Thoughts from a young theologian

Posts tagged “monastery

Staying Watch

Okay… this’ll have to be a relatively short and quick post—just to show that yes, I’m still alive and kicking (perhaps barely, but still going anyway). I’m deep into the final week and a half of class before Christmas break and they’re super busy days. I’ve often said to my friends here that I’m living advent to the full nowadays in the sense that I’m keeping watch… If the Good Lord comes at some point during the night, I think He’d be mildly amused to find me still up and waiting. c”,) Hehehehehehe

So what’s been going on? Well, I’ve rejoined a little bit of my youth… Since my last post, I’ve had two field trips down to Brussels for my Hebrew class. The first visit was to the Jewish museum where a professor well versed with Jewish culture and traditions gave us a bit of a tour. The other field trip, which took place yesterday (Tuesday) was to the Grand Synagogue in Brussels, located on what the grand rabbi who gave us the tour called the central street of Brussels. On one end is the towering palace of justice with the royal palace in the middle and the legislative offices far on the other end. There are a whole bunch of museums dotting the sides too… it’s one of the main streets of the city. Well, the grand rabbi welcomed us yesterday and spoke to us a little bit about Jewish theology—the value of the Sabbath, the meaning of the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD (rather than punishing and destroying the people for their sins, the good Lord destroyed the building), and a few of the symbolisms of Judaism (the synagogue itself and the little skull cap which all of us were required to wear). One of the first things he did to encourage us on our Hebrew studies was to offer us (at 50% off reduced price) his book on Judaism. He did it in such an enthusiastic way that we all just laughed at it and most of us decided to pick up his book in the end.

Going into the Synagogue of BrusselsWith my new book (and borrowed skull cap)

The other thing that I’ve been up to was to go to a huge celebration in the abbey of Maredsous. About 50 years ago sometime around this time, the council fathers of Vatican II released the first conciliar document “Sacrosanctum Concilium”, on the Sacred Liturgy. The bishops and the cardinal of Belgium, I think appropriately decided to celebrate this great document by gathering together and celebrating Liturgy—we went to the abbey and sang solemn 2nd vespers (for the 2nd Sunday of Advent) with the monks. It was a longer than usual Vespers and it included a nice long homily given by Cardinal Daneels, which was really more like a prayer of his memories of the times surrounding the Council. Another highlight was the fact that for the intercessions, they read some of the key passages of Sacrosanctum Concilium and drew the intercessions from there. It was an amazing event!

Inside the Abbey Church

And, because one of my classmates in the seminary is a monk in Maredsous, just before the event, he gave me a little tour of the ancient monastery. What a holy place! We went by the boarding school where a whole bunch of students study, the grounds… I got to go into a part of the cloistered area and see the chapter room where the monks hold their community meetings/chapters. He also took me down into the crypt and to the cemetery. I also, later on in the evening, got to see the monastery refectory because that’s where they held a small reception for all of us who came to the abbey for this liturgical celebration.

Monastic libraryChapter Room of MaredsousCloisters of Maredsous

Okay… that’s as far as I’ll post for now… I’ve gotta get back to work… I’ll try and have something longer and more substantial for you guys after classes end next week! In the meantime, have a holy Advent and God bless!


On pilgrimage

Dear readers… It’s starting to get more and more challenging to blog… Today, in fact marks the beginning of the school year for us here in the seminary. This evening, we’ll be in the Namur seminary for a lecture, Mass and a small buffet dinner. But these last few days leading up have been extremely busy as we did a couple of mini pilgrimages together to areas in and around Belgium.

The first place we visited was a priory of Cluny. Priories are churches/monasteries that were established by one bigger monastery in some other place and remain dependent upon their founding monastery. This one, coming once more from the massive monastery of Cluny, is called St. Sèverin and it’s about an hour’s drive from where we live. Us seminarians along with the priest who’s in charge of us went there to spend the day together before all the craziness of the year began. And it’s quite a beautiful little church, that one—with tons of history. The priory itself was established around the year 1091 and the church was constructed during the first half of the 12th century. One of the monks who lived here was an architect for Cluny so the style of the church greatly resembles that of its mother.Outside view of the churchView from the backBehind the sanctuary

Another little interesting tidbit that the parish priests shared with us of the church was its baptistery. It’s apparently a very rare piece of Syrian inspiration (I hope you’ve been praying for that country too). The sculptor was thought to have been inspired from ideas and images brought in from the crusades. Baptisery

Well, as usual we didn’t just come in here to admire the church… we ended up celebrating Mass here together, we spent some time in Eucharistic adoration and we had lunch here too—this place happens to be a stopover hostel point for pilgrims coming down from the Netherlands and Germany on the Camino… That’s something I dream of doing one day—maybe I’ll even try to blog while on it! Who knows… hehehehe Anyway, it’s not uncommon for people here in Europe to take a week or a month off to start up the Camino up to a certain point, stopping and then resuming from there the next time. That way, their Camino ends up taking a few years in small intervals. That may be an option for this busy seminarian during the short summer vacation… HehehheheMass

Another little pilgrimage (by bike) we went on was to the beautiful little village of Dinant… but why write about it… I have a little surprise for you guys—I filmed while on it…

So there, you can see a bit of the countryside… This pilgrimage was really nice too because we were right by the river of the Meuse the entire way… Here are a few pictures and a final video of our day.


Finally, we arrived at Dinant… the first thing you can see as you bike up the river towards this beautiful little European village is the towering bell tower of an old church.

View of Dinant from the road

Then, as you cross the bridge, you are struck the fact that this town is surrounded by sculptures of saxophones. There’s a good reason for that… the inventor of saxophones, Mr. Sax, came from Dinant. So upon our arrival here, we immediately went for mass in that beautiful church I just showed you. This is one of those “You know you’re in Europe when… you walk into a church that’s as beautiful as this one”

Birthplace of saxophones!The inside of the ChurchBig stained glass windowAltar

After Mass, we biked over to the Norbertine monastery of Leffe. There, we had a nice picnic lunch, were welcomed by the Norbertine canons and were given a bit of a tour of the monastery. If Leffe sounds familiar, that’s probably because it is… It’s one of the Belgian monasteries that produce beer—the monks gave us a healthy serving of beer for us during lunch. We ended that day in silent adoration of Jesus in the monastery chapel.Leffe
Monastery chapel

Okay… I gotta get going… I got lots of work to do… Sigh… the life of a student… 😛


Some things never change

It’s amazing how fast this month and this semester seems to be swinging by!! Already almost the end of the month with Halloween, All Saints Day and All Souls Day just around the corner! So much and yet so little has happened since my last post…

In all honesty, there’s not really anything out of the ordinary seminary life that has happened… Daily life has been marked by regular getting up at 4:30 – 5:00 am (something that I’m already pretty used to nowadays). Whenever I get up at 4:30, I’m usually able to join the monks for their Lauds (morning prayer) at 5, though that hasn’t happened much this year because of my late studying nights… Then, at 5:30, I try and spend some time doing some spiritual reading. Unofficially, on my own time, I’m working through St. Augustine’s Confessions, a masterpiece for anyone interested in reading it… There’s so much that I can relate to in it… Officially, that is, with my spiritual director, I’m also reading Jacques Philippe’s In the School of the Holy Spirit, which is incidentally one of the books highly recommended by Fr. Abbot. Then, we have mass at 6:30, breakfast at 7 and classes begin at 8:30. I’m really loving the classes I’m taking this year. It’s been a ton of fun learning Greek because, although it’s really its own thing, there a lot in it that has been adapted into English too, just like Latin. Plus, we have Fr. Lawrence for our teacher. He’s one of the older Benedictine monks in the community but his mind is still as sharp as razor. The best part about Fr. Lawrence is by far his tangents… Often, when we encounter a word or situation that we’re trying to translate, either in Greek or in Latin, it reminds him of certain experiences he’s had in the past and it’s sooooooo much fun hearing him go into these. We learn a little more about the history of the monastery and a lot about Fr. Lawrence’s life, and quite often, they’re pretty funny. The Latin and especially the Greek classes are by far, my favorite…


Another class I’ve been caught up in te middle of is Metaphysics… We’re currently working through St. Thomas Aquinas’ De Ente et Essentia and, while it is quite challenging, we have a more than capable teacher of it in Fr. Peter. Trying to wrap our minds around “being”, “substance”, “essence”–what something is and “existence” — that something is, has been a challenge for most of us, but a very welcome one at that… Fr. Peter’s new thing this year (apparently, he always introduces something quite different each year) are powerpoint presentations. The monks are so into this new One Note application, that I honestly have not heard of, nor have not had much experience of, by Microsoft… They’re loving the program to bits and they’ve been designing these pretty intricate powerpoint presentations to help in their teaching… How can you use power points to try and teach metaphysics you may ask? Well, the last class, we had tons of pictures of observatories to illustrate an important point. We’re in the middle of discussing what ideas and thoughts are, and for St. Thomas Aquinas, they’re the means
by which we know things… Contrary to Descartes, the ideas are not what we know when we say we know (otherwise, we’d be stuck in our minds and untrusting of everything else around us) but they’re the means by which we get at reality… So Fr. Peter used these pictures of observatories to show us that when we’re trying to look at the stars, what we know isn’t the telescopes but rather the stars by means of the telescopes which we use as a tool to view them. He goes into a bit more detail on that, but I don’t want to either bore or lose you in this, so I’ll leave it there… Hehehehe… Needless to say, our metaphysics classes have an extra little doohickey (to use the favorite word of Fr. Lawrence) added to them…

So that’s how things have been pretty much the same here in the abbey… Life has been fairly regular with prayer, studies and community time… Hehehehe… at the same time though, amidst the constancy, there has been quite a bit of dynamism too… The environment around us has been changing pretty dramatically… The colors of the trees have been exquisite too lately! There’s one tree in particular, I think it’s a Japanese maple, that’s found on the little walkway between the majors residence and the abbey church that exemplified this really well… It now has a beautiful fire red color that stands out against the dull grey sky behind it…


Also, we’ve shifted in our Divine Office from the upbeat and “cheerful” summer tone on to the more reserved and soothing winter tone… That’s unfortunately something that I can’t really illustrate… You’d have to come here and experience it for yourself… c”,) Our food has been changing too… We’ve been having a little less corn (which we’d had in abundance just a couple of weeks ago) and more squash… Apparently, we’ll have to really get used to squash because they’ve just harvested a truckload of it from the farm… Hehehehehehe And speaking of food, one interesting thing that I did as well last week was I helped the fraters (younger monks) make some sauerkraut… In a little room underneath the monastery, we basically spent a Saturday afternoon grounding up about 8 boxes of cabbage (trust me… that’s a lot of cabbage) and dumping it all into this huge bin, adding salt and hammering it down until the juices (water) in the cabbage came out… Then we sealed it and are now allowing it to ferment for about a month… Apparently, it gets really hot too as it ferments so periodically, a few of us guys are definitely going to be checking it out to see how it’s going… And that’s been my update for you so far… Have a Happy All Saints Day!!! God bless!!!20111030-094638.jpg