Closing Time, Part Five


The invitation . . . the Alfonsiana has fancy ones . . .


First, apologies to faithful readers for not blogging during the course of this past academic year. Some folks were kind enough to let me know that they missed reading about my adventures, which I appreciate. During the course of this past year, occasionally something would happen that would strike me as “blogworthy” — I have gotten used to seeing things as if I were going to narrate them to others during the course of my studies, which I find interesting.


Romulus & Remus at the Capitoline Museums . . .

The title of this post is a bit misleading. On the surface level, it is not quite closing time. It is true that this Tuesday, 31 May, the Feast of the Visitation, I will defend my doctoral dissertation. If all goes well (please God), I will be awarded a doctorate in sacred theology at the end of it. However, it is a bit like getting an empty diploma case at high school graduation — there will still be a few steps before things are completely finished. A few days after the defense, I will pick up my grade and a list of revisions that I need to make to the dissertation — as simple as typos, as complicated as sections that need to be rewritten. I will also need to publish the dissertation in Rome, and there are things to do connected with that. Hopefully the revisions will not be too many — if all goes according to plan, by the time that I leave Rome in early July, I will have submitted the final final copies of my dissertation. Sometime in the fall, the diploma should be ready to retrieve, and a helpful monk has already agreed to take care of that for me.


Christmas Eve with the Pope was a beautiful experience.

On a deeper level, it is certainly not closing time. I have goals that will always require growth: to be competent in my field, to be a good teacher, to be a good colleague. Moreover, when I was asking about the possibility of going on for further studies in my early years at Collegeville, the goal was never simply a five-year process to earn the license and the doctorate. The goal was an eleven-year process which included earning those degrees as well as earning tenure at Saint John’s. Bigger challenges lie ahead of me.


Along the Appian Way . . .

Nonetheless, I am coming to the end of my time in Europe as well as a season in my life, and it seems appropriate to mark that. This has been a rich and challenging experience. It wasn’t always clear to me that this point would be reached, and I am deeply grateful to be here. In addition to the labor involved in writing a doctorate, the last half of my 30s have largely been spent abroad. I am ready to go home. Time has passed for me — as well as for family, friends, and community. I turned 40 this past November, and am transitioning from young adulthood into middle age. When I first starting teaching at Collegeville in fall 2007, I had students who had older siblings who were my age (to say nothing of the teaching that I did in my later twenties). When I resume teaching in fall 2016, I will be closer to the age of their parents. Wild.


This is not my photo, but it was a notable experience. Fr. Manuel Nin, OSB, of Montserrat in Catalonia was ordained an Eastern-rite Catholic bishop at Saint Paul’s-Outside-the-Walls on 15 April. It was quite an experience to attend — better than 3 hours, with hauntingly beautiful music. We have so few Eastern Rite episcopal ordinations in Stearns County!

The Hammarskjöld quote rings true: for all that has been — thanks. For all that will be — yes.

At doctoral defenses here in Rome (at least those I have attended), it is customary for the candidate to take a few minutes to acknowledge and thank those who have been of particular assistance in completing studies. To conclude this post (or not quite conclude, as faithful readers have generally been far more interested in what I’m eating), let me share with you that portion of my presentation as prepared for delivery this week:

I’d like to thank my family, especially Bob and Mary, my parents. Their handing on the Catholic faith has been their greatest gift to me, which in my poverty has both brought me great joy and served as a lamp for my feet and a light for my path. Shortly before Christmas this past year, my father suffered a heart attack. The open heart surgery that followed, the subsequent stroke, and the lengthy recovery have been a great challenge, one my parents have met with the patience, fortitude, and general steadiness that mark their characters. I’m honored to dedicate this modest work to them. What I’ve been doing in Rome these past several years has been something of a mystery to them as well as to my brothers and sisters and their families, but I’m happy to tell them that I’m coming home soon.

