Thursday, August 31, 2017


Aware that the scribes and Pharisees have for some time now been plotting to kill him, unwavering in their conviction that they are in the right, Jesus chastises them for saying “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have not joined them in shedding the prophet’s blood.” 

Whenever we catch ourselves thinking, “If I had lived at such and such a time or place, or had been in such and such a situation, I would never have…(fill in the blank)," we can be sure that we have gone astray. We have somehow lost sight of the fallen human nature we share with everybody else. Aware of our need for the divine mercy, let us acknowledge our sins.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Timothy.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017


"I will grant you whatever you ask of me,
even to half of my kingdom."
She went out and said to her mother,
"What shall I ask for?"
She replied, "The head of John the Baptist."
The girl hurried back to the king's presence and made her request,
"I want you to give me at once
on a platter the head of John the Baptist."
The king was deeply distressed,
but because of his oaths and the guests
he did not wish to break his word to her.
So he promptly dispatched an executioner with orders
to bring back his head. Mark 6

Afraid to embarrass himself in front of his guests, a drunken King Herod accedes to Salome's evil request. Jesus' cousin, the son of Elizabeth's dotage, who spoke the truth so fearlessly, the man whose preaching even fascinated Herod loses his head because of jealousy and foolish social pressure.

We pray that we may always keep our wits and our wisdom and never ever act out of jealousy or embarrassment.

Sunday, August 27, 2017


Once again this morning we listen with Peter as Jesus whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you?” Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately loved by Christ, we can say with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. To whom else shall we go? All I want is to know you, Lord Jesus and the power flowing from your resurrection. Everything else is rubbish. You are all that I desire. You are my love, my fortress, my stronghold, my rescuer, my rock, the God who shows me love always and everywhere, moment by moment."

Thursday, August 24, 2017

God's Way

The Lord’s ways are simply not our ways of doing things. God likes to switch things around. Just imagine if God were only fair. Jesus goes to Jerusalem where he himself will be consumed by the jealousy and hatred of leaders, who refuse to see clearly that he is of God. They will spit on him and scourge and crucify him. But from the cross he will not condemn but forgive them. We might imagine what Jesus could have groaned from the cross - “This is so unfair.” Unfair indeed, but he never says anything of the kind. He never reproaches us. Instead while all the while trusting in his Abba’s love, he says only “I thirst;” he forgives his torturers, gives us his Mother, promises Paradise and cries out to his Father in desperation and trust. And finally he gives over his spirit, empties himself for us. God in Christ gives himself away to death and so reverses everything. Death is foiled. Our freedom is assured. God’s mercy triumphs; God gets to do things his way. Jesus swallows all the unfairness and replaces it with the tender mercy of his wounded risen body. He has promised each one whatever is just as payment, and in his divine economy this is always infinitely more than we deserve - his very Self, his sacred heart, his precious body and blood, which we may receive each day at his table. The best we can do is simply, joyfully, gratefully receive the Gift.
Detail of the carved border on the high altar of the Abbey church, photographed by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Incomprehensibly Merciful

 The day laborers in today’s parable were the lowest class of workers in Jesus’ day. They lived on the edge, always “at the mercy of chance employment; always on the brink of want.” And so unemployment for even one day would mean hardship for a man, his wife and hungry children. And the setting? It’s probably the grape harvest when the fruit had to be picked, before a coming storm or over-ripeness would make it all useless. This explains why the landowner keeps going back looking for help. He’s desperate to get the crop in. Even at about five o’clock with only an hour or so of daylight left, he goes back to the town square to hire. He can use the extra help even for a short time. And so we hear about five sets of hired day laborers. And our landowner has promised each one whatever is just as payment; this is probably one denarius, a decent day’s pay at the time.
   So it is that in the final scene when the foreman doles out the pay, that we are witness to the extravagant compassion of the landowner, (a cipher for the extravagant mercy of our God.) All the workers, even the last ones who worked for only one measly hour, receive a whole denarius. Aware of their need and the desperation of their situation; the landowner knows that less than a denarius will be not enough for a man and his family for a day. And he wants them all to go home happy and satisfied. Now that’s not fair; it’s excessive. But if we were part of that last crowd who had worked for only an hour, we’d be overjoyed at the landowner’s outlandish generosity.
   How often we murmur because things aren’t fair. And true enough it’s the constant plea of psalmist and prophet, “Why is it Lord that the way of the wicked prospers? Why is it that you let the sun and rain and all good things come to the just and the unjust?” It’s not fair. But the good news is God’s Kingdom is not about fairness or entitlement; never about “confidence” in our own accomplishments or sacrifices. It’s not ever about rewards but grace - not something earned but a gift freely given in love. God is not fair. He is abundantly, incomprehensibly merciful, way beyond our imagining. He knows we don’t always do enough, don’t always pull our weight or labor long and hard enough, that sometimes we loaf and dawdle and wait too long and make bad decisions. He sees it all, and he is merciful. It doesn’t mean that everything’s always OK, not at all. No, we mess up, and God is merciful. We may sometimes be unkind, impatient, stingy, and God is merciful and gives us another chance.
   Just imagine if God were only fair. Imagine if he gave us only what we really deserve. We’d be in big trouble. Certainly God looks into our hearts and notices the good we do, but the kingdom is all about his mercy, never about payback for a job well done. It is, on the contrary, completely, utterly, totally gift; gratuitous, absolutely surprising, way beyond what we are “entitled to.” Simple gratitude is the only response. For what gift or blessing do we have that we deserve? No, God is not fair, but all loving, all giving, all forgiving. The truth is we’re all latecomers, and God is always switching things around. It’s called mercy.

Insights from The Gospel of Matthew, II, William Barclay, and from Matthew: A Commentary, Robert Gundry. 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.
For centuries it has been the practice of monks to chant the Salve Regina at the conclusion of  Compline just before they retire. We are told that the Cistercians have chanted the Salve Regina daily since 1218.
We trust in Mary's care and intercession for us, we belong to her. Today we celebrate her as queen of heaven and earth, our path and gateway to all that her Son is for us.
Illustration of the Virgin and Child from a 12th century Cistercian manuscript.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard constantly places before us the major events of the life of Christ, and writes: “He was incomprehensible and inaccessible, invisible and completely unthinkable. Now he wishes to be comprehended, wishes to be seen, wishes to be thought about. How, do you ask? As lying in the manger, resting in the Virgin’s lap, preaching on the mountain, praying through the night, or hanging on the cross, growing pale in death, free among the dead and ruling in hell, and also as rising on the third day, showing the apostles the place of the nails, the signs of victory, and finally as ascending over heaven’s secrets in their sight.” Nat BVM 11.

Bernard tells us that the invisible God wished to be seen in the flesh and to live among humans as a human, so that he might recapture all the affections of humans and little by little, lead them to spiritual love. Christ Jesus uses our attraction to his human existence to take our disordered affections and desires and reconfigure them around himself. And as a person advances in love and contemplation, he is more and more present to God. “A person is present to God to the extent that the person loves him,” says Bernard. This will lead to the heights of the intimacy with the divine Bridegroom in unity of spirit.

Finally Saint Bernard stresses that the call to these heights is universal, it is open to everyone. Bernard writes: “Every soul, even if burdened with sin, enmeshed with vice, ensnared by the allurements of pleasure, a captive in exile, imprisoned in the body, caught in mud, fixed in mire, bound to its members, a slave to care, distracted by business, afflicted with sorrow, wandering and straying…every soul, I say, standing thus under condemnation and without hope, has the power to turn and find that it can not only breathe the fresh air of the hope of pardon and mercy, but also dare to aspire to the nuptials of the Word, not fearing to enter into alliance with God or to bear the sweet yoke of love with the King of angels. Why should it not venture with confidence into the presence of him by whose image it sees itself honored, and in whose likeness it knows itself made glorious? Why should it fear a majesty when its very origin gives it ground for confidence? All it has to do is to take care to preserve its natural purity by innocence of life, or rather to study to beautify and adorn with the brightness of its actions and dispositions the glorious beauty which is its birthright. Why then does it not set to work?” Sermon 83.1

Filippino Lippi, Apparition of the Virgin Mary to Saint Bernard, 1480, oil on panel, 83 x 77 in., Badia, Florence. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily for the Solemnity.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

His Wounds

O Pelican of Mercy! O  Jesus Lord!
Unclean am I, but cleanse me in your Blood;
Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt,
Is ransom for a world's entire guilt.

In the image above we see the "pious pelican," traditionally a symbol of the wounded Jesus, since according to legend the pelican is the most loving of creatures and pierces her own breast to feed her young. As we celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, our great Cistercian father and teacher, we ponder these words from his Sermon 61, On the Song of Songs: 

Where can the weak find a place of firm security and peace, except in the wounds of the Savior? Indeed, the more secure is my place there the more he can do to help me. The world rages, the flesh is heavy, and the devil lays his snares, but I do not fall, for my feet are planted on firm rock. I may have sinned gravely. My conscience would be distressed, but it would not be in turmoil, for I would recall the wounds of the the Lord: He was wounded for our iniquities. What sin is there so deadly that it cannot be pardoned by the death of Christ? And so if I bear in mind this strong, effective remedy, I can never again be terrified by the malignancy of sin.
   Surely the man who said: “My sin is too great to merit pardon,” was wrong. He was speaking as though he were not a member of Christ and had no share in his merits, so that he could claim them as his own, as a member of the body can claim what belongs to the head. As for me, I can appropriate whatsoever I lack from the Heart of the Lord who abounds in mercy. They pierced his hands and feet and opened his side with a spear. Through the openings of these wounds I may drink honey from the rock and oil from the hardest stone: that is, I may taste and see that the Lord is sweet.
   He was thinking thoughts of peace, and I did not know it, for who knows the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? But the piercing nail has become a key to unlock the door, that I may see the good will of the Lord. And what can I see as I look through the hole? Both the nail and the wound cry out that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The lance pierced his soul and came close to his Heart, so that he might be able to feel compassion for me in my weaknesses.
   Through these sacred wounds we can see the secret of his heart, the great mystery of love, the sincerity of his mercy with which he visited us from on high. Where have your love, your mercy, your compassion shone out more luminously than in your wounds, sweet, gentle Lord of mercy? More mercy than this no one has than that he lay down his life for those who are doomed to death.
   My merit comes from his mercy; for I do not lack merit so long as he does not lack mercy. And if the Lord’s mercies are many, then I am rich in merits. For even if I am aware of many sins, what does it matter? Where sin abounded grace has overflowed. And if the Lord’s mercies are from all ages forever, I too will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. Will I not sing of my own righteousness? No, Lord, I shall be mindful only of your justice. Yet that too is my own; for God has made you my righteousness.

Opening verse from the hymn Adoro Te Devote. Photograph of a mosaic in the sanctuary of the Abbey church by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How It Works

Overheard this morning in the cloister. 
One young monk off to morning work, pauses to help a senior monk, 
who expresses thanks for his assistance. 
The younger whispers, "Teamwork makes the dream work."

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear...   from Chapter 72 of The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ahead of Time

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” When I look at the various situations and circumstances of my life, the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the hopes and disappointments, the struggles and accomplishments, I realize that I really want to believe that the Lord is somehow present to me in and through them all. I really want to believe that the Lord speaks to me through all the events of my life. And I don’t think I am alone in this desire. My guess is that we all want to believe that our life and existence are somehow more than the particular circumstances that unfold throughout our lives. We want to know and experience that God is really with us through it all. We long for something beyond the particular circumstances. I’m talking about believing through the circumstances rather than in the circumstances. When we believe this way the circumstances no longer limit or confine us but become portals of God’s intimate presence with us.

The kind of believing I am talking about is an "Elizabeth and Mary kind of believing." Neither one of them should be or could be pregnant. One is too old. One is too young. One is barren. One is a virgin. Yet both are pregnant. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary allowed the particular concrete circumstances of her life to limit God’s presence and action in her life. Neither allowed the circumstances to define who she was or who she would become. Elizabeth believed she was more than just a barren, childless, old woman. And Mary refused to accept that she was a no-one, another unmarried, scandalous woman, but rather believed that somehow she was the instrument of God the Most Holy.

Mary didn’t have it all wrapped up right from the beginning with a crystal clear understanding as to how her life would unfold. I am sure that her “how can this be” question to the angel Gabriel was not the last time in her life that she asked that question. As her life unfolded it wasn’t a bed of roses for her. A sword would pierce her soul she was told when her son was an infant. She will lose him for three days when he is twelve. She’ll think he’s gone mad when he’s thirty. And God only knows the despairing anguish she experienced during those three days following his crucifixion. And yet, throughout all the circumstances of her life her “let it be” never ceased to resound. In fact, what we are celebrating today: Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was somehow contained in her original “let it be.”

In today’s gospel we hear Mary’s “let it be” continue to unfold in her Magnifcat; which is essentially her song of praise and thanksgiving. Barbra Brown Taylor, the Episcopalian priest, author and theologian offers a powerful insight into Mary’s Magnificat when she reflects on Mary’s willingness to trust in God as she writes: “All she has is her unreasonable willingness to believe that God who has chosen her will be part of whatever happens next---and that apparently is enough to make her burst into song. She does not wait to see how things will turn out first. She sings ahead of time.” That expression stopped me in my tracks. Praising God ahead of time. Thanking God ahead of time.

I remember when it dawned on me that in the Ignatian practice of the Examen of Consciousness which one is advised to make at the end of the day, it is recommended to review your day in thanksgiving. It is not a matter of reviewing the day in order to pick and choose what you will be grateful for but to look back on the day, all of it and everything that occurred, with an attitude of thanksgiving. And now here we have Mary singing ahead of time, expressing her gratitude for all that will unfold in her life- being grateful ahead of time.

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is not just concerned with Mary. It is meant to touch our lives, in all the magnificent and not so magnificent circumstances of those lives. Mary’s fulfillment, which we celebrate today, began in and through all the circumstances of her life. Today, on the Assumption, we celebrate and acknowledge the culmination of that fulfillment - a fulfillment that we are all meant to one day share in with her. She invites us today, personally, to trust in a way that isn’t limited to what is reasonable, explainable or even acceptable. To trust that in every moment of every circumstance of our life the word of God is really being fulfilled if we but offer our own “let it be.”

Orazio Gentileschi, The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1610, The Fogg Art Museum. Excerpts from Father Damian's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It Is I

As Father Aquinas reminded us yesterday, we are very often like the disciples. We too often seek reassurances from Jesus, "If it is truly you, tell me to come to you across the water." Our faith is not strong enough. Jesus encourages us, "Take heart; it is I. Have no fear." What could be more reassuring? Once we realize who is calling to us, we may be embarrassed at having been alarmed. Didn't we know? Jesus always assures us that he will save us and protect us.

Sunday, August 13, 2017


Having sensed the Lord’s loving presence in the “tiny, whispering” of the ordinariness of our lives, we long to hide in the “shadow of his wings.” He comes near to us, stretches out the hand of his mercy and assures us, “Come to me and do not be afraid.” Why do we doubt? Why is our faith so tiny? The Son of God Most High has made his dwelling place within us. And nothing at all can separate us from him.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Friday, August 11, 2017

God’s Beauty

We continue our reflection on the words of Rowan Williams. He concludes that in the monastic life "...the world can be seen at one and the same time in its wholeness and in the light of a presence that is everywhere and nowhere. And it points to worship as the culminating and fulfilling form of self-dispossession or self-giving. It is about joy in the routine and everyday – not simply a persistent human happiness but a pervasive confidence that God’s beauty is there waiting for our homecoming. It certainly is not that monastic communities unfailingly exemplify all this; only that this and this alone makes sense of the monastic life as a ‘sharpening of the focus’ that exists in all Christian life."

God's beauty awaits us, beckons us; let us be attentive always.

Photographs by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017


The author Rowan Williams will characterize the monastic life as follows: “A humanity serving God in steady engagement with the material world and in mutual giving and receiving…a humanity shaped by Christ.”

He goes on to remind us that the monk’s life is "incarnational," always lived in and through Christ Jesus. As Williams writes, the monastic life is: “always modeled on Christ’s human life (and) open to the divine at every moment; it is not that God the Word deigns to take up residence in those parts of our lives that we consider important or successful or exceptional. Every aspect of Jesus’ humanity and every moment of his life is imbued with the divine identity, so that if our lives are to be images of his, they must seek the same kind of unbroken transparency.  Likewise, Jesus lives out in his humanity a complete dependence on God as Father, the eternal dependence of the Word on the divine Source, and is thus also capable of living a human life that is not anxiously in search of the highest degree of autonomy: he receives gifts, receives friendship and hospitality. A life that values every dimension of experience, including the routine, the repetitive and prosaic, one that assumes mutual need and invites generosity at the same time as offering it in hospitality – this is a life that is not merely apostolic but Christlike and illustrates the freshness of what the Gospel makes possible.”

Christ Jesus longs to be ordinary in us and with us and through us.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Monday, August 7, 2017


Signaling the end of the summer, flocks of Canadian geese have already returned to rest and and feed in the Abbey fields on their way north. An ancient Roman legend tells of the Capitoline geese who honked their warning and saved Rome from the invasion of the Gauls. Since then geese have been used in literature and art as symbols of vigilance and divine providence. As we keep watch in vigils and prayer, the geese are our late August companions. Autumn is not far away.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On Tabor

This morning we ascend Mount Tabor with Jesus and eavesdrop as the Father says, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” This is our truth as well. Baptized into Christ, we too are the beloved of the Father.

To be sure, the brilliance of this morning’s Transfiguration and points us to another hilltop, that of Calvary. There the Beloved one will give himself away to us completely. His clothes, his flesh once bright with light on Tabor will be torn and stained with the spittle and blood of his passion.

Empowered by his Father’s love, Jesus will freely give himself up for us. Trusting in the Father’s love, we too may be transfigured and fearless enough to be self-forgetful like Jesus. Let us open to him. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Where I Live

The heart is the dwelling-place where I am, where I live… the heart is the place "to which I withdraw." The heart is our hidden center, beyond the grasp of our reason and of others; only the Spirit of God can fathom the human heart and know it fully. The heart is the place of decision, deeper than our psychic drives. It is the place of truth, where we choose life or death. It is the place of encounter, because as image of God we live in relation: it is the place of covenant.

Let us go frequently to our inner room, the room of our heart. This is the place of prayer. There we will find the Lord Jesus awaiting us, inviting us into quiet and relationship. 

Photograph of Della Robbia bas relief of Tobias and the Angel Raphael in the monastic refectory by Brother Brian. Lines from The Catechism of Catholic Church, 2563.

Friday, August 4, 2017

We and Zacchaeus

First Monastery at Tracadie
He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. Luke 19
Our Lady of the Valley
God’s interventions in our lives are always unexpected and surprising. We cannot plot them out ahead of time or predict them. And more often than not they smash our so-called certitudes. All Zacchaeus wanted to do was get a better glimpse of Jesus. And Jesus surprisingly and unexpectedly (scandalously according to the bystanders) intervened and invited himself into Zacchaeus’s home and life. And Zacchaeus was never the same after that. Perhaps his faith in God’s constant, loving, intervening care enabled him to move into a future, not with certitude, but with trusting faith. Zacchaeus was faithful to Jesus’s surprising self-invitation; we too can be open to that very same invitation on the part of Jesus. And ultimately it is because Jesus was faithful to his Father’s unfailing love, even unto death, that we can live in his promise to be with us until the end of time.
The New Church at Spencer 
As Abbot Damian reminds us, it is this promise of Jesus that has sustained our community’s life throughout its existence; from Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie to Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island to Saint Joseph’s Abbey here in Spencer. There have been all sorts of ups and downs, ins and outs, lights and shadows, fires and re-buildings from the ashes throughout these past 192 years. What, where and how our future as a community will unfold, we do not know. But what we do know and can stake our lives on is that the Lord’s faithfulness to us will never ever fail. And it is that faithfulness that we celebrate. Let us rejoice and be glad.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017


Come, true light; come life that never ends; come, hidden mystery!
Come, nameless treasure; come, name that can never be uttered!
Come, inconceivable One; come, joy without end!
Come sun that never sets!
Come, name well-loved and ever repeated!
Come, joy that knows no end; come, untarnishing crown!
Come you whom my poor soul has longed for, 
and longs for still!
I give you thanks that you have become one single spirit with me. 

We are called to ceaseless prayer, Saint Augustine will name this living in ceaseless desire for God. Ever-mindful of this, we treasure these lines from a hymn of Saint Simeon the New Theologian. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Today we celebrate the Anniversary of the Dedication and Consecration of our Abbey Church. This is a special solemnity that is ours alone. This rose window pictured above, composed as it is from fragments of glass from the large lancet window in the church of the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley, is an apt symbol of the many transitions that have marked our community's history.

Our community first took root at the monastery of Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie, Nova Scotia in the mid-nineteenth century. But in 1892 and again in 1896 disastrous fires devasted the monastic buildings.

Soon the monastery moved from Nova Scotia to Lonsdale, Rhode Island. The small community, accompanied by their livestock arrived in the summer of 1900, and regular monastic life was resumed on August 2. Their new home was called Our Lady of the Valley. When in 1950 this abbey was ravaged by fire, the community of one hundred and forty persons was homeless.

Fortunately they had already purchased a large dairy farm in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1949. And the fire only accelerated the community's projected move. The monks soon adapted the farm buildings for monastic purposes. And on December 23, 1950, eighty monks took possession of Saint Joseph's Abbey. We continue to discern God’s loving plan in  our common life in this place and look forward with great hope to the future.

Detail of Abbey church rose window by Brother Jonah.