Monday, April 29, 2019

With Saint Catherine

Saint Catherine of Siena is so amazed by the unfathomable mercy of God that she calls God “crazy.” In her Dialogues she writes, “O eternal beauty! O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O crazy lover! You have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her. Why are you so crazy? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made! You are pleased and delighted over her, as if you were drunk with desire for her salvation. She runs away from you and you go looking for her. She strays and you draw closer to her.”

Perhaps very often, as God draws near, we foolishly run in the opposite direction; let us confess our own craziness born of foolish fear, and beg God’s mercy.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Ordinary

When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore;but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. John 21

In today's Gospel the disciples encounter the risen Lord Jesus in the ordinariness of their work. We pray that we will be attentive for the Lord is constantly coming to meet us in the ordinariness of our day. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On the Way to Emmaus

Our lives seem like a continuous repetition of that trek to Emmaus. Disappointed, our best hopes dashed, we very often plod glumly along. So self-absorbed, we often forget that Jesus is right beside us. He notices our sadness and inquires, “What are you going over in your heads? What’s the matter?” We are astonished. Doesn’t Jesus see? Everything’s falling apart. Our best hopes for success, accomplishment, holiness are all over. The world in turmoil. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Jesus reminds us, "This is where I rise. This is where the kingdom happens. I am with you, beside you. I understand." 

Duccio di Buoninsegna

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

To the Light


“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb.”

This Gospel opens in the dark . . . and moves into a very special light which darkness can never overcome.

We recall the words of the Irish poet, philosopher and scholar John O’Donohue:

We are always on our way from darkness into light. Every morning we come out of the dark territories of dreaming into waking awareness of the day. Every night, no matter now long, breaks again and the light of dawn comes. At birth, each of us made a journey from darkness into light. So we are no strangers to darkness, and we are special friends of the light.

On that first Easter morning, a day that began with the discovery of an empty tomb, Mary Magdalene, Peter and the Beloved Disciple could never have anticipated what a primal threshold they would cross as darkness gave way to the light.  Just a few days before, Jesus had taken upon his shoulders all darkness everywhere in a most brutal and harrowing way—including our personal darkness, everyone’s personal darkness. He took it to the summit of Calvary; and then he was entombed in the most silent and total darkness imaginable.

But the wonder of this new day, the “first day of the week,” is that this darkness was “opened out,” and at the heart of the darkness a secret light was discovered. Slowly, at first almost imperceptibly. First, there was just enough light for Mary to find the tomb empty, and this has her running back to report the alarming news to the disciples. Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved then ran to investigate, and there was enough light for them to see the burial cloths left behind and the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head rolled up in a separate place. But although they could see this curious scene, and the beloved disciple came to an inchoate belief, they were still “in the dark,” not comprehending what all this meant. The Gospel ends: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”

All the same, on that first Easter morning the darkness was “opened out,” and at the heart of the darkness a secret light was discovered. The dark and lonesome cross was “turned inside out,” so to speak. That’s a powerful image! When the cross hits our life, a loneliness, a blindness, a darkness envelops us, as it must have enveloped the disciples. It has been said that darkness and the experience of being lost are the worst parts of suffering. But with the Lord’s rising from the dead, a new tender light touched the disciples’ helpless fear and transfigured it, opened it, into courage. And so it does for us.

Our darkness? It is unique for each one of us and changes as we live, but all of us here know the need that is in our lives and the frailty that is in our hearts and minds.  As John O’Donohue soberly observes: “We are strangers in the world. In our journey through life, anything can befall us. No matter how assured or competent we may feel, there is not one of us who has not large territories of fear in our hearts, fear of sharing ourselves, of opening ourselves, of entering life.”

