Thursday, February 28, 2019

In Wonder

“Wonder requires us to acknowledge what we do not know or may never know, to acknowledge the limits of knowledge. It is then a different species of knowledge, a way of knowing that does not lead to certainties or truths about the world or the way things are or ought to be. It is a state of mind that, like being in love, colors all we know.” 

Wonder lets us acknowledge wonders and miracles. Wonder is born of faith and leads to deeper faith, deeper love. It allows uncertainties, hurts and failures. Wonder brings us to the interior secret of knowing ourselves fragile and at the same time treasured by God in Christ.

Like love, wonder allows all things, believes all things. It let’s be, let’s God be God, magnificent, extravagant but also hidden and quiet and unremarkable. Wonder says, ‘Yes.’ It does not demand certitude but relaxes into a way of knowing that is beyond neat categories and complex argument. Beginning in wonder means I welcome Christ drawing me, working in my life, in our lives together in ways we do not ask for. Wonder says, “Yes,” or even, “Why not.”

As Anne Sexton says, “Too much is happening for even big hearts to hold.” And with work to do and contradictions at every turn, perhaps the Lord is inviting us simply to wonder and most of all to trust Him, minute by minute, day by day, over and over.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Quotations from Peter de Bolla, Art Matters.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Absurd Generosity

The noted scholar NT Wright tells us that “the kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity. Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person and go ahead and do it. Think of the people whom you are tempted to be nasty to, and lavish generosity on them instead.”  He points out: “Jesus’ instructions have a fresh, spring-like quality. They are all about new life bursting out energetically like flowers growing through concrete and startling everyone with their color and vigor.”

“Jesus’ point was not to provide his followers with a new rule-book, a list of dos and don’ts that you could tick off one by one and sit back satisfied at the end of a successful moral day. The point was to inculcate, and illustrate, an attitude of heart, a lightness of spirit in the face of all that the world can throw at you. And at the center of it is the thing that motivates and gives color to the whole: you are to be like this because that’s what God is like. God is generous to all people, generous to a fault: he provides good things for all to enjoy, the undeserving as well as the deserving. He is astonishingly merciful; how can we, his forgiven children, be any less? Only when people discover that this is the sort of God they are dealing with will they have any chance of making this way of life their own.”

“Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you . . . Love your enemies and do good to them . . . Be merciful, stop judging, stop condemning, and forgive.” These commandments are all about what God is like. Unfortunately, many of us have “fixated on a gloomy God, a penny-pinching God, a God whose only concern is to make life difficult and salvation nearly impossible.” But the God Jesus reveals is radically different: completely averse to violence and vengeance, to the punishing justice that we exact from one another. NT Wright suggests: “If we truly encountered him, no doubt many of us would only stare!”

People did stare when Jesus lived the big-heartedness and open-handedness he preached. As Wright puts it: “The reason why crowds gathered…was that power was flowing out of Jesus and people were being healed. His whole life was one of exuberant generosity, giving all he had to everyone who needed it. He was speaking from what he knew: the extravagant love of his Father, and the call to live a lavish human life in response. And finally, when they struck him on the cheek and ripped the coat and shirt off his back, he went on loving and forgiving, as Luke will tell us later. He didn’t show love only to his friends, but to his enemies, weeping over the city that had rejected his plea for peace.  He was the true embodiment of the God of whom he spoke.”

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a homily by Father Dominic.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

To Love

One of our monks recalls  a scene from his childhood. He says,  "I must have been about nine or ten. I remember my mom, a really pious woman, getting angry with her brother, my Uncle Billy, who once again had bailed out his teenage son. My cousin was a young renegade who was always messing up – wrecked cars, drunk driving. There was always a new disaster. My mom was infuriated that Billy let his son take advantage of him over and over again, protective of his honor and so afraid that her brother was being made a fool of. But Uncle Billy loved this kid so much, he didn't care. He loved to love. Anyway this one day after listening to him, my mom blew up. 'Oh c’mon Johnny,' she said. 'Don’t give me that turn-the-other-cheek stuff.' ” Our monk tells us that the memory of this conversation still smarts. 

