Wednesday, January 29, 2014

At the End of the Day

As a child at the end of the day, I come to you, my Home, my Comfort, my Shelter. I praise you and celebrate you, my Lord and my all. With Thomas, whose anguish you turned into joy, I declare you my Lord and my God, One with the Father and One with the Spirit. When you come to judge the living and the dead, call me to stand at your right hand and bid me enter your Kingdom. As for now, allow me to open my mouth 
and sing to you:

Jesus, gentle Heart, give my heart tenderness. 
Jesus, Home of the just, shelter me.
Jesus, comforting Arms, ease my fears.

Photo by Charles O'Connor. 
Prayer from the Agathist Hymn to the Name of Jesus by Joseph Raya.

Monday, January 27, 2014

True Obedience

Yesterday we celebrated with joy and typical festivity the three Founders of the Cistercian Order, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen. In his homily Father Isaac spoke about obedience as true humility, obedience as love. When as monks, spouses, friends we defer to one another out of love, we are obedient.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Brother Jonah

What is this awesome mystery that is taking place within me? I can find no words to express it; my poor hand is unable to capture it in describing the praise and the glory that belong to the One who is above all praise, and who transcends every work...My intellect sees what has happened, but cannot explain it. It can see and wishes to explain but can find no word that will suffice; for what it sees is invisible and entirely formless, simple, completely uncompounded, unbounded in its awesome greatness. What I have seen is the totality recapitulated as one, received not in essence but by participation, just as if you lit a flame from a flame, it is the whole flame you receive.      
St. Simeon the New Theologian

Brother Jonah entered the monastery in late fall of 2004 and made his Solemn Profession in October of 2010. He is currently a key member of the Spencer Brewery project. He assists the Belgian brew engineer and is helping to fine-tune the new bottling operation. And like all of the monks, Jonah shares in the regular household tasks and liturgical duties.

Brother Jonah experiences the monastic life at Spencer as the path that brings him "home to God in Christ," to his brothers and to his deepest self. He continues, "The rich balance of solitude and community life in a setting more beautiful and supportive than any other I have known makes all of its struggles and hardships worth enduring and growing from."


He concludes, "There is no greater or more rewarding adventure in life than following Christ daily in the often surprising ways He calls us and in devoting one's life to the One who has devoted Himself so completely to us. The monastic life is a radical departure from many of the ways that most people live, but the deepest love is radical. The monastic life is a rare and brave way of entering into the radical love of the Gospel, the radical love of Jesus. And should God call anyone to it, it is certain that He will also provide the strength and grace for that person to live it out.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Surely all things are possible to someone who leans upon Him who can do all things. What confidence there is in the cry, 'I can do all things in Him who strengthens me!' Nothing shows more clearly the almighty power of the Word than that He makes all-powerful all those who put their hope in Him. For all things are possible to one who believes.

Photograph of frost on the cloister window by Brother Daniel. Excerpt from Sermons on the Song of Songs by Saint Bernard, 85, 5.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Snow is like silence. It helps us see the angles, the harsh contrasts and incongruities within us more clearly, more definitively. Gratefully, Jesus will meet us in this silence, his compassionate silence.

Saturday, January 18, 2014


What does it mean to be called by God?  The question is particularly important for those who are still discerning their vocation, as well as for all of us in vows, who are called by the Rule to daily conversion.  The salient points of the catechesis are something like this:
  • God acts with total freedom and in deep mystery when he calls.  He uses surprise means in his own place and time. And he always anticipates us in his mercy.
  • God intervenes with power and majesty within the extreme ordinariness of our lives.
  • The call is always puzzling; it defeats human logic.
  • The call always brings fire into our lives and person: it is at the same time enthralling and painful because such is the nature of transformation.  It makes us better, though it can feel as if it is destroying us.
  • The call stretches our private persons, so that a life previously led only for self and family now becomes ecclesial: we must now live for all those God loves. 
  • The call requires attentiveness in listening, and the willingness to comply.
  • The calls at once thrills and humbles one: it awakens a sense of one’s inadequacy. 
  • Everything occurs by the power of God’s presence and continual guidance: “I will be with you!”  
  • The first results of an authentic call, once accepted, are: freedom from any slavery and the ability and desire to worship the living God.  Liberation always leads to grateful adoration. 
  • Finally, like a river leads to the ocean, the call leads to constant immersion in prayer, to unceasing dialogue with the Father, as we see Jesus do with the Father.

The chief characteristic of the dialogue is that the disciple, like his Lord, is childlike in the sense that he is an in-fans, that is, a little one who “lacks any little word of his own” (Greek nepios).  Every word that Jesus speaks reveals the Father, because Jesus is the incarnate Word of the Father.  In his prayer, we see him receiving his very being from the Father and returning it to the Father in praise and thanksgiving.

Photograph by Brother Emmanuel. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Work

We monks of Saint Joseph's Abbey have inaugurated a new monastic industry, as dictated by fiscal necessity. We are brewing a blond refectory ale, suitable to accompany a meal.  After thorough communal discussion and discernment Father Abbot trusted that this would be a work consonant with our monastic endeavor. For as our Constitutions tell us, 

Work, especially manual work, has always enjoyed special esteem in the Cistercian tradition since it gives the monks the opportunity of sharing in the divine work of creation and restoration, and of following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. This hard and redeeming work is a means of providing a livelihood for the brothers and for other people, especially the poor. It expresses solidarity with all workers. Moreover work is an occasion for a fruitful asceticism that fosters personal development and maturity. It promotes health of mind and body and contributes greatly to the unity of the whole community. 

