ, we hope that our lives in the monastery help to draw the world closer to the heart of Christ.