Sunday, March 24, 2019

Turning Back to Grace

A tree full of figs, branches heavy with pomegranates, an abundance of corn and new wine - all this fruitfulness was surely a sign of God’s favor. And so, the logic was, it’s opposite - barrenness - clearly indicated God’s disfavor. And so, the frustrated orchard owner not finding any ripe figs says, “Dig up the fruitless tree. It’s useless.” Jesus the Gardener, our Advocate with the Father, says, “Wait. Give me some time; let me give it a bit of extra care.” Jesus  sees opportunity for his graced intervention.

And if the fig tree was by tradition Israel itself, it is as well all of us and each of us - stuck and sinful and seemingly unfruitful. And when the Gardener asks for just a single year to do his work, Jesus is pointing to the urgency of repentance and a change of heart. “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.” As if to say, there is still time, but there’s no time to lose.* Jesus never gives up on us. He is the God of second chances, he understands. But he waits, awaits our turning back to his grace.

As God will tell Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people. I have heard their cry; and I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” This is not a God of whim and caprice who distractedly allows towers to fall on sinful people but a God of mercy who in Christ Jesus has come down to join us in the rubble of our sinfulness, here amidst the debris of our mistakes and failures. 

After the devastating earthquake in Turkey in 1988, a mother and her infant son were trapped for days in the rubble of their apartment building. The trauma, the days of tension and near airlessness caused her breastmilk to dry up. Frantic as her baby grew more and more listless and whimpered faintly, a thought came to her. She pierced her finger, pressed it and put it in the child’s mouth. The baby nursed contentedly on her bleeding fingertip. Not long after she saw light peeping through the debris, she shouted, and rescuers discovered her and the baby. Both survived.

How like Our Lord Jesus was this nursing mother, nurturing us with his own blood, God’s own blood, a torrent of compassion from his wounded heart, from his hands and feet. So, he shows us in his own body that loving to the end is the way to life and fruitfulness and true repentance. My sisters and brothers, we are Jesus’ wounded body. We are invited to let our hearts to be stretched and torn open in love; it may often feel that we like him are dying in the process. But it’s worth it.
 Photograph by Brother Brian. *  Insight from Gerhard Lohfink.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Nearer

We too have seen him, experienced his presence. Have we not? We can deny it, slip back into a cozy darkness. It’s always a possibility. But Jesus has come near, very near and changed everything. We have been anointed with the blood and water flowing from his wounded side; we belong to him. There’s no going back. Once we all were darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. 

Now at long last the winter is over and past, the light is increasing, soon flowers will appear on the earth; the voice of doves and little birds already fills the air, the day of our redemption draws nearer and nearer. Now with great desire Jesus desires that we become all light, all compassion in him. The powers of darkness are always on our tail. We need his body and blood to help us to keep choosing the light. So we keep coming back to the altar table day after day to receive the Bread and Wine that is light, the light that he is, the light that we are becoming.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Anniversary of the Fire at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley



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.



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 had 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.



Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Celebrating Saint Joseph

We were struck by the beauty of the following text by Saint Bernadine of Siena, read to us at the Second Nocturn during this morning’s Vigils.

This is the general rule that applies to all individual graces given to a rational creature. Whenever divine grace selects someone to receive a particular grace or some especially favored position, all the gifts for his state are given to that person and enrich him abundantly.

This is especially true of that holy man Joseph, the supposed father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and true husband of the queen of the world and of the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father to be the faithful foster-parent and guardian of the most precious treasures of God, his Son and his spouse. This was the task which he so faithfully carried out. For this, the Lord said to him, ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’

A comparison can be made between Joseph and the whole Church of Christ. Joseph was the specially chosen man through whom and under whom Christ entered the world fittingly and in an appropriate way. So, if the whole Church is in the debt of the Virgin Mary, since, through her, it was able to receive the Christ, surely after her, it also owes to Joseph special thanks and veneration.

For he it is who marks the closing of the Old Testament. In him the dignity of the prophets and patriarchs achieves its promised fulfillment. Moreover; he alone possessed in the flesh what God in his goodness promised to them over and again.

It is beyond doubt that Christ did not deny to Joseph in heaven that intimacy, respect, and high honor which he showed to him as to a father during his own human life, but rather completed and perfected it. Justifiably the words of the Lord should be applied to him, ‘Enter into the joy of your Lord.’ Although it is the joy of eternal happiness that comes into the heart of man, the Lord prefers to say to him ‘enter into joy’. The mystical implication is that this joy is not just inside man, but surrounds him everywhere and absorbs him, as if he were plunged in an infinite abyss.

Therefore, be mindful of us, blessed Joseph, and intercede for us with him whom men thought to be your Son. Win for us the favor of the most Blessed Virgin your spouse, the mother of him who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit through ages unending. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Transfiguration

In this morning’s Second Reading from Saint Paul's Letter to the Philippians, he exhorts his brothers and sisters to conduct themselves according to the model they have in him. Elsewhere Paul exhorts the Corinthians, “Be followers of me as I am of Christ.” The glory that anyone of us manifests is the glory we share in Christ, individually and especially corporately. And the surest way to achieve glory is to act as did Jesus Christ "who did not count equality with God something to be grasped at but emptied himself taking the form of a slave obedient unto death, death on a cross. Because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name so that every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." Paul reminds his faithful flock that by living in Christ, God will change our lowly body to conform to his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.  May we not resist that subjection. The embrace of the glorious cross is the ultimate freedom to live in the one who sets us free by the glory of his saving power.

Today’s Gospel is Saint Luke's version of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We see in Luke's account the same dazzling white brightness of the glory of God shining forth from the face and clothing of Jesus as in the other synoptic gospels. Luke alone, however, of the evangelists says explicitly that “they saw his glory.”  Luke alone mentions the content of the conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They spoke of the exodus that Jesus was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. It will be an exodus across the Red Sea of Blood on the cross of Calvary, the glorious cross, a cross that moves the Father to exalt Jesus and his name, but also to exalt all those who glory in the name of Jesus by sharing in his cross, as well as his crown: sharing in his self-emptying for others, in his suffering for others and in his laying down his life for them. 

In his Third Sermon on the Song of Songs, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux makes a passing allusion to the ecstatic words of Saint Peter, “It is good that we are here!”  As Bernard speaks to the monks, guests arrive at the gate of Clairvaux and Bernard is obliged to break off the Chapter talk to go to greet them and oversee their hospitable reception. Before doing so he looks out at the community gathered in Chapter saying, “Brothers, it is wonderful that we are here.” In the context of this Liturgy on this little mountain of transfiguration here in Spencer, brothers and sisters, it is wonderful that were are here - here to behold the Lamb of God, the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased, to listen to his Word and be ourselves transfigured spiritually by his glorified Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and so like Saint Bernard to become ever more hospitable to others.  As Saint Paul told us this morning, “Our citizenship is in heaven and from heaven we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.”

Excerpts from this morning’s homily by Father Luke.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Novena


We have been praying our novena to Saint Joseph each evening after Vespers at the Saint Joseph altar in the north transept of the Abbey church. A candle is lit each day by a different brother.

Blessed are you, Joseph, our patron, guardian of the Word Incarnate, to whom it was given not only to see and hear, but also to embrace and watch over the Child Jesus himself. We come to you now with confidence that your prayers to help us in our need will be heard before the throne of God. 

Pray for us, Joseph, that the Lord may come into our souls to sanctify us. That he may come into our minds to enlighten us. That he may guard our wills and strengthen us. That he may direct our thoughts and purify them. That he may look upon our deeds and extend his blessings on us.

St Joseph, righteous and just. 
Pray for us.

God our Father, in your infinite wisdom and love you chose Joseph to be the husband of Mary, the mother of your Son. May we, who count him as our special patron, continue to have the help of his prayers and know the security of his protection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.



Thursday, March 14, 2019

Grace and Courage

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light .... Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? .... Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.

Image by Father Emmanuel. Lines from Marilynne Robinson, Gilead.