Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Saints Peter & Paul

As we celebrate these two saints, perhaps they smile a bit sheepishly, their heads lowered, embarrassed by all the hoopla and pointing quietly to the wounded Jesus. “It’s not about us,” they say. “It’s all about what his tender mercy could accomplish in us.” Peter and Paul ultimately know themselves as forgiven failures, mercied and transformed by Christ in his most compassionate attentiveness. Certainly both of them would admit to us that they could be a bit overconfident, too self-assured; they come to us this morning with nothing to boast about.

Peter says he’s ready to die with Jesus; then betrays him in a heartbeat to save his skin. “Wait a minute; you’re one of that Galilean’s followers,” says the maid in the high priest’s courtyard. “I’d know that accent anywhere.” “Get out of here,” Peter mutters. “I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Meanwhile Jesus is right next door being slapped and humiliated.

Paul so sure of himself, so sure of the truth, so well-schooled in the Law, it’s the armored tank he’s been using to mow down followers of Jesus the blasphemer. As Peter crashes into self-knowledge making Jesus’ prediction of betrayal come true; Paul is knocked off his horse, insisting that he does not even know who Jesus is. Jesus assures him, “I am Jesus, the one you’ve been persecuting.”

Jesus did not give up on Peter or Paul, and he won’t give up on us. He is a relentless rescuer, the God who saves us, even chases after us. He rescues us from all our distress over and over again, because he loves us. And even when we are dead in our stubborn sinfulness; he brings us to life, not because of our virtuous deeds but because of his tender mercy. All is grace, absolute gift. We do not feel humiliated, but rescued, and restored, transformed.*

*Last words from Dives in Misericordia, John Paul II, Ch. 4.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

No to Violence

…they entered a Samaritan village 
to prepare for his reception there,
but they would not welcome him
because the destination of his journey was Jerusalem. 
When the disciples James and John saw this they asked,
"Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven
to consume them?" 
Jesus turned and rebuked them…

In today’s Gospel Jesus makes it clear, as he will even on the cross. He rejects the option for violence unequivocally, for as Pope Benedict once wrote, “In God there is no violence.” In recent years we have been perhaps over-exposed to the phenomenon of violence whether in Orlando, in a school at Sandy Hook, in a church in Charleston and on and on. How shall we respond to these incidences of random, inexplicable violence and real evil? To respond to violence with violence would be to perpetuate the cycle of evil. We must access a power beyond us to reverse the decline that sin and violence induce.

God in Christ is no stranger to human iniquity, to the surd of sin and its violence. By undergoing his passion, submitting to the forces of destruction in his crucifixion, Christ Jesus has transformed them from the inside out. Certainly this transformational dynamic flowing from divine wisdom and love is beyond our created intelligence. Indeed through his cross the unintelligibility of sin is transformed by the transcendent intelligibility of God’s love for us. We must go to the crucified and risen Lord, for in his forgiveness of the perpetrators of his own execution, he shows us the way out of the cycle of violence. The risen Christ, Son the Father of life in his forgiving love poured out through the Holy Spirit welcomes even his persecutors into a new community of reconciliation. 

Martin Richard holding a poster he created in 2012. Martin died during the bombings at the 2013 Boston Marathon. Excerpts from Father Isaac's homily for the Thirteenth Sunday of the Year.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Birth of John the Baptist

It is John’s special vocation to “prepare the way of the Lord,” to be a “forerunner.” This is a vocation that each of us shares with him and fulfills in very simple and ordinary ways (certainly not as dramatically as John did, and perhaps not so intentionally, but no less prophetically). Whether we are conscious of it or not, Divine Providence has called each of us to play a role in preparing the way of the Lord in one another’s lives.

Surely we recognize that so many people have been instrumental in preparing us to encounter Christ. As Jesus was the human face of the Father, so now he in turn lives in us through his Spirit and we are his visible face to one another. No longer physically on earth, he depends now on our hearts, our hands, to reveal who he is living among us. We all have seen Christ in someone else. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples and us: “Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.”

