Presentation to Oblates of St. Mary Monastery, October 19, 2019
This presentation was originally published in Benedictines, Fall/Winter 2019, volume 72 number 2, pages 23-27

Waiting in Joyful Hope: 

Part I: Christ the Source of our Hope

by  Sister Susan Hutchens, OSB, St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, IL

Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here with you today.

I begin with a concept Abbot Primate Gregory Polan shared in his presentation on the Biblical meaning of hope given last February. Probably at least once a day you hear someone (or yourself) say something like “I hope this beautiful weather lasts till Thanksgiving” (don’t we all?!) Or maybe. “I hope my child does well in school this year.”  Or “You can hope all you want, but they are never on time!”  Sound familiar?  You may be acquainted (I realize this dates me) with the 60’s release of a song entitled “Wishin and Hopin” made popular by Dusty Springfield.  How often we say “I Hope” when we really mean “I wish.”  Hope, however, from a Biblical and theological stand point is not “I wish.” But as Abbot Gregory said: Hope “is a virtue deeper and more profound than its common usage.”1  Let us take a look, then, at hope in a theological context. 

Nearly 40 years ago, I spent a summer at St. John’s University in Minnesota completing my preparation for Comprehensive exams for my Master’s degree in theology. My topic’s focus was Hope.  Those were the years when St. John’s had a variety of ways to take one’s comps. My method was termed the “integrated paper”: one chose a topic in one’s primary field of study (mine being Systematics) and then integrated it with two other fields. I chose Scripture and Liturgy.  Having prepared a brief paper (as papers go) there were assertions made at the end regarding the topic, and the task of the comprehensive oral was to defend the assertions by responding to questions asked by the Board. 

Abbot Jerome Theisen, OSB of St. John’s Abbey, was the lead on my comps board and asked the first question on some thought of Karl Rahner.  I was thoroughly prepared for that, since he told me he would raise the bucket from that well first.  The last to ask their first question of many, was the Scripture professor, Dr. Phyllis Tribble.  I will never forget the question she posed. She said. “As we read in 1 Corinthians (13:13) – “There are three that remain: faith, hope and love; and the greatest of these is love.  So, where does that leave hope?”

As I dug deep to respond without appearing to be too taken off guard, I remember Fr. Allan Bouley, OSB simply grinning behind his text.  I’ve thought of that many times over the years, in fact just about every time 1 Corinthians 13 is read! 

I can’t exactly tell you today what I answered then.  But I hope whatever I said is still what I believe.  There is no great, greater, or greatest when it comes to these three graces or virtues: God’s love draws us to all three. From that time of my studies, I have never felt that hope is just a “middle child” sandwiched in between faith and love.  French author and poet Charles Péguy, in his lengthy poem entitled: The Portal of Hope, refers to Hope as the little sister of faith and love, walking between her two big sisters who hold her hands, scarcely noticed by anyone.  He says of her: “It is she, the little one, who carries them all.  Faith sees what is; Charity loves what is.  But Hope loves what will be. In time and for eternity.” 2 

At every Vespers in our community, when we remember the deceased, we begin with the words, “source of all our Hope.”  Undoubtedly, the Resurrection of Christ is the foundation of our Hope. Christ is the source. Hope then becomes the foundation which carries us to faith, and ultimately leads to Love – our love of God, God’s love in us and for us, and our love for all of life and creation.  Hope is the draw, or as Lewis Ford says, the “lure”3, the nourishment of our soul. I love the term “lure”. It is not like that of a fisherman, who catches the fish with it. But more like a beautiful work of art that draws our focus to it, holds it there, and allows us to see more and more of the artist’s depth in the work. Of course, the word “lure” also harkens back to the Song of Songs in the Old Testament – a vivid love story to be sure.  Love stands on Hope. Without hope, there is no reason to love, because there would be no future for which to live.  Hope, as Charles Péguy writes “greets the day afresh and ever new”4 because the future is always beginning.  

