21 December 2009

Christmas Schedule

Using my "Feedjit" widget I saw that a few people were searching for the Mass Times for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I will leave this up until after St. Stephen's Day (Boxing Day) 26th December, 2009... At least


4:00 PM - Vespers
10:15 PM - Vigils
11:30 PM - Carols
12:00 AM - Midnight Mass


8:00 AM - Mass for the people
9:30 AM - Community Mass (Sung High Mass)
5:15 PM - Vespers and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament

A Blessed Christmas to you.
God's Peace and Blessings!


My 21st Birthday... In a Way

How can a man that is 41 years of age and Someone born in September say that today is his 21st Birthday? Today is the 21st Anniversary of the bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. My sincere prayers go out to the families of the victims, the people of Lockerbie, and the members of the RAF Mountain Rescue and Emergency Services who assisted in the aftermath of this tragedy.

In the spring of 1988, I was a sophomore in college. I was looking forward to a semester in London. I thought if I stay until December 21st, I can have Christmas in England and in America. My father's travel agent got us a pretty good deal on Pan-Am. Some time in either June or July of that year, the travel agent switched the tickets to Northwest Orient because he heard a rumor that Pan-Am might go on strike. That is why I am alive! It is atleast the reason I did not die on that plane 21 years ago today.

In pre-Christian Europe there was celebration after December 21st passed. A celebration of a "new" Sun. A celebration of life-renewed. Maybe there is some residue of a primordial pagan essence that links their celebration with my avoidance of such a dire tragedy.

But as Christians we all have Life-Renewed. We all have a "New Sun." We have this in the person of Jesus Christ. The darkness has truly passed: we live in the light of his New Dawn.

I am truly grateful to God that I did not perish 21 years ago today. But without Christ in my life, why would I be living? For what purpose? Those who do not share my Christian Faith may not understand that point of view, and that's ok. I genuinely respect that. To those that do share a Christian faith we know that Jesus came that we might have life, and life in its fulness.

God's Blessing to you all and Peace!

13 December 2009

CHRISTmas Carols

A log of people complain about our modern age and things like Political Correctness. I am one of those people. Somehow the idea of “diversity” was transformed to mean to pulverize anything that can be considered religious into a non-descript shade of beige. Now that I am in my dotage, I can cast my mind back to a simpler time when diversity was about allowing and respecting differences. Well a beacon of hope has shone brightly from the North West Leicestershire District Council. They asked Mount St. Bernard Abbey to host the Council’s Service of Lessons and Carols.

The service lasted about an hour and there were seven lessons (Scripture readings) and seven carols. On top of that we were all treated to some carols performed by a choir from Holy Cross School in Whitwick. The prayers were led by our about abbot and the lessons were mainly read by the Council members.

It went very well and about 260 people attended. The abbot is hopeful that we will be asked to host this event next year. I liked that it was definitely Christian, and there was no incursion by Santa, elves, or Rudolph. Now if there separate events for Hanukkah, Eid, or a secular celebration, I would support that too. Now they may already do this, and I am just unaware. (We are enclosed after all.)

08 December 2009

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

One of the unexpected benefits of abbey life is that the seasons, the church's and nature's, follow their own pattern. It does not matter that shopping for Christmas (Hanukkah, Kwanza, El-Eid, Winter Solstice, etc.) is in full swing. No TV, no newspapers, no advertisements. YEAH!!! For m the begnning of Advent, for once, has been about the Second Coming of Christ and not the trappings of the secular season.

Today being the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception was a holiday. With no classes or manual labour, I took a stroll after the Office of None (pronounced like known).
I started by visiting the calves. I am glad we do not eat meat here, because they are so docile. If I point to one, it comes rght up to me. Even our bull Remus, who must weigh the best part of a ton, comes up for a scratch behind the ears when I call his name.Little Bridget

It was also nice to see that during this grey time of year some plants still flower. I am not sure what this green prickly plant is, but it has beautiful little flowers. If anyone knows what plant that is please drop me a line.

There are even wild beasties roaming out side the security of the enclosure. Actually that is Mitzy and she is only yawning. She hangs out by the pottery.

25 November 2009

One of those days

I woke up this morning with a throbbing headache, sore throat, stuffed-up nose. Yet my first thought was: Thank you God for letting me be at this abbey! And I meant it as a sincere prayer of Thanksgiving.

I suppose it is apt that the day before the colonies... erm, I mean, the United States of America celebrates a Thanksgiving Day: God has filled my heart with gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving Day and God Bless you all.


22 November 2009

A Visit to Stroud

We in the novitiate have had a fairly busy week. The highlight of it came early: on Tuesday. We visited The Monastery of Our Lady and St. Bernard in Brownhills, near Stroud, Gloucestershire. It is a community of Bernardine Cisterician nuns. They were most welcoming and hospitable.

Before we got there, we popped in to visit the chapel of Prinknash Abbey, a Benedictine abbey. As we were leaving there we met a couple of the monks there. It is unfortunate that we were pressed for time. We were not able to visit with the community - although the very kindly invited us to. I would love to make another visit to Prinknash.Fr. Terry and Brother Paul: Novice Master and Assistant Novice Master,repectively (and respectully) with Prinknash (pronounced Prinnish) Abbey in the background.

When we got to they Bernardine Cistercian we got the grand tour from our own Fr. Peter C., who is their chaplain. I really liked their Early English (Gothic) styled chapel. The original part of it being from the 1850's. Back then an Anglican community lived there, and they helped women who were involved with prostitution to get off the streets. In another "incarnation" this was a place for priest and religious with substance abuse issues to come for help. In the chapel you can feel that this is a place of healing.If you look closely at the picture you can see a rainbow over the chapel.

At 12:30 we sang the Office of Sext with the sisters, after which we had dinner and a walk on the commons. The monastery is set on the edge of the Cotswold a truly beautiful part of England. The sisters wished to extend their hospitality to us - even offering us use of the guest house if we wished to stay overnight. It was a lovely offer, but we had to head home.

13 November 2009

A few fall photos

Here is a peak at our lovely autumnal weather around the abbey. Some complain that winter is just around the corner, but I am going to enjoy this while it lasts. So on this day, The Feast of All Saints who fought under the banner of the Rule of St. Benedict, relax and enjoy these photos. While I relax with an afternoon off of manual labour.

God's Blessings and Peace to you all!

06 November 2009

Mount St. Bernard Abbey: Update

Well I have been here at the abbey for 5 weeks now, and there have already been some changes:
One of the brothers was ordained deacon. He was ordained by the Bishop of Nottingham. Because of his tight schedule a Dominican brother came to the abbey to be ordained too. The Dominican had been born profoundly deaf, but with speech therapy and modern hearing aids (and I am sure plenty of lip-reading), he is able to communicate quite well. Both of them should be ordained in about six month.

My fellow postulant was "clothed" on the All Saints Day; now I am postulating on my own. He took the name Rafael after Rafael Arnaiz Baron a Trappist Oblate who was canonized a few weeks ago by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI. St. Rafael was noted for his self-abandoning love for God, humility and detachment. He is a very apt patron for our Brother Rafael. Please pray for him.

So until the end of January -God Willing- there will be two novices and a postulant. Then we have a man scheduled to join the postulancy, and two more in the Spring-time. With God's great grace we shall have a pretty full house.

And one personal note about my blog: I have now have at least one visit from every continent on the planet, including Antarctica (thx Melanie). I am still marveled (and grateful) at the amount of readers that I have. God Bless you all.


28 October 2009

Vows: Oppressive or Liberating

When I was in grade school (primary school) and the talk of monastic life came up in class there was always a focus on the vows that a monk or a nun takes: Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. Now that I am in monastic formation I realize that those are not even the vows at all! Or at least a monk or nun in a monastery that follows the Rule of St. Benedict. Those vows are Obedience, Stability, and "Conversio Mores" (or a Changing of Ways).

