Wednesday, January 29, 2020

On the Ground

And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. He added, “Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”  Mark 4

The seed is the Word of God, Jesus himself. In his Incarnation he has fallen into the soil of our humanity, our lowliness. Humus is the Latin word for soil and is the origin of the word humility. In the rich loamy earth of our sometimes-bitter self-knowledge, we are on the ground, in the humus of our reality. It is in the lowliness of this truth, that we realize who we are, what we are, who we long for, who it is we need. Jesus always comes to meet us down there.
Photograph by Brother Brian.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Solemnity of the Founders of Our Order

Beginning with First Vespers this evening, we celebrate the three founders of the Cistercian Order, Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen. Their ideal was a more authentic monastic simplicity and evangelical poverty. On 21 March in 1098, Robert, abbot of the Benedictine abbey of Molesme, France set out with twenty-one of his monks to the wilderness of Cîteaux to begin a new reformed monastery. By 1100 Robert had been called back to Molesme and Alberic was made abbot. We are told that Alberic had a tender devotion to Our Lady and received the Cistercians’ characteristic white cowl from her. Stephen Harding, an Englishman, succeeded Alberic as abbot and composed the Carta Caritatis, a kind of constitution which binds all the monasteries of our Order to a common observance of rules and customs. These early monks of our Order wanted to be “poor with the poor Christ” and are said to have been “lovers of the brethren and the place.” We pray that we may be true to their example and beg their prayerful intercession as we strive to persevere in this place.

The Cistercian scholar Father Michael Casey often reminds us that we must let go of "the myth of the golden age," a cherished fantasy period when the Founders and the early generations of our Order enjoyed some ideal monastic life, when everything ran like clockwork, smooth and neat. Probably Citeaux, like our founding houses in Nova Scotia, Rhode Island and like our own monastery here in Spencer, was full of men like us, wounded sinners trying with all their hearts to follow the poor Christ. Perhaps then we can most fittingly honor the memory of our Holy Founders, if we go with them to the low place of humility in the shadow of the cross, to rest in its shade and remember that we are, as they were, sinners, absolutely dependent on the tender mercy of our God.

 Icon of the Holy Founders with Our Lady of Citeaux written by Brother Terence. During this Solemnity the icon is enthroned in the transept of the Abbey church adorned with candles and flowers.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Saint Francis de Sales

Each day as we begin our celebration of the Mass, we know enough to confess our sinfulness. As we recall our sins Saint Francis de Sales would recommend the following, “… when you have fallen, lift up your heart in quietness, humbling yourself deeply before God because of your frailty, without marveling that you fell; there is no cause to marvel because weakness is weak…” We need not be surprised by our sins, God is not, he only delights to be merciful. Let continually open to him and the mercy he longs to lavish upon us.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


On this Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children, we beg the Lord to stretch our hearts, that we may reverence life, life from conception to natural death, life in its mystery and givenness

"By definition, a gift cannot be demanded; it can only be received graciously as a sort of surprise," Bishop Barron tells us. With open hands and grateful hearts, we accept the gift and promise respect, wonder, awareness of its beauty and gratuitousness. We dare not misuse or take life away, as if it were our possession.

Roses and Lilies, Henri Fantin-Latour (French, Grenoble 1836–1904 Buré), 1888, Oil on canvas, 23 1/2 x 18 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Lamb

"Though harshly treated, he submitted and did not open his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth." These words from the prophecy of Isaiah echo in our hearts today, as we see John the Baptist point to Jesus and proclaim, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. He is the one of whom I said, ‘A man is coming after me who ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’  Jesus is Lamb, the Servant of God who will bear the sins and guilt of all God's people out of love. We have been cleansed in the Blood of this Lamb. 

