I was merely a freshman coming to the close of a busy year at the University of Notre Dame. I had made friendships that seemed miraculous, but my life was also hit every once in a while with stress. Architecture itself can be stressful and I was having trouble trying to balance studio, friendships and my new group that hoped to follow in the footsteps of Newman’s Tractarians. I was trying to understand what it meant to be called to marriage and yet living in a world where I was too young to get married (under “normal circumstances). I was struggling with the very idea of vocations. I was tired, confused and only a little immature.
And then I remembered my dream.
When I was 12 years old, I wanted to be a Cistercian. I’m not sure why. It may have been the model train set in the basement of the Abbey in Wisconsin (sadly now closing), or it may have been the habits. I think they were my first exposure to monks praying the Hours and I loved the monastic setup–the community, the building in which they lived. In essence, I grew to love Western Monasticism.
This is of course not about my dream, but about what my dream prompted me to do after that first year of college. Like I said, I was exhausted from all that had happened throughout the year and needed a rest. Between the end of Senior Week (which I stayed for because I was on Liturgical Choir and they sing for stuff) and a Campus Ministry Symposium (which I also went to because of Choir) there was a week where I had nothing to do. I couldn’t get a summer job because I was leaving the next week for the Symposium.
Now, I wouldn’t blame myself for just wanting to go back home, sitting around writing, reading and playing music. You know, the things I love. I could have had lazy-week with nothing to do (until the chores came around, ugh). However, to get out of doing chores (perhaps one of my motivations?) I suggested that I go on a retreat to the Trappist Abbey in Dubuque Iowa. It was only 3 hours away from Milwaukee and I had to go back to ND the next week anyway. I contacted the guesthouse (the guest-master was a former student of my dad’s) and I arranged to stay at the Abbey for four days.
For weeks, I looked forward to what I was sure would be an awesome experience. I won’t turn around now and say that it wasn’t. Instead, let me tell you what actually happened.
With my mother and brother, I drove to Dubuque (which is a beautiful little city on the banks of the Mississippi) and we pulled into the Abbey Parking lot.
I won’t describe in detail those four days because it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. However, one of the things that made it special was praying the Liturgy of the Hours with the monks, Compline especially. Here is a video of it:
The thing about Compline is that it is one of the framing Hours. In the morning, Lauds is prayed to greet the day and at night, Compline is prayed to prepare us for a blessed sleep. “Protect us lord as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep that awake we may keep watch with Christ and asleep rest in his peace.” The psalms are about God’s protection in times of trial, the readings are about staying alert.
But when Monks do it, chanted, it becomes something so powerful that to be united with it truly feels like being united to the work of Christ. The harmonies that strain to be heard over the solemn tone suggest the multifaceted nature of God’s love for us.
The title of this piece is from the psalm sung in the recording. Through the experience of this retreat, I was freed from much of the stress of the year. I went on retreat maybe to escape, maybe to find peace. I certainly found it. But you see, I didn’t suddenly want to become a monk. It had almost the opposite effect and not because I hated it. It was because I loved it. I loved it as something that I could witness. The peace that the monastic life exudes is not necessarily present in the monks themselves. It can be, but there is always tension. But when coming together in prayer, the monks have the uncanny capability of showing us laymen what it is to discipline yourself–to be a disciple. And when we stop for a moment in our busy lives, say “enough is enough,” and let the peace in, our Lord will free us, for we have chosen to cling to Him.