Thoughts from a young theologian

Archive for September, 2011

Flexes and Dragons

Each year, apparently, as your stay in the seminary gets longer and longer, your responsibilities grow more and more too… This year, I have added a couple of new, permanent jobs under my belt… Maybe because I’m a blogger, one of the first things given to me was official “diary taker,” which essentially entails writing up short little blurbs (significantly shorter than a blog post) about important days within the community for the Pax Regis, which is the monastery/seminary newsletter for its supporters… The other job I got this year is head waiter, one of two positions, which makes me directly responsible over all the waiters every other week. As I’ve mentioned in a post a while back, one of the more “interesting” jobs out here is the waitering position where, each day, you set the food on the table, serve your brother seminarians their food, clean up after them once they set their plates aside after eating, and eat after the entire community has eaten. This, I believe, is a monastic tradition passed on to us in the seminary… As head waiter, I get to make sure that everything is running smoothly, regardless of who the waiters are that week and that the head table, where the monk in charge of us sits, is well taken care of… It’s a lot of fun, actually… Hehehehehe

This past week also, we held our annual elections for our student council that basically takes care of ALL 25 of us… Hehehehehe… While last year, the elections were pretty straightforward with proclamations of “Habemus presidente, Habemus vice presidente, etc…” going on after pretty much every second vote, this year, we had tons and tons of black smoke before finally getting the white! For every position, there appeared to be a fierce battle and when the smoke cleared, I was elected to the vice president position. What does that mean? Not that much actually… hehehehe of all 4 positions (president, vice president, secretary, treasurer), the VP has the least amount of extra responsibilities… What it has meant for me though these days are extra nighttime meetings, such as the one we had last night for our Debt Meeting (at least that’s what I call it… It really is our Budget meeting). Hehehehehehe So that has taken up a little bit more time, but it’s still pretty fun…

One of the days this past week also marked one of my most stressful vespers ever…. Hehehehe… If you ever want to try and have an adreanaline rush during vespers, all you really need to do is come in as a cantor at the last minute on a feast day when all the familiar intonations to begin each psalm are gone and changed because of the feast… We celebrated on Wednesday last week was the Feast of St. Matthew the Apostle, which meant that instead of doing the normal Wednesday Vesper psalms, we chanted the psalms from the common of Apostles… The problem was that I (and coincidentally, the cantor on the other side of the choir stalls) forgot that the psalm tones change with the feast until right when the bells were already ringing… That means you’ve got 5 minutes to figure out what you’ve got to do… The first psalm looked relatively straightforward to me and I was able to figure out how exactly I needed to sing it, however the second psalm had the much dreaded flex!!!!!! Flexes come up whenever there’s a longer psalm and it usually entails having to go down before going around, such as you can see in this picture… The problem was, with this particular flex, I had absolutely no clue where to start from and how low to go… Hehehehehe As the time for chanting that psalm drew nearer, I was frantically trying to figure out how to go about it while at the same time, trying to look composed and calm exteriorly… Hehehhehee that was fun… I did end up messing up on it at first, but thanks to the help of Fr. Basil, the organist, I recovered decently and came away from Vespers relatively unscathed… Sigh… flexes…

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The other thing I’d like to bug you guys about this week is the fact that spiritual direction started for me this week… I went over to see my spiritual director, Fr. Peter, with all the tough thoughts and vocational issues that had piled up with me over the summer… How far am I going with this? Is it really my calling? How do I know? All of these questions that had been building up inside me, and that I have been taking to prayer poured out… Ever wise, he gave me some really fantastic advice… He spoke of how the minors, over the past weekend, watched together the movie “How to train your dragon.” There’s a scene there where, monk-like, he drew tremendous insight… It’s the scene where Hiccup, the young, skinny, wimpy viking with a heroic, super buff, chief of the tribe father asks his friend and mentor, Gobber, why he’s not being allowed to fight dragons like all the other vikings… What’s wrong with him? The dialogue is worth quoting in its entirety, I think…

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Gobber: Don’t you… no, Hiccup! If you ever want to get out there to fight dragons, you need to stop all… this. [gestures to all of Hiccup]
Hiccup: But you just pointed to all of me!
Gobber: Yes! That’s it! Stop being all of you!

The problem isn’t one part of him, rather it’s all of him!!! In a similar vein, for vocations, we’re always trying to find that one event, that one experience, that one sign that’ll tell us immediately what we are supposed to do, sort of like Mary with her Annunciation, or St. Paul and his horse falling episode… But more often than not, that’s not how God works… It’s almost never ONE thing but rather, it’s a convergence of many things that make up all of us…. So to truly discover our vocation, we need to take our time (a lesson I still really need to learn lots of)… In trying to find that one answer so I can “move on with my life,” either in the direction of priesthood entirely or in the direction of marriage, I’m really trying to take huge leaps when I’m still trying to learn how to walk… Just like Hiccup had to train himself and Toothless, his dragon, everyday and spend hours on end learning how to fly before finally piercing the sky, so I too need to spend more time in prayer, what should be the foundation for the life of any and all Christians, learning how to walk with Christ… It’s really only then, little by little, that I’ll be able to find my vocation and place in this world… Vocation discernment is a long process because it’s not my work, but God’s work with all of me… Cool eh? Have a good day and God bless!!! c”,)

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Photos from the movie “How to train your dragon”


Packing and unpacking . . . again

So I’m back… After the last month of traveling and spending about a week at home to recover (which was just barely enough time), I’m back in the abbey!!! The return to the seminary this year was a little more reluctant and hesitant than last year after a summer where, after a long time, I once again took a good, hard look at my vocation but didn’t get any of the answers I was hoping to find… Wow, discernment is hard! I am hoping though that throughout this year back, I’ll find some of those answers that I’m seeking out…

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The beginning of a new school year is always marked by change and that was certainly the case this time… It’s interesting that in a place like a Benedictine monastery where, pretty much nothing changes for years, so much can happen in such a short time. The prior (second in command) stepped down from his position and he’s now our rector (meaning we get to call him now Fr. Matthew instead of Fr. Prior after his position). He’s replacing a legend here in the seminary, Fr. Nicholas who was our rector last year and has been the rector here for many many years. Then, in the vacated prior position, Fr. Benedict, one of the younger but super intelligent monks here, has started to take up just this year. New leadership almost always means changes, however minor they are because there’s still a sense of continuity that’s going on even while many of the rules are being looked at again and updated a little bit… It’s interesting being around this time and seeing all this happen because I have the reference point of last year to compare it with.

This year, in the seminary, I’ve changed my goals up quite a bit. Because of my reluctance and the tremendous uncertainty especially regarding what exactly it is God wants me to do, I’ve decided to dedicate much more time to prayer and I’m really, thus far, loving every minute of it… Last year, I would normally have a holy hour in the afternoon, just before vespers… I’d use up that time reading and (accidentally) falling asleep… There were always a few people (monks and seminarians) in the abbey church at the time too… Well, this year, because I feel I need more time alone (work on a little bit of that interior silence I should be cultivating… heheheeehhe), I decided to move that holy hour to the night, at the time when all the monks are off in recreation. It’s hauntingly beautiful being in that darkened corner of the abbey church where there’s no one else but you and Jesus and the only light is coming from the flickering candle of the tabernacle lamp… Sigh… It’s always the perfect way for me to end each and every single day…

Apart from everything slowly starting to get back to normal (hockey season is starting up once again this week and I was voluntold/drafted back into a team, and we even have our student government elections tomorrow night), the big event this week was easily a huge conference held at Regent College over the weekend between Catholic and Protestant theologians of extraordinary caliber… The theology students were all required to go but they gave permission (not to mention money to pay for the conference) to some of us interested arts students too. The conference was on the heated debate among primarily Protestant scholars about the role and usage of one of two different methods of scriptural interpretation. The historical/critical method or, what I often hear as the literal method is the taking of a specific text as it says it is, though also in consideration of the motives of the author, the cultural and religious circumstances he/she lived in and even the intended audience… It’s the method most accepted by Protestant theologians today. Some Protestant theologians though have started discovering in reading the Fathers of the Church (the people around during the late 1st century through to the 4th century and wrote about the church at the time) a different form of interpretation known as the spiritual/allegorical interpretation, which looks at the deeper meaning of the text often from a Christological perspective…. How does this text, for example, reflect certain truths about the arriving Messiah…. The Catholic Church beautifully integrates both methods in its teaching while the Protestants are still debating the validity of the allegorical method, fearing that it puts too much human influence into Sacred Scriptures…

It was a pretty head conference and most of us didn’t understand half the stuff being said… What kept us interested? Scott Hahn being there sure helped… Deacon Pablo’s respect for me (which isn’t that much) jumped up to 30% because I had a camera with me and managed to snap a nice little picture of our whole group with this prolific Catholic author… Scott Hahn was there alongside Mary Healy, a professor from Sacred Heart Major Seminary who gave a stirring talk on the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, speaking of how, found in the Old Testament are “shadows” that point to Christ and that need to be interpreted allegorically/spiritually to get to that conclusion. We also had R.R. Reno, the editor of the scholarly journal First Things and Matthew Levering from the University of Dayton there with us. My favorite talk though didn’t come from one of these amazing Catholic theologians… My favorite talk was given by Jason Byasse, a pastor for a United Methodist church… He talked about the use of allegory in reading the book of Job by Pope St. Gregory the Great citing some examples given by St. Gregory that illustrated the absolute beauty of allegorical interpretations…

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It’ll be tougher for me this year to blog as much as I’d like to because of both the number and difficulty of my classes… Alongside my metaphysics class (ouch…), I’m also taking Greek, Latin, Liturgical history, sociology (studying different encyclicals and the compendium of the social doctrine of the Church), drama (debate class) and modern philosophy so I have a ton on my plate… In addition, I’ll also be spending significantly more time in the chapel trying to figure out where it really is I’m called to be so my blogging is going to take a slightly second seat… Hehehehe I hope you’ll be patient with me on this… It’s a critical year for me because next year, if I get as far as next year, will be the start of theology… That step between philosophy and theology is a massive one and really does require a lot of prayer and discernment before it’s made… c”,) God bless and thanks for all your prayers!!!


Wrapping it all up… in Paris!!!

Sorry for the little break back there again… I got home a few days ago and with a wedding to attend, jet lag, sickness (from all the travel) and post-Europe depression to get over, papers to sign, and school (seminary) starting up in a couple of days, I’ve had my hands tied up just a little bit… It’s soooooo good to be home though and it’s also really nice that I don’t have to be back in the monastery until Friday… That’s basically given me a week to unwind a bit and unpack before repacking my life and moving back to Mission for year two of seminary… Before that, let’s wrap up the trip to Europe by going back to where I started… Paris, the city of lights…

When I first had the idea of visiting Paris a number of years ago, there were two things on top of my list of things to do… The first actually involves a trip an hour outside of the city to the beautiful medieval town of Chartres… My first day in Paris involved the first train out of it… Hehehehehh I even used some of the train time to blog…

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Chartres is gorgeous… I’ve always wanted to visit this medieval cathedral for two reasons… First, I wanted to see a very special relic presented to Chartres in 876 by Charles the Bald, Charlemagne’s grandson: the Sancta Camisia… This is the veil worn by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Christ in Bethlehem… Yes… It’s the actual veil!!! It’s also why the cathedral has been such a major pilgrimage site for centuries…

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The other reason I wanted to go see Chartres is tied to the Sancta Camisia… On the night of June 10, 1194, a terrible fire blazed through the town, destroying most of the cathedral… Many of the villagers despaired in fear that the precious relic had also been destroyed… That dismay was turned into a profound joy when 3 days later (yes… that’s 3… coincidence??) the relic was found unharmed… In celebration, the villagers, rich and poor, noble and peasant spent the 30 years rebuilding the cathedral into the grander and more glorious form it possesses today… Numbering in the thousands, these villagers built their cathedral up brick

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by

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brick… It amazes me to think that while most cathedrals and basilicas are commissioned by princes and popes, this one that arguably trumps most of them in grandeur and antiquity was built by the people for the people!!! It has stood the test of time and still stands today, relatively in the same state it was close to a thousand years ago… Sure, some of the statues are missing heads and other body parts, but it’s still pretty cool!!!

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At first arrival though in Chartres, I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed… I was at first disappointed because most of the cathedral was either sealed off or covered with ugly scaffolding because they were currently renovating the cathedral… I was even worried at first that I might not get to see the holy veil… And to top it all off, the pretty famous English tour guide I was hoping to join was away on vacation… After looking forward to seeing the cathedral all this time, I was a bit sad when I made my way down to the crypt for mass…

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My day picked up really well from there though because after mass, I met one of the sacristans of the cathedral… After allowing me to take a look around some of the unseen areas of the cathedral, he invited me to join him and his family at their home for lunch… It was pretty spectacular… Not only did I get to see the veil of Mary, but now, I made a new friend. And after spending the rest of the afternoon checking out the medieval town, I was pretty stoked when I left… I vowed to come back again some day, after all the renovations are done… Maybe before I head out to do the Camino… hint hint… c”,)

The other big thing I wanted to do in Paris, second on my list, took me up to the highest point of the city… Renowned for once being hangout of Picasso, van Gogh, Dali, and Monet, Montemarte is now one of the sketchier parts of Paris… It’s home to the famous cabaret, Moulin Rouge and the red light district of the city… Trust me though, I did not go into that area looking for drugs or prostitutes… High up overlooking, not just all that “stuff” going on around it but also the entire city is the great basilica of the Sacred Heart where, for 125 years, people have been coming day and night in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament… Eucharistic Adoration has always been a huge part of my life ever since I’ve rediscovered my faith a number of years ago and I would jump at the chance to adore in what is perhaps the center of Eucharistic Adoration in the world… During the day, the basilica is always open to pilgrims and tourists who want to spend a few minutes with Jesus but I was more interested in spending the night for the night adoration. I emailed the sisters and was invited to come during one of my nights in Paris…

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I arrived via the back entrance and was shown to my quarters for the night… My room was very simple, separated from everyone else by a giant curtain… I was nevertheless, really comfortable… Remember, I had just come from World Youth Day… I could sleep on an anthill… wait.. I had already done that… Hehehe

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While getting settled in, I met a young man from a different part of France who was going to adore that night for the first time too… After settling in, we were asked by one of the sisters to come down for a quick orientation and teaching… She taught us how to adore, speaking of the need for a heart to heart conversation with Jesus and being receptive (for lack of a better word) enough to allow Him to work with you… One of the things that really stuck with me was how she insisted that everything we do can become a prayer… She suggested that one way to make even our day a prayer is to begin each day, before even getting out of bed, with a sign of the cross to sanctify the day to God and allow Him to work in our lives… That’s a practice I want to start enforcing in my own life…

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The night went pretty smoothly from there… We had mass and a little bit of time for prayer before I turned in for the night…. Then, riiiiiiiiiiing…. At 2:50 am, my alarm clock went off… My favorite time for prayer… 3 am… It’s probably one of the scariest times to head out walking in the night but that’s also why I love this time the most… Anytime I get to adore at night, I ALWAYS choose 3 am… One of the first times I did this, during the eucharistic congress in Quebec city a few years ago, I woke up at 3 to the sound of thunder and lightning… It was super stormy and I had to walk through a dark monastery all alone towards the little, dimly lit church which was thankfully attached to the monastery… Ever since then, I’ve always LOVED 3 am and that night was no exception… The only problem… By that point, I had been through close to a dozen cities, walked tons of miles and got very little sleep… So what happened during my adoration night? I don’t know… I don’t remember… I kinda dozed off a little bit during it… :S Sigh… God still loves me… Hehehe St. Therese of Liseaux once said “I ought to be distressed at sleeping during my prayers and acts of thanksgiving. Well, I am not distressed. I think little children please their parents as much when they sleep as when they are awake.” Sigh… I love the Little Flower…

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Other than that, there’s not much more to report to you guys on Paris… I did the whole tourist thing in a couple of days… I visited the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Arche de Triomphe, Notre Dame cathedral and tons of other places… I even ate ONE escargot… I also managed to see the little church where Mary appeared to St. Catherine LabourĂ© to commission her to create the Miraculous Medal… All of these were pretty cool things to see but I think at this point, I was already pretty exhausted and was ready to head home…

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The trip home was pretty uneventful but was made more interesting by the little attempt I made to bring back my big stick (the one I got from Montserrat) back to Canada… That was pretty interesting… I worried a bit in Paris when they attached the baggage tag onto an easily removable piece of string we used to tie up the flag and I watched with glee as they loaded it onto the plane in Montreal…. I was pretty pleased to get it back all the way to Vancouver… That’s all for today… Thanks for following my travels!!! God bless!!!

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