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Committees for Everyone!

It takes a lot of committees to run a large monastery, and for that Saint Benedict shares much of the blame. After all, he insisted that the abbot seek counsel from the monks, and even the youngest ought to weigh in. Therein is the challenge. In an era when committees rule the day in corporate America, just how far should a monastery go to imitate contemporary culture?

Before I became prior I was on two committees — the senior council and the vocation committee. I enjoyed both. Now that I am prior, however, it’s different. I know for certain that I sit on four standing committees that meet weekly on four different days of the week. Beyond that, I’m not entirely sure how many other committees I’m supposed to be on. All I really know is that they add up to an awful lot of sitting.

The two original committees remain my favorites, though each for very different reasons. Each impacts the life of our community, but I think it’s the vocation committee that is the most challenging. It demands regular attention, and it also requires a proactive participation that the others do not. Our job is to meet and get to know potential candidates for the monastery.

These past few days have been particularly gratifying. Last Tuesday the chapter of the abbey met and accepted Joseph as a candidate for the novitiate, and he will be clothed as a novice tomorrow. This last weekend we six committee members interviewed an individual who has visited Saint John’s several times and now has petitioned to become a candidate. If accepted he will begin a pre-novitiate stage, living with us in the cloister for two or more months. Then this week we will welcome two individuals who are at the very beginning of their search for God in a monastic way of life. Will our community be the right place for them? Our job is to help them as they figure that out.

Clearly, all this requires a lot from our members. Topping the list, I suppose, is a healthy dose of wisdom, and we pray for that regularly at our weekly meetings. It’s an essential ingredient as we welcome potential candidates for the monastery. Also necessary are common sense and a determination to keep going, whether there be no candidates or there be several. For whatever the reason, this seems to be a busy time for the vocation committee.

I’ve always thought that in the monastery there should be committees for everybody and everybody should be on a committee. After all these years I still think that, though there are days when I have my doubts. Do we really need all these committees? Maybe, and maybe not. But at the very least it’s a way of sharing responsibility among the monks and drawing individual monks into the life of the community. That in itself is a good thing. But it’s even better when the committees accomplish something of value for the glory of God.

NOTES

+For the record, I sit on four committees that meet once a week: the abbot’s staff on Monday morning; the senior council on Tuesday afternoon; the health center review committee on Wednesday morning; and the vocations committee on Friday morning. Other things fall where and when they will.

+On 9 August the monastic chapter (those monks in solemn vows) voted to accept candidate Joseph into the novitiate.

+On August 11th I participated in a dinner at Saint John’s for the staffs of two Episcopal churches — one from Augusta, GA and the other from Galveston, TX. The former has purchased a set of the Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, and the second is weighing the possibility. My job was to speak about the history of the project.

+On August 14th we hosted for evening prayer and dinner some thirty-five sisters from the nearby monastery of Saint Benedict.

+On feast days we welcome select icons or statues of the saint of the day into the sanctuary. This being the feast of the Assumption, we welcomed Mary the Mother of God into our midst. Meanwhile, the cloister gardens on either side of the church are enjoying perhaps their last hurrah of the summer.

What Will the Neighbors Say?

“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12: 48)

I’ve long relied on this passage to spur my efforts when it comes to serving my neighbor. No matter the inconvenience, I owe it to others to share my blessings and to develop my talents, for at least one simple reason. Failure to do so will earn me the judgement of God and the censure of my neighbor. After all, what more powerful incentive is there than the fear of what the neighbors will say?

Last Sunday it dawned on me that in real life this scenario doesn’t always play out so well. The fact of the matter is, if I fail to make good use of my time, talent and treasure, it’s likely that scarcely anybody is ever going to know the difference anyway. These are sins of omission rather than commission. In practice the only person who knows that I’ve fallen short is me.

Therein lies the burden that God puts on each of us. If we never make good use of our talents or our capacity to love, then chances are good that few people will ever notice. Few might even care. So who should care? I’m the one who should care, because I’m the one who has to live with myself. Why would I want to live half a life?

