Monday, July 6, 2020

Our Retreat

Jesus invites us back to a place of immense littleness, where with wonder and deep reverence, we will be one with him and so truly children of the Father. Perhaps he is even inviting us back to what we might call the anguish of littleness. Not to put us down, but because he knows the immense freedom that is hiding there beneath our frustrations and defeats and surrender. He points to a treasure hidden in that low place where we can only depend on God our Father to provide for us. He knows, because this is how he lived and died and rose. A treasure is there because God understands; God is waiting to meet us down there in a low place, welcoming our need of him.
During this week the community will be on our annual retreat. We promise our prayer for those who follow our blog. Please pray for us.
Photograph of the north road by Brother Brian.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

In the Spirit

Today we begin our annual community retreat. It is an important moment, not only as a special time to reflect on our monastic life, but also to think about our future and the transition to new leadership. So what is our situation? What is God asking of us at this time? What is the one thing necessary, or the two or three things? Thankfully, we can trust that God will give us a word that speaks to our situation today, and I think he does, if only we will listen to the Holy Spirit.

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel are like a window into his intimate relationship with his Father. In Luke’s version Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I give you praise, Father…such has been your gracious will…No one knows who the Father is except the Son…” One thing necessary for our vocation is to look through this window of Jesus’ praise to see this intimate and familiar exchange of glory and honor that proceeds from the Father through the Son and back again from the Son to the Father – an eternal round of glory to glory. But not only are we to gaze upon this glory, but actually to participate in it. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in. The one thing necessary is to allow the Holy Spirit to clear away what the wise and the learned find so absorbing, and receive from him a share in the mutual and unending gift of self that proceeds from the Father and the Son, which, in fact, is the Holy Spirit.

But there is a second thing that is necessary in our vocation. Zechariah points to it when he says: “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son to continually urge “daughter Zion” and “daughter Jerusalem” – that is, the Church – to move in the direction of her meek and humble king, the one who by his death and resurrection removes all her indebtedness to the flesh. The Spirit accomplishes this movement by stirring up the friends of the Bridegroom to cry out, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!
’ Brothers, we are those friends of the Bridegroom. The Spirit wants us to cry out, not so much by words as by humility.

This is one of the mysteries of the Spirit. On the one hand, he manifests himself in overwhelming ways – think the giving of the Law on Sinai, when the Spirit enveloped the mountain in fire; or when Elijah was challenging the prophets of Baal, and the Spirit came down as a consuming fire and devoured not only the sacrifice, but the water, the wood, the stones, and even the dust! On the other hand, the Spirit manifests himself in hidden and discrete ways, or as the Catechism puts it so wonderfully, with a “properly divine self-effacement.” He does not speak on his own, but only what he hears. He comes to Elijah on Mount Horeb as a tiny whispering sound. He guides the Church into all truth, the very foundation of humility. This is a third thing necessary for us: to witness to humility in the heart of the Church.

This time of retreat is a blessing for us, a time to reflect on the things really necessary in our vocation and mission, that is, in the Spirit to participate in the self-giving love and glory of Father and Son; to abide in the heart of the Church like leaven kneaded into three measures of flour; and to follow the Spirit’s lead on the ladder of humility. Let us entrust our retreat to Our Lady of Citeaux. She is the Spirit’s exemplar of participation in the life of God. Her humility draws the Church to the gate of the Eucharist and to the gate of our beautiful monastery.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Today's homily by Father Vincent.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

July Fourth

On a sober note Father Emmanuel reminded us in this morning's homily that our country has still far to go in reaching the ideals expressed in our Declaration of Independence. For,  as recent events have made clear, racial prejudice still lurks in many hearts.

We pray this day that, as we chanted in our responsorial psalm, justice may flourish in our land and fullness of peace forever. We pray that we may be loving and wise, choosing for ourselves and for one another what is life-giving, life -nurturing: whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, July 3, 2020

With Saint Thomas

We are always touched by the humility of Christ's accommodation to Thomas' request. He does not chide him for his lack of faith. Instead he simply shows him his wounded hands and side. And it is amazing to notice, particularly during this time of quarantine and isolation, that Jesus invites Thomas to touch him and to inspect the holes in his body. 

Our own willingness to be vulnerable with God and with our brothers and sisters always brings about transformation.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

In The Same Boat

As Jesus got into a boat, his disciples followed him.
Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea,
so that the boat was being swamped by waves;
but he was asleep.
They came and woke him, saying,
“Lord, save us!  We are perishing!”
He said to them, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”
Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea,
and there was great calm.
The men were amazed and said, “What sort of man is this,
whom even the winds and the sea obey?” Matthew 8

Today's Gospel narrative strikes us as one of the most humorous in all of Scripture. If the boat was being swamped by waves, wasn't Jesus getting soaked? Clearly exhausted after a full day of preaching and healing, Our Lord naps peacefully while a storm rages. The Man was definitely a very heavy sleeper.

