Thursday, August 22, 2019

Our Lady

We rejoice to honor Our Lady today in prayer and song as Queen of heaven and earth. We often imagine what her response would be to a friend, a bit jaded, complaining to us some years ago about Mary’s feast days, annoyed and confused. “I don’t understand what it all means. It gives her too much, makes her too privileged.” Mary’s response would be, we imagine, something like this, “I was, I am as amazed as you are. All I can tell you is that the Almighty has done great things for me. He has looked on his servant in her nothingness. This, this alone is why all generations have called me blessed. It has little to do with me; it’s all about him, his pleasure, his delight in my nothingness.” Clearly to be distracted by Mary’s privileges would be to miss the point. For her story, is our story, individually and as Church. For the Virgin Mary of Nazareth shows us our true self - as total capacity for God in Christ.

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez, Coronation of the Virgin,
Sevilla, 1599 - Madrid, 1660.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

On the Solemnity of Our Father, Saint Bernard

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.

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 pity. 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.

Francisco Ribalta, Christ Embracing Saint Bernard, Oil on canvas, 1625-1627, 113 x 158 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Lines from Saint Bernard, Sermons on the Canticle.


Monday, August 19, 2019

A Fire on the Earth

Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

Ultimately, Jesus’ mission as Son of God is to reconcile all things and to break down all dividing walls of hostility; for he is our peace. His Church is to be universal and distinguished from all others by its unity. His followers are to be “careful to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit even has you were called in the one hope of your calling.”

But when he makes his appearance he is a sign of radical division; even among family members. This was contrary to expectations of the Messiah at the time. Rabbinic tradition taught that divisions in the family would precede the coming of the Messiah, but his coming would heal all divisions. Jesus says rather that his presence will intensify divisions.

In Matthew’s version the language is even stronger: “Do not think that I have come to send peace upon the earth; I have come to bring a sword, not peace”. In the Book of Revelation, John says of him that out of his mouth came a two-edged sword. In the Letter to the Hebrews we read that His word (which he himself is) cuts and divides right down to the very essence of things: Indeed, the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow.

If we step back and look at biblical revelation as a whole we can see that division is in fact not just a characteristic of the appearance of the Son but is a fundamental property of God’s relation to the world. Looking at chapter one of the Book of Genesis we could say that the fundamental principle through which the world is created is separation. Creation is essentially the bringing of order out of chaos largely through acts of separation, division, distinction.

We find this view strongly supported by the language of the text: the word “divide” or “separate” occurs explicitly five times in the first chapter, and then never again in all of Genesis: God separates light from darkness; he separates the waters into waters above and the waters below by means of a dome, and then separates day from night. The idea is present in what follows ten more times in the expression “after its kind”; such as 11 And God said, "Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth." And it was so; implying the separation of plants and animals into distinct and separable kinds or species.

At the most foundational level, by separating and dividing God keeps the unruly forces of darkness and the watery chaos at bay.  In the division of things according to their kind, we find higher and more stable sorts of distinctiveness that exist among plant and animal species. A hierarchy among beings emerges which finds its peak and culmination in God’s ultimate work of creation which is man.

Finally, after the six days of the work of creation we read: And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. Here again we find the principle of separation, enshrined in the distinction between work and rest. And then we read: So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all his work which he had done in creation. 

In Hebrew the root of the word translated here as hallowed is “qadesh”, “holy”, which means something separated, set off, apart. In so doing, God sanctifies the principle of distinction by making it the principle of holiness. What follows in the rest of the biblical narrative in one way or another will concern God’s bringing the human being in relation with the holy.

“God said, ‘Let there be light’, and there was light. God saw that the light was good. God separated the light from the darkness.” So it is in the order of creation, but in the order of redemption, God himself comes as uncreated light, as the God who “is light and in whom there is no darkness  – who has been sent by “the Father of lights”as the light that “shines in the darkness” of this world:  “I am the light of the world. He who follows me does not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life” . “I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in the darkness. The light that this Messiah brings is himself – is love; to walk in the light means to walk in his love; means to be “called out of darkness into his marvelous light”; means to be made worthy to share the lot of the saints in light”. To walk in the light means to love as he loved us, with a love that is made perfect in us.
When Jesus says “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division,” he is making a judgment on the world. And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 

In order to be free to act in us as love, Jesus demands complete separation from the darkness and its chaos. Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one; he says in the Sermon on the Mount. Of course, we fail and have to begin again, but we must always begin with the sincere commitment to put the darkness behind us once and for all. 

