Sunday, March 27, 2011

Where Has Everyone Gone?

Monastic customs and our life-style are a mystery to a lot of people. We get asked some very predictable questions. For instance, at one Sunday dinner some time ago the woman sitting next to me turned to me and said: "Tell me, do They ever let you go into town?"

This kind of inquiry always leaves me a bit at sea as to where to begin. Usually I look for some way to explore the considerable amount of unexpressed agenda that lies behind the question. In this case, I decided to address the nature of the mysterious "Them" who seem to lurk behind the scene and issue or enforce mysterious decrees about our life. "Who are 'They'? I asked."

Not too surprisingly we didn't get too far, but far enough to know that the existence of "Them" was not to be questioned, but their exact identify was a bit fuzzy. The questioner also got to know that as far as I knew "They" didn't live here - only Us. And, you may be relieved to know, I also revealed that yes, we did go into town from time to time.

Ideas about monasteries and the people who live in them can indeed be very curious, and sometimes just plain outrageous, and all of us encounter this now and then because of the amount of contact we have with the Guests who come here. Our freedom to come and go is one of the most frequent issues raised.

I'll just say that, for those of you who don't know Holy Cross, being restricted to our 25 acres plot of ground is not part of the deal here. Of course you have to want to be part of this community, and that includes being here for the offices and meals and for your work, but going out is part of the deal, too.

In fact, it's been a big part of the Holy Cross identity, at least historically. Holy Cross was known for many and many a year for giving retreats and parish missions all over the United States and in Canada as well. It was one of the things that was most characteristic of Holy Cross monks - we furnished programs for parishes. There is even an old tale of the years when seminarians from General Seminary were hired to perform the Holy Week liturgies at the Monastery because so many of the brothers were on the road preaching during Holy Week.

Times have changed that part of our life. The yearning for a deeper living of our monastic vocation has meant a greater desire of the community to be at home for our life of prayer. In addition, society has changed, and so has the Church, and the demand for parish retreats and missions is much less than it once was. Some requests do still come, but nowhere as many as used to, and with the Guesthouse operating at its present level, that's not a bad thing for us. There is plenty to do at home.

But this week rather looked like Holy Cross in the old days. The guests wanted to know where everyone was. That's what we who were still at home wanted to know, too.

Br Robert, the Order's Superior, was in Toronto, making his annual visitation to the Priory there. Br Adam was in Manhattan, conducting a Quiet Day at the Church of the Transfiguration (also known as "The Little Church Around the Corner") and he also preached there twice this morning. On Wednesday he will be giving a program on Lectio for the congregation at St Ignatius of Antioch Church in Manhattan. Then he goes to Richmond, Virginia to lead a Benedictine Experience program for the Friends of St Benedict. Br Scott was leading a Quiet Day at the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. Br Bernard was gone for most of each day as he led a Guesthouse Retreat that had been scheduled to work on the building of a house for Habitat For Humanity, and ended up to be work on a City Farm in Kingston.

Holy Cross volunteers working at Kingston's South Pine Street City Farm - March 23, 2010
From left to right, Leone, Br. Bernard, Lori (Ken is behind the camera).
Thanks to Ken and Leone for the pictures of the day.

Br Charles is at Emory House, the monastery of The Society of St John the Evangelist north of Boston, making the retreat that precedes the occasion of his First Vows, which will be in a couple of weeks. And Mark, our Postulant, is on the 10-day leave that marks the end of his Postulancy, and he will then also be doing a short retreat before he receives the Habit of our community and officially becomes a novice monk.

That's half the community! And when you add to that the various occasions of meetings in the local area, necessary shopping, doctor's appointments and other things that often come along, we have sometimes been struggling to keep the Sung Office going. On one occasion this week, there were only 4 of us in Choir for the noon office. I judiciously rearranged the seating. All you really need is one strong voice on each side of choir and it can be managed, and the two brothers who remained are good singers, even if they're not (yet) leaders. And it did fine. It may not have been exquisite, but it was perfectly acceptable. We even got through all of the elaborate Offices for the Feast of the Annunciation quite beautifully, I thought.

It also helps us to long for the latter days of Lent, when the whole community will be at home again, and the choir will be full.

This life, as is true of all kinds of life, has its ebbs and flows. We pray the Office with a full choir and with a nearly empty one. Sometimes the Church is packed full of people, and sometimes it's just us (and the Holy Spirit!) Sometimes there are lots of people to do the dishes and sometimes not. As much as the rhythm of prayer in the Church and in our Cells, the rhythm of brothers arriving and leaving is part of this life. .

St Benedict bids us pray at the end of each day for the brothers who are away, and from that we learn that this rhythm has been part of the Benedictine life from the very beginning in the Sixth Century. And we still end the Office of Compline each day with the Officiant saying: "May the Divine help remain with us always." To which the Choir responds: "And with those who are absent from us." And then we file out of choir and into the Great Silence, carrying with us in our hearts our brothers who are away.

One community, wherever we are. One Office, however it may sound. All of it wrapped up in God's presence and offered for God's glory.

No comments: