Sunday, May 31, 2020

On Pentecost Sunday

Joe had applied for a new job in a large corporation in GB. He had gone through various stages of the application process and now was standing before the committee who had the final word. The first words out of his mouth after he heard the chairman’s decision were: “I couldn’t possibly do that! Who do you think I am?” The chairman had just offered him, not the job he had applied for but a job two paygrades above it with tremendous responsibilities - the senior position in the whole division. He would be running an entire dept with a huge budget. Joe didn’t feel he was up to it and that it was beyond his capabilities. The chairman thought otherwise and assured Joe of all the help and support he would need.

“I couldn’t possibly do that!” Now let’s turn to today’s gospel. These words of Joe stuck in my mind as I read it. You could say from the corporate conference room to the upper room. Jesus says to the disciples: “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them…” Now for a little eisegesis, my reading into the text which I personally find helpful in appropriating it. I can imagine the disciples, on a much more profound level than Joe, saying something like: “Are you crazy, Jesus! Who do you think we are? We’re only human and only God can forgive sins. “Who do you think we are?” And it would be understandable that they would feel like this. Who in their right mind would take on the task of forgiving sins! And Jesus responds: “You are right. Only God can forgive sins. And God is going to forgive sins through you.” Now back to the gospel text itself. Jesus is convinced that the disciples can do this. In fact, he is not asking them if they would like to do it. He’s giving them a command. They are to go and do it. But, and this is essential, this command comes only after the crucial promise and gift: “…he breathed on them and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit. Jesus’ own spirit. The Spirit which is the Father’s special gift to God’s people. And the point of receiving the Holy Spirit is clear and obvious. The gift of the Spirit is not essentially to give the disciples, then and now, new ‘spiritual experiences’, although there may be plenty of these as we heard about in the first reading from Acts. Nor is the gift of the Spirit meant to set disciples apart from ordinary people,  as some sort of holier than thou hierarchical club. Though, to be sure, disciples are called to live rich, full and deep lives of devotion and dedication modelled on Jesus’ own life. But the point of the transmission of the Holy Spirit is so that disciples, through the ages, can do in and for the world what Jesus had been doing in Israel. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

I would like to offer a cautionary note here in the form of a question. How does the unique achievement of Jesus (and it is unique; there is only one Jesus of Nazareth, a first century Palestinian Jew). How does his unique reality and achievement (life, death and resurrection) affect all other times and places and peoples? For it is meant to have an effect always and everywhere. What Jesus was doing in and for Israel is meant to continue throughout the ages. Jesus was clear: “As the Father has sent me so I am sending you.” As the Risen Jesus says in Mark’s gospel: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

The unique achievement of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is not meant to be limited to one particular time and place. It is a reality, a process really, that the disciples in Jesus’ time and in our own time are meant to be a part of and continue. And this process is not a matter of replication or duplication. Baptism and life in the Spirit isn’t a matter of replicating or duplicating multiple “Jesuses” throughout the ages. There was only one Jesus of Nazareth who lived, died and rose again. And the Holy Spirit is not some sort of spiritual toner that produces identical copies of Jesus. The Holy Spirit, rather, enables us in our own unique, unrepeatable lives and times to continue the reality of Jesus’ incarnation and redemption. We believers are really meant to continue the incarnation and redemptive work of Jesus. “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

There are lots of images of the Holy Spirit that have been used throughout the tradition: wind, fire, tongue, water, dove are the most scripturally based ones. However, I came across one recently that I find particularly poignant and meaningful. It was a reference to the Holy Spirit as God’s Midwife. A midwife is someone who assists a woman giving birth to a child. The Holy Spirit can be seen as God’s assistance to us as we give birth to new things in our lives; in the concrete, sometimes challenging, circumstances of our lives today. As we continue to enflesh Jesus Christ in and for our world. 

What I find particularly helpful about this image of God’s Midwife is the respect it shows to our personal participation in the process. A midwife doesn’t replace the mother. A midwife doesn’t do it for her but rather sits facing the mother offering encouragement, advice and sometimes pressing on the mother’s abdomen to encourage the child to come out. In the same way, the Spirit of God does not replace us. Our initiative, our insight, our effort are all necessary. The Spirit doesn’t do it for us. But the Spirit sits with us encouraging us, advising us and sometimes exerting some pressure. We have to do the work. We have to be the one who pushes. But most importantly we need to trust the Spirit’s presence. Trust that Jesus’ words are really addressed to us; no matter how inadequate or unprepared we may feel: “Receive the Holy Spirit.” An encouraging, advising and sometimes pressuring presence that always and unfailingly leads to new and transformed life.  
Abbot Damian's homily for this Pentecost.

