Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Our Flesh

How can we find God in and through the flesh? We cannot, unless God comes into the flesh to meet us. This flesh that we so often take for granted, ignore, use or abuse; this flesh with all its endemic weakness and proneness to suffering; its need to be kept warm and shielded from hurt. This is where God encounters us. And it is this encounter that we celebrate at Christmas. And so let us stop running from ourselves, from one another and from God.

Madonna and Child, detail, Sandro Botticelli and workshop, Vienna. 
Reflection by Abbot Damian.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Holy Family

God’s fulfillment is a great and wonderful mystery, and we see it writ large in the Holy Family: in the redeeming power of their obedience. Joseph obeyed the angel no matter what, and so obeyed God; and he obeyed the wisdom of his wife. Mary emptied herself for God at the word of the angel, and she obeyed the protective initiatives of her husband. This mutual obedience of husband and wife, first to God and then to one another, is an image of the obedience that Jesus would give, first to His Father and then to His parents in Nazareth.

The Flight into Egypt, James Lesesne Wells, (American, Altanta, Georgia 1902–1993 Washington, D.C.), ca. 1940, Linocut on Japanese paper, The Metroploitan Museum of Art, used with permission. Reflection by Father Vincent. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Our Need for a Savior

“For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” Why did God come to us? Why did God save us? Simply put, because we needed to be saved. We could not do it for ourselves. As we hear in the Letter to Titus, “Beloved: The grace of God has appeared, saving all.” A little later in this letter Paul writes, “ When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy.” It is grace, sheer gift, unmerited and unearned. In fact, we only realized the full depth of our need for a Savior once the Savior came and met that need. It is sort of like the experience of being loved. Once you really know it for yourself and have tasted it, you realize just how much you needed and wanted it.

The shepherds found what they were looking for. Did you? Did I? Let me share my response. My response is yes and no. I say this because I am convinced that what I have found is that I am continually being found by the sheer, ever-surprising gratuity of God’s unmerited advances, God’s desire for intimate closeness, as close as whispered words in my ear or the sound of angel voices. My prayer for myself on this night is also my prayer for you- that we never, ever close ourselves off from being surprised again and again by the naïve, unaffected simplicity of God’s embracing advances.

Photograph of Christ Child in the Abbey creche by Brother Jonah.  Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily for this year's mid-night Mass.

Thursday, December 26, 2013


Yesterday we overheard two of our monks in quiet conversation as they worked on preparations for the festive Christmas meal. One remarked to the other that notwithstanding the inconvenience and poverty of the surroundings, Mary and Joseph were probably quite pleased to have finally been able to settle into the stable at Bethlehem after all their searching. The brothers agreed that Joseph would have made the place as cozy as possible and that perhaps Mary smiled softly as she tucked the Christ Child into the manger and made sure He was warm and snug in His offbeat cradle.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013


In Christ we experience God’s modest but insistent plea for our love.* He is a lover who loves to surprise, astonish, beguile even charm and disarm with his tenderness. But watching and waiting for him can be rather demanding. Most of all because Jesus is always showing up when we least expect, at the most unexpected times. And if we are called to live in incessant desire for him, it is of course because he is always at the threshold of our yearning, yearning for us more than we can imagine.

We have come here to the monastery to wait for him and to welcome the mystery of God in the midst of our ordinariness. Our waiting is about powerlessness, poverty, littleness, for in Jesus the mystery of God is constantly revealed even as it is hidden. If indeed we seek intimacy with this Mystery, vigilance will always be essential because of the divine reversal that always obtains. God is always reversing things, turning things upside-down, doing it his way, sneaking in through the low door, born of a Virgin, a Baby sleeping in the hay.

He is attentive to the desiring that must underpin each action of our day. We must be willing to be surprised over and over again by his incessant, attentive love. 

