Archive for June 6th, 2016

IMG_1637God’s Sense of Humor

My confrere’s vocational story was not typical of most of our monks a few years ago, but I suspect it is a hint of things to come.  After college he decided to volunteer as a lay minister in a diocese far from his home and college.  He really had no idea what he wanted to do, but a religious vocation was about as far from his mind as a trip to the moon.  Still, a stint as a volunteer would buy some time as he tried to sort things out.

He showed up at his parish assignment and met with the pastor, who seemed nice enough.  For the next few days he began to acquaint himself with the lay of the land, and that’s when it began to dawn on him that he might be in the wrong place.  One morning, in the middle of a long chat with the pastor about the confirmation program, it hit him.  Without much thought he blurted out:  “I’m not sure I believe in all this stuff.”  To which the pastor replied:  “Well, sometimes we all have to do things we don’t believe in.”  That was when he realized that the pastor thought that the comment was about the right age for confirmation.  Aghast at the misunderstanding, the young volunteer didn’t have the heart to say that he couldn’t care less about the proper age for confirmation.  His doubts were about God.  Simply put, he wasn’t sure that he could believe in God.

IMG_1655One year stretched into four, and finally it was time to make a decision about the next stage of his life.  It was time to move on, but to where?  That was when he ran across a blurb about a program at Saint John’s Abbey, in which he could spend a few weeks living and working with the monks, with no questions asked.  It seemed like the perfect moment for an extended retreat to sort things out.

He applied and was accepted, and then one day the director of the program called with bad news.  They had accepted sixteen, but there was room for only fifteen, “and you are the only one in the group who has no interest at all in a monastic vocation.”

He wasn’t sure how to respond, but he decided not to take the bait.  It wasn’t his fault that they had too many people coming.  If they didn’t want him, then they were going to have to say so, explicitly, in words.  So he sat there with phone in hand, silent, waiting for the next shoe to drop.  And he waited.  And finally came the voice from the other end:  “Well, I suppose there’s always room for one more.”

IMG_1682In his Rule Saint Benedict advises that entry into the monastery should never be easy.  In this case it wasn’t exactly a warm welcome, though it’s important to note that this guy had no interest in becoming a monk anyway.  That said, for twenty years now he’s been a monk at Saint John’s, and he’s a self-described “ardent evangelist for the Lord.”  In fact, he’s a much-beloved pastor in one of the parishes that monks of the abbey serve.

I recount all this precisely because his vocational story seemed unconventional years ago.  He left college with doubts about God and no clue about his own future, and now he’s in a spot that never in a million years did he imagine for himself.  And as unusual as his story may have been a generation ago, it’s the story of many who find their way to God today.

Therein we find hope for ourselves.  I’ve met not a few parents and grandparents who worry themselves sick about their children and grandchildren.  And a further sign of the times are those who worry about their parents and grandparents, and their apparent lack of a religious anchor.  Naturally it’s disturbing for some to see relatives and friends who seem not to know God; and their worry reflects genuine love and concern.

Still, a bit of caution is in order here.  We should never give up on those who lack a religious foundation, but we should never try to railroad them into some sort of commitment to God.  The latter never works.

IMG_1678On the other hand, there are things we can do.  We can pray for others.  We can strive to live useful and noble lives.  We can show by our own happiness and our own love of others what God has done to transform our lives.

Then we should leave the rest to God.  Like a mother cat with kittens, God sometimes picks people up by the scruff of their neck and carries them off to God-knows-where.  And along the way of these unplanned pilgrimages the Lord opens up vistas and opportunities that people never anticipated.

So it’s important that we care about others and do what we can do to help; but then we need to get out of the way.  We have to let God do the whispering and nudging that changes a life.  Be assured that if we do our part, then God will someday produce results that can be stunning surprises.  Just ask my confrere, who’s still amazed at what the Lord has done for him.

Ironically, my confrere came to the monastery with absolutely zero intention of becoming a monk.  But God had other plans.  Today, of the original sixteen, he’s one of two who are professed monks.  Say what you will, but God certainly has a great sense of humor.


+Last week the monks of Saint John’s Abbey were on retreat.  Coincidentally, there was a group of 500 Buddhists at Saint John’s University for a two-week silent retreat.  As one would expect, they have been the best of guests, and their ability to keep silence puts us monks to shame.  In addition, participants in the US Catholic Conference Roman-Catholic/Methodist religious dialogue held their discussions at the abbey guesthouse for several days last week.

+On May 31st I attended the annual dinner of the Minnesota area members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.  That evening we welcomed the new archbishop of St. Paul/Minneapolis, Archbishop Bernard Hebda.  The event took place in Mendota Heights, MN.

+On June 1st I went to Malvern Retreat House, just outside of Philadelphia, where I have been giving conferences at a five-day retreat for members of the Order of Malta.  I spoke to this group four years ago, and it has been pleasant to be back and see many long-time friends.  On a side note the grounds of the retreat house are just wonderful.

IMG_1692+On June 2nd our confrere, Brother Paul Fitt, passed away after a long illness.

+As the enclosed photos suggest, summer has come to stay at Saint John’s.  The landscape has been lush and green, and it has been a feast for the eyes to be outside and enjoy the soft green colors of spring.


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