Monday, September 30, 2019

True Charity

Some time ago now, there was a news article about a billionaire who told Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York that unless the Cardinal convinced Pope Francis to put an end to his Marxist language and his constant harping about the poor and migrants, he, the billionaire, would not go through with his pledge to donate over two hundred million dollars to the restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral.  Cardinal Dolan did not, of course, co-operate. Listen to this papal pronouncement inspired by today's gospel of the Rich Man and Lazarus that would probably infuriate our  billionaire: “Life in many poor countries is still extremely insecure as a consequence of food shortages, and the situation could become worse: Hunger still reaps enormous numbers of victims among those who, like Lazarus, are not permitted to take their place at the rich man's table... Feed the hungry is an ethical imperative for the universal Church, as she responds to the  teachings of her Founder, the Lord Jesus, concerning solidarity and the sharing of goods...The right to food, like the right to water, has an important place within the pursuit of other rights, beginning with the fundamental right to life. It is therefore necessary to cultivate a public conscience that considers food and access to water as universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination.” That radical Marxist sounding quote wasn't one from our vilified Pope Francis; that was a quote from the encyclical Charity in Truth by Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Francis said recently that he was proud to be criticized for quoting Pope Benedict and Saint John Paul II.  The social concern of Pope Francis is not some kind of Christian Marxism; it is rather the solid tradition of the Church going back to the Gospels, St. Paul and our Lord Jesus Christ, and even to the covenant with Israel where the Lord God expected that there be not one needy person among them, no one had too much or too little of the manna that God provided in the wilderness.

Someone might wonder why we Cistercian contemplative monks are concerned about this social justice stuff.  What does that have to do with mysticism and contemplation?  The answer to that is “everything.”  In sermons 10 and 12 of that masterpiece of the Christian mystical life, St. Bernard of Clairvaux's Sermons on the Song of Songs, our twelfth  century Cistercian Father gives us the recipes for three mystical ointments that cause the Christian to be formed into Christ.  All three of them are necessary to this development.  The  first ointment, contrition,  gets us started on the Way.  Bernard says that, “a soul entangled in many sins can prepare for itself a certain ointment once it begins to reflect on its behavior, and collects its many and manifold sins, heaps them together and crushes them in the mortar of its conscience. It cooks them, as it were, within a breast that boils up like a pot over the fire of repentance and sorrow... The more despicable he believes his offering to be because of his consciousness of sin, the more acceptable it will appear to God.”  We were anointed with this in the penance rite of this Mass which recalls our Baptism and ongoing conversion.  Now in the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist, we are anointed with the second ointment compounded of all the gifts that God the Father has bestowed on the human race.  Bernard mentions especially all the graces we have received through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.  “Happy the person who makes it his business to gather these  carefully for himself and keep them in mind with due gladness and thanksgiving,” says Bernard.  The very meaning of Greek word “Eucharist” is “thanksgiving.”

Cardinal Dolan's billionaire seems to be satisfied with these two ointments (we hope not, but he seems to be), but Bernard points out that he shouldn't be.  There is indeed “another ointment, far excelling these two, to which I give the name loving-kindness, because the elements that go to its making are the needs of the poor, the anxieties of the oppressed, the worries of those who are sad, the sins of wrong-doers, and finally, the manifold misfortunes of people of all classes who endure affliction, even if they are our enemies.”  In the mass we are anointed with this ointment, the grace of loving-kindness, when, having received the Word and the Eucharist into our hearts we are commissioned by Christ through the words of the priest, “Go and announce the gospel of the Lord” or “Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life” or simply “Go in peace.”  Pope Francis teaches that the Gospel, the resurrection life and the peace that we bring to the world are best given with as few words as possible, or none at all.  It is the peacefulness, the joy, the loving-kindness in generous service to our brothers and sisters and enemies that cause them to see our good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.  May the grace of loving-kindness be always with us.  We all always have someone named Lazarus in our lives. 

Photograph of the Abbey Belltower by Father Emmanuel. by Father Luke's Homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

World Day of Migrants and Refugees

Sunday, September 29, marks the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Pope Francis has made the rights of migrants and refugees one of the focal points of his pontificate, and he has invited everyone "to express, even through prayer, our closeness to migrants in refugees worldwide.” We are invited to remember all displaced persons and victims of trafficking, since their well being concerns all of us as one human family. We are called to share through acts of love and prayer our compassion for all those in need. 

