Like members of any family, the monks share the household chores that keep the monastery running smoothly. Here Fathers Simeon and Timothy are shown cleaning the monastic refectory.
Monday, January 31, 2022
Sunday, January 30, 2022
Love always provokes, as for example this affirmation: Today this Scripture passage has been fulfilled in your hearing. These are the first words we hear today in the gospel from the mouth of the Lord Jesus. It is the Sabbath, and we are with Jesus in the synagogue in Nazareth, where he had grown up, as St Luke explains, and according to his custom ... he entered the synagogue and stood up to read. Jesus is here preaching to his fellow citizens and his own relatives. But what is the prophecy referred to by Jesus? It is the capital text of Isaiah that Jesus, as liturgical reader, specifically chose and proclaimed aloud, and which we heard last Sunday: The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me and sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim release to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. “He has anointed me”: this statement, on Jesus’ lips, is tantamount to saying, ‘I am the Messiah’. By identifying himself with this text, we have a case of the Word Incarnate preaching and embodying the prophetic word: Jesus reveals that he himself, and the figure of whom Isaiah speaks, are one and the same. This is one of the most important messianic texts because it proclaims the absolute unity that exists between the invisible God of Israel and his visible Messiah of flesh and blood.
Today’s gospel, however, focuses not on the Lord's messianic activities (teaching, setting free, healing, and so forth) but rather on the encounter itself, indeed the confrontation, between Jesus and the people of Nazareth at this precise moment in time. It all begins splendidly. Indeed, who would venture to oppose the actions full of goodness, power and wisdom that Jesus wants to implement for the benefit of all who are sick, sad, poor and oppressed? On this earth, the Messiah truly embodies, in a most palpable way, the inexhaustible goodness and mercy of God. Consequently, the first reaction of these very religious and observant people who came to pray that Sabbath in the synagogue is extremely positive: They all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the words of grace that came out of his mouth, Luke records.
But amazed in what sense? It seems to me that Jesus suspects that this initial and very welcoming reaction hides a hidden level of jealousy and resentment. Even while being overcome with wonderment, the congregation immediately adds the suspicious question: Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Perhaps what they really mean to say is, if I may paraphrase the interior thoughts driving them: ‘How is it possible that the Messiah of Israel should come from among us? We, too, want God to be with us and help us in all our needs and desires by fulfilling them, by giving us what we ask for; but we certainly do not want God to come so close to us as this! What would be the sense of God making himself one of us and living among us, of his becoming a member of a specific human family whose street address everyone knows? The closeness and intimacy that God apparently wants to have with us is a scandalous thing! Why? Because, when God is so close to us that he even becomes one of us, we cannot manipulate him like ordinary abstract ideas. Then he challenges us with the resistant concreteness and demanding presence of a real person. We simply will not have it!’
We believers are used to saying that God is all about love and mercy, and this is undoubtedly true. But how do we understand this ‘love’ and this ‘mercy’? To the astonished praise lavished on him by the people surrounding him, Jesus, who can read hearts, responds with a statement full of realism and sadness: Amen, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own native place. And he reminds them of the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, and then of the other story of Elisha and Naaman the Syrian. The unbearable lesson of both these stories for this pious Jewish congregation is that foreign, unbelieving, and idolatrous goyím are, ironically, more ready to believe a Jewish prophet than the Jews themselves are! And so, all those who a moment ago greeted Jesus with joyful witness and marveled at his words of grace now suddenly fill the synagogue with their indignation immediately upon hearing these things. Alas, how easily we all turn inconstant, wrathful, and unjust when our faith and motivations are not deep when we only want to defend our precious egos. In homilies, we eagerly listen to someone who speaks eloquently and sweetly of God, who amuses us with witty jokes and anecdotes, or edifies us with pious words, but only so long as he does not touch our consciences or criticize our attitudes!
Today’s gospel, so full of conflict, and the second reading, where we hear St Paul sing to us his magnificent Hymn to Agápe (‘divine love’), seem to present us with the two polar opposites of the Christian life: on the one hand, the harshness of correction, and, on the other, the sweetness of love. But is this a true contradiction? Let us ask ourselves how the same Jesus who so strongly provokes his Nazarene acquaintances in the gospel can at the same time be the Messiah who embodies the love of God? In what sense can we say that, on this Sabbath in the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus is enacting God's mercy on earth, even though in the end he is violently rejected by his fellow Nazarenes after provoking them by questioning their faith in the Messiah?
(The text is indeed violent, saying that when the people in the synagogue heard this, they were all filled with fury. They rose up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong… Who can fathom the fickleness, treachery, and downright meanness of which we human beings are capable when our ego feels threatened and thus triggers our reptile brain to take over and rule our whole person?)
The fact is that, when we feel prophetically rebuked by God’s love, we can unwittingly move from a state of joyful wonderment to the most violent reaction of disdain and contempt. Is any one of us exempt from such an unchaining of destructive emotions, precisely when the truth about ourselves is unmasked? I do not think so. But let our consolation be the certain knowledge that Jesus the Messiah knew full well, in advance, the reactions of both blissful wonderment and contemptuous rejection he would provoke that day in Nazareth, yet nevertheless, he walked deliberately into that situation, surely with the intention of beginning a process of self-recognition and healing among his townsfolk.