But as we celebrate Christ rising from the dead, rising in our hearts, like the disciples we cross in faith a mysterious threshold from darkness to “Christ our Light.” One of the beauties of Easter morning is that the light that comes with Christ is a gentle but penetrating light in the midst of our darkness. As John O’Donohue puts it: “There is no hurt anywhere within us, no matter in what crevices it might be buried, but that the light of this Easter can reach it and heal it.” Yes, because of the Lord’s Resurrection, which is not a past fact but a living event within our lives, we are always on our way from darkness into light. Today let us search for the light of Easter in our hearts, and when we find it, let us celebrate it and share it generously with one another.

Share it? Perhaps surprisingly, we discover it only in sharing it. After all, the Lord died to pour into us his own love. God’s love is the light within each one of us. We are meant to be to one another a radiance of his love.  Love is the great light in people, the light to see as God sees, the power of fire to do as God would do. To become light, to become all love – this is what we hope from the Lord in our blindness, and receive from the Risen Christ in our faith. It is our life’s mission as members of one another.

The Paschal Mystery we celebrate together this Easter Day reveals that hidden in the heart of all darkness, even our own, there is Easter Light—the Cross “turned inside out.” Last night as we followed the Paschal Candle through the dark cloisters into the Church, three times we paused and sang out: Lumen Christi! -Christ our Light! Our last word goes to Caryll Houselander, the extraordinary British mystic, poet and spiritual teacher who speaks so plainly of what is so sublimely simple:

Christ has risen. After the dark night of his passion, he is the morning light; after the cold darkness of the tomb, he is the white bloom on the thorn. His resurrection is not something far away, merely remembered in the Church’s radiant liturgy. It is Christ dawning, Christ flowering in our lives, now, today. That is what Easter means: we have our heart’s desire, we are made new, new with the newness of the risen Christ, burning with the new fire of his love. 

Excerpts from Father Dominic's Easter homily.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Easter

At the entrance to Jerusalem’s Church of All Nations, next to the Garden of Gethsemane, there is a sign warning every visitor: No explanations inside the Church. It’s intended to discourage overly talkative tour guides from disturbing the church’s prayerful atmosphere with lectures.  

I don’t have any explanations of the resurrection for you. I’m convinced that one must experience the resurrection for oneself. The gospel proclamation always involves an invitation. And receiving that proclamation and accepting the invitation is always new and personal to each one of us. Authentic gospel proclamation always carries with it a  shift from before to now. A shift from the lives of the disciples who came to the tomb those many years ago, to our lives here and now. God wants to deepen our Easter faith experience through the gospel.

The story begins with the obvious - Jesus is dead, and his followers assume that he remains dead. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been coming to the tomb to anoint his dead body. Their discovery that the tomb is empty doesn’t immediately lead to some sort of pleasant enlightenment experience. In fact, it brings confusion and not clarity. Then the women receive a message: “Why do you seek the Living One among the dead? He is not here; he has been raised up.” In other words, he is no longer a dead memory. The women’s encounter with the resurrection is through a message.  This really brings their Easter experience close to our own. Because this is all we have: the word, the message of resurrection. And it’s a message that flies in the face of our normal experience that the dead remain dead. It flew in the face of the apostles’ experience also. When the women went to them to tell them the message they had received at the tomb “their words seemed to them an idle tale.”

So often our experience teaches us that death ultimately wins. And this is where the Easter proclamation encounters each one of us - the message invites us to move beyond our belief in the certainty of death to belief in new life and new possibilities. And this belief begins with a ‘maybe’ - “Maybe it’s true!” or “What if it is true!” The apostles remained convinced that the message was nonsense, nothing more than an idle tale. And yet the message was so outrageous that Peter had to go and look for himself. He couldn’t help but wonder, “What if it is true?” And that ‘what if’ set him off on the journey of a lifetime. And it will set us off, if we let it!

We all are invited to follow in the footsteps of Peter. We’ve heard the rumor that Jesus is alive: What if it’s true? What would life be like then? What would my life, right now, mean? The resurrection is not the property of the past. It is God’s future breaking into the present of our lives here and now. Easter isn’t something we remember. It’s something we live and breathe. Through the living Jesus we receive the gift of life. Would God offer us anything less?

