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.



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