In his Hymn to Love, St Paul declares: Agápe does not seek its own interest, does not become angry, ... it does not rejoice in injustice but rejoices in the truth. Those who are listening to Jesus in the synagogue on this Sabbath sin against love because they do not rejoice in the truth—the Truth that is present before them in the person of Jesus. Instead, they prefer to stick to their own ethnic, social, and personal prejudices, to the point of wanting to throw Jesus off the edge of the cliff to eliminate a presence that bothers them. Perhaps one or other of us here will think that Jesus did not act very wisely, that perhaps he should not have provoked his listeners from the outset, that he should have first started by telling them about the more acceptable things, and then moved on to the more difficult issues. As a matter of fact, perhaps someone will argue that Christ himself is responsible for his fellow townsmen’s anger! But, on the other hand, perhaps the leap to the truth must be made all at once, across an interior abyss of pride and prejudice, because Truth is too absolute and one cannot arrive at the truth by taking baby steps. In this synagogue today Christ acts as God's prophet, the greatest of all, because he does not bring a message from God but rather embodies the Absolute and presents himself as what he is: the all-inclusive Logos of the Father. There is no distance, physical or metaphysical, between Jesus and God. His work provokes everyone to embrace the truth, Truth that is a fire that burns, work that is, therefore, a work of a love that purifies and transforms.
Although Jesus’ presence and words, as he comes into our lives, may initially provoke outrage, rejection, and violence, this experience is perhaps necessary for our redemption, in the manner of an exorcism. Then we may perhaps come to see ourselves as we really are for the first time, and thus discover the almighty Charity of God, who always loves by purifying and re-creating. The loving God loves us by pro-voking us, which literally means by calling us out of ourselves so that we can begin to live a new life with Christ in the Heart of God.
Photograph by Father Emmanuel. This morning's homily by Father Simeon.
Friday, January 28, 2022
Please pray with us for vocations to the monastic life:
with you, we surrender ourselves to the Father’s will.
Teach us to repeat with you
our yes to all the Father desires.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
In communion with all the saints, we pray.
Make us witnesses before the world of what we have seen
and heard and believe, so that all people may
recognize you as their only Lord and God.
Make us brothers with you who have gathered us
to live the mystery of community.
Send our community men willing to leave everything
to follow you in poverty and weakness.
Blessed Mary, Queen of Cîteaux, pray for us!
Saint Robert, Saint Alberic, and Saint Stephen,
founders of our Order, pray for us!
Saint Bernard, Saint Aelred, and Saint Humbeline, pray for us!
Blessed Guerric and Blessed Beatrice, pray for us!
Blessed Gervais Brunel, Paul Charles, Elie Desgardin,
martyrs of the French Revolution, pray for us!
Blessed Cyprien Tansi, pray for us!
Saint Raphael and Blessed Mary-Joseph Cassant, pray for us!
Blessed Maria Gabriella pray for us!
Blessed Martyrs of Tibhirine and Viaceli, pray for us!
Saint Charles de Foucauld, pray for us!
Good and tender Jesus, with you we offer ourselves to the Father.
Help us to serve and obey like you, in self-forgetful love.
O Jesus, gentle and humble of heart, grant us your peace,
for you are the source of our trust and hope, now and forever. Amen.
Thursday, January 27, 2022
They have left us a great legacy, probably without principally intending to. They didn’t set out to found a new religious Order, just a monastery. Each, however, successively contributed through many hardships and unpromising circumstances to the birth and development of what turned out to be a new and enduring monastic observance. They had to have had great faith in what God could accomplish in the face of any obstacle—for they experienced many!
In reading up on their backgrounds again, I found it interesting that they shared a pre-Molesme history, with Alberic rather than Robert taking the lead. Alberic was a hermit in the forest of Collan in France with five other hermits. After Robert eventually joined them, they asked him to begin a new monastery with them that would live under the Rule of St. Benedict. Robert had already been asked to lead a number of small groups of reform-minded monks to establish new communities centered on the desire for authentic monastic simplicity and evangelical poverty through a more literal interpretation of St. Benedict’s Rule—but all these attempts had failed, making him something of a wandering reformer.
So in 1075, at Alberic’s invitation, it was Robert who led this band of 6 hermits to the forest of Molesme to begin a religious settlement there. In Molesme, Robert served as the first abbot and Alberic as prior. However, as the settlement’s fame grew, gifts came in, and new wealth attracted new monks who didn’t worry about compromising the Rule in favor of a certain laxity. The Molesme community became divided, with many monks opposing Robert and Alberic. In reaction, Robert left Molesme twice to live as a hermit, and twice the pope ordered him back. In one of his absences, the brothers actually imprisoned Alberic so that they might have their way. In 1093, Robert left Molesme yet again, taking Alberic (the prior) and Stephen Harding (his secretary) with him. This time, it was the Bishop of Langres who commanded Alberic back to Molesme. He returned, but he made no headway with the quarreling brothers. Five years later, in 1098, when Robert was back at Molesme again as abbot, he finally obtained permission to found a new monastery and was given an inaccessible piece of land in the wilderness of Cîteaux. Twenty-one monks left Molesme with him, Alberic and Stephen Harding, and set out for Cîteaux.
We are all familiar with their personal contributions to their endeavor but perhaps less so with this background of their wild and turbulent attempts to begin a new, reformed monastery. It must have felt like “mission impossible,” involving numerous re-locations and never-ending contention. Just think of it: three times the Pope ordered Robert to return to Molesme at the request of the monks there, who themselves remained sharply divided about reform. Robert was seventy years old when he took up the abbatial cross at Molesme for the last time, after being recalled from Cîteaux. During his twelve remaining years, he undertook remarkable activities and raised Molesme to great renown. He died in 1111, after a life of unceasing struggle and immense labors. His experience of an unsettled, frustrated, yet fruitful life is testimony to today’s Gospel, in which Jesus assures his disciples that what human beings find impossible is not impossible for God.
