Saturday, October 29, 2022

Our Lady on Saturday

Saint Bernard says that above all what has drawn God to Mary is her humility. God finds it absolutely irresistible. Certainly, we will come to our humility by a route very different than Our Lady’s, but it can give us the same irresistible quality. We can do it through our sinfulness, acknowledging that we have nothing to boast of before God but our weakness. It is after all the only thing about myself that I am absolutely confident about. The problem is it’s also the one thing I most want to deny. But this reality, this humility lets God be God. Said another way, when things fall apart then God can be God. Through the Virgin Mary, God has chosen to be part, an integral part, of our fragmentation. Let us open our hearts completely to the Lord.

Bernardo Daddi, Madonna And Child With Four Angels (Central Predella Panel From The San Giorgio A Ruballa Altarpiece)1348, Tempera And Gold On Panel, Ronald Lauder Collection. Meditation by one of the monks.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Let Me Serve You

Jesus tells us in the Gospel that he has come to serve not to be served. Part of our work as disciples is always to allow Christ Jesus near enough to care for us, heal us, forgive us and console us. With this in mind, it seems, our Cistercian Father Blessed Guerric of Igny puts the following words on Jesus' lips: I will serve you," his Creator says to man. "You sit down, I will minister, I will wash your feet. You rest; I will bear your weariness, your infirmities. Use me you as you like in all your needs, not only as your servant but also as your beast of burden and as your property. If you are tired or burdened I will carry both you and your burden..." 

Detail of The Descent from the Cross by Rogier Van der Weyden, c. 1435. Text from The First Sermon for Palm Sunday, Blessed Guerric of Igny.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Giving God Glory


Growing patiently beneath the Abbey bell tower, our ginkgo tree shouts its praise in blazing yellow for a few glowing days each year at the end of October. Soon its fan-shaped leaves will litter the northeast corner of the monastery's enclosed garden.

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It "consents," so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea that is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.

Photographs by Brother Anthony Khan.
Lines from Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, p. 29.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

The Thirtieth Sunday

Jesus presents the two men in the parable this morning in a way that idealizes one quality in each. One claims superior status for himself by comparing himself with and separating himself from others; the other makes no claims to status at all but acknowledges his position as a sinner who can take refuge only in God’s goodness and mercy. Convinced of his righteousness, dependent on his own acts of piety, one asks for and receives nothing from God. The other comes to God in humility and receives that for which he asks, divine compassion.

These two figures called to my mind two other but very different characters one, a young priest, the other a 16-year-old girl: central characters in the novel Under the Sun of Satan by Georges Bernanos. Neither of these two lines up in a strictly parallel way with the two characters in today’s parable. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the comparison and decided to dig into it. Here’s what I have come up with at this point.

The setting for the encounter of these two is an early morning on a country road on the outskirts of a small village in France after World War I.

The priest, Father Donissan, is described by his dean as a poor student in seminary, clumsy in manner, tactless and gawky but with obvious spiritual gifts. The girl is Germaine Malorthy, the daughter of a local brewer, who at this point in her life has already acquired and lost two lovers (one, the local Marquis, Jacques de Cardigan, the other, M. Gallet, a public health officer and deputy for the district) become pregnant by the Marquis, suffered a kind of break down, and was sent away to a nursing home where she gave birth to a stillborn child. She bears within her a deep pain and a deep secret. One morning shortly after 1am, she had slipped out of the house and headed for the chateau of the Marquis. At one point she grabbed a shotgun from the wall pointed it at him, and before he could warn her that it was loaded, pulled the trigger killing him with a bullet to the neck at such close range and at such an angle that the death was ruled a suicide. Unseen either arriving or departing, her crime remains her secret.

When we first meet Father Donissan, he is suffering from a deep anxiety over his adequacy for parochial ministry. He asks his dean, Father Menou-Segrais, to have him recalled; since, by his own assessment, with his limited experience, intelligence, and background, he finds it a burden beyond his strength. “Whatever effort I make, how can I hope ever to supply that in which I am lacking?” This tendency to despair over his capacity to live his vocation is a constant plague. We see here too in the young priest a tendency to trust in his own judgment regarding himself, betraying a certain false humility, and a tendency to lack confidence and trust in God to provide the grace needed. 