I wrote a little bit about the Vow of Obedience before, and some people indicated that they would like to hear more. If I do not address what you are interested in, please feel free to post a comment or send me an email (address is on the Left side of the blog).

I want to address the vows as a whole. I wish to do that because I see a good life as an integrated whole.

A lot of people view the vows in the same light as the Ten Commandments. Not that they carry the same weight as God's laws for his people, but they are viewed as a list of "Thou Shall Nots."
Thou shall not Own Anything
Thou shall not Marry
Thou shall not Not Do Anything without my Permission.

While I have to admit that there is an element of Thou-shall-not-ishness to the vows, I think that we have to add the "Becauses" to the our understanding of the vows. There is also a two-fold dynamic to all of the vows: communal and personal. Whilst the not owning personal property (which would fall under "Conversio Mores") may have the practical application of redcing squabbling and in-fighting in the monastery (communal), not owning property helps us with the spirit of detachment -in deed all of the vows are geared towards detachment. The Vow of Stability attaches you to a particular monastery. In some institutes of religious life (orders [like Carmelites], congregations [like Redemptorits], Societies [like the Jesuits] etc.) you enter a province and can be moved to any house in that province. In monastic life you enter a single monastery. Whilst it is possible to move to another monastery in the order, it is not the norm. The communal aspect of this vow is that you help to form a "stable" community. The personal aspect is that you seek mental stability. You are not looking for greener pastures: you grow where you are planted. The Vow of Obedience one aims to foster a sense of unity among the brothers, and a sense of humility individually.

Detatchment, as I touched on earlier, is the goal of all of the vows. Not some imposition of destitution from above, but rather a personal offering up of all things that are not God. This is not a one time act; it is a life-long process. And the further one travels down the path of detachment, the more there is to be detached from. St. Rafael Arnaiz Baron ( a very recently canonized saint) wanted desperately to become a Trappist-Cistercian monk. He longed to take his vows and observantly live the Rule of St. Benedict. Whilst in the novitiate, he became quite ill and had to go back home. Among his illnesses was severe Type II Diabetes. At home he got treatment: corrected his diet and got medication. Because of his medical needs he could re-enter the novitiate. He had to give up his dream of being a monk, he wold not even be able to observe the Rule of St. Benedict strictly.

Instead of getting depressed about this situation, St. Rafael became detached from his desires. In doing this, he saw a way forward. He re-entered the Trappist Abbey as an oblate. St. Rafael was detached from his family with whom he was very close. He was detached from his will: as an oblate he did not take the vows of a monk, and he did not have a place in choir to sing the Divine Office. Though his family was quite wealthy, he was detatched from possessions, status, influence,and authority.

The more detached we are the freer we are. The more we get rid of the "stuff" from our lives (possessions, willfulness, selfish desires) the more room there is for God in our lives. And having the God in our life is the goal of all Christians, not just monks and nuns. St. Rafael himelf summed it up in the expression "Solo Dios Basta" or "God alone is enough!"

15 October 2009

Harvest-time at Mount St. Bernard

Having grown up in a city like Chicago, there is often a disconnect between the source of our food and the food that appears on the table. This, I think, is especially true during periods of plenty. It is almost as if the crops are raised in the storeroom, right next to where the cows are milked.

On 13th October we had our Harvest Vespers and a Harvest Mass this morning. After the Office of None (9th Hour) the other postulant, the novice and I were asked to make a special arrangement for vespers. Basically we were given a little less than 2 hours to come up with a concept, collect the materials, and arrange something "harvesty." A few members of the community offered helpful suggestions like, "use fruit," or "use some ivy." At first the suggestions did not seems so helpful, but we were able to utilize them. We sat down to plan a few things, and went off to get our supplies. Then God's inspiration kicked in to high gear. Not only did I pick up what I was supposed to, I picked things for the one arranging flowers. The one getting fruit picked up other things for decoration such as a field worker's hat and gloves, a scythe, and hay (to the calves dismay, I later heard). I picked some strands of red ivy, and some fine branches with red and golden leaves. Another picked strands of grape leaves. Within forty-five minutes everything was arranged, and it looked like every single thing had been planned to the nth degree. While we did use some things that were not grown here: pineapples, coconut, and oranges for example. The overwhelming majority of that which we displayed came from our land. We had milk, honey and eggs from our animals. We had jars of gooseberry and black currant, and red currant jam. We had not only some ears of corn, but the (top 3 ft.of the) stalks as well. The flowers picked from our own garden (Thanks Fr. Hilary) made for quite the impressive display. And with my American background, when I saw a pumpkins, we had to add it.

In my opinion, sometimes when we attempt to be grateful to God for every single thing in our lives, we miss the mark. There is just way too much. Sometimes when we focus on one single thing (or concept) for which to be grateful, we can really direct our energy, thoughts, prayers, and voices. And this produce, literally from our own back yard, sustain our bodies. So we pause at this time to thank God for the bounty of the earth and our sustenance.

Psalm 89: 13-14
The Lord will make us prosper
and our earth shall yield its fruit.
Justice shall march before Him
and peace shall follow his footsteps.
©The Grail, England 1963

God's Blessings and Peace to you all.
Please continue to pray for me.

09 October 2009

A Vigil for St. Therese

I was priviledged to attended the Vigil of the relics of St. Therese of Lisieux that was at The Cathedral of St. Barnabas in Nottingham, England. There were ten of us from Mount St. Bernard Abbey. It was a requirement of the Nuns of the Discalced Carmelite Monastery of Lisieux that members of contemplative Orders must be present overnight when ever the relic stayed some place overnight. We Cistercians and some Poor Clare Nuns stepped up in order to have the relics in Nottingham.

I say I was privileged to be there because around 6,000 (maybe more!) came to the Cathedral. These people prayed at the relics; they attended Masses, Vigils (at 3:30 AM), and Lauds; they received the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Some came out of curiosity. Some non-Catholics attended reverently. Some non-Christians attended reverently. This was all made possible because the cathedral staff and volunteers worked their tails off - all night long. The event lasted from 4PM on Monday until 12PM on Tuesday. The relics were in a beautifully carved "casket", and that casket was under a glass (or plexi-glass) cover. That being said people very tenderly venerated these relics.

The veneration of relics, especially bodily relics, is a hard thing to grasp. Many are afraid of idolatry: worship of the creature not the creator. Some are afraid of a belief in magic or charms. Even the supporters of the veneration of relics from the early church down to our own time warn us of this. St. Therese is probably the best saint to allay these fears. The life of St. Therese, the writings of St. Therese, the prayers of St. Therese are focused on Jesus: ON HIM ALONE. Relics, at there best, inspire love for and imitation of that saint.

Personally I believe the relics imparted a special grace from God to me. The Mass on the first evening was lovely. 3,000 (at least) were in attendance, and it was edifying to see all these people in prayer. The Mass at 6:30 in the moring was also very well attended, but I was focused on love for Christ. At a number of times, I was almost in tears. Not tears of remorse, but tears of joy: My God, My Saviour, My beloved friend was coming to me.... Of all people, me.

I began to see what St. Therese saw, and feel what she felt in respects to our Lord. I came away not reeling from some "fan" worship of a saint, but with a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.

Blessed be God: in His angels and in His saints.

Peace and Blessings to you.

