Fr. John's Memoir: Chapter 8
by M. John Farrelly, O.S.B.
The themes in my life in these later years were in continuity with those in my earlier years, though there were, of course, still surprises, joyous events and disappointments. Difficulties one copes with, whether interior or exterior, tend to continue; and growth in holiness comes, in my view, largely from continuing to turn to the Lord in need, in thanksgiving, in trust and in love. I will divide this chapter into two sections.
In the summer of 2000 I attended, as usual, the CTSA convention, this year in San Jose, California, where I once more met many old friends and was a moderator in a session on the Trinity. On the way there I visited a friend, Sister Mary O’Callaghan, R.S.C.J., in a retirement home for their sisters. It was good to visit with Mary, but seeing all these sisters together who had spent their lives in prayer and loving service to God’s people, and now having different degrees of disability was painful.
Later in June I took a few days of retreat in an apartment at a convent of discalced Carmelite nuns in Towson north of Baltimore, the descendants of the first community of women religious in the 13 colonies, initially located at Port Tobacco, Maryland. I took along the works of St. John of the Cross, and noted:
I think the theme [of my retreat] should be what my first meditation was, “You have guided half-blind me!” – in praise and thanksgiving that God has in his mercy brought me to this point. And a second theme should be a prayer that I may rejoice in the dark – where many people live and lose faith and hope, but where faith and hope can grow exponentially by God’s Spirit.
The environment and the degree of peace I had after completing the draft of my book on the Trinity helped to make this a fruitful few days.
In mid-July I was in St. Louis for a visit to my family there, the high point of which was a cousins’ reunion of some 125 cousins of three generations at a park near St. Louis, organized by my sister Julia McCarthy. Many of these cousins I had not met before; some I had not met for decades. I had not attended these reunions in the past, but I now began to do so every few years when they were held. My sister-in-law from Rome had come on for the party with her daughter Elizabeth.
I had already started looking around for a publisher for my book on the Trinity and received one rejection, and one expression of interest in it if I would cut the length of it down by more than a quarter, which I was not prepared to do. At the end of July I received the manuscript back from Peter Phan who was very positive about the book, but had many suggestions, particularly for the first four chapters, to make it more user-friendly. This would take a good deal of revision, but I was very encouraged by his positive appraisal; so I agreed with his suggestions and began the process. I was engaged in this until late December when I completed the revision.
Meanwhile, I had reflected on what my next major project should be. My inclination turned again and again to working on what I had projected many years earlier as a third part of foundational theology, namely a section on the Christian norms of faith and life, and the nature of theology, or at least the first part of this. I decided that I would at least explore this theme to see whether I had anything distinctive to say, and I began reading for it. At the same time, I had selected, edited and collected a number of my homilies over the years. I had given those homilies I had for Sundays and feasts from Advent through Paschaltide to a friend of mine, a man who worked in the State Department, and asked him to evaluate them and give me his view on whether they would be helpful for people. He was quite positive in his appraisal, and so I began looking around for a publisher who might be interested in them. – All along I was continuing my work as vocation director, a work that absorbed a good deal of my time, without much visible in the way of results.
We had our annual community retreat in late August, given this year by Abbot Gregory Polan, Abbot of Conception Abbey in western Missouri. He compared a retreat to an experience he had had some five years earlier, of walking up Mount Sinai, a 17, 500 foot high mountain in the desert of that name, with a group of students — with looking back to see how far one had come, with difficulties of ascent and stumbling, with companions of different strengths and weaknesses, with the vision that the top of the mountain made possible. His theme was largely on listening to the Lord in our prayerful reading of Scripture, our liturgy and our contemplation. He noted that God and Christ asked 350 questions in the Old and New Testament, beginning with “Where are you?” and “Where is your brother?”, and including questions to Job – many of which led the addressees into mystery. And he concluded with two conferences on forgiveness and reconciliation. A fruitful retreat.
I was invited to take a trip to Paris and Lisieux from September 2 to 9 by a long term friend of mine, Vidya Pillai with her friend Dorothy Duffy, both Secular Carmelites who lived in southern Virginia. After returning to St. Anselm’s I wrote:
The trip to Paris and Lisieux was a grace and a relaxation. One thing that particularly stands out is our attendance at Mass on September 3 at Notre Dame at 6:30 p.m. The Church was packed; all lights on, singing beautiful and a bishop graciously presiding. I thought of Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Louis IX attending Mass here – and many others. Also St. Germain-des-Prés, previously a large Benedictine monastery and head of the Maurists [a Benedictine Congregation involved in intellectual ministry such as developing critical editions of the writings of the Fathers of the Church], with Mabillon and Descartes buried here. And Lisieux. I need more of the spirit of Thérèse, particularly her confidence. I have suffered as she did from scruples and community. Thank you, Lord.
Returning to St. Anselm’s, I taught an adult education course on my book, Belief in God in Our Time, and I shared in an international seminar hosted by Fr. George McLean on the theme, “Globalization, Cultural Identity and Pluralism,” for which I wrote an article, “Communication Across Cultures: Natural Law and Wisdom Traditions.” This was an interesting and informative experience. On Thanksgiving I noted:
How much I have to be thankful for! – One thing that has struck me in the last few days is that I should be more thankful for ‘dailiness’ – God’s presence in the everyday – the non-feeling, the routine, all my brethren — each and every one of them — what I do not have. God in his love is present through all of these. – How frequently I have felt one or another of these to be an obstacle or inhibition or loss rather than a doorway through which God comes to me and – through his grace – I go to him.
Early in January 2001 I sent off my manuscript on the Trinity to Wm. Eerdmans for their evaluation for possible publication. I had earlier contacted two publishers. And after Eerdmans turned it down some months later, I continued for several years to write to or send it off to a number of publishers. My interpretation of this number of rejections (10 or more) was that readers and publishers all too frequently did not want a book that addressed an important theme in the depth it needed and deserved. One cannot criticize the publishers so much, since they needed to cater to the desires of their readers. As I am writing this chapter, I read a review of a book which the reviewer began by pointing to this deficit, though not in reference to my book: “Too many of us, alas, are so pressed for time, and sometimes merely so restless, that we often move on after reading only the first few lines of an article. . . .” I thought that many books published in theology would have a short life because they did not address an issue deeply enough, and I hoped that mine would go more to the roots of issues, though it was costly and risky to try for this.
In late January through mid-February I was in Naples, Florida, where I had been invited to teach a course to about 75 men and women in an “Education for Parish Service” program on Systematic Theology. This program had been started years earlier in Washington D.C. by Sister Joan Bland, Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, and had spread to a number of locations in the country and outside the country. The lectures and discussions treated: The Jesus of history and Christ of faith, The Resurrection of Jesus and gift of Salvation, Conciliar teaching on Christ, the Church as Sacrament of Christ and Communion in the Spirit, Justification, and Christian Eschatology. It involved a great deal of preparation since I had not taught on a couple of these themes. But it was very enjoyable. The response of those who attended was positive. The hospitality of those I stayed with, particularly Ed and Peggy Malone, was most gracious and generous. The weather and swimming were a good break from Washington winter. It was a renewing experience. — On returning to Washington I taught a half dozen classes to the junior sisters of the Little Sisters of the Poor on ecumenism and the Trinity.
