Saturday, September 26, 2009



This morning I was standing in the monastic choir with my brother monks during Lauds singing the traditional morning canticle, the "Benedictus," Zechariah's song of praise from Luke's gospel (1:68-79). We were finishing the last few lines:

The loving-kindness of the heart of our God
who visits us like the dawn from on high.
He will give light to those in darkness,
those who dwell in the shadow of death,
and guide us into the way of peace."

My back began to really ache in protest, because I'd been on my feet all during Lauds. Then an image came to me very gently and simply, and lasted only a second or two: I'm sitting in a curtained-off cubicle in the pre-op room of the same-day surgery place where I received my second epidural injection Wednesday. Through the curtains I could hear nurses doing pre-op interviews of other patients nearby. "I see you have a history of thyroid cancer….." "How long since you had the hip replacement? " "Did you take your antidepressant medication today?" We are quite a collection, I think to myself.

Suddenly I'm back in the monastery church singing "Glory be to the Father" at the end of the Benedictus. I can't bow over with the rest of the monks because of the pain, but I can feel something else just as real as the pain -- the presence here with me of the unseen woman with the thyroid cancer and the guy with the bad hip and all the rest of my fellow sufferers. It's like being a member of a secret club. Most of them are in much worse shape than me, of course, as they "dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death." As the prayers conclude with the litany of intercession I silently lift up all of them. All of us in the "Benedictus Club."

The "Benedictus" of Zechariah

Each morning the Church sings this canticle at Lauds. Here it is with some of its context in Luke:

When the time arrived for Elizabeth to have her child she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy toward her, and they rejoiced with her.
When they came on the eighth day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, "No. He will be called John." But they answered her, "There is no one among your relatives who has this name." So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called.
He asked for a tablet and wrote, "John is his name," and all were amazed.
Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue freed, and he spoke blessing God. Then fear came upon all their neighbors, and all these matters were discussed throughout the hill country of Judea. All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, "What, then, will this child be?" For surely the hand of the Lord was with him.
Then Zechariah his father, filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:

"Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
He has raised up a horn for our salvation
within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death's shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace."

(Luke 1:57-69 NAB Translation)


  1. Hello Fr. Albert just took a cursery look at your writings here. Very interesting perspective - writing through your pain. Not an easy thing to do. While I've been there in the past, in pain that is, it is no longer so, but I feel for those who are. I love the paintings and pictures! I've recently started painting myself.
    My current project is inspired by the Divine Mercy prayers. I will share more on this with you soon. May your pain become your friend. I will also share with you how my back pain was healed without going to the hospital.
    Bless you. John H.

  2. How can you help someone so afraid of death?