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TREASURE

Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

—–Luke 12:27-34

I have a little rock, smaller than the palm of my hand and shaped like a perfect heart.  On a summer day while taking a walk with my grandfather, he noticed it on the ground and gave it to me.  That was more than fifty years ago, and after moving sixteen times and a lot of life, I still have that little rock.  It is one of my greatest treasures.

Jesus spoke of treasure.  He had been telling his followers that the things we worry about – the material things like clothes and food, where we live and how much is in our “storehouses” ahave already been provided by the Father.  He encouraged them to look at the beauty of the lilies of the field and the helpless birds fed by their Creator.  No greater provision could have been made for them.

Your treasure becomes what drives you.  Your treasure determines how you spend your time and money and energy.  Your treasure dominates your thoughts and consumes your passion.  Your treasure defines your soul.

Jesus had just told the parable of the rich fool.  This man had planned and horded and saved.  He had become the rich owner of many storehouses and was proud of his hard work and accumulated abundance.  One night – he died.  He had a great wealth of the world’s temporary treasure all put away in a “safe” place, and a poverty of eternal treasure stored away in heaven.

Jesus has told us to make sure our treasure is in heaven, to make sure that what is important is eternal, to make sure that what is precious to us is of God.  Christ has told us that what we cherish must be spiritual, must last past the few years of our lives, and must live on in the souls of those we have served.  Our spiritual footprints should help others who journey behind us to find the way to Christ.  Then our treasure is forever safely kept by God.

There is an old Creole proverb that says, “Tell me who you love, and I’ll tell you who you are.”  Jesus said your heart all of who you are determines what you treasure.  Jesus warns us, we cannot serve two masters.  We will choose to give our hearts to the world’s temporary treasure or God’s eternal treasure.

While you ponder and wait this lent be honest about whom you love and what you love.  Take the time of this season to store up that eternal treasure, that real treasure so rare and precious it cannot be bought.  It can be found in unexpected places and unexpected people as we serve in the name of Jesus Christ.  Jesus said, “Your heart and your treasure will be in the same place.”


Prayer– Lord, Teach me the value of eternal treasure. Forgive me for desiring the world’s treasure.

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Filed under Lent, Lenten Prayer Guide

A Monk’s Story Part 5

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 5

by Beckett

English: Roman Catholic monks of the singing o...

THE RINGING OF THE BELLS

One of my favorite jobs in the monastery was ringing the church bells.

The prior assigned that work to junior monks like me.

Each of us took turns ringing the bells one week a month.

There were six bells. Each had a name.

Raphael, Blaze, Laurence, Gabriel, Sixtus, and Angelo.

Each bell had a long rope that stretched from the bell tower all the way down to the church, into the ambulatory – the hidden walkway that reaches around the back of the church, behind the main altar.

The ropes were worn from years of use.

We rang the bells almost every day for prayer.

The bells were a way of communicating. We had sacred silence in the monastery. Ringing the bells told us when prayer began. Tolling the bells told us how prayer was ending.

For ringing, I simply continued pulling on the rope to keep the bell swinging with momentum.

Tolling means I could only let the bell ring once. It was a controlled clang.

We had four kinds of days of prayer. Each kind of day required a different way to ring the bells.

Most days were ordinary. We rang and tolled Gabriel then. He was the middle bell.

We never heard him at the first prayer service, Matins, just before 5 am. That was still a time of silence.

 

Gabriel was first rung with the sunrise, at 6am, for our Laudes service.

 

His note could be heard for about half a mile, all the way down to the Carmelite convent, where gentle sisters were also gathering together for their own morning prayer service.

 

We run Gabriel before mass, before Vespers (evening prayer), and before Compline (night prayer).

 

He was also tolled for our Angelus Prayer, which began after Laudes and Vespers. That was a prayer remembering how the angel Gabriel spoke with Mary, the mother of God.

 

Tolling Gabriel for the Angelus Prayer was tricky. He had to be tolled three times, then three more times, and then three last times. And then he was rung for a full minute.

 

Tolling bells was difficult for me at first.

