Private places

There are places at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey that are most certainly off limits.  They spell it out with signs, saying that you are not welcome in this area.

 

There was one area that had a sign and a frosted glass window.

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But there was a clear spot higher up, so I just held up my camera.

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There is a lock on the holy oil vials, presumably to keep you from accidentally anointing yourself, or from desecrating it.  Wonder why these vials are on public display then, if they are not for public use?  To show off how pretty they are? These were prominently displayed at the center of the Abbey.

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There are enclosed gardens that I wanted to explore.  I saw them on Google Maps before I went there and looked forward to going.  There were not open to lay people, however.  But there were windows, so I took pictures. I was sad to see them not even being used by the monks.  These beautiful gardens, alone, locked away, unappreciated.  Perhaps the monks stare at them from their rooms, while they are locked away from the world they are called to serve?

 

They even tried to block the view with signs like this.

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But I found a way around it.  These pictures are taken through the glass.

 

Monasticism as it is practiced was not mentioned by Jesus at all. Living together, sharing resources, sharing lives – yes.  It is good for all to work together for the common good.  However, he did not intend that we were to separate ourselves from the world entirely.  When we work together and share what we have, we are stronger people, better able to help others.  However, when we focus all of our energy inwards to the group, we defeat the purpose of what Jesus calls us to do.

 

With all these signs, I was continuously reminded of the “us and them” approach the Catholic church has to life in general – either you are “in” (a Catholic) or “out” (either not Christian, or just not Catholic).  The most obvious example of this is with their approach to communion.  This exclusionary practice is not Christ-like, and will turn more people away from the message of Jesus than they could ever imagine.

 

Interestingly, I spent time at their “sister” community, just down the road a few months later.  The Sisters of Saint Benedict have a community in Ferdinand, IN, called Monastery Immaculate Conception.  I walked all over that place and only saw one sign saying “private”.  In fact, the nun who took us on a tour of the place told us we could sit in that area if we wanted.  I’m pretty sure I accidentally wandered into some areas I shouldn’t have, but nobody got upset with me.  Their monastery was older, a little shabbier.  It was obvious that their “brothers” got more money and better resources.  But the Sisters were far more kind and welcoming, always helpful and kind, with open smiles.

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St. Meinrad guest house

St. Meinrad Archabbey is in St. Meinrad, Indiana.  It is a Benedictine monastery and seminary.  The Benedictines have as part of their Rule to serve the guest as if he (or she) is Christ, so they always have guest houses that are quite nice to stay in .  They are good for going on retreats.

Here are some pictures from the guest house there.

The guest house itself, as seen on the way back from the Abbey.

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The baptism font is outside of the doors of the chapel. This is right in front of you when you exit the dormitory area.

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At the back of the chapel (in line with the font) is this unusual crucifix.  It looks like Jesus needs a chiropractor.

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(Edit to add – I looked up why his head is tilted, and learned from the website Reachparadise.com that crucifixes “…that show His head tilted slightly down (or up) and to the right are taking some artistic liberties. The right hand, in Christian faith, is the hand of blessing. Since Jesus chose to sacrifice Himself for our sins, He, in turn, gave us the ultimate blessing. This is why His head faces right in some crucifixes – to show that His death is a blessing for all of us.” It goes on to say that other reasons include “One stated that Jesus was facing the good thief, whom He saved before dying. The other said it was to reinforce that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father.”

On the right side is the eternal flame signifying the presence of Jesus, and the aubrey, which holds the reserved sacrament (blessed communion wafers).

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To the left is the paschal candle.

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And a carved wooden statue of Mary and Jesus.

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Near the front is an icon of Christ.jesus

 

We had a room there that had supplies for us to work with while we were there.  There were coloring books, pens, paints, magazines, juggling balls and scarves, and jigsaw puzzles.  I was amused that the one that people pulled out to work on was one of a huge cathedral.  It was impossible for one person to do it all in the time we were there, so we all took turns (without discussing it, because it was a silent retreat) to work on it.  We were working together to build the church in many different ways.  jigsaw2jigsaw1jigsaw 3

 

Brother Maurus, our host and liaison, made sure to put out wine for us at dinner.  wine

 

The sign on the door to the dormitory, reminding people to be mindful of others who were there.  Not everyone who goes there is on silent retreat. quiet

Thoughts on the Eucharist

The Eucharist is the Christian ceremony that commemorates the Last Supper, (also known as the First Lord’s Supper) in which bread and wine are consecrated and consumed. The term also refers to the consecrated elements, especially the bread.

According to the online dictionary on Google, the term comes from the late Middle English: from Old French eucariste, based on ecclesiastical Greek eukharistia ‘thanksgiving,’ from Greek eukharistos ‘grateful,’ from eu ‘well’ + kharizesthai ‘offer graciously’ (from kharis ‘grace’).

It is literally a meal of thankfulness. We are eating thanks.

The last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples is described in all four Gospels (Mt. 26:17-30, Mk. 14:12-26, Lk. 22:7-39 and Jn. 13:1-17:26). In each story, he follows the Jewish practice by first giving thanks for the elements of the meal before consuming them. He blesses the food by blessing God, the creator of that food.

There is an echo of the miracles of feeding the large crowds of people.

The first instance, “the Feeding of the 5,000”, is in all four Gospels: Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15. The second instance, The “Feeding of the 4,000”, is reported by Matthew 15:32-16:10 and Mark 8:1-9. Both times, he gives thanks first. He is pointing out to his disciples and us that we must give thanks before we receive anything. Thankfulness must come first for miracles to occur.

Nativity set at Mercy Convent

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I learned that the Catholic Church observes the season of Christmas until they celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, which this year is 1/10/16. This meant that the really nice Nativity set was still up in the chapel when I went on retreat from 1/8 – 1/9. There are real evergreens behind the creche. They are about 8 feet tall and smell amazing. The creche is on a table that is about three feet off the ground, and it is about five feet wide. The tallest figurine is about a foot high. Everybody is here – it is a packed scene! They have seven pots of poinsettias decorating the front.

I enjoyed sketching it in the chapel and then watercoloring it in my room. Ideally I’d watercolor it on site but the nuns were setting up for Mass so I felt I’d be more comfortable doing the messy bit without an audience.

Plus, I still can’t take Communion because of their (The Church’s) rules.
Again, not that Jesus made those rules…

I’m not sad/angry/upset about it because I feel I’m missing out – it is because they are. To exclude anyone is to be the exact opposite of what Jesus wanted. I pray that the Holy Spirit opens their eyes to the un-welcoming nature of a policy that says only Catholics can take communion.

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(edit 2-28-16, I decided to add more pictures that I’d taken)
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The map and the treasure

I recently went on retreat at a Benedictine monastery. Their website says that “You’re invited to join us any day for prayer or Mass in the Archabbey Church.” They pray five times every day, and have mass every day. They make a point of saying that the Rule of St. Benedict says “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” They say that “Hospitality is a Benedictine tradition.”

Their guest house is impressive. They even build guest rooms into their seminary. The meals are generous and filling. There is dessert with lunch and supper every day.

But the hospitality isn’t everywhere, and it doesn’t cover everything. There are quite a number of areas that are off limits. The signs are a bit distressing. And, you don’t get communion unless you are Catholic. Even though guests are to be welcomed as if they are Christ, even though they are welcomed to come pray with the monks, they can’t take communion. I made sure to ask the monk who was leading us (a Methodist group) on tour “Are we, or are we not allowed to receive communion?” and he said “I’m sorry, I’m not able to give you permission.”

He isn’t able to give me permission, because he is just a monk. Even the abbot, the monk in charge of the abbey, wouldn’t be allowed to give me permission. Only the Pope would. I’m working on a letter. I’m not kidding.

This is a Catholic rule, not a Benedictine rule. It is very painfully obvious to me that the Rule of St. Benedict is far more inclusive than the Rule of the Catholic Church. It would appear to me that they should offer communion to anyone who wants it, in the spirit of being welcoming and treating everyone as if they are Jesus. Following the rule of the Catholic Church, even Jesus wouldn’t be allowed to receive communion, because he is Jewish.

I’ve wrestled with this for years. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this. Just look up “Communion” in the search field or in the tag cloud and you’ll see plenty of other of my musings on this subject. But this time was different. This time I invited Jesus into it. This time I started the weekend with the intention of meditating with Jesus about the goal of unity and inclusion for everyone. This time I was on a mission, and Jesus was my guide.

So how can the Church be inclusive and unified with contradictory policies? They say one thing, and yet do another. How can we welcome everyone as Christ if we put up signs or have policies that essentially say “You are welcome, but only so far, and only so much”?

There are plenty of signs throughout the grounds that say “off limits” in one way or another – –
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The tabernacles are all locked. These are the boxes in the chapels that hold the consecrated host. Catholics believe that Jesus is physically present in the communion wafers once they are blessed. Those that are not used at the mass are put into a tabernacle, locked away, and a candle left burning nearby.
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The vials for holy oil are in a special container with locks on it –
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In spite of all these “off limits” signs, there is a place that is truly special and yet has no doors to block it, no barricades. I knew when I saw a picture of this place when researching the monastery that I had to spend time here. This is a shrine that holds the consecrated host, but it is far fancier than the ones in the other chapels. The “Blessed Sacrament Chapel” is in a special alcove behind the organ in the abbey.

