| By Bishop Steven J. Raica

Thanksgiving, Renewal, and Joy

Three Benedictines Celebrates Jubilees

Abbot Marcus, Abbot Cletus, and Brother Charles,

My brother bishops (Bishop Baker and Bishop Spaulding from Nashville), Abbot Placid, priests, deacons and religious women and men here today for this great Jubilee celebration,

To your families and all friends of the St. Bernard Monastery here in Cullman, how welcome you are! Thank you for inviting me to be here today to be part of this grand celebration.

On behalf of all of us at the Diocese of Birmingham, we, too, rejoice with you today with deep gratitude for the Benedictine presence and mission among us.

It was 50 years ago that you began on your respective journeys, marked by wonder and enthusiasm for the Gospel and the charism of St. Benedict. “Ora et labora” (prayer and work) would guide your ministries as envisioned by the founder. Indeed, it is a beautiful journey that brings us to this day.

Who would have imagined the things you have seen and experienced! I am always amazed at what the Lord can do and does do ever since saying “yes” to His call - and following “Him.”

St. Benedict makes the following observation, “Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.” In our rites we often conclude with a similar statement, “May God who has begun this good work in you, bring it to completion.”

Perhaps as we rejoice with you today, may I propose three words for our reflection: 1) Thanksgiving or gratitude, 2) renewal, 3) joy.

1) Thanksgiving: The Lord takes us where we never could have imagined. That was certainly true for me. I never imagined myself in ministry here in Alabama – let alone to visit Alabama. A couple years ago, I would have said, “You’re crazy” to think I would be in Alabama at an event marking the golden jubilees of three Benedictines. Life and ministry are always a surprise at every turn. Since I’ve been here, I have met so many wonderful faith-filled enthusiastic individuals that, like you, I can only say, “Thanks.”

The three of you have had an amazing journey so far for fifty years, most of which you have never imagined. You took a risk by saying “yes.” You may have even thought – my ministry will be “x” and I’d be content with that. Then, you are asked to do some work that wasn’t even on your radar, work that you may have never been prepared for. We step out in faith like Peter telling our Lord, “Tell me to come to you” on the water. We step out in faith, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus lest we find ourselves sinking. We can recount many times when we have been caught by God’s mercy. In all these events, we utter our “thank you” that the presence of God remains with us. Even more so, that presence is acknowledged and recognized in the daily Horarium – Liturgy of the Hours and the celebration of Holy Mass – the great act of Thanksgiving daily.

2) Renewal: The experience of monastic life and the experience of the Church today are similar but very different than when you first entered community life. In some ways, it has changed a lot! In other ways, there are some familiar touchstones that ground your monastic life in the rhythm and routine. The renewal of the Council over 50 years ago, the renewal of mission as elaborated by the Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata by Pope St. John Paul II, indicates with these beautiful words that: “Western monasticism is the heir of the great number of men and women who, leaving behind life in the world, sought God and dedicated themselves to Him, ‘preferring nothing to the love of Christ.’ The monks of today likewise strive to create a harmonious balance between the interior life and work in the evangelical commitment to conversion of life, obedience and stability, and in persevering dedication to mediation on God’s word (lectio divina), the celebration of the Liturgy and prayer. In the heart of the Church and the world, monasteries have been and continue to be eloquent signs of communion, welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things of the spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the earthly city itself, in expectation of the heavenly city.”

The challenge of renewal today is ever more relevant as we seek to be a “sign of contradiction” in a world whose values become ever more unfamiliar and, at times, antithetical and unwelcoming to people of faith. Monastic life boldly proclaims: There is another way! In other words, what is needed today to meet the challenges of the Gospel in our world? As part of a large family, establishing a culture and dialogue, helps to bridge the gap in the hopes of establishing a place where the Kingdom of God can reign in glorious splendor.

3) Joy: Every Jubilee is a moment to rejoice at what the Lord is doing in our midst. It is always a sense of accomplishment when we can arrive at anniversary celebrations. Today, the three of you represent more than 150 years of ministry. Knowing that life and ministry has not always been easy, we come with a sense of amazement and wonder at what Jesus continues to do for us and with us. There will still be many more surprises for us that remind us that Jesus is accompanying us on this magnificent journey. It truly is the Joy of the Gospel that enables us to do what we do and to be who we are meant to be. For “Consecrated men and women are sent forth to proclaim, by the witness of their lives, the value of Christian fraternity and the transforming power of the Good News, which makes it possible to see all people as sons and daughters of God, and inspires a self-giving love towards everyone, especially the least of our brothers and sisters” (VC 51). This joy must characterize and radiate the enthusiasm must be an essential part of your tremendous vocation and mission in the world under the patronage the St. Benedict.

Abbot Cletus, Abbot Marcus, and Brother Charles – these are the words I leave with you – thanksgiving, renewal, and joy. It is a great honor to be here with your community, family, and friends to thank God for your response to God’s call and your vibrant steadfast witness of faith. May we walk together sowing the seeds of hope and love as we fulfill our respective calling from the Lord Himself.

May God bless you!

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