Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Visitation

When Our Lady visits her cousin Elizabeth, the infant Saint John in her womb leaps for joy at the nearness of his Lord newly present in Mary's womb. May we follow John's example and rejoice at the Lord's presence in our midst moment by moment.
The Visitation, 13th century manuscript, School of Saint Albans, The British Library. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ascension Day

In today's snippet from Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus summons his disciples to a mountain top, proclaiming that all power in heaven and on earth belongs to him, commissioning them to baptize in his name and solemnly promising to be with them always.  Somewhat surprisingly they worship him, but they also doubt. It seems a bit anticlimactic. After all they have experienced of Jesus, they doubt. Literally in the Greek, they are "standing two ways." 

Perhaps it’s the perfect ending to Matthew’s Gospel. We remember after all how it began: “Now this is how the birth of Jesus took place…” Those few words always sound so promising, almost like, “Once upon a time…” But as the story unfolds, it’s more like a fractured fairy tale, not picture perfect. There’s Mary’s unexplained pregnancy, Joseph’s dream, and on and on… Not ideal but real, like Jesus’ life, like our lives.

Perhaps it is consoling to realize that even Jesus’ closest companions were in the final analysis more than a bit confused. Isn’t it true that even as we strive to live a life of faith, like the apostles we sometimes doubt and are often left looking heavenward and wondering where Jesus is or where he's gone?

When in the face of our doubt, we choose to move forward in faith and faithfulness, moment by moment, day by day, then faith trumps doubt. Then the dull darkness of doubt enhances the tender flickering of faith, and lets it shine forth more brilliantly. Perhaps this is all Jesus desires, this kind of faith- powerful but tiny as a mustard seed. Perhaps this is enough.

The Ascension of Christ, historiated initial ‘C’, Italian, 15 century, State Library of Victoria.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Spirit's Work

Six good men journeyed to the Abbey this past weekend for a vocational discernment experience- our biannual Monastic Experience Weekend. As they seek God's will and their hearts' deepest desire, Father Timothy's Sunday homily struck the right note for them as well as for us monks:  

Christ and the Spirit always surpass us. Once we have received the Spirit we can never rest. The Spirit of truth is always pushing us beyond ourselves to something larger, or into some new direction, into the ever-greater life of Christ and the Father. The monastic life, and specifically the Rule of Saint Benedict, is instituted precisely as a form and framework through which the Spirit can bear witness to the truth, disclose its marvels and  guide the monk into it, inviting him into the exhaustible fullness of divine realm of the Son and the Father, breaking down the barriers set up by his ego, allowing him to transcend himself, and ever expanding his heart, insofar as he allows the Spirit to do his work. Over the centuries, countless men and women who have said ‘yes’ to this way, bear witness by their lives that it works, if it is embraced; and we who live according to it now know this, however imperfectly we may carry it out.  

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014


In this morning's Gospel Jesus asks us to remain in him as he remains in us and because he wants to be so united with us,  he adds that without him we can do nothing.

God is always moving toward us, drawing us. God wants to reveal himself and engage us. We come to understand this towardness of God in Christ, who shows in his life, passion , death and rising that God indeed wants to give himself away to us always. 

And so we must understand that if we desire union with God in Christ, he wants it more than we do. We may be afraid of making a wrong move. But God is for us, he wants us to love and choose rightly in freedom and joy, empowered by his love. God has made us for himself; he wants our flourishing, our freedom and happiness. God very desperately wants to be with us. His very powerful compassion envelops and embraces us, and so we are able to be unafraid. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Fifth Sunday of Easter

Perhaps like Thomas and Philip in today’s Gospel we often don't understand. That’s why Thomas’ question this morning, is such a relief. He puts it right out there. “Master, we don’t know where you going. How can we know the way?” The other disciples were all probably thinking the same thing, but did not dare to ask. Said another way: “Why does following you have to be so puzzling?” Or “Why can’t things be clearer?” “I don’t understand the way you do things.” “Why can’t things simply remain the same?”  And further removed as we are, having never encountered Jesus in the flesh, perhaps our faith needs to be even deeper than theirs. That’s why Thomas’ candor is so refreshing. Very soon as we approach Pentecost, we will hear the Lord say: “It is better for you that I go.” If only Thomas were there that day too to say, “Please remind why this is better, because I’m just not getting it. I don’t understand. I just want you to stay.”