Father Menou-Segrais calls him out on this: “Admitting yourself incapable of guiding and advising others, how would you be a good judge about your own cause?”

Father Donissan professes his desire to submit to the opinion of Father Menou-Segrais, who challenges him once again: “You have put yourself in the hands of a man for whom you have no use.” At these words, Father Donissan’s face turned ashy pale. Father Menou-Segrais continues: “The life I live here is in appearance that of a well-healed layman. Admit it! My semi-idleness makes you ashamed…Have I expressed your feelings?”

“I must answer yes,” answered Father Donissan, with apparent calm but great interior distress.

Father Menou-Segrais will show himself to be a “masterly clinician of souls…steadfast in prudence” and possessed with “sovereign good sense.” But he is not without limitations, which are apparent to the young priest. Nevertheless, Father Donissan willingly moves from being his own judge to humbly submitting himself to the judgment of another. This humility and obedience lay a firm groundwork for all that follows. Later in the novel, he expresses his mission to Menou-Segrais in this manner: “God has inspired me with this thought, that He thus pointed out my vocation, that I was to pursue Satan in souls, and that I should thereby inevitably compromise my peace, my priestly honor, and even my salvation.” To this end, he has been given the supernatural gift of reading souls. The reception and fulfillment of such a special mission obviously demand great sensitivity to the promptings of the will of God, to the false but clever promptings of Satan, and respect for what is most intimate in others, in a soul profoundly formed in humility and obedience.

Whereas Father Donissan has been set apart by God, the Pharisee has set himself apart. Rather than humbly submitting to the judgment of another he depends on his own righteousness. Rather than following the idea God has for him, he has crafted his own idea of himself, wholly illusory and deceptive, and rendered himself incapable of any genuine encounter with anyone, not God, not himself, not his neighbor, upon whom he looks down with contempt.  

Here we skip to the encounter with Mouchette on an empty country road in the early hours of the morning.

Father Donissan has been walking all night, an extraordinary night that turned out to be pivotal for his life and ministry. He had gotten lost, and encountered Satan in the form of a horse trader, then an angel-like figure of simple purity and goodness in the form of a quarryman going to work. In both, he was given for the first time the gift of reading souls. Mouchette will be his third encounter, and the one for which the other two were preparation. He was now passing the property of the Marquis.

Distracted, consumed by a pervasive sorrow, and unable to sleep, Mouchette has been drawn once again to the home of her lover, who is no longer, the secret of the cause of whose death remains hers alone.

She hails him, not recognizing in the dark who it is at first. Not happy with her discovery, nevertheless they walk together. He sees into her and tells her what he sees. The narrator explains: “What she heard from him was not the judge’s sentence nor anything that might surpass the understanding of this lowly and sullen little animal, but – with a terrible gentleness – her own story, the story of Mouchette, not dramatized by a stage manager, adorned with rare and exotic detail, but indeed summarized, reduced to nothing, seen from within.”

As they walk, a battle arises between God and Satan for the soul of Mouchette, between hope and despair, in which at one moment a small flicker of hope seems to emerge, and in the next she makes a retreat back into the familiar comfort of darkness.

Along with Mouchette’s personal story, there is given her family history, that of her relatives, and other significant figures. In each of them, along with the humble facts of daily life, there is uncovered the mystery of sin and its terrible monotonous unifying sameness: “Everywhere sin was bursting its shell, was laying bare the mystery of its procreation: scores of men and women bound together in the fibers of the same cancer …And abruptly Mouchette saw herself as she had never seen herself, …She had recognized herself in [this family history] and…no longer distinguished between herself and that herd. What! Not one of her life’s acts which had not elsewhere its double? Not a thought which was her very own, not a motion which had not long since been made? Not alike but the same. Not repeated but one. …she felt in her wretched little life the huge deceit, the huge laughter of the deceiver.”

Mouchette had built her life around her favorite imaginary character: “a girl of danger and mystery, with a unique destiny, a heroine among the cowardly and the dim-witted… And yet, today, this very moment… it was all collapsing. 178

At depth, the prayer of the Pharisee and the life of Mouchette reveal themselves as one in their unreality. At one level they may appear very different but, they are one insofar as each has constructed and maintained a false image of themselves by which they have set themselves apart from and above others. The huge deceit is that their efforts never rise above the daily, dull monotony, the sameness, of sin.

The tragedy of Mouchette is that pierced by this self-knowledge she flees from Donissan. It is too much for her. Back in her room, alone, she struggles with them, working through them in order to find the key so that she may find peace for her troubled, restless soul. Yet she had no means to “solve the puzzle she had set herself. That is, “How would she raise herself by her own powers to the height where the man of God had suddenly carried her?” [Given her wholly secular upbringing] she is incapable of the prayer of the tax collector, for she did not know the divine mercy and was even incapable of imagining it. She chooses the only comfort she can imagine; the darkness offered by Satan and slits her throat with a razor. This act will take her life, but not before Father Donissan comes to her bedside and obeys her one last request – to be laid on the porch of the nearby church, where she breathes her last.

How many souls today are in precisely this situation; in some way or other they have glimpsed the divine light, which has left its seal on their hearts but do not know the grace of the divine mercy, which is the only thing that could bear them up out of their darkness and into the freedom of that inaccessible light.

Let us choose the prayer of the tax collector and put away anything that would smack of the arrogant self-sufficiency of the Pharisee, that our monastic life may be a light for our world and show a path out of the consuming darkness. 

Photographs by one of the monks. Today's Homily by Father Timothy.

Friday, October 21, 2022

For Peace

We grieve for our sisters and brothers in Ukraine. We feel helpless, but we do not despair as we pray for peace. God hears us. We pray that they will be safe and have a future full of hope.

Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!

We have tried so many times and over so many years to resolve our conflicts by our own powers and by the force of our arms. How many moments of hostility and darkness have we experienced; how much blood has been shed; how many lives have been shattered; how many hopes have been buried… But our efforts have been in vain.

Now, Lord, come to our aid! Grant us peace, teach us peace; guide our steps in the way of peace. Open our eyes and hearts, and give us the courage to say: "Never again war!"; "With war, everything is lost". Instill in our hearts the courage to take concrete steps to achieve peace.

Lord, God of Abraham, God of the Prophets, God of Love, you created us and you call us to live as brothers and sisters. Give us the strength daily to be instruments of peace; enable us to see everyone who crosses our path as our brother or sister.  Amen.

Photographs by Brother Brian. Excerpts from a prayer for peace by Pope Francis.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Saints Isaac Jogues, Jean de Brébeuf and Their Companions

As monks, we know that the martyrs are our forbears and exemplars in the monastic life. And surely this prayer of Saint Ignatius had formed the hearts of the Jesuit martyrs we remember today. Ignatius would pray in these words:

Take, O Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will, all that I have, and all that I possess. You gave it all to me, Lord; I give it all back to you. Do with it as you will, according to your good pleasure. Give me your love and your grace; for with this, I have all that I need.

Jesus the Divine Thief longs to sneak in and take us to himself; take all that we have and all that we are.

Inspired by the ardor and exquisite generosity of the North American Martyrs, let us surrender completely to the constant invasion of God's mercy in Christ.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The Ordination of Father Stephen

On this past Saturday, 15 October, we celebrated with great joy the priestly ordination of our Brother Stephen Shanahan; Bishop Robert McManus of Worcester presided. Family and friends gathered with the community in prayer and thanksgiving.

    Brother Stephen consults with Bishop McManus before the Liturgy.
Brother Stephen prostrates as the Litany of Saints is chanted.
Father John Shanahan, tor imposes hands on his brother, invoking the Holy Spirit.
The priests of the Abbey impose their hands.
Bishop McManus gives the newly ordained Father Stephen the gifts of bread and wine.
Father Stephen imparts his first priestly blessing upon Bishop McManus.
Father Stephen blesses his brother monks.

We pray earnestly to the Lord that our Father Stephen may have many years of fruitful ministry as a priest of Jesus Christ.

Photographs by Brother Daniel.

Sunday, October 16, 2022

A Weak But Determined Widow

           This is the story of a woman alone in the world, like Naomi from the book of Ruth; she has no men in her life, no husband to support her, and no strong, able sons to take care of their mother in her old age. But this woman has grown and learned to be independent. It was not an easy path to learn to take care of herself and to find that she had a voice, but this old woman was determined and persistent. I am speaking about the widow from today's gospel reading. She was alone in a time when it was not good for anyone to be by themselves, but a widow is someone who would be especially vulnerable. 

           Why the woman needs to be vindicated, liberated, redeemed by a just verdict from this judge is never stated. But it is easy to see the importance of the situation for the widow. This woman needs something she feels deserves or is owed; perhaps a poor verdict and the widow will lose what little she has. Like another parable in Luke, that one about the woman who had ten coins and lost one of them, and would not rest until what was deservedly hers was in her possession, and then she would be delivered from anguish and strife. The widow in today's gospel story had no one to speak for her or take up her cause except for herself and God. So she did what she could; she went to see the judge herself and was not going to stop going, not going to stop asking, she was going to ask again and again and again: until she received what was right and just in her eyes and the eyes of God.  

           This is the story of another female, not an old widow, but a beautiful baby girl born in about 1820, this little bundle of cuddle and coo was named Araminta Ross; she was called "Minty" for short. "Minty" was born on a prosperous and well-to-do farm in Maryland. On the estate was the big house, and the inhabitants wanted for nothing. But from a very early age, Araminta saw and understood that things weren't quite right in this paradise. For you see, Araminta was on the farm; she was also born to the farm as an enslaved person who later changed her name to Harriet Tubman. When Harriet was five years old, she was rented out as a nursemaid to one of her owner's neighbors, and every time the baby cried, Harriet got whipped. Harriet was later rented out to catch rodents as a field hand. When Harriet was twelve, she got her head split open from trying to help another enslaved person; the effects of this injury would stay with her the rest of her life, and even while all this was going on, Harriet never lost her faith in God. She prayed for deliverance again and again and again.

           In 1849 Harriet could take no more; as bad as life was, it could only get worse; she felt it was worth risking her life running away than staying and dying a slow death. With the help of the underground railway, she made it to Pennsylvania and became a free woman. Harriet later said when she was free that, she had to look at her hands and arms to see if she was the same person, everything she looked at looked different to her, and she felt like she was in heaven. But, in time, freedom was not enough for Harriet; she wanted others to have that same experience. Harriet became a conductor on the underground railway, bringing so many people to freedom she earned the title of Moses. Harriet was known for having a sturdy, rugged, and robust faith in God, and in prayer, many people who knew Harriet believed Harriet spoke to God, and God spoke to Harriet, and they had frequent conversations, sometimes daily.

           One of the people we are all familiar with from the Old Testament is Joseph, the one with the amazing Technicolor dream coat given to him by his father, Jacob. We know he wound up saving his own family and the nation of Egypt and being second in power and rank only to the pharaoh. But that is how Joseph's story turned out; Joseph's story started with being thrown into a pit by his brothers; Joseph did not know why he was in this dark, dank hole in the ground, how long he would be there, what would become of him or if he would ever be free. So all he could do was pray. Joseph was brought out of the pit and taken to Egypt, eventually wound up in prison for doing the morally right thing. Still, this time he was away for years, waiting for deliverance, so he prayed over and over with all his heart. Joseph was justified, delivered, saved, and we know how his story ends.     

           So we have an old widow, a woman born enslaved, a man abandoned by his family, and then the world. Slightly different, I would, but very similar, they found themselves in dire situations that they could not control; they could have just thrown up their hands and said, "Oh well, it's done." But they did not. In the First Letter of Saint Paul to Timothy, we read, "Fight the good fight of faith, take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and then make a good confession." Fighting the good fight does not mean physically fighting; generally, it's more of an internal struggle; we have to admit that some situations are beyond our control to turn ourselves and our lives over to God.

           In last Sunday's first reading, he heard of Naaman being cured of his leprosy by plunging himself into the Jordan River seven times, and he was healed. Then if you listened closely, Naaman wanted to take back to his home country of Syria two loads of mud from the Jordan, so he could worship the God who had cured him. Like many people of this age, Naaman worshiped local gods who were attached to geographic areas, so Naaman thought the God of Israel could only be near him if he had a piece of Israel with him.

           In Deuteronomy, we read, "For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord our God, is to us whenever we call upon Him." Joseph had the God of his fathers with him in prison in Egypt; Harriet Tubman had the same God while she was enslaved in North America. So we turn our lives: mental, physical, and spiritual, over to God, and we pray persistently, ever mindful of God working in our lives. Is that it? Sometimes yes, but we ourselves have to do what we can. We have to let God guide our actions. The widow went to the judge and was going to keep going back as long as she had to. Harriet escaped enslavement and then went back to free others. Joseph, while in prison, did something challenging; he kept his spirits and those around up; he would not let himself wallow in self-pity.

           We have to keep praying. Like the old widow, we must keep asking. Which for some of us is an exercise in humility in itself, admitting there is something we cannot do by ourselves. Sometimes we don't get the exact outcome we desire, and sometimes, we have to wait (I could talk about that one), but those are all topics for other homilies. So fight the good fight, know that God is always near, and He wants to be part of our lives, do what we can and let God guide our actions, and never stop praying to God the old widow, Harriet Tubman Joseph, with his coat of many colors and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob.     

Photograph by Brother Brian. Father Stephen's homily at his First Mass.          

Friday, October 14, 2022

Refracted Light


The single light of perfect unity which we experience with Jesus and one another in the depths of prayer becomes refracted, as it were, into a variety of possibilities as to how exactly interior unity should be lived in the concrete, in the face of shifting circumstances, opinions, particular needs, cultural backgrounds, etc.

The greatest challenge for the Church is how to incarnate the one eternal Gospel of Jesus Christ in ever-changing and -challenging circumstances, how to safeguard carefully the precious Mysteries of the faith and the perfect unity that results from our having received the one Spirit and the one Love of Jesus. The Church’s great task is how to be faithful to all these sacred and immutable Truths, how to dynamically hand them down, always within the necessarily shifting field of tensions that is concrete life on earth. Only our continual mindfulness of our common source in God’s loving Providence will temper our individual points of view and initiatives, and transform them from impulses for possible disruption and schism into the rich, symphonic energy of the Creator Spirit, who is forever renewing the beauty of the one Bride of Christ. 

But this transformation of potentially disruptive into effectively creative energy can never occur simply by our own effort, desire, talents, or even prayer. It must be a work of God’s overwhelming Mercy. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Back to Connectedness

Jesus abolishes divisions and separation. Isolated outsiders – lepers, the lame, blind and deaf are all healed, the dead given life; and all sent back to those they love, back to family and community. And it is finally in his death on a cross, that the ugliness of our stupid divisions and divisiveness will be revealed and put to death in his wounded body. He is our peace, and he has reconciled us to himself and to one another once and for all.

As we prepared to enter this abbey, each of us can probably recall at least one friend or relative asking, “Why do have to go there to pray? What’s so special about a monastery; you can pray anywhere.” But we sensed it; we knew in our hearts that we needed a community. We needed to be with these people who did this “thing” together. How precious, how necessary, how good it is for us to be here - together in this place. Even when, or more especially when, all seems craziness or burden, when we hurt and disappoint and irk one another, even then, perhaps most of all then, we are invited to muster the humility, vulnerability, and forgiveness that are demanded of us, and understand that it would not be good for us to be alone. That my way is not as good as our way, that we are always better together than apart. It is, after all, good for us to be here and to remember always the “incredible care we have for each other at the core of our being.”2

It is in community that we discover our need and loneliness over and over again. And, if we’re honest, we discover to our dismay and salvation our total incapacity to do this life alone. We see the beauty of our incapacity, the beauty of our insufficiency. We see how little we are when left to ourselves. Then it is that we become most truly like Jesus, then we become his beautiful, wounded body. Then perhaps we can persevere in hope, even if sometimes only a thread of hope. This reminds me of our own Cistercian martyr of Tibhirine, Blessed Luc, who was often overheard murmuring in the quiet darkness of the monastery after Compline, “OK, Lord, I will give you one more day. Just one more.”  

If we do not remember our essential goodness, our capacity to be more loving than we suspected, we are doomed. This is our only hope, our destiny. To be healed, transformed, conformed to Christ, does not mean that we will immediately get better, holier, or nicer,3 but we will be opened to “the harrowing wonder and disequilibrium” of our desperate need for Christ Jesus and for one another. Then at last we will be perfectly disposed to receive and to become Holy Communion.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of the monks. References:  1. Robert Barron. 2. David Brooks. 3. Sr. Miriam Pollard. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

Gabriel's Hour

Today’s gospel relates a turning point in Our Lord’s life. All that had gone before – his birth, his childhood, his teenage years, his public ministry with its healings, debates, and instructions. He carries all of it with him as he enters his “hour,” the hour “for the Son of Man to be glorified.” The same must happen to all of us. We carry forward all our life experiences when our hour arrives. These must all be sown in the ground and covered over like a grain of wheat as happened with Jesus. Fr. Gabriel, must have experienced this, in a particularly poignant way. He carried all his life’s experiences with him into his hour with as much willingness as he could muster, following in the footsteps of his Lord.

Fr. Gabriel’s service to the Lord and his many friends and brethren spanned 90 years and numerous residences. From the deep south of the United States to the halls of Harvard, to the quiet of Spencer, to Rome, Belgium, and beyond – all the while creating friendships and sharing the gifts he had received. It was not always a smooth journey. Fr. Gabriel had an exuberant personality, and keeping up with his absent-minded, professorial ways could be exasperating. For a long period, he was separated from the monastery, and only later reunited with his brothers. He knew well the experience of falling into the ground and dying. In each phase of his life, he experienced the difficulty of separation only to find some new door opening. In the 80s, finally, he gave up the blessings of an academic career in the world and a home in Rome to renew his commitment to the contemplative vocation. He would follow his Lord once again in the beauty and fellowship of Spencer.

The rapid onset of dementia was a particularly painful separation. The lifelong treasures of study, chant, and friendship were slipping out of his hands. And likewise, the treasures which we all experienced in Fr. Gabriel were slipping out of our view as we tried to make out a word of his stream of consciousness, tried to lay hold of some remnant of the Fr. Gabriel we knew. I often wonder whether Fr. Gabriel found himself repeating the words of Jesus spoken in today’s gospel: “I am troubled now.” So much of Fr. Gabriel’s life’s work was being covered by the cloud of dementia. And again: “Yet what should I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’?” But it was for this hour that Fr. Gabriel had embraced anew his monastic consecration. Where his Master was, he was intent on following. If it included the dreaded dementia, so be it. We live in hope and confidence that our heavenly Father will honor Fr. Gabriel for his service to his Son.

So, it is with all those who would follow the Lord, especially in the monastic way of life. We follow, not controlling the hour, not controlling how we will fall into the ground and die. But with confidence and hope, we await the voice of the Father, “I have glorified my name and I will glorify it again.” May he glorify it again in all of us as he did in Fr. Gabriel.  Dom Vincent's homily for the funeral Mass.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022



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

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2022


We are told that Saint Francis decreed that his friars not have pockets in their habits. How he wanted them to be poor with the poor Christ! How to depend on Jesus alone for all we need? How to cling to Him, a Treasure always ready to hand and heart?

Detail of Saint Francis Of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata by Giambattista Tiepol

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Father Gabriel

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


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

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

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

Unprofitable Servants

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


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

Excerpts from a homily by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Saint Thérèse


If you are willing to bear in peace the trial of not being pleased with yourself, you will be offering the Lord Jesus a home in your heart. It is true you will suffer, for you will feel like a stranger in your own house. But do not fear, for the poorer you are, the more Christ will love you.

We are always consoled by these words of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux; she reminds us that Jesus' power is made perfect in our weakness. God does not want our virtue, he wants our weakness. Even as we try to please him, we see and understand that we always come up short. Jesus is not a coach. He wants us to go to him in our poverty. 

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