Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Saint Meinrad tornado

I received word today that while I have been away on vacation, a tornado hit Saint Meinrad in the very early morning hours of Sunday, June 26. No one was hurt, I've been told, but there was some significant damage in the area, including on the grounds of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

You can view some photos (including the one above) taken by Fr. Eugene and posted on the Saint Meinrad Facebook page here.

As you can see, the damage includes roofs being torn partially or completely off several buildings, collapsed structures, and uprooted trees. It appears that most (but by no means all) of the damage was at the bottom of the Hill in the corner of the campus where the Abbey Press warehouse and shipping plants are located, the physical facilities buildings, and the Gessner House.

The tornado touched down at 2:12 a.m. at the southern edge of the campus and moved east-northeast for about five minutes and 2.3 miles. Wind speeds were clocked at 95-100 mph.

Fr. Kurt, the monastery prior, reports that this is the closest and most violent encounter Saint Meinrad has had with a tornado in his 41 years at the monastery.

In an unrelated matter, we have also learned that the father of Br. Luke (who is in Switzerland as I was last summer) has died after a long illness. Last summer while I was away, Br. Luke's mother died. May they both rest in peace.

If you would, please take a moment to pray for Br. Luke's entire family and for all those throughout the country affected by the severe weather and flooding this summer and past spring.

As for my vacation, things have thankfully been much more pleasant than they apparently have been back home in Indiana. I have been visiting with a number of family members and friends, doing some bass fishing, watching some baseball, and doing some writing for a fun project that is long overdue. I plan to be back at Saint Meinrad July 5.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Joy in Mudville

A few scenes from Saturday night
(Louisville 9, Toledo 2)
Great seats--right behind home plate!

Muddy disagrees with the
ump's call at the plate.

(L-R) Uncle Kenny, Jim "Chicken Man" Gerschutz, Uncle Joe

Cousin Patty
really likes french fries!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

'Do this in memory of me'

Sunday, June 26, 2011
Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ—A

Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14b-16a
1Corinthians 10:16-17
John 6:51-58

“Remember” Moses tells the Israelites in today’s first reading. Remember how God has directed you, guided you through every affliction, strengthened you, protected and delivered you, and how he has sustained your life with food and drink from heaven. “Do not forget,” Moses instructs the people—whose long and trying journey to the Promised Land prefigures our Christian journey in this world.

Remember in this sense means quite simply: “Trust God.” Trust that you are in his presence every step of the way, and that he will care and provide for you. Trust that you are being fed spiritually through Word and Sacrament with food and drink from heaven. Trust that we, though many, participate in the very life of Christ, the Bread of Life who gave his life that we might live forever.

This is how we are to recall the reality of God’s presence in our lives, and share Christ’s very real presence in a unique and special way during the Eucharist, where time and eternity meet. It is important to keep in mind that today’s Gospel passage from John follows shortly after the multiplication of the loaves. After miraculously feeding the crowds with only five loaves and two fish, the people hungrily pursue Jesus. And he tells them, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”


Friday, June 24, 2011

Ordinary beauty

Earlier this week I began a two-week vacation. I spent the first few days away from the monastery but still on the grounds of Saint Meinrad Archabbey--in a house we own on the edge of the property. Primarily, I wanted to be near our library to do a little research for a writing project I'm working on, but it was also nice to just relax. I feel well-rested!
Now, I am off to both Ohio and West Virginia to spend time with my family and friends, especially my mother. I also plan to catch a couple ballgames and do some fishing, as well as reading and writing. I hope to do a little blogging as well.

During the last few days I also did some hiking in the area, and took a few photos, which are posted here. Nothing spectacular. Just ordinary, everyday beauty graciously given by God.

Br. Francis

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Who made the world?

'The world is charged with the grandeur of God'
Gerard Manley Hopkins

This past weekend, I led a retreat at our guesthouse titled Reading the Sacred in Creation. Preparing beforehand, I pulled together a great deal of source material for both my own relfection and (hopefully) that of the retreatants--Scripture, saints, and spiritual authors. More importantly, the point of the retreat was to actually read God's Word in Creation itself to guide us toward joining together in singing nature's continuous hymn of thanks and praise to the Creator of all.

