Sunday, May 20, 2012

On retreat...


I will be on our community retreat this week, and then the following two weeks I will be on vacation (the first of those two being spent in a hermitage). So, I will not be posting here during that period. I will return June 10. Pray for me.

PAX
Br. Francis

Ascension


Acts 1:1-11
Ephesians 4:1-13
Mark 6:15-20

Where is God in all this?

It’s a fair question, one we all ask at times in one way or another. It’s a question we should ask, and which God expects us to ask. Faithful people do ask.

Ah, but we don’t always listen for, or to, the answers, do we?

The Mass readings for today’s Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord provide some insight. On the surface of things, it seems as though after the Resurrection, Jesus appeared to some of his disciples, and then ascended into heaven, where he remains today. We know he’ll come back, but we don’t know when, and he sure seems to be taking his time about it. So we just wait, right?

In one sense, yes. But in another, more important sense, no. The Kingdom of Heaven is both now and not yet. Like a seed planted in the spring, it has sprouted and spread during the long growing season (yes, along with all those nasty weeds and meddling pests around and within us!), but it has not yet reached the time of harvesting. It is here now, but has not yet fully arrived. And like any farmer, we have a part to play in how fruitful the harvest is. God supplies the sun, rain, and the mystery of germination, but we have to cultivate, plant, and prune. The latter is not possible without the former, but it is also necessary for the gift of redemption to bear fruit.

Like anything worth having, it requires some “elbow grease,” but most of all, it involves a choice. As Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Each moment, we must choose, as today’s second reading states, to “live in a manner worthy of the call you have received.”

However, we are not alone. God does not stand off at a distance to simply watch us wallow in our collective, self-induced wretchedness and misery as we await the Second Coming. It may seem that way sometimes, but reality often eludes perception. Rather, acting from an immense love we cannot begin to comprehend, the Creator of the Universe stooped down to lend a hand in the only way that makes sense. In the person of Christ, he took on himself the humanity we had disfigured by ill-advised choice—which inflicts all measure of the misery we experience in this world. Rather than coolly directing a way out from on high, he rolled up his sleeves and jumped into the fray with us. He doesn’t just provide a solution; he enters the problem—becomes the problem. He transforms humanity from within, something like how a vaccine containing a virus is injected into the body to ward off more virulent strains.

But if that’s true, where is he? Things seem pretty awful. He seems absent. Maybe he was once here, but if he ascended, then we seem to be abandoned.

Therein lies the mystery of the Cross. That’s the vaccine—the death, resurrection, and ascension of a God who became one of us to take us up, lift us up, to a heaven which must begin here on earth, within earthly things. We live in him, and he lives in us, his Body, which sanctifies the sufferings we endure in this world. The Church is that Body, mystically united to the One who awaits us and who is present to us (yes, amid all the weeds and pests). But we are free to choose. No one’s decision is forced. We do, however, have to bear the consequences of our choices, both individually and collectively. We’re in this together. When one part of the Body is sick, the whole Body experiences it.

But the cure is at hand, and it—He—is here. Largeness within smallness. Extraordinary within the ordinary.

Where?

In the Holy Spirit, which he promises and bestows on all who believe, so that we, as his Body, may do his works—even greater works than Jesus did (cf. John 14:12)! “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth,” Jesus said before his ascension in today’s first reading. And in the Gospel, he tells us, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.”

With the promise of the Holy Spirit, which filled the Church at Pentecost, we have God among us in greater measure than the Apostles did. We encounter him in prayer, in Scripture, in worship and praise, and in the Sacraments—particularly the Eucharist. We encounter him in the practice of virtue, in the charity we express toward one another, in the compassion we show one another, the joy we share, and in the unity and peace for which we strive.

And we encounter him in our sorrows, our grief, doubt, pain, and confusion. In such moments, we call out all the more, we seek God all the more because we have him all the more. We meet him in the Cross that he shares with us, providing us with the way to heaven through our earthly reality.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, we are told in the last verse of Mark's Gospel, he worked with them. From heaven, through the Holy Spirit, he works with us, alongside us, within us, to lead us home for eternity.

Where is God in all this?

