Friday, March 31, 2023

Here is Your God

I am the great sun, but you do not see me,
  I am your husband, but you turn away.
I am the captive, but you do not free me,
  I am the captain but you will not obey.
I am the truth, but you will not believe me,
  I am the city where you will not stay.
I am your wife, your child, but you will leave me,
  I am that God to whom you will not pray.
I am your counsel, but you will not hear me,
  I am your lover whom you will betray.
I am the victor, but you do not cheer me,
  I am the holy dove whom you will slay.
I am your life, but if you will not name me,
  Seal up your soul with tears, and never blame me.

 Image by Bradi Barth. Poem from a Normandy crucifix of 1632.

Thursday, March 30, 2023

In the Community Kitchen

Here we see Brother Jude hard at work in the community kitchen preparing our noon meal. He always manages to come up with dishes that are simple but innovative and quotes Saint Elizabeth of Hungary who once said, "We must make people happy."

Wednesday, March 29, 2023

O Cross!

 

Faithful Cross, O Tree all beauteous!

Tree all peerless and divine!

Not a grove on earth can show us,

Such a flower and leaf as thine.

Sweet the nails and sweet the wood,

Laden with so sweet a load.

On Good Friday we will kiss the cross because this ancient instrument of torture was embraced by Christ Jesus, for here in his love for us, he could destroy death. Truly "the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing” – incessantly pouring Godself out for us. On the cross, God in Christ gives all his love to the shedding of his last drop of blood. And death becomes a gateway.

And as he did for Lazarus, so he does for us - Jesus goes to the dead silence of the tomb, of our tombs, and confronts the mute stillness and the stench, as he cries out: “Arise my fair one, my beloved and come forth. Come forth, you whom I love, arise from the dead, step out into the light. Come to my side. Awake, my Father did not make you to be held a prisoner in the underworld. Arise from the dead; I am the life of the dead. Arise, you who were fashioned by my word in the beginning. Rise, let us go hence, for you are in me and I in you, together we are one undivided person.”*

Jesus enfleshes the vulnerable compassion that God is, the groaning of God at whatever traps us. Jesus comes to dead ends, to this most final dead end, and says, “No! God won’t have it.” God in Christ is breaking through with hope and the promise of a way out and through. “The Father has sent me to proclaim release, and freedom, and to wipe the tears from all faces. I will open your tombs and have you rise from them.” Death’s finality is debunked, trampled down forever.

What Jesus did for Lazarus, as we heard in last Sunday’s Gospel, is what the Father will do for him his well-beloved Son on Easter. Jesus enacts God’s promise to all of us who like Lazarus are his dear friends.

Jesus breaks through the boundary because God’s love is in fact boundless.  The resurrection is not just an end-of-life episode, but, far better, our ongoing lived relationship with Christ Jesus through the Spirit moment by moment and in our final moment. Resurrection is not an episode it is a Person. It is he who speaks with us, he whom we see and consume, as he breaks bread with us each day at Mass. The Master is here asking for us, the God who weeps with us, for us, and promises us the beauty of eternal life. Let us go to him.



*Adapted from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.

Sunday, March 26, 2023

From Death to Life

 

The transition from death to life is the theme of today’s readings. In particular, the raising of Lazarus from the dead is a prelude to the Easter event whose celebration is now at hand. Jesus loves Lazarus into rising from death! In our readings three dimensions run through the dynamics of death and resurrection. Ezekiel speaks of the death of hope. Paul glimpses the situation of a person locked up in what he calls “the flesh”: it is the condition of one who has betrayed her relational vocation, her being called to love. This is the death of love. Finally, the Gospel passage is faith-centered and is an initiation to faith in Christ who in his person is the Resurrection and the Life. The dialogue between Jesus and Martha is centered on believing: “Whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Do you believe this?” asks the Lord; and Martha replies: “Yes, Lord, I believe”.

{For the Bible, death is not exclusively biological but is a much more complex reality, one that creeps into so many areas of human life. The Ezekiel passage speaks of the death of a people, of a community, and this in the form of the death of its hope. Here the transition from death to life will be the return from Babylon of the deported and morally dead children of Israel. Ezekiel states that the death of a people begins with the death of hope, that is, with the loss of a future. Here we see hope as a virtue, hope not as a feeling but as a responsibility, as the work of opening up the future, of giving meaning to our life, the capacity for promise, creativity, for imagining what is possible, the courage to begin something new. And here also we discover the historical possibility of the resurrection of a human group, of a community, thanks to the courage of an initiative and a renewal in which something dies and loses its previous form, but only for the sake of a possible rebirth that is not a mere repetition of the past, but something wholly new.}

{In Paul’s text, death is spiritual. It is the interior condition of persons who lock themselves into a self-referential life, a life under the dominion of the “flesh”, by which Paul means the tyranny of the ego. Here the transition from death to life will consist in the rediscovery of relationship and openness to others in Christ, the activating in oneself of the life-giving death of Christ into which we have been immersed in baptism. For Paul, the person who lives in selfish self-sufficiency makes of his heart a grave. But the Spirit of resurrection Christ exhales into us bursts open the impenetrability of death and brings our dead soul out of her grave. Christ’s Spirit can penetrate individualistic dungeons and, by taking up its dwelling in the human heart, can immerse us in new life.}

The gospel is about physical death, in fact the death of a beloved friend of Jesus. In the death of someone to whom we are bound by love, something of ourselves dies, possibilities of further shared experience die, our very being is maimed. And we intuit it is only love, the quality of the bond that unites us to that person, that can build a bridge between death and life. Only through love can we make sense of our mortal life. We infer from the Gospel that fear of death draws us into defensive attitudes so as to protect ourselves from suffering. But such self-protection actually deadens our life. We may suffer more but we are also more alive when we remain open. By asking for our faith, Jesus suggests that we, too, can enter into his own attitude of trust even in the face of death. “Father”, he exclaims, “I knew that you always listen to me”. This shows an attitude that, while accepting death and suffering for the one who has died, also brings life out of death. Faith is the locus of resurrection. Jesus’ own faith in the Father teaches us how to believe. He states: “I said this for the people around me, that they might believe.”

