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Several years ago, on a visit to the Irish College in Rome where the ever gracious Father Bernard Healy, then a student there, I was able to take a picture of this original photograph of Dom Columba Marmion. The Abbot of Maredsous disguised himself as a cattle trader in order to cross the Channel during World War I. It was on this occasion that, when asked for his passport, Dom Marmion replied with a smile, "I'm Irish, and the Irish need no passport, except to get into hell, and it's not to hell that I'm going!" He was allowed to cross the border.

Death is not improvised. We die as we have lived. Life fully lived, with one's eyes fixed on the Face of Jesus, even in this valley of tears where faith alone pierces the night, is an apprenticeship in the art of dying well, l'art de bien mourir. For many years, on the anniversary of the death of Dom Marmion, I would open his biography by Dom Raymond Thibaut, and turning to the last chapter, I would re-read the account of his holy death on January 30, 1923. Today I am sharing these moving pages with all of you, dear readers.

I Will Love Thee, O Lord
Tuesday the 30th was to be the last day of his earthly life. As on other days, he was able to receive the Bread of Life. On this feria in Septuagesima week the Mass was that of the preceding Sunday, Circumdederunt me gemitus mortis. "The sorrows of death," thus begins the Introit, "encompassed me; in my affliction I called upon the Lord, and He heard my voice from His holy temple . . . I will love Thee, O Lord, my strength: the Lord is my firmament, my refuge, and my deliverer."
Trust
For him it was that all his sons repeated the liturgical words of the Gradual, so applicable to that hour: "Thou art, O Lord, a helper in due time of tribulation: let them trust in Thee who know Thee: for Thou hast not forsaken them that seek Thee."
Evening Was Come
Dom Columba had "sought" the Lord; he had made that "sincere seeking after God" required by Saint Benedict the law of his whole life. Had he not been of those who, according to the words of Saint Paul in the Epistle of the Mass, had run in the race that he might receive the prize? Or again, according to Our Saviour's own parable, repeated in the Gospel of the day, was he not among those labourers whom the Father of the household sent to his vineyard, there to work unremittingly for the glory of their Master? Now "evening was come," and the faithful servant, after having borne "the burden of the day and their heats," was about to receive his wages.
His strength continued to ebb, and it was clear that the end was near. In the afternoon Dom Marmion's confessor came to comfort him with these words:
"Mon Révérendissime Père, you are soon going to appear before Our Lord Jesus Christ; show Him now that unshaken confidence that you have preached so often."
Mercy
The dying monk was no longer able to articulate a distinct reply. But no words could have been more fitting at that moment than those just spoken to that soul ready to vibrate at every word of faith. His prayer, moreover, responded to this suggestion; he was many times heard to repeat that verse of the Magnificat: "He hath received Israel His servant, being mindful of His mercy." Recordatus misericordiae suae.
Into Peace With Thee
In the evening, about five o'clock, the community assembled for the Recommendation of the Departing Soul, while the dying abbot held the blessed candle in his hand. Dom Robert de Kerchove, the Father Abbot President of the Congregation, recited the prayers to which the community responded. A touching sight was this crown of sons encircling a venerated father with their prayers, and inviting all the heavenly court to come to aid and meet a soul on its passing to eternity. And how striking were certain of the invocations, considering the circumstances:
"O God most merciful, O God most loving and kind, look favourably upon Thy servant Columba, and deign to hear him. Lord, have pity on his sighs, have pity on his tears, and since his only hope is in Thy mercy, grant him the grace to enter into peace with Thee. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . ."
Cast Me Not Away From Thy Face
The prayers, being ended, the community withdrew; only a few privileged ones remained. Supplications for the dying man were continuous and grew ever more earnest; in low tones those near him repeated the Litany of Our Lady, the Psalms most appropriate for the occasion: Qui habitat in adjutorio Altissimi; the Benedictus. From time to time those texts on which his soul had been nourished were suggested to him: "O Jesus, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. . . . No man cometh to the Father but by Me. . . . Gladly will I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may dwell in me. . . . Lord, cast me not away from Thy face!"
Heart of Jesus
The last prayer proved to be the Litany of the Sacred Heart, where are summed up all the acts of confidence of a believing, loving soul: "Heart of Jesus, salvation of them that hope in Thee. . . . Hope of them that die in Thee. . . ." And then: "Jesus, Mary, Joseph"; and finally, the supreme invocation, "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus . . . !"
The Moment of Eternity
About half-past nine his breathing became sensibly fainter, his face grew pallid, the moment of eternity had come. The dying abbot's brow was asperged with holy water, the crucifix was held for him to kiss. Shortly before ten o'clock one last effort, a contraction of the lips: the soul had escaped from its mortal frame.
The prior at once recited the Subvenite: "Come, ye saints of God . . . come forth to meet him, ye angels of the Lord! . . . May Christ Who hath called thee, receive thee forever into His kingdom. . . ."

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In 1979, while visiting the Abbey of Chambarand in France, the chaplain, Dom Irénée, was kind enough to drive Father Jacob and me to the magnificent Abbey of Saint-Antoine, a holy place hidden in the heart of the Isère. Yes, the relics of Saint Antony of Egypt are in France!

The abbey, with its church in flamboyant gothic, was built in 1297 to receive the relics of the Father of Monks. In 1777 the abbey was made over to the Order of the Knights of Malta, and in 1896 it was entrusted to Dom Adrien Gréa and his fledgling Canons Regular of the Immaculate Conception. What I remember best of that visit thirty-two years ago was stopping to pray before the altar containing the relics of Saint Antony. Never would I have imagined the possibility of such a grace!

Here are some of the Proper Texts for the Mass of Saint Antony, Abbot:

Collect

O God, who bestowed on the blessed abbot Antony
the grace of serving you in the desert by a strange and wonderful way of life,
grant that, through his intercession, we may renounce ourselves
and love you always above all things.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.

General Intercessions

That the Church in East and West may be blessed
with a new generation of God-seeking men and women,
hungry for the living Word of God
and courageous in spiritual combat,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That the leaders of nations
may be assisted in their efforts to secure a just and lasting peace
by the prayer and penance
of those called to a life hidden with Christ in God,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That, by the intercession of Saint Antony,
the grieving may go away rejoicing,
the angry turned to kindness,
those grown slack strengthened,
and those troubled by doubts pacified,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

That we who have assembled to listen to the Word
may, like Saint Antony, rejoice to confess the presence of Christ
and be transformed by His all-powerful and life-giving Spirit,
to the Lord we pray, Christ hear us. R. Christ, graciously hear us.

Collect at the General Intercessions

O God, who by Your Holy Spirit,
so opened the ears of your servant Antony
to the Gospel proclaimed in midst of Your Church,
that nothing of its saving message escaped him,
mercifully grant that we, like him,
may listen attentively to Your Word,
treasure it in quiet hearts,
and pray without ceasing
to withstand the temptations of the evil one
and to give You glory
in the solitude of hearts made pure by Your grace.
Through Christ our Lord.


Our Father Saint Antony

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Saint Antony and Signor Siciliano

Isn't this a wonderful painting of Saint Antony? Flemish Jan Gossaert painted it in Rome in 1508 as the right panel of a diptych. The left panel (not shown) depicts the Mother of God. What interests me is the relationship between Saint Antony and the donor, one Antonio Siciliano.

The Ear of the Heart

Notice the holy abbot's right hand gently touching Signor Siciliano's shoulder. In his left hand Saint Antony holds the book of the Scriptures and his prayer beads. Antony's face is sweet and gentle. His ear is exposed: that ear through which the Word of God entered his mind and descended into his heart.

The donor, in contrast, appears sincere, but stiff; he is looking toward the Madonna on the other panel. His rigid piety lacks the seasoned humanity of the old abbot, tried by temptation and marked by compassion.

Signor Siciliano's dog is wearing a stylish red collar. He is gazing at his master, fascinated by what is going on. Picture yourself in the place of Signor Siciliano. Let the hand of Saint Antony bless and guide you today.

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A Certain Primacy Among the Saints

The liturgy today makes it clear that Saint Antony of the Desert holds a certain primacy among the saints. The 1970 Missal gives a complete set of proper texts; the reformed Lectionary gives proper readings. (Is there a possibility of mutual enrichment here?) Antony is a primary reference, a model of how we are to hear the Word of God, an inspiration in spiritual combat, a radiant icon of holiness for the ages.

No Rest From Spiritual Combat

The feast of Saint Antony, falling between the Christmas festivities and Septuagesima, is an invitation to shake off the sluggishness that comes with winter, a bracing reminder that there is no rest from spiritual combat, and that "the monk's life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character" (RB 49:1). It is the custom in some monasteries on the feast of Saint Antony to go out to the barn to bless the animals. He is the patron of horses, pigs, cattle, and other domestic animals. Icons of Saint Antony often show his little pet pig nestled in the folds of his tunic. Our dog Hilda received her Saint Antony Day blessing very meekly.

Ice on the Holy Water

Making a trip to the barn in the mid-January cold may be as much of a blessing for the monks as for the animals. It is a wake-up call. One has to use the aspergillum to break the ice that forms on the Holy Water. One sees the animals shudder when the cold water hits them. These are very physical reminders of a spiritual truth. We cannot afford to become cozy and comfortable in a spirituality of feather comforters for the soul. From time to time we, like the barn animals, need the salutary shock of cold Holy Water splashed in our face!

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The Life of Antony

More than forty years ago Trappist Father Marius Granato (+ 10 November 2003) of Spencer introduced me to the Life of Antony by Saint Athanasius. Heady reading for a fifteen year old boy! Shortly thereafter a wise Father told me that one should read the Life of Antony once a year. These seasoned monks knew exactly what they were doing: they were proposing a model of holiness perfectly adapted to the ideals of a youth starting out on the spiritual journey. After all, the Life of Antony begins with an account of his boyhood. He was about "eighteen, or even twenty" when, going into church one day, he heard the Gospel being chanted, and understood that it was Christ speaking to him. "If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me" (Mt 19:21).

A Book For All Ages

Why counsel an annual reading of the Life of Antony? Because it is a text that, in some way, grows with us. If it is suitable for the eager young seeker, it is just as suitable to the Christian wrestling with the oppressive noon-day devil or with the cunning demons of midlife. For the Christian faced with the onset of old age, it is a comforting book.

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He Never Looked Gloomy

The portrait of Saint Antony at the end of his life shows a man transfigured: "His face," says Saint Athanasius, "had a great and marvelous grace. . . . His soul being free of confusion, he held his outer senses also undisturbed, so that from the soul's joy his face was cheerful as well, and from the movements of the body it was possible to sense and perceive the stable condition of the soul, as it is written, 'When the heart rejoices, the countenance is cheerful." Antony . . . was never troubled, his soul being calm, and he never looked gloomy, his mind being joyous" (Life of Antony, 67).

The Lectionary

The Proper Readings given today in the reformed lectionary provide us with a rich lectio divina:

Spiritual combat (Eph 6:10-11).
Struggle with the powers of darkness (Eph 6:12-13).
Constant prayer in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).
Watchfulness (Eph 6:18).
God as chosen portion and cup (Ps 15:5).
God present and giving counsel, even in the night (Ps 15:7-8).
The voice of Christ calling to disappropriation (Mt 19:21).
The perfect life that leads to treasure in heaven (Mt 19:21).
The camel and the eye of the needle (Mt 19:24).

But With God All Things Are Possible

And finally, there is the very last line of the Gospel, the one line that fills us with an irrepressible hope: "With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible"; (Mt 19:26)." It is this line that sends us to the altar today for the Thanksgiving Sacrifice.

Become Like a Consuming Fire

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The First Benedictine Oblates

In the Benedictine tradition, January 15th is the feast of the young disciples of Our Father Saint Benedict, Maur and Placid. Who are Maur and Placid and how do we know them? Saint Gregory the Great introduces them in his Life of Saint Benedict. He explains that after the holy Benedict had established his twelve monasteries at Subiaco, noble Christians came from Rome, presenting their sons to be raised and educated among the monks. These boys, offered by their parents to God, were the first "Oblates." Among them were Maur, an adolescent, the son of Euthicus, and Placid -- practically a toddler -- son of the patrician Tertullus. Maur quickly became Abbot Benedict's helper whereas Saint Gregory specifies that Placid was in "early childhood."

A Little Hand Wrapped in the Corporal

Picture for a moment the rite of their Oblation. It is intimately tied into the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We know exactly what was done from Chapter 59 of the Rule.

If it happens that a nobleman offers his son to God as a monk, and the child is still of tender age, the parents should make out the petition. . . . They should wrap this petition and the boy's hand together with the Mass offering in the altar cloth (the corporal) and offer him in that way" (RB 59:1).

I see Maur, a serious lad, conscious of what is happening when his hand is wrapped together with the offerings of bread and wine in the altar cloth. And I see, little Placid; his father probably had to lift him up in his arms to reach the altar. The poor little fellow must have been in awe of the solemn fuss being made of him.

A Eucharistic Vocation

The vocation of the Benedictine Oblate is essentially Eucharistic. The very word "oblate" is used to refer to the bread and wine placed upon the altar, the oblata, as well as to those who are ritually identified with the offering, the Oblates themselves. The Benedictine Oblate lives from the altar, and returns to the altar. Like the bread and wine destined to become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Oblate is offered at the altar and then given from the altar to live out his mystical identification with Christ, the hostia perpetua, by a life of conversion and obedience.

When Saint Benedict Prayed By Night

Saint Benedict obviously recognized the potential in Placid and Maur. Saint Gregory tells us that he chose the boy Placid to accompany him in a long nocturnal prayer on the mountain. "Accompanied by the little Placid," he says, "Benedict climbed the mountain. Once at the summit, he prayed for a long time." The solitary prayer of Saint Benedict imitates that of Jesus. "Jesus, rising early before dawn, went off to a deserted place where he prayed" (Mk 1:35). It is worth pondering how Placid's experience of seeing Saint Benedict pray by night must have marked him for life. Little boys are sensitive to such things.

Placid Rescued From the Water

The most famous story of Maur and Placid has to do with the little fellow going to fetch water in the lake. He falls into the water. Saint Benedict is made aware of the situation by a kind of charismatic clairvoyance. He sends Brother Maur to rescue the child Placid. Maur, having received his abbot's blessing, runs over the surface of the water, grabs Placid by the hair, pulls him out, and then runs back over the water to dry land, carrying the little one in his arms. Saint Benedict attributes the miracle to Maur's obedience. Maur says it was due to the virtue of Saint Benedict. Then the little Placid pipes up and settles the debate. "When you pulled me out of the water, he says, I saw over my head Father Abbot's hood, and I saw that it was he who pulled me from the water."

They Persevered

What is most significant, I think, in the story of Maur and Placid is that these two lads persevered in seeking God. If Maur and Placid persevered over a lifetime in seeking God, they surely suffered temptation and darkness, never despairing of the mercy of God. Maur and Placid, tested by suffering, became able to help those who are being tested. Perhaps this is why they became patrons of Benedictine novitiates everywhere.

Two Wise Old Nonni

The sign of the mature monk -- the nonnus, to use Saint Benedict's word for a senior in the monastery -- or of the mature nun -- the nonna -- is in their capacity for compassion, in their ability to identify with weakness, to sympathize with suffering, and above all in their refusal to judge.

We know nothing of the old age of Saints Maur and Placid but I see them as two wise old nonni. I see their youthful faces grown wrinkled and their beards white but in their eyes dances the flame of their first love, the interior fire kindled from the altar, set ablaze by the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist on the day of their Oblation. It is the fire of the Eucharist that, burning in us, will consume all that is harsh, unbending, and ready to judge, leaving only the pure flame of a mercy that gives warmth and light. The Eucharistic vocation of Saints Placid and Maur bears witness to what Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot: "You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire."

Domine Jesu, suscipe spiritum meum

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The Prayer of Saint Stephen

Saint Stephen had so patterned his life after that of our Lord Jesus Christ -- Witness, Priest and Servant -- that at the hour of his death, he prayed in the same words as Jesus Crucified: "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Ps 30:5). Saint Stephen, however, directs his prayer to the Lord Jesus, knowing that it will be carried by Christ to the Father in the Holy Spirit: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."

The Monk: Witness, Priest, and Servant

In the Benedictine monastic tradition, we offer ourselves, on the day of our profession, to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit with similar words: Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum, et vivam (Ps 118:116). We offer ourselves because we have caught a glimpse, however fleeting, of "the heavens thrown open" (Ac 7:56), and we are compelled to bear witness to it. We offer ourselves because the glory of the Father shining on the Face of Christ compels us to spend a lifetime singing his praise. We offer ourselves, because we have been served by a Lord who lowers Himself to wash our feet, and we accept a share in His suffering servanthood.

Yielding to the Holy Spirit

When we bear witness, we rely on the Spirit of Our Father to express through us the wisdom of the Crucified Son: "the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you" (Mt 10). When we celebrate the praise of the glory of the Father, we rely on the Holy Spirit to form in us the very prayer of Christ the Eternal High Priest. When we serve and when we suffer, we rely on the Holy Spirit to make us servants and oblations in the image of the Suffering Servant, and in the image of the Handmaid of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary.

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Missionary Monk and Archbishop

Saint Willibrord, whom we remember today, was educated at the monastery of Ripon in England under the direction of Saint Wilfred. In the year 678 he went to a monastery at Clonmelsh (Garryhundon) in County Carlow, Ireland where he remained for twelve years and was ordained a priest. Pope Sergius consecrated him missionary archbishop of the Frisians in 695.

Fostering a Eucharistic Culture

Saint Willibrord's approach to evangelization needs to be rediscovered in our own day. What exactly did he do? First, he erected an altar. Over the altar he set up the cross. And around the altar and the cross he built a monastery, giving primacy to the praise of the Divine Majesty. Saint Willibrord preached the Gospel by modeling a society centred in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and by fostering a Eucharistic culture. This is the mission of every monastery: to illustrate what the family can be, and to demonstrate the fruitfulness of a culture of life rooted in the sacrificial love of the Most Holy Eucharist.

The Grace of Things Unplanned

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Control

Recently, I was led to think about the significance of surprises or, if you will, the grace of things unplanned and unforeseen. Having persevered this far in monastic life, I can, I think, begin to identify some of the pitfalls inherent to it. One of these is the compulsion to want to control every detail, to leave nothing unplanned, and to strive to tidy up what is a messy business, that is, life with others here below.

The desire for the tranquility of order is virtuous and praiseworthy. But, like all virtuous and praiseworthy things, it becomes unbalanced and vicious when carried to an extreme. The conventual routine of monastic observance is made for monks, not monks for the conventual routine of monastic observance.

Surprises as Intrusions

With the passing years, one becomes more aware of one's weakness, one begins to feel in one's bones the increased fatigue that is the price of fidelity. Patience and good humour seem to be in shorter supply than when one was young and adventurous. One begins to view surprises as intrusions. One begins to resent the unexpected, and to fear the unknown. One's capacity for delight in things spontaneous and unplanned gives way to a dour refusal to adapt, to change, and to bend.

The Trellis

A certain stiffness sets in, not only in one's joints and bones, but also in one's thinking and in a kind of desperate clinging to the pathetic security of little rules and customs. The very things that were designed to serve as a light trellis to support the wild vine of life and keep its fruits from rotting on the ground become more important than the vine and its fruit.

Holy Abandonment

It is helpful, I think, to consider that God allows surprises, that He sends us things unplanned and unforeseen as graces to keep us flexible and supple in His hands. Father de Caussade's abandonment to Divine Providence extends to all of those things that catch us by surprise, that oblige us to revise our plans, and release our grip on the rails we have created for our own security.

And All Shall Be Well

There is a fine line between the preservation of order and peace and the petrification of routine and the paralysis of fear. Without falling into an unreasonable cult of spontaneity and the culture of indiscipline and disorder in the name of openness and creativity, one must be humble enough to allow God to be God, always and everywhere. Surprises are salutary. Things unforeseen put us in our rightful place. And, in the end, as Dame Julian of Norwich said, "All shall be well."

God's Own Gaze, Full of Love

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The Face of Christ or, if you will, the Gaze of Christ, is a motif that recurs frequently in the preaching of Pope Benedict XVI, as well as in his writings. In today's Angelus Address, the Holy Father alludes to that mysterious exchange of gazes, by which a particular vocation -- and often one to the priesthood or monastic life -- is both offered and received. That exchange of gazes is, of course, but the beginning. A priestly or monastic (or religious) vocation cannot be sustained except by growing into an exchange of gazes that becomes habitual. And this habitual exchange of gazes is, in fact, the gift of contemplation.

There may be readers of Vultus Christi who have, at one time or another, recognized the gaze of Christ resting upon with with an unspeakable tenderness. This sometimes happens when one is lingering in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. It may also happen when one is bent over the Word of God, or praying the Psalms. Meet the gaze of Christ with your own gaze. Look at Him. Begin to live, as Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity says, with "your eyes in His eyes." And should He call you to monastic life, communicate with us at Silverstream Priory. Do not go away sad. Say "yes" to the joy of having nought but Christ, and of preferring nothing whatsoever to His love.

Here is the text of the Holy Father's Angelus Address:

Dear brothers and sisters!

When God Conquers a Heart

Wealth is the principal topic of this Sunday's Gospel (Mark 10:17-30). Jesus teaches that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, but not impossible; in fact, God can conquer the heart of a person who has many possessions and move him to solidarity and sharing with the needy, with the poor, to enter into the logic of the gift. This is how wealth presents itself in the life of Jesus Christ, who - as the Apostle Paul writes - "rich though he was, he became poor for us so that we might become rich though his poverty" (2 Corinthians 8:9).

After Life in Its Fullness

As often happens in the Gospels, everything begins from an encounter. In this case Jesus' meeting with a man who "had many possessions" (Mark 10:22). He was a person who from his youth had faithfully observed the commandments of God's Law, but he had not yet found true happiness; this is why he asks Jesus what he must do to "inherit eternal life" (10:17). On the one hand, like everyone else, he is after life in its fullness. On the other hand, being used to depending on his wealth, he thinks that he might be able to "buy" eternal life in some way, perhaps by observing some special commandment.

He Went Away Sad

Jesus welcomes the profound desire that is in him and, the evangelist notes, casts a gaze full of love upon him, God's own gaze (cf. 10:21). But Jesus also understands what the man's weakness is: it is precisely his attachment to his many possessions, and this is why he invites him to give everything to the poor, so that his treasure - and thus his heart - will no longer be on earth but in heaven, and adds: "Come! Follow me!" (10:22). That man, instead of accepting Jesus' invitation, goes away sad (10:23) since he is unable to give up his wealth, which can never give him happiness and eternal life.

Not Impossible for God

It is at this point that Jesus offers his teaching to the disciples, and to us today: "How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" (10:23). The disciples are puzzled, and even more so when Jesus adds: "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." But seeing that the disciples are astonished he says: "For human beings it is impossible, but not for God.

Saints Poor and Rich

All things are possible for God" (10:24-27). St. Clement comments on the episode in this way: "The story teaches the rich that they must not neglect their salvation as if they were already condemned. They need not throw their wealth into the sea or condemn it as insidious and hostile to life, but they must learn how to use their wealth and obtain life" ("What rich person will be saved?" 27, 1-2). The Church's history is full of examples of rich people who used their possessions in an evangelical way, achieving sanctity. We need only think of St. Francis, St. Elizabeth or St. Charles Borromeo. May the Virgin Mary, Seat of Wisdom, help us to welcome Jesus' invitation with joy so that we might enter into the fullness of life.

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Image: Dom Tarisse, Superior General of the Congregation of Saint-Maur


I have given Dom Benedict my blessing to pursue his study of the 17th century Monastic Breviary of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur. The Maurist Breviary is a treasury of scriptural and patristic texts, artfully woven together so as to express luminously the mysteries of the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year. The Maurist Breviary is as suitable for lectio divina as it is for choral prayer. Dom Benedict will be sharing his discoveries, as time permits, on a new blog entitled, Pax Inter Spinas, A Modern Monk Discovers the Liturgical Riches of the Benedictine Congregation of Saint Maur (1621-1790). Do visit Pax Inter Spinas today.

Ember Wednesday in September

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Photo: Monastic ruins on the Hill of Slane.

The Ember Days

The September Ember Days are upon us, signaling the passage of summer and the beginning of autumn. Here at Silverstream Priory, the chill in the morning air tells us that, in spite of the warm sunshine during the day, the long, slow descent into winter has already begun.

Optimistic Realism of the Roman Rite

Today's first Collect at Mass is a prime example of what I like to call the optimistic realism of the Roman Rite:

We beseech Thee, O Lord
that our fragility may be upheld
by the remedies of Thy mercy,
so that what of itself is falling into ruin
may, by Thy clemency, be restored.

Is not this a marvelous prayer? On the one hand, there is the sober recognition of ourselves such as we really are: fragile, and falling into ruin. On the other hand, there is a confident acknowledgment of the remedies of divine Mercy and of the restorative power of God's clemency. The prayer is, thus, perfectly balanced.

Fragility

Most people, if they have any degree off self-knowledge and honesty, will admit to feeling and being fragile, that is breakable, susceptible of being fragmented. At certain hours in one's life, one can have the overwhelming feeling of being shattered. Sometimes the shattering blow comes from outside ourselves, that is, from the world around us that is populated with other shattered and shattering human beings. Sometimes the shattering blow comes from the diabolical machinations of the Evil One. And still, at other times, we deal the shattering blow to ourselves by hurling ourselves against whatever jagged hardness happens to be at hand.

Remedies of Mercy

What can keep us, in spite of our native fragility, from being utterly shattered? The Collect tells us that the remedies of God's mercy will uphold us, and will prevent our collapse. What are these remedies? They are, first of all, the Sacraments of Penance and of the Most Holy Eucharist. They are the "prayer and fasting" of which Our Lord speaks in today's Gospel (Mark 9:16-28). Of prayer there is none more efficacious than the Divine Office, the voice of Christ united to that of His Spouse, the Church, and this from the rising of the sun to its setting. Of fasting there is none better than that prescribed or recommended by the Church, particularly during these Ember Days.

A Team of Physicians

Remedies of mercy too are the sacramentals of the Church on earth, and the solicitude and assistance of the Mother of God, and of the angels and saints in heaven. God has not abandoned us to our fragility. He has commanded His angels to bear us up, lest we dash our foot against a stone. (Psalm 90:12). The saints, for their part, are skilled physicians of souls and bodies, working together under the direction of the chief Physician, who is our Lord Jesus Christ.

The second part of the Collect is the ut or "so that" clause typical of the Roman Rite:

. . . ut quae sua conditione atteritur,
tua clementia reparatur.

. . . so that what of itself is falling into ruin
may, by Thy clemency, be restored.

There is a lovely balance to the two verbs in the Latin text: atteritur, reparatur; the idea is of falling into ruin, and of being repaired. Speaking for myself, I have, more than once, had the impression of falling into ruin. The Latin verb is perhaps closer to "being cast down to the ground." Ireland is full of monastic ruins (see the photo above) and on difficult days I can see myself as one of them. The realism of the Roman Rite admits that we are all, at certain seasons and hours, falling into ruin. The supernatural optimism of the Roman Rite sees God, however, as the repairer of ruins, as the One who rebuilds what is falling to the ground. This gives me immense hope,

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Saint Bartholomew's Gospel

I find it curious that, for the feast of Saint Bartholomew, the Roman Missal does not give the passage from Saint John's Gospel (1:45-51) that concerns him directly:

Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith to him: We have found him of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets did write, Jesus the son of Joseph of Nazareth. And Nathanael said to him: Can any thing of good come from Nazareth? Philip saith to him: Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him: and he saith of him: Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile. Nathanael saith to him: Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered, and said to him: Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered him, and said: Rabbi, thou art the Son of God, thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered, and said to him: Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, thou believest: greater things than these shalt thou see. And he saith to him: Amen, amen I say to you, you shall see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.

The Whole Night in Prayer to God

Instead, we are given Saint Luke's account of the call of the Apostles (6,12-19) among whom, of course, we find the name of Saint Bartholomew:

And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray: and he passed the whole night in the prayer of God. And when day was come, he called unto him his disciples: and he chose twelve of them (whom also he named apostles): Simon, whom he surnamed Peter, and Andrew his brother, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Matthew and Thomas, James the son of Alpheus, and Simon who is called Zelotes, And Jude the brother of James, and Judas Iscariot, who was the traitor. And coming down with them, he stood in a plain place: and the company of his disciples and a very great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the sea coast, both of Tyre and Sidon, Who were come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And they that were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all the multitude sought to touch him: for virtue went out from him and healed all.

We Will Run After Thee

What are we to garner from the choice of this Gospel for today's Holy Mass? First of all, we see Our Lord going out to the mountain to pray. Shall we not follow Him to the mountain? Do we not want to be with Him while He prays? Blessed indeed is the soul allowed to witness the Son in prayer to His Father! "Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments" (Ct 1:3).

Under the Anointing

What is a monk if not a man drawn after Jesus, running to the odour of His anointing, that is, the sweet fragrance of the Holy Spirit, the Divine Anointing from above, poured out in such abundance upon Christ our Head, that it flows down to cover even the least members of His Mystical Body, that is the Church. The monk is a man who follows Jesus in His ascent to the mountain. He is compelled to climb in the footsteps of the Son, and so return to the Father. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life," says the Lord. "No man cometh to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6).

Whatsoever Thou Desirest to Find in Me

The summit of the mountain is union with Christ in charity. "Having, therefore, ascended all these degrees of humility, the monk will presently arrive at that love of God which, being perfect, casteth out fear" (RSB 7) At the summit of the mountain the love of Christ embraces the monk and holds him fast, and the monk, humbly but sincerely, consents to that love. "Do Thou in me, Lord Jesus, whatsoever Thou desirest to find in me, so as to draw out of my nothingness all of the love and all of the glory which Thou didst have in view, when Thou didst create me" (Prayer of M. Yvonne-Aimée de Jésus).

Now, Not I

The monk is called not merely to be a witness the Son's prayer to the Father, but to participate in it. The goal of the monastic life is, in effect, to be able to say in words reminiscent of Saint Paul: "And I pray, now not I; but Christ prayeth in me" (cf. Gal 2:20). All of the thoughts, and words, and attitudes that one thought were prayer have, at some point in the ascent of the mountain, to be abandoned, utterly left behind. They become burdensome. One is obliged to relinquish them . . . or to give up on the ascent.

The Liturgy

Forsaking all that he experienced as prayer, the monk enters the sanctuary of the Sacred Liturgy, wherein no detail is insignificant. Putting aside his own words, he applies himself to uttering those given him by the Bride of Christ, the Church. Renouncing his own thoughts, however pious these may be, he begins to think with the Church, and through the Church, and thus, even in his personal prayer, he acquires the mind of Christ. Even his body must give up those attitudes and postures that once he found so congenial, so as to rise and fall, and bend and bow, and yield in all things to a choreography of divine artistry, the work of the Holy Ghost embodied in the rubrics that are the transmission of a secret life, an inner dynamism coming from above.

Be Nothing

Saint Luke goes on to say: "And he passed the whole night in the prayer of God" (Lk 6:12). For the monk, what is this whole night if not the span of a lifetime in this valley of tears, in the long, dark night of faith? The monk is a man who stays with Jesus the whole night through. The monk is a man who consents to be nothing, to do nothing, to represent nothing other than the Son in prayer to the Father.

Flayed

If only for what it reveals of the monastic vocation, I treasure this particular Gospel passage given us on the feast of Saint Bartholomew. And there is one other detail, this one drawn from the traditional account of Saint Bartholomew's martyrdom. He was flayed. The monk, too, is flayed, at least after a fashion. The things that I thought were myself, are peeled away from me. I find myself naked, vulnerable, and utterly not the man I thought I was. And this is an immense grace. It is the beginning of transformation into Christ, of Christ living, and praying, and dying, and rising in me to the glory of the Father.

Let us do only what we can

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For the feast of Saint John Eudes:

It is never detrimental to the spiritual progress of a Community when one does not do what God does not want him to do. Now God does not desire anyone to observe rules when he cannot do so because of illness or some other infirmity. We should not wish to do more than what God desires. Let us do only what we can, dearest brother, without becoming troubled or worried, submitting ourselves with peace and tranquility to the commands of His most adorable will.

Saint Jean Eudes to a Superior, Letter 233

Maria, Abbatissa Nostra

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Apart from the photos of the statue at Tre Fontane in Rome (Trappist Monks), of the icon of the Mother of God, Abbess of Mount Athos, and of our own icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour, the statues of Our Lady shown here are found in monasteries of the Benedettine dell'Adorazione Perpetua del Santissimo Sacramento in Italy.

Our Lady, Our Abbess, Our Queen

Writing in an essay in the book Priez sans cesse - 300 ans de prière, (Desclée de Brouwer, Editeur, Paris, 1953, p. 177), Dom Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. demonstrates that a Benedictine devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Abbess, was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. Originating in monasteries of the Cluniac obedience, devotion to the Blessed Virgin as Abbess was also not unknown among the 17th century Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint-Maur.

At Tre Fontane

Not surprisingly, the same devotion made its way into the hearts and cloisters of of the Cistercians. When, in 1975, I visited the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome, I was struck by a statue of the Mother of God enthroned in the reading cloister.

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The Blessed Virgin is depicted seated, dressed in the white cuculla of the Cistercians and wearing the abbatial insignia of the ring and pectoral cross. In her right hand she holds the keys of the monastery, and in her left the crosier or pastoral staff used by abbots and abbesses. The inscription below the statue reads: In me omnis spes, "In me is all hope." How many generations of monks and laybrothers in need of hope paused before this statue to entrust themselves to the Mother of Jesus, their heavenly Abbess and Queen?

Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration

Mother Mectilde de Bar, familiar to the readers of Vultus Christi, as the foundress of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, and the "Teresa of Avila" of the Benedictine Order, renounced the abbatial title for herself and all her successors in perpetuity, and attributed that title and its duties to the Mother of God alone.

The 28 May 1654, M. Mectilde de Bar wrote to M. Dorothée Heurelle:

In myself I find nothing whatsoever that is capable of giving me joy, except for one thing that has given me great satisfaction. It is that I have had a statue of Our made. She is much taller than I, holding her Child on her right arm, and holding a crosier in her left hand, to signify she is the generalissima of the Order of Saint Benedict, and the most worthy Abbess, Mother, and Superior of this little house of the Holy Sacrament. It was brought to us on Saturday, the vigil of Pentecost. I must admit that her arrival sent a thrill of joy and consolation through me, and seeing my holy Mistress take possession of her domain and of this very little convent. She is not yet altogether finished, because she must still be gilded and made perfectly beautiful, and after she is perfectly complete, we shall have her blessed, and then placed on a throne prepared to this effect in the middle of our choir between the stall of our Mother Subprioress and mine. She is admired, and certainly she is beautiful, and consoles me extremely.

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The Image of Our Lady Abbess

On 22 August 1654, Mother Mectilde proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary the only abbess and perpetual superior of the Institute. Delegated by the prior of Saint-Germain, the Abbé Picoté blessed the statue of Our Lady. The next day, Mother Mectilde placed Our Lady's image in all the regular places -- choir, chapter, refectory, dormitory -- so that she might, in some way, preside at all the community exercises. She want Our Lady's feasts to be celebrated brilliantly, and prescribed special prayers to the glory of her Most Pure Heart and Immaculate Conception.

