Thursday, February 28, 2013

Benedict XVI

Father Abbot Damian recently posted a message from Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Bertone asking for our prayers. The letter read in part:

His Holiness Benedict XVI has asked all the faithful to accompany him with their prayers as he commends the Petrine ministry into the Lord’s hands, and to await with trust the arrival of the new Pope. In a particularly urgent way this appeal is addressed to those chosen members of the Church who are contemplatives. The Holy Father is certain that you, in your monasteries and convents throughout the world, will provide the precious resource of that prayerful faith which down the centuries has accompanied and sustained the Church along her pilgrim path. The coming conclave will thus depend in a special way on the transparent purity of your prayer and worship.

And so it is that we monks clearly understand our role during this papal transition. We pray for His Holiness Benedict XVI and for the Cardinals who gathered  in conclave,  guided by the Holy Spirit, will choose his successor. As monks we feel a deep connectedness with Benedict XVI who now will devote himself, like us, to prayer, contemplation and reflection.

Cardinal Bertone concluded his message to us in these words:

The Holy Father, with whom I shared the contents of this letter, 
was deeply appreciative, and asked me to thank you 
and to assure you of his immense love and esteem.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Love and Silence

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 any one who has been in love knows that there are times in a loving relationship when words are unnecessary or would even interrupt. Love makes silence possible, appropriate, meaningful, and secure. Silence depends on love and leads to love. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Second Sunday of Lent

In his homily this morning our Father Luke reminded us that in the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus is portrayed as a man of prayer. And so typically this morning before his Transfiguration, Jesus "went up the mountain to pray." Father Luke went on to say that our transfiguration, our transformation in Christ, will take place as we hold fast to our call to "pray without ceasing and never lose heart." Indeed as Saint Benedict admonishes us in Chapter 49 of his Rule, since our lives as monks ought to be a continuous Lenten observance, especially during these forty days we should devote ourselves to "tearful prayers, to reading and compunction of heart, and to abstinence."
Raphael, The Transfiguration (detail), oil on wood, 1516-1520,  159” X 109”,  Pinacoteca Vaticana. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Two Gardens

Lent, the springtime of the Church, situates us between two gardens- the garden of Eden, that lush middle Eastern paradise where the first Adam lost his innocence and the garden of the Resurrection on Easter morning where the new Adam wounded and resurrected will walk in peace restoring our lost innocence. In between we spend 40 days with Christ Jesus our Lord in the desert, the place where wild beasts and demons are most at home, this place of self-knowledge, where we discover who we are and what we most desperately need- Mercy in abundance.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Why Lent?

Essentially, everything proceeds from Love and tends towards Love. God’s gratuitous love is made known to us through the proclamation of the Gospel. If we welcome it with faith, we receive the first and indispensable contact with the Divine, capable of making us “fall in love with Love”, and then we dwell within this Love, we grow in it and we joyfully communicate it to others.

These words from the Holy Father's recent Lenten message remind us that all that we try to do during Lent must lead to love. Love is the only reason for any effort at additional prayer, fasting and almsgiving. As monks we always try to remember that all of our Lenten efforts are appropriate and useful only if they make us more loving.

Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

First Sunday of Lent

Today Jesus is led into the desert by the Spirit to be tempted. “Fly,” says Satan.  “Turn stones into bread. Be super-Jesus.” Or worse, “Be sub-human.  Worship me.” It seems clear that Satan is tempting Jesus to deny his humanity. As if to say, “Why bother? It will be too messy.” But this would be for Jesus to deny His very Self, for Christ’s humanity is the sacrament of His divinity; the full, real expression of God’s love for all creation. Satan wants Christ Jesus to deny the self-forgetful Love that he enfleshes. He desperately wants Him to forget the Love that will lead to his excruciating self-emptying even unto death, death on a cross. 

The incarnation drives Satan crazy, he who is the Accuser, for he knows it will be his undoing. If only God would just stay in heaven, if only Christ would leave the earth as Satan’s domain, the domain of beasts and things-that-go-bump-in-the-night. If only Christ Jesus would deny his humanity- the reality of his love for us, in us, with us. It is the cross that will be Jesus’ final answer to Satan. For on the cross God will let Himself be murdered for our freedom from all accusations against us, and death will die in Him. The Accuser does not have a chance. He knows it and he’s frightened to death. Jesus the Lord is undaunted by Satan’s foolishness. Jesus is sovereign, self-assured, victorious. And so this scene in the desert is a foretaste of His paschal victory over sin and death, which will be accomplished in quiet trust and obedience to the Father.

God has taken our flesh as his own; our flesh that blemishes, blushes, bruises and blotches; our flesh that burns with passion, and aches, gets dirty, even smells. Christ Jesus is not embarrassed to clothe Himself with our ruddy flesh. His temptation by the Accuser was to be other than He is, God with us, God for us. Our temptations are perhaps a zillion variations on a similar theme- to be other than who we are- dearly beloved children of God.

