Thursday, November 06, 2008

finding it... again

But when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk 18:8)

Our Lord’s ominous question recorded in Luke’s Gospel would be emphatically misunderstood were it taken solely as rhetorical.

Faith as a life decision that redeems and informs all one’s plans and aspirations is in visibly short supply in a world that sets merely passing goals for us... money, fame, comfort and that scam of scams: ‘security’.

But there are places where faith is cultivated as an all-consuming lifestyle, where the noise, the distraction, the sham and the shamelessly destructive glitter is sealed out hermitically to the benefit of all those strong and wise enough to go beyond the false promises and permanent dissatisfactions.

I was fortunate enough to spend a week in such a place at the end of October.

Spencer Abbey of the Cistercian Order of Strict Observance (Trappist) is one of those singular oases where silence, prayer, work and study permit faith to flourish unsullied and the discovery of its very particular joy.

The history of the Spencer monks is adventurous and colorful. The nearly 2400 acres of solitary retreat in the rolling hills of central Massachusetts is the stage for sainthood, personal redemption, solace and healing for everyone who lives or visits there.

For me it meant no trains shaking the house, no sirens filling the night air, no phones, meetings, e-mails or complaints about the many tasks left unperformed by so many people left unsatisfied by my performance.

The retreat was loosely formatted: an open invitation to chant the liturgy of the hours seven times a day with the monks, concelebrated Mass at 6am and a guided meditation once a day by one of the priests of the abbey. (Only one in three of the monks go on to receive Holy Orders. The others live as choir monks and lay brothers their entire lives in the monastery.)

Fr. Matthew, our retreat guide – there were five other priests that week on retreat – reflected on the topic of universal salvation as found in the writings and teachings of Pope Benedict. The theological thought behind his comments, from Origen and Julian of Norwich to Von Balthasar and Ratzinger himself, was a refreshing variation from the irritating and often senseless blather that a temporary administrator of inner city parishes deals with 24/7.

It was also a change from what I had previously experienced as ‘spiritual exercises’ – very busy, regimented and maddeningly micro-managed.

It was like a cool, invigorating dip in a secluded lake in the middle of a dry, hot summer.

Now it’s back to the grind with the challenge of keeping the inner oasis fresh and vibrant until my circumstances permit me another escape to Spencer...