Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Visitation

Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!
Sing joyfully, O Israel!
Be glad and exult with all your heart, 
O daughter Jerusalem!
The Lord has removed the judgment against you,
he has turned away your enemies;
The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst,
you have no further misfortune to fear.
On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem:
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. Zephaniah 3

What might it be like to live and act as if God were rejoicing over us with gladness and constantly renewing us in his love? With Mary most pure we can shout for joy for Jesus her Son in his self-emptying love is forgiving us over and over again. Such is God's judgment- God sees exactly what we do, what we deserve, and out of love chooses to remove the judgment against us. 

The Visitation, c. 1495, attributed to Rueland Frueauf the Elder, German         
(c. 1445 - 1507)  Oil on panel,  27 5/8 x 14 15/16 in., Fogg Museum.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Christ's Presence

O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ is received, the memory of his Passion is recalled, the soul is filled with grace, and the pledge of future glory is given us.

The novelist Andre Dubus once wrote a sort of apologia explaining why he received the Eucharist regularly, despite the lack of understanding among his more intellectual friends. He wrote: “This morning I received the sacrament I still believe in: at seven-fifteen the priest elevated the host, then the chalice, and spoke the words of the ritual, and the bread became flesh, the wine became blood, and minutes later I placed on my tongue the taste of forgiveness and of love that affirmed, perhaps celebrated, my being alive, my being mortal. This has nothing to do with immortality, with eternity; I love the earth too much to contemplate a life apart from it, although I believe in that life. No, this has to do with mortality, the touch of flesh, and my belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist is simple: without touch, God is a monologue, an idea, a philosophy; he must touch and be touched, the tongue on flesh, and that touch is the result of the monologues, the idea, the philosophies which led to faith; but in the instant of the touch there is no place for thinking, for talking, the silent touch affirms all that, and goes deeper: it affirms the mysteries of love and mortality.” 

The Council of Trent declared that in the Most Blessed Sacrament “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained.” How often do we allow our hearts to be nourished by this beautiful, sensual gift of God? The gift of the Eucharist is the incarnate expression of God’s desire to be present to us, with us and in us; a touch, an embrace more real than anything we can imagine. It is the very sensual experience of holding in our hands, on our tongue, the body and blood of our God. 

Indeed the Eucharist invites us into the tenderness of God's presence. And our reception of this Most Blessed Sacrament demands that we share this tenderness with all who need to know and experience the touch of God. Once we have been satisfied at this Sacred Banquet, we must heed Jesus' instruction in the Gospel, “You give them something to eat.”

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from Dom Damian's homily for Corpus Christi.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Corpus Christi

As we celebrate today the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus, Abbot Damian began this morning's Mass with the following thoughts:

"On the eve of his Passion, the Lord Jesus took the bread in his hands and said, 'Take this, this is my body.' He then took the chalice and said, 'This is my blood.' The entire history of God's relationship with humanity is summed up in these words. These are not only the words of Jesus, they are an event in the history of the world and in each of our lives. This event is Mercy Incarnate. May we never hesitate to acknowledge our real need for this Mercy."

Lord Jesus, you give us your very self in the Holy Eucharist as the Bread of Heaven, containing in itself all sweetness and every blessing. May we grow more and more confident in your passionate desire to fill us with yourself.

Friday, May 27, 2016

May Magnificat

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Nature's motherhood.
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord

Well but there was more than this:
Spring's universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.

The beauty, energy and exuberance of springtime remind the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and each of us of Our Lady’s joy as she carried Our Lord in her womb.

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.

Detail of drawing by Leonardo and some photographs by Brother Brian. 
Excerpts from May Magnificat by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Humility and Compassion

Humiliation is the only way to humility, just as patience is the only way to peace, and reading to knowledge. If you want the virtue of humility you must not shun humiliations...

We were struck again by these words of Saint Bernard. The word "humility" is derived from the Latin humilis meaning lowly, literally "on the ground," from the word humus meaning earth. Here we learn that becoming humble is not some personal project of self-mastery; it is rather owning my own weakness, sinfulness and my lowliness; and learning to look up at Jesus from down there in that low place and ask him for his mercy.

In the monastery we often refer to this as bitter self-knowledge. We realize that the monastic life is not about our achievement but about our readiness to make our weakness available to the mercy of God. Perhaps this is our most important work- to realize that we are in desperate need of this mercy. 

