Tuesday, March 28, 2017

At the Cross

I ask you to “fast forward” to the crucifixion scene; imagine it as vividly as possible, with Mary at the foot of the cross and please listen to the following quotation which characterizes Jesus’ ministry:

Success or failure has little to do with living the gospel.  Jesus just stood with the outcasts until they were welcomed, or he was crucified, whichever came first. 
Greg Boyle, Tattoos in the Heart: the power of boundless compassion

In the crucifixion Jesus undergoes a radical de-humanization, he becomes the Outcast, and Mary stands there with Jesus the Outcast. She stands there until he is welcomed or she is crucified, whichever comes first. On her watch she welcomes his mangled corpse; she receives and embraces him as portrayed so hauntingly in Michelangelo’s Pietà

In the stark light of Greg Boyle’s reflection on Jesus’ mission, Mary is revealed as grasping the heart of Jesus’ inauguration of God’s kingdom. She really “gets it”, she is the extension of Jesus’ mission even before the resurrection. And in so doing she becomes the primordial disciple.

Detail of crucifix attributed to Michelangelo. Meditation by Father Isaac.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Once Blind

What is most disappointing in this morning's Gospel is the tragic lack of wonder; we hear only doubt and denial and rejection. A man blind from birth is healed. And the stubborn Pharisees, blind and arrogant guides that they are, refuse to see. They despise Jesus and the light he bestows because it bursts the boundaries of their expectations and the protocols they are sure God should follow. They know better. And perhaps saddest of all, since his blindness has always shamed his parents, now fearing they will be shunned completely, they say disinterestedly. “We don’t know. Ask him.”

But they all have got it wrong; it is not sin that causes blindness, it is sinning itself that is blindness. This perfectly depicted in a fresco by the early Renaissance master Masaccio. In his painting Adam and Eve are expelled from Paradise by an angel floating above them brandishing a huge sword. Embarrassed, stark naked, they cower together, their eyes tight shut in grief. Blinded by their sinning, they depart in shame.

No wonder that for centuries today’s Gospel has been used in preparing catechumens for their baptism. For baptism is rightly called enlightenment; the washing away of original blindness. And in today’s Gospel we witness a dramatic progression from darkness into light, as the once-blind man becomes an enlightened disciple. He speaks the truth of his experience of Jesus, simply, emphatically. Harassed by the Pharisees, he is unflinching. “If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything…One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see." He knows it is amazing grace

The Pharisees are so outraged by his outspokenness that they throw him out. Sighted, but rejected, he is truly a disciple now, rejected like Jesus, his new Master. Jesus seeks him out once again, and reveals his true identity as the Son of Man, “I who speak with you am he.” And then this once-blind man gazing on the beauty of God in Christ sees and believes and instinctively bows down in worship. It is what we all desire most ardently- to see his face, to hear his voice.

Masaccio, The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, detail, fresco, 1425, Brancacci Chapel,  Church of Santa Maria del CarmineFlorence

Saturday, March 25, 2017


She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
  only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power–
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
                     Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love–
but who was God.

Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, c. 1438-47, fresco, 230 x 321 cm, Convent of San Marco, Florence. Lines from the poem Annunciation by Denise Levertov.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Moments of temptation are revelatoryof who we are and of what’s going on inside us. There is so much we are meant to learn from them; we grow by them.  Like Jesus in the desert, in struggling with our temptations we begin to know ourselves not only as weak but also filled with and led by the Spirit. The temptations by the devil called forth in Jesus the confirmation of his baptismal identity, and it was that identity by which he overcame the temptations. The remarkable thing is that Jesus ended up knowing and experiencing the truth about himself (his sonship, his belovedness, and his Father’s pleasure) in a confirmatory way precisely in response to temptation. And this is what prepared him to then go on to speak to the people of Nazareth immediately afterwards. The same is true for us. Our struggle with temptations (regardless of whether we are successful or not in resisting them at the moment) teaches us volumes about ourselves, and confirms our deepest identity and relationship with God, even if through weakness we momentarily give in to them. (That, after all, is what compunction is about.) Perhaps we do better to think of temptations not as judgments but as revelations.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


The good news is that our temptations, struggles, and “wilderness experiences” offer an opportunity for us to become more whole, more integrated, more fully ourselves, because they teach us about ourselves, they gradually form our self-understanding, and they even return us to ourselves. That is what they did for Jesus, and that is what they can do for us. The desert monks certainly saw it this way. Saint Antony the Great, the father of monasticism, goes so far as to say: “Without temptation no one can be saved.”
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Fire at Our Lady of the Valley

This is a day of remembrance for our community. For on 21 March 1950, the Feast of Saint Benedict, the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Lonsdale, Rhode Island was ravaged by a devastating fire. The original wing was destroyed; the church was rendered structurally unsound and would have to be demolished. The community of 140 monks was homeless.

Friends and neighbors of the monastery look on
as the flèche goes up in flames.
laybrother assists the firefighters.

Well before the fire the monks had been searching for a new location that would insure their solitude and economic stability, since the population in the area around the monastery had increased considerably. And by 1949 the community purchased a large agricultural property, Alta Crest Farms in Spencer, Massachusetts. The 1950 fire merely accelerated the community's projected move. In God's providence the end of one story became the seed for a new one.

We dare not compare the plight of a few monks with the trauma of so many homeless people, especially refugees in the Middle East. Nonetheless it is good for us to open our hearts in prayer for them, recalling that we monks were once homeless as well.

Monday, March 20, 2017


There is no doubt that the Joseph to whom the Savior's mother was betrothed was a good and faithful man. In him the Lord found a man after his own heart to whom he could safely confide his most holy and secret design. To him he revealed the unfathomable, hidden depths of his wisdom and granted him knowledge of that mystery which was known to none of the princes of this world. In a word that which many kings and prophets had longed to see and had not seen, to hear and had not heard-that was granted to Joseph.

Saint Joseph was a man of faith and faithfulness. He trusted God; he trusted Mary. Living in close union with Christ Jesus and Our Lady in their home at Nazareth, with Mary he loved the person of Christ most tenderly. Joseph most faithfully cared for Mary and their Son in a hidden workaday life that was undoubtedly “ordinary, obscure and laborious.”

 Fragment of a wooden  carving of Saint  Joseph in one of the corners of the Abbey. Lins from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.