The Journey to Resurrection Intro
(Lent, Holy Week and Easter in a Monastery)
As I write this series of reflections I am seated on a Delta flight from Mexico City (where I live) and Atlanta then to the City of Munich DE. It is a journey inspired by a dream after nearly 30 years of Parish Ministry as an Episcopal Priest now Benedictine Monk in a dispersed community (the New Benedictine Community). The dream being to spend Passion-tide; Holy Week and Easter at a Monastery. Not just any Monastery but one of the largest Benedictine Communities in Europe (St Ottilien of the Missionary Benedictines near the Ammersee half way between Augsburg and Munich, in the heart of Bavaria.
This is my fifth pilgrimage to St Ottilien. I am well acquainted by now with the superiors, the Arch Abbot Wolfgang, the Prior Timothy the Guest Master Pater Lugner, and the Novice director Pater Otto, a Swiss-American priest, monk and psychologist. Upon every visit I have been welcomed “Benedictine Style” by the Oberen or leaders of this impressive religious community.
Here I choose to make my real „vacation“ better said leisure and spiritual renewal as a yearly discipline.
As a life professed member of a small dispersed Benedictine Community it is here in Rural Bavaria that I find my own „thin place“, where my own Benedictine Spirituality intersects with an ongoing and active practice by some 100 plus Monks in residence. These monks have been active in this manner of life for a century and a half. They have lived through two World Wars, and the ongoing upheaval of modern life. The daily routine has always been the same, and life is lived out between work, prayer and silence that follows the traditional Christian Liturgical Calendar of the Life of Jesus himself. From the Annunciation to the Ascension lived out in daily commemoration which begins with Advent and Christmas and makes its fulfillment with Lent, Passion-tide , Holy Week, Easter and Pentecost.
Most of my life has been spent leading people in these liturgical commemorations as a parish priest or as a Dean of a Seminary in Mexico City. Now, for the first time in my life, I will be an active participant in these events but with no leadership role to play. I get to share and live the most solemn and spiritually charged days of the Calendar year.
My hope during these two weeks is to share my insights and observations first and foremost as a way to keep track of the spiritual significance of these days for myself and secondly to try and go deeper into the meaning of the greatest of the Christian Paschal Mystery in the context of Monastic Celebration and Liturgical Prayer.
Alongside this experience I am reading a Book by the well known Theologian and Scripture Scholar John Crossan called Resurrecting Easter. I am hoping that the combination of study and reflection on the Paschal Mystery blended with two weeks of Monastic Living alongside others in Community will bring with it new ways of looking at our own experience of passion, death, burial and resurrection.
This time in my own spiritual journey marks a crossroads that many of us in this life will eventually experience….; retirement!
For maturing adults it is many times one of the most impacting and life changing events we will experience in a life time. It is a time when we begin to face close up our mortality and eventual death. It is a time of reconciling and giving an account to ourselves and our Creator of what we have done with our adult lives according to our resources and life circumstances. For many of us we have already lost at least one of our parents and countless Aunts and Uncles. We have probably lived through and survived more than one significant or committed relationship. We find ourselves putting everything on the scales of worth and value. We are also asking ourselves „now what?“. Is this where it ends? Or is this like the Resurrection the beginning of new life?
I think a Monastic Setting is as good of place as any to embark on this life changing journey. The life changing events of the last days of Jesus intersect with the many existential questions that come with maturity, aging, and finally death and dying. These are questions that we carry deep within us all the days of our life from the moment we realize suddenly that „we are not going to live forever.“. There are special moments in our life, frequently when we are going through any kind of life change or loss that these questions become personally meaningful.
It is my hope to share with the reader and myself a little bit of my own personal journey directed towards the overreaching meaning of the Paschal Mystery in the life of any human being. It is the monastic setting where all life is on an even plane. Everyone dresses the same. Only the Arch-Abbot carries a simple pectoral cross around his neck as a sign of his spiritual burden as prime pastor of his flock. Each monk is like all of us on a very solitary journey to God. No one can take our place, fill in the blanks, or answer the questions for us. It is a unique discovery that we each must walk as Monks, with the emphasis that the origin of the word speaks of „monos“, being ALONE. It is in our aloneness, our solitary duty, our solidarity with all humanity in their aloneness, where we discover that we are not alone, but that God walks beside us every step of this journey. Like the Monk, we walk alone but in Community. We are accompanied by other fellow sojourners and travelers who intersect with us and keep us company. They may be our family, important friends, coworkers or students who share common interests, or even members our our religious circles be they parish based or some other intentional community. Wherever we are on our journey, the example of Monastic living brings us back into ourselves and invites us on the most exiting journey of all, the journey „within“.
Pic Arch-Abbot Wolfgang, Novice Master Pater Otto, Newly Professed Br Ignatius