Sooner or later my day of judgement will come, but for now I’m the one who knows what possibilities I neglect and what opportunities I choose to ignore. I have the option to make some sort of difference in the world, or I can exercise my option to do little or nothing. For better or worse, most people will never know what I’ve decided to do, but I will. Should I act, I’ll know the joy that comes from letting the Lord work through me. Should I sit life out, I’ll never know what I’m missing.

NOTES

+On August 2nd 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.

+Also on August 2nd, I participated in the meeting of the senior council of the abbey. After evening prayer the monastic chapter met to review the progress of the junior monks. Because the abbot was away, this was the first time I’ve been called upon as prior to open and close the meeting of the chapter.

+On August 6th I administered the sacrament of the sick to a long-time friend who is about to embark on life’s ultimate pilgrimage. Please pray for Roger and for all those who will pass in the next few days.

+On Sunday August 7th I assisted in serving the evening meal in the abbey refectory.

+The photos in today’s post show the red-brick south wing of the quadrangle, and each level serves some aspect of life in the abbey. On the basement level is the laundry and storage. The first floor houses abbey offices — including my own; the second floor is the abbey retirement center; and the third floor houses the candidates, novices and junior monks. Along either side of this wing are small gardens, of which the photos in today’s post give an inkling.

What Is Our Treasure?

How is the kingdom of heaven like a pearl? How is the kingdom of heaven like a treasure in a field? Jesus presents these images in Matthew 13: 44-46, and they give us pause to consider what life should be like both here and in the hereafter.

Should we take this literally? If so, we might have to conclude that heaven consists of gazing benignly at piles of riches. Or perhaps it’s an endless pain-free existence; or a numbing series bleak sessions at a computer screen; or an escape into eternal pleasure. Frankly, none of these images really inspire me.

For Jesus an eternity of staring at pearls is not what eternal life is all about. Rather, the things that will energize us in the kingdom are just as real as pearls, but they’re more likely to be on the intangible side. Those treasures will include love and friendship and service to one another. They might include music and literature and art and all the other products of human creativity. They also might include meaningful work, an appreciation for the human dignity that each of us has, and the sheer delight of being with one another.

Such things are not to be found in heaven alone. They ought to be the incentives that rouse us out of bed each morning in the here and the now. These are samples of the pearls of great price and the treasures that can make life so wonderful. These, I would submit, are what we were looking for when we came to the monastery to seek the face of God.

NOTES

+From 24-29 July I hosted my friend John for a five-day retreat as he prepares to make the Promise of Obedience in the Order of Malta. From Jacksonville, FL, John is a member of the Federal Association.

+On 25 July I participated in a zoom meeting of the Formation Committee of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.

+On July 26th we monks hosted a large number of guests for the groundbreaking of the new abbey woodworking and organ-building facility. It was the culmination of much planning, and we hope to gather in a year and a half to dedicate it.

+On July 27th I presided at the Abbey Mass, and today’s post is a variation of the sermon that I delivered.

+Also on the 27th, I hosted at lunch my friend John, who is a priest of the diocese of Bismarck. I was John’s academic advisor when he came as a freshman to Saint John’s University. In all my years at Saint John’s he remains the only student who ever came with a plan for each of his eight semesters of college. I cautiously advised him that he might want to make some adjustments, since not every course in the catalog is offered in each semester. He adjusted, and he’s continued to do so through the course of his life.

+On 28 July we monks celebrated the Mass of Christian burial for our confrere, Fr. Brennan. Among other things, Fr. Brennan distinguished himself by being the 14th of 17 children in his family. Of course he didn’t have a lot of say in that, but by dint of his engaging personality he didn’t get lost in the crowd either. May he rest in peace.

+On July 31st we monks hosted the many generous individuals who do volunteer work at the abbey. After Mass we gathered for a reception and lunch in the Great Hall; and the monks set up, staffed and then cleaned up after the event. On this occasion the volunteers were not allowed to volunteer.

