The white choir shirts made our Monastic Immersion Week participants stand out, though, obviously not in choir. After a full week of activity including conferences with the monks, meals and prayer together, all seemed quite happy with their week of immersing in the monastic life of Our Lady of the Holy Cross.
In three different conferences with Fr. Robert, Fr. James and Br. Efrain, we heard information as basic as about the history of the order and more detailed information about the Rule and how we can use it when we get home.
And what a mixed group we were! Some older, some younger, men and women and coming from as far as Florida, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, our MIW group reflected the church itself and offered us a chance to spend time in silence with God in a contemplative setting.
Soon we will post some pictures along with a story written by one of the participants, Mike Gyulay. Below is a story by Andrew Casad that he wrote for his parish newsletter…
Plans are underway for the Fall MIW which is for men only and happens on September 13-15. If you are interested send an email to email@example.com for more information.
Our Director of Liturgy and Catechumenate, Andrew Casad, was away last week on a retreat at a Trappist monastery. He writes this about his experience: I was blessed to spend last week at Holy Cross Abbey, a community of Cistercian (or Trappist) monks in the Shenandoah Valley at Berryville, Virginia (see www.virginiatrappists.org ). Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (†1153), one of the Cistercian Fathers, asked himself each day, “Why have I come here?” He reminded himself that he came to the monastery for no other purpose than “to lead a holy life.” This then is why we flee the world; why we go far from the concourses of mankind, to be schooled in the service of the Lord and love, that is, in holiness. It was thus a great blessing that the monks at Holy Cross Abbey opened their doors to me and nine others (men and women, mostly—though not all—Catholic) who joined the community for a Monastic Immersion Week. During this week we joined the monastic community for their complete horarium (schedule of prayer) beginning with those 3:30am vigils for which Trappists are (in)famous and including Morning Prayer (Lauds), Mass, mid-day prayer, Evening Prayer (Vespers), and Nigh Prayer (Compline) all plain-chanted in traditional monastic modes. The Monastic Immersion Week is coordinated by the companions of Holy Cross Abbey, who met us at the beautiful retreat house, showed us the ropes and oriented us to our monastic experience. We were also given conferences (lessons) by the abbot, the choir director, the formator, and a Cistercian woman religious (Trappistine nun) from Our Lady of the Angels in Crozet, Virginia. As they helped us to learn more about Cistercian spirituality as a way of life we too were able to practice lectio divina (sacred reading), the discipline of silence, and work as prayer. One day we assisted several of the brothers and lay employees in creaming honey, the sale of which, together with the fruitcakes they make and the monastery land they lease for cattle grazing, sustains the community. In many ways my experience of the week was not unlike that of our catechumens, those whom I have the blessing of overseeing through their immersion into the life of the parish so that they can participate fully in the rich gift of God to us in the sacraments. Drawing us deeper into the mysteries all of us share in through the sacraments, all of Cistercian life aims to draw men and women nearer to God, “preferring nothing to Christ,” (Rule of St Benedict), seeking intimacy with the Lord who first comes to meet us. The experience itself is something like summer camp for grownups; it is a time of hard work but instead of earning merit badges we open ourselves up to the grace of God by recentering our lives on Christ and his kenosis. The Monastic Immersion Week was also a wonderful opportunity to read several books and spend time in silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament which was reserved in the chapel right outside the door of my room. In addition to the quarter-mile hike to and from the church for each office (hour of prayer) I was able to walk around the grounds of the abbey and along the Shenandoah River contemplating the beauty of creation as it springs forth in new life so evident in this Easter season. I would encourage you all, dear brothers and sisters, to make a retreat whether for a day, a weekend, or perhaps for a Monastic Immersion Week, and there to rediscover the core of our Christian faith as a spiritual discipline, a relationship with God which aims at nothing less than mystical union with God, contemplation of the face of him who is ground of all being, and who enlightens the mind of a purified, humbled heart and illumines the soul of one who opens himself to the will of God.
Holy Cross Abbey (Berryville, VA): https://www.virginiatrappists.org/
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery (Crozet, VA): http://www.olamonastery.org/
Mepkin Abbey (Trappist Monastery near Charleston, SC): http://mepkinabbey.org/
Friends of Christ School for Christian Spirituality (local courses by Laura Dunham, see below): http://www.friendsofchristschool.com/
For Further Reading:
Path of the Purified Heart: The Spiritual Journey as Transformation by fellow parishioner and Benedictine oblate Laura Dunham (Cascade, 2012).
Toward God: The Ancient Wisdom of Western Prayer and Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina by the Trappist priest Michael Casey, ocso (Ligouri/Triumph, 1996/1997).
Meeting Christ in His Mysteries: A Benedictine Vision of the Spiritual Life by the Benedictine priest Gregory Collins, osb (Liturgical Press, 2011).