Every time I enter our chapel I say a prayer for our architect.  The windows of the chapel reveal so much serenity and beauty that sometimes it is overwhelming.  At the moment, we are beginning to see the signs of the surrendering cycle of nature as Fall plays out and moves into winter. The leaves are changing color, and falling, and we know what follows: the woods will become gray and barren, and eventually white.  The grass will be brown and the gardens cleared.  When that happens, I delight in what is there.  But by the time mid-February arrives I look forward to the changes of Spring time that will soon be seen: the signs of new life that are just below the surface.  They may be hidden from our eyes for a while, but we know they will soon appear.  I don’t need to HOPE for them.  Truly I know, with what minimal astronomical and botanical knowledge I have, that Spring will come; the trees will get that delicate filigree light green appearance that we see from our Chapel windows before the leaves fully reveal themselves; the red buds will bloom.

Hope, as Scripture tells us, is for what we do NOT fully see5 – or know.  We haven’t seen eternal life – we believe with a sure and living faith that it exists and is there for us.  And we HOPE that it is! God has given us that assurance that our hope is not futile or in vain.  So, I repeat – the promise made by Christ’s Resurrection is the foundation of our HOPE.  Christ does not fail us; Christ can’t fail us.  Christ will not disappoint us in our hope, as we pray in our beloved Suscipe6, which we say at every funeral, profession and jubilee. [Receive me O Lord according to your word that I may live; and disappoint me not in my hope.] God graces us with the assurance of things hoped for – life forever with God.  

Upon hearing that I had been asked to give these presentations, one of my sisters asked me what the topic was to be. She is a brilliant woman, who now deals with the forgetfulness of aging, but still never ceases to amaze me with the poetry she remembers from long ago and quotes at length. When I told her it was Hope, she immediately shared with me, from memory, the words of an Emily Dickinson poem: 

Hope” is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all. 

So, what about this Hope? This thing with feathers the perches in our soul? What does it look like? Or feel like? How is it lived out every day? How is it both noun as well as verb? 

It is grace that enables us to hope.  It is always about gift when referring to Hope. When we receive that gift, we respond with gratitude.  It is the reason for life to move forward. Hope is the draw from God, the Lure to the Eternal.   I think Peter must have seen the future that way, because after his dismal failures: “Get behind me! Satan” (Matt 16:23), then in the garden when he slept, outside the Praetorium where he denied knowing Jesus, and at the foot of the cross – after all, he left and ran! - Peter returned when he recognized Christ and the great call that was his to assume a leadership role, in this new Way of Jesus. He must have been filled with hope at the prospect of Resurrection and what it might all mean, since he couldn’t possibly have understood it too well at that point.  

Pope Francis has said: “To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is Hope.”  He continues, “Hope is the virtue of a heart that doesn’t lock itself into darkness, that doesn’t dwell on the past, does not simply get by in the present, but is able to see a tomorrow.  Hope is the door that opens onto the future.”7  However, he  goes on to say that the only future worth building includes everyone! All of us – together.  

Hope is not just something ethereal, or pie in the sky. It is more than an “out there” idea. It lives in concrete form for example – whenever we receive help from others or give it ourselves in times of disaster, or sorrow.  

I was very conscious of this right after the school shooting of the 17 students in Parkland, Florida, last year.  Two events came to mind. 1) the thousands of students across the USA who walked out of school in silent protest that their lives do matter more than any gun, and the subsequent marches on Washington and all across the country which followed. That was Hope in concrete form. And I might add, this hope and these actions must continue, because there have not yet been many real responses to the request of those students for “no more guns.”  2) We had 5 young students from St. Bede Academy in Peru, IL who came to visit us one weekend. They were on a service trip and were spending hours on Saturday with our Sister Bobbi, who for many years and still supports a house for Mothers and children in transition.  They were delightful, happy about what they had done, generous of spirit, and wanted to share with us how the day had been, and other similar service projects they had done.  They were only sophomores – 15 years old.   

Those two events were Hope both noun and verb. Those young students not only give me hope, they ARE my hope.  They fill me with gratitude, with assurance that Christ is alive in our world, and Christ will lead us forward. Hope is made real by its presence in the NOW.  It is the presence in the NOW of a future that does not yet exist. And it is meant to be lived in JOY. I think too often we forget that – as we walk through our days sometimes with little expression on our faces, or emotion or passion in our hearts. 

The Psalmist tells us: “I waited patiently for the Lord who inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Ps. 40:1) “Inclined” is the New Revised Standard Version translation. The New American Bible uses “stooped to me.”  Perhaps today’s terminology would say “leaned in to me.” That is a phrase we hear a lot these days – one of those euphemisms that required me to read a book to fully understand it in the corporate world today!8  I like it.  “I waited patiently for the Lord who inclined to me and heard my cry.” (Ps. 40:1)

The idea of “God’s inclining to us, and our inclining to God” has withstood thousands of years from the time of the Psalms to Benedict, to now, and for us it doesn’t need any further explanation to be understood clearly. We understand ‘inclina aurem cordis tui’ – we incline the ear of our hearts, vs. 1 of the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict.  God inclines to us, and although no ear is mentioned in that Psalm text, it proceeds immediately with the words “and God heard my cry.”  Ears or not!  The implication is the same.

Throughout our entire life we lean toward, or “incline” our hearts and ears to God – to the hope of the future to which God calls us, and God does the same to us. 

Perhaps we “lean in” precisely because God is already and always luring us forward in Hope. Hope moves us to a future with God – without it we don’t move at all.  When he was a prisoner of war in Scotland, Jürgen Moltmann, the great scholar of Hope wrote: “One cannot live, often not even survive, without hope.”9  

Through prayer every day we incline our hearts to God. We don’t always know what we pray for, what words will come, or sometimes, even why we pray. These are the absent times of God. But it is our resource of hope, whether conscious or not, that moves us to prayer.

Jeremiah tells us: “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by water…in the year of drought it is not anxious, and it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jer. 17:7-8)   What is the fruit?  Even when we’ve had to close ministries we’ve been a part of for over 100 years (like we did with our Academy boarding school), or turn buildings over to a new entity and then watch them be torn down, or pull out of well-established works (in our case that would include many schools where we taught for years), or bring ministries to completion, or find ourselves in new ministries we have no idea how to run; even when in the eyes of how our non-monastic world defines success we seem to have failed, - we still bear fruit! – what is it?  It is JOY and it is HOPE. And we must yield the fruit of both.  When we closed our boarding high school Academy after 123 years of yielding the fruit of educating future generations, and after some months of grieving and looking ahead, we celebrated!  We had a bang-up party with 80 years of alums present and accounted for!  When I recalled that party sometime later, and the Eucharistic liturgy that brought us all together, I thought – we should have another party!  The tears flowed as I remembered some of the women who so proudly and graciously carried their class banners into the liturgy. However, JOY flowed along with the tears.

Prayer is that union with God that enables us to move toward a future about which we are always uncertain, unsure, and unable to predict. Think about it! Not one of us would have predicted 10, 20 or 50 years ago, the future that we know today: a future that wrought tremendous changes to our lives – internally with our own community policies and practices, and externally with things like technology, politics, our country’s place in the world order, or the place we, or you perhaps, now call home, let alone the decrease we see and experience in our Church populations, or within our own monastic membership.  Being too concerned about how the future will unfold can lead to a loss of energy for living every day.  So often when we think about all the horrible, inhuman, destructive things going on in our world and with creation we can almost become paralyzed by it. It becomes easy to lose the joy and the hope. 

Jesus knew his future.  But don’t we also?  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time over the years studying my genealogy – finding my roots.  Not that I needed to do this.  I came from a solid, wonderful, loving family, although I didn’t know much about who my ancestors were and where they came from. But for me, it is like a puzzle, and I have always loved puzzles.  Finding each new piece, its color and shape is exciting.  We have all studied our past as Christians – we too know where we came from and where we are going. That’s primary in why we are here in this very room today!  God is our future.  But, perhaps just as importantly – God is our Present, our NOW. If nothing else – all of salvation history tells us/proves to us that God is faithful (the Biblical concept of ‘hesed’) – if we believe that, how can we ever NOT have hope? Our hope rests on God’s fidelity.

