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Posts Tagged ‘Saint Benedict’

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Saints Francis and Benedict

I found Pope Benedict’s reflection on Saint Francis that we heard at morning prayer to be a real spark for my imagination.  As he pointed out, Francis has transcended the centuries, and he’s done so because all sorts of people have found different reasons to like him.  Francis truly was and is a man for all seasons, a man for all times, and a man for all sorts of people.  And in that light I want to comment on Saints Francis and Benedict.

Most every Benedictine monk knows that Francis made a pilgrimage to Subiaco, where Benedict began his monastic journey.  There on one of the walls is a fresco of Francis as a memento of that visit.  Clearly Saint Benedict must have meant a lot to Francis, and perhaps he saw something of himself in Benedict.  And if at first blush they seem to have little in common, I think we’d miss an element that is key to the story of each.  Both of them fled social environments that they found toxic.  For his part Francis fled the bourgeois wealth of his family, and Benedict fled the wealth of Rome.

E45B1A7C-8B38-4DA5-A825-FCC20E425617All too often we’ve assumed that Benedict sought escape from the dissipated student life of the city.  In fact it may have been more likely that he fled the wealthy ways of the Church in Rome.  So I’m not sure what Benedict expected to find when he got to Rome, but it may have been the wealth and growing power of the Church that sent him packing.  The churches that he entered looked every bit like the basilicas in which the emperors had presided, and where the emperors had once sat the leading clergy sat instead.  And manuscript historian Christopher de Hamel notes that illuminations of the day show the apostles and bishops clean-shaven and dressed every bit like members of the Roman senatorial class.  And so it’s entirely possible that the wealth of the Church sent Benedict into the wilderness, just as it did the Egyptian ascetics in the 4th century.

What might we conclude about Benedict and Francis?  For one, they were not Manichaean dualists.  For them neither wealth nor creation were intrinsically evil.  On the other hand they each had seen how wealth and power could transform even the best of people.   Neither wanted to be in the number of the latter.

And so, on the feast of Saint Francis may we celebrate with joy all of God’s creation, as Francis did.  And then let us remember that God has put us here not to be transformed by the good things of the earth.  Rather, let us transform all those good things and put them into the service of the Lord.

D1B03412-0813-41F6-913D-F36A2CBB282BNOTES

+On September 30th through October 2nd I hosted four supporters of the Immokalee Scholarship Program at Saint John’s University.  While at Saint John’s I got to spend some wonderful moments with John, Jack, Sandy and Bill, and certainly the highlight of the visit was the evening when we join nine of our students from Immokalee for dinner.

+On October 4th I presided at the Abbey Mass, and today’s post is the text of the homily that I preached that day.  In the monastery we began the day with a morning prayer reading in which Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the appreciation for Saint Francis through the centuries.

+On October 5th I flew to Omaha, NE, and the next day I gave a tour of an exhibit of The Saint John’s Bible, now at the Joslyn Art Museum for the next few weeks.  On Monday the 7th I will give a lecture to Friends of the Museum.

+Readers may find it a surprise to learn that Saint Francis made a pilgrimage to Subiaco, where Saint Benedict began life as a hermit.  The fresco of Saint Francis was painted shortly after his visit, and the absence of a halo indicates that he was still very much alive at the time of the painting.  That fresco is included in today’s post, along with other photos of the abbey of Subiaco.

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A Perfect End and a Great Beginning

As funerals go, George’s had more than its share of joy.  Of course his family and the crowd of friends that filled the church were sad to let him go.  He had touched the lives of many.  He had been involved in a full schedule of activities.  He had reached out to the sick and the infirm in his decades of service in the Order of Malta.  He had done so much;  and yet, if there was one regret, it was this.  George still seemed to be at the top of his game.

There were lots of wonderful stories exchanged that day, but one struck me especially.  On the day he passed George called his wife to say that he had just had the best day of his life.  Then, less than a minute after hanging up, he slipped into the arms of the Lord.  Totally unexpected was his leave-taking.

34B85D1E-F685-4B63-8717-0A0D0BD16DADIn the service of compline we pray for “a peaceful night and a perfect end.”  Not many say those words at the end of the day, but everyone should.  For one thing, who doesn’t want a restful night?  It’s why collectively we pay a fortune for beds and bedding.  It’s why we buy truckloads of pills and various sleeping aids to put to rest the anxiety or pain that can grip us at the end of a day.  And yet we sometimes forget that a key ingredient for a peaceful night is a day filled with purpose.

As for a “perfect end,” I’m not sure many want to think about that and fewer still pray about it.  It’s a topic best pushed to the margins of our imaginations.  And yet, as surely as the sun rises and sets, death comes to us all.

Rightly we all are anxious about death, but we as Christians strengthen ourselves with a bedrock conviction.  Death is not the end, because the Lord reaches out to us as we step into the greatest adventure of our lives.

Saint Benedict in his Rule for Monasteries reminds his monks to “keep death daily before their eyes.”  That’s not an invitation to live in terror or paralysis.  Rather, it’s his unique way of reminding us that every day is a gift, and it’s a gift that we would be wise to make the most of.

Benedict also speaks of life as “something of a truce”.  In the expanse of eternity our few years are our chance to accomplish something creative and wonderful.  They are the interlude when we can be artists with all the talents and opportunities that God has given to each of us.

06EFDE6B-2260-4D57-B2DB-230D92B1780EI was struck by George’s last words.   Perhaps he saw the Lord coming for him, but the Lord’s appearance was no surprise.  George had already seen him many times in the faces of the poor and the sick.  And just maybe for one brief moment George appreciated the coincidence that the best day of his life also happened to be the day when the Lord took him by the hand and welcomed him into the new Jerusalem.  In that moment George had both a perfect end and also a terrific beginning.

NOTES

On September 23rd I attended the annual meeting of the Friends of the Malta Study Center at the Hill Museum & Manuscript Library at Saint John’s University.

+On 26 September I attended the board meeting of Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA. I opened the meeting with a prayer and followed with a reflection on the importance of the virtue of respect for all people.

+On 27 September I concelebrated at the funeral of George Kiesel, which took place at the Church of Our Lady of the Angels in Burlingame, CA.  George and his wife Charlotte have been long-time members of the Order of Malta and also members in Obedience in the Subpriory of Our Lady of Philermo, of which I am a chaplain.

+I’ve always enjoyed the funerary monuments in medieval and Early Modern English churches, and in today’s post I’ve included several photos that I took at York Minster several years ago.

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Heaven:  Many Mansions or Open-Concept?

In the monastery we don’t spend a lot of time talking about heaven.  I’m not sure why we don’t, but perhaps it’s because we have more immediate things to worry about.  Besides, Saint Benedict wrote a Rule that deals mainly with the here and now.  His plan was to bring out the best in each of us, now.  As for the hereafter Benedict doesn’t devote a single chapter to speculation about how God is supposed to organize and run heaven.

Another item that’s missing from our monastic conversation is anxiety about salvation.  Through the centuries questions about how and how many would be saved have vexed an awful lot of people.  Ironically in the early Church this issue turned to the benefit of Christianity, precisely because it allayed those fears.  It was reassuring to have a relationship with a loving savior versus worries about performing animal sacrifices flawlessly.  Far preferable was a savior who asked for a clean heart versus a judge who wanted ritual perfection.

6E64EDBC-19A0-4B82-81C2-D0D821683BEFCenturies later the turn of the millennium stoked fierce anxiety as people anticipated the return of Jesus.  Compounding the anxiety was the popular notion that only 144,000 would be saved.  Those were not good odds considering the hundreds of millions who would vie for those coveted spots.

Still later the Reformation turned on the question of salvation.  That controversy generated boat loads of literature and made booksellers rich.  But the contention eventually cooled, and I for one am happy that most people no longer feel the need to kill one another over those issues.

That segues into what I perceive to be the strange lack of anxiety about salvation today.  Do people not care about it?  Do Christians not worry about it like they once did?  Some certainly do worry, and they do so intensely.  But for most those questions generate far less heat than they used to.

