Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Time of Jesus

They said, "Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven."

Since Easter, we have been accompanied by the bodily presence of the Resurrected Lord. We have been present with Mary Magdalen when she went in the early morning to the tomb, and when he later appeared to her as she wept, we have been alongside Peter and John as they ran to the empty tomb and examined the burial cloths, we have walked with Lord on the way to Emmaus, and listened as he opened the mysteries of the Scriptures, we have seen him appear through closed doors, reveal himself in the breaking of bread, expose his wounded side to the doubtful Thomas, and so on. In all this we have looked on as this rhythm of manifestation and concealment, hiddenness and appearance unfolded; unpredictable, yet executed in astonishing, absolute, and sovereign freedom. Today we see the risen Christ appear in bodily form to the disciples for the last time and, for the last time, vanish from their sight. As the disciples looked on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took them from their sight, as read in Luke. Now he has been taken up into heaven and has taken his seat at the right hand of God. The disciples worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.

We rejoice today with them because we know that at Jesus’ Ascension absolutely nothing of the concreteness of the resurrection appearances has been lost, his presence is now hidden, but no less intimate, and, most importantly, it has been universalized. Whereas his resurrection appearances were limited by time and space, the glorified and ascended Christ is now able to hand himself over wholly and entirely to everyone anywhere and at any time. As the two men dressed in white said to the apostles: “This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going up into heaven”.  He remains united with the world, not only through the partaking of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist but also by his power of acting in the world, particularly in the members of his body.  The apostles are to be his witnesses of this good news “in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” “And behold, Jesus says, “I am with you always, until the end of the age." 

In Christ, our humanity has been glorified, raised up, and seated at the right hand of the Father, “far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion” In Him, the soul is wholly filled with divine understanding and conformed to the divine will, and the body is wholly submitted to the soul, as its willing servant. Of course, this glory is not something that the Lord has accomplished in order to hold on to for himself; he wants it to be ours, not only in the world to come but even now, insofar as life in this world allows. He wants us to share now in this glory out of love for us but, even more so, out of love for his Father.

When his hour had come, and his passion was about to begin, Jesus prayed, “Father…glorify your Son that your Son may glorify you since you have given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… Father, I glorified you on earth by accomplishing the work that you gave me to do; and now Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world began. The Son glorifies the Father by our glorification; by giving back to the Father everything that the Father has given him. Each gives the other a gift as perfect as his divinity allows. The Father gives the Son man, the image of his image, his Son; the Son gives man back, as a glorified human nature eternally, unchangeable, and inseparably united to his Divine Nature. This mutual gift is their greatest joy and today we celebrate its completion in the Ascension. Of course, their joy is not complete until we join them. Even though we remain here below in our very much earthly humanity, pulled about by various desires and subject to temptations of all sorts, our glorified humanity in the glorified and ascended God-man already dwells in heaven in perfect unity with the eternal beatitude of the Father. Even now we are called to participate in this great mystery through Christ’s body, the Church.

Our task is to make this gift bodily present. For this, we look to Jesus as our model, for he not only holds out the gift to us but shows us the way to receive it, by his very existence, in everything he does. As God’s Son Jesus comes forth from the Father and returns to the Father. He is the uninterrupted reception of everything that he is, of his very self, from the Father. In receiving himself from the Father he also receives the Father’s will, to which he freely gives his yes as one with his own will.

This unity of will with the Father is something Jesus insists on in a whole variety of ways throughout the gospel, particularly in John. Jesus says, ““I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me”. Jesus does nothing of himself: a son cannot do anything on his own, but only what he sees his father doing; for what he does, his son will do also, "I cannot do anything on my own; I judge as I hear, and my judgment is just because I do not seek my own will but the will of the one who sent me.  He doesn’t speak on his own authority: I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me what to say and speak”. This negative limitation is wholly at the service of the positive: doing the will of his Father; and this has its ground in his mission, in their common decision that he should come to us, reveal the Father’s love, and return us to him; restored, whole and glorified.

As Son begotten of the Father it is his essence to receive everything from another, from the Father; as the perfect unity of what he is and what he does, his whole existence is receptivity: openness to the will of the Father, and fulfillment of that will. It belongs to his nature to be always at the Father’s disposal. For Jesus real-time is God’s time. Unlike us, who are subject to sin and the claims of unruly desires, for Jesus there is no time outside of God’s time: work, prayer, leisure, rest are all in God’s time. To such an extent that any time that would not be God’s time would be outside of God and not time at all.  

Our life, if it is to be fruitful, must also participate in this real-time of Jesus: which, like his, must be an existence that is fundamentally receptive. This is not passivity; it requires the full and active engagement of all our powers. Jesus did not receive his mission once and for all, but at every moment; for us, too, the Holy Spirit comes to us as every moment with grace that is ever fresh, ever new, always specific, unique, and adapted to the circumstances that greet us in our day, leading and guiding us as the commissioned Spirit of Truth along the way of the Father’s will.

It seems to me that there are two main poles that we want to avoid if we are not to fall out of this real-time, and therefore outside of God. In both cases, we use time to carve out our own existence. In one, the daily monastic rhythm of work and prayer with its accompanying structure becomes an unwelcome, alienating, and cumbersome burden to set ourselves against in a state of perpetual struggle. In the other, it becomes something to perfect, master, and conquer, like a mountain peak on which we would plant our flag when we get to the top. In both cases, we have displaced God and inserted ourselves at the center. We then find our efforts, victims of our Father the vinedresser’s pruning knife, carefully snipped away from the vine to be cast into the fire to be burned.

