There is a Great Deed which the blessed Trinity shall do at the last day, as I see it. And what that deed shall be, and how it shall be done is unknown to all creatures below Christ. And it shall be hidden until it is done.
He wants us to know of it so that we shall be more at ease in our soul, and at peace in our love, and that we should leave off looking at all the storms that might keep us from the truth, and should rejoice in him.
It was great to be back.
In the midst of all the change and turmoil in our world it was a wonderful balm to spend a few days with the Benedictines. As I walked down the monastic corridor I thought of all the monasteries I have visited since my first visit to Douai Abbey in the Lent of 1980.
In each one of them I connected with a culture, a spirituality and a life that transcends our own age, culture and the worries and fears of our age.
When you visit a Benedictine monastery you are connecting with a life, a philosophy and a wisdom that is 1500 years old and which has stood the test of time.
I went feeling confused, dismayed, upset and stressed about various things: the state of our Catholic Church, the constant fighting not only between liberal and conservative Catholics, but amongst conservative Catholics themselves. I was stressed and annoyed by the disastrous and ludicrous American presidential election. I was stressed and confused about some personal issues that are (ultimately) transitory.
While there I connected with the one thing that really matters: as St Benedict says, “To prefer nothing to the love of Christ.”
I came home determined to blog again, and to use what little insights and wisdom I might have to help others see past the fleeting confusion and fear of this present time and to put their roots deep into their Catholic faith, into the love of God and neighbor and to move forward with the words of Pope St John Paul II in mind:
“Do not be afraid! Open Wide the Doors to Christ!”
The ancient legend from the Eastern Church, and recorded by St Gregory of Tours in the 8th century suggests that Mary Magdalene retired to Ephesus with the Blessed Virgin and died there. However later traditions told how Mary Magdalene went to Provence in France and spent the rest of her days as a penitential hermit. From Wikipedia:
The French tradition of Saint Lazarus of Bethany is that Mary, her brother Lazarus, and Maximinus, one of the Seventy Disciples and some companions, expelled by persecutions from the Holy Land, traversed the Mediterranean in a frail boat with neither rudder nor mast and landed at the place called Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer near Arles. Mary Magdalene came to Marseille and converted the whole of Provence. Magdalene is said to have retired to a cave on a hill by Marseille, La Sainte-Baume (“holy cave” baumo in Provençal), where she gave herself up to a life of penance for thirty years. When the time of her death arrived she was carried by angels to Aix and into the oratory of Maximinus, where she received the viaticum; her body was then laid in an oratory constructed by St. Maximinus at Villa Lata, afterwards called St. Maximin.[
St. Mary Magdalene’s relics were first venerated at the Abbey of la Madaleine, Vézelay in Burgundy from about 1050. Jacobus de Voragine gives the common account of the transfer of the relics of Mary Magdalene from her sepulchre in the oratory of Saint Maximin at Aix-en-Provence to the newly founded Vézelay; the transportation of the relics is entered as undertaken in 771 by the founder of the abbey, identified as Gerard, Duke of Burgundy. The earliest mention of this episode is the notice of the chronicler Sigebert of Gembloux (died 1112), who asserts that the relics were removed to Vézelay through fear of the Saracens.
The great abbey church of St Mary Magdalene at Vezelay is a marvel of Romanesque architecture. In the ninth century Charles the Bald gave land to the Benedictines to build a monastery and the great church crowns the hilltop and is surrounded by the town of Vezelay. The relics of St Mary Magdalene can still be venerated there today.
One of the features of the church are the carved tympanum over the West doors and the carved capitals. The carving over the main door features Christ enthroned in glory as the Great Judge. It was one of the inspirations for the tympanum art over the West door of the new church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Greenville.
He is fond of saying, “Every person, everywhere will always do whatever they can to get as close as they can to what they perceive as love.”
During the Lenten season do you see yourself and other people chasing all sorts of things that you know and they know will not ultimately satisfy?
We chase money and power. We chase prestige and compliments. We chase pleasure and entertainment. We chase relationships and sex. We chase so many things in so many ways and invest so much time and effort and energy to pursue these things.
But in the end they are only ever substitutes or twisted forms of the one thing we desire: love.
“Every person, everywhere will always do whatever they can to get as close as they can to what they perceive as love.”
The most twisted folks actually pursue violence and hatred and bitterness because that is what they perceive as love.
A study was done amongst kindergarten children to see how they responded to a classmate who was in trouble or pain. When another child stumbled and fell and scraped their knee and was in distress, some of the children were indifferent. Some went to console their classmate with concern and affection.
