Observations from the Monastery Visit – Bishop Joseph; Novices

Bishop Joseph is 90 years old. He was bishop of Portland, Maine, from 1989 until 2004, after which he returned to the monastery, where he is now the second oldest monk. Father Cecil, also 90, is a couple of months older. When I visited last summer they were celebrating the 70th anniversary of their taking their first vows.

Here is a picture of Fr. Cecil, l., and Bishop Joseph, r., at a lunch in honor of the new novice last summer.

When I visited in 2014, I learned that Bishop Joseph  was master of novices, which I thought was wonderful, both because he was still capable of doing the job of training the newest members of the community and because they would be learning from the depth of tradition there. (A couple of years later Father Peter, who has been around since 1959, took over, and last year, Father Anselm, who joined in 1998 became both prior and novice master.)

Bishop Joseph has been slowing up over the past few years. Father Cecil can still walk unaided but uses a device he can sit on to go more than short distances, and has done so for several years. Bishop Joseph walked with a cane for the past several years, but now he uses a walker. This presents a problem in the refectory, where the food is served buffet style. It would not be possible for him to carry dishes while holding on to the walker. But the problem was easily solved, as I saw at dinner the first evening of my visit this month. Brother Titus, one of the two men who became novices last January, takes a plate and accompanies him along the buffet line, putting what he wants on the plate. When the bishop is seated with his food at the abbot’s table, Brother Titus goes back and gets his own food.

Brother Titus is at the far left in this photo. The others, from left, are brothers Aloysius, who had taken first vows a few days earlier, Basil, who had become a novice that morning, Francis, in vows for three years, and Dunstan, who had become a novice with Titus six months earlier.

Titus, far right at haustus. The others are, l.-r., a guest, Brother Basil, and Abbot Mark.

At other times I noticed Brother Titus accompanying the bishop as he was walking. At breakfast, brother Titus arrived with Bishop Joseph and helped him get his meal as usual, but he finished and left before the bishop had finished. The custom at breakfast is that the monks carry their dishes back to the kitchen when they are finished. (At lunch and dinner, they move them to the edge of the table for the kitchen staff to remove after the meal.) Since bishop Joseph wouldn’t be able to bus his dishes, when other monks were finished, they would go and get any dishes he was finished with and take them, along with their own, to the kitchen. On my second and third mornings there, I was pleased to be able to perform this service when I had finished my breakfast.

It is an example of true brotherhood that the monks support one another in this way.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned my icon giving before. It began with my visit in June 2014, when I learned that then-brother, now Father would take his final vows in July, and the novices Paul and Ignatius would take simple vows then. I managed to get icons of their three patron saints and bring them to the vow taking. Subsequently, I gave icons to brothers Francis (2015) and Aloysius (2017) when they took their first vows. In anticipation of Titus and Duncan’s taking vows in January, I ordered an icon for each of them. The icon of St. Titus was delivered on December 10, the day before my visit, and the one of St. Dunstan is now in the hands of USPS, who promise delivery by 8:00 p.m., December 24. When I got to the monastery there was a note on the bulletin board (soon removed) congratulating the two novices on their acceptance into vows, which they would take on January 15. I’m not planning to trek up there for the event, but I have plenty of time to mail the icons.

As always, click the photos to enlarge.


A Visit to the Monastery in Advent

I thought it would be interesting to see what things were like during Advent, so I scheduled a three-day visit — from the afternoon of Tuesday, December 11 through the afternoon of Friday, the 14th.

Things were not very different from the way they were during previous visits. Of course, it was colder than during visits during other seasons, but the biggest difference wasn’t because it was Advent, but because the college was in session.

When the college is not in session — as was the case during most of my visits — on weekdays the community Mass is at 8:30 a.m. and Vespers is in the late afternoon, followed by dinner and recreation, with Compline at 7:30. But when the college is in session — as was the case this time — Mass is in the late afternoon, with Vespers at 7:05, following dinner and recreation. Compline is prayed privately. This schedule accommodates monks who have jobs in the college as well as students who would find the afternoon a more convenient time for Mass that the morning. But I’m sorry to be unable to pray Compline in choir with the community.

There were two things that were different specifically because it was Advent: there were some special antiphons, hymns, and prayers for the Advent season; and there was an Advent wreath in the refectory in front of the Abbot’s table.

(My place at table is visible between the two candles on the left. The abbot’s table is offscreen to the right, at right angle to the tables pictured here.)

(Looking from my place toward refectory door. Abbot’s table to the left. The retired abbot, the prior, and the subprior also sit there.)