Excerpts from Abbot Damian's Easter homily.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Holy Saturday

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

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

Lines from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

Friday, April 19, 2019

Enigmatic

Today is the most enigmatic day of the Church Year. Enigmatic means mystifying, inexplicable, baffling, perplexing, bewildering, confusing, incomprehensible, unfathomable… We come today to glory in the cross of Christ. This makes no sense. Jesus has died a cruel death. How can we glory in all this pain, suffering and death? I don’t understand how God can be all powerful and yet apparently choose to do nothing. Does this all-powerful God simply refuse to intervene in the tragedies of our lives?

Maybe the cross of Christ is showing us a different kind of God. Maybe this day offers the truest image of who God really is. Maybe “the only God worthy of our belief is a vulnerable and powerless one who suffers with us.” (Richard Kearney (Anatheism). I’ll end with a passage from the theologian Jurgen Moltmann: “When the crucified Jesus is called the ‘image of the invisible God’, the meaning is that this is God, and God is like this. God is not greater than he is in this humiliation. God is not more glorious than he is in this self-surrender. God is not more powerful than he is in this helplessness. God is not more divine than he is in this humanity. The nucleus of everything that Christian theology says about ‘God’ is to be found in this Christ event. The Christ event on the cross is a God event.” Enigmatic? Defnitely! And that leaves us only one thing to do. Adore!

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for Good Friday.

Being Christ's Body

“Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Some translations say a psalm instead of a hymn. They do this because what is called the ‘Great Hallel’ is sung at the Passover Seder and includes Psalm 136. The refrain from this psalm comes from the prophet Hosea who has the Lord saying “I will betroth you to me forever. Yes, I will betroth you to me. In righteousness and justice. In loving kindness and mercy. And his mercy endures forever.” The refrain is sung throughout the psalm praising God for all his mighty deeds of deliverance. This sets the tone, the atmosphere for what follows. “Then after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” The Mount of Olives – Gethsemane, the place where Jesus’ passion begins. The passion that was just anticipated ritually in the words and gestures of Jesus at the supper with his disciples.

Gethsemane is the place, the entryway into a whole new dimension to the meaning of the word ‘God’. Who Jesus is and what he begins to undergo in Gethsemane, demolishes all human ideas and concepts of God. Whatever ideas of God we have must now pass through the lens of what Jesus now undergoes. Gethsemane stands at the heart of the Christian picture of who God is and who we are meant to be as images of God; as bearers of God’s likeness. And at the heart of Gethsemane stands the most unforgettable, poignant prayer ever uttered. A prayer that demonstrates what love really means; the loving exchange between Father and Son: “Abba, father, you have the power to do all things. Take this cup away from me. But let it be as you would have it, not as I.” Let’s be clear here. This is not about a conflict of wills. It is about love; self-donating, self-surrendering love. This is the full, honest interchange of love in which the eternal Word of God opens his human heart; lays before the Father the true condition of his perfectly God-reflecting humanity; a humanity that is now caught up in the work of lovingly bearing all the world’s pain and sorrow. God’s human heart is laid bare! Wide open for all to see. No human being, in whatever condition they find themselves in, can now ever say to God: “You don’t know what it’s like.” What Jesus’ prayer manifests in requesting the cup of suffering to pass him by is the natural human reaction to all the dark forces of corruption and death. It shows that as Jesus went to the cross, he was not doing it out of a distorted death-wish or a kind of crazy suicide mission. He continued to resist death with every fiber of his being. His very prayer to be rescued from it displays not a resistance to the Father’s will, but a resistance to all the forces of evil which result in death.

And so, I have a question for all of us - How big is your god?  Is your god big enough to come and take on all the forces of evil and death by dying under their weight and power? There’s a hymn by David Mansell with a verse that begins with ‘Jesus is Lord! Yet from his throne eternal, in flesh he came to die in shame on Calvary’s tree.’ I want to take exception to the word ‘yet’ in this verse. It should be ‘so’. Jesus is Lord, and so, and therefore, he came into the world, came to his own people, came to the place of fear and horror and shame and evil and darkness and death. He came out of love, love for the Father, love for the world, love for you and me, brothers and sisters. This is what Mark’s Gethsemane account is telling us. This is what his whole gospel has been telling us. But it’s all here, in Gethsemane, in a nutshell.

The love exchange between Father and Son reaches out to this day. Today. The today of your life and my life. There are three insertions in today’s Eucharistic prayer which are unique to Holy Thursday and spell out what we are doing here today. The most sacred day on which our Lord Jesus Christ was handed over for our sake./the day on which he handed over the mysteries of his Body and Blood./On the day before he was to suffer for our salvation and the salvation of all, That is today, he took bread in his holy and venerable hands. When Jesus told his disciples to “do this in remembrance of me”, he meant his actions to be repeatable. And so, it has been throughout the centuries since then. Repeatable and yet always unique. To say that Jesus entrusted this Supper to the Church “as a banquet of his love”, which our opening prayer said, reveals the on-going, perennial nearness of that love as a real presence. And so, every celebration of the Eucharist is pristine. It is never a repeat performance but a re-presentation of the premiere. This makes what we do here to be both a tremendous consolation and at the same time an on-going challenge in the today of our own lives.

What’s at stake here in what we are doing is not the repetition of a pious ritual. It is the totality of Christ’s life and death given to us as food to be consumed at this altar table. And given to us as an example to be imitated, as he tells us to “Go and do likewise.” The love with which Jesus loves his Father is the same love with which he loves us. And it is the same love with which we are called to love one another. The great Amen of the Eucharistic liturgy is where we publicly profess our identity as other Christs, even as Christ’s presence in the Eucharist makes us so.

Let Saint Augustine have the last word. “If, therefore, you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful, ‘but you are the body of Christ and its members.’ So if you are the body of Christ and its members, it is your own mystery that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you are receiving is your own mystery. You say Amen to what you are. You hear ‘the body of Christ,’ and you reply, ‘Amen!’ Be a member of the body of Christ in order to make that Amen true.”

The mystery of faith. The mystery of love. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.

Good Friday

Up to now we have been comforted by the luminous aspects of the Paschal Mystery. But we must pursue our meditation into the dark side of the Redemption, because this is a darkness we all carry within us. We must glimpse into the abyss of suffering into which our Lord Jesus was plunged in the hours that led him into the desolation of abandonment by the Father and, ultimately, to a horrendous death.  In the days of his Passion, Jesus, obeying the will of the Father, willingly and even joyously (Heb 12:2) entered into what Paul calls “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thes 2:7). Fully aware of what was involved, and with full consent of heart and will, Jesus handed himself over into the hands of sinners, to be treated by them as they pleased. 

But who are these “sinners” into whose hands Jesus so willingly hands himself? Ourselves, of course. And yet Jesus sits at our table and eats with us, scandalizing the Pharisees. He surrenders himself into our sinful hands just as literally as the fact that we today receive his Body as bread in our hands and drink his outpoured Blood as wine. ‘When you did not have mercy on one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not have mercy on me’, the all-knowing King says to us at the Last Judgment (cf. Mt 25:31-46). How could we forget this painful truth? Jesus knew who we were; he knew what we would do with him; and yet he still surrendered himself totally into our hands. If we are ever tempted to view Jesus’ Passion and Death as merely the regrettable failure of an otherwise admirable mission, then we should read the Gospels carefully again. There we would see clearly the dazzling light of an ardent love, a light that blinds our natural logic with the divine truth that precisely surrendering into the hands of sinners who he knew would kill him was the strategy of divine love to redeem the world. “For our sake [the Father] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). “We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son while we were [his] enemies” (Rom 5:10). What an incredible exchange!

