I have been remiss in not giving some details of my last week.
To start, over the weekend of August 7-9, I was proctoring a retreat for Catholic Boy Scouts on the Sacraments of Healing. Hmm... How to discuss Sacraments of Healing over 2 hours to 5th to 8th graders..... I did do one demonstration to show the impact of sin in our lives before discussing the actual sacraments: I took a cornhole board (a beanbag game for those outside Cincinnati) and had the boys attempt to make it. To start with, it was close by. I moved the boys further back, then further back, then he had to throw with his non-dominant hand, then blindfolded, then blindfolded and spun around a few times. The boys seemed to get the point that by an increase of sin in our lives, it gets harder and harder to find God in our lives. I think it worked. Archbishop Schnurr celebrated the anticipatory Mass on Saturday evening and stayed for dinner. We had a little sunrise service in the morning, and dismissal. I jumped in the car and headed to Iowa.
On arrival in Iowa, my brother was helping with the parish 'Corn Boil' at my arrival time, so I stopped there before heading to their house. His four year old ran across the room to give me a big hug, which was very cool.
Monday morning, I headed for the silence of New Mellarey Abbey in Peosta, Iowa, outside of Dubuque. The phone stayed in the car the whole week, no computer, just me, the Bible and 30 monks (plus a few other retreatants.) To say the monastery is beautiful is, I am afraid, a bit of an overstatement. I would say 'austere' instead: bare walls (at least they were painted in the retreatant areas, back in the cloister = bare cinder block walls!) The chapel was set in traditional monastic style: the altar was 'way back there,' with choir seating for the monks, then a gate and cathedral seating for us poor outsiders.
The monks chanted the hours using Gregorian Chant, which was simple, easy to join if you know even a bit about it, and lifted the heart to heaven. I have to admit, I did not join them for vigils at 3:30 AM, no way. I was on retreat, not joining the monastery!
Between hours, long periods of silence ensued, with some great prayer times. Priests are welcome to con-celebrate Mass with the monks, hence my one admission into the cloister per day, or one can celebrate Mass on his own in the smaller retreat chapel down below. They do have the necessary equipment to say the Extraordinary Form as well. I did not take advantage of that, this time. (I am studying, tho, hope to be able to celebrate this form soon.)
Why austere? I think it goes with the whole Trappist mindset of stripping away everything before God. It is jarring for those who are not used to it, I am not! It is cold in some ways, and one does feel vulnerable in such a setting, the soul laid bare before the majesty of God. Interestingly, two of the men on retreat were on their pre-diaconate retreat, proctored by one of the monks. He gave the a small tour of the cloister, showing them the chapter room where the abbot addresses his sons: chairs only. Not even a crucifix. The thought being that the Abbot represents Christ to them, when he is present, He is present. That's some serious stuff, there.
After three and a half days, I was about ready to scream. (Hey, I'm a dio priest, not a monk!) To get a little break, I did drive over to the Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Dyersville. Walking in, 'Ahhhhh..... color, saints, images.... my friends!' It was a sharp contrast to the austerity of the monastery. Since I was so close and the corn was up, I did make a jaunt over to 'Field of Dreams' movie site. I can say I went, I guess.
All in all, I am glad I went. Although, next time, I might join up as a 'worker brother' aka 'brown shirt' where men can partake a bit in the life of the monastery, even lay men can sign up for a time. It allows you to join the monks in the choir for hours, plus you are given a work assignment for the time you are there, too. It would break up the quiet. Maybe I shouldn't?
Of the 30 monks, most are older, that's true, but they have a good age range. I did meet their vocation director (as he came into my retreat room to fix the smoke alarm) who mentioned that they had 4 postulants, 4 or 5 novices, and a few men who were on visitation in am inquiry stage, so the place is growing, it seems. They had stalls for 44 monks, so there is room to grow. Please pray for these men. ( I have to say, one of the men in full Trappist habit looked like he had just started shaving, so I am sure he's rather new.)
After four days of quiet, rest and prayer, I rejoined my brother and his family for a weekend at Road America (culture shock after the monastery!) for the ALMS race. It was a good time, if the race was too short at 2 hours and 45 minutes. There was a major anouncement at the race regarding the future of the series, which bodes well for car counts and such, a constant problem in Sports Car racing. Alas, not the scope of this blog, but priests do have disparate tastes.
I look forward to my next visit to New Mellarey, in the meantime, support www.trappistcaskets.com in support of the monastery. (You can pre-order your casket, just in case, you know.)