Saturday, June 28, 2014

Two Hearts

Today's Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of Mary follows yesterday's Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Jesus' heart was formed under the pure heart of Mary; she gave him a heart that could love and rejoice and suffer for us. 

Exercising a motherly care for us her poor children in all things and through all things, the Virgin Mother calms our trembling fear, enlivens our faith, supports our hope, drives away our distrust, strengthens our timidity.

Surely you are not afraid to approach Jesus? He is your Brother and your flesh, tempted in all things as you are, yet without sin, so that he might have compassion. And this Brother has been given to us by Mary.

And so whatsoever you have a mind to offer to the Lord, be sure to entrust it to Mary, so that your gift shall return to the Giver of all grace through the same channel by which you obtained it.

Bridal wreathe bushes are blooming at the Abbey entrance. Lines from Saint Bernard's Sermon 7 for the Nativity of Our Lady.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Baptist's Vocation and our Own

John the Baptist is a towering figure in the history of our salvation. His importance is amply attested by all four Gospels and also the Acts of the Apostles.  It is difficult to imagine the development of Jesus’ earthly history without John’s presence and ministry from the very beginning. John’s intimate involvement in Jesus’ life and destiny, and the significance of John’s ardent devotion to his slightly younger cousin (who also happened to be the Son of God), are perhaps the outstanding instance of how Jesus brought us salvation by meshing his divine life inextricably with our human existence. How I would love to allow my own destiny to become as totally bound up with that of Jesus as was John the Baptist’s!  Is not this an excellent definition of “sanctity”: for one’s life to be wholly intertwined with Christ’s and lost with his in God?  So closely united was John’s earthly life to Jesus’ work of sanctification that he is the only saint besides the Mother of God whose biological birth into this world the Church celebrates as a resplendent work of nature and grace, inseparably, and as a turning point in salvation history. So essential is John’s role in manifesting the presence of the Incarnate Word to the world that his apprenticeship as a prophet and evangelist begins already in his mother’s womb, and this baby’s first (wordless) sermon consists in a mighty leap of joy at sensing the approach of God’s Holy One. 

As we go about our daily activities of prayer, lectio divina, work and fraternal relations, may we like John learn how to leap instinctively with joy at the approach of Jesus. If this becomes a blessed habit, we will then be allowing one another, and the whole world, to feel the presence in our midst of the One who alone brings us peace and lasting unity and evergreen freshness of life. The heart of the Baptist’s vocation coincides precisely with our own vocation as monks. In a moving self-portrait John says: “He who has the bride is the Bridegroom; the friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the Bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full.  He must increase, but I must decrease.” These are clearly the words of one who is on fire with love and who wants to make all others fall in love with the same Beloved. 

Reflection by Father Simeon. 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Holy Communion

As monks we have given ourselves over to a life of patient love, promising to surrender over and over again to God's Mercy, promising to go the distance with one another in ordinariness and simplicity. But how shall we tolerate- literally bear patiently, lovingly- the ordinariness of God in Christ, the ordinariness of one another? How shall we remember to love patiently and kindly and give as Christ Jesus did? How can we manage the unremitting patience and loving-kindness of Christ's mercy? The truth is we cannot manage such love; we can only try to accept it as simple mercy and try to go and do likewise.

Love is patient. Today this simple Word is fulfilled in our hearing, even in our touching and in our tasting. For once again this morning as at every Eucharist, Love does what Love loves to do- gives Himself away to us, patient, kind, small, even forgettable- in a tiny morsel of Bread, a sip of Wine. As we come to receive this Holy Communion on this great feast of His Body and Blood, Jesus beckons us, “Open to me my Beloved. Open your mouth and I will fill it. Please let me be all for you. Please don’t give up on me.”

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, June 20, 2014


The lamp of the body is the eye.
If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light;
but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness.

And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.

In this fresco of The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the sin of our first parents is depicted by Masaccio as loss of vision. Naked and grief-stricken they depart from Paradise with their eyes blinded by their sin of disobedience. Jesus' words in today's Gospel remind us that faith and faithfulness open our eyes and hearts to Him who is the Light.

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Masaccio, c. 1425, fresco, The Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

No Need to Babble

Jesus said to his disciples:
“In praying, do not babble like the pagans,
who think that they will be heard because of their many words.
Do not be like them.
Your Father knows what you need before you ask him."

