Saturday, September 26, 2020

Always With Us


In blue-green air & water 

God you have come back for us, 

to our fiberglass boat.

You have come back for us, & I’m afraid.

(But you never left.)

Great sadness at harms.

But nothing that comes now, after,

can be like before.

Even when the icebergs are gone, 

and the millions of suns 

have burnt themselves out of your arms,

your arms of burnt air,

you are with us, 

whoever we are then.

Lines from the poem, Icebergs, Ilulissat, by Jean Valentine.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Lectio Divina

Cultivating mindfulness of God throughout the day is the goal of each monk. Our Constitutions tell us: 

Careful lectio divina greatly strengthens the brothers' faith in God. This excellent monastic practice, by which God's Word is heard and pondered, is a source of prayer and a school of contemplation, where the monk speaks heart to heart with God. For this reason, the brothers are to devote a fitting amount of time each day to such reading....In a spirit of compunction and intense desire, monks devote themselves frequently to prayer. While dwelling on earth, their minds are occupied with heavenly things, desiring eternal life with all spiritual longing.

Photographs by Father Emmanuel & Brother Brian.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Intimates


The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him 
but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers 
are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Luke 8

Certainly Jesus is not insulting his Mother or his cousins in today's Gospel. Indeed Mary's attentiveness to God's invitation at the Annunciation is the essence of her divine maternity and the enfleshment of the Word. She it is who first of all heard the word of God and acted upon it. In and through her, God is truly with us. In today's Gospel Jesus assures all attentive believers that they are truly members of his own family, members of the household of God. As we treasure the Word, treasure his words to us, we are intimates of the the Son of Mary.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Go Into My Vineyard

This morning we have from Jesus yet another parable on the kingdom. In it we have a landowner who goes out at various times during the day to contract workers to work in his vineyard. The first group he hires at the first hour of the day after agreeing with them for the usual daily wage. The last group he hires toward the end of the day and they work only an hour. At the end of the day each of the groups receive their pay beginning with the last. When the first group sees that the last group receives the usual daily wage, they assume they will receive more. However, to their consternation, their pay is the same, the usual daily wage. 

Those who were hired at the first hour grumbled against the landowner because to their mind he had violated the just order. The landowner takes one of the complainers aside and reminds him of the terms of the contract they had agreed upon, the usual daily wage. Therefore, the landowner had not done anything wrong but justly and honestly fulfilled the contract. He is in no way obligated to pay him more than they had agreed upon. The issue then is whether or not it was just to pay the workers hired at the end of the day the same pay as the first. For me the most straightforward and satisfying response I found was in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, which said that he was “free to [pay them the full daily wage] but he was not obligated to do it.” Justice requires that those hired at the eleventh hour “are owed wages commensurate with their work, which means they were only owed a small fraction of the usual payment. But justice is not violated if the landowner, having met his contractual obligations, chooses to be generous with some who are undeserving of more money than that.”

The parable clearly highlights God’s extravagant divine generosity and cautions us against envy. Envy, as we remember, is different from jealousy. When we are jealous, we desire to attain or possess what another person has. Envy is the sin of being upset at another’s good fortune. We can find ourselves falling into envy on the material level, at another person’s wealth, possessions, job, successes, but it is particularly troubling when it strikes us on the level of spiritual gifts. The brother, in whose gifts I ought to rejoice and thank God, first of all for his own sake, but also because his gifts not only do not take anything away from me but actually benefit me, is perceived by me as a threat. We wind up disturbed interiorly and setting ourselves against God and our neighbor.

How do we avoid envy and get out of its throes once we’ve fallen into its grasp? We are led out by the same thing that triggered it, that is, the divine justice and goodness. So that is what I’d like to focus on this morning, God’s justice and extravagant goodness.

Like we just saw in the parable, there is in an inner worldly or creaturely justice or righteousness that God respects. It belongs to the order of his creation, even in its fallen condition. On the other hand, as good and just in himself, God infinitely transcends our notions of what is good and just. We only know what they are just as we only know him because he has sent his only Son to make him known. As John says in his prologue: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (Joh 1:18 RSV)

When Jesus speaks of his Father, as he does in this passage, he always speaks out of his own experience.  If Jesus speaks of God as at one and same time sovereignly and freely righteous and the source of extravagant superabundant unmerited grace, this is because this is the God he knows.

