Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In the Dark

Our celebration this Christmas invites us to pass through the darkness that has enveloped our troubled and fearful world so intensely in recent weeks and to allow ourselves in a spirit of simple faith to be led and enlivened by the hope of finding the “great light” that alone can usher in joy and happiness on earth. Indeed a “great light has come upon the earth.” And as the Prologue to John’s Gospel proclaims, the Word, who was “in the beginning with God and through whom all things came to be, was coming into the world and is the true light which enlightens everyone . . . What came to be through him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark. It starts right now in the darkness of our own fear, sadness and pain, for as Saint Ambrose has said, “His desire is always to enter and make his home with us.” Our desire, the deepest desire of our heart, readily recognizes his.

Contemplating the Christ Child in the manger scene is not a matter of fleeting sentimentality but a wonderful grace and opportunity to let go of our bright ideas about God, so that our eyes are open anew to the God who is: who is in our midst and flesh, in our world with its darkness and troubles, its suffering and violence, its homelessness and loneliness. Our God, “in whom we live and move and have our being,” makes himself small for us  in order to take away our fear of his greatness. God deliberately, mercifully, made himself small in Bethlehem at a predawn hour, so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him as the light of our life, a light that always shines in our darkness, a light that only love bestows and discovers.

Reflection by Father Dominic.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Holy Family

The Holy Family is a very ordinary human family in its intense mutual love, in the specificity of its history, in the peculiarity of its challenges, and in its need to survive from day to day materially and socially.  And yet, at the same time, this very human ordinariness is precisely the sacred “space” and condition used by God to reveal his own nature as supernatural community of Persons and as absolute Source of love, mercy and redemption for all humanity. 

The particular and intimate joys and pleasures that the members of this human family took in one another were always at the service of God’s plan to save the world.  The Gospel today shows us both sides of the paradox.  On the one hand, Jesus, Mary and Joseph blend in with all other Jewish families in the way they cling to one another with love and care, conform with Jewish religious and social traditions, and generally live from day to day.  On the other hand, this ordinary human existence as a family is transformed by the presence of the divine Word, incarnate in Jesus, transformed into a vessel for God’s work of redemption.  Such a transformation requires, however, an event symbolized by Jesus’ temporarily turning his back on his earthly parents and first subjecting them to anguish before he subjects himself to them in obedience. 

The full meaning of the refrain of today's responsorial psalm, "Blessed is he who dwells in your house, O Lord!," is that God’s “house,” ultimately, is neither the nuclear human family nor the temple in Jerusalem nor any earthly church but rather the Kingdom of God in eternity.  The ultimate Holy Family is the communion of the saints in the bosom of the eternal Community of the Blessed Trinity.  It is this ultimate Family which the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph manifests to us today in a prophetic mode: "See what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. Yet so we are.…  We should believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.…  The way we know that he remains in us is from the Spirit that he gave us." Truly, because of Christ’s birth as one of us into a human family, we are already living the triune life of God!  

But let us never forget that, even while enjoying such a magnificent privilege, we are the fruit of the labor-pains of Mary and Joseph, and of all others also who have birthed us into the life of faith in any way whatsoever, with immense joy, yes, but also with sharp human suffering.  Being a Christian family, too, is one aspect of the Paschal Mystery, in which death and life are interwoven until the final Resurrection and definitive victory of Life over death.

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Excerpts from a Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family by Father Simeon.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

God's Secret

How secret are the sleeping quarters of a king! Can you understand how without this Virgin’s awareness he has produced the outlines of his sacred body in her venerable womb, the whole of our nature; how he has taken on its every quality? Since everything is possible with God, and it is impossible for you fully to understand even the least of his works, do not inquire excessively into this Virgin’s conceiving, but believe it.  Be reverently aware of the fact that God wishes to be born. Grasp by faith that great mystery of the Lord’s birth, because without faith you cannot comprehend even the least of God’s works.

