Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Treasure

Each of us knows that letting go and forgiving does not mean that nothing has happened.  Too much has happened to each and everyone one of us. We do not deserve the bad deals and short ends we have received. And forgiveness does not happen all at once or once and for all. It takes time and needs to be redone, rehearsed and repeated.-seventy time seven times. 

But we have Christ Jesus as exemplar and dear companion. With him we can understand that forgiveness is worth the joy and love and freedom, the unburdening, the opportunity that it brings. With him, through his grace we can choose to love and forgive. Indeed forgiveness takes time. It may begin with a desire to forgive, or even a desire to desire to forgive. And our willingness to let go of lesser goods brings with it a sobering realization that we must lose something, some things to gain everything, but we can rejoice because this everything is a Person, who is worth it. He our pearl, our one treasure is worth all we can risk and surrender. For he is the one who proclaims and enfleshes God’s love, compassion and forgiveness. He has forgiven and freed me. Finding the treasure and selling all means I try to do likewise out of love for him. And what is more delightful than this knowledge that nothing, nothing whatever can separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord?

Finally there is most beautiful secret: Jesus gives us himself, God’s own self each day in the Holy Eucharist. Love himself descends into the darkness of our flesh: as first into the dark mystery of Mary’s virginity, so now each morning into the dark warmth of our hearts; there to be dissolved in love into our very selves in this Eucharist. In this great mystery of his outpouring, his lavish self-gift, Jesus finds himself to be most himself as he gives himself away to us, finding in our humanity, in our flesh his treasure. When we come to know ourselves as loved so much, we must go and do likewise. 

Photographs by Brother Brian.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

At Bethany

As Cistercian monks we celebrate today the memorial of Mary, Martha and Lazarus- Hosts of the Lord. And so our Gospel this morning took us to the house at Bethany after Lazarus has been raised by Jesus. There is a dinner being prepared in the house of his dear friends. Martha is preparing the feast, Lazarus is at table and Mary takes a liter of costly perfumed oil and anoints Jesus' feet most tenderly and dries them with her hair.

For Saint Bernard each monk must somehow unite in himself "all three vocations: that of the penitent, the active worker and the contemplative." This happens as we hear Jesus' call to come out of the tomb of our sinfulness into the light of his mercy as did Lazarus. It happens when we serve one another in love as Martha. It happens, when attentive to Christ Jesus, we listen to his words and cherish them in our hearts like Mary. In all three ways of love we can choose the "better part," which Jesus promises shall not be taken from us.

The Candidate's Cottage at the Abbey.  Reflections excerpted from a Sermon by Saint Bernard for the Assumption.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Finding Our Peace

What a fragile thing a monastery is, how easily the living flame of Godward zeal can be reduced to a cinder.  We must all work together to keep the flame alive. How? We know the answer: Prefer nothing to the love of Christ; embrace whatever share of the cross the Lord may give you, finding there your peace; be faithful to the Work of God, to lectio, to prayer; always put the common life first; bear each other’s burdens; nurture your yearning to see the face of God. If we live by these tenets, the bedrock of our Rule, we resist the lethargy of passing time. We re-kindle our first love. There will be a spring in our step, a founders’ spring, a clear orientation towards the supernatural.

Our job is to dispose ourselves as best we can to receive with thanks whatever the Lord grants in his love, for his glory and our thriving. It is surely essential that, while keeping death before our eyes at all times, we really live, remembering that life is pure divine gift, to be received reverently, responsibly, gladly.

Photo by Brother Brian. Excerpt from Dom Eric Varden's retreat conference: 1. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Preferring Christ

Inspired by Saint Benedict, Western monasticism is the heir of the great number of men and women who, leaving behind life in the world, sought God and dedicated themselves to him, "preferring nothing to the love of Christ." The monks of today likewise strive to create a harmonious balance between the interior life and work in the evangelical commitment to conversion of life, obedience and stability, and in persevering dedication to meditation on God's word (lectio divina), the celebration of the Liturgy and prayer. In the heart of the Church and the world, monasteries have been and continue to be eloquent signs of communion, welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things of the spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the earthly city itself, in expectation of the heavenly city. 

Our hearts are filled with "the ardent love of spouses," preferring nothing whatever to Christ, we monks are called to love the Lord Jesus with our whole heart, all our soul and all our strength- in our praying, in all our work, in our silence, even in our conversations no matter how brief.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Vita Consecrata of Pope Saint John Paul II.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Weeds

In today’s Gospel, we continue Jesus discourse in parables directed to the large crowd gathered by the shore, which we began last week. Matthew places his discourse in parables at an important juncture in his Gospel. Jesus is being rejected by the Jewish leaders, who are already plotting to kill him, his new community is just being formed, and the inclination of the people as a whole is in the balance. Jesus delivers his parables to the crowd in a situation of conflict and increasing polarization.

