Thursday, April 30, 2020

The Bread

 One of our monks recounts the following story:

One day when I was a four or five, I went with my mom to visit my godmother. While the two of them sat in the den chatting, I went into the backyard to play, and while I was running around, I noticed, of all things, scraps of chocolate cake on the lawn. My godmother’s upstairs neighbor Rose had thrown bits of cake onto the grass for the birds to eat. Without thinking twice, I picked up some of it and started munching. Bad move. My mom happened to be looking out the window to check on me. She roared out the window. “Stop that. What will the neighbors think! When you’re hungry, you just ask your mom, and she’ll give you something to eat.” I was hungry the cake looked good, but it was really dry and stale.

Like my mom Jesus wants us to go to him for everything we need. He desperately wants to fill us with himself, Jesus longs to give himself away to us, to be one with us. He wants to give us the everything that he is, the everything that God is. And so, he declares that his flesh is real food, Bread that nourishes and satisfies us beyond anything we can experience or imagine. Jesus calls us away from all the stale “stuff” that can only impede his access to our hearts. Our constant work is to be and to remain incessantly hungry for the Bread that he is, the Bread that we receive in the Holy Eucharist.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

With Saint Catherine of Siena

From self-knowledge flows the stream of humility, which never seizes on mere report, nor takes offense at anything, but bears every insult, every loss of consolation, and every sorrow, from whatever direction they may come, patiently, with joy. When it seems that God shows us the faults of others, keep on the safer side - it may be that your judgment is false…On your lips let silence abide. And any vice that you may ascribe to others, ascribe at once to them and yourself, in true humility. If that vice really exists in a person, he will correct himself better, seeing himself so gently understood, and will say of his own accord the thing that you would have said to him.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2020


Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.”  John 6

What am I am hungry for? Better put, who do I long for? Jesus desires to be desired. A simple nod, a quiet request, the opening of our hearts allows him to feed us and fill us.

As one of the senior monks likes to say, "The Lord has really big shoes, like Mickey Mouse. All He needs is for the door of our heart to be slightly ajar, and He'll nudge the door open with His foot and barge right in!" 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Simply to Love

Saint Rafael Arnáiz Barón is a recently canonized saint of our Order. Though he had only a very brief experience as a Trappist monk, he was an ardent lover of Christ and so embodied the Cistercian ideal despite all the complexities and contradictions of his personal vocational journey. Forced to interrupt his novitiate because of severe illness, he finally was allowed to return to his monastery of San Isidro as an oblate living in the infirmary. Rafael's life was one of great simplicity and humility. Often described as "crazed by the love of God," Saint Rafael was only 27 years old when he died in the Abbey's infirmary on 26 April, 1938.

Christ guided Rafael through a series of bewildering contradictions- illness, war, the impossibility of ever pronouncing vows, difficult community relations. Humiliations were constant, but Rafael learned to surrender himself in peace and joy.

Things often do not turn out as we had hoped or planned. And we soon learn that contradictions and dead ends are part of the journey. But what to do with them? Saint Rafael shows us a way. Despite all he had to endure, he refused ever to be selfish or self-absorbed. He simply loved - Christ, Our Lady, the Cross, his brothers.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

An Unexpected Grace

It seems our lives involve a continuous repetition of that trek to Emmaus. Disappointed, our best hopes dashed, we very often plod glumly along. So self-absorbed, we often forget that Jesus is right beside us. He notices our sadness and inquires, “What are you going over in your heads? What’s the matter?” We are astonished. Doesn’t Jesus see? Everything’s falling apart. Our best hopes for success, accomplishment, happiness, health, holiness are all over. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Then he explains. But how hard it is for us to understand that the Cross always precedes the Resurrection. We must normalize the cross for one another, not as sad resignation but faith-filled acknowledgement of the reality of suffering as graced gateway to intimacy with the resurrected Lord Jesus. And so, he reminds us again, “How slow you are to understand. It’s supposed to be hard. The cross happens, but it's no longer a dead end."

This was, after all, always the goal of his Incarnation - to share unreservedly in our sorrow, and so to rescue us from unending death and fear. His coming down to us in Mary’s virgin womb reaches its culmination on the cross, for there he reveals the unimaginable breadth of God’s boundless compassion. Jesus allows himself to suffer because he can do no less. And it is there in this very weakness, the weakness of love, that he reveals the sublimity of his divinity. On the cross God is most truly God. His power is made perfect in his weakness, and his power can reveal itself only in our weakness. And now battered as we are - fearful, confused and hurting – perhaps we can recognize our own weakness and our desperate need for him more than ever. Perhaps now at last we will recognize him in the broken bread that he is, in the broken bread that we are. Doubtless an unexpected grace is being offered to us.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Supper at Emmaus, 1601, oil and tempera on canvas, 141 x 196.2 cm. The National Gallery, London.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Graciously Hear Us, O Lord.

