A Joyful Humanity“Our lives have become translucent to something completely new” – Francis describes his family’s experience of celebrating their friends’ final vows.
I went to a sound check on Friday night with my sister Teresa; I was full of what ifs, uncertainty, and skepticism. Is this going to go well? Isn’t it all sort of crazy? Aren’t we going to make fools of ourselves? The occasion for the sound check was that our friends Br. Maximilian and Br. Angelus, two monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kansas, had asked us to prepare a “band” to play at the reception after their solemn vows the next day. While I love to play music, I was nervous about the idea. Most people at the reception were not going to be from the CL community.
Now looking at the experience of that weekend as a whole, I can say everything turned out to be overwhelmingly beautiful in many unexpected ways. All these unexpected signs were traces of something new and unforeseen happening among us.
Our friend Hannah and her young boys stayed in our home for the weekend. Our boys and theirs immediately became friends, playing soccer together in the front yard within fifteen minutes of her arrival. While unloading her car, we overheard them saying to each other while playing: “This is so crazy! How is it possible that we are such good friends already?” It is moving that even our children can perceive a companionship that brings something new and truly for them.
The simplicity and solemnity of the ceremony of the vows was powerful. Even my oldest son, age 7, noticed that something big was happening. “Are Br. Max and Br. Angelus dying?” he wondered, as they both lay prostrate and completely covered before the altar. Every part of the ceremony communicated a birth into a new life, culminating with both brothers being embraced individually by a greeting line of all the other monks in the community.
The music at the reception went well in a way that was completely beyond my own desires and measures. It was not a performance at all but a way of contributing to the joyful celebration. People at the reception noticed that our singing was expressing something out of the ordinary. One of Br. Angelus’ friends whom he had told about CL many times before was suddenly interested in where she could find a CL community near her.
In addition to hosting Hannah and her boys, we had some of her friends from Cincinnati over for dinner after the reception (we let them into Chiefs Kingdom even though they are Bengals fans!). My sister Teresa had invited some of her college friends over as well. I felt our home’s condition post-reception was chaotic. My wife Lindsay corrected me: it was not chaotic but bustling, full of life. She was right. There was something joyful happening beyond our control and we were swept up into it. I found myself throwing together dinner for a large group of people – friends of friends – on the fly after a long day out of the house, but without a single note of exhaustion or alienation. The truth is that these were not merely “second-hand” friends: they too were part of the evidently changed humanity among us.
As Br. Angelus put it: the point of singing that day was to express the essential meaning of what had happened to him and Br. Max, the meaning of the day. As I was reflecting on this, I thought: what, really, was the meaning of the day? It was that Christ’s love is something so concrete that you can bump into it and be drawn into its orbit. The next week I drove past the abbey as I do every day on my way to the office. It is a sight so familiar that I usually do not notice it. That Monday, however, I was full of gratitude and its presence bowled me over. I thought: there are those same four walls, but they are no longer the same. They have been transfigured by the ‘yes’ of Br. Max and Br. Angelus. That experience was like seeing, all of a sudden, the common thread among all the signs I just spoke of. Our lives have become translucent to something completely new, and a joyful humanity is the supreme sign by which this newness announces itself.
Francis, Atchison, KS