Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Sunday, September 27, 2020
We mourn the passing of our dear Brother Bernard, a beloved senior who passed to the Lord last evening during a brief stay in the hospital. Dom Vincent was at his side as he breathed his last. Brother Bernard edified us continually with his dedication to simple work. In recent years this meant patiently raking leaves and sweeping the cloisters each day. For several years he supervised Trappist Preserves. Later he served as monastery cellarer diligently overseeing the work assignments of the brethren. He was always well respected as one who would listen. May Brother Bernard now rest in peace and enjoy everlasting joy and light in the Lord, whom he loved and served so faithfully.
Photographs by BrotherBrian.
We’ve all heard of the “terrible twos” And probably you can remember a child you knew, a nephew or niece when at around two years old they learned the power of no. “No.” It's embarrassing to admit, but I don't think I ever outgrew the grip of that no. I think my terrible twos morphed into the terrible twenties, forties and now worst of all now the terrible sixties. Deep inside there’s a repeating sound bite that often goes off automatically when I’m asked to do something. It goes like this: “Not yet. When I’m good and ready. I’ll think about it. Maybe. I’ll see.” Or simply, “No, I won’t.” Or “No one’s gonna tell me what to do.”
This morning that hauntingly beautiful phrase from St. Paul cuts through all the babble: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (That is the more literal translation of “attitude” in today's second reading.) Have Jesus’ beautiful mind in you. Beautiful to ponder, but seemingly impossible. Perhaps we feel too sharply the reproach of our reality, our own no. Too often I have grumbled, too quickly said, “No,” out of fear, because of what I may have to lose, what hardship may be involved or simply because I’ll to do it my way. After all, where might my yes lead?
And so, today’s Gospel may seem to be a great allowance, perhaps we're off the hook. After all, if the notorious sinners can get into the Kingdom, certainly there’s a crack in the doorway for me, right? Like the first son, I’m willing to change my mind, perhaps not in a hurry, but eventually. The two groups of people whom Jesus presents as examples for us this morning were among the most despised members of Jewish society. Tax collectors took money from Jews for an alien power, and prostitutes sold their favors most often to Roman soldiers. But even the tax collectors and prostitutes, despised for their collaboration with the Romans, are admirable because of their openness the message of Jesus and his cousin John.* Jesus praises the readiness of these outsiders to change their minds and hearts - they’re broken enough, they know they're outcasts and sinners. They have no illusions about themselves and so are open to Jesus' invitation to reform. They know they’re a mess, they know it all too well. They’ve got nothing to lose; they’ve lost it all already. So, what am I afraid to lose?
Jesus tells there were two sons, neither have the ideal response, but one had the good sense to step up. And most importantly the Liturgy this morning offers us the reality of a third Son -Jesus, the Son who was always yes. “For in him every one of God’s promises is a yes.” And only through him we can say our yes to all God wants for us. Again we hear that hauntingly beautiful phrase: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The beautiful mind of Jesus. There is one thing on his mind, filling his mind- love, which is self-forgetful, gives itself away. Love makes Jesus defenseless, he will do anything at all for the Father who loves him, and so for all of us- those whom the Father has given to him.
And in the freedom of his self-emptying love even unto the cross, Jesus becomes utterly powerless, a slave, obedient unto death. Love makes Jesus’ yes unqualified, instinctive. (We remember a candidate a few years ago. He had donated a kidney to his dad; it saved his life. I said to him, “What a beautiful thing you did.” Without missing a beat, he responded, “Father, how could I not do it? It was a no-brainer.”) Automatic. A no-brainer. Love triumphs over fear, second thoughts. And so it with Jesus. He lowers himself. And his cross becomes the marriage bed where he can give over everything for his bride - all of us. Bleeding, broken to pieces on the cross, there we see the beauty and breadth of Jesus’ unqualified yes to all that the Father asks of him. He could dare to do so because he knows himself beloved Son.
Perhaps we might imagine all the things Jesus could have spoken from the cross but did not: “This is so unfair. I feel so misunderstood. How could you have done this to me?” And so, on Good Friday we put the Reproaches on his lips: “My people what have I done to you, how have I offended you? Answer me. I gave you manna, I gave you water in the desert...” Perhaps we need to hear these words, so that we can plumb the horror of his passion. But Jesus will have none of it. He says only that he is thirsty, he forgives his torturers, gives us his mother, promises Paradise to a brigand, cries out to his Father in desperation, and finally gives over his spirit willingly on our behalf.
