Saturday, August 25, 2012



Last Sunday the monks of Newark Abbey celebrated our annual “Monkfest,” a sort of family picnic for about 450 to 500 people. We provide the beverages and the hot dogs and hamburgers, but guests are asked to contribute the picnic food or dessert. That way it doesn’t matter whether 300 or 700 people come, because the picnic food is provided by the people who come – they just drop it off at the food tent and it gets put out on a table for everyone else to taste. 

It’s quite a festive experience. There’s a big white tent with fifty tables and lots of white folding chairs. Brother Max hangs a dozen beautiful bright banners along the fences. There are outdoor performances by our school’s jazz band, drum line and drama guild, as well as a sing-along under the tent (where the acoustics are surprisingly good) where the face-painting is going on. People bring Frisbees, footballs and soccer balls and just generally enjoy one another’s company.  


We mail out invitations to everyone on our mailing list (that’s about 8,000), we put an ad in the Archdiocesan paper, send fliers to neighboring parishes and send notices to our school parents and alumni. We never know how many will show up. That’s part of the fun. 

One of the things I like most about the celebration is the wide variety of people who do respond to our invitation: Suburban and city-dwellers, wealthy and destitute, of various races, languages and religions, elders in wheelchairs and infants in strollers.


This past Thursday’s gospel was the parable of the king who held a banquet and sent out his servants to remind the invited his guests – who wound up ignoring the invitation or even refusing it because they were too busy (Matthew22:1-14).  

As I read that story I first started thinking about the thousands of people who get our Monkfest invitation but don’t come. Then quickly my reflection changed into a question --  something much closer to home and a lot more unsettling: How many invitations does the Lord send me every day? Invitations that I ignore or am too busy to respond to, or flat-out refuse? 

Every day the Lord gives me dozens, maybe hundreds of invitations. He asks me to be kind and gentle to an angry student or to be generous by giving a few minutes to help a brother monk. He invites me to offer a pleasant smile to someone I pass on the street, or lend a sympathetic ear to a troubled person who shows up on the monastery’s doorstep asking to speak to a priest. The Lord invites me to spend some quality time meditating on the Word or sitting quietly in prayer. The Creator invites me to drink in the beauty of some peach-colored sunset clouds smudged across the western sky, or to wonder at the breath-taking loveliness of an infant in the arms of her mother sitting in the monastery’s reception area. 

Sorry, can't stop right now!
Do I, I wonder, even notice most of those invitations? How often am I so preoccupied that I storm right past the needy student, the stranger on the street who is Jesus, the infant with beautiful face, or the sunset clouds? How often Do I miss the invitation that comes in the form of an extra ten minutes that could be used for quiet prayer?

The Lord is constantly inviting me. I can only humbly pray that I’ll be attentive enough to spot the invitations when they come, and then be wise enough to go out of my way to accept them.
Come to the banquet I have prepared for you!

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