Are We Ungrateful Tenants?

In the parable of the wicked tenants and the vineyard, Jesus certainly pushes his examples to the extreme. In so many ways it was an ideal situation, because the owner did all the heavy lifting. For the tenants, then, it should have been a no-brainer. For far less work than they put into it, they would receive a disproportionate reward.

But that’s not what happened. From the start they took for granted what they’d gotten, and one after another they dismissed those who reminded them of this inconvenient truth. Some messengers the tenants ignored; others they killed. In the process they morphed into useless and ungrateful people.

None of us know such ruthless people — I hope — except for the times when we ourselves slip into that mode. We can be those people when we fail to acknowledge to God and neighbors that they are the source of so many of our gifts. We are those people when we hold back on any shred of gratitude we should offer them. We are those people when we shut out from our lives both God and the people who make our lives worth living.

The point of the parable is that we do get another chance. So it is that whatever regrettable things we may have done yesterday can give way to a new day on which we can respond to the Lord. We can walk in his ways, and we can choose to work in his vineyard. Such work costs us little or nothing, but the reward is great, both now and in the kingdom.


+The last week has been one of extended retreats for me. On May 29th we monks of Saint John’s Abbey began our yearly retreat, which ended on the morning of June 2nd. We began the retreat with our first community meeting specifically dedicated to preparations for the election of a new abbot, which will take place during the first week of January 2024. There will be many meetings to come!

+On June 2nd I flew to Philadelphia, where I joined the members of the Subpriory of Our Lady of Lourdes of the Order of Malta in their annual retreat. That took place at Malvern Retreat House in Malvern PA. Today’s post is a transcript of the sermon that I gave in Malvern on June 5th. It is based on Mark 12: 1-12.

+Sunday June 4th was the feast of the Holy Trinity. Artists have had difficulty in trying to depict the Trinity, and at top is a stained glass window of the Baptism of Christ that shows Father, Son and Spirit. It was fabricated ca. 1510 in the Lower Rhine Valley, and it is now housed in the Schuntzen Museum in Cologne. The lower two photos illustrate Corpus Christi and the Trinity. It was made ca. 1335-45, and is now housed in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.

The Brothers’ Chapel

The years have not been kind to the brothers’ chapel at Saint John’s Abbey. It’s not that it’s ugly, because it’s not. It’s not because there are no brothers in our community, because in fact there are many. Rather, it met its demise because English was spoken there.

Despite the contemporary design of our abbey church, it is in fact a pre-Vatican II creation. As a result, for its first few years the language of the upper church was in Latin. Mass was in Latin, and there the priests of the monastery prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in Latin.

Because they did not know Latin, the brothers in the community prayed in English, and the lower church was designed for that purpose. But English, it turned out, was its undoing. When the priests switched to English during Vatican II, the brothers moved to the upper church and joined to form one liturgical community. Ever since then the lower church has sat forlorn, waiting for its day in the sun to dawn once again.

Contrary to popular belief, monastic architecture since Saint Benedict’s day has adapted considerably, so no one should think of this modern adaptation as a one-off. For starters, today we cannot imagine a medieval monastery without conjuring up vast libraries holding truck-loads of manuscripts. The truth was very different. Through much of the Middle Ages most monasteries owned rather small collections of books. Because most of the books were liturgical and destined for use in the chapel, sacristies also functioned as libraries. Only after the 11th century did the collections grow enough in size to warrant a separate space for them.

What also pops into mind are the cells that house the monks. Saint Benedict makes no mention of cells, because he expected monks to sleep in a common dormitory. Not until the 15th century did individual cells begin to appear in most Benedictine communities, and that led to one very significant structural change. With the cells came the need for doors to access them, and with that there followed the additional hallways and cloisters to accommodate them. Meanwhile the old dormitories were repurposed for all sorts of different uses.

Ironically, the changes of Vatican II scarcely impacted the structural elements of the abbey church at Saint John’s. Instead, the major change involved the celebrant, who simply walked around the altar to the other side in order to face the congregation. No contractors were necessary. But in its train came the English that allowed the entire monastic community — both priests and brothers — to worship together. That left the brothers’ chapel in the lower church high and dry.

Most visitors to Saint John’s have no idea that such a chapel exists. However, the brothers’ chapel is still there, pretty much in mint condition. Because it has not been recycled into something else, it is still there for our use when occasion demands. Individual monks still meditate and read there. They pray before the blessed sacrament, which is housed there. The organists in the community still practice on its small pipe organ. And when a wedding, a funeral or a student Mass displaces us from the upper church, we monks take refuge in the lower church for Mass or noon prayer. There, in the intimacy and simple beauty of that space we experience the presence of the Lord. Ironically, we also find the solace and serenity that is sometimes missing in the upper church. In the age of the cell phone and super-busy lives, perhaps that is the prophetic witness that the brothers’ chapel was meant to serve.


