Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Beauty of God

God is love. Love is never ugly, and God’s love is always creating beauty in place of irregularity and unevenness.1 And at best we come to see and understand that fragmentation and precariousness ultimately belong to the phenomenon of beauty, because through fragmentation the beautiful ultimately reveals the promise it contains.2 The crucified and risen Jesus reveals that beauty may be hidden behind fragmentation and woundedness: the beauty of love seemingly concealed but really present.

Photograph by Brother Jonah. 
1. Augustine Through the Ages: An Encyclopedia, ed. Allan Fitzgerald, p. 704.
2. Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, vol. I, trans. Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, p. 460.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Icons

Jesus’ answer to the disciples of the Pharisees in today's Gospel, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God”, is remarkable for its clarity and good sense. He is able to respond to the conundrum presented by the Pharisees with such a limpid and liberating interpretation of the law, because of his standpoint at the heart of the covenant. It is where he lives. His understanding and sovereign freedom come from living the covenant at its core.

Just as the coin bears the image and inscription of Caesar and so belongs to him, so does man who bears the image of God and have his word inscribed in his heart belong to God and so ought to give his life wholly to him.  Jesus’ response is so right because it is in accord with his experience. He receives everything from the Father and gives everything back to him in total conformity to the mission the Father has entrusted to him. He is handed over wholly to the Father’s will.

The Greek word translated as “image”, for the “image” on the coin, is “icon”. Jesus is the archetypal icon of God, since he “bears the very stamp of his nature” and “reflects his glory.” He is the face of the Father present in human history. It is not his own glory that he radiates but his Father’s. It is his own only in so far as it comes from the Father. Therefore Jesus is the icon of God only in so far as he does not determine his life but lets his Father shape it.

God must be free to shape and mold us, so that we too may become radiant vessels of his glory. If we are to be icons of Jesus, if through us individually and as a community, his face is to shine and be visible to others, then as he allowed the Father to give form to his life, so must we allow Jesus to shape our lives through the action of his Spirit. As monks, this can happen no place else than at the heart of our conversatio, our way of life.

In the Pharisees of today’s Gospel, we see a form of life that no longer conformed to the original form of the covenant but had in many ways hardened into a human form. Reduced in its capacity to be an icon of God’s glory, Pharisaism often tragically blinded its adherents to Jesus and his message. It had for these people become an idol.

Each of us has been entrusted with a mission to be in Jesus an icon of God. Each of us also has his idols, which dim our vision and in some matters make us blind. Our Cistercian way of life is a sure path I believe that if fully embraced strips us of our idols and allows the Holy Spirit to shape our lives so that they become less and less a self-construct and more and more an authentic and credible icon of God’s triune love. May he bring this about in us.

Photograph of our community on the day of the abbatial election this past June. In the center of the bottom row, we see Dom Damian our Abbot, along with Mother Maureen Abbess of Wrentham and Dom Jean-Marc Abbot of Bellefontaine,  who joined us for the election. 
Excerpts from this morning's homily by Father Timothy.


Friday, October 17, 2014

Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch, old but self-possessed, goes off to Rome and martyrdom in the arena; ardent, focused, burning with love for Christ. He begs not to be deterred from his goal:

All the way from Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild beasts, by land and sea, night and day, chained as I am to ten leopards (I mean to a detachment of soldiers), who only get worse the better you treat them. But by their injustices I am becoming a better disciple, “though not for that reason am I acquitted.” What a thrill I shall have from the wild beasts that are ready for me! I hope they will make short work of me. I shall coax them on to eat me up at once and not to hold off, as sometimes happens, through fear. And if they are reluctant, I shall force them to it. Forgive me— I know what is good for me. Now is the moment I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil— only let me get to Jesus Christ!
Not the wide bounds of earth nor the kingdoms of this world will avail me anything. “I would rather die” and get to Jesus Christ, than reign over the ends of the earth. That is whom I am looking for— the One who died for us. That is whom I want— the One who rose for us. I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life— do not wish death on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God’s; do not trick him with material things.
Odilon Redon, The Sacred Heart. Lines from Saint Ignatius: Letter to the Romans .

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Irresistible

The Gospel everywhere urges us to allow the irresistible tenderness of Christ to invade our person and take over our every thought, feeling and action. Realistically, however, none of us can by nature be as selfless as Christ, the Good Samaritan who has only to glance at a wounded or needy person to shudder with mercy. The problem is not so much that of willfully imposing on ourselves a strict consistency between faith and action; it is more a matter of allowing the power of the Christ, who has given himself to me with love, to have its full effect in my person. 

Photograph by Charles O'Connor. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

More


Christ Jesus wants more of me, more of you. What the more is, each of us probably knows somewhere, way down in the depths of our own heart. The candidates and those in formation are well aware of what they have to lose, what’s at stake. And certainly our brethren in the infirmary, those whose health is precarious, know what they have to lose and why it’s worth it. Something big is in the balance- life on high with Christ Jesus our Lord. Perhaps for those of us in the middle a bit of dawdling may be the cushion we need when the monastic life seems to be too much for us. But Jesus asks us for more. Jesus is impatient with anything that might impede his access to our hearts. And he wants us to come to him for everything we need. 

Photo by Brother Brian.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Vocations

This weekend we will once again host a group of candidates for a Monastic Experience Weekend. We are always edified by their openness and their real desire to understand how God's invitation is being communicated to them. We often invite them to ponder these words from the Prophet Jeremiah:

I know well the plans I have in mind for you, plans for your welfare, not for woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, you will find me with you, and I will change your lot.     Jeremiah 29.11-14

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Prayer & Work

We came upon this description of our monastery written by a visitor some years ago, perhaps a bit too poetic, but...

The great stone church was filled with chanting, the monks like bees lovingly droning out the psalms. And sometimes when the windows were open the chanting got mixed up with the chirping of birds and squirrels; together monks and tiny beasts beating out their praise. 

And in the  garages and repair shops, in the sacristies and workrooms and offices, in the gardens and kitchens and sewing rooms, the sacred hum of computers and lawn mowers and conveyors, the gentle flurry of paintbrushes and scissors and potato peelers, all combined with the whoosh of tree branches and breezes rustling the leaves. A great music of praise, sacred business, sacred work done at the Lord's own bidding.