Posts Tagged ‘Saint Olaf College’


The Lord Comes in Disguise

”Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up;  while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.”  (John 5:7)

I can’t imagine what it must be like to sit and wait for help for 38 years.  So there’s a part of me that pities the crippled man sitting beside the pool of Bethesda.  But then there’s also part of me that wants to suggest to him that after 38 years it may be time to try a new strategy.

Because the man had been ill for 38 years, we might assume that this story is not about us.  We’ve all had our illnesses, but most of us haven’t had anything like that.  But what if the story really is about us?

B2F32306-18BF-4DEE-9B36-0397DA8BB251Metaphorically we can all waste big chunks of our lives.  Metaphorically we can all sit around and wait for the dramatic intervention that will change the course of our lives.  And when that doesn’t seem to happen, we just sit and wait some more.  And all the while Jesus walks by, day by day, quietly inviting us to get up from our mats and do something.

If we don’t see or hear the Lord’s invitation, is it because we’ve become blind or deaf on top of everything else?  Or is it because we expect the Lord to barge into our lives with a trumpet blast or a gold-embossed invitation?  I would offer that it’s pointless to wait for those, simply because the Lord generally doesn’t do business that way.

The fact of the matter is, Jesus tends not to make dramatic guest appearances.  Rather, as he said on more than one occasion, he will be coming in the form of the least of our brothers and sisters.  So the next time we look up from our mats to see who’s walking by, it may very well be the Lord — in disguise.


+On April 2nd I presided at the abbey Eucharist.  Today’s post is a variation of the homily that I delivered that day.

+Currently I am in the course of staying away from the airport for an entire month.  Months ago I knew that February and March would be hectic, and so I marked off the month of April to stay home and get other things done.  Among those “other things” has been a thorough cleaning of my office, which I try to do at least once a year.  This spring my goal is to clear everything off of the floor, except for the furniture.  In the course of that I’ve found some neat stuff, and also a bunch of stuff that has made its way to the dumpster.  This exercise is a good parallel for what we might consider doing with our lives during Lent.  With several days left in the season, there’s still time to do something.

This also turned out to be a fortuitous time to stay home because my car got recalled for the repair of the air bags.  Since I never use them I hadn’t realized that they were not well.  Anyway, for seven days my car has been in the car hospital, but the prognosis is good.  I’ve not visited it, but the mechanic says it will need neither intensive care nor hospice.

+On April 6th sixty students and faculty from Saint Olaf College visited the abbey and while here joined in our Saturday Eucharist.  It was nice to add their voices to ours when it came to singing.

+It should not come as a surprise that nearly-contemporary artists should render sacred themes with different emphases.  In today’s post I’ve included four paintings from the National Gallery in Washington, DC.  At top is The Crucifixion with the Virgin, Saint John, Saint Jerome and Saint Mary Magdalene, (1480), by the Umbrian artist Pietro Perugino.  Second is a crucifixion by the German Mattias Grünewald (ca. 1475).  Below that is one by the Venetian artist Paulo Veneziano (ca. 1340); and at bottom is a work by Francesca del Cossa (Ferrara, ca. 1473.)


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imageThe Power of Prayer and Hospitality

There can’t be many relationships like the one Saint John’s Abbey has with the Episcopal Church of Minnesota.  Twenty-five years ago the Abbey leased five acres at the far northwest corner of our property, and on it the diocese built a retreat house for Episcopalians and others seeking a quiet respite in the shadow of a Benedictine monastery.  For their part, the people who come to the House of Prayer can take advantage of the activities on our campus, and periodically many join us for morning prayer and vespers.  For our part, we monks gain a sacred enclave at the edge of our land, and we also bank the princely sum of $1 a year in rent.

imageOf course this relationship didn’t start with the construction of the House of Prayer, because its roots extend back into the 19th century.  Back then, when monks served at several mission churches in northern Minnesota, often their nearest neighbors were the Episcopal parishes that were scarcely any bigger.  I’m guessing that things went reasonably well, since in our popular lore there are no tales of animosity.  So well did things go that, by the time of the building of the House of Prayer, the Episcopal bishop periodically stayed with us when he made his parish visitations in the north.

