This month of July, dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Jesus, we have prayerfully navigated many adventures. Our oldest daughter is attending a couple of summer programs for high school students, making opportune a family trip to New England for some happy day trips for us while she studies and discerns at our alma mater. We have learned that prayer is our mainstay, that we miss our daughter greatly in her absence on a daily basis - who knew we could miscount the children so many times in a row - and that the northeastern states offer a beauty and charm hard to find elsewhere in our experience. The running joke was instigated quickly that everything is just "perfect" around here - lush greenery, wonderfully kempt yet naturally wild-looking flower gardens in every yard, in every garden, along every old stone wall bordering the boundaries, and wonderfully character-filled shingled houses around every bend. Then the stunning vistas of mountains and lakes, ponds, streams, farmland, boulders, and woods. True, we have jaunted through some sketchy neighborhoods, but generally speaking the ambiance is pretty, refreshing, and in a great sense rejuvenating through both the novelty of experience and the oldness of the wood and water and structures - with a healthy dose of nostalgia as we retrace just a little of the memory of our college days.
A definitive highlight to this trip so far, besides visiting a simply beautiful old farm, hiking up and down a mountain (and finding wild blueberries at its peak), having to suddenly take shelter in a public library due to a tornado warning (that was an unexpected surprise - though no real danger manifested, Deo gratias), and visiting our maternal grandmother's and forbears' gravesites, is a relatively impromptu visit to the Maronite Monks of Adoration in Petersham, MA. Mr. Verlander had a retreat there last year, and as we were so near he wanted the family to see where he had spent that quiet and holy week. We are further privileged to know the Abbot (he is the brother of a close friend back in GA), who happily welcomed our unexpected visit. We prayed our family rosary out in a field before a replication of the Pieta, joined the monks for evening prayer, and sat at a table with the Abbot for the better part of an hour - a joy and a great blessing for the family. We heard the story of his calling, and when we asked for advice about how to nurture openness to vocation he said one, prayer; and two, make visits to and speak well of monasteries. This Abbot's happy nature and obvious piety touched us all - our youngest son even failed to be disappointed that he didn't get to see any "monkeys." By grace, we visited on the day before their patron's feast day (July 23), with the feast beginning at evening prayer (this is an "ice cream feast" for them - a very big deal!).
The Abbot likes to think of the family as the domestic monastery - a fitting title for our family's ideals, as we ever model after the monastic life of ora et labora, prayer and work, inclining our hearts to the order set by the Creator for our ultimate fulfillment. Being St. Sharbel's feast, we knelt, and the Abbot made the sign of the cross on our foreheads with the saint's oil, blessing our persons and our pilgrimage and asking God's protection over us. St. Sharbel, a 19th century Lebanese mystic especially devoted to Jesus in the Eucharist, will remain a model and guide. As the sun began to set over the peaceful pines of the monastery, where we had the gift of glimpsing the faces of those holy men dedicated to a life of saving souls, we bid the Abbot farewell and went on our way. At the last moment, a kind Dominican on retreat agreed to take our photo before the patron's statue, and we left the monastery with the feeling that our visit was rather inspired after all.
On this little homestead our family aspires to work the land and hand on the Catholic Tradition, walking in wonder and learning to live by the fruits of our labor, in honor of Our Lady of Fatima, who guides us to Him.