Almighty and eternal God, our refuge in every danger, to whom we turn in our distress; in faith we pray look with compassion on the afflicted, grant eternal rest to the dead, comfort to mourners, healing to the sick, peace to the dying, strength to healthcare workers, wisdom to our leaders and the courage to reach out to all in love, so that together we may give glory to your holy name. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Text from Mass in Time of Pandemic.

Friday, April 24, 2020


He who pities them leads them and guides them beside springs of water. Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth, break forth into song, you mountains. For the Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted. But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.           Isaiah 49.8-15.

The Prophet Isaiah reminds us of God’s tenderness and loving pursuit. This is the real truth of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection. God enfleshed in Jesus has been wounded out of love for us. And so the invitation is to honestly even joyfully take ownership of our lostness, our very real need for mercy, our desperate need to be found and "pitied" by Jesus. For our sinfulness, apartness from God can never estrange us from him. But instead, once we beg his mercy, it becomes a very great gateway which will lead us closer to him.

Jesus has noticed us, lost in our sinful truth and is rushing toward us to take us to himself, even into his wounded side as refuge. He loses himself in love over us. He can’t help himself. This is the same Lord who will come through locked doors on Easter day, because he cannot bear to be apart from his frightened apostles. This is the God who in the very beginning came looking for Adam in the garden

“Adam, where are you? Why are you hiding?”

“I took what was not mine; I am naked, exposed, so naturally I hid myself from you. Please go away.”

“No, no, I cannot. Please come out. Come out, show yourself. I have sought you in sorrow. You have nothing to fear. Come out to my side.”

Will we allow ourselves to be endlessly sought after by Christ out of love? Or will we choose to be stranded and alone, pretending that everything is really just fine? Our lostness can be our joy because it gives us ready access and makes us totally available to him. That is why it would be foolish, so very foolish to pretend that we are not lost, sinful and empty. On the cross we have seen a God who overdoes it, loves us more than we know, to the end, no matter what. We are invited to allow ourselves continually to be overpowered by the mystery of his love.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Their Dedication

We continue to be edified by the selfless dedication of countless healthcare workers, doctors, nurses and essential business personnel who help keep us safe and supported in these days of pandemic. And we hold all who serve and sacrifice in our prayers. In their generous service we witness the presence of the risen Savior in our midst. 

For Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his. To the Father through the features of men's faces. 
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Wednesday, April 22, 2020


This is the Day the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad.

The Lord Jesus, our Hope is risen. Because of the rising of Christ Jesus our Lord from the dead, death and even our smaller daily dyings no longer have any power over us. God's love has power. Our lives, our very existence, have been irrevocably transformed for good, forever. A new Day has dawned upon the earth.

Photograph by Charles O'Connor

Tuesday, April 21, 2020


The community of believers was of one heart and mind,
and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own,
but they had everything in common.

These words from the Acts of the Apostles have added meaning in these days when we can see how profound is our need for one another, our dependence on one another. Whether with a virus attacking or not, our connectedness as human family can never be underestimated or forgotten. We are not private selves coming together for our convenience, but one family who belong to one another.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Monday, April 20, 2020

No measure

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

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

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Divine Mercy

A whole Sunday is set aside by the Church to celebrate the abundance and constant availability of Jesus' mercy. As we see Thomas put his hand into Jesus' open side, we pray with our Cistercian Father, Blessed William of Saint Thierry:

Those unsearchable riches of your glory, Lord, were hidden in your secret place in heaven until the soldier's spear opened the side of your Son our Lord and Savior on the cross, and from it flowed the mysteries of our redemption. Now we may not only thrust our finger or our hand into his side like Thomas, but through that open door may enter whole, O Jesus, into your heart, the sure seat of your mercy, even into your holy soul that is filled with the fullness of God, full of grace and truth, full of our salvation and our consolation. Open, O Lord, the ark door of your side, that all your own who shall be saved may enter in, before this flood that overwhelms the earth. Open to us your body's side, that those who long to see the secrets of your Son may enter in and receive the sacraments that flow therefrom, even the price of their redemption. Open the door of your heaven, that your redeemed may see the good things of God in the land of the living. Let them see and long, and yearn and run...