Where isn’t he? As Ephesians 1:23 assures us: Christ “fills all things in every way.” In heaven, and on earth.

Now and forever.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Einsiedeln


NOTE: The following is the prepared text for an address given this past Sunday by Einsiedeln's Br. Thomas Fässler at Saint Meinrad's Monte Cassino Shrine. Each Sunday during May and October, pilgrimages in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary are held at the shrine, about a mile from the Archabbey. The services include hymns, a litany, rosary procession, and a short address on a Marian topic. The title of Br. Thomas' talk was "Einsiedeln: Life at a Marian Shrine." Having completed his year-long studies here, Br. Thomas will be returning to Einsiedeln in Switzerland in several days. Next school year, another monk from Einsiedeln--Br. Phillip--will join us. It has been a real pleasure having the former here, and we look forward to welcoming the latter. Quite appropriately, Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its motherhouse of Einsiedeln maintain strong ties through such exchanges. On a personal note, it is difficult for me to believe that it has been almost two years since I spent the summer in Switzerland. It was one of the most special times in my entire life. I am very grateful for the experience, and send fondest greetings and regards with Br. Thomas to all his confreres at Einsiedeln. -- Br. Francis

***
Einsiedeln is situated in the German-speaking part of Switzerland close to Zurich. It is an internationally well-known Marian pilgrimage site with the famous Black Madonna called “Our Lady of Einsiedeln,” and the center of Swiss Catholicism. Einsiedenl attracts around 1 million pilgrims a year, operates two schools, employs more than 200 people, and a experiences a deep winter between November and April. These are just some facts about my monastery—the motherhouse of Saint Meinrad Archabbey—which I joined around six years ago.

All these facts shape our monastery and make it a unique place—as every monastery is unique. During the past year studying in the United States, I have had the enriching opportunity to visit other monastic communities. It has been very interesting to observe that all these different Benedictine communities follow the same rule—the 1,500-year-old Rule of Saint Benedict—but have many differences concerning the way it is lived. That is the reason why we always say that a Benedictine monk does not really join an order, but a monastery. And if someone has a call to a particular monastery, it does not mean that he would also be called to another place.

My community stands in a long tradition. Founded in 934, many generations of monks have lived before me at the same place, have sought God and served the people. Today, we still practice many customs which go back to the Middle Ages. Our history is very rich, as we become aware every night when we pray for deceased monks and benefactors who passed away during the last 1,078 years of our existence. We not only have a history, we also remember it!

There are a variety of jobs in our house. We serve several parishes, operate a high school, and a school of theology. We welcome and serve many pilgrims. We have a huge library, a big garden, publish our own journal, and much more. So, it is probable that during his lifetime, an monk of Einsideln will work in different jobs, using and developing different skills. I think that is one of the main reasons why my community is so lively and acts so youthful.

We also have an enriching variety in our community, since we have monks from the four different regions of Switzerland. The main language in our house is German, but one hears all four official languages in our community. Besides German, these are Italian, French, and Rumantsch—a very old language between Italian and Latin. Of course, to encounter different mentalities is an enriching experience, but it sometimes is also a challenge.

Our community also faces other challenges. First of all, we haven’t had any new vocations for almost five years. Therefore, the community is becoming smaller and smaller. When I joined the monastery six years ago, we had around 90 monks. Now, we are down to 62. Of course, it is sad, very sad, to see our community becoming smaller, even though I don’t think that we will all die off in the near future.

While we become few in number, the amount of work we must do does not lessen. Therefore, many of monks have to do an incredible amount of work—or we have to employ more people. The latter solution brings another challenge with it, which is apparent at the end of every month when we have to pay the salaries of all these people.

It is also very expensive to live in big, old monastery. Our carpenters, roofers, electricians, painters, blacksmiths, and plumbers always have enough to do! We also need bigger restoration projects. Right now, for example, we are trying to restore the huge square in front of the abbey church, which, next to the St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, is the biggest church square in Europe. Having just enough money from the revenues of our work to pay our daily bills, we would never have enough money to pay for these large projects ourselves. Therefore, we are always searching for sponsors who are willing to support us. It is very impressive to see how many people—even from America—are willing to help us for the sake of the people and in honor and glory of God.

With this help and, of course, with prayer to God and the Blessed Mother of His Son we are confident in handling all these challenges and that we will continue to chant in our beautiful church for many decades to come!

-- Br. Thomas Fässler, O.S.B.

* To learn more about Einsiedeln, check out the abbey's website (in German) by clicking here
** To learn more about Saint Meinrad's Monte Cassino Shrine and its history, click here

Monday, May 7, 2012

The power of prayer


 From this morning's second reading at Vigils and Lauds:

Is any among you afflicted? Let him pray. Is any merry? Let him sing psalms. (cf. James 5:12-20)

Saint James seems to imply in these words that religious worship supplies all our spiritual needs. Prayer and praise seem in his view to be a universal remedy.

Indisposition of body shows itself in a pain somewhere or other--a distress, which draws our thoughts to it, centers them upon it, impedes our ordinary way of going on, and throws the mind off its balance. Such, too, is the indisposition of the soul, of whatever sort, be it passion or affection, hope or fear, joy or grief. It takes us off from the clear contemplation of the next world, ruffles us, and makes us restless. In a word, it is what we call an excitement of mind. Amusements are excitements: the applause of a crowd, emulations, hopes, risks, quarrels, contests, disappointments, successes. In such cases, the object pursued naturally absorbs the mind, and excludes all thoughts but those relating to itself. Thus a person is sold over into bondage to this world. He has one idea, and one only before him, which becomes his idol. Day by day, he is engrossed by this one thing, to which his heart pays worship.

Now, then, observe the remedy offered by Saint James. It breaks the current of worldly thoughts. Regular worship interferes with the urgency of worldly excitements.

Let us pray. Doubt not the power of faith and prayer to effect all things with God. However you try, you cannot do works to compare with those which faith and prayer accomplish in the name of Christ. If you gave your body over to be martyred, and all your goods to feed the poor, you could not do so much as by continual intercession. Few are rich, few can suffer for Christ; all may pray. Were you an apostle of the Church or a prophet, you could not do more than you can do by the power of prayer. Go not, then, astray to find out new modes of serving God and benefiting man. I show you a more excellent way.

-- Blessed John Henry Newman

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Whoever remains

"I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains
in me and I in him will bear much fruit."
John 15:5


Lectio with today's Mass readings
Acts 9:26-31; 1 John 3:18-24; John 15:1-8


Lord God,

Help us to see you,
to speak out boldly
in the name of Jesus.


Build up your Church
throughout the entire world.
May she be at peace,
walk in your ways,
be consoled by the Holy Spirit,
and grow in number.


Help us to love,
not in word or speech,
but in deed and truth.


We place our confidence in you.
We believe in the name
of your Son, Jesus Christ,
who commands us
to love one another.


As you abide in him,
and him in you,
so remain in us
through the Spirit
he gave us.


You are the gardener,
your Son the vine,
we the branches.
May we remain united
to Jesus, the true Vine,
as he remains in us.


May your Church
throughout the world,
in whose Body
you plant your Word,
speak out boldly
in the name of Jesus,
without whom
we can do nothing.


May she bear him
who gives life to all,
producing much fruit,
an abundant harvest,
the fruit of the Vine,
a heavenly feast
of rich food
and choice wine,
overflowing
for all who
remain in him.


Amen.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Awesome


It's probably obvious to at least a few readers that postings here have been relatively infrequent the last few months. That is primarily because I have been concentrating heavily on completing my master's thesis in the School of Theology here. As mentioned in a previous blog post some time ago, my topic was: "Vive Jesus! Saint Francis de Sales' Introduction to the Devout Life and the Universal Call to Holiness." I thoroughly enjoyed the research and writing involved with the project, but after several months of focusing on it, I was ready to be finished.

In any event, the paper was turned in a couple weeks ago, I've emerged from my "writing bunker," and I'm all set to receive my Master of Theological Studies degree at graduation next weekend. So, hopefully, postings here will pick up a little (though in another couple weeks, I will be taking a break for our community retreat, and then vacation).

