Thursday, June 29, 2023

The Solemnity of Peter & Paul

Though he seldom traveled farther than his daily walk to and from his little barber shop, my father considered himself something of a connoisseur. This became abundantly clear when he and my mother would come to visit me. Scene one. I am in California; and among other sights I take them to the Monterey Aquarium, an incredible place, a colossal three-story, one million gallon tank, filled with life and movement. I say, “Well Dad, what do you think?” “It’s a lot of fish,” he says. Scene two. This time we’re in NYC and a friend has recommended that I bring them to a little hide-away restaurant in the theatre district frequented by movie stars. We go in. My Dad looks around. “Well,” he says to my mom, “I guess movie stars like to eat in dumps.” Scene three. I love this one. A long distance telephone call. I ask him about my cousin’s elegant wedding. “How was the reception, Dad?” “The soup was salty.” After one such conversation I remember blowing up at him. I was not proud of myself, so later  I  apologized. His response was as simple and direct as any of his criticisms, “You never have to apologize to me.” The message was clear- forgiveness and understanding were implicit between us. The relationship could tolerate our mutual honesty and transparency. In the end I think I really learned to forgive and what it feels like to be forgiven from my father. He simply was not a grudge-holder. And when I was trying to muster the courage to make steps toward entering the monastery, it was somehow imagining his words as the Father’s words deep in my heart that gave me the courage I needed, “Give it a try. What have you got to lose?”

I begin here because ultimately, I suspect, both Peter and Paul whom we feast today came to understand themselves as forgiven - forgiven failures who were absolutely beloved disciples of their resurrected and wounded Master. And so these two pillars of the Church whom we celebrate I’m sure would not mind if we noted that neither of them had anything to be proud of - Peter who even as his best friend is being slapped and sentenced insists to a serving girl in the glow of a charcoal fire that he doesn’t even know who the man is; and self-righteous Paul who drags the first followers of Jesus from their homes to prison and persecution. Both Peter and Paul find themselves discovered by the Mercy of God in Christ Jesus, who identifies himself as the betrayed one, the persecuted one.

Today is the festival of the betrayer and the persecutor transformed. Both are converted, turned around by mercy. Peter who three times denied his Friend in the light of a charcoal fire is given the sweet opportunity by Jesus three times to proclaim his love early one morning by another charcoal fire. There on the beach he gets to say, “Lord, I do love you; you know well that I love you.” And Paul temporarily blinded by the glaring light of Christ’s self revelation - “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”- speaking from his deep down experience will tell us that, “Nothing whatever can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” Their encounters, their evolving relationships with Jesus the wounded Life-giver, empower them both to be themselves wounded and forgiven life-givers. They have been empowered by mercy and compassion and forgiveness. We celebrate two men desperately in need of transformation, a transformation made real because of their encounter with their most merciful, betrayed and persecuted Lord.

Paul will say it best: “God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty.” Clearly God’s preference for the weak is all about availability. Simply put- it is that only what is fragile, weak (and) precarious according to the order of this world that can allow itself to be “broken so as to be created anew.” That which is vulnerable is transformable; what is sinful can be mercied. But what is stiff, stubborn and intractable is stagnant and stuck. Allowing myself to be forgiven changes everything.

Perhaps this is our most important work as monks - to allow things to fall apart and notice that as things fall apart we are more available for mercy. Perhaps part of our work is to normalize this fragmentation for one another - normalize the falling apart as the means to a most glorious end, life in Christ Jesus. This is not a careless, presumptive laziness, (“I’m broken, you’re broken; Christ will rescue us. No problem!”) Neither is it the blind leading the blind into a catastrophic fall. It is rather the weak leading the weak into a willing acknowledgement and celebration of the inevitability of our fragmentation and weakness as good news that will lead to our transformation in Christ. And so I imagine us encouraging each other as once the about-to-be martyrs did, watching and waiting their turn with the beasts there in the dreary dugouts of the Coliseum. “Go forward; don’t be afraid. This falling, this dying will not be your dissolution but your means, a royal, jubilant gateway to new and more abundant life in Christ, into Christ. Go ahead, let yourself be eaten up! It’s worth it. He’s worth it. Don’t be afraid.”

Jesus’ question to Peter, to each of us in this morning’s Gospel, situates us with Peter poised to listen to our Master as he whispers this hauntingly beautiful question to each of us in the depths of our hearts, “Who do you say that I am? Who am I for you? What is your experience of me in your life, in your history? How do you experience me now?” What will you answer? Perhaps when we come to understand ourselves as sinners desperately beloved by God in Christ, then with Peter we can say, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” and with Paul, “All I want is to know (you) Christ Jesus and the power flowing from (your) resurrection. Now nothing else matters.”

Once again this morning we set ourselves up for a “collision of desires”- our desperation, our desperate, pitiable need for forgiveness on a collision course with Jesus’ desperate desire to forgive and heal and console us. And of all things it is somehow our sins, our failures that give us kinship with our wounded Lord. For the “failure” of Jesus, the failure of the Cross is our only hope. When we eat this Bread and drink this cup we proclaim with every fiber of our being that Mercy has found us, that we too like our saints have been empowered by his forgiveness because love is more powerful than death. 

Saints Peter and Paul, 15th century, Fondamenta Cavour, Murano, Italy. And a homily by one of our monks.

Father Aquinas' Jubilee

We rejoice with Father Aquinas today as he celebrates the 50th anniversary of his priestly ordination. He entered the monastery in 1959, and hrough the years he has held many important positions in the community including prior, subprior, dean of the junior professed, vocation director, and submaster of novices. He currently serves as the Abbey's sacristan.

Father Aquinas says that formed by the Word of God and following the Rule of Saint Benedict, the monk is led to "the Author of Creation in the Beatific Vision."

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Fear No One

Jesus said to the Twelve: “Fear no one. What I say to you in darkness, speak in the light.  What you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.”   The Gospel today is very challenging.  It says our being a Christian and proclaiming our faith is enough reason for the world to want to persecute and even kill us.  This may seem a very melodramatic statement, but apart from, perhaps, the USA, Canada,  Western Europe and Australia,  it is a real possibility you may be called upon to sacrifice your life for the sake of the Christian Faith.  Simply going to Sunday mass may result in your being blown to pieces by terrorists.  Archbishops, priests, religious and Catholic workers are gunned down by or permanently disappear at the hands of drug lords and immoral dictators throughout the world. 

Just last May, our Pope Francis met with the Coptic Pope Tawadros II at the Vatican.  There they agreed that the Catholic Church would include the 21 Coptic martyrs who were beheaded in 2015 by the deranged militants of the so-called Islamic State...that they would be included in  the Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church and would be celebrated as martyr saints of the Catholic Church as well as their own Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church.  Here we see how those who persecute the Church even to killing its members actually bring greater ecumenical unity to the Body of Christ and so increase the strength of the Church.  It is just what Jesus said in today's gospel—Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul.  Yes, it is a challenge to us.   We can always ask ourselves the old question, “If the state were arresting all the Christians who witness to their faith in word and deed, would there be enough evidence against us—against me?”   Jesus  said, “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father.”

At the meeting in May, Pope Francis enthusiastically prayed, “May the prayers of the Coptic martyrs, united with those of the Mother of God, the Theotokos, continue to help our churches grow in friendship, until the blessed day when we can celebrate at the same altar and receive together the Body and Blood of the Savior.”  The two popes spoke of the blood of martyrs being the seed of  Christian unity.    The feast day will probably be on February 15th, the day of the martyrdom.  It is striking how similar the martyrdom of the Coptic Christians was to that of our seven Trappist monks of Atlas in Algeria in 1996.  Remarkably, the Trappist martyrs brought about for many a better feeling toward the people of Islam for whom the monks prayed so deeply and loved and served so fervently.  Again, we see the mystery of dying and rising—martyrdom increasing human unity.  My nephew sent me a picture of a Catholic village church in Pakistan surrounded during the Sunday mass by the local Muslim congregation standing outside.  The Muslims were all facing outwards from the church in order to protect their beloved Catholic fellow villagers from attack from fanatics during the mass.  This is true solidarity and love.

The second reading from Romans touches on this theme of death and new life, but in a way that applies immediately to all Christians everywhere.  The mystery of death came into our world through our sins. Life comes to us when we accept the gracious gift of the one man Jesus Christ who gave his life for us all.  This gift of life overflows for the many, for all who will accept it gratefully, eucharistically.  The Church teaches that we die daily to ourselves through conversion and penance which find their nourishment in the Eucharist.   The celebration of  Word and Sacrament in the Eucharist causes us to be moved by the Holy Spirit and the grace of the sacrament to live in greater union with God and with others by dying to self.  We do this daily in gestures of loving service and reconciliation, in concern for the poor, by fraternal support and correction, in the patient acceptance of the suffering and even the sickness and disease in our lives in prayerful union with the passion of Christ for the good of all people for “whom the Church suffers and offers herself through Christ to the Father.” (CCC)  In these and all other personal hidden martyrdoms our death to self brings about unity among God's people and gives glory to our Father in Heaven. 

Vintage photograph of the Abbey hilltop. Today's homily by Father Luke.



Saturday, June 24, 2023

Nativity of Saint John the Baptist

All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.

Luke has been preparing the reader for this question since he introduced Zechariah in the first verses of his narrative. By immersing ourselves in the narrative of the events that led up to it, we participate in the Lord’s preparation of his people for John’s prophetic voice, more importantly, we become prepared to be able to recognize and welcome the visit of the Word when he comes, who by the transforming power of his grace can make us more like John, a burning and shining lamp capable of shedding light on the figure of Jesus for those whom we encounter.

All who heard these things took them to heart. One way to enter into this immersion is to look at the experience of all those who heard these things, and through them explore what it might mean to take them to heart. The first of these was the great mercy that the Lord had shown Elizabeth by giving her a son in her old age, after many years of barrenness, of suffering the burden of being childless. And they rejoiced with her. They were happy, first of all, in their participation in her joy, but also in the recognition of this wondrous sign of the divine goodness, of the active presence of God who in utter gratuity, out of no motive but his own divine good pleasure, has intervened in the lives of these two people, and, therefore, in Israel, God’s holy people, of whom they are a part.

Next, when both Elizabeth and Zechariah, independently, and contrary to the custom of naming a son after his father, insisted that he be called John, All, we learn, were amazed. We come across this word “amazed” often in the Gospel, especially as a reaction to miracles. When we are amazed or astonished at something, we are suddenly and unexpectedly caught up out of ourselves. Amazement is not something we can produce out of ourselves, or approach gradually, through a process of thought; we experience a shock, our breath is taken away. There is always an excess in amazement, something is both given to us for our understanding, yet it is always in excess of what the mind can grasp clearly and comprehensively. There is a “too-muchness” that is both overwhelming and yet fascinating.

Then fear came upon all their neighbors, when, immediately, “[Zechariah’s] mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God.” In this instance the reaction is again spontaneous, but the emphasis is on an honor and respect that pierces soul and body, a reverent distancing, a bending of the knee before what was clearly a manifestation of something of the divine glory and power in the way God had taken over Zechariah’s faculties, held them bound for a time and then freed them; not wholly different from the reaction their ancestors experienced in the desert, when they feared to come near Moses because of how the skin of his face shown when he descended from Mount Sion with the two tablets.

