Thursday, December 30, 2021

First Look

Jesus wants to look at us as he looked at Mary, and He wants to be looked at by each of us as Mary looked at Him. He came to earth for that purpose, so that by His looking at us and by our looking at Him, our hearts might be carried away to the heights of invisible things...The first look of Jesus had something transitory about it as if subject to time, but it also had something immutable and permanent, divine and eternal. Out of the centuries there comes to each person of goodwill the unspeakable delight of the first look of Jesus without the fading of its freshness, the lessening of its ardor, or the loss of divine clarity.

Lines by Luis M. Martinez.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Holy Innocents

The martyrdom of the Holy Innocents, victims of human cruelty fueled by fear and ambition, confounds all of our neat theological categories with its dazzling simplicity. The only explanation, it seems to me, for the authenticity of this collective martyrdom of will-less children who cannot even speak, comes from Jesus himself: “Blessed are those persecuted for justice’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Why did God become man? — To die in the place of man. And why were the Holy Innocents born? — To die in the place of Christ, so that he could go forward with his work of redemption. In both cases, the reason is: just because… the just-because of pure love.

It is the gratuity of God’s choice and the absolute efficacy of divine grace, and not human purposefulness and effort, that create witnesses to the magnificence of God’s saving love. Let us, then, reap the great hope offered us by this feast—to us who have to struggle daily with the sluggishness of our rebellious will and heart.

Massacre of the Innocents, Angelo Visconti, 1860-1861. Meditation by Father Simeon.



Monday, December 27, 2021

Christmas Story

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came to be through him, but the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, but his own people did not accept him. from the Prologue to the Gospel according to John

The story about Christ’s birth has been told in the Gospels and down through the ages to help us know him whom “the world did not know … or accept.” Ever since our childhood, no story could be more familiar to us, and today, once again, we celebrate its mystery and concreteness . . . But perhaps we need “stories about the story” to gain fresh access to “him who came to what was his own.”

In the late 1970s, the old Belgian Dominican chaplain at my aunt’s monastery used to go to the NYC Public Library to research wonderful medieval French Christmas stories, which he then used each year when preaching to the nuns. Perhaps they were so effective in bringing the Lord’s Incarnation home in a fresh way to a religiously sophisticated community because of their simplicity and charm. A few weeks ago I came across a contemporary story that wasn’t intended to be a Christmas story, but it struck me as such. In a paradoxical way, both protagonists are Christ figures.

This is a story told by Dr. James O’Connell, a street doctor who has dedicated himself to caring for the homeless in Boston for over 30 years. Stories from the Shadows is a collection of his reflections about his encounters on the street and in shelters with these vulnerable people teetering on the fault lines of our society. The homeless, whom society counts least and puts last, are often faceless and nameless, lost in plain sight, and forced to live on the fringes of society, struggling for simple shelter and a warm meal. Today we remember that the Son of God came into our world also totally vulnerable, totally poor, a helpless child of a homeless couple soon to become refugees in their flight to Egypt shortly after his birth. This is hardly a fitting image for God! And yet, in all its concreteness, the first Christmas reveals to us that the divine is hidden quietly inside the human (especially at its most ordinary and distressed), and that reality, at its deepest foundation, is good, even “very good.” Because Jesus took our humanity to himself, totally, every person’s humanity is sacred, to be revered, listened to, honored, and served with love. We all belong—to Christ and to each other. We are one in Christ Jesus and, despite appearances, connected to each other. We need each other. The story I’m about to tell has this as its core meaning. Christ came, and continues to come, as disguised under every type of humanity that walks the earth. His birth is about spiritual union, an essential oneness, an unbreakable wholeness with all of us. Jesus was born homeless, and at the end of his life hung among thieves. He is born in our midst, and we are born to new life.

In a reflection entitled “The Footsoak,” Dr. O’Connell begins:

A sea of reluctant faces stared intently as I entered the Nurses’ Clinic at Pine Street Inn for the first time in early July of 1985, barely two days after finishing my residency in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. During the month of June, I had served as the senior medical resident in charge of the Bigelow Intensive Care Unit, the bustling hub that cares for the hospital’s most complex and desperately ill patients. Buoyed by the sense of invincibility that accompanies such a passage, I strode into New England’s oldest and largest shelter, containing over 700 beds and located barely six blocks from the hospital, with a swagger than drew a stern grimace from the nurses.


This tepid reception by the nurses took me by surprise and left me deflated. One of them said: “Pardon our skepticism, but we’ve been burned too much and don’t trust doctors to take good care of our folks. But you will do just fine if you listen to us and do what we say. You’ll have to forget much of what you were taught in residency. Nothing changes in the life of a homeless person unless you slow down and take the time to earn trust and develop a lasting relationship. Consistency and presence are essential. Have coffee, play cards, share bits of yourself. Never judge. Remember that people have lived through hell and listen carefully to their stories. With that as bedrock, delivering health care might just be possible.” 

