Sunday, December 30, 2018

Holy Family

Mary’s question, Son, why have you done this to us?, implies that she does not think that Jesus had a right to do what he did.  But Jesus’ reply to his mother surpasses her complaint in its trenchancy:  Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?  He seems surprised that they were looking for him at all, as if they should have known better.   But he’s speaking to them from another level of existence.  To his Did you not know?, Mary could well have retorted:  ‘No, indeed!  We did not know!  How could we have known?  You are, after all, only twelve years old!’  But Mary is too deeply wise and pure in her love to speak thus.  She abides in a silence full of awe and obedience.

Here is the point of extreme difficulty, when God chooses to reveal his nature as Redeemer through the agency of ordinary human beings.  These ordinary human beings are expected by God—whether they are ready or not—to rise to their divine vocation with a sudden violence to the heart, and to become pliant instruments for God’s self-manifestation to the world.  Nothing could have prepared Mary and Joseph specifically for this occasion, for this experience of the loss of their precious Son! Yes, they had received angelic revelations and promises about Jesus’ messianic vocation; but every time what shocks human expectations and demands painful sacrifices is the specific and surprising manner in which God’s designs take form in our flesh.  ‘Why like this, O God?’, Mary could well have asked.

The text becomes most demanding, however, when the evangelist uses the word ‘father’ twice in mutually contradictory senses that must have made Joseph wince.  When Mary says: Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety, Jesus replies:  Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?  Here Jesus seems to be rejecting the fatherhood of the very Joseph whom Jesus’ heavenly Father’s angel had persuaded to accept it! 

But they did not understand what he said to them: Joseph and Mary have to abide in the darkness of unknowing while continuing to care for Jesus with all their tender love, grooming him, we might say, for the day when he would leave them behind definitively. Thus, the mission of every parent to help their children grow in freedom, wisdom and grace becomes, in the case of Jesus’ parents, the mission to prepare Jesus to offer himself for the salvation of others through a life of sacrifice. 

Duccio di BuoninsegnaThe Finding of Jesus in the Temple. Excerpts from a Homily for the Feast of the Holy Family by Father Simeon.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

With Mary at Christmas

Mary ponders and treasures. Perhaps this is how we are meant to let the meaning of Jesus’ birth come alive in us. Such pondering isn’t about explaining or analyzing. It is about wondering and discovering. Silent treasuring and pondering seem to be the way of Mary. Might it also be our way? The Christmas gift she is offering us with her Son? She knows that her Son is the Way. 

What do you treasure about Jesus’ birth? What treasure does his birth hold for you? What does your pondering reveal about him; about you; about the life that he now shares with you? How would your life look and feel; how would it be different if you carried Jesus’ birth within you? The ‘continuing incarnation’; the incarnation which began in the womb of Mary is never ending; it continues in our lives.

Excerpt from Abbot Damian's homily for Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 28, 2018


At Christmas we are not just recalling past events. These events remain somehow present  as a live current that we are meant to plug into. As we celebrate the physical birth of Jesus into the world, we are meant to move from the fact of this birth to its meaning. What does this birth mean for your life and for my life? What do our lives look like now in light of this birth? Jesus’ birth, the birth of the eternal Son of the Father in each of our lives is as unique and particular as is each of our lives.

The angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth interrupted the shepherds’ lives. It called them away from their field and the watching of their flock. They went to Bethlehem to find “the child lying in a manger.” The “good news of great joy” is announced in the ordinary, everyday circumstances of our lives. What are our particular fields and flocks? Family and friends, ups and downs, frustrations and consolations, joys and sorrows. That’s where he wants to be born. That’s where we are invited to ‘plug in’, to come and adore. This isn’t an escape from the fields and flocks, including the rocks and manure of our lives. The birth that called the shepherds away from their fields and flocks is also the birth that returned them to their fields and flocks again. Their fields and flocks weren’t different. But they were. They now carried the birth of Jesus wherever they went. 

