The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

St. Michael, defend us

"Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail."
Revelation 12:7-8

Today we celebrate the Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, archangels. I've long had a devotion to St. Michael the Archangel, probably due in large part to my upbringing in Findlay, Ohio, where I was a member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish. I also attended the parish school up through eighth grade (there is no Catholic high school in Findlay).

Michael, in fact, was one of the three possibilities I proposed to our Abbot for my religious name shortly before first profession in 2008. (Francis was at the top of my list, and I think the right choice was made.) Findlay's St. Michael the Archangel Parish is well represented here in the monastery. There are three of us--Fr. Sean Hoppe (professed 1977) and Novice Timothy Herrmann. All from Findlay, Ohio. All from St. Michael's. More are welcome!

Posted here are a few photos of the old "downtown" church in Findlay (built in the 1860s), which I took during vacation a few years ago. The main parish complex these days (much bigger and more modern) is now located on the east side of Findlay--church, school, parish offices, etc. However, as I was growing up in the 1970s, the situation was reversed. The downtown church, rectory, convent (we had teaching sisters!), parish offices and school grades 4-8 were all located in the same area along West Main Cross Street, Western Avenue, and Adams Street. (Only the church and convent--which is used for another purpose now--are still standing downtown.) The much smaller complex on the east side of Findlay, known as "The Annex," consisted at that time of a 1960s church and grades 1-3.

Although the parish's operations are now concentrated (and significantly enlarged) within the old "Annex" area, my heart will always remain with the downtown church and former school complex. As I've written here before, that's where most of my school-day memories were born. I served Mass before school in the downtown church for several years. It is where we normally attended Sunday Mass as a family. It's where my parents were married, where I was baptized, and where the funeral Mass for my father (2003) was held.

So, on this day every year, September 29th, the Feast of St. Michael and the Archangels, in addition to meditating on the spiritual realities that extend both throughout and beyond the here and now, I also think back to my days at St. Mike's, as we used to call it. In a special way, I pray this day for the parish in Findlay and for all its parishioners (which include many relatives and friends).

And, of course, on this day (and quite often on many other days throughout the year), I pray for St. Michael's protection for the entire People of God and the whole world:

Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection
against the wickedness
and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him,
we humbly pray;
and do Thou O Prince
of the Heavenly Host,
by the power of God,
cast into hell Satan
and all the evil spirits,
who prowl through the world
seeking the ruin of souls.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

The peace of Christ

A short and simple prayer based on today's
first reading from Mass (Colossians 3:12-17):

Lord God,
help me to be more:



Monday, August 24, 2015

Who is Jesus for you?

Pope Francis offered an interesting and worthwhile meditation during his Angelus address on Sunday. He was commenting on the Gospel passage for Mass that day (John 6:60-69), in which Jesus presents his disciples with some hard truths. As a result, many of them parted ways with him. So, Jesus turned to the Twelve and said, "Do you also want to leave?" To this, Simon Peter, speaking for all of them, responded, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

This scene, Pope Francis was suggesting in his address, is an excellent one in which to place ourselves--within our modern circumstances. Which way do we to wish to go? Whom should we follow? Why? What--or who--directs and motivates our lives? How does that direction or motivation affect each minute of the day--what we think, say, or do? Where is this path taking us?

And, if we have declared, along with Peter, that we wish to follow Christ and Christ alone, well, what does that mean? Who is Jesus for us? What does it mean to follow him? These are very personal and essential questions that each Christian must ask himself or herself (and more than once). I encourage you, along with Pope Francis, to take these questions to prayer and listen, as St. Benedict would say, "with the ear of the heart."

Here is a portion of the Pope's address:
[Peter] does not say "where shall we go?" but "to whom shall we go?" ... From that question of Peter, we understand that faithfulness to God is a question of faithfulness to a person, with whom we are joined in order to walk together along the same road. 
All that we have in the world does not satisfy our hunger for the infinite. We need Jesus, to remain with him, to nourish ourselves at his table, on his words of eternal life! To believe in Jesus means making him the center, the meaning of our life. Christ is not an accessory. He is the "living bread," the indispensable nourishment. Attaching ourselves to him, in a true relationship of faith and love, does not mean being chained, but rather profoundly free, always on a journey. 
Each one of us can ask himself, right now, "Who is Jesus for me? Is he a name? An idea? Is he simply a person from history? Or is he really the person who loves me, who gave his life for me and walks with me?" 
Who is Jesus for you? Do you remain with Jesus? Do you seek to know him in his Word? Do you read the Gospel every day, a passage from the Gospel in order to know Jesus? ... The more we are with him, the more the desire to remain with him grows. 
Now I kindly ask you, let us take a moment of silence, and each one of us, in silence, in his or her heart, ask yourself the question: "Who is Jesus for me?"
(cf. Matthew 16:15; Mark 8:29; Luke 9:20)

Saturday, August 15, 2015


The geothermal field under construction outside the monastery and church.

It has been a fairly busy summer here at Saint Meinrad. As you likely know, it began with the monks moving into Anselm Hall (the "old monastery" until the early 1980s) while the current monastery undergoes extensive renovations. We will be displaced for a little over a year.

While most of the work being done in the monastery is interior (principally involving the heating, air conditioning, and plumbing systems), there is some exterior evidence of construction. For example, the monastery infirmary is being expanded and redesigned, and the refectory/pantry area is undergoing an extensive upgrade and extension.

Also visible is the drilling worksite for the geothermal field (shown above) which will feed the new heating and cooling systems. Nearly 100 wells, each hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth, are being drilled just outside the monastery as one approaches the Archabbey Church from the guesthouse. In recent weeks, this work begins very early in the morning and goes until early evening.

Right now, frankly, it looks like a great big mess. But when the geothermal field is finally established, the topsoil, grass, and trees will return and it will be difficult to tell that it's even there.

Sometimes, before things can get better, they have to get ugly--a solid principle of many types of renovation/remodeling, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual.

As for me, I've been busy this summer not only with my duties as secretary to the archabbot, but also serving as a spiritual director and undergoing the rigors of the school's spiritual direction practicum program in which I am enrolled. I've also been filling in as secretary to the archabbot's council and the monastic chapter while the current monk who holds that post is on sabbatical. Recently, I gave the first profession retreat for Br. Stephen and Br. Lorenzo in the days before they made their first vows. Soon, I will be preparing conferences to deliver this fall to oblate chapters around the country. In November, I will visit the chapter in New York City--which will mark the first time I've been in that city. So, I am looking forward to that.

Still, it has not been all work and no play around here. My mother, brother, sister, brother-in-law, and two nephews recently visited Saint Meinrad for several days, and I was able to spend a good deal of time with them. The highlight was probably our daylong trip to nearby Holiday World & Splashin' Safari. Yes, in addition to a Benedictine monastery and seminary here in the rural hills, forests, and fields of southern Indiana, there also is a world-class, combination theme park and water park! It's just a few miles down the road in Santa Claus, Indiana. And just beyond that is the childhood home of Abraham Lincoln (who lived here from age 7 to 21). Quite the trifecta for such a remote area, huh?

So, below I've posted a few photos from our time together, as well as some other happenings that have helped make the summer lively and refreshing.

My 3-year-old nephew plugs his pirate earphones
into his Grandma. Not sure what the goal was.

Demonstrating the technique on himself.

Uncle Francis with Evan on the antique cars at Holiday
World. His Mom watches from the back seat for a change.

"I'm an excellent driver."

My brother Kevin and I at Holiday World. Pretty scary, huh?

Brother-in-law Ty, the Big Elf himself (he summers here),
Evan, and his Mom Shannon (my sister).

Smilin' Ian Snodgrass and his trusty steed at Santa's Stables.

Back at Saint Meinrad, our newly acquired free-range chickens.
Novice Timothy, who also is an aspiring apiarist, looks after them.
So, he is learning about the birds and the bees in the monastery.

Chickens on their coop's porch, gossiping
it seems--probably about the cameraman. 

Clawdia, the campus' resident feline (white with gray tail),
recently gave birth to a litter of three kittens, tucked safely
into the well of a vent alongside the Archabbey Church.

What's summer without ice cream? Above is a shot from the
website of Dietsch Bros. in my hometown of Findlay, OH,
recently named the third best ice cream shop in the country.
Used to work there, 1982-84. Click photo for full scoop.

Sunday, August 9, 2015


"We look not at what can be seen
but at what cannot be seen;
for what can be seen is temporary,
but what cannot be seen is eternal."
2 Corinthians 4:18

A reflection on the Mass readings
for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B):
1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30--5:2; John 6:41-51

Appearances can indeed deceive. Reality is often disguised, requiring a depth of perception beyond ordinary means. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west each day, seeming to cross from one end of the sky to the other. We know that’s not really true, despite all appearances. The sun is stationary. The revolution of the Earth, which in turn orbits the sun, makes it seem as though the sun is moving. In reality, the Earth is moving.

Scientific knowledge helps us understand the universe which we see and live in. The knowledge of faith helps us enter into the mystery of the spiritual reality that underlies and infuses the universe which we see and live in. For Catholics, of course, there is no greater mystery than that of the Eucharist, which is the source and summit of our faith. In the Eucharist, we receive the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ under the species of ordinary bread and wine. What we see is not all we get! And we get more than we could ever imagine.

Eucharistic themes are replete throughout Scripture, and they unfold for us during the liturgical year at Mass in the Liturgy of the Word. In 1 Kings 19:4-8, for example, the prophet Elijah is sustained and strengthened for his journey by food and drink provided by God. In John 6:41-51, Jesus tells a skeptical crowd: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Meanwhile, Ephesians 4:30-5:2 conveys to us the true meaning of Communion with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” In other words, we receive Christ to become Christ. If we are what we eat, as the saying goes, we must become what, in faith, we receive in the Eucharist, as St. Augustine said: “You are the mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table. You receive the mystery that is yourself. To that which you are, you will respond.”

Those who confronted Jesus in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, murmuring about his claims of being “the bread that came down from heaven,” had not yet opened their hearts to receive the knowledge of faith and see the spiritual reality of what he was saying. Their focus was only on what they could see with their own eyes. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” They saw only the species in front of them, not the Presence. Appearance deceived them.

People of that time, incidentally, also believed the sun revolved around the Earth. Humanity had a lot to learn on many different levels. We still do:

Now we see in a mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part;
then I will know fully,
even as I have been fully known.
           -- 1 Corinthians 13:12

Excerpted from Grace in the Wilderness:
by Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B., Abbey Press, 2013

Friday, August 7, 2015

Calling all monks

“If you hear his voice today…”
Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 10

Congratulations are in order for Br. Stephen Avery (formerly known as Novice John), and Br. Lorenzo PeƱalosa (formerly known as Novice Charles), who professed their temporary vows on Thursday this week, the Feast of the Transfiguration. You can read more about them by clicking here. 

In addition, the monastic community of Saint Meinrad Archabbey welcomes a new novice who was invested on Wednesday with the monastic scapular—Tony Wolniakowski.

Through the intercession of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, our Holy Father St. Benedict, and St. Meinrad, may God confirm and strengthen all three in their discernment of the monastic way of life.

We now have six junior monks in temporary vows and six novices. Another candidate is expected to join us in the fall. Keep praying for additional vocations to this house—and for those of us already here!

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Being with God in prayer

"The spirit of God made me,
the breath of the Almighty keeps me."
Job 33:4

Our lives as human beings—whether or not we’re aware of it or acknowledge it—are intimately bound together within the presence of God. Our mere existence is a manifestation of the divine presence, since it is God who creates all things, and gives life to all being. As the Book of Genesis tells us, God formed the first human being from the dust, breathing the spirit or breath of life into his nostrils (cf 2:7). In this way we became living beings—literally and spiritually animated by the breath of God.