We imagine him, suddenly roused by the disciples. He wipes his face with one hand, then runs both hands over his dripping hair. He rises and with a finger to his lips, he says, "Shhhh. Quiet down." - to his disciples and to the sea. Amazement. Grateful peace. 

The Lord Jesus is in the same boat as we; soaked to the bone, with us in all that rages around and within us. We long more and more to yield control and relax into his loving presence. 

Monday, June 29, 2020

Two Saints

There was once a very devote man, he was independent, made a good living. He was self-sufficient, well educated in his religion and strong in his belief. He had been taught who and what was right, and who and what was wrong. Everyone knew where they stood with him, an upstanding member of his community and someone others looked up to, even perhaps envied. He was, as some people would say, “living the dream”.  He was a man of action, a leader, someone in command, when you had a difficult job that needed doing, this was the man you wanted. One day while on a road trip with some associates. As they were moving along and bragging about how successful they had been and what their next move should be. Amid all this babel, one by one something caught their attention, they noticed something in the sky, a light so bright it blinded them and struck them to the ground. Then this one man heard a voice saying, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"  Saul was in darkness, having been blinded, and he could not find his own way. His friends had to help him do what the risen Christ had told him to do. This is of course the story of Paul's conversion, and I trust we all know what happens from here. 

Peter and his companions had been fishing all night and had nothing to show for their effort. Again, and again they dropped their nets into the waters and hauled them back up empty again and again in the dark of night. Not even the breeze brought any comfort, it just gave them a chill, making the long night downright wretched. What was worse than the physical tiredness was the mental exhaustion.  Peter knew no fish meant no livelihood, no money, and no way to cover expenses. But after fishing in the dark, with the light came Christ, and with Christ came the light. 

In the First Reading we find Peter bound by chains, surrounded by guards, asleep in prison. But Peter was not bound by one set of chains but two, to call them uncomfortable would be an understatement. Peter had guards not only outside his cell but inside his cramped stuffy cell, next to him, around him day and night, with him for every breath he took.  And yet in all this confinement, how do we find Peter, was he awake and nervous, was he mumbling that his life was better before he encountered Jesus, was he pleading to be set free because he was wrongly accused? No, no and no. Peter was asleep, between two smelly and snoring, armed soldiers. Peter slept. Peter slept, because he knew he was free, Peter had become free by allowing himself to be bound, to Christ. 

On the road to Damascus after the risen Christ spoke to Paul, he responded by saying “What shall I do, Lord”? In that moment everything shifted for Paul. He realized what he thought was freedom was not, and that true freedom means being bound to Jesus Christ. Paul found that freedom was wanting what God wants and loving what God loves, not a life devoted to his own ambitions and ego, but to the will of God. Paul became a prisoner of Christ.   

Peter was a simple hard-working man, just trying to eke out a living doing the same job done by his father and his father’s father before him and his ancestors going back for generations. He was trying to keep food on the table. Peter was doing all that he could, he was bound to the life passed down to him, but in the end, he kept coming up empty. Then Jesus comes along and says, “Put out into deep waters and let down your nets”. Now if I had been there, I might have something along the lines of: “We’ve been doing that all night, and it ain’t workin.” But Peter responded, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets”.  And this is the moment everything changed for Peter, this is when Peter obtained freedom by binding himself to Christ. This was Peter’s way of saying “What shall I do Lord”? He recognized who Christ was in the boat. 

The fact that Peter recognizes Christ was apparent when they got back to shore. What is the first thing Peter did? He fell to his knees and told Christ to get away from him, because Peter knew he was a sinful man. One of the many paradoxes of faith and the spiritual life is that sometimes when you encounter someone who is strong in faith and love of God, instead of feeling blessed you feel dirty and unclean, because every wrong thought you have ever had and every wrong action you have ever done comes back to you. And you think to yourself, “I am a sinner”. I am sure that that does not come close to describing how Peter felt when encountering Christ. But Christ had plans for him, he was to become a fisher of men.

In the Gospel reading it is Peter who recognizes Jesus and says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”.  Peter was able to recognize who Christ, and Christ had plans for Peter. Peter would be the rock upon which Christ would build His Church because Peter had faith and was able to see Christ and to know what direction he should go. Like Paul, Peter found freedom by binding himself to Christ. 

