Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dog day afternoon

My friend Cinnamon, who took me for a walk Sunday afternoon.
Her real human, Sr. Diane, lives at the bottom of the Hill.
Dogs are our link to paradise.
They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent.
To sit with a dog on a hillside
on a glorious afternoon
is to be back in Eden,
where doing nothing was not boring
-- it was peace.

Milan Kundera

Friday, May 27, 2011


Sunday, May 29, 2011
Sixth Sunday of Easter —A

Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
1Peter 3:15-18
John 14:15-21

Today we receive a foretaste of Pentecost—the birth of the Church—with a reminder of how the Holy Spirit works in the Body of Christ. The message is this: We are never alone. “I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus promises. In baptism, we are sanctified—claimed—as God’s children. Through the sacrament of confirmation, which today’s first reading describes, we are fortified by the Holy Spirit to live more fully in faith, hope, and love.

The Spirit is not a concept, but a Person—the third Person of the One and Triune God who animates and enlightens God’s Temple, the Church as the Body of Christ, and our individual souls. Jesus calls the Spirit the “Advocate” who will be with us always. The Greek term for this word supplies us with a traditional definition—a supporter or defender, like a defense attorney. It also means an intercessor, a mediator, spokesperson, and a comforter or consoler.

However, there is a deeper meaning—that of a teacher or witness. The Spirit of Truth instructs and provides evidence through personal presence. This means that Jesus is more fully present to us than he ever was to his disciples in his own time and place. Then, he was only present to them. Now, he is present to all, throughout time and eternity.

In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, we are made friends of God. We are all connected--the ultimate social network.

Because of this, we have the Advocate—in prayer, in the Eucharist, in the sacraments, in Scripture, in the ministers of the Church and its living Tradition, in one another, and in our hearts. The Spirit—coequal and coeternal with Father and Son—is the reason for our hope.

Brought to life in the Spirit through the death and resurrection of Christ, we have faith in yesterday, hope in tomorrow, and love for today. We become one with the Holy Trinity, now and forever. Amen.

Advancing ...

The retreat was wonderful, and drew to a close this morning with a special Mass that included the renewal of vows. It was a good week.

After Mass, Br. Luke said his farewells. He is off to Switzerland, and Einsiedeln! It's likely he has no idea how fortunate he is, but he will soon enough! May God go with him.

Our closing reflection for the retreat was Chapter 72 of The Rule, on "The Good Zeal of Monks," which is a good summary and theme for St. Benedict's entire work:
Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness
which separates from God and leads to hell,
so there is a good zeal which separates from evil
and leads to God and everlasting life.

This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster
with fervent love: They should each be the first

to show respect to the other (Romans 12:10),
supporting with the greatest patience
one another's weaknesses of body or behavior,
and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.

No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself,
but instead, what he judges better for someone else.
To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers;
to God, loving fear;
to their abbot, unfeigned and humble love.

Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ,
and may he bring us all together
to everlasting life.

(+Timothy Fry, O.S.B., trans., Liturgical Press, 1981)

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Tomorrow morning we begin our annual community retreat here in the monastery. It is a time for us to slow down a bit, renew, and recharge ourselves spiritually during a week of prayer, recollection and fellowship.

Fr. Patrick Caveglia of Conception Abbey in Missouri will be leading the retreat, giving two conferences each day. For table reading during the retreat, we will be listening to Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.

One of the nice things about the retreat will be the return of many of our expositi -- monks of Saint Meinrad who are assigned to live, work, or study elsewhere most of the year. The retreat ends on Friday with a special Mass and the renewal of vows by solemnly professed monks.

During the retreat, my exposure to the Internet will be minimal, so I will not be posting anything here until Friday, when I will put up the weekly commentary on the following Sunday's Mass readings.

Please keep us all in prayer!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The forgotten prophetic dimension

NOTE: Following is the text of Abbot Martin Werlen's convocation speech on Saturday, May 14, for the Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology graduation ceremony. He is the abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln in Switzerland--the motherhouse of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. As you can see, he offers some challenging words for us all. --Br. Francis

Dear Abbot Justin, dear President-Rector, members of the Faculty and of the administration, graduates, confreres, students and guests:

Last year, in the context of our community retreat, we read the Gaudium et Spes. I was really amazed about the prophetic dimension of this last document of the Second Vatican Council, not prepared by the Curia, but really a document of the Council itself.