We are called instead to lift up our hearts. As Paul says, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  From the beginning, God planned to give mankind all good things, but from the beginning we have made of ourselves an obstacle, impatiently grasping after this good ourselves, in our own way, in our own time, according to our own lights. To receive the extraordinary goods that are being held out to us, as God sees fit, in his own time, we need to undergo being reconfigured to the meekness of the Lamb, who came from above but spent his life as one led. As St. Bernard exhorts his monks, “Let us follow the Lamb, brethren, wherever he goes". Let us follow him in his suffering, let us follow him in his rising, let us follow him more joyously in his ascension into heaven.”

And finally, as we prepare in these days for the coming of the Spirit let us heed the counsel of the Letter to the Hebrews and rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader, and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Timothy.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

His Ascension

 

As we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord, we are reminded again that our faith is a dark mystery. If Jesus reminds us “It is better for you that I go,” it is because his absence will allow a fuller, richer, more mysterious experience of his presence through the Holy Spirit. 

Imagine someone you love and really care for insisting, “It is better for you that I go.” How can this be? With the disciples, we gaze upwards in wonder at the wounded and resurrected Jesus who promises, “Fear not. I am with you always.” 

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

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Familiar


It is for others to serve God, it for you to cling to him; it is for others to believe in God, know him, love him and revere him; it is for you to taste him, understand him, know him well, enjoy him. 

With these words, our Cistercian Father, William of St. Thierry, reminds us of our call to deep familiarity with God in contemplation.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Sixth Sunday of Easter


Every year during Eastertide, we listen to excerpts from the Last Supper Discourse, about four chapters long in the second half of the Gospel of John. Sections like today's Gospel: “Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love...
You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. 
I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another.

Jesus draws us into the very heart of his relationship with his Father. I listen, but I lose my bearings. There is surely a beauty to the language but also a circularity. I get confused. I want to say to Jesus, “Wait. What do you mean?” It’s just the wrong question. Asking what it means would be beside the point - like standing at the Grand Canyon and saying, “Wait, I don’t get it, what does it mean?” Or asking a person who is doing an unexpected kindness for you, “What exactly do you mean?” Or interrupting someone who’s kissing you very tenderly, “Excuse me, what do you mean by that?”

We are embedded in God, as beloved as Jesus is; the relationship is ours. Simple, astounding. We are invited to let ourselves be swept into the reality of mutual love that unites Father and Son. (See Francis Moloney) And it’s happening, we’re in it. Non-resistance is crucial; it’s like driving on ice, you don’t put on the brakes; drive into the skid, the flow, gently, attentively. God has lost himself in love for us. God is most truly Godself when he gives himself away.

The self-forgetful love and intimacy of Father and beloved Son are where we belong. Jesus begs his Father that we may be swept up into the reality of God’s own “mutual love and indwelling.”(Moloney) “That the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”

In Christ God reveals Godself as lost in love for his own creatures who tragically reject him. In his unending love, Jesus empowers us to be God’s children, siblings with him of the one Father, and even more his dear friends. In John’s Gospel friendship is the ultimate description of our relationship with God. (See Sandra Schneiders) “I no longer call you servants,” says Jesus, “rather now I call you friends, for I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.” Everything the Father has and is belongs to Jesus and he wants to give it all to us; this everything of God’s love and desire for us. 

We know that true friendship can really only happen between equals. And so friendship with God in Christ may seem like an exquisite, somewhat poetic, impossibility. It is impossible for us. We must depend on the Spirit to arrange things; we need the groaning of the Spirit to work out this relationship.

True friendship with God is accessible, possible because through the power of the Spirit. God has opened his heart to us, longing for our friendship. A God who is love would be inconceivable without the reality of the incompleteness that is love, the inner voice, the deep desire that says, “I cannot be me without you. You cannot be you without me.”(Jeremy Driscoll) This is the truth of who God is in the Trinity. In this mutual exchange, deferring to each other in love, Father, Son and Spirit utter these words to one another and to each of us. “I cannot be me without you.” 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Thoughts by one of the monks.


Saturday, May 8, 2021

Cistercian Martyrs

In March of 1996, Dom Christian de Chergé and six monks from the Abbey of Tibhirine in Algeria were kidnapped and found dead two months later. This morning we celebrate our  Blessed Cistercian brothers. We are at once humbled and inspired by the passion of their perseverance, the passion of their self-offering.

But let us be clear. Even as he anticipated the possibility of his own death, Dom Christian feared that his dear Muslim friends would be blamed for his murder. He absolutely did not want this.

The only grace he eagerly awaited was at last in heaven to see, as God sees – to see the children of Islam all shining with the glory of Christ, all differences at last brought into communion and divine likeness by the joyful Gift of the Spirit. 

As each morning we receive Holy Communion, we pray for this same compassionate communion among all people, that the differences we so often cherish may be erased by a love beyond understanding. For our reluctance, let us beg God’s mercy.

Friday, May 7, 2021

How?


The love Jesus expects of us seems to be truly unmanageable. “This is my commandment,” he says, “love one another as I love you.”  How can I possibly love like that?