When Robert returned to Molesme, he left at Cîteaux a young community that was relatively prosperous and filled with zeal. Alberic was elected as his successor. Practically the only direct reference we have to Alberic is found in the Exordium Parvum, which describes him as “a man of great learning, well-versed in both the divine and human sciences, and a lover of the Rule and of the brothers.” Under his direction, the new observance was to take its first steps and develop its definitive form. It was Alberic who, in 1100, obtained from Pope Paschal II papal approval and canonical protection for Cîteaux, issued in a document known as the Roman Privilege. But under Alberic, observance of the Rule was made even more austere at Cîteaux. Alberic also contributed to the accomplishments of his successor, Stephen Harding, and to the whole future of the Order from an economic viewpoint (and in every other way) by admitting lay brothers and salaried workers. They assured the livelihood of the monks who lived inside the enclosure and allowed them to devote their time to prayer, study and work in the scriptorium without doing too little or too much in the way of the manual labor prescribed by the Rule. Although the spirit of simplicity continued to inspire the monks and shape their lives, the austerities that Cîteaux had embraced with great fervor, unfortunately, seemed to discourage those who admired their way of life from joining them, and the community diminished to the point where Alberic feared its extinction.
In 1108 Stephen Harding succeeded Alberic as abbot of what must have seemed like a sinking ship—the lack of vocations was yet another “impossible” situation that beset the Founders. Things unexpectedly turned around, however, four years later when Bernard and 30 of his relatives entered Cîteaux. This Providential moment began a new chapter in the life of the Cistercian movement, which then spread quickly throughout Europe to include over 500 monasteries by the end of the 13th century.
We have much to be grateful for today, nine centuries later, when we think of what the Lord accomplished through the faith and hope of our founders. In their time they lived the stark truth of today’s Gospel: namely, that Jesus admittedly makes impossible demands of those whom he calls to follow him, both individually and corporately. But the story of our founders is our story as well: the authenticity and holiness Jesus calls us to (and inspires in our hearts) cannot be arrived at through determination alone. Rather, it is a gift that unfolds as we linger in his company, dwell with his Word, and share his life in the sacraments and in daily fidelity to the grace of our vocation. The monastic life passed on to us through our three Founders, each playing a very different role but sharing a single vision, transfigures us and forms us for what is beyond our reach and nature—which is nothing less than the holiness of God. And we can attest from our own experience that Cistercian life works!
It was our Founders who “began the good work” of living the Cistercian charism, a particular expression of Gospel discipleship; it is up to those of us who follow to “keep beginning.” Every new generation begins again, not from nothing, but in our progress towards everything—everything that the Lord holds out to us who leave all to follow him. Like the Founders, we have to figure out what we hope for. And the most we can do is to live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof . . . .
Reflection by Father Dominic.
Wednesday, January 26, 2022
Tuesday, January 25, 2022
There were once, two sisters whose parents had died and left them well off. Neither of them married. These were both strong independent women. They shared a common faith and had great compassion and love for their brother, who was special needs, and even though he was high functioning, he still needed a great deal of their time and attention. The brother never spoke; he is not remembered as ever having uttered a single word. But the brother was open-hearted and gentle of spirit and loved for who he was.
This is a story about a mother whose only child was ill. We have all heard stories of parents going to any extreme to save their children. The love of a parent knows no limits. That is the type of mother this woman is, she was willing to risk embarrassment, humiliation, and possible rejection if it would save her beloved daughter, by swallowing her pride and seeking out the one person who could help her and her daughter.
Justice is getting what you deserve, mercy is not getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you don’t deserve and could not have earned or expected, but received. This is a story about a man in his twenties who had finally come to the end of his luck; this man had a knack for getting himself in trouble but had managed to elude punishment for a very long time. As much as the man wanted to and tried to change, he felt it was beyond him. All was going well until it all caught up with him, he did something; he was apprehended and found he was unable to get out of it. But just when he thought this was it and had actually become comfortable with his fate, this man was given grace.
Saint Paul states a body is one though it has many parts and all the parts are of one body. The body is a beautiful example of necessity and complementarity. Every part has a job that it does well, in concert with all the other parts doing their job, all the components necessary for the whole. It is easy to see how all the parts work together in the body, but it can be challenging to see and understand just how this necessity and complementarity work in other areas.
Look at the life of Christ, the three stories I opened with are scenes from his life, the first, the two sisters who cared for their special needs brother was a modern interpretation of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The second story is about the Canaanite woman seeking the help of Jesus because her daughter was possessed by a demon, and this persistent, loving mother knew that Jesus Christ was the only one who could and would help her daughter. Jesus did heal her daughter. The third story was about the repentant guilty thief who hung on the cross next to the innocent Christ. This man was a thief and a sinner but was able to recognize who Christ was. These stories show Jesus raising someone from the dead, forgiving the sins of another, and showing how Christ is available to all who seek him. Together they point to the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Redeemer, sent to bring His message of salvation to the entire world.
These people represent some of the most enlightening and easy-to-understand parts of Jesus’ life, and of course, there are others, not so easy to understand their necessity and complementarity. How many of Christ’s teachings would we have missed if not for the Pharisees and Sadducees? And it was the demons who were the first to recognize who Jesus was. Would we be able to know the light without the contrast of the dark? There is unity and necessity in all the parts, light and darkness.
Photographs by Brother Casimir. Meditation by Brother Stephen.
Friday, January 21, 2022
In Scripture, a mountain top is always a place of divine encounter. And in today's Gospel, Jesus majestically ascends the mountain and calls to himself those whom he desires to follow him closely, appointing a band of Twelve. And they come to him. As Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom, these twelve recapitulate the twelve tribes of ancient Israel. God’s reign in Christ Jesus has begun.
