Posts Tagged ‘Abbey of Saint-Savin’


From Tiny Acorns

When some people think of monks what generally pops into their minds are cowls, cloisters and books.  Eventually they think of chant, but then that’s it.  They’ve exhausted their imagination.

So it is that most people have little awareness of the importance of music in the monastery, and that goes especially for instruments like the organ.  Part of this is Saint Benedict’s fault, since he didn’t have one in his chapel.  But by the later Middle Ages most monasteries had at least some variation of that instrument at their disposal.

BCB3589D-D80A-4D53-8E8B-B830610E4ED4I’ve been fortunate to see a few early organs, and no doubt my favorite is the 15th-century instrument at the abbey of St. Savin, south of Lourdes.  It’s small and stubborn in its own way, which explains why it is among the oldest surviving organs in France.

In early modern times organs really came into their own, both in parish churches and in monastery chapels.  Some were astounding both in design and sound, and I count myself fortunate to have walked in and under one of the finest — the organ at the abbey church of Weingarten in Germany.

That brings me to the organ in the abbey church at Saint John’s.  It’s been nearly sixty years since the church was finished, and until now the organ has remained unfinished.  That explains why so very few people ever see it.  Through all those years a red cloth has screened the pipes from view, and first-time visitors often have to ask where all that sound comes from.  Soon enough they will wonder no more.

We monks finally decided to complete the incomplete organ, and later this summer designer and builder Martin Pasi will begin to install the pipes that will transform the organ into something truly extraordinary.  As a bonus, the abbey woodworking shop has been fashioning some of the largest pipes out of lumber harvested from our forest.  Not only have some of those acorns grown into mighty oaks, but a few select boards have become pipes weighing as much as 750 pounds.

52102235-048C-4854-8733-C1AF2DB3FDC9Last week some of us monks, donors and other guests gathered in the woodworking shop to watch as Abbot John blessed some of the largest pipes.   The staff also revved up a blower to pump air through two of them, and the deep tones literally shook the building.  Who knew the power of wind and wood!

In the common imagination there’s a lot about the monastic world that seems pointless and uneconomic.  Why would anyone want to search for God in relative obscurity in some cloister in the woods?  Why would anyone engage in an economically pointless exercise like prayer?  Why would anyone devote time, energy and resources to a musical instrument whose sole purpose is to transform air into sound, and all for a fleeting moment?

I’m not sure I have adequate answers for any of that, though I do have a question to counter the question.  “Why not?”  For centuries monks and nuns have devoted themselves to prayer.  They’ve worked and served guests.  And they’ve also devoted themselves to the pursuit of some very ephemeral experiences like music.  In the belief that traces of God can be found in the good, the true and the beautiful, Benedictines both ancient and modern have devoted their lives to that search.

115F89A8-F3DB-4D39-A56F-03B453A34350All things being equal then, the reasons for finishing the organ outweigh the reasons for not doing so, at least in my mind.  Not least of them is that its completion is a sign of hope.  There’s hope that in its majestic music we will catch a glimpse of God.  There’s hope that those pipes will inspire future generations of monks and visitors to thank us for the gift of music.

Finally, I should not forget to point out one practical benefit.  At long last the organ will be so large that the new pipes will flank the red screen that has always obscured the old pipes.  No longer will visitors have to ask where the pipes might be.  They’ll be obvious.  For our part we’ll be able to save some of our breath and devote it to singing the praises of God.


+On May 27th, Memorial Day, an honor guard from the local American Legion gave its customary salute to our deceased monks and neighbors who served in the military.  I find that service in the abbey cemetery to be a poignant ceremony, though the startled squirrels usually disagree.  I am always amazed at the number of our deceased monks who served as chaplains or soldiers in the military.

+On May 29th I gathered in the carpenter shop with fellow monks, friends and neighbors for the blessing of some of the pipes that will be installed in the organ in the abbey church beginning later this summer.  At the ceremony Fr. Bob Koopmann, who has led this project, spoke, as did Fr. Lew Grobe.  Fr. Lew and his colleagues in woodworking have had the honor of crafting some of these extraordinary pipes.

+On 30 May I flew to Philadelphia, and from that day through 4 June I am participating in the annual retreat of the Subpriory of Our Lady of Lourdes of the Order of Malta.  This particular group comprises members from the American and Federal Associations, and the retreat has taken place at Malvern Retreat House, located outside of the city.