Andrea del Verrocchio, Christ and Saint Thomas, bronze, 1483, Orsanmichele, Florence. Lines from William of Saint Thierry, Meditations, 6.11-12

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Fifty Days

The Lord is risen from the dead. We rejoice in hope, as we celebrate the great fifty days of Eastertide. During this holy season, we will chant over and over at the Offices and at Mass, "Alleluia," which means literally "Praise God!" In the chant repertoire there are myriad variations. Some alleluias convey a quiet joy, a sense of joyful repose after a long ordeal. Others are more exuberant; so many ways to express the almost inexpressible. With our Alleluias we give voice to our joy and thanksgiving for all that the Father has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord, now risen from the dead.

Photographs of the Abbey hillsides by Brother Casimir.

Friday, April 17, 2020


A good friend of the Abbey wrote us recently asking for advice during these days of isolation. She asked: "I’m wondering how you all make peaceful use of the time in silence. It seems it can torture or nurture. How do you direct that sail? Is there way of praying that diffuses that anxiety? I hope you don’t mind me asking you this. Without all of the distractions I put in place, I’m realizing, there is a lot of existential energy looking for a home…" 

She put it so succinctly - so much existential energy seeking a home. One of our older monks replied as follows: "The key, I think, is a foolhardy confidence, insistently clung to, that you are the well-beloved one of Christ Jesus, that nothing whatever can change that truth; that he is with us, on our side, understands us, longs to console us, always. This our only solid place of confidence, rest and peace.

Our monk continued: "Recently as I began to pray, I realized that I didn't even know what I was doing, that often I don't even want to be there - that I want to distract myself. Sobering. Embarrassing. So then I prayed, 'Please draw me into your silence, Lord Jesus. I am helpless without you.' A new peace came. For in even the faintest desire to pray, it is the Lord who is making the first move; he wants it more than we do. Helplessness is the best thing. Perhaps this will be useful. With my blessings for continued safety and health for you and your family...."    

She responded: "When we reach out to either side and feel abyss! The blank canvas is such a humbling invitation. What to do with it? Your modesty and openness give me courage. I found myself praying a few mornings ago and thought - the Unmoved Mover, who created from nothing. Dare I ask for anything? I stopped and thought what am I doing? How small, and smaller still we are. It shocked me into silence. Thank you for sharing your experience with me more than I can say. I think that communion is graced, and thank God for you and for it. Keeping in grateful prayer with you and all who long for Christ..."

Our monk's final thought to our friend: "You kindly call it 'modesty.' No, only the "hard truth" tempered by his grace."

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

His Silence

This is the secret of Jesus’ unyielding silence before Pilate: he cannot pause his work of Redemption, he cannot cease momentarily being Redeemer, in order to defend himself of these myriad charges. That would be tantamount to his allowing himself to flow along with the self-interested logic of the world.  Either in eternity or in time God has no leisure to be interested in himself, to take time out for himself, to defend himself. God has no “privacy”! God cannot take a break from being God, which by definition means being-for-others. God is too busy being love and performing the works of love to retreat into the safe sanctuary of his omnipotence, to use his sovereignty as a shelter from sorrow and suffering. To be falsely accused and to suffer the dire consequences of such accusations is, for Jesus, part and parcel of the Father’s plan for the salvation of the world through his Son. The world’s capacity for hatred first has to be spent, with Jesus as target-victim. For the Son to offer himself obediently to play such a role is the unsurpassable expression of the outlandish Heart of God—equally all-powerful, all-wise and all-loving, and therefore open to every form of humiliation and violence, for the sake of his aggressors. To Pilate’s immense credit, such an unheard-of and bizarre spectacle of total non-violence and silent non-engagement on the part of Jesus the prisoner had the effect of putting the Roman governor in a state of “great wonderment.” Meditation by Father Simeon

We continue to wonder at the quiet of Jesus even after his glorious Resurrection. He returns almost forlornly, without fanfare, sneaking through locked doors, he says simply, Peace." Humbly inviting his dear friends to touch him, to experience the fleshly marks of his horrendous passion, wounds in hands and feet and gashed side - he is sublimely human, utterly, divinely Other. He sits at table with them, asks for a little something to eat, and munches on some baked fish.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Please, do not be afraid.

