Sunday, March 31, 2019

Taste and See

“Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.” Laetare Sunday, is a Sunday of rejoicing over God’s goodness- in the Gospel parable of the goodness of the father in relation to his two sons, in the joy of a homecoming, and in God’s goodness in reconciling us to himself in Christ. Let us taste and see this goodness, especially in the mystery of reconciliation.

Reconciliation is a great mystery. It begins with brokenness, but ends in peace. It passes through suffering, but gives new life. The younger son had a legal right to his inheritance. But the expectancy was that he would reserve some of it to care for his father. Instead, he once he got what he wanted, he walked out: no obligations, no regrets, and, we might say, no heart. On the other hand, the older son murmured his life away. His stability was like a chain around his leg. He outwardly obeyed his father’s commands, but inwardly resented them. Their broken relationships eventually became evident, as it does for us all.

But that is precisely where God’s goodness is revealed – in brokenness. But how? What does he do to re-establish harmony? The father of the two sons gives us an answer – he gives his son the freedom to choose, to act freely and to be responsible for his actions. No relationship is possible without this freedom and responsibility, and God made that possible for us when he created us in his image and likeness. But he does not stop there. While he always takes the first step in reconciliation, he knows that we cannot be passive bystanders. We have to use our freedom rightly. We have to choose to come home. So while he waits patiently for us, he provides another indispensable gift – a guide for the journey home.

We could hardly find a more moving homecoming than that of the younger son. He came to himself; he repented; he got up and went back to his father. There is another homecoming mentioned in today’s Liturgy: the return of Joshua and the Israelites to the Promised Land. The Israelites had been in the desert for 40 years, marching like heroes at times, but at other times longing for the cucumbers of Egypt. No sooner had their covenant with God been sealed than they broke it by fashioning a golden calf. Even Moses was not permitted to lead them into the Promised Land. It was Joshua who would do it. 

Mysteriously the same goes for us. We are not passive in the work of reconciliation. We must follow the new Joshua whom God in his goodness has given to us, that is, his only Son, Our Lord Jesus. Jesus leads us into the spiritual combat. He comes to our aid when we are being overwhelmed. He celebrates the Passover with us, his own Passover, and gives us his own body and blood to strengthen us. Finally, he exhorts us to use our freedom responsibly and not to receive the grace of God in vain. The journey home may be a long one, but with the new Joshua to lead us, we will arrive. We have only to follow him.

Finally, we see the goodness of God in these magnificent words of St. Paul: “Whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come…” This is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is hard to fathom, but he makes us a new creation. Without the Holy Spirit we could not follow the new Joshua. Without the Holy Spirit the image of God in us – our freedom and responsibility – would never mature. Reconciliation makes us a new creation, and this is all the work of God. We were dead and have come to life again; we were lost and have been found. 
Excerpts from today's homily by Father Vincent.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Love Reverses Everything

Ultimately it is Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection that are the endless second-chance he offers us. And now he sets his face toward Jerusalem and all the horror that will befall him there. “He saved others, but he cannot save himself! If he is truly the king of Israel, let him come down now from that cross, and then we will believe in him.” So, the onlookers will jeer as Jesus bleeds and pants and breathes his last; they are certain now that he could not possibly be the Messiah, because God would not allow his chosen One to undergo such agony. This proves it; Jesus was a fraud, a blasphemer. Not true, for God’s power is made perfect in the weakness of love poured out. Love reverses everything.

Jesus is our Exemplar, our Hope, our unending Opportunity. No wonder that in the Prologue to the Rule, Saint Benedict offers us this amazing throwaway line: “The days of this life have been given us as a time of truce for the correction of our faults.” A time of truce. We’ve been given some extra time, an acceptable time. Now is the most acceptable time. Through God’s mercy and the grace of our monastic vocation, our lives have been given back to us. We have the time we need to make our return to the Lord, to start over, to do deeds of love. The constant ringing of the bells is the incessant reminder that there’s still time, time to hand everything over to him, time to continually return. Again and again he speaks to us, “Those I love, I reprove. With all your heart, repent. I am here knocking at the door. If you hear my voice, then open the door that I may enter this house and dine with you, and you with me. All I have is yours.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

My Song

My song is love unknown,
my Savior’s love to me.
Love to the loveless shown,
that they might lovely be.
Oh, who am I that for my sake,
oh, who am I that for my sake
my Lord should take frail flesh and die?

He came from heaven’s throne
salvation to bestow;
but they refused, and none
the longed-for Christ would know.
This is my friend, my friend indeed,
this is my friend, my friend indeed,
who at my need, his life did spend.

Drawing by Brother Mikah. Text from  Lauds hymn, Love Unknown by John Ireland.

Monday, March 25, 2019

The Annunciation

   It is fitting that, as we move toward the celebration of the Paschal Mystery, we pause to celebrate the moment when God revealed his will that his Word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, for without the assent of the Virgin there is no redemption from our sins, no victory of the Cross over sin and death, no resurrection, no eternal life with God.
  Through Jesus’ sacrifice our human nature has been transformed from within; we have been given access to God’s own holiness. Mary’s “Yes” is the fruit of this reconciliation achieved through the Cross of her Son. It is through the redemption he won for us that she possesses the purity and holiness to utter her “Yes.” 
   Mary placed herself at the service of God’s call in complete surrender: with the whole strength and depth of her ability; in both strength and weakness. In strength, in that she is ready for whatever the Lord asks; in weakness, in that her whole life has already been placed at his disposal. She lives from the recognition that everything good comes to her from God, by herself she is nothing. God alone has the power to make her life fruitful. Mary is weak enough to acknowledge that God alone has all the power, but strong enough to offer him her life without reserve. God also calls us to this complete surrender.
   Mary’s assent is in a special way an act of the Holy Spirit through whose effect she gives herself soul and body to God. At the time of her overshadowing, the Spirit flooding through her will meet with the Spirit already dwelling within her. Mary’s Yes will be as though enclosed within a Yes of the Spirit. Enveloped in this way in the Holy Spirit, Mary’s assent, as grace truly given and received in her own spirit, will become a true, free and independent word of her own spirit.
   The action of the Spirit becomes a word of her own spirit first of all in renunciation.  Mary renounces herself, in order to let God alone become active in her. Mary makes every potentiality of her nature accessible to the divine action. She renounces all self-shaping of her own existence, so that God can make of her what he wishes. Likewise, if we are to become the self God intends, we need to renounce ourselves and trust enough to place all the good potentialities God has bestowed on us at his disposal to be used as he sees fit.
   From renunciation follows cooperation. Mary resolves to let God alone work; and yet, precisely by virtue of this resolution, she becomes cooperative. Every renunciation made in love is fruitful because it makes room for consent to God, who is waiting for our consent so that he can go to work in us. 
   From cooperation there follows fulfillment. In renouncing all her potentialities, Mary obtains their fulfillment beyond all expectation: cooperative in body, she becomes the mother of the Lord; cooperative in spirit, she becomes his handmaid and his bride. As our spiritual mother, every grace Mary has received is in principal open to us, and she wishes us to share in it as well. We turn to her in confidence, that she may accompany us as, open to the Lord’s will, we move through this holy season toward the events of Holy Week and Easter.
Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Excerpts from this morning's homily by Father Timothy.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Turning Back to Grace

A tree full of figs, branches heavy with pomegranates, an abundance of corn and new wine - all this fruitfulness was surely a sign of God’s favor. And so, the logic was, it’s opposite - barrenness - clearly indicated God’s disfavor. And so, the frustrated orchard owner not finding any ripe figs says, “Dig up the fruitless tree. It’s useless.” Jesus the Gardener, our Advocate with the Father, says, “Wait. Give me some time; let me give it a bit of extra care.” Jesus  sees opportunity for his graced intervention.

And if the fig tree was by tradition Israel itself, it is as well all of us and each of us - stuck and sinful and seemingly unfruitful. And when the Gardener asks for just a single year to do his work, Jesus is pointing to the urgency of repentance and a change of heart. “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.” As if to say, there is still time, but there’s no time to lose.* Jesus never gives up on us. He is the God of second chances, he understands. But he waits, awaits our turning back to his grace.

As God will tell Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people. I have heard their cry; and I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” This is not a God of whim and caprice who distractedly allows towers to fall on sinful people but a God of mercy who in Christ Jesus has come down to join us in the rubble of our sinfulness, here amidst the debris of our mistakes and failures. 

After the devastating earthquake in Turkey in 1988, a mother and her infant son were trapped for days in the rubble of their apartment building. The trauma, the days of tension and near airlessness caused her breastmilk to dry up. Frantic as her baby grew more and more listless and whimpered faintly, a thought came to her. She pierced her finger, pressed it and put it in the child’s mouth. The baby nursed contentedly on her bleeding fingertip. Not long after she saw light peeping through the debris, she shouted, and rescuers discovered her and the baby. Both survived.

