Barely a month into my first summer semester of graduate school at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, I was sorely missing home and still wondering if I had made a mistake coming to the Midwest from California. I had not been in a classroom in almost a decade and had never had any philosophy or theology courses as an undergraduate. So I was feeling lost, lonely, and uncertain that I could do this.
That first July 11 at Saint John’s would be a turning point. That day is always a big deal there because it’s the Memorial of Saint Benedict and the day the Benedictine community at Saint John’s Abbey receives professions from its monks and honors its Jubilarians.
It would be the day I met Fr. Godfrey Diekmann, OSB, for the first and last time. Those of you who are liturgists know the significance of this man. For me, he was one of the reasons I chose to go to school in a place so remote and distant from everything else I had known.
On that same day, 75 years earlier, Fr. Diekmann had made his first profession of vows to the Benedictines. As was their tradition, the monks honored him and the 12 other Jubilarians that year by giving each of them a simple wooden cane at the end of the Mass for the Memorial of Saint Benedict. After the final song, I found myself standing in the sanctuary alone with Fr. Diekmann, who for some reason had remained behind after the procession. He was sitting in his wheelchair, looking annoyed. He had dropped his cane, and I picked it up and handed it back to him. I took the opportunity to shake his hand and say, “Thank you for everything.” He waved me away, not having any clue who I was. But that moment on July 11, in that hot, un-airconditioned Abbey Church, in the middle of nowhere, it was enough.
That offhand benediction from one of the greatest liturgical pioneers of our time, the unfussy but ever-so-elegant daily prayer with those monks, and the gracious hospitality and generous wisdom of the professors at the School of Theology*Seminary held me there for the next four summers. I am so grateful for them and for all who have made the sacrifice of time, money, and spirit to pursue wisdom through rigorous study in order to hand it on that others may build on their labor.
One of the readings from that July day has never left me:
Stand in the company of the elders;
stay close to whoever is wise.
Be eager to hear every discourse;
let no insightful saying escape you.
If you see the intelligent, seek them out;
let your feet wear away their doorsteps! (Sirach 6:34-36)
Today, I honor the elders who have walked among us, especially those I had met at Saint John’s. I honor too all those who continue to “wear away their doorsteps” and strive to follow in their paths. A friend who is a doctoral student asked me to write a prayer for him and all those who are on that journey of study, which is at once lonely, dispiriting, and exhilarating. May they all one day wear Wisdom’s robe of glory and bear her as a splendid crown.
A Doctoral Student’s Prayer
Every once in a while, Lord, the heavens open
and I ascend with clear eyes and single-minded heart
to glimpse the vast beauty and elegance of your Truth.
Then the fog returns and I descend
into the distraction of my own thoughts.
How I long to grasp that heavenly vision
and announce it with precise and luminous clarity.
Yet you have revealed to us through the Spirit of Christ
this one and lasting truth:
No eye has seen, no ear ever heard,
no human heart come close to desiring
the wonders you have prepared for those who love you.
Therefore, I trust in that same Spirit
to be my guide on this pilgrim journey
to the reaches of my knowledge where all I have learned
is transformed into wonder and awe and love for you.
Break open my heart, then, that I might be led to the Truth I seek
not by my ego or reliance on rhetoric
but by the yoke of Wisdom and the bonds of her discipline.
Draw me away from inertia that paralyzes me before a blank page
when deadlines loom and thoughts are slow.
Save me from the snares of insecurity,
seducing me to believe my work bears no merit,
but never let me be complacent with what is not my best.
And send me good friends and loved ones
to remind me to rest and refresh myself
by the streams of their good company.
May I follow the counsel of elders, stay close to the ones who are wise,
and wear out the path to the prophet’s door.
And if I grow weary of the journey or disillusioned by the search,
let my tired hands and worn out spirit be the signs of my longing for you.
For all we seek to understand and all we hope to know
is but a shadow of your desire for us.
At my pilgrim’s end, when I believe every question has found its answer,
let my heart and mind rest in Wisdom’s lap,
where she will whisper in my ear and teach me once again
that all remains complete and beautiful Mystery in your wondrous love.
Copyright © Diana Macalintal, July 11, 2014, Memorial of Saint Benedict