Thursday, February 28, 2013

Fun in February Snow

The snow of last week was a welcome for many people. As a matter of fact, some of my friends from the area of Norfolk, Ne.(with whom I communiate regularly) made comments like: "Send some of your snow our way". Actually, we did not get as much snow as many places south of us did, especially Kansas and Missouri. But what we did get, we welcomed and now will take whatever mositure we can get, as we need the moisture badly!!

Our students are particularly happy when they can get a snow day and some freedom from the routine of classes and school work.

Before I came to Mount Michael and was living at home in Albion, Ne. on the farm, there were times when we, too, got "snowed in". I have wonderful memories of long periods of time of "snow days"-- as many as a week at a time. Living in the rural area, where there were unpaved roads and snow removal equipment was not readily available to open roads, gave us more days off than for those who lived within the town of Albion.

In 1962, we had lots of snow. Admittedly doing chores -- especially milking cows, was particiularly more of a chore, but there were really fun times as well. Dad would move the snow from the yard with the tractor and loader. There were huge piles of snow. So this particularly year, my brothers and sister (Judy) decided to build a snowman on top of one of the piles of snow. We rolled the balls of snow up the pile and built the snowman on this summit. The snowman, himself, was over six feet tall, but with the extra height of the snow pile, the snowman was probably twenty feet tall. It could be seen every where. Below are some photos.

My memory of this Abominable Snowman was that his hand was extended longer than what appears here, but his hand must have been broken off some where along the way of construction. I also remember that it took forever for this pile of snow to melt in the spring.

Now it is my great nephews and nieces who play in the snow. Age seems to lessen one's desire to play in the snow any more. Below is a little video of the Hoppe side of the family (Hoppe side of the family is my sister Judy's family) having some fun in the snow. Out on Hoppe Hill there is a perfect hill that works well for snow play-- even for the little ones. They are having fun.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Three Strong Female Corn Pickers-- One of The Three Paired up with Another Strong Corn Picker--

My family is a large one! Hailing from the rural area of Nebraska, farming families were natually large-- more hands available to accomplish all the work that had to be done.

My Dad loved to pick corn. Dad loved to pick corn by hand--mind you. For him it was always a contest -- how quickly he could pick a wagon load. As a matter of fact, Dad participated in corn picking contests a good part of his life -- even up until he was in his 60's.

I also remember him talking about going out to Iowa, Carroll, Iowa that is. He helped his uncles pick corn when there was not much to pick in Boone County -- Nebraska, during the depression.

Below are a few photos of Dad at a corn picking contest. I have no idea what year these photos might have been taken. It is a shame that I can't talk to him about it now.

I do not remember any stories about whether or not my Dad won the contest, or that he got 2nd or 3rd place. I just know that he was good at picking corn. I was a witness of that.

However, Dad always had competition. Most of the time, he liked to have competition. And I am sure that while he was involved in the early contest of picking corn that he was unaware that one of his competitors would win his heart.
My family has always produced strong women -- on both sides -- my mother's as well as my father's.

But since I did a recent blog on my Mom and Dad, this photo below of my mother and her family picking corn has really struck me. Below is a photo of my Mom's family coming in from the fields with a wagon load of corn.

That is my mother atop the wagon load with her leg hanging over the side-- one of her sisters and their two little brothers -- Joe and Larry atop the wagon as well. Besides picking corn, they probably had to babysit their little brothers.Below are the famous three sisters-- they are most likely the ones who picked this load of corn. They look rather proud of their accomplishments. They likely have out done their brothers.

The famous three are: June, Sally,(my Mom) and Rita. Until just recently I did not realize that the three of them would be posing in the same order for a more formal photo.  It was for my Mom's wedding. They actually "clean up"pretty good for being women of corn fields!

                          June                             Mom (Sally)                       Rita

Three Strong Women and Good Corn Pickers                                 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Welcome Home, You Need Not Be Blue Any more!

Blue were the skies and blue were your eyes
just like the blue skirt you wore.
Come back, blue lady come back.
Don't be blue anymore.

Blue Skirt Waltz

Basic shyness often hinders expression of emotions--deep feelings. My Dad was a shy man! At times, I am convinced that he had difficulty outwardly expressing what he inwardly felt -- very deeply felt.

My Mom was not shy! Sometimes it was obvious that she "wore her heart on her sleeve", and she certainly could be outspoken, perhaps even brazen. Mom cried readily. When Mom was filled with emotion, whether that emotion was sad or happy, the mode of expression was often with tears.
And to me, it seems totally probable that these two opposites would and could be attracted to one another.

Over the past few years for Mount Michael Abbey's table reading at our evening meal, we have listened to several books that deal with WWII. The two books that really stand our for me would be: The Best Generation, by Tom Brokaw and Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand.               .

While I must admit that I have really enjoyed these books, hearing these true stories about individuals that were involved in WWII is emotional for me. The stories are very similar to the stories of my Mom & Dad. At times, I think there is a novel in me that is crying to be written. And the two main characters would be my Mom & Dad. However, suffice it for now that their story is just an ancedote on my blog.

For both Mom & Dad music, singing and dancing were important aspects of life. My Mom sang alot -- it was her way of lulling us children to sleep. She had a good voice. My Dad could sing as well. But remember, he was shy. He did not outwardly sing like my Mom did.

