Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Right Sort of People

It was the custom in the ancient world, long before engraved announcements or phones or texting or email, that when a baby was born to a respectable family, messengers would be sent out to announce the birth to the “right sort of people,” friends of the family’s social class in the best neighborhoods of the city. And so heavenly messengers announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds. Notice who gets invited to visit the baby. The very poor, these “lowest-esteemed laborers,” receive the birth announcement of God’s own Son. They are the “right sort of people” for our God, people of God’s own social standing. One scholar remarks that this open “traffic” between heaven and earth is the great sign of the awesomeness of the event of the Nativity.* The heavens are opened, angels are everywhere. There is now an easy interchange, for God’s dream of intimacy with his creation has come true in Mary’s womb. Through Mary Heaven has been irrevocably wedded to Earth in Christ Jesus. And the right sort of people must be informed. Could it be that they are people like us?

Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” It must be a heart of some amplitude and capacity. She notices the poor shepherds with messages from angels. She is well aware that she, a poor, young virgin from an undistinguished family has received an angel’s message and become pregnant with God. And she may be wondering (After all, we are more than 2000 years later.) why, if God has so favored her, would he allow this fulfillment of his plan to take place in a cattle stall, where she must place the Son of the Most High to sleep in an animal’s feeding trough. It makes no sense. In her heart, she puts together all these incongruities. She holds them all together and wonders and reflects. The word in Greek is sumballousa; it means literally to throw things together. We get the English word symbol from this same Greek expression. And I suppose it’s what we spend our lives doing as persons of faith, trying to notice God’s ways, trying to put it all together, catch the meaning, and get a glimpse of the transcendent behind/within the physical reality and the sometime absurdity. And very often like Mary, we believe, but we don’t really understand. We don’t have to.

Mother of God, Mother of Divine Love, Mother of God’s poverty and incongruity, Mary gives her whole body unreservedly to God’s desire, God’s desire to come near, to be small and insignificant. For the truth of who God is for us requires a body, a heart under which he can rest, a supple heart that will throw things together and let them be.

Image by Bradi Barth.  *See Luke Timothy Johnson.

Monday, December 28, 2020


On this feast of the Holy Innocents, martyred as infants so long ago

we recall that even now the wailing and crying 

continue in too many places -

for unborn and lowborn,

and all those who cannot keep up or speak up

or plead their own cause.

And so day after day, even hour by hour,

we pray,

hoping against hope

and daring to believe that our prayers matter,

that God hears.

Panel painting by Fra Angelico.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Holy Family

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, Mary and Joseph got settled into a regular family life only after they returned to the little village of Nazareth following the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple of Jerusalem.  There, in Nazareth, Luke says, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.”  Of Jesus as an older boy, Luke says that he was obedient to his parents and that, “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”  If the instrument of our redemption is the humanity of Jesus Christ, it was in the humdrum, concrete reality of family life and the social and religious life of first-century Palestine that the human nature of Jesus—united as it is to the divine Person of the Word—that the human nature of Jesus took on our full humanity. We believe with the Church that Jesus…blossomed in his perfect expression of a human personality through the agency of the nurturing, the love, example, and instruction he received, not only from his Heavenly Father, but from his Mother Mary and Foster Father Joseph and from the religious community or family of Israel.

Each and every one of us is called to advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and our brothers and sisters.  The part about advancing in “age” is easy!  Christian family life, Christian religious community life, as also the dedicated life of single Christians to the service of others (who become “family”) are all royal roads on the way to this advancement in wisdom that the Gospel of Luke mentions.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.”   For the word “family” you could read “community,” and you would have the statement: “The Christian community is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.”  We often get caught in the pseudo-mystic's mistake of getting overly mystical and foggy, perhaps, becoming blind to the divine presence and action upon us in our brothers and sisters, our family in Christ.

In The Joy of Love, Pope Francis wrote of all family life being a “shepherding” in mercy.  Each of us, he says, “by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others.  With Christian wisdom and insight, he says that “This is itself a way to worship God, who has sown so much good in others in the hope that we will make it grow…It is a profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them. This demands freedom and openness which enable us to appreciate their dignity. We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else.  Our loved ones merit our complete attention.  Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly. No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: 'What do you want me to do for you?' This is what we experience in the daily life of the family (or community). We are constantly reminded that each of those who live with us merits complete attention since he or she possesses infinite dignity as an object of the Father's immense love.  This gives rise to a tenderness that can stir in the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way by exercising loving care in treating the limitations of the other, especially when they are evident.” 

We discover these truths taught by Pope Francis not with some esoteric and eccentric loner behavior, but by the ordinary, obscure and laborious work of life and love with our brothers and sisters: a life full of grace and the grind of service, not glamour. As St. Benedict writes, “To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers, to God-loving fear; to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.  Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may he bring us all together to everlasting life—all together as one family.  

