Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Fixed Song

It is especially when we find age, life-altering illness or death upon us that we begin to think about what has remained constant throughout the vicissitudes of our life - what, in other words, has offered the persistent direction to a “north” for the compass of our souls. For each of us, in the course of our lives, there are certain critical truths and experiences that have seized and shaped us. Looking at the unswerving conviction in the lives of people we admire may help us reach that place of constancy in our own hearts.

Jesus himself, exhausted from his temptations in Gethsemani and unable to feel the presence and support of God on the cross, says “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But he never completely lost the fundamental reassurance of his relationship with his Father.

Mother Theresa, who also experienced profound inner darkness and feelings of abandonment by God while serving the poorest of the poor, had to have a “fixed song” that kept her motivated, even though she often could not hear it. Perhaps it was her rock-bottom conviction that it is Christ himself she was caring for in the abandoned and dying strangers whom she picked up in the streets.  In spite of the darkness, she knew “a place of constancy” in her heart.

For many ordinary Christians, the truth that lies at the heart of their lives, tempered and polished over the decades, may be their rich understanding of the Incarnation, of God’s self-portrait in the person of Jesus. It is because of their sacramental vision that they are forever picking up clues about their Creator’s beauty hidden in the ordinariness of things. Knowing how to look, everything they see is touched by wonder. St. Augustine assures us that the experience of life is the experience of the divine. He once wrote: “Make humanity your goal, and you will find your way to God.” In other words, there is an inner light that radiates from everything, the mystery of the presence of God in our world. 

Having said all this, there are, however, moments when our spirit seems to completely “stall.” The fixed song, the enduring melody of meaning that has been a lifeline to us, really does go silent. But that doesn’t mean that the “fixed song,” once silenced, can’t be heard again. Terrible though this is, it is not a reason to lose hope, for it is sometimes only in absence that we discover presence; only in real darkness that light perceptibly shines. Pushed to “hopelessness” we sometimes begin to hope for the first time.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Dominic.

Sunday, January 28, 2018


In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit;
he cried out, "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have you come to destroy us?
I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"
Jesus rebuked him and said,
"Quiet! Come out of him!" Mark 1

As Jesus rebukes that boisterous, intrusive unclean spirit in this morning's Gospel, we are reminded of our need, our longing for Jesus' quiet to fill our own hearts and minds.

Silence is a participation in the world to come, a participation in eternity, in God’s simplicity, a great Mystery beyond words. Love seeking me is the reason for silence. The monk's wonder-filled response to God’s seeking is the silence of love and the longing to be absorbed in wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One who loves him. Those in love need not say anything. They want simply" to be with," to be agendaless, resting in each other's presence. God longs for our openness, a great empty space within us, an emptiness that is not nothing but is availability. In silence, I can notice God noticing me. In practicing silence, allowing silence, allowing the empty space, I make an open space for God. 

Ancient statue of Saint Benedict brought from the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island at the time of Spencer's founding. Photograph by Brother Daniel.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Our Founders

Today we celebrate the three founders of the Cistercian Order, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen. Their ideal was a more authentic monastic simplicity and evangelical poverty. On 21 March in 1098, Robert, abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Molesme, France set out with twenty-one of his monks to the wilderness of CĂ®teaux to begin a new reformed monastery. By 1100 Robert had been called back to Molesme and Alberic was made abbot. We are told that Alberic had a tender devotion to Our Lady and received the Cistercians’ characteristic white cowl from her. Stephen Harding, an Englishman, succeeded Alberic as abbot and composed the Carta Caritatis, a kind of constitution which binds all the monasteries of our Order to a common observance of rules and customs.

These early monks of our Order wanted to be “poor with the poor Christ” and are said to have been “lovers of the brethren and the place.” We pray that we may be true to their example and beg their prayerful intercession as we strive to persevere worthily in this place.

A recent photograph taken at the Abbey by K'een Trainor.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Saul's Conversion and Our Own

"On that journey as I drew near to Damascus,
about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me.
I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me,
'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?'
I replied, 'Who are you, sir?'
And he said to me,
'I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.'

