First Sunday of Lent
March 9, 2014
Much later than usual, Lent arrives for many of us with the sure sense that we need it as an annual corrective for our spiritual lives. In our secularized culture of today, Ash Wednesday seems to be one of those rare instances when a religious symbol, the ashes on our forehead, are allowed prominence by the media, Even those who are not practicing their faith are attracted to the religious ritual of the distribution of ashes. As much as we can welcome any and all who are led back to the Church and its sacramental life by Lent, we know from experience that the real test of Lent, like that of life in general, is our faithfulness to its practices and its spirit over the long haul. With that in mind I want to express my appreciation to all the oblates who have sent in their bona opera for the Lenten season. As St. Benedict enjoins us in Chapter 49 of the Rule, we do this in the joy of the Holy Spirit and with the firm belief that we have the blessing of a spiritual father (Abbot John) and a community of like-minded believers to offer us support as we enter into our annual pilgrimage to Holy Easter. With that in mind, I want to let you know that I will have all of the bona opera sent to me and blessed by Abbot John sent back to you either with this mailing or for those who receive the letter via e-mail by personal delivery. May the Lord keep you faithful to your promises.
Lent is always a time when the monks of the abbey are engaged in a wider range of spiritual activity. Last Friday we had a Faculty/Staff Day of Recollection at the Academy. In addition to the Day or Recollection he will give at the Academy on March 15, Fr. Marcos will give a parish mission at St. Peter’s in Geneva. I will be giving a parish mission at Sacred Heart Parish in Sterling, IL at the end of March. The priest-monks have always taken on an added load of sacramental confession in Lent. That is especially the case this year when Bishop Malloy has placed a renewed emphasis on the Sacrament in the Rockford Diocese.
One of the other Lenten practices recommended by St. Benedict in his Rule is for the monk to receive a book from the library of the community and “read it straight through” during the Lenten season (RB 48:15-16). In our own day we obviously have an incredible range of choices of good reading and I know many of you are utilizing them. But before you log on to Amazon, I suggest you plan to browse the stacks of the Abbey Library and see that we have a fine collection of spiritual books. You may sign them out, but I ask that you do return them in a reasonable amount of time, something that St. Benedict also reminds us to do.
I ask that you continue to pray for our infirm monks, especially Abbot David and Fr. Christian. Our hard winter has also been hard on some of the monks who have dealt with flu and cold viruses. In addition, I want to commend to your prayers David Zilly, son of our oldest oblate, Emily Zilly. David, a graduate of Marmion, died tragically in a fire in Central Illinois at the end of February. Also keep in your prayer, Oblate Peg Giangrego, wife of Oblate and Academy instructor, Frank Giangrego. Frank would appreciate prayers too for his infant grandson who is coping with a serious heart condition.
Our next oblate meeting is scheduled for Sunday, March 16. I will bring to that meeting bona opera blessed by Abbot John if you have not yet received them . We will have that day as part of our study of Benedictine practices a reflection on the traditional Lenten ascetical practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. That will take place in the Day Room from 2:30-3:30 p.m. For our regular meeting, we will be blessed to have Oblate James Keane speak to us on his faith journey.
Our next meetings will be scheduled on April 13 and May 18. On May 18 we will have oblate profession and the renewal of profession at Vespers. At our last meeting there was a consensus that St. Scholastica’s Monastery in Chicago will be our destination for our June “pilgrimage.” The date is still to be announced.
In my last letter I encouraged you to consider attending the biennial American Benedictine Academy Convention at Conception Abbey, Missouri, from July 24-27. I should also extend an invitation to you for the Monastic Institute for Benedictine Oblates that will be held this summer at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, KS, where the speaker will be the noted writer and oblate, Kathleen Norris. I have contact information on these if you are interested.
One last mention of a future opportunity is a communication I have received from St. Benedict’s Monastery in Oxford, MI. A priest of the monastery is sponsoring a pilgrimage tour to Italy with their Benedictine oblates and any other interested oblates from Oct. 29-Nov. 7. If you are interested, you can find more information at www.benedictinemonks.com.
I pray that all of you will grow in holiness and love for the Lord as you walk your Lenten journey.
Father Joel, OSB
Fr. Joel, OSB