Prior Senan’s Homily at Christmas Midday Mass

Blessed be the Child who today delights Bethlehem.

Blessed be the Newborn who today made humanity young again.

Blessed be the Fruit who bowed himself down for our hunger.

Blessed be the Gracious One who enriched all our poverty and filled our need.

Blessed be he whose mercy inclined him to heal our sickness.

                St Ephrem, Hymns on the Nativity 3

Today is Christmas Day, a day of healing, a day that is rich in gifts, a day that satisfies our longing and inner hunger, a day that refreshes us, makes us new and young again, a day that gladdens our hearts. This is the day our Saviour was born: let us rejoice and give thanks.

In today’s first reading, the prophet Isaiah, like a child on Christmas Eve eagerly anticipating Santa’s arrival, sings for joy and bursts with excitement. Watchmen in the lookout towers of Jerusalem have spotted on the mountain below a long awaited messenger running towards the city. The news he brings is good, really good, news of happiness and peace. The exile is over. The Lord is returning. He is coming back to console his people and restore the ruined city.

But the mysterious messenger running over the mountain is not just a figure of the past. For us here and now the messenger is also the mystery and miracle of Christmas. How beautiful are the feet of Christmas that come leaping over the brow of each year to bring us good news, to tell us again and again that Christ is born for us. We may have packed God away in the attic of our lives along with last year’s Christmas decorations but today he returns to us, tangible, visible and felt. And his name is Emmanuel, God with us: with us in good times and bad, with us in our difficulties and struggles, our anxieties and fears; with us in our grief and loss; with us even in the ruins of our own making, in the tumbledown state of our hearts with all their weakness, failure, and sin.

Today’s gospel sums up the heart of the Christmas message in one striking line of poetry: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” In Jesus, the Word made flesh, we see God and know him; in Jesus, God sees us and loves us. In becoming flesh in Jesus, God is saying, “My dwelling is with you. I am here to stay.” That is why he comes in a way that does not intimidate, frighten or overwhelm us. He comes as a newborn baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. God makes himself small so that we can understand him, welcome him and love him.

So, if we take a moment to stop and ask ourselves what Christmas is all about, we might begin to consider what the good news of ‘God being-with-us’ asks of us. If the Word became flesh to be with us, then we in our turn must become flesh too, become more truly human so as to be with, and for, one another. With Christ comes the real meaning of being human. If we say yes to the mystery and the miracle we are celebrating today and welcome Christ in, his humble love will enter our hearts and leaven them from within. He will not let the goodness and kindness deep within be defeated and undermined by selfishness, bitterness, hatred and by all that drags us down. If we say yes, Christ will be born for us and each of us will become a new sacrament of God’s incarnation.

God incarnate in us is his way of coming into this world today. Christ knocks on our door. Let us lift high our gates and let the King of glory, the Infant Child, enter in.

Glory to your coming that restored humankind to life.

Abbot Brendan’s Homily at Christmas Midnight Mass

“But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” So writes the prophet Micah.

Tonight the eyes of the world turn to this little town of Bethlehem. A place so small and so insignificant that there were two of them! Did you know that? There were two Bethlehems in Israel at the time of Jesus. The Bethlehem where Jesus was born is in the south, near Jerusalem, Bethlehem Ephratah and the Bethlehem which is now a heap of ruins in the north, near Nazareth, Bethlehem Zebulun.

Three great figures in the Old Testament are linked with our Bethlehem and help unfold this Christmas mystery for us; two women and one man. Rachel, who died in childbirth with the word Benoni (son of sorrow) on her lips; she is buried in Bethlehem. Ruth, the model of loving-kindness and fidelity, who after her husband’s death returned with her mother-in-law to Bethlehem where she found joy again. And finally David, the great king of Israel, anointed by Samuel in Bethlehem, his home town.

Bethlehem means, House of Bread, and Ephratah, means to be fruitful. In this fruitful house of bread the Mystery of the Nativity unfolds; the king of kings in David’s line is born in Bethlehem as Benoni, the son of sorrow; Christ takes on all our humanity, with its joys and its sorrows, represented by Rachel and Ruth. He is Emmanuel, God with us.

The Little town of Bethlehem is important because it reminds us that the Nativity of the Lord is real. Jesus was born as a refugee. His family was forced to leave Nazareth and go to Bethlehem. Later they had to flee the brutality of King Herod and go into hiding in Egypt for two years. St Matthew’s Gospel, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, has Rachel weeping and lamenting for the victims of Herod, the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem. The cross is never far from the mystery of Salvation. Bethlehem at the birth of Jesus was a besieged city. Today Bethlehem is again a besieged city surrounded on three sides by a 25 foot high concrete wall.

