Thursday, February 27, 2014

Refectory Book

We listen to reading during our noonday meal in the monastic refectory. Our current book is entitled The Global War on Christianby John L. Allen. Most of us monks are stunned by the alarming statistics on  the worldwide persecution of Christians

Allen reports that “Christians in the early 21st century are the world's most persecuted religious group. 
According to the International Society for Human Rights, 80 percent of violations of religious freedom in the world today are directed against Christians. In effect, our era is witnessing the rise of a new generation of martyrs. Underlying the global war on Christians is the demographic reality that more than two-thirds of the world's 2.3 billion Christians now live outside the West, often as a beleaguered minority up against a hostile majority- whether it's Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East and parts of Africa and Asia, Hindu radicalism in India, or state-imposed atheism in China and North Korea. In Europe and North America, Christians face political and legal challenges to religious freedom." Allen tells us that most often these new martyrs suffer in silence.

Our hearts are broken open; we pray for all of our Protestant and Catholic sisters and brothers around the world who are maltreated and harassed because they are followers of Christ Jesus.

Holy Father, we humbly beseech you,
graciously endow us with your Holy Spirit,
who takes away everything 
that estranges us from one another.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Child in Our Midst

Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

We recently heard this story. A couple was seeking custody of a little boy they had cared for as foster parents. The child had been horribly abused, physically and emotionally, sent to bed each night in a small dog’s cage where he had to sleep huddled and cramped with his little knees under his chin. The foster father said that even when he and his wife put the boy to bed- in a real bed, his own bed- he continued to sleep huddled up, his knees angled up and taut. The man said that he and his wife would sneak in at night on tip-toe to relax the boy’s knees, ease them down gently, insistently so that he could relax and sleep more peacefully. But it would take many nights of repeating that gentle, steady gesture before the boy could finally trust and lie down and rest in peace and security.

When terrible things happen to little kids, they usually believe it’s their fault. Even though it’s not true, their logic is: “If I weren’t naughty, this wouldn’t have happened.” Perhaps we too think we know what we deserve. We are sinners after all, we’ve messed up and we deserve it (whatever it might be).

This morning Jesus shows us a different way. He takes the child, the little child within, the place where we are vulnerable and frightened; he embraces this little child, “putting his arms around it.” Then amazingly he identifies himself as the child. Jesus is the small, vulnerable one.

Only love, God’s forgiveness, can ease the rigidity of our fear and knee-jerk responses. Only the warm embrace of Christ Jesus can ease and heal and teach us not to scrunch and clench and hide. We have “received a Spirit of adoption, through whom we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” The Spirit of Christ empowers us to be strong, secure enough as the Father’s beloved ones so that we can trust, even relax and fall back into that love and then go and do likewise- forgiving as we have been forgiven. Not because nothing has happened, too much has happened- I have often made a mess of things, I have hurt, and I have been hurt. But forgiveness renews and recreates possibility, even restores lost innocence. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Lord is kind and merciful.

As we chanted this morning in our responsorial psalm, "The Lord is kind and merciful." Jesus knows, Jesus understands. He shares our flesh and blood and knows well what yanks at our hearts because “he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy” all that threatens to draw us away from God. Imagine the sympathy of Jesus; literally he feels the same as we do. He speaks to us always not from above, but from deep within. If, as we believe, Jesus is fully human, fully divine, like us “in every respect” but sin then he knows well the vagaries of our human hearts. But unlike us, though tempted, his heart was always set on the Father’s will and desire, for the human heart of Jesus expresses perfectly the infinite love of God.

And so Jesus offers to take us into his own sacred heart, a heart pure and free, a heart unencumbered by the compulsion to sin and turn away from the Father. Broken and wounded, torn open on the cross by our sin, his heart teaches us and forms us in wisdom so that more and more we too may want only what God wants. 

We may feel that so much is out of our control, that our hearts are permanently sin-bent, trapped in un-freedom and tendency toward sin. But if tendency means literally to lean in the wrong direction, then what Jesus offers us in his life-giving death and resurrection is true religion. For religion means literally a binding back, a binding fast. Like the best Gardener, Jesus realigns our hearts, tending as they do to lean and twine like invasive, weedy vines around things that will not lead to life. Jesus binds our wayward hearts back to himself, on the trellis of the Cross. 