Apart from those differences, the routine was indistinguishable from how it had been during my earlier visits.

Alumni Hall, the oldest, and iconic, building, had window candles and a lighted wreath.

On Thursday, five students from the college came for an overnight visit. I would have liked to meet them during recreation, but the abbot thought that I wanted to play bridge with the old monks and insisted that I take his place at that table.

I had brought several books: among others Jan Sobieski: The King Who Saved Europe, by Miltiades Varvounis, on my Kindle reader; Wrestling with God, by Richard Rolheiser; and most importantly The Biggest Lie in the History of Christianity, by Matthew Kelly. If I read the first chapter of the Kelly book on Tuesday evening, five chapters on Wednesday and another five on Wednesday, there would be four left for Friday. It was a very good book and it was easy to follow that program. On Friday morning it occurred to me (or as the Evangelicals would say, “The Lord told me”) that I should share the book with the students. So while we were waiting for Midday Prayer to begin, I gave it to one of the students and asked him to share it with the others.

I had already read more than half of the book on Jan Sobieski, and I finished it during my time there. But I only read one chapter of the book by Rolheiser.

When I wasn’t praying, reading, eating, or recreating, I had time to take pictures, to stroll around, and to visit the campus bookstore, and to drive to a nearby Market Basket and get a couple of gift cards which had been requested for my parish’s giving tree. Here are a couple of photos of the campus flags (U.S., N.H., and college) at half mast, presumably in honor of President Bush.

 (Alumni Hall in background.)

(Library in background.)

I had brought my private signal with me,

(The swan and crescent and the colors black and white come from a family coat of arms, the fouled anchor represents race committee, and the “gout de sang” (red drop) is from the St. Anselm coat of arms.)

 and at recreation on Tuesday evening I showed it it Brother Ignatius — who took final vows last summer — and to several of the older monks. Father Peter was especially intrigued.

When I was almost ready to leave, after lunch on Friday, I had a conversation with Brother Ignatius. I told him what I had done during this visit, and we looked forward to seeing each other on my next visit, probably next summer.

I recommend clicking on the pictures to enlarge them.

Sunday Scriptures — Advent C 02, Dec. 09, 2018

First Reading — Baruch 5:1-9

Second Reading — Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11

Gospel — Luke 3:1-6

The readings for this week still look forward, in different ways, to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises.

Baruch, in words reminiscent of passages familiar to us from Isaiah and set to music in Handel’s Messiah, speaks of the return of the exiles from the Babylonian captivity. It isn’t a simple return: God will enable it by removing every possible hindrance. Clearly, there was no literal cut and fill highway construction project at the end of the Babylonian captivity, but our journey to the promised new world will be unhindered at the end of the “exile” of this world.

Paul assures us that God will perfect his saving work in us at the day of the Lord, which could be when we die or when the Lord returns, if that occurs during our lifetime. Meanwhile, God’s work in us is to make us grow in love and understanding of what is good. Our duty now is to allow God to do this work.

The gospel presents John the Baptist, firmly set in the history of the world and Israel. His preaching and baptizing are a fulfillment of a prophecy of Isaiah, similar to Baruch’s. In this prophecy, though, the way is being prepared for the Lord. John is working at a time around the year 30. So, despite our association of the prophecy with Christmas, the coming of the Lord which is spoken of is not the birth of Jesus. Rather, it is his public ministry of preaching, healing, death, and resurrection, which will only begin with his own baptism by John.

In short, there are two comings of the Lord: Jesus comes to begin his saving work and comes to take us to himself. The way is clear for him and for us.

Sunday Scriptures — Advent C 01, Dec. 02, 2018

We begin a new year in the church calendar. The gospel readings this year  will mainly be taken from Luke, especially during Ordinary Time. During Advent and Christmastide we will hear some readings from Matthew and John, as well as plenty from Luke.

First Reading — Jeremiah 13:14-16

Second Reading — 1 Thessalonians 3:12-4:2

Gospel — Luke 21:25-28, 34-36

In our Western culture we are thinking about Christmas. In the Church, the focus in the liturgies of the past couple of weeks has been on the end of time with the return of Jesus as King of the Universe and Savior of the World. Advent doesn’t bring an abrupt change of focus. We begin still anticipating the advent of the Lord at the end of time, and gradually come to concentrate more on remembering his first advent, his birth at Bethlehem.

