The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Arise! Shine, for your light has come

"By becoming man, the Word
renews the cosmic order of creation;
By coming into the world, the eternal Word
invites us to the feast of his light."
St. John Paul II

My earliest aspiration as a small child was to be an astronaut. Well, that obviously didn't come to fruition -- though it was fun to pretend going to the moon in spaceships constructed with kitchen chairs, blankets, and assorted cookware. That was in the late 60s and early 70s, when NASA's Apollo space program was still going. Space travel was still a relative novelty at that point. One of my earliest memories is watching on television the Apollo 11 mission of landing the first human beings on the moon in July 1969 (when I was nearly 4 years old). I was fascinated by it all.

NASA's "Blue Marble," 1972
Many of the photographs of Earth taken by the Apollo astronauts and their forerunners are still breathtaking and very much suitable for contemplating "higher realities." Of course, in this age of satellite images and instant communication, such photographs are easily taken for granted today. Still, they remain as stunning and as historically significant as when they were first taken. The "Blue Marble" photograph of Earth, taken by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972 (shown alongside this post), is still one of the most recognizable images in history. Although portions of our planet had been previously captured on film by other Apollo missions and satellites (a rocket-launched camera provided our first partial view of Earth in 1946), the "Blue Marble" is the first "full-view" image of the Earth taken from space.

In any event, those years of space exploration afforded the human race its first opportunity to look back at itself as unique inhabitants of the same small planet within a seemingly endless universe. Such a "look in the mirror" can provide sorely needed proportion to our human struggles -- and hopefully, a sense of compassionate solidarity. Then, there are the even bigger questions -- "Who are we?" and "Where did all this come from?" and "What is the purpose?"

So, what does all this have to do with Christmas? Well, today we celebrate the incarnation of Christ, the birth of a Savior into this very world we inhabit, into this human history that is still unfolding. In that instant, with Christ later fulfilling from the cross his plan of redemption for all humankind, God "re-created" us after the pattern of the first creation, with a twist -- he became one of us. All God asks is that we accept within our hearts the gift of Light that he offers. Then, when Christ comes again, God will look upon all he has remade, and call it very good.

In 1968, the astronauts on the Apollo 8 mission became the first to orbit the moon (they did not land). Thus, they were the first human beings to see the Earth from space as an entire planet, and the first to witness "earthrise," which they filmed. And on a special Christmas Eve television broadcast, the Apollo 8 astronauts shared this experience with the world while reading the first 10 verses from the Book of Genesis (something that is unlikely to ever happen again). The video above replays this moment in our history and offers -- 47 years after it was recorded -- some images and thoughts still very much worthy of reflection. Indeed, for all of us who inhabit this strange planet in this vast universe, the Creator's words still echo and knock on the doors of our hearts: "Let there be Light!"

A Light-filled Christmas and joyful New Year to all.
May it all be very good!

"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me
will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."
John 8:12

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The paradox of Advent: a meditation

Msgr. Charles Pope (Archdiocese of Washington) has written an excellent meditation on what we're really praying for during Advent when we ask the Lord to come and save us. It offers much food for thought and prayer. To read the piece, click here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Praying the "O" Antiphons

Tomorrow evening (December 17) at Vespers, we begin chanting the "O" Antiphons before and after the Magnificat -- one of my favorite parts of Advent! The seven antiphons—one for each day preceding the vigil of Christmas from December 17 to  December 23—are called “O” antiphons because each one begins with “O”. In previous years, I have posted the "O" antiphons we chant each evening in the Archabbey Church, along with some accompanying artwork. Click on the links below to go back and read/view each "O" Antiphon for this year's corresponding date. The opening words for each day’s antiphon are (in Latin, followed by English):
Dec. 17: O Sapientia – O Wisdom
Dec. 18: O Adonai – O Lord 
Dec. 19: O Radix Jesse – O Root of Jesse 
Dec. 20: O Clavis David – O Key of David 
Dec. 21: O Oriens – O Rising Sun 
Dec. 22: O Rex Gentium – O King of the Nations 
Dec. 23: O Emmanuel – [Reference to Isaiah 7:14’s mention of Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us”]
As you can see, each antiphon calls on the Messiah by one of his titles from Scripture and ends with a specific petition imploring the Lord to come. Included are numerous references to the prophecy of Isaiah on the coming of the Messiah.