Where is this prophetic dimension of the Church today? I dare to say: It is forgotten!

Surely, there are some really prophetic documents since the Council, for example the encyclical letter Populorum Progressio by Pope Paul VI. Or the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte by Blessed Pope John Paul II. But we have somehow forgotten what the last council says in Lumen Gentium No. 35:
“Christ, the great Prophet, who proclaimed the Kingdom of His Father both by the testimony of His life and the power of His words, continually fulfills His prophetic office until the complete manifestations of glory. He does this not only through the hierarchy who teach in His name and with His authority, but also through the laity whom He made His witnesses and to whom He gave understanding of the faith (sensus fidei) and an attractiveness in speech.”
Why did we forget the prophetic dimension? There are many reasons. I want to point out only a few of them. Maybe not even the ones we normally think about.

The Western Church is – in its way through all the centuries – again and again in the danger of over-institutionalization. Let me mention just one example. Ordination does not make a priest a real spiritual father. To be a spiritual father is a charismatic dimension. This charismatic dimension is not often considered--so much that not only celibate life of the diocesan clergy is not understood by many baptized men and women as charism, but also that of religious, but instead merely as a matter of law.

The proclamation of the Gospel is a prophetic task. A prophet – as you all know – is not a kind of fortune-teller. A prophet says the right word at the right moment. The prophet does not destroy faith – as he is sometimes perceived – but he purifies faith and actualizes it. The prophet knows to read the signs of the time in the light of the Gospel. The priest, therefore, clearly has a prophetic vocation.

It is not the Church’s vocation to defend systems or positions of power. Neither is it the Church’s vocation to build a parallel society. The Church’s vocation is to be leaven in our society: The ear at God’s heart, the hand at the pulse of time.

It is the Church’s vocation, as Blessed Pope John Paul II puts it in words, “to remember the past with gratitude, to live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence” (Novo Millennio Ineunte No.1).

Where is the enthusiasm today? Where is this confidence today? At least in Europe we really miss it. We miss it also in documents coming from Rome.

In the apostolic letter Novo Millennio Ineunte we read:
“The ‘purification of memory’ (in the year 2000) has strengthened our steps for the journey towards the future and has made us more humble and vigilant in our acceptance of the Gospel.”
Is this true? Did it become true? Where are the confidence and the awareness that the word is true: “I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20)?

The prophetic dimension in the Church is not a new program. It is not going back to earlier stages. “The program already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition.” That’s how Pope John Paul II expresses it (Novo Millennio Ineunte, No. 29). In the Gospel and in the living Tradition. To the living Tradition of the Church belongs the Second Vatican Council, also its clear demand for a liturgical reform.

With the recently beatified Pope I am convinced: “What a treasure there is …in the guidelines offered to us by the Second Vatican Council!” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, No.57).

How is it possible, that we as Church are speechless in so many challenges of our time? The Gospel is not just Good News for past times – the Gospel is Good News for our time! Also for women, also for divorced and remarried people, also for sinners – especially for sinners!

When Pope Benedict XVI in August 2005 during his vacation in Aosta was confronted by the priests of the region with the situation of so many divorced and remarried people, he admitted that the response of the Church is insufficient. But what happened since? Is it a surprise when people of our time don’t consider us anymore to be competent and trustworthy in such matters? The living tradition of the Eastern Churches knows other ways, never condemned by the Western Churches.

I am convinced: Fidelity to the Gospel and to the living Tradition opens ways into the future. Let us have a look at today’s feast day [May 14]: Saint Matthias.

Jesus called 12 young men as his friends and made them apostles. All of them had a hard time living their vocation. One didn’t dare to ask forgiveness. He committed suicide. The symbolic number 12 was no longer complete. What to do? Don’t forget: Jesus himself called the 12– these 12! The Church decided to replace Judas. Courageous. And we celebrate this very courage today. And later on – the Church dared to have more than twelve bishops, and not only from the rank of fishermen.

And let us look at the way Judas was replaced. "In these days [we read in the Acts of the Apostles] Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples and said ...” I don’t want do make a commentary. This could be too dangerous. Instead I leave the word to the living Tradition, to the great bishop and preacher Saint John Chrysostom. I dare to do this because the Church itself gives us this commentary today officially as text for meditation.

