Sunday, January 29, 2017


As Father Dominic reminded us this morning, what Jesus presents to us in the Beatitudes is not so much an exhortation on how to act but an invitation to notice who God is naming as most fortunate and chosen- those who are poor, forgotten, sad; those who are underachievers and losers according to the world's standards. Jesus points to the upsidedownness of life in the kingdom and calls us to view reality from a new perspective.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

A Storm

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
"Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
He woke up,
rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!"
The wind ceased and there was great calm.
Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified?
Do you not yet have faith?"
They were filled with great awe and said to one another,
"Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?"  Mark 4

We imagine Jesus exhausted after a very busy day of preaching and healing those desperate for his touch. He steps into the boat and immediately heads for the stern where he curls up in his cloak and rests his weary head on an old cushion that Peter always keeps there. A violent storm comes up, but Jesus already sound asleep, doesn't even stir. The boat is filling with water as waves break overhead, Jesus is getting drenched; still he sleeps on. Amazing. The apostles panic and shake him awake. His hair dripping wet, his clothes soaked through, he opens his eyes. "I am with you. There is nothing to fear." Then with majestic calm and authority, he rebukes the storm. "Shhhh! Quiet! Be still!" The sea, the wind know the voice of their Creator, their Master, the Word who called them into being; and they obey.

What is terrifying us? What is our greatest fear? Jesus is in the same boat with us, drenched in our humanity, one with us; his quiet healing presence never, ever far away. We can call out to him in confidence.

The Lord is king, with majesty enrobed.
The Lord has robed himself with might;
he has girded himself with power.

The world you made firm, not to be moved;
your throne has stood firm from of old.
From all eternity, O Lord, you are.

The waters have lifted up, O Lord,
the waters have lifted up their voice;
the waters have lifted up their thunder.

Greater than the roar of mighty waters,
more glorious than the surgings of the sea,
the Lord is glorious on high.

Truly your decrees are to be trusted.
Holiness is fitting to your house,
O Lord, until the end of time.  Psalm 93

Picture by Brother Brian.

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Right Amount

We need never fear to love too much, but rather not to love enough. When we speak of loving too much, we mean in reality not loving enough; we mean loving some to the exclusion of others, and above all, we mean self-seeking and love of self. Therefore, that we may enter more fully in the spirit of our vocation, let us love more and more. Let us fear any want of sympathy, exclusiveness, local or national spirit, a tendency toward criticism. Let us love frankly, loyally, generously as Our Lord has loved us.

Lines from Mother Janet Stuart, RSCJ.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Feast of Our Founders

In God's providence our three Founders, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen and their confreres, shared their lives with one another first at Molesme. Then taking their inspiration from Robert, they departed for Citeaux. After Robert  was called back to Molesme, a small remnant remained behind at Citeaux. From this second humble beginning, each monk was called to contribute in his own unique way to the ongoing story of what lay ahead. Robert had been charisma; Alberic became perseverance, and Stephen became structure and stability.

The entry of all these men into the stream of monastic history began much further back, when they were each put to the test- at the time of their entrance into the monastery and each was scrutinized to see "whether he was truly seeking God." Finding that such an intent was in their hearts meant that the Spirit was at work.  The ongoing fire of that search would be at the root of all that each would ever accomplish in God's plan for that first monastery at Citeaux. The search would be handed on little by little to the next generation, who in its turn would cooperate with God in the shaping of the Order. 

Eventually that day would come, when we too would be scrutinized and found worthy to begin, to take up our own share in the service of God in this house which is Spencer, each doing his best to hang on to the personal search as well as to his own share in Spencer's collaborative search for God.
Adapted and excerpted from Father Gabriel's homily for this morning's feast. Photographs by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


In the midst of every conflict and division that the human heart can contrive, the Spirit of Jesus always seeks to draw us together and make us one. How often we resist; insisting that we know better, our individual plan will work best.

Overwhelmed by the nearness of the persecuted Jesus calling to him and blinded by the divine radiance, Paul falls to the ground, helpless and needy at last; all his old answers suddenly meaningless.

That’s what it took for Christ Jesus to get Paul’s attention and change his heart. What will it take to break our hearts open- as churches, nations, individuals? What have we heard and seen that will make us understand once and for all that unity, forgiveness, blessed compromise, deferring to one another out of love for Christ surpass everything?

