Category Archives: Chapter Talks (Public)

Chapter Talk – 2/4/18 – Fr. Michael – Go Sell Everything…and Come Follow Me

+GO SELL EVERYTHING..AND COME FOLLOW ME          Chapter Talk 35, Feb. 2018

This morning I thought to continue with some reflections that Ronald Rolheiser shares in his book called Sacred Fire. At one point he gets into those words of Jesus to the rich young man, that were so transformative in the life of St Antony the early monk. Jesus tells the young man that he lacks “one thing. If you would receive eternal life, go sell everything that you have, give the money to the poor, and come and follow me.”

Rolheiser then uses one of the great desert father stories as a means of interpreting these words of Jesus:

“Abbot Lot went to see Abbot Joseph and said: ‘Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of bad thoughts: now what more should I do?’ The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like lamps of fire. He said: ‘Why not become all flame?’’

One of the things I think many of us have learned over the years is how those entering a monastic community like ours, are highly motivated. We have looked at what the world has to offer, perhaps even looked closely at what other religious communities have to offer and felt neither one nor the other were for us. God leads each one of us here for reasons that often we do not fully understand, reasons that our friends or family have also had a hard time trying to grasp.

It is not that we are any better than those who have chosen another way of life either as a married person, the single life or as an active religious, it’s just that the hiddenness of this life is what attracted us. The caption over the gate near the entrance to our retreathouse, “God Alone,” captures some of the meaning though I am one of those who have felt that my life here is anything but about God Alone, given over as I want it to be, a life given to God out of love for all my brothers and sisters. We recently listened in the refectory to Rolheiser expounding on prayer, especially the public prayer of monks and religious as being the prayer of the whole human family and not at all a matter of private devotion. At the center of our life is the Divine Office where we give expression to the longing of all of humanity and not only of all humanity but of all of creation.

“For Creation awaits with eager expectation.” St Paul tells us, “the revelation of the children of God… We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Sometimes in choir we may feel, or the cantors feel, there is too much groaning going on but we can never really escape the labor that goes on there. When feeling the weight of it, we might simply remember what St Paul has reminded us so long ago, that we are a part of something far larger than our own lives, bringing about a transformation through the presence and working of the Holy Spirit, of a whole new creation whose life will never end.

Roldheiser tells the story of a group of priests he came to know, the leader of whom had become fed up with the mediocrity in his life. He had worked hard at fulfilling his priestly duties but then would go looking for compensations in order to deal with tensions this work was causing him. Gathering a group of priests around him, they decided to become totally transparent with one another. They began meeting on a weekly basis and told themselves:

“We want to be priests whose lives are fully transparent, so that when people see us, what they see is truly what they get! We call ourselves a group for ‘radical sobriety,’ though none of us has ever had a problem with alcohol; but none of us has ever had full sobriety either. Full sobriety is full transparency, and full transparency is full honesty.”

Transparency is never easy for any of us but isn’t this what we are seeking through community life? And isn’t this what will help us all in the Order to move toward the “refounding” of our communities as is talked about these days?  One of the youngest in the group of priests who gathered for this purpose, admitted of finding what they were doing one of the hardest things he ever did in his life. “Not the confession to others, since I trust them, but being thirty-eight years old and trying to live like Mother Teresa. That’s hard.” And then he added: “But it’s also the best thing I have ever done! I have never been this happy.”

We, as a community, have worked toward this kind of transparency though there is always room to grow. It is this transparency that enables us to recognize who we truly are before God, allows us to lift our hands in prayer in such a way that we too in our own time, “become all flame.”


Chapter Talk – Fr Michael, Sunday, June 18th – Trinity and Our life of Prayer

+The Trinity and Our Life of Prayer Cont.    Chapter Talk  June 18, 2017          

As I suggested last week, I would like to continue to reflect with you about the mystery of the Trinity and our life of prayer. I feel this is related also to the Solemnity of Corpus Christi today and the coming Solemnity of the Sacred Heart this coming Friday.

In the writing of St Augustine the Holy Spirit is perceived primarily as love in the life of the Trinity more as a psychological illustration of the relationship of the persons. In the writing of William of St Thierry there is an emphasis on the Holy Spirit being the source of unity between Father and Son. It is a unity of love but clearly the emphasis is on the mutuality of this love to be experienced by those who share in this love of the Father and Son.

Here I would like to refer again to the treatise of Odo Brooke on William’s doctrine where he says:

“The Holy Spirit is ..conceived primarily as the mutual union between the Father and the Son, which is the foundation for the doctrine [in William’s writings] of the restoration of resemblance, a participation in the life of the Holy Spirit by sharing in the mutual union of the Father and the Son. This is described in terms of daring realism, portraying a unity of spirit, whereby the soul becomes as it were the life of the Holy Spirit himself. At the same time he guards carefully against the danger of pantheism.”

I’m seeing here also a connection with the feast of Corpus Christi that we are celebrating for as St Paul tells us in his 1st letter to the Corinthians “in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.” All of us gathered here are from very different backgrounds but by reason of sharing in the one Spirit we form one body, becoming in Christ members of one another.

We realize our oneness in Christ as we allow each of our lives to take on a divine resemblance, to become conformed more each day to the mind of Christ. In William’s Golden Epistle where he speaks of this resemblance to God that comes about as our hearts are purified of sin and evil habits, he writes:

“It is called unity of spirit not only because the Holy Spirit brings it about or inclines a man’s spirit to it, but because it is the Holy Spirit himself, the God who is Charity… The soul in its happiness finds itself standing midway in the Embrace and the Kiss of Father and Son. In a manner which exceeds description and thought, the man of God is found worth to become not God but what God is, that is to say, becomes through grace what God is by nature.”

This movement in the human person towards divine ‘resemblance’ is indeed the dominant theme of William’s spirituality and of his Trinitarian theology.” While this movement takes place over a life time, the goal is clear. The stages we go through are those of being at first governed by the senses, our personal wants and needs. Our senses are fundamentally good but the way in which we use them, makes an enormous difference. Dealing with our senses is closely related in William’s thought to the mystery of the Incarnation. The temporal economy in which we live forms so many stepping stones toward the eternal, our sharing in the dynamic life of the Trinity. All aspects of life around us become sacraments whereby what is eternal, spiritual and everlasting is manifest.

The Blessed Sacrament exposed for adoration on our altar and altars throughout the world today is God’s design to makes us aware of Christ’s presence among us. Christ is continually drawing us into his own love of the Father through the Living Flame of the Holy Spirit. Let me conclude with a quote for St John Vianney that speaks to me deeply of this mystery:

“Let us open the door of the Sacred Heart, and shut ourselves in for a moment amid its Divine flames; we shall then realize what God’s love means…

Chapter talk by Fr Michael

The Trinity and Our Prayer Life                     Chapter Talk  11 June, 2017

This morning I would like to touch on the mystery of the Trinity and our life of prayer. Today is a Solemnity and we can see it as just one more such feasts in the Church year, a great mystery to be celebrated but not having a lot to do with our everyday lives. Our early Cistercian Fathers saw it as having far more significance, a mystery we are living with the whole of our lives, touching them deeply by what is there revealed to us.

What I see William of St Thierry and St Bernard doing as well as the more modern writer Catherine LaCugna in her book, God for Us: The Trinity and Christian life, is turning our celebration of this mystery from being an abstract and hidden doctrine into an expression that is close to home, expressing our own and others’ inner experience of God.

The great danger, as the Benedictine Odo Brooke brings out is:

“that we think of the Trinity too exclusively in terms of the Processions within themselves and of the speculative theological problems arising from the mystery of three persons in  one identical nature. However important this is for theology, if the Trinity is viewed almost entirely from this angle, it will inevitable appear remote from the lives of the faithful. The perspective is changed once it is realized that Revelation presents the Trinity first of all as the intervention of the [three] persons for our salvation, according to the relationship ‘from the Father, through the Son, in the Spirit to the Father.’ ..In Scripture and in the Liturgy, the Trinity is presented not only with an emphasis on the intervention in the history of salvation, but also on the persons in their distinct relationship rather than on their unity of nature. ”

Once we begin to focus on the relationship of the three person of the Holy Trinity it is not long before we see the value of this relationship in our own lives and in all of our contacts with others. We come to see as Odo Brooke goes on to say that:

“the spiritual life at its deepest level is seen as an experience of the Trinitatian life of the  Holy Spirit. Mysticism is here shown to us not primarily as an advance in states of prayer to be analyzed and charted. It is shown as the ultimate meaning of the human being, and that meaning is to be found in the Trinity.”

What William of St Thierry and other early Cistercians saw was that the image of God in us is the very basis of our relationship and ascent to God. We have the imprint of the Trinity in our very makeup, in our very nature. As Brooke points out the whole trend of William’s thought “is to portray the image [of  God in us] as a dynamic force, impelling the soul towards its perfection in the likeness [of God]… towards union with the Trinity.”

William goes so far as to say in his work Aenigma Fidei that “those to whom the Father and the Son reveal each other know exactly as the Father and the Son know each other.” About this Odo Brooke adds:

“This knowledge is from the Holy Spirit; more, it is a share in the very life of the Spirit. It comes wholly from within the Spirit; and it is a stage of transition from faith to sight. It is an anticipation, however remote, of the final vision of God.”

Our life as Christians, as monks is to make us ever more attentive and attuned to this life of the Spirit, to the realization that nothing escapes the movement of grace in our daily lives. Wherever we may be, whether in our rooms, in Choir, at our places of work, in the kitchen, we are in God’s presence, in the presence of a God who deeply loves us and is continually inviting us to share in the very life of the Trinity itself.


Chapter Talk by Fr Michael April 23rd

+THE ART OF AFFIRMATION              Chapter Talk-23 April 2017

Some months ago I was sent a copy of a book called The Art of Affirmation by a Dr Robert Furey, the new president of Consultation Center in St Louis where I went some years ago to be with other priests and religious dealing with issues in their personal lives. When I did my final session there this past March, I had a chance to meet and speak with this Robert Furey and found him giving witness to the Art he writes about. So I thought to share some of his ideas and how they have particular relevance for our own lives.

Let me begin with a clarification of what the Robert Furey means by affirmation. “Affirmation,” he writes, “is the sincere expression of appreciation for a person’s remarkable qualities. It is through this recognition and appreciation that these abilities emerge and grow. Affirmation is a universal need. It is essential for human growth and happiness.” We have all heard or read of young people who, having been affirmed early in life, develop into gifted and mature human beings. To affirm someone is not just about telling them you are a wonderful person and are doing great. It is a real and heartfelt appreciation of the person’s gifts and potential for growth.

Reflecting on this and on our own Cistercian spirituality, I became more aware of how much of St Bernard’s theology is based on an affirmation drawn from Scripture where we are told of our being made in God’s image and likeness. Our likeness to God has been lost through sin but the image of God in us is ever present. It continually beckons us to regain our divine likeness by recognizing our pride.  Through the practice of humility, we then allow grace to once again govern our lives.

How this idea of affirmation resides deep in our own tradition again came home to me as I read through the sermon of Bl Guerric of Igny that we heard yesterday morning. He tells us: “Thanks be to God who has given us the victory both over sin and over death, through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Wholly innocent of sin and therefore free from the debt of death, he yet paid it, dying of his own will on our behalf; and rising he has set us free from sin. For as St Paul says, ‘Christ died for our sins and rose for our justification.’ By dying he underwent the punishment due to our sins, and by rising he established for us the form and the cause of everlasting justification.” In so far as we come into a living awareness of what Christ had done for us, we are affirm for our greatest potential.

The demands of our way of life become much easier to embrace as we recognize this divine initiative, realize how much grace is at work in us  as we learn to trust in God’s loving support. And as we see grace at work in our lives, we more easily see it at work in the lives of all those with whom we live.

To quote from Robert Furey again: “As you get better at seeing people’s special gifts, the world becomes more beautiful. You see more and more the valuable qualities that people offer. Your journey in life becomes more scenic when you recognize the beauty in people.” There are times I wonder whether we realize how privileged we are living among brothers who are so highly motivated amid whatever personal failings they may have. Sometimes we have occasion to really get to know one or other of our brethren and see the beauty of their lives and usually because of the recognition of the beauty in our own lives.

There are times then we think so and so has been greatly blessed, he doesn’t need affirmation. Dr Furey admits as much about himself when he writes: “I once believed that successful people didn’t need affirmation. I just thought there were some individuals who already knew how valued they were and thus didn’t need to hear it. I know now this isn’t true. Over the years I’ve met many accomplished people who yearn to know that they are appreciated. The lesson is simple: we all need affirmation.

A bit further on he writes: “..There’s an unfortunate myth about the relationship between affirmation and arrogance. According to this misconception, if I acknowledge your positive traits, I will contribute to your conceit, grandiosity, and naricissim. In other words, the human ego is so prone to extremes that encouragement is likely to make someone feel superior. This myth has killed many kind words.

Here lies an interesting twist [he says]: real affirmation does not typically lead to inflated egos. In fact, it more often produces humility. Affirmation is an expression of gratitude. Where there is gratitude there is humility. Good affirmation guides us to feel grateful for what we have been given.”

So much of our life, it seems to me, is learning to live with gratitude, to learn to give thanks in all circumstances as St Paul tells us, knowing that God’s grace is ever at work in us. Learning to affirm, which is a real art, helps those around us to live humbly as the Rule calls us to do. It enables us to live in an abiding sense of divine grace ever at work at the center of our being.