But this is only the beginning. When God comes to us as light and love, he always come to us not simply with the grace of redemption, but with a particular grace that belongs to each of us according to our unique election, vocation and mission. Each time we say ‘yes’ to this grace that is offered, our life receives a particular determination that is in accordance with the divine mind. Gradually, as we walk this way, our life receives a form that could in no way be anticipated, predicted or foreseen by us, and therefore can only be attained by obedience. At the same time, made separate for God, with each decision in accord with this divine mind, we are separated from every other course our life could have taken.  When we make these choices consistently God make us pleasing in his sight, beautiful, in its three classic constituent parts: he clothes us in integritas, he makes us whole; consonantia, he creates in us a harmony among all the parts of our life; claritas, our life has color, that is, illuminated from within by the divine light, we become a distinct, visible, clear witness of that light, of all the good things God has done in us.

To the degree that whole people of God lives this way, God is able to create a breadth and variety of life and holiness in his Church that are in no way inferior in their kinds and distinctions to the abundance of forms found in nature, but infinitely surpass them because they have arisen from the interchange of freely given and freely accepted love.

All of this is the fruit of the blood of the Cross. It is for this that he come to set the earth on fire, consuming all darkness in its blazing heat and light, burning away everything opposed to his light and love. It is for this that he is under great distress until the baptism he must undergo has been accomplished. 

Homily for the Twentieth Sunday by Father Timothy.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Fire

"I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" 

May the Lord Jesus, Born of the Father before all ages, breathe the warm breath of his kind Spirit into our hearts and stir into a great flame, the ardor of love he himself has enkindled within us.

"There is a baptism with which I must be baptized,
and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished!"

May the the fiery ardor of Jesus' love for us revealed in his baptism of anguish on the cross open our hearts in compassionate love.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Like Mary


“If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty, too, is your faith.” (1 Cor 15:13-14) Paul goes on to explain why the resurrection of the dead is constitutive of the Gospel. And so he refers to Jesus as “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.” Our resurrection is essentially linked to his. He is the first to be raised up. We will follow.
           
Because Jesus has been raised up, Mary was also destined for a bodily resurrection. But unlike us, Mary does not need to wait until the last day. Because of her unique role in salvation history, by a special grace she has already been raised up into the fullness of resurrected life. Mary’s glory is a foretaste of our glory. Christ’s resurrection leads the way, and we will follow, with Mary preceding us.
           
The ordinary makes up most of our lives and often the most important part of our lives. And most of our days are similar to Mary’s as she visits her cousin Elizabeth. They do not change the course of history, but they bind us together into a fabric of friendship, care and love. In other words, there really is no small matter because at the end of our lives it will likely be the ordinary daily happenings and encounters that determine who we are. Mary is our model, she shows us how to live our ordinary lives filled with angels and angst, surprises and routines. It is not always easy because we need to move beyond our own preoccupations and ask what action or response on my part can be a blessing for someone else?
           
We are called to follow Mary’s example - asking what people need and then acting on the answer we receive. As simple and ordinary as this pattern is, the result is often more than we can imagine. When we follow the pattern of the pregnant Mary, we not only bring ourselves to others. We also carry Christ who is within us to everyone we serve.

“Taken up into heaven, she did not lay aside her salvific duty...By her maternal love she cares for the brethren of her son who still journey on earth.” (Lumen Gentium 62)

An icon written by Brother Terence, encirled with flowers and crabapples; photograped by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from Dom Damian's homily for Assumption Day.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Assumption Day

Today we rejoice as Jesus welcomes his Virgin Mother into Paradise. And we know her journey is a foretaste of our own – we are destined like her to be with him forever. When he ascended Jesus took our flesh into heaven. In Christ Jesus matter has been glorified forever; for our flesh, all that we are, is very precious to God. And so he has taken the sinless Virgin Mary first of all, and with her we celebrate this sacred intersection, this interconnectedness between heaven and earth.

