I've been making visits to the Trappists in Kentucky since 1980 and have witnessed a lot of changes, not the least was the renovation that took the old gatehouse with its Latin message of "Peace to all who enter here" and in the new version, more of a gate than gatehouse replaced it with the simple message "God Alone" at a time where outwardly "peace" seemed more the issue, what with them hosting the Dali Lama and others.
The most recent visit, God centered as always, (isn't it strange how some places strip away everything and force you to look at what it is you worship in life?)was also a surprise. There is a new welcome center--with several monks in attendance--one hearing confessions in front of an Abbey casket that you can buy for your own burial, another running the system that shows a video, professionally done starting with the crackling fire of the Easter vigil but making one think of the fires of Hell and how the MAN-Jesus Christ was snatched from the fire to become FIRE and to inflame the world with love.
I given my nature was avoiding both of these spectacles and tarrying in the bookstore --vainly looking to see if they carried my books (they did not, nor my wife's)and making a few purchases. Placing these in my car, I rushed back in to view the video which now was not running. I went over and tried to turn it on with little luck and then noticed one of the monks rushing toward me, motioning wildly (no doubt a holdover from the old days when they rarely spoke)-I assured him that I knew they closed in fifteen minutes and I'd only watch it for ten giving them plenty of time to close shop. He motioned for the other monk who came in to turn on the system.
I now recognized this monk. I knew him in a different time, when we were fellow students. Later he would be ordained a priest and would be mentioned to me by my mother for the fine job he had done in helping her cousin Barbara deal with the untimely death of her child. Was I imagining that this was him?
"What is your name father?" I asked.
He responded with his monastic first name.
"What is your last name?"
He hesitated, almost as if to say why do you want to know but then because he's a monk and not "in the world", he told me. It was him.
"I'm Mike Dubruiel."
"Michael, I thought that was your voice--I didn't recognize you."
"Its the fat," I confessed.
While the crackling fire began to burn on the screen--we quickly in ten minutes related all that had happened in the twenty years since we had last seen each other. Then he shut the video off and said "Its time for prayer" (actually it was thirty minutes before prayer started)and he was gone.
Walking toward the chapel after visiting Merton's grave I noticed the the inscription that I so love on the walls of this enclosure "God Alone"...it is where we are heading--how we get there is also ultimately His design.
Note: I have never been to the monastery during the Christmas season before, it was interesting to see how Trappist decorate the barren chapel--it looked nice in an Amish kind of way.