By Jay Nies
Although known for effective preaching, Benedictine Father Pachomius Meade has made some of his strongest impressions without saying a word.
He was simply showing reverence to God in the deepest silence.
“Just saying the ‘Angelus’ after daily Mass at the Our Lady of Lourdes statue or making a Holy Hour in the evening was something that gave folks reassurance in their own practice of prayer,” he noted.
Fr. Pachomius, a Palmyra native and Benedictine priest of Conception Abbey in Conception, spent four years in residence at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Columbia while studying art history at the University of Missouri.
He has been reassigned to serve as pastor of two small parishes near the abbey in the northeastern corner of the state.
“I ask for prayers for me to have the heart of a loving pastor modeled after that of the Good Shepherd,” he said, “and for my flock, who will likely need lots of prayerful support!”
Into the deep
These past four years have filled Fr. Pachomius with gratitude for the people of this diocese.
“(Our Lady of Lourdes) parish was always supportive,” he said. “Parishioners often went out of their way in kind and supportive ways for me.”
He enjoyed reconnecting with the priests who helped form him as a high-school seminarian, now celebrating Mass with them and swapping ministry stories.
He said he’ll miss Our Lady of Lourdes’ diversity and the fact that people make good use of the sacraments that are available to them, especially confession.
The lines were usually long, even as Fr. Pachomius labored to keep his counsel in the confessional short.
“I’m glad there are people as dedicated to going deeper in their relationship with Christ and accepting the grace that perfects it,” he said. “I’ll miss this kind of readiness to make use of the Church’s gifts.
“I don’t think I’ll ever encounter such a mix of persons,” he said, “and I hope that we continue to remember each other in prayer.”
Blink of an eye
Four years ago, Fr. Pachomius told the people at Our Lady of Lourdes that he was in Columbia to get two educations: one at the university and one in the parish.
“I had never been in one parish for so long nor one so large as Lourdes,” he said.
His first year there, he was asked to prepare the second-graders in the parish’s religious education program to receive the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time.
He walked them through the process of making a good confession, then invited them to ask any question they wanted.
A little girl asked if it was alright to cry.
“Of course! That’s the gift of tears!” said Fr. Pachomius.
He then offered some age-appropriate theology, telling them that “reconciliation” means something like being “eyelash to eyelash.”
“Sometimes we might disobey our parents, and our guilt for having done wrong makes it hard to look our father in the eye,” he explained. “However, being reconciled, being made ‘eyelash to eyelash,’ means we are forgiven and we can look our father in the eye without shame.”
The students had to write a paper about what he taught them.
Several wrote: “I learned you could go to confession behind the screen or ‘eyelash to eyelash.’”
“After that, I lowered my expectations of my own communication abilities!” he said.
Pray and work
Benedictines are monks or nuns who take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, combining a life of community, contemplation and apostolic service.
Fr. Pachomius, formerly Matthew Meade, discovered Benedictine life as a seminarian at Conception Seminary College.
He was received into the monastic community at Conception at age 20 and began formation toward becoming a monk and a priest.
He asked for the religious name Pachomius, in honor of the fourth-century Christian monk whose experiences in the Roman army helped inspire him to draw men and women together into monastic communities bound by a codified rule for living.
Fr. Pachomius professed final vows in 2005 and was ordained to the Holy Priesthood in 2009.
Having taken an interest in art in the seminary, he spent a summer learning how to make icons, a centuries-old form of sacred Christian artwork, at Mount Angel Abbey in St. Benedict, Oregon.
Much to learn
Fr. Pachomius noted that MU is the only state university that offers a doctorate in art history — “emphasis on history and not art.”
“I had to explain to people that I was not painting but just reading a lot about it,” he said.
He pursued a master’s degree, including writing a thesis on the depiction of smell in 15th-century Netherlandish religious painting.
“Basically, my theory was that flowers, incense and food smells induce the memories you associate with that smell — like the nostalgia of an odor that takes you back to your childhood — and can put a person at prayer into a state of mind,” he said.
He then undertook the coursework for a doctorate, followed by a semester studying for comprehensive examinations.
He returns to Conception “A.B.D. — that is, all but dissertation,” he said. “I’m still not a doctor until I write and successfully defend that major paper.”
He hopes eventually to teach general history classes and some humanities electives pertaining more specifically to art history at Conception.
The college needs a certain number of faculty members with doctorates in order to maintain its accreditation.
Although of the monks at Conception pursue advanced degrees at Catholic universities, Benedictine Abbot Benedict Neenan of Conception Abbey wanted Fr. Pachomius to “experience what the current state of the secular academy is.”
“To be at MU during the Concerned Student 1950 protests, at a time when you cannot state there are only two genders without qualifications, and to be in a program in which I am the sole man was pretty eye-opening,” Fr. Pachomius said.
“This is the world into which our seminarians must minister and for which the monks are tasked to pray for conversion and knowledge of the True God,” he said.
Milling about campus in a habit he believes makes him look like “Pope Darth Vader II,” Fr. Pachomius was heartened to see many bold and passionate Catholic students practicing their faith at St. Thomas More Newman Center and beyond.
“But those are only a fraction of those at the university,” he lamented.
In fact, fellow students often told him, “I went to 12 years of Catholic school.”
“The subtext of that statement is, ‘I was raised Catholic but I’m not anymore.’” he said. “It was sad to me that so many attended a school that was Catholic but somehow never managed to integrate catechesis, prayer and their own relationship with God in the Church into their life.”
Fr. Pachomius believes having to prepare and deliver homilies for people at a large parish with a broad range of knowledge and experience challenged him to become a better preacher.
He tried to include something for everyone: teaching, mystical and spiritual insights, a humorous anecdote that helps lead into a theological point, and a challenge in faith and morals.
Each Sunday this past Lent, he tried to find a part of the Mass — such as the “Holy, Holy, Holy” or the Sign of Peace — that related to that day’s readings and explained where the biblical language came from or the reason for the ritual gesture.
“I tell you, I never had such a reaction from a homily from every demographic as when that happened,” he said.
He believes a knowledge of art history highlights the central role that music, architecture and artwork played for centuries in spreading and handing down the Catholic Christian faith.
“The history of Western art is often that of the Church’s patronage and inspiration for art,” he said. “And once the Age of Discovery occurred, a melding of Catholic culture took part in many indigenous cultures of the world.”
He believes this rich, multi-textured fusion of art and evangelism has been mostly lost in this country.
“I would say that the average American Catholic’s experience of the Liturgy, of sacred spaces, is a very cerebral, whitewashed kind of Catholicism,” he asserted.
He believes many of the influences on Catholic worship in the years since the Second Vatican Council reflect “an elitist, academic view of what a church and the faithful’s experience of prayer should be.”
This “wiped out centuries of organic growth in which the Church was never just a space for one activity only for one hour per week, but God’s house in which the children of God came to encounter Him in many ways,” he said.
“We’ve neglected the gaze, the inspiration that beauty lifts the hearts of devotees into the source of Beauty,” he said.
Toward water and light
Fr. Pachomius is concerned that young people discerning vocations to Priesthood and Consecrated Life misread the difficulties they encounter in their discernment.
“It’s only natural for people to encounter temptation and distractions the closer they become to God and the vocation He wants for them,” he said.
People must wander through the desert behind Christ before He leads them to refreshing pools, he said.
“My advice to young people is to have faith, which shines a light beyond our emotions, and to build a routine of prayer, work and supportive friends that help you pass through momentary darkness to Christ’s light,” he said.