Thus what God commands, an angel relates.  His Spirit fulfills it, and his power brings it to perfection. The Virgin believes it, and nature takes it up. The tale is told from the sky, and then proclaimed from all the heavens. The stars show it forth, and the Magi tell it about.  The shepherds adore, and the beasts are aware. Do acknowledge him in company with the beasts. Look, they give homage with their tails; they show their delight with their ears, they lick with their tongues, and with whatever sign they can they acknowledge that their Creator, in spite of his nature, has come into yours.  
Let us bow down at the manger, worshiping Him who has come to be with us in all things. Mary gives us her Son, who longs to embrace us.
Giotto, Nativity frescoes, Arena Chapel. Saint Peter Chrysologus, excerpts from Homily 141: On the Incarnation of Christ.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

In Haste

Mary set out in those days
and traveled to the hill country in haste
to a town of Judah,
where she entered the house of Zechariah
and greeted Elizabeth. 
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting,
the infant leaped in her womb,
and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy SpiritLuke 1

Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, the distance is about a four-day journey on foot. Mary is in haste out of joy and wonder. It is a joy and wonder that will issue in praise of the dawn of universal salvation. And when the child in Mary's womb comes near to the infant John in Elizabeth's womb, Elizabeth cries out in praise and prophecy, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Mary has set out and traveled in haste, all because love and joy have put a liveliness in her step. 

This phrase that describes how Mary goes to visit Elizabeth is the very phrase used by Saint Benedict in chapter 43 of his Rule to describe how a monk on hearing the signal for an hour of the Work of God will go to the church. He will “immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost haste, yet with gravity and without giving occasion for frivolity.” The love of God must so animate the hearts of Benedict's monks that they move with a liveliness, an urgency, joy and wonder like Mary’s.  Lovers do not walk towards each other, they run. So the monks go with utmost haste to praise the Lord at the Work of God.

As Christmas fast approaches, we go in haste with the shepherds, our hearts renewed in love, joy and wonder, as we seek Mary and Joseph and the Infant lying in the manger.  

The Visitation by Giotto. Meditation by Father Luke.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


It takes work to get back to the peace of knowing yourself loved. And perhaps we never fully get there while we’re here. But the desire is set deep inside us, that incompleteness, the ache for the surprise of love to find us. Perhaps some of us follow certain old scripts handed on to us by our own histories, stories filled with fear and failure. The script often reads- don’t trust, don’t hope. Jesus, God’s tender Word comes to us and offers us a new script, new words to rewrite our story and reimagine the old hopelessness as possibility and opportunity for grace; even allowing ourselves to believe that we are rejoiced over.

Jesus invites us back to this place where we can learn to receive life and love as underserved and unexpected blessings. We may sense the near impossibility of opening our hearts to make a space for love and hope, a place inside us where God’s rejoicing can sprout and blossom from the hard, unpromising stump of our tired old fear and loneliness. And so we each morning we go up to the altar again to receive his precious Body and Blood, the promise of his rejoicing over us.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Gaudete Sunday

How dare we rejoice this morning? So much pain and conflict, too many refugees, wounded and murdered victims of the terrorism that seems to be stalking us; so many still grieving in Paris, San Bernardino, all through the Middle East, over and over. It may seem like a mockery of their memory and suffering or a hairbrained attempt at distracting ourselves from too much pain, constant fear and premonition- as if Advent or Christmas were an anti-depressant. But, there’s something more. The Church does not invite us to rejoice as some kind of liturgical diversion. Just the opposite; this rejoicing is a very real summons to awakeness. For we dare to rejoice only and foremost because, as the prophet Zephaniah tells us this morning, we are being rejoiced over. God is rejoicing over us, promising us that he is with us, always drawing near.

We dare to rejoice because hope, mercy and compassion are with us and always coming closer in Christ Jesus our Lord, the God of all consolation. Hope is beside us. Not false hope (there’s never ever been anything false about hope) for now in Christ, Hope is a Person who is searching for us. Love and mercy are relentlessly coming to us as an undeserved and surprising gift. The prophets, Isaiah and today Zephaniah, remind us that “a pattern of reversal” is unfolding in our midst.” And we are being invited to collaborate in the divine subterfuge. For God is taking disaster, pain and contradiction as his opportunity for grace, and he begs our cooperation.

Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; he will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, he will sing joyfully because of you, as one sings at festivals.

Photograph of Abbey window by Brother Daniel.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Our Lady At Guadalupe

On an icy cold day in December of 1531, Our Lady promises Juan Diego that he will find many flowers blossoming on the hilltop where he first met her. He does as she says and gathers roses, lilies, carnations, iris, fragrant jasmine blossoms, yellow gorse and tiny violets. The Virgin arranges them all in the fold of Juan’s coarse cactus fiber tilma and sends him to visit the bishop. When the flowers fall to the floor before the dumbfounded bishop in Mexico City, he sees Our Blessed Lady’s lovely handiwork. She has painted her self-portrait with spring blossoms in winter.  

Mary is at the center of what Pope Francis has called “the revolution of tenderness." Today as we remember Our Lady of Guadalupe.We are greatly consoled by her words to Saint Juan Diego in 1531:

Do listen, do be assured of it, my littlest one, that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For am I not here, I, your mother? Are you not in the cool of my shadow? In the breeziness of my shade? Is it not I that am your source of contentment? Are you not cradled in my mantle, cuddled in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?

Friday, December 11, 2015

Desiring to See God

We long to see God's face, but as Saint Peter Chrysologus reminds us, how can our "narrow human vision apprehend God, whom the whole world cannot contain?" Still we are filled with yearning, we have come to know and understand that nothing else, nothing less than Christ Jesus himself can satisfy the desire of our hearts.  Peter Chrysologus continues:

But the law of love is not concerned with what will be, what ought to be, what can be. Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation. Love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object. Love destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves; love follows its own promptings, and does not think of right and wrong. Love inflames desire which impels it toward things that are forbidden. But why continue? It is intolerable for love not to see the object of its longing. That is why whatever reward they merited was nothing to the saints if they could not see the Lord. A love that desires to see God may not have reasonableness on its side, but it is the evidence of filial love. It gave Moses the temerity to say: If I have found favor in your eyes, show me your face. It inspired the psalmist to make the same prayer: Show me your face. Even the pagans made their images for this purpose: they wanted actually to see what they mistakenly revered.

In Christ our hope, our longing will never ever be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Immaculate Conception

Today is special for several reasons, not only because we are celebrating the wonderful event in salvation history of the Immaculate Conception, but because today begins the Jubilee Year of Mercy. Regarding today’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception the Holy Father remarked that it is a fitting day to open the Holy Year because it “recalls God’s action from the very beginning of the history of mankind. After the sin of Adam and Eve, God did not wish to leave humanity alone in the throes of evil. So he turned his gaze to Mary, holy and Immaculate in love, choosing her to be the Mother of man’s Redeemer. When faced with the gravity of sin, God responds with the fullness of mercy.”

Today’s feast is thus an eloquent witness to the fact that, as the Holy Father says, “Mercy will always be greater than any sin, and no one can place limits on the love of God who is ever ready to forgive.” God is not deterred by sin; in fact, history shows that he uses it to bring about even better things. All of us, as Paul tells us, have been chosen by God in Christ, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. This reality has been realized in history for our sake in Mary, by her Son from his death on the Cross.

As an action of the Divine Mercy in history, Mary’s purity is in God as a mutual gift between the divine Persons: from the Father, who wishes who provide a perfect Mother for his Son, and from the Son who wishes to restore to the Father a creation perfectly redeemed, and from the Spirit who cooperates in the will of both. Mary’s Immaculate Conception is no afterthought for a world gone wrong, but the mutual gift of divine love perfectly achieved. 

