Sunday, July 31, 2022

First Vespers of the Anniversary of the Dedication of the Abbey Church

Today we celebrate the Anniversary of the Dedication and Consecration of our Abbey Church. This is a special solemnity that is ours alone. This rose window pictured above, composed as it is from fragments of glass from the large lancet window in the church of the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley, is an apt symbol of the many transitions that have marked our community's history.

Our community first took root at the monastery of Petit Clairvaux in Tracadie, Nova Scotia in the mid-nineteenth century. But in 1892 and again in 1896 disastrous fires devasted the monastic buildings.

Soon the monastery moved from Nova Scotia to Lonsdale, Rhode Island. The small community, accompanied by their livestock arrived in the summer of 1900, and regular monastic life was resumed on August 2. Their new home was called Our Lady of the Valley. When in 1950 this abbey was ravaged by fire, the community of one hundred and forty persons was homeless.

Fortunately, benefactors had already helped them purchase a large dairy farm in Spencer, Massachusetts in 1949. And the fire only accelerated the community's projected move. The monks soon adapted the farm buildings for monastic purposes. And on December 23, 1950, eighty monks took possession of Saint Joseph's Abbey. We continue to discern God’s loving plan in our common life in this place and look forward with great hope to the future.

Depending on Him Alone

If we only knew the gift of God. If only we knew; if only we understood Jesus’ desire to refresh us. For even as he invites us to come to him with our thirst, it is he who is thirsting for us to thirst for him. His thirst is his unending desire for us.

 Christ Jesus longs to fill us with himself, to heal and console and “mercy” us. But there’s a hitch; we have to remember who we are- sinners, who are indescribably loved by God in Christ and desperately in need of his sweet mercy; parched, thirsting, longing for the water that he is. If as Pope Francis reminds us over and over, we are to go to the fringes to be with the poor and forgotten, it is first of all to the fringes, the frontiers of our own poverty, sinfulness, and brokenness that we must travel. For down there in the dry, dark recesses of our broken hearts, we will discover just how thirsty we are; there we will discover the breadth of our desire, our need for a Redeemer; discover how dry, how barren and desolate we really are. We need to get down there and bear in peace the reality of our poverty. Our poverty makes Christ Jesus happy, not because he wants to make us sad, but because it allows him to fill us with himself, which is all he really wants to do. And our unending work is to let ourselves be defenseless, utterly defenseless, in the face of such love; utterly nonresistant to Jesus’ desire for us and so discover him continually thirsting for us.

 Jesus desires to surrender himself to us. It is the secret we were born for. If only we realized God’s gift and who it is who is thirsting for us, we would ask him over and over, and he would give us the living water that he is. The only condition is desire. Indeed, to “come to the living water of Christ, you do not need merit, all you need is thirst.”1 I invite you to be disarmed by God’s desire for you, “the intensity of His blessed longing for you; for he longs to be longed for, loves to be loved and desires to be desired;”“he thirsts to be thirsted after.”3 We know this is how St. Ignatius concludes the Exercises, in the “Contemplation on Divine Love.” There he asks the retreatant to ponder “how much the Lord desires to give himself to me”: Quanto el Señor desea dárseme. Probably this was what filled his heart with such gratitude that he would often sob and sob at the altar during Mass.

Our prayer affords us the extravagance of luxuriating in our helplessness and utter dependence on God, our confidence in a God who loves and loves. Indeed, the love of Jesus for us is unmanageable. And most of all it is the unmanageability of Jesus’ desire for us that is most baffling. He can’t help himself. God is helpless, hopelessly in love. He has fallen in love with what he created.4

Reflection by one of our monks. References: 1. Guerric of Igny, 2.  Maximus the Confessor, 3. Saint Augustine,4. Catherine of Siena..

Saturday, July 30, 2022

With Our Lady on Saturday


Sacred Scripture often instructs us in the ways of God by the use of extreme contrasts. Today we recall the essential role the Mother of God plays in our lives as she accompanies us every step of our way to the Kingdom. Startlingly, the Church puts before us the distressing scene in Matthew’s Gospel of the lascivious dance of Herodias’ daughter before Herod at his birthday party (Mt 14:1-12). In the narrative, you can practically hear the hiss of the serpent as it slithers around Herod’s banquet hall. The girl’s dance bears the fruit of death in the beheading of John the Baptist. She performs a grim dance of lustful enticement and manipulation, which keenly contrasts our Lady’s lovely dance of humility and obedience before the throne of God—a dance of grace, this, that bears us the fullness of life in the fruit of her womb, Jesus.

 The dazzling contrast between stubborn Eve and gracious Mary, respectively our mothers in the orders of creation and of redemption, is to be found on every page of the Bible if you look for it. It is intended to provoke in us a crisis that makes us choose between haughty self-will and loving obedience, which is to say between death and life. To what, then, do we want to give birth in this world? For whose delight shall we dance? Without hesitation, let us joyfully join our Lady in her virginal dance of life!