Saturday, May 30, 2020


The Holy Spirit brings the living, transfigured Christ into humanity.  Thus does Christian interiority arise.  This does not mean that one becomes profound in a mental sense:  it means the opposite of squandering oneself in what is exterior.  It implies that there is a depth in man in which Christ lives.  It is possible to live with this Christ.  He can become the very content of life.  Then the New Man comes into being.  The old man is the one he was before, but now the New Man is sown in him.  How this happens cannot be described.  It can be that certain persons experience this reality so powerfully that they can no longer feel at home in the world.  This is how monasticism arose.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from  a Sermon by Romano Guardini.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

To the Holy Spirit

As we continue our novena to the Holy Spirit, we share the following poem by Edith Stein:

Who are you, sweet light, that fills me
And illumines the darkness of my heart?
You lead me like a mother’s hand,
And should you let go of me,
I would not know how to take another step.
You are the space
That embraces my being and buries it in yourself.
Away from you it sinks into the abyss
Of nothingness, from which you raised it to the light.
You, nearer to me than I to myself
And more interior than my most interior
And still impalpable and intangible
And beyond any name:
Holy Spirit eternal love!

Are you not the sweet manna
That from the Son’s heart
Overflows into my heart,
The food of angels and the blessed?
He who raised himself from death to life,
He has also awakened me to new life
From the sleep of death.
And he gives me new life from day to day,
And at some time his fullness is to stream through me,
Life of your life indeed, you yourself:
Holy Spirit eternal life!

Are you the ray
That flashes down from the eternal Judge’s throne
And breaks into the night of the soul
That had never known itself?
Mercifully relentlessly
It penetrates hidden folds.
Alarmed at seeing itself,
The self makes space for holy fear,
The beginning of that wisdom
That comes from on high
And anchors us firmly in the heights,
Your action,
That creates us anew:
Holy Spirit ray that penetrates everything!

Are you the spirit’s fullness and the power
By which the Lamb releases the seal
Of God’s eternal decree?
Driven by you
The messengers of judgement ride through the world
And separate with a sharp sword
The kingdom of light from the kingdom of night.
Then heaven becomes new and new the earth,
And all finds its proper place
Through your breath:
Holy Spirit victorious power!

Are you the master who builds the eternal cathedral,
Which towers from the earth through the heavens?
Animated by you, the columns are raised high
And stand immovably firm.
Marked with the eternal name of God,
They stretch up to the light,
Bearing the dome,
Which crowns the holy cathedral,
Your work that encircles the world:
Holy Spirit God’s molding hand!

Are you the one who created the unclouded mirror
Next to the Almighty’s throne,
Like a crystal sea,
In which Divinity lovingly looks at itself?
You bend over the fairest work of your creation,
And radiantly your own gaze
Is illumined in return.
And of all creatures the pure beauty
Is joined in one in the dear form
Of the Virgin, your immaculate bride:
Holy Spirit Creator of all!

Are you the sweet song of love
And of holy awe
That eternally resounds around the triune throne,
That weds in itself the clear chimes of each and every being?
The harmony,
That joins together the members to the Head,
In which each one
Finds the mysterious meaning of his being blessed
And joyously surges forth,
Freely dissolved in your surging:
Holy Spirit eternal jubilation!

Prayer-poem to the Holy Spirit by St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein 1891-1942).

Wednesday, May 27, 2020


We continue to hold fast to the Lord's promise, for only love and surrender to him can quiet our questioning. Jesus is taking us to himself. And as we hold fast to him in faith, all is still deep, dark mystery. As monks this where we live - in this land of desire, somehow suspended between heaven and earth, getting glimpses of heavenly communion, noticing his kind and loving presence but more often left hanging, because our desire often outstrips our understanding. We are left suspended, longing for more, but often losing our way. So we live, in this in-between place, poised in faith between a promised heavenly homeland and our present earthly existence; puzzled and sometimes impatient because earthly existence even for all its ambiguities is at least tangible and real. And here we wait in joyful hope, doing what is ordinary, for this is exactly where Jesus promises to find us.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Monday, May 25, 2020


Like the apostles Thomas and Philip, we often don't understand. That’s why Thomas’ question is always such a relief. He puts it right out there, “Master, we don’t know where you going. How can we know the way?” The other disciples were all probably thinking the same thing, but did not dare to ask. Said another way: “Why does following you have to be so puzzling?” Or “Why can’t things be clearer?” “I don’t understand the way you do things.” “Why can’t things simply remain the same?”  And further removed as we are, having never encountered Jesus in the flesh, perhaps our faith needs to be even deeper than theirs. That’s why Thomas’ candor is so refreshing. And when we hear the Lord say: “It is better for you that I go.” If only Thomas were there that day too to say, “Please remind why this is better, because I’m just not getting it. I don’t understand. I just want you to stay.”

