Posts Tagged ‘Benedictine Institute’


Who Will Help Us Roll Away Our Stones?

Easter has come and gone, and while the liturgies linger in my memory, it’s the stone that sealed the tomb of Jesus that sticks out.  I owe that to Abbot John, who brought it up in his sermon at the Easter Vigil.  That evening, for the first time, it hit me as something of outsized importance.

Obviously that stone served a practical purpose.  It shut the dead inside and it kept the living outside.  But that’s what set up the drama that was to follow.  When people came to tend to the body of Jesus, they knew they weren’t strong enough to shove the stone aside.  And so they wondered aloud: “who will help us roll the stone away?”

An angel solved the problem.  However, to everyone’s surprise, there was no body to be seen.  Who had taken the Lord’s body?  Where might they find him?

230C1BEC-1D88-490D-89BF-A5F2BEB86099Further into the story we read of the many appearances of Jesus, but there’s symbolic value to this scene at the tomb that we shouldn’t leave behind.  In this particular case, it may have been an angel who rolled the stone aside and then gave access to Jesus.  But the angel represents much more.  That angel is one of many figures who will roll aside rocks and open up to us the vision of the Lord.  The angel is merely the first in a progression of people who step into our lives and push aside the impediments that obscure our vision.  Because of those friends and strangers, we gain access to the Lord; and it’s something that we could never achieve all by ourselves.

I’m fond of reminding any of my confreres who will listen that we all bring plenty of baggage with us to the monastery.  That baggage contains everything from pebbles to boulders, and they are the sorts of things that shape us, for good and for ill.  Some of those stones we can learn to live with, and they can even have a positive force in our lives.  Others weigh us down.  Even worse, a few can block us from becoming the loving people we are called to be.

9BC009AB-9EEE-4160-BF3F-CAED6AC3DA22At the very least the rock that sealed the tomb of Jesus is symbolic of all the rocks that I continue to tote around with me.  Obviously I would be better off without some of them.  Others I should have unloaded years ago.  Those are the ones that weigh me down, metaphorically at least, and they hobble me every time the Lord encourages me to run.

Is a big rock my take-away from Easter this year?  Perhaps.  For one thing it reminds me of the big stones that still have the potential to stunt my growth.  Even more, the stone in the Easter story reminds me of my need for help from my brothers.  It’s they, along with both friends and strangers, whom the Lord sends to help me roll away the stones that derail my pilgrimage and blind me to the possibilities in my life.

Some stones can seem too big to budge, but Jesus never asks us to move any stone all by ourselves.  He regularly sends others to help with the pushing, and I’m utterly convinced that Jesus himself will help roll those stones aside, if we but ask.

A last bit of consolation is that passage in which Jesus comforts all who find life weary and burdensome.  His yoke is easy and his burden light, he promises.  That lesson, it seems to me, is the one thing the disciples took away as they left behind a big stone and an empty tomb.

So who will help us roll away those big stones in our lives?  It will be the Lord — along with a host of angels and friends and strangers.


+On March 27th I gave a class on monastic history to the novices.

+On March 28th I gave a presentation on Stability and Stewardship in the Rule of Benedict.  Given to a group of new faculty and staff, it was part of a series sponsored by The Benedictine Institute.

+On March 30-31 we monks were on retreat, in anticipation of the celebration of the Easter Vigil.

+On 31 March we were all surprised to wake up to a blanket of snow, amounting to some six inches or more.  None of us were dreaming of a White Easter, and I for one was hoping for a glimpse of crocus.  But it was not to be.  April is supposed to come in with showers, but the prognosis is for another seven inches of snow today.  That contrasts with the experience of my first year at Saint John’s.  On April 1st of that year it had been so warm that the ice went out on the lake.  This year it’s been so cold that the sap in the maple trees is still not flowing well.

+The first three photos in today’s post show art housed in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.  At top is an altar frontal that dates from ca. 1200.  The next two are panels from an altar retable dating from ca. 1340.  One of those panels is curious for its depiction of the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The final two photos show some of the snow that accumulated in the courtyard of the quadrangle at Saint John’s.


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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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