  Etching by Rembrandt. Excerpts from a reflection by Father Luke.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The First Martyr

As Saint Stephen is martyred, he sees the heavens open and Jesus at the right hand of the Father.  We too know that the heavens have indeed been torn apart - the newborn Christ lying in the manger has come down to us like the spring rain upon the tender grass.

With Stephen let us hand over our entire selves to God Most High, who has become for us God most low.

The Stoning of St. Stephen, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam), 1635, etching. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Friday, December 25, 2020


In his Apostolic Letter, Patris Corde, Our Holy Father Pope Francis has encouraged us to deepen our devotion to St. Joseph – a beloved father, a tender and loving father, an accepting father. As I thought about today’s celebration, I couldn’t help but think that the liturgy reveals the heart of another father – our heavenly Father, the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory and the God of all consolation. It is with the heart of a tender and loving father that our heavenly Father has prepared this feast for us, his dear children.

From the Introit to the closing hymn, the Father opens his heart to show us his overflowing love for his Only-begotten. The whole world must know it: “You are my Son; it is I who have begotten you this day.” In the dark of the night watch, the Father summons all creation to witness the glory of his beloved Son. Indeed, “the heavens proclaim the glory of God, and the firmament shows forth the work of his hands.” Tonight “deep is calling on deep” as the Father makes known in the city of David, in the Town of Spencer, that a savior has been born for us.

But not only does the Father call upon the starry heavens, he also summons the other heavens – that is, the heavenly choir of angels – to give voice to the good news of great joy for all the people”: the God-hero, Wonder-Counselor, Prince of Peace – the Father’s only son – has arrived. These heavenly spirits are the messengers of the Father’s overflowing joy. This is the glory that surrounds the angels: the overflowing joy and praise that proceeds from the Father’s heart as he contemplates his beloved Son. Let us not be afraid to receive the angels’ announcement nor to bathe in this glory, because to honor his Son, the Father is granting peace “to those on whom his favor rests,” that is, to us.

But there is another mystery that is unfolding this morning. The Father is gathering and preparing a Bride for his Son. He has already prepared a bridal chamber for his Son in the womb of his holy mother; and now that the Son comes forth “like a bridegroom coming from his tent,” the Father wants the Bride to meet him. Certainly, the Bride is simple and poor. But that is what pleases the Father. First, the chosen people are brought in through the persons of Mary and Joseph. Then the lowly shepherds bring the first fruits of devotion for the dawning Church. Finally, there are the “people who walked in darkness,” the nations far and wide, called to share the light and glory of the chosen people of Israel. All these will have the “yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster” smashed by the weakness of the Father’s only Son. Today’s liturgy reveals the heart of our heavenly Father, a loving and tender Father who so loved the world that he gave his only Son, “born of a woman, born under the law…so that we might receive adoption” as his children and the Spirit that cries out in our hearts, “Abba, Father” – a tender Father; a loving Father. “The zeal of the Lord of hosts” – that is, our heavenly Father – has done this!

Murillo's Nativity.  Abbot Vincent's homily on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

On Christmas Eve

Later in his ministry, Jesus will remind a follower that he, “the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” But for now, the Infant Jesus rests in the arms of Mary and Joseph, hidden with them in an ordinary life of pleasures, dull routine, sorrows, aches and pains like ours. And even now, he asks each of us if he can rest his head against our heart. How shall we respond?

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

O Emmanuel!

This evening in the final O Antiphon we chant to Christ Jesus:

O Emmanuel, king and lawgiver, desire of the nations, 

Savior of all people:
Come and set us free, Lord our God. 

Emmanuel is God with us, in all that we go through, in our joys and sorrows. 

As monks, it is our duty and privilege to become attuned to the Lord's continual advent. For if it is true, as we believe, that one day the Lord will return once and for all to gather us all together and bring us home to the Father in the end time, we also know that his coming toward us is a relentless, already-happening reality. And we are meant to be experts-- experts at waiting, attentiveness; experts at emptiness, the emptiness that is constantly clearing a space for him. In Christ Jesus, our Emmanuel, God has made a giant leap towards us. Jesus our Lord is always drawing near. And attentiveness to his presence is the secret we were made for.

At the end of Vespers, we go to the manger scene prepared by Brother Jude, and Father Abbot blesses our creche.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

O King!

This evening at Vespers we chant:

O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, you are the cornerstone that binds two into one.  Come, and save man whom you fashioned out of clay. 

King may be a title we need to remind us of the place we want Jesus to have in our lives, in our hearts. But it is simply not a title Jesus chooses for himself. He has come to serve, not to be served. And so he tells us: "Whatever you did to one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me."  He, the highest, speaking from his throne of glory, thus declares himself to have wholly passed over, in his actual existence on earth, into “the least”, and these, the lowest, he also claims as his own brothers and sisters. Christ’s eternal origin in his heavenly Father, dynamically mediated through the Incarnation, creates a new brotherhood among all human beings. This is not a natural brotherhood, existing by the mere fact that we are all human beings.  This is a supernatural kinship that comes into being at a specific moment in time, as a new creation, when the eternal Son assumes the fullness of our humanity into his divine person in the womb of blessed Mary.  