This morning, I ran across these pieces by the poet Mary Oliver. They would have been perfect for the retreat. Since that moment has passed, I thought I'd post them here:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth
instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her
enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms
and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don't know what a prayer is.
I do not know how to pay attention,
how to fall down into the grass,
how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed,
how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with you one wild and precious life?

-- Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

 It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest, but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

-- Mary Oliver, Praying

Sunday, June 19, 2011

'Unless you become like children'

Exhausted from giving a weekend retreat at our guesthouse (good experience, but I'm an introvert), I have spent some down time alone today trolling online for interesting exposes of one type or another. Earlier, I posted a link to one about a father's ultimate sacrifice. This one, in its own way, may be even better:

"For Franciscan Twins, Simple Lives Had Depth," a piece in the New York Times by Dan Barry.

It is the remarkable story of two simple biological twin brothers who became unassuming Franciscan brothers, serving side-by-side in the same religious community, and who recently died at age 92-- on the same day!

It's an amazing story, and I am edified by what I have read of their lives. These two had it figured out, it seems. Holy simplicity and humility and joy. A good lesson for us all.

A father's love

If you read only one Father's Day story today, this should be the one: Jeffrey Goldberg's column "Father's Day Lesson About Children and Life"  at It is simply amazing -- a portrait of fatherhood modeled on Christ's self-sacrificing love. Read it--and keep some tissues handy!

Blessings to all fathers, living and deceased.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

(Don't) think about it!

Sunday, June 19, 2011
Solemnity of The Most Holy Trinity—A

Exodus 34:4b-6, 8-9
2Corinthians 13:11-13
John 3:16-18

Richard Rohr, in his book The Naked Now: Learning to See as the Mystics See, recalls an amusing, yet enlightening, moment from his days as a child in school. Attempting to introduce the mystery of the Holy Trinity to Rohr and his befuddled classmates, their teacher, an Irish nun, held up a shamrock for them to gaze upon and said: “Don’t think about it!”

While some theologians and learned Christians may overanalyze the Trinity, the majority of us rarely ponder it at all. And yet, it is the central doctrine of our faith. It is why we make the sign of the cross so often. It is explicitly present in the liturgy, and implicitly present in Scripture. We confess one God, but one God in three divine and distinct persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are co-equal, co-eternal, and consubstantial. The one and only God is one, but not solitary.


As Rohr’s teacher would say, “Don’t think about it!”

It is a very slippery thing—like trying barehanded to grab fish swimming in a barrel. Once we think we’ve finally taken hold of it, somehow it slides out of our grasp. The difficulty lies in our Western either/or mentality that tends to view things through one of two lenses in order to classify and compartmentalize. We struggle with paradox, with mystery, with viewing things with a “third eye” that is comfortable with opposites held in tension with one another.

But the Trinity cannot be captured. The Trinity must capture you.

Rohr encourages his readers to think of God not as a noun (or proper noun, as it where), but as a verb. Rather than attempting to “solve” the mystery of the Trinity (or avoiding the issue altogether), we simply need to be “captured” by the exchange of Love (as a verb) shared among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—to be an integral part of this divine relationship. We are invited to become what we contemplate!

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Come, Holy Spirit

Come, Holy Spirit, come,
and from your celestial home
shed a ray of light divine!

Come, Father of the poor!
Come, Source of all our store!
Come, within our bosoms shine!

You, of comforters the best;
You, the soul's most welcome guest;
sweet refreshment here below;
in our labor, rest most sweet;
grateful coolness in the heat;
solace in the midst of woe.

O most bless├Ęd Light divine,
shine within these hearts of yours,
and our inmost being fill!

Where you are not, we have naught,
nothing good in deed or thought,
nothing free from taint of ill.

Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
on our dryness pour your dew;
wash the stains of guilt away;
bend the stubborn heart and will;
melt the frozen, warm the chill;
guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful, who adore
and confess you, evermore
in your sevenfold gift descend;
give them virtue's sure reward
give them your salvation, Lord;
give them joys that never end.