In early 2001 one of our juniors left, out of a desire, he said, to live a simpler and more contemplative life. I expressed my views on this project to him, but he left and within a year got engaged to be married. So much for a simpler and more contemplative life. I had expressed concerns to the Abbot and Council in early December about another of our monks in simple vows, without much immediate results, but eventually — in a year’s time – he was asked to leave because he was isolating himself too much from the community and his health was eroding to such an extent that he could not live the monastic life. These were discouraging events. And there were not applications in spite of what I thought was a good deal of work in advertising, correspondence, discussions with visiting searchers, and periodic monastic experience weekends.
In the midst of all this, I continued to reflect at times on what my next major project should be. My, and not only my, sense that in the North Atlantic countries the Christianity of the next generation would be gathered around two poles, one of which would include Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Evangelical Protestantism, and the other would include Christian churches deeply affected by over assimilation to the pragmatism, relativism and loss of moral compass of our culture. Also, as I wrote:
The experience of many Catholic parents and grandparents whose children disengage from the Church may show that writing Foundational Theology III — especially part one of this: “The Norm of Faith” — would meet a real need, if it is preparing Catholic seminarians for future ministry in a divided Church and an ecumenical Church.
As part of my exploration of whether I should start preparing to write a manuscript on Christian norms of faith and life, I attended a conference dedicated to the theme of “Primacy and Conciliarity” in Washington, hosted by the Orientale Lumen group. There were Orthodox, Eastern Catholic and Latin Catholic speakers. On the Feast of the Transfiguration, I thought I would start such a project at least to the extent of seeing whether I had something distinctive to say. And in the fall, I gave an adult education program on the theme “The Christian Norm of Faith, and Change” to explore this topic further. — At the same time, I wrote a dozen Catholic philosophers and theologians trying to start a dialogue around the kind of theology that, with the help of others, I had been developing, namely one that used new scriptural studies and a modified Thomism. These efforts did not seem to evoke much interest. But I continued to think that neither a die hard Thomism nor a theology based on a post-modern rejection of metaphysics served dialogue in our pluralistic culture. I sent a review of a book on such pluralism to a friend who, I thought, was infected by the glorification of pluralism. The author of the review wrote:
We are faced with ever increasing calls to “celebrate” pluralism and “diversity.” On Canavan’s reading, pluralism as a norm is being urged because it is a condition which supports the ultimate value of liberalism, individual liberty. Cultural liberalism is so determined by this pursuit that it can no longer judge even the most outrageous wrongs. . . . . That contemporary pluralism is in fact quite intolerant of strongly committed positions (particularly religious) as “divisive” again underlines its own very inconsistent non-neutrality.
In late August we had our annual community retreat, given by the novice master at St. Meinrad’s Archabbey, Fr. Harry Hogan, O.S.B. His retreat themes were for the most part on the seven deadly sins — and their opposites — described by John Cassian, showing how they are still relevant and possible failings for monks of our time. They are, for those who may have forgotten them, gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, sadness or acedia, vainglory and pride. He managed to give a positive thrust of realism and encouragement of the brethren.
I had been invited to visit Mary Sarver, a woman who had taken my lectures in Naples, Florida earlier in 2001, and who lived outside of Cleveland. I received permission to do so, and, together with Sister Joan Bland, did visit her September 10-14. On the morning of the 11th I happened to turn on the television and saw the planes attacking the World Trade Center in New York City, and the towers collapsing with some 3,000 innocent people inside the planes and inside the buildings. It was a destructive act almost beyond people’s conception of what was possible within our own country; it appalled everyone in the country, and justified President Bush’s assertion that it was “an act of war.” It was an act of sheer terrorism — and initiated a new stage and different form of conflict after the apparent demise of the ‘cold war’ and some partial resolution to the Balkans’ conflict.
I attended the American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature convention in Denver, partially to present a precis of my book on the Trinity to publishers and see whether there was some interest in it. I also heard fine lectures relevant to the question of Christians norms of faith from prominent ecumenical theologians, Jean-Marie Tillard and John Zizioulas. But I also heard what I thought were disturbing lectures from some Catholic theologians embracing post-modernism to the extent that seemed to dissolve Christian tradition insofar as it represented some enduring and authoritative content of faith from the first to the twenty-first century. These, it seemed to me, made my efforts more relevant.
In a day of recollection shortly before Christmas, I reflect in my journal:
What must I do to be more present to our Lord’s call? My mind is perhaps hyperactive. I am constantly distracted. I have many doubts. I experience the surface so much and it is at times all but engulfing. I am anxious. Keep, please God, my morning ‘mantra’ in my heart and mind as I am walking from place to place during the day. – I strongly suspect that God wants me to go full speed ahead in an attempt to write a book on Foundational Theology, III A , “The Christian Norm of Faith” right after the new year.
Early in 2002, on February 5, the anniversary of my ordination, I confirmed this intention. Part of my reasoning was: “It is a section of theology in which ‘rubber hits the road’ and where many problems among theologians and ecumenical problems are addressed.”
Meanwhile I continued to send my manuscript on the Trinity to a number of publishers who expressed initial interest, and similarly to send enquiries about my collection of homilies to other publishers.
In early 2002 I gave an adult education program on “The Gospel of John,” thinking that that would help me in my new project since John seemed to have a somewhat different emphasis on the norm of Christian faith from that of the pastoral epistles, John emphasizing more the Spirit in the community and the pastoral epistles emphasizing more the institutional leadership. Many Church historians thought that while the Vatican took the style of the pastoral epistles, Orthodoxy took more that of John. How were these norms related to one another? — In Lent I gave two conferences in Hampton, Virginia to over 40 people, most of whom were Secular Carmelites.
On Good Friday, as usual, I took a thorn off a tree behind the school:
Initially I took off a small offshoot that had 6 thorns on it – and considered taking it, because there are a number of sources of my share in Christ’s cross. But finally I took one thorn. I thought, looking at some disasters for society and Church this last year, how petty to focus on my cross! – This one thorn I take as the divisions within the Church. I accept these divisions and accept my share in Christ’s ministry to heal them – here at St. Anselm’s but primarily by faithfully working on this ms. . . . until it succeeds or obviously is something I cannot do.
On Holy Saturday, I received another rejection of my book on the Trinity because, as the editor wrote, of the bottom line. As a long book they would have to sell it at $29.95, and it would sell badly. I was initially numbed and disappointed. Early Easter morning:
I woke up from a dream in which I was being pursued by an enemy – and feeling weighed down by this rejection. But I put myself in God’s hands, not being able to interpret the whole thing, and before falling asleep again I sensed that I did not know I was guilty [i.e. by writing too long a book]. The reviewers of my books say they are needed in seminaries, universities and beyond.
I got the idea of offering a subsidy to the publisher, recognizing that St. Anselm’s subsidizes the school and that all levels of Catholic education need subsidies. I presented this idea to the editor but he did not accept it. I then sent the book to a university press that expressed interest, and I waited for a number of months for their response.