Peter and Paul were very different men. And they did not always agree on how to carry out the will of God. But the closer you look the more you find the had in common.  They were similar in their faith in Christ, it was the same Christ that they both bound themselves to, and by doing so gained their freedom. As different as they were, they were brought through darkness into light. They both knew that no matter what happened to them, if they remained faithful and trusted in the Lord all would go according to His plan. They both knew that everything would pass away, and in the by and by they would receive their reward. Another thing they had in common was love, yes love for God, love for people. This love is more than emotion, this is love as a verb. They wanted to share the gifts they had received; they wanted to go out and give what they had been given. 

They both suffered and were persecuted for their faith, and in the end were both martyred. We heard some of Peter's story today. In the Letter to the Corinthians Paul states that he was flogged, beaten with sticks, stoned, shipwrecked three times, the list goes on. There was physical and mental abuse for both. When Peter and Paul turned their lives over to Christ, Christ never promised it would be easy, but they knew it would be worth it, so they did what they were asked.   

The legacy of Saints Peter and Paul has been handed from one generation of faithful to the next, in many forms and shapes. One of the best examples is right in front of us, here at the Abbey. What bound Saints Peter and Paul together was far greater than what separated then, and what binds us together is far greater than that which could divide us. Like Saints Peter and Paul, we have all turned our backs on our former lives and bound ourselves to Christ in faith and love, in an ever-deepening relationship with God.  
Brother Stephen, our newly ordained deacon's homily for today's Solemnity.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

First Vespers of Saints Peter & Paul


Perhaps Peter and Paul whom we celebrate today would not mind if we noted that neither of them has much to be proud of. Peter who even as his best friend is being slapped and sentenced insisted to a serving girl in the glow of a charcoal fire that he did not even know who that man was; and self-righteous Paul who became notorious for dragging the first followers of Jesus from their homes to prison and persecution. 

Both Peter and Paul find themselves discovered by the Mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who identifies himself as the betrayed one, the persecuted one. Peter is forgiven by Christ at a breakfast on the shore after the resurrection; Paul thrown from his horse finds himself discovered by the mercy of Jesus who begs him, "Why are you persecuting me?" They will be empowered by mercy and compassion and forgiveness they receive from Jesus. We celebrate two men desperately in need of transformation, a transformation that happens in their encounters with their most merciful betrayed and persecuted Lord.

The Cross

What we hear this morning is not “Coach” Jesus, shouting from the sidelines, “C’mon. Take up your cross. Let’s hustle!” On the contrary, Jesus is our brave and compassionate companion along the way. In following him, we are made one with him. And he invites us to imitate him – in patience and hope in our Father’s most loving regard for us always. 

Love always gives itself away; it cannot be unaffected by the beloved’s troubles. And so, the cross is inevitable for Jesus and also for us as his disciples, for it is the way he and we can love without limit. That is why he on one occasion he is so adamant with Peter – to deny Jesus the cross would be to keep him from the fulfillment of his total self-gift, to be held back from it is unthinkable. The cross is the “marriage bed” granting him total, unremitting self-surrender to us, down to the very last drop of his most precious blood. This was always the goal of his Incarnation - to share unreservedly in our sorrow, to rescue us from unending death and fear. His coming down to us in Mary’s virgin womb reaches its culmination on the cross, for there he will reveal the unimaginable breadth of God’s boundless compassion.

Jesus allows himself to suffer, because he can do no less. And it is there in this very weakness, the weakness of love, that he reveals the sublimity of his divinity. On the cross God is most truly God. His power is made perfect in his weakness, his power can reveal itself only in our weakness. Battered now as Church, nation, world - angry, confused and hurting, we see our weakness more than ever. Doubtless an unexpected grace is being offered to us. 

Finally, whenever we go to the altar, we go to the cross, where Christ’s body was first offered, where the bread that is his body, God’s wheat, was finely baked in the heat of his passion. May the passion of Christ Jesus our Lord become our own more and more, as we eat his body and drink his blood. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

To The Kitchen.

Once after receiving a unique grace in prayer, Saint Mechtilde exclaimed to Our Lord, "O generous King! Such a magnificent gift is not suitable for me. I am not even worthy to serve in your kitchen and wash the dishes there." Christ Jesus answered her, "The kitchen is my divine Heart. As the kitchen is open to everyone...so my heart is always open to all, and ready to give everyone what they desire."

Let us go to this Kitchen always.

Friday, June 26, 2020

With Us

Candidates often ask our vocation director if the monks ever get bored in the monastery. We suppose they want to be assured that the rhythm of the monastic day is all a great river of unremitting grace. This is true enough in general, but as one of our seniors admits, "The most difficult part of the life is seeing clearly over and over again the sad, boring truth of who I am. The truth is: I bore myself with my sinfulness and stubbornness." 

Surely the truest grace is having seen and known this painful, neuralgic reality all too well over and over again, and then and there to allow God in Christ to gaze on us with love and exquisite tenderness. It may seem utter madness to allow ourselves to be the object of Christ’s love and attention precisely in our sinfulness. But where else can we go? Jesus desires to meet us in our reality. 

