Wednesday, January 30, 2019

His Word

The seed is the Word of God. How do we receive the Word that is given to us each day, his Word spoken to us in prayer, in our lectio divina, in our hearts? Are our hearts broken enough, open enough, to receive the abundance he longs to give?

Let us bow our heads and beg his mercy.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Uninterruptedly

Now, today. What keeps us from living the urgency of the now of Jesus’ presence and action in our lives? "Today.” says Jesus. “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." Gratefully the Lord Jesus is relentless. Indeed God uninterruptedly uninterruptedly converses with us, even today, right now. Today his Word is being fulfilled in our hearing, if we will allow it. Today. Now, Jesus wants to free those who are oppressed, now he wants to remove our blindness, now he comes with great good news for us. Now he wants to make of us his compassion and his mercy-makers. Mercy-makers. But too often, perhaps, we find ourselves, despondent, walking to a nearby village with our heads down, much too slow to understand.  

Living in the todayness of Jesus’ compassionate presence always involves a surrender and a passover with him into a place of precariousness and uncertainty, where we are invited to abandon ourselves and depend on God alone, even unto death, just as he did on the cross. This happens most often when we crash headlong into our own limitations, when we do not know how to go on, when finally, in desperation, exasperation and near despair, we hand ourselves over into God’s hands, so that he can save us. Then our today comes.

Probably for most of us some great, earth-shattering revelation never comes. What we get instead are “daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”* And that is enough, more than enough for a day, today, the now of Jesus’ inbreaking. Each morning at Mass, Jesus opens the scroll and reveals himself, reveals our true selves in his Word and in the Sacrament of the Altar, and then we understand that we are enough in him.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Meditation iincludes insights from Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth. What He Wanted, Who He Was. * Quote by Virginia Woolf.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Today


This morning Jesus proclaims his truth and his heart’s desire in a passage from Isaiah, one which probably he had heard and read more than once before. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” But today it's different; he understands himself in what he reads. He is this Word. The Word made flesh reads the scroll of the prophet and recognizes himself, his mission in and through the Word. He simply cannot keep this good news to himself and so he says, "Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing." And we hear an echo of the words he will speak later on to a Samaritan woman at a well, “I who am speaking with you am he; I myself am the mercy and compassion of the Father that Isaiah wrote about. This Word is me.”

Like Jesus, we too will come to understand ourselves, our truth in in the Word. And surely, like Jesus, each one of us has a passage that is ours, a word, words that have touched our hearts and describe something we perhaps always felt but never knew how to describe. This is our word, written by an author we never met, for Sacred Scripture is our Book. And best of all, whenever we engage with the Word, our reading is not just reading, it is encounter - with the Person of Jesus, Word made flesh and Splendor of the Father. Such is the truth of our own lectio divina - as we read, we discover, more often than not, that we ourselves are being read. The life we live is not our own. We are Christ’s body, part of him, in him.

And our stories are one with his. In Christ Jesus God “has become not only one of us but even our very selves.” Jesus himself is our story, our book, our destiny - now, today; Jesus is the Book - with "the power to reflect and illuminate our life; the one Book that forever informs how we navigate the life we have been given." The wounded and risen Jesus is the template that makes sense of each of our lives. 

Quotes from Thomas Merton & Katharine Smyth . Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Solemnity of the Founders of Our Order: Saints Robert, Alberic & Stephen

When I think of Moses I dwell particularly on his leading Israel through the desert wilderness on the way to the promised land.  It was our Father Saint Robert who led the hermits of Colan from their solitude there even deeper into the wilderness forest of Molesme with the two “tablets” of the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Gospel as their guide. When this was no longer a place of solitude and fervent monastic life, he once again took up those tablets and led a monastic Israel to the inhospitable wilderness, “the desert place called Citeaux” there to found the first house of our Order. And, like Moses, Robert was denied the joy of really entering into the Promised Land that Citeaux would become. He was called back by the Pope to his original monastery of Molesme after only about eighteen months at the New Monastery.  We today still hold tenaciously to Robert's ideal of the monastery set in the wilderness in imitation of Our Lord's own predilection for deserts, mountain tops and wilderness as places of  prayer, where without  the distractions of the city,  one can come to better know oneself and God in Christ, God who allures us into the desert  there to speak to our hearts personally and communally through the Holy Spirit.

