Thursday, August 25, 2011



This week I was reading Ronald Rolheiser’s The Shattered Lantern: Rediscovering A Felt Presence of God. In a section about John of the Cross, Rolheiser writes about the saint’s description of the “night of the senses,” which includes “a deliberate attempt to meditate upon the life and person of Christ and a concomitant effort to appropriate Christ’s motivation as the basis of our own action and choice. To move beyond the attainment of pleasure and self-satisfaction, a new motivation for action is needed. In the active night of the senses, we study Christ’s motivation so we can imitate it on our own life" (p. 81).

I started thinking about Christ’s passion and his motivation of pure love in the face of awful suffering. I began wondering how good I am at imitating his motivation. I then was struck by the thought that our monastic community seems to be entering into a period of suffering and diminishment as our numbers keep decreasing. More than ever we need to have the mind of Christ, to imitate in our thoughts and decisions HIS motivation of self-sacrificing love and unwavering confidence in his heavenly Father. If we do that, then what have we to fear, really?


In the midst of these thoughts I suddenly started picturing a remarkable incident that had happened last Sunday as I was setting up for that afternoon’s annual Newark Abbey picnic (we call it “Monkfest”). Ten volunteers and I were bustling about on the big field preparing the dozens of tables under the huge white tent for the arrival of over 400 guests, when someone said to me: “Some lady is here; she wants to drop off a couple of coolers.” As a student volunteer named Tariq and I started walking toward the gate to meet our mystery donor I saw a thin woman walking toward us pulling two bright orange barrels, the kind with spigots and handles that you use for cold drinks at picnics. As we met her near the edge of the field I noticed a word written in bold black felt marker on the white top of each cooler: “Peace.” I knew right away what this must be about, but didn’t dare believe it.

Then she introduced herself: “Father Al, I’m Rob Peace’s mother.” Rob Peace was a thirty-year-old alumnus and teacher of ours who had been murdered last May. (I wrote about him in this blog at the time.) “We used these coolers at the repast after his funeral,” she continued, “and now I really don’t have any use for them. So I thought maybe you could use them for the Monkfest. They’re a gift to the monks; just keep them.”

A jumble of emotions crowded into my heart: I was stunned at the strength of character she showed in coming back to the monastery, pulling those two coolers right past the very church where Rob’s funeral had been held just a few weeks ago. I was deeply touched that she could be so thoughtful at a time when she must be still grieving deeply for her son. I was humbled that she thought of us when she wanted donate the coolers to someone.

I don’t remember exactly what I said to her, but I know it was said with a warm, sympathetic smile of wonder and gratitude. And after thanking her I said, “Well, don’t you think this calls for a prayer? Would it be okay if we prayed together for a moment?” “Sure,” she answered, “that would be good.” So she, Tariq and I held hands in a little circle around the coolers as I thanked the Lord for the gift of love and children in our lives and asked for strength in the face of horrible, mysterious tragedies, that we might hold fast to our faith in an all-good, all-loving God whose mysterious ways are sometimes far too deep for us to fathom. After the prayer we shook hands and exchanged a few parting words. Then she quietly turned and walked away.

That was the incident that came to mind as I was reflecting on John of the Cross’s “we study Christ’s motivation so we can imitate it in our own life.” Mrs. Peace’s kind gesture had given me a powerful, eloquent example of how to live by Christ’s motivation. As John of the Cross knew so well, living out Christ’s motivation on earth is often accompanied by pain, sometimes a lot of it, perhaps even including a deep “dark night” when God seems completely absent. I wondered how much of a “dark night” our community is destined to go through on our way to ultimate victory in the risen Lord.

I don’t know the answer to that, but I know one thing: Last Sunday, Rob Peace’s mom gave me an example of how, even in the midst of the darkest of nights, a Christian who is imitating Christ's motivation can still be courageous, thoughtful and loving toward others.

1 comment:

  1. beautiful story and a wonderful lesson to live by