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Andrew:  A Patron Whose Time Has Come

I’ve never been one of those monks who love to bolt out of church as soon as is decently possible.  Like most of my confreres, I’m happy enough to make my exit at a leisurely pace.  All the same, I do appreciate the caution that St. Benedict gave about lingering too long in the oratory when community prayer is over.  On this he and I are of one mind:  enough is enough, even for monks.

That latter point helps explain my general lack of enthusiasm when a feast day brings in its tow a second reading at morning prayer.  At that hour I’m either groggy or rehearsing in my mind the day’s to-do list.  So one reading is more than enough, and a second is a gratuity that brings no thrill.

There are exceptions, of course, and last week’s feast of St. Andrew was one of them.  That feast brought a second reading, and to my surprise it grabbed my attention as second readings seldom do.  It came from the pen of John Henry Cardinal Newman, and it pointed out something that was so obvious that I was embarrassed never to have considered it before.

IMG_5070Cardinal Newman opened with the point that Andrew and Peter were perhaps the first disciples whom Jesus called.  That I already knew.  I also knew that Andrew had shown his commitment to Jesus by bringing others to meet him.  What I’d not considered, however, was the reward that came to Andrew for being among the first and the most unwavering in his loyalty.  To paraphrase Newman, for all of his effort Andrew seems to have gotten the 1st-century equivalent of diddly-squat.

For perspective, consider Andrew’s brother Peter.  When the chips were down Peter denied Jesus three times, and he was impetuous in his behavior.  Yet he got it all.  He got the celebrity;  he got the authority;  he got the keys to the kingdom of heaven and the power to bind and loose.  And what did Andrew get?  Obscurity.  Cardinal Newman wonders about the justice in this, and so do I.

As I listened to Newman’s passage, I thought of the promise Jesus made that the first shall be last and the last first.  That was certainly true for Andrew, and it left me wondering whether Andrew ever resented his brother Peter.  Anybody could see that Andrew was more promising executive material.  And yet, like Jacob’s brother Esau, he got passed over in the succession planning.

Then it dawned on me.  Andrew, at least in my opinion, should be the patron saint of all siblings who have to live in the shadow of a more charismatic brother or sister.  Andrew is the model for all those who toil without fail and with sterling reliability, day in and day out, largely unnoticed.  The Church should name him the patron saint for all who feel overworked and underappreciated.

IMG_5046That’s more than I normally get out of an average second reading on a feast day, and for that I’m grateful to Andrew.  I’m grateful for the way Andrew lived his life, and I’m grateful that he gave some good material for Cardinal Newman to work with.  And thanks to Cardinal Newman, I came away with a deeper appreciation for Andrew and the kind of person he represents.

At this remove, then, do I think that Andrew harbors any resentment that the largest church in the world is named for his brother?  Absolutely not.  Does he envy his brother for his celebrity?  I seriously doubt it.  Does he regret his brother’s impetuous and bumbling character?  Perhaps he found it slightly amusing.

Foremost for Andrew, however, was his relationship with Jesus, and he was eager to share his Lord with others.  That’s what he would recommend to us if he were sitting next to us today.

Still, we’re left with one nagging question.  Was life unfair to Andrew?  From the perspective of celebrity, Andrew clearly got the short end of the stick.  But on another level his reward was more than ample.  He was among the first to know Jesus.  His friendship with the Lord never wobbled for a minute.  That said, he got the reward but not the fanfare.  To my way of thinking, that’s a patron saint whose time has come.

IMG_2398Notes

+During the month of November we remember all those who have specifically asked us to pray for their deceased friends and family members.  People send in to the Abbot’s office their requests, which are then gathered in a basket at the entrance to church.  As we monks file in we take one of those slips with us and return it when prayer is done.  For whatever reason, I have found this custom to be wonderful.  It makes tangible our effort to be mindful of the needs of others.

+On December 2nd we monks had our monthly day of reflection.  In addition to the Abbot’s conference at 10 am, we went about our lives in silence from morning until the completion of dinner.

+On Sunday evening, December 3rd, Bishop Donald Kettler of St. Cloud presided and preached at the student Mass.  That was followed by refreshments and the opportunity to meet and visit with the bishop.  Bishop Kettler is an alumnus of Saint John’s University twice over, and he regularly visits campus.  We are always delighted by his presence.

+The photos in today’s post come from a variety of sources.  At the top is an altar panel of The Annunciation by Bartolomaus Zeitblom, ca. 1500, housed in the Louvre in Paris.  Below that is a carving of St. Peter by Roderick d’Osona, made in Valencia, ca. 1500, and housed in the Museum of Catalan Art in Barcelona.  Next is yet another saint who gets a lot of press at this time of year:  Saint Nickolas, by an anonymous artist, ca. 1500.  It too is in the Museum of Catalan Art, as is the altar frontal from the Church of Saint Andrew, ca. 1200.

+On Saturday evening, December 2nd, Abbot John lit the first candle on the two Advent wreaths that we have, one in the reflectory and the second in the church.  The photo above is from the church, and Fr. Lew and Novice Jacob labored over that wreath until every last twig was in place.

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Be It Resolved:  No Resolutions This Year

“Do monks make New Year’s resolutions?  Do Monks keep their New Year’s resolutions?”  Those were two questions a friend put to me this week, and the answers are short and sweet:  “Yes,” and “About as well as everybody else.”

The more nuanced response is that monks are pretty much like everyone else when it comes to resolutions.  The fact is, deliberate and major changes in the course of our lives don’t come easily, and wishing they were so generally doesn’t make them so.  Like most people, then, monks have aspirations that are ambitious, but it’s in the follow-through where we all show our common humanity.

imageClose to the monastic home, you don’t have to be a great scholar to realize that the Rule of Saint Benedict yields not a clue about how monks in the 6th century celebrated the new year.  And it’s not that Benedict’s monks were oblivous to the passage of time.  They knew their Roman numerals as well as any of their neighbors, and they had at their fingertips an array of dates to match with events.  Whether it was the exact year after the founding of Rome or the regnal year of an emperor, they had more than enough numbers to mark the passage of time and events.  But I don’t think it occurred to them to peg the quality of their own lives to a numeric grid.

Tympanum, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.

Tympanum, Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.

Nor do I know whether monks back then packaged their lives in segments of years.  But if they did, the divisions of the Church calendar mattered more to them.  Advent initiated the liturgical cycle.  Then came Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.  Then came the long stretch of Ordinary Time.  And when it was all over, they went back to Advent and did it all over again.  That rhythm hasn’t changed in centuries, and it was bolstered by its links to the seasons of the year. The parallel between the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the four natural seasons worked brilliantly for centuries, at least in the northern hemisphere.  I suppose it was nobody’s fault in 6th-century Italy that they had no idea there even was a southern hemisphere.  But I suspect the general lack of curiosity about the other hemisphere was mutual.

Nativity.  Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.

Nativity. Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris.

If the liturgical calendar and the seasons of nature shaped the lives of Benedict’s monks, I would contend that of even greater import was the festal calendar of the Church.  The ordo of feasts and seasons read much like an opera score, and the cycle of special and non-special (ferial) days created something of an emotional joy ride for the monks who lived by it.  No two days were ever alike, despite outward appearances.  And so the days did not blend seamlessly into one long stream of boredom, contrary to popular assumptions.

So where is it that monks concentrate their minds and energy when the need arises to make decisions about their lives?  It occurs to me that this takes place in the liturgy of the hours.  Here we find the kind of deliberate analysis that many people prefer to relegate to New Year’s Day and its resolutions.  In the morning we begin with “Lord, open our lips,” and with that the day is off and running.  In the course of morning prayer there are petitions that spell out our hopes for the day, and we repeat this practice in the other moments of community prayer.  And then at compline there is the “post game-day analysis” — the examination of conscience.  At that hour, monks who are still awake take time to inventory their lives during the past day.  They then express their regret and sorrow for any missteps, and look forward to the chance to try it all over again the next day.  Perhaps the next day will go better, or even repeat what went well the day before.

Presentation in the Temple.  Notre Dame, Paris.

Presentation in the Temple. Notre Dame, Paris.

That, it seems to me, is why monks don’t get terribly worked-up about New Year’s resolutions.  The time-frame is way too long for us.  We much prefer to have a focus that is pegged to a one-day-at-a-time framework.  We live for the moment, just as Saint Benedict advised when he told his monks to “keep death daily before their eyes.”  From that perspective, any program that delays analysis until next December 31st serves no useful purpose.  The press of daily business will leave those resolutions on the shelf, collecting dust.  And soon enough we’ll forget all about those life-changing resolves.

There you have the reasons why my New Year’s resolution will be quite simple this year:  “I will make no New Year’s resolution.”  For one thing, success is guaranteed, instantly, and I can move on to other things.  For another, living for the day is tough enough, and I don’t want to have to think about the entire year.  That’s way too ambitious.

Besides all that, I believe with all my heart that Christ will come again, and perhaps even on the last day of 2015.  But of greater urgency is today: “This is the day the Lord has made.”  Today is the day when I’ll most likely encounter Christ in my brother, in the guest, and in those suffering around me (to say nothing of those who are suffering from me.)  The truth is, today is about all I can handle.

The Holy Innocents.  Notre Dame, Paris.

The Holy Innocents. Notre Dame, Paris.

So at the end of this day I don’t want to look back and wonder where it went.  Nor do I want to console myself with the thought that I’ll do a state-of-the-person analysis next December 31st.  That kind of procrastination is way too tempting.

And if it sounds self-indulgent to live for the day, then you’ve got it all wrong.  Today is a gift from the Lord.  Looking ahead 365 days may just cause us to miss the more regular appearances of the Lord.  But live for the day, and come December 31st you may very well be stunned at what you have accumulated in the course of a year: an abundance of truly great days.

Notes

+Among the various items on my plate is membership on the Board of Trustees of Saint John’s University.  Our regular meetings are not all work, and in fact we regularly schedule some opportunity to learn about various student activities.  So it was at our last meeting in December, when we sat in on a rehearsal of several choirs preparing for Christmas concerts at Saint John’s and elsewhere.  Excerpts from that rehearsal provided the material for University President Michael Hemesath’s Christmas and New Year’s greeting, which follows.

+Years ago someone gifted me with a copy of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth.  It was so fascinating that it gobbled up all of my free-time over that Christmas break.  This year a good friend gave me A. N. Wilson’s recent book, Victoria: A Life (Penguin Press, 2014.)  This book in turn has chewed up prodigious amounts of this year’s Christmas holiday.  But there are worse ways to spend a Christmas break.  So if you are even remotely interested in 19th-century English history, or Queen Victoria herself, I highly recommend this book to you.

Flight to Egypt.  Notre Dame, Paris.

Flight to Egypt. Notre Dame, Paris.

+The photos in today’s post come from various sources.  At top is a clock on the façade of an office building in Paris.  I knew immediately that someday it would come in handy, and so it helps to inaugurate this blog into 2015.  The second photo, of the Holy Family, fabricated in Alsace around the year 1500, is housed at the Cluny Museum in Paris.  It’s the only piece of art that I’ve ever seen that depicts Jesus and Joseph having a good time, while Mary serenely looks on approvingly.

As anyone who’s been to Paris knows, it is a trove of all sorts of art.  From various pieces of medieval art in The Louvre Museum I’ve assembled a sampling to create a Christmas Gallery that spans many centuries and several media.

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