Final Chapter Talk as Abbot — October 20, 2018
Lord, I crawled across the barrenness to you
with an empty cup,
but asking any small drop of refreshment.
If only I had known you better,
I’d have come running with a bucket.
For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord,
plans for your welfare and not for harm,
to give you a future with hope.
Ask and you shall receive.
Never despair of the mercy of God.
Those are the words with which I began my first chapter talk as abbot on October 31, 2006. I said that that is what I offered to each of us as we started on the next stage of our journey together: Hope and Continuity. Hope for the future and Continuity with the past.
I began with the conviction that we were the same community who had struggled through six cellarers in the first ten years of our history. Through unification and Vatican II. Through the constant exodus of solemn professed from 1966 to 1971, when we went from 46 professed members to 23 professed members in that five year span. Through the new growth and consolidation in the 80s and 90s. Through Hurricane Hugo and the redo of our abbey’s buildings and spirit under Father Francis.
That is what I offered us in 2006. A new energy for koinonia. A new commitment to focus on our life together and to build with each other a community where each one felt honored and respected. Where we could offer our thoughts and opinions without fear of being shouted down or dismissed out of hand. Where our deep-seeded unity could flourish, prosper and grow. In short, a place where the words of Psalm 133 could find a living and breathing environment.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is,
when people live in unity!
It is like precious oil upon the head
running down upon the beard,
running down upon Aaron’s beard,
upon the collar of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon which falls
on the heights of Zion.
For there the Lord gives his blessing,
life for evermore.
And now we sit on the cusp of a new energy and a new commitment in our chosen leadership under Father Joe. What hope we can have for our future which has started out in such a deep sense of the work of the Spirit in our midst. Three months ago I do not think many of us could have seen what has happened in our midst. And if they did, I believe they would have thought that there would have been some casualties on the ground to bring about such a change.
Brothers, let us never underestimate ourselves. Let us never underestimate the quality of life we have created at Mepkin. Let us never underestimate the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst when we open ourselves to God’s action and grace in our lives.
I am utterly convinced that the blessing of God rests mightily upon us and our Mepkin community: the blessing of a future with hope and the blessing of life for evermore. Our part is to stay true to the call each one of us has heard in our hearts and continues to hear in our hearts.
Change is never easy. There will be change in the days ahead for it is to that which we have committed ourselves. We will negotiate such change and come out on the other side stronger and more united if we allow the deepest human and divine realities to continue to take firm root in our hearts, namely:
To be loved and to love.
All other experiences are somehow part of one or the other of these realities. This is human life. And Jesus, the perfect human, precedes us and models them in a unique way.
At his baptism, Jesus had his Abba experience. This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. He knew himself as loved, as a gift, as held in being by love, as Son, as one with the Father. And he had his mission experience at his baptism as well: Listen to him. Jesus knew himself as sent by the Father to love, as gifted for others, that he would only reach personal fulfillment by going out of himself to others, to be love, to be gift for others.
This is part and parcel of our own call to monastic life, to monastic life at Mepkin. To allow the love/mercy of God and the love/mercy of our brothers for which we asked at each stage of our monastic journey to come upon us. To be willing to receive love, forgiveness, affection, and encouragement. To accept our need for all these things and their fulfillment through God and our brothers.
And there is its complimentary aspect of loving, showing mercy to others, giving love very simply and without fanfare, to empty ourselves as Jesus did.
If we continue to do this, we will follow in the footsteps of Saint Benedict and our Cistercian forbears and create at Mepkin a true school of charity where people can come and be welcomed and to which they will be drawn as to a place where we learn to be loved and to love.
This is what I leave to you as the fourth abbot of Mepkin and as I return to be what I have always striven to be: a simple monk of Mepkin, a brother among brothers.
Let us pray for one another that the new energy and the new hope in our community life may reach its full potential.