We are struck by the serenity and deep quiet of this fresco by Piero della Francesca. The atmosphere seems clear, crisp; and the landscape communicates the transformation that Jesus' rising has accomplished- to his left all is barren, at his right all the trees are in full leaf. 

The guards doze oblivious, as a majestic young Christ steps confidently out of his marble sepulchre. His voluminous mantle is rosy pink - the color of dawn's first brightening, the color of spring blossoms, the color of healthy young flesh. His hair swept back, blood trickling from his wounded side, Jesus is depicted by Piero as an athletic, victorious warrior just back from his battle with all the powers of sin and death. His divinity and humanity are perfectly merged. Jesus carries a furling banderole of victory and pauses to gaze at us. "It is really I; do not be afraid. Sin and death no longer have any power over you."

Resurrection,  Piero della Francesca, fresco, c. 1460, San Sepulcro, Italy.

Monday, April 13, 2020


I was a stricken deer, that left the herd
Long since; with many an arrow deep infixt
My panting side was charg'd, when I withdrew
To seek a tranquil death in distant shades.
There was I found by One who had Himself
Been hurt by th'archers. In His side He bore,
And in His hands and feet, the cruel scars.
With gentle force soliciting the darts,
He drew them forth, and heal'd and bade me live.

The wounded Lord Jesus rises to heal us, trampling down death by death. He has forever duped the power of death and pain and sorrow by his own death, for death was powerless over Him who is the God of Everlasting Life.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Poem by William Cowper

Sunday, April 12, 2020


We opened Holy Week last Sunday with the blessing of palms in the cloister followed by a procession. I couldn’t help sensing a certain reverberating echo of how we liturgically closed our Christmas Season on the Feast of the Presentation in the Temple over two months ago. We were in the same cloister blessing candles, followed by a procession. This connecting echo got me reflecting. Christmas is perhaps easier to celebrate than Easter. The images of Christmas - a star, shepherds watching their flocks, a baby lovingly swaddled by his mother - are vivid and vibrantly clear. You can almost grasp them, touch the baby, hear the angels singing. Now look at the images of Easter: grieving women, and earthquake, angels pushing stones around, and Jesus suddenly appearing and just as suddenly disappearing. And yet, Easter is the foundational Christian reality; the gospel accounts of the birth of the Savior came much later than the passion and resurrection accounts. Even so, Easter challenges us to believe in a way that Christmas doesn’t. It almost dares us to accept and acknowledge a love and a goodness that is greater than anything we could possibly imagine.

So, what is this unimaginable love and goodness? What is the good news of Easter? First of all, Easter is just a beginning. The good news of the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning. Jesus resurrection begins here but it doesn’t end here. The Easter story, the Easter reality continues. Maybe that’s why we have 50 days to let it sink in to our lives, our hearts and our minds. The good news of the Resurrection of Jesus started on that first Easter morning. But it didn’t end there by any means. From the earliest times, Christians believed that Jesus’ resurrection was only the first step in the unfolding of God’s loving salvific plan to establish the Kingdom, to bring about a new creation. In God’s Kingdom no evil would exist. Death would be overcome; Jesus’ resurrection was the first step in God’s saving action to eliminate evil, suffering, pain and death itself. This is why we sing “Alleluia.”

I think we have to admit that it is a difficult truth to accept. Maybe that’s why for many Easter remains a sort of poor step-sister to Christmas. Easter challenges us to +believe that God is really present in our world destroying evil, eliminating suffering and pain from our midst. This is a tough truth to swallow in any meaningful and life-changing way. This is part of what makes Easter faith challenging. Look at the violence and wars. Look at the misunderstandings, not only between countries but in our own families and faith communities. Look at the manipulation, self-interest and unresolved hurts that linger just below the surface. And here we are proclaiming that Jesus’ resurrection really makes a difference. How do we do this in our so-obviously broken and fractured world and lives? How do we swallow the difficult truth of Easter - that God really does have the last word? What difference does Easter really make?

St. Augustine comes to the rescue. He says, “Give me a lover, and you will understand the resurrection.” The truth of Easter, the truth of the resurrection can only be seen with the eyes of love. You can’t reason to it. You can’t argue to it. It is only from within a love relationship that it makes any sense at all; only when you accept that God loves you, personally and passionately, as a son or daughter; that God loves you with the same love that He loves His only begotten Son. Only then, when we accept this love as reality, can we begin to see clearly what can never be comprehended with our minds alone.

