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Archive for October, 2012

What’s in a Name?

As a child I and my family drove twice a year through Lewisville, TX, on the way to my grandparents, who lived south of Dallas.  Back then Lewisville was a sleepy agricultural town, remarkable only for its nerdy-sounding name.  But of course back then no one knew what nerds were.

You can imagine my surprise when I returned a few weeks ago.  Lewisville is now suburban through and through, and it blends into the endless sprawl that makes it the mirror-image of every gobbled-up small town in America.  Almost everything had changed, except for the salute to the high school football team, painted on the vintage water tower.  There it was in big bold letters:  “Lewisville: home of the Fighting Farmers.”

I don’t know when the last fighting farmers left town, but you wonder if it was the more peace-loving citizens of Lewisville who finally drove them out.  Were they bad for business?  Were they an intolerably disruptive bunch?  Did their mayhem on a Saturday morning turn Main Street into a combat zone?  Whatever the reason, the farmers are now long gone from Lewisville, but their fighting spirit lives on in the football team.

What is it about “fighting” that so enchants people?  In South Bend the Fighting Irish are well-nigh sacrosanct.  In Minnesota we have the Fighting Saints; and in North Dakota there are the Fighting Sioux — at least the last time I checked.  For quite some time there has been a nasty fuss over that name, and not because people find the “fighting” part to be offensive.  Rather it’s the “Sioux” part that has people riled.  You’d think it would be the other way around, but people are nothing if not unpredictable.

And they can be imaginative, too.  Consider the intramural team at Saint John’s University that took the name The Vatican City Fighting Popes.  I don’t know whether they did that as an act of homage to Julius II, known as the Warrior Pope.  But it certainly was a clever way to combine veneration of the popes and intimidation of rivals on the playing field.

While I am the first to admit that “fighting” in a nickname is meant to be benign, there’s still an element that bothers me.  One goal of civilized society has always been the elimination of violence among citizens.  Through all of human history we’ve been beset by wars and a range of brutality that citizens continue to visit upon one another.  I don’t know whether it’s getting better or worse, but murders in the workplace or homes or parking lots are symptoms that cry out our failings as a society.  We were not created by God for this.  We were not born to be horrible to one another, and yet our growing tolerance of violence frightens me at times.

It seems especially so in our willingness to weave chaos and destruction into our daily lives.  Movies and video games routinely yield massive carnage that seems to bother few people.  We have become numb to scenes of strife in Syria and Afghanistan, perhaps because such videos have become sanitized entertainment.  At the very least it begins to eat away at our ability to care about those whose lives are destroyed.  But we also have to wonder what is happening in our own minds as we watch passively.

In the life of Saint Benedict there is a celebrated scene in which he leaves the monastery to confront a rampaging barbarian lord.  I don’t know all that was said, but I’d like to think that Benedict did more than to ask politely that they take their fighting elsewhere. I  suspect he encouraged that guy to give fighting a rest, settle down, and start acting like a civilized human being.  That’s usually what monks tried to do then.  And perhaps that’s what we should do when we next turn on the television.

For better or for worse we are still left with the “fighting” moniker, but perhaps by now it too has become sanitized.  Maybe it no longer has those unsavory associations with barroom brawls and playground fisticuffs, and perhaps we’re finally set for a broader application of a word that has now become charming.  Are we ready for the Fighting Pandas or the Fighting Amish or the Fighting Pacifists?  Maybe.  Meanwhile, in sports in which fighting has long since pushed aside the original activity, it may be time to leave aside the “fighting.”   In fact, its use in some sports has become redundant.  Maybe it is time to use a name that better describes what might happen when the players aren’t fighting.  Is the world ready for the New York Hockey-Playing Islanders? Maybe.

Personal Notes

+Through the fall a wonderful sculpture has greeted visitors to the campus of Saint John’s, courtesy of artist and sculptor Patrick Dougherty.  Dubbed “Stickhouse”, it was built of saplings and sticks culled from our forest.  For weeks people of all ages have delighted in wandering through these imaginary homes.

+On October 22nd I joined Dr. Michael Hemesath, president of Saint John’s University, at a reception for alumni and friends at the Metropolitan Club in San Francisco. Despite competition from the Giants game and a torrential rain, it was a very pleasant and successful evening.

