Five Days at the Monastery

Background: For about 2 1/2 years in the 1960’s I was at St. Anselm Abbey in New Hampshire as a prospective monk, in a status they called “scholastic.” Now the category which most nearly corresponds to it is “postulant.” But scholastics lived in an apartment on the college campus, and joined the monks for some prayer and meals, whereas postulants live in the monastery and participate in everything.


Anyway, I eventually left, but I’ve continued to hold good memories and warm feelings from my time there, and in recent years I’ve begun to visit regularly, staying as a guest in the monastery. At this point there are about five active monks whom I knew as monks or college students  back in the 60’s.


From the evening of October 9 through the 14th I was there for a visit. The daily routine of prayer and meals, which I followed, begins with Vigils at 6:00 a.m., lasting about 45 minutes. Breakfast is at 7:25. On non-school days, Mass is at 8:30, Daytime prayer at 12:00, followed by Lunch, Vespers at 5:35, followed by Dinner and Recreation, with Compline at 7:05. On school days, Mass at 5:15 takes the place of Vespers, and Vespers replaces Compline, which is then prayed privately.


Usually, during lunch and dinner, there is reading, first briefly from scripture and the Rule of St. Benedict, then, for most of the meal, from a “normal” book. While I was there the reading was from The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, by Joseph J. Ellis. It was interesting to listen to, and, despite the author’s clear sympathy for continuing centralization and disdain for “original intent,” I’ll probably buy the book so I can get the rest of the story as he tells it. If so, this will be the second time in three years that I’ve bought the book being read during my visit. In 2014, I heard readings from Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, by Eric Metaxas, and bought it for myself.


These visits (2014 and 15 and this year) serve several purposes. They function as a retreat, as I focus on a spiritual book I’ve brought to read. They give me a chance to visit with old and new friends. They give me a break from the internet, since I don’t have anything to use to get on line. One reason it’s so long since I’ve blogged here is that I’ve been catching up. In addition, there have been some changes to my daily routine inspired by the visit. (Beyond that, I’ve just been busy.)


In the times between prayer, meals, and recreation, I do a fair amount of reading, both from spiritual books and from other books I bring to read. This year, I brought several small books on the Jubilee Year of Mercy which Pope Francis proclaimed for this year. I finished Celebrating Mercy (on incorporating the jubilee into liturgical actions), read Parables of Mercy, and began Psalms of Mercy. I also found in my room a small book titled A God Who Acts: Recognizing the Hand of God in Suffering and Failure, by Harry Blamires. Even though I don’t think of myself as having suffered or failed very much, i figured I’d see what it had to say. There sere some good points. One is that if we’re attempting something good but don’t succeed, it can simply be that God’s providence needs something else. Another is that when we’re grateful for God’s gifts, it’s not enough just to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you:” God’s gifts are given to us to be used for his purpose.


For my “secular” reading, I had brought a tandem of recent acquisitions: Mohammed and Charlemagne, by Henri Pirenne, published in 1937, and Mohammed and Charlemagne Revisited: The History of a Controversy, by Emmet Scott, published in 2012. Interspersed with my spiritual reading and other doings, I read a bit more than half of the Pirenne book. He argues that Roman civilization didn’t end in the West with the barbarian invasions, with such events as the raids of Atilla or the death of the last western emperor in 476. He presents considerable evidence that Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals, Franks, and other tribes who settled within the boundaries of the empire. adopted the culture and way of life of Rome, looking to Constantinople as thhe locus of supreme political authority. In his view, it was the Islamic conquest of much of the Middle East, northern Africa, and Iberia which cut off contact between East and West and caused the break with classical civilization which is called the Dark Ages. Unfortunately, Pirenne had only completed his first draft of the book at the time of his death, and, as his son explains, it was his habit to rework such drafts extensively before publishing the book. Although his thesis was important enough to justify the book’s publication, the book suffers from not having had the author’s revision. It seems very disorganized. To me it reads like a succession of note cards collected under various headings. It jumps around from events out of chronological sequence, and I found it difficult going. But I did get through the first part, dealing with the period before the Saracen conquests, and read into the second part, getting the description of the Islamic conquests, with the consequences still to be spelled out.


This is probably long enough for one post. I’ll try to post soon with more: other things I did, interactions with various monks, and the aftermath since I came home.



Sunday Scriptures — OT C 27, Oct. 2, 2016

Some reflections on last Sunday’s readings at Mass.

The first reading — Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 — has two parts. In the first the prophet notes the evil around him and complains that God does not intervene to stop it. This can certainly resonate with us today, as violence is still widespread. God’s response, in the second part is to assure us that there will a fulfillment of the vision of peace. We need faith. But what of all those who suffer before the fulfillment? There is no perfect answer. In the Book of Job we are reminded that our understanding is so limited that we shouldn’t complain over the small amount of reality that we can see. Instead, as we hear in today’s reading, we must rely on our faith which tells us God makes all things right, even though we don’t see how.

