Friday, December 30, 2011

A Brother's Passing

Last week in the midst of our preparations for the great Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity, we paused to celebrate the funeral of our Brother Leo.

The procession through the Abbey cemetery.

Brother Amadeus assisted by Brother Francis prepares the body of our deceased Brother for internment.

Saturday, December 24, 2011


In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God. In the fullness of time, in our time God spoke to us a Word most tender, Jesus our Lord. Jesus reveals all that God could say. Christ Jesus enfleshes the love God has for us, the love that pours itself out constantly. In Christ God loses himself in self-forgetful love. God Most High becomes God most low, emptying Himself in quiet into the womb of the Virgin Mary, becoming who we are, hidden now in our midst. This is God’s dream of intimacy with us. In stillness the Lord comes to take Mary's flesh, our flesh. As in the Eucharist he comes small and defenseless. Awe-filled adoration is our fitting response.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Come to save us!

In these last Advent days we chant the "O Antiphons" at Vespers, begging the presence of Christ using seven different titles. We often use nicknames for those who are dear to us. So it is fitting that we chant Jesus' "nicknames," titles that recall who he is for us: Wisdom, Lord, Flower, Key, Radiant Dawn, King and finally Emmanuel, the name that means God is with us. Always surrounding us, within us, closer to us than we know, Jesus our Lord longs for our presence even as long for him.

photograph of stone Madonna by Brother Jonah

Sunday, December 18, 2011


The Lord’s approach is so often unremarkable, so quiet that we need to keep watch, that is the essence of our life as monks. For we are always learning God's way of doing things, how he moves in silence and obscurity. Hidden first of all in the warm womb of a very young, virgin mother; he then lives a hidden small town life as a carpenter and wandering preacher. Then in the excruciating hour of his death on the cross, all his beauty and divinity will be obscured by the blood and spittle of his passion. And even after his resurrection he will sneak in quietly through locked doors and whisper to his disciples, “Peace.”

The Lord is disguising himself in our ordinariness over and over, hidden in mystery. But rest assured it is our love and desire that give us clear vision. Love is knowledge and assurance, because if we want to be with him, see him; he wants it more than we do.

Truly God in Christ is hidden and yet revealing himself over and over, doing anything at all to get our attention; “playing in ten thousand places,” in nature and grace all day long. We must keep watch, willing to be surprised at every corner of the cloister, as St. Bernard would say, because angels will be there reminding us, as one did our Blessed Lady, that Someone is here. Someone is coming. Someone wants to take our flesh. Someone we love has seen our sad predicament and is coming down to be with us now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Am I Not Here?

Today we remember Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of our Land. Each year on this day we set up a special shrine in the transept of our church with her image adorned by flowers and two candles that are illumined throughout the day. She is our Mother and our Refuge in all tribulation. We are greatly consoled by her words to Saint Juan Diego in 1531:

Do listen, do be assured of it, my littlest one, that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For am I not here, I, your mother? Are you not in the cool of my shadow? In the breeziness of my shade? Is it not I that am your source of contentment? Are you not cradled in my mantle, cuddled in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Like A Garden

Here is the Abbey's cloister garth in early summer- a secret garden surrounded by the four cloisters. This garden enclosed is a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her beauty and fragrance set apart for Christ alone, a place where He could nestle and grow. On this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception we celebrate her chosenness. We rejoice in the Virgin Mary's privilege, for she reveals the breadth of our human capacity for God, the breathtaking beauty of our availability to all that God wants to accomplish in us.

A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. Song of Songs 4

Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Today the Church celebrates Saint Nicholas remembered through the ages for his generosity to the poor. We just came upon the following words of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero which we imagine the Bishop Saint Nicholas might have appreciated.

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God — for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.

Artwork by Elisabeth Jvanovsky

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Today we remember Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first companions of Saint Ignatius Loyola. They always remained close friends and exchanged letters while Francis Xavier was on mission in the Far East and Ignatius stayed in Rome. One letter from Ignatius to Francis Xavier concludes poignantly, "I shall never forget you. Entirely your own, Ignatius.” Imagine the deep friendship between these two saints. We hear an echo of the words of our own Cistercian Father, Saint Ælred of Rievaulx, “God is friendship.” Indeed it is through the love of those we love, that we may learn what God is like.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Early Advent Days

In the unseasonable warmth and brightness of these early Advent days, we are reminded of Him for whom we wait- the Dawn from on High, Jesus, the Sun of Justice.

This photograph of the Abbey lavabo tower by Brother Casimir.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Come, Lord Jesus

Tonight at First Vespers in the fading light of eventide, we will begin our Advent watch. In these darkest days of the year, the shortest days, we will light the first Advent candle and recall the Lord's endless desire to come to us. We will recall our desperate need for Him, our only Hope and Deepest Desire. And so we will try to make more room for Christ in these Advent days, a place in our hearts, in our community where Hope can grow and flourish, as He did in the secret darkness of Mary's womb.