An ancient homily proclaims: “Having seen the divine work of the Lord Jesus, let us no longer doubt the resurrection! Let Lazarus be to you like a mirror: contemplate yourself in him, and believe in new life” (Pseudo-Hippolytus). But if faith is the locus of resurrection, love is its power: Jesus “loved Lazarus very much”, the text says, and this love became visible in Jesus’ weeping for his friend. Love integrates death into life and finds the meaning of life in the fact that life is always a gift of God that is freely given but that must also be embraced wholeheartedly and thoroughly activated. And this, too, is part of the practice of resurrection that we can embody and give to one another. To have faith in Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life is to make love a place where death is put at the service of life.

In the end, our fundamental problem is not how death can be avoided, but how to grasp the truth that, in death, God’s glory—which is nothing other than God’s love—can be manifested. Only a love that embraces the tragic nature of death leads to the passage from death to life. Jesus believes in love even when he comes face to face with a dead body. And the command Jesus gives to those present after calling Lazarus out of the tomb, is “Unbind him and let him go!” Lazarus is already moving, so the command must be for the benefit of the bystanders. The point is that those around Lazarus must let him go, because love does not hold the beloved back. The more love loves, the more it sets the beloved free. Jesus is teaching us here how to love. He is not bringing the dead Lazarus back to life for him to live in isolation, only for himself. Jesus is teaching us all how to love with freedom. To love is to set the beloved free. This episode shows us how even death cannot hold back love. The transition of the beloved Lazarus from death to life by Jesus’ intervention anticipates what Jesus will himself do shortly afterwards when, “having loved his own, he loved them to the end”. He willingly handed himself over to a death which cannot hold him back because the power of God’s love loosens the bonds of the underworld.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Simeon.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Annunciation


Tomorrow is the Fifth Sunday of Lent, exactly two weeks from Easter. The readings and prayers will begin to point more directly toward the events of Holy Week. Today, the Feast of the Annunciation calls us to shift our focus for a moment to the encounter of the angel with Mary in Nazareth. This is a grace, because this encounter has much to teach us as we take up the final ascent to the celebration of the Paschal mystery.

The first word spoken to Mary in the Bible is “Hail.” The Greek is chaire, which literally means “rejoice”. Of all the things that the angel has to communicate, this is the first: “Rejoice.” In my opinion, it is difficult to overestimate the importance of this word.

There is much exegetical evidence that Luke intended his listeners to hear in this word a reference to the great prophecies of Zephaniah and Zechariah announced to the remnant faithful of Israel:

Shout for joy, daughter Zion! sing joyfully, Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, daughter Jerusalem! 15 The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. (Zep 3:14-15)

Exult greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! Behold: your king is coming to you, a just savior is he, Humble, and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey…he will proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zec 9:9-10)

As daughter Zion, these words are being fulfilled in her, in her the messianic age is being inaugurated. Mary will have to undergo many trials but the command to rejoice in this knowledge is to accompany her throughout. Not always on the level of feeling, but as a disposition of faith that will give her the trusting plasticity to allow God the freedom to shape her “yes” according to his needs. In this obedience, the sword that will pierce her son’s heart will pierce hers also. Because of it, she will be perfectly conformed to his perfect sacrifice, and to his resurrection joy as well. Through her obedience she will be virgin, mother, and bride, and be prepared for the role of our spiritual mother who will accompany us as we are, as St. Bernard puts it, reformed, transformed and conformed to Christ her Son.

As daughter Zion, Mary’s mission is deeply rooted in the tradition of God’s holy people. Her soul and God’s daughter Zion, Israel, are one. In her Israel passes over into the Church. Likewise, God’s unique word to us is always wholly ecclesial. It is through the Church that we too are called to rejoice, and it is through the Church that we are to be conformed to the suffering of Christ in his perfect sacrifice. Therefore, in these coming days we will encounter the fullness of Christ insofar as are to place ourselves wholly at the disposal of his self-communication in our celebration of his passion, death and resurrection.

In his next word, the angel does not call Mary “Mary” but “full of grace”. “Full of grace” points us to the fact that Mary’s whole life has been a preparation for this moment. Here, at the visit of the angel, Mary draws from the whole of this preparation. Likewise, our Lenten preparations and our participation in the events of Holy Week cannot be isolated from the rest of our life in God. They have their place in a larger context in which God has been at work in our lives, offering us grace that has been forming our character, our capacity for listening, for digesting and responding to his Word, most especially as given in the beginning in the sacrament of baptism in which we were cleansed from the stain of original sin. Like Mary, we draw upon the whole of this divine work as we prepare to enter into the celebration of the Paschal Mystery.