As usual, I attended the CTSA convention, this time in New Orleans, and gave a paper on “Time and the Trinity’s Saving Presence” in a session on Trinitarian theology, using part of a chapter on the Trinity’s relation to the economies of salvation and creation found in my manuscript on the Trinity. It was followed by an interesting discussion. The convention once more offered opportunities to renew acquaintance with old friends and meet some new friends.
Toward the end of June I took a short retreat at the beautifully located Loyola Retreat House on the Potomac. I was reading John of the Cross, “Spiritual Canticle,” and asked how it applied to me:
I am called to a life that seeks to integrate contemplation with action or ministry. To me, it seems that my yearning for God is a yearning and action for his Kingdom in myself and in the Church and world in my small context. The pains and delays, appearances or encouragements and absences that John speaks of are for me frequently part of my community experience and experience in reference to writing, preaching and publishing – though also directly in prayer. . . . Seeking God with all my heart is not primarily for me (as it was not primarily for John) a seeking of an experience of God in prayer. Seeking his glory through seeking his Kingdom seems to be more disengaged from self or to transcend self or to put self in proper place within the Kingdom.
Such retreats were a special support for me – as was the fact that for many years I had been meeting at least four times a year with long-term spiritual directors with whom I could bring up any issue. – Back at St. Anselm’s I wrote the first chapter of my proposed book on the Christian norms of faith and life. Also, I assisted in preparing a new brochure for St. Anselm’s to give to men who approached us looking for a possible monastic vocation.
Our annual community retreat in late August was offered by Fr. Raymund Studzinski, O.S.B., a monk of St. Meinrad’s and a professor at the Catholic University of America. He began it by commenting, as I note in my journal: “We live in a different world than we did a year ago – because of 9/11/01 and . . . the Catholic priests’ sex scandals with minors and some cover up by bishops.” His retreat centered on some of the good works mentioned in chapter four of the Rule of St Benedict – monastic practices that are valued also by many of the laity. Toward the end of the retreat, I reflected: “What strikes me most in this retreat – when I have been reading my journal 1968-1971 – is how in his mercy God supported me when I felt totally insecure.. . .” I concluded the retreat with the following prayer:
Lord, may I have compassion for myself, wounded as I am in many battles, with interior anxieties and external uncertainties, and compassion for others. May I in the power of your Spirit bear your burdens generously as I in trust go ahead as I can discern your way and will.
At the end of September I once more wrote to my brethren at St. Anselm’s about what we had been doing on the vocation front during the last year. I included a part of a letter that a young man who had explored the possibility of monastic life here and elsewhere wrote:
The scandals in the Church have really hurt my vocation – right now, I have no desire to be a priest at this current time – quite a few things will have to happen for me to even consider it.– Many in the Church have lost their first love, Jesus Christ, and his truths taught and passed down for centuries. – A spirit of laissez-faire theology and belief has taken over much of Catholicism – and I’m just not into that and have no desire to be caught up in it.
I had completed chapter one of my manuscript on Christian norms, and had begun reading for chapter two, on Jesus and the origins of the Christian Church. And I was giving an adult education course on “A Contemporary Christian Spirituality,” using primarily Ronald Rolheiser’s book, The Holy Longing. On October 20 I celebrated my seventy-fifth birthday. And I wrote:
Father, what praise I owe you! My pilgrimage is – in anything good in it and beneficial to others – all God’s doing – his holding me by the hand, guiding and raising me – and renewing in me trust in the midst of many, many doubts.
On a Sunday toward the end of October, the (first) Catholic chaplain of the House of Representatives, Fr. Daniel Coughlin, asked me to offer a prayer in the Senate the next morning as a guest chaplain, including a prayer for Senator Paul Wellstone of Minnesota who had just died in a airplane accident along with his wife and his daughter. I was asked because neither Fr. Coughlin nor the Senate chaplain were in Washington, and Fr. Coughlin had visited St. Anselm’s once or twice. It was rather daunting to prepare such a prayer, but I vetted it with an assistant secretary of the Senate. I wrote among other things: “May the manner of his death remind all of us that the control we have of our lives is fragile and uncertain, and that our lives can be called from us at any moment.” I needed this reminder as much as anyone else. – I also gave a lecture on the Trinity at the Catholic Center at the University of Maryland in Towson, a weekend retreat to women at the Washington Archdiocesan Retreat Center, and organized one of our monastic experience weekends.
In January 2003, I once more went down to Naples, Florida to give a three week program of two long lectures each week followed by discussions, this time on “The Ministry of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels.” I was able to use a good deal of my book Faith in God through Jesus Christ in this. It was, once more, an enjoyable experience. Those who attended the lectures were very interested in theology and very gracious. I stayed with Ed and Peggy Malone, who could not have been more generous in their hospitality.
While in Florida I had received the comments of two readers of my manuscript on the Trinity for the university press. One of them had some particular points on which he differed from me but was basically positive. The other wanted me to cut the manuscript by two hundred pages to make it less costly and more widely used. In mid-February the editorial board decided to ask me to cut one hundred pages from the manuscript and then send it to the more positive reviewer for his viewpoint on the feasibility of publishing it. I had offered to reduce it by fifty pages, but thought that to reduce it further was to make it another book, so I refused their offer.
We went to war in Iraq in late March on the justification of Saddam Hussein’s work on weapons of mass destruction and his aiding the Al Qaeda terrorism network, neither of which turned out to be true, though the dictator’s crushing cruelty for his people made most people in and out of Iraq happy at his removal. – I gave an evening adult education course on “The Church According to the New Testament,” and a lecture on chapters eleven and twelve of the Book of Wisdom to a Bible study group that had been in existence for many years at Blessed Sacrament Church in Northwest Washington. In reference to the latter I commented:
I spoke mostly on the context of the book – how the author [living in Alexandria about 50 b.c.] responded to his and the Jews’ ‘problem’ – contrasting this with how religious leaders in Israel were responding to engagement of Israel with the larger culture and Roman power. The response was most positive. I suspect this is the area (not Scripture so much, but engagement of Church today with its surrounding culture) that is in continuity with my earlier work and most helpful for the Church now.
I continued work, of course, as vocation director, publicizing, corresponding, interviewing and, with the help of others, offering monastic experience weekends. In the summer we sent out some 300 notices to parishes in Virginia about upcoming monastic experience weekends. — My book of homilies, God’s Word Calls and Nourishes. Homilies: Advent through Paschaltide was happily accepted by Rus Wester for publication by LaScala Publishing in Montgomery, Maryland, the twelfth publisher I approached with it. I was helped by a number of friends along the way, e.g. by reading and evaluating it, scanning and editing and indexing Sunday’s scriptural readings. It came out just before Advent.
I continued to search for a publisher for my book on the Trinity. At the Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, I spoke with Jeremy Langford, the editor of Sheed and Ward, a subsidiary of Rowman & Littlefield, about my book on the Trinity. He was interested and so I sent him a precis of the manuscript. At the same time, I set about cutting over fifty pages from it.
