24 February 2009

from: The Cistercian Alternative

Today's post is a very brief one:

I am reading a translation of The Cistercian Alternative by Dom Andre Louf. I came across a passage that made me stop and ponder just what was being wrtten. It is in the section about spiritual friendship on page 128.

Paraphrasing the well-known saying of St.John, the great English Cistercian Aelred of Rievaulx dared to write: "God is friendship and he who lives in friendship lives in God and God lives in him"(cf. 1 John 4:16). Aelred knew how a friend becomes the sacrament the reveals the love of Jesus. [Louf, Gll & MacMillian 1983]

The bolding of the last sentence is mine. I read that sentence over and over. I actually put the book down. At this point in my life I have one spiritual friend. I had never thought of him as a sacrament before..., but I will from now on.

23 February 2009

The Impotantance of Liturgy to me (and hopefully some others)

I have friends from every segment of the social spectrum. To some of my Christian friends -both Catholic and Protestant- who do not put a great emphasis on liturgy. All of my Orthodox Christan and Eastern Catholic friends have an expectation from their respective liturgies. And when we look at different religious communities, not all of the pray the divine office and some pray only Lauds and Vespers.

I think for nuns, monks, and those who share monastic spirituality: liturgy is HUGE. Namely because it is a huge part of the day. I think it must be tough on those who have responded to God's call to the monastic life and are then asked to run parishes or schools. But I digress.

There is one blog that I follow closely call Sub Tuum. It is written by Br. Stephen at Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey. He has referred to the "Reform of the Reform" especially with respect to the Mass. This I find to be very interesting. In people's sincere desire for dignified worship, I think there are too many red herrings thrown at people. I have seen websites that refer to experimental liturgies (let us charitably say "well meaning, but poorly executed"). The ones to which have been referred are unfortunate, but they are by no means the norm or common.

As I was growing up the Novus Ordo was already in all of my local churches in Chicago. I have only attended a handful of Tridentine Masses. The first two were not even at Roman Catholic churches. The first one, including deacon and subdeacon, was IN ENGLISH, and at an Anglican parish in Staffordshire, England. The second one was at an Old Roman Catholic parish. I have been to a few Tridentine masses lately. I have seen some celebrated elaborately with amazing choirs. I have seen some rushed through quite quickly. There was one where I think the priest said the Mass in one long breath.

The red herrings are that all Novus Ordo or Ordinary Form Masses are not these haphazard or even sacrilegious liturgical travesties. All celebrations of Tridentine or Extraordinary Form of the Mass are not these glorious dazzling liturgical spectacles. When the Mass is being celebrated with dignity; when the lectors read well; when the priest's actions are sincere, devout and deliberate: that is a the type of liturgy I want to attend. Whether it is the Ordinary Form of the Mass or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, it is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. This is my opinion. I would welcome hearing anyone else's opinion.

Back to the "Reform of the Reform." This interests me because I see some good results from the renewal from Vatican II. Full, active, and conscious participation in the Mass resonates with me. I have been to Masses in which I felt like an observer. Discussions of the Liturgy in terms of Liberal and Conservative are think do nothing. The Mass is not intended to represent a political party or faction.

I do believe that the intention of the Second Vatican Council was to affect renewal in the church. I also believe a lot of things were done in the name of the council that were mistaken or outright bad. But there are plenty of people who want worthy celebration of the liturgy. I think one of the best examples of this that I ever saw was in the town of Stafford in England. A Polish priest was brought in to celebrate the Mass in Polish. This man celebrated the Mass with such dignity (and dare I say holiness) that he started attracting many people to his Wednesday morning Mass. The priest changed languages from Polish to Latin because the Polish people became the minority at that Mass, but English speakers may not have been the majority. There were Polish, Lithuanian, Indian, Italian, and a variety of others who attended this Mass. The priest told me that he chose Latin as the most pastorally effective language.

That event reminded me of when I went on pilgrammage to Our Lady of Walsingham (also in England). My group was praying the Rosary as we were walking. Among are group was one fellow from Romania and one from Viet Nam. When they were leading the decades, they switched to Latin. So there we were eight of us from six countries praying in one language that we all understood. It was pretty cool.

Again, I would love to hear the opinions of others on this topic.

19 February 2009

Why a Monk? Why a Cistercian Monastery?

When people hear that I am planning to be a monk - and stop laughing when they realize I am serious- the next question is usually something like "Why?" or "Are things that bad?" Some people think a monastery is a place where one flees to escape problems. Geesh, What a dreadful place monasteries would be if they were filled with problem-ridden escapist. The monks that I have met tend to be normal, happy people.

