My dear confreres.
Two of our confreres of yesteryear—Fr. Emmanuel Clark, who died in 1997, and Fr. Simeon Van De Voord, who died in 2007—were good friends who loved poking fun at each other—and often amusing us in the process! Once, when Fr. Emmanuel was leaving some position that he had held, Fr. Simeon asked him: “Well, Emmanuel, how does it feel to be a ‘has-been’?” To which Fr. Emmanuel, who was never slow at the draw, retorted: “Well, Simeon, it’s a lot better than being a ‘never-was’!”
Dear confreres, if we elevate that dialog just a bit, we do find in it the interest that we normally have in hearing of a person’s experience in some position or in a work that he had been called upon to do. We ask, how has it been? Did you like it? Was it hard? What were your hopes and dreams, and what were you able to accomplish? What was its significance in your own life? And so on. Well, in just five days from now my resignation as the eleventh Abbot of Mount Angel will go into effect, and the truth then will be that I was (in the past tense) one of the abbots of Mount Angel! In this final Word from the Abbot, however, I don’t wish to speak to you in the spirit of a “has-been,” but rather as one who will—Deo volente, God willing—remain with you in a spirit of brotherhood, praying and working with you as the Lord wills, continuing to hold each of you in my heart as together we move into the future, holding to the peace and charity in which we have striven to live together as disciples of Jesus and sons of Benedict in these past six years. It seems to me that there is something about being a spiritual father—such as an abbot—that doesn’t simply end on a particular date; I think there is a certain moral and spiritual relationship or bond that endures, even with the passing of jurisdiction.
In the morning of February 10 you will see above the abbot’s empty choir stall an icon of the Good Shepherd, a striking and hopeful symbol and reminder of the kind of man we hope to have as our next abbot. Right at the beginning of chapter 2 of the Holy Rule on The Qualities of the Abbot, St. Benedict proposes the most fundamental quality of all: “He is believed to hold the place of Christ in the monastery” (RB 2:2), which states that faith-attitude that shapes the community’s regard for their abbot, and puts into perspective the abbot’s own self-identity, his primary agenda, and his way of being toward his community. The abbot must, says St. Benedict, live up to his title of “abbot” and be an “abba,” a spiritual father, to the community, leading his disciples by a twofold teaching, pointing out all that is good and holy by both word and example, but, as our holy father insists, “more by example than by words” (RB 2:11-12).
My purpose this evening is not to propose a check-list of qualifications for one to be chosen as abbot, whether to evaluate my own six years in office, or to discern the one whom the Lord wills to lead us into the future. St. Benedict’s vision of the abbot as a monastic community’s vicar of Christ whose primary charge is the care of souls, is a vision to be realized in the graced generativity of a spiritual father-son relationship between an abba and his community, and it is this vision that must drive the discernment in which we are presently engaged—and this in view of what we discern as our various other needs.
I’ve raised St. Benedict’s vision of the abbot simply to recall the nature of our own relationship over the past six years, and then with that vision in mind to say THREE WORDS to you in this my final Word from the Abbot—final, at least, as the ruling abbot, since I intend to continue my series of reflections on the Holy Rule, with perhaps some 15 more to write, bringing the total to around 75 Words from the—or should I say “an”—Abbot.
Anyway, the first of the three final words that I would like to say to you, now that my time as abbot draws to a close, is THANK YOU! You have given me your precious trust, and in you I have found and experienced so very much to be grateful for. In a word, you have been so good to me, so supportive in the countless ways in which I’ve needed your ongoing support. With me you have so generously, loyally and lovingly shared and extended your obedience, your friendship, your wisdom, your prayer, your helping hand. Indeed, you have so often inspired me by your wonderful example of charity and generosity, your hard work and spirit of service, your inspiring witness of personal prayer and monastic observance. Yes, in you I find so very much to be grateful for. I’ve never forgotten something that our dear Fr. Columban Manser, who died in 1981, told me one day when I was a novice back in 1957-58. Fr. Columban’s room (presently occupied by Br. Ansgar) was just kitty-corner from the Abbot’s apartment, and Fr. Columban told me that at times from his window he could hear Abbot Thomas Meier sobbing in his bedroom. My brothers, you have never brought me to tears—except at times by overwhelming me with your goodness! And so I want to say THANK YOU, thank you, from the bottom of my heart…
The second word that I want to say to you is PLEASE FORGIVE ME! I know that you haven’t expected me to be perfect, but in any ways that I was lacking in a shepherd’s loving care for you, such as in listening to you, in reaching out to you, in coming to know the desires and needs of your heart, I am truly sorry. There is about me a certain inwardness and need to think about things before acting, as is typical of strong introverts, and to the extent that I have failed at times to deal with the socalled “shadow side” of my introversion, I want to apologize for any resulting slowness in addressing your needs, such as in responding to personal requests, making needed corrections, or in expediting the bigger projects of the community. And so, for whatever my faults and failings, and for whatever I have failed to do, please forgive me…
Looking ahead now, the third word that I wish to say to you as I step down from the office of abbot, is this: THE PEACE OF CHRIST BE WITH YOU! These past six years we have drawn a certain inspiration from the prophet Micah’s beautiful messianic promise that “HE SHALL BE PEACE” (Micah 5:4). And that we should seek this peace we know to be the ardent desire of our holy father Benedict, whose exhortation we recall from the Prologue of the Holy Rule: “LET PEACE BE YOUR QUEST AND AIM” (RB Prol 17). Moreover, did not Jesus himself, in that holy Thursday night, a night sanctified by his self-giving in Body and Blood and in his promise of the Spirit, with the shadow of the cross already looming over him as his final outpouring of love… did not Jesus himself present all of this to us as a gift of peace? He said “PEACE I LEAVE WITH YOU; MY PEACE I GIVE TO YOU” (Jn 14:27). My brothers, it is when we understand Micah’s messianic promise as “CHRIST shall be peace,” and when we take Benedict’s injunction as “Let CHRIST be your quest and aim,” and when, furthermore, we appreciate Jesus’ own words as meaning “MYSELF I leave with you; MYSELF I give to you,” then we will know the deepest meaning of Peace—not only as a muchappreciated atmosphere or attitude, but as CHRIST HIMSELF! Yes, it is Jesus himself, when embraced with living faith and ardent love, who IS our Peace! It is Jesus, through his indwelling Spirit in those who are in right and loving relationship with him, who then radiates peacefulness through the Peace-ful disciples who, in this case, dwell on our holy mountain! And so, when I say “The peace of Christ be with you,” I am sharing with you my deepest hope that Mount Angel Abbey will always be a place of peace—and this for the very reason that we are a community of monks who are in love with Jesus and who hold the Person of Jesus at the very heart of our Christian and monastic vocations! And so let me say it to you again: THE PEACE OF CHRIST BE WITH YOU! Or perhaps even better: THE CHRIST OF PEACE be with you!