How like Our Lord Jesus was this nursing mother, nurturing us with his own blood, God’s own blood, a torrent of compassion from his wounded heart, from his hands and feet. So, he shows us in his own body that loving to the end is the way to life and fruitfulness and true repentance. My sisters and brothers, we are Jesus’ wounded body. We are invited to let our hearts to be stretched and torn open in love; it may often feel that we like him are dying in the process. But it’s worth it.
 Photograph by Brother Brian. *  Insight from Gerhard Lohfink.

Friday, March 22, 2019


We too have seen him, experienced his presence. Have we not? We can deny it, slip back into a cozy darkness. It’s always a possibility. But Jesus has come near, very near and changed everything. We have been anointed with the blood and water flowing from his wounded side; we belong to him. There’s no going back. Once we all were darkness, but now we are light in the Lord. 

Now at long last the winter is over and past, the light is increasing, soon flowers will appear on the earth; the voice of doves and little birds already fills the air, the day of our redemption draws nearer and nearer. Now with great desire Jesus desires that we become all light, all compassion in him. The powers of darkness are always on our tail. We need his body and blood to help us to keep choosing the light. So we keep coming back to the altar table day after day to receive the Bread and Wine that is light, the light that he is, the light that we are becoming.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Anniversary of the Fire at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Valley

On 21 March 1950, the Feast of Saint Benedict, the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Lonsdale, Rhode Island was ravaged by a devastating fire. The original wing was destroyed; the church was rendered structurally unsound and would have to be demolished. The community of 140 monks was homeless.

Well before the fire the monks had been searching for a new location that would insure their solitude and economic stability, since the population in the area around the monastery had increased considerably. And by 1949 the community had purchased a large agricultural property, Alta Crest Farms in Spencer, Massachusetts. The 1950 fire merely accelerated the community's projected move. In God's providence the end of one story became the seed for a new one.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Celebrating Saint Joseph

We were struck by the beauty of the following text by Saint Bernadine of Siena, read to us at the Second Nocturn during this morning’s Vigils.

This is the general rule that applies to all individual graces given to a rational creature. Whenever divine grace selects someone to receive a particular grace or some especially favored position, all the gifts for his state are given to that person and enrich him abundantly.

This is especially true of that holy man Joseph, the supposed father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and true husband of the queen of the world and of the angels. He was chosen by the eternal Father to be the faithful foster-parent and guardian of the most precious treasures of God, his Son and his spouse. This was the task which he so faithfully carried out. For this, the Lord said to him, ‘Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.’

A comparison can be made between Joseph and the whole Church of Christ. Joseph was the specially chosen man through whom and under whom Christ entered the world fittingly and in an appropriate way. So, if the whole Church is in the debt of the Virgin Mary, since, through her, it was able to receive the Christ, surely after her, it also owes to Joseph special thanks and veneration.

For he it is who marks the closing of the Old Testament. In him the dignity of the prophets and patriarchs achieves its promised fulfillment. Moreover; he alone possessed in the flesh what God in his goodness promised to them over and again.

It is beyond doubt that Christ did not deny to Joseph in heaven that intimacy, respect, and high honor which he showed to him as to a father during his own human life, but rather completed and perfected it. Justifiably the words of the Lord should be applied to him, ‘Enter into the joy of your Lord.’ Although it is the joy of eternal happiness that comes into the heart of man, the Lord prefers to say to him ‘enter into joy’. The mystical implication is that this joy is not just inside man, but surrounds him everywhere and absorbs him, as if he were plunged in an infinite abyss.

Therefore, be mindful of us, blessed Joseph, and intercede for us with him whom men thought to be your Son. Win for us the favor of the most Blessed Virgin your spouse, the mother of him who lives and reigns with the Holy Spirit through ages unending. Amen.

Sunday, March 17, 2019


In this morning’s Second Reading from Saint Paul's Letter to the Philippians, he exhorts his brothers and sisters to conduct themselves according to the model they have in him. Elsewhere Paul exhorts the Corinthians, “Be followers of me as I am of Christ.” The glory that anyone of us manifests is the glory we share in Christ, individually and especially corporately. And the surest way to achieve glory is to act as did Jesus Christ "who did not count equality with God something to be grasped at but emptied himself taking the form of a slave obedient unto death, death on a cross. Because of this God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name so that every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father." Paul reminds his faithful flock that by living in Christ, God will change our lowly body to conform to his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.  May we not resist that subjection. The embrace of the glorious cross is the ultimate freedom to live in the one who sets us free by the glory of his saving power.

Today’s Gospel is Saint Luke's version of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We see in Luke's account the same dazzling white brightness of the glory of God shining forth from the face and clothing of Jesus as in the other synoptic gospels. Luke alone, however, of the evangelists says explicitly that “they saw his glory.”  Luke alone mentions the content of the conversation of Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They spoke of the exodus that Jesus was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. It will be an exodus across the Red Sea of Blood on the cross of Calvary, the glorious cross, a cross that moves the Father to exalt Jesus and his name, but also to exalt all those who glory in the name of Jesus by sharing in his cross, as well as his crown: sharing in his self-emptying for others, in his suffering for others and in his laying down his life for them. 

In his Third Sermon on the Song of Songs, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux makes a passing allusion to the ecstatic words of Saint Peter, “It is good that we are here!”  As Bernard speaks to the monks, guests arrive at the gate of Clairvaux and Bernard is obliged to break off the Chapter talk to go to greet them and oversee their hospitable reception. Before doing so he looks out at the community gathered in Chapter saying, “Brothers, it is wonderful that we are here.” In the context of this Liturgy on this little mountain of transfiguration here in Spencer, brothers and sisters, it is wonderful that were are here - here to behold the Lamb of God, the Son, in whom the Father is well pleased, to listen to his Word and be ourselves transfigured spiritually by his glorified Body and Blood in the Eucharist, and so like Saint Bernard to become ever more hospitable to others.  As Saint Paul told us this morning, “Our citizenship is in heaven and from heaven we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.  Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.”

Excerpts from this morning’s homily by Father Luke.

Saturday, March 16, 2019


We have been praying our novena to Saint Joseph each evening after Vespers at the Saint Joseph altar in the north transept of the Abbey church. A candle is lit each day by a different brother.

Blessed are you, Joseph, our patron, guardian of the Word Incarnate, to whom it was given not only to see and hear, but also to embrace and watch over the Child Jesus himself. We come to you now with confidence that your prayers to help us in our need will be heard before the throne of God. 

Pray for us, Joseph, that the Lord may come into our souls to sanctify us. That he may come into our minds to enlighten us. That he may guard our wills and strengthen us. That he may direct our thoughts and purify them. That he may look upon our deeds and extend his blessings on us.

St Joseph, righteous and just. 
Pray for us.

God our Father, in your infinite wisdom and love you chose Joseph to be the husband of Mary, the mother of your Son. May we, who count him as our special patron, continue to have the help of his prayers and know the security of his protection. We ask this through Christ our Lord. All: Amen.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Grace and Courage

It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light .... Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? .... Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.

Image by Father Emmanuel. Lines from Marilynne Robinson, Gilead.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


Popular financial advice used to include the calculations of how many pay checks separated me from the street. If I were to lose my job, how long would my resources last? How many pay checks before I would no longer be able to pay my rent and face becoming homeless? It was a call to reevaluate assumptions of financial security and make the necessary changes.

The call of Jonah to the people of Nineveh is strikingly similar, but much more profound. For the prophet reminds us that, not only our prosperity and security, but our very existence depend on the goodness of God. All of us, all of creation were made by God and are held in existence by him. Like Jonah's call to repentance, the Church's call to Lenten discipline is a call to live truly as the creatures we are, to renounce our illusions of competence, security and autonomy and embrace our dependence on our heavenly Father. 

Photograph of the Abbey retreat house by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a meditation by Father William. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2019


Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.  1 Cor

Paul's description of love is a fitting description of Christ Jesus our Lord, who is all Love and Mercy. In the face of rejection, suffering and contradiction, he is steadfast, compassionate, patient, speaking the truth in love. He is love itself.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


There are two major biblical traditions concerning Satan. One portrays him as a divinely assigned tester, who works in league with God to uncover what is in peoples' hearts. So it is that in the Book of Job, God and Satan have a heavenly conversation about Job. Is he really a righteous servant? Or is Job righteous because God has kept him safe from the vicissitudes of life? And God agrees to put Job to the test. This testing tradition is in the background of today's temptation story in the Gospel of Luke - temptations will expose Jesus' heart. The second tradition portrays Satan as the enemy of God's purposes, the one who is "prowling like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour." This is the Evil One who must be resisted. There is no suggestion that he can be entertained. This tradition is also present in the symbolic narrative of today's Gospel. 

Jesus has just come from his Baptism, and he has heard the Father's voice, "You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased." And so these temptation focus on Jesus' identity. They are the wrong ways for Jesus to be the Son of God. They can also be seen as Messianic temptations, wrong ways for Jesus to understand his mission. Jesus sees through these temptations and utterly rejects them.

In the first temptation Satan suggests that people can be appeased if their physical needs are met. Such temptations deny the spiritual and moral dimensions of the human person. In the second temptation Satan suggests that accusing others and dividing people from one another is the way to power and glory. In other words, never look at your own issues, instead find outside causes, blame others for the mess. False strategies such as these are meant to help us look better than others. Satan is the primordial spin doctor. And so in the third temptation he will suggest that credentials count more than ways of thinking and acting. Judge others by wealth, style, status, etc. Outward appearance and show are far more important than integrity, truth and principles. 

Satan did his best to seduce Jesus into using strategies that could further his ambitions. But Jesus will not kowtow to such manipulation; He will not betray his true identity. Will  we?

Duccio di Buoninsegna (c.1255 - c.1319)The Temptation of Christ on the Mountain, 1308-1311, tempera on poplar panel (cradled), 17 x 18 1/8 in., The Frick Collection, New York. Excerpts from Father Aquinas' homily for the First Sunday of Lent.

Friday, March 8, 2019

In Lent

Lent is the time of our desperate longing for mercy and compassion. And it may seem that, given the terror and suffering and contradiction that seem so pervasive, the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus, is absent from our world. It is we, more often than not, that are far away from Him, far away from one another and from our truest selves. But Mercy, He who is Himself all mercy and all compassion, is constantly running after us, longing to bring us home. 

Let us constantly open our hearts to Him. 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Confident Desperation

Here we are at the beginning of another Lent. Once again we hear the gospel’s call to the traditional ascetical practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Those of us who follow the Rule of Benedict are familiar with his Lenten call: "We urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times…by devoting themselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial.” 

It is all very familiar, perhaps too familiar. Ascetical practices have always been an integral element of Christian life. One of the best definitions of ascesis I have come across is from the book we are presently reading in the refectory. “Ascesis is not a morbid obsession with one’s guilt or sense of unworthiness but a celebration of the experience of being loved unconditionally by God.” The author goes on to say, "Let us not mistake asceticism for spiritual athleticism. Athletic discipline is undertaken to succeed and triumph. Asceticism is undertaken precisely so that in failing, God might triumph in us.”

In am in no way am exalting mediocrity, much less a deliberate, nonchalant attitude to moral failures and sinfulness. Rather, I am inviting myself and you to hear the Lenten invitation that we all need to hear again and again, no matter how familiar it may sound. To hear it as an invitation to accept my life here and now as I find it - in all its brokenness and beauty. And to realize that Christ’s embrace happens most poignantly in the darkness of loneliness and weakness and within the midst of, what could be called, a confident desperation - knowing that we can unfailingly depend on Christ Jesus alone as our Hope and Mercy. May our Lenten journey be filled with this grace-filled dependence. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Abbot Damian with quotations from Vincent Pizzuto.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Shrove Tuesday

Shrove Tuesday in the monastery brings our “farewell” to the Alleluia at this evening’s Vespers, as we chant an elaborate Alleluia at the conclusion of the office. Then we head to the refectory for Brother Patrick’s homemade pizza, followed by ice cream and sweets. Then there’s clean-up followed by Compline, and the last time we can chant the Salve Regina with Our Lady’s window illumined until Easter Sunday. The sanctuary is then prepared for the Ash Wednesday Mass, and the cross over the altar veiled in purple for the holy Forty Days ahead.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Our Foolishness

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,'
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite!  Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother's eye. Luke 6

How foolish we can be, too quick to judge, too quick to notice another's fault or failure, while totally oblivious to our foolishness and failures. And yet the tender love and relentless rescue of Jesus make our foolish failures almost worth it. For we are meant to be icons of his 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. As monks this means constant awareness of our foolishness, what we often refer to as "bitter self-knowledge," the need to constantly, joyfully remember who we really are, Who it is that we really need. Our life of incessant prayer requires incessant awareness of our poverty. This is after all the best way to receive the Holy Communion Jesus offers each morning at the altar. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.