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Hosts of the Lord

We celebrate today Mary, Martha, and Lazarus- Hosts of the Lord, and our Gospel took us to Bethany. After Lazarus has been raised by Jesus there is a dinner in the house of his dear friends and Mary washes Jesus’ feet. This often reminds us of another scene in John’s Gospel- Jesus washing the feet of his disciples on the night before his crucifixion. We know that foot washing was something a Gentile slave could be required to do, but never a Jewish slave. Wives typically did foot-washing for their husbands, children for their parents, and disciples for their teachers. There is undoubtedly a level of intimacy involved in these last scenarios. And in Jesus' case, there is an obvious reversal of roles.* Jesus calls his disciples his friends. And by washing their feet he overcomes in this act of loving intimacy the inequality that exists between them. And so he establishes an intimacy with them that signals their access to everything he had received from his Father, even the glory that is his as Beloved Son.* 

We like to imagine that Jesus was inspired to wash their feet because he had been so touched by what was done for him at Bethany six days before Passover when Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil and anointed his feet most tenderly and dried them with her hair. Was this something that inspired his own most loving action on this night before he died? Perhaps. In any event, Peter cannot bear the thought of his teacher doing this. We can imagine that it was probably something his wife had done for him many times. And doubtless, he, like the others, is embarrassed by the intimacy of it, the touch, the loving condescension, and the unaffected tenderness, the unmanageability of the love that is so available. It’s disorienting. We see now it is a parable, a parallel to what he would do for us on the cross the next afternoon.

How can we allow Christ Our Lord and Our Honored Guest to regale us with a love that is truly unimaginable and unmanageable?

*See and Sandra Schneiders Written That You May Believe,.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Blessed Stanley of Oklahoma


We rejoice this day celebrating the American martyr for the faith, Blessed Stanley Rother. An Oklahoma priest he became a missionary in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, where he served the native tribe of the Tz’utujil. Father Rother was surrounded by the extreme poverty of the Tz’utujil and ministered to them tirelessly.

During his time in Guatemala, a civil war raged between government forces and guerrillas. Despite great pressures, the Church continued to catechize and educate the people. Thousands of Catholics were killed. And when Father Rother’s name appeared on a death list, he briefly returned to the States. But he was so dedicated to his people that he soon returned to Guatemala insisting, “the shepherd cannot run.”

A few months later three men entered his rectory around 1 a.m. on July 28, 1981, fought with Father Rother, and then executed him. The people of Santiago Atitlan mourned the loss of their leader and friend and requested that Father Rother’s heart be kept in Guatemala where it remains enshrined today.

As monks, we pray that our lives of hidden prayer and work may be filled with ardor and devotion like that of Blessed Stanley.

Biography adapted from the website of the Diocese of Oklahoma City.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

What Takes Your Breath Away

In the finding of the treasure and the finding of the pearl, there is a certain element of surprise, unexpectedness and wonderment. It is almost like it is too good to be true. Like finding the one special person that you want to spend the rest of your life with or the vocation that you cannot wait to embrace. It is breathtaking, and you are willing to spend the rest of your days catching your breath. 

Let us breathe deeply the air of God's breathtaking, merciful finding of each one of us.

Photograph by Brother Guerric. Meditation by Father Damian.


Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Saints Joachim & Ann

Filled with wonder at the mystery of the Incarnation, the Church continually imagines and reimagines the ramifications of God’s enfleshment in all its ordinariness. And so today we celebrate the maternal grandparents of Jesus, named by ancient tradition as Joachim and Ann. Jesus had grandparents. Did they babysit? Did they spoil him? Perhaps. Probably.

Christ Jesus is always more ordinary and available to us than we know, longing to be hidden with us day by day, moment by moment. It is God’s ordinariness in Jesus our Lord that reveals the immeasurable beauty of his humble love for us.

Giotto di Bondone, The Meeting at the Golden Gate, 1305, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua. This is thought to be one of the earliest depictions of a couple kissing.

Monday, July 25, 2022

What Sunday Means For Us

The Church around the world, but especially in the United States, is seeking to renew the understanding and desire for the Eucharist, our true Sabbath rest. This is especially urgent today as Bishop Robert Barron notes that only 25% of Catholics attend Sunday Mass. Certainly, our witness in the Church is crucial, not simply to attend Mass daily but most especially to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist with one heart, one mind, and one voice. Sunday is our Sabbath Rest. Our Constitutions say: “Sunday is dedicated to the mystery of the Resurrection. It is a day of joy and freedom from work so that the brothers may come together to share the Eucharist more fully and intensely, and zealously apply themselves to lectio divina and prayer.” Sunday is the moment to return to the essentials of our life – meeting the Lord Jesus in community, sitting at his feet, welcoming his word, and receiving his gift of communion.

However, our witness to the Sunday rest is a paradox. Rest could suggest a certain carefreeness. But in the context of monastic life, we know that we are engaged in spiritual combat, so to speak. We are the watchmen in the watch tower. Our rest includes joy and communal celebration, but also spiritual readiness, as it says in the Song of Songs, “I slept, but my heart was awake.” While rejoicing in the fulfillment of the Sabbath rest – which Our Lord Jesus accomplished by his Passion, death, Resurrection, and Ascension – we also guard ourselves and the Church by our deeper immersion in Our Lord’s rest, where, paradoxically, he is always working along with this Father.

On Sundays we ponder in our hearts the unfathomable reality of the Resurrection, that is, the Father’s gift of an unconquerable life to his Son after he endured the cross; the fulfillment of creation’s original purpose – immortal life for human beings; the foreshadowing of the last day when we will all be caught up with the Lord. Our whole faith is based on the reality of the Resurrection. Sunday is the moment to rekindle our love and thanksgiving for Jesus’ Resurrection, made present to the entire community in the Sunday Eucharist.