Thus, this year’s gospel for this Sunday gives an apocalyptic prediction of the end of time and the return of the Lord. Jesus’ followers can look forward to his return as the fulfillment of their redemption, while for others it will be a time of terror. If we actually fear the end of the world, or our own death, we would do well to reflect on why that is. If there is unrepented sin, obviously the thing to do is repent and receive forgiveness. Apart from that, we just need to remind ourselves, as much and as often as we need to, that we know that this earthly existence cannot last forever and that our faith promises us a life beyond this one that is far better than this. So we should not fear the transition from the one to the other. 

In the first reading we have another version of the promise of a better future. Jeremiah is thinking of a time when the Babylonian captivity has ended and Israel and Jerusalem are restored. We expect the ultimate fulfillment of this promise to be when the Messiah, the righteous shoot, returns to inaugurate a new creation.

St. Paul reminds us, in the reading from First Thessalonians, that while we look forward to the fulfillment of these promises, we need to live by the commandment of love so we’ll be ready when the Lord returns.

Justice Kavanaugh and the Opposition

I think it was necessary for the good of the country that Justice Kavanaugh be confirmed. It was necessary not because he is the only person fit for the seat on the Court, or even necessarily the best available. It was necessary in order to defeat the opposition.

Those who opposed him did so because they were afraid of what positions he would take on certain cases that may come before the Court. In my opinion, it is wrong for the Senate to try to tip the scales of justice, to assure a certain outcome of a case yet to be litigated. Their job is to see to it that the nominee is qualified to serve on the Court. In that regard, before the hearings began, the American Bar Association gave him their highest rating.

It is true that both parties have recently opposed nominees on the grounds of overall philosophy — originalist or expansionist — but focusing on specific issues as a basis for opposing a nomination violates our constitutional separation of powers. It is senators attempting to decide cases. Yet that is what has happened here, as well as in some earlier hearings.


Senator Ben Sasse gave an insightful speech on how the nomination process has become so politicized. He sees it as stemming in considerable measure from the Court becoming politicized, which in turn is the result of Congress’s passing laws that are unclear. Whether better legislative practice is the solution, it is clear that there are cases in which legislatures have declined to pass legislation some people wanted, and people brought a case claiming that the Constitution compelled the result they desired, and the Court agreed — e.g. abortion, same-sex marriage. This in turn, creates a situation where one side in the debate hopes that the Court will reverse its decision and the other side fears reversal. There can also be questions —e.g., legislative apportionment — where one side hopes for a change in law by judicial means and the other opposes it.

When Senators come to see it as their right to determine the outcome of cases they consider important, they also tend to see it as legitimate to use all tactics at their disposal to defeat nominees they consider a threat. Interest groups who agree with them also use all tactics at their disposal. This includes distortion of the nominee’s record, personal vilification based on those distortions, and apocalyptic speculation about the consequences of the nominee’s being confirmed.. (Mischaracterization of decisions was Kennedy’s standard tactic against Bork.) Having misrepresented the nominee, they then find it easy to incite campaigns — letter-writing, e-mails, telephone calls, angry demonstrations, face-to-face physical intimidation, screaming from the Senate Gallery.


And so it happened that Democrats and interest groups were opposing the nominee before he had been selected. No nominee would be acceptable to them, regardless of qualifications, and they used any weapon that came to hand. Finally when it was clear that their tactics were not working, someone betrayed Dr. Ford and made her their weapon (seemingly) of last resort. If Dr. Ford’s allegation could have been substantiated, Senators would have needed to decide whether an attempted rape by a high schooler countervailed an adult record of distinguished public service. But, as it was, there was no substantiation beyond Dr. Ford’s own testimony, and in the estimation of 51 Senators, that was insufficient to conclude that Judge Kavanaugh was unfit to serve on the Court. The argument was raised and continues to be raised, that the confirmation sends the wrong message to women, namely, that their testimony is disregarded. That is clearly false on its face. Dr. Ford’s testimony was respectfully heard and considered, to the extent of reopening the FBI investigation. More broadly, this was not a decision about women, it was about one man. To try to make it about all women, or all victims of assault, is a politically motivated misrepresentation of the case

Under those circumstances it would have been wrong to let the tactics of the opposition succeed in this case. It would also be bad because of the encouragement it would give them to continue to use these tactics.

What we ultimately need is for both sides to return to the role of assessing a nominee’s qualifications based on the quality of his/her work, not how they hope/fear the nominee will decide cases that may come before the court. For now, it is essential that Republicans continue to control the Senate until Democrats agree to abide by that standard. What about Republicans agreeing to it? I think enough already do for it to be not a problem in the overall scheme of things. I’d suggest that if the nomination of Merrick Garland had been permitted to come to the floor of the Senate, a number of Republicans would have recognized his fitness to serve, and he’d have been confirmed. The only way Mitch McConnell, taking the politicized approach, could prevent confirmation was to keep the nomination from ever coming up.

I want to see originalists on the Court, but if a president nominates someone qualified who holds a different judicial philosophy, I’ll say, “Dang!” and move on. I might write an e-mail to my Senators, but I won’t demonstrate, sit in, shout, or engage in other disruptive behavior —  even if some organization encourages me to. And I’ll continue to try to find qualified candidates for president who promise to appoint originalists to the courts.


Kavanaugh Thought Experiment

Suppose you are a member of the House of Representatives, and someone comes forward making charges against Supreme Court justice Stephen Breyer. The charges are of attempted rape when both were in high school. The charges are identical in every respect with those of Dr. Blasey Ford regarding Judge Kavanaugh, and the state of the evidence is the same as that currently known concerning Judge Kavanaugh.

A member of the House brings a resolution of impeachment against Justice Breyer for attempted rape.

Do you consider attempted rape by a high school student an impeachable offense? Do you vote for the articles of impeachment?

Now suppose the House has voted articles of impeachment against Justice Breyer on the grounds stated above and you are a Senator trying the case. Suppose further that the evidence is identical to the evidence currently known publicly regarding Judge Kavanaugh. Do you vote to convict him of attempted rape, thus removing him from the Court? Do you vote to acquit him and leave him on the Court? Why do you decide as you do?

If you don’t vote to impeach or convict Justice Breyer, do you think that allegations which are insufficient to remove him from the Court are sufficient to keep Judge Kavanaugh off the Court?

Change of Seasons

Usually there’s an overlap between the end of the racing season and the beginning of the concert season. This year my first concert was to be a Boston Artists Ensemble chamber music performance on September 21 in Salem’s historic Hamilton Hall, followed by Race Committee duty during the day on the 22nd, followed by a concert opera performance that evening. But the racing scheduled for September 22 and 29 was canceled (I was not scheduled to serve on the 29th,), with the result that my last Race Committee duty was on September 13 — a race which ultimately had to be abandoned because there wasn’t enough wind for the boats to get around the course. So there was an eight day gap between Race Committee service and concert going.

I attended a Handel and Haydn performance on Sunday, September 30. My first Boston Symphony concert will be on October 11, and my first Harvard Musical Association concert will be the next evening. There are another thirty-two events on my concert calendar after that, with the last one coming on May 2, 2019 — well before the first racing event. It all adds up to thirty-six events spread over thirty-three weeks, and thirty-one of them require trekking in to Boston. Fourteen concerts are BSO, eleven HMA, five Boston Artists Ensemble in Salem, four H+H, and two opera. It’s possible I could add BSO, H+H, and opera performances, and that I could skip some BSO or HMA concerts if I am under the weather literally or figuratively.

Later this month there will be a Race Committee Appreciation Party, but I don’t count it as part of the sailing season, nor do I consider that the season begins for me when the club opens in April with a flag-raising event which committee members attend in uniform. For me, the season is when I am helping run sailboat races. This year I had fourteen times on duty over twelve weeks.

Another change of seasons occurred on September 29, Michaelmas, when I switched from straw to felt hats. I don’t know when it was traditional to switch from straw hats back to felt. I suspect it was Labor Day, But I think that is too soon to bid a sartorial farewell to summer. In recent years,I have said summer goes to Columbus Day; but now I realized that Michaelmas has traditionally marked a new season of sorts in the old country. So in 2017 that became my day for going to felt hats. Straw hats will return, as always, on Memorial Day.

Senator Jeff Flake: Hero of the Republican Party

Until the allegations of Christine Blasey Ford were made public, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court was proceeding as usual. Democrats, having decided to be terrified of any nominee of Donald Trump, were nearly unanimous in opposition from before the nomination was announced. Republicans were nearly unanimous in support. A couple of Democrats from states that supported Trump might have voted for Kavanaugh, and a couple of Republicans who support abortion might have considered voting against him; but the clear expectation was that he would be confirmed by the Senate.


Dr. Blasey Ford’s charge changed all that. The charge could not simply be ignored: she had to be given at least an opportunity to testify. As discussions dragged on, it seemed reasonable to believe (and still does) that Democrats were engaged in delaying tactics, especially since it gave time for people to emerge with less plausible allegations. If Dr. Blasey Ford hadn’t finally agreed to testify, the Judiciary Committee couldn’t have been blamed for proceeding. Once she gave her testimony, the call to reopen the FBI investigation became very plausible despite the Republicans’ claims that it would be inconclusive, and therefore useless.


Even if further investigation would be useless, refusing to do it would have given the Democrats a powerful campaign issue against Republicans in November. Whether Jeff Flake saw the matter in political terms or just as a question of satisfying himself that he had the information he needed, the decision to call for the FBI to investigate in fact took a powerful weapon out of the Democrats’ hands, and probably thereby saved tens of thousands of votes for Republican candidates, possibly enough to allow the GOP to keep control of one or both houses of Congress.


The only thing that could change this dynamic is if the investigation is inadequate. It will be no surprise if the Democrats try to make the argument that more investigation (and thus more time) is needed. But if Senator Flake is satisfied and gives a good explanation of why he is, that should be good enough for those who, like him, have been undecided.



Memories: Acquiring My Car in 1997

I am going to have to replace my car soon because the frame is “rotted” according to the mechanic at the service station down the street. My memory is clear that I accompanied my mother to the dealership in the summer of 1997, and she bought a 1997 Toyota Camry. A few months later, she got into an accident and decided to stop driving and gave the car to me. In preparation for disposing of it, I’ve reviewed the paperwork from the purchase and am surprised at what it shows.


My mother was not the purchaser of the car. I was, on July 2, 1997, and I traded in my 1984 Nissan toward the purchase. There was also a down payment (which my mother may have supplied) and I took out a car loan to cover the rest of the price. So, contrary to my clear memory, the car was never hers. The car in which she had the accident must have been a different one, which she disposed of when she gave up driving. I have no idea when my memory of the events became confused, because I con’t recall ever thinking that the events were different from how I remembered them.


Some people probably have better memories than I do, but it is well known that eyewitnesses to an event usually differ on details, and over time memories can become confused. I offer this account not only to tell a story on myself but also to point out that some of the people involved in the party which Dr. Blasey-Ford tells about may be misremembering things. She may be mistaken. He may be. Others may be. They all may be, in different ways.

What Did the Pope Know and When Did He Know It?

Archbishop Viganò’s “Testimony” about Archbishop McCarrick, accusing Pope Francis of ignoring reports about McCarrick and lifting sanctions imposed by Pope Benedict XVI, has people paraphrasing Sen. Howard Baker’s question at the time of Watergate.


The simple answer is that we don’t know yet. Not only don’t we know about Francis. We also don’t know about Benedict, St. John Paul II, or the other hierarchs whom Abp. Viganò accuses of protecting McCarrick or being part of the “Lavender Mafia,” or being his protégés. Daily stories quoting this or that person who may know some of the facts have served to emphasize the uncertainties.


One item in the “Testimony” was Abp. Viganò’s reference to my archbishop, Cardinal Seán O’Malley. He said that the Cardinal’s statements on the matter were “disappointing” and that the Cardinal has thus lost “transparency and credibility.” I find this absurd. In what way were the statements “disappointing?” What, specifically, did the Cardinal say, and what was wrong with it? How do the unquoted words of the Cardinal destroy his “transparency and credibility?” If there is anything wrong with the Cardinal, the Archbishop doesn’t even begin to establish what it is. The Archbishop’s words here have no substance to them, and they strike me as an unfounded smear — the more so in light of the fact that it was Cardinal Seán whose public rebuke led Pope Francis to finally take seriously the accusations against Bishop Barros in Chile. So I find that what Abp. Viganò says about Cardinal Seán undercuts his own credibility, not the Cardinal’s.


But we’re still left with a mass of accusations (and innuendoes) which are neither proven nor unproven. They are serious enough to warrant serious investigation, and the leadership of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has called for one. I hope it will be organized and begin promptly, that the results will be published, and that responsible individuals will be appropriately punished according to the seriousness of their responsibility.


Meanwhile, I think everybody should take seriously the words of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

 2478  To avoid rash judgment [assuming as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of another], everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way.

This is why I find it wrong for people who are not privy to all the facts to say about a specific hierarch, “He knew,” or, “He should resign now.” We just don’t know enough for a fact to draw such conclusions.


I also think that Pope Francis, if he mishandled Abp. McCarrick’s case, was far less consequential than those who were involved in his becoming, successively, Auxiliary Bishop of New York, Bishop of Metuchen, Archbishop of Newark, Archbishop of Washington, and Cardinal. The New York appointment came under Pope Paul VI, and all the rest happened when John Paul II was Pope. It was  the people who were involved back then who are most responsible. On the other hand, if there has been an ongoing cabal of supporters and protectors, we need to know about it.