Sunday, October 31, 2021

Nothing Greater

Jesus replied, "The first is this:
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, 
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.

The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no other commandment greater than these." Mark 12

Again, this morning Jesus speaks to us as wisdom teacher, faithful to his Jewishness. For our Jewish forebears, Torah was the Way. Jesus our Lord affirms and completes Torah in all that he teaches, in all his deeds, in all that he is. Jesus is Torah perfectly fulfilled and enfleshed - he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

For the Jewish people following the Law, seeking God’s will in every detail, meant everything. All the details of the Law were ways to keep the Lord ever in mind, remind them that they belong to God, and so need not withhold anything from him. Jesus agrees, and he assures us that he has come to fulfill the Law. 

Jesus’ way of compassion and mercy embodies the values that underpin the precepts of the Law, precepts that he was weaned on as a child in Nazareth. He knows the Law; he lived the Law in detail. And he comes to complete the teaching of the Law, to open it up to the truth at its heart. Loving the outsider, caring for the orphan and widow, turning the other cheek - these are Jewish values, Jesus did not invent them. He comes to embody them, free them from all constraint, from any limit on the compassion that wholeheartedness will allow.

Jesus loved the Lord, his God, and Father, with his whole heart, with all his mind and soul and body, with all his strength, even unto death, death on a cross to free us, his own dear "neighbors" in the flesh, from the constraints of sin and death. What return shall we make for his goodness to us?

Photograph by Father Emmanuel.

Saturday, October 30, 2021



Again this morning we celebrate the Mass and Office of Our Blessed Lady on Saturday. She is everywhere in the Abbey, her images and icons in sacred spaces and in the workplaces. Mary protects us and accompanies us; we trust in her powerful intercession. We want to hide in her shade.

We place ourselves in your keeping, Holy Mother of God. Refuse not the prayer of your children in their distress, but deliver us from all danger, ever Virgin glorious and blessed.

An etching by Margaret Walters, (1924 - 1971).

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Never Disappointed

...creation waits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God…We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope, we were saved. Romans 8 

We long to see God's face, but as Saint Peter Chrysologus reminds us, how can our "narrow human vision apprehend God, whom the whole world cannot contain?" Still, we are filled with yearning, we have come to know and understand that nothing else, nothing less than Christ Jesus himself can satisfy the desire of our hearts. We groan inwardly. Peter Chrysologus says: 

Love does not reflect; it is unreasonable and knows no moderation. Love refuses to be consoled when its goal proves impossible, despises all hindrances to the attainment of its object. Love destroys the lover if he cannot obtain what he loves; love follows its own promptings and does not think of right and wrong. Love inflames desire which impels it toward things that are forbidden. But why continue? It is intolerable for love not to see the object of its longing. That is why whatever reward they merited was nothing to the saints if they could not see the Lord. A love that desires to see God may not have reasonableness on its side, but it is the evidence of filial love. It gave Moses the temerity to say: If I have found favor in your eyes, show me your face. It inspired the psalmist to make the same prayer: Show me your face. Even the pagans made their images for this purpose: they wanted actually to see what they mistakenly revered. Sermon 147

In Christ Jesus God has revealed his blessed face to us. In ChristJesus our hope, our longing will never ever be disappointed. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; 
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit because he intercedes for the holy ones 
according to God’s will. Romans 8

As if we didn't know already, Saint Paul reminds us this morning that we do not even know how to pray. And truly it is not the how of our praying that matters, but the what and the who. What do I want; Whom do I desire?

Let us fall backwards into the warm embrace of the Spirit's groaning, as with confidence we allow God's mercy to envelop us.

