Friday, June 06, 2003

Those special priests, III
Dom Sebastian Moore OSB, Marquette University Campus Ministry, Milwaukee WI, mid-1970's to early 80's.

During the winter of 1974-75, in my freshman year at Marquette University, I joined a Campus Ministry discussion group that was reading St Teresa'a Interior Castle. Its facilitator was an elderly monk called Dom Sebastian. He was gentle, soft-spoken, and he really knew his Teresa of Avila. And, he didn't attend to academic rank --- each of us, from the doctoral candidates to the youngest freshman had his attention and respect, so long as we had done our reading and our praying, and came prepared and willing to contribute. I lapped it up like a thirsty kitten does a saucer of milk. Then I re-upped for St. John of the Cross and Dark Night of the Soul. When I returned to campus that fall for sophomore year, I sought out Dom Sebastian's Eucharist, and discovered insights in his homilies, which he would mimeograph and hand out after Mass; his congregants were expected to read them, pray with them, mark them up, catch any problems or errors, and get back to Dom Sebastian about them. These homily-essays were what was to become the books The Crucified Is No Stranger and The Fire and the Rose Are One.

But even more, I was learning from watching him. He was as eccentric and absent-minded as theologians come, and he was brilliant, yet he seemed to be very comfortable in his own skin. I envied him. I had spent lots of energy, for as long as I could remember, trying to get normal and average, and when it became obvious even to me that was never going to happen, trying to at least "pass" normal and average. The not-very-successful facades were getting harder and harder to maintain; after all, it was my abnormality that was making it possible even to be in Milwaukee and to attend college, the side-effect of talent for standardized multiple-choice exams like the PSAT/NMSQT and the SATs was providing the money for tuition. Dom Sebastian was obviously at least as "abnormal" as me, probably much more so, but he had no need to cover it up or brush it off, or even to flaunt it; it was just a part of who he was. I wanted to find out how he did that.

So I started dropping into his office, at first to discuss points from the latest purple mimeograph (or at least on that pretext), and eventually he became my spiritual director for my last two years as an undergrad and during my time in graduate school, until he (and Fr. Matt Lamb) moved to Boston for the Lonergan Institute.

And I learned that humility doesn't mean denying who you are. It doesn't imply getting normal and average, or pretending to. It means accepting and even embracing the full truth of my life as a gift, without pretense, and being grateful. Being a socially-inept bright pious nerd is not a sin, it is just a fact. There's no need to object strenuously when people point out one or another of my abnormalities (though I still blushed when Gerard added "seems to be something of a contemplative" to my listing on the Great Catholic Blog List.....).

How to live comfortably, joyously, and without fear, in the body and mind, soul and spirit, with the particular mix of abilities and disabilities, gifts, talents, and callings granted by God, was the lesson. The example of that one-of-a-kind (but aren't we all originals?) Benedictine monk in a Jesuit world, Dom Sebastian Moore, was the textbook.
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