Category Archives: Chapter Talks (Public)

Chapter Talk, Fr. Michael Casagram, St. Bernard and the Body and Blood of Christ 6/19/22

+ST BERNARD AND THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST      19 June, 2022

As this Solemnity of Corpus Christi approached, I found myself continued to be moved by the Sermons of St Bernard that I have been going through with the juniors. There are aspects of them that speak of the close relationship between the soul, the Bride with Christ the Bridegroom that portray the meaning of this Solemnity like little else I’ve ever come across.

Bernard writes:

“So let us too, following scriptural usage, say that the Word of God, God himself, the Bridegroom of the soul, both comes to the soul and departs again at his pleasure, provided we realize that what is described is an inward perception of the soul and not an actual movement of the Word. For example, when the soul feels an inflowing of grace, it recognizes his presence, when it does not, it complains of his absence and seeks his return, saying with the Psalmist: ‘My face has sought you; your face, Lord, will I seek.’”

The Bridegroom both comes and departs again at his pleasure. We have all known of those times when a sense of God’s presence in our lives has been very real, empowering us to pursue a course of life or action that gives us a deeper meaning and purpose in life. After all, we have come into this world so as to become sharers in God’s very own divine life and reflect it by all that we say or do. And isn’t this the whole purpose of why Jesus gives us his Body and Blood as food for our journeys?

“Show me now a soul [St Bernard goes on to say] that the Word—the Bridegroom—habitually visits, a soul that familiarity has rendered bold, that has tasted just enough to acquire a hunger… and I will unhesitatingly assign to it the voice and name of Bride… For she who is introduced as speaking is certainly like that. The fact that she recalls the Bridegroom is proof that she has merited his presence, although not the fullness of his grace.. It may be that was why he withdrew himself, to be called back more eagerly and clasped with greater urgency.”

As we become daily more aware of the comings of the Bridegroom into our lives, one of which is our being given his very own Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we acquire a certain familiarity with God. We should not be surprised that as a result that we come to dislike whatever fails to convey an opening to this loving presence. Calling him back when he seems to be absent is normal, especially once we realize how deeply meaningful this presence is for our lives. With all the disillusionment with wealth and power in our world today, you would think our churches and monasteries would be filled with those seeking authentic meaning and satisfaction in their lives. But there are countless distractions around us through the power of the media, that many do not take the time to be attentive to their own deepest longings and needs. It often takes a crisis before they can begin to realize their true selves in Christ.

Might this be one of the greatest advantages of our own way of life as it allows us time and space to become truly aware of our most authentic desires and human longings? Let me finish with one final quote from St Bernard:

“The soul that loves the Lord is carried away by its longing. Borne forward by the pull of its desire; choosing to forget its small deserving, it shuts its eyes to God’s majesty and opens itself to bliss, sure of its salvation and dealing confidently with him. Without fear or shame it recalls the Word and trustingly asks for its former delights, calling him, with its accustomed liberty, not Lord but Beloved. ‘Return, my beloved, be like a roe or a young stag upon the mountains of Bethel.’”

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram 5/29/22

+ LOVING AS A WAY OF LIFE         Chapter Talk for May 29, 2022

With the Juniors I have been going through a book recommended to me by Bishop Erik Varden called The Cistercian World , edited and translated by Pauline Matarasso. It has a few Sermons by St Bernard on the Song of Songs. Finding the content of these Sermons captivating, I thought to share some of it with you this morning.

In his Sermon 50 St Bernard tells of how:

  1. “love can be a matter of doing or of feeling. Regarding the first, I believe that humankind has been given a law, an explicit commandment. But as to feeling, nobody can love to order, let alone in the measure required. To love in deed is therefore a command to be carried out; a loving heart is received as a gift, in recompense. That in our present life love may, by divine grace, be born in our hearts and grow, I do not deny, but I firmly believe that its coming to full maturity is reserved to future bliss.”

We are all familiar with Christ’s call to love our neighbor as ourselves, even to love as He has loved us. But we are also aware that such love is far beyond our capacity to express by our own efforts. We are made all too aware as was St Bernard that “a loving heart is received as a gift, a recompense.”

One could easily write a book on Bernard’s understanding of love and Fr Mark Scott has a long article on it in the most recent issue of Cistercian Studies in the Scriptorium. Responding and giving expression to divine love lies right at the heart of our monastic lives. We are familiar with St John of the Cross’s saying that at the evening of life we will be judged in the light of the depth of our love.