Picture by Brother Brian.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Silence


Silence may be considered from various points of view: as passive non-speaking, as an interior disposition of recollection, as a combat against our inner thoughts. The emphasis in our Constitutions is on silence as restraint in speech, which often proves to be the better part of communication and an effective means towards more truthful and humble living. 

Silence can also be a powerful and indispensable act of self-relinquishment, of letting go of myself, which opens me to God and to others. Concretely, the practice of interior silence means that I let go of the tapes that play in my head; the narratives, movies and fantasies that preoccupy my mind. Silencing the inner racket is a great discipline of letting go of what ties me up and distracts me from what I really love and believe in. In the final analysis whether we really maintain silence is not proven by the fewness of our words but by our ability to let go of ourselves.  It makes possible a new openness to God and to others.

Reflection by Father Dominic.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Invitations

Works of love directed to one's neighbor are the most perfect external manifestation of the internal grace of the Spirit. 
Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium

Lord Jesus, help us to follow your Spirit's invitations in small ways and great all during this day.
Pictures by Brother Brian.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me...From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 

We remember today Padre Pio, visibly, painfully marked by the wounds of Jesus. This was his unique privilege.  

In a far less dramatic but nevertheless quite real way, each of us bear our own wounds, unseen but very real. And our wounds too are Jesus’ wounds. The Lord would not have it otherwise. We too are marked with him, for him. 

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Our Hope

It is precisely to bolster our hope that God reveals this truth to us, that “…he wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth…” How often the Biblical writers cry out to God to save them, especially the psalmists: “Rescue me, O God…deliver us…free us…forgive us our sins…O God our Savior…O God of our salvation…” Their hope was that God would take them out of a dangerous situation and the risk of perishing. They turned to God for protection, for healing, for peace – and we do the same, especially when we are in distress.

But how exactly does God save us? He reveals the truth to us, the truth about ourselves. Without this truth, we may think we have no need for salvation. We may have all the money in the world, but if we do not know and accept the truth, it will do us no good. The way that God reveals the truth to us is by speaking through prophets, or religious superiors, or friends, or even enemies who tell us the truth about ourselves (even if we’d rather not hear it). God sent Amos to tell the Israelites the truth: their religious observance was a sham; they lived luxuriant lives at the expense of the poor, so much so that Amos called the women of Samaria, “cows of Bashan”, who sold the poor for a pair of sandals and then called out to their husbands: “Bring us a drink!” Amos concludes with this fiery statement, “The Lord God has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done.” Amos used the knife of truth to lay bare their need for salvation and to show them where we should place their hope.

There must be a message of hope contained in here, since God wills everyone to be saved. What or who is this “pride of Jacob” that God is swearing by? Remember these words from Hebrews, “…since he had no one greater by whom to swear, ‘he swore by himself…’” When God swears by the pride of Jacob, he swears by himself, which we can refer to his only begotten son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the real Pride of Jacob. And since his mother Mary is never far from her son, we can include her as a cause of our hope, she who is the Glory of Jerusalem. It is certain that God will never forget a thing that these two have done. The way we cooperate in our salvation is to place our faith in what these two have done and remain united with them, acting in concert with them. No matter how far we stray, no matter how low we fall, God will never forget what his Pride and his Glory have done, nor will he forget our efforts to remain united with them.

There is a non-biblical story that illustrates this. It is Dante’s description of his climb up the mountain of purgatory with Virgil as his guide (Canto V). Dante encounters the spirit of Buonconte, an adversary in warfare. Buonconte relates how he was fleeing from a battle against Dante’s people, bleeding from a wound to his throat, when he lost his sight and fell to the ground. Without time to seek absolution for his sins, he uttered the name of Mary. And lo, the angel of God swooped down and grabbed Buonconte from the devil’s grasp, and the devil cried out, “O thou from heaven, why dost thou rob me? Thou bearest away for thyself the (soul) of him for one little tear…” (and the name of Mary).

This is a reason for hope: God wills everyone to be saved. If we have delayed our repentance, or our religious observance has been a sham, or we have treated some person with contempt, let us call on the name of Jesus! Call on Mary! If the voice of Amos thunders in our conscience, reminding us of our infidelities: call on the Pride of Jacob! Call on the Glory of Jerusalem! God our Father never forgets a thing they have done. All he wants is for us to acknowledge the great good he has given to us through his Son and through his Son’s mother, and to live in communion with them. This is our hope of salvation, and it is in the Eucharist that we give expression to that hope and find its fulfillment. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Vincent's Sunday Homily.



Friday, September 20, 2019

O Eternal Goodness!