That’s what Jesus wants too, simply to have those he loves remain with him, abide in him. And so he assures us, "I am the way and the truth and the life." In other words, “I am the way that leads through darkness and confusion, obscurity and doubt; through seeming absence to a richer, darker, mysterious presence.” He draws us higher to the place that he is preparing for us, the place of our belovedness. Jesus clearly understands himself as the Beloved of his Father. (How else could he have made it through the horror of his passion?) And he envisions the same identity for us, and he says that where he is, there will we be - hidden in the bosom of the Father. “I will come back again and take you to myself,” he says, “so that where I am you also may be.” For all our lack of understanding, certainly these words of Jesus are tremendously consoling. “I will take you to myself.” Where else would any of us want to be?

Photograph by Charles O'Connor.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Living Eternal Life Now

Many people, when they are at their last moments of life, leave some message. Everyone remembers the words of a father and mother, or sibling, or spouse. Keeping these words are like keeping the person. It is a form of respect and affection.
   The words of many famous people have been recorded and have been handed down to us. They range from serious to humorous, here are a few. Leonardo da Vinci, “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.” I guess the Mona Lisa was not good enough.
   Walter Mizner, a playwright, on his deathbed said this to a priest who was standing nearby, “I’m sure you want to talk to me.” Mizner said, “Why should I talk to you? I’ve just been talking to your boss.”
   Alfred Hitchcock said as he was dying, “One never knows the ending. One has to die to know exactly what happens after death, although Catholics have their hopes.”
   Jesus’ last recorded words have come to be called “The Seven Last Words of Christ”, spoken from the cross. Actually, they are brief sayings found in the Passion narratives. What we hear today in chapter 17 of the Gospel of John are not his “last words” but his last encounter with his disciples. It is the last Testament of Jesus in the form of a prayer, also known as the Priestly Prayer (Jn 17:1-26). This chapter is the end of a long reflection by Jesus begun in chapter 15 and we will hear it continued in the gospels throughout the week.
In this chapter are expressed the sentiments and concerns that Jesus had at that moment when he was leaving the world and going to the Father. Jesus now finds himself before his Father, interceding for us.
   Chapter 17 is a diverse text because it is part prayer and part exhortation. To grasp the whole meaning, it is not sufficient to reflect with the head, with reason alone. This text must be meditated upon and accepted in the heart as well. It requires a whole life of pondering, reflection, and rumination. Its richness makes it hard to select the points that are the most important, but several stand out.
   “Father, the hour has come!” (Jn 17:1-3) It is the long-awaited hour. The moment of the glorification which will take place through the Passion, death, and Resurrection. Jesus has come to the end of his mission. In this prayer he expresses the most intimate sentiment of his heart, the presence of the Father in his life.
   “Give glory to your son, so that your son may glorify you” (Jn 17:1). Jesus glorified God on earth by finishing the work God gave him to do (17:4). In a basic sense this means he honored God through his obedience to God’s commands in his teaching, healings, and other works that God wanted him to perform. Jesus glorified God by revealing His power.
   A second element in Jesus’ prayer concerns the glory he will resume in heaven once his ministry on earth is over. A glory that the Son of God enjoyed before the world existed. It was out of love that the Father gave the Son such glory before the foundation of the world, so that sharing in God’s glory means sharing in His love. Jesus concludes his prayer by asking that those whom God has given him may one day be with him in God’s presence, to see the fullness of the glory that God gave to him in love (17:24).
   This prayer, like the rest of John’s gospel, connects glory to the crucifixion itself. When Jesus enters Jerusalem at the end of his ministry he says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified,” and he compares himself to a seed that must fall into the earth and die (12:23-24). When Judas leaves the Last Supper to carry out the betrayal, Jesus says, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in Him” (13:31). The crucifixion completed Jesus’ work of glorifying God on earth, for by laying down his life he gives himself completely so that the world may know of Jesus’ love for God and His love for the world (Jn 3:16, 14:31).
   By his resurrection and ascension Jesus returns to the heavenly glory that God prepared for him in love, and Jesus prays that we his followers will one day join him in the Father’s house to share in this glory and love (17:5, 24-26). That is our hope.
   Commenting on this gospel in a general audience (2012) Pope Benedict XVI said that, “Jesus’ priestly prayer can guide us in our conversation with the Lord, that it may teach us to pray. Then we, too, in our prayer may ask God to help us enter more fully into the plan that He has for each one of us. Let us ask Him to grant that we may be “consecrated” to Him, that we may increasingly belong to Him, so that we may love others more and more. . . always able to open our prayer to the dimensions of the world, and not closing it in to the request for help for our own problems . . . but learning the beauty of interceding for others.”
   “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (17:3) To know God and Jesus Christ is eternal life, and it begins here and now, in faith, and not only in the next life. If Jesus gives glory to God by willingly laying down his life and taking it up again, then we should ask ourselves the questions: how am I laying down my life for others? How am I living my eternal life right now? When we live the cross in our own life, we participate in the love between the Father and the Son. This is true glory.
Sunday's homily and a photograph, both by Father Emmanuel.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Do Come

