Solemnity of the Passing of St. Benedict

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Happy Solemnity of the Transitus of St. Benedict!

We celebrate this special feast day for Benedictines, honoring the Abbot St. Benedict for his life and witness. Today Conception Seminary College is celebrating its annual Pastor’s Day, where the seminarians’ pastors were invited to visit. These past few weeks of Lent have gone by quickly. Spring officially began yesterday, and there are wonderful signs of Spring already at Conception. The forecast promises warmer temperatures into the 50’s and 60’s during the next week.

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Transitus2019 - 65Last weekend I traveled to Boulder, Colorado to visit a vocation candidate of ours. I was able to spend time meeting his roommates, seeing his workplace, and have dinner with his family. I also celebrated Mass Sunday morning at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church near the University of Colorado campus. After Mass on Sunday, the vocation candidate and I were able to go to Eldorado Canyon State Park and complete two beautiful hikes. One was 3.5 miles and the other was just under 5.0 miles. It was great to be outside in the mountains, enjoying the weather, and having good conversations about following God’s will and discernment.

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Lord our God,
you filled the blessed abbot Benedict
with the spirit of your Son
and made him a master in the way of perfection.
As we celebrate his entry into glory,
may we attain that love which surpasses all understanding.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Lent Begins

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Abbot Benedict presided at Mass for Ash Wednesday. At Mass we prayed in the Opening Prayer: Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.

Each year, in preparation for Lent, each monk of Conception Abbey meets with the Abbot to submit his “bona opera” (good works).  The bona opera is a list of usually three practices that the monk has prayerfully decided to do for Lent.  Normally these works correspond to the traditional practices of Lent: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

The bona opera is written or typed on a piece of paper and submitted to the Abbot requesting his blessing.  Each monk has a meeting time as an opportunity to speak with the Abbot and share any ideas or concerns.

I have found that it is most helpful to have my Lenten good works written down, because it is more concrete and tangible.  Posting it somewhere in my room where I will see it (and not others) is helpful for holding oneself accountable to the practices throughout the 40 days.

Many people think primarily in terms of giving something up, but sometimes it can be more effective to take something on. What practices will help me grow closer to God during these 40 days of renewal? Where have I become complacent or comfortable or attached to that which is NOT God or directing me to God? How can I renew some of my current practices with greater fervor and devotion?

In his Ash Wednesday Conference to the monks, Abbot Benedict concluded with these words of wisdom:

In the end, Lent, like monastic life is about our cooperation with God’s grace.  We discipline our bodies so that our spirit might be more open to hearing God’s word and responding to God’s grace.  But the real work of Lent is God’s work:  namely joining us to his Son’s death that we might also be joined to him in his resurrection.

Lent, like monastic life, is all about Easter and its characteristic is joy and spiritual longing.  In fact, the only two occurrences of the word, “joy,” in the Rule are found in Chapter 49 on Lent.  To enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ more deeply will always create in us the deepest joy and hope available to human beings.

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February Activities

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It has been an activity filled past couple of weeks. In addition to the work and ministry, we continue to get more snow. It has been a particularly snowy winter this year both in quantity of snow and frequency. Just last night we got another 2 inches of snow as evidence by my picture below.

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I was away from the monastery doing a variety of vocation work. I traveled to Tulsa, Oklahoma to visit a few priests I know, including alumnus Fr. Gary Kastl who serves as the President of Bishop Kelley High School (Tulsa, OK). He had arranged for their high school students who are discerning a priestly vocation to meet with me during their lunch period. Fr. Gary provided pizza and an opportunity for me to visit and talk about monastic life with close to 20 young men. The visits, which occurred over three lunch periods, was a nice opportunity to communicate Benedictine spirituality and answer their questions about monastic life.

The main work on my trip was to serve as the chaplain for 80-90 Catholic students from Oklahoma State, the University of Tulsa, and NSU (Tahlequah, OK) on their Koinonia Retreat. It was a weekend retreat that involved prayer, fellowship, several student speakers and small group discussion. The retreat was held at Camp Egan in Tahlequah, Oklahoma (southeast of Tulsa). The weather was better than Missouri weather, and the scenery was very nice. I enjoyed my interactions with the students and being able to be their spiritual guide.

