Sunday, April 30, 2023

The Good Shepherd

The 23rd Psalm is the ambient music surrounding this morning’s Gospel. Words we know so well: The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want. Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose; near restful waters, he leads me to revive my drooping spirit. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for he is with me… This cherished image, perhaps banalized by overexposure in song and art, nonetheless shines out as an enduring description of who God is. The ineffable One whose name could not be spoken by the people of Israel, would be fittingly, repeatedly described as Shepherd.

Jesus appropriates this imagery for himself, boldly, lovingly, “signaling his consciousness of his Messianic role.” This is the Father’s will for him. And so Jesus tells us, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Because he understands his vocation as beloved Son, he senses that this reality is coming true in him. Israel had been promised repeatedly that a Messiah would come, a Good Shepherd at last, who would guard and protect and console them, gather all the tribes, all the nations, Jews and Gentiles alike. In Christ Jesus the Lord, visions and longings cherished by the prophets are fulfilled and enfleshed.

Jesus is the One who will leave ninety-nine sheep to rush after one stray until he finds it. He is the One who looks out upon a weary crowd and sees a flock of sheep without a shepherd, feeling their weariness most deeply in his very guts. He is the One who will feed a huge crowd on a hillside, inviting them to recline on the green grass, because he is the good shepherd who gives us repose in green pastures.

“My sheep were scattered all over the whole earth, with no one to look after them or to search for them,” says Ezekiel. “But I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” This is Jesus’ truth, he has come to rescue the lost, feed the hungry and be compassion for all who are in need. And it was precisely when we were lost and helpless and could not find our way back to God, that he loved us more than ever and came after us, “while we were still sinners.” And this morning he assures us that there is no taking us out of his very beautiful, wounded hand. We have been given to Jesus by his Father. Held by God.

As we look at the characteristics of this very good shepherd, it becomes clear that Jesus fittingly uses this motif because we so often act like dumb sheep - dependent and vulnerable creatures who huddle together for safety and are often prone to wandering. Yet they will respond readily to a voice and a word they recognize. So it is that Jesus tells us, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” We his sheep are listeners, called to attentiveness. And as we grow closer to the Lord, we know his voice - direct, clear but never coercive, most often perhaps a mere whisper.

So, it dawned on me not long ago that as I begin to pray or try to pray, I must admit that I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how to pray. All I hope and know is that God is seeking me. Called to a life of incessant prayer, we’re probably much better off understanding this as our vocation to an incessant lostness. Incessant lostness. Lostness means everything. And we always go to God as beggars. “Help” is always our first and best prayer.

After college with few job prospects available, I often got gigs as a substitute teacher, sometimes at my old parochial school. One day the first-grade sister who would be absent left me instructions: in the morning, she said, I should begin by playing the record she would set on the little turntable in the classroom. So, after the sign of the cross and a prayer, I lowered the needle to the record. It was Carey Landry singing out, “Hi God, how are you today?” On and on it went, as the children sang along. Amazing. Now even at 22 and poorly catechized, the concept seemed a bit out of whack to me. Everyone wants intimacy with God, but we need a Savior, not a buddy.

Jesus our Savior, our Shepherd, has indeed called us his friends. But something far more breathtaking is being offered to us. In and through Christ Jesus, we are being swept into the reality of God’s own “mutual love and indwelling,” invited into “a union with Jesus which will plunge (us) into the depths of God’s very life, the life Jesus shares with the Father” in the Spirit.

If God wants to - chase after those who wander off, feed the hungry, and console the weary - I must realize where I am, who I am, and who is seeking me, and let myself be found, let myself be found, simply that. Unless I realize how lost, hungry, needy, and unfinished I am, I’ll be stranded in the stratosphere, orbiting on my own planet or else hiding in the underbrush like Adam pretending, “I’m good; no need to search for me. Everything will be fine.” This simply will not work.

Jesus is like the father in the story of the lost son, he abandons all dignity and decorum, as he rushes to us, he does not cling to his equality with God, but runs, and leaps over hills in search of us, over and over. And if we are brave enough, wise enough not to elude him, he will take us to himself and bring us home to God. One like us in all but our sinning, wounded out of love for us, has come for us. And his wounding is our rescue from fear and death. His wounding is our rescue. His passion death and resurrection our freedom and peace. The pierced Lamb has become the Good Shepherd, and he is perfectly equipped for the part, for he is as vulnerable as the sheep he cares for.