And, the first initial of each Latin term, read from the last title to the first (Emmanuel, Rex, Oriens, Clavis, Radix, Adonai, Sapientia) form an acrostic, the Latin words ero cras, which means, “I will come tomorrow.” So, in essence, the seven-day period of calling on the Messiah by his various titles ends just before Christmas with God’s response coming from the other direction: “I will come tomorrow.” Thus, there is a palpable swelling of anticipation leading up to Christmas Eve and the coming of Jesus our Savior, God with us.

To sing or hear each antiphon being chanted is quite beautiful. To be quite honest, when you’re a monk, chanting in choir four times a day, seven days a week, can sometimes be about as unromantic as anything else one does day after day. However, when special times like that of the “O” Antiphons kick in, everyone picks it up a notch, and there is a level of intensity and heartfelt warmth that seem to lift voice and mind simultaneously into the heavens. There is nothing quite like it, and I wish everyone had the opportunity to experience or participate in it at least once.

Barring that, however, each antiphon is a short, rich little prayer unto itself, and is worthy of reciting and meditating on as a personal prayer. The antiphons linked above are accompanied by contemporary paintings by Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ, of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Minnesota. Each piece, presenting the Christ-event from a woman’s point of view, is very colorful, unique, and contemplative.

I invite you to allow the antiphons and accompanying images to embrace your longing for the coming of Christ in each and every human heart, beginning with your own.

A blessed Advent to you!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Saint Meinrad's Holy Door of Mercy

"Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."
Luke 6:36

Window panels by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B.,
in Saint Meinrad's Holy Door of Mercy

As you likely know by now, Pope Francis has declared the year that began December 8 (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception) as an Extraordinary Jubilee Year in the Catholic Church throughout the world. The theme of this “Holy Year of Mercy” (which runs until November 20, 2016, the Solemnity of Christ the King) is “Merciful Like the Father.” The theme's inspiration is from Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke (6:36): “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (in light of this passage, one might also meditate on the phrase from the Lord’s Prayer which includes both a supplication and a promise: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”).

This the first Holy Year proclaimed since the year 2000, and the first Extraordinary Jubilee Year since 1983 (both during Saint John Paul II’s pontificate). This Holy Year of Mercy is unique in one very special respect—one in which Saint Meinrad Archabbey is participating. So keep reading...

All of the major basilicas in Rome have special symbolic (typically quite large and ornamental) “holy doors” which are sealed from the inside and are only opened during designated jubilee years. As the website Crux points out, “the door usually is sealed with bricks as a symbolic reminder of the barrier of sin between human beings and God.” Pilgrims who pass through the holy doors of these basilicas during jubilee years, and participate in particular devotions therein, are afforded certain spiritual graces—with the ultimate goal being conversion of heart. There are many particulars to all of this—including indulgences for pilgrims, planned devotional and catechetical events during the year, and special sacramental provisions—which one can investigate more thoroughly on other Internet sites (such as the Vatican's Jubilee of Mercy site or the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops site).

Pope Francis presided at the ceremonial opening of the Holy Door at St. Peter’s Basilica on December 8. During his homily that day, Pope Francis said: “To pass through the holy door means to rediscover the infinite mercy of the Father, who welcomes everyone and goes out personally to encounter each of them. This will be a year in which we grow ever more convinced of God’s mercy.”

In the coming weeks, the holy doors of other basilicas throughout Rome will be opened.

What makes this holy year especially unique—for the Church throughout the world, and for Saint Meinrad Archabbey—is that Pope Francis has asked every diocese around the world to open a Holy Door in its “mother church” or cathedral. In addition, local bishops around the world have been granted the authority to designate certain shrines within their dioceses (those frequented by large groups of pilgrims) as places for Holy Doors to be established during this jubilee year. This is the first time in the Church’s history for such a “widening” of the holy door concept, reflecting Pope Francis’ desire for the entire world’s participation in this jubilee year.

Within the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, in which Saint Meinrad Archabbey is located, Archbishop Joseph Tobin has designated two churches during this jubilee year for “Holy Door” status. One, of course, is the archdiocese’s cathedral, Ss. Peter and Paul in Indianapolis. The other is—yes, you guessed it!--Saint Meinrad Archabbey.  How awesome is this place! (to borrow from Jacob’s exclamation in Genesis 28:17.) Saint Meinrad Archabbey, then, is one of the relatively few non-cathedral pilgrimage sites throughout the world participating in the Holy Father’s Extraordinary Year of Mercy. Our own Holy Door—as with the one in Indianapolis at Ss. Peter and Paul—was officially opened yesterday in a short ceremony prior to Mass.

