The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Going batty

St. Benedict instructs us monks in his Rule that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” I wonder if all guests include bats—of the sinister-looking, webbed-wing variety? Monday evening and Tuesday morning, you see, one presented himself in my monastery room, and I was not so hospitable. I certainly didn’t welcome the flying rodent as Christ.

I awoke around 11:30 p.m. Monday to the sound of my window blinds violently slapping against the window panes (my third-floor windows were closed). Naturally, I turned on the light, and as I did, there was a dull thump as something hit my window sill. Slowly, a tiny winged claw reached out from behind the blinds. In another few seconds, he was disentangled from the blinds, pausing on the sill, surely surprised (as I was) that he was perched there. Then he took flight, round and round about my room, just below the high ceiling.

Not amused, I ran into the bathroom and closed the door to consider the situation and plot my strategy. How did he get in, and how do I get him out? Not very hospitable, I know, but his was a rather rude entrance.

Placing a towel over my head, I opened the bathroom door a crack and peeked out. He was still there, flapping round about the room, no doubt distressed and dropping guano everywhere. Quickly, I dashed over to the window. Ah, there was the problem. The top sash had unnoticeably slipped down over time, leaving a small gap. That explained the strange array of insects I had discovered in my room the past few weeks. As you know, bugs and bats don’t need much space to squeeze through after getting a foot in the door, so to speak—or in this case, a webbed wing in the window blinds.

Surely, this bat had been foraging outside, and decided to have a late-night snack on some delectable insect near, or on, the outside of my window when he suddenly found himself lodged in the gap between the sashes. Struggling to free himself and surely disoriented, he ended up on the other side—my side—of the window instead.

OK, that’s how he got in. Now, how do I get him out? After lifting the top sash to its proper position (like closing the barn door after the horses are out, I know), I threw open the bottom sash as well, and then lifted the screen. After turning off all the lights in the room, I ran again for cover in the bathroom. My theory was that using his powers of echolocation, the bat would discover the window space open to the night and fly out to freedom. More than 25 years ago, living in Galion, Ohio, I had successfully employed this strategy in my second-story apartment one evening after I fell asleep on the couch with the balcony door open.

I pondered all this as I sat on the toilet in my bathroom around midnight, flipping through a magazine while I waited for the little rascal to depart. Every few minutes, I poked my towel-covered head out into the room to see if he had accepted my invitation to leave. Nope, still there. … Nope, still there. … Holy Bat Logic, still there! At one point, I thought he was gone because there was no flapping movement in the room, but then I looked up into a corner of the room, and there he was, hanging upside-down and glaring at me daringly.

As far as I was concerned, I had been more than fair. Quickly, I closed the window, pulled the covers up over my bed to guano-proof it (again, closing the barn door…), retrieved a broom from the closet down the hall and went over to where he was still hanging. I didn’t want to hurt or kill the thing—but was prepared to do just that if needed. If only I could swat or steer him somehow into a waiting box, then quickly snap it shut and take him outside to be let free. It was now past 12:30 a.m., and I needed to get back to bed. So, I began smacking at him with the wide end of the broom—no doubt disturbing my slumbering next-door neighbor. Never coming close, all this accomplished was sending the poor unsightly thing to circling my room again.

Once again, I retreated into the bathroom to review the situation. I figured that he did not fly out when he had the chance because the open window was far below the height at which he was circling, and therefore could not detect the opening. Either that or he was just being mean. Then, in one of my more uncharitable moments, I reached out from the bathroom and opened the door of my room into the hallway. Maybe he would fly out and become someone else’s problem. Once again, though I gave him plenty of time, he didn’t respond to the invitation.

Finally—now it was about 1 a.m.—I watched from the bathroom as he flew up into the air register above the door, remarkably squeezing through the tiny openings of the grille cover. After waiting a good 15-20 minutes to make sure he didn’t come back out, I decided it was safe, closed the hallway door, inspected my bed for guano (none detected), turned off the lights, crawled back under the covers, and mistakenly believed I was going to go back to sleep. Every few minutes, I glanced back toward the air register. And just as I was beginning to drift off, around 1:45 a.m., I heard some metallic scraping and looked up just in time to see a wing appear through the register grille, and then the whole hairy beast, once again circling the room.

Now I was aggravated. The bat must have sensed this, because when I switched the light back on, he immediately retreated into the air register. Can’t say I blame him. It was dark, cool, and relatively safe in there. So, at 2 a.m., I fired up my computer and sent out a service request to our physical facilities department so that they would have it first thing in the morning. “Somehow, I need to get the thing out of here,” I wrote after briefly explaining the circumstances. “Can you help?”

Since I couldn’t sleep anyway, I also checked a few baseball scores and news headlines while online. The bat still had not come back out of the register, so I eventually figured that we had reached some sort of truce. As long as the light stayed on, he would stay up there and out of my living area. Of course, that meant I would have to try to get back to sleep with the lights on (when I had to be up in only a couple more hours).

That’s what I did. In a well-lit room, still a little wound up, drawing up the covers to shield myself from a sneak-guano attack, and glancing uneasily at the air register through drooping eyelids, I finally fell asleep around 2:45 a.m.