+Finally, through the summer we’ve hosted a large numbers of guests at morning and evening prayer. Among the guests have been participants in the summer languages program at HMML. They are a distinguished group, here for classes in Armenian and Syriac language and calligraphy.

+Among my favorite nooks on campus is the pocket garden beside the Stephen B. Humphrey Auditorium. It’s a lovely spot, and it’s a shame that so many walk by without ever noticing it.

Consider the Lilies of the Field

“Why do you speak to the crowds in parables?” That’s a question the disciples must have put to Jesus on more than one occasion. And why shouldn’t they? Why did Jesus have to make his message difficult to understand? Wouldn’t it be better to have it crystal clear rather than speak in riddles?

A few key bullet points would have been a lot simpler to ingest. Moses did as much when he provided ten easy-to-memorize commandments. If by the end of the day you’d not killed anyone, not stolen anything nor coveted anybody, then you could assume that you were in good standing with God. How simple. Even kids could get that.

By the time of Jesus the religious landscape of Judaism had evolved. For some — the Pharisees especially — the tenets of law were no longer an adequate guide to holiness. The days when you could please God with a bullock or two, or a burnt offering, were fast drawing to a close. What the prophets and later Jewish teachers had begun to describe was an entirely different perspective on religious observance. God prefers lives well-lived, and thus came the transition into ethical Judaism.

Jesus was certainly in that camp. He’d be the first to admit the value of the law. It kept order and provided social stability. But he also knew that God asks more of us. God gave us brains to use, and God expects from us lives of self-awareness, ethical behavior, and above all love.

If the parables could be a tad bit difficult to tease out, they nevertheless were entry points for meditation on the purpose of life. Of course the parables pose challenges, and that’s as it should be. They point out that there are not always easy answers in life. That’s what makes life both a pilgrimage and an art form.

So it is that Jesus asks us to consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. They are lovely, but they are nothing compared with the nobility of our own lives. That has to be worth a moment of self-reflection every now and then, shouldn’t it?

NOTES

+On July 19th I attended the meeting of the senior council of the abbey. This was something of a transition, since I moved from being a member elected by the community to ex officio membership on account of being prior.

+On July 20th I had dinner with several members of our Benedictine Volunteer Corps. Some were at Saint John’s for a retreat that closed their year of service, while others are just beginning their year.

+On July 21st I presided at the abbey Mass, and today’s post is an expanded version of the message I delivered that day. It is based on Matthew 13:10-17.

+On July 22nd I hosted friends from Pittsburgh and gave them a tour of The Saint John’s Bible Gallery.

+On July 23rd I conducted services for Dr. Robert Henry, an alumnus of Saint John’s University. His father was an alumnus, as is his son.

+On July 24th a friend of mine from Jacksonville, FL, arrived at Saint John’s for a five-day retreat. He is a member of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta and will be making this retreat as part of his preparation for the Promise of Obedience.

+Our landscape is particularly lush as we approach the homestretch of the summer. At top is a view of the Great Hall, taken inside the courtyard of the Quadrangle. Following that are three photos from what is affectionately known as The Scary Mary Garden. It takes its name from the rather stark sculpture of Our Lady of Peace, shown clutching an olive branch.

The Blessings of Hospitality

A Baroque Gloria — complete with string quartet and organ — in under a minute? “Impossible!” you may say; but at Saint John’s Abbey it happened this last Sunday.

The occasion was the visit of Abbot Georg of Melk Abbey in Austria. He and a contingent of monks and alumni of Stift Melk had visited Saint John’s to celebrate 55 years of the exchange program between their gymnasium and Saint John’s Preparatory School. Adding to the festivities was the presence of 67 of our oblates, here for their annual retreat.

This was no ordinary liturgy, and it brightened an otherwise sleepy and warm mid-summer Sunday. The liturgy was an unexpected tour de force, with great singing both by the guest choir and the congregation. Adding to that was a showcase of the linguistic talents of our monastic community, including the psalm sung in German by Brother Aelred and a hymn sung by Fr. Lew.