My Mom loved to dance! When she was a young girl she took tapping dancing lessons from one of her teachers. I am relatively sure that this teacher eventually became her sister-in-law-- Mildred Paulson, who became Mildred Borer-- Dennis Borer's wife. Dennis would be one of Mom's older brothers. Recently I came in possession of photos of Mom's family that I have never seen before. Below is a photo of my mother
either twirlling her dress or the wind had just caught it right to show the moment. I prefer to think of it as a little dance.
Some years ago when I was involved with doing musicals with Marian High School in Omaha, I came in contact with teachers from Marian who were teaching dance. I decided to ask about tapping dance and tap shoes. Sure enough, I was able to get some tap shoes. So that Christmas our family surprised my Mom with a pair of tap shoes. At the family Christmas gathering, I got her to put these shoes on, and she gave us a bit of tapping dance show. It was great to actually see this after she had talked it about it for so many years. The only problem with it was -- her breathing. Mom suffered from terrible asthma in her later years and the wind that was needed to really tap dance was not exactly available for her. But as the photos show, she did dance and she could make those shoes tap!

Dad played the accordion. I have no idea where he first had gotten an accordion, but I do know that he played for some wedding dances. I understand that he played for my Aunt Claire's wedding dance. Claire was one of my Mom's younger sisters.

One Christmas my Dad, too, was surprised with a new accordion-- a button accordion. My oldest sister, Sally, found one for him. It was not really easy for him to pick up playing again. He had always played by ear and not by notes-- I am sure he could not read notes, but he could play. He complained about this accordion being so different than the one he had played on years ago.

There are some pictures below of Dad playing the accordion.

Perhaps one of the favorite pieces of music that Dad liked to play would be a waltz. Although he liked to play polkas as well, I think that he preferred a waltz. I know he preferred to waltz in regard to dancing. So as I grew up, I will always remember the: The Blue Skirt Waltz.

Also recently I have come to discover some details about a blue dress-- perhaps not really a blue skirt, but a blue dress.

There is a famous photo of my Mom on her wedding day. The photo is of her and her two bridesmaids. They are my Mom's sisters--Rita and June. Rita is wearing a blue dress and June has a pink dress.

Although the color is a bit faded, it is clear that there is a blue dress here. Again this is one of Mom's wedding photos. She and Dad were married on January 3rd, 1945. Dad was home on a furlough and shortly after their wedding he was sent to the European front of the war. He was at the famous Battle of the Bulge and then after that he was sent to Japan after the bomb was dropped. Below is Mom & Dad on their wedding day -- January 3, 1945.

Of course, the war was over and there was not really danger in Japan like there was on the European front, but he was anxious to be back home with his newly married wife. Recently, I came across one of Dad's letters to his mother while he was in Japan. The letter was written in 1946-- January 1st. The letter is in very good shape and is very legible. He expresses his anxiousness to come home and there is a moving prayer that he reproduces for his mother. But it is obvious that he is also speaking to his wife, my mother, Sally. At one point in the letter he expresses how BLUE he is. But then he quickly recovers and says that he is making the best of it for he certainly cannot give up now.

I did not know this until recently, but that blue dress would come back into the picture of things. There were two weddings in my Mom's family that year -- 1945. Mom's wedding was in January and her sister's (Rita's) wedding was in the same year of 1945, but in December. And yes, some of the same dresses were worn, most likely because they could not afford others. This time my Mom was in the blue dress. My Mom was one of the bridesmaids for Rita's wedding and she wore blue.

Below is Rita and Jim Daly's wedding photo.

Since reading Dad's letter written on New Year's Day, 1946, I hardly think that he was home for Rita and Jim's wedding to see his wife dressed in blue. I am sure that there was a dance on that evening of Rita and Jim's wedding, but I am not even sure that The Blue Skirt Waltz was played and danced that night. But I do know that Mom loved to dance and Dad loved The Blue Skirt Waltz. I can't imagine that they are not dancing regularly in the blue heavens now!! And Dad you never will be blue again! Welcome home for you have Mom forever now!

You were the beautiful lady in blue...

I was in heaven just waltzing with you!

And we danced in a world of blue.

Second Sunday of Lent -- Transfiguration--Flannery O'Connor-- A Peacock

When one actually pays attention to the arrangement of Scripture Readings during the various Seasons of the Church Year, it is obvious that there was a plan in mind. I have come to understand that every year I can count on a gospel about the Transfiguration on the 2nd Sunday of Lent. And during the Season of Advent, I can count on a gospel about John the Baptist on the 2nd Sunday of Advent. And then if one is really observant about the Scripture Readings, he/she will find that often the first reading and the gospel on Sundays are very close to one another in theme.

This 2nd Sunday of Lent is special in lots of ways, at least it is for me. I cannot but think of Flannery O'Connor on this weekend. Although at first her writing was a challenge to me (high school days), I have come to understand that she and her writing are very profound.

One of Flannery O'Connor's short stories, The Displaced Person, comes to mind for me in regard to the Transfiguration. In this story a priest, Fr. Flynn, is responsible for placing a polish refugee, Mr. Guizac, with Mrs. McIntyre, a diary farm owner. The pole does so well on the farm that McIntryre calls Guizac her salvation, but she is not favorable towards him when the pole becomes interested in a black girl, a daugther of one of McIntrye's black servants. But one day when Fr. Flynn is there and expounding on spiritual things, one of the last peacocks on the farm displays his tail feathers in all his glory. Flynn doesn't miss his change to explain that this glory of the peacock is like the transfiguration.

Most of us monks have read Flannery O'Connor. And therefore there are times when a symbol or an image says so much more than words can say. Our Br. Jerome has a way of doing this all the time in our chapel. And so years ago, when banners were still in vogue, Br. Jerome expressed the beauty of the Transfiguration with a banner that he made. I must admit that this was most striking for me at the time when this banner was so new. Below are some photos of this banner.

This banner first appeared for the Resurrection and this had made me think about why the scripture scholars decided to place the gospel of the Transfiguration during Lent -- early Lent. Although I am sure there is a better explanation than the one I am going to suggest, I find it an awesome thing to already look ahead to the Resurrection. And that is pretty much my understanding of placing the Transfiguration gospel during early Lent. It is like saying: "Hang in there during this Lenten Season, for the Transfiguration is what you have to look forward to. It is an awesome thing." The 2nd Sunday is like a preview of what is to come and an incentive to keep one on the right track -- to not get weary from the journey. It is encouraging.

Below is the parallel banner that was used with the peacok. I do remember these two banners as being striking in a simple way -- lots of color.

Lastly, one would think that these banners came out of the 1960's -- not so -- they were done in the 1970's!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Snow Blankets Mount Michael-- Abbot Michael's Second Lenten Conference

Tuesday's (Febr.19th) first's reading at the Eucfharist will be forever cemented in my mind in a musical way. Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey put Isaiah 55: 10-11 to a beautiful musical setting. Snow and Rain Blanket the Earth. Isn't that an a wonderful image: the earth being gently blanketed-- blanket used as a verb.

Below are some images of this blanket of snow when I walked to the abbey after today's Eucharist-- the Feast of the Chair of Peter! Enjoy the beauty-- the clamness-- the quiet-- the peace!!

Blessings on your day!!!

The birds had to dig for food this morning!!

Below is a photo my sister, Judy Hoppe, sent me this morning. She lives in Albion, Ne. and is a RN at the Boone County Hospital. She works night shifts and the photo was probably taken early morning after work. The view is outside the Hoppe home overlooking the Albion Golf Course , the town and Ethanol Plant in the backgroound. Looks as if they have much more snow than we do!!

Below is Abbot Michael's Second Lenten Conference.

Let us return again to the parable of wedding feast. Allow me to read that parable once again.

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

22 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen."

In the parable, the king sends out three waves of servants desperately trying to get people to come to the wedding banquet. The first wave of servants is met with simple rejection. They refused to come. The reaction to Jesus' invitation is too often rejection. You do not believe in the one he has sent. You do not want to come to me to have life. Jesus asks that we rejoice over the same things over which he himself rejoices. After the king hears from his first wave of servants that the guests will not come, the king sends out a second set of servants to find some guests. There is no word of reproach by the king. Christ does not vent his frustration with an expression of fury. There is only this burning desire to have people come to celebrate his joy. . The king does not respond with condemnation. The king responds with more pleading. In the Greek church during the triduum, Christ is pictured as the suffering bridegroom. When the second wave servants is sent out, they are met with excuses. I have my business to tend to. I have my fields that I have to take care of. We used to sing that song in this chapel. “I cannot come to the banquet don’t bother me now. I have married a wife. I have bought me a cow. I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum, pray hold me excused I cannot come.” People seize on any excuse they can think of to avoid having to attend the wedding feast. Another group of those invited is even worse. They seized the servants, mistreated them and even killed them. To be invited by a king to a royal banquet had to rank as the greatest privilege in the ancient world. But the people in the parable would not come. Not only is there a rejection of love and joy out of disinterest. Not only is there an exaggerated immersion of each person in his own affairs. There is even such hostility to the invitation that the messengers are siezed and killed.

The parable of the wedding banquet comes in chapter 22 of the gospel of Matthew. In chapter 21 we have just had the account of Jesus entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The chief priests and the pharisees are plotting against Jesus and questioning his authority and authenticity. Jesus replies with the parable of the two sons, and the parable of the wicked servants in the vinyard. Both parables imply that those caretakers of the promise have failed in their responsibility. The scribes and pharisees realize that he is speaking about them and it only reinforces their resolve to do away with Jesus. There is a Greek word used in these parables and in the parable of the wedding banquet which is kratesei - which means to grab hold of, but also to exert power over.

The chief priests and scribes want to exert authority over Jesus. There is a clash between Jesus who is a well spring of life and joy and the Jewish leaders who want to contain him, who do not wish to have their order disrupted. They want to silence him so as to maintain the status quo. The text says Jesus replies to their hostility by telling them another parable. This manner of reply is a commentary on the sort of person Jesus is. Jesus never retaliates in kind. This is a living out of the beatitudes. Every new insult and rejection seems only to stimulate another reply from Jesus - an appeal to their instinct for happiness and joy. Jesus responds to the implicit threats of the scribes and the pharisees with the parable of the banquet, an image of the new kingdom of God.

