Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Trappist Retreat (part 2)

Fr. Ed’s Trappist Retreat (part 2)

When you get up for prayers at 2:25 AM, bedtime is also early—7 PM.  What was it that Ben Franklin said about early to bed, early to rise?
The monks at Genesee pray the Divine Office in chapel five times a day.  The Divine Office consists of hymns, psalms, readings, intercessions and various prayers.  The day of prayer begins with Vigils (2:25 AM) then follows with Lauds or Morning Prayer (6 AM), Sext or Midday Prayer (11:15 AM), Vespers or Evening Prayer (4 or 4:30 PM) and Compline or Night Prayer (6:40 PM).  (Two other times during the day—mid-morning or Terce and mid-afternoon or None—they pray privately or in whatever location they find themselves in.)  Mass is integrated with either Lauds (like we do at 7:30 AM daily Mass at Our Lady of Victories Church) or Vespers depending on the day of the week.
The whole idea of praying so often is to sanctify the entire day—from the rising to the setting of the sun.  God is always aware of us.  We need to become more attuned to His presence during the course of our day.  And so the monks pray often.
Temptation.  It happened to Jesus while he was fasting in the desert.  “Turn these stones into bread.”  Somehow the discussion turns to food.
“It’s all about the food!”  My parochial vicar Fr. John uses this expression quite frequently.  Well the cook at the retreat house will never make it to the level of Iron Chef.  The meals, however, are basic and will keep you alive in time of famine:  pasta dishes, casseroles, something or other over rice, cheeses, and salads.  The main meal is served at noon.  Day one’s delicacies included pasta in a cream sauce with ham and peas.  On day two we were served something closely resembling jambalaya.  And on day three we ate shepherd’s pie.
 All I could think of while I was eating my meals in monastic silence was what Fr. John’s reaction would be to the meals—after all, he hates peas and cream sauces (day one) and is allergic to corn (day three, in the shepherd’s pie).  As I chuckled to myself, I thought, “Thank God we weren’t served some of the meals that I really despise.”  I was imagining things like egg salad (just thinking of it makes me nauseous) and most recipes with beans (other than string beans).
Guess what was on the menu for the very next meal!  Yep, egg salad and baked beans!  God certainly does have some crazy sense of humor.  It’s as if He read my mind (which He obviously can do) and conveyed the information to the cook.  Not funny.
Bethlehem Retreat House where the retreatants stay is no Holiday InnExpress or otherwise.  The retreat is supposed to be somewhat austere—a desert experience—so you are given a small monastic cell with desk, chair and single bed.  The bathrooms are shared and down the hallway.  The facilities are probably comparable to a low-end Motel 6 at an oasis in the Sahara.
At any rate, the food and the accommodations are not the reasons I was here.  I keep coming back time after time for a particular reason.  I was here to find God.  It is the continued search for God as found in the silence of the desert that draws me here again and again.
In the midst of what should be my silent monastic experience enters a not-too-silent, jovial, rotund, extroverted, earthy, Polish-American monk named Fr. Jerome.  For two days of conferences we were left shaking our heads, challenged to think of God in profoundly different ways and kept laughing until our sides split open.

Fr. Jerome

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