I’m so grateful to my Abbot, John Klassen, and to my confreres at Saint John’s Abbey for their support during this period of study. While I’ve lived at Sant’Anselmo these past years, I’ve had the joy of meeting monks from around the world. This has led to visiting several European and American monasteries, an experience that has been both enriching and fun. While I’ve been in Rome, Madre Rosaria and the Trappistine nuns of Vitorchiano have provided a home away from home for me, and I’m consoled that this defense is remembered in their prayers. I’m also grateful to the Jesuits of Campion Hall and the Benedictines of Saint Benet’s Hall, who were so hospitable to me during my year in Oxford. Professor Ian Ker was an outstanding tutor during that period.

It has been just a joy to complete the license and doctorate here at the Alfonsiana. I’d like to thank Signora Danielle Gros for her outstanding work in the segreteria. I’ve talked to students from multiple pontifical universities, and I am confident that there is no secretariat in Rome with greater professionalism and care for students, and I know that is due to Signora Gros and those who work with her.

I’m grateful to my second reader, Professor McKeever, for his careful and rigorous reading of my work, which has made me a better scholar. Also, he is a very fine teacher. In class some years ago he illustrated Aquinas’ views on distributive justice by discussing how a pizza might be shared. Since I have never enjoyed sharing my pizza, I found that lesson particularly helpful.

Finally, I’d like to thank Professor Hidber, who has taught me, moderated seminars in which I participated, and directed both my licentiate thesis and doctoral dissertation. He is a very fine scholar and teacher – personally, I haven’t seen better work on the problem of evil from the perspective of moral theology. Moreover, he has been a true Doktorvater to me. Writing a doctorate is hard, and his gentle guidance has been an inestimable gift. Pope Francis has caught the world’s imagination by saying that priests should be shepherds living with the smell of the sheep. When I think of what that should look like in the academy, I will think of Professor Hidber.




This pastry, sold at one of the most famous Jewish bakeries in Rome — called the “forno del ghetto”, among other things — just outstanding.


Closing Time, Part Four . . .

Spring has arrived in Oxford

Spring has arrived in Oxford


Well, the academic year is winding down. We are just starting Eighth Week, the final week of Trinity Term. (Except for the poor students who have exams in Ninth Week!) For my part, I’ve already had my final meeting with my tutor (which has been a wonderful experience), and I’ll head home in the next ten days or so. My time in the City of the Dreaming Spires is coming to a close.

A Bodleian image of the 8th century Rule of Benedict in their collection

A Bodleian image of the 8th century Rule of Benedict in their collection

In addition to my tutorial, my goal was to write 2-3 chapters of the dissertation. I’m in the midst of the third chapter, so I’m prepared to call the year a success. After my home visit, most of my summer will be spent writing, so I should be well positioned when I land in Rome for the new academic year at the end of September. My goal remains to complete everything associated with the dissertation by the end of the next academic year, and that is a realistic goal.

The grave of the Lewis brothers . . .

The grave of the Lewis brothers . . .

In recent weeks, I’ve seen a couple of things worth sharing. First, the main library at Oxford — the Bodleian Library — is one of the finest in the world, with lots and lots of treasures. They have put together a fantastic exhibit called Marks of Genius which brings together some of the highlights of their collection in just a couple of rooms. If you want a bite sized dose of some of the great cultural treasures — both East and West — check this out. Of course, my favorite piece was an eighth century copy of the Rule of Benedict.

Part of the Narnia window in honor of Lewis at his parish church (Anglican)

Part of the Narnia window in honor of Lewis at his parish church (Anglican)

The other experience to mention was a visit to CS Lewis’ Oxford home (The Kilns) and visit to his parish church, where he attended for many years. He is buried in the cemetery next to the church. I love Lewis’ writings, and the play (and movieShadowlands is a favorite of mine — I enjoyed getting a bit more insight into how he lived his life.

CS Lewis prayed here! (and, it seems, was hiding behind a pillar)

CS Lewis prayed here! (and, it seems, was hiding behind a pillar)

We’ll have to wait and see if I write this blog next year — this may mark a good moment to bring this effort to a close. For now, though, a blessed summer to my readers!


For the first time in memory, I feature a food I don't like -- have never seen the charm of black pudding . . .

For the first time in memory, I feature a food I don’t like — have never seen the charm of black pudding . . .


A Monastic Easter . . .

The singing of the Exultet at the Easter Vigil -- a lovely photo from Father Giles

The singing of the Exultet at the Easter Vigil — a lovely photo from Father Giles


Happy Eastertide, faithful readers!

Much as I am enjoying my year with Jesuits, it has reminded me that I do really enjoy living in the monastery. To this end, I was very grateful to be able to spend Holy Week this year in a couple of different monasteries. One of the great experiences of these years in studies has been the opportunity to visit and get to know different monastic communities. This has been nourishing both in broadening my immersion in the Benedictine tradition and building relationships within the monastic world.



On Saturday, 28 March, I went from Oxford to Ampleforth Abbey. I was particularly happy to be at Ampleforth for the first part of Holy Week, as Saint Benet’s Hall at Oxford (where I pray) is a house of that monastery. Ampleforth is a large monastic community (around 70 these days), and I had a lovely visit. They are located in a beautiful valley in Yorkshire, their liturgy is beautiful, the food good, and their welcome was warm. (I’ve now visited enough monasteries to develop clear criteria to evaluate my visit!) It was a particular pleasure to meet some of their men in formation — they have a steady stream of vocations, kind men of good zeal.


Monastic ruins at Rievaulx

Until this visit, I was not aware that northern England is littered with ruins of Cistercian abbeys. Ampleforth is located close to several, but I am particularly grateful for the chance to visit the stunning ruins of the Rievaulx Abbey, just a 15-minute drive from the monastery. Very, very well preserved — definitely worth a visit.

The Abbey Church at Ampleforth . . .

The Abbey Church at Ampleforth . . .

On Wednesday of Holy Week, I continued my journey north until I arrived at Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland. I was charmed by their history — they were founded in the 13th century and were an active monastery until the end of the 16th century. There were no monks present for several hundred years (though the Abbey was never technically suppressed) until Benedictines returned in 1948. They have restored and built onto medieval monastic buildings, and have done so in a way that is both beautiful and well-suited to their needs. I am very pleased that the monastic church, built hundreds of years ago, is still used for the purpose for which it was built.


The monastic choir at Pluscarden . . . 

Pluscarden is a house of the Subiaco Congregation, so their life is very much on the contemplative end of the monastic spectrum. (Their daily prayers usually begin at 4.30 AM. The Easter Vigil was from 11.00 PM to 2.00 AM — with Lauds at 6.30 AM!) Their liturgy is Ordinary Form, it is mainly in Latin, and they make extensive use of Gregorian chant. Celebrating the Paschal Triduum with them is a memory that I will treasure, as it was simply hauntingly beautiful — to follow the Roman Gradual the whole way through was really lovely. In addition to that, the community is extremely hospitable — their vocation is to be fairly enclosed, and they do a very intelligent job of both respecting their cloister and welcoming people to their home. (They have a daughter house in Massachusetts, so they are particularly glad to see their American cousins.) They have a praiseworthy custom of inviting college students to the monastery for the Paschal Triduum, which is smart for all sorts of reasons. They have several younger monks, though no one in formation just now — I pray that they continue to get enough vocations to sustain such a beautiful way of life.

Monastic refectory at Pluscarden . . .

Monastic refectory at Pluscarden . . .

Let’s not forget the food — the fruit trifle that was Easter Sunday dessert would have certainly made my “Food, Glorious Food” section if I would have had the courage to whip out my phone and take a picture!

We are just beginning Trinity Term here at Oxford — it is good to see the students back — and both of these monasteries leave me wanting to be a better monk.


Ampleforth Cider -- two thumbs up!

Ampleforth Cider — two thumbs up!


Magna Carta . . .

The 1215 Magna Carta

The 1215 Magna Carta


For your fascinating fact of the day — 12 June 2015 is a significant anniversary in western civilization. On that day 800 years ago, in Runnymede, King John agreed to Magna Carta, “The Great Charter”, an agreement between the King and certain rebellious barons, mediated by Archbishop Stephen Langton of Canterbury. While Magna Carta is only one of a series of such agreements and most of its provisions deal with very specific complaints, it also addresses issues of principle that are of lasting legal importance (eg the king is subject to the law, the freedom of the Church, the right to swift, fair trials). Magna Carta became a symbolic touchstone of western law, invoked by everyone from St Thomas More (who argued that Henry VIII violated it in his break from Rome) to the American colonists (who argued that George III overstepped his powers). Magna Carta has become an enduring symbol of freedom under the rule of law — as recently as 2009, the US Supreme Court cited it in a decision.