It is almost painful to hear the portrait of human perversity represented by the invited guests who refuse to accept from God what they most desperately need and want. I cannot come to this celebration. I have my personal set of priorities. I do not have time to be bothered with your priorities. "...they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business..." What in effect we are saying to the king is that I will not come because I refuse to relinquish control of my destiny. I believe that I know better than anyone else what brings joy and satisfaction to my life. I refuse to consider other option. I cannot come to your banquet. I have work to do. I have a business to take care. I have a field to tend to. As if slaving at a job for an entire week and then collapsing into mind numbing oblivion over a weekend is any kind of representation of a joyful, satisfying life. Autonomy, achievement and control are truly the enemies of joy. There could not be a clearer refusal of joy by modern man. Your work should not define you. Your business should not control you. Your fields will remain long after you have gone. Really - you have no time to come to a banquet, a celebration of riches which is freely offered by the one who can give you happiness. Human arrogance could hardly be more painful. An exaggerated immersion of each in his own affairs led to a rejection of love and joy. Unfortunately, it likely safe to say that this self centered focus, the emphasis on individualism is one of the great blights of modern monasticism. I am more interested in what I am doing than in thinking about, considering or even enjoying the larger picture. In our Lenten reflections, we might think if we have been guilty of this kind of refusal of joy.

What Jesus offers this parable to us as a close image of the kingdom of God is the wedding feast. God fosters the deepest potential for creativity and joy. Absolutely no one who toils or works any harder to share his joy than the king in the parable. He works in overdrive to make sure everyone is invited, that no one feels left out, that there is no reason that everyone cannot come to partake of his joy. And it is not just an ordinary banquet. It is the wedding feast of the king's son. He offers and freely gives away what is most his own. I have slaughtered my calves, and my lambs so that the food will be magnificent. I have not withheld any of my riches so that the feast will be royal not only in name but in fact. He has personally and carefully overseen every stage of the preparation for the feast. With this parable Jesus is struggling mightily to present the least inadequate picture of what God has prepared for us. Jesus is striving to paint for us a portrait of God's everlasting love. A sad lack of imagination and yearning is one of the causes of our refusal of joy. We can't believe that this wonderful offer is truly for real and that it is offered to us for free, at absolutely no cost to us at all. Come eat and drink, why do you spend your money and your effort for that which does not satisfy. We don't trust our own yearning. Jesus already possesses the sublime glory of which he speaks. In his writing Pope Benedict XVI sees Jesus as making himself into the living Torah, he is the living embodiment of the new covenant God makes with man. Jesus speaks with authority because he is the living law. This law requires nothing more from us than a response. In this parable, Jesus is telling the story of his own hoped for banquet with human beings.

Men's order to God is disorder. For God order is the integration of many disparate parts which all somehow fit together and work together. Divine order is the communion of difference among many disparate organims for the benefit of the entire organim. For God order is diversity serving the common good. For human beings order effectively translates into no diversity. For human beings, order is mindless uniformity. For human beings order is lockdown. In the parable of the good Good Samaritan, a man has been attacked and has been hurt. People walk by because they are afraid that if they get involved, somehow harm will come to them also. Sometimes people won't respond to those in need because they are afraid of being wounded again. The temptation is to never trust again. It is as if we prefer to be a walking dead person rather than opening up to love. Jesus' desire is to give life abundantly and effectively and efficiently. It is interesting that God in his love nevertheless remains just. God does not merely ignore or overlook the evil human beings wreak. Those who seize and kill the servants are punished. But the just punishment of God is not for vengeance. God’s activity is always for the purpose of transformation. To take us away from ourselves into himself. The love of God is never merely simply tolerant nor unmindful of faults. The love of God is intended to bring us into his joy. Those invited to the banquet will be changed by God's love. But we have to respond in the first place if we wish to be transformed.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

An Example of Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

Some years ago in my stint at the position of freshman dean, I solicited Abbot Theodore’s artistic abilities in helping me write and place a Latin quote above the entrance to the freshman dorm. Mens Sana in Corpore Sano. It was placed there in the fall of 1991, when I was preparing the dorm for the coming school year.

I must admit that I knew many people in the future would ask about what those words meant and why they were placed there. I must also admit that I am not particularly fond of Latin, although I did fairly well in the six years of Latin classes I took here at Mount Michael—then St. John’s Seminary. The quote comes from a Roman poet—Juvenal. However, the quote and theme of the quote is used in John Knowles novels: A Separate Peace and the sequel Peace Breaks Out. A loose translation might go like this: A sound mind in a sound body – or a healthy mind and a healthy body. I have always found a bit of St. Benedict’s notion of balance in this quote as well.

Over the years of working and living at Mount Michael, I have observed many, many young boys grow up – literally—boys becoming men! It is, indeed, something to behold! Truly, Mount Michael students have all the advantage in the world to become fully developed human beings, developed in what one might think of as the whole person.

Although I cannot say that he was the sole inspiration for me to get this Latin quote in place above the entrance to freshman drom, Ted Mikuls is a likely candidate for the type of human being I had in mind in regard to: Mens Sans in Corpore Sano.

Hailing from Red Oak, Iowa (in those days of the early 80’s), Ted was/is the youngest boy of five boys and only one other sibling, a sister. I remember him as a stout, dark-haired, and perhaps a bit mouthy and ornery boy—clearly – all boy.

I am relatively sure it was his sophomore year when I was coming from work in the garden and I met Ted and a few of his friends walking on the road up to school. Ted decided to be astute and proceeded to expound on his knowledge of literary symbolism, especially in regard to literature of John Steinbeck. Although at that moment, I interpreted Ted’s astuteness as ostentatious, I was soon to realize how talented this young mind really was. Really, all this boy needed was some direction, discipline and guidance.