Quite by chance the first reading — from Genesis 18: 1-10a — was about hospitality. That passage recounts the hospitality that Abraham and Sarah showed to three angels. It wasn’t a one-off case of middle-eastern hospitality, because hospitality was part and parcel of a culture that welcomed strangers. The result was an exchange that transformed the lives of both Abraham and Sara, and nine months later the elderly Sarah bore a son — their first-born.

That was the substance of Abbot John’s sermon. To it he added one coda from the New Testament. It was no coincidence that in the parable of Dives and Lazarus the latter was welcomed into paradise and into the bosom of none other than Abraham. Then and now Abraham remains the consummate symbol of hospitality.

Left unanswered until after Mass was how a choir can sing a Baroque Gloria in a minute or less. Fr. Anthony, the music director, satisfied my curiosity. Even Austrian emperors occasionally grew tired of marathon Baroque Masses, so much so that one finally reached the end of his tether. He decreed that Masses in the imperial chapel be completed within an hour. Faced with the challenge, Austrian composers contrived settings in which individual portions of the choir sang separate sections of the Gloria, simultaneously, until they all converged on the Amen at the one-minute mark.

Even with that, our liturgy on Sunday came in at 63-minutes. Still, no one begrudged anybody this minor inconvenience. As praise of God goes, this was over the top. It also brought into reality the note with which Abbot John ended his sermon: authentic hospitality enriches both the hosts and the guests alike. It happened on Sunday at Saint John’s Abbey.

NOTES

+This last week I served as the reader at the daily abbey Mass.

+On July 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Benedict, complete with the profession of first vows by Brother Travis and the renewal of vows by our jubiliarians. Later that afternoon I participated in a zoom meeting of the Formation Committee of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.

+On 14 July I attended the funeral of a long-time friend, Clara Dolan. It took place at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Minnetonka, MN.

+On 16 July, at vespers, as prior I accepted the promises of three candidates petitioning to become Benedictine Oblates of Saint John’s Abbey. They were at Saint John’s along with 64 other Oblates for their annual retreat.

+For four days last week a large contingent, led by Abbot Georg of Melk Abbey in Austria, visited Saint John’s for the celebration of 55 years of the exchange between the students of their school and the students of Saint John’s Preparatory School.

+On 17 July I attended presentations by two of our returning Benedictine Volunteers, who spoke to us monks on their year of service at Benedictine communities in Tabgha in Israel and in Kenya.

+The photos in today’s post are scenes from the abbey guesthouse. At the top is a hand-carved slate medallion, inscribed with a passage from the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Lord, Open My Lips

There’s something wonderfully dramatic and yet deeply personal about the scene in which God calls and consecrates Isaiah as a prophet. In Isaiah’s dream one of the seraphim reaches out and touches a burning coal to the lips of Isaiah. That gesture cleanses the prophet, and it dedicates him to a lifetime of proclaiming the greatness of the Lord.

A stand-out among the nuggets of wisdom that Saint Benedict offers his monks is his warning that the tongue holds the keys to life and death. It matters what we as monks say. It matters what we say about or to one another. It matters what we say to our guests, to our co-workers, and to those whom we serve. So important is our tongue that we begin each morning prayer with a simple invocation: ”Lord open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise.” With these words we challenge ourselves. Will our voices proclaim the greatness of the Lord, as Mary said in response to the angel?

The Chinese martyrs whom we honor today proclaimed the greatness of the Lord by their witness of words and deeds. In doing so they surrendered their lives to the God who had given life to them in the first place. In this Eucharist we pray for that strength and stamina to do as they have done. And so we pray that the Lord will consecrate our lips as he did the lips of Isaiah.

NOTES

+The past week served up a helping of on-the-job training as I began my term as prior of the abbey. Abbot John blessed me on Friday July 1st , and the next day he left to deliver a retreat in Idaho. Through July 9th I was the superior, and I learned an awful lot in the course of eight days. I would not term it a trial by fire. Total immersion seems more apt. I was grateful for the support of my brothers, who showed great patience during that time.

