Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Back to the Basics and the True Spirit

These last few months of 2012, we in the Catholic world, have been reminded of what happened fifty years ago—the opening of Vatican Council II. In fact, our table reading presently is: The Spirituality of Vatican II by Fr. Anthony Ciorra.

I was in the eighth grade then – 1962. The very next year I would come to Mount Michael Benedictine which was then St. John’s Seminary. I must admit that it was a very exciting time of my life and many, many things were opened for me, which until then were rather closed. Pope John XXII really became a hero for me at that time. He became know as “good Pope John”. My paternal grandmother often reminded me that I should pay attention to this pope and even pray to him for help in my seminary education, especially since he chose the name: John!

I also have to admit that fifty years later, the Vatican documents are still exciting because so much seems possible. And I would have to admit that listening to Fr. Anthony Ciorra’s conferences on Vatican II is really wonderful.

I have already gone back to some of the documents that were written at that time. I still find them refreshing, filled with hope and encouragement.

There is one aspect of the document on religious life (Perfectae Caritatis—Decree On Renewal of Religious Life) that will always stay with me -- the plea for religious orders to stress the spirit of their founders. For us Benedictines that would mean going back to The Rule of Benedict and the life of Benedict and trying to glean the essentials of the way of life prescribed in those documents. Then adapting the essentials – the charism of monastic life and living it in present times. We used the word charism a lot in those days.

Perhaps one could say that the charism of Benedictines has much to do with St. Benedict’s motto – Work and Pray. St. Benedict set up a structured schedule for monastics for prayer and work. We certainly follow that way of life here at Mount Michael Abbey. Of course, there is down time as well and time for relaxing and resting!

For me, work involves the land—particularly, the three acres of Mount Michael’s garden.

To be a true Benedictine, one needs to be connected to a particular place. In a sense, a Benedictine needs to be grounded – rooted. We are one of the few religious orders that take the vow of stability. We promise to stay in one place. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but we do take the vow of stability.

I have now been here at Mount Michael – in this place – for nearly fifty years. In the fall of 1963, it will be fifty years!!

In many ways, I do feel tied to the land here. I have actually worked the land here – at least part of it most of my life. In many ways, I do feel grounded – maybe even rooted.

However, I also have Franciscan roots. When I first came to Mount Michael, I had no intention of being a Benedictine monk. I wanted to be a Franciscan. I had a great uncle who was a very impressive Franciscan. (Find a fuller version of this story in an earlier bog—A Benedictine with Franciscans Roots).

I would have to say that I feel both spiritualities – charisms—Benedictine and Franciscan – are compatible. Both have much in common and both deal with the land and simply with creation. Albeit, there are no films (of which I am aware) about Benedictines as explictly and romantically involved with creation and God’s creatures as the story of Francis and Clare presented in Zeffirelli’s–Brother Sun, Sister Moon. Nonetheless, even with a quick perusal of the Rule of Benedict, one can find many references to the land, the garden, providing food for the community and generally the care of creation. The longest chapter in The Rule of Benedict is chapter 7 – Humility. If one really understands humility, he/she will know that humility involves the word humus—soil – land. I would say that St. Benedict understood much about the land and being tied to it!

So besides spending time with some of the documents of Vatican II, I intend on planning, planting and working the garden in 2013—this Year of Faith—in honor of St. Benedict and St. Francis and also their female counter parts – St. Scholastica and St. Clare.

It seems appropriate to dedicate the flower areas of the garden to the female saints and the vegetable areas to the male saints. Since St. Francis had a way with animals, perhaps he will deal with the deer and raccoons, creatures that really love the produce of the garden. And since St. Scholastica (story in the Dialogues of St. Gregory) was influential in her intercession with God in regard to an abundant rainfall, perhaps we might, through her intercession, have bountiful rains this next growing season