Apparently, the cease-fire held. I was not disturbed for the next couple hours, and when I awoke, the bat was nowhere in sight—presumably still hanging somewhere just inside the air duct behind the register grille. Just to be sure, I ruffled all the clothes hanging in my open closet and inspected beneath all my book shelves. Satisfied that my guest was still present in the register but not interested in aggravating me further, I went groggily about my morning of prayer and work, which was full of other—but thankfully, less intense—surprises.

Later, physical facilities co-workers Kenny Sherman and Dave Schuetter extracted the pesky guest from the air register with a ladder, a screwdriver (to remove the grille, not to attack), a thick pair of gloves, pliers, and a net. The bat was a little grumpy, to say the least, but he was alive and well—and most satisfactorily from my point of view, now permanently evicted.

My overnight visitor—or any of his friends—is not welcome back. That may seem inhospitable, but St. Benedict also warns in his Rule about the “gyrovagues, who spend their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries.” He seems to suggest that there is a limit to the hospitality one is obligated to extend to such “disgraceful” guests.

In any event, I strongly recommend checking and latching your window sashes.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Prayerful preparations ...

My apologies for the shortage of blog postings lately. It's been fairly busy around here. In April and May, I had a good number of oblate chapter meetings to attend in both Ohio and Indiana--several of them involving overnight stays. Last week, we monks had our community retreat (I delivered the last conference on Friday morning, so had to prepare that). Immediately after the retreat ended, we resumed preparations for the upcoming abbatial election later this week with a couple of final community meetings exploring the present and possible future states of the monastery.

This week will also be busy, and historically significant, as we elect the 10th abbot of Saint Meinrad Archabbey (click here for a photo listing of previous abbots). The process actually began early this year, shortly after Archabbot Justin DuVall announced his resignation in January (click here for Archabbot Justin's bio). This has included a number of community meetings to discuss who we are as a community of Benedictine monks and where we are headed, table reading selections addressing the election of an abbot, and special prayers (Eucharistic adoration, general intercessions during liturgies, etc.). As secretary to the Archabbot, I also have had responsibilities related to the election preparations -- mostly from a canonical standpoint regarding documentation.

The capitulars (solemnly professed monks with chapter voting rights) will begin with the actual election tomorrow afternoon, May 31, when we will hold the first part of what is called a scrutinium. At this first meeting, we will (behind closed doors) suggest the names of monks we think should be at least considered as possible candidates. On Wednesday morning, June 1, the second part of the scrutinium will involve the opportunity for everyone (again, behind closed doors, with the monks named Tuesday absented) to offer observations on each of the potential candidates. That afternoon, the canonical pre-election meeting will be held, with the Abbot President of the Swiss-American Congregation presiding. For the most part, this will involve an explanation of all the logistics.

Then, on Thursday morning, June 2, after a Mass of the Holy Spirit at 7:30 a.m. in the Archabbey Church, the capitulars will convene at 9 a.m. in the Chapter Room for the actual balloting. Capitulars are not limited to voting only for those named in the scrutinium. Any monk who is at least 35 years old, is a priest, and has been solemnly professed at least five years is eligible to become abbot.

So, at some point on Thursday, we should have a new archabbot. Once one is selected, of course, there will be a flurry of activity on the Hill, including the ringing of all six church bells, official notification of various individuals and institutions regarding the new abbot, community photo, etc. Remember, that this is the first time this has all happened here since December of 2004.

From June 2 onward, of course, I will need to assist the new abbot--whomever he may be--get acclimated to his new position. I already have a big pile of things needing his immediate attention! It's also certainly possible that I may be reassigned myself to another position. We shall see.

The official blessing of the new abbot is tentatively scheduled for July 26. Things will get busy around that time as well, because on August 1 we all plan to move out of Anselm Hall and back into the monastery which has been under renovation this past year. Also coming in August--God willing--will be a simple profession and three solemn professions of monks.

When things begin to settle down a bit, I hope to resume more regular blog postings.

In the meantime, please keep Archabbot Justin (soon to be known simply as Fr. Justin) in your prayers as he moves on to a new chapter in his monastic journey, and also this entire community as we elect his successor this week. The summer around here will be busier than usual for a lot of reasons, so we could use your prayers all around.

The following is a prayer I composed a couple months ago based on chapters 2 and 64 of the Rule of St. Benedict:

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.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The dew of God

Luke says that the Spirit came down on the disciples at Pentecost, after the Lord’s ascension, with power to open the gates of life to all nations and to make known to them the new covenant. So it was that men of every language joined in singing one song of praise to God, and scattered tribes, restored to unity by the Spirit, were offered to the Father as the first fruits of all the nations.

This was why the Lord had promised to send the Advocate: he was to prepare us as an offering to God. Like dry flour, which cannot become one lump of dough, one loaf of bread, without moisture, we who are many could not become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes down from heaven. And like parched ground, which yields no harvest unless it receives moisture, we who were once like a waterless tree could never have lived and borne fruit without this abundant rainfall from above. Through the baptism that liberates us from change and decay we have become one in body; through the Spirit we have become one in soul. … We need the dew of God.
--Saint Irenaeus