Fr. Joe’s First Chapter Talk

Fr. Joe’s First Chapter Talk


November 3, 2018

We are starting something new, surely for me and surely for each of you with me.  To start fresh this life we now have together with the different nuance in our relationship begs us to discover anew our commonality.  So I invite you to reflect on your call, our key reality, why are you here, what drew you to Mepkin — to be a monk or a monastic guest–, and what keeps you here.

The answers to these questions are foundational to our life together.  What we have in common is a call.   What is unique is that the call is so personal between each of us and God.  But lived out here together. A band of brothers–seeking God. How much that is glue that binds us in so many ways.

This commitment to God shapes our life, seeking to live Jesus more and more, to be transformed by our vowed life, by our community life into Christ for each other and to be a witness to all the world of the primacy of God.

One of my favorite scriptures is Colossians 3:1-4.  “Since you have been raised up with Christ, set your hearts on what is above, not on earth, after all, you have died and your life now is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ our life appears then you will appear with him in Glory.”

We all believe that very deeply, I would say.

I think this passage is very Cistercian.  This is the ideal Christian life: the world the monastery wishes to embody.  The goal of our Rule is to live in Christ.    So how do we live this life in Christ as we experience this new stage in our history together as the Mepkin Community? I want to propose the three ways Pope Francis asked us all to consider four years ago during the year of Consecrated Life.

  • Look at the past with gratitude.
  • Live the present with passion.
  • Embrace the future with hope.

First, we are so filled with gratitude because the past brought us to our life now.  We surely are full of thankfulness for those who have ministered to each of us and nurtured our vocation, and those who have ministered to our community. And for all those who have been part of Mepkin through the years.  We will remember all of them next Sunday.  We build on the life they left for us in holiness.

I remember Anthony, founding superior and first abbot.  Let me reminisce for a moment. I entered Mepkin August 24, 1960.  Fr. Anthony was Abbot, Brothers Joseph and Stephen were young solemn professed and Stan and John were novices.  I joined them for a brief time – a year and a half.  After I left, Anthony helped me a great deal with the struggle I had to discover my vocation.  I had many ups and downs and Fr. Anthony was there when I needed him.

Interesting really that in some ways the three of us have been connected through the years, if only in the brief encounters on my infrequent visits throughout the years and here we are together again these 10 years and now, wow!  How grateful we are for the contributions of Fr. Christian and Francis who had enormous impact on Mepkin.

And all of us are every grateful to you Stan for these 12 years as Abbot.  We have come to a very good place as a community.  Your ministry to us in so many ways, especially through liturgy, through your service to our benefactors and the low country community, your chapter talks and care for us, have brought us to this time.  Thank you.

Now it’s my turn and all the history and grace of these 69 years of Mepkin are the legacy that will empower our present and our future.

Second, we seek to live the present with passion.  We want to begin this new time with zeal and enthusiasm for our community life.  We want to really take a look as to how to live with even more dedication and insight our fidelity to the Opus Die, which is a blessing to the whole church and to our world as we offer our praise to God in the name of all humanity.  We want to live our Cistercian life by following our Rule and constitutions and our Mepkin traditions, and supporting our life of silence with renewed attention and our personal prayer time with zeal.  Then, our journey to holiness will indeed be blessed by our charity and be our path to happiness in our life together as we seek to be Christ for one another.   Let us have even a deeper commitment to that call of service to each other.  By living as monks – faithful monks for God and one another.

This all takes shape by living the vows which form the foundation of our journey to Christ.  They form and inform us in every way. They have proven to be so valid in today’s world that needs a conversion of life, a commitment to obedience to each other’s needs, and to a stability of purpose and place that give freedom to all.  I believe in the power of the vows whole-heartedly.

So, let’s be bold and courageous in finding ways to be monks and have a monastery of the future with a willingness to discover what it may be like to welcome more folks seeking God to join us. Always seeking to respond to the work of the Spirit.

Brother Vincent in our community dialogue asked me, prematurely I thought then, what will my motto be.  Reflecting on that question, it seems to me that the three realities God has always called me too are now focused in new ways.  For me these are:  to be a sacrifice of praise, to be poor and to be virtuous.  These have been my call since my priesthood, next year my 40th year, but it wasn’t until I was called back to Mepkin in 2006 that I found out how to truly live them as I believe God desires.   Our dialogue has helped me to own these in new ways and to discover what they may mean for my future.   So my motto is to be a Sacrifice of Praise – which means that I am grateful to be of service to you.  I hope to fulfill this spiritual ministry for each of you as you need me to be, as one who journeys with you as you respond to God.  Praising God and seeking God. That’s my prayer.

So we come to the third goal: To embrace the future with Hope.  Brothers, given who we are and all the blessings of our life together, our love and affection for one another, our commitment to live our Trappist life well as monks of Mepkin, our openness to all those who may want, in some way, to share life with us, especially with our affiliate programs.  We can embrace our future with real hope.  All these realities offer us so many opportunities to continue our life and to enhance it as we go forward. We want to have this openness to all possibilities of community.

So what is essential for each of us is our openness to the working of the Holy Spirit.   The Spirit is with us – we know it and feel the power of the Spirit.  Let’s keep open to respond fully to how we may be led in the future.  We just had several days of dialogue with folks about the new monasticism.  We want to be part of this future.

Our Mepkin experience, I believe, is unique in many ways and has a lot of offer the Church and the world.  Let’s be passionate about our willingness to share it. We can have this hope for our future because we believe in our mission – to be monks of the future — not afraid to move forward to be witnesses to the Primacy of God by our life in the Spirit, while bringing with us the charisms of our Cistercian tradition.  Knowing how Christ gives this hope to us by calling us to Himself – by energizing us

with his spirit, gracing us with glimpses of his love, those sweet experiences, however short.  So we have come to believe wholeheartedly, “That nothing is impossible with God.” So, let us constantly pray for one another.