Indeed, "that turn-the-other-cheek stuff" is what it means for us to follow Jesus, as this morning's Gospel makes clear. And Jesus' way continues to be absolutely counter-cultural, counter-intuitive. It is often the way of doing the opposite of our first inclination. And so very often we must admit it is  beyond our ability. Of course it is! We have to depend on the Lord to stretch our hearts wider and wider and show us how. He can do it, if we cooperate just a bit with his grace.

Praise God. We are all of us on the way, learning how to love as Christ loves. No wonder the monastery is called a school of love. It's where we learn over and over how to love as God loves. Christ Jesus is our best Teacher; he encourages us to keep practicing.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, February 21, 2019


And he asked them,
“But who do you say that I am?”
Peter said to him in reply,
“You are the Christ.” Mark 8

In the end it’s always about letting ourselves be mercied. And so with Peter we listen as Jesus whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you?” Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately loved by Christ, we can say with Saint Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. To whom else shall we go?” And with Saint Paul, “All I want is to know you, Lord Jesus and the power flowing from your resurrection. Everything else is rubbish. You are all that I desire. You are my love, my fortress, my stronghold, my rescuer, my rock, the God who shows me love."

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Bread

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread,
and they had only one loaf with them in the boat...  Mark 8

Translated literally today's Gospel reads something like this: "The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one bread with them in the boat." The bread the disciples have with them is Jesus himself. And so they have all they need. He is the one who has fed the multitudes; he is the one who satisfies all the longings of our hearts.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Monday, February 18, 2019


Scripture scholars tell us that to be poor in Jesus' day was to be stuck where you were. There was no possibility of "bettering  yourself" with a new job or position; the poor were poor, and that was that. In addition, to act in way that was not congruent with your social status was to invite derision. So it is that when Jesus heals the sick there is wonder and awe and then often also a reaction of rage and resentment. As if to say, "Who does he think he is? He's only the carpenter's son after all."

In any age the poor are those who have no choice, no choices. Jesus proclaims the poor blessed and happy. Why? Because he relishes their downtroddenness? Certainly not. He longs to be longed for. And it is the truly poor who know their real need for God. How to embrace our own poverty, whatever we cannot change, whatever reveals our desperate need for God? 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Be Opened!

He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put his finger into the man’s ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then he looked up to heaven and groaned, and said to him, “Ephphatha!” - that is, “Be opened!” And immediately the man’s ears were opened, his speech impediment was removed, and he spoke plainly. He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it. They were exceedingly astonished, and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and [the] mute speak.” Mark 7

Whose fault was it? Whose sin was it, his or his parents? The eerie possibility was that, he himself maybe even while still in his mama’s womb, had done something really horrible. Sickness, deafness, blindness were, after all, the direct consequence of sin; everybody knew that; all decent Jews in Jesus’ day believed it. Sin leaves its mark; sin causes sickness. It had to be someone’s fault. Case closed. Dead-end. Today Jesus comes to this dead-end and says, “No! I won’t have it. God won’t have it.”

Friends bring the deaf and speech-impaired man to Jesus. And undoubtedly roused by the  man's predicament as well as the faith of these good people, Jesus’ heart overflows with compassion. Quietly he takes the man off, away from the crowd and groans from the very depths of his heart his desire for the man’s freedom and healing. He shouts out in Aramaic: “Ephpha’tha! Be opened! - Open to me, my Beloved. Let me hear your voice.” And breaking boundaries of good taste, discretion and formality and way beyond the parameters of good hygiene, Jesus boldly sticks his finger into the deaf man’s ears and then touches the man’s tongue with his own spittle.

Jesus’ vibrant touch; his warm saliva are sacraments of God’s healing. God’s own spittle restores fluency to a tongue once thick and speechless; God’s finger pokes its way into ears now deaf no longer. Jesus’ groaning to heaven expresses God’s impatience and frustration with all illness, all the unfreedom and isolation and pain we know and experience.

Now physicians, parents of little ones and even lovers or spouses would perhaps dare to touch so familiarly, so sensually; discarding all boundaries, putting their finger in ears and mouth. And so fittingly enough Jesus, who is for us Mother and Father and Bridegroom and kind Doctor, reaches out to this once deaf and babbling man, marking the radical in-breaking of God’s regenerative intimacy with us. Jesus breaks boundaries, because God’s love is in fact boundless.  Jesus is God’s Word in opposition to all sickness and evil and pain, - down to his very fingertips.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

God's Way

From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile. 

The Lord Jesus Christ reveals the truth of who we are; he has looked deep into our hearts and seen our truth. But how do we hear these words of Jesus this morning? Perhaps as a kind of indictment? Do these words of the Gospel sound like good news to us? Is Jesus trying to stop us short, call us to attention? Is he arrogant and self-righteous? Certainly not. What Jesus offers us is not a smug assessment of our sinful nature but a compassionate understanding of how we get pulled and deceived, a very real look at our tendencies toward sin. His gaze tests our hearts, scrutinizes, but it is always a gaze of love and longing, a gaze of understanding. And if he reminds us of the evil that can take root in us, it is only for one reason, one reason only - because he longs to be merciful to us.

Made like us in all things but sin, Jesus needed no one to tell him about the human heart, for he has taken our heart as his own heart. Can we say that Jesus knows from within his own heart all that tempts us and can drag us away? Does this sound blasphemous? You know what the Letter to the Hebrews says, that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin - in every way that we are. Imagine the breadth of that statement. Think of all you go through, all you feel, all the ways you are tempted; and imagine Jesus feeling it all with you. It never ceases to astonish. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us: “We do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet apart from sin. Therefore, let us draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jesus knows, Jesus understands. He shares our flesh and blood and knows well what yanks at our hearts because “he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy” all that threatens to draw us away from God. Jesus speaks to us this morning not from above, but from deep within, very near. If as we believe, Jesus is fully human, fully divine, like us “in every respect” but sin, then he knows well the vagaries of our human hearts. But unlike us, though tempted, his heart was always set on the Father’s will. May he continue to teach his way.
Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Like Peter

Like Peter in today’s Gospel, we may want to say to Jesus, “Leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus won’t leave us. Perhaps that’s the hardest thing but also the most amazing grace - to realize humbly, even joyfully, our inadequacy. We are called to imitate the wounded Christ and allow him to reform our hearts, so that they conform to his broken heart. This is the grace of true blessedness and joy - a way to imitate him, who is all mercy, all peace, all mourning turned to joy, imitate him in whom we are meant to become more and more like God. We are invited to take on the mind of Christ in our embrace of our own poverty and neediness and inadequacy. The saints would remind us, “Don’t be afraid. It’s not about you. It’s about him; let him transform you.”

This tender love and relentless rescue of Jesus make our foolish failures almost worth it. Almost. With Peter and all the saints, we are meant to be icons of this rescue, our very selves, revelations of what Christ’s ongoing merciful rescue can accomplish, if we give him the least bit if access to our broken hearts. We welcome him with our need for him. And as monks this means constant awareness of our foolishness; constantly, joyfully remembering that we are sinners outlandishly loved by God. And so our life of incessant prayer requires incessant awareness of our poverty.

Jesus invites us to step into that poverty and helplessness we need no longer fear and flee or deny - because we will find him and our brothers and sisters down there.  Jesus calls us to relationship - with him and with one another. We are invited to travel with him on the challenging road of humility, vulnerability and doing the opposite of what our first anger-fueled reaction might be. For when I finally recognize how poor and mercy-hungry I am, maybe, just maybe I begin to notice that I am not alone, that others need mercy just as I do; and hopefully my heart gets broken open.

In the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus, a revolution is happening, with vulnerability at the center. Vulnerability is the key to true holiness and joy. For when I am vulnerable, I realize that I desperately need God; I realize that I desperately need others. I come to understand that I am imperfect, inadequate and on the way along with my brothers and sisters, and so I am connected. (see BrenĂ© Brown) It is this loving connectivity that is true holiness.  

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of the monks.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Saint Josephine Bakhita

Stolen from her family and sold into slavery when she was only about nine years old, Josephine Bakhita suffered at the hands of cruel masters and mistresses. She was tattooed with the cuts of razor blades, severely lashed and one of her legs was so battered by brutal kicking that she limped for years thereafter. Children are great survivors, and Bakhita learned early on how to live as if death did not have the last word. She always lived in hope.

And finally years later when she learns about Jesus, she is magnetized, and she seeks baptism with a tenacity and conviction that astound us. She is transfixed as she gazes at the crucified Christ. He is the key to her self-understanding. Jesus, an innocent victim like her, gives her survival new meaning. She is drawn into the reality of his death-defying death. And so she calls Jesus Padrone– literally her “Big Daddy,” her Master; at last a Master she can serve with joy and freedom, one who will never, ever hurt or do any violence to her.

Thursday, February 7, 2019


One of our monks shares the following insight:

I notice that I pray best, when I come to prayer helpless and tell the Lord Jesus, “Lord, help me. I don’t know how to pray." Then somehow I am suspended in my helplessness. And depending on Christ’s kind regard alone, I can rest undisturbed. Then often I am brought into a deep peace that is prayer.

How to trust our desperation as good news? 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019


In the morning's Gospel two people of faith seek Jesus' healing touch. Both have their prayers answered. Faith in Jesus heals. Jesus reminds us, "Fear is useless what is needed is trust," confidence in his desire to heal and accompany us in all we endure. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

One Thing

...if you want to speed on your travels and make a good journey each day, you should hold these two things often in your mind - humility and love. That is: I am nothing; I have nothing; I desire only one thing. You shall have the meaning of these words continually in your intention, and in the habit of your soul, even though you may not always have their particular form in your thought, for that is not necessary. Humility says, I am nothing; I have nothing. Love says, I desire only one thing, and that is Jesus.  Walter Hilton

Cold and damp today.

A crust of snow covers the ground, marked here and there with turkey and rabbit tracks.

We long for Christ yet often wonder how to get there.

Father William M gave us these words of the fourteenth century English mystic, Walter Hilton, this morning and set us securely on the way.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

With Simeon

“Simeon took the child Jesus in his arms and blessed God, saying: ‘Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.’” With these words Simeon is telling us the story of his life - his life of waiting, yearning, longing. But what about us? What about the story of our lives? What good is it if Simeon receives the child Jesus in his arms, if we do not? What good is it if Simeon’s eyes see salvation if our eyes do not? How do we let the truth of this charming story transcend its particular history? There clearly is an historical truth to this story, but there is also a cosmic truth, a truth that is not limited by any one specific time and place. A truth that touches, invades, embraces every time and place.  This story is as much ours as it is Simeon’s.

Simeon lived the many days, years, decades of his life waiting, hoping, trusting, expecting. How many times he must have come to the Temple wondering: “Is this the day I will see salvation? Is this the day I will experience the fulfillment of the promise?” We all know what it is like to wait - for a change in our life circumstances, for a grief to diminish, for a prayer to be answered, for joy to return, for forgiveness, for meaning and purpose, for new life. We wait and hope for all sorts of things. Showing up is the key, the miracle of Simeon’s life, just as it is the key, the miracle of our lives. We show up here trusting, hoping that God is really present and working in our lives even if we can’t see or clearly understand how. We show up and we wait as Simeon did.

Sometimes showing up is the most difficult work we do, and it takes all that we have just to show up, to remain awake and vigilant, to hope and trust. Somehow, showing up is the means through which God fulfills the promise to us just as he did with Simeon. The real miracle is not Simeon’s age. The real miracle is that he never walked away from the promise. He never stopped showing up. At every moment God is waiting for us to show up - to be here and now, to let go of regrets of the past and fears of the future. Simeon thought he was waiting for the child to show up. But what if it was really Jesus waiting for Simeon to show up? Simeon thought he was presenting the child to God. But what if it was really the Child presenting the old man to God? Every day that Simeon showed up, the Child Jesus was seeing and upholding Simeon. Just as he sees and upholds us.

My brothers and sisters, the presentation of Jesus does not happen only in the Temple of Jerusalem but in the temple of our lives, every moment of every day, day after day, month after month, year after year, decade after decade. And it always happens in the midst of our waiting. It happens every time we show up to the reality of our lives. 

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. Meditation by Father Abbot  with excerpts from Interrupting the Silence blog.