The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Bells of Saint Meinrad

Many visitors to Saint Meinrad Archabbey are intrigued by the iconic bell towers of the Archabbey Church and the ringing of the bells inside them to call monks and guests to prayer several times each day. If you are one of those so interested, you may want to check out the first episode of Saint Meinrad's new podcast, "Echoes from the Bell Tower" (Click the title to the left or below, or the photo above, to access the podcast.) The initial, 23-minute episode, produced by our Development Office with the cooperation of several monks, is about the bells. Interesting insights and amusing stories alike are shared in the episode.

A few lines from the introduction to the podcast from the "Echoes from the Bell Tower" page:
The bells of the Archabbey Church are one of the first things you notice at Saint Meinrad. The bell towers themselves are a local landmark. The Archabbey is situated on a hill, so the towers are visible from some distance away. Even on a foggy morning, you can usually see the tops of the bell towers peeking above the mist. 
The bells ring every 15 minutes at Saint Meinrad, so we're pretty used to them. But if they don't ring at the right time or they ring at an unusual time, we take notice. 
In this podcast, hosts Br. Joel and Novice Tony explain the significance of the bells to those who live in a monastery. The bells and their rituals are woven into monastic life. 
They call the monks to prayer, mark the significant events in their life and, finally, announce their death. The bells have also been known to cause some consternation, as you'll hear in this episode.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Resurrection and life -- today

Jesus reveals himself at Emmaus. Guilded bronze panel by
Tom McAnulty from the Archabbey Church altar.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus says to his friend Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

At the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus both commissions and assures his disciples: “Go, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

These words of Jesus are meant for us today as well. The Resurrection of Jesus is not merely a historical event. Nor is it simply a promise to us—something we hope for ourselves in the future. It is an eternal, universal occurrence of inestimable proportion that unfolds daily in the lives of all believers—if it is genuinely accepted in faith, hope, and love.

Before he was crucified, Jesus said: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself” (John 12:32). He means you and me—today. We are drawn up into the Paschal Mystery of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ. Most of us—to some degree, at least—understand the Passion and Death elements of that mystery because we all experience suffering and death—or will. However, can we also identify the ways in which Christ’s Resurrection is manifested in our own lives—not merely as a historical event or a promise of future restoration and renewal, but as a present reality?

“I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said. “Do you believe this?”

Jesus’ Resurrection is manifested to us here and now through his Holy Spirit, with whom Christians are sealed at Baptism. Again, in John’s Gospel, he said: “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” (John 14:26).

This Spirit is the divine life breath of all Christians, first breathed into the Church (cf. John 20:22; Acts 2) at Pentecost, just as God “formed [the first] man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7). Through this Spirit, we live and move and have our being (cf. Acts 17:28). It is the prayer, sacraments, and life of the Church that resurrect us and give us life—not only at the Second Coming but (partially, at least) here and now. Remarkably, Jesus, through the Holy Spirit sent in his name by God the Father, is more present to us today, and in more ways and places, than he ever was as a man walking this earth 2,000 years ago (cf. John 14:15-31; 16:4-15). Additionally, as St. Paul tells us, the Holy Spirit dwells within each and every one of us (cf. Romans 5:5; 8:9-14).

Through all these avenues, God offers us the resurrection and the life of Christ each day. Today’s Mass readings for Wednesday within the Octave of Easter (Acts 3:1-10 and Luke 24:13-35) offer us some specific, concrete, post-Resurrection examples. In the first reading, Peter and John (now filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly proclaiming the Good News) provide new life to a man crippled from birth (who had to be carried each day to the temple gate to beg for alms). Through their intercession, this man—who had never walked before—miraculously began “walking and jumping and praising God.” In the Gospel reading, the resurrected Jesus draws near to and walks (unrecognized) with a pair of “downcast,” “slow of heart” disciples on their way to Emmaus. Slowly, he interprets Scripture (the Word who is himself) for them and then blesses and breaks bread (the Sacrament of the Eucharist, who is himself) with them. Then, “their eyes were opened and they recognized him,” and they said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?” Spiritually revived and strengthened, the two returned to Jerusalem to share the Good News they had received.

In different circumstances, each of these persons was resurrected, given new life, through Christ—who was present to them in mysterious ways. Christ is no less present to us in our own times for those who truly believe. Through the gift of faith, we should each be able to recall occasions either remarkable or ordinary in which the Spirit seems to have breathed new life into us. From my own point of view, I can immediately recount several occurrences of the more remarkable kind: my own “spiritual reawakening”; my sobriety; my vocation as a monk, writer, and spiritual director; and the birth of my little nephew Evan in 2012. Those are just a few.