At a lecture held at the Catholic University of America in late June, sponsored by Common Ground Initiative, on diversity and disagreement in the Church, both the priest-theologian lecturer and the bishop respondent called for more collegiality being granted to the bishops. In the discussion period, after some others asked questions, I asked a question. I commended the lecturer and respondent, noting that both gave a “top down”response to the issue. What about a “bottom up” response to it? For example, what if a bishop, as pastor, was concerned with confusion concerning sexual morality among his people, and together with all the bishops of the province, constituted themselves as a judicial body, called moral theologians from each point on the spectrum to give their views to it, and finally came out with a judicial decision without feeling constricted to adhere to everything that Humanae vitae said? Would this be within the parameters of the authority that bishops had in virtue of collegiality, or outside those parameters? While neither speaker directly answered my question, they disagreed with my proposal. At the reception later a number of people, including a few in charge of the meeting, came to me to express their agreement with me, while a couple attendees were distressed by my even asking the question. One priest who had been with American bishops at a meeting at the Vatican said that a certain cardinal acted in the presence of the pope like a fourth grade pupil.
In late August we had our annual community retreat, this year given by Abbot Geoffrey Scott of Douai Abbey in England. In it he called us to get beyond illusions. Among many helpful things he said, one was that for vocation we need to know ourselves, not in a narcissistic way but in a way necessary to choose or discern appropriately:
A vocation comes from some important and vital experience. What is our motivation? Can we see celibacy as a way to live out our sexuality? What are our gifts, strengths, and weaknesses? Why choose one way of life over another? Is security part of our motivation? Are we in love with Christ – God? Do we want to help him in his design to save the world? Do we have a positive sense of self?
After I had written and called Jeremy Langford a few times and received no response from him, I virtually gave up on him. But then he called and said that his wife had just had their first baby and he was getting back in touch with a number of people, and wanted to review my manuscript. So I sent him a copy in late September.
In the fall I continued to work on my manuscript on norms of Christian faith, finishing a chapter on “Criteria of Christian Belief in the Apostolic Age,” and beginning chapter 3 on “Christian Tradition as a Norm of Faith and Life.” I prefaced this chapter with a summary of a few recent books by Protestant and Catholic theologians that seemed to dissolve the accepted meaning of Christian tradition through a post-modern scepticism concerning the possibility of any grounded assertions about reality that have a universal and enduring value. This constituted the contemporary problematic concerning the value of Christian tradition.
The community had begun a discussion concerning the separation of the school from the Abbey, making it a distinct corporation governed by a group of lay trustees. This discussion was to continue from time to time for several years; and, while being in favor of it, I spoke up for ultimate control being vested in the Abbey, so that the school corporation would be a corporation subordinate to the Abbey.
In 2004, on February fifth, the 49th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, I called Jeremy Langford:
He tells me that my ms. was at an independent reviewer — and now is at the board of the conglomerate publishing firm of which Sheed & Ward is a part. They have to decide whether my book is in accord with their goals for Sheed & Ward. Jeremy says he argued for it and will let me know in a week.
I added “Praise the Lord!” Jeremy did write me on March 10:
I have terrific news, our board has accepted your book for publication. I am delighted with the final decision and thank you for your patience as we did the due diligence to make sure that you, the press and the book are a good fit. You have written an instant classic that is ideal for Sheed & Ward. Frank and Maisie are smiling down on us as the house they built continues to feed the minds of students, professors and general readers alike. . . . I hope you pick out a nice wagon and maybe even some paint.
I, of course, was delighted, even though I felt its acceptance should not have been dependent on a subsidy that would be generously provided by some friends of mine. But more well known writers than I were also providing such subsidies. This was the tenth publisher I had approached with the book. His reference to Frank and Maisie was to Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward, the founders of Sheed & Ward early in the twentieth century. And his reference to a wagon and paint recalled a story I had told him. Early in the twentieth century, Edith Wharton had visited Henry James in England, driving to his house in an expensive roadster. Henry expressed amazement at the car, and Edith said that she had bought it with the royalties of her last book. Henry replied that with the royalties of his last book he had bought the wagon in which he was pulling Edith’s luggage to his house, and with the royalties of his next book he hoped to buy some paint to paint it! – I had to do some redrafting of the book, provide some suggested bibliographies, answer their “author questionnaire”, etc., and finished this on May 2, 2004, the feast of St. Athanasius, the great defender of the Council of Nicea’s teaching on the Trinity. I wrote: “Thank you Lord, and I will thank you for eternity, for bringing your work in this to this point of completion. It has not been easy. And thank you for this ‘sign’ of ‘approval’ by having me complete it on the feast of St. Athanasius.”
After this I reflected on my current sense that:
I feel now somewhat as I think Paul must have felt when he was in prison for a few years after his third missionary journey – in Palestine and in Rome. With the book on the Trinity out of my hands, though there is still work to do, I feel that I have completed four missionary journeys [my four books on theology, 1985– 2004 ]. In a sense now I am or have retired, though I hope to publicize this work and , God willing, continue working on Christian Norms of Faith and Life and a collection of homilies.
Other things also engaged me. One was vocation work, in which we had a painful experience of differing views within the community on an applicant, whom finally we did not accept. Another was an invitation I had accepted, to give a talk and lead a discussion on lectio divina to the community of Discalced Carmelites in Washington D.C. in early May. Happily, it was well received. I had always had a great interest in the Carmelite mystics and owed a great deal to them; and it was gratifying that some Carmelites wanted to hear more of the classical Christian and specifically Benedictine tradition of lectio divina, that is, a meditative reading of Scripture and rumination on such reading leading to deeper prayer. The Rule of St. Albert, the basic thirteenth century document for the Carmelites, had itself encouraged such a manner of reading.
In the summer I continued work on Christian norms, finishing a draft of chapter three on Christian tradition only in August. In late August we had our annual community retreat, given this year by Sister Dolores Dowling, O.S.B., the first woman to give our retreat. Her theme was “a vision of Benedictine life in today’s world.” It was centered on traditional Benedictine practices, such as lectio, prayer, community, obedience, humility, and work, but always in the context of their deeper meaning as a relation in faith and love to God through Christ. In relating such practices to today, she insisted, for example, that obedience is a two way street, and that everyone in the community is responsible for the community. I found it helpful, as did the community generally.
In September I began chapter four in Christian norms on “The Development of Christian Doctrine.” On September 19th, the fifty-sixth anniversary of my monastic profession, I wrote: “Praise the Lord! What a miracle in the ordinary! A miracle of grace for two-minded me! That I persevered, with stumblings, and was focused enough to proclaim the Lord in teaching, writing, preaching and, I hope, by some example and counseling.” I read and corrected the page proofs of my book, now called, at Jeremy Langford’s suggestion, The Trinity. Rediscovering the Central Christian Mystery. George McLean offered an international philosophical seminar on “Reasoning in Faith,”prompted by the new sense of urgency that “reason alone will not do and that there is need of a new synthesis of the focus of the first millennium on the divine and that of the second millennium on the human – or, more, precisely, of faith and reason.”I participated in it, giving a paper on “Critical Grounding of Faith: An Epistemological Question,” that depended largely on my treatment of this question in Belief in God in Our Time.
In October I went to Discalced Carmelite communities in Boston, in Chicago, and in Wisconsin on “Holy Hill,” giving my presentations on lectio divina followed by discussions and a shared lectio – all happy occasions. — As usual, I sent the community a letter about the activities on the vocation front during the last year, activities I thought quite extensive though there were few young men who followed through on their initial interests. And I suggested to Fr. Abbot that another monk take over the job of vocation director, a request that did not bear fruit for a couple of years. On Thanksgiving, I wrote in my journal:
I have got back to reading The Cloud of Unknowing, and its teaching resonates with me – and is necessary for me: “You may confidently rely on this gentle stirring of love in your heart and follow wherever it leads you, for it is your sure guide in this life and will bring you to the glory of the next . . . . “ (ch. 49)
And on December the 8th I wrote in reference to the painful concern I felt at what I considered deficiencies in the proposed governance plans for the school:
The pain I accept in seeking an alternative school governance plan is pain I accept to bring to birth a St. Anselm’s Abbey that will grow from strength to strength – beyond individualism, fragmentation, etc. Lord, teach me to care and not to care! I am surprised how much the future of St. Anselm’s means to me!
The tsumani on December 26, 2004, that killed more than 200,000 people and rendered 5 million homeless in Sumatra, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, etc. recalled to many of us the larger needs of our world, the uncertainties in our lives and how pitifully small our own pains are.
At the end of the year my book on the Trinity was published. It had a beautiful picture on the cover that I had, with the help of Carmen Krisai-Chizzola, proposed. This was an image of the three persons of the Trinity bonded together and yet distinct, with the Holy Spirit in the image of a young woman. It was a picture of a late fourteenth century fresco from a church in Urshalling, Bavaria. On receiving the copies of my book, I did not feel much elation, as I really should have. But as I wrote on January 1, 2005, the publication “is just the birth of this book after a 9 year pregnancy and parturition (1995-2004). It is at the beginning of its life as a book. . . . Why should God have risked this task or ministry or mission to me?” And to begin the year I also wrote: “This morning about 7:30 a.m. the sky was beautiful – a blue sky and clouds tinged with pink by the rising sun. I sat down and enjoyed it for a while. – I should be doing more of this this coming year – taking more time to enjoy the flowers, etc.”
On February 5th, I had a very joyous celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood with Vespers and a buffet dinner attended by the community and about 35 friends. The next morning, Sunday, I was the main celebrant at our conventual Mass and in my homily I thanked God, my community and others for all I received through them, and expressed the hope that my ministry had been beneficial for some people. I present that homily in Appendix #8. – On March 15, I gave a lecture on “The Holy Spirit: The Ultimate Dynamism of the World and History” to Catholics and Protestants at Belmont Abbey College near Charlotte, North Carolina under the auspices of the Bradley Institute for the Study of Christian Culture. It was based on a chapter of my book on the Trinity. It was followed by a long discussion period. I particularly remember one woman who came to me later and thanked me for symbols of the Holy Spirit that she thought reflected her own experience. — At St. Anselm’s we had a community meeting on the proposed school governance plan at which I spoke about what I perceived as its deficiencies. Some in the community expressed reservations with the plan they had not previously expressed. I wrote in my journal:
I have lost much sleep on this issue; it has bugged me . . . . . This is a pattern that goes back to adolescence. I remember Great Aunt Jennie made a derogatory remark about Dad. I made a remark in reply – and then in the middle of the night got sick to my stomach out of concern for what I had said!
At the end of May I finished a draft of chapter four in my manuscript, “Development of Christian Doctrine” after having worked on it sporadically since the preceding September. And on May 31, the feast of the Visitation I began writing what I envisaged as a chapter but what turned out to be an article on “Contraception: A Test Case for the Development of Doctrine.”
I went to St. Louis at the end of June to celebrate my niece Caroline McCarthy’s and Ronald Strong’s wedding – a joyous celebration — and visit the family. It was very evident that each of my siblings in St. Louis, as well as my brother Scottie in western Massachusetts, has serious crosses to bear and that in genuine faith they are doing this generously, sustained by prayer. In July I spent a week at Chautauqua, New York as a Catholic chaplain. This place has been since the nineteenth century a spot where many Protestants, and later Catholics, go for vacation and lectures and music, particularly related to topics of Christian belief and practice. My friend Mary Sarver from Cleveland also attended Chautaugua for the week. We heard some very good lectures on important public issues, and enjoyed the beautiful location and good food. I offered mass each day for Catholics and gave a lecture on the same theme I had addressed at Belmont. In early August I reflected in my journal:
I have recently been more conscious that I drift in and out of being sustained and guided by God’s Spirit and my spirit – sort of like an actor being true to character and then drifting out of it. In some of my ministries I have done this, and in my relation to my brethren here. Adjuva me, Domine![Help me, Lord!] It should make me more compassionate toward others who do this in a way obvious to me but, probably, not to them.
Toward the end of August our community retreat was given by Father Joel Rippenger, O.S.B. on aspects of Benedictine life. For example, he said that community is a severe challenge to middle class American men in our time. It was a helpful retreat. – On September 1, 2005 hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, perhaps the greatest natural disaster in United States history; and the federal response to it was slow. – In the academic year, I was a co-director of a theological reflection group at the Washington Theological Union with seminarians who were spending part of their time in active ministry and then sharing accounts of their experiences with the other students, who in turn would reflect on the experience and how their fellow student had handled it. It was an interesting and helpful experience for me as well as for the students. – My seventy-eighth birthday prompted me to write:
Perhaps I have shared deeply in one of the greatest problems afflicting our world and Church today – a tendency to identify oneself in a one-dimensional manner – to accept surface consciousness as normative of self and reality. It is only through his Spirit again and again renewed in me that I have been in touch with his presence, love and support – and been renewed daily by it – and in touch too with deeper dimensions of myself.
Shortly after that I finished my article on “Contraception: A Test Case for the Development of Doctrine,” for which I initially wrote a draft in 2001. I did not do anything with it at this time, because I simply considered it another chapter in my manuscript.
In January 2006, Abbot Aidan’s generous service to the community as Abbot terminated after two eight year terms. The Abbot President had suggested the preceding summer, and the community agreed, that we were not ready for an abbatial election, and so would accept an appointed Prior Administrator for at least several years. The one he chose, Father Simon McGurk, O.S.B., was not available in January and so was scheduled to come to St. Anselm’s in June, with a previous brief visit to introduce himself to the St. Anselm community. Meanwhile Abbot Aidan would continue to be superior.
I was asked in February to assist four Benedictine Sisters giving a “Busy Person’s Retreat” to students at William and Mary College in Williamsburg, Virginia. With the cooperation of the very active Catholic Center at the College, some 35 students committed themselves to spend two half-hour periods for four days reading suggested Scripture texts and then coming to speak to one of us about how the texts spoke to them and any issues they wished to bring up. It was quite touching to see how genuine, open and searching the seven students were who came to see me during this week. Also, I continued to use the weekday mornings for my manuscript, writing two chapters on “The Church and the Episcopate as Criterion of Christian Faith and Life in the First Millennium,” and “The Church and Papal Infallibility as Criterion of Christian Belief and Life in the Second Millennium.” I relied largely on the work of, perhaps, the major Catholic theologian of the Church in the twentieth century, Yves Congar, O. P., though I used many other resources.
