Wednesday, April 27, 2022

With Rafael


Saint Rafael Arnáiz Barón is a recently canonized saint of our Order, though, in truth, he had only a very brief experience as a Trappist monk. Rafael loved Christ most ardently and embodied the Cistercian ideal despite all the complexities and contradictions of his personal vocational journey. Forced to interrupt his novitiate because of severe illness, he finally was allowed to return to his monastery of San Isidro as an oblate living in the infirmary. Rafael's life was one of great simplicity and humility. Often described as "crazed by the love of God," he was only 27 years old when he died on 26 April 1938.

Christ guided Rafael through a series of bewildering contradictions - illness, war, the impossibility of ever pronouncing vows, and difficult community relations. Humiliations were constant, but Rafael learned to surrender himself in peace and joy.

Things often do not turn out as we had hoped or planned. And we soon learn that contradictions and dead ends are part of the journey. But what to do with them? Saint Rafael shows us a way. Despite all he had to endure, he refused ever to be selfish or self-absorbed. He simply loved - Christ, Our Lady, the Cross, his brothers. May we follow in his footsteps.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Saint Mark


Just before the risen Lord commands his disciples, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to every creature, he rebukes them sharply for their lack of faith and hardness of heart (16:14). Now, the command to evangelize does not follow very logically from that rebuke, does it? Nevertheless, the text stands, and verse 15 follows irreversibly from verse 14. Yes, it is to these very flawed and fearful persons that Jesus, God’s eternal Wisdom, entrusts the salvation of the world. Jesus does not go off looking for perfect shining saints. Why? No doubt because he knows that the conversion of deeply flawed humanity can best be achieved through equally flawed yet converted individuals, and the Eleven lead the way of all the converted.

And what is the powerful marvel that converts hearts and minds so that they come to love and serve only the compassionate God of truth? The very first verse of St. Mark’s Gospel spells it out in seven resounding syllables. This marvel is not a thing but a person: Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Let us too, then, deeply flawed though we are, pledge our whole lives to Christ, trusting boundlessly in his presence and help. We are what we are: such he made us and as such does he love us. Let us never doubt God’s generosity and humor in choosing precisely us. And once he has grasped us in his strong hands, surely he will not let us drop!

Giorgio Vasari, Saint Mark, 1570-1571, oil on panel, 70 × 39 in.,National Gallery, Washington, DC. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today, the Octave of Easter has been given the special designation Divine Mercy Sunday by Pope Saint John Paul II. The Gospel of John celebrates this theme magnificently. As it opens on a Sunday, Jesus has been killed by the authorities and has been in the tomb since Friday evening. The disciples have entombed themselves behind the locked doors of the Upper Room, unable to move, like dead men for fear of the Jews. It seems to them that all is lost. The man Jesus in whom they had placed all their hopes has been crucified. Suddenly, in the midst of these seemingly dead men, Jesus appears with a greeting and message of “Peace.” This is a message completely contradicting the chaos they feel caught up in. Peace is the tranquility of order: the divine order. When Jesus perceives the joy in their hearts at recognizing their Lord, he reiterates his greeting in a way that makes it not only a greeting but also a commission. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He then breathes into them not just life, but the new life. As God at the First Creation breathed life into Adam, so now at the New Creation the new Adam, the God-Man Jesus, breathes the new life into his disciples and so also into all of us who call on the name of Jesus. We all share in the new life of the Spirit, the breath of God, through the glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

For many of us, the experience of God's mercy in raising us up to the new life in the Spirit comes in a way that more resembles that of St. Thomas, the Apostle, who hadn't made it back to the Upper Room in time. At the Last Supper Thomas had asked Jesus about the way Jesus was going. Jesus replied that He himself is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Perhaps Thomas in his despair was lost in the thought that Jesus had turned out to be nothing but a dead end. His misery would eventually bring him back to his brothers' company, at least. St. Thomas and our father St. Bernard had much in common, especially the need for Divine Mercy. St. Bernard's doctrine of Divine Mercy Misericordia being attracted to our misery miseria was one that we tended to forget in later centuries of Jansenism. In a sermon to his monks, Bernard realistically describes himself as follows: “burdened with sins, enveloped in darkness, enslaved to pleasure, tormented with desires, dominated by passions, filled with delusions, always prone to evil, easily accessible to every vice, in a word, full of all shame and confusion.” We should not dismiss this as humble self-deprecation---this is what Bernard had discovered about himself in faithfulness to the admonition “know thyself.” The wonder of it all is that Bernard then discovered that in the light of God's grace, he could have mercy upon himself, as it were. This, in turn, inspired him to have mercy on all his brothers in their misery. And this opened him even more to a knowledge of the Father of Mercies. He discovered that Mercy's natural home is our misery. That is the destination to which it rushes like the wind, like the breath of God.

In the sixty-first sermon on the Song of Songs, Bernard parallels his own experience of God's mercy with that of the apostle, Thomas—Thomas who is told by Jesus, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Bernard writes, “But as for me, whatever is lacking in my own resources I appropriate for myself from the heart of the Lord, which overflows with mercy. And there is no lack of clefts by which they are poured out. They pierced His hands and his feet; they gored his side with a lance. And through these fissures, I can suck honey from the rock... I can taste and see that the Lord is good. The nail that pierced him has become for me a key unlocking the sight of the Lord's will. Why should I not gaze through the cleft? The nail wound cries out that God is truly in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. The iron lance pierced his soul, and his heart has drawn near so that he is no longer one who cannot sympathize with my weaknesses. The secret of his heart is laid open...that mighty mystery of loving is laid open, laid open to the tender mercies of our God...Where more clearly than in your wounds does the evidence shine that you, Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love? No one shows greater mercy than he who lays down his life for those who are judged and condemned. My merit, therefore, is the mercy of the Lord.”

We now approach the Eucharist, the sacrament of the Lord's mercy poured out for us for the forgiveness of our sins. Having encountered Divine Mercy in the sacrament, may we have mercy on all we encounter in our ordinary, obscure, and laborious lives. I would like to close with the final words of St. John Paul II's homily at the canonization of Sr. Faustina. He writes, “the message of divine mercy is also a message about the value of every human being. Each person is precious in God's eyes; Christ gave his life for each one; to everyone the Father gives his Spirit and offers intimacy. This consoling message is addressed above all to those who, afflicted by a particularly harsh trial or crushed by the weight of the sins they committed, have lost all confidence in life and are tempted to give in to despair. To them the gentle face of Christ is offered; those rays from his heart touch them and shine upon them, warm them, show them the way and fill them with hope. How many souls have been consoled by the prayer, 'Jesus, I trust in you!'”

Photograph of the weeping cherry outside the Abbey reception room by Charles O'Connor. Today's homily by Father Luke.

Friday, April 22, 2022

At the Sea of Galilee

We could approach from many different angles this rich and mysterious gospel episode of the risen Lord’s apparition by the Sea of Galilee and the miraculous catch of fish that results. But let us focus on only one striking fact. The disciples’ initial effort to catch fish on their own initiative, lasting all through the night, proves fruitless, ironically so because they were skilled fishermen. Nevertheless, their apparent failure turns out in the end not to have been such a failure. At a deeper level, the emptiness of their net becomes a fruitful space calling out for communion with the risen Jesus. It is almost as if this very emptiness conjures the presence of the loving Master, for love can never resist rushing to the beloved’s needs.

With the rising of the sun, the disciples see Jesus standing on the shore. With his glorified person, he brings to them an abundance of life and light, and above all joyful companionship with himself and rich nourishment to strengthen them for the mission he entrusts to their care.

May all our own failures turn out to have been apparent in the end and enjoy the same magnificent transformation. We have only to open our gaping voids to receive the fullness of Christ’s creative Presence!

Homily by Father Simeon.

Thursday, April 21, 2022



Christ is risen! The Gospel of Easter Day, according to the Evangelist John, proclaims the experience of the Resurrection. The discovery of the empty tomb leads Mary Magdalen to break the news to Peter and the beloved disciple. The latter, upon entering the tomb, saw and believed. This is the first sprouting of Easter faith. From this first day of the week onwards, the Resurrection of Jesus also becomes a word event, an announcement; indeed, it becomes the word par excellence that the Church is called to announce and bear witness to.

However, if we listen carefully to our text this morning, we see that we do not yet have the full Easter proclamation here; on the contrary, what Mary Magdalen runs to tell the two disciples is: They have taken the Lord away from the tomb and we do not know where they have put him. She still sees her beloved Jesus as dead, and thus subject to the power of human beings. Prey to fear and discouragement, Mary assumes for certain that the body of Jesus has been stolen and her one concern is where the body has been hidden from her grasp. This Gospel episode shows us the development of Easter faith by presenting the first release of the spark that will soon become a conflagration.

The inner journey that will eventually lead to the joyful cry He is risen! must first pass through the painful evidence of death offered by the shroud that wrapped Jesus’ dead body and the tomb in which it was placed. Absence of faith in the Resurrection is already anticipated symbolically by the remark that it was still dark when Mary Magdalen went to the tomb. She herself and her love for Jesus still moved blindly, in the darkness. Her eyes had not yet been enlightened and enabled, by the word of Scripture, to see beyond material things. This is indeed the first day of the week, the day of a startling new creation; but the dawn has not yet broken, and the darkness is most intense just before daybreak.

In this context, the Evangelist presents the reactions of three disciples—Mary, Peter, and John—to the empty tomb. He stresses above all the faith being born in the beloved disciple who, seeing the bindings on the ground and entering the empty tomb, began to believe. This is why the Evangelist comments on this burgeoning faith by saying: They had not yet understood the Scripture that he should rise from the dead. Easter faith is not born from the mere observation of an empty tomb: this could also lead to the hypothesis that the body has been stolen, as we see with Mary Magdalen. The empirical facts must be seen in light of the words of Scripture, to be illuminated by these; only then will observed facts give life to our Easter faith.

The text suggests a serious ignorance on the part of Mary Magdalen (who says, we do not know where they have put him) and of the disciples (of whom the Evangelist says that they had not yet understood [the Scriptures]), and this ignorance is an important element of their journey towards understanding the event of the Resurrection. The Resurrection event is necessarily the Unheard-of, the Unthinkable, the utterly Disconcerting. It is the radically New Thing that God is creating in the world, the event that only God can create.

The disciples’ is not a culpable or rebellious ignorance but something unavoidable at this stage: the Resurrection is not a product of human reason or resourcefulness or wishful thinking but, wholly, the deed of God, originating wholly outside ourselves and all our powers of comprehension and imagination. Like ourselves, the disciples are totally unprepared for the event of the Resurrection and so they must struggle to access such a momentous revelation. At this moment, only the beloved disciple, precisely because of the hidden mystery of love that secretly binds him to Jesus, begins to intuit and make room in his own soul for this unprecedented newness accomplished by God.

