Dear Friends, January, 2022
As the old carol puts it, “In the Bleak Mid-winter” -- and so I thought that this would characterize my January pilgrimage to the Monastery. But after weeks of below freezing weather, I was blessed with one of those few winter days in the 50’s that are divine harbingers of hope for “April showers.” The dried and weary fields appeared expectant, as was I. I was driving to the Annual Monastic Retreat when we are freed of labora -- freed to learn and “to be.” Jill graciously cooked our noon-day meals for us
There were only a few changes at the monastery. Andrew has been given his Visa to return to France, accompanied by his son from England, and being welcomed by his doctor daughter in Paris. He still has hope of finding a monastery there that will accept him for this final time. An injection has temporarily alleviated some of his arthritic leg pain. Several of the monks are trading off sessions with Fr. Alberic (of New Melleray) and Austin -- teaching them Vietnamese and in turn being taught English -- once or twice a week. There is controversy over the proposed LEEDS lighting in the bakery, when research showed its damage to the eyes. It is likely that the compromise will be a combination of lighting. My only assignment was to be Deacon on Wednesday -- which gave me Tuesday’s Mass to learn how the Vietnamese uniquely serve a bishop.
The schedule for the Retreat was one hour of input by Bishop Leibrecht after Terce
(9 AM) and after None (2 PM), Monday through Sunday morning Mass (9 AM). The Bishop was Presider at all Masses, and was available for private conferences.
Tuesday was the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. The homily centered in celebrating the Church’s martyrs as models for all Christians, for every Christian is called to be a missionary. Paul illustrated this by being the first missionary beyond the original disciples; and from this beginning the Church has grown to over 3 billion members. This is done by both word and example, with monastics focusing on the latter, praying for other Christians whose method is more verbal.
The Tuesday Morning Session focused on the theme of Catholicism as the Church of the Martyrs, proving to the world that the faith is worth dying for. The bishop took his content from an encyclical by Pope Francis, whose pastoral approach he himself emulates. “Faith” means “trust.” This may be in science, in technology, or in one’s own self. But the Christian places their trust in Jesus, known only by trusting the testimony of others who have trusted those who came before them. Thus ours is a Church of Memory. The faith gained through such witnesses does not abolish darkness, but is a lantern to lighten our path in the darkness. Testimony comes not only from the past but also the future -- as resurrection begins its transforming hope into the future. .
The Tuesday Afternoon Session dealt with the Sermon of the Mount -- as the “morally sublime road map” for the Christian. Matthew affirms Jesus as being the New Moses, but rather than making demands with rules (prescriptive), he names the attitudes we are to live (descriptive), with holiness being the goal. Thus to be “poor in spirit” means not to be self-sufficient. To be “meek” is to have the aura of “gentleness.” To be righteous is to be loving. To be “merciful” is to go beyond justice. To have “purity of heart” is to be a person of integrity with singleness of purpose. A “peacemaker” is a healer. To be persecuted is to realize the costliness of being a Christian. The Bishop then suggested that we use the beatitudes to measure the depth of our growth in holiness.
Wednesday was the Feast Day in honor of our Cistercian Founders: Robert, Alberic, and Stephen. While Bishop Leibrecht was the celebrant, Fr. Alberic did the homily -- telling the story of our beginning, with the theme of “unity” resulting from our corporate and personal pilgrimages into holiness.
The Wednesday Morning Session had “Trinitarian Prayer”as its theme, exploring the personal images that we have for each of the “Persons.” For the Bishop, praying to the “Father” evokes the image of one who listens and encourages. Praying to Jesus is to image a companion who is always present. And the image for the Holy Spirit is one who helps and enables. Then he showed how these images, in turn, should be used to evaluate one’s own self. Am I a good listener and encourager? Am I a ready companion who is present through highs and lows? Do I give gracious help and ready enablement? Monasteries provide for the Church a constant network of prayer -- through the Liturgy of the Hours, prayer through work, and personal devotions, with the Eucharist at the center. Key attitudes for such praying are humility, persistence, confidence, openness, and dependency -- as responses to God’s invitation to spend time with him.
The Wednesday Afternoon Session focused upon the Church Year --which marks the uniqueness of the Catholic Church as the Church of Celebration. He traced the process through the years, beginning with the Eucharist, expanding into the celebration of Easter, Lent, Christmas, Advent -- adding various martyrs, and then saints. Thus the Church Year was increasingly filled with remembrances worth celebrating, rendering to the Body of Christ a celebrative fullness. Yet Catholics are losing the heart of worship by being motivated to attend Mass out of fear of committing a mortal sin. Instead, worship has two motivations: 1. to know God better; 2. to acknowledge our dependence upon God. Worship lifts us up to God, where we can see the world through God’s eyes. This makes all of life worship, rendering us worshippers in all we do.
