Seventeenth Sunday of the Year – Pastor’s Reflection (July 24, 2016)
I write these lines from the Archabbey of St. Meinrad in Indiana. The tranquility and solidity of this place anoint tired souls with a singular balm, equal parts heavenly singing and abundant scrambled eggs and bacon. Last evening, I sat on the porch swing in a red roofed gazebo and read a history of Rome as the crickets sang and the sun set, nice and late. Who could ask for more?
An eponymous town flanks the Archabbey, and it has a parish church, also dedicated to Meinrad. On a walk, I happened by and read the Mass and Confession schedule posted outside, and then the distance of miles and culture fell away and I felt right at home. St. Meinrad Parish in St. Meinrad, Indiana had merged with St. Boniface Parish, in Fulda, Indiana, and there I was, reading the combined schedule of their services. Sound familiar? Here, in the German Catholic heartland two groups of clergy and laity had been summoned together. We do not know the details of their story, but we can imagine.
Up the hill, in the Archabbey Church, the monks process to the image of Our Lady of Einsiedeln (their mother house is the millennium-old Swiss Abbey of Maria Einsiedeln), and before her they sing a litany, asking for vocations to their monastic community. St. Meinrad runs a seminary, a retreat house, has charge of parishes, produces art work in several media, and has a casket making enterprise. In my time here I watched the place turn over twice with new groups coming to live the Gospel and escape the ravages of Pokemon Go. No lack of work here! Jesus promises that the harvest is great but that we must beg for laborers to bring it in.
Until harvest time arrives, the Church in the West continues to contract in its visible aspect. Fewer people are coming to Mass, scarcer resources support church activities, and society listens less readily to church pronouncements. As a matter of observable fact, we are losing ground.
So, we can place ourselves on the long list of groups in our nation and in the world who also perceive that they are losing ground. Sit back now and tally up that list, then ask yourself how do people respond to losing their position? The local and international news provides abundant answers to this query. My question to us as members of the Body of Christ is: shall we go and do likewise? What alternative do we have to letting resentment and suspicion shape our view of the world? Will we let violence be our reaction to the secularization of the world? Will we seek out a scape goat upon whose head we can unload our anxieties?
Christ is in fact the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the Alternative. By dying faithfully, he destroyed death. By losing all his ground with integrity, he opened the way to the new ground God was giving. We can testify to him by making shrinkage an occasion for real growth. The God of the Resurrection will not fail to bring forth new and abundant life in the Body of His Son.
The monastic life has always communicated this teaching of Christ in the most eloquent way by placing itself at the social and cultural frontier. The monks of St. Meinrad came to Indiana in 1854 to plant their life and to let it foster the Christian culture of the whole region. They made this journey because the Abbey of Einsiedeln seemed at risk of suppression in the wake of the revolutions of 1848. The Trappists at Gethsemane, not very far away from here, could tell a similar story. Here is the paradox. Monks and nuns labor to build places that endure. Land use, architecture, music and the other arts, and all kinds of industry anchor monastic communities into concrete locales like the Swiss Alps or the Indiana Knobs. Yet all these visible things serve a spiritual life woven of prayer, work, and communal living. It is the life of Christ present in and among real people in real time. Throughout the centuries persecution and war have caused monastic men and women to walk away from the work of generations, carrying with them a life that is not bound by centuries.
The life is what matters, and no despot or mob can take it away, even if they confiscate or destroy its splendid appurtenances.
People visit monasteries like this one not just to admire the art or groove on the chant, they come to hear what monks and nuns have always proclaimed to the wider world, generally without any sermon. Rather, the hospitality of the monastery evangelizes. It says, “This beautiful life you see here, visitor, is also in you. You are drawn to it as to a mirror. ” Monastic life is powerful for its residents and its visitors because it does not talk to them, it forms them, shaping every aspect of their lives.
The world, as it now is, places a demand on our Christianity, that is also an opportunity. Perhaps we can stand before God singing a litany of places: Orlando, St. Paul, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Nice, Istanbul, Yerevan. As we lift up to the Lord these moments where life has been squandered may we ask for the grace to be shaped by faith rather than by the rage bubbling up all around us. Each of us has a choice: to be formed by these images of violence, expressing fear and frustration, or to be formed by the Image of God within. Ultimately the news is showing us the face of despair: we can invite it in and make it ours, or we can become more Christian because Jesus is alive.