Thus, was Our Lady forever chosen, named, and recognized as the most worthy and most eminent mother, abbess, and superior in chief of the first fledgling monastery of the Most Holy Sacrament. The Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament renew the abbatial election of the Mother of God, and entrust themselves to her every year on August 15th or 22nd.

Abbess and Queen of the Holy Mountain

Is this devotion more of a feminine thing? Hardly. The monks of Mount Athos, where no woman ever sets foot, practice the same devotion as their Western brethren, but to an even higher degree. The all-holy Mother of God is acknowledged, venerated, and praised as the Abbess of the Holy Mountain. She is the only woman allowed on Mount Athos because it is her garden, and her domain.

Prophecy of the Mother of God

Saint Gregory Palamas, in his Life of Saint Peter the Athonite (+681) relates that, while living virtually alone on the Holy Mountain as a hermit, he had a vision of the Mother of God telling Saint Nicholas of her love for the place:

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"The time will come," said the Mother of God," when, from every direction, it will be filled with a multitude of monks.... If those monks shall labor for God with all their hearts and faithfully keep His commandments, I will vouchsafe them great gifts on the great day of my Son. And, while even here on earth, they will receive great aid from me. I shall lighten their afflictions and labors. I will be for the monks an invincible ally, invisibly guiding and guarding them, a healer, a source nourishing them, and make it possible for them, with but scant means, to have sufficiency for life."

Abbess of the Holy Mountain

For over a thousand years, the monks of Mount Athos have experienced the truth of these words. Not merely in name only, but in reality and in the life of each monk, the all-holy Mother of God is honoured as Abbess and Sovereign Lady of the Holy Mountain. The monks of Mount Athos invoke the Holy Mother of God by a whole litany of titles. Our Lady is the archetype of monasticism. She is the paradigm of Christian holiness; the Abbess of the Holy Mountain; and the monk's sure guide to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Mother of God is everywhere present on Mount Athos by means of the holy icons through which she reveals herself as a most solicitous Abbess and communicates with her monks.

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And at Silverstream Priory

Lest we, the least of Our Lady's sons, be found lacking in the same kind of filial devotion to her, our own little monastery, like so many others in past times and places, elected the Blessed Virgin Mary Abbess of Silverstream on August 15th.

Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, after Vespers on the feast of the Assumption, I pronounced the solemn act of election by which our monastery entered into a new and deeper relationship with Our Blessed Lady. Here, for your meditation, is the text of the prayer. It is modeled after the act that Mother Mectilde de Bar pronounced in Paris on 22 August 1654.

Act of Election and Consecration to Our Lady, Abbess

I, an unworthy son of Saint Benedict,
holding the first place in this monastery
established for the adoration and glory
of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar,
humbly prostrate before the Throne of the Divine Majesty,
in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and in the warmth of the fire that burns in His Most Sacred Heart,
do confess and declare,
in the name of the community such as it is at this time,
and such as it shall be in time to come,
that the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
is forever elected, named, and recognized
as the ever-worthy, glorious,
and sovereign Lady and Abbess of this monastery,
that is, of all the monasteries dedicated to her,
the most fragile and the most in need of the care and attention
of her maternal Heart.

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With profound humility and confidence,
I beg her, in her most tender pity
to take this struggling and vulnerable infant monastery
under her singular care and special protection,
and to obtain for me
and for the souls in my care
the incomparable grace of the Divine Friendship
of the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus,
in fidelity to the Rule of Saint Benedict
and the charism of adoration, reparation, and charity for priests,
which has been bestowed upon us
by the Father of lights from whom descends every good gift,
and has been recognized by the Holy Catholic Church
in the persons of our Lords, the Most Reverend Bishops of Tulsa and of Meath,
and in whose heart we desire to live and to die.

I further offer to the maternal Heart
of the same sovereign Lady and Abbess
all who have assisted this little monastery
by their presence, their labour, their prayers,
and their material support,
asking her to extend the veil of her holy protection
and perpetual help over them and over their families,
their loved ones, their homes, and their places of work and business.

Receive us, then, all-holy and merciful Mother of Jesus Christ,
as thy servants and as sons of thine own household.
Make thou full use of thy rights and of thy power over us,
and over the temporal and spiritual affairs of this house,
lest thine own honour be mocked,
and thy house looked upon with scorn,
and thy sons derided.

We accept and avow that Thou art our sovereign Lady,
our Abbess, and our Queen,
and by this act pronounced today in view of thy Divine Son,
of the choirs of angels,
of Saint Joseph, Saint John, our father Saint Benedict,
and of all the saints,
we bind ourselves to depend upon thee,
and look to thee for all things.

We renew into thy hands the sacred vows of our baptism,
and those of monastic profession,
asking thee to fashion us into true adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and consolers of His Eucharistic Heart.

O Holy Mother of God,
we beseech thee with all the humility possible
to take upon thyself the office to which we elect thee today,
and to rule over, protect, and provide for this house
and those who dwell herein now
and in the days to come.

This is the irrevocable, binding, and unanimous desire of thy sons,
in testimony of which, we sign this present act
on the 15th day of August 2012
enjoinIng that it be kept in this monastery in perpetuity
and renewed every year
on the festival of thy glorious Assumption into heaven,
or during the octave thereof. Amen.

Solace for the Sizzling

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Saint Laurence is the patron saint of those who have sizzled (or may be sizzling) on the gridirons of lust. I have long appreciated the oration in honour of Saint Laurence that the Church recommends to her priest in the daily Thanksgiving After Mass of the Roman Missal:

Grant to us, O Lord, we beseech Thee,
to extinguish within us the flames of vice,
even as Thou didst strengthen blessed Laurence
to overcome his fiery torments.
Through Christ our Lord.

Continence is a gift, not an achievement. One becomes chaste by grace, not by dint of stress and strain. Mother Church has known this all along. This, I suppose, is why she bids her priests pray daily for the angelic virtue. What I like about the official prayers for chastity (found in the Roman Missal) is that they are utterly realistic. It is assumed that one is engaged in spiritual combat. Out of weakness or weariness or a combination of both, one may at times emerge from the battle scarred and bruised.

What is the secret of chaste living? 1) You have to want it, 2) you have to ask for it, and 3) you may have to wait for it. Does not Sirach say, "Humble thy heart and endure . . . and in thy humiliation keep patience" (Eccl 2:2-4)?

It pleases God to bestow the gift of chastity through the hands of the All-Pure Mother of God. In this particular combat, the rosary is the mighty weapon of the weak. That being said, let's look at the prayers for chastity given by the Church in the Roman Missal. It is recommended that most of these find a place in the daily prayer rule of the priest.

From the Preparation for Mass

Ure igne Sancti Spiritus

Refine our hearts and affections, Lord,
in the fire of the Holy Spirit,
so that our bodies may be chaste and our hearts clean
to serve Thee according to Thy pleasure.

Rex virginum, amator castitatis

With the heavenly dew of Thy blessing,
God, King of virgins and Lover of stainless chastity,
quench the wildfire of lust in my body,
leaving all of me, body and soul, steadfast in purity.
Deaden within me the stings of desire and all lustful excitements.
Give me true, complete, and abiding chastity,
and therewith all those other gifts of Thine in which Thou truly delightest,
enabling me to offer daily sacrifice in praise of Thee
with a chaste body and clean heart.

Wise Abbatial Counsel

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Left: Dom Maurus Wolter, Abbot of Beuron; right: Dom Prosper Guéranger, Abbot of Solesmes.

The Benedictine Art of Government

The nineteenth century was a springtime of monastic restoration in old Europe. Early in May 1863, Dom Prosper Guéranger, abbot of Solesmes addressed a letter to the young prior of Beuron in Germany, the meticulous and somewhat rigid Dom Maurus Wolter. Dom Guéranger had, at this time, a quarter of a century of experience as founding abbot of Solesmes. He had learned, on his own, how to foster unity of purpose and of means in a community of men from a variety of backgrounds, many of them clerics, and each one having, and sometimes clinging to, his own idea of what monastic life ought to be. Dom Guéranger governed with gentleness, with love, and with an astonishing breadth of view. This is what he wrote . . . personally, I take it to heart here at Silverstream Priory, and try to put it into practice.

Take care of your health; you need it, and it doesn't belong to you.
Making use of every means, foster a holy liberty of spirit among your monks, and do everything to make them love their state of life more than anything else in the world.
Make yourself loved always and in all things. Be a mother rather than a father to your sons.
Imitate the patience of God, and don't demand of spring the fruits of autumn.
Always be approachable to all; avoid etiquette and ceremony. Come as close as you can to the familiarity you have seen practised at Solesmes.
Adapt yourself to everyoe, and don't try to adapt others to yourself, because God created us all different, and you are really the servant of all, like Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Take scrupulous care of the health of each one, and don't wait for a serious infirmity before giving a dispensation.
Establish the observance gradually, and don't be afraid to take a step backwards when you see that you have gone too far.
Don't worry yourself too much about the contacts with the outside world that your religious may have, if they have the spirit of their state, and if it is a question of the glory of God and the salvation of souls.
Remember that the spirit of faith is the one and only basis of the monastic life.
Inspire the love of the Sacred Liturgy, which is the centre of all Christianity.
Have your monks study with love the Acta Sanctorum Ordinis, the Annals, and also the history of individual monasteries.
Take care that they study theology, especially Saint Thomas, Canon Law, and Church history.
Finally, strive to increase in your sons love of the Church and of the Holy See.

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The Reception of Brethren

We are blessed, at the moment, to have with us two men who are discerning the possibility of a monastic vocation here at Silverstream Priory. Two more men will be arriving tomorrow. With them, all our temporary cells will be filled: a good occasion to review Saint Benedict's teaching on The Discipline for the Reception of Brethren in Chapter 58 of the Holy Rule.

The Difficult Entrance

"When anyone newly cometh to be a monk, let him not be granted an easy admittance; but as the apostle saith: Test the spirits, to see whether they come from God." Today, more often than not, admittance is made difficult not so much by a lack of encouragement coming from within the monastery, as by criticisms, discouragements, and challenges coming from without.

There is nothing prestigious about coming to be a monk. The world often deems the monastic way of life useless, a flight from responsibility, a sign of mental imbalance, emotional maladjustment, or religious obsessions. There is, more often than not, a whole chorus of voices saying, "Do something useful. Make a contribution to society. Don't bury your talents. What are you running away from? Why are you afraid of having a wife and family? Maybe you just need counseling. You are really exaggerating this whole God thing." Or again, there are voices saying, "Stay where you are. Don't take such a foolish risk. You can know, love, and serve God in the world. At least be a parish priest, a missionary, or a teacher. What if it doesn't work out? It's only a passing phase; you'll get over it."

Sacred Scripture, on the other hand, says:

My son, if thy mind is to enter the Lord's service,
wait there in His presence,
with honesty of purpose and with awe,
and prepare thyself to be put to the test.
Submissive be thy heart,
and ready to bear all;
to wise advice lend a ready ear,
and never be hasty when ill times befall thee.
Wait for God, cling to God and wait for Him;
at the end of it, thy life shall blossom anew.
Accept all that comes to thee,
patient in sorrow, humiliation long enduring;
for gold and silver the crucible,
it is in the furnace of humiliation men shew themselves
worthy of His acceptance.
Trust in Him, and He will lift thee to thy feet again;
go straight on thy way,
and fix in Him thy hope;
hold fast thy fear of Him,
and in that fear to old age come thou.
(Ecclesiasticus 2:1-6).

The Treasure Hidden in the Field

One called by God to the monastic life realizes that it is "a treasure hidden in a field" (Mt 13:44). Having been led to it, or having discovered it, for the joy thereof, says the Gospel, a man goes, sells all that he has, and buys the field. Setting out in monastic life is a costly decision. It does mean "selling all that one has." It means leaving what is familiar, in some way comfortable, and secure, and taking the frightful risk of a new beginning.

The Pearl of Great Price

Or again, the monastic vocation is like finding a pearl of great price (Mt 13:46). The practiced merchant recognizes its value, sees its beauty, can't get it out of his mind. And still, in order to make it his own, he must risk selling all that he has to buy it. If a man called to monastic life hesitates, debates within himself, or delays his decision, he may be forfeiting the grace of the moment, a grace that will never again be offered in quite the same way.

The Father Master

Saint Benedict would have the novices be in the care of a Father "skilled in winning souls." His task is win the soul of the new brother, not for himself, but for Christ alone. The Father Master (as novices would address him) is, like Saint John the Baptist, a friend of the Bridegroom. He rejoices at the Bridegroom's voice, and trains his young disciple's interior ear -- the ear of the heart -- to recognize that voice, to hold fast to the words it utters, and, renouncing himself, to obey them. The Father Master willingly decreases, by claiming nothing of what belongs to Christ alone for himself. Thus does Christ increase in the heart of the man newly come to be a monk, and in the monastic community as a whole.

Dura et Aspera

The Father Master is not to sugarcoat the hardships and trials by which a man travels to God. The journey is long and, more often than not, the road is rocky. A healthy realism goes hand in hand with an unshakable confidence in the grace of Christ. The monk is traveling to God in company with other travelers. Itur ad Deum: this expression of Saint Benedict hearkens back, I think, to the first chapter of the Rule of Saint Augustine, in which the Bishop of Hippo describes his monastic community as being "together on the way to God." By traveling to God in the company of brothers, one will more easily fight off the wild beast who prowls about seeking the ruin of souls, and the marauders and brigands who prey on the weak, and sometimes leave them half-dead by the side of the road.

Seeking God

What does Saint Benedict look for in one seeking admission to a monastery? First of all, that he "truly seek God." The Benedictine quest for God is not the search of the pantheist who identifies God with every blade of grass, with the leaves of every tree, the sands of the seashore, and the stars of the firmament. In all these things, the Benedictine monk sees the handiwork of God, displaying His glory and revealing His wisdom; but for all of that, they are no more than creatures, brought into existence and held in being by the Creator who alone is God. There is more. Nor does the Benedictine monk equate his search for God with the philosopher's application of human reason to the exploration of what is true, and good, and beautiful. Again, there is more.

The Face of Christ

The monk, being, first of all, a Christian, a soul illumined by Divine Revelation, vivified by sanctifying grace, and, in some way, "reaching God" by mean of the theological virtues, is one who has discovered "the knowledge of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). "It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy Face from me" (Ps 26:8) is the prayer-song of his heart by day and by night. The monk seeks the Face of Christ and, in the contemplation of that Face -- the Human Face of God -- discovers the secrets of His Sacred Heart. In Silverstream Priory, in addition to the means of seeking God common to all Benedictines, we give a privileged place to the contemplation and adoration of the Face of Christ hidden beneath the sacramental veils in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Loving Choir

Secondly, Saint Benedict would have the would-be monk demonstrate an effective zeal for the Sacred Liturgy, the Work of God. This, the novice will do, not by entertaining a fascination with rubrics, vesture, and the niceties of ceremonial -- seldom do sacristy rats make good monks -- but by embracing the manly discipline of fidelity to choir, and by eschewing a spirituality that, being subjective and fanciful, rises and falls with one's moods and sentiments. A Benedictine loves choir because it is the place and means of his communion with the filial and priestly prayer of Christ to the Father.

A Host for the Oblation

Finally, the aspiring monk will not shrink from obedience and humiliations. In fact, he will be eager for them, for by obedience and humility he is certain of being configured to Christ in the mystery of His victimhood. One comes to the monastery to become a hostia, that is, a host, a victim, an oblation, a lamb for sacrifice. Like the wheat that is ground into flour, then mixed with water, and baked in a fire in order to become a host for the Holy Sacrifice, one who would follow Christ as a monk is eager to be ground into a pure wheat, moistened with living water and, then, baked in the fire of the Holy Ghost. He makes his own the words of the martyr Saint Ignatius of Antioch: "Frumentum Christi sum, I am the wheat of Christ." The monk is ground into a fine flour, not between the teeth of wild beasts, as were the martyrs of old, but by the obedience and humiliations that are never lacking to one who has set his face toward Jerusalem.


Resplendens Stella

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Here is a translation of the message our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI sent to the bishop of Avila, Spain, Mons. Jesús Garcia Burillo, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the founding of the convent of Saint Joseph in Avila and the beginning of the Carmelite Reform. The subtitles and commentary in italics are my own. I dedicate my own little commentary to my dear friend here in Ireland, Father John of Jesus Hogan, a true son of Saint Teresa.

To the Venerable Brother

Monsignor Jesus GARCIA BURILLO
Bishop of Avila

What is a Saint?

1. Resplendens stella. "A star that would give of itself great splendor" (Book of Life, 32, 11). With these words the Lord encouraged Saint Teresa of Jesus to found in Avila the convent of Saint Joseph, beginning of the reform of Carmel, whose 450th anniversary will be observed next August 24. On the occasion of this happy circumstance, I wish to unite myself to the joy of the beloved Avila diocese, of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, of the People of God on pilgrimage in Spain and of all those in the universal Church who have found in Teresian spirituality a sure light to discover that man obtains the true renewal of life through Christ. Enamored of the Lord, this illustrious woman wished to please Him in everything. In fact, a saint is not one who carries out great feats based on the excellence of his human qualities, but one who allows Christ to penetrate his soul, to act through his person, He being the real protagonist of all their actions and desires, who inspires every initiative and sustains every silence.

"A saint is not one who carries out great feats based on the excellence of his human qualities, but one who allows Christ to penetrate his soul." Christ alone is the life of the soul. Saint Teresa of Jesus is not a private possession of Carmel, nor is she a treasure held in reserve for a select few; she is a gift to the whole Church Catholic. Her message brings fire and light to Benedictines as much as to her own Carmelite sons and daughters. Blessed Abbot Marmion, for example, quotes Saint Teresa often and refers to her teaching. I find it especially significant that the Holy Father writes that Christ sustains every silence in the life of His saints. A silence sustained by Christ cannot but be the silence created by the Word, the silence of unitive love, the silence of adoration, and the silence of repose in the bosom of the Father.

The Friendship of Christ

2. To let oneself be led by Christ in this way is possible only for one who has an intense life of prayer. In the words of the Saint of Avila, this consists of "friendship, being very often alone with Him whom we know loves us" (Book of Life 8, 5). The reform of Carmel, whose anniversary fills us with inner joy, was born of prayer and tends to prayer. On promoting a radical return to the original Rule, moving away from the mitigated Rule, Saint Teresa of Jesus wished to foster a way of life that favored a personal encounter with the Lord, for which it is necessary "to be in solitude and to gaze at Him within oneself, and not to be surprised by such a good guest" (Way of Perfection 28, 2). The convent of Saint Joseph was born precisely so that her daughters would have the best conditions to find God and establish a profound and intimate relationship with Him.

The friendship of Christ is a theme dear to the heart of Pope Benedict XVI. He returns to it again and again. For this friendship to develop there must be not only silence, but also solitude. Monastic life in all its expressions is ordered to the "heart-to-heart and face-to-face" encounter with Christ. All monastic life is "born of prayer and tends to prayer." For the Carmelite, the privileged form of this prayer will be oraçion; for the Benedictine it will be the choral celebration of the Divine Office, and lectio divina, and in Silverstream Priory, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In every monastery the focus must be on creating and sustaining "the best conditions to find God and establish a profound and intimate relationship with Him."

Strong Friends of God

3. Saint Teresa proposed a new way of being a Carmelite in a world which was also new. Those were "harsh times" (Book of Life 33, 5). And in such times, said this Teacher of the spirit, it is necessary "to be strong friends of God to support the weak" (Ibid., 15, 5). And she insisted eloquently: "The world is burning, they want to sentence Christ again, they want to knock down his Church. No, my Sisters, it is not the time to treat with God matters of little importance"! (Way of Perfection 1, 5). Is not this luminous and challenging reflection, made more than four centuries ago by the mystic Saint, familiar to us in the circumstance in which we are living?

These too are harsh times for Christ and for His Church, especially here in Ireland. Strong friends of God are indeed needed to support the weak; the wonder of God's condescending mercy is, however, that he chooses his strongest friends among the weakest of all. The grace of Christ is deployed in weakness, and the strength of Christ shines most brightly in those marked by infirmity and failure in the eyes of the world.

Genuine Personal and Ecclesial Reform

The ultimate end of the Teresian Reform and of the creation of new convents, in the midst of a world lacking in spiritual values, was to protect with prayer the apostolic task; to propose a way of evangelical life that would be a model for those seeking the way of perfection, stemming from the conviction that all genuine personal and ecclesial reform is affected by reproducing increasingly in ourselves the "way" of Christ (cf. Galatians 4:19). The Saint and her daughters had no other commitment. Neither did her Carmelite sons, who did no more than try "to advance in all the virtues" (Book of Life 31, 18). In this connection, Teresa wrote: Our Lord "appreciates more a soul won, through his mercy, by our industry and prayer than all the services we can render Him" (Book of the Foundations, 1, 7). In face of forgetfulness of God the Holy Doctor encouraged praying communities, which with their prayer protect those proclaiming the Name of Christ everywhere, supplicating for the needs of the Church, and taking to the Savior's heart the clamor of all peoples.

The agenda promoted by the ACP in Ireland, and by similar groups elsewhere, is fatally flawed in its principles, its means, and its goals. The true reformers of the Church begin with the reform of themselves in prayer and in the cultivation of the virtues. Reform is the fruit of prayer, of suffering, and of union with the oblation of Christ, Priest and Victim, by whose intercession the Holy Spirit falls anew upon the Church to purify her in the living flame of love. Curiously, the method and discourse of the ACP bears all the marks of the Americanist movement condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae.

The Heart of the Apostolate

4. Today also, as in the 16th century, amid rapid transformations, it is necessary that confident prayer be at the heart of the apostolate, so that the message of the Redeemer Jesus Christ will resound with crystal clarity and forceful dynamism. It is urgent that the Word of life vibrate harmoniously in souls, with sonorous and attractive notes.

"In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love" wrote Saint Teresa's worthiest daughter, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Dom Chautard, O.C.S.O., writing of the same reality, called it The Soul of the Apostolate. Without confident prayer no one can do anything of enduring value. In his Prologue to the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins his monks to begin every good work with a most instant prayer. Persevering and humble prayer is the wellspring of apostolic fecundity.

Christ: The Only Way to Attain the Glory of God

In this passionate task, the example of Teresa of Avila is of great help to us. We can affirm that, in her time, the Saint evangelized without lukewarmness , with ardor that was never extinguished, with methods that were far removed from inertia, with expressions radiant all around with light. This keeps all its freshness in the present circumstance, centered also following the dictate of the Avila mystic, on contemplation of the Most Sacred Humanity of Christ as the only way to attain the glory of God (cf. Book of Life 22, 1; The Abodes [Las Moradas] 6, 7). Thus genuine families will be able to be formed, which discover in the Gospel the fire of their abode, living and united Christian communities, cemented on Christ as their cornerstone and thirsting for a life of fraternal and generous service. Also to be desired is that incessant prayer promote the urgent cultivation of vocational pastoral care, stressing particularly the beauty of consecrated life, which must be properly supported as the treasure that it is of the Church, as torrent of Graces, both in its active as well as in its contemplative dimension.

"Contemplation of the Most Sacred Humanity of Christ is the only way to attain the glory of God." This was the teaching of Saint Paul before it became that of Saint Teresa: "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus" (2 Cor 4:6). This too is the teaching of the whole Benedictine tradition beginning with Saint Benedict and Saint Gregory, and continuing through Saint Anselm, Saint Bernard, Saint Gertrude and a host of other saints and mystics including Ireland's own Blessed Columba Marmion.

Friends of the Master, Putting Nothing Before His Love

The strength of Christ will also lead to redoubling initiatives so that the people of God recover their vigor in the only way possible: making room in our interior for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Philippians 2, 5), seeking in every circumstance a radical living of his Gospel. This means, above all, to allow the Holy Spirit to make us friends of the Master and to configure us with Him. It also means accepting his mandate in everything, and adopting in ourselves criteria such as humility in conduct, giving up the superfluous, not wronging others, acting with simplicity and lowliness of heart. Thus, those around us will perceive the joy that stems from our adherence to the Lord, putting nothing before his love, always being ready to give a reason for our hope (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) and living, as Teresa of Jesus, in filial obedience to our Holy Mother the Church.

Our thoroughly Benedictine Pope could not resist quoting Saint Benedict here: "Thus, those around us will perceive the joy that stems from our adherence to the Lord, putting nothing before his love, always being ready to give a reason for our hope." The wisdom of the saints cannot be divided into closed academies. The friends of the Master are also friends among themselves, humbly receiving a diversity of gifts from the Lord, and sharing His gifts across time, and place, language, and culture. Saint Teresa emphasized filial obedience to the Church; any movement of reform that does not bear the mark of filial obedience to the Church comes not from the Spirit of God but from the spirits of darkness and confusion who ceaselessly incite men to rebelliousness, pride, and disobedience.

Totally to Jesus, Only to Jesus and Always to Jesus

5. We are invited today to that radicalism and fidelity by this illustrious daughter of the diocese of Avila. Taking up her beautiful legacy, at this moment of history, the Pope calls all the members of that particular Church, but in an intimate way young people, to take seriously the common vocation to sanctity. Following in Teresa of Jesus' footprints, allow me to say to those who have the future before them: aspire also to belong totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus. Fear not to tell Our Lord as she did: "I am yours, for you I was born, what do you want me to do?" (Poem 2). And I ask Him to enable you to respond to his calls illumined by divine grace, with "determined determination," to offer the "little" that is in you, trusting that God never abandons those who leave everything for His glory (cf. Way of Perfection 21, 2; 1, 2).

The Holy Father provides young people with the perfect prayer of vocational discernment: "I am yours, for you I was born, what do you want me to do?" One who makes this prayer sincerely will aspire to belong "totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus." In much contemporary promotional material for religious vocations it is precisely this that is conspicuously absent: "totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus."

The Most Holy Virgin and Saint Joseph

6. Saint Teresa knew how to honor the Most Holy Virgin with great devotion, whom she invoked under the sweet name of Carmel. I place under her maternal protection the apostolic endeavors of the Church in Avila so that, rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit, she will find the appropriate ways to proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm and courage. May Mary, Star of evangelization, and her chaste spouse Saint Joseph intercede so that the "star" that the Lord lighted in the universe of the Church with the Teresian reform, will continue to radiate the great brilliance of the love and truth of Christ to all men.

Just as the Word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and under the protection of Saint Joseph, so too will the rejuvenation of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, take place by the Holy Spirit, in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and under the protection of Saint Joseph. Wheresover the Blessed Virgin Mary is present, there one will find newness of life, and a shining star to guide one in the darkness of the night.

With this yearning, Venerable Brother in the Episcopate, I send you this message, which I pray you to make known to the flock entrusted to your pastoral vigilance, and very especially to the beloved Discalced Carmelites of the convent of Saint Joseph of Avila, that they may perpetuate in time the spirit of their Founder, and of whose fervent prayer for the Successor of Peter I have grateful certainty. To them, to you and to all the faithful of Avila I impart with affection the Apostolic Blessing, pledge of copious heavenly favors.

Vatican, July 16, 2012

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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This is the view tonight from my window at the Monastère Sainte-Anne-de-Montmahoux in France. Although I planned to remain until Friday, I received news this morning of the death in County Leitrim of my dear old Cousin John McKeon. I last saw John on the occasion of his 89th birthday only a few weeks ago. I am John's next-of-kin in Ireland, and so must return there tomorrow to make arrangements for his funeral and burial. I would ask the readers of Vultus Christi to say a prayer for the happy repose of his soul.

Meeting the Saints

How and when did Saint Benedict come into my life? He was not among the saints whom I came to know as a small boy in my parish church. Little children readily engage with images. The statues that graced my parish church -- I can still see them in my mind's eye from left to right -- were of Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Patrick, Our Blessed Lady, the Sacred Heart, Saint Joseph, Saint Thérèse, and Saint Anne. There were five stained glass windows: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Stigmatization of Saint Francis. These were the images that, at a very early age, drew me into the mysteries of the faith, bringing heaven very close to earth, and making it possible for me to hold conversation with the saints in glory.

Enter Abbot Marmion

Saint Benedict came into my life when I was about fifteen years old. The monastic ideal had already laid hold of my soul, and my search was well underway. Visiting Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, U.S.A., I was introduced to Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, by Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion. Heavy reading for a fifteen year old in the torment of the 1960s! I remain grateful to Father Marius Granato for putting Dom Marmion's classic into my hands, It was in Christ, the Ideal of the Monk that I came to know Saint Benedict in the best way possible: by coming to know his Holy Rule.

Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule

Blessed Abbot Marmion and Saint Benedict joined me on my journey, then, at the same time. I still remember the fire that burned in my heart as I turned the pages of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, and received the impression of its teaching, like letters engraved on a clean wax tablet. In reading Saint Benedict, as transmitted by Blessed Abbot Marmion, I could almost hear the sound of the Master's voice. The Rule began to fascinate me and to fashion me. For me, as for Bossuet, it was un mystérieux abrégé de l'Évangile, "a mysterious abridgment of the Gospel".

Stormy Years

By the time I had turned eighteen -- a mere three years later -- I had resolved to become a monk, a son of Saint Benedict. These were, of course, frightfully stormy years in the Church: not at all a good time for a young man desirous of engaging with an ideal in all its shining purity. The very things that I thrilled to discover in my reading were, at the same time, being contested and rejected by those to whom they had been given in heritage.

The storms unleashed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and by the tumultuous events of 1968, tore through the cloisters of nearly every monastery in North America and, in so doing, tore through the very hearts of those who dwelt in them. One had the impression that nothing was absolute, nothing immutable, nothing sacred. The tyranny of relativism replaced the tyrannies of legalism and rubricism that the reformers decried so bitterly. Things happened and attitudes prevailed that were in no way compatible with the vocation that Thomas Merton had described so eloquently in The Silent Life.

Stranger in Babylon

These years corresponded, as well, with the emergence of the charismatic renewal among Catholics. It was, as I remember it, rather Protestant in ethos and in sensibility. While I saw many souls opened to a deeper experience of prayer, I saw just as many distance themselves from the sacraments, from the liturgy in all its richness, and from devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady. (Some of these elements later came back into focus in charismatic circles.) Having found my soul's true voice in Gregorian Chant as a small boy, and having been nourished from my adolescence on the Divine Office in English, and on Pius Parsch's The Church's Year of Grace, the experience of the charismatic renewal left me feeling like a stranger in Babylon. I was far more interested in the grace that, for me, seeped out of the antiphons at First Vespers of a particular feast than in what I experienced at prayer meetings. It was all very disconcerting.

The Threshold Once Crossed

At nineteen I had my first experience of Benedictine life, completing a novitiate of two years, wrestling, like Jacob, with angels in the night, and humbled by recurrent health problems. During that time my love for Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule grew exponentially. It was clear, in spite of all the halts and detours, that Saint Benedict had taken me into his family, that he recognized me as his son, and that he would not abandon me.

Gratitude

All these many years later, I can say that Saint Benedict has been a patient companion and loving father through my life. Amidst the choices, changes, and challenges that have marked my route, one phrase from the Holy Rule, the last of the Instruments of Good Works in Chapter IV has kept me on course: Never to despair of the mercy of God. For this alone I am grateful to Saint Benedict this evening, and for this I hope to thank him one day in paradise.

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The Grace of the Liturgic Word

In offering Holy Mass and in preaching here at the Monastère-Sainte-Anne de Montmahoux, I am profoundly moved at the gracious condescension of God who deigns to speak to us though the texts and chants of the Sacred Liturgy. How important it is to go to the Holy Sacrifice fully expecting to hear the Word of God and to experience an inbreaking of His merciful love. Yesterday in my homily I reminded the Sisters of that life-changing episode in the life of Saint Antony of Egypt, the Father of Monks: entering church at the moment of the Holy Gospel, he heard the word of Jesus addressed to him personally and was compelled, by the grace that always accompanies the liturgic Word, to leave church straightway and conform his life to what he heard.

A Long and Crucifying Fidelity

The Sisters here at Montmahoux are embarking on a new phase of their monastic development. The story of a vocation unfolds over a lifetime; it is a story written by the hand of God in a series of chapters, each one of which is rich in surprises, in sorrows, and in joys. More often than not the development of a vocation over a lifetime involves setbacks, contradictions, and apparent -- I say apparent -- instability. Happily, God does not judge the changes and chances in one's life as men do. Good people, and even members of the monastic establishment, can be harsh in judging as instability what God may well see as a long and crucifying fidelity to the underlying values of Benedictine life: the search for God in humility and obedience, perseverance in His praise, and the resolve never to despair of His mercy.

The Germination of New Life

Each of the Sisters here began her monastic journey in a different monastery. Each one was led, after a number of years, to embrace another expression of the same fundamental Benedictine vocation. And each one found herself again, after a number of years, called to collaborate in giving life to a new monastery, a mature expression of the seed of life that, silently and imperceptibly, has been germinating for so long in her heart. I am sympathetic to the monastic journey of these women because it so closely resembles my own. As I discern the provident Hand of God in their life, I am able to see more clearly that same provident Hand in my own.

Stability

Just as an apparent stability can veil an underlying instability, so too can an apparent instability veil an underlying stability. Many years ago, when I was very young, foolish, and immature, I encountered, at Subiaco in Italy, a wise old monk of the French Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. I opened my soul to him, and told him of my search for place and a community in which and with whom I could, as the Holy Rule says, "truly seek God." The wise old monk comforted me, explaining that, at the end of the day, the only stability that matters is stability in the Heart of Jesus.

Risk-Takers

There are those who look upon new monasteries with suspicion, forgetting that, in every generation, the age-old and deeply rooted Benedictine trunk puts forth new shoots and branches. Some of these will thrive and become strong; others will flourish for a time and then be pruned away. Some of the grand abbeys that are today renowned for their solidity and prestige began as little nuclei of risk-takers advancing step by step in obscurity, in poverty, and in uncertainty.

Spiritual Contraception

Far more dangerous to the Church than the burgeoning of new monastic communities is the systematic practise of spiritual contraception by which every fragile manifestation of new life is either thwarted or aborted. While prudence, discernment, and a healthy scrutiny are always necessary, it is equally necessary to reject the mentality of spiritual contraception by which new endeavours of life for God alone are snuffed out while still in their embryonic stage, thereby depriving the Church of signs of vitality that are, at the same time, signs of an irrepressible hope.

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Are There Any Bishops Among My Readers?

Saint Anselm's pastoral qualities as a bishop surely originated in his experience as abbot of Bec. On 21 April we read the second part of Saint Benedict's Chapter LXIV, The Appointment of the Abbot. It occurred to me that bishops would do well to meditate Saint Benedict's wisdom, particularly with regard to their relations with the priests and deacons of their dioceses. Listen to Saint Benedict. I took the liberty of adapting the text to the situation of bishops and their diocesan clergy!

Let the bishop when he is appointed
consider always what an office he has undertaken
and to whom he must render an account of his stewardship;
and let him know that it is his duty rather to profit his clergy than to lord it over them.

