The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Turn, turn, turn

Archabbot Justin DuVall


There has certainly been a lot going on around here lately--though you wouldn't know it from my blog, would you?

That's OK. This blog is more about prayer and reflection than it is about the latest news and up-to-date commentary. Still, I hope to post more often here in the near future. In the meantime, a little catalog for catching up, in case you hadn't heard:

  • Fr. Archabbot Justin DuVall on January 13 announced his resignation, effective with the election of the next abbot--scheduled for June 2. The election will take place after an extensive period of discussion and discernment (unlike secular politics). For those of you who wonder, according to the Constitution and Statutes of the Swiss-American Benedictine Congregation (of which Saint Meinrad is a member), "to be eligible as abbot, the religious must be a monk of the electing monastery who is not deprived of his passive voice; he must be a priest, perpetually professed for five years, and 35 years of age."

    To learn more about the Abbot's announcement, I invite you to read the articles on the Saint Meinrad Archabbey website and the The Criterion website from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

    Archabbot Justin's decision likely came as a surprise to many, though he recently entered his 12th year in office. It's not an easy job, to be sure. In the linked articles above, he explains the reasoning and timing of his decision. Basically, after a long period of prayer and discernment, he feels that both he and the monastic community are in a good position for a change in leadership.

    By the help of God's grace and with the support of many, Archabbot Justin has accomplished much during his tenure. Many on the "outside" will point to the building and renovation projects that have been completed on his watch, which have strengthened and enhanced Saint Meinrad's standing in the eyes of those who come here to study, learn, pray, rest, celebrate, or otherwise seek God. To those of us on the "inside," however, I can assure you that his impact has been far, far greater. He has been an exceptional abbot, a faithful monk, and a generous human being who has displayed and/or dispensed much wisdom, discretion, and humility. And I'm not saying that because I have to (I am his secretary). I don't have to, and wouldn't if it weren't true.

    There are, to be sure, a lot of heavy but grateful hearts both on the Hill and beyond. We wish him well as he finishes his days of service as abbot, as he takes some well-deserved rest, and as he continues his journey as a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.

  • On Wednesday evening, at I Vespers of the solemnity of our holy patron Saint Meinrad, four -- yes FOUR! -- of our novices made their first profession. It's been a while since we've had a group such as that making their vows all at once. One of the things that makes first profession so exciting is that the professed take on new religious names. So, with that in mind:

    --Novice Timothy Herrmann = Br. Simon
    --Novice Peter Szidik = Br. Nathaniel
    --Novice Jonathan Blaize = Br. Joel
    --Novice Thomas Fish = Br. Jean

    You can read more about each one of them here. Four very fine young monks. May God strengthen and guide them as they continue to discern the monastic way of life.

  • And, if that isn't enough, on Tuesday evening before Vespers, we also welcomed a new novice into the community -- Joshua Leeuw. You can read more about him here. May he find peace as he seeks God in this place.

    We now have 10 junior monks in temporary vows -- TEN! -- as well as two novices. God and Chapter willing, three of the juniors will make their solemn profession this coming summer. Please keep them all in your prayers, and please pray for additional vocations to this way of life and this monastery in particular. And please pray for those of us who are already committed as solemnly professed monks, that we may always be faithful to our generous and merciful God's call. Most especially, pray for this community as it begins the process of electing a new abbot. May the Holy Spirit be our guide. Our Lady of Einsiedeln, pray for us! St. Benedict and St. Meinrad, pray for us!

  • As for me personally, I was able to spend a week or so right after Christmas with my family and friends in Ohio and West Virginia. It was especially fun to witness my 3-year-old nephew Evan's excitement and wonder during those days. He is obsessed with the movie The Polar Express. We only had to watch it three or four times during our short visit. He especially likes the "hot chocolate scene," and insists on a mug of the steaming beverage (with marshmallows) after coming in from the cold and snow.

    Tomorrow (January 24), I celebrate the feast of my holy patron, St. Francis de Sales. Incidentally, on that date every year, the Pope issues his message for World Communications Day (St. Francis de Sales is the patron saint of authors and journalists). Pope Francis' latest message, for the 50th such event, is worth reading, even if you are not an author or journalist. He addresses all those who communicate--which includes each one of us. It is titled "Communication and Mercy: A Fruitful Encounter." You can read it here.

    Finally, this coming week, I will be in class all day for the post-practicum course in the School of Theology's three-year Spiritual Direction Graduate Certificate program. This will fulfill my requirements for the certificate. So, I am looking forward to that.

Peace be to all. Have some hot chocolate. With marshmallows.

My nephew Evan sporting his 'tache' de chocolat.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Promise of the plain, old, ordinary

It’s back: Ordinary Time. Christmas and Advent are over. January, February, and March stretch out before us. Lent is just around the corner … What are we to make of it all?

The liturgical seasons of Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter provide us with much to anticipate and celebrate in terms of our Christian faith. But how do we live that out the rest of the year? Ordinary Time, after all, comprises well over half of the year. Feasts and solemnities aside, for the most part we are called to find Christ in the day-to-day, unremarkable, ordinariness of human living.

A passage from Mark’s Gospel (9:14-29) offers some guidance in this regard, pointing us toward the importance of prayer and faith in our daily lives. Although it may be argued, on one level, that what Jesus does in this particular passage—healing a boy by expelling the demon tormenting him—is anything but ordinary, the overall message is one of entrusting everything to God through prayer and faith. After all, demons such as doubt, despair, spiritual idleness, and so many others are daily companions, tempting us to lose all hope in a God who seems absent or oblivious, as we aimlessly flail away, seemingly at the mercy of life’s frustrations and disappointments.

Such is the scene at the outset of this Gospel passage. Things are out of control. A man has brought his possessed son to Jesus’ disciples to be healed. However, regardless of what they try, nothing works. A fierce argument breaks out. This is the setting into which Jesus appears. After finding out what all the commotion is about, Jesus expresses exasperation with all of them. “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you?”

But Jesus does not throw up his hands and simply walk away. “Bring [the boy] to me,” he says. When this is done, the spirit possessing him flings the boy into convulsions. His father says to Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”

Once again, Jesus is taken aback. “If you are able!” he retorts. “All things can be done for the one who believes.” This is the key moment upon which the whole event turns. The father acknowledges his lack of faith while at the same time expressing an earnest desire for more faith. In other words, he prays.

“I believe; help my unbelief!” he says.

Jesus then expels the unclean spirit. Order is restored from chaos.

Later, when Jesus is alone with his disciples, they ask him why they were not able to do what he did. “This kind can come out only through prayer,” he responds.

Prayer expresses our faith. Other things (such as works of mercy) do as well, but prayer is foremost because it acknowledges our need to be in right relationship with God—it is our relationship with God. It is a lifelong rhythm of listening and responding to God’s call for conversion of heart—personally and communally.

Prayer is not a means by which we attempt to persuade God to give us this or that, or to do this or that. It is open, honest, full-hearted conversation with a God who loves us beyond measure, so that we may become our true selves in the divine image. We pray to be changed into who God wishes us to be—not orphans, but children of God.

Jesus instructs us to pray always, so as not to lose heart (Luke 18:1). Many times throughout the gospels, after expelling a demon or healing someone, his parting words are: “Your faith has saved you.” Wealth, honor, health, success, and so many other things are all well and good, as far as they go. And as dutiful Christians, we may strive for perfection to the point of exhaustion. But in the end, it is solely faith that saves us—faith in the unfathomable and ineffable mystery of God’s indisputable and merciful presence in our lives despite what the world’s values and circumstances seem to suggest. After all, as the Letter to the Hebrews famously states: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (11:1).

So, we must pray as did the apostles, “Lord, increase our faith!”(Luke 17:5), or as did the possessed boy’s father: “I believe; help my unbelief!” These are honest expressions of acknowledged incompleteness. In them, we state our desire to be freed from whatever holds us back from God. Even when we are in the grips of the deepest doubt, we can confidently pray for more faith.

“Ask and you will receive,” Jesus says in John’s Gospel. True faith is a gift that cannot be refused to the one who prays for it. In this way, we find Christ in the day-to-day, unremarkable, ordinariness of human living. “Remember,” Jesus says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

So, let us pray—this day and every day, all day and for all days. Everything is possible to one who has faith—even grasping what seems just beyond our reach. Faith is what completes our joy, and as Christians, that is anything but ordinary.

"If you ask anything of the Father in my name,
he will give it to you. Ask and you will receive,
so that your joy may be complete."
John 16:23-24