In these first witnesses who come to the empty tomb, we see emerge the emotional aspect of the relationship with the Jesus, whom they recognized as their Lord and for whom they had abandoned everything. Mary Magdalen is overwhelmed before the stone rolled back from the tomb, and she runs, as if moved by the fear that something irreversible has happened. Mary fears not being able to see and touch the body of her Lord. She fears having lost every visible point of reference for her beloved, even the terminal one, namely the tombstone, a fixed point embedded in the earth where it is at least possible to recollect memories and affections. But Christ will not allow her love for him to turn into mere nostalgia.

In the present faith of these disciples, there is a radical incompleteness that calls for fullness and has to do with understanding Scripture. Only faith in the Word of the Lord and in his love for us allows us to begin to believe in the Resurrection in the midst of the countless signs of death that abound in our lives and in the world around us. Faith in the fact that we are loved by the Lord is the basis of faith in the Resurrection. We have to be convinced that God’s love for us does not end with our death. For, if that were so, then what would be the good of God’s love? How unconditional would it really be and how omnipotent God himself?

This faith, which interprets the emptiness of the tomb, can also come to our aid at the times when we experience the terror of love’s emptiness in our hearts and the fear of abandonment that causes us to dwell in the shadow of death. In this gospel scene, the beloved disciple represents every disciple of Jesus throughout history who is called to enter into faith in the God who loves him.

Peter and John’s act of entering the tomb has a symbolic value. In the course of our lives, we too must enter many places of death (bereavement, separation, abandonment, end of relationships and friendships, difficulties in communication). We also at times allow death to enter into us, and so we become a place of death for others (racial, ethnic, and religious prejudice, selfish closure, arrogance, abuse, violence, manipulation, indifference). Faith in the Resurrection, which is the very heart of our Christian faith, is not the same as a simple general trust in the goodness of life and the predictability of nature’s cycles of renewal. Christians are not happy-go-lucky optimists! Resurrection faith believes that new and unsurpassable life is born out of death through the power of Christ’s love. It allows us to enter into situations of death by looking beyond death and living the Resurrection, that is, by loving, or at least seeking to love, as Christ has loved us and, above all, by believing in his love for us.

I leave you with a wonderful saying of our Cistercian father Guerric of Igny, and I suggest it to you as a possible mantra for this Eastertide. He says: “It is enough for me if Jesus lives.” What depths of faith, trust, and love are contained in this statement, in which Blessed Guerric dares to turn away wholly from his own self in order to rejoice fully and exclusively in his one Beloved! So may it be for us this Easter morning as this same Beloved now hands himself over to us at this altar.

Icon written by Brother Terence. Homily by Father Simeon.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

At Emmaus


One of the most significant messages of the Easter mystery is that vulnerability is not weakness. The weakness of Jesus gashed, broken, and crucified is the power of love poured out with exquisite, limitless abandon. Not wanting suffering and death ever to have the last word, God has lost himself in love for us.

Jesus’ wounding is our healing.

Today at an inn at Emmaus, his hands gouged by nails break bread. Broken hands, broken body, broken bread. Jesus’ presence becomes obvious.

Vulnerability is the key to recognition, connectedness, and relationship with Jesus, and with one another. Jesus’ woundedness, our woundedness make God visible.

Because sometimes we have forgotten, let us beg his mercy.

The Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Tomb Is Empty

He died, but he’s not dead. That’s the great mystery, the paradox, of Easter. It’s the story we celebrate every year. On one level, it never changes. It always ends the same way. The stone has been rolled away and the tomb is empty. We can’t explain how it happened, yet we want to be told again and again that it did happen. As St. Paul insisted to the Corinthians, if Christ has not been raised from the dead, then our faith is empty, vain. “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all” (I Cor. 15:19). Our faith, however consoling it might be in a desperate moment, is ultimately pointless if the tomb is not empty. Today’s Gospel matters!

Today, perhaps more than ever, we need to hear the Easter story one more time. So many around the world are still living through the agony, the darkness, and the yet unknown consequences of a pandemic for which there is no end in sight. Millions of Ukrainians and Russians are suffering today through unimaginable horror, terror, and brutality that threatens to grow only worse. There is a prisoner in Texas in his 40s who has already spent 27 years of a life sentence in solitary confinement, entombed in a space smaller than a compact car parking space with no human contact. But even for us in the abbey, who enjoy a peaceful and undisturbed life, by comparison, an “ordinary” day is not immune from loss, failure, or the shadow of death. For instance, we know:  that real relationships are fragile, and they are at the core of our life’s meaning; or that one day all seems well, but the next day everything can change with a medical diagnosis we were not expecting; or that we find ourselves unprepared for the gradual diminishment that seems so normal for our aging brethren all around us, but not for us (who are also ineluctably aging)—the memory is going, the plumbing no longer works so well, joints we didn’t even know we had ached, and suddenly something as simple as getting out of a chair can be a challenge.  Or we find ourselves worrying about someone in the community, or in our family, who carries enormous burdens that we barely understand, and we are at a loss as to how to help them. Or perhaps someone we have depended on is no longer there for us: we are estranged, or they leave, or they die. Even on a seemingly ridiculous level, it is certain that one day we will lose the job in the monastery that we have come to identify with, either because we are needed to do someone else’s job, or we simply can’t manage our own anymore. This is usually a disturbing loss . . . .

We all carry within us “stories” of change, fear, loss, and death—sometimes life-shaking, and other times merely life-wearying—but all of them demand a response from us on the level of faith. Specifically, faith in Jesus, crucified and risen. These are the stories we bring with us today to this Eucharist and are the reason we want, and always need, to hear the Easter story one more time. It was such a “story” that took Mary of Magdala to the tomb in this morning’s Gospel, to attend to her dead Lord, only to find his body gone . . . .