The Pope tells us that “we need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy, which is a wellspring of joy, serenity and peace,” and a bridge connecting God and man, opening our hearts to a hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness.” But the Holy Year is an occasion “to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we can become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives.” The ultimate goal being more effective witness through growth in holiness.

Mercy of its very nature is unmerited gift. A gift to truly be a gift must be received and requires a response. And the fitting first response is simply gratitude. Mary the Immaculate Conception is our model. Her gratitude can be summed up in her self-definition as handmaid of the Lord. Thanksgiving for all she has received is expressed in unreserved obedient service, above all in her unbounded “yes” to the request of the angel to be God’s mother and to all that was to follow in her life from that “yes.”  

Immaculate Conception by Diego Velasquez, Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily at today's Eucharist.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent Discovery

Our yearly celebration of the Advent mystery is a kind of jolt, a reminder that wherever we stand in our commitment to God, there is always room for some adjustment. An important aspect of this growth consist, as it did for John the Baptist's listeners, in the ongoing discovery that our relationship with God is not something static.

It was from God's initiative that the story of each of us began. This takes us back into the depths of God's eternal plan for each of us. God ardently desired this. And he set in motion the great work of our creation as unique images of himself and incorporated us into Christ as members of his Body. God keeps his plan for us going on. But to be sure, our own cooperation is essential. Our principal contribution is to embrace his divine will at each moment. This is the ideal by which Christ himself lived on this earth.

Excerpts from Father Gabriel's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Blessed Charles de Foucauld

Our hearts like that of Jesus, must embrace all humanity. Be loving, gentle, humble, with all human-beings. This is what we have learned from Jesus, not to be aggressive towards anyone.

As we begin the season of Advent, we remember today Blessed Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916) a one-time French soldier and playboy who died as a poor, malnourished hermit in the desert of Algeria. We are inspired by his great simplicity and ardor, as we like him long for the presence of the Prince of Peace . 

Let us concern ourselves with those who lack everything, those to whom no one gives a thought. Let us be the friends of those who have no friends, their brother... I want all the people here, Christians, Muslims, Jews, non-believers, to look on me as their brother, the universal brother. They begin to call my house ‘the fraternity’ and this makes me happy.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Jesus the Rainbow

In the Book of Genesis God speaks after the great flood, “I establish My covenant with you... neither shall there again be a flood to destroy the earth...This is the sign of the covenant which I am making between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all successive generations; I set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.”

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells that, when we see him, the Son of Man "coming in a cloud with power and great glory," we need not be afraid. We can "stand erect" and raise our heads because our "redemption is at hand." In his homily this morning Father Aquinas wisely referred to Jesus, as the Rainbow. Since he is our Redeemer, the Messenger and Embodiment of God's eternal covenant with us, we need not be afraid. 

Things may be falling apart all around us, but Jesus comes to us, calls us to himself, to a space that transcends collapse and ultimate deterioration. The Son of Man is the new place for us to stand secure, for the waters of chaos cannot overpower him. He is the redemption that is offered to us in the midst of a perishing world. We must be aware, awake and stand on higher ground, rooted, grounded and built up in Christ. As worlds fall apart around us, our task is prayer and vigilance, standing secure as companions of the Son of Man who saves us. And so, far from shrinking from the inevitability of collapse, we can lean into it, holding on to him who is our Hope.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Transformed by Gratitude

The Hebrew word hodah, which is generally translated as “give thanks”, means “confess, profess or state publicly.” In the Bible to give thanks means to state in a public way that at this moment, this concrete, historical moment God was at work. This biblical concept of thanksgiving as public witness to God’s action is prominent in Luke’s account of the cleansing of the ten lepers. Ten were healed, but only one returned and publicly gave thanks to Jesus- the Samaritan, the outsider, the one least expected by a Jewish audience to do so since his very identity as a Jew was suspect. Maybe the other nine felt that Jesus, as a brother Jew, owed this healing to them. The Samaritan knew that he was owed nothing; he knew that it was all sheer gift. And so gratitude publicly and powerfully expressed was the only adequate response. We assume that all ten were grateful, but only one was transformed by gratitude. Only one really tasted and savored the presence of God’s closeness and action in his life.