Our search for this love is nicely summarized in our Community Report for the coming General Chapter when it concludes that “the community of Gethsemani realizes its utter dependence on God. We strive to live with the community we have, with its imperfections, its inevitable inter-personal conflicts, and its frailty. Imperfections are opportunities for grace.” All that takes place in our daily lives is designed to open our hearts to this movement of grace, the gift of divine love.

St Bernard asks the question in his 50th Sermon on the Song of Songs: “How is it that something impossible of achieving came to be commanded?” While there are many answers that may be given, all of them lead us to a fresh awareness of how God continually seeks to make us sharers in God’s very own divine life. Bernard assures us that the God who laid this precept of love upon us “was not unaware that its weight exceeded our strength.”

“[God] did not, by commanding the impossible, make men into transgressors: he made them humble, so that every mouth might be silenced and the whole world brought under the judgement of God, for by keeping the Law no human being will stand justified before him. Taking this commandment into our hearts and feeling our own inadequacy, we shall call to heaven and God will have mercy on us, and we shall know in that day that he saved us not because of any upright actions of our own, but in virtue of his mercy.”

In these few words we have a summary of the whole Christian and monastic way of life. We are all in a very fragile position as we stand before God but strangely enough, this is the very moment for receiving a new and everlasting gift of life. Jesus reminding us in John’s gospel that without him we can do nothing is just one of the many scriptural texts that would have us live in a continual awareness of our need for his tender presence. To do so is to be humbled but also to become ever more grateful for the closeness of God in our daily lives. Isn’t this what St Paul had in mind when speaking of God to the Athenians that “in him we live and move and have our being!”

Chapter Talk – Fr Michael Casagram – A Synodal Church, A Synodal Community 2/13/22

+A SYNODAL CHURCH, A SYNODAL COMMUNITY   ChapTalk 13 Feb.’22

This morning I would like to offer some further comments on what is taking place in communities everywhere in preparation for the coming Synod in 2023. In the Vademecum For the Synod on Synodality document which is the official handbook for listening and discernment in the local churches we have an opening prayer to the Holy Spirit which begins like this:

We stand before You, Holy Spirit,

as we gather together in Your name.

With you alone to guide us,

make Yourself at home in our hearts;

Teach us the way we must go

and how we are to pursue it.

This document along with another called the Preparatory Document are complementary and should be read in tandem with one another. This document conveys that:

“In creating the opportunity for listening and dialogue on the local level through this Synod, Pope Francis is calling the Church to rediscover its deeply synodal nature. This rediscovery of the synodal roots of the Church will involve a process of humbly learning together how God is calling us to be as the Church of the third millennium.“

There are obvious reasons why the Church is seeking to rediscover its synodal roots for as you are well aware, there is a lot of polarization going on in the Church and we are well aware of how we differ among ourselves in how we perceive the monastic life should be lived today. Our efforts yesterday morning to discuss our experience of the retreat by Bishop Erik was a graced occasion but it also brought about some soul searching in how we disengage us from living our life of prayer. It was a good example of what living in a synodal Church asks of us as it  entails a lot of careful listening to different perspectives than our own and letting ourselves enter into dialogue with them. What distracts my prayer life is often different from what gets in the way of another’s. To see this and to come to greater compassion for one another is what deepens our relationships and makes us living members of the Church.

The Preparatory Document that is complementary to the Vademecum asks the basic question of how to live as a synodal Church today in a way that will enable us to proclaim the Gospel entrusted to us.

“Addressing this question together requires listening to the Holy Spirit, who like the wind “blows where it wills; you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes” (Jn 3:8), remaining open to the surprises that the Spirit will certainly prepare for us along the way. Thus, a dynamism is activated that allows us to begin to reap some of the fruits of a synodal conversion, which will progressively mature. These are objectives of great importance for the quality of ecclesial life and for accomplishing the mission of evangelization, in which we all participate by virtue of our Baptism and Confirmation.”

What Pope Francis and all the Bishops are seeking to set into motion is a fresh encounter with the working of the Holy Spirit in the earliest years of the Church but all throughout its history. It is an effort to reach out to those on the margins for various reasons, many of whom we may know from our lived experience. Not least, it is a clear effort at “recognizing the appreciating the wealth and variety of the gifts and charisms that the Spirit liberally bestows for the good of the community and the benefit of the entire human family.”

There are more of these objectives listed in the Preparatory Document that can’t be presented here but I encourage you to put time and effort into reading  the documents put out in the Scriptorium. When and how, through dialogue, we will make our own contributions to the work of the diocese is to be seen. One cannot help but be thankful for all the efforts being made to give witness to a more synodal Church as it offers a great potential for the future.

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – Opening Ourselves to the Advent Mystery 12/5/21

+OPENING OURSELVES TO THE ADVENT MYSTERY    ChapTalk 5 Dec. ‘21

Last week I spoke of Advent as Sacrament of Christ’s presence, drawing on Merton’s reading of our early Cistercian fathers. In Chapter two of his Seasons of Celebration, he asks if Advent, because of how it is actually experienced is “Hope or Delusion?” He wants us to take a close look at how we actually experience this time of the Church year.

Because of it being such a busy time for us here at Gethsemani, we may feel it difficult to enter fully into this Liturgical season but far more is involved. How Advent and Christmas are programed in our world today is often at variance with what goes on in the monk’s heart and to experience this is really a healthy sign. The season has become so commercialized, it is not be easy to discern its real meaning.

Merton sees the figure of John the Baptist as an authentic example of what takes place in the monk’s heart. He writes:

The Advent Gospels, like most of the other liturgical texts of the season, are sober to the point of austerity. Take for example the question of St John the Baptist in Herod’s prison, where he was about to undergo a tragic death that was at once cruel and senseless: “Are you He who is to come, or look we for another?” Strange and even scandalous words, which some have never been able to accept at their face value! How can John have meant such a question, when he had seen the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus in the Jordan? Yet the directness with which the question was asked was the guarantee of its desperate seriousness: for at the close of his life, John was concerned not only, as we might say, for the ‘success of his mission’ but more profoundly still, for the truth of his own life, the truth of Israel, indeed the truth of Yahweh Himself. (p. 89)

Not long ago I read a respected commentary on this questioning of John in prison and it explained it as really spoken for the sake of his disciples and not from out of his own inner struggle. Merton takes a very different perspective and I think he is right. As he puts it:

We must be willing to see Him [the Christ] and acclaim Him, as John did, even at the very moment when our whole life’s work and all its meaning seem to collapse. Indeed, more formidable still, the Church herself may perhaps be called upon some day to point out the Victorious Redeemer and King of Ages amid the collapse of all that has been laboriously built up by the devotion of centuries and cultures that sincerely intended to be Christian. (p. 91)

Are we seeing in our own time something of this collapse of which Merton writes? The interplay of Cultures, Customs and Church practice have changed dramatically as the result of the Covid crisis. The Christmas celebration that many of us experienced in our youth, is no longer viable and is giving way to a new presence of Christ in our world. Merton asks us if we are not being called in our time to better:

understand the kenotic quality of the Advent mystery? The Christ who emptied Himself taking the form of a servant, dying on the Cross for us, brought us the plenitude of His gifts and of His salvation. But He continues in us a kenotic and hidden existence. The fullness of time is the time of His emptiness in us. The fullness of time is the time of our emptiness, which draws Christ down into our lives so that in us and through us He may bring the fullness of His truth to the world. (p.93-4)

Many of us heard about this sharing in the self-emptying love of Christ  at the night Office yesterday morning. To allow ourselves to experience this is something wonderfully freeing for it takes us along the path a pure faith so that Christ takes over the center of our lives. By allowing ourselves to enter into this kind of faith we do away with the false ideas of our own accomplishments, opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit who comes to rest on the humble and poor. Let me conclude with one last quote from Merton:

The Advent mystery in our own lives is the beginning of the end of all, in us, that is not yet Christ. It is the beginning of the end of unreality. And that is surely a cause of joy!

