January 2020 Newsletter
The week before coming to the monastery was discouraging. My e-mail got sick -- unwilling to send or receive messages. Technology is not my expertise, but I tried everything I knew to do -- too many things to mention. So if you get this, the miracle of electronic resurrection has occurred -- largely through the wisdom of Michael our gentle fruitcake guru.
Speaking of miracles, my beloved Chiefs are in the Superbowl, a week ago falling behind 24 points before remembering that the idea of the game was to move the football and not fumble it -- awakening to score 50 points in a win. To be in a Superbowl happened last time for the Chiefs 50 years ago.
Although it was extremely cold with a hostile wind when I left the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center, I was cheered as a beautiful snow gently gifted the countryside. I chose this week in January because it is traditionally reserved for our annual community retreat. But Fr. Thaddeus decided that the Vietnamese monks were “not sufficient enough to profit much from a retreat in English,” so he asked Fr. Phillip the founder of our monastery in Vietnamto do the retreat. He was able to do this during the first week in January (in Vietnamese). While this makes sense, I feel sadness in wondering about the effectiveness of my homilies and all the homilies that we do in English. There will likely be a retreat in English held in several months.
The Chapter Room furnace developed a leaking valve, so there will be no heat there until a new valve arrives. We have acquired a “Saw Mill” which is a new device for turning our fallen trees into lumber. Instead of a circular blade with the tree moving through it, this new arrangement (as I understand it) has a horizontal reciprocating blade that moves through the stationary tree. Interesting.
The Vietnamese monks went to Carthage a week ago to celebrate the Lunar New Year with the Vietnamese sisters there. Fr. Bruno is still with Fr. Peter in working on the new monastery in California. Br. Ambrose, who just received his green card, is on vacation with his family in Vietnam. The two monks in Vietnam awaiting their US embassy interview to come here are both priests. Br. Alphonse has decided to return to Vietnam at the end of this year to begin studies in theology.
On January 31 there will be an interesting event here called “A Holy Land Gathering” for our three contemplative groups -- the monastery, Nazareth Hermitage, and the new Benedictine Sisters living at our former Franciscan retreat center. Encouraged by the bishop, a potluck at the Abbey will begin at 12:30, and then a half-hour slide show by each group, followed by questions. After reflections by the Bishop, three optional activity groups will form -- to visit Brown’s cave, walk to Bryant Creek, and to do a leisurely walk.
Fr. Cyprian is healing well after his two knee surgeries. Family Brother Loren Schrier was here for five days. Shaun Askinosie made life promises as a Family Brother on Thursday at Vespers. There are now four of us who have made vows for life.
Wednesday’s mass observed the Day of Prayer set aside by all U.S.dioceses for “the legal protection of unborn children.” Ironically the Old Testament reading encouraged killing and war. The youthful David kills Goliath with a slingshot, then takes his sword and lops off the giant’s head, gleefully holding it up so that all can admire the gory deed. As if this is not enough destruction of life, our responsorial psalm celebrates God as the one who “trains our hands for battle and our fingers for war.” Why? So that we can “subdue peoples under us. ! This is much like the mentality characterizing our own nation -- involved as we are in a war in Afghanistan that is the longest in our history, with our military budget at an all-time high. Our favorite way of “making peace” is to prepare for war. Then in the gospel we find Jesus in a synagogue on the Sabbath where a shriveled person is in need of healing. But present also are Pharisees who want to put restrictions on when and where Jesus can be “pro-life.” Pro-life Catholics are often criticized for being hypocrites like the Pharisees -- for placing limits on our pro-lifeness. Critics charge us with only being concerned to get infants born, and then showing little interest afterwards. But if we forbid an abortion for a mother who does not want her child, we must assume some responsibility for seeing that the child receives sufficient support, food, housing, and education. Thus being “anti-abortion” can be cruel if it is not part of a total pro-life attitude toward all of life. If Jesus insists that we are to embrace even our enemies, how much more then are we to fall in love with all of life -- everywhere, every time, with every one.
Thursday morning I felt so blessed. Nothing more, nothing less, than sitting in my cell overlooking the cemetery, watching the beautiful snow as it floated earthward, blessing the land with innocence.
Sunday was a special observance -- being Founders Day, our birthday. Almost from the beginning, to become a Christian meant risking persecution and even possible martyrdom. But when Emperor Constantine in the Fourth Century became a Christian, Christianity became the religion of choice, making it advantageous to become Christian, if only in name. In reaction, persons such as St. Anthony left this domesticated society and entered the desert, the citadel of the demons, and there modeled the demanding task of being Christian. In the 5th century Benedict did the same, but found that the desert monks themselves were in need of reform -- and wrote his famous “Rule.” But then in 1098, St. Robert of Molesmes, his prior Alberic, his subprior Stephen Harding, and 18 other monks, believed that the Rule of St. Benedict was no longer being taken seriously so they formed a new monastery, near Citeaux in France, from which came the name Cistercian for their new Order. Then by the 17th Century, some monks believed that the Cistercian ideals were becoming lax, and so they formed a new monastery, becoming a Cistercian Order of the Strict Order -- and being near La Trappe, France, became nicknamed Trappists. And so here at Assumption Abbey we are bringing back together representatives of these two Cistercian Orders-- as the reform, of the reform, of the reform. Reform is the monastic reason for being -- to reform both church and society. So on this our Founder’s Day, in the face of the greed for possessions, prestige, and power all around us, we must reaffirm our promise to model a contrasting way of life -- promising to give away to those in need all that we do not need for ourselves; promising the humility to lose our life if need be in order to find it, and promising that the only power we will exert will be the power of love. By our very nature, as monks and as a monastery, we are to be reformers, willing ourselves to be reformed when faithfulness requires it.
May “reform” be your promise toward all things, so that wherever you are, it will be better for you having been there.