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Below: One afternoon I climbed the steep trail that led up the bluff to this overlook.IMG_5252IMG_5254IMG_5256

Above and below: Students on the retreat had the opportunity for fun, fellowship, and small group discussions.

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Below: On Monday I traveled to Oklahoma City to visit Fr. Macario, our confrere who is helping out at St. Charles Borremeo parish. Fr. Macario began his ministry last summer and I wanted to see where he worked and visit with him over lunch. We had a nice afternoon together. He showed me how he has several pictures of the monastery in his new office.

My travels also included visiting three men who are discerning a call to monastic life.

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Weeks ago I had promised several of the seminarians in the senior class that we would go rock climbing. We added a few more, including three of our junior monks who were also interested in going climbing with us. The three seniors were all seminarians that lived on the same residence floor as me during their freshmen year in seminary when I served as their chaplain and formator. We established strong bonds of fraternity and it is neat to see them now as mature upperclassmen. We went to RoKC rock climbing gym in Kansas City, arriving Saturday morning and climbing for several hours. We had a wonderful time.

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Fr. Aquinas Professes Solemn Vows

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Today, in the presence of his family, friends, seminarians, and his monastic confreres, Fr. Aquinas professed solemn vows as a monk of Conception Abbey.  In the ceremony, Fr. Aquinas made a perpetual commitment to live as a monk of our monastery, vowing obedience, stability, and conversion of life.  As you can imagine, this is an absolutely joyful occasion in the life of Fr. Aquinas, the monastic community, and the entire Church.  Such an event is very fitting on this Saturday, celebrating the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.

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The profession ceremony took place within the context of Mass. After the proclamation of the Gospel, the Formation Director, Prior Anselm, brings Fr. Aquinas to the altar with hands joined.  The Abbot begins the rite by calling forth Fr. Aquinas in the name of the whole community.  Abbot Benedict sings, “Come, my son, hear me.  I will teach you the fear of the Lord.”  Fr. Aquinas states his intention to profess vows before the Abbot, the community, and before Almighty God.

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After the Abbot’s Admonition, Fr. Aquinas is free to come forward and profess vows, by reading aloud his profession document and signing it on the Book of the Gospels on the altar.

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Once, Fr. Aquinas has signed his profession document, he stands before the altar and prays, “Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam, et non confundas me ab expectatione mea” (Psalm 119:116- Receive me, Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live; do not disappoint me in myhope).  Fr. Aquinas sings this prayer three times, each time it is repeated by the solemnly professed members of the monastic community, who then add the doxology.  It is a prayer of total surrender and trust in the Lord.

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Then, the newly professed lies prostrate on the floor as he is covered with the black funeral pall and the bell tolls, which is symbolic of his death to self and his former way of life.  The entire assembly prays for Fr. Aquinas.

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Pictured below: Abbot Benedict, Fr. Aquinas, and Fr. Aquinas’ father.IMG_0732

More Winter Weather

This morning’s weather is the coldest I can remember  it ever being at negative 14. The weather service said it “felt like negative 23,” but I didn’t go outside to see if it is was accurate. Unfortunately, our electricity also went out around 5:55 AM and wasn’t restored until 7:00 AM.

The snow has stayed around these past weeks. The local public school in the area had several snow day last week and they are not having classes today because of the cold. It’s winter, so snow and cold weather is what we can expect. Even with the snow, there are some rather beautiful sights around campus. Enjoy these pictures!

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Below: Br. Bernard delivers the mail on campus, even with all the snow.

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SEEK 2019

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Fr. Etienne, Br. Placid, and I spent the past 5 days at the SEEK 2019 Conference, which is sponsored by FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students). This year we got a booth to promote vocations to Conception Abbey. On January 2, we loaded up the car and headed to Indianapolis to arrive a day early for the conference. The conference attracted close to 17,000 Catholic college students, men and women seeking a deeper relationship with Christ. The days were filled with opportunities to celebrate the Sacraments and hear some excellent speakers.

Thursday, January 3 was the start of the conference. However, we had the morning to do some sight seeing in downtown Indianapolis. The three of us walked to the State Capital and toured the building (pictures below).