05 October 2009

Week 1 at the Abbey

I have finished my first week at the Abbey. It is beautiful and peaceful. The manual labour has been quite varied. I have even been helping with the cows! To be honest even some of the cows have been helping me with the more stubborn cows. But there is a special spiritual treat today. There are ten of us going off to Nottingham to the Cathedral Church of St. Barnabas. The cathedral will be open all night for a vigil with the relics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

Both I and one other brother here had been novices with the Discalced Carmelites, which of course, St. Therese was. It seems for both of us it is easier to live a Carmelite vocation with the Cistercians than with the Carmelites themselves. Granted it is a bit unfair of me to say that because there are many authentic ways to live out Carmel.

The Carmelite nuns of Lisieux required that wherever the relics stayed over night, there needed to be contemplatives at the vigil. We Cistercians will not be alone. Some Poor Clares will be joining us, too! I even heard that members of the Catholic Chaplancy at the University of Nottingham will be joining us over night.

As part of my vigil, I will be praying for the readers of my blog. I hope you keep me in your prayers too.
God Bless You All!

28 September 2009

And So It Begins... At Long Last :)

The above image was wantonly lifter from the Sub Tuum blog. Sorry, Br. Stephen. Tomorrow used to be know as Michaelmas: Feast of St. Michael the Archangel. It is now know as the Feast of the Archangels: Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael.

It is the 174th anniversary of the Founding of Mount St. Bernard Abbey. It is also the first day of my postulancy at Mount St. Bernard Abbey. Please pray for me.

God's peace and blessings to you all.

25 September 2009

The Time is Almost upon Us (or just me)

I have just come over to England from Ireland. I am on a double "Family Tour." First I am seeing all of relatives on my mom's side of the family, then all the relatives on my dad's side. At least as many of them as I can: a couple cousin are off on holiday in Africa, and some are just off. :)

At present I am in Sussex. Experiencing fantastic autumnal weather. While my cousin did gardening, her husband took me to the town of Lewes. Later on we will go to my uncle who has just turned 90. Tomorrow I go up to Sheffield; then on down to Dudley.

The Castle Gate at Lewes

And this coming Tuesday I enter Mount St.Bernard Abbey. While packing upmy house I felt a good bit of apprehension. This is the first time in my life that I am closing a chapter of my life so firmly. This is the first time since I was 8 years old, that I do not have any keys. No keys to an house or a flat. No keys to a car or even a bike-lock. I do not even have locks on my luggage, so no keys there either.

But that chapter is closed. And the apprehension is gone. The sale of my house is entrusted to a remarkable friend. The title to the car is signed over. That which I did not need at the abbey was given away, thrown away, or just left behind. To a great extent I got rid of every thing that was extraneous to my new life. In time I will probably get rid of more stuff.

Detachment from things is pretty easy for most people to grasp. Detachment from friends and family is a lot more difficult to graps. Unlike things, I do not want to get rid of friends and family. But their priority in my life changes, and it changes drastically. Before I prioritized things the following way:
  1. God
  2. Family
  3. Friends
  4. Job
In a dire situation, one could temporarily move up to a higher position; but things averaged out in that manner. Now the list is more like:
  1. God
  2. Worship of God in the Liturgy
  3. Conversio Morum (the changing of my ways)
  4. Family and Friends
I cannot now drop things and run over and help. It can even be difficult to lend an ear, sometimes. But this is the life I have chosen, and I realized it long before I applied. But I pray that my friends stay friends with me. I do not want to loose them; I just cannot possess them.

So now here I stand on the precipice of my metaphorical Cîteaux. The Journey does not end here. Oh no! It is just beginning. The terrain is getting steeper and, I have to pay more attention to my footing. Strap up your hiking boots, grab a staff, and join me.

God's Blessing and Peace to you! Please pray for me.

18 September 2009

How do you fit a life into a 24" x 24" x 17" carton?

How do you fit a life into a 24" x 24" x 17" carton? That is my task for the weekend. It is amazing just how much extraneous stuff that I have. The more I try to figure what is important, the more I realize that nothing I own is that important.

I have an antiques: clocks, Singer Sewing Machine from about 1923, etc. etc. and while they are worth money- blah, big deal. Now I am not obliged to disburse my property until I approach Solemn Vows, but why wait. I am trustful that I will become a monk, and that everything will work out. But even if it doesn't, it feels good to unburden my self of this stuff.

As the late summer morning sun shines through my stained glass windows filling my sitting room with an abundance of colours, I happily bask in my little slice of Heaven. I do not look on material goods as something evil. In their proper perspective, material goods are good things - but only things. When people decry material goods as evil, I enjoin them to take a stroll in the nude on a -25º (-32º Celsius) winter day. The goodness of material things becomes readily apparent in that scenario. Kidding aside, Holy Scripture tells us in the book of Genesis that God made the world. "and saw that it was good."

So back to my opening question: How do you fit a life into a 24" x 24" x 17" carton? by using plenty of packing peanuts. The carton is 17" tall, and I will not be able to fill it to the top.

God's Blessings to you and Peace!

14 September 2009

A Liberating Theology

Please allow me to begin with a disclaimer: I am not writing about "Liberation Theology." What I am writing about is the vow of obedience, or at least my understanding of it.

To most people obedience is a scary concept. For some the mind boggles with images of brainless, soul-less subservience. The Code of Canon Law (canon 601) defines it is as follows:

"The evangelical counsel of obedience, undertaken in a spirit of faith and love in the following of Christ who was obedient even unto death requires a submission of the will to legitimate superiors, who stand in the place of God when they command according to the proper constitutions."

The submitting of the will is not done under a bully or an adversary, but to someone standing "in the place of God." Wow! That is very deep: being obedient to someone serving you. The abbot or abbess of a monastery, using Christ as their model, is the servant of the entire community. Of course the needs of the entire community comes before that of the individual, and occasionally one has to accept a "no." I expect there to be some challenges as I transition into the monastic life, but eventually --God Willing-- it will just become part of the life.

Overall, however, I believe that the vow of obedience, as framed by the rule of St. Benedict, is liberating. There are two values prevalent in Western society that, to me, are obstacles in the spiritual life: Acquiring and Aspiring. The vow of obedience nullifies aspiriations, if you let it.

30 August 2009

See you in September

I will be taking a brief hiatus from the blog as I prepare for the move to England.

Trying to sell my house and getting rid of 99% of my possession is my priority right now. I will start blogging again in the last week of September.

Please keep me in your prayers as I prepare to enter Mount St. Bernard Abbey.

Thank you

27 August 2009

Now it's really real

I bought my ticket to Europe yesterday. A one-way ticket Now it feels real. I leave America in twenty-six days: wow! The big task now is selling my house.

The big emotional task is saying good-bye to friends. I am surprised at the number of people who say they are upset that I am going. One person erupted with a vile tirade against me. The next day he sent me a half-hearted apology via text message but has not spoken to me since.

Most people who are saddened by my leaving are not against my vocation. I tell them if I could fulfill my vocation in the Chicago area I would. Some people with whom I have only had a handful of conversations tell me they are going to miss me. It is like the saying: "Is it love or the idea of being in love." I suppose in my case the saying might be:"Is it Declan or the idea of Declan." I believe these people are genuine but possibly overly sympathetic.

I have made a lot of real friends since I moved to Blue Island almost four years ago. As well as friends I have made from previous stages in my life. Now, thanks to Facebook, I am in touch with friends some of whom I have not seen since I was 13 years old. The support and prayers I am getting is truly heart-warming. Despite the fact that I am moving 4,000 miles away and that I will not be able to take a vacation, I intended to maintain my friendship with many people. While writing letter, email, and blog posts are not the same as sitting nextg to someone; it can keep connection strong. And with the speed of email real conversations can take place.

11 August 2009

It is officially official!!!

I have been accepted as a Postulant at the Abbey of Mount St. Bernard in the Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, England. It is the only operating abbey of Cistercian monks in England, and about 50 miles from where I was born.

