Podcast Transcript - April 13, 2017

Band of Brothers: Community Life, Part 2

FR. DENIS ROBINSON: To be a Benedictine, of course, it means being a religious, it means following the precepts of Christ in a very focused way according to theRule of St. Benedict. You know formally that's what it means to be a Benedictine. What it means to be a Benedictine, personally, is to have a band of brothers.

BR. JOEL: This is Echoes from the Bell Tower.

BR. KOLBE: Stories of wit and wisdom from Benedictine monks who live work and pray in southern Indiana.

BR. JOEL: We're your hosts, Br. Joel Blaize…

BR. KOLBE: …and I'm Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski. This episode is the second part of our series on community life.

BR. JOEL: If you didn't have a chance to listen to the first episode that aired two weeks ago, we recommend you go back and give it a listen. The last episode focused on community in the seminary, and this week's episode will focus on community and brotherhood in the monastery.

BR. JOHN MARK FALKENHAIN: The monastery community is supposed to be a foretaste of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

BR. KOLBE: This is Br. John Mark Falkenhain.

BR. JOHN MARK: It's supposed to be what we're all destined for as Christian men and women. So it's not a group of people that all have lots of things in common' as Abbot Lambert used to like to say - maybe he still says it - every kind of person that crawled out from under the rocks are in the monastery.

BR. JOEL: The monks of Saint Meinrad come from all ages, backgrounds, education levels, experiences and they even have different political views.

TheRule of St. Benedictsays all guests should be welcomed as Christ.Allguests, not just the pretty ones or the ones that are nicely groomed and smell nice or the ones you agree with or like.

BR. KOLBE: But even the smelly guy, the obnoxious person, the person whose political belief differs from yours. The same is true for the monastery. We are called to love everyone. Some people are easier for us to love and others are more difficult.

BR. JOEL: Here's Br. Elias Leeuw.

BR. ELIAS LEEUW: No community's perfect. There's always going to be dust-ups and you know people who you might not see eye to eye with and everything. But I don't think anyone came to the monastery thinking it was going to be perfect, and if they did, it was a rude wake-up call.

BR. JOHN MARK: Living in the community is also about living with close to a hundred other human beings - a hundred other men, and we're not all perfected just yet. And so we get on each other's nerves and we delight one another, we make one another laugh, we make one another angry.

BR. JOEL: This isn't a warehouse of perfect holy people. This is truly a school of the Lord's service where people are learning how to be holy. That's the real opportunity: to grow in one's capacity to love. The capacity to which we can love the difficult person is the capacity in which we're really growing in the Christian life and that's what this whole life is designed for.

BR. JOHN MARK: If we filled up the monastery with a bunch of people who are just like us and that we liked, it would be pointless. We would like it for a little while, but it wouldn't get us anywhere in our goals for this life.

Sometimes we come into community expecting it to be kind of a spa, when really it's a gym in the sense that at a spa everything is sort of done for you so that you feel peaceful and good and relaxed and happy and healthy. That's not the monastery.

The monastery is a gym where you come and you work out and you work at being more charitable and you build the muscles of charity and love. But the work is yours to do and we'll give you all the equipment you need in terms of the people and we'll give you a couple of personal trainers, which are your formation directors, but you have to do the work and it's tough work. But no pain, no gain, as they say.

BR. KOLBE: The two things the community really affords us are support and accountability. We need these two things if we're going to embark on a life of conversion, if we are going to change.

BR. JOHN MARK: Because change is difficult, we need people to support us when it gets tough. But then we also need accountability. We need people to say "Uh-uh, that's not acceptable" or "you said you were gonna do this and you haven't done it." Or, "you want to leave? Well I seem to recall you making a public vow." That's accountability. And so, yes, too bad that it's hard right now, but it was always gonna get hard. And so now you have to stick it out. But I'll be here for you now that it's hard and I'll offer you the support.

BR. JOEL: Friendships in the monastery are like concentric circles. You have two to three closer friends who you identify with and then there are the people who you know well and they know you well.

BR. KOLBE: Then there are the people you like. You might not be closer to them, but you enjoy their company. Then there's the larger community, which are the people you don't know well or maybe their personalities rub you the wrong way.