The seeming impossibility, the unmanageability of loving as God loves is exactly the point. We cannot possibly do it. Only the overshadowing of God’s Spirit can transform and stretch our hearts wide open.

Unfortunately, I too often resist the Spirit’s stretch.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of the monks.


Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Mary's Month

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

In May Mary's month and in every month this ancient prayer to Mary called the Memorare is a great consolation. Mary is our protector and a model for all our efforts at prayer and faithfulness.

Our Constitutions remind us, "By fidelity to their monastic way of life, which has its own hidden mode of apostolic fruitfulness, monks perform a service for God's people and the whole human race. Each community of the Order and all the monks are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother and Symbol of the Church in the order of faith, love and perfect union with Christ."
Detail of painting by Caravaggio.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

True Vine

One of the spectacular ornaments of the Jerusalem Temple was a golden vine with clusters of grapes as tall as a man. The vine, the vineyard, was a favorite symbol in the Jewish Scriptures representing Israel. It was a symbol that would have an immediate and obvious meaning to those who first heard today’s Gospel, and it would color how they heard Jesus’ claim to be the true vine—they could easily take it as implying that Israel is a false vine, as Jeremiah once prophesized: “I planted you as a fruitful vine, entirely genuine (true). How have you become a wild vine, turned to bitterness?”

But whatever indirect polemicizing against the Synagogue the evangelist may intend, the reality Jesus is describing by using the imagery of vine and branches, and mentioning his Father to justify his claim, is that he is the source of real life to his disciples, a life that can come only from above and from the Father. When John uses the word “true” or “real” here, it is not in contrast to “false” or “unreal,” but is typical of the dualism running throughout the Fourth Gospel which distinguishes “what is below” from “what is above,” the contrast between the earthly and the heavenly. The point, then, is that Jesus is the vine in the sense in which only the Son of God can be the vine, not that Israel produced sour grapes.

The Son identifies himself with the vine; he himself has become the vine. He has let himself be planted in the earth. He has entered into the vine. The vine is no longer merely a creature (i.e. Israel) that God looks upon with love but could still uproot and reject, or allow to be plundered. No, in the Son, God himself has become the vine; he has forever identified himself, his very being, with the vine. The vine belongs once and for all to God, who himself lives in it. What this means for us, as Benedict XVI tells us in his book Jesus of Nazareth is that “the promise has become irrevocable, the unity indestructible—God has taken this great new step within history, and this constitutes the deepest content of the parable.”

What is also original here, and not found in the OT at all, is that the vine is presented as life-giving. Just as Jesus is the source of living water and is the bread from heaven that gives life, so he is the life-giving vine. Just as the branch gets its life from the vine, so the disciple gets life from Jesus.

It is interesting that until now in John’s Gospel, the metaphors that concern receiving Jesus’ gift of life have involved external actions: one has had to drink the water or eat the bread to have life. The imagery of the vine, in contrast, is more intimate, more immanent: one must remain in Jesus as a branch remains on a vine in order to have life, and this remaining on the vine is above all symbolic of love, fruitful love. Branches that decide to “go it alone,” to live without the life of the vine, will wither and die—good for nothing but fire. Here Jesus tells the disciples: “Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit because without me you can do nothing.”

But that confronts us with a fundamental yet crucial question: what does it mean to “abide in Christ”? How do we practice this? How do we “remain” in him? St. John tells us, “by keeping his commandments.” But perhaps it is as simple (and difficult) as this: we abide by letting go, yielding, giving our “yes” to God. We stop trying to be stand-alone, self-sufficient vines, and become content to be branches. We know from experience that this is, after all, the essence of contemplative prayer—a practice of handing ourselves over to a reality that is given, that we don’t invent or construct or have to make-believe.

This “letting go” is a matter of faith, and it’s frightening at first. Why? To believe in Christ is different from and more than believing about Christ, even that Jesus is the Son of God. To believe in him is to entrust ourselves to him, to build our life on him, not by holding onto him or ideas about him, but by letting ourselves be held by him. The difficulty for us is that until we have given ourselves, “let go,” given our “yes” to God, we don’t know for sure that we will be held. In other words, faith that is “an abiding in Christ” isn’t a matter of having certain propositions in my head, but discovering myself welcome and at home in a compassionate reality vastly bigger than me. This is not something we achieve but is a gift received. Nonetheless, we discover that the more we yield to, or make ourselves available to this reality, the more our whole life shares in its life and energy. And that’s what proves its truth. Faith is daring to entrust ourselves to a reality that is, in James Alison’s words, “massively prior to us.”

So, how do we ever do this? I would suggest that we dare this only when we desire it deeply enough—when our yearning to be fully real, our yearning for God, has ripened (through much “pruning”). We dare to really let go only when we have come to the end of all the ways we try to hang on to some piece of ourselves, some safety net, some part of our life not yielded to Christ. Although we’re not sure exactly what we are getting into, we let go when we know in our bones there’s nothing else for us to do, and we desire him. That day we say a real “yes.” The spiritual life is, at core, the practice of continuing to say “yes” at deeper and deeper levels of our being. But we can do this only because Christ first truly abides in us more than we can imagine, through the Holy Spirit he has given us. That brings me to a brief final thought. 