While a high school teacher, I taught Church History. I used an outline which connected each period in history as it related to a “Model of the Church,” primarily those of Cardinal Avery Dulles. However, I included another model, neither his nor mine: but one that was directly named by Vatican II - that of the Church as Pilgrim10, and we as Pilgrim people. This is my favorite model - it speaks most deeply to me because of the idea of the Church spreading the good news through all the world. The Church was a pilgrim on a journey throughout history and still is. Life is a journey; it must move forward.  Hope is faith and love on pilgrimage. Having said that however, I agree wholeheartedly with Fr. Michael Casey who teaches “The ultimate meaning is NOT the journey – but the destination, which we know to be eternal life with God.”11 Just as the Church is in movement, so are we.  We are on a journey which began with our foundress, which brought her from Erie, PA to Chicago, IL to Nauvoo, IL, and which ultimately brought us here to Rock Island in 2001.  Your lives too are journeys – which began with your individual families, took you down various educational paths, vocational choices, marriage, careers, parishes, different cities, multiple homes, and ministries, and led you at this point to this community as Benedictine Oblates. So now we journey together.  And it is hope that sustains us.   

Some of you may be familiar with the music of Leonard Cohen, who died in 2016.  Cohen was a Canadian musician, singer-songwriter, poet, and novelist.  I first became acquainted with his music when he launched his musical career in the late 1960’s. The song of his which caught me first was “Suzanne”.  I was already familiar as a child with Stephen Foster’s “O Susanna” and then there was “Wake up Little Susie” sung by the Everly Brothers, and “Run Around Sue” made popular by Dion. None of those were too high on my list. But “Suzanne” was the first song with my name in it that moved me to prayer.   Perhaps his most famous song, with which many of you may be familiar, and which has been sung by countless artists, with many different verses added, is “Hallelujah”. 

Contemporary writers have said that Cohen was obsessed by two things in his music and in his life: sex and religion. I’ll concentrate on the latter. Cohen was raised in the Jewish faith, his maternal grand-father being a Talmudic Rabbi, and his father also an Orthodox Jew. He retained and claimed his Jewish heritage and connection throughout his life.  Yet he also pursued the beliefs of other religious traditions: both Christianity and Zen Buddhism. He spent 5 years in the 90’s in a Zen monastery in Los Angeles. He claimed later that what this contributed to his work and life was “survival” and that he emerged from that monastic experience with a unified heart. His works heavily referenced social justice issues, war and politics, as did so much of the music of the 1960’s. But he frequently included New Testament Scriptural references.  Although he claimed in his songs that he rarely understood those references, he used them, and they must have touched something deep within his being.  

Two other of his songs have also led me at times to pray, to cry, to feel strong emotional connection – and both are filled with HOPE. I will speak of both in these talks. One is entitled “If It Be Your Will;” the other “Anthem”.  

The first, “If It Be Your Will”, is a familiar prayer line from Scripture which he expanded.  It is about surrendering.  He chose the words on Jesus’ lips in the garden of Gethsemane, so we connect immediately to a situation of suffering. At this time in Cohen’s life he had been told that he might lose his voice due to a needed surgery.  That was no doubt a painful blow for a musician - one who spent his life writing and singing.

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for.

If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall rin
If it be your will
To let me sing.12

The melody is haunting and whenever I listen to this song, my heart envisions Christ on the cross, on the broken hill of Calvary, singing God’s praises through his final breath, re-birthing hope into the world.  

Sometimes I am on a hill that is broken – alone, or angry, or helpless or frightened. God carries me from my broken hill to a holy hill. 

What do we see from the hills we stand on? 

What do we miss because we refuse to climb some hills?

What did Christ see from the cross?

Imagine the most beautiful sight you can from the highest hill you have ever been on, or that you would like to be on.  (The hill doesn’t have to be a physical high place.)

Now imagine it even better.  That’s eternal life with God. That is God’s will for us. And THAT is what we hope for! 

This past Pentecost Sunday, we were in retreat here at the monastery. That morning I was praying and reflecting on the hope of the Apostles at Pentecost? 

What was their hope at that time?

