Saturday, July 2, 2011



The monks of Newark spent this past week on retreat; the conferences were given by Abbot John Denburger, O.C.S.O., the abbot of The Trappist Abbey of the Genesee in upstate New York. Let me share a couple of the thoughts that struck me most.

His first two conferences stressed over and over that the monk’s life must be one of desire for God, a chosen, willed passion for God. The rest of our life is the “how” of going about that passionate search for God, that wanting to be one with Christ.

The monastic tools involved in this search include such things as asceticism. The hardest kind of asceticism is not made up of the practices I voluntarily choose (e.g. fasting) but rather the difficulties that are thrust upon me in the course of daily living (e.g. the monk who sits beside me in church and always sings flat, driving me crazy).

Another concept I learned from Abbot John is that of “radical optimism,” a phrase which he stole from a book title. It refers to being completely rooted (the Latin for "root" is radix) in Christ no matter what challenges, problems or untoward events assail me.


He suggested that monastic life is a journey based on three “convictions.”

1. I must be convicted about MYSELF. I have to accept the reality of my life, always working at overcoming my weaknesses (while knowing that only God can ultimately save me). I have to learn how to live in peace with my incompleteness, at home in myself (if not there, then where?).
2. I must be convicted about GOD. My relationship with God is based on my image of God, so it’s essential that my God not be too small or too distant. True conversion comes only from a uniquely personal relationship with a god who loves me and works with me in a unique way.

3. I must be convicted about God dwelling within me. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that God really does dwell within me, and that God’s mercy and love is indeed infinite mercy and boundless love.

Without these three convictions our life would be an illusion, a sham.


I was listening to the conferences also in terms of our monastic community’s challenge of renewing itself in the face of the great changes in our culture, in Catholicism and so forth. It's a bit like driving in the fog.

In addition, I have been reading in preparation for teaching a course in August at St. Benedict’s Prep entitled “The Wisdom of Benedict.” As part of my background reading I took up the book “A Monastic Vision for the 21st Century: Where Do We God From Here?", edited by Br. Patrick Hart, OCSO. At the end of the Introduction Dom Bernardo Olivera, OCSO, Abbot General of the Cistercians, writes concerning monastic reform and renewal for the 21st Century:

“Perhaps in the past we have been too “prudent” and now we are too “farsighted.” We need a little more passion and slightly less logic. Not however any type of passion, but God’s own passion It is this passion of divine love that made him become man, preach the revolution of the Kingdom of heaven, and finally undergo the supreme passion: dying on a cross out of love so that we also can learn to love.” (p. xvii)

I like that idea; it would make a good mantra for our community meetings concerning the abbey’s future: “We need a little more passion and slightly less logic.”



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