Cistercian Studies Quarterly

January 2, 2022

Several recent publications indicate the goal of restoring the practice of lectio to the non-monastic religious, clerics, and the laity. The author, auxiliary bishop of Green Bay, makes no such claim, but his Meditations seem to be designed to do just that.   This slim volume offers excellent guidance for monastic lectio as well, not only during the Advent season but through the Feast of Epiphany. In fact, some of his best meditations, including several of his own poetic contributions, are included in the Christmastide section, the last thirty pages.  Advent is, according to the author, “a season of wise women and men following the example of Jesus and thereby constructing a spiritual life on solid principles” (21). It is a season of love, a season of truth, a season of courtesy, a season of prayer, a season during which God speaks to us, an invitation to “cast our shadow of faith upon the road of life” (69). Advent can be paradoxical as well. In it we look forward to the coming of the Christ who has already come.

Christmastide, however, is a time to “enflesh love in deeds of kindness” (75) and to review the gift of supreme importance-that of a grateful heart. Gratitude also extends to knowing who we are and our purpose in life-a double grace, which John the Baptist exemplified. Morneau asks us to ponder why the Church celebrates a martyrdom the day after the celebration of the Savior’s birth. At the same time he reminds us that we are born to die; there is no respite from Christian realism.  The author draws an analogy with the schoolroom shooting of innocents in Scotland for the reader to ponder on the feast of the Holy Innocents. Has life changed so much in two thousand years?

Morneau’s prose and poetry ring with quotables.  Faith is “not always steady on her feet” (29), and hope is a virtue on the endangered species list (30). Love, however, is not only (in that time-worn phrase) the reason for the season, but the whole of the meaning of Advent, Christmastide, and the entire journey to Calvary. The bishop urges us to give God “quality time” as we seek to deepen our bonds with our Creator-in personal and public prayer, in the quiet of the heart, and with the gathered assembly in worship.

The format for each day of the seasons refers to the Gospel of the day (and avoids the book’s obsolescence by including all three cycles of the Sunday readings), includes a brief commentary, a refrain that is always a Scriptural quote, and poetry by a variety of writers, including Emily Dickinson, Rainer Maria Rilke, George Herbert, Antonio Machado, and Czeslaw Milosz. Another brief meditation follows.  Three personal applications based on the Scriptures and a concluding prayer complete what is obviously a guide for lectio.

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