The Path of Life

The Path of Life

Friday, October 20, 2017

Be angry, but do not sin


NOTE: The conference I recently presented to Benedictine oblates of Saint Meinrad at chapters in Ohio (Dayton, Cincinnati, Lancaster/Columbus):

We live in an angry world. It’s been an angry world ever since an enraged Cain killed his innocent brother Abel—simply out of resentment and envy. The same anger that motivated Cain afflicts us all in one way or another. Though some of us deal with our anger more constructively than others (hopefully, more constructively than Cain!), not one of us is immune to the emotion itself.

An honest examination of conscience will reveal that often enough, to one degree or another, we each allow that same anger of Cain’s to produce some type of evil action in our lives—in thought, word, or deed, and in either active or passive-aggressive fashion. After all, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus specifically said that it is not enough to simply avoid murdering one another in literal fashion. There are other ways to kill, figuratively speaking. “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘you shall not kill …’,” Jesus said. “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment … and whoever says, ‘you fool …’ Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:21-22; 44).

Humanity’s anger and murderous impulse seems to be getting more pronounced and increasingly vicious. It’s not difficult to recognize the rage present all around us today. Just turn on the TV or radio, or get on the Internet. Besides the obvious and pervasive instances of war or threats of war, it seems that nearly every week, we are witness to at least one school or workplace shooting, terrorist attack, or some other unspeakable act of violence. This past summer—in the state of Virginia—a 66-year-old man with a rifle opened fire at a park where Republican lawmakers were practicing for the annual Congressional Baseball Game. Five people were shot, and one congressman was seriously injured. Weeks later, in a different Virginia town, a young Ohio man purposely rammed his car into a crowd of people protesting the alt-right demonstration with which he had been involved. Several were injured, and one young woman was killed.

These are the extreme cases. But animosity that falls just short of such deadly force appears to prevail more often than not these days. Gone, it seems, are civilized public discourse, peaceful protest, and the thoughtful exchange of ideas in which each participant honestly attempts to understand, and perhaps learn from, one another. Even the art of persuasion seems to have been lost. Instead, the dominant tactic has become Attack, Humiliate, and Destroy. This tactic is quite evident all over social media, talk radio, and television discussion shows that more closely resemble boxing rings. And it is a tactic that has taken to the streets, where it is not enough to simply offer a protest, say, to counter the controversial views of a scheduled speaker. The opponent and his or her supporters must be shut down, silenced, and driven out.

It is no wonder, in such a rage-fueled culture, that already mentally disturbed individuals take things one step further with a rifle, knife, or a speeding car, Society, it seems to them, has at least tacitly issued a license to express and carry out one’s angry and violent impulses. And for that, we all bear at least some responsibility.

This anger or animosity is present every day all around us, in ways that don’t routinely make the news. It’s not limited to the televised spheres of politics, world affairs, and crime logs. We’ve all been either a witness or party to it. A driver is rudely cut off by another driver on the highway. An impatient office worker’s computer suddenly freezes up on a tight deadline, which is met with a string of expletives. Someone’s cutting remark deeply wounds a loved one. An argument flares up over an ultimately trivial matter, and suddenly a whole storehouse of grievances is brought out to fuel the fire. Sometimes, a punch or shove is thrown in.

Recently, while on vacation in Ohio, I was turning right onto the main drag running along the front of a strip mall. Stopped at the intersection, perpendicular to me on the right, was a truck, whose driver was leaning out the window talking with a man in a wheelchair below him. I proceeded to turn cautiously, slowly, to my right, where I suddenly saw another wheelchair-bound person in the roadway several dozen feet ahead of me. I slowed down even more. I was not moving quickly, and did not express any kind of frustration at all with the situation. Suddenly, the guy in the truck began screaming at me: “Everybody’s in a hurry! Hurry! Hurry! HURRY!”

I was too stunned to respond, so I just continued on, quite puzzled. I honestly examined what I had been doing, and concluded that I was driving reasonably and cautiously. There was no obvious reason for the other driver to be screaming at me. The only explanation I could imagine is that, possibly, another driver who had come through just before me, less careful and in more of a rush, had irritated the man, who then took out his frustration on me. In any event, from a logical point of view, he was the one in the wrong. His vehicle was stopped at the intersection of a busy service road while he conversed with someone in a wheelchair in the middle of that road! They should have pulled off to the side, or into the parking lot. Ironically, his own action not only put a couple lives in danger, but also created the very situation that frustrated him! Instead of realizing that and taking the appropriate action, he hurled his abuse at me.