Their website says that “The tabernacle and its tower were fashioned from the altar used in the Church from 1909 to 1968.” The tower over it is called a “baldachin”. There is a much larger one over the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is used to indicate a holy place is underneath it.

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Here I prayed, asking Jesus about this rule. Should I take Communion anyway? This was on Friday. I was still unsure if I should even go to mass on Sunday, knowing that I wouldn’t be officially allowed. Sure, the priest wouldn’t know that I wasn’t Catholic. But I know.

I prayed, barefoot on that cold marble floor.
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I sat near the windows, looking at the shrine, with all that gold, all those gems. I wandered around that little chapel, taking pictures of the windows and ornaments, wondering about how many hungry people could have been fed with the money spent on these things.

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And then I heard Jesus say into my heart – “Why are you crying over the map, when you have the treasure?”

The “map” is the way you get there. The “treasure” is what you are seeking. The “map” is the communion wafer. The “treasure” is Communion with Christ. Why was I so upset over not being able to participate in a symbol, when I already had what the symbol represented? I have Jesus in my heart. That is the goal. That is the treasure. Once he has been welcomed in, there is no need to have the symbol of communion again. It points the way, while Jesus is the Way.

Yet I am still sad. I’m still sad over the painful exclusionary practices of an institution that represents Christ. I’m crying over the harm that their policies cause – and the hypocrisy of them. You can’t say you are welcoming of guests and yet put up signs saying that guests are not allowed. You can’t say you are hospitable and then not allow everyone to take communion.

The symbol matters. It matters because it shows that they still do not have Jesus in their hearts. If they did, they would understand that they can’t put up walls and barriers of any sort.

But then, let’s go deeper. This is about more than the symbol of communion or signs saying “off limits”. I say, not one more church building should be built until poverty is eradicated. When all people have food, clothing, and homes, then, and only then, can more churches can be built. People have to come first. Until then, these church buildings are empty shells, they are tombs. They are shrines to a dead faith that cares more about ritual and rules than reality. This applies to all denominations.

Think of how many people could have been housed with all the effort and money put into this place.
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The roofs are made of stone or terra-cotta tile. Very durable. Very expensive
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Even the downspouts are expensive – copper!
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How many poor people could have been fed with all of that money and effort put into these buildings? The Church is missing the point of how to serve Jesus. He said “Feed my sheep”, not “Build a huge church and hide yourself away in it, separated from the world”.

The reality of the living Christ is too important to pass by. All too much, Christians are focusing on a Jesus who existed “back then” in the stories in the Bible, or in the future, in a time of glory when he will come again. They focus on his death and his coming again, without the middle bit. They miss out on being united with Jesus right now, not just when they die. They live their whole lives in hope of “eternal life” with Jesus, completely passing by the opportunity to have a full life now, with Jesus in their hearts.

This is why I’m sad. I’m sad because the truth of Jesus hasn’t entered into the hearts of the faithful and into the Church. I’m sad that their policies and rules prove that their hearts and souls are not in synch. They say they are welcoming and hospitable, and yet their actions, deep down, prove otherwise.

Did I go to mass? Yes. Did I take communion? No.

Up until the very last minute I prayed about it, asking God what I should do. I went to mass and got up when it was time to get communion. Two of my friends who were on the retreat with me remained in their seats. In the queue, I prayed, asking God to direct my actions. And in response, my arms went up and crossed over me, as if on their own. To cross your arms over your chest, hands holding your shoulders, is a sign that you cannot take communion. It is to ask for a blessing only. When my arms came up, I knew that was what God wanted for me to do. The tears began to form in the corners of my eyes, and I let them come. Misty-eyed, I stood before the abbot who was administering the communion wafers. I bowed to show reverence for Jesus. The abbot muttered some blessing that I could not hear, and I walked away, tears streaming down my face.

I want them to see me cry. I want these brothers to see how painful this rule is. I want them to know that it does not build up the Church. I want their hearts to open. Perhaps they could practice a bit of conscientious objection, and refuse to take communion until all people can take it?

While on retreat, I got another answer from Jesus in the form of the reading for the day. It was from Haggai 2:3-9. (HCSB)

3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it seem like nothing to you? 4 Even so, be strong, Zerubbabel”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “Be strong, Joshua son of Jehozadak, high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “Work! For I am with you”—the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.5 “This is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid.” 6 For the LORD of Hosts says this: “Once more, in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all the nations so that the treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD of Hosts. 8 “The silver and gold belong to Me”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts. 9 “The final glory of this house will be greater than the first,” says the LORD of Hosts. “I will provide peace in this place”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.

