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Covid-19 forces monks to live behind cloistered walls, writes Fr Hederman

Covid-19 forces monks to live behind cloistered walls, writes Fr Hederman

YOUR request (about what life has been like under Covid-19 lockdown) puts me in a quandary. I realise that the last three months have caused untold hardship and suffering to so many: too many people have lost dear ones, too many have been hospitalised, are sick, lonely or afraid.

Others fear for their livelihood. Others are deprived of so many opportunities to further their careers, to take much deserved holidays, to visit relatives or friends. It is an impertinence for me, in the midst of all this horror, to answer your question honestly: what it has been like for you under Covid-19 lockdown? I am almost embarrassed to admit that it has not been a hardship for me. Quite the contrary!

This is my ‘Wisterical wave’ (see front cover) from the luxurious Covid cocoon which is Glenstal Abbey in the months of April, May, and June. It is lilac time and the scent of azaleas on the front avenue would knock you out. This place was built as a paradise on earth by the Barrington family who even went to America with their friend Douglas [after whom the fir tree is named] to bring back trees and shrubs which now have reached their prime. The castle stands on a promontory which overlooks the Galtee mountains and the view from the tower on a clear day captures scenery from several counties.

Two swans on the front lake have hatched five cygnets, although these are already being eyed by the fox and the pine martin as possibilities for breakfast.

A woodpecker has landed in Murroe, the first, I am told,since the last Ice Age, and, despite all warnings about social distancing, has managed to hatch a fledgling at 9am in the morning of June 2: the first woodpecker to be born here for thousands of years.

I realise that many feel constricted and have itchy feet after so long a time of confinement. For me, at the age of seventy five, I have done all the travelling I need to do and it is more of a luxury than a penance to be asked to self-isolate in such a setting, especially as the weather has been so unusually attractive for walking within the two mile radius permitted to pensioners. Anywhere you might choose to walk is enchanting, but I usually visit the two donkeys who take up residence on our back avenue for the summer months.

Sunday, May 31, was Pentecost, the great feast day of the Holy Spirit. I found myself in a situation similar to those first Christians who were waiting in an upper room for the arrival of the illusive Spirit. This year I had time and confinement on my side to prepare the kind of welcome that I had always been promising myself to provide. It was certainly a blessed opportunity and I imagine that this was true for many people this year. Perhaps, if we allowed the Holy Spirit to have a little more of our time, a little more say in how we organise ourselves, how we accommodate to other people and to the difficulties that must come, how we arrange things for the good of all. Perhaps this Covid experience might teach us all to slow down the pace and enjoy the many gifts of nature around us, which we may have lost sight of as we passed them at speed.

Certainly, I have found that the last three months have had a calming effect, and, I think that it is true to say that the monks here at Glenstal Abbey have really been invited to live the kind of monastic life which Saint Benedict might have envisaged when he wrote his little Rule for Monks after the fall of the Roman Empire back in the fifth century. Everything was meant to be done within the confines of the cloister walls, and no one was meant to leave that circumscribed environment. It is probably true to say that since we were founded in 1927, we have never actually lived our community life with such complete integrity as we have been forced to do during this time.

Of course we miss all the guests that used to be visiting us, especially during the ceremonies of Holy Week. Our friends in the locality have been able to walk the avenues and have been very respectful of the legislation required in so doing. We have also found that the webcam, which was installed a few years ago in our church, has become a much visited facility for those who follow our Mass every day and for some who follow the four offices we chant in the church on a daily basis in the morning and in the evening.

I have been introduced to the technological wonders of Skype and Zoom for the first time, as the whole world becomes accustomed to the possibilities of communication within the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. I have been giving conferences and talks to people all over the world who appear on the screen like little postage stamps or prisoners on an identity parade to find out who the murderer is. So strange and alluring I risk becoming a ‘zoombie’.

Far from being a penance or a restriction, I have found this three-month confinement a refreshing retreat. It is almost like being on a pleasure cruise without the passengers. And we have all the fruits of the season to furnish our table: fresh eggs from Fr Philip’s hens; varieties of lettuce from Fr Brian’s garden; honey on the comb from Fr Simon’s bees; and fruit from Fr Christopher. With brother Padraig, our Cordon Bleu baker and chef, we could be with Jamie Oliver on board our ship.

On Sunday, June 7, Brothers Cyprian and Jarek played for us Schubert’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, no.3 in G Minor, to celebrate the feast day of the Holy Trinity

If you are feeling sorry for the monks at this time of Covid-19 confinement, then don’t cry for us Argentina, we’re doing just fine.

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