I began to think about religious life while I was in seminary. I liked when we celebrated the Liturgy of the Hours in common. I realized that this would be gone after ordination. That is when the search for the right community began. As I looked around I had the mind-set of an idealist and judged the communities against these ideals. Probably my biggest confusion as respects to my vocation was how to balance my religious life with my secular life. There a lot of clues in my life that the answer to this was that, for me, there is no balance. It just took me a long time to come to that realization. For example, in the seminary I always wondered why we went on holiday at Christmas. One community I was with puzzled me by reducing the liturgy on solemnities. Some communities suffer from the same malady most people in our culture suffer; namely, that what they do is more important than who they are. I only just recognized that my vocation had suffered from that, too.

This past summer all of the pieces fell together. I was looking for a community where prayer was the first priority. In my secular job, work often interrupted prayer. I want a life where prayer interrupts work. The idea of dropping what I am doing and hurrying to prayer as Vox Dei peels is very attractive to me now. I like the Cistercian way of life because of the balance of work and prayer. And the Liturgy of the Hours is the pulse of the monastic day. The beginning and end of the day is framed by this liturgy. The beginning and end of work and study periods are framed by this liturgy.

Cistercian life tries to strip away that which is not essential. This is the case in work, prayer, liturgy, and even architecture. That is how it was at the end of the 11th Century; this is how it is at the beginning of the 21st Century. With so much fluff and excess in modern life Cîteaux stands out like a beacon, showing a clear path to a safe harbor.

16 February 2009

The Liturgy at Mount St. Bernard's Abbey

With the exception of Vigils, church services were fairly well attended by retreatants and day-visitors. Daily Mass with Terce had the best attendance, but from Lauds to Compline there were at least 15 people besides the community. Attendance at Mass was more like 40.

The abbey uses the Grail Translation of the psalms. This is the translation with which I have the most familiarity... and affection. I learned about the Liturgy of the Hours at Oscott College when I was a student for the Archdiocese of Birmingham. In the British Edition of the Roman Breviary care was taken to retain the poetical/lyrical nature of the psalms, canticles, and even some of the prayers. When praying with some of the other additions, I was taken aback by some more blunt translations. One politically "corrected" edition was just horrible. I prefer biblically correct translations over politically correct translations anyday, no matter how blunt.

During the rest of the day, as I was reading or walking the grounds and surrounding area, the chanting of the psalms would just re-play in my memory. As I stated above, I do have an affection for the Grail Translation. The psalms are like old friends. They stay with me after the liturgy. Sometimes, despite years of saying the same psalms over and over, a new dimension appears to me. The most amazing thing to me about the psalms is how they speak to the age in which they were written, they speak to us about Christ, and they speak to us about our lives today.

13 February 2009

Liturgy of the Hours at Mount St. Bernard's

At Mount St. Bernard's the full Liturgy of the Hours is celebrated in English. Vigils is at 3:30 AM and lasts about an hour. following that is a votive mass to Our Lady. The mass is Novus Ordo, in English and ad orientem. The mass is celebrated in the Lady Chapel within the cloister. I was across the main sanctuary in the St. Joseph Chapel. The St. Joseph Chapel is the only part of the church open to the public at that time. Usually I was not the only retreatant at Vigils(to my surprise).

Vigils is the longest office in the Liturgy of the hours. Along with the psalms, there are two long readings: one from scripture and one from fathers of the church or some hagiography. This is some times called the Office of Readings.

The next office is Lauds at 6 AM. Community Mass and Terce are at 8 AM, None is at 12:15 PM, Sext is at 2:45 PM, Vespers is at 5:30 PM, and the final office of the day, Compline is at 7:30 PM

All of the Offices are chanted and well attended by retreatants, visitors, and neighbors. Many of the people in the public section of the church chant along softly with the monks. Some people prefer that the offices be chanted in Latin. But when the office is in English it is more accessible to the faithul. That is not to say I do not appreciate Gregorian Chant or Latin. I am quite fortunate to have recieved a wonderful education at Quigley North in Chicago which included four years of Latin.

12 February 2009

Mount St. Bernard Abbey

This past January I went on an extended trip to Ireland and England. My main reason for this trip was to visit Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Coalville, Leicestershire, England. On January 12, 2009 I flew to East Midlands Airport. That must be the easiest airport in the world to get through. It took about 20 minutes from the plane touching down until I was at the abbey's guest-house door.

Mount St. Bernard Abbey was founded in 1835 in a old farmhouse. The buildings at the abbey were constructed from 1840 up until 1979. The abbey church was begun in the 1840's but was not completed until 1935.

The guest-house accommodations are nice and simple. They offer coffee (elevenses) in the morning and afternoon tea. Meals among the retreatants are taken in common. Clean-up and set-up for the next meal are also done in common. This fosters a community feel even though you are only together for a few days.

This was my first visit here. Being my first visit, my stay was in the guesthouse. While I felt a bit of angst about staying at that part of the abbey after traveling 4,000 miles to visit the community; I do understand that if every visitor was allowed in the cloister, it would be quite disruptive.

The first members of the community I met were the Guestmaster and Assistant Guestmaster. The Guestmaster had just returned from Nigeria. Poor fellow had left 95°F to come to 35°F weather. The Novice Master introduced me to a number of the other community members. Altogether I met about 10 members of the community: young and old. He also gave me the grand tour of the abbey, and we met every day. He answered all the questions that I had. One question that many people had for me was why was I looking at an abbey so far away. I have since reflected that the abbey in Wisconsin is a six hour drive away, and the abbey in England is a seven hour flight away. So in my mind, they are almost equidistant time-wise.

Mount St. Bernard Abbey has a few unfair advantages over Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey. Mount St. Bernard is historical: it is the first abbey in England since the reformation and the abbey church was designed by A. W. N. Pugin. It is near the Charnwood National Forest, a truly beautiful a part of England. I think one of the most unfair advantages is that the day I left the abbey in was 45°F in Leicestershire, in Wisconsin it was -31°F. I must say while these things are nice, they are not core to my vocation. What is core is to me 1) Liturgy, 2) Community, 3) Authenticity to the Rule of St. Benedict.

I guess "number 3" is the most difficult to ascertain. "Number 3" has been the cause for every reform and renewal of Benedictine life. And of course there is "Spirit of the Rule" vs "Letter of the Rule". In Rule 55 we see: "Those who are sent on a journey shall receive drawers from the wardrobe...." I hope the community I choose (and the one that chooses me) follows the spirit and not the letter of this rule.

10 February 2009

My Visit to Spring Bank Abbey

Last September I visited Spring Bank Abbey. I received a very warm welcome from everyone there, including Luxor and Ludwig. The abbey is set in a beautiful, largely undeveloped part of Wisconsin near LaCrosse, and I was there just as the fall colors were coming on to the trees.

Beside the initial hospitality, I was also impressed with the simplicity (or straightforwardness) of life. One of the postulants was installing a dishwasher, the monks do their own cooking, the rest were working somewhere on the abbey grounds. Everyone was doing their part. My previous experience of religious life did not seem as equitable.

I also like the liturgy. There was a formality to it, but there was no excess. Maybe it is good to describe it by saying: there was dignity without pomp. The Mass is the Novus Ordo and celebrated in Latin. The entire Liturgy of the Hours is prayed in common everyday (Deo Gracias)with the exception of Sext and None on Saturdays. Vigils is prayed in English, and the rest of the "Hours" are in Latin.

As I understand it, the core of Cistercian life,spirituality, even architecture is to strip away that is unnecessary and distracting. The oratory reflects this: the pews and choir stalls are plain light-stained wood. I do not recall any stained glass windows in the oratory, but there were prismatic crystals hanging in the window. The focus of the liturgy is the words -scripture and prayer- and not the building.

I will soon be going up to the Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey to get another glimpse of the life that they share. I am grateful to God that I have the time to do this and that the monks allow me this time to discern my vocation.

The Raison D'être of my blog

On August 21, 2008 (just before my 40th Birthday) I felt a strong renewed call to religious life. On that day I started searching the internet for information on Monastic Communities. The two orders that attracted my attention the most were Carthusians (founded in Chartreux, France in 1084 AD) and Cistercians (founded in Cîteaux, France in 1098 AD).

The call of the Carthusians, in my opinion, is largely that of a hermit. I feel called more to the cenobitic life of the Cistercians. There are two Cistercian communities that I am looking at with an eye to joining one of them.

The two are Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey in Sparta, Wisconsin and Mount St. Bernard Abbey in Leicestershire, England. I pray for God's grace that I may be allowed to enter one of these communities this year.

I have begun this blog for a variety of reasons:
  • To let my family and friends know where I am at in my process of disccernment
  • To get other's opinions on my journey, especially from those who may be on a similar journey
  • To establish a network of pray-ers praying for each other.