 

Each bell had its own personality, and this was especially true for tolling.

For the lightest bell, Angelo, you could pull his rope down once, and hold it so that one note tolled out.

But you could not do that with Gabriel. He was too heavy. I had to pull his rope down just enough so that the hammer in the bell was about to strike a note, and then I’d release him, so that his bell tolled on the upswing. But then I had to quickly grab the rope again, to stop the bell from swinging back, preventing any further notes from knelling.

Tolling was an important aspect of monastic work.

Another kind of prayer day was memorials. That’s when we remembered an important event in the church’s history, such as the death of John the Baptist. On those days we’d ring two bells.

And after Laudes and Vespers, we’d toll just Gabriel again.

Fewer than ordinary days and memorial days were feasts. But they were more celebratory. Those were days when we remembered important events that shaped our relationship with God, such as Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist.

On those days I’d ring three bells. This meant that I would have to get another monk to help me. Sometimes I couldn’t find another brother. Trying to ring three bells at once was challenging, but it was possible, albeit awkward. I’d have to pull the rope of the two lighter bells in one hand while pulling the rope of the heavier bell in the other.

Fewest of the four prayer days were solemnities. They were the most important celebrations of our year. On those days, we remembered events that we believed changed the course of human history, such as Christmas and Easter.

On those days, all six bells were rung.

I had to get five other brothers to help me, and sometimes we had to make do with only four.

Each kind of day – ordinary, memorial, festal, and solemn – had a special sequence for the ringing of the bells.

Most days I’d ring Gabriel for a minute or so, while the monks walked in statio from the cloister to the church. I’d ring until they processed through the church and took their place in choir.

On festal days I’d ring the bells in a particular sequence for about five minutes. The sequence began with all three bells ringing for a minute. Then each bell was rung alone for a minute. Next two bells were rung together for the last minute. Finally all the bells were rung together.

Solemn days were wonderful! For mass, all six bells had to be rung for 15 minutes. This sequence began with all six bells ringing together for five minutes. Then each bell had a turn alone for a minute. Some bells were coupled together for a few minutes. At last, when the celebration was about to begin, all the bells had to be rung together.

The noise was grand, especially on the Easter Vigil, which began at 10pm and finished at 2am.

Before then, we had 40 days of Lent. We didn’t ring bells during that time because bells were considered celebratory instruments, and for us Lent was supposed to have greater gravitas.

Instead of ringing bells we had what we called a “clacker.” It was a wooden instrument with a handle that had to be cranked around, like an organ grinder. Yes, it made a *clacking* noise. It was penitentially loud.

We were glad when Lent finished for many reasons, Easter being principal, of course, but also because we put the clacker aside.

At the Easter Vigil, all six bells were rung for the first time after 40 days. It was a welcomed sound. We were celebrating the fact that we weren’t afraid of death any more because we believed that Jesus defeated it by rising from his tomb. All six bells announced our joy.

The bell ringing commenced two hours after the service began, right at the stroke of midnight.

We rang all six bells for almost ten minutes.

The bells could be heard for miles around. Many families lived down the road from the abbey. I never heard of any neighbor complaining.

Easter was beautiful because we celebrated life from death.

But funerals were equally important.

Only one bell could be heard at our requiems, Raphael, the largest.

We seldom rang him. He was seldom heard.

Most often we rang him with his five brothers, such as during Easter.

He was so heavy that, if you held on to his rope, he would pull you up into the air, which was often the case when it was time for the bells to silence.

I had to put all my weight into stopping his momentum. He could lift me five feet up.

But Raphael was never rung for the monk’s requiem: He was tolled.

Tolling him was the most challenging task. But I believe it was also the most important.

Like Gabriel, I had to pull Raphael down to the point where he was about to make a sound, and then I let go of his rope, so that the bell tolled on the up swing.

You see: Only one other noise preceded Raphael’s tolling: It was the noise of a hammer nailing the deceased brother into his coffin.

Our coffins were simply wooden boxes. The lower half of the brother was always nailed up. The upper half was exposed for the rest of us to view.