To explore this a bit, I’d like to leave the world of Matthew to immerse ourselves in the world of John, at the point where we find Jesus at prayer among his disciples at the end of the Farewell Discourses, just before they are about to depart, and Jesus is betrayed, the disciples flee, and the passion begins.

Towards the very end of the prayer, Jesus prays, “O Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you; and these know that you have sent me. I have made known them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Right here, when his hour has arrived, when the commission he and his Father have agreed upon from all eternity is about to reach its fulfillment in the Cross, he addresses his Father as righteous. The Hebrew word behind this word signifies ‘right conduct in faithfulness’. Both Father and Son will go forward to the Cross exercising right conduct in faithfulness. They are true to another, trust one another completely; each faithfully follows through on their arranged plan to bring the world back to God through the Cross and resurrection. A closely related term signifies ‘right which comes into effect as salvation’, and often occurs in contexts of care for the poor and oppressed. According to Gerhard von Rad, it contains a sense of urgency, it expresses the right which must at all costs be put into force on earth, the right that also has the power with God to have its way. In their mutual love, the Father and the Son have bound themselves to one another to bring about this righteousness on earth despite all human resistance and obstacles. Here is the obedience that Jesus must live at its most demanding and unyielding. In our parable, God’s righteousness convicts envy and defends his right to dispense his grace as he sees fit.

We can fill out this righteousness if we add another term which Jesus uses frequently in this prayer -  ‘glory’. Jesus willingly undergoes this obedient self-surrender to the way of the Cross so that he may glorify the Father, that is, honor the Father and make him known. “Father, he prays, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” In this we see the whole of the motivation of Jesus’ existence, which is to seek only the glory of the Father, which takes the form of carrying out the mission, the commandment or commission the Father has entrusted to him. Totally renouncing his own will, all acting in own power, all speaking in his own authority, for Jesus, everything is ordered around making the Father known. For the sake of the Father’s glory he has become poor. And from this poverty he makes the humble request to the Father to glorify him.

On his side, the Father has put all of his authority and power behind glorifying the Son, honoring him and making him known. Here, in the unreserved self-emptying love of the whole of the godhead poured out on him without measure, we find Jesus’ experience of the Father’s freely given superabundant grace which he then bestows on his creatures.

When we turn from the book of the experience of Jesus to the book of our own experience, we see a great and unbreachable chasm arise between them and may cry out like St. Bernard and St. Paul, “O God, who is like you!” Having gazed upon the justice and glory of trinitarian love we call out for God’s mercy and are filled with hope. For this radiant love is not something they have held on to for themselves but has been handed on to the Church through the Spirit, that through the gift of the Spirit we may become one spirit with them. Just as the Father and the Son have glorified one another by establishing the divine righteousness on earth in the whole of creation, so do they wish to glorify one another now by rooting out all evil from our souls, each striving to make of ourselves a pure gift to the other, from Son to Father and from Father to Son, whole and fully restored.

It is from this position of humble self-awareness within the vision of God’s goodness that the folly of a vice like envy becomes apparent. How foolish to alienate ourselves from God and our neighbor on account of the gifts God has given to another. Forgetting ourselves, we can begin the walk back with God toward union with him and our brother. We know, and above all God knows, that this is a process. Freedom does not come in an instant.  The thing is, to be open to receive God’s offer of his mercy, and to take up his commandment to love one another as he has loved us, to be prepared to bend down and wash our brother’s feet, and to undergo the Cross on his behalf. We may still find ourselves victims of envy and other vices, but they weaken their hold on us, because our attention is elsewhere, someone else has a hold on us, someone else who has already conquered our sin and drawn us into his life.  

Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Timothy.  

