Sunday, January 31, 2016


The poor Christ is always coming toward us to give himself to us. We never go to him alone, we always go together. And so our life as monks is lived out in community in an ordinariness that is ultimately transformative for each of us from the novitiate until our last moments in the infirmary.

As we persevere in community day in day out, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus. For truly we have no other way to discover that we are poor men following the poor Christ. And the deeper our personal awareness of our poverty grows, the more the compassion and mercy of the poor Christ can flow into us, into our community and into the whole Church. 

Postcard from our monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island. Meditation from a Homily by Father Isaac.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Father Robert

We mourn the passing of our dear Father Robert, who died in the Abbey infirmary this morning at about 7:30. He had been ailing for a number of weeks. Father Robert entered the monastery on the 10th of September in 1954. Hardworking, devoted to prayer and a lover of this place, he discharged many duties in his more than sixty-one years of monastic life. Father Robert was responsible for revamping the monastery's Holy Rood Guild in the 1970's. And just before his recent illness, he was Director of Trappist Preserves. He also served as forest manager and farm manager for the Abbey lands. Father Robert was a respected and popular retreat master in the monastery retreat house. He treasured the give-and-take of community living, the commitment to prayer, the intellectual atmosphere and the responsibility of hard work. With characteristic enthusiasm he said that monastic life was "the most fulfilling life" he could imagine. May he rest with Christ in peace.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Founders of Citeaux

The Cistercian scholar Father Michael Casey often reminds us that we must let go of "the myth of the golden age," a cherished fantasy period when the Founders and the early generations of our Order enjoyed some ideal monastic life, when everything ran like clockwork, smooth, ideal, neat. Probably Citeaux, like our founding houses in Nova Scotia, Rhode Island and like our own monastery here in Spencer, was full of men like us, wounded sinners trying with all their hearts to follow the poor Christ. Perhaps then we can honor the memory of our Holy Founders, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen best, if we go with them to the place of humility in the shadow of the cross, to rest in its shade and remember that we are, as they were, sinners, absolutely dependent on the tender mercy of our God.

 Icon of the Holy Founders written by Brother Terence.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Jesus Reading

Today we see Jesus enter the synagogue on the Sabbath, "as he usually did.” He stands up to do the reading, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah is given to him. And he reads: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord." (Is 61)

The words of Isaiah are addressed to the materially poor, those in prison, the physically blind, the oppressed and the exploited. The message is one of hope, healing and liberation. But this message is not only for the materially poor but also for the spiritually poor, the emotionally poor, the outcast and the rejected. Even those who are surrounded by material wealth can be poor. Mother Teresa used to say that the countries that are the most rich are the most spiritually poor. All are poor for we are all in need of Jesus’ message of salvation, repentance and faith.

Physical blindness is one thing, but there is another blindness that can be far more afflicting. Prejudice, jealousy, ignorance, self-centeredness and other emotional blocks can be far more blinding than physical blindness. There is a spiritual darkness. When that overtakes us, the eyes of our souls cannot see. It keeps us from being exposed to the light of truth. Helen Keller once wrote: “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

In the gospels Jesus is always concerned with the downtrodden, dejected, those who live on the margins, those who feel broken and crushed spiritually and physically. The circumstances of life have taken their toll, and they have no desire to go on. Jesus reminds us that he has come for our deliverance and desires to free us from oppression

In the Church we are in the midst of celebrating an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy. When the Holy Father made the announcement of this Jubilee celebration he said: “Dear brothers and sisters, I have thought about how the Church can make clear its mission of being a witness of mercy. The mercy of God must be at the center. We must ‘feel mercy.’ This word changes everything. It’s the best thing we can feel; it changes the world.”

Snowy landscape by Brother Brian. Excerpts from this morning's homily by Father Emmanuel.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Praying for Life

Today we celebrate most gratefully God's gift of life and commemorate with sadness and contrition the many lives lost to abortion, praying that human life will be reverenced and protected  at every stage.

God our Creator, we give thanks to you, who alone have the power to impart the breath of life as you form each of us in our mother's womb; grant, we pray, that we, whom you have made stewards of creation, may remain faithful to this sacred trust and constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Photograph of the monks in choir by Father Emmanuel .

