Bells in the Dark – Pastor’s Reflection (August 23, 2015)
Greetings to you all from the Archabbey of St. Meinrad, set in the gentle hills of Southern Indiana, not far from the Ohio River. Here, the Benedictine Monks have offered a great welcome to 26 Dominicans on retreat, and their preacher, yours truly. Watching another religious family in the Church be itself brings joy to my soul. While we Friars wander through the world, Benedictines put down roots in a place, build themselves into the landscape, and then open their doors in welcome. Scaffold-swathed Manhattan pushes constantly into a new phase, but here massive sandstone buildings crest the hills and they intend to stay until the Lord comes. At the apex of all this blessed reassurance stand the twin romanesque towers of the great Archabbey Church, and from these the bells summon.
All bells compel, but Meinrad’s speak with singular authority to the whole countryside. Every quarter hour they remind us where we are and what we should be about. But before Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer they ring for ten minutes, clarifying life’s priorities for any confused soul. This morning at 5:20 I took my coffee out to the Guest House patio and listened to them do their work. (I was respectful of their call but not answering it, since the Dominicans have their own prayer at a gentler, vacation mode, time.) It is a heavy August morning, and the darkness hangs on, promising autumn. The crickets know what is coming and they waste no time. From their minuscule throats they give the great bells a run for their money, or perhaps it’s a duet, inviting somnolent humanity to waken and hurry.
At the heart of the bells’ insistence lies invitation and summons. “We are telling you to rush,” they sing. Make haste through the dark to fulfill your vocation as God’s worshipper, and find what you need in His sustenance. They offer the same summons to monks walking to sing psalms and to outsiders stumbling to coffeemakers. “Learn from the crickets,” they sing, “Hurry, for the time is short: take advantage of summer’s light step, and hurry.” The litany from the towers hastens to reassure, “Hurry, but do not worry. You make speed to the One who knows you best and loves you most.”
From their high towers, the bells offer timely wisdom for our new parish. In the days since August 1, we have greeted newcomers at both of our churches, and I have been uplifted by the way Friars, Sisters, and Laity have welcomed them into our midst. Two tumultuous years in the Archdiocese have culminated in mergers and closures that have affected many people practically and spiritually. Some of those are now discerning a new church home.
To newcomers and long-timers alike, let me say that I hope this community will offer the welcome of the bells. Their sound reaches everyone in their vicinity, inviting, but not demanding a response. Since they ring each day, they speak to everyone’s spectrum of spiritual needs. The welcome of a parish should do likewise. It should first communicate safety, as the bells do when they sound out the time reliably all day long. But safety does not just insulate, it promotes.
The bells not only invite, they energize. After a long time of difficult church events our Parish welcome needs to summon people to take up their business with God. Some will need space to grieve a precious place or a beloved pastor. There will be some who carry anger with the Archdiocese and the Church. Others need to know they have a stable place to attend Mass and say their prayers. Still others will seek a welcome at the heart of parish involvement. At any one time, a community such as ours attracts involvement at different levels, and indeed, Catholic Christianity has always recognized this truth of human interaction with God.
So I hope a mark of this parish will be a welcome that encourages but does not intrude, so that in our midst the primary connection will always be between God and souls. When that happens, wonderful things cannot fail to follow.