Sunday, July 31, 2011


Today we celebrate the Anniversary of the Dedication and Consecration of the Abbey Church. This is a special solemnity that is ours alone to remember. The rose window (detailed above in this photo by Brother Jonah) composed as it is from fragments of glass from the large lancet window in the church of the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley is an apt symbol of the many transitions that have marked our community's history.

Our community first took root at the monastery of Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie, Nova Scotia in the mid-nineteenth century. But in 1892 and again in 1896 disastrous fires devasted the monastic buildings.

Soon the monastery moved from Nova Scotia to Lonsdale, Rhode Island. The small community, accompanied by their livestock arrived in the summer of 1900, and regular monastic life was resumed on August 2. Their new home was called Our Lady of the Valley. When in 1950 this abbey was ravaged by fire, the monks were reminded once again that the ways of God are not our ways. The community of one hundred and forty persons was homeless.

Fortunately they had already purchased a large dairy farm in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1949. And the fire only accelerated the community's projected move. The monks soon adapted the farm buildings for monastic purposes. And on December 23, 1950, eighty monks took possession of Saint Joseph's Abbey. We continue to discern God’s loving plan and look with hope to our future.

Saturday, July 30, 2011


In a spirit of compunction and intense desire, they devote themselves frequently to prayer. While dwelling on earth, their minds are occupied with heavenly things, desiring eternal life with spiritual longing. So the Constitutions speak of our life in the enclosure of the monastery. Somehow we are meant to bilocate, praying always, noticing the Lord's presence even now but longing for the fullness and the more that is the Kingdom.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

From the Gardens

A giant bunch of summer flowers from the Abbey gardens adorns the altar for a solemn feast. Their beauty reminds us of these words from the Spiritual Canticle of Saint John of the Cross:

O woods and thickets
planted by the hand of my Beloved!
O green meadow,
coated, bright, with flowers,
tell me, has he passed by you?

Pouring out a thousand graces,
he passed these groves in haste;
and having looked at them,
with his image alone,
clothed them in beauty.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Ongoing Conversion

As monks we promise to work at building up fraternal relations within the community. We try to bear with one another patiently, humbly, lovingly. Nevertheless as in any family conflicts sometimes arise. But committed as we are to ongoing conversion of life, we make efforts to seek reconciliation. Our Constitutions put it well: "The preservation of unity among the brothers depends on a sincere and mutual effort towards reconciliation. To eliminate thorns of scandal from the community, the brothers are not to prolong the time of anger but, when there is a dispute, to make peace as soon as possible."

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Letting Be

We think the title of this picture could be, What Should Not Be But Is. Wild bindweed, an invasive plant, twines about a drain pipe outside the Abbey kitchen. Perhaps unnoticed by the brothers who tend the gardens when it was just sprouting, it is now luxuriantly, elegantly out of place in the warmth and sunlight of midsummer. Perhaps a reminder of the beauty of accepting what should not be but is nonetheless and noticing the finger of God even there.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

New Brothers

Two new Vietnamese monks arrived at our monastery this week. These brothers will be the Abbey's special guests for the next two years. They will join us in our daily rhythm of prayer and work and hopefully become better acquainted with Trappist life in America. With joy and gratitude to God we welcome Brothers Bruno and Paul Loc pictured above.

photographed by Brother Jonah

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Community Retreat

During this coming week the community will be on its annual retreat, a special time for greater silence and solitude. Daily conferences will be given to us by Dom Brendan of New Melleray.

"The love of God has been poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Love itself moans, love itself prays; against it he who gave it cannot close his ears. Be free of anxiety; let love ask and God's ears are there.

Photograph of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel. Lines from Tractate 6: On the First Epistle of John, by Saint Augustine.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Monastery, a School

Saint Benedict calls the monastery "a school for the Lord's service." For Cistercians the monastery would be a "school of love." And traditionally Cistercian monks became known as "lovers of the brethren and the place." Here in the enclosure of the monastery in a hidden life of work and prayer, the monk is Christ's student continually learning from Him the way to love God and his brothers.

photograph of the Abbey by Brother Casimir

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Founders' Faith

We celebrated the Fourth as is our custom with a festive outdoor lunch on the Abbey breezeway pictured above. At the morning Eucharist Fr. Isaac spoke powerfully of the faith of the founders of our republic, who were "completely unabashed about their relationship to the Great Mystery we call God." This relationship was simply a fact of life for them, absolutely essential and of primordial significance. We pray that our nation will return to the truth of this essential relationship with the good God and realize that "a just society can only be achieved if it is also a good society, good for all its members, especially the most vulnerable."

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sacred Heart

Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of our life in the monastery is experiencing over and over again the painful, boring truth of our sinfulness and allowing Christ in these very moments to gaze on us with love and exquisite tenderness. It may feel like utter madness to allow ourselves to be the objects of Christ’s love and attention precisely in these moments. But it is the great reversal, the sublime trick of the monastic vocation- we thought we were coming to the monastery to gaze on Christ, but it is Christ Jesus himself who wants to gaze lovingly, compassionately upon us in our lowliness and poverty. It is almost unbearable and demands great courage and humility. For God in Christ loses himself in love over and over again. This is the essence of who God is, for God is Love. And Love longs to give himself away to us. God is Love and so he is always, always reaching out, using anything at all to get our attention.