Saint Agnes, whom we celebrate today, was martyred as a girl of twelve for defending the virginity she had consecrated to Christ Jesus alone. Her following led her to the cross like her Master. Preferring Christ Jesus above all else, we too celebrate our chosenness and promise to follow the Lord wherever he leads us.
Saint Agnes, attributed to the Master of the Straus Madonna, (Italian, active late 1300s–early 1400s), 1300s, tempera on panel. Worcester Art Museum.
Tuesday, January 18, 2022
Sunday, January 16, 2022
The Gospel today proclaims the mystery of the new spiritually inebriating wine of the Gospel manifested in the Marriage Feast at Cana; a passage found only in the Gospel of John. Most of John's gospel consists of the parts called “The Book of Signs” in chapters one through twelve and “The Book of Glory” in chapters 13 through 20. The Book of Signs is constructed around seven of what we normally call “miracles,” but which John prefers to call “signs” because they reveal the glory of Jesus in a way beyond the amazement at a miracle and a cure, for instance. The seven signs all point to the meaning of the ultimate manifestation of the glory of Jesus that is in the paschal mystery of Christ's passion, death, resurrection, ascension to heaven and sending of the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit—through which wounded and sinful humanity is made whole and glorious in the sight of God.
So, for example, the sixth sign in John, the healing of the man born blind points to the messianic identity of Jesus the healer of blindness and other diseases, but more importantly the healer of our spiritual blindness through the paschal mystery which illuminates our souls with the grace of his glory through the Holy Spirit. “I was blind, but now I see.” is not really a quote from a popular hymn but is rather one from this sixth sign (chapter 9 of the Gospel of John), the healing of the man born blind, a description of self with which we can all identify. The point is that we not only marvel at a miracle but are ourselves along with the blind man transformed by a sign-- just as in this Eucharist we marvel at the transubstantiation of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ, but we glory in being changed ourselves, divinized by the reception of the sacrament—for example, given eyes that see as God sees, no longer spiritually blind. “I was blind, but now I see.” are our own words.
Cana is the first of the seven signs that precede the Book of Glory. Cana is also the most important of the signs in the first part of John's gospel because the other six signs, in a sense, all refer back to it even as they refer forward to the Book of Glory. This is analogous to our sacramental theology of the Eucharist in which all six of the other sacraments are bound up with the Eucharist and oriented to it. The miracle aspect of Cana involves the changing of a very large quantity of water used for ceremonial cleansing into about 120 to 180 gallons of excellent wine for pure rejoicing at a marriage reception which in the tradition of the Jews of the time lasted most of a week and was, indeed, the actual marriage ceremony. To have run out of wine in the middle of the event would have been terribly embarrassing, a social calamity. The sign value of Cana is precisely the superabundance of spiritual inebriation and joy (as symbolized in the wine) celebrating the union that is the marriage of heaven and earth in the real Bridegroom who is Jesus. Jesus is the source of all spiritual life and joy, transcending any wine or any other earthly joy. The book of Genesis tells us of marriage that “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” In Jesus Christ, we have all become one flesh with the Son of God who has taken on our flesh in the mystery of the Incarnation in order to offer to us participation in his divinity. This is the superabundant life we receive in the Eucharist. What cheer. The mystery of the water becoming wine at Cana points as a sign to the mystery of the water and wine prepared for this celebration becoming the blood of Christ in this Eucharist—this Eucharist through which we come to share in the divinity of Christ.
The mystery of our reception of the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, is itself a sign pledging to us a sure and blessed place at the wedding feast, the ultimate Cana, the wedding feast of the Lamb in heaven. The prophet Isaiah sums it all up beautifully in today's first reading:
No more shall people call you “Forsaken,”
But you shall be called “My Delight,”
and your land “Espoused.”
For the Lord delights in you
and makes your land his spouse.
As a young man marries a virgin,
your Builder shall marry you.
And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride
so shall your God rejoice in you.
Friday, January 14, 2022
We dare to hope because our help is in the name of the Lord, Jesus our Hope, who is forever with us, on our side.
May this be the day
We come together.
Mourning, we come to mend,
Withered, we come to weather,
Torn, we come to tend,
Battered, we come to better.
Tethered by this year of yearning,
We are learning
That though we weren't ready for this,
We have been readied by it.
We steadily vow that no matter
How we are weighed down,
We must always pave a way forward.
This hope is our door, our portal.
Even if we never get back to normal,
Someday we can venture beyond it,
To leave the known and take the first steps.
So let us not return to what was normal,
But reach toward what is next.
What was cursed, we will cure.
What was plagued, we will prove pure.
Where we tend to argue, we will try to agree,
Those fortunes we forswore, now the future we foresee,
Where we weren't aware, we're now awake;
Those moments we missed
Are now these moments we make,
The moments we meet,
And our hearts, once all together beaten,
Now all together beat.
Come, look up with kindness yet,
For even solace can be sourced from sorrow.
We remember, not just for the sake of yesterday,
But to take on tomorrow.
We heed this old spirit,
In a new day's lyric,
In our hearts, we hear it:
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne.
Be bold, sang Time this year,
Be bold, sang Time,
For when you honor yesterday,
Tomorrow ye will find.
Know what we've fought
Need not be forgotten nor for none.
It defines us, binds us as one,
Come over, join this day just begun.
For wherever we come together,
We will forever overcome.
Amanda Gorman, "New Day's Lyric."