It behoves him, therefore, to be learned in the divine law,
so that he may have a treasure of knowledge
whence he may bring forth things new and old;
and to be chaste, sober, and merciful.

Let him always set mercy above judgment (Jas 2, 13),
so that he himself may obtain mercy.
Let him hate ill-doing but love the clergy.
In administering correction, let him act with prudent moderation,
lest being too zealous in removing the rust he break the vessel.
Let him always distrust his own fraility
and remember that the bruised reed is not to be broken.
By this we do not mean that he should allow evils to grow,
but that, as we have said above,
he should eradicate them prudently and with charity,
in the way which may seem best in each case.

And let him study rather to be loved than feared.
Let him not be turbulent or anxious,
overbearing or obstinate,
jealous or too suspicious,
for otherwise he will never be at rest.

Let him be prudent and considerate in all his commands;
and whether the work he enjoins concerns God or the world,
let him always be discreet and moderate,
bearing in mind the discretion of holy Jacob, who said:
If I cause my flocks to be overdriven,
they will all perish in one day
(Gen 33, 13).

So, imitating these and other examples of discretion,
the mother of all virtues,
let him so temper all things that the strong may still have something to long after,
and the weak may not draw back in alarm.
And, especially, let him keep this present rule in all things;
so that having ministered faithfully
he may hear from the Lord what the good servant heard
who gave his fellow-servants wheat in due season:
Amen, I say unto you, he will set him over all his goods (Mt 24, 47).

Suscipe Me, Domine

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March 21
The Transitus of Our Holy Father Saint Benedict

Genesis 12:1-4a
John 17:20-26

Transitus

My very dear Oblates, friends, and readers of Vultus Christi, tomorrow (21 March) we will celebrate the feast of the Transitus of our Holy Father Saint Benedict. Transitus means passing over, passage, or change. In the Christian tradition the word refers to the mystery of death. You all know the beautiful line from the Preface for the Dead that sings: The life of those who are faithful to you, O Lord, is but changed, not ended; and when their earthly dwelling-place decays, an everlasting mansion stands prepared for them in heaven. A change, not an end: such is the Christian perspective of death.

Change

Every change in our life here below, even the smallest, most insignificant changes are, in some way, a preparation for death. This is perhaps one of the reasons why we are so resistant to change, even to little changes. Having just moved to Ireland, I speak from firsthand actual experience. Every change, every detachment, every relocation, is a portent of death. We respond to change -- not always consciously -- with fear, because we fear death. In the Christian perspective, change is the price of life.

Saint Joseph

There is a striking connection between the feast of the Transitus of Saint Benedict and the Solemnity of Saint Joseph that we celebrated yesterday. In Saint Joseph we saw a man called to changes that uprooted his life, changes that obliged him to obey Angels, to journey by night; changes that involved insecurity and risk, changes that called him to the triumph of faith over fear. One need only think of the anxiety and uncertainty provoked by the flight into Egypt.

Uprootings

In celebrating our father Saint Benedict, we see a man marked, as was Saint Joseph, by a succession of uprootings and changes: from the life of a student in Rome to that of a solitary in the Sacro Speco at Subiaco; from solitude to life in community; and from his dear monastery of Subiaco to Monte Cassino. At Monte Cassino came the final change, the final pass-over, the transitus. Our blessed father Saint Benedict prepared all his life for death by a radical openness to change in obedience to the Holy Spirit.

Detachment

In the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins us to "keep death daily before our eyes" (RB 4:47). The measure of our preparedness for death is the measure of our openness to change or, if you prefer, our degree of detachment. Detachment is secured through obedience. For Saint Benedict obedience to tradition is the highest form of wisdom, and this because tradition -- often incarnated in anachronistic signs and inherited customs and counter-cultural daily practices -- distills for us the wisdom of the Cross. "The word of the Cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Cor 1:18).

The Cross

The Cross shines forth as the sign of the change accepted by Christ when, "having received the vinegar, he said, 'It is achieved'; bowed his head, and gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30). The Cross is the place of the Transitus, the Pass-over of Christ into which all our little daily uprootings, changes, detachments, relocations, and pass-overs are assumed, and by which they are transformed.

Vow of Stability

The Benedictine vow of stability is, paradoxically, in function of change. Its end is not so much to keep us in one geographical place as it is to facilitate our perseverance in passing over, in the transitus that moves us out of what is old into what is new, out of darkness into light, out of death into life. The vow called "conversion of manners" is a commitment to continuous change at the level where change is most difficult, the level of the heart.

Change of Heart

It is a fearful thing to vow oneself to conversion, to a relentless change of heart. It means greeting each new day with a willingness to pass over, to cross a new threshhold, to leave things behind and to go forward, like Abraham, into the unknown land prepared for us by God.

Abraham

In the light of this feast of Saint Benedict, consider the example of Abraham to whom God said, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you" (Gen 12:1). A blessing of immense proportions follows: "I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you may be a blessing" (Gen 12:2). The play on words with the name of Benedict, Benedictus meaning "blessed" is less obvious in English than in Latin, but it is there nonetheless. Change, made in obedience and faith, opens us to blessings beyond anything we can ask or imagine.

Priestly Prayer of Christ

The Holy Gospel takes us into the Cenacle and gives us the priestly prayer of Christ at the hour of his Transitus. The liturgy of the feast invites us to hear it as the prayer of our blessed Father Saint Benedict, offered at the hour of his passing. Saint Gregory describes his death -- no, his pass-over: ";On the sixth day, he had himself carried to the oratory by his disciples, and there he received the Body and Blood of the Lord to make ready his departure. Then, resting his weakened members on the arms of his disciples, he stood up, and with his arms raised heavenward, murmured prayers in his last breath."

A Eucharistic Death

Saint Gregory's description of Saint Benedict's death is wholly Eucharistic. Look closely. It takes place in the Oratory before the altar, like a monastic profession. Saint Benedict receives the Body and Blood of the Lord. This is his viaticum, nourishment for the last journey, sustenance for the pass-over. He stands before the altar with his hands raised toward heaven, in the gesture of the Suscipe: "Receive me, come for me, lift me up, take me to Thyself, Father!" This is also the gesture of the priest making the holy oblation at the altar. It evokes the arms spread wide of the Crucified Lord. Saint Gregory wants us to understand that, in death, Holy Father Benedict is utterly conformed to the crucified Jesus, and to Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Yes to Life Through Death

For us, every participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a "Yes" to the Transitus of Christ -- through the Cross to Resurrection -- and a "Yes" to the transitus that awaits each of us at the hour of our death willed by God. In the meantime, the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ strengthen us for all the little changes, relocations, and costly detachments by which the Holy Spirit brings about our conversion, and our configuration to Christ Jesus, from day to day.

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I preached this homily before Summorum Pontificum, hence the references are to the reformed Benedictine lectionary, which readings are, it must be noted, quite splendid.

Hosea 2:16bc, 17cd, 21-22
Psalm 15
Revelation 19:1, 5-9a
Luke 10:38-42

How Little We Know

In a hymn composed some years ago for today's feast, a Benedictine friend of mine addressed Saint Scholastica, saying:

How little do we know
revealing who you are:
this silence, born of peace,
perhaps speaks even more.

Into The Treasury of the Liturgy

Apart from a few precious pages in the Dialogues of Saint Gregory, we know nothing of Saint Scholastica. The little revealed by Saint Gregory has, nonetheless, inspired an astonishing richness of liturgical texts: antiphons, responsories, hymns, and prayers. Like miners in search of a vein of pure gold, anonymous poets through the ages have extracted from Saint Gregory's few pages the raw material of chants and prayers that, even today, delight us and draw us into the heavenward flight of Scholastica, the pure dove.

There is so much to see, to hear, to taste, to smell:
-- psalms of praise sung around a table, men's and women's voices in antiphony;
-- the breaking of bread and the fragrance of wine poured out;
-- the impassioned sound of Mediterranean conversation;
-- two saints locked in a holy difference of opinion;
-- Scholastica's hands folded upon the table;
-- her head bowed and resting upon her hands;
-- her tears flowing freely;
-- the pentecostal wind, the crash of thunder and blaze of lightning;
-- the torrential downpour, heaven's answer to a woman's tears.

The Upward Flight of the Dove

In the end, Saint Gregory leaves us with the image of the dove, dazzling white in flight, disappearing into the light, and with the sound of Saint Benedict's voice raised in praise. That perhaps is more than enough for us, but in the readings of today's Mass we are given still more.

Bethany

The liturgy, wildly lavish -- precisely because it is the gift of a God lavish in love, offers us today a kind of triptych, three icons hinged together. At the center is the icon painted by Saint Luke. See Jesus seated in the holy house of Bethany. At his feet, see Mary, fixed in the stability of love, listening intently, the words of the Word falling into the open vessel of her heart. In the background, see Martha, bustling with anxious energy, fragmented and mobilized by a multitude of cares and, for all of that, conscious enough of the presence of Jesus to address her complaints to him and to no other.

In the School of Christ

The scene is both strangely the same and yet different from the one described by Saint Gregory. In the Dialogues, the meal has already taken place, the bread has been broken and the darkness has fallen. In the Gospel the meal has yet to take place but Jesus, anticipating the breaking of bread, is feeding Mary with his Word, causing the brightness of his glory to shine like the daystar in her heart. Christ is the Benedictus, the Blessed of the Father, speaking blessings, -- bene dicere -- uttering the good things that proceed from the goodness of his heart. Mary is the Scholastica, having placed herself in the schola Christi, the school of Christ. Martha, caught betwixt fear and freedom, is the tension between life's regular demands -- those of the Regula, the Rule -- and the surpassing primacy of a love set free from fear.

A Door of Hope in the Desert

To the left of the central panel is an icon having, at first glance, none of the comforting warmth of Saint Luke's domestic scene. It depicts the desert, the archetypical monastic setting. We see the bride wooed by Love into the desert only to discover there a gift of vineyards and, in the valley of Achor (meaning "trouble") a door of hope. Scholastica, having inclined the ear of her heart to the Word becomes, in the desert, the sponsa Verbi, the bride of the Word. She passes through the door of hope opened by the Bridegroom and invites us to follow in her steps.

What God Has Prepared for Those Who Love Him

The third panel could not be more different from the first. It reveals what lies beyond the desert, mysteries prepared on the other side of the door of hope: "what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love Him" (1 Cor 2:9). An icon speaks to the eyes, shimmering with the light of heaven, and yet, if you put your ear to it in lectio divina, you will hear "the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals" (Ap 19:6). Waters and thunderpeals again! Images borrowed by Saint Gregory!

The Time of Singing Has Come

Listen closely: you will hear the sound of voices rejoicing at the marriage supper of the Lamb. There is the voice of a man; it is that of Benedict celebrating the triumph of Love. There is the voice of a woman; it is Scholastica singing a song never to be interrupted. "Lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone . . . the time of singing has come" (Ct 2:11-12). Today, Scholastica and Benedict together invite us to the Supper of the Lamb.

A Remarkable Discovery

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I don't know how many Benedictine readers Vultus Christi has. It occurred to me nonetheless that I should share this text -- apocryphal though it may be -- for the feast of Saint Scholastica.

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A Letter Attributed to Saint Scholastica, Virgin and Abbess

A certain researcher in Rome recently uncovered the manuscript of a late medieval copy of an earlier copy of a letter attributed to Scholastica, abbess of Plombariola. The original letter appears to have been written to another abbess, named Flavia, in about the year 535. It treats of the observance of Lent.

Salutation

To my beloved sister in Christ, the Lady Flavia, abbess of the handmaids of the Lord near Benevento. Grace and peace from Scholastica, abbess in the school of the Lord's service that is at Plombariola.

The School of the Lord's Service

Your letter brought me much joy and, bound by the sweetness of affection that unites us in holy friendship, I hasten to respond to your questions “with sincere and humble charity” (RB 72:10). Know that I have no teaching of my own; from the time of my veiling (velatio) the commands and teaching of my brother, blessed by grace and by name, “have mingled like the leaven of divine justice in my mind” (RB 25). In truth, dear sister, he who is my brother according to the flesh, has become my father in the Spirit. It was he who named me Scholastica, saying that, like him, I was destined to remain in the “school of the Lord’s service” (RB Pro:45). In this school I have found “nothing that is harsh or hard to bear” (RB Pro:46). On the contrary, through the continual practice of monastic observance and the life of faith” (RB Pro:49), my heart is opened wide, and even now I am running in the way of God’s commandments in a sweetness of love that is beyond words (cf. RB Pro: 49).

The Yearly Visit

I see my venerable brother but once a year, and even then he refuses to come to me, not wanting to leave the enclosure of his monastery. I am obliged to go to him at Monte Cassino, inspired by the example of the Queen of the South who traveled far to sit at the feet of Solomon and listen to his wisdom. My brother himself says that “we must hurry to do now what will profit us forever” (RB Pro 44). I will continue to go to him as long as I am able to make the journey, trusting that he who formed us together in our mother’s womb will one day bring us “together to life everlasting” (cf. RB 73:12).

Holy Lent

You ask me to tell you how we observe Lent here at Plombariola. My venerable brother, in his “little Rule written for beginners” (RB 73:8), says that “a monk’s life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character” (RB 49:1). He is also the first to admit that “such strength is found only in the few” (RB 49:2). Following his teaching, I urge my sisters to “keep the holy days of Lent with a special purity of life, and also at this holy season to make reparation for the failings of other times” (RB 49:3). I try to order Lent in my monastery with “discretion, the mother of virtues” (RB 54:19) in such a way that “the strong may desire to carry more, and the weak are not afraid” (RB 54:19). The task of ruling souls and serving women of different characters is, as you know well, arduous and difficult (cf. RB 2:31). I must adapt and fit myself to all. Dear old Nonna Fabiola needs to be encouraged. Sister Petronilla, thick-skinned as she is, responds only to sharp rebuke, whereas Sister Anastasia has to be persuaded. With some, I have to be tough, and with others lovingly affectionate. This is my brother’s way, and by following it, I have “not lost any of the flock entrusted to me, and rejoice as my good flock increases” (RB 2:32).

But I digress, dear Mother Flavia. Your question was about Lent. My venerable brother says that we are to “guard ourselves from faults” during this holy time. To do this, one must “always remember all God’s commandments, and constantly turn over in one’s heart how hell will burn those who despise him by their sins and how eternal life has been prepared for those who fear him” (RB 7:11). My brother calls this the first step of humility. As for me, my faults appear daily in the bright mirror of the Scriptures. I have no excuse for putting off the labour of my conversion. As the psalmist says: “Thou hast set our evil-doings before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance” (Ps 89:8).

Psalmody

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The Grace of Psalmody

There is a particular grace attached to psalmody. Psalmody softens the heart, making it penetrable to Divine Love. It opens the eyes of the soul to the deifying light, by which one begins to see and judge things as God sees them. It establishes the soul in communion with the prayer of Christ to the Father. It is a bulwark against the assaults of demonic powers; a sweetness to the palate of the soul when all else is bitter; a substantial daily bread to sustain the soul when she has lost the taste for all else.

Vatican II and the Loss of Psalmody

I cannot help but wonder, however, if today, this particular grace is less common than it once might have been. The "daily debt" of psalmody, the pensum once paid to God by all monks, has, in many places, become markedly reduced. Saint Benedict's injunction, that monks are bound to say in one week the 150 psalms that our first fathers were accustomed to say in a single day, was in many places swept away in the confusion following the Second Vatican Council, and this in direct violation of the Conciliar mandate that monks and religious were to return to their original charism.

Semper in Ore Psalmus

Here in the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle we do, insofar as human weakness allows, pray the entire Psalter over one week. I would not renounce this privilege, this gift, this inestimable grace for anything in the world. The old monastic aphorism is true: Semper in ore psalmus; semper in corde Christus. With a psalm always in one's mouth, Christ is always in one's heart.

The Liturgy of the Hours, a Success?

The drastic reduction of psalmody in the Roman Liturgy of the Hours has not had the effect that certain of the reformers of the 60s (and earlier) thought it would. Psalmody, as such, has become a form of prayer that, increasingly, is foreign even to the clergy. It is perhaps time for a return to the ideal of the 150 psalms prayed over a single week. Even if all clergy cannot fulfill the ideal, it should not, for that reason alone, be abrogated. One cannot say that the reformed Liturgia Horarum has been a success. I propose that it be critically revisited in the light of the historical ideal (and sometimes, practice) of the Psalter distributed over one week.

Return to the Weekly Psalter

The weekly Psalter might better be envisaged as a work of the whole Church. What one cannot say, another will take up, and this without any legalistic attempt at orchestration of the whole. Even if, for example, a busy parish priest can say no more than Lauds, Vespers, and Compline, he would find comfort in knowing that others are completing the weekly Psalter on his behalf. Thus would the parish priest begin to look to monastic communities, not as entities distant and detached from his personal experience, but as the organic completion of his own prayer, and the assurance that what he cannot do will, in effect, be brought to completion elsewhere.

Saint Romuald

This morning at Matins, the lesson of the Second Nocturn was taken from Saint Peter Damian's life of Saint Romuald. It was, Saint Peter Damian relates, while psalmodizing in his cell that Saint Romuald received the grace of compunction that he had long desired.

He ardently desired to pour forth tears, but no effort of his succeeded in bringing him to the compunction of a contrite heart. It happened however one day whilst he was psalmodizing in his cell that he came upon this verse of the psalm: "I shall give thee understanding and instruct in the way that thou shalt go; I shall set my eyes upon thee." All of a sudden, so great an abundance of tears began to pour forth from his eyes, and his spirit was so illumined to understand the Scriptures, that from this day forward and for as long as he lived and whensoever he wished, he easily shed copious tears, and many mysteries of the Scriptures were uncovered to him. Frequently, the contemplation of the Divinity ravished him.

The Treasure Buried in the Field

Seek the intercession of Saint Romuald today for the grace of perseverance in psalmody. Not everyone has the grace of prolonged silent prayer, but there are very few who cannot open the Psalter, and read it, plodding, as it were, from verse to verse, and waiting upon the visitation of Divine Grace. When it comes, it comes swiftly and unexpectedly. It uncovers the treasure that lay hidden in the vast field of the Psalter -- Jesus Christ -- and in that moment, one knows that not a word of the psalms pronounced in dryness and obscurity was uttered in vain or lost to God.

Saint Paul, the First Hermit

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Planted in the House of the Lord

Today, in our Benedictine calendar, we commemorate Saint Paul the First Hermit (+343). The Introit of the Mass, taken from Psalm 91, tells us that Saint Paul flourished like the palm tree and grew up like a Lebanon cedar. He lived as one planted in the house of the Lord, abiding in the courts of the house of our God. The imagery of the psalmist points to the words of Our Lord in the Fourth Gospel: "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me" (John 15:4). Monastic enclosure, that is, separation from the world so as to live "in the house of the Lord and in the courts of the house of our God" (Psalm 91:14) is the concrete expression of a deeper aspiration: the soul's desire and resolution to abide in the love of Christ.

The Deeds of the Saints

In the Collect we ask that we may grow like Saint Paul the First Hermit in deed. What exactly does this mean? I, for one, am far from capable of following Saint Paul the First Hermit in his ascetical rigours.

The Epistle of the Mass answers the question. The other Paul, the Apostle, says, "Brethren, the things that were gain to me, the same I counted loss for Christ. Further, I count all things to be but loss, for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as but dung, that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him" (Philippians 3:7-9). Saint Benedict synthesizes this in the Holy Rule by enjoining us "to prefer nothing whatsoever to Christ" (RB 72 and "to put nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21).

I Praise Thee, O Father

The Gospel of the Mass (Matthew 11:25-30) is wonderfully suited to the feast of a monastic saint. It is the prayer of Jesus addressed to the Father, a prayer at once eucharistic and doxological, the model prayer set before all who would confess, that is, praise and glorify, the Father in Christ and through Christ:

I confess to thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones. Yea, Father; for so hath it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered to me by my Father. And no one knoweth the Son, but the Father: neither doth any one know the Father, but the Son, and he to whom it shall please the Son to reveal him.

The second part of today's Gospel is, to my mind, the invitation by which Jesus calls souls to the monastic life. It is, in fact, quoted in the magnificent old threefold prayer by which a man is consecrated a monk, following his solemn profession.

Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Yoked to Christ

Every morning, while putting on my scapular, I pray, "I take Thy yoke upon me, Lord Jesus, for Thou are meek and humble of heart, for Thy yoke is easy and Thy burden light, and I will find rest for my soul." In writing this I am think of our Oblate candidates who will receive the Benedictine scapular this coming Sunday. The monk in his cloister, and the Oblate living monastically in the world, are yoked to Christ. Nothing is said or done, thought or desired, apart from Him. In moments of weakness, weariness, and fear, He is present, yoked to the soul by love.

The Love of Christ Today

Some would argue that we live in a time and culture radically different from that of Saint Paul the First Hermit and of Saint Benedict, our Patriarch. Civilizations may rise and fall, cultures may wax and wane, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). One whom Christ has yoked to Himself will abide in His love, and one who has tasted of His love will, by His unfailing grace deployed in weakness, prefer it to all else.

Benedictine All Souls Day

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Praying for the Dead

It is a cherished monastic tradition to pray for the dead. Some monasteries still hold to the old custom of praying an entire Psalter (all 150 Psalms) for the dead, concluding each psalm with the verse, "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them."

Spiritual Combat

Tomorrow's Mass (Monday, 14 November 2011) will be offered for all the departed who soldiered under the Rule of Saint Benedict. The Christian life is marked by spiritual combat. "For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph 6:12).

Souls Stained and Scarred

The monk, the nun, or the oblate living in the world engages in spiritual combat by making use of the seventy-four tools of good works enumerated in Chapter Four of the Rule of Saint Benedict. It is not surprising that, at the end of a life of spiritual combat, a soul should be stained and scarred by the struggles sustained over a lifetime. God, in His infinite mercy, provides a respite of purification and of detachment from the residue of sin still clings to a combatant's soul. Souls in this state of purification wait for those who knew them and loved them--or struggled with them--on earth to come to their help.

The Veterans of Spiritual Combat

After death, then, the veterans of spiritual combat are not abandoned by their monastic family. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, psalmody, and the prayer of the Rosary hasten their purification and obtain a speedy deliverance into "the land of the living" where the light of glory shines from the Face of Christ.

Offering ourselves to be set ablaze

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We had the Saturday Mass de Beata today but, following our Benedictine calendar, also commemorated Saint Theodore Studite with the following Collect:

O God, who through the blessed abbot Theodore didst restore the beauty and order of the cenobitic life, grant, we beseech Thee, that by his example and help, we may be configured by the Holy Ghost to the sufferings of Christ through patience, and so be found worthy of a share in His kingdom.
We make our prayer through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the same Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

Two Saints of the East

The calendar is charged today with a double "weight of glory" (2 Cor 4:17), for while the Roman calendar commemorates Saint Josaphat, bishop and martyr, the Benedictine calendar offers us the memorial of Saint Theodore the Studite, abbot. In commemorating the two saints, there is not dissonance, but a profound resonance. Theodore and Josaphat are both Eastern Orthodox saints. Theodore, abbot and reformer of the great Stoudion monastery in Constantinople, belongs to the undivided Church. He died in 826, well before the Great Estrangement of East and West. Josaphat, bishop in Ukraine, suffered the effects of that estrangement. While remaining theologically, culturally, and liturgically Orthodox, he brought his flock into communion with the See of Peter in 1623, and paid with his own blood for the partial unity he achieved.

Blessed John Paul II's Passionate Longing

"The Spirit of the Lord has filled the whole world" (Wis 1:7) but, for centuries, Roman Catholics acted as if the Spirit was given to them alone. Eastern Orthodox Christians, from their side, were more than reticent to admit of any stirrings of the Holy Spirit in the West. When, on May 2, 1995, Blessed Pope John Paul II promulgated his Apostolic Letter, "The Light of the East," he bared his Slavic soul and, in some way, brought to a new level of fruitfulness the historic embrace of Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras on January 6, 1964.

Blessed John Paul II's words are clear:

Since the venerable and ancient tradition of the Eastern Churches is an integral part of the heritage of Christ's Church , the first need for Catholics is to be familiar with that tradition. . . . The members of the Catholic Church of the Latin tradition must be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church's catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world" (Orientale Lumen 1).

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The Church Hierarchical and Charismatic

Among the riches offered by the Eastern Churches is a level of balance and reciprocity between the hierarchical and the charismatic elements of the Church. Today's saints illustrate both.

Saint Theodore is the prophet, fascinated by the Beauty of God, restoring a desert in the heart of Constantinople.

Saint Josaphat is the servant of visible communion with his brother bishops, and with the bishop of Rome.

For the Eastern Churches, monks and nuns are Spirit-bearing fathers and mothers living on the margin of the institutional Church and yet, paradoxically, speaking wisdom from the heart of the Church. If monastics need to listen to their bishops; bishops need to listen to the "voice of one crying in the wilderness" (Mt 3:3).

Fire from the Altar

If the torch is to be kept burning, and is to burn here in this fledgling monastery, and in other monasteries the world over, we must draw fire daily from the holocaust of charity that is the the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, offering ourselves to be set ablaze, for when the torch entrusted to monks grows dim, the entire Church becomes a darker place.

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The Holy Father's homily to the Carthusian monks of Serra San Bruno in Calabria, on Sunday, 9 October, is a message to all who profess the monastic life in the heart of the Church. Emphases in boldface and the commentary in italics are my own.

Pastoral Service and Contemplative Vocation

I would like our meeting to highlight the deep bond that exists between Peter and Bruno, between pastoral service to the Church's unity and the contemplative vocation in the Church. Ecclesial communion, in fact, demands an inner force, that force which Father Prior has just recalled, citing the expression "captus ab Uno," ascribed to St Bruno: "grasped by the One," by God, "Unus potens per omnia," as we sang in the Vespers hymn. From the contemplative community the ministry of pastors draws a vital sap that comes from God.

This is the premise upon which our little monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle was founded: that from the contemplative community the ministry of pastors, i.e. diocesan priests, draws a vital sap that comes from God. This is why I accepted the challenge of beginning a monastery characterized not only by the worthy celebration of the Divine Praise, but also by daily Eucharistic Adoration for the sanctification of priests.

Seized by the Immense Love of God

"Fugitiva relinquere et aeterna captare": to abandon transient realities and seek to grasp the eternal. These words from the letter your Founder addressed to Rudolph, Provost of Rheims, contain the core of your spirituality (cf. Letter to Rudolph "the Green", n. 13): the strong desire to enter in union of life with God, abandoning everything else, everything that stands in the way of this communion, and letting oneself be grasped by the immense love of God to live this love alone.

This is the vocation of every Christian, but in a particular way, it is the vocation of the monk and of the diocesan priest: to be seized by the immense love of God. In our particular expression of Benedictine life, this seizure of the soul by Love takes place, in a privileged way, in adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus. The monk or priest who daily exposes himself to the radiance of Our Lord's Eucharistic Face will come to discover that His Sacred Heart is a burning furnace of Divine Charity. Perseverance in adoration will compel him to surrender to the love of Christ and to lose himself in Its flames. There is no apostolic work more effective and more fruitful than this.

The Monastery: A Well of Living Water

Dear brothers you have found the hidden treasure, the pearl of great value (cf. Mt 13:44-46); you have responded radically to Jesus' invitation: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me" (Mt 19:21). Every monastery -- male or female -- is an oasis in which the deep well, from which to draw "living water" to quench our deepest thirst, is constantly being dug with prayer and meditation. However, the Charterhouse is a special oasis in which silence and solitude are preserved with special care, in accordance with the form of life founded by St Bruno and which has remained unchanged down the centuries. "I live in a rather faraway hermitage... with some religious brothers", is the concise sentence that your Founder wrote (Letter to Rudolph "the Green", n. 4). The Successor of Peter's Visit to this historical Charterhouse is not only intended to strengthen those of you who live here but the entire Order in its mission which is more than ever timely and meaningful in today's world.

My vocation, and that of my brothers, is to persevere, humbly and patiently, in allowing the deep well of living water to be dug out within our own souls, so that others, especially priests, may come to the monastery and drink deeply of the supernatural stream that irrigates it. This can happen, as Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face teaches us, without any direct contact between the monks and the priests for whom we offer our lives. The irrigation is, as it were, subterranean; it is, nonetheless, extensive, and its effects are far-reaching.

Virtuality and Reality; Noise and Silence

Technical progress, markedly in the area of transport and communications, has made human life more comfortable but also more keyed up, at times even frantic. Cities are almost always noisy, silence is rarely to be found in them because there is always a lingering background noise, in some areas even at night. In the recent decades, moreover, the development of the media has spread and extended a phenomenon that had already been outlined in the 1960s: virtuality that risks getting the upper hand over reality. Unbeknownst to them, people are increasingly becoming immersed in a virtual dimension because of the audiovisual messages that accompany their life from morning to night.

The youngest, who were already born into this condition, seem to want to fill every empty moment with music and images, as for fear of feeling this very emptiness. This is a trend that has always existed, especially among the young and in the more developed urban contexts but today it has reached a level such as to give rise to talk about anthropological mutation. Some people are no longer capable of remaining for long periods in silence and solitude.

Increasingly, the monastic way of life is difficult for men to embrace, precisely because it deals not in virtuality, but in reality. Saint Benedict's Twelve Steps of Humility are a school of reality. While many of those who come to monasteries experience a true thirst for silence, this true thirst for silence can, paradoxically, coexist with an inability to live in silence. One does not become a monk overnight. One needs patience, perseverance in taking very little steps, and a sense of humour.

Exposure to the Presence of God

I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, "expose" themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent "void," which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most royal Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every created thing: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones.... God, Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

Saint John of the Cross and Mother Mectilde de Bar would recognize themselves in the Holy Father's teaching here. To the senses, exposure to the presence of God appears to be exposure to nothing. Indeed, it is exposure to No Thing because, beyond all things grasped by the senses, there is the Source and Fullness of Being, the Adorable Trinity. Similarly, to the intellect, exposure to the presence of God is perceived as nothing that can be processed and conceptualized. There is a point beyond which human understanding cannot go. That point -- encounter with the Presence of the Living God -- is the object of the monk's seeking.

The Monk Takes a Risk

The monk, in leaving all, "takes a risk," as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.

Mother Mectilde-du-Saint-Sacrement understood and dared to live this risk in Eucharistic Adoration. One who adores Our Lord, silent and concealed beneath the sacramental veils, discovers the mystery of a God who, in the Sacrament of HIs Love, makes Himself wordless, and accepts to remain alone, utterly dependent upon a creature's response to His silence and to His desire for company. Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus wrote that to find what is hidden, one must become hidden. So also, to engage with the Eucharistic silence of God, one must become silent; and to engage with the Eucharistic solitude of God, one must embrace solitude. It is a terrible risk.

Vocation: An Ongoing Process

Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this "leap." But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in the searching of a whole life. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God's presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God's grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, "in a divine and persevering vigilance," as St Bruno said, they "await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door for him as soon as he knocks" (Letter to Rudolph "the Green", n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one's own humanity to form itself, to grow in that special state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.

I want my own sons, the young brothers in my monastery, to read this passage and take it to heart. It is as if it was spoken to them personally, and written for their benefit. The Holy Father has an amazing understanding of the monastic vocation. It is, he says, "an ongoing process." "Becoming monks," he says, "requires time, practice, and patience." The monastic life is, in effect, akin to the daily routine of conjugal life, for it is bearing together the sweet yoke of Christ.

A Whole Life Barely Suffices

In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christ's resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery to which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has recalled us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life even to our mortal bodies (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one's vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father's house. In the world's eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one's whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.

The monastic adventure is never-ending. It is the itinerary of one who, at every moment, says with Christ, "I go to the Father."

The Church Needs You

I have come here for this reason, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno! To tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church. Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through her veins.

Benedictine enclosure differs in its concrete expression from the solitude of the Carthusian. Both forms of real and effective separation from the world are, nonetheless, ordered to the vocation revealed to Saint Thérèse, and reiterated here by the Holy Father: to be "love in the heart of the Church and to make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through her veins."

With the Virgin Mary

Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the Cross stands still while the world is spinning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world's changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God's faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian brothers, be associated to his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.

Thus, like Mary and with her, you too are deeply inserted in the mystery of the Church, a sacrament of union of men with God and with each other. In this you are unusually close to my ministry. May the Most Holy Mother of the Church therefore watch over us and the holy Father Bruno always bless your community from Heaven. Amen.

There is no authentic expression of monastic life that is not essentially Marian. To stand with Our Blessed Lady at the foot of the Cross is to abide close to the wellspring of life, the pierced side of Jesus. It is to receive from His open Heart the Water and the Blood that others refuse, neglect, or pass by. It is to make reparation by surrendering to Love Crucified, and by consenting to feel, in some small way, the blade of the sword of sorrow that pierced the Virgin Mother's Immaculate Heart.

A Vocation's Unexpected Turns

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Birth, Passion, Death

Each year the Church gives us two feastdays of Saint John the Baptist: the first on June 24th to mark his nativity, and today’s feast to mark his passion and death. We celebrate the nativity of Saint John the Baptist because, unlike everyone else with the exception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, John was born in holiness. Our Lord Jesus Christ sanctified John when both of them were still hidden in the wombs of their mothers.

Appearance and Disappearance

Jesus hidden in Mary approached John hidden in Elizabeth and, when the voice of the Holy Mother of God reached the ears of Elizabeth, the babe in her womb leaped for joy (cf. Lk 1:44). Although John, like all men, was conceived marked by Adam’s sin, he was born already touched by the saving grace of Christ mediated by His Immaculate Mother. Clearly, a child born in such extraordinary circumstances was destined by the Lord for even greater things. At the peak of summer on June 24th we celebrated the appearance of John the Baptist. Today, as summer begins to fade, we celebrate his disappearance.

More Than A Prophet

“And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways” (Lk 1:76). John the Forerunner is a prophet and he is more than a prophet. By his preaching he speaks truth in the breath of the Holy Spirit. By his captivity, passion and death, he prefigures the Suffering Servant, the immolated Lamb who takes away the sins of the world, the Victim “by whose wounds we are healed” (1P 2:24). Our Lord Himself says: “A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John” (Lk 7:27-28).

This Joy of Mine

John the Baptist recognizes in Jesus the Light, the Christ, the Lamb of God and the Bridegroom. “Behold the Lamb of God!” (Jn 1:29). All John’s joy is to gaze upon His Face and to hear His voice. “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. He who has the bride is the bridegroom; the friend of the bridegroom who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice; therefore this joy of mine is now full. He must increase but I must decrease”(Jn 329-30).

The Burning and Shining Lamp

The vocation of John was to be visible only for a time. “He was a burning and shining lamp,” says Jesus, “and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (Jn 5:25). John’s shining light was hidden away in the darkness of a prison cell. The Bridegroom had arrived; the Friend of the Bridegroom had to disappear.

The Transfiguration of the Lord

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Gazing on the Holy Face

One-hundred-fourteen years ago, on August 5th, 1897, the eve of the feast of the Transfiguration, a young Carmelite stricken with tuberculosis had a very special desire. She wanted an image of the Holy Face of Christ placed close to her bed. The image was brought from the choir and attached to her bed curtains. On the following September 30th, she died. Her name? Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Saint Thérèse, a Doctor of the Church, fixed her gaze on the Face of Christ disfigured by suffering, and found the transfiguration of her own suffering in its radiance.

