Not That Abbey Road

The time is 5:40 am.  Glenn and I are walking to Lauds.  The country road is quiet, no traffic.  The sun is about to rise.


 This isn’t the same Abbey Road that the Beatles walked across.  It’s the Abbey of the Genesee where Trappist Monks live in Piffard, NY, south of Rochester.  Glenn and I recently spent five wonderful days with the monks; our eighth retreat there together since we met ten years ago.

The Abbey Chapel
The Abbey Chapel

I  went to college very near the Abbey at SUNY Geneseo and heard of monks’ bread but only had a vague idea what monks were.   I didn’t know that they were brothers and priests who live in community, centering their lives around Jesus by celebrating Mass each day and praying the Liturgy of the Hours.  (For another useful website, go to Divine Office).  They support themselves by selling their homemade bread.  They also welcome retreatants, who stay in a guest house and are welcome to pray the Office with them.

The Lord is present in the beautiful Chapel
The Lord is present in the beautiful Chapel

I stumbled across the Office as a Salesian Lay Missionary in Bolivia. Someone brought me to stay with nuns at their convent.   I was twenty-eight and didn’t wake up each morning feeling peace.   The morning prayer brought me peace!   I learned that the Catholic Church around the world was praying these same prayers.   Very cool!

The Trappist Monks invite the public to pray with them five times a day, beginning at 2:25 am.  This is called Vigils and is a time to await the arrival of the Bridegroom, Jesus.  (I love this prayer even though it’s challenging to get up.)  At 6am, the community comes together for Lauds and Mass.  Sext is prayed at 11:30 am.  Vespers is at 4:30 pm and Compline at 6:30 pm.  The monks retire after this.   (The monastic community also prays Terce and None privately.)

Compline is the last prayer of the day with Psalms 4, 91, and 134 being sung.  I love that the psalms are chanted!  King David  (of David and Goliath)  wrote  psalms for the purpose of singing them.  Many psalms (33, 41, 100, 150, etc.) mention playing for the Lord on harps, timbrels, tambourines – praising the Lord for His goodness and what He’s done in our lives.  It feels more powerful to sing the psalms than to say them.

“In Quiet and Calm…”

Like Maeve, I thrive in the atmosphere of monastic communities, especially the Abbey of the Genesee.  It’s a spiritual home for us.  We’ve stayed at the abbey in every season, but this latest retreat was the most blessed time of all.  It was the Second Week of Easter and the joy of the Risen Christ was palpable, not only in the Divine Office and the liturgies, but in the hospitality of the Bethlehem retreat house  (thanks to the wonderful manager, Kathe) and in the warm weather as well.  Both of us enjoyed long walks during our stay, and took joy in the wildlife and the greening of the earth.

Solitude and silence are the two hallmarks of a monastic retreat.  Other than an occasional general conference conducted by one of the monks, an Abbey retreat is a non-directed affair.  Guests can  participate in monastic prayers, as little or as much as you prefer. Free time is to use at the retreatant’s discretion.   One thing is required, however.   Silence is observed throughout the house and adjoining areas.

“Why is this so?” you might ask.  The answer is best articulated by the Abbot Emeritus, the Rev. John Eudes Bamberger OCSO, who now resides in the abbey as a hermit;

“The truth is,”  Father John writes, “…that we can find lasting satisfaction only in the service of that Person who alone can fill the measure of our radical solitude and who is accessible only in silence.”


Unless you’ve made this kind of retreat, it’s difficult to describe what makes it so appealing.  For me, year after year, these “forays into silence and solitude”  always bear the good fruit of an increased intimacy with the Lord Jesus and a greater capacity for a more contemplative and focused prayer life.

Frankly, in this wide world of many pleasant and not-so-pleasant distractions, I can’t think of anything that substitutes for a few quiet, solitary days at a monastery.   For the Lord in His great love, wants to speak to our hearts.

 As always, Scripture says it best;

“By waiting and by calm you shall be saved, in quiet and in trust your strength lies.”                                                                       – Isaiah 30:15

There comes a time in your life when in the stillness of a retreat, you need to hear a personal word from your Creator.  Who else can save you?   Who else can give you real strength?

Is there anyone like God who is so completely worthy of your trust?

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