As I continued down the road, I felt myself growing angry. I had an impulse to turn around and confront the man, ask him what his problem was, point out his error, or perhaps just drive by again and yell something at him. Or, I could have let the incident rile me up until I eventually took it out on someone else—passed the anger on, in other words. But what good would any of that have done? That only would have escalated everything, made it potentially worse, or punished someone else who had nothing to do with it. That’s how human anger and rage become so sinful and dangerous. Feeling slighted, harmed, or threatened, we react without thinking and strike out to inflict our pain on another. We want to retaliate, to punish – often beyond reasonable measure.

So, I ended up praying for the man as I continued driving along. As I did, some well-known Proverbs from Scripture came to mind:

A mild answer turns away wrath,
but harsh words stir up anger. (15:1)

It is good sense to be slow to anger,
and an honor to overlook an offense. (19:11)

Fools give vent to all their anger;
but the wise, biding their time, control it. (29:11)

Believe me; I have not always handled such situations so prayerfully and peacefully. Often enough, I have been an instigator or a perpetuator when it comes to angry words or actions. It’s likely we can all say that.

And unfortunately, the Church is not immune to such affliction. Much of the same anger or animosity I just described is also at work in the Church. We see it played out every day globally, nationally, regionally, and locally. The same distorted tactic of what passes for public discourse -- Attack, Humiliate, and Destroy – often seems to dominate our discussions and disagreements even within the Church. It seems we all too often forget St. Paul’s words to us in Scripture:

There is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Is not the bread we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf. (Galatians 3:38, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

Christ is the divine instrument of human salvation in which we are all invited to share through his suffering and death on the cross. However, rather than live this reality as the Body of Christ we truly are, we the Church sometimes do violence to that Body by engaging in the same angry dissension that afflicts the rest of our world.

Surely, this is not the Church Jesus envisioned when, during the Sermon on the Mount, directly after the Beatitudes, he told his followers: “You are the light of the world … Your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14, 16). From a Christian perspective, this is the real tragedy of our time – that an angry, divided world often does not look much different than the Church. As disciples of Christ, we are called to be a light in the darkness, so that others can see the true Way to God. But why would those in darkness follow those who seem just as angry and divided as themselves?

In Scripture, Jesus is pretty straightforward about how Christians are to be the light of the world. What he tells us is difficult but not impossible, with God’s grace: “turn the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39),  “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you … do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:27-28, 31). And if that is not enough to convince us, he backed those words up by putting them into practice [saying, while extending his arms on the cross]: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

As an innocent victim on the cross, Jesus remains compassionate and forgiving to those who are crucifying him. He does not return insult for insult. He does not strike back. He does not speak in anger. Instead, he absorbs into himself all the anger and violence directed at him, and offers his whole being to the Father in atonement. As members of this Body of Christ, the Church, we are all called to do the same. That is our mission as Christians. That is how we become a light to the world.

As followers of St. Benedict, we are encouraged further along this path. “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way,” the Rule tells us in Chapter 4, the Tools for Good Works. “The love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge … Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently. Love your enemies. If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead” (RB 4:20-23, 30-32).

Toward the end of his Rule, St. Benedict re-emphasizes this ideal behavior in Chapter 72, The Good Zeal of Monks. “Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell,” St. Benedict writes, “so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life” (RB 72:1-2). This “good zeal,” he says, consists of this: “each should try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another … Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ” (RB 72:3-6, 11).

Clearly, as both Christians and as Benedictines, we are called to resist the “wicked zeal of bitterness” that afflicts our world and even the Church – the anger, animosity, and aggression which are so prevalent all around us. I really don’t need tell you how bad it is. You witness it every day. Hopefully less often, you are victimized by it. And, I pray, even less often, you may occasionally be a party to it, as I surely am sometimes.