How to Say Yes

We’ve all heard of the “terrible twos” And probably you can remember a child you knew, a nephew or niece when at around two years old they learned the power of no. “No.” It's embarrassing to admit, but I don't think I ever outgrew the grip of that no. I think my terrible twos morphed into the terrible twenties, forties and now worst of all now the terrible sixties. Deep inside there’s a repeating sound bite that often goes off automatically when I’m asked to do something. It goes like this: “Not yet. When I’m good and ready. I’ll think about it. Maybe. I’ll see.” Or simply, “No, I won’t.” Or “No one’s gonna tell me what to do.”

This morning that hauntingly beautiful phrase from St. Paul cuts through all the babble: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (That is the more literal translation of “attitude” in today's second reading.) Have Jesus’ beautiful mind in you. Beautiful to ponder, but seemingly impossible. Perhaps we feel too sharply the reproach of our reality, our own no. Too often I have grumbled, too quickly said, “No,” out of fear, because of what I may have to lose, what hardship may be involved or simply because I’ll to do it my way. After all, where might my yes lead?

And so, today’s Gospel may seem to be a great allowance, perhaps we're off the hook. After all, if the notorious sinners can get into the Kingdom, certainly there’s a crack in the doorway for me, right? Like the first son, I’m willing to change my mind, perhaps not in a hurry, but eventually. The two groups of people whom Jesus presents as examples for us this morning were among the most despised members of Jewish society. Tax collectors took money from Jews for an alien power, and prostitutes sold their favors most often to Roman soldiers. But even the tax collectors and prostitutes, despised for their collaboration with the Romans, are admirable because of their openness the message of Jesus and his cousin John.* Jesus praises the readiness of these outsiders to change their minds and hearts - they’re broken enough, they know they're outcasts and sinners. They have no illusions about themselves and so are open to Jesus' invitation to reform. They know they’re a mess, they know it all too well. They’ve got nothing to lose; they’ve lost it all already. So, what am I afraid to lose?

Jesus tells there were two sons, neither have the ideal response, but one had the good sense to step up. And most importantly the Liturgy this morning offers us the reality of a third Son -Jesus, the Son who was always yes. “For in him every one of God’s promises is a yes.” And only through him we can say our yes to all God wants for us. Again we hear that hauntingly beautiful phrase: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The beautiful mind of Jesus. There is one thing on his mind, filling his mind- love, which is self-forgetful, gives itself away. Love makes Jesus defenseless, he will do anything at all for the Father who loves him, and so for all of us- those whom the Father has given to him.

And in the freedom of his self-emptying love even unto the cross, Jesus becomes utterly powerless, a slave, obedient unto death. Love makes Jesus’ yes unqualified, instinctive. (We remember a candidate a few years ago. He had donated a kidney to his dad; it saved his life. I said to him, “What a beautiful thing you did.” Without missing a beat, he responded, “Father, how could I not do it? It was a no-brainer.”) Automatic. A no-brainer. Love triumphs over fear, second thoughts. And so it with Jesus. He lowers himself. And his cross becomes the marriage bed where he can give over everything for his bride - all of us. Bleeding, broken to pieces on the cross, there we see the beauty and breadth of Jesus’ unqualified yes to all that the Father asks of him. He could dare to do so because he knows himself beloved Son.

Perhaps we might imagine all the things Jesus could have spoken from the cross but did not: “This is so unfair. I feel so misunderstood. How could you have done this to me?” And so, on Good Friday we put the Reproaches on his lips: “My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me. I gave you manna, I gave you water in the desert...” Perhaps we need to hear these words, so that we can plumb the horror of his passion. But Jesus will have none of it. He says only that he is thirsty, he forgives his torturers, gives us his mother, promises Paradise to a brigand, cries out to his Father in desperation, and finally gives over his spirit willingly on our behalf.

He never ever reproaches us. Instead he empties himself. God in Christ gives himself away to death and so reverses everything, trampling down death by death. Death is foiled. Our freedom is assured. Love triumphs. The beautiful mind of Christ triumphs over the primordial no of death, the no of our resistant matter, the no of our flesh that fears and cringes. We need not fear any longer the defenselessness of love. Nothing will be taken from us; in fact, everything is given to us in Christ. We have only to be faithful to our greatest discipline as monks: to believe ourselves God’s beloved ones, even as we know the shabby possibilities of our broken, wounded selves. This deep knowledge alone can change everything. Then we too can empty ourselves in self-forgetful love.

God has fallen madly in love with what he created. Jesus the most obedient Son has come down to the vineyard of our humanity; our flesh is God’s flesh forever. Christ Jesus is God’s never-ending yes to us. Our yes to God, no matter how late, or reluctant or fainthearted is only possible for us through Christ Jesus. And at this altar the mind of Christ dreams of a way to enable us always to have his mind, even his heart always within us - he gives us his own Body and Blood as food and drink, medicine and lasting presence.

*Daniel Harrington.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Reflection by one of the monks. 

 

Friday, September 18, 2020

Geese and Monks

Signaling the end of the summer, great flocks of Canadian geese have returned to rest and and feed in the Abbey fields on their way south. We are told that since early Roman times, geese have been used in literature and art as symbols of vigilance and divine providence. An ancient legend recounts that geese on the Capitoline hill honked their warning and saved Rome from the invasion of the Gauls. As we keep watch in vigils and prayer, the geese are our September companions.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Both And

In the Ratio one of the important documents of our Order, we read that "a humble docility born of faith, hope and love" will make the newcomer to the monastery "instinctively open to both the solitary and communal dimensions of Cistercian life." Indeed, our life is one of alternation and rhythm - a life of social warmth and interchange and deep interiority. Seeking God in all things, in this life entirely devoted to contemplation means that whatever we do, wherever we are, we are available to the overtures of Christ Jesus, to his drawing near and seeking refuge in our wounded hearts.



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Her Accompaniment

 

At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.

If ever you have silently accompanied someone you loved as they lay sick and dying, and had to trust that your quiet presence alone would somehow suffice, then you understand the power and beauty of Mary's presence with Jesus our Lord in his agony and death. Loving presence means everything. 

As he died on the cross, Jesus gave us his Mother to be our Mother as well. Now and always she lovingly accompanies us in all that we suffer.

Weeping Madonna (detail), Dieric Bouts. Netherlandish,  ca. 1415 – 1475.

Monday, September 14, 2020

On This Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

 

In Christ we never have to look back with regret, pining with melancholy to recapture what we have lost, or sorrowfully longing to undo what cannot now be undone.  In Christ, nothing that is truly precious in the entire experience of our lives will ever be lost to us.  Everything good and love-worthy and dear to us from every minute of our whole life’s experience is safely stored in the Heart of Christ for us to encounter and enjoy again in God’s good time. Alive in Christ, living his own life by his gracious Mercy, every day we can, if we want, again become “like newborn babes”, wholly enjoying the present moment offered us (that and that only, for only that is real), wholly occupied with drinking milk from the breasts of Christ’s consolation and sharing that milk with every other thirsty person we know.

Do you think for a moment that he, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, is ignorant of the endless deaths that continually gnaw away at our hearts, souls and bodies?  Don’t you think he knows far better than we do what those deaths are all about and what needs to be done to leave them behind?  Christ, in fact,  knows intimately our impulse toward decay, because once he too truly drank the bitterness of his and our common mortality, drank it down to the dregs, so that it is your and my specific death that he triumphed over, and not merely some abstract idea of death.  The wounds in his body swiftly banish all such abstraction.  The one thing that a follower of Jesus can be sure of is that he or she will never be alone, because in the act of following at least two are always involved.  So, if we follow him into his death, he will lead us out of it into his life.

Plaque with the Crucifixion, Monvaerni, 15th century, Limoges, France, Painted enamel on copper, 
9 7/16 x 8 7/8 x 1/16 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.  
Meditation by Father Simeon.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

To Forgive

Jesus’ parable this morning begs reflection on two subjects, which I can assure you, I am ill-equipped to speak about – finances and forgiveness. 

To understand today’s parable, we really have to do the math. The sum the debtor owes the king, blandly translated for us as “a huge amount,” is in the original Greek an astounding 10,000 talents. A single talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. A whole day’s work was required to earn just one measly denarius.1 So, 6,000 denarii or one talent amounts to at least 20 years of work. To repay the 10,000 talents in the story, the servant would have to work for about 200,000 years! It is this impossible debt that is forgiven by the compassionate master in today’s Gospel. It is absurd for the servant to say that he will “pay back everything.” As a day laborer, he had no hope of ever repaying such a debt.2 It’s ridiculous. 

And we can well imagine the astonishment of the crowd as Jesus told his story. What is he talking about? This is craziness. It doesn’t make any sense. Well, that’s kind of the point – it makes no sense at all, it’s way beyond good sense; it’s all about grace, God’s great goodness, its extravagance and the excess of his unrelenting tenderness and mercy,3 which are far beyond our understanding. The parable is a set-up. The preposterous amount of the forgiven debt clearly points to the incomprehensibility of God’s mercy.

“Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan,” says the Gospel. The word for this compassion is the Greek word, splanchnizomai (splank-níz-omai); it means literally to be moved so deeply by something that you feel it in the pit of your stomach, in your gut. It’s the same expression Matthew will use to describe Jesus’ feelings as he looks upon the weary crowds; his heart torn open in compassion - their pain becomes his pain. In “the seventy times seven times” Jesus is calling us to have a compassionate heart like his own, a heart like God’s heart. He wants us to be like God. We may think this is way beyond our capacity, apparently Jesus does not.

It doesn’t take a degree in moral theology to figure out how that thickheaded servant in the parable went wrong. Forgiven so lavishly, he comes away not humbled and grateful but suddenly entitled. Unwilling to forgive a debt only a fraction of the size of the one he owed, he grabs his coworker and chokes him demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’” It’s embarrassing to hear. He’s oblivious and unmindful. 

In the kingdom that Jesus is trying to bring about, it’s never about what others owe me; it’s all about noticing with awe and gratitude all I have received. For “nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or even remotely compare with all we have been given and forgiven, for we have been forgiven a debt beyond all paying.”And as God delights to forgive and unburden, we are invited to go and do likewise over and over again.

Still Jesus is not telling us this parable to guilt us or scare into forgiving – you know, forgive or there’ll hell to pay, a future of torment and the grinding of teeth. Instead, the parable invites us to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and the pure gift of who God longs to be for us. Today’s parable invites us to wonder, wonder at a foolish God who has fallen in love with what he created, the God who waits for us and even while we are still a long way off, is filled with compassion and rushes after us, throws his arms around us, kisses us and forgives our constant squandering. This morning’s parable is best of all a call to mindfulness of all we have received. Only such mindfulness can truly break our hearts open - in gratitude, in praise, with a desire to forgive those who have hurt us as we ourselves have been forgiven.

With a memory like a bear trap, that stores up the hurts and slights I have received like a great buried treasure, this certainly does not make easy sense to me. How can I do it? You fool, of course you can’t. And again, that’s probably the point – it makes no sense for us on our own. It is impossible for us, but not for God. It is our friendship with the poor Christ that can transform us, as we seek more and more to be like the one we love. Only he can wean me away from my tendency to nurse a grudge or withhold compassion. It is not in our own “power not to feel or to forget an offense.”5 Only mindfulness of the gift and the giver can transform our hearts, so that injury may become compassion and the memory may be healed so that the hurt can turn into forgiveness and even prayer for those have offended us.

It is Christ Jesus himself who is the kiss and the rush of the Father’s compassion toward us. Patiently, passionately, compassionately over and over again, he forgives and gives himself for us. In the Eucharist we will share, he gives us his whole self, body, blood, soul and divinity, his very guts, even his compassionate heart. And we become more and more what we consume, the Love that consumes us.


1 Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 239.

2 See Philip Massey in The Chimes of Biola University.

3 Lohfink.

 4 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew.

 5 See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843.

 Reflection on today's Gospel by one of the monks.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Silent Prayer


The return each day to silent prayer...means to face the discomfort of silence. There can be a strong temptation to give up prayer or to find some activity in silent prayer to counter frustration. A more superficial prayer can be adopted which discards the effort of listening in silence to God. One might opt, for instance, to spend time in prayer simply reading. In that case the dryness and distraction may lift to a degree because they are less noticed. This may seem to restore relations with God. It would be a poor exchange, however, a step backward. The soul would forfeit a grace it was beginning to taste of a deeper thirst for God. The thirst of the soul for God is stronger in the desert. It is easy, nonetheless, to run for the shade.

Lines from Contemplative Provocations by Fr. Donald Haggerty.

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Our Lady's Birthday

Your birth, O Virgin Mother of God, 
proclaims joy to the world, 
for from you arose the glorious
Sun of Justice, Christ the Lord.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Self-Accusation


Why is it so difficult for us to offer correction or to receive it? In his homily this morning Father Isaac quoted Saint Dorotheus, the sixth century abbot of Gaza, who gives us the following insights:

All in all, then, no one is disturbed or troubled if he scorns and disregards what is said. But on the other hand, it is also possible for someone to be disturbed and troubled by his brother’s words, either because he is not in a good frame of mind, or because he hates his brother. There are a great number of other reasons as well.

Yet the reason for all disturbance, if we look to its roots, its that no one finds fault with himself. This is the reason why we become angry and upset, why we sometimes have no peace in our soul. We should not be surprised, since holy men have taught us that there is no other path to peace but this.

We see that this is true in so many other people; and yet we hope, in our laziness and desire for peace, we hope or even believe that we are on the right path even when we are irritated by everything and cannot bear to accept any blame ourselves.

This is the way things are. However many virtues a man may have – they could be innumerable, they could be infinite – if he has left the path of self-accusation he will never have peace: he will be afflicted by others or he will be an affliction to them, and all his efforts will be wasted.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Our Diminishment

 …mystical union begins with an ordinary level of zeal for the doing of God’s will…We grow not by acquisition of arcane skills but by the diminishment of self by relativizing its demands and transcending its vision. The monastery does not help us by providing us with brilliant insights and new horizons. The institution’s contribution is…to undermine the tyranny of self; it is God who creates what is new. When we say that contemplation is a gift, we mean precisely that. It cannot be acquired or merited by ourselves or communicated to us by others. Contemplation comes by virtue of our being absorbed within the Paschal Mystery. Lines by Michael Casey

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Loved Sinners

In this morning's Gospel Peter states, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." No doubt these words are his spontaneous response to the the miraculous catch of fish, and in time these words will gradually sink in. But the full import of his self-understanding as sinner will hit him with full force only when Jesus looks at him in the courtyard of the High Priest's house. Then come the bitter tears, and gradually Peter comes to understand what love there is in Jesus' willingness to forgive his great betrayal. More and more Peter realizes that it is precisely as a sinner that he can trust in the love of the One who said, "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners." It was only in falling so low, that Peter could believe in such love.

The Gospel is not about greater than life-sized heroes. It is about broken men, whose being chosen is unpredictable and unmerited, men so well exemplified by Peter. Indeed each of our vocations is not intended to turn our lives into striving for some unattainable goal of personal perfection, but rather to proclaiming Christ's message by our example of love and service. And so we can make our own those words of Saint Paul, "I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle..But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective." We too are what we are- sinners; but God's grace has not been ineffective in us, nor will it ever be.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, late 17th - early 18th century, Nicholas Dorigny , 1658 – 1746, etching and engraving on paper after a tapestry cartoon by Raphael, 1483 - 1520, Victoria and Albert Museum. Text excerpted from  a homily by Father Gabriel.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

God's Handiwork


 Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. - Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

Pope Francis has designated September 1st as the commemoration - World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. In his encyclical Laudato Si’ he states: “The life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature, but lived in communion with all worldly realities. The ecological crisis, is a summons to a profound spiritual conversion and to a way of life that clearly shows that we are believers. It is a time to reaffirm our personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all thy creatures. - Saint Francis of Assisi, Hymn of the Creatures

Monday, August 31, 2020

Our Experience

And as we experience suffering and divisions in our Church, our country and our world, we recall Saint Paul's admonition to the Philippians: "...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

We pray with confidence; we live in hope.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Our Willingness


“To come after me you must deny yourself, and take up your cross.” It is always sobering to hear these words of Jesus.

But we know the great beauty of the gift he first gave us - the gift of his very Self - which has drawn us beyond ourselves. We are willing to lose ourselves, for we have found in his love the very reason for our being itself.

