Category Archives: Homilies and Talks


Fr. Michael – Virtual Retreat – +BEING TRULY ALIVE by Living the Rule of Benedict as a Lay Cistercian 11/7/20

+BEING TRULY ALIVE by Living the Rule of Benedict as a Lay Cistercian

Irrepressible Light by a Patricia Sharbaugh (selection from book that Fr. Michael quotes)

First of all let me welcome you all on behalf of the Gethsemani community. I think it especially significant that we have a retreat this weekend with all that is happening in this Nation with the election and in our world with the pandemic and climate change. This is a new way of connecting with one another and I trust it will be a graced day for each and all of us. It is a unique way of being together but space and time put no limits on the working of the Holy Spirit who is with us all as we gather for this Virtual Retreat.

It was suggested that I say a few words about St Benedict in a Secular world. As I began to think of sharing with you a story I recently came across in my spiritual reading, a true story and one I feel to be close to your own experience so I thought to share it as a way of getting into the spirit of our time together. It is from a book called Irrepressible Light by a Patricia Sharbaugh, it is subtitled The Women of the New Testament.In her chapter on Luke 2:36-38, the story of the prophet Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, Patricia tells the story about asceticism in her life and ours. As you are well aware the pandemic has imposed a certain kind of asceticism on all of us, very real limits on where we can go or gatherings we normally enjoy. Patricial highlights the fact of how these restrictions can be a wonderful way of growing in love that is at the very heart of our Christian and Lay Cistercian way of living it. So here is what she writes:

“Perhaps the best way to understand asceticism…his asceticism had made for love.”

These few paragraphs sum up what I think ‘becoming fully alive’ means for many of us. Wherever we may be, whatever we may be doing, if it is being done in the service of God and neighbor, will manifest a love that is in our heart and overflow onto all those around us. As happens in my own life of making fudge, praying the Divine Office each day, serving in our refectory that means putting out food for the community and washing dishes afterward, being faithful to my lectio divina etc when carried out in love is like a leaven in my community. I think this is true of each one of your lives as you seek to be faithful to divine grace that  is at  work in you. May you realize how gifted each of you is and give yourself over to it anew each day.


Reflection at Eucharist 10/26/20

From  Give us This Day booklet

By Sr Miriam Pollard, OCSO

The woman was completely bent. Completely. Not just a little bit, but totally unable to stand up straight.

Each of us is to some extent that bent woman. Each of us can spend our lives looking at mud puddles, mourning the tragedies and sins of human life, wanting what we have not been given, resenting what we have been given, afraid of what we will be given. Creating a whole world of negativity.

God knows there is enough to be negative about, but faith means that we can see through the darkness into the core of light within. And faith says, “believe in it. See it. Bathe in it. Spend prayer time knowing it is there. Find it. Stretch yourself into it.”

These things: these transient, small and insignificant things. Compared to the weight of glory they are the several doors. Doors to the joys, the serene and heart-stopping happiness that will steal in and saturate body and soul and spirit, world without end. Amen

Reflection by Fr Michael – Teresa of Avila – October 15, 2020

(Ephesians 1:1-10; Luke 11:47-54)

+As we heard in the reading at Vigils from Teresa of Avila  this morning, “if Christ Jesus dwells in a person as his friend and noble leader, that one can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us.

Unlike the scribes and Pharisees we heard about in our gospel, our life is centered on Christ who “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.. chose us in him, before the foundation of the world” as we just heard from St Paul to the Ephesians.

Such love asks only love in return and so much depends on keeping this always before our eyes as Teresa of Avila reminds us again and again in her writing as a Doctor of the Church. “If at some time the Lord should grant us, she tells us, the grace of impressing his love on our hearts, all will become easy for us and we shall accomplish great things quickly and without effort.” So let us ask for this grace for one another and for Christians everywhere

Homily – Fr. Michael – October 11, 2020


This Sunday’ parable is the third of a series. Two Sundays ago we heard of how repentant sinners will enter the kingdom of heaven before the supposedly righteous ones. Last Sunday we heard of how those given supervision of a vineyard plotted to appropriate it for themselves. Today we hear of invitations to a royal wedding banquet. Clearly our parable is about God summoning, inviting guests to the marriage feast for his Son Jesus.

There is something wonderfully comprehensive about this parable, the way it includes not only the history of the chosen people but the whole of the human family for a banquet that is to satisfy their greatest needs and expectations. As we heard in the first reading from Isaiah, “the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food…and pure, choice wines. On this mountain God will destroy the veil that veils all peoples…will destroy death forever… will wipe away the tears from every face.”

St Paul experienced this already during this life, telling us of how he “learned the secret of being well fed and going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Paul has accepted joyously the invitation to the wedding feast of Lamb, where God will satisfy our deepest desires “in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” He experienced the wonderful graciousness of God, the union of God’s very Son with all of the human family, making us sharers in divine life.

It is a wedding feast prepared for all of us gathered here, a wedding feast offered all day long if we dare to open our hearts to it. It calls us to conversion of heart, a death to self so as to live in Christ’s own love. As Pope Francis warns us in one of his own sermons on this parable:

“Some of the intended guests went so far as to abuse and kill the servants who delivered the invitationBut despite the lack of response from those called, God’s plan is never interrupted. In facing the rejection of those first invited, He is not discouraged, He does not cancel the feast, but makes another invitation, expanding it beyond all reasonable limits, and sends his servants into the town squares and the byways to gather anyone they find. These, however, are ordinary, poor, neglected and marginalized people, good and bad alike — even bad people are invited — without distinction. And the hall is filled with “the excluded”. The Gospel, rejected by some, is unexpectedly welcomed in many other hearts.

We are all invited, whatever our weaknesses and limitations may be. What I find especially moving in Pope Francis’s words is how “God’s plan is never interrupted.” God is ever reaching out into our world of today but it takes the eyes of faith, the wedding garment of a spiritual sense to honestly respond to God’s design.

Just how real and personal this invitation is, is manifest in our Eucharistic celebration each day. At this altar God’s very own Son shares with each and all of us his very Body and Blood for the feast and we join the Hosts of heaven in a wedding banquet. Offered under the appearance of bread and wine tells of how infinitely close the wedding feast is to every aspect of our lives. Our simple and hidden lives become the beginnings of a feast that will last for all eternity.     Amen

Reflection – Fr. Michael Casagram – “Who is the real Christian?” 10/5/20

(Gal. 1:6-12; Luke 10:25-37)

+Our gospel this morning is more relevant than ever in our world today. A scholar of the Law, trying to justify himself, asks Jesus “who is my neighbor?” This is a question on the minds and hearts of Christians all over the world as victims of the pandemic continue to grow, with migrants, with the many suffering from natural disasters like the flooding in France or the fires in California, when we are faced with the millions starving or destitute. It is so easy to look the other way.

There is a way in which Jesus really doesn’t answer the question of the scholar of the law as to who is my neighbor but tells him and all of us who is the neighborly person toward the man left half dead along the roadway. Our hurting and destitute neighbor is not hard to find but the one who is truly loving toward him is! The priest passed on the opposite side of the road, the Levite did the same but then there is the Samaritan who is moved with compassion at the sight. The real Christian is the loving and caring one.

Homily – Fr. James Conner – 27th Sunday of Year – Yr A “Fear not! It is I”.

Our gospel today must be seen in the light of all that took place in chapter 21. It begins with Jesus entry into Jerusalem. The gospel tells us that “all of Jerusalem was in an uproar”. The Jewish authorities asked Him: “By what authority do you do these things?” Jesus responds by telling them the parable about the vineyard. The Jews would have immediately recognized that he was referring to Isaiah – our first reading today. “The vineyard of the Lord is the house of Israel. He looked for justice and behold bloodshed; for righteousness and behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold a cry”.

Jesus would have left no doubt in their minds that he is a true minister of the Lord. “All authority in heaven and on earth is given Me” By this time he would have fully realized that he has been sent not only to the lost of Israel, but for all peoples. He learned that lesson from the Canaanite woman, whom he had first referred to as a dog. He knew that he must bring the word of salvation, not only to the people of Israel – the vineyard of the Lord – but to all who will heed his message.

This means that we ourselves are now that vineyard of the Lord. He looks to us to bring forth fruit and signs of life. This brings us to our second reading from Philippians. We are to have no anxiety about anything. This refers us back to his message that we are to be like the birds of the wir, who have no anxiety, but receive all they need from their heavenly Father, for even the hairs of our head are numbered. Hence we are simply “in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving let our needs be known to God, Trusting that the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus”.

But we live at a time of great anxiety – a time of the covavirus, a time of crucial elections in our nation, a time of unemployment and loss of income for millions. And yet Jesus is telling us “have no anxiety” – to have trust in God for all things – to believe that all will be provided by our heavenly Father. It is only in that way that we will be able to yield that harvest that the Father is looking for. For now WE are the vineyard of the Lord. WE are to yield a harvest of trust and confidence in our heavenly Father. That is the whole purpose of our monastic and contemplative life. That is what we are to show forth to the world at this time.

Hence Paul can exhort us – and all peoples today – “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Rather than allowing our minds and our world to be filled with anxiety and fear, we are to have trust in our heavenly Father. We are to heed the message of Jesus. Rather than allowing our hearts to be filled with doubt, as the Jewish authorities of Jesus’ time, we are to have faith in His word that He is truly the Love of God made manifest to us, calling us to heed his word as it is given to us in the Gospels, and to have trust – not fear. Truly He tells us, as he told his disciples: “Fear not! It is I”. Truly, as the song tells us: “He’s got the whole world in His hands – He’s got you and me – brother and sister – in His hands.”

Homily – Fr. Alan Gilmore – 26th Sunday of the Year

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As a youngster I remember well my habit of saying “No” to my dear Mother (not my Father!)- when she requested I do some chore or errand.  I knew well, each time, that I intended to do it – but I received a certain perverse satisfaction in that initial “NO”.  Such a disposition, was not uniquely mine  (I hope!), but one can see it in its adult form in the person of the 2nd son described by Jesus in today’s Gospel.
The Gospel we just heard – places before us two attitudes towards God and
his Kingdom.  From time to time, our attitude toward God may resemble one or the other, unless our  response is – a saint’s enduring and unqualified :Yes”,- or is the definitive “No” of the confirmed sinner.  Jesus, in this Gospel, describes the differing attitudes of  two sons.  From the context, we see that one represents the ’righteous’ people – the chief priests and elders of the people – who faulted Jesus for eating with tax collectors and prostitutes.  The   second – represents the outcasts who initially refuse to join the kingdom, but then repent.
It’s important that we understand the context of today’s Gospel.  Jesus was speaking these words to the chief priests and elders of the people,  the guides and leaders.  As such,  they were the ones least inclined to accept changes in the interpretation of the Scriptures or of its moral code.  If  we, on the other hand, regard ourselves as concerned and generous Christians,  as upright persons who know what the Lord expects of us and feel sure that we are faithful to his demands – we have a disposition similar to those to whom Jesus directed the words in today’s Gospel.
When we are so sure we know and accept God’s demands,  we remain where we are and what we are!
In today’s second reading (Phil.) Paul is telling us that the only way to free ourselves from bondage to the inconsistancies in today’s Gospel , is to grow in love!  We become free and participate more fully in the Kingdom  – to the extent that we develop our love within the community of believers ,as a member – with the members of Christ.  Paul’s words to the Philipians contain a message the Church is in vital need of today,  that its members are in need of unanimity, in need of possessing one love, in need of being united in spirit and ideals.
As members of Christ through our Baptism, we are rooted and grounded in Christ, called to share in his redemptive love, his ‘kenosis’ (self-emptying).
We believe this, we confess this.  In itself, this is not sufficient; we must also put our faith into practice.  We must do good, not simply talk about it!

What is this good we must do? Again, Paul spells it out for us.  We are never to act out of rivalry or conceit, rather, let all parties think humbly of others as superior to themselves, looking to others’ interest rather than one’s own .              What is good? In the word’s of the prophet Micah: “What does he require of  us – but to do justice,  to love kindness,  and to walk humbly with your God!”
What the Lord requires of us – he enables us to do.
To know the greatest act of self-denial the world has ever seen – or will see –
we have but to look at the Cross!  The words of Jesus –  to those who would be his disciples…”Come follow me!”
Let our “Yes” to Jesus be – to follow Jesus on the way of self-denial, constant and progressive self-denial. (A good description of our monastic vow of ‘Con-
version of Manners’!) – to let God use us and resurrect us when and as he chooses. Amen.

Homily – Sr. Eleanor Craig – Every heart can change when touched by the love of God

Ezekiel 18:25-28        Philippians 2:1-11        Matthew 21:28-32

I have my own version of the gospel story:  My mother would say to my sister, ‘Please wash the dishes’ and my sister would say an emphatic, belligerent ‘NO!‘   It was clear she would not change her mind without confrontation.  My mother would then sigh and say to me, ‘Eleanor please wash the dishes’ and I would say (perhaps piously, perhaps really meaning it) ‘SURE.’

I hated washing dishes and I would put it off late into the evening—forever, if I could manage to “forget.”  If I finally did the dishes, it was because my conscience nagged me, not my mother.

I didn’t think I was being disobedient—I just didn’t want to wash the dishes.  In other words, I was attached to my own interests; I didn’t much think about my mother’s “will.”  And of course, compared to my sister, I was far less disobedient; at least I didn’t belligerently say NO!

In the gospel story Jesus tells about two sons who act pretty much like my sister and I.  One flat-out refused to do what his father asked, then later changed his mind.  The other agreed but didn’t follow through. Jesus asks the religious leaders which of the sons did his father’s will. They reply (perhaps piously, certainly legalistically) that the one who eventually complied did his father’s will.  Considering my girlhood experience with the dishes, I’d say that neither son did his father’s will; both followed their own inclinations.  Even the one who reconsidered was likely not thinking of his father’s wishes.  Maybe he thought about the consequences: possible punishment, or what others would think of him or loss of his father’s regard.  Maybe he was ashamed of his behavior.  My childish self would conclude if the son was doing his father’s will, he would have done it to begin with… wouldn’t he? 

That was my childish thinking, a bit like the legalistic thinking of the religious leaders in the gospel.  Jesus saw it differently, and said so.

In the second half of the gospel passage, Jesus challenges the religious leaders to walk the talk.  They affirmed the possibility of change of heart, but in practice they held wrongdoers irrevocably bound to their wrongs.  They resisted the good news, proclaimed by both John the Baptist and by Jesus:  wrongdoers can change; repentance and conversion are possible; the good news is that no one’s failure is permanent, no one’s blindness is forever.  Whether one refuses or delays, one can always change, there is always another chance to do the Father’s will.

Jesus points out to the religious leaders that their resistance to this good news is double edged:  they have been using their authority to hold tax collectors, prostitutes and other “sinners” bound, as though beyond hope of conversion.  But even worse, the religious leaders have hardened their own hearts, disbelieving the good news of the kingdom of God, and resisting God’s invitation to change their minds, to open their hearts.  Nevertheless, change is still possible even for them; Jesus’ very challenge is another invitation to change.  The Gospels show us Jesus never giving up on the possibility of change and conversion.

To grasp what it means for one to thoroughly do the father’s will, we have only to look at today’s second reading.   We have in the excerpt from Paul’s epistle the quintessential description of how to know and do God’s will.  Jesus didn’t cling to his privileged place at God’s right hand.  Surrendering to all the limitations and requirements of the human condition, he no longer had an inside track to God’s will.  Like us, Jesus depended on his very human sense of God’s loving ways.  He lived a life of humility, learning as we learn, faltering and falling, growing and changing.

Was Jesus ever wrong; did he ever fail to do his Father’s will?  We can hardly expect his disciples to tell us, but our own human experience suggests he probably did fail sometimes.   Using Jesus’ own criterion in today’s gospel, we can certainly conclude that if Jesus ever failed, ever resisted or rebelled, was ever wrong, he changed, was changed by the love to which he learned to surrender.  The Jesus of the gospels showed his followers—and shows us—how to seek and do God’s will in a way consistent with our human limitations.

Just this week, in the lives of three women we have loved in their lives and mourn in their deaths, we have strong reminders of the possibility of change, even in civil and religious leaders.  Our sister Maureen McCormack gave Intensive Journal workshops for decades to women in prison, women who many had written off as incorrigible. Maureen understood that self-understanding, self-affirmation are the path to change.  Ruth Bader Ginsburg, recognizing that the law reflects the culture, dedicated her life to the men who rule our courts, helping them to a new understanding of equality under the law.  And we have the touching story of our sister Susan Carol McDonald, impelled by her own heart to go to Vietnam.  She was sought out by President Helen Sanders who well might have stood in the way because Susan ignored the rules for getting permission or consulting higher authority. Instead Helen only asked “What do you need from us?” “How can we help?”

And again, just this week, in our national politics and national culture, and here in our midst we have strong reminders of the need for change, in the behaviors and beliefs of leaders, followers, and all of us.  Jesus challenges us to hold fast to the good news and live our days in the confidence that every heart can change when touched by the love of God.

blind obedience

instantaneous obedience

costly obedience

obedience at personal cost

acting contrary to one’s own will

following commands

following orders

jump to it obedience

regimented obedience

letter-of-the-law obedience

servile obedience

obedient to the point of death


living in sync with

being of the same mind

united in heart

with the same love

responding in love

anticipating needs

listening and following

desiring what the other desires

looking for God’s will

following the path of wisdom

emptying oneself

humbling oneself


responding to God’s invitation

doing the next right thing

following the shepherd

repenting and changing

following good example

noticing good in others

relinquishing resistance

converting to righteousness

look out for the interest of others

regard others as important


Fr. Michael’s Reflection for 9/14/20

+As we just heard, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” that we might believe in him and have eternal life. These words remind me of Fr Elias’ chapter talk yesterday and of something Pope Francis has given recently as coronavirus catechesis. Fr Elias reminded us of how our care for the sick is care for Christ, our reception of guests, a welcoming of Christ.

Pope Francis tells us, quote: “faith, hope and love necessarily push us toward.. preference for those most in need, which goes beyond necessary assistance. Indeed it implies walking together, letting ourselves be evangelized by them, who know the suffering Christ well, letting ourselves be ‘infected’ by their experience of salvation, by their wisdom and by their creativity. Sharing with the poor means mutual enrichment. And, if there are unhealthy social structures that prevent them from dreaming of the future, we must work together to heal them, to change them.”

The suffering Christ is never far from any of us. If we are attentive, we can celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross all day long.

(Num 21:4b-9; Jn 3:13-17)

Homily – 9/13/20 Sr Eileen Custy – Standing at the Foot of the Cross with our Suffering World

September 13, 2020

This community is called to be Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross. That title has resonated with me often since both Lynn Levo and Mary Pellegrino talked about it in their presentations. So, as we look forward to the Feast of the Seven Sorrows next Tuesday, I would like to reflect on it with you.

The basic desire to be united in love with God, with one another, with all people, and with all creation shapes this community of faith. #20, IATW

During this period of cultural upheaval in our lives, that call to stand at the foot of the cross takes on even stronger meaning. There is so much suffering in our world: the pandemic creating sickness and death in numbers that are almost beyond imagination, grieving, hunger, prejudice, hatred, poverty, homelessness, loneliness, unjust detention and imprisonment, unjust treatment of immigrants and the list goes on and on. Jesus suffering on the cross, Jesus suffering today. Mary standing beneath the cross and standing with all who suffer in our world today. A black man pleads for his life simply because he is black: “Mama, I can’t breathe.” His black mother grieves for her son.

During the period when we were not able to receive communion, I found it very meaningful to sit in silence and contemplate people, especially the suffering people, who are our companions on this earth. This became the reception of communion for me, so much so that when were once again able to have Mass, I pondered what my belief about Eucharist had been. What does communion really mean? How conscious was I, through this act, of my call to be united with all people on this earth and beyond? Standing with Mary at the foot of the cross pulls it together – standing there before God with the dying Jesus and Mary with all the suffering peoples of the earth.

The Loretto Congregation, Loretto Community and Loretto Link are all part of this community of faith called to be sisters and brothers standing with Mary at the foot of a cross that includes all suffering humanity.

Thanks to the pandemic, (and our age) we here at the Motherhouse and elsewhere are not able to join in the peaceful protests or visit the border which we might have been doing in our younger years. What we can do is be with them in spirit. We can somehow be loving and compassionate even if we have no idea with whom we are standing on any given day. In some mysterious way God’s love flows through us to others. God is love and we are privileged to share in that love and pass it on.

In her book The Source of All Love, Heidi Russell refers to how we get so caught up in what is  going on around us that we can become unaware of what is really needed. She writes: “Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone’s responsibility and not our own.” That is not where we want to be, it is not in keeping with our call to stand at the foot of the cross and be in union with all God’s people. It requires attention and thoughtfulness on our part, a way of life at which we all keep working.

A perfect world, the beautiful world that was meant to be, would be one in which everyone has enough food to eat, a comfortable place to live, enough water, neighbors who care about them and peace. It would be a world that recognizes that all forms of life have a right to exist and that we already have an example from the natural world which works together as a healthy community until humans interfere.

In the midst of this world as it exists now and always, is LOVE in capital letters. LOVE revealed itself in Jesus who taught us how to live through his own example of concern for all types of people. That revelation took hold in some people and aggravated others so much that Jesus ended up hanging on a cross, suffering just as people experience suffering today. And below that cross stood Mary.

Over the body of her dead son, George, stands a mother, weeping as Mary did. At her daughter Briana’s grave, another mother weeps. Outside the hospital window of a parent dying alone from CoVid 19 stands a family separated from their lobed one at a tie when they most feel the need to be with him or her. In a crowded migrant camp with no means of escape stand persons separated from family, home and a life worth living. May we, a community called to be Friends of Mary at the Foot of the Cross, stand with them.


Eileen Custy