Sunday, November 25, 2012

Something to smile about

"THE EVANATOR"

My word, it has been a full two weeks since I posted anything on this blog. My apologies, but it has been a full two weeks in many respects. Shortly after Fr. Simeon's funeral, I headed to Ohio for nearly a week to give oblate conferences in Columbus, Dayton, and Cincinnati (the topic was "Listening Willingly to Holy Reading: How We Evangelize Ourselves through Lectio Divina"). In between conferences and traveling from city to city, I had a chance to catch the new movie Lincoln--highly recommended--and also visit with my brother Kevin in Cincinnati, as well as his girlfriend Wendy, her daughter McKinsey, and their pack of hounds--Ebony and Cobe.

During that period, I learned that the father of my best friend back in Findlay, Ohio, passed away at the age of 84 after several years of battling cancer. May he rest in peace (and please pray for his family).

So, I asked for a couple additional days away from the monastery, and made the trip up to my hometown, where I stayed with my mother and--as so often happens--had the opportunity to see many friends and acquaintances at the funeral home in addition to offering encouragement and support to my best friend and his family.

Last Wednesday, a day after returning to Saint Meinrad, and as had been planned for weeks, my mother, Uncle Kenny and Aunt Norma, my cousin Patty and her boyfriend Mike, my sister Shannon and her husband Ty, his 10-year-old son Ian, and my brand new nephew Evan (now 5 months) came to visit me here over the Thanksgiving weekend--Wednesday evening through Saturday morning. It was great to have them all here, and of course, I especially enjoyed finally meeting Evan in person. What a little grace-filled bundle of joy he is--or, as Fr. Harry called him, "the picture of possibility." Evan is a very observant little fellow, and his big blue eyes took in everything and everyone around here. He smiled and cooed a lot, fussed and cried some, and spit up quite a bit -- sometimes all at once!

I could have spent hours just watching Evan discover his new world. He was also quite the trooper, as he accompanied us on various tours of the campus here, to liturgies in the Archabbey Church (he seemed very interested in the chanting at Compline), to a couple dining excursions, and to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial located only a few miles from Saint Meinrad (Young Lincoln lived in this area from the age of 7 to 21). He--as well as Ian, who was also visiting Saint Meinrad for the first time--also got to meet and speak (so to speak) with many of the monks here. Ian even interviewed a few for a school social studies project.

In the midst of all this, I also came down with a bad cold. So, I am looking forward to some serious "recovery time" before re-entering the daily rhythm of ora et labora. In the coming weeks, I have many projects to attend to. Hopefully, I will blog some as well. Amid the many challenges, many things to be thankful for, and to smile about.

Sunset on the Ohio River as seen from the Overlook Restaurant
near Leavenworth, Indiana, where we ate Friday evening.

 

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Fr. Simeon's moment of grace


Fr. Simeon Daly, O.S.B.
May 9, 1922-November 10, 2012

On Saturday evening, Fr. Simeon Daly, O.S.B., died at the age of 90. Although he had encountered a number of health problems—some quite serious, even approaching death a time or two—in recent years, he was still quite fit mentally, and active physically, up until just a few days ago. May he rest in God’s peace. (Read his full obituary here.)

Fr. Simeon was the Archabbey librarian for almost 50 years. More recently, he helped out in the Development Office, and even penned a couple items for us at the Abbey Press (the last being just a few months ago). He was also a primary impetus in the book project I am currently completing at the Abbey Press—which will feature the Stations of the Cross artwork of the recently deceased Fr. Donald Walpole, O.S.B. Fr. Simeon took it upon himself a couple years ago to catalogue all the work Fr. Donald had done and which is displayed all over the country, so that there would be a record of it for posterity’s sake. He had also helped the Development Office put together some devotional booklets on the Stations for Saint Meinrad alumni a few years ago.

I am still getting used to the reality that he is gone. Of the 11 monks that have died in my 6 years here, I was probably closest to him—though many others certainly knew him longer and better. Fr. Simeon passed on some valuable insight to me, particularly when I was a novice, and I was always edified by his monastic example—his regular presence at the Divine Office, his pitching in to do dishes shortly after his recovery from yet another health scare, his daily commitment to feeding an ill confrere too weak to look after himself, and his genuine joy in arm-wrestling with One Bread One Cup participants.

I will miss him.

