Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church

Benedict, Bruce and a Band of Brothers

by Stephen Drees

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Last year at this time, I was serving as a spiritual director for a group of men going through the year-long retreat process Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP), a Christ-centered adult formation and renewal movement.

A group attends an initial weekend retreat where they hear another group share their life/faith stories - their ups and downs, successes and failures. At the end of the weekend, the group that just "received" the weekend then undergoes a year of discernship and formation, culminating in putting on a weekend as the "giving" team for the next group.

Along the way, participants learn about the Church, Scripture, their faith and themselves as it pertains to their relationship with God. In helping to lead this group, I found that Benedictine spirituality and prayer lend themselves naturally to the process and added tangible ways for the men to more fully engage and embrace the CRHP experience.

The men were exposed to the Divine Office and lectio divina - both of which became instruments for prayer and discussion within the group. Scripture came alive for these men - some of whom had little prior experience reading Scripture at all, let alone on a regular basis and reflecting on it.

They learned about the Benedictine ideal of balancing prayer and work every day and how finding that balance can materially change their lives. A St. Benedict medal (graciously blessed by Fr. Benedict Meyer at Saint Meinrad) was given to each man, as well as an explanation of the prayers and symbolism imbedded within the design of the medal.

As each man progressed throughout the year, it was touching to see how the group came together as a Band of Brothers - acknowledging and affirming each other's doubts, fears and hopes as fathers, husbands, grandfathers, brothers, single men. The year culminated in hosting the retreat for the new group - a weekend of Mass, prayer, reconciliation and hearing the faith witness of each man.

Just prior to each man sharing his testimony, a song was played that he had chosen to bring to life his personal story and journey. Amazingly, each song - however different - captured the essence of the story. One song in particular had a real impact on me and, interestingly, it was not a hymn, liturgical song or even a modern praise song.

It was a song by rock musician Bruce Springsteen called "Land of Hope and Dreams." He sings about people with different life experiences, disappointments, rejections and pasts - many of them sinful - and how they can be transformed into something hopeful if not outright sacred if they accept the gift (the ticket) that is being offered to them. 

You don't need no ticket
You just get onboard - people get ready
You just thank the Lord - people get ready
You just thank the Lord - people get ready
You just thank the Lord - people get ready

Come on this train - people get ready
Come on this train - people get ready

Since hearing this song on the retreat weekend, I have listened to it over and over - like a form of 21st-century lectio divina, albeit on a secular work with sacramental overtones. While Springsteen does not specifically say "who" is inviting the people to "get on board," the allusions to Jesus and His Church are striking.

The Church is full of saints and sinners and so is the train imagery Springsteen creates. Themes of forgiveness, mercy and salvation in this song are moving. The lyrics, "you don't need no ticket," suggest that you can't buy or earn your way onto the train - it's a gift. "You just get on board … you just thank the Lord."

As the artist, only Mr. Springsteen knows for sure what he is trying to convey. To me it sounds a lot like Christ's free offer of salvation for each of us; something only He can promise and deliver. That's where lectio led me. Listen to the song and come to your own conclusion:

As an oblate living in the world, I am happy to report back to the abbey that the ancient Benedictine way continues to be a powerful, tangible, and grounded spirituality that draws people into prayer, the Church, sacraments and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ! And as I found with my men's CRHP group, it's highly adaptable to real lives of everyday people.

At some point, I hope to introduce the men to Saint Meinrad Archabbey so they can experience the place and people who have become such an important part of my faith life. Who knows, maybe there are a few future oblates among the group or some people who would be moved and transformed by their first visit to a monastery, like I was many years ago. God only knows - that's why He is in charge.

When I drive to "The Hill" from my adopted hometown of Cincinnati, I typically play some Gregorian chant in the car, as well as take in long stretches of quiet that are so hard to find in my day-to-day life. Next time I go, maybe I'll mix it up a bit and play some Springsteen, too!

St. Benedict, pray for us.

Springsteen, Bruce. "Land of Hope and Dreams." By Bruce Springsteen. Wrecking Ball. Columbia, 2012.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.