Both Mary’s in Matthew's gospel loved Jesus. That’s why came to the tomb in the first place. Their love for him didn’t die on Calvary. And that love is why they went quickly at the angel’s direction to tell his disciples. And that’s why they embraced Jesus’ feet and did him homage. It is from within the love relationship they shared with Jesus that they were able to accept and acknowledge a love and a goodness that was beyond their wildest dreams.

Have you ever noticed, either from your own experience or that of others related to you, how lovers overlook issues that seem very important to other people? Lovers are often challenged - “Isn’t she a little old for you? Doesn’t he bring a good deal of baggage into this relationship? Are you sure you want to get involved with someone like that?” When such questions are posed, lovers seem to respond in pretty much the same way - Yes, I know, but I love him; I love her. Believers use these same words, or variations of them, in trying to understand the truth of Easter. Can’t you see the violence and war and sickness in our world? Yes, but I believe in a God who is still establishing his Kingdom among us. Do I have my share of misunderstanding, stress, resentment and unresolved issues? Yes, but I believe God raised Jesus from the dead, and that this same God loves me and is my undying Hope. It is only when we accept God’s love for us and stand in that love that we, despite all the things that are wrong with our world and our lives, can perceive our God establishing the Kingdom. It is only when we stand in this love that we can really taste Easter and know for ourselves that love really does have the final word. Only then can we sing “Alleluia.”

For most of us the challenge of Easter faith was accepted for us by our godparents. Yet countless times throughout our lives we personally take up and accept that challenge for ourselves. And we do that again as we renew our baptismal promises. Christ is risen! Truly, he is risen! And he continues to rise in our lives and in our world. 

Christ and Saint Peter; the Resurrection; Christ and Mary Magdalen, Giovanni da Milano (Italian, born Lombardy, active Florence 1346–69), 1360s, Tempera on wood, gold ground, 9 3/4 x 24 7/8 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Excerpts from the Easter homily of Abbot Damian.


This joyful Eastertide,
away with care and sorrow!
My Love, the Crucified,
hath sprung to life this morrow.
Had Christ, that once was slain,
not burst his three-day prison,
our faith had been in vain;
but now is Christ arisen,
arisen, arisen, arisen.

Fresco by Piero della Francesca. Excerpts from Abbey lauds hymn by George R. Woodward, 1894

Saturday, April 11, 2020


Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh...

In the stillness of Holy Saturday we await all that Christ's Resurrection will bring.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.  Lines from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.

Friday, April 10, 2020


The Cross, as we all know, was a vile, degrading instrument of torture. No one went willingly into this state of being so unprotectedly exposed. The place that Karl Barth named Das Nichtige; and Walter Bruggemann described as “the crushing irresistible force of disorder as yet untamed and on the loose in our world.” No one willingly goes into this place. But Jesus did. And John’s Passion narrative makes it abundantly clear that this was a deliberate choice on Jesus’ part. “And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.” Why? In order to make unmistakably visible, God’s love! God’s astounding desire to be ‘with us.’ And in so doing to transform this hideous instrument of torture into something desperately beautiful. 

I will end by leaving you with this excerpt from our Fr. Simeon’s final volume on Matthew’s Gospel. “The Passion will crush Jesus in every possible way; indeed it will destroy him insofar as human eyes can tell.  And yet his obliteration will be like the crushing of grapes, a destruction that horribly disfigures the fruit’s original shape and integrity yet only in order to transform it into an inebriating elixir of life for others to drink and rejoice ecstatically. God can use men’s evil intentions to achieve magnificent ends. If he could not, would he still be the omnipotent, wise and loving Creator of all? The constant marvel throughout, the unfathomable divine mystery that provides the key to the Passion and the Cross, is this truth of Revelation: that, at the threshold of the Passion, the Father - whose love for his only-begotten Son is the very foundation of both the Godhead and of all creation—did not love us sinners less than he loves the one Son.” 

Safet Zec, Deposition, detail, 2014.  Abbot Damian's homily for Good Friday.


Perhaps now more than ever, in the midst of this virus, our hearts are numb, desensitized, inured to the pain and fear. And so we must go to him, our wounded Lord, bring each other, bring the world in its suffering and despondency and seeming hopelessness, longing for the intrusion of his grace. Impeded, our tongues thick, not knowing how to speak our need and longing, and perhaps deafened by too much tragedy.

Christ Jesus assures us that he hears, he understands; that he is with us, he himself praying, articulating our desire in words beyond words. This is what our prayer is best of all: our desire groaned by Jesus for us, within us. It is this very groaning of God in Christ that brings healing and fluency to our world. We must bring one another to Jesus. We never go to him alone. He who is for us our Lord and Bridegroom and most kind Physician begs us to open ourselves to him. He longs to meet us here in our ordinariness, in its precariousness, its pain, its beauty.

