Saturday, July 31, 2021

Saint Ignatius Loyola

In the closing meditation of his Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius Loyola asks the retreatant to ponder, cuánto el Señor desea dárseme how much the Lord wants to give himself to me. Certainly, this arises out of Ignatius' own experience of Christ's love for him. In Ignatius' expression, we hear an echo of Saint Augustine's words centuries earlier, "God thirsts to be thirsted after." 

Given the endless loving desire of our God and Lord for us, our only work minute by minute, all day long is to allow the Lord easy access to our hearts. He only asks us to crack the door open. If we give him even just a little space, he will enter and love and transform our hearts, our very selves.

How much the Lord desires to give himself to each of us. Relentlessly. If only we understood. 


Friday, July 30, 2021

Saint Peter Chrysologus

 

Saint Peter Chrysologus, whom we honor today, puts the following words on the lips of the Risen Lord Jesus, who still bears his wounds as he appears to his disciples:

In me, I want you to see your own body, your members, your heart, your bones, your blood. You may fear what is divine, but why not love what is human? You may run away from me as the Lord, but why not run to me as your father? Perhaps you are filled with shame for causing my bitter passion. Do not be afraid. This cross inflicts a mortal injury, not on me, but on death. These nails no longer pain me, but only deepen your love for me. I do not cry out because of these wounds, but through them, I draw you into my heart. My body was stretched on the cross as a symbol, not of how much I suffered, but of my all-embracing love. I count it no loss to shed my blood: it is the price I have paid for your ransom. Come, then, return to me and learn to know me as you father, who repays good for evil, love for injury, and boundless charity for piercing wounds.

Indeed we are called to recognize our own humanity in both the Crucified and Risen Lord. In the incarnation Jesus reflects back to us, actually reveals to us, our own humanity. St. Leo the Great will add in a Lenten homily: “Is there anyone whose own weakness is not recognizable in Christ’s?” And he assures us: “The body that lay lifeless in the tomb, that rose again on the third day, and that ascended above the heavens to the Father’s right hand, belongs to us.”

Reflections by Father Dominic.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Hosts of the Lord


We celebrate Mary, Martha, and Lazarus today, and so we travel to Bethany. After Lazarus has been raised by Jesus there is a dinner in the house of his dear friends and Mary washes Jesus’ feet. This often reminds us of another scene in John’s Gospel- Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. We know that foot washing was something a Gentile slave could be required to do, but never a Jewish slave. Foot-washing was typically something wives did for their husbands, children for their parents, and disciples for their teachers. There is undoubtedly a level of intimacy is involved in these last scenarios. And in Jesus' case, there is an obvious reversal of roles.* Jesus calls his disciples his friends. And by washing their feet he overcomes in this act of loving intimacy the inequality that exists between them. And so he establishes an intimacy with them that signals their access to everything he had received from his Father, even the glory that is his as Beloved Son.* 


We like to imagine that Jesus was inspired to wash their feet because he had been so touched by what was done for him at Bethany six days before Passover when Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil and anointed his feet most tenderly and dried them with her hair. Was this something that inspired his own most loving action on this night before he died? Perhaps. In any event, Peter cannot bear the thought of his teacher doing this. We can imagine that probably it was something his wife had done for him many times. And doubtless, he like the others is embarrassed by the intimacy of it, the touch, the loving condescension, and the unaffected tenderness, the unmanageability of the love that is so available. It’s disorienting. We see now it is a parable, a parallel to what he would do for us on the cross the next afternoon.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. *See Biblegateway.com. and Sandra Schneiders Written That You May Believe,.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Praying

Perhaps most especially for us as monks, loving our enemies will mean praying for them, for to pray for those who hurt us is to love them. And if you’ve ever tried it, you know how dumb and awkward and even phony it can feel. But we also know that not doing so may have dire consequences. For soon the inner room of our heart will no longer be a place for prayer but a shoddy hovel for wound-licking. We pray for those who hurt us, even though sometimes it feels impossible.   

It is our work, our duty, our promise is to pray. And we know it is the only way to make sense of hurts- individual, communal, national. And so we pray. We pray for victims and for perpetrators, for politicians who believe what we do, and for those who might seem to disregard our cherished values. And our praying helps us parse the incongruity, make some sense of it. Prayer helps us get to the core of things. We pray; for craziness and hurt and broken hearts are too many. We can pray because we know our own poverty; we have come to know our own foolishness. We pray because we realize that we are no better than the worst. No better.

Our praying is always for; it is our humble privilege and responsibility. In a life marked by, what our Constitutions describe as, a “hidden apostolic fruitfulness,” what we do here matters, because it lies at the heart of the Church, very close to the heart of God who sustains all things.

Our life of prayer affords us the extravagance of luxuriating in our helplessness and utter dependence on God. Our praying is always unaccomplished but perfect in that it allows God to accomplish all things in us and through us. And perhaps our perfection as monks consists most of all in this- that we accept willingly the burden and responsibility of honest attention to our weakness, the weakness that lets us pray. This is the secret we were made for. 

Photograph of the Abbey's Manning Hill by Brother Anthony Khan.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Abundant Bread


When Jesus feeds that enormous crowd, the dream comes true - a banquet has been prepared by the Messiah for God's holy people. Jesus, God’s own Word of love, himself feeds the hungry as they recline on the grass, in their Sabbath rest. And the Psalmist’s dream comes true- “He has prepared a banquet for me…fresh and green are the pastures where He gives me repose.” And what Isaiah glimpsed from afar in prophetic reverie is now seen clearly- “they shall be fed with rich sweet food on my holy mountain; no more fear or hunger or tears or mourning.” 

All this abundance only dreamt of has come true, taken flesh in Jesus; bread ‘as much as they wanted,’ as much as we want. Perhaps it was on this mountain that Jesus understood most clearly for the first time that it would never be enough for Him, merely to feed those He loved even with such abandon and abundance. Perhaps it was after this busiest day of blessing and doling out all that bread that Jesus dreamt of Himself being our Food, dreamed that He had to do it, dreamed with longing to be hidden in His creatures, dreamt of Himself as real Food. Perhaps it was also here that Jesus dreamt the frightening dream of another mountaintop, where He saw too clearly the only way that He could feed us forever with the healing Bread of Himself. Then and there he dreamt the most frightening dream of all, the dream of Golgotha, where the Bread would finally be broken to pieces for us. 

What else is there left to say if God has loved us so, if God wants to feed us with Himself so much? Maybe all we need to say is "Thank you" and open our hands and hearts to receive Him  Desire is the only thing left- preferring nothing whatever to the Bread, becoming ourselves desire for him, becoming even bread for one another; realizing in all truth that he has spoiled us so that nothing else can really please or fill us but Him. He wants the joy of filling us up. That is what love does - it gives itself away. And so once again we come to him, to whom else shall we go. Here at this altar, we are invited to give ourselves, as he gives himself, and to get caught up in the self-forgetfulness that is God.
Photograph by Brothr Btsin,                 .

Friday, July 23, 2021

With Saint Bridget of Sweden


O Jesus! I remember the abundant outpouring of Blood which You shed. From Your Side, pierced with a lance by a soldier, Blood and Water poured forth until there was not left in Your Body a single Drop; and finally, the very substance of Your Body withered and the marrow of Your Bones dried up.

Through this bitter Passion and through the outpouring of Your Precious Blood, I beg You to pierce my heart so that my tears of penance and love may be my bread day and night. May I be entirely converted to You; may my heart be Your perpetual resting place; may my conversation be pleasing to You; and may the end of my life be so praiseworthy that I may merit Heaven and there with Your saints praise You forever. Amen.  Saint Bridget of Sweden

When I finally understand that my heart is desperately in need of mercy, it becomes a perfect resting place for our Lord, who is himself all Mercy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Humility

But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.  Matthew 13

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

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.  St. Bernard of Clairvaux

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

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Come Away

“The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I shall want”. We have just sung this refrain many times over. But do we really believe it? Because, if we did, we’d be the most blessed and happy of people already at the center of our souls, regardless of what else might be happening in our life or in our world. Today’s readings reveal to us Jesus as a true and good shepherd, not in theory but in action. By extension, these passages the Church addresses to us today teach us what it means to exercise the ministry of a shepherd in the Church at any level. An irate Jeremiah denounces all evil shepherds—that is, kings, presidents and all political, military and especially ecclesiastical leaders of the people who have made their position of power an occasion not for service but for exploitation. In its positive aspect, this denunciation demands the necessary conversion of power into service on the part of all in authority. God himself will judge and vindicate the wrongs committed by unworthy shepherds, and he will raise up an authentic shepherd. In the gospel, Jesus appears as the shepherd who quenches the thirst for firm and trustworthy guides of a people that is now as lost as are “sheep without a shepherd”. And, by his reference to the blood and the cross of Jesus as instruments of reconciliation, St Paul reminds us that Jesus is a shepherd willing to “lay down his life for his sheep”.

The gospel portrays Jesus first of all the shepherd of his disciples, the small community gathered around him. Returning from the mission on which Jesus had sent them, the disciples surround him and tell him what they have accomplished. Jesus unites the community and gathers his disciples together, unlike the evil shepherds who “scattered [the Lord’s] sheep and drove them away”. He listens attentively to the stories the apostles tell him concerning all they have experienced in the concrete during the course of the mission. This exchange between Jesus and his disciples shows that authentic Christian mission cannot consist only in “doing and teaching”. The experience of the mission also needs to be communicated, narrated in detail and listened to. It is via this process of intimate dialogue (of prayer really) between Jesus and those he has called to himself, that the disciples’ pastoral and existential experiences find an opportunity for both consolation and correction, both confirmation and rectification by Jesus. Proclaiming the Gospel, bearing living witness to Jesus the Lord, is a laborious process that has to be learned, like everything else, by patient trial and embarrassing error.

And so we should delight in seeing how the disciples are welcomed and listened to by the very one who sent them forth. Jesus does not show himself interested simply in the fulfillment of the mission. Jesus is no pragmatist; first and foremost he cares about the persons of those he has commissioned. Jesus, the good shepherd who knows his sheep by name, shows himself to be in fact more attentive to the missionaries themselves than to the mission and its possible success. “Success” or “failure”, as the world defines them, are matters of indifference to Jesus. As he listens to the stories recounted by the apostles, Jesus is tenderly sensitive to their fatigue and their need for rest. So he invites them to go off with him to a place away from it all so he can tend to their weariness.

It’s evident that Jesus’ disciples already at this time are suffering from what we think of as a typically modern phenomenon: the tyranny of activism, of never having enough time. “There were many crowds coming and going, and they [the apostles and Jesus] no longer even had time to eat,” says the text. Jesus, the good shepherd, gives his disciples the right and the command to rest, and by so doing he gives them the responsibility to give themselves time, to stop, to inhabit and enjoy the silence and solitude in his company that he is giving them as gift. In other words, Jesus wants his collaborators to stop their frantic activism in order simply to “be” and not become alienated from their own true being by sheer force of “doing”, thus neglecting the more elementary needs of human and spiritual life.

Let us remember in this connection that earlier in Mark (3:14-15) Jesus had called the apostles to himself, for the purpose in the first place that they should wholly be with him, in the strong, ontological sense of this expression. Only secondarily does he also command them to preach and cast out demons. The categories of being and doing, the difference and the hierarchy between them, are hugely crucial to all healthy human life. Perhaps the most important thing the apostles need to learn in their eagerness to accomplish great feats and prove themselves, is that they can and must find their rest in their relationship with Jesus, who in Matthew exclaims: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will restore you” (Mt 11.28), as we heard Jesus tell us in last Thursday’s gospel.

When Jesus disembarked to go to a deserted place with the disciples, he saw the large crowd that had preceded them on foot and “he felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd”. Compassion is clearly the foundation of Jesus’ pastoral action. Just as he had seen the need of his disciples for contemplative rest, now Jesus sees the need of the crowds to be shepherded, and he does not reject them, does not send them away as if they were an obstacle to what he himself had previously planned. No, it is precisely for this compassionate caring and shepherding that he had come from the Father! This is the substance of Jesus’ life as Incarnate Word: to give himself eucharistically as gift to a starving and wretched world, above all to the marginalized whom all the powerful seem to have abandoned.

Jesus sees the hunger the people have for God’s Word, and “he began to teach them many things”. Far from being a possible annoyance that keeps the group of apostles from enjoying the rest the Master had planned, the crowds become in a sense a teacher for Jesus, precisely by virtue of their manifest need and poverty. Jesus accepts changing his own previous project. Graciously, he allows himself to be disturbed and commits himself to the arduous task of preaching. Jesus here teaches his disciples that generous availability to the needy, without advance warning, is a primordial Christian virtue. In the face of a neighbor’s need even our fondest (and, indeed, our most pious!) plans and desires must give way: the true disciple must be wholly malleable and accommodating. “Eucharistic availability”, I would call it—becoming bread for others. Indeed, the basis of all evangelical preaching, teaching and service can only ever be compassion, according to the very rich and physiological biblical term esplanchnísthê used here by Mark. It denotes a compassion that moves with pity, not only a person’s mind and heart, but his very viscera at the sight of human misery and want. Without the primacy of this kind of compassion, even the supremely Christian and ecclesial activity of preaching and teaching will turn, at best, into an academic exercise and a haughty demonstration of power.

The gaze of Jesus the shepherd is indwelt by the light of the Word of God: in this light he sees in the crowd not a hindrance, but an opportunity to obey the word of Scripture which demands that God’s people not be a flock without a shepherd, but that it should have sure guides and tender caregivers. And it is this obedience that demonstrates an important aspect of the Word’s Incarnation: namely, that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Mary, is himself in a real sense a sheep amidst the lost sheep. He is, in fact, the Lamb faithful to the God who is the “shepherd of Israel”.

Yes, the Lamb is also the Shepherd! And Jesus, the sacrificed Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, will shortly give himself to us, too, from this altar of sacrifice, as our nourishment, healing and illumination, for we are a hungering flock no less than the rest of fragile humanity. He wants to be our life if we will let him. As St Paul teaches us today, “he came and preached peace” and even “became our peace”, our rest, “for through him we all have access in one Spirit to the Father”.

 Photograph by Brother Brian. This morning's homily by Father Simeon.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Monks' Retreat

During this coming week, the community will be on its annual retreat, a special time for greater silence and solitude. Daily conferences will be given to us by Dom Joseph of Berryville. 

The love of God has been poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Love itself moans, love itself prays; against it he who gave it cannot close his ears. Be free of anxiety; let love ask and God's ears are there.   

We send our prayers and blessings to all our friends and guests.

Tractate 6: On the First Epistle of John, by Saint Augustine.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

On This Solemnity of Saint Benedict

I grew up in a world of deals, connections, bargaining, and tit for tat, a world of duty and obligations. And whether you were buying furniture, a transistor radio, or an ear of corn it was who you knew. It went something like this. My Dad would call Louie who knew Freddy who would give us a deal and then once we got to the store my mum would look at my dad and then one would eventually say, “Freddy is that the best you can do for us?” It was a very loaded question because Freddy was the next-door neighbor of Louie who was cousin to Angelo, my mother’s brother-in-law. A lot was at stake. Freddy knew it. There were obligations; they owed you something because you’d done something nice for them or someone close to them. It was unspoken but understood. You were connected. 

For my parents and their generation, this balance of deals and obligations and connectedness overflowed into the world of religion. Perhaps it wasn’t as explicit but awfully similar - you made deals with God, with the saints, with Our Lady. You brought her flowers or made a donation if your prayer was answered. Or sometimes you lit the candle or made the donation beforehand, so the saint would feel obligated. There were rules, protocols after all. It only made sense that it all worked in heaven as it did on earth. And so it was that one of my aunts once sewed a new set of clothes for the statue of the Infant of Prague. She had no choice really; he had given her what she had asked for. She was obligated. And I can still hear my mother walking around the house when she lost something, muttering, “C’mon St. Anthony!” And he had better be listening.

Perhaps it’s not the world we live in; perhaps we’re more sophisticated. And so, when I hear Peter’s words, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us? What’s in it for us?” I’m a bit embarrassed for him. After all my parents, probably like yours, for all their bargaining and balances also taught me something else - bottom line, you love because you love. You want the return, the response but you don’t stop loving or doing good if it doesn’t come. You do the right thing. But curiously enough, Jesus doesn’t chide Peter for his question. He responds graciously, promises him, promises us a hundredfold, everything - thrones, preeminence for each of them, a marvelous overwhelming return for all that we have given Him.

The message seems clear then: God notices; notices what we’ve given, notices what we suffer in secret; understands all that we long to offer or have tried to offer, even our very selves. He is tremendously aware of the gift- all you do, your hidden hardships. This is a God who deeply desires to be known and loved; a God who wants to engage us. Jesus notices; he notices and is grateful. “Everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name,” he says, “will receive a hundred times more and will inherit eternal life.”  He promises that God will respond, that he will reciprocate. “Rest assured,” says he. “You will receive a hundred times more.” God will not be outdone in his generosity. We can afford to give everything because Jesus has promised that the return will be more than we could ever hope or dream for. There will be something for us. Dare we say - God is obligated to us? Not because of any merit of ours but because God is God; God is love.

So it is that in the Prologue to his Rule, St. Benedict reminds us that the Lord is always waiting for us to respond to Him day by day, minute by minute. And there’s a wonderful throw-away line: “Therefore the days of this life have been given us as a time of truce for the correction of our faults.” It seems God has made a deal with us. We’ve been given some extra time. And such a tremendous, loving deal demands our response. Something big is at stake; we are constrained by bonds of love and deep affection. What shall we do? Benedict tells us: “Run! Race along the way of the Lord’s commandments, your heart swelling with the unspeakable sweetness of love. Give. Love. Surrender.” Through God’s mercy and grace, the grace of our monastic vocations, our lives have been given back to us. We still have the time we need to make our return to the Lord, to start over, do deeds of love. It is here in the monastery, that we get to do constantly what perhaps most people only get to do once - on their deathbed -surrender once and for all. Here in this school of the Lord’s service, we get to do it over and over. Small wonder Benedict says we should live each day as if it were our last; it’s for freedom’s sake. So we can let go, unclench, breathe deep, and simply die with Jesus - over and over again each day. The constant ringing of the bells is the incessant reminder that there’s still time to start again, time to hand everything over to Him.

The hundredfold is ours. God has spoken His Word to us as to the lost son’s older brother, “You are always with me. All I have is yours.” Jesus is himself this message of the Father’s deep love. Christ Jesus our Lord, our Love, our only Hope is Himself the hundredfold he promises. He has pressed himself to us, to our humanity in its shabbiness, and breathed new life into us. In his passion and resurrection, he has healed and refreshed, renewed and transformed it all.

And so, if, as Benedict exhorts us, we are to prefer absolutely nothing to Christ, it is because He has first of all preferred absolutely nothing at all to each of us, accepting even death, death on a cross for our sake. We are invited to lose everything in order to gain everything. Jesus himself is the everything. God has made a deal we would be foolish to ignore. This is the marvelous exchange. It is Jesus himself who is the gift given to us a hundred times over; He who will always, always be for us as mother and father, lover, child, and true home. Beyond our wildest dreams, the love of the Father for the Son in the Spirit is now ours.

Our part of the deal is openness to the reality of our real brokenness and neediness and at the same time to our belovedness. This is emptiness matched by Christ’s promise to give us Himself in total self-surrender. For our emptiness is not nothing; it is a place for Him. We can only wonder and rejoice and notice God noticing us, longing for us.

At this table, he will hand himself over to us this morning. Our part of the deal bottom line is to say, “Amen. Yes. Yes.” In the bread and wine, we will share Jesus gives us the hundredfold. Love gives Himself. And here in this Holy Communion, he completes the surrender of his body on the cross, that self-offering which embodies the total self-gift that is the triune God. God is this loving gift of self-surrender. His love is limitless, and His coming to us once again will “displace our emptiness.”

This ancient statue of Saint Benedict was brought from the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island at the time of Spencer's founding. Photograph by Brother Daniel. Homily by one of our monks.



Saturday, July 10, 2021

Saturday with Our Lady

Ordinary Saturdays in our liturgical calendar are always dedicated to Our Lady. And so today Vigils, Lauds, and Mass were sung in her honor. She is always with us. And there are numerous images of her all around our Abbey. Here is a charming bas relief from the seventeenth century carved on the back of a giant armchair in our sacristy. Mary is shown as Mother of Good Counsel with the Christ Child's arms twining about her shoulders. Somewhat crudely carved, the image is suffused with great tenderness despite its rather naive execution.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

The Faithful Departed

Today's Mass and liturgies are dedicated to special prayer for the faithful departed, remembering in a special way our relatives, friends, benefactors, and brethren who have died. For these departed "life is changed, not ended;" they have entered the great mystery of Christ's resurrection. As we beg the Lord in prayer to draw all the faithful departed to himself, we remember our love for them and our connectedness with all those who have gone before us in faith.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Saint Maria Goretti

 

At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew:9

Jesus enfleshes the compassion of God, which flows in abundance from his heart, the heart of God, a heart full of mercy. Like her Master, Maria Goretti, at only twelve years old, would speak altruistically to the young man who was trying to rape her, begging him to spare her because he would commit a grave sin.  

God's Style

Our Heavenly Father approaches with love every one of his children, each and every one. His heart is to open to each and every one. He is Father. God’s “style” has three aspects: closeness, compassion, and tenderness. This is how he draws closer to each one of us.

Detail of an ancient Cistercian manuscript. Words of Pope Francis.


Sunday, July 4, 2021

Back at Home

Jesus comes home, and his own people don’t know what to do with him. Their initial response to his mighty deeds and to the wisdom of his teaching is amazement. “Wow. Where did he get all of this? What kind of wisdom is this? What mighty deeds!” But then the whole thing unravels. They talk themselves out of wonder, and they try to make Jesus somehow manageable. “He’s only a carpenter, after all, Mary’s son. We know his relatives. Come on. We know where he comes from.” In the end, they find Jesus offensive and altogether too much for them - that divine power could be so mundane, so accessible, so familiar. The result is tragic indeed, the tragic loss of wonder. Jesus is so confounded by their lack of faith that he finds himself unable to perform any mighty deeds there. He is as powerless as Samson with his hair cut off.

Wonder allows God to be God. It beckons us to be aware, to see as God sees, and to take nothing for granted. Wonder receives with open hands, open heart; it never grasps; it loves all God loves and gives and gazes upon. Wonder does what God does. It is reverent awe that is at once humble and selfless. Wonder speaks as John the Baptist and says, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

But when we refuse to notice reverently, the whole thing collapses. So what. Big deal. I know where this is coming from. It’s all too familiar, too ordinary - whether it be the pattern of light falling upon a wall, a blossom or a tiny bug inching along, or the unexpected kindness of a friend or even a passage of Scripture. Wonder is then poisoned by cynicism, the absolute enemy of contemplation.

Wonder happens when we allow ourselves to be disarmed by God’s in-breaking and respond with reverent awe. It lets us acknowledge what we do not know or may never know or understand, to acknowledge and appreciate our limits, our finiteness. It is a different kind of knowledge, a state of being with the world and with oneself that, like being in love, colors all we know. (See Peter de Bolla) It allows humble faith; it allows uncertainty. Like love, wonder allows all things, believes all things. It lets God be God, magnificent, extravagant but also hidden and quiet and unremarkable. We begin to see the world ever charged with the divine, with an ever-present porosity - a thinness between the ordinary and the divine.

To pray we must relax into an unknowing that is a certitude beyond argument. To allow Christ in means I don’t have to understand; I believe. I pay attention. I gaze on beauty as well as confusion and believe that God is working. I allow myself to be disarmed and fascinated by Christ and how he will use anything at all to get my attention. Our life of liturgy and prayer demands wonder, not dramatic but real and ongoing; an unwillingness to judge, a willingness to be still, a second naiveté, perhaps a constant naiveté, back down to a place where we can be amazed and inefficient, unaccomplished. Prayer and liturgy are after all essentially inefficient - they do not accomplish anything. They very simply grant us the inestimable privilege of praising Almighty God. (See Robert Taft)

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

A Moth

 

We saw this wonderful little rosy maple moth resting on one of the screen doors of the monastery. We were filled with wonder. 

Noticing something, anything of beauty, perhaps even a teeny moth, we can be amazed. Such is the power of beauty. It draws us beyond ourselves to a place beyond simple logic and reasonableness. Beauty draws us into the extravagance of God, the extravagance of his love for us. 
We gaze in reverence. 

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

 

One of the harsh graces of monastic life is that a memory can come back in a flash and pierce your heart wide open and lead you to beg for God’s mercy. So it is that I remember with embarrassment yelling at my Dad many years ago over some triviality. I was not proud of myself. And a day or so later, I had the sense to apologize. His response was simple, “Jimmy, you never have to apologize to me.” This touched me deeply. His words were my forgiveness. He knew me and understood me, he loved me. And I understood that the love, the relationship we had, meant more and could tolerate the breach. In the end, I think I really learned how to forgive and what it feels like to be forgiven - from my father. He simply was not a grudge-holder. And when I was trying to muster the courage to take steps toward entering this monastery, it was somehow imagining his words as the Father’s words deep in my heart that gave me the courage I needed, “Give it a try. What have you got to lose?”

I begin here because ultimately, Peter and Paul whom we feast today came to understand themselves as sinners, forgiven and understood and fully known by Christ Jesus – known in the fullest, richest sense of the biblical expression - a knowing that is highly personal, most intimate, and relational. It is the intimate knowledge we read about in Genesis - when Adam "knew Eve his wife." - and in the psalm, “O God, you search me, and you know me, you know my resting and my rising. You mark when I walk or lie down. All my ways lie open before you.” This is not about God spying on us, watching for our every misstep, it is rather all about God noticing, his constant, compassionate knowledge of who we are.

Peter and Paul come before us this morning, pointing quietly to the wounded Christ Jesus, whose mercy alone is their boast; they know for sure that on their own they have nothing to be proud of except their weaknesses.

Peter says he’s ready to die with Jesus; then betrays him in a heartbeat to save his skin. “Wait a minute; you’re one of that Galilean’s followers,” says the maid in the high priest’s courtyard. “I’d know that accent anywhere.” “Get out of here,” Peter mutters. “I don’t who you’re talking about.” Meanwhile, Jesus is next door being slapped and roughed up by soldiers, sentenced, and spat upon.

And Paul, so certain he is following the dictates of Law and prophets in every jot and tittle, has been self-righteously dragging the followers of Jesus to prison and persecution, utterly clueless that this Jesus is himself the fulfillment of all the Law and the prophets promised.

Each will be transformed by their graced encounter with the risen Lord. At a beachside breakfast, Peter will have the opportunity to reaffirm his love for Christ, “Lord you know well that I love you. You know all things.” Paul, suddenly blinded by the light of the risen Lord, will insist that he doesn’t even know who Jesus is. Jesus assures him, “You know me alright. I am the One you have been persecuting.” His conversion is underway.

Finally, there is Jesus’ question to Peter, tinged with self-doubt, magnificent in its quiet simplicity – “Who do you say that I am?” It is an achingly beautiful question that each of us must answer, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you? What is your experience of me in your life, in your history? How do you experience me now? Do you know that I know you, and love you well?” How shall each of us answer Our Lord? Perhaps when we come to understand who we are, how wounded we are, and who Jesus wants to be for us, we can say with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. You search me and you know me. All my ways lie open to you. You alone are my love, my fortress, my stronghold. All I want is to know is you Christ Jesus my Lord and the power flowing from your resurrection. Everything else is a pile of rubbish to me.”

Jesus did not give up on Peter or Paul and he will never, ever give up on us. He is a relentless rescuer, the God who saves us, even chases after us because he knows us. Our life of incessant prayer requires incessant awareness of how much he understands us, knows us in all our wavering and inconsistency and nothingness, and yet cannot bear to leave us alone. And so he comes once again to feed us with his very Self.

Saints Peter and Paul, 15th century, Fondamenta Cavour, Murano, Italy. Today's homily by one of the monks.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Touch

 

It was physically and spiritually draining, being the woman with the hemorrhage. I can easily imagine that the possibility of healing would lead the woman with the hemorrhage (and what a thing to be known for throughout all time) to brazen and desperate measures. She emerged in public and touched a stranger’s cloak, a stranger who said things like, "Do not be afraid." But when she was miraculously healed, he knew instantly and called her forth from the crowd. She trembled with fear, but Jesus only said, in his perceptive, succinct way, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace." All we have to do is touch him. Just the hem of his cloak. Touch Jesus and...we will be restored to full spiritual health and vigor. Touch Jesus, and we will be sent forth, faithful, well, and in peace. Why do we make it so hard? 

Image by Brother Brian. Meditation taken from an article by Valerie Schultz from America, 2008.

Thursday, June 24, 2021

The Birthday of John the Baptist

 

Have you ever wondered if you were following God’s will for your life? Are the choices that I have made mine or God’s? Is it even possible to know? These are questions that many of us ask from time to time. I think absolute certainty is impossible. Perhaps even John the Baptist wondered if he was doing God’s will.

John had a special purpose to play in salvation history. He acted as the bridge between the Old and New Testaments. John was the last and in some ways the greatest of the Hebrew prophets. As the preface for today’s Mass says he was chosen “from all the prophets to show the world its redeemer, the Lamb of sacrifice.”

Jesus praised his greatness but at the same time said that even the least in the Kingdom was greater than he. While he knew and proclaimed Jesus as the one who was to come and the straps of whose sandals, he was not worthy to untie, he never saw Jesus as his Risen Lord, a privilege granted to the very least of the baptized.

He is often referred to as the Precursor, whose mission was to go ahead of the Messiah and proclaim his coming.  Hence the titles associated with him describe his vocation and mission, “The friend of the Bridegroom,” “The voice of one crying out in the desert,” and of course, “The Baptizer.”

In the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we heard: “John heralded his coming by proclaiming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” The success of his mission would eventually put him out of a job, as he modestly said that Jesus must increase, and I must decrease. And that is still the role of the missionary today – to plant the church and then withdraw, leaving it in the hands of the new local community. In our monastic context, we could also say that it is also true for new foundations.

In Luke’s gospel there are many parallels between the birth of John and that of Jesus. Both births were announced in advance: in John’s case to his father Zechariah and in Jesus’ case to his mother Mary. In my curiosity, I discovered that there are 7 children that we read of in the Bible who God named before birth. Isaac and Ishmael, sons of Abraham (Genesis 16:11. 17:19). Solomon, son of King, David. Josiah, King of Israel, Cyrus, King of Persia, John the Baptist, And last, but not least, Jesus.

In our first reading today, we hear the prophet Isaiah speak of a “servant” of God. The “servant” could have been a person or the nation Israel. From the beginning God called, fashioned, and offered this “servant” an important place in extending the glory and kingship of God. The servant hears that he is not to toil merely for the restoration and union of Israel, but to open the way for the light to the “nations”. Salvation is going to come to all the world and this servant is going to toil for the coming of that salvation. As St. Paul says in The Acts of the Apostles: “My brothers, sons of the family of Abraham, and those others among you who are God-fearing, to us this word of salvation has been sent”

The Gospel has to do with the birth of John, but even more, his naming. Elizabeth and Zechariah are advanced in age, so their lack of fertility was seen as a kind of curse. We know from earlier in the chapter that Zechariah was struck speechless by God for his lack of belief. Who could blame him for being incredulous? An elderly couple cannot have children. How absurd!

When the birth of John took place, it was a special occasion of rejoicing among relatives and neighbors. When they heard “that the Lord had shown her so great a kindness, they shared their joy.” According to Jewish custom, the child was to be circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. This ritual showed that the child belonged to God’s own people, the Jews. It was also the day on which the child was officially named. Customarily the first male child was named after his father, Zechariah. When the day of circumcision comes his mother announces that his name will be John. It was not customary for the mother to make this announcement; it was the father's role. We see this by the way the guests try to get Zechariah to say something, even if he had to write it. Upon writing “John is his name, immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God and all were amazed.”

“The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name.” It seems as though God’s plan for the life of John the Baptist was clear. But the scriptures never tell us how he felt about it. What we do know is that he did it.

When we talk about following God’s will for our own lives, we too might have a bit of Zechariah in us, we are incredulous. That? Are you kidding? It can’t be! We have our own plans and often God’s plan does not align with ours. We resist, we get in the way, we want to be in charge.

Acceptance of God’s plan requires letting go of what we want and open our heart to God in surrender, trust, and humility. It is only in dialogue with God in prayer that we discern his will. It allows us to align our will to his. The one thing we do know is that if it is God’s will, only good things will come from it. As St. Paul says in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”

Saint John the Baptist, c. 1230,  North Portal, Chartres Cathedral. Today's homily by Father Emmanuel.

Monday, June 21, 2021

With Aloysius

 

We are always inspired by the ardor and single-heartedness of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, who died as a Jesuit scholastic at age 23 while caring for plague victims in Rome in 1591. Indeed, so confident was Aloysius in God's tender love for him, that one day as he was playing ball with the other young Jesuits, Saint Robert Bellarmine approached him and asked what he would do if he were told he was going to die the next day. "I would go on playing ball," said Aloysius.

So may we always trust in the Lord's merciful love.


The Vocation of Saint Aloysius (Luigi) Gonzaga, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian, Cento 1591–1666 Bologna), ca. 1650. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

"Quiet! Be still!"

 

A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat,
so that it was already filling up.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion.
They woke him and said to him,
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
He woke up,
rebuked the wind...  Mark 4

The early 13th-century Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton, is credited with the division of the books of the Bible into chapters. Today's gospel of the calming of the storm at sea is the final section of Chapter Four of Mark. It seems odd that a chapter that is chock-a-block full of parables should end with the beginning of the narrative of a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee, especially as the boat trip ends at the beginning of the next, chapter five. Why didn't the Archbishop simply make Chapter Four a collection of parables with a unified theme, and then begin Chapter Five with the entire narrative of the crossing of the sea? 

The scripture scholar Marie Sabin proposes a solution to this enigma. She writes, “in the first part of chapter 4, Mark shows Jesus teaching in parables. In the end, however, he shows Jesus teaching by his actions. He shows Jesus stilling the sea as God stills the sea in the psalms. He shows Jesus to be 'like God.' He shows Jesus to be in Himself a Wisdom parable. Those who are his disciples have been granted a direct encounter with 'the mystery of the kingdom of God+.'” There is more to this parabolic mystery of Jesus who is like God than just the fact that Jesus and our God of the psalms calm the raging seas at their command. The purpose of the parables (and indeed of this parable whether Sabin's theory is correct or not) is to illuminate our hearts and minds about God's being and acting in our lives. This final parable-in-action is more than a narrative to make us say “Wow, Jesus can still a storm by his word alone!” Rather, Jesus can calm the storm of doubt that constantly churns in my heart, our hearts.“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus, do you not care about me? About us? 

If a parable is a wisdom riddle that asks a question of our hearts, the real question in today's is posed by that mysterious God-man Jesus himself in a double-barreled way: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith? Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” These are questions I ask myself often—perhaps they are being asked within me by the Lord himself as I tremble before each new storm in my life, each new challenge to believe and to love, each new call to be who I say I am. 

That little word yet in the middle of the second question, “Do you not yet have faith?” gives me hope. It helps me realize that even as I mostly fail to trust in the Lord, the Lord Jesus has hopes that eventually I will realize what it means that He, “just as He was” (truly God and truly man), is in the boat with me. No! Actually, I am in the boat with Him. He it was who invited me and all of us with the words, “Let us cross to the other side!” He wants us to be with Him. Let us leave our little safe harbors where we see only to protect ourselves and sail out on the open sea of life inChristwhose depths (as sounded by the Holy Spirit) are “too deep for words”, whose new horizons are so broad, as broad as the shoulders and arms of Jesus that span the cross and embrace the whole of creation in God's love. But our incarnate Lord Jesus is not content to be in the boat with us. The incarnate Lord Jesus desires to be within us in the Eucharistic communion. Soon, He will be within us in His body, soul, and divinity to love us from within and make our “not yet” existence move closer to“now.” He rebuked the wind and said to the sea and to you and to me, “Quiet! Be still!” 

Rembrandt van Rijn (Leyden, 1606 - 1669, Amsterdam) Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 1633, Oil on canvas, 63 x 50 3/8 in. Homily by Father Luke.

Friday, June 18, 2021

Nameless Treasure

Come, true light; come life that never ends; come, hidden mystery!
Come, nameless treasure; come, name that can never be uttered!
Come, inconceivable One; come, joy without end!
Come sun that never sets!
Come, name well-loved and ever repeated!
Come, joy that knows no end; come, untarnishing crown!
Come you whom my poor soul has longed for, 
and longs for still!
I give you thanks that you have become one single spirit with me. 