My date for entry will be 29 September 2009: The Feast of The Archangel: Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, and Saint Raphael. It is also the 174th anniversary of the founding of the abbey.

Thanks for everyone's prayers. And I hope the prayers continue!

God's Blessings and Peace to all of my readers.

06 August 2009

More Photos

This is the altar dedicated to St. Benedict. It is located behind the choir, and not visible from the people's nave.

This is Br. Martin with Mitzy. He is an amazing potter. His pottery is for sale at the Abbey's gift shop. Mitzy is a good mouser.

In 1950 Michael Tansi entered the abbey. He took the name Cyprian. After his formation, was to return to Africa to help start a new monastery. He died suddenly in 1964. After a miraculous healing of a young girl in Cyprian's home country of Nigeria, he was declared blessed by Pope John Paul II in 1990. His remains were returned to Nigeria and interred in a church which is now a place of pilgrimmage. Many Nigerians and other devotees come to Mount St. Bernard because of him. This is a photo of his shrine in the church.

Some of the calves.

The abbey in hedge form!

31 July 2009

Photos of Mount St. Bernard

Here are a few photos from around the abbey.

Here is Tim, the lion of Mount St. Bernard

This is the guest-house. The church is to the left in back.

This is the back of the abbey.

They have a Calvary at Mount St. Bernard that was carved by hand in the 1930's by one of the monks. Interestingly, the statue of St. John looks down at the pilgrims and not up at the cross.

30 July 2009

Back Home - with the attack cat

The second half of my live-in is now complete. I left the abbey at abbey at 4:50 AM on July 29, 2009. I was home by 4 PM Chicago-time. I was back about 2 hours when my cat started using me as a chew toy --my punishment for being away for 2 weeks. I got a few bites from him this morning, too, just for good measure. Lucky looks harmless, bbut don't be deceived. He is 25 lbs of furry fury.

It is a shame I had to leave the abbey so early. Later on that morning one of the postulants was scheduled to be clothed as a novice. As this is done in Chapter, I would not have been able to attend the ceremony, but I would have liked to have seen him after words.

This trip went quite well.I met with the psychologist that the abbey uses for screening applicants. He was a bit too Jungian for my liking, but he was a very affable person. I got a copy of his review a few days later, and he gave a thumbs up. My meetings with the novice master and abbot were both positive, too. So now I wait for a few days, PRAY, and then I send a formal letter asking to be accepted. The novice master and I discussed a possible entrance date(which I view as a good sign). So if I am accepted, I will most likely enter on 29 September - Michaelmas. Please pray for me!

The Manual Labour was a bit more laid back for the summer months. On many of the nice days we were picking summer fruits like. We picked pound after pound of red currants, black currants, and raspberries. I made an interesting observation while doing this: Chickens like raspberries. Who knew? After feeding them a couple handfuls, the chcikens remembered me, and rushed over to the fence when ever I walked by.

I treated myself to a digital camera before I left for England. I took about 55 photos while I was there. One photo came out very well, which surprised me because I am not a very good photographer. It is a photo of the abbey church from the peoples nave. I think the Holy Spirit guided my hand.

Take care and God bless you all. I will post more photos tomorrow.

27 July 2009

Monastic Vocation - Continued

To me, I think one of the biggest indications that one has a monastic vocation is a love of the Liturgy of the Hours (aka:Divine Office, Prayer of the Church, and Breviary). If I had been more "on the ball" I think I would have realised my monastic vocation much earlier in life. I think that the Liturgy of the Hours is a wonderful way to worship our Lord. As the Psalms open up to you, you can see them on so many different levels. You may see it as King David crying out to the Lord in time of need; you may see yourself crying out to the Lord in time of need; or you may see Jesus talking to you; the same Psalm may hit you a different way. And all of these are valid ways of viewing the Psalm.

I actually did not know about the Liturgy of the Hours before I went to seminary at Oscott College. It was there that I discovered it, and there that I began to treasure this way of praying. If you are unfamiliar with the Liturgy of the Hours you might want to check to see if there is a monastery, religious community, or even parish that prays it near by. The Liturgy of the Hours can appear in numerous forms. If you do not like it at one place check another. Some communities have it in Latin - if you do not understand Latin you may not like it or you might still appreciate the beauty. The American translation is a bit dry in my opinion. I have seen "politically correct" breviaries - one can take that as they will. Also the Roman Breviary take the 150 Psalms over a 4-week period, some communities take the Psalms over two week and some in just one week.

What ever your vocation is, this way of prayer is open to all Christians: married, single, younger, older, priest, lay-person - Everyone. But if you are looking to celebrate the complete Liturgy of the Hours everyday, you may just be called to a monastery.

26 July 2009

Do I have a monastic vocation?

I was talking with one of the postulants here at Mount St. Bernard's Abbey. Whilst he is much younger than I am I found out we had something in common about our vocational journey. When we were younger we assumed vocation=priesthood. We did not know why someone would join a religious community, much less a monastery. We did not even know what questions to ask to try to make a determination

If you are a man or a women wondering if you could have a monastic vocation there are questions you can ask yourself:
Do I love Christ, and do I want to follow him closely?
Would I benefit from living with others trying to follow Christ in the same way?
What are my feelings about Liturgy: Mass and the Divine Office?
Liturgy is nice but there is more important work to do
Liturgy is nice, but let’s balance it with our apostolate
Liturgy is a way to offer God proper worship, and St. Benedict says we should prefer nothing to it.

The first answer I would say is a counter-indication of a monastic vocation. The second answer might be an indication of a quasi-monastic vocation or a vocation to a teaching monastery. The third answer is more along the lines of a more enclosed community.

I must run to Compline. I will post more on this topic tomorrow.
God Bless You.

18 July 2009

Bicentenary of Ambrose March Philipps DeLisle

Ambrose March Philipps DeLisle was born 200 years ago. After his conversion to Catholicism, he desired to re-introduce monasticism to England. His family seat, Glarendon Hall, was built on the site of a Cistercian Monastery that was founded in 1133; so Cistercians are selected for the monastery. The monastery that he founds is Mount St. Bernard's Abbey, and that is where I am today.

The abbey celebrated Mass today in honor of Ambrose March Philipps DeLisle's 200th birthday. A number of his decendants were in attendance. Ambrose and his wife Laura are buried here at the abbey.

The Abbot was the principal celebrant, but the Mass was concelebrated not only by the other priests of the community, but by priests from the parishes of Shepshed, Whitwick, Loughborough, Rawcliffe College, and the Rosminian order. The presence of all these institution owe a debt of gratitude directly to De Lisle. Ambrose was not, however, a triumphalist Catholic convert. He truly desired Christian Unity. He longed for the day where Christians could all share one Eucharist.

God Bless Laura and Ambrose March Philipps DeLisle

14 July 2009

Back in the Sandals again.

If you are old enough, you may get the attempt at a joke in my title. Well I am back at Mount St. Bernard Abbey. I have been up for way too many hours, and am trying to stay up at least until 7PM.

The anxiety that I mentioned the other day evaporated as I got out of the cab. There is a peace that is ever-present; and I received quite a warm welcome.

On this trip I treated myself to a new camera. Hopefully the pictures will be enjoyable. Below is a picture from the back garden.

Sorry for the short entry, but I must start moving around before I fall asleep at this desk.

God Bless.

10 July 2009

Monastic Live-in,Part Deux

On Monday I am flying back to Britain with Mount St. Bernard Abbey as my sole destination. After my half-month stay, I can formally apply to enter the abbey. I decided that I would not be doing any further traveling on this trip.

On my humble little blog I try to be honest. Honest about what I see and honest about my feelings. And I try to avoid being overly-positive or pollyannistic. So, emotionally speaking, the anticipation for this trip is very different from the previous two trips. There was a sense of adventure and discovery for the previous trips, but I am not expecting that anything will be different from my last trip in May.