Landscape, Edgar Degas (French, Paris 1834–1917 Paris), 1892, Monotype in oil colors, heightened with pastel, sheet: 10 x 13 3/8 in. (25.4 x 34 cm). Used with permission.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

With Bartimaeus

A large, probably admiring crowd is traveling with Jesus this morning, happy and proud to be in the entourage of the wonderworker who has captivated their imaginations and their hearts. But soon the euphoria is interrupted by an annoying blind beggar, crying out. Many in the crowd tell him to quiet down; he’s disrupting things, really ruining the mood. But the guy refuses to be silenced, and he shouts out all the more insistently, begging for Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Praised be to God, for Bartimaeus knows what he wants. He may be blind, but he has clear insight - in his plea he calls Jesus Son of David, recognizing Jesus’ royal lineage as well as his reputation as a healer.*

Actually, this passage often strikes me as one of the more humorous ones in all the Gospels, for at this point Jesus calls for him and asks the blind man, who probably has stumbled toward him with hands feeling the air, “What do you want me to do for you?” At this point in his ministry, Jesus has this marvelous reputation as a compassionate healer. The man is blind. Why else would he be crying out to Jesus? Isn’t it obvious? Apparently, Jesus wants him to say it: “I want to see.”  Jesus wants him to say it, wants us to blurt out our desire, our deepest longing. “What do you want? What do you want me to do for you? Tell me. How can I help? I am here for you always, always; please let me in. Say it; let me hear your voice, for your voice is lovely.”

I recall a friend telling me about his sister and her too taciturn husband, a reserved guy with a big job. They had been married only a few years, and she could always tell when something was worrying him. But he would just shut down, not let her in. So as they were snuggling at bedtime, she often would demand, gently, insistently: “Tell me, tell me what’s wrong, what’s bothering you.” She knew, women always know, something was up, and she wanted to be let in, to accompany him. The intimacy, the relationship demanded it, the relationship demanded it. But he couldn’t do it. And unfortunately, the marriage eventually ended, he was not a communicator, a connector.

Our relationship with Christ demands the same intimacy. Many of us - monks, “prayers,” accustomed to praying - might be apt to say, “But Jesus knows, he knows everything, he knows what I need, what I want, I don’t have to say anything.” True enough, but when we say it, we get to hear it; we hear ourselves, hear our neediness, our poverty, and know our real, desperate need for Christ. This often happens during spiritual direction or in a conversation with a dear friend, we say something and are surprised by the honesty, the truth. Prayer too is relationship; there are times to be quiet, times to sit together, and times to talk things out with someone you love, whom you know will listen compassionately. Jesus must be at last as good as that.

Our need, our poverty makes Christ happy, not because he wants us to feel bad, but because it allows him to save us, to give himself to us completely. The admission of need is an act of faith in him who can do all. As Jesus himself declares to Bartimaeus, to each one of us this morning, “Your faith has saved you.” Our faith will save us too, faith articulated in desire, lovingly expressed. So it is that Bartimaeus moves from being a blind beggar to becoming a clear-sighted, faith-filled, faithful follower of Jesus. He rushes toward Jesus and will follow him on the way, this is ultimately the way of the cross, the way of betrayal, the way to Jerusalem where Jesus will be tortured and crucified.* But it seems Bartimaeus is ready.

What do you want this morning? What do you want so much, you can almost taste it? Perhaps something you never dare say. Perhaps something that just rises up in your heart, but you feel you need to talk yourself out of; perhaps something that seems perhaps less than ideal. Never mind, I know it’s in there, nagging at me and I can’t deny it. Just say it to him, tell him. He hears us and understands and longs to heal and purify our desiring so that we will be able to see our deepest desire hiding beneath all that other stuff. And best of all, hopefully, eventually we come to realize that our deepest desire is not for something, but for Someone, for Jesus who is the heart of all desire.

The expressed desire is an act of faith in him who is above all, over all, and in all; he who surrounds us and truly cares for us. When we speak our desires from the shallowest to the loftiest, we are heard, and we grow in intimacy with Christ Jesus. That alone is worth the effort, the crying out. Who do you want? Who is worth everything? As always at the Eucharist, he comes to feed us to fill us with himself. If we want him, desire his kind presence, we need only ask, he wants it much more than we can ever know.

