My first monastic experiences were with the Trappists at Our Lady of the Genesee. Our campus ministry organized an annual Night Pilgrimage. We would meet at the chapel on campus at midnight to pray. About an hour later, it was carpooling to a remote location a handful of miles from the abbey. We had permission to cross through a few farm fields and some semi-wooded areas. Every twenty minutes or so, we would break our silent walk to pray. By 4AM, we would reach the abbey. One of the monks, usually Brother Anthony, the guestmaster (in those days) would speak with us. In 1980, we happened to see Henri Nouwen on his second sojourn at the abbey. (Read his Genesee Diary if you haven’t already. All of us students did.) At 5:15 we would join the monks for Lauds. The cars would pick us up afterward, and the Newman Center at SUNY Geneseo would have coffee and donuts waiting for us on the way home.
What an experience these were! I recall one year we walked the pilgrimage under a full moon. It was unearthly and sublime, and we stashed our flashlights away.
We had our annual retreats each February there. Nothing like a monastery in a snow-laden winter. Later I realized these early retreats spoiled me. I had grown accustomed to monastic silence, so when some folks rebelled against a great silence on a parish retreat (my post-college parish) I really wondered what their fuss was about. So many Catholics seem so fearful of silence. Really, there’s nothing to be a-scared of.
If you are in upstate New York or planning to be near Rochester, I would heartily recommend a trip to the Abbey of Our Lady of the Genesee. Be sure to take home a loaf of raisin bread. Tomorrow, hear how your pig-headed blog host gets his come-uppance during a bicycle pilgrimage to and from the Genesee Abbey. Stay tuned.