Becoming One with Benedictines and Baseball in Bridgeport
My dear wife Natalie always has my best interests at heart, and so one day a few years back she got on-line and found me, as she said, “a monastery a lot closer to home.”
Allow me to explain:
We live in the southwest corner of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan—right across Lake Michigan from Chicago, and I was, at the time, fulfilling my duties of a Benedictine Oblate of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, which is more than six hours away in the southernmost part of Indiana. I had been going to Saint Meinrad on an annual retreat every December with a great group of Catholic men from South Bend, Indiana, but the last time I went our bus nearly ran off the highway in a blizzard. Natalie was not too nuts about a repeat of that performance, and she observed that I was spending a lot of windshield time once a month when I drove over to the Kalamazoo area for Oblate meetings.
“How often does a monk from Saint Meinrad come to your meetings?” she asked.
“Not often,” I said. “We pray the office together, and then we usually watch a video of a conference from Saint Meinrad.”
“All right,” Natalie said, “so let me get this straight: you’re driving an hour on I-94 to go to an Oblate meeting to get the wisdom of the monks from Saint Meinrad, and there usually isn’t a monk there?”
“What if I told you that you could drive an hour the other way, or take the train, which you love, and get the wisdom of real, live monks at every Oblate meeting?”
“I’d say, sign me up.”
And so Natalie assigned me to check out the website of the Monastery of the Holy Cross at 3111 S. Aberdeen Street in the historic Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago (www.chicagomonk.org).
I was blown away.
Literally, because, after all, I grew up on the South Side of Chicago as a die-hard Chicago White Sox fan, and it was not lost on me that this here Monastery of the Holy Cross was literally within easy walking distance of the home of the Chicago White Sox, US Cellular Field at 35th and Shields.
“You could go to Mass with the monks, attend your Oblate meeting with the monks, and then walk to a White Sox game,” Natalie said. “What do you think?”
I looked at the website and liked what I saw, which was this:
The Monastery of the Holy Cross is a Roman Catholic, Benedictine Monastery of the Subiaco Cassinese Congregation. Continuing a centuries-old tradition, we live according to the Rule of St. Benedict, seeking God through a life of prayer, silence, work and hospitality. We do this in a distinctive way by offering the Church the service of contemplative life in the city. The Monastery was established in the Chicago Archdiocese at the invitation of Cardinal Bernadine in 1991. In 2011, the Monastery was elevated to the status of independent priory by Abbot President Bruno Marin, OSB.
What’s not to like, I thought, and so, on a gray Benedictine day December 2014, I took a deep breath and called the Monastery and asked the guest master, one Dom Ezekiel Brennan, OSB, if I could arrange an exploratory visit.
Brother Ezekiel said: “Sure. And why don’t you stay for lunch?”
And so I set out from southwest Michigan by car, South Shore commuter train, CTA Orange Line train, and foot to visit what could become my new monastery.
Brother Ezekiel greeted me in the warm Benedictine manner, settled me in at the nearby guesthouse, and bid me join the monks for the mid-day office, Sext, at 12:45 p.m. followed by a lunch cooked and served by the monks in the refectory.
This could work, I thought making myself tea and toast in the guesthouse. I settled down to read their literature and asked the Lord for guidance.
Is this a good move? Is this where you want me, Lord?
You know how you just know the Lord is leading you somewhere? That certain feeling you get?
Well, I had it in spades that December morn in 2014 in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago.
And then, when I joined the small but spiritually mighty band of some dozen or less monks of the Monastery of the Holy Cross for Sext, I knew Natalie had once again worked as worthy agent of the Lord and steered me in the right direction.
In his “little rule that we have written for beginners,” Saint Benedict that “all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ,” and so the Monks of the Monastery of the Holy Cross opened their table to me that day and bid me break bread and a delicious vegetable casserole with them while the reader of the week declaimed from a book about how Europe stumbled into a great war in August 1914.
And then, when we had had our repast, Prior Peter Funk, OSB, suggested I talk Oblate business with Father Edward Glanzmann, OSB.
I told Father Edward my story and why I had come to the monastery that morning, and he suggested I write to the Oblate Director at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, Father Meinrad Brune, OSB, and request permission for a transfer to the Monastery of the Holy Cross.
I did as instructed, and Father Meinrad wrote back by return mail and gave me his blessings to depart Saint Meinrad and join the Monastery of the Holy Cross as an Oblate, or lay member.
I forwarded Father Meinrad’s letter to Prior Peter, and, in no time flat, I was attending monthly Mass and Oblate meetings at 31st and Aberdeen in Chicago. We studied The Spirit of the Liturgy by Pope Benedict XVI that first year, and I was fitting in so well with the monks and other Oblates by December 2015 that I did not hesitate to accept Prior Peter’s invitation to transfer my Oblation to the Monastery of the Holy Cross at Mass. I gladly renewed my promises of stability of heart, fidelity to the spirit of the monastic life, and obedience to the will of God before my new community, and I confessed at the Oblate meeting that followed that I was a die-hard White Sox fan in search of fellow fans to attend a game or two during the 2016 season.
Well, it hasn’t been much of a season for my White Sox—what else is new?—but, wonder of wonders, one Sunday this summer I persuaded Brother Ezekiel to join me for a game. When he appeared out of habit in jeans and casual shirt and comfortable shoes, I was a bit surprised, but I was soon delighted by his company as we walked on over to the ballpark, not more than a mile really, and enjoyed his astute observations as we watched the White Sox once again snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.
I told Brother Ezekiel I was taking him to the game that summer day in 2016 in gratitude for the gracious hospitality he had shown me that bleak winter’s day in 2014 when I was seeking a spiritual home closer to my home in Michigan.
Brother Ezekiel smiled and said: “That’s what we do.”
And if you’d like to see what a visit to the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago can do for you, please contact them in care of:
Benedictine Monks of Chicago
Monastery of the Holy Cross
3111 S. Aberdeen St.
Chicago, IL 60608-6503