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Preparation for the Mystery of the Cross

The Holy Face of Christ was a mystery familiar to Thérèse. As a result of the good works of the Venerable Léon Dupont, the "Holy Man of Tours," devotion to the Holy Face had spread throughout France. The Carmel of Lisieux honoured the Holy Face every August 6th, forty days before the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14th. Every August 6th, the Carmelites exposed the image of the Holy Face in their choir, anointed it with perfume, and prayed before it.

Hidden in the Secret of His Face

A year before her death on August 6, 1896, Thérèse and two of the novices entrusted to her consecrated themselves to the Holy Face of Jesus. They understood the mystery of the Transfiguration just as the liturgy presents it to us today: as a preparation for the Mystery of the Cross.

The three young Carmelites asked Our Lord to hide them "in the secret of His Face." They were drawn by the Holy Ghost into the abjection of Christ, the Suffering Servant described in chapters 52 and 53 of the prophet Isaiah. They desired to be Veronicas, consoling Jesus in His Passion, and offering Him souls. Their prayer concluded: "O beloved Face of Jesus! As we await the everlasting day when we will contemplate your infinite Glory, our one desire is to charm your Divine Eyes by hiding our faces too so that here on earth no one can recognize us. O Jesus! Your Veiled Gaze is our Heaven!"

Lectio Divina and Eucharistic Adoration

At the very center of the Transfiguration we see the Human Face of God, shining more brightly than the sun. Tradition gives us two privileged ways of seeking, of finding, and of contemplating the transfigured and transfiguring Face of Christ: the first is lectio divina in its two forms: the corporate choral lectio divina of the Sacred Liturgy, and the solitary lectio divina that prolongs the Sacred Liturgy and prepares it. One who seeks the Face of Christ in the Scriptures as dispensed to us by the Church will discover the Face of the Beloved peering through the lattice of the text, and will be changed by the experience. The second way is Eucharistic adoration. One who remains silent and adoring before the Divine Host, the "Veiled Gaze: of Jesus, will, almost imperceptibly, but surely, be transfigured and healed in its radiance.

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Through the intercession of Saint Henry, blessings upon all our brother Oblates and friends of the monastery today: Jon, Vincent, Tracy, Greg, Neal, Dan, Erik, and Alex. Have I forgotten anyone, brothers? Blessings too upon Henry Casey.

While Keeping Vigil

Benedictine Oblates living and working in the world have two holy patrons: Saint Francesca of Rome whom we celebrated in March, and today’s Saint Henry. One of the things related about Saint Henry is that, on arriving in any town, he would spend his entire first night there in a vigil of prayer in a church dedicated to the Holy Mother of God. When he arrived in Rome in 1014, he spent the night in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, Rome’s Bethlehem. While keeping vigil, he saw the “Sovereign and Eternal Priest-Child Jesus” enter to celebrate the Holy Mysteries. Saints Lawrence and Vincent assisted Our Lord as deacons. A throng of saints filled the basilica; Angels chanted in choir. It is noteworthy that in Henry’s vision Christ the Priest is a Child. One wonders if he was not keeping vigil before the altar of the Crib of the Infant Jesus in Saint Mary Major, a place of grace for countess souls through the ages.

Touched by the Book of the Gospels

Henry’s vision is very much like those of Saint Gertrude the Great: a pulling back of the veil, a glimpse of “what no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived” (1 Cor 2:9). After the Gospel, an Angel bearing the book of the Gospels was sent to Henry by the Mother of God. Normally, one kisses the book of the Gospels. Instead the Angel touched Saint Henry’s thigh with it, saying, “Accept this sign of God’s love for your chastity and justice.” From that moment on, Henry limped like Jacob after his night vigil spent wrestling with the angel (cf. Gn 32:24-25). How fascinating -- and how consistent with God’s dealings with men -- that a mark of weakness should be the sign of a special grace!

The Oblate Emperor

Henry was crowned Emperor in Saint Peter’s Basilica by Pope Benedict VIII in 1014. Henry cherished Benedictine life, spending time in monasteries whenever he could. His greatest joy was to occupy a stall in choir and join the monks in singing the Divine Office. Henry founded monasteries throughout the Empire and endowed them liberally. He became an oblate of the Abbey of Cluny and then asked to make profession as monk at the Abbey of Saint-Vanne. The abbot received him as a monk, and then ordered him, in the name of obedience, to take his place again on the imperial throne.

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The Holy Father's homily on the 60th anniversary of his ordination to the Sacred Priesthood, is rich in a teaching drawn from personal experience. Here is the Holy Father's text; the subtitles and comments are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

The Friendship of Christ

"Non iam dicam servos, sed amicos" -- "I no longer call you servants, but friends" (cf. Jn 15:15).

Sixty years on from the day of my priestly ordination, I hear once again deep within me these words of Jesus that were addressed to us new priests at the end of the ordination ceremony by the Archbishop, Cardinal Faulhaber, in his slightly frail yet firm voice.

Mi accoglie nella cerchia di coloro ai quali si era rivolto nel Cenacolo. Nella cerchia di coloro che Egli conosce in modo del tutto particolare e che così Lo vengono a conoscere in modo particolare.

According to the liturgical practice of that time, these words conferred on the newly-ordained priests the authority to forgive sins. "No longer servants, but friends": at that moment I knew deep down that these words were no mere formality, nor were they simply a quotation from Scripture. I knew that, at that moment, the Lord himself was speaking to me in a very personal way.

Pope Benedict XVI has the grace of receiving into his own heart the Word of God proclaimed and sung in the Sacred Liturgy. For him the words of the Sacred Liturgy are "no mere formality." In this, the Holy Father takes his place among the Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and among so many mystics nourished by the Sacred Liturgy, for whom the Word of God proclaimed, repeated, prayed, and cherished by the Church becomes the sacrament of a personal communion or, as Olivier Clément, calls it l'eucharistie de l'intelligence.

In baptism and confirmation he had already drawn us close to him, he had already received us into God's family. But what was taking place now was something greater still. He calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Cenacle, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way.

I am often asked why our monastery bears the name of "Our Lady of Cenacle." Here, Pope Benedict XVI answers the question. Our monastery, and any Benedictine monastery is the home of those whom Christ knows in a very special way, and who therefore come to know Him in a very special way. The Cenacle is the home of Christ's own circle of friends, those whom He has gathered close to His Eucharistic Heart, those whom He would have live in the light of His Eucharistic Face.

He grants me the almost frightening faculty to do what only he, the Son of God, can legitimately say and do: I forgive you your sins. He wants me -- with his authority -- to be able to speak, in his name ("I" forgive), words that are not merely words, but an action, changing something at the deepest level of being. I know that behind these words lies his suffering for us and on account of us. I know that forgiveness comes at a price: in his Passion he went deep down into the sordid darkness of our sins. He went down into the night of our guilt, for only thus can it be transformed. And by giving me authority to forgive sins, he lets me look down into the abyss of man, into the immensity of his suffering for us men, and this enables me to sense the immensity of his love. He confides in me: "No longer servants, but friends". He entrusts to me the words of consecration in the Eucharist. He trusts me to proclaim his word, to explain it aright and to bring it to the people of today. He entrusts himself to me. "You are no longer servants, but friends": these words bring great inner joy, but at the same time, they are so awe-inspiring that one can feel daunted as the decades go by amid so many experiences of one's own frailty and his inexhaustible goodness.

With the passing years, any one of us accumulates an experience of one's own frailty and of the inexhaustible goodness of God. One must pray never to become accustomed to the horror of sin, but rather to see it for what it is; at the same time one must pray never to despair of the mercy of God, as Saint Benedict says in Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, that mercy that is revealed in the Passion of Christ and in the adorable Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

"No longer servants, but friends": this saying contains within itself the entire programme of a priestly life. What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle -- wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing.

When the Holy Father calls the phrase "No longer servants, but friends" the entire programme of a priestly life he is not dispensing a facile piece of pious counsel; e is, rather, defining the priesthood, first of all, not in terms of ministry, but in terms of friendship with Christ. This is critical to a correct and livable understanding of the gift of the priesthood. The priest is called first to live with Christ and for Christ, in order to live with others and for others as an icon of Christ, bringing to souls the light of His Face and the fire of His Heart.

The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: "I know my own and my own know me" (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more.

The first work of the monk, and similarly of the priest, be he diocesan or religious, is to cultivate the friendship of Christ by a lifelong growth in the knowledge of His Face and of His Sacred Heart. This knowledge is acquired by daily immersion in the Word of God as dispensed by the Church in the Sacred Liturgy; by allowing one's sentiments, one's aspirations, and one's desires to be shaped and reformed by the worship of the Bride of Christ, the Church; and by periods of time given over to the company of Christ in the Sacrament of His Love.

Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself. Over and above communion of thinking and willing, the Lord mentions a third, new element: he gives his life for us (cf. Jn 15:13; 10:15). Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.

The Holy Father's reflections here turn to prayer. He passes from addressing those listening to his homily, to addressing Christ Himself. In doing this, he situates himself in a long line of preachers for whom dialogue with Christ was in no way foreign to evangelization and catechesis of the people. I am thinking, in particular, of Saint Bernard and Saint Aelred, who so often interrupted their discourses in Chapter with burning words addressed to Jesus Himself.

Jesus' words on friendship should be seen in the context of the discourse on the vine. The Lord associates the image of the vine with a commission to the disciples: "I appointed you that you should go out and bear fruit, and that your fruit should abide" (Jn 15:16). The first commission to the disciples, to his friends, is that of setting out -- appointed to go out -- stepping outside oneself and towards others. Here we hear an echo of the words of the risen Lord to his disciples at the end of Matthew's Gospel: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations" (cf. Mt 28:19f.). The Lord challenges us to move beyond the boundaries of our own world and to bring the Gospel to the world of others, so that it pervades everything and hence the world is opened up for God's kingdom. We are reminded that even God stepped outside himself, he set his glory aside in order to seek us, in order to bring us his light and his love. We want to follow the God who sets out in this way, we want to move beyond the inertia of self-centredness, so that he himself can enter our world.

Union with Christ is not broken by the imperative of the mission. Just as Christ came into the world without leaving the Father's bosom, so too does the priest go forth into the world without, for an instant, leaving Jesus in whose Heart he abides and upon whose Heart he rests. Prayer without ceasing is the guarantee of a fruitful apostolate. The prayer of the heart, persevering and uninterrupted, is that by which, even in the midst of the world with its struggles and shadows, the priest remains one with Christ: body to Body, blood to Blood, soul to Soul, heart to Heart.

After the reference to setting out, Jesus continues: bear fruit, fruit that abides. What fruit does he expect from us? What is this fruit that abides? Now, the fruit of the vine is the grape, and it is from the grape that wine is made. Let us reflect for a moment on this image. For good grapes to ripen, sun is needed, but so too is rain, by day and by night. For noble wine to mature, the grapes need to be pressed, patience is needed while the juice ferments, watchful care is needed to assist the processes of maturation. Noble wine is marked not only by sweetness, but by rich and subtle flavours, the manifold aroma that develops during the processes of maturation and fermentation. Is this not already an image of human life, and especially of our lives as priests? We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us.

This reflection on the maturation of the grape and the qualities of a noble wine is, without a doubt, one of the most eloquent passages in this homily. "We need both sun and rain, festivity and adversity, times of purification and testing, as well as times of joyful journeying with the Gospel. In hindsight we can thank God for both: for the challenges and the joys, for the dark times and the glad times. In both, we can recognize the constant presence of his love, which unfailingly supports and sustains us."

Yet now we must ask: what sort of fruit does the Lord expect from us? Wine is an image of love: this is the true fruit that abides, the fruit that God wants from us. But let us not forget that in the Old Testament the wine expected from noble grapes is above all an image of justice, which arises from a life lived in accordance with God's law. And this is not to be dismissed as an Old Testament view that has been surpassed -- no, it still remains true. The true content of the Law, its summa, is love for God and for one's neighbour. But this twofold love is not simply saccharine. It bears within itself the precious cargo of patience, humility, and growth in the conforming of our will to God's will, to the will of Jesus Christ, our friend.

Love is costly: it requires patience, humility, and a hundred thousand little deaths to immediate gratification and personal preference so as to rise a hundred thousand times to life in Christ and to the joy of desiring nothing apart from what His Heart desires. Is this not the essence of Saint Benedict' admonition "to prefer nothing to the love of Christ"?

Only in this way, as the whole of our being takes on the qualities of truth and righteousness, is love also true, only thus is it ripe fruit. Its inner demand -- faithfulness to Christ and to his Church -- seeks a fulfillment that always includes suffering. This is the way that true joy grows. At a deep level, the essence of love, the essence of genuine fruit, coincides with the idea of setting out, going towards: it means self-abandonment, self-giving, it bears within itself the sign of the cross. Gregory the Great once said in this regard: if you are striving for God, take care not to go to him by yourselves alone -- a saying that we priests need to keep before us every day (H Ev 1:6:6 PL 76, 1097f.).

This passage illustrates the spousal nature of the priesthood, and indeed of monastic paternity. The bridegroom goes forth to call out his bride; the father goes forth to meet his son while his son is yet on the way. As a bridal soul, the priest and the monk must be content to wait upon the stirrings of the Divine Bridegroom; as a Bridegroom in the image of Christ, the priest and the monk must step out of their comfort motivated only by love for the Bride (souls) who waits to be called. As a son, the priest and the monk sets out on the journey of conversion, confident that the Father will meet him on the way; as a father, the priest and the monk go out in search of the son held back by fear, or in need of a light to guide his steps in the night.

Dear friends, perhaps I have dwelt for too long on my inner recollections of sixty years of priestly ministry. Now it is time to turn our attention to the particular task that is to be performed today.

Greetins to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I

On the feast of Saints Peter and Paul my most cordial greeting goes first of all to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I and to the Delegation he has sent, to whom I express sincere thanks for their most welcome visit on the happy occasion of this feast of the holy Apostles who are Rome's patrons. I also greet the Cardinals, my brother bishops, the ambassadors and civil authorities as well as the priests, the confrères of my first Mass, religious and lay faithful. I thank all of you for your presence and your prayers.

The metropolitan archbishops appointed since the feast of Saints Peter and Paul last year are now going to receive the pallium. What does this mean? It may remind us in the first instance of Christ's easy yoke that is laid upon us (cf. Mt 11:29f.). Christ's yoke is identical with his friendship. It is a yoke of friendship and therefore "a sweet yoke", but as such it is also a demanding yoke, one that forms us. It is the yoke of his will, which is a will of truth and love. For us, then, it is first and foremost the yoke of leading others to friendship with Christ and being available to others, caring for them as shepherds.

The archiepiscopal pallium is not without some similarity to the monastic scapular: both signify the sweet and demanding yoke of the friendship of Christ. The mature monk exercises a charismatic paternity that complements the hierarchical paternity of bishops and of their priests, and serves it humbly, more often than not in a hidden way.

This brings us to a further meaning of the pallium: it is woven from the wool of lambs blessed on the feast of Saint Agnes. Thus it reminds us of the Shepherd who himself became a lamb, out of love for us. It reminds us of Christ, who set out through the mountains and the deserts, in which his lamb, humanity, had strayed. It reminds us of him who took the lamb -- humanity -- me -- upon his shoulders, in order to carry me home. It thus reminds us that we too, as shepherds in his service, are to carry others with us, taking them as it were upon our shoulders and bringing them to Christ. It reminds us that we are called to be shepherds of his flock, which always remains his and does not become ours. Finally the pallium also means quite concretely the communion of the shepherds of the Church with Peter and with his successors -- it means that we must be shepherds for unity and in unity, and that it is only in the unity represented by Peter that we truly lead people to Christ.

The wool of the pallium signifies the pastoral burden of the shepherd, but also his own call to became a lamb, that is to say, a victim with Christ the Victim. In moments of weakness, of disorientation, and of obscurity, one must trust that Christ the Shepherd hastens, even into the valley of the shadow of death, in search of his lambs, and especially in search of those marked by priestly anointing or consecrated by the monastic tonsure. The priest and the monk, in turn, are shepherds full of solicitude for the lost sheep of Christ: the priest by going into the darkness of the world with nought but Christ for his light; and the monk by remaining still in his cloister, like a beacon shining in the night.

Sixty years of priestly ministry -- dear friends, perhaps I have spoken for too long about this. But I felt prompted at this moment to look back upon the things that have left their mark on the last six decades. I felt prompted to address to you, to all priests and bishops and to the faithful of the Church, a word of hope and encouragement; a word that has matured in long experience of how good the Lord is. Above all, though, it is a time of thanksgiving: thanks to the Lord for the friendship that he has bestowed upon me and that he wishes to bestow upon us all. Thanks to the people who have formed and accompanied me. And all this includes the prayer that the Lord will one day welcome us in his goodness and invite us to contemplate his joy. Amen.

© Copyright 2011 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Become like a consuming fire

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Yesterday, on the Friday of Passion Week and the Commemoration of Our Lady of Sorrows, I gave the monastic habit to Nicholas von Tersch, newly become Brother Seraphim Maria. I invite all the readers of Vultus Christi to pray for Brother Seraphim as he begins his monastic journey. Pray also for this little monastery that it may be all that Our Lord would have it be, nothing more and nothing less. Here is the exhortation I gave at the Clothing Ceremony:

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EXHORTATION BY FATHER PRIOR

Dearly beloved son in Christ,
you have, over the past months and weeks,
listened to your Master's precepts
and inclined the ear of your heart.
You have fixed your gaze upon the Eucharistic Face of Christ
and lingered in His company.
You have experienced, to a certain degree, the uncertainties and trials
of a monastery still in its infancy.
You have left parents, friends, and home
and, compelled by the love of Christ,
you have set about following the Son of Man
who has nowhere to lay His head.

Today, you are asking to enter the school of the Lord's service established Saint Benedict.
In his school, while there is nothing harsh or burdensome;
there is a certain strictness of discipline
that the strong may still have something to long after,
and the weak may not draw back in alarm.

During this year of testing
you will listen to the reading of the Holy Rule
and to the teaching that I will seek to transmit to you.
If, after twelve months,
you are still resolved to be formed and transformed by this same Rule
by living in stability, conversion of life, and obedience,
according to the usages of this monastery,
you will enter upon an additional twelve months
in preparation for monastic profession
for a period of three years.

You know, dear Nicholas,
that His Excellency, Bishop Slattery authorized the foundation
of this new monastic family in the Diocese of Tulsa
in response to pressing needs of the Church and of her priests.

By seeking admission into this particular monastery,
you are embracing an ecclesial mission of
Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests
and the spiritual renewal of the clergy in the whole Church;
of reparation for the sins that disfigure the Face of Christ the Priest;
and of the sacramental and spiritual support of the clergy
by means of monastic hospitality, spiritual direction, and retreats.

Live this first phase of your novitiate, then,
hidden like a leaven of holiness in the Church.
Keep burning continually the sweet-smelling incense of prayer.
Take up the sword of the Spirit.
Let your heart be an altar and, with full confidence in God,
present yourself as a victim for sacrifice.

In a few moments, I will wash your feet,
in imitation of the humble charity of the Servant Christ.
Thus, with your pilgrim feet cleansed and refreshed,
you will be able to walk in the footsteps of the Lamb
and follow Him wheresoever He goes.

You will receive the monastic tunic,
a sign of the holiness that is the vesture of all who have put on Christ.

You will be girt with a cincture of leather,
for the mortification of fleshly desires
and attachment to Him who, henceforth,
will draw you with leading-strings of love.

You will take upon your shoulders
the scapular that represents the sweet yoke of Christ.
Learn from Him, for He is gentle and humble of heart,
and you will find rest for your soul.

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Finally, dear son, I will place you under the patronage
of the glorious Angelic Choir of the Seraphim:
incandescent beings, all of spiritual fire,
who burn like so many living flames of love
The prophet Isaiah described the Seraphim in a prophetic vision:

I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne,
with the train of his garment filling the temple.
Seraphim were stationed above;
each of them had six wings:
with two they veiled their faces, with two they veiled their feet,
and with two they hovered aloft.
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!"
they cried one to the other.
"All his earth is filled with his glory!"
At the sound of the cry, the frame of the door shook
and the house was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:2).

Isaiah reveals that the Seraphim are closest to the throne of God:
how fitting then is their patronage
for one who will burn in adoration, day after day,
before the throne of the Son of God
exposed to our gaze in the Sacrament of His Love.

The Seraphim contemplate God
in the richest way possible for a created being.
Their intellect is luminous and penetrating.
Their will is quick and strong.
Their love is a pure spiritual flame
rising bright in the presence of the Most High.
The Seraphim's only task
is to worship God in perpetual adoration.
The Seraphim are all ablaze with an intense ardor of charity.
It is said that the charity of the Seraphim renders them incandescent.
There is, of course, a long tradition by which Saint Michael himself,
while an Archangel by virtue of his ministry,
belongs to the choir of the Seraphim by virtue of his being .

Remember always what Abba Joseph said to Abba Lot:
"You cannot be a monk unless you become like a consuming fire."

I place you today, not only under the protection of the Seraphim,
but also under that of two soon to be "Blesseds"
and one saint of the Eastern Church.

On May 28th the Venerable Maria Serafina of the Sacred Heart,
foundress of the Sisters of the Angels, Adorers of the Most Holy Trinity,
who was born on September 11, 1849 and died on March 24, 1911,
will be beatified in Faicchio, Italy.
Mother Serafina's life was marked by several beginnings,
and by a long search that took her, like a pilgrim, from place to place,
until at last the hand of the Father guided her
into the place He had prepared for her.

On June 26th, the Venerable Serafino Morrazone, priest,
who was born on February 1, 1747 and died on April 13, 1822,
will be beatified in Milan, Italy.

Don Serafino was another Curé of Ars.
As such, he is a model of priestly holiness
and a fitting patron for one called to represent all priests
before the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.
His Cause was introduced by the illustrious Benedictine,
Blessed Ildefonso Schuster.

Finally, I place you under the protection
of the venerable and God-loving Saint Seraphim of Sarov,
a monk-priest of the Russian Orthodox Church,
who was born on July 19, 1754.
He was 27 when he took his monastic vows in 1786,
receiving the name Seraphim, which, as you now know,
means "fiery" or "burning."
He died while kneeling before an icon of the Mother of God
on January 14, 1833.
Known for his tender devotion to the Mother of God,
and to an Orthodox form of Our Lady's Rosary,
Saint Seraphim said:
"Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved."

To the name of Seraphim,
following the monastic tradition,
I add the Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary
in its beautiful Latin form
that the Sacred Liturgy so often places upon our lips: Maria.
The Name of Mary will be a seal upon your heart.
It will be your consolation in times of trial,
sweetness in moments of bitterness,
strength in the hour of temptation.

The Holy Name of Mary is, in effect, a summary
of what it means to be a monk.
Maria, regula monachorum, said our Fathers.
In other words, if you would know what it means to be a monk,
you have only to contemplate Mary.
The names of Seraphim and Maria come together
in the mystery of the Cenacle:
there, on Pentecost morning,
the Holy Spirit descended in the form of tongues of fire
resting upon the heads of the Mother of God and the Apostles.
Thus was the Church set ablaze
to fill the world with Divine Fire and Light.

As you progress in the monastic life and in faith,
dear Brother Seraphim Maria,
your heart shall be enlarged,
and you shall run with unspeakable sweetness of love
in the way of God's commandments.
In proportion to your surrender to Divine Love,
you will become seraphic,
that is to say, all ablaze with the fire of the Holy Spirit.

Dear son, may you persevere,
under the protection of the Immaculate Mother of God,
of the Angelic Choir of the Seraphim,
and of your patron saints,
in this first period of instruction and trial,
sharing by patience, obedience, and humility,
in the blessed Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and so, at length, deserve to be a partaker also of His kingdom. Amen.

For My Oblates . . . and Others

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Saint Benedict the Practical

When it comes to the observance of Lent, Saint Benedict is very practical, very concrete. He doesn't spend a lot of time telling us what we ought to think. He doesn't tell us what to say. Thoughts about penitence are not penitence. Talking about penitence is not doing it. The patterns of our life are changed, in the end, by what we do. Thoughts are necessary, it is true; but a thought of penitence never translated into action is perfectly useless. Words are helpful -- sometimes -- but words that come out of our mouths to float in the air and disappear do nothing to advance our conversion. Deeds change our lives; deeds re-orient our hearts. They need not be big deeds. Very little ones are surprisingly effective, especially when one little deed follows another and another and another, creating a pattern of conversion.

The Moses of Monks

Saint Benedict, our law-giver, the "Moses of monks" as the tradition calls him, shows us how to carry out the choice for life that Moses, the law-giver of Israel, presents in Deuteronomy. "Choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice,and cleaving to him" (Dt 30:19-20). Holy Father Benedict's presentation of Lenten observance can be summed up in two little words: more and less.

More

More: "At this season let us increase in some way the normal standard of our service, as for example, by special prayers, or by a diminution in food and drink." He insists on our doing something. More prayer. Thinking about doing more prayer is not more prayer. Get up five minutes early to make more time for prayer and you are doing something. Give up five minutes of looking at the newspaper and give it to God in prayer. That is doing something.

Lectio Divina

In Chapter 48 Saint Benedict is explicit about more lectio divina. He even rearranges the daily schedule in order to provide more time for reading during Lent. Do you see how very concrete he is? It is not enough to think about doing more lectio, not enough to talk about doing more lectio. He goes about it very concretely by changing the order of the day. He commissions one or two seniors to go about the monastery to see that the brethren are not wasting the time aside for more lectio by engaging in more of what they should be doing less: talking, wasting time, and distracting others.

Less

Less: less food, less drink, less sleep, less talkativeness, less looseness in speech (cf. RB 49:7). Many folks are put off by Saint Benedict's proposals, but that may be because they read them without taking them in reflectively. He says "less"; he doesn't say how much less. This is where Holy Father Benedict meets Saint Thérèse, the Doctor of the "Little Way." The "less" of Saint Benedict is the very little thing of Thérèse: the word saved for recreation, the second or third cup of coffee, the unkind judgment nipped in the bud.

Do Something

The choice for life remains, all too easily, something that floats in the mist of pious aspirations without taking shape in deeds. Moses teaches that the choice for life comes down to three things: "love the Lord your God, heed his voice, and cling to him" (Dt 30:20). Even these three things risk being formless and vague. Translate, "love the Lord your God," into one concrete act of love -- today. Don't think about loving God, do something to make it real. Translate, "heed his voice," into one concrete act of obedience, of silence -- today. Translate, "cling to him," into a choice for prayer that will cut into your routine and affect your management of time -- today. It need not be long. Pure prayer is often brief.

A Eucharistic Oblation

For Saint Benedict all of these little deeds have immense Eucharistic potential. In speaking of our Lenten deeds of "more" and "less," he uses terms that evoke the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass: " . . . cum gaudio Sancti Spiritus offerat Deo" (RB 49:6)" -- "let each one make offering to God in the joy of the Holy Spirit." The "shapes and forms" of Lenten deeds are joined to the "shapes and forms" of the bread and wine placed on the altar.

An Offertory Procession

Lest there be in our offering any impurity of pride, presumption, or vainglory, Saint Benedict would have both our "more" and our "less" submitted to the Abbot for blessing and approval. The line of monks going to the office of the Abbot, each one asking for blessing and approval of his Lenten "more" and "less," is the offertory procession of Lent, making each deed worthy of oblation in the joy of the Holy Spirit. Lent is just this: a procession to the altar, a movement into the mystery of the Cross. How could it be anything but joy?

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How many greater gifts will come to you
in the truly blessed life that lies before us,
is, I must admit, beyond my capacity to discuss,
nor is it within my power to lay them out before you.
It will suffice only to refer in summary
to the indescribable outcome of this exchange,
for this is what awaits those who have perfectly left the world:
"Things beyond our seeing,
things beyond our hearing,
things beyond our imagining,
all prepared by God for those who love Him."

Therefore, hide this treasure, namely Christ, our God and Lord,
who became both redeemer and ransom for us;
he who both promises and is the reward held out to us;
who is the life of men and endless existence of the angels.

With great care hide this treasure, I say,
in the receptacle of your heart.
With it in your possession cast away all concern
for any thing else in this world.
Take delight in speaking with him in unremitting prayer,
and in this way constantly nourish yourself
at the feast of holy thoughts.

Let him be your food and also your raiment.
But if it should happen that you are also in need
of some tangible convenience,
do not hold back,
but place your trust in the firm promise He made to you
when He said:
"Set your mind on God's kingdom before everything else,
and all the rest will come to you as well."
For if He could satisfy the thirsty throng of Israelites
by commanding water to gush from that dry, metallic rock;
if for long periods of time
He could serve heavenly manna to the hungry;
if He could order vast flocks of quail
to light in the camp of those people who complained of their lot,
would He be unable to provide for the necessities of one little man
who is constantly requesting His assistance?

And for Him who for almost forty years
kept the clothes of that great multitude intact,
would it be difficult to replace your tattered old garments with new ones?
Truly, we of little faith, must urge ourselves to hold fast to Christ,
for fainthearted diffidence makes Christ a pauper,
while full confidence causes Him to be rich and generous
in dispensing His gifts.

Take care to be concerned only with those things that He commands,
and let there be no doubt at all about those that He promises.
Let the tax collector feel safe when the debtor is prompt to pay.
There is no reason to be apprehensive
when He who never lies has given His word.
The creditor can breathe easily
when Truth itself is bound to His promise.

Saint Peter Damian, Letter 165

Ad aeterna tabernacula festinare

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The Cross, the Passion, and the Most Holy Eucharist

Today's Saint Silvester Guzzolini (1177-1267), founder of the so-called Blue Benedictines (from the colour of their habit) or Silvestrines, exemplifies the monastic spirituality of the thirteenth century. Nourished by the Word of God, Silvester filled the gaze of his soul with the mysteries of the Passion of Our Lord, contemplating His wounds and desiring nothing so much as to follow Him along the way of the Cross. So strong was this desire of his that on one occasion he was mystically transported to the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. As one might expect, Silvester's devotion to the Passion of Jesus found its highest expression in the ardent love he had for the Most Holy Eucharist. This is reflected in the beautiful Secret for his feast:

With all reverence, O Lord,
do we offer these gifts to Thy divine Majesty:
praying that by the devout preparation of our minds
and purity of heart,
we may be made imitators of the blessed Silvester,
and so deserve to receive in a holy manner
the Body and Blood of Thy Son.

The Mother of God

Silvester nurtured a tender devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of Mercy, to whom he entrusted himself entirely. Our Lady responded by demonstrating her maternal love for him with singular graces. On one occasion, he fell in the staircase while descending to the Night Office. The Blessed Virgin came to help him and, in the twinkling of an eye, Silvester found himself safe and sound back in his cell. One hears of similar episodes in the lives of modern saints such as Padre Pio, Marthe Robin, and Mother Yvonne-Aimée of Malestroit.

Communion from the Hands of Our Lady

The most famous Marian prodigy in his life took place when, of a night, the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in a dream and said, "Silvester, dost thou desire to receive the Body of my Son?" With trepidation he answered, "My heart is ready, O Lady; let it be done unto me according to thy word." With that, the Mother of God gave him Holy Communion. Claudio Ridolfi painted the episode in 1632.

The Collects

There are two Collects for today's feast. The first alludes to the horrifying experience that caused Silvester to change his way of life and embrace the monastic state. In 1227, as a fifty year old canon of the cathedral of Osimo, he saw the decomposing body of a man who, in life, had been comely and strong. Silvester then said to himself: "What he was thou art, and what he is, thou shalt be." With that, he decided to withdraw into solitude.

The second prayer, found in the new Antiphonale Monasticum, reflects the two principle graces of his life: solitude and community. The Latin text has this magnificent conclusion: et in humili caritate ad aeterna tabernacula festinare!

O most clement God, Who,
when the holy abbot Silvester,
by the side of an open grave,
stood meditating on the emptiness of the things of this world,
didst vouchsafe to call him into the wilderness
and to ennoble him with the merit of a singularly holy life;
most humbly we beg of Thee, that like him,
we may despise earthly things,
and enjoy fellowship with Thee for evermore.

O God who bestowed upon Saint Silvester
zeal for the sweetness of solitude
and for the labours of the cenobitical life,
grant us, we beseech Thee,
to seek Thee always with a sincere mind
and in humble charity
hasten toward the eternal tabernacles.


The Core of Monasticism Is Adoration

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In the address pronounced three years ago at the flourishing Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Pope Benedict XVI offered the whole Church a veritable Charter of Monastic Life for this generation, and for all generations to come. This is, without any doubt, one of the most luminous Pontifical teachings on the monastic vocation ever articulated. I am still humbled and set ablaze by it. It deserves study "on bended knee."

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Address of the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI

Visit to Heiligenkreuz Abbey
Sunday, 9 September 2007

Most Reverend Father Abbot,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
Dear Cistercian Monks of Heiligenkreuz,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Consecrated Life,
Distinguished Guests and Friends of the Monastery and the Academy,
Ladies and Gentlemen!

That Nothing Be Put Before the Divine Office

On my pilgrimage to the Magna Mater Austriae, I am pleased to visit this Abbey of Heiligenkreuz, which is not only an important stop on the Via Sacra leading to Mariazell, but the oldest continuously active Cistercian monastery in the world. I wished to come to this place so rich in history in order to draw attention to the fundamental directive of Saint Benedict, according to whose Rule Cistercians also live. Quite simply, Benedict insisted that “nothing be put before the Divine Office”.(1)

Solemn Choral Prayer

For this reason, in a monastery of Benedictine spirit, the praise of God, which the monks sing as a solemn choral prayer, always has priority. Monks are certainly not the only people who pray; others also pray: children, the young and the old, men and women, the married and the single - all Christians pray. Or at least, they should!

To Be Men of Prayer

In the life of monks, however, prayer takes on a particular importance: it is the heart of their calling. Their vocation is to be men of prayer. In the patristic period the monastic life was likened to the life of the angels. It was considered the essential mark of the angels that they are adorers. Their very life is adoration. This should hold true also for monks. Monks pray first and foremost not for any specific intention, but simply because God is worthy of being praised. “Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus! - Praise the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy is eternal!”: so we are urged by a number of Psalms (e.g. Ps 106:1).

Officium

Such prayer for its own sake, intended as pure divine service, is rightly called Officium. It is “service” par excellence, the “sacred service” of monks. It is offered to the triune God who, above all else, is worthy “to receive glory, honour and power” (Rev 4:11), because he wondrously created the world and even more wondrously redeemed it.

A Yearning for God

At the same time, the Officium of consecrated persons is also a sacred service to men and women, a testimony offered to them. All people have deep within their hearts, whether they know it or not, a yearning for definitive fulfilment, for supreme happiness, and thus, ultimately, for God. A monastery, in which the community gathers several times a day for the praise of God, testifies to the fact that this primordial human longing does not go unfulfilled: God the Creator has not placed us in a fearful darkness where, groping our way in despair, we seek some ultimate meaning (cf. Acts 17:27); God has not abandoned us in a desert void, bereft of meaning, where in the end only death awaits us. No! God has shone forth in our darkness with his light, with his Son Jesus Christ. In him, God has entered our world in all his “fullness” (cf. Col 1:19); in him all truth, the truth for which we yearn, has its source and summit.(2)

The Heart and Eyes of Christ

Our light, our truth, our goal, our fulfilment, our life - all this is not a religious doctrine but a person: Jesus Christ. Over and above any ability of our own to seek and to desire God, we ourselves have already been sought and desired, and indeed, found and redeemed by him! The roving gaze of people of every time and nation, of all the philosophies, religions and cultures, encounters the wide open eyes of the crucified and risen Son of God; his open heart is the fullness of love. The eyes of Christ are the eyes of a loving God. The image of the Crucified Lord above the altar, whose romanesque original is found in the Cathedral of Sarzano, shows that this gaze is turned to every man and woman. The Lord, in truth, looks into the hearts of each of us.

Saint John Gualbert

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Good for Evil and Blessings for Curses

Good rendered for evil; blessings for curses; pardon, peace, concord, and reconciliation. A Collect for the Memorial of Saint John Gualbert speaks the language of the Gospel, ageless and ever new.

Almighty and ever-living God,
source of peace and lover of concord,
to know Thee is to live, to serve Thee is to reign;
establish us in Thy love,
that by the example of the blessed abbot John Gualbert,
we may render good for evil and blessings for curses,
and so obtain from Thee both pardon and peace.

Victory Over Vengeance

John Gualbert's monastic vocation unfolded in dramatic circumstances. A medieval Florentine nobleman, he lived in an age and culture that, in spite of the Gospel, exalted vengeance as a matter of honour. When his elder brother was murdered, John felt compelled to avenge him.

On a certain Good Friday, riding through a narrow mountain pass, John came face to face with his brother's killer. The man was alone. The place was isolated. There was no escape. John drew his sword, ready to exact a bloody vengeance. The murderer raised his arms in the form of a cross and, in the Name of Jesus Crucified, begged John's forgiveness.

The Encounter With Jesus Crucified

Cut to the heart by the grace of the Cross, John dropped his sword, embraced his enemy, and made his way straight to a church in Florence. There, kneeling before the crucifix, John saw Jesus Crucified bow His head, acknowledging his act of forgiveness and, by the same token, forgiving him all his sins. And so, John became a monk.

A splendid stained-glass window telescopes the story into one scene. John is shown as a young nobleman. With his eyes fixed on the image of the Crucified, he is embracing his enemy, the murderer of his brother. The iconography of Saint John Gualbert makes for a fascinating study. In nearly every image the saint is represented looking at Jesus Crucified, embracing Him, or holding the Cross against his heart.

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What the World Needs

On April 1, 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave a conference at Subiaco, the cradle of Benedictine life. Nineteen days later, as bishop of Rome, he assumed the name of Saint Benedict. Pope Benedict's message at Subiaco identifies what the world needs above all else. "We need," he said, "men who hold their gaze directly towards God."

Vocation

Given that our monastery here in Tulsa professes a Benedictine life marked by the particular charism of adoration of the Eucharistic Face of Christ, these words of Pope Benedict XVI are, for me, very compelling. What does one do in Eucharistic adoration if not hold one's gaze directly towards God? The other component of this particular charism is that if I seek to hold my gaze fixed on the Eucharistic Face of God, it is, first of all, for my brother priests, and especially for those whose gaze has, for one reason or another, been distracted -- literally, pulled away from -- the One Thing Necessary. This is where adoration and reparation meet.

With Unveiled Face

People are drawn to Saint Benedict because in him they see a man who "held his gaze directly towards God." People are drawn to Benedictine monasteries because in them they expect to find men and women who "with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another" (2 Cor 3:18). People come to monasteries in search of a place where there is evidence of a divine inbreaking: traces of the Kingdom of Heaven, glimmers of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ.

Those Who Seek God

More often than not the search for God begins with a search for those who seek God. It has always been thus in the life of the Church in both East and West. The faithful come to monasteries looking for fathers and mothers for their souls. People seek out monks and nuns hoping to see on their faces a reflection of the brightness of God. By virtue of monastic profession, we are called to hold our faces directly toward God. "For it is the God who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6).

Benedictine Oblates

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Oratory of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle

Our First Meeting

On Sunday afternoon a group of four men and three women participated in the first meeting of the Benedictine Oblates of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. Two other men living in the far off states of Pennsylvania and Colorado were unable to be present. (I was also mindful of Jane in France and of Vincent in Texas.) I gave an historical overview of the Benedictine oblateship, directing my remarks principally to Chapters 58 and 59 of the Rule of Saint Benedict. I then presented Article I of the Statutes of the Oblates and offered a modest commentary on the text.

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CHAPTER I: THE OBLATE

1. The Benedictine tradition sees Oblation as an act intimately tied to the altar of the monastery and to the mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist (cf. RB 58:20-21; 59: 1-2). Oblation is a free act of self-offering to God, patterned after the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, from the altar of the Cross.

Fundamentally the call to oblation springs from the injunctions of Saint Paul: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1); and again, "Walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered Himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness" (Eph 5:2).

The Benedictine Oblate, drawn to the altar of Christ's Sacrifice by the Holy Spirit, lives from the altar, in communion with a particular monastic community, for the glory of the Father and for the sake of the whole Body of Christ, that is the Church.

The Church recognizes Oblation as a special bond expressing communion between individual Christians and a particular monastery (cf. CCL, can. 303; can. 677 §2).

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A Eucharistic Vocation

The Eucharistic character of the oblateship is grounded in Saint Benedict's rite of monastic profession (RB 58) and in the analogous rite that he prescribes for the offering of a boy, by his parents, to God in the monastery (RB 59). The adult monk making profession and the young lad being offered to God by his parents are identified with the Eucharistic oblation. Symbolically, they are placed alongside the bread and wine (oblata) on the altar, becoming part of the Holy Sacrifice.

The adult monk places the handwritten petition of his offering on the altar, while the hand of the little oblate is wrapped in the altar linen together with the petition drawn up by his parents.

United to Christ, Priest and Victim

By offering himself in the context of the Holy Sacrifice, the monk participates in the eternal priesthood and victimhood of Our Lord Jesus Christ; like Jesus Crucified, he is both the offerer and the offering. Similarly, in the time of Saint Benedict he child oblate, offered by his parents, who exercised a certain natural priesthood over him, became with Christ a single offering to the Father.

Abbot Delatte, in his Commentary on the Holy Rule, speaks of the newly-professed monk as, "a living victim, 'a pure, holy, and unspotted victim,' reunited to the victim on the altar, offered and accepted with that victim, and enwrapped by the deacon in the fragrance of the same incense."

Interior Priesthood

Mother Mary of Saint Peter (Adèle Garnier, 1838-1924), the foundress of the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Tyburn, was graced with stunning insights into the interior grace of a priestly and victimal life. She writes:

He made me understand that there is an intimate and universal priesthood, absolutely and necessarily united to His, which should be the portion of all souls, but which is so of only very few. This priesthood is wholly interior, and is only granted to a soul who consents to it, who has desired it, and who to obtain it wills to immolate itself at all times with Jesus; that even so, in reality it is not the soul who immolates itself but Jesus who immolates it with Himself. But as the soul wills to be immolated and abandons itself for that purpose, Jesus makes it participate in His state of victim and priesthood at one and the same time. He consecrates it and ordains it to an interior priesthood which conforms it to His Eucharistic life more than any other gift it has received. . . . This grace of interior priesthood does not imprint on the soul an indelible character, for the soul can lose it by infidelity. But if it is constantly faithful to this grace of choice, it will receive through all eternity the reflection of the sacerdotal glory emanating from the Heart of Jesus and spreading over all souls who are priests and victims with Him.

The Altar

The Benedictine Oblate, like the monk, consummates his mystical offering on the altar of the oratory of the monastery. Oblation communicates to one's whole life the character and virtue of a holocaust; it makes of one's life a perpetual sacrifice. All who are offered from the same altar constitute a single priestly and victimal body: one monastic family. A monastery, then, is born at the altar, and lives from the altar.

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The vocation of the Benedictine Oblate is, then, profoundly Eucharistic. Blessed Dom Marmion says:

Let us unite our sacrifice with that of Christ Jesus. Let us offer ourselves with Him "in the spirit of humility, and with a contrite heart that our sacrifice may be pleasing in the sight of the Lord."
O Eternal Father, receive not only Thy Divine Son, but ourselves with Him of Whom say that He is " a pure Victim, a holy Victim, an immaculate Victim." Of ourselves, we are only poor creatures, but, miserable as we are, Thou wilt not reject us, for the sake of Thy Son Jesus Who is our Propitiation, and to Whom we would be united, so that through Him, and with Him, and in Him, all honour and glory be to Thee, O Father Almighty, in the unity of the Holy Ghost." (Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, p. 119)

Ut sanentur

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End of the Penal Code

This morning at Chapter we concluded the eight chapters of the Holy Rule (XXII-XXX) that comprise Saint Benedict's so-called "penal code." The Holy Patriarch reserves the last of these chapters for his treatment of how boys are to be corrected. It was not unusual in Saint Benedict's time for parents to entrust their sons to the monks for a period of intellectual and spiritual education. The lads in question probably ranged in age from five to sixteen. Some of these, but not all, would have been destined for monastic profession. One can only imagine the challenges presented by a troop of boisterous youngsters in the cloister.

Readers of the Holy Rule are sometimes shocked to discover that, where reason fails to bring a brother to mend his ways, Saint Benedict recommends corporal punishment. He even mentions severe fasts (to bed without pudding?) and sharp stripes (a judicious application of the rod).

Adaptability

I am, however, far more impressed by the brilliant first and last sentences of Chapter XXX. "Every age and understanding," says Saint Benedict, "should have its appropriate measure of discipline." What a wise principle! Saint Benedict fosters adaptability, reflection, and due consideration of a brother's age and of his intellectual, emotional, and spiritual development. There is in the Rule of Saint Benedict nothing of the rigid "one size fits all" approach that one sometimes finds in other ascetical systems.

Healing

The last sentence of Chapter XXX sums up the inspiration and justification for all the precedes it in the "penal code": ut sanentur, "that they may be healed." The monastery is, in the end, an infirmary for weak and wounded souls, a place of healing, of purification, and of transformation. Weaknesses, be they physical or moral, are not shocking in a monastic community. They are expected, diagnosed, and, by the all-sufficient grace of Christ, changed into strengths. The Apostles says, "He (Christ) told me, My grace is enough for you; my strength finds its full scope in your weakness. More than ever, then, I delight to boast of the weaknesses that humiliate me . . . when I am weakest, then I am strongest of all."

An Abbot's Prayer

Saint Aelred's splendid Pastoral Prayer might even have been inspired by elements in Saint Benedict's "penal code." I have always loved this particular section of it:

See me, sweet Lord, see me.
My hope, most Merciful, is in your loving kindness;
for you will see me, either as a good physician sees, intent upon my healing,
or else as a kind master, anxious to correct,
or a forbearing father, longing to forgive.

This, then, is what I ask, O font of pity,
trusting in your mighty mercy and merciful might:
I ask you, by the power of your most sweet name,
and by your holy manhood's mystery,
to put away my sins and heal the languors of my soul,
mindful only of your goodness, not of my ingratitude.

Further, against the vices and evil passuions which still assault my soul,
(whether they come from past bad habit, or from my immeasurable daily negligence,
whether their source is in the weakness of my corrupt and vitiated nature,
or in the secret tempting of malignant spirits)
against these vices, Lord, may your sweet grace afford me strength and courage;
that I may not consent thereto, nor let them reign in this my mortal body,
nor yield my members to be instruments of wickedness.

And as I thus resist,
do you all the while heal all my weakness perfectly,
cure all my wounds, and put back into shape all my deformities.

Saint Aelred (1110-1167), the Bernard of the North, was abbot of Rievaulx in England from 1146 until his death. His Pastoral Prayer reveals how profoundly the Rule of Saint Benedict had shaped his ideal and led him to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.

Confirmetur in eo caritas

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Chapter

This morning at Chapter (a daily reflection on a chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict) we read one of my favourite passages: "That the Abbot Be Solicitous for the Excommunicated" (Chapter XXVII).

Let the Abbot show all care and concern towards erring brethren because "they that are in health need not a physician, but they that are sick" (Mt 9:12). Therefore, like a wise physician he ought to use every opportunity to send consolers, namely, wise elderly brethren, to comfort the troubled brother, as it were, in secret, and induce him to make humble satisfaction; and let them console him "lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow" (2 Cor 2:7); but, as the same Apostle saith, "let your charity towards him be strengthened" (2 Cor 2:8); and let everyone pray for him.

The Excommunicated Brother

First of all, what does Saint Benedict mean by "an excommunicated brother"? Saint Benedict so cherishes life together that he can think of no better corrective measure than depriving a brother, in whole or in part, of participation in the daily round of community activities and, in particular, of meals and of the solemn choral prayer. One might think of it as an adult version of the very effective "time out" that my brother, the father of three, uses with his sometimes obstreperous children.

Toward Repentance and Healing

Saint Benedict is not so much concerned with punishing offences as he is with bringing the offending brother to repentance and to healing. The measures prescribed in the so called "penal code" of the Holy Rule are medicinal and therapeutic, not punitive. Saint Benedict presents them as remedies for the variety of spiritual infirmities that can and do affect even the most fervent monastic communities.

Sapiens Medicus

The brothers in question are not iniquitous criminals; they are weak men who have fallen short of the ideal, frail sinners who keep on missing the mark, even after repeated admonitions and interventions. The first biblical passage that Saint Benedict quotes in this chapter is Matthew 9:12: "They that are in health need not a physician, but they that are ill." He describes the abbot (the father of the monastery) as a sapiens medicus, wise physician. He would have him use "every remedy in his power" to restore an ailing brother to spiritual health.

Salutary Intervention

In my own long experience of religious life, I have, more than once, witnessed situations in which a brother gave clear signs of delinquency; in which there was evidence of patterns of unhealthy and perhaps sinful behaviour; in which a brother by "acting out" was, in fact, crying out for help. Also, more than once, I have witnessed superiors turn a blind eye to the problem, refusing to intervene, even in cases where a wise and compassionate intervention could have brought about a real conversion of life and avoided scandal.

I know of one instance in which a student brother residing in a community other than his own was giving unmistakable signs of moral distress, unhealthy personal choices, and depression. The brother in question kept strange hours, failed to participate in community prayer and meals, and avoided the companionship of the religious residing in the same house. Although the superior of the host community had no canonical authority over this brother (who belonged to another religious Order), he certainly had an evangelical obligation to offer him the ministrations of mercy and of healing. Instead, like the priest and the levite of the parable of the Good Samaritan, the superior passed the brother by; he never sought out the brother for a personal conversation, and never attempted to intervene in a situation that had become a question to many. At the very least, he could have approached the brother in difficulty as a priest to a brother priest and said, "I sense -- or I know -- that you are in difficulty, brother. How can I help?"

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Over a decade later, this same superior, denounced the brother whom he had virtually ignored in the throes of a grave spiritual and emotional crisis. He destroyed the brother's reputation, causing untold anguish and grief. All of this happened long after the brother had recognized the error of his ways, sincerely repented, and begun to strive for holiness of life and emotional health. The superior, although a son of the Seraphic Father Saint Francis, would have done well to take a lesson from the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Consolers

Even when Saint Benedict is obliged to separate a wayward monk from the rest of the community to give him time to reflect, and also to prevent the spread of his spiritual malady to others, the wise abbot sends trustworthy elders to "secretly comfort the troubled brother, to induce him to make humble satisfaction, and to console him lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." Here one sees the magnanimity and resourcefulness of Saint Benedict; the abbot shares the duties of his spiritual paternity with chosen elders in the community. They are, as it were, the envoys of his mercy and paternal tenderness.

Charity and Prayer

When a brother shows signs of spiritual distress by disobedience, possessiveness, disregard for the Rule, or aggressive behaviour, that brother should not be judged, condemned, and forsaken. "Let charity be strengthened toward him," says Saint Benedict. The remedy is more love, not less. And, he adds, "let everyone pray for him." Charity and prayer can melt even the most hardened hearts, provided that those loving and praying, persevere and not lose heart.

The Care of Weakly Souls

The next section of Chapter XXVII reveals the Heart of Jesus living in the heart of Saint Benedict:

For the Abbot is bound to use the greatest solicitude, and to strive with all prudence and diligence, that none of the flock entrusted to him perish. For the Abbot must know that he has taken upon himself the care of weakly souls, not a tyranny over the strong; and let him fear the threat of the Prophet wherein God saith: "What ye saw to be fat, that ye took to yourselves, and what was diseased you threw away" (Ezek 34:3-4). And let him follow the tender example of the Good Shepherd, who, leaving the ninety-nine sheep on the mountains, went to seek the one that had gone astray, on whose weakness He had such pity, that He was pleased to place it on His sacred shoulders and thus carry it back to the fold (cf Lk 15:5).

Paternal Solicitude

In dealing with the wayward sheep of his flock, the abbot is to manifest the greatest solicitude, that is, an almost maternal devotedness. For an abbot after the heart of Saint Benedict there can be no greater tragedy than the loss of a brother. I am reminded of the words of the Apostle Saint Paul: "I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost, that I have great sadness, and continual sorrow in my heart. For I wished myself to be anathema from Christ, for my brethren. . . ." (Rom 9:1-2).

Father and Physician of Souls

The abbot is above all a father and a physician of souls. He is entrusted with the care of those bearing the burden of moral infirmities, and of weaknesses of soul and body. The abbot is not a tyrant driving the strong with threats and inspiring fear; he is a shepherd tending the flock with love and inspiring confidence. Saint Benedict warns the abbot of the sin of preferring "the fat" -- the gifted, the charming, the virtuous, the intelligent, and the comely -- and of throwing away "the diseased" -- the not-so-gifted, the trying, those caught in webs of vice, the unintelligent, and the unattractive.

The Lost Sheep

Saint Benedict enjoins the abbot to follow the tender example of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who leaves the ninety-nine well-behaved and observant sheep, so as to search for the one who, deceived by the world, the flesh, and the devil, has lost his way in the mists of temptation. If that one sheep cannot walk, the abbot is bound to carry him on his shoulders and, perhaps, to keep him by his side until, at length, he recovers health and begins to give signs of newness of life.

Not Just for Monks

In reflecting on this chapter of the Holy Rule, it occurred to me that it could just as well apply to bishops and to their priests as to abbots and their monks. It might even apply to fathers and to their children. At the end of Chapter every morning I pray, "Stir Thou up, O Lord, in our hearts, the Spirit to whom our holy father Saint Benedict was obedient, that filled with tht same Spirit, we might love what he loved and put into practice what he taught. Through Christ our Lord." Would that all priests had a share in the spirit of the Holy Patriarch of Monks: self-sacrificing love, mercy, wisdom, patience, and zeal for souls.


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A Soldier Turned Monk

Today is the feast of Saint Benedict of Aniane (745-821). Under the patronage of Louis the Pious (778-840), Benedict of Aniane, an ex-soldier whose baptismal name was Witiza, promoted the observance of the Rule of Saint Benedict (of Nursia) in the monasteries of the Carolingian empire. As a novice I was introduced to his Concordia Regularum, a collection of ancient monastic rules.

Liturgy of the Day

The liturgy for today's feast has some lovely elements. At Vigils there was a proper hymn; the rest of the Office, apart from the Collect, is from the Common of Monks. The Collect asks for the grace that, through the ages, monks have sought, recovered, and lost over and over again: perfect discipline in Christ!

Deus, qui beati Benedicti abbatis
doctrina et exemplis vitam monasticam renovasti,
eius intercessione concede propitius,
ut perfectam disciplinam teneamus in Christo.

O God, Who by the teaching and example of the blessed abbot Benedict,
didst renew the monastic life,
graciously grant, through his intercession,
that we may hold fast to perfect discipline in Christ.

I don't have at hand the Latin text of the Cistercian variant of the Collect, but I do have the French, which I translate as follows:

Lord our God,
Who called Saint Benedict of Aniane
to restore the monastic fervour of earlier times;
rekindle in us that love of solitude,
relish of the Divine Office,
and zeal for unity,
that inspired him in his work of renewal.

The Surpassing Power of Love

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Preface for the Feast of Saint Scholastica, Virgin


Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Saint Scholastica, obedient to the teaching of Saint Benedict, her brother,
inclined the ear of her heart to the voice of Christ
who led her into the wilderness
and there espoused her in mercy and faithfulness.

This holy virgin chose the best part,
and in preferring nothing to the love of Christ,
reached that love of yours which, being perfect,
drove out all fear.

When in earnest prayer she sought your help,
you answered her outpouring of tears
with a sudden downpour of rain amidst lightning and thunder,
and in this you revealed the surpassing power of love.

In the form of a dove,
her pure soul entered the glory of heaven;
seeing this, her brother was filled with joy
and raised his voice in glad thanksgiving.

Now Saint Scholastica rejoices in you who called her,
and praises you forever with the powers of heaven,
with whom we also raise our voices
in this, their endless hymn of praise:

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Nine

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Blessed Columba's Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary

For those who already know of Blessed Columba Marmion's friendship and frequent spiritual exchanges with Désiré-Joseph Cardinal Mercier (1851-1926), it will come as no surprise that the Abbot of Maredsous, like the Primate of Belgium, stood in the vanguard of the mariological and liturgical movement that sought to recognize and venerate Our Blessed Lady as the Mediatrix of All Graces. Dom Marmion's reflections on the universal mediation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, while expressed with sobriety in carefully measured theological terms, are no less compelling than those of Cardinal Mercier. Both prelates promoted and lived a filial consecration to Our Lady that expressed an entire dependence on her all-powerful maternal supplication.

The Ninth Day of the Novena
Saturday, 30 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

God willed to give His Son to men only through Mary; so, likewise, He wills that all graces should come to them through Mary. As Bossuet put it very effectively: "As God once willed to give us Jesus Christ through the Blessed Virgin, and as the gifts of God are irrevocable, there will be no change in this order. It is and always will be true that, having received, through the charity of Mary, the universal principle of all grace, we shall continue to receive through her mediation the various applications of that grace in all the divers circumstances which make up the Christian life."
The Lord is therefore pleased when we invoke Our Lady as the mediatrix of His pardon and of His benefits. She is our advocate for His mercy. Her prayers and her merits constitute an intercession for us which is unceasing, so that for centuries Christian piety has proclaimed her "The all-powerful suppliant": Omnipotentia supplex.

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When we cast ourselves at the feet of Our Lady, we can say to her, "I am a priest . . . turn towards me your merciful countenance"; Mary sees in us, not only a member of the Mystical Body of her Son, but a minister of Jesus who shares in His priesthood. She sees her divine Son in us and cannot reject us; it would be to reject Jesus Himself. The priest can repeat, with even more confidence than the simple Christian, those beautiful words: "It is a thing unheard of that anyone who had recourse to thy protection and implored thy assistance was left forsaken."
When you feel that you are plunged into an abyss of misery, recall to mind the words of Saint Bernard: "When you feel the breath of temptation passing over your soul . . . invoke Mary . . . if you are troubled by the remorse of conscience, frightened by the thought of the judgment, if you are sinking into the depths of sorrow or discouragement, think of Mary: Mariam cogita."
. . . I would like to make this final point. Before drawing His last breath, Jesus entrusted His Mother to Saint John. In this moment of unique solemnity He gave His disciple a legacy which was supremely precious. And what was the reaction of the apostle, the priest to whom Jesus confided the care of His mother? As a son, "he took her for his own": Accepit eam in sua (Jn 19, 27).
Let us also take Mary for our own, as a son full of affection receives his mother; let us dwell with her, that is to say, let us associate her in our works, in our troubles, in our joys. Does she not desire, more than anyone else, to help each one of us become a holy priest and to reproduce in himself the virtues of Jesus?

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Eight

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Blessed Abbot Marmion's entire chapter XIV, entitled The Divine Office, in Christ, the Ideal of the Priest deserves to be studied, and meditated, and brought to prayer. I never tire of re-reading it. For this next to the last day of our novena in preparation for the anniversary of Blessed Marmion's holy death, I chose but a few paragraphs from a chapter that is, from beginning to end, pure gold.

The Eighth Day of the Novena
Friday, 29 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

The primary object of the Divine Office is to praise God, to pay Him homage. But, in His goodness, the Lord allows the soul who carries out this duty in faith and love to draw from it rich fruits of sanctification.
It is beyond all doubt, as experience teaches us, that the pious recitation of the breviary has the most beneficial effects on the interior life of the priest.
The first and most striking of these is habitual union with Christ in His priesthood of eternal praise. All the glory rendered to God on earth as in heaven ascends to Him only through Jesus Christ. We proclaim this great truth every morning at that solemn moment when we conclude the Canon of the Mass: Per Ipsum et cum Ipso et in Ipso.
When we recite the Hours in communion with the whole Church, Christ, as Head of the Mystical Body and centre of the communion of saints, takes up and unites all our praise in Himself. Even the blessed in heaven must avail of His priestly mediation to sing their heavenly Sanctus: Per quem maiestatem tuam laudant angeli. How imperfect and deficient is our giving of glory! But Christ supplies for our weakness. "If you put in His hands your poor effort," says Blosius, "your lead will be changed into precious gold, your water into the finest wine."

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Seven

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A Book to Own and Meditate

Today's passage from the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion is taken from Union With God, Letters of Spiritual Direction. It is available here from Zaccheus Press.

Sharing in the Passion of Christ

For the friend of Christ, for the member of His Mystical Body, for one baptized into His saving death, and nourished by the adorable Mysteries of His Body and Blood, suffering is a means of union with Jesus, Priest and Victim. In His infinite wisdom, the Father has reserved for each and every member of His Son's Mystical Body a certain portion of His Passion. Our Lord Jesus Christ asks His friends, one by one, if they will allow Him to suffer in them, to complete His Passion in their flesh and in their hearts.

The Holy Spirit

With suffering comes a great anointing. He sends upon one who suffers with Him, and in whom He deigns to suffer, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, so that one may be able to suffer joyfully and in the peace of a complete submission to the designs of His Sacred Heart.

For Priests

Our Lord chooses to have need of our sufferings and asks for them, in some instances, specifically for the renewal of the priesthood in His Church, and for the spiritual regeneration of priests weakened by sin and held in various forms of bondage to evil. To these souls, Our Lord says that, by their humble participation in His Passion many priests will be healed and purified and restored to holiness.

Freely Given

He does not inflict suffering, but He humbly and meekly asks for our "Yes" to it. "Will you," He asks, "consent to this work of mine in you and through you?"

Victimhood

Blessed Dom Marmion, formed by the contemplation of Love Crucified in his daily Way of the Cross, never hesitated to invite souls who sought spiritual counsel from him, to enter into the way of victimhood and to offer themselves to the Father in the hands of Jesus, the Eternal High Priest. The sufferings involved are not extraordinary tortures; they are the sufferings of the body, of the heart, and of the soul that are woven into the fabric of every life. They are the sufferings of the husband, wife, mother, child, sick person, and priest. They are the sufferings of betrayal, abandonment, failure humiliation, weakness, helplessness, pain, and uncertainty. And they are, all of them, infinitely precious in the eyes of the Father when united to the Passion of His Beloved Son.

The Seventh Day of the Novena
Thursday, 28 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

For what regards your weaknesses, your failings, the Good God permits them in order to keep you in humility and in the sense of your nothingness. God can always draw good from our miseries, and when you have been unfaithful and have failed in confidence and in abandon to His holy will, if you humble yourself deeply, you will lose nothing, but on the contrary, you will advance in virtue and in the love of God.
If everything happened you just as you could wish, if you were always in robust health, if all your exercises of devotion were performed to your satisfaction, if you had no doubts and uncertainties for the future, etc., with your character you would quickly become full of self-sufficiency and secret pride; and instead of exciting the bounty of the Father of Mercies and of drawing down His compassion on His poor weak creature, you would be an abomination in God's eyes. "Every proud man is an abomination to the Lord. You must therefore set to work. Our Lord loves you He sees into the depths of your soul, even into recesses hidden from yourself, and He knows what you need; leave Him to act, and don't try to make Our Lord follow your way of seeing things, but follow His in all simplicity.
Uncertainty, anguish, disgust are very bitter remedies necessary to the health of your soul. There is only one road that leads to Jesus, namely that of Calvary; and whosoever will not follow Jesus along upon this road must give up the thought of divine union. "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."
Take courage! I have as much need myself of these considerations as you have, for nature does not like sacrifice, but the reward of sacrifice namely, the love of God, is so great, that we ought to be ready to bear yet more in order to attain it.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Six

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Tomorrow will be the sixth day of our novena seeking the intercession of Blessed Columba Marmion. I invite the readers of Vultus Christi who are joining me in this novena to publish thanks for any graces or favours received through the intercession of Blessed Abbot Marmion by leaving a comment.

The Sixth Day of the Novena
Wednesday, 27 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

The priest is raised to a dignity which is, in a certain sense, divine, for Jesus Christ identifies Himself with him. His role as a mediator is the highest vocation in this world. It is worth repeating; if a priest did nothing during his whole life but offer the holy sacrifice piously every morning, or even if he were to offer it only once, he would have accomplished an act greater in the hierarchy of values than those events which convulse the world. For the effect of every Mass will endure for eternity, and nothing is eternal except the divine.

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We must orient our whole day towards the Mass, It is the central point and the sun of the day. It is, as it were, the focus from which there comes to us light, fervour, and supernatural joy. We must hope that, little by little, our priesthood will take possession of our soul and our life so that it may be said of us: "he is always a priest." That is the effect of a eucharistic life, fragrant with the perfume of the sacrifice which makes us an alter Christus.
How good it is to see a priest after long years of fidelity, living with the true spirit of the divine oblation!
There are many priests entirely dedicated to Christ and to souls who realize this ideal fully; they are the glory of the Church and the joy of the Divine Master.
If we also wish to rise to the heights of our priestly vocation, if we want it to impress its character on our whole existence so as to inflame us with love and zeal, we must prepare our souls to receive the graces of our Mass.
After years it may happen that some souls remark an habitual lack of fervour in the course of their lives. To what must we attribute this? Many reasons may be given. Remember that a radical death to sin, even to deliberate venial sin, is an indispensable condition for the definite triumph of charity in us.
Still, lack of effort to celebrate Mass every morning as well as possible is the most common explanation of a spiritual decline. In fact by the checking up of conscience which it pre-supposes and by the atmosphere with which it surrounds the sacred minister, the pious offering of the holy sacrifice affords the priest every day a providential opportunity to recollect himself, to humble himself, and to pull himself together. If we neglect this means, so well calculated to plunge us back into the supernatural current, we open the way more and more for the invasion of routine and mediocrity into our lives. On the other hand, so long as the concern to celebrate as well as possible remains in the soul, it will never be carried away in the drift.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Five

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Saint Paul and Blessed Columba

Although I am writing this on Monday, 25 January, the feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, it is intended for the fifth day of the Novena, which occurs tomorrow. Matins and Lauds, with their proper antiphons for the Conversion of Saint Paul, were glorious this morning. I had the joy of singing the very same office that Blessed Columba Marmion knew, and sang, and loved. Yes, there is joy in the hermeneutic of continuity!

Savour What You Sing

It is not enough merely to recite or read the antiphons of the Divine Office. Their unique penetrating quality, that which allows them to descend from the mind into the heart and become for us a "sacrament" of the grace of Christ, is intrinsically related to their musical treatment in the Church's liturgical books. One who recites the Office does not, of course, lose out entirely, but the difference between an Office chanted in the cantillations and melodies proper to the Roman Rite and one recited, or sung to other forms of music, is akin to the difference between reading a letter from a loved one, and holding a face-to-face conversation with him. To do this, I know of no better resource than The Gregorian Hours prepared by the Communauté Saint-Martin.

Even a diocesan priest, deacon, or layman who prays the Divine Office "privately" can benefit immensely from beginning to chant parts of it, preferably from the Antiphonale, The Gregorian Hours, or even the Liber Usualis. A first step in that direction is to recite the Office aloud, not in an easy chair, but standing, sitting, bowing, and kneeling as one would in a choral celebration. These simple means of improving the private celebration of the Hours can go a long way in making the Divine Office the principle resource of one's interior life after Holy Mass, and the privileged expression of one's desire to "bless the Lord at all times" (Psalm 33:2).

Blessed Marmion on Saint Paul

Blessed Columba Marmion was greatly devoted to the Apostle of the Nations. He knew Saint Paul's Epistles so well that the Apostle's words came to him spontaneously as he preached and wrote. For your meditation, here is a page from the chapter entitled, Sacerdos Alter Christus, in Blessed Marmion's Christ, the Ideal of the Priest.

The Fifth Day of the Novena
Tuesday, 26 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

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Of all those upon whom Christ conferred the signal honour of associating them with His priesthood no one has better appreciated than Saint Paul the amplitude and the depth of this vocation.
From the moment that Christ revealed Himself to the apostle, the world and public opinion no longer meant anything to him: "I condescended not to flesh and blood" (Gal 1, 16). He knew that he was the minister, the priest, the apostle, of Christ, "predestined as such from the womb of his mother" (Gal 1, 16). He writes to the Corinthians telling them of his life, and how does he describe it? As an unbroken sequence, a wondrous chain of sufferings endured for Christ, and of labours undertaken to make known the riches of His grace: "Thrice I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned." Perils of every kind marked his days: "Perils in the cities . . . perils in the wilderness . . . perils from false brethren." Hunger and cold and all kinds of miseries were his common lot. Besides all this he bore in his heart grave solicitude for the newly founded churches; the personal difficulties of his converts found their echo in his heart: "Who is weak and I am not weak? Who is scandalized and I am not on fire?" (2 Cor 11, 25 and ff.)
Despite these many tribulations, Saint Paul was not overwhelmed. How was it that he maintained his courage? He gives us the explanation: "Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me" (2 Cor 12, 9). Elsewhere he says, "But in all these things we overcome because of Him that hath loved us" (Rom 8, 37). He had attained such a degree of union with the Saviour that he could exclaim: "For to me, to live is Christ" (Phil 1, 21); and again, I live in the faith of the Son of God Who loved me and delivered Himself up for me" (Gal 2, 20). If ever a priest understood the depths of the significance of the Passion and death of Jesus and the immensity of the divine mercy, it was the great Saint Paul. He spoke of himself as "nailed to the Cross with Christ" (Gal 2, 19). Now, he who is attached to the Cross is in very truth a victim.
What was the consequence of all this? He was able to say: "And I live, now not I; but Christ liveth in me" (Gal 2, 20). Christ is in me; you see me act, but this zeal, these words are not from me; they are from Christ, Who inspires my whole life, because I have renounced all that I am in order to be completely His minister. By the grace of God I live by the love of Him Who has given His life for me.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Four

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The icon of Blessed Columba Marmion was written by the hand of Brother Claude, O.S.B., monk of Mount Angel Abbey.

