Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Memories of My Holy Week at Mount Michael -- Tomas Butvilas

Numerous times in the past and still at the given moment I do remember quite clearly those spiritually deep days spent at MM during the Holy Week. Today is a Great and Holy Monday – the beginning of the last week of Lent – the commemoration of the death and resurrection of our Lord the Savior. Thus this week is rather appropriate for doing some retreat and for remembering things that were significant in our lives and perhaps sometimes even crucial as they could’ve change the directions of our paths. Few times I’ve mentioned to Fr. John that I do have a clear memory on some ceremonial events at MM’s Liturgical service during the Holy Week, especially songs and being my feet washed by Abbot Theodore. Was really an incredible experience. Besides, using this opportunity, I want to greet all Mount Michael Community Members along with the Abbot Michael in front with upcoming Easter joy and Resurrection in all meanings. May this Season happiness do not stop thru the whole year!

Well, as we already began our conversations with Fr. John on various things and sort to speak – miracles of our daily life – we do continue this tradition and here the questions come:

In one of your responses of the last conversation, you mentioned that American Benedictines are quite different than European Benedictines. Can you be more specific about what you mean?

When I did express that phrase I had in mind different traditions that every Benedictine house have, although American Benedictines as well as other religious branches, i.e. Franciscans, Jesuits etc. (by the way, I’m not an expert in that) quite differ from those that are situated here in Europe. This is only my own experience and opinion. These differences can be identified by many characteristics like monks running a boarding school, doing some scientific surveys, belonging to some kind leisure associations etc. Generally speaking – religious people, as I got that picture when I was in the States, are more balancing between their devotion to what they are dedicated to and also their work outside the monasteries. Thus the Benedictine motto “Ora et Labora!” could be expanded a bit and have such ending as “Ora, Labora et Lege!”, i.e. pray, work, and study. This practice is cultivated here in Europe as well, but, as I assume, in much withdrawn way – inside the monastery’s walls.

You did mention, in a specific way, that you were also attracted to the Benedictine house in your country, the French-rooted priory. But then you chose to send time with us here at MM. Why did you choose to spend time at MM and not at the priory there in Lithuania?

There could be few aspects of answering this question. On the one hand European Benedictines have deep historical traditions (e.g. monasteries they live in were built back in 8th or 10th centuries or so) and symbols of that are still alive (Gothic churches, Roman basilicas etc.). This kind of thing is quite attractive to me personally as I used to study history and my favorite period was middle ages. We all know the first Benedictines influence in Charlemagne period and others as well. On the other hand I didn’t choose to spend some time for discernment at French-rooted priory here in Lithuania as the living style (a strict regula) there would’ve been for me unbearable. As Fr. John already noticed, I’m more outgoing person, thus there is a great tradition that Benedictines have – a bit different rules of each house throughout the world that help individuals to pick the right one, which suits both personality and spiritual needs.

Many religious communities are experiencing a lack of vocations these days. As a young person and one who has at least thought about religious life, in your opinion, what are some of the reasons why young people are not choosing this way of life? Do you think the reasons are different in Europe from those in America?

As well known sociologists and anthropologists J. Fiske, De Certeau, R. LeFevre et al. would state that the main obstacles in this day and age for individuals freedom to choose are: i) commercialized economy, ii) labor market and iii) a pop culture. All of this leads us in most cases into the moral virtues devaluation, nihilism, and in some ways – anarchy in owns lives. Many people, because of those very reasons just mentioned above, lose the interest in life and seek joy mainly thru media, commercialism, and exploitation the others. Thus the lack of real vocations into religious life could be affected by those modern world’s characteristics.

You were with us here at MM during Holy Week one year. On occasion you speak of memories that you still have of MM during that week. What are some of those memories and why do you suppose they are still alive in you?

As I’ve already mentioned above, some of the memories are related to music of the Liturgy at MM, and some of them – to events within the Holy Week’s Liturgy, i.e. washing feet etc. These things stay alive because of the very simple reason – the simplicity of MM’s monks and their both truthfulness and being openhearted in their vocation. Every word that has been said during the masses (homilies etc.) was deeply tested in a real life. This could be the next reason – the ability to combine spiritual insights with ones that have been experienced outside the monastery. People want to experience empathy – the feeling when I know that the person who’s talking to me or listens to me knows exactly my mind flow and emotional condition. That was very attractive for me personally and I do believe – for the rest visitors as well.

In the past several years, numerous men have told me about many memories that are still very real of the days when they were here at MM. And even several of them tell me about dreams that have years after being here. What do you make of that?

I suppose, I already answered to this one while answering to the previous one. People like to know that they are important to those who they visit or by whom they are visited. This is the most important rule to make a communication effective. Thus the Benedictines’ (especially the MM’s community) openhearted welcoming is touching and overwhelming. No wondering that people even after ten or twenty yrs. may still long for this homey feeling and mature understanding.

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