KOLBE WOLNIAKOWSKI: In the name of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Amen. Heavenly Father, I ask you to be with us and to guide our words so that they may bring peace and comfort to those who listen to our podcast. And thank you for all the number of blessings that we have in our life. Amen.
JOEL BLAIZE: You’re listening to Echoes from the Bell Tower, stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live, work and pray in southern Indiana. I’m Br. Joel.
KOLBE: And I’m Br. Kolbe. 2020 has been an interesting year. It’s been a year full of fear and anxiety, but also a year of rest and realizing what’s important in our lives. At the beginning of March, as the COVID-19 virus began to spread around the United States, Saint Meinrad made plans on how to deal with this contagious and deadly threat.
JOEL: Most of the seminarians headed home to their dioceses and religious communities to finish the school year online. The rest of the school community – 46 students, 10 monks and two priests on sabbatical – entered into a cloistered life. The monastic and seminary communities stayed in their separate areas on campus and did not leave the Hill.
KOLBE: All retreats and public events were and still are canceled and the Archabbey Church is still only open to the monastic community. On March 18, we began livestreaming our daily Mass and Vespers.
JOEL: It’s September now, and the seminarians have returned to the school. Most of the school’s programs have moved to an online only format for the fall semester. In our episode today, we’re going to talk about how Saint Meinrad has adapted since March and how some confreres in the community are honoring their inner monk and how you can, too. Here is Archabbot Kurt and Br. Francis to kick things off.
ARCHABBOT KURT STASIAK: Honor your inner monk, I’m reminded of, I believe it was Thomas Merton who, probably 50 or 60 years ago, said that everybody’s got a little bit of a monk that they carry around with them inside, and one of our great tasks in life is to find that inner monk and grow him or her into a bigger, stronger monk.
FRANCIS: A monk is someone who seeks God above all else. And since all human beings are created in the image of God – the scripture tells us, “In him we live and move and have our being” – the ability to seek and to know and to follow the Lord are planted deep within each one of our hearts. But we have to choose to honor that, so to speak. In that sense, everyone has an inner monk.
KOLBE: During this time where governing authorities are urging people to social distance, taking time to honor your inner monk can help you grow in your relationship with God. When we are constantly aware of God’s presence in our lives, we find a peace which no one can steal. It doesn’t mean bad things won’t happen, but that in the storm of life we always realize that God has not left us, that Christ is constantly with us. In the next part of our episode, we are going to give some suggestions on how to honor your inner monk.
JOEL: One way is to join us via livestream for Mass and Vespers each day. Mass is celebrated at 7:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays and major feast days. Vespers is prayed each day at 5 p.m. We’re in the Central Time Zone and you can find the livestream on Saint Meinrad’s Facebook or YouTube pages or at saintmeinrad.org.connect/live-video.
KOLBE: We have only been livestreaming since March. When we closed the Archabbey Church to the public, some monks began to look at ways we could still minister and share our prayer with people. Br. Stanley contacted the abbot about the possibility of livestreaming and Br. Simon began to experiment with his iPad. Pretty soon, with the help of our co-workers, we have amped up our technology and our WIFI signal. Here’s Br. Simon.
SIMON HERRMANN: Yeah, I think when people tune in, what’s neat is that it somewhat Christianizes their everyday experience. And so if somebody is watching Vespers, for instance, maybe it’s before or after dinner, and so what is routine for us might become routine for them. And that hearkens back to the idea of honoring your inner monk, finding that time of stability and prayer, coming up with that routine and honoring it, regardless if it’s a time of consolation or desolation, or a time of just dryness or complete joy, it’s maintaining that stability in prayer.
JOEL: From the comments people leave, it seems like they appreciate being able to tune into the livestream. We’ve heard that it is a comfort knowing that the prayer of the Church goes on, even when it seems like our world is falling apart and shutting down. It’s our hope that people are not just watching us pray, but also praying along with us. Here’s Br. Francis.
FRANCIS: It’s one thing when they’re here physically with us and that’s a very real experience for everyone involved, whether it’s the monks or the guest. But especially during this time when the only way that they can participate is through the livestream, I guess I hope that they realize or believe that, despite the distance between us and all of our differences and all of our difficulties, whatever else may be going on, that we’re all together as the body of Christ to worship God with one voice. And that’s true, whether the camera is there or not.