The seal of King John, which affirmed the document -- contrary to popular perception, the document was never signed. It gained the force of law when the King's seal was attached.

The seal of King John, which affirmed the document — contrary to popular perception, the document was never signed. It gained the force of law when the King’s seal was attached.

To commemorate the anniversary, the British Library is hosting an outstanding exhibition on Magna Carta, and I was very happy to visit it. (It would have been a great treat to win tickets to the showing in early February when the four extant copies of the 1215 Magna Carta where brought together, but alas — no luck.) You can read a good review of the exhibit here, and the New York Times got into the act here. The highlight of the exhibit is seeing one of the four copies of the 1215 Magna Carta, and that was wonderful — but I have to confess that some of the other objects were at least as interesting to me. Seeing Thomas Jefferson’s personal copy of the Declaration of Independence was quite something, as well as the State of Delaware’s copy of the Bill of Rights (1789, ratified by Delaware in 1790 — the other states kept their copies. Curiously, after ratifying it, Delaware signed and sealed their copy, then returned it to the federal government).

King John -- something of a nasty fellow, apparently. Here, he is being offered a poisoned chalice. He looks pretty wary, and the monks on the left are clearly hoping that he drinks!

King John — something of a nasty fellow, apparently. Here, he is being offered a poisoned chalice. He looks pretty wary, and the monks on the left are clearly hoping that he drinks!

So, if you are passing through London in the next few months, well worth a visit. The pictures in this post are all images from the exhibit. Making a reservation couldn’t hurt, as it was rather crowded on the day of my visit. Other than that, things are fine. I won’t quite finish the chapter by Easter, but I will be close, and I am satisfied with that. The English spring is starting to bloom, and it is glorious to behold.

Sounds like a good lecture.

Sounds like an interesting read.

Prayers and good wishes to my readers for a fruitful Holy Week!


A Scottish speciality -- shortbread

A Scottish speciality — shortbread


Blake at the Ashmolean . . .


Los Howld from The First Book of Urizen

Los Howld from The First Book of Urizen


(FYI — Favorite Oxford Moment #493 — this morning at Mass, someone was wearing a pin on her sweater that read “I’m Silently Correcting Your Grammar”. I nearly burst out laughing when I saw it while giving her Communion.)

The Lover's Whirlwind from Dante's Inferno, Canto V

The Lover’s Whirlwind from Dante’s Inferno, Canto V

The past few weeks have been fruitful — a good immersion in the moral vision of Stanley Hauerwas. (I find it quite compelling, on the whole — I’m not sure that I can follow him on everything [eg natural law], but his thought is quite inspiring.) I now have lots and lots of notes and have started to write. It would be lovely to have a chapter draft by Easter.

"The Lord Answering Job Out of the Whirlwind"

“The Lord Answering Job Out of the Whirlwind”

One of the great parts of life in Oxford is the Ashmolean Museum, which is an enormously impressive collection — it is part of Oxford University, and like many museums here, free to enter. They also host temporary exhibitions of very high quality. I have enjoyed visiting their William Blake: Apprentice and Master exhibit in recent weeks, which really is outstanding.

"Songs of Innocence and Experience"

“Songs of Innocence and Experience”

(This seems like a good moment for a digression. I first heard of William Blake when I started reading Thomas Merton later in high school. Merton wrote his master’s thesis at Columbia on Blake. All that was swirling in my mind as I went to the exhibit because we celebrated Merton’s 100th birthday at the end of January. I was one of the multitude who have been moved by his writings — I encountered him at just the right moment in my life, and I am enough of a fan to be fascinated by the stories told by some of our older monks about his visit to Collegeville in the 1950s. In fact, our Father Thomas tells the story of being present the evening that Merton had dinner with JF Powers and his family. It would have been quite something to be a fly on the wall there . . . )

At any rate, let me share a few images featured in the exhibition . . .


The English scone . . . wow.

The English scone . . . wow.


Littlemore . . .