+On May 23rd I taught a class with the novices, and spoke about the differing traditions of the Cluniac and Cistercian monks.

+On May 25th I attended and concelebrated at the funeral Mass for long-time friend and Saint John’s alumnus Len Mrachek. The service took place at Saint Patrick’s Church in Edina, MN.

+On Sunday May 28th I helped to serve at lunch in the monastic refectory.

+For the past two weeks the incoming members of the Benedictine Volunteer Corps have been on retreat with us. They’ve joined us for prayer and some of their meals, and we’ve valued their company. In a few weeks this group of twenty will disperse around the world to take up year-long assignments in other Benedictine communities.

+Today the monks of Saint John’s Abbey begin their annual retreat. Peace will reign in our walls — at least for a few days!

+The photos in today’s post illustrate the former brothers’ chapel at Saint John’s Abbey.

The Power of our Words

“Taming the tongue” is not the sort of topic I would expect to stumble on in a newspaper these days. But then again “give Mr. Mouth a rest” was something I never thought I’d hear on Saturday Night Live. And yet Dana Carvey made it a trademark line for his Church Lady character. Even now I trot that line out regularly, just because it’s easier to remember than “thou shalt not bear false witness.” Still, taming the tongue and giving Mr. Mouth a rest tout the virtue of controlling one’s language, which seems to be out of fashion these days.

When it comes to speech, self-control is a complex issue. When he encourages taming the tongue, author Gary Abernathy targets the omnipresence of trash talk today. In case you’ve not noticed, an awful lot of people seem compelled to season their speech with vulgarities. I don’t want to sound like a prude, but we live in an age in which grade-schoolers can make steel-workers blush. But kids certainly have no monopoly on such language. Listen to a stand-up comic and you’ll hear a steady stream of naughty language to make up for the lack of anything funny to say. Absent any real humor, a few trashy bits will send clueless audiences into gales of laughter.

This issue is not unique to the 21st century, I readily admit. Back in the 6th century Saint Benedict lectured his monks on the power of speech. “The tongue holds the key to life and to death.” Take your pick, was the challenge he put to his monks. And six centuries before that Jesus preached that it was not what goes into peoples’ mouths that pollutes them. Rather, what comes our of their mouths shows what they’re really made of.

Vulgarities and fibs have been around since human beings first learned to talk. In fact disobedience barely edged out a lie as the original sin in the Garden of Eden. As a result, “bearing false witness” was an easy pick for honors in the Ten Commandments. Ever since then, sad to say, trash talk and lies — forbidden fruit in their own right — have gradually moved from the dessert plate to become the entree in many a conversation.

All of this brings me to the issue of silence. When I entered the monastery I know I didn’t value silence the way I do now. Now I realize how disruptive a flood of words can be. I also realize how important Saint Benedict’s warnings were. In a flood of words there is no peace, he wrote 1,400 years ago. To that I would add that in an avalanche of words there can also be a total absence of truth.

Clearly Saint Benedict could never make it as a stand-up comic today. But then again I doubt he would aspire to be one. For him silence was golden, and perhaps even today knowing when to be silent and when to listen is the gold standard of good communication. So perhaps it’s time to tame the tongue and give Mr. Mouth a rest. Why? Because in a flood of words there is no virtue.


+Last week I made a quick trip to San Francisco to attend the meeting of the Board of Trustees of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton. That meeting took place on the afternoon of the 18th, and unfortunately I had to take the red-eye flight back to attend a meeting at Saint John’s at 9:30 am the next morning. I have come to detest those flights, because I can’t doze off on a plane. But at least I made the meeting on time.

+On May 20th I served at the evening meal in the refectory.

+On May 21st I served at the noon meal in the abbey refectory. That evening we monks hosted the members of the Board of Regents and the senior administrators of Saint John’s Preparatory School at evening prayer and dinner afterwards.

+The inspiration for this post came from Gary Abernathy’s op-ed piece that appeared in The Washington Post on 21 May. His title says it all: I Swear, Our Profane Society is a Disgrace.

+On Sunday we celebrated the feast of the Ascension of the Lord. The top photo in today’s post shows Jesus as he ascends. It and the other photos are from an altar in the cathedral of Toledo in Spain.

A Case of Mistaken Identity

The gospels speak about the transformation of Jesus after the resurrection. That, of course, seems reasonable to expect, except for one thing. It does not explain the many instances of mistaken identity that crop up in these texts. Mary Magdalene, for instance, was the first to meet Jesus after the resurrection. She thought he was the gardener. The two guys on the road to Emmaus thought he was just another stranger on the road. And the disciples for whom Jesus prepared breakfast on the shore of the lake knew they had seen this person somewhere before, but they weren’t entirely positive about who he was.

That leaves an important question for us to consider. Why did they have such a hard time recognizing Jesus?

I suppose that if Jesus stepped in front of me and did some great miracle, then I’d have no trouble falling down to worship. But the point of the gospel narrative heads in an entirely different direction. Jesus came so that I could learn to recognize him in the ordinary people around me. Not surprisingly, my inability to see this is one I share with Mary Magdalene and the disciples.

The post-resurrection narratives of Jesus are meant to reinforce one of the fundamental teachings of Jesus. “What you do for the least of people you do for me.” From my vantage, then, I have to ask myself which is harder to do: to do an act of kindness for some strangers, or to see the presence of the risen Lord in them? Jesus asks us to do both.

We should make no mistake about our neighbors. Not only are they our neighbors, but they are created in the image of God. In them rests the Spirit. That was the great moment of truth for Mary Magdalene, for the disciples on the road to Emmaus, and for the apostles on the shore. So I conclude that if they can do it, then at least I have to try and do the same.

On the day when we finally meet Christ face to face, he’s going to ask about our treatment of others. Did we have eyes that allowed us to recognize him in the poor and the suffering and and in the healthy and the happy? Appeals to a case of mistaken identity will not get me very far. So it’s best to begin today to open my eyes. And what might I see? Quite possibly I’ll behold in my neighbor the greatness of the Lord.


+On May 10th I had class with the novices, and the topic was monastic life in the 10th and 11th centuries. It may sound boring to some, but for a medieval historian like myself it’s fascinating.

+On May 11th I presided at the abbey Mass.

+On May 12th I hosted friends from the Cities and gave a tour of The Saint John’s Bible gallery.

+On May 14th I attended commencement exercises for the graduates of Saint John’s University. We began the day with Bishop Patrick Neary, who presided at the Mass for the monks, the graduates and their families. That evening, after all the formalities were over, I attended a celebratory dinner for the four sisters and two monks from Vietnam who had received their Master’s degree earlier in the day. More particularly, for several years Brother Benedict and Fr. Paul have studied and lived in our monastery, and we will miss them dearly when they return to their monasteries in Vietnam.

+The photo at top shows the aftermath of the graduation ceremony at Saint John’s. During the past week the leaves at long last started to burst out. The other photos in today’s post hint at the transformation of the landscape.

What We Do For the Least of People

“It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6: 3-4.

The cynic in me is not at all surprised by this decision of the Apostles. No sooner had Jesus disappeared from their midst, than they appointed others to do the work while they prayed and preached. Thus the seeds were planted for what would become the Church as we have come to know it over the centuries.

However, I usually end up scolding myself for these musings, simply because there’s a lot going on here. First off, the Acts of the Apostles outline how the early Church was growing into a vital and expansive community. It was no longer the band of twelve, who followed Jesus wherever he went. It was becoming an amalgam of the poor and wealthy, the old and young, people from different ethnic origins, and spreading quickly to villages, towns and cities. Clearly there was an awful lot to do, but Jesus had not left behind an organizational flow chart. That seemed not to be his strong suit, or at least it did not appear at the top of his to-do list.

However, at the top of Jesus’ list were ideals and commands that the Apostles recalled easily. First, there was the commission to preach the gospel to people at the ends of the earth. Then there were the Beatitudes — the New Testament complement to the Ten Commandments. Followers of Jesus must feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, and so on. If those seem to be priorities in competition for time, talent and treasure, they were. But the Apostles realized that as a community they had to do it all. Deliberate neglect of one area risked turning the Christian community into a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

In all of the complexity of the Church, there is a temptation to import attitudes that crop up elsewhere in human society. Among them is the notion that the really important work is done at the top, whereas the value of the work diminishes the further down the totem pole you go. But it cannot be that way with the Church — the allegorical Body of Christ. The Apostles were astute enough to realize that life in the Church needed to evolve if the followers of Jesus were to remain true to his teaching. So began an expansion of shared responsibilities that continues even today — all the result of our shared baptism.