In today's Gospel from Matthew, Jesus teaches us how to pray. How good to remember that even before a word is on our tongue, God knows and truly understands our needs. When Jesus reminds us today not to "babble," he is not telling us to be quiet. It is fitting that with confidence and the boldness of little children, we ask for all we long for and express the deepest desires of our heart. But we are not supplying God with information, as if God were busy or out of the office. Jesus reminds us that our prayer can be simple, heartfelt and direct, because God is truly attentive and desires to fill us with all good things.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Saint Lutgard

Saint Lutgard, died on this day, June 16, in 1246. Her biographer relates that once in prayer she experienced the Our Lord offering her whatever gift of grace she might desire. Lutgard asked for a better grasp of Latin, that she might better understand the Word of God and lift her voice more fluently in choral praise. After a few days, Lutgard’s mind was flooded with the riches of psalms, antiphons, readings and responsories. And yet she found herself feeling quite empty. She returned to Jesus and asked if she might exchange her gift. Jesus asked her, “For what would you exchange it?" “Lord,” said Lutgard, “I would exchange it for your Heart.” Jesus answered, "Rather, it is I who wish your heart.” Lutgard responded, “So be it Lord, as long  as you mix in your heart’s love with mine; and I own my heart only in you, now being safe for all time under your protection.”

Photograph of the old town pond at the Abbey. Reflection by Father Timothy

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Discovering Heaven

Our monastery was featured in a recent Time magazine publication entitled, Discovering Heaven: How Our Ideas About The Afterlife Shape How We Live Today. The author Lisa Miller notices the beauty and quiet of our Abbey and muses on the glimpses of heaven she experienced during her visit to the Abbey. 

As monks we can lose sight of the divine hidden in the routine. We were reminded of an observation made some years ago by Dom Thomas Keating: "Love is what changes the perception of ordinary reality into insight, and presence into unity. As love grows, therefore, so do insight and unity."

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Alice the Leper

Today we monks celebrate the Cistercian nun, Saint Alice who entered the Abbey of Notre Dame de La Chambre in Brussels when she was only seven years old.  At twenty-two she was infected with leprosy and forced to live as a recluse. Her biographer recounts that on the first night of her seclusion “her heart was so severely crushed and bruised, that her spirit fainted away, and her mind remained forcibly in shock.” Although terribly disfigured by disease, Alice was able to sing the praises of God until her death on June 11th, 1250.

We found the prayers of today’s collect at Mass quite moving:

Father, you gave the blessed virgin Alice the grace of bearing patiently for the love of Christ with grievous sickness and disease. With the help of her prayer, may all who suffer pain recognize that they are among the chosen ones whom the Lord calls blessed, and know that they are joined to him in his suffering for the salvation of the world…

Do we believe that when we suffer we are “chosen ones”? Do we trust enough that when we suffer, we are joined with Christ in his sufferings? Saint Alice intercede for us that we may learn to entrust ourselves to Him who is our Hope.

Photograph taken at the monastery this spring by Charles O'Connor.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Saint Ephrem

May the sacrifice which we gladly present on the feast day of blessed Ephrem, be pleasing to you, O God, for taught by him we too give ourselves entirely to you in praise.

When we heard these words during this morning's Eucharist, we well understood. Following the example of the saints and of Our Blessed Lady, we want to make our lives- all that we do, all that we say, indeed all that we are- a great hymn of praise to the Lord!

Delicate white irises are blooming in the monastery's enclosed garden.

Sunday, June 8, 2014


How, or when, do we experience the presence of the Spirit? I once read that the Spirit is most present at three open spaces in our lives: “In the unpredictable, in the place of risk, and in those areas over which we have no control.” Which was exactly where the disciples were on that first Pentecost. And that is where we are, more times than we would like to admit. Pentecost is our reminder that there is another side to God’s Spirit—one than can set us on fire, transform our lives, turn our world upside down. The action of the Spirit is not predictable. It can seem very risky and is definitely beyond our control—not only in our personal lives but also in our experience of Church and of monastic community.

We heard from St. Paul that it is in this one Spirit that we were all baptized into one body. “Now you are the body of Christ,” Paul says, “and individually members of it.” This turns out to be a place of risk, unpredictability, and beyond our control. Wholeness is a matter of many different parts all being themselves and doing their jobs. Only gradually we come to discover that unity and diversity are not contradictory terms: our survival as bodies depends not on the sameness of our members but on their variety, their differences. When it comes to the Body of Christ that we are, it is only the Spirit of Pentecost that creates and renews the intricate cooperation required to keep the Body alive and well.

But, truth be told, this is a place of risk, unpredictability, and where we are not in control. The problem begins with the concrete reality that we find ourselves in a community with a bunch of other people who look, think, talk, and act differently than we do. In a  monastic community, for example, a microcosm of the Church as a whole, we join a community looking for—what?—closeness, support, some measure of safety—and nine times out of ten what we get instead is this holy struggle to live and work with people who are just as angular as we are. There are moments that would persuade us that community is “that place where the person you least want to live with always lives!” (Ironically, we may suddenly realize that usually turns out to be ourselves!)

