Monday, October 14, 2013

The Campus Bells

Monday evening of my fall break, I am sitting on the beach in the nearly-full moonlight, alone with the sound of the waves, offering my Evening Prayer. Other than the moon and the stars, the only light around is the glow of my iPhone where I follow the feast day’s (St. Pope Callistus) Liturgy of the Hours. Instead of the prescribed hymn, I take out my recorder, and pipe “How Great Thou Art” as my hymn for the Hours.  When I lean back and look away from the moon, I see hundred - no, thousands - of stars sparkling in the night sky.

Does it get any better than this?

Doonbeg Bay, County Clare, Ireland

Well, … yes, it does!

Much as I have enjoyed this Fall break, which I comically told my friends that all the “college kids” get, I yearn for the measured life at Immaculate Conception Seminary. My sons have gone back to their schools already, so this wonderful break seems long enough. For me, I have come to find great peacefulness in the days measured by the bells.

When the semester began in August, we gathered in the University Chapel for the Liturgy of the Hours and celebration of the Eucharist.  About 50 yards outside our front door were the memorial bells on the Seton Hall campus, which beautifully toll each hour and quarter-hour. I came to expect that we would not begin the Angelus at 6:30 each morning until two bells signaled the half-hour. And as we gently progressed through Morning Prayer, most days, three bells would toll 6:45 as we were saying or singing the Benedictus.  Perhaps it is the musician in me that noticed the wonderful symmetry of the bells when we were singing this Gospel passage.  The same pattern would hold true later in the day as we gathered for Evening Prayer, and again when we would recite Night Prayer.

When we moved back into our own Good Shepherd Chapel a few weeks into the semester, I was very happy to hear those familiar bells - a little softer in the distance, but still making the hours sacred by their gentle tones.  In a sense, the bells mirror my feelings of the gift that this time at Immaculate Conception Seminary is to me.  They mark time, but it is somehow shifted from the chronos of a busy day - which the bells surely track - to kairos, God’s time. I have come to appreciate what an incredible gift this year at the seminary is in my discernment and formation, simply because I can allow myself to surrender to the kairos, the moments that God offers to me each day. These moments are quiet in the chapel before the day begins, or energized by the communal prayer of the gathered seminarians and priests; time together at meals, in conversation, and on the basketball court are each precious moments. The time in each classroom has also become kairos, although most professors do appreciate our being ready to go at the scheduled start-time for class! Each day has become kairos for me simply because I see each moment spent as God is calling me this year, getting deeper into the understanding of scripture, or theology, or Canon Law, getting connected more fully into the life and fellowship of the ministerial priesthood that hopefully lies ahead for each of my brother seminarians and myself.

It has also become kairos during my weekend time at St. Agnes and Our Lady of Perpetual Help parishes, where, again, there is a mass schedule and specific assignments (“Am I in St. Agnes today, or OLPH?), but nevertheless the time there becomes a particular gift to meet new parishioners, and to spend hours speaking of the life of a priest with Father Bill. Last week, when no altar servers were available, the sacristan asked if as the deacon, would I be able to serve? I assured him it would be no problem, and then he asked if I would ring the bells during Mass, too. While not generally of the mind that bells during the words of consecration add anything to the spiritual moment, I assured him that I would be sure to ring the bells.

Seems that bells are as essential to kairos as they are to chronos.  Tomorrow, I’ll make the 130 mile drive from Sea Isle to South Orange. I’m certain that within fifteen minutes of arriving back at the seminary, kairos will be signaled by the tolling of the campus bells, God’s reminder that He has given me this time, this year, to grow ever closer to His Son, Jesus, along with the companions He has set on this journey with me; I hope they all had the chance to look into the vast sky tonight, and see His gift in the beauty of the points of light in the darkness, a mirror of what each of us are called by our Baptism to be for others.