Photograph by Brother Brian. * Insights from Harrington & Donahue in a reflection by one of our monks.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Saint John Paul II

We read the following in Vita Consecrata, Saint John Paul II’s document on religious life:

The Consecrated Life, deeply rooted in the example and teaching of Christ the Lord is a gift of God the Father to his Church through the Holy Spirit. By the profession of the evangelical counsels, the characteristic features of Jesus— the chaste, poor, and obedient one— are made constantly visible in the midst of the world, and the eyes of the faithful are directed toward the mystery of the Kingdom of God already at work in history, even as it awaits its full realization in heaven.

In every age, there have been men and women who, obedient to the Father's call and to the prompting of the Spirit, have chosen this special way of following Christ in order to devote themselves to him with an undivided heart. Like the Apostles, they too have left everything behind in order to be with Christ and to put themselves, as he did, at the service of God and their brothers and sisters. In this way, through the many charisms of spiritual and apostolic life bestowed on them by the Holy Spirit, they have helped to make the mystery and mission of the Church shine forth, and in doing so have contributed to the renewal of society.

On this feast of John Paul II, we pray that we may be faithful to our Father's call and follow the Lord Jesus moment by moment with an undivided heart.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Two Calendars

For us monks, the liturgical calendar becomes one with the seasonal calendar. And typically the height of autumn color coincides with the memorials of Saints Teresa of Avila, Hedwig, Luke, and the North American Martyrs, who we have feasted in recent days.
Photographs by Brother Anthony Khan.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

To Serve


For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Here we have one of the central verses in all of Mark’s Gospel. Jesus’s death is a “ransom”, a payment of the price the “many” are unable to pay themselves. Jesus sells himself into slavery in order to liberate his brothers and sisters from bondage. For “Truly no man can ransom himself, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of his life is costly, and can never suffice, that he should continue to live on forever and never see the grave.” On our behalf he fulfills the image of the Suffering Servant prophesied by Isaiah: “…it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured…the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.” As we heard in the first reading, “it was the Lord’s will to crush him with pain…” and “My servant, the just one, shall justify the many, their iniquity he shall bear.”

But the context in which this verse occurs does not directly concern the atoning death of Jesus but his teaching on discipleship: “…whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all,” says Jesus to the Twelve.

Seen in the broader context of the passage immediately preceding this one, Mark alerts us to the theme of discipleship by telling us that Jesus, the Twelve, and his other followers are “on the way, going up to Jerusalem,” with Jesus going on ahead of them. This image calls to mind the many spiritual pilgrimages the people make to Jerusalem, and therefore elicits an atmosphere of festal celebration, as we know from praying the Psalms of Ascent: “I rejoiced when I heard them say, “Let us go up to the house of the Lord…There the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord.” It is also evocative of Israel’s journey through the wilderness with the Lord God going before them in a pillar of fire. Furthermore, it points to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah alluded to in the opening verses of Mark: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way; ‘the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord.’”

And if we look a few verses ahead in this same chapter 40 of Isaiah we find: “Get you up to the high mountain, O herald of good tidings to Zion; / lift up your voice with strength, O herald of good tidings to Jerusalem; / lift it up, fear not; / say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” / Behold, the Lord God comes with might, who rules by his strong arm…” Here the Lord appears as the mighty, strong-armed Divine Warrior engaged in a cosmic battle against the forces of evil who has now begun his triumphant march up to Jerusalem to liberate her from her enemies and establish his kingship on Zion, his holy mountain. And the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and enter Zion singing, crowned with everlasting joy,” says Isaiah. For “her guilt is expiated…she has received from the hand of her Lord double for all her sins.”

Mark says that the Twelve and the others who followed Jesus were amazed and afraid. No doubt they were responding to the figure of Jesus himself, whose whole manner and person must have radiated from within a powerful and compelling combination of purpose, authority, and humility, united in a dynamic forward-moving energy unobstructed by sin, totally surrendered as he was to the will of his Father, and aware that the culmination of his mission was drawing near. He is like the pillar of fire leading the Israelites of old. Amazement and fear are fitting responses for those who have caught a glimpse of the divine glory present yet hidden in the humanity of the Son of Man. The whole group must have been caught up into this powerful movement, with its multi-layered associations with the history, hopes, and dreams of God’s holy people.  

At this point, Jesus takes the Twelve aside and makes it absolutely clear that the way of God as liberating warrior is one with the way of the Suffering Servant. He will achieve his victory by his suffering and death as obedient Servant, as the One who has emptied himself and taken on the form of a slave. "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and hand him over to the Gentiles who will mock him, spit upon him, scourge him, and put him to death, but after three days he will rise." 

It is at this point in the text that James and John come forward with their request. Placed here as it is by Mark, it is hard to see how they could have made a more blind request at a more inappropriate moment. They seem in another world altogether; their minds apparently so totally occupied elsewhere with their own dreams and imaginings that nothing else can penetrate. On the other hand, we all know the temptation of wishing to ride along on the wave of God’s victorious triumph over sin and death while overlooking the way of the Cross even when it is staring us in the face.

Nevertheless, it seems to me too one-sided to interpret the request of James and John exclusively as a desire for power and prestige. I see no reason why more purely religious motives can’t be present here at the same time: the enthusiasm and zeal for excellence of young, idealistic, but untried disciples of weak understanding, who have caught a glimpse of the divine glory in the face of Jesus, who hope to be intimately united with him and share as deeply as possible in the mysteries of his life, who, in short, genuinely want to be holy.

The tack they take though shows that they need much conversion. They try to get Jesus to agree to their request before they say what it is. Jesus does not respond with a reproach, however, but listens, and chooses to see this instead as an opening and therefore an opportunity. First, he warns them that they do not know what they are asking, and then sets up a condition and a challenge. In this way, he appeals to their ambition, high ideals, and goodwill in order to redirect it and draw something great out of them.

“Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?", he asks. “We can,” they respond immediately and without hesitation. “We can”, I submit, is the only real response that a disciple can give, unless we want to turn away like the rich man; in that, we must always respond to God from the conviction that with God anything is possible, and not in false humility from the sense of our limited capacity and human frailty. The Lord has turned the petition into a task, and with the task always comes the grace to carry it out. We must never come to the Lord having placed conditions on our self-gift. Although their understanding needs to be stretched and their motives purified, the basic desire for excellence and greatness, to reach beyond simple fulfillment of the commandment, is a necessary ingredient for the saint and the martyr, as it is for any lover. With their unhesitating response, James and John dispose themselves to be put to use by the Lord as the Lord needs them and sees fit. "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized…” With him going before them showing the way, they will walk the path of the suffering servant. They will share in his redemptive suffering.

In the Acts of the Apostles we read that King Herod had James killed by the sword; probably between 42 and 44 AD. John on the other hand, according to St. Irenaeus, lived to a ripe old age, dying under the emperor Trajan, who reigned from 98-117 AD.

In John, we have an archetypal example of discipleship to look to as someone who is not a martyr but nevertheless drinks from the same cup of Jesus as the martyrs. Without in the least raising himself above the other disciples and evangelists, John will be the one whom Jesus loved, who sat at his side at the Last Supper and reclined his head on Jesus’ chest. He is the only one of the Twelve to be present under the Cross, alongside the Lord’s mother; he is the one of whom Jesus says to Peter after the Resurrection, “"What if I want him to remain until I come? What concern is it of yours? He is the one “caught up in spirit on the Lord’s Day on Patmos, who saw one like a son of man,” who “touched him with his right hand” and communicated to him for all the churches the vision of the Apocalypse. Not least, he is the one of the evangelists who can’t say enough what the others imply, that “God is love.”

All of this did not just happen, but I believe is the fruit and expression of a soul that has consistently handed itself over in unconditional love for the Lord and whom the Lord himself has freely chosen and regarded as fit to taste the full mystery of his suffering. I believe we get a glimpse of this at the Cross.

The Lord alone is capable of paying the ransom to free us from sin and death. The Lord must take the Cross on himself alone. John’s service to Jesus, to God, and to the Church is this acceptance of letting himself be drawn into the mystery of the Lord’s Cross and to taste the mystery of his suffering for all of us, of his loneliness and of his forsakenness. From the Cross, the Lord and John are present to one another and love one another as before, but they are unable to reach one another, unable to console one another. Present to one another, each must leave the other to bear his suffering alone. In his intimate love for the Lord and his experience of the separation of the Cross, John teaches us what he has learned, that these poles are inseparable and irreducible: glory and redemptive suffering. From this experience, I believe, flows everything that we have come to know as the Johannine heritage.

Let us drink deeply from this heritage and be drawn like James and John along the path of obedient service, that, in the words of St. Benedict, “having given up our own will, once and for all, and armed with the strong and noble weapons of obedience we may do battle for the true King, Christ the Lord,” who has given his life as a ransom for many. 

Photographs by Father Emmanuel. This morning's homily by Father Timothy.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Love Much


As Pope Francis has said, "Jesus invites us to return to the source of joy, which is the encounter with him, the courageous choice to risk everything to follow him, the satisfaction of leaving something behind in order to embrace his way. The saints have traveled this path." And certainly, this was true of Saint Teresa of Avila, whom we remember today. She tells us, "On this road of prayer it is more important to love much than to think much." We pray that we may be consumed with love for Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Detail of the Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Gianlorenzo Bernini.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

The Abbey Chapter House

At Spencer, as all through the ages, great care was taken that the monastic buildings be beautiful, to reflect the glory of God and draw the monk heavenward. The harmonious disposition of spaces was meant to express Saint Benedict’s vision of a harmonious community as presented in his Rule. And indeed for us Cistercians, this would mean in addition a certain austerity and visual sobriety expressed in unadorned interior spaces and non-figurative grisaille glass. Great attention was given to proportion and the effects of light on bare walls. Our Cistercian forebears believed the monastery should be a cloistered paradise - where the monk could regain the innocence of Adam and Eve in Eden before the Fall.

All great architecture has its antecedents. The barn at Great Coxwell in Oxfordshire, England located at a grange of the Cistercian Abbey of Beaulieu, is dated to the late 13th or early 14th century. It seems to have been the inspiration for Spencer’s church and chapter house. The exterior with a pitched roof extending down to low side walls is certainly reminiscent. And our chapter house’s open timbering on the interior seems to echo the interior of the Great Coxwell barn.
The Great Coxwell Barn
Significant moments in the life of the Abbey occur in the chapter house. Novices are clothed in their habit by the Abbot in chapter; juniors profess their first vows and receive their black scapular and leather belt there. Each Sunday in late morning, we gather in the Chapter House for a talk by Father Abbot. And important Abbey business is discussed there.

Sunday, October 10, 2021


There was once a man living in an earthly paradise. Then one day, as the gentle breezes were blowing, the colorful birds flying, and the bees were busy buzzing, this man did something that changed everything.  This man's name was James Leviticus Whittaker-Tate the 5th, Jamie for short. The earthly paradise was Hawaii. What Jamie did was he woke up; I can't say he got out of bed because he fell asleep on the sofa.  What was staggering about Jamie waking up as he was stone-cold sober; Jamie was a rich party boy, living off his parent's dime in paradise. Jamie knew this sober situation had to be remedied. Jamie had lots of friends that would help him fix the unpleasant condition he found himself in. As he was about to call someone from his inner circle, he remembered, "Oh no, can't call him, he was in custody"'. Jamie figured he would try someone else and came up with another name, and he remembered, "Oh no, can't call her she's in rehab." Then Jamie thought, I know plenty of people who like to party and have a good time. As Jamie went down the list of comrades whom he considered close, he came to realize not one of them was available; everyone was either in jail, in rehab, or dead.

Jamie paused, and at that moment, that nanosecond, Jamie felt in a flash the clouds had parted and he was able to think clearly for the first time in years, God had given him a gift, God had given him a chance, God had given Jamie a choice. Jamie could go back to his old way of living, as he had been for a long time, and Jamie told stories of being 12 and 13 and not being able to sit up or stay awake in class because he was stoned. As I said, Jamie's family was wealthy, so he could afford to keep living the way he had, and his family was never going to come looking for him; as long as Jamie kept out of their hair, he could do what he pleased. Jamie never understood why he had received that moment of clarity, but he knew he had to choose.

Jamie was well off and living in paradise, but this is a story of a family not so well off and not living in paradise. This small family consisted of a mom and dad and two sons, and the family was living in a depressed area. With two sons and a wife to feed and provide for, the father decided it would be best to move to another location that was not experiencing the hardships that their region was, and so off they went.

Moving to a new area is never easy. Still, it can be challenging when the new region is so very different than the one you are leaving, with different backgrounds, different customs, different religions, and downright strange food, but what this little family had was their bond of family and the strength of belief in their God.

Things were not easy at first, but in time the locals accepted them and their strange ways. The young men became so much part of their new homeland they both married local girls and decided to raise families in the new surroundings they had settled in. They were all doing well with a bright future, with the anticipation of children, and that's when tragedy struck. The boys' fathers, the family's patriarch, died suddenly, and then both of the sons were struck down. So the mother and her two daughters-in-law were all left widows. The mother, whose name was Naomi decided it would be best for her to go back to her native land of Bethlehem in Judah; she did not want to stay in an alien land with no family, which now only held pain for her. Naomi told her daughters-in-law, Orpah, and Ruth, to return to their families; the women had no obligation to her as she was only their mother-in-law. 

Orpah made the decision to go back to her clan; Ruth had to make the same decision to go back to the familiar, or forward with Naomi, into the unknown. Nothing is said about Ruth's life before marrying Naomi's son. Let's remember Naomi and her clan were from Judah and had unusual customs and worshiped a different God that Ruth had not known before. Maybe in Ruth's husband's family, she saw something she had not seen in her own.  Perhaps the way her husband's family respected each other and interacted with other people and conducted their lives in general, and their relationship with this God of theirs was different from what she was used to, and Ruth liked it. Ruth made the decision not to go back to her old way of life. Ruth had been given a choice to make, she could do like her sister-in-law Orpah and go back to her old way of life, or she could go forward with Naomi to Bethlehem and Naomi's God.

In the Book of Deuteronomy, as the Jewish people were about to cross over into the Promised Land, Moses knowing he was not going to be allowed to cross the river, wanted to impart some fatherly advice to his people; Moses gave a lot of advice, but the key point of what he said was "I put before you, life and death, choose life."  His people that had been on a journey for forty years, at this point, anyone who had been over the age of twenty when they left Egypt, was now dead, with the exceptions of Moses, Joshua and Caleb. The vast majority of the Jewish People had only known life of the road, and now they had to make a choice.  They could go back to wandering, or they could move forward and cross the Jordan River, and change their lives forever and that of generations untold. When Moses says choose life, he meant a life being obedient to and loving God. But Moses never said it would be an easy choice or an easy life. Forward with God into the unknown or back to an old life, which might have been uncomfortable, but it was familiar. It is amazing how comfortable people can become with discomfort.

In today's gospel, we hear of a young who wants to be holier and grow closer to God, this young man has kept all the commandments and been faithful to his religion and his God, but he wants more; at some level, he realizes he is not satisfied with what the world has to offer. So, the young man asks Jesus what he should do. Jesus Christ gave this young man a choice; the young man had to make a decision. Go back to his old life, which even though it was luxurious, the rich young man could sense, could feel, he knew it lacked something, or he could give up what he owned and what he thought he was in charge of and go forward with God. As we all know, the young man chooses not to go forward with Jesus but stay with the familiar; maybe it would be too hard to change.

My friend Jamie took the chance God offered him and had been sober for decades and was busy sailing around the world with his wife and family. Ruth went into the unknown with Naomi, to her homeland and her Hebrew God, she was blessed with marriage, became the great grandmother of King David, and is part of the heritage of Jesus Christ. The Israelites said yes and put their slavery behind them. As far as the rich young man is concerned, I would like to think his story is not over; the tighter he holds on to his possessions, the less important and valuable they may become, he is young, and God has time on his side. The young man could still say yes to choose life.

We are all given the choice of saying yes to God. Rarely is it as dramatic as with Jamie, or Ruth, or the Hebrew people crossing the Jordan River, but it is saying yes to God not just once but again and again. For some, saying yes to God is a daily event, sometimes a couple of times in the course of a day, occasionally every hour, and every so often, it's done with every breath. God puts before you life and death; choose life. Today's homily by Deacon Brother Stephen.


Friday, October 8, 2021

A Hidden Life

"the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs."  George Eliot

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Our Lady of the Rosary

Praying the Rosary we remember the mysteries of the lives of Jesus and his Mother and recall the joys and sorrows of our own lives, as we repeat Hail Mary after Hail Mary.

The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and listens to him, rejoices with great joy hearing the bridegroom’s voice.  Surely I should repeat these words, my God, my Lord Jesus, every time I hear an inspired text like the Psalms, the Gospel especially, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or any other words from the Scriptures. It is then the voice of the Holy Spirit that speaks every time that I hear or read such words. So, when I read these words of St. John, I should add with him, “And so, at this moment, my happiness is perfect.” This is the joy that should take hold of me every time I hear or read or recite any passage, however short, that contains the words of God, the words of the Beloved, of the Spouse I so passionately cherish.  The voice of my Beloved ought to fling me precisely into such joy, such a transport of love, and it is in such jubilation that I should pray the Divine Office, or the Rosary, or read the Sacred Scriptures. With what love, devotion, admiration, adoration we treat the words of a loved one, whether written or spoken!  Let us then kiss, cherish and worship every word of the Beloved of our hearts!

Our Lady of the Rosary by Simone Cantarini. Reading from the Meditations on the Gospel by Blessed Charles of Jesus, (Écrits spirituels de Charles de Foucauld, Ermite du Sahara, Apôtre des Touaregs, ed. René Bazin ) Paris, J. de Gigord, 1925, pp. 28-30.

Monday, October 4, 2021


We are told that Saint Francis decreed that his friars must not have pockets in their habits. How he wanted them to be poor with the poor Christ! How to depend on Jesus alone for all we need? How to cling to Him, a Treasure always ready to hand and heart? 

Detail of Saint Francis Of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata by Giambattista Tiepolo.

Sunday, October 3, 2021

Together in Him


We see it happening all over - a nostalgia “for a return to clear borders, settled truths,” a worldwide fear about what is not pure, what is other, different, or mixed.  One commentator has named this phenomenon Anti-pluralism. It takes many shapes – “nationalism, authoritarian populism, and religious separatism;” “reactions against diversity, fluidity, and the interdependent nature of modern life.” There is a deepening division between people - left/right, red/blue, white vs black and every other color in between and now even vaccinated vs anti-vaxxers; divisions over race, gender, belief. This constant need to keep what is “other” and different far, far away. The network of relationships, connectedness, and trust that everything else relies on is unraveling.1

So it is that in today’s first reading from the Book of Genesis we are reminded, "It is not good for the man to be alone.” It is not good for us to be separate, not healthy, not holy. God envisions us connected; this will be good for us. God has created us incomplete and meant for connection. If marital commitment is its icon, then all friendships, communities, all relationships are meant to echo this love and connectedness that God envisions for us - together we are meant to mirror the loving relationship that God is - Trinity of Persons joined in constant mutual self-gift.

