Father BernardNew Clairvaux Abbey

“Any one who looks on Jesus will never look away.”

Some hear the words “Come, follow me!” while at the tax collector’s table, or under a fig tree, or mending nets. This call came to mature persons and the answer was immediate. My “call” came when I was twelve years old, the last week of August 1937—and I could not answer it immediately. I had high school and three years in the US navy in World war II to experience first.

The August event was a short visit together with my stepbrother to New Melleray Abbey in Iowa. It was a retreat Sunday for the monks, and so there was a chain across the entrance gate with a sign that said: “No Visitors.”

I had no idea what it was about, but Neal, my stepbrother, seemed very disappointed. A month later my mother received a short note from him from a place called Gethsemani Abbey, Trappist Kentucky. He had entered there and was given the name Frater Placid. Two years would pass before I would be able to visit him and meet Dom Fredrick Dunne, the Abbot. This was the first of a number of visits, either alone or with my family. At each visit I got to know Dom Fredrick and he became a great influence in my vocation and subsequent monastic life, even up to today. I was profoundly struck by what I saw in the Abbey church: the long line of white robed choir religious, the “monks,” and the very fascinating group called “Lay Brothers.” At one point, Dom Fredrick gave me a book to read: The Man Who Got Even With God and, as they say, “That did it.” (Seven Story Mountain was still in the typewriter stage and had absolutely no influence on me at all except the last chapter where Thomas Merton enters Gethsemani novitiate via an unforgettable visit to Dom Fredrick in the Abbot’s room.)

Father Bernard: "Any one who looks on Jesus will never look away."

Once, while in the Navy and stationed for a very short time at the Brooklyn Navy yard, I visited Saint Patrick’s cathedral and there, in the back pew, I found a holy card with the words “Any one who looks on Jesus will never look away.” I have often regretted that I did not take that card, but the words were as it were branded on my heart and in my mind.

In 1946 after being discharged from the Navy, by a very strange but fortuitous misunderstanding, I entered Our Lady of the Holy Ghost (as it was then known), Conyers Georgia. The words on that little holy card, some 66 years later, find confirmation in the words of our Constitutions: “Only by the experience of a personal love for the Lord Jesus, will you be happy to persevere in a life that is ordinary, obscure, and laborious.”

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