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
I’d like to begin by sharing my strongest image of Brother Roger, which I also cherish as an ongoing gift from him.
Yesterday at Sunday Chapter we gathered as a community to share our personal memories and stories about him—and there were many! My first encounter with Brother Roger was when I was a novice, taking my turn working with him in the laundry. For us novices, he was a delight and an important part of our formation.
But over the years, I believe I got to know him best during the Infirmary Mass, to which I am usually assigned one week a month. There was Brother Roger, parked in his wheelchair always in the same spot with his oxygen concentrator sometimes beeping, looking right at me with the most open, receptive, smiling expression—fully attentive, engaged, and clearly happy to be present. He struck me as totally himself and completely at home in prayer. He radiated a transparent joy, depth, and presence that I found both inspiring and genuinely brotherly. In a word, he made it good for me to be there. And then, usually, soon after the Consecration, he would fall asleep, but almost always wake up for the Our Father and Kiss of Peace—then back to sleep before I could give him Holy Communion. When I got to him, he wasn’t always easy to rouse, but when he did wake suddenly, he’d flash a big smile and be focused on the small piece of Host I was placing in his hands. (I probably would have grumpily pushed me away at that point.) And so, what struck me time and again was his remarkable human and spiritual depth that never failed to encourage me. A gift.
But where did he get that? He was a character, quirky like the rest of us, often a charmer and humorous, sociable and kind, yet always his own person. But it was particularly at these simple, engaging moments during the Eucharist that I found he communicated something so much more than himself—yes himself, but more than himself. Trying to understand that has been my preoccupation this past week. The Gospel we just heard (Mt 11:25-30) shed some light for me, and that’s what I’d like to try to share with you now.
The Gospel selected for today is really about two things: the revelation Jesus brings, and the kinds of people who accept it. This is the context in which Jesus speaks about his special relationship to the Father, and his willingness as Son to share that relationship with others. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.” There is a deep mystery here that takes us right to the heart of what it meant to be Jesus (and, I would suggest, what it meant for Roger to be Roger).
As Jesus announced God’s kingdom and put God’s powerful love to work in healing, forgiving, and bringing new life, he obviously realized that the people he met, including the religious leaders, didn’t have the same awareness of his Father that he had. His knowledge of God was more intimate, more real, that of a son . . . .
In this regard, it is good to remember that for a millennium and more Jewish writings had spoken highly about the “wisdom of the wise” as the key to knowing God. There was a long tradition of Torah study and piety that indicated that only those who devoted themselves to learning the law and to teasing out its finer points would become wise, would ultimately know God. An elite few—way out of reach for the average Jew.
But Jesus had come to know his father the way a son does: not by studying books about him, but by living in his presence, listening for his voice and learning from him as an apprentice learns from a master, by watching and imitating. He was now in his ministry (this scene takes place halfway through Matthew’s Gospel) and discovering that the wise and learned were getting nowhere—it was rather the poor, the sinners, the unpretentious ordinary folk who were discovering more of God simply by following Jesus, than the learned specialists who declared that what he was doing didn’t fit with their complicated theories.
As a result, by the time of this scene in the Gospel Jesus came to see that he was himself acting as “a window onto the living God.” Where he was, and through his words, some people were coming to see who God (“the Father”) really is. Jesus was the “human face” of his Father, of God, and the humble and burdened easily responded to him. This is what moved him now to make the most welcoming and encouraging invitation ever offered: “Come to me, and I will give you rest.” And he speaks of a different “yoke.” His “yoke” was not the heavy burden of the Jewish law with all its commandments, but a “yoke” that, because it came from his mercy and love, was easy to bear. But what strikes me here as crucially important is that he as son is simply offering what he has in himself to offer; the welcome he offers, for all who entrust themselves to his mercy, is the welcome God offers through him. This is the invitation that pulls back the curtain and lets us see who “the Father” really is—and encourages us to come into his loving, welcoming presence. “No one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him.”
I believe this is what Brother Roger (in some analogous way) did for me, time and again at the Infirmary Mass. The key to all this is something St. Elizabeth Ann Seton told her Sisters. I find it significant that it was on her Feast Day that Brother Roger died. We heard her say at Vigils: “I will tell you what has been a great help to me. I once read or heard that an interior life means only the continuation of our Savior’s life in us. He only cares about communicating that to us, for the whole goal of his mission is to lead us into the sweet land of promise, a life of constant union with himself.” (In light of today’s Gospel, we could say that the one who knows his Father as a son desires to live in and through us, so that we too, as sons and daughters, may know the Father, and in turn, share that love and life with others just by being who we are in the Son.)
With Brother Roger in mind, then, I believe this Gospel passage tells us that the meaning and fruitfulness of our lives is not a matter of how “wise” we are, or that we are professional ascetics or contemplatives, or that we give good example or do good deeds—but only that we allow the Lord’s own interior life (which is nothing other than his love for his father and for each one of us) to continue in us, in our humanity just as it is. None of us has to be anything special. Unwittingly, we then become for one another (like Christ “our life,” in the words of St. Paul) “a window onto the living God.” In other words, we offer to one another simply what we have in ourselves to offer, Christ’s living presence. There is no better gift, and this is what I believe I received from Brother Roger, even when he was telling me a hilarious story or playfully greeting me in French, knowing that I could only stammer like a fool in reply.