Such is the good news of God’s kingdom - we are not in this alone. We’re not supposed to be. God in Christ has promised to be with us always; and he is relentlessly calling us to be like God, to forget our stubborn pride and independence and learn how to accompany one another in love, speak the truth and seek it together, with utter focus and compassion. Why? Because human relationality is the bedrock of who we are.2

In today’s Gospel Jesus reaffirms the beauty and intimacy of marriage as sacred – it is God who has joined together man and woman to become “one flesh.” Divorce was most often, though not exclusively, the husband’s prerogative.3 And so in denouncing this dismissal, Jesus seems to highlight a woman’s frequent predicament; she could be sent away at her husband’s whim, (even, some rabbis taught, if she were a terrible cook.) Women and children were among the most vulnerable in Jesus’ time, but for him, they are the little ones who are able to receive the kingdom as free gift from God. They can be part of the kingdom because they can make no claim to it on the basis of their status or power.4 They are nobodies. But Jesus takes them seriously. And so, as he embraces little children in today’s Gospel, he reveals what God is like. God loves smallness, embraces it.

It is God our Father who has, in the first place, placed a Child in our midst, his own beloved Son, Jesus. And our union with God and one another has been accomplished through his flesh.5 This reality breaks through in all Jesus’ signs and healings. Jesus abolishes divisions and separation. Isolated outsiders – lepers, the lame, blind and deaf are all healed, the dead are healed and given new life; and sent back to those they love, back to family and community. And it is finally in his death on a cross, that the ugliness of our stupid divisions and divisiveness will be revealed and put to death in his wounded body. He is our peace, and he has reconciled us to himself and to one another once and for all.

As we prepared to enter this abbey, each of us can probably recall at least one friend or relative asking, “Why do have to go there to pray? What’s so special about a monastery; you can pray anywhere.” But we sensed it; we knew in our hearts that we needed a community. We needed to be with these people who did this “thing” together. How precious, how necessary, how good it is for us to be here - together in this place. Even when, or more especially when, all seems craziness or burden, when we hurt and disappoint and irk one another, even then, perhaps most of all then, we are invited to muster the humility, vulnerability, and forgiveness that are demanded of us, and understand that it would not be good for us to be alone. That my way is not as good as our way, that we are always better together than apart. It is good for us to be here, remembering the “incredible care we have for each other at the core of our being.”6

It is in community that we discover our need and loneliness over and over again. And, if we’re honest, we discover to our dismay and salvation our total incapacity to do this life alone. We see the beauty of our incapacity, the beauty of our insufficiency. We see how little we are when left to ourselves. Then it is that we become most truly like Jesus, then we become his beautiful, wounded body. Then perhaps we can persevere in hope, even if sometimes only a thread of hope, perhaps like the Cistercian martyr of Tibhirine, Blessed Luc, who was often overheard murmuring in the quiet darkness after Compline, “OK, Lord, I will give you one more day. Just one more.”  

If we do not remember our essential goodness, our capacity to be more loving than we suspected, we are doomed. This is our only hope, our destiny. To be transformed, conformed to Christ, does not mean that we will immediately get better, holier, or nicer, but we will be opened to “the harrowing wonder and disequilibrium”7 of our desperate need for Christ Jesus and for one another.” Then at last we will be perfectly disposed to receive and to become Holy Communion. 

Gnadenstuhl, in the Blutenburg chapel in Munich from 1491, by Johannes Polonus. [1] See David Brooks in The New York Times, 2018 & 2020. [2] Paul Kalanithi. [3] Mark, M. Eugene Boring. [4] John Donohue & Daniel Harrington, Sacra Pagina: Mark. [5] Robert Barron. [6] David Brooks. [7] Miriam Pollard.

Friday, October 1, 2021

With Saint Thérèse


If you are willing to bear in peace the trial of not being pleased with yourself, you will be offering the Lord Jesus a home in your heart. It is true you will suffer, for you will feel like a stranger in your own house. But do not fear, for the poorer you are, the more Christ will love you.

We are always consoled by these words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; she reminds us that Jesus' power is made perfect in our weakness. How she trusted that God knows us in our smallness and frailty. Too often we try to be big, pretend to be big when we ought to know better. God only wants our littleness and dependence on him. What a relief not to have to pretend any longer.