That’s what Jesus wants too, simply to have those he loves remain with him, abide in him. And so he assures us, "I am the way and the truth and the life." In other words, “I am the way that leads through darkness and confusion, obscurity and doubt; through seeming absence to a richer, darker, mysterious presence.” He draws us higher to the place that he is preparing for us, the place of our belovedness. Jesus clearly understands himself as the Beloved of his Father. (How else could he have made it through the horror of his passion?) And he envisions the same identity for us, and says that where he is, there will we be- hidden in the bosom of the Father. “I will come back again and take you to myself,” he says, “so that where I am you also may be.” For all our lack of understanding, certainly these words of Jesus are tremendously consoling. “I will take you to myself.” Where else would any of us want to be?

And so we continue to hold fast to his promise, for only love and surrender to him can quiet our questioning. Jesus is taking us to himself. And as we hold fast to him in faith, all is still deep, dark mystery. As monks this where we live- in this land of desire, somehow suspended between heaven and earth, getting glimpses of heavenly communion, visits of the Word, noticing his kind and loving presence but more often left hanging, because our desire often outstrips our understanding. We’re left suspended, longing for more, but often losing our way. This is where we live, in this in-between place, poised in faith between a promised heavenly homeland and our present earthly existence; puzzled and sometimes impatient because earthly existence even for all its ambiguities is at least tangible and real. And here we wait in joyful hope, doing what is ordinary, for this is exactly where Jesus promises to find us.

Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Spring Rain

After days of soft rain the Abbey is green and suddenly lush.
The peepers are chortling enjoying the wet.
And we sing the antiphon at Vespers,
Like a gentle rain falling upon the earth,
you have come to save your people. Alleluia!

Thursday, May 15, 2014


Today we monks celebrate Saint Pachomius (c. 292-346 AD) an early Egyptian ascetic regarded by many as the founder of cenobitic monasticism. Born to pagan parents in Upper Egypt, he received an excellent education and in his early twenties was called to serve in the Roman army. As a new conscript he was housed in an old prison building operated by local Christians. He was so impressed by their kindness and generous love for him and the other recruits, that he vowed to become a Christian when his military service ended. The love that had touched and converted him would characterize Pachomius’ ministry and gentle leadership for years to come. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known in any age that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your powerful intercession, was ever left unaided. Inspired with this same childlike confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word made flesh, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

In May Mary's month and in every month this ancient prayer to Mary called the Memorare is a great consolation. Mary is our protector and a model for all our efforts at prayer and faithfulness. Our Constitutions remind us, "By fidelity to their monastic way of life, which has its own hidden mode of apostolic fruitfulness, monks perform a service for God's people and the whole human race. Each community of the Order and all the monks are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Symbol of the Church in the order of faith, love and perfect union with Christ."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Worshipping Together

The spiritual character of the community is especially evident in the celebration of the liturgy. The liturgy strengthens and increases both the inner sense of the monastic vocation and communion among the brothers. Each day in the liturgy God's Word is heard. A sacrifice of praise is offered to God the Father, there is a sharing in the mystery of Christ and the Holy Spirit's work of sanctification is accomplished. 
from the Constitutions of the Monks

Sunday, May 11, 2014

First Mass

One week ago on Sunday, May 4 as the community gathered in the Abbey church with Father Emmanuel's family and many friends, he celebrated his First Mass. We share a portfolio of photographs taken by Brother Brian.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Father Emmanuel

On last Saturday, May 3 we celebrated with great joy the Ordination to Priesthood of our Father Emmanuel by Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester. 
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Father Basil

We mourn the passing of our brother, Father Basil, who died very peacefully on Friday, May 2, surrounded by a small group of devoted brethren.

A Pennsylvania native Father Basil  entered Our Lady of the Valley as a lay brother in 1946 when he was twenty-five years old. After the fire in 1950 that completely destroyed that monastery, he moved with the rest of the monastic community to its new location at St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer where he pronounced his solemn vows in 1951. Five years later he was sent to help construct the new monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. When he returned to Spencer, he worked on our dairy farm and in the machine shop.

Father Basil was ordained to the priesthood in 1976 and continued his service to the community as accountant for the Abbey's industries. And for the next twenty-two years he labored diligently as the Abbey's chief librarian.

Father Basil was 66 years in monastic vows and 38 years a priest. We remember with grateful hearts the example of his quiet faithfulness in prayer and at work. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

New Saints

We celebrate with joy two new saints, John Paul II and John XXIII, both popes and charismatic leaders, very different but both lovers of Christ's Church who ardently worked for her growth and flourishing in different ages.

Thank you Lord Jesus, for your kindness in uniting us to the Church you so dearly love, not merely that we may be endowed with the gift of faith, but that like brides we may be one with you in an embrace that is sweet, chaste and eternal, beholding with unveiled faces that glory which is yours in union with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen. 
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux