Brother Thaddeus Lancton, MIC, center, is on top of the world (actually, on top of nearby Monument Mountain) with Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC (right), and Br. Rich Dolan, MIC.
By Br. Thaddeus Lancton
On the vigil of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul in June, I arrived on Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass., with my two novice brothers, Richard and Chris. Father Mark Baron, MIC, our novice master, was heading off to Sydney, Australia, to see the Pope at World Youth Day '08. Part of me was excited to live on Eden Hill; part of me was afraid. What is it like working at the National Shrine of the Divine Mercy? What is the community like? Will I enjoy this time?
In our first meeting with Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, our novice master pro tempore, pointed out the theme and motto of our time: Ora et labora, "pray and work." Saint Benedict, pray for us! He then handed us our schedules for the coming weeks. We had morning and afternoon assignments, shifting from maintenance with Art Dutil, calling our donors to thank them, assisting at the 2 p.m. Mass, and cleaning around the house. If work can be compared to a meal, we certainly had our plates full!
And, speaking of meals, they were sabrosa — delicious! The Oblates of the Most Blessed Sacrament, who live on Eden Hill, provided lunch and dinner during the week, including during our Provincial Chapter, when we had around 30 Marians eating together! In many ways, the sisters each were like a mother to me. Did I eat enough? Am I happy with my vocation? Do I need prayer? Not only were we fed by their delicious food (like my favorite, their enchiladas), but also we were fed spiritually by their prayers. I was overwhelmed when I learned that one sister in Washington, D.C., is praying for me constantly, until the very day I die. And this means even more because as a community that adores the Blessed Sacrament, they wake up during the night to pray for priests! Like our Mother Mary, they taught me how to love by example in small things. In many ways, if priests are another Christ (alter Christus), these nuns are another Mary (altera Maria). The food was certainly the nourishment we needed to do all the work.
Father Anthony told us, "If you do not have an assignment, report to Art. He'll have something for you to do." One time we unloaded 5,000 pounds of pea stone rock to make the Lourdes Grotto look better. That required an extra enchilada at dinner! Another time we gave the statues of the saints a bath. Using a brush, we washed off the algae, and with toothbrushes, we made sure even their teeth shone brightly. Often, we would alternate between our labors and a five-minute history lesson from Art, giving us some more food to think on as we worked.
What helped most was the opportunity to join this work to prayer. After just hearing the Sunday reading about the weeds and the wheat, Chris and I were pulling up weeds around the statue of Bl. Stanislaus Papczynski. "What weeds do I need to pull up in my life, Jesus? How can I pull up not just the weed, but the root, too?" I noticed how if I gently pulled out the weed, the root came with it. But if I yanked the weed, the stem broke, and the root remained, to grow again. And that's similar to how Jesus and Mary treat me in the spiritual life: When my sins grow, they teach me to gently weed my vices, not yank them in anger or disappointment. I would wake up in the mornings to pray, and I would find Chris Dutil, Art's wife, already pulling up weeds or cleaning the gardens. I learned that she does this for a special intention, and I am very impressed by the example of quiet love that she gives. As St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux mentioned, it is not about doing great things, but about doing small things with great love. And so, for the time being, saving souls might just mean doing God's will by quietly gardening!
As a novice, I've seen the Divine Mercy image thousands of times. "Jesus, I trust in You." But it took Fr. Vincent Incardona, MIC, pointing to this image many times and saying, "That's what it's all about: Jesus, I trust in You. It's not a feeling, but a reality." As Fr. Mark has told me many times, "You cannot give what you do not have" (this might be his favorite quote of St. Thomas Aquinas). And so, I have learned to look at this image and remember that Jesus is always walking toward me, even when I am walking the other way. Too often, I fall into the pit of discouragement, berating myself for my faults or sins, and I do not give Jesus the chance to walk up to me and heal me.
And, daily, He walks up to me in the person of my brothers and sisters in Christ. When I'm feeling down, often others will lift me up by a listening ear or by prayer. They will bring some balance back into my life. "Do you want to go hiking tomorrow?" Rich asked me one Saturday night. He, Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC, and I were able to climb a mountain on a Sunday morning and pray Morning Prayer at the peak. I was quite distracted, but this is more because I was enthralled with the beauty of the creation in front of me. And, now we have photos of all of us standing at the peak. "How beautiful it is when brothers live in unity," Psalm 133 says. How beautiful it is to be a part of this family!
As I took my steps daily towards receiving my first vows on Aug. 15, I could answer the common question of the pilgrims to the Shrine: "Why do you want to become a Marian?" In no other place have I experienced the "peace which surpasses all understanding." Waking up and seeing the hills rolling with fog in the morning, helping the maintenance to preserve the property, and offering incense to God during the 3 o'clock devotions as an altar server, I have experienced God's love. The most important lesson was that of gratitude for His love, trust in His mercy, and love for my neighbor. And, if His will for me is to become a Marian, the least I can do is repeat what our Immaculate Mother said: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you say."
Brother Thaddeus Lancton, MIC, is a Marian seminarian studying in Washington, D.C.
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