Holy Church tells us that Jesus came to this world in the midst of universal silence: “While gentle silence enveloped all things, and night in its swift course was now half gone, Thy all-powerful Word leaped from Heaven, from the royal throne.”
The first thirty years of the life of Jesus were wrapped in an impressive silence. Afterward came the three years of His public life. This was the time for speaking, the time for communicating with men. Yet even this period contains marvels of silence. Silence is something so characteristic of Christ’s Passion that the prophet commented on it, saying, “Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.”
In His Eucharistic life, does not that unfathomable silence enveloping the Eucharist impress us profoundly and communicate itself to us when we approach?
Silence is not classified as a virtue, but it is the atmosphere in which virtues develop. At the same time, it is a sign of their maturity. Thus, just as we know that when the golden spikes of wheat appear in the field, the grain is ripe, so also, when a virtue is tinted with silence, we perceive that it is reaching maturity.

Agnus Dei, Francisco de Zurbarán. 38 cm × 62 cm. Oil on canvas. Museo del Prado, Madrid. Quotation from When God is Silent by Archbishop Luis M. Martinez.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Finding His Face

We recall the story of a monk who dies and finds himself before the judgment seat in heaven. Angels solemnly carry out the tapestry of his life. He looks in horror at the faded, threadbare tapestry. There for all to see is the tattered reality of his sinfulness- the broken silences, harsh words spoken, petty jealousies, regrettable secret sins all right there. He lowers his head in remorse and embarrassment and calls out for Our Lady’s help, “O Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, our hope.” Mary quickly comes to the monk’s rescue. She steps forward and whispers instructions to the angels. They reverse the worn-out tapestry and turn it upside down. Then with her finger Mary traces the outlines of her Son’s wounded face in the tatters.

At the beginning of a new year The New York Times and other papers often publish the Year in Pictures, a collection of telling images from the past twelve months. Probably each of us has our own collection, our own interior year in pictures, first of all successes, graced choices; then failures, embarrassments- our poverty. And surely there is another big section of things that just happened, when we simply had no choice. (That is what it means to be poor after all- to have no choice.) The Mother of God shows us how to find the face of Jesus in all of these places.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Baptism of the Lord

John has been so busy dunking people that he hasn’t noticed the next person in line. Quietly Jesus steps forward to be baptized, his head lowered. Jesus smiles shyly, perhaps with a slight wave. John stops, looks around, then leans in close to Jesus and whispers, “Ah, what are you doing here? Please don’t do this. Get out of here. I’m not doing it; I’m not baptizing you. If anything, you should be baptizing me.”

Why is Jesus here of all places? He has nothing to repent of. Why would he choose to do this? Perhaps it is that he couldn’t not do it. That’s what he’s telling John. And so, his response is tender and insistent, “Please allow it now, for in this way we will fulfill all righteousness.” Simply put, he who is Love could do no less - God wants it.

Jesus has so identified himself with all his people, that he wants to be with them, to do with them this awesome covenantal moment. He must be there, there in the water with them, with us. For he is reconciling the world to himself, not counting our transgressions against us, "since for our sakes, God has made him who did not know sin, to be sin, so that in him we might become the very holiness of God.” Romans 5 

Jesus is with us in all that embarrasses and burdens us, in our regrets and our failures and our sins, in the muck and mess of it all. He goes down into it as he is immersed by John in the waters of the Jordan this morning. As he emerges, he sees the Spirit hovering, he hears the Father's confirmation.  The passion of his love and desire can explain his desire for baptism, his desire to take our flesh in the first place - no distance, no separateness but total immersion and identification with us. He has come to share unreservedly in our distress now in the water, and very soon on the cross. Christ Jesus wants to be with us in all things, in all ways. Love in Person has irreversibly plunged into the dark murky waters of our humanness.  And as he stands dripping wet in the Jordan River this morning, he restores to us the realization of our belovedness in him and brings back to God. 

