- The Abbey of the Genesee - https://www.geneseeabbey.org -

April 18, 2018

Fr. Stephen Muller, OCSO

3rd Wednesday of Easter
Acts 8:1b-8; Jn 6:35-40

Have you ever noticed how all the roof beams of our church are sitting on top of the concrete pillars except one? The main beam in the rear of the church has a notch in the bottom of it. So it looks like it’s sitting lower than the other beams. With all the other beams, the bottom of the beam is sitting on top of the pillar. What happened was that someone made a mistake and that pillar ended up being about a foot too tall. Imagine the distress of the people in charge when the mistake was realized. It would have been too much work to cut off the top of the pillar, so they ended up notching out the bottom of the beam. And I’m guessing some engineer did the math and assured them that reducing the size of the beam at that point would still be able to carry the roof load and be safe. The chunk of that beam that was cut away was laying around inside the cow barn when I first came.

The construction of the forms for these pillars had to be quite substantial. There is a lot of weight in something that big. It probably took more than one cement truck to fill some of them. The boards had to be very thick and strong to withstand the heavy, wet concrete pushing out. They probably did one at a time and then tried to use some of the boards again on the next one. Once the cement had cured enough to take the forms off, then blemishes and flaws could be seen in the new pillar. Any air pockets would have left a bit of a cavity in the concrete. Any hole or knot in the boards would have left a blob or protuberance sticking out of the pillar. Somewhere along the line, a decision was made to fill in the cavities but leave the protuberances. That was a conscious choice. They could have very easily been chipped away and given a smoother look. There is a rather interesting one in the rear southeast pillar. It actually has a huge splinter of wood in it. Again, it was a conscious decision to leave that big stick and not tidy it up. Here in the front you can see examples of where there were knots in the forms and air pockets. The patched air pockets are a little darker. The mix was probably a little richer in cement.

Mistakes and flaws and blemishes are all part of life, they’re par for the course. Things aren’t always going to go smoothly and as planned. Sometimes the weather or nature is the thing that doesn’t cooperate, sometimes other people are responsible for the setbacks, other times we ourselves are the ones who make the pillar too high. I guess the trick is to roll with the punches and figure out creative ways to incorporate the surprise into a new plan that works. Sometimes, what seemed like a tragedy at the time ends up being providential and turns out to be the catalyst for a wonderful development that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. In today’s First Reading at Mass we heard of a “severe persecution of the Church in Jerusalem” that broke out after the martyrdom of Stephen. What must have felt like a very bad thing at the time turned out to be the force that scattered the disciples beyond Jerusalem, who in turn preached the good news in the places they fled to. Persecution ended up being like throwing water on a grease or oil fire – instead of putting it out, it made it spread even further.

Part of mental health is being able to deal with the setbacks that come with life. All of us make mistakes. That’s why there are erasers on pencils. An optimistic attitude believes that somehow it’s all going to work out in the end. Some people seem to have more than their fair share of setbacks, though. I’m not sure what the answer is. Maybe they’re “victim souls” and God is asking them to offer their suffering for the salvation of others. Maybe their vocation is to suffer, and only in heaven will they see the great amount of good God was able to accomplish with it when they offered it to him.

And as for blemishes, sometimes they add character – like a mole on a woman’s face. The flaws on our concrete pillars give the church sort of a rustic look. Our former Abbot Gerard had a speech impediment but was still very much loved. Our present Abbot Gerard is missing a tooth and has a bump on his head, but he doesn’t seem at all self-conscious about it. His inner beauty shines out and is the thing people remember.

I wish you all a minimum of setbacks, and a maximum of creative ways to incorporate them.