Tuesday, July 28, 2015

An Excess of Love

God's love for us in Christ is far beyond what we can imagine. "It is an excess; infinite love has to be so. The Incarnation, the manger, Nazareth, the Cenacle, Gethsemani, Calvary, each was an excess...In comparison with our smallness, infinite love must necessarily be an excess. Yet, how difficult to convince souls that God loves them. If they could be convinced, how many anxieties would be alleviated."

Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of our life in monastery is experiencing over and over again the painful, boring truth of our sinfulness and allowing Christ in that very moment to gaze on us with love and exquisite tenderness. It may seem utter madness to allow ourselves to be the objects of Christ’s love and attention precisely in that moment. It is the great reversal, the sublime trick of the monastic vocation- we thought we were coming to the monastery to gaze upon Christ, but it is Christ Jesus himself who wants to gaze upon us in our lowliness and poverty, not to make us feel small and miserable, but because he loves us in excess.

Quotation  from Only Jesus by Luis M. Martinez, D. D., trans. Sister Mary Daniel, B. V. M. , B. Herder, St. Louis, 1962. Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The Lord has placed in Mary the fullness of all good. So that if there is anything of hope in us, anything of grace, anything of salvation, rest assured it has overflowed from her into us. Truly we may call her a garden of delights, which the divine South Wind comes to and blows upon, even more comes into and blows through, causing the fragrance of its spices, that is, the precious gifts of heavenly grace to flow out and be spread around on every side. Take away from the sky the sun which enlightens the world and what becomes of the day? Take away Mary, this Star of life's vast and spacious sea, and what is left to us but a cloud of swirling gloom and thick and dense darkness.

We ponder these words of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux as we celebrate Our Lady. We share some photographs by Brother Brian of gardens throughout the Abbey tended by different monks. All remind us of the beauty of God, the fair beauty of His Mother, whom we call the Garden Enclosed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The Other Side

Our retreat closed on Saturday evening. The brethren were deeply grateful to Fr. John Denburger of our sister Abbey of Our Lady of the Genesee. His presentations were full of insight and wisdom and set the stage for our prayer and reflection. As the retreat closed, we came upon these words of Julian of Norwich: "Our Lord is full of mirth and gladness because of our prayer." How good to remember that Christ Jesus in his love for us is attentive and delighted by our efforts at prayer, our desires to please and praise Him, no matter how feeble or faltering we may believe them to be. It is good to wonder and imagine things from the other side, God's side.

Just before our retreat began we enjoyed our annual Fourth of July picnic on the monastery breezeway.  We share below a few pictures taken by Brother Jonah.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In All Things

The linden tree on the east side of the monastery's breezeway is in full flower. It's sweet odor wafts all over. And when we come near the tree, we hear it buzzing with bees busy at all the tiny florets. We recall these words from Laudato Si, which we heard recently in the refectory reading:

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.

Tomorrow we begin our annual retreat. All week long we will try to notice the loving presence of the Lord Jesus in all things, drawing us to Himself over and over.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Saints Peter & Paul

   As we celebrate the saints today, they probably smile a bit sheepishly; their heads lowered. We imagine them embarrassed by all the hoopla, all the while pointing quietly to the wounded Jesus. “It’s not about us,” they say. “It’s all about what his tender mercy could accomplish in us.” Peter and Paul ultimately know themselves as forgiven failures, mercied and transformed by Christ in his most compassionate attentiveness. Both of them would probably admit to us that they could be a bit overconfident, too self-assured; they come to us this morning with nothing to boast about.
   Peter says he’s ready to die with Jesus; then betrays him in a heartbeat to save his skin. “Wait a minute; you’re one of that Galilean’s followers,” says the maid in the high priest’s courtyard. “I’d know that accent anywhere.” “Get out of here,” Peter mutters. “I don’t who you’re talking about,” Meanwhile Jesus is right next door being slapped and humiliated.
   Paul so sure of himself, so sure of the truth, so well-schooled in the Law, it’s the armored tank he’s been using to mow down followers of Jesus the blasphemer. As Peter crashes into self-knowledge making Jesus’ prediction of betrayal come true; Paul is knocked off his horse, insisting that he does not even know who Jesus is. Jesus assures him, “I am Jesus the one you’ve been persecuting.”
   Jesus did not give up on Peter or Paul and he won’t give up on us. He is a relentless rescuer, the God who saves us, even chases after us. He rescues us from all our distress over and over again, because he loves us. And even when we are dead in our stubborn sinfulness; he brings us to life, not because of our virtuous deeds but because of his tender mercy. All is grace, not merit but graciousness, a love that reaches down to every human misery. We do not feel humiliated, but restored, transformed.*
   And so with Peter we listen as Jesus whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you?” Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately loved by Christ. Then we can say with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. To whom else shall we go?” And with Paul, “All I want is to know you, Lord Jesus and the power flowing from your resurrection. Everything else is rubbish.” You are all that I desire. You are my love, my fortress, my stronghold, my rescuer, my rock, the God who shows me love.
   The tender love and relentless rescue of Jesus make our foolish failures almost worth it. With Peter and Paul we are meant to be icons of this rescue, our very selves, revelations of what Christ’s ongoing merciful rescue can accomplish if we give him the least bit if access to our broken hearts.

* See Dives in Miserdicordia, Saint John Paul II.  Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

That like Saint John the Baptist we may leap with joy at the presence of the Lord, allowing ourselves to be filled with the ineffable peace of Jesus...

That we will make Saint John's prayer our own, "He must increase, I must decrease," having no anxiety over our own failings and shortcomings, but setting our gaze on Jesus and his deifying light...

For the poor, homeless and unemployed, that the Dawn from on high may break upon upon them, bringing them the mercy and charity of Our Lord...

For all who experience a mysterious stirring in their hearts, drawing them to the monastic life, that the prayers of Saint John the Baptist, the desert dweller, may accompany them on their journey to the Lamb of God...

That people everywhere will have an unfailing respect for all persons from natural conception to natural death...

For our friends, family and guests...

From prayers offered at today's Eucharist by Brother Charbel. Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Respect & Wonder

Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’

In his new encyclical Laudato Si’, Pope Francis calls us to respect all of creation and to recognize the earth as the “common home” of all people, rich and poor alike. We are to develop the capacity to recognize in the created goods we encounter their own proper value and to let it be; to enjoy them and to make use of them, not only in a way that does not harm them, but allows them to flourish. Respect for creation involves a freedom from acquisitiveness and a capacity to wonder.

This respectful, hands-off approach is akin to the monastic practice of apatheia or freedom from care, one of the principal goals of monastic discipline. Apatheia means being completely open to divine grace and love. The monk who has attained apatheia, is poised for contemplation, ready to enter into the true nature of created things and know God.

With insights from Father Timothy and Everett Ferguson. Photograph by Brother Brian.