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

Choosing

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

Francis

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 given life; and all 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.