John Chrysostom says: “As the fiery spirit to whom the flock was entrusted by Christ and as the leader in the band of the apostles, Peter always took the initiative in speaking: ‘My brothers, we must choose from among our number.'” And John Chrysostom explains – quite reasonable, I think:
“He left the decision to the whole body, at once augmenting the honor of those elected and avoiding any suspicion of partiality. For such great occasions can easily lead to trouble. Did not Peter then have the right to make the choice himself? Certainly he had the right, but he did not want to give the appearance of showing special favor to anyone. … He himself did not nominate them; all present did. But it was he who brought the issue forward, pointing out that it was not his own idea but had been suggested to him by a scriptural prophecy. So he was speaking not as a teacher but as an interpreter. … They spoke with such confidence, because someone had to be appointed. They did not say ‘choose’ but ‘make known to us’ the chosen one; ‘the one you choose’, they said, fully aware that everything was preordained by God. ‘They then drew lots.’ For they did not think themselves worthy to make the choice of their own accord, and therefore they wanted some sign for their instruction.”
Surprising texts – both the Holy Scripture and the living Tradition! And the Church today gives us these texts for meditation and consideration. Amazing!

Amazing also that Canon Law does not have to justify the common practice of appointing bishops. But some dioceses in Switzerland have to justify their practice, where all Catholics – baptized and confirmed – are involved in the process of electing a new bishop. And the Pope confirms the elected.

Are the Swiss Catholics heretics? Not at all – at least in this matter. They don’t have only the Scripture and Saint John Chrysostom on their side, but also the rich Benedictine tradition.

Saint Benedict in his monastic Rule writes 1,500 years ago about the abbot “chosen by the community” (RB 64:1). And that’s the way it is since, in Einsiedeln since 934 and in Saint Meinrad since 1870 – even though with some troubles. And experience – at least in the past – says: it is not the worst way…

Furthermore, Saint Benedict is considered as the father of Western monasticism, patron of Europe and he is patron saint of the Holy Father.

By the way, Saint Benedict has a lot to say about the forgotten prophetic dimension. It is his conviction that God likes to speak through unlikely persons. That’s why it is a Benedictine way of leadership to listen especially to those from whom we expect nothing. Let me mention just two examples.

“Whenever anything important has to be done in the monastery, the Abbot must assemble the whole community and explain what is under consideration. When he has heard the council of the brethren, he should give it consideration and then take what seems to him the best course. The reason why we say that all should be called to council is this: It is often to a younger brother the Lord reveals the best course” (RB 3:1-3). And at the end oft the same chapter, Saint Benedict says: “If, however, there are less important matters to be transacted … the Abbot should take counsel only with the senior monks” (RB 3:12).

That’s really not the way we are used to – some of the newly appointed cardinals – the council of the Pope – are more than 90 years old. Maybe we do not have important matters to deal with… Or maybe that’s the reason why the prophetic dimension in the Church is a forgotten dimension.

Another example. Benedict – I speak about the father of monasticism – knows that guests may sometimes criticize. He writes: “And if indeed … he criticizes or points some things out, the Abbot should consider the matter carefully. For it may be that the Lord has sent him for this very purpose” (RB 61:4). Amazing, isn’t it? Benedict is, of course, aware that it is easier to accept if someone criticizes with humble charity and is reasonable (cf. RB 61:4).

That’s not the way we are used to dealing with critics. Maybe that’s also a reason why the prophetic dimension is a forgotten dimension.

Dear Abbot Justin, dear President-Rector, members of the Faculty and of the administration, dear graduates, confreres, students and guests, we all received the sacraments of baptism and confirmation. We all have a prophetic vocation. And we have the Scripture and the living Tradition with so many saints as good examples.

Duc in altum!” – “Let’s put out into the deep!” (Lk 5:4). That’s what we read on the back of this pectoral-cross, a gift from Pope John Paul II.: “Duc in altum!”

Thank you for listening so someone from whom you expected nothing!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Swiss Sanders

As I write this, Einsiedeln's Br. Mauritius is likely midway over the Atlantic on his way back to Switzerland. Earlier today, I drove him to the airport in Louisville, Ky., about and hour and a half east of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

He had been studying here in the School of Theology and staying with us in the monastery since last August. Of course, it was also about this time last year that I was flying to Switzerland for a summer at Einsiedeln, where I first met him.

It is strange. We are from different countries, different backgrounds and cultures, and our age difference is vast (almost 20 years). Yet, the two of us really hit it off, and we have become good friends. I will miss him, as will the rest of the monastic community here at Saint Meinrad. Although I know he will be glad to be back home, he fit in well here. We were blessed to have him with us this past year, and wish the best for him and all the monks at our motherhouse in Switzerland.

