Posts Tagged ‘Saint Cloud’

imageSaint Cloud and the Joys of History

On September 7th we celebrated the feast of St. Cloud, both in the universal Church and in the diocese of St. Cloud, where Saint John’s Abbey is located.  These days there aren’t many 6th-century saints who can stir up widespread enthusiasm, and St. Cloud certainly is not among the select few who can.  In fact, in most parts of the country his feast day goes largely unnoticed.  But not so in the diocese of St. Cloud, MN.  Here his feast is still a big deal — sort of.

If the truth be told, St. Cloud has had to struggle for every bit of respect he could get in our area.  For one thing, it did not help that he is the patron of nail-makers and the patron against carbuncles.  But there were other reasons why he’s had a tough time endearing himself to the locals, and a little history is in order to appreciate that.  First of all, St. Cloud was a 6th-century priest who lived and preached outside of Paris.  Paris wasn’t much back then, but today an entire suburb of the city bears his name.  Given that our county of Stearns was 99% Catholic in the 19th century, you’d expect the local settlers would welcome their new patron with great fanfare.  From his perch in St. Cloud, St. Cloud would preside over the see city, situated on the banks overlooking the Mississippi River.  Who could possibly object to naming a town after such a holy man?  And who could possibly take issue with naming the main street Saint Germain, after the famous boulevard on the left bank in Paris?

imageThe founders of St. Cloud should have used a focus group to test their ideas.  Had they done so, they would have learned early on that French saints just weren’t going to cut it in Stearns County.  The population of the county certianly was 99% Catholic, but 95% of the people were German.  Virtually no one in the county spoke a word of French, and the reaction of a typical German farmer had to be something along the lines of “gross” — meaning “great,” or, alternatively, “gross.”

I’m sure there was a reason why the city founders named the place St. Cloud, but if their goal was to attract mobs of French settlers to a left bank on the Mississippi, it didn’t work.  The French weren’t fooled by the false advertising, and they stayed away in droves.  St. Cloud never did become a French enclave, while the other (i.e.: German) immigrants flooded into towns with more familiar German saints’ names.  So it is that within a few miles of Saint John’s there are the towns of Saint Anna, Saint Stephen, Saint Wendel, Saint Nicholas, Saint Augusta, Saint Joseph and Saint Martin.  But just to make things crystal clear to prospective settlers, there was also New Munich.

At Saint John’s of course we have always been open-minded about Saint Cloud, and in the abbey church there is a side altar in the crypt dedicated to the French saint, complete with statue.  On his feast day we haul him upstairs, and on that one day each year he presides solemnly in the sanctuary.  For twenty-four hours he stands there, presenting in his arms a carving of the cathedral in St. Cloud, as if to remind us that this is the mother-church of the diocese.

imageOf course it is the mother-church, but there’s more to the story than that, as new monks at Saint John’s eventually learn.  The cathedral actually is named in honor of Saint Mary, and it was never built to be the cathedral.  For decades the monks of Saint John’s staffed the parish, and it was they who presided over the building of the stately romanesque structure.  In the  meantime the real cathedral was a bit of an also-ran, and when fire destroyed it one day, the bishop had an idea.  So it was that a few months later the abbot woke to the news that the bishop had prevailed on friends in Rome to name Saint Mary’s the cathedral of the diocese.  At minimal cost the bishop had a superb cathedral, and the monks had to pack up and clear out.  So the statue in our sanctuary is a reminder of that little act of larceny.

That event is long past now, and though the monks resented the bishop for a while, we got over it ages ago.  Ironically, in the last fifty years the abbey has relinquished to various dioceses some thirty churches that we once staffed.  Long before the changing vocational climate decided the issue, the abbey planned to concentrate its monks at home.  Still, there was a bit of silent satisfaction in returning some churches to the local bishop — more churches than he had really ever wanted.

So last week at least I celebrated the feast of St. Cloud with a mixture of veneration for the saint and a little mirth at the twists and turns that local history has taken.  That’s the value of knowing the history of the Church, and that’s the importance of not taking things too personally.  And in hindsight, had we  known how things were going to turn out, we might have given the bishop all the churches he wanted, when he really only wanted one.


+Besides celebrating the feast of St. Cloud on September 7th, we monks also celebrated Labor Day.  Weather-wise it was the beginning of a perfect week, and that day we had a picnic lunch in the monastery garden.

+On September 11th I participated in the longest traffic jam I’ve ever experienced in the Twin Cities.  Maple Grove is the choke point for all traffic from our area into the Cities, and we calculate our trips through that zone according to the rush hours.  This time it was awful, however.  And a stretch that normally takes about twelve minutes took two hours.  On the plus side, everyone was well-behaved and polite.

image+On September 12th I attended the home football game between Saint John’s and Buena Vista University.  Again, it was a gorgeous day, and Saint John’s won handily.

+On September 13th I presided at the Mass in the abbey church, and  you can access my sermon for the day, Putting Character First, through this link.  It was Family Weekend at Saint John’s University, and so the congregation in the church was much larger than usual.  Following the Mass I drove to St. Cloud, where I blessed the new home of some friends.

+The first photo in today’s post is the statue of St. Cloud, holding the model of the cathedral of Saint Mary in St. Cloud.  The statue is housed in the abbey church.  The other photos illustrate the abbey of Saint Germain des Pres, on the Boulevard Saint-Germain in Paris.  This is not to be confused with anything on Saint Germain Street in St. Cloud, MN.

