Updating 2016

If you faithfully read every new entry you may be wondering if we have cut down on table reading in the abbey.  We have not, but alas I have not been keeping up with my entries of some good and not so good books.  In addition to some writings by Pope Francis, these three books were read at table this year (in addition to the ones I have previously blogged about):

Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City by Greg Grandin.  I would say this is a book that did not work terribly well at table, despite some interesting material.

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution: 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis.  This made for very engaging table reading.  We have had good success with books about US presidents and the period of the founding.  As a political scientist I was especially taken with a well-told narrative of how the 1789 Constitution came to replace the original Articles of Confederation.  The quartet referred to consists of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay.

Fortune’s Children: The Fall of the House of Vanderbilt by Arthur T. Vanderbilt II.  This is our current table reading, which dominated the Advent Season.  While a fascinating take on the Gilded Age, it does make for odd monastic table reading, given the author’s joyous descriptions of mansions and jewelry and yachts and marrying off your daughters into the English nobility.

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Moscow Nights

Earlier this week we finished reading at table the fascinating Moscow Nights:  The Van Cliburn Story – How One Man and His Piano Transformed the Cold War by Nigel Cliff.

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Thanksgiving Day Homily

In gratitude for good all good things in our lives, including good preaching, I share with you Father Cecil’s homily from the Thanksgiving Day Mass this morning.


As most everyone knows, our Thanksgiving Day was first celebrated by English Pilgrims in October 1621. God knows they had more than enough reasons to be thankful. They had made it across the Atlantic crowded in a ship several sizes too small. They wanted to reach the English colony in Virginia, but poor planning and navigation brought them to land some 500 kilometers north of Virginia. It was December, they were alone and on their own with precious little food. Nearly half of their number didn’t survive that first frightful winter. When spring arrived the survivors set to work plowing and planting. Fortunately for them, they were blessed with an abundant harvest that autumn, and their leader, William Bradford, was prompted to announce a day of prayerful thanksgiving to God for the harvest. They thanked God with a religious service and then sat down to a meal.

Of the dozen and a half women aboard the Mayflower when it arrived at Plymouth, only four were still alive when they sat down for the first Thanksgiving meal.

The story of the Pilgrims and their colony in North America are part of the ancestry of all of us. The hardships, desperate struggles and setbacks which they experienced along the way of their search for religious freedom are part of the heritage of this country and have contributed to make its character what it is.

Fast forward about 250 years to 1863.  The nation was in the midst of a terrible Civil War when Abraham Lincoln issued an executive order extending the celebration of Thanksgiving day to the whole country. In his proclamation he expressed his concern that Americans were in danger of forgetting that the blessings of food, land, family and freedom that they were enjoying were gifts of God.

These four particular blessings: food, land, family and freedom doubtless came from his reading of the Old Testament. They were the blessings for which the Hebrew people were most grateful. As much as they appreciated the   gift   of     land,       especially      the Promised Land, the gift they were above all others most thankful for     was their freedom,   their      deliverance   from slavery in Egypt. They celebrated a memorial feast each year which      included  a Passover meal, during which time stories were told which included important features of how the strong arm of the Lord worked through Moses to bring the Hebrews out ·of slavery in Egypt to freedom. And for this they thanked God. There are striking similarities between the occupation of the Promised

Land by the people of God and the occupation of the American West. The settlement of the West contributed much to the formation of the American people, and deserves to be appreciated and not denied or ignored.

My imagination led me to suspect that most of the postings were of student origin. The most frequent entries were female names, Gina being by far the largest. Male names came in a distant second with three names. After girls’ names, a variety of foods was most popular, followed by two each of pop and mom, various family members and friends in general; and finally one each of the following: Men’s Club Hockey and the Library.  I realized I hadn’t seen God or Jesus anywhere, so I searched intently before I finally found him in tiny script on the left hand side of the easle. It read:  God Empower Trump.

I realized that the library easel wasn’t a thoughtful sampler of student opinion, but it does say something. And if I can put a positive spin on it, I would suggest that it shows that Anselmians are by far more grateful for people in their lives than they are for things in their lives.

So far I have provided examples of several different reasons and ways people have given thanks:  the Pilgrims, President Lincoln, and random Anselmians.

Now, as St. Paul once said, I would like to show you a most perfect way, the best way to be thankful. And at the same time suggest our salvation by Christ as the gift of God for which we should be most grateful.

The best way to show that we appreciate a gift is to use it well. This is never truer than in the Mass where the gift of our salvation is re-presented sacramentally on the altar to allow us to take part in it and share its benefits. We join ourselves to Christ at Mass to be offered with him to his heavenly Father. Jesus asked us to do this at the Last Supper.   Do what I have done,      Do it in my memory. There is nothing more grateful in God’s eyes than the complete and total offering of his Son, Jesus, and us with him. This is our greatest possible act or expression of thanksgiving.

Everything we have or are comes to us from God. It comes from his super abundant goodness and merciful love. Although other people may be the channels God uses to give us his gifts, and we must thank them as God’s intermediaries, yet God is their ultimate source.

Rightly do we pray with Psalm 101: “Give thanks to the Lord for he is good; for his mercy endures forever.”

May your every day be a true thanksgiving day!

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When Books Went to War

Last week we finished reading When Books Went to War:  The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II, by Molly Guptill Manning.

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Transfiguration, Donald Jackson with contributions from Aidan Hart, Copyright 2002, The Saint John’s Bible, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, USA.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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Killing a King

At table we are currently reading Dan Ephron’s Killing a King:  The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel.

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Funeral Homily for +Rev. Jude John Gray, OSB

Father JudeHere is the text for the homily given by Abbot Mark Cooper, OSB at Father Jude’s funeral mass:

Funeral for Fr. Jude Gray, O.S.B.                                                  March 19, 2016

We all know Fr. Jude was a great preacher and orator….one of the monks said to me yesterday: “You’re preaching for Fr. Jude…good luck…it’s a bit like baking a cake for Betty Crocker.”

On behalf of everyone here I greet the family of Fr. Jude. Please know that you have our sympathy and our prayers, especially for Chubby, the older brother who Fr. Jude adored from childhood, and whose name was on his lips in his final days.

With winter waning, and signs of emerging life all about us, with increasing light that makes us forget the dark chill of those early evenings from which we have just emerged, we find ourselves only days from that supreme feast of Easter which celebrates the gift of unending light and life, a gift given us, and paid for, by the obedience, and sacrifice, and death of our Lord Jesus. How precious is our faith with its promise of redemption.  As the ancient psalmist would have us echo: “How can we repay the Lord for all that He has done for us.” Those words take on a new poignancy for Fr. Jude John Gray whose faith has given way to perfect vision, whose hopes and beliefs are now come to full understanding. He has crossed the threshold of eternal life, and now knows nothing but gratitude to a Father who fashioned him, watched over him, gave him his family and vocation, blessed him, forgave him, and always loved him. Fr. Jude, our friend, family and community member, colleague, mentor, coach, teacher, counsellor, and boon companion has gone home to his God who called him into being and now beckons him to life unending.

We miss him, but our hearts thrill, knowing, believing, understanding that life for Fr. Jude is not ended but only changed. It will be just that way for us one day as well. And this faith gives us joy. It provides us the hope we need to live well today. It helps us to place our wins and losses, our highs and lows, our sorrows and our joys, in proper perspective. Each day we move inexorably onward toward home. Home, where darkness is banished, where doubt is replaced by knowledge, where misunderstanding has no place, where “the Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.” That is the place to which Fr. Jude has gone. It is the place to which we one day hope to follow. “How can we repay the Lord for all He has done for us?”

When Fr. Jude was 10 years old WWII ended, and along with it, the shortage on sugar. (He always blamed WWII whenever he took a second dessert).  So he goes to his Aunt Rose’s house with his cousin Joan after school to make fudge. He has the basic idea of a double boiler but perhaps not all the fine points. In the course of lighting the gas stove, the flame leaps up and singes and removes his eyebrows. Minutes later the double boiler being a bit too snug, blows the top with hot-fudge-mix splattering in every direction. They quickly clean up, swearing themselves to secrecy, hoping their escapade will never be known to others. That night his mother answers the phone and then informs him that his aunt Rose wants to see him at her house right away. Nervous, he dutifully appears and his sometimes-stern aunt asks: “Johnny Gray were you here this afternoon after school?”  “No aunt Rose.”   “Did you turn on this stove?” “No  aunt Rose.” “Did you try to make fudge in this kitchen?”  “No aunt Rose.”     “Johnny Gray where the hell are your eyebrows.”