In fact, virtually all visits to the Nurses’ Clinic began with a footsoak. The waiting area had ten chairs, all occupied by shelter guests soaking their feet in buckets of warm water mixed with an antibacterial called Betadine. This ritual was instituted by the nurses not only for comfort and hygiene but also as a sign of service and respect. The head nurse informed Dr. O’Connell that his apprenticeship would begin with a couple of months of learning the art and skill of soaking feet. She set aside his stethoscope and medical bag. No medical questions, no chief complaints, no review of systems, no diagnosing. He was told: “Just tend to the feet and ask what else you can do to help.” Dr. O’Connell relates:

I dutifully soaked feet for almost two months. In keeping with the obvious biblical allusion, the footsoak inverts the usual power structure and places the caregiver at the feet of each patient and far from the head. This gesture of respect for the literal and figurative personal space of each homeless person is critical and a marked contrast to how I was taught to take charge during clinical encounters, invading privacy each time I placed a stethoscope on the chest, peered at a retina or examined a throat. After wandering the city for hours, suffering exposure to the extremes of weather, and then standing in a series of queues awaiting entrance to the shelter, a bed ticket, and the evening meal, homeless persons relished the chance to sit and rest while someone cleansed and soothed their feet.

The head nurse asked me to concentrate on an elderly gentleman with schizophrenia and massively swollen legs.  I knew this man well from the MGH emergency room, where he was brought several times a month by EMS. Despite our efforts, he never followed our instructions and refused all medications. His feet were so badly swollen that we needed separate buckets to soak each foot. After about a month, he looked down quizzically at me, smirked, and addressed me for the first time: ‘I thought you were supposed to be a doctor. What the hell are you doing soaking my feet?’ Dumbfounded, I couldn’t think of anything better to say than, “I do whatever the nurses tell me to do.”

Then a relationship of mutual healing opened up. Soaking feet was the portal to the hearts of both patient and clinician. To me, this is iconic of the Christmas revelation and the grace it offers again and again.

“And the Word became flesh.” Jesus was born into our world as a “nobody” . . . amidst the rest of us “nobodies.” But we, his own, often do not recognize him for who he truly is, nor accept him. That goes for ourselves as well: we often do not recognize and accept ourselves or one another for who we truly are in his eyes. Not, perhaps, until he got on his knees and began to wash his disciples’ feet . . . and ours, espousing them (and us) to himself in such a concrete and definitive way. He started as a homeless baby in a rude wooden manger, wrapped in swaddling bands, and ended up fastened to the wood of the Cross, outside the city walls—fulfilling the revelation of God who is among us and for us. Christmas has a long arc; it is a startling story inserted in the Gospels to point to the Cross and the transformation of the humanity of each of us by a quiet, identifying love beyond all telling. We have become one with Christ and each other. This is an extension of the Incarnation. It is our Christmas story.

 Image by Bradi Barth. Christmas day homily by Father Dominic 

Sunday, December 26, 2021



The opening words of today's second reading from First John give us to understand that in celebrating the Feast of the Holy Family we are celebrating not only Jesus, Mary and Joseph, but all of us who have been adopted into that hallowed trio. John writes, “Beloved, see what love the Father has bestowed on us that we may be called the children of God. And so we are.” And so we are! We are all the children of God's Holy Family.

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus, Mary and Joseph got settled into a regular family life only after they returned to the little village of Nazareth following the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. There is no mention of Egypt in Luke. There, in Nazareth, Luke says, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.” Of Jesus as an older boy who had just been found by his parents in the Temple among the teachers, Luke says in today's Gospel that he returned with them to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents as “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”

If the instrument of our redemption is the humanity of Jesus Christ, it was in the humdrum, concrete reality of family life and the social and religious life of first-century Palestine (Jewish and Pagan) that the human nature of Jesus—united as it is to the divine Person of the Word---that the human nature of Jesus took on our full humanity. We, of course, believe with the Church that Jesus is a divine person, but we also believe that the raw material of his perfect human nature blossomed into his perfect expression of a human personality through the agency of the nurturing, the love, example and instruction he received, not only from his Heavenly Father, but from his Mother Mary and foster father Joseph and from the religious community or family of Israel: for example, the relatives and friends Luke mentions in Chapters one and two.

We see in the gospels how even the greater human family, even the pagan human family, affected his development into the ONE who is perfectly divine and perfectly human, the ONE who would lay down his life for all of us, his brothers and sisters, his new family. My favorite example of this is the story of the pagan Syro-Phoenician woman who moves Jesus to heal her daughter despite his initial insistence that he is called by God to serve the children of Israel first, not pagan dogs. “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the Master's table,” she replies. Jesus is brought by her remarkable faithfulness to her own family to see this woman and her child as his own family, as his own responsibility in love RIGHT NOW---having mercy, right now.

Each and every one of us is called to advance in wisdom and age and favor before God and our brothers and sisters. The part about advancing in “age” is easy! Christian family and religious community life, as also the dedicated life of single Christians to the service of others (who become like “family”), are all royal roads on the way to this advancement in wisdom that the Gospel of Luke mentions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that “The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” For the word “family” you could read “community,” and you would have the statement: “The Christian community is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit.” In the contemplative life, we can get caught in the pseudo-mystic's mistake of getting overly mystical and misty (foggy, perhaps) and becoming blind to the divine presence and action upon us in our brothers and sisters, our family in Christ. In the apostolic exhortation on Christian Family Life, The Joy of Love, Pope Francis wrote of all family life being a “shepherding” in mercy. Each of us, he says, “by our love and care, leaves a mark on the life of others.”  With Christian wisdom and insight, he says that “This is itself a way to worship God, who has sown so much good in others in the hope that we will make it grow.” 