The startling new twist in this Gospel is not only that the Son himself now has become the vine, but this is precisely his method for remaining one with his own, with all the scattered children of God whom he has come to gather. The Good News this morning is that the vine signifies concretely Jesus’ inseparable oneness with us, who through him and with him are all “vine,” and whose calling is to “remain” in the vine—to remain one with him and in him through his gift of the Spirit. The fruit we as branches of the vine can and must bear with Christ is love—a love that accepts with him the mystery of the Cross and becomes a participation in his self-giving.

Today we are the “vine” adorning the Temple of His Body, with clusters of grapes taller than any one of us. 

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

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Crazy

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that “joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Certainly, joy is the fruit of real confidence in God's ineffable mercy. This is our joy as monks- we see over and over again our foolishness and sinfulness, but we learn to rejoice because Christ's mercy is always available. This is certainly reason enough for us to rejoice always, for as Saint Paul says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”

So amazed is Saint Catherine of Siena at the endless mercy of God that she will call God “crazy.” In her Dialogues, she writes, “O eternal beauty! O eternal goodness, O eternal mercy! O, crazy lover! You have need of your creature? It seems so to me, for you act as if you could not live without her. Why are you so crazy? Because you have fallen in love with what you have made! You are pleased and delighted over her as if you were drunk with desire for her salvation. She runs away from you and you go looking for her. She strays and you draw closer to her.”

the Mystical Marriage of Saint Catherine of Siena, Giovanni di Paolo, Italian, Siena 1398–1482, tempera and gold on wood11 3/4 x 9 1/2 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. 

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Brother Guerric Is Clothed As A Novice

Br. Guerric, I understand that you like to read stories about the desert fathers. Well, on this day of your clothing as a novice, I thought we could look at a story that describes the clothing of one of St. Anthony’s disciples, namely, Paul the Simple. Paul’s story is recounted in a number of sources, but the one I like best is from the Lausiac History by Palladius.

As Palladius tells it, Paul was a “rustic herdsman, simple and entirely without guile, who was married to a most beautiful woman…” who, unfortunately, had a hidden weakness of character. Paul came home unexpectedly one day and found her with another man. He realized that God’s Providence had revealed this to him, and so he said “Ok,” and left the two to themselves, saying, “…I am going off to be a monk.” Maybe a first lesson to take from Paul is his attentiveness to divine Providence. He watched for the signs that God slips into our lives and tried to discern what was best and in accord with God’s will.

From there he traveled to the inner desert where Blessed Anthony lived. He knocked at the door, and when Anthony came out, he asked him, “What do you want?” Paul replied that he wanted to become a monk. Anthony proceeded to tell him bluntly that he was too old and to go back to his village and live as a simple Christian with thanksgiving. Then he went back into his cell and left Paul outside. Three days later Anthony had to go out again, and there was Paul. Anthony told him again that he was too old and couldn’t take the severity of the life. Paul replied that he would do whatever Anthony told him. Anthony responded that if he wanted to be a monk, he should go and find a community of brothers who would support him and put up with his weaknesses. Then he went back into his cell.

Br. Guerric, you and Paul have similarities and dissimilarities. You just responded to the question, “What do you seek?” with the words, “The mercy of God and the Order.” Paul the Simple was seeking the mercy of God with St. Anthony as his teacher. The mercy of God is what you are seeking, but you also added: “…and of the Order.” You are seeking the mercy of an Order, and in particular of a community of brothers in that Order who will support you and bear with your weaknesses, and who expect the same from you. You are saying that you want to share a specific way of life, approved by the Church and recognized by her as a gift from God, a way of sanctification and healing for both the Church and each member of the Order. To be even more precise, you are asking to join an Order of men and women – actually, 1,661 monks and 1,521 nuns, a total of 3,182 men and women out of a total of 7.8 billion people on this earth…a very, very tiny flock – but one dedicated and blessed to receive the mercy of God in a concrete way of life based on the gospel, distilled from the monastic tradition, and handed down to us by our Fathers and Mothers.

Like Paul, you are also ready to do whatever your Abbot, Novice Master, and fellow monks ask of you in accord with the Rule and the Constitutions of our Order. In other words, you are ready to follow Christ and to learn obedience from what you suffer. But notice how Paul proved his willingness to do whatever Anthony told him. He waited outside for three days in the heat of the desert. Anthony was not giving Paul an easy entrance, as St. Benedict would say. He was testing the spirits to see whether they come from God. And Paul was learning about all the hardships and difficulties that would lead him to God. So, it is with you. Your postulancy has been a time for the community (and you) to discern: does Br. Guerric truly seek God, and is he zealous for the work of God, for obedience, and for the humble and even menial tasks that can seem below one’s dignity? Your novice master and your brothers have discerned that the answer is yes, and so they invite you to enter more deeply into the monastic life.

After four days, Anthony was afraid that Paul would die outside his cell, so he finally allowed him to come inside, but he continued to test his resolve. Paul had not had any food for four days, but when Anthony brought out some loaves of bread – dry loaves which had to be soaked in order to make them edible – Anthony noticed that Paul did not grab at them to devour them: he waited for Anthony to pray and bless them. He ate what was put before him. And when Anthony invited him to take more, Paul replied that he preferred to follow Anthony’s example and only eat as much as Anthony. Anthony replied that he would not eat more, because he was a monk. Paul said, “I want to be a monk, too.” This reminds us of St. Benedict’s degrees of humility in which he urges us to do only what we see the elders doing and what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery. When Anthony gave Paul some palm leaves to weave, he made a mess of them. When Anthony corrected him, Paul patiently unwove the leaves and began over – without grumbling or murmuring. We can hear St. Benedict’s refrain: “Above all else, we admonish them to refrain from grumbling.” Palladius goes on to report that when Anthony had been fully satisfied after the specified months – even the desert fathers had novitiates! – he gave Paul a sheepskin cloak and built a cell for him at a distance, telling him, “Behold, you have become a monk! Stay here by yourself in order that you may be tempted by demons.” Br. Guerric, you have begun your journey as a monk. We exhort you to stay here with the community so that you may join us in battling with the demons who rule the world.