Come, Creator Spirit,
visit the minds of your children,
and fill the hearts you have made,
with heavenly grace.

You are called the Comforter, 
the gift of God most high,
living spring, and fire, love,
and spiritual anointing.

You are sevenfold in your gifts,
the finger of God’s right hand;
you are the Father’s  true promise,
endowing our tongues with speech.

Enkindle your light in our senses,
infuse your life in our hearts;
strengthen our bodies’ weakness
by your never failing might. 

Drive far away our foe,
and grant peace without end,
that with you to lead us on,

we may escape all harm.

Grant us, through you,
to know the Father, also the Son;
may we ever believe in you,
the Spirit of them both.

In preparation for the great Solemnity of Pentecost, this evening we begin our novena to the Holy Spirit. And each evening at Vespers, we chant this ancient Latin hymn. We share above a translation completed by one of our monks. Come Holy Spirit, fill us with hope and courage.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

On Ascension Thursday

How to explain the experience of Jesus’ after his resurrection? There is the drastic reality of his physical presence, wounds and all; he is disarmingly familiar, but there is also, mysteriously, something much more, what we might call a transformed physicality. He walks through a door, eats a piece of fish with his disciples then disappears; he suddenly shows up again wishes peace, then opens the wound in his side for Thomas to touch, andvanishes again. This coming and going happens over and over again and then after forty days, these appearances no longer occur. At this juncture the Ascension describes the event of his exaltation and enthronement as Israel’s Messiah, seated at God’s right hand; he is at last victorious Lord of the world; and he commissions his followers to act on his behalf and inaugurate this new epoch of his reign.1

It seems a bit incongruous, but I keep thinking of a scene from a Neil Simon comedy. The actress Anne Bancroft is just back from the supermarket; cradling armloads of groceries, she struggles to open the door to her apartment. Once inside her jaw drops, the place is in shambles, ransacked; drawers opened, valuables missing. A few moments later her husband played by Jack Lemmon comes in, he looks around and says, “What happened?” “We’ve been robbed,” she says. “Robbed? What do you mean?” “Robbed,” she yells, “You know, first it was ours, now it’s theirs. Robbed! Gone, disappeared.”

My brothers, we have not been robbed. Jesus has not disappeared into the ether, only to be seen again in a heaven far, faraway. Ascension is instead the great feast of intersection, interconnectedness. Jesus’ Incarnation has come full circle – the One who took our flesh in Mary now takes all of it with him into the bosom of the Father, God’s most loving desire for us is now in its ascendancy. And as the Vespers hymn expresses it, the angels, those bodiless adorers, are baffled and trembling as they see their turf invaded by our lowly humanity. “Flesh has purged what flesh had stained, and God, the flesh of God has reigned.”

What the Ascension of Jesus makes clear is that our flesh is very precious to God, this wounded, embarrassed body that we are. Jesus loves our humanity; he has embraced our flesh longing to rescue it and bring it home to his Father. Today is the festival of the future of our flesh, a sign of things to come for all of us and for all creation, a great sign of hope, for it reveals the destiny God intends for each of us. Our homeland as human beings is heaven, and the Ascension of Jesus is the first moment of our own definitive disappearance into God. In the meantime, we are not left down here left waiting and wondering. Jesus has assured us, “I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go?” His bodily departure is better for us, because, through the gift of his Spirit, he will be with us always and everywhere, not time-bound, or Palestine-bound but “always, until the end of the age.” Jesus has not gone anywhere, he’s gone everywhere.

