Monday, November 9, 2009

The Celebration Continues

I'm late this week because of all of the events that have been part of the past eight days. Yesterday we had our noon meal early and then got into cars as fast as we could and went to New York City to the Church of St Luke in the Fields, for the second of our celebrations of our 125th anniversary. St Luke's is not too many blocks from the neighborhood in which the Order of the Holy Cross was founded. The parish in which we worked in the 1880's was called Holy Cross Church, and it was from that Church that we took our name.

Their particular ministry was to German immigrants who were at the bottom of the social scale at the time, and for whose benefit Fr Huntington, our founder, began the exercise of the social ministry for which he became so famous in later years. Holy Cross Church has been gone for a long, long time, but we have a long history of connection with St Luke's, and presently the parish sends a large number of groups to our Guesthouse each year and the parish clergy are frequently here for their own retreats, so it was really right for our celebration of 125 years since the Order's founding.

The West Park community was joined by Br David Hoopes and Br Carl Sword who are both resident and ministering in the City, so there was a nice group of us to sing Vespers of our Founder, which has as its antiphons quotations from the Rule Fr Huntington wrote for us. The Office climaxes with the antiphon for the Magnificat which is comprised of our Founder's last words at the time of his death in the 1930's: "Ask them to forgive me; tell them I forgive them; I want them to have joy; I will always intercede." It was a wonderful touch that these words were reported to us at the time by the Order's dear friend Fr Schleuter who was then the Rector of St Luke's Parish.

It was a perfect time for Vespers. It was daylight when we started, and as the Office proceeded the outside light got darker and darker and more of the light came from twinkling lights on the chandeliers which light the inside of the Church. The acoustics of St Luke's are good, but very different from the Monastery Church, but we rose to the occasion and chanted well. It was a very warm afternoon for November and the doors of the Church were open and an interesting number of people came from the street as the service went on, to look through the back door or to come in for a few minutes. It was not all that different from the occasion in 1884 which we were commemorating when our Founder made his vows and became the first member of the first American men's religious order in the Episcopal Church.

An address was given by Dr Esther de Waal, the renowned author, who is an old friend of Holy Cross and a Companion of our Order. She put our celebration in the context of famous Benedictines of the past, such as Aelred and Dunstan, and talked of Benedict himself and his longing for God. It was unfortunate that, from our seats in the sanctuary of the Church, the reverberation of the sound system off the walls kept us from understanding large parts of the talk. But her obvious involvement with her material, and her echoing of the longing for the divine that characterizes the monastic vocation, were so clear that I found myself carried into that longing and into the love that those who seek God in prayer always hope to find.

A nice reception finished the afternoon off very well, and also provided some astonishment to the caterer who said: "You people actually talk to each other!" He does a lot of New York events, and apparently seeing those who attended actually enjoying themselves and communicating with each other was something of a curiosity in his experience. After that several of us had a relaxed dinner with our brother Carl in the City, and then made our way home, arriving not far before midnight.

And I haven't yet mentioned the other event of our week of celebration and that was the Profession of Life Vows by our brother Bernard Delcourt which took place on Wednesday. It was a wonderful, wonderful occasion which was more than anything an explosion of joy. Our Monastery Church was packed for the event, and Bernard's brother and his family had come from Belgium for the service.

There are a good many moving moments in a profession liturgy, but this time I think that the two things that most people have mentioned were the chanting of the hymn "Come, Holy Spirit" with the congregation kneeling and Br Bernard lying prostrate on the sanctuary floor, and the chant which Bernard and the Community exchanged with each other, repeating three times: "Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and let me live; and do not disappoint me in my hope."

Nor should I omit to mention the moment when Bernard knelt to make his profession, promising Stability, Fidelity to Monastic Life and Obedience for the rest of his life, and then signed the profession, which he had written out in his own hand, and rose to put it on the altar.

And then, of course, this being Holy Cross, we all went to the refectory for one of our chef Edward's magnificent spreads, which included an enormous Belgian Blue Cheese - which turns our to be both more mellow and more complex that the French blues that we are used to. (Bernard said afterward that he didn't know that there was a Belgian blue cheese - though he knows the town where it is made).

That, together with a 3 day long meeting of the Order's Council, of which I am currently a member, filled out a memorable and exhausting week. The house was very quiet today. We are all hoping for a gradual return to normal. Meanwhile we are savoring all that we have celebrated in the past 8 days.

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