For now, I am through with school in the conventional sense -- though, obviously, never from the "School of the Lord's service," as St. Benedict refers to the monastery. Late this year and early next, I will be back at it, however, as I undertake studies and practicum toward a graduate certificate in spiritual direction--a new curriculum offering here at Saint Meinrad. I will be one of the "guinea pigs," and am looking forward to it. Spiritual direction is something I have greatly benefited from, and something I was interested in pursuing even before I arrived at the monastery nearly six years ago.

A few people have suggested I go on to pursue a doctorate, but I'm not so sure about that. I will be 47 in September, I like being in the monastery (doctoral studies would take me away for a few years), and the purpose of having a doctorate (in my view) is essentially to be qualified to teach at the graduate level. However, instructing large groups of people--as well as giving extended retreats to large groups, conducting meetings, or even interacting socially with large groups frequently and extensively--is not the forum in which I work best. It also takes more out of me than it does most people. For those familiar with the Myers-Briggs personality assessment, I am one of those rare INFJ's (Introverted-Intuitive-Feeling-Judging), which is a fancy way of saying I draw my energy from within, require more solitude than most, and interact best with people on a small scale and through substantial (rather than casual) means--either one-on-one or in small groups--and of course, in my writing. I am much more comfortable operating "behind the scenes," with room to think and create, and interacting with others individually. So, something like spiritual direction--which fits well with some of the other things I'm doing here--makes a good deal of sense for me, and I am grateful the abbot has given me the opportunity to pursue it. It is also something I firmly believe in (as did my patron, Francis de Sales). Everyone should have a spiritual director, though there aren't enough of them.

All that is not to say that I can rule anything else out in terms of further education. God's will must always be discerned. In any event, it would be up to the abbot. We'll see. For now, I can focus on some of my other responsibilities here--the Abbey Press, giving oblate conferences, etc. I've even begun serving as a spiritual director for a few people, and am already learning a great deal in that respect. Then late this year, I can begin with the official graduate certificate program, which should keep me busy for at least another year. Of course, as I always tell people (and sincerely believe), my primary "work" here as a monk is prayer and our common life. Those areas--for me, anyway--could always stand improvement. At the moment, perhaps, that is where I need to center my attention most securely.

Responsibilities, routines, and daily rhythms are good, but without due discretion and disernment they can also result in "tunnel-vision." Sometimes a new (or rediscovered) perspective is needed for spiritual rejuvenation. We can all tend to get caught up more in what we're doing rather than the more important aspect of why we're doing it. Monks are not immume to this phenomenon.

Perhaps my own "rediscovered perspective" was revealed to me last evening at Vespers. I am filling in this week for Fr. Sean as guestmaster, and part of that job entails assisting guests in the Archabbey Church during Mass and Vespers. Last evening, we had about 50 fourth-graders with us from the Oaks Academy in Indianapolis--all in uniform. I've never seen such a large group of well-behaved, attentive, and beaming children. Just before Vespers, while the rest of the monks were in the monastery slype preparing to process in (this being the feast of saints Philip and James), I was in the church with the students and their adult escorts, along with several other guests. This was a unique vantage point for me -- something removed from my routine. Ordinarily, I'd be lining up with the other monks just outside the church. Looking across the sea of students, one little boy caught my attention. He was literally on the edge of his seat, his head cocked at an angle, a hand cupped to his ear. He had absolutely no idea what to expect--what was going to happen next--but whatever it was, he was ready to see and hear it!

When the bells sounded the 5 o'clock hour, and the monks began processing in (still out of the boy's sight), the lights came up in the church, and the towering organ began playing. The boy's reaction was priceless. His eyes grew wide and lifted upward, his mouth opened in an expression of astonishment, and he turned around--first this way, and then that--to his classmates, as if to say: "Wow, can you hear that?! Can you see that?!" This experience of God was all new to him, and it brought a big smile to my face as the other monks processed past me like we do all the time (but perhaps without the same sense of awe). Without knowing it, this boy had given me a tremendous gift--a renewed appreciation for our awesome God!

A little change in perspective can go a long way. Whatever else I may be doing around here--or for that matter, what any Christian anywhere may be doing--I am called (and we are called) above all else to listen and look for the presence of God, who exceeds all expectations. "Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3).

God is good.