Sunday, December 31, 2017

In The Temple

After celebrating Christmas for a week or so with perhaps too much mirth, we are given the sober tale of the great meeting in Temple. The newborn Jesus is brought to be presented to the Lord, as is the long-established custom. And very soon the story of a commonplace religious ritual becomes fraught with great mystery. Two holy elders, Simeon and Anna representatives of the Old Covenant, recognize the Child as the Christ. Jesus is indeed the messenger of the New Covenant, embodying the binding up of heaven and earth, accomplished through his Incarnation. He is God with us. Old and New Law meet in a sacred encounter.

So it is that in the etching by Rembrandt, all is ordinariness and heavenly mystery at once. We see Simeon's dim eyes and reverent caress and blessing of the Child cradled in his arms, Mary and Joseph kneeling awe-struck, Anna folding her hands as she bows and notices the Child which an angel is boldly pointing out to her, and finally the little serving girl who gazes out to us and the crippled man departing to the left, both adding quiet drama to the scene. 

"Now, Master, you may let your servant go
in peace, according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you prepared in sight of all the peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and glory for your people Israel."

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Presentation in the Temple with the Angel, c. 1630, etching, 4 x 3 in. Alva de Mars Megan Chapel Art Center, Saint Anselm College. 

Friday, December 29, 2017


“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him.” The truth is, on any given day probably many of us do not really know or recognize “the light that enlightens us” - the Word, the Son of God, who in the fullness of time was born into our world to make the invisible visible. Because of the Incarnation, there is now an unsuspected and astonishing closeness between the human and the divine, even if at times it is lost on us. The Good News of Christmas is that the divine touches our ordinary lives far more than we can know.

Of all the revelations of Christianity, the Incarnation must surely remain one of the least understood. God was somehow present in an innocent child, born in a Bethlehem stable, already destined to be one like us in all our poverty, pain, and failure. And yet in all the “mess” of human life, we encounter this newborn baby, come to us as our long-awaited Savior, lying in an ordinary feed trough.

As the Gospel tells us, “He came but the world did not know him.”  We ourselves often do not know or recognize him, but the Incarnation we celebrate urges us to look at things familiar until they become unfamiliar again until we recognize the divine light glimmering deeply within.

The birth of Christ reveals and completes what the document Gaudium et Spes calls “the mystery of our humanity.” Avery Dulles once wrote: “Christmas does not give us a ladder to climb out of the human condition. It gives a drill to burrow into the heart of everything that is, and there, find it already shimmering with divinity.” That is essential to the meaning of “and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The Christmas surprise is that now “flesh is inspirited and spirit is enfleshed” in a way that changes all of us, indeed all of creation, forever.

This is Good News! The deadly dualism between heaven and earth collapsed that first Christmas morning. Nature and grace are now forever intertwined. They have become inseparable in Jesus. His Birth among us teaches us how to recognize the everyday God who comes to us disguised in the shadow and light of our lives, to keep reminding us of the closeness of a God whose home is always here.

Christmas reveals that there is a light within the darkness, a love within the Cross, a life within each death. Our sins and certainties, our wayward compulsions, our despair and desperation, the wars and poverty we collude in - all are redeemed by the One whose birth we celebrate. The Baby looking up into our faces from the manger is the human face of God, and he reveals to us who we ourselves truly are - flawed but immortal diamonds reflecting the beauty of God. Who would have ever expected that?

The Nativity, attributed to Zanobi Strozzi (Italian, Florence 1412–1468 Florence), ca. 1433–34, tempera and gold on wood, 7 3/8 x 17 1/8 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Excerpts from Father Dominic's homily from Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 28, 2017


Christmas celebrates, reveals, communicates God’s dynamic life bubbling and boiling over from eternity into time. The God we believe in is a God whose very nature is to share life. There is nothing of God that is not sharing or giving or boiling over. The God we believe in is the God who holds nothing back. This is the divine nature. God gives what God is. From all eternity God bestows and gives - this mutual bestowing and self-giving are what God is all about.

When God begins this life among us, God inaugurates a new way of being with us. God communicates the gift of divine life for us through a human life like ours. Christmas isn’t just the discovery of something about God but also about humanity. The God we believe in is not a God that has to be lured down from heaven by our efforts at trying to be very, very good. We are dealing with a God who does not have to be persuaded to be interested in us. Jesus our Emmanuel is with us and for us through a solidarity and identification so deep and total that when we see Jesus, we see a God who values us beyond all imagining.

We may be led to think that the Christmas mystery is limited to some sort of self-congratulatory, feel-good reality. It is all about looking with speechless amazement at every human face we see, and realizing that God thought this face, this person I see, was worth everything. God thinks that there is no gift or risk too great to bring the fullness of life and joy to this person. For many of us, this could be the most challenging dimension of Christmas for us to absorb - that radical sense that wherever we turn we see a humanity God believes to be supremely worthwhile. Wherever we turn the human life we see is a life as valuable as our own.

