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. 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013


Why do we all love Saint Thérèse? Perhaps because she helps us understand that holiness, real sanctity is accessible, accomplished by doing little things as best we can. Her writings, her "way" remind us that our failings when brought to the Lord for his mercy grant us access to intimacy with him.

“God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized; so in spite of my littleness, I can hope to be a saint.”