“Heaven is not light years away, but closer to us than we are to ourselves.”2 Certainly, there is more to come, a Paradise with joy beyond telling. But as those two men in Acts insist, we often run the risk of looking in the wrong direction. Jesus is not up there somewhere. Mysteriously, wonderfully for faith-filled eyes, Jesus is seated at God’s right hand and most fully present with us here. The “withdrawal of Jesus is not so much an absence” as it is more superabundant presence3 made possible by the Spirit. We are continually being drawn more deeply into a new life of friendship with God; beckoned into a beyondness, invited into the ordinariness of Mystery, the ordinariness of incessant intimacy with Christ Jesus, at once hidden, discernible only to the eyes of faith but very, very real. This is where we live.

Jesus will be seen clearly when we act with compassion in his name and create a community of friends, where rivalry and pretension are things of the past. And even though our love may be uneven, we hope to live again with Jesus in heaven, because in reality even now in him our body is already there. We hope to find ourselves with him and with those we love, even with those we may have found it difficult to love; all of us a heaven of souls in bliss. This is imaginable if ever we have loved anyone, and we would understand it ever better if we were to love more and to believe that the kingdom of God is among us and depends on us.4

There’s a lot of talk now about what “the new normal” will be. Seems to me, what’s normal is never new but the same old astonishing reality – what’s been normal all along – that things are continually falling apart, that change is constant and inevitable, that life is, of course, fragile and precarious, always was, but that best of all, truest of all, most normal of all - God in Christ is always, always right here with us in this mess. The only place he has disappeared is into our precarious humanness now as always. In our prayer no matter how dry or desolate, in our fear no matter how overwhelming, God is with us – especially when we make the least effort to love and forgive as he does.  Jesus has not gone anywhere; he’s gone everywhere. And most especially when we are privileged to gather for this Holy Eucharist, with our hearts and voices joining those of the angels and saints, we are in heaven with him, better still, we become heaven in him.

[1] See NT Wright in The Resurrection of the Son of God.
[2] Robert Barron.
[3] Luke Johnson, Sacra Pagina: Luke.
[4] See Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things, p. 239.

Ascension in an Initial V
Niccolò di Ser Sozzo (Sienese, active 1348– died 1363)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020


Humiliation is the only way to humility, just as patience is the only way to peace, and reading to knowledge. If you want the virtue of humility you must not shun humiliations...

We were struck again by these words of Saint Bernard. The word "humility" is derived from the Latin humilis meaning lowly, literally "on the ground," from the word humus meaning earth. Here we learn that becoming humble is not some personal project of self-mastery; it is rather owning my own weakness, sinfulness and my lowliness; and learning to look up at Jesus from down there in that low place and ask him for his mercy.

In the monastery we often refer to this as bitter self-knowledge. We realize that the monastic life is not about our achievement but about our readiness to make our weakness available to the mercy of God. Perhaps this is our most important work - to realize that we are always in desperate need of this mercy. 

It’s never been about worth, but always about love; the condescension of God's tender mercy, and his mercy reflected in the compassion of brother for brother.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Saint Dunstan

When the Abbey was constructed  in the early 1950's numerous reasonably priced antique pieces were acquired to furnish the main rooms, other pieces were donated by generous patrons. Among the latter acquisitions were fragments of stained glass, some rare and important. In the Abbey library, shown above, an oculus window high above the mantle was filled with a fragment of stained glass depicting Saint Dunstan. This glass fragment is probably of the fourteenth century, English and quite rare since much pre-Reformation glass was destroyed during the Dissolution. 

A very popular early medieval saint, Dunstan (909 –988) was an Abbot of Glastonbury Abbey, later appointed Bishop of Manchester and London and subsequently named Archbishop of Canterbury. He is credited with the restoration of monastic life in England and the reformation of the English Church. Dunstan was a highly skilled artist and scribe and served as an important minister of state to several of the English kings.

As portrayed in our fragment, Saint Dunstan wears the mitre, rings, gloves and white wool pallium of his episcopal office. He carries his archbishop's cross. And the dove of the Holy Spirit perched on the apparel of his amice whispers divine inspiration. Saint Dunstan's feastday is May 19th.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

A Little While

In this morning's Gospel, Jesus tells his apostles that he will be gone and then he will be with them again in a little while. This little while is our time as well.

I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you.
In a little while the world will no longer see me,
but you will see me, because I live and you will live.
On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you. John 14

So while the world - those who have no faith nor understanding of who Jesus is - may dismiss him as only a historical character who lived over 2,000 years ago, we have Jesus' presence with us and in a little while we will be with him again.