What I would like to suggest to you is that the empty tomb lies within each of our stories. Regardless of what happens next in our personal story, the meaning (or promise) of Easter is that the ending has already been written. Indeed the “stone” has been rolled away, and our inner tomb is empty—which is a way of saying that our life has been guaranteed by God. The stone has been rolled away, not so that Jesus could get out, but so that we can peer in, and believe that he lives right now, bringing us to new life, drawing us into his own life-giving light. Every day we are called to look again at our personal lives with Easter faith.

Concretely, what might that mean for us? It means we no longer have to look at the past and say, “If only.  It means we no longer have to look at the future and worry, “What if?”.  It means we can look right into the “tomb” of the present moment and find not a “corpse” but how blessed we are by the One who is now with us always and everywhere, within us and taking us into his embrace, giving us new life by pouring his Spirit into our hearts, and new hope by ever interceding for us at his Father’s right hand.

Yes, Easter means one vast, unimaginable blessing! And always close to home. Not ethereal or for pious moments. Not general, but as concrete as the one we heard about in the Refectory several years ago when we were listening to the book, Barking to the Choir, by the Jesuit Greg Boyle. After working three decades with gang members in Los Angeles, in and out of prison, Fr. Greg developed a profound sense and reverence for the “stories” each of us carries, within which the “empty tomb” lies.  

At Camp Paige, a young man named Efrain is about to make his First Communion. The volunteers rustled up a starched white shirt and a thin black tie for him to wear with his county-issue jeans. He was nervous as he waited for his Mom and brother to arrive, and so was I. Many a time a homie has waited for parents who have promised they’ll be there, only to plummet into disappointment, and I fear the same is about to happen to Efrain. It’ll be hard to wait much longer and delay the start of Mass, I think to myself, when his Mom suddenly arrives, holding the hand of a young man. It turns out this is Efrain’s older brother, who is clearly autistic and struggling to acquaint himself with this strange place. They get settled, Mass begins, and Efrain beams. We are not too long into the service, however, when his brother has a meltdown, the likes of which, really, no one has ever seen. It is so full force—screaming and kicking and the flailing of arms and legs—that it takes all of Efrain’s physical and emotional power to escort his brother outside. Through the gym doors, I could see his mother calmly sit down with him on a bench, waiting for the fit to pass, but the screaming continues, unabated. Efrain, granite-faced and solemn, makes his First Communion. His Mom and brother witness none of it.

     Afterward, when I approach Efrain to check in on him, I expected rage, a heaping of blame and frustration that his day had been ruined because of his brother. Instead, Efrain starts to gently sob as he points to his brother, who is methodically rocking back and forth on the bench.

     “He has never sinned,” he says, trying to gather himself so he can continue. “He is closer to God than any of us.”

     His mother, close by, hears him and adds in Spanish, “He is the blessing of our lives. We thank God for him every day.” Efrain nods in agreement.  (p. 61)

In so raw a moment, Efrain and his mother know that all their lives have been “guaranteed by God.” Truly, the Tomb lies empty within each of our stories as well—so let us be present, peer in, and accept the gift that Christ is risen from the dead and is at this very moment “the blessing of our lives.” 

Painting by Piero della Francesca. Easter homily by Father Dominic.


Monday, April 18, 2022

Rising With Him

If you were to ask me to sum up in one sentence what it was all for—the descent of the eternal Word from the bosom of the Father into our humanity; his thirty years of hidden life and hard manual work in Nazareth as one more laborer of the human race; his three years of public teaching, together with the performance of endless good works of healing and forgiving; and then, finally, his humiliating condemnation and excruciating Passion, Crucifixion and Death, and, on the third day, his glorious Resurrection from the dead and his return to the Father at the Ascension—if you were to ask me to sum up in one sentence what all of this was for, I would say this: Driven by the Holy Spirit’s goodness and undying charity, the eternal Son of God chose to descend so deeply into our human condition of sinfulness, weakness and death that henceforth no one could fall so low that he did not necessarily fall into Christ. Jesus went below the lowest of the low. You can go down as low as you can into either depression or debauchery and there Jesus will be waiting for you!

In his own person and life, Jesus “hit rock bottom”, so to speak, in order to define the outer limit of human anguish, loss and despair. We say ordinarily that God is greater than all things. But do we ever consider the tremendous implications of this statement? For it implies that, precisely because Jesus was not only a human being but also God, no one can ever suffer greater anguish, loss and despair than the Son of God did in his Passion and Death. Not only that, but it further implies that God’s ever-greater suffering in Christ occurred out of free and deliberate compassion for our own suffering. Therefore, all of our pain and distress—of whatever kind and intensity—are already safely contained within the Passion of our loving and merciful Lord before we even realize it, if we ever do. We do not have to deposit our sufferings within Jesus’ own; that is where Jesus himself has already deliberately installed our whole lives, excluding nothing: at the very center of his Heart. We cannot ever suffer or rejoice without Jesus suffering and rejoicing with us. Why? Because in his Paschal Mystery the Son of God has re-created the world according to his Father’s design so as to ensure that no one will be excluded from the operation of his creative goodness and power, which transforms the whole cosmos into a luminous Temple of vibrant divine Life.

But in this process of glorious cosmic metamorphosis we are not idle pawns who are simply moved about by God’s arbitrary will to save. Being living images of God himself, we are invited time and again humbly to accept and joyously to embrace God’s desire to redeem us, in such a way that we become active collaborators with the Redeemer in his work of re-creating and re-structuring the universe according to the pattern of God’s Kingdom—a Kingdom of truth, justice and peace.

If we wish to rise with Christ and experience fullness of eternal life, beginning right now, we must exit the confinement of our egos and enter the real world that God is continually creating all around us, recognizing that our true freedom, spiritual health and unending joy lie precisely in inhabiting the world of God’s overflowing beauty and grace. We cannot create such a world for ourselves, even though each of us longs for it with all our heart and with the deepest instincts of our whole being; and yet, neither can we be forced to enter and live in such a world against our will or as long as we persevere in attitudes of inaction, indifference or cynical doubt. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

This Easter Day

         On Good Friday we heard these words of the Prophet Isaiah, “Who would have believed what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.” These could have been the words of the holy women at the tomb this morning, “Who would believe what we have heard.” When they heard the announcement of the heavenly messengers, “He is not here, but he has been raised,” their astonishment knew no bounds. They bolted out of the tomb to announce the message to Peter and the other disciples. But an even greater surprise was in store for them – the realization that it had all been foretold! They began to remember the words of Moses, the words of the prophets, the words of the psalms, and above all, that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and enter into his glory. It had all been part of God’s plan, and now the disciples had the key – the Risen Lord and his Spirit. Everything was fulfilled.

            Again, as Isaiah had foretold, “See, my servant shall prosper…” Jesus was indeed God’s servant. “He shall be raised high and greatly exalted.” He had indeed been exalted beyond all comprehension – He was no longer dead but alive! They touched him. They gave him something to eat. They recognized the marks of the nails in his hands and his feet. He had been crushed, pierced, and seemingly smitten by God and afflicted. But it had all been for them: the fearless witness, the stripes, the spotless lamb led to the slaughter. His almighty Father had laid upon him the guilt of all the disciples, especially those who had fled and abandoned him in the garden. But now the Bridegroom had returned to the garden, to the beds of spices, to find his Bride for whom had given his whole life as an offering for her sin. Is it any wonder that their astonishment knew no bounds?

            Finally, the disciples realized that by giving his life as an offering for sin, Jesus would indeed justify many, restoring peace with God and with one another. Even more, because the servant of the Lord had been raised high and greatly exalted – unimaginably exalted – they had been exalted! Because Jesus had willingly taken the lowest place, his Father had given him the name above every other name, and his Bride was meant to share in that exaltation. My brothers, this is the great mystery that we are celebrating tonight. It is understandable that it will take time to absorb all this, but we have 40 days and a novena to the Holy Spirit as preparation for further enlightenment. In the meantime, let us rejoice that the Bridegroom has come down to his Eucharistic table where he will break bread with us and open our minds further to the Scriptures. It is astonishing, and it had all been foretold!

Painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna. Abbot Vincent's EasterVigil homily.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

On Holy Saturday


What is happening? Today there is a great silence over the earth, a great silence, and stillness, a great silence because the King sleeps; the earth was in terror and was still because God slept in the flesh and raised up those who were sleeping from the ages. God has died in the flesh, and the underworld has trembled.

Truly he goes to seek out our first parent like a lost sheep; he wishes to visit those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. He goes to free the prisoner Adam and his fellow-prisoner Eve from their pains, he who is God, and Adam's son.

The Lord goes in to them holding his victorious weapon, his cross. When Adam, the first created man, sees him, he strikes his breast in terror and calls out to all: 'My Lord be with you all.' And Christ in reply says to Adam: ‘And with your spirit. And grasping his hand he raises him up, saying: ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light.

‘I am your God, who for your sake became your son, who for you and your descendants now speak and command with authority those in prison: Come forth, and those in darkness: Have light, and those who sleep rise.

I command you: Awake, sleeper, I have not made you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, O man, work of my hands, arise, you who were fashioned in my image. Rise, let us go; hence, for you in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.

‘For you, I your God became your son; for you, I the Master took on your form; that of a slave; for you, I who am above the heavens came on earth and under the earth; for you, man, I became as a man without help, free among the dead; for you, who left a garden, I was handed over to Jews from a garden and crucified in a garden.

‘Look at the spittle on my face, which I received because of you, in order to restore you to that first divine inbreathing at creation. See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.

'See the scourging of my back, which I accepted in order to disperse the load of your sins which was laid upon your back. See my hands nailed to the tree for a good purpose, for you, who stretched out your hand to the tree for an evil one.

`I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side, for you, who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side healed the pain of your side; my sleep will release you from your sleep in Hades; my sword has checked the sword which was turned against you.

‘But arise, let us go hence. The enemy brought you out of the land of paradise; I will reinstate you, no longer in paradise, but on the throne of heaven. I denied you the tree of life, which was a figure, but now I myself am united to you, I who am life. I posted the cherubim to guard you as they would slaves; now I make the cherubim worship you as they would God.

"The cherubim throne has been prepared, the bearers are ready and waiting, the bridal chamber is in order, the food is provided, the everlasting houses and rooms are in readiness; the treasures of good things have been opened; the kingdom of heaven has been prepared before the ages."

In the stillness of this Holy Saturday, we await all that Christ's Resurrection promises.

Illustration by Eric Gill (British, 1882-1940). A reading from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.

Friday, April 15, 2022

On Good Friday

            Today’s liturgy reminds me of the passage in the Book of Numbers when the Israelites are worn out from their journey through the desert, and they complain, “We are disgusted with this wretched food,” that is, with the manna. After punishing them with serpents, God accepts Moses’ intervention and has him mount a bronze serpent on a pole, and whoever has been bitten and then looked at the serpent was healed. Today we have the true bronze serpent lifted up in our midst, Our Lord Jesus Christ. To him, we must look to be constantly healed of our sins and foibles.

            But our look must not be one of curiosity, but of faith. That is, fully accepting and trusting that somehow God would bring good out of this most horrific act. When Jesus was raised upon the cross, he endured every humiliation for our sake – friends abandoning him, foes gloating over him, unimaginable pain and suffering – the whole human condition. He also suffered the heart-wrenching sight of his mother standing by the cross. But there she was, steadfast, faithful to the end. It is Mary’s faith that is such an important witness for us. She looked on him whom others had pierced – I don’t think it is too much to say that she contemplated and pondered the whole miserable scene in her heart, trusting God’s will. And so, she became a model for all believers, especially for contemplatives, among whom we are numbered.

            I want to say that Mary’s look at her Son was an act of faith. In the darkness, she waited. After listening to her Son for so many years speak of the Father, and having her own experience of the working of the Spirit, she had only one desire: to wait for God to act, knowing that all things were possible with God. That is what the contemplative life is like: waiting for God, trusting in God. In Mary’s case, her compassionate waiting was like an opening through which God could act. She was present not just for herself but for all those whom her Son had entrusted to her, especially the Church coming to birth. Through her fiat at the cross, the divine mercy was let loose to flow out to all those who would believe, to all those who would have the courage to face the degradation which their sins had caused her Son and others.

            Brothers, this is our vocation, too. Today and every day, we must look upon the Son of Man and Mary’s son with the eyes of faith. This is our mission as contemplatives. It is what God wants in order to unleash his healing mercy into our world through us, silently and secretly, as he did with Our Lady. 

Image by Georges Rouault. This afternoon's homily by Abbot Vincent.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Holy Thursday

The depths of Christ’s love and his desire for communion with us are contained in the Holy Eucharist. His desire is expressed in these words: “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.” What greater surety of love could someone give than his own blood? What greater basis of trust could we have? Jesus has freely chosen a binding covenant with us. But in this world, the very meaning of covenant is obscured. What exactly does it mean to make a covenant? And even more, how can we plumb the depths of the Eucharistic covenant which is a divine mystery? The Church summons us today to ponder the covenant which the Lord renews for us in solemn assembly. And one way to do so is to look at other covenantal statements as in a mirror.

The liturgy gives us such a mirror in the example of St. Peter. We are all familiar with Peter’s covenantal statements repeated in one form or another throughout these holy days: “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be.” And again, “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” He gave his word. By a solemn oath he publicly declared his fidelity to the man he acknowledged as the Christ, the son of the living God. A covenantal statement freely binds a person, as in the case of marriage. Unfortunately, Peter was like the Israelites on Mt. Sinai who responded to Moses, “Everything the Lord has said we will do.” In both cases, they did not realize the magnitude of their statement, and Peter probably only realized what his entailed when he so quickly broke it. For, after vowing that he would die before he would deny Christ, the Scriptures say: “He began to curse and to swear, ‘I do not know this man about whom you are talking.” The true blood of the covenant – Jesus’ blood – had not yet washed Peter’s soul. Without the Spirit which accompanies Jesus’ blood, Peter could not be true to his commitment.

There is another mirror closer to home that can shed light on the meaning of covenant and on the depths of Our Lord’s covenant in the Eucharist. It is the statement each of us made when we stood in this church and publicly vowed our life to God in the Cistercian way. “I promise obedience, conversion of life, and stability according to the Rule of St. Benedict until death.” This was one side of the covenant. The other side was Our Lord’s response, which, if you will allow me to use my imagination, I would paraphrase this way: “So be it. You pledge your life’s blood to accept all the hard and harsh ways that will lead you to the glory that I have prepared for you. And I pledge my blood of the covenant to enable you to do it.” This was the solemn, mutual covenant between the Lord and us, sealed, not by walking between animals cut in two, but by the Lord’s covenantal blood. His blood was a sign of his enduring love. Our word was a sign of our willingness to embrace loving endurance to the end.

This mutual covenant is the cause of our hope on this Holy Thursday: that love will answer to love. Jesus’ love endures forever. His blood is the guarantee. His Eucharist is the perpetual sign of it. Our covenant impels us to the same love. May the love of Jesus Christ, expressed in the giving of his life’s blood, enable us to give our life’s blood, in fact, our body and soul and all that we have, in gratitude for his abiding presence in the Holy Eucharist.

Abbot Vincent's homily for this evening.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

At Table with the Lord

In this detail of a thirteenth-century window from the Sainte Chapelle in Paris,  Jesus reclining at table with his disciples is deeply troubled and says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” The disciples look on, puzzled and dismayed.

Judas receives a dipped morsel from Jesus and Scripture says, "Satan entered him." (Notice the sneaky little Demon above Jesus' hand.) Jesus then tells him, “What you are going to do, do quickly.” 

And as Judas departs, Jesus proclaims, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and he will glorify him at once."

Jesus' Hour has come, the Hour of his passion and death and resurrection. In this Hour his divinity will be made manifest in his abasement and his glorification by his Father.

Let us follow the Lord, trusting that our transformation in Him will be accomplished, as we entrust our lowest selves to his mercy.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

In Obedience


            “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” These are the words of a man who could foresee the narrow gate through which he was about to pass, the narrow gate of suffering. But it was the gate through which Jesus could best manifest his love and affection for his disciples as well as his obedience to his Father’s will. On this Palm Sunday, we have come to that narrow gate. Fortified by our 40 days of Lent, let us eagerly follow our Lord in his passage.

            Certainly, the words of Isaiah should give us confidence for our journey. He speaks of the Servant of the Lord, a prefigurement of Jesus. “He gave his back to those who beat him, his cheeks to those who plucked his beard; his face he did not shield from buffets and spitting.” It seems hard to imagine that our heavenly Father would allow such things to happen to his beloved Son. Why? What had he done to deserve such treatment? It is a mystery, but perhaps we could take Isaiah’s words as a commentary on another paradoxical saying in Scripture. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” But why did Jesus have to learn obedience? He was never disobedient. Why did he have to suffer buffets and spitting? Simple – he did it for us. His obedience allowed the Father to transform our human nature so that it could be fully conformed to the Father’s will. On our own, we could never endure the transforming and painful fire of obedience. Only Jesus could endure it, and by doing so, our human nature was remade in him. In Jesus, we have become capable of the transforming obedience of love.

            The sufferings of the Servant of the Lord can shed light on another passage in Scripture as we pass through Holy Week. Paul says in the letter to the Romans: “Not only that, we boast of our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope…” In our union with Jesus the sufferings we endure ultimately produce hope. That is the great fruit of Holy Week: the gift of hope that in Jesus we will witness the Father’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Brothers, with that hope firmly held in our hearts, we know that we shall never be put to shame. Let us eagerly desire to share this Passover with Jesus and pass through the narrow gate which leads to eternal life.

This morning's homily by Abbot Vincent.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Palm Sunday


In Jesus, we have a paradoxical king. We have a Lord who enters Jerusalem escorted by a procession of poor people, riding not on a white stallion but on a donkey, adorned not in gold-embroidered clothes but in the poor cloaks that some have placed on the donkey’s back and on the ground. And this “king” needs to borrow a donkey. Jesus is a king who does not even own a donkey!

Where does Jesus’ lordship over these events become manifested? In his sending two of his disciples to fetch a donkey! Everything is contained in this action. The paradox of Jesus’ kingship appears in the insignificance of the ordinary actions he enacts here: God is revealed in a mere man, the Messiah in a pauper, the Savior in a convict, the Just One of Adonai in a crucified man.

In this sending of the two disciples, the mission of the Church is also manifested: Jesus sent ... saying, “Go forth...” Those who were sent went off. This ecclesial mission requires of Christians, on the one hand, their ability to give an account of the deeds they perform to anyone who asks for it, and, on the other hand, it also demands of them the capacity to motivate all their actions on the basis of the Word of the Lord.

The gestures of the Church in her mission to the world do not aim at satisfying or eliminating a need on her part, but are acts of obedience to the Word of the Lord and manifest a need on the Lord’s part. (The text says of the donkey, The Master has need of it.)  All the Church’s attitudes and gestures should tell of a Lord who comes to us in poverty and humility, because only in the sharing of poverty can the decisive encounter between God and human beings take place. This means that the only riches that the Lord’s envoys bring with them are to be found in the faithful repetition of the words that the Lord has given them. These should be words that, while proclaiming the poverty of the Sender, likewise establish the envoys themselves in that same poverty.

This narrative of Jesus’ messianic journey to Jerusalem becomes the paradoxical proclamation of a needy and indigent Lord. The Church is thus shown that the needs that afflict her can become a reason for trust instead of anguish. The Church is strengthened by her trust in the Lord and the power of communion with the poor to whom she addresses the Gospel.

Jesus goes ahead of his followers on his way up to Jerusalem, the “city of peace”, but also the city that kills those who are sent to her. Jesus will soon weep over Jerusalem like a jilted Bridegroom because she has failed to recognize the way of his peace. The path to peace has one basic requirement: not ever to engage in any kind of violence. Christ’s kingship is not of this world precisely because, unlike worldly kings and tyrants who legalize violence and love to wield it, Jesus radically rejects its use: he refuses ever to create victims. Jesus is the uncompromisingly non-violent King, to the point of assuming all the world’s violence upon himself on the cross, which is the ultimate epiphany of his paradoxical kingship.

Let us now go forth in peace, sisters and brothers, driven into the Paschal Mystery by the Holy Spirit, following Jesus our King and sharing his joy at having no power, riches or authority except those that come from his Father’s unconditional love.

 Reflection by Father Simeon

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Free In Him

I see four men unfettered and unhurt, walking in the fire…. They disobeyed the royal command and yielded their bodies rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. I can hardly imagine a more poignant image than this to illustrate the freedom of the human spirit and, ironically, it comes from the lips of the oppressive pagan tyrant, Nebuchadnezzar. For his part, Jesus assures us in the gospel that, if you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. The highest freedom we can enjoy is not the ability to choose anything we want or behave in any way we want, but rather to know the truth and choosing it as our own principle of life, thought, and action. We make ourselves free only insofar as we embrace the truth that is revealed to us from outside ourselves.

What makes us free is allowing Jesus, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and His Word, to abide in our hearts. I cannot be my own principle of liberation because I did not create myself. I cannot have my freedom from myself any more than I have my being from myself. Fullness of freedom lies in becoming fervent disciples of the Truth Incarnate, that is, in communing in a relationship of faithful love with God in the Body of Jesus Christ. Then we will walk free, unfettered, and unhurt even in the midst of the fire of Christ’s Passion and Death, which the Father now invites us to celebrate and share. 

Reflection by Father Simeon.

Monday, April 4, 2022

The Fifth Sunday of Lent

We heard an unusual message from the prophet Isaiah.  God is the speaker, he is addressing the Jewish Exiles in Babylon, he references Israel’s foundational events – Moses, Exodus, etc., and then he says the unthinkable: Remember NOT the events of the past, the things of long ago.   In effect, Forget it, forget the past, forget all of it. Then God goes on to say, SEE, now I am doing something new.  Can you perceive it?  In context, they could not believe that the Persian King Cyrus – a non-Jew, someone who was said not to have known God – would be God’s instrument to deliver them from their exile, to bring them home, to re-build of temple, Jerusalem & community.  Many refused to return because they could not believe God was in it, could not accept a new revelation, a new experience of God’s care for them as authentic.  The “new” was the stumbling block. They refused to believe that God would do anything that was new, unconventional, radical.

The four gospels tell a parallel story.  Primarily the Jewish leadership – scribes, Pharisees, Sanhedrin, high priest - could not believe that God was doing something new with them and for them in Jesus. Jesus looks like a man, walks like a man, talks like a man, he’s a man.  But he does some things that only God can do – is he really sent from God? Is he really God’s son as he says?  Many devout Jews took him and his deeds at face value and believed he was God’s son, that he was authentic, that this man renders God more present, accessible to all than does Temple, Torah, and leadership.  But he also does things we think God would never approve of – healing on a sabbath, eating with sinners, speaking with more authority than Torah, Moses, and us? Conflicts about Jesus escalate into a life and death struggle with Jesus.  Gloria Steinman sums up the dynamic, quoting Jesus: the truth really will set you free, but before it does so the truth will leave you completely P.O.’d.  The core issue, the core grievance with Jesus is that his identity, his person gives a new, heretofore unimagined, open inclusive access to God, to holiness, to salvation, to the fullness of life.  He threatens the status quo.  In fact, with this newness of God’s presence to his creation and everyone, made actual by the incarnation of his Son Jesus, comes a disruption for the Jewish community of a magnitude that would be hard to overestimate.  The intensity of the life and death struggle noted in the gospels is proportionate to the newness of God’s presence in our world, in his creation.

We are placed in the midst of all this by John’s gospel story this morning.  The poor woman is used to set up a “gotcha moment”, the so-called testing of Jesus, to trip him up in word or deed or both, so as to discredit him permanently or even have grounds to kill him.  The scene is the temple, the people come to him, and his body language is illuminating.  He is seated – a public posture associated with authority usually reserved for the teacher or judge.  As he teaches a disruptive, intrusive group led by Scribes and Pharisees crash the teaching moment by demanding that he judge this woman’s case now.  Jesus’ first response is non-verbal, he surrenders the judgment seat and stoops down to the ground in a non-contentious posture, doodling in the sand.  In his culture, this was a recognizable form of messaging, signaling woman’s accusers, I am not going there to meet you. I am not going to fight you.  I am not playing the ‘gotcha’ game.  They press on, he holds his ground and when he senses the power to shape the conversation shifts to him, he literally “un-stoops” himself. He changes his posture to that of the just man, the man who stands upright in the presence of God and the community, and eye to eye. Matter of factly he says, Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.  Immediately he drops again to the ground again assuming a humble posture, one of indifferent vulnerability, fingering the sand, allowing time for the real conversations to begin.  It’s the conversation that originates in a listening deeper than hearing words with ears, it’s an attending to one’s past, one’s failures, one’s sins, the things one would have liked not to have done, the words one wishes were never said at all, a recognition of an inner truth whispered softly by the voice of conscience and the Holy Spirit. 

It was a conversation of repentance that Jesus initiated.  He declined to engage in the fight mode, disengaged from the power mode, and the judgment mode, by taking a posture of vulnerability, i.e., a posture of faith that his Father would impart to him in this moment of need truth, a truth to set each one free to think and feel and act like the icon of God each one deeply is.  The mysterious spiritual power of Jesus disclosed here we might call “elective vulnerability”, he leads with it all the way to the cross and beyond.  He invites us to follow him, to imitate him in this way of kindly truth, emanating from who he is and his relationship to the Father, ever guiding us toward who we are and are becoming in him.

When silence without matches the silence within, he again assumes the upright posture of the just man, and he addresses the accused respectfully, Woman, as he addresses his mother in the Synoptics.  Like his Father (Genesis 3), he does not accuse but rather he questions.  Where are they? Has no one condemned you?   No one, Lord.  Pretty remarkable when you think of the quasi-mob mentality where we started from.  Neither do I condemn you.  Jesus absolves her shame and welcomes her back into community. Jesus is the only sinless one and he acquits her, even as he acquitted the others and us.  In the freedom his acquittal imparts, he opens up for her a doorway into the future, a new path into a changed life – go and sin not again.  Likewise, for all those who walked away stepping back from condemning the woman, they too were given the possibility of a new future, a less fearful one, a more human one, hopefully, one open to a new revelation and encounter with God.

To close, we note that Jesus challenged the caretakers of a religious system and horizon so embedded in its story, its rule, its practices, and its past that they were no longer able even to imagine God could and would do something new – for them.  That temptation is not restricted to 1 c. Jewish people and their leadership.  This story again reveals that God, God’s world, God’s presence, God’s reality vastly exceeds the boundaries of our lives and institutions, our minds and communities, our hearts and stories, our souls, and our very selves.  The experience of de-construction is a gift of grace waiting to be received.

Jesus is renewing this grace in this and every Eucharist. 

Father Isaac's homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year C.