Our Lady of Tenderness
An icon painted by Fr Alex
and presented to me at my
The monk who became my confessor when I was fourteen and he was twenty-four and who taught me about the Christian life and guided me more than any other was Father Luke Waring. He presented me with the spiritual teaching of Jean-Pierre de Caussade with his "Abandonment to Divine Providence" as a coherent way to God while having a variety of jobs and styles of living. Fr Luke taught me that the "one thing necessary" is to find out the will of God for me in the "sacrament of the present moment" and that everything else, absolutely everything, is secondary.
Jean-Pierre de Caussade taught that:
“There is not a moment in which God does not present Himself under the cover of some pain to be endured, of some consolation to be enjoyed, or of some duty to be performed. All that takes place within us, around us, or through us, contains and conceals His divine action.”
“The duties of each moment are the shadows beneath which hides the divine operation.”
“If the work of our sanctification presents us with difficulties that appear insurmountable, it is because we do not look at it in the right way. In reality, holiness consists in one thing alone, namely, fidelity to God's plan. And this fidelity is equally within everyone's capacity in both its active and passive exercise.”
“The books the Holy Spirit is writing are living, and every soul a volume in which the divine author makes a true revelation of his word, explaining it to every heart, unfolding it in every moment.”
“To escape the distress caused by regret for the past or fear about the future, this is the rule to follow: leave the past to the infinite mercy of God, the future to His good Providence, give the present wholly to His love by being faithful to His grace.”
“In the state of abandonment, the only rule is the duty of the present moment. In this, the soul is light as a feather, liquid as water, simple as a child, active as a ball in receiving and following all the inspirations of grace. Such souls have no more consistence and rigidity than molten metal. As this takes any form according to the mould into which it is poured, so these souls are pliant and easily receptive of any form that God chooses to give them. In a word, their disposition resembles the atmosphere, which is affected by every breeze; or water, which flows into any shaped vessel exactly filling every crevice. They are before God like a perfectly woven fabric with a clear surface; and neither think, nor seek to know what God will be pleased to trace thereon, because they have confidence in Him, they abandon themselves to Him, and, entirely absorbed by their duty, they think not of themselves, nor of what may be necessary for them, nor of how to obtain it.”
Fr Luke taught me to find stability in God's will revealed in the duties and challenges of ordinary life because God speaks all the time to those who are attentive, and only self-will can make us deaf to his voice.
Thus, when Abbot Jerome told the community that the Archbishop of Piura had asked us to found a monastery in Peru, my first reaction was enthusiasm, but my second was to try to discern the will of God. I really wanted to go because I had been always attracted to Latin America. Two of my best friends in my first school year at Belmont were brothers Yrarrasabal from Chile, and the Latin American students put on a concert for me when I was leaving Fribourg University. To go to Peru would be the fulfilment of what I thought up till then was an unrealistic dream. However, for that very reason, I was not sure of my motive, so I made a pact with God that I wouldn't volunteer and would only go if I were directly invited by the abbot. When Abbot Jerome said he would only accept volunteers, I said to God that He clearly did not want me to go to Peru. However, on November 6th, 1980, I received a letter from the abbot asking me to become a volunteer. The same preoccupation with what God wants has been my chief concern since it was suggested to me that I should leave Peru after thirty-six years over there, even though the decision has torn me apart deep down inside.
I went to Peru because I believed it to be God's will, and I left it for the same reason. I only wish that all my activity in between had been done with the same attention to the "sacrament of the present moment" because I would have become a saint by now!
My "despedida" began weeks before I left with many phone calls and visits and many messages on facebook. The Sunday before my last weekend, the Oblates (laypeople living a Benedictine life in their homes under the direction of the monastery) brought a lunch for the community and ate it with us.
Oblates and community
The Dominican sisters of St Sixtus came to say "Goodbye". They had worked with us in Cruceta where Fr Joseph was parish priest, and a friendship was formed between the two communities both there and in Lima.
Another community with whom we have a close relationship is that of the Poor Clares:
Kids who enjoyed my friendship and even hospitality in Tambogrande and Negritos came with wives and family to see me off. Several have sons whom they called David or Patrick, one of my names at baptism.