Next, the angel tells her “The Lord is with you.” These or similar words are given many times throughout the Old Testament to people whom God is calling to a great mission, one in which the future of Israel is dependent on how well they will play their role. God, for example, tells Isaac when he had to leave his land and go to Beersheba, “I am with you” and assured him that he will be blessed with a multitude of descendants, as he promised his father Abraham. (Gen 26:24). When Jacob is fleeing his brother Esau, God promises him that one day he will return to his own land and assures him “I am with you.” He gives the same assurance to Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David and Jeremiah. Each of them is about to be stretched like never before and will need to rely on God like never before. You are not alone, God tells them, he removes their fear and gives them the strength they will need.

Mary is addressed within in this tradition of the great patriarchs and prophets of Israel and knows that something big is about to be asked of her, although she doesn’t yet know what it is. Likewise, Each of us has been entrusted with a mission that is uniquely our own, with a task no one else can fulfill in the same way, which will be played out in a particular way in this sacred time. How we play our role has a real effect in the community, the Church, and among our families and friends, in accordance with our call’s hidden apostolic fruitfulness. Like Mary, our vocation calls us to a great responsibility, but also like her, the Lord says to us “I am with you.”

Despite being “greatly troubled” at the angel’s greeting, Mary doesn’t allow her initial emotional reaction to rule her, she doesn’t turn away, but holds firm and enters into an interior dialogue with the Word, “pondering what this greeting might be.” Likewise, we will encounter much that is “greatly troubling” in the weeks ahead, which will confront us with a choice: we can turn away and interiorly flee like the disciples, or we can look to Mary and be led like her by her son to the foot of the Cross. As our model and spiritual mother may she help us to stand firm.

Piermatteo d'Amelia (about 1450 - 1508), The Annunciation, about 1487, tempera on panel, 40 5/16 x 45 3/16 in., The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. Today's homily by Father Timothy.

Friday, March 24, 2023

Think

Think of the Son of God, how he 
Died on the tree our souls to save, 

Think of the nails that pierced him through, 

Think of him too, in lowly grave. 

 

Think of the spear the soldier bore, 

Think how it tore holy side. 

Think of the bitter gall for drink, 

Think of it, think, for us he died. 

 

Think upon Christ who gave his blood, 

Poured in a flood our souls to win, 

Think of the mingled tide that gushed 

Forth at the thrust to wash our sin.


Detail of a polychromed bronze corpus, after a model by Michelangelo. Lines from a Gaelic hymn at Friday Lauds.


Thursday, March 23, 2023

Accompaniment

 
The grass never sleeps.
Or the roses.
Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning.
Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.
The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet, and it sings, 
have you noticed, with its whole body, 
and heaven knows if it ever sleeps.
Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn't move, maybe, 
the lake far away, where once he walked on a blue pavement, 
lay still and waited, wild awake.
Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not keep that vigil, how they must have wept, so utterly human, knowing this too must be a part of the story.

In watching and prayer during these latter days of Lent, we accompany the Lord in his agony and suffering. But even more, we come to understand that he is accompanying us in all the sorrows of contradictions of our lives.

Mary Oliver, "Gethsemani" from her collection of poems, Thirst

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Fire at Our Lady of the Valley



On 21 March 1950, the Feast of Saint Benedict, the monastery of Our Lady of the Valley in Lonsdale, Rhode Island was ravaged by a devastating fire. The original wing was destroyed; the church was rendered structurally unsound and would have to be demolished. The community of 140 monks was homeless.



Well before the fire the monks had been searching for a new location that would insure their solitude and economic stability since the population in the area around the monastery had increased considerably. And by 1949 the community had purchased a large agricultural property, Alta Crest Farms in Spencer, Massachusetts. The 1950 fire merely accelerated the community's projected move. In God's providence, the end of one story became the seed for a new one. 




Monday, March 20, 2023

Saint Joseph

We celebrate Saint Joseph today because, in his story, we see our story.

At first sight, there seems to be little material for a meditation on Joseph, for what do we know of him, apart from his name and a few events that occurred in Our Lord’s childhood? He is remembered for his attention to the angelic voices that spoke in his sleep, for his prompt and generous obedience to what was demanded of him, for his manual labor in one of the most modest and fatiguing occupations of his day (which earned Jesus the reputation of being “the son of the carpenter”), and for his care of Mary and Jesus in Nazareth. There is practically nothing else known of him, so it might well be said that he lived an unknown life, the life of a simple artisan, with no sign of personal greatness.

As is often pointed out, the Gospel does not record a single word from him; his language is silence. In considering Saint Joseph as a “man of silence,” Pope Francis once said: “The Gospels report none of his spoken words, yet they present Joseph as a model of attentive hearing of God’s word and acting upon it. Indeed, Joseph’s silence was the sign of a contemplative heart, confirming Saint Augustine’s observation that, ‘when the word of God increases, human words fail’ (Sermon 288).”

For ourselves, we see in the Gospel portrait of Saint Joseph how true it is that depth of heart grows with silence, with silence that is not mutism but leaves space for wisdom, reflection, and the Holy Spirit. That is essential to our life as Cistercian monks. We can learn from Joseph to cultivate this kind of silence, namely, that space of interiority in our daily lives in which we give the Spirit the opportunity to regenerate us, to console us, to correct us. We hear a lot about “silence” and count it among the principal monastic values of our Order. According to our Constitutions: “Silence assures solitude for the monk in community. It fosters mindfulness of God and fraternal communion. It opens the mind to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit, and favors attentiveness of heart and solitary prayer to God.”