The responsorial psalm — Ps 95: 1-2, 6-9 — calls us to praise God, not to resist him

In the second reading — 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14 — Paul reminds Timothy that we can all expect hardship. But we,like Habakkuk, must not be discouraged. We should have faith and be witnesses to the Gospel. We have the grace necessary to follow his example.

The gospel — Luke 17:5-10 — begins with an encouragement to faith, in line with the first reading. It isn’t to be taken literally. Faith isn’t about useless shows of power. It’s about relying on God for ultimate salvation, as we’re told in the earlier readings. It’s about realizing that reality extends beyond the way we experience things in our present life into the transcendent eternity of a loving God who will eradicate evil beyond the limits time imposes on our vision. Meanwhile, as the remainder of the reading reminds us, faith is also what drives us to give our lives over to God in love. In this way, life is not a matter of simply obeying a list of rules. Doing that is not enough for us. Life becomes a matter of being motivated by love in all we do. We may not be perfect in this regard, so we need to grow in grace — grace we can receive by consuming the Body and Blood of Jesus, as promised in John 6:53-57.

Music, Music, Music!

My year can be roughly divided into two parts: 1.) running sailboat races, June-September; and 2: going to concerts, October-May. Of course that’s not all I do, but those are activities which I don’t engage in all year. The separation isn’t absolute, especially in September. This year, for example, my last scheduled race committee duty* is Saturday, October 1, and as of this writing, I have already attended four concerts.

Dimitrij. On Friday, September 16, I went to Boston for Odyssey Opera’s concert performance of “Dimitrij,” by Antonin Dvořák It’s about a man who claims to be the lost son of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. He has a polish fiancée, Marina, and Polish forces are supporting him in an attempt to gain control of Russia. The Russian people accept him, but once he is crowned as tsar, things unravel. The Russians resent the Poles. Dimitrij resists his (now) wife’s plans to catholicize Russia and falls in love with Xenie, the daughter of Boris Godunov, his predecessor as tsar. His wife, Marina, has Xenie killed and reveals that he isn’t really Dimitrij. Dimitrij was murdered as a child, and the new tsar is actually Grigoriy Otrepyev. He is killed and so is she.

The opera is in Czech, and Czech opera stars were brought in to sing the leading roles. They were excellent. I found the opera very good, both musically and as a drama. The Boston Musical Intelligencer gave an extensive, and very favorable review. They had previously published a very informative preview. The Boston Globe also gave an informative and favorable review.

Boston Artists Ensemble. The following Friday, September 23, I attended the season opener of the BAE, in Hamilton Hall, Salem. The program was a couple of trios for piano, violin, and cello, with the world premiere of a work for cello and piano between the two. The Beethoven, which began the program, and the Schumann, which followed intermission, are more to my musical taste than the Weir piece. Still, the Weir was unmemorable, rather than really unpleasant. After the concert, I asked the composer if she had specifically decided to ignore the traditional tunes for the words of the first two “chorales.” She had done that, so as not simply to give variations on those tunes. I think it was a good decision. With her own music, she was able to evoke the mood she wanted form the text. In the third chorale, since Hildegard’s tune is not familiar to us, she could use it for her evocation of the text.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer gave a review of the Sunday performance in Brookline. (There is a minor error. The reviewer says, “The second” when she refers to the third movement, the one based on music of Hildegard von Bingen.)


Handel and Haydn. Less than 48 hours later, an Sunday afternoon I traipsed into Boston for a concert of music by Bach, with one item by Schütz thrown in. The full program was
Komm, Jesu, komm BWV 229
Concerto for Three Violins in D (reconstructed) BWV 1064
Cantata 149, Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg
Cantata 50, Nun is das Heil und die Kraft
Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener SWV 432 (Schütz)
Magnificai in D BWV 243
It was all good, with the Cantata 50 and Magnificat being especially stirring. I like Schütz’s music, but I was hoping for something a bit livelier to represent his oeuvre. The piece is calmer, to fit the mood of the text, and may have been chosen to contrast with the vigorous pieces on either side. IT also had the effect of giving us two of the three canticles from the Gospel of St. Luke to end the program.

The Boston Musical Intelligencer provides an entertaining, but critical review.

Der Rosenkavalier. On Thursday, September 29, I went  to the Boston Symphony’s first subscription concert of the season: a semi-staged performance of Richard Strauss’s opera, “Der Rosenkavalier.” Strauss is far from my favorite composer, but this is one of his good compositions, IMO. The interactions of the singers, the changes of clothing for Octavian/Mariandel, the few chairs and props, and the surtitles made for a clear understanding of what was going on, in both the comic and the poignant moments. I found it both entertaining and thought provoking — the latter having to do with the contrast between the affair of the Marschallin and her religiosity and sense of honor. The review in the Globe was very favorable. The one in the Boston Musical Intelligencer qualifies as a rave. I’m having trouble getting the favorable one in the Boston Globe to link. If I can get it later, I’ll link it here.


*It turns out that the racing was cancelled due to stormy weather.