First there was shared joy, then amazement, then fear, from this followed puzzlement, the desire to come to terms with what they had seen and heard and to share it. So next we are told that these things were talked about throughout the hill country of Judea. And in this interpersonal back and forth and in their own personal reflection, many began to make connections with these events and other significant events in the history of God’s people.

Many thought it had always seemed odd that Zechariah and Elizabeth were childless. Some thought that God must be punishing them in some way. Yet what sense did it make that they should bear this pain and shame? Zechariah was a priest, a member of the order of Abijah, and both he and Elizabeth were descendants of Aaron, therefore they were both of honorable families and lineage. For the Jews of that time this was in itself a sign of divine favor. Moreover, everyone knew these were good people, they ordered their lives according to the commandments and regulations of God, just as Moses has commanded. No one had a thing to say against them, by all accounts their lives are blameless. They are among God’s righteous. On the other hand, Moses had also said that “if you obey the voice of the Lord your God…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb…” (Dt 28:4) and yet they were childless.

Other such examples in Israel’s history would have come to mind. Not least, Abraham and Sarah. God had called Abraham to go forth from his own country and kindred to go a new land where he promised he would make of him a great nation and bless him and make his name great. So great, in fact, that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. Yet Abraham and Sarah, too, found themselves childless in their old age. Sarah suffered much humiliation for her barrenness. Abraham begged God for a child, and God responded by promising Abraham that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens.

God established a covenant with Abraham, he told him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly”.

When the Lord appeared again and told Abraham that he was to give him a son by Sarah, Abraham fell on his face and laughed, saying to himself, “Shall a child be borne to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” When, at the Oaks of Mamre, Sarah learned she was to bear a child, she too laughed to herself, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” For “the way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” Just as the Lord had promised Sarah gave birth to Isaac, the great patriarch, and circumcised him when he was eight days old, in accordance with God’s commandment to Abraham for all newborn males (Gen 21:4).

As the Lord had said to Abraham: “Is anything impossible with God?” (Gen 18:14). In her joy Sarah said “‘God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me’” (21:16)

Likewise, there was Elkanah and Hannah. Elkanah was a priest, and he and his wife Hannah were both faithful servants of the Lord, living according to the commandments, yet they too were childless, and Hannah, too, suffered much at her barrenness. At Shiloh, she prayed to the Lord out of her “great anxiety and vexation”, and the Lord remembered Hannah and she conceived and gave birth to the great prophet Samuel.

They thought too, the gift of a son by the Lords’ loving kindness that blessed the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah was intended not only for them but for all of Israel. Likewise, this child cannot be given for Zechariah and Elizabeth alone, but for all of us.

But such reflections cannot be the end of it, but only the opening of new beginnings in the hearts of all who heard these things. Amazement is not yet faith. Fear is not yet conversion. Discussion and personal reflection are not yet action. To maintain the process of keeping these things in one’s heart, it is impossible to stop here; there must be movement: to faith, to conversion, to love of God and neighbor. They must take up the exhortation Jesus later gave to his disciples: “Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”

As Zechariah and Elizabeth, Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah prayed for an end to their barrenness, they too must pray. Israel must bring its suffering and anxieties before the Lord with renewed fervor and confidence, for the Lord is showing them that he has not forgotten them, has the power to bring an end to their barrenness, to the long, dry centuries that they have suffered from having no prophet among them. No doubt these events brought about many conversions of life. No doubt many said in their hearts, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Abraham and Sarah, Elkanah and Hannah, lived lives of deep prayer and in obedient faith, I should be more like them, I should change my life and follow the Lord more closely. I should repent and turn to the Lord and be ready for more acts of his gracious favor among us. For God is faithful, he has not abandoned us, nothing is impossible for him. This is the path of preparation for the witness of John. This is our path too, if we wish to ready ourselves for the visit of the Word in our midst. 

Domenico GhirlandaioThe Birth  of the Baptist, fresco in  the Cappella Tornabuoni of  Santa Maria Novella, Florence, (detail).  Today's homily by by Father Timothy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2023



So confident was Saint Aloysius in God's tender love, that one day as he was playing ball with the other young Jesuits, Saint Robert Bellarmine approached Aloysius and asked what he would do if he were told he was going to die the next day. "I would go on playing ball," said Aloysius.

So may we always trust in the Lord's merciful love and tender presence.

The Vocation of Saint Aloysius (Luigi) Gonzaga, Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (Italian, Cento 1591–1666 Bologna), ca. 1650. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

Our Poverty


God is always working to bring us to an awareness and acceptance of our poverty, which is the essential condition of our being able to receive him, and the petty frustrations, the restrictions, humiliations, the occasions when we are made to feel poignantly and distressingly hedged around, not in control of the world, not even in control of that tiny corner of it we are supposed to call our own, are his chosen channel into the soul. It is the one who has learned to bow his head, to accept the yoke, who knows what freedom is. There is so much that we must take whether we like it or not; what I am urging is a wholehearted acceptance, a positive appreciation and choosing of this bitter ingredient of life.

Detail of ancient Cistercian grisaille glass from Obazine. Lines from To Believe in Jesus by Sister Ruth Burrows, ocd

Sunday, June 18, 2023

The Eleventh Sunday of the Year

Some years ago a woman I worked with asked me to pray for her little granddaughter who had just been diagnosed with a rapidly spreading cancer. She was in anguish, I felt so bad. And so I began to pray, trying to muster the correct words that would render my request to the Lord most urgent and irresistible, it was if I were trying to wrestle God to the floor with the insistence of my pleading. And then a quiet insight - I didn’t need to get Jesus’ attention, remind what was wrong, he knew perfectly well what the matter was. He had noticed. Jesus too was heartbroken that this little girl was suffering. I needed to trust him, fall into his desire. Everything changed. Prayer became a privileged joining with him in his desire for all that his good. Somehow prayer took on new depth. Praying would allow me to participate in the broken heartedness of the God who always, always notices. The God who keeps an eye on falling sparrows, the God who has the up-to-the-minute count of the hairs on my head.