Our connection with the Episcopal Church is not the only one among Christian communities in Minnesota that’s been cordial.  Our ties with many Lutheran churches and colleges have been equally warm.  For nearly thirty years student groups from Saint Olaf College have visited at Saint John’s, and I fondly recall the two courses I taught at Luther Seminary in St. Paul several  years ago.  Yet another sign of amity has been the joint meetings of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran bishops that we’ve hosted annually.

imageFor those who might think that these sorts of connections are a little odd for a Catholic monastery, it’s important to recall that monasteries have for centuries been points of convergence for different cultures and faith traditions.  St. Benedict himself once hosted an Arian Christian warlord, though Benedict’s ulterior motive was to persuade the guy not to burn down the monastery.  Centuries later Charlemagne founded monasteries on the borders of his expanding empire, in hopes that these would knit together the local peoples and cultures.  And that tradition continued even as Christian culture came to shape European society.  It was in that spirit that Dom Jean Mabillon — my favorite monk — gathered the literati of 17th-century Paris on Sunday afternoons at the Abbey of Saint Germain des Pres.  Together they discussed history, theology, and manuscripts; and in time his work gave rise to diplomatics — the discipline of reading Latin paleography.

imageThere is no denying that ecumenical outreach today does not enjoy the intensity that it had thirty years ago.  On the plus side, however, that work yielded the warmer relations between the churches that we take for granted today.  This certainly is the welcome byproduct of those post-World War II efforts.

Meanwhile, at Saint John’s such interaction continues, though it has more of the character of a family gathering. Today both Catholic and Protestant clergy come for retreats, just as they do at other monasteries across the country.  And others come with seasonal predictability, as was the case this weekend with a group of faculty and thirty-eight students from Gustavus Adolphus College.  They’ve come to the guest house for several years now, and it’s a delight to meet them and to visit with one faculty member who has been a friend of mine for ages.

But Sunday truly was a special occasion, and Abbot John and several of us monks trooped down the hill to the Episcopal House of Prayer.  There we joined Episcopal Bishop Brian Prior and director Fr. Ward Bauman, and we celebrated the work of the Episcopal House of Prayer as well as twenty-five years of neighborliness.  Happily, through those years the Episcopalians have never fallen behind on the rent, and as guests they have generally kept to the pace of our recitation in choir.  In turn, they’ve been a continuing inspiration to us — particularly on cold winter mornings.

Such prayer together may seem mundane and pointless, but really it’s not at all.  In a world sundered by hostility and division, gathering together for prayer is a reminder that conflict need not be inevitable.  Perhaps that’s why Benedict urged his monks to pray and to be hospitable.  He apparently knew the power of each, from personal experience.


+During the first part of last week I visited my mother, who lives in Edmund, OK.  The occasion was her 91st birthday, and a good time was had by all.

+On October 1-2 I attended the meetings of the Board of Trustees of Saint John’s University.

+On October 3 I presided at the Abbey Mass, and  you can access the sermon, Living in the Name of the Lord, through this link.

+Also on October 3 I had the chance to visit with long-time friend Professor Florence Amamoto of Gustavus Adolphus College. She and a few other faculty members came to Saint John’s on an overnight retreat with a group of students.

+On Sunday October 4 I attended the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Episcopal House of Prayer.  Fr. Ward Bauman, the director, acted as general host, and Episcopal Bishop Brian Prior and Abbot John blessed the newly-restored prairie adjacent to the House of Prayer.  The pictures in today’s post all illustrate the House of Prayer, including the gorgeous ceiling of the oratory.


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imageOff to Lourdes

The forecast for Lourdes last Saturday was decidedly not the best.  The Weather Channel predicted thunderstorms, floods and avalanches, which is a combination I’ve not experienced before.  In Lourdes I’ve stood with other pilgrims in torrential rains.  I’ve seen high waters in the river and viewed the damage after floods have swept through the precincts of the shrine.  But avalanches would be a new one to me.

With that kind of a welcome, you have to wonder why somebody would go on pilgrimage to such an inhospitable place.  What draws people who will put up with weather that can include rains and snow and heat and cold?