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imageWhat Is Your Order?

I try to avoid fast-food as much as I can.  Still, when you’re driving around an unfamiliar town, and there’s little time for lunch, the standard places beckon.  That’s how I discovered the jalapeño burger at McDonald’s this summer.  It’s great, and it will remain my hands-down favorite until science produces something even more alluring.

So it was that my car homed in on McDonald’s recently, and I placed my simple order: one jalapeño burger, and nothing else.  As expected, the service at the first window was friendly, and at the second window I grabbed the bag and went to park and eat in peace.  Then I opened the bag, unwrapped the package, and there they were: apples.

imageUndaunted, I drove back to the drive-thru lane, waited five minutes, and then explained to the skeptical attendant that I was not fibbing.  I really did not want apples for lunch.  He finally waved me on to the second window, and there another guy apologized and said it would never happen again.  He cheerfully handed over a new bag, and off I drove to give lunch another try.

With all that reassurance, you can imagine my surprise when I opened the bag and found two double-cheeseburgers, and more apples.  I gave up, and ate the hand that I’d been dealt.

So much of life is predicated on getting exactly what we order.  We select from a menu and expect to eat precisely what we want.  Conversely, we’d never buy a pair of shoes in another size simply because they were out of our own size.  And the list goes on.  But the important point is this: most of us are lucky to live in a society in which we can imagine and then get almost anything, as long as we can pay for it.  It’s all so predictable and efficient, and that allows us to concentrate on other things.

imageWould that we could do the same with people and with God.  How nice it would be if we could simply glance their way, bark out a few orders, and then expect to see it all done in a flash.  Sadly, most people, and sometimes even God, are not nearly so reliable as fast-food outlets.  With people, and with God too, we may or may not get what we have in mind.  And even worse, we sometimes get exactly what we deserve.

In the Rule of Saint Benedict there’s a curious passage about monks at the dinner table.  Benedict writes that if the abbot offers something to a monk, and the monk turns it down, then the monk should not ask for it later, just because he’s had time to reconsider.  Nor should the abbot offer it a second time.

imageIt occurs to me that this passage is about a lot more than the simple sharing of food.  At the very least, Benedict encourages his monks to be honest in their speech.  If they want or don’t want something, they should say so.  But the table is no place for mind games.  Nor is it the place for false displays of humility.  If you want to accept the abbot’s kind gesture, accept it.  If not, then graciously decline.  But don’t revisit the issue later on.  Life is too short to fill it up with regret or argument.

But Benedict’s comment yields even greater wisdom if we think of it in terms of the surprises that come our way in life.  As has often been noted, life for most of us is not always a bowl of cherries.  Challenges come our way.  Major and minor hurts come our way.  Tragedy comes our way.  And all these things happen because we’re dealing with people, rather than with the fast-food window at McDonald’s.  But it’s these very threats to our serenity and equilibrium that lead to growth.  They push us out of our comfort zone and cause us to reconsider the course of our lives.  With luck we’ll get into the habit of regular self-reflection, when the surprises happen.  Or not.

imageElsewhere in his Rule Saint Benedict writes that monks should see Christ in the abbot, and in virtually everyone whom we might meet.  In this metaphorical world, could that have been the abbot in the service window at McDonald’s?  Could it have been his hand reaching out to give me that bag?  And might it have been the voice of God calmly saying:  “Here.  Try this.  You’ve been eating way too many jalapeño burgers anyway.”  What a wonderful irony for God to tempt me with some apples.

That day I’d been given two bags already.  Who knows what a third bag might have contained?  But on the second time around I took my cue from the Rule of Saint Benedict, and I ate the dish that the hand of God — or the attendant — had offered to me.  It wasn’t at all what I had ordered or expected.  But it turned out to be not so bad after all.


+On September 2nd I returned from a six-day residence at Saint Michael’s Church in Duluth.  What a difference those days had made, since now at Saint John’s there are touches of color on the trees and fall is definitely in the air.  I managed to take two walks in the woods, which I enjoyed thoroughly.

+On September 6th I flew to Los Angeles, and will celebrate Mass and give a presentation to the area members of the Order of Malta on Monday, the feast of Our Lady of Philermo.

+On September 7th we celebrated the feast of Saint Cloud, the patron of our Diocese of Saint Cloud.  This has always seemed to be an odd choice of patron in a diocese in which 95% of the people who settled it came from Germany.  Cloud was an early bishop of Paris, while the main street in Saint Cloud, MN, is named for the Boulevard Saint Germain in Paris.  “Go figure,” as we and our neighbors would say.

imageI celebrated the feast of Saint Cloud by breaking a tooth.  Some time ago the dentist had told me to expect this, since that tooth contained the last of my childhood fillings.  It was a little inconvenient to have done this in Los Angeles, but thankfully there are dentists there too.  It would have been nicer to have this happen just a little closer to home.

+I’ve never been fond of the idea that parish churches have to seat 1,500 and more to be useful.  My own tastes run to those that comfortably seat 300 or less, such as the pictures in today’s post illustrate.  Depicted here is the Church of Saint John the Baptist in the town of Burford Priory, in the Cotswolds in England.  Despite the destruction of the English civil war, this Anglican church managed to preserve much of its medieval decoration.  No doubt the locals risked their lives to do it; and for that I am grateful.

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