We have died; our lives are hidden now with Christ in God. Don’t we consider everything to be nothing at all compared with knowing Christ Jesus, our Lord. As monks we have set everything else aside, because in comparison everything else is just a pile of trash. And we want more and more to know only Christ. We share in his sufferings even now and so are becoming like him in his death and resurrection. Christ Jesus has made me each of us his own – now, here.

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.

Lines from Marilynne Robinson, Gilead. Detail of a polychromed bronze corpus, after a model by Michelangelo.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper

Day after day we gather around this altar table to do what Jesus asked us to do. And what was that? Well, our second reading is clear about what he asked us to do: to share a meal in memory of him. And this “Remember me” of Jesus is surely the most poignant request in all of Sacred Scripture. We are blessed as a community to be able to do this, to respond to Jesus’ request this evening. Many of our brothers and sisters around the world are unable to do this today. So, as we remember what Jesus did on this night, let us remember in a special way all those who can’t physically be with us.

Why do we do this? Why do we gather around this altar table? Why do we continue to share a meal in memory of Jesus? Simply put, we do this because we believe that Jesus is here. We believe that whenever we gather together like this, the living risen body of Christ is among us. And why do we believe this? Because Jesus says so! As St. Paul says: “On the night before he died, Jesus took bread and said 'This is my body.’” We believe that when we gather like this and offer the Eucharistic prayer, the bread and wine is really changed into the living risen body of Christ. And we believe that together we are transformed into the same living risen body of Christ. In other words, when we proclaim this mystery of Christ, we are proclaiming our own mystery, our own reality. This is what St. Augustine reminded his hearers of centuries ago: “If you are the body of Christ, then it is your mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you receive! When you say 'Amen,' you say 'Amen' to what you are. Your response is a personal signature, an affirmation of faith. When you hear ‘The Body of Christ’, you say ‘Amen.’ So be then members of his body, so that your 'Amen' may ring true!”

We come together around this altar doing this in memory of Jesus so that we might be his body and have the strength and power to continue to build the Kingdom that Jesus inaugurated - to build it by washing one another’s feet. At this and every Eucharist we ask to be changed; to become more than we are as individuals; more grateful for who we are; more generous; more forgiving; more able and desirous to wash one another’s feet in the multiple ways we are invited to do so in close community living.

When Jesus washed Peter’s feet that same night, Peter’s response was clear and unambiguous: “No way are you going to wash my feet!” Now this could be seen as an expression of Peter’s humility. But I don’t think so and neither does the tradition of the Church. What was going on in Peter’s mind at that moment, we don’t exactly know. But I don’t think it had to with his feet. I think it had more to do with Peter feeling vulnerable and exposed and uncertain about what he might be getting into. As we know, later on in this night his vulnerable uncertainty will explode in a vociferous denial of even knowing Jesus. I can’t help but surmise that Peter’s hesitancy and fear had to do with parts of himself that he was withholding, not just from Jesus, but from himself. My guess is that Peter had a secret, maybe a number of secrets – a past that haunted him, a brokenness that terrified him and was just too painful to deal with. And so, it was a lot easier and safer to say NO to Jesus and push it all away and in so doing attempt to push Jesus and his brothers away. Maybe he hoped that Jesus would leave him alone, because he just wasn’t up to letting him get so close to his hurt and vulnerability. He wasn’t ready to let Jesus and his brothers in. We all know that after the resurrection all this changed for Peter. Jesus didn’t let Peter push him away. He came back to him; and Peter finally let Jesus get in. Hopefully this touches a chord in each one of us.  

This is a special night for Jesus. But it is also meant to be a special night for each one of us. So let’s not back down, as Peter did when Jesus approached him with basin and towel. For this is our night also. It’s a night to remember who Jesus really is and who we really are with and in him - his body. It is our night to bring all that we are and all that we have, including, and most especially, our frailty, our weakness, our fears, our sins, our brokenness in all their varied ramifications. To bring it all and lay it on the table. Put it out there, come clean. After this Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the altar will be stripped bare. Let that be a sign of our own willingness to be stripped bare of all that gets in the way of our being, really and truly, the Body of Christ. This is Jesus’ night, and this is our night. 
Excerpts from Abbot Damian's homily this evening. 


