I am convinced that you are full of goodness. Romans 15:14
Last month, I had the privilege of leading the annual retreat for Archabbot Justin DuVall, three retired archabbots, two retired abbots from Blue Cloud Abbey and most of the monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.
I can’t tell you what an honor it was to be asked and how intimidated I was by the whole experience. I went to seminary there and I have been working there for the last ten years. It was like teaching your teachers and preaching to your bosses — all at the same time.
I delivered nine conferences in their beautiful Chapter Room, the room where they elect abbots, vote on receiving new members and make most of their major decisions as a community. It is their version of the Sistine Chapel. I also delivered a homily at the closing Mass in the Archabbey Church, after which they sang a verse three-times, the same verse they sang individually when they made their solemn vows.
The title of the retreat was “Renewing the Radical Communitarian Dimension of Monastic Life — One Monk at a Time.” I focused on the things they needed to do as individual monks to strengthen the unity of their community, rather than on what someone else ought to do. I ended each conference with a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that says, “Let everyone sweep in front of his own door and the whole world will be clean.”
Each conference addressed some aspect needed for community living: taking responsibility for oneself, thinking as a family, dealing with gossip, anger, forgiveness and playing small.
I talked about a process for building stronger unity, whether it is in a monastery, a presbyterate or a family. I ended with a conference on their unique gifts as a community and their contributions to the church.
The most significant gift that community has is imagination — the ability to keep reinventing itself over and over again as they read the signs of the times. Without the gift of imagination, they would not have survived in the middle of nowhere, over there in Southern Indiana, when other institutions, more strategically placed, have not. They changed with the times, and because they have, they are not only surviving, but thriving. As I look back over my own ministry, especially when I have been able to make imaginative new connections, I give them the credit.
God only knows the contributions they have made not only to the church locally, but to the church nationally and internationally. They have educated most of the priests in the surrounding dioceses, not to mention hundreds of permanent deacons, lay ministers and youth ministers. They have strengthened the faith of more Catholics and non-Catholics, by their retreats and printed spiritual resources, than anyone can imagine.
At the end, I told them, “You don’t have to be perfect to be exceptional!” Working for them, I have gotten to see their imperfections, but let me tell you, they are exceptional. Support them!