And so like John, we are called to witness to the Light, even without uttering a word. In ways known only to God, we are sent to one another to reveal the living Christ, to prepare one another to receive and embrace more truly and fully the One who is always coming to us—“in the tender compassion of our God, the Dawn breaking upon us.” This happens through the silent witness of our faith, the compelling witness of small acts of compassion and love, and the liberating witness of lives actually lived “in conformity to the Gospel.” We cannot begin to imagine how indebted we are to one another in coming to know more intimately the person of Christ in daily life. What makes Christ truly accessible and present to us if not the Christ-life in each other?

That was the core of the Baptist’s message, and that can be the unspoken message of our lives today. Like John, we have only to be willing to “decrease,” so that the Lord can grow in our hearts and in the hearts of others.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Birth  of the Baptist, fresco in  the Cappella Tornabuoni of  Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Excerpts from Father Dominic's homily for today's feast.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


“Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine,
lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.
This is the Law and the Prophets.
“Enter through the narrow gate;
for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction,
and those who enter through it are many.
How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.

And those who find it are few.”

The Gospel today presents us with a kind of classic Wisdom literature motif- two kinds, two ways. Pearls before swine; do unto others, as you do would have them do unto you; the narrow way versus the broad way. The wise person chooses rightly between the two. And it seems clear Jesus is inviting us to choose the narrow way. Harder or easier is not the issue. His invitation goes deeper. It is an invitation to relationship with him. At issue is choosing to follow him, fascinated by him and his dream for the kingdom. We are to become so identified with him and his dream for our world that we are willing to lose ourselves as he did in self-forgetful love- the love that is our prayer, the love that is our service of one another. 

Photograph of the Abbey grounds by Brother Brian.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Followers of the Lamb

It would seem that our lives as monks, as followers of the Lamb, involve a continuous repetition of that trek to Emmaus. Disappointed beyond measure, our best hopes dashed, we very often plod glumly along. So self-absorbed, we haven’t a clue that Christ Jesus is with us. But he comes nearer, notices our despondency and inquires, “What are you going over in your heads? What’s the matter?” We are astonished by his seeming cluelessness. Doesn’t Jesus see, doesn’t he get? Everything’s falling apart. Our best hopes for success, accomplishment and the easy way out are all over. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Once again he comes after us, longing to unburden us with the blessed truth of new life that he is and that he bears. And he says to us most definitively, most kindly, “Oh how foolish you are; how slow to understand." The Messiah has been mocked and spat upon and crucified; of course. The Lamb has been slain. So why should it different for us who have promised to follow him? It’s supposed to be hard. The falls are part of the dance. The mess is our blessed opportunity to trust in the Father, who will not abandon us to everlasting death and sadness. The falling-apart gives him entrĂ©e, if we dare to depend on him and on one another.

Every commitment to love inevitably entails a willingness to suffer. It is just such a commitment that Jesus asks of each of us who follow him. “Come after me,” he says. And he does not solace his disciples, any of us, with empty promises but invites us to be true to our identity. We belong to him. And as Paul reminded us this morning, we have clothed ourselves with him through baptism. He is as close to us as the shirt on our backs, truly even closer, within, around, above us, ever with us. We are his. If we suffer and die with him, we shall also live with him. Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are the splendid blueprint for our own lives as his followers. Oh how slow we are to understand.

Photograph of the abbatiale by Brother Brian. Words inspired by today's homily by Father Aquinas.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Not Even Solomon

Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.
They do not work or spin.
But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor
was clothed like one of them.
If God so clothes the grass of the field,
which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow,
will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith. Matthew 6
Photographs of the Abbey fields by Brother Brian.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

How Shall We Pray?

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
“This is how you are to pray:
‘Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name...