The “official” Holy Door is the northernmost door at the front (west) entrance of the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln (the door to the far left if you are standing outside at the bottom of the marble steps looking up at the main entrance to the church). In preparation for yesterday’s ceremony, our Br. Martin designed five special window panels for the door—at the top, the pontifical seal of Pope Francis; at the center, the Lamb of God (representing Christ, whose sacrifice takes away the sins of the world and offers mercy to all); and surrounding the Lamb, three ministering angels. These panels are pictured at the top of this post.

One of our guests present at yesterday’s Mass here remarked afterward that she was somewhat disappointed that there wasn’t an actual “opening” of the door such as at St. Peter’s Basilica. I suppose that such elaborate ceremonies (with very large, ornamental doors that are ordinarily not used—unlike ours here), are still reserved for the likes of Rome (a little Googling will retrieve some photos of the ceremony at St. Peter’s on December 8). Really, though, all the pomp and circumstance is not the point. The real invitation of this Holy Year of Mercy is to open the doors of our hearts to both receiving and granting mercy after the pattern of Christ—to practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy as taught by the Church. As Saint John Paul II said at the beginning of his pontificate: “Open wide the doors for Christ!”

Indeed, allowing Christ—both Gatekeeper and Gate; the Way, the Truth, the Life—into our hearts is the key to it all, as reflected in the opening prayer of the ceremony here on Sunday (from the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization):
Blessed are you, Lord, holy Father, who sent your Son into the world to gather all men and women, wounded and scattered by sin, into one body through the shedding of his blood. You appointed him both shepherd and gate for the sheep, so that whoever enters may be saved, and whoever comes in and goes out will find pasture for eternal life. Grant that your faithful may pass through this gate, and be welcomed into your presence, so that they may experience, O Father, your abundant mercy. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
So, especially during this Holy Year of Mercy—whether in Rome, Indianapolis, Saint Meinrad, or places in-between, “let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help” (Hebrews 4:16).

The Holy Door is to the far left.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Advent prayer

Lord God,

Who is always in our midst,
as we embrace this Advent season
with joyful expectation,
renew us in your love,
so that we may come to know and share
your mercy and peace
that surpass all understanding.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Promise in a frost-bound world

From a sermon by Ronald Knox 
(1888-1957, English priest, theologian, and author):

The feast of our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate [Tuesday, December 8], is the promise and the earnest of Christmas; our salvation is already in the bud. As the first green shoot heralds the approach of spring, in a world that is frost-bound and seems dead, so in a world of great sinfulness and of utter despair, that spotless conception heralds the restoration of man’s innocence.

As the shoot gives unfailing promise of the flower which is to spring from it, this conception gives unfailing promise of the virgin birth. Life had come into the world again—supernatural life, not of man’s choosing or of man’s fashioning.

And it grew there unmarked by human eyes; no angels sang over the hills to celebrate it, no shepherds left their flocks to come and see; no wise men were beckoned by the stars to witness that prodigy.

And yet the first Advent had begun.

Our Lady, you see, is the consummation of the Old Testament; with her, the cycle of history begins anew. When God created the first Adam, he made his preparations beforehand; he fashioned a paradise ready for him to dwell in. And when he restored our nature in the second Adam, once more there was a preparation to be made beforehand. He fashioned a paradise for the second Adam to dwell in, and that paradise was the body and soul of our blessed Lady, immune from the taint of sin, Adam’s curse.

It was winter still in the world; but in the quiet home where Saint Anne gave birth to her daughter, spring had begun.

Man’s winter, God’s spring—the living branch growing from the dead root.

For that, year by year, we Christians give thanks to God when Advent comes round. It is something that has happened once for all; we look for no further redemption, no fresh revelation, however many centuries are to roll over this earth before the skies crack above us and our Lord comes in judgment.

Yet there are times in history when the same mood comes upon us, even upon us Christians—the same mood of despair in which the world was sunk at the time when Jesus Christ was born. There are times when the old landmarks seem obliterated, and the old certainties by which we live have deserted us. The world seems to have exhausted itself, and has no vigor left to face its future; the only forces that seem to possess any energy are those that make for disruption and decay.

