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!