This gift is concretized in many simple yet unforgettable ways over the course of a lifetime. I’d like to end with just two examples that came to my attention in the last few days. One was told by Brother Raymond of Snowmass. When he entered Spencer decades ago at 6’7” and couldn’t fit on the small wooden bed in his cell, it was Brother Roger who immediately offered to make him a 7-foot bed—a kindness Brother Raymond never forgot. I also heard from Brother Colombo of Gethsemani, who got to know Brother Roger during a long visit here some years ago. He wrote in an email: “With expressions of deep sadness and deep joy at the passing of Brother Roger. (He of all people would appreciate the absurd paradox.) He and I had some good laughs at his corny jokes. He had profound wisdom and humility too. When I told him I had been a cook at the Generalate in Rome, he said he had too, but nobody knew it! . . . . He will be missed.”
And he will be! May his soul and the souls of all the departed through the unfathomable mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
Given by Father Dominic.
Sunday, January 9, 2022
"And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you, I am well pleased.’"
Today marks the end of the Christmas season; with the baptism, the years of the Lord’s hidden life have come to a close and Jesus takes up his public ministry. The time of Israel’s expectation has been fulfilled. The long-awaited Messiah has appeared. The whole time of the preparation of the Old Testament, of Israel’s election, the covenant, and the mission entrusted to it, converges here on this one figure, in this one very concrete time and place in human history. With the eyes of Easter, we can see how all the fragmentary images presented in the Old Testament find their unity and unveil their meaning precisely here in Jesus.
For thirty years Jesus has been immersed in the beliefs, customs, and traditions of Israel and its covenant relationship with the God who chose them and formed them as his people; and in and through them matured in the mission that he and the Father had decided upon in eternity. Jesus’ baptism by John shows that Jesus emerges from the midst of this history.
When Jesus descends into the river, he shows himself in solidarity with that part of Israel that heeded the voice of God proclaimed through John, with all who confessed their guilt and were willing to dive into the water of judgment and salvation, who acknowledged themselves as sinners and ready to face the divine judgment on their sin and receive the salvation that can only come from God. Along with them, Jesus, too, shows himself obedient to the voice of God through John, ready to be called by this voice out of the hidden life and to take up his public life at this moment.
His humble submission to being submerged in the waters is fulfilled immediately by the affirmation of the voice from above. In this obedient act the Israel that has been made ready for God and the God who has entered into the covenant with Israel come together as one; finally, in a manner unforeseen by Israel and that it was in no way able to accomplish on its own. Upon him alone the Spirit descends in bodily form as a dove. He is the one designated as the chosen one, and on him, the Spirit will remain as his abiding inspiration.
The voice from heaven confirms and interprets this event: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Here is the one to save Israel. Here is the fulfillment of the image of the mysterious Servant of the Lord prophesied in the first reading from Isaiah, the obedient one who was to become a ransom for the people: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am well pleased. Upon him I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations.”
Through his humble submission to baptism, Jesus becomes the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and fire, through whose mouth come words of ‘spirit and life’ (Jn 6:63). At the same time, the image of the Holy Spirit and fire points us forward to the completion of his mission: he will become one who baptizes in fire by way of the cross on which he will be burnt as a holocaust, as the lamb of God, in whom sin and death will be consumed. His whole mission points to this event. As he says later: “I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished.” In the baptism, Jesus appears as God’s judgment on Israel and on the world. He is God’s definitive appearance in his saving power.
As God’s beloved Son, Jesus’ mission is qualitatively different from that of the prophets who preceded him. Not only is his mission unique, but he himself is unique. In the case of the prophets, no matter how generously they handed themselves over to their mission, it was always at least relatively possible to distinguish their mission from their person; but in Jesus no such distinction between person and mission is possible. There is no before and after in terms of awareness of his mission, no sense that it is something added on to an identity that preexisted it, no time in which he acts outside of his mission. Rather, everything points to his being identical with his mission. Throughout the Gospels, he appears as nothing other than the one whom God has sent, and it is impossible to imagine him otherwise. He is the one of whom Paul says that God sent “his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin and condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us.” (Rom 8:3-4). His mission and his being are identical.
In today’s Gospel John the Baptist himself witnesses to this new order, when he says, “I am baptizing you with water, but one mightier than I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” In the Gospel of John, we read “There was a man sent from God whose name was John…He was not the light but came to bear witness to the light.” Of this light, he says that God sent his Son “in order that the world might be saved through him.” At work here is something more radical than the mere appointment of a messenger or representative or even the choosing of a prophet (even prophets chosen “from the womb”, like Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and Paul.) Later in John, Jesus will say of himself (“I proceeded and came forth from God”). The sending of Jesus by God, therefore, is rooted in this prior “proceeding” from God, which points us back into his eternal life with God, where he was always and had always been, “with” God. Jesus is God’s Word sent to his people. He is the Word that was in the beginning, that was with God and that was God. His earthly mission is nothing other than the expression of his eternal procession from the Father.
In Jesus, the heavens have been opened, here, at the baptism, through his manifestation as God’s beloved Son, and then throughout his public ministry by his unfailing fidelity to his mission. Guided by the Father through the Spirit, in all that he said and did, he never deviated from his Father’s will. In all his interactions with others, in his preaching, his prayer, his miracles, his formation of his disciples, right on to his “hour”, his passion, death and resurrection, his mind, intelligence, and free will were wholly oriented to making the One who sent him, known, believed, and honored. In him, we have access to the world of God, and therefore to his universal design for all mankind, which is to be “in Christ”.
By his death and resurrection, we are now “in Christ”. And thanks to his self-gift, an acting area has been opened up within himself in which the whole of mankind is granted the opportunity to share in his mission, and in that, become conformed to the idea that God has of each. Blessed and destined for holiness from the foundation of the world, we are for the first time able to become what we are. Not simply according to the fulfillment of our natural endowments, but according to the particular meaning and purpose for which we have been created. In Christ, man is no longer condemned to ceaselessly circle round and round in the vanity of his own unfulfillable transcendence. Rather the world of God has been opened up to him. We now have the opportunity to discover God and ourselves in a way hitherto impossible.
What this means for us then, as followers of Christ, is that we are to “act” in the acting area that has been opened, that is, in Christ, in such a way as to bring our innate nonidentity between our being and our mission into an ever-closer approximation to the perfect identity that Christ enjoys in himself. In other words, we are to bring our own “self” more and more in line with our God-given mission and to discover in this mission our own identity, both personal and social.
For us, as monks, this assimilation comes about through our prayer, our patient slow attentiveness to God’s living Word in lectio divina, our participation in the Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, the service of our work, in a word, in the whole of the monastic conversatio, and the particularity of our charism. This is our acting area, in Christ. Losing ourselves in these, in the blessedness of those who are poor in spirit, we undertake a journey of discovery: of God, by our obedience, of our brothers and all those we encounter, by our service to them, and of ourselves, because it is only in such service and obedience that we truly encounter ourselves.
It is the Lord who has proposed this task to us, let us call upon him to infuse us with his same perfect readiness to carry it out.
The Baptism of Christ by Perugino. This morning' s homily by Father Timothy.
Friday, January 7, 2022
This miracle of the healing of a man afflicted with leprosy drives home the point that the Lord Jesus is concerned with the salvation and restoration of the whole human person, here and now, and not only with people’s spiritual welfare. Every endeavor of the Church to restore the human person to the fullness of humanity as intended by the Creator—physical, mental, social, as well as spiritual—consequently is a vibrant work of the Gospel and a manifestation of God’s will to save: hospitals, counseling centers, schools, soup kitchens, prison chaplaincies, and so forth. We Catholics have in the past, I’m afraid, been too spiritualistic in our outlook, perhaps as a pious way of fleeing demanding responsibilities. The Church ought to be passionately engaged in the well-being of people as God created us, endowed with body, mind and spirit. All works of Christian charity are true epiphanies of God’s will to save in Christ.
Jesus always brings with him to every encounter the reality of what his name means: Yehoshua‘—God saves, heals, restores to wholeness; and he does it by means of both word and deed, both of which require his dynamic presence and involvement in needy people’s lives.
This Gospel begins very casually: “It happened that there was a man full of leprosy in one of the towns where Jesus was…” Here we see the blessed convergence of the paths of the afflicted man and of the merciful Lord Jesus. For this merging of paths to occur, both Jesus and the man had had to make themselves findable to one another, going out into the unknown. There is a reciprocity between human need and divine mercy and power, a reciprocity that needs to be activated for miracles of healing to happen. The incarnate Word has made himself available as God’s healing Power in our midst; but we, for our part, need to respond to that compassionate Presence by approaching the Lord intimately and full of trust, getting close enough to him to allow him to “stretch out his hand and touch” us with his will to heal. We can be sure that the Holy Spirit is always the driving force impelling the one who seeks out Jesus in order to be healed by him, because, as St John proclaims today in his First Letter: “Who indeed is the victor over the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” And bodily and mental afflictions are among the negative forces of “the world” that need to be overcome by faith and the healing power of God. This is an important aspect of our being regenerated by our act of faith in Jesus’ true humanity as a manifestation, in our midst, of the creating and re-creating power of God.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon.
In yesterday’s Gospel from St Luke, the epiphanies continue concerning the nature, person, and mission of the Lord Jesus. The setting, in the synagogue in Nazareth on a Sabbath, stresses the unified sweep of divine revelation. Though offering to the world an unheard-of portrayal of the being and action of God, Jesus nonetheless does do out of the heart of Jewish worship and tradition. Luke stresses the rootedness of the eternal Word in this world, with very specific local and personal references: “He came to Nazareth, where he had grown up, and went according to his custom into the synagogue on the Sabbath day.” How beautiful, I think, this familiarity and ordinariness of Jesus’ mode of existence in his native Galilean environment!
The occasion signals the beginning of Jesus’ “public life” and activity in Luke. All of Jesus’ future mission is here shown to flow from a most human setting and situation, and at the same time from an act of worship, a proclamation of the prophetic Word, and its interpretation by the Incarnate Word himself as Jesus preaches his “homily”. But everything occurs harmoniously, through the strict, orderly observance of ancient religious traditions and rituals, since these had themselves been established according to the ordinances of the Law of the living God, given out of love for his chosen people. Yet, the utter newness of the situation is that the Word of God, which previously had been spoken through the mouths of the great prophets, now appears in person, in the human form bestowed on him by Blessed Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit, the very power that now impels Jesus forward into his mission. The extraordinary event hides under everyday appearances.
But what is at stake for us in all of this? Nothing short of eternal regeneration to the life of God by the energy of the same Holy Spirit, as he transforms us into members of Christ’s Body. Jesus’ actions and words in the synagogue are tantamount to this 30-year-old Nazarean declaring himself the Messiah of God: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, he affirms. And St John applies this momentous revelation to each one of us when he declares: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah is begotten by God.” The incarnation of the Word, Jesus’ undertaking his public mission, his interpretation of Scripture, and his declaration concerning himself in the synagogue, all have but one goal: our rebirth in him as children of the same heavenly Father. Let us not squander such extravagant divine generosity!
Reflection by Father Simeon.