There is one last scene from the life of Paul that I would like to relate. Some people brought to St. Anthony a person possessed by the Prince of Demons, and asked him to cast the demon out. In his humility, Anthony said that he had not been deemed worthy of such power, and said, “This is a job for Paul.” He led the possessed man to Paul and told him to cast out the demon. Paul replied, “What about you?” Anthony answered that he was too busy and had other things to do. So, Paul rose up, said a prayer, and told the demon, “Father Anthony has said that you must leave this man.” The demon cursed him, calling him a lazy old man, and refused to leave. Paul took off his sheepskin cloak, rolled it up, and smacked the man on the back, “Father Anthony has told you to go.” But the demon cursed both Paul and Anthony and poured more abuse on them. Finally, Paul threatened the demon that “…if you do not leave, I will go tell Christ and woe to you what He will do.” The demon cursed all three of them and absolutely refused to leave. Paul was infuriated, so he went out into the desert at high noon – a time when the Egyptian desert is not unlike the Babylonian furnace – and said, “You see, Jesus Christ, you who were crucified under Pontius Pilate, that I will not come down from the rock of the mountain, or eat, or drink…unless you cast out the spirit from this man and free him.” The demon came shrieking out, crying out, “O the violence…the simplicity of Paul drives me out…” Paul’s humility won the day. His simplicity drove out the demon. May the Lord help you win the crown of true humility and the grace of blessed simplicity.

Photographs by Brother Brian. Text of  Dom Vincent's Chapter talk addressed to Brother Guerric during his clothing ceremony on Sunday, April 25.


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Rescuing

 

We all recognize the voice of someone we love; we can recall what that voice stirs up in our hearts - joy, peace, expectation, longing.

When we are attentive, we can hear the voice of the Lord Jesus our Shepherd. He assures us that we belong to him. We have been given to Jesus by his Father. As we belong to the Father, so we are the Father’s gift to the Son; we are and will always be God’s children in the Spirit. “No one can take you out of my hand, no one,” says Jesus. This is our truth, our reality. Jesus whispers this truth, calling us by name. But perhaps too often, so often there are other voices that beckon us, competing with Jesus’ voice for our attention - desires, temptations, the things we think we need.

But the Shepherd keeps calling, searching; he won’t stop.  He is always drawing us, rescuing us from the brambles of our foolishness and pride, calling us away from the things that cannot possibly satisfy us. He wants us to come to him for everything we need. And in the Holy Eucharist, he will give us everything – all that he is. He sets the table and invites us to sit, rest, eat and drink. We belong to God. God is for us, God is with us, he wants to refresh us. Please, let us remember how hungry and thirsty and weary we are and come to him.

Image by Bradi Barth.


Our Shepherd

 
When we consider the conclusion of Jesus' life in the Passion and the Cross, we have an important revelation as to the precise nature of his "compassion" and his act of interiorizing human distress. Jesus heals human distress by assuming it, and the rude implication follows that this willingness must also form an essential part of his teaching and of the mind of one who welcomes the arrival of his Kingdom.

What we here call the creativity of Jesus' poetic imagination is quite precisely his ability—at the same time moral, aesthetic, and redemptive—to behold human suffering, accurately sum up its symptoms in a pregnant image, and assume that image's content as his own life's reality. In the divine logic at least, visceral compassion—a churning of one's "innards"—is the only fitting response to the sight of innocent, flayed sheep. In the Passion and on the Cross, Jesus himself would become flayed, mangled, torn asunder, not merely "harassed" or "vexed". The deep historical evil Jesus confronts in the Pharisees' abandonment of the people of Israel in favor of their own religious theories and observances is very actively destructive indeed, and Jesus sets out to save the lives of "his people"—that is, all of humanity, beginning with the house of Israel.

Unlike Moses, Jesus does not turn to God and beg him to appoint a shepherd, for God has already done so. Jesus is that universal shepherd. It is as if the cry of Moses had continued to echo, apparently unheard, throughout the centuries of Israel's history, and as if only now, in the person of Jesus, does that cry find the ear of the heart able to bear it.

Jesus, unlike Moses, does not turn to God in the face of the misery he witnesses before him. Jesus is God; and, simply by having compassion, he presents to the Father dwelling within him this heart-rending image of Israel: an odd, scattered grouping of wretched humans is transformed by God's loving glance into outcast sheep. God's imagination does not exaggerate; it merely uncovers the whole truth where we would rather see only the banal and the negligible. 

We know every day of thousands of people who are falling to the ground like slaughtered sheep, struck down by the natural virus, but also of thousands of people who are hunted down and persecuted like animals by the unnatural virus of oppressive hatred and racial prejudice.  I wonder which of these is worse?