+On July 5th I participated in the monthly zoom meeting of the Regent’s Council of the Subpriory of Our Lady of Philermo of the Order of Malta.

+On July 9th I participated in a tour of the arboretum, as part of the activities of Reunion Weekend at Saint John’s University and the College of Saint Benedict.

+Also on July 9th I presided at the abbey Mass, which celebrated the memory of the 120+ Chinese martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2000. Today’s post is a variation of the sermon that I delivered that day, and it is a reflection on Isaiah 6: 1-8.

+Today, July 11th, is the feast of Saint Benedict, and we will celebrate the promise of first vows by Novice Travis, as well as the anniversary of vows by several of our senior monks.

+The weather during the past week was particularly nice, and it afforded some pleasant views of the landscape. The photos in today’s post were ones I took from the crest of the hill overlooking Lake Sagatagan and the Lourdes Grotto in the abbey garden. Noteworthy are the native plants that blanket the hillside that reaches down to the lake. It used to take great dexterity to mow that steep plot of land. There is no longer a need to mow, and like Christians at Easter the plants self-renew each spring.

For How Long Clueless?

On July 1st I began my term as prior of the abbey, and it was every bit like going to school again. The day began well enough, and near the end of morning prayer the abbot called forward Prior Brad and myself for a blessing. In blessing Brad the abbot noted his seven years of patient service, which will certainly earn him an easy chair or even a recliner in heaven. The blessing for me was more prosaic — more on the order of ”good luck.”

An hour later Brad dropped by my office to begin phase two of my education. He had already given me a lot of wisdom and advice, but now it was crunch time — time for on-the-job training. He opened with a sheet of account numbers for which I am now responsible. That wasn’t particularly unnerving, because I’ve done budgets before. For years I’ve known the symbolism of black and red ink and which one is preferred. A bit later he handed me a fist full of keys, however, and that’s when my anxiety shot up. The keys had no labels on them. How was I supposed to know what they opened?

Very carefully Brad explained the function of each key, and he gave me plenty of time to jot down serial numbers and what doors those keys unlocked. It was daunting at first, but I began to feel more at ease as we worked our way through the pile. Then came the one key that stood out from all the rest. Once upon a time it was the all-powerful master key that unlocked every door in the Breuer wing of the monastery. When we gutted the monastery during the pandemic, however, the locks on all the doors were changed — all save one. This key still clung to relevance because it opened that one door. Brad smiled wryly and noted its purpose. ”You’ll need it in case some monk locks himself in the barber shop.” How a monk could lock himself in the barber shop and not remember how to get back out is beyond me. Still, even in a monastery there must be allowance for a smidgeon of the absurd.

The lessons continued through the weekend, but late Saturday afternoon one item took on special urgency. Hundreds of times I’ve watched the abbot perform a series of simple rituals at Saturday evening prayer. You’d be right in thinking that I should have paid better attention, but I hadn’t. So an hour before evening prayer, when I realized that the abbot would not be there, I knew this job had fallen to me. But my mind drew a blank. What was I supposed to do, and when was I supposed to do it?

In a panic I went to Brother John, the master of ceremonies, who graciously conceded that I was indeed clueless. Then he outlined my role for the evening. First, give the signal that it was time for the monks to process into the church. For that I needed no reminder. Second, approach the altar and spoon incense over the charcoal as we prepared to recite the psalms. Third, read Sunday’s gospel. Fourth, give the final blessing. Lastly, lead the community out of the church at the end of evening prayer. You’d think that latter bit would be instinctive as well, but twice already I’ve found myself looking to the row of choir stalls behind me, waiting for the prior to lead us out. But of course I was now the guy I was looking for.

How hard can all this be? At least I’ve made progress, and I’m no longer standing at the bottom of the learning curve. Three days into the job I’ve picked up a lot, but there’s still a lot to absorb. Thankfully, with the help of many brothers, I won’t be clueless for much longer.

