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

02 March 2009

The Holy Season of Lent

A lot of my friends do not like the season of Lent, but from a young age it has been a time I have looked forward to. It is not a season of "lack"; it is a season of preparation. The two days of fasting and the abstinence from meat on Fridays seems more symbolic than a hardship. But I value this time of preparation for Easter.

Easter has awed me since I was in kindergarten and not the secular celebration. I suppose at first it was the elaborate liturgy after seven weeks of more toned down Masses, but the significance of the Resurrection of Christ was slowly unfolding to me - as it still is. And as I got a little older I focused on how unworthy I was of this gracious mercy.

So when I choose my penance each Lent, I want it to be some what of a challenge. Not that I go to extremes or think that I can earn God's salvation. This year I choose to give up both eating at restaurants (esp. fast food) and all alcohol as my penance. This helps me focus on the needs of others and the convenience and abundance with which I am surrounded. This year on I want to try something new on Good Friday. I shall also be on an electronic fast. TV, cell phone, radio, computer, etc. And I thank God I am in a position where I can do it.

Penance should not be a looking back glumly to the sins of our past. We are asked (specifically at this time of year) to turn away from sin. Penance should help us look away from sin towards salvation wrought for us by Christ! My limited experience with Cistercians in the US and England seems to reflect this. Whilst there is a penitential character to their life, there is a pervading joy that is palpable.

Monday Morning I am traveling up to Our Lady of Spring Bank Abbey in Sparta, Wisconsin. I was up there last September when the weather was warm. It was my desire to see the Abbey when it was, shall we say, meteorologically challenged. I will also hopefully see a normal "work" week and a week of the observance of Lent.

I humbly ask for your prayers as I continue my journey. Thank you.

God bless you.