We are called to ceaseless prayer, Saint Augustine will name this living in ceaseless desire for God. Ever-mindful of this, we treasure these lines from a hymn of Saint Simeon the New Theologian. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Clothing of Brothers Andrew & Kenneth

On Sunday the community gathered in the Abbey Chapterhouse, as our brothers were clothed in the novice's habit by Abbot Vincent.  He addressed the following remarks to them.

Br. Andrew and Br. Kenneth, I understand that the two of you are energetic souls who have participated in strenuous athletic and spiritual activities in your younger days. St. Benedict has a word for you in the Prologue of his Rule; in fact, not only a word, but a kind of map for the entire life of conversion to which you are dedicating yourselves. Let us listen to his words, the words of a father who loves you and wants only the best for you.

He starts in a good place, quoting the words of Jesus: “Run while you have the light of life…” It is interesting how often in the Prologue St. Benedict refers to running, as though you were joining a cross country team. But it is true that monastic life is a long race. There are times of jogging, times of sprinting, and times of enduring long stretches of grueling countryside. He wants us to keep moving. The one who stands still or runs in the wrong direction is doomed. God forbid that we be daunted by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation.

But we can’t run aimlessly. We have to run in the light of life. And what is that light? As always with St. Benedict, the light is Christ who is dwelling within us, whether it be in his word of Scripture, in the Divine Office and sacraments, or in the brothers we meet. His indwelling began with the grace of baptism, and our monastic calling is a flowering of that grace. The presence of the Lord lightens our path, especially when monastic life becomes dark. Since our life is limited and the darkness can be great, we need to let that light shine forth from us to lead us toward that voice which we hear in faith: at vigils, in quiet prayer, in service to the brothers.

That is why as a loving father, St. Benedict offers firm directions and exhortations. Above all, he exhorts us to the labor of obedience, to prayer, to watchfulness, to receptivity. He wants us to run now and do those things that will profit us for eternity. But before we can do anything, we need to rise from sleep and open our eyes. Rub them if you need to. Clear the wax from your ears! The Lord and his angels are all around, urging us to join our brothers, whether it be at the divine office, at work, at chores, or anywhere else. Any temptation to avoid the daily exercises and one’s duty must be dashed against Christ. We don’t do these exercises just because St. Benedict said to do so. He urges us to do them because Christ did them, and he wants us to be totally like Christ Jesus. Of course, St. Benedict never fails to remind us that any good that we do comes not from us but from the Lord who dwells within. The theme song of our running must be, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give the glory!”

Finally, St. Benedict reminds us of the most important point: God has run to us first. He loved us first. He called us first. Like the father in the gospel going out to welcome his prodigal son, our heavenly Father is constantly running to meet us and make his dwelling place within us, together with his Son and the Spirit. We must simply embrace this grace. A little fidelity and gratitude on our part, and we will hear him whisper, “My eyes are already open to you and my ears likewise to listen to your prayers, and even before you ask me, I say to you, ‘Here I am.’” As St. Benedict says, “What indeed could more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us? See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life.”

Brothers, you are here with your brothers who welcome you into this new phase of your monastic journey. We invite you now to run with us in the race of holy obedience. It may seem that some of us have become too old to run, but you have to look into our hearts. If you hold fast, you, too, will learn that running with hearts expanded on the way of God’s commandments is worth whatever dura et aspera you may encounter. May St. Benedict bless you on your journey!

Photographs by Brother Brian.


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Eleventh Sunday

“This is how it is with the kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord, the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.”

In today’s parables, Jesus reminds us of the promise hidden in what is small and unremarkable – seeds that grow in hiddenness and mystery. How like our prayer, our life that is ordinary, obscure, and laborious. We dare to believe that what we bear and what we do and pray has an apostolic reverberation – fruitfulness far beyond the cloister, with a blessing for those in need. We trust, we believe, though we do not always understand. We love Jesus our Lord. Love brings us knowledge and trust of a God beyond our simple understanding. And so, we live, we pray in mystery and in wonder.

Wonder allows God to be God. It beckons us to be aware, to see as God sees, and to take nothing for granted. Wonder receives with open hands, open heart; it never grasps; it loves all God loves and gives and gazes upon. Wonder does what God does. It is reverent awe that is at once humble and selfless.

Wonder happens when we allow ourselves to be disarmed by God’s in-breaking and respond with reverent awe. It lets us acknowledge what we do not know or may never know or understand, allows us to acknowledge and appreciate our limits, our finiteness. It is a different kind of knowledge, a state of being with the world and with oneself that allows humble faith; it allows uncertainty. Like love, wonder allows all things, believes all things. It lets God be God, magnificent, extravagant but also hidden and quiet and unremarkable. We begin to see the world ever charged with the divine, with an ever-present porosity - a thinness between the ordinary and the divine. This is the beginning of contemplation, perhaps its essence.

We notice reverently - whether it be the pattern of light falling upon a wall, a blossom or a tiny bug inching along, the unexpected kindness of a friend, or a passage of Scripture. Wonder demands fascination and simple noticing. It is poisoned by cynicism, which is the absolute enemy of contemplation.

To pray we must relax into an unknowing that is a certitude beyond argument. To allow Christ in means I don’t have to understand; I believe. I pay attention. I love. I gaze on beauty as well as confusion and believe that God is working. I allow myself to be disarmed and fascinated by Christ and how he will use anything at all to get my attention. Our life of liturgy and prayer demands wonder, not dramatic but real and ongoing; an unwillingness to judge, a willingness to be still, a second naiveté, perhaps a constant naiveté, back down to a place where we can be amazed and inefficient, unaccomplished.