Our senior monk continues, "Maybe it is the great reversal, the sublime trick of a monastic vocation - I thought I was coming to the monastery to gaze on Christ, but it is Christ Jesus himself who wants to gaze on me in my lowliness and poverty."

Jesus is completely Other and yet more intimate to us than our innermost being. It is he who says to us over and over again, "I understand." Truly in our sinfulness, in our joys and sorrows, in our achievements and greatest disappointments, Jesus says, “I am with you always; I understand."

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Rock

Perhaps our most important work as monks is to allow things to fall apart and to notice that as things fall apart we more available for Christ's mercy. Perhaps part of our work is to normalize this fragmentation for one another - normalize the falling apart as the means to a most glorious end - life in Christ Jesus. This is not a careless, presumptive laziness, (“I’m broken, you’re broken, we're OK; Christ will rescue us. No problem!”) Neither is it the blind leading the blind into a catastrophic fall. It is rather the weak leading the weak into a willing acknowledgement and celebration of the inevitability of our fragmentation and weakness as the great good news that will lead to our transformation in Christ Jesus. As he reminds us this morning he alone is our Rock amidst the storm.

Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

The Nativity of John the Baptist

Pastorally,
The Church celebrates the Birth of Saint John the Baptist because there is something indispensable and timeless about his role. Cardinal Daniélou speaks of “a certain permanence in John’s ministry, the ministry of preparation.” He goes so far as to say: “We may be sure that the final coming will also be prepared by John.”

So what might this “ministry of preparation” mean for us today? Perhaps above all, John models for us and predisposes us to experience the happiness found only in Jesus Christ. With good reason, this began in the darkness of his mother’s womb. We all begin in darkness, and often live moments plunged in darkness of one kind or another. The Good News is that at Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, Jesus draws close to John, who then leaps for joy in his mother’s womb. The Baptist pierces earth’s darkness with his silent proclamation to us: Someone is coming for you! Keep your attention fixed on what your heart was made for: Jesus Christ! For you will recognize him when he comes—instantly, leaping with joy like David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant.

The Dominican Peter John Cameron wrote a reflection last year which personalizes the meaning of today’s feast for me:

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist is a sacred reminder of the fact that every day I need born in my life:

·         someone who leaps with joy before the presence of the Lord, who makes me want to live my own relationship with Jesus with greater ardor;

·         someone to prepare the way of the Lord and to give me knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of my sins;

·         someone who turns my attention away from my distractions and preconceptions so that I will behold the Lamb of God as the true desire of my heart;

·         someone who is a burning and shining lamp whose radiance gives light to my path and courage to my heart, making me want to live for others. . . .


Each of us is called to prepare the way of the Lord to one another, in ways mostly unknown to us, unintentionally, and yet no less prophetically. This unconscious “ministry of preparation” engenders hope in others. That, I believe, is its particular gift.

The Good News today is that the Birth of John was a birth of new hope. Something the whole world needs at this time of great suffering and an unknown future. Cardinal Daniélou captured this “birth of new hope” beautifully when describing John: “While he was still a baby in a cradle, something was already shining on John’s face: the dawn of that sun which was going to rise above the horizon and outshine the sun of the first creation.” I think that is true of anyone, and everyone, who has been instrumental in “preparing the way of the Lord” to us. 

The Birth and Naming of Saint John the Baptist, Sano di Pietro, Italian, Siena 1405–1481 Siena, 1450–1460, Tempera and gold on wood, 9 5/8 x 18 7/8 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. This morning's homily by Father Dominic.

John the Baptist

The Liturgy invites us to notice a wonderful newborn. Elizabeth’s had a baby, at her age. And Zechariah who had been speechless for months now names his son John and his tongue is loosed. He then breaks out in praise of God and prophecy of his little son’s future mission. All are amazed and rejoice with them. The tone and content of today’s Gospel all speak to us of God's amazing breakthrough on his people’s behalf in a new and unprecedented way. There is hope and promise.

And if the Scripture in the Liturgy presents us with the great question: “What will this child be?” The Liturgy has the rather tragic answer for us as well. With the hindsight of Liturgy, we know all too well what will become of baby John. (This too will be occasion for a liturgical celebration at the end of August. We’ll be in red then though, for John is going to lose his head.) John’s weakness for speaking the truth will be his undoing. A mad divorcee’s rage, her daughter’s dancing and a drunken fool’s vow, showing off to guests at his birthday party, and John’s head will end up on a platter. What will this child be? We know all too well. Liturgy lets us look in both directions.