The issue of school governance continued to preoccupy the community. Though there was some improvement in the draft proposal, there continued to be some issues that concerned me and so I wrote two letters to the community, sharing my concerns with them. A resolution of the issue was put off until our new superior would arrive, which he did in June. There was discouragement in the community about the future of St. Anselm’s or whether it had a future, that came largely from the dearth of new members. At a particular community meeting on proposed renovations of the monastic buildings, including shoring up our main building at the cost of some $70,000, one monk proposed delay on this till we decide the future use of the building. When I asked what this meant, he said it depends on whether we will survive or not as a monastery. I spoke against this, saying this attitude was a recipe for disaster! Fear that is fed grows, and hope that is fed grows. Also, I asked, did we not shore up the school during some of its low periods? – We had offered a monastic experience weekend during this semester, and there were men who expressed strong interest in the possibility of entering St. Anselm’s and had two or more visits with us, but they all had other commitments and anxieties. In early June I wrote the community about eight of these men, a number of whom had come for two visits.
On June 8, Fr. Simon was installed as Prior Administrator for three years. I had asked to be relieved of the job of vocation director in the coming fall. – Toward the end of June I took a few days retreat at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, Maryland – a change of pace that I needed.. I was reading Cuthbert Butler’s Benedictine Monachism. Studies in Benedictine Life and Rule (1919) – a classic treatise on Benedictine life that I had not read for many years, and Thomas Tyrrell, Urgent Longings: Reflections on the Experience of Infatuation, Human Intimacy and Contemplative Love (1980). In reference to the latter I wrote:
I was ‘infatuated’ with religious life initially – and with philosophy — and the security associated with them. The loss of this sense of security, particularly at the time of final vows, almost derailed me. But I focused more on particular ministries I was given and, thank God, was faithful to prayer. And I faced insecurity again, again and again in preaching, teaching, writing and community life and spiritual direction. . . By this over a large number of years the domination of the demon of security was more and more eroded. Praise the Lord!
I did wake up in the middle of the night with concerns about the school governance question and how the vocation director transition would occur, and so wrote later: “As I wake up in the middle of the night with anxieties, this demon has not been totally tamed!” And: “On the other hand, I have also frequently felt, ‘What’s the use of another effort, another initiative – after so many that gain no response or seem to gain no response?’” I concluded, “Lord, please help me simply to serve and be happy that I know so little and that others are free to judge my efforts and accept them or not. This has always been a cross for me.”
On July 18th I finished the first draft of my manuscript on “Christian Norms of Faith and Life. Foundational Theology III,” for which I praised the Lord. I had worked on it on and off for four and a half years, after teaching it for years. I took a relaxing week vacation with my brother and sister in law, Scottie and Joy. And then we had out annual monastic retreat offered by Sister Genevieve O.S.B. of St. Walburga’s Monastery in Colorado. It was a very scriptural and monastic retreat, focused largely on the Kingdom and the Eucharist. I concluded that I needed the grace to deepen the spirit I had described in a homily earlier in July (14th Sunday of the Year, B) on 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10, where Paul acknowledges:
That I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
After the retreat I wrote my final letter as vocation director to the community, indicating the number of men whom I had contacted during the preceding year, the calls I had made, the gang letters I had written, the four monastic experience weekends I had organized, and the number of visitors, some of whom had come two or more times. I concluded my letter by writing, “At times it seems too much work for small returns, but I am happy I persevered in this service to the community. And I am happy now to entrust it to others.” I gave over the job to Fr. Simon after having the position for some 12 years (1993-1995, 1996-2006), though I was dismayed by the way the transfer was handled, and I hoped that contacts would continue with those who had recently shown interest. — Two other priests of EBC monasteries came to us for a period of three years, one from St. Louis Abbey, Fr. Dominic Lenk, who would be our treasurer, while Fr. Christopher took a much merited sabbatical, and the other Fr. Edward Crouzet from Downside Abbey, who was to assist Fr. Simon in vocation work. I finally gave over all my files to Frs. Simon and Edward on November 3rd.
The community held an extraordinary Conventual Chapter to give final approval to the school governance contract. Before the Chapter I wrote a letter to the community expressing my happiness that the earlier drafts had been revised, but still expressing some questions about its present form. Finally, I abstained from voting for the contract since it did not vest oversight and authority in the Monastic Community or Chapter as the Parent Corporation as other such contracts did, but rather gave this to some or all of the Monastic Council and a few lay members (the Board of Members). I was at peace with both issues of vocation director and school governance.
I started revising my manuscript on Christian Norms of Faith and Life, and I participated in an international philosophical seminar directed by Fr. George McLean on “History and Cultural Identity” with participating philosophers from more than 10 foreign countries, including Iran. It was very interesting and illuminating for me. My paper was on “Religious Culture and Historical Change: Vatican II on Religious Freedom,” taken largely from a chapter in my manuscript on Christian norms, and later submitted to the The Heythrop Journal in England and published in September 2008. Part of the article is as follows:
[T]he Church came to preserve its teaching on the responsibility of the human person to respond positively to the truth within a larger acceptance of human freedom in society and with a respect for persons whose conscience does not or does not yet lead them to the free acceptance of the Christian mystery. . .
[T]he Church’s achievement of a development of doctrine is at times not simply through an expansion of an understanding it already has but rather by a dialectical process in which it denies what it has frequently taught in the past, because it is now open to a larger perspective that includes dimensions of the mystery that were earlier defensively dismissed. . . . Essential elements that allow this development are that individual and communal human experience has changed, that the change has been revelatory of what it means to be human and that the Church has learned from this experience something that had not been factored into its earlier teaching.
Participants in the seminar recognized that this integration of historical change with religious fidelity was relevant to religions other than Christian.
On October 20 I had my 79th birthday, and I wrote a prayer in my journal:
Praise you Father that through Jesus and your Spirit you have brought me beyond my blocks and understanding and desire to the open space of the resurrection and the Spirit I already through your mercy share. And thank you that you have given me a share in your Son’s ministry and its costs! Help me I pray that I may be less hobbled by self-concern and doubts so that I might become more of your son and complete the work you ask me to do.
Also, during this semester I took part in another “Busy Person’s Retreat” at William and Mary College. And I completed selecting and editing a collection of my homilies which I called God’s Word Calls and Nourishes. Sundays of the Year and Feasts, but which I did not at present seek a publisher.
In the first half of 2007 I completed revision of my manuscript on Christian norms and began to approach a few publishers to ask whether they would be interested in evaluating the manuscript for possible publication. Before completing this revision I attended a meeting of the National Workshop on Christian Unity, and heard the very helpful major address by Br. Jeffry Gros, F.S.C., who had worked with the United States Bishops’ Conference on ecumenical issues, on positive signs in the ecumenical movement from the Catholic perspective and some challenges that lay ahead. I gave a few lectures, and in June attended the Catholic Theological Society of America convention in Los Angeles. It was good to meet some old friends there, and I heard some helpful lectures, entering the discussions after the lectures. I also visited St. Louis and enjoyed time with family and with relations at a cousins’ reunion.