Newman's room at The College

Newman’s room at The College


It is good to share that Chapter II is in the revision stage now, and work has begun on Chapter III. I am spending a lot of time these days reading Stanley Hauerwas, and sooner or later, I expect that I’ll come up with something to say about him. All is well.

The chapel at The College, where Newman became a Catholic

The chapel at The College, where Newman became a Catholic. Notice the altar cloth, embroidered with the words of a famous Newman hymn.

In the meantime, though, let me share about one last Newman site in the greater Oxford area that might be of interest. In his day, the village of Littlemore was part of his Anglican parish in Oxford. In 1842, Newman retired to “The College“, a series of buildings in Littlemore where he lived a quasi-monastic life with some friends. It was here, on 09 October 1845, that John Henry Newman came into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church. Fr Dominic Barberi heard his confession and received him into full communion. It was a place of great importance in his life. These days, the place is staffed by sisters of The Spiritual Family the Work, who have been so helpful to me in my studies in Rome. I was happy to spend a morning there not long ago, visiting and celebrating Mass in the chapel where Newman became a Catholic. I have been very grateful to visit the sites associated with someone whom I am studying — it gives a whole different flavor to the experience.

The library at The College. Newman made his confession to Fr Barberi in this room.

The library at The College. Newman made his confession to Fr Barberi in this room before he was received into full communion.


British desserts are pretty stunning -- toffee sticky pudding

British desserts are pretty stunning — toffee sticky pudding


A Monastic Christmas . . .



Happy new year, gentle reader! Since the holidays are officially drawing to an end today with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and we are beginning “Naught Week” of the Hilary Term, it seems like a good time to write a quick post. I have been back from Christmas holidays for about 10 days. I was just delighted to be with the Benedictine monks of Glenstal Abbey for Christmas. If I couldn’t be home at my own monastery, I would want to be here. I was with them for Easter a couple of years back, so I know that community reasonably well.

There was a nativity set in the village with live animals for the kids -- I was thoroughly charmed.

There was a nativity set in the village with live animals for the kids — I was thoroughly charmed.

Spending Christmas there was a good decision. While travel is enjoyable, Christmas is a good time to be at a place like home. They are a prayerful community — I love both their horarium and their liturgy. Glenstal is about 35 monks, and I am particularly impressed by the number of younger monks that they have — there are several monks in their forties and early fifties who have been in the monastery for 10-20 years. Like most homes, Christmas in the monastery is a particularly busy time. There is no question about the time of midnight Mass (the first time in quite a few years I have been at a true Midnight Mass), and the church was full. What particularly impressed me was that there were no hired staff members working on either Christmas Day or Saint Stephen’s Day (another holiday — in fact, if the truth is told, most of the country seems to shut down for Christmas week). The monks did everything themselves — and the meals were outstanding. They were a good example of everyone pitching in to make things work. (I was recruited to help serve the after-Mass tea — how the water never boiled is a story for a different time.) When dessert on Christmas night was served to me still on fire (a first for me, but I’m told its a pretty standard Christmas happening here), I was just wishing for my camera. It was a fine visit, reminding me of how happy I am to be a monk.

From Saint Nicholas Church in Galway, a medieval structure. The sensible people of Galway have a deep devotion to this great saint. ;)

From Saint Nicholas Church in Galway, a medieval structure. The sensible people of Galway have a deep devotion to this great saint. 😉

It was also a productive week. There was an outing to Galway City (a first for me), though I did not see the famous mosaic of JFK in the Galway Cathedral (the nativity set was in that chapel). Other than that, I was surprisingly productive. Just a few pages left of chapter two, and that should be done this week. I’d love to be further along, but I’ll take it. Writing a dissertation is a desert experience. I’m finding, though, that if one remains long enough and learns to live there, the desert begins to bloom.

The Catholic Cathedral of Galway, dedicated to the Assumption and the Saint Nicholas. Beautiful church, particularly for something built in the early 60's.

The Catholic Cathedral of Galway, dedicated to the Assumption and Saint Nicholas. Beautiful church, particularly for something built in the early 60’s.


Fried bread -- one of the best ideas ever. Oil and salt make it delightful.

Fried bread — one of the best ideas ever. Oil and salt make it delightful.