Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Eighth Sunday

Sometimes when you are meditating on the Sacred Scripture, a phrase or even a single word will leap out at you and grab your full attention. For me, reading today's gospel passage (Luke 6:39-45), the word was: “HYPOCRITE!” This word occurs smack dab in the middle of today's gospel pericope which is taken from the Sermon on the Plain found in the 6th chapter of St. Luke's gospel. The Greek original makes you jump: HYPOKRITA! As you probably know this Greek word comes from the brilliant Greek theater culture and simply meant, at first, an actor. Later, it gained a negative change in meaning to “an actor who really has not identified with his part.” From there it was easily adopted into Greek-speaking Judaism as in Sirach 32:15, “He who studies the Torah masters it, but the hypocrite finds it a trap.” A verse from Sirach in today's first reading alludes to this concept and this verse is used by our Lord in today's gospel parable of the fruit tree; the verse goes: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had, so does one's speech disclose the bent of one's mind.”

Yes, some people can make a good pretense about themselves until they open their mouths. Saint Benedict exhorts us “Do not wish to be called holy before you are, so that you may be called so more truthfully.” The Benedictine Aquinata Boeckmann comments on this, “We can conclude that St. Benedict wants truth and not hypocrisy. The more we penetrate the spirituality of the Rule of Benedict, the more will we know ourselves as sinners before a merciful God.”

Looking at my own life and recalling what others have said to me about themselves, I think I can guess that the word “hypocrite” is a word that might indeed, trouble us all in conscience. It might be something that not only is said by Jesus to his disciples but is said by each of us at times to and about ourselves. “Oh, I was such a hypocrite to have done or said--whatever.” We should realize that that is a good thing. The first step to authentic living is to realize how false we can be. If our part in the great drama of life is to be a Christian, a Catholic, a monk, we have not, in this case, identified with our role in this drama. We are, in the words of Fr. Michael Casey “not...the real person, but only a stand-in.”

It seems that there are at least three kinds of hypocrites. The first would be the kind who are so blinded by the log in their own eyes that they cannot even see themselves enough to take the log first from their own eyes. This kind of hypocrite needs a compassionate brother or sister or some earthquake to get the log out of the hypocrite's spiritual eye. A second, more sinister kind is the hypocrite who knows perfectly well what he or she is about in living in darkness while pretending to live in the light. This is the kind of person that most moved our Lord to an anger directed to shake them out of the clutches of evil and sin.

Think of the present anger of most of the world at Vladimir Putin who pretends the invasion of Ukraine is an act of love for the one-time Ukrainian motherland of the Russian people when, in fact, it is a cynical attempt to distract the Russian people from his failure as president. A third kind of hypocrite is the kind who recognizes his or her own hypocrisy and yearns to become an authentic person and takes the steps toward this transformation, turning to the truth who is the risen Lord Jesus Christ present in His body the Church, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We are about to take the steps toward this sanctuary to be transformed within and without by the reception of the Eucharist. St. Paul in the Second Letter to the Corinthians warns them about their hypocritical celebrations of the Eucharist within the Agape meals. These Agape meals, Christian Love Banquets, were real banquets where the participants brought food to the meal in which the Eucharist was also received—just as it was at the Last Supper of Jesus. However, the rich and well-off Christians brought good food and drink and acted like gluttons and drunkards and, worse, not at all sharing their good food and drink with the poor Christians who had little or nothing to bring with them, many of whom were slaves. Paul excoriates these people saying that the rich Corinthians show contempt for the Church of God and make those who have nothing feel ashamed— thus they do not discern the Body of Christ. Well, thank heaven, we do not have potluck suppers at our Eucharists, but we can be equally contemptuous of others, just as self-satisfied with our material success or supposed spiritual greatness, just as wrapped up in ourselves.

The Eucharist should open us up to a real love for all, a genuine caring for the needs of all, a working for the good of all in unfeigned humility, and, where necessary, open us up to sincere mutual forgiveness and reconciliation. We pray for Russia and Ukraine. Through the Eucharist we share, may the Judge of All the World at the end not say to us HYPOKRITA! May he greet us with “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for what you did for the least of my brothers and sisters you did for me.     Today's homily by Father Luke.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

On Saturday with Mary

As we remember Our Lady on Saturday, we recall God’s unique intervention in Mary’s life. This radically changed the whole direction of her personal history and challenged her to give up every preconceived notion of virtue and righteousness.  Nevertheless, Mary still had to live out the full course of her appointed time on earth in an (externally speaking) most ordinary manner.  And yet within, in the interior chamber of her prayer and in her keen awareness of God’s intense presence in her being, she was one unceasing act of gratitude, praise, and joy; in her own words: "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked upon his servant in her nothingness.  Henceforth all generations will call me blessed."  These words of her Magnificat mark the most significant turning-point in the human race’s understanding of itself.  Small, hidden, humble Mary turned the course of world history and man’s self-understanding on its head. 

