Sunday, November 22, 2020

With Our King

If you were ever the new kid on the block, in the classroom, on the team, and remember how you just wanted to fit in... Or if you ever loved from afar and dreamed of being with a person who seemed too good, too beyond you and your clumsy efforts, and can remember how you just wanted to be close and somehow you just did not know how to do it... Or if ever you were all alone, far from home and had to eat in a restaurant by yourself at a teeny table and longed for family, someone familiar, a friend, the warmth of home and table, then perhaps you get a glimpse of what God is trying to do in the Incarnation. It as if for ages God had been trying to get closer, longing for intimacy with each of us, longing to be ordinary and hidden in our midst. Finally in Christ Jesus, God's desire for intimacy with humankind takes flesh. In Jesus God gives Everything, indeed His very Self. 

God always makes the first move toward us in love. “Love consists in this, not that we have loved God, but that God has loved us and sent us his Son.” God so loves us, that He is always, constantly, very gently trying to get our attention. Monastic silence is only possible if we believe that we are so deeply loved and sought after by God. We need to feel safe to be silent. And anyone who has been in love knows that there are times in a loving relationship when words are unnecessary or would even inappropriate. Love makes silence possible, appropriate, meaningful, and secure. Silence depends on love and leads to love. Once again in the silence that love engenders, we are invited once again by Christ our Lord and Master and King to notice His divine presence in the least,  the lowest, and the last.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Presentation of Mary

 
An ancient tradition holds that Mary was presented in the Temple of Jerusalem as a little girl. And so today the Church celebrates Mary as Ark of the Covenant and House of Gold, the dwelling place of God Most High who chose her chaste body as his nesting place.

At this morning's Mass, we heard the Gospel reading in which a woman from the crowd listening to Jesus is so taken with him that she cries out, "Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed."  Jesus responds, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep  it.” Jesus tells us that we are like his mother when we hold on to the words he speaks to us and ponder them in our hearts. Then like Mary, we can become Christ-bearers.

The Child Mary Asleep, Francisco de Zurbaran, 1630-1635, oil on canvas,  Galerie Canesso, Lugano.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

To His Side

Today we remember Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn, a 13th century Cistercian nun from the convent of Helfta. Even in her lifetime Mechtilde was renowned for her humility, fervor and gentleness. Her prayer was marked by the great familiarity and intensity with which she lived her relationship with Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

It was said of Mechtilde that, "the words of the Gospel were a marvelous nourishment for her and in her heart stirred feelings of such sweetness that, because of her enthusiasm, she was often unable to finish reading it.” In one of her visions, Jesus opened the wound in his heart and said to her, "Consider the immensity of my love: if you want to know it well, nowhere will you find it more clearly expressed than in the Gospel. No one has ever heard expressed stronger or more tender sentiments than these, ‘As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.’ 

In another vision Jesus showed Mechtilde his heart and after receiving such 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.

Insights from an address of Pope Benedict XVI and from Scholars and Mystics by Sister Mary Jeremy, OP.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Eternal Rest


Lord Jesus, please have mercy on the souls of your servants!

Once a month during Ordinary Time, we celebrate the Office and Mass of the Dead, praying for our deceased brethren, relatives, friends, and benefactors. And so once again on this very chilly, autumn morning, it was our duty and privilege to pray these prayers.
 
In his Rule, Saint Benedict admonishes the monks, "keep death daily before your eyes." The Abbey cemetery is located outside the south cloister and provides a fitting memento mori. As we pass through this cloister, back and forth all day long, we can look out at the crosses marking our brothers' resting places. They are still with us. Death is not fearsome but part of our monastic rhythm,  a gateway to deeper intimacy with Christ Jesus who died and rose for love of us.

Requiem aeternam, Domine, dona eis.

Monday, November 16, 2020

With Saint Gertrude

 

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, your Heart is a glowing furnace of love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary. O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which yours is inflamed. Pour down upon my soul those graces which flow from your love. Let my heart be united with yours. Let my will be conformed to yours in all things. May your will be the rule of all my desires and actions.

These are words of Saint Gertrude the Great, a Cistercian nun of the thirteenth century, whom we remember today.  Her ardor inspires us to follow Christ more fervently, even with every fiber of our being.

O God, you are my God. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. Psalm 62

Andrea del Verrocchio, Christ and Saint Thomas, bronze, 1483, Orsanmichele, Florence.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Today's gospel


The Lord God Most High has lavished blessings upon us. Even given us His very Body and Blood  - this greatest Gift of all. Do I celebrate the love I have received, ready to share this Abundance with all in need? Or have I buried the Gift, hidden the great treasure of God's overflowing mercy and lovingkindness?

Photograph by Brother Daniel.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Hope

We face adversity as we look ahead to the remaining weeks of 2020. We are so often disheartened by the divisions in our nation and our Church. And we are distressed by ongoing inequities based on race, ethnicity, and national origin.  We have seen the dangerous impact of climate change in floods and fires.  We are concerned about our sisters and brothers who have lost jobs and homes. We are frightened and distressed by the grim statistics of a surging pandemic – so much suffering, so many deaths.  The tensions in the air have impacted us all even in the cloister.  We try to continue in patience and charity.  And we praise and thank God for the self-sacrifice of so many healthcare workers and people of goodwill everywhere. 

May we all be attentive to the unexpected graces that God will bestow on us during these trying times. As we look ahead, let us be mindful that with vaccines and therapeutics progressing, there’s every reason to hope. On this Saturday of Our Lady, we entrust our cares to her motherly protection.

Drawing by Leonardo. Message adapted from a text by Joseph O'Keefe, SJ.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Pray Always

During those nights of faith, the one who prays is never alone. Jesus, in fact, is not only a witness and teacher of prayer; He is more. He welcomes us in His prayer so that we might pray in Him and through Him. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, the Gospel invites us to pray to the Father in Jesus’ name. Saint John provides these words of the Lord: “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” And the Catechism explains that “the certitude that our petitions will be heard is founded on the prayer of Jesus.” It gives the wings that the human person’s prayer has always desired to possess. Without Jesus, our prayer risks being reduced to human effort destined most of the time to failure. But He has taken on Himself every cry, every groan, every jubilation, every supplication, every human prayer. 

From an etching by Margaret Walters, (1924 - 1971). Recent words of Pope Francis on prayer.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Saint Martin of Tours

In this two-tiered manuscript painting of The Legend of Saint Martin, the story begins on the bottom level. There the Roman soldier Martin cuts his military cloak in half to share it with a shivering beggar. The upper tier shows Martin asleep, his dream illustrated in a semicircle above him, in which Jesus appears wearing the very cloak that Martin has shared. The Lord thanks Martin for his generosity. Our Lord's message is clear, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." We want to notice the needy one in our midst; Christ Jesus assures us that He is the Needy One.

Here at the Abbey, we have been enjoying November days of unseasonable warmth. This is referred to as Saint Martin's Summer, so named because of the legend, that the Lord made the weather warmer after Martin shared his cloak so that neither he nor the beggar would suffer from the chill. 

St. Albans Psalter, English, early 12th century, Dombibliothek Hildesheim, Germany

Monday, November 9, 2020

On This Feast of the Dedication of the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome

This morning with upturned tables, coins scattered and animals scrambling, Jesus points to the true meaning of the temple: it is never ever a place for business, but his Father’s own house, the sacred meeting place of God and his people. And so, Jesus is anxious to clear out what does not belong there. Above the din, they ask him, “What right have you to do this?” Jesus’ right is the right of Truth. His answer: “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.” We can imagine the indignation his interruption of the temple business along with his talk of destruction engendered. Small wonder that this scene in today’s Gospel is viewed by most scholars as the act that precipitates the decision of the authorities to kill Jesus. Still, it is important to remember that Jesus does not “condemn the temple cult; he intervenes because he truly understands and loves it” (Schneiders).

It is at this point in the narrative that we hear that most beautiful phrase, whispered to us by the Evangelist as a kind of mystical aside. “He was speaking of the temple of his body.” The temple of his Body. The temple that will be destroyed and raised up is not the temple of stone but the temple of Jesus’ own body. Jesus is the new gift of God that replaces the former. He knows this in his heart. The temple, the sanctuary, is no longer a place, but a person. Jesus declares himself now and forever the meeting place between God and his people, the place where God’s desire for us and our desire for God merge.

Jesus restores the meaning of temple as a sacred place of wonder and worship; the sanctuary where we may encounter God’s mercy. Jesus himself is God’s Lamb who will be slain once and for all. His self-offering in its bitterness and pain, in its immeasurable mercy and compassion, will fulfill all that the temple liturgy aspired to. Truly, Jesus’ sacrifice will reinvigorate the meaning of all liturgy. For the liturgy is always, always first of all God’s service of us. This is the true meaning of worship: our celebrating with gratitude and praise all that God in Christ is doing for us. It is not about us, our service of God, but God’s astonishingly humble service of us in Christ. Jesus as physician, healer, and messenger of the new covenant comes to serve us, to heal and feed and console us. It is his risen and wounded body that is our sanctuary.

“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up,” says Jesus. He’s referring to his Hour, the Hour of his passion, death, and resurrection. For it is most of all in this Hour that he will truly become the place where we can encounter the most tender, self-emptying love and service of the Father for all creation. For when Jesus’ body, his heart, is gashed open and shattered by the horror of the passion, it becomes that wonderful leaky temple of Ezekiel’s vision in the First Reading, life-giving waters flowing from his wounded body, recreating the beauty of Paradise. For in his Hour death dies, for Jesus’ Hour includes his final lifting up, the resurrection accomplished by the Father’s love.

God is love. Love never ends. Love is never ugly. And God’s love is always creating beauty in place of brokenness. Jesus’ self-emptying love ultimately belongs to the phenomenon of beauty, because through his passion the beauty of God reveals the promise it contains (Von Balthasar). For devout Jews, the temple was revered as a most sacred place of great beauty. Now it is truly Jesus who is for us this most beautiful temple, our sanctuary, our place of prayer.

All of our praying takes place in him always, in his heart; for we can only pray in him, through him. We can only pray at all because he prays first, begging the Father incessantly on our behalf. And each time we step into a church, we enter Christ’s wounded heart, the sanctuary that he is for us. In our praying through him, in him, we are becoming more and more with him a most beautiful, leaky temple, a life-giving flood of mercy gushing from our woundedness as well. This transcendent beauty of the wounded resurrected Jesus is what we reveal as individuals, as a monastic community, and as Church. It is not ever neat, well-sealed, air-tight, and efficient but a temple that leaks, leaks a lot because it’s full of holes and cracks and wounds that need mercy and overflow with mercy.

We are his most beautiful body. He is our broken wounded Self, forever risen and pierced. 

Manuscript painting of the Crucifixion.Belgium, possibly Tournai, ca. 1440. The Morgan Library, New York.

 

Sunday, November 8, 2020

A Wedding

Every culture has its own way of celebrating a wedding. The features of the wedding feast in this morning’s Gospel are basically true to the customs of first-century Palestine, in which the wedding took place in two stages. The betrothal was held at the home of the father of the bride. The bride would then remain in her father’s house for a year or more until the second step of the ceremony was complete, which was the transfer of the bride to the home of her husband. The setting of this morning’s parable is the return of the groom from the house of the bride’s father with his bride. Now, at the bride’s house, the bridegroom had to complete the negotiations of the marriage contract with the bride’s father—a dispute regarding the terms would have been fairly normal, and this could have been the implied cause of his late return home. When all was finally settled, a procession of the wedding party to the house of the groom would signal the commencement of the wedding feast.

So, who are these 10 young maidens featured in the parable? They are probably relatives or friends of the groom who, with lamps in hand, set out from the groom’s household to meet the return of the bridegroom with his bride. Matthew’s particular touch here is to set up a contrast between five foolish and five wise maidens, and their separation just at the critical moment in the story, the wedding feast. This is a familiar theme in Matthew, which appears also in his parables about the weeds and the wheat, the dragnet, and the sheep and the goats.

But there is one detail I’ve always found disturbing, perplexing: why are the maidens who have extra oil so heartless toward those who have none? Weren’t these women friends or relatives?  How does this fit with Jesus’ command to love one another? Is a cruel trick for the wise ones to send the foolish to the merchants, who surely would not be open at midnight? Another puzzling detail: when the 5 foolish ones arrive late to the wedding feast, why does the groom not recognize them when they probably belonged to his household?

So, what is going on here? I believe the key lies in how we understand what the lamps and the oil symbolize. I remember a reading at Vigils a few months ago commenting on this Gospel in which the author understood the oil as “good deeds.” That would explain why the five wise virgins cannot “share” their oil with the five foolish virgins. Such an interpretation is reminiscent of Matthew’s conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus tells the disciples that they are the “light” of the world. Matthew concludes that passage by explicitly equating light with good deeds that are visible to others and that lead to praise of God.

A somewhat different interpretation is offered by the Dominican scripture scholar Barbara Reid, who suggests that “the lamps and the oil in this parable can be understood more generally as the steps that disciples need to take in order to be ready for the eschatological moment. With echoes of Matthew 7, where the wise are those who hear and act on Jesus’ words, so the wise virgins of this parable are those who have faithfully prepared for the end-time by hearing and acting on God’s word as spoken and lived by Jesus. Matthew tells us that when the end-time comes those who are righteous will ‘shine like the sun.’” Again, righteousness isn’t something that can be “borrowed” from someone else any more than good deeds can be. Perhaps it is only realistic, not unkind, to tell the foolish maidens that they will have to get their own oil . . . .

At midnight a loud cry heralds the arrival of the Bridegroom, and the summons is issued to meet the Coming One. Matthew’s church most likely understood the parable as an allegory of the Second Coming of Christ, the heavenly bridegroom. In the parable, the bridegroom’s sudden coming represents the imminent but unpredictable arrival of the Parousia. And, as in so many of Matthew’s parables, the eschatological moment is decisive. It is a matter of being “ready or not.” Barbara Reid explains: “There is no further time for preparation, there are no last chances. There are those who are ready and those who are not. Those who are prepared go into the wedding feast with the bridegroom. The five foolish virgins arrive after the door is locked. While in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus had assured his disciples that if they knock the door will be opened to them, the setting of that saying is different from today’s Gospel. Here, the time is past when choices can be made; judgment is at hand.”

“This could be called a “good news / bad news” parable. For the foolish ones, this gospel ends on a very sobering note. They are barred from going into the feast with the bridegroom and the wedding party. They have let themselves be lulled into thinking that there is no hurry; the lamp oil can always be gotten later; or someone else will pick up the slack. The end seems so far off. For the wise ones, however, this is a parable of great jubilation. They have been preparing all along and are ready when the bridegroom comes. They can hardly believe that the time has finally come.”

So, what about us here this morning? Barbara Reid offers a perspective, which I find helpful:

None of us are completely foolish, nor completely wise. We all have some aspect of the foolish within. For example, there has been something I’ve been wanting to change about my lifestyle; or there is someone I’ve been intending to reconcile with; someone to whom I owe an apology; or something I’ve been wanting to seek direction about; something I’ve intended to talk over with God. But I think I’ll get around to it some other time. However, it may be now or never. At the same time, all of us have some aspect of the wise within. All the myriad ways in which wise disciples have been illumining the world, lighting one small candle at a time by the way they hear and live out the Word, coalesce into brilliant torchlight for the banquet. The arrival of the groom, at last, is no surprise, but a joyous relief. The parable invites celebration of our wisdom, even as our foolishness is still being transformed.

I would like to conclude by recalling the basic point of the First Reading taken from the Book of Wisdom, namely, that the effort to be wise does not depend on human striving alone. This is reassuring for the foolish among us: Wisdom is waiting to be found; she is readily perceived and found and known by those who love and seek her. Better yet, those who keep vigil for her are actually being sought out by her as she makes her rounds. This is precisely what St. Bernard taught his monks: “We would never seek God unless he first sought and found us.” I believe that at the last moment before our death, the Bridegroom will reach out, take our lingering foolishness into his own hands, and draw us lovingly into the wedding feast—before any doors are closed.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. This morning's homily by Father Dominic.

 

Saturday, November 7, 2020

At Nazareth

As we celebrate Our Lady on this Saturday, we came upon this image of the home at Nazareth. Jesus works with Joseph and Mary is mending their clothes. Our life today at Saint Joseph's Abbey as at any Cistercian monastery is essentially the continuation and extension of this life led by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph at Nazareth - a hidden life - contemplative, ordinary, obscure and laborious.