The Baptism of Christ Piero della Francesca, c. 1448-1450,  Tempera on panel, 66 x 46", National Gallery, London.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

With the Magi

An image of this seeking can be seen in the Magi, who were led to Bethlehem by the star. For them God’s light appeared as a journey to be undertaken, a star which led them on a path of discovery. The star is a sign of God’s patience with our eyes which need to grow accustomed to his brightness. Religious man is a wayfarer; he must be ready to let himself be led, to come out of himself and to find the God of perpetual surprises. This respect on God’s part for our human eyes shows us that when we draw near to God, our human lights are not dissolved in the immensity of his light, as a star is engulfed by the dawn, but shine all the more brightly the closer they approach the primordial fire, like a mirror which reflects light. Christian faith in Jesus, the one Savior of the world, proclaims that all God’s light is concentrated in him, in his "luminous life" which discloses the origin and the end of history. There is no human experience, no journey of man to God, which cannot be taken up, illumined and purified by this light. The more Christians immerse themselves in the circle of Christ’s light, the more capable they become of understanding and accompanying the path of every man and woman towards God.

Adoration of the Magi, Workshop of Gerard David (Netherlandish, Oudewater ca. 1455–1523 Bruges), ca. 1520, Oil on wood, 27 3/4 x 28 7/8 in., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Excerpt from Lumen Fidei of Pope Francis, 2013.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Holy Family

Image result for flight into egypt
Matthew’s Gospel opens with the triumphant proclamation of the new Davidic king in his genealogy, then immediately follows with the story of Joseph, who enlightened by the angel agrees to take Mary as his wife and to act as foster father to God’s son. Next the Magi come from the East following a star which comes to rest over the place where the child was. Matthew tells us that they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy and when they saw the child with Mary his mother, they fell down and worshiped him. Immediately following, however, the family learns that it must flee to Egypt to escape the furious rage of Herod; there follows the senseless slaughter of innocent children, and the wailing and loud lamentation of inconsolable parents. Jesus is immediately plunged into the sufferings and hopes of Israel, which are not lessened by his coming but even increase. But none of this is in vain, with the birth of Jesus, the sufferings and hopes not only of all of Israel but of all humanity but are taken up by God and drawn into his redemption plan to restore all things to himself.  

Joseph figures strongly in this passage. Its whole drama is framed and moves forward according to his decisions regarding the revelation of the divine will through the angel. He is told to flee to Egypt to avoid the plotting of Herod against the child. After the death of Herod he returns to Israel, and, finally, once again warned in a dream, he decides to settle in Galilee. In each instance we see Joseph carry out his task with a mature manly responsibility and simplicity. Implicit in the text is the sense that that despite the unsettledness, uncertainty and financial insecurity of their situation, Mary and the child receive good care under his guardianship.

In each of these encounters with the angel in today’s passage we see God acting with free and full disposal over the life of Joseph. But this is because he has previously received permission from Joseph in the first encounter with the angel; when he gave his assent to do as the angel commanded him and to take Mary his wife into his home. In other words, Joseph’s actions just happen out of the blue presuppose the events Matthew has already related.

Joseph was betrothed to Mary, he would have simply looked forward in joy and hope, like any other man, to a normal earthly marriage. In his betrothal he experienced real feminine love from Mary, with all the sense of fulfillment that only feminine love can give a man. And in the light of that love Joseph would have begun to make plans, imagining what his future life would be as husband and father to his wife and family, and have  begun to take steps to make it a reality when the time came for them to live together. He has chosen marriage in freedom and responsibility and within the expectations of a normal betrothal and marriage, he acts with a certain vision of how his future was to unfold.

Everything changes when he becomes aware of Mary’s pregnancy. At a certain point the connection with him of Mary’s pregnancy becomes unavoidable and he finds that he has to act. It is at this point that the angel appears and gives an explanation. Joseph is now faced with a personal decision: will he say Yes or No to the angel? In deciding to say Yes he has to say no to the plans he has made up to this point, including the plan to divorce Mary. He must allow everything to be reoriented around this new situation. His ‘Yes’ and his obedience to God must from here on subordinate itself to Mary’s obedience and be entirely ordered to it.

