Friday, June 29, 2012

Peter and Paul

Perhaps Peter and Paul whom we feast today whom we celebrate today would not mind if we noted that neither of them had anything to be proud of- Peter who even as his best friend is being slapped and sentenced insisted to a serving girl in the glow of a charcoal fire that he did not even know who that man was; and self-righteous Paul who dragged the first followers of Jesus from their homes to prison and persecution. Both Peter and Paul find themselves discovered by the Mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who identifies himself as the betrayed one, the persecuted one. They have been empowered by mercy and compassion and forgiveness. We celebrate two men desperately in need of transformation, a transformation that happens in their encounters with their most merciful betrayed and persecuted Lord.

Saints Peter and Paul, 15th century, Fondamenta Cavour, Murano, Italy.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Baptist's Birthday

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

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

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

Thursday, June 21, 2012


We are inspired by the ardor and single-heartedness of Saint Aloysius, who died as a Jesuit scholastic while caring for plague victims in Rome in 1591. As Cistercians we recall that on his deathbed Aloysius asked his brother Jesuits to read to him from Saint Bernard's Sermons on the Song of Songs, a text that he always found consoling.

The Vocation of Saint Aloysius (Luigi) Gonzaga, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian, Cento 1591–1666 Bologna), ca. 1650.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Secret

We share reflections from Father Robert's homily for the Eleventh Sunday of the Year:

The secret of the kingdom is the experience of God explaining to you in secret that, without you in any way deserving it, the God of unlimited goodness and truth has already chosen to love you and share with you his divine love. This is the revelation of something which transcends all the changes of time and space. It exceeds the reach of thoughts like good and bad. It is beyond all the achievements of the human imagination or the functions of the bodily senses or the grasp of the intellect. It is my exposure to the unlimited nature of divine love in a way that stories and parables can only set me up for. The kingdom of God is our invitation to share in this unlimited way of loving and being. The secret of how this is revealed is the mystery of the Incarnation.

Photograph by Michel Raguin.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Cloister Madonna

In the early 1950's this very large painting of the Madonna and Child was given to the monastery with the stipulation by the donor that there always be flowers and candles to adorn it. We are told that during the nineteenth century artists often made copies of Renaissance paintings in European museums for a burgeoning American market. Our Madonna seems to be such an image, freely rendered after the central panel of the Triptych of San Domenico (1482) by Carlo Crivelli in the Pinacoteca di Brera of Milan. 

This altarpiece was originally painted for the Dominicans of the municipality of Camerino. The enthroned Madonna and Child is flanked on the left by Saint Peter with his tiara and keys and Saint Dominic with his lily. On the right Saint Peter Martyr, his skull cleaved with a dagger, is represented with Saint Venantius, patron of Camerino holding a model of the city. His scarlet leggings and cap are references to his martyrdom. The Christ Child holds a little long beaked goldfinch, foreshadowing his passion, as the goldfinch was thought to eat thorns.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Two Hearts

Mary gives her whole body unreservedly to God’s desire, God’s desire to come near, to be small and insignificant. For the truth of who God is for us requires a body, a heart under which he can rest. Because of what Mary does, how she receives the Word and responds, the body of our earthly existence is now laden with God’s presence and transcendence. Mary’s at-homeness with her emptiness gives God flesh, flesh that can bleed and die for us, a heart that can be broken open for us. Mary’s response in “obedient faith” is as powerful as that spoken by her Son in the blood-sweat of Gethsemani, “Not my will but yours be done, O Father;” a yes formed under Mary’s brave heart.

Pietà, Carlo Crivelli (Italian, Venice (?), active by 1457–died 1493 Ascoli Piceno) ,1476. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blessed Gerard

Today we remember Blessed Gerard of Clairvaux, the favorite brother of Saint Bernard. A soldier when Bernard entered Cîteaux, Gerard joined him after being wounded at the siege of Grancy and imprisoned. Gerard later followed Bernard to Clairvaux where he became cellarer. He was Bernard's confidant and assistant. Saint Bernard was deeply grieved at Gerard's death and lamented his passing in these tender words: 
... a loyal companion has left me alone on the pathway of life: he who was so alert to my needs, so enterprising at work, so agreeable in his ways. Who was ever so necessary to me? Who ever loved me as he? My brother by blood, but bound to me more intimately by religious profession. Share my mourning with me, you who know these things. I was frail in body and he sustained me, faint of heart and he gave me courage, slothful and negligent and he spurred me on, forgetful and improvident and he gave me timely warning. Why has he been torn from me? Why snatched from my embraces, a man of one mind with me, a man according to my heart? We loved each other in life: how can it be that death separates us? And how bitter the separation that only death could bring about! While you lived when did you ever abandon me? It is totally death's doing, so terrible a parting. Who would dare refuse to spare so sweet a bond of mutual love -- who but death, that enemy of all that is sweet! Death indeed, so aptly named, whose rage has destroyed two lives in the spoliation of one. Surely this is death to me as well? Even more so to me, to whom continued life is more wretched than any form of death. I live, and I die in living: and shall I call this life? How much more kind, O cruel death, if you had deprived me of life itself rather than of its fruit! ...How much better for me then, O Gerard, if I had lost my life rather than your company, since through your tireless inspiration, your unfailing help and under your provident scrutiny I persevered with my studies of things divine. Why, I ask, have we loved, why have we lost each other? O cruel circumstance! But pity pertains to my lot only, not to his.  
from Sermon 26: On The Song of Songs

Monday, June 11, 2012

Corpus Christi

We are all at times unfaithful in big and little ways. Only in and through Jesus Christ does human fidelity become a reality. Finally with Jesus, God has found a faithful human partner. God’s fidelity and human fidelity are one and incarnate in Jesus.

