Tuesday, June 21, 2011


(Must excel in virtuous living and wise teaching.  The dissolute and profligate need not apply.)

My dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
            Okay, I gotta be honest here… I’m way too exhausted to give you a decent account of the marvels this day held:  the conversation with Fr. Simeon Thole, OSB, on deans in the Rule of Saint Benedict, the wonderful prayers, the beautiful rain, the bountiful food, the fascinating tour of the Abbey Church (upper, lower and reliquary), the conviviality of endless delights, all topped off with Dilly Bars and a good ol’ fashioned Methodist hymn sing before Compline (a word which, as one of our equally weary wits remarked, sounds very close to “complain”).  So let me suffice to give you a couple of pictures and the evening’s reflection on the Rule.
            We’re having an amazingly blessed time on retreat, so keep up the prayers.  They are working!  And please remember that you are in our hearts and prayers, as well.
Grace be with you,

Fr. Simeon and Yours Truly

Compline Reflection for Tuesday
Chapter 21.  The Deans of the Monastery
If the community is rather large, some sisters or brothers chosen for their good repute and holy life should be made deans.  They will take care of their groups of ten, managing all affairs according to the commandments of God and the orders of their abbess.  The deans selected should be the kind of persons with whom the abbess can confidently share the burden of her office.  They are to be chosen for virtuous living and wise teaching, not for their rank.
If perhaps one of these deans is to be found puffed up with any pride, and so deserving of censure, that person is to be reproved once, twice and even a third time.  Should that dean refuse to amend, he or she must be removed from office and replaced by another who is worthy.  We prescribe the same course of action in regard to the prioress or prior.

The Rule of Saint Benedict has sometimes been described as wisdom literature.  It is a spiritual document as much as it is a legislative one.  So the “officers,” if you will, of the monastery are not mere functionaries for the administration of the collective.  They are also role models.
When Benedict looks for leadership in the monastery he does not require defined skill sets; rather, he looks for particular virtues.  In the case of the deans, he does not ask that they be highly organized or have a good head for business or be charismatic leaders—though there is nothing at all wrong with these talents.  Instead, he looks for persons of “good repute and holy life” (21.1) and “virtuous living and wise teaching” (21.4)—the very same qualities that he commands for the abbot or abbess, that person who “is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery” (2.2).
All of this notion begs the question:  Why do we need role models at our age?  Aren’t we all grown-ups here?  If you think you are a fully-formed adult and, therefore, all you are ever likely to be, think again!
Years ago I heard a sermon in which the preacher used such biblical luminaries as Moses the murderer, David the adulterer, and Mary the teenaged unwed mother to make the point that “God doesn’t use our past to determine our future, so why should we?”  My sisters and brothers, with God’s help and the support of other believers, we can become that which we were created to be—namely, good and holy, virtuous and wise…the image of God.
Here’s one suggestion that might help:  If you know someone that you admire, ask yourself why you esteem that person.  Are they someone whom you would want to be more like?  If so, watch them.  Watch how they treat other persons, how they listen or hold open a door or read a scripture.  The object is not to become clones of this person.  That would not be possible.  They have their own chemistry and their own history which we cannot possibly recreate.  No, the point is to try on some of the behaviors you observe in them, knowing that these outward expressions are manifestations of inward graces.
At Compline last night we reminded ourselves that the motivation for the Benedictine life is nothing less and nothing other than the love of God, learning to “prefer nothing whatever to Christ” (72.11).  If we want models for how to live up to this imposing ideal, we need look no further than the sisters and brothers around us.
Crucifix in the Saint Francis Chapel


(retreat: from the Latin for “spending time drawing closer to Jesus with your peeps”)

We made it!  Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery’s 2011 retreat is off to a lively start.  All made a safe arrival, though weary from travels.  Some folks drove over 25 hours straight to be here.  Amazing.  The things we do for love.
            Our evening was spent with the usual first night mix of eating, praying, orientation, more praying, more eating, a bit of walking and the enjoyment of one another’s company.  Six of this year’s participants have never before been to a Saint Brigid’s retreat.  You wouldn’t know it, though.  These gatherings always feel like coming home to family.

Please keep those of us gathered here in prayer; you will be in ours.
Grace and Peace,

Compline Reflection for Monday

RB 72.  The Good Zeal of Monks

Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life. This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love:  They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom. 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another.  No one is to pursue what one judges better for oneself, but instead, what one judges better for someone else.  To other monks they show the pure love of sisters and brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbess, unfeigned and humble love.  Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ, and may he bring us all together to everlasting life.

