The last few months have been hectic, demanding, occasionally rewarding, often dispiriting but generally productive. At the end of August, (to twist the Preface of the Dead) my life was ended not changed when I was appointed bursar of the monastery. My day had been structured, for most of my almost-18 years here, principally around the monastic liturgical horarium. Now it revolves around another sort of office, with computers and files, income and (always-greater) expenditure, staff crises and, most recently, storm damage to the abbey church. Some days I spend up to nine hours in the office. I am out of practice for a “normal” nine-to-five sort of job.
Sometimes I manage to use my downtime not in wallowing in problems but in recognizing that people can be surprisingly, and very cheeringly, good. In the past year I have received often surprise gifts of books, fountain pens, handkerchiefs, a bottle or two of something heartening, a floor-standing bookstand, and no doubt things I cannot recall at this very moment. Such gifts never fail to bring encouragement and cheer, and so often they come just when I could do with some! Sinner though I am, I do try to ensure that I manifest my sincere gratitude as directly as possible to my benefactors.
Yesterday evening I was both surprised and stumped. Waiting on my desk was a large but light and soft parcel with the rest of the mail. It had a hand-written address and a post-office mailing label that did not betray the place of posting. My initial thought was that one of the brethren had left something behind somewhere and it was returned, for some reason, to me; or perhaps I had had left something somewhere and not yet realized it!
Inside, in fact, was a brand new, expertly packaged, five-piece set: chasuble, stole, maniple, burse and veil. It is of man-made material, I suspect but, if so, it is a very good quality fabric, being soft, supple, light and tasteful. It is very handsome and would pass muster under Dom Roulin‘s demanding eye for vestment fabrics. It is lined, yet beautifully light, and beautifully made in what I take to be the Borromean cut, which I have never had the good fortune to wear before, though I find it far superior to the Roman cut (or fiddleback as it is commonly, often erroneously, called). None of the pieces carry a manufacturer’s label.
In it was a letter, immaculately typed, without one typo, with flawless grammar. It said some nice things, not least about this blog and the insights it sometimes affords into the life of the monastery, and decorously and without reproof lamented my recent neglect in posting. It is signed An anonymous northerner!
At the risk of self-indulgent sentimentality, I will admit that it came at le moment juste, as I have been waylaid by ‘flu, by damage to the church and all that it entails, and by other more personal burdens. This explains in part why it gave me an even more enhanced sense of cheer than usual; but there is something about anonymous donations that adds extra lustre (of the moral kind) to a gift. But it comes with a slight sting: who on earth do I thank, and how?
You have me stumped, Anonymous Northerner. I have been making some guesses but there is a good chance that it is from someone I do not know directly.
So, whoever you are, thank you. You added magnum gaudium to my Gaudete Sunday. As it happens, I offered the conventual Mass today for you and for all the benefactors of Douai, both to individuals and the community as a whole; and wearing the Warham Guild rose chasuble featured at the Liturgical Arts Journal, but this time in St Mary’s church down from the abbey church, closed until the damage is made safe. With choir, a full church, incense and the Missal allowed to perform unmolested, it made for an intimately solemn liturgy which, hopefully, was as worthy as we normally manage.
Lest you think this is a subtle touting for gifts, fear not. Indeed let me say—save your money for more deserving causes or for the post-Brexit chaos! That said, if there is a priest, or a consecrated man or woman, whose ministry serves you well and brings you good comfort, and whom you suspect might perhaps find Christmas somewhat taxing as he or she sees families gather for their festive celebrations but has to return to a lonely presbytery or monastery (yes, one can be lonely in community), and who perhaps is not the sort of priest or religious to inspire an influx of gifts but who is nevertheless worthy of some cheer and encouragement—then do, please, consider offering him or her a little something this Christmas. It does not really matter what it is, nor how small. I can assure you, the fact that someone has thought to offer a gift spontaneously, and with some encouraging words, brings real cheer and a significant boost to the morale. For the consecrated person, priest and/or religious, the thought really is what counts.
Shortly I hope to post about the damage the abbey church suffered from Storm Diana, damage that was not easily accessible, but once accessed and inspected, proved to yeield even more problems and dangers to be addressed. The monastic Christmas this year will be significantly downscaled, at least in terms of the Masses.
But for every problem here there are a thousand and more worse beyond our walls, and not so far away from us. This problem is not a disaster, but hopefully an opportunity.