God chose a stable in Bethlehem, a place of little consequence. If we want to find him we have to go where he is to be found; the Bethlehems of this world and there are far more than two of them. We have to leave behind the delusions of our own greatness, our yearnings for things we will never have and people we will never be and turn to what is essential. We have to listen to the message God has sent us in this Mystery.

The Nativity is truly a mystery of joy and of sadness. It is truly the Bethlehem of Rachel and of Ruth. Yet the Nativity has above all a taste of hope. In its revelation of God to us it speaks of tenderness and love. God chooses to present himself as poor and frail in our midst; he is not threatening. His choice of place, Bethlehem, the House of Bread, reminds us that he has come to be bread for us. He has come to feed and serve us. He is bread that is broken and so there is a connection even here between the Nativity and the cross.

This is what the shepherds came to understand on that first Christmas night. Hope has come into the world and it is weak and fragile as a child, but the light it brings causes the angels to be filled with joy. We need this hope, because it is too easy to drift into the darkness. We all carry our worries, sickness, pain, loss and grief. So many are filled with hatred, turn to violence and even place guns rather than toys into the hands of children. Tonight, on this one night, we are confronted with peace and asked, is there not a better way? There is a better way, but we have to be willing to listen.

When Gabriel arrives to bring Mary the news that she will bear a child, she listens. When the angel tells Joseph in his dreams what is about to happen, he listens. The shepherds listen when the angel announces the “good news of great joy.” In the passage immediately following this, they go out and tell the world what they have seen and the world listens. God came into no other than this troubled, wounded and real world. He is real and wants to enter into our real world with all its complexities and fears. Christmas is real. It is not a myth or a wonder world. Christmas is God’s promise to us that we will have life, peace, and a future. Are you listening?

The tears of Rachel and the joy of Ruth have blessed this place of Bethlehem. The oil of the prophet Samuel which anointed David king over Israel was poured into this earth and made it holy. These famous inhabitants of the past, Rachel, Ruth and David are joined by the inhabitants of every age, represented by the shepherds, in acclaiming the mystery of the Nativity. We now join together with them in saying yes to hope as we welcome God’s joy into our world. Let us listen for the voice of the Lord and enter into His peace. The flesh has become the hinge of salvation! The flesh is weak, but the light of hope it carries is as bright as the star of Bethlehem.

Mystagogy of the Forest

Image result for trees at Glenstal images

Saturday January 13th 2018

with Fr. Anthony Keane osb

During this day we let our more ancient fellow creatures, our brothers and sisters of the forest share their secrets of life and co-existence,  revealing to us the deep buried treasures of our hidden selves.

Of all the plants, the  trees are the most balanced and upright, just as we stand erect among the animals. So we can feel a connection with them, a haptic connaturality.  They connect us gently with the past and with the future;  their roots  explore for us the underground, while their bare limbs on winter nights trace out for us the stars.  The natives among them speak of Ireland’s ancient past, while the exotics bring tales of different climes.  All of them look to the sun and with limbs uplifted  give praise to the Lord.

Who is this for? Glenstal is blessed with many beautiful trees. This day is for anyone who wants to experience the wonders of trees and what we can learn from them.

Anthony Keane, BA. He studied archaeology In Dublin and theology in Rome. He joined the monastic community in Glenstal in 1965. His main focus has been on the magnificent trees and woodlands in Glenstal.


Information:     Bring suitable outdoor boots/clothes.

Registration 10am @ Monastery Reception.

Finish @ 5.15 with option of staying for Vespers @ 6pm

Cost: €85 (including lunch, morning and afternoon tea/coffee)

Booking:  / 061 – 621005


T4W: Step Outside Please

We are familiar with the story – Mary, heavily pregnant, travelling with Joseph from Nazareth to their home town of Bethlehem, to fill out that census form. They arrived late and all the B & B’s and hotel rooms were full – so she gave birth in a dark, silent stable with the animals.   But despite these less than ideal surroundings,  God came anyway.  When our inn is full of stuff – or even closed – God comes to us anyway – born into our life, into our heart moment by moment, breath by breath in every little thing that happens to us. Every now and then we need to step outside our busy, noisy inn and find our way back to the small, dark, quiet stable. We need to be simple and patient with what is unfolding in our hearts as God is born in us. 

T4W: Operation Happiness

The U.S. Surgeon General is on a mission to deliver happiness, peace and love – in his position as Surgeon General he is emphasizing happiness as one of the ways to prevent disease and live a long healthy life.
He argues that happiness is a not an emotion or an inherited disposition but a perspective, something we can actively cultivate using four approaches; gratitude exercises, meditation, physical activity and social connectedness.
Research shows that these four approaches do increase a sense of peace and well-being. Part of these results may be due to the fact that we can do these exercises ourselves and don’t need any outside agency to help us achieve the goal. 
Social connectedness may be the greatest challenge in our individualistic world. A lot of people no longer feel connected to their community. This is the time of year when we can may be work on this approach to happiness both for oneself and for the ‘other’.

December Bee Notes


A friend sent me a card the other day which read, “Somehow we will squeeze through these dark December days”. It described how I felt. I like Blaise Pascal’s idea that in difficult times, you should always keep something beautiful in your heart or I might add in your pocket. Beauty makes a difference. The bees adjust their life style to each season of the year, why not us? With our technologically-adapted life style we are cut off from the natural world and we imagine that the natural world plays no part in our lives. D.H. Lawrence, in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, describes this disconnection as a catastrophe:

“Oh what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off

from his union with the sun and the earth.

This is what is the matter with us. We are bleeding at the roots,

because we are cut off from the earth and sun and stars and

love is grinning mockery, because, poor blossom,

we plucked it from its stem on the tree of Life and expected

it to keep on blooming in our civilised vase on the table”

In a book on, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom, the author Acharya Shunya explains how we are connected to the natural world and still need to adjust our lifestyle to fit the time of the year. A ‘seasonally adjusted life style’ makes sense to me – eating the same foods all year, exercising in the same way throughout the year, doesn’t make sense. Ayurveda recommends specific protocols for each season of the year. Some of these recommendations are in autumn, with darkness closing in and wind and rain increasing. It is easy at that time for our inner world to become a little shaky so Ayurveda advises stabilising one’s routine , especially routines of eating and sleeping and also recommends settling in our ideas and convictions. As winter settles in, a change of diet is helpful, eating hot, spiced and warming foods – soups, stews – also getting out into early morning light and engaging in creative activity. I know I have a lot to learn about this idea of managing myself round each season. Maybe I could learn more from the bees. The church too provides a change especially with the Gregorian chant for Advent and this lifts me over the lintel and into a different mood.

A Note on Mistletoe Use

Mistletoe, the partial parasite of apple, lime, poplar, or hawthorn trees is evergreen, and grows into a large spherical mass on the host tree. It produces a root like structure which grows into the tree and sucks its nutrients from the tree. Its seeds, spread by birds, are covered with a sticky, viscous gel that attaches them to the bark of a tree. The Mistle Thrush gets its name because it loves Mistletoe seeds. It flowers in early spring with male and female flowers on separate trees. Bees, among other insects, do the pollinating and provide us with those shiny, waxy white berries at Christmas. After each kiss you remove one of the berries – once all the berries are gone that’s it, no more kissing!

Asthma Cure

According to a new study, streets with trees may help against asthma attacks. Researchers from Exeter University studied the impact of urban greenery on asthma. By comparing 26,000 urban neighbourhoods the researchers found a link between areas highly populated by trees and lower rates of emergency visits to hospital for asthma. The association is even stronger in highly polluted areas. The study showed that an extra three hundred trees per square kilometre was associated with approximately 50 fewer emergency asthma cases per 100,000 residents over a 15 year period.

Watch Out For Fungicides

We know how harmful insecticides are for bees, but fungicides may also be causing harm. A study at Cornell University in the USA has found signs of a “surprising link” between fungicides and declining bumblebee numbers. This could be important for us since because of our damp climate we use lots of fungicides. Ireland has ninety-eight species of wild bee, twenty-one of which are bumblebees. According to the National Biodiversity Data Centre, 30% of Ireland’s bee species are threatened with extinction, mainly due to habitat loss. It is suspected that fungicides could change the nectar composition of flowers or harm the micro-organisms that live in bees’ guts. Fungicides have also been found to react with insecticides and make these toxic to bees. More research is clearly required in the Irish setting to see how fungicides impact our native bees.

American Foul Brood (Afb)

There is an interesting treatment for American Foul Brood coming from Australia. They use gamma radiation to sterilise equipment (same thing as used to sterilise medical equipment). It is popular as it does not use chemicals, so there is no residue in treated parts and they can be used immediately. This is ideal for bee equipment where it can be difficult to ensure chemicals and other treatments reach every area. Gamma radiation penetrates every part of the equipment, which means that any pathogens or insects are eliminated. This eliminates AFB and equipment can be treated over and over again. This would be a welcome new treatment and a more effective control than just burning hives which I had to do many years ago!


I am not getting great reports on the usefulness of the Bee Meditation. Maybe I need to test it myself. But thank you for the feedback from the brave people who tried it. There is little to be done in the Apiary at this time of year. If we get snow, do check that snow doesn’t block the entrance to the hives. Bees don’t hibernate and if the sun comes out and it warms up, they will be out and about, taking cleansing flights. They are very hygienic and save their waste until they get a chance to get outside their home. Some people give some extra protection to their hives by adding a blanket under the roof. In my experience, good ventilation is more important. A blanket can get damp and ultimately trap cold, damp air in the roof space. The best gift we can give bees at this time of the year is not to disturb them. But do go and tell them, ‘yes it is Christmas – rejoice and be glad’. I hope someone whispers this to you too!