BR. JOEL: Over time, we really get to know our brother monks. We know whose throat clearing that is or whose footsteps those are and we know what he's going to do when fish is served. We know all of these little things about one another. And that's good. That's comforting. That's intimacy.

BR. JOHN MARK: What's rewarding for me in the monastic life is the intimacy that does happen - and by intimacy, I mean the phenomenon of truly getting to know people and having them know me over time, and then negotiating the times when we don't feel like we're understood or known, the times when we feel lonely, and then having learned finally that that is the doorway to a more intimate relationship with God. That has been the most profound thing for me in the monastery. I expected the community to lead me to God. I didn't expect the loneliness to lead me to God, and that was a great revelation and a wonderful surprise, if not a difficult one.

BR. KOLBE: Every monk has a role in the mission of Saint Meinrad, but everybody has a role in the common life of the brothers. Here is Fr. Christian Raab.

FR. CHRISTIAN RAAB: There's really kind of two values going on there. I mean, what you do to support the work of this community, and for some of us that's working in the school, for others it's been working at the Press or painting the walls or working in the garden. Everybody does something to kind of support the life and the work of this house, so that's one thing.

I think there's another aspect, which is just building up the fraternal relationships of the community. And so, eating together, having conversations with people, both light and deep. You know, taking the time to say encouraging words to each other, taking the time to check on people who look down and out. You know all those things are not jobs; they're not specific roles in our mission. Those are just things we do to support the fraternity of the house, and so that's really important, too.

BR. JOEL: When a monk joins the community, he is called a brother and that means he's a part of the community. Some men are ordained and they're named father, but they don't stop being brothers in the community.

BR. KOLBE: The brother monks, the ones who do not become priests, serve a really important role in the community.

The monks who get ordained tend get called away a lot more, to work in parishes or give retreats or for whatever reason. It's kind of typical that the brothers help hold down the fort and keep everything running here at Saint Meinrad. There are a lot of exceptions to this, though.

FR. CHRISTIAN: I sometimes think of our community as like an aircraft carrier, and so you know aircraft carrier means that you have these little planes that kind of take off on missions. They always come back. And our priests are often those airplanes. Our brothers are more like the pit crews who kind of hold this place together. Of course, there's a lot of overlap, and we have brothers who go off and do things outside externally. Br. Zachary goes and works in the prison as a chaplain there. We also have priests who are here fulltime, but that's kind of been a little bit of an informal delegation of labor, in terms of the priests and the brother monks.

BR. KOLBE: The monastery builds community in a similar way as the seminary, through a shared prayer schedule, through shared meal times and recreation. Small groups will take bike rides, play chess or Bananagrams, or some will take walks after dinner.

In addition to celebrating feast days, the monastery holds events scheduled around the calendar year, similar to the seminary. For example, there's a tree trimming party in December and a Halloween party in October.

BR. JOEL: Halloween is really three days of celebrating. There's Halloween on October 31, All Saints Day on November 1, and All Souls Day on November 2. Here's Br. John Mark.

BR JOHN MARK: I was just reading that sometimes it used to be called All Hallows Tide, meaning a little season of Halloween. And they have to be considered together because Halloween literally means All Hallows Eve. "Hallowed" means saintly or holy.

So All Saints Eve, so it's the eve of All Saints Day. And so there's some wonderful symbolism and images and traditions that have grown up around the relationship of these three days. And they happen in a time of year that, for most of us, whether you're in the monastery or not, is just a magical time of the year. I mean who doesn't love fall?

BR. KOLBE: All Saints Day is the celebration of all the saints we don't recognize by name throughout the liturgical year. We have the feast of St. Benedict and the feast of St. Meinrad, but All Saints Day is a celebration of everyone who has reached heaven and is perfected in God.

BR. JOHN MARK: It's this great feast of what we're all called to be and all destined to be. We're all called to be saints.

BR. JOEL: And so All Hallows Eve is the night before when we have this play of evil versus good.

