Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
by Fr. Chrysostom Baer, O.Praem., Prior
“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
This is the last time we will celebrate the anniversary of the dedication of this abbey church. For thirty-six years it has served us as the house of God and the gate of heaven. I was ordained right there, made profession right there, as did so many before and after me. Masses and confessions, endless cycles of hours of the office, late night vigils and early morning vigils, adoration and rosaries—we have collectively and individually poured out our hearts to the One Whose Heart was always pouring forth into ours. “We have heard the chimes at midnight.”
Not surprisingly, as we prepare ourselves mentally for the move ahead, we have to face the fact that leaving here is sad. To leave this place is to leave the greater part of our lives, the longer part of our years. Many of us have spent more years in this abbey and community than before we came. We cannot pretend that those best years were indifferent to place.
And yet, looking back at all that God has worked in us here, we must also acknowledge an infinite debt of gratitude. Those same liturgies and devotions that made this place our home bestowed untold graces upon us, our Order, and the world. The spirit that animates our various external apostolates flows out of this sanctuary. “It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together.” God has been supremely generous here, and we must give Him thanks.
This place we know. Its size, décor, what ceremonies fit, how long the organ echoes—these are all instinctively known by experience. We do not know yet how all this will translate into the new abbey church. We’ve seen pictures, we might have visited, but to imagine what our prayer is going to be like is just that: imagination. Like a mystical glimpse, we know it will be good, but the details elude us.
“The gathering of this congregation,” says St. Augustine, “is for the dedication of a house of prayer. Thus, it is the house of our prayers, but we ourselves are the house of God. If we are the house of God, we are being built in this age so that we may be dedicated at the end of the age.”
The move from this abbey church to the new one bears a certain resemblance to the move from this life to the life to come. We are familiar with this one, we know its ups and downs, and we know even a holy joy as we live here. And yet we are not to compare it with “the glory to be revealed for us,” the glory of the heavenly Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem,” says the Psalmist, “is being built as a city.” Our Holy Father Augustine points out that when David sang these words, Jerusalem his capital was already built, already finished. But we the living stones are running in faith right now to build the temple of God, the spiritual house, the heavenly Jerusalem. We are cut from the mountains by the truth of preachers and fitted for placing in the eternal structure.
And so we should be filled with hope as we look to all the graces at the new abbey that will chisel and smooth and polish our stony hearts for our rightful place in the eternal Jerusalem. Yes, place affects prayer; it’s impossible for it not to. And yes, the new church will be better ordered and more beautifully decorated than this one. Which means that God, as usual, is going to outdo Himself in generosity by lavishing on us still greater graces that will order our hearts even better than happens here. We acknowledge the great things God has done here and give Him thanks, but we confidently hope for greater still yet to come.
And to hope is in some way already to possess because the good thing you desire is already in your heart. And to possess, even in hope, the good things God has planned for us, is cause enough and more than enough for joy.
Given 9/20/20 at St. Michael’s
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