Meditation by Father Simeon

Monday, December 21, 2020


 This evening we call, out to the Lord Jesus:

O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice: come and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Faith is light. In John’s Gospel, Christ says of himself: “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.” John 12:46 

“We, therefore, are not the origin of this light but it is the great gift of Jesus as light of the world. As Jesus exclaims to Peter after his confession, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.’ ”

The consequence of this supernatural gift is that “Those who believe, see; they see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for it comes through the risen Christ, the morning star that never sets.” And with the light of faith, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see. This vision is never simply the assimilation of an idea, for faith  “is born from an encounter with the living God.”  And the “living God calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives.”

This love calls us to go out of ourselves, it summons us to a new life. When we respond, love transforms us. Through love “we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment and that a vision of the future opens before us. Faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.” Faith “sees to the extent that it journeys, to the extent that it chooses to enter into the horizons opened up by God’s word.”

Reflections on Lumen Fidei, the encyclical letter of Pope Francis, by Father Timothy.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

O Key!

This evening we call out to Jesus as "Key of David." Keys open doors. Jesus is the key to our freedom from all that would frighten, cripple or close us in on ourselves. He offers us the small, fragile hand of God beckoning us not to be afraid. Whatever our fears, our sins, Jesus notices and offers us accompaniment and a way out. He assures us that we are more than all that. He has come to save us from all that would paralyze and hurt us. 

Now in Him we have the power to forgive, not because “It’s alright. It’s nothing.” No, the opposite is true- very much has happened. We’ve been hurt, ignored, but we are able to absorb the hurts and forgive because we trust in Christ Jesus who is at our side, even within us, assuring us that pain and fear and suffering are powerless to define who we truly are. We belong to him. He is our Key to freedom and peace.

O Key of David,
opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom:
come and free the prisoners of darkness!

Gislebertus of Autun, column capital, Cathedral of Saint Lazare,  c. 1120-1135, Autun, France.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

O Radix!


O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

before you kings are speechless,

to you the nations will make their prayer:

Come and deliver us and delay no longer!

We chant this evening’s antiphon, acclaiming Jesus as “Root of Jesse.” And we recall that he is the Origin and Source of all our good, all our hope, all our longing. This antiphon is a kind of gloss on the words of the prophet Isaiah:

On that day,

The root of Jesse,

set up as a signal for the peoples—

Him the nations will seek out;

his dwelling shall be glorious.

On that day,

The Lord shall again take it in hand

to reclaim the remnant of his people

…He shall raise a signal to the nations

and gather the outcasts of Israel...

Jesus is truly the One who gathers and joins together in hope all peoples, scattered by hopelessness, hate, and fear. As we name his “Root of Jesse,” we pray especially for all migrants and refugees.

Friday, December 18, 2020

On December 18

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

This evening in our Vespers antiphon we address Jesus, using the Hebrew title for Lord "Adonai." Indeed Jesus is for us Lord of lords, Master and Ruler of all creation, present in the burning bush on Sinai, and still with us now in all our ordinariness. We recall the words of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning: 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:

But only he who sees takes off his shoes.

Let us notice and honor the Lord in the ordinary events of our day.
Abbey colored glass photographed by Brother Daniel.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

O Wisdom

As we begin this evening our novena in preparation for Christmas, we name Jesus first of all "Wisdom." And we recall Paul's words to the Corinthians, "Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God." So it is that the promised Messiah, God Most High, will come to us hidden, small, clothed in the flesh of our precarious humanness. This is the wisdom of God, God's way of doing things.

O Wisdom, you came forth from the mouth of the Most High and, reaching from beginning to end, you ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come, and teach us the way of prudence.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Go and Tell

Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?’” At that time Jesus cured many of their diseases, sufferings, and evil spirits; he also granted sight to many who were blind. And Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. Luke 7

Perhaps John the Baptist expected a different sort of Messiah, someone who would be more of a rabble-rouser, more than the One who cures and heals and consoles.

What have seen and heard that clearly attests to the presence of God's Holy One here in our midst, right now? Who were we expecting? Who is Jesus for us? When do we notice him?

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Refusing Joy

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the marriage feast, but they would not come. Again, he sent other servants, saying, “Tell those who were called, ‘Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast.’” But they made light of it and went off, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them. The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. Then he said to his servants, “The wedding is ready, but those called were not worthy. Go therefore to the thoroughfares, and call to the marriage feast as many as you find.” And those servants went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good; so, the wedding hall was filled with guests. Matthew 22

I understand this parable as illustrating our very puzzling human refusal of the extraordinary joy God offers us. Why would any of us actually refuse joy, an attitude that seems to do violence to our own best interests? And yet, isn’t this precisely the essence of every serious sin: to throw back in God’s face the authentically good and delightful things he wants to give us because instead, we prefer other things that we may call ‘good’ but which are in fact terribly limited and certainly do not satisfy the deepest desires of our soul? God wants to give us lasting joy, and our response is often a barely polite no-thank-you. We are really not interested in what he has to offer. If we do this often enough, we condemn ourselves to a lifetime of bitter frustration. This habit of refusal, further, may well lead us to a gradual loss of faith. Where there is no joy to nourish it, faith dries up. Then we will then blame God for our interior state of terminal unhappiness, whereas all along it is we who have refused to drop everything at his invitation and join in the Wedding Feast of his beloved Son, the only lasting source of joy in this world or the next. 