However, I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture. We must not despair. God’s goodness also is still at work in the world. For instance, amid the horror of Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas this summer, I was edified by numerous news accounts of generosity and self-sacrifice displayed by rescuers, volunteers, and aid workers. So, let’s not allow the overall state of today’s world dim our hope as a light to the nations. God has never left us, Christ is still among us, and the Spirit blows where he wills. As St. Paul tells us: “All things work together for good for those who love God” (Romans 8:28).

Our mission as Christians and Benedictines is to cooperate with this movement of God’s goodness—by his grace, to transform the world little by little into the Kingdom of God. Alone, we cannot change the world. But if we each focus on allowing God to change our individual hearts, then together, as the Body of Christ, we will accomplish great things in God’s name. So, fighting the “wicked zeal of bitterness” in today’s world begins in each of our individual hearts. The point is that we cannot focus solely on what’s happening “out there” in terms of anger and animosity. Instead, we do well to examine what’s happening “in here” [pointing to heart]. If every Christian would do that, the Church’s light to the world would be too bright for anyone to ignore, and it would draw many others in. As the Letter of James puts it: “Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?” (James 4:1) To put it simply, the anger and bitterness that afflicts the world is generated from within each one of our individual hearts.

Perhaps our challenge is not so much to “conquer evil” in the world, but to harvest the goodness that God plants in each of our hearts, and then share its produce with a world that hungers for it.

OK, we’ve identified the problem. That’s not too hard to do in this case. How do we address it? That’s the real question. And it’s not an easy one.

First, let’s establish an important point: Anger, in and of itself, is not a sin. It’s easy to become confused about this. Anger is an emotion—or a passion, in the traditional spiritual vernacular—just like any other. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “In themselves, passions are neither good nor evil. They are morally qualified only to the extent that they effectively engage reason and will” (No. 1767).

Thoughts or emotions that enter our minds and hearts are beyond our control. However, what we can control is how we respond or react to those thoughts or emotions. This is where reason and will come into play.

For example, if someone does or says something that arouses my anger, the very fact that I have become angry is neither good nor evil. I am not being sinful by being angry. The moral nature of my anger is established only by the extent that I allow it to influence my choices, and by what those choices are. If that choice is to strike someone physically because of my anger, or to perhaps spread malicious gossip in retaliation, only then I have engaged in sinful behavior. As the Desert Father Evagrius put it: “Whether our thoughts upset the soul or not is not up to us. But whether they remain or not remain, and whether they are allowed to move the passions or not is up to us” (Praktikos 6, SChr 171, 508).

Scripture makes a similar point: “Be angry but do not sin,” Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians says (4:26). “Do not let anger upset your spirit,” the Book of Ecclesiastes advises (7:9). “A sinner holds on to anger” the Book of Sirach tells us (27:30 adapted). Similarly, Trappist monk Michael Casey translates St. Benedict’s admonition against anger in the Rule as “Do not go all the way with anger”— rather than “you are not to act in anger,” the translation I used a little earlier. “Anger will arise in certain circumstances,” he explains. “But it is up to us whether we go all the way with it.” I like that interpretation. We each have the ability (and responsibility) to avoid following our anger where it can so often lead us—to the point of sin. By employing our reason and will, we can choose not to go there. We can “be angry, but not sin.”

The trouble, it seems, is that humanity has become increasingly motivated by emotion or passion—without employing the gift of reason. Too often, when angry, we act without thinking. We follow our passions, and the cycle is repeated from one person to another.

It must be stressed, though, that there is such a thing as justifiable anger that can lead to good. Seeing or hearing about an injustice done to another person or group of people, for example, should make us angry. Such anger is how many of the world’s problems get solved. Once again, however, the key is how that anger is managed, and to what extent our reason is employed along with it in choosing to act appropriately and constructively.

OK, so how do we actually deal with our own anger at a real or perceived injustice to ourselves, so that we do not “go all the way with it”? How do we employ reason and then act appropriately and constructively for the good—thus resisting the “wicked zeal of bitterness” that afflicts our world?

First of all pray! As St. Benedict says in the Prologue to his Rule, “every time you begin a good work, you must pray to [the Lord] most earnestly to bring it to perfection” (4). In this way, you are submitting yourself to God, asking for his grace to harvest the goodness he’s already planted in your heart, so you may share its produce with the world. By beginning with humble prayer, you are acknowledging that only God is able to do this, and that you are willing to cooperate with his grace. Most importantly, you are seeking a reserve of grace to draw upon before your anger is aroused by someone or something.

Keep your prayer simple and to the point. There’s no need for a long-winded speech. In fact, expressing your desire to God in silence is just as powerful a prayer. In your own thoughts or words, your prayer could go something like this: “God, sometimes I get so angry with ______. Help me to be aware of and recognize this anger, to manage it and to think before I act or say something that will only escalate things. Help me to act only from your love for the good of all.”

Second, whenever you do become angry, acknowledge your anger. Don’t tell yourself or anyone else that you’re not angry when you are. Don’t repress it. And don’t let it do a slow burn while you act out in passive-aggressive fashion, or until you eventually explode in a totally inappropriate manner—most likely inflicting your wrath on someone who had nothing to do with the original cause of your anger. These are all dangerous ways to deal with anger. Instead, be honest with yourself — “I’m getting angry”— and keep the lines of communication open, if at all possible — “When you do that, I get angry …”

Third, take a timeout. Step back from the situation, at least momentarily. Thomas Jefferson once said, “When angry, count to 10 before you speak. If very angry, count to one hundred.” That specific tactic may not work for everyone, but the point is to reflect before responding to whatever has prompted your anger—to think before reacting. One needs to be careful here and not retreat in order to stew over everything and become even angrier. Instead, ask yourself some very simple but probing questions, such as: OK, what just happened? Why did it happen? Why does it make me angry? What might my anger reveal about my own deficiencies? Have I provoked this situation in any way? What might God be trying to teach me here? How much will this situation matter next week…next year…in view of eternity? What can I do to help resolve this and be reconciled?

Some other good questions to ask yourself: Is my anger justifiable? Or is it simply prompted by wounded pride? If it is justifiable, then how might God be calling me to act on it in order to produce some good?

The point here is not to immediately arrive at any answers or to reach a solution to the overall problem. Rather, the goal is to allow your reasoning ability to catch up with your emotion—to take the time to approach the situation reflectively rather than by instantaneous reaction.

This is where your prayer in the first step bears fruit, hopefully. It also is a good point at which to return to prayer—even if it’s something as short and simple as “God, I’m angry. Help me to deal with this in the right way, in a loving way.” And, as difficult as it may be, remember also to keep in prayer the person or circumstance which led to your becoming angry. Place yourself is his or her shoes before stepping back into the situation in order to resolve it.

Fourth, if this is a recurring situation or source of aggravation, then talk it over with someone. Don’t keep it bottled up and try to deal with it yourself. Find a trusted friend or spiritual director with whom you can share your burdens. Sometimes, simply expressing one’s frustrations to another in a safe, nonjudgmental forum can help provide some measure of relief or even reveal an insight or solution that had not been apparent previously.

Finally, reflect on your experience and be reconciled. As Fr. Keith McClellan has written (“A Spiritual Response to Anger,” Catholic Perspectives CareNote by Abbey Press), “Ask yourself: What can I learn from this? How might God be asking me to change through this (even if I am not in the wrong)? If I am the injured party, I must work toward forgiveness. If I have injured someone, let me seek forgiveness by acknowledging my fault.”

And, if reconciliation is not possible, then at least let us pray for one another.

So, be angry but do not sin.

Let’s conclude with a prayer based on the words of Scripture:

Good and gracious God, keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith (cf. Hebrews 12:2). As the innocent victim of our redemption, he forgave from the cross, drawing all to himself, and offered to you his whole being. As members of his Body, guided by the good zeal of the Holy Spirit, let us do the same and be a light to the world. Help us each to examine our hearts, be renewed in the spirt of our minds, and put on the new self, created in your righteousness and holiness of truth. Remove from us all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, and malice, and help us instead to be kind to one another, compassionate, and to forgive one another as you have forgiven each one of us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (cf. Ephesians 4:23-24, 31-32) 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The power of prayer


Wise words on prayer to ponder--strung together from many of this week's readings at Mass:

✠ Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

✠ "You are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing." (Luke 10:41-42)

✠ "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your Kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test." (Luke 11:2-4)

✠ "Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Luke 11:9)


Monte Cassino restoration


By now, you are likely aware of the recently completed renewal project involving Saint Meinrad's beloved Monte Cassino Shrine about a mile away from our main campus. A lot of much needed work was done, and the results are quite stunning. If you have ever visited the small chapel (the first sandstone structure completed by the original monks of Einsiedeln when they arrived in southern Indiana from Switzerland in the mid-19th century), then you have one more reason to stop by again. It is truly a beautiful and sacred place. Please see the video above by Catholic News Service, which was on hand to record the re-opening/blessing of the shrine a couple weeks ago. For more information on the history of the shrine, please click here.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Presence


Almighty God and Father,

You came to dwell among us
in your Son, Jesus Christ,
who died for our sins
and was raised from the dead
so we too may walk in newness of life.