But of course, we must do more than idealize the “silent Joseph.” We must do more than pay lip service to silence, or simply “observe” the practice of silence as the Rule of St. Benedict and our Constitutions prescribe. We need to intentionally cultivate spaces for silence in which another Word can emerge, that is, Jesus, the Word—we need to cultivate spaces for silence in which “the ears of our heart” can listen to the Holy Spirit who dwells within us. Often it is not easy to recognize that Voice among the thousand voices of worries, temptations, desires, and hopes that also dwell within us. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal observed in his Pens√©es that “much human unhappiness arises from one single fact: that human beings cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.” Though not easy, fostering contemplative silence is a sure path to authentic self-knowledge and spiritual growth, which in turn is expressed in effective charity and praise of God, and gives birth to gratitude. The precondition for this, however, is humility.

 St. Joseph’s quiet humility can inspire each one of us to make room in our hearts for Christ, and thus to discern the Father’s will and deepest desire for our lives. The patron of our monastery is an icon of attentive and responsive silence. Following his example in all of its ordinariness and obscurity, we can rediscover (with no drama) the value of words that edify, encourage, console, and support—and decisions that are respectful, caring, and loving towards all those whom God in his Providence puts into our lives.

 Saint Joseph was the “type” of the message of that Gospel Jesus was to announce once he left the little workshop at Nazareth and began his mission as prophet and teacher. Specifically, Saint Joseph is the model of those humble ones whom Christianity raises to great destinies, and he is the proof that in order to be a good and genuine follower of Christ there is no need to do “great things”; it is enough to have the common, simple, human virtues that are authentic in supporting a life of supernatural faith and trust in God, and compassionate love for one another. Like Abraham before him, Saint Joseph “believed, hoping against hope.” He put his trust in God’s promises and did everything that God asked him to do, with courage and humility. He lived virtually unknown, like so many of us. The life of Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows today can play an incalculable role in salvation history.

 What does he mean for our troubled times? The Gospel this morning recounts how the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and directed him to make the most important decision of his life. Following the tradition of the great man who is the Joseph of Genesis, who saved his people in Egypt, Saint Joseph also could make good come from what seemed bad. He lived in the silence of discernment and faithfulness, and so became a witness to the meaning of his name—“God will increase, add.” There is always more with God, and Joseph’s action brought us “more,” moving the revelation of the Incarnation forward. He was always a willing participant in the action of God, even when he did not understand what it was all about. The same can be true of each one of us.

Finally, the most important detail we have about Joseph is not that he was a dreamer; it was that Joseph was a righteous man, a just man.  A just person puts his or her relationship with God before all else in life and cares for people as God would care for them.  In the Scriptures, someone who is “just” reflects God’s compassion. In this respect, we could say that Joseph’s righteousness gave way to God’s righteousness. He believed what an angel told him in a dream, and out of compassion he took Mary home with him to be his wife. That simple, that profound.

On this feast day of our abbey, dedicated to Our Lady of Saint Joseph, let us believe with renewed conviction that we are put on this earth and called to this community for a reason. We are loved by God and wanted by God. And he gives each of us a role in building up his family on earth — beginning with this monastic community, but that also means his Church and his kingdom. We carry out our hidden mission, just as Joseph did, by serving Jesus (and one another) in the ordinary work of our everyday lives and in contemplative hearts that let his Word emerge anew. In his story, we see our story. 

Fragment of a wooden carving of Saint  Joseph in one of the corners of the Abbey. This morning's homily by Father Dominic.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Laetare Sunday

 

St. Paul sounds the trumpet today: Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you! Blindness of the eyes is a symbol of the death of the soul, of our inability to receive into our being the fullness of illumination God wants to communicate to us, that we may come to share in his own splendor and glory, that we may come to understand in depth the wonders of God’s most intimate life and so enter into divine joy. And Paul further admonishes us: At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light! If Christ has awakened us with his light, we must walk as children nourished by light and not deny his gift. Our behavior must be transformed by this illumination that changes the manner of our relationship with others. We must strain with every fiber of our being to give admission the light Christ gives us and actively allow it to do its transformative work in us, just as the sunlight makes plants grow and blossom. Our hearts must gladly cooperate with the light.

The first reading stresses: Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart. Samuel has to learn by trial and error how to discern among Jesse’s seven sons which one is the Lord’s chosen. Paul advises: Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. The chief fruit of interior enlightenment by Christ is that we develop the gift of discernment it communicates. Illumination of the heart is not a single moment of piercing joy. Like Samuel, and later the disciples, we must learn slowly to see and judge things as God sees and judges them, and not according to our own innate prejudices and com-pulsions of temperament. Seeing justly, discerning the truth, is an act that goes hand in hand with Christ-like love.

In this Gospel episode, we normally concentrate on Jesus’ power and willingness to heal a man who is blind from birth, as an illustration of the Sacrament of Baptism and its spiritual effects. This text is an important part of the catechesis of those to be baptized at the Paschal Vigil, and hence its place in the late Lenten liturgy. But the interior dynamics of this narrative reach further, teaching us how the grace of Baptism takes root and develops in our mature lives as hopeful disciples.