The invitation is a jubilant summons for us to activate to the fullest our capacity for Joy in Being, a call to consume exquisite food and wine and dance to ecstatic music—all as a dramatic representation of the truth that, ultimately, ours is a vocation to be vibrantly rather than to do dutifully.

The king’s invitation to his subjects to drop everything and come to the wedding feast suddenly generates a massive crisis in their sense of the meaning of their lives. For those who think that meaning and happiness in life can only be produced by one’s own planning and striving, the spontaneous offer of unearned leisure, exquisite food and drink, and festive delight. Will come as an absurdity and a provocation that touch raw nerves. Why? Because above rest, joy, and delight we value our mad autonomy as masters of our own life and destiny. To be offered rest freely by another is perceived by our ego as a mocking condescension, perhaps even (to our dark paranoia) a threat of extermination. For, if my life ultimately receives the fullness of meaning and joy from Another, what will I have left to accomplish? And, unless I am continually accomplishing my own designs and giving shape to my own life, will I even exist?

As for the outrageous killing in the parable: What kind of person murders messengers simply out of annoyance at their insistence that one come to the king’s feast, where he wants only to honor and delight his guests? Is such a symbolic reaction really so far-fetched? Do we not often react with subtle violence in self-defense when we feel cornered by love, by grace? Do we not perhaps fear above all to be surrounded by a love that will not leave us alone, or leave us the same? Do we not habitually prefer the comfortable and habitual misery of the spiritual couch-potato to the risky freedom and intense joy of actively loving and being loved? With unending sorrow. I remember one grotesque occasion in my youth when, roughly and angrily, I shrugged off my grandmother, who was Love itself personified, simply because she was gently rubbing my back and offering to cook me breakfast. What can possibly account for such a perverse reaction on my part, which enacted to perfection the truth of the parable?

Meditation by Father Simeon.

Sunday, December 13, 2020


Today is the Sunday of Rejoicing, Gaudete Sunday--the great feast of Christmas is around the corner and the Final Coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ is ever closer.  The readings are all about glad tidings, rejoicing heartily in the Lord, about spirits rejoicing in God my savior and about exhortations to “Rejoice always” and, finally, in the midst of our winter darkness, today's Gospel speaks about John's testifying to the light.  Well, we can all testify to a lot of darkness right now: darkness on our country's political horizons (it is hard to believe what is going on around us and in the courts) and the darkness and uncertainty we face in the Covid-19 pandemic (when will this horror end?)-the threat of death from the disease is coupled with the threat of economic ruin for millions of American workers and people the world over.  I am often tempted to pray to God, “Dear Lord, when I wake up tomorrow, please make it be 2022!”

This week Pope Francis has, in a sense, in declaring the year to be dedicated to St. Joseph, told us to Ite ad Joseph--Go to Joseph—Joseph who can remain a just and compassionate man even after finding out his wife is pregnant with someone else's child,  Joseph who can trust Mary  with her fantastic tale of an angelic annunciation, Joseph the courageous husband and foster father who can drop all his own life's plans and flee to Egypt across the terrible wilderness to save his son from a murderous ruler, Joseph who can trust God about leaving the safety of Egypt and bring his family back to Israel after the death of Herod.  In these dark times men of remarkable faith such as John the Baptist and Joseph can be witnesses to us of how to rejoice instead of despairing. The answer is, of course, to remain centered on Christ Jesus our Lord and Mary, His and our Mother. John the Baptist, who in today's gospel pericope witnesses to the true Light, in a later chapter of the Fourth Gospel, witnesses to his insight into joy about that Light: he says, “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom; the best man, who stands and listens to him rejoices greatly as he hears the bridegroom's voice.  So, this joy of mine has been made complete. He must increase; I must decrease.”  It is John's closeness to Jesus that brings him joy, nothing else.  It is what Jesus can accomplish, not what he can accomplish.  In John's allusion to the “bride,” we Cistercians can think readily of Mary our Mother, the bride of the Canticle in many traditional interpretations of the Song of Songs from medieval times.