  • That they would soon know all the answers to their questions about Jesus, about Resurrection, about the Father, and eternal life?
  • That they would finally be able to convert thousands upon thousands to this ‘new way’ shown by Jesus’ life of Love for all, Faith and Hope in eternal life?
  • That they would come to know the ultimate comfort of the “comforter”, and find ways to share that?
  • That they would finally be full of the joy Jesus promised?
  • That they would know what it meant to be told your sins are forgiven and truly have the grace and gratitude to believe it?
  • That the fruits of the Spirit would be the guide and compass points of their lives and that they would never feel a pull to veer off course again?

No doubt ALL of these were their hopes! 

What did truly happen?  They learned quickly that the joy, peace and stability of this life was passing, not ever permanent.  They would know pain, sorrow, bewilderment, hardship, condemnation, abasement.

Yet, they didn’t lose the HOPE promised. Nor have we:  We are here – we have been called to remain as “those who Hope’ – who have Faith, share love, and reach out.  This is US.

We say daily to God in our prayer – let it be your will, whatever the future holds for us. We too pray, that even if our voices as they are now are stilled, let us be true to the hope in our hearts – let us continue to sing praises, praises that shall ring out in gratitude for all that has been and will be. 

So today we ask – what is God’s will for us at this time, in this NOW?  And where will this journey take us?

There are many unsolved, very critical things that happen every day in each of our lives:  Sister Amy or Uncle Ray falls down and breaks a hip, and we discover they have bone cancer; without a warning, someone you love, or maybe you, is let go from a job held for a very long time, and faces retirement before they had planned it.  Not always such solid ground beneath our feet!

Resurrection asks us NOW to respond to God’s will as Jesus did - to trust enough in God’s call and gift to say YES each day to whatever moments of life and moments of death may present themselves.  Those requests all come from God and ALL are a part of God’s will for us.  Jesus’ triumph was that he accepted – in total love and gratitude from his Father, God’s will for him.

In John 6:38, one of my absolute favorite chapters in all the Gospels, we hear Jesus’ words: “The will of the one who sent me.”  Years ago, as a very young first professed, I chose that line as a mantra, - who knows why?  I guess I liked the sound of it, or I truly and fervently wanted to believe that God really did call and send me to my community, and that they would send me into various ministries.  But I probably had NOT an inkling of an idea what it would mean. The words spoke to me then, and still do.  The refrain has never left my brain – and always pops back just when I need to be reminded of it.  Of course, I’ve asked many times about things that are asked of me –

  • Are you sure there isn’t something else you would rather I do?  
  • Or someone else you would rather have do it?  
  • How will I ever get through this?  Or past it?  Or over it? 
  • Isn’t there another way to Resurrection?”Is this really your will?

God always just answers with “YES it is – you are mine. And you know what else? You are already saved.  Accept the life, the call, today’s request – and accept too that you are saved NOW.”  We are living in salvation.  Can we even comprehend it?  Even the difficult things lead us each moment to LOVE, by FAITH and with HOPE.  When we fully understand the meaning of hope that leads to love, then there are actions in our lives that will and must ultimately bring about change for good in the lives of others.  That is what the children in my previous examples were showing us by their actions of walking in solidarity and service: they understand that lure, which we know as the love of God which called them to actions, even if they may not be conscious of God at work in them.

Luke 18:35-43 tells the story of the blind beggar who encounters Christ on the road – on his own journey. When Jesus asks him “What do you want me to do for you?”  he responds, “Lord please let me see again.” Is that our answer to Jesus questions of us today when he asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” 

How are we responding? Perhaps we are saying:  Let us see the way forward; let us know what the darkness holds – we too want to be in the light. And how does Jesus answer? Look around, have faith, maintain Hope, never stop loving. What you see is the NOW;  it is enough.  Move forward with that.

Of what does our ‘desire for God’ consist? When we entered community the first question we were asked was “What do you seek?”  This may sound a bit familiar.  At every stage along the way of formation, we were asked it over and over. I believe the same is true at each stage of formation of a Benedictine Oblate. The question doesn’t stop being asked even when we make our perpetual profession. We hear it again at every Jubilee: “What do you seek?”  As an aside, some years ago I was blessed to be present at a Sunday Eucharist in Scotland, when a ceremony to receive a new altar boy was taking place. I was so surprised and delighted to hear the priest ask the excited child, “What is it you seek?”  

Perhaps it is truly the question for all Christians.  We are here, as a professed Sister or a committed Oblate, precisely because we seek God. This desire, which each of us had years ago, and probably could barely even voice back then, was to quote Fr. Michael Casey “a movement of our being beyond ourselves, even beyond this world into a transcendent reality that we cannot fully perceive or understand. This was an invitation to undertake a journey.”13  By the grace of God, we are all here today.  

Two thousand years ago, those who were sparked by the words and actions of Jesus asked in curiosity: “Lord, where do you stay?”  (cf. Luke 1:38) Another way of saying that might have been, “On what ground do you stand, do you exist, do you live?”  What ground do we stand on?  Is it with Jesus?  Is it a ground that is stable (after all, stability is a Benedictine promise), that doesn’t shrink from adversity, from fear, from the unknown?   Our answer has always been YES.  And I believe that it remains YES.  We are still on this journey, this monastic road.  We don’t know clearly where it is headed today, where it will take us, or what road we should take when it forks.  And surely it will fork at some point. 

There is a saying attributed to Saint Edith Stein: We do not know where God leads; we only know that it is God who is leading.  There can be no holding back; we follow where Jesus leads. That’s what our life is. And Yes, it is forever changing.  Blessed John Henry Newman reminds us “Here below, to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”14  We must accept this. After all, the concept isn’t new.  When it comes to monastics – first there were hermits, then there were cenobites, then they left the enclosure, and eventually there were Oblates who committed themselves to follow the Rule of Benedict in a way that worked outside the boundaries of vowed religious life. We can’t really know what is coming next, because we haven’t yet lived it!  But God is always leading.  And if we are willing to be led, by God, by one another, and to let go of whatever holds us back, we will move forward to this future.  But we will always go together, never alone. 

Together we still seek God, we still say Yes – we still desire this way to God.  The fact that much is uncertain about the road on which we must travel causes perhaps more anxiety, but the lure from God stays the same.  Keep moving forward, do what needs to be done.  “I am with you Always!” (Matt. 28:20) Christ tells us.  And celebrate along the way – share the JOY of this life!  Yes, it requires constant adjusting, infinite patience, unending and intense prayer, and a deep, deep love from which we operate every day.  What makes all of those possible – is a radical HOPE that does not end. 

Several years ago, at our Federation of St. Benedict Chapter we used as our theme: Monastic life without a road map.  Simply because there is no map, does not mean there is no way or that we don’t know what we are doing, or where we are going.  We are going to GOD - because God is still leading us forward.  Isaiah says of the Journey: “A highway shall be there; it shall be called the Holy Way, and on it the redeemed shall walk.” (Is. 35: 8)  We ALL are the redeemed – let us not forget that.  

While at St. John’s I was never fortunate enough to take a class from Fr. Godfrey Diekmann OSB, but I knew he shared an idea with his classes that we all too often forget: that we are already living in the time of salvation.  It was Pope St. Leo the Great whose homily one Christmas opened up this phenomenal thought in a most beautiful way:  

“Today our Savior is born; let us rejoice. Sadness should have no place on the birthday of life. The fear of death has been swallowed up; life brings us joy with the promise of eternal happiness.  No one is shut out…[even though] no one is free from sin. Christian, remember your dignity, …now that you share in God’s own nature.”15

A powerful thought!

Do we live like we truly know our dignity as sharing in God’s own nature?  As if we are already living in the time of salvation?  This is the NOW.  We are called as monastic men and women to act daily knowing the truth of this. If we did, then living HOPE – the noun – would be easy!

The historical book of Judith is probably not one we spend a great deal of time with in our lectio. It is rather gory, and filled with the drama of war, power, intrigue, poverty, death, possibility, and daring. When Judith completes her act of murder and self-defense against Holofernes and returns to the Israelite camp (with his head) to tell the story and the ending, she is acclaimed by the people with the words: “Your deed of hope will never be forgotten, by those who tell of the might of God.” (Jdt 13:19 NAB)  Quite an acclamation!  Our monastic foremothers and forefathers lived deeds of hope when they came to this country, planted roots and crops, filled ministries, built buildings of wood or stone, and hung bells in great towers to ring out the praises of God. All our ancestors lived deeds of hope when they ventured to this country, cleared fields, raised families, started businesses and faithfully attended Churches to praise God. Those who are currently at our southern borders seeking new lives on the soil of this country, are doing so out of a deep hope. Nothing else could explain their endurance on the journey they have undertaken to get here. As all of these are remembered, so will the deeds of today’s monasteries and all monastics continue to be remembered – living the joy, no matter to what that calls us, or where it takes us.  

Our hope must be joyous. We need to be that joy, to let others see it in us, to let our hope be imbued with joy, our lives lived in joy, our homes, lands, businesses and institutions held and cared for in joy.  Yes, there may be a bit of difficult, demanding, and even drudging work thrown in. But that doesn’t take away joy, unless we let it.  We speak of “Outstanding Hope’” – our hope should be “standing out” to those who have little to hope for in their lives, who feel only pain and despair when they think of each new day, let alone when they face that all too frightening concept – “the future.”

In a recent “Global Sisters Report” article in the National Catholic Reporter, the author noted that “it wasn’t Christian laws or juridical structures that assured the centuries long existence and flourishing of Christianity.”16  As I read that, it struck me that neither was it the Rules, or Canon Law, or Church structures that initiated monasticism in the 2nd-3rd centuries, nor which helped it spread across the entire Mediterranean area before the days of Benedict. Even today, our monastic lives stand a bit outside of Canon Law, or other church structures – and it will not be because of them that monasticism survives or doesn’t. It will be because we either live the joyous hope of the Incarnation – Christ here with us Now, and the Resurrection – the ultimate assurance of our future forever with God, or because we let those outrageous truths and beliefs fade within us.  

Deceased author Brian Doyle wrote:

“[There are] two Catholic churches, one a noun and the other a verb, one a corporation and the other a wild idea held in the hearts of millions of people… [who] walk through the business of life with grace and humility.”17  

I think Benedict might add, (and certainly Pope Francis would)  

“and with one another.”

This is who we are; this is US; modern day Monastics, including you. Striving to walk through life with grace and humility, steady, clear about our lives, our choices, our call, our on-going conversion, our fidelity to this Benedictine life, its charisms and values.  Not brilliant – but nonetheless shining with the light of God.  That was true beginning in the 5th century and has continued all the way to the 21st century.   What undergirds this wild idea we live as monastics is HOPE – for the Resurrection, for life, for the sheer joy of Joy – that comes from Faith whose depth can be compared to the depths of the universe.  At least, it is as deep as our hearts. 

In the process of living our monastic call, we become more of who we are called to be as humans.  Is that not what life following the rule of Benedict is doing? – making us more human, more sensitive, more caring and loving as Jesus was – is that not what we give to our families, co-workers, those we meet, those we serve, and all with whom we come in contact?  including each other?  That is what also brings hope to the world. Nothing outlandish, nothing but life lived in the spirit of Jesus.  

We read today that this is what people are longing for – a connectedness that is by no means being satisfied by the internet or Instagram, on an android or I-phone!  It is what millennials are desiring, even though they don’t desire it in the same places perhaps that we do. They long for spiritual growth and community. And according to reports out, they are finding it in communities of a different type than ours, not necessarily religious, but still communities: whether gathered around a table, at the gym, on a commuter train, online, or around a social justice issue.  Can our wisdom for living this spiritual growth and community be shared with them in a way that touches their hearts, speaks to their brains, and draws them in?  Can we convey to them the hope we bear even if they never enter our communities, or cross our door-steps, or become Oblates?

Louise Penny, mystery novelist, described the sadness of an artist afraid to branch out in his art choices. A friend says to the artist: “Fear lives in the head. And courage lives in the heart.  The job is to get from one to the other.”18   In pondering that, I believe it is hope that takes us from the head to the heart. Hope isn’t, by itself, a “heady” thing.  It resides in the heart, in the very ground of our being. Even when “we know we don’t know”, we don’t understand what is happening around us, hope says: it doesn’t matter if we understand.  What does matter is that our hearts, filled with hope, love, life, joy, and faith beyond ourselves still beat with the rhythm of the music of Resurrection.  That is our hope every day!  

Returning to the songs of Leonard Cohen, the other one I referred to, entitled  “Anthem,” speaks of new Beginnings. He sings a refrain: “Ring the bells that still will ring.”19  

In recent years the bells of a number of religious communities and monasteries and Churches have gone silent.  At least one monastery in every Federation or Congregation in the US, both men and women, has come to completion. Not to mention the hundreds of parish churches that have been closed. That is a truth. We acknowledge it; we grieve for it. We carry it with us in memory and in prayer.

But life continues, and sorrow can turn to joy.  I am not speaking now about those bells in our bell towers or banners, cupolas or steeples.  Not just the bells that call us to prayer, or meals, or Jubilees, or Eucharist.  No – we must look deeper within our Benedictine hearts and lives for the bells that ring within US.

These bells are not silenced ever – unless we allow their notes to die out within us.  These bells within still call us to pray daily, to live joyfully, to reach out to those in need, to love unconditionally those with whom we work and live, and to whom we minister.  These bells are NOT silent.  They still ring!  They are the bells that matter most to a world in need of our music, our joy, our love, our ability to stand firm, our willingness to witness the truth of our lives, our gift of peace within our homes and monasteries that draw others to be with us.

We are the BELLS that still will ring. Let us be that beautiful sound – witnessing Praise, Joy, and HOPE.  Let each of us ring out the song of Christ, the source of all Hope every day of our lives.


1)  Polan, Abbot Primate Gregory, OSB.  Presentation to Abbots and Prioresses, February 23, 2019 at St. Bernard Abbey, Cullman, Alabama

2) Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing 

Company, p. 11.

3) Lewis S. Ford.  The Lure of God.  Philadelphia, PA: Freedom Press, 1978.

4) Péguy, p. 11.

5) cf.  Romans 8:24

6) Suscipe: “Receive me O Lord, according to your will that I may live; and disappoint me not in my hope. (Sung by Benedictines at the time of Professions, Jubilees, Funerals.) 

    cf. Psalm 119:116 and Rule of Benedict, Chapter 58.   

7) Pope Francis.  TED talk, Wed, April 26, 2017.  “The Future Has a Name – Hope”. talk.html.

8) Sheryl Sandberg and Nell Scovell. Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead.  

New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

9) Jürgen Moltmann, “Foreword” to M. Douglas Meeks. Origins of the Theology of Hope, Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1974.   As quoted in Walter Holden Capps, Hope Against Hope: Moltmann to Merton in One Theological Decade. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1976. p. 38.  

cf. Jürgen Moltmann. Experience of God.  Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1980.  p. 7.

10) Documents of Vatican II. Austin Flannery, OP. gen. ed. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1975.  Lumen Gentium: Dogmatic Constitution on The Church, 1964.  Ch VII: The Eschatological Nature of the Pilgrim Church and its Union with the Heavenly Church.” §50.

11) Michael Casey, OCSO.  The Road to Eternal Life.  Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press. 2010.  p. 30.

12) Leonard Cohen.  “If It Be Your Will.”  Released 1984 on album “Various Positions.” 

13) Casey, The Road to Eternal Life, p 160.   

14)  John Henry Cardinal Newman.  An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1845

Chapter 1, Section 1, Part 7.

15)  Pope St. Leo the Great. remember-your-dignity-st-leo/

16) Kathryn James Hermes, FSP.  “Be the Christmas You Celebrate.” As found in National Catholic Reporter, Global Sisters Report, Dec 19, 2017. 

17)  Brian Doyle. “A Prayer For You” in Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised                            Grace.  Franciscan Media, 2017.

18)  Louise Penny.  The Long Way Home.  New York: St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books. 

p. 277.

19)  Leonard Cohen. “Anthem.”  Released 1989 on album “The Future.”