Then came February 3rd, the big day of my "Despedida". To put it in its context, the Benedictine community of Pachacamac is small, with five Peruvian monks in solemn vows, one in simple vows who will take solemn vows this year, and a postulant about to receive his habit. It is without employees, so all the work is done by the monks themselves. Each has his day in the kitchen, and they are all excellent cooks. It is quite normal for them to come together to work as a community on different projects when this is required.
the making and hand-painting of paschal candles.
There is no individual "empire-building " by individual monks, and there is little sustained criticism of one another. Each monk works for the community, and the community as a whole supports each member.
This relationship is fostered in recreation. Each monk's birthday and the anniversary of his profession are celebrated by the community, usually with a cake at evening recreation. When a monk goes on holiday, he is blessed by the prior in the chapel after morning office and the community celebrates his return with a cake.
All this means that when someone leaves, everybody is saddened. We have just lost three postulants after many months with us. One left under pressure from his family, with a young brother of sixteen who phoned him and begged him to leave because he could not go to university unless the postulant paid for him from his salary. This postulant was a great loss because he really understood what it means to be a monk. Another left because he is a charismatic who prefers to dedicate his life to Christ as a married layman. However, as both these keep continuous contact with the community, we hope that one or both shall return in time. Anyway, we were all sad when they left. The inner dynamic of the community makes that inevitable. This also means that everyone in the community is touched by my leaving and I shall continue to miss them all.
Our Community in Pachacamac
The last two on the right have left
In the middle is Abbot Paul, next to me
He was visiting a few months before I left.
He was visiting a few months before I left.
The Mass began at 11 o'clock. It was a votive Mass of the Annunciation because the monastery is dedicated to the Incarnation. This gave me the opportunity to preach about the Christian vocation.
Like Mary, our vocation is quite beyond our capacity to fulfil. To be the Mother of God, Mary needed the active presence of the Holy Spirit to bring about the miracle of the Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit needed the humble obedience of the Blessed Virgin to receive the child so that this marvellous union of God with his creation could start and develop in her womb. Like a couple that dances the tango, the Holy Spirit making it happen and the Virgin allowing it to happen had to be as one. It is our vocation to be "Christ-bearers." We receive Christ in the power of the Spirit at Mass. As with Mary, God's messenger, the priest, announces the Body of Christ and we reply "Amen", which means, "Behold the slave of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your Word." We are then sent into the world bearing Christ: that is the Christian vocation. The success of that vocation depends on the presence of the Spirit in Christ and our humble obedience, on the two acting in unison, moment by moment.
If Christ lives within me, what is he doing? First and foremost, he is pleading his death before the Father, together with the angels and saints in the liturgy of heaven. As it is the same Christ in our hearts as is in the Father's presence in heaven, then by living humbly in him, with him living in us, our lives become a continuation of the Mass we have celebrated together as the Church: we are living the Mass. He also gives himself to the world in and through us, "Take and eat...". We become what the Church is, the body of Christ, each according to our vocation: we become the physical presence of Christ in the world, showing forth his constant love.
Father Alex the prior, Father Bonaventure who is the retired priest in charge of the "Renovacion Carismatica Peruana" and founder of "Jesus Vive", a charismatic community of priests and seminarists, Father Wilmer, superior of that community, and my old friend Father Cesar Lavalle of the same community, concelebrated with me. I had been Padre Formador in that seminary in 2007. There was also a group from the "Community of the Beatitudes" in the congregation.Besides them, there were people originally from Tambogrande and Negritos as well as people from Lima.
A priest from the Community of the Beatitudes with youth group.
The Community of the Beatitudes in the only group I know whose
patron saints include Padre Pio and St Seraphim of Sarov.
One very special friend, Javier Chicchon, in order to have permission to attend from his workplace, did a double shift, day and night, then went to Piura and took the sixteen-hour bus journey to Lima and the two-hour bus journey to our monastery, just to spend six hours with me and then to return to Tambogrande in the same way.
After Mass, there was the festive meal with Mexican "mariachis" from a professional band and a couple of speeches. It would be nice if all they said about me were true.
For the most part, I felt rather numb, alternating with pleasure and gratitude to God and to them at seeing old faces and recognising the positive impact I had made on people, and tears because I was leaving them, most of all because I was leaving the community. Now I am back at Belmont, and my feelings haven't really changed. Please pray for me.
Frs Wilmer, Bonaventura, myself, and Pepe Lavalle of Jesus Vive,
"Mariachis" at the lunch