Everything revolves around Jesus’ gaze. He looks upon the blind man very differently from his disciples. These, reducing and boxing the man, ask: Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind? But Jesus liberates him by making his plight a vehicle of divine light: Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. The plot then unfolds quickly, leading the healed blind man finally to discern Jesus’ true identity and profess faith in him: ‘Who is [the Son of Man], Lord, that I may believe?’ — ‘The one speaking with you is he.’ — ‘I do believe, Lord,’ and he worshiped him. The opening of the eyes of the body has led to the opening of the eyes of the soul, resulting in faith and adoration. The healed man here represents the fullness of human nature as re-created by Christ. The other players (the disciples, the Pharisees) close themselves off from such discernment and remain in spiritual blindness. This gospel is really about how the human heart must gradually learn to see what appears before it with the eyes of Christ. If we cannot discern the royal, anointed status of our fellow humans—the divine life within them— neither will we be able to discern the divine Christ in Jesus. Jesus looks on the man with love and such looking communicates to him the power of sight. We can only truly see God and others when we know ourselves to be fully seen, that is, to be unconditionally loved.

How can we learn to see as Jesus sees? The text says: Jesus saw a man blind from birth. What Jesus sees above all is an √°nthropon, a man. He does not primarily see a sick man, mind you, but simply a man. The disciples, however, sadly do not see a man, but a case. They see only abstract blindness. Not only do they not see a concrete human being but, in a sense, not even a blind man, but only the problem that blindness poses in the world as a dysfunction to be explained away from a distance. They do not interact at all with the man; rather, they talk about him in front of him, as is often done with children or the sick. They turn him into an object by ignoring his full human presence. Jesus’ manner of discernment, by contrast, begins by seeing before him a whole man, despite his infirmity: not a category; not a theological case study; and not a legal issue of culpability (‘who has sinned?’), but simply a man—painfully human, vulnerable, in need of compassion and human tenderness, and himself capable of offering faith, friendship and love.

In order to live this gospel, let us see clearly in conclusion that discernment always begins ascetically, with us working on ourselves and engaging a desire for personal purification so as to free our hearts from prejudices that prevent us from seeing reality. The gaze of Jesus should be our constant model of how to relate to others. Jesus looks at persons in a way that instills confidence. Jesus shows he believes in the man and heals him by speaking to him and touching him intimately. Jesus’ direct, compassionate gaze generates new life, while the disciples’ scowling, the averted gaze is judgmental and closes off the possibility of deeper communion. Our Lord sees the man’s suffering and this draws him even closer to him. Samuel anoints David as king with oil. But Jesus anoints the man with a healing paste he concocts by mingling his own saliva with the dust of the ground. Imagine the sacramental power of the divine DNA in Jesus’ humanity commingled with earthly dust and applied to the eyes by Jesus the High Priest! In this gospel scene Jesus enacts the benefits of the Incarnation, the saving effects of the Word’s becoming man. We’ve already heard the powerful call of grace: Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you! So let us respond energetically to the one who assures us: You are the light of the world! and anoints us with his own Blood at this altar. 

Photograph of Abbey stained glass by Bri\other Daniel. Homily by Father Simeon.

 

Friday, March 17, 2023

With Saint Patrick

 

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.
I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices.


Stained glass by Harry Clarke. Excerpts from St. Patrick's Breastplate, a prayer also known as The Lorica (The Cry of the Deer). This prayer reflects the spirit of the faith that St. Patrick brought to Ireland. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Encounter

 

At the conclusion of her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman experiences untold joy at the center of her being. She has been liberated from both personal sin and social ostracism, and her life has been revolutionized by her budding friendship with Christ. This explosive joy launches her on a life of apostolic action. Her apostolate is the dynamic fruit that proves the authenticity of her conversion: she wants the whole world—even those who had ostracized her—to experience the deliverance and the love she has received from Jesus. Thus, transformed into an apostle, the woman abandons her water jar, symbol of her previous life and all its hardships, by the edge of the well and hurries full of zeal to her fellow Samaritans to proclaim the Gospel to them. She has found the Messiah and wants them, too, to recognize him as such and so experience the joy of salvation bestowed on her by Jesus of Nazareth. 

Initial from an ancient Cistercian manuscript. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Third Sunday Of Lent

 
    During a parish retreat Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen related an incident that took place when he was ministering as a young priest in New York City. He was called urgently to an apartment where a woman named Kate was dying. It was one of the dirtiest apartments that he had ever seen. He asked her if she would like to make her peace with the Lord. She said she couldn’t because she was the worst woman in New York City. She was a prostitute. Her unemployed, live-in boyfriend was unhappy with her because she didn’t bring in enough money to support his drug habit so he poisoned her. Fr. Sheen immediately replied that she was not the worst woman in New York City, because the worst woman would think she was the best. After telling her some of the parables of Jesus she agreed to go to confession, Fr. Sheen anointed her and immediately she got better. She was healed physically and even more importantly she was healed spiritually. After her recovery she became an apostle to the people among whom she worked, and she brought them to Fr. Sheen. They would come to him and say, “Father, I am the person Kate told you about.” Kate received the mercy of Jesus and became an apostle of Divine Mercy. 

  I imagine the woman that Jesus met at the well thought that she was the worst woman in Samaria. She came to the well at noontime to draw water. Ordinarily women came in the morning to draw water from the well, not in the heat of the day. Why was she there at midday? Perhaps she was ashamed of her reputation? She had been married five times and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. If she came to the well in the morning when the women were there, she would certainly encounter their scorn and contempt.

  Jesus asks her for a drink, and it surprises her. “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria.” There was a long-standing hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus answers her by saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” This thirst of Jesus is symbolic; it was for her faith that Jesus thirsted. In his conversation with her, Jesus compels the woman to discover and face the truth for herself. The woman is brought face to face with the truth. Jesus reveals her own sinful state and her eyes become opened to the reality of her life. Suddenly and with alarm, Jesus brought her to her senses. She must have stiffened as if a sudden pain had caught her.  She must have grown pale as one who had seen a sudden apparition; and indeed she had, for she had suddenly caught sight of herself. At that moment she was compelled to face herself and the total inadequacy of her life. The thing to notice here is that Jesus did not push her to despair. Instead, the opposite happened. He pointed out to her the way to cure, healing and rightness of life. He tells her of the ‘true Worship’ in which our souls can meet God. What is this worship? It’s when we love God with our whole heart we know in the depths of our soul that we have experienced friendship and intimacy with God.

  This experience of self-revelation comes to all of us at some point in our lives; the suddenrealization that life as we are living it just can’t go on. Perhaps our lives are out of control and we are involved in things we know that are wrong but cannot stop. Addictions, obsessions, abusive behaviors and habitual lying are all indications that something within us is radically wrong. Not only do we find ourselves denying our behavior but justifying it in our own minds.                               

We may be fooling ourselves but we cannot fool God. It has been said that there are two revelations in Christianity: the revelation of God and the revelation of ourselves. No person ever sees themself until they see themself as God sees them; and then they are appalled at the sight. St. Augustine once wrote that, “A man cannot hope to find God unless he first finds himself.” Self-knowledge is never easy. How many of us look in the mirror each day and wish the reflection that we saw was not our own? The first step to self-knowledge is self-acceptance.

When we are willing to accept who we really are, with all our sins and failings, then we are ready to see ourselves as God sees us. Unfortunately, we tend to think that God sees only our sins, because that is how we see ourselves. No. God sees us as his children, his beloved sons and daughters. The Father’s love for us is unconditional. It’s not about what we have done. It’s about who we are.

  Jesus thirsts for us. He wants to awaken the love of the Father in our hearts. “If only you knew the gift of God! You would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” What is this living water?  Put simply, it is nothing less than God’s love for us, which is pure gift. This is the thirst that only God can satisfy. Our souls long for peace, for wholeness, for eternity. “As the deer longs for running streams so my soul longs for you, my God.” (Ps.42) When we lose sight of this, or choose to ignore it, then we fill our days with an endless stream of things on the hope of finding the one thing that will quench our thirst and bring us happiness.

    In today’s first reading from the Book of Exodus, the passage tells about the Jews journey through the desert, complaining about their thirst, a figure of human longing for spiritual satisfaction. When God told Moses to strike the rock, and the water would flow, again there is a deeper meaning: namely that water, so essential for life, comes from God. And just as Jesus speaks in today’s Gospel, of God’s gift of running water, the emphasis in the Exodus passage is also upon the gift. Whereas God in the desert and Jesus at the well, offered to satisfy physical thirst, in bringing about salvation through Jesus, God satisfies something deeper, our spiritual thirst – with living water, life-giving water.

The season of Lent is a journey toward self-awareness, and self-understanding, a special opportunity that the Church gives us each year to enable us to drink more deeply of this living water that Jesus offers us. The Church not only encourages us to fast and to pray during this sacred season, to spend more time in prayer, to read the Scriptures and to take advantage of the graces that are already available to us, especially in the sacraments. The Samaritan woman at the well not only comes to see who she really is, but also to recognize who Jesus really is, “the fountain of water springing up to eternal life; the savior of the world.”  

  Through the ministry of Fulton Sheen, Kate also discovered the truth for herself. She was not the worst woman in New York City. For the first time she saw herself as Jesus saw her, as a beloved daughter. As Jesus did not push the Samaritan woman to despair, neither did Fulton Sheen. Instead, he brought Kate to Jesus, to healing and rightness of life. Her eyes were opened, and her health was restored. The Father’s love was awakened in her heart, and she responded by becoming an apostle of Divine love “If you knew the gift of God, Jesus says.” Christ comes to us today to meet us. It is he who first seeks us and asks for a drink. God thirsts that we may thirst for him. How deep is his desire for us! The fountain of life-giving water is here, ready for us, springing up to eternal life. Come and drink!


Photograph by Brother Brian. Today's homily by Father Emmanuel.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

With Gratitude

Central to the mystery of Christ’s Passion and Death is the fact that these do not overwhelm him inevitably as a part of his enforced destiny. Jesus is not the victim of circumstance or a badly failed Messiah. Rather, the Gospel shows Jesus moving very deliberately toward his consummation on Golgotha with the pure freedom of love. In a real sense, Jesus is both the protagonist and the author of his own story, the writer of its plot. Through his suffering he wants to make of his life and person a gift to others, to save them and offer them up to the Father together with himself, as a holocaust of peace and reconciliation. See with what determination, sovereignty and clear knowledge he expresses himself: The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Let us, then, rejoice with immense gratitude and decide once and for all to follow our Lord in a life of sacrificial service. 

Meditation by Father Simeon.

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

Saints Perpetua & Felicity

 

Perpetua was a 22-year-old mother with an infant son, Felicity was her pregnant servant. Both were discovered as converts to Christianity and arrested.

