Sunday, July 18, 2010

Footsteps

The last couple of weeks I have not traveled so much, and have settled into the prayerful rhythm of each day at Einsiedeln. It is a special place in so many ways, and it is a joy to live and pray with the monks here. Br. Suso, who is the beekeeper, even called me a "confrere and friend" the other day. (After that, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he has one less bee to keep because one sacrificed its life by sinking its stinger into my left earlobe in the garden one evening).

It has been nice to simply and slowly become more familiar with the place, the people, and the way of life here—whether chanting a Psalm in German, sharing a meal, or enjoying a good laugh. God, after all, is to be sought in the ordinary.

I have even helped out a little (and I do mean little), serving at Mass or Vespers and cleaning the silverware after meals (something the juniors do here). One morning I helped Br. Thomas pull weeds and plant some flowers in the courtyard.

Seeing me in the sacristy one day while Fr. Cyrill was showing me around, Abbot Martin came in and smiled when he saw me. “Are you staying?” he asked.

Of course, my home is Saint Meinrad Archabbey in the United States, but there is no doubt that I have been made to feel at home here at our mother abbey in Switzerland. It may take me a while to put it all together well enough to explain it, but this experience is also making me feel more at home with Saint Meinrad. There is so much history and tradition here, of which Saint Meinrad is a big part. Reading and hearing about it is one thing. Seeing and experiencing it is quite another. And the monks here may be from a different culture and speak a different language, but they aren’t really all that different from the monks of Saint Meinrad. I look forward to integrating all this more fully into my daily life of prayer and work at Saint Meinrad when I get back. (Can you tell I’m a bit homesick?)

Being here July 11 for the solemn profession of Br. Mauritius meant a great deal to me, and he in turn will be present at mine (God willing) in January, since he is returning to the U.S. with me to study at Saint Meinrad. His family and many guests were here, and I was surprised and humbled to be treated as a guest of honor of sorts during the day’s festivities. It was a very good day, and the smile on Br. Mauritius’ face said it all.

The next day, he invited several of his remaining guests and me to visit his family home in Wollerau on Lake Zurich (you would not believe the view). His mother filled us with goodies, and Br. Mauritius also showed us his parish church. Since there were several priests in our company (one Swiss, two Italian, and together forming quite a comedic trio), his father took us all to his new office to have it blessed. Along the way, we passed by a vineyard owned and operated by Einsiedeln for the production of its wine (one of the other works of the abbey).

Later in the week, Br. Mauritius, a couple of vocation guests, and I visited Kloster Seedorf, a community of Benedictine women about 90 minutes south of Einsiedeln by car. Living there now as a chaplain for the community is Einsielden’s Abbot Georg. He was Abbot Martin’s predecessor, having served as Einsiedeln’s leader from 1969 to 2001. The four of us had a lovely dinner while Abbot George dipped into his considerable bank of stories.

That same day, the four of us traveled a bit further west to Kloster Maria-Rickenbach, another community of Benedictine women located high on a mountainside (we took the cable car up). We visited with some of the sisters, who were hard at work. One of the things they do is grow and harvest various herbs for producing special teas.

Unfortunately, I forgot to bring along my camera to any of these places, so I have no photos to share. However, I did remember to bring it along with me on a solo hike I made to Mount Etzel north of Einsiedeln along the south shore of Lake Zurich. Etzel is not a big mountain (a little over 1,000 meters), but is an important one in the history of Einsiedeln and Saint Meinrad. At the foot of Mount Etzel is the site where a young monk from the island monastery of Reichenau chose to live as a hermit for about seven years. A chapel marks the site, although it is currently inaccessible due to an extensive renovation project.

In the year 835 this monk withdrew still further into the wilderness to establish another hermitage. Einsiedeln is built over the site where he lived for another 26 years until he was martyred. The monk was Saint Meinrad.

Packing a lunch and taking my time to stop and enjoy the view whenever the notion grabbed me, I made a day trip out my little pilgrimage to Mount Etzel. I hiked east to Birchli, and then north along the shore of Lake Sihl, through some meadows, across the covered bridge at T├╝felsbrugg, and then over the rolling hills leading to Etzel. The climb to the top was rewarded with spectacular views.

The first photo below was taken from the top of Mount Etzel looking south toward Lake Sihl and the direction from which I came. The next shot is the view on the other side of the mountain, looking north over Lake Zurich and the villages along its shores. Einsideln owns one of the two islands shown--Ufenau to the left. The last photo was taken on my descent, about halfway down Mount Etzel, once again looking south toward Lake Sihl. Einsiedeln (barely visible) is in the distance to the far right—about a two-hour hike away.

As you can see, even the valley is not exactly flat (for some reason, before coming here I thought all valleys were flat). Then again, Saint Meinrad did not have paths cleared ahead of him like I do here and now. It’s nice to know that I am trudging along with many other monks in some pretty sure footsteps—steps that eventually crossed a century and an ocean to the (smaller) hills of southern Indiana.




Tomorrow, I leave with a few monks to spend most of the week on a holiday of sorts in northern Switzerland near the border with Germany (and very close to the island of Reichenau, which we may visit). I am accompanying them on their annual community period of recreation. One segment of the community goes somewhere for one week, and another segment goes somewhere else the next. I am looking forward to it, and promise to take my camera. When I get back I will also have to share my experience during another day trip I recently made to St. Gall and the wonderful library at the former monastery there. Peace.

2 comments:

Tulle said...

Dear Brother Francis.

It has been an absolute pleasure to follow in your footsteps during your stay at Einsiedeln. I have learned a lot and seen very beautiful pictures, and I was there in spirit when Brother Mauritius made solemn profession.
You have done a really great job by writing this blog and yes... I can tell that you are homesick... which is actually a good sign.
It shows that you have made the most of your opportunities at this particular place, but also that you are now (almost)ready to go back to do your best for your home-community, to live up to the vow of stability.

Please let us know the date of your return... it can't be long now.

Peace and all the best to you.

Karen Elise.

Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B., said...

Thank you very much.

I return Aug. 9.

PAX
Br. Francis