When others ask about how I arrived at St Benedict’s Abbey, the unlikely series of events, mishaps, and surprises that led me here surprise me more and more. Increasingly, the best response I have for them is simply, “Providence led me here. All the rest is happenstance!”
The first inkling that life was going to veer into unexpected paths came at baptism, or so I’m told. The infant me was in an uproar throughout the rite– up until the moment when the priest poured the holy water. I stopped crying and fell asleep, as though comforted. My parents dismissed it as my love of water. My great-grandfather whispered, “he is happy because he is Catholic.”
Although he was born in Dettelbach, Bavaria, Germany, Abbot Martin Veth had lived since the age of 10 in Atchison within the shadow of the Abbey. Elected at the age of 47, he guided St. Benedict’s for 23 years during times which were often fraught with economic crisis. All the same, these were times of significant transition and growth. St. Benedict’s College developed by stages from the model of a European gymnasium adapted to frontier conditions into two institutions; Maur Hill High School, a boarding and day school for boys, and St. Benedict’s College, a four-year, liberal arts, residential college for men.
Abbot Martin’s central concern was to enrich the spiritual life of the community and to impress upon its members that their greatest destiny was to become men of prayer. His promotion of a richer interior life went hand in hand with enhancement of the celebration of the liturgy of the Mass and of the Divine Office. Moreover, Abbot Martin’s conferences to the community and his retreats were grounded in the Church’s liturgy itself as the privileged source of grace and spiritual nourishment.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the Beatitudes. The Beatitudes takes us far beyond the Ten Commandments. They take us from the exterior to the interior. They all describe the dispositions, attitudes and character traits of the true disciple of God.
We note that all the Beatitudes deal with hardships and suffering. None of them speak of Heaven as though it could be found here on this Earth. Heaven is elsewhere.
Here below, in this world, there is not, and cannot be found, a perfect society, the perfect political party, the perfect religious community, the perfect marriage, or a full and uncompromised reception of God’s plan for us. There will always be imperfect people, who will shirk their responsibilities, stress only their rights, and ignore the common good. They will not keep the Commandments.
Sustain me, O Lord, as you have promised, and I shall live;
disappoint me not in my hope.
With these words sung from ten years ago to sixty years ago—and whether sung in Latin, English, or Portuguese—those of us who are celebrating our anniversaries of monastic profession today are mindful that those words of the psalmist demonstrated the absolute need on our part for genuine faith and confident trust. For we were making what would become lifetime commitments to the monastic life, lifetime commitments to this monastic community.
Having just celebrated the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we should reflect upon this great gift that God has given to us. Think about it: God, the Creator of the entire universe, wants to become our friend. He wants to enter into a personal relationship with us. He wants to draw us into his family, into the interpersonal communion of love and life that is the Blessed Trinity. God is our best friend!
We are mere creatures. None of us were here 100 years ago. We were nothing. But God called us into existence, collaborating with our parents. In another 100 years none of us will be living on the planet, Earth. Just our mortal remains will be buried here somewhere. But once God called us into being, we shall exist forever. Our destiny, God’s plan for us, is to be with God forever in Heaven, together with all the angels and saints. Only God can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you” (St. Augustine, Confessions, bk 1).
One week after their return from Panama, Father Denis Meade and Father Brendan Rolling received word that Brother Aelred Wetli had died.
The two monks had just returned from visiting the 97-year-old Benedictine.
Three weeks earlier Fathers Denis and Brendan had boarded a plane to Panama with instructions from Abbey business manager Father Maurice Haefling. Their task was to learn whether the work of Brother Aelred and the foundation he established would continue.
I wish that I were a more knowledgeable man, with a better grasp of the English language, so that I might put into words the truly wonderful experience I had at St. Benedict’s Abbey. I remain astonished at how a short visit could have such a lasting effect on my life.
Let me begin by saying that I have been away from the church for over 40 years. I never made a deliberate choice to stay away. It seems that raising a family, working two and three jobs at a time, simply caused me to drift from the church.
In 2003, my wife died after a long difficult illness. After two years passed, I felt that I wanted to come back to the church, but did not know how. Things had changed considerably in since 1967. I felt that potentially a religious retreat might help me find the answers I was looking for. I searched the internet and was unable to find any retreats for an individual. Then merely by coincidence I came upon St. Benedict’s. I made arrangements for a three-day retreat. No point in stressing God or myself too much at first.
The Solemnity of the Holy Trinity is the climax of the Eater Season. Jesus has accomplished his mission and returned to the Father in Heaven. He sent us His Holy Spirit on Pentecost who would guide the Church into the fullness of his teachings, and lead us into divine life. Now we focus our attention on the One God, the Blessed Trinity.
The Trinity is the greatest of all mysteries. God completely exceeds the capacity of our limited and dim minds to understand. (Recall St. Augustine’s experience seeing a boy at the seashore, attempting to pour the entire ocean, scoop by scoop, into his small hole.) Homilists always have a challenge with this Solemnity. There is an insurmountable distance between God, the Creator, and us, his creatures.
See photos of Bishop Matthias. • Bill Schmidt, later Matthias, Matt, or Oscar, saw the light of day in Nortonville, Kan., April 21, 1931. He was the youngest of two brothers and a sister. His father died in 1932. His mother, Anna, moved to Atchison where the Atchison Daily Globe employed her for many years. Oscar attended the local Catholic schools, graduated from Maur Hill in 1949, became a Hilltopper that same year and received the Benedictine habit March 12, 1951. His was the last class of Hilltoppers to have what is called “the devotional reception” of the habit. He and his class entered the novitiate June 28, 1951, made simple profession July 1, 1952, solemn vows July 11, 1955. A class of five took ordination May 30, 1957. He finished theological studies the following year, groomed for the study of biology he went to Wood’s Hole, Mass., for summer school. He returned to be prefect of the Hilltoppers and teacher of biology. He also taught religion at the Mount Academy and once gave a retreat for Lay Brothers at Holy Cross Abbey.