The year which began on 8 December and ends on 8 December 2021, has been dedicated, as I said, by Pope Francis to Saint Joseph, the Patron of the Universal Church.  Joseph, like John the Baptist, centered his life on his foster son, Jesus, and his son's Mother Mary, Joseph's own Bride.  Two passages in the Apostolic Letter announcing the Year of Saint Joseph moved me as being so relevant to my, our monastic vocation here in Saint Joseph's Abbey.  In the preface, the Pope writes, “Each of us can discover in Joseph—the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence—an intercessor, support and guide in times of trouble.  St. Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation.” I thought here of the hidden but very apostolic prayer of our Order, our monastery, of each one of us, for the Church and the world.  I thought of the love similar to Joseph's that we are called to radiate, hidden as we are, in the heart of the Church—hidden as he was in the heart of the Holy Family.  The other passage is the fifth section that has the heading “A Creatively Courageous Father.”  Here I was astounded by the Pope's insight that (quote) “We should always consider whether we ourselves are protecting Jesus and Mary, for they are also mysteriously entrusted to our own responsibility, care and safekeeping.” What did he say!! How is that?

Francis explains: “Saint Joseph could not be other than the Guardian of the Church, for the Church is the continuation of the Body of Christ in history, even as Mary's motherhood is reflected in the motherhood of the Church. In his continued protection for the Church, Joseph continues to protect the Child and his Mother, and we too, by our love for the Church, continue to love the Child and his Mother...We must learn to love the child and his mother, to love the sacraments and charity, to love the Church and the poor.  Each of these is always the child and his mother.” Into this celebration and reception of the Eucharist we should lovingly bring this concern of Saint Joseph to love the child and his mother, to unite ourselves with the poor (that is, the needy, the suffering or dying person, every stranger, every prisoner, every infirm person), with the suffering Church, with all oppressed people in their struggle for a better life, with those seeking to find God and with those who seek to hide from God.

Buried in the footnotes of the Apostolic Letter is a prayer Pope Francis prays every morning. I see it as a perfect prayer for our troubled political and plague-ridden times. It expresses our longing to rejoice in a happy outcome to what we face today. He says that it expresses devotion and trust, and even poses a certain challenge to St. Joseph: “Glorious Patriarch Saint Joseph, whose power makes the impossible possible, come to our aid in these times of anguish and difficulty.  Take under your protection the serious and troubling situations that we commend to you, that they may have a happy outcome.  Our beloved father, all our trust is in you. Let it not be said that we invoked you in vain, and since you can do everything with Jesus and Mary, show us that your goodness is as great as your power. Amen.”

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Father Luke's homily for this Third Sunday of Advent.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Our Patroness

Today we remember Our Lady of Guadalupe, Patroness of our Land. Each year on this day we set up a special shrine in the transept of our church with her image adorned by flowers and two candles that are illumined throughout the day. She is our Mother and our Refuge in all tribulation. We are greatly consoled by her words to Saint Juan Diego in 1531: 

Do listen, do be assured of it, my littlest one, that nothing at all should alarm you, should trouble you, nor in any way disturb your countenance, your heart. For am I not here, I, your mother? Are you not in the cool of my shadow? In the breeziness of my shade? Is it not I that am your source of contentment? Are you not cradled in my mantle, cuddled in the crossing of my arms? Is there anything else you need?

Friday, December 11, 2020

Come Out to Meet Him

The Bridegroom arrives unexpectedly, at midnight to be precise, at the moment when the darkness is thickest and those awaiting him are plunged into unconsciousness. “There was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’” Everyone is caught off guard; everyone will now be seen by the Bridegroom exactly as he or she is in reality, with unkempt hair and bleary eyes and a sleep-sodden brain. No time now for last-minute cosmetic touch-ups before the mirror. No time now to prepare apologies and explanations. At long last, he has truly arrived and is standing here before me, bigger than life. What have I to offer him? What I do not already have with me, what I have not already become—that I surely cannot now magically manufacture or borrow from another! Christ wants me and not a false, borrowed identity.

“There was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’” The crucial turning-point of the parable has arrived, the time of ultimate revelation and judgment, the moment of inescapable truth. The oil of the parable that is now required represents the unique thing, the distinctive personhood and non-interchangeable identity each one of us has to offer the Bridegroom...

My selfless love for other human beings for the sake of Christ, my explicit awareness that the love with which I love is but the momentary location in myself of the universally circulating Love of God, which I choose to make my own by giving it free passage through my being: this is the divinely acquired, virginal habit of being which the Lord Jesus calls purity of heart and which he himself perfectly embodies. It is the quality of soul and body that enables a person “to see God” in Jesus, to encounter the long-yearned-for Bridegroom face to face, and so to receive from his glance the fruit-bearing rays of his divinity, as the apostles did at the Transfiguration.