BR. JOHN MARK: We have all of these scary, wicked, evil spirits that come knocking at your door saying, "Trick or treat," meaning I'm going to trick you or get you - I'm gonna get you unless you give me a treat, unless you placate me with something and then I'll go away.

And so the night before, we celebrate all of the saints we have to deal with the wicked people - the wicked spirits that are kind of still out there.

BR. KOLBE: All Souls Day is the day we pray for all of the people who died in the course of the year and are on their way to becoming saints.

BR. JOHN MARK: With our prayers, we are holding them up to God and asking Him for them to be brought into His light and His love forever. So we make it personal in that way, and personal because we have an investment in these people who have died, whom we have loved, that we hold up and we want them not to be the wicked people who come and knock at our door and try to trick us. But we want them to be the people that we celebrate with All Saints.

BR. JOEL: Every year, the candidates, novices and junior monks organize the monastery's Halloween party. This year Br. Elias organized the event. The night before Halloween, there is traditionally a pumpkin-carving gathering. This past year, the monks carved pumpkins on Friday. Here is Br. Zachary Wilberding and Br. Elias again. Br. Zachary is known in the monastery as one of the organizers of fun.

BR. ELIAS: We went to a local place over in Santa Claus, Pumpkins and More, and bought about 13-14 pumpkins and everybody just carved all sorts of different things.

BR. ZACHARY: And it's very interesting to see the creativity. My idea of carving a pumpkin is pretty basic, making triangular slits for eyes and nose and jagged teeth, try to make it scary and silly, but some people create artistic compositions with the pumpkins that are amazing to me.

BR. ELIAS: I know Br. Simon - he called his modern art, and some were more detailed than others, but it was a lot of fun. So that was Friday night.

BR. KOLBE: The pumpkins are often used as decorations for the big community party, which this year was held on Monday, the night of Halloween.

BR. ELIAS: And we had everything. We had cheese, we had crackers, wine, beer, soda, everything you could imagine. And we had one game.

BR. JOEL: The Halloween party usually has games. A couple years ago, the party organizers printed out pictures of heads and put them in jars and people had to guess who was in the jar. This past year, the game was the Fr. Aelred Cody Candy Corn Guessing Game.

BR. ELIAS: Fr. Aelred is deceased now, but the story I've heard about Fr. Aelred was, candy corn was all in a jar and you had to guess how much candy corn was in there. And if you guessed the right number, you got the jar. So Fr. Aelred went up to the jar and he looked at it and he kind of looked down and wrote his number down and he got it exactly right, so it was like 737 candy corn or whatever, and he got it exactly right. And everyone was asking him, "Did you just guess? Like how did you know, how did you get it?" And he told everyone that he was able to figure it out because he used solid geometry.

BR. KOLBE: At this year's party, no one guessed the exact number of candy corn. The rules were from "The Price is Right," so whoever was closest without going over won the jar of candy.

BR. ELIAS: Fr. Harry, he wrote Fr. Aelred's name on a piece of paper and said he was channeling him, and he wrote 734 and there were 728 in this jar. So he was closer, but the person who won was our good friend 98-year-old Fr. Bonaventure with a guess of 700. So we had that and we gave him the jar of candy corn, which he told me, "I can't eat this, I'm 98!" So he gave it to the nurses in the infirmary.

BR. JOEL: Traditionally, there's a skit at the Halloween party that's a take on saints or scriptural themes. In the past, someone read "The Raven" by Edgar Allan Poe.

BR. KOLBE: There's also been a pageant of Old Testament characters and the community had to guess who they were, based on how the monk was dressed.

BR. JOEL: When Br. Zachary entered the community, he began helping the juniors with the skits. His first year, they did a story about spirits of the underworld that were trapped above ground and the skit included a Halloween version of "My Favorite Things" from "The Sound of Music."

BR. ZACHARY: Bodies are falling and axes are chopping, that kind of thing. And Br. John Mark and I made up that song one day and so then we made up a little play so that it would revolve around that. And then we even had a dance number. Well, it was pretty funny. It was pretty ridiculous. And the community loved it.

BR. KOLBE: One year, they did the story of "Jonah and the Whale" from the Bible.