Blessed Columba Marmion and the Word of God

Those who had the happy privilege of hearing Blessed Columba Marmion preach were struck by the abundance of the Word of God that, stored up in his heart, came to flower spontaneously in his discourse. Dom Columba Marmion was thoroughly steeped in the Sacred Scriptures. His familiarity with the Bible came, not so much through systematic study, as through the monastic life's daily round of choral liturgical prayer. Dom Marmion heard, and received, and held in his heart, all that the Sacred Liturgy put on his lips.

His Preaching

It was often remarked that Dom Marmion's preaching had about it a certain divine anointing, a penetrating quality that touched the heart of his hearers. When questioned about this, he would attribute it to the large place that he gave to the Word of God in his preaching and spiritual conferences. He was convinced that a copious and apt use of Scripture, informed by the Sacred Liturgy, invests a priest's preaching with a supernatural efficacy and with the power to move souls.

The Fourth Day of the Novena
Monday, 25 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

A priest taken up with his ministry has not much time at his disposal for supplementary study, but could he not apply himself every day to spiritual reading, to the lectio divina, as St. Benedict calls it? He will be astonished when he realizes after some time how much this daily application, even in small doses, can do to fill his intelligence with great thoughts, to warm the heart, and to maintain the soul in precious contact with the divine mysteries.
Holy Scripture, carefully read, and even learned by heart, will always be like a living fountain in the heart of the priest.
In the Eucharist the Divine Word hides Himself under the sacred species, clothed in majestic silence; in the Scriptures He communicates Himself to us under the form of human speech, which expresses itself according to the manner of our expression.
The Word of God in Himself is incomprehensible. Is He not infinite? In HIs Son the Father gives expression to all that He is and all that He knows. In the Scriptures we read only one small syllable of that incommunicable Word pronounced by the immensity of the Father. In heaven we shall contemplate this living Word, we shall be introduced into its secret, but even here on earth we must keep our intellect in a state of respectful attention to what has been revealed and to that portion of divine Wisdom which has been made known by the Holy Writings.
If you want to touch the hearts of your people, and do good, I cannot repeat to you too often the advice of Saint Paul: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly" (Col 3, 16).

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Three

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The photograph shows Joseph (Columba) Marmion as a seminarian at the Irish College in Rome.

Victims and Victimhood

For today's text from Blessed Columba Marmion, I chose an extract from Christ, the Ideal of the Priest, in which he presents the participation of the faithful in the offering of Christ. Many Catholics become fearful and uneasy when they hear the word "victim" or "victimhood" being applied to themselves. They misconstrue the word as somehow marking them for the most appalling mistreatment by a cruel God. The secular press and media often speak, for example, of the "victim" of a mugging, a rape, a kidnapping, or of some form of abuse. In the minds of many, this has distorted the meaning of "victim soul," a rich and theologically sound expression sometimes encountered in spiritual writings and in the lives of the saints.

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Sacrificial Offering

The theological sense of the word "victim" is a "sacrificial offering." Saint Augustine teaches that a sacrifice is anything or anyone entirely made over to God by being placed literally or symbolically on the altar. The Latin word hostia means victim in this sense; this is why we refer to the bread used in the Holy Sacrifice as the "host." The Eastern Churches call the bread for the Divine Liturgy "the Lamb."

Every Christian is called to make himself over to the Father as a sacrificial offering with Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Prayer Over the Oblations (Secret) of the Mass of Jesus Christ, the Eternal High Priest says this explicitly:

Haec munera, Domine, mediator noster Iesus Christus
Tibi reddat accepta;
et nos, una secum,
hostias Tibi gratas exhibeat.

May our mediator Jesus Christ, O Lord,
make these offerings acceptable to Thee;
and together with Himself
may He present us to Thee as victims.

The Third Day of the Novena
Sunday, 24 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

In every Mass the supreme mystery is, beyond all doubt, the sacramental immolation of Jesus; but the offering presented by the Church comprises in its totality, with the oblation of Christ, the oblation of His members. On the altar as on the Cross, the Saviour is the one victim, holy, pure, and immaculate, but it is His will that we should be associated with Him in His offering as being His complement.
Since the time of His Ascension, Christ has never been separated from His Church. In heaven He presents Himself before the Father with His mystical body brought to its perfection: "not having spot or wrinkle" (Eph 5,27). All the elect, united with Him and amongst themselves, live of the same life of praise in the light of the Word and in the charity of the Holy Spirit.
The mystery of unity and of glorification is prepared here on earth during Mass. The union of the members with the chief is still imperfect. It is ever growing and develops in faith, but on account of their offering with Christ, the faithful participate truly in His character of victim.
What do these words mean: "character of victim?" The mean that by uniting Himself to Christ as He offers Himself, immolates Himself and gives Himself to be our food, the Christian wills to live in a state of constant and total dedication to the glory of the Father. It is thus that Jesus imparts His life in the poverty of the human heart; He makes it like to His own, entirely devoted to God and to souls.
Among the faithful who assist at Mass some are inspired to a generous gesture; carried away by the example and by the grace of Jesus, they imitate Him unreservedly; their offer their being, their thought, their actions, and accept all the troubles, the contradictions and the labours which Providence disposes for them.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

Blessed Marmion Novena: Day Two

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The Second Day of the Novena
Saturday, 23 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

Christ communicates to His priests something more than a mere delegation. He clothes them with His own power; He operates efficaciously through their ministry. That is why their priesthood is so entirely subordinated to that of Christ, but it is from this subordination that its supreme dignity is born; it is the reflection of the priesthood of Christ among us. The priest is entrusted with sacred gifts. And this is so in a double sense: to the Father he offers Jesus sacramentally immolated; this is the supreme gift which the Church on earth presents to God; to men he distrubutes the fruits of the redemption, that is to say he imparts to them the divine graces and pardons. The priest is associated with the whole work of the Cross, as the authorized dispenser of the treasures and the mercies of Christ.

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.

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The image of Blessed Abbot Marmion is a photograph I took of a painting in the Irish College in Rome in 2006. I remain grateful to The Reverend Father Bernard Healy for the opportunity he gave me to make my "Marmion pilgrimage" to the Irish College.

January 30, 2010 will be the 87th anniversary of the death of Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B. His liturgical feast, however, is celebrated on October 3rd, the anniversary of his reception of the abbatial blessing in 1909. In observance of his dies natalis (heavenly birthday), I propose the following novena, composed in the context of this Year of the Priest from the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion in his classic, Christ, the Ideal of the Priest.

The First Day of the Novena
Friday, 22 January 2010

O Holy Spirit, Love of the Father and the Son,
establish Thyself as a furnace of love in the centre of our hearts
and bear constantly upwards, like eager flames,
our thoughts, our affections, and our actions
even to the bosom of the Father.

If anyone should say to you: "To aspire to such elevation of soul is beyond my capacity, I must give up the idea," you should rely firmly: "Yes, it is impossible for you if you must rely on your natural strength and without allowing the necessary length of time." But so powerful is the action of Christ, so sanctifying the influence of a Mass well celebrated, of Holy Communion, of the atmosphere of prayer and of noble generosity in which the priestly life is normally lived, that you must fill your heart with unlimited confidence. If you show even a little fidelity to Him, Christ, by His grace, will raise you up.
Even if your life as a priest appears mediocre in the eyes of some -- the world often judges thus -- you may be sure that, in the eyes of God, it is great and agreeable because the Father sees in it the image of the life of His Son. "For you are dead: and your life is hid with Christ in God" (Col 3, 3).

V. Pray for us, Blessed Columba Marmion.
R. That our lives may be hid with Christ in God.

Let us pray.

O God, Almighty Father,
who, having called the blessed abbot Columba
to the priesthood and to the monastic way of life,
wonderfully opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
grant, in Thy goodness,
that, strengthened by his teachings
in the spirit of our adoption as Thy sons,
we may pray to Thee with a boundless confidence,
and so obtain, through his intercession,
a favourable answer
to the petitions we place before Thee.
[Express your intentions and requests.]
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son,
who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.
R. Amen.


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For the Year of the Priest: a painting of Saint John Mary Vianney with his friend, Saint Peter Julian Eymard

Saint Peter Julian Eymard is one of the principal patrons of the work of the Cenacle here in Tulsa. On the feast of the Epiphany, January 6, 1857 Saint Peter Julian Eymard inaugurated the solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament by which the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament came to life. This week's move to a leased house in Tulsa better suited to a life of prayer and hospitality, and the need for funds to build the new Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, dedicated to Eucharistic adoration for the sanctification of priests, compel me once again to propose the following novena for those who care to make it with me from January 6-14. It would be grand if those making the novena would leave a word in the comment box letting me know it!

Some readers of Vultus Christi may recall that on October 26, 2007 I wrote:

The desire of the Heart of Jesus is that there should be priest adorers and reparators: priests who will adore for those who do not adore, priests who will make reparation for those who do not. Our Lord asks me -- and will ask other priests as well -- to remain in adoration before His Eucharistic Face, offering all the priests of the Church to His Open Heart present in the Sacrament of His Love.

This inspiration was confirmed by the splendid letter of Cardinal Hummes, published on December 7, 2007, inviting to adoration and reparation for priests.

A Daunting Proposition

The Church is blessed with any number of communities of fervent Benedictines, who glorify Our Lord according to the gifts imparted to them, but nowhere does Our Lord find a house of priest-adorers to keep Him company in the Sacrament of His Love, and to offer themselves for their brother priests. The establishment of a new monastery is a daunting proposition. I might be tempted to lose heart, were it not for Our Lord's assurance that the measure of one's weakness is the measure of the deployment of His grace.

The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God's work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: "Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)". For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. (Pope Benedict XVI, Christmas 2009)

Work for Priests

The traditional Benedictine framework and the commitment to the choral liturgy will protect the life of adoration and the work for priests: the interior work of self-oblation in all things, and the exterior works of hospitality, spiritual counsel, and availability to priests in their times of need and inner darkness.

Assent to the Divine Friendship

At the heart of this special vocation is the assent to Our Lord's Divine Friendship, the "yes" to His merciful love uttered on behalf of all priests through a prolonged daily presence in adoration before His Eucharistic Face.

Our Lord desires with an immense desire to purify, and heal, and sanctify His priests. This He does, and will do, by drawing them into the radiance of His Eucharistic Face and the warmth of His Eucharistic Heart. We priests all too easily forget that Our Lord Jesus Christ is present in the Sacrament of His Love to offer us all the good things that come from friendship: companionship, conversation, joy, comfort, hospitality, strength and, above all, love.

Friends of His Heart

Our Lord is hidden in the Blessed Sacrament; His Face is veiled by the sacramental species and His Heart, too, is hidden. He is, nonetheless, really present as True God and True Man, alive, seeing all, knowing all, and burning with desire that all should come to His tabernacles but, first of all, the priests whom He has chosen to be His intimate friends, the friends of His Heart.

A priest who, in adoration, assents to the friendship of Christ, will want for nothing and will make great strides along the path of holiness. Virtue is not difficult for one who abides in the friendship of Christ. The friendship of Jesus for His priests needs to become the subject of conversations, of reflection, of study, and of preaching; more than anything else it needs to become the lived experience of every priest.

Our Lady and Saint John

A priest who abides in the friendship of Christ will accomplish great and wonderful works for souls. This is the secret of a fruitful priesthood. From her place in heaven, Our Blessed Lady is entirely devoted to keeping priests faithful to the Divine Friendship. Saint John, the Beloved Disciple, also intercedes for priests, that they might persevere in the way of friendship with Our Lord and find their joy in the love of His Heart.

The Remedy

Priests who come to adore the Eucharistic Face of Jesus will quickly discover His Heart and, in His Heart they will discover the friendship for which He created them and to which He calls them. The single greatest deficiency of the clergy is that so many priests are ignorant of the tenderness and strength and fidelity of Our Lord's friendship for them. How can this deficiency be remedied? By adoration before the Eucharistic Face of Christ. This is the raison d'être of my work in the Diocese of Tulsa. Pray, then, that the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus will reach an ever greater number of priests, until, in all the Church, the Priesthood of Christ shines with all the splendour of His own holiness.

Epiphany Novena in Honour of Saint Peter Julian Eymard
January 6 -- 14, 2010

Recited after Lauds:

Antiphon: And when they were come into the house,
they found the Child with Mary His Mother,
and fell down and adored Him.

V. Arise, shine, O Jerusalem, for thy light is come.
R. And the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.

Let us pray.

O God, who by the leading of a star,
didst manifest Thine Only-Begotten Son to the Gentiles,
mercifully grant that we,
having been led unto Him by the light of faith,
may, with grateful hearts,
ceaselessly adore Him present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar,
Who is our Mighty King, our Great High Priest, and our Immaculate Victim,
and Who liveth and reigneth with Thee,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.
Amen.

Recited after Vespers:

Antiphon: The Priests shall be holy;
for the offerings of the Lord made by fire,
and the bread of their God, they do offer,
therefore they shall be holy.

V. Pray for us, Saint Peter Julian.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray.

O God, Who through the preaching and example of Saint Peter Julian Eymard,
didst renew the priesthood of Thy Church in holiness
and inflame many souls with zeal
for the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar;
we beseech Thee, through his intercession,
to gather priests of one mind and one heart,
from the rising of the sun to the setting thereof,
to keep watch in adoration before the Eucharistic Face
of Thine Only-Begotten Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ
and to abide before His Open Heart,
in reparation for those who forsake Him, hidden in the tabernacles of the world,
and in thanksgiving for the mercies that ever stream
from the Sacred Mysteries of His Body and Blood.
Who liveth and reigneth with Thee
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, world without end.
Amen.

Holy Innocents

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Rubens' Virgin and Child surrounded by a wreath of chubby, pink Innocents (c. 1618) is delightful. Notice the almost mischievous smile of Baby Jesus. Does He want to leave His Mother's arms to play with His little friends? Or do His little friends want to climb up into the Virgin Mother's lap?

Snow blanketed Eastern Oklahoma on Christmas Eve, and so, in the warmth of the oratory of the Cenacle, the altar aglow with candles, I celebrated Matins, the Mass in Nocte, and, yes, even Lauds. Christmas Day began with Prime and the Mass of dawn.* After Sext, the Mass of the day, and None, I went to the kitchen to prepare Christmas dinner. By Vespers I realized that I had a serious cold or bronchitis and so, leaving Vespers to the choirs of angels, took to my bed. The following morning I called my good friend Dr. Loper who was kind enough to make a house call and prescribe an antibiotic. It will be several days before I will have enough voice to resume singing the Office . . . but in the meantime life goes on.

Dr. Loper came to the Cenacle for Prime and Chapter this morning. This was his first experience of Chapter. The section of the Holy Rule appointed for 28 December is Chaper 70, "That No One Venture to Punish at Random"! When I comment on the Holy Rule, I always try to identify the phrase or phrases that best capture the essence of the section that has been read. Today's key phrases would be: With all moderation and discretion, and Do not to another what you would not want done to yourself.

Moderation in all things is a characteristically Benedictine virtue The Benedictine -- monk, nun, or oblate -- avoids the excessive and the superfluous, and seeks to maintain in all things the good measure dictated by wisdom and prudence. For Saint Benedict, discretion was an all-encompassing virtue, gracing the way of monastic conversion with order, harmony, and balance. Where there is order, harmony, and balance, there will be beauty.

For most of my life, I have been working at acquiring the virtues of moderation and discretion. Not easy when one has the mercurial temperament of a Southern Italian and Celtic ancestry! Excess is in my blood. While the Irish monks of old were known for their excessive austerities and harsh penances, my ancestors of the Kingdom of Naples and the Two Sicilies were known for . . . well . . . other excesses better left unnamed.

There is a reason why we Benedictines listen to the reading of the Holy Rule day after day, and this over a lifetime. The Rule reveals its wisdom only to those who, being thoroughly familiar with the letter of the text, are disposed to go beyond it, to the grand principles holy living that it embodies.

* Brother Juan Diego, being the only novice at present, asked if he might return to his family in Florida until such time as a novitiate of several men might be constituted. When he began the novitiate, we both thought that he would be able to soldier on, but it became apparent that, within the context of enclosed monastic life, he needed more companionship and exchange than I alone could provide.

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Stretching Godward

My own experience is that the Invitatory, with the repetition of its pressing call to adoration, establishes the soul in the realm of "spirit and truth" that is the ground of all prayer. Before entering the quiet vastness of the psalmody, there is the hymn. The rhythm of its poetry, and sometimes its melody, is a kind of "stretching exercise" before settling down for the First Nocturn.

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Beginning on December 17th, the hymn at Matins is Veni, Redemptor Gentium, attributed to Saint Ambrose.

Redeemer of the nations, come!
Appear, Thou Son of Virgin womb!
Astonished be the realms of earth,
for Godlike is His wondrous birth.

The first strophe is a plea for the redemption of all nations and for the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaias: "Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (Is 7:14).

He, of no mortal man conceived,
By mystic influence received,
The Word of God, our flesh is made,
O'er woman's fruit is honour shed.

Saint Ambrose says that the Incarnation of the Word took place "mystico spiramine," that is, by means of a secret inbreathing.

The Virgin's breast an offspring hides,
Unharmed yet modesty abides;
There Virtue's banners shine abroad,
Within His Temple walks our God!

In the Latin text Saint Ambrose realistically evokes the swelling of the Virgin's belly: "Alvus tumescit Virginis." Then he uses the charming expression, "Claustrum pudoris permanet" -- but remains the cloister of purity. He goes on to describe what is happening within the Virgin's womb: the banners of virtue shine forth and God is rocked (versatur) in His Temple. The womb of the Virgin is the Temple of God, and His Temple has become a cradle!

Proceeding from His chamber He,
That royal court of chastity,
Of two-fold substance, Giant Son,
Prepares His mighty course to run.

Forth from the Father He proceeds,
Again unto the Father speeds:
His goings e'en to Hell extend,
And at God's Throne returning end.

The imagery in these two strophes is drawn from Psalm 18:6-7. This psalm will be sung at Vigils of Christmas; it also occurs at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

He hath set his tabernacle in the sun: and he, as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber, Hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way: His going out is from the end of heaven, And his circuit even to the end thereof: and there is no one that can hide himself from his heat.

Here one sings the whole economy of salvation: the exitus a Deo and the reditus ad Deum, the Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery of death, descent into hell, resurrection, and ascension.

To Thy Great Father, Equal Son,
O gird Thy carnal vesture on!
The frailties of mortal flesh
With thy unfailing strength refresh.

Carnis tropaeo accingere: The verb accingere links this strophe to another psalm that will be sung at Vigils of Christmas and at Vigils in the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Psalm 44. Whereas the psalm has the Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding his sword upon his thigh, the hymn has Christ, the true Bridegroom-Warrior-King girding on the flesh of our humanity to reinvigorate it by the virtus -- might -- of His Divinity.

Thy manger, lo! effulgent beams,
Night with unwonted lustre teems,
Which never more shall darkness know,
But shine with Faith's immortal glow.

One hears behind this strophe the language of Psalm 138:12, also woven into the Exultet of the Paschal Vigil: "But darkness shall not be dark to thee, and night shall be light as day: the darkness thereof, and the light thereof are alike to thee." The night of Christ's birth, like that of His resurrection, glows with a divine and heavenly light. This imagery is, of course, related to the parallelism evoked by the "virgin tomb" and "virgin womb."

Glory to God, the Father, be!
And Only Son, alike to Thee,
And to the Spirit Paraclete,
Now and for ever as is meet. Amen.

The doxology of the hymn already indicates that it is time to settle down for the psalmody of the First Nocturn. In comparison to the lyrical quality and melody of the hymn, the psalmody is almost murmured. This is the contemplative heart of the Divine Office. Dom Odo Casel, O.S.B. says:

When the hymn is over, the mind is sufficiently awake and prepared. Now we come to the real purpose of night worship, contemplation. Vast, mysterious, difficult psalms pass before the soul's eye; the mysteries of God make themselves known in hard phrases. The soul wrestles with God for salvation, for knowledge of Him. (The Mystery of Christian Worship).

Brother Juan Diego: From Pop Rock to Gregorian Chant

On Monday, 7 December, following First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Diego Merizalde, in religion, Brother Juan Diego Maria de San Jose, received the monastic habit and so began his noviceship. Brother Juan Diego, 28 years old, is a native of Ecuador and lived, most recently, in Miami, Florida where he studied at the archdiocesan Seminary of Saint John Vianney. Brother Juan Diego is a soccer enthusiast. Before pursuing his vocation, he performed as a Latino pop rock singer!

Brother Juan Diego heard the call to pursue Benedictine life as an Adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus in the Diocese of Tulsa on the feast of Saint Sharbel, 24 July 2009. He humbly asks for the prayers of the readers of Vultus Christi as he engages on the monastic battlefield under the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Three priests of the diocese, the Reverend Fathers Timothy Davison, Michael Dodd, and Elkin Gonzalez chanted Vespers with us and witnessed Dom Mark's conferral of the habit on Brother Juan Diego.

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I do not trust in any strength of my own, for I have experienced my weakness. But, trusting in the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and confident in the mercy of God, I desire with all my heart to do battle under the Rule of Saint Benedict.

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May the Lord strip you of the old man and his deeds.

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The Tunic

May Our Lord Jesus Christ so clothe you with His grace, that you may share by patience in His sufferings, and bear inwardly the image of His Face. Amen.

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The Cincture

May Our Lord Jesus Christ gird you with the cincture of a perfect chastity in honour of His Immaculate Mother, of Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse, and of Saint John, His beloved virgin disciple, that you may follow the Lamb wheresoever He goes. Amen.

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The Scapular

Receive the yoke of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for He is meek and humble of heart. Thus will you find rest for your soul, for His yoke is easy and His burden light. Amen.

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"And you my child, will be known for a prophet of the Most High, going before the Lord, to clear His way before Him." (Lk 1:76)

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"This man will receive a blessing from the Lord and obtain mercy from God his Saviour, for he is of the generation of those who seek the Lord." (Ps 23: 5-6)

Letter to a Soon-to-be Novice

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Second Sunday of Advent

My dear son,

Listening to the Liturgy

You have often heard me say that the sacred liturgy is, first of all, God's word addressed to us. Through the liturgy, Our Lord Jesus Christ addresses His Bride and Body, the Church, and, through the liturgy He speaks to each of us individually. If we incline the ear of our hearts to Him, we will hear His voice and His words will become for us seeds of holiness sown in our souls, promising a harvest of good fruits.

Putting on Christ

Tomorrow evening, after First Vespers of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, you will be clothed in the monastic habit that symbolizes your firm resolve to put on Christ and to walk in newness of life. You will be enrolled officially in the school of the Lord's service to learn the Rule of our blessed father Saint Benedict, and to put it into practice day by day.

Introit

It almost seems as if today's Mass was prepared just for you, in view of this next step in your monastic journey. You belong to the "people of Sion" addressed in the Introit. The Introit contains a wonderful promise, a promise that you must claim for yourself today: "The Lord shall make the glory of His voice to be heard, in the joy of your heart." Is this not why our father Saint Benedict begins his Holy Rule by saying, "Hearken, my son, to the precepts of the master and incline the ear of thy heart" (RB Pro)?

Collect

In the Collect, we ask the Father to "stir up our hearts to prepare the ways of His only-begotten Son, that through His advent, we may attain to serve the Father with purified minds." In this context, "to serve" -- servire -- means to worship, or to offer the sacrifice of praise. Today, this prayer is for you! Ask the Father to stir up your heart to prepare the ways of His Son, the Bridegroom of your soul -- your Redeemer, your Healer, and your King -- that by the grace of His advent, that is, His coming to you in Word and in Sacrament, you may be numbered among the "adorers in spirit and truth" (Jn 4:23) whom the Father desires.

Epistle

The Epistle invites you to be steadfast and patient in the practice of lectio divina. "What things soever were written, were written for our learning: that through patience and the consolation of the Scriptures, we might have hope" (Rom 15:4). The novitiate will be a time of trial calling you to a humble patience, a patience that rests upo your trust in God's merciful love. At the same time, you will have the consolation of the Scriptures hour after hour, day after day, and week after week. Learn to seek and to find your consolation in the Word of God. If you do that, you will always have hope.

Saint Paul also says, "Now the God of patience and comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ; that with one mind and with one mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 15:5-6). We will be of one mind because we are learners in the same school, the "school of the Lord's service," and because the Rule of Saint Benedict will be the principal object of your study and reflection all throughout the year that lies ahead of you. A man who allows himself to be changed and shaped by the Rule of Saint Benedict becomes a human doxology, a man fully alive whose entire being expresses the praise of God's glory, through Christ Jesus, in the Holy Spirit.

The Epistle ends with a wish that is, in effect, a prayer: "Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing: that you may abound in hope, and in the power of the Holy Ghost" (Rom 15:13). If anything is to characterize your noviceship, let it be this: "hope, and the power of the Holy Ghost."

Gradual and Alleluia

The Gradual contains this promise: "Out of Sion, the loveliness of His beauty, God shall come manifestly." The loveliness of the beauty of God that comes forth from Sion is, first of all the Immaculate Virgin Mary. She is the radiant image of the loveliness of the beauty of God. Contemplating Mary, we see already what God desires for the Church, the Bride of Christ, and for each soul. The humiliating struggles of the novice, his application to study, to prayer, to obedience, and to silence are the very things that allow the loveliness of the beauty of God to emerge in his soul. There is no more effective way to cooperate with this than by fixing your gaze upon Mary, the tota pulchra, the all-lovely, and by consecrating yourself to her. With Mary, you will learn to sing at every stage of your monastic pilgrimage: "I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of the Lord" (Ps 121:1).

Gospel

In the Gospel, Our Lord calls Saint John the Baptist the "angel sent before His Face to prepare His way before Him." In a way analogous to the mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mission of Saint John the Baptist will continue until the end of time. Wherever Christ is about to be manifested, John is present. He is charged with readying souls for the advent of the King. He does this by interceding for us from His place in heaven, and by obtaining for us the grace to gaze upon the Lamb of God, and to follow him. Saint John the Baptist is the patron of every novitiate.

Offertory

In the Offertory Antiphon, you will ask Our Lord to show you His mercy. He does this by turning toward you His Eucharistic Face. One who gazes upon the Face of Our Lord with the eyes of faith receives His mercy and experiences His salvation. There is healing in the radiance of His Face.

Secret

The Secret Prayer will remind you (and me too) that we have no merits to plead for us. We have nothing that might allow us to bargain with God. We have only our poverty, and when we go before Him it is with empty hands. God, however, finds empty hands irresistible. You can be confident of receiving His grace so long as your remain poor and humble and empty-handed before Him.

Communion Antiphon and Postcommunion

The Communion Antiphon invites you to arise and to stand in readiness for the joy that comes to you from God. "Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and behold the joy that cometh to thee from thy God" (Bar 5:4; 4:36). This is Our Lord's promise: "I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you" (Jn 16:22). So long as you keep your gaze fixed on the Face of Our Lord, you will be able "to appraise rightly the things of earth and love those of heaven" (Postcommunion). Thus joy will have the last word. I want you to be a joyful novice, and for this reason, I exhort you to look, not at yourself, but at the Face of Our Lord and at the beauty of His Immaculate Mother, the Cause of Our Joy.

He Who Comes

Today and tomorrow you will have ample opportunity to behold the joy that comes to you from God. Be anxious about nothing. Be steadfast in hope. You will not be disappointed because He who comes is faithful.

In lumine vultus Iesu,
Father Prior

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A Mirror for Monks

I was fortunate to obtain for our monastic library a lovely used copy of A Mirror for Monks by Ludovicus Blosius. This particular edition, translated by Sir John Duke Coleridge, was published in London in 1872. Penciled inside the front cover is this note: "Non-Catholic translator, but recommended by Dr Newman."

I first came to know of Blosius when I began reading Blessed Abbot Marmion, who often quotes him. Many years ago I also read Blosius (Louis de Blois) in a French edition that was part of the wonderful "Collection Pax" produced by Maredsous at the beginning of the last century.

The following text is drawn from Chapter One:

First and foremost, therefore, I admonish you often and seriously to consider the end of your coming into your monastery; that being dead to the world and yourself, you may live to God. Strive therefore with might and main to accomplish that for which you came; learn strongly to despise all sensible things, and manfully to break, and no less wholesomely to forsake yourself. Make haste to mortify your passions and vicious affections that are in you.

Busy yourself in repressing the unstable wanderings of your heart;
strive to overcome weariness, idleness, and the irksomeness of your
infirm mind. Spend your daily labour in these things; let this be your
glorious contention and healthful affliction. Be not remiss; but arise,
watch, look about you, and expose yourself wholly, lest you be evilly
partial to yourself. God requireth thus much of you; so doth your
state.

You are called a Monk: see that you be truly what you are called. Do
the work of a Monk. Labour earnestly in beating down and casting forth
vice.

Be always armed against the frowardness of nature, against the
haughtiness of mind, against the pleasures of your flesh, and the
enticements of sensuality. Understand well what I say. If you permit
pride, boasting, vainglory, self-complacence, to domineer over your
reason, you are no Monk.

If you frowardly follow your own sense, and dare despise every humble
office, you are not what you are called--you are no Monk.

If as much as in you lieth you repel not envy, hatred, maliciousness,
indignation; if you reject not rash suspicions, childish complaints,
and wicked murmurings, you are no Monk.

If a contentious and earnest strife being risen between you and
another, you do not presently treat of a reconciliation, and what wrong
soever hath been done, you do not presently pardon sincerely, but seek
for revenge, and retain a voluntary private grudge, and not a true and
sincere affection in your heart, or show outwardly signs of
disaffection--nay, if when occasion and necessity requireth, you defer
to help him that hath injured you, you are no Monk, you are no
Christian, you are abominable before God.

If having done amiss, you are ashamed regularly to accuse yourself and
freely to confess your fault; if being blamed, reproved, and corrected,
you be not patient and humble, you are no Monk.

If you neglect readily and faithfully to obey your ghostly Father, if
you refuse to reverence and sincerely to love him as God's vicar, you
are no Monk.

If you willingly withdraw yourself from the Divine Office and other
conventual acts, if you assist not watchfully and reverently in the
service of God, you are no Monk.

If, neglecting internal things, you take care only about the external,
and with a certain dry custom move your body but not your heart to the
works of religion, you are no Monk.

If you give not your mind to holy reading and other spiritual
exercises, if you have your mind so possessed with transitory matters
that you seldom lift yourself up to eternal, you are no Monk.

If you desire delicate and superfluous meats, and intemperately long
after the drinking of wine beyond the measure of a cup, especially if
you be in health, and have beer or other convenient drink sufficiently,
you are no Monk.

If foolishly you require precious apparel, soft beds, and other solaces
of the flesh which agree not with your state and profession; if, loving
corporal rest, you refuse to undergo labour and affliction for God's
sake, you are no Monk.

If you cannot endure solitude and silence, but are delighted with idle
speeches and inordinate laughter, you are no Monk.

If you love to be with seculars, if you desire to wander out of the
monastery through the villages and cities, you are no Monk.

If you presume to take any small matter, to send, receive, or keep any
things without the knowledge or permission of your Superior, you are no
Monk.

If you esteem not the ordinations of holy religion, though never so
little, and willingly do transgress them, you are no Monk. To conclude:
If you seek any other thing in the monastery but God, and with might
and main aspire not to perfection, you are no Monk.

As I have said, therefore, that you may truly be what you are called,
and may not wear the habit of a Monk in vain, do the work of a Monk.
Arm yourself against yourself, and as much as in you lieth overcome and
subdue yourself. If presently you find not the peace you desire; if, I
say, as yet you cannot be at rest, but are troubled and assailed by
brutish motions and turbulent passions: yea, if so be by God's
permission, for your own profit, throughout your whole life you shall
have to do with such enemies, despair not, be not effeminately
dejected, but, humbling yourself before God, stand and be steadfast in
your place, and skirmish stoutly; for even the vessel of election, St.
Paul, endured temptations all his lifetime, in which he was buffeted by
the angel of Satan. When he often beseeched our Lord to be freed from
this trouble he obtained it not, for that it was not expedient for him;
but our Lord answered his prayer, "My grace is sufficient for thee, for
strength is perfected in weakness." And so afterwards St. Paul did
gratefully endure the scourge of temptation.

Being comforted by the example of this most strong and invincible champion, faint not in temptation, but endure manfully, remaining fixed and immoveable in this holy purpose; for without doubt, this labour of yours is grateful to God, although the same seem hard and insufferable to you. Go through this spiritual martyrdom with an invincible mind. Doubt not, although you be a thousand times wounded, and as often trod under foot, if you stand to it, if you give not ground to your enemy and like a coward cast not away your weapons, you shall receive a crown.

Do according to your ability, and commend the rest to God's disposing, saying: As Thy will is in Heaven, so be it done. Let the divine will and ordination be your chief consolation. Which way soever you turn yourself, wheresoever you are, you shall find tribulations and temptations as long as this life lasteth; which, that you may patiently endure, you ought always to be prepared.

An Oblate's Day

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Jon is the first postulant for the secular Oblature of our monastery. Married and the father of two sons, he lives in Pennsylvania. After reading my entry on the horarium we follow here in Tulsa, Jon was inspired to share something of his life as a son of Saint Benedict living in the world. He gave me permission to share his letter with the readers of Vultus Christi. My own comments are in italics. Jeff in Maryland, Tracy in Tulsa, the men in our diocesan diaconate program, and a number of other friends and readers will really enjoy this!

Dear Father Mark,

Thanks for sharing on Vultus Christi the horarium at Our Lady of the Cenacle. I was wondering myself what your precise schedule was. Not to cause jealousy, but being "back east," I could follow along an hour later and still be in-sync!

It made me think that you and the brothers might be curious as to what sort of schedule their one-foot-in-the-world oblate postulant follows. I also thought my experience might be useful for the future, when an inquirer might ask, "just how do you fit this stuff into your life?"

Yes, secular Oblates need to have a daily rule of prayer adapted to their state in life.

Well, first of all, as I've already shared, I've prayed the Office for many years, but like all oblates, I incorporate as much of the Rule into my daily life as possible. I pay especial attention to Chapter IV, The Instruments of Good Works, as a guide to my personal behavior, and considering the overall role of the abbot as it applies to my vocation of husband and father.

Isn't it wonderful to hear a man say: "I incorporate as much of the Rule into my daily life as possible"? Jon is spot on when he refers to Chapter IV of the Holy Rule (The Instruments of Good Works). And yes, Saint Benedict's presentation of the abbot and the virtues that must characterize his paternity can be wisely adapted to the vocation of the father of a family.

As a defining constitution, so to speak, I've adopted this short and sweet gem of Dom Gueranger's I found a while back.