May this feast of Pentecost inspire us this morning to give ourselves over to the working of the Holy Spirit in the “open spaces” in our lives, especially in spaces of risk, unpredictability and where we are not in control. That gives the Holy Spirit plenty of room in which to work! On a very practical level, what better way is there to open ourselves up to the God beyond our knowing than to begin with the brother (or sister) beyond our knowing, who is a fellow-member of the Body of Christ? What finer way to learn about the reconciling power of Christ that we’ve been celebrating this Eastertide than to test it in a body of infinite variety? The Holy Spirit, the Consoler, the Advocate, is also the one who desires to set us on fire with love, to transform our lives in Truth, and turn our world upside down with the Good News of Jesus Christ risen, glorified and abiding with us always.

Excerpts from Father Dominic's homily for Pentecost Sunday.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Yesterday we saw this wonderful little rosy maple moth resting on one of the walls of the monastery. We were filled with wonder. 

Noticing something, anything of beauty, perhaps even a teeny moth, we can be amazed. Such is the power of beauty. It draws us beyond ourselves to a place beyond simple logic and reasonableness. Beauty draws us into the extravagance of God, the extravagance of his love for us. We gaze in reverence. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


Someone passed on to us Jon Favreau’s recent commencement speech at the nearby College of the Holy Cross. We were touched by his comments and share the following:

I understand that cynicism can seem like a logical response to the daily flood of headlines about problems that can’t be solved and people who behave badly – the celebrities and CEOs and politicians of both parties who are supposedly driven only by ego and greed and personal gain. It is hardly original to point out that trust in major institutions has declined, as more of their mistakes and deficiencies are revealed and reported and endlessly analyzed. But here’s the truth: so long as institutions like government, media, business, and faith are created by human beings, with all our faults and imperfections, they will frustrate us. They will disappoint us. They will let us down.

Cynicism is one response to this reality. If you want, you can approach the world with constant distrust and suspicion. You can be a critic who just throws rocks from the sidelines, which requires very little effort or creativity…But remember: cynicism isn’t the only response to humanity’s inadequacies and limitations. Cynicism is a choice. It is just as much of a choice as service to others or faith in God. It is just as much of a choice as love – love that bears all things, believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things.
We were touched because we were reminded that even in a hidden life like ours, cynicism can be a choice we make, a very poor choice. In fact cynicism is the enemy of prayer and contemplation. Cynicism poisons wonder. Cynicism sees a radiant sunrise or an orchard in blossom, hears a bird’s clear song or experiences an unexpected kind word or gesture and says, “So what. Big deal.” The Spirit of God beckons us quietly to notice, to wonder, to give thanks and to praise.

 Photographs by Charles O'Connor

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Not of this World

John’s Gospel is believed to have been written for the church of Ephesus at the end of 1st century; it addresses an emerging Christian community in transition adjusting to their separation from Judaism; many or all of these early Christians have in fact been expelled from the synagogue. Certainly they are disoriented. And so appropriately John writes a highly symbolic text, which invites them to a radical reorientation. It may have been intended as a consolation for them, a reminder that as Christians they and we belong to a different reality, a new world that is hidden under the outer reality of things.

And so in this morning’s Gospel from Saint John, Jesus says to the Father:

I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.

John’s language is one of radical relationality. We belong to God, in Christ Jesus our Lord.  The “world” in this Gospel is all reality opposed to Jesus and his way of compassion and self-offering. As disciples we believers like our 1st century forebears are not in that world but in a new world of radical relationship with God in Christ through the Spirit, imbedded in the Trinity, for we have been born from above through baptism.

Still like those early Christians we too experience the tension of a world not yet fully transformed, a situation that is ‘already’ and ‘not yet.’ And as monks we have Saint Benedict to exhort us, “Your way of acting should be different from the world's way; the love of Christ must come before all else.” Benedict reminds us where we belong, better still to whom we belong. It is our love of Christ, but first of all his love for us that has changed everything.

Indeed only such love can reorient us. And we live now longing for Love’s in-breaking; transformative moments, when we can see that in Christ while we are in the world, we nonetheless belong to another world- out of the system that puts aggression and success first, the world of political discourse where one-upmanship takes hold, a world where ease and accomplishment grant status and prestige. We belong somewhere else; we have been called into a new order, a new cosmos named the kingdom- where Christ’s power over us is shown best in our weakness, where compassion trumps fear, where the truth of Jesus’ suffering and death into resurrection redefine any earthly notion of how to make it in life.