Jesus makes himself our food and drink, and we are only too eager to be nourished in this Eucharist, for we are a kingdom of priests and a holy people. How could we then, in turn, refuse to make ourselves food and drink for the hungry and suffering of this world? Freely have we received Christ the Lord, and freely should we give him! Because only when we give him away with joy shall he continue to grow in ourselves.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon

Friday, April 23, 2021

Our Food

“How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?

We hear this question in today's Gospel. Given who Jesus is and who he longs to be for us, a better question might be - how could he not? How could he not desire most ardently to feed those he loves with his very Self? How could he not long to be hidden in us?

To whom else shall we go when we hunger but to him who is truly our Portion, our Food. 

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

With Saint Anselm


I do not try to reach your lofty heights, O Lord, since my understanding is in no way equal to that. But I do desire to understand your truth just a little, that truth that my heart believes and loves. I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe so that I may understand. For … unless I believe, I shall not understand.
Saint Anselm of Canterbury

The dark mystery of a hidden humble faith brings us to a depth of understanding born of humility. We believe, even as we acknowledge what do not know or may never know or completely understand. In humility, we acknowledge our limits and finiteness. We let God be God, magnificent, extravagant but also hidden and quiet and unremarkable.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Humility


Sometimes we think that humility is to go quietly, perhaps head-down looking at the floor… but even pigs walk with their heads down: this is not humility. This is that fake, ready-to-wear humility, which neither saves nor guards the heart. We have to be aware that there is no true humility without humiliation, and if you are not able to tolerate, to carry humiliation on your shoulders, you are not truly humble: you pretend you are, but you are not.

This reflection of Pope Francis is a sobering reminder. How to welcome humiliations?

Monday, April 19, 2021

Third Sunday of Easter

As today’s Gospel opens, the disciples, gathered in the room, are hearing the account of the two disciples who have just returned from Emmaus after a powerful experience of meeting the Risen Jesus. All of a sudden there is Jesus among them. And he says to them, “Peace be with you.” They were dumbfounded and could scarcely believe their eyes.

The disciples’ first reaction, however, is one of fear and trepidation, not joy. They were terrified. Jesus is dead and so this must be his ghost. “Why are you troubled?”, Jesus says, “And why do questions arise in your hearts?” But Jesus reassures them. He invites them to touch him and feel that he is real. He shows them the wounds of his crucifixion on his hands and feet.  “A ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have,” it’s not your imagination. He was alive! How can this be? After all, they thought that they had lost Jesus forever. In one sense, this is not the Jesus who died on the cross, it is the resurrected Jesus. He can appear through closed doors and in different locations, but it is still the same Jesus they had always known.

Now their feelings turn to inexpressible joy. As they look on him with a mixture of happiness and wonder, he pushes them a bit further and asks for food to eat. I’m sure that was a surprise. Ghosts don’t eat! Jesus is truly risen; he is still fully in our world and part of it, although in a very different way from before Good Friday.

He now, as he did with the disciples on their way to Emmaus, explained how what had happened to him was all clearly foretold in the Scriptures. His suffering and death were not tragedies; his resurrection was no surprise. It was all part of God’s plan. But it doesn’t stop there. In the name of that Jesus who suffered, died and rose, forgiveness of sin, that is, total reconciliation with God, was to be proclaimed to the whole world. The First Letter of John says: “Jesus is expiation (sacrifice) for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.”

And then comes their mission mandate: “You are witnesses to this.” (the Resurrection) We see this mission being carried out as Peter speaks to the people in today’s first reading. He explains the real meaning of what happened to Jesus and how they are to respond to the message. “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.”

Obviously, this mission and mandate is also for us. It is not enough for us just to hear the message and implement it in our own lives, as we sometimes think that it is all that is required of us. Again, in the second reading from the First Letter of John we hear: “The way we may be sure that we know him is to keep his commandments. Those who say, ‘I know him,’ but do not keep his commandments are liars, and the truth is not in them.” Strong words.      

It is clear that by “keeping the commandments” he means, above all, the need to follow the commandment of unconditional love, to love others as he has loved us. Years ago there was a brother here who used to say, “I don’t have to like you, but I have to love you.”

Jesus has invited us to touch his wounded hands and feet and allow us to be more convinced of his profound love. St. Bernard reminds us that, “The wounds of the Savior are a place of firm security for the weak.”                 

It’s unfortunate that the phrase: ‘unconditional love’ and the word, ‘peace’ has become so trivialized in recent decades. They were the ‘feel good’ words of the 1970’s. I used to cringe whenever I would hear them used in a way that displayed absolutely no understanding of what they really meant. Unconditional love is not about having warm and fuzzy feelings for other people, and peace is much more than just the absence of conflict. If you really want to know what unconditional love is about, gaze on the crucifix. There is no greater love than that.

In an Easter message in 2003, Pope St. John Paul II said: “Peace is born from the deep renewal of the human heart. It is not the result of human efforts, nor can it be achieved only through agreements between persons and institutions. Rather, it is a gift to be accepted with generosity, to be preserved with care, and to be made fruitful with maturity and responsibility. However troubled the situation may be, nothing can resist the effective renewal brought by the risen Christ. He is our peace.” (Easter message, April 23, 2003)

It is for each one of us to ask ourselves how effectively we communicate this message of unconditional love and Christ’s peace to one another. The truth is we often fail, but how often do we try? Our efforts will never be perfect, but the results of our efforts will spill over the walls of this monastery and into the larger Church, and indeed, into the whole world. That is our mission as contemplatives: to bear witness to the Risen Lord. From that we learn humility and gain courage from the Risen Christ to continue the path of holiness.