I can only speculate on what’s caused this, but I think a better appreciation of what Jesus asks of us has helped to sideline some of those fears.  Many today seem more keenly aware of what the Lord asks of them.  They realize that our relationship with Jesus ought to be a seamless experience.  It begins now and not just at the day of judgement.  It involves transformation that is ongoing, and in fact at our passing we will not be meeting some total stranger for the very first time.  We will meet the Jesus whom we’ve already gotten to know.  At that point Jesus will sweep us up into a life of which we’ve already begun to taste.

Jesus asserts that he is the way, the truth and the life.  It’s a life which Jesus invites us to embrace here and now, and why would anyone want to put that off until some future date?  Why would anyone not want a life that is filled with meaning and purpose and direction?

E6F3C65C-BF43-42E7-AD91-2812B662E711Of course that still leaves unanswered the questions about what heaven might be like. For the most part I’m willing to be surprised, but one issue nags at me.  What exactly will the living arrangements be like?  Jesus has suggested that in his father’s house there are many mansions, which sounds very attractive to me.  The truth is, I still harbor a latent introversion, and I need some privacy every day.  So a heaven in which there are mansions with private rooms sounds just about right.  As for the option that seems increasingly popular today, open-concept living sounds a bit like hell to me.

So there we have it.  I’m not entirely sure what heaven will be like, save that it’s likely to be more than I ever imagined.  In the meantime, I’m thoroughly convinced that the best preparation for the future is to make the most of the present.  By wonderful coincidence that happens to be the recipe that Saint Benedict recommends for his monks.

BDF4E57B-275D-4E72-B794-211E3909F3DDNOTES

+On August 20th I concelebrated at a funeral Mass at Saint Joseph’s Church, in Saint Joseph, MN. The monks of Saint John’s have served at that parish since the 1850s, and we’ve never had to go far because it is only four miles from the abbey.  The present church was built in 1869, and one historian notes that it was the first consecrated church in Minnesota made of permanent materials.  The photos in today’s post show the parish church, following a recent renovation and restoration.

+On August 23rd the incoming freshmen of Saint John’s University joined the monks for evening prayer.  Before vespers small groups of students met with individual monks to learn something about our life.  Later Abbot John spoke to the entire class and invited them to join us for prayer during the course of their four years at Saint John’s.

+On August 24th I attended the wedding of the son of a family with whom I’ve been good friends for ages.  It took place in Philadelphia.

+Today’s post is a reflection on Sunday’s gospel:  Luke 13: 22-30.

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Martha, Mary and Lazarus:  Friends of Jesus

Lazarus, Martha and Mary.  Brother and sisters.  Friends of Jesus.  Disciples of the Lord.  Within the monastic tradition our default buttons have generally been set toward Mary.  She’s the one who had chosen the better part, as Jesus said.  And so we single her out for her dedication to prayer and meditation on the words of Jesus.  We also think of her as a parallel to Mary the mother of Jesus.  She too had much to ponder in her heart.

All the same, beyond the fact that their neighbors knew that they were close to Jesus, there’s really not a lot we know about these three.  In the gospel Lazarus makes a cameo appearance as a dead man who must have been surprised when Jesus called him from the tomb.  As for Mary, we scarcely hear a peep from her, and of the three she best embodies the advice Saint Benedict gave to his disciples.  She was good at listening.

E2C8EFC3-92AF-4CA6-9381-32C97C4E2347It’s Martha who comes across as the strong and by no means silent personality here.  She was forceful and not at all bashful about saying what was on her mind.  She was not afraid to complain to Jesus when her sister slacked off in the duties of hospitality.  She even delivered a slight rebuke to Jesus, who in her modest opinion could have done something to prevent Lazarus’ death.

I’m going to hazard the opinion that Jesus liked each of these siblings precisely because each brought different gifts to the table.  Mary listened;  Lazarus could meet Jesus halfway when called;  and Martha was one of the few people who could tell Jesus what she thought and get results.  Perhaps even Jesus needed a friendly nudge and a bit of advice every now and then.

The fact is, Jesus chose three very different people to be his friends;  and that matters a great deal to us.  And so whether we’ve preferred the path of Lazarus or Martha or Mary matters less than the fact that the Lord loves us for who we are rather than who we are not.  In short, perhaps the Lord is telling us that it takes all kinds to make a family, a monastic community and even a Church.  There’s room for us all among the friends of Jesus, and for that lesson we owe a debt of gratitude to Martha, Mary and Lazarus.

9760B680-06F9-4E59-8170-4EC44FB0B2C8NOTES

+I didn’t have a lot on my calendar this past week, but there was still plenty to keep me busy.  Among other things I hosted a member of the Federal Association of the Order of Malta, who made a five-day retreat to initiate her year of probation as a Dame in Obedience.  I also hosted Don and his brother, John, both from the Bay Area.  They were our guests for two days.

+On July 25th two returning members of the Benedictine Volunteer Corps spoke to members of the community about their year of service at the Benedictine priory of Tabgha in Israel and at a community in Uganda.  Meanwhile one of our last remaining volunteers for next year left for the abbey of Sant Anselmo in Rome.

F67E591C-F011-494A-BD02-E96966CC2B8D+The week’s big lesson came from a trip to the emergency room of the Saint Cloud Hospital.  I was not the patient, but I had volunteered to drive in one of my confreres for what should have been a short and simple visit.  It turned out to be a seven-hour ordeal, and I learned a lot.  Up to now I had been spared a trip to the emergency room, and I was surprised at what I have been missing.  For one thing, it was interesting to survey the variety of people who frequent emergency rooms.  Among those who helped to pass the time was a young mother who let her three-year-old son run free-range for over an hour.  Finally a couple of mothers took charge and kept him entertained.  May God bless them forever.  My award for the most irritating behavior went to the irksome lady who spent an hour and a half going through her contacts list, calling everyone whom she’d ever met to tell them that she was in the hospital.  No doubt it was the most exciting thing that had happened to her in a long time — if not in her entire life.

+On 27 July our confrere Fr. Corwin Collins passed away.  Born in Port Jefferson, NY, he served most of his years as a pastor and chaplain.  This marks the fourth death of a confrere in five weeks, and while each of these four was more than ready to go, we wonder why they have chosen mid-summer to make their departure.  We will miss them all.

+Today is the feast of Saints Martha, Mary and Lazarus, and this post is a transcription of the sermon that I will deliver at the abbey mass later today.

+The campus at Saint John’s is particularly lovely right now, but the prize this week goes to the flower beds in the cloister walks of the abbey church, which the photos in today’s post illustrate.

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God Slips in through the Trap Door

In the back of a church which I once attended there was a ladder that reached from the choir loft to a trap door in the ceiling.  It wasn’t quite a real ladder, because the rungs were embedded in the wall, and it was pretty utilitarian.  One day somebody got the bright idea of turning it into Jacob’s ladder, and an artist embellished the rungs with ivy and angels ascending and descending.

For me that made visual and vivid the words of Genesis 28.  The mural reminded me first of all that that Jacob’s dream depends on the stereotype of God as someone “up there” somewhere, roaming around in the attic.  But at the same time the ladder stitches together heaven and earth.  God may be in the heavens, but it is the angels who signal that the earth is good and that it belongs to God.

If Genesis 28 describes a vertical relationship with God, it also reminds us of a horizontal relationship, and it does so through angels who are sent to touch our lives.  It’s the horizontal that Jesus stressed again and again, and it’s the concept around which Saint Benedict structures monastic life.  Theologically God may be “totally other,” but both Genesis and Jesus remind us that the Lord walks beside us and nudges us and even carries us if need be.

1519E5C1-2DE2-4573-82F0-B65CF4864014Finally, it is true that once in a great while the Lord does walk right up and stares us in the face; but all the the same the Lord prefers to sidle up to us rather quietly.  It’s on those occasions when the Lord slips through the trap door of our minds to remind us that we belong to him.  That’s when he claims us for his own.

NOTES

+The highlight of this week in the monastery was our celebration of the 4th of July, with a picnic in the monastic garden.  Heavy rain earlier in the day gave way to a glorious afternoon.

+On July 6th we celebrated the Mass of Christian burial for our confrere Fr. Meinrad Dindorf.  We do funeral liturgies especially well at Saint John’s, and this one was no exception.  With all the rain we’ve had, the cemetery and our landscape in general are a verdant green.  As we gathered around Fr. Meinrad’s grave the loons sang and the squirrels scolded us, and it was a moving few minutes.

+At any given moment I juggle several books, reading each for a different purpose.  For example, I imagine myself to be one of the few people in North America not to have read J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  A friend of mine recently loaned me the book, and it was a quick read on the plane because of Rowling’s wonderful prose.  Ron Chernow’s biography of U. S. Grant falls into a different category.  I have always enjoyed Chernow’s writing, and like his other books this one is thick and weighty and not the sort for toting through the airport and onto the plane.  All the same, I am enjoying it, and not just because U. S. Grant is quite different from Harry Potter.  After all, how could you not appreciate someone “so reticent that someone quipped ‘he could be silent in several languages.’”

EA6D9958-BEDB-4EEC-A543-B834F94DAE15+Today’s post is a sermon which I will deliver at the monastery Mass today.  The mural of Jacob’s Ladder to which I refer was in the chapel of Saint Thomas More, the Catholic chapel at Yale.  I had the opportunity to live and work there for three years while in graduate school, and from the altar I could glimpse the mural high on the back wall of the church.  Alas, the mural did not pass muster when the church underwent renovation, and so it exists only in the memories of the few people who ever looked up there to notice it.

+By its nature a chronicle narrates the past rather than speaks of the future.  However, on July 11th, the feast of Saint Benedict, I will celebrate fifty years of monastic vows.  On the day that Novice Jeremy will pronounce his first vows, I and five other jubiliarians will renew our vows.  I don’t know where the years have gone, but but there’s very little I would want to change.  It’s been a great experience, though I remain convinced that some of the best years are yet to come.

+The top photo in today’s post shows the link between the Quadrangle, where nearly half of the monks live, and the Breuer wing, where the other half lives.  For the moment the flower beds in the monastic garden are particularly nice, and the overlook of Lake Sagatagan is especially serene.

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Shaped by the Benedictine Tradition

Morning and evening prayer at Saint John’s Abbey may be as regular as clockwork, but summer provides almost daily surprises.  Those surprises generally have to do with guests who, as Saint Benedict pointed out, are never wanting in a monastery.  More precisely, the surprises have to do with the number of guests who join us in choir, and their number can vary dramatically from morning to evening and day to day.

It’s safe to say that while the roster of monks in most monasteries may be shorter than fifty years ago, the number of guests who show up at monasteries to join monks for prayer is up dramatically.  Part of that has to do with Latin, which in former times may have discouraged many lay people from attending.  Whether its absence matters today is debatable.  But of greater significance is the growing number of people who recite the liturgy of the hours on their own.  Not surprisingly that draws them to join us at prayer when they are at Saint John’s.

67A0E5EE-3905-428E-B895-BE9626FA724AAs a result, we monks at Saint John’s have learned to expect the unexpected when we enter the choir for prayer during the summer.  On some days there may be only a sprinkling of visitors.  But then there are days when there are more of them than there are of us.  Of course that can impact the quality of our recitation, but I personally contend that it’s a wonderful problem to have.

It’s also important to note the summer-time presence of a particular group of young men at prayer.  Unlike the other guests, they sit with us in the stalls reserved for the monks.  Dressed in distinctive black polo shirts with “Saint John’s Abbey” stitched on them in white thread, they are the incoming and outgoing members of the Benedictine Volunteer Corp (BVC).  For the new members their presence is a chance to experience a bit of Benedictine life before heading off to monasteries around the world for a year of service.  For veteran members it’s a chance to share their experiences of the last year, and we are always eager listeners.

Normally the Volunteers are recent graduates of Saint John’s University.  A few months before graduation they apply, and in practice the program has been able to accept roughly half of those who wish to go.  This year 26 will go off to serve, suggesting that there was an applicant pool of 50+.

Those numbers may not seem like much, but with a graduating class of 400+ at Saint John’s University, it’s a big deal.  It means that 12% of our graduating seniors apply to live and work for a year in a monastery somewhere around the world, and 6% actually follow through and do it.  In a society that assumes that young people are not the least bit curious about religious life, these are pretty astounding percentages.  What college sends 6% of its recent alumni to do a post-graduate year in a monastery?

8257666A-5657-4307-AC5E-18D09BCEF2AFOur Benedictine Volunteers serve literally around the world, and it’s fascinating to hear about their experiences.  Over the years I’ve had the chance to visit Volunteers on site at Saint Benedict’s Prep in Newark, NJ, where life is very different from what they knew at Saint John’s.  Volunteers at Montserrat outside of Barcelona have taught English to the Catalan-speaking students in the choir school.  Topping the list for sheer courage was one Volunteer at Saint Anselmo in Rome.  His duties included driving the abbot primate to the airport and to appointments around the city.  Rome may be the eternal city, but the eternally insane traffic helps it to maintain the title.  And I and my confreres have listened eagerly to stories from returning Volunteers who have been in Tanzania and Chile and India.  Theirs are experiences beyond anything that they will likely have in their professional careers, and they are transformative, to say the least.

At Saint John’s we’ve been fortunate to maintain contacts with monks in communities around the world.   All the same, the Benedictine Volunteers from Saint John’s have added a new and lively dimension to this network.  If most of us never quite imagined this twenty-five years ago when Brother Paul Richards began the BVC, it’s happened nonetheless.

When Sant Benedict cautioned that “visitors we will always have with us,” he never foresaw anything quite like the BVC.  And as the program has developed, however, it’s brought into being a group of young men who certainly are not monks, but who are more than our average guests.  They are young men who for one year immerse themselves completely in the Benedictine tradition.  I have to believe that somehow it shapes the course of their lives from that year onward.  And while the Volunteers realize the value they bring to the places where they serve, they probably have little clue of the delight that they bring to us monks at Saint John’s.

89EFD1DD-9AF6-4267-914B-71EA5CFC053BNOTES

+On June 27th I hosted two visitors at Saint John’s from the East Coast.  Both are members of the Order of Malta and devote their energies to prison ministry.  We talked about that, and lots more.

+Last week was very quiet for me, and I did not go near the airport.  In fact, the furthest I went from home was a visit to an alumnus and his wife in Lakeville, MN, a town which I had never visited before.  As always in summer, the trip back on I-94 was interesting.  Two minor car crashes managed to create miles-long back-ups in both directions.  Among the artifacts on view was a boat that had gotten away from somebody and which rested on the shoulder of the road.  But the prize from me went to the couch that sat serenely and stately in the median of the highway.  It was as if someone had set it up for the benefit of people caught in traffic jams with nothing else to do.

+On Friday June 28th our community celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for our confrere, Fr. Jerome Coller.  Abbot John’s homily was particularly witty, noting that when Fr. Jerome returned from graduate school at Cornell he was eager to apply his compositional talents to our singing at Saint John’s.  His first major effort was a hymn which we sang at the blessing of the first Abbot John in 1971.  “That was when we learned that the community was not yet ready for an atonal Te Deum,” he noted.  That brought chuckles, as did several other comments.  But Jerome went on to compose many songs that we regularly sing today.

EE808153-B55B-443F-BDDD-31EDF6638497+On the evening of June 28th our confrere Fr. Meinrad Dindorff quietly passed away after a short illness.  Meinrad was involved in many activities at Saint John’s, but I remember him best from my days in seminary when he taught theology.

+On 29-30 June we hosted visitors for Family Weekend for the monks at Saint John’s.

+On 30 June I presided at vespers in the Abbey Church.

+It should not surprise anyone that the hours of standing in choir could tire medieval monks, and so they came up with a novel solution.  When the seat in a choir stall was folded up it revealed a small shelf underneath, and monks could perch on this while still appearing to stand.  This was called a misericord, or mercy seat, for obvious reasons.  Artists learned to take advantage of this new opportunity by carving all sorts of things underneath the choir stall, as these images from the cathedral in Toledo, Spain, illustrate.  Even today our individual stalls at Saint John’s have misercords; and while they are not decorated they provide the same service to monks who weary during long services.

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The Flame of the Easter Candle

The flames from Notre Dame electrified all who stared at them in disbelief.  I was as shocked as anyone, and the thought of losing Notre Dame nearly brought me to tears.  And that takes a lot, given that my default buttons are set to stoicism.

People were stunned for all sorts of reasons, but at bottom was the assumption that nothing could ever topple it.  Notre Dame is huge, and it’s stone.  It looks indestructible.  But hidden from the naked eye was the forest of wooden beams that held it all in place.  For over 800 years they had done so.  Yet, in a matter of minutes they were no more.  What remains are walls of stone, kept in place by brilliant design, gravity, and perhaps the grace of God.

C0FBDF52-4FAB-48C2-8D07-0522781FDC4AThe flames in turn have sparked a torrent of generosity from donors great and small, and that’s good.  It will take an awful lot of money to rebuild Notre Dame, and it will take time.  But to me it’s worth it, because a place like Notre Dame is a barometer of the health of a society.

As I watched the flames devour the roof of Notre Dame my memory summoned up one story from the life of Saint Francis.  In a derelict chapel outside of Assisi, Francis heard this:  “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house, which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.”

At first Francis took those words literally, and his neighborhood had lots of chapels in need of repair.  But Francis decided not to become a stonemason, because he also appreciated the symbolic urgency of those words.  Appearances to the contrary, the Church was in dire shape, and it was desperate for reform.  If then it was time to reset the stones of tumbled-down churches, it was also time to see to the vitality of the flesh and blood stones of the Church.

71A90053-7658-4E6B-A8D7-EF1D566C9A63Could the fire at Notre Dame be God’s warning to the Church today?  That thought has run through the minds of many.  Still others see the flood of money for its restoration as a misdirection of funds that could be used to help the poor.  While I appreciate the concern for the poor, I don’t appreciate the binary choice that some people demand.  Jesus asks us to do for the poor what we would do for him.  That said, it is the same Lord who blessed us with the creativity that we’ve channeled into poetry and music and architecture and art.  I’ve always believed that giving to the poor and the encouragement of creativity cannot be an either/or proposition.  It’s both/and, and so we must serve the poor and see to to the beautiful — and lots more besides.

Easter is the season of renewed hope — both for the Church and for us as individuals.  So it is that we believe that the Lord walks alongside us, just as he did with Saint Francis.  And if the Lord managed to do great things through Francis, who’s to say that God can’t do equally fine things through us?

If there’s something positive to salvage from the flames of Notre Dame, it may be this.  We began Lent with ashes and ended at the Easter vigil with the flame of the Easter candle.  Those tongues of fire can serve as a wake-up call to each one of us this Easter.  If fire can destroy, as it did at Notre Dame, it can also strengthen and purify.  May the risen Lord take us by the hand and fire us with excitement to do his work.

A0A61090-D544-4C32-B4EC-46D52387AE39NOTES

+On April 15th I had class with Novice Jeremy, who is fated to learn more about the monastic tradition and history from me.  We will be meeting for ten classes on the development of the Benedictine tradition from Saint Benedict through the Reformation.

+On April 17th I hosted two friends from Naples, FL, who came to Saint John’s University to meet with some of our students from Immokalee, FL.  As supporters of our Immokalee Scholarship Program, they sponsor two of our freshmen, and it was a pleasure to meet with those students later in the day.

+According to several reports, during the night of April 19th —- Good Friday — the last of the ice went out from Lake Sagatagan, which spreads over 200 acres behind the monastery.  The next day it reached a balmy 73 degrees, and I went out for a five-mile walk.

+The Easter vigil was a lovely and moving experience.  It was also a bit on the lengthy side, lasting just shy of three hours.  Joining us for the vigil Mass was a large contingent of Latinos from the parish communities in nearby Rockville and Cold Spring.  Select hymns and readings were in Spanish, and Fr. Efrain repeated Abbot John’s sermon in Spanish.

+May you have a happy Easter season!

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