Winter Retreat (Day 1)

Monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
Cambridge, Massachusetts

February 10, 2015

Travel. Arrival. Settling In.
Part One
Of Scholastica, Clement, John, and Genesis

Gracie the Dog and I set out this morning from Garden City NY just after 5:30 am. A blessedly uneventful drive through Connecticut brought us by 10 am or so into the cities of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Just west of Boston, in Newton, snow was still falling as we passed through. The side streets of Cambridge and Somerville are jammed with snow, considerably narrowed. As one drives through to either side are huge irregular piles of snow, sometimes with a snatch of red or blue or green peeking out, sometimes with a side-view mirror protruding. They, of course, are all not mere snowbanks, but car and truck snowbanks. I suspect someone who knows well the shape of various makes and models might have fun guessing what’s underneath!

We stopped at Little Sisters of the Poor in Somerville to visit Mom. While there, I went with her to Eucharist in their quite lovely chapel on the second floor. We had good conversation and I promised a return visit this Friday. Off then to Arlington to visit my friends the amazing Bell family, and there to leave Gracie to visit these days her buddy Lily.

I was telling Brother Luke here after Eucharist this evening (yes, I have been to Eucharist twice today once in the Roman Catholic church and once in the Episcopalian – more on that later!), that the most onerous part of the journey was struggling through between huge snowbanks on partially cleared and narrow paths to move from the University parking garage to the Monastery. I made it, received a good welcome from Guestmaster Tom, unpacked and slept an hour before heading to the chapel for some prayer time and then the evening Eucharist.

I am in room 4. Each room is dedicated to a saint. Number four’s patron is Saint Clement. I take this as a beautiful reminder of the four years I spent in the (now no more) Saint John’s Seminary College across the Charles River in Brighton. The College was housed in Saint Clement’s Hall, a building composed of sections built, I believe, circa 1940 and 1956. Though only those few years separated their construction, one was definitely known as the ‘old building’ and the other as ‘the new.’ That structure for years now is owned and maintained by Boston College. Back in the time I lived and studied there many amazing people taught and learned there. In the time B.C. has had Saint Clement’s, there are still wonderful people there, some of whom I was privileged to come to know decades later when I worked for Boston College.

“. . . under the protection of Saint Clement . . .”

Perhaps this little retreat should all be under the protection of Saint Clement. I am told the name can refer to four or five different meritorious fellows throughout Christian history. I am going to take the name on the door of room 4 here on Memorial Drive, and on the building across in Brighton, both to refer to Pope Clement I who died as a martyr around 98 AD.

There is a letter from late first or early second century long attributed to Clement. It is addressed to the church at Corinth, after disunity had erupted among them, leading to several elders of the community being removed from office. In the midst of trouble all around, and is our day not certainly the same, Clement in chapter 20 speaks of the beauty and the order of creation as to be highly valued and as an example to humanity of the harmony that likewise could exist among us. This is what he wrote:

The heavens, revolving under His government, are subject to Him in peace. Day and night run the course appointed by Him, in no wise hindering each other. The sun and moon, with the companies of the stars, roll on in harmony according to His command, within their prescribed limits, and without any deviation. The fruitful earth, according to His will, brings forth food in abundance, at the proper seasons, for man and beast and all the living beings upon it, never hesitating, nor changing any of the ordinances which He has fixed. The unsearchable places of abysses, and the indescribable arrangements of the lower world, are restrained by the same laws. The vast unmeasurable sea, gathered together by His working into various basins, never passes beyond the bounds placed around it, but does as He has commanded. For He said, “Thus far shalt thou come, and thy waves shall be broken within thee.” The ocean, impassable to man, and the worlds beyond it, are regulated by the same enactments of the Lord. The seasons of spring, summer, autumn, and winter, peacefully give place to one another. The winds in their several quarters fulfill, at the proper time, their service without hindrance. The ever-flowing fountains, formed both for enjoyment and health, furnish without fail their breasts for the life of men. The very smallest of living beings meet together in peace and concord. All these the great Creator and Lord of all has appointed to exist in peace and harmony; while He does good to all, but most abundantly to us who have fled for refuge to His compassions through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom be glory and majesty for ever and ever. Amen.

Words still beautiful and true and quite applicable the better part of twenty centuries later. These words ring out to me especially tonight because, at both Eucharists at which I was present the first reading was from the account in Genesis of the seven days of creation, to be precise the fifth and sixth days, including the creation of man and woman and their relationship to one another and to all other creatures gifted with ‘the breath of life.’

At Little Sisters of the Poor the priest-celebrant, whom I had not seen for twenty years or more methinks, noted today as the celebration of the sister of Saint Benedict, Scholastica. He told the story of her fervent prayer overcoming her brother’s reluctance to remain overnight at her convent and to continue the rich conversation they had been sharing. Benedict said he had to go. His sister prayed and such a storm erupted that he could not possibly leave the place. “You see,” Scholastica said (on what turned out to be one of the final nights of her earthly life, “what you would deny me, God has given me.” You go girl! Tell that wise man where to stay, and why!

It happens that I am staying this week at a Benedictine house. Their hospitality, as has been true at every Benedictine foundation I have ever visited, is exemplary. One does indeed feel as if they could not be kinder if you were indeed the Christ. And here is a place of valued respite, quiet (even silence) and peace.

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