            We are gathered on retreat first and foremost in order to draw closer to God in prayer; second, to refresh ourselves that we may go out with renewed strength for service to the gospel; and third, to take joy in the company of our sisters and brothers, deepening the bonds of community in love.

I encourage us, one and all, to take full advantage of the opportunity we are given in these few days to practice the good zeal of monks on each other:  to show respect, to support and encourage, to be patient with each other and to listen.

It seems at face value as if these practices should be particularly easy in a setting like this one, wherein we are surrounded by the perfect saints of God, talking about holy and uplifting matters in a place where everything around us—the rhythm of the days, the content of our discussions, the psalms and prayers, the buildings, the beauty of the natural environment—is oriented in one direction:  Godward. 

But fair warning:  Someone or something at some time during the week will somehow likely manage to prick at your nerves.  It might be lack of sleep or early hours (or late hours) or the person who lags behind or drives ahead in prayer or maybe even something that is said.
           That is exactly the point at which our good zeal, our care for each other’s souls, will be put to the test.  Make it your task, then, to turn to Christ—not just in the heavenly realm, but as he comes to you in your sister or brother, right here, right now.  Reverence Christ.  Serve Christ.  Listen to Christ.  Prefer nothing whatever to the Christ sitting next to you right now.

The wisdom of Saint Benedict is that we do not go to God alone.  We are fellow disciples in this “school of the Lord’s service.” (Prol 45)  Our motivation, our goal is love.  Let us love Christ—in each other—with all our hearts, that he may “bring us all together to everlasting life” (72.12).

Friday, June 17, 2011

Go Ahead...Play with Fire!

(On spiritual pyromania)

Whether you prefer to think of this week as the beginning of the season of Pentecost or as Week 11 of Ordinary Time, there is still no better time to shout a loud “Come, Holy Spirit!” 
At the moment, I’m up to my eyeballs in last minute retreat preparations (see Blogger’s Note below) and so am too preoccupied to offer a treatise on how the Rule of Benedict regards the Third Person of the Trinity, but suffice it to say that our sainted patron is generally otherwise focused; he is much more honed in on Christ our Lord, our model, our protector, our Savior, our guide.  In fact, Benedict mentions the Holy Spirit only a scant three times.  Here are the references:

Ø  Prologue 11-12:You that have ears to hear, listen to what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 2:7).  And what does he say?  Come and listen to me, sons [and daughters]; I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Ps 34:12).”
Ø  7.70:  [on humility] “All this the Lord will by the Holy Spirit graciously manifest in his workers now cleansed of vices and sins.”
Ø  49.5-6: [on the observance of Lent] “During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of one’s own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thess 1:6).”

We can deduce from these few pieces of evidence that Saint Benedict understood God the Holy Spirit in at least these ways:

Ø  As God speaking to us
Ø  As God calling us
Ø  As God teaching us
Ø  As God working in us
Ø  As God filling us with joy as we do the good work of self-denial for the sake of a deeper communion with God and with our sisters and brothers

Okay, so maybe the Rule does give us a fair amount of fodder for prayer and theological cogitation re: The Holy Ghost.  But I’m still not going to ramble on about it today.  Instead, allow me to serve up a complementary dish from our venerable tradition of Methodist hymnody.   This hymn by Andrew Reed (1787-1862) was included in the 1960 Methodist Hymnal, but for some reason did not make the cut for the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal.  (Life and editing are all about choices, I suppose.)  O come, great Spirit, come!
Grace be with you,

Spirit Divine, Attend Our Prayers

Spirit divine, attend our prayers
And make this house thy home;
Descend with all thy gracious powers:
O come, great Spirit, come!

Come as the fire, and purge our hearts
Like sacrificial flame;
Let our whole soul and offering be
To our Redeemer’s name.

Come as the dove and spread thy wings,
The wings of peaceful love,
And let thy Church on earth become
Blest as the Church above.

Spirit divine, attend our prayers
And make this world thy home;
Descend with all thy gracious powers:
O come, great Spirit come!

Blogger’s Note:
As mentioned above, Saint Brigid of Kildare Monastery will be holding our annual retreat next week.  I covet your prayers for the event; please know that you will be in mine.  It is my intention (the best laid plans of mice and monks!) to post a reflection and perhaps a picture or two every evening as a little taste of the gathering of saints.  It would be wonderful if we could all be together in one place, but we at least have the assurance that we are together in one heart.