I don't want to go to heaven without you!
Each summer, the monastic community of Mount Angel prepares for a large celebration for the Feast of St. Benedict. For the past four summers, close to 1,000 friends of the Abbey have come to the monks’ hilltop home to celebrate with them. This year, the theme for the event was “make a pilgrimage to Mount Angel Abbey.”
As they prepared for the festival, a few of the monks shared their thoughts on the idea of monastic life itself as a pilgrimage. Several voiced the conviction that no one arrives alone at the destination of eternal life with the heavenly Father.
Br. Anselm, a junior monk in simple vows, said he realizes already that, “we can’t do anything on our own, and that drives us to make friends. Friends and companions are an important part of life and pilgrimage. When you’re down, it’s hard to pick yourself back up. You have to have people there with you.”
Speaking on how he deals with rough days in the monastery, Br. Anselm referred to his brother-companions along the journey: “When I am having a bad day,” he said, “I look at the older monks and say: ‘Wow. They are here for 60 years, and they haven’t given up!’ And when I see the newest monks, I find courage that men are still interested in loving God and in living this life!”
Among the “older monks” is Abbot Peter, who celebrated 50 years of priestly ordination in May. In spite of the difference in their years of experience, Abbot Peter echoed many of Br. Anselm’s thoughts. “My novice master told us,” recalled Abbot Peter, “the way you’ll be formed in monastic life is by the community itself. We always had a keen awareness of being a monk of Mount Angel, and all of these monks I live with are my brothers.”
Thinking of life as a journey, Abbot Peter added, “When I was elected abbot, I didn’t have a motto. But if I had, I think it would have been: ‘All together to eternal life.’ And that is,” he said, “a journey sort of statement. I’ve always envisioned life as putting one foot in front of the other, on the path I’m on at the moment.”
Being in the moment is also an important aspect of spiritual pilgrimage for Br. Justin, another of the Abbey’s junior monks. “My pilgrimage in life has been a series of steps to find God,” he said. “First when I became Catholic, at the age of 22. Then I came to the seminary at age 24, and to the monastery when I was 27. But I realized that was just another beginning. And on this earth, it’s not about the destination but the journey.”
Fr. Pius, who celebrated his 25th anniversary of priestly ordination in May, reflected that men often come to the monastery in search of something. “Stability of life, beautiful liturgy. The silence and solitude,” he said. “But over the years, life being what it is, you may not find that. And the reasons you come to the monastery are not the reasons you stay. The reason you stay is that you have found others.”
Another reason men find themselves remaining at Mount Angel Abbey is the sheer beauty of the place. This is what struck Fr. Aelred when he first arrived. Fr. Aelred, who is also celebrating 25 years of priestly ordination this year, said, “I notice many people speak of peace when they come to Mount Angel Abbey. The physical situation of the monastery is important. It’s restful here, with the gentle architecture combined with the beautiful views. The rock that Mount Angel sits on,” he continued, “symbolizes stability, and the rock-like quality of God whom we long to see.”
In his role as guest master at the Abbey, Fr. Pius is keenly aware that many people come to this sacred place to find peace, to find God. “Everyone who comes to the Abbey arrives as a pilgrim,” he said. “They’re all on a pilgrimage in life, and they’ve all made a pilgrimage to Mount Angel, whether that be for a day, a week, or a lifetime.”
That sense of sharing their journey with all who come to the Abbey, of welcoming all as Christ, is pervasive at Mount Angel Abbey. It’s a place of hospitality for pilgrims even while it’s a community on pilgrimage. That seems a daunting task at times, Fr. Pius said. “We come to the monastery thinking that the Lord is going to ‘remove the thorns from our side.’ But he doesn’t.
“We are who we are,” he continued. “His grace is enough for us. And the most significant contributions that we make to the monastery are not our perceived strengths, but our weaknesses that call forth the charity of others. And we will supply for the weakness in someone else.
“But we don’t have to be perfect,” he said. “We just have to be faithful. Christ’s grace is enough. It’s the sacramental encounter with grace that keeps it all moving.”
– Theresa Myers