Perhaps the more fundamental question has to do with why people go on pilgrimage at all, to any destination.  Wouldn’t it be a whole lot easier to stay home and relax and watch the entire proceedings on the internet?  Well, to answer the question adequately, you really have to be there.

I’ve been to Lourdes eight times, and this week I’m there again.  It’s never a place I’d go to alone, and in fact each time I’ve come with a large troop of members of the Order of Malta from the west coast.  Together with volunteers and some forty-five sick pilgrims, we number around 325.  But in Lourdes we will meet up with other groups of the Order, from the east coast, Europe, and elsewhere.  Eventually our numbers might swell to 4,000.  Together, for a week, we will pray, enjoy each other’s company, and very often experience a spiritual transformation.

imageOn the eve of my first visit to Lourdes I was a bit apprehensive about the whole thing.  Benedictines are not predisposed to bouts of religious enthusiasm, and frankly I feared that it all might be too much.  But I quickly put aside that anxiety, because one realizes that at Lourdes you confront the fragility of life and the ultimate meaning of life.  Only a few people go to Lourdes for physical healing; but most go for spiritual healing.  And that healing is not likely to take exterior expression, because it happens deep within one’s soul.

Yet another surprise that awaited me that first time was the extent of spiritual healing that takes place.  Many who for years have suffered serious illness come seeking peace.  They are there to come to terms with what life has dished out to them.  But to the surprise of many, the vast majority of people who have experienced miracles came not expecting to see any miracles at all — and least of all miracles that happened to them.  After all, they arrived in good health, and they only allowed for the possibility that the healing of others might touch them.  But God’s healing power eventually sucks them in as well.  In short, they arrived thinking they were well, only to discover their common humanity with the physically sick.  And along with those who arrived sick, they find some measure of healing.  Those are the real miracles of Lourdes.

imageIt’s a stretch to duplicate that experience while watching on the internet.  And yet that does not exhaust the benefits of an international shrine like Lourdes.  At Lourdes Pentecost happens.  At the first Pentecost the Holy Spirit overwhelmed the apostles, so that when they spoke, all heard in their own language and understood.  At Lourdes God speaks in all languages, because Christians have gathered from the ends of the earth.  The languages divide them, but faith unites them.  It’s then, perhaps for the first time, that many realize how varied are the people in God’s Church.  The Church is bigger and more varied than any one town or region, but all are one in their common quest for God.

People go to Lourdes to experience the healing power of God, and in the course of a few days they discover that God generally works in mysterious ways.  They discover God working through Mary, the mother of Jesus.  They discover that God works through their fellow pilgrims, no matter their language or country of origin.  And last but not least, and in what may be the biggest surprise of all, individual pilgrims discover that God works through them.

The tourist brochures point out that Lourdes is in the south of France.  That’s enough to lure most anyone.  And the chestnut trees in bloom and the moments of glorious sunshine will make anyone forget about the threat of storms and floods and avalanches.  But these are not the reasons why people go to Lourdes.  At Lourdes God touches people, and that’s the big take-home from the experience.  And it’s only then that they begin to realize that this is the one mystery that can be duplicated in the comfort of one’s home.


+On April 24th I attended Saint John’s Day, an annual celebration to express our gratitude to the supporters of Saint John’s University.  This year the University honored alumnus Fr. Don Talafous (’48) with the Presidential Medal and Citation, for his decades of service.  For many years he taught theology and served as University chaplain, and currently serves as University Alumni Chaplain.

+Saturday April 25th was a very busy day in the Abbey, and particularly so in the church.  In the morning, at the community Eucharist, celebrant Fr. Brad Jenniges received into full communion in the Catholic Church oblate candidate Emily Stamps.  In the afternoon Fr. Anthony presided at a wedding, and in the evening there was a concert by the boys choir.  In between times we rushed in to say evening prayer, and somehow it all fit in.

+Also on Saturday we hosted the annual visit of students from Saint Olaf College.  This year 100+ students came, and Brother David-Paul spoke to them about the monastic life and the architecture of the abbey church.  He is particularly suited for this role, since he is an alumnus of Saint Olaf.  These visits have gone on for over twenty years, and it is always a pleasure to host them.


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