Yesterday I started feeling anxious about this upcoming trip. At first this feeling worried me. On reflection I think the enormity of my decision to apply to the abbey has finally hit me. And it is about time. This decision is HUGE.

When I resigned my self to the thought that my religious vocation had fizzled, I put down roots. I established a career for myself, bought a house, entered in to public life (including a run for alderman), and most importantly I made a lot of friends. I thought that I was going to here in Blue Island for life. There were a few parishes in and near Blue Island that I checked out. None of them fit. Just over a year ago I joined St.Isidore the Farmer Parish, and I thought the final piece of the puzzle was found. I was there about three months when my vocation was reawakened.

I firmly believe that the Cistercian life with its focus on God and simplicity of life is what God wants for me. So the aspect of getting rid of my possessions is not a big deal. There is also the aspect of detachment from family friends. This is more of a challenge, because these relationships are two way streets. I will write more on that topic on a later date.

Sometimes I think God lifts some of his sweetness from our lives so that we are aware that we are entering into a new phase of life. A number of years ago I had two friends that were expecting their first child. As the due-date approached the dad-to-be confided to me that he was very nervous and afraid he was not up to the task of being a father. I told him that it was good that he was feeling that way because it showed that he was taking being a father seriously. I think the same thing can be said of my anxiety.

Again I ask for your prayers as I go to the abbey and as I apply to enter it. If any of you have prayer requests, please feel free to forward them to me.

God Bless you.

21 June 2009

What's so Wrong?

I was talking with a group of friends recently . Upon hearing of my intention to enter a monastery, one of them asked, "What so wrong?" In utter bewilderment I responded, "Nothing!"

At present I live a very comfortable life. Owing to a fair-sized inheritance I was able to resign from a very stressful career, and sort out what I want to do with my life. I have been able to pay my bills and mortgage, buy a car, even do a fair bit of travel. I view all of this as solely God's grace. I do not believe that I earned it, am owed it,or deserve it. But because of my current circumstances, I asked my friend how could he think anything was wrong.

As I reflected on the question posed to me, I asked him, "Do think a monastery is a place where a group of miserable men live out a miserable existence?" I do not think anything could be further from the truth.

The monasteries I have visited have been populated with men dedicated to God, living a peaceful and joyful life. If this were not the case, I would not waste my time looking at the monastery. Not that there are not challenges in the life of a monk, but then there are challenges in every walk of life: married or single, whether you are a parent or not.

I think the challenges we face shape our lives. They give us the opportunity to look at aspects of our life and ask, "Is it worth it?" A lot of people think that I am giving up to much by entering a monastery, but to me it is worth it.

For me sussing out my particular vocation was the tough part. My vocation happens to be that of a monk. If it were not my vocation, I think life in a monastery would be hell. In 19th Century France there was a young man who wanted to be a priest, but his superiors did not think he had a vocation because he knew no Latin. He left and married a woman who had wanted to be a nun but had to leave due to ill health. He was Blessed Louis Martin. His wife was Blessed Marie-Azelie. They had five daughters who became nuns, the best known one being St. Therese of Lisieux. I firmly believe that if we live out our vocation, whatever that vocation may be, we are living on the door-step of Heaven.

16 June 2009

Decisions, Decisions

May 27th -Feast of Augustine of Canterbury

Well today was a bit out of the ordinary; even after what I said yesterday. I think God has a good way of making us laugh at ourselves. We went to a conference of religious (Brothers, Sisters, Nuns, and Priests in religious orders). As the only aspirant in the group I was a bit of an oddball there… yes more of one than usual. While the speaker was not much to write home about (so I won’t); the sisters were quite interesting to talk to. More than a few had Chicago connections too! The Abbot and Novice Master attended with the novice, the two postulants, and myself.File:Mount St Bernards Abbey.JPG

May 28th
I spoke with the abbot today and I told him that I wanted to join the abbey. He wanted to know what formed my decision. The things that shape my decision were:
  • My introduction to the Divine Office was the British translation and that is the translation I prefer.
  • That translation is accessible to the laity, and the laity attend most every one of the offices at Mount St. Bernard (even Vigils, at times).
  • The liturgy in England is much less politicized than in America. To coin a phrase, there is a Spectrum of Orthodoxy in England. The Mass can be celebrated worthily in a variety of ways: maybe more formal at times and maybe more intimate and personal at other times.
  • Mount St. Bernard's has been around for almost 175 years. I do not think it is going anywhere, anytime soon.
  • There is a great range of ages there from age 26 - 95. So there is both youthfulness and wisdom present at the abbey.
  • All of the able body members take their part in manual twice a day. No one is "too good" for it.
  • There is a real since of austerity at the abbey, not that they live in abject poverty.
During my first week of the live in, I did not even want to bring up the questions of a decision in prayer. By the beginning of the second week, I did not even have to ask the question... I knew the answer.

Fairly soon I will have another live-in. After that, I can apply to the abbot for entrance. I ask for your continued prayers as I begin this next leg of my journey. Thank You and Peace.

Silence... broken

I am sorry that I have not posted anything in a while. I just got back for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). This year my friends and I went to Quetico, Ontario, Canada. I have heard of stories of people posting vacation plans, and later coming back to find out that their house had been robbed by someone who read the posting.

The BWCA is an amazingly beautiful region of both the US and Canada. Both sides of the border are national parks. In the BWCA there are no cell phones, TV's or radios. There are no cars or motor boats. The two loudest sources of noise were the frogs and loons. It amazes me that you could hear the murmur of people talking a quarter of a mile away.

The voyageurs with me on this trip were my good friend Matt and his fraternity brother, Daniel. We stayed on a small island in North Bay of Basswood Lake. We nicknamed it Biting Ant Island. Whilst it did have ants that bite, it was not that bad. We just want to make sure it does not get too many visitors -- besides us, of course.

Daniel, who does not seem particularly religious, noted the aescetic nature of the trip. And it seems we took a "Cistercian" approach to our duties during this trip. The major difference instead of working smarter to free up time for the Divine Office, we freed up time for fishing. For example, on a previous trip we had a little hand pump to filter the water. On this trip we used a dish pan to fill a collapsible 5-gallon container. Then the raw water was poured in to a hanging filter. This saved us about two hours a day.

Seeing God's beautiful undisturbed creation made it very easy for my heart being directed back to God. Watching Bald Eagles fly across a beautiful blue sky, I thought of the verse in the Psalms asking God to lift us up with eagle's wings. Most of the time I was just in silent awe.

If I am accepted in religious life, I think it is trips like this that I will miss more than a house, car, or outside career. That being said, God's grace and beauty of His creation is available in abundance through out the world.

08 June 2009

The Joy of the Ordinary

May 25th

Memorial of St. Bede the Venerable. The idea of getting up at 3:15 am used to be ludicrous to me. It seems so natural after just a week. Vigils last around an hour, but it feels like minutes as we chant the psalms and listen to the readings. As Vigils comes to an end the birds begin to chirp. The votive Mass of Our Lady is so simple and beautiful. The exact same readings are used for the community Mass, but the atmosphere at this one is quite intimate. At breakfast I had a bowl of porridge with a big mug of tea. After I finished eating, I was sipping away thinking, “Ah, tea with the Lord.” When I was in seminary I used to hate meals in silence (on days of recollection); now I get it.

Manual Labour continues to be a learning experience. Have you ever been to Ireland or England and seen those stone walls around farm fields? Have you ever wondered how they were put together without any mortar? I no longer have to wonder. If it was not for the tutelage of the two postulants, I think I would still be out there trying to fit the stones together.