Like Jesus we live with beasts, our inner demons, but we too have angels ministering to us, if we dare notice. We are day in day out persecuted, beguiled and tempted but never, ever abandoned for we carry about in ourselves the dying of Jesus so that his risen Self may also be revealed in us. This is our hard and beautiful destiny, our baptismal truth- we are in Christ.

Christ Jesus, our refuge in all temptation, is tempted today and is victorious to reveal to us our own power as members of His Body. We too are majestic even in our fragility, because our flesh is his flesh. The Eucharist we celebrate each day makes explicit this truth of our commingling with God in Christ.

Duccio di Buoninsegna  (c.1255 - c.1319), The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled),
17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

Here we are at the beginning of another Lent, gathered here in this liturgical assembly. We have just heard the Word of God proclaimed. And it is precisely that Word of God that is the beginning of our Lenten journey, specifically, the words of the prophet Joel, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart….” Can you hear God’s desire, God’s yearning, God’s loving plea in those words? This is the beginning, the birthplace of Lent: God’s loving, pleading desire.

The ashes we will bless are the burned remnants from last Passion Sunday’s palms. And sometimes there is a grittiness to them. And well there should be. For, aside from being literally the gritty remains of palms, they symbolize the gritty remains of our earthly life, the gritty remains of our fallen humanity, our sinfulness, our mortality. But this very real, gritty truth of our brokenness is not what moves us, impels us to enter upon another Lent. What moves us to come forward and receive these ashes is not despair but hope. Hope rooted in our hearing again the loving plea of our God to return “even now.”

These ashes represent our very real, existential human misery, in all its manifold manifestations. Having them placed on our foreheads we publicly acknowledge our human misery in all its personal and communal dimensions. But this public acknowledgment is not an expression of some feeble satisfaction in mediocrity, in being less than we can or are meant to be. It is not a wallowing in our misery. Rather it is a drowning in God’s mercy.

“Even now, says the Lord, return to me….” God knew all the times the Israelites had turned from Him; and He even knew all the times they would continue to turn from Him in the future. And yet, He yearns for them to return. The CurĂ© of Ars always encouraged his penitents to plunge into the “flood of divine mercy” which sweeps away everything in its vehemence. If someone was troubled by the thought of his or her own weakness and inconstancy, and fearful of sinning again, the CurĂ© would unveil God’s secret in a beautiful and touching expression: “The good Lord knows everything. Even before you confess, He already knows that you will sin again and yet He forgives you. How great is the love of our God who goes so far as to voluntarily forget the future, in order to forgive us!” Even now, brothers and sisters, even now!

Excerpts from Abbot Damian's Homily for Ash Wednesday.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Brother Benedict

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way. Love is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrong but in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. Love never dies.

Brother Benedict entered the monastery in 1974 after completing an engineering degree and working construction in his father's business. At present he is floor manager at Trappist Preserves, the Abbey's jam and jelly factory. In addition he is a member of the Abbey's fire department, he helps with community shopping trips and helps mop the community kitchen floor. 

Brother tells us,  "I treasure the grounds and architecture of the Abbey, also the privilege of living in a Scriptural environment with the opportunity to cultivate interior silence. I particularly treasure the quality of the silence in the Abbey church. I enjoy the challenge of the relational matrix and the opportunity to seek God with all my heart. Monastic life offers an opportunity to participate in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fifth Sunday of the Year

We hear three stories of call this morning, three epiphanies really; three characters recognizing their unworthiness in the brilliance of divine presence and blessing: Paul and Peter and their holy forebear Isaiah. We witness their religious experience and its reverberations. “Woe is me,” says Isaiah, “I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then Paul, only recently back on his feet after falling from his horse, will proclaim, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am.” And finally in the Gospel there is that tremendous haul of fish and Peter falling at Jesus’ knees, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

With the realization of divine favor, there is neither boasting nor complacency but wonder and bitter self-knowledge. In the brilliance of divine light, getting closer to God, we see more clearly who we are. Isn’t it true that the response of a grateful, awe-filled heart is always appropriately- I am not worthy. Noticing the blessing, the undeserved abundance, we see clearly who the recipient is. It is I, it is you, not because of what we have accomplished but because of who God is- all Love. It’s never been about worth, but always about love, and the sweet condescension of his mercy, the tenderness you never really deserve.

Jesus knows perfectly well who we are, whom he has chosen. And so next he tells Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching (literally in the Greek netting) men”- “netting” others into this relationship of love with him, this web of relationality, of interconnectedness between heaven and all creation that happens when we begin to love as God loves.

Our work is to be seized by astonishment at Christ’s deeds on our behalf over and over again, to see clearly what God is doing in my life, in our lives together. It demands our attention and openness to the epiphanies- to believe beyond all doubt that God is choosing me, choosing us, favoring us, and blessing us beyond our imagining in ways far beyond our often narrow comprehension, ways that are his ways not our ways of doing things.