Is one charism more important than another? Obviously the Apostles thought not, and Saint Paul especially hammered away at that theme. Each and every ministry of the Church matters, then as it does today. Without that myriad of people doing different aspects of the work of the Lord, the Church falls short of the plan of Jesus.

It was a Spirit-inspired moment when the Apostles decided that they must share their work. It was important to pray and to preach, but it was also important to feed the widows and orphans. Most likely they knew that this decision was merely a good start. And their decision matters greatly for each one of us. They remind us that what we do — however great or inconsequential it may seem — is vital for the life of the Church. Why is that so? Because whatever we do for the least of people, we do for the Lord.


+On May 2nd I gave a class in monastic history to the novices in our community.

+On May 6th I gave a zoom presentation to the Oblates of Saint John’s Abbey. I spoke on the the leadership qualities that Saint Benedict expects of the abbot.

+Also on May 6th I participated in a tour of the new woodworking shop that is currently under construction. Fr. Lew introduced a group of the monks to the interior of the building, and all of us were surprised by the vast space that was there. Completion date is sometime in September.

+Besides attending the various meetings that I’m supposed to be at, the last week saw one great personal accomplishment. I was prayer leader for the week, and that includes morning, noon and evening prayer, as well as the prayer at dinner. For me it was a huge achievement that I did not need to find a substitute for a single slot.

+Today’s post is a reflection on the first reading for the Eucharist on the Fifth Sunday of Easter.

+The top three photos show sculpture housed at the Museo Nacional de Escultura in Valladolid, Spain. At top is The Burial of Christ by Juan de Juni, ca. 1540. The next two depict two of the four evangelists, by Felipe Viganey, 16th century. The bottom two photos show the interior of the abbey woodworking shop, under construction.

The Road to Conversion

By any measure, the conversion of St. Paul was an astounding turn of events. Even now it touches the lives of people, centuries later. In a story remarkable for its brevity, Paul stepped onto the stage as a persecutor of the apostles and their disciples. From there it morphed into what the Acts of the Apostles describes as an effort to destroy the Church. Along the way, nodding in approval, Paul looked on as an angry mob stoned to death the deacon Stephen. Clearly, Paul had the courage to translate his conviction into action.

As I pondered this story for the umpteenth time recently, another player came to mind. Gamaliel was a rabbinic leader who counseled caution. If this movement was of human origin, then it would likely evaporate like the morning fog. Experience had proven that such movements would fall of their own weight. But if it was from God, then there might be little that could or even should be done to stop it.

That was Gamaliel’s advice, and I have to wonder whether he was an astute political analyst or a sage on whom the spirit of God had come to rest. But regardless of that, if his words had been prescient earlier in the Acts of the Apostles, they certainly describe Paul’s own situation. Paul had fought until he could fight no more. The Lord may have thrown Paul to the ground on the road to Damascus, but this may have been merely the climax to what was already stirring in Paul’s heart. Doubts may have already nudged at him, and travel down a road was an apt metaphor of his spiritual journey. So it was that he was in a very different place by the end of the road.

There come moments when all of us confront the need to stop in our tracks and consider where we are going. We sometimes need to ask whether the courage of our convictions runs so deep that we are willing to ignore or hurt or even destroy our neighbor. It happens, of course, and even the best and most saintly can be so caught up in themselves that they know not what they are doing.

Fortunately the Lord forgives such people, and that includes us. Fortunately the Lord sometimes reveals an alternate route in life. Fortunately, as was the case with Saint Paul, every now and again the Lord opens our eyes so that we might see.


+On April 26th I attended the funeral of Jennifer Cahoy, a widely revered member of the staff of Saint John’s University. She and I were colleagues at HMML and later in the office of Institutional Advancement in the University. The funeral took place in the abbey church.

+Also on April 26th I presided at the abbey Eucharist. Today’s post is a variation of the homily I delivered that day.

+On April 27th we celebrated the Mass of Christian burial for our confrere Fr. Allan Bouley. Fr. Allan had received his doctorate in liturgy in Rome, and for all of his teaching career he taught in our School of Theology. I was one of two or more generations of his students.

+On April 28th I presided at the funeral of Mrs. Ardell Plantenberg. I had not met Ardell, but her husband Jerry was a member of the class of ‘50 at Saint John’s University. Both now rest together in the abbey cemetery.

+On April 29th I began my turn as prayer leader at the abbey’s liturgy of the hours. This service lasts through the entire week.

+Spring has yet to arrive, despite the fact that it is May 1st. So I have drawn from past memories by using photos I took years ago on a spring-time visit to The Cloisters Museum in New York. It is an amalgam of medieval structures brought from Europe to the Bronx, and it is well worth the visit — at any time of year.