Once our requiem ended, the upper half was nailed closed. The hammer striking the head of the nail was the only sound in the church.

Some brothers couldn’t stand that noise. It sent them running from the church in tears.

So tolling Raphael the right way was important. It was the last celebratory noise we’d make for that deceased brother.

It was the last send off. It told everyone within earshot: Here is a brother who meant something to us. Here is a brother who did his best. Here is a brother we loved and served and helped grow closer to God. Here is a brother who acted as a channel of God’s love for us.

Several brother monks would carry his coffin from our church to our churchyard, where a grave had already been dug.

For Brother Gabriel’s funeral, I worked hard to toll Raphael just right.

It was my way to say goodbye, and ask forgiveness for the times I failed him.

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A Monk’s Story Part 5

 

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pop...

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pope Paul VI during Vatican II named Mary Mother of the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

For those new to this page, I have been sharing about my life before I started working for Anne Rice.

 

Anne and I met while I was in a monastery in New Orleans.

 

I was a Benedictine monk for several years.

 

In the last post I shared with you how I made my temporary vows, received the black habit of the Benedictines, and received my monastic name, Becket.

 

Now I’d like to share with you what happened right after that…

 

In most romance stories there’s the courtship and the marriage and then the honeymoon.

 

For many, once the honeymoon ends, the story ceases to be a romance. It becomes a drama.

 

I wish that I could say the monastic life was without drama. But that would be to say that there had been no romance with it either.

 

Yes, before I became a monk, I had a romance with the monastic life. I saw the flowing robes of the black monastic habits, I heard the chanting of the choir monks, and I smelled the good incense wafting in billows throughout the cavernous church.

 

Yes, the monastic life is beautiful, in the same way any marriage or partnership can be beautiful, especially when each person sincerely desires to be united in love.

 

After I made my temporary vows, after I gained my monastic name and donned my new habit, I soon realized one important truth: The monastery wasn’t a museum of heavenly saints. It was a hospital for broken men.

 

And I was a part of them. Indeed I was broken.

 

Still am.

 

Were good men in the monastery?

 

Yes.

 

Did hurtful things happen there?

 

Yes.

 

The monastery, I soon realized, was a microcosm of the world.

 

We were perfectly imperfect men devoting ourselves to prayer and to the great struggle of loving one another with the affection of brothers.

 

After I became an official monk, I received new work.

 

Once a week I had to serve as porter, greeting guests and answering phones.

 

Or I had to ring the church bells for each prayer service.

 

Or I had to serve as waiter at lunch and supper.

 

Or I had to wash dishes.

 

Or I had to read books during meals while my brother monks ate in silence — all of which are more facets of monastic life that I hope to share with you soon.

 

But the honeymoon of monastic life didn’t end there. That was only work.

 

The drama of monastic life began when I had to learn to get along with someone I didn’t like, yet had to love.

 

Brother Simon and I did not get along, at least not at first.

 

From where I stood, he didn’t seem to have any sincere desire to be a part of the monastery.

 

As I’ve written in previous posts, the monastery has specific times for prayer. It’s our horarium. Laudes is the hour for Morning Prayer. Vespers is the hour for Evening Prayer. We have predawn prayer and nighttime prayer and mass.

 

During each of those times, I began the nasty habit of watching Brother Simon because he wasn’t paying attention to the prayers.

 

He was looking around at all the paintings in the church, and at the gorgeous architecture, and at the magnificent pipe organ, and at anything but his choir book.

 

I could not understand how anyone would want to be a monk yet at the same time seem so irreverent.

 

I brought my grievances to my spiritual director, Father Ambrose. It was supposed to be my time for spiritual direction. But I was squandering it as a chance to gripe about Brother Simon, who I thought should leave the monastery.

 

“My life would be better if he left,” I said.

 

Father Ambrose was patient and kind with me. His wise and wizened face smiled. He scratched his long white beard. He thought before he spoke. Like all sagacious men, he only needed to tell me a few words.

