January 28, 2005

Archbishop tells new archabbot to make prayer the heart of his ministry

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By Sean Gallagher

SAINT MEINRAD -- On Jan. 21, the feast of St. Meinrad, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, during a festive Mass celebrated in the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einseideln, solemnly blessed Benedictine Archabbot Justin DuVall, who was elected the ninth abbot and sixth archabbot of Saint Meinrad Archabbey on Dec. 31.

During the liturgy, following the proclamation of the Gospel, Archbishop Buechlein and the acclamation of the congregation confirmed the election. Archbishop Buechlein then questioned the new monastic leader regarding his willingness to take on the responsibilities of abbot and then gave him instructions in the form of a homily.

A litany of the saints was prayed for Archabbot Justin as he lay prostrate in the center of the monastic choir stalls. Following this, he received from Archbishop Buechlein the solemn blessing of the Church as well as various insignia of his office: the Rule of St. Benedict, a miter, crosier and ring.

Archabbot Justin then received the sign of peace from Archbishop Buechlein, other visiting bishops and abbots, and the monks of Saint Meinrad.

Four abbots were present for the liturgy along with Archbishop Thomas C. Kelley, of Louisville, Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger, of Evansville, Bishop John J. McRaith, of Owensboro, Ky., and Bishop Eward J. Slattery, of Tulsa, Okla.

In his instruction to Archabbot Justin, Archbishop Buechlein, who was a monk of Saint Meinrad until being appointed bishop of Memphis, Tenn. in 1987, made a connection between St. Benedict’s teaching that in the monastery the abbot holds the place of Christ and the current Year of the Eucharist.

“Father Abbot, serving the brethren and the primacy of the Eucharist are intimately connected,” he said. “Just as the ministry and teaching of Jesus revealed the loving kindness of God our Father, so the word and example of the abbot is to reveal to his monks the justice, mercy and goodness of our Father in heaven. The motto you chose for your coat of arms sums it up, ‘Grace, mercy, peace.’ ”

Speaking from his own experience as archbishop and echoing his frequent emphasis on the primacy of prayer, Archbishop Buechlein told the new monastic leader that prayer should rank first among his pastoral responsibilities.

“Father Abbot, you are respected as a serene and prayerful monk,” he said. “If you are to take the place of Christ in this community, I cannot imagine anything more important than you be a man of prayer.

“I believe its true to say that, like the first ministry of a bishop, your first ministry to this community, as abbot, is to be a man of prayer both in the community, with the community and also alone.”

Acknowledging that Archabbot Justin’s election, coming at the end of the Saint Meinrad’s sesquicentennial, marks a new beginning for the monastery, Archbishop Buechlein later reminded the monastic community that the future of their new leader and their common life will in large part be controlled by themselves.

“Whether or not Archabbot Justin can become a good abbot depends a lot on you,” he said. “Whether or not this wonderful monastery continues to be a house of God depends on whether or not the abbot can take his rightful place as the one who presides and speaks in the place of Christ.”

Finally, Archbishop Buechlein noted that Archabbot Justin’s solemn blessing was a celebration of the entire Church, not simply of the monks who elected him.

“In this liturgy the whole Church prays for you, Father Abbot, and for you, the monks of Saint Meinrad,” he said. “We need your witness more than ever before.”

In remarks just before the conclusion of the liturgy, Archabbot Justin, echoing the words of St. Benedict, reflected upon this witness that he and his monks are charged by their vows to provide the faithful.

“The power and love of Christ transforms every aspect of the day-to-day life of the monastery,” he said, “so that abbot and monks alike may prefer nothing whatever to Christ.

“What is true for the monastery is true for the whole Church as well. And that is why the Church comes together for this occasion. It recognizes in the monastic life an image of the holiness to which every Christian is called. When we monks live as we have promised, then we offer the Church the conviction that Christ has truly redeemed us.”

Thus mindful of his place and the place of his monastic community in the wider Church, Archabbot Justin brought his remarks to a close with the recognition that the liturgy in which he received the Church’s solemn blessing ultimately does not put a spotlight only on himself.

“This day belongs to no one person alone,” he said. “It is a day of celebration for the Church, which loves Christ her Lord and longs for the day of his blessed appearing.

“He alone puts us in our best light. Therefore let us prefer nothing whatever to Christ and may he bring us all alike to everlasting life. Amen.” †


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