Please let me share with you paragraph 323 of the Joy of Love by Pope Francis, “It is a profound spiritual experience to contemplate our loved ones with the eyes of God and to see Christ in them. This demands a freedom and openness which enable us to appreciate their dignity. We can be fully present to others only by giving fully of ourselves and forgetting all else. Our loved ones merit our complete attention. Jesus is our model in this, for whenever people approached to speak with him, he would meet their gaze, directly and lovingly. No one felt overlooked in his presence, since his words and gestures conveyed the question: 'What do you want me to do for you?' This is what we experience in the daily life of the family (or community). We are constantly reminded that each of those who live with us merits complete attention since he or she possesses infinite dignity as an object of the Father's immense love. This gives rise to a tenderness that can stir in the other the joy of being loved. Tenderness is expressed in a particular way by exercising loving care in treating the limitations of the other, especially when they are evident.” (unquote) Note the word “especially”--especially when those human limitations are evident. There go out the window all my excuses about how I treat people I find difficult! He sounds like St. Benedict.

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

At our meals this week we have been hearing Fr. Michael Casey in his new book on community life expressing many similar thoughts---better than I ever could. Our meals together in the monastery are, as in any family, one of the great experiences of unity in community. Nourished together, we grow together. The sacred meal, the Sacred Banquet of the Eucharist in which we are about to participate is the best expression of our life together as God's family. The Church in her proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls all people to it. The Eucharist is the source and the summit of the Christian life, and so of our family life and the unity we share in that other hallowed trio of persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Jesus, Mary and Joseph, pray for us. Amen.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. This morning's homily by Father Luke.

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Marvelous Exchange

            O marvelous exchange which we celebrate tonight and which is summed up in the words of our Marian antiphon: “Man’s creator has become man, born of a virgin. We are made sharers in his divinity, who deigned to share in our humanity.” But I would like to shift the focus a little to the woman, the mother, Our Lady, who makes this marvelous exchange possible by accepting God’s desire to come so close to his people and in such an ordinary way. The Gospel proclaims this mystery in a few short words: “…the time came for her to have her child…”

            “…(T)he time came for her to have her child…” Isn’t that why we are all here, to accompany the mother and welcome the child. The world is going about its normal business with rulers trying to boost tax collection by issuing decrees; simple people being interrupted in their daily lives at the words of the elite, and the disagreeable graveyard shift left to the shepherds. And yet in the midst of it all, the Spirit of the Lord has turned what is so ordinary – a woman giving birth to a child – into a revelation of divine mercy.

            Divine mercy revealed in such an ordinary event! Isn’t that God’s way? When the time comes for a woman – any woman – to have her child, are we not drawn out of ourselves with care and concern? I think God wants it that way. He wants us to realize the exchange that is taking place and the mysterious mission which women carry. New life comes to us through them. And the fact that they willingly accept this mission gives us new hope – no willingness, no new life; no new life, no hope. Even though there are so many forces working against their willingness, women carry on, often against great odds. They do it for the vulnerable child, but also to fulfill an inner mission, which could be called an exchange of love. That is why it is good for us to gather in prayer and vigil to support them.

            Of course, how much more sublime is the exchange we are witnessing tonight. The time has come when a lowly handmaid willingly brings forth a child who will set us free. What care she lavished on him! How she prepared a place for him! With what love she carried him wherever she went, all the while awaiting her hour. Mary shows us the willingness that we must have to meet our hour and to bring new life into the world in whatever way God wants.

O marvelous exchange! The natural gift and capacity of a woman to give her body and blood for the life of another become the door to our salvation. Her willingness unlocks the door. And God accepts the exchange and grants the gift of a savior, the Lamb of God, the infant Jesus, the Son of the Father! Now the Son of Man has a place to lay his head. Now the angels have ample reason to proclaim the glory of God. Now the shepherds hasten, like us, to see this marvelous exchange! And it is all summed up in these simple words: “…the time came for her to have her child.”

Madonna and Child by Orazio Gentileschi. Mid-night Mass homily by Dom Vincent.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Now This is How the Birth of Jesus Took Place

“Now this is how the birth of Jesus took place…This is the way, no other way, sorry to disappoint you but it really is as amazingly beautiful and as crazy mixed up as this.” So it is that the Christmas story unfolds each year. “Now this is how the birth of Jesus came about.” And each year those few words sound so promising, almost like, “Once upon a time…” But as the story unfolds, things fall apart, and it’s more like a fractured fairy tale, not at all neat and uncomplicated. There is Mary’s unexplained pregnancy, Joseph’s sense of betrayal and his decision to put her aside, then an angel’s reassurance in a dream; you know the rest of the story so well - an uncomfortable journey for a census, demanded by tax-greedy Romans, not a room to be had, and God’s Son ends us being delivered in a cattle stall; and very soon these three will be refugees fleeing to Egypt. All of it seems a glaring reproach to our pretentions, whatever they may be. But this is how the birth of Jesus God’s only Son took place. And like those two disciples on the way to Emmaus, we may still wonder, “Did it have to be like this?” 

