My visit to St. Anselm Abbey in New Hampshire — from Sunday afternoon, July 8, through Saturday afternoon, July 14 — had several purposes:
- Be present for the solemn monastic profession (final vows) of Brother Ignatius Membrino, O.S.B. The abbot had introduced us when I was visiting in late June, 2014, and Ignatius was a novice about to take simple (temporary) vows. I returned for that vow-taking in early July.
- Go on retreat, away from the internet and my usual routine. I brought the book Glorious Holy Spirit, by Fr. Cedric Pisegna, C.P., to read and reflect on. It has sixteen chapters, so I could complete by reading the first chapter on Sunday evening and three every day through Friday. I had a second book, World without End, based on interviews by a Belgian television host with Fr. Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O. I had begun it on my trip to Colorado in April and though it would be good to dip into at times when I wasn’t reading Fr. Pisenga’s book.
- See the novice Bro. Aloysius, O.S.B. take his simple vows and give him an icon of St. Aloysius.
- Celebrate the Feast of St. Benedict, July 11, at the monastery.
- Visit with the monks.
- Prepare for the homily I was scheduled to deliver on July 15 at 7:30 a.m. Mass.
Beyond these there were a couple of bonuses which I hadn’t known about in advance.
- Four jubilees were celebrated on Tuesday, July 10. Two of the monks had taken their simple vows 70 years ago, July 2, 1948: Fr. Cecil Donahue, O.S.B., and Bishop Joseph Gerry, O.S.B. (Bishop Joseph is a former abbot of the monastery and was bishop of Portland, Maine, from 1989 until 2004.) Brother Isaac Murphy, O.S.B., professed simple vows 25 years ago, in 1883. Fr. Mathias Durette, O.S.B., prior of the monastery, was ordained a priest in 1993. The four jubilees were honored at Mass that morning at 11:00, followed by a reception and linch in the student center.
- On St. Benedict’s Day, the community’s postulant, Louis Franciose, was received as a novice, clothed with a monastic habit, and given the name Basil. The reception took place in the chapter room of the monastery in a private ceremony, which was followed by a special lunch in the courtyard.
So it was a very full week.
As it happened, Bro. Aloysius had professed his vows on Saturday, July 7, so I missed that. I was able to give him the icon after Compline (night prayer) on Sunday, while we all were doing the dishes from dinner. He gave me a very kind thank you note and he told me he had hung it on the wall above his bed.
The daily schedule gave periods of under an hour between Lauds and breakfast, and between breakfast and Mass. There was over two hours between Mass and Midday Prayer (followed by lunch) and between lunch and Vespers. After Compline, I could go to bed whenever I wanted, so had all the time I needed for reading. I read a chapter of Fr. Cedric’s book during each of those longer periods. I used the shorter periods, as well as the ample free time in morning and afternoon for my other books. In addition to my “retreat books,” I had brought a couple of scripture commentaries to help me prepare my homily, and a couple of “secular” books for relaxation. I only looked at one — A Man Called Intrepid, by William Stevenson, which I had on Kindle and had nearly finished — and I finished it toward the end of my visit. I also walked around campus several times, taking pictures and exploring the new student center.
In midafternoon there is a custom called Haustus (Latin for ‘”draught”). Monks and guests can drop in to the refectory, have a snack, and chat. The novices and junior monks are frequently there, a couple of the senior monks come by sometimes, but others have jobs in the college and don’t get there. It was a nice chance to spend some time with the guys who came.
Between dinner and Compline there is a period of “recreation” during which the monks gather in the chapter room and converse, read newspapers, play games, etc. I kibbitzed at the bridge table several evenings and played when two of the regulars (Abbot Mark, Bishop Joseph, Fathers Cecil, Peter, and, if needed, Anselm) were missing.
Except at “festive” meals (Sunday evening, big feasts like St. Benedict’s day, and celebrations like the receptions for the jubilarians and Bro. Ignatius) meals are taken in silence, with a monk reading to the rest. While I was there, they finished a book about the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro with the loss of the entire crew of 33: Into the Raging Sea, by Rachel Slade. Then they began Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, by Bret Baier, about Reagan’s visit to the Soviet Union in May, 1988. The beginning was so interesting that I got the book for my Kindle.
It was a pleasant stay. The biggest point I got from my retreat reflections was that I need to stop procrastinating and do things. At this point, I’m thinking of having a brief visit in Advent — maybe two or three days in the second week of December, depending on what’s happening here in the parish.