Thursday was the Memorial of Timothy and Titus. The Bishop at Mass drew from the gospel reading about the parables of Light and Seed -- as the goal and the means of the Kingdom, characterized by love, peace, justice. The Morning Session had The Mass as its theme, beginning by the Bishop sharing stories of who had most influenced him, not only in understanding the Mass but in learning to love it. As he shared, he seemed to glow, for he was sharing at soul depth -- about how the Mass is a sacrifice of the Lamb. The imagery began with the Passover, when the blood on the doorpost brought delivery from death. This mingled with Isaiah’s image of the Messiah as the suffering servant -- a lamb for the slaughter. It also reminds us of the Last’s Supper when we too are fed. Insight comes from the nursery rhyme -- “Mary had a little lamb … and everywhere that Mary went, that Lamb was sure to go.” While Protestants prefer the empty cross as the resurrection promise of victory; Catholics claim the crucifix -- as the promise that Christ will be with us no matter what. The Eucharist is past -- as a memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. The Eucharist is present -- as presence of the living Christ. The Eucharist is future -- as prelude to promised life in glory. Thus the Mass is total in being inclusive.
The Thursday Afternoon Session continued as a meditation on the Mass, with the Bishop walking through the parts of the mass with personal stories -- showing how it is a way of offering ourselves to God. I had not known before that Vatican II expanded the only Eucharistic Prayer into our present choice of eleven.
Friday was a Memorial in honor of St. Thomas Aquinas. The homily was a retelling of the Old Testament sinful story of David and Bathsheba, and the New Testament story of the successful farmer -- without tying together the two. So I did it myself -- with the remembrance of Clayton Fountain, the murderer and my friend, who before he died said, “Since God has forgiven me, no one is beyond his mercy.” The Morning Session had “Providence” as the theme -- defined as “God’s care for us so that we can achieve his purposes, in good times and bad.” He quoted a comic strip that read, “Ambiguity is essential for absolute certainty” -- meaning believing in God’s providence even when we do not see how we fit in. In eternity, life’s tangled mess will be turned around, exposed as the underside of a beautiful tapestry into which even our foibles have been woven into the design. Hope is desire accompanied by expectation, drawing us into the future. For the Christian this is based on the God who in the resurrection gives the hope of Eternal Life. Providence is a coupling of God’s gift and our response.
The theme of Friday Afternoon’s Session was the Catholic Vision as rooted in the Principle of Sacramentality -- rendering us the Church of Ordinary Things.
This is readily identifiable in the water of Baptism; the oil of Confirmation, Ordination, and Blessing of the sick; the bread and wine of the Eucharist; and words as in Confession and Marriage. Similarly there is a plethora of common things used such as holy water, palms, ashes, statues, incense, and candles. Then in his famous prayer-poem, St. Francis includes everything as sacramental, beginning with Brother Sun and Sister Moon. What others may see as “coincidence,” the Christian sees as providence, as the mysterious coming together of things. Therefore for those whom the Spirit anoints truly to see, hear, smell, touch, and taste, everything can become bearers of God’s very real presence.
Saturday’s Mass for Cistercians is traditionally for Mary. The bishop told the Old Testament story about the poor man who treated his only lamb as his child, only to have it killed because of the greed of the rich man who had many. “You are that man,” the prophet told David, saying that while God may forgive, sins have consequences. So three times doing his life David was heartbroken, the last time crying out with grief for his treasonous son, “Absalom, Absalom.” And then there was the New Testament account about a boat, a storm, and Jesus. There was more than one boat in the story, and blessed are we who are in Jesus’ boat, asking, “Who is this Jesus?” The Saturday Morning Session had as its theme the “Mystery of Suffering.” Immediately I was interested because since my youth I have been wrestling with the enigma of how suffering, evil, and death can exist if the heart of God is love. The Bishop elaborated from personal experience types of suffering -- physical, deterioration, loss, failure, disappointment, and loneliness. Then he described the suffering of Jesus, from his return to Nazareth, through abandonment by his disciples, to the crucifixion. Throughout, Christ never turned toward himself but remained concerned for others. Thus while suffering remains a mystery that no one understands, what matters for the Christian is not “why” but “how” to live through suffering. “Follow me.” Suffering can cause some good when it is endured out of love for others, thereby adding to what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ. Satan disguised himself as Jesus in order to tempt Teresa of Avila. But she immediately recognized the disguise, “because you have no wounds.” In the end, perhaps this is all that we can say, but I went away wanting more. He never permitted questions.
Saturday Afternoon’s Session chose as its theme the “The Seven Sorrows of Mary.”
While other churches honor Mary, Catholics alone have developed devotions with Mary. The Seven Sorrows were developed by the Founders of the Servite Order in the 13th century. We know Mary’s love for us because of the seven ways that she suffered. 1. Simeon’s prophecy of a sword piercing her heart. 2. The Flight into Egypt. 3. The loss of the child Jesus in the Temple. 4. Calvary 5. Seeing Jesus die. 6. Witnessing the lance thrust into Jesus’ side. 7. Present in placing the body in the tomb. Clearly this devotion was personally very dear to the Bishop.
The Retreat ended with Mass at 9 AM Sunday morning. What a fine week, needing only one thing more -- for the Chiefs to win the American League Football Championship in the afternoon. J
Grace, love, and peace to you all.