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

God's Mercy and Our Conversion

God always has mercy on us unconditionally, because mercy is in his very nature, because mercy is his nature. Because God is Love, God is Mercy.  However, a necessary condition from our side, which alone makes us capable of receiving the mercy God is always extending to us, is that we repent of all our wrongdoing and evil inclinations. Only conversion of heart in fact opens the heart so that the mercy of God can enter it and have its healing and life-giving effect there. 

Without the change required of us by conversion of heart, all of our pleading for God’s mercy remains laziness and presumption. God's mercy is not cheap. Persistence in sin cannot but have dire consequences, though God’s nature as mercy remains unaltered throughout. Without conversion of heart, we remain deliberately shut off, barricaded within our ego, and so are simply not capable of embracing the mercy God gives.  It falls to the ground, tragically wasted. 

Let us, then, above all, pray incessantly for the grace of conversion of heart, since conversion is not a work of our own, a decision we make unilaterally, in utter isolation, but, truly, a work of grace.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from a Meditation by Father Simeon.

Sunday, January 17, 2016


We imagine that all the Gospels answer a question posed by a second generation of Christ’s followers, perhaps the children and grandchildren of the apostles and disciples. “What was Jesus like? What was it like to know him? What was it like to be with him?" 

How extraordinarily attractive Jesus must have been. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand,” he says. And so perfectly does he express this good news of God’s reign, in his healing, in his preaching, in who he was, that he says, “Come away with me,” and at once the first disciples leave everything behind. Was it just so clear? Why else would they have left everything without hesitation? 

There is a rather bizarre medieval legend that John the Beloved Disciple was actually the bridegroom of the marriage feast at Cana. The story goes that, having witnessed the power and beauty of Jesus as he transformed gallons and gallons of water into wine, the groom abandoned his bride there and then and became Christ’s follower. As odd as it may sound, this legend has the same flavor of immediacy. 

Just as the first apostles abandon father, nets, boats, everything to follow Jesus, our work as monks is to make ourselves constantly available to the irresistibility of Jesus, available to be drawn by Christ, fascinated over and over again by the goodness and beauty of God, completely defenseless before his call. The bells are our constant summons to put all other things aside. Such attentiveness is grace and gracefulness. 

Bust of Christ by Gianlorenzo Bernini.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Through the Roof

In this morning's Gospel we watch as a paralytic is lowered through the open roof before Jesus. We imagine this poor man, frozen and still, paralyzed perhaps by a fall at work. He knows the embarrassing truth- his paralysis is caused by sin, maybe the sin of his parents, but probably his own sin. He knows it; everybody in the Capernaum knows it, all devout Jews in Jesus’ day believed it-  sin causes sickness. Jesus knows differently. 

We imagine this poor man's surprise and resistance as his friends, perhaps his buddies from work, arrive at his home and want to take him to Jesus. "The Lord is back home, here in Capernaum; we're bringing you to him." Perhaps he struggles to whisper, "No." He's afraid; Jesus will know; Jesus will expose his sin; Jesus might condemn him. But the Lord Jesus brimming with mercy and compassion is moved with pity. He knows that what burdens this man most of all is guilt. And so first of all Jesus forgives his sin. But Jesus' compassion will not, cannot stop there. He not only has authority to forgive sins on earth, he has authority over all evil and sickness. And so he says to the paralytic, “Rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” 

Like those gathered around Jesus in his house at Capernaum, we are astounded; and we too glorify and praise God for the mercy and compassion that come to us in Christ Jesus our Lord .
Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

With Saint Aelred

In Christ God has become bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. It is in the wounded and risen Christ that friendship with God becomes real, for there we can see and understand the depth of God’s desire to share everything with us. For in the hour of his crucifixion God pours out his entire self for us, desiring to unburden us, to free us from sin and death, wanting what is best for us, as any friend would. True friendship with God is now accessible, possible because in the brokenhearted Christ, God most high has become God most low; God has opened his heart to us, longing for our friendship. It is the wounded face of Christ that reveals the love of Father, Son and Spirit. This everything of the Father’s love for us is most clearly expressed in the self-offering of Jesus, in his disfigured humanity.

