Today’s Gospel recounts how Jesus called Peter and Andrew, James and John. He called them out of their fishing boats to a life of prayer and discipleship. We all lead this kind of life, I hope. But there are some who live it in an extraordinary way. They are monks.
The first monk was St. Anthony of Egypt. We celebrated his feast day on Tuesday. Anthony was at Mass one day sometime around the year 270. The Gospel at Mass was from Matthew 21: “If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven.” Anthony knew the Lord was speaking to him, so he got rid of everything and went to follow the Lord. Like James and John in our Gospel today who left even their father behind, Anthony gave up everything for the Lord. People were inspired. Within several years, a rather large congregation had formed around him–men who wanted to live just as he did. He organized them all and founded the first monastery. For that he is known as the “father of all monks.” He died on January 17, 356 at 105.
St. Anthony paved the way for generations of monks around the world. One of them was St. Meinrad, whose feast day is today (Jan 21). He is the one after whom St. Meinrad Archabbey is named, one of only 11 archabbeys in the world. St. Meinrad the man lived in Switzerland in the 9th century. He is known as the patron of hospitality because he welcomed to his hermitage, where he had lived faithfully for 26 years, two men he had been warned in a dream would kill him. And they did.
The beauty of the monastic life became real for me, though, in meeting various holy monks during my six years of seminary at St. Meinrad. The monks run the seminary there of course, and taught many of my classes. I remember being so moved by their habits the first time I saw them. Their black robes made me realize that there is something other-worldly about them, something so mystical and beautiful. I’m thinking mostly these days of Fr. Rupert Ostdick, OSB. This was a saintly, saintly man whose funeral was on Tuesday, the feast of St. Anthony whom I mentioned above. Fr. Rupert professed his vows at St. Meinrad on August 10, 1944. Fr. Rupert made quite an impression on me while I was at St. Meinrad for my years of seminary. In his presence, you felt as though you were in the presence of a saint. He was a humble, faithful, happy man. I always felt better about the world knowing he was in it. I can say that about all the monks. Fr. Gavin, another monk, gave a beautiful reflection on him at the Office of the Dead on Monday. He said that Fr. Rupert was “a man of many loves,” and that his love was always “extraordinary” and “predictable.” This is how Fr. Gavin ended his reflection: “In countless ways, the monastic life for Fr. Rupert appears to have been as St. Benedict’s rule promises, a rule of life that teaches monks how to run on the path to God with hearts overflowing with love, which no words can express. Clearly Fr. Rupert’s monastic experience was blessed, and he was blessed in a way that only love can grow: filled with people–family, friends, confreres, colleagues, coworkers, oblates, and heavenly patrons. So many to love, so many to be loved by. With all these looking to him for direction, guidance, and maybe hope, a kind of intercession, with all these looking to him all through his life, how could Fr. Rupert have failed to be nothing less than a man of many loves? Well done good and faithful servant. Enter now the joy of God’s kingdom.”
A friend of mine commented to me on Monday: “What the world really needs is more monks.” I think she is right. Because you and I and the whole world DESPERATELY need….
- the witness of monks, men who have given up everything for God and would do it again in a heartbeat….men who have found out that GOD IS ALL WE NEED…and he is MORE THAN ENOUGH! We don’t need bigger houses, more money, more clothes…all we need is God. Monks get that
- the example of monks, men who have a thirst for God always in their heart, who keep God before them always–men who are not slaves to their passions
- the presence of dependable, predictable, stable men who are there with open arms to receive their visitors
- the prayers of monks, without which the world would fall apart
Today at this Mass we thank God for monks, for their important role in our Church’s history and future. May we learn from their example!