The shepherds were directed to Bethlehem, to find an Infant lying in a manger; which, as we know, is a feeding trough. At each Mass we are invited to approach the feeding trough of the altar, not only to see and gaze and worship but to consume the very bread of life; the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Word made flesh. We are invited to become what we consume. Not only to pause in blissful adoration but also to go forth and feed others with the very same life of God which we are becoming. 
Adoration of the Shepherds, Bartolomé Murillo (c. 1617-1682), Spanish. Excerpt from Abbot Damian's homily for Christmas Eve.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Our Narrowness

He who was one in substance with the Father stooped down to share the substance of his mother and thereby took on himself our fallen nature, our human condition. Thus, the mystery of new birth shone upon us, so that through the same Spirit by whom Christ was conceived and brought forth, we too might be born again by a spiritual birth.

Nothing about his birth took place outside our human condition. What we really celebrate today is that Jesus continues to be born in the narrowness of our lives, taking on our very earthy humanness in order to give his love to the world through us, through our flesh and blood. The British mystic, poet, and spiritual teacher Caryll Houselander puts it this way:

The reason why we are where we are this because it is here in this place that Christ wants to be born; it is from here that he wants his life to begin again in the world. The reason that we are with these particular people is because it is precisely to these people that Christ wants us to give his love. This year we are his trustees for these people; he has put his love for them into our hands, into our hearts. We did not choose this place—Christ has chosen it. We did not choose these people—Christ has chosen them.

We are asked one thing: to have the humility and courage to open the secret place of our heart to Christ, conscious though we are that it is as derelict as the stable, and that his light will reveal the mouse and the spider.

It may have been puzzling, even to Mary, how Christ was giving his life to the whole world in the obscurity of Bethlehem, but it was enough for her that this was his way. It still is, and he himself is the Way, the only way to our peace.

We have truly received love upon love, grace upon grace; but we truly receive only by sharing: by sharing so great a gift from our own narrowness and darkness. Infant born in Bethlehem was not afraid of our narrowness and darkness, but precisely from there draws us and the whole world into his superabundant Light and Life.

Taken from Father Dominic's homily for Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Christmas Mystery

The mystery that confronts us this morning is the birth of a very particular infant, the birth of someone who alone shows us the road to oneness with God; someone who came and dwelt among us in order to lead us all into this communion that is the very life of God. Incarnation is not so much “what” but “what for.” This Nativity is full of purpose!

“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jean Vanier expresses beautifully and in simple terms the meaning of this Christmas proclamation:

Here we have the heart, the center, the beginning and the end of the gospel: God, the eternal God, Creator of the heavens and the earth, became like us, a vulnerable, mortal human being. He became as a baby needing a mother, conceived in her flesh, nourished at her breast, needing her love and the love and presence of Joseph in order to grow and develop as a human being. Pitching his tent among us, he became a pilgrim and a brother, walking through the desert with us. He became part of history, revealing to us a way to God and to universal peace.

That humble birth in Bethlehem means that God is no longer distant or set apart from our world—indeed, it means a huge change for each one of us personally, for the Prologue of John's Gospel assures us that “from the fullness of life and love in Him we have received love upon love, grace upon grace.” In fact, we have received so much from him that his birth is, in a real sense, our birth

Excerpts from this morning's homily by Father Dominic

Monday, December 24, 2018

This Night

In peaceful silence, the all powerful Word, Our Lord Jesus will come to us this night from the hidden quiet of Mary's pure womb. Let us open our hearts to welcome him, who is our only Consolation, our Hope, our Refuge. His littleness is the sign of his divine grandeur.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Mary has been visited from on High with the news that she is to be God-bearer. And this morning we watch as she heads into the hill country to share her extraordinary secret with her cousin Elizabeth, herself large with child, since God has intervened in her life as well. 

In their intimate encounter Mary and Elizabeth remind us that there is no place where God’s presence does not reach. Our stories as well as theirs are replete with God’s interventions, if we dare to notice them. God is no less intimate with us today as well, for we too have been welcomed into intimacy with God. 

The Creator of all has chosen to become one among his own creatures. God is with us, God now has a human face. Such a truth far beyond our grasp invites us to wonder, and wonder is the threshold of contemplation, a contemplation that is not so much seeing God, as entering God’s seeing. 