On Sundays and Festivals they will attend, by preference, High Mass, in the churches where it is celebrated with the ecclesiastical chant and ritual.
Should they find inconvenience in communicating at a late hour, they will make their Communion previously, at an early Mass. They will attentively follow all the rites and ceremonies performed by the priests and attendants at the altar, will do their best by previous study and consideration to enter into their meaning, and thus meritoriously qualify themselves for the fuller reception of the grace implanted in them by the Holy Spirit. [Let them, so to speak, not be satisfied with merely inhaling the fragrance, but let them also gather the honey from these flowers of the garden of the Church.]
They will follow the ecclesiastical chant by the aid, if needful, of translations of the formularies, and they will avoid distracting their attention from the holy mysteries by other books of devotion, etc., which may be excellent, perhaps, at other times, but which at these moments would be harmful, by keeping them apart from the sacred Liturgy.
Attendance at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the act of piety to which, of all others, they will attach the highest importance. There, wherein is renewed the Sacred Passion of Our Lord, they will offer to God the Divine Victim, in union with the Church, for the four ends of Adoration, Thanksgiving, Propitiation, and Petition. On the days when they do not communicate they will make a spiritual Communion at the moment when the priest is making the Sacramental Communion, and for this they will prepare themselves by the act of contrition and offering of themselves to God.
Next to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, they will esteem nothing so much as the Divine office, by which the Church renders to God her continual homage in the canonical hours. On Sundays and festivals they will gladly be present at Vespers and Compline, and will endeavour, as far as it may be possible for them, to join with Holy Church in the chanting of her psalms and hymns. Let them be especially thankful to God if He should give them grace to take delight in the Psalter, remembering that, in the ages of faith, it was most frequently through the psalms that God was pleased to communicate with souls. They will prefer those churches in which the Divine Office is celebrated according to ecclesiastical rule, such as the cathedral or any other. Even in their private devotions they will take pleasure in using the prayers of the Church to express their needs and aspirations.
They will earnestly desire to unite themselves to God by mental prayer; and in this they will he powerfully assisted by their union with the Church in the sacred Liturgy. The different seasons of the Church's year will bring before them the mysteries which are the groundwork of piety and the source of the true spirit of prayer. They will often visit Our Lord in the holy Tabernacle, and will not fail to appreciate their happiness whenever they are able to be present at Benediction, to receive the blessing of the most holy Sacrament.

As for an horarium, of course being on medical leave until November 2nd, I'm able to do a little more, but given that I'm either working out of the house or traveling, I'm able to typically do the following:

This part of Jon's letter reminds me of certain pages in Dom Thomas Verner Moore's classic book: "The Life of Man With God."

On Waking:

I always try to make my first thought and prayer, " Laudetur Iesus Christus, in aeternum. Amen."

From there I make my coffee, and depending on my upcoming schedule, usually then sit in my home office and pray Lauds from the Monastic Diurnal. If I have a busy morning coming up, or if I get started late for whatever reason, I pray Prime. Although especially for a working man, I find Prime very meaningful and suited to my station, I try to pray Lauds whenever I can. Also, if I pray Prime, I'll read from the Roman Martyrology (I haven't been able to find the Benedictine one on the web) for the day. If I pray Lauds, I'll take my copies Roman Breviary, and read the Lesson from Matins.

I have long been of the opinion that Prime and Compline are the working man's Hours of the Divine Office. Brief and, for the most part, invariable, they correspond to the natural rhythm of the working man's day and family life. My dear and venerable friend, artist Adé de Béthune, another Benedictine Oblate, used to pray Prime and Compline, as did many Catholic layfolk prior to the Second Vatican Council. The push to make Lauds and Vespers the daily prayer of ordinary people in the world was, I think, the idea of an elite who had never asked the folks in question what really worked for them. Jon's solution is the best one: Prime and Compline on workdays and Lauds and Vespers on Sundays and when one has the leisure to devote to them.

To fulfill my task of praying for priests, after either Lauds or Prime, I pray the Fraternity's "Confraternity Prayer," which works very nicely. I have it on a little card I carry in my diurnal.

V. Remember, O Lord, Thy congregation.
R. Which Thou hast possessed from the beginning.
Let us pray. O Lord Jesus, born to give testimony to the Truth, Thou who lovest unto the end those whom Thou hadst chosen, kindly hear our prayers for our pastors. Thou who knowest all things, knowest that they love Thee and can do all things in Thee who strengthen them. Sanctify them in Truth. Pour into them, we beseech Thee, the Spirit whom Thou didst give to Thy apostles, who would make them, in all things, like unto Thee. Receive the homage of love which they offer up to Thee, who hast graciously received the threefold confession of Peter. And so that a pure oblation may everywhere be offered without ceasing unto the Most Holy Trinity, graciously enrich their number and keep them in Thy love, who art one with the Father and the Holy Ghost, to whom be glory and honour forever. Amen.

Intercession for priests is integral to the special vocation of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle; it must therefore occupy an important place in the prayer of our Oblates.

At noon I stop for a minute and pray the Angelus.

The Angelus is a really a little Votive Office of the Incarnation. Its very structure is liturgical. Easily memorized, it can become the "Little Office" of every Catholic man, woman, and child.

In the evening I'll pray Vespers when I have a few moments anytime between 3 o'clock and supper.

This is great: Jon gives himself enough time to pray Vespers, and he does so earlier in the afternoon rather than later in the evening. Many of the classic spiritual authors recommend praying Vespers early in the afternoon, and with good reason. Folks who have to prepare and serve the evening meal, or who have other suppertime obligations, will want to follow's Jon's very sensible approach to praying Vespers.

Before turning in I pray Compline, either with one of my two boys (12 and 15), or I pray it while lying in bed. Sometimes my wife and I will pray Compline together, but when we do, we use the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin, as she's more familiar with it. I fall asleep praying the Rosary, and ask my guardian angel to finish the job.

Now that is beautiful: a Dad who prays Compline with his sons! The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin is a liturgical prayer that fits life in the world. The fact that it is basically the same, day after day, allows one to become comfortable with it, and to deepen its rich biblical content.

There was a reason why many active (apostolic) Congregations of religious chose the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin as their prayer. Moreover, in Sacrosanctum Concilium, article 98, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wisely state: "They too perform the public prayer of the Church who, in virtue of their constitutions, recite any short office, provided this is drawn up after the pattern of the divine office and is duly approved."

When both boys were small, I prayed Compline together with both of them every night. They always got excited at "the devil, like a roaring lion, goes about seeking someone to devour." Memorable image for little boys, that. This lasted until high school and homework intruded. I'd say four out of seven nights though I still pray it with at least one of them.

What small boy wouldn't thrill to that vivid image of the Short Lesson at Compline? A roaring lion seeking someone to devour!

I also spend a few minutes in lectio divina, taking ten to fifteen minutes sometime in the day when I have a chance. Usually it's while I eat my lunch, whether in my office, a hotel room, or even a restaurant. But it can also be sometime in the evening - whatever works.

Jon knows that one can live the Rule of Saint BenedIct without a commitment to lectio divina. He finds the time that works for him, and he does it.

On Friday nights or a feast of Our Lady, as often as possible we'll say the Rosary together before an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (very popular here in PA, land of St. John Neumann and the Redemptorists) that hangs in our front room.

It is significant that the icon of Our Lady here in the oratory of the monastery should also be Our Mother of Perpetual Help. She is Our Lady Abbess, our Mother ready to help us at every moment. The family Rosary brings wonderful blessings to those who pray it. Our little monastic family also prays the Rosary together daily, immediately after the Hour of Sext.

I don't press family devotions more than that, as both of my sons enthusiastically serve the Traditional Mass on Sundays usually twice a month, and on Saturday mornings once a month as well. They also serve during the week on holy days, too, if need be. And there's Grace said before every meal - whether at home or in public. I try to keep things balanced, and want them to remember their childhood Faith experience with joy, and not as an oppressive duty. That way my wife and I hope the watered seed will grow.

And that too is eminently Benedictine: "I try to keep things balanced." Jon is very wise in his desire to communicate the faith to his children with joy, eschewing the burden of a duty that oppresses.

As for parish life, I sing in the schola, and am a member of the Holy Name Society. Oh, and I do whatever Father drafts me to do. My wife takes care of organizing the religious ed/sacrament training classes for the parish.

And parish life. Yes. The Benedictine Oblate cannot remain aloof from the parish at the heart of which stands the altar of Christ's Sacrifice.

That might seem like a lot, but it isn't. I found I used to spend even more time than that plunked in front of the television. Also, none of this binds under sin, and I don't let it bother me if other duties or affairs intrude. I do what I can. Some days, like snow days, or if I'm ill, I can do more. During the Octave of Christmas and the Easter Triduum, I make it an effort to pray Matins and the Little Hours.

Wisdom! Be attentive. There's the key: I do what I can.

There you have it, the exciting life of your humble oblate postulant.

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity. Like the precious ointment on the head, that ran down upon the beard, the beard of Aaron...

Jon

Pope Benedict on Saint Bernard

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Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.

This morning the Holy Father presented another great monastic figure: Saint Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux, the Last of the Fathers. Pope Benedict XVI's love for the monastic vocation shines through this and many of his other discourses and writings. It is an immense grace to be involved in the foundation of a Benedictine monastery during this pontificate.

The Last of the Fathers

Dear brothers and sisters,

Today I would like to speak about St. Bernard of Clairvaux, called "the last father" of the Church, because in the 12th century he renewed once again and rendered present the great theology of the Fathers. We do not know details about the years of his boyhood. We know, nevertheless, that he was born in 1090 in Fontaines, France, in a numerous, moderately comfortable family. As a youth, he spent himself in the study of the so-called liberal arts -- especially grammar, rhetoric and dialectics -- at the school of the canons of the church of St. Vorles, in Chatillon-sur-Seine, and he slowly matured his decision to enter the religious life.

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Cîteaux and Clairvaux

When he was about 20, he entered Citeaux, a new monastic foundation, more flexible than the old and venerable monasteries of the time and, at the same time, more rigorous in the practice of the evangelical counsels. A few years later, in 1115, Bernard was invited by St. Stephen Harding, third abbot of Citeaux, to found the monastery of Clairvaux. Here the young abbot -- who was only 25 years old -- was able to refine his concept of monastic life, and to be determined to put it into practice. Looking at the discipline of other monasteries, Bernard decidedly reclaimed the need for a sober and measured life, at table as well as in dress and in the monastic buildings, recommending the support and care of the poor. In the meantime, the community of Clairvaux became ever more numerous and multiplied its foundations.

Friend and Writer

In those same years, before 1130, Bernard maintained a vast correspondence with many persons, whether of important or modest social conditions. To the many letters of this period must be added numerous sermons, as well as sentences and treatises. Striking at this time was Bernard's friendship with William, abbot of St. Thierry, and with William of Champeaux, among the most important figures of the 12th century.

From 1130 onward, he began to be concerned with not a few grave questions of the Holy See and of the Church. For this reason, he had to go out of his monastery ever more often, and sometimes outside of France. He also founded some women's convents, and was protagonist of a lively correspondence with Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, about whom I spoke last Wednesday.

Defender of the Jews

He addressed his controversial writings above all against Abelard, a great thinker who began a new way of making theology, introducing above all the dialectic-philosophical method in the construction of theological thought. Another front against which Bernard fought was the heresy of the Cathars, who held matter and the human body in contempt, consequently scorning the Creator. As well, he felt it his duty to take on the defense of the Jews, condemning the ever more diffuse resurgence of anti-Semitism. For this last aspect of his apostolic action, some 10 years later, Ephraim, rabbi of Bonn, addressed a vibrant tribute to Bernard. In that same period the holy abbot wrote his most famous works, such as the well-known Sermons on the Canticle of Canticles.

In the last years of his life -- his death occurred in 1153 -- Bernard had to limit his journeys, without however interrupting them altogether. He took advantage to review definitively the whole of the letters, sermons and treatises.

A Book for Popes

Worthy of being mentioned is a book that is quite singular, that he finished precisely in this period, in 1145, when one of his pupils, Bernard Pignatelli, was elected Pope, taking the name Eugene III. In this circumstance, Bernard, in the capacity of spiritual father, wrote to this spiritual son of his the text "De Consideratione," which contains teachings on how to be a good pope. In this book, which remains an appropriate book for popes of all times, Bernard does not only indicate what it is to be a good pope, but also expresses a profound vision of the mystery of the Church and of the mystery of Christ, which is resolved, in the end, in the contemplation of the mystery of the Triune and One God: "He must again continue the search of this God, who is not yet sufficiently sought," writes the holy abbot "but perhaps He can be sought better and found more easily with prayer than with discussion. We put an end here to the book, but not to the search" (XIV, 32: PL 182, 808), to being on the way to God.

Doctor Mellifluus

I would now like to reflect on two key aspects of Bernard's rich doctrine: they regard Jesus Christ and Mary Most Holy, his Mother. His solicitude for the intimate and vital participation of the Christian in the love of God in Jesus Christ does not offer new guidelines in the scientific status of theology. But, in a more than decisive way, the abbot of Clairvaux configures the theologian to the contemplative and the mystic. Only Jesus -- insists Bernard in face of the complex dialectical reasoning of his time -- only Jesus is "honey to the mouth, song to the ear, joy to the heart (mel in ore, in aure melos, in corde iubilum)." From here stems, in fact, the title attributed to him by tradition of Doctor Mellifluus: his praise of Jesus Christ, in fact, "runs like honey."

Only Jesus

In the extenuating battles between nominalists and realists -- two philosophical currents of the age -- the abbot of Clairvaux does not tire of repeating that only one name counts, that of Jesus the Nazarene. "Arid is all food of the soul," he confesses, "if it is not sprinkled with this oil; insipid, if it is not seasoned with this salt. What is written has no flavor for me, if I have not read Jesus." And he concludes: "When you discuss or speak, nothing has flavor for me, if I have not heard resound the name of Jesus" (Sermones in Cantica Canticorum XV, 6: PL 183,847).

The Friendship of Christ

For Bernard, in fact, true knowledge of God consists in a personal, profound experience of Jesus Christ and of his love. And this, dear brothers and sisters, is true for every Christian: Faith is above all a personal, intimate encounter with Jesus, and to experience his closeness, his friendship, his love; only in this way does one learn to know him ever more, and to love and follow him ever more. May this happen to each one of us.

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Mary's Participation in the Passion of Jesus

In another famous sermon on the Sunday Between the Octave of the Assumption, the holy abbot describes in impassioned terms the intimate participation of Mary in the redeeming sacrifice of the Son. "O holy Mother," he exclaims, "truly a sword has pierced your soul! ... To such a point the violence of pain has pierced your soul, that with reason we can call you more than martyr, because your participation in the Passion of the Son greatly exceeded in intensity the physical sufferings of martyrdom" (14: PL 183, 437-438).

To Jesus Through Mary

Bernard has no doubts: "per Mariam ad Iesum," through Mary we are led to Jesus. He attests clearly to Mary's subordination to Jesus, according to the principles of traditional Mariology. But the body of the sermon also documents the privileged place of the Virgin in the economy of salvation, in reference to the very singular participation of the Mother (compassio) in the sacrifice of the Son. It is no accident that, a century and a half after Bernard's death, Dante Alighieri, in the last canto of the Divine Comedy, puts on the lips of the "Mellifluous Doctor" the sublime prayer to Mary: "Virgin Mary, daughter of your Son,/ humble and higher than a creature,/ fixed end of eternal counsel, ..." (Paradiso 33, vv. 1ss.).

The Science of the Saints

These reflections, characteristic of one in love with Jesus and Mary as St. Bernard was, rightly inflame again today not only theologians but all believers. At times an attempt is made to resolve the fundamental questions on God, on man and on the world with the sole force of reason. Instead, St. Bernard, solidly based on the Bible and on the Fathers of the Church, reminds us that without a profound faith in God, nourished by prayer and contemplation, by a profound relationship with the Lord, our reflections on the divine mysteries risk becoming a futile intellectual exercise, and lose their credibility. Theology takes us back to the "science of the saints," to their intuitions of the mysteries of the living God, to their wisdom, gift of the Holy Spirit, which become the point of reference for theological thought.

Together with Bernard of Clairvaux, we too must recognize that man seeks God better and finds him more easily "with prayer than with discussion." In the end, the truest figure of the theologian and of every evangelizer is that of the Apostle John, who leaned his head on the heart of the Master.

Think of Mary, Call on Mary

I would like to conclude these reflections on St. Bernard with the invocations to Mary that we read in one of his beautiful homilies. "In danger, in anguish, in uncertainty," he says, "think of Mary, call on Mary. May she never be far from your lips, from your heart; and thus you will be able to obtain the help of her prayer, never forget the example of her life. If you follow her, you cannot go astray; if you pray to her, you cannot despair; if you think of her, you cannot be mistaken. If she sustains you, you cannot fall; if she protects you, you have nothing to fear; if she guides you, do not tire; if she is propitious to you, you will reach the goal ..." (Hom. II super "Missus est," 17: PL 183, 70-71).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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In yesterday's general audience, our extraordinarily "Benedictine" Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, presented the figure of Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny. For the nascent Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, this teaching represents a foundational element. Pope Benedict XVI is, in a very real way, the father of our little monastery. The translation appeared on Zenit.

The characteristic theological piety of Peter and of the Cluniac Order: wholly set to the contemplation of the glorious face (gloriosa facies) of Christ, finding there the reasons for that ardent joy that marked his spirit and was radiated in the liturgy of the monastery.

The Beauty of the Liturgy

Dear brothers and sisters,

The figure of Peter the Venerable, which I wish to present in today's catechesis, takes us back to the famous abbey of Cluny, to its "decorum" (decor) and its "lucidity" (nitor), to use terms that recur in the Cluniac texts -- decorum and splendor-- which are admired above all in the beauty of the liturgy, the privileged path to reach God.

Holiness

Even more than these aspects, however, Peter's personality recalls the holiness of the great Cluniac abbots: At Cluny "there was not a single abbot who was not a saint," said Pope Gregory VII in 1080. Among these is Peter the Venerable, who to some degree gathers in himself all the virtues of his predecessors -- although already with him, Cluny, faced with new orders such as that of Citeaux, began to experience symptoms of crisis.

Peace

Born around 1094 in the French region of Auvergne, he entered as a child in the monastery of Sauxillanges, where he became a professed monk and then prior. He was elected abbot of Cluny in 1122, and remained in this office until his death, which occurred on Christmas Day, 1156, as he had wished. "Lover of peace," wrote his biographer, Rudolph, "he obtained peace in the glory of God on the day of peace" (Vita, I, 17; PL 189, 28).

The Habit of Forgiving

All those who knew him praised his elegant meekness, serene balance, self-control, correctness, loyalty, lucidity and special attitude in mediating. "It is in my very nature," he wrote, "to be somewhat led to indulgence; I am incited to this by my habit of forgiving. I am used to enduring and forgiving" (Ep. 192, in: "The Letters of Peter the Venerable," Harvard University Press, 1967, p. 446).

Happy With His Lot

He also said: "With those who hate peace we wish, possibly, to always be peaceful" (Ep. 100, 1.c., p. 261). And of himself, he wrote: "I am not one of those who is not happy with his lot ... whose spirit is always anxious and doubtful, and who laments that all the others are resting and he alone is working" (Ep. 182, p. 425).

Gracious and Affectionate

Of a sensitive and affectionate nature, he was able to combine love of the Lord with tenderness toward his family, particularly his mother, and his friends. He was a cultivator of friendship, especially in his meetings with his monks, who usually confided in him, certain of being received and understood. According to the testimony of his biographer, "he did not disregard or refuse anyone" (Vita, 1,3: PL 189,19); "he seemed gracious to all; in his innate goodness, he was open to all" (ibid., I,1: PL, 189, 17).

Tolerance

We could say that this holy abbot is an example also for the monks and Christians of our time, marked by a frenetic rhythm of life, where incidents of intolerance and lack of communication, division and conflicts are not rare. His witness invites us to be able to combine love of God with love of neighbor, and never tire of renewing relations of fraternity and reconciliation. In this way, in fact, Peter the Venerable behaved, finding himself guiding the monastery of Cluny in years that were not very tranquil for several external and internal reasons, succeeding in being simultaneously severe and gifted with profound humanity. He used to say: "You will be able to obtain more from a man by tolerating him, than by irritating him with complaints" (Ep. 172, 1.c., 409).

In the Midst of Many Cares

Because of his office, he had to make frequent trips to Italy, England, Germany and Spain. Forced abandonment of contemplative stillness weighed on him. He confessed: "I go from one place to another, I am anxious, disturbed, tormented, dragged here and there; my mind is turned now to my affairs, now to those of others, not without great agitation to my spirit" (Ep. 91, 1.c., p. 233). Although having to maneuver between the powers and lordships that surrounded Cluny, nevertheless, thanks to his sense of measure, his magnanimity and his realism, he succeeded in keeping his habitual tranquility. Among the personalities with whom he interacted was Bernard of Clairvaux, with whom he enjoyed a relationship of growing friendship, despite differences of temperament and perspectives. Bernard described him as an "important man, occupied in important affairs" and he greatly esteemed him (Ep. 147, ed. Scriptorium Claravallense, Milan, 1986, VI/1, pp. 658-660), whereas Peter the Venerable described Bernard as "lamp of the Church" (Ep. 164, p. 396), "strong and splendid column of the monastic order and of the whole Church" (Ep. 175, p. 418).

The Wounds of the Body of Christ

With a lively ecclesial sense, Peter the Venerable said that the affairs of Christian people should be felt in the "depth of the heart" of those who number themselves "among the members of the Body of Christ" (Ep. 164, 1.c., p. 397). And he added: "He is not nourished by Christ who does not feel the wounds of the Body of Christ," wherever these are produced (ibid.). Moreover, he showed care and solicitude even for those who were outside the Church, in particular for the Jews and Muslims: to foster knowledge of the latter he had the Quran translated. In this regard, a recent historian observed: "Amid the intransigence of the men of Medieval times, also among the greatest of them, we admire here a sublime example of the delicacy to which Christian charity leads" (J. Leclercq, Pietro il Venerabile, Jaca Book, 1991, p. 189).

Love of the Eucharist and of the Virgin Mary

Other aspects of Christian life dear to him were love of the Eucharist and devotion to the Virgin Mary. On the Most Holy Sacrament he has left us pages that are "one of the masterpieces of Eucharistic literature of all times" (ibid., p. 267), and on the Mother of God he wrote illuminating reflections, always contemplating her in close relationship with Jesus the Redeemer and his work of salvation. Suffice it to report this inspired elevation of his: "Hail, Blessed Virgin, who put malediction to flight. Hail, Mother of the Most High, spouse of the most meek Lamb. You conquered the serpent, you have crushed his head, when the God generated by you annihilated him ... Shining star of the East, who puts to flight the shadows of the West. Dawn that precedes the sun, day that ignores the night ... Pray to God born from you, so that he will absolve us from our sin and, after forgiveness, grant us grace and glory" (Carmina, Pl 189, 1018-1019).

The Radiant Face of Christ

Peter the Venerable also nourished a predilection for literary activity and he had the talent. He wrote down his reflections, persuaded of the importance of using the pen almost like a plough "to scatter on paper the seed of the Word" (Ep. 20, p. 38). Although he was not a systematic theologian, he was a great researcher of the mystery of God. His theology sinks its roots in prayer, especially the liturgy, and among the mysteries of Christ he favored the Transfiguration, in which the Resurrection is already prefigured. It was in fact he who introduced this feast at Cluny, composing a special office for it, in which is reflected the characteristic theological piety of Peter and of the Cluniac Order, wholly set to the contemplation of the glorious face (gloriosa facies) of Christ, finding there the reasons for that ardent joy that marked his spirit and was radiated in the liturgy of the monastery.

Adhering Tenaciously to Christ

Dear brothers and sisters, this holy monk is certainly a great example of monastic sanctity, nourished at the sources of the Benedictine tradition. For him, the ideal of the monk consisted in "adhering tenaciously to Christ" (Ep. 53, 1.c., p. 161), in a cloistered life marked by "monastic humility" (ibid.) and industriousness (Ep. 77, 1.c., p. 211), as well as by a climate of silent contemplation and constant praise of God. According to Peter of Cluny, the first and most important occupation of a monk is the solemn celebration of the Divine Office --"heavenly work and of all the most useful" (Statuta, I, 1026) -- to be supported with reading, meditation, personal prayer and penance observed with discretion (cf. Ep. 20, 1.c., p. 40).

The Ideal of the Monk and of Every Christian

In this way the whole of life is pervaded by profound love of God and love of others, a love that is expressed in sincere openness to one's neighbor, in forgiveness and in the pursuit of peace. By way of conclusion, we could say that if this style of life joined to daily work is, for St. Benedict, the ideal of the monk, it also concerns all of us; it can be, to a great extent, the style of life of the Christian who wants to become a genuine disciple of Christ, characterized in fact by tenacious adherence to him, by humility, by industriousness and the capacity to forgive, and by peace.

[Translation by ZENIT]

Preparations

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Today will be filled with the final preparations for the arrival of Diego and CJ tomorrow, and Brendan on the 12th. Thanks to the amazing generosity of the monastery's "friends of the first hour" last Saturday, both houses are almost completely organized for the inauguration of community life. A few indispensable things have not arrived yet: our monastic diurnals, for example! I'm confident that all will be in readiness when the new brothers arrive.

I ask the readers of Vultus Christi to beseech Our Lady of the Cenacle, Queen of the Rosary, to order today's efforts and tomorrow's welcome sweetly and wisely, as only she can.

From the Rule of Our Holy Father, Saint Benedict
Chapter LVIII.
Of the manner of receiving Brothers to Religion.

Let not an easy entrance be granted to one who cometh newly to the reformation of his life, but, as the Apostle saith: "Try the Spirits if they be of God."191191I Joan. iv. 1. If, therefore, the newcomer persevere knocking, and continue for four or five days patiently to endure both the injuries offered to him and the difficulty made about his entrance, and persist in his petition; leave to enter shall be granted him, and he shall be in the guest Hall for a few days. Afterwards he shall be in the Novitiate, where he shall meditate, and eat, and sleep.
Let a Senior who has the address of winning souls, be appointed to watch over him narrowly and carefully, to discover whether he truly seeks God, and is eager for the Work of God, for obedience and for humiliation. Let all the rigour and austerity by which we tend towards God be laid before him.

Breaking News: The diurnals arrived this afternoon! Deo gratias.

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Would you have recognized him? This is none other than Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion, O.S.B. He was obliged to travel in disguise during World War I while searching for a refuge in Ireland for the monks of his abbey of Maredsous in Belgium.

"I owe more to Columba Marmion for initiating me into things spiritual than to any other spiritual writer."
Pope John Paul II


Abbot Columba Marmion, O.S.B. was beatified by Pope John Paul II on September 3, 2000. His liturgical memorial was fixed on October 3rd, the anniversary of his Abbatial Blessing in 1909. Blessed Abbot Marmion is best known for his trilogy: Christ, the Life of the Soul, Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, and Christ in His Mysteries. A fourth volume, Christ, the Ideal of the Priest was published posthumously in 1952.

Official Collect

Deus, Pater omnipotens,
qui ad monasticam conversationem,
beatum Columbam Abbatem, vocasti,
eique arcana mysteriorum Christi pandere voluisti,
concede propitius ut, eius intercessione,
adoptionis filiorum spiritu roborati,
Sapientiae tuae dignam fieri habitaculum mereamur.
Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Filium tuum,
qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti,
Deus, per omnia saecula saeculorum.

My Translations

O God, Almighty Father,
who didst call the blessed abbot Columba to the monastic way of life
and open unto him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
mercifully grant that,
strengthened by his intercession,
in the spirit of our adoption as sons,
we may become a dwelling place worthy of thy Wisdom.
Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son,
who with Thee livest and reignest
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.

O God, Almighty Father,
who called the blessed abbot Columba to the monastic way of life
and opened to him the secrets of the mysteries of Christ,
mercifully grant that,
strengthened by his intercession,
in the spirit of our adoption as sons,
we may become a dwelling place worthy of your Wisdom.
Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with You
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever.

Quaerite faciem eius semper

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Seek His Face Evermore

My plan was to write a little commentary on the splendid liturgical texts of this Ember Friday, but, as so often happens, the day was very full and I hadn't a minute to sit at my desk. Just a wee word then, at this late hour, about today's Introit, Laetetur cor.

Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord:
seek ye the Lord and be strengthened:
seek His Face evermore.
V. Give glory to the Lord, and call upon His Name:
declare His deeds among the Gentiles. (Ps 104: 3, 4, 1)

The Joy That Shines on the Face of Christ

One who, as Saint Benedict says, "seeks God truly," will know the joy that never grows old, the joy that never loses its savour, the joy that neither induces ennui nor dulls the spirit. One who seeks God truly -- even, no, especially, if that search begins by weeping over His feet and kissing them -- will be directed by the Holy Spirit to discover the joy that shines upon the Face of Christ. This is the joy of which He said on the before He suffered: "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled." (Jn 15:11).

From Virtue to Virtue

One who "seeks God truly" will grow stronger as the search intensifies. The search for God is not wearisome. It doesn't deplete the energies of the soul; it refreshes them and increases them. As the psalmist says, "they shall go from virtue to virtue" (Ps 83:8).

The last phrase of the Introit is unforgettable, especially when one sings it in its Second Mode chant melody, or hears it sung: quaerite faciem eius semper. This is the great imperative of the monastic journey.

The Monastic Vocation

Commenting on today's liturgy, Blessed Ildefonso Schuster writes:

Saint Benedict, in his Regula Monachorum, makes this searching after God the watchword of his foundation, the one condition by which is to be judged the vocation of aspirants to the religious life. He regards neither the birth nor the age, nor the acquirements of the novice; his is concerned only in discerning his spirit, as to whether he is, in reality, seeking after God, and if in so doing he is following the same road of humility and obedience as was marked out by Christ. There is no other true road but this one.

Postulants on the Horizon

In a fortnight I will be welcoming the first two postulants to the spiritual chantier (construction site) of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle. They will not find anything in the way of majestic buildings with long silent cloisters. They will not find a well-practiced choir of seasoned monks. They will find poverty, littleness, weakness and, undoubtedly, struggles. But if they "seek God truly," they will find joy. That, I can guarantee.

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Ember Wednesday in September

There are so many things that I would want to write about! Yesterday, for example, was the first of the September Ember Days: the Proper of the Mass extraordinarily rich with its images of harvest time, great rivers of sweet wine. The note was one of joy: Gaudium etenim Domini est fortitudo nostra, "For the joy of the Lord is our strength." (II Esdr 8:10)

For all of that, the Gospel was sobering: "This kind (of demon) can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." (Mk 9:28) And then, all day long I held the remarkable Collect in mind, repeating it at the Hours:

The Marquess of Bute translates it:

We pray Thee, O Lord,
that the healing power of Thy mercy may give strength to our weakness,
that those things which do pass away by their own frailty,
may be renewed again by Thy clemency.

Monsignor Knox gives:

By Thy healing mercies, we pray thee, Lord,
enable our frail nature to hold its ground.
Let thy pity renew that which of itself is ever wasting away.

The Roman Catholic Daily Missal has:

We beseech Thee, O Lord,
that our weakness may be upheld by Thy healing mercy,
so that what of itself is falling into ruin
may be restored by Thy clemency.

Pope Benedict XVI on Saint Anselm

Also yesterday, our Holy Father presented yet another grand monastic figure: Saint Anselm of Aosta, Bec, and Canterbury. Here is a translation of the discourse of His Holiness:

Dear brothers and sisters,

Prayer, Study, and Government

In Rome, on the Aventine Hill, is found the Benedictine abbey of St. Anselm. As the seat of an Institute of Higher Studies and of the abbot primate of the Confederated Benedictines, it is a place that unites prayer, study and government, precisely the three activities that characterized the life of the saint to which it is dedicated: Anselm of Aosta, the 900th anniversary of whose death we celebrate this year.

Monk, Educator, Theologian

The many initiatives, promoted especially by the Diocese of Aosta for this happy anniversary, have reflected the interest that this Medieval thinker continues to awaken. He is also known as Anselm of Bec and Anselm of Canterbury because of the cities with which he was connected. Who is this personage to which three localities, distant from one another and situated in three different nations -- Italy, France and England -- feel particularly bound? Monk of intense spiritual life, excellent educator of youth, theologian with an extraordinary speculative capacity, wise man of government and intransigent defender of the "libertas Ecclesiae," of the liberty of the Church, Anselm is one of the eminent personalities of the Medieval Age, who was able to harmonize all these qualities thanks to a profound mystical experience that always guided his thought and action.

A Very White Bread

St. Anselm was born in 1033 (or the beginning of 1034) in Aosta, the firstborn of a noble family. His father was a crude man, dedicated to the pleasures of life and a spendthrift of his goods; his mother, on the other hand, was a woman of superior customs and profound religiosity (cf. Eadmero, Vita s. Anselmi, PL 159, col 49). It was his mother who took care of the first human and religious formation of her son, whom she later entrusted to the Benedictines of a priory of Aosta. Anselm, who from his childhood -- as his biographer recounts -- imagined the dwelling of the good God to be among the high and snow clad summits of the Alps, dreamed one night that he was invited to this splendid palace by God himself, who entertained him affably for a good while and at the end offered him to eat "a very white bread" (ibid., col 51).

Saint Symeon the New Theologian

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In this morning's General Audience, our Holy Father presented yet another shining monastic figure as a model of holiness for the whole Church. Those who study attentively Pope Benedict XVI's teachings will notice that he consistently refers to the monastic way as paradigmatic for all Christians, beginning with the clergy. There are not two "spiritualities" -- one monastic and the other secular -- there is but one way to holiness. It is the royal way of the Cross, directed to the knowledge of the glory of God that shines upon the Face of Christ, charted by the Word of God as interpreted by the Fathers, and marked by the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the protecting mantle of the Holy Mother of God.

Dear brothers and sisters,

On the Way to Union With God

Today we pause to reflect on the figure of the Eastern monk Symeon the New Theologian, whose writings exercised a noteworthy influence on the theology and spirituality of the East, in particular, regarding the experience of mystical union with God.

Symeon the New Theologian was born in 949 in Galatia, in Paphlagonia (Asia Minor), of a noble provincial family. While still young, he went to Constantinople to undertake studies and enter the emperor's service. However, he felt little attracted to the civil career before him and, under the influence of the interior illuminations he was experiencing, he looked for a person who would direct him through his moment of doubts and perplexities, and who would help him progress on the way to union with God.

Examination of Conscience

He found this spiritual guide in Symeon the Pious (Eulabes), a simple monk of the Studion monastery in Constantinople, who gave him to read the treatise "The Spiritual Law of Mark the Monk." In this text, Symeon the New Theologian found a teaching that impressed him very much: "If you seek spiritual healing," he read there, "be attentive to your conscience. Do all that it tells you and you will find what is useful to you." From that moment -- he himself says -- he never again lay down without asking if his conscience had something for which to reproach him.

Union With Christ

Symeon entered the Studion monastery, where, however, his mystical experiences and his extraordinary devotion toward the spiritual father caused him difficulty. He transferred to the small convent of St. Mammas, also in Constantinople, where, after three years, he became director -- the higumeno. There he pursued an intense search of spiritual union with Christ, which conferred on him great authority.

It is interesting to note that he was given there the name of "New Theologian," notwithstanding the fact that tradition reserved the title of "Theologian" to two personalities: John the Evangelist and Gregory of Nazianzen. He suffered misunderstandings and exile, but was restored by the Patriarch of Constantinople, Sergius II.

Ask little and get nothing

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The painting (David Teniers?) depicts Saint Anthony of Egypt and Saint Paul the Hermit deep in conversation about monastic observance.