Reflection by Father Simeon. 

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

With Saint Peter


Again this morning we hear Jesus’ question to Peter, tinged with self-doubt, magnificent in its quiet simplicity – “Who do you say that I am?” It is a hauntingly beautiful question from Jesus to each of us, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you? What is your experience of me in your life, in your history? How do you experience me now? Do you know that I know you, and love you well?” 

How shall each of us answer Our Lord? Perhaps when we come to understand who we are, how wounded we are, and who Jesus wants to be for us, we can say with Peter, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." You search me and you know me. All my ways lie open to you. You alone are my love, my fortress, my stronghold. All I want is to know is you Christ Jesus my Lord and the power flowing from your resurrection. Everything else is a pile of rubbish to me.

Jesus did not give up on Peter, and he will never, ever give up on us. He is a relentless rescuer, the God who saves us, even chases after us because he knows us through and through. Our life of incessant prayer requires incessant awareness of how much he understands us, knows us in all our wavering and inconsistency and nothingness, and yet cannot bear to ever leave us alone.  

Photograph by Brother Brian.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Seventh Sunday

This morning Jesus leads us up a very high mountain, draws us up higher and higher, asking more and more of us at each step. “You can do it! Come on. Come higher. Yes, yes. Forgive. Turn the other cheek. Lend. Give to those who can’t possibly repay. Be exceedingly kind to those who despise you or hurt you. Love your enemies. Return good for evil. Be merciful, merciful like God. Do not judge, don’t even think of it. Refuse to retaliate. Pardon. Give without expecting a return. Give. Give. Love and forget yourself.” It seems like much too much. Higher and higher we go. The air gets thinner, it’s cool and misty, and I can’t see the way ahead or behind for that matter. And perhaps you, like me, feel a bit light-headed, even faint. Jesus’ message is dizzying after all. In short, he expects so much of us, too much of us, demands too high a standard of excellence of us his disciples - like the teacher or the coach we secretly loved and found absolutely infuriating, who always expected more, who had such confidence in our abilities, who knew we could do it. “I won’t accept shoddy work from you. Take it back; do it over. You can do better. I want more. I expect more of you.”

Jesus calls us this morning to be creative, to get beyond the tit-for-tat mode of reaction in relationship with one another, to do the opposite, to go beyond the logic of our sensitivities, to respond in love and not react in fear, to do what St. Paul and St. Benedict are always reminding us. “Outdo one another in showing respect. Defer to one another.”  “Don’t be so obvious,” Jesus might say. “Do something different for a change- do good to those who hate you, even pray for those who annoy you. Give them the shirt off your back!” He sets the bar higher and higher, demands that we go beyond ourselves.  My initial response, perhaps yours too: “You’ve got the wrong party. Sorry. It’s too much. You want too much. My heart is too small. I can’t” His response, “Of course, you can’t. We can, I can do it through you, with you, in you. I can stretch your heart wider than you ever imagined.”

Some years ago my friend, John, was dating a plastic surgeon, who was interning at Boston Children’s Hospital. I remember her telling us about her work with little children in the burn unit. Children are terribly burned, and skin has to be replaced. She told us how doctors would harvest tiny oblong patches of skin from different hidden places on a child’s body, under legs and arms, then take these teeny pieces of skin and make a series of alternating cuts halfway down on opposite sides of them, so that these little patches of fresh skin could then be stretched open like little accordions and placed in the scarred areas. New skin would grow in the gaps. It seemed wild, wonderful, ingenious to me; something small becoming wider in no time. Healing by stretching.

Maybe that’s what Christ wants to do with our tattered hearts if we let him in. Frankly, I wonder how available I am to this stretch, this conversion of heart that Jesus so desires. It’s awesome work; certainly somewhat painful. But he promises that healing, hope, wholeness, and love will be accomplished through our availability to his skillful touch and cut and stretch. Jesus says to us, in other words, “Trust me. You can afford it.” And the good news is - if your heart has been broken, the more little holes and slashes and old wounds you’ve sustained, the more stretchable your heart will be, and the easier his work will be. He can then make our hearts like his own Sacred Heart burning with love and mercy.  “Just as we resemble Adam the man of earth, all dust, so too,” Paul reminds us, “we are like the man from heaven, Jesus our Lord, whose heart is big as all outdoors.”