The world’s winter, and it is always followed by God’s spring. Behold, I make all things new, said our Lord to St. John.

Let us rejoice, on this feast of the Immaculate Conception, in the proof and pledge he has given us of that inexhaustible fecundity which belongs only to his grace. And let us ask our blessed Lady to win for us, in our own lives, that continual renewal of strength and holiness that befits our supernatural destiny.

Fresh graces, not soiled by the memory of past failure; fresh enterprise, to meet the conditions of a changing world; fresh hope, to carry our burdens beyond the shifting scene of this present world into the changeless repose of eternity.

A Word in Season: Monastic Lectionary for the Divine Office,
IV, Sanctoral, Augustinian Press, 1991, p.241-243.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving thanks...

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am in New York, preparing for a Day of Recollection I'm giving Sunday for Saint Meinrad Archabbey's oblate chapter here. In the meantime, my confrere Fr. Meinrad (the oblate director) and I are enjoying some sight-seeing and the generous hospitality of two oblates in Farmingdale on Long Island--Paul and Irene Muhs.

This is my first-ever visit to the New York City area. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Fr. Meinrad and I took the train into Manhattan to see all the requisite sights (downtown and midtown), and today we are enjoying a day of rest and gratitude with the Muhs (perhaps more restful for Fr. Meinrad and I than the Muhs, God bless them). I may post more about all of this here at a later date. In the meantime, above is a piece that I found particularly striking yesterday during our visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is a Dutch carving out of oak from the early 15th century called "Apostles in Prayer." Of course, the Met has much grander pieces -- "Washington Crossing the Delaware," the Temple of Dendur, the Frank Lloyd Wright collection (including an entire room from a house he built in Minnesota), and several vibrant  Tiffany glass windows were among my favorites -- but this relatively small, intimate, and prayerful sculpture seems most fitting for the posture of reverence and gratitude we do well to recall on this Thanksgiving Day (and every day, for that matter).

Tomorrow, we go into the city again for the highlight of the sight-seeing (for me, anyway), a visit to the Cloisters Museum on the Hudson -- think medieval and monastic!

Until then, a Happy Thanksgiving to all, and may all give God thanks and praise.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Plan

The mysteries of Jesus are not yet completely perfected and fulfilled. They are complete, indeed, in the person of Jesus, but not in us, who are his members, nor in the Church, which is his mystical body. The Son of God wills to give us a share in his mysteries and somehow to extend them to us. He wills to continue them in us and in his universal Church. This is brought about first through the graces he has resolved to impart to us and then through the works he wishes to accomplish in us through these mysteries. This is his plan for fulfilling his mysteries in us.

For this reason Saint Paul says that Christ is being brought to fulfillment in his Church and that all of us contribute to this fulfillment, and thus he achieves the fullness of life, that is, the mystical stature that he has in his mystical body, which will reach completion only on judgment day. In another place Paul says: I complete in my own flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.

This is the plan by which the Son of God completes and fulfills in us all the various stages and mysteries. He desires us to perfect the mystery of his incarnation and birth by forming himself in us and being reborn in our souls through the blessed sacraments of baptism and the Eucharist. He fulfills his hidden life in us, hidden with him in God.

He intends to perfect the mysteries of his passion, death and resurrection, by having us participate in his suffering, death, and resurrection, with him and in him. Finally, he wishes to fulfill in us the state of his glorious and immortal life, when he will cause us to live a glorious, eternal life, with him and in him, in heaven.
--St. John Eudes

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

O God, hear our voice

To the Creator of nature and man,
of truth and beauty, I pray:

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of the victims
of all wars and violence
among individuals and nations.

Hear my voice,
for it is the voice of all children
who suffer and will suffer
when people put their faith
in weapons and war.

Hear my voice
when I beg you to instill
into the hearts of all human beings
the wisdom of peace,
the strength of justice,
and the joy of fellowship.

Hear my voice,
for I speak for the multitudes
in every country
and in every period of history
who do not want war
and are ready to walk the road of peace.

Hear my voice
and grant insight and strength
so that we may always respond to hatred with love,
to injustice with total dedication to justice,
to need with the sharing of self,
to war with peace.

O God, hear my voice
and grant unto the world
your everlasting peace.

