St Anselm - Day 5


My apologies for the erratic transmission of the diary. It is strange, and a bit frustrating, that in this country of all countries I am having trouble with email. The monastery has no wifi which is commendable. It is an oasis. The college that surrounds it is alive with state of the art electronic gadgets but they have been caught up in servicing a lot of the technology now that the students have gone home and the system has not been working. So I have felt unusually isolated, more so that I ever did in Burma or the wilds of Bolivia. 

There is, as you can imagine, little to report. By the very nature of things, the days are full of silence and I have felt spoilt by the hours to think and prepare the conferences. There has been time for reading too and, following a number of recommendations from monks here and people at home, I have obtained a copy of "Jesus: A Pilgrimage" by an American Jesuit, James Martin. I have read other books of his; he is able to see his subjects in a rather original way, answering questions that we would like to think we might have asked. He can also be very humorous. I warmly recommend it. In some small way he uses the same idea of a diary or journal that I am using these days in writing to you. In his book, we are invited to travel with him in his visit to the Holy Land. 

I have enjoyed the regularity of the prayer here and the priority given to it at various times of the day. We have had a couple of variations today. The monk who speeds in his wheelchair, in reverse, is celebrating sixty years of priesthood today. He gave the homily at Mass. He repeated a homily that he had given thirty five years ago, on his silver jubilee. It was a very clever presentation of imaginary letters which might have been written to him by some of the saints: John the Baptist and Catherine of Siena, among others. Some reminded him of his duties and strengths, other offered advice, while others corrected him. It was cleverly done and easy listening; it was also twenty five minutes long! But the community were very accommodating, it being his jubilee. This evening we had our dessert in the Chapter Room in his honour. Mountains of ice cream cake. I should mention that this same monk looks after a vast tract of the monastery's woodland, exchanging his reversing wheelchair for a small tractor or a lawn mower, and is happy to brandish a chainsaw and fell the occasional tree. Not bad at 86. 

In place of the usual Midday Prayer today, we processed out to the monastery's cemetery, where fifty one monks are now buried. Every Thursday, weather permitting, the community pray for them, reminding themselves that their bonds as brothers stretch beyond this life. I must say it was very moving. 

My conferences are now finished. As usual, I had worried that I would not have enough material but I ended with some left over. Tomorrow morning the retreat officially ends with Mass and I will preach. The Mass is in the main church and there will be a few other local people present. That done, there is a plan to drive to the mountains which would be a wonderful way of ending this short visit. Some of the monks will leave straight after the retreat for their own holidays and family visits. 

I was fortunate to be given a quick tour of the centre of Manchester today. The surviving mills along the river are truly immense structures. They represent only a small proportion of the mills that existed in the heyday when Manchester was the biggest textile producer in the world. We drove down some streets where the industrialists had built enormous houses, again almost all of them in wood. They feature facades with wide verandas, pillared arcades, towers and turrets, all aiming to be a little more impressive that the one next door! Many are now office buildings and converted into apartments, though some apparently remain as single occupancy homes. This would have been a handsome town, with two dominant migrant groups of the Irish and the French, one on each side of the fast-flowing Merrimack River, and best kept apart. But for all the attractiveness of the parts of the city that I have seen, I am told that there are no-go areas, and the same drug and crime problems which would be associated with much larger cities. 

The bright blue sky and the warmth of the sun have given away to a grey mist. I hope that tomorrow, if we get to the mountains, that the view will be clear. I was talking yesterday to one of the monks about the weather here in New England. They have to tolerate extremes. This last winter saw heavy snow, twelve feet in places, and a prolonged period of sub-zero temperatures. In the summer it can be stiflingly hot and humid for weeks on end. 

I hope to make a final report on the mountains as a close to this short journal. Given the flight back on Saturday and the fact that it is a Bank Holiday weekend, I think that your final instalment will arrive on Tuesday. END OF DAY FIVE.