Sunday, May 21, 2017

A New Reality

John’s Gospel is believed to have been written for the church of Ephesus at the end of 1st century; it addresses an emerging Christian community in transition, adjusting to their separation from Judaism. Many or all of these early Christians had in fact been expelled from the synagogue. Certainly they were disoriented.

And so appropriately John writes a highly symbolic text, which invites them to a radical reorientation and self-understanding. It is perhaps intended as a consolation for them, a reminder that as Christians they belong to a different reality, a new world that is hidden under the outer reality of things. 

And so John’s language is one of radical relationality: “I am in my Father, and you are in me. Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,and I will love him and reveal myself to him." We are reminded that we are in radical relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit; we are embedded in the Trinity, for we have been born from above.

Still like those early Christians we too may experience the tension of a world not yet fully transformed, a situation that is ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’ And we monks have Saint Benedict to exhort us, “Your way of acting should be different from the world's way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” Benedict reminds us where we belong, better still to whom we belong. It is our love of Christ, but first of all His love for us that has changed everything.

Indeed only such love can reorient us. And so we live with eager longing for the in-breaking of love; transformative moments, when we can see that in Christ we are “out of this world”- out of the system that puts aggression and success first, the world of political discourse where one-upmanship takes hold, a world where ease and accomplishment grant status and prestige. We belong somewhere else; we have been called into a new order, a new cosmos named the kingdom- where Christ’s power over us is shown best in our weakness, where compassion overcomes fear, where the truth of Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection redefine any earthly notion of success. We are poised to notice glimpses of this new world.  
Photo by Brother Brian.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Free

We once heard the story of the little boy from Italy who comes to America with his father; they are going to live with relatives in New York. They are poor; the father has scraped together just enough to buy two tickets for passage on an ocean liner. And with the bit of money that’s left he has bought a wheel of cheese and a few loaves of bread. This will be their food for the entire trip. Then one day the little boy, precocious as he is, wanders all over the ship and discovers the grand dining room. Plates full of food, so many people. And he spots a family from his village. He goes to them and learns the amazing truth. Then he races back to his teeny cabin. “Papa,” he says. “We can eat as much as we want; it’s free, e gratuito. It comes with the ticket.”

God wants to regale us. "God is to be enjoyed," says St. Augustine. A banquet is prepared for us; he is the banquet. Maybe too often we lower our heads and come to him with bowls that are much too small. Maybe we don’t want to risk being disappointed. But Jesus wants to fill us up with himself. Fill us with an infinity of compassion and mercy. We need to think big, bring a bigger bowl. Perhaps this is what Isaiah is trying to tell us: 

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name: you are mine. When you pass through waters, I will be with you; through rivers, you shall not be swept away. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, nor will flames consume you. For I, the Lord, am your God, the Holy One of Israel, your savior. I give Egypt as ransom for you, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you and nations in exchange for your life. Isaiah 43
Photographs of  the Abbey in spring by Brother Brian.

Friday, May 19, 2017

To Bear Fruit

Jesus said to his disciples:
"This is my commandment: love one another 
as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

I see you dying on the cross, your heart gashed open. I sense myself at the foot of the cross, self-absorbed, trapped in my selfishness.

You are my friends if you do what I command you.


All I have to do is to love, be compassionate this day -to myself, to others. It is all you ask, a small thing. I can manage with your kind grace.

I no longer call you slaves,
because a slave does not know what his master is doing.


You never coerce but invite me to love as you love.

I have called you friends,
because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.


Though I feel unworthy to be called friend, I sense in the depth of my heart that this intimacy with you is my destiny, my truest vocation- to be love at the heart of your Church.

It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you


I am consoled to know that you have chosen me. I rejoice despite my foolishness and unworthiness.

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.

If I can manage a small call for your help; it is you who will accomplish in me, through me, all that you invite me to do.

This I command you: love one another.


Indeed, O Lord, your yoke is easy, your burden is light. You bear everything with me. You do all through me. I want to be more and more available to do what I can through your power at work in my weakness and poverty.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's Gospel from John 15 with a meditation composed by one of the monks.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Remain

Remain in me, as I remain 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.
 John 15

Jesus remains in us,  like a vine which gives life to the branches.  He is awaiting our call, sending His Spirit, calling on His Father on our behalf. Jesus remains in us, going before us, accompanying us on the way,  preparing a place where He can bring us to Himself.

Jesus remains in us through the community of the Trinity. The Father plants His Son in us as a luxuriant vine and grafts us in as His branches. As a vine turns to the sun, we share in the Son’s constant turning to the Father. As the Spirit is the Gift breathed forth by the Father and the Son, so it becomes our life, keeping the branches alive.

Jesus remains in us as truth. He calls us forth to encounter this truth, especially through the witness of our conscience. Our conscience helps us to recognize what the Father must prune away. Through it we recognize the truth about ourselves. This truth does not lead to us despair, even when our hearts condemn us, because Jesus is both truth and mercy. His forgiveness is “greater than our hearts.” Jesus remains in us, actively seeking our good.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Vincent. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Awake

It is now time for you to wake from sleep; it is far on in the night; 
the day is near.
Keep awake, that the morning light may rise upon you, that is Christ, who will reveal himself as sure as the dawn.
Christ will enable those who keep watch for him to experience 
once more the mystery of his resurrection in the morning.

Then indeed you will sing with a  joyful heart: The Lord is God; he has bestowed his light upon us. This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Blessed Guerric of Igny.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Sentinels of the Dawn

On Saturday the one hundredth anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima, Pope Francis canonized Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta, two of the visionaries of Fatima. At the conclusion of his homily at the canonization, the Holy Father said, “With Mary's protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Savior, resplendent at Easter. Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.”

Gazing upon the resplendent face of Jesus, who is for us "the way and the truth and the life," may we be "sentinels of the dawn" who help the world to rediscover the beauty of His Church.

Photograph by Brother Brian. 

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Good News

This morning's Gospel is taken from the fourteenth chapter of Saint John, the setting is the Last Supper.  Jesus tells his disciples that he will be betrayed and go to his father's house to prepare a dwelling place for them.  Then he tells them that they know the way to where he is going.  Thomas objects, “Master, we do not know where your are going; how can we know the way?” The answer that Jesus gives is considered by eminent Catholic biblical  scholars as as the highpoint of Johannine theology. “Jesus said to Thomas, 'I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  For us who are the followers of Jesus Christ, this is indeed good news, but for the devotees of other faiths these words can seem arrogant and disrespectful of their religious experience. 

But Jesus is for us “the way, the truth and the life." When you love someone who loves you, you cannot help sharing this news with the people whom you encounter, especially when that love uplifts you and transforms your life. Thus the bottom line, according to Pope Saint John Paul is that, even as we respect other faiths, we as Church “offer mankind the Gospel, that prophetic message which responds to the needs and aspirations of the human heart and always remains Good News. The Church cannot fail to proclaim that Jesus came to reveal the face of  God and to merit salvation for all humanity by his cross and resurrection.”

“I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  We can think of this Good News as pointing to our going to our Father in heaven at the end of our lives. The words of Jesus today about going to prepare a dwelling place for us in his Father's house reinforce that notion of the other-worldliness of this statement.  Yet once the first disciples of Jesus hear about him from John the Baptist, they go to Jesus who asks them “What are you looking for?” They answer, “Rabbi, where do you dwell?” Jesus replies, “Come and see.” To be real disciples of Jesus we must dwell with him and live in him for he is our lifenot just the truth of our message. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Luke's Sunday Homily.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Christ Jesus Calls us Out of Darkness into His Own Marvelous Light

A portfolio of recent spring photographs of the Abbey by Brother Brian.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Eucharist

On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples and said: “Take, eat: this is my body.” He took the cup, gave thanks and said: “Take, drink: this is my blood.” Since Christ himself has declared the bread to be his body, who can have any further doubt? Since he himself has said quite categorically, This is my blood, who would dare to question it and say that it is not his blood?

Therefore, it is with complete assurance that we receive the bread and wine as the body and blood of Christ. His body is given to us under the symbol of bread, and his blood is given to us under the symbol of wine, in order to make us by receiving them one body and blood with him. Having his body and blood in our members, we become bearers of Christ and sharers, as Saint Peter says, in the divine nature.

Do not, then, regard the Eucharistic elements as ordinary bread and wine: they are in fact the body and blood of the Lord, as he himself has declared. Whatever your senses may tell you, be strong in faith.

You have been taught and you are firmly convinced that what looks and tastes like bread and wine is not bread and wine but the body and the blood of Christ. You know also how David referred to this long ago when he sang: Bread gives strength to man’s heart and makes his face shine with the oil of gladness. Strengthen your heart, then, by receiving this bread as spiritual bread, and bring joy to the face of your soul.

May purity of conscience remove the veil from the face of your soul so that be contemplating the glory of the Lord, as in a mirror, you may be transformed from glory to glory in Christ Jesus our Lord. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Apple Tree

The old, gnarled apple trees that fill the orchard behind the Abbey church are in full bloom now. And we recall the lyrics of an early American hymn, clearly informed by the author's reading of the biblical Song of Songs, dear to our Cistercian forebears.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit and always green:
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.


For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile:
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.


This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.


From Divine Hymns or Spiritual Songs,
compiled by Joshua Smith, New Hampshire, 1784.
Set to a tune by Elizabeth Poston, 1905-1987.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good Shepherd

Back in the days when we still had our flock of sheep, Father Robert, who was the shepherd, asked me if I would go down to the barn and feed the sheep in the morning because he had an early appointment. I said sure. I had seen him do it many times so I knew what to do. The next morning as I made my way over the barn I could hear the sheep bleating. When I opened the door and walked in the sheep froze, the bleating stopped and they all stared at me, as if I was an alien from another planet. I think I felt more uncomfortable than the sheep did. I went and got a bale of hay, cut the ropes and started to put the hay in their feeding troughs. Nothing happened. I tried to coax them to come and get the hay but they just stood there. There was some grain there that Fr. Robert used to give them for a treat so I poured some of it over the hay. Nothing happened. They just stood there and looked at me. I figured they are not going to eat while I’m there so I left. The next day I went down with Fr. Robert to see how he did it. When we got close to the barn he started call to them with a loud sing-song voice. They knew his voice. When we entered the barn all the sheep came running to the fence to be near him, sounding very happy. Then he did his roll call and called out their names – Margaret, Sally, Betty, and as they heard their name each one made a sound as if to acknowledge that they heard their name. Then Robert opened the gates to take them out to the pasture. He walked in front of them and they all followed. They won’t follow anyone else. It was then that the gospel story of the Good Shepherd became real for me.

The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the most often used and beloved images of Christ in Christian art. Some of the earliest depictions of Jesus are found in the Catacombs. He is shown as a young shepherd with a sheep around his shoulders. This image of the shepherd is woven into the very language of the Bible. In Matthew and Luke Jesus is the Good Shepherd who will risk his life to save the one straying sheep. In Mark, Jesus is deeply moved with compassion for the crowds that come to him and calls them, “sheep without a shepherd.” In both the Old and New Testament, the religious leaders of the people are referred to as ‘shepherds’ and the people are the ‘flock’.