On that day you will realize that I am in my Father
and you are in me and I in you.

In the meantime what shall we do? We must show our love by doing our best to follow his guidance and direction.

Whoever has my commandments and observes them
is the one who loves me.
And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father,
and I will love him and reveal myself to him.

So, indeed, life is only a little while. It seems astonishingly short to those who have lived a long life; so long to little children. Just a little while between our birth and our coming into the fullness of our Christian identity, as we continue to honestly and sincerely follow in his way.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Excerpts from this morning's homily by Father Aquinas.

Saturday, May 16, 2020


Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known in any age that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your powerful intercession, was ever left unaided. Inspired with this same childlike confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word made flesh, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.

This ancient prayer to Mary called the Memorare is a great consolation. Mary is our protector and a model for all our efforts at prayer and faithfulness. Our Constitutions remind us, "By fidelity to their monastic way of life, which has its own hidden mode of apostolic fruitfulness, monks perform a service for God's people and the whole human race. Each community of the Order and all the monks are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Symbol of the Church in the order of faith, love and perfect union with Christ."

Friday, May 15, 2020

Intend Him

Again and again our Lord said, I am he. I am he. I am he who is highest. I am he whom you love. I am he in whom you delight. I am he whom you serve. I am he for whom you long. I am he whom you desire. I am he whom you intend. I am he who is all.

Even as we are well aware of our sins and inconsistencies and resistances, we know that deep down in our heart Jesus is our only true desire. We are consoled, we beg his mercy.

Safet Zec, Deposition, detail, 2014. Lines by Julian of Norwich.

Thursday, May 14, 2020


Solitude is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it.  Thomas Merton

Now in the midst of the pandemic, in these days of a new solitude, we can plumb the hidden beauty of the present, the present moments wherein the beauty of God in Christ is revealed.

Come, let us notice and adore Him!

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

At Fatima

We remember today the apparition of Our Lady at Fatima. At the conclusion of his homily at the canonization of Francisco Marto and his sister Jacinta, two of the visionaries of Fatima, the Pope Francis said: “With Mary's protection, may we be for our world sentinels of the dawn, contemplating the true face of Jesus the Savior, resplendent at Easter. Thus may we rediscover the young and beautiful face of the Church, which shines forth when she is missionary, welcoming, free, faithful, poor in means and rich in love.”

Gazing upon the resplendent face of Jesus given to us by Mary, may we be "sentinels of the dawn" who help the world to rediscover the beauty of His Church.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Regina Cœli

During Eastertide our recitation of the Angelus at dawn, noon and before retiring is replaced by the recitation of the Regina Cœli:

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.

Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary, alleluia.
For the Lord has truly risen, alleluia.

O God, who gave joy to the world through the resurrection of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee, that through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, His Mother, we may obtain the joys of everlasting life. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

And now violets are blooming in profusion on the edges of sidewalks, under hedges and all through the lawns around the Abbey. The low-growing violet is a symbol of humility. And  we are told that our Father, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, described the Virgin Mary as the "violet of humility." In paintings the violet was also used to symbolize the humility of Christ in assuming our humanity. And so the violets we see remind us of the Virgin Mary and her Son, risen from the dead.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Heart-ravishing Trust

Precisely as was the case with the Lord at the Burning Bush in Exodus, Jesus’ I Am! to his apostles at the end of Matthew has nothing abstract or other-worldly about it. In both instances the context and the language make it clear that the divine I Am!, far from being a philosophical revelation of essence, is inseparable from the prepositions with or for, indicating a necessary relationship of intense care and interest between God and his creatures. Jesus never merely “is”, in a standoffish and static mode of existence. Rather Jesus always is-with and is-for. We could in fact paraphrase the declaration I am with you!, both by the Lord of Israel in Exodus and here by Jesus in Matthew as, ‘Everything that I am is for you’ or ‘My place is always at your side’. What could be a more irresistible declaration of unconditional love? All the reciprocal intimacy and boundless, heart-ravishing trust that this confidence—I EXIST FOR YOU!—established between God and Moses, Jesus now bestows on the group of the Eleven, that is to say on the Church and, implicitly, on all humanity. And he daily awaits our response. 
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

With Untroubled Hearts

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” These words from today’s Gospel point to one of the most difficult things in monastic life: keeping a calm heart in all circumstances. Thankfully in his dialogue with his disciples, Jesus gives us a way to keep our hearts calm: it is to abide in his the truth, or perhaps better, in his word of truth. We must allow his word to lay bare our thoughts; to cleanse us continually; and to shine on us its mystical light.

Of Jesus’ three self-designations today – I am the way, the truth, and the life – the middle one, the truth, is perhaps the most important one for dealing with a troubled heart. Our hearts can become troubled for many reasons, but sometimes our imaginations just get away from us, or we are trying to protect ourselves, or we can’t face the truth. Our thoughts can become like an expanding balloon, and the only way to calm them is to puncture the balloon. That is what Jesus does with his word of truth. He lays bare the untruths and distortions that cause our anxiety by showing us the truth. We call this the grace of compunction. Even the disciples needed this grace. When in his zeal Philip thought he had the answer to all their troubles: “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us,” Jesus had to prick his self-confidence by pointing out that the Father was right in front of his eyes: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” The first fruit of truth, then, is the grace of compunction which helps us realize our blindness.

But this work of truth is not just a one-time thing. St. Benedict knew this, and he arranged for us to be immersed in the word throughout the day: seven times at the divine office; many more hours in lectio divina; and other times in silent and meditative prayer. We are called to be like Naaman the Syrian who was told to bathe seven times in the Jordan. And when he stomped off in indignation that Elisha didn’t simply wave his hand over the leprosy and be done with it, his servants had to come and calm him down. The same goes for us. We need to be cleansed by the word of truth not just seven times, but seventy-seven times, that is, continuously.

Finally, it is Jesus’ word of truth that, as St. Benedict says, opens “our eyes to the deifying light.” To take one example from today’s Gospel: Jesus says to Philip, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?” Who could imagine the closeness of the Father and the Son without this word of truth? When our hearts are disturbed – when like Thomas we must know where Jesus is going; or where our community is going; or where our country is going, or where the world is going – what better way to regain our equilibrium than by turning our gaze on the unity of the Father and the Son and their indwelling in us by the Spirit? Then we will know the truth, and the truth will set our hearts free.

Brothers, the Eucharist is the word of truth par excellence. As the disciples gathered around Jesus to listen to his word, so the Eucharist has been placed at the center of our monastic life to gather us around Jesus and immerse us in his word of truth. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. The Eucharist is the way, the truth and the life, Jesus himself. How consoling for a troubled heart!
Photographs by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Vincent.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Sorrow and Joy

The monk is a man of sorrow, a man discontented with every illusion, aware of his own poverty, impatient of evasion, who seeks the naked realities that only the desert can reveal. But the monk is also a man of joy, a man at peace with the emptiness of the wilderness, glad of its limitations, loving reality as he finds it, and therefore secure in his humility.  He is a man of joy and a man of sorrow both together because he lives by pure hope, he has entered into the secret Christ has taught his chosen ones:that hope gives us, even on earth, the secure possession of our inestimable heritage as sons of God.

We just discovered these words of Thomas Merton. How to fully grasp the inestimable privilege of our belovedness in Christ?

Friday, May 8, 2020

Our Own Martyrs

In May of 1996 seven of our Cistercian brothers of Tibhirine in Algeria were found dead. These monks were kidnapped from their monastery and beheaded by a group of Islamic terrorists trained by the al-Qaida network. Caught in the conflict between the Algerian government and the extremist Armed Islamic Group, these monks chose to remain at their monastery amid threats from extremist elements and face death in solidarity with the Muslim neighbors whom they loved. 

Pregnant Muslim women from the village adjacent to the monastery would often come to pray before the statue of Our Lady in the garden for safe deliveries. Muslims honor Mary as mother of Jesus the Prophet. We pray to her for an end to all terrorism, for peace, understanding and mutual respect between all Christians and Muslims. May these martyrs teach us to be models of Christian friendship, encounter and dialogue, and may their example help us build a world of peace.

The monks' story was treated in the film "Of Gods and Men," which won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Just Allow

Jesus cried out and said,
“Whoever believes in me believes not only in me
but also in the one who sent me,
and whoever sees me sees the one who sent me.
I came into the world as light,
so that everyone who believes in me might not remain in darkness.  John 12

Through his risen, wounded body Jesus draws us into the Trinity with God with one another.  And for days to come we have Mass readings from John's Gospel like the one above. And Jesus goes on to say, “That the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.” We hear these words, and it seems we lose our bearings. 

