Sunday, March 20, 2011

Benedict's blessings

Tomorrow--March 21--we celebrate the Solemnity of the Passing of Our Holy Father St. Benedict here at Saint Meinrad. And there are plenty of things to celebrate as we honor the founder of western monasticism whose "little rule for beginners" has inspired millions of Christian disciples for over 1,500 years.

In a way, St. Benedict has two feast days during the liturgical year. Up until 1962, it was March 21 (the date of his death in 547 A.D.) in the old Roman calendar. It was moved to July 11 (the date of the transfer of his relics) to free the early part of the year up for the Lenten observance. Much of the Church observes the feast day now as a memorial on July 11, though a number of Benedictine foundations still reserve March 21 to honor the saint. Here at Saint Meinrad, we observe March 21 as a Solemnity and July 11 as simply a feast day. Many other monasteries celebrate on July 11, but doing so here would not be as feasible because it's during the summer when all the seminarians and students are away and many monks are off on summer assignments or vacation.

From a personal standpoint, I will always be partial to July 11, because that is the day my house sold in 2006, freeing me up to quit my job and come to the monastery a few months later. It was an enormously trying period for me because I still had not heard back about whether or not my application to the monastery had been officially accepted, and yet I had to get the house on the market and sell it if I was going to have any reasonable chance to be here for the beginning of candidacy in the fall. And I could not quit my job until the house sold. It was not a good time to be selling houses in the area where I lived, so I was taking an enormous leap of faith all around, and I felt very overwhelmed.

It still makes me smile as I recall that I received not one but THREE offers for the house on July 11, when my house had only been on the market for 10 days and other nearby homes in my price range had been sitting idle for months. I was amazed and very fortunate. Needless to day, it was a huge consolation and confirmation that I was on the right track, and everything quickly fell into place after that.

In any event, now that I'm here, I honor the memory of St. Benedict on March 21 along with the rest of the monastic community at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. And this year's celebration has a little extra punch to it. Visiting with us is the newly ordained Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Christopher Coyne, who will be presiding at Mass tomorrow. In addition, many of our Benedictine oblates are here for their annual retreat, and they will join the seminarians and the monastic community at Mass and for dinner afterward.

We've had some "bonus" guests as well. Six Trappist monks (who also follow the Rule, but live it out a little differently than Benedictines) from the Abbey of Gethsemani are here to celebrate with us--two juniors, two novices, and two formation directors. Our novice and juniors will spend some time together exchanging observations. (Gethsemani, obviously, is the Kentucky monastery where Thomas Merton lived in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and is within a two-hour drive from Saint Meinrad.)

In addition, yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting with Benedictine retreat leader and author Jane Tomaine (St. Benedict's Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living). She is in the area giving a series of worskshops at the Monastery of the Immaculate Conception in nearby Ferdinand where the Sisters of St. Benedict reside. It was her first visit to Saint Meinrad, although I have worked with her through my association with Abbey Press Publications (she wrote "Living Simply" for us in the Notes from a Monastery series launched in 2009; hers was one of the initial booklets in the series, and it is still one of the most popular).

And, of course, on the eve of this feast, I am also fondly recalling my brief stay last summer at Sacro Speco (Sacred Cave) in Italy, where it all began for St. Benedict and his Rule. (See June 1, 2010, post Clinging to the Rock )

So, there is much to celebrate and be thankful for. The witness of so many different people striving to live out St. Benedict's vision within their own particular vocation is truly an inspiration. May St. Benedict continue to blesss and guide us as we all seek to prefer nothing to Christ.

God our Father,
you made St. Benedict an outstanding guide
to teach us how to live in your service.
Grant that by preferring your love
to everything else, we may walk
in the way of your commandments.

Stir up, O Lord, in your Church, the spirit
with which St. Benedict was animated,
that filled with the same spirit,
we may learn to love
what he loved
and practice
what he taught.

Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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