Ted could/did excel well in all fields of academia! Ted was one of Abbot Michael’s protégé’s, as a math and science student. Ted understood protégé, for it is French. Ted could draw. Ted had/has the eyes of an artist. Ted could/can see things others cannot. Ted could/can photograph as a true artist. Ted could/can write—oh my, the writing. I have realms and realms of paper, filled with Ted’s stories. Ted was an athlete. Although enduring Killer Kane’s coaching tactics may have been trying at times, Ted was part of the state championship basketball team in the spring of 1985. Ted was not afraid to ask theological questions. He still likes to do that! The only area of discipline that I could probably stump Ted in is music. However, I am sure that he has done his share of Karoke!! Enough said!

Of course, this young man was destined to earn admittance into a good college. I believe his first choice was Stanford. But for some reason Stanford passed him by. That was the good fortune of Santa Clara, not so far away and still in California. Ted did so well at Santa Clara and on his M-CATS, that he had medical schools fighting over him, offering “good deals” so that they could include such a mind among “their” ranks. Nebraska won out in this regard—even paying for all of his books for all of med-school.

Before Ted settled into the regime of med-school, he decided to donate a year of service to Mount Michal Benedictine High School. Ted worked and lived with us here at Mount Michael, teaching, deaning, coaching, disciplining and whatever else we would throw his way. I remember how comforting it was in those days, (early 90’s) to have someone so adept in so many areas to help out. I might add that Abbot Michael has repeatedly said that if he ever needed doctor, Ted would be one whom he would trust with his life!

Today Ted resides in Omaha. He teaches now at the Nebraska Med-Center. He is a major researcher and travels a lot. A few years ago, he mentored one of our alums thinking about the medical profession, Jeff Kucirek.

Ted married a beautiful woman from Friend, Nebraska. Michelle is her name. She hails from a farming family. They met in medical academia. Michelle is a physical therapist. So now Ted can even boast about being on a combine in the corn fields of Nebraska. He has kidded his father-in-law about planting all his land in sweet peas instead of corn and soy beans. That is what one of Ted’s favorite characters created by Steinbeck (Peter Randall) did in Steinbeck’s short story- The Harness.

Ted continues to dabble in photography and art. He has a mini- gallery in his home now.

We are hoping that some of Ted’s genes transferred to his son, Jared, who is a sophomore at Mount Michael this year.

Blessings to you always, Ted and family. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do for us

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Christ Temptations--Power---Psalm 90---Brian Britt, Alum of 1982

Today is wednesday of the first week of Lent and 3 days have past since we heard Sunday's gospel of the temptations of Jesus in the desert. Each year of Lent, we are presented with Jesus' bout with temptation and the devil on the First Sunday of Lent. This year the gospel happens to be from Luke.

Below is the paperback monthly missal that always features some artwork. This month's is Michael O'Brien's, The Tempations in the Desert. I must admit that this missal is a very wonderful thing for me because it always uses art as well as words to make Christ truly living. I would be lost without this little missal. It also helps with daily lectio divinia!!

Current Cover

For me this year the temptation of power some how speaks to me more than the others. I think the reason that this is so is because of what is now happening in Rome in regard to the resignation of Pope Benedict and all the talk about a new pope.

Our Church is, indeed, an institution that has some power and there are very powerful individuals within our Church. And of course, throughout the centuries of our history that are lots of examples of how that power was used and maybe even abused.

Power and control are temptations for lots of people, people who are not just in Church positions. Power is tempting! Power plays even happen among children. Our world and our society would do well to example the use and abuse of power.

Actually, the only real power is the Lord and we ought to think of ultimately where any power originates that is given to humans.

And if even Jesus was tempted and he was, then certainly, the candidates for the next pope might be tempted by power as well. But we pray that in the end the Holy Spirit will guide and direct-- that all will be open to inspiration and honesty. And I would add that I have a deep respect for Pope Benedict in making the move he did. I feel it is a huge step forward for our Church!

On the First Sunday of Lent, the responsorial psalm that is used is a very familiar one to monastic circles. It is one which most monastics pray every night at Night Prayer -- Compline. It has always been a psalm that reminds me of a prayer that most individuals prayed before going to bed--Angel Of God. The theme of course, is asking God for protection, particularly during the night.

Recently, I have been communicating with an alum, who contacted me this past summer in regard to when we pray psalm 90. This alum is Brian Britt of the class of 1982. Brian is a professor at Virginia Tech. Brian has written extensively in his area, but he latest article was on Psalm 90. The title is:PSALM RECITATION AND POST-SECULAR TIME:  AUGUSTINE, THE IPOD, AND PSALM 90. Here is the link to the article.

Now every time I pray psalm  90, I will remember Brian Britt!   Lastly, I do believe we all need protection from lots of things, but placing this psalm on the Frist Sunday of Lent is particularly appropriate in regard to the temptations of Jesus, himself.   Also congratulations to you, Brian! You were one of my students my years ago, but I believe that you have out past me. Please know that we remember you and are proud of you and your work. Continue on!!!


Brian Britt is a Professor in the Department of Religion and Culture at Virginia Tech. His teaching areas include Religion and Literature; Hebrew Bible/Old Testament; and Judaism, Christianity, Islam. His research relates ideas of authority and writing from the Hebrew Bible to contemporary culture. His third single-authored book, Biblical Curses and the Displacement of Tradition, appeared in 2011, and he is currently writing abook about current debates in religion and culture with the working title "Walter Benjamin Today: Tradition and Agency."

Professor Britt is an active member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, and the International Walter Benjamin Association

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Asher Lev's Crucifixion

On Ash Wednesday's blog I mentioned that I would be doing a blog on crucifixions.

Recently I re-read Chiam Potok's novel: MY NAME IS ASHER LEV. I suppose besides it being the Lenten Season when we normally would think of the crucifixion, I can't help but to think of crucifixion scenes after reading Potok's novel.

Potok's main character is a young Hasidic Jew who is very talented painter from childhood on-- Asher Lev. My, what a painter he is! Of course, this presents lots of problems for him and his family and the Jewish community to which he belongs. How could an Hasidic Jew be taken up with painting in the first place and furthermore crucifixion paintings? And of course, that would smack of the Jesus who is the Messiah for many.

 However, the point that I am so struck with about Asher Lev's crucifixion is the person who is being crucified. I will try to find an image of his crucifixion on the internet and place it in this blog. But Asher did two paintings of the crucifixion-- Crucifxion I and Crucifixion II. In both of the paintings it was his mother who is being crucified.

Throughout her life, Asher's mother suffered much for both her husband and her son. Both of them have demanded much from her in their separate careers. And she has given much to both of them so that they could succeed-- both have succeeded. She has emptied herself to say that least.
And the place where she is crucified is the window in the apartment where the family lives. Many hours Rivkeh would stand in front of that main apartment window, waiting for both her husband to return home from his travels or her son to return safely home from his wanderings as an artist. She suffered much.

And to truly express this suffering Asher Lev felt that a crucifixion expressed it best.

So the first painting -- Crucifixion I -- had only his mother in the painting -- hanging by the strings of the blind in the window-- tormented by pain and anguish. The second crucifixion -- Crucifixion II -- also Asher's mother is there being crucified, but also both her son and her husband on either side -- like they are part of the crucifixion or that they are cause of the crucifixion.

For this reading of the novel, this was a striking point for me-- being the cause of the crucifixion.

It occurred to me that this idea is worth thinking about. Although Jesus was crucified in an historical setting by the Romans, the real cause for Jesus' crucifixion is the evil of humanity and the world. And of course, we all share a part in that.

Part of Asher Lev's training as an artist was to study different crucifixions by famous artist-- especially Piccaso.

Perhaps it would be worthwhile for us to study different crucifixions as well during Lent. I will try to include a few different pieces of art work we have around the abbey here also in this regard. But finally, I would also suggest reading Potok's book-- MY NAME IS ASHER LEV-- would be a good thing to do during Lent as well. And finally, asking ourselves a question that this novel provoked would be good: Whom do we put on the cross or whom do we crucify??

Below is a photo of a cross in our monastic dinning room. It has many nails in it!

Below is a close up of the nails.

Below is a crucifix designed by a former monk of years ago-- copper wire corpse.

Below is close up of the corpse.

Below is a painting of Jesus just taken off of the cross, in his mother's arms. Niccolas Oramas did this painting-- as well as the painting of the Resigned Jesus which is on the Ash Wednesday blog.

The cross below is in the abbey stairway to the library-- simple.

Below is one of our processional crosses.

Below is a close up of the center of the cross.

Below is the ebony crucifix that is also pictured on Ash Wednesday's blog.

Below are a few jeweled crosses -- done by Abbot Theodore.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Life under the Snow

It is evening of the third day of Lent. We are being blessed with a soft blanket of snow. But under the ground, life is always there.

"As spring wakes the frozen earth
So Easter blooms from Lent's restraints,
Rejoice! For Christ will conquer death
And bring his grace to make us saints."

This tulip has bloomed for many years on the south side of the school building. If no one disturbs it, I am sure it will bloom again this spring.

Below is a photo of the same spot where the tulip is planted-the photo was taken today -- February 16, 2013.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Second Day of Lent -- February 14, 2013--Abbot Michael's Frist Lenten Conference

This morning we sang the hymn below at Morning Prayer!

O sun of justice, Christ our light,
Dispelling night through all the earth:
Grant day light to our inmost souls,
And grace the world with second birth.

Now comes the time acceptable:
Inspire our thoughts, our minds renew.
In your compassion call us back,
And bid our hearts return to you.

A contrite spirit grant us, Lord:
Redeem your church and set it free.
However heavy guilt has been,
Still greater will your blessings be.

The day is dawning, day of yours,
When all the earth again will flower,
And then may we rejoice as well,
Led onward by your grace and power.

Let all the stars in vast array
The Holy Trinity adore,
And we, by grace made new again,
New songs shall sing forevermore.


Text: Iam, Christe, sol, 6th cent, tr Hugh Tasch, OSB 1975 & 2001
Tune: SUN OF JUSTICE, LM; Gregory Polan, OSB 1975

As yesterday's hymn, this one too comes from two very talented monks of Conception Abbey. I hope to be doing more with the talent of these men/monks. Although yesterday's Lenten hymn is my favorite, there are many aspects of this hymn that really appeal to me as well. But I will dwell on just one aspect in this blog.

The appealing part for me is the positiveness and the upbeat attitude of this hymn. It seems so totally appropriate and correct theologically. Sometimes it seems that we can really drag ourselves down during the Lenten Season, dwelling on sin and death and suffering and pain and fasting and hunger and all of that stuff.

Yes, we need a contrite spirit, but as the hymn says so wonderfully: "However heavy guilt has been/Still greater will your blessing be/The day is dawning, day of yours/When all the earth again will flower.."