KOLBE: Another way to honor your inner monk is to practice Lectio Divina or spiritual reading every day. You can even join Br. Simon live on Twitter. Several months ago, Br. Simon played Xbox online with a livestreamer who is the director of evangelization at a parish in Chicago. When they were done playing, they had a live Q and A, asking and answering questions that viewers submitted while they were playing. He began to think about ways he could do something similar in the monastic life with Lectio Divina.
SIMON: And so I was toying with that idea and playing with some possibilities in my mind of how that could look. And then, sometime, maybe two or three weeks into the stay-at-home quarantine because of COVID-19, a tweet came up on Twitter and then somebody else responded and said, “Brother Simon, this is your time to shine, try this out.” And so I thought, “Okay, now’s the time to do Lectio.”
So, I started Lectio Divina live probably a couple of weeks after things really started locking down, and maybe five or six days a week I do Lectio Divina live on Twitter. And I would say we probably have anywhere from 20 to 30 people participate each time. And of those 20 or 30, maybe 10 are actually actively typing in the chat box. We go through the four stages of Lectio, and people will submit their word, or phrase, or scene, and then a little bit later they’ll submit some reflection, something on their heart, a prayer that they have made to God during that time of Lectio.
JOEL: Here is a quick overview of Lectio Divina. It’s been a traditional way of praying for a number of centuries. There are four stages and the person praying starts with scripture. It could be a reading from Mass or one of the Psalms or you’re working through a gospel. In the first stage, the person grows familiar with what is taking place in the reading.
SIMON: And then in the second stage of Lectio, which is what we call the meditatio or meditation stage, it’s a stage of reflection. And so, you read the scripture a second time, and as you’re reading it, you’re allowing something to jump out at you from the reading, whether it’s a word or a phrase or a scene. So for instance, maybe we’re reading the gospel of John and the woman is at the well and Christ is encountering her at the well, perhaps the word “thirst” pops out to you, or the scene of the interaction between Jesus and that woman, and you’re putting yourself in that scene, whether it’s as an observer or even as the woman in that scene or as Christ in that scene.
KOLBE: During the second stage you are asking, “What is God saying to me through that word, or phrase or scene?” You spend a couple minutes in silence before moving onto the third stage. In the third stage, the person reads the scripture again and enters into prayer.
SIMON: And in this stage, a question that the person has in mind is, “What do I want to say to God? How do I want to respond to God?” So, if the person felt a sense of peace from the second stage, perhaps in the third stage, in their prayer, they’re saying, “Thank you God for clarifying something in my life and bringing peace in this area of ... .” Perhaps they were feeling challenged to do something, or change, or amend something in their life. The prayer might be then, “Lord help me to amend my life because of what I’m encountering in dialogue with you.” And so, they spend again, three, four or five minutes in silence, praying.
JOEL: The fourth stage is the contemplation stage. The person prays with the scripture a fourth time and then just rests with God in silence for four or five minutes
SIMON: Lately, the image that has come to mind is the person is like a flower soaking in the sun. They don’t do anything, but they just sit there receiving what is their nourishment. And so, we try to let God do the work in this stage. We simply try to let Him love us as best as we’re able. And so, we simply sit still and rest with God in that stage. And then you can conclude Lectio with some kind of prayer, whether it’s The Lord’s Prayer, prayer of thanksgiving, whatever it may be. So that’s a brief overview of Lectio.
KOLBE: Lectio has become a ministry for Br. Simon. He looks forward to spending time with the people who have gathered online and also introducing Lectio Divina to those who have never heard of it. If you’d like to join Br. Simon, you can find him on Twitter @MonkSimonOSB.
JOEL: Another way to honor your inner monk is by creating silence in your life to find your inner contemplative. Br. John Mark Falkenhain wrote an article on this topic a couple months ago and he suggests that this time of being “homebound” might be a perfect time to work on your contemplative vocation. To turn experiences of silence into solitude, loneliness into a greater intimacy with God, and boredom into the never-ending challenge of seeking God “in here” rather than “out there.”
JOHN MARK FALKENHAIN: The contemplative journey is really about a journey inward and finding the God who dwells deep within us. We forget that God is dwelling within sometimes. Sometimes we forget it because it’s covered up with so much busyness, even within our minds and with all the distractions we surround ourselves with.