Not long ago, a mother of twelve whom we know remarked to me that people sometimes ask her how she can love each one of those kids, so many. “They’re too many.” “Nonsense,” she says, “love does run out. You just love; the more you give, the more there is.” I said, “You know sometimes I feel like that, afraid to keep loving after I’ve been hurt, afraid I won’t be loved in return, afraid I won’t have enough love left.” “Nonsense,” she said again. “Don’t you understand? It’s like that boy’s picnic lunch- only five loaves and two fish- but Love could bless it and break it and stretch it and make it enough to feed thousands with scads of leftovers.” “No,” she reminded me, “Love is not something you ever run out of. The more you give, the more there is.” But when I’m hurt and angry, I want to shut down close the shades, say, “Sorry, closed. No one’s home.” Jesus begs, demands something much more from us today. “Open up. Give. Forgive. Be merciful. You can manage. You have no idea how big your heart is, how big it can become.”

Baptized into Christ, we are bound to live in covenantal relationship with him and with one another, and to hold to the conviction that peace and love and reconciliation and tender mercy are not far away things to hope for, but things we can do together now. We are bound to believe and proclaim that love is shown in deeds now, that small choices to love and defer and restrain our tongues and our judgments do matter, that our faithfulness in little things has consequences far beyond what we could hope or imagine - far beyond the walls of this monastic enclosure because “those who love more can do more.” Love does stretch hearts wide open. We believe this because Love himself has shown us; Love himself has stretched his Heart wide open on the cross. Love never fails, never runs out, because even a little bit of love freely given will multiply like crazy; our tiny hearts in Love’s skillful hands can be stretched far beyond what we can possibly imagine.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Homily by one of the monks.

Thursday, February 17, 2022



Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things endures all things.
Love never fails.

Who have I made Christ Jesus out to be? How do I experience Him? How is He trying to reveal God’s own Self to me? And am I, are we often simply missing the point, the simple truth of who God wants to be for us in Christ? Paul shows up just in time with the classic beauty of his hymn to love, a hymn to Christ Jesus who is God’s Word of love enfleshed for us.

Love is patient, love is kind, he says. Christ Jesus our Lord is patient, always waiting for us, in no hurry, never coercive; waiting outside the door for us to let Him in; awaiting our return to God, and so bearing the cruel hardship of the cross without complaint- in patient love for us.

Christ Jesus is most kind, deeply concerned for our well-being, our happiness, our healing, mourning our losses with us; finding us there in the weakness which we would prefer to hide from Him, from ourselves, and from one another. He wants to soothe our anxieties, longs to console us if we will allow Him. “Be comforted, my people. I am your deliverance. Your servitude, your exile is over.”

Christ Jesus is not a jealous God, not in competition with his creation; but encountering us here in the beauty and challenge of our relationships with one another.

Jesus our Lord does not brood over our mistakes and failures. Thank God. He does not keep an account book of my failures and infidelities, the craziness of my past. As far as the east is from the west so far has He removed our sins. Blinded by God’s unrelenting desire to forgive and heal us, He bends low to wash our feet in our neediness, our dereliction and loneliness of heart; always towards us, always for us.

Christ endures all things for us; rejoices in the innate goodness and holiness of who we are; Christ Jesus hopes all things for us.  He will never fail us; never ever. He cannot, for Love never ends. He calls us, leads us to rediscover the beauty of the image, the truth that was placed within us from the beginning. He teaches us how to discover within ourselves, through self-knowledge, the goal of our desiring; for it is He, Love enfleshed, who has made his abode in the shabby broken-down "hovel of our heart."Gregory of Nyssa

What shall we make of this? What good would life have been for us had Christ not come to rescue us in our nothingness, to show you and me that we are lovable, worth God’s precious blood? With Him I have everything, all I need; and He is enough, for He is love.

Love is patient, love is kind. Here and now this simple Word is fulfilled in our hearing, in Christ. What are we to do? Is He too much for us? Shall we run him out of town like the folks from Nazareth tried to do? Is He, is Love, all too accessible? How can we manage the unremitting patience and loving-kindness of God in Christ? The truth is we cannot manage such love; we can only try to accept it as simple mercy.

Image by Bradi Barth. Reflection by one of the monks.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022


the more He wants to give, the more He makes us desire until He leaves us empty so as to fill us with blessings...God's immense blessings can only fill a heart that is empty. They come in that kind of solitude.

We pray that our solitude will be a space for Christ, a space that He can fill with His presence and His very Self.

Photograph of colored glass in the abbey cloister by Brother Daniel. Quotation from John of the Cross.

Sunday, February 13, 2022


The Galilee of Jesus’ day was a muddle of power struggles; rich elites were getting richer and richer by burdening the poor with endless tolls and ever-higher taxes. And religious leaders kept piling on rules and regulations that assured the poor of their exclusion. Jesus arrives and announces a higher grace.* He brings good news to the poor, sets free those oppressed and heavily burdened, and he is teaching the people how to hope again. Jesus is this great surge of God’s compassion rushing in with a relentless, astoundingly gentle but ferocious urgency and energy. And he is enacting a great reversal. He eats with sinners, casts out demons, cures people no matter which day of the week it is. He touches lepers and so has become unclean. He even dares to forgive sins. Who does he think he is?