* Oliviér Clement

Monday, December 23, 2013

For Us

“Now this is how the birth of Jesus took place…” These few words always sound so promising each Christmas, almost like “once upon a time…” But as the story unfolds, it’s more like a fractured fairy tale, not at all picture perfect, no matter how beautifully all our Christmas cards may portray it. There’s Mary’s unexplained pregnancy, Joseph’s dream, Herod's rage and on and on… Not ideal but real, like Jesus’ life, like our lives. There's ample room in such story, in a life like that for love freely offered and thoughtlessly rejected, for ecstatic joy and unbearable painAnd this is after all how the birth of Jesus takes place for us, in us. Jesus seeks a place in our lives. He becomes through Mary bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. He does not, never ever, disdain what is fully human about us. Indeed we can find him there hidden in the deep recesses of all our human experiences, longing to accompany us. This is after all why the birth of Jesus took place: because God is for us.

Column capital by Gislebertus of Autun.

Saturday, December 21, 2013


Guests are always welcome to join us for the liturgies of Christmas. On Christmas Eve Vespers will be at 4:40 PM. Solemn Vigils begin at 12:50 AM with Mid-night Mass at 2 AM. On Christmas Day Lauds will be at 7:30 AM with an Aurora Mass immediately following. The Solemn Day Mass is at 11 AM; Christmas Vespers begin at 5:10 with Benediction to follow. The other Offices are celebrated at the usual times.

Let us rejoice and be glad, for Someone who longs for us and loves us with love beyond all telling is drawing near- ever and always. Let us dare to open our hearts wide in welcome.

Friday, December 20, 2013


In these darkest days of the year, the shortest days, we make a place for Christ, a place where hope can grow as he did in the virgin womb of Mary. One way to do this might be to be honest about the fear and helplessness that we so often experience. If we dare to open this creaky, low door to the Divine Child, our fears and sorrows may become a great open place to welcome him. From this most unlikely of places- as smelly as the straw of a Bethlehem stall- from this of all places, a tiny hand will reach out toward us. God is crying a message that “we are able not to be afraid.” We can be unafraid; we are dearly loved by a God who dares to become a little Child. 

Photograph of the Abbey meadows in snow by Charles O'Connor.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

At Guadalupe

Mary is not only a model and an anticipation of our own vocation and destiny.  Mary is perennially and actively at the center of what Pope Francis has recently called “the revolution of tenderness", as its maternal agent.  Because of the irreversible structure God expressly gave to the work of Redemption, Mary remains the perpetual Mother of Grace. The dynamic favor Mary received as Mother of God continues operating fruitfully throughout history because from the outset it was a grace for others.  Mary is saved only insofar as she is mother.  In her we behold, in utter amazement, how the act of the will of one creature vitally, essentially affects the eternal destiny of all other creatures, not only in the “then” of history but especially in the “now” of our lives.  

We rejoice in the love and protection of the Virgin at Guadalupe, our Mother and Protector.

Reflection by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Brother Edmund

Born in 1919 in Lynn, Massachusetts, our Brother Edmund Murray was a decorated World War II veteran who served as a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corp in the European, African and Middle Eastern Theater Campaigns. After an honorable discharge from the military he served as a proud and loyal member of the Lynn Fire Department for several years.  
He entered the Abbey as a Lay Brother in 1957. In 1960 he was sent to the Abbey's new foundation of Our Lady of the Angels monastery at Azul, Argentina, where he worked on the construction of the new buildings and where he pronounced his solemn vows in 1960. He remained at Azul until 1973 when he returned home to Spencer. Brother Edmund served the monastic community nobly throughout his monastic life as a dedicated electrician and fireman.

We recall with joy his faithfulness, generosity and kindness and his wonderful dry wit. May he rest in peace.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Brother Berchmans

Our Brother John Berchmans died on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 after a long illness. Born in 1927 in New York City he entered the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley, Cumberland, R.I., in 1948, moving with the monastic community to St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer after a disastrous fire in 1950 destroyed the Rhode Island monastery. Eight years later he left monastic life, but he re-entered the monastery in 1981, finally professing vows in 1983.

Over the span of years Brother Berchmans served in many capacities. He produced mint jelly for sale at the monastery’s Porter's Lodge and so is credited with beginning our Trappist Preserves industry. He was also a designer and tailor of liturgical vestments at The Holy Rood Guild, porter at the Abbey's gift shop, the Abbot's Secretary, distributor of Cistercian Studies Quarterly, a gardener and community cook, as well as taking a stint as cook at the order's headquarters in Rome.

