By Jonathan David Faulkner
I once considered Cloistered life, no joke, as I studied Church History I found the flow and practice of Monastic life quite appealing. Eventually I began visiting a little Benedictine Monastery and conversing with the brothers. As I prayed about the decision I found God was not calling me to Holy Orders, he wanted me in the Local Church and while one can do that in a Monastery, but it is not the primary purpose. Also, I am not Catholic, as you know I was raised Presbyterian, served as a Baptist Pastor and am working on Ordination in the 4C’s. I am aware there are Protestant Monasteries, even Protestant order of Franciscans, I consider myself a student of the Little Saint from Assisi, (I now own the Omnibus of Sources on him), but the more I prayed about it, the more the Lord called me back to His mission for my life. I still enjoy going to Monasteries, they are quiet places, great for study, praying and listening and resting.
It was the last three reasons that I went. If you live here at the Seminary you know that my life has been a bit crazy lately, between leading worship for Chapels, God’s Heart, Paper Writing and all those other things associated with Seminary Life I had been running a bit low on energy, I needed a rest, since I missed the Soul Care retreat in February because of Mentored Ministry I had not had a proper break and since I load my semesters to get a lot done early on I found myself in need of a break.
So I saw the opportunity and took it, a day trip down to the Monastery with one of my fellow Seminarians.
The Monastery is set in the hills, next to the little towns of Still River and Harvard (Not the school). Its white buildings were built in the 1600’s with the exception of a barn that was built when the Benedictine’s first moved out to the Monastery in the 70’s and took up Dairy Farming. Now it is the multi-purpose facility for the use of the many retreat groups that come through their each year. Benedictine Monks are called to perform some task per The Rule of St. Benedict and this particular Monastery’s good was hospitality.
We arrived for 8AM mass, it was modeled after the Old Mass so everything was spoken and sung in Latin with the exception of Holy Scripture, which was read in English. We of course could not take Communion since we were not Baptized Catholics, but it was interesting to see the Host Elevated and hear the prayers and songs of the Monks as they joyously participated. After that we met with Father Augustine and toured the Monastery, visiting the guest house and learning about the History of the Abbey. After that we were on our own for awhile, we ended up going down to a little stone chapel (My room here on campus is bigger) and spending time in silent prayer and scripture meditation. I also wrote a poem while we were there. Then we trekked back up to the Monastery (about a mile) in the rain so we could meet with Father Augustine to ask questions about Monastic Life. We then went to Sext, one of the divine offices, which was again in Latin, though this time we had English translations, and after that lunch. The rest of the time was spent reading and praying and being quiet before the Lord. I spent the afternoon in the guest house, watching the storm clouds pass by outside, occasionally feeling the warmth of the sun on my shoulders.
It was a quiet and peaceful day, just the day I needed as I drank in the much needed prolonged scripture reading. Meditating specifically on Psalms 130 all morning while sitting in that tiny stone chapel, listening to the birds sing and the rain fall, it was, what my Protestant Soul needed.
I know my readers are going to ask “Why did you go to Mass? Aren’t you a protestant?” The answer to the second question is “Yes, I am a Protestant,” Reformed as the next Reformed Theologian, but does that mean I can reject all that came before Calvin and Luther? We have discussed before how Church History did not start at the Reformation, Catholicism is our roots, and we are all part of the catholic (universal) church, which includes Catholics. There are also some very beautiful and life-giving practices given us by the Catholic Church that even Calvin upheld as good things (i.e Monastic devotion to study of scripture, praying the psalms). I may not agree with Transubstantiation, preferring the Reformed Doctrine of Real Presence and the explanation of Divine Mystery to answer the “How?” But there are many beautiful practices given us by the Early Church and then the Catholic Church that should never have been left behind.
The truth is, I went because it was good for my soul to experience God in another context, to be with Him in a place that was unfamiliar, yet quiet. The Mass was the best place to start, focusing my heart on God and preparing me for a day spent mostly in silence. The beauty of the Latin Service helped me meditate on the beauty of God. The reading of Scripture help prepare my heart to receive more Scripture. By the time we reached the Little Stone Chapel my heart was ready to listen to God.
As I opened my Bible to the Psalms I opened directly to 130. A psalm I long ago memorized and have spent time praying and meditating on. I decided to that this was a good time to pray through it again. As I did verse 7 kept repeating in my head: “Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is Steadfast Love and with the Lord is plentiful Redemption.” With these words came the Joy of the knowledge of that Plentiful Redemption. As I thought through the verses over and over again, the forgiveness of Iniquities, waiting for the Lord, Hoping in him, I could not help but think about how these aspects of the Gospel. Hope, Love, forgiveness of sins, all of those things that this Psalm reminds us of that we now have through the cross of Christ. How do we not come to him in gratitude and seek His will out of gratitude and with tears of Joy as we consider what He has done for us.
Do you know how big God’s Heart for you is? Or do you never get the chance to see it, is your life so full of activity that you never had time to simply retreat into Him. Do you ever sit back and consider what He has done for you by His great work of redemption on the cross. Or is your relationship with Him distant, you being unaware of His indwelling Spirit and Him reaching out to you, but you not knowing?
Oh dear brother, dear sister, I pray you know the Joy of your redemption so fully that it inspires you to sporadic praise of Him who gave it. That you might be spurred to greater love and good works for those around you. That is might encourage you to encourage others, that it might exhort you to love God more deeply and to walk more closely with Him. That it might encourage you to righteous living and through that you might become an instrument of Justice, peace and mercy.
This is what I took from being with the community of Benedictine Monks. That there is so much Joy in our redemption that to deny that Joy is to deny part of its very core.
Oh brothers and sisters, hope in the Lord, always, hope in the Lord.\