When Saul hears the voice of the Lord Jesus speak these words to him, his life is transformed. And all of Paul’s subsequent teaching will be formed by this message of Jesus to him – all those who suffer are Christ Jesus in our midst, indeed, as Paul will later attest,  “the body is one, but has many members.” Our sufferings unite us in Christ, with Christ and make us one with him, one with each other. Christ’s body is aching even until now in those very near, in those far away, in all who are over-burdened, abandoned and persecuted. This is the Gospel message of God’s compassion that Jesus asks us to proclaim to every creature. Compassion is our mission, our call, the living witness of our ongoing conversions.

The Conversion of Saint Paul by Caravaggio.

Monday, January 22, 2018

For Life

As we celebrate a day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, we pray for the full restoration of the legal guarantee of the right to life, and we beg God's forgiveness for violations to the dignity of the human person committed through acts of abortion.

We pray that the merciful Spirit of God will help us to protect and care and reverence each person’s life. And we remember all refugees and immigrants seeking a new homeland, we pray for the homeless, the house-bound, for the elderly who may be neglected and for all those disabled, disrespected or abused. May our hearts be broken open in compassion.

O God, who adorn creation with splendor and beauty and fashion human lives in your image and likeness, awaken in every heart reverence for the work of your hands and renew among your people a readiness to nurture and sustain your precious gift of human life. Confirm our resolve, that we may live always for others and cherish your sacred gift of human life.

Photograph of the Salve Window in the Abbey church by Brother Brian.

His Sympathy

Made like us in all things but sin, Jesus needs no one to tell him about the human heart, for he has taken our heart as his own heart. The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin- in every way that we are. Imagine the breadth of that statement. Think of all you go through, all you feel, all the ways you are tempted; and imagine Jesus feeling it all with you. It never ceases to astonish. 

The Letter to the Hebrews goes on: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet apart from sin. Therefore let us draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus knows, Jesus understands. He shares our flesh and blood and knows well what yanks at our hearts because “he himself likewise shared the same things so that through death he might destroy” all that threatens to draw us away from God. Imagine then the sympathy of Jesus; literally, he feels as we do. He speaks to us not from above, but from deep within us.
Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Even Before We Ask...

In the Prologue to his Rule, Saint Benedict tells us, “If you desire true and eternal life, keep your tongue free from vicious talk and your lips from all deceit; turn away from evil and do good; let peace be your quest and aim. Once you have done this, my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen for your prayers; and even before you ask me, I will say to you: Here I am.”

Echoing Benedict's words Archbishop Alban Goodier, SJ wrote many years later, “Every soul comes to prayer wanting something; it may not know what that 'something' is, it may not 'know what it asks for when it prays,' but it longs and desires nevertheless; and often, for very many indeed, the whole of prayer consists in the expression of that desire and longing – ‘My God, I want’ – ‘What do you want?’ – ‘I know not what I want, but I want.’ - In how many is this the prayer of their whole lives! Beautiful and powerful prayer, truly contemplative prayer, though such souls, because they seem to get no farther, think they do not pray at all.” 

God understands more than we can possibly understand the deepest desires of our hearts, the longings that we cannot express in words. As Saint Paul reminds us, "The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words."

God is with us; God wants our good.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, January 19, 2018


Scholars will remind us that in John’s Gospel, friendship is the ultimate description of what it means to be a disciple and the model he proposes for our relationships with each other.” “I no longer call you servants,” Jesus will say to his disciples, “rather now I call you friends, for I have made known to you everything, everything that I have heard from my Father.” Everything the Father has and is belongs to Jesus. And he tells us that he wants to give it all to us; this everything of God’s love for us. All he asks is that we stay, remain in his love; remain in him and allow his words to remain in us, to become the essence of who we are and how we act. Staying with him, we will take on his mind and learn how to love again. True friendship takes time. Just remaining is so essential, just to stay, in order to grow in confidence and familiarity with the mystery of who Jesus is. Staying with him we can begin to normalize the mystery of who Jesus is - totally Other and always totally ordinary.