Still we must do our part, refusing to be mastered by evil and rushing to his wounded side, even into his open heart, to be taught there how to choose wisely, choose what the Father wants. We dare to rejoice for "The Lord is kind and merciful;" grace and tender mercy abound. And in the Eucharist Jesus hands over to us his own body and blood, indeed his innermost Self, his very own heart. “Therefore let us draw near with boldness.”

Thursday, February 20, 2014

“Who do you say that I am?"

Perhaps our most important work as monks is to allow things to fall apart and to notice that as things fall apart we more available for Christ's mercy. Perhaps part of our work is to normalize this fragmentation for one another- normalize the falling apart as the means to a most glorious end- life in Christ Jesus. This is not a careless, presumptive laziness, (“I’m broken, you’re broken; Christ will rescue us. No problem!”) Neither is it the blind leading the blind into a catastrophic fall. It is rather the weak leading the weak into a willing acknowledgement and celebration of the inevitability of our fragmentation and weakness as the great good news that will lead to our transformation in Christ.

Jesus’ question to Peter, to each of us in this morning’s Gospel, situates us with Peter poised to listen to our Master as he whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us in the depths of our hearts, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you? What is your experience of me in your life, in your history? How do you experience me now?” What will we answer? Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately beloved by God in Christ, then with Peter we can say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and with Paul, “All I want is to know (you) Christ Jesus and the power flowing from (your) resurrection. Now nothing else matters.”

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Once Blind

Imagine the blind man in this morning’s Gospel. After years of groping and stumbling and bumping into; after years of being led and often fed, after years of painful isolation, today he receives his sight through Jesus’ most compassionate touch. Imagine this once blind man’s breathtaking privilege, as he gazes on the sublime beauty of God in Christ. He attains the desire of every disciple’s heart. Perhaps this alone was worth the pain and trial of all those years of fear and isolation.

So much changes for each of us, once the divine compassion of Christ Jesus interrupts our darkness and isolation. 

Photo by Charles O'Connor.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Mindfulness of God

During his Sunday chapter talk, the abbot reminded us that as monks we are called to cultivate constant mindfulness of God. And so we must set aside ample time for lectio divina and prayer. Cultivating such mindfulness requires attentiveness and availability. Indeed our whole day, all that we do, all that we think and speak must make our hearts, our minds totally available for God. God longs to give Himself to us; our work is availability.

Photograph by Brother Daniel.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Too Much Has Happened

In his homily this morning Father Peter invited us to begin "a chain reaction" of love, forgiveness and compassion. Indeed, the roots of our anger are in our hurts. Too much has happened to each of us. Dare we believe that Jesus understands, and that consoled by him we may begin to disarm our hearts?

Georges Rouault from his series Miserere.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Be Opened

On this very cold and snowy morning we heard once again the Gospel story of the healing of the deaf and dumb man. 

Imagine him as his friends come rushing to fetch him, signaling, perhaps scribbling on a tablet for him to read: "He’s here, the Master. And we want to take you to him. Hurry." But now imagine the poor man’s reluctance, for he has grown complacent with his infirmity, accustomed to the deafness. And of course he knows the painful truth: his infirmity, this deafness is the direct consequence of his sin (maybe the sin of his parents, but probably his own sin.) He knows it; everybody in the town knows it, all devout Jews in Jesus’ day believed it- sin leaves its mark; sin causes sickness. And so perhaps he motions, trembling, shaking his head vigorously at his friends. "No, no." For he believes that somehow he deserves to be deaf and dumb and babbling. It’s probably his fault. Case closed. Dead end.

But Jesus comes to the dead end and says, "No! I won’t have it. God won’t have it. Enough." For the exquisite love of God, enfleshed in Christ Jesus our Lord is deeply impatient with the illness, the pain, the isolation. Jesus finds the impairment unbearable. And so quietly he takes the man off by himself away from the crowd, and he groans from the depths his desire for this man’s freedom and healing. And it is this groaning of God in Christ that now breaks through the boundaries of good taste, discretion and formality; well beyond the limits of hygiene and what we might call today, proper ministerial protocol. Jesus very boldly puts his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and then touches his tongue with his own spittle; and healing occurs. God’s warm spittle; God’s warm, vibrant touch are divinely efficacious- sacraments of God’s healing in Christ. And what he opens no one can close.