As they anxiously awaited their ordeal in the amphitheater of Carthage in 203, Felicity went into premature labor and gave birth to a daughter. Both women entrusted their babies to Christian friends and set their faces toward the arena. What could have possessed them to do such a thing? Only a deep love for Christ can account for their ardor and steadfastness.

Both were stripped, exposed to the wild beasts, and then put to the sword. 

As monks, the martyrs are our forebears in the struggle.

For our sometime half-heartedness let us pray for the Lord’s mercy.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

Transfiguration

Before I was a monk, I made a living cooking, and back in the 80’s I worked for at a summer camp in Sweden, Maine, and for fun, I and some of the counselors decided to drive to New Hampshire and climb Mt. Washington. We had our backpacks, our snacks, we were dressed in layers, we had on hiking boots, and we were ready to go. It cool when we arrived at the base of Mt. Washington, and clear, we were told the top of the mountain was covered in clouds, and that the cloud cover may or may not burn off as we climbed. None of us had ever climbed Mt. Washington before and we had no guide to take us up, so we just had to follow the trail markers and other hikers who hopefully knew their way.  But this was our first and maybe only chance to climb Mt. Washington, so we decided to go for it and started our climb.

The first half hour was slow going, not because of the terrain, but because there were so many other people who had decided to hike Mt. Washington that day. To tell the truth, it was a little more like walking up a hill surrounded by forest. But the further up we went, the more difficult the hike became, and the warmer we became, so we started taking off jackets and sweaters, and the crowds thinned out. After about 2 hours of hiking, we could no longer see people ahead or behind us, we were now all in shorts and tee shirts, and we were about to go above the tree line. We had gone from a lush forest and views to small scruffy pines to boulders covered in fog, we could only see about 100 feet in front of us. We saw a shadow of someone coming towards us, this shadow became a hiker and he said he had turned back before getting to the summit, because from here on up its just more of the same fog with no hope of a good view at the top, this hiker saw no value in making the effort, this man did not want to do the work, he didn’t want to put forth the effort if he did not know the payoff, the hike was far too ordinary, obscure and defiantly laborious. As I was to find out later the top of Mt. Washington is only clear about a third of the time. Some of my fellow hikers said they were heading back down and would wait at the bottom. Only Larry and I kept going.  We eventually made it to the top of Mt. Washington, but we could not see a thing. Visibility was about 15 feet, but we had made it and Larry bought a shirt to prove it. We rested then took the cog railway back down and met our friends.

A couple of weeks later I got the idea to try hiking Mt. Washington again, this time only Larry came with me. We made it to the top of the mountain only to find it covered in clouds one more time. A few more weeks go by and I said I need to try Mt. Washington one more time. This time no one else would take the chance, so I was alone. So, after hours of hiking, going from lush forests to small scruffy pines to a vista of only boulders, and then amazing views, I made it to the top, it was a hard climb, but the reward was worth it, and it was beautiful and bright and clear and silent. From the top of a mountain, things look very different from down here, I could see for miles and miles it was breathtaking and filled me with wonder and awe. When I came back down the mountain, I had a new perspective on things.

There are many mountain journeys mentioned in the bible, some literal and some figurative, but they are all meant to be climbed. In these mountain treks people often start their journey up the mountain in one frame of mind, get to the top of the mountain, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, and descend the mountain changed, with a different perspective.

It was only after climbing Mt. Sinai that Moses was given the Ten Commandments by God. It is often said that Moses ascended Mt. Sinai, it sounds rather pleasant, to ascend, walk for a little, stop for a latte on the way up, and then a little chat with God.  It is believed Moses was in his eighties when he went up a mountain over 7,000 feet high, for comparison and he did it 7 possibly 8 times. Those trips could not have been easy, and Moses was generally alone when he made them, I wonder what he thought about on the way up, what would you think about, knowing you are going to converse with the creator of the universe of all that is seen and unseen. That would shut even me up. It was not until his sixth time going up Mt. Sinai that Moses received the tablets with the Ten Commandments that had been carved by God himself. When Moses descended from Mt. Sinai people could tell just by looking at him that something about Moses was different. Moses was in the light of God and now had a message for his people; his journey had been more spiritual than physical, and he had made it to the top and was transformed forever.     

 In the book of Genesis, we hear of Abraham being told by God to take his long-awaited for son Isaac son to Mt. Moriah. Abraham was to take Isaac, his beloved child up the mountain and make of him a holocaust offering. Abraham took his son and set out on the journey to Moriah and up the mountain that God had made known to him. This was a three-day journey; nothing is mentioned of what Abraham said or what he was thinking. What could have been going through Abraham's mind as he made that trek up that mountain? Why was God asking him to do this? Why would God take back something he had given to Abraham? What had he or his son done wrong? Could he take his son’s place? We will never know what Abraham’s thoughts were, but they kept going. As Abraham ascended that mountain accompanied by Isaac, with every step he took, his legs became heavier, his back hurt more, his body was tired, and his heart ached. He had to let go of doubt and mistrust, he had to remember that God had always been watching over him and that he could not lose faith now, Abraham did not have to understand, but Abraham had to trust. Abrahan went up that mountain, and God revealed himself through a messenger and told Abraham not to sacrifice his son. A painful lesson to be sure, but God revealed himself to Abraham, in a way he could not have down in the valley, in the comfort of his tent. Abraham did not come down that mountain the same person as he went up.