The shepherd of the biblical Middle East had an intimate relationship with his flock. He would lead them out to pasture every day and remain with them. In the evening he would lead them back to the barn where they would be safe from predators. He knew each one individually and would notice immediately if one of them was missing. Jesus’ parable of the ‘lost sheep’ would have resonated perfectly with his hearers. 
Excerpts from Father Emmanuel's Sunday Homily.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Adoration

Yesterday as every first Sunday of the month was Retreat Sunday with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament all afternoon. The day was set aside as a day of special prayer for vocations.
So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.
For your love is better than life,
my lips will speak your praise.
So I will bless you all my life.
Psalm 62

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Regina Cœli

During Eastertide our recitation of the Angelus at dawn, noon and before retiring is replaced by the recitation of the Regina Cœli:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Spring has come at last to our area of New England, and violets are blooming in profusion on the edges of sidewalks and all over the lawns of the monastery. The low-growing violet is a symbol of humility. And our Father, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, described the Virgin Mary as the "violet of humility." In paintings the violet was also used to denote the humility of Christ in assuming our humanity. The violets we see everywhere remind us of the Virgin Mary and her Son, risen from the dead.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Wonder

The Lord is risen from the dead, "trampling down death by death." We monks rejoice for the next fifty days of Eastertide, singing Alleluia over and over in a seemingly endless variety of ways. Alleluia expresses our wonder at the beauty as well as the incomprehensibilty of the Resurrection of the Lord. Jesus wounded, full of the holes and marks of His Passion, is risen and among us.

Wonder happens when we allow ourselves to be disarmed by God’s in-breaking and respond with reverent awe. Wonder requires us to acknowledge what we do not know or understand. It is a different kind of knowing that leads to a hidden humble faith. We wonder and we believe. Like being in love, wonder is a way of being that colors all we know. It lets us acknowledge miracles.* Like love, wonder allows all things, believes all things. It lets God be God, magnificent, extravagant and sometimes incomprehensible. Wonder says, "Yes." It does not demand certitude. Instead, wonder says, “Why not?”

Wonder allows God to be God- absolutely Other, beyond and also nearer to us than we know- allows us to be amazed at God's marvels in us, all around us. Wonder says, "You are God, you can do all things." Only a loving, faith-filled wonder can comprehend God’s incomprehensible power and beauty enfleshed in the wounded risen Christ. Let us give "thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds" for for He has broken the bonds of pain and death for us, forever. The Lord is truly risen; let us rejoice. 


Icon written by Brother Terence.
*Some ideas from Peter de Bolla 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Hidden


Be glad, find joy there, gathered together and present to Him who dwells within, since He is so close to you; desire Him there, adore Him there, and do not go off looking for Him elsewhere... There is just one thing: even though He is within you, He is hidden.

Saint John of the Cross

Monday, May 1, 2017

May

May is Mary's month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.

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.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfed cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—

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

Phoograph by Brother Brian. Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Burning

Then they said to each other,
"Were not our hearts burning within us
while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?"
So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem
where they found gathered together
the eleven and those with them who were saying,
"The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!"
Then the two recounted 
what had taken place on the way
and how he was made known to them in the breaking of bread.


Pondering these words from today's Gospel from St. Luke, we recall all the things the Lord has spoken to us in the quiet of our hearts, words that are our food, our sustenance. We pray that our hearts may ever burn within us as he speaks to us  and opens himself to us.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Belovedness

Jesus assures us, "I am the way and the truth and the life." In other words, “I am the way that leads through darkness and confusion, obscurity and doubt; through seeming absence to a richer, darker, mysterious presence.” He draws us higher to the place that he is preparing for us, the place of our belovedness. Jesus clearly understands himself as the Beloved of his Father. (How else could he have made it through the horror of his passion?) And he envisions the same identity for us, and says that where he is, there will we be- hidden in the bosom of the Father. “I will come back again and take you to myself,” he says, “so that where I am you also may be.” For all our lack of understanding, certainly these words of Jesus are tremendously consoling. “I will take you to myself.” Where else would any of us want to be?

And so we continue to hold fast to his promise, for only love and surrender to him can quiet our questioning. Jesus is taking us to himself. And as we hold fast to him in faith, all is still deep, dark mystery. As monks this where we live- in this land of desire, somehow suspended between heaven and earth, getting glimpses of heavenly communion, visits of the Word, noticing his kind and loving presence but more often left hanging, because our desire often outstrips our understanding. We’re left suspended, longing for more, but often losing our way. This is where we live, in this in-between place, poised in faith between a promised heavenly homeland and our present earthly existence; puzzled and sometimes impatient because earthly existence even for all its ambiguities is at least tangible and real. And here we wait in joyful hope, doing what is ordinary, for this is exactly where Jesus promises to find us.

The orchard in spring photographed by Brother Brian.

Friday, April 28, 2017

I Will Never Forget

He who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water. Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains. For the Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.           Isaiah 49.8-15.

The Prophet Isaiah reminds us of God’s tenderness and loving pursuit. This is the real truth of Jesus' passion and death and resurrection. Our God enfleshed in Jesus will be wounded out of love for us. And so the invitation is to honestly even joyfully take ownership of our lostness, our very real need for mercy, our desperate need to be found and "pitied" by Jesus. For our sinfulness, apartness from God can never estrange us from him. But instead, once we beg his mercy, it becomes a very great gateway which will lead us closer to him.

Jesus has noticed us, lost in our sinful truth and is rushing toward us to take us to himself, even into his wounded side as refuge. He loses himself in love over us. He can’t help himself. This is the same Lord who will come through locked doors on Easter day, because he cannot bear to be apart from his frightened apostles. This is the God who in the very beginning came looking for Adam in the garden

“Adam, where are you? Why are you hiding?”

“I took what was not mine; I am naked, exposed, so naturally I hid myself from you. Please go away.”

“No, no, I cannot. Please come out. Come out, show yourself. I have sought you in sorrow. You have nothing to fear. Come out to my side.”

Will we allow ourselves to be endlessly sought after by Christ out of love? Or will we choose to be stranded and alone, pretending that everything is really just fine? Our lostness can be our joy because it gives us ready access and makes us totally available to him. That is why it would be foolish, so very foolish to pretend that we are not lost, sinful and empty. 

In the wounded risen Jesus, we see a God who overdoes it, loves us more than we know, to the end, no matter what. We are invited to allow ourselves continually to be overpowered by the mystery of his love.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Joy of Jesus

We should never attempt to separate these three graces of the Gospel: its truth, which is non-negotiable; its mercy, which is unconditional and offered to all sinners; and its joy, which is personal and open to everyone. 

The truth of the good news can never be merely abstract, incapable of taking concrete shape in people’s lives because they feel more comfortable seeing it printed in books.

The mercy of the good news can never be a false commiseration, one that leaves sinners in their misery without holding out a hand to lift them up and help them take a step in the direction of change.

This message can never be gloomy or indifferent, for it expresses a joy that is completely personal.  It is “the joy of the Father, who desires that none of his little ones be lost” (Evangelii Gaudium, 237).  It is the joy of Jesus, who sees that the poor have the good news preached to them, and that the little ones go out to preach the message in turn. The joys of the Gospel are special joys. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Pope Francis' homily for the Chrism Mass.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Arisen

This joyful Eastertide,
away with care and sorrow!
My Love, the Crucified,
hath sprung to life this morrow.

Had Christ, that once was slain,
not burst his three-day prison,
our faith had been in vain;
but now is Christ arisen,
arisen, arisen, arisen.


Fresco by Piero della Francesca. Excerpts from Abbey lauds hymn by George R. Woodward, 1894

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Thirst

A stream has welled up, and become a torrent …
It has flooded the universe, and it filled everything.
Then all the thirsty on earth drank, and their thirst was quenched,
For the Most High has given them to drink.
By means of the living water, they live forever. Alleluia!  
Odes of Solomom, 8 

Jesus is himself the Living Water, may we thirst for him more and more.

Photograph by  Brother Brian.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Edge

The crucifixion happened at the edge of the city, just outside its walls. Jesus of Nazareth was pushed out of the world in apparent ignominy and failure. There was no room for him in the inn at the beginning of his life among us and at the end there was still no room for him. 