Now physicians, the parents of little ones, or perhaps even lovers or spouses might on occasion dare to touch so familiarly, sensually, discarding all boundaries- putting fingers in ears and mouth. Yes. And so fittingly enough Jesus, who is for us Mother and Father and Bridegroom and kind Doctor, reaches out and touches this deaf man proclaiming, with healing down to his very fingertips, the in-breaking of God’s regenerative intimacy with us. The Word seeks communion. Jesus breaks boundaries, because God’s love is in fact boundless. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

At Lourdes

It was in a cave below the town of Lourdes in the south of France that Our Lady appeared on a blustery February 11th one hundred and fifty-six years ago to the fourteen year old Bernadette Soubirous.

The mysterious Woman made a large sign of the cross, which unfroze the frightened child and signified what a place of conversion and healing Lourdes would be become.

May Mary's presence in our lives unfreeze our hearts this winter morning and warm them with the compassion and effective care for one another to which Christ calls us by his word and example.

Reflection by Father Dominic given this morning at the beginning of Mass.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Becoming Light

As Father Luke commented in today's homily, it is truly amazing that Jesus, who is himself Light of the World, names us-  light of the world. 

One monk recently told us this story of his experience during prayer some years ago. He was on a retreat and became distracted by the memory of a dear friend, the great good times they had shared, his friend's beauty and real goodness. And he felt guilty, fearing he was stealing time from the Lord. Then he sensed the Lord somehow saying deep within his heart, "How else would you know what I was like?" 

Indeed, without the love of those we love, the care and attention of our brothers and friends, how would we know what Jesus looks like, acts like, who he wants to be for us? How else would we perceive his light? Jesus is truly our Light. We are invited to become more and more like Him light for the world, light for one another.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


All during this week as Church we have been remembering martyrs- Blaise and Agatha and today Paul Miki and his Companions. We pray that like them we may be faithful unto death, embracing death as an open portal to eternal life in Christ, embracing even our daily dyings as ways to encounter Christ's kind presence.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In Heaven

In the midst of winter snow, we read these words of our Cistercian forebear, Saint Aelred of Rievaulx.

What that kingdom we be like we cannot even think, where there is no variable weather or overcast skies, no excessive heat or harsh winter, but perfect balance in all things and complete tranquility of mind and body. He will be seen in himself. That lovable face, so longed for, upon which the angels yearn to gaze, will be seen. Who can say anything of its beauty, its light, its sweetness?

The monastery is meant to be a reflection of the heavenly Paradise which has been promised to us. Even now we are attentive for glimpses of Christ's promise. 

Photographs by Brother Anthony Khan. Lines from Rule of Life for a Recluse by Saint Aelred.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

In today's story it is almost as if Simeon and Anna are standing on tiptoe, waiting with hopeful expectation. They entertained no doubt at all that God would fulfill his promises because God had always done so. The only question was how God would do it. And in typical fashion, God chose the most unusual, surprising, unexpected and creative way way of doing it: being born as a human baby. Who would have thought? And he was not just born, but he was born into a very dark period historically, into the darkness of poverty and oppression. 

This darkness is very real. And it envelops all of us, including the mother of Jesus and Jesus himself. There is no human journey that does not include darkness. But the Light is real too, and the Light of Christ is our hope. God always brings Light into the darkest corners of human existence. And this Light is for all. Each of us struggles with darkness, in some manner, shape or form. Each of us is also invited to stand on tiptoe, waiting and hoping.

Bartolomeo di Giovanni, Presentation in the Temple, 1488, tempera on wood, Ospedale degli Innocenti, Florence. Reflection by Abbot Damian for today's Feast. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Our Lady

We are told that pregnant Muslim women from the village of Tibhirine in Algeria would often come to the monastery, from which our monks were abducted in 1996, to pray before the statue of Our Lady in the garden for safe deliveries. Muslims honor Mary as mother of Jesus the Prophet. We pray to her for an end to all terrorism, for peace, understanding and mutual respect between all Christians and Muslims. 

Raphael, Madonna of the Pomegranate, c. 1504, Black-gray chalk, Albertina, Vienna.