Our joy at the Resurrection is meant to permeate the community like the incense in church. This joy is perhaps the most effective witness we can provide to the Church and the world. “By the Eucharist the spiritual character of our community is made evident, strengthening and increasing both the inner sense of our monastic vocation and our communion among ourselves.”

Photograph by Brother Guerric. Yesterday's Chapter Talk by Dom Vincent.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Seventeenth Sunday


Today, in the Gospel passage from St. Luke, the disciples see Jesus praying to his Father and ask him, “Lord, teach us to pray...” Jesus then teaches them the Our Father, which is indeed a prayer, but which is really a way of life in the form of a prayer. The Lord's Prayer is meant to be lived, not just prayed. Although we read Luke's version of the Our Father today, I would like now to look at Matthew's longer version from the Sermon on the Mount—the version we all know and love. The opening words—Our Father who art in heaven—are the words of a people who are in an intimate relationship with the transcendent heavenly Father, the maker of all. In saying “Our Father” we proclaim to the world that all people are our brothers and sisters. When we say, “Hallowed be thy name” we commit ourselves, in reverential fear of the Lord, that is, reverential love of the Lord to the worship of the Holy Name of God (God's own Self) and the sanctification of our own lives which springs from true worship of the Holy One. In praying “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we abandon ourselves to fulfill always as best we can the holy will of God in our particular lives and in God's world in the context of both the personal in-breaking of the Kingdom which we call sanctifying and actual grace and the foreshadowing of this Kingdom which is already come in the Church, of which we are members, founded by Jesus Christ to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is at hand. We proclaim and glorify this Kingdom in the best way by living our lives in conformity with and in transformity by the Gospel personified in the Holy Spirit poured out into our hearts, the living Gospel that is the Gift of the Paraclete.

At this point in the prayer, most people pray for their daily sustenance from food and drink with the words, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And that is commendable. Yet, in the same chapter of Matthew that contains the Lord's prayer, Jesus, speaking to his Jewish audience, tells them and us not to be anxious about such things. He says, “Do not say, 'What are we to eat? What are we to drink?' The pagans seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The Lord's prayer is about God's eschatological will, his Rule, his Kingdom breaking in upon us, not about having a sandwich for lunch. The words “daily bread” panem quotidianum come to us from an old Latin translation of the Bible that preceded St. Jerome's. Those translators, before St. Jerome did his work, had to struggle with how to interpret the Greek words arton epiousion -arton meaning bread, but what did epiousion mean? The great exegete and Greek philologist of the 3rd century, Origen of Alexandria, says that the word epiousion was the invention of the evangelists Matthew and Luke from two Greek words epi meaning super or above and ousion meaning substance and used it to translate the now unknown Aramaic original. St. Jerome translated the Greek word in Matthew's gospel as “supersubstantial.” Panem nostrum supersubstantialum da nobis hodie. Give us this day our supersubstantial Bread. That is exactly how the Douay-Rheims Bible reads—the Bible we all read up to about 1970. Origen says that this word epiousion never appeared in any written or spoken tradition of Greek until the evangelists used it to describe the Bread of Life that is the Word of God and the Living Bread which is the Eucharist. From then on it was only seen used in commentaries on the Gospels. Because St. Jerome's translation came too late on the scene to be the prayer used in the mass, we ended up praying for daily bread instead of for the Word and Sacrament, the Bread of Life, the supersubstantial Bread.

The New American Bible remarks in a footnote that arguments such as Origen's are much more in harmony with the eschatological nature of the Our Father. Fr. Joseph Fitzmyer, S.J. believes that the problematic Greek adjective epiousion is best explained by Origen of Alexandria, but he feels that Origen then goes too far in his allegorical interpretation. So, with these words of the prayer, we ask the Father to give us what really will nourish us to live out our journey on the Christian Way.

In this Mass right now as we break the Bread of Life that is the Word of God and break the Living Bread that is the Eucharist together, we are living out this prayer to the fullest, “give us this day our supersubstantial bread.” The bottom line of today's two parables is not that the Father gives us a loaf of bread, or an egg or a fish, but rather that he gives us his Holy Spirit. In the celebration of the Eucharist, the Church comes closest to the realization of the coming of the Kingdom in this foretaste of the Banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven where all of us join together as one in the highest form of praise of God, Christ's own sacrifice of Himself and are sanctified in the Spirit in so doing. 

Having come to this height of spirituality in the prayer, we now have to face up to our struggles to maintain this level of living in the Spirit. We know that we fall into quarrels and backbiting and the whole gamut of human misbehaviors. We ask the Lord to forgive us our sins as we forgive those who trespass against us. Yet, we struggle with temptations against our identity as members of Christ's body, the Church and so pray, “lead us not into temptation.” The prayer at Mass over the supersubstantial drink in the Chalice speaks of the “chalice of my Blood, the Blood of the new and eternal covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in memory of me.” We are not only to repeat the ritual described but also the FORGIVING as we have been forgiven. The satanic Power of Evil is out to destroy us who follow Christ whom Satan could not destroy. Our Father in heaven has given us the realization that we cannot persevere with our own strength, but that we can with the strength that comes from God in his sacraments, especially the supersubstantial Bread and Precious Blood that is the Eucharist. Thus, we ask the Lord to “deliver us from Evil.” This and all we have prayed in the Pater Noster, the Our Father we firmly believe will come to pass, and therefore we say together the Hebrew word meaning certainty, truthfulness and faithfulness—we say “Amen!”           

Photographs of Brother Mikah's garden by Brother Guerric. This morning's homily by Father Luke.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

A Saturday with Our Lady


We celebrate the Mass and Office of Our Blessed Lady again on this Saturday. She is everywhere in the Abbey, her images and icons in sacred spaces and in the workplaces. Mary protects us and accompanies us; we trust in her powerful intercession.

We place ourselves in your keeping, Holy Mother of God. Refuse not the prayer of your children in their distress, but deliver us from all danger, ever Virgin glorious and blessed.

An etching by Margaret Walters, (1924 - 1971).

Friday, July 22, 2022

Saint Mary Magdalen


We love Mary Magdalen because of the way in which the boldness of her love for Jesus made her stare death down beyond all human logic or hope.  For her, there is no question that the Messiah of Israel, sent to redeem all humankind, and the Beloved of her most intimate heart are one and the same person.  She perseveres in weeping at the entrance to the tomb because she perseveres in her love: the presence and actions of Jesus in her own life had taught her that love is indeed stronger than death.  Against all odds and logic, in a sort of sublime madness, she clings to her Jesus dead or alive; and she does not reason about her relative physical strength when she says ironically to the man she thought was the gardener, “Tell me where you laid him, and I will take him away.” Because she loves Jesus so much, she is prepared to carry his body away single-handed.

Such passionate intensity surely was born from her gratitude at having had no less than seven demons driven out of her by Jesus.  As one transformed by the healing power of Jesus’ love, she becomes “the apostle to the Apostles,” since more than any of them she can easily believe in Christ’s Resurrection. For all time St. Mary Magdalen stands as the foremost embodiment of the soul thirsting for God, the soul passionately seeking God.  And in the end, she does find him.  “He whom her heart loves” is also the Beloved of the Father who had first come seeking her.  Mary could find him because he first chose, in utter love, to put himself within her reach.

Reflection by Father Simeon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Mary's Care For Us

All through the lawns and along the Abbey pathways, the weed called broadleaf plantain grows in profusion. We were amazed to find it pictured at the very bottom of this painting of The Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Gerard David. We learned that the broadleaf plantain has long been used medicinally. The "bruised" leaves supposedly have a healing effect when placed on small cuts, insect bites, stings and blisters. Fittingly then the artist paints the plantain below the Christ Child as a reference to the healing that he comes to bring us. Mary is the gateway for us to all the healing that only Christ can give. Let us rejoice in her protection.
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Gerard David (Netherlandish, ca. 1455–1523)oil on wood, 20" x 17.”  The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Sunday, July 17, 2022

God Our Guest

Every day of our lives God approaches us in many different disguises, hungry for our hospitality, hungry for our company and the love of our hearts.  We often complain that God has deserted us, that he doesn’t answer our prayers, that he doesn’t take pity on our sufferings.  Today’s readings tell us otherwise: they tell us that we are the ones who do not know how to deal with the fact that, if anything, God has perhaps come too close for comfort, though maybe we may be looking for him only ways that flatter our vanity or indulge our self-centeredness.  In our readings God approaches man in ways that are mysterious, disorienting and challenging.  God, the Almighty, presents himself often in forms of neediness that deceive our logic and that challenge us to lay aside our haughtiness and laziness in order to become servants of anyone in need.  Indeed, the concept of service is the common thread of all three readings.

On a very hot day in the desert, Abraham, no longer young, becomes the servant of three tired, hungry and thirsty young wayfarers who turn out to be angels and who together represent the coming to Abraham of God himself. The Fathers came to see in this scene an early prefigurement of the Blessed Trinity, and this interpretation has become emblematic in Andrei Rublev’s famous icon.  But Abraham didn’t know whom he was dealing with as he ran around in the dust and heat trying to prepare the best possible meal.  He thought he was merely showing the hospitality required by common decency, and yet the whole while he was embracing the living God right by his tent!  In return God blessed the sterile Sarah and gave them Isaac as a divine reward.  Abraham was looking for nothing for himself, and yet, because of his selfless hospitality, he got an heir—that, is everything hoped for according to the Jewish mentality.

The Gospel, in turn, shows us that the greatest—though not the only—way of showing hospitality to God is … to listen to his Word, to receive what he has come to give us.  Even at the purely human level, one of the most important aspects of loving is knowing how to receive love.  How could this not be all the truer when we realize that God has, literally, everything to give us?  The problem with Martha is not at all that she was bent on fulfilling all her duties as head of her household by cooking, serving at table, and so on.  Her problem is expressed clearly in the two little adjectives “anxious and worried”.  Martha has allowed temporal concerns to take up the whole of her life, to the point of resentment against her sister Mary.  We must be both Martha and Mary, that is, after giving God what little we may have to offer, we must be wise enough to stop, become receptive, hospitable in our heart, and offer him our attention.  We must welcome Christ’s active presence within us. 

True hospitality of the heart isn’t blind activism; it should combine service and receptivity, the willingness to sit down with the guest to give him a chance to be himself with us, to give us what he has brought specifically for us.  God wants to rule in us as Lord, Teacher and Lover of our souls; he does not want us to kidnap him in a recruitment effort and turn him into a convenient laborer for our own projects.  We must discern which is “the better part” of Christian existence, the center, that which will never pass or grow old: and that is doubtless contemplation, our interior communion with God.  All else must flow from this, and there will not be any fruitful works of charity if anxiety and busyness disconnect us from the vital source of Love.

