Monday, June 17, 2013

Simple truths gained in Ireland

Statue of St. Benedict, Glenstal Abbey
Spiritual truths and lessons come our way via many different means.  As I continue my pilgrimage around Ireland I am becoming more aware of this fact.  I would like to share three spiritual truths I have gained in the past two days … none of which were spoken.
 
The first spiritual truth was gained at Glenstal Abbey.  Glenstal is a Benedictine monastery of around thirty-eight monks.  If I remember Fr. Cuthbert (the cellarer of the community and our pilgrimage group’s guide) correctly, the monastery began in the mid-1800’s when a landowner’s estate was purchased and given to the community.   Even though built in the 1700’s the estate was constructed to resemble a twelfth century fortress.  Currently the monks run a boys’ boarding school that will soon be made co-ed.  Fr. Cuthbert shared that the school is currently ranked first in the country. 
On the main lawn of the complex (in between the school and the monastery) stands a statue of St. Benedict and to his mouth is pressed his right index finger.  I have seen this image at every Benedictine monastery I have visited and the lesson is the same: in silence and contemplation is found a sure pathway to God.  Benedictine monasteries live this truth so much so that even the very physical space of every monastery (at least the ones I have been to) seems shaped by the value of silence and not just silence as the absence of noise but silence open to and even pregnant with the presence of God. 
We need this silence in our lives.  St. Benedict and all his monastic sons and daughters teach us this truth.  We might not be able to live at a monastery but each of us can seek for and even build this type of silence into our lives.  We can step away from the computer and turn off the music and television.  We can step away from a relentless string of activities and projects.  We can build time enriched by prayer and Scripture into our daily routines.  If we take St. Benedict at his “hush” then we will be blessed for it.
Shrine of Our Lady of Knock
The apparition of Our Lady of Knock appeared on August 21, 1878.  For two hours an image of Our Lady appeared on the outside wall of a small, rural parish.   The Blessed Mother was accompanied by St. Joseph and St. John the Evangelist.  In the vision she gazed upon on altar on which stood a lamb.  Behind the altar stood a large cross and around the altar and lamb shimmered angels.  Fifteen people testified to witnessing this vision and the Church has accepted their testimony as valid.  Although not as famous as Lourdes, the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock brings pilgrims from around all of Ireland and also all the world.  Today it is a beautiful complex and place of prayer.
I must admit that I have been pretty ignorant of this apparition of our Blessed Mother until my visit to the shrine today.  Mary did not speak during this vision.  What she did though was gaze upon the Lamb upon the altar.  Mary always points to Christ and some have speculated that this apparition, which came after the great famine which truly decimated the country of Ireland, was a gift of hope to this poor and suffering people.  Christ is the lamb of sacrifice who has taken on all the sufferings of our world.  In the midst of our sufferings and even the most unjust pains of our world we can find comfort and consolation in the witness of our Blessed Lady – someone fully acquainted with suffering - and know that our sufferings are not lost to an impersonal and uncaring universe but are somehow caught up in the very dying and rising of Christ.

The Abbey of Ballintubber has been called the “Abbey that refused to die”.  Located on a site where St. Patrick was reputed to have baptized people and a small church was established; the abbey itself was constructed in 1261 A.D.  Despite King Henry ordering all abbeys and monasteries closed in 1542 A.D., Oliver Cromwell destroying most of the structure in 1653 A.D., the penal times when the Catholic Church was outlawed in Ireland and the Great Famine, the Eucharist has continuously been celebrated at the abbey since its founding in 1261 A.D.  Even when there was no roof on the structure, people would still gather for Mass and the celebration of their faith.
Abbey of Ballintubber

As with all churches and ruins of churches in Ireland (because they are considered holy ground), the Abbey of Ballintubber is surrounded by a cemetery.  All the graves face east.  They face the rising of the sun and, by this, give silent witness to our Christian hope in the great day of resurrection.  These countless graves and indeed the very witness of this “abbey that refused to die” teach us that there will be a day of resurrection and that all wrongs will be righted and that we, as Christians, live by hope and not resignation.  We live our lives today already in the dawning light of the great day of resurrection!
Lessons offered quietly and in truth.  They speak to our hearts and they bring comfort, consolation and hope.

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