People recounted incidents from the good old days. Embellishments were, of course, a part of the tales, some of which have grown in size and dramatic impact over time. Nevertheless, old friends spent a big part of the weekend catching up with one another. Some hadn’t seen one another in many years. The occasion was the 50th High School Reunion of the Class of 1967. About half of the class made it back to the campus of what used to be The Abbey School. The Benedictine monks used to run it as a boarding school for boys. Across town, the Benedictine nuns ran St. Scholastica Academy, a boarding school for girls. The reunion brought both groups back together.
A Diverse Group for the Benedictines to Manage
Our Class of 1967 could be described as a diverse bunch. At the Abbey, about a third of us were day-students, or “day hops” who lived at home in the local area. The rest came from around the country and at least one foreign country. We came from all walks of life, and from a variety of different family backgrounds and upbringings. To this day, we represent a wide range of occupations, past and present, and an even broader range of personal interests outside of work. The group currently comprises a fairly wide range of religious approaches or beliefs. This seems to be the case even though the majority of us probably were raised as Catholics.
Some members of our class no longer practice the faith, or any faith. A few have switched to non-Catholic, Christian faith practices, and some of us continue to be practicing Catholics. Within the Catholic group, there appears to be a wide range of beliefs ranging from orthodox to heterodox. I suspect that we probably mirror the national population in many of these matters. We may reflect the trends of others who attended Catholic schools in the post-Vatican II era. I don’t know though, and I haven’t researched it. That’s not my point here.
Fruits from the Benedictine Orchard
What I do know is that I came away from the reunion with two insights. The first was the terrific level of kindness, care and love shown by all – good fruit indeed. This was evident not only in the treatment accorded each other. It also showed up in casual conversations about what people have been doing in and with their lives. The second insight was the fact that so many of us, after five decades, still maintain reasonably close relationships with each other. This level of connectedness seems unusual to those outside of our group – yet more good fruit. I find it even more interesting considering the quite different paths many of our lives have taken culturally, economically and spiritually.
Early Childhood Influence
How does one account for this collective level of care, of kindness and love? We certainly cannot downplay the role of the family influence. The tone set at the top by our mothers and fathers undoubtedly played a role in the moral formation for most of us. We’d see this through the parental emphasis on doing what’s right and avoiding what’s wrong. For example, if we committed some transgression at school, we were likely to receive even more punishment when we got home. Simply getting put in the penalty box of life would not be enough to inculcate the love and care that people show in their behavior towards others, though. That takes some demonstration of what kindness, love and care for others looks like. Here again, it likely came from home in the first place. We owe mom and dad debts of gratitude for their positive influence on us.
Benedictine Influence – The Vow of Obedience
Beyond our homes, we had the Benedictine influence. Benedictine vows include obedience, stability and conversion of heart. Obedience, coming from Latin for “to listen,” refers not only to listening to and obedience to superiors. It also includes listening to the word of God – paying attention to, and obeying God’s commands. Before entering high school, some of us also were blessed to attend parochial grade school under the tutelage of Benedictine nuns. They provided us with a strong academic education and an understanding of the benefits of “obedience.”
As well, they gave us first hand demonstrations of the downsides of “disobedience,” if I might employ a pun. Graduates of either high school (the Abbey or the Academy) can regale you with stories of the monks or nuns enforcing the discipline of obedience there as well. They can also tell you about the routine Mass and confession made available to us. The combination of practical discipline and routine availability of the sacraments had to have an impact on the students.
Benedictine Influence – The Vow of Stability
Stability requires the monk or nun to stay with the community where the religious professes his or her vows. Staying with the community provides support in one’s spiritual growth. It provides a tangible sense of community for them. Recently, in speaking with a monk at St. Benedict’s Abbey, in Kansas, I learned that this sense of community has been a key attraction and benefit for him. At the Abbey and the Academy, the Benedictine sense of community clearly extended to the student body. I believe that this stability and related sense of community is a large part of the reason why the connectedness is so strong among our class. The bonds are deeper and stronger than merely being part of the same graduating class. They go beyond loyalty to the school team and mascot.
Benedictine Influence – The Vow of Conversion of Heart
Conversion of the heart refers not only to fidelity to the monastic life, but a constant journey of spiritual conversion of turning to God. In other words, it’s about making a continued effort towards deeper conversion to Christ. Getting closer to Jesus means deepening our relationship of love with Him, and with our neighbor. Do such continued efforts toward spiritual purification, with God’s grace, have a positive impact on the people that the Benedictines influence? Looking at our class, the answer would seem to be that it certainly can, and indeed it has. We are all spiritual works in progress. God uses others–the monks and nuns in this case, and fellow classmates–to continue to bring us closer to Him.
Beyond the Work of Parents and Teachers
The Benedictines live a life of “prayer and work,” – “Ora et Labora,” and “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus,” – “that in all things may God be glorified.” Spending any time with a group of Benedictines will give deeper meaning to the vows they take and to these sayings. In the final analysis, the lives of the Benedictines we’ve known have provided us with examples that have had a positive, lasting influence. Yet it takes more than just good role models at home and at school, or Benedictine spirituality, to account for what we saw at this gathering. It requires the grace of God and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Both seemed to be working within the members of our group.
The Blessings Continue
Take, for example, the classmate who told the story about an elderly couple that his family had come to know as “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” My classmate’s dad worked for the man, and the two families became quite close. They stayed in touch over the years. After the man passed away, my friend had the widow, “Grandma,” spend some time with his family at his home. She’d given him “Grandpa’s” golf clubs. Sometime many years prior, Grandpa had lost a custom ring very dear to both of them while playing golf. She never forgot that. The joy on my friend’s face as he told us about finding Grandpa’s ring inside the lining of golf club bag, and presenting it to Grandma, was infectious. That’s God’s grace and the Holy Spirit at work.
Then there’s the story of the classmate whose music brought him back to Jesus. Other stories of people helping out their elderly parents or their sick spouses and friends were equally moving. On top of this, the care and authentic concern shown for one another in reuniting after so many years were palpable. This is a group that, although each person has had his or her challenges – some quite daunting – is collectively blessed. We are blessed to have received the Benedictine education under the nuns and monks we’ve known over the years. We also are blessed to have made each other’s acquaintances. As well, we’ve been blessed by the ongoing friendship, love and care that we’ve known through one another. When our lives in this world come to an end, we can look back with gratitude for the time we’ve had together. Deo gratias!