We remember Brother John Berchmans' goodness, humor and wonderful creative feistiness with joy and gratitude. May he rest in God's eternal peace.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Upside Down

The message of Advent is that Someone is coming who will reverse things, even restore our lost innocence. This is the God of upsidedowness, the God for whom nothing is impossible. Isaiah paints the picture of such a world for us. There arid deserts are bursting with fragrant blossoms, and lambs are snacking together with wolves. Leopards are napping with baby goats, and young calves and lions are strolling together. Cows and bears are now best friends, and babies are playing with cobras. God's reign has begun. Soon the deaf hear the dumb rejoicing, the blind see the lame leaping for joy, barren wives are suddenly fruitful and a young virgin named Mary is pregnant with God, who longs to be a gurgling baby boy. Someone we desperately need and long for is very near.

Sunday, December 1, 2013


As monks we are meant to live in incessant desire for God, to become all longing and hunger for him. The season of Advent, its prayers and readings speak to us of a mutuality of desire. For indeed if we long to see the face of God, so God's desire to come to us outstrips our own desire and takes flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Jesus God's face has been revealed. This revelation stokes our desire for more intense experience of his presence and divine embrace. During Advent we celebrate the emptiness that makes us totally available for all that God wants to give us in Christ. We are joyful in our neediness and longing, for God longs to fill us with God's own Self in Christ more than we dare imagine. Amen. Come Lord Jesus and do not delay!

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Thanksgiving Day is a day when we offer thanks to God for the whole of our lives. Everything. Let us never forget that God goes with us and that there is no corner of our lives that God does not inhabit with his loving presence. Let us acknowledge our too often persistent forgetfulness and lack of gratitude for God's loving presence. 

Photograph of wild turkeys on the Abbey grounds by Charles O'Connor. Reflection by Abbot Damian.

Monday, November 25, 2013


Yesterday we heard this dialog from Calvary:

"Jesus, remember me
when you come into your kingdom."
He replied to him,
"Amen, I say to you,
today you will be with me in Paradise.”

The monk's reply:

What is this Paradise, O Lord,
if not your own sacred, wounded side, your open heart?
Hide me there in the shadow of your wings,
hold me together with you in this Paradise
of your love, O Lord Jesus! 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Christ the King

You have given all to me, now I return it. These words, at the conclusion of Saint Ignatius' prayer The Suscipe, sum up beautifully the self-offering of the Mexican martyr, Blessed Miguel Augustin Pro. With ardent love for Christ his KingMiguel renounced everything and entered the Society of Jesus. After his ordination Miguel carried on his priestly ministry in spite of the grave religious persecution of the Church in Mexico in the early 20th century. Often in disguise and continually foiling the best efforts of the Mexican secret police to arrest him, Miguel was eventually captured. On November 23, 1927 after forgiving his executioners, he was shot by a firing squad as he proclaimed, "Hail, Christ the King!" How fitting that this year Miguel's memorial fell on the eve of the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe.

We recall that after Jesus has fed the five thousand, the gospel writer tells us, “When the people saw the sign which He had performed, they said, ‘This is truly the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone."John 6.15 As we celebrate Christ as King, it wise and wonderful to remember this scene. For “King” may be a title we need- to remind us of the place we want Jesus to have in our lives, in our hearts. But if we are not clear about who Jesus really is, He may elude us and withdraw. King is a dangerous title- all about domination and power. And it is simply not a title Jesus chooses for himself. His life, His passion and death are all about self-offering, self-forgetfulness and loving obedience to the Father. How well Miguel Pro understood this; how beautifully and completely he imitated his King. How will we give Him all that we have, all that we are?

Photograph of the Abbey processional cross by Brother Brian. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Consoling Words

I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify your name forever; for your love to me has been great; you have saved me from the depths of the grave. Ps 85

Whose voice prays here? Our own; that of the Hebrew psalmist, prophetically; and that of all our dear departed and all the dead. But it is above the voice of Christ our Lord in his Passion and resurrection, telling his Father that death itself cannot destroy their eternal love. Therefore Jesus promises us, "I will come back and take you to myself, so that where I am, you also may be." Could there ever be more powerful, more tender, more consoling words than this certain pledge from the Heart of him whose love for us has been great?

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon

Sunday, November 17, 2013

To Persevere

The kingdom of our Lord Jesus, the Sun of Justice, is coming now. His presence grants healing beyond measure but may also demand a separating, perhaps even a wrenching in our hearts, as evil is separated from good. Indeed choices must be made; sometimes hard choices. And as Jesus points out in the Gospel this morning, we may even be hated by all because of his name. Still he consoles us with his promise: "not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives." 

Perseverance. The word in Greek is hupomone, signifying a steadfastness and constancy, an endurance characteristic of anyone who keeps to their purpose and is loyal to faith and piety and so willing to endure the greatest trials and sufferings with patience.* 

As Father Luke reminded us this morning, perseverance is truly counter-cultural. "Yet, it is in our perseverance in the commitments that we have undertaken in Christ's name that we will come to know Christ Jesus and the power of his cross and resurrection working within us- within weak and sinful human beings."

* see Biblestudytools.com.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

With Us

The Holy Spirit brings the living, transfigured Christ into humanity.  Thus does Christian interiority arise.  This does not mean that one becomes profound in a mental sense:  it means the opposite of squandering oneself in what is exterior.  It implies that there is a depth in man in which Christ lives.  It is possible to live with this Christ.  He can become the very content of life.  Then the New Man comes into being.  The old man is the one he was before, but now the New Man is sown in him.  How this happens cannot be described.  It can be that certain persons experience this reality so powerfully that they can no longer feel at home in the world.  This is how monasticism arose.  

We seek the Lord in ordinariness, this is where Christ lives with us. If we are renewed at all, it is due to our availability, our attention to Christ's Spirit speaking to us in the depths of our hearts, calling us to ever deeper conversion. Our desire is total availability to his desire for us.

Andrea del Verrocchio, Christ and Saint Thomas, detail,  bronze, 1483, Orsanmichele, Florence.  Lines from Romano Guardini, Sermon on Pentecost Monday, in:  Predigten zum Kirchenjahr, Mainz, 1998, p. 170.

Monday, November 11, 2013

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's dream vision that night in which Christ appears to him wearing the cloak and thanks him 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.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thirty-second Sunday

Imagine the Church’s wisdom in combining today’s readings. That frustrating Gospel scenario becomes a brilliant foil for the poignant and affecting story of the martyrdom of the seven Maccabee sons and their holy mother in the First Reading; these seven very real brothers; how unlike the seven fictional brothers of the Sadducees’ tale who are dropping like flies! Today’s First Reading is only an excerpt of the heart-rending story of those brave Jewish martyrs, a family tortured for refusing to break their covenantal “marriage” bond with the God of Israel, embodied in the dietary laws to which they adhered. For them eating pork would be idolatrous, and even more adulterous. They understand themselves as entirely dedicated to God. This is essential to who they are- they belong to God. They embrace this Mystery with courage and clarity. How like their blessed descendant Yeshua of Nazareth, Jesus our Lord whose food and deepest desire is to do the will of the Father who sent him. Imagine how his young heart must have been stirred when he first heard the story of his Maccabee forebears.

Like his ancestors, Jesus knows that God wants more for us. He has prepared a place for us. This is our destiny. Jesus wants us to be with him in God forever. And so with quiet power and self-assurance he proclaims, “God is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living.” These words are not only a statement of doctrine, but more- self-revelation. For Jesus is himself the Resurrection and the Life. Resurrection is not a far off event but a Person, a Person who longs for us even now, and is continually drawing us into more abundant life.