Overshadow us, come down O Love divine, and invade our space, fill our lonely hearts with your more than imaginable benignness and tenderness and compassion. Fill us with yourself; for left to ourselves, we may believe our hearts too small, too lonely, too afraid and forgotten to be able to hold you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving Thanks

Focusing on gratitude we lifts our hearts this day. Amazed like Mary at the marvels the Lord has done for us- in little ways, in great ways, through joys and difficulties- we are filled with wonder. As Fr. Abbot reminded us in his homily this morning, there is no entitlement. All is gift- God's gracious desire to care for us with "love beyond all telling." The Lord is always, always with us, accompanying us as we accompany one another on the pathways of the Kingdom. Our wonder at God's gifts fills us with gratitude. Wonder and gratitude move us into deeper contemplative love.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Christ as King

Jesus always speaks of and embodies a different kind of power- that of service, self-forgetfulness and honesty, a strength that comes from deep trust in His Father. Jesus invites us into this same place of deep trust and freedom. His dominion has nothing to do with pushing others out of the way so that he can be number one and have control. He enters Jerusalem meek, riding on an ass. And He will receive the only crown we could manage to offer him- one woven out of cruel thorns. And so we may call Him king, if we understand that He has turned the whole idea of power and majesty absolutely upside-down, inside-out, for His power is made perfect in littleness and weakness.

Someone very gentle and loving is trying to lead us forward in hope; Someone who leads by falling down, being spat upon, shoved and tortured. Not to teach us how to be doormats; that is not what His kingdom is about. It is about refusing to fight evil with evil, about absorbing hurt because of hope and trust in One who is at our side, even within us; and witnessing to the reality that pain and fear and suffering are powerless to define who we truly are. They are simply not our destiny. We belong to Christ Jesus our Master, our King.

Jesus holds us in love, empowering us to go forward in courage and faith because nothing can really harm us; we belong to Him. The worse may happen, truth be told, it already has, and in Christ we are the victors, because He has made us a kingdom of priests, and kings. Baptized into the resurrected, victorious Christ we are of His royal, kingly line.

Includes some insights from James Alison. Photograph by Brother Daniel of Renaissance glass fragment in an Abbey window.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


In a photograph taken by Brother Jonah, Brothers Terence and Philippe share a joyful moment in the sacristy just before the entrance procession on a solemn feastday.

Those who humbly choose what is folly in the eyes of the world clearly contemplate the wisdom of God himself. What could be more foolish in the eyes of the world than to abandon one's possessions... to return no wrong for the wrongs one has suffered? By virtue of this wise folly, one catches a glimpse of God's wisdom in the light of contemplation. Saint Gregory the Great

To do the Father's will was aways Jesus' desire and his delight, and so "for the sake of the joy which lay before him he endured the cross, heedless of its shame." We seek to follow Him in faith and joy and self-forgetfulness as we live an ordinary and hidden life in the solitude of the cloister.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Passing beauty

A few stray blossoms remain on tattered plants in our gardens. We notice their fragility and passing beauty. This morning the words of the author of the Book of Wisdom in the First Reading at Mass reminded us to leap ahead from beauty to Beauty: far more excellent is the Lord than these;
for the original source of beauty fashioned them.
For from the greatness and the beauty of created things
their original author, by analogy, is seen.

As one poet remarked when regarding the beauty of a wildflower, "I knew the beauty of Our Lord by it."

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Holy Souls

The month of November is dedicated to special prayer for the faithful departed. 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. The Abbot reminded us as we began the Liturgy that we pray for the dead because we "need to." For the departed "life is changed, not ended;" they have 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.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


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.

Friday, October 28, 2011

In Simplicity & Ordinariness

Like members of any family the monks share the household chores that keep the monastery running smoothly. Here Brother Simeon and Father Timothy clean the monastic refectory.

The quietness of mind cultivated by silence is also the fruit of purity and simplicity of heart. For this reason the monk, in a spirit of joyful penitence, is to embrace willingly those means practised in the Order: work, the hidden life and voluntary poverty, together with vigils and fasting.

from The Constitutions of the Monks

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Late October

Subtle color. Transitions perhaps too easy to overlook.
God's finger in nuances.

This portfolio of autumn images by Brother Casimir.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Autumn After Irene

This Fall is different. We are told that the torrential rains and gale-force winds of Hurricane Irene played havoc with the way that the leaves normally change color. Many of the sugar maples that are usually so vibrant simply lost brown leaves. Hurricane Irene was brutal. Many tree limbs were broken; the Abbey's library basement flooded, and we watched volumes of Plato and Merton floating by side by side. And now we are experiencing the last of Irene's meddling. Nonetheless a fine range of subdued but lovely golds and a few patches of deep red are noteworthy. It just takes a bit more effort to notice.

Above a photo of Lac Marie on the Abbey property.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Abbey Chapter House

At Spencer, as all through the ages, great care was taken that the monastic buildings would be beautiful, to reflect the glory of God and draw the monk heavenward. The harmonious disposition of spaces was meant to express Saint Benedict’s vision of a harmonious community as presented in his Rule. And indeed for us Cistercians this would mean in addition a certain austerity and visual sobriety expressed in unadorned interior spaces and non-figurative grisaille glass. Great attention was given to proportion and the effects of light on bare walls. Our Cistercian forebears believed the monastery should be a cloistered paradise- where the monk could regain the innocence of Adam and Eve in Eden before the Fall.

All great architecture has its antecedents. The barn at Great Coxwell in Oxfordshire, England located on one of the Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu’s most significant granges, is dated to the late 13th or early 14th century. It seems to have been the inspiration for Spencer’s church and chapter house. The exterior with pitched roof extending down to low side walls is certainly reminiscent. And our chapter house’s open timbering on the interior seems to echo the interior of the Great Coxwell barn.

The Great Coxwell Barn

Friday, October 7, 2011

Our Lady of the Rosary

This morning as we concluded Lauds the window of Our Lady was blazing in the glow of the sunrise; Mary illumined by the Radiant Dawn, the Sun of Justice, who is Jesus her Son. Baptized into Christ Jesus our lives are meant to glow with His presence. The mysteries of the Holy Rosary- joyful, sorrowful, glorious and luminous- are the mysteries of our own lives. As we pray the Rosary we beg Our Lady to draw us closer to Him who is Our Light.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Gentle Francis

We are told that Saint Francis decreed that his friars must not have pockets in their habits. How he wanted them to be poor with the poor Christ! How to depend on Jesus alone for all we need? How to cling to Him, a Treasure always ready to hand and heart?

Detail of Saint Francis Of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata by Giambattista Tiepolo.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


We are always consoled by these words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux:

If you are willing to bear in peace the trial of not being pleased with yourself, you will be offering the Lord Jesus a home in your heart. It is true you will suffer, for you will feel like a stranger in your own house. But do not fear, for the poorer you are, the more Christ will love you.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

With the Angels

Each day during the Divine Office and especially during Holy Mass we join our praise with that of the angels- Michael


and all angels in their unending chorus of adoration.

Saint Michael, Piero della Francesca, 1469; The Annunciation, Duccio, 1311; Archangel Raphael with Tobias, Pietro Vanucci, c. 496-1500.

Friday, September 23, 2011

At the General Chapter

Dom Damian our Father Abbot is away in Italy for the General Chapter of the entire Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance. The abbesses and abbots of our Order from around the world gather every three years to discuss the state of the Order and to hear about each other's monastery. As our Constitutions state:

They discuss there the salvation of their own souls and of those committed to them. They take measures regarding the observance of the Holy Rule and of the Order where there is something that needs to be corrected or added. They foster anew among themselves the benefit of peace and charity. They devote themselves to maintaining the patrimony of the Order and safeguarding and increasing its unity.

When Father Abbot returns the one-page reports that each community of Order prepared for the Chapter decribing their monastery will be read to us during the noon meal.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Resuming Cowls

The characteristic Cistercian habit is the white cowl which is given to the monk at his solemn profession. It is a sign of his consecration and of the unity of the whole Order. As he blesses the cowl during the rite of solemn profession the abbot prays to the Lord Jesus, "May its ample folds be for our brother a daily reminder of the freedom which he received in baptism. May its form of a cross remind him of the life he is to lead in following you, and may he be clothed entirely in your unutterable mercy."

The cowl is worn by the solemnly professed monks; the cloak is worn by novices and simply professed brothers. In the warmer months we do not wear cowls or cloaks in church. But as mornings get chillier, we await the prior's announcement which appeared on the community bulletin board last evening: "Resume Cowls and Cloaks for Vigils, Lauds and Mass."

Friday, September 16, 2011

Meditating on the Passion

In the liturgical celebrations of this past week, we honored the triumphant Cross of Christ and Our Lady's Sorrows. Somehow it is the Church's intuition that these aspects of Good Friday deserve our special attention and remembrance. The Cross is key to our freedom in Christ, our release from the clutches of sin and death forever. We need no longer be afraid. Standing with Our Lady by her suffering Son, we are in solidarity with all the suffering members of his wounded Body. We remain there meditating in sorrow but also in hope. Jesus now risen from the dead has turned our mourning into gladness. We promise to be hope for one another in him.

Christ Crowned with Thorns and the Mourning Virgin (Ecce Homo), detail
Adriaen Isenbrant, Netherlandish, active by 1510, died 1551
Oil on canvas, transferred from wood
41 1/2 x 36 1/2 in., ca. 1530-40
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Used with permission

Monday, September 12, 2011

Our Tribute

In addition to prayers of intercession and a special tolling of the Abbey bells after communion during yesterday's Mass, our tribute for 9/11 included an arrangement of small candles in the sanctuary. Their flickering was like soft prayers.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


As we remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001, the readings at today's Eucharist remind us that Jesus calls us to keep on forgiving as we have been forgiven. But we may feel that our hearts are too small, the hurt too big, the horror, the sadness all too much, almost incomprehensible. Forgiving may seem impossible one time let alone the zillions of times Jesus asks of us.

Perhaps our helplessness is the key. We are right; we simply cannot do it on our own. Forgiving seventy times seven times is impossible for us on our own. The invitation is to realize over and over again how powerless we are without Christ Jesus our Lord. We must depend on him. Our hearts are too small, we need his heart, the heart of God. Then the little we bring will become a banquet of forgiveness. Poverty joined to deep faith brings abundance. Mary experienced it, Jesus knew it on the cross. That’s how things work in the Kingdom. Jesus uses what we bring, meager as it is, to make the Kingdom happen; nothing is too little for him to use. He has forgiven and freed me. Finding the treasure means I do as Jesus does, or I try to. I go to him; I hide in him, in his heart.

Forgiving does not mean that nothing has happened, too much has happened to each and everyone one of us. Hidden in Christ, baptized into him, we dare to believe in the possibility of forgiveness. And indeed forgiveness takes time; perhaps it does not happen all at once or once and for all. It may begin with a desire to forgive, or even a desire to desire to forgive. I let myself be forgiven, and I learn to forgive. Forgiving is a work of love that must be rehearsed, repeated, seventy times seven times.

Christ Jesus calls us into the unfathomableness of God’s love for us. Loved so much, forgiven by God so much and so often, we must go and do likewise, consoling with the same consolation we have received, forgiving as best we can or at least beginning to. Forgiveness, even the longing to forgive makes a future of freedom and hope and love possible.

Peace to all men of evil will! Let there be an end to all revenge, to all demands for punishment and retribution. There are already too many martyrs...Lay not their sufferings to the torturers’ charge to exact a terrible reckoning from them, Lord. Instead put down in favor of all men of evil will the courage, humility, dignity, love and spiritual strength of the others. Let it be laid before Thee for the forgiveness of sins. And may we remain in your enemies’ memories not as their victims; not as haunting specters but as helpers...there is nothing more we want for them.

From a note scrawled on a piece of worn paper and tucked between the cracks in two old boards, found in a shed in the concentration camp at Buchenwald.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Settings

The American Bishops have agreed to permit the gradual implementation of musical settings of the Order of Mass from the new Roman Missal beginning in September 2011 to “give time for communities to learn the various parts of the new translation in a timely fashion and an even pace.” And so we gathered this morning in the Abbey church under the direction of our Fr. Gabriel to learn eight new settings of the Holy, Holy, Holy and the acclamations at the Mystery of Faith (Memorial Acclamations). In October we will learn new settings of the Glory to God. We are blest to have Fr. Gabriel in our midst. He is an expert in Gregorian chant performance, and he himself composed many of these new settings in chant mode. This is an opportunity for us monks to deepen our "understanding of the Sacred Liturgy, and to appreciate its meaning and importance in our lives."

Photographs of Abbey grisaille glass by Brother Daniel. Quotations from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

His Body

Your hand holds up the world
and the universe rests in your love.
Your life-giving body is the heart of your Church;
your sacred blood protects the Bride.

Supplication to God by Cyrillonas, Syrian, 4th century.

Corpus from a Crucifix
Italian, Doccia, ca. 1745-50
Hard paste porcelain, h. 25 3/8" (67 cm)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Used with permission.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Liturgy

Liturgy is our life and our joy. Seven times a day we gather to pray the Hours. And for the celebration of the Eucharist on solemnities there is much preparation. All we do is worth our effort. It is our business to spend our time and energy in the work of praise.

The spiritual character of the community is especially evident in the celebration of the liturgy. The liturgy strengthens and increases both the inner sense of the monastic vocation and communion among the brothers. Each day in the liturgy God's Word is heard. A sacrifice of praise is offered to God the Father, there is a sharing in the mystery of Christ and the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification is accomplished. The changing seasons of the liturgical year have great power to nourish and enrich the contemplative life of the brothers.

from the Constitutions