Wednesday, April 15, 2009

(3) The Cathedral

At first I didn't have to go very far to encounter this medieval Benedictine
presence in Canterbury, in that nearly daily I stomped about the remains
of its Christ Church Cathedral Priory. And nearby, nearly next door,
there stood the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey. Their physical presence
made these monastic studies of mine seem much more pertinent.

And much to my parents' bemusement, I persuaded them to take me
to some of the old Benedictine ruins during my summer holidays. Hence
I was able to visit places like Glastonbury Abbey and Malmesbury Abbey.
Of course, too, there are the living English cathedrals that at one time
were manned by Benedictine monks. There's St. Alban's, Bath, Ely, and
Tewkesbury and Westminister (both still called an abbey), to name a few.

As one can tell, I began my monastic studies in a rather concrete fashion.
After all, I was still a youngster only just approaching his later teenage
years! Eventually I moved more into some sense of Benedictine
spirituality, though still pretty high-toned for me. In general terms, I began
to understand that the Benedictine lifestyle was about the "balanced life."
It was a life of prayer, study, and manual work--altogether. Naturally it
was a lifestyle that more easily fit the space and time of the Middle Ages
rather than the busy lifestyle of our Western modern world in which we
live today.

But when I was at King's School, visiting quietly my beautiful Canterbury
Cathedral almost daily, I could fairly easily imagine myself as a medieval
Benedictine monk. Still a novice when it came to religion, I came into its
practice more readily during this period. I learned more about the rituals
and ceremonies of the Benedictines--and I started to understand more
thoroughly the liturgy followed in the cathedral in our own day. I could
imagine the procession of the celebrant priests, the robed choir, marching
through the central aisle towards the chancel almost as a modern
facsimile of the medieval monastic processions that took place in this
very same cathedral ages ago!

Though St. Thomas a Becket is the popular historical hero of Canterbury
Cathedral, my hero was the great Benedictine abbot turned archbishop--
St. Anselm of Canterbury. And it was Anselm who pointed me towards my
life's direction.

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