Saturday, April 18, 2009

Monastic Retreat in County Waterford: Thoughts on Fostering the Monastic and Liturgical Life

The NLM is always grateful to hear from Catholic Ireland, and I was particularly gratified to hear of a recent retreat there which was reported to the NLM by way of the Saint Conleth's Catholic Heritage Association. The retreat was hosted at Mount Melleray, a Cistercian Abbey in county Waterford.

What struck me about the retreat -- which took place from April 2-4 -- was its monastic context, and derived from that, the monastic elements that the retreatants participated in.

A Digression about the Monastic Life

I have alluded before that I believe this is something we hear (and experience) far too little of in our times, for I believe history shows us that monasticism can have an important role to play within the context of the preservation, recovery and fostering of Christendom and the liturgical life.

Accordingly, it strikes me that we should all seek to participate in it in some way in our lives, such as through occasional retreats as these, and also through our support and promotion of good monastic foundations.

We should also take more care to foster the monastic vocation, either in our own vocational considerations, or those of others we know. For men in particular, it has often struck me that many, in pondering whether God is calling them to the priesthood or religious life, do not give much if any consideration to "the angelic life" that is the monastic vocation. A part of this is likely due to the lack of monastic foundations one might find in their particular locale of course; this is a particular problem in the new world, though I would urge our men and women to "put out into the deep" and look beyond one's own immediate borders.

However, there is another factor beyond this more pragmatic consideration. The spirit of our times, often even within the walls of our churches, can be animated against the monastic life, viewing it through the lens of a modern utilitarian mindset. According to that mindset and what it considers as "useful", the monastic life comes to be seen as too passive and is subjected to the same complaints or suspicions that Martha subjected her sister Mary to. (One will read in the Saint Conleth's report of the lamentations of a visiting Abbot who observed that "This is an age of activity rather than penance and contemplation and there are few now contented with the blessed lot of Mary, sitting at the Lord’s feet in silence and detachment.")

One could understand this view of the monastic vocation as being rooted in the same problematic principles that so often afflict the consideration of participatio actuosa within the liturgy today: a rather imbalanced view of activism which fails to consider the important form of activity to be found within silence, listening and interiority.

It strikes me that the monastic life is both necessary and much needed -- most particularly in our times. It is one of the most concentrated forms of the liturgical life, being a life that is penetrated and saturated by the daily celebration of the Mass and the Divine Office, the highest forms of prayer the Church has.

Accordingly, it seems to me that if we are considering how to foster of a new liturgical movement, seeking to foster the monastic vocation cannot but be one significant part of this as well.

The St. Conleth's Monastic Retreat

With that said, let me return to the topic of the retreat which was reported to the NLM.

The NLM was told that "the retreat programme contained a balance of talks, liturgy, silence and chant practice, as well as the opportunity to attend the Choral Office with the Cistercian Monks..."

For any who have had the opportunity to partake of a monastic retreat, one will be familiar with the fact of how fruitful a mixture liturgical prayer and silence is. Speaking from my own experience of a week-long retreat at a Trappist monastery many years ago, there is only one other aspect I would note as an important inclusion for those who might undertake a less directed, more private form of monastic retreat: labora (work).

In this instance of course, it was a more directed form of retreat, and so the retreat conferences would present a different form of labora; that of study.

Further, we learn that "throughout the retreat we had the opportunity to attend the Choral Office of the Monks, beginning each day with the Office of Vigils beginning at 4 a.m."

("After the Office of Vigils, one of the Monks celebrates Mass (Ordinary Form) Versus Deum in the Retreat House Chapel.")

The St. Conleth's Society tells us that "the retreat was given by Fr. David Jones, D.D., who lives an eremetical life at The Hermitage, Duleek, County Meath, and is a published poet of note."

Sung Mass was also offered daily for the retreatants in the usus antiquior:

You can read more about the retreat on the site of the St. Conleth's Society, but I hope their retreat has given some inspiration to those of you who may be planning or organizing retreats for yourself, your parish groups -- or perhaps even reason to pause and give consideration to the monastic vocation itself.

Let us support our monasteries -- and one way other day-to-day way to do that incidentally, is to purchase the products which these monasteries produce to help support these monasteries financially.

From ales and liqueurs, cheeses, jams and jellies, to icons, incense and candles, there are many products that both parish and home alike can acquire to support them, while also raising awareness about our monastics and monasteries.

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