The Visitation, c. 1495, attributed to Rueland Frueauf the Elder, German (c. 1445 - 1507), Oil on panel,  27 5/8 x 14 15/16 in., Fogg Museum.   Meditation based on Father Isaac’s homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Promises Beyond Promises

"How can this be?" says Mary. And then, "Let it be to me, as you have said." O God of surprises. O God of upside-downness. You who bring joy out of sorrow. You who make deserts suddenly bloom with bright blossoms. You who soften the hearts of hungry wolves, as they curl up to nap with lambs. How dare we ever despair of your tender mercy? Or forget that you are always doing the most unexpected, most humble and compassionate thing? Always the God of reversals and making new. Barren wombs are suddenly, amazingly made fruitful. And a Virgin womb will bear your Son. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Joseph's Dream

Joseph has plunged into the mystery God has held out before him...What openness to God on Joseph's part, what willingness to start again and build his life according to God's latest designs!...Suddenly, from the heart of eternity, the lightning of divine revelation interrupts Joseph's human cogitations. By keeping the stage of his soul as empty as possible of all human accoutrements, Joseph has allowed God to enter as in as principal actor. Human meditation - protracted, labored, anguished - and divine illumination - sudden, intense, incontestable - go well with one another, call out to one another. Joseph's dark puzzlement, in piety before God, unwittingly invites illumination to come to his soul...It is in a dream that God speaks to him... 

Gaetano Gandolfi, Joseph’s Dream, c. 1790, oil, 95 cm X 76 cm., private collection. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Friday, December 14, 2018


As monks we are meant to live in incessant desire for God, to become all longing and hunger for him. The season of Advent, its prayers and readings speak to us of a mutuality of desire. For indeed, if we long to see the face of God, so God's desire to come to us outstrips our own desire and takes flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. God wants to be with us more than we know. In Jesus, God's face has been revealed. During Advent we celebrate the emptiness that makes us totally available for all that God wants to give us in Christ. We are joyful in our neediness and longing, for God longs to fill us with God's own Self in Christ more than we dare imagine. Amen. Come Lord Jesus and do not delay!  

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

At Guadalupe

On an chilly day in December of 1531, Our Lady promises Juan Diego that he will find flowers blossoming on a nearby hilltop. He gathers roses, lilies, carnations, iris, fragrant jasmine blossoms, yellow gorse and tiny violets. The Virgin arranges the flowers in the fold of Juan’s coarse cactus-fiber tilma and sends him to visit the bishop in Mexico City. When Juan opens his robe, the flowers tumble to the floor before the bishop, and he sees Our Blessed Lady’s lovely handiwork. He falls to his knees in prayer, for she has painted her self-portrait with spring blossoms on Juan's tilma

Mary is at the center of what Pope Francis has called “the revolution of tenderness." Today as we remember Our Lady of Guadalupe, we recall her words to Saint Juan Diego:

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?

Monday, December 10, 2018


In May of 1996 seven of our Cistercian brothers of Tibhirine in Algeria were kidnapped from their monastery and beheaded by a group of Islamic terrorists trained by the al-Qaida network. Caught in the conflict between the Algerian government and the extremist Armed Islamic Group, these monks chose to remain at their monastery and face death in solidarity with the Muslim neighbors whom they loved. These monks were beatified on 8 December in Oran, Algeria. We post below the moving Testament composed by their superior, Christian de Chergé, prior to their capture. May these martyrs teach us to be models of Christian friendship, encounter and dialogue, and may their example help us build a world of peace.

Yesterday our If it should happen one day - and it could be today -
that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf
all the foreigners living in Algeria,
I would like my community, my Church and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil
which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice
if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the "grace of martyrdom"
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one's conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother's knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
"Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!"
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion
and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,
I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely
for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on,
I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,
and you, my friends of this place,
along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD-BLESS" for you, too,
because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both.

AMEN !   INCHALLAH !   Algiers, 1st December 1993 
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994  


Friday, December 7, 2018

Mary Immaculate

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life. 

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. 

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. 

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the Desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word. 

Lines from a Sermon by our Father, Saint Bernard.