+From October 23-28 I gave conferences for the annual retreat of members of the Order of Malta, held at San Damiano Retreat House in Danville, CA.  We were particularly blessed that retired San Francisco Archbishop John Quinn joined us to deliver several conferences on the gospel of Saint John.  Our paths had crossed twice over the years.  He was archbishop in Oklahoma City, where I grew up.  And years later he gave the diaconate retreat for a former student of mine from Saint John’s, who was studying in Rome at the time.  Following the ordination, we all trooped over for an audience with Pope John Paul II.  On the wall of my office hangs a picture of me shaking hands with Pope John Paul, with Archbishop Quinn standing beside us.  As for the retreat, during our first days in Danville it was not overly warm there,  and I had the consolation of knowing that I missed the first snowfall of the season at Saint John’s.

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Get the Plastic Surgery You Deserve!

I’d never really considered plastic surgery; but there it was: a television offer you really couldn’t refuse — unless, of course, you thought about it.

It was the deserve part that eventually made me wince.  What if I really did get the plastic surgery I deserve?  If I was going to go under the knife, I finally decided, I’d much rather have the plastic surgery that I want rather than the plastic surgery I deserve.  After all, who knows what might happen if I got what I really deserve?  That’s a chance I’m not willing to take.

In the last few weeks I’ve learned that I deserve a BMW, as well as compensation for medical conditions I don’t yet have, and rewards for things I’ve not had the time to do.  When you finally realize all the stuff you’ve missed out on, you want to scream that “life’s unfair.”  And as any child will gladly tell you, “there’s no justice in the world.”

Actually, when it comes to the lack of justice in the world, those kids may be on to something.  Justice is, in fact, very elusive.  It’s something we strive and work for, and just when it seems within our grasp it slips away.  And just when people achieve some sort of justice, it turns out not to satisfy them for some reason.

One of the problems with justice may be that it’s a noun, but it’s an abstract noun.  You cannot quantify it.  You cannot point it out on the street and say it’s three feet by four feet by five feet.  It has no color, and you can’t order up a pound of it, as we learned in The Merchant of Venice.  It’s amorphous,  like happiness and contentment; and justice is more on the order of an aspiration than a solid achievement.  And even though we pass laws to implement justice, we always seem to need just a few more laws to get there.

One of the other problems with justice is that we usually want it applied to other people.  We want people punished for what they did — and rightly so.  We want come-uppance and poetic justice for people we don’t like.  And of course we want justice in remote places where we can’t be blamed for the injustice — like in the Middle East and Darfur.  We can get some excellent exercise pointing fingers at those places, but at the end of the day no one can say it’s our fault.

It struck me recently that Saint Benedict never urged his monks to get all worked up about justice in far away places.  In fact, there was plenty of need for it right at home.  Monks sometimes didn’t get along (true).  Some monks had good health while others didn’t (true).  Some had cushy jobs or scarcely seemed to work, while others had to clean up the barns (true).  Some had winning personalities and others were cranks (all too true.)  In short, life in the monastery was unfair pretty much all the time, and for Benedict that made it as good a place as any to work for justice.

But who should be the object for our efforts for justice? Well, it would be nice to dedicate your life to imposing justice on your brothers and sisters, but it seems to me that the best place to begin is with ourself.  I certainly don’t want others to spend one minute trying to make me just, so I may as well go and do it for myself.  So how do I strive to be just?

For one, it never hurts to lift up the sad and lonely in our midst.  It won’t kill me to listen to someone who’s often ignored.  It won’t cost me much at all to be grateful to those who make my life possible.  Maybe the guy who cleaned the bathroom or did the dishes was only doing his duty, but it won’t ruin my day to thank him for what to many is an inconsequential act.  It is inconsequential, until the day it doesn’t get done.

All these suggestions are merely a good start.  But at bottom is the realization that our neighbors endure a lot of things they don’t deserve — as do I.  But to become a just person is a worthy goal, and a necessary one if we are going to create viable communities.

And when we finally become that just person, then I can put in a claim for those other things I’ve always deserved.  And I won’t be that piggy about it either.   I don’t need them all.  I don’t need compensation I’m entitled to, because I don’t really want the disease.  And I don’t really want the plastic surgery, mainly because I fear I will get exactly what I deserve. But I definitely will take that BMW that I’ve always deserved. That’s justice I can live with.

Notes from Saint John’s

+On October 15th I celebrated Mass and gave a presentation to the area members of the Order of Malta in San Francisco.  I spoke on the recently unveiled piece of  papyrus that — according to non-scholars — shows that Jesus was married.  My thesis was simple.  While the media may claim that it changes our understanding of Jesus forever,  in fact its true significance in the public arena lasted about one afternoon.