May 26th

Nothing out of the ordinary happened today, and that is a very good thing! In my opinion one of the goals of monastic life is to get rid of the peaks and valleys so often associated with modern life. No fantastic heights, no terrifying declines. There are emotional highs and disappointments (some times even deeper) in every life. That is unavoidable. But I think our emotions should be like our blood sugar. Avoid spikes. Avoid crashes.

I came across a little book here called The Monk's Mirror. I have just begun to peruse it. I can across where there was the advice of dealing with temptation manfully and not by complaining. Now I hate to reveal so much about my darker side, but whether the temptation is a lurid thought or chocolate cake, I have the tendency of crying out to \God, “Why me?” I think the advice of dealing with temptation “manfully” or “head on” (to be more inclusive) is some of the best advice I think I have ever heard.

06 June 2009

Leading up to the Feast of the Ascension

May 22nd

A little after 5 this morning I took a little post-prandial stroll. I began to think about monastic enclosure. I looked up at the clock tower which faces away from me. I realized that the clock tower is on the guest house side of the grounds; a place where I was not allowed. I looked up at the churches down-spouts. Each one has a coat of arms of a different English (historical) Cistercian house. During my first visit, I walked around and looked at them all, but know they are off limits. Now it is not as if I could never go out there, but if I am to become a postulant and later a novice; then they are out of bounds. At my fist visit, I had seen 5 or 6 monks whose work did not include the guest house, and I was only here a few days.

On the flip-side, the grounds within the enclosure are enormous. Plus being near the forest gives the illusion that the land just goes on, and on, and on. It is truly beautiful here.

Being a Friday, there is a penitential atmosphere, although it is not glum. It is very subtle. I might even say delicate. The underlying joy of the Pascal season still pervades.

May 23rd

I got up right at 3:15. Success! Ok,ok, I take joy in small victories. Speaking of small victories I have lost almost a stone (14 lbs) since I arrived on Monday. YEAH! Watch out for my new book: The Cistercian Diet…. Coming to a monastery near you. Four hours a day of actual manual labour has its benefits. So one stone down, one boulder to go.

There is beautiful spring weather here today. This is a rural setting with a forest next door. It is quite hard not to love this place. I walked over and saw the bull today. Man are bulls big. I saw some of the calves. I never knew the hair would be silky-soft. God’s creation is so wonderful. Poor little guys came up to me looking for some food.

May 24th

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension of Our Lord. Nature is co-operating wonderfully with splendid weather. Sundays are days of rest here, except for a few monks. The cows still need to be fed and milked, meals are still prepared and served., and laundry will be done this evening. But for me after having had a busy schedule all week, I almost feel at a lost end. Almost. I took a nice long walk and did some spiritual reading. Then I took 10 minutes to bask in the sunshine. I think cats really are on to something with that basking business. In a little while it will be time for the Office of Sext, then Lunch.
Tomorrow will be a normal day… so to speak.

05 June 2009

Getting on track

May 20th

I am still trying to get used to the schedule around here. Today I was an early-bird, even by Carthusian standards. But I was able to attend all of the “Hours” today. The manual labour today had two typically novitiate tasks. The morning job was folding the guest house linens with the novice. After folding the bed sheets in quarters, then in half; we placed them in to a giant airing cupboard with four roll-out sections: each 7 feet tall. There are 3 radiators in the cupboard that dry the sheets. After the Office of None I received my afternoon assignment. At first I thought the Novice Master asked me if I wanted to to some reading. Knowing that I could not get off that easily I asked, “Weeding?”. “Yes,” was the response. Well at least it was a beautiful spring afternoon for it.

I decided today that I will not even ask the Lord’s assistance in my decision-making process until next week. I still want to see the abbey at face-value. I was asked to day if the abbey was meeting my expectations. I told the elder monk that I deliberately held no expectations. I said I do not want to shape the abbey into a preconceived image, I want to experience it as it is, and let it shape me.

May 21st

Sleep is fairly on track now. I am actually surprised at my level of alertness at 3:30 in the morning. I went to the novitiate class room today. We watched a video on the 40th anniversary of Mount St. Bernard’s foundation in Cameroon. It was interesting to see “living” history. A couple of the founders had passed since this video was made 4 years ago. Then more weeding. And in keeping with the theme, I did some mowing in the afternoon with a mower that is quite a bit heavier than the one I have at home. I went along at the speed I mow at home. The result being I finished too early and I was sore. I guess there is a reason why the monastic pace seems slow, but is actually wise. Tim, the cat took pity on me today and made nice. Once I referred to this ginger tom as a “lion,” he came up to me with out fear. He was a little playful (and cheeky, too).

A nice hot bath after Compline, a bit of spiritual reading, and bed!

04 June 2009

Back on the 'Island"

I am back home from my visit to Mount St. Bernard's. I kept a bit of a journal, and I wrote a little something almost every day of my two-week visit. I will start posting a couple entries at a time. I am not going to edit the entries so that you may see how my view point develops over the days:

May 18th

I was picked up at Nottingham Station by a friend of mine that I had not seen since his ordination 10 years ago. At that time we had both lost our fathers, now both our mothers have passed , too. We had a pleasant chat and arranged to meet each other after my retreat.

I received a very warm welcome from Br. Paul. He made some tea and we had a little talk. After the Office of Sext, Br. Clement, a novice, gave me the grand tour. He did his best to show me how the books for the Liturgy of the Hours worked together, too: The Psalter, Antiphonal, and Hymnal . He also taught me the three most common signs of the Cistercian Sign Language: Thank You, Sorry, and Joyful. Thank you is similar to the American Sign Language sign, Sorry is a couple mea culpas, and a was greeted with outstretched arms and a big smile. That can means, Happy Feast Day, or Welcome, or any Joyful Greeting. I received that greeting quite a few times.

It is a little past 8 PM and still quite sunny. But 3:15 AM comes early, so it is bedtime.

May 19th

I woke up way too early today - hours before Vigils. I was supposed to sleep in today, too. Hearing the church bells as they rang for Vigils at 3:25 sounded quite lovely. An hour later the first birds began to chirp. I am slowly getting the hang off the books of the Liturgy of the Hours. The Psalter is on a one-week cycle, the antiphonal is on a two-week cycle, and things are a little more complex since this is the Easter season.

I am meeting more of the community but it is not always easy remembering all the names. I spoke with a brother in temporary vows. He was telling me that he attended a lecture from a Benedictine sister from Chicago. Later in the conversation he told me that he had looked at the Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank, too, as part of his discernment process.

I did get an unfriendly greeting today from Tim, the abbey’s cat. He hissed at me; but being a good Trappist cat, he made no sound as he hissed.

07 May 2009

Last post before June

This will be my last post before June. I am gearing up for my trip to England which is only a week away. My getting ready for the trip has been complicated by some minor storm damage to my house and someone almost plowing through my garage. The minor damage I am going to handle later today, but the garage will need to be fixed by a contractor.

But this has not put a damper on my spirits. I have a quiet excitement about me in regards to this trip. It will be good for me to see the Abbey of Mount St. Bernard "from the inside", so to speak. Providentially I have already had an "inside view" of Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey. I think I will finally be able to make an apples to apples comparison.

Please keep me in your prayers.

18 April 2009

Journey and Destination

From quite a young age I felt the call
To follow my LORD and give my all.
Giving up that which others would seek
Following a king both humble and meek

God’s call to me was not always clear
I had searched for it both far and near
In Chicago and in England, too
I searched sincerely for what I should do

Priest, Friar or Monk are they all the same
There is more to this than just in name.
Reading lives of saints can put things askew
Showing us ideals attained by few

Living for Christ can be done today
He gives each one of us our own way
Ways that were strange when I was younger
Now in my heart; for which I hunger

The need to be seen working a job
Now doesn’t seem to be worth “a bob”
Worshipping God by praying the Hours
Feeling his Love; Feeling his Power

The Opus Dei is now job one
After which the other tasks are done
So we are told in the holy Rule
For living a life in Love’s own school

It all seems so clear, now it makes sense
The fog now gone at the time was dense
Robert, Alberic and Stephen show
Along with Bernard the vale of Cîteaux

17 April 2009

Second Visit to Mount St. Bernard Abbey - one month away

I will be making my second vocational visit to Mount St. Bernard Abbey in about one months time. I am quite excited about this prospect. This time I will be staying with the community instead of in the guest house..

I think one of the tougher aspects of the visit is to remove my rose-colored glasses. It is too easy for me to superimpose what I am looking for on to what actually exists. The best mind-set is for me to go in with an open mind, not wearing any blinders. It is easy to say, but hard to do. Part of the difficulty is that I have been trying for years to follow my vocation.

I think there is a parallel in the dating world, when someone is in love with the idea of being in love; but not in a true loving relationship with the person they are dating. And whether one is looking for their religious vocation or there spouse, when you get to a certain age there is a lot of pressure.

I need to be sure I do not overlook a possible significant, or make a mountain out of a molehill. Or, I should say, I need to rely on God's grace and the prayers of others. When making a these steps in what will eventually be a life-long commitment, the logic of the world does not always apply. The time comes when one can no longer leave their options open. I think it is Kierkegaard who talks about taking the leap of faith. And ultimately faith is all that matters in my decision.

I pray that God blesses those who have taken the time to read my little blog, and I humbly ask for your prayers for my decision.


13 April 2009

Why Now?

I would like to wish everyone a Happy and Holy Easter Season. A number of friends have asked why I am no looking at a monastic vocation.

For the last ten years, give or take, I have worked for Commercial Insurance brokerages. I have worked on some large national accounts and I have worked on “mom & pop shops”. Some of the accounts I worked on had thousands of locations. One of the accounts was recently named in the federal indictment against former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevic. In my last position I worked on a book of business that generated over $660,000 in revenue with the premium volume being around $5,000,000. I would work until 8 - 10 PM most nights.

I was making pretty good money, but I barely had a life. I was sleeping very little during the week and twelve hours a night on the weekend. I rarely made it to Mass. (I still wish there were Sunday evening Masses around Blue Island.)

On Ash Wednesday 2006 my mother passed away. My two brothers were living at the house, but because of financial reason, the house needed to be sold in 2008. A number of months later, around 10PM, I turned off my computer at work with the thought, “Why am I killing myself with this job?” I went home and wrote my letter of resignation.

I knew I wanted to do something important with my life, and I was thinking about going back in to education, but this time with a degree. I was looking at getting my masters, but first I needed to get some undergraduate requirements fulfilled. I signed up at a local community college to take a couple classes. Before the classes even began I had a number of realizations.

I started going back to Mass at St. Isidore’s It is a wonderful little parish at the border of Blue Island and Calumet Park. I realized how much I missed Mass, and how important it is to me. I began to reflect on what is truly important to me and what was not. The house, the car, the big paycheck grew wan in my eyes. Things and stuff are not important to me. What is? THE ETERNAL. GOD. HEAVEN. SALVATION.

On Saturday August 20, 2008 I went to evening Mass at St. Isidore’s. (Later I was to find out the August 20 is the Feast of St. Bernard.) Sunday morning I prayed Lauds, the went on to the internet to check my email. Almost instantly I felt the need to search out monastic communities. I fire was lit under me, and I searched with single-hearted purpose. I kept searching until 6PM. I ended my search with Vespers and three communities that stood out. I have talked about my search criterion previously, and I do not want to bore you with repetition.

But I will go back to talking about the fire that was lit under me. It has been a driving force in my life, and affects all of my decisions about the future. When I felt this renewed call to religious life, I was just a few days away from my 40th birthday. I had never felt such impetus in my life before. In the past, when I had to do something “now,” the order came from outside myself. God has put this impetus deep within me, and it has given me a direction and a joy that my life sorely need.

04 April 2009

Taking Holy Week off from Blogging

After Easter I will be returning to this blog. Until then I will leave you with this funny quote:

I once asked Master what a monk is. "A monk is anyone whom a monk says is a monk." he replied.

When I asked if I was a monk, I was ejected from the compound. Monks are a strange lot.

~Lord Byron
Have a Blessed Holy Week!!!

31 March 2009

Back from Savannah, GA

I was down in Savannah, Georgia. This trip was a series of firsts. I had never been to the South before. Despite my age, I am a new driver, and I had never driver so much before. And I never heard a tornado warning go off during Mass before.

The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is a gorgeous perpendicular gothic-styled church. A friend of mine who is stationed at Hunter Army Airfield accompanied me to the 5:30 PM Mass last Saturday. During the homily a noise could be heard outside. The priest told us that there might be a siren warning and he did not know what we should do. His homily on the passion of the Lord was over, and quickly spoke on trusting in the Lord in uncertain times. The thunderstorm did get a little more lively, but there was no tornado: thank God. I don't think I ever looked around at the beautiful stained glass and saw implements of death before.

On reflection, I think that this is a pretty good metaphor for vocations. There was no external guarantee that I was in the right place; I just had to trust that I was. On the flip side, the beautiful setting could have been quite dangerous if a tornado had touched down. I was reading Br. Stephen's Blog earlier. He quoted Fr. Robert's homily of last Sunday who spoke on the topic of vocations despairing that some are seeking the ultimate of certainty and self-fulfillment. Fr. Robert continues:

Of course any real vocation – be it religious life, family life, single life, et cetera is anything but these things. Vocation is a mystery that demands compassion -- suffering with, dying with, and rising with the Lord Christ. We search and search for that ultimate vocation – not realizing that what we are searching for is right in front of us – the passion of our Lord, the passion in which we are to share. The form we do this, is really secondary, and often unknowable.
Christ tells us to die to self and to pick up our cross. Christ does not tell us to be self-actualized and empowered. Christ continues to confound the wise of this world.

25 March 2009

On the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord

On this day I pause in memory of Archbishop Maurice Couve de Murville. He was archbishop of the Archdiocese of Birmingham, England. He was ordained to the episcopacy on the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord (March 25th) 1982. He was archbishop until 1999, and he passed away November 3, 2007.

In some circles he was not very popular. This may have stemmed from the fact that he went from university chaplain to archbishop in one step. He was also from an aristocratic family. When I lived in England, he was the only Catholic prelate whose coat of arms was officially recognized, because of his person and not his office.

I fondly remember "His Grace". Back in the early 90's, second year seminarians at Oscott College had a common apostolate at Dudley Road Hospital in the city of Birmingham. One woman Imet at the hospital lived literally in the shadow of the seminary with her family in a "council house." She asked if I would visit her when she went home, and one day early in May I did. Her Husband and children met me at the door, and soon I was offered a cup of tea. As she was home-bound, I asked her if she ever received visits from her parish. She told me about Monsignor Maurice visiting her home.

She had no idea that this man was the Archbishop of Birmingham. She told me that she was embarrassed that her children take the gold cross out of his pocket to look at it (ie, his pectoral cross). One of her kids asked if the cross was real gold and how much it costs. I asked her if it was the Archbishop, and she only knew that he lived at the Archbishop's House on St. Chad's Queensway. Well the only Maurice in that house was the Archbishop himself.
So when people referred to His Grace as being aloof and out of touch with the common person, I would relate this story.

I really this think that it is quite extraordinary that this man who was an archbishop and a prince (but not a prince-archbishop) would visit people in this lower working-class neighborhood. And it is one of the reasons while he will always have my respect.

Maurice Couve de Murville (1929 - 2007) Requiescat in Pace et Ora pro Nobis

An obituary from The Telegraph can be found here.