Don’t such declarations make us gasp? Consider the depth of the mystery of divine love: On the one hand, God cannot be God without being from all eternity the Father of his only Son, his beloved Jesus Christ. At the very same time, however, God did not love the One by whose sonship he is God more than us, his creatures! Paul’s words above declare this wonderful, terrible truth: God did not spare his own Son but made him to be sin for our sake. For us to be liberated from the death of sin, the Father deemed it necessary that his innocent Son should become sin, that which is most abhorrent to God! Christ, the All-Holy One, became sin by taking up into his person the full consequence of our sins, namely, death. The very God who would not allow Abraham to kill his beloved son Isaac “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all”! The all-powerful King exchanged his dignity for that of the condemned slave. The greatest truths are always unbelievable, and that’s precisely why we have to believe them.
Image from the series of prints known as the Miserere by Georges Rouault (1871-1958). Meditation by Father Simeon.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Holy Thursday

The most striking aspect of Jesus’ actions in the text of the Mass is what can be called Jesus’ creative anticipation of his death. Christ sacramentally institutes in the present an action that overtakes in time the destructive historical action of his murder that hasn’t yet occurred, while at the same time giving to it a startling redemptive meaning. Thus, the interior significance and effects of the future action of betrayal are radically changed by divine intervention before the betrayal occurs.

The malice of man is overtaken by the goodness of God. Love swallows up hatred, even though the lover dies of its poisoning. A hate-filled enemy—including both his evil intentions and his murderous deed—is embraced as brother and friend.   In the Sacrament, Jesus’ death becomes the source of our life because the power of his love anticipates the mangling of his body and the shedding of his blood, and it transforms their vital meaning and effect: from an act of violent hatred it is transformed into the execution of a sacrifice and the preparation of its victim as food. At a moment when one would expect the victim to be overwhelmed with fear, such anticipation is instead a forceful and deliberate initiative by the One in whom the universe was first created and which the humiliated Word is now re-creating through his Passion.

Jesus takes bread, pronounces a thanksgiving that changes it substantially into his Body, breaks it and distributes it for eating; takes wine, blesses it and transforms it into his Blood, and then pours it out to be drunk. This is Jesus’ way of guaranteeing that the Substance of his being will not fall on the Cross into a bottomless abyss as a result of human violence, but rather that that sacred Substance will be made available to all as a source of new life and joy: “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again” (Jn 10:17-18).

This power and choice of Jesus to lay down his life contains the whole secret of his love. At the very moment when he is going to allow himself to be handed over to the forces of darkness, Jesus shows himself to be more than ever the sovereign Lord of creation and of history: of creation, because he takes the elements of bread and wine and re-creates them, transforming them into his Body and Blood; of history, because he takes the impending evil deed of his betrayal and transforms it already before it occurs into the best possible occasion for him to surrender his person to us, his betrayers, out of love, as the Bridegroom of the Church, with the total fidelity, dedication and passionate love that befits a royal bridegroom.

The Last Supper, Ugolino da Siena (Italian, Sienese, active 1315–30s), Tempera on panel; Overall 15 x 22 1/4 in. (38.1 x 56.5 cm), painted surface 13 1/2 x 20 3/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.   Meditation by Father Simeon.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A Place of Security

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 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.

Our hearts are pierced with sorrow even as we are consoled.

Lines from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermons on the Canticle.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Palm Sunday of the Lord's Passion

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Cross

The Fourth Century pilgrim nun Egeria has left us a vivid account of the ritual for the veneration of the cross on Good Friday in Jerusalem. The true cross had become a nexus of holiness, sacred presence and healing. Egeria even writes of one overzealous devotee caught biting off a chunk of the cross during the Good Friday Liturgy!

The Fathers of the Church loved to find in every reference to wood or tree, staff, rod or ark in the Hebrew Scriptures a type of the cross of Christ. Cyril of Jerusalem declares, "Life ever comes from wood!" Paulinus of Nola chants to the cross, "You have become for us a ladder for us to mount to heaven." And in an anonymous Easter homily inspired by Hippolytus, the tree of the cross reverses the destruction wrought by the tree of Eden: “For me this tree is a plant of eternal health. I feed on it; by its roots I am rooted; by its branches I spread myself; I rejoice in its dew; the rustling of its leaves invigorates me...I freely enjoy its fruits which were destined for me from the beginning. It is my food when I am hungry, a fountain for me when I am thirsty; it is my clothing because its leaves are the spirit of life.” Pascha IV

The poetic intuition of the Fathers found beautiful expression in a splendid processional hymn of Venantius Fortunatus, the Pange Lingua in which we sing to the cross directly:

Faithful cross, O Tree all beauteous
Tree all peerless and divine!
Not a grove on earth can show us
Such a leaf and flower as thine.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The Bridegroom

Christ Jesus is the Bridegroom. Our fast and Lenten observances are meant to increase our longing for him and deepen our awareness of his love for us. As Cistercian monks we are called to cling to Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church and of each Christian. Especially through the Eucharist, he teaches us the intimate nature of what it means to belong to him: gratuitous, total, ongoing and life-giving love that invites reciprocity.

And so we are called to give concrete priority to prayer, understood as gratuitous giving and receiving, experienced as loving faith anticipating the coming of the longed-for Bridegroom. We promise to work at the discipline of love, a love based on truth that opens us to self-knowledge and mercy in the face of our own misery and the misery of others.
Icon of Christ the Bridegroom.  Lines adapted from Dom Bernardo Olivera, 2002.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Deer Grazing in Early Spring

As a deer longs for running streams,
So, my soul longs for you, my God.
My soul is thirsting for God,
the God of my life.
When can I enter,
And see the face of God?


Photogrphs by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Lifted Up

Jesus said to them,
"When you lift up the Son of Man,
then you will realize that I AM,
and that I do nothing on my own,
but I say only what the Father taught me. John 8


We know that it is on the cross that Jesus will be lifted up. And it is when we gaze upon the crucified Jesus that we see that he is the great I AM of the prophecies, He is God most high who has become become God most low for us. “Nowhere is God greater than in this humiliation," writes the theologian, J├╝rgen Moltmann. "Nowhere is God more divine than in this disfigured humanity.” God is crucified love.

Peter Paul Rubens, Raising of the Cross, 1610, oil on panel, central panel: 460 × 340 cm, Cathedral of Our Lady, Antwerp.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Brother Mikah's Simple Profession

During Sunday's Chapter Brother Mikah pronounced his simple vows and was clothed in the black scapular and leather belt of the professed. We rejoice with him. As the ceremony began Abbot Damian asked Brother Mikah, "What do you seek?" Mikah responded, "The mercy of God and of the Order." This brief dialogue reminded all of us that our life as monks is a life of total, loving dependence on Christ our Savior who constantly invites us to draw water in joy from the fountains of his mercy. Here are excerpts from Abbot Damian's exhortation to Brother Mikah.
Saint Benedict reminds us that, “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.” And at the beginning of Lent, we read that Jesus went into the desert wilderness. The wilderness is not so much a geographical place or landscape. It is life - your life, my life, our lives. Life is wild. In other words, there is something untamed, uncontrollable and full of the unexpected about it.

Reflect for a moment how your life has been interrupted in unforeseen and unpredictable ways, for better or for worse. Has the future ever taken you by surprise? This is when life becomes really real. And this is what it means to enter the wilderness. It is to embrace life and reality - your life and your reality. And this is a lesson we are invited to learn over and over again, such is our “continuous Lent” as monks. The future is always coming to us in ways that we cannot foresee or plan out exactly. The future always comes to us full of promise and full of risk. There is always an open-ended dimension to it. The promise assures us that something is coming. However, we do not know exactly what it is coming. And why we do not know is that what is coming is a Who – God. Saint Augustine wrote:

For I saw in ecstasy I know not what, which I could not long endure, and being restored to my mortal estate, and the manifold thoughts of mortal things from the body which presses down the soul, I said, what? I am cast away from the sight of Your eyes. You are far above, and I am far below. What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if you have been able to comprehend what you would say, it is not God; if you have been able to comprehend it, you have comprehended something else instead of God. If you have been able to comprehend Him as you think, by so thinking you have deceived yourself. This then is not God, if you have comprehended it; but if it be God, you have not comprehended it. How therefore would you speak of that which you cannot comprehend?    

This unknowing is what makes the wilderness of life so wild and so attractive. Promise and risk are really two sides of the same coin. Every promise we make, and every promise that is made to us, contains the risk that it might not be fulfilled in the way we want or expect - except the promise of God. Because the promise of God is also its fulfillment and that promise, that fulfillment has a name, Jesus Christ. The promise of God comes to us, inviting us, but never coercing us, to a response. Inviting us to risk a response.

Maybe we could view the temptations that Jesus faced and that we face in the wilderness of life as the illusion of promise without risk - seeing a promise as a guarantee. That would be a legal, contractual relationship, but we are speaking of a love relationship. The wilderness of life is full of promise and full of risk. We cannot have one without the other.

Mikah, what is it you are truly seeking? What is it you really want? Isn’t what you really want, what you are really seeking, life, more life, abundant life? Again, Saint Benedict tells us, “Seeking his workman in the multitude of people, the Lord calls out to him and lifts his voice again: ‘Is there anyone here who yearns for life.” Mikah, in choosing to make Simple Profession, you are betting that the future will offer you more, not because it necessarily will because of some supposed guarantee but because it might offer you this more. And this might, this possibility of more life is what strengthens your faith, hope and resolve to risk the decision you are making to remain open to more life, even when you do not know how that more will turn out in detail.

Too often we look at what happened to Jesus in the desert wilderness as a sort of test to see whether he will make the right decisions, or choices or not; whether he will prove himself or not. But fundamentally, I see it as whether he will take the risk to remain open to the future, to the life that the Father has in store for him as he begins his ministry.

Mikah, I invite you to join us, your brothers in this community, in our wilderness struggle, in remaining open to God’s future for us. I do not know what that future will bring you, or me, or anyone of us. There is always that unknowing dimension. But I do know that where there is a future, there is also the possibility of life - more life. And so, I invite you now to join us in never closing out that possibility.




Photographs by Brother Brian.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

With Sinners

Jesus eats with sinners, heals outsiders, cures people no matter which day of the week it is, even touches lepers and so has become unclean. Everybody knows a Messiah is not supposed to do that kind of stuff. He shocks by his unpretentiousness, by the directness of the God he reveals. He forgives sins; even dares to forgive a woman caught in the very act of adultery and then embarrasses her male accusers into dropping the stones they’re aiming, not because she isn’t guilty, but because we all are guilty. He knows we’ve all failed over and over again. This is our shared identity, our shared truth, the reason he has come – because all are sinners. We are all with him beloved of the Father and all desperately in need of his mercy. 

Jesus goes up to Jerusalem for us, there to take on the burden of our sin, because he knows we could not possibly have borne it on our own. Even more than that, he has become our sin - to dupe it, remove its vicious sting and halt the death sentence against us. 
Photograph of the east cloister by Brother Brian.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Spring

Spring always surprises us. Suddenly, it seems, more light. The sound of a bird chirping very high up, out of sight in a treetop. We notice this more acutely living in the relative silence of the New England countryside. Lent is of the same root as lengthen. Days are longer now; more time in God's light to notice what needs to be cleaned, even rooted out, so that new growth can flourish and increase. 

Clumps of snowdrops are blooming outside the windows of the Abbey lavabo.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

In This Morning's Gospel

For thirty-eight years a sick man has been unable to reach the healing waters of the pool with five porticoes called Bethesda. Jesus heals this very desperate man, for he is himself the living spring, the healing pool with the five porticoes. In his death on the cross this will all be made perfectly clear, for then his body will be pierced in hands and feet and side – five gateways pouring out blood and water, grace and new life for all. Ezekiel's vision will be fulfilled -  the cross will be the tree bearing Fruit that cannot fade or fail – Fruit that will be for us our true food and medicine – the Body and Blood of our Savior and Lord. 
Etching by Rembrandt.