Perhaps all of these circumstances were appropriate because God was doing something so unprecedented in Christ. A sign has been given us from on high; the sign we’ve been longing for. And it is all a sober reminder of who Jesus is, and who he wants to be. For God points to the precarity and brokenness, the mess and inconsistencies and ambiguities of our lives, our smelly flesh and guts and bones and asks quietly, “May I dwell there?” And as the angel spoke to Joseph in a dream, so he speaks to us, “Do not be afraid. Instead, go to the low stable of your weakness and you will find me waiting for you there.” You see the Christmas story is after all harsh and terrible, full of struggle, with the shadow of the cross falling over it.[1] Jesus enters our world anonymously, clandestinely, born to insignificant parents from a nowhere town because like a warrior he is slipping in behind enemy lines [2] in order to subvert the way we thought things were supposed to be and so to initiate his kingdom.

We call this the scandal of the Incarnation - that God Most High wants to be God most low, small, hidden, weak, and unremarkable; this is God’s embrace of all that we are in its beauty as well as its shoddiness. Hidden first of all in Mary’s warm womb; he will then live the small-town life of a carpenter and wandering preacher. Later on, he will fall under the weight of the cross, and in the excruciating hour of his death his body will be pierced and torn; all his beauty and divinity smeared and concealed by blood and spittle. But there most of all in the poverty of his passion, our deadly mess will be turned completely inside-out by God’s weakness. The mess is always God’s opportunity; for his power is always made perfect in his weakness. As first in the stable so on the cross, nowhere is God more divine than in his weakness, in his humility and humiliation.[3]

Many of us will remember Br. David West. He was an artist who worked for an advertising department at a big department store in Texas before he entered. David loved to tell the story of the time he was assigned to do a watercolor painting of a single rose for an ad campaign. He had struggled with it all evening; and after his final attempt, he turned the paper over in desperation and discovered there in what had bled through the paper the perfect rose; he added a few touches and that was it. With Mary and Joseph and David, we must trust the upside-downness and continue searching for the Rose – hoping against hope, turning things over, and discovering the beauty of God. Are we adventurous enough?

Mary and Joseph show us that there is no security but faith and loving surrender to God. For his part, God reveals that he cannot be enfleshed without our faith and the cooperation of our weakness. It is what he longs for, delights in, and depends on in order to be with us. And he wants to make new Bethlehems in us,[4] if we will make room for him. But how slow we are to understand that confusion is grace, how reluctant to trust that God wants to turn things over and show us beautiful opportunities for his grace in the messiness. If we await neatness or easy success and fanfare, we will always be disappointed. This is how the birth of Jesus comes about: God places a child in our midst and says, “Here I am - in the smallness of your reality.” And maybe it is like an apology after all.

Everything’s not OK. It’s much better than that: everything is falling apart around us, within us. But this is great, good news, for in Christ we have been grasped by the love of God and drawn irrevocably into the fullness of his desire for us. For God has at last heeded the lonely cry of his creatures, “Please surrender yourself! Lower the heavens. Come down to us.” And he begs for our surrender to him in return, even as he astounds us, perhaps even disappoints us, with his unpretentiousness and weakness. A Rose has blossomed from Mary’s tender stem. And from this altar we receive his self-surrender to us in a scrap of bread, rose-red with his precious blood.

Piermatteo d'Amelia (about 1450 - 1508), The Annunciation, about 148, tempera on panel, 102.4 x 114.8 cm. Gardiner Museum.
[1] See Raymond Brown.
[2] CS Lewis cited by Robert Barron in The Priority of Christ.
[3] See Jorgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, pp. 176-177.
[4] See Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

The Fourth Sunday of Advent


“The Word of the Lord came to me thus,” says the prophet. And each of us, I suspect, have a word, a passage of Scripture that has torn our hearts open. Indeed, when the Lord speaks, things get rearranged, there is always a need for reorientation. So it is that today’s Gospel remains very significant for me. Many years ago, I read these words in the grey light of a December morning as I sat in the Cottage. For months I had felt an inexplicable longing to be a monk in this monastery. But how could it happen? I was scared, terribly confused but somehow the desire would not leave me. And that morning as I read the words of Saint Elizabeth to Mary: “Blessed is she (me) who believed that the Lord’s promises would be fulfilled,” very deep down I felt loved and understood, reassured and even chosen. (Only God knows why.) My fear would be useless. God could accomplish this for me, if I would only trust him, give him space and time. God wanted me here more than I knew.

God is always toward us, seeking us relentlessly. But for so long we had been hiding from him, fearful like Adam peeking out from the underbrush, embarrassed by our nakedness, the reality of our constant tendencies toward sin, yet all the while stubbornly insisting that we would really be OK on our own. But God understood too well. And in the fullness of time, with heart-breaking compassion and extravagant tenderness, God lost himself in love and so descends quietly, as if on tiptoe into the chaste womb of a simple Virgin; clothing himself with her chaste flesh, our smelly flesh. God Most High has fallen hopelessly in love with what he created.

The cry of his people, so urgently expressed in this morning’s Psalm, “Rouse your power, come to save us…let us see your face.” These words are but a faint echo the ardent desire of his own Heart. He wants desperately to see us face to face. But God’s desire to reveal his blessed face to us could only happen with Mary. With her nod, she becomes his dwelling place on earth, the new Ark of the Covenant.

We know the first Ark contained a golden vessel of manna, Aaron's rod that had miraculously budded before Pharoah and the Tablets of the Commandments. All of these were sacred, very tangible reminders of God’s deliverance, his unerring faithfulness to his people; indeed, we could say, they were sacraments of his divine presence. And so, the Israelites carry the Ark with them wherever they go. The Ark is revered, the focus of prayer and worship, and will finally be enthroned at the heart of the elaborate Jerusalem Temple.

But God wanted so much more, his desire unquenched even by such devotion. Madly in love with his creation, being worshipped at such a remove was unbearable for him. Holocausts and sin offerings no longer hit the spot. God needed a body so that he could touch us, heal and console us. So it is that Mary’s body becomes his new Ark. She will be the place where his glory now abides. And her pregnancy marks the “dramatic relocation” of God from Temple to humanity. Heaven is wedded to earth. He who cannot be contained is now contained in the narrow confines of Mary’s delicate young body. The whole of biblical revelation is this story of God’s longing to restore lasting intimacy with the human race. See Robert Barron. Jesus has come to woo us back to God.

And so, Mary the new Ark of the Covenant impelled by the Love within her, rises and goes into the hills. And even in utero Jesus has begun the journey that will lead him all the way to his cruel destiny on another hill in Jerusalem. He is always on the way. Mary is with him. And this morning she has come to share the news of an unprecedented pregnancy with the one person who will really get it - a pregnant Virgin visiting her older, once-barren cousin, who is now amazingly in her sixth month. Both of them know from their very insides, their guts, that nothing is impossible for God. They can feel it. Mary bears God’s son, Elizabeth his forerunner.

As the new Ark enters the house of the priest Zechariah, Elizabeth feels the child within her bouncing with joy, and she exclaims (literally “intones”): “O how blessed you are, how blessed the Lord whom you bear, blessed are you who believed.” Family visit becomes Liturgy. And the infant John leaps and dances for joy just as David before the Ark at its arrival in the holy city. God has interrupted and transformed two lives.

But my sisters and brothers, even all of that is not enough for our God. He wants more. As Mary carried him, he begs to be carried by us, now and always. He calls out to us, “Open to me. Are you there? Is anyone home? Come down, I must stay at your house today.” But how surrender to his kindness, let him in, allow him to inhabit our hearts and make an ark there, a sacred place?

I am told by a friend, a college counselor that often now some of the brightest students flounder and fail. Why? They work and work on papers, anguishing over every detail, and can never press the “Send” button, they freeze, so fearful that what they’ve written will not be good enough.

What about us? Are we enough? God seems to think so. And somehow, we have to be foolhardy enough to make ourselves available to him, and so available for the wonder and disorientation that are in store. If we dare to let him in, he is sure to be an unruly Guest, leading us in ways of love and compassion, justice, and self-forgetfulness we never imagined we’d be capable of or asked to accomplish. But it's worth it. He desperately wants to visit and stay, abide in the ark of our flimsy, smelly flesh. We need do nothing more than fall backwards into the arms of his mercy, trust him, believe the promise, simply say yes, and press “Send.”

Today's homily by one of the monks.

Saturday, December 18, 2021


Our sense of expectation intensifies as we begin the last week before the Great Day. The Church puts on our lips today the invocation O Wisdom from the mouth of the Most High!  addressed to our awaited Messiah.  Matthew’s long genealogy of Jesus shows how the divine Wisdom can give form to a history of salvation out of the mess that we humans always manage to make of our individual and collective lives.

The birth of Jesus, the fruit of no less than 42 generations, is what confers lasting meaning on everything that has gone on before. It is to this birth that the all-wise God had from the outset been directing the course of world history, interweaving his own secret design into an often chaotic pattern. The beauty of the whole could be seen only after its completion.

But let us not consider that genealogy from afar, as if we were mere spectators. We should strive to find our own unique place within it. The German poet Angelus Silesius says rather boldly:

What good to me, O Gabriel, that you greet Mary

Unless you bring me, too, that Word extraordinary? 

Let us, then, prepare our souls and lives ardently so that we, too, like our Blessed Mother, can conceive and give birth to Jesus into this tortured world of ours, so desperate for a Savior.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Two Sons

We've all heard about the “terrible twos” And probably we can remember a child, a son or daughter, a nephew or niece who at about two years old learned the power of no. “No.” I’ve been thinking, with no small amount of embarrassment, that I never really outgrew the grip of that no. Sad to say, I think my terrible twos morphed into the terrible tens, twenties, forties, and now worst of all now even the terrible sixties. Deep inside me, there’s a repeating sound bite that often goes off automatically when I’m asked to do something. It goes something like this: “Not yet. When I’m good and ready. I’ll think about it. Maybe. I’ll see.” Or simply, “No, I won’t.” Or “No one’s gonna tell me what to do.”

But the hauntingly beautiful phrase from St. Paul cuts through all the babble: “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” Have Jesus’ beautiful mind in you. Beautiful to ponder, but seemingly impossible for me. I feel too sharply the reproach of my reality, my no. I come to you this morning feeling somewhat ill-equipped to speak about the change of heart that all today’s readings clearly invite us to. I feel a sham, having so often grumbled to myself; too quickly said, “No,” out of fear, because of what I may have to lose, what hardship may be involved or simply because I’ll do it my way. After all, where might my yes lead me?

And so at first sniff, today’s Gospel seems to be a great allowance, and I feel I’m off the hook. After all, if the notorious sinners can get into the Kingdom, certainly there’s a crack in the doorway for me, right? Like the first son, I’m willing to change my mind, perhaps not in a hurry, but eventually. The two groups of people whom Jesus presents as examples for us this morning were among the most despised members of Jewish society. Tax collectors took money from Jews for an alien power, and prostitutes sold their favors most often to Roman soldiers. But even the tax collectors and prostitutes, despised for their collaboration with the Romans, are admirable because of their openness to the message of Jesus and his cousin John. See Daniel Harrington Jesus praises the readiness of these outsiders to change their minds and hearts - they’re broken enough, they know themselves outcasts and sinners. They have no illusions about themselves and so would not refuse an invitation to change, reform. They know they’re a mess, they know it all too well. They’ve got nothing to lose; they’ve lost it all already. So what am I afraid to lose?

Jesus tells there were two sons, neither had the ideal response, but one had the good sense to step up. But most importantly we have the experience of a third Son, Jesus, the Son who was always Yes. “For in him every one of God’s promises is a yes.” And only through him, can we say our yes to all God wants for us. “Have this mind in you that was in Christ Jesus.” The beautiful mind of Jesus. There was always one thing on his mind, self-forgetful love. Love makes Jesus defenseless, he will do anything at all for the Father who loves him, and for all of us - those whom the Father has given to him. 

Reflection by one of our monks.


Sunday, December 12, 2021


Shout for joy, daughter Zion! sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem!

It is important that we heed this command of the prophet with the utmost seriousness, so to speak, that is, that we hand our hearts over completely to the joy that is genuinely ours because, on the one hand, we know that in the crucified and risen Lord the mystery that he proclaims has already been accomplished. The Lord has already removed the judgment against us, sin and death no longer reign over our world, the Lord has not only done the astonishing, unheard-of thing of assuming our flesh, but on the Cross, he has borne the burden of our sins cross and blotted them out, freed us from death, and granted us a share in his own eternal life. In baptism we have already died to ourselves, awaiting our Savior in faith and love we already have our citizenship in heaven. This is the starting point in which our Advent expectation plays out.

Yet, even more, we rejoice on account of our hope, for at the same time we recognize that all this is only a beginning of what the Lord has in mind for those who love him; not only in the next world but in the here and now, for our God is a God who comes with gifts that enlighten and transform, who, in his utterly gratuitous mercy, forgives, comforts, heals, restores and renews. Moreover, he comes with the fulfillment of what we truly desire, which is he himself; for in him, and him alone, do we find our true joy.

Therefore, we are to let go of all sadness, fear, and discouragement, for they have no place in our hearts, as if God’s work could somehow be undercut or thwarted by any worldly thing, or as if he would not follow through on what he has promised. As St. Paul tells us in the Second Reading, “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” The consequence of such a surrender of self is the reign of the peace of God that surpasses all understanding over our hearts and minds.

Today’s Gospel tells us that “the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah.” The experience of Israel has much to teach us about our own preparation for the Lord’s coming. With the appearance of John, the long period of waiting is over, the fullness of time long promised by the prophets has come. The anointed one is now in their midst. Yet they do not recognize him, for he has not yet shown himself. He is here, but where is he and who is he? How will we know him when he comes? Could John be the one?

Israel has long been living in this uncertainty, in this tension of knowing and not knowing. Since the return from exile, they find the age of the prophets behind them, as are the great historical works of God’s salvation. Throughout the centuries-long period from the time of the return from the exile, until the appearance of John the Baptist, Israel must bear the barrenness of prophetic silence, of no mighty deeds from God, such as it had experienced in its origins. God has sent a true famine on the land, “not a famine of bread, nor of thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” (Amos 8:11-12) The promises of the prophets have failed to be fulfilled, the small remnant that returned from exile could hardly feel itself representative of the twelve tribes. All is uncertainty. Israel waits for the divine glory to manifest itself once again in her midst. The divine it once knew continually withdraws, never becoming present reality. Israel cannot go back to what it once knew, and what it is moving toward it cannot yet reach. This is a period of deep trial. Israel is being disciplined in a very difficult experience: God’s freedom to speak or not to speak, to act or not to act. The remnant must remain firm within this middle pause, meditating on and interiorizing the immense riches of all that it has received, but in waiting, not anticipating the Lord’s next act.

For Israel cannot force the divine glory into the open. On its own, it is incapable of drawing the various lines of its tradition together so that they converge on a particular figure. Only God can provide the synthesis, and Israel must not anticipate a solution but endure in patient expectation and hope. Otherwise, it will place an obstruction before God’s solution and become its opponents. Thus Israel’s task is to remain firm, in patience, in this unresolved longing.

Israel was prohibited from forming images of God, God himself was to provide this image. Man himself has been revealed by God to be made in his image, but because he is not God, he cannot know what it means to be in the image of God unless God shows him. Von Balthasar says that man’s fundamental creaturely state as image is to be at a twofold remove – from God and from nothing. He is not God, and he is not nothing, but, as image, he is a schwebende Mitte, an oscillating, floating, or suspended middle. Rooted in the cosmos, the tensions in which he finds himself between essence and existence, spirit and body, man and woman, individual and community cannot be resolved on his own. All attempts to do so end in aporia, confusion. As such, man is undefinable. On his own, he can find no place on which to stand. Man finds his measure only in the measure that God has given him, in God’s true image, his only-begotten Son. Only God can establish for man the proper measure of likeness and unlikeness, of distance and nearness to God, in which he may live to the full his condition as creature. Only in his Son do the various tensions of human existence find their meaning and flourish.

For Guerric of Igny, the condition of the righteous man is one of suspensa expectatio, suspended expectation. As such, it is a state of joy and of hope, for everyone who hopes in the Lord will not be disappointed, for the Lord has said that he will come, and he is true to his promise. Man’s call is to live in the between, to be in suspense between heaven and earth. Living on earth, he is already a citizen of heaven, awaiting the coming of his savior. Already our being is with the Lord, for our nature, which the Lord took upon himself and offered on our behalf, is already glorified with him. By that power that was his of lying down his own life, the Lord freely chose to hang from the cross, so that being raised up over the earth he might draw us to himself and hang us also above earthly concerns. We participate even now in the life of the glorified Lord, insofar as we live from the cross, insofar as we hang on the Lord suspended between heaven and earth in the already and not yet.

“A man can wait for the Lord more trustfully if his conscience is so at rest as to let him say: ‘Every smallest possession of mine, Lord, is entirely yours, for I have treasured up in heaven all my powers, either by giving them to you or by renouncing them for you. At your feet I have laid down all that is mine, knowing that you will be able not just to keep it safe, but to restore it to me multiplied a hundred-fold and add to it eternal life.’”

The way to dwell most fruitfully in this suspended middle is to “hang” on the Lord, to lay up all our powers, our intellect, our will, and our senses, in the glorified Lord, God’s divine image, in whom our glorified humanity already dwells. In him, these powers of ours, are not only kept safe but restored to us multiplied a hundred-fold, already in this life. And where our treasure is our heart is also. “Let your hearts go then, let them go after their treasures; let your attention be fixed on high and your expectancy hang upon the Lord so that you can justly say with the apostle: ‘Our abiding place (our conversatio, in the Vulgate), is in heaven, from where we are expecting the Savior to come.’”

When we make this humble self-gift of handing over our powers wholly to the Lord, our hearts will follow. We will come to love this new abiding place, in which we exercise these powers, received back from the Lord functioning in a new way, more in conformity with his own powers. To hang on the Lord in this way is to live as he did, who laid up his divinity and his humanity in the Father, placing them wholly at his disposal to do with them as he willed. In this way, more conformed to the divine image, we will serve him and our neighbor, and those most dear to us, in greater freedom, our souls will rest in greater peace, and when he comes, in whatever way he comes, we will be ready for him and, by his grace, we will see him and will receive him with joy. 

This Sunday's homily by Father Timothy.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021



As we celebrate Our Lady today, we recall these words of our own Saint Bernard of Clairvaux:

You have heard, O Virgin,  that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the Desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word. 

Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Saint Nicholas

Today the Church celebrates Saint Nicholas remembered through the ages for his generosity to the poor. We recall these words of the martyred archbishop Saint Oscar Romero, which we imagine the holy bishop Saint Nicholas would have appreciated.

No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God — for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit, there can be no abundance of God.

Artwork by Elisabeth Jvanovsky.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

The Second Sunday of Advent

 The nights were cold; the moon was dark; they could hear the bleating of sheep and the howling of the wind through the trees. But they watched, and they waited. The nights seemed to drag on forever; these shepherds were waiting for the dawn to bring its light and warmth, every hour seemed to grow colder and darker, and it was hard to stay awake and alert. But they watched, and they waited. These shepherds were waiting for the dawn on the sun and of a new day. They watched, and they waited.

The day was hot, the sun was blinding, and when the wind blew, it was scorching and often carried grains of sand that became projectiles that assaulted any unprotected skin.  But they watched, and they waited. God had told their ancestor that he would have as many decedents as there are stars in the sky, and they would poses and live in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Now they were slaves in a foreign land, a place that once welcomed them as honored guests. Now they were the lowest of the low, they were slaves. But they watched, and they waited. As the Jewish people began to multiply more and more in Egypt, the Egyptians grew more anxious until "they came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly." But they watched, and they waited. The Jewish people cried out for deliverance to their one God, the one their forefathers brought from Israel and with whom they had kept the covenant, but they heard nothing. So they watched, and they waited. In time God sent them a prophet and a leader; Moses, who would lead them out of Egypt and out of slavery back to the Promised Land, as we heard in the first reading from the Prophet Baruch, "Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery…you have been remembered by God".

Waiting is a common theme in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. When Sarah married Abraham, like most couples, they wanted children, but Sarah did not bear any children; it must not have been easy for Sarah to be the only young married woman at the well without a baby, as all the other young mothers were showing off their precious bundles of joy. It was not until her old age, when Sarah was beyond the time of conception that God allowed Sarah to conceive. Sarah and Abraham had to wait.

In the Gospel of John, we hear of the death of Jesus's friend Lazarus. When Jesus finally got to Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters had lived, both of Lazarus's sisters, Mary and Martha, complained about Jesus being late. Both Mary and Martha said to Jesus, if you had been here, Lazarus would not have died. Mary, Martha, and Lazarus had to wait.

So why all this waiting? God knows everything, and as much as we would sometimes like to pretend it's not true, He knows everything we have or have not done and knows the difference between our wants and our needs. Yet, he keeps us waiting. I have come up with a couple of possible answers. First, waiting reveals our true motives (sometimes we can even deceive ourselves as to why we do what we do), waiting teaches us patience (I am sure I am only speaking for myself when I say I could use a little more patience {right now please}). Those are reasonable points, and there are others, but I would like to focus on is trust. Trust in God and God's timing, and that God knows situations, facts and truths that we are not able to know or understand. Not as man sees does God see. Waiting for God shows not only the depth of relationship with God but also a person's dependence upon God. God knows the beginning, the middle, and the end of all stories, and more importunately, He knows the reason things are or are not done at certain times and according to our orders. 

Let's revisit the stories I mentioned earlier. Sarah and Abraham, if Sarah had had a baby nine months and two days after getting married, no one would have been surprised or amazed, a little counting of months on fingers, but that's about it. But God had let long years of anguish and unfulfilled hopes go by and nothing. But when God deemed it was time for Sarah to give birth, she did. After waiting all those years, you had to believe there was a lot of built-up anticipation and belief this was an extraordinary baby because God brought about this pregnancy long after Sarah and Sarah's body had given up hope of ever having a child. God did something only God could do.  

In the story of Lazarus, if Jesus had gotten there sooner, Jesus could have healed his friend Lazarus; there should be some benefit to having Jesus Christ as your best buddy. And that unto itself would have been a miracle, but it would have been just another healing. Jesus Christ did not heal Lazarus. He raised Lazarus from the dead. Truly only God has the power over life and death.

One more reason for waiting, waiting can be a time of preparation, readiness, and growth. When I was in seminary, many of the seminarians lamented that it had taken too long to get there and did not like being told they had second or delayed vocations to the priesthood. I liked to say that we did not have second or delayed vocations; this was our vocation we've just been in formation for a very, very long time, a season of waiting and preparation.

So not only is it essential to wait for God, but it is also vital to prepare. In today's Gospel reading, St. Luke quotes the Prophet Isiah when he says, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths, every valley will be filled, and every mountain made low." Is Isiah talking about excavation work involving a lot of cranes, bulldozers, and dump trucks? "The winding roads shall be made straight." It sounds like the EPA will be getting involved here.  The answer is, of course, no, scaffolding and demolition would be much easier than what we are being asked to do. This is the time to make an honest self-assessment of what valleys we have allowed ourselves to fall into. Generally, valleys are not places of sunshine and light, and what mountains we have erected between ourselves and God, and to look at the winding roads that took us places we never meant to go. We are being asked to look inside of ourselves, and so prepare our hearts. To make of ourselves something worthy of being God's children and of being the object of God's love.

So, we know we are waiting, and we know how to prepare while we are waiting, but what are we waiting for. Let's go back to those shepherds, waiting in the fields outside of a little backwater town called Bethlehem, waiting in the cold dark night. They, like us, are waiting for the light, the Messiah, who is the light of the world. The birth of Jesus was announced first to these shepherds; not the learned or wise or educated, but those on the lower rung of society, these shepherds were the first to hear of the birth of Jesus Christ, our savior, our deliverer, our Messiah. God came to the lowest of the low, the outcasts and forgotten of society, God uses the foolish to shame the wise. God used Moses to save his people, and through Moses gave his people the law, through Jesus that law was fulfilled, and through Jesus Christ came our redemption. 

Now is the time of waiting and preparation. So, what is our cold night that keeps us from the light of Christ?  

Photograph by Brother Daniel. Today's homily by Deacon, Brother Stephen.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

John of Damascus


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

These are his words:

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

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

Icon written by Brother Terence.

Friday, December 3, 2021


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

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2021


On this Advent morning in the first reading at Mass, the prophet Isaiah presents us with his vision of a real place where all of God’s promises will be fulfilled for us:

On this mountain, he will destroy
the veil that veils all peoples,
The web that is woven over all nations;
he will destroy death forever.
The Lord God will wipe away
the tears from all faces;
The reproach of his people he will remove
from the whole earth; for the Lord has spoken.

In the proclamation of the Gospel, we see this place of fulfillment. It is Christ Jesus our Lord. He himself is the fulfillment of Isaiah's dream:

Great crowds came to him,
having with them the lame,

the blind, the deformed, the mute,
and many others.
They placed them at his feet,

and he cured them.
The crowds were amazed

when they saw the mute speaking,
the deformed made whole,
the lame walking, and the blind able to see,
and they glorified the God of Israel.