With Christ death, sin, evil, bad stuff --- IS never stronger than life and love and compassion! Christ is the sun (Son) of justice. And as the sun dawns and dispels darkness, so Christ -- the sun of justice brings light to our souls.

Wow! That is powerful stuff! But it IS what we believe. Isn't it wonderful?

So singing and believing these words this morning coupled with Abbot Michael Liebl's conference last evening after Evening Prayers, was a great juxtaposition of positiveness and an upbeat attitude for me.

I asked Abbot Michael if he could send me a copy of his first Lenten Conference so that I could include it in this blog and complete my experience of the beginning of Lent with many others. Abbot Michael agreed and it follows below. He just asked that I mention that his words are his "take" on what Br. Simeon Levia-Merikakis, a Cistercian monk of St. Joseph Abbey in Spencer, Mass., presented at the abbots workshop in early February.

For me it was great positiveness and an upbeat attitude. Enjoy!

Perhaps one more little anecdote-- one of our alums is a monk of St. Joseph's Abbey-- Br. Tom Langenfeld. He is the treasurer there. Tom is a graduate of the class of 1980. It is a good feeling to know that we have alums as religious, who are likely remembering us in prayer and perhaps might admit that a vocational seed was planted in them while being at Mount Michael as a student.

I would like to base my Lenten conferences on the talks which were given at the abbots workshop at Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside. The talks were given by Br Simeon Leiva-Merikakis, a Cistercian monk of St Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. As his last name probably hints, Br Simeon has an interesting background. He was born in Cuba of a father with Greek heritage. His mother was American. He was 12 years old at the time of Castro's revolution. Because his mother was American, his family was able to leave Cuba for the United States. He grew up in Endicott, New York. Eventually he married and had three children. He also has six grand children. He became a professor at the University of San Francisco. He taught there in a Catholic great books program. That is he specialized in Catholic literature which touched on central themes philosophers and theologians have undertaken in every age - what is the meaning of our existence. How do we make sense of our own personal experience in the world? What role if any does God play in this world?

Though he did not give many details about his personal life, Br Simeon reported that twelve years ago, his marriage ended. He had been married for 30 years. The end of that relationship plunged him into despair. He suffered from what he called a kind of anxious death. He found that he could not be near high windows. He lost all confidence in the direction of his life. He fell into depression, was treated by doctors and psychiatrists including a regimen of psychotropic drugs. Up till the end of his marriage, he had really never had a need for God. He was living in a state of de facto conceit. When things began to fall apart if his life, for the first time he tasted real despair. One day he said I realized in horror that I had never spontaneously said to God, I love you. I had never felt that love consciously. I was too enamored with my own competence and my academic and social successes. I was the creator of my own life - or so I thought. Only when he realized that he was unable to save himself, only at that point did he being to understand what real faith might be. He said all this as one speaking from an experience of having gone to a very dark place at one point in my life. Natural despair is start of supernatural hope. Not necessary for everyone to have to go through that. Perhaps not everyone needs to be broken down to move ahead. But for him it was the starting point of a new life.

About 10 years ago, he came to the monastery at Spencer. There he found a direction and a vocation which seemed to restore both direction and meaning to his life. At the age of 66, he is due to be ordained a priest in April of this year and has asked for prayers as he embarks upon this new phase of his life. Because of his background in teaching and thinking about Catholic great books, Br Simeon is much devoted to contemplative consideration of the Scripture and other Catholic resources. He wrote a book entitled Are You Afraid of the Thief? A Cordial Approach to Lectio Divina. In the book he introduces and exemplifies the practice of lectio divina through a meditation on Mark 3:13-15, the passage in Mark's Gospel that describes the formal calling of the Twelve. The essay begins and ends with a reflection on St. Therese of Lisieux, who shows us that the content and goal of a contemplative reading of the Scriptures is an encounter with the living Christ Jesus who communicates the mysteries of his life and gradually transforms us into his very image.

The title of the talks which Br Simeon gave to the abbots was The Refusal of Joy. He began his talks with this simple question which we all heard when we first took a catechism class. Why were human beings created by God? We were created for joy - that is we were created for God. We were created for the act of loving within the knowledge of being also loved. There is a difference between natural enthusiasm and supernatural joy and it is essential not to confuse the two. Supernatural joy can encompass enthusiastic fun, but the two are not synonymous. Archbishop Rowan Williams has made a point of saying that Christ's humanity is a manifestation of the relationship between the Father and the Son. Created by God in his likeness, by our nature we share in Christ's humanity. Speaking about God and speaking to God presupposes that God is speaking to us and that we are paying attention. In that context, contemplation is selfless attention to the other. It is a selfless attention to God that brings life and not death. To be contemplative like Christ is to be in communion with God. To be contemplative like Christ is to reduce our own fantasies to silence. To be in communication with God through Christ is both to experience love and to experience joy. We may not realize it, but we have a vocation to joy. Sometimes we feel guilty about being happy or we feel guilty about being loved. We have been brainwashed into believing suffering is identification with God. Unfortunately in our busy world, contemplation has been edged out of our lives and so it is easy to forget that we are called to love and to joy. Christianity is a proclamation of joy - that Christ has saved us all. Only joy allowed Christianity to conquer the world. Evangelization is simply an overflow of the joyous proclamation that Christ has saved us. The harshest thing we could say about ourselves is to repeat the accusation that the philosopher Freidrich Nietsche once made - Christians are a joyless lot. It should not be that way.

So there arises a question. Why should there be a problem with Christian joy? Why does there seem to be a refusal of Christian joy among monastics? Perhaps it is because we are too close to the source of joy and so we overlook it. Perhaps we are blind to what we experience in our very midst. Perhaps we mistake joy for a simple emotion. Joy does not mean a self constructed, self generated euphoria. Joy is the by-product of communication with God that comes from God. We were created for joy - that is for God, the act of loving within the knowledge of being also loved. The trinity is substantial joy.

So to offer some insights into the refusal of joy, Br Simeon took as his starting point the Parable of the Wedding Feast as given in the gospel of Matthew. As a refresher, let me read for you the account of that parable which St Matthew gives.

Matthew 22:1-14

The Parable of the Wedding Banquet

22 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.

4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’

5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.

8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.

13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen."

The refusal of those who are invited to come to the wedding feast is at the heart of this parable. Christ in the person of the king is inviting his guests to come to share his joy. If we were to consider a communal event that most clearly speaks to both the values and to the accomplishments of any human culture, it would be hard to think of a better choice than a wedding feast. The king has a son who is about to be married. Think of the pride of any father who has a child that is about to be married, much less a king. The king wants people to come to celebrate his joy - to make it their own joy. The king is offering the very best that he has from his kingdom - the best food and the best drink to nourish the body. The king promises beauty and music and dance to nourish the soul. All those pieces of our existence which enhance our lives, which make us happy to be alive are offered at the wedding feast. The wedding feast promises continuity. Because his son is being married, the kingdom will endure. There will be heirs. There will be more joy and feasting in a future yet to come. There is absolutely no cost to those who have been invited. You don't have to pay anything to come to the wedding feast. Nothing even remotely uncomfortable or unpleasant is going to happen. It is a purely a celebration of life, of love and of joy. Jesus likewise sends his servants to call those summoned to the wedding feast. In the book of Genesis, God went into the garden looking for Adam. Adam was not looking for God. God was looking for him just to enjoy Adam's company in the cool of the evening. But Adam allowed his own guilt to separate him from God and made him hide. Jesus says to us, Come eat and drink, why do you spend your money and effort for that which does not satisfy. The covenant which God offers in the person of Jesus Christ does not need to be purchased. You do not have to earn God's goodness. Come to me and I will give your rest. But listen to the words of the parable. “He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.” Consider the sadness in that statement. There is an invitation from God to come to enjoy life. Unfortunately God is turned down by the ones he most wants to pamper. The reaction to Jesus invitation is too often rejection. You do not believe in the one he has sent me. You do not want to come to me to have life. You do not want to come and share my joy. What we can consider brothers as we begin this season of Lent is whether or not we are stubbornly turning aside from God’s invitation and refusing to join in his joy – a banquet freely offered at absolutely no cost to us. Yet we still choose not to come. It is something we can consider during our Lenten journey. I will continue to follow Br Simeon’s thoughts in the next conference

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday--February 13, 2013

Although I will be here at Mount Michael for 50 years this coming fall--September, I have not always been here at Mount Michael for Ash Wednesday. I have a memory of Ash Wednesday in Mexico some years ago. Nonetheless, I have always appreciated Ash Wednesday and beginning Lent at Mount Michael.

Today is Ash Wednesday. Ashes were distributed at the Eucharist this morning. It was an all community celebration of the beginning of Lent.

This morning we sang the hymn below at Morning Prayer!

O God of faith, by whom we live,
Unfailing is the hope you give.
Of your forgiveness let us sing,
And hearts of penance forward bring.

Arise beneath the morning skies,
O Lamb prepared for sacrifice,
We bear the cross along the way
That leads to life from day to day.

May your redemption set us free
To follow you to Calvary.
So let us conquer death and sin
That you, O Lord, may dewell within.

To triune God we sing our praise
Throughout these holy forty days,
Awaiting Christ our risen king,
And final, every lasting spring.


Text: Dei fide 8th cent,para Hugh Tasch, OSB 1975
Tune: God of Faith, LM; Gregory Polan, OSB, Mode VIII

This is one of my favorite Morning Lenten Hymns. Both of the monks mentioned below the hymn are from Conception Abbey.

Our Bro. Jerome has created the environment in our chapel for many years. I must admit that I always appreciate what he does. He is an artist in lots of ways and uses colors well.

The cactus is a nice touch of the desert and the bitter sweet always seems to fit into the color scheme of things.

The painting below was done by Nicolas Oramas. He lived with us for nearly a year-- a monk at that time from Cuernavaca, Mexico. We are indebted to him for many wonderful paintings that he did for us while he was here. Note the cross in Jesus's chest. I remember when Nicolas painted this one. He told me that he wanted to convey the idea that Jesus was totally resigned to die in this painting.

The photo below is in the back of the chapel near the holy water. Again Br. Jerome uses bitter sweet and a crucifix that has a black corpse. This is one that was likely given to us by the monks of Schuyler, Nebraska. They have been gifted with lots and lots of ebony from their missions in Africa. I am sure that this corpse is hand carved.

In the grille work by the Blessed Sacrament Chapel -- still some more bitter sweet and an Icon of the crucifixion. I hope to be doing another blog on a literary character who works with crucifixions as well.

My your Lent be a fruitful season and bring you to new life in spring and the resurrection.

A Blessed Lent from Mount Michael Abbey and School.

There are more photos of our Lenten Eucharist and Distribution of Ashes on the News button of the abbey and school websites.