I thought that some things would never change. I am pretty sure that since I have been making a retreat with the Trappist Monks at the Abbey of the Genesee (beginning in 1979), the initial daily prayers (Vigils) began at 2:25 AM. This past summer, the schedule of prayer changed! We now begin at 3:30 AM! Wow! An extra hour of sleep! I am still in shock! Everyone who is relatively sane, however, is probably still in bed comfortably rolling over.
Yes, it is now the middle of the night on my first day of retreat. I am preparing to join the monks for their initial office of daily prayer, now beginning at 3:30 AM. People elsewhere have just gotten into bed or have recently fallen asleep at this hour. Most of the college students down the road at SUNY Geneseo are probably still frolicking out and about as are many of the nocturnal creatures that lurk throughout various college and university campuses.
Not the monks, however. They are just starting their day at the monastery. Pretty early for most of us? Absolutely! Yet, they do this each and every day as a matter of routine--freely chosen routine. Not only are we encouraged to get up early to pray with the monks, but the retreat I am on is silent. No frivolous talking or conversations are allowed. No TV or radio in the retreat house. Obviously, I brought my laptop so that I could write a few reflections such as this throughout the week. Finding a Wi-Fi connection to post them to the internet is another story. (Thank God I learned how to set up a mobile hotspot through my phone.)
Granted, the monastic life is certainly not for everyone. However, it can teach us many valuable lessons. The monks' radical lifestyle is a profound witness to something beyond this world. They search for God in silence. Their serious, intense, deliberate prayer reminds me of how little time I actually give to prayer each day. Material things that I/we may cling to are just not that important here. A basic white habit with a black scapular and belt on top of some work clothes is pretty much the norm. No fashion statement. Prayer, work, reading, study, self-denial, a personal relationship with God, are apparently what matters. Simplicity to the extreme. My room has a chair, desk and bed. Showers are down the hall. Certainly not some luxury hotel or spa. Pope Francis would be proud.
I have found that the spiritual life is filled with paradoxes and mysteries. Why would anyone deny oneself? Why give up having a family and home? Why pick up the cross and be a disciple? Why bother?
. . . To learn to love deeply, to open the heart for God, to find peace and joy, to answer the call to discipleship, to know and love Jesus . . . .
My past experiences at the monastery have been some of the most profound, life-changing, rejuvenating times throughout my life. I keep coming back, since I was 19 years old. The monks are getting older, as am I. Some faces change. Much remains the same. The abbey chapel was renovated not too long ago and is brighter and more inviting.
What God has in store for me this visit is beyond my limited knowledge or foresight. Yet, I keep searching. I keep getting up very early in the middle of the night. I keep following that mysterious "call" that has led me here once again to seek the Lord in monastic solitude. Come. Lord Jesus! Please pray for me.
Fr. Ed Namiotka
PS, You are remembered in my thoughts, prayers and Masses!