This is what the Pilgrims did in the autumn of 1621. They took time, after a rich harvest, to offer thanks for having survived their first year in the new world. As one of them wrote, “By the goodness of God, we are so far from want.” A number of years ago Peter Fleck a Unitarian minister suggested that perhaps the Pilgrims were not thankful because they had survived, but maybe they had survived because they were grateful. In other words maybe their gratitude transformed them, much as that healed Samaritan was transformed by his gratitude.
Indeed as one scholar has noted, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.” And so Saint Ignatius Loyola recommends taking time to savor and relish God’s advances in the extraordinary and seemingly insignificant moments of our lives. Still we may question whether there are reasons to be grateful. In the wake of persistent unemployment, endless financial woes, threats of terrorism at home and abroad, serious illness... gratitude may seem not only inaccessible but ridiculous to suggest. Yet in times of struggle, gratitude is even more critical. We need not deny the dark in order to see the light. Darkness can make spots of light even more brilliant; like stars shining in a dark sky. May our lives be ever more brightened and transformed by gratitude.

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Photo by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for Thanksgiving Day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Autumn Moon

This evening's moon rises above the Abbey hillside. We are reminded that the moon is symbol of the Virgin Mary, since it receives its light from the sun, just as she receives her light from Jesus the Sun of Justice, the Dayspring from on high who dawns upon us.

Photograph by Kathleen Trainor.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

O Jesus

Jesu, rex admirabilis
et triumphator nobilis,
dulcedo ineffabilis,
totus desiderabilis.

Mane nobiscum, Domine,
et nos illustra lumine,
pulsa mentis caligine,
mundum reple ducedine.

O Jesus, wondrous king
And noble conqueror,
Inexpressible sweetness,
Wholly to be desired,

Stay with us, O  Lord,
And enlighten us with your light,
Scatter the darkness of our minds,
Fill the world with sweetness.

At this morning's Eucharist the Abbey schola sang this hymn by Palestrina with stanzas once thought to have been composed by Saint Bernard. We were moved by the text, its ardor and directness. Jesus is our hope, wholly to be desired.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Saint Mechtilde

Today we remember Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn, a 13th century Cistercian nun from the convent of Helfta. Even in her lifetime Mechtilde was renowned for her humility, fervor and gentleness. Her prayer was marked by the great familiarity and intensity with which she lived her relationship with Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

It was said of Mechtilde that, "the words of the Gospel were a marvelous nourishment for her and in her heart stirred feelings of such sweetness that, because of her enthusiasm, she was often unable to finish reading it.” In one of her visions, Jesus opened the wound in his heart and said to her, "Consider the immensity of my love: if you want to know it well, nowhere will you find it more clearly expressed than in the Gospel. No one has ever heard expressed stronger or more tender sentiments than these, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.’ 

In another vision Jesus showed Mechtilde his heart and said that it was like a kitchen where those he loved could go whenever they wanted nourishment. With Mechtilde we hasten to the wounded heart of Christ for all that we need and long for.

Insights from an address of Pope Benedict XVI and from Scholars and Mystics by Sister Mary Jeremy, OP.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Too Much

Amidst all the horror and fear and uncertainty of recent days, with terrorist attacks in Paris and so many grieving here and abroad over too much pain and violence over and over, we pray. We go to our inner room, the inner room of our heart, and we pray. Too much sadness, far too many tragedies. Too much death and suffering- countless innocent people, martyred Christians, flocks of refugees, too many parents cradling wounded children, far too many soldiers killed. Our hearts are stretched, yanked open. So much to pray for; too much sadness. We feel helpless. Still we hope, we believe though we cannot see, that our praying is efficacious. The wounded and risen Lord Jesus is our only Hope. He hears our prayer. That is enough.