One of the most beautiful consequences of the visitation of the angel to Joseph is not only that he is able to continue to share the life of the woman he loves but that, because the revelation comes from the angel, Joseph is able to share in this deepest mystery of Mary’s existence while at the same time respecting in silent reverence this profound secret she has with God and carries at the heart of her being. Mary can maintain her secret with God in her heart and yet at the same time be understood by her husband.

Mary’s position is one of utter solitude between the Old and the New Covenant. She’s neither in one nor the other. She has nowhere to turn. The representatives of the Old Covenant would not understand her and the New Covenant hasn’t arrived yet. The angel introduces Joseph into the mystery of the New Covenant, enabling them to live in mutual understanding while at the same time maintaining a protective veil over the mystery of Mary’s life with God.

All Christian married couples share in the grace of the mystery between Mary and Joseph. Along with the deep intimacy of their life of faith there remains a sphere of mystery of their life with God that cannot be shared and that each is to respect in the other with a respectful reverence. The existence of such a private realm is in no way an obstacle to their mutual love but actually makes it more fruitful, renews it and infuses it with new life.

God sends his angel to speak to both Joseph and Mary: at his appearance both are given a participation in the same mission. It is here in the unity of their mission that Joseph and Mary possess their true unity and true self-understanding in God. Whatever renunciations each of them has had to make for one another and for their service to God is more than overcome by the unity of their mission which in fact is the most profound union that can exist between persons.

The profound union and complementarity that Mary and Joseph experience comes to be through their service to this one mission. It is by carrying it out together, each in their own sphere of activity, day after day, that their union and complementarity attained its fullness. The origin of their single mission is wholly from above existed in the mind of God from all eternity, and was prepared for them from all eternity. Even their coming together in their betrothal and commitment to one another were already part of God’s providential care.

It’s from within the gift of this unity of mission that Mary and Joseph are able to take advantage of opportunities and confront the various trials, sufferings and difficulties they encounter in their life together raising the child Jesus, such as the need to flee to Egypt, to pick up once again and return to Israel after the death of Herod and settle in Nazareth.

Mary and Joseph in no way brought about or compelled God to grant them their life’s purpose through their own actions, but they did live in such a way that disposed them to receive it. As pious Jews, Mary and Joseph entered into their betrothal as people who want to serve God and belong to one another. Their desire to serve God would have been primary and formed the basis for their commitment to one another. Their betrothal and their whole lives were consecrated to this service of God. We can be sure that Mary and Joseph would have been open to whatever possibility of service God would have required of them in their marriage; and that their love of one another would never have displaced God as their first and primary love. It was this placing of themselves wholly at God’s disposal that left God free to act, to bestow on them their profound unity of purpose and to guide them toward such super-abundantly fruitful lives; not only for themselves but for countless others. 

Stained glass from the Pitcairn Collection. Excerpts from a homily by Father Timothy.

Sunday, January 5, 2020


The kings of Tarshish and the seacosts

"We have seen his star and have come with gifts to adore him." Magi, wise visitors from the East, come to pay their homage to the Infant Jesus. And in this ancient mosaic they are of three different ages, and they advance with great intention, holding with arms extended their fantastically-shaped gifts. These Magi represent all that is opulent, foreign, extraordinary, even esoteric and exotic. They wear Phrygian caps, colorful leggings, gold and jewel-encrusted tunics and capes. They are all the nations and ages of humanity with their wisdom and accomplishments, acknowledging the preeminence of Christ Jesus, he who is all Beauty, all Wisdom, all Truth. Come let us bow down and adore him.

Let us bring him our gifts, our talents, all that we have, all that we are. Let us march ahead as the kings in our mosaic, leaning forward, always toward him, who is our only Hope, our Desire, our End and our Beginning. Even as we remember that he the Lord Jesus is our first and best gift, given to us by Mary, flesh of our flesh, bone of our bones.