Saint John the Baptist, c. 1230,  North Portal, Chartres Cathedral.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Gate

One of our monks recounts the following tale:

I had an older cousin named Florida. And the family lore was that her father, recently arrived from Sicily, had seen a big poster in a fruit store with giant oranges and the word “Florida” and had decided then and there that it would be the perfect name for his next daughter. Now because of a series of unfortunate events, my Aunty Florida, as I called her, ended up spending part of her childhood at a Catholic orphanage in our city. Aunty Florida told me stories of what it was like there. Some of it was rather grisly. In particular I remember her telling me about pious little talks the Sisters would sometimes give before the children went to bed. And a phrase Aunty Florida recounted from one of these talks is forever stuck in my memory: “Boys and girls, even our innermost thoughts are sins.” I can hear Florida repeating it dramatically and laughing, “Imagine her saying that to little kids.” You wish someone had given that nun a book of bedtime stories for children. Talk about Grimm’s Fairy Tales!

Nowadays as I recall those words, I think that maybe that old nun was not so far from the truth. Of course we know that her wording is radically off. Thoughts simply are not sins. But even as I come to understand my heart - the depth of my desire for God, the good intentions planted there by his Spirit, I also see the darker alleys, nooks and crannies - my capacity for evil. And so the crimes and evil deeds I read about in the newspaper no longer seem a quaint, awful reality, something that other more evilly inclined monsters would do. No, these are deeds I could do or could have done or maybe would do. Bitter self-knowledge we call it in the monastery. Thoughts indeed are not sins, but thoughts need to be dealt with, named for what they are, and dismissed; and the good needs to be courageously chosen over and over. As Jesus reminds us, thoughts- “the things that come out from within”- can indeed “defile” and lead us away from God, if we don’t choose rightly and take action. Let us continue striving to enter through "the narrow gate" and "constricted" road by which he leads us to life and true freedom.


Archival photograph of the cloister at our founding monastery Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Without Fear

“Fear no one. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Matthew 10


Having sensed the Lord’s loving presence in the “tiny, whispering” of the ordinariness of our lives, we long to hide in the “shadow of his wings.” He comes near to us, stretches out the hand of his mercy and assures us, “Come to me and do not be afraid.” Why do we doubt? Why is our faith so tiny? The Son of God Most High has made his dwelling place within us. And nothing at all can separate us from him. He has counted all the hairs of our head. God is watching, noticing us, always attentive. Let us cry out to him.

Photographs by Brother Brian.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Her Heart with His

Today's Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary follows yesterday's Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus' heart was formed under the pure heart of Mary; she gave him a heart that could love and rejoice and suffer for us. 

Exercising a motherly care for us her poor children in all things and through all things, the Virgin Mother calms our trembling fear, enlivens our faith, supports our hope, drives away our distrust, strengthens our timidity.

Surely you are not afraid to approach Jesus? He is your Brother and your flesh, tempted in all things as you are, yet without sin, so that he might have compassion. And this Brother has been given to us by Mary.

And so whatsoever you have a mind to offer to the Lord, be sure to entrust it to Mary, so that your gift shall return to the Giver of all grace through the same channel by which you obtained it.

Bridal wreathe bushes are blooming at the Abbey entrance. Lines from Saint Bernard's Sermon 7 for the Nativity of Our Lady.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Plowing This Earth With Jesus

Come to me all you who are weary and overburdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

W
e may say that the souls of the two Cistercian saints we have celebrated this week—the 13th-century St Lutgarde of Aywières and the 20th-century Blessed Marie-Joseph Cassant—were clearly yoked to Jesus. Our celebration of their lives and holiness earlier this week has prepared us for this great feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, their Master. Yoked to Jesus and carrying with him the sweet burden of the redeeming Cross, the disciple comes to learn the truth of God by constant association with the Heart of God. In such close proximity, the disciple can hear its secret throbbing, and gradually comes to share a common task with the Redeemer, who has come to serve and not to be served.

Those initiated by the Son into the secrets of the Father must share the burdens of the Son's task, the toil and the chafing of the "yoke" of the Incarnation. The double interior knowledge of Father and Son that the disciple was promised in verse 27 is here communicated tangibly by the disciple’s intimate association with the person of Jesus. "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me", Jesus declares: the kind of education intended by the Savior is not based on an abstract doctrine or a certain method to interpret Scripture; it is to be an education of the heart. Its first condition is the assuming of the yoke of obedience that establishes the disciple as suffering servant alongside the Lord’s one Suffering Servant. Only then can the disciple begin to learn.