Once again this morning Jesus reminds us not to to "babble"- in some translations not to use "vain repetitions," as if lots more words would get God's attention better. We are to pray with a bold confidence that God is on our side, attentive to our every whispered need. God our Father is compassionate- literally God feels pity with us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Jesus as Hero

And this man whose picture I have tried to draw for you, brethren, is your God. He was your maker in time past; hereafter He will be your judge. Make Him your hero now. Take some time to think of Him; praise Him in your hearts. You can over your work or on your road praise Him, saying over and over again, Glory be to Christ's body; Glory be the body of the Word made flesh; Glory to the body suckled at the Blessed Virgin's breasts; Glory to Christ's body in its beauty; Glory to Christ's body in its weariness; Glory to Christ's body in its Passion, death and burial; Glory to Christ's body risen; Glory to Christ's body in the Blessed Sacrament; Glory to Christ's soul; Glory to His genius and wisdom; Glory to His unsearchable thoughts; Glory to His saving words; Glory to His sacred heart; Glory to its courage and manliness; Glory to its meekness and mercy; Glory to its every heartbeat, to its joys and sorrows, wishes, fears; Glory in all things to Jesus Christ.
Lines from a sermon by the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Mercied Sinners

We are sinners and Jesus longs to forgive us, to mercy us if we will allow him. In this morning's First Reading from the Second book of Samuel the prophet Nathan reminds King David of all his failings. David's conscience is pierced, and he says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan responds, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin: you shall not die.” We only have to say we are sorry, to let our hearts be broken open- perhaps even over and over again. The Lord is attentive and waits to mercy us. 

A woman sneaks into a banquet in today's Gospel; she is a apparently a notorious sinner. Her anointing of Jesus' feet with costly ointment, bathing them with her tears and then wiping them with her hair is a lavish, loving gesture. And Jesus understands; Jesus gets it, he  knows where she is coming from and what she is seeking. And he forgives her. To his shocked Pharisee host, Jesus responds that "her many sins have been forgiven because she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little." As Father Gabriel reminded us in this morning's homily, the love of God follows us relentlessly, always ready to forgive us. And it is this love that matters most. In a gloss on today's passage, Saint Gregory the Great will write, "Those who love more can do more."

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

All Day

From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised! We chant these words each morning. It is our privilege to spend our day praying and working and doing all things that the Lord's name may be praised.

The monastery is an expression of the mystery of the Church, where nothing is  preferred to the praise of the Father's glory. Every effort is made to ensure that the common life in its entirety conforms to the Gospel, which is the supreme law. In this way the community will not be lacking in any spiritual gift. The monks strive to remain in harmony with all the people of God and share their active desire for the unity of all Christians. By fidelity to their monastic way of life, which has its own hidden mode of apostolic fruitfulness, monks perform a service for God's people and the whole human race. Each community of the Order and all the monks are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Symbol of the Church in the order of faith, love and perfect union with Christ. The organization of the monastery is directed to bringing the monks into close union with Christ, since it is only through the experience of personal love for the Lord Jesus that the specific gifts of the Cistercian vocation can flower. Only if the brothers prefer nothing whatever to Christ will they be happy to persevere in a life that is ordinary, obscure and laborious.

Photograph of the Abbey church at sunset by Charles O'Connor. Quotation from The Constitutions of the Monks.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place. Mt 5

Torah is the way. In this morning's Gospel Jesus proclaims that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets- all that Torah promised. Indeed in all of his mighty deeds of healing and compassion; in his announcement of the in-breaking of God's kingdom; in his passion, death and resurrection this fulfillment is made manifest. Jesus embodies Torah, for as he tells us in John's Gospel, he himself is the "way, the truth and the life."

Detail of a polychromed bronze corpus, after a model by Michelangelo.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Being Truly Poor

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain,
and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. 
He began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be satisfied. Mt 5

To be poor is to have no choice or more pointedly no choices. So it is that Dorothy Day insisted that following the poor Christ meant really experiencing the grind of poverty. It could not simply entail being detached from possessions. Dorothy Day was certain that poverty meant precarity. Precarity is defined as living “without predictability or security and is applied to the condition of intermittent or under-employment" and the resulting precarious consequences. 

How then can we as monks possibly be truly poor? Perhaps we cannot according to Day, for we are fortunate to have a roof and meals and healthcare assured. Still it seems a kind of poverty must be possible for us. And for that we must go down to the place of our personal precarity, a place where we know our desperate need for Christ’s mercy, the place where we experience our vulnerability and precariousness. 

We recall that the words precarity and precarious are derived from the Latin prex, precis meaning prayer. Indeed being poor ultimately means that we only have a prayer; we must depend on each other and on God.