  Words from the Letter to the Hebrews were used to describe Saint Alberic in the early 12th century narrative of the founding of the Order, the Exordium Parvum.  In Hebrews 11:36 our ancestors in the faith are described as those who “endured mockery, scourging, even chains and imprisonment.” Likewise Alberic is described in chapter 9 of the Exordium as “a learned man, that is to say, well versed in things divine and human, a lover of the Rule and of the brethren, who had for a long time been carrying out the office of prior in the church of Molesme...and who had striven and labored much and long so that the brethren could pass from Molesme to this place (of Citeaux); and who for the sake of this affair, had to endure many insults, imprisonment, and stripes.”   We, who are so inspired by the purity of heart of our founders, can easily forget how much shock, scandal and anger the decision of Abbot Robert, Prior Alberic and 20 other monks to leave Molesme must have caused. This probably led to Alberic's suffering so many insults and even violence from the abandoned monks of Molesme. The decision to found Citeaux took real courage and tremendous faith in the face of hostility.

  Chapter 10 of the Gospel of Mark made me think of the one authentic letter of Saint Stephen Harding in our possession. There in Chapter 10 Jesus speaks lovingly to his disciples as his “sons,” his own children and encourages them to the renounce earthly riches and even the  the joys of home and family for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven with the promise of a new kind of wealth in God and in human relationships that goes beyond anything they have known - a hundred-fold increase.

  A few years before his death in 1133. Stephen wrote to Abbot Thurstan and the monks of the Benedictine Abbey of Sherborne in England which he had entered as a boy. While still a young monk, Stephen became discouraged and left. He writes, “Fear Christ, but with love; and love him, but with fear.” Stephen says that he who ran off encountered “the riches of God's mercy,” so that he “the empty vessel” who had left the monastery of Sherborne was himself filled by “the living fountain” that is the Lord, for at his death Stephen was head of an Order with 40 monasteries.

  We see here the fulfillment of the Lord's promise in Mark’s Gospel of a hundred times more brothers and sisters and homes. Stephen concludes, “I exhort your love to strive to make the good repute you have... the occasion for further progress in virtues, so that, progressing from what is good to what is better and cleaving firmly to monastic observance, you may never cease to observe chastity and humility, submitting yourselves to the zealous practice of frugality together with charity even unto death that you may see the God of gods. Amen.”

 Icon of the Holy Founders written by Brother Terence. Excerpts from today’s homily by Father Luke.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Put All Things Aside

My happiness lies in you alone...Your will is my delight.

Our life in the monastery makes us available to be drawn as completely, as immediately, as constantly as the disciples were - to be completely open, vulnerable to the compelling presence of Christ. He beckons us even now. And it is never too late to love him with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength. Perhaps we feel that there is always too little to give, but it is never ever too late to give all that we can, for he is incessantly drawing us to himself.

The bells are our constant summons to put all things aside. “The monks will always be ready to arise without delay when the signal is given,” says St. Benedict. “On hearing the signal the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost speed.” Such attentiveness is grace and gracefulness. And it is why we have come here,  a way to name our deepest desire. At the first stirrings of his call, were not our hearts burning within us? Let us go to him once again without hesitation, without a second thought, for our desire is itself his gift and his desire for us. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Meditation by one the monks.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Protection & Welcome

A great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and from the heart of every believer. 

We pray that that every human being will be protected in law and welcomed in life. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpt from Evangelium Vitae of Pope Saint John Paul II. 

Sunday, January 20, 2019

With Mary at Cana

When the wine ran short,
the mother of Jesus said to him,
"They have no wine."
And Jesus said to her,
"Woman, how does your concern affect me?
My hour has not yet come."
His mother said to the servers,
"Do whatever he tells you." John 2


Mary cares for us, always attentive to our needs, to whatever we lack. She always speaks to Jesus on our behalf, "They have no wine." Perhaps, in other words, "They need you, they depend on the joy and gladness and consolation only you, my Son, can provide."

In turn Mary always says to us, "Do whatever he tells you." As if to say, "Never despair, be attentive to him, to his invitation, trust that he will always fill you with good things and  transform your ordinariness, your emptiness, if you make it available to him."


The Marriage Feast at Cana, Juan de Flandes (Netherlandish, active by 1496–died 1519 Palencia), ca. 1500–1504, Oil on wood, 8 1/4 x 6 1/4 in. (21 x 15.9 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Praying for Unity

So much to pray for, our hearts are full. The Lord is attentive. We begin today the Octave of Christian Unity praying that divisions among Christian churches may dissolve.  

