"Retreat-ing" with the Questions in the Rule of Benedict

Father Paul Mark Schwan, abbot of the Cistercian Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina, CA, is no stranger to the Erie Benedictines. He has visited the monastery on several occasions as a member of the AIM-USA (Alliance for International Monasticism) board of which he currently serves as president. But this is the first time he took on the leadership for the community’s annual retreat.

Under Father Paul Mark’s direction the community was guided in a reflection on the questions posed in the Rule of Benedict (RB): What does the Spirit say? (RB, Prologue 12) Who is it that desires life and longs to see good days? (RB, Prologue 15) Do you know that the patience of God is leading you to repentance? (RB, Prologue 37) Friend, for what have you come? (RB 60:3) ─to mention just a few. Father Paul Mark paired Gospel stories with these questions to enlighten the search for answers to them. He shared his personal lectio and used the experience of the marginalized and ostracized people in the stories─the outcasts of society as a result of infirmity, oppression and prejudice, to open up the Gospel and move the retreatants to deeper understanding. “The stories came alive in a new way,” said Sister Stephanie Schmidt, Monastic Formation Director, “and the happy endings were created by encounters with Jesus.”

Father Paul Mark’s special gift of story-telling helped to make each conference a holy experience; the content, while simple, was profound. His two conferences a day fit into the retreat’s rhythm of prayer, reflection and silence and helped to provide an opening for each one’s personal encounter with Jesus. In closing Father Paul Mark thanked the community: “It was a gift for me to be asked to do this retreat with the Erie Benedictines. I am grateful for your valuable witness to the world.”

Photo (L to R): Sister Anne Wambach, prioress, Father Paul Mark, Sister Stephanie Schmidt, Director of Monastic Formation