September 2011

September 2011

60th ANNIVERSARY OF FOUNDATION

ABBEY OF OUR LADY OF THE GENESEE

1951 - 2011


Ann PrendergastIN THE COMPANY OF MONKS

Ann Prendergast, GLC
September, 2011


I was brought to the Abbey of the Genesee when it was still a warren of Quonset huts with signs: PAPAL ENCLOSURE: WOMEN FORBIDDEN.  The signs made me feel unbearably female and out of place.  I'd come to the monastery to ask what it meant to love God: was serious spirituality only for religious?  what about the others, regular people who had to live and get on in the world?  In those days, there was little question but that one had to choose.  I remember the kindness of Abbot Gerard McGinley as I sat before him in my awkwardness, but I do not recall whether I asked my question or what his answer was. In the course of time, I chose marriage, but in the tumultuous times of the sixties, the marriage ended in divorce, "liberation," and the task of providing for and raising children alone.  Not what I'd bargained for, but not an uncommon situation then or now.

Years later I would return to the monastery, still asking what it meant to love God.  Like others I was drawn to the silence and the aura of holiness, but on a deeper level I had questions. The certainties I'd been brought up on wouldn't do.  Neither would it help to tell me how I ought to think. I wanted assurance of a kind I couldn't name. Over the course of many visits, listening to and observing the monks, I came to appreciate what the spiritual writers seem to agree on, that we can come to know God only through the Scriptures. At first, this was to me the same old, same old of my past.  It was not what I wanted to hear. I did not yet know how prone I was to hear what I thought was said. For as long as I was wrapped in my own understanding of how things were I could not appreciate the patient silence of the monks. But eventually, their example began to penetrate my inner certainties. I began to understand how Scripture opens to us.

We have all heard the phrase "he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire (Mt. 3:11), less frequently, "I have a baptism to be completed and what stress I am under until it is completed" (Lk. 12:50).   Benedict XVI observed of these words that in being baptized with sinners, Christ began to take on the weight of humanity's sin, an act he fulfilled when he received his baptism on the Cross and was immersed in the Father's love.  I pondered these words, blankly, not getting much out of them. But as I mulled further an altogether different meaning seized my attention: we are immersed in our ongoing baptism in the world, in others, in our aloneness.  In this immersion we are sharing Christ's Cross, that is, all the pain and suffering of our attachments, concerns, preoccupations are a portion of Christ's inexhaustible love, our portion. The word “portion” recalled to me my favorite lines from Psalm 16: "You are my allotted portion and my cup . . .the lot marked out for me is my delight".  Like the eunuch Philip baptized in Acts (8:13), I would not have known how to read the Scriptures had the monks not first been there to show me.

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