NOTES

+On 27 June I presided at the interment of the ashes of Dr. Bob Mareck, an alumnus of Saint John’s University. Afterward I joined his wife Mary and fifty friends and relatives for lunch in the Great Hall. Following that I gave a tour of the Saint John’s Bible gallery for those who had requested it.

+Later in the afternoon of the 27th I participated in a zoom meeting of the formation committee of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.

+On June 28th I attended the Senior Council of the abbey, and thus began the gauntlet of abbey committee meetings that will be part of my life for the next few years.

+At morning prayer on July 1st Abbot John blessed outgoing prior Brad and me as I step into his shoes.

+Given the threat of rain, we decided to move our celebration of the 4th of July to the 3rd. It rained furiously on the morning of the 3rd, but we enjoyed really nice weather in the afternoon. The afternoon began with various games in the monastic garden and concluded with a cookout. Three photos in today’s post illustrate what turned out to be a very pleasant time. The photo at bottom shows the lush landscape that I see from my room in the monastery.

Is Jesus Illogical?

“Who among you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them would not leave the ninety-nine in the desert and go after the lost one?” Well, I know for a fact that I wouldn’t. And that’s why I’ve always assumed that this was a rhetorical question that Jesus put to his disciples. He didn’t need anyone telling him that this was a bad idea, because that was not the point.

No one in their right mind would leave ninety-nine sheep unguarded and unguided, because the chances of losing even more are high. Then as now it’s a much better business practice to take your losses and move on before anything worse happens.

Obviously Jesus set up this absurd situation to drive home one very significant point. For Jesus, every person matters. He will never cut his losses. No matter how illogical it may seem, he will never give up on any of us. Why? Because Jesus is greedy. He is both patient and relentless in his search for each of us, for one simple reason. He he loves each and every one of us.

NOTES

+During the past week I served as reader at evening prayer.

+On June 21st I spoke to a group from Darien and Essex, CT, who were visiting Saint John’s to learn more about The Saint John’s Bible. Later that evening I spoke via zoom to a group gathered in Orange County, CA.

+On June 24th I presided at the abbey Mass, and today’s post is a transcription of the sermon I delivered that day. It was the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the gospel passage was from Luke 15: 3-7.

+On June 24-26 Saint John’s University hosted class reunions, and among other things I participated in a tour of the arboretum. It was a great morning to walk through the woods and savor the lush green tones of trees and shrubs. The first two photos in today’s post illustrate that. However, not all of our trees fared well this weekend. On June 26th high winds split one of the two giant maple trees that for nearly a hundred years had served as the centerpiece of the abbey garden. It was a major disaster for the squirrels who lived there, and it means that in the not too distant future the other tree will likely fall. The two served as supports for one another, and with one gone the other will not be far behind. Happily there is a young oak nearby that was planted a few years ago in anticipation of this day.

“Only the Tribe of Judah Was Left.”

Passages from the Books of Kings rank among the most violent and lurid in the Bible. So disturbing can they be that Saint Benedict preferred that his monks not read from them at evening prayer. There’s war, genocide, stoning, massacres, deportations and people sold into slavery, beheadings, betrayals and all sorts of naughtiness. In short, these are the story lines that are grist for Hollywood drama. There would be even more of those sorts of movies, were it not for the cast of characters with names that are real tongue-twisters.

The end product of this particular passage is quite jarring. The kingdom of Israel had begun with twelve tribes, and all of this chaos whittled them down to one. ”Only the kingdom of Judah was left.” [II Kings 17: 18]

At first blush it’s a stretch to extract something useful for personal meditation. The premise of the Books of Kings can seem a little alien to us today for one obvious reason. God did make a covenant with the people of Israel, but the New Testament does not reference a new covenant with a replacement nation. In fact, Jesus calls individuals to his new covenant, and you and I are those individuals.

Still, the Books of Kings offer a graphic reminder of what can happen when our relationship with God slowly evaporates and dries up. The result may not be the sort of mayhem that makes these chapters so mesmerizing. On the other hand, they do hold up a mirror to demonstrate how morally impoverished, self-absorbed and just plain lonely life can be when we choose to go it alone. Such things happen when we untether ourselves from the source of our very being.

The Books of Kings may not be suitable for readers of tender years, nor do they make for soothing bed-time reading for monks. But they do serve a purpose. They remind us of what we can become when we make ourselves the measure of all things.

NOTES

+Today’s post is the result of a scheduling error. I had not been scheduled for the abbey Mass on June 20th, but when the weekly list of assignments was posted, there was my name, assigned for that day. I had not put it into my calendar, but I dutifully prepared a sermon anyway. It turned out to be a mistake, however, and the monk originally designated for that day was restored to the roster. So this was a sermon that I never delivered. But waste not want not. It’s a good reflection of my own thoughts on the Books of Kings.

+On Tuesday June 14th I presided at Mass for Collegium, an annual gathering of Catholic scholars from colleges and universities across the country. The group rotates from east to midwest to west, and it was our turn to host them this summer.

+The highlight of my week was a meeting with the representative of a foundation that supports our Immokalee Scholarship program. A unique feature of these site visits has been the opportunity to introduce one or two of our students to meet this person. This time around Julio and Benchelo got to be the stars of a 45-minute conversation with the grants officer. It was a great experience for them, and it was gratifying to see how much they have grown in the course of their first two years at Saint John’s University.

+Last summer I spent a ton of time moving into a new room in the monastery, and this summer I finish the job of moving as I relocate from one office to another. Last week I got a good start, and I hope this week to be done. It’s a great way to sort through all the stuff I’ve acquired in a lifetime, and it’s also an opportunity to develop aches and pains that I had not anticipated.

+For those who love medieval architecture but lack the time to make the complete circuit of France, the Cité de L’Architecture & du Patriimoine in Paris offers a sampling of reproductions from around the country. In one morning you can meditate on lovely façades, without the bother of a car. The first image is of the abbey church of Saint-Pierre in Moissac. Beneath that is the abbey church of Sainte-Foy, in Conques; and at bottom is the tympanum from the Basilica of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine in Vezeley. All were Benedictine abbeys.

God is Whispering — Listen Up!

I’ve long enjoyed those stories in which God speaks to people in unexpected ways. It came as a treat, then, when I Kings 19 turned up in the rotation of readings for Mass last week. In that passage Elijah waits patiently to hear from God. First came a strong heavy wind, ”but the Lord was not in the wind.” Then there was an earthquake, but God’s voice was not there either. Finally there came a gentle whispering sound, and in that barely audible voice Elijah at last knew that God was speaking to him.

There are days when I wish God would speak in firm and unvarnished language. After all, if God expects me to risk everything and give my all, then it would be good to know the non-negotiables upon which our relationship will be built. That would put to rest my doubts and fears; and I would no longer have to puzzle over whether I’ve chosen the right or the wrong path.

However, it’s been my experience that God generally doesn’t resort to high drama. God has never barked out orders to me, simply because those would not be proportionate to what God asks of me. On the contrary, God has assigned to me more modest tasks, and whispering seems to be the more congenial approach.

Some suggest that it’s not always good to sweat the small stuff. The fact that God more often than not chooses to whisper rather than yell into our ears suggests that the small stuff matters more than we might think. It matters, because often it is the first and best path to character. So when God whispers, it’s time to listen up.

NOTES

+On June 9th I flew to Phoenix for a very short trip, and as of now it is my last trip to the airport until the end of the summer. At 116 degrees each day, I had plenty of incentive to fly back to Minnesota as quickly as possible. On my return to Minnesota I take on the arduous task of moving out of one office and into the prior’s office.

+At top is a photo of The Descent of Christ from the Cross, 13th century, Burgundy. It is housed in The Louvre. Below that is a crucifix by Segna di Bonaventura, Italian, ca. 1310-1315, housed in the National Gallery in London. At bottom is a Pietá by Michelangelo, ca. 1547-55, housed in the Duomo Museum in Florence.