As we complete this Octave of Prayer for Unity, let us pray that now, today we would listen to his voice and harden not our hearts, so that all may be one in him.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Conversion on the Way to Damascus, oil on canvas, 1600-01, Cerasi Chapel, Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Saint Francis de Sales

Do everything calmly and peacefully. Do as much as you can as well as you can. Strive to see God in all things without exception, and consent to His will joyously. Do everything for God, uniting yourself to him in word and deed. Walk very simply with the Cross of the Lord and be at peace with yourself.

We are heartened by these words of Saint Francis de Sales, and we hear in them an echo of the words of today's responsorial psalm: 

Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
I have waited, waited for the Lord,
and he stooped toward me.
And he put a new song into my mouth,
a hymn to our God.
Here am I Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Burnt offerings or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, "Behold I come."

Monday, January 23, 2017

For Life

In a kind of fortuitous liturgical coincidence today's memorial of Saint Marianne coincides with the Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. And so at this morning's Mass, we heard this opening prayer: 

God our Creator, we give thanks to you, who alone have the power to impart the breath of life as you form each of us in our mother’s womb; grant, we pray, that we, whom you have made stewards of creation, may remain faithful to this sacred trust and constant in safeguarding the dignity of every human life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

We recall that in 1883 Sister Marianne Cope left New York with six sisters to minister to leprosy patients in Hawaii. She planned to remain only long enough to get them settled. But the patients’ great needs led her to remain in Hawaii for four decades; she would die there in 1918. Courageous, energetic and never daunted by any challenge, she loved the poor and most vulnerable. May the dedicated witness of Saint Marianne inspire us to reverence and protect all human life.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

His Ministry

Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people who sit in darkness have seen a great light, on those dwelling in a land overshadowed by death light has arisen. Mt. 4

Today Jesus takes up his public ministry. And his decision to begin in the north, in Galilee, means that the first to receive his word were those who dwelt in the regions of the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali, that is, the tribes who, in the 8th century, were the first to be overrun by the expanding Assyrian Empire and to be carried off into exile. The first Israelites to experience the darkness of conquest and exile are now the first to see the light of God’s goodness in the Messiah. The northernmost tribes who had been ravaged by the divine judgment before all others are now given the chance for renewal and restoration before all others. 

What Israel has always possessed is a faith – in its election, in the covenant, in the promises – and a hope that inviolably knows that, through all the experiences of night and through all judgments, the end of this twilight must necessarily come, because God is always faithful to his side of the covenant. Israel possesses a love for the God who redeemed it from the house of slavery and has promised to remain true. The old covenant is one single cry for its fulfillment – and yet it is unable to outline the form the fulfillment will take. God alone can provide the synthesis. 

The convergence point of the lines from the old covenant, therefore, cannot be constructed and must remain open. It is only by looking backwards from the vantage point of the new covenant that this is clear. The task for Israel was to stand firm in this empty time between past and future, to accept the uncertainty, to resist the temptation to drawback the veil from the future, the pull to find a solution of its own making to what on the human level was the irresolvable dilemma of the covenant. In so far as they insisted on pressing forward to a solution of their own devising they risked missing the light when it did appear. 

When John the Baptist appears, the long silence is over. He calls Israel to “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand;” to clear the ground for the appearing of the one who is to come, to let go of anything that would be an obstacle to receiving him when and as he comes. And when Jesus takes up his public ministry his words are the same as John’s: “repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." God never bypasses our freedom. He waits with infinite patience for us to respond to his initiatives. Likewise, if we are to receive his light, like Israel, we are called to trust God’s freedom to speak or to be silent, to act or to be still.  Certain that this is not arbitrary on his part, but is always in service of love, of imparting to us the gift of himself and of the idea he has for his Church and world and for each of us, which is far greater than anything we might have dreamt up on our own. May we place our lives unreservedly at the service of this freedom.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Father Timothy's homily this morning.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Memorial of Saint Agnes

The virgin martyr Agnes is Christ's lamb. (Her name is derived from the Latin for lamb.) Like Jesus, the true Lamb, she offered herself “unblemished to God,” shedding her blood for love of him.

Jesus our Lord, the unblemished Lamb of God, by the shedding his precious blood on the altar of the cross, has once and for all cleansed our consciences. 

By the power of his self-offering Jesus has restored our lost innocence. Through him, with him, in him we offer ourselves wholeheartedly to God with Agnes and with all the saints. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Our Prayers This Day

O God, who arrange all things according to a wonderful design, graciously receive the prayers we pour out to you for our country, that, through the wisdom of its leaders and the integrity of its citizens, harmony and justice may be assured and lasting prosperity come with peace. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

We prayed these words at the beginning of this morning's Mass, realizing that in the midst of divisions and conflicts and fears, God's Spirit longs to draw us into ways of compassion, mutual understanding, true peace, forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us open our hearts more and more to the Spirit's initiative.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Physician

The physician comes to the sick, the redeemer to the captives, the way to the wanderers, life to the dead; he comes who will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea, who will heal all our diseases and will carry us back upon his own shoulders to the place of honor that was originally ours.

Phot0graph by Brother Brian. Lines from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: Third Sermon for Christmas.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Today we begin the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This year is significant because it marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s publication of his 95 theses in 1517. This year’s theme, the initiative of the German Council of Churches at the request of the World Council of Churches, is Reconciliation: The Love of Christ Compels Us from 2 Cor 5:14-20. The challenge for the Germans was how to celebrate this Reformation event in such a way that all its ecumenical partners could participate. They agreed that it should be a Christusfest, a celebration of Christ, in whom God has reconciled us to himself. The text they chose was inspired by paragraph nine of Pope Francis’ Encyclical the Joy of the Gospel, in which the Holy Father speaks of how “the love of Christ compels us” to spread the Gospel. How powerful that proclamation would be if it could be made with one voice! Aware that this unity begins first in the conversion of our own hearts, let us beg the  Lord's mercy.

Meditation by Father Timothy

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Saint Antony of the Desert

If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.

One morning at Mass the young Antony hears these words of Jesus to the rich young man, and his heart is pierced. He knows the message is for him; he quickly sells all his belongings and flees to a desert place.

What word, which words of Christ Jesus have touched us so deeply that we understood his call to us, sensed his nearness so unmistakably that our hearts were opened, our lives transformed?

Duccio di Buoninsegna, The Calling of the Apostles Peter and Andrew, 1308-1311, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Jesus As Bridge

Reflecting on today's readings, Father Isaac invited us to ponder the image of Jesus as bridge- our bridge between heaven and earth. At once truly human and truly divine, Jesus our Lord supports and enables the reality of our very real connectedness, our crossing over into all that divinity is. Certainly this is something we look forward to as our final destiny, but, as Isaac reminded us, it is our reality even now, unfolding in the ordinariness of our lives. He then recalled the vision of Saint Stephen, just before he was stoned to death:

Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

Stephen's vision is ours, for we are meant to notice the transparency of our earthly existence with divinity ever in sight. This is  our baptismal reality in Christ, renewed each day as we partake of his body and blood in the Holy Eucharist.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Through His Virginal Mother

To be inseparably God and man was unceasingly to accept the new life from his Father and at the same time to be heir, through his virginal mother, to all the earthiness of our humanity. It was to be the place where two pursuits, two thirsts, meet; the place where two worlds, of grace and of flesh, intermingle. It was to be the meeting point of two loves and the focus of their covenant; the place where two intense yearnings met, but also the source of their fulfillment. "Who would have believed what we have heard?" The fountain is there, and it is the heart of the Savior.

Image of the Virgin and Child from an ancient Cistercian manuscript. Lines from The Wellspring of Worship by Jean Corbon. 

Friday, January 13, 2017


Because Jesus sees into the heart, he knows well that what burdens the paralyzed man in today’s Gospel most of all. It is the burden of his shame. For he knows the painful truth: his paralysis is the direct consequence of sin (maybe the sin of his parents, but probably his own sin.) He knows it; everybody in the town knows it, all decent Jews in Jesus’ day believed it. Sin leaves its mark; sin causes sickness. And so we can imagine he was reluctant, embarrassed to have four buddies carry him to Jesus, for he is sure that he deserves to be paralyzed. It’s probably his fault. Case closed. Dead end. Most truly human, most truly divine, Jesus our Lord comes to this dead end and says simply, "Child, your sins are forgiven" and then heals him. Jesus unburdens.

Trusting in the prayers of Saint Hilary who so ardently defended Jesus’ true divinity, let us beg Jesus, our Lord, God with us, to forgive us our sins. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Saint Aelred of Rievaulx

Here we are, you and I, and I hope that Christ makes a third with us. Spiritual Friendship

Saint Aelred whom we celebrate today could be certain that in his experience of relationship, Christ was ever present, for Christ Jesus is never ever in competition with his creation. God is Love. Love is one. And so Jesus is truly with us in all of our loving interconnectedness. And so Aelred will at last declare, “God is friendship.”

Image of Saint Aelred from an early Cistercian manuscript.

Monday, January 9, 2017

His Baptism

We imagine today's Gospel scene something like this. John has been so busy dunking people, he hasn’t noticed the next person in line. Quietly Jesus steps forward to be baptized, his head lowered. Jesus smiles shyly. John stops, looks around, then comes close to Jesus and whispers, “Ah, what are you doing here? Please don’t do this. Get out of here. I’m not doing it; I’m not baptizing you. If anything, you should be baptizing me.”

Why is Jesus here of all places? He has nothing to repent of? Why would he choose to do this? Perhaps it is that he couldn’t not do it. That’s what he’s telling John. And so his response is tender and insistent, “Please allow it now, for in this way we will fulfill all righteousness.” Simply put, he who is Love could do no less. 

Jesus has so identified himself with his people, his own- those he has prayed with and played with and worked and eaten with- that he wants to be with them, to do with them this awesome covenantal moment. He has to be there, there in the water with them, with us. 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.” Romans 5 

Jesus is with us in all that embarrasses and burdens us, our regrets and our failures, our sins. Only the passion of his love can explain his desire for baptism, his desire to take our flesh in the first place- no distance, no separateness but immersion and identification with us. He has come to share absolutely in our distress now in the water, and very soon on the cross. He wants to be with us. Love in Person has irreversibly plunged into the dark water of our humanness, into ordinariness. Jesus goes down into the cool waters of conversion to mark God’s irrevocable communion with us. Christ Jesus enfleshes both our sinful fragility and our restoration as he stands dripping wet in the Jordan. And thus he restores to us the realization of our belovedness in him.

 The Baptism of Christ Piero della Francesca, c. 1448-1450,  Tempera on panel, 66 x 46", National Gallery, London.

Sunday, January 8, 2017


We have seen his star and have come with gifts to adore him.

Magi, wise visitors from the East, come to pay their homage to the Infant Christ. In this ancient mosaic they are of three different ages, and they advance with great intention, holding with arms extended their fantastically-shaped gifts. These Magi represent all that is opulent, foreign, extraordinary, even esoteric and exotic. They wear Phrygian caps, colorful leggings, gold and jewel-encrusted tunics and capes. They represent all the nations and ages of humanity with their wisdom and accomplishments, acknowledging the preeminence of Christ Jesus; he who is all beauty, all wisdom, all truth. 

As Abbot Damian reminded us in this morning's homily, the Magi follow the star with great desire and are overjoyed at seeing it rest over the Child. Father Abbot went on to say that many "stars" shine in our own lives, pointing to Christ's presence in our daily encounters with one another. These epiphanies great and small are the presence of God, which comes to us veiled in the beauty and love we may experience. God in Christ is breaking through to visit us from on high.

The Three Kings, mosaic, Byzantine School, 6th century, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Poorest

It was the custom in the ancient world, long before engraved announcements or phones or text messages, that when a baby was born to a respectable family, messengers would be sent out to announce the birth to the “right sort of people,” friends of the family’s social class in the best neighborhoods of the city. So it is that heavenly messengers announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds. These poorest, smelliest, “lowest-esteemed laborers,” receive the birth announcement of God’s own Son. They are the “right sort of people” for our God, people of God’s own social standing. This open “traffic” of angels between heaven and earth in the Gospels is the great sign of the awesomeness of the event of the Nativity.(Luke JohnsonThe heavens are opened, angels are everywhere. There is now easy interchange for God’s dream of intimacy with his creation has come true in Mary’s womb. Through Mary heaven is wedded to earth in Christ Jesus her baby. And the right sort of people must be informed, people like us, poor sinners, desperate for the good news that is his mercy. 

