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

T
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.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Holy Saturday


Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh...

In the stillness of Holy Saturday we await all that Christ's Resurrection will bring.

Illustration by Eric Gill (British, 1882-1940). Lines from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

Friday, April 14, 2017

Good Friday

Yesterday we shared with Jesus in the foot washing and in his last supper. That sharing continues today as we participate in the mystery of his death. We stand at the foot of the Cross because there is really nowhere else to go. During today’s liturgy, we pray the solemn collects for the Church, the nations and the people of the world. We name the suffering, the messiness of our lives and of our world. We feel and enter into the isolation and abandonment of this day. We dare to ask ourselves the question that so often haunts us and haunts so many of our brothers and sisters around the world: “Where is God?” We ask it not so much looking for an answer but as a portal into the mystery of God’s absence.

And we do not stop there. We glory in the Cross of Jesus. We declare that joy has come to the world by virtue of his cross. We adore and bless Christ because by his holy cross he has given us life. We sing about the faithful Cross

This is the mystery and paradox of Good Friday. It means that there is more to this day than death. The cross is not the end. It is Jesus' entry into and presence with us in the last place we ever want to be. So today we take our share in him and with him that he might take his share in our hell, in whatever form it takes in our lives. Today Jesus is on the cross, death is there, and hell awaits. But Jesus presence tramples down hell. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Abbot Damian.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Holy Thursday

Perhaps more than any other liturgy of the year, the liturgy of Holy Thursday is about intimacy. Intimacy revealed in a bath, a washing, and in a a meal. The bath occurs in the Chapter Room, where we commemorate John’s account of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. 
In John’s account of the washing of the feet, Jesus kneels on the floor in front of each disciple. One by one, the water of his life and love washes over each of them. No one is left out. Peter, even though initially, along with the others whose words are not recorded. Even Judas is not left out. All are washed. All are loved. Each one and all.

This evening’s liturgy holds before us, each one of us---a choice. That choice, fundamentally, at its core, is about vulnerability and intimacy, because it is about love. In some ways this choice may be more challenging, more real, more bodily than many of us are comfortable with. It is somewhat easy to talk and sing about love. In so doing we can easily forget or lose sight of, the challenge, the risk, the vulnerability and the intimacy involved in the washing and kissing of someone’s feet; and in the eating and drinking of the body and blood of Jesus together.

Intimacy can be frightening. It calls us to a place of vulnerability, risk and openness; a place in which we will certainly be changed and transformed; as transformed as the bread and wine. Intimacy is fundamentally about relationship, oneness, union and communion, with God, each other and ourselves. Intimacy is about how God loves. Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” 
Brothers and sisters, such vulnerability, risk and intimacy is the way of Jesus Christ. It is the way of love. And such love is a choice. It is a choice that Jesus made in washing and feeding each one of the disciples gathered around him. And it a choice that he invites, no, commands us to make. “As I have loved you…you must love one another.” Jesus holds out to each one of us a stark reality. The choice to love or not to love. And to love, not some, but all. This is the choice that is before us. We cannot choose to love only those whom we like, who we think are deserving, for whom we have warm feelings, who look like us or act like us. It is an all or nothing proposition. If we do not love all, we love none. 

Love for Jesus is about a choice. In Jesus’ teaching if you have feet, you get washed, regardless of where those feet have been or where they are going. Jesus first handed Judas the morsel before he left the group. That is the example and commandment he sets before us. 

Photographs by Brother Brian. Reflection by Abbot Damian.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Light and Living Water

Christ Jesus comes to all the dead-ends in our lives, what seems impossible, what seems to trap and bind us. He resolutely steps into our primordial darkness and says, “No! I won’t have it. God won’t have it. Let there be light.” For the Light that is Christ Jesus our Lord cannot abide the darkness, the shame and isolation. He is Light that transforms us.

Jesus who is sent by his Father to heal and redeem and relieve us will anoint us with the blood and water flowing from his sacred wounded side. He is the Living Water that recreates and refreshes. And even as he prepares in these days to step into the darkness of rejection that is hanging over him, oppressive, inevitable; he does not hold back, he moves steadfastly into it all, knowing that he can bring life out of what seems impossible; all the while trusting in his Father's love. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

His Light

Jesus is the in-breaking of God’s regenerative intimacy with us. On Calvary in his Hour, he will pour himself out, the blood and water gushing from his hands and feet and his wounded heart will drench and anoint the earth, from this sacred clay a new creation will blossom. And all of creation gone hopelessly astray will be released from the burden of sin and all darkness and shame and Satan’s constant deceptions. Things must made right again. Light will indeed conquer darkness once and for all, because God will allow Godself to be crushed by death or darkness. They will be duped and reversed, for they are no match for the light that he is. 