As St. Paul shows us, our primary service to “the body of Christ, which is the Church” must consist in “bringing to completion the Word of God”, showing forth the full mystery of God’s presence among us: we are stewards of this presence, of “Christ in [us], the hope of glory”.  The greatest form of hospitality, the greatest possible form that service of both God and man can take in us, is for us to show forth by the quality of our words, deeds and very presence that we “fill up in our flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ”.  What could be possibly lacking in the perfect sufferings of Christ?  Only this: that I allow them to have their full effect in my whole person, so that, in a mysterious way, my manner of life will beam forth Christ’s presence to the world.

At this holy table this morning, Christ offers us his hospitality.  He wants to nourish us with is Word and Sacrament, that is, with his own substance, that he may bring risen life, joy and courage to our hearts and that we may then do the same for others.  Let us always eagerly and wisely choose with Mary this “better part”, which will never be taken from us.

Christ with the Peasants, Fritz von Uhde, c. 1888, oil on panel, Musée d'Orsay, Paris.  Homily by Father Simeon.



Tuesday, July 12, 2022


Silence is a participation in the world to come, a participation in eternity, in God’s simplicity, a great Mystery beyond words. Love seeking me is the reason for silence. The monk's wonder-filled response to God’s seeking is the silence of love and the longing to be absorbed in wordless, quiet rest in the presence of the One who loves him. Those in love need not say anything. They want simply "to be with," to be agendaless, resting in each other's presence. God longs for our openness, a great empty space within us, an emptiness that is not nothing but is availability. In silence, I can notice God noticing me. In practicing silence, allowing silence, allowing the empty space, I make an open space for God. 

The community is on its annual retreat this week, a special time for greater silence and solitude.  We send our prayers and blessings to all our friends.

Abbey gardens photographed by Brother Brian.

Monday, July 11, 2022

Saint Benedict


From the beginning of John’s Gospel to the very end, a little word appears over and over again. In Greek it is meno. It must be one of John's favorites. Meno means to stay, dwell, abide, to stay where you are and not stir, to remain, even to linger – all with notes of quiet intimacy, at-homeness, and commitment. In the very first chapter of John’s Gospel, two disciples decide to follow Jesus and they ask him, “Where do you stay?" Jesus invites them, "Come and see." They remain with him that day, they meno with him, and their lives are transformed, all because they stay. It’s what we say to those we love – stay, please don’t go yet. By the end of John’s Gospel when pressed by Peter, Jesus intimates that he just might want his beloved disciple to remain and await his return. My brothers, we are that beloved disciple, individually, communally. And Christ Jesus our Master has invited us to remain, to abide with him here in this place waiting for him, ever attentive to him.

But how to do it, how to be faithful? Benedict crafts a Rule to show us the way, a way of obedience and intention of heart. And if we are faithful, the promise is that we will indeed find the Christ with whom wish to remain. If we have come here because we prefer Christ, desire Christ, Benedict assures us we will see him playing in ten thousand places, lovely in eyes and limbs not his, mirrored and refracted in a zillion faces and voices all over the monastery. (See Gerard Manley Hopkins.) Where? Everywhere. In the Abbot who takes Christ’s place, in any brother who has need of me sick or otherwise, certainly here in this church where we gather to praise him, and surely in the guests who are always at the door and even on the phone searching for a holiness they are sure can be found here, though that can be baffling to one who sees only his sinfulness and mediocrity. So we need to keep our eyes open, attentive with the ear of a tender loving heart.

How accurately then Saint Benedict will call the monastery a school of the Lord’s service or, as our Cistercian forebears would rephrase it, a school of love, a school because we are here to study love. And frankly, we’ve got work to do. We have to keep at it; there will be constant practicing and a lot of repetition - kindness, forgiveness and letting go of judgments, deferring to one another, putting the other first, again and again. There are no shortcuts but lots of joy and rewards if we stick with it. And so, Benedict reminds us we must wake up and get to it.

Some years ago, one senior put it like this to me, “You know, you kneel in church, and maybe one day you look around; you think to yourself, there are quite a few guys here I must admit I wouldn’t want to go duck hunting around the world with, but you know, these are my brothers, good men after all whose virtues I am often too blind to see.” Yes. And then, one day not long after, I notice a brother, let’s just say our relationship was not always cozy. This day I see him carrying his little plate of food back to his place in the refectory; he’s slightly stooped and looking so weary and tired. And then I sense somehow the Holy Spirit leaning in, nudging me and whispering, “Excuse me, is this the guy you wanted to make into a monster? Just checking.” Maybe then, just maybe, my heart gets cracked open a quarter inch or so. But will I ever see clearly enough? Am I learning anything here or not?

