The Dedication of the Church of New Melleray
[Scripture Readings: Ez 43:1-7a; 1 Cor 3:9b-13, 16-17; Jn 4:19-24]
We are celebrating two events today. One is the dedication of our Abbey
Church; the other is the founding of our community 154 years ago. Both are about a
place-a place to live and a place to worship. It took us 130 years to get a
final place to worship. We never really had an abbey church until this church
was consecrated by Archbishop Byrne. I think you can say we are well
established. We are not going anywhere in the near future. But this thought is deceiving. No matter how hard we try to fix a permanent place for ourselves, we are
always being uprooted. Security and peace are mental spaces not physical spaces.
If we try to control our mental surroundings, they blow up in our face. It is
only by letting go that we find peace. Letting go and realizing life is a
struggle. St. Theresa of Avila says our life on earth is like a night in an
St. Benedict warns us in the 2nd chapter of his Rule that the life of a monk
is a battle. He uses more military language in establishing what kinds of
monks we are than in any other place in the Rule.
I remember an old book about New Melleray written in the 1920s with a picture of the church and choir stalls. Under the picture was the caption, “the
battle ground.” This is probably true in more ways than one. If we look at the
Psalms that make up the bulk of our office, they are filled with strife and
struggle and striving — filled with anguish and distress and tears. This is a real
part of any human life. It is a real part of a place like a church. Religious
people go to church when life gets unbearable. They bring their troubles, their
broken hearts to church. The walls of any church have born much suffering.
Traditionally, churches are shaped in the form of a cross. Suffering is built
into the stone. This is a symbol of a symbol—a sign of a sign that is our
life. St. Bernard had it right. The feast day of a church is a feast of our own
selves. “God’s temple is holy and you are that temple.” 1 Cor. 3:17
Our true dedication will not be till our last day—now is the time for
building—for building our personal lives and for building community. Our community is much older than any individual, but each individual member has contributed a span of its growth. Today we are especially aware of the founders—the pioneers who took seven weeks to cross the ocean—the ones who died on the way—the ones who suffered to make New Melleray a place of prayer and fraternity. The Scripture readings chosen for this day remind us that no building is holy—it is the people who live there. St. Benedict constructs his whole rule around humility. It is so important that the whole place should take on this virtue.
The expression of humility that has been handed on to us for these last 154
years is mercy. New Melleray is a place of mercy—a place of mercy for our
guests and a place of mercy for the monks who live here. May this ideal always be
with us as we thank God for the past and look into the future. God’s mercy