In your Holy Spirit,
which he breathed on his disciples,
we were sealed at baptism;
and he promised this Advocate
will remain with us always.


We know that this is true
in the Eucharist and in all your sacraments,
as well as in Scripture,
the life and tradition of the Church,
and within disposed and prayerful hearts.


Still, we often forget all this.
We are fearful, doubtful, anxious,
and are frequently led astray.
Please forgive us,
and guide us along the right way.


One God in Three Persons,
help us to remember
that you are with us always,
and to cast out fear with love,
doubt with faith, and anxiety with hope.


You who give
life and breath and all things,
as we seek you in this valley of tears
help us to be aware
that you are always near us.


In you alone
we live and move
and have our being.

Amen.


                                                                                                -- Br. Francis

Just for fun


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Easter blessings

http://pickyourportion.com/2013/12/31/the-tree-of-life-revelation-22/
The Tree of Life from Revelation 22 by Rebecca Jean

The earth has yielded its fruit
for God, our God, has blessed us.
May God still give us his blessing
till the end of the earth revere him.

Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

Psalm 67

[For further reflection see: Genesis 1:12,29; Ezekiel 47:7-12;
Sirach 24:12-22; John 12:24; Revelation 22:2
]

Friday, April 14, 2017

Why this Friday is Good


The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the applle tree

His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne'er can tell
His beauty doth all things excel
By faith I know but ne'er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
For happiness I long have sought
And pleasure dearly I have bought
I missed of all but now I see
'Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
I'm weary with my former toil
Here I will sit and rest a while
Under the shadow I will be
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree.

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree
18th-century poem

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The bells are back!

Original clappers from two of the smaller bells. Notice the
elongation of the holes on the left due to 100 years of wear.

Well, most of them anyway.

You may recall this post of mine from a while back (click here) regarding the silencing of our church's six bells for needed repairs and maintenance -- and how odd it has been around here to not hear them!

Yesterday -- appropriately enough, the Solemnity of the Passing of Our Holy Father Benedict -- four of them were back in service, ringing across the surrounding hills to call us to prayer, and to mark each quarter hour. It was so good to hear them again early yesterday morning that several pleasantly surprised monks stopped in their tracks to listen to them, smiling broadly.

Today, in an electronic newsletter for Archabbey co-workers, Director of Physical Facilities Andy Hagedorn supplied some details, as well as the above photo. He writes:
The Verdin Bell Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, completed the rebuilding of four bells in the south bell tower on Monday. They rebuilt Bell #5 in the north bell tower yesterday [Tuesday]. The bells had been out of service since an inspection on November 22 deemed them in need of significant repair and maintenance. 
I am told that large church bells typically require major repair work and replacement parts about every 100 years. That is about how long they’ve been in service. 
All the bells are getting new clappers (the swinging internal piece that strikes the bell). They also are all getting new clapper springs. These springs soften the blow and limit contact from the clapper, protecting the bell from damage and enhancing the sound. 
We should be good to go now until approximately 2120. Bell #6, which had developed a crack, is still in repair and transport. We hope to have it back in service in the north tower sometime this summer.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The meaning of the Cross for us today


No one should be ashamed of the cross of Christ, through which the world has been redeemed. No one should fear to suffer for the sake of justice; no one should lose confidence in the reward that has been promised. The way to rest is through toil, the way to life is through death. Christ has taken on himself the whole weakness of our lowly human nature. If then we are steadfast in our faith in him and in our love for him, we win the victory that he has won, we receive what he has promised.

St. Leo the Great
***

We hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

2 Corinthians 4:7-11

Monday, March 13, 2017

Faith, hope, and love


Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access [by faith] to this grace in which we stand, and we boast in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the holy Spirit that has been given to us. For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
-- Romans 5:1-11

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Created out of love to love


God who created man out of love
also calls him to love--
the fundamental and innate vocation
of every human being.
For man is created in the image
and likeness of God
who is himself love.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1604

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Easy does it


Around here, they're called the Voice of God. And that voice has been awfully quiet lately.

I am referring, of course, to the six bells in the two sandstone towers of the Archabbey Church here at Saint Meinrad -- the bells that not only mark each quarter hour, but also are rung by hand each day to summon monks and visitors to the Divine Office and Mass.

Some weeks ago, however, problems arose with the bells. A crack was discovered in Bell No. 6, the largest bell, which is housed in the church's north tower along with Bell No. 5. Upon inspection, it was determined that the other bells -- No. 5, as well as Nos. 1-4 in the south tower -- needed some preventive maintenance. So, work recently began on bells 1-5, with parts removed and taken elsewhere for repairs. Because of this, the familiar sound of the Archabbey bells echoing across the surrounding hills has been silenced. They have not been ringing for Office, Mass, or for the regular marking of time.

In addition, the cracked Bell No. 6, it was determined, must be removed from its tower and shipped to the original manufacturer in the Netherlands to undergo sophisticated repairs.

Today, with a good deal of effort and maneuvering, workers with the help of a large crane, were able to hoist the 5,000-pound bell out of the tower (it was a tight squeeze)! The photos along with this post illustrate what a tricky -- even dangerous -- task this was. For some even better photos (taken by our Development Office) click here.

View from inside monastery courtyard.
The crane sat on the valley side of the church (the back). Ordinarily, it would have been placed on the lawn near the monastery on the north side of the church (visible from the guest house). However, that was no longer possible because of the recent monastery renovations; our geothermal field systems for the monastery's heating and cooling are laid under that lawn. As a result, the crane had to be positioned on much lower ground, farther away, and extended out more than normal to lift the bell out of its tower.

The hope is to have bells 1-5 back in place by Easter. Bell 6 will take longer. Then, it'll have to be hoisted back in place. In the meantime, we sure do miss them around here. The Voice of God, of course, carries on as always -- but it helps to also keep an eye on the clock these days!


Monday, February 6, 2017

We love because he first loved us

Photo taken December 29, 2012

Christians do not strive to avoid sin and perform good works in order to win God's love and achieve salvation.

Rather, because we believe by faith that God first loved us and granted us salvation through his Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, we strive by grace to avoid sin and perform good works. This is the fruit of faith, a gift that comes from God alone.

As Ephesians 2:8-10 says: "By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God — not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life."

When we fail to produce the fruit of faith -- as we surely will (and do, many times each day), then we seek God's forgiveness and resume the journey of faith, extending that same mercy to others who fall along the way. As St. Benedict says in his Holy Rule for monks, "It is love that impels [us] to pursue everlasting life" (5:10).

"God proves his love for us in that
while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

Romans 5:8

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Beatitudes


A couple morsels of spiritual food for prayer and reflection related to today's Gospel reading at Mass (Matthew 5:1-12a). The above video shows the Saint Meinrad schola chanting the Beatitudes for the preparation of gifts during Mass on the Solemnity of All Saints in November 2016. Try listening to it while reading Pope Francis' comments today regarding the same Gospel passage: please click here.

May we all be blessed in poverty of spirit!

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

We walk by faith


"When we say that we cannot find God and that he seems so far away, we mean only that we cannot feel his presence. Many people do not distinguish between God and the feeling of God, between faith and the feeling of faith. It seems to them that when they do not feel God, they are not in his presence, which is a mistake.

If you ask me, 'What can I do to acquire the love of God?' I answer, 'By willing to love him.' And instead of setting to work to try to find out how you can unite your soul to God, put the thing in practice by a continual application of your mind to him, and I assure you that you will arrive much more quickly at your object by this means than by any other.

In order to reach the road to heaven, we must just go on putting one foot before the other, and by this means, we shall arrive where we desire. Keep walking, we say to those souls so desirous of their perfection, walking the way of your vocation with simplicity, more intent on doing than on desiring; that is the shortest road."

