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

Friday, November 16, 2018

With Gertrude

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, fountain of eternal life, your Heart is a glowing furnace of love. You are my refuge and my sanctuary. O my adorable and loving Savior, consume my heart with the burning fire with which yours is inflamed. Pour down upon my soul those graces which flow from your love. Let my heart be united with yours. Let my will be conformed to yours in all things. May your will be the rule of all my desires and actions.

These are words of Saint Gertrude the Great, a Cistercian nun of the thirteenth century, whom we remember today.  Her ardor inspires us to follow Christ more fervently, even with every fiber of our being.

O God, you are my God. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water. Psalm 62

Andrea del Verrocchio, Christ and Saint Thomas, bronze, 1483, Orsanmichele, Florence.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Their Cry for Mercy

"Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!"
In this morning's Gospel, ten lepers beg to be cleansed, restored to  community and family. Jesus hears their pleading, heals them, brings them hope in the midst of despair; he makes outsiders, insiders. One wise, newly cleansed Samaritan knows enough to return and say thank you. The Spirit of Jesus binds up and joins us together. What do we say? What return can we make for all the Lord has done for us? 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Gift of Self

Mindful in faith and love, in wonder and thanksgiving, of our own being as gift we are to be moved to a reciprocal gift of self to others. Moreover, giving to others must hold as its pattern gift’s proper measure, which is totality. The total gift of one’s own being from nothingness calls for a reciprocal gift of all of oneself. Jesus himself alludes to this logic when responding to a scribe’s question about which was the first of all the commandments, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.”

We can get a better grasp of this total reciprocal gift of self, by looking at its archetype, which is the “vow”. When a man and a woman exchange vows at their wedding or a religious makes vows at his or her profession or a priest at his ordination, in each case it is a gift of all of oneself. It is important to recognize that this giving of self is made as a response in love and thanksgiving to the mystery of being given to oneself, it is not a claim to have the capacity to spend the rest of one’s life in a state of unremitting total self-gift. What the vow does do is gather up all that has gone before and all that is to follow in a person’s life into a unity with God; so that every other giving of oneself is now an expression of this totality; which is meant to unfold in the ordinary living out of our lives through our daily attempts to give ourselves to others.

The widow’s contribution of her two small coins is her attempt to live from within the totality of self-gift. It is her way of abiding as a traveler in the land of the gift, which is the realm of God. He is her dwelling place, where taking risks in love opens up pathways of never-ending newness and discovery, he is her joy, her place of the experience of fullness and peace, her home; and resting there in union with him as the mystery of the divine source of life, her eternal father, means reciprocating in her own way the totality of the gift that she has received, confident that as for the widow of Zarephath, “The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry, until the day when the Lord sends rain upon the earth."

What gives Jesus such joy, is that in her action, he sees a unity with his own action as only-begotten Son, making a total gift of self to the Father through taking on our flesh, and now moving toward his suffering and death in order to bring back to the Father all those the Father has given him. He summons his disciples and points her out in the hope that they too will know this union with him. May he enlighten us and strengthen us that we too may dwell with him, united with him in the offering of self, without limit, calculation or reserve. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Timothy.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

A Widow

Reflecting on this Sunday's Gospel, one monk recounts the following:

I am reminded of scene from my childhood. It’s the morning of my birthday, and I have just come in with the mail, anxious to open my birthday cards. I’m tearing them open. There is one from my Aunt Florence, recently widowed; two crisp dollar bills fall to the table. Spoiled brat that I am; I pay little attention. My mom is there in a flash, “Who sent you that card?” “Aunty Flo,” I say. “Oh, God. Call to thank her now, please.” “Hi, Aunt Florence, thank you for the birthday gift.” My mother snatches the receiver from my hand, “Flo, you know you shouldn’t have done that. You can’t afford it.” Florence was living on a wing and a prayer; she had worked in a little hat shop; her husband my Uncle Ralph had projected movies at the local theater. They had educated two kids. She had nothing. The gift was huge. My mother understood. Like my mom, Jesus really understands as he watches the widow this morning. Compassionate mercy is enfleshed in Christ Jesus. It is he alone who really truly understands each of us, our context, our stories, our own need to be mercied by him. Jesus is gazing on us with mercy and compassion right now.  He understands and he calls us blessed. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Scripture and Contemplation

A point worth pondering is the link between Scripture and contemplation. The Cistercian Fathers insisted especially on the link between Scripture and the Beatific Vision. And so Saint Bernard will say, “Reading is an anticipated vision of divine glory.”

Our understanding of Scripture is ordained to that supreme contemplation where we shall see its Author face to face. The journey begins with the reading of the sacred texts in the darkness of faith, which is a kind of incipient vision. To the eyes of faith, God’s face shines dimly in the shadows, but it is not yet revealed in all its splendor. And so, we must continue to seek it in the pages of Scripture. As Augustine said so beautifully in his commentary on Psalm 104: “When love grows, the search for what has already been found also grows.”

If perfect contemplation is reserved for heaven, it is also true, according to the Fathers, that to understand with our mind the mysteries of Scripture and to live them is already to live in the kingdom of God. Jerome went so far as to say: “The kingdom of heaven is knowledge of the Scriptures.” The premise on which such a conviction depends is that the Bible is not just a written book, but a living Book.

Abbey barn photographed by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Dominic.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Without Reserve

Dom Thomas Keating's funeral Mass was a celebration of love and remembrance. And many  of his relatives and friends joined us in the Abbey church last Saturday. Abbot Damian presided at the Mass and preached movingly about Thomas' last days. He told us that Father Thomas frequently asked him to read the following prayer of Blessed Charles de Foucauld to him as he lay dying.

I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Friday, November 2, 2018

All Souls Day

Today we ponder the last things, and we mark this solemn day with our traditional procession through the cloisters and the blessing of the graves in the Abbey cemetery all in the early morning darkness. The dear departed, our brethren, friends, relatives and benefactors, belong to us and we pray that the Lord Jesus will raise them up to himself. With them we belong to God in Christ; we are filled with hope.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

All Saints Day

"Who are these wearing white robes?” says an elder in heaven to the narrator in today’s First Reading from the Book of Revelation. The elder then answers his own question, “Why, these are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.” Now anyone who has ever tried to remove even a small blood stain from a piece of clothing can understand that it must have been a near impossible task in first century Palestine, long before OxyClean, Spray and Wash or Shout. And so we can only wonder at the perfectly ridiculous image of robes made radiantly white by washing them in lamb’s blood. But this is not just any lamb. And the offbeat beauty of these words reveals the truth of the dazzling, unprecedented victory of the Lamb of God, which he has “achieved not by domination and aggression” but by his loving acquiescence even unto death.* It is Jesus’ self-forgetful love that has created this radiance.

He is the radiant, blood-stained Lamb, who is seated on the throne at God’s right hand. We live now in the period of his sovereign rule over us. But it is a reign that is, nonetheless, far from complete. And ultimately the Beatitudes describe those who are putting his reign into effect, making the kingdom happen. And as all the saints would remind us, it’s all about Christ Jesus - losing ourselves for him, in him, and ultimately becoming transparent to him. Today is this great feast of transparency and transformation.

Jesus tells us, “How blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven;” he invites us to recognize ourselves among the lowly and insignificant - those who look to God for everything. The Beatitudes are not Jesus' philosophy but his way for us to become kingdom, a way to live as if God were truly in charge, the way to live in him, who is our Beatitude, our way to true happiness.