The Hermitages – Part 2 of 3: Mount Saviour
Last week I mentioned that in order for priests to “promote the mission which the laity exercise in the Church and in the world… clerics are bound in a special way to pursue holiness since … they are dispensers of the mysteries of God in the service of His people.” In order to do this, Church or “Canon Law” says that “priests are bound to annually make time for spiritual retreats.” (See Canon #276)
In our noisy, technologically pervasive society, I find that, more and more I am looking for locations where a more intentional silence is available. Last week I described one retreat house in Minnesota (Pacem in Terris) that offers such an experience. This week, let me describe a location a bit closer to Berwyn, a Benedictine monastery called Mount Saviour.
Mount Saviour is located just outside of Elmira, NY, 65 miles west of Binghamton (a little under 4 hours from Berwyn). The monastery was founded in 1951 and sits in the hills overlooking the valley below, remote from the city six miles away. The monks, who come from all walks of life, have chosen to live a simple life in common. Their days are spent balancing prayer, study, work, community events and service to others. They support themselves through the operation of a sheep farm, a craft shop, a bookstore and guesthouses for men and women. The monks run a working sheep farm situated on 1,000 acres of land atop a ridge overlooking the Chemung Valley.
From the beginning the monastery has offered hospitality to persons that wish to come away to make a retreat. (From The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 53: The Reception of Guests) – “(1) All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35). (2) Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Galatians 6:10).” To that end, Mount Saviour provides dwellings for individuals, couples and groups, and they do a fabulous job. Mount Saviour offers an “experience” to people who wish an opportunity to live in quiet and solitude for a short while with an intensity not commonly available in today’s world. Participants are able to search the depthsof their souls as well as to experience the riches of the Christian monastic tradition.
The day is centered around seven times of prayer based on the Psalm passage, “I will praise you seven times a day because all your regulations are just.” (Psalm 119:164) . After rising at 4:30, the monks begin with the night office, known as Vigils or Matins in the crypt of the chapel. Then Morning Prayer, known as Lauds, is sung in the upper chapel, at dawn. Around 9 AM on most days the Eucharist Liturgy is celebrated. At noon (just before the mid-day meal), there is a brief moment of prayer called Sext and again in mid-afternoon another moment of prayer called None. In the evening is the pivotal hour to Lauds known as Vespers. Concluding the day, all come together once more to sing Compline, consisting of three psalms accompanied by a brother withthe harp. Men and women guests can join the monks during any of the “hours” of prayer (… or not. I’ve been going there for years and still have not chosen to “enjoy” 4:40 AM prayer).
Interspersed with the times of communal prayer are times for personal meditation, reflection and lectio divina. Later in the day the brothers work at the various tasks of the day: pottery, artistry, farming, tending an orchard, a vegetable garden, apiary, tailoring, cooking, library, sculpturing, guest reservations for retreat and administration.
Like the Pacem In Terris hermitage (which I wrote about last week), one can make the retreat experience as “monastic” as one chooses. One can join the monks at prayer and men can also join the community for meals. The monastery can accommodate about 12 -20 guests but even though you are sharing “space” with others, I have found that most people keep to themselves and respect the quiet of the other retreatants.
Accommodations in the main guest quarters of St. Joseph are basic – a 10 x 6 foot room with a bed, desk, and window. A community shower room and bathroom are at the end of the hall. There is a common room with comfortable furniture and kitchen as well as a well-stocked library. Such simple rooming reminds you that basic comforts is all one needs to live a life of prayer. Both men and women are welcome to stay at Mt. Saviour, although women do not stay or eat in the monastery proper but nearby at St. Gertrude House which can accommodate several women guests. People can also stay in St. Peters which can accommodate several guests at once and is good for small groups of retreatants and families.
For those looking for more independence and solitude, the monastery also the East Casa and the West Casa. These are independent cabins with fully furnished living accommodations (bedroom, private shower and bath room, kitchen and living room with large picture windows overlooking the meadows onto the hills in the distance). You can still eat with the monks (or prepare your own meals in the casa), pray with the community (or not) or any combination thereof.
Mount Saviour is probably my favorite retreat location. I’ve been to other retreat places but always seem to come back to the rolling hills of the “Southern Tier” of New York State.
In a few weeks, I shall cover my latest “hermitage” experience in the snowy mountains of Idaho.