A Reflection on Spiritual Association with the Abbey
By Michael & Cheryl Schwartz
The frenzied Saturday morning routine: wake up our kids, Chelsea and Jason, at 6:15; breakfast at 6:30; walk and feed the dog; the four of us showered and dressed by 7:10, then out the door at 7:15 for the half hour drive to Mt. Angel Abbey and Mass. As we walk up the stairs to the Abbey from the parking lot we’re somewhat frazzled not only from this routine, but from the normal trials of the previous week as a homemaking mother and working father.
But then, we walk into the Abbey’s mall. It’s a beautiful cool morning, slight breeze, sweet smells coming up from the valley still covered in fog—and very quiet. As we walk along the center walkway toward the church, if the doors are open, we can see right down the middle of the church. The kids will cry out, “I can see the altar!” and then a few steps later, “I can see two candles on the altar”. By the time we walk into the church, we have left all the week’s trials behind and are ready to meet our Lord ... Ah, we’re home.
We kneel down at our pew and pray until the bells begin to ring for Mass, and then we sit back. Usually this is a time for quiet reflection and preparation, but every now and then, we will watch the monks as they walk in, each one bowing to the altar, then slowly and quietly, with solemn faces, walk to their places in the choir stalls. Our family has come to love and appreciate the monks who live here, daily offering their service of prayer, and receiving us as they would receive Christ. We thank God for their silent witness to the life beyond this one.
After the Mass so reverently celebrated, a stroll around the peaceful hill top with a cup of coffee (hot cocoa for the kids), and, when possible, participating in noon prayer with the monks, the Abbey really does feel like home, our spiritual home—it is a taste of that home we are ultimately longing for.
Our previous home had been in Florida, where we had not been living our faith. Surely it was no accident that when we moved to Oregon we ‘happened’ to find a house so close to Mt Angel Abbey. Following our conversion and return to the Church, we began visiting the Abbey regularly. Our weekend visits helped us to grow spiritually and to deepen our longing for Christ. However, we wanted this growth to continue not only on weekends but also through the entire week. So, we sought to continue our daily conversion in spiritual communion with the monks of Mt Angel Abbey as oblates.
The benefits of being oblates begin in our home, where we live out our vocations of marriage and family. Because we are unable to attend daily Mass, the Morning and Evening Prayers have become the axis of our days, providing a structure that enables us to give praise and worship to God with the entire Church, through Jesus Christ. Before we began praying the Divine Office, we felt that our prayers were inadequate, somehow lacking. Now God’s own Word becomes our prayer too, and we know that He is always sufficient (even when we are not feeling particularly inspired). Prior to our oblation, we did not pray together out loud as a married couple (we prayed side by side, but silently). But after our oblations, we began praying Evening Prayer together, even with our children. It has become our family prayer, as we join with the whole Church in praising God.
Our family (God’s great gift!) has experienced God’s great love and blessings in so many ways; we give thanks to God, knowing that He “pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber” (Ps 127). Day by day, we try to live the teachings of the Lord. The Rule of St Benedict translates easily into family life, whose basis is community life, “nothing harsh, nothing burdensome”, but a “little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love”. Spending time each day in Lectio Divina has helped to make the journey easier—as God’s words sink into our hearts, we find it less difficult to know God, to know His Will; it becomes simpler. But still, we must rely on His grace to give over our will to His, to be humble and obedient, and to act on His Word.
Despite our culture, where each person is encouraged to follow his own desire, and to accept everything in the name of “tolerance”, our kids take on the challenge of following Christ, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else” (RB 4.20-21). They enjoy spending family time together on the hilltop: praying, walking, watching the birds in summer and the squirrels collecting nuts in fall, and making “snow monks” in winter.
We’ve often said how easy it would be to give up parish life, with all its real and perceived difficulties, and simply go to the Abbey instead. But, we know that would be selfish... that would be constantly taking for our own benefit, without sharing what we have received. As oblates, we try to live out the Benedictine vocation of prayer and work through faithful service in our parish community. Our love for Liturgy, which is strengthened by our experiences at Mount Angel Abbey, drives us to encourage a fitting and reverent celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in our own parish. St Benedict instructs us to promote hospitality, and to welcome each visitor to our parish as Christ. We share the Love of God and the teachings of the Church with adult inquirers in RCIA and children in Religious Education, allowing God’s grace to flow through to them.
We came across an Angelus reflection from the late Pope John Paul II in which he describes the monastery as a “powerhouse of spiritual energy”. He said that it “is nourished at the source of contemplation after the example of prayer to which Jesus devoted himself in solitude, immersing himself totally in dialogue with God the Father, to draw the necessary strength for his saving mission.”1. Mount Angel Abbey has become our “powerhouse”, giving us the spiritual energy for our mission to “go out to all the world and spread the Good News”.
When the challenges of life have left us feeling drained, we are revived by a visit to our spiritual home. We know that we can ask God to fill us with His grace, and give us the strength we need to continue to “run on the path of God’s commandments” as oblates of Mt Angel Abbey. May God continue to pour out His Graces!
To the monks of Mount Angel Abbey:
“We give thanks to God always for all of you, remembering you in our prayers,” (1 Thess 1:2).
1. The Holy Father's Angelus reflection of July 18, 1999 given outside the Carmelite Monastery of Mater Misericordiae in Quart, Italy. Publisher & Date: Vatican, July 21, 1999