Veni, Sancte Spiritus, "The Golden Sequence"
Rabanus Maurus (+856), trans. Edward Caswall, 1849

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The breath of God

Artwork by Gwen Meharg:

Sunday, June 12, 2011
Solemnity of Pentecost—A

Acts 2:1-11
1Corinthians 12:3b-7, 12-13
John 20:19-23

The Holy Spirit is the very breath of God who enlivens and enlightens all creation. The Third Person of the Holy Trinity, sent by the Risen Son through the Father, breathes life into the Church so that the world may live, move, and have its entire being in God.

Filled with the joy of the Resurrection, this is the message and mission of Pentecost for the Church—2,000 years ago, and today.

Wind and Spirit are associated with one another throughout Scripture. This analogy—and reality—is meant to remind us that we live by the very breath—or Spirit—of God. The Spirit—wind—is stirred up whenever God is creating or achieving one of his “mighty acts.”

The first verses of Genesis tell us that the “mighty wind” of God swept over the chaotic and dark nothingness to bring order and light and life to the universe. In Genesis 2:7, God forms man and blows into him the “breath of life.” In Genesis 8:1, God makes a “wind sweep over the earth” to chase away the deadly waters of the Great Flood. In Exodus 14:21, acting through Moses, God’s wind sweeps over the Red Sea to part the waters and grant the Israelites safe passage. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet in a vision imparts God’s breath to restore life in a valley of dry bones.

In today’s readings for Pentecost, these signs take on new meaning in God’s mighty act of breathing life—the Holy Spirit—into the Church through Christ. A mighty wind, tongues of fire, and the very breath of Jesus fill his disciples with the divine life necessary to go out and fill the world with his presence.

As he sent them with the Spirit, so he sends us. The gift of the Holy Spirit continues the work of God through our service of one another. So, as the Church, the Body of Christ, let us breathe God’s peace into the world and enflame it with the fire of his love—for many though we are, we all drink of the one Spirit!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Canine ministers

It's likely pretty clear by now how much I love dogs. So, I could not help but be taken by this story (click here) from The Criterion, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. I ran across it while reading the piece about Br. Mauritius. It describes the very real therapeutic benefit provided by "ministry dogs" at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis. Sometimes Four-Pawed Presence can make all the difference in the world.

The story reminds me of the dogs kept at a hospice facility in northwest Ohio, which I visited several times while a good friend of mine was dying of cancer about 10 years ago. At that time, the facility had two trained dogs that simply came and went as they pleased into all the patients' rooms to provide comfort or consolation. It was wonderful to watch--like canine spiritual directors on their appointed rounds!

The dogs were able to sense which patients and families were receptive to their presence and which ones were not, and they respected those unspoken boundaries. They were very quiet and dutiful, yet cheerful and calming. Yes, they were trained, but all that was also part of their disposition. Just good companions when simple presence is all that is needed or desired.

I know for a fact that those dogs provided a great deal of soothing relief and joy for a good number of people in need of it, and in a way that human beings are sometimes not able to do while under stress.

They aren't called man's best friend for nothing!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Swiss Guard

Br. Mauritius, then known as Marco Rudolf Honegger,
takes his oath as a member of the Swiss Guard.

 Although he has returned to Einsiedeln in Switzerland, Br. Mauritius is still making headlines!

Click here to read a feature story about Br. Mauritius' experience in the Swiss Guard in the latest issue of The Criterion, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. The article recounts his service as a Guard member at the time of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI.

'I am with you always'

Sunday, June 5, 2011
Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord—A

Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 1:17-23
Matthew 28:16-20

If one were looking for a short, simple passage that synthesizes all of Scripture, summarizes Jesus’ purpose for coming among us, and declares the mission of the Church, today’s Gospel would be an excellent choice.

All three readings speak of the establishment of the Kingdom of God in a manner that surpasses all human expectations. The Gospel, in particular, portrays Jesus completely reclaiming a fallen world wounded by sin, and commissioning his weak, doubtful, and confused disciples to proclaim this message of hope to all peoples.

Can you imagine? These eleven, as Matthew points out (Judas having betrayed Jesus before his death), are unlearned men still stunned by Jesus’ resurrection. They doubted, Matthew says. And they did more than that. These same men, while trying to follow Jesus, nonetheless were tripped up by human ambition, jealousy, selfishness, pride, misunderstanding, fear, and even denial of Christ. The first disciples were just as broken as we are!