Wednesday, January 5, 2022
The two readings today present us with two strongly contrasting aspects of Christian experience. In his First Letter, St John writes: “We have come to know, and to believe in, the love God has for us.” The wording is significant because it implies that such a profound realization and conviction took much time to sink in and transform the lives of the disciples. It was not grasped automatically from the beginning of discipleship. In the Gospel, St Mark witnesses to this same laborious process of growing from worldly unbelief into fullness of faith when he writes that the disciples were “completely astounded” at the event of Jesus walking on the sea, because “they had not understood the incident of the loaves. On the contrary, their hearts were hardened”.
We can surely sympathize with the disciples for this unbelief, and for their fear and the sluggishness of their hearts because, after all, the full reality of Jesus’ presence and the meaning of his words and actions is so extraordinary and profound, so beyond the normal ken of human experience, that they confound the unaided human reason and imagination. In fact, we can marvel that they stuck to Jesus at all and continued following him despite the enigma that his person confronted them with at every step. A mysterious force of attraction must have been operating in their hearts that they barely perceived but that, nevertheless, was stronger than the demands of worldly reason and the conventions of human behavior and commonly accepted “meaning”. They were sensitive to the drawing power of Jesus’ mere presence and of the puzzle to their consciences and emotions that his every word presented. How were they to know that in Jesus the very Wisdom and Majesty and Lordliness of God were walking the earth? Was it not worthwhile, however, to risk even shipwreck and drowning in a violent storm in order finally to hear from his own lips—should they come through it unscathed—the comforting words that no other man had ever uttered to them: “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid”?
The Gospel, then, portrays with raw dramatic verve what it felt like to be a disciple of Jesus at a critical and painful stage of his followers’ training by the incarnate Word when they had to wrestle daily with intractable divine mysteries that at times put their very existence at risk. St John, strongly contrasting this drama, portrays rather the serene faith and understanding of the mature disciple, won at a great personal price. When he writes: “We have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world”, it is because the frightened disciples, overwhelmed by a storm, had first indeed seen Jesus walking on the sea and stilling the storm by getting into the boat with them. And where Jesus is, there is the fullness of love which “drives out fear”. Meditation by Father Simeon.
The person I have in mind is ninety-seven years old, still very much mentally with it, ... A quick note about his origins is in order. He is of French-Canadian descent and hails from Pawtucket Rhode Island... Most of Roger’s forebears migrated to southern New England to work in the mills and had remained a closely-knit community. French was the language people used at home and among neighbors. Outside the confines of that neighborhood, few spoke English. As for his English, even after all these years, Roger speaks with a heavy accent. Almost everyone gets a kick out of the way he expresses himself because he doesn’t bother hiding the way he murders grammar along with the heavily accented French-Canadian tone of his voice. Indeed, that adds a special charm when having a conversation with him.
As with that culture and generation, Roger was a devout Catholic and remains so. He’ll speak of religion in a way you don’t hear much about nowadays...As for a conversation, it’s no picnic. Part of Roger’s affliction is an inability to speak clearly because of some problem with muscles in his throat. However... this affliction...one among a multitude...has nothing to do with his mental acuity. He has to put up with it all the time which naturally requires constant attention. You’d think after a while, even a short while, this would be bothersome. Such is clearly not the case. People are thrilled to be in his presence and watch, simply watch how joyful he is, almost constantly being transfigured... Many have remarked that never have they encountered this before, even among holy people.
An interesting, indeed somewhat humorous side note. Regardless of the temperature (the facility where he lives is kept quite warm), Roger always dresses in woolens: shirt, pants, and his trademark winter hat. Never is he without that hat. I’ve heard that he wears it at night along with heavy pajamas.
So, what, after all, makes this man tick? Again, for all intents and purposes, he’s a quadriplegic and has been for approximately twelve years... At this time of life, two general things happen. First, you’re pretty much off everyone’s radar screen except for family members. Chances are they’re dead, so you’re left hanging out there with people waiting for you to die. For all practical purposes, you are a dead person among the living. That’s solitude in the extreme, a challenge many of us are destined to face and part of why people who’ve met Roger are fascinated by him. He treats it all so lightly.
Each of us comes to this place and must decide what to do. One thing is certain. We must move forward and forward we go, passing beyond the veil. We know there’s a chance of not making it and won’t find this out until it’s done. Should we manage the transitus, we see why this whole thing is incommunicable and must leave it as such. Explaining it away is a waste of time. Roger and his carefully calculated silly grin is the best testimony of one who is in the process of making the passage successfully.
Tuesday, January 4, 2022
Crucial to the text is the fact that the multitude is successfully nourished—both spiritually and physically—as a result of the synergy between Jesus and the apostles. He provides the power of the Resurrection and his command; they provide their ready faith and obedience: a miracle of collaboration between God and man then occurs.
But, to accomplish such an alchemy of love, human hearts first have to be converted away from narrow habits of empirical quantification (“Are we to buy 200 days’ wages worth of food?”) to God’s way of seeing and doing things—against all logical evidence: ‘Give them food yourselves! Feed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish! Don’t you realize that “God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, [into your hearts and hands,] so that [all] might have life through him?” Is this not enough?’
Yes, God has the power to transmute the little we can offer so that it becomes sheer overabundance. The one prerequisite, however, is that we take the radical step of truly offering up, to his blessing, everything we have and are, no matter how paltry and insignificant it seems to us. God treasures our littleness, while we either wallow in self-disdain or lust for super-achievements…. How beautiful, by contrast, the mystery revealed to Georges Bernanos’ country priest, after he had undergone much heartache: “O sweet miracle of our empty hands! To be able to give to others what we ourselves do not possess!”
Vintage photograph of the monastery cobbler from Our Lady of the Valley, our first house in the US. Meditation by Father Simeon.