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram — Advent Season and our Monastic Lives 11/28/21

+THE ADVENT SEASON AND OUR MONASTIC LIVES                     ChapTalk 28 Nov.2021

This morning I thought to share a few reflections on the Advent season. It is a busy time for us here at Gethsemani with all the orders coming in and our efforts to get everything shipped out in time for Christmas. The fact that so much of the income by which we support ourselves comes in at this time may seem to distract us from what is most important, the coming of God into our daily lives, but it need not do so at all, as long as we let it all to become the vehicle of Christ’s drawing near to us and filling our lives. Merton in his book Seasons of Celebration helps us to fully appreciate the grace of this season as he writes:

The Advent mystery focuses the light of faith upon the very meaning of life, of history, of man [humanity], of the world and of our own being. In Advent we celebrate the coming and indeed the presence of Christ in our world. We witness to His presence even in the midst of all its inscrutable problems and tragedies. Our advent faith is not an escape from the world to a misty realm of slogans and comforts which declare our problem to be unreal, our tragedies inexistent. (p. 89)

Because of all that is going on at our time with global warming, the Covid pandemic, the polarization happening in Church and society we may begin to wonder where is God in the midst of it all? It is not easy to discern but we can be sure that Christ is right here with us, ready to help us with all our discernment.

As a reminder of this living presence, ready to assist us with whatever we may be struggling with, Merton writes in an earlier in his book Seasons of Celebration:

Advent is the ‘sacrament’ of the presence of God in His world, in the Mystery of Christ at work in History through His Church, preparing in a hidden, obscure way for the final manifestation of His Kingdom… The twelfth century Cistercians place a special emphasis on the coming of Christ by His Spirit to the Christian Person. Like the Rhenish mystics they contemplate His hidden birth in our lives, His Advent here and now in the mystery of prayer and providence. (p. 61)

We cannot be reminded often enough of how the season that has just begun, is the “sacrament” of God’s presence in the world and in each of our lives whatever the struggles may be. This season is a constant reminder of “coming of Christ by His Spirit” into our everyday Christian lives. It is this presence that enables us to live our monastic calling to the full. The busyness going on in the shipping department is the very occasion of Christ’s coming, as well as anything else that may go on in our service to the community.

Everything we do has the potential of being the sacrament of Christ’s life giving presence, of helping  us “to unite all things in Christ” as St Paul reminds us in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph. 1:9-10). Let me draw once more from Merton’s appreciation of our early Cistercian tradition:

The sacramentum  which St Bernard finds in Advent is the sacaramentum, the mysterium of which St Paul writes to the Ephesians. It is the ‘sacrament’ (or ‘mystery’) of the divine will, according to the design which it pleased Him to form in Christ, to be realized in the fullness of time, to unite all things in Christ. This mystery is the revelation of God Himself in His Incarnate Son. But it is not merely a manifestation of the Divine Perfections, it is the concrete plan for the salvation of men [and women] and the restoration of the whole world in Christ. (p.63)

Christ is making all things new as we allow his presence to penetrate more and more of our daily lives. Despite the crises we see in our world today, God’s Beloved Son is doing something entirely new. So let us enter more confidently into this time of Advent, assured that God is using our very hidden and humble efforts each day, to bring about the transformation of the world in which we live.

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – Monasteries and Hospitality today 10/24/21

+MONASTERIES AND HOSPITALITY TODAY   Chapter Talk 24 Oct. 2021

In last Sunday’s talk, Fr Elias shared some reflections on chapter 53 of the Rule on the Reception of Guests, pointing out the  two sections of this St Benedict’s thinking on the matter. I thought to stay with this theme this morning, drawing on a talk Fr Elias gave us four years ago. The talk he gave then was after he had read a 700 page book in French by a Daniele Hervieu-Leger called Monks’ Time, Enclosure and Hospitality

Our Br Frederic brought this talk of Fr Elias to my attention recently and though excellent, I did not remember its content and would like to present some of its content just in case your own memories need to be refreshed. The book of Hervieu-Leger, a sociologist, was written after she had visited many Benedictine and Cistercian monasteries in France. It was summarized in a few sentences by Fr Elias as seeing enclosure either as a threshold or as a fortification. Viewing enclosure as a fortification:

“emphasizes the timeless nature of monastic life, makes strong claims of continuity with the past, which is most powerfully expressed in an unchanging liturgy, and is determined to keep out harmful influences from contemporary society.”

This viewpoint down plays the ecclesiology of Vatican II and may even be critical of it, seeing “monastic life as a corrective for where the Church has gone wrong.” As many of you are aware this kind of thinking is not far from that of many in the Church today, a feeling that we need to go back to the Latin or Tridentine Mass and have much less participation by the laity in the Liturgy.

On the other hand, viewing monastic enclosure as a threshold takes on a very different view, one:

“based on claims of continuity with the past, but with a greater willingness to adapt to changing times and circumstances. In this view, enclosure is seen more as guardian of community discipline than as a protection from outside influence. The Liturgy may also be rooted in the past, but it keeps step with the universal Church and is accessible to visitors. Hospitality is open, ecumenical and perhaps even interreligious, makes minimal demands on guests, and receives them without seeking to influence them in any particular way. Monasteries with this vision are accepting of Vatican II ecclesiology, and while witnessing to traditional Christian values, do not espouse any particular political or social agenda.”

For many of us who entered before or during the Second Vatican Council, it is easy to recall the shifts that took place in our experience of enclosure. Some of us still recall how Gethsemani was considered a “powerhouse of prayer,” very special in the Church and separated from the rest of society. As Fr Elias further summarizes Leger’s book:

“…In an increasingly secular society, the traditional reasons for enclosed existence are no longer compelling, and this kind of religious status seems marginal and irrelevant. Even within the Church, which now emphasizes the universal call to holiness, monastic separation can seem more like isolation, and monks can be seen as exotic reminders of the past rather than experts or models for the present.”

One or the results of this new approach to enclosure is that we have come to experience our vocation in a whole new light. Our “approach is to stay in relationship with the changing cultural context and to acknowledge its positive elements, all the while remaining attached to tradition… Where a monastery’s liturgy falls on this continuum is probably a good indicator of its approach to this fundamental question of how it lives out its tradition in relation with modernity.”

Gethsemani has made an extra effort to include our guests in its celebration even in the face of Covid. Our show of hospitality is not without some risks but isn’t this what the Rule of St Benedict would have us do if we are going to see our neighbor’s needs as those of Christ! As Fr Elias asked four years ago, when the model of enclosure as threshold makes our life suffer from a loss of uniqueness, “what makes monastic life so compelling when its purposes can be met by people in all walks of life?”

He sees Hervieu-Leger answering this very question as she “makes some astute observations on a deeper level.” She speaks of monks following a kind of “little way” which immediately made me think of St Therese of Lisieux who has had such a profound influence on the contemplative life. As Fr Elias goes on to describe this fresh approach to enclosure:

“The monks do not aspire to be or to be perceived as charismatic athletes of faith. They accept their minority status in the religious landscape. They do not experience a dichotomy between their grounding in tradition (as expressed by enclosure) and a willingness to relate to the world as it is (as expressed by hospitality”.

Hervieu-Leger then  pointed out, and I will end with this quote from Fr Elias’ talk:

“the significant impact the abduction and execution of the monks of Tibhirine had made on the monastic world. In a sense, the Atlas brothers embodied in an extreme way the basic choices at issue here… They chose to exercise an exceptional kind of hospitality that excluded no one, friend or foe, refusing to compromise their practice in this regard, even at the risk of their lives. The questions they dealt with in dramatic, high stakes circumstances are the same fundamental issues that all monasteries need to face.”

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – Advent in the Spirituality of St Bernard 12/06/20

+ADVENT IN THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST BERNARD                   Chapter Talk 6 Dec.’20

Pondering on what I might share with you this morning, I felt myself drawn to Merton’s Seasons of Celebration. We have used this for 2nd Nocturn readings in the past but his chapter on St Bernard’s thoughts on Advent deserves further consideration.

Fr Louis tells us of how:

“The twelfth century Cistercians place a special emphasis on the coming of Christ by His Spirit to the Christian Person. Like the Rhenish mystics they contemplate His hidden birth in our lives, His Advent here and now in the mystery of prayer and providence.” (p.61)

As we think of contemplating about “His hidden birth in our lives” we are given a lot to ponder, a greater appreciation of what becomes all too easily mere routine in our daily lives. We are engaged in a lot of extra work these day will all the shipping of our products going one but this too can become routine unless we are serving a deeper purpose in it all.

We have dedicated ourselves to a whole life of prayer. This is our contribution to the whole of the Church and of our society our time that is going through a lot of trauma. What I would hope from these reflections is a greater sense of gratitude for the gift we have been given. The hidden nature of our life may leave us vulnerable on many levels. As Merton describes this:

“Following an austere and lonely path, deprived of earthly consolation, living in emptiness, aware of their dependence on God, Cistercians live ‘as little ones,’ the Children of the Church. In this way they seek God Himself, beyond all visible things, and because they seek Him in faith he comes to them hidden in the Sacramentum of Advent.”(pp. 62-3)

We live in a world where public opinion through instant communication is more and more common. It is all too easy for any one of us to wonder if we are making any real contribution to all that is going on because of the very hiddenness of our life. Contrary to appearances, our faith empowers us to make the most lasting change in our world, opens the way for the very Advent of Christ so desperately needed. Merton points out that St Bernard sees:

“The Sacrament (of Advent) is the Presence of Christ in the world as Savior. In his theology Advent does not merely commemorate the Incarnation as a historical event, nor is it a mere devotional preparation for the Feast of Christmas, nor an anticipation of the Last Judgment. It is above all the ‘sacrament’ of the presence of God in the world and in time in His Incarnate Word, in His Kingdom, above all His presence in our own lives as our Savior.” (p. 64)

The presence of Christ in our hearts, in our daily lives overcomes all the obstacles to our human and divine growth. This Christ, Merton tells us:

“never grows tired, for He is the power of God, ever ready to revive us and lift us up. But we must call upon Him for help in our battles. Finally, He ‘stands for’ us, He resists within us. If He be for us, who is against us?…He himself will overcome evil and deliver us from forces that we would never be capable of resisting by ourselves. This is the fortitude of faith.” (p. 65)

I don’t think enough can be said about this closeness of Christ in our lives. It is easy enough for us to think of Christ as off somewhere else in the universe, who only on the rare occasion is felt to be near and ready to strengthen us. St Bernard and then Merton are reminding us that His divine presence is far more invasive, far more available and ready to take hold of the whole of our lives if we are aware and open to his presence. Advent sets the tone for the whole of the Church year, sets the tone for the whole of our lives of prayer.

I know that the words of Jesus in chapter 15 of John’s gospel have become more and more loaded in my own life. Jesus saying that without him we can do nothing is revealing far more than most of us can begin to fully grasp even though there could hardly be anything said that is more intimate and loving in all of Scripture.

Fr Louis inspired by St Bernard sees how this season takes us into this great mystery, into something more than the mind can grasp. To end with one more quote from Merton, he tells us that God’s Word continues to take flesh in our lives:

“in order that His Incarnation, prolonged in His Mystical Body the Church, might finally terminate in the glorification of the Whole Christ at the right hand of the Father in heaven. ..Our life is hidden with Christ in God.” (pp. 66-67)

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – August 2, 2020 – Prayer as the Path to Knowing our Deepest Selves

+PRAYER AS THE PATH TO KNOWING OUR DEEPEST SELVES   Chap.Talk 2 Aug.’20

Recently I have been going through a book by a Fr Luigi Gioia, a Benedictine monk on prayer called Say It To God. I would like to share a few of his reflections with you this morning. In one of the chapters he speaks of “A Presence We Discover in Us’ and writes of how “the Lord himself opens a space for prayer in our hearts. He invites us there, to be alone with him, to find rest in him: ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ He awakes in us a longing to see our life centered on him.”

So much of prayer is really about coming to know ourselves as made for God, how restless we are, as St Augustine told us long ago, until we rest in God. Most of us live daily with a paradox for “there is something in us that feels uneasy with prayer and shies away from it, that repeatedly finds excuses for putting it off to another day.” One cannot help but wonder why this is the case, what it is that makes us even as religious, to run from what is true to our own deepest longing?

Jesus tells us, as you well remember from John’s gospel, how “the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”(Jn 4:23) Prayer is meant to be the hub of our lives, something we are called to do all day long as though the most natural thing in the world. Gioia goes so far as to say “prayer is.. not only the thing our soul desires but also that which all humanity, indeed the whole of creation, desperately need.”

Many of us in our world today have become increasingly aware of how much humanity and all creation groans “in travail” as we face the spread of the virus, have been given fresh awareness of how racism affects our society, the growing consequences of climate change that seems to threaten the future of human life on our planet. More than ever, we are experiencing the wisdom of St Paul that “creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… in the hope that it will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (8:20-21)  We are all we want to be when we live as God’s very own children.

Prayer in this sense, is the most natural thing in the world, what our heavenly Father wants and expects more than anything from us. Continual prayer is the gift of our heavenly Father. The constant longing that arises from deep down within, is this pull coming from our heavenly Father. Jesus reminded us long ago that no one comes to him “unless the Father draws him.” This is as Gioia points out, “the living water that Jesus promised will rise in the hearts of those who believe in him… It is the deepestvoice of our heart that coincides with the voice of the Spirit within us that cries out Abba, Father.

God looks to those who worship in spirit and in truth. To have access, however to this deepest part of our hearts may have surprising results. When faced with it, we all too easily become rebellious, closed or resistant when God draws near to open our deeper selves so as to free them from all forms of self-centeredness or inner resistance. Gioia would have us venture to the root of our inner struggle with prayer, have us look at what may be difficult to face in our prayer life. For him, to plumb the depths of our hearts takes a lot of nerve. As he puts it:

“The tragedy is that our heart is at odds with ourselves too, it blames us too; as John says in his letter: our heart condemns us.” (1 Jn 3:20)

This means that trying to penetrate our heart, trying to get in touch with the deepest part of our soul, with our spirit, can be rather unappealing. It is like going back into a prison, a gloomy space closed and bolted in which we have shut ourselves, prisoners of a voice that accuses and blames us. We are locked in our hearts exactly as were the trembling disciples, who stayed huddled behind closed doors before the resurrection of Jesus: ‘the doors of the place where they had met were locked for fear of the Jewish leaders.’ (Jn 20:19) Fear was the key that locked their door, the same fear that keeps us hidden today behind our inner walls.”

Gioia goes on to point out how religiosity is of no help when we find ourselves behind these inner walls and it only makes them thicker. “There is a certain familiarity with Scripture, with prayers, in short, with religion, that can make us impervious to the action of the Lord.” While reading the scriptures it does not take us long to realize that, while his first disciples surrounded him and walked with him day after day, they had an awful time comprehending what he was trying to bring home to them.

The Scribes and Pharisees often quoted scripture to him but completely missed the good news he was trying to share with them. His disciples “could live side by side with Jesus and yet remain fearful and of little faith.” At such times we may begin to believe that God is powerless, distant or has abandoned us.

Strangely enough it is exactly at such times as these that we learn to truly become men of prayer. Faced with our utter poverty and inadequacy, our faith opens the door to God’s own generous gift of the Spirit. Through a humble and simple trust in the living God, who knows our weakness and inner struggle far better than we do, our spirit becomes united with God’s own. It is then that our spirit becomes one with the Holy Spirit who prays within us with sighs too deep for words.

Chapter Talk, Lectio Divina, Fr. Michael Casagram 3/1/20

+Lectio Divina, An Ancient Art                            Chapter Talk, 1 March, 2020

The morning I thought to offer a few reflections on the art of Lectio Divina in view of having distributed our Lenten books. Being faithful to our Lenten reading provides us with the opportunity to enter into a deeper communion with the living God. I thought to draw on some reflections presented by Fr Luke Dysinger, OSB who gave some talks to the community a few years ago. Also I’m going to put out in the Scriptorium a couple copies of two Chapter talks Fr Elias gave on this subject back in August of 2004. Having talked to him on the phone last Friday, he is fine with this.

Fr Luke Dysinger tells us that:

“This ancient practice [of Lectio Divina] has been kept alive in the Christian monastic tradition, and is one of the precious treasures of Benedictine monastics and oblates. Together with the Liturgy and daily manual labor, time set aside in a special way for lectio divina enables us to discover in our daily life an underlying spiritual rhythm.”

It enables not only to discover, let me suggest, but find delight in and maintain a healthy spiritual rhythm in our daily lives. In the early centuries of monastic life Lectio Divina meant contemplative praying with the Scriptures or Bible only but today it has come to include commentaries on the Word of God or any spiritual writing that conveys the truth of our Christian faith as exemplified by the books just given out to each of you. Whatever the inspired Word we expose ourselves to, what allows it to be truly divine are the inner dispositions of our hearts.

Dysinger goes on to say:

“The art of lectio divina begins with cultivating the ability to listen deeply, to hear ‘with the ear of our hearts” as St Benedict encourages us in the Prologue to the Rule. When we read the Scriptures [or the book we have chosen for this season] we should try to imitate the prophet Elijah. We should allow ourselves to become like those who are able to listen for the still, small voice of God (1 Kings 19:12); the “faint murmuring sound” which is God’s word for us, God’s voice touching our hearts. This gentle listening is an “atunement” to the presence of God in that special part of God’s creation which is the Scriptures.

This careful attentiveness or listening leads in turn to ruminating, to reflecting deeply on the words we hear interiorly as spoken to us. It is very much like Mary’s “pondering in her heart” what she saw and heard, allowing it to interact with our thoughts, hopes, memories and desires. Inevitably, this will also take us deeper into prayer where we struggle to truly live whatever is asked of us by the Word. To do so, is to become interiorly transformed.

This in turn will bring us to a contemplative experience, where to use a final quote from Dysinger:

“We simply rest in the presence of the One who has used His word as a means of inviting us to accept His transforming embrace. No one who has ever been in love needs to be reminded that there are moments in loving relationships when words are unnecessary. It is the same in our relationship with God.”

This is where our lives are oriented, the awareness we long for all our lives. All that is asked is that we give it the time, the inner discipline and attentiveness necessary for grace to work.

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – The Grace of Community 2/2/20

+THE GRACE OF COMMUNITY                                                          Chapter Talk 2 Feb. 2020

In recent years there has been a growing sense of the value of community as the means of providing ambient or support for human growth and maturity. As a starting point, I thought to draw on Michael Casey’s treatment of the subject in this book GRACE, On the Journey to God. The topic deserves two or three sessions so I will touch on a few aspects of it here.

Casey begins by drawing on the thought of a professor of psychology, Nicholas Humphrey, who shows how:

“the emergence of creative intelligence in human beings correlates with community living… This is because essential tasks are shared, there is more leisure, more time to think of creative solutions, the possibility of pooling knowledge and experience, the possibility of collaboration on tasks too great for one, and the incremental growth of knowledge from one generation to the next.”

Again and again in recent years I have heard of how the young are in search of authentic community. Communication has greatly increased with the growth of modern technology but this does not necessary mean that it provides the caring and loving atmosphere in which the young are able to humanly grow and reach maturity. This I suspect is not just the case for the young but is the crying need of all who are searching for creative solutions for their own inner growth and the urgent issues of our time such as the effects of climate change, the growing divide between the rich and poor, the rising occurrence of violence in our society etc.

Pope Francis has often reminded us of the value of applying the gospel to our everyday lives, of carrying the gospel into our places of work and family life. For us living the monastic way vocation this means applying the Good News to every aspect of our lives. The Word of God to which we are exposed all day long is to resonate in us wherever we may be and especially in our relationships throughout the day.

This will inevitably demand some renunciation on our part both externally and internally. As Casey says of the newcomer to our life:

The recruit is required to abandon components of the lifestyle that was previously followed.. [like] relinquishing some of their opportunities for social media. Internally, there are other more fundamental demands: adopting means appropriate to the common goal of the group, cultivating appropriate beliefs and values, having a different attitude to sexuality, .. to authority, .. to self-assertion, ..to others. Underlying all this is the challenge of being open to the mystery of an invisible world, where the rules and expectations current in ambient society are not always relevant.

There is a renunciation that continues throughout our monastic life. While this demands a lot of detachment, it is inspired and sought after because of a religious experience that has taken place in our lives. St. Gregory the Great pointed this out long ago. We are in search of God because we have been deeply touched by a divine initiative. We became willing to give up whatever because of something far superior having taken hold of us. The surrender may demand more than we ever thought possible at the beginning of our monastic lives, but with faith we are able to stay the course. Its end is eternal life in a divine embrace.

A lot of things may change over the years but there is real value in recalling from time to time what inspired our undertaking of this way of life.  God’s grace never falters, what moved us in our early years gathers momentum, penetrating every  aspect of our lives, some of which we only gradually become aware of. While this will be challenging, perhaps even threatening at times, it becomes wonderfully liberating as we allow God’s own love to heal all our wounds. We in turn, become messengers of healing love to all those around us.

Casey writes that:

“Because Western culture is individualistic and other cultures are fast becoming so, most of us have been formed in this way… The opposite of individualism is mutuality: living in the context of others. When individualism yields to mutuality, selfishness is replaced by sensitivity, conflict is replaced by harmony, stalemate is replaced by dialogue, obstinacy is replaced by adaptability, aggression is replaced by patience, withdrawal is replaced by participation, dysphoria is replaced by euphoria. Of course, this beautiful state is not achieved effortlessly; it demands a lot of self-denial on the part of all.”

What inspired so many of us in coming to the monastery is, I believe, this very desire to practice self-denial, confident that it would unite us to the living God. Community life gives us countless opportunities to do this very thing and as we do, we can be sure it will guide us to our desired goal, a participation in God’s own Trinitarian life.