And as on the first Easter day, the Lord Jesus says, “Peace” and offers us his own body and blood for our Supper. As he gives us this gift of himself, he “beckons us to respond with our own self-gift.” If we are overpowered by the mystery of his love, by the unquestionable reality of the mystery of a God who is relentless compassion, and mercy, all the better. We have been found.

Photograph by Irving Penn. Reflection by one of our monks with insights from NT Wright, Francis Moloney, Sandra Schneiders, John Baldovin, and Karl Rahner.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Always With Us

In the poignant story of the disciples of Emmaus we see the Church’s Easter faith grow through the way in which Jesus speaks of himself. Faith is not given to us once and for all, as if it were a wrapped gift that we only have to open and then enjoy. Faith is a living reality, and therefore something organic in us that either grows or dies. In this Emmaus story we see very clearly how—in the initial relationship of these two disciples with Jesus— faith and doubt, joy and sadness, enthusiasm and discouragement, coexist side by side. Here is the true existential situation of the Christian believer in this world. How wonderful that God understands our shakiness so well!

Just because we declare ourselves Christians, and perhaps half-consciously boast of possessing an unshakable faith, we cannot (without becoming hypocrites) deny the dark and uncertain aspects of our hearts. In this present time of our earthly life we Christians, too, are tossed about like leaves in the storm of common human experience, which includes, along with joys, also sufferings, vicissitudes, wars, conflicts, epidemics, and divisions within the Church and within Christian families. In a word, we Christians, like everyone else, are fragile beings—vulnerable, wrapped in anguish and full of fear, exactly like the rest of humanity. The only light we can have in us comes precisely not from us but from God through his Christ; and, even so, this light of Christ is not always easy to see, because we do not always have the eyes of a mature faith.

We have just heard in the gospel that, while the two disciples were conversing and discussing together on their way to Emmaus, Jesus approached and began to walk with them. But their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. They looked at him with sad, hangdog faces. And they said to Jesus, You alone are a stranger? Do you not know what has happened? Walking along in the presence of Mystery, the disciples speak to Jesus about Jesus only as a prophet. And because this ‘prophet’ of theirs has been crucified, they are now totally shocked. They don’t know what to think of the whole event. And the women’s accounts of Jesus being raised from the dead are not enough to dispel their dismay and confusion. To believe, these two disciples, like the Apostle Thomas, need the presence of Jesus himself, living and visible before them and with them.

For me, the most surprising and magnificent aspect in this drama is the fact that Jesus is truly present beside them all this time, in the midst of their situation of doubt and sadness, without them even remotely suspecting it! This is a fundamental fact of the life of the Risen One: Jesus is present to us always, in the intimacy and immediacy of our lives, even and especially when we do not know it, even and especially when we are lamenting our fate as unfortunate castoffs, thinking that perhaps God has forgotten and abandoned us! The active presence with us of Emmanuel, his continuous accompaniment of our lives, his invisible guidance and help at every step we take in this world: this reality does not depend at all on our will, or on our intellectual understanding, or even less on our psychological or physical state of wellbeing or illness. The Resurrection overturns our every human expectation and measure of failure or success.

All the omnipotence, all the wisdom, all the mercy of God, are always unconditionally present and active in the Risen Jesus in our lives, simply because God loves us. It is not our will-power, or our intelligence, or our imagination, or our energy, or our managerial skills—whether individually or collectively—that merit or activate God’s presence in our lives and in the daily life of the world around us. Christ is present with us solely by the power of his Resurrection, which anticipates all our needs, all our despair and sickness, and even our death itself. We and all that is ours already have been assumed in advance into the Death and Resurrection of Jesus.

We believe in God not by any innate or acquired human power, ability, or intensity of desire, but solely by the work and power of the Risen Christ in us. This means that it is not even the power of our faith or the intensity of our prayer that makes the Lord appear in our midst, as if faith were an act of magic. What is involved is absolutely the opposite: it is the work of God’s grace, which is already acting in us unseen and unsuspected from the beginning of time. It is this work of grace that makes it possible for us to recognize the presence of the living Jesus among us. Faith is precisely the act and ability to recognize who God is and what he is already doing for us. We don’t make God do anything! We do not cause God’s intervention and presence, but can only recognize them after the event and give thanks for them. If we have doubts, if we are sad and discouraged, this in no way means that the Lord is not present, but rather that our faith needs to grow further so that we can become aware that God has been present with us all along, stimulating by his hidden presence—precisely!—our growth in faith.

As proof of the truth that Jesus is in himself the Resurrection and the Life, the Emmaus story concludes with the Eucharistic blessing of the bread by Jesus and by his vanishing corporeally from our sight as he leaves his Word and Sacrament to the Church. It is as if from now on Jesus disappears into the bread and wine which the disciples are holding in their hands, disappears too into the way they treat each other and all human beings, God’s children. Jesus trusts us, and therefore entrusts to us this Sacrament of his Presence, trusting that we will be to the world an epiphany of his presence in us! Christ wants to disappear totally into us so that each of our thoughts and feelings and acts may become an expression of his Real Presence in us, his devoted disciples. The Lord Jesus is risen in us, alleluia!

Homily by Father Simeon.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

A Supper at Emmaus

This morning’s Gospel begins dark and somber, a story of dashed hopes and disorientation. Two disciples walk along despondently. We thought he was the One; but look what happened. Everything fell apart. They leave Jerusalem, the holy city, the scene of tragic crucifixion. What they do not yet understand is that it has become the scene of God’s greatest triumph.  

Then Jesus himself shows up, just another Stranger on his way out of Jerusalem. But they’re so stuck in their confusion that they cannot recognize him. Jesus listens, interested in what’s weighing on their hearts. Why are you so sad? What are you two discussing? What are we discussing? Cleopas asks in exasperation. Are you the only one who doesn’t know what happened? Gee, no. What? says Jesus. (Probably one of the more comical moments in all of Scripture.) He the risen Lord riddled with the holes of his passion, plays dumb. He knows the story alright; it’s written all over his body, even into the depths of his pierced heart.

So they explain. The empty tomb, the report of a few women with a message from angels, which of course is totally unreliable. Who’d believe them? They can’t make sense of any of it. And then this Stranger tells them frankly that they’re being fools, much too slow to understand the wisdom of God. The Christ had to suffer all these things before entering into his glory. And then this most beautiful phrase, “he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.” In all the Scripture. All of it, all of Torah, all the prophecies have been fulfilled in his beautiful, wounded body. It was supposed to be like this. A wounded Messiah. Now their hearts suddenly become all fire.

They don’t want him to leave. They beg him, please stay with us. And so a supper at a small inn. And I like to imagine that maybe just maybe there is a detail of the Emmaus supper we never hear about. It was late afternoon on the road, after all, the light was fading fast; Jesus was only shadowy Stranger. The two disciples never saw his wounds. Now they sit at table, the lamps at the inn are lit, and then they see – it is Jesus breaking the bread with two hands marked with deep holes. He breaks the bread; he is the Broken Bread. Brokenness signals resurrection hope. Jesus disguised as a Stranger is finally recognized in “the ritual gesture of the community fellowship meal.” Take, bless, break, eat.

They see him, and they understand. Passion and promise are one. Out of love God in Christ suffered death to foil death and save us from unending death. They leave the inn and rush back to Jerusalem, now the place of hope beyond hope. The witness of unreliable women is most trustworthy after all. We too have seen him, they say, we sat at table with him. Disappointment and despair have been transformed. The Lord is truly risen.

Truth is, they never realized who they were following. What he was in for, what they are in for as his followers, no matter how often he had tried to explain. And so we may smugly assess their foolishness, thinking we’d know better. But which one of us understands what we’ve gotten ourselves into as companions of Jesus? Baptized into him, we have been baptized into his death; so intimately conformed to him, that we must not shrink back as our own lives increasingly take on the contours of the cross, better still its sharp angles. But the good news is that passion and promise are always one. In Christ, our suffering can never be separated from our hope for new life in him. It’s just as Peter explains Jesus’ resurrection this morning, quoting a psalm we love, “you will not leave my soul among the dead, nor let your beloved know decay. You will show me the path of life, the fullness of joy in your presence.” Fullness of joy - because God’s love is stronger than death. And confusion is grace if we dare to bring our faith in him rather than demands for clarity that require God to meet our criteria.

But so often, too often we too are fools, too slow to understand. And our lives in the cloister are often a continuous repetition of that trek to Emmaus. Disappointed, our best hopes dashed, we very often plod glumly along. So self-absorbed, we forget that Jesus is right beside us. We feel like impostors. Our best hopes for progress in love and kindness, progress in prayer and holiness cannot be achieved. Plus the world is falling apart. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Then he explains. “Guess what?” and he shows us his wounded body. Everything’s supposed to fall apart so God can reverse it all. God’s power is at its best in our weakness.

Someone we love has seen our sad predicament and has come down to be with us now; always eager to turn things upside-down. He makes opportunities for mercy out of the disasters of our sinfulness. But how slow we are to understand that confusion is grace, how reluctant to trust that God wants to turn things over and show us beautiful opportunities for his grace in the mess. If we await neatness or easy success and fanfare, we will always be disappointed.

All will be well; and all manner of things will be well, for in his own body Jesus has reversed everything, and brought us home to the Father. The “horizon of God’s reign is immeasurable,” it eliminates death and leads to eternal life. And it begins here and now, if we will open our eyes and our hearts to see. From “the very beginning, God's intention was nothing other than this world, the world in which we live now - perfected, healed and sanctified.” He is risen. We have been ransomed from our futile conduct, with the precious blood of the wounded Christ.

True, everything’s falling apart around us, within us. But this may be great, good news, for in Christ we have been grasped by the love of God and drawn irrevocably into the fullness of his desire for us. We too live continually in that space between what we had hoped for and what has come about. Not our plan, but his plan. God comes relentlessly searching after us. And the Father’s invitation is ongoing: Will you allow me to conform you to my Son? Will you allow me space enough to accomplish my will in you, through you, as I did in him? How shall we respond? Can we let God have his way with us? Will I surrender?


We are foolish, indeed, O Lord so please stay with us; shows that it is OK to suffer if we are with you. Stay with us in our foolishness. Teach us your divine foolishness, the mad folly of your love for us. Give us the broken bread you are and let us see you there. 

Caravaggio, Supper at Emmaus, oil on canvas, 1601, National Gallery, London. Homily by one of the monks with insights from Luke Timothy Johnson, Gerhard Lohfink. and Robert Barron.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Maria Gabriella


Blessed Maria Gabriella, a Trappistine of the monastery of Grottaferrata in Italy, died on this day in 1939 at the age of twenty-five, less than two years after her simple profession, having given her life for Christian unity. While not all of us are called to give our lives as Maria Gabriella did, we are all called, by the logic of our vows and of the Christian life in general, to the same totality of self-gift in love, to the same sensitivity, availability, and responsiveness to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. In union with Maria Gabriella let us pray for the unity of Christians. And through her intercession may we too have some share in her interior freedom, courage, and generosity.

Meditation by Father Timothy.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Simple Profession of Brother Guerric

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Br. Guerric, it may seem a little odd to preface this solemn moment of your vows with this holy warning, but it may be one of the most important words from “a father who loves you,” namely, St. Benedict. Hardness of heart is the main obstacle to receiving God’s mercy, which you have just requested. It refuses to admit that it is wrong or needs God. So, if mercy is your goal, you have come to the right place, for the Cistercian life is precisely a remedy for hardness of heart.

But how does Cistercian life soften up the hardness of our hearts? In short, our Fathers designed it to demolish self-will. Who doesn’t want to sleep in whenever he wants? Who doesn’t want the freedom to ignore church bells? Who doesn’t want to be his own man rather than live under a rule and an abbot? In other words, who doesn’t want to do it his own way? But in the Cistercian life, Jesus shows us the great good of doing it the Father’s way. That means conversion of heart: giving up our own will and obeying the will of another; giving ourselves to the discipline of psalmody, silence, solitude, and the common life; giving up a search for greener pastures elsewhere. This conversion of heart is the channel through which the mercy of God comes to us. But not only to us, for Jesus wants us to be a channel through which he can pour out his mercy on the entire world. That is our mission: to be a channel of mercy for the whole world. It is a difficult task.

But there is another way the Cistercian life softens our hardness of heart: by the constant challenges we encounter living with Jesus and a group of men with such diverse backgrounds. Jesus is the first to challenge us, especially when the truth is at stake. Think of him calling out Thomas for his hardness of heart: “Put your finger here and see my hands and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” But these challenges will also come to us from our brothers, whether they mean to or not. Their challenges may cause compunction or annoyance or whatever, but they often reveal our stiff necks and hardness of heart or at least our impatience. But there is no use complaining about these brothers because Jesus has handpicked the whole lot of them. They are perfectly suited to sprinkle a little more self-knowledge upon us.

Finally, Jesus removes our hardness of heart by teaching us how to speak in tongues. No, I don’t mean the charismatic tongues that Paul wrote about to the Corinthians, but the different tongues of the psalmists that Jesus and the community take up daily at the divine office, that is, the tongues of heartfelt petitions, of laments, of praise, of thanksgiving—the tongues of every human emotion and every human need which Jesus made his own when he assumed our human nature. These tongues give us an entry into Jesus’ prayer and union with his Father, and they soften our hearts so that we, too, can be children of our heavenly Father.
Of course, no one can utter these tongues of the Psalms in union with Jesus, without the help of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit who in the Psalms cries out, “Abba, Father!” It is the Spirit who softens our hearts by luring us into the desert where the Trinity can speak to us. The anointing of the Spirit is sweetness and perfumed oil. It is an invitation to the bridal chamber. It is fire, melting the frozen hardness of past grievances. The Spirit of the Lord does all this in the Cistercian life if we do not harden our hearts. You have been handpicked by Jesus to follow in this way, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, as the desert fathers use to say, you can become all fire—well, at least a controlled fire! Your brothers are here to help you.
A selection of photographs by Brother Brian. Dom Vincent's exhortation to Brother Guerric at his Simple Profession, Sunday Chapter, 16 April 2023.

Friday, April 14, 2023

Anointing the Sick During Easter Week

        Earlier this week we heard St. Peter say: “I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean, rise and walk.” In a way, this is what we are asking in this anointing of our sick and elderly brothers. It is a special kind of service, like the washing of one another’s feet at the Mandatum. We are bringing our faith, hope, and love to embrace our brothers, praying for their welfare; and our brothers are bringing their faith, hope, and love to us by becoming a sign of the Lord’s suffering among us.

          St. James urges those who are sick to summon the priests to pray over them and anoint them in the name of the Lord. The priests make this prayer in faith, trusting that the Lord still wants to heal as he did in his lifetime. However, all of us must hold fast to our faith that the Lord’s word never returns void, but achieves the end for which he sent it, in this case, the healing and strengthening of our brothers in body and soul.

          St. Peter displayed this faith when he said: “…(B)y faith in his name, this man whom you see and know, this name has made strong…” This is the faith that engenders hope. Peter referred to this in the words of Psalm 15: “I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand, I shall not be disturbed. Therefore, my heart has been glad and my tongue has exulted; my flesh, too, will dwell in hope...” This is our prayer for our brothers: that their bodies and souls may exult in hope, dwell in hope, and rest in hope.

          Finally, our celebration of this sacrament expresses wonderfully our charity. It is an act of service. At the Mandatum we washed one another’s feet. In our celebration this evening, we serve our brothers with our prayers, our touch, our anointing, and our attentive accompaniment. We give neither silver nor gold, but what we have: faith, hope, and love in Our Lord Jesus that, he will raise up our brothers and console them again.

Photograph by Brother Brian. Father Abbot's homily, given during the communal anointing of our infirm brethren during Vespers on Easter Thursday.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Death As Gateway


Jesus’ death is torture for me!

I prefer his life to his death....

While he was alive,

he brought only three dead persons back to life.

Now, thanks to his death,

all the dead come back to life,

and trample me

as they rush out through the gates of hell.

The 4th- century monk-poet St Ephrem the Syrian puts these words of grievance into the mouth of Death personified. Death is finally aggrieved! Alleluia! These inspired words express well the fear that troubles priests and Pharisees the day after Good Friday: “This last imposture would be worse than the first”, they say. At the very moment they believe they have finally gotten rid of Jesus, the authorities too sense how much more dangerous he might be dead than alive. Without realizing it, these staunch defenders of tradition are the first to experience the disruptive novelty imposed on Death by this dead man. Death is now robbed of the ability to silence its victims by plunging them into the “land of forgetfulness” (Ps 88:13). Alleluia!

Death, then, is no longer now the realm of silence and forgetfulness. By his death, Jesus restored the dead to speech, enabled them to speak again to our memory, to converse with us in the secret room of our interiority.

But this is still not enough: Jesus has not only taken away from Death its power to silence, but also the privilege of having the last word. The mystery of Jesus’ death has forced Death itself open and put a loud question mark after its irrevocable finality. Jesus has cracked Death open and forced its rigor and haughty pride to sit humbly in the expectation of unheard-of newness. Alleluia! Because of the ever-greater power of the way Jesus has loved us into the very jaws of Death, Death, though real, is no longer an absolute. When a God embraces Death out of love, Death is wonderfully and shamefully relativized and can no longer be a tyrannical tormenter. The power of Jesus’ love turns Death into a tame, whimpering creature:

Death and life have contended

In that combat stupendous:

The Prince of Life, who died,

Reigns immortal.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

With what trepidation priests and Pharisees must have waited for the third day! Perhaps more than the guards at the tomb, they will have kept vigil on that night, tormented by the absurd doubt that wrested from Death its last word. They wonder in a daze: What if, just maybe, that outlaw really will rise again? … Then they shake their heads: Impossible! Yet that unmentionable doubt would not let them sleep. At the same time, NO! It would not be enough for that motley crew of fishermen to steal his body to make the crowd believe that their Teacher had risen. Where would that ragtag gang of bumpkins have found the courage to offer up an empty tomb as the only proof of resurrection? Only gullible people would believe it! Yet, though they cannot admit it, there is obviously more behind their request for guards to keep tight watch over the tomb of the Nazarene. They feel that slim but persistent doubt (What if? What if?) worming its way through their conscience and capable of picking the lock of Death’s omnipotence.

This doubt is not yet faith, much less hope; but it is enough to keep Death from continuing to be the despot it had always been. Death, after tonight, can no longer, ever again, be the definitive door slammed on the abyss of despair, perdition and nothingness. Death, just maybe, can now become the gateway flung open to the newness of Him who is the Resurrection and the Life (Jn 11:25).

This is the night

When Christ broke the prison-bars of death

And rose victorious from the underworld.

Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Bergognone, Christ Risen from the Tomb, c. 1490, oil on panel, 45 1/16 x 24 1/8 in., National Gallery, Washington. Homily by Father Simeon.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023


Despair dispelled,

fallen world felled,

our Lord risen,

beheld—on the road,

on the shore, 

to more than 500

of his brothers and



why are you crying?

two angels, smiling.

Fresco by Giotto. Poem by Michael Crawford.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Easter Fire

It has been a long week, from Palm Sunday to this Easter vigil. We have seen and heard marvelous things, good and bad. But one thing has puzzled me: where was the Holy Spirit in all this? It is not only the Father who seems to have disappeared in the final days; where was the consolation of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised his disciples? Where was the Paraclete to stand by his side and deliver him from the Sanhedrin and Pilate? Where has the Spirit been?

The blessing of the new fire was an important reminder for me: the Holy Spirit is with us, alive and active. Fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. We take from the new fire and light the Paschal candle and our little candles. We come in the darkness of night, to find him whom our soul loves. And he will be found, for the light and fire of the Holy Spirit which “searches everything, even the depths of God,” will point him out.

Why is fire an apt symbol for the Holy Spirit? Because fire purifies; it overcomes resistance; it consumes. We see this in all that Jesus passed through last week: the anguish, the betrayal, and the sacrifice. Think of Jesus’ anguish in the garden: he begged the Father to remove the cup from him, but by the fire of the Spirit, burning in his heart, he found strength greater than his fear of death. Think of the bitterness of his betrayals: only the Spirit could inspire this plea for forgiveness—“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Think of his cry on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Do we dare to say that the Spirit was present in that prayer, helping him in his weakness, interceding with a divine fire according to God’s will?

Indeed, it is by the light and fire of the Holy Spirit that we can understand Jesus’ words that “…it was necessary for Christ to suffer in order to enter into his glory.” Jesus’ offering of himself on the cross calls to mind Elijah’s evening sacrifice, when he exhorted the Israelites to come back to God, calling down fire from heaven on their sacrifice; but this time it was our heavenly Father himself who sent the fire of his Spirit to consume the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, totally emptied on the cross.

We have a challenge with the Spirit: just like the mystery of the empty tomb, the Spirit works in hiddenness. He does not speak on his own, but only what he hears. He does not promote himself but only wants to raise up the body of Christ. And that is what we have here today: the Body of Christ is raised up, and we his members are raised up with him! That is why we can say the “Amen” to the Exsultet with full hearts and minds and voices—and with the fire of the Holy Spirit—rejoicing that we have found him whom our soul loves!

Resurrection by Piero della Francesca. Easter homily by Dom Vincent.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

On Holy Saturday

Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silent because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh...

We pray in hope and keep watch in the stillness of this holy day.

Lines from an ancient homily for Holy Saturday.

Friday, April 7, 2023

Mockery & Humiliation


        In a moment we will listen to the dirge that accompanies the procession of the cross. One phrase that stands out for me speaks of Jesus being robed in “the purple robe of mockery.” Mockery is the underlying motif of the entire passion narrative. It is a key element of the scandal of the cross.

            From the start, the religious authorities used mockery as a means to discredit Jesus. That was the authorities’ goal: to discredit Jesus among the people. The mockery began in earnest before the Sanhedrin: false accusations, spitting, blindfolding, slapping, and striking him. It continued with the devious strategy to paint Jesus as a political rebel, playing on the fears of the Romans and making a kind of mockery of the normal Roman justice system. The Roman cohort then added its own mockery with a royal crown of thorns, a purple robe, a reed used as a scepter, and then as a rod to strike Jesus. The mockery continued at the scene of the crucifixion: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross that we may believe in you.” The goal of all this was the total humiliation of Jesus, both as a warning by the Romans against any future rebels, and as a pointed reminder by the authorities that anyone who hangs on a tree is accursed.

            Mockery and humiliation – it is enlightening to see how these reveal individuals’ and groups’ reactions to the dreadful strategy of the authorities: for the disciples—flight; for Peter—drawing a sword to attack, and then denying Jesus; for Judas—despair and suicide; for the daughters of Jerusalem—weeping; for the crowd – curiosity and then beating their breasts; for Our Lady – sharing the spear thrust and then her motherhood.

            The robe of mockery accompanied Jesus throughout his passion. But there is one other reaction we should not forget: Nicodemus came to the tomb with a 100-pound mixture of myrrh and aloes. He came to anoint a king. Ultimately, this is who we say Jesus is: our king who was spurned and held in no esteem; our king who was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins—this is the one who has taken away the sins of many and won pardon for their offenses. No mockery can change this. 

Safet Zec, Depositiondetail, 2014.  Dom Vincent's homily for Good Friday.

Thursday, April 6, 2023

Mystical Supper

        “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! These words of St. Paul are appropriate for the great mystery which we are celebrating today—the institution of the Eucharist. In this sacred meal, Jesus reveals his deepest self and opens a door into the depths of his heart.

            In recent days we have heard Jesus say, “The hour has come for the Son of Man,” that is, the hour for Jesus to die. He knows it; it is inevitable. The conflict between him and the religious authorities is unresolvable. The authorities are convinced that Jesus is a blasphemer and leading the people astray. Jesus, speaking on behalf of his Father, calls them once again to embrace the reign of God of which he is the representative. This conflict is the context in which Jesus chooses the Passover meal to make present all that he is, all that he loves. This Passover meal will become his way to show his love for his disciples and for us.

            There are so many mysteries coalescing in today’s celebration that it is easy to get overwhelmed. But there is one word that sums it up: “I have greatly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” It is his desire to be with us, not only now at this time, but into the future, that we are celebrating. “He loved his own in the world, and he would love them to the end.” The Passover meal was perfectly suited to convey this love and desire, but it must also have been perplexing to the disciples.

Consider the scene: The disciples are with Jesus recalling the greatest moment in Israel’s history—the liberation from Egypt—and the threat of violence lay all around. Jesus goes even further: he changes the prayers over the bread and the cup: “…This is my body…this is my blood of the covenant…” The Passover meal commemorating Israel’s liberation now becomes a memorial of Jesus’ body and blood shed for many, a new exodus. This is the one constant his disciples can rely on - Jesus’ great desire to be with them at this Passover. He loved them. He would give his life for them. They had to trust that the meal itself would somehow open the door to understanding the rest of what he and they were passing through. But that would only happen later.

            “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” The meal we are about to celebrate is our participation in the great desire of Jesus to be with us, now and into the future. Let us take and eat and trust. In this Eucharist, we will find the door to the riches and wisdom of Jesus’ heart.  

Detail of stained glass from Chartres. Dom Vincent's homily for the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Man of Sorrows


...keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader, and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him, he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

This joy is sturdier than all sorrow because it echoes the joy of Jesus’ own Heart and springs from our vision of Jesus as God-sent Messiah and Savior. Now is the world’s salvation taking place, always the burning desire of Jesus’ Heart. Though he has to go through the depths of human suffering, Christ embraces his Passion joyfully because of what it will attain: universal reconciliation of all God’s children with the Father and fullness of eternal life. The first and last word this week is going to be the same: joy, though in between we will have to experience passing sorrow, dismay, and sadness. But ultimately, there is no such thing as “Christian tragedy” because “love is strong as death," and divine love always triumphs in the end.

The Man of Sorrows, Master of the Borgo Crucifix (Master of the Franciscan Crucifixes), thirteenth century, The National Gallery, London. Meditation by Father Simeon.

Monday, April 3, 2023


We know that foot washing was something a Gentile slave could be required to do, but never a Jewish slave. Foot-washing was typically something wives did for their husbands, children for their parents, or disciples for their teachers. 

Perhaps Jesus was inspired to wash the apostles’ feet at his Last Supper with them because he had been so touched by what was done for him at Bethany. There at home with his dear friends six days before Passover, Mary of Bethany took a liter of costly perfumed oil and anointed Jesus' feet most tenderly and then dried them with her hair. Was this something that inspired his own most loving action on this night before he died? I like to think so. 

Jesus has called his disciples his friends, and when he washes their feet he overcomes the inequality that exists between them. He does what love always does. It defers, it gladly lowers itself. Peter cannot bear the thought of his teacher washing his feet. I imagine it was something his wife had done for him many times. And doubtless, he like the others is embarrassed by the intimacy of it, embarrassed by the intimacy, the touch, the loving condescension, and the unaffected tenderness, the unmanageability of the love that is so available. It’s disorienting. We know it is a parable, a parallel to what he will do on the cross the next afternoon. 

Meditation by one of our monks.

Sunday, April 2, 2023

On Palm Sunday


            During our procession, we heard the gospel relating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. It concluded with these words: “…the whole city was shaken and asked, ‘Who is this?’” That is the question we face this week: “Who is this?” that is entering our city, our church, our inner space? Jesus comes with his answer. He is waiting for ours.

            “The whole city was shaken…” because a crisis was brewing. Jesus had set his face like flint toward Jerusalem, and the rulers of Israel had set themselves up as a bulwark. As Jesus saw it, he had no choice: Jerusalem was the center of Israel; the Passover feast was the center of Jewish worship; the whole people of God were represented by the pilgrims; this was the moment for a final decision: Was the reign of God breaking in through the person of Jesus, or not? The crisis had reached a head. It was no wonder that “…the whole city was shaken.”

            The rule of God is breaking in on us today. Jesus has come as the king foretold by Zechariah: “Say to daughter Zion, ‘Behold, your king comes to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.’” He is unarmed, not relying on military might, not shrinking from the crisis, and already foreseeing how the conflict will end.

            He has come to the temple where the worshippers have gathered as the kingly representative of the reign of God. With zeal, he will turn over the tables and chairs and hearts that persist in petty business. He will begin rebuilding his temple, laying down his life as the cornerstone.

            He has come to celebrate the Passover feast. This will be his last meal. He will drink no more of the fruit of the vine until he drinks it new in the reign of God. With his own hand, he will hand over the sacrifice that will enable the People of God to act in accord with God’s rule.

            The story of Jesus’ passion is still ringing in our ears. There is a common saying today, “He has such a passion for what he does!” But I ask you, is there any greater passion than what we have just heard? We should all be shaken. 

Photograph of the processional cross on Palm Sunday by Brother Brian. This morning's homily by Abbot Vincent.