A God who is love would be inconceivable without the reality of the incompleteness that is love, the inner voice, the deep desire that says, “I cannot be me without you. And you cannot be you without me.”* This is the truth of who God is, a God who is relationship, a God whom Saint Aelred names as friendship. In their mutual exchange, deferring to each other in love, Father, Son and Spirit utter these words endlessly to one another and to each of us. The Spirit invites us into this heavenly reciprocity, this exchange loving friendship, empowering, encouraging us to say to God with every fiber of our being: “I cannot be me without you,” as God repeats these same words back to us. Our friendship with God in Christ through the Spirit is ultimately fulfilled in our promise to love one another as we have been loved, to create households and communities of friends, where we will try to love as God loves. It is an impossible task, only the Spirit of Jesus can help us for alone we do not know how to pray or love as God loves.

Photograph of antique corpus in the Abbey hermitage by Brother Brian. Quotation by Jeremy Driscoll, OSB. Meditation by one of the monks.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

His Baptism

Our Lord’s Baptism is a puzzling, almost apocalyptic scene-  the waters of the Jordan like the waters of chaos, the heavens opening, the voice sounding, the dove descending. Jesus, the New Adam, emerges from the waters of the Jordan to overcome all that is opposed to God, to fight for the “victory of justice,” as Isaiah puts it. He has come to win back for every human being the gift of intimate communion with God. His mission: to reveal the way to the original innocence and holiness that was intended for us from the beginning, by revealing to us the divine love that overcomes Original Sin and all sin.

Today at the Baptism the Father’s love is revealed in these words: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” What pleases the Father so much is his Son’s perfect acceptance of the Father’s gift. Jesus expresses his love by wading into the waters of the Jordan, so that his brothers and sisters might know the Father who is continually pouring out mercy. As Isaiah tells us, “the bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench.” The love of the Spirit, revealed in his descent as a dove, witnesses to the communion of love between the Father and the Son.

And so at Jesus’ Baptism we glimpse the love which is the inner life of the Trinity and mediated to us by the New Adam. United with Jesus, we too are beloved of the Father, summoned for the victory of justice-  for the fullness of communion with God, our neighbor, and all creation. 
Detail of tapestry of the Baptism by John Nava in Los Angeles Cathedral. Excerpts of this morning's homily by Father Vincent.

Friday, January 8, 2016


With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love”  John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. The signs he works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.

We ponder these words of Pope Francis in his Bull for the Jubilee Year of Mercy Misericordiae Vultus, as we see Jesus heal the leper in today's Gospel. Jesus embodies compassion as he touches this untouchable leper, this poor man who has lived in pain and stark isolation for too long. Now he can simply blend in once again. Jesus has given him back to his family and friends; Jesus has given him back to ordinariness, blessed ordinariness. It is after all where his mercy always comes to meet us. 

Photograph of the Abbey's Roman stairway and abbatiale by Father Emmanuel.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Glorious Exchange

Again at this morning's Mass, we were touched by the beauty of this Prayer over the Offerings for days during Christmastide:

Receive our oblation, O Lord,
by which is brought about a glorious exchange,
that, by offering what you have given,
we may merit to receive your very self.
Through Christ our Lord.

In the glorious exchange of the Incarnation, our Creator becomes flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. In the glorious exchange of the Holy Eucharist, we bring gifts of bread and wine, gifts that represent all that we have, all that we are, and they become the Body and Blood of the Lord of all Creation. O glorious exchange!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

God's Need

God sees every one of us; He creates every soul . . . for a purpose. He needs, he deigns to need, every one of us. He has an end for each of us; we are all equal in his sight, and we are placed in our different ranks and stations, not to get what we can out of them for ourselves, but to labor in them for him. As Christ has his work, we too have ours; as he rejoiced to do his work, we must rejoice in ours also. 

Imagine Saint John Neumann having the holy confidence to say that God needs us, indeed, chooses to need us. As we continue to celebrate these ordinary days of the Christmas season, today on this eleventh day of Christmas, the mystery of the Incarnation is powerfully brought home to us by his words.

In his Incarnation God loses himself in love for us, so much so that he chooses to come to us small and needy. As a little baby, God in Christ is dependent on Mary’s womb, on her warm milk and nurture for his sustenance. God is love. Love always gives itself, forgets itself. God is thus always toward us, always, always reaching out, using anything at all to get our attention. As Saint John Neumann dares to remind us today on his feast day, God “needs, he deigns to need, every one of us.”