When two oxen are yoked together, drawing the plough and furrowing the land, they must keep to the same pace, exert a balanced amount of energy, proceed toward the same goal. By sharing patiently in the earthly task of redemption that the Lord of Glory has made his own, the disciple is initiated into living the eternal divine life that belongs to his Master by nature. The goal of redemption is that, through union with the Son, "you may become the sons of your Father" (5:45). "Learn from me" means that the difference between the school of Jesus and all other schools of spirituality is that here the Teacher is the Doctrine. In Jesus there is no separation between theory and practice, between intention and deed, between God and man. He is the incarnate Word, the Father's Doctrine made flesh, to be adored, embraced, and consumed as nourishment. The "school" in which the Lord invites his disciple to be joined to him is the wide field of the world, awaiting the sowing of the Word.

The whole purpose of Jesus’ mission is to communicate the qualities of his nature to as many as will adhere to him in love. In this invitation learn from me Jesus also stresses the necessity for us to contemplate his person and acquire an intimate experience of his life in order to come to know the Being of God. In the Heart of Jesus we discover with amazement that at the center of the Divine Being, and therefore at the very center of Reality, there dwell Gentleness and Humility. Such is the innermost secret of the Creator God and King of the Universe: that at the very Heart of the divine Omnipotence there is at work an infinite tenderness and compassion.

It is no mere paradoxical game to say that in Jesus we witness the coincidence of divine omnipotence with lowly humility and submissiveness of heart. Jesus is not indiscriminately obedient or submissive. He is submissive only to the will of his Father: his very glory consists in proclaiming and enacting the Father's will in the world. Such radically exclusive submission, such unity of purpose in humility and obedience, results in an outpouring (in him and through him) of the power and goodness of the Father. Jesus' lowliness of heart is the unsurpassable empowerment of man. Everlasting love is revealed in him as the wellspring and source of all God's creative energies. After becoming privy through experience to such a revelation, and if our search is sufficiently persevering and profound, we will arrive at the Heart of the World, overflowing with life like an abundant spring. Only here can Life be drunk.

 For my yoke is sweet and my burden light

The concrete manner in which the disciple discovers the nature of God in Jesus is by learning from him how to bear the yoke of the divine will, and this we learn only by bearing it together with him. Jesus' yoke is also chrêstós - "easy to bear". This is because his gentleness, the joy of his company, makes it a pleasure to bear his yoke as Redeemer with him. He is not a ploughing partner who will be dragging us violently and arbitrarily all over the field! He understands the sorrows and burdens that are ours as we strive to please his Father. He understands our shortcomings and weaknesses and stops to rest when we need respite. He compensates for our inabilities and encourages us when we want to go no farther. And he can be "gentle" in this compassionate way because he has not asked us to do anything he is not himself doing already, is not asking us to suffer anything he has not himself already suffered. In fact, it is because Jesus has suffered all things in advance of us that he can communicate to us his own enabling power.

And you will find rest for your souls

Jesus is himself the divine Torah: he is both the Way to what is good and that divine Good itself. If "rest" is the fully realized condition of a thing once it has reached the supreme fulfillment of its nature, then true rest can be found by man only in Jesus. In verse 28, with the verb anapáusô ("I will restore" or "grant rest"), Jesus promises that he himself will confer this rest by relieving us from all undesirable burdens. The present passage portrays the end of this fourfold process: by first coming to Jesus, then assuming his yoke, and finally learning his gentleness through intimate association, we find rest for our souls. The One making the promise and carrying out the action is identical with the result of the action. Jesus brings our souls to repose by bringing us to himself, the eternal Word in whom and for whom we were created. He is both the Fulfiller and the Fulfillment, the Quieter and the Quiet, the Way and the Life. Realizing the depths of this truth after drinking the bitter dregs of worldly experience, St. Augustine opens his Confessions with a cry that reverberates through all ages: "Our heart was made for you, O God, and it cannot rest until it rests in you," …  in your Sacred Heart, Lord Jesus! 

The Sacred Heart, by Odilon Redon. Homily by Father Simeon.




Thursday, June 18, 2020

Just Pray

Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion…There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you ... if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open...You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. ... No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a...divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive... 

We came upon these words by the renowned dancer and choreographer Martha Graham, and oddly enough they spoke to us of prayer. If, as Merton once recommended, to be contemplatives we must forget ourselves and join in the "general dance" of all creation, then Graham's words become somehow a teaching on prayer. As prayers we must forget ourselves and simply fall back into Christ's mercy and pray and beg and trust and entrust ourselves to the groaning of the Holy Spirit of God who speaks on our behalf. Our duty is faithfulness and "showing up" - being attentive to Christ's presence. 

Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Matthew 6

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Breath

…beyond the specific theme of murder, and the ugliness and evils of racism, the universal pandemic of Covid 19 has been a virus that attacks our breathing. We are all…to a greater or lesser extent…walking around fearing that “I can’t breathe” could become our own experience. And for black and Asian communities these themes of racism and the virus of course intersect…we know that “I can’t breathe” resonates in increasingly larger concentric circles in societies worldwide…“I can’t breathe” is the deep underlying unspoken cry of the heart wherever oppression and victimization and inequality are present.