Monday, April 10, 2017

This Week

We pass this statue of Saint Benedict often. His admonition to silence is a fitting reminder for us, as we go up to Jerusalem with Our Lord during this most holy week. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

I would like to welcome you all to the discomfort of another Holy Week. In Matthew’s gospel reading of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, he says that when Jesus “entered into Jerusalem the whole city was shaken (in turmoil)”… The Greek word here literally means to shake or to quake, as in an earthquake. Matthew likes this word. He will use it to describe the shaking of the earth and the splitting of the rocks at Jesus’ crucifixion; at the earthquake that accompanies the angel rolling the stone away from Jesus’ tomb and the shaking of the guard who stood at the tomb.

Holy Week is meant to be one earthquake after another. On Monday Mary will pour costly oil on Jesus’ feet and everyone in the house will be shaken with dismay. (Why is she wasting this costly oil!) On Tuesday, Peter (and each one of us) will hear Jesus’s invitation to die before we die. And that invitation becomes the epicenter of our faith. On Wednesday Judas’ betrayal will reveal the fault line that runs through each one of us. On Thursday we will tremble at the intimacy of touching, washing and kissing one another’s feet. On Friday the earth will quake as the cross of our God and Savior is plunged into the heart of the earth. The silence of Holy Saturday will cause the gates of hell to shudder and burst open.

The shaking, turmoil and destruction of Holy Week is meant to be real for each one of us. Somewhere in each of our lives we need the triumphant turmoil of Christ. We all need the devastation of anything that keeps us from being fully ourselves, fully alive as God’s beloved children. The turmoil of this day and this week is really Christ’s earth shaking entrance into our world and our lives. A Blessed Earth-shaking Holy Week to you all.

Entry into Jerusalem by Giotto; Father Abbot's Homily for Palm Sunday, 2017.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Lifting Up

When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me.
The one who sent me is with me. John 8



Jesus reminds us that it is in the Hour of his lifting up on the cross that God's identity will truly be made clear to us. God is always toward us, pouring himself out for us in self-forgetful loveAnd in Jesus crucified we see this most unambiguously. God could not bear to have us trapped in sin, death and darkness, and so he rescues us in Christ. Jesus' unimaginable suffering reverses everything; death is overcome forever because God cannot die. Death dies in Christ.

Crucifixion by Diego Velasquez,

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Clothing of Brother Mikah

In the midst of the soberness of Lent, we rejoiced last Sunday as our Brother Mikah was clothed in the novice's habit during Chapter. As is our custom the ceremony began with Dom Damian asking Brother Mikah, "What do you seek?" He responded, "The mercy of God and of the Order." This brief dialogue reminded all of us that our life as monks is a life of total, loving dependence on Christ our Savior who constantly invites us to draw water in joy from the fountains of his mercy flowing from his wounded side.
O God, in that unutterable kindness by which you dispose all things sweetly and wisely, you gave us clothing, so that a triple benefit might be ours: we are covered with dignity, kept warm and protected in body and soul. Father, pour forth the blessing of your Holy Spirit upon us this morning and upon these clothes which your son here before us has asked to receive, so that he may serve you faithfully in the Cistercian way of life.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Come Out to My Side!

Ezekiel begins: “O my people…” He reminds the Israelites of the very foundation of their faith: God always takes the initiative and chooses them first. They were like dry bones, scattered abroad, but he knit them together and raised them up. God always takes the initiative with us, too. We are a people, not held together by our own likes and dislikes, but by the hands of our heavenly Father. We belong to Jesus. His Spirit dwells in us. The heart of Jesus embraces his closest friends and disciples without shunning those leaders who wanted to see him dead.

Ezekiel continues, "I will open your graves and have you rise from them.” What a word of hope, for the Israelites and for us. Perhaps these words filled the heart of Jesus as he approached the tomb of Lazarus. He trusted in his Father to bring Lazarus back and in doing so to glorify both himself and his Son. As opposed to the fear of death that holds so many people in its clutches, Jesus’ mission is to banish that fear by passing through death with us. The heart of Jesus is a heart filled with hope, a hope that cries out, “O my people, come out to my side!”

Ezekiel then remarks, "...thus you shall know that I am the Lord." It is a call to faith. Jesus had to do the same even with his closest friends. To Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” To the disciples, “Lazarus has died. And I am glad for you that I was not there, that you may believe.” And to all the people standing at Lazarus’ tomb, “Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me.” Jesus could become exasperated when he encountered a lack of understanding and unbelief, but he pressed forward. His heart could not rest until all those standing near recognized the glory of God.

Ezekiel concludes, “I have promised, and I will do it, says the Lord.” Everything depends on God’s promise, his promise of faithful love. If we want to know the essence of what lies in the heart of Jesus, it is this. John puts it this way: “He loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from Father Vincent's homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year A.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Tree of Life

I like a trusting lamb led to slaughter,
had not realized that they were hatching plots against me:
"Let us destroy the tree in its vigor;
let us cut him off from the land of the living,
so that his name will be spoken no more."
But, you, O Lord of hosts, O just Judge,
searcher of mind and heart... to you I have entrusted my cause!  

Jeremiah 11

Jesus is the most beautiful young tree cut off in his vigor. But he will foil the forces of destruction, for he is truly God. The blood-soaked cross of his agony and death will become the radiant Tree of  Life.

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.