Jesus sees things differently, he grants access to the kingdom directly to outcasts and the downtrodden, offering not pity but blessing. He speaks to them this morning on a “stretch of level ground” – their level. The standards of the world are toppled. Jesus is with them, he has become poor for their sake, he is a wandering preacher, who has nowhere to rest his head. Jesus is the love and beauty of God, this breakthrough of God’s compassion in the midst of all the muck, violence, and pettiness. And as he mingles openly with his often underfed and unemployed followers, Jesus assures them: “You are seen by God. You may be poor and hungry, weeping and hated, but you are blessed, never ever forgotten.” In and through Jesus, they have been found by God’s compassion. We can well imagine their surprise as they hear his message this morning. More than one looking over their shoulder to see who he’s talking to. “Oh, I think he means us.” Jesus is not joking around nor offering false hope but assuring them of the fullness and joy that God wants for them. Jesus topples the values of the world and invites us to see the world in terms of God’s values. He names the poor makarios, truly blessed and fortunate; they can rejoice in the midst of their suffering for in God’s eyes they are favored.


Now, it’s embarrassing to admit, but most of the time I come to the Gospel Beatitudes, wondering how I’m doing. You know like: how m’I doin? Would Jesus number me among his blessed ones? Did I make the cut? After all, I’ve had some tough breaks. Right? But am I poor enough, have I suffered enough? Fool that I am. At this point I sense the Lord giving me the time-out sign. Time out, this isn’t try-outs for the kingdom. The invitation is simply to listen, just listen to Jesus, stay with him, abide with him and notice those whom he names blessed. Notice who it is that is getting his attention and allow my priorities to be shifted.


Any of us who have had the privilege of working with the truly poor have experienced this. I remember working in Belize many years ago. I would often go to the very simple home of one family; it was a little wooden house on stilts. I loved being there with these friends. They didn’t have much. One evening they announced, “We have something special for you.” What could it be? Jello. (I hate jello.) But that night jello became sacred. Holy Communion. I savored every bit of my lime jello like never before.


The Beatitudes are not a checklist for the spiritually ambitious, but an invitation to see as God sees. An invitation to notice who Jesus is speaking to and quietly, gratefully, graciously, humbly find our place with him among those who are disadvantaged and oppressed and learn to live by a new set of standards. Abiding with the poor, staying with the poor Christ, we learn what is truly important. It’s about welcoming vulnerability and being unattached to anything less than God. It’s not about doing anything but about responding to the hope and higher grace that Jesus is relentlessly offering. He is our true Beatitude, though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, abandoned even unto death on a cross.


But woe to us, woe to us if, stranded in our selfishness, we are forgetful of our constant dependance on God’s mercy and compassion. Woe to us if we forget that our blessedness demands that we learn to see as God sees, to love as God loves. Woe to us if we ignore the poor. Beatitude is about stepping into the blessedness of those who know their desperate need for God, those who have no other treasure but him.


I am reminded of an afternoon some years ago, as I was trudging down Broadway in Manhattan feeling terribly despondent as I made my way to class. I was stopped in my tracks, as I noticed, written in large letters with colored chalk on the sidewalk, these words: “I am well-pleased.” It was as if the sidewalk itself was crying out – “You are seen, you are noticed, even blest, you have been found by God’s compassion.” Maybe we could write that all over the cloister floors, on all the hallway floors: “I am well pleased.” Might be helpful.

Who is Jesus noticing? Who am I noticing? Whom have you seen? Who do you see each day around here? A brother with Lou Gehrig’s disease literally dragging himself into this church to pray Vigils. A young monk in a rush, interrupted and now leaning down to an elder who wants him to read the latest notes on the bulletin board to him. The one I judge, the one I take for granted, the one I’ve made invisible. How will I notice the poor one I am liable to miss, the ignored or forgotten one - in my world, in my heart, in my mirror?

In the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus this morning, a revolution is happening, with vulnerability at the center. Inadequacy, vulnerability are the key to beatitude, the source of all that can give us life and joy, love, belonging and connectedness. For when I am vulnerable, I realize that I desperately need God; I realize that I desperately need others. I come to understand that I am perfectly incomplete, perfectly inadequate and on the way, certainly not poor like the truly economically disadvantaged whom Jesus addresses this morning, but somehow, connected by the grace of self-knowledge.* Then real prayer becomes possible. And Eucharist becomes real. How blessed are they who trust in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. How truly blessed are those who know their desperate need for God.

