Mercies Unspent and Unexpected

The following is the annual letter that I sent to family and friends for Christmas 2018, recounting the blessings of the past year.

Christmas/Pasko 2018
New Year/Bagong Taon 2019

The peace of the Christ-Child be with you always!

After a year and a day in the novitiate, I professed my temporary vows as a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey last August 6 during the celebration of Vespers for the Feast of the Transfiguration. Before God and the relics of His saints, and in the presence of Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, OSB, and the monks assembled there in choir, I promised for three years stability in this community, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience, according to the holy Rule of our holy father, Saint Benedict. I read the hand-written charter of my vows from the ambo and, for the first time, said aloud my new name in religion: Mateo.

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The vow chart for my temporary Profession as a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. I did the calligraphy and Br. Martin Ersparmer, OSB, added the artwork.

The custom of most monasteries, including our own, is that no two monks share the same name. Since we already have a Fr. Noël (Mueller), OSB, here, I knew that I had to change mine. I presented three choices to the Abbot—Mateo (after Matthew the apostle and evangelist), Quentin (after the martyr of Amiens), and Pio (after Pope Pius V)—and he graciously picked my first choice. This new name is yet another reminder that I have entered a new and different life: the old Noel is no more; I am now Mateo. It takes time to go by a new name, just as it takes time to be that new man in Christ. But, every time I introduce myself, I recall my vocation to prefer nothing—not even everything that I had before—to the love of Christ.

My novitiate though was not without sorrow. I lost three of my uncles during that time: Bapang Siu (Deogracias S. Zamora), my Dad’s eldest brother and the patriarch of the Zamoras of Salapuñgan; Uncle Frank (Francisco C. Lim), my Aunt Cel’s husband; and Uncle Ron (Ronald W. Bennett), my Aunt Lyna’s husband. In February, my Dad underwent an emergency craniotomy to remove an acute subdural hematoma. I had to forego burying my uncles and attending to my father on his sickbed, because, as a novice, I was not allowed to spend a night outside the cloister. I had known that this was part of the deal even before I had entered the monastery. It was a price that I was willing and ready to pay. I just did not expect that it would have been demanded from me so soon.

That year as a novice, I found myself making Job’s prayer my own: “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” (Job 1:21).

By God’s grace, two weeks prior to my profession, my Dad was cleared by his neurologist to fly from sunny California to southern Indiana. He and my Mom were among the 35 guests who traveled to witness my vows. My aunts Lyna Bennett and Lita Natac, and cousins Lorenzo and Theresa Natac also flew in from California. My sister Ivy and her family drove down from New Jersey. My cousins Elda and David Jamora drove up from Tennessee. Some of my closest friends from the Filipino community in Kentucky as well as parishioners and brother-priests from the Diocese of Lexington also came in for the celebration.

After my profession, I received permission to spend some time with my family while they were here in the Midwest. I took them to visit Runnymede, the famed horse farm of Fr. Chris Clay’s family in Paris, Kentucky. I also introduced them to Kits and Tess Rivera who feted us with a Filipino feast in their lovely home in Lexington. But, most of all, we got to tour the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, the one Kentucky destination that my late Uncle Ron had hoped and had planned to visit before his untimely death.

Sorrow often follows sorrow in this vale of tears. But, “the mercies of God are not spent” (Lam. 3:22) and His consolations come in manners and moments that are often unexpected.

IMG_1626

My family and I (and Br. Joel Blaize, OSB) visiting Runnymede Farm in Paris, Kentucky.

As a junior monk, I continue my work as the Archabbey Stipendiarius. I receive, acknowledge, record, and schedule requests for Mass intentions to the monastery. I have also been welcoming vocation guests in the monastery as the juniorate guest master. I have also been assigned as the valet to our Fr. Bonaventure Knaebel, OSB, who, aside from having served as the fifth abbot (and second archabbot) from 1955 to 1966, is also the senior monk in the Swiss-American Congregation by age (100 years), profession (80 years), and ordination (75 years). I read him his mail, write his letters, and do other small chores for him.

Fr. Abbot Kurt, OSB, has given me permission to continue my work as a Defender of the Bond for the Tribunal of the Diocese of Lexington, writing animadversiones (canonical briefs) on annulment cases. He has also allowed me to teach a practicum class for Advanced Homiletics here at our seminary this past fall semester. I will teach another practicum class here for the spring semester, this time for Introduction to Homiletics. He has also sent me out to preach on behalf of our monastery and the seminary and I have promoted our mission at parishes in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and in the Dioceses of Evansville and Owensboro.

I continue to be heavily involved with our Benedictines Oblates (the faithful who are affiliated with the archabbey and have promised to live by the Rule of Saint Benedict in their daily lives). I have been able to present my reflections on the Rule to the various chapters of our oblates in Indiana (Bloomington, Evansville, Indianapolis, Jasper, Muncie, St. Meinrad, Tell City), Kentucky (Louisville), and Ohio (Cincinnati and Dayton). I was thrilled to direct my first ever retreat to our oblates in New York this past Labor Day weekend. It went so well that they have invited me to return for their next retreat in the summer!

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Giving instructions at the Archabbey Church prior to the Investitures of our Oblate-Novices and the Oblations of our Oblates in December 2018

That retreat in New York also allowed me to visit family and friends out east. On the way to New York, I was able to visit my former bishop, Bishop Ronald Gainer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and I was able to see his mother, Mrs. Anna Krolick, and give her my blessing a week before she died. Before the retreat, I got to stay with my friend from college, Marni (Aguas) Alvarez, in her home in Rye, New York, and we got to watch together the musical Mean Girls at the August Wilson Theater. She also got me a ticket to see Hamilton on Broadway! After the retreat, I spent several days with my sister Ivy and her family in East Windsor, New Jersey, before I drove to see Fr. Matt Buening at the Newman Center at Towson University in Maryland.

God and chapter willing, in three years, I hope to profess my solemn vows as a Benedictine monk on the Solemnity of the Assumption of our Lady on August 15, 2021. I would then be excardinated (canonical term for a complete transfer) as a priest of the Diocese of Lexington and would be bound permanently to those vows and to this monastery until death.

Please include me in your prayers that I may continue to persevere in my monastic vows. Know that you are always in my mind and heart every time the bells beckon me to go to the Archabbey Church and pray. I pray that all of us may learn to prefer nothing to the love of Christ and may He bring us all to everlasting life!

~ by Fr. Mateo Zamora, OSB on Monday, December 31, 2018.

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