St. Francis de Sales

Monday, January 23, 2017

Beginnings

Novice Joseph Wagner

Br. Elias Leeuw

The past week has been a busy one here in the monastery. There was the sudden death of Fr. Rupert, and his funeral early in the week, and then the Solemnity of Saint Meinrad on Saturday. On Thursday and Friday, there were two additional events of a special nature.

First, we received Joseph Wagner (no relation) into the novitiate -- with the new arrival ceremoniously knocking on the two large wooden doors at the front of the monastery, which a couple days earlier had swung open to receive the body of Fr. Rupert. You can read more about Novice Joseph by clicking here. Then, former Novice Joshua Leeuw made his profession of temporary vows (obedience, stability, and conversion of life, for three years), receiving the name Br. Elias. Read more about Br. Elias by clicking here.

May God complete the good work he's begun in both Br. Elias and Novice Joseph, and guide their continued discernment of our way of life with peace and wisdom.

Meanwhile, please continue praying for more vocations to our way of life, and for those of us who've already made solemn vows. Be assured of our own for you -- we pray each day for the Church and the world.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fr. Rupert -- Dressed for action


NOTE: As many of you likely know by now, this past weekend we lost a very holy and faithful monk -- Fr. Rupert Ostdick, O.S.B. He was 95 years old (read his full obituary here). Though 95 and suffering from spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease, Fr. Rupert was still a very active member of the monastic community (he got around on a motorized scooter), rarely missing community prayer times, meals, meetings, and other gatherings. He passed on to his eternal reward quite suddenly early Saturday morning as he was getting dressed in his infirmary room before the beginning of Vigils and Lauds in the Archabbey Church.

Today was his funeral Mass and burial, and below is the homily delivered by Fr. Eugene Hensell, O.S.B. For those of you not fortunate enough to know Fr. Rupert, a few clues to his personality and bearing may make help make more sense of the allusions made in Fr. Eugene's homily. First, Fr. Rupert was a very joyful, gentle, and gracious man, a true gentleman in every sense of the word. He always had a smile for everyone he met, and he never (or rarely) forgot a name. He was also someone who disliked disorder. To put it mildly, Fr Rupert was very precise about everything he did -- from his daily routine to his diction. And like a Timex watch, he took a licking and kept on ticking. When I first arrived at the monastery 10 years ago, one of his arms was in a sling, the result of a serious bicycling accident (he was 85 at the time). When he healed, and I suspect with the Abbot's orders, he switched to a sleek-looking, low-riding tricycle. In the years afterward, there were other falls and mishaps. Once he tripped in the monastery refectory and broke his neck. As he waited for the ambulance in the infirmary, he was dictating, in very precise terms, all the details of his prescription medications for the nurse. Another time, I actually watched him fall down the stairs ahead of me as we walked to church. That didn't stop him either. And on the day he died, he was dressing, as he would any morning, for morning prayer in the Archabbey Church. Fr. Rupert, a good and faithful monk (not to mention tough), was always ready for action. Now, may he rest in peace.
***
"Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Luke12:35-40

Stories about watchfulness and being prepared for the coming of the Son of Man originated at a time in the early Christian Church when expectations were very high that the second coming of Jesus would happen very soon. It did not. Gradually these stories began to be applied to the need of every believer to be prepared for the moment of death: a time when one would meet the Lord face to face. We are admonished, “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.” Those who are prepared for the Master when he comes will be treated to a remarkable experience of reversal.  The Master will invite the servants to sit at table and he will serve them. Still, the overall emphasis on being prepared for the unexpected remains the same. “But know this, the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Even for that servant who is faithful, there is still very much about the hour of death that is unknown and beyond anyone’s control.

In spite of all this, I would like to suggest that no one tried harder to keep all the unexpected and unknown aspects of both life and death under control than did Fr. Rupert. Obviously, he could not control the actual moment of his death. But that did not deter him in his efforts. He simply opted for second best—to control every aspect of life. Fr. Rupert was a monk and a priest of deep faith and strong convictions. Almost every day of his very long monastic life, he was dressed for action and had his lamps lit. He left nothing to chance. He allowed for no randomness. His entire approach to life might best be described by a phrase taken from a poem by Wallace Stevens. Fr. Rupert had what Stevens refers to as a “Blessed Rage for Order” (Wallace Stevens, The Idea of Order at Key West). Here we must not misunderstand the poet. The word “rage” does not refer to intense anger. That certainly would not fit Fr. Rupert. Rage in this context describes a profound sense of enthusiasm, the virtue and daily dynamic that allowed Fr. Rupert to engage life fully right up to the last second of his 95 years.

