Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Joy

 

Someone who loves you, Lord, makes no mistake in his choice, for nothing is better than you. His hope is not cheated, since nothing is loved with greater reward...Here is joy because fear is banished, here is tranquility...

Photograph by Brother Brian. Lines from Saint Aelred of Rievaulx.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Francis

We are told that Saint Francis decreed that his friars 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 Tiepol

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Father Gabriel

Our Father Gabriel Bertonière passed quietly to Lord late last evening. He will be remembered as one who loved the brethren and this place. Gabriel was a gifted musician and master of Gregorian Chant, training many of the monks in proper chant style. And even into his later years, Gabriel sang like a choir boy. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 17, 1932, to John A. Bertonière, Sr., and Hazel Montaldo, he graduated from Jesuit High School there in 1948 and went on to study at Harvard University. Immediately upon obtaining his BA cum laude from Harvard with a major in English in 1952, he entered St Joseph’s Abbey, whose community had only recently transferred to Spencer after a devastating fire destroyed their monastery in Cumberland, Rhode Island.

 

Father Gabriel made temporary profession of vows in 1954 and solemn vows in 1957, and he was ordained a priest in 1958. In 1962 he was sent by the Abbot to Rome to continue his theological studies. While in Europe he visited the monasteries of Mount Athos in Greece in order to deepen his growing appreciation of the Eastern monastic tradition. Byzantine Christianity and worship would become vital to his spirituality. In 1963 Fr Gabriel received his Licentiate in Sacred Theology cum laude from the Oriental Institute in Rome. In 1965 he began a long period of absence from the monastery. During this time he lived at the monastery of Chevetogne in Belgium, prepared his doctorate at the Collegium Russicum in Rome, and taught there for the extension program of an American university. He completed his doctoral dissertation in 1970 cum laude and returned permanently to Spencer to resume his monastic life in 1988. He is the author of several books, most prominently, Through Faith & Fire: The Monks of Spencer 1825-1958. After his return to Spencer, Fr Gabriel generously served his brothers for many years in several essential capacities, most significantly as archivist, novice master, organist, and choirmaster. He also served for a number of years as chaplain to our Trappistine sisters at St Mary’s Abbey in Wrentham, MA.

The younger of two children, Fr Gabriel was predeceased by his parents, John and Hazel, and his sister, Yvonne. His dear and devoted cousin, Jonathan Montaldo, of Mantua, NJ, shares this reminiscence, which speaks volumes about the quality of Father Gabriel’s life: “Gabriel and I were once in the infirmary kitchen with others, including Fr. Matthew, and some monk remarked how close Gabriel and I seemed to be. Matthew said, ‘Close? They are thick as thieves.’ Yes, but I was only a follower. Only Gabriel knew how to pull the heist of living life full tilt.”

Father Gabriel’s wake and funeral Mass will be private.

Unprofitable Servants

But, brethren, from all that might be said of His character I single out one point and beg you to notice that. He loved to praise, He loved to reward. He knew what was in man, He best knew men's faults and yet He was the warmest in their praise. When He worked a miracle He would grace it with Thy faith hath saved thee, that it might almost seem the receiver's work, not His. He said of Nathanael that he was an Israelite without guile; He that searches hearts said this, and yet what praise that was to give! He called the two sons of Zebedee Sons of Thunder, a kind and stately and honorable name! We read of nothing thunder-like that they did except, what was sinful, to wish fire down from heaven on some sinners, but they deserved the name or He would not have given it, and He has given it to them for all time. Of John the Baptist He said that his greater was not born of women. He said to Peter, Thou art Rock, and rewarded a moment's acknowledgment of him with the lasting headship of His Church. He defended Magdalen and took means that the story of her generosity should be told forever. And though He bids us say we are unprofitable servants, yet He Himself will say to each of us, Good and faithful servant, well done.

 

And this man whose picture I have tried to draw for you, brethren, is your God. He was your maker in time past; hereafter He will be your judge. Make Him your hero now. Take some time to think of Him; praise Him in your hearts. You can over your work or on your road praise Him, saying over and over again, Glory be to Christ's body; Glory be the body of the Word made flesh; Glory to the body suckled at the Blessed Virgin's breasts; Glory to Christ's body in its beauty; Glory to Christ's body in its weariness; Glory to Christ's body in its Passion, death, and burial; Glory to Christ's body risen; Glory to Christ's body in the Blessed Sacrament; Glory to Christ's soul; Glory to His genius and wisdom; Glory to His unsearchable thoughts; Glory to His saving words; Glory to His sacred heart; Glory to its courage and manliness; Glory to its meekness and mercy ; Glory to its every heartbeat, to its joys and sorrows, wishes, fears; Glory in all things to Jesus Christ.

Excerpts from a homily by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

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. God does not want our virtue, he wants our weakness. Even as we try to please him, we see and understand that we always come up short. Jesus is not a coach. He wants us to go to him in our poverty. 

This requires courage, humility, and quite often a good deal of embarrassment as perhaps we realize that we are not the spiritual athletes we imagined ourselves to be and are not making much progress in the spiritual life (as if such a thing were desirable in the first place.) It's all about Jesus' mercy. All I can offer him is my poverty and weakness. This delights Our Lord. Not because he wants to put us down, but because he delights to console and strengthen and transform our hearts into hearts of flesh, not hearts of stone, hearts full of love and compassion, hearts as broken as his own.

Friday, September 30, 2022

Saint Jerome


Saint Jerome, the fourth-century monk, renowned for his holiness and learning is also remembered for his bad temper and acerbic personality, especially when combatting heresy. Strong and outspoken he had many virtues as well as the unpleasant fruits of a fearlessly critical nature. 

Swift to anger but also swift to remorse, he was more severe on himself than on the shortcomings and errors of others. One pope is supposed to have remarked on seeing a painting of Jerome striking his breast with a stone, "You do well to carry that stone, for without it the Church would never have canonized you!"

Guido Reni, Saint Jerome, c. 1624, oil on canvas, 111.8 cm x 86.4 cm, National Gallery, London.  Meditation by Father Emmanuel.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

With The Angels

 

In the presence of the angels, I will sing your praises Lord.

As we celebrate Saints Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and all the holy angels and archangels, these messengers of God Most High, we recall that when we chant our praise to God, we join them. When we pray the heavens are thrown open, and we accompany the angels and saints in their endless praise. 

Detail of The Assumption by Fra Angelico.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Saint Vincent de Paul

 

Today we hear the heart-wrenching cries of Job from the midst of his suffering: “Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? … Why is light given to the toilers, and life to the bitter of spirit?” (Job 3, 1-23) Vincent de Paul heard this same cry of despair in his heart whenever he saw the eyes of human suffering begging him for help. This same cry we ourselves hear all around us every day, most recently coming from the criminal attack upon innocent Ukrainians.

But, rather than allow himself to be dragged down by despondency in the face of such senseless horrors, or perhaps even entertain doubts about the existence of a good and merciful God, Vincent de Paul saw in the distress of others the vocation of his own life. He allowed himself, first, to be invaded by the fire of God’s love, and then he became a channel for the love and compassion of God in this world.

And what about us? Would not the greatest tragedy of all be for us to partake at this altar of the very substance of Jesus, God’s embodied Compassion, and then go away unchanged?   

Meditation by Father Simeon.

Our Way

Our way of life is an awareness of our neediness. It is humility, it is poverty freely accepted, obedience, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Our way of life means learning to be silent and exerting ourselves in fasting, vigils, and prayer. It means working with our hands, and above all clinging to that most excellent way which is love. It means furthermore, progressing day by day in these things and persevering in them.

These words of Saint Bernard written so long ago, remind us that essentially our daily monastic regime has changed very little since the twelfth century. The monastery is called a school of love, where we are always learning, trying to make progress day by day.

Photographs by Brother Brian. Lines from a letter by Saint Bernard. 

Sunday, September 25, 2022

The Twenty-sixth Sunday

 

A rich man is hosting a dinner party. He and a few special friends are reclining on cushions, as platters of exquisitely prepared food are presented for his approval. Servers bow and exit; courses follow one after the other. There’s silly chit-chat, bursts of laughter, and a good deal of belching. The food is, after all, very good; and there’s lots of it. Now huddled at the door is that beggar Lazarus, he’s always in the neighborhood; he’s no trouble at all; doesn’t ever bother anyone. It’s just that he’s infected and covered with sores. Sometimes they get so itchy; he even lets dogs lick them. (And everyone knows where a dog’s tongue has been.) Keep your distance, Lazarus is definitely unclean. If anyone dares come close enough, Lazarus always extends an open hand waiting for something; truth be told he’d be happy to have a few scraps left on the floor after one of these banquets, but no one’s offered...

How the poor who followed Jesus must have loved hearing him tell this story of divine reversal, relishing the ending as the rich man gets his, burning in Hades while poor Lazarus has at last found rest, nestled in Abraham’s bosom at the heavenly banquet. You get what you deserve after all; no one fools God. Right?

Well. It’s clear that both characters in the parable are very poor and wounded, Lazarus through neglect and misfortune, but the rich man is poorest of all, blinded in his complacency. Poor Lazarus has nothing more to lose. But the rich man is frightened to death; he’s got everything to lose. And he’s so clueless that even from Hades he’s trying to get people to do things for him. Now we know that oppressors usually oppress because they themselves have been oppressed, abused, ignored. Perhaps not that long ago, the rich man in our parable was himself poor and ignored, and he knows he doesn’t want that life again. Keep it all out there, so it’s not near me, so I won’t see it; leave the pain at the door begging to be let in. But the invitation is to be brave enough to break the cycle by refusing to do unto others what’s been done to me. My poverty, the sores and wounds of my own misfortunes are not places to live; licking my wounds or lashing out because of them will lead me nowhere.

Undoubtedly in this cautionary tale, Jesus is reminding us that our actions have consequences. And something about the parable is surely meant to make us uncomfortable. Still, I don’t think Jesus is telling us this story just to scare us into being good. You know, “Be nice, or there’ll be hell to pay.” There’s something more. God’s heart is always riven by the cry of the poor. Jesus invites us to have hearts like God’s heart. He invites us not to be afraid to embrace the poor.

Now Jesus loved to eat and drink with rich tax collectors and sinners, a few of whom probably wore more than their share of purple and fine linen. He loved hanging out with them, for he knew they were poorer than they realized. Later Jesus himself will end up poor and suffering like Lazarus, crucified outside the gate, covered with “sores”- the cruel wounds of his passion. Like the rich man he too will be dressed in purple and fine linen, but it will be the purple cloak of his mockery and the linen of his shroud. Jesus is the Key to understanding this story. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich.” Through his poverty we have become rich.

In his dying and rising Jesus, himself has crossed the “great chasm” between the place of comfort where Lazarus now finds rest and the place of anguish where the rich man is in torment. He is the Bridge. Ever disguised in the distressing face of the poor and most abandoned, Jesus is at the same time the wounded Healer, who has come back from the dead, not as avenger to zap us in the end if we mess up but as “forgiving victim,” his power expressed in the weakness of love. His own experience as the victim of his passion is not a place where he gets stuck. He neither curses his oppressors nor relishes his victimhood. He trusts that he is the beloved of the Father and so he is free to suffer because he knows it does not define him.* Now risen, he shows us that there is nothing to fear because like him we are at once poor, very wounded sinners and richly blest and most beloved.

We need not be afraid to welcome the poor one. For Lazarus isn’t the smelly, diseased other; he is me. Not other, but me. Compassion involves growth in this insight, this ease and desire to welcome the scary other and stop running away from him. Compassion leads us to union and intimacy with my very wounded inner self, the wounded neighbor who no longer needs to be avoided, and ultimately with the truly “other Other,” God most high who in Christ has become God most low, most lowly, wounded, vulnerable and always at the door, though we are so liable to miss him or close the door in his face.