Seeing over and over again the truth of who we are, our struggles and the leftover dreams that still nag and clog our sensibilities, we wonder, "How can God be so patient with us?" But the Lord our God looks into the depths of our hearts. God understands. And best of all in Christ Jesus, our Lord and God has come to be with us and call us to life, and remind us who we are in God's eyes - always beloved children. Then even more we are filled with wonder. And we want to cry out as did Saint Catherine of Siena:

O eternal beauty! O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O mad lover! You have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her. Why then are you so mad? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made! You are pleased and delighted over her within yourself, 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. What shall I say? I stutter, “A-a,” I don’t know what else to say.


Photo by Brother Brian. Lines from Saint Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, 153.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Our True Poverty

On one day each month we celebrate the Office and Mass for the Dead, praying for our relatives, friends, benefactors and brethren who have died. As Father William reminded us at this morning’s Mass, death will be our ultimate experience of true poverty. And our life in the monastery is a kind of practice in embracing our poverty and total dependence on God in Christ.

Each day we read about so much tragedy, so many senseless killings, in our nation and around the world. Too many broken hearts, so many grieving. We stand in prayerful solidarity with them all, as we trust in the Lord Jesus who has embraced our poverty and our death and promises us eternal life with him. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Prodigal Love

 Image result for rembrandt prodigal son etching
This morning we hear again the story of the foolish extravagance of the father’s love, his prodigal love. There was a very prosperous man with two sons, so the story begins. Soon we see the younger son coming to his father with a misguided request. “Please give me my share. I want what’s coming to me.” The boy’s is self-assured but blinded to love’s responsibilities. And so, he’s off with his share of the estate- in Hebrew law, one third of the estate - since he is the younger son. It’s an incredibly large amount of money. And he wastes it all.

Then there’s a famine. And now the boy gets so desperate, he's happy to feed pigs. And so he makes himself totally unclean! And he's starving; but even more it seems, he is longing for someone to notice; yearning to be loved back to life. For, Jesus tells us, “No one made a move to give him anything.”

And then this bright idea: “I will be a servant. I don’t deserve anything. I have messed up totally, but I will return. How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough. Yes, I will arise and return to my father.”

Now mercy, the father’s dear old face buried in his son’s unwashed neck. He’ll have none of the boy’s protestations; he responds only with extravagant love. The son wants to be treated as a slave, instead he will be treated as an honored guest - as the son he never ceased to be. 

Enter the sweaty, hardworking, dutiful son. For weeks he’s been nursing a grudge big as Gibraltar. “Why, you never gave me so much as a kid goat to celebrate with my friends,” he says to his father. The father might have answered – “You never asked me; I’d give you anything.” Tragically, this boy has lost sight of all the love that’s available for him. He too is lost, desperate, though he doesn’t realize it. “Please come in,” his father says. “You are always with me. All I have is yours.” 

The younger son wrongly believed that he no longer deserved to be called a son, but this older son is even more deluded, for he thinks he deserves something because he’s been ‘slaving’ for years. But he’s not a slave, he is a son just like his brother.

So, two lost sons learning about love, that it is extravagant, even reckless, far beyond the rules of justice, our too small equations. They are learning what it means to be a son, a child of God, the God who is Love without measure, the God who has given us everything, everything in Jesus his Son. Indeed “All I have is yours” is another name for Christ Jesus our Lord.

Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam), 1620–69, etching, pen and ink, 6 1/8 × 5 7/16 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Triumph of the Cross

This ancient sign of horror and excruciating torture has become for us a tree of life. For the precious blood of Jesus our Lord has drenched its branches. We rejoice under the cross, because by his cross Jesus has rescued us from sin and shame and death.

So it is that Saint Paulinus of Nola will chant 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. 

We exalt in the Cross of Christ, for this Cross is a royal throne upon which Love has triumphed and transformed our pain, misery, human fragility and foolishness into a royal gateway to life and hope and immortality. Death no longer has the last word in our lives, the Love of the wounded and risen Lord Jesus does. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel of our veneration cross embedded with a relic of the True Cross, enthroned in the transept of the Abbey church for today's feast.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Name of Mary

Today the Church celebrates the name of Mary, a name we call on in all of our needs. As the poet Hopkins assures us, Mary has "one work to do - let all God's glory through." Her desire is always to bring us closer to her Son. As Saint Bernard will remind us:

If squalls of temptations arise, or you fall upon the rocks of tribulation, look to the star, call upon Mary.
If you are tossed by the waves of pride or ambition, detraction or envy, look to the star, call upon Mary.
If anger or avarice or the desires of the flesh dash against the ship of your soul, turn your eyes towards Mary.
If, troubled by the greatness of your sins, ashamed of your guilty conscience, terrified by dread of judgment, you begin to sink into the gulf of sadness or the abyss of despair, think of Mary.
In dangers, in anguish, in doubt, think of Mary; call upon Mary.
Let her be ever on your lips, ever in your heart; and the better to obtain the help of her prayers, imitate the example of her life.
Following her, you will not stray;
invoking her, you will not despair;
thinking of her, you will not wander;
upheld by her, you will not fall;
shielded by her, you will not fear;
guided by her, you will not get weary;
favored by her, you will reach the goal.
And you will experience for yourself how good is that saying: 'And the Virgin's name was Mary'

Drawing by Giuseppe Cesare.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Impassioned

“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple. Luke 14

In his impassioned words this morning, Jesus speaks to us of the high cost of our discipleship. He wants our love for him and the Kingdom to transform all our relationships and ways of being and acting. There is to be no space, no part of our lives that is to be separate from him and his love.


Jesus points us to the cross, to his excruciating self-offering in all its bitterness and pain. There on the cross his infinite mercy and compassion will burst all bounds. Baptized into him, Jesus wants us with him, embracing our own crosses. Our self-offering joined to that of Jesus will make us with him a source of life and hope for all. The cross is a bridge, a gateway. In Jesus' death, death will die, for the Father will not allow his Beloved to know decay. Jesus' resurrection will be accomplished by the Father’s love. This is where our cross-bearing with Jesus will bring us. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Brother at Work

God only wants to be ordinary. It is why Jesus has come, God with us, near us, in us. The ordinary is charged forever with his kind, incessant presence. God longs to be ordinary, not taken for granted, but here, always here with us. Why else would he choose to be a child, why else a small town carpenter and a wandering teacher? Why else allow himself to be done in by thugs and jealous bureaucrats? Why else choose to be hidden in a morsel of bread on our altar? God in Christ delights to be with us - "ordinary, obscure and laborious." 

Our ordinary life allows us to accompany Christ Jesus in his ordinariness.

Photograph of Brother Matthew Joseph by Kathleen Trainor.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

The Guest List

At the feast in the Kingdom, the guest list includes the old woman in the moth-eaten fur coat who carries her kingdom in plastic bags, the crippled man who hobbles when others walk briskly by, the blind who long for the warmth of a fire they cannot see, the lonely ones who never get invited anywhere. These are the ones who will be led to the seats of honor in the Kingdom, the little ones who cannot return invitations but nonetheless long for the company that table fellowship provides. Jesus embraces these people into importance. In the upside-down world of the Kingdom, what appears to be foolishness is great wisdom and beauty. The love of Jesus looks beyond appearances; it pierces disguises and dignifies the lowly. Let us love like this always.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation extracted from a homily by Father Aquinas.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

His Word

Jesus rebuked him and said, "Be quiet! Come out of him!"
Then the demon threw the man down in front of them
and came out of him without doing him any harm.
They were all amazed and said to one another,
"What is there about his word? Luke 4


Indeed, what is it about the word of Jesus? How his word consoles and heals us; rouses us from our drowsy complacency and despondency. Jesus' word breaks in, comes to dead ends and says, “Enough. Be quiet.” For God’s word is divinely efficacious. Jesus is the Word made flesh and what he opens no one can close. We listen attentively when he speaks to us. 

Sunday, September 1, 2019

His Banquet


What are we to do, for we all love our favorite guests? Perhaps not to have this uncle or that once-friendly friend come would be OK. But certainly we delight to feed those others we like with what we have most carefully prepared. Jesus great Concierge, says no, that old list will not do, instead invite those who cannot possibly have you over to their place next week or thereafter. Invite hobbling cripples and lonely widows, blind eyes who can yet smell and taste our fare. Such is the kind of guest list in the Kingdom.

We should have remembered after all; those were the first invited when his birth was announced. It was unheard of at the time, for the custom in the ancient world, long before engraved announcements or telephones or iPhone or email, was that when a baby was born to a respectable family, messengers would be sent out to announce the birth to the “right sort of people,” friends of the family’s social class in the best neighborhoods of the city. And so, as God's baby Son is nursed by his Virgin Mother, heavenly messengers announce his arrival to shepherds, those very poor and smelly, “lowest-esteemed laborers.” They are “right sort of people” for our God, people of God’s own social standing. And the right sort of people must be informed. Could it be that they are people like us?

The banquet in the Kingdom is prepared; the table is set, let us take the lowest place, for we will find that He has preceded us there.

Photograph by Brother Brian.