Thousands of years after the first human being was enlivened with God’s breath, St. Paul expanded on this theme, telling the Athenians in the Acts of the Apostles (17:24-28):
He himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being.”
Several hundred years later, St. Benedict incorporated this profound, foundational theology into his Rule for monks, writing, “We must believe that God is always with us” (7:23) and “We believe that the divine presence is everywhere” (19:1).

Of course, this intimate connection between the human and divine has been short-circuited by Original Sin. Though we live and move and have our being in our Life-Giving Creator, on our own, we do not have the capacity to fully participate in and be aware of the mystery of the Divine Presence in the same way Adam and Eve did before the Fall.

As Christians, though, we believe that God gives us the necessary help in this regard through the Person of Jesus Christ, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Jesus bridges the gap between the human and divine, and offers us a participation in the life-breath shared among the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Jesus came into the world bodily 2,000 years ago, but the beginning of John’s Gospel tells us that his Word made flesh was one with us long before that: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him” (John 1:1-3). In other words, Jesus is not only the instrument of our redemption and resurrection; he was also there at our creation. God’s breath—or spirit—held our being within his Word before being spoken into this world—and before the world even came to be!

“In him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17). Before he left this world, Jesus promised that he would fulfill this through the Holy Spirit. “I am with you always, to the end of the age,” he said (Matthew 28:20). “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14:19-20, 26).

So we are never apart from the presence of God. Throughout all of Scripture, we hear God repeatedly reassure his chosen leaders, prophets, and disciples with these or similar words: “I am with you.”

So, truly, “in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Besides within our very life and being, this divine presence is manifested to us—if we’re receptive to it—in numerous other ways each day. For example, the Rule of St. Benedict tells us that we meet Christ especially in the guest, the sick, and the poor. We also can glimpse God’s mysterious beauty and wisdom in such things as a magnificent sunset or the startling profundity of a small child’s words.

Prayer, however, is the principal means by which we are invited to immerse ourselves in the Divine Presence. First, God calls us. Although we forget God, hide from God, make for ourselves lesser gods, and even accuse God of abandoning us—God still calls us. “God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2567).

But what is prayer?

Prayer is a lifelong rhythm of listening and responding to God’s call for conversion of heart—personally and communally. In other words, it is an honest, living, breathing, Spirit-filled relationship with God. It is a holy and privileged conversation: God speaks, we listen, and then we respond. It is a rhythm of sincere sharing as between two close friends.

This relationship already exists between God and each one of us. We don’t need to establish anything ourselves. We must simply be receptive to what already is—just like a radio must be tuned in to receive a broadcast signal before we can hear the music or program.

Most importantly, prayer is an invitation to surrender our very being to God’s movement of grace in our hearts. We pray not to obtain what we want, but to become what God desires—which is oneness with him. As Trappist monk Michael Casey has written, “We do not produce prayer. We allow prayer to act. We do not create prayer; it creates us” (Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer).

In prayer, we listen for the invitation, for that “tiny whispering sound” in our hearts that draws us toward God. And to do this we must surrender, let go of our preoccupations, our expectations, and simply be still before the God who created us, chose us, and redeemed us—the God who knows us better than we know ourselves, the God in whom “we live and move and have our being.”

Dwight Judy, a Methodist minister, author, and retreat director, points out that even when we petition God, “the answer to our prayer is not the immediate fulfillment of a specific request. Rather, the answer is a living relationship with the ‘peace of God’ (Philippians 4:7). … What we ultimately receive is the assurance that God is with us, regardless of the way our life [unfolds]” (Discerning Life Transitions).

As Christians, God invites us to pray primarily by meditating on the life of Christ, and we do this in many ways. We do this in personal prayer and in public prayer and communal worship—through the traditional forms or types of prayer such as petition, declaration, intercession, and thanksgiving and praise (cf. 1 Timothy 2:1, CCC 2644). We do this by sincerely praying the “Our Father”—the words Jesus taught us to pray when his disciples implored him, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1-4). We do this with devotions like the rosary. We do this by reading, listening to, and praying with Scripture. In the Catholic tradition, we do all this more intensely in the celebration of the Eucharist—where, and in which, we believe Christ is most fully present.