Unspoken until it is spoken. Unspoken until people watch one man, in Minneapolis, having the breath of life choked out of him…in his dying breath (he) speaks the words that ignite recognition in so many others that in his last words he is, unbeknownst to himself, speaking for so many, in so many other situations. He speaks to humanity, he speaks for humanity….breathing is a blessing, it is a gift, it doesn’t belong to us: it passes through us, this breath of life, it makes us humble, it’s what we use to acknowledge our dependence. We can use our breath to bless or to curse, to create or to destroy, to inspire or to deaden.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Lines from an address by Rabbi Howard Cooper.


Monday, June 15, 2020

His Pity

Seeing the crowds, Jesus’ innards trembled with pity for them.

The Jews and the Greeks could not succeed in making pity and compassion into a purely mental act. It sounds archaic, hardly short of embarrassing, to say that "Jesus saw the crowds and felt pity for them in his guts." But, in fact, any translation that omits compassion's element of viscerality has already betrayed the depth of Jesus' divine and human pity. Splanchna, the root of the verb here, means "viscera", "bowels", life-giving "womb", and in Hebrew rachamím means the same thing.

We all know how the strongest emotions—whether sorrow, fear, joy, or desire—are all initially registered in the abdominal region, and this physiological reaction is one of the proofs of the authenticity of our emotions. The same teacher, herald, and healer who surpassed all others in these crafts finally reveals himself in utter silence and inactivity in his deepest nature: the Compassionate One who is affected by suffering more elementally than the sufferers he sees around him.

If Mary's womb was proclaimed blessed for having borne such a Child, we now see in the Son the Mother's most precious quality: wide-wombed compassion. When we allow ourselves to be moved in this way, we are already hopelessly involved with the object of our pity: no possibility here of a distanced display of "charity" that refuses to become tainted by contact with the stench of human misery.

Jesus looks at the crowds, then, and is viscerally moved. What power in the gaze of a Savior who pauses in the midst of his activity in order to take into himself the full, wounded reality about him! Jesus never protects himself against the claims of distress. He is not content with emanating the truth, joy, and healing power that are his: he must become a fellow sufferer. His loving gaze is like an open wound that filters out no sorrow.

He has already done so much for them; but as long as he sees misery, nothing is enough; and so he wonders what else remains to be done. His contemplative sorrow becomes a stimulant to his creative imagination. He nestles all manner of plight within his person, and every human need becomes a churning in his inward parts. He interiorizes the chaos of the surrounding landscape, but, by entering him, it becomes contained, comprehended, embraced and saved.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Corpus Christi - The Feast of the Divine Banquet -

I heard of a poll asking people which are their three favorite text messages. The first one is: “I love you,” the second: “I forgive you,” and the third one is, surprisingly, “Dinner is ready.” These three text messages are a good distillation of the gospel message. Eating together, whether it was an everyday meal or a banquet, was a significant part of Jesus’ ministry and the imagery he used in preaching. He used it over and over again. Think of the wedding banquet at Cana where he turned water into wine; or the parable of the banquet where the poor and the outcast are welcomed; or his continuing choice to eat and drink with those considered sinners and unworthy of his company; and, of course, his final meal with his gathered disciples where he first spoke the words that continue to resound throughout the ages and even comprise the name of today’s Solemnity: “This is my body. This is my blood.”

Today’s gospel from John chapter 6 concludes a passage of Scripture that is filled with food and eating imagery, specifically bread. This chapter started with the feeding of the 5000 and continued on through a discussion over whether Jesus would provide more bread as Moses did in the desert. Then it moved on to Jesus’ claiming that he is ‘the bread of heaven.’ In today’s gospel we reach the climax of this section; here Jesus boldly and explicitly states that, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” What does this mean? It is bold language, and debates have raged throughout Christian history over what these words really mean and how to understand them. Now remember, the context of today’s section is a synagogue instruction in Capernaum. The verses immediately following today’s reading say: “After hearing his words, many of his disciples remarked, ‘This sort of talk is hard to endure! How can anyone take it seriously? Many of his disciples broke away and would not remain in his company any longer.’” You could say that the rage began early on. There’s no need to get into the details of debates that ensued throughout history on what Jesus really meant. I would rather focus elsewhere on this Feast of the Sacred Banquet.

