Saturday, March 25, 2006

Solesmes, FR Summer 1996

I had lunch with Joe today at Vito's and we talked about Iraq and the ancient history of the region. We also were talking about weekend plans and I mentioned my upcoming visit to Francine with Krista. That lead to a comment about attending Mass at St. Joseph's Cathedral in San Jose since Kris had never seen this beautiful church. Joe hadn't either and was interested in seeing it. That lead us to talk about churches we have seen in Europe and finally to my memory of the Benedictine Abbey in Solesmes, France (pictured above).

I visited Solesmes for a day in June 1996. Solesmes is a quiet, pastoral village southwest of Paris, France. The Abbey is THE imposing structure of the village. As you can see above, the abbey is on a river which contributes to the quiet of the area. The houses are made of rock and mortar. Homes are adorned with shutters, a wild array of flowers, and niches occupied by saints and other holy figures. The entrance to the Monastery is through a driveway/walkway courtyard filled with tall, sheltering trees.

I was with a group of students who were on tour with the Modesto Symphony Youth Orchestra that year. Quanah was 15 years old and going. I certainly wasn’t going to have HIM going to Europe when I hadn’t even been there yet, so Don and I signed on to be chaperones but that is another story. We were attending Mass there that Sunday morning because James Klein, the conductor, said “you can’t go to Europe and not experience the roots of Western music – Gregorian chant”. The music and liturgy was truly wonderful to experience but it was the Little Boy and the Monk who caught my attention.

Across the aisle and about two rows up from Don and I was a young family, a mom, dad, and little boy about 3-4 years old. The little boy wasn’t being noisy but he was very restless. His constant squirming occupied his parents enough to distract them from the Mass. Out of nowhere, a monk in black cape and hood glided up to the family and leaned in to the little boy. Monks at the Abbey for the most part follow the rule silence and it was amazing to see how the monk’s silent admonishment to the little boy settled him down immediately. A bit later at Communion there was again a moment of silent communication between the young child and the monk. As the monk walked to the front of the Abbey, he hesitated just for moment at the pew where the young family sat and looked once again at the child. And the little boy peered up quietly at him. There was something of the Norman Rockwell in this final exchange though with an appearance of old European elegance rather than American folk-art.

I tried to imagine myself as the child seeing this tall and imposing figure in black and I had the sense of being approached by the large blackbird. He wasn’t scary but he WAS startling. Upon reflection I realized that I have never once in all my years of church-going seen such a thing in an American church. In fact, my opinion about parents NOT even trying to control their children could easily become a whole separate entry here. In the meantime, this moment in time is as sharp in my memory and the day it happened.

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