He never ever reproaches us. Instead he empties himself. God in Christ gives himself away to death and so reverses everything, trampling down death by death. Death is foiled. Our freedom is assured. Love triumphs. The beautiful mind of Christ triumphs over the primordial no of death, the no of our resistant matter, the no of our flesh that fears and cringes. We need not fear any longer the defenselessness of love. Nothing will be taken from us; in fact, everything is given to us in Christ. We have only to be faithful to our greatest discipline as monks: to believe ourselves God’s beloved ones, even as we know the shabby possibilities of our broken, wounded selves. This deep knowledge alone can change everything. Then we too can empty ourselves in self-forgetful love.
God has fallen madly in love with what he created. Jesus the most obedient Son has come down to the vineyard of our humanity; our flesh is God’s flesh forever. Christ Jesus is God’s never-ending yes to us. Our yes to God, no matter how late, or reluctant or fainthearted is only possible for us through Christ Jesus. And at this altar the mind of Christ dreams of a way to enable us always to have his mind, even his heart always within us - he gives us his own Body and Blood as food and drink, medicine and lasting presence.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Reflection by one of the monks.
Saturday, September 26, 2020
In blue-green air & water
God you have come back for us,
to our fiberglass boat.
You have come back for us, & I’m afraid.
(But you never left.)
Great sadness at harms.
But nothing that comes now, after,
can be like before.
Even when the icebergs are gone,
and the millions of suns
have burnt themselves out of your arms,
your arms of burnt air,
you are with us,
whoever we are then.
Lines from the poem, Icebergs, Ilulissat, by Jean Valentine.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
Cultivating mindfulness of God throughout the day is the goal of each monk. Our Constitutions tell us:
Careful lectio divina greatly strengthens the brothers' faith in God. This excellent monastic practice, by which God's Word is heard and pondered, is a source of prayer and a school of contemplation, where the monk speaks heart to heart with God. For this reason, the brothers are to devote a fitting amount of time each day to such reading....In a spirit of compunction and intense desire, monks devote themselves frequently to prayer. While dwelling on earth, their minds are occupied with heavenly things, desiring eternal life with all spiritual longing.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
The mother of Jesus and his brothers came to him but were unable to join him because of the crowd. He was told, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they wish to see you.” He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Luke 8
Certainly Jesus is not insulting his Mother or his cousins in today's Gospel. Indeed Mary's attentiveness to God's invitation at the Annunciation is the essence of her divine maternity and the enfleshment of the Word. She it is who first of all heard the word of God and acted upon it. In and through her, God is truly with us. In today's Gospel Jesus assures all attentive believers that they are truly members of his own family, members of the household of God. As we treasure the Word, treasure his words to us, we are intimates of the the Son of Mary.
Sunday, September 20, 2020
This morning we have from Jesus yet another parable on the kingdom. In it we have a landowner who goes out at various times during the day to contract workers to work in his vineyard. The first group he hires at the first hour of the day after agreeing with them for the usual daily wage. The last group he hires toward the end of the day and they work only an hour. At the end of the day each of the groups receive their pay beginning with the last. When the first group sees that the last group receives the usual daily wage, they assume they will receive more. However, to their consternation, their pay is the same, the usual daily wage.
Those who were hired at the first hour grumbled against the landowner because to their mind he had violated the just order. The landowner takes one of the complainers aside and reminds him of the terms of the contract they had agreed upon, the usual daily wage. Therefore, the landowner had not done anything wrong but justly and honestly fulfilled the contract. He is in no way obligated to pay him more than they had agreed upon. The issue then is whether or not it was just to pay the workers hired at the end of the day the same pay as the first. For me the most straightforward and satisfying response I found was in the Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, which said that he was “free to [pay them the full daily wage] but he was not obligated to do it.” Justice requires that those hired at the eleventh hour “are owed wages commensurate with their work, which means they were only owed a small fraction of the usual payment. But justice is not violated if the landowner, having met his contractual obligations, chooses to be generous with some who are undeserving of more money than that.”