23 March 2009

Your opinion

I have been using this blog to spout my opinion quite one-sidedly. Those who have been reading this page have been quite gracious. This time I would really like the opinion of others. When I speak of my aspiration to be a monk most of my friends are supportive but rather dumb-struck. I therefore cannot bounce ideas off of them.

There are two aspects of monastic life that have a huge variety of expressions: austerity and the cloister. I do not view of the different expressions as necessarily right or wrong, but I would like to see what different people think on this matter. When it comes to austerity there are to almost diametrically opposed views that come to my mind. One view is external austerity does not matter, it is the internal austerity that needs to be cultivated. Another view is that external austerity fosters the internal austerity. When it comes to the cloister, I have seen a quite wide variety of expressions from non-existent to completely enclosed. I do think that the bare minimum for a cloister is as a buffer from the noise of the outside world.

I am attracted to Cistercian life because they do seem to value both austerity and the cloister. Though here too there are different expressions. But here is where I want to hear from you. How important is external austerity? What does the cloister mean as part of a vocation?

I look forward to your feedback. You can either post a comment or email me. My email address is in the left-hand column near the top.

Thanks in advance and God bless you.

19 March 2009

On the Feast of St. Joseph

I would first like to thank all the people who have contacted me with positive feed back. I am shocked at how many have visited my blog. In the sidebar you can notice the "Feedjit" application. I have seen that I have had visitors from all over the US and Canada, Spain, Austria, and England. A special hello to my visitor from Chesterfield! I used to live in Sheffield.

I have talked about liturgy a number of times here on my little digital soapbox. Too often discussions about the liturgy focus on an individual Mass. And largely speaking, I have fallen into that rut.

At my parish, one fellow normally does the reading and the psalm at daily Mass. One day when he was sick I was asked to do the reading. After the Mass, the priest asked me if I would become a lector. As part of the training the new lectors were given a workbook for the liturgical reading. The lay-out of the book has pronunciation guides and delivery suggestions on the left hand column and a discussion of the theme of the readings along the bottom of each page. This workbook opened my eyes to liturgy extending over a number of Masses.

The first few times I did the readings I practiced a few times before Mass, but I never read about the themes. Last Sunday, I started reading about the theme, and I had a "duh"moment. I was surprised at just how dull-witted I can be. The first Sunday of Lent relates the story of Noah. The second Sunday of Lent relates the story of the Ten Commandments. And the third Sunday of Lent relates the story of God asking Abraham to sacrifice his son, the angel intervening, and God's promise to make Abraham's descendants as many as the stars of the heavens.

Over the course of these three weeks two great themes have been put forth: Salvation and Covenant. [Many people reading this probably already knew these themes. That is why I call it my "duh" moment.] In a previous posting I mentioned how I did not view Lent as a dreary season. This is why. Week after week we are reminded of God's abiding love for us. Even when the readings deal with wickedness, the readings continue on to talk about love, forgiveness, anointing, and salvation.

One of the many reasons I love the church is that the church arranges the readings over time to reinforce the teachings of God's love for us; it is not just a one-off event or once-a-year reading. The churches that focus on Spiritual Entertainment do not get this wonderful gift. The liturgy offers us so very much, and it is inexhaustible. The more of it that I understand, the more there is to understand.

11 March 2009

Spoiled for Choice

I received a very nice email today. In the I was asked how I narrowed down my decision to two communities, especially when they were not in the same order. I responded to his email. And then I thought that maybe other people would like to know how I got to where I am in my discernment.

With the sheer volume of choices in religious life one truly can feel spoiled for choice. One needs to itemize what is personally important. I itemized the characteristics of cenobitic communities that are important to me in the following manner:
  1. A Community Loyal to the Church
  2. Where the full Liturgy of the Hours are prayed most of them in common.
  3. Where the "Christian Prayer" version of the Liturgy of the Hours is not used.
  4. No completely external apostolates. eg, some monasteries have parishes many miles from their location.
  5. A place where people are basically happy.
  6. A place where liturgy is celebrated worthily.
I have visited communities where belly-aching about the church is the norm. I was even at one where our late Pope John Paul II was referred to with an expletive and an ethnic slur. When there are real issues about the church, there needs to be a clear and open forum where things can be discussed. When people just want to flex their moaning-muscles... I have better things to do.

Some people like me want to pray the entire office, but not everyone wants to pray it in common. One needs to decide if the office in common is important to you.

I freely admit #3 is my prejudice. I have prayed the British translation for many years, and I think the American translation is a wee bit bland.

When I first started looking at monastic life I noticed that some had far flung parishes or other apostolates. This conflicts with my desire to pray the office in common.

I also admit that #5 & #6 are quite subjective.

All of this being said, I realize that every single day can be put in to my carefully constructed box. For instance, one may have duties that take them well outside of the monastery. But these are general guidelines. I know that if I were uncomfortable with the liturgy, life would be difficult. I am also not saying this is how all cenobitic life should be, but communities that have these characteristics in their life are attractive to me.

If there is anybody reading this already in a monastic community, I would enjoy hearing from you on what I wrote. Not that I do not look forward to anyone who chooses to comment.

07 March 2009

Back Home

I am back home after a four well-spent days up at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey in Sparta, Wisconsin. I even met two fellow bloggers while I was there. I knew Brother Stephen was up at the abbey. He writes Sub Tuum; but to my most pleasant surprise, I met Sr. Roberta from the Valley of Our Lady Monastery who writes Running with the Lord.

My biggest surprise was how nature was so co-operative on this visit. Lauds was in-sync with the sunrise and Vespers was in-sync with sunset. That is the ideal time that one strives for, but I have never seen it so spot-on: especially with both offices. It struck a cord in me to such a point that I was inspired to write the two hymns in my previous post. While I have no delusions that they are "high art," it was the first time in 17 years that I was able to write any verse.

I was give another grace while I was there. A small but significant one. During Lauds on Wednesday we were on our knees praying The Lord's Prayer in Latin when I realized that I was praying it in Latin. I was not translating the prayer from English to Latin. I was not merely repeating Latin words that I had previously learned. I was praying and thinking in this ancient language without any disconnect.

If you are a man (especially in North America, but I would not think exclusively) trying to discern his vocation and think monastic life might be for you, you should give Spring Bank Abbey a look. They are truly a "What You See is What You Get" place. It is a place that promotes a life of Prayer, work, and study. And while I find everyone there quite intelligent, they are not of the aloof, condescending, some-what intimidating type. They show an open-hearted, sharing type of intelligence. All of the intelligence, none of the arrogance.

06 March 2009

My Lenten Hymn for Vespers

As the Sun sinks from our sight
Our Vesper Prayer beckons the night

In prayer we offer up hymns and psalms
The Word of God: the sweetest balm.

We ponder the death of Our Lord
Whose death to death wrought life restored.

Ave Regina Cœlorum to the Virgin we raise
Mother of us all; worthy of our praise.

We honor thee ‘O Trinitas’
As the shadow grow along the floor

We thank thee: Deo Gracias!
Amen Amen for evermore!

Feast of St. Kieran 2009
Spring Bank Abbey

05 March 2009

My Lenten Hymn for Lauds

Light breaks across the fields.
Sun is victor; the darkness yields.

The animals stir and the birds sing.
Warmth and safety the Dawn doth bring.

Bluejay calls out both loud and sharp,
As we sing our psalm to God with the harp.

Fast, alms and prayer during Holy Lent.
All done in joy is our intent.

The “Sun of Justice,” our belovéd Christ.
For our souls didst pay the price.

We worship you: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
We worship you in Unity

We praise Lord God of Host
Restoring our integrity.

Feast of St. Kieran, 2009
Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey