Saturday, April 10, 2021

To the Queen of Heaven

 

During Eastertide our recitation of the Angelus at dawn, noon, and before retiring is replaced by the recitation of the Regina C┼ôli as the Abbey bells are tolled:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.

For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.

Has risen, as He said, alleluia.

Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

Spring has come to our area of New England, and violets will begin blooming on the edges of sidewalks and hedges all around the monastery. The low-growing violet is a symbol of humility. And our Father, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, described the Virgin Mary as the "violet of humility." In paintings, the violet was also used to denote the humility of Christ in assuming our humanity. The violets we see remind us of the Virgin Mary and her Son, risen from the dead.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Emmaus

When Jesus engages the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, before they relate to him their version of the events of the past few days, they stop, looking downcast. They are sad because they had a set of expectations that were not met. It is true, Jesus did not meet their expectations; he infinitely surpassed them. How often we are the cause of our own sadness and spiritual listlessness because we cling to our own narrow, inner-worldly perspective, while all the while Jesus waits patiently to bestow on us the eyes of faith that will explode our world open and welcome us into his joy.  

The Supper at Emmaus, 1601, Michelangelo Merisi da CaravaggioNational Gallery, London. Reflection by Father Timothy.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Praise

 

“O blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead.” It is fitting for us to turn to our holy mother the Church to put into words and give voice to the awe-filled mystery of this holy night. She has been drawn into the bridal chamber of her beloved, and she alone can tell us something of the wonders of his love.

It must start with praise of our unseen Father, our creator, who made the world precisely so that we would have so great a redeemer! Indeed, how wonderful is his care for us! How boundless his merciful love! To ransom a slave, he gave away his Son, not only to the womb of the Virgin but to the hands of sinners and to the nether world of oblivion so that allowing him to become like us in all things, he might become a merciful high priest on our behalf.

Her praise must continue with praise of the Lamb whose blood of the covenant consecrates the lips and homes of all believers. This is Jesus Christ, the true Lamb who was slain, who like Jacob, has risen up and rolled away the stone from the deep well of his tomb to wash his beloved Rachel, that is, the Church, with the nuptial bath of regeneration. How long and how hard he labored to win her for himself. It cost him his life, his honor, his blood! What else is there for his bride to do but to weep for joy – cleansed of guilt, restored to lost innocence, freed from all defilement – she knows and has found him whom her soul loves.

Finally, her praise must include that most holy Spirit who alone could make her worthy to sing these Easter praises. Her bridegroom was raised by the glory of the Father. The Spirit is this glory, the outpouring of praise of the Father for his beloved Son and of the Son for his all-powerful Father who has not let his beloved know decay. It is the Spirit who weds not only heaven and earth but the lowly bride, our Mother the Church, to her crucified and risen Lord. The Spirit is the flame undivided, the pillar of fire that is the glory of God. Never will this light be dimmed but will continue to burn in the hearts of believers until the Morning Star, who came back from the dead, draws us to the throne of grace where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever!

Dom Vincent's homily for the Easter Vigil.

Easter Sunday

 

We are always struck by the serenity and deep quiet of this fresco by Piero della Francesca. The atmosphere seems clear, crisp; and the landscape communicates the transformation that Jesus' rising has accomplished - to his left all is barren, at his right all the trees are in full leaf. 

The guards doze oblivious, as a majestic young Christ steps confidently out of his marble sepulcher. His voluminous mantle is rosy pink - the color of dawn's first brightening, the color of spring blossoms, the color of healthy young flesh. His hair swept back, blood trickling from his wounded side, Jesus is depicted by Piero as an athletic, victorious warrior just back from his battle with all the powers of sin and death. His divinity and humanity are perfectly merged. Jesus carries a furling banderole of victory and pauses to gaze at us. "It is really I; do not be afraid. Sin and death no longer have any power over you."

Resurrection,  Piero della Francesca, fresco, c. 1460, San Sepulcro, Italy.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Holy Saturday

 

What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still, because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled. Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son. The Lord goes into them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit.’ And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light. ‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep: Rise. ‘I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise. Let us go hence; for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

In the stillness of Holy Saturday, we await all that Christ's Resurrection will bring - Life, Immortality, boundless Hope, everlasting Beauty.


Lines from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday

Friday, April 2, 2021

Good Friday

Our Lord Jesus has been drawing us deeper and deeper into the great mystery of his mercy during this Triduum. And today he emphasizes a theme that will become dominant after Easter: Do not be afraid! Today the Letter to the Hebrews invites us to approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. Jesus wants to strengthen our confidence. He is not only a high priest who can sympathize with our weakness, but he has the commission to draw us to the Father with confidence to receive his mercy. That is our Father’s great delight. I’d like to look at two examples of confidence and boldness, one from the Old Testament and one from the New, to get a sense of how God draws us to himself so that he can bestow his great mercy.

The first example is Queen Esther. You remember that she and the Jewish people were in mortal danger because of the wicked Haman, who had convinced the king that the Jews were a threat to his reign. Queen Esther was filled with dread, but because of her faith in the God of Israel, she spent the night in prayer, clothed in sackcloth and ashes. It was her prayer of faith that gave her boldness to go to the king, that is, to approach his throne uninvited, something that could be punishable by death. But Esther’s boldness was rewarded. Though her heart was shrunk with fear at the time, she became an early model of confidence that would reach fruition in the New Testament.

But there is another example of someone approaching the throne of grace that I think is apropos for us today. It is Our Lady. What trust she must have had in God to stand firm near the cross of her Son. While she herself deserved every kind of sympathy, she approached what must have seemed the most unlikely throne of grace to receive mercy and grace for the Church about to be born. She held in her heart the compassion she saw in her Son. That is what happens when we are drawn to the Lord: we become compassionate like him. In fact, we begin to share in his priestly offering on behalf of all.

May the Lord draw us to the throne of grace today. He has opened the way to it by allowing his side to be pierced. Now he waits for us to express our confidence by entering in through the veil of his flesh.

Entombment by Titian in the Prado Museum, detail. Dom Vincent's homily for Good Friday.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Holy Thursday

            Last Sunday I mentioned the words of Our Lord, “And when I am lifted up, I will draw everyone to myself.” Today we see another moment in his being lifted up and drawing us to himself. He gives us a memorial before the fact of his Passover to the Father which will take place the next day. He lifts up the cup of his blood to seal his solemn covenant with us. It is a covenant in which he shares his life of communion with his Father and his Spirit, but also draws us into his mission of casting out the ruler of the world. He gives us everything in this covenant and expects us to do the same.

            This new covenant is in continuity with the covenants of Old. People have always expressed their mutual bonds through covenantal agreements - covenants of mutual help, of brotherhood, of friendship, and especially of marriage. Every covenant has mutual benefits and mutual obligations for the two parties. Today’s first reading pointed to the most important covenant in the Old Testament: God binds himself to free his people from slavery and bring them to the promised land, but they must follow Moses unwaveringly and avoid the worship of pagan gods. He is faithful to his side of the agreement by having the destroying angel pass over the houses where the lamb’s blood had been applied. But on the other hand, there are consequences of rejecting the terms of the covenant: when the people grow impatient and worship the golden calf, the tribe of Levi joins with Moses to slay their own brothers, friends, and neighbors who broke the covenant. This is a rather stark example, but it shows how serious God takes his covenants. But we should have no doubt that the covenant which Jesus has established is no less momentous. He has committed himself to free us from the greater slavery of sin and cast out the ruler of this world. The zeal of Moses and the Levites was nothing when compared with Jesus’ zeal in his battle for the truth against the Father of Lies.

            But we might ask: what is the benefit which Jesus will gain by taking on this covenant in his blood? Only this: that his Father’s plan of salvation be fulfilled, that the Father receive ever greater glory, and that we share in his communion with the Father, which for us is eternal life in the Spirit. For this, he will consecrate himself in truth that we also may be consecrated in truth. And what does Jesus ask and expect from us? Two things: that we love one another and wash one another’s feet, as he did; and that we remember his covenant daily by taking up the cup of salvation, that is, the cup of his blood in the Eucharist, the sacrament of his gift of self even unto death.

            One other thing came to my mind as I thought about what Jesus expects of us. He has blessed us with the grace of our charism as Cistercian monks. He foresaw this grace before time began as perfectly suited to who we are with the mission the Father had prepared for us. In our profession of monastic vows, we committed ourselves to a total gift of self, sealed in the blood of his covenant. And he drew us into the hidden yet unfathomable grace of the Cistercian conversatio: intimate communion with the Blessed Trinity; union in his hidden and intercessory prayer to the Father; union in his mission to save the world by casting out the ruler of this world. We are privileged participants in a unique but humble covenant for the salvation of the world.

            Brothers, Our Lord is drawing us deeper into this covenant of his blood. He loves us and has chosen us to follow in his footsteps. May he draw us in the fragrance of his holiness.

Detail of bronze crucifix by Michelangelo. Dom Vincent's homily for today's Eucharist.