Friday, June 19, 2015

Liturgy of the Frogs


There are many things about our temporary lodgings in Anselm Hall while the monastery is under renovation that I find agreeable. Other things, not so much. Home is home, and we all long to be there. The temporary move, however, has been a good opportunity to practice virtues like charity, patience, simplicity, and surrendering expectations.

In any event, one thing about my room in Anselm Hall I enjoy very much is the symphony outside my window each evening. My third-floor room overlooks two courtyards--one directly below me, and another just off to the right. Dwelling near the small pond in each courtyard is at least one frog, though I have never seen either. Each evening--say, about 8 p.m. or so--one of them pipes up. The other, occupying the courtyard on the other side of the wing that separates them, responds in kind. And they continue in this manner, first one and then the other, back and forth. For hours. Soon, a couple seemingly smaller, less throaty specimens join in--forming some sort of amphibious backup chorus. 

(There also are three box turtles in the courtyard directly below me--having been transported from their previous confines in the monastery, where it would be too dangerous for them to be right now. Unlike the frogs, however, they don't say much.)

I find the little nightly concert very relaxing, peaceful, and soothing. A good way to end the day. I sit in my chair and listen to the frogs perform each evening (I can hear them distinctly even with my windows closed and the air-conditioning on) before turning in for the night. Of course, I have no idea what they are communicating to one another, or even if they know what they are doing, but there is a beautiful symmetry and harmony to it all. Creatures praising Creator by simply being what they were created to be.

Back and forth, one after the other, listening and responding, making music together. Like monks chanting the Divine Office.

A couple evenings ago, I opened a window, placed my laptop on the sill, and used a sound-recording function to capture this "Liturgy of the Frogs." Novice Timothy--a fellow frog-lover who hails, as I do, from Findlay, Ohio--joined the audio recording to a few images from around Saint Meinrad Archabbey, producing the two-minute video above (and enabling me to post the result here). Many thanks to him.

Enjoy the show (remember to turn your volume up). Another live performance due up in a few hours... 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

We know not how it grows


By Br. Peter Sullivan, O.S.B.

A reflection on the Mass readings for the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
(Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10; Mark 4:26-34)
XXX
As beautiful as it is, nature can sometimes seem harsh and indiscriminate—whether it’s the environment we’re talking about, humanity itself, or all the natural forces that direct them. The storms of life fell many trees in the world, both literally and figuratively, and the body, mind, and soul are not exempted.

While it is necessary and healthy to survey and mourn the damage wrought by the occasional tempest, focusing on it can severely limit or distort our perception of all the good surrounding the storm—or even arising from it. We must, as St. Paul says, “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Life certainly takes many unexpected twists and turns, but God’s promise to us is that he is always at work in the world—whether we see it or not, or even whether we believe it or not. Like a tiny seed slowly sprouting, taking root, maturing, blooming, and striving toward the sun, the Kingdom of God continues to grow upward and outward. “See, I am making all things new,” God promises, for “all things work together for good for those who love God” (cf. Revelation 21:5; Romans 8:28).

As Jesus states in Mark’s Gospel (4:26-34), “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” God gently beckons every withered tree to bloom, put forth branches, and bear fruit, so that all may dwell beneath the shade of the Almighty (cf. Ezekiel 17:23-25; Mark 4:32).

By God’s promise and grace, through the Tree of Life that is Christ, the Kingdom of God is sprouting and growing night and day, in war and peace, in raging storms and restful stillness … though we know not how.

by Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B., Abbey Press, 2013

Prayer as punctuation


Punctuation can make a world of difference in our understanding of written communication. … In a similar way, the regular praying of the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours is a grace-filled gift to keep us centered and headed in the right direction. The Divine Office literally punctuates—or interrupts—the flow of the hours of the day to supply them with the structure and meaning that otherwise risk being lost amid our other activities and concerns.

(An excerpt from my article in the latest issue of America magazine. To read the article in its entirety, click here.)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Out with the new, in with the old


Just a few odds and ends to share. We have finished moving out of the monastery (with no small effort by our fabulous co-workers, novices, and juniors), and the renovation work there has begun full-force. For a while, things were a little hairy: as we moved out lock, stock, and barrel, we had our community retreat, celebrated three jubilees of monastic profession, and buried two confreres. Things have begun to settle down a bit, although we are still getting adjusted to our "new" temporary surroundings--which we will occupy for the next 14 months.

The picture above is of Anselm Hall, where we have temporarily moved the monastic cloister (my room is on the other side of the building, with a view into one of the inner courtyards). The current monastery, now empty, is on the other side of the church in the picture. Anselm Hall, ironically, had been the monastery until the early 1980s, when the current one was constructed. So, some of our older monks have returned to where they started (though Anselm Hall looks much different now inside then it did then).

While we were moving, the Evansville Courier-Press came to take some pictures, and a story/photo package appeared on the front page of the newspaper a couple days ago. You can see the online version by clicking here.

In other news, today we are celebrating the priestly ordination of one of our monks, Fr. Luke Waugh, O.S.B. I just came from the ceremony in the Archabbey Church where Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph Tobin ordained him. Please keep Fr. Luke in your prayers as he begins a new phase of his life as a monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

Also, we recently welcomed another candidate to the monastery--Tony Wolniakowski, who came to us from Michigan. We are expecting another candidate in the fall. Please pray for our candidate, seven novices, and four junior monks, and that God will continue to add to our number.

As for the state of my Cincinnati Reds, it would probably be best not to speak of them at all. Too painful. Much too painful. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains, and sometimes you wish it would have rained.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Broken, scattered, gathered, One.


"Because there is one bread, we who are many
are one body, for we all partake of the one bread."

1Corinthians 10:17


The sound of something breaking is not typically pleasant. Rather, it tends to be startling and alarming. Even the sound of the word “break” and some of its various synonyms—shatter, split, crack—seem to signal violence and pain.

However, there is one sound of something breaking that brings me much peace, comfort, joy, and hope on a daily basis. Or, rather, Someone being broken in a profound, sacrificial, loving, and life-giving manner. If that seems odd, stay with me… The fraction rite—during which the celebrant breaks the consecrated bread while everyone sings the Agnus Dei or “Lamb of God,” is my favorite part of the Mass, I think. And, since I live in a monastery with many monks who are also priests, our daily conventual Mass typically involves at least five people breaking the consecrated bread on the altar at this same point in the rite—the celebrant and four concelebrants. In our cavernous church (especially if the celebrant still has his microphone on), the effect can be quite striking.

No matter what spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical state of mind I may be in at that moment, the “snap, crackle, pop” of the Eucharistic species being broken into as many pieces as necessary for those in attendance always refocuses me on the paschal mystery of which I am a part. And thank God for that!

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is wholly present in body, blood, soul, and divinity under the appearance of bread and wine, lovingly allows himself to be broken, shared, and consumed so that all may become one through him, with him, and in him. Together, these broken fragments of Eucharistic bread (not just here, but in churches throughout the world) constitute one Body, with Christ as Head. As we partake of them, we are mystically brought together in the same way as many grains of wheat constitute one loaf of bread before it is broken and shared.

With this sacrament , Christ becomes fully present to us, with us, and in us, as he told his disciples at the Last Supper the night before he died:
While they were eating, Jesus took break, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28; cf. Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:17-20, 1Corinthians 11:23-25)

Then, having taken part in this mystery of Christ being broken and shared for us, we are sent out into the world to proclaim—to be—Christ by our lives, broken and shared with others. It is only through Christ that we are gathered together in this way, as the celebrant prays in Eucharistic Prayer IV of the Roman Missal:
Look, O Lord, upon the Sacrifice which you yourself have provided for your Church, and grant in your loving kindness to all who partake of this one Bread and one Chalice that, gathered into one body by the Holy Spirit, they may truly become a living sacrifice in Christ to the praise of your glory.

It gets me every time—that “snap, crackle, pop.” With such evocative imagery (and even sound), we are not only reminded of, but become one with the paschal mystery of Christ, who gathers what has been scattered, and restores what is broken by becoming broken and scattered himself. It’s such a beautiful thing—so beautiful that it can’t be fully grasped, only allowed to sift through the fingertips of our minds like grains of wheat. This kind of beauty can only be lived through praise.

So, let us pray in the ancient words of the Didache (The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, from the first or second century):
Father, even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your kingdom. To you is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever (Didache 9:4).

Snap. Crackle. Pop.

Amen.


"Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit."
John 12:24

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Above all, through all, in all


Consider the ancient tradition, teaching and faith of the Catholic Church, which was revealed by the Lord, proclaimed by the apostles and guarded by the fathers. For upon this faith the Church is built.

We acknowledge the Trinity, holy and perfect, to consist of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In this Trinity there is no intrusion of any alien element or of anything from outside, nor is the Trinity a blend of creative and created being. It is a wholly creative and energizing reality, self-consistent and undivided in its active power, for the Father makes all things through the Word and in the Holy Spirit, and in this way the unity of the Holy Trinity is preserved.

