Be Not Afraid
“Be Not Afraid” was the opening song for the last Common Prayer at the Sacred Hour observed every Wednesday morning from ten to eleven here at St. Norbert College. The last Common Prayer of the 2013 – 2014 academic year was led by several seniors who shared memories of their past four years and some of their dreams for the years ahead. Perhaps it was one of them who chose the St. Louis Jesuits’ lyrics and music for this bittersweet day on which these seniors spoke of first year fears, the making of lifelong friendships, the shaping of hearts and minds by professors, peers and parents. It was a celebration marked by both laughter and tears.
I have found the season between Easter and Commencement to be much busier than I had expected: awards events for students and faculty, celebrations of ministry and service, final exams and grades, meetings in preparation for the next academic year, and lunches and other receptions to close the year approaching its end. At one of these celebrations of graced accomplishment I found myself wondering why the honoring of students, faculty and staff doesn’t occur throughout the year the way it does in the spring. The answer came to me during the senior-led Common Prayer. These rites of acknowledgement and thanks have their power precisely because they come at the close of the year. Just as we only canonize holy men and women after their deaths have sealed their virtuous lives, so we bestow laurels upon our colleagues and students only after they have run the course and completed their work with honor.
And while administration, faculty, students and staff have been gathering, nature has been trying to raise the curtain on spring. It’s been a difficult curtain to raise. After a wearying winter of double-digit-below-zero temperatures for days and weeks on end, May has had more than its accustomed share of gray, chilly, wet days. The fragrance of cherry blossoms may wafted the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC but here in northeast Wisconsin many trees are only now beginning to bud. The College’s grounds crew was everywhere in evidence on the campus in the week before commencement as they attended to the damage done to grass, shrubs and trees by the long stay of the arctic vortex. Below and beneath my room at the Priory only four of the hundred or so geese of the fall have returned. One pair has nested and hatched the goslings that we expect will be chased away later in the summer by the newest member of our College-Priory community, Abbey, the black lab pup being cared for by Fr. Jay Fostner. Meanwhile, the weekend roar of boats on the river gives evidence of reluctant spring morphing into the sun and skis of summer.
In the past week I’ve had the opportunity to journey to the sites of Norbertine roots in the southern part of the Badger State. Fr. David Komatz of St. Norbert Abbey was good enough to be the guide and driver for me and novices Jordan Neeck of St. Norbert Abbey and Sam Fulginiti of Daylesford Abbey. We visited the Belgian Peninsula parishes where Abbot Pennings and his Dutch confreres first began the “American Mission.” Their humble and austere beginnings gave birth to St. Norbert Abbey and the College. Similar long term success did not grace the work of the Wilten Abbey (Innsbruck, Austria) Norbertines who labored in the second half of the nineteenth century in the vineyard of the Lord just north of Madison, the state capital. We four spent a spring morning visiting their first parish (St. Norbert’s in Roxbury) and praying at the grave there of Fr. Adalbert Inama, the founding pastor.
These are quiet days here at the College. Good days to attend to blessed memories and hopeful plans. “Be Not Afraid.”