Madonna of the Clouds, Donatello, about 1425–35, marble, 13 1/16 x 12 5/8 in., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Saint Juan Diego


We recall these words of Our Blessed Lady to Saint Juan Diego, whose memorial we celebrate today:

Listen, Juan, my dearest and youngest son….know for sure, my dearest… that I am the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth. I want very much to have a little house built here for me, in which I will show Him, I will exalt Him and make Him manifest. I will give Him to the people in all my personal love, in my compassion, in my help, in my protection: because I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me. Here I will hear their weeping, their complaints, and heal all their sorrows, hardships, and sufferings…

Juan Diego is the Church’s first saint indigenous to the Americas. Saint John Paul praised him as “a simple, humble Indian” who accepted Christianity without giving up his identity as an Indian. After the roses gathered in Juan’s coarse tilma were transformed into the miraculous image of Our Lady, little more is known about him. Eventually, he lived near the shrine constructed at Tepeyac and was revered as holy, unselfish, and compassionate.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Immaculate Conception

Fitting in was always important, perhaps too important. And if you grew up too different in any way, not strong enough, not big enough, too soft, too dark, too tall, too big, too little, too whatever for whatever reason…your course was set early on, you didn’t measure up, you desperately wanted to blend in, but you were an outsider, you sensed it, and so, you learned how topass,” how to be nondescript. Fitting in was worth it. Passing, as something you were not - as anything else that would fit in with what was supposed to be - was often the norm with all of the self-abasement and shame that it might entail.*

God too, the One who is completely Other, had longed for endless ages - to pass so he could fit in. And so, he comes up with plan at once scandalous and achingly beautiful. Only his love and desperate yearning for us can explain it. God wanted to be ordinary. He will take on human flesh and become one of his own creatures, so that he can sneak in to rescue us from sin and pain and death. Mary, a poor young virgin, with nothing to recommend her but her very nothingness, will be his accomplice in this loving subterfuge. God will hide himself in the lovely darkness of her most chaste womb. This is surely God’s most artful and outlandish maneuver, and Mary by her fiat will become his great coconspirator. No wonder Saint Bernard will say that all of heaven, patriarchs and prophets, all of creation, waited for her response to Gabriel with bated breath. Then at last, Mary surrenders herself to God’s desire with serenity and dazzling availability: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."

Truth is God is the one who is always, always searching for us. And this morning we heard his very first recorded question. God says to Adam: “Where are you? Where are you, Man?” Embarrassed at his lost innocence, naked and vulnerable and sinful, Adam is hiding in the underbrush. “Where are you?” Mary’s reply, centuries later, is the healing antidote to Adam’s fearfulness and furtiveness. She is utterly present. Mary stands right in the middle of the garden, small, delicate, defenseless, unlikely. She comes forward, unembarrassed by her nothingness and says simply, “Here I am, you called me. Behold, I am all yours.” We can well imagine God’s joy, for through Mary, in Mary, with Mary God can finally be what God could not be without her - real flesh and blood. God’s dream of having a body is now possible. God’s heart is ravished by the beauty of Mary’s humility. She has nothing to hide. And amazingly, Mary’s smallness is room enough for God’s immensity.


If sin is resistance to God, resistance to grace, resistance to love, Mary’s privilege, her Immaculate Conception, points to her predisposition through God’s grace from the moment of her conception to receive as much grace as the Father desires to bestow, to love without measure, to be entirely available to embrace the Mercy and Compassion that Christ Jesus will become in her. She allows this intimate communion of two solitudes – God’s and our own. Mary gets caught up in God’s dream for our flesh. And the anguished plea of the psalmist, “How long will you hide your face?” is no longer an unrequited cry into the darkness.  Mary’s yes allows God to be visible.

Clothed in the lovely flesh that he has received from Mary, Jesus comes down to the very low and lonely place where we are. Jesus the ultimate Outsider arrives to reverse things, taking on our flesh so that he can take our part against all the forces that would keep us isolated and trapped. Then finally, in his passion, death and resurrection, he will dupe Satan who has always been looking for ways to convince us that we losers, outsiders, damned in our isolation and trapped in our sins. But in Jesus’ kingdom there will be no longer be insiders and outsiders; everyone will matter; everyone fits in. Differences will not be erased but enhanced. Because of his passing into us, no one will ever have to “pass” again; all will belong, for all will be made one in the blood and water gushing from his pierced heart, all divisions washed away. A Church is born from his wounded side and Mary is its mother. Giving her flesh to be God’s own, Mary has allowed all of this, allowed God to be vulnerable, woundable, and that is all he ever wanted.

Mary’s fiat is not some bland passivity, but the active engagement of one who is in love and so eager to follow the Other, ready to immerse herself in the project the Beloved has been dreaming of for ages. This is the truth of Mary’s “let it be done to me.” The immeasurable enormity of God’s love for us, for our flesh demanded a vast loving heart. Mary gives this to God. And so, she becomes once and forever the great conduit for Jesus, she the graced enabler – making all his compassionate presence endlessly available to us. She is forever pregnant with the Mercy that is God in Christ.

My brothers, in our own lives here in the monastery there are countless annunciations, incessant invitations from God to each of us, “Will you? Could you? Would you be open to receiving me, and bearing me to the world? Open to the joy and pain this will inevitably bring? Will you surrender to me, give me everything?” Once again, this morning hidden, quiet and small in a bit of Bread, in the relentlessness of his loving condescension, Jesus comes, desiring with great desire to pass simply into our flesh, as he did into Mary’s womb. How will we respond?