Now we can resist, question endlessly like stubborn Sadducees, frustrate God’s desire for us or simply believe; believe the mystery, and allow God to be God for us, drawing us to himself, into himself. Then we will notice glimpses of his presence, tantalizing foretastes of the more we’re destined for. Like St. Stephen, as he is being stoned to death, we will see the heavens open. We will glimpse the Lord even now, minute by minute, drawing us into more and more abundant life. In God’s providence this will inevitably bring us to another plateau- of holy frustration as our desire outstrips our humanity. Flesh and blood, earth-bound, we may experience ourselves somehow suspended- longing for everlasting life in Christ and yet still here. Like Saint Paul we long to depart and be with Christ.  Let us set our minds and hearts on things that are above where Christ is. For truly we have died, our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

Photographs by Brother Brian..

Friday, November 8, 2013

Filling the Void with Light

God gives us his divinity and all its bliss in exchange for our humanity and all its misery.  If God has come to invite us to share his divine life through all eternity, the process begins when Jesus first comes into our own time and space to dwell within our shabby lives and hearts—sinful, worldly, self-centered, and yet full of the hope that his teaching, touch and presence will gradually transform us into radiant children of God. We know that God’s self-emptying descent into the heart of human darkness, to fill that void with light and love, will not be without severe consequences for the Savior.
Autumn sunset with rainbow over the east road of the Abbey. Photograph by Kathleen Trainor. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Moment by Moment

We read the following in Vita Consecrata, Blessed John Paul II’s document on religious life:

The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord, is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels, the characteristic features of Jesus— the chaste, poor and obedient one— are made constantly visible in the midst of the world, and the eyes of the faithful are directed toward the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven.

In every age there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father's call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ in order to devote themselves to him with an undivided heart. Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.

We pray that we may be faithful to our Father's call and follow the Lord Jesus moment by moment with an undivided heart.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cloister Garth

We share these photos of the cloister garth with the great golden gingko and the burning bush. Brother Jonah and Father James pose for photographer Brother Anthony Khan.

Friday, November 1, 2013

With The Saints

Even as we believe in heaven, we want to know more. Don’t we? What will it be like? One of the loveliest depictions of heaven is that given us by the Renaissance painter, Fra Angelico. He portrays a gathering of the saints, each one hand in hand with an angel dancing a kind of a minuet in a verdant, enclosed garden. It’s charming enough, but perhaps it just doesn’t quite hit the spot.

What does it mean that we are destined for everlasting life? Death is the separation of the soul from the body, the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. And we believe that, in his power and love, God will grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus' Resurrection.* The resurrection of the body will occur because of God’s great love and reverence for our bodies, our flesh- not just a husk for an immortal soul, but sacred in itself. God has taken our flesh to himself in Christ. Heaven and earth have been wedded together in Him. The saints our forebears are with the Lord; they are our exemplars, and they fill us with hope as they await us in heaven. *Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallows' Eve

Halloween at the Abbey is always long-awaited. After singing First Vespers of All Saints, we rush (albeit with quiet monk-like decorum) to the monastic refectory for a festive supper of Brother Patrick's homemade pizza. Brother spends the day making the sauce, chopping up peppers and onions and kneading his own dough to create a selection of incredibly delicious giant pies. It is a special meal when speaking is allowed. But when the clock nears 7:15, it's time to pitch in for a quick but thorough clean-up and then head up to church to sing Compline.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Father Robert

This man welcomes sinners and eats with them. Luke 15.1 

Father Robert entered the monastery on the 10th of September in 1954. Hardworking, devoted to prayer and a lover of this place, he has been entrusted with many different duties in his fifty-nine years of monastic life. Father Robert is presently Director of Trappist Preserves. He also serves as forest manager and farm manager for the Abbey lands. And he is a respected and popular retreat master in the monastery retreat house. He tells us that what he treasures most about monastic life is the give-and-take of community living, the commitment to prayer, the intellectual atmosphere and the responsibility of hard work.

With characteristic enthusiasm Father Robert declares: the monastic life is "the most fulfilling life I can imagine. The most challenging aspect is the challenge of changing 
and growing as you grow and as the life grows."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

His Sympathy

Made like us in all things but sin, Jesus needs no one to tell him about the human heart, for he has taken our heart as his own heart. The Letter to the Hebrews says that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin- in every way that we are. Imagine the breadth of that statement. Think of all you go through, all you feel, all the ways you are tempted; and imagine Jesus feeling it all with you. It never ceases to astonish. The Letter to the Hebrews goes on: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet apart from sin. Therefore let us draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Jesus knows, Jesus understands. He shares our flesh and blood and knows well what yanks at our hearts because “he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy” all that threatens to draw us away from God. Imagine then the sympathy of Jesus; literally he feels as we do. He speaks to us not from above, but from deep within us.

Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

All Fire

Jesus desires that we become all fire, consumed with love for God and God's people. In today's gospel he tells us“I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" What to do when I feel like a damp log, wood sodden with desires inconsistent with his desire for me? Then I cannot receive his spark and become all flame, but only smoke and smolder feebly. How to be endlessly available to Jesus' warmth, the fire that can truly set me ablaze?  
Photograph by Brother Anthony Khan.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Faith & Prayer

Unfortunately, when prayers seem to go unanswered, we back off—a little or a lot—either by deciding not to ask for so much, or by deciding not to ask at all. But when we stop praying, we lose touch with who we are. The most important time to pray is when our prayers seem meaningless. 

Human persistence is important, but in the end it is only faith that enables us to persevere in prayer, to trust prayer, regardless of what seems to come of our urgent pleas. What kind of faith? Not a pious outlook or some sort of magical thinking that helps us cope, but the faith that believes Him who has promised, “Do not fear; I will help you.” As the Carmelite Ruth Burrows puts it: “Everything depends on our believing that God is Love, utterly faithful, good and generous. Everything depends, too, on our handing ourselves over to His loving designs, asking for no tangible certainties. Such trust is the only way we can allow God to be completely good to us, according to his own nature.”

This kind of faith alone gives life. This is because faith, prayer, “is nothing other than being present to God so that God can give to us – his one desire and purpose is to give himself to us. The only thing that matters is that we believe this and stay there with him, regardless of how we feel or don’t feel.”

Christ invites us to live confidently without any assurances from within ourselves but to cast our whole weight onto infinite Love, for which our hearts are shaped. This kind of faith actually removes the burden of anxiety we feel at our helplessness and incompetence. It simply roots us in Christ’s love, in Him personally, as we let go of everything else (including ourselves). Prayer really works, not because we ultimately get what we ask for, but because the faith at its core keeps our hearts chasing after God’s heart. It is how we “bother” God, and it’s how God “bothers” us back. There is nothing that works any better than that!

Photograph of Lac Marie by Charles O'Connor. Reflections by Father Dominic.

Saturday, October 19, 2013


One of the monks often reminds us that when one of the sisters in her convent came to her with some difficulty, Saint Teresa would often recommend going outside to look at the clouds. Nature heals and refreshes and gives us perspective. Our Father is noticing; looking after the birds and feeding them. God is very near. And the geese are praising him in their flying. We need not fear.

Look at the birds of the air, they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? Mt 6.26

A recent photo  of geese over the Abbey woodlands by Charles O'Connor.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Saint Ignatius of Antioch

The martyrs are our monastic forebears. They were ready to give themselves completely to Christ. And so we celebrate with joy and gratitude this memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. And his words strike us to the heart. He writes to the Christians of Rome, as he prepares to face the beasts in the arena:

All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul? Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death; and while I desire to belong to God, do not give me over to the world. Allow me to obtain pure light: when I have gone there, I shall indeed be a man of God. Permit me to be an imitator of the passion of my God. If anyone has Him within himself, let him consider what I desire, and let him have sympathy with me, as knowing how I am straitened. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed; but there is within me a water that lives and speaks, saying to me inwardly, Come to the Father. I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sinners All

For the Bible and for Saint Benedict, we are all afflicted with a common shame that needs to be dealt with before we can talk about and experience the fullness of the grace of salvation. In fact talking about it and dealing with it is the doorway into the experience of being saved. For the Bible the name of this shame is sin, and the issue goes all the way to back to the Garden of Eden. 

Benedict confronts everyone who wishes to enter the monastery in the following words: “Listen, O my son, to the teaching of your master and turn to them with the ear of your heart. Willingly accept the advice of a devoted father and put it into action. Thus you will return by the labor of obedience to the one from whom you drifted through the inertia of disobedience. Now then I address my words to you: whoever is willing to renounce self-will, and take up the powerful and shining weapons of obedience to fight for the Lord Christ, the true king.”