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Below: Fr. Etienne posing for a picture.img_5033
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Below: View from the gallery of the Indiana House of Representatives.
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img_5058Above: A view looking up at the stained glass dome in the Capital building.
Below: September 11 Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.img_5041

We visited the World War Memorial. It was a very fine memorial to our veterans. We talked to the tour guide and were able to get a sneak peak into the main memorial hall, even though it was closed for repairs. The blue lights were on the ceiling of the memorial, and normally the lighted star would be raised and hanging in the center.

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The SEEK Conference itself was an exciting and life-changing event for many young people. Our booth was situated among many other religious booths from all over the country. There were other Benedictine monasteries also present from St. Meinrad, St. Procopius, and St. Anselm’s. We had a lot of interactions with young people.

First, we had to get our display set up properly. Below: Fr. Etienne steams the table cloth.

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We had various materials and goodies for the students, including pens, Benedictine medals, prayer cards, cookies, bottled water, mints, and even a raffle with different prizes.

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Above: We also had a 32 inch TV that played a 19 minute video on loop, showing different of the Abbey and our monastic life.

Below: Visiting with men interested in monastic life.

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Below: Abbot Benedict flew in for 2 days of the conference. It was his first SEEK experience and it was a chance for him to visit with the men who have expressed interest in monastic life and to get to see many alumni of Conception Seminary College.

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Below: All of us gathered at our booth.

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Above: Abbot Benedict blesses some Benedictine medal and religious articles.

Below: Abbot Benedict and I catch up with some priest friends of mine- Fr. Mike Pratt (Vocation Director of the Diocese of Tulsa) and Fr. Kerry Wakulich (Chaplain at St. John’s University Parish on the campus of Oklahoma State University, and he is also my classmate).

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Below: The students who won the raffle were pretty excited. We raffled off two Benedictine crucifixes and an icon of St. Benedict.

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A few last pictures from downtown Indianapolis including Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts football team plays.

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Christmas Day

Merry Christmas! Christmas is always a beautiful time of year at the monastery. It takes much work from many people to make our celebrations special and prayerful. Many monks contributed to the decorating of our Abbey Basilica. You can see the pictures below of how it looks.

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Below: Many vigils lights are placed all over the Basilica and burn for Midnight Mass and into the morning.
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Below: Our musicians also practice a lot in preparation for Christmas. Br. David is practicing on the pipe organ.

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Below: After Midnight Mass- I am pictured with Abbot Benedict and four altar servers (local youth from the area). It was a very nice celebration and we had a good crowd of people in the Basilica.

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Below: The monks ring the bells by hand. The largest bell will take a person 5-10 feet off the ground. See how the bell carries one of the novices up into the air!

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Christmas Day was 45 degrees and sunny. I was able to enjoy a bike ride in the afternoon.

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Preparing for Christmas

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These upcoming holy days need lots of preparation, both interiorly (spiritually) and exteriorly (decorations). A group of local youth (my Bible Study group) came to the Abbey Saturday afternoon for Mass, lunch, Day Prayer, cards, quiet time, and Adoration and confession. It was an enjoyable afternoon helping them prepare for Christmas.

The monks have been spending time decorating the monastery and the Basilica. We had our annual tree trimming party on Saturday evening.

Below: Our beautifully decorated O Antiphon book- the antiphons from December 17-23.

Above: Beautiful clouds and weather this week.
Below: Local young adults from my Bible Study spending a little time of prayer and reflection before Christmas.

Below: On Thursday I took Br. Blaise over to visit some of the older sisters at Clyde in their infirmary. A small group of us played the dice game “Farkle.” Sr. Paula won.

Above: The novices hang the Christmas banners in the Basilica.
Below: Monks involved in putting up the decoration and the nativity set.

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Below: Who gave Br. Matthew a hammer?

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Below: Pictures from Saturday’s Christmas tree trimming party in the monastery. After the party, several monks played some board games. Archbishop Jerome beat Fr. Etienne, Br. Matthew, and Br. David in a new game Br. Anselm got called “Azul.” While the novices play 10-point Pitch at another table.IMG_4957IMG_4956IMG_4958IMG_4959

The community gathers in the recreation room for the annual tree trimming party on Saturday. There were lots of good snacks on hand.IMG_4963IMG_4967

Above: Br. Luke hangs ornaments on the tree.
Below: Br. Cyprian can hardly contain his excitement for Christmas and hanging ornaments.IMG_4965IMG_4971IMG_4968