 

With his few words, he reminded me that I didn’t know what was in Brother Simon’s heart. My brother might be paying attention to prayer, just not in the same way that I pay attention.

 

With his few words, Father Ambrose reminded me that I might be just as guilty as my brother. Brother Simon might not be watching his choir book. But neither was I. I was watching him watch other things.

 

Here are the few words that Father Ambrose spoke to me:

 

“If you’re not bothered by Brother Simon, you’re going to be bothered by someone else.”

 

I was shaken like never before.

 

These words caused in me a cascade of thought, helping me realize that everyone is bothered by someone.

 

It’s a part of human nature.

 

But Father Ambrose continued helping me see that human nature also has a surprising capacity to transcend brotherly hate.

 

At that moment I understood: That’s what it meant to be a monk.

 

Being a monk wasn’t only about the work of prayer. I was supposed to be working what I’d learned in prayer.

 

I had been unjustly judging Brother Simon. I was looking at the outside of the man, yet I wasn’t searching for the interior life of the monk.

 

You see, not all monks are the same. We were simply men who had one important common bond: We have a deep interior life that searches for an existential truth by means of work and prayer.

 

We worked together. We prayed together.

 

Yet sometimes we struggled to be in the same church together.

 

The thing that kept us working together and praying together was our long-term goal of discovering truth along the pathway of self-discovery and self-sacrifice.

 

The more we discovered about ourselves, the more we were challenged to sacrifice.

 

Father Ambrose had handed to me a profound helping of self-discovery. Now it was time for self-sacrifice.

 

So, Brother Simon and I talked.

 

That’s all.

 

It was all that needed to happen.

 

Brother Simon and I communicated our struggles. We shared our fears and our hopes and the things that confused us. Most importantly, we listened to one another.

 

Today Brother Simon heads the media department at the monastery.

 

It took some time, but I have come to admire him greatly. He has excellent taste in the visual arts. He’s a wonder with Photoshop.

 

And today, if I’m in insufferable traffic, or if I’m behind a penitentially slow person in the supermarket checkout, or if I’m struggling to like the person sitting next to me, I recall Brother Simon, and Father Ambrose’s lesson…

 

If I’m not bothered by this person, I’m going to be bothered by someone else.

 

I can’t rid myself of temptations to hate. That would be impossible. Temptations are natural. Hate is natural.

 

But sacrificing my “self” is also a natural action.

 

In the same way I chose to start seeing the inside of Brother Simon, I try to see the heart of the brother or sister beside me.

 

Does it expunge the temptation to hate?

 

No. But it does diminish it enough for me to work with kindness and patience.

 

Do I always succeed?

 

Certainly not.

 

But the purpose of my life isn’t to be pure perfection. It’s to accept myself as a perfectly imperfect person, struggling to surrender.

 

What am I surrendering to?

 

A truth that I’m still trying to accept: I don’t know everything.

 

But I know enough to be kind.

 

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Filed under Christian Journey, Christian Living, Church Conflict, Monasticism

A Monk’s Story Part 3

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 3

by Becket

At the heart of every religious vocation is the call to love. Love one another as we are loved. Sometimes love is prayer. Other times it’s work.

Before I entered the monastery, I don’t think I loved myself. Sure, I had a healthy hope of survival. But that’s not the same as healthy self-love. To be perfectly blunt, I didn’t love myself because I couldn’t. I didn’t know who I was. How could I love someone I didn’t know? This question begged another: If I don’t love myself, how can I love someone else?

Before the monastery, I didn’t fit in. In high school I clique-hopped. Early college too.

I couldn’t do that in the monastery. There were no cliques. There was only a small group of men working everyday to be kind to one another.

So my first year in the monastery was the quintessential pivot-point of my life. It shifted me from self-ambiguity to healthy self-love.

St. Joseph Abbey Church

As a novice I had to have a spiritual director. Usually this is an older or more experienced monk acting as a guide to monastic formation.

One monk in particular I hoped would be my spiritual director, Fr. Ambrose. He was elderly, wore large glasses, and had a long white beard. He was always reading, always quiet. He seemed to have an appealing grandfatherly kindness.