That’s why remaining is so essential, we stay in order to grow in love and learn confidence and familiarity with the mystery of who Christ Jesus is. We remain because we need to let his love really sink in; to get so saturated with it, so fascinated by Jesus’ fascination with us, so fascinated by Jesus’ fascination with us, that we want to go and do likewise, to love as God loves. Something can happen, and hopefully we begin to take on his beautiful mind, the mind and heart of Christ, and loving becomes second nature. We meno in Christ Jesus and He in us; we cling to him and he to us, wedded to Him by the Spirit we have received from Him with the Father.[1]

God in Christ has come down to take our flesh and seek our friendship. In John’s Gospel friendship is the ultimate description of what it means to be a disciple and the model he proposes for our relationships with each other.”[2] “I no longer call you slaves,” says Jesus. “I call you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. Everything.” Ultimately this everything is unambiguously expressed in the self-offering of Jesus for us his dear friends, there on the cross in his bloody, disfigured humanity. Only true friendship can compel a person to lay down his life for his friend. The laying down of one’s life in this case is not a sacrifice for another but a sharing of life and love with someone who has become my “other self.”[3] As disciples, we have become Jesus’ other selves and ultimately other selves to one another. We like Jesus are meant to share everything we have heard and seen and understood of God’s love for us

True friendship with God is ours because, in the wounded Christ, God has opened his heart to us, longing for our friendship and begging us to become more and more a community of friends with one another. My brothers, amid all the chaos, division, and sorrow in the world right now, our striving, our promise to abide in love with one another after Christ’s example is not nothing. It matters tremendously, for it is truly, most truly, the healing remedy we can offer the world from our very small, forgotten, and hidden lives. We can show that love and harmony are really possible not pious nonsense but truly a word of hope and truth enfleshed.[4] To persevere in this work of love, we desperately need the Food that only he can give us.

[1] See Kenneth Wuest., [2] See Sandra Schneiders, Selling All, pp. 288-297., [3] Ibid., 4] See Aelred of Rievaulx, Sermon 6.34, For the Feast of St. Benedict.

An ancient statue of Saint Benedict brought from the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Rhode Island at the time of Spencer's founding Photograph by Brother Daniel. Meditation by one of the monks.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

My Neighbor

When Jesus prompts the scholar of Torah in today’s gospel to identify the most important of all commandments in the divine Law, this pious Jew replies at once: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. Already in the Law, love of our weak, very imperfect and often irritating ‘neighbor’ appears as inseparable from love of the Creator Lord and God, who made the neighbor and placed him unaccountably right next to us. We cannot have life, according to Jesus, unless we practice these two eternally yoked loves. But then the man, lawyer that he is and consistent with his desire to test Jesus, begins breaking down the commandment by asking Jesus for a definition that would perhaps conveniently narrow the field of God’s categorical injunction Love your neighbor as yourself, and make it more practicable. Thus, desiring to justify himself, he said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ {Perhaps with this question, and Jesus’ response to it in the form of his masterful parable, the Sacred Liturgy itself is providing us with the theme of this year’s silent retreat.}

The lawyer instinctively turns abstract and juridical, wishing to transfer the discussion to the realm of the speculative, but Jesus responds by deftly grounding the question in the realm of immediate human experience. He does this by telling the Parable of the Good Samaritan. This very gritty tale of human malice and the needless suffering we can wantonly inflict on one another, forces all listeners—at least for the duration of the story—to turn away from our self-involvement and chronic tendency to self-justification and the evasion of responsibility. Wonderful and moving as the parable is, however, Jesus’ central purpose in telling appears to be not to move his listeners to a sentimental feeling of compassion. After all, the Incarnate Word knows all too well the passing and fickle nature of the breathless flutterings of the human heart, what our vanity would like to call ‘Christian compassion’. Instead, Jesus intends his story to distract us at least temporarily from our religious narcissism and Pharisaism so that we’ll be in a better position to answer more objectively the lawyer’s original question about who his (and our) neighbor might be. And so, after concluding his parable, Jesus asks the decisive question: Which of these three do you think became (gegone,nai) a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Jesus seems to be saying: ‘Put away your mania for abstract definitions, which always prove to be a diversionary tactic in the avoidance of a demanding, hands-on charity. Instead, enact compassion, become compassion, and embody compassion here and now. Let your whole being become like mine so that together we can glorify the Father in revealing his tender Face to the world.’

Do we not see how, by means of the parable, Jesus has drastically changed the nature of the lawyer’s abstract question, which asked for a static, disincarnate, impersonal definition of ‘neighbor’? Instead, Jesus’ teaching shatters our complacency and bratty backtalk; he wants us to discover for ourselves that who our neighbor is depends entirely on ourselves! The word ‘neighbor’ is derived from ‘nigh’, the archaic form of ‘near’. When the text says that the Samaritan went to [the battered man] and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, it is literally showing us the Samaritan making himself neighbor to the suffering victim. Whereas the priest and the Levite made themselves distant by walking on the other side of the road so as to avoid any danger of involvement, the Samaritan walked straight to the dying man, thus closing the distance between the two of them. In this way, he made himself near, accessible, available, and usefully present in his whole humanity. He was willing to submit, instantaneously, to his own transformation from stranger and foreigner to a familiar fellow member in the tribe of humanity. In Jesus’ view, anyone at all is a prime candidate for entering into a relationship of neighbor to me; it is wholly up to me whether I choose to make him such—or rather, whether I choose to make myself a neighbor to him: that is, whether I choose to close the gap between us that only sin and its violence have gouged out in the precious fabric of human association as intended by God. Even though 99% of humanity should be at war, aggressive warfare never ceases to be an abomination, a hideous monstrosity hated of God.