It’s never been about worth, but always about love; the condescension of God's tender mercy, and his mercy reflected in the compassion of brother for brother.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

A Sign

We still use some of the ancient Trappist sign language. The sign for God is the thumbs of both hands touching each other with the index fingers touching and pointing upward- forming a triangle for the Blessed Trinity. 

The sign for bread is the same joining of the thumbs and fingers making this triangular shape but pointing outward and parallel to a table top- the shape of a wedge of fresh bread. We monks delight to notice the similarity. God is our Life, our true Bread, our Nourishment on the way.
Section of glass from chapel windows in Abbey infirmary, photographed by Brother Daniel.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Moon

May is Mary’s month. And as we gazed at the full moon on this chilly May morning after Vigils, we recalled that the moon is a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Just as the moon receives its light from the sun, so Mary as God-bearer receives and bears and radiates the True Light who is Christ Jesus our Lord, the Sun of Justice.   
The moon above the Abbey church.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016


After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word, We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we should begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit. Saint Cyril of Alexandria 

Throughout the Easter Season the Scripture readings presented us with the transition undergone by the early disciples from their knowing Jesus in a human way, as an object of their perception and someone separate from them, to knowing him through their participation in his life and the corresponding transformation of their subjectivity. With the Ascension we see that with the departure of Jesus from our midst involves a kind of losing God and so losing ourselves- entering into the experience of unknowing, where we let go of our ordinary, usual ways of trying to know, grasp, understand, and contain God, in order to learn how to wait upon God’s self-gift.

On the day of Pentecost, this self-gift of God, the Holy Spirit, is given. The very life, energy and vitality of God, fills the disciples and transforms them from within. From now on it is through and with the Spirit that disciples (then and now) are in relationship with God, themselves and others. It is because of God’s self-gift that disciples are able to know for themselves the personal love of God and to love with God’s own love and so communicate this to the world. The point of Pentecost is not that the disciples have a particularly overwhelming spiritual experience. The point is that they are no longer simply themselves, separate from God. Who they are is now internally and eternally constituted by God’s Spirit. This gift of the Spirit is given in order to draw us into the ‘inside’ of God’s life, and not just as observers but as participants; in other words, to see and love as God sees and loves. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from Dom Damian's Pentecost homily.

Sunday, May 15, 2016


The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Christ's Pentecostal breath resuscitates our lives. Again and again he inspires (literally breathes into us) and fills us with his Holy Spirit. Pentecost is an act of recreation, freeing us to leave the darkness, to step out of our house into a new world and a new life. Nothing is retained against us, so let us not retain anything against ourselves or one another. We are invited to be forgiven; in other words, we are invited to be pentecosted- God and humanity sharing one breath, one life. So what are we to do with this holy breath of God? Just breathe.
Meditation by Abbot Damian.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Junior Professed

After a two year novitiate a young monk may pronounce temporary vows for a period of three years. These newly professed brothers are then known as the junior professed or simply juniors. After at least three years in this juniorate period, a monk may request solemn profession. At Spencer we presently have one junior professed- our Brother Michael. 
Each spring the juniors from the monasteries of our Order in the United States gather for two weeks of conferences at one of our abbeys. The presenters are noted scholars who are invited to lead one week of study. Here are pictures taken during this year's juniorate gathering held at Mepkin Abbey.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Clothing of Brother Richard

On this past Sunday, May 8 our Brother Richard Hederstrom was clothed in the novice's habit during the weekly Chapter. Before entering the monastery Rick was head ethnobotanist at Kona Kai Botanic Gardens in Key Largo, Florida. We rejoice to have him as 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 sons here before us have asked to receive, so that they may serve you faithfully in the Cistercian way of life. 

Pictured above in the Abbey garth: sub-master of novices, Brother Daniel; Brother John Bosco, postulant; Brother Michael, junior professed; Father Luke, director of novices; Brother Richard and Brother Matthias, our two novices and between them, Father James, junior director.
Photographs by Brother Brian