And so each day, we bring each other, we bring the world in its suffering and despondency and seeming hopelessness to Christ, longing for the intrusion of his grace. Awkward, impeded, our tongues thick, not knowing how to speak our need and longing, and perhaps deafened by too much tragedy. Still we come back to church in hope; we close our eyes, open our hearts and pour them out to him. Christ Jesus assures us that he hears, he understands; he is with us, he himself praying in us, articulating our desire in words beyond words. This is what our prayer is best of all: our desire groaned by Jesus for us, within us. It is this very groaning of Christ that will bring healing to our world.

 Crucifix of Fra Innocenzo da Palermo, 1637, Assisi, Convento di San Damiano. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

Holy Forebears

Remain in me as I do in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing.

Today we monks celebrate the Feast of All the Saints of the Benedictine Order, all our holy forebears who lived according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. And we ponder these words from today's Gospel according to Saint John, well aware that all we have and all we are comes from Jesus, who has called us here to the monastery to remain with him. We thank him for calling us, we praise him for those who have gone before us and show us that fidelity and perseverance and true holiness are possible.
We share archival photos from Saint Joseph's Abbey  (at top) and Our Lady of the Valley (below.)


Tuesday, November 10, 2015


You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.
I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.
It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you
and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain,
so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.
This I command you: love one another.”
   John 15:12-17    
What might it be like to know myself liked by God, truly appreciated, loved with great tenderness, understanding, compassion? Could God be at least as good as my best friend, a friend who knows my goodness as well as my sometime cantankerousness and angularity and still just loves being with me?  What might it be like to imagine a God like that?

Photograph by Brother Jonah.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Becoming Compassion

Jesus really understands the poor widow’s gift and her predicament. Jesus notices the widow’s offering perhaps because it is his story too. Hounded, harassed and eventually condemned by the local religious authorities, he too will freely choose to give over all he has to live on- his very life blood and his precious body- because love is more important. Love and giving from the heart, real generosity, always have the quiet power to overthrow oppression. Compassionate mercy is enfleshed in Christ Jesus. It is he alone who really truly understands, understands each of us, our context, our stories. We are invited to have this compassionate mind in us, which was also in Christ Jesus. And so a huge part of our life together in the monastery is coming to understand each other, to learn the stories that we hold within us, the stories that we are. Then perhaps we can learn compassion.

Some years ago we heard the story of a parish conducted by a certain religious order. In the community there was one priest who was the bane of the brethren, judged by all as lazy and inefficient, always disheveled; clearly an embarrassment to everyone. He slept in late and could only manage to preside each day at the noon Mass, then have lunch and go back to his room. They never saw much of him. And soon they never saw him at all. One day he didn’t show up for his Mass; and soon after the superior found him dead in his cluttered, stuffy room. After he died the doctor told the superior of the rare incapacitating disease this priest had endured for years; the bone-numbing fatigue that was part of it. The rector recounted the priest’s daily routine- the one Mass, the drowsy lunch, the laziness. “Oh no, not laziness, Father,” the doctor assured him. “The little he was able to do was truly heroic.”

Maybe we come to understand. So much has happened. So many stories, stories that have formed and sometimes deformed and burden us still; so many triumphs and sorrows that have marked us. Only Jesus sees and really understands the little we have to live on and what we live with. He always notices. And slowly but surely we are invited to begin doing likewise. Even now, the little things we do no matter how unremarkable give Jesus pleasure. And His promise to us, as to Elijah’s widow in today's first reading, is that when we are generous, we will have more than enough to get by. We can afford it. Our task is to keep noticing with the compassionate, merciful eyes of Christ and so to get on our way to becoming compassion for one another. 
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Exposing the ‘False Self’

How can I deal with my ‘false self? There are ways of exposing it. One is humor: suddenly glimpsing my seriousness about myself and my efforts, even those stubborn efforts to be good and improve myself; perhaps glimpsing in a moment of delicious self-awareness, how ridiculous I am. Ideally I come to realize that there is a whole world out there that is not about me. What a relief! I can relax and learn to part of it, without having to be at the center of it all.

