MAY 26, 2011- 60TH ANNIVERSARY OF FOUNDING OF ABBEY OF THE GENESEE

COL 3:12-17 ; JOHN 16:20-22

 

SIXTY YEARS AGO today marked the founding of this community of the Genesee. There can be no more fitting manner of commemorating the founding of this monastery than by this memorial of our Lord’s Paschal mystery that continues to serve as the living source of our community life as it has been for these sixty years. The sacrifice of the mass is the spiritual stream from which the bonds of community flow. The Eucharist itself, we do well to recall, is a memorial of a unique character in that it not only calls to mind the events of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection that took place some two thousand years ago. This sacred offering actually makes them present in our midst here and now. This is a divine mystery that transcends the limits of this material universe. For Christ Jesus himself acts through his ministers at the interface of time and eternity. At this altar we participate in a reality that takes place in two spheres, belonging to our world of time and to the spiritual world of eternity. Our Eucharistic gathering today remains the living center of our community as it has been the heart of the whole Catholic Church from the earliest days of its existence.

 

A few of us here today were present at the beginning of this foundation when the word that a new foundation was to be made in the Genesee Valley. New York seemed distant in those days when travel was usually by train. I myself recall only vaguely a brief meeting with Father Gerard, the Prior at Gethsemani, who was named the superior of the planned foundation.  I was barely aware of the detailed preparations, being a still in the solitary environment of the novitiate that I had entered in 1950, less than a year before the designated brothers left. The majority of the founders was young in monastic experience, and had been novices with me, having only recently made simple vows when they left in the spring of 1951. Then, as now, our country was involved in war being fought in far away Korea as a response to aggressive communist expansion. The general climate of the country and of Europe in those years was markedly tense due to the heightened threat of expanding communism. Among other pressures there had recently been a general persecution to the Church in China during that period.

 

Sixty years later as we review the history of this community in the context of the larger developments in the Church and of world events in light of today’s Gospel we have much to reflect upon. Jesus words in the Gospel today remind us, even in this season when we celebrate his resurrection, that entry into the true life is preceded by suffering: “you will know pain, but your suffering will be turned into joy.” The suffering and death of three officers of the foundation in the early years would seem to have been one of the ways this prophecy was fulfilled in the life of our community: Frater Dennis, still in his twenties, the cellarer Father Simon, the novice master, both died in the first year, and were followed in death in just a few years by Dom Gerard, the first abbot, though he was still in his forties. Our Lord went on to compare the new life he brings to childbirth, accompanied by pain but resulting in a solid happiness. The new born appears in the world through pain, but brings with it hope and new life.

 

A monastic community is a sign of that hope which faith in the living, risen Christ makes present in the place in which it is planted. Saint Paul states the reason very movingly in the first reading this evening when he writes to the Colossians: “As God’s chosen holy ones and beloved, cloth yourself with sincere compassion. . .  . Be grateful; let the word of Christ dwell within you. Teach and give advice to each other, in all wisdom. With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to God; and let all you do in word and work be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him.” May this be the program we live out in the years to come as we continue to witness as a community to the truth and vitality of the Gospel revealed in Jesus our Savior.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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