The fullness of Christ’s victory over sin and death is communicated to us by that one word, “peace.”

May Christ’s peace reign in your hearts during this Easter season.

Photograph by Brother Brian. This Sunday's homily by Father Emmanuel.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Going Backwards

All of us like the disciples need to go backwards to begin our resurrection story, backwards to a sober, painful place, the place of ‘This should never have happened!’ So many things, events painful, rudely embarrassing from our past, in our present. They should never have happened. But they did happen, the whole bloody mess - like crucifixion, a disaster, our worst blunder - putting God’s Lamb to death. And now we can see our helplessness, in the helplessness of God crucified. ‘This should never have happened!’ But it did. We go backwards to own it, to see it clearly, appropriate it; to mourn our losses - the real pain - and so to move on in hope, choosing life for ourselves and for one another. Then we beloved ones can recognize the risen Lord and all he’s doing on our behalf, remembering like the disciples the typical extravagance of his ordinary available lovingkindness, reversing all that we may have believed was a dead-end; retrieving, reversing what ‘should never have happened,’ noticing the wounded Jesus who is noticing us. It’s what beloved disciples like us are meant to do - open our eyes and hearts and name the blessings we are receiving here and now, noticing the sacred in all its ordinariness. For without this knowledge, this insight, and mindfulness how can we go on?

I am reminded of a distraction during prayer, years ago when I was on retreat. I was trying to focus, feeling I should be thinking of Christ Jesus. I was on retreat after all. And I was feeling guilty. ‘This shouldn’t be happening,’ I thought, for I was beleaguered by the memory of someone dear to me - remembering walks and meals together, loving conversations. And then distraction turned to prayer as somehow I understood the Lord saying to me, ‘How else would you know what I look like?’ Without this person? How else? Indeed without the love of those we love, on whose kindness and forbearance we depend, even without the challenge of those we find it difficult to love, how would we, how could we hope to recognize the blessing, the presence of the Risen One in our midst; not so very far away, this Son of Man with a beautiful wounded head,  hoping against hope that his best friends will recognize him.

It is incumbent upon us. We have been given a sacred trust -  it is our duty to reveal the risen Lord to one another. How else will we know what Jesus looks and feels like. Perhaps it’s too obvious. You’ve heard all this before - finding God in all things - in the ordinary. But then again. How to keep the awareness and the longing for the blessing of his presence? Christ Jesus is always playing in ‘ten thousand places. Lovely in eyes and lovely in limbs not his through the mirror of faces’*that we know and see and love and even find it difficult to love.

Panel painting by Duccio.  * Line of poetry from Gerard Manley Hopkins, in this meditation by one of our elderly monks.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Yellow


Flourishing in the old orchard behind the Abbey church, our forsythias shout out their praise in blazing yellow for a few glowing days each spring. 


A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means 
it to be it is obeying Him. It "consents," so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea that is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree. Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation.


Let us give glory to God by being ourselves.

                                          

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I cameGerard Manley Hopkins from "As Kingfishers Catch Fire."

Photographs by Brother Brian.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Alleluia


Our life is praise. And in these days of Eastertide, there is an urgency to our rejoicing, singing Alleluias over and over in endless variation. Such is the Work of God which Saint Benedict tells us we must always prefer. Our work is praise, which is somehow wonderfully useless - it accomplishes nothing- what we "get" out of it is the "inestimable privilege of worshiping Almighty God.
"

Photograph by Brother Brian. The quotation by Rev. Robert Taft, SJ

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Mercy Sunday


Again, this morning Jesus steps very quietly through the locked doors of the upper room and exposes his wounds for Thomas and for each of us – holes in his hands and side. And there are others we don’t see, but they’re there alright - in his feet, of course, and still others we probably never hear about, narrow deep holes in his head from the soldiers pounding on the thorns in his crown and definitely angry welts on his back from his scourging. These last were made vividly clear for me a few weeks ago when I came upon a Civil War-era photograph of an elderly slave; he looks away from us with his back to the camera. The man had endured daily lashings for years; deep ridges furrow his old black back. A history of cruelty engraved there in his flesh. Jesus’ back is probably like that. And one day if we embrace him in heaven, perhaps we’ll feel those ridges. My brothers, Jesus will always, always bear wounds in his risen body. 

But why? It baffles me still, especially as I remember the hours spent anguishing at bathroom mirrors over the state of my skin. Examining each inch. Has the pimple gone away? Will a new one appear? What’s that over there? Will the scar disappear before a dance, a party? What if I don’t look presentable? Better to put a dab of lotion, something to disguise it. Bella figura, we call it in Italian. Craziness and vanity are more like it. How different the quiet beauty of the risen Lord this morning. He simply, most gladly shows us his wounded body. Why? These holes reveal what love has done to God what love has done to God - torn him apart, even broken his heart. He is not embarrassed by the intimacy of baring these wounds for us. Why would he be? He gladly shows us because these are the radiant sacraments of his compassion, bright jewels that proclaim the boundless love of God for us.