Let us pray this Christmas that we never lose the sense of surprise - the kind of surprise that prevents us from ever thinking of God as some distant autocrat we need to placate, satisfy or amuse. And may we never tire of that surprise which prevents us from thinking of any human being as a lost cause, not worthy of our attention, care and love.  

Our Christmas ought to be a very surprising time, a time when we look at our faded and stale images and thoughts about God and about humanity. Let them be refreshed by the very astounding newness of what comes into our world at Bethlehem - a God who overflows with love and a humanity in which God reveals the depth of divine life. 

Detail of Madonna and Child by Caravaggio. Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily at Midnight Mass.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Mice and Spiders

I once overheard a remark which started me thinking about Christmas in a new way. Until then I had seen it through the medium of the Christmas card, Christmas flowers, snow and a plentiful sprinkle of glitter-frost that we could buy at 2 pence a packet… The remark which made me begin to think was “There must have been mice and spiders in the stable at Bethlehem.” Yes, Christ was born not into a fanciful world, but into our real world that includes mice and spiders.

Read the gospels for Christmas and you will see the likeness between Christ’s day and ours. It is almost shocking. You recognize Herod, the murder of the innocents, the flight into Egypt, the homeless refugees in a strange land, the young mother trudging from door to door, seeking somewhere to give birth to her baby, and posted on every door in Bethlehem the notice, so familiar, “No vacancy.” The likeness is also in the minds of people. Christ came into a world sickened with persecution, obsessed with fear….not unlike our own. 

Nativity by Lauren Ford. Excerpt from an article by Caryll Houselander, 1945.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Like Mary

As Father Aquinas reminded us this morning in his homily, God always initiates. He makes the first move toward us, always the Giver of all good gifts. Like Mary, we are invited in our freedom to respond to God's initiatives and invitations. We want to be more and more continually attentive to all that the good God desires for us. When we say yes to all God offers, we may become like Mary – Christ-bearers.

Of her flesh he took flesh: 
He does take fresh and fresh, 
Though much the mystery how, 
Not flesh but spirit now 
And makes, O marvellous! 
New Nazareths in us, 
Where she shall yet conceive 
Him, morning, noon, and eve; 
New Bethlems, and he born 
There, evening, noon, and morn— 
Bethlem or Nazareth... 

Fragment from the poem, The Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Mary's Flesh

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was God. In the fullness of time, in our time God spoke to us a Word most tender, Jesus our Lord. Jesus reveals all that God could say. Christ Jesus enfleshes the love God has for us, the love that pours itself out constantly. In Christ God loses himself in self-forgetful love. God Most High becomes God most low, emptying Himself in quiet into the womb of the Virgin Mary, becoming who we are, hidden now in our midst. This is God’s dream of intimacy with us. In stillness, the Lord comes to take Mary's flesh, our flesh. As in the Eucharist, he comes small and defenseless. Awe-filled adoration is our fitting response.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017


As the great Solemnity of the Lord's Nativity draws near, we try to remember how to wonder.

Wonder beckons us to notice, to step into God’s world, to see as God sees, and to take nothing for granted. Wonder can be poisoned by cynicism and the need to analyze or trivialize or dissect, or by a silence of negativity, withdrawal. And our response may become: "It’s just too ordinary after all" - whether it be the subtlety of light falling upon a monastery wall, a butterfly bobbing over a garden full of lilies, the kindness of a friend or a little Child napping in the hay.

This is the scandal of God’s enfleshment, God has become ordinary and has come looking for his creatures. It is wonderful, unprecedented, beyond belief - we do not have to understand - it is alright not to understand - we only have to wonder. We can let go of questioning and simply wonder, trusting that God wants to give himself to us. To allow Christ in means we do not have to understand- instead, we wonder, we believe. We pay attention to his moving towards us. For this, we must be silent. 

Dear friends just sent us this picture of their grandchild.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Newness And Surprises

The special quality of the joy that we celebrate on this Gaudete Sunday stems precisely from what is new about the Good News. Though God’s promised deliverance was often foretold in the Old Testament, the way it finally came to pass turned out to be a great surprise, a wild going beyond all expectation.  The Promised One would be the very Son of God made a man in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

The newness offered to the men and women of old is offered to us. We have already experienced newness of life in Baptism, as in a seed, then in a personal way when, at some crucial moment in our adult lives, we resolutely committed ourselves to Christ. All of this is a promise of the full working out of the Gospel newness at each moment of our lives, always leading us onward. 

When the Messiah finally came there was great surprise. "They had expected might and there came weakness – speech, and there came silence – royalty, and there came poverty – war, and there came peace."* The lessons learned from God’s providential “surprises” are meant also for us. The great grace of Advent is watchfulness, knowing how to wait, ever on the lookout for God’s hints in the dark.

Consider then offering to the Christ Child this Christmas, a new take on those we live with, being aware of the positive things about them which we so often filter out. Let us learn to lay aside the tired old images of them we carry around in the pigeon holes of these calabash heads of ours.

*Prayer in Faith, Janet Erskine Stuart, RSCJ. And excerpts from Father Gabriel's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Friday, December 15, 2017

During Advent

As the days of Advent progress, we recall these words of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero:

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God - for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit, there can be no abundance of God.

Photograph by K'een Trainor.

Thursday, December 14, 2017


Saint John of the Cross, whom we remember today, teaches to trust the emptiness we experience as a place which the Lord may visit in stillness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Am I Not Here?

Today we remember Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of our Land. Each year on this day we have a special shrine in the transept of the Abbey church. Mary is our Mother and our Refuge in all tribulation. We are greatly consoled by her words to Saint Juan Diego in 1531:

Do listen, do be assured of it, my littlest one, that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For am I not here, I, your mother? Are you not in the cool of my shadow? In the breeziness of my shade? Is it not I that am your source of contentment? Are you not cradled in my mantle, cuddled in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Marvelous Exchange

           Today’s responsorial psalm has a plea which captures the mood of Advent: “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” It is a heartfelt prayer, simple in its aim. The psalmist wants mercy; he wants God’s kindness and salvation. He wants God to respond and intervene because the harshness of life and the anxieties of the world can overwhelm us.
            The Prophet Isaiah – or better, Deutero-Isaiah, or Second Isaiah, as scholars refer to him – was facing this harshness of life. His fellow Israelites had been defeated in war and enslaved in Babylon. They realized their guilt and accepted their punishment, but their servitude was a bitter humiliation. So the words of today’s psalmist found a ready place on their lips: “Lord, let us see your mercy, and grant us your salvation.”
But this plea was only one side of a back-and-forth between God and his people. Even as the people were acknowledging their misery, God was promising to renew his covenant with them and intervene on their behalf. Speaking through Isaiah, he said: “Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; indeed, she has received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins.” This is the rhythm of Advent: a plea for kindness, a promise of comfort and expiation; a longing for salvation, and a promise that exceeds what the mind can conceive. Back and forth – a kind of marvelous exchange with the creature imploring and the creator intervening.
We see something similar in the scene from today’s gospel. “People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out…and were being baptized by (John) in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” It must have been quite a sight. John standing there, clothed in camel’s hair, and the people going down into the Jordan, confessing their sins: “Lord, let us see your mercy, and grant us your salvation.” And John, in turn, responding, “One mightier than I is coming after me…I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy spirit.” Back and forth, back and forth: each plea of the people increasing their longing for a response from God who alone could calm their anxiety.
Even we, brothers and sisters, fortified as we are with the fullness of God’s promises in the Eucharist, continue this back and forth: our pleas rise up from the difficulties of life and the anxieties we face, and his words of comfort sustain us. So it will be until the final coming of the Lord Jesus. “Lord, let us see your kindness, and grant us your salvation.” 
Copper beech tree in the Abbey garth in the snow. Homily from today's Mass by Fr. Vincent.

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Garden Enclosed

This is the Abbey's cloister garth in early summer- a secret garden surrounded by the four cloisters. This garden enclosed is a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her beauty, and fragrance set apart for Christ alone, a place where He could nestle and grow. On this Solemnity of her Immaculate Conception we celebrate her chosenness. We rejoice in the Virgin Mary's privilege, for she reveals the breadth of our human capacity for God, the breathtaking beauty of our availability to all that God wants to accomplish in us.

A garden enclosed is my sister, my bride; a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. Song of Songs 4

Tuesday, December 5, 2017


Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid;
The calf and the young lion shall browse together,
with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors,
together their young shall rest;
the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den,
and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the Lord,
as water covers the sea. IS 11

The dream of the Prophet Isaiah in today's First Reading is fulfilled in the Person of Christ Jesus. He is the Holy Child who will bring together all the seeming dichotomies, all that separates and divides us - encounter, reconciliation, peacemaking - are all real and possibilities in Him.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Sunday, December 3, 2017


Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
with the mountains quaking before you,
while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for,
such as they had not heard of from of old.  Is 63

As Father Isaac reminded us in this morning's homily, the cry of the people of Israel as articulated by the prophet Isaiah is ultimately answered in the person of Christ. And so according to Matthew, at Jesus' Baptism in the Jordan the heavens are indeed torn open and the Spirit comes down upon Jesus. 

It is he whom we await, he whom we watch for, he who is coming to us constantly though often hidden and disguised. It is he the Lord Jesus who is himself God for us, God with us. This event of his constant presence in our midst is truly God's awesome deed on our behalf, always more than we could hope for.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Amidst Turmoil

 As the visions during the night continued, I saw
One like a son of man coming,
on the clouds of heaven;
When he reached the Ancient One
and was presented before him,
He received dominion, glory, and kingship;
nations and peoples of every language serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion
that shall not be taken away,
his kingship shall not be destroyed. Daniel 7

Amidst all the turmoil and terrorism, the totality of geopolitical strife and instability, in the midst of all our fears, the prophecy of Daniel seems remarkably timely and consoling. The prophet reminds us that God's love and dominion are everlasting, very real and will not be outdone. We delight to entrust ourselves to God's providence.

Photograph by Brother Brian. A meditation inspired by words of Father Isaac.