Saint John Paul II

Sunday, November 1, 2015

De Profundis

"Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord,
and let perpetual light shine upon them."

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord,
Lord, hear my voice!
O let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my pleading.

If you, O Lord, should mark our guilt,
Lord, who would survive?
But with you is found forgiveness:
for this we revere you.

My soul is waiting for the Lord,
I count on his word.
My soul is longing for the Lord
more than watchmen for daybreak.

Let the watchmen count on daybreak
and Israel on the Lord.

Because with the Lord there is mercy
and fullness of redemption,
Israel indeed he will redeem
from all its iniquity.

Psalm 130

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All Saints

“Since we are surrounded
by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us rid ourselves
of every burden and sin
that clings to us and persevere
in running the race that lies before us
while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus,
the leader and perfecter of faith.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


"May the Lord direct your hearts
into the love of God and into the patience of Christ."
2 Thessalonians 3:5

"Christian's Workshop," Giandomenico Jardella 

Lately, my diet of spiritual reading has included some monastic literature on the virtue of patience, a fruit of the Holy Spirit most of us would do well to cultivate more diligently. Scripture, of course, also has plenty to offer on the topic, and I’ve noticed that recent weekday Mass readings have occasionally contained allusions to patience and its close relative, the theological virtue of hope. In today’s readings, for example, St. Paul speaks of hoping for what we do not see, of waiting with endurance amid present sufferings (Romans 8:18-25), while Jesus assures us that the Kingdom of God grows among us slowly and silently—yet steadily and successfully (Luke 13:18-21).

In a monastic context, patience is honed primarily though the experience of living in community. As St. Benedict says in his Rule, monks should support “with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior” (72:5). This is a challenge for each one of us, no matter one’s station in life. Interaction within and among families, workplaces, various assemblies, societies, and nations is the hammer that drives the chisel of patience in (hopefully) smoothing out our rough edges. Of course, one has to be open to such shaping and sculpting, and not resist or—God forbid—retaliate. And so, patience is something we must actively pray for, and nourish regularly with Scripture and the Sacraments.

Patience is a product of the cardinal virtue of fortitude, which assists us with “firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1808). The three grades of patience, according to John A. Hardon’s Catholic Dictionary, are: “to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and even to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy.”

Many things, of course, can try our patience, while simultaneously providing the opportunity to fortify or display it. Some can be quite severe, while others are more bothersome than anything else: the vicissitudes of the natural world; illness, physical pain or distress, sorrow and grief; pinpricks of annoyance or irritation that inevitably develop in human relationships (one might also insert here the frustrations that arise from traffic delays, computer failures, and the like); emotional and mental anxiety prompted by insults, scorn, disagreements, misunderstandings, and falsehoods; and the spiritual afflictions associated with genuinely seeking God—temptations, distractions, aridity, etc.

On this last score, it seems to me that those who are serious about the spiritual life can be mercilessly impatient with themselves. My own personal experiences, as well as those related to me by spiritual directees, reinforce the notion that we expect near-immediate proficiency, perception, and perfection—like a toddler attempting to run before first learning to crawl. And while the toddler will eventually gain his feet (one would hope), the fact is that we will never be completely proficient, perceptive, and perfect in the spiritual sense—not in this world, anyway. By extension, if we cannot patiently accept imperfection in ourselves, we will never be able to tolerate it in others or in the world around us.

In this regard, a few words from my patron saint are in order—excerpted from a wonderful letter written to a discouraged young woman more than 400 years ago (but just as relevant today):
These interior troubles you have suffered have been caused by a great multitude of considerations and desires produced by an intense eagerness to attain some imaginary perfection. I mean that your imagination had formed for you an ideal of absolute perfection. 
So now, take a little breath and rest a little. … Know that the virtue of patience is the one that most assures us of perfection; and if we must have patience with others, so we must with ourselves. Those who aspire to the pure love of God have not so much need of patience with others as with themselves. We must suffer our imperfection in order to have perfection. I say suffer, not love or pet; humility feeds on this suffering. 
I do not mean to say that we are not to put ourselves in that direction [of perfection]; but that we are not to desire to get there in one day. … Sometimes we occupy ourselves so much with being good angels that we neglect being good men and women. Our imperfections must accompany us to our coffin; we cannot walk without touching the earth.
If we keep these words of St. Francis de Sales in our minds and hearts, we will be eminently more capable of practicing patience with one another and within the circumstances in which we find ourselves each day. All, of course, after the pattern of Christ. May he bring us all together to everlasting life (Rule 72:11).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Seasonal "sacraments"

In the Rule of Saint Benedict we read, “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.” This single verse offers spiritual wisdom about bodily death. Yet, when you read through the Rule, you will also have a sense of what can be called “death to self,” as part of St. Benedict’s spiri­tual doctrine for imitating and following Jesus Christ. Daily dying to one’s desires, wishes or self-will can be a measuring rod for asses­sing how seriously we keep death daily before our eyes, while seeking the things that are above.