By now, you are probably wondering why in the world this post is accompanied by a photo of a Colonel Sanders statue. Well, let me tell you. Colonel Sanders, as you know, is the iconic face of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Sanders (1890-1980), was from Henryville, Indiana, and died in Louisville. He founded KFC and was known for his trademark white suit, black tie, white beard, and black cane.

What's that got to do with Br. Mauritius? At the airport in Louisville, after he checked his bag, Br. Mauritius suggested we sit down for one last meal together before he went through security and boarded his flight. "You know, I haven't eaten at a Kentucky Fried Chicken yet." Well, right there on the main concourse level of the Louisville airport is a KFC. I had not eaten at a KFC for years, but that's where we ate lunch before we bid one another farewell. Br. Mauritius' last meal on American soil was in Louisville, Kentucky, at a Kentucky Fried Chicken--five feet away from a statue of Colonel Sanders sitting on a bench.

Oddly, that seems entirely fitting.

The photo above is not mine; I found it online. But is is the same statue at the same airport. Before leaving for the airport this morning, I ignored an impulse to take along my camera. Wish I had. Would have been a perfect parting shot.

Then again, maybe it's better left to the imagination--Colonel Sanders and a Swiss monk sitting side by side on a bench. What a wonderful world.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Building blocks

Sunday, May 22, 2011
Fifth Sunday of Easter —A

Acts 6:1-7
1Peter 2:4-9
John 14:1-12

“Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” the Apostle Thomas asks Jesus in today’s Gospel. It is a prayer most of us have prayed at one time or another: “Lord, I don’t understand. What is going on, why is this happening, where is it taking me, what do you have in store for me? How can I know your will, your purpose in this? Help me to know.”

Jesus’ response is one of reassurance. In the previous chapter of John’s Gospel, he had encouraged his disciples through word and deed to love and serve one another in the face of betrayal, suffering, and persecution. He was speaking of his own impending death, but was also foretelling the trials his disciples would face—then and now. The Eternal Word of Christ resounds throughout history, and what he says is just as true for us as it was for his first disciples. “Do not let your hearts be troubled,” he says. “Have faith in me. I am the way, and the truth and the life.”

There is a point where we simply have to let go, and let God, as the popular saying goes. We are living stones, as St. Peter says, in God’s spiritual dwelling. God builds us up, and Christ is the cornerstone on which we are fastened. The trouble is that we often wish to do the building according to our own designs when God has other, better plans.

In faith, as God’s living stones, we must do what St. Peter urges: “Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house.” Not build, but be built. There is a difference.

We are the work of God, and in him we dwell.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Web gem

If you watch one baseball play all year,
this should be it (even if it's faked).
(and unless the Reds win the World Series--hey it could happen!)

Monday, May 16, 2011

Trash talk

Although Lent is long gone and we are in the midst of the Easter season, we should still be practicing spiritual discipline. After all, the purpose of Lent leading into the joy of Easter is to transform our entire way of life as we move toward the fulfillment of the coming of the eternal Kingdom of God. I was reminded of this today as I ran across the piece posted below by Luke Armstrong, director of God's Child Project in Guatemala (you can read it in its entire context here). I will let Mr. Armstrong's reflection speak for itself (it was originally addressed to high school students, but applies to us all). Following that, a few additional observations of my own:
Two years ago one of our social workers discovered six siblings living in a garbage dump outside of a village called Ciudad Vieja. This garbage dump was as close to hell on Earth as any place can be. Looming above it was an active volcano. A fine layer of ash fell like snow from its frequent eruptions.

In the garbage dump, the volcano was not the only thing that burned. Decades of garbage lay in enormous mountains. Trapped gasses ignited underground fires, which caused a thick, chemical smoke to hang heavy in the air.

Amongst the waste, carcasses of household pets decayed and emitted putrid smells while flies swarmed and swarmed and swarmed. In the torrent of this oppressive environment, there were also people. Little boys and girls climbed the mountains of burning garbage looking for food. They spent twelve hours every day scouring these mounds of waste in search of a way to stay alive.

As is our mission, we worked to get six siblings out of that environment. After putting the right pieces in place, we managed to find them a place to live and enrolled them in classes at one of our schools. Each student was given new clothes to wear and school supplies.

For two weeks, it seemed as though we had succeeded. But then, all six stopped showing up to school. We could not find them in their new homes. We went back to the garbage dump and sure enough, there they were.

It leads one to ask the question, “Why would any sane person choose a life in hell over a dignified house, and the chance for a good education?” We soon found out the answer.

In the hustle and bustle of getting these kids out of the dump and into new clothes, one of the girls slipped through the cracks and did not receive a new pair of shoes. Her name was Carmen. Carmen wore a pair of ragged shoes that she had found in the garbage dump. During her second week of school another girl noticed these shoes and made fun of her. She laughed at her for having such shabby shoes. Others joined in and made fun of her shoes.

Carmen had lived her whole life in a garbage dump. The social pressure of being made fun of for her shoes was new and completely dislodging for her. It was too much for her to take. She decided to leave school and return to the dump. At least in the dump no one made fun of her. She was the eldest sibling, and her brothers and sisters decided that if she was going to return to the garbage dump, then they were all going to return together.

This story does have a happy ending. In the end we were able to convince the children to return to school where they remain today.

I tell you this story and ask you to share it for this reason. Six people’s lives were almost destroyed because of one unkind comment. All the girl who made the comment did was make fun of another girl’s shoes. Surely all of us have done worse. I know I have. If asked why she did it, I’m sure she would say something we hear all too often: “It was just a joke.”

The girl likely could never have imagined how far the negative consequences of that “joke” could have reached. But that joke almost destroyed the life of six children. Children in garbage dumps don’t survive long. If their health does not give out by the time they reach adolescents, exploiters or human traffickers prey on them.

Though we will never fully know how far our unkind and kind acts will reach, I believe that both reach further than any of us could ever imagine. Every day we are presented with a thousand opportunities to choose kindness or unkindness.

I no longer believe in trivial acts. Everything we do carries enormous weight. Everything we do has repercussions that will last long after we have left this Earth. If we look at the world like this, I think it becomes nearly impossible to choose unkindness over kindness.

Even though others irritate us sometimes, and almost invite nastiness, none of us knows what another is going through. What we can be sure of is that everyone deserves our kindness.

And we can all be thankful that life gives us limitless opportunities to give it.
After reading this, the following thoughts came to mind. Perhaps they will also prove useful to you:

-- Incidents such as the one recounted above happen numerous times every single day all over the world, not just in Guatemala. They happen in the United States. Even here in a monastery in Saint Meinrad, Indiana. The circumstances may be much different, but the same principle is at stake.

-- There are many different types of "garbage dumps" in which people are living--spiritual, emotional, and psychological wastelands that allure and entrap us.

-- It is relatively easy for me to remember the times when I perceived, like little Carmen, being on the receiving end of a "little joke" that made me desire the "safety" of my own little garbage dump--which ultimately leads not to security, but to death. Much more difficult is calling to mind the many times (likely much more numerous than I care to remember) that I was on the "giving" end--offering a seemingly harmless, yet unkind comment driving another to his or her own little garbage dump. Often, such remarks--the flippant observation, the sarcastic response,  the "good-natured" put-down--are made simply to elicit laughs. They are wasteful words--trash talk.

-- In his Rule, St. Benedict speaks often of the need for silence, for taciturnity, for intentional and charitable speaking from a prayerful silence when necessary. Sometimes, he says, even good things should be left unsaid. Benedict seems to be against laughter altogether, but that is not really what he's driving at. He points out a truth we prefer to ignore -- we sin most often with our tongues, the same instruments we use to bless God. Words can either build up or destroy. They are powerful--sharper than any two-edged sword.

-- "Everything we do carries enormous weight," Mr. Amstrong says. "Everyone deserves our kindness." That is the Gospel we proclaim and strive to live, pure and simple. But it's not easy. Or is it? "My yoke is easy and my burden light," Jesus assures us (Matthew 11:30). Kindness, gentleness, compassion, encouragement, and genuine, uplifting humor usually costs nothing and reaps unlimited spiritual fruit in the lives of all. That should make us pause before opening our mouth in prideful haste, or simply out of convenience, because one word in the opposite direction can cost somebody everything. No joke.