Another way of exposing the ‘false self’ is self-compassion. I may finally realize that I am being ridiculous or obsessive and really stuck in destructive patterns. But I cannot just stop or deny them. I have acknowledged them. Perhaps now I can be gentle with myself. I am a fragile, broken creature, but I am held by the love of God. I am not perfect. Being compassionate with myself does not mean being self-indulgent. Rather simply accepting my powerlessness and being gentle with my own creatureliness involves true humility. And it can lead me back to others and to the world around me-  at last more self-forgetful, and truly compassionate.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a recent chapter talk by Abbot Damian.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Eight Thoughts

The fourth-century Egyptian monk, Evagrius of Pontus, spoke of eight ‘thoughts’: gluttony, greed, sloth, sorrow, lust, anger, vainglory and pride. These eight thoughts are self-protecting, self-promoting, self-indulging habits of mind that keep me firmly at the center of my concern. They tend to blind me to the reality and needs of others. And they generate the illusion of separation from God, from others and from the world around me. These eight thoughts suggest to me that the necessities and goods of life need to be possessed rather than received as a gift, coming from the providence and generosity of God.

Jesus lived in responsiveness to God’s abundance and mercy, trusting his Father as the ultimate reality despite all the world’s violence and even in the face of death.  Jesus cut through the great illusion of separateness. The paradoxical truth is that, if you want really to live, you must receive your life as gift and not something to be grasped at; if you want to be connected to the source of all life, you cannot isolate yourself by way of self-protection or self-promotion. You must learn to ‘let go’ and entrust yourself to God’s love, care and concern for you. “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it,” says Jesus.

Reflection by Abbot Damian. Photographs by Brother Brian.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Brother Matthias

During last Sunday's Chapter Brother Matthias received the novice's habit. An accomplished artist, Matthias comes to us from Pittsburgh after working for several years as a professional chef and caterer. We rejoice to have Matthias our brother in community. 

O God, in that unutterable kindness by which you dispose all things sweetly and wisely, you gave us clothing, so that a triple benefit might be ours: we are covered with dignity, kept warm and protected in body and soul. Father, pour forth the blessing of your Holy Spirit upon us this morning and upon these clothes which your son here before us has asked to receive, so that he may serve you faithfully in the Cistercian way of life.

Photographs by Father Emmanuel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


After spending the night in prayer on a mountain top, Jesus calls his disciples to himself  and chooses Twelve, whom he names Apostles. 
Jesus calls us to himself, chooses each of us us for our own mission. Like the Twelve, we are meant to do our part to make God's kingdom a reality, so that the Lord Jesus and his way of loving and acting may inform our thoughts and actions moment by moment. 
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


A large, probably admiring crowd is traveling with Jesus this morning, happy and proud to be in the entourage of the wonder worker who has captivated their imaginations and their hearts. But soon the euphoria is interrupted by an annoying blind beggar, crying out. Many in the crowd tell him to quiet down; he’s disrupting things, really ruining the mood. But the guy refuses to be silenced, and he shouts out all the more insistently, begging for Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Praised be to God, Bartimaeus knows what he wants. He may be blind, but he has clear insight- in his plea he calls Jesus Son of David, recognizing Jesus’ royal lineage as well as his reputation as healer.

Actually this passage often strikes us as one of the more humorous ones in all the Gospels, for at this point Jesus calls for him and asks the blind man, who probably has stumbled toward him, hands feeling the air, “What do you want me to do for you?” At this point in his ministry Jesus has this marvelous reputation as a healer. The man is blind. Why else would he be crying out to Jesus? Isn’t it obvious? But apparently Jesus wants him to say it, “I want to see.” Jesus wants him to say it, wants us to blurt out our desire, our deepest longing. “What do you want? What do you want me to do for you? Tell me. How can I help? I am here for you always, always; please let me in. Say it; let me hear your voice, for your voice is lovely.”

Many of us accustomed to praying might be apt to say, “But Jesus knows; he knows everything. He knows what I need, what I want; I don’t have to tell him.” True enough, but when we say it, we get to hear it; we hear ourselves, hear our neediness, our poverty and know our real, desperate need for Christ. Prayer is relationship; there are times to be quiet, times to sit together, times to talk a blue streak to someone you love, whom you know will listen compassionately. Jesus must be at last as good as that. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. *Insight from Sacra Pagina: Mark.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


We know that the closer we get to Jesus, the more clearly we see who we are. Always with the realization of God’s nearness there is neither boasting nor complacency but awe and reverence and very often bitter self-knowledge. We see more clearly who we are. And so the response of a grateful, awe-filled heart is often, quite appropriately- I am not worthy. Noticing the blessing, the undeserved abundance, we see clearly who the recipient is. It is any of us, who may be blest by God's gracious presence not because of what we may have accomplished but because of who God is- all love. It’s never been about worth, but always about love, and the sweet condescension of his mercy, the tenderness we never really deserve.

Photo by Brother Brian.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Twenty-ninth Sunday

In the verses just before this morning’s Gospel, Jesus has tried to explain to the apostles what is going to happen to him.“Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise.” It is sobering and painful to hear; and they are amazed and afraid. But it’s clear that they really don’t understand yet, they don’t realize who it is they’re following. And so this morning James and John ask to sit beside Jesus one on his right and the other at his left when he is throned in glory. Tragically the only enthronement Jesus is going to receive will be on a cross of agony and humiliation with a thief on his left and his right.

That’s why it’s always so embarrassing to hear those two naive, very ambitious apostles say a bit too enthusiastically that they are ready to drink the same cup as Jesus, undergo the same baptism. Their “confident but foolish” response: “Yes we can.” Certainly Jesus wants the disciples, all of us, to get caught up with enthusiasm in the dream of the kingdom, what it is, what it means. But the key is to become more and more fascinated with him and his way of doing things; and to want to go and do likewise. It is not about entitlement. Jesus has come to serve, not to be served. And these two apostles don’t seem to get that part yet. Like James and John we too are on the way, still growing in relationship with Jesus. There’s so much more he wants to explain to all of us.

Photographs by Brother Brian of the Abbey woodlands.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

All Things Are Passing

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing;
God only is changeless.
Patience gains all things.
Who has God wants nothing.
God alone suffices.

We are always heartened by these words of Saint Teresa of Avila. 
As autumn days grow cooler with 
first frosts at night, we notice that 
some flowers continue to bloom. 
Patience gains everything.

         Brother Brian's Photos of Brother Gabriel's garden.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Gift of Community

It is important that Christ specifies that the very things given up will be replaced in this present age a hundred times by the very things sacrificed initially. The list given by Mark is not some bonanza of good things. Each category represents some crucial element in human life: mothers, brothers and sisters, a house, lands. What is important is that each comes back- as a gift- in the context of that community of believers where each member cares for the other and is in turn cared for by all. Wondrous to tell, this constituted the gradual but true beginning of the Kingdom of God on earth- already in those days of Christ's presence on earth. 

The history of the Church is the continuation of this gradual building up  of the Body of Christ. Our own vocation occupies a special place in this history, for our lives unfold in a community to which we are committed for life and whose members in a sense belong to one another in a relationship of mutual dedication.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Gabriel.