At the moment we pass from our mother’s womb into the waiting world, our life moves toward death. To some, that thought may sound foreboding or morbid, yet it is a fact of life. This fact of life gives us perspective on how we choose to live (and sometimes how we choose to die), and how basic death is to the process of nature. It surrounds us each day. Light dies and gives way to darkness and sleep. Autumn shows us the process of dying and ushers in the winter when the death or deep slumber of so many things in nature reveals itself in stark landscapes.

However, we cannot forget that the darkness of night then gives way to the glories of a sunrise and fresh morning breezes. Likewise, the bitter cold and shorter days of winter pass to longer, warmer, and brighter days in spring, with signs of new life popping up everywhere. Nature teaches us that death is a passageway directing us to new life.

There is no one who has shown us this better than Jesus Christ, the wisdom of God. His words and deeds were a message of life and hope to those who first heard them and to those who hear them today. He approached his own ignominious death with the truth that sets a person free, and without fear of what lies ahead, trusting in the good­ness of God.

Throughout our lives, every one of us faces the call at numerous times to “let go” of our plans, our hopes, our wishes, and our will. These entail a death to self which enables us to let go of what we had hoped for so that something else (and not always something material!) may take its place.

How often should we bite our tongue rather than show annoy­ance with another over something of little concern? How often does patience invite us to overlook the idiosyncrasies of someone at work to keep peace in the office? How often do I have to jettison my plan for a project in a church group because another’s is better—or, another’s is equally as good?

Willingness to act in these ways is death to self, which then brings life, peace, and well-being—to others, and hopefully to us.

The single goal in life for the Christian is to become like Christ. Our experiences of death to self and of bodily death find special meaning in a passage from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. There St. Paul writes, “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When he writes of “glory,” St. Paul refers to the paschal mystery of Jesus into which we are all incorporated—that is how our own life, suffering, and death are now shar­ing in the resurrection of Jesus. But for St. Paul, our glory includes not only the promise of res­urrection, but all the experiences of our life that are united to Jesus’ own life, suffer­ing, and death.

There is a little “sacrament” in nature that reminds us that our death to self is beautiful in the eyes of God. In the autumn of the year, the leaves that are turning brilliant yellow, bright orange, and deep red are actually in the process of dying. Their colors are deepest, brightest, and most brilliant as they are “in the process” of their death. That is also true for us. Our lives mirror the beauty of God’s plan for us as we die to self, and as we prepare to enter the eternal life for which we were created. This is the paschal mystery—new life through death!

--Rt. Rev. Gregory Polan, O.S.B.
Abbot of Conception Abbey, Missouri
Adapted from Sacred Rhythms
© 2011, Abbey Press

Friday, October 23, 2015

The "Voice of God"

Ever wonder what the bells high up within the Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church's towers look like as they're ringing? Catch a glimpse with the above video, courtesy of the Saint Meinrad Vocations Office.

These are the four bells in the south bell tower (nearest to the school's buildings). There are two other, much larger, bells in the north tower. Those two ring only on special occasions--solemnities, professions and ordinations, funerals, etc. Still, the four bells in the video are quite large and heavy, not to mention loud. I've been up in that bell tower a few times, and can attest to that. It's not a place you want to be when the bells are actually ringing. Too loud for that--so a small camera was left on the platform to which the bells are anchored, and retrieved later.

The bells are being rung via ropes pulled by young monks far below at the base of the tower (off the Blessed Sacrament Chapel). This occurs--in varied numbers and patterns--prior to each time the monks gather in church for prayer or Mass (five times per day).

Since the bells serve as signals calling us to prayer--or "the Work of God," as St. Benedict terms it, many refer to their ringing as the "Voice of God."

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.