Was there no other way?

Passiontide which begins today again brings before our eyes the great and at once awful mystery of the cruel death of our Beloved Saviour. If we love Him in the least, or even if our heart is not so hardened that it cannot compassionate with One so cruelly and unfairly treated, then we may ask ourselves, "was there no other way to redeem the human race"? The question has been asked before, in particular by St Thomas, who replies that strictly speaking, yes, God could have redeemed the human race in many other ways. But, he adds, there was no more suitable way, and for this he puts forth five arguments (Summa theologiae, IIIa, 46, 3).

First, he says, because of the passion of Christ man knows for sure and without a shadow of a doubt how much God loves him. Who can contemplate the sufferings of the Lord, knowing that they have been inflicted for us, without feeling compelled to give Him love for love?

Second, the passion of Christ give us the example of the virtues most necessary to us, namely obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and others. That is why St Peter tells the first generation of Christians and through them us: "Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps" (1 Pet 2:21).

The third reason, says the Angelic Doctor, is that by suffering for us, Jesus not only delivered us from sin, but also merited sanctifying grace for us, thus reestablishing us in God's friendship and opening for us the path to eternal glory in Heaven.

A fourth reason is that, when man sees Christ suffer in this way, he is moved to refrain from sin, for he knows how truly terrible a thing it is to sin if the Son of God had to die on the gibbet of the cross in order to atone for it. That is what allowed St Paul to write to the Corinthians: "You are bought at a great price; glorify and bear God in your body" (1 Cor 6:20).

Last, but not least: as man had been overcome by the devil and had thus been brought low to death, it was most fitting that a man also vanquish the devil and death by undergoing death. And that brings us to the heart of Holy Week and Easter Week, to the precise instant that unites them in the Holy Sepulchre: by dying, He destroyed our death, and by rising He restored our life. And that was done by a man like us! No ordinary man, for sure, but a real and true man with flesh, blood and bones and human soul. The victory is henceforth ours and we have no reason to fear the devil who has been conquered by the passion of Christ. 

"Thanks be to God, says St Paul, who has give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor 15:57), so that if we unite our life and death with that of Jesus, we too will conquer the evil one.

So let us, during these holy days, be generous both in contemplating the sufferings of our dear Jesus and in offering up serious penances for our sins and those of the whole world. St Leo the Great reminds us: "Sure and steadfast is the hope of promised blessedness for one who is a partaker of the sufferings of the Lord". No, Christ has not done it all; he wants us to do our part and bring to completion His passion for the sake of His body, the Church (see Col. 1:24). 


Rejoice Jerusalem

Today, Laetare Sunday, Holy Mother Church invites us to rejoice. You who till now were in the sadness of penitential practices, rejoice now, for we have reached the middle of our Lenten observance and the paschal solemnities are just a step away.

How can we be joyful in a world that offers so much bad news? What is the motive of our joy? There are essentially two, and both of them are based on faith. Joy is the fruit of hope, and it is even more the fruit of love. It is fruit of the latter, for as St Thomas tells us, "joy is caused by love, either by the presence of the one we love or by the fact that our own good is contained and preserved in the one we love". Since through faith we know that God is present to us and in us through sanctifying grace, our love for God should give us much joy. 

It is also an effect of hope, for even though we do possess God through grace in this life, our possession of Him is neither full nor definitive—we can lose God through sin. So the theological virtue of hope it is which gives us the assurance that, relying not on ourselves, but on God's powerful grace, we will make our way safely through all the temptations of this life and attain to the full and definitive possession of Him in eternity.

So if joy is lacking in our lives, perhaps we need to love more, and perhaps we need to make more frequent acts of hope and confidence in the divine succour promised to those who request it with a sincere heart and who do what lies in themselves. 

It is precisely the Most Holy Eucharist which is God among us and which is the pledge of eternal life. And that is the most profound reason for which on this Sunday the Roman liturgy gives us the miracle of the second multiplication of loaves in St John, ch 6. This miracle prefigures the the Eucharist, and therefore should give us a much greater love and trust in the Lord. And from love and hope spring joy.

I rejoice with those who say to me: Let us go to the House of the Lord. Already our feet are standing in thy vestibule, O Jerusalem, that is, in the Holy Church who, as our heavenly Mother, opens for us the gates to the eternal kingdom!

Go to Joseph!

Today we start the novena for the feast of St Joseph. Each evening after Vespers we will sing the Litany of St Joseph, and we invite you to join with us, for all the needs of our community as well as for the intentions of our benefactors. As a reminder here is the text of the prayer to this great saint that we recite each day after Holy Mass:

Prayer of St. Francis de Sales to St. Joseph

Glorious St. Joseph, Spouse of Mary, grant us, we beseech thee, thy paternal protection, through the Heart of Jesus Christ.

O Thou whose infinite power reaches out to all our needs, rendering possible for us that which is impossible, look upon the concerns of thy children with thy fatherly countenance.

In the troubles and sorrows that afflict us, we have confident recourse to thee.

Deign to take under thy loving protection this important and difficult endeavor, the cause of our worries, and dispose its success to the glory of God and to the benefit of His faithful servants. Amen.

 St Joseph and the Child Jesus

St Joseph and the Child Jesus

Eyes always to the Lord

Oculi mei semper ad Dominum, says the psalmist in today's introit. My eyes are always turned towards the Lord, for He it is who will deliver me from the snares of my enemies. I am alone and poor, but the Lord is with me.

It is through the eyes that images are received into our minds and that thoughts are generated. What we see influences the way we think, and the way we think influences the way we act. 

The first step then in making good use of the eyes is to avoid looking at anything that could lead us into sin. The second step is to develop the reflex of not only turning away from evil, but also from ourselves. For the habit of the interior life leads to a life in which one examines oneself, and one should. But such self-examination can only have effect on our lives if we consistently turn the eyes of our soul to the Lord. Looking at ourselves will not get us anywhere. But forgetting ourselves, looking at the Lord, gazing lovingly upon Jesus, especially in His Passion, will give us the light, the strength, the courage to live according to God's commandments and save our soul and the souls of others. 

This was beautifully expressed in a letter written by St Elisabeth of the Trinity:

To forget yourself, for what concerns your health, does not mean to neglect taking care of yourself, for it is your duty and your best penance, but do it with great abandonment, saying to God “Thank you”, whatever may happen. When the weight of the body is felt and fatigues your soul, don’t be discouraged, but go in faith and love to the One who said: “Come to me and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). For your morale, don’t ever let the thought of your wretchedness get you down. The great Saint Paul says: “Where sin abounded, grace has abounded even more” (Rom 5:20). It seems to me that the weakest soul, even the most guilty one, is the one who has most reason to hope, and by this act of forgetting herself and throwing herself into the arms of God she glorifies Him and gives Him more joy than all the looking back at herself and all the examens that make her live with her infirmities, whereas she possesses at the centre of her own heart a Saviour who wants to purify her at every moment.

Do you remember that beautiful passage where Jesus says of His Father that “He has given Him power over all flesh, so that He might give it eternal life” (Jn 17:2)? That is what He wants to do in you: at every minute He wants you to go out of yourself, to leave every preoccupation, to retire to that solitude He has chosen for Himself at the bottom of your heart. He, He is always there, even though you don’t feel Him; He is waiting for you and wants to establish with you a “wondrous exchange” (first antiphon from Vespers of 1st January), as we chant in the beautiful liturgy, intimacy of Bridegroom to Bride; your weaknesses, your faults, all that troubles you, it is He who, through this continual contact, wants to deliver your from it. Did He not say: “I came not to judge, but to save” (Jn 12:47)? Nothing must appear to you an obstacle to going to Him. Don’t take so much notice as to whether you are inflamed or discouraged; it’s the law of exile to pass thus from one state to another. Believe then that He, He never changes, that in His goodness He is always bent over you to take you and establish you in Himself. If, in spite of all, emptiness and sadness overcome you, unite this agony with the Master’s in the Garden of Olives, when He said to the Father: “If it is possible, let this chalice pass from me” (Mt 26:39). Perhaps it seems to you difficult to forget yourself. Don’t be concerned; if you knew how simple it is… I’m going to give you my “secret”: think of this God who lives in you, whose temple you are (cf. 1 Cor 3:16); Saint Paul is the one who speaks thus, we can believe him. Little by little, the soul gets used to living in His sweet presence, she understands that she bears in herself a little Heaven where the God of love has settled himself. Then it’s as it were a divine atmosphere in which she breathes, I would even say there is nothing else but her body on the earth, her soul dwells beyond the clouds and the veils, in the One who is Unchanging. Do not say that it is not for you, that you are too miserable, for that is on the contrary an extra reason for going to the One who saves. It is not by looking at this misery that we will be purified, but by looking at the One who is all purity and holiness. Saint Paul says that “He has predestined us to be conformed to His own image” (Rom 8:29). In the most painful hours, think that the Divine Artist, in order to make his work more beautiful, uses scissors, and remain in peace under that Hand that is working on you. This great apostle of whom I am speaking, after having been taken up to the third Heaven (cf. 2 Cor 12:2), felt his weakness and complained of it to God who answered: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). Isn’t that consoling?...

My eyes are always turned towards the Lord...

And He was transfigured before them… 

St Leo the Great, among others, tells us that the disciples were allowed to see Our Lord transfigured in order to strengthen their minds and hearts, so that when they would see Him in agony and handed over to evildoers, they would not lose faith and hope.

The Lord deals with His faithful souls in a similar way. Consolations are given to establish us solidly in His love, and when we meet with hard times we should be reminded of those moments of grace, lest we despair and think that all is lost.

What is true of souls is true of the life of the Church. There are periods of fervour and expansion in which the Church is seen truly as the city set on the mountain, the light on the lamp-stand that shares Her treasures with all nations and receives homage from them. Then there are other periods in which the beauty of the Church is obscured, when She is overrun by pagans, persecuted from without by the sword, or from within by heresies and evil members. 

It’s nothing new, but it is always hard when one is in the midst of it, when everything that we know and love appears to be collapsing, and the enemies of the Church shout victory. 

In such times, let us contemplate Our Lord transfigured on the Mount. He is the Eternal Son, the Word of the Father, the One who holds all things in His hand. “My sheep hear my voice. And I know them: and they follow me. And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish for ever. And no man shall pluck them out of my hand. That which my Father hath given me is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of my Father” (Jn 10:27-29).

The horizon is dark today. W find ourselves in the midst of a dreadful winter in which the faithful rarely find the warmth of solid doctrine and truth to nourish their souls. Let us not lose hope. Jesus is Lord, and we are in His hands. The Lord knows His own. The Transfiguration as not a dream.

Of Dust, Ashes and Fire


One week ago, Holy Mother Church reminded us that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. In doing this, she sprinkled our heads with ashes made from last year’s palms. The ashes are therefore the produce of fire, but they are used with words that remind us of the dust of the earth. Why do we not just use dirt on Ash Wednesday? It’s hard to say, but one of the reasons might be that ashes came through fire, their substance was burnt in the flames in order to produce this “dust”. Why is that relevant? Perhaps because, as St Peter reminds us:

The day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up. Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat?But we look for new heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice dwelleth (2 Pt 3:10-13).

If this be so, then the use of ashes at the beginning of Lent not only serves the purpose of reminding us that we shall return to dust through the rot of the grave, but also that the world as we know it will come to an end throug fire, a universal conflagration that will dissolve the universe. Will this come about by direct divine intervention or will God use a meteorite or some other heretofore unsuspected catastrophe? Or will it be man himself who destroys the planet through the technology he is no longer able to control? Whatever the case, it will all go up in flames.

So what purpose is served by living as if this were not so? As if we were to remain here forever? It is high time we came to our senses, and lived with the parsimonious wisdom of people who know they are not owners, but only tenants, and that they will have to give an account of their every thought word and deed when it all comes to an end.

Such thoughts are austere, for sure, but they are salvific. We must look the truth in the face, not just once in a blue moon, but every day. If we do, our life will be much more peaceful, for it will be much more true. Salvation and peace and come only from and through truth.

If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be (Isaiah 30:15)

Going out and going in

It's been too long since my last blog. My excuse (a good one of course!) is that internet access in our new priory is quite unstable. It works, it doesn't work... same for the phone... So be it, it's a very small way of taking part in the Lord's poverty. 

I wanted to write something about Septuagesima, and here we are on Quinquagesima Sunday, with Ash Wednesday just around the corner. Let it suffice to point out the incredible richness of this time of "pre-Lent". If we take only the Gospels for the three Sundays, there is an amazing pedagogy going on. We are first summoned to go to work in the vineyard of the Lord, not to lose our time in any kind of idleness, for even though all are called to the Kingdom, few are in the end chosen for it, and this not out of any lack of mercy on God's part, but for lack of diligence on ours. Then on Sexagesima Sunday, the parable of the sower reminded us that many hear the Word without it actually bearing any fruit in their lives, the great lesson being: listen and take to heart; put into practice what you hear. Today, the Lord announces His coming Passion and Death, and by curing a blind man, teaches us that it is precisely that saving death of His that will restore our spiritual eyesight. 

We could do as much with the epistles and other texts of the Masses of the season, but for today, I would like to say just a few words about the lessons for Matins. Abraham, our father in the faith, is summoned by God to leave his country, the house of his father and all his kindred and to go into a land that God was showing him. It was a huge leap in faith. Beyond the meaning it might have for those of us who have actually been called to leave the land of our birth, it has a more profound meaning for all, which is that we must leave ourselves, our petty calculated self-interest, and learn how to put out into the deep waters of absolute trust in Divine Providence who is guiding us to Himself.

We see in this way that going out of ourselves always involves going into God and His mystery. If we are brave enough to take that leap of faith, to actually hand over our lives to God, then we can be sure that the result will be marvellous. The future was hidden from Abraham. The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us he did not know where he was going, but he went in faith, and the result was a posterity more numerous than the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore. All of sacred history follows upon this leap of faith.

Something similar happens whenever a person accepts to walk in faith as did Abraham. This is particularly visible when a young person accepts to renounce his or her career in order to follow Christ in religious life. It is a a going out of all that is known to and loved by that person, and this can be hard for nature, especially at the start, but it is also a going into God's plan; it is allowing God to open a path in this world, a path of salvation for that person, but also, and sometimes precisely for those loved ones he or she leaves behind.

God is never outdone in generosity. Give all and you will find all. Go out of yourself, and let yourself be led into God. You won't regret it. 


The Wonderful Lady of Cana

Here at Notre Dame Priory we celebrated yesterday our first patronal feast as a community. As you may know, there is no existing feast of Our Lady of Cana in the Roman Liturgy, even though the mystery is commemorated today, the Second Sunday after Epiphany. We have, with provisional permission from the  Archbishop of Hobart, put together, thanks to the copious writings of the saints on this mystery, a proper office for the feast which we celebrate on the Saturday after the Epiphany — which this year, was yesterday — and for which we hope to get approval from the Holy See.

Why is the mystery so important? And why was it chosen as the guiding star for our community? Our Lady's humble but clear petition to Her Son has always been an inspiration for authentic prayer: one makes known in all simplicity one's needs to the Lord, without going into all the details, for He knows them and He loves us. One presents one's need, in utter confidence that, since He loves us, He will answer our prayer in the best way possible. The need at hand in Cana was wine. On a purely literal reading, it would appear that Our Lord stoops down to give something that seems quite worldly and not essential. In this sense, His great love and compassion are made manifest.

But there is much more. The water symbolises us, our frail efforts at doing good to please God and save our soul. But whatever effort we put into it, it remains insipid, there is no energy, no sweetness. The wine symbolises the sweetness and warmth of the divine love that truly gives life, eternal life to our actions performed in time.

So if we feel that we are running out of wine, or if we have long been without it; if we can sense that our spiritual life is not getting anywhere, then let's go to the Lady of Cana, and ask Her to go to Jesus for us, and asks Him to transform our weak efforts into something sweet, something warm and lasting, that we may relish the sweetness of God. 

There is also the entire mystic of the nuptials. Salvation history begins with a wedding, that of Adam and Eve; and it concludes with the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb, God who weds all the elect to Him in a spousal union. And in the middle of this history, Our Lord chooses to perform His first miracle at a wedding. For sure, Our Lord's presence there sanctified marriage and raised it to the level of a sacrament, but it also symbolised the spousal  nature of our very existence and our call to love and eternal fidelity to God. 

As monks, we vow our entire lives to God; we forego the joys of married and family life to taste, already in this life, the peace of a spousal union with God. But that does not make us oblivious of married couples and families, on the contrary; it gives us a great desire to help them live up to the marvellous plan God has in store for them. And this is all the more important in an age which seeks to destroy the family.

May Our Lady of Cana bless all married couples; may she open their hearts to welcome with generosity all the children God will give them without seeking to dictate their desires to God; may she heal the hearts of all those who have a distorted notion of the real meaning of married love and family; may she heal the broken families, and mend all wounds of the soul; and may she give to those who are consecrated to virginity or celibacy the grace to be faithful to so lofty a calling and to thus be a model of unconditional love and surrender to the Eternal Bridegroom.

Monks and Families

Today, the traditional Roman calendar celebrates the feast of the Holy Family. This devotion to Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a family is rather modern in its expression. It is undoubtedly one of the providential ways in which God sends us in every age the devotions that we need most. Today, the family is endangered in its very existence. Forces hostile to the name of Christ, nay, hostile to man himself, seek to dismantle the family, considering it as a social construct inherited from what is derisively referred to as a patriarchal society. The destruction began with divorce, gained momentum with contraception, had victory in sight when it succeeded in making abortion legal and then a “right”, and won the day when it was totally severed from the very concept of what it is by same-sex “marriage”. The battle for the family has been lost. Lost, that is, in our western apostate societies which have bent the knee to the idols of the day. That battle however is only a battle in a war, one that we know leads to the ultimate victory of Christ the King and those who seek to follow Him. 

The question might be asked: what role do monks play in that war? What do they do for the family? How can they, by running off into solitude and fleeing the responsibilities of a family, help the family. 

The first thing to keep in mind is that monks also get married. A homily by St Augustine, which we will read next Sunday, makes it clear that those who have left the world to consecrate their chastity to Christ are “not without nuptials”. Their consecration to God is essentially a marriage with God; it is the realisation in time of the eternal nuptials that God will establish with all the elect in His Kingdom. It is this very reality which gives the monk so much love and esteem for the human family which mirrors on earth the fidelity and fecundity of the Most Holy Trinity. “Whoever denigrates marriage”, writes St. John Chrysostom, also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be particularly good. It is something better than what is admitted to be good that is the most excellent good.” 

As monks dedicated to Our Lady of Cana, we are particularly interested in the future of the family. The presence of Our Lord and Our Lady with the first apostles at that wedding inspires us with great veneration for the state of matrimony which Christ sanctified on that occasion. The example of faithful and generous married couples inspires us to be faithful to our own marriage with the Lord, and we hope, by our fidelity to be an inspiration to them to persevere when they meet with difficulties, tensions, sickness, death. Our retreats seek to be the privileged space where we seek to be a consolation and a bulwark to families. To fathers and mothers, spouses who long to conceive but who are frustrated in their desire, young men and women seeking a good spouse, we hope to provide the spiritual sustenance they need to move forward in their pursuit of God’s will in their lives.

May the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, protect and bless all our families and all our communities, and lead us all together to the eternal fatherland where we will be in very truth the Family of God.

The wise and the brave

Wise men, Magi as they are called, come from the East in search of the great King, the one who had been announced as the Saviour, the very one who, from the beginning was promised as the woman’s seed and who would crush the head of the serpent. The Wise Men come from a pagan country to the capital of the revealed religion, and what do they find: a fool reigning over the Jews, and Jewish priests and scribes all too ready to curry favour with him and serve his interests. Just how wicked and depraved this king was would sadly be made all too clear with the horrendous episode of the Innocents.  But no matter. He is king, and so we must remain in his favour. So thought the misguided Jews at the time. They thought they were wise, and they were fools. The long sought after King had come, He is at their door, and they do not take a single step to go and find Him! How often it is that the “wise” of this world are put to shame by the unexpected appearance of total strangers who are not supposed to be in the know, who are supposed to be pagans, but who in reality are truly searching for God.

It is striking that the Magi do not fear to go to the intruder Herod — who was not a Jew, and the Magi knew this — and speak to him of the “King of Jews.” What courage! What faith in the God who had guided them. Fearlessly they enter his palace and proclaim what they have seen and what they know: a brilliant star has guided them thus far, and they have come to adore the newborn King. It was risky for them, and the mysterious dream warning them to return another way only proves it.

Our world too has its powers that be, and that for the most part are bent on destroying the Christian order, or rather, what sparse elements of it that remain, and replacing them with a man-made paradise on earth, a new Tower of Babel that can only end in utter confusion. Our world also has its priests and scribes who should know the truth, but who, alas, are all too often bent on making sure they do not offend the powers that be, on maintaining their comfortable position without rocking the boat. But like the scribes of today’s Gospel, that attitude is one that risks turning them into accomplices of the most heinous crimes. No matter. God is good, everyone is saved, so they try to convince themselves, backed by scribes who, far from being real theologians, are in reality ideologists reading their own dreams into Sacred Writ, with one goal in mind: don’t rock the boat, maintain the comfort zone.

Assuredly, it is not easy to speak out against evil when evil is in power; it demands courage; it demands the virtue of fortitude, which is one of cardinal virtues. But it also demands the Gift of the Holy Spirit by the same name. And as St Thomas teaches, the Gifts are necessary for salvation, because there are situations in which only a mighty inspiration of the Holy Spirit can save us from mortal sin and keep us in the right path. Heroism is not always optional, it is sometimes of necessity, as in the case of the martyrs who were threatened with death should they refuse to adore false gods.

There is a popular, somewhat vulgar, expression that nevertheless means what it says and expresses it quite well: “When the going gets tough, the tough (meaning, the brave) get going”. Well, today the going is tough for the true faith and for true Christian morals; so either we get going and get tough in our profession of the true faith and of true authentic morality, or we will lose both: there can be no orthodoxy of faith without orthodoxy of practice and morals: the two stand or fall together. What is, is; what is not, is not. It’s that simple.

May the grace be given us, through the intercession of the Virgo Potens — the Virgin most powerful — to be among the truly Wise, those who do not fear what may befall them should they profess the truth publicly. May this new year bring with it an increase in fortitude. 

"Missus est", a day of Grace

Today, Ember Wednesday in Advent, the liturgy invites us to turn our gaze to the Immaculate Virgin receiving from the archangel Gabriel the announce of the Saviour, and asking her to consent to God's amazing plan in her life. The story we know, but each day we need to renew our faith in a God who steps into our lives in unexpected ways, inviting us to go beyond ourselves and to let Him achieve His saving plan in us. Traditionally, this is therefore a very important day of prayer and fasting in expectation of the coming of the Lord.

For us at Notre Dame Priory, this day will go down in history as its most important to date, for this morning, the Archbishop of Hobart, the Most Reverend Julian Porteous, signed the decree which gives us official existence in the Catholic Church, as a Public Association of Christ's faithful. This is a canonical step which is necessary before we can officially become an institute of monastic life. And so we give thanks to the Lord and to Our Lady of Cana for bringing us this far, and to Archbishop Porteous whose paternal solicitude for us has always been both warm and helpful. 

And so now, fortified by this grace, we wish to move forward in our fidelity and in a generous response to the Divine Will in our lives. Please pray that we will always remain faithful to the trust that is put in us.

 The Archbishop signs the decree of erection.

The Archbishop signs the decree of erection.

 The community with the Archbishop.

The community with the Archbishop.

I say it again: Rejoice!

Holy Mother Church reminds us today of those dear words of the Apostle St Paul: "Rejoice in the Lord always, again I say, Rejoice... For the Lord is near"...

Joy, real joy, is a rare commodity nowadays. It seems that there is a strict proportion between an increase in pleasures of the senses and the decrease in true joy. Look at the daily news, and you will find this corroborated by the facts: hedonism grows, suicide increases, sadness is on all the faces. What might be the underlying reason for this?

The most fundamental reason is this: Human beings were created by God to open themselves up to His infinite love, and to the eternal perspective of an unending life lived in intimate communion with Him. God is Spirit, and the grandeur of man is to aspire to be like unto God. The search for pleasures of the senses and material satisfaction lowers man to the level of the beast, it turns his eyes, his mind, his head downward towards himself, and inevitably that is a very dark descent which can only produce sadness and disgust with self.

As we approach Christmas, the world seeks to distract us with its pleasures, pulling us away from the spiritual fascination of the ineffable mystery of God becoming man to save us. The Church, on her side, encourages us to turn away from all worldliness, to offer sacrifice, to give alms, to fast. Give it a try, it works. If you are sad, if there is no joy, or not enough of it, in your life, turn your attention away from worldly things, turn it towards the needy, turn it to God in prayer, give up some things you like, and you will see that spiritual joy will return, it will increase, and your Christmas will be about what it really is about: Christ Mass, Christ come in the flesh and continuing His presence among us in the Holy Mass.

Again I say, Rejoice, the Lord is near!

What will He find?

Advent is upon us, and the liturgy of this Sunday invites to reflect carefully upon the end times, when Jesus Our Lord will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. What will He find when He returns? Will He find a people living in His love and awaiting joyfully his return? Or will He find a barren earth deprived of the fruits of sanctity, pledge of eternal life? The Lord seems to indicate the latter when He asks: "When the Son of Man returns, do you think He will find faith on earth"?

The Catechism of the Catholic has some startling words about the time that will precede the Second Coming. I think it appropriate to quote them here:

"Before Christ's second coming the Church must pass through a final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the 'mystery of iniquity' in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh.

"The Antichrist's deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realise within history that messianic hope which can only be realised beyond history through the eschatological judgement. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the 'intrinsically perverse' political form of a secular messianism.

"The Church will enter the glory of the kingdom only through this final Passover, when she will follow her Lord in his death and Resurrection. The kingdom will be fulfilled, then, not by a historic triumph of the Church through a progressive ascendancy, but only by God's victory over the final unleashing of evil, which will cause his Bride to come down from heaven. God's triumph over the revolt of evil will take the form of the Last Judgement after the final cosmic upheaval of this passing world". (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 675-677)

This text would require a long commentary, but for the moment, let's just offer two considerations: the final persecution will take the form of a "religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth". The present day effort to redefine truth, to make it whatever we want it to be at any given period seems to fit in quite well with what the catechism here teaches. It is a matter of grave concern when politicians redefine the most fundamental aspects of who were are, but much more worrying when the redefinition of truth goes on among people of faith, or worse still, when men of faith seek to redefine it all the while affirming that they are changing nothing. That of course was the major tactic of the modernists: keep the traditional vocabulary, but empty it of its meaning. I personally find this to be fit in cannily with the text of the Catechism. A religious deception indeed, and we are right in the midst of it.

The other comment concerns the fact that the Church "will follow her Lord in his death and resurrection". To follow the Lord in death means, unless I am mistaken, to die as He died. To die means to disappear as such from the eyes of the world. What can this mean other than that the Church must die in the eyes of the world, while continuing to live in the eyes of God. Terrifying thought. And yet, blessed truth! If the Church follows the Lord in death, then it follows Him in Resurrection. The enemies of Christ rejoiced at His death, but that joy was short-lived, for He rose victorious after only three days. The enemies of the Church rejoice today to see her on the way to her death, but that joy will be short-lived. She will rise again, but only after blood has flown. "The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians". So it was at the beginning, so it is now. May the Queen of Martyrs obtain for us the grace of bearing witness to the truth even at price of our life.

Exhortation at Clothing Ceremony


Beloved Sons, Tomas, Alec, David and Graham,

Today we honour the Presentation of the Immaculate Virgin Mary in the Temple of Jerusalem. On such an auspicious day, you come to present yourselves to serve in the house of the Lord which is a Benedictine Monastery. To such men as yourselves our holy Father St Benedict prescribes to teach the dura et aspera, the hard and rugged paths that lead to God. We may not hide from you the difficulty of the task one undertakes when one enters into the religious life. Over the past nine months you have already had the opportunity to verify the exactness of that reality: going to God entails giving up many things, leaving behind creatures in order to prefer the Creator. The coming year will be a time during which you will further test your vocation; you will be continually spurred on to turn your eyes to the example afforded us by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself when He walked this earth and was the model of the perfect life. You will strive to know Him more intimately, to love Him more intensely and to follow Him more closely. From Bethlehem to Calvary, the entire life of Christ was a cross and a martyrdom, and the man who aspires to the perfection of religious virtue must constantly turn his gaze to the Crucified One in order to obtain the grace and the deeper love to overcome all obstacles which lie in the way of perfection. A crucified Lord shares His cross with those He loves. But at the same time, hand in hand with the cross come the interior consolations, the inexpressible joy of being loved and of loving in return. Expertus potest credere, says St Bernard of Clarivaux — only the one who has experiencd it can really understand: there is no joy on earth but in the cross of Jesus Christ.

Today’s ceremony presents us with a number of gestures upon which I would like to reflect with you.

The first one we all witnessed this evening was your prostration before the altar of God. It is a striking gesture even for those of us who have witnessed it before. Lying prostrate before God is an solemn act of adoration; it signifies the placing of oneself, of one’s entire being, of one’s whole life, into the all-loving hands of God. It is the acknowledgement of a reality, namely, that we depend entirely upon God for our very existence, and we find peace in that truth which grounds us upon the solidity of a life given over to God. But this prostration was also accomplished in the Church, before those who represent the Church, before our Archbishop whose presence, along with the great joy it affords us, gives us the assurance of being in continuity with the historical church of Jesus Christ founded on the successors of the apostles. The prostration was made before your Prior, the one whose task it will be to guide your steps in the monastic life and who is responsible for your progress. In that sense, it is a reminder that, in the Church one is never alone, for one always has the mediation of those men who come to us in the name of the Lord and through whom He makes His presence felt. It is a reminder that ever since God became man, His word and will reach us through men. Let that frame of mind remain always in you, and may you know how to prostrate yourself often before the grandeur of the Divine Plan which encompasses you and draws you on to its ineffable fulfillment. As St Gregory the Great writes concerning St Mary Magdalene’s persevering search for Christ: “For those who love, it is not enough to look once: the power of love increases the vehemence of the search. The first time that she sought Him she could in no wise find him: she persevered in seeking, and so it came about that she found Him. And this happened, because longing increases when unsatisfied, and thus increased, can retain what it finds”. 

The second part of this ceremony will be the mandatum, the washing of feet. We are familiar with this ritual in the context of Maundy Thursday, but most of us will probably be surprised to see it performed in the setting of a monastic clothing. What does it mean? The antiphons we will chant during the mandatum all refer to the Lord’s new commandment, that we love one another as He has loved us. If the father of the community washes the feet of his sons it is to imitate the Lord Jesus and show that the hierarchical nature of religious life, far from taking away from its familial character, reinforces it, for the shepherd is the one set apart to serve the others. By allowing your father to wash your feet, you learn that you in turn must wash the feet of your brethren, that in a monastic community, the one who is really great is the one who knows how to stoop down and serve the needs of others at his own cost. But this ceremony also has another meaning. In the Rule, St Benedict prescribes it as a form of hospitality shown to guests. By placing it here in the ritual of clothing, the tradition gives us to understand that the postulant who knocks at the monastery door has come from a long journey, he is tired, his feet are dirty, he is looking for a home, and he finds solace in seeing the door open to him. You have each travelled a long way; you have considered other options in life, and for the moment at least — even though you are free to pursue another course in life should you decide to leave —, you are asking to be welcomed here in order to try your vocation as a Benedictine Monk. If you persevere, you will later learn to practice that same love and warm welcome for all those who knock at the monastery door, be it to become a monk, or simply to find some peace in the midst of a confused world.

We come then to the heart of this evening’s ceremony: the clothing. Having laid aside your secular garb, the symbols of your attachment to the world, you will don the habit of the order of St Benedict, the same habit which has been worn for a millenium and a half by men and women inspired to walk in the footsteps of the patriarch of western monks. The ancients tell us that the habit has a double symbolism, that of humility and that of innocence. Of humility, because it is not attractive in the eyes of the world. It is in fact the public profession of a penitential state, and as such, may draw some condescending looks or provoke the scorn or even the ire of wordly-minded persons. Of innocence, because it is the outward expression of conversion of life. Innocence we may have lost, but one of the purposes of religious life is to conquer it anew, to become the “new man who is created in sanctity and truth”. In our community, the habit reflects another innocence, that of the One who is truly innocent, the Immaculate Virgin Mary. Like St Joseph, the just man who was chosen to be the guardian of Mary, may you ever be enthralled by the attraction of her spotless purity. In an age which seems to pride itself on its worship of vice, this is no small matter. In a world of growing darkness, wearing the white habit of Mary our Mother will make you witnesses to the eternal light which shines bright in the hearts and even on the countenance of the chaste. With Mary Immaculate, there is also the legion of holy virgin saints whose companionship is sweet to the consecrated soul. This evening we honoured the memory of St Cecilia, by chanting an antiphon recalling the angelic presence at her side, protecting her virtue and establishing peace in the midst of bloody persecution. Another great virgin saint we honour as patroness is St Mary of the Cross, who suffered much for Christ in founding a religious order. May she too spur us on amidst the challenges of our own fledgling community. 

Finally at the end of this ceremony, you will receive a new name. Just as when you were born you were given a name by your parents, so at the threshold of monastic life you receive a new name from the father of the community. Not that you will abandon the patron saint of your baptism, on the contrary, that bond is eternal. Rather the new name symbolises a deepening of your commitment to the Lord as well as your intention to pursue greater perfection as you continue to discern your vocation. The new saint who is given to you, along with Our Blessed Mother whose name also you will be privileged to bear, will be an intimate friend to whom you must have recourse often during your religious life. To quote a famous passage of St Augustine: What they have done, why not I?

Yes, why not I? I know only too well that each of you has asked yourself this question often over the past few months: why am I here? You are here because you have heard the call to make this beginning, to set out on a path that is folly in the eyes of the world. But, like a man who sells everything to purchase the field wherein the treasure is hid, you know that this is a sure step, one that faith tells you you will not regret. 

To conclude, may these words of St Bede the Venerable become reality for you; if they do, you will have found beatitude on earth: “I was no longer the centre of my life and therefore I could see God in everything”. 

And so, my dear Sons, “Unfurl the sails, and let God steer us where He will”.






Of mustard seed and leaven

A mustard seed is very small, and yet, when it grows it turns into a large plant resembling a small tree. The Lord uses this imagery, which would have been very familiar to his listeners, to get across a very important point: God, and all that comes from God in our faith, enters discreetly into our lives; using other people, He sows seeds in our hearts; He waters them through other people still, and He waits patiently for them to grow. In this way, the Kingdom of God spreads, almost without being noticed, throughout the world.

The kingdom is also like the leaven that a woman puts into dough, and which makes it rise. So, the presence of God in the world is often times very discreet and hidden, and yet it is what gives the world to be, even in an age of darkness and violence, a place in which beauty and goodness can be seen. Someone like St Teresa of Calcutta gives us a picturesque example of this. Starting out alone, unknown and weak, she began to visit the poorest of the poor and look after them. Little by little, her influence, like that of yeast in the dough, brought forth an abundant harvest of heroic souls who put themselves at the service of others, being living models of God's love in the world. 

We can all identify moments in our past when we received a seed, or when a bit of yeast was hidden in our heart: it may have been a pious thought, an encouragement, a good example or a lesson  on a fundamental point of our faith. It may have come to us through a parent, a relative, a teacher, a priest, a nun, perhaps even through a total stranger. At the time it may have seemed small, perhaps even insignificant, but it took root in us and grew into a big tree which produces fruit today.

Let us be ever conscious of these very discreet workings of the Holy Spirit in our souls. Let us keep the ears of our heart open to perceive the inspirations we might receive and that the Lord wants us to share with others. And let us take to heart, with humility, the words of others that are destined to help and instruct us. In this way, the kingdom of God will grow in our minds and hearts, and will spread in the souls of good faith who are out there, like fields waiting for the good seed.

Finally, let us give thanks for those who sowed the good seed in our lives. In eternity we shall see how much we owe to them of what we are and were able to accomplish. It's one of the glories of the "communio sanctorum": we are never alone, but must help each other save our souls and give glory to the Triune God for all eternity.

Touching the hem

Today's Gospel presents a moving scene: a woman who had been suffering with an internal hemorrhage for 12 years, makes her way through the crowd, approaches the Lord from behind, and manages somehow, in spite of the crowd pressing in on every side, to touch the hem of His garment. She was thinking: "If I but touch the hem of His garment, I shall be saved". What faith in this woman! The Gospel tells us that as soon as she did touch it, she was healed and she felt in herself that she was made whole again. 

Her faith inspires us deeply, as does the power of the Lord. But what does it mean for us? What is the hem of the Lord's garment that we could touch? To answer that question, we need only reflect upon what clothes are and what they do. Their first function — even before protecting the body from the cold and heat — is to cover the body, hiding it from the eyes of others. The body is there, under the clothing, but it is not seen. What is it today that hides the Body of Jesus from our eyes if not the sacraments? The Lord has put all of His power and His very presence into them, especially the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist in which He is substantially present with His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. If we want to touch the hem of His garment today, all we have to do is approach the sacraments which contain Him, all the while hiding Him from our eyes and thus giving merit to our faith.

At the end of the passage, Our Lord says to this brave woman: "Thy faith has saved thee, daughter". So it is that, if we approach the sacraments with faith, certain that Jesus is truly there and that He can heal us, then we will indeed be cured. 

What kind of ailments do we have to be cured of? Each of us must look deep into his own heart. We will find there many things amiss, many hidden corners into which we tend not to look, for we know there is something spiritually diseased, something we can't deal with. No matter, you can't, but Jesus can, give it to Him. Touch His garment, approach the sacraments with faith and contrition for your sins, and you will be healed. Go to confession, acknowledge your sins and there through the absolution of the priest Jesus will touch you and you will be made whole. Then go to Holy Communion, and the life-giving Body of the Saviour will be within you the seed of eternal life.


The Day of Jesus Christ

Twice in today's epistle mention is made of the "day of Christ Jesus". What is this "day"? In the light of the Church's teaching on the social Kingship of Christ, that is, that He is King of the entire created order and of each person taken individually and of societies as a whole (teaching which, by the way, was reaffirmed by Vatican II), we can say that every day of human history belongs to Jesus as Lord.

And yet, St Paul clearly has in mind here a specific day which still lies in the future. It is what some medieval texts refer to as the Day of Doom or the Day of Wrath (Dies irae), the Day on which He will come to judge the living and the dead. It is the Day on which His sovereign rule over all creation will be solemnly acknowledged by every creature, in Heaven, on earth and even in Hell: All will bend their knee before Him, some in loving adoration, some in hateful spite, but kneel they will, constrained by the reality they cannot avoid.

So the Day will come, and on it we will be judged. How do we go about preparing ourselves for that Day? The Gospel gives us the answer: we must give to God today all that is His. And what is His? Everything. If we must give to Caesar, that is, to the legitimate authority of the state, what is his, that is to say, our cooperation with a just public order of things, it is of much greater importance that we give to God what is His, our body and soul, all that we are and have. 

If we are baptised and confirmed, we have been stamped with the seal of the Holy Trinity in a more indelible fashion than the penny stamped with the image of Caesar. We belong to Jesus Christ, and if we want to have the assurance that the Day of Judgment will find us on the right side, we must, here and now, live out all that this entails.

"We are Thine, and Thine we wish to be", we said last week in the prayer of Consecration to the Sacred Heart. Let us renew each day of our lives this dedication, and say to Our Blessed Lord frequently that we are His and that we want to be His, and that our joy lies in fulfilling His most holy will in all things. 

Then the "Day of Christ Jesus" will indeed find us rejoicing, for He will have brought to fulfilment what He began in us the day we were baptised. Let's not disappoint the Eternal King, our most sweet Saviour and Lord, Christ Jesus.

Reflections on a pilgrimage

I was blessed to take part last weekend in the Christus Rex pilgrimage for the first time. It was a time of grace, and I am thankful to the organisers. More than once, I found myself thinking of those who began this 27 years ago. It even came to me that perhaps our monastic foundation owes something to the prayers and sacrifices of those who have walked from Ballarat to Bendigo over the past nearly three decades. Indeed, their desire was to make a public statement that Jesus Christ is King, not only in Heaven and not only at the end of time, but here and now, He is King of the world, He is King of Australia, and He is King of each one of our lives.

Is it not that very same truth which our monastic foundation seeks to establish? If we monks leave everything behind, family, friends, career, commodities of all kinds, it is for one reason only: we believe and we want to testify to this truth that God Alone, the Incarnate God Jesus Christ, is Lord of our lives, He has absolute right and dominion over us, and there is no other reason that we would want to live, for in Him alone we found the peace and fulfilment our restless hearts desire. Such a public statement is made by the very existence of a monastery, and it is made visible every time a monk appears in public.

So I would like to say a big thank you to those who are making the pilgrimage happen at this critical point in history. It must continue, it must be part of the Australian landscape, for there is nothing more sorely needed today when we see the decay of civilisation. The words of the great pontiffs of the early part of the 20th century ring more true today than they did then: if society as a whole does not return to Jesus Christ the King — not just to God in general, but to the Incarnate God who is the only God — it is doomed to collapse. The recipes for destruction have multiplied over the past few decades: the profanation of marriage, the slaughter of the innocent unborn, and now the threat of the murder of the elderly and disabled. The horizon is dark indeed. But in the midst of that darkness, Jesus Christ reigns; His victory is already won, and we are only living out the struggle.

May we be found worthy to follow Him and the immense cortege of saints in building up the Kingdom of God by means of our fidelity to prayer, work and sacrifice. Such is the cement which gives solidity to the edifice of a truly Christian society. 

And may there be found many more faithful prepared to give those three days each year to walk the path, banner in hand, God's praises rising from their hearts and tongues, so that the world may know and believe the Truth which alone can set it free.

Redeeming the time

In today's epistle we find this somewhat strange expression from the hand of St Paul: "See how you walk circumspectly, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil" (Eph 5:15). That the days are evil is no secret; just about every day bad news reaches our ears, even tucked away in a cloister, some of it very bad, much of it of colossal proportions. And I am not talking about sunamis and earthquakes — not to deny the terrible tragedy those are for the people who must live through them —, I refer rather to the spiritual earthquakes, the tremors of which we felt long ago, but the disastrous consequences of which are becoming more and more apparent almost with each passing day. You would think St Paul was writing for us. "Redeem the time, for the days are evil". How do we go about "redeeming the time"? And how is time lost?

Time is lost through sin; it is also lost through idleness. By idleness, I don't just mean sitting around and doing nothing; I also mean spending lots of time doing things which are not God's will for us — the lazy person is not only the one who lies around on a sofa watching TV all day long, but also the person who busies himself with a thousand things that are none of his concern. The psalmist refers to such people as having become useless: "simul inutiles facti sunt" (Ps 13). Time is precious, a gift of God to us, all the more so in that it is in limited quantity: the time of our life on earth is placed within very strict boundaries which will not be moved; each moment of it is give us so that we might use it for the purpose God gave us when He created us: to praise Him, to love Him, to serve Him in all things and to help our brothers and sisters do the same, and thus attain eternal happiness in Heaven. Anything and everything with is not in some way ordered to that end of eternal salvation is idle, it is useless, and it needs to be redeemed. So "redeeming the time" means making up for all the time we have lost in sin or in busying ourselves with futilities that have no relation whatsoever with our eternal salvation. 

Some of the saints had a very acute consciousness of how precious time is in the sight of God, and even went so far as to make a vow to never lose time. A formidable task indeed! For most of us, such a vow would be unwise, but when we come to perceive all things in the light of the eternity in which we shall soon find ourselves and where we will be rewarded or punished for all, absolutely all of our thoughts, words and deeds, then we understand its value.

Th practical ways of redeeming the time are, first of all, stop losing it now! Get oneself organised each day in such a way that all our activities which we have discerned to be in conformity with God's will, have their slot in our daily schedule. Prayer and spiritual reading are obviously the unavoidable tools for redeeming the time, for every minute we spend thinking of God or acting in His Name will be counted as reparation for the time we have lost in the past.

St Paul gives us this recipe for redeeming the time: "Be filled with the Holy spirit, speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making melody in your hearts to the Lord: giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father; being subject one to another in the fear of Christ" (Eph 5). 

Let that be our program, and we shall indeed redeem the time. Don't forget: the days are evil.



It's all about a Wedding

Why does God like weddings? Why does Holy Scripture begin with the wedding of Adam and Eve? Why does it end with the wedding feast of the Lamb in the Apocalypse? Why does Our Lord's first miracle take place at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee?

All these questions are relevant if we want to fully understand the implications of today's Gospel reading. "The kingdom of Heaven is like a King who made a wedding feast for His Son." Who this King is and who His Son is should not be too hard to figure out: it is God the Father who made the wedding for His Eternal Son. When? At the precise moment when the latter took flesh in the womb of the Immaculate Virgin, for it is at that moment that God wedded to Himself our human nature. God had been desiring from all eternity to unite humanity with Himself in the Person of the Eternal Word, and He longs today to unite with Himself every human being through the gift of Divine sanctifying grace which reaches us through the Church and the Sacraments. 

This alone allows us to understand the behaviour of the King towards those who refuse to come to the wedding: He sends His troops to destroy them and burn their city. God offers us a share in His eternal life, by sending us His Son and incorporating us into His holy Church through the sacraments which give us, really and truly, the Seed of Immortality, opening up to us the gates of Heaven, which are nothing less than the entrance into an eternal marriage bond with God — God wants us to be one with Him in His eternal life. To refuse such a gift is unforgivable. 

Imagine someone who would despise the invitation of such a magnanimous king, who would prefer his petty self-interests to the proposal of the Eternal King. What could possibly be more insulting for the King, and more contrary to the real interests of the person who rejects it? That is why, for those who are not interested in God and in what He has to offer, there is nothing to hope for but death and destruction. Hell exists, and those who have no time for God go there.

This is confirmed by the rest of the parable. Once the feast had been filled with guests, the King went in to see the guests. And what did He find there? He found a man who had no wedding garment. He had been invited, he had come, but he had not had the courtesy of wearing the proper attire. In other words, he was not fit, through his own fault, to take part in the celebration to which he was invited. If the wedding feast is the union of God with the soul through the sacraments, this lack of a wedding garment can only mean that this fellow had approached the holy place and the holy sacraments without being in God's grace. The punishment is not delayed: cast him out into the exterior darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. God is not mocked, and one does not abuse holy gifts with impunity. Yes, God offers forgiveness, even for such monstrous deeds, but on the condition that one repent. The man in today's Gospel, when asked why he had no wedding garment, was silent: in other words, he refused to acknowledge his sin, he refused confession, he refused conversion, and he was damned.

Many are called, but few are chosen. Those solemn words resound throughout history, and they fly in the face of all the false prophets who, in every age, seek to divert souls from the real necessity of conversion and penance. These divine words tell us, with the greatest clarity possible, that even though many, that is to say all are called, not all are saved. So many are lost because so many refuse to take God up on His offer of being united with Him in the eternal wedding feast of the Lamb. 

Our Lady of Fatima said there were many who are lost in Hell because there is no one to pray and offer penance for them. Let us be generous, and let us also make sure that no one is lost due to our failure to speak the truth, the eternal truth, which alone can save.

May Our Lady of Cana obtain for us the grace of being among those who accept God's plan for us and open up wide our minds, hearts, and wills to the demands of His Holy Covenant!