Martin Laird wrote a very nice book on the contemplative life, and he talks about all the cocktail party chatter that goes in our head, that there’s just so much clatter. Sometimes it’s self-criticism. Sometimes it’s grudges we’ve held onto. Sometimes it’s anger about something. Sometimes it’s worry about this or that. The idea of stilling your house is about figuring out how to turn all of that down so that we can focus on the one essential thing, which is God who dwells within.
KOLBE: To start creating silence, Br. John Mark suggests quieting down your external environment. So, turning off the TV, put the phone away, and step away from the computer.
JOHN MARK: I wouldn’t say go cold turkey and decide that you’re no longer going to watch TV or listen to the radio or listen to podcasts or talk on the phone.
KOLBE: Yeah, don’t stop listening to podcasts. That’s great.
JOHN MARK: But to carve out periods of time in our day, maybe the last 30 minutes of the day or the first 30 minutes of the morning, or some point where you’re going to carve out some time where you do turn off the computer, you’re not looking at Facebook, you’re not looking at the computer, you’re not listening to the television or whatever, and have auditory silence and visual silence in your life. Then it makes you journey inward, and then all of these within-ourself noises start to occur.
JOEL: Once you quiet down your external environment, Br. John Mark recommends practicing Centering Prayer. In Centering Prayer, you find a simple word or phrase that always draws you back to Christ. It could be a line from Scripture or just saying, “Jesus.”
KOLBE: Each time you start to get distracted by thoughts like, “Oh, I wonder what we’re having for dinner” or “Man, I really really hope...” or “Dang, I’m so angry at so-and-so,” it’s okay to acknowledge those thoughts, but then try to replace some of those thoughts with something that really directs us towards God.
JOHN MARK: Even 30 minutes at a time is tough. Starting with five, building to 10, and always remembering, and I think this is really key, that the object of contemplation isn’t so much always having some great insight or having this great affective or emotional experience of having been close to God, but it really is about you’ve succeeded if you’ve simply spent the time on God or spent the time with God. For example, when I do my own private prayer, for example, in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel or something, it may be that I’m totally distracted the whole time or I’ve not had any great something come out of it, but it’s the equivalent of just spending time, wasting time with someone that you love.
I’m reminded of my parents who have been married for 50-some years. They spend time together in the evening. They may not even be talking together, but they’ve just been together for so long that just one another’s presence is enough. To be in the presence of the other means to get to know one another, and that is the idea, to relate to God in a one-on-one personal way without any particular kind of agenda.
JOEL: One thing to watch out for during this practice is acedia, the “noon-day devil” that urges us to get out and see what we’re missing. It’s normal to become bored or to have a hard time sitting in silence, but it’s important to push through those feelings. Here is Br. Francis.
FRANCIS: When you are still and when you are silent, you really have to deal with who you are and with who God is. And all of that’s not going to be pleasant all the time, but it is the truth and we all have a reckoning one day or another. And so it can be frightening sometimes, it can be discouraging, but it also can be very life-giving.
JOHN MARK: I’m really convinced that we’re probably never really going to get what we do want, which is a level of depth and spiritual depth and depth of relationship, until we stay put once things get boring and dull because that’s the grounds and the call to something deeper. It calls for a grittier stick-to-it-iveness that makes us struggle and work for the relationship and discover the things that are no longer the low-hanging fruits of the relationship, but the much deeper things.
Now, it’s interesting when we talk about this virus and sheltering in place, as I think it happens to all of us who aren’t used to sheltering in place all the time, that it’s easy for a while. “Oh, this is kind of nice to be home more, to do this more.” But there’s a point at which then we start to get cabin fever, acedia, the seven-year itch, the desire to move on. We want something new and exciting, but this could be the threshold to something new and exciting within if we can dig deeper into the littler space that we are now occupying.
KOLBE: So far, we have talked about joining the monastic community daily for Mass and Vespers via livestream, the practice of Lectio Divina or spiritual reading, and creating silence to help discover God’s presence within ourselves. All three revolve around prayer. During this time of uncertainty, prayer can help us manage anxiety. It can also remind us of the blessings we enjoy. Here is Archabbot Kurt and Br. Francis.
ARCHABBOT KURT: One of the things that prayer does, I believe, is to give us the opportunity to reflect on what we have. It’s why I like, when I’m presiding at Mass for the universal prayers, I like to say, at the conclusion of those universal prayers, “God, loving Father, as we place our needs before you, may we remember to thank you for the gifts that we enjoy.”
And I think that is one thing that prayer does, that alone can help us settle down and make us realize or help us to realize how blessed we are. Again, prayer, God knows what we need before we ask. So, we’re not praying to remind God of something or to inform Him in something. We are praying basically to remind ourselves in whom we live and move and have our being, and whom our life has rooted, and whom we want our life to be rooted in even more.
FRANCIS: One thing that we here in the monastery do every day and a lot of our oblates and friends of Saint Meinrad do, too, but to pray the Psalms. The Psalms are full of raw emotions dealing with a lot of uncertainty, betrayal, anger, whatever it may be. So it’s really a good way to remember, to recall, to connect with all of whatever one is experiencing throughout the world.
And especially I remember or recommend Psalm 46, where the famous line from that is, “Be still and know that I am God.” And it’s not about, as Jesus says in the gospels is, “I don’t give you my peace as the world gives it.” So, we’re not talking about a peace without conflict, but it’s a peace that undergirds or underlies whatever else is going on in the world. And that psalm kind of brings that out because the imagery in that psalm is very tumultuous and God is reminding the psalmist that I’m here.
KOLBE: Many times we feel like our own words get in the way of God’s words. Archabbot Kurt reminds us to get in the line of thinking that God knows what we need before we ask. He suggests, instead of wondering what you should say to God, ask: what do I need to be told? What would I like to be told? And see where that goes.
JOEL: Prayer will help us grow in our relationship with God, but it will also help during difficult times like the pandemic we’re living through. Many of the monks have been struggling with fear and anxiety and I’m sure many of our listeners are, too.
KOLBE: Br. Francis is no stranger to stress and anxiety. He worked in the newspaper business for 17 years before joining the monastery. The last seven years before joining Saint Meinrad, he was the wire editor at the Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio. The current crisis that we’re experiencing reminds him of the fall 2000 and the fall 2001.
FRANCIS: There was a lot going on during both of those periods, for people who will remember, it wasn’t all that long ago, but in 2000 during the presidential election, George W. Bush versus Al Gore, we didn’t know after election day who had actually won the election for nearly a month. And for each day, there were court decisions, there were other developments, it was endless. It was one right after the other and I had to keep on top of all of that from day to day.
And then in 2001, different set of circumstances, but also kind of unsettling and unnerving and that was obviously 9/11 and everything that followed that. You know, you separate the news aspect from it. That’s stressful enough, but the overall experience was one of uncertainty and fear and those emotions or experiences are certainly relevant today during this pandemic. Although I would have to say that the pandemic and everything that’s happened in its wake is unique unto itself.
JOEL: Br. Francis recommends limiting exposure to social media and news media. It’s good and necessary as a human being and as a citizen to stay informed and participate in the world we live in, but to stayed tuned into the media 24/7 can be very detrimental to our physical, mental, and emotional and spiritual well-being.
FRANCIS: And I think that we have to keep in mind that news, by its very nature is, the reason it’s called news is because it’s out of the ordinary. It’s unusual. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be news. The analogy I like to use, which is not a perfect analogy, no analogy is, is that out of all the I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of airplanes that are traveling through the skies at any moment, every single day, it’s a large number. I don’t know what the exact number is. But we don’t pay any attention to them.
They all land safely and there's no news story that Flight 707 landed safely today at Miami International Airport. But if one crashes, and I’m not belittling that tragedy. It is a tragedy in that moment for those people and for all their loved ones who are affected, but it is unusual. And so when we watch the news or tuned into it all the time, we’re bombarded with really a distorted perception of reality.
KOLBE: Our faith in God can also help during difficult times. Br. Francis tells us to remember the times in the past that God helped us through our trials.
FRANCIS: Faith is, as I tell a lot of my spiritual directees, is principally about remembering. We hear so often in the Old Testament, and especially in Exodus where God tells his people through Moses, “Remember how I brought you out of Egypt. How I brought you here, how I did this.” And so the ancient Israelites are reminded again and again, of course they kept forgetting just like we do, but God kept reminding them that I’m here and you’re going to make it. I’m with you every step of the way.
And in that sense, we have to remember, whatever our difficulties are, whatever the particular challenges of the moment are, that that God is with us and that He has something to teach us in the moment. And to remember the times that that has been true in the past and it will also be true for this moment.
JOEL: When you’re battling anxiety and fear, Archabbot Kurt suggests asking yourself if there are concrete practical things you can do to help yourself or others.
ARCHABBOT KURT: And if there are, let’s do them together. If there aren’t, well, it’s the constant battle we always have with anxiety, with fear is, again, we believe that our life is in God’s hands, that God does give us lots and lots of resources, especially through each other. How can we put those together, and move forward together?
FRANCIS: There’s just so many people suffering right now whether it's by illness or distance from loved ones or economic difficulties or racial injustice or violence. We have to do our best to remain empathetic and to join our prayers with all those people that are suffering in the world. And I guess that would be the challenge right now, is to remember that and recall that.
KOLBE: We are all in this together. The pandemic is affecting people across the globe. During this time, the monastic community has set time to pray specifically for those affected by COVID and racial injustice. Archabbot Kurt introduced a new petition that we say every evening at Vespers, asking the Lord to protect us from anxiety.
JOEL: All of us in the monastery are in this together, too. One person’s actions could impact the health and well-being of many. Perhaps one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that the community seems to be closer than we were at the start of the year. Here is Archabbot Kurt and Fr. Lorenzo Penalosa. Fr. Lorenzo was away at school in Rome when the pandemic began to spread.
ARCHABBOT KURT: One of the things that unites people is a common enemy. We do have a common enemy in the virus, but it is just us monks here for the most part, on the Hill. And I think we’re very conscious of that, that my gosh, everything we see, everyone we see is a part of our immediate family, and that’s not to cut out or distance the coworkers or anyone else. But at supper, it’s us. In recreation after supper, it’s us. And we’re very conscious of, as you mentioned, the health of one can have a direct effect upon the health or unhealth of the rest of us. So, we are paying attention to those bonds, that community aspect.
LORENZO: One scripture passage keeps coming to my mind actually. It’s from Proverbs 17:17. And it goes, “A friend is a friend at all times. A brother is born for the time of adversity.” And at least my experience over there at Sant Anselmo, and I would imagine it’s probably the same here also, it’s during these tough times really that you see solidarity. It’s when you survive a tough situation together, whether with your family or with your friends, your confreres, that’s when the bonds actually become stronger. When all these become tested. And so it’s been a great blessing seeing that.
KOLBE: In the monastery, it has felt almost like an extended retreat for many of us. We are still busy with our house assignments. Many of us usually travel off the Hill to give conferences, or prison ministry or to fill in at parishes. Because of social distancing and ordinary activities away from Saint Meinrad being canceled, we have more time for prayer and hobbies. We have also been spending more time together. We have seen the fruits of what it means to slow down just as some of you probably have. Here’s Br. Francis.
FRANCIS: This is my perception. The last couple months we’ve kind of reconnected with our true vocations as men of prayer living in community. And I think that, with all of our other activities and ministries and busyness, so to speak, we can kind of lose sight of that. In a way, it hasn’t all been taken away from us, but it’s been kind of pared down a little bit.
So, it’s kind of reminded us of who we really are and that that is really our most important witness. That’s been kind of an unexpected benefit, so to speak. And I’ve heard other people say the same thing in the context of their own lives, whether they’re working from home or being around family a lot more. And so they’re rediscovering things that they had taken for granted and the things that are really important to them. And so I think that those are good things. St. Paul tells us in Romans, a letter to the Romans, that all things work for good for those who love God. So even in the most dire circumstances, even in the most troubling circumstances, we can find good in it if we look.
JOEL: Thank you for listening to this episode on honoring your inner monk. As we all continue to live through this time of uncertainty and unrest, we hope you all stay safe and healthy. We have one more short podcast episode for this season. Br. Kolbe interviewed Fr. Lorenzo about his COVID experience earlier this year while studying in Rome.
KOLBE: This episode was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with the help of Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The intro and outro music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel. Other music was sourced through Musicbed.
JOEL: Thanks to Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, Br. John Mark Falkenhain, Br. Francis Wagner, Br. Simon Herrmann and Fr. Lorenzo Penalosa.
KOLBE: If you have enjoyed “Echoes from the Bell Tower,” tell your friends and subscribe to it on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite listening platform.
JOEL: You can always listen to past episodes on our website at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes. Thanks for listening!