I was ready for my time at the monastery after several busy weeks -- one with 16 of my extended family at our cabin in the Colorado Rockies, our annual Board Retreat of the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center, and spiritual formation with a team that has met yearly for over 30 years. This has been a record year for HSRC in terms of retreatants and donations. After sporadic sprinkles during the week and a downpour on Sunday evening, the trip to the monastery was though lush and green Ozark hills at their finest. Patches of Black Eyed Susans and contented cattle dotted the landscape.
At the entrance, the Electrical Coop, who has been good in making quick repairs, was stringing wire. I later heard that the company was adding cable to their offerings, promising to make the monastery their first customer. It was decided that this was a wise move, given the temperamental winter weather and fruit cake orders. I could not detect any real changes in the place, other than weeds growing from the large sawdust pile and vegetables being slowly harvested from the garden. The three sun flowers in the Garth are determined to top seven feet, but have needed supports to hold straight their weight. My assignments were as Reader for Vigils, Sext, and Vespers, Deacon twice, and Presiding Priest at Tuesday Mass. We are back to using red sacramental wine. Perhaps the white wine had been on sale. There is a new Vietnamese monk, Fr. Acutis (named after venerable Carlo Acutis), who will be with us for several months. For over 20 years, he has been cantor at the Motherhouse. The major event of the week was the celebration Tuesday of “The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen or Heaven and Earth.” The Nazareth Hermitage folks were with us, along with several visitors including Associates Marilyn and Tom. The Vigil reading was from the apostolic constitution Munificentissimus Deus by Pope Pius XII. He used glowing affirmations for the Virgin Mary concluding that after conquering death, she was “carried up body and soul to the exalted glory of heaven, there to sit in splendor at the right hand of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages.” With the Father and the Holy Spirit, he seemed to be suggesting a Divine Quaternity. I find it a bit puzzling that with such a breath-taking elevation of one woman, the entire Catholic hierarchy is masculine. Certain feminists have suggested that the way in which to minimize women is to put one of them on a pedestal. The Superior was the Celebrant at Mass, and our noonday meal featured pork steaks, potatoes, ice cream and wine, as well as some “vigorous” conversation. The Office of None was observed immediately afterwards.
Tuesday was the memorial of St. Stephen of Hungry, the first Christian king of that country -- renown for “his charity to beggars.” In wondering what sentence each of us would choose to express how we would like to be remembered, our confessions were pointed toward that which is standing in our way. The day’s Old Testament reading is the narrative of God taking Moses up to the top of Mount Nebo. It is one of the highest mountains in the land. At age 93, I am no longer able to climb the13,000 foot mountain beside our family Colorado cabin, and here is Moses, at age 120, called to climb an equivalent height! What on earth did God want of him this time, forcing him to crawl up this mountain, boulder by boulder? But finally he reaches the top, and there spread out beneath him is an incredible view of land stretching out as far as the Western Sea. And as he stares in awe, a voice speaks to him: “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob -- and to all their descendants.” “So this is the Promised Land!” exclaims Moses, "the goal for which my entire life has been a preparation.” “Feast your eyes upon it,” says God, and indeed Moses does. Hopefully there is a moment such as this in the lives of each of us -- when in some form or another there appears before our mind’s eye that which causes us to whisper, “Is this it? Is this the goal toward which our life is to find its meaning?” And in our heart somehow we know, “Yes, this is it.” For Moses it has been a long hard journey, as when a week ago we heard at Mass how the people of Israel once again rebelled, shouting at Moses how much better slavery was, compared with having nothing to eat except this “doggone manna stuff.” And in desperation, Moses in turn shouted at God, “I cannot carry these people any longer; they are too heavy for me; so if this is the way you are going to deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me!” Desperation. But now, at this moment on the mountain top, it all seemed to be worth it. At this moment our Responsorial Psalm says it all: “Come and see the works of God; his tremendous deeds among us.” Yet God was not finished speaking -- he had three more words to say. And God’s devastating words were these: “You cannot enter!” To see from afar, and never to get in; to perceive but not to have; to be promised but not yet. It is at this moment that Moses learns, and so do we -- that the only goal worth aiming our life toward is one promised by faith and not by fact, by anticipation and not by fulfillment. As with Don Quixote, the Christian dreams the “impossible dream.” And so it is on that mountain top that Moses dies, in a ravine that is to be his nameless grave, never honored with even a tombstone. And when Moses does not return, the Israelites dutifully mourn him for 30 days -- and then Joshua’s life-time goal is to take up the torch, and carry the dream further along, a few difficult steps at a time. So it is for most of us -- our lives will be a matter of striving for a goal that we will never reach, called only to do our best, and then to hand it on for others to continue. In my case, after 30 years of dedicating my life to the fulfillment and perpetuation of the dream called Assumption Abbey, Fr. Cyprian, Fr. Alberic, and I during these past several years have had to release our ownership of this dream, needing to hand the torch onto you our Vietnamese brothers -- to be the Joshuas who will carry on the promise of this beloved place in your own way. Today’s gospel promises that where two or three of us are gathered, Christ will be in the midst. This recalls what happened only10 days ago, when Jesus took three of his disciples with him and together they climbed this very same mountain that Moses had climbed. And they too beheld the vision that we call transfiguration -- the vision of the world where the law and the prophets will come together in what Christ promises as the Kingdom of God. But their mountain vision, too, is quickly over -- and they must descend to the valley below where there awaits a host of hurting people in need of a shepherd. So even with Christ, the vision is “now, but not yet,” a goal received by promise, a vision known through faith. And so it follows that the whole of scripture ends with these three words: “Come Lord Jesus. Why? Because to be encountered by Christ is to be touched by the Nebo Mountain vision of the transfigured heaven and earth, where God shall help us turn every spear into a pruning hook, and wipe away every tear from our eyes, for death shall be no more. Blessed are we whose goal is to contribute to this coming Kingdom, functioning as Joshuas in receiving this dream bequeathed from the foundation of the earth. And then, having seen, we will be able to return to the valley of need, given the strength to persevere with joy.
Fr. Cyprian received permission from the Superior for the two of us to visit the new building site for the Benedictine Sisters of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, presently living on our property. Their new location is perhaps five minutes north off of Route N, probably fifteen miles from the monastery. It is perched on a hill, with a fine view. A local worker named Ryan hospitably showed us around. The roof and basic metal framework is in place -- Romanesque in architecture, complete with square tower and cupola. It is huge, a copy of their Motherhouse also in Missouri. The chapel is on the left, with high ceiling and rounded windows, to be adorned with stained glass. The whole encircles a Garth-to-be, with offices and expansive spaces for chapter meetings, music, and their liturgical sewing vocation. The lower and top floors contain cells for 50 sisters. With their Foundress Sr. Mary Wilhelmina having recently been exhumed and her body found without decay, their “notoriety” has helped finance this elaborate venture.
For some time now, my bed has seemed determined to slide me onto the floor. So on Friday I flipped the springs and rotated the mattress. The result is a sense of stability, but when I turn over, the new sound resembles that of a tortured frog. Our huge back-hoe seemed determined to remove the stump of an old oak recently cut. But when the task could only be half completed, resort was to evening burning. New lights have been installed in the refectory, one of four being directly over my head, apparently illumining me as a “star eater.” As far as I can recollect, I made three mistakes in my assignments, to which Fr. Cyprian generously quipped, “That’s pretty good for an old man.”
May each of us pick up a Kingdom task that we can manage and to which we are being called, prepared in turn to pass the torch on -- when that time comes for each of us.
May God bless us all.