I had the pleasure of taking a retreat to Holy Cross Abbey this past weekend before Thanksgiving. The Abbey is located in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. It was a wonderful retreat that brought me solitude and grace, and strengthened my faith. I have a lot of respect for these brothers in Christ who have devoted their lives to a simple life of prayer and work in service to the church and the community.
I was blessed to spend some time with these monks who arise each day to begin Vigil prayers at 3:30am. They pray the Divine Office and work to help support in running a bakery, gift shop, and Retreat Center that support the financial well-being of the monastery. It is a real joy to hear these monk chant in unison the beautiful prayers of the Divine Office and privileged join them in prayer each day while on retreat.
Daily Schedule of Prayers and Meals at Holy Cross Abbey:
Vigils 3:30am, Lauds & Eucharist 7:00am, Breakfast (at your leisure), 12:30pm Supper, 2:00 Mid-Day Prayer, 5:30pm Vespers, 6:15 Dinner, 7:30pm Compline.
You are also offered some individual time with a monk for spiritual direction and I had the honor to spend time with Father Edmund Flynn, who has been a monk at Holy Cross for 50 years. Father Edmund said that once there were 60 brothers at the monastery, but now there are only about 12. We both prayed that there will be more men called to this worthy monastery to keep up the good work of the Cistercian Order.
From their website: The Cistercians dedicate their lives to seeking God according to the sixth-century Rule of Saint Benedict, living the vows of obedience, stability, and conversion of life in the monastic School for the Lord’s Service. Their desire is to grow ever more deeply in the love of God, and of their fellow men and women in Jesus Christ. The monk is a man of prayer, living in solitude, apart from society, to worship God through praise, thanksgiving, and intercession in the celebration of the Divine Office and the daily Eucharist. Like every Christian he prays with Christ, who unites all to Himself in faith and love, transmitting our prayer and lives into His perfect communion with the Father. Contemplative monastic life in community reflects this sacramental reality in the ordinary daily round.
The retreat I took this weekend was a silent retreat that was self-directed. The retreat center welcomes 16 people for weekends (Friday 3pm to Sunday 3pm) or for weekdays (Monday 3pm to Friday 9:30am) throughout the year at a modest cost. The Retreat Center is a warm and welcoming place that offers private rooms with your own bathroom, and has beautiful library, Wi-Fi, media room, quiet spaces indoors and outside for reading and prayer. Three hearty meals are offered with breakfast as self-serve, and Supper at Noon, and Dinner is served by a hostess in communion with the retreat group in silence or sometimes with spiritual music. There is always coffee, tea, juice, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, and their essential fruit cake available to you throughout the day and night.
One of my favorite parts of the retreat was that there is a beautiful eucharistic chapel attached to the retreat center that is down the at the end of the hallway from my bedroom. It was nice to think that Jesus was my roommate, and I could visit the Holy Eucharist at any time–day or night.
When I first arrived at the Retreat Center I was greeted by the statue of Saint Fiacre and then a cat greeted me, who befriended me and followed me each time I walked to the monastery. There are many friendly cats throughout the grounds of the monastery and live outside and are cared for by the monks.
I was also inspired to walk through the pastures down to the Shenandoah River that runs by the Abbey. I was greeted by majestic Sycamore trees and a Great Blue Heron upon one morning walking by the river.
Holy Cross Abbey has wonderful book store and gift shop that offers their goods as well as offerings from other monasteries. I encourage you to try some of their wonderful fruitcake also offered in a chocolate-dipped specialty called “Fraters”, or try their chocolate truffles or creamed honey made at this monastery. Their sister monastery is Our Lady of the Angels in Crozet, Virginia, where Cistercian nuns make excellent gouda cheese. One of their brother priests is stationed there to say Mass for the sisters daily. I was motivated to visit a monastery after viewing the movie “Into Great Silence” and another great film “Of Gods and Men.” You can read more about these two previous blog postings with video clips at: Into Great Silence and Of Gods and Men. I have put links below for more about the monastery and ways to help support them by getting some great gifts for the holidays or anytime. I thank the monastery for offering me such great hospitality and enriching my faith, and I encourage you all to check out Holy Cross Abbey, it is well worth your time.
Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, Virginia
Our Lady of the Angels Monastery, Crozet, Virginia