We are called to build a monastery in our hearts Print
Bishop Hying's Column
Thursday, Sep. 19, 2019 -- 12:00 AM
Bishop Donald J. Hying's column

The center point of my spiritual geography is New Melleray Trappist Abbey, just west of Dubuque, Iowa. I have returned there often for retreats ever since I first visited at the age of 19.

Founded in 1849 as a daughter house of Melleray Abbey in Ireland, this monastic community rises at 3:30 a.m. every morning for Vigils, the first liturgical hour of the day. The monks’ days are filled with prayer, meditation, work, and silence.

From the first time I entered their beautiful stone chapel, I have felt profoundly embraced by God at New Melleray; some of my deepest prayer experiences have occurred there. If I could have ever convinced God that the Trappist life was my vocation, I would be peeling potatoes and scrubbing floors there as I write now!

Prayer and stillness

Obviously, most people are not called to live a contemplative vocation in a monastery, and many folks do not have the luxury of taking time away for a spiritual retreat. Nevertheless, we all need silence, prayer, reflection, and peace in our lives. We are called as Christians to build a monastery in our hearts where God can speak, act, and dwell within our soul.

The culture of today is so frenetic, anxious, preoccupied, busy, and stimulated that we must struggle to build a practice of prayer and stillness. Sometimes, it feels like everything in our society and life conspires against our spiritual growth.

It is so easy to put prayer and reflection on the back burner, because so many other pressing demands are boiling over on the front burners! We can easily go for days, months, and even years on such a treadmill of activity that a seriously intended spiritual life becomes a distant memory or an unattainable goal. I will really start praying when things get less busy, or so I think.

Ever since childhood, I have always felt the desire to pray, to reach out and make some connection with God. I struggle in prayer with distractions, I give prayer short shrift at times because of busyness, I sometimes despair that I have made any spiritual progress at all.

Invitation to prayer

Nevertheless, I feel that gentle yet urgent tug at my soul, the voice of Jesus calling me, saying, “Come away for a while and find rest for yourself.” God steadily invites us to put aside the things of this world which are fleeting and ephemeral to embrace and live the abundant life of God’s eternal love.

Every day, I need to spend time doing nothing worldly productive. Whether it is taking a walk, watching the sunset, cross-country skiing, reading a book, or simply sitting quietly in a chair, I find such pauses refreshing, humanizing, and nourishing. This leisure culminates in time spent in prayer with the Lord.

Finding a sacred place

I feel blessed to be living in Bishop Morlino’s apartment here at the Pastoral Center, which contains a small chapel. I have never lived with the Blessed Sacrament so physically proximate before, and I find the experience transformative. The silence and peace of time spent before the Eucharistic Christ is deeply restful and renewing.

You probably do not have a chapel in your house, but can you find a sacred place in the basement, in your bedroom, or on the back porch where you can daily pause to discover the beauty aof silence, the power of rest, and the presence of God, even for 10 minutes?

Maybe it is taking a walk at sunrise, sitting in a quiet corner after school, or slipping away before sleep to reconnect with God. My father would come home from his factory job every day at 3:30, go into his room, take a 15-minute nap, and then pray for 30 minutes. He never talked about it, but we all knew he was in there praying, and it made a difference, not only for him but also for us.

When I am on retreat at the monastery, I find the food tastes better, my sleep is deeper, I breathe more easily, and God appears omnipresent. In a world of fast food, 30-second sound bites, multiple sports activities, endless errands, and frenetic running around, maybe the most prophetic action we can embrace and practice is to slow down, do less, pray more, and be reflective about what really matters.

At the end of life, I do not think God will ask me how much money I accumulated, how successful I was in the eyes of the world, how much television I watched, or how popular I was. I will imagine Him saying, “I gave you 32,850 sunsets. How many did you watch? How much money and time did you give away to others who really needed you? How often did you let My sacraments nourish your soul?

How serious were you about really growing an active and authentic life of prayer? Did you let My love take over your life, so that your existence became a hymn of praise and service to Me and your brothers and sisters?”

We are here to learn to do what we hope to do perfectly in heaven — to love God with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. To live purposefully with that goal, intention, and desire always illuminating, guiding, and inspiring our daily actions and thoughts.

I have always liked this quote from Henry David Thoreau, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”