Published March 23, 2006
As many of you may know, I spent four wonderful years of my early priesthood in Rome studying liturgy at the Benedictine University of Saint Anselm. There I personally discovered the great gift that the Benedictine community has been for the Church for more than 15 centuries.
This past week—on two separate occasions—I had the opportunity to renew my esteem and respect for the Benedictines. First of all, last week, Abbot Gregory Polan, OSB, from Conception Abbey in northwestern Missouri conducted a day of reflection for our archdiocesan Catholic Center staff. From everything that I heard reported by those who attended the day, it was a great success.
I have known Abbot Gregory for more than 40 years since we were high school seminarians in Chicago. He is a man of incredible talent and deep faith. His theme for the day was “Reconciliation and Forgiveness, the Heart of the Meaning of Lent.” He shared his own appreciation of the importance of reconciliation in all of our lives. He told several poignant stories about examples of reconciliation and forgiveness, including a description of the assault that took place at Conception Abbey almost four years ago when a deranged man entered the abbey and shot four monks—two of whom died in the attack. He spoke of the importance that real reconciliation and forgiveness have been to the monks of Conception in moving forward from that tragic event.
Lent is a time for all of us to consider the areas of our lives that still need the grace of reconciliation—real healing and conversion of heart. The sacrament of reconciliation is more than an obligation that we Catholics must fulfill according to Church law. This sacrament is an opportunity to set things right in our lives, to begin anew, to heal the past. Those monks who were so terrorized by that act of brutality needed to forgive the poor man, who for whatever reason unleashed his fury upon them. He took his own life at the end of the episode of violence, and therefore only God will ever know the reasons for his rage. Yet it was very important for those monks to forgive him and to ask the Lord to reconcile any feelings of anger, resentment or hostility that might still linger in their hearts.
Are there not similar feelings that some of us might still cling to that keep us held to the past? Is not this season of Lent the perfect time to ask the Lord to set aside those feelings?
The second occasion that renewed my esteem for the Benedictine community took place this week when I visited St. Vincent’s Abbey where we have nine of our seminary students enrolled in their priestly formation program. Throughout their history the Benedictines have provided the Church with great missionary pastors—St. Augustine of Canterbury brought the Faith to England as a Benedictine monk, as did Boniface to Germany, and Anscar to Scandinavia—each of them coming from their Benedictine environment to proclaim the Gospel in what was then a missionary land. We pray that the same spirit of mission will be inspired among the young men who will come from St. Vincent’s Seminary to become our new priests here in Atlanta.
As I was waiting to board my plane to fly to St. Vincent’s, one of my fellow passengers noticed my Roman collar and approached me and asked to receive the sacrament of reconciliation—wearing a collar at the airport invites such requests. I was happy to oblige since I know that each of us must take advantage of the opportunities to seek the Lord’s forgiveness in this sacrament.
As I recall the many great acts of pastoral service that Benedictines have provided the Church over the centuries, I was grateful for the four years that I spent under their guidance in Rome and for the many Benedictine friends that I have come to know. St. Benedict, pray for us!