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Awaiting the Spirit in Hope

   We are in the middle of the novena of prayer between the Ascension and Pentecost, gathered around Our Lady and waiting for the promise of the Father. You might say it is a time of gestation – a time of hope, like that which a mother experiences while waiting for the child in her womb to develop. This novena is a time for our hope to deepen, and the Church, like a loving mother, nourishes this hope by immersing it in the prayer of Jesus, giving us certainty from the Scriptures that our hopes will be fulfilled.
   The prayer of Jesus to the Father is a reason for hope: he wants us to be with him where he is; he wants us to see his glory; he wants us to be one, even as he and his Father are one; and he wants the whole world to know that the Father loves us even as he loves Jesus. It is mind-boggling! If we will allow these words of Jesus to permeate our hearts, our hope will grow, because we know that what Jesus asks of his Father will not go unanswered.
   But our hope cannot grow, cannot even exist, without “the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” But we have to cooperate with this grace. And we know for certain that our hopes will be fulfilled, because God has shown us in advance how he will fulfill our desires in his beloved Son.  
   When he appeared after his resurrection, Jesus gathered those who had fled and disowned him, building up his body once again. But that wasn’t enough: the Church could never stand on its own feet and become that mighty host that would proclaim his Resurrection and Ascension if it did not receive the Spirit. During this novena Jesus is preparing to pour out on us the Spirit he first received from his Father, so that we all might live with the life of God.

Excerpts from Father Vincent's Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A Vast Progression

All of us, all of creation is in a vast progression toward God in Christ. He is our beginning, our way and our ultimate goal. And the invitation is to see our lives with God’s eyes- as an extravagant, endless symphony rather than a tired sequence of frames in a comic strip, puny disconnected episodes of good and bad choices; good days, sinful days; times when I was nice, times when I was naughty, all in an endless, bored alternation. Forget it. The truth is we always go to God as sinners. This is not to trivialize our sins or relativize our bad choices. We absolutely need to be vigilant and try to make the wise and loving choice always. 

But the truth is something much bigger than we often imagine. God in Christ is endlessly, urgently drawing us to himself, longing to mercy us. It’s as if Jesus has the car running and wants us to get on with it, to get going, to forget ourselves and live the kingdom. He desperately wants us to get caught up in the “general dance,” as Merton once called it, continually allowing mercy and doing mercy. Christ is drawing us, and our work is nonresistance, so that we may be continually drawn by the love of the wounded Savior who has given up everything for us and longs to bring us back to God our Father. It’s happening now, vast and all encompassing. Let us join in the "general dance."

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, May 5, 2016


Today we rejoice because Jesus has taken his wounded body, our wounded body, with him to Paradise. He has taken all of it, all that we are, all that we are right now- in its beauty and its sinful shoddiness, our materiality, our very flesh, all our stuff, into heaven with him forever. Thus even all we see and smell and touch and use all day long is somehow revealed as sacred. This is what the Ascension celebrates. It is the great feast of intersection, interconnectedness. From the beginning Jesus has embodied this joining of heaven and earth in his very self; this is why he would often speak of his body as Temple. It’s how he understood himself- as the ultimate meeting of place of God with his people. He knew it all along. And now what began with his quiet descent into Mary’s womb has comes to its perfect fulfillment.

What is more, the Ascension of Jesus in his humanity is a sign of things to come for all of us and for all creation, a great sign of hope, for it reveals the destiny God intends for each of us. Our homeland as human beings is heaven. And somehow we’re already there in Christ. Flesh has been redeemed and glorified, and so in Christ Jesus matter will last forever and be glorified forever.* Amazingly our flesh is very precious to God. This wounded, embarrassed body that we are individually, corporately- Jesus has taken with him into Paradise forever. The Ascension is the festival of the future of our flesh.

*See homily of Bishop Utener for the Ascension.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Jesus' Gift

Jesus gives his disciples his peace: the blessing of reconciliation that through the prophets God had promised to bestow on his people. Jesus’ peace is a fruit of his relationship with the Father, and he is to bring his disciples into that relationship. His peace arises from a total love from the Father and therefore is unlike the peace of the world, which rejects God. Jesus calls the disciples into a confident trusting faith and promises them the peace that comes from obeying the Father and knowing his love.

Jesus’ gift of his peace is, therefore, the gift of participation in the perfect harmony that exists between the Father and the Son in the unity of their wills in love. Who Jesus is, what he does and what he is called to be are one. Jesus is, in the unity of his person, the identity of mission and existence. Insofar as the disciples keep his word in love, they become sons in the Son, more and more conformed to him in his mission from the Father for mankind. Thus being caught up in the gift of his commission to love and keep his commandments they will be caught up in the gift of his peace.  The fullness of which is realized in the vision of the Book of Revelation, as the bride of the Lamb coming down out of heaven from God, gleaming with the splendor of God.

However, as Jesus points out, his self-gift evokes two fundamental responses, to love him and keep his word or to not love him and not keep his word. In fact, the disciples will discover that the more they try to embody this gift of peace the more they will encounter resistance. 

The Savior, El Greco (and workshop), 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 72 cm x 55 cm, The Prado, Madrid. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Sixth Sunday of Easter.