The mention of knights and monks conjures up images of the Middle Ages and the crusades. It certainly doesn't make one think of modern day happenings in central Arkansas, yet that is where the two came together for me over this past weekend. Last year I was invited to preach a retreat for the Arkansas Knights of Columbus and their wives at Subiaco Abbey, pictured above. I don't often get to preach a weekend retreat at a retreat center. Most of the time I am at parishes preaching a mission, sort of an on-site retreat at the local parish. Nonetheless I enjoy doing weekend retreats when the opportunity presents itself.
The Abbey (meaning a monastery headed by an Abbot) is named after a famous Abbey in Italy which was visited by St. Francis during his lifetime. In fact one of the monks at the original Subiaco gave us the only painting of Francis done during his lifetime. (See picture below). That only added to my willingness to accept the invitation to go to Arkansas in February of 2011. A rare heavy snow fell on that weekend last year and my invitation was postponed until this year, February 3-5. It turned out to be a very wonderful and moving weekend for me as well as for the nearly 70 people who came to the retreat.
The retreat was held at Coury House on the Abbey grounds and I chose the theme of Following Christ in the footsteps of Francis. As I unfolded that theme however the footsteps of St. Benedict were very prominent as well. One of the monks, Brother Francis (coincidence?) was in charge of Coury House and made sure that we received true Benedictine hospitality. In addition to that we joined the monks for Vespers on Friday and Saturday evening and for Mass on Sunday morning. It was at these times of prayer that we experienced the interface of two different aspects of Church life that we don't perceive as fitting together--the dedicated lay people represented by the knights and their wives, and the monks. The monks of this wonderful community drew us in and made us a part of their life of prayer. Abbot Jerome took the time to visit with us at meals and was gracious in receiving me. The Sunday Mass was especially moving and representative of the Church as the People of God. The Abbey runs an academy for boys, Subiaco Academy, and the students at the school were involved in many ways in the Liturgy--readers, ushers, etc.