In a way, he was the first monk of Saint Meinrad that I became acquainted with in-depth, due to his writing. Although he was not what one might call a prodigious or prolific author, he was a story-teller, and wrote from the heart. On my first visit to Saint Meinrad Archabbey as a retreatant in August 2005, I purchased his newly published book Finding Grace in the Moment: Stories and Other Musings of an Aged Monk, a collection of short, simple, but personally profound, entertaining, and heart-warming essays, poems, homilies, and reflections he penned over the years. Many of these had grown out of stories he had told but had never intended to be published. Friends and benefactors encouraged him to record them (first on cassettes, then on CDs), and eventually, to put them into writing. All of these are now on his personal website, which he took a great deal of pride in: http://www.fathersimeon.com/index.asp (I still have my copy of both the book and CDs).

The website also contains a number of photos from his life and musings, and if you visit it, you will instantly be greeted by Fr. Simeon personally in a short video. Through all these, you can see for yourself that he was a sentimental, thoughtful, gracious, caring, gentle, humble, sweet, and genuinely holy monk. All in all, a good man—about as good as they come, and he sincerely touched the hearts of many, many people during his lifetime.

When I was a novice, I was assigned to Fr. Simeon on a couple occasions to help him clean out his office. This was after his recovery from a serious health crisis, and it was time for him to downsize, and to begin to put things in order, as it were. He would no longer need an office; all the items within it— large and small—had to be disposed of in one way or another.

My mistake at the time was to view it as just another assignment—some work which I was anxious to complete so I could move on to the next thing. I began picking things up, stacking them, carting them, and then impatiently awaiting instructions on what to do with it all. Fr. Simeon was in no hurry. Every single object or scrap of paper had a story, some special significance. Sensing my antsy nature, he finally said to me, gently but firmly: “Put that down and just listen. Don’t be in such a hurry.” And so I did, reluctantly at first. Then, as he began unfolding his memories of people, places, and events behind all the piles of what I initially viewed as just stuff, I became drawn into them, intrigued, and enamored.

He passed on a lot of wisdom in the process, and even gave me a memento or two. Eventually, I began looking forward to my few hours with Fr. Simeon, and the time seemed to pass too quickly. I don’t think we really got much work accomplished, but I realize now that wasn’t the point. He had a story to tell. He needed someone to hear it, and he needed someone to help him close what must have been a very difficult chapter in his life. He didn’t need someone to lift boxes as much as he needed someone to listen. It was one of my first monastic lessons. Fr. Simeon taught me, as the title of his book suggests, to find grace in the moment. As a novice, I needed to learn that lesson. So, we both had something to offer the other as we each transitioned into new chapters in our lives.

The following is a short poem Fr. Simeon wrote about 30 years ago, during another transition in his life--when he moved from his cell in the old monastery to what was then the newly built one. He had lived in that old cell for more than 30 years, and the poem attests to his keen sense for the significance of the seemingly simple, and of his ability to find grace in the moment:


Farewell
From one who leaves this place,
Knowing full well,
No other space will so long serve his needs
Before he’s gone.

 Since August 16, 1951,
You have harbored one
Not kind to your face,
But who loved his place
Where you sheltered his comings and goings.

Thank you!

Fond aieu,
Sweet door!
Nevermore will you welcome or hide
This one who is grateful for the shade
You have so long provided.

Rest in peace, Fr. Simeon. Pray for us who are still on the other side of that narrow door through which you have passed.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rapt in serenity

"A mist quickly heals all things."
Sirach 43:22

It was a still and foggy morning here at Saint Meinrad Archabbey today. On my way to work at the Abbey Press, through the mist I spotted this squirrel having breakfast--or counting its toes; I couldn't tell which. I wanted to get a bit closer, but was afraid of spooking the bushy-tailed varmint. In any event, I was entranced by the contrast between the murky, moisture-laden air and the bronchial-like web of barren tree limbs which the squirrel navigates so effortlessly and securely. The only thing better than a foggy morning, I think (unless you have to drive somewhere in it), is a snowy twilight, or perhaps a rainy evening in a warm room under a metal roof. Gifts of stillness meant to envelop and soothe us with God's unyielding presence.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lectio moment

Musée national du Moyen Âge

Reflecting on today's Mass readings (Philippians 2:12-18 and Luke 14:25-33), two phrases caught my attention:

From the first reading: "hold on to the word of life."

From the Gospel: "everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple."

Here we have a call to let go of everything that does not lead to Christ, and to hold on to everything that does. This doesn't mean everyone must literally divest themselves of all material possessions. It does mean that we must regularly examine what we truly value, and how what we possess (whether it's money, status, goods, time, talents, habits, attitudes, desires, dispositions, etc.) is ordered toward our foremost priority.
1. So, what do I value most--really? Where does it point me?

2. How do I prioritize all that I possess? Or, do these things, whatever they are, really possess me? Are they leading me toward life as God promises it, or to death?