The division between Christ’s disciples is so obvious a contradiction that they cannot be resigned to it without feeling in some way responsible for it. The purpose of this particular week is to encourage the Christian community to devote itself more intensely to prayer, in order to experience at the same time how beautiful it is to live together as brothers and sisters. Despite the tensions sometimes caused by existing differences, these days give us in some way a foretaste of the joy that full communion will bring when it is finally achieved.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines by Pope Saint John Paul II.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Quiet

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!"
The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry came out of him.
All were amazed and asked one another,
"What is this?
A new teaching with authority.
He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him." Mark 1

Christ Jesus has come among us to quiet within us, around us, all that would impede God’s sovereignty in the lives of us, his little ones. In Christ wounded and risen from the dead, we have been brought into the glory and beauty that God is. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Baptism of the Lord Jesus

Christ is bathed in light; let us also be bathed in light. Christ is baptized; let us also go down with him and rise with him.

John is baptizing when Jesus draws near. Perhaps he comes to sanctify his baptizer; certainly, he comes to bury sinful humanity in the waters. He comes to sanctify the Jordan for our sake and in readiness for us; he who is spirit and flesh comes to begin a new creation through the Spirit and water.

The Baptist protests; Jesus insists. Then John says: I ought to be baptized by you. He is the lamp in the presence of the sun, the voice in the presence of the Word, the friend in the presence of the Bridegroom, the greatest of all born of woman in the presence of the firstborn of all creation, the one who leapt in his mother’s womb in the presence of him who was adored in the womb, the forerunner and future forerunner in the presence of him who has already come and is to come again. I ought to be baptized by you: we should also add, “and for you,” for John is to be baptized in blood, washed clean like Peter, not only by the washing of his feet.

Jesus rises from the waters; the world rises with him. The heavens like Paradise with its flaming sword, closed by Adam for himself and his descendants, are rent open. The Spirit comes to him as to an equal, bearing witness to his Godhead. A voice bears witness to him from heaven, his place of origin. The Spirit descends in bodily form like the dove that so long ago announced the ending of the flood and so gives honor to the body that is one with God.

Today let us do honor to Christ’s baptism and celebrate this feast in holiness. Be cleansed entirely and continue to be cleansed. Nothing gives such pleasure to God as the conversion and salvation of men, for whom his every word and every revelation exist. He wants you to become a living force for all mankind, lights shining in the world. You are to be radiant lights as you stand beside Christ, the great light, bathed in the glory of him who is the light of heaven. You are to enjoy more and more the pure and dazzling light of the Trinity, as now you have received – though not in its fullness – a ray of its splendor, proceeding from the one God, in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory and power for ever and ever. Amen.

We listened to these words of Saint Gregory Nazianzen in the somber light of this morning's Vigils and were amazed and delighted.

Plaque with the Baptism of Jesus, ca. 1150–75, South Netherlandish, Champlev√© enamel, copper alloy, gilt, 4 x 4 x 1/8”, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Excerpt from a sermon by Saint Gregory Nazianzen (Oratio 39). 



Saturday, January 12, 2019

Saint Aelred

"Here we are, you and I, and I hope that Christ makes a third with us." These words of Saint Aelred, whom we celebrate today, remind us of his certainty that in his experience of relationship, Christ was ever present. Indeed, Christ Jesus is never ever in competition with his creation. God is Love; love is one. And so Jesus is truly with us in all of our loving interconnectedness. Aelred will at last declare, “God is friendship.” 

When at last we realize that we ourselves are loved beyond all measure by God, we want to respond in love with our whole heart. Aelred understands well that this relationship of love will heal us. He says, "No medicine is more valuable, none more efficacious, none better suited to the cure of our temporal ills than a friend to whom we may turn for consolation in time of trouble, and with whom we may share happiness in time of joy.”

Image of Saint Aelred from an early Cistercian manuscript.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

A Person

I never tire of repeating those words of Benedict XVI which take us to the very heart of the Gospel: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction”. Thanks solely to this encounter…with God’s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source and inspiration of all our efforts at evangelization. For if we have received the love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?

Echoing these words of Pope Francis, our own Constitutions remind us that it is only if we  prefer nothing whatever to Christ will we be happy to persevere in our life that is ordinary, obscure and laborious.

Evangelium Gaudii, par. 7.  Detail of early Spanish-American corpus from the Abbey hermitage. Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Epiphany

Herod is, in part, instrumental in leading the Magi to Bethlehem. He is the one who calls the chief priests and scribes to inquire where the Messiah is to be born. Herod wanted to kill him, the Magi wanted to worship him. And that really is a succinct summary of the responses that people had to Jesus throughout his life and ministry. What is it about God's coming into the world that humanity finds so difficult to take? What is it about God’s coming into my world that I may find so difficult to take? Herod offers us a clue. 
         
When the Magi asked, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” Herod was frightened. And that is what goes on in all our lives. It is a story as old as Adam and Eve; after Adam took the forbidden fruit the first thing he did was hide! God came looking for Adam and called, “Where are you?” Adam answered, “I was afraid, so I hid myself.” So it is that in Scripture angels always preface their approach to human beings with a “Don’t be afraid!” Certainly this fear has something to do with the magnitude of the transformation God’s presence offers us.

God’s presence, God’s love is always transforming. To really encounter God, we must let go of ourselves, our identities, our securities, our compromises, our tending to ‘business as usual’. We must come out of hiding. And this is frightening. It is really no wonder that we find it so hard to say ‘yes’ to God and to welcome his presence in our lives. It is so difficult to really bow down and worship as the Magi did. It requires all that we have and all that we are.

The Magi were on a journey; fundamentally a journey of transformation. We are told that they returned home by another route. In other words, they were different, changed, transformed by their encounter with God. This is a journey that we are all on. The Magi’s journey wasn’t easy. Neither is ours; it is hard to say ‘yes’ to God. It is hard to risk staying on the journey of transformation. It is hard to let go of our securities, whatever they may be. It is hard to entrust ourselves to an unknown future and to the way of love. It is hard to continue on the journey of transformation.

But what is the alternative? There really isn’t one, unless we want to live in a world where innocents are slaughtered; where cruel tyrants reign supreme; where mercy is extinct. And if that is not the kind of world we want to live in, then we must consciously continue on the journey of transformation. It is a journey of receiving love and mercy and becoming ourselves loving and  merciful. 

The only way to remain on this journey of transformation, is to begin again every day, never tiring of noticing my fear; noticing where I’m in hiding; where I’m tempted to turn back. As much as I can, I must press on. Patience is a prerequisite; it was for the Magi, it is for us. The journey is a life-long, and I never want to stop asking that love make its home in me. 

God gives each of us a gift; the gift is an invitation to be transformed into his way of being in the world. Receiving the gift means recognizing our fright and not acting out of it as Herod did - not allowing it to keep us hiding from God but inviting the gift of God’s presence to transform us. This is what the Eucharist is all about - we welcome the magnitude of the gift we receive and allow it to fill the magnitude of our fright. 

Adoration of the Magi, Workshop of Gerard David (Netherlandish, Oudewater ca. 1455–1523 Bruges), ca. 1520, Oil on wood, 27 3/4 x 28 7/8 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.  Excerpts from Abbot Damian’s homily for Epiphany; he acknowledges his debt to Sarah Bachelard for several of these reflections.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Where?

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. 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.”
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.
Meditation by one of the monks of the abbey.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The Joy of Love

In paragraph 323 of The Joy of Love, Pope Francis writes: “It is a profound spiritual experience to contemplate  our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them. This demands a freedom and openness which enable us to appreciate their dignity. We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else.  Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly. No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: 'What do you want me to do for you?' This is what we experience in the daily life of the family."  

In community we are constantly reminded that each person merits our complete attention, since he possesses infinite dignity as the object of the Father's immense love.  This gives rise to a tenderness which can stir in the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way by exercising loving care in treating the limitations of the other, especially when they are evident.” Note the word “especially”- especially when those human limitations are evident. There go all my excuses out the window!

Adapted from a meditation by Father Luke.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Mary

There come to her doors men beating their breasts, confessing their sins, and having received pardon, they return home with joy...In the same way there draw near to her feet...the sad, the needy, the afflicted, the lonely...The prayers of all these who cry out of whatever tribulation she gladly receives and, making supplication to her Son, in her pity she turns from them every evil...with what great kindness she embraces and loves those who are akin to her in purity of heart...

We trust always in the kindness of Our Blessed Lady. She lets all the mercy that Jesus is come to us.

Orazio Gentileschi, Madonna with Sleeping Christ Child, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum. Lines from our Cistercian father, Amadeus of Lausanne.