The parable clearly highlights God’s extravagant divine generosity and cautions us against envy. Envy, as we remember, is different from jealousy. When we are jealous, we desire to attain or possess what another person has. Envy is the sin of being upset at another’s good fortune. We can find ourselves falling into envy on the material level, at another person’s wealth, possessions, job, successes, but it is particularly troubling when it strikes us on the level of spiritual gifts. The brother, in whose gifts I ought to rejoice and thank God, first of all for his own sake, but also because his gifts not only do not take anything away from me but actually benefit me, is perceived by me as a threat. We wind up disturbed interiorly and setting ourselves against God and our neighbor.
How do we avoid envy and get out of its throes once we’ve fallen into its grasp? We are led out by the same thing that triggered it, that is, the divine justice and goodness. So that is what I’d like to focus on this morning, God’s justice and extravagant goodness.
Like we just saw in the parable, there is in an inner worldly or creaturely justice or righteousness that God respects. It belongs to the order of his creation, even in its fallen condition. On the other hand, as good and just in himself, God infinitely transcends our notions of what is good and just. We only know what they are just as we only know him because he has sent his only Son to make him known. As John says in his prologue: No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (Joh 1:18 RSV)
When Jesus speaks of his Father, as he does in this passage, he always speaks out of his own experience. If Jesus speaks of God as at one and same time sovereignly and freely righteous and the source of extravagant superabundant unmerited grace, this is because this is the God he knows.
To explore this a bit, I’d like to leave the world of Matthew to immerse ourselves in the world of John, at the point where we find Jesus at prayer among his disciples at the end of the Farewell Discourses, just before they are about to depart, and Jesus is betrayed, the disciples flee, and the passion begins.
Towards the very end of the prayer, Jesus prays, “O Righteous Father, the world has not known you, but I have known you; and these know that you have sent me. I have made known them your name, and I will make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
Right here, when his hour has arrived, when the commission he and his Father have agreed upon from all eternity is about to reach its fulfillment in the Cross, he addresses his Father as righteous. The Hebrew word behind this word signifies ‘right conduct in faithfulness’. Both Father and Son will go forward to the Cross exercising right conduct in faithfulness. They are true to another, trust one another completely; each faithfully follows through on their arranged plan to bring the world back to God through the Cross and resurrection. A closely related term signifies ‘right which comes into effect as salvation’, and often occurs in contexts of care for the poor and oppressed. According to Gerhard von Rad, it contains a sense of urgency, it expresses the right which must at all costs be put into force on earth, the right that also has the power with God to have its way. In their mutual love, the Father and the Son have bound themselves to one another to bring about this righteousness on earth despite all human resistance and obstacles. Here is the obedience that Jesus must live at its most demanding and unyielding. In our parable, God’s righteousness convicts envy and defends his right to dispense his grace as he sees fit.
We can fill out this righteousness if we add another term which Jesus uses frequently in this prayer - ‘glory’. Jesus willingly undergoes this obedient self-surrender to the way of the Cross so that he may glorify the Father, that is, honor the Father and make him known. “Father, he prays, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.” In this we see the whole of the motivation of Jesus’ existence, which is to seek only the glory of the Father, which takes the form of carrying out the mission, the commandment or commission the Father has entrusted to him. Totally renouncing his own will, all acting in own power, all speaking in his own authority, for Jesus, everything is ordered around making the Father known. For the sake of the Father’s glory he has become poor. And from this poverty he makes the humble request to the Father to glorify him.
On his side, the Father has put all of his authority and power behind glorifying the Son, honoring him and making him known. Here, in the unreserved self-emptying love of the whole of the godhead poured out on him without measure, we find Jesus’ experience of the Father’s freely given superabundant grace which he then bestows on his creatures.
When we turn from the book of the experience of Jesus to the book of our own experience, we see a great and unbreachable chasm arise between them and may cry out like St. Bernard and St. Paul, “O God, who is like you!” Having gazed upon the justice and glory of trinitarian love we call out for God’s mercy and are filled with hope. For this radiant love is not something they have held on to for themselves but has been handed on to the Church through the Spirit, that through the gift of the Spirit we may become one spirit with them. Just as the Father and the Son have glorified one another by establishing the divine righteousness on earth in the whole of creation, so do they wish to glorify one another now by rooting out all evil from our souls, each striving to make of ourselves a pure gift to the other, from Son to Father and from Father to Son, whole and fully restored.