“Is it I, Lord?”

Who really knows what Judas was thinking as he reclined at table at the Last Supper. Jesus had said simply: “One of you is about to betray me.” Was Judas trying to be evasive in his answer? Was he really unsure of himself? Did he hope to force Jesus to take decisive action? No one is certain, but “Is it I, Lord?” was all he had to say.

Two Sundays ago I made Judas’ question my question. Sunday morning is when the new lists of weekly assignments take effect in the monastery. That particular Sunday, just as prayer began, it dawned on me that I could not recall what I had been assigned to do. I knew I was not prayer leader, because someone else had just intoned the “Lord, open my lips” that gets us started. Then I glanced at the choir stall where the reader sits. To my horror, it was empty. Was I the morning reader? I couldn’t remember, and that’s when the words of Judas became my words. “Is it I, Lord?”

All Benedictine monasteries rely on weekly assignment sheets to get the basic jobs done. The difference for us at Saint John’s is that we have sign-up sheets in spades, and we need lots of volunteers to get through the week. For starters, we need readers at morning prayer, evening prayer and Mass. We need prayer leaders and Psalm leaders. We need celebrants and acolytes for Mass, as well as servers for lunch and dinner, and a table reader at dinner. Covid upped the demands, and suddenly we needed monks to deliver meals to those who were in quarantine. We still rely on those services, by the way, along with volunteers to help in our still understaffed health center.

I’m leaving out a few lists, but this is enough to hint at the scale of things. We monks rely on the generosity of each other to get through each and every day. If slots on sign-up sheets go empty, then we are in trouble. If people forget their assignments, we’re also in trouble. And if by chance a monk is double-booked — which happens more often than you might think — then absentmindedness has unintended consequences.

I don’t want to give the impression that all we monks do is sign up for stuff. There are other things to do, bedsides the day jobs that we have. We also should reserve time for reading, exercise, meals, rest and even some recreation. The point is this, however. We monks live full lives, and for the smooth running of the monastery we rely on the generosity of others. In that we likely are no different from any other family, except that our family is larger.

As you might imagine, when something goes wrong, it affects a lot of monks. When a monk forgets what he had volunteered to do, it’s not helpful. That’s why I froze that Sunday morning when I saw that the reader’s stall was empty. “Is it I, Lord?” Hoping against hope, I waited to see if the reader was merely late, or if there wasn’t one at all. In the worst case scenario, the substitute reader would step forward. But there would be a crunch time when we’d all find out. That would come after the last Psalm.

So when the last Psalm ended, it was time for the moment of truth. The stall was still empty, but the substitute sat down with the rest of us. However, from the sidelines came the assigned reader, much to my relief. My dark cloud suddenly lifted.

I later discovered that I had been assigned to read at Mass, which was still many hours away. But as for the morning reader, “it was not I, Lord!” Praised be Jesus Christ.


+Beginning April 17th I was the reader for the week at the daily Mass in the abbey.

+On April 19th I concelebrated at the Mass of Christian Burial for Dr. Julian Plante, who for twenty-seven years served as the executive director of the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library (HMML) at Saint John’s. The funeral took place at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in St. Paul, MN.

+On April 21st I attended the annual celebration of Saint John’s Day, which hosts supporters of Saint John’s University. As part of the program I interviewed two students whom I’ve known since they were freshmen. Gabriel and Miguel are identical twins who will graduate in three weeks, and it was fun to introduce them to the 250 people in attendance.

+On April 22nd I attended the interment of the ashes of Len Mrachek, an alumnus of Saint John’s. That took place in the abbey cemetery.

+On April 23rd Bishop Patrick Neary of Saint Cloud presided at the Sunday evening student Mass. It was his first pastoral visit to Saint John’s since becoming bishop a few weeks ago.

+Despite more snow in mid-week, the ice finally went out from Lake Sagatagan on April 22nd. The photo at top shows the recently-thawed lake, which sits behind the monastery. April 21st happened to be the feast of Saint Anselm, whose tomb is at Canterbury cathedral. Saint Thomas Becket usually comes to mind when people think of Canterbury, but Saint Anselm deserves his own top billing. A monk from Normandy, he became the Archbishop of Canterbury and abbot of the Benedictine community there in the late 11th century. I took these three photos several years ago, and I find the spaces at Canterbury to be hauntingly beautiful.

Life in Common: A Plan Gone Awry?