Others went over and hit the child. That is because the children themselves had been abused at home by the people who were supposed to love them so they perceived love as hitting another person.
You see how sad and twisted we are? May God have mercy. We’re so messed up that we even perceive killing and violence, war, rape and torture as something good. We perceive it as a way to get love.
So during Lent when you are examining your loves, ask God to free you of your false loves. Ask to be freed from your distorted loves. Ask to be freed from all that is a substitute for love, so that in your freedom you will be granted the gift of true divine love.
Which is another name for the Divine Mercy.
Malmesbury Abbey is one of many in England which was destroyed during Henry VIII’s revolution, while the church (or in this case part of it) was retained to become the village parish church.
At Malmesbury in Wiltshire the church sits high on a hill above the small market town. The monastery buildings are gone and only about half of the old abbey church is in use. You can still see, however a fine Norman (Romanesque) interior topped by Gothic vaulted ceiling.
Before moving back to the USA we lived in Chippenham, Wiltshire, just a short drive from Malmesbury. We would take visiting Americans there for a visit, and it was during one such visit with our children that we learned about the flying monk of Malmesbury.
Eilmer was a monk of Malmesbury Abbey and is known to have written on astrology. All that is known of him is told in the Gesta regum Anglorum(Deeds of the English Kings), written by the eminent medieval historian William of Malmesbury in about 1125. Being a fellow monk of the same abbey, William almost certainly obtained his account directly from people who knew Eilmer himself when he was an old man.
William records that Eilmer’s youth, had read and believed the story of Daedulus, so he devised wings and attached them to his hands and feet and jumped from the top of the tower of Malmesbury Abbey.
he flew for more than a furlong [201 metres]. But agitated by the violence of the wind and the swirling of air, as well as by the awareness of his rash attempt, he fell, broke both his legs and was lame ever after. He used to relate as the cause of his failure, his forgetting to provide himself a tail.
Scholars and engineers have figured out that to travel for “more than a furlong” (220 yards, 201 metres) he would have had to have been airborne for about 15 seconds.
The Benedictines were forever innovating. Their work is the foundation of many modern inventions and developments. Can we put the monk Eilmer in the books for one of the earliest aviation pioneers along with the Wright Brothers?
If that’s too much of a stretch we can just say he’s the patron saint of hang gliders and wing suit daredevils.
Solitude is not loneliness and loneliness is not simply being alone.
Loneliness is a condition of the heart, not the circumstances of life. When one is lonely there is a lack of knowing love in the depth of the human heart. Loneliness is a symptom of the yawning absence at the foundation level of each human person. It is an unhappiness at being alone which grows into a restless search for something–we know not what.
So we spend an enormous amount of time, money and energy trying to fill that gap. We try to fill it with entertainment, drugs, sex, possessions, family, friends, career. In a multitude of ways we try to fill that gap, then when all those things are over the gap is still there because we never succeeded in filling it because we were trying to satisfy a hunger with the wrong thing.
Feeding the hunger for love with everything else but love is like trying to nourish your physical hunger with anything else but food. You will not make hunger go away by drinking water or taking pills or doing exercise or sitting still and taking deep breaths and telling yourself you are not hungry.
You need food.
So your heart also needs Love. I capitalize “Love” because I am not referring to human love, (although that helps to fill the gap). I am referring to the Divine Love. We are made for God. We hunger for God’s love and that is the only thing that will satisfy the hunger.
Loneliness is the deprivation of the knowledge of that Divine Love. That’s why you can be lonely in a crowd. That’s why you can be lonely at a party. That’s why you can be lonely in a family. That’s why you can be lonely in a marriage.
The monastic life (and the word comes from monos–to be alone) is a witness to the truth that the human person is able to be solitary but not alone. The photograph is of a Carthusian monk–hermits who live the most complete life of solitude as hermits.
The solitary hermit has learned that he can live in complete peace with no one but God. This is the witness the hermit gives to the whole church. He says to me and he says to you–“See, I am a living illustration of the truth that God will supply all of your needs according to his riches in glory!” (Philippians 4:19) The hermit says, “See, I live in this cell with nothing but God. I am a living witness to the truth that you do not need all that ‘stuff’ in your life to make you happy. I am happy with nothing but God!”
Finally, the hermit is a living witness that the follower of Jesus Christ needs never to be lonely. We may be solitary, but we do not need to be lonely. We can move out of loneliness by developing a life of prayer, and through the life of prayer we will learn that “He who has God is lacking in nothing.”