Thursday, December 6, 2018


Today the Church celebrates Saint Nicholas remembered through the ages for his generosity to the poor. We recall these words of the martyred archbishop Saint Oscar Romero, which we imagine the holy bishop Saint Nicholas would have appreciated.

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.

Artwork by Elisabeth Jvanovsky.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Father Matthew and Saint John Damascene

He is light, incomprehensible sweetness, incomparable, immeasurable perfection, an ocean of goodness, boundless wisdom, and power, who alone is worthy of Himself to excite admiration, to be worshipped, glorified, and desired… We must thank God for all created things, and show Him perpetual worship, as from Him and through Him all creation takes its being and subsists.  John Damascene, On the Divine Images.

Jesus is always coming toward us to fill us with an infinity of compassion and mercy. And his way of seeing things is very different than our own. We see measurement: “How many times?” God sees seventy-times-seven – immeasurability. Love and compassion and forgiveness increase unbelievably when they are shared. You never run out. It is simply foolish to be stingy and not to love and forgive as has been done to us by God. We are invited to imitate God’s immeasurable goodness.

As we were composing these lines, our dear Father Matthew passed away in the abbey infirmary. We remember his indomitable joy and loving presence; never a negative voice, never stingy with his love but always a brother and mentor who supported and encouraged us. Matthew always saw God's immeasurable goodness in all that occurred - God guiding and leading us, never abandoning us in any circumstance. Having undergone innumerable medical complications and sufferings during his long life, Matthew's spirit was ever-infused with hope that God would provide and sustain us.
Photographs  by Brother Brian.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The End is the Beginning.

 People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise you heads because your redemption is at hand. Luke 21

Whenever I preside at Mass, I say this prayer after the Our Father: “the blessed hope and the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  My own death, whenever God wills it, is end enough for me.  Yet, I feel sincere when I pray this prayer, for in the Christian and Cistercian tradition, there are a number of ways that the Lord comes and puts an end to the world. When he came in the flesh from Mary's womb and lived among us, taught us, healed many of us, suffered and died and rose again, he ended the power of the “world” - the satanic powers and the power of our own fallen nature to destroy us. His Spirit poured out on us gives us the possibility of living in the new creation. So, the first coming of the Lord Jesus in the flesh presents us with his second coming through the Holy Spirit forming us into the likeness of Christ, both individually and corporately as the Body of Christ which is the Church. 

We all have a long way to go in becoming Christ, but we are on the way. While we are on the way, God in Christ though the Holy Spirit is constantly coming to us to end the worldliness in us as individuals and as Church and through the Church to end the blindness of the world to the reality of the God and our brothers and sisters and all creation which we were called to cherish from the beginning

God is always coming to us at every moment with his love and strength and healing, ending the life and world of the “old man” and giving life to the “new man in Jesus Christ.”  Certainly I pray for that as does Saint Paul: “Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.” We see that talking about our sanctification leads right into the end of everything as we know it.  Real holiness does indeed look forward to what the Cistercians of old celebrated as the third coming of Christ at the end of time, what most Christians call Christ's Second Coming which is the ultimate New Beginning.  The End is the Beginning. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Excerpts from Father Luke's Homily for the First Sunday of Advent.

Saturday, December 1, 2018


As monks we seek to live in incessant desire for God, to become all longing and hunger for him. The season of Advent, its prayers and readings speak to us of a mutuality of desire. For indeed if we long to see the face of God, so God's desire to come to us outstrips our own desire and takes flesh in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Jesus God's face has been revealed. This revelation stokes our desire for more intense experience of his presence and divine embrace. During Advent we celebrate the emptiness that makes us totally available for all that God wants to give us in Christ. We are joyful in our neediness and longing, for God longs to fill us with God's own Self in Christ more than we dare imagine. Amen. Come Lord Jesus and do not delay!

Friday, November 30, 2018


Truly the Kingdom of God is among us, within us. And Saint Paul reminds us, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be apparent to all. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4

How do we dare to rejoice amidst all the crumbling and brokenness and pain? We dare to, because Jesus is with us, always near. He is our only reason to rejoice and hope.