After having delivered his parables, he dismissed the crowd and went back into the house. His disciples approach and ask him to explain to them the parable of the weeds. 

Unlike the parable of the sower, which we heard last Sunday, in which there is one sowing and the seed is a symbol of the good and powerful word of God which generates believers, in the parable of the weeds there are two sowings, that of the good seed sown by the Son of Man, which are the children of the kingdom, and that sown by the devil, which are the children of the evil one.

Matthew doesn’t give any characteristics of the children of the kingdom except that thy are righteous, but it is easy enough to back over the text to draw a good picture: these are the ones who accept the lordship of Jesus over their lives; he is their only teacher, to whom they come for instruction. They have eyes to see and ears to hear. As we heard last week, they are the rich soil that hears the word and understands it, who indeed bear fruit and yield a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. 

A constant question therefore for the Christian, and for us as monks is: “If I am to be counted among the good seed, how can I learn to see and hear better, that I may come to understanding, and therefore have the possibility to bear much fruit?” 

For us monks the Lord as light of the world comes to us in the forms which he has given us, in which he has chosen to appear: Scripture, Liturgy, the Rule, the common life, the brothers, and so on. With these, Jesus calls us in turn to be lights of the world. We can choose to give them the vivid attention of an attentive artist and shape our monastic conversatio into a strong monastic life.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for this Sunday's Eucharist.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Gathering Us

Do not allow pride to swell in you, let it shrivel instead, and rot. Be disgusted by it, throw it out. Christ is looking for a humble Christian. Christ in heaven, Christ with us, Christ in hell – not to be kept there, but to release others from there. That’s the kind of leader we have. He is seated at the right hand of the Father, but he is gathering us up together from the earth: one in this way, one in that; by favoring this one, chastising that one, giving this one joy and that one trouble. May he that gathers gather us up, otherwise we are lost; may he gather us together where we can’t get lost, into that land of the living where all deserts are acknowledged and justice is rewarded.

Shunning all that could keep us from Christ, we long to be filled more and more with the ardor that so formed the heart of Saint Mary Magdalene.

Fresco from the Arena Chapel in Padua by Giotto. Excerpts from Saint Augustine, Sermon 70A, 1-2

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Light in the Cloister

 
"The sunlight did not know what it was before it hit a wall," said the American architect Louis Kahn. Buildings that matter have spirit and meaning and are never merely functional. We are grateful for the quiet beauty of this place.

In your light, we see light.
Ps 36

Photograph of early morning sunlight in the southwest corner of the cloister.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A Sower

In his explication of the parable of the sower in today's Gospel, Jesus details the various ways in which the unprepared heart fails to embrace the Word. The twelfth-century Cistercian father, Isaac of Stella, comments on the parable as follows: “There are those with hearts trodden down and unyielding. The Word reaches their outer ears but their hearts give it no welcome.  The seed has fallen by the wayside, since the way of faith and obedience is not theirs.  Faith, we are told, does not reach all hearts; some do not obey the call of the Gospel. Poised between their ears and hearts, the devil bars the way to the heart, as the saying goes, by taking out through one ear what has entered by the other. As a preacher rises to proclaim the Word exteriorly, the devil prompts the counter- utterance within, denies the truth of what is said, changing its meaning, criticizing the preacher, distracting the hearer with drowsiness or daydreams.”

When Isaac says that “the way of faith and obedience is not theirs,” we recall the  Prologue of the Holy Rule, which promises that, “the labor of obedience will bring you back to Him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience.” If indeed the labor of obedience in faith represents the most fundamental preparation, it is not the only kind of work required. Corresponding to the stony ground, Isaac says that “There are others who find no difficulty in obeying, but lack the virtue of endurance…Ever prepared to mend their ways, they are still more prone to relapse. To all appearances they are live-wood, but in fact they are dead-wood, time-servers and shallow-minded. Lacking the taproot of love, they cannot believe and endure to the last. In time of peace they keep the faith, but in time of temptation, internal or external, they fall away. They are chaste while passion slumbers, courageous when no one opposes them, meek if left alone. Their devotion depends on how well things go.  They are the sort who praise God as long as he blesses them.”

And lest we attach too much importance to the role of human agency, Isaac reminds us that it is the Father, “the heavenly husbandman who through the Holy Spirit has made us capable of receiving the seed, the Son. The fire of love that he has poured out upon our hearts has burnt up the thorns, cleansed our field, has enabled us to endure and to yield a harvest thirty, sixty, even a hundredfold.” The seed of the Word is God’s gift of himself, and our ability to receive it is also God’s gift.  Our job, in the end, is to make ourselves ready to accept and treasure that gift. The Word is God’s gift of himself. And in order to receive such a gift, we must prepare our hearts to welcome a person, a beloved guest, whose presence will grow within us and heal us, enabling us to bear fruit some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

The Sower, 1850, Jean-Fran├žois Millet, 40 x 32 1/2 in., oil on canvas, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Excerpts from Father William's homily at this morning's Mass.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Retreat

"The love of God has been poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Love itself moans, love itself prays; against it he who gave it cannot close his ears. Be free of anxiety; let love ask and God's ears are there.

During this coming week the community will be on its annual retreat, a special time for greater silence and solitude. Daily conferences will be given to us by Dom Erik of Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Great Britain. We will pray for all of our family, friends, relatives and benefactors. 

Lines from Tractate 6: On the First Epistle of John, by Saint Augustine.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Mercy

"Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

As we ponder Jesus' words in today's Gospel from Saint Matthew, we are reminded of Pope Francis' message in Misericordia Vultus: 

“He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds. The Lord lifts up the downtrodden, he casts the wicked to the ground” (Ps 147:3, 6). In short, the mercy of God is not an abstract idea, but a concrete reality with which he reveals his love as of that of a father or a mother, moved to the very depths out of love for their child. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that this is a “visceral” love. It gushes forth from the depths naturally, full of tenderness and compassion, indulgence and mercy. “For his mercy endures forever.” This is the refrain that repeats after each verse in Psalm 136 as it narrates the history of God’s revelation…With our eyes fixed on Jesus and his merciful gaze, we experience the love of the Most Holy Trinity. The mission Jesus received from the Father was that of revealing the mystery of divine love in its fullness. “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16), John affirms for the first and only time in all of Holy Scripture. This love has now been made visible and tangible in Jesus’ entire life. His person is nothing but love, a love given gratuitously. The relationships he forms with the people who approach him manifest something entirely unique and unrepeatable. The signs he works, especially in favor of sinners, the poor, the marginalized, the sick, and the suffering, are all meant to teach mercy. Everything in him speaks of mercy. Nothing in him is devoid of compassion.

Friday, July 7, 2017

An Infirmary

Very many tax collectors and sinners came and sat at table with Jesus in Matthew's house. The Pharisees are scandalized and ask the disciples why the Teacher eats with such people. Well aware of who we are, we want to respond to the Pharisees' question with something like, "Thank God Jesus has chosen to sit at table with sinners like us." 

Our hearts overflow with gratitude for Christ's condescension to us in his mercy. For we are desperately in need of a physician who understands, a wise physician who knows where it hurts and why. Each morning he brings us the perfect remedy- his own body and blood. Jesus our Lord is our physician and our medicine. And we come to understand more and more, it is just as our Cistercian father, William of St. Thierry has reminded us- the monastery is in fact a giant infirmary where the sick, those disfigured by sin, have come to be healed and made whole again.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Together

On these warm summer mornings the windows of the Abbey church are open to the fields, the twittering of birds and chortling of little beasts. As we chant the Divine Office we join them in praising the Lord of all creation.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

What Perhaps We Monks Can Offer

On this Independence Day amidst all the divisions in our nation and our world, even in our families; the terrorism and fears that threaten us from from all sides, what can we do as monks to make things better? In his homily this morning Father Vincent invited us to do what Saint Paul recommends to the Philippians: "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." 

Doing As Paul suggests will lead us to heartfelt thanksgiving for all the blessings we have received; we will turn aside from cynicism and negativity. Then living in a spirit of deep gratitude, our hearts will be led naturally into prayer and contemplation. As monks we trust that this praying is never ever private for as our hearts are stretched open, they embrace all of God's people. This is perhaps our most important contribution.

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.  Constitutions of the Order.
Photographs by Brother Brian. 

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Losing Everything

In this morning's Gospel Jesus tells us once again, "Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." 

Just as Jesus "lost himself" in his desire always to do the Father's will, we long more and more to lose ourselves in him, finding our true selves in the self-forgetful love he embodies. We long to give Christ Jesus all our possibilities, making his Kingdom the horizon of our desire. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Our Lady on Saturday

We celebrate the Mass and Office of Our Blessed Lady again on this Saturday. She is everywhere in the Abbey watching over us, her images and icons in sacred spaces and in the workplaces. Mary protects us and accompanies us; we trust in her powerful intercession.

We place ourselves in your keeping, Holy Mother of God. Refuse not the prayer of your children in their distress, but deliver us from all danger, ever Virgin glorious and blessed.