The language is exquisite but dizzyingly poetic, there is a kind of circularity. And that's the point, we are meant to lose our bearings. Still I want to say to Jesus, “Wait. Could you repeat that? What do you mean?” But it’s just the wrong question. Asking what it means would be beside the point - like standing at the Grand Canyon and saying, “Wait, I don’t get it, what does it mean?” Or asking a person who is doing an unexpected kindness for you, “Hey, what exactly do you mean by that?” Or interrupting someone who’s kissing you very tenderly, “Excuse me, what do you mean?” What Jesus is desperately trying to get across is that we are imbedded in God, as beloved as He is; we are in God; this relationship is ours. We must allow ourselves simply to trust Him and be there.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of the monks.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

May is Mary's Month

May is Mary's month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
Is it opportunest
And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.
bluets | Tumblr
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Nature's motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this:
Spring's universal bliss
Much, had much to say
To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfed cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation. 

The beauty and exuberance of springtime, profusion of blossoms, chanting of birds, all remind us of Our Lady’s joy as she carried Our Lord in her womb.

Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Monday, May 4, 2020

His Mirth

We just came upon these words of Julian of Norwich: "Our Lord is full of mirth and gladness because of our prayer." How good to remember that Christ Jesus in his love for us is attentive and delighted by our efforts at prayer, our desires to please and praise Him, no matter how feeble or faltering we may believe them to be. It is good to wonder and imagine things from the other side, God's side.

Sunday, May 3, 2020


Today's Gospel for Good Shepherd Sunday is not gushingly sweet and consoling.  Jesus is angry at the Pharisees who, in the previous chapter have kicked a man out of the Synagogue who was born blind and whom Jesus has just cured of his blindness. In curing the man, Jesus has violated the Sabbath in the eyes of the ironically blind guides who are the Pharisees. Jesus has words for these so-called spiritual leaders - thief, robber.  The harsh words of Jesus are there to challenge us Christians when we fall into the same spiritual traps that some of the Pharisees fell into.  It is the tough love of the Holy Spirit at work in the deep recesses of our hearts and consciences when we feel these harsh words addressed to us.  As shepherds, the Pharisees in the incident of the man born blind have utterly failed in their role as spiritual leaders. Instead of welcoming the blind man to the fullness of worship and life in the Jewish community, they reject him from the synagogue for his gratitude and fidelity to Jesus.

We can see how a text similar to this one “cut to the heart” of so great a shepherd as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. He says about himself in the 
30th Sermon on the Song of Songs, “I scarcely ever read these words without finding fault with myself for having undertaken the care of souls, I who am not fit to take care of my own soul...Those people who made me keeper of the vineyards should have taken into account how I had kept my own... Faith was there but it was dead..., without good works.  On my conversion to the Lord, I began to improve, though very little... But then, what man is fit to do this?  'Unless the Lord keeps watch over a city, in vain the watchman stands vigil.'  How many and how precious the clusters of good works were either blighted by anger, or snatched away by boasting, or defiled by vainglory!  What temptations did I not endure from gluttony, from mental slothfulness, from pusillanimity of spirit and the storm of passion! What amazes me is the audacity of those who seem to harvest only brambles and thistles from their own vineyards, and yet are not afraid to intrude themselves on the vineyards of the Lord. These are...thieves and robbers.”

Inasmuch as all consecrated religious men and women are in a very real sense shepherds and guides to the Christian faithful, none of us can feel exempt from the implications of today's gospel text or the words of Saint Bernard. Are we climbing into the sheepfold by some trick of going over the wall on our own power the way thieves and robbers do, or are we going by way of the Gate?  Jesus has told us that he is the Gate.   He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In this same passage in which Bernard reveals his difficulties, he also implies his one solution: namely the Lord Jesus Christ, the ultimate Watchman who watches over the city of God: Jesus Christ, the Shepherd who watches over and leads the flock that is the monastery, the flock that is the Church, the flock who so often go astray like sheep - astray from themselves, from one another and from God.  He, as Gate, protects us in the darkness of our nights.  He, as Shepherd, calls each of us by name and leads us out to life-giving food and drink.  He says to us, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

When we were kids, Dad would drive us out to our little dairy farm every chance we had, and we would be weekend farm kids. It was like paradise.  The most poignant moment each day was sundown when we would gather at our ramshackle cow barn which was set on a little hillock overlooking the pastures with our 19 cows there chomping on the grass.  My father would call out, “Cows! Cows! Cows!” Upon hearing my father's voice, their heads would raise up immediately, and they would run to the barn.  They would only be getting a treat of fresh hay and grain which we had put in the mangers. They all seemed to be full of bovine joy.  (Better still) Jesus calls lovingly to each one of us 
by name
. Let us run to him joyfully who was once born and laid in a manger, a humble feeding trough.
Image by Frances Hook. Excerpts from today’s homily by Father Luke.