The many gifts Fr. Jude was given by his Creator, all that made up who he was, he was constantly giving away to others. And all of us here have been blessed in that giving. It is a blessing that we will always carry with us, and it is a blessing that without loss to us, we can pass on to others. Everything we loved about Fr. Jude, his always including others, inviting them into the circle, his readiness to laugh at puns and mishaps and all the strange things of life, his love of sports, and words, and theater, and all good things, ……these loves which he shared with us, we can share with others.   Wednesday we received a note from a monk and alum from Saint Bernard’s Abbey in Alabama. He wrote: “I will always treasure Fr. Jude’s kindness and generosity toward me while I was living and studying at the Abbey.  We often worked together to improve my public speaking and reading and pronunciation skills – now each time it is my turn for Table Reader in our monastery here in Alabama I think of him.” I won’t speculate here regarding those Alabaman monks dealing with the echo of a New Jersey accent from their table reader.   That monk went on to speak of other simple kindnesses offered him by Fr. Jude which he recalled with great appreciation.

How smoothly Fr. Jude moved among us all throughout his entire life, such different types we are, of different shapes and sizes, of different means and abilities, of every age and aptitude, those who love poetry and those who love sports, those who love music and theater, and those who understand the beauty and craftsmanship of a fine vintage horseless carriage. He was comfortable in a kitchen appreciating the difficult timing and hard work that is required for a perfect meal. And he was just as content to be with those who awaited and enjoyed what came forth from the kitchen. He was quite vocal in his appreciation for both good scotch and good draft beer. He was even equally at home with those who loved New Jersey and those who loved New England!

About 5  years ago on alumni weekend a few of the monks were standing together in Cushing Center. A man in his 60s came up and gave Fr. Jude a big bear hug. The man turned to us and said, “I’ll tell you a story about Fr. Jude I bet he’s never told you.” When I was a student here, we were playing softball one day and I’m pitching. My first baseman comes over and says, “There’s a guy here who wants to know if he can play.”  I say well who is he? “He says he’s one of the monks.” So I say we’ll let him bat, I’ll throw him an easy one and see if he can even hit it.” So I throw a pitch in there and then, I’m not quite sure but I think what followed was what they call a ‘near-death-experience.’ I believe I heard 2 sounds, one like a boom and one like a whoosh.  By the time I ducked the ball was already 300 feet beyond me and was about to disappear in the woods by the monastery cemetery. My awestruck first baseman came over. With my knees still shaking I say, “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, who is that guy?”

Pope Francis has said that, “a Christian’s style of life should be founded on a commitment to express the Father’s mercy….one’s life and attitude and way of living must be in fact,” said the Holy Father, “a concrete sign of the fact that God is close to us.”  Fr. Jude had that same notion some 40 years ago when he said to one of our alums, who has held the thought all this time: “ If you are not having a positive effect on other peoples’ lives you are wasting your own.”   For countless types, children and adults, students and workers, the poor and the wealthy, all fellow pilgrims, it seemed that Fr. Jude was a sign, telling them not to worry, to smile and laugh, and feel wanted, because despite all trials and difficulties to the contrary, God is always close to us.

As with any vocation, religious, single, married, life has its ebb and flow. We all struggle with the frailty that we are. We all seek forgiveness for the pride that can surface in us in a thousand subtle, and not-so-subtle ways. St. Benedict’s first word of advice to his disciples is “Listen,” so as to hear the Lord’s instruction and return to Him from whom we have strayed by disobedience. Fr. Jude said many times that he was not worthy of the vocation entrusted to him by God. Eight years ago on the 40th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood he said these words: “Certainly none of us is worthy of this great sacrament of ordination. I am most unworthy. For the last 40 years this community of men has literally carried me on its shoulders in our mutual search for God. This amazing group of brothers and fathers has saved a sinner like me.” He concluded, “Please forgive me, and pray for me.”

What a fundamentally solid and wonderful approach to life. For we all sin and often enough we let one another down. None of us is totally worthy, or free of sin. It must always be our attitude as was mentioned above quoting the psalm: “How can I repay the Lord for all that He has done for me.” We can never do that fully, but the Good News is that our debt has been paid. We are here this morning celebrating that sin and death have been overcome by the passion and death and resurrection of our Lord. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ.

In another homily Fr. Jude once asked: “Where will any one of us end on the day of judgement?” He said that to answer that we need ask ourselves only one question: “Will I be the self-absorbed egotist who cares only for himself, or will I be the person who tries to be generous?” I think Fr. Jude’s question is answered quite favorably in his own regard by the presence of so many of you here today and the large outpouring of sentiment over the last few days, recalling grateful memories concerning the good advice and generous assistance and support received from this monk and priest. May the Lord now receive Fr. Jude’s soul into paradise.

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