Jesus has become our sin, taken on the depth of our guilt and depravity, swallowed it up, because he could not bear to have it burden us. And his crucifixion is the fullest expression of God’s outrage at sin. And we see on Christ’s body what the ugliness of sin has done – our stupidity and jealousy, rage and mistrust, our betrayals and denials, our potential for cruelty and scapegoating – it’s all right there. In his “passion to set right our sin-filled, disjointed universe,” God has allowed his body to be torn apart - because of love - so that he might gather our world “into the bliss of divine life.”1 And now his body is left with marks that won’t ever go away.

God indeed is love, and Love is never ugly. Saint Augustine assures us, God’s love is always creating beauty in place of irregularity and unevenness.2 God in Christ forever disfigured out of love reveals true, divine beauty, far beyond aesthetics, mere prettiness, or the cosmetic perfection I was looking for in a bathroom mirror. Jesus’ love has transvalued3 our sin and the big mess we’ve made of things, flipped it around. His crucifixion in all its brutality and revulsion has put an end to all we may have believed about beauty. The love of Christ poured out on the cross has reversed the ugliness of sin into the beauty of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy. And so, in his wounded body, the incomprehensibility of God is blindingly, beautifully revealed. The wounds Jesus bears, the marks of our most heinous act of hatred and rejection, are transcendently beautiful because he forgave those who inflicted them, because he, God’s Lamb absolutely refused to retaliate, because he trusted that love is always more powerful, because he trusted in his belovedness, trusted that his Father would not let his Beloved One know decay.

His wounds make clear what Love has endured, what love and forgiveness can accomplish, what love and forgiveness demand of us – getting wounded like him, even unto suffering and death. And this morning Jesus’ greeting of peace and his breathing forth of God’s Spirit empower us to go and do likewise – to transform by forgiveness, love, and compassion. A wounded God continues to show us his wounded body in ten thousand places, whenever we long to see him.

Being merciful as God is merciful is now possible for us if we too dare to open our wounded hands and hearts to one another, with nothing to hide. At ease with the awkwardness of our woundedness, we have nothing to lose. Then perhaps we can begin to act with compassion, as we see more easily that we all bear the same sins and sorrows. Honestly seeing our own mess mercied by Christ, we can forgive ourselves, forgive one another. Forgiveness transforms – forgiveness has the power to create beauty out of chaos, the beauty of mercy. 

As we gather together this morning to consume Christ’s wounded body, let us rejoice for we are what we eat and what we are becoming - more and more his beautiful, broken body.

Christ and Saint John by Verrocchio; 1. Robert Barron, 2. Saint Augustine,  3. Von Balthazar.; Meditation by one of the monks.


Saturday, April 10, 2021

To the Queen of Heaven

 

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

Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.

For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.

Has risen, as He said, alleluia.

Pray for us to God, alleluia.

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

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

Spring has come to our area of New England, and violets will begin blooming on the edges of sidewalks and hedges all around the monastery. The low-growing violet is a symbol of humility. And our Father, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, described the Virgin Mary as the "violet of humility." In paintings, the violet was also used to denote the humility of Christ in assuming our humanity. The violets we see remind us of the Virgin Mary and her Son, risen from the dead.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Emmaus

When Jesus engages the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, before they relate to him their version of the events of the past few days, they stop, looking downcast. They are sad because they had a set of expectations that were not met. It is true, Jesus did not meet their expectations; he infinitely surpassed them. How often we are the cause of our own sadness and spiritual listlessness because we cling to our own narrow, inner-worldly perspective, while all the while Jesus waits patiently to bestow on us the eyes of faith that will explode our world open and welcome us into his joy.  

The Supper at Emmaus, 1601, Michelangelo Merisi da CaravaggioNational Gallery, London. Reflection by Father Timothy.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Easter Praise

 

“O blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead.” It is fitting for us to turn to our holy mother the Church to put into words and give voice to the awe-filled mystery of this holy night. She has been drawn into the bridal chamber of her beloved, and she alone can tell us something of the wonders of his love.

It must start with praise of our unseen Father, our creator, who made the world precisely so that we would have so great a redeemer! Indeed, how wonderful is his care for us! How boundless his merciful love! To ransom a slave, he gave away his Son, not only to the womb of the Virgin but to the hands of sinners and to the nether world of oblivion so that allowing him to become like us in all things, he might become a merciful high priest on our behalf.

Her praise must continue with praise of the Lamb whose blood of the covenant consecrates the lips and homes of all believers. This is Jesus Christ, the true Lamb who was slain, who like Jacob, has risen up and rolled away the stone from the deep well of his tomb to wash his beloved Rachel, that is, the Church, with the nuptial bath of regeneration. How long and how hard he labored to win her for himself. It cost him his life, his honor, his blood! What else is there for his bride to do but to weep for joy – cleansed of guilt, restored to lost innocence, freed from all defilement – she knows and has found him whom her soul loves.

Finally, her praise must include that most holy Spirit who alone could make her worthy to sing these Easter praises. Her bridegroom was raised by the glory of the Father. The Spirit is this glory, the outpouring of praise of the Father for his beloved Son and of the Son for his all-powerful Father who has not let his beloved know decay. It is the Spirit who weds not only heaven and earth but the lowly bride, our Mother the Church, to her crucified and risen Lord. The Spirit is the flame undivided, the pillar of fire that is the glory of God. Never will this light be dimmed but will continue to burn in the hearts of believers until the Morning Star, who came back from the dead, draws us to the throne of grace where he lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever!

Dom Vincent's homily for the Easter Vigil.