In Late July I took a few days retreat at Holy Cross Cistercian Abby in Berryville, Virginia, reading particularly Demetrius Dumm, A Mystical Portrait of Jesus. New Perspectives on John’s Gospel. On the first part of this book, I commented:
What struck me was how central it was for Jesus to use circumstances to show that it was love of his Father and us that motivated all his actions and words. And how he had accepted vulnerability to do this. It is the power of love that is the greatest power and has more lasting influence. Dumm notes how many people miss the best opportunities of their lives through resisting vulnerability and seeking control, as did the Sanhedrin and the Pharisees.
I thanked the Lord for times I accepted the vulnerability his call — and so my interpretation of his call – involved.
I began to consider the possibility of offering an adult education course,“A Twenty-First Christian Theology,” in two parts, one in the fall and another in the following Lent as a popular treatment of the theme of as a preparation for my possibly writing up a book on this topic. I had been encouraged by Liturgical Press to write an introduction to theology that was more accessible than the books of mine they had published, and I had much earlier been encouraged to write a book in a more popular vein by my sister Cordelia. I decided to go ahead with it. I had taught many areas of systematic theology, would restrict myself to this area, and so had a good preparation for most of this. I offered this series as an exploration of the feasibility of my writing a popular book on systematic theology. It was encouraging that they were well received and prompted lively discussion. – In the fall I also gave a couple of talks on “Thomas Merton on Contemplation and Social Concern.” And I sent off to The Heythrop Journal an article on “Contraception as a Test Case for the Development of Doctrine,” which they accepted and published in the May 2008 issue – the fortieth anniversary of Humanae vitae. This was an article I had written in a number of drafts, and had recently intended as a part of my manuscript on Christian Norms of Faith and Life, but now thought it appropriate for an independent article and a possible appendix to the book when – and if – it came out. I also started looking for a publisher of this manuscript.
On October 21st, I wrote:
Yesterday, October 20th, was my 80th birthday! Praise you Lord for being with me through these years – for guiding, raising, forgiving, opening doors and renewing me again and again! Praise you too for the good health I seem to have, for all you’ve done for me through others, and for those others. Praise you for what fruit you have borne through me and for costs I bore in serving you. Praise you for the prayer that has been the sustenance of my life and for the darkness that invited me to trust further in you and less in myself. May I use what time is left to me here to love you and others more and to finish the work you gave me to do.
On October 27th my brother Tommy, or Fr. Toma, visited me for a couple of weeks. He had been in the country since late June visiting family, the first time since 1994, and I was his last family member to visit before his return to Israel. With his long white beard he looked like an Old Testament prophet. He took part in much of our monastic liturgy; we reminisced a good deal; we went to museums and for walks in the National Arboretum; we had dinner with some relations of ours and friends of mine; and he attended a discussion on Thomas Merton and one of my adult education classes. We were quite different – his life was more rural and centered at his monastery than mine, as appropriate for a contemplative from a Trappist background – but had so much in common, especially our early life and our monastic life. We both enjoyed the visit. He left for Israel on November 12th, and the next day I wrote him a letter:
Thank you for your visit. It was a grace for me to spend time with you, and to reflect a bit on our lives and our family together. One thing I should learn from your visit is to take more time simply to be — rather than to do still more work. . . . You are where God wants you and are doing what God wants you to do. What greater gift in life is there than this?. . . I can see why you have many friends. In a letter Ya’aqov kindly sent to me before his death [two years previously] he said that while you and he had differences at times, you are a good monk and that living with you all those years was a grace for him. Oremus pro invicen (Let us pray for one another). Love, Mark
On December 9th, Father Agapetos from his community in Galilee called me to say that Tommy had had a stroke during mass the preceding day and was now in a hospital in Nazareth, to be moved a few days later to Holy Family Hospital, run by French Sisters of Charity, and that the doctors said that his life was in danger. This was of course a shock and sadness to me and my family, but we marveled at God’s providence that allowed Tommy to have an extended visit with us in the United States before this. His community took good care of him; Sister Eucharistia of the community stayed with him most of the time, while others visited him. A number of us wrote him e-mails and other short letters that were read to him and that he appreciated. He died after an abdominal thrombosis on February 15th. On the day of his death, he kept repeating, “Christ is with us, Christ is with us.” His funeral, presided over by the Melkite Archbishop Elias Chacour of Nazareth and attended by some 60 friends of Tommy and the community, was on February 17th; and he was buried near Fr. Ya’aqov at Lavra Netofa. The community had a beautiful brochure on Tommy’s life composed and printed. What Frs. Ya’aqov and Toma had developed had been handed over by Fr. Ya’aqov shortly before his death in late 2005 to a contemplative community of Sisters and Priests, the Monastic Sisters and Monks of Bethlehem, who would continue its witness and service of unity in Israel. In March I went to St. Louis to offer a memorial mass for him. Many relations and friends, in part notified by an article on Tommy in the Post Dispatch, attended. It was good to be with family to recall Tommy together — and recall that we will go by the same path to God.
On returning from St. Louis, I was told of the death of a long term friend of mine, Sister Mary Paul McLaughlin, O.S.B. of St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Ridgely, Maryland, and I was asked to offer mass for her funeral. She had been hit by a car while crossing a street in Wilmington, Delaware. One more reminder of how our life is not in our control. – On Easter Monday I went to New York to visit with my sister- in-law Dede and her children and most of her grandchildren who were there for the opening of her son Jimmy’s art exhibit at Lohin-Geduld Gallery. It was a very enjoyable few days, in which I spent a lot of time with them and particularly my nephew George, whom I had last seen in England in 1996. I stayed with my cousin Nona Aguilar, and I introduced her to her distant cousins. On returning to D.C. I attended a symposium at the Catholic University on “A Common Morality for the Global Age,” which included some very good lectures by prominent conservative moral theologians and philosophers, showing me, as I put it, “whole areas of current moral debate I know very little about, very illuminating — and fills – or at least helps to – some big holes in my knowledge. And introduces me to many key players in this most important area of contemporary debate.”
On April 15th one of our priests, Fr. Daniel Kirk, died of a heart attack after a period of illness that had put him in a nursing home. His funeral was mobbed by his family and many people whose lives he had touched. Another reminder of how fragile our hold on this life is. I had other recent reminders of this. In New York, I slipped while taking a shower in a tub, finding myself with my head on the floor and legs over the side of the tub. If my head rather than my shoulder had hit the floor first, I could have had a concussion or worse. And shortly after Fr. Daniel’s death, I wrote in my journal: “Today I got dizzy after walking up from the basement and Fr. Peter caught me, and said I was about to fall. I get these very brief dizzy spells once ever week or so, usually on walking up stairs too quickly.” – On April 17th Pope Benedict XVI offered mass in the baseball stadium in Washington D. C. which many thousands of people attended and which I, with some 1300 other priests, concelebrated.. It was a moving public affirmation of our Catholic faith.
Toward the end of April I reflected on what my next project should be, and I decided on writing my ‘memoirs,’ noting after listing some pros and cons:
I suspect God is calling me to proceed with these memoirs . . . There is a danger this is narcissistic, but there is a danger too that such a fear can forestall God’s glory which I should praise and testify to. – Also, some other call may interrupt this – and if it does, so be it. –Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus! (“That in all things God may be glorified”)
So I began to devote most of my weekday mornings to this effort. It was a help that I had through the years kept occasional journals that enabled me to renew contact with my earlier experiences and reflections on them at the time.- I was also tossing out a lot of papers at this time, and trying to put some others in order. And, on weekend mornings I was putting together a number of my homilies for varied occasions as a possible future book and another collection of articles and lectures on topics of Christian spirituality that might constitute a book. A good number of people had kindly told me that they found these helpful, so I was putting them together and looking forward to asking someone to evaluate whether they were worth publishing.