Jesus’ question to the lawyer is usually translated either as Which of these three was neighbor to the man or proved neighbor to the man. But the original Greek is both simpler and more impactful, and reads: Which of these three became neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? Now, one doesn’t become something just by accident. Both a choice and an effort are implied, and in the case of becoming a neighbor we intuit a free and deliberate construction of a new relationship that did not exist before. By the form of his question and by his word choice, Jesus is declaring that his vision of universal brotherhood among human beings can only be implemented one person at a time, by that person’s creative act of choosing to make himself responsible for the life and welfare of an other, previously unknown person. Can we not see how our Lord’s dramatic teaching here, through the parable, is asking us for nothing less than to enter, along with himself as creating Word, into a new relationship with another which in fact implies, for both the persons involved, taking a step out of the nothingness of separation and alienation and into new fullness of shared life? Such a decision enacts at a highly personal level, available to each of us, the creating act of the Holy Trinity at the beginning, which brought forth the universe and all its creatures out of nothingness into the light of resplendent existence and community. Communion is the secret name of God, and without communion God does not exist, nor consequently do we. After being awakened by Jesus to the depths of Trinitarian truth, we must deliberately embrace in act the will to communion which the Creator has imaged in us in potency.

Jesus’ commandment to the lawyer and to each of us at the end of the parable, therefore, is: You go, and do likewise. The Book of Deuteronomy declares that the word [or commandment] of the Lord is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it. In other words, Jesus’ teaching today is nothing foreign or hostile to human nature as God created it in the beginning. God’s Word is by nature our ‘neighbor’, more interior to ourselves than our very souls! The longing for true, active, universal brotherhood is a constitutive element of the human heart, since the Three-Personed God created us in his own image and likeness. The Godhead that is the primal Source of our being and life is, in himself, Eternal Relationship of Mutual Caring Love, is therefore also community, is fatherhood, is sonship and brotherhood, is spousal union between bride and bridegroom. All of these are intimate, close-up, ‘neighborly’ relationships. Only our egotism and self-serving individualism, only our craze to gratify our every whim and our craving for comfort and an undisturbed existence, get in the way of the deepest longing of our soul: this is to fulfill our own divine capacity and need to receive and give love—in other words, to become neighbor, to achieve fullness of Christ-like humanity by joyfully taking on responsibility for the life and well-being and thriving of another human being, hoping, even against hope, that he will do the same with me.

In the Christological hymn from Colossians we have just heard, St Paul proclaims that all things were created through [Christ] and for him… For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things. When we hear such a sublime glorification of Christ our Lord in tandem with today’s parable, so bursting with human misery, we must ask ourselves what the glorious Pantocrator who reigns on high has to do with the wretched man lying half-dead on the desert ground, and with the merciful Samaritan who comes to his aid so spontaneously and unconditionally, investing his own wealth, time and, above all, heart’s worry in the matter. It is obvious that, in the allegorical take on parable, the Good Samaritan is the Incarnate Word himself, who though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich (2 Cor 8:9). Jesus is perfect compassion, and if we were all necessarily created through him, still we shall not truly exist for him and in him until we allow his overflowing compassion to fill us as well, in order that through us it may reach every wounded soul lying prostrate in our proximity. As we know from the Our Father and Jesus’ teaching on offering sacrifice, we shall not be reconciled to our Redeemer until we actively choose to be first reconciled to our brother and sister by making ourselves their neighbor.

Then, and only then, will we allow Christ to be fully the head of the body, the Church. Only then will we allow him to become preeminent in everything, because he has not willed to be glorified without our participation and cooperation in this work of redemption. ‘Becoming a neighbor’, ‘making ourselves a neighbor’, truly and radically as Jesus intends, is infinitely more than merely a private act of goodwill and civility. In its staggering Christian meaning it is nothing less than a participation in the cosmic, redemptive deed of Christ as he reconciles to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. On the cross Christ made himself our neighbor at the cost of his life, and he does so again and again at this Holy Table, where he graciously chooses to come close enough to burn our hearts.

 Homily by Father Simeon.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Our Lady


The Lord has placed in Mary the fullness of all good. So that if there is anything of hope in us, if anything of grace if anything of salvation, we may rest assured it has overflowed into us from her. With every fiber of our being, every feeling of our hearts, with all affections of our minds, and with all the ardor of our souls let us honor Mary because this is the will of God, who would have us obtain everything through her hands. 

In the monastery we are reminded of Mary often; images of her are in many nooks and corners of the Abbey. And we go to Mary for all we need from her Son, confident that she will never forget those whom her Son has entrusted to her care.

The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, Gerard David (Netherlandish, ca. 1455–1523), oil on wood, 20" x 17.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission. Lines from Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon 6: For the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

His Pity

As beloved disciples, we lean close to the Lord this morning as, through the words of the Prophet Hosea, He whispers his heartbreak but His refusal to punish or ever disinherit us.

I drew them with human cords,
with bands of love;
I fostered them like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks;
Yet, though I stooped to feed my child,
they did not know that I was their healer.

My heart is overwhelmed,
my pity is stirred.
I will not give vent to my blazing anger…
For I am God and not man,
the Holy One present among you;
I will not let the flames consume you...

Let us humbly, confidently, and even joyfully step into the Mercy that He is for us always.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Saint Maria Goretti

On this day in 1902, the 12-year-old Maria Goretti lay on her deathbed, her life running out of her body through the seventeen stab wounds inflicted by her thwarted rapist, the 20-year-old Alessandro Serenelli. Someone asked her whether she would forgive him, and at once she answered: “Of course I forgive him! From heaven, I will pray for his conversion. For the sake of Jesus who forgave the repentant thief, I want to have that man with me in Paradise.” It seems that already by age 12, this extraordinary child had patterned her life, words, and deeds on those of her beloved Jesus. No less than the great, seasoned apostles in today’s gospel (Mt 10:1-7), little obscure Maria too, by her powerful witness, went out “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and proclaimed that “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand”.

