As we gathered for our final session with the Abbot today, we were surprised to see him walking to us without his habit - something we had not seen before and worthy of a photograph I thought. Today the Abbot gave us a talk on the monastic and religious life in the church, followed by a grand tour. We were treated to a tour of parts of the abbey seldom seen by the hoards of visitors who visit the abbey each day. It turned out that we had only seen a fraction of the abbey until today.
Over the centuries the monastic life has flourished here, then died out, and then risen again. And on its many buildings evidence of these years has been etched. Most visitors to the abbey are familiar with the hospitality they are provided with, and the facilities made available to them. And this the monks deem to be very important. It is no coincidence that it is amongst the most visited places in the southwest. It is a place where people feel welcome.
The monks live a type of life that is a sign to the rest of the church. They show us that the Christian life is a life in community, of stability in the cross of Christ, where money is not the highest priority, where one's own opinions about things are not the most important, and where one is called to live a life of self-less love. Monks and nuns do this in a distinctive way through making vows but these are at the service of the whole church.
In order to be able to be this sign to the church, the monastic community must also guard its life, so while it treasures its ability to offer hospitality, it must also take measures to protect itself from becoming too affected by the world. So there needs to be parts of the life which is kept away from most people. Today we were privileged to walk through some of the grounds of the abbey which normally are kept private. Most visitors do not realise there is so much more to the abbey, yet perhaps this is also symbolic of the whole monastic life: only some of it can be seen.
So as we walked around the abbey and drank in the tranquillity of the place, we considered the witness of the monks over the centuries. In my thoughts I gave thanks for the privilege of being welcomed into the Catholic Church by Father Abbot and the community of Buckfast Abbey.
As we took stock and thought about all that had taken place over the last few months, in one way it has been a whirlwind, but in many ways no whirlwind at all. Now we have found peace. Thanks be to God for Father Abbot and Buckfast Abbey.