In last week’s readings at Mass there were at least two occasions when the texts pointed to the end-times. Quite naturally, the mere thought of end-times is enough to send shivers up some spines. Urgency floods into our consciousness. Our blood pressure spikes. We rachet up the intensity of our lives. And not surprisingly, we often get a lot more done, even if we have to compromise on the quality a bit. And common to many of us in such a pickle, we do our level best to squeeze every opportunity out of life — especially when our days seem numbered. In the process we become very decisive people, as we deftly toss aside the less-important projects to concentrate on the things that suddenly matter.
All of this makes sense to me, because I know it’s true in my own life. Through years of schooling, on the eve of deadlines I’ve miraculously produced research papers that may not have been good, but in the space of a few hours they became good enough. And I’ve gotten productive beyond my wildest dreams when I’ve been up against the wall with office work long overdue. Still, in each instance I knew that this was not the way I wanted to live my life. I don’t like deadlines staring me in the face. And if I don’t like the little deadlines, I can only imagine how I’ll deal with Jesus when he comes knocking at the final end-time.
That may explain why I found the subject of end-times to be a little off-putting last week. First off, the third week of October is nowhere near the feast of Christ the King, which marks the end of the liturgical year. And it’s even less proximate to December 31st. So what’s the point of having readings that are way ahead of their time? Why talk about end-times when we still have plenty of time to put stuff off? I for one prefer to leave end-of-the-year business to the end of the year. I do not at all appreciate readings that try and terrify me, weeks before I should be dealing with that emotion.
My other objection to this out-of-season scare-mongering stems from my life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. I’ve perused that Rule many times over the years, and despite my best efforts I’ve yet to find a passage in which Benedict meant to scare the daylights out of his monks with threats of end-times. In fact, Benedict lays out a way of life that seems to minimize any need to lead a frenzied last-minute style of existence. Granted, he does ask his monks to keep death daily before their eyes. But since it’s something he expects us to do every day, there’s no sense getting wild-eyed about the prospect of the end-times. He seems to suggest that if that’s the sort of thing that motivates you, then you should live with that intensity every day, rather than embrace it only at the last minute. Why delay, especially if there’s the risk you might not have the time to get to it, even then?
Benedict also expects his monks to undergo a conversion of life, but he doesn’t presume that this will happen overnight, due to some crisis. Rather, this is a process of a lifetime, fed by regular prayer, regular work and rest, and regular everything else. Like wind and water that carve a landscape over thousands of years, so the slow and patient schedule of the monastic day should shape a monk. But the horarium doesn’t do it in a day, and Benedict would be keenly disappointed if a monk put all that off until the final week of his life.
That still leaves us to consider just how ordinary and even boring such a life should be. The fact is, Benedict hopes that his monks will encounter God in the ordinary things of life. There’s no need to go to the mountain when God is to be found in your neighbor. Nor do you need to get a set of specially-carved stone tablets, because the monk can see God in the gentle breeze and in the sacred readings and in the kindness of a brother.
In short, if we wait until the end-times to go looking for God, we’ll likely be terribly disappointed. And that will be so because God was already there — underfoot and rubbing elbows with us, in the ordinary circumstances of our lives. From that perspective, what a waste it would be to postpone the search for God until the end-times. If we do so, chances are excellent that we’ll miss God then, even as we forget to notice the divine presence now.
Given that Saint Benedict warns us not to wait until it’s too late to search for God, perhaps it’s appropriate after all to have readings about end-times well in advance of the end times. Perhaps it serves as a reminder that we all need, suggesting that life can and should be lived in October, and not just at the end of the year or at some other peak moment of our existence. And if God can be found at any time of the year, and not just at the end of time, then it’s certainly worth thinking about. Perhaps even today.
+On October 21st through the 26th I delivered conferences at the annual retreat of the members of the Subpriory of Our Lady of Philermo of the Order of Malta, held in Danville, CA. This year members had read Chris Lowney’s book, Pope Francis: Why he leads the way he leads, (Loyola Press, Chicago.) Some friends had recommended the book to me, and most in our group enjoyed it. It approaches the leadership style of Pope Francis from a business and organizational perspective. It is an easy read, as long as you don’t mind the overly frequent references to the business world.
+On October 23rd Fr. Fintan Bromenschenkel, our oldest monk, celebrated his 96th birthday. Many credit his longevity to his daily regimen of manual labor, and to the fact that he always takes the stairs rather than the elevator. Say what you will about him, there is one thing upon which we can all agree: Fr. Fintan is not nearly as old as he used to be.
+During the month of November the monks of Saint John’s Abbey remember in our prayers all friends and benefactors who have asked for them. Those prayer requests are contained in a basket, and on entering the church for office or Mass each monk will take one slip of paper and remember the names printed on it.
On All Souls’ Day, November 2nd we normally process to the cemetery for a short prayer service for the repose of our deceased confreres and members of the parish of Saint John the Baptist who are buried there. During the height of the fall colors I was able to get some good photos of the Abbey cemetery, and you can access that gallery here. Once inside the page, the icon “Galleries” will appear at the top of the page, and from there you can visit the other galleries that I’ve posted. More will follow!
+The photos in today’s post come from the Liebfrauenkirche in Trier, Germany.