Our promise to follow him inevitably entails an availability, a surrender, a willingness to suffer and die with him.

Jesus wants all that we are. And he deeply desires to give all of himself away to us. Let us open to him.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

As John is Beheaded

 The Beheading of John the Baptist, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam), Etching and drypoint

We have the normal bodily response, which is fight or flight, fear and anger. But another style of response emerges from our souls. From that core piece of ourselves that doesn’t have any shape, size, color or weight, but gives us infinite value and dignity. And this response is an aesthetic response. It’s the one that causes us to hunger for beauty, to be called by beauty to partake in beauty, to pay attention to compassionate actions, to sacrifice for a neighbor, to keep a neighbor safe.

These actions and these acts of beauty, like the Sermon on the Mount, like the Lincoln Second Inaugural often involve flipping the script, upending values. On one level, these acts of beauty and pure gift and loving care are radically illogical. They are vulnerability in the face of danger. They are gentleness in the midst of bitterness. They are compassion in the midst of strife, but these are the acts that have the power to shock. These are the acts that have the power to open hearts. These are the acts that have a power to shock a revolution in our culture and in our consciousness.

We don’t get to choose our condition. We do get to choose our response. And even in the bitterness of this hard time, I’ve seen individual acts and collective acts of giving and change and facing hard truths and uncomfortable conversations that are a little sparks of beauty in what has all been rocky and dark.

We are grateful for the witness of courageous women and men throughout the history of our Church, our nation and our world.

The Beheading of John the Baptist, Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam, etching and drypoint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Lines by David Brooks.


Friday, August 28, 2020

With Saint Augustine and Saint Bernard

"Your desire is your prayer; and if your desire is without ceasing, your prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer." Saint Augustine

The Lord always wants to stir up our desire for him, and perhaps most of all to stir up our confidence in his desire to share all that he is, all that he has with us. Our confidence in his desire is so essential. The God who is at once totally available and at the same time altogether beyond our reach draws us into the mystery that he is; draws us into himself. For God in Christ is always moving toward us. "His desire gives rise to yours," says Saint Bernard, "and if you are eager to receive him, it is he who is rushing to enter your heart; for he first loved us, not we him." Jesus enfleshes this towardness of God -  going out of himself, rushing toward us as he seeks to captivates us with the “spell of his love and his desire.”Dionysius the Aeropagite

Imagine then the awesome daring of our prayer - we hope, we believe that we can be intimate with the living God - we have built our lives around this. And we know that this desire, this reaching out toward God, is possible only because of God’s desire in the first place. Best of all God’s most tender desire for communion with us has taken flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. Jesus is God’s desire for us coming toward us moment by moment across the depths of otherness. Jesus is the Bridge, our Bridge to the Father. And to have the gumption to pray at all we must, like Peter walking across the water, allow our foolish overreaching desire to trump the imbalance of reality - our puny humanity vs. his sublime divinity. What prudence would surely caution against, we do when we dare to pray. And it is awesome to say the least.

Jesus' desire for communion with us teaches us confidence, fiducia for Saint Bernard. For within our very bones, our guts, planted there by the invisible, unfathomable, living God is our capacity, our natural need and longing for God, indeed, for an intimacy and union that is our rightful possession. We are built for it, built for Jesus, Jesus whose name means  “God saves, God frees." In Christ Jesus God is constantly giving us himself, his very life, “that life that flows in abundance from his pierced side, from his empty tomb."Olivier Clément If indeed God in Christ is constantly coming toward us, constant in his desire for us, how shall we respond?


Thursday, August 27, 2020

Belonging

My being is present in others as guilt or grace. We are not just ourselves; or more correctly, we are ourselves - with others and through others.

Truly we belong to each other and understand ourselves in communion, in community, in connectedness.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Eschatolgy by Joseph Ratzinger.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Enough

As monks we have come to realize more and more that God alone is enough for us; and so we have surrendered our lives and fixed our gaze upon the Lord, retreating into the cell of our heart in the solitude of the cloister and fraternal life in community. In this way, we seek to become more and more an image of Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines adapted from Pope Francis' Apostolic Constitution: Vultum Dei Quaerere.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020