So, Easter is not over. For some, it’s just beginning. For all of us, the Paschal Mystery continues to unfold. The resurrection and the life who is Christ is looking for ways to surprise us, if we are willing to allow him. Here and now.

“Do you believe this?”

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Creeping things...

We had all kinds of visitors for the Easter Vigil in the Archabbey Church on Saturday evening. The black feline in the above photo (taken by a human guest) decided to stroll prominently through the open main doors (through which the rest of us entered minutes earlier, after the blessing of the fire and preparation of the paschal candle) and then among the guests and monks.

This cat began hanging around the monastery a couple months ago. A number of monks have named her Bakhita, though I've heard some guests call her Raven.

In any event, her timing was impeccable. Into the church she sauntered as the lector (unseen in the photo, but to the left) was proclaiming God's command in the first reading from Genesis: "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures: cattle, creeping things, and wild animals of all kinds."

Curiously enough, though I was sitting in the first row of the choir stalls, I missed the whole thing, and didn't hear anything about it until someone mentioned it this morning!

Many thanks to whomever took the photo (forwarded to me by Br. Zachary).

Saturday, March 26, 2016

"I am the resurrection and the life."

"To everyone who conquers, I will give permission
to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God."

Revelation 2:7

A lifeless body in a tomb.



Wrapped in burial cloths of misery, fear, and failure.

A decaying grain concealed in darkest land.

Mystery awaits the morn.

Thin light spreads over a horizon unaware
of what the earth cannot contain.

The soil is soaked with divinity’s dew.

The seed of humanity sheds its rotten garments.

The wound within opens.

A tender shoot appears.

It emerges above the soil.

Pulled toward the rising sun, it is green, full of sap.

Roots crack through and discard the seed’s hard but fragile casing…

… surge through and clutch the earth…

… drink from the brimming river.

The stalk grows thicker, taller.

Stems become branches.

Buds blossom and leaves unfurl.

Within them the birds of heaven sing their song.

Hanging there is ripened fruit.

Good for food.

Pleasing to the eye.

Desirable for gaining wisdom.

Fruit better than gold.

A woman enters the land.

She seeks a burial plot, and finds the tree.

She is amazed at what has arisen there.

Taking some of the fruit, she eats.

Urged by an angel, she shares it.

Naked again, eyes are opened.

Wrapped in the light of faith, hope, love.



A vibrant body in a garden.

Planted in the house of the Lord.

Still bearing fruit when they are old.

Surrounding the Tree of Life.

Singing Alleluia!


Friday, March 25, 2016

"I am reckoned as one in the tomb."

"It is finished."

In the days when Christ was in the flesh,
he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears 
to the one who was able to save him from death, 
and he was heard because of his reverence.
Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; 
and when he was made perfect,
he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.

Hebrews 5:7-9

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The immensity of small

God’s love for humanity is so big, so immense, and so high, that he makes himself small, insignificant, and low to lift us up. In John’s Gospel (13:1-15), we are told that Jesus, the Word made Flesh, at supper before the feast of Passover, “got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself,” and then began washing the disciples’ feet.

God stoops down, literally taking the form of a slave, to cleanse those enjoying the banquet with him. In doing this, he strips himself of divine privilege and wraps himself in the towel of humanity.

However, Jesus does much more than simply wash the disciples’ feet. This action symbolically illustrates what he will do in reality on Good Friday, when he will be stripped of his garments and nailed to a cross to cleanse and free humanity—just as the slaughtered lamb at Passover saved the children of Israel in Egypt. In doing so, he offers all a seat at the heavenly banquet (cf. Exodus 12:1-8, 11-14; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

All this, of course, echoes the famous Christian hymn in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:7-8):

     He emptied himself,
     taking the form of a slave,
     being born in human likeness.
     And being found in human form,
     he humbled himself
     and became obedient to the point of death—
     even death on a cross.

With this posture in mind, during the celebration of the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, we recall in a special way God’s self-sacrificing love for us as we commemorate his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. God stoops down to us, allows himself to be broken and shared among us, so that we who are so broken may, together, become the whole Christ, blessed and shared with all.

Like Peter, who at first won’t allow Jesus to wash his feet, we who are small want a God bigger than us—perhaps because that would “let us off the hook” in so many respects (because if God is not human, then we humans certainly cannot be expected to model the divine!). Though God is bigger, he becomes small enough to be placed in our hands and on our tongues in the Eucharist. Kneeling before his disciples at the Last Supper, stripped of all dignity on the cross, and in the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist, the Son of God gives us his very self so that we may live in him, and he may live in us.

Then, Jesus asks us, as he did the apostles:

“Do you know what I have done to you?”

Our honest answer must be: “No, not really.”

However, our honest prayer can be: “Not yet. Wash me.”

Sometimes growing in spiritual maturity means merely recognizing our capacity for it—and being small enough to ask for it. Stooped down, broken and shared in love for the life of the world, we are raised as the Body of Christ higher than we ever imagined.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Wounded Healer

He has borne our infirmities
   and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
   struck down by God, and afflicted. 
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
   crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
   and by his bruises we are healed.

Isaiah 53:4-5

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Truth of the Cross

A young man whose wisdom belied his age once said to me: “Don’t worry about being original. Just be true.” That is sound advice for anyone entrusted with spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ—which includes all baptized Christians. We do not—indeed, dare not—invent anything or pretend to be someone we’re not. We simply must speak the truth—be the truth. And what is truth as far as Christians are concerned? Allow me to reply by stringing together (not inventing!) a few key passages of Scripture:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. If any wish to become his followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow him. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that he commanded. Remember, he is with you always, to the end of the age. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (cf. John 3:16-17; Luke 9:23; Romans 6:5; Matthew 28:19-20; Hebrews 13:8).

This compendium of the Gospel, so to speak, contains some hard certainties upon which we are likely to stub our toes occasionally. It speaks of the unbounded mercy of God, of redemption, and of eternal life (not like this life, but with a “resurrection like his”). It speaks of the ubiquitous and unchanging qualities of God. Those are good; we like all that. However, it also speaks of self-denial, toil, and obedience. Moreover, it offers no escape clause from what we fear most—suffering and death. It presents us with the cross. We don’t like all that quite as much. How can God permit it?

Of course, I cannot offer an original response to that question. All anyone can do is retell or re-articulate the truth, because it’s already been said or written; it already is. And yet the question continues to linger. No matter how hard we try, we can neither answer nor dismiss it. It not only refuses to go away, but somehow manages to impel us to keep poking and prodding in search of a clue—any clue. Such is the power of truth. We know it’s there; we can try to deny or ignore it; we can try to explain it away or offer alternatives. We can try to denounce it outright. And yet, it has an unspeakable hold on us. Resistance is futile, it seems. If there is no truth in the question, then why do we persist in asking it, like Pontius Pilate examining Jesus: “What is truth?” (John 18:38) We want answers, of course, but the truth is that they’re all around us, woven into the fabric of our lives. That is a pretty important clue in itself.

For instance, in our sports-obsessed culture (in the spirit of truth, I must disclose that I am an avid baseball fan), we value offensive linemen in football who sacrifice their bodies in a mass of flying flesh to clear the way for a running back toting a ball. If he scores a touchdown, everyone notices him, not the linemen. In baseball, we cheer a batter who sacrifices himself as a potential hitter and base runner by laying down a perfect bunt that advances others on the base paths. The latter will move on to potential scoring position. The batter, however, is out (usually). Hence the term: “take one for the team.” The self is surrendered in pursuit of a greater good for many. On a more individual athletic level, a marathon runner maintains a punishing training regimen in preparation for an upcoming race. She gives up personal comfort, desires, and other pursuits to focus on winning a contest that may be months away—and which only one person out of perhaps thousands will prove victorious. Her eyes are fixed solely on the prize.

Of course, there are more worthwhile analogies from the non-sports world of daily life: a firefighter who endangers self to rescue another’s being or property; a family bread-winner who works more than one job to help make ends meet; anyone who, in various ways, escapes notice and quite possibly endures personal deprivation or disgrace while quietly contributing in some life-giving way to another’s welfare.

The value underlying such actions is something we recognize as being good, even if we are not particularly adept at practicing it ourselves. While it may be argued that “taking one for the team” or delaying gratification to keep one’s eyes on a greater prize is becoming less common in today’s world, we admire it when we see it, and are perhaps inspired to do likewise. It seems to be a truth at the core of our being no matter how strenuously our nature objects—like the will that struggles to rouse us from sleep to confront the day and its challenges when all we truly desire is to burrow back underneath the bedcovers. Our nature resists, but grace needs to discover the truth, to tell the truth, to be the truth. It wants to involve us in the story that is our lives—in humanity’s story.

“Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice,” Jesus told Pontius Pilate. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 18:37; 14:6).  That grace rousing us from sleep, so to speak, is the voice of Christ from the cross. How can God permit it? Because he loves us too much not to permit it. While this is hardly the place for a theological discourse on free will and the effects of original sin, the Cross offers us a way out—the only way out. And to be effective, it requires our cooperation—the loving gift of self in response to God’s love for us. Remarkably, God desires to involve us in his merciful act of redemption.

At the risk of carrying the sports analogies above too far, the offensive linemen may block and the batter may bunt, but the running back and base runners must do their part. We are the runners for whom God makes the ultimate sacrifice (cf. Philippians 2:5-11), taking on our load, sacrificing himself, and clearing the way for us to race toward the prize of eternal life. While football and baseball were not around in St. Paul’s day, he was nonetheless familiar with the principle: “Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one” (1Corinthians 9:25).

While the notion of self-sacrifice for the good of others is acceptable (if not always observed), the cross is a scandal for many—even among Christians. It always has been. The disciples of Jesus struggled with the notion themselves. Their expectations were not met. They envisioned an all-powerful Messiah asserting political might in establishing an earthbound kingdom. Salvation was supposed to be about wealth and health and influence. Jesus stood all that on its head. He pointed to what prophets like Isaiah had foretold about a Suffering Servant, that the Christ would be pierced for human faults, crushed for our sins (cf. Isaiah 53:5).  Blessed are the poor, he said, and those who mourn, the meek, the merciful (cf. Matthew 5:3-11). God came to save all by being the servant of all, and those who wish “to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).

This was incomprehensible and unacceptable. No matter how much he taught or how many miracles Jesus performed, the disciples didn’t get it. It was only in view of his later Resurrection and the insight gained by the subsequent descent of the Holy Spirit that things began to come together. Then, those first Christians began to go out into the world to tell the truth, to be the truth, by proclaiming Christ crucified. By his wounds, we have been healed—an unimaginable but far superior outcome compared with what they first had in mind (cf. 1Peter 2:24).

Centuries later, the Cross still disturbs us. Suffering and sin are realities we’d rather not think about.  Do we also subscribe to a gospel of wealth, health, and influence? While it certainly isn’t beneficial to focus solely on our sorrows, it’s also harmful to push the Cross aside as if it doesn’t exist. When we push the Cross aside, we push aside freely offered grace. The Cross, Jesus tells us repeatedly throughout the gospels, is the gateway to eternal life. Christ crucified gives meaning to what otherwise is pure madness, decay, and death. As the French poet Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to remove suffering, or to explain it, but to fill it with his presence.” He became part of our suffering, part of humanity’s story, in order to redeem it from within, and thereby involving us in his divine work of redemption. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself,” Jesus said (John 12:32).

Here we confront the importance of the Incarnation of Christ in our daily lives—today. The Cross of Christ is not something we merely recall occasionally or fear that we carry all alone. It is our story, too, and his story is ours. It’s why “the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:14).  As his disciples, we are called to make Christ present in the world through Word, Sacrament, and the example of a holy life; first, however, we must discern how Christ is present and working in our own lives, and deep within our very souls. This is Good News intended to give us hope along the way to eternal life. And so (to borrow a few phrases from Dom Hubert van Zeller in Approach to Calvary), when we are tempted to push the Cross aside, to neglect the Christian reality of necessary atonement, to disconnect our suffering from the Fall and from the Redemption and Resurrection that reverses the curse of Adam, we must recall Jesus’ words to us: “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me” (Luke 7:23).

Viewed through the eyes of faith, the Cross offers us not an escape from our troubles, but a means by which the unholy is sanctified and death is transformed into sure and certain life. “There are times,” St. Jerome wrote, “when evils become the occasion of blessings and when God causes good results to follow from the sinful designs of men. A manifest example of this is the case of Joseph [Genesis 37, 45], whom his brothers, moved by jealousy, sold to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. As things turned out, this crime against Joseph marked the beginning of all manner of benefits for the father and brothers of Joseph and for the whole land of Egypt, so that Joseph could later say to his brothers: ‘Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good.’”

In my own life, I have slowly come to recognize that our crosses are not obstacles as much as they are opportunities for transformation and healing in ways that go beyond our present difficulties (though I make no claim of having capitalized on all those opportunities!). Pain, toil, sorrow, disease, and death are realities for each of us—part of the human experience. However, through the Cross, the Incarnation of Christ bridges the gap between humanity and divinity, between time and eternity. We don’t merely attempt to imitate the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We are the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. We are the Church—the Body of Christ—in the world, and through it he not only suffers for us, but with us, and we with him. As St. Paul wrote: “If we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5).