It is from this position of humble self-awareness within the vision of God’s goodness that the folly of a vice like envy becomes apparent. How foolish to alienate ourselves from God and our neighbor on account of the gifts God has given to another. Forgetting ourselves, we can begin the walk back with God toward union with him and our brother. We know, and above all God knows, that this is a process. Freedom does not come in an instant. The thing is, to be open to receive God’s offer of his mercy, and to take up his commandment to love one another as he has loved us, to be prepared to bend down and wash our brother’s feet, and to undergo the Cross on his behalf. We may still find ourselves victims of envy and other vices, but they weaken their hold on us, because our attention is elsewhere, someone else has a hold on us, someone else who has already conquered our sin and drawn us into his life.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Timothy.
Friday, September 18, 2020
Thursday, September 17, 2020
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Monday, September 14, 2020
Meditation by Father Simeon.
Sunday, September 13, 2020
Jesus’ parable this morning begs reflection on two subjects, which I can assure you, I am ill-equipped to speak about – finances and forgiveness.
To understand today’s parable, we really have to do the math. The sum the debtor owes the king, blandly translated for us as “a huge amount,” is in the original Greek an astounding 10,000 talents. A single talent was worth about 6,000 denarii. A whole day’s work was required to earn just one measly denarius.1 So, 6,000 denarii or one talent amounts to at least 20 years of work. To repay the 10,000 talents in the story, the servant would have to work for about 200,000 years! It is this impossible debt that is forgiven by the compassionate master in today’s Gospel. It is absurd for the servant to say that he will “pay back everything.” As a day laborer, he had no hope of ever repaying such a debt.2 It’s ridiculous.
And we can well imagine the astonishment of the crowd as Jesus told his story. What is he talking about? This is craziness. It doesn’t make any sense. Well, that’s kind of the point – it makes no sense at all, it’s way beyond good sense; it’s all about grace, God’s great goodness, its extravagance and the excess of his unrelenting tenderness and mercy,3 which are far beyond our understanding. The parable is a set-up. The preposterous amount of the forgiven debt clearly points to the incomprehensibility of God’s mercy.
“Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan,” says the Gospel. The word for this compassion is the Greek word, splanchnizomai (splank-níz-omai); it means literally to be moved so deeply by something that you feel it in the pit of your stomach, in your gut. It’s the same expression Matthew will use to describe Jesus’ feelings as he looks upon the weary crowds; his heart torn open in compassion - their pain becomes his pain. In “the seventy times seven times” Jesus is calling us to have a compassionate heart like his own, a heart like God’s heart. He wants us to be like God. We may think this is way beyond our capacity, apparently Jesus does not.
It doesn’t take a degree in moral theology to figure out how that thickheaded servant in the parable went wrong. Forgiven so lavishly, he comes away not humbled and grateful but suddenly entitled. Unwilling to forgive a debt only a fraction of the size of the one he owed, he grabs his coworker and chokes him “demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’” It’s embarrassing to hear. He’s oblivious and unmindful.
In the kingdom that Jesus is trying to bring about, it’s never about what others owe me; it’s all about noticing with awe and gratitude all I have received. For “nothing that we have to forgive can even faintly or even remotely compare with all we have been given and forgiven, for we have been forgiven a debt beyond all paying.”4 And as God delights to forgive and unburden, we are invited to go and do likewise over and over again.
Still Jesus is not telling us this parable to guilt us or scare into forgiving – you know, forgive or there’ll hell to pay, a future of torment and the grinding of teeth. Instead, the parable invites us to be overwhelmed by the sheer beauty and the pure gift of who God longs to be for us. Today’s parable invites us to wonder, wonder at a foolish God who has fallen in love with what he created, the God who waits for us and even while we are still a long way off, is filled with compassion and rushes after us, throws his arms around us, kisses us and forgives our constant squandering. This morning’s parable is best of all a call to mindfulness of all we have received. Only such mindfulness can truly break our hearts open - in gratitude, in praise, with a desire to forgive those who have hurt us as we ourselves have been forgiven.
