Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Road to Emmaus

                                            November 22, 1963                                 


“Benedicite!” Father Bernard said loudly for all the monks to hear. He had turned off the conveyor belt before speaking. All the brown cases of jams and jellies sat on the still roller bearings above us. Our hands still held the two jars in each destined to fill the empty slots in the open gift boxes on the  white felt conveyor belt which had been moving swiftly from right to left under our working hands.

“Dominus” we spoke as one giving our permission for a verbal communication to take place in this otherwise silent place, Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. This was home to me and 150 brothers and choir monks.

“The monastery has just received a call from a friend with tragic news. The President, John F. Kennedy has been shot to death in Dallas twenty minutes ago. Reverend Father has been asked for our prayers for the Kennedy Family and for our country. Reverend Father will make available newspaper accounts as they become available.”

After a moment of shock, Brother Bernard turned on the conveyor belts and work continued.  Sitting there, we, as was our custom, said nothing. What was unusual was that no one was making any hand signs, a usual and normal occurrence by which we kidded around with each other as we worked. Instead, faces reddened, eyes moistened and tears began flowing freely.

Remember, this was a bunch of hard working monks used to offering up pain and suffering “all for Jesus and Mary with a smile.” Most of these, my brothers, had been veterans from the Second World War or the Korean War, many were Irish Catholics from the Boston area, and considered the President to be one of our own family, and a hero in his PT-109 exploits in the South Pacific.

As work ended that afternoon, we walked to the shower room with our heads shaking in disbelief. In the Chapter Room after supper, the Abbot told us the details as he had received them throughout the afternoon. Silently, we processed into the Church for Compline. At the singing of the Salve Regina hymn to our lady, I wept uncontrollably in the dark Nave, with the Salve window backlit. Many monks that night experienced pillows soaked with tears.

Throughout all of the days that followed, we had no radio, no television and as a very well insulated Novice, I knew little about what was going on all throughout the world.  Reverend Father gave the community updates, especially when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot and after the funeral. I remember going out on Manning Hill and sitting down with my copy of the New Testament.
I thought back to the night when, as a lay missionary teacher in Jamaica, all the lay “apostles” had an all night Rum-party on the election night for JFK.  The corridor in the teachers’ cottage was made of plywood, and we painted the names of all 50 states and the territories the entire length of it, and stayed up all night chalking in the results as they came to us over armed services radio. We were all wrecks in class the next day, but our students were as delighted with the results as we were. 

I remembered listening on the American Armed forces Radio to Inauguration Day ceremonies when  Cardinal Cushing’s never-ending prayer started the rostrum burning. 

Back when Jack was nominated in San Francisco, I was on Cape Cod. On the next day I went to the Hyannis Airport to greet his flight with a young Republican friend of mine who had no use for Kennedy. As we stood by the fence next to the exit road from the airport, we could hear the roar of the crowd getting louder. As the open top limo came to us, Jack was standing and shaking hands with the crowd as much as possible, while I couldn’t take my eyes off Jacqueline. After they had passed, I turned to my friend and said,” Did you see her? Wasn’t she beautiful?”

My friend looked at me and said, “Who?”

“Jackie!” I exclaimed, “Wasn’t she the most beautiful woman you’ve ever seen?”

“I didn’t see her” he replied, “but I shook his hand! I shook his hand!! He’s the greatest person I’ve ever seen!”
Back at the monastery, I took a long walk up Manning Hill and  turned to the Gospel of Luke
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called  Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them,       but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them,           ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’
‘They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these     days?’

He asked them, ‘What things?’
They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the ONE to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him’.
Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?”
Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were walking, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’

 So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then          their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’
That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they       found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’       
Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been           made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” (Lk.24:13-35)

That’s how I spent the rest of that day, on Manning Hill in Prayer.
                                                                      Charlie Mc