“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt… I have heard them crying out because of their oppressors; and I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them.” So very long ago, God had spoken these words to Moses at the burning bush. And in the fullness of time, this loving regard of God for his people becomes flesh and blood reality in the person of Jesus. He comes to renew their covenant relationship with the Father, to remind them who they are, to whom they belong. And if the Old Testament is indeed an “unfinished symphony,” we see that Jesus in his compassion is its long-awaited fulfillment.

And so this morning as Jesus looks upon the poor, those too often underfed and chronically unemployed individuals who follow him, his heart is moved with pity; literally his guts are wrenched by what he sees. They are abandoned sheep who desperately need a shepherd but remain outsiders because callous religious leaders multiply rules and regulations that assure their exclusion. This infuriates Jesus. This is why he will turn over moneychangers’ tables, why he will call Scribes and Pharisees a brood of vipers. Jesus demands a higher grace, that will allow the inbreaking of God’s reign.

It is this compassion that fires his ministry. Jesus is this great surge of God’s broken-hearted mercy rushing in with a relentless, astoundingly gentle but ferocious urgency and energy. This is how he heals, how he feeds vast crowds, how he preaches. With every fiber of his flesh and blood, Jesus expresses the divine empathy that God is. In Christ, our flesh is his flesh, our pain is his pain. And so mercy gushes forth from Jesus’ heart; he can’t hold it back.

My brothers and sisters, if the Gospel this morning makes it clear that Jesus is deeply affected by what he sees, we can do no less. “So many, too many must be brought home to the Father. Do pray for harvest-gatherers,” Jesus pleads. He desires that we notice as he does and have our hearts broken open. Without this compassionate notice, without this punch in our gut, all our prayer will be indifferent and ultimately worthless. All prayer, whether explicitly intercessory or in deepest contemplation, begins in this heartfelt, mercy-filled gaze of Jesus upon his people, upon each of us. Prayer can never be some esoteric disembodied exercise but is always incarnational, grounded in the reality of the crucified humanity of Christ, grounded in passion and an anguished cry, an urgent pleading that rises from the abyss of our neediness, our unknowing and our vulnerability. No matter where it ends, this where our prayer begins. For then we open a door onto a vast empty space that only Christ can fill.

Maybe one old lay brother got it right, Brother Patrick Callaly. We are told that he was often seen rummaging through the trash barrels looking for newspapers. What on earth for? He wanted names, real flesh and blood stories of pain and sorrow to fuel his prayer. Unless we allow our hearts like his to be affected by all we all we know of our broken world, of our own broken hearts, all the painful stories that we have come to know about one another; unless we are ready to somehow hold all of this, we will be useless at prayer, our striving for contemplation will be a total sham.

Praying with hearts so affected and transformed by compassion, our prayer will be too expansive, too radiant to be confined within the walls of this enclosure. Then it will reach out and touch and heal far beyond. We dare to believe in this hidden apostolic fruitfulness of our lives in this monastery.

As Paul assures us, while we were still helpless sinners, Christ endured the passion, the piercing of his heart, to reveal that the omnipotence of God’s love is revealed in the helplessness of his suffering, with the desire to transform it by being deeply affected by it. All because love is stronger than death. 

People go through things, each of us have been through a lot. What broke Jesus’ heart? What has broken your heart? Notice. That’s where our prayer begins. As we hunger for him, so the world longs for him though they may not realize it. Let us allow him to gaze on us and feed us.

Today's homily by one of our monks.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Solemnity of the Sacrd Heart of Jesus


Words have lives, they evolve. Such is the word, passion. It comes from the Latin passio meaning to bear and endure. It is the origin of the word patient. Later in its life, passion came to mean suffering. Further on, the passion would describe erotic love and soon after any ardent emotion or enthusiasm. How fitting then that we use the word passion with all of its nuances and resonance to describe the suffering and death of Jesus our Lord. For all that Jesus endures because of his tender love for us is most truly his passion“For the joy that lay before him, Jesus endured the cross despising its shame.” Patiently, passionately, most ardently Jesus gives himself away to us, for us. And when he feels things, he’s moved to his very gutsJesus is thus the perfect enfleshment of this passion of God’s self-forgetful love for us. He has come to establish an intimacy with us that signals our access to everything he has received from his Father, even the glory that is his as Beloved Son.* Jesus’ passion is to draw us into God. Today we celebrate the wonder of this divine passion for us perfectly enfleshed in his broken Heart.

In the First Reading Ezekiel the prophet has given us God’s self-description as loving shepherd, this, in turn, becomes a template for Jesus’ own understanding of his vocation as Beloved Son of the Father. Jesus is the good shepherd who will relentlessly search, run after and rescue all who are lost, even just one lost sheep. We might say, “Why bother? Why put the other ninety-nine at risk?” But this is who God is. And Paul assures us that this passionate desire of God in Christ for us is expressed in a great gush of graced love lavished upon us through God’s own Spirit – “poured into our hearts.” When we go to prayer, when we wake and walk and work and eat and breathe our day, God is drawing us, ceaselessly, searching and coming after us.

This desperation of a God in love, whose burning desire for us is unquenchable and unending, is in evidence constantly in the gospels. Jesus’ heart is constantly magnetized by desperation. A sobbing widow following the bier of her dead son knows she’s now without resource, destined now for a life of leftovers and condescension. I want to see, cries Bartimaeus. My son is at home dying, my dearest young slave, my daughter is possessed. Do something, I beg you. I’ve been to every doctor, tried every cure. But now, if only I touch his tassel. They have no wine, it’s only the first day of the celebration, and everything will be lost. Lord, wake up we’re going to drown, don’t you care. Lord, the one you love has died. And so best of all, last of all this dead-end that was always looming ahead will be destroyed by his passion and death on the cross. Because Jesus could not bear to have us live in fear of this final terror. He tramples down death by death because he is all Life. If only we knew the gift of God. If only understood his passion for us. He has given himself away totally, lavishly, foolishly, unreasonably.*

He cannot make us love him, still, he boldly exposes his broken Heart for us, longing as any man would for a loving response. He is not embarrassed by the vulnerability and desperation he reveals, he puts his Heart right out there. Perhaps all the tenderness and divine vulnerability are too much, perhaps even tasteless or off-putting. It is after all, way beyond a certain manly coolness and detachment. But Jesus loves us to folly, and he is not about to be evasive or diplomatic about it. How could he be? He’s on fire with it. And his love for us is not some disembodied theological premise or a refined, pious sentiment but a deeply felt, very raw, and real emotion. Jesus feels things deeply in his gut.

Today’s solemnity is all about this Divine Exposure. All falsehood, pretense, and sin; all the pain and suffering he endured and we endure, all the love we long for but dare not express, there too in his wounded Heart we see all the sorrow and suffering in Ukraine and everywhere else - it’s all right there in that Heart - exposed for all to see, in its bleeding, gut-wrenching beauty, the vulnerability of God. He shows us who he is, who God is, and who we are meant to be. The invitation is to go and do likewise – to love until it hurts, though often we might like to think there is an easier way. In the wounded Heart of Jesus, we see our reality and our sublime destiny, as individuals, as Church, as monastic community.

If like Jesus we dare to open our wounded hands and hearts to one another, with nothing to hide - at ease with the awkwardness and embarrassment of loving, at home with our vulnerability the kingdom can happen. At best two desperations will meet. Jesus’ desperate passion to share God’s love and our desperate need for the healing, grace, and love that only Father, Son, and Spirit can bestow. We cry out in a confident appeal that is always the echo of God’s first desperate longing for us.

In the humility of his passion for us, Jesus has come to give himself away. As we gather together around this Table to consume Christ’s wounded body and drink the blood of God poured out for us, we find ourselves once again overpowered by the mystery of his love, by the unquestionable reality of the mystery of a God who is love,* a God who even now desperately desires to offer us his precious body and blood even his wounded heart.

References: 1. Sandra Schneiders. 2 Robert Barron. 3. Adapted from Karl Rahner. A  homily by one of the monks.


Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Blessed Gerard

Living in community with brothers of different backgrounds, gifts and talents is, indeed, a gift but it also stretches our hearts open. And we recall the words of one brother some years ago, who said something like: "You know, you pray and work with a guy and you get to love him as your brother, even though maybe he's not the kind of guy you'd want to go duck hunting around the world with."

Small wonder that the monastery is called a school of love, for we all need to keeping learning how to open our hearts to one another. We are especially mindful of our fraternal connectedness today, as we celebrate the memorial of Blessed Gerard, blood brother of Saint Bernard. Gerard followed Bernard to Clairvaux where he became his cellarer. He was Bernard's confidant and assistant. Deeply grieved at Gerard's death, Bernard lamented his passing in these tender words: 

... a loyal companion has left me alone on the pathway of life: he who was so alert to my needs, so enterprising at work, so agreeable in his ways. Who was ever so necessary to me? Who ever loved me as he? My brother by blood, but bound to me more intimately by religious profession. Share my mourning with me, you who know these things. I was frail in body and he sustained me, faint of heart and he gave me courage, slothful and negligent and he spurred me on, forgetful and improvident and he gave me timely warning. Why has he been torn from me? Why snatched from my embraces, a man of one mind with me, a man according to my heart? We loved each other in life: how can it be that death separates us? And how bitter the separation that only death could bring about! While you lived when did you ever abandon me? It is totally death's doing, so terrible a parting...How much better for me then, O Gerard, if I had lost my life rather than your company, since through your tireless inspiration, your unfailing help and under your provident scrutiny I persevered with my studies of things divine. Why, I ask, have we loved, why have we lost each other? 

Photograph by Father Emmanuel. Lines from Sermon 26: On The Song of Songs.

Monday, June 12, 2023

His Presence

In the Holy Eucharist we celebrate not a fleeting ghost or splendid idea but Him whom we daily see at this altar and hold in our hands: “that which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life” (1 Jn 1:1). Christ came to be eaten and drunk by the hungry and embraced by the sick and lost, and adored by the desperate, and not to be coolly admired at a distance by the self-satisfied. His Presence to us is as real, as raw, as fleshly as is our crying human need for him. Could an all-loving God be content with giving us any less than the fullness of his beloved Son—body, soul, and divinity? Let us, then, take deeply into our hearts with matching extravagant gratitude the incredibly extravagant words of Jesus, “this tremendous Lover”: My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. We must believe these words, and live according to them, not because we understand them and find them easy but on account of our absolute trust in the One who uttered them. Who but a passionately loving God could have conceived such a mystery and instituted such a Sacrament? Yet such precisely is Christ, the Bridegroom of the Church, to whom every day with corresponding passion she replies: Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! (S of S, 1:1).
Photographs by Brother Brian. Reflection by Father Simeon.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Corpus Christi

As I prepared this homily, I began to realize that the complaints and quarreling of the crowd against Jesus’ words were closer to home than I first thought. That includes my own thoughts when I really focused on these words. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” This is a perennial question that the Church must address, and it takes all the wisdom and patience a mother can show to once again explain this great mystery. So let us sit at the feet of Jesus and our Mother the Church to listen again to how it is that Jesus can give us his flesh to eat.

First of all, we must remember Jesus’ words to Philip, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip.” Jesus is not alone. His Father is always with him, and he does only what the Father tells him to do. This is the first point. The crowd had been following Jesus for a long time and had seen many, many signs and wonders. We, too, have been following Jesus for a long time and seen our own share of signs and wonders. But how quickly our minds can forget. How easily we slip back to concerns about food and drink and what we are to wear and forget that our heavenly Father feeds us. If Jesus can feed five thousand plus men and women with five barley loaves—because on him the Father has set his seal—maybe we should not dismiss out of hand even his most radical claims.

But even having experienced the miracle of the loaves and fishes, it seems the crowd always need more convincing. Like a child who needs repeated corrections and explanations, who tests the limits and pushes the envelope, the crowd calls up other examples from their experience. What about Moses who gave them bread from heaven? They knew Moses, but they did not know where Jesus had come from. Jesus had come down from heaven. In his person Jesus contained heaven. His whole being was filled with heaven. The Father did not stop with the manna to bring his loving care down to earth. He kneaded it into his Son who came not to do his own will but the will of his Father, and above all, to feed his people with bread that would last to eternal life.

But just as the manna became wormy and stank if the people tried to create a little stash; or melted in the heat of the sun, because they did not trust Moses’ word, so the crowd had to learn to trust Jesus’ words. The bread he would give was his very flesh. What more could he give them? How else could he show them his Father’s care?

We could go on and on. The mystery of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is an unfathomable mystery. One feels like a little child trying to stammer out some words to express his thoughts. Let us turn to our Mother the Church and to Our Lady, the mother of Jesus, who gave him his flesh and blood, and through whom the Father gives us the living bread. They teach us that the words of Jesus spoken today are spirit and life. Let us pray to the Spirit of the Father and the Son to open our eyes to the deifying light of this mystery.

This morning's homily by  Abbot Vincent.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

A Tragic Fire

On Friday, 2 June in the early afternoon the First Congregational Church in downtown Spencer was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. 

The Fire Department of Saint Joseph Abbey was called into action as Spencer Fire Chief Parsons ordered their Engine 4 with crew to the scene. Brothers Michael, Guerric and Andrew mustered to respond to the call. Upon arrival they were horrified to witness the devastation that the lightning strike had caused and awed by the response of hundreds of men and women working to fight the fire and help in any way they could. 

Chief Parsons put the brothers to work helping to relay water from a pond to the fire scene. Engine 4 was one of some 15 trucks helping to pump water to the trucks on the front line. They worked until 10 pm but managed to say Vespers and Compline privately on site in the truck. 

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Brother Kenneth's Simple Profession

Our Brother Kenneth Hessemer pronounced his simple vows and received the black scapular and leather belt during Chapter on Sunday, June 4. We rejoice in his self-offering to the Lord. Abbot Vincent's exhortation follows.

Br. Kenneth, the Holy Scriptures tell us, “My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials” (Sir 2.1). This seems an appropriate quote for you as you prepare to make your profession of vows to God in the presence of your brothers. And this quote is not without interest to those of us who have gone before you on this Cistercian way. If we did not prepare ourselves beforehand, we join you in receiving this exhortation now, that our striving may not be in vain.

This Scripture passage came to my mind last month when we celebrated the Feast of St. Rafael, our beloved and saintly Cistercian Oblate. You may remember the second nocturn reading at vigils, all about the exalted life in La Trapa - peeling turnips during the cold of winter. St. Rafael gives us a clear explanation of our hidden life in a very few words. Among other things, he says: Time passes slowly, and my knife does too, moving between the skin and flesh, leaving the turnips perfectly peeled. The little devils continue to wage war on me. To think that I left my house to come here in the cold and peel these stupid turnips!! It is truly a ridiculous thing, this business of peeling turnips with the seriousness of a magistrate in mourning. A tiny, shrewd devil infiltrates me, and from deep within it reminds me subtly of my house, my family, and my freedom…which I left behind in order to lock myself in here with these lentils, potatoes, collard greens, and turnips.

Ah! It is truly a ridiculous thing (at least in the eyes of the world) to leave everything and waste one’s life in a monastery. St. Rafael continues: …then suddenly, quick as the wind, a powerful light pierced my soul… ‘What are you doing?’ What am I doing, what am I doing? Good Lord!!...What a question! Peeling turnips…peeling turnips! ‘But why?” …And my heart, leaping, gave a wild answer: I’m peeling turnips for love…for love of Jesus Christ.

Who would have thought that peeling turnips was our School of Love? But here we have it. Whether peeling turnips or making vows to God, for St. Raphael it is all the same when done for love of Jesus Christ. He goes on: May we be able to make the most of our time…May we be able to love that blessed cross that the Lord places in our path, whatever it may be, no matter what. Let us make the most of the little things in our everyday life, or ordinary life…There is no need to do great things to become great saints. Making the little things great is enough.

St. Rafael had his own little way, honed in on the fire of the Cistercian environment. He concludes: Anyhow, if I live in La Trapa for many years, I will turn heaven into a kind of vegetable market…and when the Lord calls me and says to me, ‘that’s enough peeling, drop the knife and apron and come enjoy the fruits of your labor' …when I see myself in heaven among God and the saints (especially, his beloved Virgin Mary) and so many vegetables…my Lord Jesus, I cannot help but laugh.

Br. Kenneth- the absurdity of turnips, of flight from the world, of the cross…in union with the holy Virgin and our Lord Jesus Christ- we welcome you on this journey of love.

Photographs by Brother Brian. 

Monday, June 5, 2023

Triune God

Homelessness . . . . There is a great deal of it in today’s world. We have only to think of the horrific “homelessness” experienced in the trenches and uninhabitable rubble in Ukraine. Or in our own country, think of the traumatic “homelessness” in detention centers for illegal migrants along our southwest border, especially for children separated from their parents and the old who have been uprooted by desperation with now no relative or neighbor to help them. Or closer to home, what about the increasingly prevalent homelessness on our streets, or the forced homelessness for nearly 2 million incarcerated men and women in prisons across our country? “Homelessness” is also a devastating reality for those forgotten in nursing homes, for the casualties of broken homes, and really for anyone suffering alienation, rejection, or isolation. If we stop to think about it, we are virtually “homeless” whenever we are lost in self-preoccupation, self-centeredness, or are stuck on ourselves—that is an existence worse than lonely, and has become a kind of “pandemic” of its own. A society as violent as ours betrays a spiritual homelessness—as of late May there have been more than 260 mass shootings in the US this year, and yet these account for a relatively small percentage of gun deaths in 2023 thus far. Homelessness in so many ways . . . .

The German theologian and philosopher Romano Guardini, writing during the aftermath of WWII, made the following observation that is just as apt in our own day as was in his: “The convulsions of the times make clear something that has always existed but which is sometimes hidden by outward well-being and a prevailing peace of mind: namely, the homelessness of our lives.” The homelessness of our lives . . . .

This, I believe, is a realistic horizon against which to appreciate today’s Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, when in the light of Eastertide and Pentecost we contemplate and worship the divine life of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit: a life of communion and of perfect love, the origin and aim of all the universe and of every creature.

Today we do not praise God for a specific mystery, but for himself. We praise him and thank him because he is Love, and because he calls us to enter into the embrace of his inner communion which is eternal life. Certainly we do not celebrate a theological concept, the “absolute Triune God in splendid isolation,” but God as revealed by Jesus Christ. And what Jesus reveals, especially during his farewell discourse to his disciples the night before he died, and in his prayer to the Father deliberately in the disciples’ hearing on that occasion, is that the Father, and he the Son, actually make their home in us, abide in us. It was for this we were created. We traditionally refer to this greatest grace of our lives as the “indwelling” of the Trinity through the Holy Spirit, the Love of God, who has been poured into our hearts. In other words, Jesus is reassuring his disciples, and us, that God’s love and his saving presence is in each one of us, and in all of us together, in everything that happens in our lives: “indwelling”—dwelling, abiding, in our innermost depths, “closer to us than we are to ourselves,” and calling us to find eternal life, the “home” of our lives, by participating in the divine inner life.

God is Love, and love did not allow God to remain alone! That is a staggering thought. Jesus reveals that the great design of God’s love is this: that the three Divine Persons make their home in us, and draw us by grace into their innermost life and communion to find our home in them. Let us listen again to how Jesus articulates this core Trinitarian mystery of the Divine Indwelling in the Fourth Gospel:

In Ch. 14 Jesus tells Thomas: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him…. Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

And that is not all. Jesus assures his disciples, and us: “As the Father loves me, so I also love you …. Whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him. We will come to him and make our dwelling with him…. The Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have come to believe that I came from God.” 

Jesus then prays in the presence of his disciples that the Father will give eternal life to all those whom the Father gave him and who now believe that he was sent by the Father. He addresses the Father: “I pray for the ones you have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours, and everything of yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them…. I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us….” (That is what I mean by finding our true “home” in God.) Jesus continues: “And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may all be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one…. Father, I made known to them your name and I will make it known, that the love with which you loved me may be in them and I in them.”  (John 17) 

That Love is the Holy Spirit, whom we celebrated last Sunday, on Pentecost. Jesus assures his disciples, and us: “Another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which you know because it remains with you, and will be in you….On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you.”

To sum up and conclude, the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity points to the great mystery of the indwelling of the Divine Persons in us: the Triune God who is Love, making his “home” in us so that we can find our “home” in him.  I am suggesting this morning that in his “last discourse” in the Fourth Gospel, Jesus addresses head-on the radical “homelessness” of our lives, and calls us to enter into the embrace of this innermost Trinitarian communion which is eternal life. The Good News is that God himself is an eternal exchange of love—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and that he has created and redeemed us so that we can share in that exchange. Jesus, who as the “human face of God” has revealed all this to us, asks only that we believe in him as sent by the Father, and love one another as he has loved us.

But that is a tall order! It all hinges on our loving one another as Christ has loved us. Are we capable of such selfless love, divine love? I’d like to leave you with Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini’s perspective on this sobering question. I find in these words of his a great encouragement:

 We do not ever know whether or not our love of God is truly selfless, but we do know that by his own mysterious paths God will bring our love to the point of complete purification. Indeed, each of us can say: “The problem of pure, selfless love is not my problem; it is the problem of the God who has confidence in me and knows me to be capable of a love equal to his own, for I am made in his own image and he dwells within me. It is for me to give God my whole self, and for him to draw me to himself in the way he regards as truest and most authentic. For the rest—and the Song of Songs gives us this insight—true love is its own fulfillment, its own beauty, its own reward. It is when we grasp this that we enter into the love of God, that love which has its justification only in itself. Lovers know perfectly well that love is freely given, even if it then feeds on countless satisfactions. But in its innermost essence it is an unrivaled gift of self, and thus a reflection of the life of the Trinity. 

Photograph by Brother Brian. Trinity Sunday homily by Father Dominic.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

Brother Mikah's Solemn Profession

On Saturday, 3 June, we celebrated with great joy the solemn profession of our Brother Mikah Ochieng'. His family and friends joined us in prayer and celebration as he promised himself to Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Br. Mikah, how can we describe the meaning of your solemn profession? First of all, it is an expression of who you are and where your treasure is. But there is another side to this. It is a moment for Jesus to express to you in a new way who he is and who he wants you to be in union with him. Your family and friends, your fellow monks and nuns, are witnessing a sacred moment of revelation between you and the Lord. Thankfully, you have given us a window into that mutual revelation through the readings you have chosen for today’s Mass. Permit us to gaze into this window.

The gospel tells us about a group of Jewish elders. They interceded with Jesus on behalf of two marginal people—a Roman centurion who was a foreigner and military commander of occupation forces; and his dying slave, a member of one of the most marginal classes on earth. But the elders recognize something more important—the centurion has a compassionate heart and the slave needs healing. Being marginal does not define people. Does this sound familiar? How often you interceded on behalf of the poor and marginal in South Philly. Your acts of mercy then gave expression to who you were, and the Lord does not forget. But now he wants you to exercise your intercessions in a different way, hidden from the eyes of the world. Rather than feeding and consoling the poor directly, the Lord has chosen you—to speak metaphorically—to be like “the rain and the snow that comes down from heaven and waters the earth.” Your prayer of faith will become like the word that goes forth from God’s mouth and waters the earth, making it “fertile and fruitful, giving seed to the one who sows and bread to” to those who sorely need it. You will be an intercessor like the word of God.

The centurion in the gospel reveals another aspect of who you are—he was a man of authority, and knew the need and place of authority through his own experience. But he also recognized in Jesus a higher authority, and he willingly submitted to it. He trusted Jesus to act in accordance with true authority, as he himself would. This is a wonderful example of the humility that a monk must have. The monk finds in The Rule of St. Benedict, the person of the abbot, and the mutual obedience of the monks the place where God is allowed to express his authority. This is a stumbling block for many young people today. They see authority as restrictive and constraining, whereas the monastic life sees authority as a manifestation of God’s presence and the opportunity to cooperate with it. But this takes humility.

Finally, let us recall today’s lovely responsorial psalm— “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.” The responsorial is insistent, repeating over and over: “Renew the face of the earth…renew the face of the earth.” We are beseeching the Spirit to find a piece of earth where he can begin his renewal. Br. Mikah, you are a piece of that earth. The Lord Jesus has brought you here among your brothers in order for the Spirit to turn over the soil of your heart, day in and day out. Your heart will become a place where the renewal of the earth can take place and a place where Jesus can cast fire on the earth.

Br. Mikah, your family and friends, your fellow monks and nuns are witnessing a sacred moment of revelation. You are expressing who you are; Jesus is matching that and welcoming you into union with him: as a bridge of intercession between heaven and the great poverty of this earth; as one obedient unto death as Jesus was to the authority of his Father; and as a dwelling place of the Spirit where the words of the Song of Songs may be fulfilled: “Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden and let its fragrance be wafted abroad…” May the Spirit of the Lord blow upon the garden of your heart and that of this community so that the fragrance of our monastic life will draw others to the hearts of Jesus and his mother.

Photographs by Brothers Brian & Daniel. Abbot Vincent's homily.

Thursday, June 1, 2023


A large, probably admiring crowd is traveling with Jesus this morning, happy and proud to be in the entourage of the wonderworker who has captivated their imaginations and their hearts. But soon the euphoria is interrupted by an annoying blind beggar, crying out. Many in the crowd tell him to quiet down; he’s disrupting things, really ruining the mood. But the guy refuses to be silenced, and he shouts out all the more insistently, begging for Jesus, “Son of David, have pity on me!” Praised be to God, for Bartimaeus knows what he wants. He may be blind, but he has clear insight - in his plea he calls Jesus Son of David, recognizing Jesus’ royal lineage as well as his reputation as a healer.*

Actually, this passage often strikes me as one of the more humorous ones in all the Gospels, for at this point Jesus calls for him and asks the blind man, who probably has stumbled toward him with hands feeling the air, “What do you want me to do for you?” At this point in his ministry, Jesus has this marvelous reputation as a compassionate healer. The man is blind. Why else would he be crying out to Jesus? Isn’t it obvious? Apparently, Jesus wants him to say it: “I want to see.”  Jesus wants him to say it, wants us to blurt out our desire, our deepest longing. “What do you want? What do you want me to do for you? Tell me. How can I help? I am here for you always, always; please let me in. Say it; let me hear your voice, for your voice is lovely.”

I recall a friend telling me about his sister and her too taciturn husband. They had been married only a few years, and she could always tell when something was worrying him. But he would just shut down, not let her in. So as they were snuggling, she often would demand, gently, insistently: “Tell me, tell me what’s wrong, what’s bothering you.” She knew something was up, and she wanted to be let in, to accompany him. The intimacy, the relationship demanded it. But he wouldn’t do it. And unfortunately, the marriage eventually ended, he was not a communicator, a connector.

Our relationship with Christ demands the same intimacy. Many of us - monks, “prayers,” accustomed to praying - might be apt to say, “But Jesus knows, he knows everything, he knows what I need, what I want, I don’t have to say anything.” True enough, but when we say it, we get to hear it; we hear ourselves, hear our neediness, our poverty, and know our real, desperate need for Christ. This often happens during spiritual direction or in a conversation with a dear friend, we say something and are surprised by the honesty, the truth. Prayer too is relationship; there are times to be quiet, times to sit together, and times to talk things out with someone you love, whom you know will listen compassionately. Jesus must be at last as good as that.

Our need, our poverty makes Christ happy, not because he wants us to feel bad, but because it allows him to save us, to give himself to us completely. The admission of need is an act of faith in him who can do all. As Jesus himself declares to Bartimaeus, to each one of us this morning, “Your faith has saved you.” Our faith will save us too, faith articulated in desire, lovingly expressed. So it is that Bartimaeus moves from being a blind beggar to becoming a clear-sighted, faith-filled, faithful follower of Jesus. He rushes toward Jesus and will follow him on the way, this is ultimately the way of the cross, the way of betrayal, the way to Jerusalem where Jesus will be tortured and crucified. It seems Bartimaeus is ready.

Insights from Harrington & Donahue in a reflection by one of our monks.