Accordingly, in the Church, one God is preached, one God who is above all things and through all things and in all things [c.f. Ephesians 4:6]. God is above all things as Father, for he is principle and source; he is through all things through the Word; and he is in all things in the Holy Spirit.

Writing to the Corinthians about spiritual matters, Paul traces all reality back to one God, the Father, saying: Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in everyone [c.f. 1Corinthians 12:4-6].

Even the gifts that the Spirit dispenses to individuals are given by the Father through the Word. For all that belongs to the Father belongs also to the Son, and so the graces given by the Son in the Spirit are true gifts of the Father. Similarly, when the Spirit dwells in us, the Word who bestows the Spirit is in us too, and the Father is present in the Word. This is the meaning of the text: My Father and I will come to him and make our home with him [cf. John 14:23]. For where the light is, there also is the radiance; and where the radiance is, there too are its power and its resplendent grace.

This is also Paul’s teaching in his second letter to the Corinthians: The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all [cf. 2 Corinthians 13:14]. For grace and the gift of the Trinity are given by the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Just as grace is given from the Father through the Son, so there could be no communication of the gift to us except in the Holy Spirit. But when we share in the Spirit, we possess the love of the Father, the grace of the Son and the fellowship of the Spirit himself.

--St. Athanasius

Monday, May 25, 2015

The truth of baseball


Sometimes you win.
Sometimes you lose.
And sometimes it rains.

That's a quote from the 1988 film Bull Durham, which in my book is the best (and funniest) baseball movie ever made. Although unnecessarily irreverent and risque at times, the films's baseball situations, characters, and dazzling dialogue ring true. These days, as I lament the misfortunes of my Cincinnati Reds (who have lost nine straight, are hampered by some significant injuries and under-achieving players, and possess a remarkably consistent inability to locate home plate), I might add a fourth line to the quote above:

Sometimes you wish
it WOULD HAVE rained.

(Sigh...as another great quote from Bull Durham goes: "This is a simple game. You throw the ball. You hit the ball. You catch the ball. You got it?")

Easy for me to say, right? In any case, let's get it together, Reds! I'm sure they're listening, and that such an exhortation will provide just the boost they need, right?

As an aside, my brother Kevin actually lives in Cincinnati, sees Reds games in person much more often than I, and is in no way lacking in any kind of sports knowledge. Still, my chagrined mother (somewhat scandalized, I suspect) tells people, "If you want to know what's going on with the Reds, ask the one living in a monastery." One of my vices, I suppose. We all have them. 

But I tell you, these days it ain't easy being a Reds fan--especially when you're living in the same monastery with a monk who is an ardent St. Louis Cardinals fan (the Cardinals, for those lacking in knowledge of such matters, are in first place within the same division, and seem to find as many ways to win as the Reds do to lose. I hate them with a perfect hate, as the psalmist says). Since 1990, the last time the Reds won the World Series, the stupid Cardinals have been to four World Series, and won two of them. Have I mentioned how much I hate the Cardinals?

It's just a game, I know. The fate of the world is not at stake. The sun will come up tomorrow (unless it rains). But these days, especially, baseball is a counter-cultural icon of sorts, and I like that. Baseball is a grind--it's a long (six-month) season played out nearly every single day of the week, with plenty of ups and downs, batting slumps and winning streaks. You're never as bad as it sometimes appears, and you're never as good as it sometimes appears. The long haul is what counts--and you can't do it all alone. In that sense, baseball is an excellent metaphor for life in general. Like life, being successful means failing often enough to learn and adjust accordingly (a .300 batting average, the universal measure of offensive accomplishment, means that a hitter has failed to reach base safely 70 percent of the time). It means being patient and hanging in there, picking up the slack for a slumping teammate. And if things still don't go all that well, just wait until next year (after all, only one Major League team in 30 wins it all each season). 

Baseball is a game of hopeful, even stumbling, perseverance in a world that demands instant, even if fleeting, success and glory. Those who love the game realize that at its core, baseball is about seeking and striving for authenticity along a winding, arduous road. As such, it has many parallels with the spiritual life of any Christian. As John Sexton, the author of Baseball as a Road to God, says,"Conversion is not for the faint of heart. It is a difficult process, requiring effort and perseverance." Every day, win, lose, rain, or shine. Most of all, as with the Christian life, baseball is about hope amid this struggle. As the late Bart Giamatti, the short-lived commissioner of baseball in 1989, wrote, "Baseball is about going home, and how hard it is to get there, and how driven is our need."

And the Reds really need to find home right now. It's essential. It's a simple game...

First pitch tomorrow is 7:10 p.m. ET. Unless it rains (and I kind of hope it does).