Mary’s Assumption into heaven is a sign of things to come for all of us and for all creation, a great sign of hope, for it reveals the destiny God intends for each of us. Our homeland as human beings is heaven. All of us, all of creation, is in a vast progression toward God in Christ. He is our beginning, our way and our goal. With Mary as our guide, our confidante, our intercessor, the Mother of Mercy we live in hope and confidence.

Tintoretto, The Assumption of the Virgin , (detail),  1582-97, oil on canvas, Scuola di San Rocco, Venice. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Creaturely Honesty

We always overestimate ourselves when we imagine we are completely indispensable and that the world or the Church depends on our frantic activity. Often it will be an act of real humility and creaturely honesty to stop what we are doing, to acknowledge our limits, to take time to draw breath and rest – as the creature, man, is designed to do. I am not suggesting that sloth is a good thing, but I do want to suggest that we revise our catalog of virtues, as it has developed in the Western world, where activity alone is regarded as valid and where the attitudes of beholding, wonder, recollection, and quiet are of no account, or at least are felt to need some justification. This causes the atrophying of certain essential human faculties. Pope Benedict XVI

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Waiting in Prayer


Our waiting in prayer is ultimately about powerlessness, for the mystery of God’s presence is constantly revealed even as it is hidden. If indeed we seek intimacy with this Mystery, vigilance is essential because God is always reversing things, doing it his way, sneaking in quietly through the side door, even on tiptoe, trying to engage us in unexpected ways. Mindful attentiveness is our way of being in the kingdom, because with the eyes of faith all of reality becomes increasingly transparent to the transcendent beauty of the One who is always advancing toward us.

By faith we wait and pray, because we know instinctively that there is always more. Christ’s love and attentiveness and generosity will not be outdone. For in the crucified and risen Christ Jesus, we experience God’s "modest but insistent, incessant plea for our love." This plea is in our gut; we sense its presence, its power and pull even now.

But still the, the waiting can seem so passive and so much of our praying may seem unrewarding and flat. The danger is that we’ll believe that nothing is happening. Don’t be fooled. Jesus our Lord, the divine Thief is always at the door, ready to sneak in, behind the wall trying to dig through. He rewards our attentiveness; he is attuned to our deepest yearnings, our vigilance. And if we are meant to live in incessant desire for him, it is because he is always at the threshold of our desire, longing for us more than we realize.

He is the Lord who delights to find us waiting. And in an amazing reversal, it is he our Master who, no matter what the hour, wants to wait on us his servants, and serve us not a stingy snack but an all-out feast. And so, he comes in, sets the table and invites us to recline. We know that in Jesus’ day, reclining was only for banquets, regular meals were taken seated at a table.* The message is clear: a wedding banquet is happening. The Bridegroom is here, heaven has been wedded to earth, and he wants to feed us a banquet; he himself is the Banquet.

* See Gerhard Lohfink.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Now


Jesus tells us this morning: “Be sure of this, if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You too must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Vigilance, preparedness, indeed, but with a twist.

In a sort of coded language, Jesus seems to be dropping some clues about how he operates and how he understands himself - perhaps as a bit of a sneak, even a thief. Literally in this passage having your house being broken into means having it burrowed through. In the Palestine of Jesus’ day, walls were made of mud bricks, and to break in all a thief had to do was dig through the wall. Perhaps the Son of Man, is like a thief sneaking around in the night, just outside and trying to burrow through the walls of our resistance and fear, the thick wall of our supposed self-sufficiency. That’s hard stuff alright, and Mercy wants to dig right through, invade our space and suffuse it with his gracious presence. The Son of Man has come to dismantle all barriers to God’s tender mercy.

What is more, his coming is not only a verb in the future tense but a verb in the continuous present, a present reality. The Son of Man is always coming, trying to break through if we will only come to greater awareness of his desire. Remember he is the One who tells us, “Behold, I am coming soon,” while insisting at the same time, “I am with you always.” Life in the kingdom means living in that reality. And if, as we believe, the kingdom will come to fullness in the age to come, Jesus’ plea is for us to believe and live with the realization that it is happening even now and that it can flourish with our cooperation. The “unexpected hour” we await is now.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Edith Stein

Edith Stein
The greatest figures of prophecy and sanctity step forth out of the darkest night. But for the most part, the formative stream of the mystical life remains invisible. Certainly, the most decisive turning points in world history are substantially co-determined by souls whom no history book ever mentions. And we will only find out about those souls to whom we owe the decisive turning points in our personal lives on the day when all that is hidden is revealed.

