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Posts Tagged ‘Bishop Donald Kettler’

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Lourdes Revisited

In my last post I wrote about Lourdes and commented that it tends to put front and center the fundamental issues of our lives.  In part, I think, the place reminds us of our mortality.  Just as the ashes of Ash Wednesday vividly point out our earthly destiny, so does Lourdes with its focus on the ill and the suffering.  Sooner or later we will all be in that boat.

Given that, it would be a serious mistake to dismiss Lourdes as an exercise in religious escapism, divorced from the realities of daily experience.  Two incidents from this last pilgrimage made that abundantly clear, at least to me.  Like many of my fellow pilgrims, I flew into Paris and then took the six-hour train trip south to Lourdes.  Generally it’s a pleasant enough journey, with some interesting though not spectacular scenery until just before arrival in Lourdes.  Four hours into this trip, however, there was an incident.  It began with a sharp application of the brakes, followed by a slight jolt that most of us felt.  Then the train ground to a halt.  Some poor soul had hurled himself in front of the train, and for nearly three hours we sat on an isolated stretch of track while the police sorted things out.  None of us actually saw the damage, but we did see the van that carried the body away.

IMG_6099It was sobering, and I naturally wondered why someone would be so desperate that he would give up on life entirely.  Did the man leave behind friends and family?  How might they respond?  I could only speculate, but I also realized that one lonely man had given us a dose of reality therapy.  Already this was no ho-hum pilgrimage.

It was something else entirely that impacted most everyone in Lourdes, even if many were blissfully unaware.  Lourdes is a high-profile place, since it is one of the most visited spots in France and it is a religious shrine that attracts considerable attention.  Not surprisingly, there are always security issues, which the French handle discreetly and adroitly.  Still, when you add to the mix four or five thousand members and volunteers with the Order of Malta, the stakes are a bit higher.

There were special concerns for our safety this time around, as was evidenced by the presence of a few plain-clothes security people who shadowed us.  God bless their souls, but their efforts to blend in just didn’t work.  Not a few in our group noticed the strapping men who seemed to follow us wherever we went.  These guys must spend half their waking hours in the gym, and physically they looked like the last people on earth who needed the healing springs of Lourdes.  Still, we were happy to have them with us, even if they made all the rest of us look like wimps.

IMG_6138No one seemed to be particularly alarmed, but the situation did raise one point for reflection.  Why would anyone want to harm us?  There wasn’t a single person in our group who had international stature, and yet there were those who wished us ill.  That’s a difficult pill for anyone to swallow.

These kinds of events inevitably raise for discussion the problem of evil.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  Why do a few people despair enough to give up on life?  Why do some think that they do deeds of valor when they do harm to others?  Why do the innocent have to suffer?  To these questions there are no tidy answers.  Even the questions are a problem, because they fall outside the pale of science and are a conundrum for philosophy and theology.  Yet, ironically, they are at the heart of the human experience.

Lourdes offers its own take on these issues.  It may not  have the definitive answer to the question of why evil exists, but it does show that love is the proven antidote to evil.  The love of God, the love of neighbor and the support we offer to one another all counteract evil, and they extend hope to someone whose life seems devoid of meaning.  They offer hope to the hopeless.

IMG_6131This explains why someone might go on pilgrimage to a place like Lourdes.  It also explains why we might want to join with neighbors to approach the altar of the Lord to be renewed by God’s Word and sacrament.  Such fellowship asserts that we are not lone travelers, adrift in the world.  Rather, we are part of the community of the Lord.

We act on these spiritual impulses because of one primal urge, which Saint Augustine once described.  “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”  That helps to explain why we, imperfect though we may be, still try to do our best.  And we do our best both for God and for one another.  Coincidently, all this helps to make some sense of the world.  Having embraced the Lord in faith, in love we joyfully embrace the world which God has created.

Notes

+On Saturdays we celebrate the Eucharist in the monastery at 11:30 am.  That’s a useful point to note as I confess that on this last Saturday I was standing at the community bulletin board at 11:27, when someone paused to remind me that I was the celebrant for the Mass.  In panic I glanced at the list, and sure enough, there my name was down for Mass, in three minutes.

IMG_6092+On Sunday May 14th we celebrated the graduation Mass for the seniors of Saint John’s University and their families, with Bishop Donald Kettler of Saint Cloud as celebrant and homilist.  Bishop Kettler is an alumnus of the college as well as of the School of Theology and Seminary at Saint John’s, and he welcomed everyone with these words:  “On this day in 1966 I was sitting exactly where you are sitting today.  Things happen,” he deadpanned.  All appreciated his dry humor.

+My reading companion on the trip to and from Lourdes was a book entitled How to Speak Midwestern, by Edward McClelland.  It is a fascinating and entertaining book, which analyzes the development of English-speaking in the Middle West.  Scattered through it are allusions to the kind of humor that has emerged from the region, including one item he heard years ago on A Prairie Home Companion.  It seems that a Minnesotan married a Palestinian, and to take note of their respective nationalities they named their first-born son Yassir Yewbetcha.  My laugh-out-loud response drew polite stares on the train to Lourdes.

+Near the end of our pilgrimage to Lourdes it has been the custom for our members from the Western Association of the Order of Malta to make a visit to the village of Saint Savin.  The abbey there dates to 945, and the scenery is just gorgeous.  The photos in today’s post illustrate the visual delights that await travelers.

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img_3912Routine:  The Foundation for Change

“When was the last time you did something for the very first time?”  So the greeting card I held in my hand asked, and I took it as a test of my flexibility and spontaneity.  To be perfectly honest, I had never posed that question to myself;  so my response was a forthright “Just now!”  Clearly I had passed that test with flying colors.  Next question, please.

Most people are creatures of habit, and on that score monks get higher marks than most.  After all, Benedictines live by a Rule written nearly 1,500 years ago.  Its wisdom and values have scarcely changed, and when we’ve made alterations to the daily routine, we’ve tended to stick with them for decades or even centuries at a time. Whatever else you may care to say about monks, spur-of-the-moment people we are not.

Still, nothing lasts 1,500 years if you never do anything for the first time.  Even St. Benedict recognized that, and he knew there would be times when monks would have to adapt.  In cold climates, which we enjoy on occasion in Minnesota, Benedict allowed his monks warmer clothing.  When monks did more strenuous manual labor he made provision for more food.  And to the abbot who had a better idea for the organization of the Psalms or the daily schedule, Benedict gave blanket permission to give it his best shot. After all, he meant his Rule to be a guide for living, not a straight-jacket.

img_3967We often think of change as something to resist as much as possible, but some change is unavoidable.  Take, for example, the flow of the seasons.  We’re unable to do a lot about that save to escape to other parts of the country — which itself is a form of change.  In ancient Israel they accepted the inevitability of spring, summer, fall and winter, and they harnessed that seasonal progression to teach something about our relationship with God.  The Hebrews incorporated into their cycle of worship harvest festivals, days of atonement and spring planting; and not surprisingly, early Christians did the same.

Even so, many in our own day are blissfully unaware that the liturgical calendar is linked so intimately to the changing seasons.  Now that we are in Advent we’ve begun the new Church year, and our celebration of the birth of Jesus at Christmas correlates with days that will slowly grow in length and begin to hint of the coming of spring and the flowering of his ministry.  Advent and the darkest days of winter reinforce one another wonderfully, unless of course you live in the southern  hemisphere.

img_3935What in the world might this suggest about our relationship with God?  At the very least, it seems to me, it hints that it’s not static.  Like the seasons, the course of our lives waxes and wanes.  To take a cue from the vows made at marriage, we all have good times and bad.  We all experience bouts of sickness and health.  Death will us all do part, someday.  But most of all, we each grow with the seasons — sometimes imperceptibly and at other times quite obviously.  We are all on pilgrimage, to cast this process in spiritual language, and experience teaches that we do not walk alone.  We walk alongside our fellow pilgrims, and we also walk with God.

As we change and mature, we tend to feel the pull to pray, and so it is that we pray alone and we pray together.  Prayer brings us into conversation both with God and with one another, and we do so because we all seek the wisdom to choose our next big steps in life.  It’s what comes naturally when we need to figure out the course of our actions.

img_3957I long ago realized how pointless it is to pray that things might never change.  That doesn’t mean I no longer pray for that.  Rather, I just realize it won’t happen, whatever I may have to say about it.  That was the bind that Peter found himself in at the Transfiguration.  He prayed that Jesus would let him build booths for Jesus, for Moses and for Elijah.  He wanted to prolong the moment, to which Jesus responded with the equivalent of “are you kidding me?  I have other stuff to do.”

Jesus is not kidding when he reminds us to wake up and get with the program.  Of course there will be stretches during which the observance of routine will be life-giving.  But we can never let “routine” degenerate into “rut.”  Routine certainly keeps chaos at bay in our lives, but it also prepares us for life’s surprises.  Routine allows us to pick out the voice of the shepherd when he calls us to seize the moment.  Routine is the foundation on which we build fruitful lives, and it prepares us for the occasion when we have to do some very important things — each for the very first time.

img_3948Notes

+On December 10th Bishop Donald Kettler visited the abbey and ordained our confrere Brother Isaiah Frederick as priest.  Fr. Isaiah grew up in Tucson, came to college at Saint John’s University, and for several years worked as an accountant with Price Waterhouse in Phoenix.  Since my work has taken me to Phoenix regularly through the years, I had the opportunity to visit with him there, before he came as a candidate to the monastery.  It is wonderful to have him as a confrere and priest in the abbey.

img_3972+This past week was fairly uneventful, save for one little incident that I could never have anticipated.  I made a brief trip to Portsmouth, NH, to meet with an alumnus of Saint John’s.  I arrived early and had a bit of time to explore the town, which I had never seen before.  I stepped into a gift shop, looked around, and saw pottery which I did not need and the card on which today’s post is based.  In the course of this, the woman working there asked if she could be of help.  So I inquired whether there was a good bookstore in Portsmouth, and she asked what kind of book I had in mind.  I told her non-fiction, biography.  “I have just the store for you.”  She then locked up her own shop and walked me four blocks to the hole-in-the-wall shop she had in mind.  She took me in, introduced me to the owner, and returned to her shop.  I was completely flabbergasted by her act of kindness, so much so that I bought a novel.  The fact that a stranger would extend such hospitality to a visitor to Portsmouth is proof enough of the existence of God.  On the other hand, I left with the distinct impression that this was not one of those things she had just done for the first time.

img_3969+Two years ago I found myself in Vienna during Advent.  Famous for its Christmas markets, the city comes alive with lights and casual outdoor conversation.  It’s cold, which makes it all the more exhilarating.  If you’ve not been there during this season, it’s one more thing to add to your list of things that you’ve never done for the first time.  Today’s photos show the Christmas market in front of the city hall of Vienna.

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imageBe It Done Unto Us

“Be it done unto me according to thy word.”  So responded Mary to the angel when the latter brought news of the birth of a son to her.  To be honest, Mary’s response doesn’t sound very proactive, but all the same it’s important to recall that she did have a choice here.  She could have said “no” and gotten on with her life.  But she didn’t

Still, there is in Mary’s response a hint of resignation, and I can just imagine her confusion.  “Why me?”  Given that possibility, the gospel writer may have thought it prudent to delete the part of the story where she shrugged her shoulders, sighed, and wondered what was coming next.  Since the angel was short on details, perhaps Mary’s best course of action was to wonder about it all, go with the flow, and hope that something good might come of it.

There is a similar lack of clarity in the life of John the Baptist, the other great figure in the Advent story.  John’s message was never about himself, and he preached about someone he would not meet for quite some time.  In fact, he had no idea who the messiah might be, and all he could hope was that he’d know him when he saw him.

imageAppearances to the contrary, neither Mary nor John were passive doormats in this story.  Mary may have looked like a benign young woman and John the consummate number two in a movie that could have but one  star, but that was not the case.  They too were leading characters in the story of Advent, and they are fascinating in their own right.

In Luke 3, the gospel passage for the 3rd Sunday of Advent, the crowds ask John the Baptist what they should do.  For life-long Jews this seems a curious question to pose.  If they didn’t know by now, then clearly someone had not done a good job of religious education.  But whether they were truly ignorant or merely testing John to see what he had to say, they set him up for a great sermon.

What’s curious about John’s response is the one thing he did not say.  He did not tell them to rush back to the temple to offer a sacrifice.  It’s not that he discouraged this, and I suspect he presumed they knew to do that anyway.  But John has a very specific course of action to recommend.  He encourages them to give to the poor, to be just in all  their dealings, and to live ethical lives.  Parenthetically he might have noted that worship in the temple was the work  of the entire community.  But this was the formula for an individual life lived well.

imageJesus carries forward this theme in his own preaching, and his ministry helps to explain the meaning of Advent.  Advent does not announce the birth of a messiah who comes to make people knuckle under to his will.  The messiah does not come to crush people or turn them into passive doormats or wall-flowers.  He comes instead to remind people of the gift of life they have from God.  And with that gift comes opportunity, as well as responsibility.

Mary allowed Jesus to take flesh within her, and John the Baptist pointed with his finger to the messiah.  Neither played second-fiddle to Jesus, because God gave to each an invitation and the grace to respond.  The same is true for us.  So the point of Advent is not to prepare to be casual onlookers as the messiah comes into our midst.  Rather, the point of Advent is to energize ourselves and live creatively.  When we choose to do so, it’s amazing to see what God can do through us.

Sometimes it may not be clear what God asks of us, but that’s okay.  The same was true for Mary.  She finally shrugged her shoulders and decided to go with the flow, in the hope that something good would come of it.  Something did.  And if we too pray that the same will be done unto us, who knows what surprises await us?

imageNotes

+On December 12th we celebrated with great joy the ordination of two of our monks.  Bishop Donald Kettler of Saint Cloud visited the Abbey and ordained Father Lew Grobe to the priesthood and Brother Isaiah Frederick to the diaconate.  Father Lew grew up in Minnetonka, MN, and after graduating from Saint John’s University he was a Fulbright Scholar in Germany.  He then worked as a Benedictine Volunteer at an abbey in Africa, after which he worked in Admissions at Saint John’s University.  Currently he works in the Abbey woodworking shop and also assists in formation of the younger monks.

Brother Isaiah was from Tucson, AZ, also attended Saint John’s University, and then worked for ten years for Price Waterhouse in Phoenix.  In my work for Saint John’s I had the chance to visit him several times in Phoenix, and I take full credit for not scaring him away from life in the monastery.

+On December 13th Bishop Kettler returned to Saint John’s, where he and Abbot John celebrated Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  Present were members of the Latino community from central Minnesota.

image+The weather impacted my life in very different ways during the past week.  Earlier in the week I was out for a walk and got caught in a big rainstorm.  I was thoroughly soaked, but it was fun nonetheless.  I’d not done such a thing since childhood.  But that satisfies that need for a few more years.  Later in the week I was scheduled to drive from northern California to Reno, NV, to attend a reception for alumni of Saint John’s.  Unfortunately, upwards of three feet of snow in the Donner Pass kept me grounded, and I was not about to brave the elements.  I was sorry to miss the event, however, because it featured the work of one of my former students.  Colin Robertson is now director of programs at the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, and he helped to curate a major exhibition on the history and art of Lake Tahoe.  He also contributed to the beautiful exhibit catalog published by Rizzoli’s.  He was an excellent host that evening, and it is gratifying to know that a student has gone on to live a wonderfully creative life.

+The rather faded photos in today’s post are medieval frescos at Subiaco Abbey, located just outside of Rome.  It was where Saint Benedict began his monastic life as a hermit.

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imageMonastic Profession

Last week we experienced a wonderful transition in the abbey.  It began on July 8th when Abbot John clothed Brother Cassian as a novice.  So began his year of discernment, during which he considers a calling to the monastic life and a commitment to our community.

On Saturday the 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Benedict, and having come to the end of his year of novitiate, Brother Aidan pronounced his first vows.  In that same ceremony Brothers Eric, Isaiah, Lucien and Richard made their solemn vows.  They had completed a year as novices and three years as junior monks, and from this point they take their place as full members of the community.  Among other things this means that they now take part in the monastic chapter meetings, and they get to cast a vote alongside the rest of us.

Most people have never seen any rite of religious profession, which is too bad.  For one thing, it’s filled with symbolism that includes gesture, word and clothing.  But of even deeper significance, it can convey a sense of vitality and hope for the future in any community.

imageIn our case, much of the ritual dates back 1,400 years to the time of Saint Benedict.  So it was that Abbot John clothed Brother Cassian in the monastic habit, in the presence of the community, at morning prayer.  On the 11th the novice and four juniors who were to profess knelt individually before Abbot John, and they read the petition which each had written in his own hand.  Then, again in accord with the Rule of Benedict, each signed his petition on the altar, and together the five petitions rested on the altar through the remainder of the liturgy.

Abbot John then gave to Brother Aidan a copy of the Rule — which was sort of redundant because he had read it many times already.  Following that the abbot clothed the four solemnly-professed monks in the cuculla.  This is a flowing wool garment that we wear over our habit, and it is best-bestowed in July when the weather is at its hottest and most humid.  This time around the weather came very close to ideal for that, but not quite.  Still, visitors never fail to ask why the other monks don’t wear the cuculla in mid-July, and the answer is simple.  The cuculla is best worn in winter when it can do some practical good.  But for the newly-professed it signifies full membership in the community.  There’s always time to be practical later on.

imageAt the end of this liturgy it’s our custom to gather under the bell banner to give the sign of peace to the newly-professed.  On Saturday that was the joyous conclusion to a splended event, and it marked a new stage in the lives of the professed and the community as well.

The admission of new members into the community quite naturally brings growth.  That may be true in terms of numbers, but it’s truer still when it comes to spirit.  Saint Benedict writes that the abbot should seek counsel from all the monks, and not just from among the seniors.  There is wisdom to be had among the young, he writes, and when six people become a part of the community, the pool of wisdom is bound to grow — at least in theory.

On a more tangible level, change is bound to take place with the addition of even one new monk.  Simply put, new people change us and we change them.  And this change comes because Benedictines do not create clones when new people enter.  We welcome them lock, stock and barrel.  We welcome their talents, their personalities, their experience, as well as their hopes and aspirations for the future.

imageSo what have these young men brought to our community?  For one thing, they’ve brought geographic diversity.  Novice Cassian is likely the first in our community to come from Atlanta.  He attended Belmont University in Nashville and later earned a graduate degree in theology from Vanderbilt — yet another first for us.  Brother Aidan lived in Okaland, CA, and he attended the University of California at Santa Cruz.  He also holds an MFA degree.

Our solemnly-professed are a diverse lot as well.  Brother Richard grew up in Sioux City, IA, and he graduated from Saint John’s University.  After that he worked in the theater department at Saint John’s and the College of Saint Benedict.  Brother Isaiah grew up in a military family, but primarily in Tucson; and he too went to Saint John’s.  After graduation he worked as an accountant for several years at Price Waterhouse in Phoenix before coming to the monastery.  Brother Lucien lived in San Antonio, where he eventually earned an MA in history at the University of Texas.  Finally, Brother Eric grew up in Ohio, attended college at the University of Dayton and earned and MS in engineering at Ohio State University.

imageOn paper their backgrounds and varied interests show that they bring a rich diversity to our community.  But the important point that I always celebrate is the presence of each as an individual in our community.  Each brings character and unique wisdom.  Each is a reminder that God does not call people by group or in herds to the monastery.  Rather God calls individual souls by name, and each is a gift to us.  That’s the hope anyway.

This year the feast of Saint Benedict was a happy day in the life of our community, and for that we senior monks give thanks.  At the very least it gives us pause and a reason to be optimistic for our future.  And it suggests that the Lord is highly likely to call other workers to the vineyard.

But regardless of who comes next, we can rejoice because of this infusion of wisdom.  After all, we need all the wisdom we can get as we continue the daily search for God.

imageNotes

+On July 8th I presided at the abbey eucharist, and you can access the sermon, Putting on the Face of Christ, through this link.

+On July 9th through the 11th we hosted thirty alumni from the Benedictine Volunteer Corps, who were here for a reunion and retreat.  Given that each one has spent a year in service at some Benedictine community around the world, they undoubtedly had many stories to share.

+On July 11th we celebrated the feast of Saint Benedict.  In addition to the profession of vows, we also celebrated the anniversary of profession of monks who made vows twenty-five, fifty, sixty and seventy-five years ago.  Pride of place went to Fathers Magnus and Fintan, who made their vows to Abbot Alcuin, in 1940.

image+The photos in today’s post all come from the celebration on July 11th.  We were also favored by the presence of several hundred guests, who filled the nave of the abbey church.  We were especially delighted to welcome Bishop Donald Kettler, our bishop and good friend of the abbey.  He sat with us in the choir stalls, and I’ve included his picture in this post as well.

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imageThe Pilgrimage to Santiago

For the last three weeks I’ve followed the travels of a friend who is making the pilgrimage to Santiago Compostela.  Santiago sits in the far northwestern corner of Spain, and pilgrims have been going there since the 9th century.  They’ve gone primarily to venerate the relics of the Apostle James, which are enshrined in the venerable 12th-century cathedral.  But as often as not it’s the trip itself that has drawn pilgrims by the tens of thousands;  and the tide shows no sign of letting up as we’ve entered the new century.

Several years ago the Spanish government caved into the popularity of this pilgrimage route and repaired and repaved the dangerous pathway that runs across the north of the country.  In the middle ages the road was much longer, with four trailheads that began in the middle of France.  Once in Spain the routes converged, only to split into northern and southern routes.  Today scarcely anyone has the time to begin the journey in France, which is just as well since there likely is no road to follow.  And today everyone takes the southerly route via León, which is still a challenge despite any modern amenities.  Whether by foot or bike, the trip requires a major investment of time and energy, but at least it’s not dangerous like it was in the middle ages.

imageI confess that I’ve only done this pilgrimage by coach, so I’ve never had the blisters and aching knees that those who are truly pilgrims continue to enjoy.  Nonetheless, I’ve been able to hear enough stories from bonafide pilgrims to appreciate what they go through en route.

First off, one naturally asks why anyone in their right mind would want to do this.  Why take off weeks from a job or abandon a comfortable home just to tromp through crummy weather and a rugged and often lonely landscape?  Well, there’s one reason I long ago crossed off the list.  People do not make the trek to Santiago because they have nothing else to do.  People who are addicted to the recliner in the den are the least likely candidates to do this.  People who are chronically bored rank a close second.  People who wonder what to do to fill up their day rank third.  In short, almost all the people who walk to Santiago do so for a reason, and the non-adventurous need not apply.

imageThose reasons vary, of course.  Some do it because they are at a crossroads in their lives and have to sort things out or do some serious soul-searching.  Others go because they have lost someone dear to them.  Still others go to mend fences or come to terms with broken relationships.  And others do it for the sheer joy of testing their limits by walking several hundred miles.  Can they do it without taking a week off at the spa?

A second important lesson about this pilgrimage is that one never travels alone.  People may take their first cautious steps out onto the road, thinking they don’t know a soul.  But within a mile or two people tend to link up and travel together.  En route they share their stories, and soon enough therapy and camaraderie blur together.  People begin to support one another;  and as is the case with life, they sometimes move on to join new clusters of pilgrims, only to rejoin friends they had made a hundred miles earlier.

imagePretty soon a pattern emerges, and the parallels to normal life start to emerge.  Of course absent from all this walking is the busyness that crowds the daily routine at home.  Shorn of trips to the mall and time spent at the office or in front of the television, the pilgrimage route tends to reduce life to its bare-boned basics.  What the pilgrim soon confronts is the endless horizon, but in getting there each step counts for something.

Pilgrimage to anywhere is a metaphor for life in general and Christian life in particular.  The nice thing about Santiago is that there’s a clear destination and a decently-marked trail to get there.  One also has roughly some idea of how long it will take until arrival.

Unlike the road to Santiago, normal life isn’t quite so tidy.  There are all sorts of uncertainties about destination and duration, and there may be lots of detours along the way.  But in common with Santiago, how one gets there is all-important.  Each step along the way counts for something.

imageVeterans of the road to Santiago all comment on the renewed appreciation for life that they’ve come home with.  They’ve learned to savor the little things, which is one lesson that comes from miles and miles through endless fields and forests and mountains.  And most of all, they come home with a renewed respect for their fellow travelers.  On the road to Santiago there are no strangers, because everyone eventually becomes a fellow pilgrim, and together they walk the road with the Lord.

In a few days my friend will reach Sahagún, which is the site of a once-great Benedictine abbey.  It was in Sahagún where I learned my last and best lesson from the pilgrimage.  It was there that I met a  young German woman who had decided to start her pilgrimage in Seville, far in the south of Spain.  Nobody does the pilgrimage from Seville, because there is no hiking path from Seville.  My first thought was that she must be crazy.  Then I recalled the parable of the wedding banquet, when the host went out to the byways and invited any and all into the feast.  That’s when I realized that this woman may have been eccentric, but she was a metaphor for the Church.  Whether we start in Seville or Arles or in Barcelona, it is the Lord who will gather us in.  And many other surprises will await us as well.

imageNotes

+On May 18th and 19th I attended the annual retreat of the Board of Trustees of Saint John’s University, held at Saint John’s.

+On May 23rd Saint John’s Preparatory School held its graduation exercises in the abbey church.

+The pictures in today’s post were taken by Michael Becker, who photographed the recent ordination of Fr. Nick Kleespie as priest and Brother Lew Grobe as deacon, with Bishop Donald Kettler presiding.  On May 24th Fr. Nick celebrated the Eucharist at his home parish in Morris, MN.

+Santiago Compostela was likely the most popular medieval shrine in Europe, after Rome itself.  But it held no monopoly on pilgrimage, and many local and regional pilgrimage destinations emerged to entice visitors from near and far.  In the gallery on the Cathedral of Chartres you will see samples of the sculpture and stained glass that dazzled visitors from France and beyond.

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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.

imageNotes

+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.

imageNotes

+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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