Photograph of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Life in the Kingdom

Too much is happening, too much is falling apart everywhere. And it’s not the time for us to hide from one another or from Christ Jesus our Lord. It is a time to be vigilant and come together, for Jesus our Lord beckons us and leads us forth into battle. On one side are those forces within us and without that sow division, discord and isolation. On the other side there are all those forces that nurture attachment, connection and solidarity. And that’s where he wants us to be, that’s where his kingdom is going to happen. It’s a showdown between cynics and optimists, a war between “rippers and weavers,” that runs down the middle of every heart.With Jesus we need to be weavers, creating a tapestry of loving relatedness and bonds of trust. This is why we’re here in the monastery, this school of the Lord’s service, this school of love - to practice connecting and reconnecting, obeying and deferring to one another out of love.

The Lord of gentleness and compassion is leading us forward in hope; someone who leads by falling down, being spat upon, shoved and tortured. Not to teach us how to be doormats; that’s not what his kingdom is about. It is about refusing to live by fear and rivalry, in an us vs. them kind of world, where there always must be winners and losers. It’s about absorbing hurt because of hope and trust in One who is at our side, Christ Jesus our Master.

God is with us, God among us; God like us in everything but our sinning. We may call him a king if we remember that his sovereignty is realized in his littleness, his nothingness, his emptying out, his self-forgetful love, his sin-bearing. He only wants to be loved; our promise to compassion and mercy one another is our pledge of devotion to him. Life in the kingdom doesn’t tolerate individuals, anybody on the fringes. His mercy always gathers, binds up, heals and connects; it never excludes. That is his truth. God always wants to wash our feet and entice us to go and do likewise. And so, we live and rejoice in the “hard truth and ridiculous grace”(Tauren Wells) that abusers and abused, demagogues and peacemakers, well-heeled, solid citizens and weary refugees and migrants, bigots and oppressors and terrorists along with their victims, are all being invited with us to have a change of heart and come together to the feast in the kingdom.

Photograph of Abbey glass by Brother Daniel. * Insights from an editorial column by David Brooks in The New York Times, October 30, 2018.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Our King

We desperately need someone to help us reconnect. The good news is he has come. This morning we behold him on trial; he is a lonely man, his best friends have panicked, run off and left him. He is a warrior in a righteous cause – his cause is truth, compassion and self-forgetfulness. He calls this truth the kingdom, a place where no one gets excluded, a place where everyone matters. He stands before us, condemned, humiliated, spat upon and rejected by jealous leaders threatened by his brand of compassion. And they are right to be concerned, he is dangerous. The immeasurableness of God’s mercy has been breaking through in all his signs and healings. He brings good news to the poor, sets free those oppressed and heavily burdened. And he is unraveling things.

He eats with sinners, heals outsiders, cures people no matter which day of the week it is, even touches lepers and so has become unclean. Everybody knows a Messiah is not supposed to do that kind of stuff. He shocks by his unpretentiousness, by the directness of the God he reveals. He forgives sins; even dares to forgive a woman caught in the very act of adultery and then embarrasses her male accusers into dropping the stones they’re aiming, not because she isn’t guilty, but because we all are guilty. He knows we’ve all failed over and over again. This is our shared identity, our shared truth, the reason he has come – because all are sinners, all with him beloved of the Father and all desperately in need of his mercy.

And so, he has taken on the burden of our sin, because he knows we couldn’t possibly have borne it on our own. Even more than that, he has become our sin - to dupe it, remove its vicious sting and halt the death sentence against us. This lonely man comes to all the dead ends, all the guilty sentences against us and says no, I won’t have it; God won’t have it. This is the truth he lives and dies for. He doesn’t care one bit about being called king, he only desire is the kingdom, a place where Father’s love and truth will be enacted. As he will tell Pilate, "You may call me a king, if you choose, but I assure you my kingdom does not belong to this world.” 

He has come to Jerusalem riding on a little donkey colt – and very soon he will be lifted up, nailed to a cross, seen as guilty with the guilty. And it is there on the cross that he will be enthroned, wearing his crown of thorns, bleeding and panting - there between two criminals. There Jesus is most truly king - king of upside-downness, king of little ones, king of losers and last ones, king of those burdened by solitary disappointments, king who becomes a guilty outsider with the outsiders. Our place is there with him in the middle of it all, with him, with one another, depending only on the Father’s kind regard. We belong to the God who continually draws all of us into new life and hope and connectedness in our common need for forgiveness, our common need for him and for one another.