Gäste von Einsiedeln

Our guests from Kloster Einsiedeln in Switzerland:
(from left) Br. Alexander, Abbot Martin, and Br. Mauritius

Unsere liebe Frau von Einsiedeln, bete für uns

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Good Shepherding

"God has not called me to be successful.
He has called me to be faithful."
Mother Teresa

Saturday, May 14, 2011


A warm welcome to Einsiedeln's Abbot Martin and Br. Alexander, who have come to Saint Meinrad Archabbey to visit for a few days. They arrived late Friday evening at the airport in Louisville, and were picked up by their confrere Br. Mauritius, who has been staying here the past year while studying in the Seminary and School of Theology.

This is Br. Alexander's first visit to Saint Meinrad. Abbot Martin, of course, has been here a few times, although not for a few years. Like Br. Mauritius, he studied here when he was a young monk. Abbot Martin will be giving the convocation address at this afternoon's graduation ceremony for the Seminary and School of Theology. He and Br. Alexander will return to Switzerland early next week.

Later next week, Br. Mauritius will fly back to Switzerland. It has been good having him here. The time for departure has arrived too quickly! Hopefully, he will be back again one day. In the fall, another confrere from Einsiedeln, Br. Thomas, will be joining us for a year of study, so we look forward to that.

In the meantime, Saint Meinrad's own Br. Luke will be leaving in a couple weeks to spend the summer at Einsiedeln as I did last summer. I wish him well on this adventure of a lifetime!

It is good to keep these connections between Saint Meinrad and our motherhouse of Einsidelen strong and growing. To know who you are and where you're going, you need to know where you're from.

Hopefully, in the next couple days I will be able to get Abbot Martin, Br. Alexander, and Br. Mauritius together long enough to take a photo and post here. In the meantime, in their honor and that of all the monks of Einsiedeln, I have posted a few shots of the motherhouse taken last summer.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Security gate

Behind and before you encircle me.
Psalm 139:5

A sheepfold

Good Shepherd fresco
from the catacombs of Callixtus in Rome.
From the mid-3rd Century, it is the
earliest known image of Christ
portrayed as Shepherd.

Sunday, May 15, 2011
Fourth Sunday of Easter —A

Acts 2:14a, 36-41
1Peter 2:20b-25
John 10:1-10

How can the shepherd also be a gate?

Today’s Gospel passage introduces John’s well-known “Good Shepherd” discourse. The image of Jesus (and God) as shepherd has deep roots throughout Scripture and has provided comfort and assurance for many believers. However, a closer look at the passage reveals that the focus is on a gate. “I am the gate for the sheep,” Jesus says. “Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”

How are we to reconcile these two images? After all, Psalm 23 begins with the words, “The Lord is my shepherd”—not, “The Lord is my gate.”

Perhaps we interpret the word shepherd too narrowly—as someone who only guides, comforts, and provides for his flock. That is all certainly true. But a shepherd also protects, defends, and rescues the flock, even at the risk of his own life.

Recall that Christ is prefigured by David, a shepherd in his youth who, before going off to fight Goliath, pointed out to King Saul that he had slain lions and bears to save his father’s sheep (1Samuel 17:34-37). In a fuller way, Jesus does the same for us, the sheep of his pasture. He defeats the power of sin and death by giving up his own life so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly.” By his wounds, we have been healed.

And there is this: In Jesus’ time, the shepherd would protect his flock at night by herding the sheep into an enclosure with rock walls (a sheepfold) and then positioning his own body across the entrance to prevent the sheep from straying out into harm’s way and to keep preying beasts and marauders out—unless they came through him first. He became the gate. In this way, the shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, just as Jesus does for us through the cross.

This is a striking image to consider on this Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus is our gateway to salvation and eternal life. He is shepherd and guardian, and through him we find pasture and repose for our souls.


Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Benedictus interruptus

As Benedictine monks, we arise daily (and early) at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and process into the church for the Divine Office (or Liturgy of the Hours). We do this four times every single day (five, including Mass), seven days a week, rain or shine. I've been doing it for almost five years now. Some of my confreres have been doing it for 70 years.

This schedule provides the framework for our entire lives as monks. No matter what other jobs we have--and most of us have more than one--nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God, our common prayer, as St. Benedict says in the Rule.

This was a rather easy mindset for me as a novice, I recall. These days, I will be the first to admit that often enough, when I hear the bells summoning us to church, I have a difficult time separating myself from the task already at hand--whether it's writing, studying, doing other work, or even sleeping. I know in my mind and believe in my heart that the Work of God always comes first, and I am grateful for this great privilege and responsibility, but sometimes it can be difficult to shift gears so quickly and so often each day. Sometimes, I'd rather continue what I'm already doing, and sometimes I carry with me to choir an unfocused disposition.

Most likely, there aren't many monks who don't experience this from time to time. It's only natural. But the Work of God is the reason we're monks. Without any of the other things we do around here, we could still be a monastery. But we could not be one without the daily Work of God. And, even more importantly, it is necessary for our own conversion as monks. Our obedience in this regard hinges on the stability that the Work of God provides.

As our Prior, Fr. Kurt, writes in a recent Abbey Press publication,
"In the monastery, our prayer does regularly interrupt our work. However, we don't consider that inefficiency. We consider it an act of thanksgiving for the day we have been given, and an opportunity to thank the Giver of the day. We need reminders--opportunities--like that, because all of us, even in the monastery, can get so lost in what we are doing that we lose our sense of the One behind it all." 
I am also reminded of a delightfully insightful piece our Fr. Christian wrote a few years back comparing monastic life to the premise of the 1993 movie Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray as TV weatherman Phil Connors. In the movie, Phil finds himself stuck in a time warp in which he is forced to relive the same day over and over again. Initially, this produces shock, frustration, and even anger (like any good novitiate!). Eventually, however, Phil begins to change his reactions to the never-ending repetition of daily encounters until he gradually becomes less self-centered.

Similarly, Fr. Christian points out:
"The monk ends his day, goes to sleep, awakens again the next day to the ringing of the bells, and the cycle begins again. It is a structured, repetitive and somewhat predictable life. In some ways, every day feels the same. Of course, this structured life is not just a repetition of practices but, more importantly, it is a repetition of encounters with people. The monk, unlike Phil, voluntarily chooses this life of repetitive practices and encounters in connection to the vow of stability. The vow of stability is a monk's promise to stay in the same place with the same people and engage in the same monastic practices for the rest of one's earthly life. ... Repetition can help us with this transformation, not merely be keeping us surefooted, but by supplying and resupplying opportunties to us for loving choices."
I began ruminating on all this early this morning after hearing read at Vigils the passage below from The Principles of Monasticism. Lately, it seems, I have been ultra-focused on a number of very worthwhile, fulfilling, and time-consuming projects. It seems they often capture (and hold) most of my attention. Until the bells start ringing again--reminding me once again of what and WHO is truly important and makes it all possible. Blessed be the God of Interruptions!
Common prayer is your exalted duty, your blessed lot and special function. You are called a Benedictine; then you should, by reason of the very name you bear, bless God with a never-ending praise, and in a special manner receive blessings from him. Monks are founded because of the choir in order that the Spouse of Christ, the Church, may use their voice as her own. The become chanters of all creation. They are representatives at prayer for the faithful, their mediators before the Most High. Now you have been accepted into the number of the elect of whom the Lord speaks: "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise."

Holy Church has assigned to you an angelic ministry of great responsibility. You hold a privileged place day and night in the palace of the Most High King. You are granted this privilege in order to offer the sacrifice of praise. Indeed, no duty must ever mean more to you than dedication to divine worship. It is the capital and stronghold of the monastic life, the heart of religion, the bond of harmony for monks, the crown of all occupations -- that is to say, it is that first duty to which all others, because they are less worthy and honorable, are merely associated. To it nothing at all must ever be preferred.

You must realize that you are to resemble in a distinctive manner that angel who stood before the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given to him much incense, that he might offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which is before the throne.

At the same time you must never forget that St. Benedict called this duty the Work of God. For it is indeed a laborious task, to which you must devote your whole interest and effort. Be solicitous for the Work of God and employ diligence in preparing for it. When the bell sounds, say to yourself: This is the sign of the great King; let us go. Put aside whatever you have been doing, hasten to the choir. Examine yourself so that you may make certain that your disposition is worthy as you prepare to stand before the Lord in prayer, and that you may devote your whole being to the divine service.

For by your love and devotion to the Work of God you may measure your faith and your love of God, your esteem and reverence to your vocation, and your zeal for the house of God.

-- Dom Maurus Wolter, O.S.B.
The Principles of Monasticism

Tis the season

Not that it's ever out of season.

Just sayin'.

(I've been wanting to post this for a long time.)

Ain't it beautiful?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Surprised by hope

Guilded bronze panel by Tom McAnulty from the Archabbey Church altar.
The altar, with 17 bronze panels on each of its four sides focusing on themes
in the life of Christ, is modeled after the altar in the Royal Cathedral

of Charlemagne in Aachen, Germany, built in the 9th Century.

Sunday, May 8, 2011
Third Sunday of Easter —A

Acts 2:14, 22-33
1Peter 1:17-21
Luke 24:13-35

In the current issue of America magazine, Dominican sister and New Testament professor Barbara E. Reid, O.P., writes insightfully about today’s Gospel as a metaphor for the Christian virtue of hope. To illustrate her point, she quotes Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic:
Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well
but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out.
Similarly, the Letter to the Hebrews (11:1) famously connects hope to the virtue of faith:
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.
The disciples on their way to Emmaus in today’s Gospel are unseeing. Things have not turned out well in their eyes. They are uncertain, unconvinced--downcast, St. Luke tells us. They are walking away from Jerusalem, the city which just a week previous held so much promise for them, so much hope. “We were hoping…,” they tell the stranger who appears at their side along the way.

They—just like us—are in need of the assurance that faith provides. The stranger listens. He understands. He journeys with them, interprets their doubts in the light of Scripture, and then stays with them, joins them at table. As he takes bread, says the blessing, breaks it, and gives it to them, their eyes are opened.

It is Jesus!

Now they are certain, convinced, joyful. Hearts burning within them, by faith they head back to Jerusalem, the city of hope, to share the good news.

These two disciples represent all Christians, then and now. We are a pilgrim people, sojourning, as the First Letter of Saint Peter says. We are living in temporary exile from our true home, the heavenly Jerusalem, for which we strive by faith, in hope, and through the love burning within us.

Our encounter with the Risen Christ along the way is the source of our faith, hope, and love. He is all that makes sense, regardless of how anything else appears to turn out. Jesus transforms our doubt into faith. He is never absent. He makes himself present to us in Word and Sacrament during this time of our sojourning. He enlightens us, feeds us, and brings us together in his name.

Stay with us, Lord!

Monday, May 2, 2011 we forgive those who trespass...

In light of the news emerging from Pakistan today, a couple responses from the Catholic/Christian perspective that should inspire some serious reflection:
"In the face of a man's death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred." -- Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., Vatican spokesman

The Catholic Response
to the Death of a Murderer
By Michael Denton
(from The American Catholic

An already busy weekend concluded with the surprise announcement by President Obama that Osama bin Laden had been killed on Sunday, May 1 by a team of American forces in a compound in Pakistan.

There’s a lot to be digested, and a lot of questions for what this means for an already uncertain future in the Middle East. However, as the crowds pour out in jubilation, it is important to remember how May 1 began. It began as Divine Mercy Sunday, the Second Sunday of Easter, which this year saw the beatification of John Paul II, an event which marked the holiness of the man. One cannot think about the holiness of John Paul II without recalling his powerful forgiveness of his would-be assassin. For Catholics, the day began as a testament to the powerful force of God’s love and mercy.

So it should it end the same way. Bin Laden did much evil. He killed scores of innocents, contributed to the starts of several wars, and used religion to create a culture of hatred. For Americans, we watched as our brothers and sisters were killed, wounded, or separated from their families. If anyone deserved to be riddled with American bullets, it was he.

But “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” has no “but” clauses. The culture of life that John Paul II spoke from womb to tomb, the dignity and beauty of God-given human life, is not diminished by one’s sins. God’s mercy and love have no exceptions; as Christians our mercy and love are to have no exceptions.

Simply put, God loved Osama bin Laden and extended his mercy to him. It is our duty as Christians, as witnesses to the love of God, to extend our forgiveness to bin Laden and pray that he accepted that mercy and that he will be with us in paradise. The celebration around his death ought to make all Christians uneasy; even more so the many declarations that they hope Osama is burning in hell.

This is a difficult teaching to be sure, especially for those who lost a loved one due to bin Laden. But the Church has never claimed that its teachings were easy. Instead, it has offered the grace and sacraments to live it out, as well as pointed to the examples of extraordinary human beings who lived it out. Sunday, the Church named a man blessed who knew deeply about the costs of love and forgiveness.

So Blessed John Paul II, pray for us. Pray that our country can use this moment to emerge more unified. Pray for the world that we may escape an era of fear and hatred and violence. Pray for us that in this time, we can follow your example and use this moment to witness to the love and mercy poured out by our Savior, Jesus Christ.