In addition, we pray by practicing mindfulness of God throughout the day’s activities and human interactions, sometimes with short, silent, memorized prayers.

In addition to all these ways of prayer, there are the brief but graced and priceless moments of wordless adoration and contemplation we sometimes receive from God. Then, of course, there is the more weighty prayer of suffering we all must bear from time to time, offering ourselves to God with trust, but in the dark silence, weakness, and tears that are beyond words or thoughts. In all these moments, when all our normal human faculties are rendered defenseless, God is more present to us than ever. That is because it is God’s Spirit who actually prays in us. As St. Paul wrote to the Romans (8:26-27):
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
All of these ways of praying are important for the life of the Christian who desires to meditate on Christ and therefore dwell in true relationship within the presence of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. However, there is another form of prayer that is especially dear to Benedictine hearts. That is the regular praying of the psalms—commonly referred to as the Liturgy of the Hours or the Divine Office. It is in the Divine Office—or Work of God, as St. Benedict terms it—that we participate, in a special way, in the life-breath shared among the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Being with God in prayer is uniquely manifested as hearts and voices unite in the conversational rhythm of listening and responding to one another with the Psalms—the ancient prayers that Jesus himself prayed as a faithful Jew.

Together, animated by the Holy Spirit, our voices become one with Christ’s in praying to God the Father on behalf of the Church and the world. As St. Benedict says in his Rule, “We believe that the divine presence is everywhere … but beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office” (19:1-2).

Why this is the case can be traced specifically to Jesus, who taught his disciples by word and example about “the need to pray always” (Luke 18:1). When we pray in Spirit and in Truth, Jesus promises, he is fully present to us, and prays with us and in us: “Where two or three are gathered,” Jesus said, “there I am among them” (Matthew 18:20). “In the Holy Spirit, Christ carries out through the Church ‘the task of redeeming humanity and giving perfect glory to God’” in the Eucharist and other sacraments, “but also in other ways, and especially when the Liturgy of the Hours is celebrated. There, Christ himself is present” (General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours, I-III, 13).

So, whether we are praying the psalms together or alone, and regardless of whether or not the sentiment of a particular psalm corresponds with our individual state of mind, we pray in Spirit with Christ, and as Christ, to God the Father for the salvation of all. The Trappist monk and writer Thomas Merton had some beautiful things to say on this subject:
There is one mystical Person chanting the psalms. It is no longer we alone…It is the eternal Christ. … All we who are members of his Body are one in Him and one with Him. His Church and bride is one with Him, two in one flesh. … It is not merely the solution of one person’s problem that is achieved in the psalms or in the Mystery of Christ. If in my chanting of the psalms, I arrive only at a sense of individual or personal fulfillment in Christ, a sense that does not reach out and embrace all the other members of the Body who find their fulfillment in Him, then I fall far short. ... The One Man who suffers in the psalms, who cries out to God in them, and by God is heard, this One Man is the Whole Christ. …The mere fact of standing together and hearing 20 or 30 or 50 or 100 voices all blending into one voice, crying out to God in the first person singular, is a great help toward realizing this truth. We all differ, we all have our own problems and troubles, and yet we all sing together: ‘O God, hear my cry, hearken to my prayer.’ … Our vision goes out to embrace the whole Mystical Body, in all its scattered members in every part of the world. And wherever they may be, those men and women are also here, and we are there with them, because we are all One in Christ. Wherever two or three are gathered together in His Name, Christ, in the midst of them, imparts to them his identity. He becomes the ‘I’ who sings and prays and praises in us all.” (Bread in the Wilderness).
So, in the psalms we have been entrusted with a great gift. In them, the voice of Christ is breathed into the world through the very Spirit of God that animates each one of us. For “in him we live and move and have our being.” May we all be faithful in living out this mystery in the presence of God, who is everywhere we are.