Image from the series of prints known as the Miserere by Georges Rouault (1871-1958).

Saturday, November 24, 2018

On Contemplative Life

In a recent address Pope Francis expressed the great appreciation of the Church for our contemplative form of life.

What would become of the Church without the contemplative life? What would become of the weaker members of the Church who find in you a support to continue the journey? What would happen to the Church and the world without the beacons that signal the port to those who are lost on the high seas, without the torches that illuminate the dark night we are going through, without the sentinels announcing the new day when it is still night? Thank you, sisters and contemplative brothers because you offer all this for the world: support for the weak, beacons, torches and sentinels. Thank you for enriching us with so many fruits of holiness, mercy and grace.”

With the whole Church, I also pray that the Lord may ‘be ever present and active in your heart and transform you entirely in Him, the ultimate aim of the contemplative life, and may your communities or fraternities become true schools of contemplation and prayer. The world and the Church need you. … This should be your prophetic witness.’

May the Virgin Mary, model of contemplation, teach you to constantly seek the face of God and to remain faithful to your mission of being the praying heart of the Church. I impart my Apostolic Blessing to you with affection and ask you, please, to pray for me.

Piermatteo d'Amelia (about 1450 - 1508), The Annunciation, about 148, tempera on panel, 102.4 x 114.8 cm. Gardiner Museum.

Friday, November 23, 2018


In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

This verse comes from Paul’s First Letter to the Thessalonians. The directness and unequivocalness sort of stopped me in my tracks. “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus”? This doesn’t sound like Paul is offering us a pious nosegay or a sort of optional extra that we can take or leave.

After hearing this proclamation, I decided to go to a biblical commentary. I must admit that I did this in part, at least, looking for, if not an outright qualification, at least a nuance on what Paul is saying here. I admit that this says more about me than about Paul. What I discovered after my biblical commentary exploration is that Paul most certainly does not qualify the circumstances in which we are to give thanks. He says “all” and he means “all.” In fact, the two previous imperatives that he offers us in this passage are just as comprehensive and unqualified. “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.”

Paul’s words may lack qualification because they are grounded, sourced in a fundamental, all-encompassing truth and reality that is inescapable for believers, as far as Paul is concerned. “In all circumstances, give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” This is much more than a metaphor for Paul. And it is meant to be much more than a metaphor for us.  Because we are in Christ Jesus, the context of all of our lives - its lights and shadows; its good times and bad times; its joys and sorrows; its successes and failures; all of it is in Christ Jesus. In this sense, for Paul, all of life is meant to be thankful worship of God. Worship, for Paul, doesn’t just take place within the walls of a sanctuary. We pray always. We rejoice always. We give thanks always. Karl Rahner beautifully and succinctly expressed this reality when he said: “Everyday life must become our prayer.” Since this is so, then thanksgiving is a necessary and inevitable by-product, overflow of Christian living. Our life is never governed by circumstances, however satisfying or unsatisfying they may be. What governs our life as Christians is the assurance that we already are in Christ Jesus. And so, we are called to a life of perpetual thanksgiving.

3000 years ago, our Jewish forebears formulated blessings – berakoth - for every circumstance of life. If it was good news, then, “Blessed be God who is good and does good.” If it were bad news, “Blessed be the judge of truth.” As far as they were concerned human beings had a duty to pronounce a blessing on the bad that happens in life as well as the good. Because all life comes from God. As the Talmud says: “It is forbidden to taste of the world without a blessing.”

But this shouldn’t be news for us who, whenever we gather around this altar for the Eucharist we lift the bread that will be broken and the cup that will be poured out saying: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation.” We offer thanks for the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. In blessing the whole of Christ’s life, we are also blessing the whole of our lives who are in Christ Jesus - the things we welcome as well as the things we would risk our souls to avoid. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from Dom Damian's homily for Thanksgiving Day.

His Gladness

Today we recalled these words of Julian of Norwich: "Our Lord is full of mirth and gladness because of our prayer." How good to remember that Christ Jesus in his love for us is attentive and delighted by our efforts at prayer, our desires to please and praise Him, no matter how feeble or faltering we may believe them to be. It is good to wonder and imagine things from the other side, God's side. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018


We rejoice as we celebrate today Our Lady's Presentation in the Temple. Tradition holds that she was set apart from a very young age, since she was to be the dwelling place of the Most High. 

Detail from The Presentation of the Virgin Mary, Titian, 1534-38, Galleria dell’Accademia, Venice.  

Tuesday, November 20, 2018


Grant us, we pray, O Lord our God, the constant gladness of being devoted to you, for it is full and lasting happiness to serve with constancy the author of all that is good. 

This moving collect prayer for the Thirty-third Sunday of the Year reminds us that serving God is our joy. We may have thought in the past that surrendering our will would entail unbearable hardship. We come to discover that choosing to obey and to serve grants joy and freedom. Jesus said, "I have not come to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." Pleasing the Father was Jesus' delight. May it be ours as well.

Monday, November 19, 2018

In the Darkness

We can easily forget that every beginning finds its fullness in an ending, and every ending is the context for a new beginning. As Christians we believe this happens ultimately in Christ—the one who called himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

But how will we find our way forward when the usual lights that illumined our path no longer shine? What do we do when we feel our world (personal, ecclesial, societal, environmental) falling apart? Where do we go when it seems as if darkness is our only companion, and God is nowhere to be seen? The Gospel, indeed all salvation history, insists the dark times of life are threshold moments.

The temptation is to do something; to fix it, to ease the pain, to escape the uncertainty, and to get back to what used to be. But we can never go back to the way it was before the lights went out. God does not undo our life. God redeems our life. If we allow them, these dark threshold places of life can draw us more deeply into the divine mystery. They remind us that we do not know everything. We do not see all possibilities. We can neither predict nor control anything. We are not in charge. Jesus invites us to receive the God who comes to us in the darkness of life, even during personally cataclysmic change.

How? He says simply:  “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Why the fig tree?  The fig tree sheds all its leaves in winter. Its budding is a sign of the coming of summer. Jesus continues: “When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that the Son of Man is near, at the gates.” And so, Jesus reminds us that even out of utter destruction and appearance of death, symbolized by the leafless fig tree in winter, new life can blossom forth. So also when the darkness overtakes our life, know that the Son of Man is near. Christ’s constant “coming to us with great power and glory” in the Holy Spirit, our healing and salvation, always takes place in the dark and messy parts of life. We have not and never will be abandoned to the darkness! 

Meditation by Father Dominic.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Trappist Life

What distinguishes a Trappist monk from other monks? All monks have a way of life, but Trappist monks have a way of life which includes self-knowledge. Time spent in prayer and meditation leads us to the truth about ourselves, which is humility. Learning the truth about ourselves leads us to recognize the truth about others, which is compassion. Knowing the truth about ourselves and others allows us to catch a glimpse of the truth about God, which is contemplation. This path is not a straight line. Often, we find ourselves standing once again in the Dark Wood of error. Over and over we discover humility and compassion, spiraling ever deeper into our conversion and into mystery.
Our community began in 1825.  French monks, anxious to keep their heads, sought a place to freely practice their religion in safety. Safety was found first in Nova Scotia and then in Cumberland, RI. However, with a late-night bar down the street and a racetrack around the corner, the monks moved to Spencer, MA in 1950 where the world would not intrude so much. Today we are the Trappist monks of Spencer.
We begin our day in darkness. We rise at 3 a.m. when peaceful stillness encompasses all. We gather together as a community, and then we keep watch and we listen. And if we listen well, the stillness speaks to us. We rise at 3 a.m. because this is different from the rhythm of the world, because to be sacred is to be set apart.
We begin our day in silence and we end our day in silence. The greatest things are accomplished in silence: the progression of our thoughts, our acts of generosity, our ability to endure and overcome, the motions of our hearts. Silent forces are strong forces. 

Photograph from the Abbey archives. Reflection by Brother Brian