#59 – The Peace of Christ be With You

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’!”

Abbot Gregory at his stall in choir

The 11th abbot of Mount Angel Abbey, Rt. Rev. Gregory Duerr, OSB, at his stall in choir.

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.

Icon of the Good Shepherd

Icon of the Good Shepherd from Abbot Gregory’s Abbatial Blessing Card with the motto “He Shall Be Peace” from Micah 5:4

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!


Homily #583 – I Love You So Much, Jesus Christ!

Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Thomas Thiên Dang, O.S.B.

Mount Angel Abbey

October 14, 2015

My dear friends in Christ.

Several days before Fr. Thiên’s passing, he said that when the time came we shouldn’t have a funeral Mass for him but rather a Mass of Thanksgiving! Furthermore he recommended that at that Mass we should sing the Te Deum, that great hymn of praise and thanksgiving which concludes the Office of Vigils on Sundays and solemnities. And another thing he said was that people shouldn’t be crying over him and his condition (and now his passing) but rather be joyful over finding that, as he said, “I’m still alive!” Well, as he glances upon us this morning from his new perspective on high, he will indeed find in our liturgy and in our hearts those elements of thanksgiving and praise that the memory of his life inspires—but as to people not crying… well, Jesus himself cried when his friend Lazarus died, and hopefully Fr. Thiên now recognizes the tears of these days as so many tokens of our love for him…

Pallbearers process to the Abbey Cemetery following the Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Thomas Thiên Dang, OSB

Pallbearers process to the Abbey Cemetery following the Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Thomas Thiên Dang, OSB – Photo courtesy Ace Tui

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Homily #582 – Jesus Christ is Lord!

My dear friends in Christ,

In a few minutes we will witness what is probably our most beautiful and most powerful monastic ritual as Brother Lorenzo and Brother Louis de Montfort make their final and solemn profession of vows as monks of Mount Angel. It’s quite amazing to think that, having begun their lives in distant lands across the ocean—in the Philippines and in Vietnam—they’ve been led by the provident hand of God to this holy mountain, to spend the rest of their days as monks in prayer and work, in the pursuit of the holiness and peace that they desire in Christ Jesus the Lord. It is to set their hearts free for him that they are about to profess their final vows, and he shall be their peace…

The moving rite of their solemn profession will speak for itself—and eloquently so—and so I needn’t comment on it. I only want us to appreciate the happy coincidence that their profession has fallen on today’s feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which provides such a wonderful reflection on monastic profession—as well, of course, as on the Christian life itself. On this feast we honor the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is on the Crucified that the professed monk strives to keep his eyes fixed, finding in the cross of Christ the sign of that endless love that inspires the monk’s own vowed love in return. We might say that the monk finds perched on that cross “the loving Pelican” that we sing of in verse 6 of the Benediction hymn Adoro Te Devote, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century:

Like what tender tales tell of THE PELICAN,
Bathe me, Jesus Lord, in what thy bosom ran—
Blood that but one drop of, has the power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin. (Tr. Gerard Manley Hopkins)

In any case, on the cross was won the victory of our salvation, and so we boast and glory in the cross; we hail the cross and call it wonderful; in the cross we find the power and the wisdom of God. And so today, with profound gratitude, we exalt the cross of Christ, and I know that Brother Lorenzo and Brother Louis de Montfort treasure the beautiful words with which St. Benedict closes the Prologue of the Holy Rule, inviting them to share patiently in the cross of Christ:

49 But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, OUR HEARTS OVERFLOWING WITH THE INEXPRESSIBLE DELIGHT OF LOVE. 50 Never swerving from his instructions, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, WE SHALL THROUGH PATIENCE SHARE IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST THAT WE MAY DESERVE ALSO TO SHARE IN HIS KINGDOM. Amen. (RB Prol 49-50)

Of course, it is one thing to “GLORY IN THE CROSS OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST,” as the Entrance Antiphon has it, and it’s quite another thing to bear that cross! The trouble with crosses is that they tend to hurt! But even in yesterday’s Gospel for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), Jesus didn’t mince any words about the conditions of discipleship:

Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, and follow me. (Mk 8:34)

To be sure, on the cross and for its victory there is a price—the price of pain and suffering. Even in the soul of Christ there was horror and resistance at the prospect of the unspeakable cross that lay ahead of him. And in our own experience, too, we shy away from, and complain about, the weight of the cross; so often we’re not ready, as Jesus was, to submit to the Father’s will and to embrace the redeeming cross.

My brothers and sisters, perhaps that reality check about the cross and its nature to be painful brings us to an even greater appreciation for this feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Indeed, the second reading from the Letter to the Philippians is a banner proclamation about THE ATTITUDE OF CHRIST JESUS in meeting his cross, which, says St. Paul, is the attitude that we should have in our union with Jesus. For us to contemplate the HUMILITY and the LOVING OBEDIENCE of the God-Man who was willing—out of love for us—to empty himself of his divinity and, slave-like, to render obedience to his Father’s will for our salvation, even to the point of death on a cross…

…and then for us to contemplate further that

Because of this, God greatly EXALTED him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of JESUS every knee should bend, …, and every tongue confess that JESUS CHRIST IS LORD, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil 2:9-11)

… is for us to understand why Brother Lorenzo and Brother Louis de Montfort would wish to offer their lives to such a Lord! O the pain? No!! O the LOVE!! O the GLORY of the CROSS of our Lord Jesus Christ!!