The site was blessed in the Fall of 2012, and brewing began a year or so later. You can learn more at May the Lord prosper this work of our hands.

Photographs by Brother Daniel

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Baptism of the Lord

So closely does Christ identify with the plight of humanity that our sin has become his sin. And so you see, bearing all that sin he must come to be baptized. In identifying with our sin, Christ has paved the way for us to share the righteousness that characterizes God himself. For he is reconciling the world to himself, "not counting our transgressions against us, since for our sakes God has made Him who did not know sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.” Jesus goes down into the cool waters of conversion to mark God’s irrevocable marriage bond with us.

And so fittingly the heavens are opened, the reality of this wedding of heaven and earth in Christ is proclaimed. The Father’s voice and the Spirit’s hovering declare who Jesus’ is: the Beloved Son who always does what the Father wants. The Father presents his Son to us, to be our beloved. And the waters of our earth open to receive him. United with him, we are beloved in him.

So here Jesus is, here in the murky water that is our humanity- all that is wobbly, squishy, fluid and unpredictable, all that tempts us- Jesus has immersed himself in all of it, descended into the somewhat slimy reality of it all. He waits for us there- in all that embarrasses and burdens us, our regrets, our failures and foolishness, all of our soggy, sad truth. There is Jesus, with us always. And it is there that we will find him. Only the passion of his love for us can explain this- his desire for baptism, his desire to take our flesh in the first place.

We are meant to meet him down there. Like John we may ask, “What are you doing here of all places?” That is why we love the word allow. Jesus asks John to allow him to be baptized. Said another way to each of us, “Please allow me to be who I am- truly God, truly human. I have become your sin to rescue you from it. I bear all your burdens with you. Please allow it. Please let me in.” Why do I hesitate? Will I allow him to meet me there in all those places that seem most unlikely, most unresolved, messy, tempting even sinful? He is waiting. Are we ready to take our humanity seriously as sacred place of encounter with him?
Section of window in the north walk of Mariawald Abbey cloister, by Gerhard Rhemish, 'The Master of St. Severin', Germany, 1500-49, Victoria and Albert Museum. Excerpt from this morning's homily.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Divine Love

Recently a friend sent us these words by Ruth Burrows, OCD. And we were reminded once again that in Jesus we see God's deep desire to be ordinary. We may encounter Him moment by moment in what is commonplace.

Divine love meets us in the real world and nowhere else: in this moment; in this circumstance, painful and humiliating though it may be; in this person; in the daily unexciting round of seeming trivialities which afford no measure of self-glorification. Divine love meets us here in our flawed, suffering human condition and nowhere else.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014


In these last days of the Christmas season, we share photographs of our decorations- the giant tree in the library where we gathered for caroling and the creche from the Abbey church.
Photos by Brother Daniel.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


As Father Abbot reminded us in this morning's homily, if we wish to give the Lord the gift of ourselves, our talents, all that we are, we must first realize and celebrate the amazing reality of God's Gift of Godself to us in Christ. God has given us everything in Christ, the Gift beyond our wildest dreams, the Gift of gifts.

What good fortune...See, Jesus is offered to you: run to him open-handed, throw out your arms and enfold him in your embrace. Prove your devotion in love and deed: take him to yourself without a qualm, this Son who is given to you; embrace him lovingly and linger with him always pressed to your heart.

The Adoration of the Magi, Justus of Ghent (Joos van Wassenhove) (Netherlandish, active by 1460–died ca. 1480), ca. 1465, Distemper on canvas, 43 x 63 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Lines from the Second Sermon for Christmas of Blessed Guerric of Igny.

Friday, January 3, 2014

This Image

We receive the newspapers each day; informative, enlightening enough at least to form our prayer and open our hearts to so much suffering and contradiction beyond the cloister walls. Especially at Christmastime several images pierced our hearts. This image in particular- of Afghan children in the snow outside their shelter in Kabul- haunted us as we pondered the Christmas story.

Our hearts are broken open. And we hope and believe that somehow in our prayer and watching we shelter all who are needy and vulnerable in our world- for Christ, with Christ, in Christ.

Photo from The Wall Street Journal.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Beginning the New Year with Our Lady

Perhaps the blessings God showers on us too often make us yawn precisely because they are so many and so constant that we are spoiled into indifference. Let us strive to imitate Our Lady, model and patroness of contemplatives, who always responded with a full and grateful heart to every approach and proposal of God’s transforming Word. Let us follow her guidance as we slowly and joyfully climb the mount that is Christ, her beloved Son. Even before arriving at the pinnacle we are already found in him, from the beginning of the journey. This ought to give us cause for continual conversion and thanksgiving. The whole way to Christ is Christ!
Detail of Madonna, probably 18th century, French, in Abbey Library, photograph by Virginia Raguin. Reflection by Father Simeon.