Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What I did on my semester break

A few weeks ago, I finally finished my exams and had about a week before classes started again.  Most students would probably just sleep in or take a trip to some warm destination.  But, as you probably know, I'm not exactly your typical student.  I felt like just finding a little bit of peace and quiet.  After all, since the start of the new year, I had entertained guests for 3 weeks, finished a semester of school, took exams, and been ordained.  It hadn't exactly been quiet.  So, off to a hermitage I went.

Looking for an "Oasis of Peace"

Yes, you heard that correctly.  A hermitage.  And yes, hermits do exist.  Bro. Javi and I packed a few bags in the car (I added some snacks since I didn't know what I was really getting myself into) and headed north, out of Rome towards Perugia, near Assisi.  Our first stop was the town of Umbertide.  After five minutes of walking, we had seen all there was to see in Umbertide and finally found what must have been the only restaurant open for lunch.  Then, we started to ascend Monte Corona.  So we were told that the hermitage was on top of a mountain.  They weren't kidding.  We just kept going up until the road turned to gravel, and then we went up some more until the road ended - at the gate of the Monastery of the Assumption. 

The road leading up.... the front door and monastic enclosure.

So I have been calling this a hermitage, but it really is a monastery.  It is part of a worldwide family of monks and nuns called "The Monastic Family of Bethlehem of the Assumption of the Virgin and of Saint Bruno."  (I'll let you catch your breath.)  They are a relatively new religious family (founded in 1950) and take their spirituality from St. Bruno and in the Carthusian Spirit.  That means that they spend most of their day in solitude.  They only gather twice a day for common prayer.  Pretty much everything else is done alone.  That includes eating and working.  As I'll explain, we were also invited into this lifestyle during our stay.

The monks and nun of the community each have some kind of craft which they do.  The nuns in France are known for their stone sculpting.

Now, back to the story.  When we got out of the car, the first thing I noticed was the silence, profound silence.  Except for a few chirping birds, there was nothing else.  Just silence.  I quickly discovered that I had found what I was longing for.  (Don't worry, though, I'm not leaving the Marianists.)  We rang the bell and we were greeted by the guest master Bro. Macario, a very friendly and affable monk.  He then explained that he would show us around and "how we do things here."
Inside the enclosure.

Also inside.

Our first stop, of course, was the community chapel.  Like I said, they pray here together twice a day.  But, they pray alone for a good part of the rest of the day, beginning with "vigils" around 3am (for those who know me well, it's another reason I'm not joining them.)  Their prayer has an oriental (eastern) Christian tone to it.  Their chant is fairly monotone, they use more incense than we would, and they use icons in their prayer.  I found the prayer very beautiful and easy to enter in to.  In fact, it helped me remember the transcendence of God, the God who is mystery.  After a long semester of theological definitions and categories, of attempting to use words to describe grace, and of trying to explain what is really metaphysical, I appreciated their style very much. I should probably mention that Morning Prayer and Eucharist lasted 2.5 hours, and the Eucharistic Prayer was pretty much celebrated in silence.  Very unique and very beautiful.

Stalls in which the monks pray.

Our view from the guest loft.

Then, Bro. Macario explained lunch and dinner to us.  Like the monks, we were invited to eat alone in our guestrooms.  So, when it was time to eat, we simply went to a small kitchen where the cook would leave us our food in a warming tray and refrigerator.  We were given a wooden carrying box in which we could then transport the food to our rooms.

Table for one, please.

Finally, we were shown to our "cells" as the monks would call their living space.  In my cell, there was a small table, pull-out bed, sink for doing dishes, and an oratory (prayer space.)  Pretty much everything that I would need for my four-day stay.

My private oratory in my cell.

Place to do the dishes.

My morning coffee routine (Thanks be to God!)

The window in front of my table...

...and it's a room with a view.
 So, you might ask, what did I do all the time.  Pretty much, I just relished the great silence and time to just "be."  Most of my day was taken up with praying, reading, sleeping, and hiking.  The surrounding countryside was unbelievably beautiful, and being outdoors refreshed my soul even more. 

Spectacular nature all around.

Even some distant snow.

Attempting a selfie.

The back of the monastery.

Did I mention that it was really a beautiful place.

A little medieval "town" that I saw on a hike.

And, of course, a sunset.

At the end of four days, Javi and I got back in the car....and started talking right away!  On the recommendation of our friend Fr. Loris, we decided to visit the town of Gubbio which was very near.  It is known as the place where St. Francis of Assisi preached to the wolf.  Unfortunately, we didn't see the wolf, but took in this beautiful Medieval town.

The narrow medieval streets.

Bro. Javi

Still channeling my inner monk.

Ancient and modern all together.

We visited an old palace.  I was amazed at how big the fireplaces were, and then I started to get sucked up in a Harry Potter sort of manner.


One more view of Gubbio.