What good fortune...See, Jesus is offered to you: run to him open-handed, throw out your arms and enfold him in your embrace. Prove your devotion in love and deed: take him to yourself without a qualm, this Son who is given to you; embrace him lovingly and linger with him always pressed to your heart.

The Three Kings mosaic, Byzantine School, 6th century, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy. Lines from the Second Sermon for Christmas of Blessed Guerric of Igny.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

His Mother, Our Mother

Today on the first day of the calendar year, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Mother of God.  This solemn feast is the Octave Day of Christmas. The Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, was sent to sanctify the womb of the Virgin Mary and to cause her to conceive the eternal Son of the Father in a humanity drawn from her own. Therefore, Mary is rightly called the Mother of God since she is the mother of the eternal Son of God made man, Jesus Christ, who is God himself.

When we think of Mary as the Mother of God, we might tend to think of her as bearing and raising Jesus when he was an infant and toddler and young boy but having not much else of an influence on him as he matured. Saint Luke's Gospel contradicts such an idea. Jesus went down to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them. Mary kept all these things in her heart, and Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man. We all cherish the wise things and sayings that our own mothers taught us. Well, so it seems did Jesus. In Chapter 1 of Luke, Mary's magnificent song of praise to God called the Magnificat appears.  In it, Mary praises God for her impending giving birth to Jesus, the Son of God.  Mary rhapsodizes that her soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and her spirit rejoices in God her Savior, just as in Luke 10 her Son Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and gives praise to his Father. This is the Magnificat, the hymn of praise to the heavenly Father, by her Son.  Mary is elated that God lifts up the lowly—the lowly and humble of the land such as herself and casts down the great and mighty from their self-exalting thrones.  Just so is Jesus rejoicing in the Spirit that the mysteries are hidden from the wise and learned but are revealed to the childlike. We can coin a phrase and say, “Like Mother, like Son.” Mary's canticle of praise epitomizes the entire Gospel that her Son will teach as he turns all worldly conceptions on their heads: the conceptions of rich over the poor, of the sophisticates over the simple, the powerful over the weak, the self-righteous over sinners. These worldly conceptions are all turned upside down in the proclamation of the Good News by Jesus.  Jesus Christ our God and Savior is indeed the son of Mary, who is also our mother.

Mary is not only the Mother of Jesus, God and Savior, but is also the Mother of all who will be saved through him. On Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, Mother Mary is surrounded by the Apostle shepherds who in the power of the Holy Spirit will bring the saving Gospel to all people.  We see a foreshadowing of this in the stable scene today where Mother Mary and Joseph and Jesus are surrounded by the shepherds of Bethlehem who will go forth from them on the birthday of Jesus with the  announcement of the new born Savior, Christ the Lord.  Mary and Joseph and Jesus remain with us.  In heaven they are always praying to incorporate us more and more into the Holy Family.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Yes, Mary, Mother of God, is our mother and, mirabile dictu, we too are “mother of God.”  Jesus tells us explicitly, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my mother.”  This means that the more our lives conform to those of Jesus and Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, the more each of us helps to give birth and nourish the body of Christ that is the Church for the salvation of all people. We are called by God in Jesus and Mary to surrender to God's will as did each of them: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. “Be it done unto me according to your word,” Mary says to the Father through the Angel of the Annunciation.  Jesus prays like his Mother during his agony in the Garden saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; still, not my will but yours be done.”  Like Mother, like Son.

Mary gave her own body and blood to Jesus, as he was formed in her womb.  In Holy Communion Jesus gives us his own glorified body and blood which he received from Mary.  The Word and Eucharist together are the seed of the Holy Spirit in the womb of our hearts. Proclaimed and given to us, we receive both with the “Amen” spoken in faith, hope and love.  May we all together give birth to Christ and bear Christ into our world.  It would be the greatest blessing of this new year. 

Madonna of the Carnation by Bernardino Luini. Excerpts from this morning’s homily by Father Luke.