With a memory like a bear trap, that stores up the hurts and slights I have received like a great buried treasure, this certainly does not make easy sense to me. How can I do it? You fool, of course you can’t. And again, that’s probably the point – it makes no sense for us on our own. It is impossible for us, but not for God. It is our friendship with the poor Christ that can transform us, as we seek more and more to be like the one we love. Only he can wean me away from my tendency to nurse a grudge or withhold compassion. It is not in our own “power not to feel or to forget an offense.”5 Only mindfulness of the gift and the giver can transform our hearts, so that injury may become compassion and the memory may be healed so that the hurt can turn into forgiveness and even prayer for those have offended us.
It is Christ Jesus himself who is the kiss and the rush of the Father’s compassion toward us. Patiently, passionately, compassionately over and over again, he forgives and gives himself for us. In the Eucharist we will share, he gives us his whole self, body, blood, soul and divinity, his very guts, even his compassionate heart. And we become more and more what we consume, the Love that consumes us.
1 Gerhard Lohfink, Jesus of Nazareth, p. 239.
2 See Philip Massey in The Chimes of Biola University.
4 William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew.
5 See The Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2843.
Reflection on today's Gospel by one of the monks.
Reflection on today's Gospel by one of the monks.
Thursday, September 10, 2020
The return each day to silent prayer...means to face the discomfort of silence. There can be a strong temptation to give up prayer or to find some activity in silent prayer to counter frustration. A more superficial prayer can be adopted which discards the effort of listening in silence to God. One might opt, for instance, to spend time in prayer simply reading. In that case the dryness and distraction may lift to a degree because they are less noticed. This may seem to restore relations with God. It would be a poor exchange, however, a step backward. The soul would forfeit a grace it was beginning to taste of a deeper thirst for God. The thirst of the soul for God is stronger in the desert. It is easy, nonetheless, to run for the shade.
Lines from Contemplative Provocations by Fr. Donald Haggerty.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Sunday, September 6, 2020
Why is it so difficult for us to offer correction or to receive it? In his homily this morning Father Isaac quoted Saint Dorotheus, the sixth century abbot of Gaza, who gives us the following insights:
All in all, then, no one is disturbed or troubled if he scorns and disregards what is said. But on the other hand, it is also possible for someone to be disturbed and troubled by his brother’s words, either because he is not in a good frame of mind, or because he hates his brother. There are a great number of other reasons as well.
Yet the reason for all disturbance, if we look to its roots, its that no one finds fault with himself. This is the reason why we become angry and upset, why we sometimes have no peace in our soul. We should not be surprised, since holy men have taught us that there is no other path to peace but this.
We see that this is true in so many other people; and yet we hope, in our laziness and desire for peace, we hope or even believe that we are on the right path even when we are irritated by everything and cannot bear to accept any blame ourselves.
This is the way things are. However many virtues a man may have – they could be innumerable, they could be infinite – if he has left the path of self-accusation he will never have peace: he will be afflicted by others or he will be an affliction to them, and all his efforts will be wasted.
Photograph by Brother Brian.
Saturday, September 5, 2020
…mystical union begins with an ordinary level of zeal for the doing of God’s will…We grow not by acquisition of arcane skills but by the diminishment of self by relativizing its demands and transcending its vision. The monastery does not help us by providing us with brilliant insights and new horizons. The institution’s contribution is…to undermine the tyranny of self; it is God who creates what is new. When we say that contemplation is a gift, we mean precisely that. It cannot be acquired or merited by ourselves or communicated to us by others. Contemplation comes by virtue of our being absorbed within the Paschal Mystery. Lines by Michael Casey
Thursday, September 3, 2020
The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, late 17th - early 18th century, Nicholas Dorigny , 1658 – 1746, etching and engraving on paper after a tapestry cartoon by Raphael, 1483 - 1520, Victoria and Albert Museum. Text excerpted from a homily by Father Gabriel.
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. - Pope Francis, Laudato Si’
Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all thy creatures. - Saint Francis of Assisi, Hymn of the Creatures