Yet Jesus entrusts the Church to them—to us. We are to evangelize, celebrate the sacraments, teach one another, and live the Gospel—but not all alone. “I am with you always, until the end of the age,” Jesus says.

This powerful promise echoes throughout Scripture. It’s there in Matthew’s infancy narrative, recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah: “They shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us’” (cf. Mt 1:23; Is 7:14). And it is there in 2Chronicles 36:23, the very last words of the Hebrew Bible, when the earthly King Cyrus claims his dominion under God and links it to the temple in Jerusalem, urging the people, “Go up, and may God be with [you].”

All this is tied together and fulfilled when Christ the True King ascends into heaven with the Earth at his feet, and then sends the Holy Spirit to be with his first disciples—and us in the building up of God’s heavenly Kingdom.

To the ends of the Earth, and to the end of the age. Amen.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wanted: Laborers for the harvest

"The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few;
therefore ask the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest."
Matthew 9:37-38
This week Anushka Fonseka has joined us as a candidate in the monastery, where he will live and work. Today he received his tunic and belt and joined us in choir. God willing, he will be invested as a novice in early August, receiving the scapular and tonsure and beginning his novitiate year of formation and discernment. We are glad to have him here. May God bless and guide him, and grant him peace as he embarks on the monastic journey.

Also this week, we have a pair of young men here as part of our biannual Monastic Observance program. They will live, work, and pray with us in the monastery for a few days as part of their ongoing discernment.

I ask your prayers for Anushka and these observers, and for all who may be called to our way of life. We could use some more novices and juniors--spread the word!

The place of Christ

Crosier at Abbot's choir stall,
made by the late Br. Lawrence.

Many blessings to our Archabbot, Fr. Justin DuVall, O.S.B., who today honors the memory of his holy patron, the martyr St. Justin. May God guide him, and the monastic community he serves, along the way of everlasting life.
"[The Abbot] holds the place of Christ in the monastery. ... Everything he teaches and commands should, like the leaven of divine justice, permeate the minds of his disciples."
-- Rule of St. Benedict,  Chapter 2, "Qualities of the Abbot"


"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play today."
Chorus from John Fogerty's "Centerfield"

My 8-year-old nephew (and godson) Ian, playing first base for his Little League team, the Reds. Naturally, he is a Cincinnati Reds fan (he lives along the Ohio River with my sister and her husband).

When I am on vacation over the Fourth of July weekend, my family and I will be attending a Reds game in Cincinnati. It will be Ian's first pro ballgame--always a milestone for a young boy. I still vividly recall my first game--also when I was 8 years old. Reds vs. Mets, 1973 National League Championship Series. Tom Seaver pitching for the Mets, ahead 1-0 going into the 8th. Then Cincinnati's Pete Rose hit a solo homer in the 8th to tie it, and Johnny Bench hit a walk-off home run in the 9th to win it 2-1.

As an aside, when I related this a while back to Br. Mauritius, he said politely, "I'm sure it was exciting, but I have no idea what any of that means." Baseball does not register in Switzerland. Only soccer.

Anyway, on that October evening in 1973, my father had to put me on his shoulders at the end to see, and I remember waving my new Reds cap and cheering along with thousands of other fans so loud I became hoarse. Although the Reds ended up losing the series, that moment was etched into my memory, especially as the Reds went on to win the World Series in 1975 and 1976.

I can only hope Ian's first ballgame will elicit such fond memories when he is older.

When I was a kid, I loved playing first base as well, and my favorite player was Tony Perez, who played first base for the Reds. These days of course, the Reds also have a pretty good first baseman--Joey Votto, who was the National League Player of the Year last year.

 Perhaps one day several decades from now, some young boys will pretend to be All-Star first baseman Ian Snodgrass!
"[My Catholic faith and baseball] have each taught me lessons about love, loss, and life. Each has its own rewards, its version of universal truth. Each reveals a wondrous glimpse of what it is to be human. I'm no theologian, and I was never very good with a curve ball, but I marvel at the symbiosis, the intimate connection between that which is heaven sent... and the game which is heaven on earth."
-- Gary Graf, And God Said, "PLAY BALL!"