What I got out of this was that the day is coming when the Lord will rebuild the House. Not the Temple, but the entire Church. It isn’t a building, after all, but a collection of people, united as the Body of Christ. Each believer that has Jesus as his or her guiding force inside is a stone that builds up this Church.

Also part of my intention for this weekend was this verse –

10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10, ASV).

Yet when I looked it up in the translation I brought with me, it was rendered as –
“Stop your fighting—and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.”

What I got out of this was this – it isn’t for me to worry about. God’s got it.
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Poem – the two trees.

Sin and shame came into the world
at the same time.
Adam and Eve ate fruit
from the tree
of the knowledge
of good and evil.

After that,
they were full of shame
about being naked,
about who they were,
about their very being,
and so they hid themselves
when God came around.

Before that,
they were
as they were created.
God saw them exactly
the way
God created them.
All was well.
They could be themselves
around God
without any
fear or embarrassment.

Thousands of years later,
Jesus
was placed on the cross,
a wooden pole
stuck in the ground
with a horizontal bar across it.
It was symbolically a tree,
and in fact,
it was symbolically
That tree,
that same tree
in the Garden.

Jesus tells us that
He is the fruit of that tree,
and that we are to eat it.
We are to consume
his flesh
and drink
his blood.

He is the antidote
for that first tree,
that first sin.
He is the cure
for what ails us.

When we eat the fruit
that is Jesus,
we are restored.
We have re-entered
the Garden.
He makes us able
to stand
before God,
as we are,
without sin or shame,
without fear or embarrassment.

The bread of life

The next day, the crowd that had remained on the other shore knew only one boat had been there. Likewise, they knew that Jesus had not gotten on board with his disciples and that they had gone off without him. Some boats from Tiberias approached the site where Jesus had fed the large crowd after giving thanks for the bread. When this crowd noticed that Jesus and his disciples weren’t there, they boarded the boats and set sail for Capernaum to look for Jesus.

They found him when they reached the opposite shore, and said “When did you get here, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered “Truly, you went searching for me not because you saw miracles happen, but because you were filled by the loaves of bread you ate. Don’t spend your energy on food that rots. Seek the food that remains so you have eternal life instead. The Son of Man will give you this because God the Father has approved him.”

“How do we perform God’s works?” they asked.

Jesus answered “This is God’s work – believe in the One he sent.”

They questioned him further, saying “By what sign will we know that you are the one? Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness. The Scriptures say ‘Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

Jesus replied “That bread didn’t come from Moses. My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. God’s bread is the One who is sent by God from heaven to give life to the world.”

Then they said “Sir, give us that bread forever!”

Jesus told them “I am the bread of life. Those who come to me will never be hungry again. Those who believe in me will never be thirsty again. But as I’ve said before, you have seen me and still you don’t believe. Everyone who my Father has sent to me will come to me, and I will never reject them. I have come down from heaven to do the will of the One who sent me, and not my own. This is the will of God – that I shall not lose anyone God has sent to me, and that I should raise them up to everlasting life on the last day. This is the will of my Father who sent me – that I should raise up everyone he has given me on the last day, and not lose a single one. My Father’s will is for everyone who sees and believes in the Son to have eternal life and be raised up on the last day.”

Certain Jews began to argue about him because he said “I am the bread that descended from heaven.” They were saying “Don’t we know his parents? Isn’t this Jesus the son of Joseph? Why is he saying ‘I have descended from heaven.’?”

Jesus answered “Stop arguing among yourselves. The only people who come to me are those who the Father calls and I will raise them up on the final day. The prophets wrote ‘Everyone will be taught by God.’ Everyone who has been taught by God and hears God’s voice comes to me. The only one who has seen the Father is the one who is sent from God. I’m telling you the truth: anyone who believes already has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they are dead now. The bread that I’m telling you about is the bread that comes from heaven, and anyone who eats it will never die. I am that living bread from heaven. My own body is the bread that I will give so that the world will live.”

Some of the Jews began to argue about this, saying “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus answered “Truly, you do not have life in you unless you eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Man. Anyone who does this will have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day, because my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood is alive in me, and I am in him. In the same way that the living Father sent me and I am alive because of the Father’s will, anyone who feeds on me will be full of life through me. The bread that came down from heaven is not like that which your ancestors ate. They have died, but this bread makes those who eat it live forever.”

Jesus said all of this while he was teaching in the Capernaum synagogue.

JN 6:22-59