Wednesday, May 31, 2023
Sunday, May 28, 2023
Today we have heard two versions of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit: John’s description of Jesus breathing out his Spirit on the disciples after his words of peace and the showing of his wounds; and Luke’s description of a strong driving wind and tongues of flame as the Spirit filled the house and the hearts of those gathered in the upper room with Our Lady. Jesus and the Spirit are inseparable in their desire and mission to bring the Church to birth, and to rebirth when needed. Today we, too, are invited to experience the inseparable missions of the Son and the Spirit. The Paschal candle stands in our midst as a sign of these missions, reminding us of the Morning Star that never sets and the flame still burning. Let us allow ourselves to be drawn by the words and the wounds of our Lord and clothed with the fire of his Spirit.
We should never forget that Jesus’ mission did not end after his resurrection and ascension. He continues to intercede for us, but in a different form, as he himself tells us, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” This is the key to our contemplative vocation—to allow ourselves to be drawn to him. But how does he draw us? By reminding us of his words and wounds. They reveal his goodness; they reveal his love: words of peace and wounds of love. They attract us, and little by little they become the object of our desire. We want more. And Jesus gives us more by breathing out his Spirit upon, the Spirit that he received from the Father. The Spirit reminds us of all that Jesus said and did. Jesus’ breath is a fragrant ointment, a pleasing scent, like the fragrance which made the Bride in the Song of Songs cry out, “Draw me after you. Let us make haste.” Jesus continues to draw us with the good fragrance of his words and wounds, and he does this always in company with the Spirit.
But the Spirit’s distinct mission has its own characteristics, above all, to adorn the Church with every gift that makes her a beautiful bride, pleasing to Jesus. We see this clearly in the scene from Luke. The Spirit creates one mind and one soul among many disciples and joins them into one body in Christ. But the Spirit does more: he literally draws out of them tongues of different languages so that everyone can hear “the mighty acts of God.” Even today the Spirit is adorning the Bride of Christ with gifts that reveal that Jesus and the Father have truly made their dwelling in her—the gifts of prophecy, the gifts of healing, parrhesia, boldness, confidence, holding all things in common—all the beauty that befits such an exalted King.
Today we are experiencing with Our Lady the birth of the Church and the goal of the whole Paschal mystery, from the Easter Vigil to Pentecost. We may not see the tongues of flame descending, but they are here, drawing us to Jesus’ words and wounds in the Eucharist and adorning the Bride of Christ with gifts of fire. We are all being adorned with fire—and for fire!
Abbot Vincent's homily for Pentecost.
Friday, May 26, 2023
In his day, Saint Philip Neri captivated the city of Rome with his holiness, gentleness, and joyfulness. And although he was greatly revered as a spiritual advisor and confessor, he loved to do outlandish things to make himself look foolish - putting a pillow on his head as if it were a turban and walking around the city, sporting a heavy fur coat in the heat of a Roman summer, or shaving off half of his beard before an important engagement.
And once during confession, when a fashion-conscious Roman lady who wore shoes with very high heels, worried that she was being too vain and asked Philip for his advice, he said simply, “Just be careful that you don’t fall over.”
The love of Christ was all that mattered to Saint Philip and he wanted that love to matter to everyone. He often said, “He who wants something other than Christ does not know what he wants.” If joy is the surest sign of our love for Christ, when have I failed?
Saint Philip Neri (1515–1595), Carlo Dolci (Italian, Florence 1616–1687 Florence), 1645 or 1646, oil on canvas, 17 1/2 × 14 1/4 in. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.
Wednesday, May 24, 2023
We often have many names for those we love, nicknames, and terms of endearment. How fitting then that we use so many titles to address Our Lady in her litany:
Mother most amiable,
pray for us.
Mother most admirable,
pray for us.
House of gold,
pray for us.
Virgin most merciful,
pray for us.
Virgin most faithful,
pray for us.
Ark of the Covenant,
pray for us.
Gate of Heaven,
pray for us.
pray for us.
pray for us.
Refuge of Sinners,
pray for us.
Photograph by Brother Brian.
Tuesday, May 23, 2023
visit the minds of your children,
and fill the hearts you have made,
You are called the Comforter,
the gift of God most high,
living spring, and fire, love,
and spiritual anointing.
the finger of God’s right hand;
you are the Father’s true promise,
endowing our tongues with speech.
infuse your life in our hearts;
strengthen our bodies’ weakness
by your never-failing might.
Drive far away our foe,
and grant peace without end,
that with you to lead us on,
we may escape all harm.
to know the Father, also the Son;
may we ever believe in you, the Spirit of them both.
Sunday, May 21, 2023
I suggest that this coexistence of faith and doubt in the believer can also indicate that to believe is not a totalitarian act that excludes all other possibilities, but rather an act of freedom. In Hebrews we read: Let us look to Jesus, the founder, and perfecter of our faith, who … is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb 12:2). We are only imperfect vessels of faith; only Jesus is its “founder and perfecter”. Authentic Christian freedom generates a way of life that is not absolutist or fanatical, but rather gentle and dialogical. Faith is not automatically exempt from doubt or further questioning, and such questioning is not necessarily and always negative if it comes from an obedient heart. Christian faith does not impose itself as an irrefutable certainty but offers itself to human choice and free response. I certainly don’t mean that faith lacks the quality of certainty, but the certainty of Christian faith is of another order than the certainty of a purely rational or scientific kind. The knowledge proper to faith is the knowledge of trust and reliance, and it has nothing in common with an insurance policy or a fool-proof system of prevention to avoid all hazards in the future. Believers are not owners of the truth, but always remain seekers of the truth, even while knowing and confessing this truth. Since the truth in question is Christ Himself, it always evades our grasp and can never be possessed as an immutable thing. This is why the distressed father of the possessed boy in Mark cried out to Jesus without contradiction: I believe; help my unbelief! (Mk 9:24).
Springtime photograph with the Abbey tower in the distance by Brother Casimir. Reflection by Father Simeon.
Saturday, May 20, 2023
We begin the novena of prayer to the Holy Spirit in these days of Ascensiontide preceding Pentecost.
Thursday, May 18, 2023
Sunday, May 14, 2023
The words of the Lord in today’s Gospel may be said to sketch an ongoing dialogue of abiding love, trust, and unity between the Risen One and us believers. Jesus knows that the disciple is the one who wants to love the Lord and who actively seeks to love him, though not always fully succeeding. And Jesus knows as well that our seeking to love God is already a strong response to the God who first loved us. One who loves the Lord really does nothing but enter into dialogue with the Lord, responding to the one who spoke to him first. The fact of having been addressed first by the one we love ought to give us great courage, confidence and joy to persevere in this dialogue of prayer throughout our lives.
And the first thing Jesus says to us is: If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth. Please note the order of events here: first, the Lord speaks; then, we accept his word; and, finally, we act on it. We must respond to the word of the Lord who, in essence, asks for only one thing of us: Love one another as I have loved you! We must love not in any old way, but as I have loved you, which means unconditionally and to the end. Then, if we keep Jesus’ commandments and love one another, he will enter into a dialogue with the Father and ask him to bestow his Spirit on us, his disciples. In this prayer, Jesus asks the Father to grant us the gift that enables the dialogue of prayer between believers and their Lord to continue throughout history, until the end of time.
The communication of believers among themselves and with others must be sustained by the believers’ ability and willingness to pray, that is, to dialogue with their Lord. And this ability and willingness themselves are a gift that come to us with the Spirit. As Jesus assures us, You know him because he abides in you, and I will be in you. It is by the power and inspiration of the Spirit and Jesus abiding in us that we can both love and pray.
However, this dialogue is more than simply ‘dialogue’; it is an actual transmission of love. The Spirit abides in the disciple and witnesses by this intimate closeness to the love between the Father and the Son. It follows that the Spirit cannot be received by those who close themselves off to love. We cannot have the Spirit in us without this dynamic Presence exploding from within us into love! The disciples’ love is then reciprocated by the Lord’s promise, I will not leave you orphans but will come to you. This dialogue gradually becomes the inward presence of the Lord to his disciples and of the disciples to their Lord. On that day you will know that I am in you and you are in me, says Jesus. This verse reflects the formula of the ancient covenant between God and Israel, the affirmation of mutual belonging between the Lord and his people.
And yet it is also crucially different from that ancient formula. In John the accent falls on intense intimacy and interiority: instead of the Lord saying ‘I will be with you’—the usual Old Testament formula—now Jesus says quite astoundingly, ‘I am in you and you are in me’, in the present tense of accomplished fact and not the future tense of promise, and with the unitary preposition in in place of the binary preposition with; and the whole affirmation is cast in a double formula of equal reciprocity. What Jesus proclaims as existing between himself and his disciple is nothing less than the inward, mutual, simultaneous, bosom presence of Lover and Beloved proper to true love. And, since love responds to love by doing the will of the beloved, at the end of this passage in John the theme of keeping the commandments returns, but now expressed in a way that inverts the opening verse: Whoever keeps my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. The first time a condition was declared; this time an already existing fact is affirmed. The disciples’ love among themselves powerfully echoes the love between the Father and the Risen One, in a dialogue that can have no end because this dialogue upholds the life of believers in their relationship with their Lord.
The Spirit Jesus promises will abide permanently in the disciples, becoming the indispensable principle of inner life that internalizes Christ’s presence in the disciples. By the action of the Holy Spirit, Christ becomes more interior to us than we are to ourselves. The Pentecost sequence Veni, sancte Spiritus sings of the Spirit as dulcis hospes animæ, ‘you, the soul’s sweet Guest’. The gentleness and tenderness proper to Christ are also qualities of the Spirit, whom the Church’s tradition has often evoked with maternal imagery. The Spirit transforms believers into a source of life for others; indeed, it makes them a space of life for others by making them capable of generating life.
To love means to give life. The Spirit, promise, and gift of the Risen One, is characterized, among other things, by motherly tenderness. And, if the Spirit teaches us how to pray, it does so in a motherly fashion. As Diadochus of Photice says, ‘the Holy Spirit teaches us to cry “Abba!” by acting like a mother who teaches her child to call out “Daddy!” and she repeats that name together with her child until she instills in him or her the habit of crying out “Daddy!” to God even in sleep’.
The main fruit of the Spirit in the believer, then, is a truly divine interior life starting right now, because love cannot subsist without roots that reach deep within us. And the action of God’s Spirit is the conjointly maternal and paternal action that makes us disciples into genuine children of God in and with the one eternal Son. This is so true that, when Jesus promises, I will manifest myself to them, this can equally be taken to mean, I will manifest myself in them. This is to say that the believers’ love can manifest the Lord’s love to the world, by virtue of Jesus’ real presence in us, generated there by the Holy Spirit. The believer thus becomes the Spirit-created witness of God’s love.
By means of our life, poor as it may be in itself, we disciples nevertheless narrate the Lord to others: we can make the Lord visible to others through our meager persons, manifest him in our humble and yet also great and priceless human existence, so unfinished and often pitiable and yet always so unique and marvelous.
This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit, who, at this very altar, will shortly transform our humble earthly gifts of bread and wine into the glorious Body and Blood of the risen Lord Jesus, for our and the world’s eternal nourishment.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Homily by Father Simeon.
Saturday, May 13, 2023
In 1917 as the horrors of the First World War raged on, Our Lady asked three young shepherd children at Fatima for prayer and repentance to bring peace, promising them and all of us that in the end, her Immaculate Heart would triumph.
More recently in 2022 amid the tribulation of a cruel and senseless war between Russia and Ukraine, Pope Francis again consecrated the Church and all humanity to her Immaculate Heart.
He prayed to Our Lady in these words: “The fiat that arose from your heart opened the doors of history to the Prince of Peace. We trust that, through your heart, peace will dawn once more. To you we consecrate the future of the whole human family, the needs and expectations of every people, the anxieties and hopes of the world.” And calling Mary “our living fountain of hope,” he begged her to “water the dryness of our hearts.”
Truly our hearts long for the living water that only Christ Jesus, the Virgin Mary’s Son, can give us.
Wednesday, May 10, 2023
Jesus wants to be our food, for he knows he is indispensable to us. “My Flesh is true food,” he tells us. “And my Blood is true drink. Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him.” Jesus becomes bread and wine so that he can be dissolved in us, and surrender himself to us completely.
Life in the monastery is meant to accomplish the very same self-forgetfulness in the monks. Like Jesus in his passion, like Damien in the leper colony of Moloka'i, we are trying to learn how to give ourselves away with ease, without reserve or fear.
Monday, May 8, 2023
Queen of Heaven, rejoice, alleluia.
For He whom you did merit to bear, alleluia.
Has risen, as He said, alleluia.
Pray for us to God, alleluia.
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
The beauty and exuberance of springtime, profusion of blossoms, chanting of birds, all remind us of Our Lady’s joy as she carried Our Lord in her womb. May is Mary's month.
Sunday, May 7, 2023
In today’s Gospel Jesus is preparing to depart and trying to prepare his disciples for his departure. It’s a scene of some frustration, with two levels of discourse. Jesus is trying to “explain some of the encouraging aspects of his death and departure.” And clearly, the disciples desperately want things to remain as they were. Who can blame them? Who wants to talk about death and departure anyway?
I am reminded of a scene certainly less profound but nonetheless touching. A particular family dinner with aunts, uncles, and cousins all gathered at table. My cousin Angela admires my mother’s earrings, and she tells me, “Honey, when I die, give Angela these earrings, and the necklace that goes to Kathy, and you know where my bank books are…” I interrupt her, “Please Ma, could we just have dinner. No one’s going anywhere.” “Well it’s important; I want you to know these things. I am getting older...” “Mother, please just pass me the eggplant.” Call it denial of death, whatever. I don’t want to deal with it. I don’t like change. And like Thomas and Philip, I often don’t understand.
That’s why I love Thomas’ question this morning, I find it so consoling. It’s such a relief. He puts it right out there. “Master, we don’t know where you going. How can we know the way?” I suspect the others were all thinking the same thing, but didn’t dare to ask. Said another way: “Why does following you have to be so puzzling?” Or “Why can’t things be clearer?” “I don’t understand the way you do things.” “Why can’t things simply remain the same?” And further removed as we are, having never encountered Jesus in the flesh, perhaps our faith needs to be even deeper than theirs. That’s why I love Thomas’ candor. Very soon as we approach Pentecost, we will hear the Lord say: “It is better for you that I go.” I wish Thomas were there that day too to say something like, “Please remind me why this is better because I’m just not getting it. I don’t understand. I just want you to stay.”
Jesus desires that those he loves will stay with him, and abide in him. In the very “dark hour” of his passion and death, the disciples don’t know where Jesus has gone or how to follow him. And after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene will voice the question of all the disciples caught as they are in the “pre-dawn darkness of the scandal of the cross, ‘Where is the Lord?’” Scholars remind us that this “where” of Jesus in John’s Gospel is not a geographical location but a relationship of indwelling, abiding and communion - between Jesus and his Father and between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is in the bosom of the Father and he has come into the world to make us children of the Father with him, through him. And as he prepares for his departure “to resume his primordial glory in God’s presence,” he promises those whom he loves that he will come back for them, come back for us. But until then, even now, we dwell in a dark faith with no small amount of obscurity.
I trust but I don’t understand. The Lord’s reply, “It’s ok, you don’t have to understand you only have to believe in me, trust me, abide in me." Jesus promises us, “I am the way that leads through darkness and confusion, obscurity and doubt; through seeming absence to a richer, darker, mysterious presence.” He draws us higher to the place he’s preparing for us, the place of our belovedness. Jesus clearly understands himself as the Beloved of his Father. (How else could he have made it through the horror of his passion?) And he envisions the same identity for us - he calls us his dear disciples, even his friends, and says that where he is, there we will be beloved ones - hidden in the bosom of his Father. “I will come back again and take you to myself,” he says, “so that where I am you also may be.” For all my lack of understanding these words of Jesus are so tremendously consoling. “I will take you to myself.” Where else would any of us want to be?
So we continue to hold fast to his promise, for only love and surrender to him can quiet our questioning. For Jesus is even now taking us to himself, drawing us. And even as we hold fast to him in faith, in our faithfulness to him- all is still a mystery. And as monks, this is where we live - in this land of desire, somehow suspended between heaven and earth, getting glimpses of heavenly communion, visits of the Word, noticing his kind and loving presence but more often left hanging, because our desire always outstrips our present capacity, and we are left suspended, longing for more, but often losing our way. We live in this in-between place poised in faith between a promised heavenly homeland and an earthly home; puzzled and sometimes impatient because earthly existence even for all its ambiguities is at least tangible and real. And as we wait in joyful hope, we must keep on doing what we’re doing - passing the eggplant - with love in our hearts, noticing the ordinary charged with mystery, for this is exactly where Jesus will find us.
Such is this mystery of our faith that as we await the fullness of our communion in the bosom of the Father - the departure of Christ grants us an absence that is full of his mysterious presence - in the communion of community, the communion of mystical prayer, in the communion of this Holy Eucharist.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Homily by one of the monks.
Saturday, May 6, 2023
Many of you may wonder why postings have been sparse. We have been busy hosting our region's junior professed, nuns and monks from eight monasteries of our region including our own. They were with us for two weeks of presentations as they continue their preparation for solemn profession.
During the first week, the noted medieval scholar Marsha Dutton spoke about the writings of our Cistercian father Saint Aelred of Rievaulx. In the second week, Father Simeon gave classes on the Christology of the Fathers of the Church.
These young Cistercians have found their hearts' desire in following the Lord Jesus intimately. Their joy and ardor filled us with hope.
Photographs by Brother Brian.