Lines from a homily by Saint John Neumann. Orazio Gentilleschi, Rest on the Flight into Egypt, detail, 1628.

Sunday, January 3, 2016


The Gospel of Matthew tells us that when the Magi reached the stable and saw the star, they rejoiced with the greatest joy. This is the joy of the good news of Jesus’ birth for each of us. With all the messes in the world today, such joy may seem hard to access. But as Father Damian reminded us this morning, we dare to rejoice because God is really with us now in everything. And so we can put cynicism aside and lay claim to the joy that Jesus’ loving presence grants to us.
Joy is truly the meaning of Christmas; joy does not mean simply pleasure and the absence of pain and suffering and sorrow. Genuine joy is a constant that remains with us throughout all our life experiences. And this joy cannot disappear. Even in the stable of Bethlehem the shadow of the cross is present. But this cannot obscure the joy of the Nativity, for as we proclaim all during the Christmas season God in Christ is truly with us, now, here, in all things.
Father Damian concluded his remarks with this reflection by Karl Rahner, who puts the following words in God’s mouth: "I am there. I am with you. I am your life. I am your time. I am the gloom of your daily routine. Why will you not bear it? I weep your tears -- pour yours out to me, my child. I am your joy. Do not be afraid to be happy, for ever since I wept, joy is the standard of living that is really more suitable than the anxiety and grief of those who think they have no hope. I am the blind alleys of all your paths, for when you no longer know how to go any further, then you have reached me, foolish child, though you are not aware of it. I am in your anxiety, for I have shared it by suffering it. And in doing so, I wasn't even heroic according to the wisdom of the world. I am in the prison of your finiteness, for my love has made me your prisoner. When the totals of your plans and of your life's experiences do not balance out evenly, I am the unsolved remainder. And I know that this remainder, which makes you so frantic, is in reality my love, that you do not yet understand. I am present in your needs. I have suffered them and they are now transformed, but not obliterated from my heart. I am in your lowest fall, for today I began to descend into hell. I am in your death, for today I began to die with you, because I was born, and I have not let myself be spared any real part of this death.”
Andrea Mantegna (Isola di Carturo, circa 1431 - Mantua, 1506), The Adoration of the Magi, 1495 - circa 1500, Canvas; H. 54.6 cm; W. 70.7 cm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. Lines from Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year: The Best of Karl Rahner's Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Mother of God

A friend, who has suffered for years with the burden of a chronic illness and has tried every therapy imaginable to no avail, told us not long ago that he sometimes feels like a gangster in an old movie. After a furious gun fight, there is an eerie quiet and his house is surrounded. And a cop outside the door starts shouting to him, “You might as well just come away quietly.” The message is clear: “Give up, you’ve got no choice. Just surrender.” Surely it is an honest response but tinged with resignation, un-freedom and real sadness.

In her response to the angel at the Annunciation Mary offers us a far more breathtaking alternative. For she surrenders to God’s desire with serenity and even a quiet joy- “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Recall God’s very first recorded question in Genesis. God says to Adam: “Where are you? Where are you, Man?” For Adam is hiding after all, embarrassed at his lost innocence, hidden there in the underbrush. “Where are you?” Mary’s reply, centuries later, is the healing antidote to Adam’s fearfulness and furtiveness. She is utterly present. Mary stands right in the middle of the garden, small, delicate, defenseless but truly courageous. She comes forward, unembarrassed by her nothingness and she says simply, “Here I am, you called me. Behold I am your handmaid. May it be done to me. Yes. I am yours.” Imagine God’s joy for through Mary, in Mary, with Mary God can finally be what God could not be without her. In Mary God at last finds one who trusts him absolutely, one who is not skittish because of her smallness, not embarrassed at her lowliness, her nothingness, what Thomas Keating calls "the stuff that scares us half to death.” God’s heart is ravished by the beauty of Mary’s humility. She lets it be; she has nothing to hide.

Madonna and Child with Saints, Girolamo dai Libri, Italian, Verona 1474–1555, ca. 1520, Tempera and oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.