Homily #580 – Dominus Tecum

My dear friends in Christ.

It’s so wonderfully appropriate, isn’t it, for a monk to profess his vows on a feast of Mary, the Theotokos, the Mother of God… Last month it was on the solemnity of Our Lady’s Assumption that I received the first vows of three fine young monks by the names of Gregorio, Oscar and Mauro at our priory in Cuernavaca, Mexico, and today here at Mount Angel Abbey we have the honor and pleasure of witnessing the first vows of two of our own beloved monks in formation, whose new religious names will have to remain a classified secret until the actual rite of profession in just a few minutes from now!

As I suggested a moment ago, there is something special, something appropriate, for a monk to profess his vows on a feast of Mary; one can’t really be closely connected with Jesus without caring for—and being cared for by—the Mother of Jesus. Abbot Marmion’s prayer of Consecration to the Holy Trinity ends by invoking Mary, with these words:

O Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of fair love, form us according to the heart of your Son. Amen. (Bl. Columba Marmion, O.S.B.)

How could we expect anything less from this “Mother of fair love” than that she would wish to draw the mantle of her spiritual motherhood over all those in whom she beholds the image of her beloved Jesus? Must it not be her greatest desire to draw hearts into loving correspondence with the heart of her Son?! And today, in the midst of the Church’s rejoicing over Mary’s birth, when our two brothers Joseph and Marvin step forward in the sight of God and in the sight of Mary herself and all the angels and saints… and publicly turn their lives over to her Son Jesus… how the heart of Mary must be moved with joy!!

But still, what connection, what inspiration, what “word” might we derive from this feast of Mary that we could offer to our two confreres in this important hour of their monastic profession? For one thing, the Gospels don’t tell us about Mary’s birth or early childhood or about her family. Those details—including that of her parents having the names of Joachim and Anne—are traditions deriving from an apocryphal work of the second century called the Book of James, and icons of the Birth of Mary generally correspond to that source. So when we turn to the lectionary to reflect on the readings for today’s feast of the Birth of Mary, what we find are Scriptures not about her birth but rather about what her birth led to, or made possible, namely the birth of her Son Jesus as source of peace and of salvation from sin. Thus that wonderful first reading from the prophet Micah, who writes so powerfully of the Messiah as man of peace:

He shall stand firm and shepherd his flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, his God; … his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; HE SHALL BE PEACE. (Micah 5:3-4a)

And in the Gospel for the feast of the Birth of Mary, taken from the first chapter of Matthew, the righteous Joseph is reassured concerning Mary’s pregnancy and is told that the son to be born of Mary was to be named “JESUS, because he will SAVE his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). In fact, according to a prophecy, this virgin-born son would also be named “EMMANUEL, which means ‘GOD IS WITH US’” (Mt 1:23)

My brothers and sisters, holding these two beautiful Scriptures in mind, I looked also at the famous infancy narrative in St. Luke’s Gospel, and here I found that “word” that I was looking for, that inspiration, that Marian connection that I wanted to share with Br. Joseph and Br. Marvin for their monastic profession on this feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary. The announcement of the birth of Jesus in the opening chapter of Luke’s Gospels says that the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was

MARY. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! THE LORD IS WITH YOU.” (Lk 1:26-28)

That’s what I was looking for; that’s what I want to say to Br. Joseph and to Br. Marvin today: DOMINUS TECUM—THE LORD IS WITH YOU! For Mary, those words “The Lord is with you” were the very definition of her blessedness! “Hail, favored one,” said the angel to Mary; and then he said why—because THE LORD IS WITH YOU! Br. Joseph, Dominus tecumThe Lord be with you! Br. Marvin, Dominus tecumThe Lord be with you! Although those words had a particularly unique meaning and realization for Mary, they remain strikingly true for you today, too, as you profess the Lord Jesus to be your Pearl of Great Price, that One to whom you prefer nothing else, that One, in fact, who is the very reason for your monastic profession this afternoon!

Dominus tecumThe Lord be with you… Let the truth of your profession—the truth that the Lord is with you as your one great Love—be unfolded day by day and year by year as you journey homeward… as a monk of Mount Angel and disciple of our holy father Benedict… and beloved of the Lord Jesus Christ. In accord with the promise of the prophet Micah in the first reading for this feast of Mary’s Birth, may this JESUS be your PEACE… And in accord with the angel’s word to Joseph in the Gospel, may you open your lives all the more surely to the power and saving grace of JESUS, Son of Mary… Yes, DOMINUS TECUM—THE LORD BE WITH YOU…! And in the end, may he himself be your greatest reward…!

#57 The Daily Manual Labor & Prayerful Reading (RB 48:T, 1)

Let us pray. Raise up, O Lord, in your Church the spirit which our blessed Father the Abbot Benedict served, so that, filled with the same spirit, we may strive to love what he loved, and practice what he taught. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

My dear confreres.

Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule, on The Daily Manual Labor, begins with that striking verse that says:

Idleness is the enemy of the soul. Therefore, the brothers should have specified periods for manual labor as well as for prayerful reading. (RB 48:1)

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