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Pilgrims’ Progress: Journal Entries from a 60th Anniversary Pilgrimage – #18

On August 15, 2019, thirteen Canadian Jesuits noted their 60th Anniversary as members of the Society of Jesus.  Two members of this group – Charlie Pottie Pate, SJ and David Eley, SJ  – have chosen to make a special pilgrimage to mark the occasion.  They have graciously agreed to share their journal entries and photos with igNation which will post them once or twice a week.

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Well, the time has come to conclude this account of our pilgrimage to the Nordic countries culminating in this 7 full day retreat at the Cistercian(or Trappist as it sometimes called, though they prefer “Cistercian” from the reform in the 11th c.) Abbey of Mount St. Bernard’s in Coalville, Leicestershire Co. England. And what a culmination it has been…. Like the frosting on the cake that was already so bountiful and rich in experiences!

It would be foolish to try to re-cap these days here. David and I had a sharing last night and we were agreed that having our retreat at the end, rather than at the beginning as originally suggested was providential and a fitting end to our visit of Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm and Helsinki (a few sites from there).

We also agreed that this setting in rural England was so beautiful. I can say that of all the Cistercian monasteries I’ve visited in the past 60 years, the physical setting, the landscape of this one is the most beautiful. With my cell camera I tried to capture a few vistas from a Calvary hill on the property. . But really it is so much more beautiful. The first thing that struck me were the fields where the sheep were grazing. I’ve never seen so many sheep in one area! It was a restful scene to see each day.

The abbey building (built in 1840s) is well kept, both outside and inside with flowers galore on the property, esp. roses. (I took it on myself to do some pruning of them as I passed the hedges of roses). They have an outsider gardener who has done a superb job. The interior of the church is also beautifully kept – cream like walls in the Gothic structure. The centre part where the altar is has chairs for all the monks and any visitors who want to come around the altar. A large church but still amazingly warm and acoustically wonderful.

Our rooms were simple but quite adequate. The meals were the same (for the most part, we were told) as what the monks ate. It was healthy – potatoes or pasta, quiche, fish or vegetarian dish, a salad. And a dessert at noon (main meal).

We followed the schedule of the community – 7 am Morning common prayer (Lauds), Eucharist at 8 am then breakfast (cereal, fruit, milk, coffee or tea); rest of morning was free for our own prayer and reflection and reading. A short prayer at 12:15 then noon meal;  time for siesta or walk after meal; a short common prayer at 2:15 then free to do what we wanted until 5:30 pm Vespers or Evening prayer.

Supper at 6 and then 7:30 Compline (they had exposition of the Sacrament for ½ or so before) and the door is locked at 8:15 pm.  We did not have to go to all these common prayer. But we shared in a number of them and then did our own schedule of personal prayer and reflection.

It is a very welcoming community. Their guest house while we were there had a good number of visitors for a couple days at a time, or a weekend. The Guestmaster said we were lucky that there wasn’t as many as usual. They do have different kinds of groups who come, like AA groups or reflection groups from schools or parishes.

So it is quite an active place, and yet there is lots of room to get lost and be quiet and away from the groups.  I was able to find corners here and there to hide as it were. The monks that we met were most hospitable, esp. our Guestmaster. There are about 11 different nationalities represented in the community.

We were fortunate to have unbelievable good weather for 7 days…..sunny with some clouds each day. No rain in 7 days! So that was great to be able to get out in the fresh air each day.

For myself,  my first reflection was on the beauty of the earth in  this part of the world and how it has been maintained and well kept.  Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment came to mind often in giving thanks for such a beautiful part of our planet’s diverse richness.

I reflected as well on and gave thanks for these 60 years of life in the Society by looking at each year with the places, the persons and relationships/ communities, and significant events that came to mind.  They were all formative for me, and some transformative as I recalled them to mind and noted them. So much to be grateful for.

Early in the retreat I came across in Psalm 93 that the just one will bear fruit even in old age. That was consoling considering that I will be hitting 80 this year. But then a few days ago, it occurred to me that, hey, I’m only 80. This is not the end of the journey. Maybe God has some more surprises for us in the years to come.

I was also able to meet and get to know a young Polish couple who are living on the property and doing volunteer work for the monastery. A delightful young couple. Good cooks too!  Then one of the brothers who is Filipino has a good friend in Calgary whom he wants me to contact. The world is small, eh? In fact he gave us 2 bottles of the Abbey ale. We shared it with the seven guests who were at table for dinner. Just a small glass for each. Strong stuff, but tasty. A nice touch for the last meal.

So we’re leaving with gratitude for the people we met on our way in the Nordic countries, that I’ve already mentioned in earlier messages. Blessings on all!