Living this mystery of faith through our trials leads to the startling yet comforting truth: We are not merely bystanders in God’s saving plan, and not only benefactors. By the grace of God, through Christ, and with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we are partners. Working in tandem with Christ, we shoulder the yoke of the Cross for one another and for all others. Self-giving then clears the way for self-fulfillment in the resurrected Body of Christ. In the end, the paradox of the Cross reveals humanity’s brightest hope within its darkest moment. God comes to us precisely where we don’t look for him. Our weakness is turned into his strength. Our hurt is healed in unexpected ways. “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20).

This is the truth for all those baptized in Christ—“buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). The newness of life for which we strive, as St. Paul said, is transformation by the renewal of our minds, so that we may discern the will of God (Romans 12:2). The way to Eternal Life is through the Cross. It’s not original, but it’s the truth.

So, we move forward on this earthly journey to eternal life, embracing the Cross with our eyes fixed on the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ (cf. Philippians 3:10-14). Impelled by love, we race for the finish, progressing from the foot of the cross to its head, from the human to divine, from the surface to the depths, from the exterior to the interior, from the particular to the universal, from the momentary to the timeless. As we do, we may not have all the answers, but we can faithfully live the questions, believing this truth: The Cross will always be a sign of contradiction for some, but it is meant to be a sign of love for all.
--Excerpted from The Way to Eternal Life:
By Br. Francis de Sales Wagner, O.S.B.
© Abbey Press, 2012

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Prayer for an abbot

Eucharistic Adoration is being held from 3 to 4 p.m. in the Archabbey Church during the first four Wednesdays of March—times specifically set aside for private prayer as we prepare to elect a new archabbot on June 2. During the first such period this afternoon, I was struck by the window shown here, which is above the main doors of the Archabbey Church, as an image of the ideal abbot—modeled, of course, on Christ the Good Shepherd.

So, with this image in mind, and in the presence of the Real Presence, I read and prayed with the two chapters of St. Benedict’s Rule (2 and 64) which deal with the qualities or election of an abbot.

While all are welcome to join us in the Archabbey Church on these afternoons as we silently pray for our monastic community and its next abbot, not all are able, of course. However, you can still pray for and with us, wherever you are. Please do. Below is a simple prayer I’ve put together based on my reading of Chapters 2 and 64 of the Rule, which may help. Better yet, get a copy of the Rule and pray with Chapters 2 and 64 on your own! In any event, please keep us in prayer.

+ + +
Lord God,
as we prepare to elect a new abbot,
who holds the place of Christ in the monastery,
guide us by your Holy Spirit to select someone
who never teaches or decrees or commands
apart from your will.

Help him to be a good and faithful shepherd
of this flock, and help us to follow.
Help him to teach and lead
more by example than by words.
Help him to be fair, equitable, and just,
showing equal love to everyone.

Let him be discerning, prudent, and flexible
while leading his flock—being either stern or tender,
as the circumstance may warrant.

Always remembering what he is called,
and aware that more is expected
of one to whom more has been entrusted,
may he direct souls as appropriate.
May he accommodate and adapt himself
to each one’s character and intelligence,
so that he will not only keep the flock
from dwindling, but may also rejoice in its increase.

May he always seek first the Kingdom of God,
not showing too great a concern
for the fleeting and temporal things of this world,
while keeping in mind that he has undertaken
the care of souls for whom he must give an account.
Let him also be mindful of his own faults.

Help us to use sound judgment
in selecting a new abbot,
considering above all goodness of life
and wisdom in teaching.

May our new abbot keep in mind
the nature of the burden
he will have received,
and to whom he will have to give
an account of his stewardship.
Let him always seek what is best
for his monks, and not for himself.

May we choose an abbot who:

-- Is learned in divine law, and who is chaste, temperate, and merciful.

-- Hates faults but loves the brothers.

-- Uses prudence and avoids extremes.

-- Distrusts his own frailty and remembers “not to crush the bruised reed.”

-- Strives to be loved rather than feared.

May we choose an abbot who is not:

-- Excitable, anxious, extreme, obstinate, jealous, or over suspicious.

But, rather, one who:

-- Displays foresight, consideration, discernment, moderation, and discretion.

-- Arranges everything so that the strong have something to yearn for and the weak nothing to run from.

-- Above all, keeps the Holy Rule in every particular after the pattern of Christ, our Good Shepherd.