I recently arrived back home from a retreat at Silverstream Priory. The next few blog posts will focus on the fruit of prayers and reflections during those days; for now, this one will relate my experience of the residing monastic community.
As I caught the bus from my house to the airport at 5 in the morning my head was full of thoughts about the journey I was embarking upon. While I had been eagerly looking forward to this retreat, now thoughts of leaving my wife and children – my home – behind, if even just for a few days, began to make me question my decision. These doubt-filled thoughts continued to loom in the back of my mind, even as Giovanni (a friend of the monastery, who collected me at the airport in Dublin) and I talked on our way to the monastery. Yet, as the car pulled up in front of the Gatehouse and I saw D. Finnian’s familiar and friendly face, the “buzzing” of those lingering thoughts went silent. I was home.
Shortly after greeting D. Finnian, the guestmaster D. Cassian, a young monk hailing from Australia, came out to meet me; it was the first time we met in person. D. Cassian took me to visit Our Lord, and as we made our way up the stairs to the house, and then inside to the oratory, I saw that things were the same as I remembered them since my last visit, yet much had changed as well. Shortly thereafter I returned to the guesthouse; D. Cassian appeared with some coffee, we spoke for a bit, and I had the chance to make the acquaintance of a young man who is currently an “inquirer” at Silverstream. I was then shown to my room. Not too long after that the bell rang: it was time for Terce followed immediately by Mass.
I met the rest of the monks over the next day or two. It was impressive to see the community’s current size. When last I visited, nearly four years ago, there were just four monks; since then Silverstream has grown threefold! It was nice to finally meet face to face all our monastic brothers who we had only seen in pictures online and prayed for, recalling them with “…et cum fratribus nostris absentibus.” I had a chance to speak with most of them, to a greater or lesser degree. I tried as much as possible not to get in their way, or distract them with idle chatter.
Besides myself, the inquirer, and one of the monk’s parents, there were two other people staying at the guesthouse – two priests. One is an oblate of the monastery, and I believe was just there for a few days; the other had been there for quite some time now, and would be staying for an indeterminate amount of time. This priest mentioned to me that he had never heard of Silverstream before; he had mentioned needing a retreat to an ordained friend, who replied he knew just the place for him. And so this priest found himself far from the country where he was ministering in, praying and waiting, taking his time listening to the Lord (which, apparently, is not part of his character, being the type of person more inclined to action. [If you are reading this, Father, I hope I haven’t misrepresented you, or said anything I shouldn’t have.]). This is not the first time I have met a priest here in such a situation. It seems to me that Silverstream is a place of healing, most especially for priests, a fact which does not surprise me given the place’s charism. I will try to say some more about this, perhaps, in the next post.
Dame Hilda Benilda was not seen out and about as much as last time; it seems her age is catching up with her. However, I chanced upon Constance and Mildred; the former seems to be taking her monastic vows seriously and avoiding contact at all costs with visitors, while the latter has no problem interacting with guests (or perhaps she’s just vying for D. Cassian’s role as guestmaster?). On my daily walk within the enclosure I would quite often pass by the chickens, which seemed to think I was one of their own after I clucked to gain their attention (the rooster did not seem amused with this).
A verse from Chapter LIII, On the Reception of Guests, came to mind during my stay:
[…]guests, who are never lacking in a monastery […]
I never understood why monasteries should be busy places, but after a few days of seeing people coming and going, it finally made sense. It is not the easiest place to arrive at (and this is a good thing, especially for the monks), yet people managed to find their way there. While the World Meeting of Families was going on, people would happen to find their way to the monastery. People from all over the world seem to find their way to this secluded monastery, and many times someone will know someone in common with another visitor.
The house no longer resounded with the bustling noise of renovations, as it did four years ago. Nonetheless, works were still being carried out, with the new novitiate cells being built, as well as the new church (aptly named Bethlehem). Silverstream has a vocational problem: it’s a growing family, yet does not have enough space to take in all those who “persevere in knocking” at the door. If you can help this growing community, please consider making a donation here.
In the second part I will say a bit about my experience of the Liturgy during my stay.