Raphael, The Miraculous Draft of Fishes, c. 1514,from the Royal Library , England. This drawing is a preparatory study for the series of tapestry cartoons known as the Acts of the Apostles. The cartoons,seven of which survive, were painted in Rome for Pope Leo X and transported to Flanders where the tapestries were woven. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013


On this very snowy morning we celebrate the Virgin Mary on Saturday. The purity of drifting snow reminds us of her- her beauty and most chaste heart. We seek her protection always.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013


"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God." We are all essentially listeners because God in and through Christ has spoken his dearest, most precious Word of Love to us in Christ Jesus, His Word made flesh, a Word who often does not roar but whispers. God invites us, “Be still and know that I am God.” Said another way, “Be still and know that I am your Peace. Be still and know that I am with you always.” Silence grows out of reverent listening to this Word. 
The brethren assembled for Sunday Chapter. Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Love is Patient

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

Who have I made Christ Jesus out to be? How do I experience Him? How is He trying to reveal God’s own Self to me? And am I, are we often simply missing the point, the simple truth of who God wants to be for us in Christ? Paul shows up just in time this morning with the classic beauty of his hymn to love, a hymn to Christ Jesus who is God’s Word of love enfleshed for us.

Love is patient, love is kind, he says. Christ Jesus our Lord is patient, always waiting for us, in no hurry, never coercive; waiting outside the door for us to let Him in; awaiting our return to God, and so bearing the cruel hardship of the cross without complaint- in patient love for us.

Christ Jesus is most kind, deeply concerned for our well-being, our happiness, our healing, mourning our losses with us; finding us there in the weakness which we would prefer to hide from Him, from ourselves and from one another. He wants to soothe our anxieties, longs to console us if we will allow Him. “Be comforted my people. I am your deliverance. Your servitude, your exile is over.”

Christ Jesus is not a jealous God, not in competition with his creation; but encountering us here in the beauty and challenge of our relationships with one another.

Jesus our Lord does not brood over our mistakes and failures. Thank God. He does not keep an account book of my failures and infidelities, the craziness of my past. As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our sins. Blinded by God’s unrelenting desire to forgive and heal us, He bends low to wash our feet in our neediness, our dereliction and loneliness of heart; always towards us, always for us.

Christ endures all things for us; rejoices in the innate goodness and holiness of who we are; Christ Jesus hopes all things for us.  He will never fail us; never ever. He cannot, for Love never ends. He calls us, leads us to rediscover the beauty of the image, the truth that was placed within us from the beginning. He teaches us how to discover within ourselves, through self-knowledge, the goal of our desiring; for it is He, Love enfleshed, who has made his abode in the shabby broken-down "hovel of our heart."Gregory of Nyssa

What shall we make of this? What good would life have been for us had Christ not come to rescue us in our nothingness, to show you and me that we are lovable, worth God’s precious blood? With Him I have everything, all I need; and He is enough, for He is love.

Love is patient, love is kind. Today this simple Word is fulfilled in our hearing, in Christ. What are we to do? Is He too much for us? Shall we run him out of town like the folks from Nazareth. Is He, is Love, all too accessible? How can we manage the unremitting patience and loving-kindness of God in Christ? The truth is we cannot manage such love; we can only try to accept it as simple mercy.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Presentation of the Lord in the Temple

The section of Luke’s gospel that we just heard verbally brings his birth narrative to a close. His account of the birth of Jesus began with Mary and Joseph journeying from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Appropriately the narrative ends with them returning to Nazareth.

Tradition portrays the evangelist Luke as an artist, a painter. In a way, his gospel can be viewed as a portrait of Jesus, a verbal portrait that gradually becomes clearer and more distinct. It is a portrait of Jesus as the true world leader: the Lord, the Messiah, the Liberator, the true Son of God, the real king of the world instead of Caesar Augustus. And the colors Luke uses are not limited to gold leaf and bright hues. He also includes somber tones. The more he fills in the picture, the more we realize that this really is a different sort of kingdom that Jesus is initiating. It is truly the kingdom that God had promised Israel’s prophets and patriarchs. But, not for the last time in his gospel, Luke is warning us that the kingdom Jesus is inaugurating does not look like what people had expected. And this is so even at these early stages of his portrait-story. Mary and Joseph already have a clear sense that God’s presence is manifested in the most extraordinary, unlikely, unexpected places, such as dreams, shepherds’ fields and stables.
As Luke’s picture-story unfolds throughout his gospel, Mary will look on in dismay as her son is rejected by the very people he had come to rescue. Finally, the child who Simeon says is “destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,” himself passes through death and into resurrection. Throughout his work, Luke wants to draw people of every age and stage of life into the drama. There’s something here for everyone.

Brothers and sisters, no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey, the story of Jesus, from the feeding trough in Bethlehem to the empty tomb and beyond is meant to become our story, our vocation with all the surprising, and even, at times, unwanted twists and turns that any good story contains.

Icon of Saint Luke painting the Virgin. Reflections by  Father Abbot Damian for this morning's Mass for the Feast.