Sunday, 27 July 2008

Gethemani - Visit within visit

A Sunday of quiet, finding Merton's "Fire Watch" as for the first time -
(In the peaceful mid-afternoon our fire alarm system blared out).
"You, who sleep in my breast, are not met with words, but in the emergence of life within life and of wisdom within wisdom".

The Voice of God is heard in Paradise:

"What was vile has become precious. What is now precious was never vile. I have always known the vile as precious: for what is vile I know not at all. What was cruel has become merciful. What is now merciful was never cruel. I have always overshadowed Jonas with My mercy, and cruelty I know not at all. Have you had sight of Me, Jonas My child? Mercy within mercy within mercy. I have forgiven the universe without end, because I have never known sin. What was poor has become infinite. What is infinite was never poor. I have always known poverty as infinite: riches I love not at all. Prisons within prisons within prisons. Do not lay up for yourselves ecstasies upon earth, where time and space corrupt, where the minutes break in and steal. No more lay hold on time, Jonas, My son, lest the rivers bear you away. “What was fragile has become powerful. I loved what was most frail. I looked upon what was nothing. I touched what was without substance, and within what was not, I am.”

The Sign Of Jonas, page 362
By Thomas Merton

Separate the precious from the vile.
DRB: Jer 15:19
Therefore thus saith the Lord: If thou wilt be converted, I will convert thee, and thou shalt stand before my face; and thou wilt separate the precious from the vile, thou shalt be as my mouth: they shall be turned to thee, and thou shalt not be turned to them.

Visit to Gethsemani

The picture of Merton’s Hermitage reminds me not of the place but gives me a new memory of the presence that fills his writing. It was 10 years after his death that I was shown the place. It was perhaps 10 years before he became the hermit that he wrote the Epilogue to ‘The Sign of Jonas’.

Attendance at the Cistercian Central Commission Meeting at Conyers c.1976 had the additional bonus of a visit to Gethsemani. Strangely, reading Merton’s ‘Fire Watch’, now some thirty years later, converts that casual site-seeing into a sense of what the place meant to him. To use his expressive search for words, it has become the memory of a ‘visit within a visit within a visit’.

By the same warm hospitality of the monks at Gethsemani, I was taken to visit Dom James Fox, now ironically, living in another hermitage some distance from the abbey.

Retrieval – Trip to US Autumn 1976
has been so much, as it were, a presence in the Order that I approached it in some awe. This was another occasion of a group invasion by members of the Consilium Generale and again the monastic scene was so rich and varied that one clings to the memory of fleet­ing moments, meeting Dom Flavian again, the roof top expedition with Br Octavius and my camera, the jeep visit to Dam James in his hill hermitage, the time (all I could manage) listening to the unreleased tapes of Thomas Merton. I am convinced he is at his spiritual best when he is operating in his own field of literary appreciation as I found e.g. on his tape on Faulkner.

Thanks for that Fr Donald and I found it very interesting.
As a humbled servant of Christ, I am moved by the Spirit of Merton and men like him.
In His Steps,

Dear Father Donald,
Wow! What a wonderful opportunity given to you to visit the Abbey of Gethsemani... oh my..
Thomas Merton's writings have had an enormous influence upon me.... as you describe, "the presence that fills his writing".
And thank you! - for the 'Sign of Jonas’is so rich, and personal, the ‘Fire Watch’ intensely so... you write of his expressive search for words...
"The illusion of sound only intensifies the infinite substance of Your silence".
This journal, a treasure to treasure.
Thank you Father.

Dear Father Donald
Thank you for these wonderful thoughts and reminders about Thomas Merton. It reminded me of my strange introduction to Thomas Merton twenty years ago this August. I have just finished reading One Child by Torey Hayden, about the power of unconditional love in teaching and about to start her Silent Boy - I would recommend her reflective and insightful writing. . . .


Friday, 25 July 2008

Abbot Raymond Celebrates

20th. July 2008, Sixteenth Sunday.

Abbot Raymond celebrated his 75 Birthday today.

He had the HOMILY for the Concelebrated Mass.

Since Jesus himself gives a Commentary on Mt: 24-43, “The parable of the weeds among the wheat”, he chose the Second Reading for his reflection.

Rom 8:26-28 And as well as this, the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words; and he who can see into all hearts knows what the Spirit means because the prayers that the Spirit makes for God's holy people are always in accordance with the mind of God. We are well aware that God works with those who love him, those who have been called in accordance with his purpose, and turns everything to their good.


“The Spirit comes to help us in our weakness”, St Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans. “For when we cannot find words in order to pray properly, the Spirit himself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words”.

What are words anyway? The language of words is, on one hand, one of the greatest gifts bestowed on human nature by God, it sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. Yet, on the other hand, we all know the limitations of human language. When we feel something very deeply we instinctively feel ourselves at a loss for words; we know that our words can never do justice to what we feel. This ‘fact’ forces itself on us especially in prayer, when we try to communicate with God. How inadequate our stammerings and babblings are then! However we must realise that God is a Loving Father indeed and just as any loving father is delighted to hear the babblings and stammerings of his children as they make their first efforts to communicate, so also our Heavenly Father is greatly pleased by our efforts to communicate with him.

But, to get back to our sense of the inadequacy of our words to express ourselves at any really deep level: When words fail us in our dealings with each other we instinctively resort to other means of communication; means of communication which are certainly less precise in what they communicate, yet are deeper and stronger for all that. It is something like the difference between a great artist’s painting of a storm at sea, for instance, and the same scene conveyed by a great musical composer. The painting is more precise and detailed, but the music is much more evocative and moving. So, in our dealings with each other we resort to bodily signs such as a smile of pleasure or a hug of joy or an embrace of compassion.

In the same way then, in our dealings with God, we should try to discover within ourselves the inner world of the spirit which has its own corresponding movements of the soul. The soul has its own inner smile of love, its own inner embrace of compassion, it holds out its own inner pleading hands, and it has many other forms of expression that are beyond the spoken word.

But it takes solitude and silence to enter into these areas of our being, areas which are so tragically unknown to our so crowded and noisy and busy world.

But the most wonderful thing about our efforts to express ourselves in prayer is that we have a power within us that lifts us up to the level of God himself, because that power is in fact the divine power of the Holy Spirit himself. Let us be confident then, Paul tells us, as we approach the throne of Grace, because God has no defence against the power that is in us, he cannot stop his ears to the voice of his own Spirit, nor can he hide himself from the gaze of this same Spirit as it shines through the gaze of our own Faith.

It is so important for us to realise the greatness and power of the Christians prayer because he does not pray on his own, but he prays through and with and in, the Holy Spirit.

A friend, David Smith, Methodist Deacon, has been on Retreat in the Community. During the past few days he has used his CamCorder to have Interviews with members of the Community.

I would like to have the Interview with the Abbot to add to this Post. It is a daring move but I am trying YouTube. The File is probably too large. Is it possible to compress the Video Clip?.

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Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Month of Precious Blood

Today is 1st July and so we begin the Month of the Precious Blood. It is a very ancient devotion but it has been updated very effectively by the Apostolic Letter of Pope John XXIII ON PROMOTING DEVOTION TO THE MOST PRECIOUS BLOOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, June 30, 1960.

Before coming in this morning I made a detour through the adjoining room of the Guesthouse Chapel to look at the hand made tapestry of this miracle of Jesus, “The Calming of the Storm”..

Saint Matthew 8,23-27

The Gospel vignette appears in the three Synoptics. St. Matthew is different from Mark and Luke in a significant detail. In Matthew Jesus reminds the disciples of the faith they have even if it is little, “O you of little faith”, before he calms the waters. In the case of Mark and Luke it is only after the miracle that Jesus’ reproach is for the lack of faith.

There are two questions. The disciples ask one question and we can ask the second.

1] he disciples ask, "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey”.

2] And we can ask then question what kind of faith is that of the disciples.

An answer to the first might be the words of

Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (313-350), who commented on the words of Matthew on the Calming of the Storm.
"What sort of man is this?"
If any one wishes to show piety towards God, let him worship the Son, since otherwise the Father does not accept his service. The Father spoke with a loud voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Cyril goes on to enumerate some of the names of this ‘sort of man’, Jesus.

The Litany of the Precious Blood composed by John Paul II also takes up the theme of the 'sort of man this is'::

Blood of Christ, only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father,
Blood of Christ, Incarnate Word of God,
Blood of Christ, of the New and Eternal Testament,
Blood of Christ, falling upon the earth in the Agony,
Blood of Christ, shed profusely in the Scourging,
Blood of Christ, flowing forth in the Crowning with Thorns,
Blood of Christ, poured out on the Cross . . . . . .

The answer to the second question, is in the consistency of Matthew in the cases where Jesus looks for the signs of faith before his miraculous response. The scene with the blind man, for example, shows Jesus asking, “Do you believe that I can do this?” They answered, “Yes, Lord”, and Jesus said “According to your faith let it be done to you”. (Mt. 9:28-29). It was the same in the scene with the woman who touched the hem of his garment, “your faith has saved you”. Have faith and something will happen, way beyond expectations.

The disciples were sure they were sinking, their faith was in turning to Jesus not only as their only alternative but also in the measure of their unqualified turning to Him.

Whenever we feel our boat is sinking, just have faith. Something greater than we planned for, will surprise us.