* See address given by David Brooks at The National Cathedral, Washington July 5, 2020. * See Jamie Arpin-Ricci on BrenĂ© Brown in Huffington Post blog for April 8, 2015. Reflection by one of our monks.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Our Lady of Lourdes

On this memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, we rejoice because Mary is gateway to all the compassion that Jesus longs to be for us. Through her intercession we pray for all the sick, for all who are in need, for all refugees. We are assured of Our Lady's attentiveness.

Like Saint Bernadette, we stand beneath the watchful gaze of Mary. The humble maiden of Lourdes tells us that the Virgin, whom she called “the Lovely Lady”, looked at her as one person looks at another. Those simple words describe the fullness of a relationship. Bernadette, poor, illiterate and ill, felt that Mary was looking at her as a person. The Lovely Lady spoke to her with great respect and without condescension. This reminds us that every person is, and always remains, a human being, and is to be treated as such. The sick and the those who are disabled, even severely, have their own inalienable dignity and mission in life. They never become simply objects. If at times they appear merely passive, in reality that is never the case.

After her visit to the Grotto, thanks to her prayer, Bernadette turned her frailty into support for others. Thanks to her love, she was able to enrich her neighbours and, above all, to offer her life for the salvation of humanity. The fact that the Lovely Lady asked her to pray for sinners reminds us that the infirm and the suffering desire not only to be healed, but also to live a truly Christian life, even to the point of offering it as authentic missionary disciples of Christ. Mary gave Bernadette the vocation of serving the sick and called her to become a Sister of Charity, a mission that she carried out in so exemplary a way as to become a model for every healthcare worker. Let us ask Mary Immaculate for the grace always to relate to the sick as persons who certainly need assistance, at times even for the simplest of things, but who have a gift of their own to share with others.  

Excerpts from Pope Francis'  Message for the World Day of the Sick.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Saint Scholastica


Once upon a time, Scholastica went to visit her twin brother Benedict. They spent the day in spiritual conversation and dined together. As it began to get dark, Scholastica begged her brother to stay there all night, so that they could continue speaking of the joys of heaven. But Benedict could not be persuaded. The sky was clear and cloudless, as Scholastica joined her hands, bowed her head, and prayed ardently to God.  Suddenly there was such a rainstorm with lightning and thunder, that Benedict could not possibly depart. He was very annoyed and said to his sister, "God forgive you. What have you done?" She answered, "I wanted you to stay, and you would not listen to me; so I asked our good Lord, and he  granted my request." And so, they spent the whole night in heavenly conversation and comforted one another. 

Reflecting on the power and efficacy of Scholastica's prayer, Saint Gregory the Great will remark, "It's no wonder at all. Those who love more can do more." It is love after all that must empower our prayer. We beg God's mercy because sometimes, we have not loved enough. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022


It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance - for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light ... Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don't have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it? .... Theologians talk about a prevenient grace that precedes grace itself and allows us to accept it. I think there must also be a prevenient courage that allows us to be brave - that is, to acknowledge that there is more beauty than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Lines by Marilynne Robinson



Tuesday, February 8, 2022


We are always amazed by the story of Saint Josephine Bakhita, whose feast we celebrate today. Stolen from her family and sold into slavery when she was only about nine years old, Bakhita’s childhood was filled with cruelty and suffering. Her young body cruelly tattooed, whip marks on her thighs, and one leg forever damaged by brutal kicking, so much so that she limped for years thereafter. Children are great survivors. But surely this was a little girl who suffered far too much. Hounded by pain and death from her girlhood, Bakhita somehow learned early on how to live as if death did not have the last word. 

And finally years later when she hears about Jesus, she is magnetized and seeks baptism with a tenacity and conviction that astound us. As she gazes at the cross, she is transfixed. The cross is key to her self-understanding, her true self-identity, her freedom, her hope. Jesus, an innocent victim like her, bestows life; her survival has meaning at last. She is drawn into his reality, his death-defying death. And so she calls Jesus her Paron – literally her “Big Daddy,” her Master; at last a Master she can serve with joy and freedom, one who will never, ever hurt or do any violence to her. Light as a feather on the breath of God, Bakhita is lifted up into him and becomes most truly herself. 

Surely we dare not compare ourselves with Bakhita. But we all have scars of our own, so many stories brief or lengthy of infirmities of mind or heart or body or soul; illnesses and unhealthy tendencies inherited or acquired; so many things we cannot change, past hurts and abuses endured. In his wounded, resurrected body, Jesus has drawn all of our stories into his story. Our stories are no longer dead-ended, but filled with life and hope. We do not need to avoid our death, our dyings, for now, we can discover Jesus our Master there.

