Lunch with College Classmates and Their Wives

From time to time I’ve gotten together with a couple of college classmates, Dan and John, and their wives for dinner. Last Saturday, we got together for lunch. Another classmate, John B, and his wife also joined us. It was part of a fairly busy day. I had told them that I’d have to leave by 3:00 so I could get home in time to attend my parish’s “Mass of Remembrance” and the unrelated dinner that would follow it. Lunch was to be at 1:00 at a harbor side seafood restaurant in Boston, about 45 minutes’ drive from my home. After all that was planned, a fellow parishioner asked me to meet him in the morning to tell him what the scripture scholar, who comes to our parish a couple of times a year, had said in the last lecture of a recent three lecture series. That get together lasted from 10:00 to 11:30.

John and Maureen were there when I arrived a couple of minutes before 1:00, and Dan and Carolyn arrived soon after. John B and Winnie got delayed by traffic coming up from the Cape, but were there by 20 past. I followed John’s example and had a bloody mary. As usual, we talked for a while, but owing to my time constraints we had our orders in by 1:45. I decided on the fish in a bag because it had mushrooms. The bag turned out to be cellophane, and the fish was steamed in it. It was brought to the table opened. It was good, maybe not the best fish ever, but enjoyable.

The conversation was pleasant. Despite Maureen’s rule of No Politics, imposed after an evening in which we got into a fairly heated argument, this time we managed to get in a few brief exchanges about the election and the President-elect. I think we all agree that Trump isn’t fit for the job, and much will depend on the people he selects and listens to. There was also a lot of talk about family (John and Maureen’s extended family is fairly large) and some about travel. At one point a couple of books were mentioned, and I took the opportunity to give a strong recommendation for Destiny of the Republic, by Candice Millard, about James A. Garfield. As soon as I mentioned it, John B. chimed in (see what I did there?*) with an enthusiastic second to my suggestion. He then gave me a couple of other titles — one by Millard — that he thought I’d like. Sometimes there was one conversation going on, sometimes several smaller ones.

It was a fairly pricey afternoon. We decided to split the tab equally, and Dan took charge of the check. It think he included the tax in figuring the tip, and rounded up rather generously, with the result that the tip was about 28% of the total and 37% of the pre-tax amount. Anyway, we paid $50 per person. Parking in the garage was another $29 (The garage at the subway station nearest my home charges $5.) But it was worth it: I can spend as much on a dinner alone, and this was maintaining friendships.

I had a couple of apprehensions beforehand. One is that typically the conversation can go on almost endlessly (the waitress has to come back maybe four times before people decide to order), and that would have been a problem for my getting home in time for the Mass. But they took care of that. The other is that sometimes the conversation includes long stretches of Dan and John exchanging news about classmates with whom I was not acquainted, or only barely so, That makes for a pretty boring time. But this time there was little, if any of that. So it worked out well, and I was home in good time.

*In college, John B was a member of the a cappella octet called The Chimes. I didn’t think of the play on words until after I had written “chimed in.”

Five Days at the Monastery — Beyond the Schedule

It’s now six weeks since I arrived at the monastery, and over five since I came back home, so I’d better get to this before I forget everything.

The evening I got there, the monks had a buffet dinner, cooked by one of the monks, in the Chapter Room, instead of the everyday dinner in silence with table reading. This is the usual practice on Sunday evenings. It gave me an opportunity to tell the junior monk who had tweeted a recommendation of Destiny of the Republic that I had bought the book and begun to read it. He told me had come across it one day browsing in a Barnes and Noble bookstore.

The next day at haustus (snack time in mid-afternoon) some monks were talking about a student at the college, Louis, who was spending the weekend with the Franciscans exploring whether he might want to join them. Naturally, they would rather see him join the monastery. As it happened, since the day was a holiday, the abbot chose to have dinner in the Chapter Room again. Unexpectedly, Louis was at Vespers. Since the campus eateries were closed for the holiday, the abbot invited him to join us in the Chapter Room, and he accepted. It almost looked at times as if some of the monks were putting the “full court press” on him to get him to consider the monastery. Well, I suppose all religious orders can always use new members, but the abbey needs to maintain numbers to be an effective presence in the college. It happens that last summer one of the two junior monks who had taken temporary vows in 2014 had decided to leave, so now they only have two people “in formation,” the remaining junior and a novice who was admitted last January. I hope Louis will ultimately decide to join there. I don’t know him, so I can’t be sure he belongs, but the monks who do know him seem to think he’d be a good fit.

One thing I enjoy about the Chapter Room meals (held outdoors in the cloister in warm weather) is that afterwards, the monks clean the dishes and utensils, because the regular kitchen employees get the evening off. It’s fun, but it’s also impressive to see everybody, from the 80+ year old retired bishop of Portland to the novice, chipping in to do the work. I’ve noticed that other guests don’t join, but I go to the monastery to visit the monks as well as for private benefit, so I’m happy for the additional opportunity to spend time with them.

On Tuesday, when the campus bookstore reopened, I went to get some cough drops and something or other else. As I entered, the clerk cheerfully called out, “Happy Monday,” to which I replied, “or Tuesday, as the case may be.” After I had made my purchases and was walking away, I thought of a pun and went back and told her that “Tuesdays after a holiday can feel mundane.” She and a customer got a nice chuckle from it.

One day I went out to the cemetery. I know who most of the monks buried there are, since they were monks when I was there in the 60’s. Another day, I asked the abbot about visiting Fr. William in the nursing home. He wanted to go, but there were meetings of the College trustees that week, and he ended up not having a chance to go see Fr. William.

I had planned to leave on Friday afternoon in time to get home before dark. But then I noticed on the bulletin board that the Mass on Friday (at 5:15 because college was in session) would be for all the deceased monks of the abbey and its sister abbeys of the American-Cassinese Congregation of monasteries. With that added incentive, I decided to stay for the Mass, and the following dinner, recreation and Vespers. Leaving the Chapter Room a the end of recreation, I tried to say good bye to the junior and the novice, but couldn’t get to them.

As we were all walking down the corridor toward the church, Father Peter twice urged me to visit again soon. For services in the church, the monks file in led by the juniors, with the abbot at the end of the procession. Leaving, the order is reversed, beginning with abbot, and ending with the most junior. After they’ve all left, the guests leave. I was pleasantly surprised at the end of Vespers on Friday to find that the junior monk and the novice had stopped at the door into the corridor to say good bye. Then, a little bit farther on, the abbot was waiting to bid me good bye.

It had been a very pleasant visit, and I’m looking forward to going back in the not-too-distant future. I’m trying to remember the big points I took from the book I had found in my room. I had thought I might set aside some time each day to continue reading the Pirenne book, the follow-up by Scott, and then other books, but that hasn’t happened. Instead, when I finished Destiny of the Republic as my dinnertime book, I turned to the Pirenne, which is better organized in the final chapter than in the earlier ones. One change which has continued is that I’ve expanded my usual morning prayers into something more like the Vigils they pray at the monastery at the beginning of the day. It’s interesting that it took me three yearly visits to be motivated to do that. “Third time never fails.” But seriously, it seems that sometimes it takes several exposures for something to sink in.

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.