Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guiding Light

Saint Meinrad monastery, church, and town, 1862.
Southwest view, drawn by Frater Benedict Brunet, O.S.B.
Illustration from Abbey of Einsiedeln Archives.

Traveling to Saint Meinrad Archabbey for the very first time in August 2005, I turned off Interstate 64 West at Exit 72, turned left onto State Highway 145, and then made a quick right onto State Highway 62. I was eager to see the place, recommended to me by a spiritual director as a good one to make a retreat for a few days.

At that point, I had been in the process of discerning a possible religious vocation for a couple years, and I had reached the stage where I really needed to actively engage the process if it was going to happen. I was nearing 40, and every attempt I had made to turn away from, ignore, or compromise the mysterious pull within me—God’s guiding hand, as it turns out—had brought me right back around to where I had started.

I needed to come and see what this was all about, although at that time I had no particular interest in Saint Meinrad. I knew nothing about it. I didn’t know what a monastery was. I only knew that God was calling me to something special, and I was coming here to pray and reflect on what that might be. It hadn’t even entered my mind that Saint Meinrad itself might be the call.

Highway 62 between I-64 and Saint Meinrad is eight miles of lightly-traveled road winding through sparsely populated pastures, woodland, and hills. As soon as my truck turned onto Highway 62, time immediately seemed to slow down—like I had entered another world altogether. I rolled down the window, breathed in the fresh air, and listened to nothing but sweet silence. Deep within, something stirred. It seemed like a voice, though no one had said anything. I was alone on that road. The voice said: “Welcome home.”

I had absolutely no idea what any of this meant, or what would happen next. Mile after mile unfolded, and a profound sense of peace enveloped me. The highway has a number of sharp curves, and ahead of each one, I virtually leaned into the steering wheel to see what was just around the bend. And each time I finally rounded the curve, more of the same spread out in front of me. I remember thinking, “This has got to be the longest and most captivating road I have ever taken.”

Finally, there was a very sharp curve to the right. Just ahead, a majestic sight arose—two sandstone spires on a hilltop. Gold-plated crosses on each one gleamed in the late summer sun—sending out rays, it seemed, in every direction. A little thrill went through my entire being. To this day, anytime I see those spires and gleaming crosses from a distance after having been away—whether it’s been an hour or a week—the same sensation comes over me.

Then, I knew what the voice within me meant. It was my first visit, and I hadn’t even stepped inside, but I was home.

More than five years later, I am about to perpetually and solemnly profess vows of stability, obedience, and conversatio as a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. I could never have imagined when this journey began where it might lead, or even now, where it might go. It is not an easy life, but it is a good one.

Looking back, my memory of that initial eight-mile trip along Highway 62 has become a metaphor for my monastic journey. What I stated above in literal terms also applies now in a figurative sense:
I have absolutely no idea what any of this means, or what will happen next. Mile after mile unfolds, and a profound sense of peace envelops me. The road has a number of sharp curves, and ahead of each one, I lean forward to see what is just around the bend. Each time I round the curve, more of the same spreads out in front of me. I think to myself, “This has got to be the longest and most captivating road I have ever taken.”
Likewise, who could have foreseen the long and captivating journey when two Swiss monks from the Abbey of Einsiedeln first arrived here in 1854? Today, those two sandstone spires with gleaming gold crosses anchor a sprawling complex of buildings and grounds occupied by monks, students, employees and visitors who for generations have shared their experience of Saint Meinrad with the broader Church and world. But in 1854, it was just two Swiss monks and a three-room cabin.

Mile after mile, year after year, one curve after another, by the light of God's guiding hand, we all keep pressing forward to catch a glimpse of the Light and send it out in every direction.

Tomorrow I begin my retreat in preparation for solemn profession next Tuesday, the 25th. In the last several weeks, I have spent a considerable amount of time moving into my new cell (solemnly professed monks live on the upper levels of the monastery; juniors and novices on the lower level), divesting myself of any remaining assets, and making arrangements for family members, relatives, and friends who will come to celebrate with me next week.

Now, it is time to be alone with God before giving myself completely and always to him and this community in the monastic way of life. I will not be posting during this next week, but hope to review things here at least partially after the fact.

A lot will be occurring around here these next few days. On Thursday evening at Vespers, Novice Michael will make his first profession, and on Friday we will celebrate the Solemnity of Saint Meinrad, our patron. Monday is the feast day of my patron saint, Francis de Sales. I will make my solemn profession during Mass on Tuesday, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

Please pray for me, and for Saint Meinrad Achabbey, its monks, students, alumni, employees, guests, and benefactors. Our Lady of Einsiedeln, pray for us.


Tulle said...

Beautiful post Brother Francis... very moving.

By following your blog, I feel that I have in a small way taken part in your journey in Faith. By praying for you, your community and all who have followed you up to this day soon to come, I can be there in spirit and add my blessings, as you give yourself perpetually to God.
It has been a privilege to have been allowed into your life and world, and from my heart I wish you all the best.

Many warm thoughts and prayers will be sent to you from a small country far away.


Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC said...

Dear Brother Francis,

May God continue to bless your journey richly. You and your community are in my prayers as you journey onward into God.

As you shall soon recite to our Lord, Uphold (us) according to your promise, that (we) may live, and let (us) not be put to shame in (our) hope.
Psalm 119:116

Peace and Brotherly Love,
Br. Bernard Delcourt, OHC