In the gospel reading we hear of Jesus taking Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Jesus guided his closest companions, up the mountain slopes, always keeping an eye on them in case they needed help or found themselves in a difficult situation. Up until this point in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus had been revealing who he was to the apostles by teaching and healing, but most of them were not really getting the message. So, Jesus took his closest companions Peter, James, and John up Mt Tabor and was transfigured before their eyes.  Jesus was then in the company of Moses and the prophet Elijah.  The apostles had known Jesus the man, but now they were given a glimpse of Jesus’s Divinity, Jesus was revealing more of himself, more of who he already was. James and John could not speak, and all Peter could do was start babbling about building some tents. Clearly, this is not the time for a do-it-yourself project. Then they heard the voice of God. God said, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him”. Then, Peter, James, and John looked around and realized they were alone with Jesus. There was silence, the light was gone, Moses and Elijah were gone they had seen a momentary glimpse of divine eternity, what was there that needed to be said. Peter, James, and John climbed the mountain with a carpenter but descended in the company of the Messiah, who was going to be killed and then raised from the dead.  

We are now in the second week of Lent, and we are on a journey up a spiritual mountain, and when we make it to the top who will we find, we will find the resurrected Christ on Easter Morning. But we are not there yet. This is the time of preparation this is our assent up the mountain. When you are going hiking you need to travel light only taking what you need, this is the time to rid yourself of what is unnecessary, we can ask ourselves what is more of a burden than a benefit to ourselves, in the trek up the mountain, in the trek to the light of God.  Not sure, what to get rid of, on your mountain trek, ask your spouse, your parents or a best friend, or any of your brothers, they will be happy to help. Rember it’s not about what you are giving up, it’s about what God is trying to give you. And remember these words from God “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him”. How you may ask- silence, prayer, scripture study, and gratitude. You may not get it the first or second time, but the third time’s a charm. At the top of that mountain is Jesus Christ in all his glory and splendor, he is waiting for us, how will we be prepared, to greet him.

        Now not everyone has to take vows and enter an abbey, 10-15 minutes a day, just start somewhere.  If something happens and you miss a day, start again. It was once said the way to describe a monk is the person who stumbles and falls and then gets back up. So, you don’t have to live with the monks, but you can act like a monk and get back up and keep climbing. Today's homily by Father Stephen.

Friday, March 3, 2023

Relying on Jesus

As we hear Matthew’s Gospel today, it's clear Jesus is raising the bar, calling us to more, and fine-tuning the Law to a fever pitch. There is to be no name-calling, we’re not allowed to call anyone an airhead, or a blockhead (that is what raqa means after all). None of that kind of language, any of those subtle, snide hurtful things. Tiny as they may be, Jesus reminds us, they are deadly, even murderous. And as Jesus calibrates, readjusts, and ups the ante on discipleship, we may wonder who can make the cut?

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, 
and there recall that your brother 
has anything against you, 
leave your gift there at the altar, 
go first and be reconciled with your brother…

Each time I hear these words I imagine that if we took Jesus literally, we might have an awfully long wait before any gift got brought to the altar. Perhaps we’d all be on the phone or texting or perhaps at the airport or driving somewhere to clear up all the broken relationships, all the messes we’ve been part of. How dare I approach the altar remembering the backlog of hurts that I’ve caused?

Once again it feels like a total setup. It’s impossible; we can’t do it. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Impossible again. We’re trapped. That’s it exactly; Jesus is cornering us. “Then who can be saved, Lord?” we might ask. For us alone, it is absolutely impossible, we must rely on him, totally, fall back into him, into the warm arms of his mercy. He alone can show us the way to forgiveness and reconciliation, because he is the Way. He alone can re-form our hearts so that they will brim over with mercy and compassion.

Jesus expects so much of us because God is worth it, and the kingdom is worth it. And once we understand how immeasurably the Father loves us, we will be empowered and impelled to go and do likewise.

Saint Bernard will put it this way. You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. My answer: the reason for loving God is God Himself, and the measure of the love due to him is immeasurable love. Isn’t this obvious? What is his claim to our love? What could be greater than this - that he gave himself for us unworthy as we are? And being God, what better gift could he offer than himself? So, it follows, if you want to know God’s right to our love, it’s very simple - he first loved us.

All is response to God's loving us first. And it’s all about losing ourselves for him, in him, and ultimately becoming transparent to him, transparent to the love, compassion, and mercy that Jesus is.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of our monks.

 

Thursday, March 2, 2023

His Generosity

Along with Jesus, and by the power of his fidelity to the Father, the whole Kingdom of heaven comes to earth. Because the Incarnate Word plainly refuses obeisance to anyone but the Father who utters him incessantly, Jesus himself receives the worshipful heavenly service that Satan had tried to wrest for himself from him, the humble Son. And we ourselves experience God’s marvelous generosity with us when, after we have struggled to serve only the Lord steadfastly come hell or high water, he then overwhelms us with the very things we thought we had renounced forever, only now raised to an infinitely higher potency of truth, durability, and delight. In a small, intimate way we experience Paradise restored!

Let us, then, embrace the freedom given us by the power of the words of this Gospel and by the grace of this Holy Eucharist. Let us choose with a joyful heart to follow Christ more intimately step by step wherever he may lead us during this particular Lententide. Together with him and side by side with one another, we are in the best of company.

Meditation by Father Simeon.