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Monday night, as the sun was setting, Fr. Edward and I sat down for our first class on the "Life of St. Antony". This is a class I do with "Observers": men who have just entered the monastery. Fr. Edward is a Jesuit and thinks maybe he's called to be a monk. Discerning this is what we were about as we settled into our seats in the warm ambiance of the Novitiate Scriptorium. He shared with me, at one point, how moved he was by Antony's decision to retire to an abandoned fortress at the edge of the desert where he lived alone for many years.
"His name is poured out." These were the words accompanying me on my walk under the trees behind Brother Placid's garden this evening. We have enjoyed an unusual span of sunny weather all week long, the air sweet with things growing, alive with birds darting under the sun's admiring gaze. I walk under the trees with St. Bernard's voice resonating in my heart as he ruminates on one of his favorite lines from scripture: "His name is poured out", a poetic image of what cannot be imaged: the superabundance of love God unleashed on the world in the person of Jesus his Son.
The family is here again. They have been making an annual retreat at New Melleray for years. The first time they came, the five kids following the parents to communion, looked like little ducks in a row, hands joined in prayer in front of them, poised and adorably self-conscious. The youngest is now about eleven and the family no longer walks in a neat row. If the children are self-conscious, it doesn't show. They appear relaxed – maybe a little distracted. One year, the oldest didn't show up for the retreat because of other commitments.
Yesterday, we celebrated the mystery of the Assumption of Mary's body into heaven after she died. At Vigils, as all the monks sat in the semi-darkness, Father Jonah read to us how it was generally known among the early Christians that something very mysterious happened to Mary's body after she died. One account says that, certain disciples of Jesus, inquiring about where she was buried, went to the tomb and found it empty. It's an enchanting story. What is the "assumption of Mary"? What exactly did God do? What happened to Mary after she died?
Time to go to sleep – and I don't want to. An odd feeling of exhilaration has taken hold of me; an expectation that something wonderful is imminent, something I can't name. It's almost nine o'clock but I have the feeling this evening is blessed; a rare and splendid gift. I don't know why I feel this way. The silence and stillness of the monastery all around me seems to be concealing a marvelous secret. By 8:00 most of the monks have gone to bed. I'm wide awake and it feels like free time. The day and it's activities are over.
After Compline, on the way to my cell, I pass Anselm and Giles together in the infirmary and, without being noticed, pause a moment to take in the scene: Anselm is seated, by a window framing a view that looks like a painting. Beyond is the neatly trimmed yard behind the cloister where swallowtails are wheeling and basking in the light of the setting sun. Extending into the distance is the long rosary walk shaded by the branches of tall trees that bow over a monk strolling past the bell tower.
As he began the prayer, we all bowed our heads and prayed with him in our hearts. His designation as prayer leader had come unexpectedly and he was quite flustered, but after a moment, he began: "Thank you Lord for gathering us in this place to study and reflect upon the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. Thank you for the presence of our key note speaker with us today and for his guidance as we engage the new opportunities and challenges this change represents for our celebration of the mass. Thank you for our wives.
It's 3:25 in the morning and, I am praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament inside the high limestone walls of a darkened church that looks like it could have been built in the 12th century. A couple of dozen monks sit or stand in the shadows, not moving or making a sound. A single candle burns in the sanctuary. I am dressed in a white robe over lain by a black scapular, fastened at my waist with a leather belt. All this might appear to be a rather strange scene on the morning of August 4, in the year 2011 in the United States of America.