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    Like all good medieval institutions, monasteries have coats of arms and mottos. Assumption Abbey is no exception. Our coat of arms is a combination of references to the Virgin Mary, our membership in the Benedictine Order and our being situated on the Great Plains. Our motto is in Latin, of course, and is from a Marian hymn. In Latin: Iter para tutum, which means prepare a safe journey. This seems, perhaps, an inappropriate motto for a monastery of men dedicated, in part, to living a life of stability, rooted in one place and resolved to seeking God in this place. Our founder, Vincent Wehrle, may have, however, understood his charges better than they knew, for stability often seems to be observed more in the breach than in the practice. All one has to do is look at the car check-out sheet and see that “prepare a safe journey” is a very good motto for us. But, of course, none of this has anything to do with cars and frequent-flyer miles and blizzard survival kits. It’s all about salvation: the road we travel from womb to tomb—and beyond. A rule of the road is “Stop. Look. Listen.” It’s a pretty good rule for the spiritual journey as well, and the gospel readings for the second half of Lent teach us to do just that. Stop. On the Third Sunday of Lent the gospel proclaimed is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42). One could say the stopping was done by Jesus: he stops at this well outside the confines of Israel and talks to this woman who is outside his social class, outside his religion and outside his purview. More importantly the woman stops. She halts her daily routine to encounter this stranger. As the conversation ensues with Jesus, the woman also stops the recitation of her story to admit that what she has done and how she is currently living is sinful. She has had five husbands and the one with whom she lives now is not her husband. But she doesn’t have to prevaricate or avoid her sketchy history, not with Jesus. Something in their stopping together, this encounter, allows her to open herself to her emptiness, to her thirst for something more. And once she acknowledges her thirst and her desire for what is lacking in her life, Jesus is able to say to her, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Stop. Look. On the Fourth Sunday of Lent the gospel proclaimed is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind (John 9:1-41). The blind man is by the roadside and Jesus stops and works through the man an object lesson in faith. The disciples want to know if the blindness is a consequence of sin, either the man’s or his parents’. In order to prove that it is neither, Jesus cures the man of blindness and as things play out, he is brought to Pharisees who question him about his blindness, his cure and Jesus. Jesus stops. Jesus looks on the blind man and heals him. In a very literal way, the blind man now looks—he sees. What becomes evident in the ensuing encounters with people and officials is that there is physical blindness and physical sight and there is spiritual blindness and spiritual sight. The man could be said to experience both physical sight and spiritual sight: his eyes see but he also grows in faith in Jesus Christ. He sees Jesus for who he is. The Pharisees are not physically blind but they are spiritually blind: they cannot get past the humanity of Jesus, his infringing on their law, and his claims about his relationship with God. They do not have faith, their unbelief is blindness. Sight is equated with faith: “I came into the world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Stop. Look. Listen. On the Fifth Sunday of Lent the gospel proclaimed is the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). In this story Jesus stops, or rather fails to move. He is informed that at some distance in Bethany his friend Lazarus is gravely ill. He doesn’t look at the plight of his friend as most people would, but insists on delaying so that God’s glory may be revealed in him. And he doesn’t listen to the entreaties of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. Eventually he goes to Bethany and finds that his friend died four days ago. While Jesus is still approaching, Martha runs out to meet him. In their encounter, Martha begins with complete openness to Jesus, absolute trust: she knows before whom she stands, she believes and she is promised that this belief will ensure eternal life. But Mary has not yet seen Jesus. Her remonstration of him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” elicits from Jesus his greatest miracle. He calls Lazarus forth from the tomb: “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” And so our journey of these three Sundays of Lent brings us to our destination: the Paschal Mystery. We will witness the suffering, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in the two weeks following this last great miracle. We are called to stop, look and listen to these events anew every year, for they are central to our life of faith. The rules of the road do apply to the spiritual journey. In each of the gospel stories, it is so heartening to realize that Jesus stops—at the well, for the blind man, to raise Lazarus. Jesus is always there if only we would stop and spend time with him. If we do stop he will slake our spiritual longing, he will open our eyes to belief and he will raise up our broken spirits. These encounters also remind us that we are loved in our sins; we need not wait until we are perfect or “good enough.” We may be outside the pale as was the Samaritan woman; we may be helpless, overlooked, handicapped in some way (physically or spiritually) as was the man born blind; or we may be dead, of course on some emotional or spiritual level. None of it matters for Jesus sees us and he wants to heal us if we are open to him. These stories also remind us of the essential element of prayer in our life. Do we listen to Jesus? He, of course, listens to us. And we do have the opportunity to hear him: he is proclaimed at every Mass, we read our scriptures, we pray. But praying is not just talking and telling beads; it’s really, really listening. He does speak. He does have “the words of everlasting life.” “Prepare a safe journey” isn’t such a bad motto for a monastery of stable monks after all. The journey is long and there may be hazards, but if we stop, look and listen we’ll be prepared to reach our final destination in safety.

Iter Para Tutum

by Br. Alban Petesch, OSB
Spiritual Reflections
    Like all good medieval institutions, monasteries have coats of arms and mottos. Assumption Abbey is no exception. Our coat of arms is a combination of references to the Virgin Mary, our membership in the Benedictine Order and our being situated on the Great Plains. Our motto is in Latin, of course, and is from a Marian hymn. In Latin: Iter para tutum, which means prepare a safe journey. This seems, perhaps, an inappropriate motto for a monastery of men dedicated, in part, to living a life of stability, rooted in one place and resolved to seeking God in this place. Our founder, Vincent Wehrle, may have, however, understood his charges better than they knew, for stability often seems to be observed more in the breach than in the practice. All one has to do is look at the car check-out sheet and see that “prepare a safe journey” is a very good motto for us. But, of course, none of this has anything to do with cars and frequent-flyer miles and blizzard survival kits. It’s all about salvation: the road we travel from womb to tomb—and beyond. A rule of the road is “Stop. Look. Listen.” It’s a pretty good rule for the spiritual journey as well, and the gospel readings for the second half of Lent teach us to do just that. Stop. On the Third Sunday of Lent the gospel proclaimed is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman (John 4:5-42). One could say the stopping was done by Jesus: he stops at this well outside the confines of Israel and talks to this woman who is outside his social class, outside his religion and outside his purview. More importantly the woman stops. She halts her daily routine to encounter this stranger. As the conversation ensues with Jesus, the woman also stops the recitation of her story to admit that what she has done and how she is currently living is sinful. She has had five husbands and the one with whom she lives now is not her husband. But she doesn’t have to prevaricate or avoid her sketchy history, not with Jesus. Something in their stopping together, this encounter, allows her to open herself to her emptiness, to her thirst for something more. And once she acknowledges her thirst and her desire for what is lacking in her life, Jesus is able to say to her, “Whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Stop. Look. On the Fourth Sunday of Lent the gospel proclaimed is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind (John 9:1-41). The blind man is by the roadside and Jesus stops and works through the man an object lesson in faith. The disciples want to know if the blindness is a consequence of sin, either the man’s or his parents’. In order to prove that it is neither, Jesus cures the man of blindness and as things play out, he is brought to Pharisees who question him about his blindness, his cure and Jesus. Jesus stops. Jesus looks on the blind man and heals him. In a very literal way, the blind man now looks—he sees. What becomes evident in the ensuing encounters with people and officials is that there is physical blindness and physical sight and there is spiritual blindness and spiritual sight. The man could be said to experience both physical sight and spiritual sight: his eyes see but he also grows in faith in Jesus Christ. He sees Jesus for who he is. The Pharisees are not physically blind but they are spiritually blind: they cannot get past the humanity of Jesus, his infringing on their law, and his claims about his relationship with God. They do not have faith, their unbelief is blindness. Sight is equated with faith: “I came into the world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Stop. Look. Listen. On the Fifth Sunday of Lent the gospel proclaimed is the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). In this story Jesus stops, or rather fails to move. He is informed that at some distance in Bethany his friend Lazarus is gravely ill. He doesn’t look at the plight of his friend as most people would, but insists on delaying so that God’s glory may be revealed in him. And he doesn’t listen to the entreaties of Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. Eventually he goes to Bethany and finds that his friend died four days ago. While Jesus is still approaching, Martha runs out to meet him. In their encounter, Martha begins with complete openness to Jesus, absolute trust: she knows before whom she stands, she believes and she is promised that this belief will ensure eternal life. But Mary has not yet seen Jesus. Her remonstration of him, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” elicits from Jesus his greatest miracle. He calls Lazarus forth from the tomb: “Did I not tell you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” And so our journey of these three Sundays of Lent brings us to our destination: the Paschal Mystery. We will witness the suffering, crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus in the two weeks following this last great miracle. We are called to stop, look and listen to these events anew every year, for they are central to our life of faith. The rules of the road do apply to the spiritual journey. In each of the gospel stories, it is so heartening to realize that Jesus stops—at the well, for the blind man, to raise Lazarus. Jesus is always there if only we would stop and spend time with him. If we do stop he will slake our spiritual longing, he will open our eyes to belief and he will raise up our broken spirits. These encounters also remind us that we are loved in our sins; we need not wait until we are perfect or “good enough.” We may be outside the pale as was the Samaritan woman; we may be helpless, overlooked, handicapped in some way (physically or spiritually) as was the man born blind; or we may be dead, of course on some emotional or spiritual level. None of it matters for Jesus sees us and he wants to heal us if we are open to him. These stories also remind us of the essential element of prayer in our life. Do we listen to Jesus? He, of course, listens to us. And we do have the opportunity to hear him: he is proclaimed at every Mass, we read our scriptures, we pray. But praying is not just talking and telling beads; it’s really, really listening. He does speak. He does have “the words of everlasting life.” “Prepare a safe journey” isn’t such a bad motto for a monastery of stable monks after all. The journey is long and there may be hazards, but if we stop, look and listen we’ll be prepared to reach our final destination in safety.

Iter Para Tutum

by Br. Alban Petesch, OSB
Spiritual Reflections
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