Benedictine brother says life of prayer, and teaching students, helps him manifest God's kingdom
Tuesday, January 14, 2014 10:37 AM
Discussing the Manifesting the Kingdom Award he recently received for outstanding service to the Archdiocese of Washington, Brother Ignacio Gonzalez - a religion teacher at St. Anselm's Abbey School - said the award is really deserved by "my brothers," the community of 16 Benedictines there, for their perseverance and fidelity in prayer. For some, that prayerful witness has endured for 40 or 50 years, in a quiet corner of the nation's capital.
Benedictine Brother Ignacio Gonzalez teaches a religion class at St. Anselm’s Abbey School in Washington. He was recently among more than 200 local Catholics who received the Manifesting the Kingdom Award in recognition of their outstanding service to the local Church.
"What we provide is a countercultural witness. Through the course of the day, we stop what we're doing, to re-engage the Lord, who is eternally present. I'm really convinced we Benedictines manifest the kingdom by our existence," said Brother Ignacio.
Of his own vocation, he said, "I love that the Lord has called me to this life. Not a day goes by that I don't thank Him."
A Texas native, he has been a member of the Benedictine monastery at St. Anselm's since 2008, and has been teaching religion at the school there for the past three years. He describes the winding path of his own vocation as his "seeking a connection to the Lord."
A political science major from the University of Houston, he earlier had served for four years in the Marine Corps, which he said was ultimately good training for religious life.
"Joining the Benedictines was familiar - the discipline, obedience, sense of community, wearing a uniform, a real sense of fraternity," he said, then he smiled an added jokingly, that Marine boot camp, which typically lasts for three months, is easier than "Benedictine boot camp," which he said lasts a lifetime.
Brother Ignacio said he now feels at home and at peace in a community whose regimen is built around prayer, and he said he feels called to be a brother, not a priest. He noted that neither St. Francis nor St. Benedict was a priest.
Earlier, working on Capitol Hill during his last semester of college caused him to catch "Potomac fever. I fell in love with Washington," he said. He was considering a career in law, when his father, a retired judge in Texas with family roots in Mexico, "challenged me to be open to the Truth, with a capital T."
Attending a Christian event with his father, a devout Catholic, Brother Ignacio said he had a conversion experience not unlike St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Suddenly, he became intensely aware of Jesus's love for him, and the future Benedictine turned to his father and wept in his arms. "Instantaneously, everything made sense. The Lord instilled in me a gift of faith that was so strong... and (it) keeps me grounded."
Expressing admiration for his father's witness of faith, Brother Ignacio said, "As a judge, he was always looking for the truth. He challenged me always to be a truth seeker. And where there is truth, there is Christ."
Later, searching for the right path in his life, he worked with children with disabilities as a music teacher and classroom assistant at the Kennedy School in Washington, and he later worked downtown for a company that deals with the foreign exchange market.
After attending a seminary in his native Texas for a year and one-half, he returned to work in Washington, and ultimately found his home, and life's vocation at St. Anselm's Abbey. Brother Ignacio spoke of joining the monks for prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, before evening vespers. "In that environment, the Lord's grace penetrated the depths of my soul," he said.
Now, as he teaches religion to eighth graders at St. Anselm's Abbey School, Brother Ignacio said, "I'm able to learn as I teach." He is teaching them the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, which he said offer a look at "the historical reality of Christ and His Church.
"I'm able to spend a lot of time with the Lord in His Word," he said.
Since his students are also studying Latin, the Benedictine brother examines Bible passages with them on a screen that projects the verses in English and Latin, side-by-side. He noted that as part of his daily meditation, he writes Bible verses in Latin. "It makes me one with my brothers, who throughout the centuries, were copying manuscripts," and transcribing the Bible by hand, he said.
Teaching religion to his students brings him great joy, he added. "Our school is a gifted and talented program for very bright boys. To cooperate with the Lord in their formation is a great responsibility, and also a great joy."
Brother Ignacio said receiving the Manifesting the Kingdom Award "was a confirmation for me that I am doing what the Lord asks me. My prayer has always been, place me Lord where I'm needed."