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s needs.” (Acts 2: 43)

This beautiful passage from the Acts of the Apostles is part of an idyllic portrait of life in the early Christian community. All prayed together. All shared their resources. All were of one mind. Or at least so we might think on first hearing this passage. But in fact the reality was very different. These were turbulent times — times when the followers of Jesus had to sort out what it meant to live in Christ. How should they tease into their daily lives the teaching of Jesus? Even more important was the issue of the identity of Jesus. Who was he? Who is he? How ought we respond to the invitation to follow him?

During the liturgies of the Easter season we have something of a forced march through the Acts of the Apostles. On the plus side, we’ll cover a lot of territory. From the Ascension all the way through the missionary journeys of St. Paul, we’ll read and listen as the Holy Spirit leads the disciples on a journey that none of them could have imagined. Had they known in advance, they likely would not have left their fishing nets or their tax-collecting booths. So there’s something energizing about the story of a group of disciples who found themselves way out of their comfort zone.

That said, however, we miss the story line by reading only a few verses from Acts each day. They seem like isolated and unrelated vignettes that someone stitched together. That’s a shame because this is one book of the Bible that rewards a reading straight through, in one sitting. Only then can we get a drone’s eye view of how radical a life in Christ really was. Taken together, this was a drastic change for the apostles, as it might be for us.

When we read through Acts it’s startling to see the progression. At first the disciples continue to pray at the temple, but by the end they don’t. They debate whether to keep kosher, but by the end of Acts they’ve left kosher behind. They argue heatedly about circumcision, but by the end they are no longer concerned about that. For a while they contend over the welcome of non-Jews into their fellowship; but it’s not too long before that question is history. It’s an extraordinary road they are walking, and early on they concluded that it was the Holy Spirit who was leading them every step of the way. The Holy Spirit had made them do it.

As we consider all this, it would be a mistake to assume that all these decisions came easily. They did not; nor were they inevitable. The sharing of goods, for example, had been a mark of the early church, but at a certain point the writer of Acts speaks of it in the past tense. In fact, the practice didn’t last very long. And if today’s verse from Acts sounds benign, consider the story of Ananias and Saphira. They had sold their property, but they failed to turn in all the proceeds to the apostles. They separately went into Peter’s presence very much alive, and each was carried out dead. Was this what the apostles felt called to do? Was this what early Christians looked for in their bishops? “No” was the answer to that. So to translate today’s verse into the vernacular, the experiment with shared goods didn’t work out. They tried it, and they realized it would transform the apostles from shepherds into autocrats. For their part they would surely morph into a people they did not want to be. So quietly they moved on. It was one of the few experiments in the early Church that didn’t work out as planned. And that too was the work of the Spirit.

So where exactly does this leave us? As Benedictines have we chosen a way of life that didn’t work out so well in the early Church? Have we taken a wrong turn? I think not. First of all, the disciples realized early on that this business of shared goods in a community of believers was beyond the calling of most. But it was not some eccentric or forbidden way of life. In fact it has remained an ideal that has intrigued every generation of Christians. And if sometimes it’s failed to function as hoped, in other instances it’s produced communities that have flourished. And so we pray that we continue to see Christ in our Benedictine communities.

But of even greater importance is the point that the writer of Acts leaves us. In virtually every chapter of Acts the followers of Jesus confronted hard choices and challenges. They faced them and they flourished despite it all. And therein is the salient point for us.

As much as we might prefer a quiet life without any tough choices, a life without challenge is in fact no life at all. Challenge helps each of us grow, and challenge lets the Holy Spirit work within us. And out of those challenges comes a pilgrimage that can take us out of our comfort zone, as challenge did for the apostles.

We could do no better than end with an allusion to the apostle Thomas. So determined was he to stay in his comfort zone that he refused to believe in the risen Lord. But he saw and could not help but believe, and that made all the difference for him. May the Lord do so for us as well.


+Like most weeks, the five standing committees that I’m a member of all met. But in an unusual twist I chaired a meeting to prepare for the feast of Saint Benedict, which falls on July 11th. It is a bit unusual in that this year three of our confreres will celebrate 70 years of monastic profession. One monk will make solemn profession of vows; one will celebrate 25 years of profession; one will mark 50 years; and two will mark 60 years in vows.

+On Sunday April 16th I celebrated Mass for the Benedictine Sisters of Saint Paul’s Monastery in St. Paul. Today’s post is a transcription of the sermon that I delivered that day.

+For those reading this blog post who happen not to be from Minnesota, I have to comment on the strange weather we have had in the course of nine days. On Good Friday the temperatures were in the teens, and we thought that the huge piles of snow were here to stay through June. Two days later we had spring-like weather. By the middle of the week we were in the 80s and all save the biggest piles of snow had melted away. Then on Sunday April 16th we had six inches of snow. All four seasons in one week’s time! The Lord does marvelous deeds!