How can we help but think of Saint Francis, who realizes one day that he must embrace that leper, the one from whom he had fled as the most repugnant of outcasts. Small wonder that soon after this embrace, Francis will hide in a cave and cry his heart out, grieving over all his sins. In the leper he has come too close to the trauma of bitter self-recognition, the place, the reality to be avoided at all costs, has become the scene of encounter, healing, and freedom. Jesus was right there, of all places, in his “distressing disguise.”

A drowsy complacency is always a temptation. How will I notice the poor one very near that I may find repugnant? Who is the ignored or forgotten outcast in my world, in this monastery, in my heart, in my mirror- the part of me that won’t go away, always begging to be let in even though I want to keep it at a safe distance?

We do not have to run away anymore. Christ Jesus is here at the door waiting to be let in, the sore-covered beggar, bearing the wounds of his own cruel passion, the wounds of our many passions. Each morning in the Eucharist the Divine Beggar invites us to Holy Communion with him. As we consume him, we beg that his merciful compassion may consume us more and more.

James Tissot, Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door. * See James Alison, Broken Hearts and New Creations. Homily by one of our monks.

Friday, September 23, 2022

Saint Pio of Pietrelcina

 

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me...From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 

We remember today Padre Pio, visibly, painfully marked by the wounds of Jesus. This was his unique privilege.  

In a far less dramatic but authentic way, each one of us bears our own wounds, unseen but very real. And our wounds too are Jesus’ wounds. The Lord would not have it otherwise. We too are marked with him, for him; hidden in his wounded Body.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Dishonest?

    After the three magnificent parables on forgiveness in Chapter 15 of Luke that were proclaimed last Sunday, we begin a new chapter on the use and abuse of money.  The prophet Amos gets us off to a rousing start in the first reading with his denunciation of the moneyed elite of the very wealthy northern Kingdom of Israel around the year 750 BC.  This date makes the prophetic utterance of  Amos the oldest written book of prophecy in the Bible.  It is sadly the case that the first thing the prophets had to address was our idolatry of money at the cost of our respect for God and the poor who are sold into slavery in payment of paltry debts which had the value of a pair of sandals—the poor were considered just as worthless. Why do horrible injustices like this one, which is so ancient, sound so contemporary?   Amos calls us to pay attention- "Hear this, you who trample upon the needy!”  Likewise, this deep listening to the word of God in the parables is recommended by Our Lord and the Evangelist in the Gospel of Luke.  Today we are to do that deep listening to the Parable of the Dishonest Steward.

        A lot of ink has been spilled by commentators trying to figure out if the Steward of today's gospel in forgiving the debts of his master's borrowers was doing something dishonest or not.

Yet, from the get-go, we know that this wily steward is squandering his master's money and, once he is caught, is not trying to convince anyone of his innocence.  Just as last week we heard that the prodigal son squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation, so now today this cunning steward has been squandering his master's money probably in a similar way. His only goal after being caught is to prevent himself from going from a very remunerative and cushy position in the great estate of his master to ending up a day laborer or, worse, a begger. The bottom line about him is in the eighth verse of chapter 16 where the Lord of the estate commends the “dishonest steward” for his shrewdness in feathering his own nest by abusing the position the Lord had not yet publicly taken from him to reduce without permission the debts owed to his Lord and master.   The steward is dishonest from beginning to end in the parable.  The parable is written in such a way that it is difficult to tell if the “Lord” who ironically commends the dishonest steward at the end is the rich man of the parable or the Lord Jesus who is telling the parable. That is, perhaps, intended.

        A hint as to what might be going on is found earlier in Luke where the Son of Man, Jesus, compares himself to a thief who breaks into a house at an unexpected hour.  Well, perhaps it is that just as Jesus can refer to himself as a thief for the sake of making a point, so can Jesus refer to us his followers as “dishonest stewards.”  Misusing his not-yet-taken-away position, the dishonest steward imitated the largesse of his great Lord and forgave substantial amounts of the indebtedness of all so that he, the dishonest steward,  would be welcome in their homes after his dismissal.  Tongue in cheek, Jesus commends this cunning snake, this man of the world, to us the children of light who mutatis mutandis are likewise called to imitate the largesse of our great Lord and Father by forgiving the sins of everyone in debt to us—as the Lucan version of the Lord's prayer clearly obliges us to do--"Forgive us our sins, for we forgive everyone in debt to us”.  It is only in being stewards of forgiveness—whether of financial debts or sins--that we can come to understand, to know the Father's forgiveness of our own sins through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.   Our Lord and Savior who has ascended to his heavenly home draws us by the power of the Spirit to ascend with him to what will be OUR heavenly home as well.

       The Second Reading today tells us that God our Savior wills everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Our Lord in his love cannot wait for us to come under the roof of his heavenly home. Now, in this Eucharist,  though we might feel unworthy, though we might even feel DISHONEST,  he desires to be with us intimately under our roof to forgive us and heal our souls—to love us unconditionally.  He knocks at our door.  Let us turn, open to him, and welcome him. He says to us: "Here is your promissory note. Sit down and quickly write PAID IN FULL.  Now, let's have a banquet!

Photograph by Brother Daniel. Today's homily by Father Luke.

 

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Mother of Sorrows

 

As the Church celebrates today's memorial in honor of Our Lady of Sorrows, we recall images of Our Lady collapsing in Saint John's arms as Jesus breathes His last on the cross. Perhaps she was braver than that. 

As Mother of God, Mother of Jesus, she empathizes with Jesus' wounded Body even now. Even now Mary, given by Jesus to all his beloved disciples as their Mother, feels with us all the aches and sorrows of our hearts and minds and bodies. She is Mother of Compassion, with us always; His sorrows, her sorrows, and our sorrows are one. Let us go to her.

Painting by Safet Zec,

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Triumph of the Cross

Jesus reminds Nicodemus this morning that the Son of Man must be lifted up. For in that hour as the Son abandons himself to the Father’s will upon the cross, Death’s stranglehold will be destroyed. Anguish will become exaltation; the cross a gateway, the new ark, our only hope.

We glory in the cross of Christ Jesus our Lord, for by his cross Christ Jesus has trampled down Death by death. What would it be like to really believe that confusion is grace, that through our sins, and failures, what we have done or failed to do and deeply regret, we can find Mercy waiting for us?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Saint John Chrysostom

 

But what do I care about heaven, when I myself have become heaven?

On his feast day, we recall these beautiful words of Saint John Chrysostom reminding us of the great dignity that is ours as God's own children and of the responsibility that such dignity requires. His words become intensely real when we receive the Blessed Sacrament each morning during Mass. And we try to be mindful of this reality all day long.
Two monks are pictured in an etching by Margaret Walters, (1924 - 1971), completed for Saint Joseph's Abbey.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

The Excess of Divine Compassion

Please listen with me to this snippet of a conversation: “If you hadn’t given him all that money, he would still be here with me. How could you have done it? His full share of the inheritance? You’ve become the laughingstock of the entire district. God only knows where he’s gone to. And still every day you sit on that front porch waiting, watching. I see you there, and it breaks my heart.” “Don’t worry, my dear, he’ll be back. He’s a good boy. He asked me, and I gave him what he wanted; I couldn’t hold him. But I know him. Trust me, he’ll be back.” And so, he waits; he will not stop loving, longing, and waiting, always waiting.

You see a younger son has gone off with his share - in Hebrew law, one-third of the estate. It’s an incredibly hefty sum of money. And asking for his inheritance while his father’s still alive amounts to wishing him dead. And then, Jesus tells us, he wastes it all. What’s worse, there’s a famine. And he hires himself out to a Gentile to feed pigs, pigs; so now he’s even lost his religious identity. No faithful Jew would ever conceive of such a thing. And all the while he is so hungry. And finally, the Gospel says, “he comes to himself,” as if to say he has been delusional, out of touch with reality.

Desperation and hunger bring him back to his senses. And he remembers, “Even my father’s hired hands have more than enough. I’m going home.” This change of heart is surely fired by the remembrance of how much he has always been loved. He hurries home, all the while rehearsing a speech, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you, I don’t deserve to be called a son…I do not deserve anything.”

From afar his father sees him and runs out, panting, heedless of his dignity; he embraces and kisses this lost son, burying his dear old face in the boy’s unwashed neck. And a speech, so carefully rehearsed, is interrupted. His father won’t hear of it, he wants only to love and forgive, and he responds with unheard-of, even ridiculous extravagance. This son wanted only to be treated as a hired hand but will instead be indulged as most honored one – with ring, robe, sandals, and a banquet in his honor – loved back to life as the son he never ever ceased to be, for he was thought to be dead but is alive.

Soon the older son, the reliable guy is back from work. Ever since his brother left, he’s been nursing a grudge as big as Gibraltar. He wipes his brow on the back of his sleeve, wipes his sweaty face and neck with his bandana. And he listens. Music and dancing? And what, our best fatted calf? Clearly, his father has gone overboard, he’s making a fool of himself, and he doesn’t want any part of it. “Look, I’ve been slaving for you for years; you never even gave me a kid goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” The father might have answered, “You never asked me. I’ll give you anything you want. Just ask. You are always with me.” And then finally, this most beautiful phrase: “All that is mine is yours.” The phrase sums up the entire parable. “All that is mine is yours.”

This is what my Father and your Father is like, Jesus tells us in this parable. And even more, the parable amounts to Jesus’ self-disclosure, “an extension of the mystery of his own person,” Donald Senior for he himself is the foolish, immeasurable extravagant excess of divine compassion enfleshed for us. In him, through him, the Father says categorically: “All that is mine is yours.” In Jesus, everything we want; everything is given to us.

And this is, in fact, what the ministry of Jesus discloses. Water is changed into galloons and gallons of wine, so that a party may continue for days; a boy’s few loaves are transformed into a banquet of bread for five thousand with heaps of leftovers. Numberless desperate individuals are healed by his touch, even the dead raised up at his word.

And this excess of God’s self-gift to us in Christ will be most perfectly revealed in his passion. There, Jesus, the Father’s beloved Son loses himself in love for our sake. On the cross, he squanders himself for us even unto the shedding of his last drop of blood in order to rescue us. But he will rise and return to his Father and take us with him. We must rejoice for we were lost and have been found by God in Christ forever. God wastes himself for us, God has given himself away to us.

Worthiness does not figure in the calculus of such love. In Jesus, the reign of God has arrived; the day of salvation is here and now. And this lavish gift of God in Christ begs only our openness to receive its exuberant abundance. It's all there for us, our work then is ceaseless receptivity and availability along with the responsibility to become conduits for this incessant overflow of divine compassion.

Which one of us is worthy of such ceaseless loving regard? It’s never been about worthiness. Still, the extravagance of mercy and compassion that always awaits us is worth the self-examination that will lead us to desperation and real hunger, as we realize we have nothing to recommend us but our need for God which is a faint echo of his burning desire to fill us with himself. At best this will not lead us to complacency but hearts rent with the desire to go and do likewise, to give and not to count the cost, to pump out mercy wherever we can in this place and trust its overflow to the entire world in hidden mystery.

I think of so many friends and family who have left the Church out of boredom, anger, or because they think the institution hypocritical, too legalistic, and ultimately irrelevant. And we must admit that we deserve to be critiqued. But still, my heart breaks because a flood, a banquet of joy, the fullness of consolation, and even exhilarating challenge is waiting for them, Jesus the Lord of love waiting and waiting for them. And in the end, aren’t we all like those two sons learning that we are loved more than we can know or imagine?

Here again, at this Table, we will consume this humility and immeasurable love that God is. Let us hold back nothing of ourselves for ourselves, so that he who gives himself so completely to us may receive us entirely in return. adapted from Saint Francis of Assisi For here and now in this Holy Eucharist, the wounded and risen Christ rushes toward us to bring us home and buries his most beautiful face in the dirty crook of our neck. The broken Bread we share is itself his kiss and divine embrace. Let us go to him.

Today's homily by one of our monks, with insights from Gerhard Lofhink and Pope Benedict XVI.

Thursday, September 8, 2022

Her Birthday

 

We monks love Our Lady and rejoice in celebrating her birthday.  Our monastery is dedicated to her - officially named Our Lady of St. Joseph's Abbey. We go to her with all our needs and place ourselves in her keeping.

Domenico Ghirlandaio, The Birth of Marydetail, 1486-90, Fresco, width 450 cm, Cappella Tornabuoni, Santa Maria Novella, Florence

On the Twenty-third Sunday

Thomas a Kempis wrote in The Imitation of ChristJesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his Cross (Lk 14:27). He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to drink the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of his cross. Many love Jesus as long as hardship never touches them. Many praise and bless him, as long as they are receiving comfort from him.

In today’s Gospel Jesus says words that were quite shocking to his hearers and to us too. “If anyone comes to me without hating father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, yes, and his own life, that person cannot be my disciple.” (Lk 14:26). What are we to make of such an extraordinary statement? Don’t we have an incomprehensible contradiction here? Is this the same Jesus who tells us to love our enemies, now tells us to hate those most important to us?

It is obvious from the overall context of Luke’s gospel that Jesus could not mean for us to literally hate our parents and brothers and sisters, and those close to us. Nor does he mean for us to hate our own lives. No, “hate” here means detachment. It’s not an emotional response, he calls for undivided loyalty to himself above family loyalties. We are called to have love and compassion for every single person, no matter who they are or what their relationship may be to us. We are bound to love our family members – not only them but those of our wider family. In not recognizing those other ‘family members’ we fail in being disciples of Jesus.

On the other side, there are those who will do anything for others, but nothing for their own family. For different reasons, some people totally alienate themselves from their family and will have nothing to do with them. Such behavior is as much against the Gospel as making one’s family the beginning and end of all living. That is certainly a kind of hate that Jesus is not promoting.

What does Jesus mean by “hating our own lives”? Are we supposed to consider our lives as worthless, having no meaning? People who feel this way end up taking their own life because it becomes a source of unbearable pain and suffering. I find it interesting that in a society such as ours, which has so much to offer, many people find themselves feeling desperately lonely, empty, and hopeless. Self-hatred is transferred to hatred of others and expressed in fear, intolerance, anger, and violence. The increase of mass shootings in this country is an unfortunate illustration of this.

In the next saying, discipleship is defined by following Jesus and “carrying the cross.” “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (Lk 14:27). This indicates that giving-up self-interest and competing loyalties are central to discipleship. The following of Jesus is radical. There is no compromise.

The two brief parables that follow illustrate how to count the cost. The first presents a landowner building a tower on his property. (14:28-30). If the landowner has not estimated how much the tower will cost, and realizes that he doesn’t have the money, it’s possible that the project will remain unfinished. He then suffers humiliation and ridicule from all who see his unfinished structure.

The second story is about a king about to go into battle, who assesses the number of his troops and realizes that his enemy has twice as many troops. The wise thing to do would be to negotiate with the enemy before they meet in battle. This parable makes the same point as the previous one. Don’t start unless you have counted the cost and considered the likelihood of success or failure. The scripture scholar, Wilfrid J. Harrington, commenting on this passage writes, “The twin parables drive home the lesson that discipleship does involve commitment; it cannot be undertaken thoughtlessly. The following of Christ is at all times a serious business. He who comes to Christ must come with his eyes wide open.” (The Gospel According to St. Luke, a Commentary.)

The passage ends with Jesus saying, “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions” (Lk 14:33). Is he asking us to be homeless and dependent on others for all our needs? What he is saying is that our lives cannot be determined or manipulated by inordinate attachment to material things. Renunciation here means not only material possessions, but also possessions of the heart. The practice of detachment, of letting go, even of health and life itself, is what will bring us freedom to be a disciple of Jesus. Anything that lessens that freedom is to be “hated.”

I would like to close by continuing the quote from The Imitation of Christ that I began with.    

O how powerful is the pure love of Jesus, free from all self-interest and self-love. They who love Jesus for His own sake, and not for the sake of comfort of themselves, bless Him in every trial and anguish of heart, no less than in the greatest joy. And were he never willing to bestow comfort on them, they would still always praise Him and give Him thanks.

Homily by Father Emmanuel.

 

 

 

Thursday, September 1, 2022

Sowing in Peace

 

We know that in the Palestine of Jesus’ day, sowing involved broadcasting handfuls of seeds that were later plowed under. In the exaggerated scene Jesus depicts for us in the parable of the sower in Matthew 13, it seems the sower is a bit too generous, scattering the seeds somewhat haphazardly. They’re going everywhere - over brambles, rocks, well-trodden pathways and hungry birds are constantly swooping overhead. The parable gives us an image of the dynamic outward movement of God, as in the beginning of creation, always moving beyond the sphere of his own self-sufficient Being into the void of nothingness. God is constantly pouring himself in abundance into what is not-God. This outpouring of Godself takes flesh in Christ Jesus Our Lord. Jesus himself is the divine Sower who gives himself away to us completely, scattering his word, his very self upon us constantly. He is that Grain of Wheat falling to the earth, dying and rising for us, and bearing abundant fruit in us if we will allow him. In the condescension of his tender mercy, Jesus has come down to restore the beauty of our long-fallow garden, neglected and weedy with our sin and blindness and what Isaiah will call, our grossness of heart.

So it is that this parable becomes for us “an extension of the mystery of Jesus’ own person.”Donald Senior Jesus is this amazing superfluity of God’s self-gift to us; perfectly expressed in his signs and words, in his passion, death, and resurrection. It is he who reveals once and for all the immeasurability of God's love and compassion. In Jesus, the reign of God has arrived; the day of salvation is here and now. And this lavish gift of God in Christ begs only our openness to receive its extravagant abundance. It's all there for us, our work then is ceaseless receptivity and availability. But how exactly, we might ask.

Well, one day Abba Lot went to Abba Joseph with just such a question: “Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” The old man stood up and stretched his hands toward heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire, and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” We imagine that in the Cistercian version, if there were such a thing, Abba Joseph would bend down, smile, and answer instead – “If you will, you can become all dirt.”

You can become all dirt, good rich soil – absolutely grounded in the reality of your nothingness, your need, and brokenness. Become all humility, as you acknowledge your sins and your weakness. Do not fear to go down to that place of bitter self-knowledge, for it is there that you will receive all that the Lord in his mercy longs to give you. Humility is freedom from the burden of pretension and untruth. And though “alluring in its beauty,” such humility may be “terrifying in its demands;” Robert Barron for we need courage to be all dirt and wait there. But rest assured, he will find us; he wants nothing more than our openness.

This is our place as monks - down there where Jesus has cast himself for our sake, coming down low to share unreservedly in all that we are. How blessed then to be good rich earth, humus. Humility is then not so much discipline or virtue but the way to relationship with Christ Jesus. It is good to go down low because he is down there waiting for us. Where else would we want to be?  If God is giving himself so graciously, our only task is to stay in place and receive. “The gaze of faith keeps us in place. There we abide in love.”Iain Matthew

This is how we pray best - down there where bitter self-knowledge has left us. Our only business is continually showing up, available for the abundance he longs to lavish upon us. And if we are brave enough to notice the thorns of self-righteousness and pride, our passions raging like hungry birds or most bitter of all our rock-hard hearts, gross and insensitive – it’s all good, if it brings us down low to our reality.

Such is our continuous dance of descent as monks, down, down, over and over. As Thomas Merton will remind us “we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds” and join in the “the endless dance of the Lord in emptiness,” this endless dance of falling and rising with Christ. For when we fall, he can raise us up, which is what he delights in doing. Our business is self-forgetfulness and perseverance in prayer, in work, in love, allowing the Lord to lead, to "choreograph" our days.

And so the following lines, written by the great American dancer and choreographer Martha Graham as advice to her dancers, might be good advice for us monks, as we try to get the steps right. Here’s what she says: "Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion…There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique...It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to…keep yourself open and aware…[There is] no satisfaction…There is only a…divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us…alive."

In other words, just keep falling, just keep dancing, just keep praying and becoming all dirt for Christ’s sake, to receive with love and deep gratitude all that he is constantly scattering over us – the love and truth and boundless compassion that he is. This must be our passion, our discipline, our joy.

As we celebrate this Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, we pray that we may have the humility to respect and prudently care for all of life that has been entrusted to our care.

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The Passion of John the Baptist

The Beheading of John the Baptist, Rembrandt (Rembrandt van Rijn) (Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam), Etching and drypoint

We have the normal bodily response, which is fight or flight, fear, and anger. But another style of response emerges from our souls. From that core piece of ourselves that doesn’t have any shape, size, color, or weight, but gives us infinite value and dignity. And this response is an aesthetic response. It’s the one that causes us to hunger for beauty, to be called by beauty to partake in beauty, to pay attention to compassionate actions, to sacrifice for a neighbor, to keep a neighbor safe.

These actions and these acts of beauty, like the Sermon on the Mount, like the Lincoln Second Inaugural often involve flipping the script, upending values. On one level, these acts of beauty and pure gift, and loving care are radically illogical. They are vulnerability in the face of danger. They are gentleness in the midst of bitterness. They are compassion in the midst of strife, but these are the acts that have the power to shock. These are the acts that have the power to open hearts. These are the acts that have a power to shock a revolution in our culture and in our consciousness.

We don’t get to choose our condition. We do get to choose our response. And even in the bitterness of this hard time, I’ve seen individual acts and collective acts of giving and change and facing hard truths and uncomfortable conversations that are little sparks of beauty in what has all been rocky and dark.

We are grateful for the witness of courageous and holy women and men throughout the history of our Church. Saint John the Baptist help us to live the Truth, to speak the Truth in love.

The Beheading of John the Baptist, Rembrandt van Rijn, Dutch, Leiden 1606–1669 Amsterdam, etching and drypoint. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Lines by David Brooks.


Sunday, August 28, 2022

The Lowest Place

The Lord knows who are his own. If you know, be sure that you were foreknown; if you choose, be sure that you were chosen; if you believe, you were created for faith; and if you love, you were formed for love…he reposes in you; and since he attracts you, you recline with him and he feeds you.  William of St Thierry: Exposition on the Song of Songs, 5

In this passage, I sense William assuring us that we are understood and that we can only know ourselves in the light of Christ. And so, resisting self-knowledge even when it is most bitter will do me no good. But so often fearing the pinch of bitter self-knowledge, I think I have to clench and endure the hardship as a tough discipline. William’s words take me on a different route. When I am confident in my belovedness, my heart will be pierced with sorrow and the desire for the Lord's mercy, as I understand that I have fallen from grace, seeing clearly that I have turned away from One who loves me more than I understand.

Our life of prayer in the monastery, in its regularity, helps to reform me, so that I can begin to see the blessing hiding behind and within self-knowledge. Within this place of my vulnerability, no matter how reluctant I am to own it, I discover that the monastic life is not about my achievement but about my readiness to make my weakness available to the mercy of God. And so, I keep trying to normalize the falling apart for myself, noticing the fragmentation that is inevitable and welcoming it as grace and an opportunity for intimacy with Christ. I try to smile and say to myself, “This will be good for you; embrace it.” I am dumb and wounded, and it’s tragicomic. I try to remember that there is something truly worthwhile in being a nobody and screwing up because there is no true humility without humiliation. And I am relieved of the burden of having to be somebody; I can be nobody and go down to the lowest place, where amazingly the Lord Jesus is waiting for me. I constantly go back to the words of Saint Therese: “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. But do not fear, for the poorer you are, the more will Christ love you.” I can even rejoice that I am in need of him who longs to have mercy on me.   Meditation by a monk.

Friday, August 26, 2022

Light

 



Recall that Jesus always encourages us to ask, knock, and seek. “Tell me what you want,” he says. Recall Jesus’ words to blind Bartimaeus. Jesus is interested, transfixed in love by our need for him, our truth in its beauty, and even its somewhat sad reality. And so at the end of the Beatitudes Jesus tells the crowds, each of us, “You are the light of the world.” My response: “You’ve got the wrong party. No, Lord, it is You who are my Light, my Salvation. You have lighted up my darkness, shown me the way through my darkness to the wonderful Light of peace and truth and holiness that You are.” But the Lord is insistent, as persistent as a lover, and he repeats, “Yes and you are the light of the world, you are my light.” It is achingly beautiful but somehow unmanageable. Where to start? Let us start where Saint Bernard did - with self-knowledge. “Know who you are.” This is the first truth. A story may help.

The story of Mary Lavelle, a modest, young Dublin girl. She lives at home with an unappreciative, widowed father, an abusive man. Mary is engaged to be married. Her fiancé is a simple man named John; he adores her. He will wait to marry her so that he can accumulate enough to support her in grand style. She is patient; believes she loves him. While waiting for her wedding day, she decides on advice from a friend to work for a year abroad in Spain. Irish governesses for the daughters of wealthy Spanish families are all the rage in the Twenties. And she easily lands a job as a dueña, a governess. She will teach and be companion to three young girls. Ah! There is one detail I’ve left out, that I should tell you about Mary Lavelle. She is gorgeous, ravishingly beautiful; no one can resist her! Spain, it would seem, all of Spain is stirred by her presence. Young children dance around her when she sits in an open-air café chanting, “Guappa! Guappa! - “Beautiful! Beautiful one!” And the father of the family finds sleepy corners of his heart reawakened by her sweet beauty. The girls, her charges, adore her, totally captivated. Only society ladies believe the mother of the family would be foolish to keep Mary as the dueña for her daughters - her beauty will clearly eclipse that of her girls at their coming-out parties. The truth is - it is mutual; all of Spain stirs Mary’s heart, the lush landscape, the bullfights, the fiery music. She finds it all too much. And so, she begins to discover her passion and the power of her beauty. The consequences are truly tragic, even horrible!  Mary Lavelle falls desperately in love with the married son of the family, Juanito, and he with her. He is remarkably handsome with a lovely, charming wife and a new baby son. The two acknowledge their love, trying to be thoughtful, restrained, deliberate, and resolute about their previous promises and obligations. But Mary soon can bear it no longer. I need not tell you much more. Tragedy. She seduces him. Their lives are ruined. But what is the tragic flaw of Mary Lavelle?  Perhaps it is that she never knew how beautiful she was, how desirable she was, the power of her beauty, and the depth of her desire to see her beauty mirrored in another. She discovers her dignity, her worthiness, her desirableness, and perhaps most importantly, the responsibility of her beauty too late. (Kate O’Brien, Talk of Angels.)

“Small wonder the tragedy occurred,” Saint Bernard might say, “for she clearly missed the point, the crucial first step.”  It is what Jesus tells us, like those little delighted little children at Mary’s favorite café- “Beautiful! Beautiful! Guappa! Guappa!” His words to us are - “You are the light of the world.” If only you knew your exquisite brilliance, your dignity in Christ; if only you knew God’s gift, who is asking you for a drink, a nod, even a kiss. If only you knew God’s desire for you, everything would be changed and transformed. “His desire gives rise to yours,” says Saint Bernard, “and if you are eager to receive his word, it is He who is rushing to enter your heart; for He first loved us, not we Him.” Desirable, as necessary as light in darkness to show the way. Knowing I am beautiful, gleaming, splendid light. Light from Light, embedded in God, in his image, in God’s beauty, God’s Light. I am of God. In him, I am light from Light. Dare I boast of it, glory in it, know my truth? If not, says Saint Bernard, “What glory is there in having something you do not know you have?”

Photograph by Charlie O'Connor. Meditation by one of the monks.



Sunday, August 21, 2022

On Sunday

As we celebrate the Lord's Day, we ponder with joy and wonder these words of Saint Francis of Assisi, quoted by Pope Francis in his most recent apostolic letter: 

Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble,
and let the heavens exult
when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar
in the hands of a priest!
O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity!
O sublime humility! O humble sublimity!
The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself that for our salvation
He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!
Brothers, look at the humility of God,
and pour out your hearts before Him!
Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him!
Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!


Photographs by Brother Brian.

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Saint Bernard's Day

 

Pope Francis recently published an apostolic letter on the liturgy entitled Desiderio desideravi. This morning I’d like to look at how St. Bernard might help us to appropriate the teaching in this letter. The title comes from the first two words from Jesus' words to his disciples at the opening of the scene of the Last Supper in Luke’s Gospel: “I have earnestly desired (Desiderio desideravi) to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” 

These words of Jesus, the Holy Father says, are a “crevice through which we can intuit the depth of the love of the persons of the Holy Trinity have for us.” Our response, which he repeats twice in this opening section, is “surprise.” Surprise at the gift of the supper despite the infinite disproportion between its immensity and smallness of the one who receives it, and surprise at the love of the persons of the Trinity for us, expressed by Jesus burning and infinite desire to eat the Passover with the disciples, and through it to re-establish communion with us, a desire, he says, that “will not be satisfied until every man and woman…shall have eaten his Body and drunk his Blood.”

For our part, “the possible response – which is also the most demanding asceticism – is, as always, that surrender to this love, that letting ourselves be drawn by him.”

For the Holy Father, “all the powerful beauty of the liturgy” lies in the fact that the liturgy guarantees for us the possibility of a true encounter with the living Lord and of having the power of his Paschal Mystery reach us.

The Holy Father says that with this letter of his he “simply want[s] to invite the whole Church to rediscover, to safeguard, and to live the truth and power of the Christian celebration.” Later he formulates it this way: “How can we grow in our capacity to live in full the liturgical action? How can we continue to let ourselves be amazed at what happens in the celebration under our very eyes?”

The Liturgy, he says, is an antidote to what he calls “the poison of spiritual worldliness”, but for the antidote to be effective, the beauty of the truth of the Christian celebration must be rediscovered daily. This means maintaining a disposition of astonishment before the paschal mystery, if this astonishment were lacking “we would truly risk being impermeable to the ocean of grace that floods every celebration.”

To start, I asked myself what form this astonishment might take in Saint Bernard. In my opinion, we have a good example of it in his Sermon on the Assumption which was read at the Second Nocturn at Vigils on Monday. First, it catches us up beyond ourselves in joy and praise: This “glorious festival” “when the nature of man is elevated in the Virgin to solitary eminence…is a time when all flesh should shout for joy…” It is a response to a mystery perceived but that lies beyond words: “neither my barren mind can conceive nor my unpolished tongue express anything worthy of so grand a theme.” So great a wonder can only bring forth admiration in the form of a question: “Who is she that comes up from the desert flowing with delights?” Astonishment can only pile up attributes and images: “loveliness of humility”, “‘dropping honeycomb’ of divine charity”, “seat of mercy”, “fulness of heavenly grace”, “prerogative of singular glory”, “Queen of the universe”, “lovely and sweet in her delights…even to the holy angels.” When it tries to express what it has seen, it finds itself taking refuge in irreducible polarities and paradoxes that remain suspended and unresolved except in the mystery of divine revelation: for, in a unique way, we find in Mary a “virginal fecundity, or should I call it a fecund virginity?”

But there is no resting in astonishment, nor is Bernard interested first of all in speculation, but in action. “Therefore,” he says, “my dearest brethren, let us run with thirsting souls to this fountain of mercy, let our misery have recourse with all the eagerness of desire to this treasury of compassion.” From here flows a missionary impulse, the desire to share with others the grace received: “I beseech you, let it be the concern of your loving-kindness to make known to the whole world the grace you have found with God, by obtaining through your holy prayers pardon for the guilty, health for the sick, courage for the timid.”

In this short excerpt from one of Bernard’s sermons, we find in the flight of the “thirsting soul” the three pillars of the Bernardine path to God: humility, charity, and contemplation. In this simple but profound pattern, I believe Bernard shows us the way to the answer to the Holy Father’s questions: “How can we grow in our capacity to live in full the liturgical action? How can we continue to let ourselves be amazed at what happens in the celebration under our very eyes?” Because Bernard offers us a path of encounter.

In his “Steps of Humility and Pride,” Bernard says that there are three degrees in the perception of truth. “We must look for truth in ourselves (humility); in our neighbors (charity); in itself (contemplation). We look for truth in ourselves when we judge ourselves; in our neighbors when we have sympathy for their sufferings; in itself, when we contemplate it with a clean heart.” Bernard justifies the order and the number of these degrees by their place in the order of the Beatitudes. For there, he says, “the merciful are spoken of before the clean of heart”, and “the meek are spoken of before the merciful:” meekness, mercy, a clean heart; these three.

“The merciful quickly grasp the truth in their neighbors when their heart goes out to them with a love that unites them so closely that they feel their neighbor’s good and ill as if it were their own.” “For just as pure truth is seen only by the pure of heart, so also a brother’s miseries are truly experienced only by one who has misery in his own heart. You will never have real mercy for the failings of another, he insists, until you know and realize that you have the same failings in your own soul. Our Savior has given us the example. He willed to suffer so that he might know compassion; to learn mercy he shared our misery…” “…pay attention, then, to what you are, Bernard admonishes us, because you are truly full of misery;” that is, in need of mercy, of salvation.

“If you have eyes for the shortcomings of your neighbor and not for your own, no feeling of mercy will arise in you but rather indignation…” We all know that experience, I think. We will lack what St. Paul calls the “spirit of gentleness”, which is not some contrived mannerism assumed at will, but the fruit of the formation of our character, that wells up from within, as connatural to us. “When a man has seen the truth about himself, or better, when he has seen himself in truth”, that is in the light of Christ, he will come to what Bernard calls a “deep heart”. The ideal to be reached is “perfect humility”, which I attain when I am “not…ashamed to confess the known truth about myself.”

Souls in this state “hunger and thirst after justice” and are “anxious to exact from themselves full satisfaction and real amendment.” From justice, they fly to mercy, by the road Truth himself shows them: “Blessed are the merciful for they have obtained mercy.” “They look beyond their own needs to the needs of their neighbors and from the things they themselves have suffered they learn compassion…”

We are called to persevere in these three things: sorrow of repentance, desire for justice, and works of mercy. In these three our hearts are cleansed by grace and prepared for the highest possible gift: union of will with God; by the grace of the Spirit, to be made one spirit with God. Ultimately, those who persevere receive what Bernard calls a “simple eye”, the fulfillment of the promise made in the beatitude: “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” In the purity of truth, these souls are swept up to the sight of things invisible. With this rapture, then, we have come full circle. Astonishment shows itself to be not just the beginning but ultimate, and the abiding reality for those with eyes to see.

Here we have, brothers, the fitting response to the love that loved us first, what the Holy Father called that “most demanding asceticism,” that is, “the surrender to his love, that letting ourselves be drawn by him,” who in this “today” of salvation, earnestly desires to share this sacred banquet with us, which he himself has prepared for us, that we may accept the gift of his body and blood and so become one body with him. Let us then partake of this gift.

Apparition of the Virgin to Saint Bernard, Filippino Lippi, 1485-1487, oil on panel, 83 x 77 in., Badia, Florence. Today's homily by Father Timothy.