Hugo van der Goes, The Portinari Altarpiece, c.1475, Uffizi Gallery, detail of shepherds.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mary's Faith

A woman in love, her heart so recently expanded by the love awakened within her by Joseph’s sweet tenderness, Mary falls easily into the arms of God, beguiled if you will, by the divine foolishness, choosing her of all people. She is charmed by his beauty, vulnerable to its mystery and power.  She lets the unknown envelop and become fruitful within her. “Let him have his way.”  It’s what we’re meant to do- notice God’s ways, put it all together, catch the meaning, and get a glimpse of transcendent beauty often hidden within the sometime absurdity of things. Though very often like Mary, we believe but we don’t really understand that always for God: mess is opportunity. God’s power is always, always made perfect through weakness.

Mary shows us how to trust in such a God, the Giver of only good gifts, who never deceives or abandons or demands. Isn’t that how we got here in the first place? Drawn and fascinated by the love he first offered, touching our hearts so deeply that we were willing to give everything else away. Only such a love is worth our lives; only such love and beauty could have charmed Mary’s heart or our own hearts. We monks have not come here to figure things out about God, but to love and more importantly let ourselves be loved by him and to experience his beauty.

Like Mary we have been grasped by the tender compassion of God, the God who is love. Love is never ugly, and God’s love is always creating beauty in place of irregularity and unevenness.[1] And so more and more we understand that brokenness, precariousness and vulnerability ultimately belong to the phenomenon of beauty, because through this fragmentation, the beautiful ultimately reveals the promise it contains.[2] In the end it is the crucified and risen Jesus who reveals that the beauty of God is hidden behind messiness and woundedness- the beauty of love seemingly concealed but really present.

Orazio Gentileschi, The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child. [1] Saint Augustine.. [2] Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord..

Monday, January 2, 2017

Two Dear Friends

The One who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

These words from the Book of Revelation were not spoken as a one time proclamation. God's will constantly invites us to correspond to the newness of each moment of our lives. As the community of Spencer enters into its 192nd calendar year, each of us is also called out of our oldness to be ready to meet the challenge of each moment, ready to encounter all those new faces that are waiting down the road of this year, and ready ourselves, to be remade.

What better way to celebrate this newness than by calling to mind those two dear friends whose feastday it is, Basil the Great and Gregory of Nazianzen. They struggled patiently to put into theological words the Mystery of the Trinity, so that their own generation might approach this Mystery with understanding, while never presuming to fully lay hold of the Mystery itself.

Photograph of the old north road after Saturday's storm by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Gabriel.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mother of God

For months Mary has known that she is carrying within her an indescribable beauty, somehow like the beauty of a meadow flower she once came upon unexpectedly; like the starry night she often glimpsed out her window, so much like the beauty of Joseph’s tender smile; it is all of this and much, much more. She has felt this beauty stirring within her and welcomed the sudden, unasked-for joy. And now as she gazes at the Child nestled in a feeding trough, she gazes upon the beauty of God, tiny, vulnerable and dependent on her attention, her warm milk, her touch.

What is of course most amazing is how this beauty has been realized: through the fractures and brokenness of lives like ours that have been interrupted by God. There are so many, too many questions and incongruities. But Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” The word in Greek is sumballousa; it means literally to throw things together. Mary puts all the seemingly mismatched pieces together and lets them be, pondering all the while. She holds them all and wonders and reflects. She does not demand explanation.  

Mary is lovingly open to the seemingly lopsided ways of God. She notices poor, smelly shepherds with messages from angels. She is well aware that she, a poor, young virgin from an undistinguished family has received an angel’s message and become pregnant with God; aware that her plans for a life with Joseph are shattered. And she may be wondering (After all we are more than 2000 years later.) why, if God has so favored her, would he allow this fulfillment of his plan to take place in a cattle stall, where she must place the Son of the Most High to sleep in an animal’s feeding trough? It makes no sense. But in her heart she holds together all these incongruities and has the courage and insight to notice the beauty and let it be.

Photograph by Brother Brian.