Monday, February 7, 2022

To Begin Again


For most of his public ministry, Jesus’ pulpit was the great outdoors. A hillside, a boat, an open road. Today we see Jesus teaching the people from the shore of Lake Galilee. As with any popular public figure, everyone wanted to see him close-up, to touch him. With the crowd pressing in on him, Jesus gets into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out a short distance from the shore which prevented the crowds from pressing in too close. When he had finished speaking, he gave Simon Peter the command that can apply to all of us: “Put out into deep water.” He told Peter to lower his nets for a catch. Peter and the others knew that night was the best time to fish, not the morning. Besides, they had worked all night and caught nothing. However, out of respect for Jesus they did as he has asked. To their surprise, they caught such an incredible number of fish that their nets were tearing. Peter was so overwhelmed that he fell on his knees before Jesus and asked the Lord to leave him, for he was a sinful man. Peter had addressed Jesus as “Master”, now he called him “Lord.” Peter’s sense of God’s awesome presence was almost more than he could bear.

We see a similar story in our first reading today from Isaiah. When summoned by God Isaiah is terrified as he remembers his sinfulness. He dreamed of six-winged heavenly beings called Seraphim singing before God, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory.” Holiness is the essential quality of God, his utter transcendence. The Catechism explains it like this: “Faced with God’s fascinating and mysterious presence, man discovers his own insignificance. Moses takes off his sandals and veils his face in the presence of God’s holiness. Isaiah cries out: ‘Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips.’ Peter exclaims, that he is a sinful man. But because God is holy, he can forgive the man who realizes that he is a sinner before him. The apostle John says likewise: ‘We shall . . . reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’ (1 Jn 3:19-20), CCC 208.”

There was a popular belief that seeing God would lead to one’s death. “You cannot see God and live” (Ex 33:20). The reaction of Isaiah, who was so overwhelmed by his sinfulness is almost comical: “I’m doomed!” But God took the initiative and had one of the Seraphim take a coal from the altar of incense and touch his lips so that he would be purified and worthy of God’s call to be a prophet. Isaiah, now ready for his mission exclaims: “Here I am, send me!” Throughout Scripture, we see that sin and failure are not obstacles to God’s call. He calls imperfect people to do his work, even saints.

As he did with Isaiah, God took the initiative with Peter. Peter felt a tremendous sense of unworthiness. Jesus didn’t say: “Hey Peter, when you get your act together come back and we’ll talk about what I want you to do.” Jesus just told him not to be afraid and that his vocation was now to fish for people.

Like Isaiah and St. Peter, St. Paul also experienced his sense of unworthiness before God for persecuting the followers of Jesus. Isaiah, Peter, and Paul were all called by God to put out into the deep waters of life. They proclaimed their sinfulness and unworthiness before God and so should we. Whenever we feel that we are unworthy of the mission that the Lord has given to us, it’s a good time to remember that no one is worthy.

A favorite quote of mine is from Venerable Bruno Lanteri, an 18th-century Italian priest and founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. He said: “If I should fall even a thousand times a day, a thousand times I will say, now I begin again.”

To experience the wonderful action of God’s grace in our lives we need supernatural faith. But supernatural faith requires total sacrifice and obedience to the Word of God, to “Glorify God with our lives” as one of the dismissals at the end of Mass says. I’m sure that many of us have asked God the question: Why am I here, what is my mission in life? Jesus tells us, “Put out into deep water.” “Most of us spend our spiritual lives,” Bishop Barron says, “in the shallows, which is to say preoccupied with the petty goods of this world . . . but we are not meant for this. We are meant for the depths, for the adventure of the open sea, which is to say for the high demand of the spiritual life.”

What I have learned, and continue to learn over the years, is that following God’s call is not a one-time event, it’s a daily event. It is a lifelong process with a lot of failure and a few successes. One of my fears is that when I am called home by God I’ll say: Wait, wait, I’m not finished!  But we are never finished in this life. God is not looking for the perfect score. He takes us as we are. Can we accept ourselves as we are?

Avery Cardinal Dulles, a one-time agnostic, was a convert to Catholicism. He once told a friend that when he was thinking about becoming a priest, he was afraid to answer the call until he heard an inner voice saying, “Fear not.”

Many years later, when he was made a Cardinal, there was a celebratory dinner for him at Fordham University in NY. His sister spoke at the dinner telling about the upheaval in the family over his decision to become a Catholic. His Presbyterian Father, John Foster Dulles, a U.S. Secretary of State, told him he was throwing his life away. His sister went on: “Of course, they were right. He did throw his life away.” Dead silence. Then she winked at her brother and said: “For Christ.”

I know there must be thousands of stories about people who have received life-changing calls with no logical explanation. I’m sure there are many stories right here in the community. But the fact is that Jesus continues to call people to radical vocations (and I would say becoming a Trappist monk is one of them!). Just as he called Peter, James, and John. God calls to each of us in our ordinary daily lives and asks us to follow him, over, and over again.

God has chosen to work with us, as sinful, broken, and inadequate as we are. So let us be alert to God’s call, He’s saying: “Do not be afraid.”

“When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”

Reflection and photograph by Father Emmanuel


Sunday, February 6, 2022

The Fifth Sunday


We hear three stories of call this morning, three epiphanies really; three characters recognizing their unworthiness in the brilliance of divine presence and blessing: Paul and Peter and their holy forebear Isaiah. We witness their religious experience and its reverberations. “Woe is me,” says Isaiah, “I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then Paul, only recently back on his feet after falling from his horse, will proclaim, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am.” And finally, in the Gospel, there is that tremendous haul of fish and Peter falling at Jesus’ knees, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

With the realization of divine favor, there is neither boasting nor complacency but wonder and bitter self-knowledge. In the brilliance of divine light, getting closer to God, we see more clearly who we are. Isn’t it true that the response of a grateful, awe-filled heart is always appropriately - I am not worthy. Noticing the blessing, the undeserved abundance, we see clearly who the recipient is. It is I, it is you, not because of what we have accomplished but because of who God is- all Love. It’s never been about worth, but always about love, and the sweet condescension of his mercy, the tenderness you never really deserve.


A story. You know for good Catholics like us, divorce was anathema. No one knew about annulments in those days. But Lee, my favorite aunt, was a divorcĂ©e; and she was my godmother. (I found out later that my mother had pleaded in tears with the old Italian pastor to get his extraordinary permission for that.) So Lee always knew that she was on the fringe. I noticed that she didn’t go to Mass and that when she did; she never ever went up for Communion. But who worried about that. I loved her, she always babysat for me and took me everywhere when I was little; she bought me the best presents, she was my great defender as a kid.  

Now as best I can remember, it was during a big family fight one afternoon when things were shouted that would be regretted. And from my room, I heard it all. And then at one point, Lee burst into my room sobbing, and she confessed to me, “I’m divorced. My first husband beat me; I had to leave him.”  She told me she’d always known that one day she would have to tell me and that she had always dreaded it, afraid that I would reject her. Reject her? It seemed incongruous even to my young mind. What did I know? It made no sense to me. All I knew was that I loved her, and I told her so. Forgive the family drama; it’s just that it reminds me of the scene in today’s Gospel. For I suspect that Jesus’ dialogue with Peter, though not recorded, perhaps went something like this: “Depart from me Lord, I am a sinful man,” says Peter. Jesus' response, “Depart from you? What? I love you. I want you to come and follow me. I’m not going anywhere.”


Jesus knows perfectly well who we are, whom he has chosen. And so next he tells Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be netting men”- “netting” others into this relationship of love with him, this web of relationality, of interconnectedness between heaven and all creation, that happens when we begin to love as God loves.


Our work is to be seized by astonishment at Christ’s deeds on our behalf over and over again, to see clearly what God is doing in my life, in our lives together in this place. It demands our attention and openness to the epiphanies- to believe beyond all doubt that God is choosing me, choosing us, favoring us, and blessing us beyond our imagining in ways far beyond our often narrow comprehension, ways that are his ways, not our ways of doing things. But how to keep open to the blessing, notice the abundance that has been given? How to stay awake and keep the focus out there, and notice my deepest desire? My outlook, maybe yours too, can get so narrow.


It is so humbling, even humiliating to think of all the stupid things that concern and annoy me, and crowd my mind and heart, all my pettiness. I too want to say, "Depart from me Lord, I am a sinful man." Well, the hardest part is that he won’t go away, even with my hardheartedness and stupidity. Jesus is not going anywhere.

And so when despite my foolishness, my sinfulness, all our resistance, we can say yes along with our holy forebears in the faith, with Peter and Paul and Isaiah, we are blest indeed. For then we come to inhabit a place where all things are possible, a place where we can even rejoice in our nothingness as Our Lady did. As always it is a matter of letting ourselves be loved and daring to believe, to trust in Another’s love and desire. Holy allowing. Those who are in love have always known that. They know enough to trust in the foolishness of another’s fondness and partiality. How good then to put everything else aside once again and go to him, up to the altar of God to receive his Best Gift which each day reminds each of us who we are- deeply loved sinners, from whom Jesus our Lord will never ever depart. Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by one of the monks.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Saint Agatha

Saint Methodios tells us, quoting St Paul, that his fellow Sicilian, St Agatha, whose name means ‘the good one’, was 'a virgin espoused to one man, Jesus Christ’. She was ‘good’ not necessarily by nature but because she used her young freedom to choose the highest Good possible, namely, the Son of God as Spouse of her soul. For the sake of her fidelity to this highest and most enthralling Good, she was willing to sacrifice a lesser good: the life of her body. This clinging exclusively to the person of Jesus her Bridegroom was Agatha’s manner of ‘going apart to a deserted place to rest’ with her Beloved, just as the apostles are invited to do by Jesus in today’s gospel.

We are all invited to do the same. Let us repent of all our own infidelities to the highest Love, to all our duplicity of mind, heart, and body, as we beg the Lord to be move with pity for us when we choose to go astray as if we did not already have him as our ever-solicitous, ever-loving Shepherd. And, through the intercession of St Agatha let us ask Christ to restore full communion to the churches of Constantinople and Rome, to both of which the Sicilian martyr and virgin St Agatha belongs.

Reflection by Father Simeon.

Thursday, February 3, 2022


As we remember the martyrs Blaise and Agatha this week, we pray that like them we may be faithful unto death, embracing death as an open portal to eternal life in Christ, embracing even our daily dyings as ways to encounter Christ's kind presence.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Candlemas Day

Your merciful love, O God, we have received in the midst of your temple…

Just as Simeon and Anna received the child presented by Mary and Joseph so do we come today to receive the child from Mary his mother and Joseph, patrons of our monastery.

At the first Presentation, only four were present. Today, thanks to the efforts of countless believers over the centuries, the “light for revelation to the Gentiles” has been passed on to us. We are privileged to be part of these original four. Luke is at pains to show that these four have been carefully chosen by God as credible witnesses for the presentation of his Son to Israel. Each of us, too, has been chosen by God to receive His Son today and to bear the light of consolation and redemption to the nations.  We too are to be credible witnesses just like them. This is a lofty task. How do we become people who are up to it? Let us look to these four the Lord has given us as examples, as sure guides along the way.

In bringing Jesus to the temple, it is the role of Mary and Joseph to do a very ordinary and expected thing for a pious Jew, which they do in a spirit of simple willing obedience to the law, without the slightest trace of legalism. Thus, Mary and Joseph show us how, in order to carry out the divine plan, God’s Spirit counts on all that is given us through the institutional side of the Church: the liturgy, the sacraments, and so on. For us, this means that it is through following the ordinary rhythm of the monastic day of prayer, work, and meals, in the same spirit of simple, humble obedience, that we provide the conditions for God to make Christ present to us here and now and do his transformative work on us as individuals and as a group.

Luke tells us that Simeon was “righteous and devout”. For Guerric of Igny, to be “devout” or “God-fearing” meant that Simeon’s “speech and his countenance were adorned with modesty and gravity” and “made him moderate his activity with circumspection.” In Simeon, we see how the negative praxis of “caution” and “restraint”, characteristic of the devout man, were in service of a high degree of interior freedom, that allowed him to be particularly sensitive and responsive to the promptings of the Spirit. No one told Simeon to be at this particular place at this particular time, only the Spirit, and only the Spirit gave him the capacity to recognize God’s Anointed in the child. Thus, his eyes saw his heart’s desire, the Lord’s salvation and consolation, not only for himself, but for all: as “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for God’s people Israel.”

Anna is also led by the Spirit, for she came “forward at that very time”, Luke tells us. But as one has freely chosen to remain a widow for the Lord’s sake, who never left the temple, but worshiped night and day, in fasting and prayer, she is a model for us of a life ordered around prayer, of consecrated chastity and voluntary poverty and, therefore, of life according to the evangelical counsels, including obedience, indicated by the fact that she came “forward at that very time”, and monastic stability, in that she never left the temple.

In Simeon and Anna, Sion has adorned her bridal chamber and welcomed Christ the King, as the ancient antiphon for today’s procession has it. They represent the whole people at their best. So let us look to these four, brothers, let us walk together with them in the daily rhythm of our life of prayer and work, as we seek to live justly and devoutly, and be responsive to the Spirit’s lead, and as we struggle to live chastely, in poverty, obedience, and stability, that we may know their joy.

And most of all, let us look to Mary who, as virgin and mother by the overshadowing of the Spirit, embodies all of these in their perfection. And as one who herself was pierced by the sword, knows all the trials and difficulties of Christian discipleship. She presents us the child at all times, especially here in the Eucharist. Let us take him up and embrace him and, like Anna, give thanks and speak about the child, in our words and deeds, to all who are waiting and longing for the coming of the divine mercy, of God in his full redemptive power.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, The Presentation in the Temple with the Angel, c. 1630, etching, 4 x 3 in., Alva de Mars Megan Chapel Art Center, Saint Anselm College. Homily by Father Timothy.