We have all heard the expression “You are what you eat.” And I think this is part of what Jesus was trying to communicate to his disciples then and to us today. Once again, I want to refer to Saint Augustine’s incomparable words on this mystery. I keep coming across translations of his words that nuance things differently. “If you receive the Eucharist well, you are what you eat…As you come to communion, you hear the words ‘The Body of Christ’ and you answer ‘Amen’. Be, therefore, members of Christ that your ‘Amen’ may be true…Be what you see. Receive what you already are.” Augustine is saying that when we receive the Bread and Wine, we take into ourselves the very life of Christ. Jesus is telling us that we are to eat and drink of him and his life will then be part of ours, and our life will be part of his. Each time we receive the Eucharist, we grow in this shared life. And there is nothing abstract about the reality of this shared life. Jesus’ stark and vivid language is a reminder that Christian life isn’t just about concepts and ideas and interesting (or not so interesting) debates. Jesus didn’t say: “Think about this.” “Look at this.” And surely, he didn’t say, “Argue about this.” He simply said, “Eat this. Drink this.”

There is no way of completely comprehending or understanding the mystery of the Sacred Banquet that we share. But hopefully we can grow and mature, however incrementally, in our appreciation of the reality and our need for the Eucharist. Our hunger, our very neediness is the pre-requisite for growing in appreciation of this tremendous gift Jesus left us. As we approach the altar table this morning, we can reflect on what it is we are hungry for. Saint Ignatius of Antioch referred to the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality.” We are mortal human beings and yet we hunger for immortality. That’s what we are made for. We are created to be divinized. “Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood has eternal life.”

As we are fed at this Banquet of Divine Life, we are commanded to go out from here to feed others; to be for others the real flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. What an astounding and challenging reality. As a help in remembering this, I will end with the text message with which I began. Let us receive this text message personally as coming from Jesus: “You are loved. You are forgiven. Dinner is ready.”
Photographs of Corpus Christ procession in the Abbey cloister by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Abbot Damian's homily for today's Solemnity.


Saturday, June 13, 2020

His Forgiveness

We could say that God's forgiveness means a divine forgetfulness. He sees our sins with clarity and wipes them away and "forgets" them, he does not remember them. This is what “as far as the East is from the West” means. His justice is his mercy. He spends 24/7 forgiving and mercying. This is all about the immeasurability of his mercy. God can’t help himself, he won’t stop forgiving. This is not too-easy grace, me doing what I want because God will always forgive me, but bitter self-knowledge and the admission of my sinfulness always. Indeed, we are sinners through and through, and his delight is mercying us endlessly. Our job is endless gratitude and humility, going low in order to drink in his mercy like grateful sponges.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, June 12, 2020

In Prayer

In the mystical language about prayer there’s a lot of talk about alternation, as if God is hiding from us, going and coming, all of that. But in truth there’s really no way for us to get away from him, God in Christ hasn’t gone anywhere, which isn’t to say he’s intrusive, far from it. But he is the One who is always knocking, always waiting for us to wake up to the reality of his nearness. We are made to live with this kind of relentless loving expectation, for "a person in love is always awake." This is the secret of holiness, the secret of contemplation we’re made for. It’s not too high-falutin; we are meant to be mystics, called to incessant prayer, which Augustine tells us is living in incessant desire for God, incessant awareness of our hunger and need for him. 

Our prayer is ultimately about powerlessness, for the mystery of God’s presence is constantly revealed even as it is hidden. So, 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. This is 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 the waiting often seems so passive and so much of our praying may seem unrewarding and flat. The danger is that we will believe that nothing is happening. Don’t be fooled. The Divine Thief is always at the door, ready to sneak in. 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. 
Photograph by Brother Brian.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Too Much

Perhaps you know the story of the boy from Italy who comes to America with his father; they are going to live with relatives in New York City. They are very poor; the father has scraped together just enough to buy two tickets for passage on an ocean liner. The bit of money that is left is just enough to buy a giant wheel of cheese and a few loaves of bread. This will be their food for the entire trip. Then one day the little boy, precocious as he is, wanders around the ship and discovers a grand dining room. Plates full of food, so many people. He spots a family from his village. He runs to them and learns the amazing truth. Then he races back to his teeny cabin. "Papa," he says. "We can eat as much as we want; it's free, e gratuito; it comes with the ticket."
It comes with the ticket. God wants to regale us. "God is to be enjoyed," says St. Augustine. A banquet is prepared; Jesus is the banquet. But maybe too often we lower our heads and come with bowls that are much too small. We don't want to be greedy, or risk being disappointed, or seem too desperate. But Jesus wants to fill us with an infinity of compassion and mercy, fill us with himself. If only we knew the gift of God.
Pope Benedict has called this the "law of excess or superfluity;" the too-muchness of God. And it runs through the whole of salvation history and reaches its perfection in Christ. This superfluity is perfectly expressed in his signs and words, in his passion, dying and resurrection; it is he who reveals this boundlessness and immeasurability of God's love and compassion. Extravagant abundance announces the day of salvation in Christ. 
Photograph by Brother Brian of a festive bouquet by the altar in the Abbey church.