Then Jesus said to them, “You will all stumble and fall because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’” Mt 26:31

By “this night” Jesus refers to much more than the few hours of chronological darkness he and his disciples are about to live through.  In John’s Gospel, just after Judas leaves the seder room to go and hand Jesus over to his enemies, the text comments with stark symbolism: “And it was night” Jn 13:30b.  The present night will fully expose the depth of Jesus’ human weakness and vulnerability, and at the same time the depth of his freedom and persevering love.  Jesus uses his divine freedom to embrace human weakness, to abide in it as in his own home, so as transform it from within.  It is the paradox of immortal love shining through dark weakness that causes the disciples to stumble and fall.  An all-powerful God, they are convinced along with most of the human race, should not allow things to reach such a critical point of danger, violence, and death.  But Jesus, for his part, is in love with the night that allows him to bare his heart to his beloved, a rapturous mystery echoed by St John of the Cross:

Oh night that was my guide!
Oh darkness dearer 
    than the morning’s pride,
Oh night that joined the lover
To the beloved bride

Transfiguring them each into the other. Matthew has already established a tense juxtaposition between “the Kingdom of my Father” and “the Mount of Olives” (26:29-30).  Jesus leads his followers from the room of the Last Supper to the Mount of Olives as a first step on the definitive journey to the eternal Kingdom; after all, it is in the Mount of Olives that Jesus will fully embrace the will of his Father against all natural repulsion, in the certainty that following the Father’s will can only lead to the Kingdom.  But the disciples interpret this exodus to the Mount of Olives differently, seeing in it only a deeper descent into defeat and annihilation. 
As always Jesus fortifies his friends by bringing out into the open truths they would rather conceal even from themselves.  And so, he now proclaims to them the hard prophetic truth: “You will all stumble and fall because of me this night.” Whereas the disciples are cringing with fear, feeling a massive threat lurking in the night air, Jesus himself, the target of this threat, worries not about himself but rather about the state of their hearts and the crisis of their wills.  Even in the depths of personal distress Jesus’ thoughts are always concerned with the welfare of others.  It is as if Jesus considers the conversion of his disciples’ souls a more daunting event than his own falling into the hands of violent men, from whom he expects nothing better.  The only night that frightens the Master is the night in his followers’ hearts.  It is an odd thing indeed that, when Christians bewail Jesus’ fate in his Passion, they habitually think first of all of the physical sufferings inflicted on their dear Lord by the pagans, all the while forgetting the long, mournful glance that Jesus steadily casts all through the Passion on his disciples’ hearts.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

A Kiss

Now the one-handing-him-over had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him’

A kiss the sign of betrayal! Why, Judas, why? Is it just one more ruse, aimed at catching your prey wholly unawares until the very last second when, lightning-like, the cobra strikes? When one considers what Jesus has meant to you until recently, and you to him, your tone of ruthless self-determination fairly chills the blood. Now, finally, it is you running the show, running him in fact, literally shaping his earthly destiny. You have become wholly depersonalized, rather like a meticulously poised, infinitely accurate nuclear missile hurtling unstoppably toward its target. And yet your language and gestures retain all the outward symbols of reverence and friendship. In advance, and with clever premeditation, you have instructed those who hate your Master: The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him. But why do you approach him this time surrounded by a mob? Never before were you afraid of the dark, in his company. Is even your own blood chilled by your betrayal?
Moreover, how can tender kissing (an action of love) and violent seizing (with intent to destroy) become one and the same thing in your heart? How can you affirm such conflictive actions within the same promiscuous sentence? Is this, then, the key to your whole person and tragedy, namely, this intolerable contradiction in your heart, this colossal collision in your breast between the Disciple and the Betrayer? In that case how very fittingly you embody us all—all of us, I say, who started off as seekers of the Light, as joyful servants of Highest Truth. But then all too often we betray the deepest tenderness and yearning of our heart and must, naturally, set out to destroy the very Source of Love that had so powerfully seduced us, drawing us to his Heart. Are we not often tempted to look upon ourselves as arrant fools for having entertained for even a moment the dream of our souls’ betrothal to the divine Bridegroom?  And, ah, how well we know that we save for our own heart our cruelest, our all-obliterating violence, in order to punish it for having been so gullible as to be duped by a phantom divine seduction.  
Yes, indeed, Judas. Much more than a simple practical ruse must motivate your action of concealing betrayal with a tender kiss. By doing away with Jesus, the object of your erstwhile devotion, you want to wreak vengeance on your own former naïveté and force a poisoned kiss to wipe out every vestige of innocence from your heart, as in an atomic holocaust. For you have now become a Political Realist and your Realpolitik has no toleration for personal feelings of tenderness or the quiet satisfactions of friendship and a shared life of devotion. All that is surely for the weak, for the pansy-souled. Yet are you not the first true victim of your new-fangled hatred for both human and divine tenderness, and for the mystical universe of joyful communion it represents? Jesus is but the exterior occasion of your self-destruction, the objectification of your own self-hatred. Some people commit murder because they feel unworthy of their victim’s love, and to be unconditionally loved with persistence only reminds them of their shameful unworthiness. 
But why, Judas, am I intent on holding this distressing dialogue with you? Do you think it is to point my finger accusingly at you? Quite the opposite, my friend! It must be because you are, in turn, the projection of my own flight from the commitment required by intimacy and deep love. How I toil to construct for myself a new, stainless-steel identity based on hard-nosed, this-worldly “realism”! For only such realism is reputed to produce results. And yet this titanic self-determination is such a hollow pretense that, in its wobbly insecurity, it cannot abide anything that reminds it of its sham, and so it must destroy all evidence that truest strength lies in fidelity to the Beloved, even in his weakness, dishonor and defeat. True strength of character is to be sought in purity of heart and in steadfast interior devotion to the object of my love.