Will you and I ever have the faith, fortitude,
and clarity of vision of this peasant child? Let us pray for our own conversion, following the example of Serenelli, who attended the Saint’s canonization in 1950. By then he had spent 27 years in prison and then, until his death in 1970, led the life of a Capuchin oblate. 

Meditation by Father Simeon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022



In the year 1916, the New York City harbor was busy with boats and ships arriving and departing, carrying cargo and passengers from many lands and places, both near and far. One of those steamships sailing into the harbor brought a young woman named Ellen Burke; to most people was known as Nellie, but to me, she was Nan. Nan stood on the deck of the boat and saw for the first time in person the colossus known as lady liberty with her torch, offering a beacon of light and light to guide people to their destination. Nan knew she was home. Nan was a single woman aged 20, barely literate. Nan's skills included; harvesting peat from the bogs, slopping the hogs, along with sowing and growing vegetables. Nan was traveling alone, and her only relation in this new country was a distant cousin, whom Nan had never met (remember, by Irish standards, anyone less than 5th cousins is considered close family). Like so many other people from around the world, Nan came seeking a better chance; people came seeking something they could not find elsewhere; they came seeking the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is a familiar phrase penned by Thomas Jefferson in 1776 as part of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, which we celebrate the signing of today. In 1883 an author named Emma Lazarus, who had been born in New York, wrote a poem "The New Colossus" about the statue of liberty, and in 1903 the last lines of the poem were engraved on a plaque and mounted on the pedestal of Lady Liberty. They read, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me; I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" This seems like a discrepancy, a contradiction, a paradox, the great American experiment offering people a new life of liberty, and who gets invited but the tired, the poor, and the wretched. It seems a little extreme but let us remember it was Christ who offered a new life, a life of freedom in fulfillment of the Old Testament. Who did Jesus call but sinners, those in need of a doctor, the outcasts, and the tax collectors, he called the poor in spirit, and he called those who morn and the meek. Christ called those who have been persecuted. It is life in Christ that gives us true freedom.

In the Gospel of John, we hear, "If you remain in my word and are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" also, "if a son frees you, then you will truly be free." What is this freedom Jesus Christ gives us? Freedom from death, sin, and death came into this world because of one man; Christ has defeated death and is himself the redemption for our sins; freedom to be close to God, freedom to be children of God, freedom to enjoy every spiritual blessing and grace, the freedom to have a better life, the freedom to choose the right. We have indeed been given much.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve plucked and ate a piece of fruit from the forbidden tree, after they had eaten the fruit their eyes were opened and they knew good and evil. You cannot know good without knowing evil, you cannot know light unless you know the darkness. You cannot be free without restrictions; as Christians, we have the freedom to choose the right path, and we have the freedom to choose the good and avoid what is evil. As in baseball, that great American pass time, the teams can't play if there is no foul line, and in the case of our hometown Red Sox, the big green monster, the players need to know where they should and should not hit the baseball too. The general idea is to choose the good and hit the baseball into the right place, run the baseline and make it home safely, and isn't that the goal not only of everyone here but of every Christian; follow the light of Christ and make it home safely. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by Brother Stephen.


Monday, July 4, 2022

On This Independence Day

Perhaps most significantly for us as monks, loving our enemies will mean praying for them, for to pray for those who hurt us is to love them. And if you’ve ever tried it, you know how dumb, awkward, and even phony it can feel. But we have also come to realize that our failure to do so may have dire consequences. For then the inner room of our heart will no longer be a place for prayer but a shoddy hovel for wound-licking and rage. And so we pray for those who hurt us even though sometimes it feels impossible.   

It is our work, our duty, and our promise to pray. And we know it is the only way to make sense of hurts- individual, communal, national. And so we pray- after too many needless shootings in classrooms and supermarkets. We pray because the tragedy in Ukraine makes our hearts cry out. We pray because so often, too often the sacredness and fragility of life are disregarded, and we feel so helpless. We pray. We pray for victims and for perpetrators, for politicians who believe what we do, and for those who seem to disregard our cherished values. And our praying helps us parse the incongruity, and make some sense of it. Prayer helps us get to the core of things. We pray; for craziness and hurt and broken hearts are too many. We can pray because we know our own poverty; we have come to know our own foolishness. We pray because we realize that we are no better than the worst. No better.

Our praying is always for; it is our humble privilege and responsibility. In a life marked by, what our Constitutions describe as, a “hidden apostolic fruitfulness,” what we do here matters, because it lies at the heart of the Church, very close to the heart of God who sustains all things.

Our life of prayer affords us the extravagance of luxuriating in our helplessness and utter dependence on God. Our praying is always unaccomplished but perfect in that it allows God to accomplish all things in us and through us. And perhaps our perfection as monks consists most of all in this - that we accept willingly the burden and responsibility of honest attention to our weakness, the weakness that lets us pray. This is the secret we were made for. 

Photograph of the Abbey's Manning Hill by Brother Anthony Khan. Excerpts from a reflection for July Fourth.