Friday, May 4, 2012
The Rector's Conference
In the past years, it can hardly have gone unnoticed that I have sought to fill our corridors with faces, paintings of prominent figures in the history of our monastery, our archdiocese, our universal Church, as well as Saints and other figures whose lives, mirrored in their images have impacted the work of Saint Meinrad. Here, in the dining room, which with the chapel enjoys the status as the “heart” of our institutional identity, I have placed a very motley crew, the former rectors of Saint Meinrad, some still very much alive, most who have passed on to a more perfect rest, all of whom, in their unique way have contributed to the legacy of Saint Meinrad and spirit of hospitality and service that we have hopefully inspired for over 150 years. When I was a novice, one of these former rectors, Fr. Conrad, seen here on my right side with the prayer shawl that represents his Hebrew Scholarship, did me a great favor. He was the rector twice in his career. He probably would have been happier dabbling with his alephes, kohs and waus. I was having a very bad day, which novices sometimes have and I was standing at the mailboxes looking particularly down-trodden. Fr. Conrad came up to me and said: It’s not so bad is it? We love you. That was all I needed. It is the last thing I ever heard him say. About a month later he had a stroke and went into a coma that lasted almost four years. Perhaps he was happier dabbling internally with his alephs, his kohs and his waus. Here are the rectors. They look at us every day. They see us from their place on the other side. I hope they like what they see. What do they see? They see deacons, a very unique group of men who have gathered literally from the four corners of the earth, gathered into this haven in Southern Indiana. They came however long ago full of hope, full of fear. They see men who have transformed their lives of selfish interests into a life of sacrificial service. They see men, not unlike the men they saw in their own day. They see men ready to become martyrs, witnesses to the love of God in their own lives and in the world. They see men who are heroes to me, men who will give everything because they want nothing. Men whose unique personalities are now subsumed in the personality of Christ, but nevertheless maintain their quirky generosity. They see men who are good and holy, and sinful, and mostly striving, striving to live up to the grandeur of their call and realizing that in the years to come as they are gazed upon by other eyes, by admiring and critical eyes, that they will never live up to the grandeur of their call until they cross the Jordan, until they sit down in heaven and seen the Lord face to face. They are men whose entire lives are now geared to this confirmation: Well done, good and faithful servant, now enter into the joy of your master. My brothers you are soon to leave this Hill. We will no longer see you but Fr. Theodore will see you, Fr. Conrad will see you, Abbot Athanasius will see you. Saint Meinrad will see you and we will be proud, we are proud. They see our new and soon to be deacons, odd birds in their new décor, odd birds changing week by week into new décor. They seem to be disappearing, but of course, in a very real way they are appearing for the first time. What will they become, how will their disparity be turned into generosity of service in the crucible of love? The rectors see them into the future, they see these disparate elements of class consciousness dragged into communion by their learning to love in a new way, learning to care in a different way, learning to sacrifice in a wonderful way even as they tug on their new collars. What will the rectors see? What will we see with them? The rectors see our second year men, the leviathan class soon to be reduced as men go on pastoral year, soon to be reconstituted by returning seminarians. They speak different languages, Korean, Spanish, Okie. They come from different places. How will they find the final assent to Mount Carmel? The rectors see them struggling, speaking out, hushing themselves and finding when they should be honest about their struggles, in finding that their struggles are their strengths. When I am weak, then I am strong. And there is weakness there, but much strength. The rectors will see them become leaders of the Church, grow up (finally) and merge into a hopefulness, a gratefulness, a generosity of spirit that will move from rehearsal to performance, from practice to way of life. Whom do the rector’s see? They see our first theologians, men coming to terms with their identity as ambassadors of Christ, men sometimes still consumed by doubts, by disappointments, by questions. Consumed by questions. There is a great deal of faith in our first theologians, the faith that comes from surrendering my life to the God I cannot see and then, after the surrender of realizing that he is near, as near as my next door neighbor, that he is personal, as personal as my friend or enemy, that he is visible, as visible as the host rising in humble grandeur over the altar. The rectors see in them desire, hope, and a generous coming to be. And what of Second Philosophy? The rectors see the men of second philosophy as men in transit, some to first theology here, some elsewhere, some returning to the world as better men, more hopeful men, more focused men. They see philosophers who aspire to the things of God. They see men who are looking forward to stretching their legs into a new way of life, whether here or elsewhere. They see men who are practicing their skills for welcoming as they look forward to new visits, new confreres and new realities which they have learned, hopefully to embrace with open arms. What do these old rectors see? They see our first philosophers, standing outside their doors waiting to bolt, moving from their place of comfort into the larger community. They see men who have learned in a very short time to move beyond their individual concerns and find in one another, heartache, exhilaration, even the eschaton. Our first philosophers are a wild group, made wilder in Christ. I hope their wildness continues as these old rectors watch them become men of Christ, men of the Church, men for the future. They see our faculty coming and going every day, men and women, some new, some known for a long time. They see intellect, they see talent, they see sacrifice. These rectors know what a sacrifice our faculty members have made by casting their lots in southern Indiana, by embracing a process of formation, even a creed, which is not so well known to them. When I see our faculty, I see sacrificial love, poured out in countless ways, certainly in the classroom but often in unseen ways. These old rectors know something. The rector’s pictures are on the walls, but the faculty and staff are the life blood of a seminary community. And our life blood is also the blood of Christ, poured out for the life of the Church through many years, in countless ways. The old rectors know we can never repay them for their generosity and so the rectors, the rector, pray to God that they will eventually know. They see our staff, again, self-less, men and women of honor. They see folks who come here day after day, who give their all, who give everything, who give more than we can ever expect, and then go home, to families, to communities where they are likewise giving all. They see the monks, prayer and work, conditioned day to day by the life of credible witness to the power of the Gospel. They are good men, holy men, sometimes cantankerous men. They are also real men who have real struggles and are not afraid to understand them from the abbot down. They see our lay students, young and old, men and women who are looking for their place in the Church, some as professional ministers, some as volunteers, some as women and men of joy in Christ. They sacrifice, they seek to pay their tuition, they find ways to do their homework in the midst of busy lives. In some ways they put us to shame, but they don’t want to. They want to be a part of God’s kingdom with us in service and love for His people. Some of these old rectors might not be able to figure out who they are, but we know because we need them and because we love them. What might the old rector’s see? They see the priests who come for our institute programs. They see our permanent deacon candidates. They see our youth for the summer programs. They see all of the folks who come to us as guests, the thousands of folks welcomed from year to year. They see all of the men and women who comprise the legacy of Saint Meinrad. This surging populace comes forward to present themselves to the old rectors at breakfast, lunch and dinner. They come to be fed, certainly by our kitchen staff, but also fed by the rectors, by their heritage, by the legacy of Saint Meinrad. I hope they see how much they have done. How much they do. And I hope they can see something else. I hope these worthy predecessors, I hope Fr. Conrad can see what is in my heart tonight. I hope they see the joy of watching the struggles and the triumphs that come really moment by moment in the lives of seminarians, students, faculty, staff, deacons, visitors. I hope they see wonder, the wonder of watching God’s power, striking daily with the force of lightening, the peal of thunder in anxious ears longing for peace, dignity, and love in a world torn apart by war, disrespect and hate. I hope they see gratitude, my gratitude in having the honor, the humble honor of serving here in my small way, the gratitude of a rector, one of their number, a sinful man whose only love is for God’s kingdom, whose only thankfulness is for you, the occasion of my service I hope they see awe, the awe of being a father to so many, the awe of trying my best to live up to the fatherhood that has been bestowed on me. I hope they see it, because, it is there, it is here in my heart, a heart filled with Joy Wonder Gratitude Awe Brothers and sisters we live in a cloud of witnesses, a great cloud of witnesses. They see us. They see us and rejoice.