The Taking of Christ, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, 1602, 133.5 x 169.5 cm., oil on canvas, National Gallery of Ireland. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020


Blessed is he who allowed his hands and feet and side to be pierced and opened himself to me wholly that I might enter 'the place of his wonderful tent' and be protected. Indeed it is a safe dwelling place to linger in the wounds of Christ the Lord. The protection this tent affords surpasses all the glory of the world. It is a shade from the heat by day, a refuge and a shelter from the rain so that by day the sun will not scorch you, nor the storm move you.

As we accompany Jesus during this Holy Week, we wonder at his goodness and self-effacing love. He will make his Body, God's Body, a safe haven for us

Lines from The Fourth Sermon for Palm Sunday of Blessed Guerric of Igny.

Monday, April 6, 2020


Jesus tells us in the Gospel that he has come to serve not to be served. Part of our work as disciples is always to allow Christ Jesus near enough to care for us, heal us, forgive us and console us. With this in mind, it seems, our Cistercian Father Blessed Guerric of Igny puts the following words on Jesus' lips:

I will serve you," his Creator says to man. "You sit down, I will minister, I will wash your feet. You rest; I will bear your weariness, your infirmities. Use me you as you like in all your needs, not only as your servant but also as your beast of burden and as your property. If you are tired or burdened I will carry both you and your burden..."

Detail of The Descent from the Cross by Rogier Van der Weyden, c. 1435. Text from The First Sermon for Palm Sunday, Blessed Guerric of Igny.

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Palm Sunday

We began our liturgy this morning in the cloister with the blessing of palms and a procession into the Church. We do this as a way of enacting for ourselves what is referred to as Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. This procession also marks our entry into Holy Week. I sometimes wonder if the people who accompanied Jesus on that day really grasped what his triumph means. I wonder if we really grasp its meaning.

In Mark’s Gospel the scene immediately preceding the triumphal entry is the healing of the blind Bartimaeus. And that scene ends with these words: “Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.” Apparently, the newly sighted Bartimaeus joined in the procession into Jerusalem. Theologically, this scene is telling us that we will need new sight, a new vision to really understand what Jesus’ triumph is all about. If we want to be part of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, as well as our own entry into Holy Week, we will have to see triumph with a clearer vision, from a new perspective. We already know how the liturgical story of this week will unfold. We will be singing a number of times throughout this week, in whole or in part, the familiar chant Christus Factus Est - "being found in human form, he became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” 

If we are disciples of Jesus, no matter how weak or anemic our discipleship may be, let us not hesitate as we begin another Holy Week, a uniquely special one due to the coronavirus. Let’s not hesitate to cry out with Bartimaeus, for ourselves and for our world, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me…I want to see.” And let us trust that Jesus will respond by opening our eyes to a new way of being, a new way of living and dying for others. Because for Jesus, and so for us his followers, the only way is the way of kenosis - self-emptying; and the only real triumph is the triumph of self-emptying, the absolute abandonment of one’s self to God and to others; holding back nothing in reserve, as are so many health-care workers, risking and giving their lives during this crisis. 

Abbot Damian's Homily for Palm Sunday.