Ultimately it is in and through the wounded and risen Christ that this friendship becomes real, for here we see and understand the depth of his desire to share everything with us. This everything of the Father’s love for us is unambiguously expressed in the self-offering of Jesus on the cross, there in his disfigured humanity. It is there best of all, in this transparency of God’s self-forgetful love, that God reveals his friendship - his deep, committed relationship with us. For only true friendship could compel a person to lay down his life for his friend. The laying down of one’s life then is an act of true love for one who is my “other self.” As disciples, we have become Jesus’ other selves. True friendship with God is ours, because, in the wounded Christ, God opens his heart to us, longing for our friendship.

Now as friends, we can marvelously exchange our everything with God’s everything - our need with the fullness of his loving mercy. Our friendship with God in Christ through the Spirit is ultimately fulfilled in our promise to love one another as we have been loved and to create households and communities of friends, where we try to love as God loves.
Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

His Mirth

Our Lord is full of mirth and gladness because of our prayer.
We came upon these words of Julian of Norwich and were reminded that Christ Jesus is of course always attentive to our prayer, never too busy for us. And even as our desire to praise and honor him is itself his gift, as he always makes the first move in our direction, he nonetheless rejoices in our response to his gracious invitation. 
Let us bless the Lord. And give him thanks.

Photograph of the abbey scriptorium window at sunrise by Brother Brian.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Friendship with Jesus

In this morning’s gospel, John the Baptist watches Jesus as he walks along and points him out as the promised One, the Lamb of God. Hearing this, two of John’s disciples decide to leave him and follow Jesus. Jesus senses their footsteps behind him; he turns and gazes upon them, "What are you seeking?" he says. "Teacher,” they say. “Where are you staying?" Jesus invites them, "Come, and see." A relationship has begun.

The scene takes place in Capernaum; some scholars believe Jesus had a little house there. Capernaum was after all Jesus' home base during his ministry in Galilee, and the Gospel of Mark will call it "his own town" and say that Jesus was "at home" when people came to see him there.1 And so these two go home with Jesus; now right beside him not behind him. And they see where Jesus is staying, and they stay with him that day. It is, the Gospel tells us, about four in the afternoon; an hour they will always remember.

What did they do at Jesus’ house? What did they talk about? Perhaps the typical questions – “You two are from around here right? Fishermen? I think I’ve seen you out there. The weather’s been decent for fishing, hasn’t it?” “Yes; and Rabbi where are you from?” “Nazareth, really?” (They glance at each with a bit of surprise; it’s kind of a nowhere place after all.) And then most probably there’s a meal. Maybe Jesus cooked; he was good at cooking fish. And maybe there was some warm bread from the woman next door. Some olives? I don’t know. But I’d bet anything that Jesus waited on them; their new rabbi serving them at table. It would have been unheard of at the time for a rabbi to do such a thing, but we can intuit that most likely Jesus would do something that. As he will remind the disciples later on, “I am among you as one who serves…I have come not to be served but to serve.”2

In the religious world of ancient Judaism a disciple always chose a teacher and followed him – a disciple followed, keeping a respectful distance behind his teacher, always listening and soon serving and caring for all his rabbi’s needs. With Jesus, it is all reversed; it’s all about his invitation. The disciples’ decision to follow Jesus and leave everything else behind is crucial of course, but it is Jesus who calls them to himself - not behind him but beside him. Jesus’ way to form new disciples is to make them his friends. And this morning we imagine his heart full of joy, for he has found friends with whom he can share his dream of God’s kingdom.

And so it is that these two new disciples stay with Jesus that day; they remain. It’s a compellingly beautiful word used often in John’s Gospel; in Greek, the word is meno - with so many connotations of intimacy, at-homeness, stability, and commitment. It’s what we say to those we love – stay, please don’t go yet. It’s what Jesus wants; he wants to remain with us. God in Christ has come down seeking our friendship - he wants companions as he creates the Kingdom. In John’s Gospel friendship is the ultimate description of what it means to be a disciple.

The Savior, (detail), El Greco (and workshop), 1608-1614, oil on canvas, 72 cm x 55 cm, The Prado, Madrid. 1 James Martin on Facebook. 2 See Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth, pp. 72– 76.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

With Mary on Saturday

Mary offers us a new motherhood in a new superabundant fruitfulness in which she exercises her maternal care for the community as a whole and for each of its members. Mary’s fruitfulness is to make others fruitful in the Son. As spiritual mother, everywhere a person approaches her Son, everywhere a person is really seeking – whether faith, conversion, or vocation, she smooths the path. Because she has gone with the Son on all his paths, she knows all the paths that lead to him.

As we begin this new year, we commit ourselves to taking advantage of this maternal care, offered us by God who prepared Mary from all eternity to be his mother and then prepared her to be our mother, that her care and solicitude may shape our lives and lead us to her Son, who comes to us now to be consumed as bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.

In his goodness, God not only did the incomprehensible by choosing one of our race to be his mother, but he has given her to be our mother also. Someone who knows, loves and assists us in our life with God with her maternal care and concern. Someone who knows God’s Son with an unmatched depth and intimacy and whose deepest wish is to lead us to him, accompanied by the Virgin Mother, let us renew our commitment to serve the Lord with a generous and pure heart.

Medieval statue of the Virgin and Child in a gallery at the Cloisters Museum, NY, sent to us by a friend. Excerpts from Father Timothy's Homily for New Year's Day.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Remembering Saint Aelred of Rievaulx

A God who is love would be inconceivable without the reality of the incompleteness that is love, the inner voice, the deep desire that says, “I cannot be me without you. And you cannot be you without me.”* This is the truth of who God is, A God who is Trinity, a God who is relationship, a God whom Saint Aelred names as friendship. In their mutual exchange, deferring to each other in love, Father, Son and Spirit utter these words endlessly to one another and to each of us.

Saint Aelred as pictured in the initial of an ancient Cistercian manuscript. *see Jeremy Driscoll, OSB. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Greatest Gift

The Christmas season ended officially yesterday with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. We share here thoughts from Abbot Damian's homily for the Solemnity of the Epiphany. He invited us to reflect on all the characters and scenes that were part of the Christmas story.  

Throughout Advent, Isaiah offered his prophecy and vision of endless peace.
The angels offered their songs of praise and message of good news.
The shepherds offered their wonder and curiosity, as well as their status as homeless field workers and outcasts.
The heavens offered a star, a guiding light.
The inn offered a closed door: no openness, no welcome, and no vacancy.
The earth offered a manger and a feed trough.
Mary offered her “yes”, her “Let it be with me according to your word”. She offered her pondering and treasuring.
Joseph offered his presence and his guardianship and protection; along with a home and security, as well as his silence and listening trust.
King Herod offered his fear, anger, and violence.
The parents of the slaughtered innocents offered their grief and sorrow, their brokenness and unfulfilled futures.
The Magi, along with their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, they offered their searching, longing, and desire for something beyond and greater than themselves.

The whole world has been moved and affected by Jesus’ birth.  All of creation has offered something. We cannot exclude ourselves. We must have the courage to own and offer our own “stuff” – good, bad, indifferent. Whatever we bring to the Child and his Mother is our means of participating in the divine birth. What we offer speaks the truth of our own life, which is now God’s life. And the greatest gift in the whole story is the one this Child offers us – Himself.

Photograph by Brother Anthony Khan.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Down in the Jordan with Jesus

“I have witnessed the affliction of my people, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them.”  Ex 3

God in Christ is always, always with us. And today in this final scene of our celebration of his Nativity, we see him descend into the soggy truth of our sinfulness. Down there in the waters of the Jordan River, Jesus is baptized.

Why is Jesus there of all places? He has nothing to repent of? Why does he offer himself for a cleansing baptism of repentance and conversion of heart? Perhaps it simply that he who is Love could do no less. Only the logic of love can explain this action of Jesus, or any other one of his for that matter, for Love always lowers itself. So it is, that he who did not know sin became sin for our sake to rescue forever us from the trap of sin.

Let us go down then into the waters of repentance with Jesus. As we confess our sinfulness, we will hear the Father remind Jesus and us - “You are my beloved.”

Plaque with the Baptism of Jesus, ca. 1150–75, South Netherlandish, ChamplevĂ© enamel, copper alloy, gilt, 4 x 4 x 1/8”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Sunday, January 7, 2018


We have seen his star and have come with gifts to adore him.

Magi, wise visitors from the East, come to pay their homage to the Infant Christ. In this ancient mosaic, they are of three different ages, and they advance with great intention, holding with arms extended their fantastically-shaped gifts. These Magi represent all that is opulent, foreign, extraordinary, even esoteric and exotic. They wear Phrygian caps, colorful leggings, gold and jewel-encrusted tunics and capes. They are all the nations and ages of humanity with their wisdom and accomplishments acknowledging the preeminence of Christ Jesus, he who is all beauty, all wisdom, all truth. Come let us adore him!

He continues to make himself known to us in numerous, unending ways each day, each moment; longing to be recognized, loved and honored. Let us be more and more attentive to these endless epiphanies. Come let us adore him!

The Three Kings, mosaic, Byzantine School, 6th century, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Her Assent

Mary renounces herself, in order to let God alone become active in her. Mary makes her whole being, with all its potentialities, accessible to God’s action. Yet, precisely in resolving to make this renunciation, she becomes cooperative in her whole person with the grace offered her. Everything in her person is ordered to it. Mary, in freely and willingly letting go of all other potentialities for her life, paradoxically, obtains their fulfillment beyond all expectation. Submitting herself to God in everything, she lets her assent form her whole existence. Before God she knows no caution, she expresses no wishes, no preferences, makes no demands. She enters into no contract, sets up no conditions, no if this then that. Once and for all, she renounces all self-shaping of her own life. Having set no limits or conditions in her renunciation, but having given herself completely in her answer, her fruitfulness is boundless.

Mary’s fruitfulness is so incomparable because her assent is laid up entirely in God and remains there. With us it is different. However sincerely and devoutly we promise to belong entirely to God, to sacrifice everything to him, to be eternally faithful to him, and through our renunciation and self-gift to lead as many people to him as possible, inevitably we fall back into lukewarmness and indifference. Never on this side of the grave do we experience the death to self that would enable us to live only for God in a fully consistent way. With Mary, it is completely different. In speaking her assent, she has died so completely to herself that she lives only in her Son and for him. From the beginning, God knows that he can place the life of his Son within her, confident that the Mother he has chosen for the Son will always live her life in service to the Son, as a function of his life. Nothing in her opposes the redemptive action of the Son; rather everything places itself at his disposal to further and enhance it.

It is from this surrender that Mary embraces her mission as Mother and treasures all matters regarding her Son, reflecting on them in her heart. 

Orazio Gentileschi, Italian ( 1563 - 1639), The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1610, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard. Excerpts from Father Timothy's Homily for New Year's Day.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Like God

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
that we may be called the children of God. 
Yet so we are.
The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Beloved, we are God's children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed. 
We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like him,
for we shall see him as he is.
Everyone who has this hope based on him makes himself pure,
as he is pure. 1 John

We were amazed as we heard these words again at this morning's Mass. Already God' own children, we are destined to become more and more like God, transparent to his goodness, beauty, and truth.

Monday, January 1, 2018


Today, January First is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. With our Blessed Lady to lead us, we begin a new year, praying for a year of continual prayer, a year of peace in our hearts, a peace and compassion and gentleness of heart that will spread through all the land and to all nations. Mary gives us Jesus, who is our Peace. We ask her to make us more and more available to him.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Gerard David (Netherlandish, ca. 1455–1523)oil on wood, 20" x 17.”  The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.