Pressman Randy Weber makes an adjustment as the Prairie Messenger rolls off the press. In an editorial on the 100th anniversary of the Prairie Messenger, in 2004, Andrew Britz, OSB, wrote an editorial on the tradition of the monks and the publishing of their paper. After 114 years, the Prairie Messenger will be closing its doors. (Photo by Maureen Weber)
Over the next several months the Prairie Messenger will occasionally feature writing from past contributors and editors. The following editorial by Andrew Britz, OSB, titled “The Messenger is 100,” originally appeared in the Feb. 11, 2004, issue of the Prairie Messenger. We reprint it on this day, Jan. 24, because it is the feast day of St. Francis De Sales, the patron saint of writers and journalists.
For 100 years, the monks of St. Peter’s Abbey have published “the Messenger,” first in German, then for 24 years in both English and German, and finally, since 1947, in English only.
It has not always been easy for the monks. The Messenger has played no insignificant role in keeping the Benedictines poor — as they should be! Already after the very first issue — on February 11, 2004, exactly 100 years ago — Rev. Alfred Mayer was apologizing to the monks for the costs surrounding the newspaper. The type cost $300; the first printing (5,000 copies) cost $55.
Surely the monks are to be commended for their ongoing financial contribution to the Messenger. But, over the years, it has not been finances that have tested their mettle. It is not easy producing a prophetic paper, year in and year out. Through it all these Benedictines have stood fast. They are the real ones we should be celebrating.
The monks know that prophets always have enemies: it cost John the Baptist his head, and we all know the story of the Cross. Neither of these great men was able to preach the Gospel without generating anger, without creating resentment.
It’s inevitable that prophets who struggle to be on the cutting edge come out bloodied at times. Prophets remind people that they are pilgrims, and as long as they are in this world they always will be pilgrims. Prophets call us to a new age. Jesus had a tremendous gift of giving us glimpses of the kingdom. His parables are as fresh today as they were the first time he uttered them. Yet we know the fear and anger he generated, not among the lukewarm and irreligious, but with the religious establishment who were doing their best to be faithful to their understanding of the tradition.
If anything is certain, it is surely that the prophetic tradition cannot be institutionalized. Unlike kings and priests, no one is anointed once and for all as a prophet. “Each morning the Lord awakes me to hear, to listen like a disciple,” Isaiah proclaims in the Third Servant Song (50:4). Prophets, too, must be the pilgrim, looking each day for the Spirit that will make them “an altogether new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).
Monastic life, more so than religious life in general, is not about doing good work in the community, and it is certainly not about being holier than people in the world. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers are filled with stories about the young monks needing to learn that they are not better than those married Christians who, through their special sacrament, struggle to reveal the unconditional love of God’s kingdom.
Aspirants to the monastic life are usually not impressed when they first study one of the key texts of Benedictine spirituality. Pope Gregory the Great, in describing St. Benedict, has him “seeing the whole world in a single ray of light.” The would-be monk quite naturally thinks Benedict should see God in splendour divine, or Jesus with his five wounds shining brightly — or at least Mary with a new revelation to the world!
Gregory, like the abbas, the spiritual guides of the desert before him, realized that new monks would have a hard time realizing this goal. So they allowed the beginner to pray “with eyes closed,” though they always recognized the inherent danger — that, with one’s eyes closed, one could create a world wonderfully according to one’s own liking.
They allowed it. Indeed, they encouraged it, recognizing that in the beginning the aspirant had to cut out empty distractions. But they never removed the ideal: the day must come when the monk would be able to pray “with eyes wide open.”
This goal marks the meaning of the Prairie Messenger to help its readers see the world (church included) as a whole, in a single ray of light. With such a vision comes freedom, the freedom to see ever-new possibilities for individuals, for the church and for the world itself.
As every editor knows — and the longer I am in office the surer I am about this — the Prairie Messenger is the work of the monks of St. Peter’s. The paper’s development has changed as the monks have changed in their understanding of who they are. Any editor who does not move with the monastic community will not last long; it is the only preventive medicine to burnout.
The Prairie Messenger is not the paper a bishop would publish. That is not saying anything disparaging about them. (One of my greatest personal rewards these past 21 years as an editor has been the close association I have had with Prairie bishops.) The Prairie Messenger is a product of its religious and monastic roots.
Of course, there is a downside in trying prophetically to be always on the cutting edge. Mistakes will be made — and this editor has made plenty of them! A strong dose of humility is medicine every editor must down.
We all must have the faith of Gamaliel, a Pharisee and scholar responsible for saving lives of some early apostles in the mid first century AD: “What is of human origin will die, but what is of God will not be destroyed” (see Acts 5:39). Yes, we need faith for we do not have the answers. It is always a great mistake to doggedly insist that yesterday’s answer will suffice for tomorrow.
The monks are proud of their first 100 years on prairie soil; they look forward to — indeed they seek — your trust and support as together we move on to a new history, to new challenges.