When I was 19 my roommate and I had an idea that we should start a prayer group on campus. We needed a faculty sponsor and I was tasked with meeting a Benedictine monk to ask him. I ran into him on our campus green. He asked me what I thought the group was for, paused, and waited for my reply. As I spoke I knew intimately that he was really listening. He conveyed to me with his attention that every word I said mattered. The quality of presence he had with people is something I strive for, and am not very good at.
Sebastian would write every day, and turn his notes into handouts which he’d give to anyone who was interested. “I’m not sure what you’ll think of these” he’d say. If you heard him preach on a Sunday, he’d have copies of his homily available for everyone present. Or rather, a copy of what he’d written that morning. He was charming, and brilliant, spoke with stops and starts, and he was rarely straight to the point. You had to listen intently to both follow along, and keep up. I think that was part of the point. After I graduated I’d go back and visit him from time to time. I’d invariably leave with a packet of papers. They were what he’d written since our last conversation. Handouts that turned into galleys, that became two books. Sebastian died a year ago today (2.28.14). He was 97.
Here are a few words of his for anyone going to church in the morning. The words in the brackets are mine.
“Who is the self I bring to the celebration that is speaking of me as a sinner asking for pardon and grace?…I find that…[it is the] self bullied at school, put down and resentful….the resultant of routine life at my job and with people, and is probably not the self awakened by a love-affair or life with a great friend. It is probably not the self that waits on grace, which is the one the liturgy is really talking about….[And so] I…participate routinely, because this is the Mass and Scripture is now ‘important’…. So of course Mass is a bore. I never or seldom come alive at it.
Now I can change this situation by ‘focusing’ it….I attend to myself…[Think of] a problem you’re having with someone, really upset at what he or she said or did and what I didn’t say or do. You poor tired old reactive me! The point of focusing is that this ‘me’ thus attended to, listened to…is where desire resides and wants to grow into loving….Mass is the time when I am to let my real, life-desiring and vulnerable self come into contact with the ultimate expression of our nakedness: my body for you.
Could this address the infinite boredom that the Mass means to young people today, to those who still go, probably with family? Bring to the mass the row you’re having with that asshole of a teacher….and remember Gethsemane and the wonderful party that Jesus got out of it, with the bread and wine.” ~ Sebastian Moore, OSB. From The Contagion of Jesus, p.118.