During the summer I sent a copy of my article on contraception to a member of the Curia in the Vatican, not expecting to hear back from him. And I went to St. Louis for the funeral of my brother-in-law Tom McCarthy. He was well loved and was a loving man. While there, on Sunday, July 13, some 27 of us went out to Pinook, mostly Julia’s children and grandchildren. Many of these had never been there or had not for 20 some years. It was lovely. How much I owe to that place. . . . I had lunch with Fr. Dan O’Connell, St. Louis University High School, 1945; it was quite enjoyable.
In late July I sent a proposal to Michael Bloom, founder and director of NowYouKnowMedia.com, a company that produces and markets CD series of lectures on Catholic topics. I asked whether he would be interested in the series I had developed on “A Twenty-First Century Christian Theology.” He came and chatted with me and said that he would be interested in a series of lectures on the Trinity, based on my book. So I decided to give an adult education course on this theme in the fall to prepare myself for such lectures. – We had our annual community retreat in late August, given by Abbot Paul Stonham of Belmont Abbey in England. It was a very engaging retreat, inviting us to seek a deepening of presence to the Lord who has done such great things for us, and reflecting on practices of monastic life in this context. Shortly after the retreat I wrote in my journal:
A recent meditation, “Maybe it’s you who did all this!” – My blandness and lack of feeling contribute to my sense that the divine origin of my work is doubtful. But my blandness may come from how difficult it is for me to see love offered me when it is and has been. So, Lord, help me bear the cross of blandness and lack of feeling — as though I had never started on your path — for those for whom trust is hard — trust in you.
In the fall I did offer the series of lectures on the Trinity I mentioned above and sent them to Michael Bloom who approved them as a basis for a CD series of twelve lectures, to be given when I felt ready for them. I also gave a weekend retreat on the Trinity to some of St. Anselm’s Abbey’s Oblates. — All this while the stock market was falling precipitously, largely because of the greed and fraud of a few. And an intensely fought presidential campaign was in process and Barack Obama was elected as the first black President, but one whose views on abortion were very disturbing.
At the beginning of January 2009, I mused in my journal:
Praise Lord from this earthen vessel! This earthen vessel diverges again and again from the call of the Spirit – in distractions, in allowing myself to be weighed down by lethargy, in doubts about the worth of what I’m doing, in not being in touch with others or myself!
. . . . God’s main offer to me this year is, I trust, his self-gift and the intimacy this is – at the cost of my trust while my body sags! He asks me to trust too that his gift to the Church through me that my writings represent will bear the fruit he wishes – with time. I have done his work, as St. Paul had done when he was under arrest in Rome.
Barack Obama’s inauguration as president filled many people in our country and abroad with great hope; my hope was real but tinged with concern about his statements about abortion and some other issues. – In a brief retreat with my “Team of our Lady,” I reflected on an article on Pope Benedict’s teaching on hope in which the author says:
that Benedict thinks the crisis in the West is really about the relationship of ontology to history. [I added] It is this that, it seems to me, God has given me insights into through the integration of developmental psychology with the philosophical anthropology of Thomas Aquinas – and of this with apocalyptic. I have to ascribe what is good in my writings on this to God. – If it is true, he has given me a trust – and been with me for many years in my stumbling to bring it into the light of day.
In February I gave a lecture at St. Rose of Lima parish on “A Christian Humanism for our Time?”, in which I put in summary form a good deal of what I had written on a humanism that integrates Thomas and developmental psychology and the New Testament’s view of the Kingdom and its relation to history. And on two days in early March I recorded twelve twenty-five minute lectures on the Trinity at a studio for NowYouKnowMedia.com, which were published on 4 CDs in April with the title: The Trinity: Exploring the Great Christian Mystery. This was my first experience of such recording, so I had a sense of foreboding going into it, but quickly forgot that in the process; and the producer was pleased with the results.
On March 25, the feast of the Annunciation Abbot Alban Boultwood died in his sleep at the age of 97.Our community and I owe him so much. He was superior when I entered St. Anselm’s, was my novice master, was Prior from 1946 to 1961 and then St. Anselm’s first Abbot from 1961 to 1975. In service for the community he endured more than his share of difficulties. Fr James quoted from one of Abbot Alban’s books of homilies a passage that, I think, reflected much of his own life:
Time and again, during our life, we shall meet with hardships which are the inevitable accompaniment of any attempt to lead a supernatural life on this earth. These will arise not only from the temptations which . . . are the consequence of our own weakness and fault but also from all those trials and problems that arise from circumstances and people beyond our own control, things which will demand from us much humility, fortitude, generosity, forgiveness, patience with the “personality problem” [of others], patience with ourselves. . . . Only the spirit of compunction of heart will enable us to accept them. . . [and] to transform them from bitter frustrations into a patient and even joyful sharing of the sufferings of Christ.
Abbot Alban’s two sisters with the husband of one of them came from England for the funeral. At the funeral a priest I knew said that he thought that at one point almost half the priests of the archdiocese were going to Abbot Alban as their spiritual director.
On April 21, the feast of St. Anselm, we celebrated St. Anselm, who died 900 years ago (1033-1109), by a mass offered by Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C. and a dinner for almost 300 people. In his very fine homily the Archbishop noted, among many other things, that: “Anselm, in his days as teacher, abbot and archbishop, labored tirelessly to see that an environment of faith was nurtured and that young people were introduced into a lively appreciation of the gift of faith.” St. Anselm’s Abbey continues that legacy by the witness of our lives and hospitality, in its educational ministry in its school, at the Catholic University and other places and in other forms of pastoral care.
In the summer I visited with family in St. Louis and in Lenox, Massachusetts. Our community retreat was given by Abbot John Eudes Bamberger, O.C.S.O., who had known Merton well. He obviously has deep familiarity with the monastic tradition. He noted that from the outside monastic life looks static, but it is dynamic, a journey with temptations to the right and the left. It is an interior journey under grace and takes a good deal of perseverance. Reflecting on Romans , chapter 7, he commented that we are inadequate; we cannot of ourselves obey God’s commands; we become more aware of this as we progress spiritually. Abbot Bamberger was trained as a psychiatrist, and he successfully integrated something of modern science and specifically psychology into his conferences. It was a good retreat.
Shortly after the retreat Prior Simon clothed two men as novices – a hopeful sign for St. Anselm’s future. And I took part in another international philosophical seminar hosted by Fr. George McLean at the Catholic University. This one was on “The Sacred and the Secular: Complementary and/or Conflictual in Global Times,” with participants from over 10 foreign countries, especially Asia and Africa. It was very enlightening.
I conclude these memoirs with no effort to express briefly what all of this has meant, but rather with a prayer that welled up in me on my 82nd birthday: “In love you persist with me!” The journey continues. May my recounting a part of my journey be a small offering of thanks to God and be of some help to others who similarly are making a journey with God and doubt.