This is one of the most famous texts in the entire corpus of monastic literature. It is not demanding that people confess their special cause of shame openly before they can be admitted to monastic community. Rather, they are bluntly told that they are disobedient, that is, sinners; and they are also told that the only cure for that condition is obedience.We are all in a state of alienation- alienated from our own goodness, which is a reflection of God’s goodness. We have lost touch with how good and lovable we are and so spend our lives running. 

What could be less politically correct then to demand that the first thing newcomers must do is to admit they are sinners? Isn’t this an almost insurmountable obstacle for the sensitive modern person? And yet, we should notice one thing in particular: this same challenge is offered to every single newcomer, and because it is universal, it can be a comfort as well as a challenge. We are not alone in this condition!

Statue of Saint Benedict by the Abbey Cottage. Reflections by Father Abbot Damian from a recent Chapter talk.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Autumn Weekend

Four young men have come to the monastery to work and pray with us during this Monastic Experience Weekend. They are discerning a call to our life; discern comes from the Latin meaning "to sift." They are "sifting" their many attractions to find their deepest desire. They are reminded by wise senior monks that Christ's call is his dream for them to be with him. Wanting to know what God wants for them, they come to realize that, even as his call may be challenging, he desires their happiness and peace and fulfillment. Finding their vocation will mean learning that what matters most is where the Lord can find them best, where they can be most available to his love.
Autumn landscapes at the Abbey photographed by Charles O'Connor.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Autumn Fire

The bush which Moses saw burning yet unconsumed was a sign of your wondrous virginity. Mother of God, intercede for us!
We chant this verse to our Blessed Lady at the close of Vespers, and now we see our prayer embodied in an autumn tree ablaze with color, as it dies in this most beautiful of ways.
Photograph by Brother Jonah.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Rosary

What consolation the Rosary brings, remembering the mysteries of Christ's life and recalling the joys and sorrows of our own lives, as we repeat Hail Mary after Hail Mary.

The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and listens to him, rejoices with great  joy hearing the bridegroom’s voice (John 3:29).  Surely I should repeat these words, my God, my Lord Jesus, every time I hear an inspired text like the Psalms, the Gospel especially, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or any other words from the Scriptures. It is then the voice of the Holy Spirit that speaks every time that I hear or read such words. So, when I read these words of St. John, I should add with him, “And so, at this moment, my happiness is perfect…” This is the joy that should take hold of me every time I hear or read or recite any passage, however short, that contains the words of God, the words of the Beloved, of the Spouse I so passionately cherish.  The voice of my Beloved ought to fling me precisely into such joy, such a transport of love, and it is in such jubilation that I should pray the Divine Office, or the Rosary, or read the Sacred Scriptures. With what love, devotion, admiration, adoration we treat the words of a loved one, whether written or spoken!  Let us then kiss, cherish and  worship every word of the Beloved of our hearts!

St Dominic Instituting the Rosary,  Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), fresco, Church of the Jesuits, Venice, Italy. Reading from the Meditations on the Gospel by Blessed Charles of Jesus, (Écrits spirituels de Charles de Foucauld, Ermite du Sahara, Apôtre des Touaregs, ed. René Bazin )Paris, J. de Gigord, 1925], pp. 28-30.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Francis of Assisi

In his recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica, Pope Francis said that mysticism is fundamental for the life of the Church. And he reminded us that Saint Francis, whom we celebrate today, was a mystic. The Holy Father said, “The mystic manages to strip himself of action, of facts, objectives and even the pastoral mission and rises until he reaches communion with the Beatitudes. Brief moments but which fill an entire life.”

As our Constitutions state, "The organization 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. "

So it is that somehow we are called to be mystics, to allow God in Christ to invade our hearts and our lives at every moment. As monks we are given a greater amount of space and time to devote to what may be called this mystical life. But in truth, this is the calling of every one of the baptized. Perhaps as monks we are meant to show that this vocation is worth everything, and that it is doable.

Saint Francis, José de Ribera, 1642.