Gathered around this Eucharistic table, Jesus offers us his own fidelity to the Father. In receiving the Body and Blood of Christ we become that fidelity, as pure gift. The Father in recognizing his Son, recognizes us in him, through him and with him.

The Father recognizes his crucified and resurrected Son in the same way that the disciples recognized Jesus after his resurrection- by his wounds. Glorified they may be, but wounds they remain eternally. His wounds are the human sign of his unbroken fidelity. And the Father recognizes us by our wounds, our brokenness, our sins, our infidelities, our need for forgiveness and healing; a need that God wants passionately to meet. As Jesus’ wounds were the sign of his unbroken fidelity, at the same time they are the human sign of our broken fidelity. Our sins pierced his body and that very piercing is our salvation; the paradox of salvation.

We continue to come back and gather around this altar, maybe stumbling, maybe crawling. But we are here. And Jesus is saying to us, “Become what you eat and drink. Be transformed into me. My fidelity is yours.”

Photograph of the Abbey Corpus Christ procession by Brother Emmanuel. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for the Solemnity. 

Friday, June 8, 2012


The tender simplicity of this sixth century Egyptian icon of Jesus with the martyr Abba Menas  reminds us of these words from our Constitutions:                                                                         

The organisation of the monastery is directed to bringing the monks into close union with Christ, since it is only through the experience of personal love for the Lord Jesus that the specific gifts of the Cistercian vocation can flower. Only if the brothers prefer nothing whatever to Christ will they be happy to persevere in a life that is ordinary, obscure and laborious. And may he lead them all together into eternal life.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


We share some reflections from Father Dominic's homily for Trinity Sunday.

Often our tiny conception does not begin to approach “the God, who is always greater,” the God who loves without measure and without regret. Today’s Feast invites us to anchor and immerse ourselves in the fullness of God. On Trinity Sunday the Liturgy seems to indicate that our image of who God is and what is on God’s mind is more tiny than troubled. In other words, we probably trip more over our puny sense of God than over conflicting creedal statements or theological considerations.

Human poverty, the mystery of our own deepest neediness, is perhaps exactly what ultimately pulls the “curtain” back and enables us to fix in our heart the reality of God, who is to us Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God loves us. And yet perhaps we feel ourselves just outside God’s fingertips, or we spend much of our lives unable to shake off what feels like God only embracing us grudgingly and reluctantly. God has gotten tiny for many of us. But who can explain that unexpected moment when the utter fullness of God rushes in on us, when we completely know the One in whom “we move and live and have our being”?

I suggest that the question before us this morning is not how “three are one,” but rather are we poor enough to really know that He is with us always, ever approaching and addressing us until the end of the world? Are we poor enough to be plunged into Trinitarian depths, not only sacramentally at the time of our baptism, but at every moment as we live out our baptismal life? And when was the last time we heard in our own dark depths the Spirit of adoption leading us out of fear and making us cry out, “Abba!”?

Like the Samaritan woman bantering with Jesus by Jacob’s well, getting closer and closer to discovering who he is, we are told by an encouraging Christ: “If only you knew the Gift of God!” This Gift is no abstraction. Neither is the dogma of the Holy Trinity an abstraction, mere information regarding God’s inner life. It is rather a stunning, blissful experience. The God who created us is the God who came to us in Jesus Christ to take us back to his heart, and this same God is with us now as the Spirit of the Risen Lord. It was the actual experience of this threefold presence of God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, which led the Church, guided, as promised, by the Holy Spirit, to infer that in some mysterious way, God is triune in nature. This is not something to be “worked out” by us theologically, but known by us as we are caught up in the Trinitarian stream of life. The only way we know that we share God’s life in a truly divine way, however, is that we discover that God gives himself totally to us.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

All That I Am

In this morning’s Gospel Jesus advises those who are trying to trap him, “ Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” His interrogators are utterly amazed at his answer, as are we. For how can we repay to God what belongs to him? What belongs to God? All that I have, all that I am. Indeed, what do we have that we have not received? We offer the Lord all of this in gratitude during the Eucharist and ask his continued blessing, desiring that our self-offering might be like Jesus’ own gift of himself to the Father.
Photo of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


After a spring of abundant rainfalls and recent thunderstorms, the lawns, meadows and hillsides of the Abbey are almost unbelievably, implausibly green.

Green is the color of hope, the color of vestments worn for Mass during these days of Ordinary Time.

We rejoice in the lush ordinariness of our monastic day-to-dayness and seek to live in hope.

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) established the canon of liturgical colors  as we know them.