3. How do I let go of what I possess (or what possesses me) and instead hold on to the word of life?
This is not an observation on yesterday's election results--far from it. No comment in that regard. I did, however, wake up this morning with one of my favorite verses from the Psalms springing to mind, which complements today's Mass readings well:

"Lord, I have seen that all perfection has an end,
but your command is boundless."

Psalm 119:96

(Along all those lines, and in the spirit of promoting Benedictine values, I direct you to another blog post by Jennifer Fulwiler for a timely and beautiful reflection on The Big Picture. Enjoy -- and come and see what it's all about some time, whether it's Mount Angel or Saint Meinrad.)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

PAX


The Lord bless us
and keep us.

The Lord make his face
shine upon us,
and be gracious to us;

The Lord lift up
his countenance upon us,
and give us peace.

Adapted from Numbers 6:24-26


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Election Day


All too often, I am dismayed by how politicized and polarized our culture has become. Too many Christians have fallen into this trap. The Left shouts, the Right shouts back. Does anyone listen? The discussion, it seems, is rarely respectful, substantial, or thought-provoking. Personality prevails. Winning is the only thing that matters.

I try to summon the virtue of patience by recalling that up until about 10 years ago, I was a Grade A Political Junkie and Newshound. So for much of my life, I have been just as much a part of the problem as anyone else. Now, I loathe what I myself used to love (or thought I loved). So, allowance must be made for the path others are on.

Still, I cannot help but think: Our Savior is Jesus Christ. He is not a Democrat. He is not a Republican. He is not a member of the Tea Party. He is the Son of God, who calls all people to himself through the Cross on which he was nailed for the sins of all. He is Love Himself. If we truly cast our "vote" in his direction, we shall be saved, and will be directed along the right path -- no matter what happens or who emerges victorious in any earthly election.

Perhaps providence whispers a reminder through the Gospel reading on this 31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Mark 12:28b-34), which just so happens to fall two days before the election:

One of the scribes came to Jesus and asked him,
"Which is the first of all the commandments?"
 
Jesus replied, "The first is this:
 
Hear, O Israel!
The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
The second is this:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
 
There is no other commandment greater than these."
 
The scribe said to him, "Well said, teacher.
You are right in saying,
'He is One and there is no other than he.'
And 'to love him with all your heart,
with all your understanding,
with all your strength,
and to love your neighbor as yourself'
is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."
 
And when Jesus saw that he answered with understanding,
he said to him,
 
"You are not far from the kingdom of God."
 
And no one dared to ask him any more questions.
 
 

Friday, November 2, 2012

All Souls Day

 
One of the primary ways the Body of Christ overpowers death is through prayer, individually and communally. Praying for the dead--or more aptly, praying that the faithful departed may enjoy the fullness of Life--has been a vital component of the Catholic tradition since the early days of Christianity.

The Church identifies praying for the dead as one of the seven spiritual works of mercy. It is one way in which the compassionate stranger's touch and voice overpower death and unite all members of the Body of Christ--in this life and the life to come. The dead need and depend on our prayers just as the living do. St. Thomas Aquinas said that praying for the dead is the greatest act of charity one can perform on behalf of anyone--living or dead. Just as we pray that our loved ones may enjoy good health in this life, we must--to an even greater degree--pray that the faithful departed enjoy the fullness of eternal life.

This solidarity in Christ beyond death is the unity of the Church, which prays through the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Father on behalf of the entire world. Our prayers assist the departed on their heavenly journey precisely because they are the same prayer Christ offers for us. Our voices in him and his voice in us is what touches, heals, and overpowers death to give eternal life.

-- Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B.
from "Praying for the Dead"
Catholic Perspectives CareNotes
Abbey Press

Thursday, November 1, 2012

All Saints Day

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,
let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings
so closely, and let us run with perseverance
the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus,
the pioneer and perfecter of our faith."

Hebrews 12:1-2


There are saints among us. But we often fail to recognize them... We invoke them as though they were all in heaven and able to bestow on us only invisible and supernatural favors. It would seem to be a presumption on our part to imitate them… It seems ridiculous that someone whom we have seen and touched, whose weaknesses, foibles and faults we have observed, whose life has been involved in our life and whose brow was adorned by no halo, should have trod the path of holiness before our eyes without our having any inkling of it…We must learn to recognize the saints who live beside us and even the saint who is within us. The least movement of love is enough to reveal the saint in us and in others… It is courage that makes the saint; and courage is no more than confidence in grace that comes from on high and is always available.
 
-- Louis Lavelle, The Meaning of Holiness