+The photos in today’s post show images of Christ in judgement. These happen to be plaster casts of originals, and both show portals into Benedictine abbey churches. The first three photos show a cast of the Prior’s Door at Ely Cathedral. The original dates from ca. 1140, and the cast is housed at the V & A in London. The last two photos show a Last Judgement from the abbey of Moissac in France. This cast is housed at the Cité de L’Architecture & du Patrimoine, in Paris.

What to do with Easter?

“Easter eggs are a symbol of Christ breaking out of the shell of His tomb into the new life which He means every Christian to share. But whoever thinks of that? For most people, Easter is little more than the day when it is customary to display new spring wardrobes, and when the Christian who has been vaguely troubled all during Lent about not doing any penance can set his mind at rest until next Ash Wednesday.”

In 1962 Jesuit Fr. Daniel O’Hanlon penned these words in an article entitled Easter is for Adults. You could be forgiven if you thought them a bit dated, because a lot has changed in sixty years. For one thing, people now tend not to choose Easter Sunday to inaugurate their new spring wardrobes. And if by chance they had made Lenten resolutions back on Ash Wednesday, there’s far less remorse for failure than there once was. I for one am evidence of one soul who failed. Saint Benedict asks his monks to share with the abbot what their resolutions for Lent might be. First off, I failed to tell the abbot my resolution. But in fairness I have to confess that I forgot to make a resolution. So I don’t quite know which is the greater fault, but I ask for leniency because my two failures were sins of omission rather than commission.

Still, the image of the Easter egg as a symbol of Jesus breaking from the tomb is a powerful one, and it leaves us with one fundamental question. What — if anything — does Easter mean for us today? If it doesn’t merit a new suit or a bonnet, or allow us to leave behind some personal self-denial, then what can it mean for us on Easter Monday, when we wake up and wonder what comes next?

Five years ago I had the opportunity to walk a portion of the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela in Spain. For heroic hikers with the time it’s a 500-mile trek through the mountains and hills and plains of northern Spain. For the less-ambitious and the time-constrained, of which I was one, a minimum of seventy miles will get you the pilgrim’s certificate, and that’s what I came home with. That’s still nothing to sneeze at, since there’s still plenty of good-sized hills left before reaching the final goal — the great shrine to Saint James.

For most who do this pilgrimage, it’s an arduous challenge, and many a pilgrim has had to cut it short or pause to recover from blisters, injuries, tough weather or an occasionally cranky travel companion.

So why in the world do people risk all this to take a grand hike? That’s the big question that everyone has to answer, and the truth is that many people have no idea why they do it. It’s just something they have to do, and they hope to find out why by the time they reach the shrine. The reasons that cause them to take the first steps can range widely. They go on the Camino as a form of penance, to indulge in an adventure, to test their physical or spiritual endurance, or to discover what matters most in their lives. But as often as not the steps along the way are cumulatively transformative. The result? The last steps into Compostela are ones they scarcely had anticipated.

I bring all this up for one simple reason. In a thousand years the same road to Santiago has scarcely changed at all. Still, the same road is never the same for any two people. Each pilgrim is a unique creation of God, and pilgrims who walk side by side still experience something unique. And while people may start their pilgrimage for one reason or another, they find entirely different reasons to slog on. Each day they must decide whether to go home or go on. And if they persevere all the way to Compostela, each is a different person, changed by the experience.

For nearly two thousand years Christians have celebrated the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. On this Easter Day it’s important that we ask ourselves how or whether we’ve changed through our own succession of Easters. Has our experience of the Lord Jesus intensified? Have we grown indifferent? Do we do it out of habit or custom? All are worth thinking about, because it’s important that we take out the yard-stick and measure ourselves now and again. It’s important to inventory what it is that motivates us today, and are we happy with the direction our pilgrimage has taken us?

In coming days the readings at daily Eucharist will portray disciples who at first didn’t know what to do next. For a while they hid away, and the did so because they were afraid. Then their experience of the risen Lord was too much to contain. They fanned out around Jerusalem; then through the Holy Land, and eventually around the world. And they carried with them the news of the risen Lord. They shared how Jesus had touched their lives and made them new people.

As they spread they also took with them the celebration of the Eucharist, and embedded in that celebration was a confession of faith: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

Today, both as a community and as individuals, we celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. As a community the celebration is predictable — the message is the same yesterday, today and forever. But it’s at the personal level where you and I have to answer whether any of this impacts our lives. Does the Easter message make a difference for my own pilgrimage? Does it add direction and clarity to my life? Does it urged me on in my own pilgrimage through life?

The time for making Lenten resolutions is now over, but the time for pilgrimage continues for as many days as we choose to get up from our beds. Will we lock ourselves in our own upper rooms? Or will the experience of the risen Lord drive us on in a renewed pilgrimage? Can we proclaim that the Lord can and still does do great things for us? If it’s the latter, then along with the Lord we are truly risen. And that is the new life which the risen Lord means us to share.


+On April 4th I took part in the monthly zoom meeting of the Regent’s Council of the Subpriory of Our Lady of Philermo of the Order of Malta.

+Throughout Lent many of the priests of the abbey participate in penance services in nearby parishes and religious houses. On April 6th I participated in such a service at Saint Benedict’s Monastery in Saint Joseph, MN.

+Both the vigil Mass and the Sunday Mass for the feast of Easter drew large congregations, and both of them were impressive services. By custom it falls to the prior to preside at the Easter Day Mass, and so I found myself at the altar and in the pulpit. Today’s post is a transcription of the sermon I delivered. The quotation that I opened with is from an article by Daniel J. O’Hanlon SJ, which appeared in America on 21 April 1962. It was reprinted in a recent issue of America, and I found it had not lost its relevance in the course of nearly sixty years.

+In closing, let me wish you all the best for a happy and thoughtful Easter season!

+The photos in today’s post show art housed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The first two show Christ in Majesty, Catalan, 12th century. Below them is the Crucified Christ, Austrian, 1050-1100. Next is The Lamentation by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1548. Below is a Crucifixion by Flemish artist Joos Van Cleve, ca. 1525.

Lent: The End is Near

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” So wrote Woodrow Wilson, and it’s a lesson Moses would second with a hearty “Tell me about it!” He had led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and into forty years of wandering in the desert. The experience was harrowing, and the Israelites weren’t at all prepared for it, as Valerie Schulz reminded me in a recent book. What should have led to a celebration of liberation morphed into a painful ordeal. That trial in turn distorted their perception of the past. In Egypt they had experienced slavery and all its horrible side effects. In the hindsight of the desert, however, Egypt became the symbol of a golden age. In the crucible of the desert Moses became the one to blame for leading them out of their comfort zone; and for his efforts he reaped a forty-year harvest of complaints and resistance from a people who had forgotten their own story.

The end of Lent is upon us, and I’m well-aware that I’ve not taken advantage of the season as I could have. Lent is an artificial construct, of course, but it’s meant to help us engineer some few changes that can shape our future. None of them need yield drastic alteration, because such change is less likely to stick. But all the same, there are at least a few tweaks that can make for solid course correction. That’s what wandering together with Jesus in the metaphorical desert of Lent is meant to accomplish.

If Lent is nearly over and I have little to show for it, there is still one last chance to salvage a bit of it. For the three days of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday we have one last segment of pilgrimage during which to reflect on our time with the Lord. I’ll grant that for some the Triduum can seem a long and tedious exercise. All the same, however, it offers moments in which we can examine and recalibrate our lives. It’s our chance to reshape life’s journey, even if it means wandering out of one comfort zone, only to find meaning in a new one. Like the Israelites, who once were no people, we too can become the people of God. Change, it seems, is not entirely bad.


+On March 28th I presided over the weekly meeting of the monks. On the agendum that evening was the outline of the timetable and the process we will follow as we prepare to elect a new abbot. That election will take place in January 2024.

+The uncontested highlight of the week was our celebration of Palm Sunday. As is our custom, we gathered in the Great Hall for the blessing of the palms, and from there we processed into the abbey church for Mass. Joining us for this service was The Saint John’s Boys Choir, and a large congregation was in attendance.

+Flanking our procession out of the Great Hall were piles of snow that have grown to tower over our heads. That’s the result of plowing aside 88 inches of accumulated snow, and it’s anyone’s guess when it will finally melt away. If 88 inches have not broken the record for one season’s snowfall, it’s almost there. I have decided not to include photos of the snow, because I’m tired of it.

+The seed that inspired today’s post was provided by Valerie Schultz in her recent book A Hill of Beans: the grace of everyday troubles, published by the Liturgical Press, Collegeville MN, in 2022.

+The three photos in today’s post show art housed at the Art Institute in Chicago. At top is a Corpus of Christ, 13th century, Cataluña. Below that is the Last Supper, French, ca. 1490. And at bottom is a crucified Christ by Francisco de Zurburán, Spanish, 1627.