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It is Sunday morning and the monks have assembled for the Abbot's Sunday conference, all of us sitting in a “horse-shoe” shape with Abbot Brendan, the Prior on his right and the Sub-Prior on his left seated in three chairs at the head of the Chapter House.
Every monastery has a Brother Cassian; the monk who fastidiously writes out the names of each monk alongside his daily work assignment, the whole arranged in neat rows and neatly printed – and saved for years in envelopes, each identified with a particular week; four envelopes preserving a record of the work assignments for the month, twelve envelopes bundled in chronological order specifying the work assignment for every brother in the community for each day of the year; all this labo
Fr. Xavier and I vesting for mass at about five minutes to seven this morning, are putting on our stoles. He leans in. It must look a little odd, the darknesses beneath our two hoods like two halves of a clam shell closing.
The thought that a person is actually suffering from a mental illness is not one that I entertain too readily and so it was almost a full minute before I rose from the presider's chair in my priestly vestments and faced off with a woman making her way straight toward me down the center aisle of church in the silence after communion.
Brother Meinrad was standing all by himself at the West end of choir this morning – he looked a little sad way down there all alone. At New Melleray Abbey, the choir is divided into two sections of choir stalls referred to as the “East” and “West” choir. Traditionally, the east end a church features the altar of sacrifice. This means that, facing the altar, you face the horizon where the sun rises.
Here's what I like about being a monk: a day follows the one that came before it, and all the hours of the day are in the right order. Let me explain. Except for prayer, a monk is never occupied with one activity for very long. I take up a task – let's say, sanding lid-frames in the carpenter shop for an hour. About the time I'm getting tired of that, a bell rings and it's time to go to the prayer service we call Sext.
O.k. - this is really hard! I'm struggling mightily to put together a dome-lid for a casket which takes about two hours to make. I'm nearly half finished, and find myself with a warped piece of wood that needs to be perfectly fitted to another piece to form a compound miter at the corner of the lid. And it's not coming together. Giving up would mean scraping the lid and wasting a lot of wood and time invested in it.
Brother Gerard is looking for Brother Andrew. The old monk, nearly eighty now, is dressed in his overalls looks animated; clearly ready to “seize the day”. He wants to get to work. He showed up in his pick-up truck at the underpass where Andrew was supposed to meet him, but the newest member of the community wasn't there. “Have you seen Andrew anywhere?” he asks, darting glances around the changing room.
“Confession seems – very real here.” Brother Francis is a Postulant, a recent arrival in the cloister, and I wasn't sure exactly what his words meant. Brother Andrew, an Observer, living with us for six weeks, had joined us on our walk back to the monastery from the carpenter shop, and the three of us began talking about the sacrament of reconciliation.
I spent a quiet evening recently with a new student, Brother Andrew, from New Mexico. We are reading the Life of St. Anthony together, and I began the first class by explaining that the book is an account of one man's “divinization”; his practice of asceticism, issuing into a break through into real participation in God's own divine life.