Jesus absorbs, without any self-protection or resistance, the sin of the world, all of it. We can name and lay all our burdens at his feet- failure, injury, self-loathing, guilt, shame; everything that we cannot change or transform by ourselves. This is the very edge of the world, the periphery where God is. Jesus has gone where we hardly dare even to look, taking into God’s own life all that separates us from love, so that we might be totally healed, forgiven and restored. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Abbot Damian.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jesus and Thomas

A whole Sunday is set aside by the Church to celebrate the abundance and constant availability of Jesus' mercy. As we see Thomas put his hand into Jesus' open side, we pray with our Cistercian Father, Blessed William of Saint Thierry:

Those unsearchable riches of your glory, Lord, were hidden in your secret place in heaven until the soldier's spear opened the side of your Son our Lord and Savior on the cross, and from it flowed the mysteries of our redemption. Now we may not only thrust our finger or our hand into his side like Thomas, but through that open door may enter whole, O Jesus, into your heart, the sure seat of your mercy, even into your holy soul that is filled with the fullness of God, full of grace and truth, full of our salvation and our consolation. Open, O Lord, the ark door of your side, that all your own who shall be saved may enter in, before this flood that overwhelms the earth. Open to us your body's side, that those who long to see the secrets of your Son may enter in and receive the sacraments that flow therefrom, even the price of their redemption. Open the door of your heaven, that your redeemed may see the good things of God in the land of the living. Let them see and long, and yearn and run...

Andrea del Verrocchio, Christ and Saint Thomas, bronze, 1483, Orsanmichele, Florence. Lines from William of Saint Thierry, Meditations, 6.11-12

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Understanding

On the night before he died, when Jesus wanted to give his disciples the most accurate understanding possible of what he was about to do on the cross, he did not give them a theory. He gave them an action: a meal interpreted by a foot washing.

It was very intimate, precious and personal. It was as if Jesus were saying: "I am doing this for you; yes, you. Not just the person sitting next to you. I can cleanse and refresh every part of you: the sad parts, the lonely parts, the messy and muddled parts, the parts you wish with all your heart could be healed. They can be. Let me wash you. Taste my bread and drink my wine. This is what my coming death is all about." Indeed this is what his Resurrection is all about.

Meditation by Abbot Damian. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

When Desire Grows

When a man's intellect is constantly with God, his desire grows beyond all measure into an intense longing for God and…is completely transformed into divine love. For by continual participation in the divine radiance his intellect becomes totally filled with light; and when it has reintegrated its passible aspect, it redirects this aspect towards God, filling it with an incomprehensible and intense longing for Him and with unceasing love, thus drawing it entirely away from worldly things to the divine. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Maximus the Confessor.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Always

Our Easter celebration is imbued with joy, marked by the ringing of bells, the lights, incense, solemn vestments, and the seemingly continuous chant of Alleluia.  And this is entirely as it should be.  For what other emotion could we feel when, after reliving the Lord’s suffering and death, after contemplating his lying in the tomb, we encounter him risen from the dead, returned to us with his promise, “I shall remain with you always."

We naturally assume  that this same joy also permeates the Scriptural accounts of Christ’s post-resurrection appearances, that the disciples were overjoyed to see the risen Lord, but in fact, only Luke makes specific mention of joy, and then only once.  In verse 41 of chapter 24, while the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus were recounting their experience to the Eleven, Luke mentions, almost in passing, that when Jesus himself appeared, “they still disbelieved for joy.”

Strangely enough, the emotion that dominates the biblical accounts of these encounters is fear. The kind of fear we are talking about certainly contains an element of fright or alarm, but limiting our reading to this narrow range of emotions would be a mistake.  Because even though all these incidents or encounters were unprecedented and even unheard-of, and would certainly have startled or frightened those who witnessed or experienced them, they were essentially manifestations of the power of God.  Therefore the fear they evoked  was holy fear, overwhelming awe at the presence of the Omnipotent God.  


Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Abbot Damian.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

How Foolish

Not long ago we heard about a disabled man named Walter who lives in a group home for the severely physically handicapped. Walter loves to dance. But this is next to impossible given his condition. And at parties when he has made attempts, wiggling and shaking, he has been restrained by staff who fear for his safety. One day the sounds of rock music and loud crashes are heard upstairs in the residence. The ruckus is traced to Walter’s room. Nurses rush upstairs, knock frantically, call Walter’s name and finally burst into his room. They see him twirling around and falling to the floor as the music booms. He is flushed and sweaty and laughing. As they rush to help him up, he reassures them, “It’s OK, the falls are part of the dance.”

It is probably something we all get to learn sooner or later- how to welcome the falling, the mess and see it as opportunity, perhaps even grace. How wonderful then to have the Lord Jesus remind us this morning in the Gospel, "Oh, how foolish you are!" We have forgotten that the falls and seeming disasters are opportunities for God's intervention. We too often forget that the Lord Jesus, the Lord of all creation, the promised Messiah had to suffer and die. "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Christ Jesus

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The organisation 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. And may he lead them all together into eternal life. 

Detail of resurrected Christ by Bergognone. Lines from The Constitutions of the Monks.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Alleluia! Christ is Risen!

Resurrection is not simply a doctrine. It is not just a future fact for us, or a past event for Jesus that we celebrate on Easter Sunday. It is a person, and according to the Fourth Gospel the disciples believed that when resurrection happened, it would happen to all God’s people all at once. Not to one person in the middle of time. Not just to Jesus. That would be an odd, outlandish event, unimagined, unheard-of. Resurrection is a new creation in the person of Jesus for all of creation. 

There was another “emptying of a tomb” shortly before Christ’s death and resurrection. When Jesus raised Lazarus, Lazarus returned to present life. The echoes of the Lazarus story in the Easter Gospel are there partly to tell us that it was the same kind of event, but mostly to tell us that it was not.  Lazarus came back into a world where death still threatened. Jesus goes on through death and out into a new world, a new creation, a new life beyond, where death itself has been defeated and life, life in all its fullness, can begin again. Easter is the beginning of a new creation, not just for Jesus but for all of us in him.

As we face the many dark and chaotic places in our world, and no doubt many dark places in our own lives where fear, resentment, shock and anxiety cripple our understanding, restrict our faith and stifle our love, let us follow Jesus out of that empty tomb, out of the dark and into the light of eternal Day. Jesus himself, risen from death to the glory of eternal life, is the beginning of the new story of our lives— not a distant historical event, but as Caryll Houselander loved to insist, “We are his resurrection; he continues to rise within us.”

The stone has been rolled away. The day dawns with a new light. The earth quakes in celebration and joy. Christ is risen, and in him so have you and I.  Jesus is alive and with us. He calls us now to live everyday as Easter. His resurrection is not a one day celebration. It is a way of life. This means that every cross may flower with new life, every tomb become a womb of new birth, and every darkness be overcome by light. That is why we proclaim with hope arising from the very center of our sorrows and losses,  “Alleluia! Christ is risen!”
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic. 
                                               

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Easter

In celebrating Christ’s resurrection, we are celebrating the fact that God has made the impossible possible for us. The resurrection has made it possible for us to live, together, in God’s love, to overcome all differences of language, ethnicity, station and culture and be united in the body of the Church. The resurrection has made it possible to break the cycle of sin and violence, by enabling us to resist responding to hatred with aggression, to turn the other cheek and even offer a good word. The resurrection has made it possible to be holy, as our heavenly Father is holy, to love others as God loves. The resurrection has made it possible for us discard the myths of individuality, independence and self-sufficiency and to live with and for each other.

To finish a little closer to home, the resurrection has made it possible for us to lead this impossible and unnatural life of ours in the monastery, to love the brothers and the place, to prefer nothing to the Work of God, to live to sing his praises and to cherish his word. The challenges that all this possibility represents may indeed inspire fear, but let us remember and rejoice that God has raised his Son from the dead, and given us the Spirit of his Love, who casts out all fear, and who makes everything possible.  

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Abbot Damian.