For all we know, Fr. Rupert is this very moment sitting at the Master’s table, and the Master is serving him. He always seemed to enjoy on occasion sitting at the monastic head table, so no doubt he would enjoy the step up. The somber truth is, however, we do not know factually what happens after death. We hope and we pray, but in fact what happens after death is shrouded in mystery.

In his Rule for monks, Chapter 4 which deals with “the tools for good works,” St. Benedict says, “Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die. Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you wherever you may be” (RB 4:47-49). Since factually we begin dying the very day we are born, I like to think that St. Benedict is really attempting to focus our attention on the fullness of life which reaches its crescendo at the moment of death.  He is not referring simply to the final act of death itself. St. Benedict is admonishing us to pay careful attention to how we live. Life is a glorious gift from God. Do not squander even one moment of it. We do not know when the Son of Man will come and our life will be completed through death. Fr. Rupert took this teaching of St. Benedict very seriously because he was a faithful and obedient monk.

Prepare as he might, Fr. Rupert did not know that his moment of death would be on Saturday, January 14, 2017, around 5:00 a.m., as he was getting dressed for action with his lamps lit. If he had known, no doubt his “Blessed Rage for Order” would have included detailed instructions setting forth how everything was to be done. Throughout his long 95 years Fr. Rupert focused his energies far more on life than on death.  It was precisely by focusing on life that, in fact, he prepared for death. In that long preparation, Fr. Rupert taught us some very important lessons.  Sometimes he used words, but most of the time he taught by example:

n  Lesson one: Live life to the fullest. It is an amazing gift from God.

n  Lesson two: Do not be overwhelmed by the many hardships you may encounter along life’s journey, but trust in the healing processes of life which constantly manifest the grace of a loving God.

n  Lesson three: Do not be afraid to try new things at any age. When you can no longer ride your bicycle, get a tricycle and keep on pedaling.

n  Lesson four: Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit.

--Fr. Eugene Hensell, O.S.B.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Mystery of the Incarnation


NOTE: A wonderful meditation about the meaning of this season by an ancient monk and theologian.

***

The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him. He diminishes the revelation of his glory not out of selfishness but because he recognizes the capacity and resources of those who desire to see him. Yet, in the transcendence of mystery, he always remains invisible to all.

For this reason the apostle Paul, reflecting on the power of the mystery, said: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today: he remains the same forever [Hebrews 13:8]. For he understood the mystery as ever new, never growing old through our understanding of it.

Christ is God, for he had given all things their being out of nothing. Yet he is born as man by taking to himself our nature, flesh endowed with intelligent spirit. A star glitters by day in the East and leads the wise men to the place where the incarnate Word lies, to show that the Word, contained in the Law and the Prophets, surpasses in a mystical way knowledge derived from the senses, and to lead the Gentiles to the full light of knowledge.

For surely the word of the Law and the Prophets when it is understood with faith is like a star which leads those who are called by the power of grace in accordance with his decree to recognize the Word incarnate.

Here is the reason why God became a perfect man, changing nothing of human nature, except to take away sin (which was never natural anyway). His flesh was set before that voracious, gaping dragon as bait to provoke him: flesh that would be deadly for the dragon, for it would utterly destroy him by the power of the Godhead hidden within it. For human nature, however, his flesh was to be a remedy since the power of the Godhead in it would restore human nature to its original grace.

Just as the devil had poisoned the tree of knowledge and spoiled our nature by its taste, so too, in presuming to devour the Lord’s flesh he himself is corrupted and is completely destroyed by the power of the Godhead hidden in it.

The great mystery of the divine incarnation remains a mystery forever. How can the Word made flesh be essentially the same person that is wholly with the Father? How can he who is by nature God become by nature wholly man without lacking either nature, neither the divine by which he is God nor the human by which he became man?

Faith alone grasps these mysteries. Faith alone is truly the substance and foundation of all that exceeds knowledge and understanding.

--St. Maximus the Confessor (c. 580 -- 662)