+Three of the photos in today’s post show scenes from the blessing of new pipes for the abbey organ.  Included among them is a signature board which will be fixed to the largest of the pipes.  The bottom two photos show the organ from the Abbey of Weingarten in Germany.


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imageThe Price of Springtime

Many years ago — once upon a time, to be precise — one of my students introduced me to the wit and wisdom of Cheech and Chong.  For someone steeped in the lore of Lake Wobegon and Olie and Lena jokes, these two Angelinos were a bit jarring.  But humor is humor, even if it doesn’t come packaged in a Minnesota accent.

What won me over to them was an album in which they recast several children’s stories, and they transplanted them squarely into the middle of East Los Angeles.  My favorite, hands down, was their fractured version of The Three Little Pigs.  To sum up in brief, mama pig had just slammed the front door on the three little pigs, and she went off to rouse papa pig from his early morning torpor.  “The three little pigs have gone off to school.  What shall we do?”  After a pregnant pause, the duo answered in unison, with a rousing “Let’s move!”  And so they did, leaving no phone number or forwarding address.

For years I thought this was a charming and much better rendition of the version I had heard as a child.  And for almost as long I continued to think of it as just another nice story, until some friends of mine up and did the exact same thing to their kids.  Both of their kids had finished college, and in time each had meandered back to the ancestral manse in suburban Chicago.  And there they stayed, and stayed, and stayed.  And who wouldn’t.  With doting and accommodating parents, it was a little piece of paradise.

imageBut the kids had badly misjudged all that affection, and their strategic error was to be away from home for a few months — at the same time.  Then, like mama and papa pig á la Cheech and Chong, the parents seized the initiative and decamped to a one-bedroom condo just off Michigan Avenue.  Of course they would always be welcome for dinner, they assured their kids.  They also encouraged them to stop by for coffee whenever they might be in the neighborhood.  Then they all lived happily ever after, which actually is the most accurate part of this largely true story.

I bring all this up because this is the season of college commencement, and yesterday we graduated our seniors at Saint John’s University.  No doubt it was a joyous occasion for our seniors, and for spoken and unspoken reasons it was a joy for their parents as well.  But lurking in the imagination of more than a few parents was a fear shared by millions each year at this time.  What if their pride-and-joy comes home and stays and stays and stays?  Had it been a mistake not to sell the house and move into an efficiency apartment earlier?  Well, now they will find out.

imageA glance out the window at this time of year shows the renewal that is the very essence of springtime, and with it comes obvious change.  Those graduations and weddings and movings that are typical of this time of year bring changes in our human relationships as well.  Such upheaval can be exhilerating for some and wrenching for others, and for most of us there’s a little of both.  Parents naturally have to be thrilled to see their kids grow up and begin to strike out on their own;  but any good parent feels the anxiety that comes from letting go.

In May and June all this activity seems to accelerate.  All sorts of people and events crowd into the scene, and these test and stretch family ties and friendships.  Along with that, people mature in unexpected ways, and coming to terms with that can be a challenge.  With it comes the uncertainty of how all these new relationships will shake out.  Will there be room for everybody in the new order of things?

imageThere are many ways to respond to this seasonal upheaval, but sooner or later everyone has to deal with it, including monks in a monastery.  In our own community in the past month we’ve welcomed the ordination of one monk as a priest and another as a deacon.  We’ve accepted the applications of our two novices to take their first vows, as well as those of four junior monks who will pronounce their final vows in a few weeks.  And while this may seem like undiluted good news, it comes with a price for us all.  In the case of each and every one of these young monks we have to stand back, let go a little, and allow them to grow into our peers.  It sounds easy, but I imagine that it’s very much like a parent letting go and allowing a son or daughter to mature into the person they always hoped to see someday.

All that takes both work as well as an act of faith that somehow it will turn out well.  It means letting go so that the Holy Spirit can continue the work, and to do it in new and surprising ways.  It means standing back to allow the growth that springtime brings.

Naturally there’s anxiety about the future, but it’s a lot better than trying to keep things exactly the way they have always been.  That, it seems to me, is the goal of commencement.  And it’s the goal of any worthwhile human endeavor.


+Two weeks ago, on the eve of my pilgrimage to Lourdes, I noted that the weather forecast had included torrential rain, floods, and avalanches.  Well, the weather people struck out on two of them.  There was scarcely any rain, and if there were avalanches, I didn’t see them.  Ironically, it was unexpectedly warm, and all that heat and sunshine caused the snow in the mountains to melt quickly.  In turn that caused the Gave River to roar through the town of Lourdes, flooding the grotto and the sacred baths.  No one got hurt, but it did leave more than a few pilgrims disappointed.  For a gallery of photos from this pilgrimage to Lourdes, please visit Lourdes: May 2015.

+On May 10th we celebrated commencement at Saint John’s University.  Preceding the event I attended the President’s Luncheon, which included a few students and their families, a few trustees and officials of the University, Abbot John, and Bishop Donald Kettler of Saint Cloud.  Sadly, rain did fall on our academic parade, but it did nothing to dampen the spirits of graduating seniors and their parents.   Because of the rain the graduates lined up in the Great Hall before proceeding to the abbey church, where friends and relatives awaited.  The pictures in today’s post were taken in the Great Hall as the seniors gathered for their moment in the sun.


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imageLetter from Lourdes

For those whose European tour includes seven cities in seven days, a week in Lourdes must seem like a  huge waste of time.  Why would anyone want to spend a week here?  What could possibly fill up all that time?  What’s there to see that couldn’t be seen in a day?

The last question is the easiest, because the truth is that everything of value in Lourdes can be seen in just a few hours.  That still leaves plenty of time to drive the one hundred kilometers to Toulouse for dinner.  Of course it’s also possible to stretch out a stay by visiting the 250+ shops here, but I personally don’t recommend that.  The shopkeepers are friendly to a fault, but only a handful sell stuff I’d ever consider dragging home.  It’s no secret that people don’t come to Lourdes for the shopping, unless they are serious collectors of religious kitsch.  Of the latter there is a veritable bonanza here.

Then there’s the question of how to fill up all the time if one does stay for a week.  The casual tourists can’t imagine how we do it until they’re here.  Once here they discover that Lourdes is a bee hive of activity, with processions going here and there, and other groups gathereed for prayer, for visits to the sacred spring of the grotto, for stations of the cross and for a host of other acitivities.

imageThis week our own group of members of the Order of Malta joined with some 3,500 other members, volunteers, and sick people (malades.)  In small and large groups we scurried through the town and into the precincts of the shrine, where we wiled away hours of time.  Without meaning to diminish our efforts, I’d summarize by saying we do a lot of hurry-up and wait, which is necessary when groups are so large, and when they come from all sorts of language groups.  Rushing things only leads to chaos and fights, both of which I’ve seen here, by the way.

Sunday in Lourdes is scarcely a typical day, but it illustrates how the logistics for Mass alone can chew up all kinds of time.  In brief, from door to church to door, it took us three hours and forty-five minutes yesterday.  This involved 325 people, with carts for the sick, meeting at our hotel garage at 8:00 am.  Our goal was to process the four blocks to the  underground basilica, find our assigned places, and be ready for Mass when it started at 9:30.  It’s important to keep in mind that 25,000 other people are trying to do the exact same thing, at exactly the same time.  I’m not kidding on this one, and it creates a logistical nightmare that the French volunteers handle with poise, serenity, and at times an iron fist.  The Mass itself lasted one hundred minutes, beginning with an entrance procession of 250 priests, various bishops and four cardinals.  My guess is that many of these priests had not been in a procession for years, and it showed in ragged lines and distracted gazes.  But once again the French handled this well, and they showed no mercy to the priests who strayed from the fold.

imageThen there were the myriad prayers, hymns and pauses.  The petitions were in French, Italian, German, Dutch, Polish, English and Arabic, while the offertory procession must have taken all of ten minutes.  I almost felt sorry for the cardinal who had to bend down and take each and every ciborium, but then I came to my senses.  That’s the price he pays for wearing all that red.

Eventually the Mass ended, and the clergy then processed to the grotto at the other end of the shrine, where we sang the Regina Coeli.  Then we processed back to the basilica, shed our vestments and stampeded to the bathroom.

At one session the grand master of the Order of Malta reminded the first-timers in our group that all pilgrimages are a blend of experiences.  He recalled the Canterbury Tales, with its mix of the sacred and the profane, just to make the point that at Lourdes you have a bit of both.  So it is that there’s laughter and tears, awed silence and minor irritation;  but somehow they flow into a wonderul experience of the holy.

imageOne leaves Lourdes with all sorts of memories, and three stand out for me from this pilgrimage.  First, I recall sitting in a meeting of chaplains and leaning over to comment to my neighbor on what an electrifying meeting it was.  He nearly burst out laughing, which would have broken the funereal tone in the room.  The second is my recollection of 25,000 people singing together as one on Sunday.  It’s a modern-day Pentecost and a goose-bump experience.  And finally, there was the ceremony at which the grand master handed out medals to first-time pilgrims.  When he welcomed a group of sixteen Catholics who had come from Iraq, the hall burst into an applause that lasted two minutes.  It was a moment of loving solidarity in a shared faith.

In sum, that’s what people get for hanging around for a week in Lourdes.  It can’t be hurried, but it can be savored in the moment and for a lifetime.  It’s definitely worth the hurry-up and wait.


+On May 2nd Bishop Donald Kettler visited Saint John’s Abbey and ordained Br. Nickolas Kleespie to the priesthood and Br. Lew Grobe as deacon.

+In the course of our Lourdes pilgrimage our group had an afternoon outing to the neaby abbey of Saint Savin.  From Carolingian times it was a Benedictine abbey, and it remained so until it was closed in the French revolution.  The pictures in today’s post illustrate Saint Savin.

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74.Town and ChurchOn a Second Thought

American culture fancies itself to be the most liberated in all of human history when it comes to sex.  With shows like “Sex and the City” and a myriad of parallel productions, we’ve constructed a self-image that puts us opposite the stuffy Victorians on the social spectrum.  When it comes to sex, we believe we are without doubt the most enlightened people in human history.  And therefore we must also be the happiest people ever.

This is cultural narcissism, and I would maintain that it is a fantasy of the first order.  First off, we may be very aggressive in flooding our culture with thoughts of sex, but we are not the first to notice its paramount place in human life.  John Cassian, the 5th-century spiritual writer, posited that after the quest for food, thoughts of sex are the next most potent force running through our mental universe.  With a nod to those who cannot believe that someone from the early 400’s could know much of anything, you still must give Cassian his due.  He definitely was on to something — despite being a stuffy monk.

The fact of the matter is, in our society sex sells big, and it plays on our mental preoccupations as few other forces do.  Take cars for instance.  While we may resort to the little old lady from Pasadena to sell “pre-owned” cars, we recruit only the most attractive people on earth to sell new cars.  You see it in the marketing of cigarettes as well.  Seldom in the media will you see the elderly smoking.  Rather, it’s always the young and the sleek who smoke in the ads.  The message is clear: the true benefit from smoking is linked to sexual attractiveness.

46. Church at Saint SavinWhen it comes to sex and the prescription medication industry, I’ve always been slightly amused by advertising’s resort to yet another human anxiety: the fear of missing out on something.  Ads for some prescriptions hint that you may be the only 16 or 95-year-old on the planet who’s celibate.  Horrors!  Who could possible want to be in that desperate situation?  How terrible it would be to defy the herd instinct and refrain from sexual activity, even at the most advanced of ages.  Or at the earliest of ages.  “Everyone does it,” and there ought not be a single exception.

The fact of the matter is, our society is virtually evangelical when it comes to sex, and we are deeply suspicious of people who are celibate.  I would submit that those same anxieties apply to those  who are monogamous — for they too are celibate when it comes to anyone other than their spouse.  In the popular imagination, both celibacy and even monogamy can be seen as basic denials of human freedom.  In this case, it’s the freedom to do any and everything you might want, whenever you want.

When marketers and others parade sexual fantasies before our eyes, they are of course reaching deep into our own minds to manipulate thoughts that are among the strongest and most vibrant.  Long before there was television or the print media, and even before the internet, there were such thoughts.  Perhaps because of that vast experience, some have dared to suggest that the most creative and happy people in human history have learned to master those thoughts.  To their way of thinking it may just be better to master them than be driven by them  into a crazed frenzy.

48.Chapter House DoorThere are any number of directions one could take this, but at the risk of seeming to be a Victorian, I’d like to make two points.

First of all, the need for social and spiritual intimacy is undeniable and good; but indiscriminate sexual activity is never a cure for lonelilness.  In fact, over time it may even create a pervasive loneliness.  Such activity becomes destructive, since it serves the self first and last, with little respect for others.  Ironically, then, there is no life-giving human connection in such indiscriminate relationships.  Genuine intimacy centers on the respect and love of the other, and that is true whether that other person is human or divine.

The second point has to do with commitment.  There’s no denying that we have a very difficult time making life choices and settling down.  We like to keep our options open, and God forbid that we make anything that smacks of a permanent commitment.  Such an act would violate our intrinsic freedom and independence.

37.Organ at Saint SavinBut as in so many cases, not to decide is to decide.  When we opt for “freedom forever,” we eventually lose it, simply because we’ve never invested ourselves in a life-giving relationship with any one person, or with God.  In that sense chastity is less a deprivation than it is a gamble.  It’s a gamble that God and someone else may be worth our love, and it may justify the sacrifice of our unlimited freedom.  They are worth the risk of organizing our thoughts and words and deeds so that we direct ourselves to another.  Could that be better than being constantly distracted and ultimately left adrift in a sea of confusion and loneliness?

That may very well be what Jesus had in the back of his mind when he offered up his great conundrum.  “Those who lose their life for my sake will gain it.”

29.Townscape at Saint SavinNotes

+Post-script to Lourdes:  Still fresh in my mind is the pilgrimage to Lourdes which members of the Order of Malta completed a few days ago.  As I wrote in the post for May 7th, it’s an extraordinary experience, and if you’d like to read fuller descriptions that I wrote some months ago, please go to my posts of 31 October 2011, and 7 May 2012.

56.Windows at Saint SavinOn the lighter side, Lourdes has all the challenges that any complicated gathering of people has.  Typical of this is the Sunday Eucharist, in the Basilica of Saint Pius X, which holds 25,000+.  With more than twenty-five nationalities present, language is always an issue.  At past gatherings of the Order of Malta the Mass prayers have been in French, English, Arabic and Italian.  The music comes from all language groups, while the readings have been in a variety of tongues.  The prayers of the faithful this year were in Dutch and German, but they’ve been in a dozen other languages through the  years.  This year the celebrant was Cardinal Sardi, patron of the Order of Malta.  He presided in Italian, while translations projected onto the big screens were in French and German.  (I read the French, hoping it would be nicer.)  Cardinal Dolan of New York welcomed poeple in English.  The multiciplicity of languages, and the sound of 25,000 singing in unison, impressed on me once again the vast stretch of the Church. It really is the gathering of peoples from the ends of the earth.

Four Benedictine chaplains of the Order of Malta were at Lourdes this year.  In addition to me, in attendance were Abbot Placid of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina; Abbot Matthias of Sao Bento in São Paulo in Brazil; and Fr. Henry from Glenstal in Ireland.

68.Arcade at Saint SavinThe unofficial motto of Lourdes ought to be Festina Lente.  While literally translated as “Make Haste Slowly”, in the case of Lourdes it is better rendered as “Hurry up and wait.”  Were there a Lourdes Olympics, the main events would include “The Stand”; the “Marathon Stand”; “The Walk Very Slowly” (done in teams of 5,000); the “Stand and Walk”; and my personal favorite, “The 100-Yard Sprint for the Exits after a two-hour Mass.”  (Best done with 25,000 people.)  Of coure there are always special awards and honorable mentions.  This year’s award for the strongest cart-puller went to my teammate Tom, who pulled his cart for thirty-five minutes with the brakes on.  “Most-determined cart-puller” also went to Tom, for pulling his cart for thirty-five minutes with the brakes on.

65.Carolingian Chapel.Saint SavinFor the second half of the pilgrimage the sun came out and it was glorious.  It made our outing to Saint Savin especially refreshing.  In today’s post are pictures from that visit.  This was a Benedictine abbey dating back to Carolingian times (ca. 800).  It sits at the entrance to the Pyranees, overlooking one of the passes into Spain.  Spain sits just on the other side of the snow-capped peaks.

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Postscript to Lourdes

By every measure the Order of Malta pilgrimage to Lourdes last week was a complete success.  We did everything on the schedule; the rains pelted us only a couple of times; and no one’s feelings got hurt.  All in all it was great.  But re-entry into the real world was no piece of cake for a few of us, however.

The ordeal began at Pau, one of the airports that serve Lourdes, where we arrived at 9:00 am.  That’s plenty of time to meet an 11:00 am flight, even for a group toting wheel chairs and canes.  Besides convenience, Pau offers dramatic views of the snow-capped Pyranees, in case you tire of watching the gate agents chatter with each other.  In fact, for quite a while we wondered if those guys actually worked there.  But at last they swung into action, at 10:55.  It must have dawned on them that they would miss their lunch break if they didn’t get us on that plane and out of there.  And so they herded us on unceremoniously.  Thus began a travel experience best described as “seamless” from beginning to end.

In theory we had one hour to make our connection in Paris; but we had already frittered away most of that on the ground in Pau.  Now, at Charles de Gaulle, we had zero minutes to go from terminal 2G to 2E, a trip that also includes passport control and security.  The uninitiated might think that going from 2G to 2E is like popping over to the neighbors for a cup of sugar.  After all, only one letter separates them.  But at de Gaulle this is the linear equivalent of a side trip through the Loire Valley.

I will give the ground people in Paris their due, however.  They requisitioned a special bus, and they drove us right to our gate, albeit via a tortuous ride around the airport.  Parenthetically I should note that the airport seemed absolutely vast to us, until  one eagle-eye among us pointed out that we had just passed one airport landmark three times on the way to our gate. We had been going in circles.  But who cared, since we were under the protection of the Paris Airport at that point.  Happily, they held our plane, much to the delight of those who had boarded an hour earlier.

Atlanta was the icing on the cake.  For ten hours across the Atlantic we fretted about missed connections, but our worries were completely unnecessary.  A security breach had closed the airport that afternoon, and on arrival we sat at our gate for half an hour before they finally peeled open our door.  Then, after a one-hour crawl through immigration and customs, we entered a world best described as chaotic.

But all’s well that ends well, and once again I learned the valuable lesson that life is not always “all about me.”  That afternoon it was “all about everybody.”  It was a comfort to learn that when all the planes are heroically late, everyone makes their connections.  Or no one makes their connections.  And that’s exactly what happened.

Goodbye Lourdes; and hello to the real world!

Abbey church of Saint-Savin, France

Saint-Savin: a monastic legacy

One special feature of our pilgrimage to Lourdes was an afternoon at Saint-Savin, a Carolingian-era Benedictine abbey that overlooks a valley through the Pyranees on the way to Spain.  The spot was suggested long ago by Fr. Egon Javor, a Benedictine monk of Woodside Priory in California, who served as a chaplain in the Order of Malta for umpteen years.  We’ve gone there for several years now, and the afternoon excursion includes prayer in the abbey church, spectacular views of the Pyranees and the valley below, and ice cream at a local shop.  A small village surrounds the remains of the abbey complex, and I’ve quietly admired the shopkeeper for not raising prices when 250 customers suddenly line up to buy cold treats.

One of our number wondered about the monks who had lived there until the French Revolution.  In a place like that the monks had little alternative but to live quiet and unassuming lives, and I suspect the knowledge of our visit would bowl them over.  We were there to enjoy the awesome place they had built, and we owed them big-time for our afternoon of sublime tranquility.  That experience was the monks’ gift to us, though they could scarcely anticipate it.  It was their legacy, which we were privileged to enjoy.

In our better moments we all wonder about our personal legacy.  Will the world be a better place because I walked here?  Will my life make any difference whatsoever to others who will come long after me?  Will someone remember me or anything I did a hundred years from now?

Saint-Savin, before the French Revolution

Our first order of business, of course, is to deal with the here and the now.  But if we handle these daily challenges of life well, then we have a real shot at making a lasting difference.  If we use our talents wisely and apply our resources astutely, then we will touch others, even in the most subtle of ways.  And so we should not be surprised to know that we can reach out to future generations, just as have the monks of Saint-Savin.  They lived, worked and prayed for centeries, and two hundred years after they left for the next world we have paused to enjoy what they created long ago.  Pleasing us was not their original goal, but they do so anyway.  That is the unintended by-product of a life well-lived.  May you and I be equally successful!

Graduation at Saint John’s

Notes from Saint John’s.

+Yesterday, Mother’s Day, was also graduation day at Saint John’s University.  Nearly 500 undergraduates were awarded degrees, and joining them were the graduate students in theology.  Likely for all of the moms in the audience the day was one of the finest presents they could have received.

+Today the first of two Benedictine Heritage tours leaves for Italy, where participants will visit Monte Cassino, Subiaco and other sites that have shaped the Benedictine tradition.  The Benedictine Institute at Saint John’s University began this program to provide faculty and staff an introduction to the roots of the Benedictine tradition, which undergirds Saint John’s today.  Both groups will conclude their tours with a stop at the abbey of Metten in Bavaria, from which the first monks of Saint John’s originated.

+I recently began Jean Edward Smith’s new biography of Dwight D. Eisenhower, entitled Eisenhower in War and Peace.  I found the first chapter dull and the writing a bit simplistic.  But once I got into the better-documented phase of Eisenhower’s years, I’ve found the book to be just fascinating.  The pattern of Eisenhower’s leadership style was set early on, and he chose to be self-effacing rather than egotistical.  He led by conciliation rather than confrontation.  And it seems to have worked remarkably well in his case.

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