Genesis 28:11-18; I Peter 2:4-9; John 15:9-17
Today we celebrate three realities. Today is Founders’ Day, the 62nd Anniversary of the day that 29 monks from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky travelled to Mepkin to begin monastic life in the LowCountry of South Carolina. Today is the 18th Anniversary of the Dedication of this magnificent church, in which and through which we raise our joyful praise to God. And finally, even though we are not celebrating it liturgically, today is the feast of All Saints of the Benedictine Family, the reason this day was originally chosen as the founding day.
What causes for Joy Never Ending! Let us look at them; let us savor them under a threefold rubric: Gratitude, Gratuity, Continuity.
Gratitude. What sacrifices those 29 monks made to allow this community to flourish! What struggles they and the two or three waves of replacements over the first six years endured to transform a few buildings of the Luce’s second home into a monastery with all its regular places: a church, a refectory, a scriptorium, a library, a dormitory, a chapter room. Not to mention all the buildings erected to start a dairy farm, a lumber mill, a chicken farm, a plant nursery and more. Three of those monks are still with us: Brothers Gregory, Joseph and Robert. Let us thank them on this day. Let us talk to them today and hear a part of their story, which is our story, that we might better understand where we have come from. Let us ask them about the 19 monks in our cemetery whom we have included in this celebration — all of whom, except for Father Francis, came to Mepkin before 1960. So that, in Jesus’ words, our Joy may be complete, grounded in the reality of what really happened here.
Gratuity. What can we say about this inspiring building to house the Church of Mepkin, the living members of the Body of Christ! Its design and floor plan are the result of over 40 community meetings, over 50 meetings of the building committee, and countless hours of work and phone calls and visits of our designer, Brother Frank Kacmarcik and our architect, Ted Butler. All of this coordinated through the vision and energy of our third abbot, Father Francis Kline. Using only the most elemental of human materials: wood, concrete, plaster, glass and quarry tile, together we have raised a thing of such simplicity and harmony of light and line that the division between the beauty of things and the beauty of God is overcome. Within this beauty the words of St Peter are fulfilled and we, the chosen race, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, God’s own people, can proclaim the mighty acts of him who has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.
Let us play with this theme of beauty a bit more. Beauty is not an add-on. Beauty is not expendable. Beauty belongs to the very essence of being. All being, insofar as it is, is one, is true, is good, and is beautiful. Philosophers call them the transcendentals. But while unity and truth and goodness are never forgotten, beauty often is. Yet beauty is one of our greatest needs. We can no more live without beauty than we can without unity, truth and goodness. As Father Christian never tires of saying: “Where there is more truth, there is more joy.” so we can say: Where there is more beauty, there is more joy. Joy, peace and hope flow from beauty as from their root.
In recently dedicating an incredible new church in Spain, a building that has been in construction for well over a century, Pope Benedict XVI proclaimed: “a work of beauty reveals God, because, like him, it is pure gratuity; it calls us to freedom and draws us away from selfishness.” Pure gratuity! Isn’t that what gives sparkle to our eyes, bounce to our steps, the flutter of joy to our hearts? Without it the world is drab and pedestrian. With it we are pulled out of ourselves, and can burst forth in the words of Jacob: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, this is the gate of heaven!” Let us bask in the beauty of this place, in the pure gratuity of its structure.
Third and finally, Continuity. Let us remember that we are not alone. We did not start this monastic enterprise on our own and we don’t have to continue it by ourselves. We are inserted into a long tradition. Many, many have gone before us. Not just the ones who are buried in our cemetery; not just the ones buried in the cemetery of Gethsemani; but all those who have responded to the call of God to come apart to offer God the sacrifice of praise of their very lives. The desert monks and nuns of the third century, St Benedict and his followers in the sixth, SS Robert, Alberic, Stephen, Bernard, Aelred and so many others in the twelfth, deRance in the seventeenth. What a cloud of witnesses we have before us! What giants of monastic life and teaching! They all cry out to us: ‘Be faithful to what we have established. Be creative in adapting it to the time and place in which you live. Listen to the Spirit in your midst and the charism that dwells in your hearts. Be faithful to the God who calls you friends and has chosen you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.’
Gratitude. Gratuity. Continuity. May such realities fill our hearts so that the Joy of God may overflow and abound and lead us all to the Never Ending Joy of his presence forever.
And let the Church say: Amen.