* See Harry Belafonte, in an New York Times article of November 8, 2016: What Do We Have to Lose? Everything. 

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The End Is In The Beginning

Today we begin the Gospel of Mark, which we will follow throughout the coming liturgical year. It opens with: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

As we know, the first line of Mark serves as a title for his whole Gospel. From the first Mark lets us, his readers, in on his secret: Jesus, meaning the Lord saves, is the Christ, the anointed one, the fulfillment of the hope of Israel, the long-awaited Messiah.  And he is Son of God. Mark will unfold for us what this last title means gradually, as we follow along with him through the course of his narrative. Mark’s end is in his beginning and his beginning is in his end. Jesus Christ, the Son of God. On our part, the beginning and end is faith.

We’ve all already heard Mark’s story countless times. From the beginning we can respond to Jesus’ question to his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” with the same answer as Peter: “You are the Christ.” And with the centurion under the Cross, we can say, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” Yet, at the same time, we take up this Gospel as ourselves beginners, aware that whatever our level of knowledge may be, it is only the entry point into an ever-greater mystery, which we have only begun to grasp, whose depths are inexhaustible and will always lie beyond our capacity to penetrate. We also recognize that however much good God has done in our lives, we remain sinners very much in need of redemption, who long to see his promises fulfilled in ourselves, in our community, and our world. At the same time, we come as men who love God, who desire not just to know who the Lord is, but to have an encounter, ultimately, to see his face.

Mark wastes no time in showing us the starting point, which is: heed the voice of the one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.” John the Baptist makes this preparation concrete: those who wish to be ready for the Lord’s coming must undergo a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Again, the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end. Our life in the Church begins with baptism for the forgiveness of sin and at the end of our journey she sends us off with repentance for the forgiveness of sins. At no time do we ever cease to heed the call to prepare the way of the Lord and make straight his paths. As we move through Mark’s Gospel this coming year, we will need to keep this word present to us, if our journey is to bear fruit.

This presupposes that we carry with us an awareness of the need for the forgiveness of sins, which calls for a certain level of self-knowledge. Which brings us to a spiritual theme very dear to our Cistercian tradition: if we are to know God and see his face, we must first look within, return to our hearts, and let ourselves be drawn by the Spirit to God along the path of self-knowledge.

I thought that along with John the Baptist pointing out the way, it might be helpful to look at this path from self-knowledge to knowledge of God taking St. Bernard as our guide. This a rich and fairly comprehensive theme in Bernard, so I decided to focus on Sermon 36 of his commentary on the Song of Songs. There Bernard says,

“I wish that before everything else a man should know himself.” For two reasons: one, because of its “usefulness” to us, and two, because “right order” demands it.  “Right order” because our first concern ought to be “what we are”. Self-knowledge is ‘useful’ to us because progress on the road of knowledge of “what we are” leads to ‘humility’, and as we grow in humility, we shed our sense of ‘self-importance’. These two, knowledge of “what we are” and “humility” provide the basis on which to build. “For, unless there is a durable foundation of humility, the spiritual edifice has no hope of standing.”

Behind this statement lie two scripture quotes: the first is from St. Paul: “If anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw…” and so forth. “This foundation” is Jesus Christ, as Paul declared in the previous verse: “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. It is the humble man who gets this. Jesus Christ and humility are the durable foundation on which his spiritual edifice may be built. The self-important man, on the contrary, has laid his own foundation, which is himself. It is impossible to begin on a foundation other than Jesus Christ and humility and arrive at the goal, which is Jesus Christ reigning in the humble soul. The second scriptural quote comes from Mark: “if a house is divided against itself, it cannot stand”. The self-important man is a ‘divided house’; in this house, Christ is not the all-important one, rather the self-important self vies with Christ for dominion. Only in the humble soul is Christ able to take up his rightful place of honor and reign in peace.

Again, the end is in the beginning and the beginning is in the end. As Paul goes on to say, on the final “Day the work of each will come to light 14 If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. 15 But if someone's work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.”

Bernard continues, “And there is nothing more effective, more adapted to the acquiring of humility than to find out the truth about oneself. There must be no dissimulation, no attempt at self-deception, but facing up to one’s real self without flinching and without turning aside.” If God is to act, he needs this clarity from us; he needs us to engage in the sincere search of the truth about ourselves.

Bernard goes on to say that when we do dare to take stock of ourselves in the clear light of truth, we discover that we have forfeited our original likeness to God. We discover that we live rather in a region of unlikeness, a regio dissimilitudinis. Seeing ourselves in this clear light we “groan from the depths of a misery to which we can no longer remain blind”. From this depth we are driven to cry out to the Lord like the Psalmist: “In your truth, you have humbled me”.

“How, says Bernard, can he escape being genuinely humbled on acquiring this true self-knowledge, on seeing the burden of sin that he carries.” Behind this statement, lies the verse from 2 Timothy: “For some of these corrupt men who will appear in the last days slip into homes and make captives of women weighed down by sins, led by various desires…” and so on, The humble man, seeing his own burden of sin knows that he is no different than these women. He is aware of the oppressive weight of his mortal body, the corrupting influence of sensual desires; he sees his blindness, his worldliness, his weakness, his embroilment in repeated errors…that he is one to whom vice is welcome, virtue repugnant, and so on. For Bernard, then, these women would represent the fallen state of humanity without the grace of Christ.

“As for me, Bernard says, as long as I look at myself, my eye is filled with bitterness (Job 17:2). But if I look up and fix my eyes on the aid of the divine mercy, this happy vision of God soon tempers the bitter vision of myself, and I say to him: ‘I am disturbed within so I will call you to mind from the land of the Jordan.’”

Bernard continues, “This vision of God is no little thing. It reveals him to us as listening compassionately to our prayers, as truly kind and merciful, as one who will not indulge his resentment. His very nature is to be good, to show mercy always, and to spare. By this kind of experience, and in this way, God makes himself known to us for our good. When a man first discovers that he is in difficulties, he will cry out to the Lord who will hear him and say: ‘I will deliver you and you shall glorify me’. In this way, your knowledge will become visible to you according as his image is being renewed within you And you, gazing confidently on the glory of the Lord with unveiled face, we will be transformed into that same image with ever-increasing brightness, by the work of the Spirit of the Lord.”

In conclusion, when we persist within this rhythm of returning to ourselves and undergoing the inevitable bitterness of self-knowledge that leads to humility and from that position, looking up, call out to God as our only aid, experiencing his compassionate listening, kindness , and mercy, we will find real and substantial changes occurring in our life. Not only changes in behavior, on the moral level, but perhaps more importantly, a new way of regarding ourselves, our brother, and our God; less burdened, less preoccupied, less subject to temptation, discouragement, anger, sorrow, disappointment, and resentment, and the whole gamut of vices and their consequences. Perhaps we will be released from old habits or perhaps they will remain, but their claim on us will not be so relentless and domineering. We will find ourselves more available to others, easier to be around, less quick to judge, quicker to forgive, infused with a light and a joy that we know does not have its source in ourselves but comes from above. All this belongs to the fulfillment of God’s promise to deliver us that we may glorify Him, which is his pleasure. This is the path to gazing on the Lord’s face with our face unveiled, a face that has nothing to hide because everything is already known to both parties, God and ourselves. In this new vision, there is only delight in the mutual gaze.  

Today's homily by Father Timothy.

Friday, December 4, 2020


Fittingly enough on this Advent morning, we celebrate Saint John of Damascus the great defender of icons. In the eighth century when there was fanatical opposition to images in the Eastern churches, John argued that Christ’s coming in the flesh as the image of the invisible God had changed everything. 

These are his words:

I make an image of the God whom I see. I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God. How could God be born out of lifeless things? And if God’s body is God by its union with him, it is changeless. The nature of God remains the same as before, the flesh created in time is brought to life by a logical and reasoning soul.

I honor all matter and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was the three-times happy and blessed wood of the Cross not matter? Was the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary not matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Tomb, the source of our resurrection — was it not matter? Is the holy book of the Gospels not matter? Is the blessed table which gives us the Bread of Life not matter? Are the gold and silver, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made not matter? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either stop venerating all these things or submit to the tradition of the Church in the venerating of images, honoring God and his friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter for it is not despicable. Nothing that God has made is.

Icon written by Brother Terence.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Saint Francis Xavier

Today we remember Saint Francis Xavier, one of the first companions of Saint Ignatius Loyola. They always remained close friends and exchanged letters while Francis Xavier was on mission in the Far East and Ignatius stayed in Rome. One letter from Ignatius to Francis Xavier concludes poignantly, "I shall never forget you. Entirely your own, Ignatius.” 

Imagine the deep friendship between these two saints. We hear an echo of the words of our own Cistercian Father, Saint Ælred of Rievaulx, “God is friendship.” Indeed it is through the love of those we love, that we may learn what God is like.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


Reflecting on the monastic vocation, Thomas Merton writes, 

He who hears the voice of God must recognize that he is called to an adventure whose ending he cannot foresee because it is in the hands of God. That is the risk and the challenge of the monastic calling: we surrender our lives into the hands of God and never take them back. As to the joys, the hopes, the fears, the needs and the fulfillments that will come to us - we do not plan on them, and we do not evade them. Our business is to seek first the Kingdom of God in solitude and in prayer. The rest will be taken care of.

As monks, as spouses, as parents, we are continually learning how to surrender, surrender our lives in love, trusting in the Father's care for us. This is how the kingdom happens.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020


In these darkest days of the year, the shortest days, we begin our Advent watch. We light Advent candles and recall the Lord's endless desire to come to us. We recall our desperate need for Him, our only Hope and Deepest Desire. And so, we will try to make more room for Christ in these Advent days, a place in our hearts, in our community where Hope can grow and flourish, as He did in the secret darkness of Mary's womb.