BR. ZACHARY: The juniors that year were brilliant. They made a huge cardboard whale with a movable jaw.

BR. JOEL: Then there was another time when they did the martyrdom of St. Denis. It's a story about St. Denis, who was the first bishop of Paris in the 200s, so 1,800 years ago. And he was martyred for his faith.

BR. ZACHARY: Now the story is that they chopped his head off and he stood up and picked up the head and put it under his arm. Walked all the way back to Paris preaching with his chopped-off head.

BR. KOLBE: Our Fr. Denis played St. Denis. He had his habit tucked up so you couldn't see his face, then he had a basketball with a photo copy of his face under his arm.

BR. ZACHARY: And that featured an angel draped in Christmas lights who came and took him off to heaven. Our stage set included the Eiffel Tower, the Cathedral of Notre Dame and a sidewalk café. St. Denis got thrown out of the sidewalk café because, after he was beheaded, he kept setting his head on the table. So, more silliness and craziness and not very well rehearsed. The secret to my skits is don't rehearse very well, because the more mistakes you make, the funnier they get.

BR. JOEL: The Halloween party is just an informal social event that gives us a chance to get to know some of our brother monks better. These kind of events give us a nice break in our schedule, and I think they're enjoyed by both our younger monks as well as our older monks.

BR. ZACHARY: When you create fun in the community and you do something maybe a little zany and comic, in my experience the older members of the community really enjoy that and I think what it means to them is, oh, there's life in this community. This is young life, this is imagination, this is good humor. We still have that among us. And so I think it's very important.

BR. JOEL: These events, these traditions, create a common history for us. They create memories that we share and in a sense we belong to one another because you've become a part of this memory for me and I've become part of that memory for you. They also give us opportunities to talk about past parties.

BR. ELIAS: They give way for a time to reminisce and kind of look back on we've done this for a while now and it's been good and we've had fun.

And I think that especially for us younger monks to hear those stories that some of us weren't even born when they happened, it's funny because you get that living history and it's stuff that we don't find in, you know, "The History of Saint Meinrad Archabbey" the book or anything, but it's the community history in that it's that unique perspective that not very many people see.

You can tell everyone how monks live and what we do, but actually living it and hearing these stories, you kind of, it starts to form your own identity and it starts to form your community identity. This is a community I want to be a part of because they're great, they're hilarious, they care about each other.



BR. JOEL: Thank you for listening to this episode on brotherhood.

BR. KOLBE: We hope you enjoyed learning about community life in the seminary and monastery. This podcast was edited and produced by Krista Hall, with the help of Br. Joel Blaize, Br. Kolbe Wolniakowski, Br. William Sprauer, Mary Jeanne Schumacher, Jim Paquette, Tammy Schuetter and Christian Mocek. The music for this podcast was written and produced by Br. Joel.

BR. JOEL: We would like to give a special thanks to Fr. Denis Robinson, Fr. Christian Raab, Br. John Mark Falkenhain, Br. Zachary Wilberding and Br. Elias Leeuw.

BR. KOLBE: We also want to thank everyone who has left us a review. Just a reminder, we are having a giveaway. If you leave a review for our podcast on iTunes, you can enter to win a prize pack. All of the contest details, including a picture of the prize pack, are on our website at saintmeinrad.edu/giveaway. The contest will end on May 10.

BR. JOEL: We have a lot more in store for this season of the podcast. Subscribe to "Echoes from the Bell Tower" on iTunes, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss our future episodes.

BR. KOLBE: To view some pictures from past Halloween parties in the monastery or listen to past episodes, visit our blog at saintmeinrad.edu/echoes.


BR. JOEL: Hi, my name is Br. Joel. You might remember me from, you know, the introduction of this podcast.

So I'm carving this here pumpkin and this year I decided to do a traditional, more or less traditional pumpkin, two eyes, mouth. In the past I've gotten a little bit more creative. I've tried for sort of photo-realistic pumpkin carving. The first year, I did Pulitzer Prize winner Damon Winter - that was fun. And last year I did Academy Award-winning composer James Horner. And this year I'm just, just carving a pumpkin.