Dear LCG Members:
All of you are remembered in my heart and prayer these graced days
of Advent and Christmas. I am grateful for the many graces I see in
your lives, your abiding desire to draw near to the living God even
as he draws near to us n his beloved Son. May his peace and live
fill all our hearts.
Fr. Michael Gethsemani Abbey
To all my Cistercian Family: All joy in the birth of our Lord!
My prayers for a holy, happy Christmas season for all LCG partners.
[The following greeting was sent to Fr. Damien Thompson, Abbot of
The Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani (LCG) send our heartfelt regards
to you and the community of the Abbey of Gethsemani for the joy and
hope of the rebirth of Christ in our lives. We are grateful for all
the support and prayers that you and the community have provided us
This past year has been one of many experiences of growth and new
beginnings for Lay Cistercians worldwide and within the Lay
Cistercian community associated with Gethsemani. We are especially
grateful for the generosity provided by the community making it
financially possible for us to participate in the Third
International Lay Cistercian Meeting at Clairvaux, France in June.
Be assured of the continued support and prayers of the Lay
Cistercians for you and the community in 2006, as we continue to
grow together in living the Cistercian spiritual values and
practices within the context of our distinctive ways of life.
With peace and fraternal love of the Christ,
Lay Cistercians of Gethsemani Abbey
Michael Brownís Reflection at Merton Memorial Mass in LouisvilleĖ
On this Third Sunday of Advent, we are joyful. The Lord is near!
Isaiah and those of us gathered here today rejoice heartily in the
Lord for God is the joy of our souls. In the reading from St Paul,
we are encouraged to pray always. In the Gospel of John, we read
that John the Baptist is the voice of one crying out in the desert.
It is easy to think of Thomas Merton when hearing these readings
today. He taught us much about joy and prayer. In many ways he was
also the voice of one crying out in the desert, a true prophet for
When I was asked to speak today, I wondered why. I did not know
Thomas Merton personally, nor am I a Merton scholar. What can I say
about Merton that others havenít said better? I decided that all I
could do today is speak simply from my heart, as an ordinary
layperson, about a man who has impacted my life in many ways.
I can say, without hesitation, that Thomas Merton has been a very
influential person on my life. When I was a young man, like Merton,
I wanted to be a Franciscan. While attending a Franciscan seminary,
one of the friars gave me The Sign of Jonas as a gift. I read it
with enthusiasm. It was the beginning of the end of my Franciscan
vocation. Mertonís reflections on life in the monastery caused my
heart to burn within me. I felt strongly that God wanted me to go to
In time, I was accepted into the community of Gethsemani. When I got
there I was in awe of being part of the monastery that I had learned
about through Mertonís books. Although it was a wonderful experience
for a young man, I realized eventually that the monastic life was
not for me so I left the community.
After leaving the community, I continued to make retreats at
Gethsemani and to read Mertonís books. Inspired by Merton, I tried
to maintain something of the prayer life I had begun at Gethsemani.
This continued even after I married and began a family. Why couldnít
I live a contemplative life in the world as a married man with a
family? In reality, I had left the monastery but the monastery had
not left me. Part of me was still spiritually a monk.
For a number of years I did my own thing until I began meeting other
lay people with similar desires and spiritual yearnings. With the
assistance of one of the monks, we began meeting together at
Gethsemani and sharing our stories. Merton was often mentioned in
This was the beginning of what is now the Lay Cistercians of
Gethsemani. We are a committed group of lay people, male and female,
young and old, married and single, living in the world, who strive
to live the contemplative life according to the Cistercian charisms
of silence, solitude, simplicity, stability, and conversion of
manners, in the spirit of the Rule of St Benedict.
My personal journey, begun with Mertonís Sign of Jonas, took me to
France this past summer. I went there to attend an International
meeting of Lay Cistercians, monks, and nuns in Clairvaux, the city
of St Bernard. There were over 100 people from more than a dozen
countries, representing 26 Lay Cistercian communities. Several
times, when people read my nametag and saw that I was representing
Gethsemani, they would enthusiastically acknowledge Merton. No
translation was needed! While in France, I was also able to visit
Citeaux, the birthplace of the Cistercian order that Merton loved so
well. Sitting in the abbey church at Citeaux, I was a long way from
the 19-year-old Franciscan seminarian reading his 95-cent, paperback
copy of the Sign of Jonas. I would not have been in France this
summer, nor standing before you now, if it were not for Thomas
For me, the door to the contemplative life, and to a deeper
awareness of Godís presence in life, was opened by Thomas Merton.
God has used Thomas Merton to open my eyes to a new way of seeing
and to a whole new way of living. Over the years I have been
fortunate enough to visit Gethsemani many times and to spend some
weekends in Mertonís Hermitage. On my first overnight visit to the
hermitage, I had a wonderful experience that gave me a sense of
oneness, not only with God, but with Merton. It was around this time
of year. It was late at night and very dark. I was sitting in
Mertonís chair in front of a roaring fire. Outside there was a
drenching downpour of rain. I was reading Mertonís ďRain and the
RhinocerosĒ from Raids on the Unspeakable. As I rocked in front of
the fire, I read the following words. "The rain surrounded the whole
cabin with its enormous virginal myth, a whole world of meaning, of
secrecy, of silence, of rumor. Think of it: all that speech pouring
down, selling nothing, judging nobody, drenching the thick mulch of
dead leaves, soaking the trees, filling the gullies and crannies of
the wood with water, washing out the places where men have stripped
the hillside! What a thing it is to sit absolutely alone, in the
forest, at night, cherished by this wonderful, unintelligible,
perfectly innocent speech, the most comforting speech in the world,
the talk that rain makes by itself all over the ridges, and the talk
of the watercourses everywhere in the hollows!" It was a true
contemplative moment. As I read these words, it would not have
surprised me to look over and see Merton at his desk, writing in one
of his journals.
God has used Thomas Merton to awaken within millions of people a
hunger for God through a deeper contemplative awareness. I feel
blessed by Godís grace to have been touched by Merton. Because of
him, nothing has ever been the same for me. I certainly never listen
to rain the same way I did before reading ďRain and the RhinocerosĒ.
Let me end today with some final words from Mertonís New Seeds of
Contemplation. The Lay Cistercian Plan of Life begins with these
words. They remind us that God calls all of us to holiness and to a
deeper oneness with Him.
"Contemplation is the highest expression of manís intellectual and
spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active,
fully aware that it is alive. It is spontaneous awe at the
sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for
awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that
life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and
infinitely abundant source. Contemplation is, above all, awareness
of the reality of that source."
Thank you, Father Louis!
December 10, 2005