Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(1) Death & Dissolution

All through my seeking and exploring I had a Benedictine lifeline--
my good, gentle abbot. Ours was a comfortable friendship, one
that I cherish unto this very moment. But my lifeline began to
slip. One day my good British abbot made mention that he was
returning to England. His home abbey there had elected him to
be their abbot--and they had claim over the one in Washington.
Also, it was obvious that my good abbot pined to go home. So
in time he left for England.

I was really sorry that he had left. But being just sorry soon
turned into sorrow. Within a year after he left for England, my
good abbot suddenly died. This was shocking news for me.
I became angry over the waste, in that my good abbot was in
his prime, had done so much for so many people, and would
have continued his Christ-centered life as a good pastor and
abbot. To be taken at this point seemed cruel and unjust.

I guess that I was angry for him; but, eventually, I realized
that my good abbot would never have approved of such
feelings. Still the loss of my Benedictine lifeline was near a
spiritual catastrophe for me! I moved from sorrow into a
prolonged sadness.

Beyond this personal event, my observation of the Benedictine
Order--in general--became more intense, more concerned.
Periodically I would read statistics about the dwindling number
of religious, about the average age creeping steadily upwards.
Even some monks were discouraged over what might happen
to the Benedictines in future. Pausing, I remembered the very
last thing my good abbot said to me, "pray for vocations." He said
that he was returning to only 20 monks in his English abbey,
whereas when a young novice he had entered a community of
80 monks. Those numbers represented the statistics in a nutshell
when it came to the future of the Benedictine Order.

After my Benedictine lifeline was cut, I felt that I was slipping
away from my moorings. On the other hand, it sometimes seemed
as if my moorings were slipping away from me. My periodic visits
to the monastery became even less frequent. There seemed
little there that now touched me spiritually. I felt that somehow I
had moved on and out of the Benedictine world. It was a bleak
time for me.

Naturally, Providence fiddled with me. I came across a rather
unique book published by the British Library, entitled THE
BENEDICTINES IN BRITAIN. Published back in 1980, the
book was an exposition of the British Library's celebration of
the 1500-year anniversary of the Benedictines. The book
included marvelous illustrations of manuscripts, religious art,
and beautiful drawings of ancient abbeys and cathedrals once
manned by English Benedictines. As part of the history of the
Benedictines in Britain, there was a sad chapter that discussed
the terrible Dissolution of the Benedictine Order in the year
1589 c.e.

King Henry VIII had broken away from the Church of Rome, and
he decided to bounce out religious orders such as the Benedictines
and the Jesuits. A goodly part of this effort involved land-grabbing,
since the monasteries oft included vast tracts of property. The
Dissolution also involved heinous executions as well. It was a
dangerous times then for monks in England.

I cannot explain, because I hardly knew my own mind when it came
to this decision, maybe prompted by this book, but I decided to make
a special journey to England. Perhaps I thought of it as a "farewell,"
if you will--a farewell to my good abbot and, indeed, also a farewell
to the Benedictines.