PORTLAND, Oregon – No one can visit Mount Angel Abbey during the coronavirus shutdown. That’s why Abbot Jeremy Driscoll is bringing the quiet monastery to the world via technology.
Sitting on benches overlooking spring greenery and Willamette Valley farmland an hour south of Portland, the spiritual leader of local Benedictine men periodically offers two-minute reflections on what the monks, and everyone, are going through. The videos, titled “A Word From Abbot Jeremy,” go out via email and on the abbey’s website.
“We monks have been living a very strict cloistered life, like it must have been for monasteries in previous centuries,” Abbot Jeremy said in one message. “The challenge of the coronavirus invites us to purify our monastic practice — to learn that our life really is hidden in Christ, in God.”
Closed are the guesthouse, bookstore, library and museum. Students at Mount Angel Seminary have gone home, completing their terms online. The abbey church had been open for private public prayer early in the crisis, but now is closed.
Abbot Jeremy said locking the church to the public “has been awful for us.” But the monks have carried on with their daily prayer with new precautions.
There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the abbey as yet, but the Benedictines are practicing social distancing from each other.
“Please join the monks of Mount Angel in seeking out the blessings hidden within an anxious and challenging time,” Abbot Jeremy said in an introduction to the videos. “During this communal crisis, may you find new depths in your faith and trust in the love of Christ.”
Brother Israel Sanchez and Brother Charles Gonzalez, two millennial monks, are helping the 69-year-old abbot with his technological outreach.
“Like you, in various ways we too are having to isolate ourselves and cut out a lot of outside experiences,” the abbot told viewers. “We are not allowed to have people come to the monastery like we used to. It is very strange. I wanted to let you know we are thinking of you and praying for you.”
As he sat and watched squirrels and trees, it struck the abbot that the world is still working and is full of beauty.
“God is doing stuff for us all the time every day,” he said as birds chirped in the background. “Every day, every breath is his gift. He is Lord, trust in him. He brought us into existence, he cares for us.”
The abbot encouraged viewers to find “a sweet, quiet place outside where you may be reminded of how God speaks to us in spring’s new blossoms and green leaves.”
In another video, Abbot Jeremy said it won’t do to panic.
“The Lord makes all things work together for good,” he told viewers. “This can be a chance for us to settle down and see what things are essential for us, be closer to our families, be quieter, have more time for prayer.”
In addressing the pain of closed churches and the end of public Masses, he said both unprecedented measures are necessary to keep people safe. But, he added, this “strange reality” may lead to something good.
“It’s an occasion for us to be more grateful than ever for what the sacraments are,” he told viewers. “Should we not long for them more and more? … I think it is good for the whole church to long for the sacraments, to miss them and revere them and pray they will return to us quickly.”
Langlois is managing editor of the Catholic Sentinel, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Portland.