Image by Ade Bethune.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Enfolded

Consider a mother caring for her first babe, watching at his cradle, ever mindful of his needs, anxious lest he weep or become ill. The devotion of such a mother cannot match even remotely the constant, minute, tender solicitude of our Lord. If only we had the faith to understand this. Not for one moment does our Lord turn His eyes away from us, nor does His hand cease to guide us; at each instant of our lives His power protects us and His love enfolds us. 

Photograph by Brother Bian of a Pax Instrument in the Abbey archives, hand-painted by Brother Amadeus Peck in the 1950's. The pax was an object used for the Kiss of Peace during Mass. In place of a more direct encounter, each kissed the pax, which was carried around to those present. Text by Servant of God Luis Maria Martinez.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Brother Joseph


On Sunday, November 1 during Chapter, Brother Joseph Paez pronounced his Simple Vows. His brothers promise their support and prayer as he advances in his commitment.


In the photograph below we see the formation group. From left to right: Brother Mikah, junior professed; Father James, Director of Junior Professed; Brother Guerric, postulant; Thomas, observer; Brother Daniel, Submaster of the Novices; Brother Joseph, junior professed and Father Luke, Director of Novices.

Photographs by Brother Brian.



Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Our Poverty


If we find ourselves in a malaise with God we do well to seek the company of a tabernacle. Those who know God more deeply come to know a recurring attraction for him in the Eucharist. They come to know as well their own poverty while praying before the Eucharist. His disguised appearance in the Sacrament lifts the cover of poverty from their own soul. In the presence of his poverty, their own poverty no longer intimidates. They sense intuitively that it draws and even seduces his love.

Poverty may first enter our lives only by accepting our insignificance in the setting in which we live. We ought to observe the workings of divine providence in this regard. Any experience of being left alone, disregarded, forgotten – if it does not isolate the soul and make it retreat inwardly – invites a recognition. Our unimportance to others can combine with a fruitful realization. The more we disappear from the attention of others, the more we are watched by God in a different manner.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Contemplative Provocations, by Father Donald Haggerty.

 

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

On This Day


We pray for a peaceful, just
 
and grace-filled Election Day. We know that God is ultimately the Lord and Master of history. And Christ Jesus our Lord is always inviting us to make things better for each other, and especially to protect those who are most vulnerable. God acts in history, and he will use anything at all to get our attention. He chastises and rescues and intervenes in ways unimaginable when we choose to cooperate with him. 

For the grace of God has appeared, saving all
and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires
and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age,
as we await the blessed hope,
the appearance of the glory of the great God
and of our savior Jesus Christ,
who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness
and to cleanse for himself a people as his own,
eager to do what is good.   Titus 2




Recent photographs by Brother Brian. 

Monday, November 2, 2020

Holy Souls

The month of November is dedicated to special prayer for the faithful departed. And today on All Souls Day, we processed through the cloisters in the predawn darkness. We paused in the south cloister chanting psalms as the Abbot and his assistants went into the cemetery to sprinkle the graves of our deceased brethren with holy water. For the departed "life is changed, not ended;" they have entered the great mystery of Christ's resurrection. As we beg the Lord in prayer to draw all the faithful departed to himself, we remember our love for them and our connectedness with all those who have gone before us in faith. We are one in Him.

With the Saints


Since He loves us first, out of His great tenderness; we are bound to repay Him with love, and we may cherish exultant hope in Him. 'He richly blesses all who call upon Him.' Yet He has no gift for them better than Himself. He gives Himself as prize and reward: He is the refreshment of the holy soul... 'The Lord is good to those who seek Him.' What will He be then to those who gain His presence? But here is a paradox, that no one can seek the Lord who has not already found Him. It is Your will, O God, to be found that You may be sought, to be sought that You may all the more truly be found.
from On Loving God by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux 

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven." Blessed indeed are those who know their need for God. Our desperate need for Mercy is always grace, a very real opportunity to fall backwards into Christ’s compassionate embrace. It is always disconcerting but an exquisite refuge and relief. On this Solemnity of All the Saints, we celebrate the desperation that led them to put everything else aside for the love of Christ.