So I was greatly shocked when, upon asking him to be my spiritual director, he said, “No.”

Later I came to know him better. Today I believe he denied my request because all he truly wanted was to diminish before his brothers. That is, he wanted a more hermetic life. Quiet, simple.

A brash novice like myself was a thunderclap in his serenity.

Despite my disappointment, I returned to him twice more.

Finally he consented. I became his spiritual directee.

Quickly I discovered that he and I had different personalities, and that we appreciated different ways of communicating. Nevertheless, he proved to be the best spiritual director I ever had, and one of the best men I’ve ever known.

As my religious brother, he observed me in community, at meals, at recreation, and during prayer and work. As my elder, he called me on many faults. “A monk must let go of the world,” he would tell me. “You’re thinking too much about temporary things on earth and not about the heart of eternal love.”

The greatest fault he caught in me changed me life. He saw my great fault. It wasn’t something that I did consciously. You could say that from my youth I was taught to behave in a particular way. It wasn’t bad behavior. It just wasn’t healthy. Fr. Ambrose saw that how I was was not who I could be. And he said to me in so many words: “Whether you stay a monk or get married, whether you make monastic vows or wedding vows, you can’t give to anyone else something you do not possess. And healthy love is a possession that must by its very nature be given away freely.”

What didn’t I possess, Fr. Ambrose?

“Your self,” he said to me.

The true journey of my monastic vocation began at that moment.

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A Monk’s Story Part 2

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 2

by Becket

I am continually humbled that some of you are interested in my monastic life. Some have asked that I continue with my story. I still feel awkward doing this (forgive me), but I will give it a go.

I left off talking about adjusting to the Gregorian chant. Monastic life was a mystical adjustment altogether.

My first year in the monastery was called the novitiate. I was a novice. (Still am a novice in many ways.)

Daily life was similar to a normal monk in solemn vows. We all worked together. We all prayed together.

In the beginning the work I did was mostly cleaning: Kitchen, bathrooms, church, and abbey. Sweeping, mopping, polishing, the usual sprucing.

I also worked in the bakery two days a week. One of the monastery’s charitable works was baking bread for the inner city of New Orleans, then

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery. (several years ago)

delivering it to soup kitchens. In the summer we awoke at 2 am to bake bread. We finished by noon, before the Louisiana heat struck. We baked over 800 loafs a day.

Fr. Augustine was chief baker. He taught me how to bake all kinds of delicious breads. Sometimes he and I would bake pizza for the monks for lunch, a kind treat for them.

One night a week was special. The monastery had an infirmary, where sick and dying monks ended up. One night a week, I would keep watch over the infirmary, staying up all night, being attentive to the needs of the infirmed.

An old priest was there, Fr. Daniel. He was so gentle, especially toward the end, when he passed away the night before I became a monk. I spent the year of my novitiate trying to make him comfortable. But he didn’t need much. His prayer life had given him faith that he would be in eternal rest.

All our work was not beyond the scope of our prayer life. Everything we did – be it cleaning, baking bread, or watching the infirmary – had to be done with a prayerful spirit. We tried to depend on God’s help for everything, especially the work of our hands.

But not all prayer revolved around work. We also had community prayer.

All the monks would gather into the church five times a day for five routine prayers: Matins, Lauds, Mass, Vespers, and Compline.

Matins is a predawn prayer (5am). Lauds is Morning Prayer (6am). Mass was at noon. Vespers is evening prayer (5pm). Compline is night prayer, right before bed (7pm).

During community prayer, the monks divided into two groups: Choir One and Choir Two. Choir one was on the left side of the church; Choir Two on the right; both groups facing one another.

Then the two choirs of monks would take turns chanting the psalms and other biblical texts, each choir chanting a stanza. We chanted all 150 psalms in a month’s time – like the early monks from the 5th century.

Our day began with prayer. Our day ended with prayer. Chanting biblical words bookended our daily work.

Work and prayer. It was a life of labor and love. It was a life of simplicity.

More to come………..

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