+On October 18th the monks and many friends gathered for the funeral of our beloved confrere, Fr. John Kulas, who died after contending with Parkinson’s Disease for many years.  For most of his career Fr. John taught German at Saint John’s University, and in the monastery he served for several years as the formation director for the junior monks.  Fr. John was a dedicated linguist and scholar, and his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Minnesota was an important contribution to the history of Catholicism in Minnesota.  The title speaks for itself: “Der Wanderer of St. Paul: the First Decade, 1867-1877: A Mirror of the German-Catholic Immigrant Experience in Minnesota.”

My fondest personal memory of Fr. John dates to the summer after my ordination as a priest.  In a concentrated effort to learn German before beginning graduate school that fall, I took a summer course from Fr. John in the town of Krems, outside of Vienna.  The highlight was our trip via a VW van to the Abbey of Metten in northern Bavaria, from whence many of the first monks at Saint John’s came.  Metten was a great experience, and we returned once more before coming home to Minnesota.  But we also vowed to take the train the next time.

+On October 19-20th we celebrated the inauguration of Dr. Michael Hemesath as the 13th president of Saint John’s University.  On the 19th we were treated to an address by Fr. James Heft, SM, the president of the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at the University of Southern California.  The next day Bishop John Kinney of Saint Cloud presided at the Eucharist that preceded the inauguration.  The latter was quite festive, and it gave many of us the chance to dust off and don our colorful academic robes.  It was a nice change from basic black.

+On Sunday, October 21st, following the Eucharist, the monks of Saint John’s processed to the statue of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, which gazes out over Lake Sagatagan.  A friend of mine pointed out that the statue had already been inscribed with Saint, and wondered why it might have been so, long before she was canonized on the 21st.  It would be nice to say that we monks knew all along that she would be so honored.  But the fact is that in 1956 the parish of Saint Olaf in Minneapolis donated the statue to Saint John’s.  So they get the credit for such prescience.

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Know Your Neighbor’s Faults

It’s been years since I’ve read anything by C. S. Lewis, but The Screwtape Letters have been a real pleasure. The book presents the correspondence of Screwtape, a senior minion of the Dark Side, to his nephew, Wormwood, a junior tempter.  While Screwtape indulges the naivete that he sees in his protege, he fully expects the latter to follow all of his advice.

From the start you have to admire the old gentleman. First off, Screwtape is a sophisticated analyst of the human condition, and he seems to know our foibles better than we. Second, his old-school manners are a delight, unless of course you find them to be stuffy and off-putting. And then there is his sense of style, which shows particularly in the elegant turns of phrase, in his use of big words, and in the frequency of compound sentences. Not everyone cares for those anymore either.

All this leads to the most telling critique of Screwtape. It’s not his fault that he wrote long letters; but in this day and age they are positively counterproductive. I’ll bet Screwtape has had a devil of a time adjusting to the era of social communication. I can only imagine his disdain of email, text messaging, Facebook and abbreviations like LOL. Today they may be far more efficient in advancing the cause of evil, but they are absolutely ungentlemanly. If I may be so bold, Screwtape’s very success at debasing human culture has resulted in a nasty payback for him.

In the letters that Lewis publishes, Screwtape gets right down to business. There’s a lot to be done to subvert the “patient”, and there’s so little time to do it. Right away, then, he recommends an appeal to personal pride. It’s the tactic that the serpent used with Adam and Eve, and it’s the substance of the Pharisee’s prayer of thanksgiving — glad that “I am not like the rest of people.”

Screwtape suggests that a house of worship is a good location. On his knees the patient need only glance around to inventory the woefully-deficient people. And it takes very little to get him going. “Provided that any of these neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must be somehow ridiculous.” And to question the sincerity of a neighbor’s religious conviction is a good start. After that it gets easy.

I’m not about to get into Lewis’ full text, because pride and “respect for other people” will do just fine for my own reflection.  As Screwtape realizes, it’s truly amazing how gifted we are when it comes to ferreting out faults in our neighbors. There they are, for all to see. And yet, despite the obvious, people seem to be oblivious to their own fallibility.

Of course the converse of that is their blindness to my own gifts. I suppose it’s only to be expected that people who are blind to their own situation would not recognize my own superiority. How sad it is when people have eyes but cannot see, and ears but cannot hear. But we shouldn’t be surprised, and I need not go on and on. You too know the disappointment of being surrounded by sinners.

What makes all of our stunning insight possible, ironically, is the reality of our shared fallen nature. One reason I can find fault in my neighbor so easily is because more often than not l share the same set of faults. I know what to look for. Yet another reason for my keen eyesight is that others confirm my observations so readily. There may be times when two or three gather and God is present — just  as Jesus promised.  But at other times the same gathering can slip easily into slander and fault-finding. How adept we can be in destroying the reputation of another — and then we think that we are better people for doing so.

On any number of occasions Saint Benedict encouraged his monks to respect each other. One good reason, he writes, is that you can find wisdom and good ideas in the most unlikely of people.  At other times you run across people who have talents that we need to rely upon. But the best reason for respecting others is because everyone is created in God’s image — despite the mistakes to which we are all prone. God created all of us, and God sees that we are good. And it’s so, not just in spite of, but because of our differences. They make us unique and wonderful in the eyes of God.

Of course Screwtape would rather capitalize on those differences, and on this subject his letters are both an education and a bit of a shock. As I read through his list of ploys, I marveled both at Screwtape’s craftiness and the gullibility of my fellow humans. And I did so, until I came to the “squeaky boots” part.

In his later years Fr. Martin had a habit of being the very last to arrive for prayer. In he would shuffle, wearing a pair of noisy worn-out sandals that should have been thrown out years earlier. His footfalls echoed mercilessly in our cavernous church, and each time those sandals really pressed my buttons. Did Fr. Martin do this on purpose? Why didn’t somebody do something about this? How could everyone just sit there and put up with this, day after day?

Fr. Martin passed away several years ago, and I realize that his main goal was not to bug the heck out of me and my brothers. He only wanted to be with us and to pray with us. And now a smile comes to my face when I think of those sandals.

But I’m also a little chastened to realize that Screwtape himself had been standing beside me in church all those years. With no squeaky boots at hand, he had used the next best thing — a pair of squeaky sandals. And he had followed his technique exactly, and each time he had managed to press my buttons. How blind I was. How embarrassed I am.

But I’m better now, and I don’t fall for the noisy boots trick anymore. Besides, there are too many other failings in my brothers to keep me busy. Like when they sing off key, or recite the Psalms too fast or too slow. Do you think they do it only to irritate me? Or are they out to irritate everybody? I’m hoping Screwtape has written something that can help me understand.

Personal Notes

+On October 8th I delivered the invocation at the annual Clemens Dinner and Lecture at Saint John’s University. Each year the Clemens Chair in Economics and the Liberal Arts at Saint John’s hosts a speaker, and this year’s guest was a senior research fellow at the Brookings Institute.

+On October 9th I spoke to an undergraduate theology class at Saint John’s. I seldom get that opportunity since I left classroom teaching, and for me it is a real treat to have that experience once again.

+The brightest of the autumn color has passed at Saint John’s, and the deep red of the oaks and ivies have replaced the yellow and gold of the maples and ash. Now has come the fun part of raking leaves and hauling them away.

Our grounds crew is wonderfully efficient at this task, but I was surprised that they have now enlisted bobcats in the clean-up. Rakes and leaf blowers do the preliminary work, and the shovels and scoops then take over. In short order the trucks leave no trace of autumn, and they haul their cargo to the garden and the compost piles. In time these riches renew the soil, and we all look forward to new life next spring.

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Steward of Your Gifts

There are lots of things that amaze me about the monks who founded Saint John’s in 1856.  For one thing, they may have come with plenty of dreams, but they found only woods and lakes and stony ground to work with.  There were no stores nearby; no roads; no nothing.  And while they had wood for fuel and building, farming was another matter.  For that they had to start from scratch, and they had to get going right away.  With starvation lurking around the corner, that energetic bunch wasted little time before putting plow to the field.

But despite the big rush, they did pause long enough to do one thing that still puzzles me.   Whether it was a result of a German sense of order or the result of coming from an 1100-year-old monastery, we’ll likely never know.  But before they broke the prairie sod that had grown the tall grass for thousands of years, those monks carefully measured the contours of the earth.  And then they filed those maps away.  What were they thinking?  Who would possibly care about the shape of that ground in the 1850’s?  But of course you never know.

Years later the community gave up farming, and twenty years ago we decided to replant the prairie.  And it was just about then that someone remembered seeing those maps in the archive.  Out they came, and today the restored prairie has most of the gentle hills and gullies that it had in 1850 — we hope.  All thanks to the stewardship of those early monks.

In recent years a lot of ink has been spilled on the subject of stewardship, and I’m not sure why.  I’ts not that we as a society seem all that concerned about the distant future.  Nor do we seem particularly interested in acknowledging our debts to previous generations.  After all, many suggest, we created our world and it’s ours to do with as we please.

But the irony is that we diminish our own significance if we have nothing to pass on to the future.  We are nothing if we are not links in a chain that transmits values and experience and heritage from one generation to the next.  Absent the community that spans the generations, we become selfish consumers with no thought for those before or after us.  But in fact our decisions matter desperately for future generatons.  We matter decisively.

There are a lot of things which we have received but did not earn by the sweat of our own brow.  We all live in houses that others have built, eat food from farms we did not start, share knowledge and culture that we did not think up all by ourselves.  And perhaps most important, we have the gift of life that somebody else gave to us.

Given all that, the obligation to be a good steward of what we have received is critically important.  We have no right go become the last link in the chain, when in fact we should enhance and add value to what we have received.

I am reminded of my debt to others when I see the graves of my deceased confreres.  I recall the debt when I listen to Bach or gaze at a Renaissance painting.  I remember it when I recall others who have died so that I might live the way I do.  Put that way, my own responsibility becomes almost overwhelming.

Stewardship then is an awesome trust that our human family places upon us.  It involves property and culture, knowledge and creativity.  It involves the very gifts that you and I thought were ours to squander.

The Rule of Benedict teaches that monks should treat the tools of the monastery as if they were the vessels of the altar.  That is a reminder of the sanctity of the created order, but we also need to see it in today’s terms.  Today our own talents are among our most prized possessions.  How can we hide our talents when so many have invested in our lives?

And so it is that we must nurture our gifts above all else, firm in the conviction that these are what we  have to offer others.  But what is it that you and I have to steward that is all that great?  Well there are the obvious things like property and talent.   But there are the simplest of things that we think have no value.  Someone reminded me the other day of a gift I had never considered.  He works regularly at a soup kitchen, and what gets him going every day is the thought that his smile might be the only smile that some poor soul might see all day.  What an incredible gift.  What an incredible responsibility!

Personal Notes

+On October 2-5 I was in Calgary, Alberta, where I delivered two lectures at Saint Mary’s University College.  This was my first visit to Calgary, and sadly I missed the Stampede by several months.  I was struck especially by the physical beauty of the landscape, particularly with the rolling hills.  I also thanked my listeners for the hand-me-down winter weather which we in Minnesota often get from them.  When I left Minnesota on Tuesday it was seventy degrees.  When I arrived in Calgary that evening it was snowing.  That snow reached northwestern Minnesota the next morning.

+On October 7th I celebrated and preached at the Abbey Mass at Saint John’s.

+Also on October 7th the community gathered after Vespers to bless the renovated quarters for the junior monks and novices.  The young monks celebrated because at last they had moved back into a space that was finally complete.  I celebrated because the noise from the construction on their floor was finally at an end.

As for the roof over my room, we seem finally to be done with that repair.  All summer we endured the ceaseless pounding, and on Tuesday the workmen finished up with one last session of pounding on my window — for fifteen minutes.  My impression is that at last they are done; but I won’t believe it  until the scaffold that reaches to my 4th-floor room is finally dismantled.

+The autumn frost made a definitive appearance this last week, and with it came the fading of our leaves.  Actually, we were rather surprised by the vibrant colors that we did get, since we fully expected that the dry summer would lead to a drab autumn.  The pictures in today’s post mark the last hurrah of the fall landscape.

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Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice

Conversion and the Search for God

At a recent conference John described his religious journey to a room filled with cradle Catholics.  He had grown up in a family in which religious observance was largely absent.  He did occasionally poke his head into a church — mainly out of curiosity — but he felt no spiritual tug.

Then it happened.  For no good reason, and to everybody’s surprise, at the age of twenty-five he asked to be baptized.  He too was a little astonished, but what happened next left him dumbfounded.  Within one month of his baptism he had become a luke-warm Catholic.  That is a journey that can take years for most of us;  but he had done it in only four weeks.  Who could have imagined!

A story like John’s is not what I think of when I conjure up religious conversion.  Sure, there is in John’s story the element of sudden change, but the intensity usually lasts a little longer than a month.  Saint Paul and Martin Luther are the  more typical  converts who pop into many Christian minds, and theirs are heroic tales.  Each endured trauma that literally threw them to the ground.  After that, if there was ever a moment’s hesitation about what to do next, you’d never know it by their knee-jerk reactions.  Intuitively they understood that their lives would no longer be the same.  They expected the unexpected, and they were not disappointed.

There are moments when I long for the intensity and certitude that Paul and Luther seemed to relish.  But then on most days I come back to my senses.  Do I really want to throw away a life-time of carefully cultivated habits?  Do I really want to climb onto some religious roller coaster?  With a nod to Saint Augustine, my response is a firm “No thanks, God.  Not today, please.”

Choir stalls

For better or for worse we’ve been schooled to expect instant gratification, and anything that fails to deliver must be faulty at best.  That’s especially true in the religion business.  If nirvana doesn’t come within one day of our conversion,  we tend to dismiss the whole thing  as a waste of time.  “It didn’t do anything for me” is a mantra we often hear.  “I gave God twenty-four hours, but nothing happened.”  And it’s not like God has other stuff to do.

In his Rule Saint Benedict writes of conversion, and he assumes that this is a life-time’s project.  It’s a matter of searching out God on a daily basis, year in and year out.  It’s a matter of looking for God in prayer, in the liturgy, and in the faces of brothers and sisters.  It’s a matter of keeping your eyes open — not for the supernova that erupts into your life — but for the presence of God in the gentle breeze or in the smile of  your neighbor.

Given that,  you can understand Benedict’s hesitation about the religious enthusiast in the midst of the community.  For Benedict true conversion is an awareness of Christian virtues and then trying to live them out one or two at a time.  Once you’re done with these, then you’re ready to add to the challenge.  It involves the gradual alignment beween who  you say you are and who you really are.  This is what truthful living really means.  You gradually become who you aspire to be, and that comes only with trial and error.

Reader’s stand

You might be surprised to learn that Saint Benedict might just prefer to work with those who are seeking God rather than with those of us who currently enjoy the beatific vision.  It’s not that Benedict is suspicious by nature, but he has a marked preference for beginners.  He much prefers the person who is still looking for God.  Give him the person who’s short on enthusiasm but is willing to hang in there for the long haul.  Give Benedict the monk who has not yet given up on catching some fleeting glimpse of God.

We call baptism a rite of initiation for a very good reason.  It’s only the beginning of your search for God, and not a certificate that says you’ve already found God.  And that explains the calm with which John described his progress from baptism to lukewarm Catholic in less than a month.  He was actually making some progress.

John explains that he never lost hope of finding God, despite his tendency to drift.  Happily, God has given him several more years to look, and with them have come the occasional encounters with the Divine.  He’s kept his eyes and ears open, and some wisdom has come his way.  Later still came a budding relationship with Jesus Christ.  Still later it dawned on John that God was slowly working a conversion in him.

John”s path has been meandering, and much less dramatic than those of Saint Paul or Martin Luther.  But I will give him credit for searching for God in one of the best of ways.  He’s hung in there; he’s listened now and again; and gradually he’s awakened to what God is doing within him.  That’s just the kind of Christian I want to be when I grow up.

Personal notes

+On September 29-30 I participated in the orientation of provisional members of the Western Association of the Order of Malta.  I am honored to sponsor one new member this year, and in the course of the weekend I spoke on the spirituality of the Order of Malta.  This was my first visit to the city of Burbank, CA, and I had wondererd about the famed “Beautiful downtown Burbank.”  I did not see it anywhere.

+Two weeks ago I had the chance to visit, for the first time, the Jewish Museum of New York.  I went to see an exhibit entitled Crossing Borders: Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries, and I recommend it highly.  The exhibit highlights the cross-fertilization of cultures in the Middle Ages, and it includes some sixty manuscripts and books from the Bodleian Library at Oxford University.  Among the sampling of texts are gorgeous Hebrew, Latin and Arabic manuscripts, and many of these have never been shown in the United States.  The exhibit will be open through February 3, 2013.  Coincidentally, I decided to tour the permanent collection, whose artifacts outline the evolution of Jewish experience through the millennia.  I cannot imagine how I had missed this amazing place over the years, but I know I will return.

Sanctuary floor

+When visitors to Venice look across the lagoon from the Doge’s Palace in Venice they see a stately Palladian church and tower, but never realize that this complex has housed a Benedictine community for over a thousand years.  Founded in 982 as a Benedictine abbey, San Giorgio Maggiore dominates the skyline with its church, begun in 1566.  I don’t know how many take the boat across the water to see this impressive complex, but the view back toward the city of Venice is well worth the effort.  A trip inside to pray or just survey the architecture is a reward equally worth the effort.  I took the photos in today’s post when I visited the Abbey last spring.

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