These words of Saint Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) remind us of the words of our own Constitutions which speak of the monastic life  as having "a hidden apostolic fruitfulness." In the mysterious reality of prayer for and in the mystical Body of Christ, we hope that our lives here help to draw the world closer to the heart of Christ.


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Transfiguration

 
Today we eavesdrop on an intimate conversation between the Father with the Son. The heavens are opened and in a place of intimacy and prayer, in an intense spiritual experience named Transfiguration, Jesus and all of us listen as the Father says, “You are my beloved one.” Baptized into Christ Jesus, our Lord, we too are truly beloved in Him.

Beloved as we are - God's own daughters and sons -  we are confused, heartbroken and we grieve in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in El Paso and in Dayton. And we pray for an end to all gun violence.

Heavenly Father, we your children, beg you to send us peace, help us to be more and more filled with your own compassion and lovingkindness.

Raphael, The Transfiguration (detail), oil on wood, 1516-1520,  159” X 109”,  Pinacoteca Vaticana. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Father Gerald

In mid-morning on Sunday, August 4 after a prolonged illness, our Father Gerald passed to the Lord. He was always exemplary in his steadfastness despite numerous setbacks and sicknesses. We mourn his passing, even as we rejoice that he is at last with Lord who loved him beyond all telling.

Saints of God, come to his aid! 
Come to meet him, angels of the Lord!
Receive his soul and present him to God Most High.


Give him eternal rest, O Lord, 

may he live on in your presence.
and may your light shine upon him forever!
 

Treasure

Communities which are entirely dedicated to contemplation, so that their members in solitude and silence, with constant prayer and penance willingly undertaken, occupy themselves with God alone, retain at all times, no matter how pressing the needs of the active apostolate may be, an honorable place in the Mystical Body of Christ, whose "members do not all have the same function." For these offer to God a sacrifice of praise which is outstanding. Moreover, the manifold results of their holiness lend luster to the people of God which is inspired by their example and which gains new members by their apostolate,which is as effective as it is hidden. Thus, they are revealed to be a glory of the Church and a well-spring of heavenly graces... The principal duty of monks is to offer a service to the divine majesty at once humble and noble within the walls of the monastery...
Excerpts from Perfectae Caritatis 

Seeking Jesus alone as our Treasure, we desire to live out these sacred ideals.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Visitation

Our Father Immediate Dom Jean-Marc Chené of Bellefontaine Abbey in France is with us for the biennial visitation of our community. As the Cistercian Constitutions state:

The Father Immediate is to watch over the progress of his daughter houses. While respecting the autonomy of the daughter house he is to help and support the abbot in the exercise of his pastoral charge and to foster concord in the community. If he notices there a violation of a precept of the Rule or of the Order, he is to try with humility and charity and having consulted the local abbot, to remedy the situation.

Each of the monks has an opportunity to meet with Dom Jean-Marc to speak about his sense of the current state of the monastery. After he has visited with each monk and consulted with the Abbot, Dom Jean-Marc presents his summation, called the Visitation Card, to the entire community and gives his impressions of the graces we have received and those areas of our life that may need improvement. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Anniversary

Today we celebrate the Anniversary of the Dedication and Consecration of the Abbey Church. This is a special solemnity that is ours alone to remember. Our church's rose window, 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.

During the Abbey's early years, the growth of the community was remarkable. And ground was broken for our church on 19 March 1952. On 15 August 1953 the first Mass was solemnly celebrated in the newly completed church. Designed by some of the monks in collaboration with a local architectural firm, the church was built by contracted lay workers and the many monks who assisted them. We are grateful for the beauty and simplicity of our monastic church, grateful for the labor and inspiration of our monastic forebears. 

Today's feast, brothers, ought to be all the more devout as it is more personal. For other celebrations we have in common with other ecclesiastical communities, but this one is proper to us, so that if we do not celebrate it nobody will. It is ours because it concerns our church; ours because we ourselves are its theme. You are surprised and even embarrassed, perhaps, at celebrating a feast for yourselves. But do not be like horses and mules that have no understanding. Your souls are holy because of the Spirit of God dwelling in you; your bodies are holy because of your souls and this building is holy because of your bodies.  Saint Bernard, Sermon for the Dedication of a Church.