I'm reading the autobiographical memoirs of Father Michael O'Carroll, C.SS.P. during my meals. Today, I came upon this exchange between Archbishop John Charles McQuaid and Father O'Carroll:

Father O'Carroll: Well, Your Grace, if you want my honest opinion, I would prefer to hear some Protestants speaking about our religion than certain Catholic priests. I would certainly prefer Malcolm Muggeridge to some of them.

Archbishop McQuaid: Oh, I would agree with you, Father. Did you read his review in last Sunday's Observor of a new history of monasticism? I learned the last sentence by heart. I shall quote it: "The early monastic founders asked everything of their followers and they got everything; the moderns ask little and they get nothing."

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Pope Benedict XVI on Saint Peter Damian

The Holy Father's audience yesterday (September 2009) on Saint Peter Damian (1007-1072) revealed him, once again, as a Master of the Monastic Life! Pope Benedict XVI is unique in his grasp of the principles of the monastic way and in his application of them to the life of all who seek holiness, even outside the cloister. It is not uncommon to hear him say as he did yesterday, "This is also important for us today, even though we are not monks. . . ." Those of you who missed the Holy Father's teaching in 2008 on his patron, Saint Benedict, will find it here.

Dear brothers and sisters,

Lover of Solitude and Intrepid Man of the Church

During these Wednesday catecheses, I have been discussing some of the great figures of the life of the Church since its origin. Today I would like to reflect on one of the most significant personalities of the 11th century, St. Peter Damian, monk, lover of solitude and, at the same time, intrepid man of the Church, personally involved in the work of reform undertaken by the popes of the time.

Gifted Writer

He was born in Ravenna in 1007 of a noble but poor family. He was orphaned, and lived a childhood of hardships and sufferings. Even though his sister Roselinda was determined to be a mother to him and his older brother, he was adopted as a son by Damian. In fact, because of this, he would later be called Peter of Damiano, Peter Damian. His formation was imparted to him first at Faenza and then at Parma, where, already at the age of 25, we find him dedicated to teaching. In addition to keen competence in the field of law, he acquired a refined expertise in the art of writing -- "ars scribendi" -- and, thanks to his knowledge of the great Latin classics, became "one of the best Latinists of his time, one of the greatest writers of the Latin Medieval Age" (J. Leclercq, Pierre Damien, Ermite et Homme d'Eglise, Rome, 1960, p. 172).

Sensitivity to Beauty

He distinguished himself in the most diverse literary genres: from letters to sermons, from hagiographies to prayers, from poems to epigrams. His sensitivity to beauty led him to a poetic contemplation of the world. Peter Damian conceived the universe as an inexhaustible "parable" and an extension of symbols, from which it is possible to interpret the interior life and the divine and supernatural reality. From this perspective, around the year 1034, the contemplation of God's absoluteness compelled him to distance himself progressively from the world and its ephemeral realities, to withdraw to the monastery of Fonte Avellana, founded a few decades earlier, but already famous for its austerity. He wrote the life of the founder, St. Romuald of Ravenna, for the edification of the monks and, at the same time, dedicated himself to furthering his spirituality, expressing his ideal of eremitical monasticism.

Love of the Cross

A particularity must now be stressed: the hermitage of Fonte Avellana was dedicated to the Holy Cross, and the cross would be the Christian mystery that most fascinated Peter Damian. "He does not love Christ who does not love the cross of Christ," he said (Sermo XVIII, 11, p. 117) and he calls himself: "Petrus crucis Christi servorum famulus" -- Peter servant of the servants of the cross of Christ (Ep, 9, 1). Peter Damian addressed most beautiful prayers to the cross, in which he reveals a vision of this mystery that has cosmic dimensions, because it embraces the whole history of salvation: "O blessed cross," he exclaimed, "you are venerated in the faith of patriarchs, the predictions of prophets, the assembly of the apostles, the victorious army of the martyrs and the multitudes of all the saints" (Sermo XLVIII, 14, p. 304).

Dear brothers and sisters, may the example of Peter Damian lead us also to always look at the cross as the supreme act of love of God for man, which has given us salvation.

The Salon Where God Converses With Men

For the development of the eremitical life, this great monk wrote a Rule which strongly stresses the "rigor of the hermitage": In the silence of the cloister, the monk is called to live a life of daily and nocturnal prayer, with prolonged and austere fasts; he must exercise himself in generous fraternal charity and in an obedience to the prior that is always willing and available. In the study and daily meditation of sacred Scripture, Peter Damian discovered the mystical meaning of the Word of God, finding in it food for his spiritual life. In this connection, he called the cell of the hermitage the "salon where God converses with men." For him, the eremitical life was the summit of Christian life; it was "at the summit of the states of life," because the monk, free from the attachments of the world and from his own self, receives "the pledge of the Holy Spirit and his soul is happily united to the heavenly Spouse" (Ep 18, 17; cf. Ep 28, 43 ff.). This is also important for us today, even though we are not monks: To be able to be silent in ourselves to hear the voice of God, to seek, so to speak, a "salon" where God speaks to us: To learn the Word of God in prayer and meditation is the path for life.

Christ at the Center of the Monk's Life

St. Peter Damian, who basically was a man of prayer, meditation and contemplation, was also a fine theologian: His reflection on several doctrinal subjects led him to important conclusions for life. Thus, for example, he expresses with clarity and vivacity the Trinitarian doctrine. He already used, in keeping with biblical and patristic texts, the three fundamental terms that later became determinant also for the West's philosophy: processio, relatio e persona (cf. Opusc. XXXVIII: PL CXLV, 633-642; and Opusc. II and III: ibid., 41 ff. and 58 ff.). However, as theological analysis led him to contemplate the intimate life of God and the dialogue of ineffable love between the three divine Persons, he draws from it ascetic conclusions for life in community and for the proper relations between Latin and Greek Christians, divided on this topic. Also meditation on the figure of Christ has significant practical reflections, as the whole of Scripture is centered on him. The "Jewish people themselves," notes St. Peter Damian, "through the pages of sacred Scripture, have, one could say, carried Christ on their shoulders" (Sermo XL VI, 15). Therefore Christ, he adds, must be at the center of the monk's life: "Christ must be heard in our language, Christ must be seen in our life, he must be perceived in our heart" (Sermo VIII, 5). Profound union with Christ should involve not only monks but all the baptized. It also implies for us an intense call not to allow ourselves to be totally absorbed by the activities, problems and preoccupations of every day, forgetting that Jesus must truly be at the center of our life.

The Reformer of the Church

Communion with Christ creates unity among Christians. In Letter 28, which is a brilliant treatise of ecclesiology, Peter Damian develops a theology of the Church as communion. "The Church of Christ," he wrote, "is united by the bond of charity to the point that, as she is one in many members, she is also totally gathered mystically in just one of her members; so that the whole universal Church is rightly called the only Bride of Christ in singular, and every chosen soul, because of the sacramental mystery, is fully considered Church." This is important: not only that the whole universal Church is united, but that in each one of us the Church in her totality should be present. Thus the service of the individual becomes "expression of universality" (Ep 28, 9-23). Yet the ideal image of the "holy Church" illustrated by Peter Damian does not correspond -- he knew it well -- to the reality of his time. That is why he was not afraid to denounce the corruption existing in monasteries and among the clergy, above all due to the practice of secular authorities conferring the investiture of ecclesiastical offices: Several bishops and abbots behaved as governors of their own subjects more than as pastors of souls. It is no accident that their moral life left much to be desired. Because of this, with great sorrow and sadness, in 1057 Peter Damian left the monastery and accepted, though with difficulty, the appointment of cardinal bishop of Ostia, thus entering fully in collaboration with the popes in the difficult undertaking of the reform of the Church. He saw that it was not enough to contemplate, and had to give up the beauty of contemplation to assist in the work of renewal of the Church. Thus he renounced the beauty of the hermitage and courageously undertook numerous journeys and missions.

The Peacemaker

Because of his love of monastic life, 10 years later, in 1067, he was given permission to return to Fonte Avellana, resigning from the Diocese of Ostia. However, the desired tranquility did not last long: Two years later he was sent to Frankfurt in an attempt to prevent Henry IV's divorce from his wife, Bertha; and again two years later, in 1071, he went to Montecassino for the consecration of the abbey's church, and, at the beginning of 1072 he went to Ravenna to establish peace with the local archbishop, who had supported the anti-pope, causing the interdict on the city. During his return journey to the hermitage, a sudden illness obliged him to stay in Faenza in the Benedictine monastery of "Santa Maria Vecchia fuori porta," where he died on the night of Feb. 22-23, 1072.

A Monk to the End

Dear brothers and sisters, it is a great grace that in the life of the Church the Lord raised such an exuberant, rich and complex personality as that of St. Peter Damian and it is not common to find such acute and lively works of theology as those of the hermit of Fonte Avellana. He was a monk to the end, with forms of austerity that today might seem to us almost excessive. In this way, however, he made of monastic life an eloquent testimony of the primacy of God and a call to all to walk toward holiness, free from any compromise with evil. He consumed himself, with lucid consistency and great severity, for the reform of the Church of his time. He gave all his spiritual and physical energies to Christ and the Church, always remaining, as he liked to call himself, "Petrus ultimus monachorum servus," Peter, last servant of the monks.

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At yesterday's general audience, Pope Benedict XVI presented Saint Odo of Cluny. The Holy Father's predilection for the monastic tradition is a blessing for all of us who strive to follow Saint Benedict's "little rule for beginners." This discourse is best read in the context of the Holy Father's message at Heiligenkreuz in 2007 and again in Paris at the Collège des Bernardins in 2008.

The new Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle is especially blessed in coming to birth during this most "Benedictine" of pontificates. The rich teachings of Pope Benedict XVI on monastic life will be integral to the formation of the young men who will present themselves, "truly seeking God."

Dear brothers and sisters:

What It Means to Be Christians

After a long pause, I would like to take up again the presentation of the great writers of the Eastern and Western Church of the Medieval era because, as though in a mirror, in their lives and writings we see what it means to be Christians.

Rise and Multiplication of Cloisters

Today I propose to you the luminous figure of St. Odo, abbot of Cluny. He is situated in the monastic Middle Ages that saw in Europe the amazing spread of life and spirituality inspired in St. Benedict's Rule. During those centuries there was a prodigious rise and multiplication of cloisters that, branching out over the continent, spread through it the Christian spirit and sensibility. St. Odo takes us, in particular, to a monastery, Cluny, which during the Middle Ages was one of the most illustrious and celebrated. Even today it reveals with its majestic ruins the footprint of a glorious past because of its intense dedication to ascesis, study, and, in a special way, divine worship, enveloped in decorum and beauty.

My Lady, Mother of Mercy

Odo was the second abbot of Cluny. He was born around 880, on the border between Maine and Touraine, in France. He was consecrated by his [spiritual] father, the holy Bishop Martin of Tours, in whose beneficent shadow and memory Odo passed all his life, ending it at last near his tomb. His choice to consecrate himself in the religious life was preceded by an experience of a special moment of joy, which he mentioned to another monk, John the Italian, later his biographer. Odo was still an adolescent, around 16 years old, when one Christmas Eve he sensed how a prayer to the Virgin came spontaneously to his lips: "My Lady, Mother of Mercy, who on this night gave birth to the Savior, pray for me. May your glorious and singular birth be, Oh most merciful, my refuge" (Vita Sancti Odonis, I,9: PL 133, 747).

Blessed Virgin Mary, Only Hope of the World

The name "Mother of Mercy," with which the young Odo then invoked the Virgin, was the one he always wished to use when addressing Mary, also calling her "only hope of the world ... thanks to whom the doors of paradise have been opened to us" (In Veneratione S. Mariae Magdalenae: PL 133, 721).

Vere dignum et justum est

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In preparation for the great monastic solemnity that began with First Vespers this evening, I offer this proper Preface for the meditation and joy of all who have some claim on the paternity of Saint Benedict. The image was painted by the graced hand of Brother Claude Lane, O.S.B., of Mount Angel Abbey.

PREFACE OF OUR HOLY FATHER, SAINT BENEDICT

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

You raised up the holy abbot Benedict,
as a teacher of the steps of humility
by which a countless number of his sons and daughters
have reached the love which drives out all fear.

Preferring nothing to the love of Christ,
he recognized Christ in the sick and in the stranger,
in the poor and in the pilgrim.

Praising you seven times by day, and even in the night,
he placed all his hope in you,
and taught us never to despair of your mercy.

Even today, his words distill a holy wisdom,
inflame us with longing for life everlasting,
and inspire us to sing your praise
in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, in the sight of the angels,
with heart and mind in harmony with our voices,
we exalt your glory forever,
as we ceaselessly proclaim:

Into the Invisible

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A faithful friend of mine in the Eternal City, an Apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, sent me this text from a booklet by Cardinal Pironio: "Povertà e Speranza." The passage is taken from the chapter entitled "Speranza e contemplazione." The English translation is my own.

In generale noi ci angustiamo e disperiamo quando non abbiamo tempo e tranquillità per pregare. I monaci non solo ci acquietano perché sono un segno di quello che deve venire (i beni futuri che aspettiamo), ma soprattutto perché ci introducono nell'invisibile di Dio e ci fanno sperimentare ora la sua presenza. L'esperienza di Dio nell'orazione ci inonda della 'letizia della speranza' (Rom 12:12). E' cosa tremenda, infatti, quando un monaco lascia la contemplazione attratto dall'illusione di trasformare il mondo con un'attività immediata. Il suo modo specifico di cambiare il mondo, di costruire la storia e di salvare l'uomo, è continuare ad essere profondamente contemplativo. Vero uomo di Dio e maestro di orazione. Cioè, un autentico veggente.

In general we give in to anguish and despair when we don't have the time and tranquility to pray. Not only do monks still themselves because they are a sign of what is to come (the good things in the future that we await), but above all because they introduce us into the invisible of God and allow us to experience His presence now. The experience of God in secret prayer floods us with "the joy of hope" (Rom 12:12). It is a frightful thing, in fact, when a monk, attracted by the illusion of transforming the world with an immediate activity, forsakes contemplation. His specific manner of changing the world, of building history and of saving man, is to continue being profoundly contemplative. A true man of God and a master of secret prayer. Therefore, an authentic seer.

Holy Abbots of Cluny

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Today is the feast of the Holy Abbots of Cluny, Odo, Maiolus, Odilon, Hugh, and Peter the Venerable. Each of the first four has a special antiphon dedicated to him at Lauds, the Little Hours, and Vespers:

Odo arose full of the Holy Spirit,
and renewed the beauty of the monastic Order
throughout the world, alleluia.

Maiolus, overflowing with charity and with grace,
and emulating the holiness of the angels,
was lifted high above men in virtue, alleluia.

Odilo showed wondrously what was the charity of his heart,
who, while pitying sufferings of the faithful departed,
yearly decreased them by a sweet refreshment, alleluia.

When blessed Hugh was about to expire
on the day of the sacred rites of the great Sabbath (Holy Saturday),
he greeted the new light of the Paschal Candle,
earnestly praying with sighs
that he might happily reach the promised land, alleluia.

At Vigils I read from an exhortation of Saint Hugh of Cluny:

Ever since we founded this monastery, prepared and helped by the divine clemency, we have very clearly experienced in this place the presence of the compassion of Almighty God and the gaze of His fatherly devotedness.

And here is the Collect of the feast:

O God, refuge and surpassing reward
of those who walk blamelessly in Thy presence,
perfect in us, we beseech Thee,
the love of holy religion,
that by the example and intercession of the blessed Abbots of Cluny
we may run with dilated hearts along the way of charity.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

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An attentive study of Pope Benedict XVI's writings and addresses to date reveal his lively interest in the monastic face of the Church, and his desire to see Benedictine monasticism, in all its expressions, recover the energy and beauty of holiness that in past ages so enriched the Body of Christ. To my mind, his most compelling discourse on this subject remains the discourse he gave at Heiligenkreuz on 9 September 2007. You will find that text here.

In his General Audience this morning, Pope Benedict XVI presented Ambrosius Autpertus (730-784), monk, abbot and, to use the Holy Father's expression, "the first great Mariologist of the West." The subtitles are my own.

Against Monastic Lukewarmnesss

Ambrose Autpert was a monk and abbot in an age marked by strong political tension, tensions which also had repercussions on life inside the monasteries. Of this we have frequent and concerned echoes in his writings. He denounces, for example, the contradiction between the beautiful outer appearance of the monasteries and the monks' lukewarmness; certainly his own abbey was included in this criticism. For his monastery he wrote the life of the three founders with the clear intention to offer the new generation of monks a benchmark with which to compare themselves.

Spiritual Combat

He also wrote the brief ascetic treatise "Conflictus vitiorum et virtutum" [Conflict between the vices and virtues] with the same intention, which had great success in the Middle Ages and was published in 1473 in Utrecht under the name of Gregory the Great, and a year later in Strasbourg under the name of St. Augustine. With these writings Ambrose Autpert intended to train the monks specifically on how to address the spiritual battle on a daily basis. In an important way he applies the truth expressed in 2 Timothy 3:12: "All those who want to live fully in Christ Jesus will be persecuted," no longer external persecution, but he refers to the assault of the forces of evil that Christians must face within themselves. He presents 24 pairs of combatants in a kind of juxtaposition: each vice tries to persuade the soul with subtle reasoning, while the respective virtues refute such insinuations preferably using the words of Scripture.

Greed: the Root of All Evil

In this treatise on the conflict between vice and virtue, Autpert opposed the vice of "cupiditas" [greed] to the virtue of "contemptus mundi" [contempt of the world], which becomes an important element in the spirituality of the monks. This contempt of the world is not a contempt of creation, beauty and goodness of creation and the Creator, but a contempt of the false vision of the world presented and insinuated to us by our own greed. This greed affirms that the value of "having" is the supreme value of our being, of our living in the world and our image of ourselves as important. And so greed falsifies the creation of the world and destroys the world. Autpert notes that the desire for profit of the rich and powerful in the society of his time also exists within the souls of the monks and because of this he wrote a treatise titled "De cupiditate" [On Greed], in which, with the Apostle Paul, he denounces from the outset the vice of greed as the root of all evil. He writes: "From the soil of the earth several sharp spines sprout from various roots, however, in the heart of man, the sting of all the defects come from a single root, greed" (De cupiditate 1: CCCM 27B, p. 963 ).

"But We Are Not Monks!"

I offer this reflection, which, in light of this global economic crisis, is revealed in all its relevance. We see that from this very root of greed this crisis is born. Ambrose foresaw the objection that the rich and powerful would raise, saying: but we are not monks, these ascetic standards don't apply to us. And he answers: "It is true what you say, but also for you, in your own way and to the best of your ability, the hard and narrow way applies to you, because the Lord has proposed only two doors and two ways -- i.e. the narrow gate and the wide, the hard and comfortable; he did not indicate a third door or a third way"(ibid, p. 978). He saw clearly that the life styles are very different. But even for the man in this world, even for the rich it is necessary to fight against greed, against the desire to possess, to appear, against the false notion of freedom as the right to dispose of everything according to one's own will. Even the rich must find the authentic path of truth, of love and in this way the path of moral rectitude. So Autpert, as a prudent shepherd of souls, knew then to say at the end of his preaching of repentance a word of comfort: "I have not spoken against the greedy, but against greed, not against nature, but against vice" (lc, p. 981).

The Church Inseparable from Christ

The most important work of Ambrose Autpert is his commentary on Revelation in ten books: it constitutes, after centuries, the first extensive comment in the Latin world on last book of Sacred Scripture. This was the fruit of a long work, which took place in two stages between 758 and 767, therefore before his election as abbot. In the preface, he indicates precisely its sources, which is completely abnormal in the Middle Ages. Through its perhaps most significant source, the comments of the Bishop Primasio Adrumetano, written around the middle of the sixth century, Autpert comes into contact with the interpretation of Revelation of the African Tycho, who had lived a generation before St. Augustine. He was not a Catholic; he belonged to the schismatic church of the Donatists, however, he was a great theologian. In his commentary, he saw the mystery of the Church reveal itself, above all in the book of Revelation. Tycho had reached the conviction that the Church was a body with two parts: One part, he says, belongs to Christ, but there is another part of the Church that belongs to the devil. Augustine read this commentary and benefitted from it, but strongly emphasized that the Church is in the hands of Christ, it remains his body, forming with him a single entity, a participant in the mediation of grace. He emphasizes therefore that the Church can never be separated from Jesus Christ.

Mary, Model of the Church

In his reading of Revelation, which is similar to that of Tycho, Autpert is interested not so much in the second coming of Christ at the end of time, but in the consequences for the Church of his first coming, the Incarnation in the womb of the Virgin Mary. It tells us something very important: In reality, Christ, "must daily be born, die, and rise in us who are his body." (In Apoc. III: CCCM 27, p. 205). In the context of the mystical dimension that surrounds every Christian, he looks to Mary as a model of the Church, a model for us all, because also in us and between us Christ must be born. On the basis that the Fathers saw in the "woman clothed with the sun" of Revelation 12:1 the image of the Church, Autpert argues: "The blessed and loving Virgin [...] daily gives birth to new people, from which is formed the General Body of the Mediator. It is not therefore surprising that she, in whose blessed womb the Church itself deserved to be united to his head, represents the image of the Church."

Decisive Role of Mary in the Work of Redemption

In this sense Autpert sees a decisive role of the Virgin Mary in the work of Redemption -- see also his homilies in the occasions of the purification and the assumption of the Blessed Virgin. His great reverence, and his deep love for the Mother of God at times inspired formulations that somehow anticipate those of St. Bernard and the Franciscan spirit, but without diverging toward questionable forms of sentimentalism, because he never separated the mystery of the Church from Mary. With good reason then Ambrose Autpert is considered the first great mariologist in the West.

God Attained Only By Love

The piety that, in his view, must free the soul from attachment to earthly and transient pleasures, he believes should be united with the deep study of the sacred sciences, especially the meditation of Sacred Scripture, which he describes as a "deep sky, an unfathomable abyss" (In Apoc.IX). In the beautiful prayer with which he concludes his remarks on the book of Revelation, emphasizing the priority which in every theological search for truth relies on love, he speaks to God with these words: "When Thou art scrutinized by our intellect, Thou art not discovered as Thou truly art; only by loving Thee do we reach Thee."

The True Face of the Church in Mary and the Saints

We can see today in Ambrose Autpert a person who lived in a time of intense political exploitation of the Church, in which nationalism and tribalism had disfigured the face of the Church. But he, in the midst of all these difficulties that we also experience, was able to discover the true face of the Church in Mary, in the saints. And so he was able to understand what it means to be Catholic, Christian, to live the Word of God, to enter into this abyss, and so live the mystery of the Mother of God: to give new life to the Word of God, to offer to the Word of God one's own body at the present time. And with all his theological experience, the depth of his knowledge, Autpert understood that with mere theological research God can not be known as he really is. Only love can reach him. Let us listen to this message and ask the Lord to help us live the mystery of the Church today, in this our time.


Mio Dio, la tua gloria!

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Ut Unum Sint

Although the Roman Martyrology notes the day of her death on April 23, 1939, the Cistercian and Trappist calendars commemorate Blessed Maria Gabriella, a nun of Grottaferrata in Italy, on April 22. Pope John Paul II beatified Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità in 1983 and in his Encyclical on Christian unity, Ut Unum Sint, presented her again to the whole Church as a model of "the total and unconditional offering of one's life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit." Her monastic life was brief: three and a half years. She died after fifteen months of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-five.

The Dilated Heart

Blessed Maria Gabriella is, in many ways, a woman to whom anyone touched by suffering and disability can relate, and for many reasons. The physical limitations that reduced her "doing" expanded her "being" until, at length, the Holy Ghost dilated her heart to the dimensions of the Heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. How can I not think here of my esteemed friend Vincent Uher at Tonus Peregrinus?

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Silence Turned to Praise

Blessed Maria-Gabriella is one of those who, having heard the Word, held it in silence: in the silence of wonderment, in the silence that confesses God present, in the silence that allows the Word to sink into the deep and secret places of the soul. For Maria-Gabriella, this silence turned to praise: a sublime praise uttered by Christ the Eternal High Priest in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. At the end of life, she confided: "I cannot say but these words, 'My God, your Glory.'"

Pages Become Transparent

Maria Sagghedù, leaving her native Sardinia for Grottaferrata, entered a monastery that was economically and culturally poor, although governed by Mother Maria Pia Gulini, an abbess who believed in keeping a window open onto the wider Church. Maria Gabriella lived a hidden life circumscribed by the cloister, by silence and by obedience. Her monastic life was short; she crossed the threshold of the Abbey of Grottaferrata in 1935 and died in 1939, a mere three and a half years later. It was Good Shepherd Sunday at the hour of Vespers, the Church's evening sacrifice of praise. The Gospel that day had been from Saint John: "There will be one fold, and one shepherd" (Jn 10:16). After Maria Gabriella's death, her sisters found that her little pocket edition of the New Testament, worn from use, opened by itself to the seventeenth chapter of Saint John's Gospel. Those few pages of Jesus' Priestly Prayer, so often touched by Mother Maria Gabriella's feverish hands, had become almost transparent.

The Unity of the Mystical Body

Blessed Maria Gabriella's offering for Christian unity witnesses to the fundamental thrust of every monastic life, both in its canonical form within the enclosure walls, or in its interior expression, without cloister or habit, in the world. Monastic conversion is a movement from the divided, fragmented self to the whole self, healed and unified in the love of Christ. The restoration of unity is the great monastic work; it is the end and fruit of every Eucharistic Sacrifice. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches the end proper to the Sacrament of the Eucharist is the unity of the Mystical Body. Let us then go to the altar, letting go of things that fragment that unity, and ready to receive the gifts by which unity is repaired.

Read more about Blessed Maria Gabriella dell'Unità here and here.

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A Tale of Two Cardinals

Before writing about Saint Peter Damian whose feast we are keeping today, I want to acknowledge the birthday of the Venerable John Henry Newman, born in London on February 21st in 1801. I picture the two cardinals in Paradise; the one quintessentially British, given to careful reflection and sober understatement; the other, Italian, blazing like lightning and hurling thunderbolts in his zeal for reform.

When Grace Perfects Nature

Although both men received the cardinal's red hat, their tastes and temperaments could not have been more different. In art, the fierce and passionate Peter Damian -- a man rather given to extremes -- is often depicted brandishing a discipline or knotted scourge. I see the gentle Newman, on the other hand, seated in his study with a comfortable cup of tea near at hand. It's all splendidly Catholic.

Love of Christ and of the Church

Today's Collect expresses the two guiding principles of Saint Peter Damian's life:

Grant us, we beseech Thee, almighty God,
to follow the counsel and example of the blessed bishop Peter,
that by preferring nothing whatever to Christ
and always set upon the service of Thy Church,
we may come, at length, to the joys of eternal light.

The Monk

The first principle comes directly from the fourth chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict: "To set nothing before the love of Christ" (RB 4:21). Before being or doing anything else, Peter Damian was a monk, a son of Holy Father Benedict. He belonged to the white-habited Camaldolese who, down through history, have given so many holy monks and solitaries to the Church.

The Bishop

The second principle of Peter Damian's life -- being ready always to serve the Church -- is inseparable from the first. "To set nothing before the love of Christ" translated, for Peter Damian, into a passionate devotion to the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Church.

The Reformer

The Church that Peter Damian loved and served was beset with troubles and scandals of all sorts: sacred offices being bought and sold, a clergy addicted to gambling, wine, concubinage, and other vices best left unmentioned, and the widespread collapse of monastic discipline. He wrote a book on the sexual immorality of the clergy that is shocking -- even by today's troubling standards.

The Affairs of the Church Are the Affairs of Christ

For all of that, Saint Peter Damian also had time to write a little book for cave-dwelling hermits who wondered if, in their celebration of the Divine Office, they should say or omit the Dominus vobiscum. For Peter Damian, the affairs of the Church were the affairs of Christ. "The love of Christ put before all else" made him a man of the Church, an apostle and a prophet.

Reform Begins in Silence

In every age of the Church there are conditions that, while they demand reform, also stir up a lot of talking. True reform comes not from much talking, but from much silence. Holy Father Benedict says that "if you talk a lot you will not escape falling into sin" (RB 6:4).

A tongue obedient to the Holy Spirit can do immense good; a tongue that wags this way and that is, as Saint James says, "a restless evil, full of deadly poison" (Jas 3:8). Authentic prophecy begins in silence; true reform begins with holding one's own tongue.

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The Work of Redeeming Love

There comes a moment when even the conversation of the saints and prophets must return to the silence whence it springs. In that silence, redeeming Love carries out the work of making whole all that is fragmented, of healing the weak and wounded members of Christ's Mystical Body.

Ye, Who Would Weed the Vineyard's Soil

Cardinal Newman has a little poem that addresses the tension between zeal and meekness, speaking and silence. I wonder if in paradise he has recited it for Saint Peter Damian.

CHRIST bade His followers take the sword;
    And yet He chid the deed,
When Peter seized upon His word,
    And made a foe to bleed.

The gospel Creed, a sword of strife,
    Meek hands alone may rear;
And ever Zeal begins its life
    In silent thought and fear.

Ye, who would weed the Vineyard's soil,
    Treasure the lesson given;
Lest in the judgment-books ye toil
    For Satan, not for heaven.

Off Sardinia.
June 20, 1833

I Love Them that Love Me

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San Bernardo alle Terme

One of my favourite churches in Rome is San Bernardo alle Terme. It is a luminous round church, built in 1598 on the site of the hot steam baths of Diocletian. Immense paintings by an artist named Odazj dominate the two side altars: the one on the right is dedicated to Saint Bernard, the one on the left to Saint Robert of Molesmes, the first abbot of Cîteaux. The first time I visited the church of San Bernardo I was so taken by the magnificent painting of Saint Bernard in the embrace of Jesus Crucified that I failed to understand the significance of the one depicting Saint Robert. It was on a later visit that I discovered it. It has, with the passing of time, become rich in meaning for me.

Saint Robert of Molesmes and the Virgin Mother

Saint Robert, whom we celebrate today with his two immediate successors, Saints Alberic and Stephen, was the founding abbot of the New Monastery at Cîteaux in 1098. The painting in the church of San Bernardo alle Terme shows Saint Robert clothed in his white cowl. Abbot Robert's face is entirely recollected; his head is bowed, illustrating the twelfth step of humility in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule. At the center of the painting we see the Virgin Mother of God in all her beauty. Her face is radiant. She wears a rose coloured dress with a blue mantle and pale brown veil. The Infant Jesus, leaning on her knee, is in conversation with an angel. Angels surround the Queen of Heaven on all sides, fascinated and thrilled by what she is doing.

Mystical Espousal to the Virgin Mary

Our Lady is placing a wedding ring on Saint Robert's finger. Robert, overwhelmed by so tender a love, offers her his right hand. The painting depicts the Mystical Espousal of Saint Robert to the Virgin Mary, a theme not often represented in art. Even in the annals of holiness, mystical espousal with the Virgin Mary is not encountered very frequently. We hear of it in the lives of Saint Edmund of Canterbury, of the Premonstratensian Saint Hermann-Joseph of Steinfeld, and of the Dominican Alain de la Roche. In the seventeenth century, Saint John Eudes wrote of Our Lady as the spouse of priests, and bound himself to her by means of marriage contract. Does not the liturgy attribute to Our Lady the words of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs: "love them that love me" (Prov 8:17)?

Saint Joseph

In the painting I am describing it is clear that the initiative is Our Lady's. She appears to have drawn Saint Robert upward to herself to receive this ineffable grace binding him to her. Now, the most extraordinary detail, to my mind is this: just above Saint Robert and a little to his right, none other than Saint Joseph is looking on! He is pointing to his staff, the top of which has flowered into a pure white lily. What does this mean? Saint Joseph is saying that intimacy with the Virgin Mary is the secret of holy purity. He is pointing to his flowering staff to say that one bound to Mary, as if by a marriage bond, will be pure. She is the Virginizing Bride. One who obeys the injunction of the angel to Joseph -- "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 1:15) -- will find that she communicates the grace of a fruitful purity to those who bind themselves to her in a permanent and exclusive way.

Not Good for Man to Be Alone

Already in the second chapter of Genesis, God said to Adam, "It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself" (Gen 2:18). The complement to this word of God to Adam is the word of Jesus Crucified to John: "After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27). Every union of a man with a woman, even, and I would say especially, the union of hearts and souls, is ordered to a spiritual fecundity. "Whoso findeth me, findeth life," says Our Lady, "and shall obtain favour of the Lord" (Prov 8:35).

Saint Benedict

Perhaps this is why the artist shows the Patriarch Saint Benedict, the father of a progeny too great to be numbered, accompanied by an angel holding his pastoral staff and the open book of his Rule, in the lower left hand corner of the painting. Saint Benedict gazes upon what is happening to Saint Robert with an expression of gratitude and wonder.

New Beginning and Authentic Renewal

What exactly is the message of this extraordinary painting? You may recall what Pope Benedict XVI said on the occasion of his visit to the abbey of Heiligenkreuz in September 2007:

Where Mary is, there is the archetype of total self-giving and Christian discipleship. Where Mary is, there is the pentecostal breath of the Holy Spirit; there is new beginning and authentic renewal.

Saint Robert's mission was to launch a new beginning at Cîteaux; it was to foster an authentic renewal of life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. He could not do this apart from Mary.

Mediatrix of All Graces

In the Gospel given us for this feast, Our Lord says: "I have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain" (Jn 15:16). Robert's mystical espousal with the Virgin Mother is the promise and guarantee of spiritual fruitfulness. The same Jesus who says, "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5), wants us to understand that, by reason of the Father's mysterious over-arching plan, without Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces, we can do nothing. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman" (Gal 4:4). Just as the first creation required the presence and collaboration of Eve at Adam's side, so too does the new creation, and every particular manifestation of it, be it personal or corporate, require the presence and collaboration of Mary, the New Eve, at the side of Christ, the New Adam.

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit

Cîteaux was a new creation, a particular corporate manifestation of the Kingdom of God in all its newness. The same may be said of every authentic reform and renewal of monastic life, sacerdotal life, and apostolic life in the history of the Church. Whenever and wherever the Blessed Virgin Mary is welcomed and loved, she attracts a mysterious descent of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady prays for us at every moment, saying, "Thou shalt send forth thy spirit, and they shall be created: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth" (Ps 103:30).

Saint Robert's Legacy

In 1099, one year after the foundation of the New Monastery at Cîteaux, Saint Robert was obliged, by a bull of Pope Urban II, to return to the abbey of Molesme as abbot. He remained there until his death in 1111. Saints Alberic and Stephen Harding succeeded him as abbots of Cîteaux. Abbot Robert's love for Our Lady, the Virgin Mother who had placed a ring on his finger, was part of his legacy. Cîteaux flourished because Mary was present there, present as she was in the house of Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse; present as she was in the house of Saint John, the Beloved Disciple; and present as she was in the midst of the apostles on the first Pentecost.

Earthen Vessels

Weakness, fear, tribulation, and humiliations are unavoidable in the Christian life. Each of us carries the precious gifts of God in his own peculiar frailty. Saint Paul says:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straitened, but are not destitute; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not (2 Cor 4:7-9).

The Blessed Virgin Mary is accustomed to carrying earthen vessels. The secret of holiness is to place our weakness in her immaculate hands.

All Things Made New

She who placed a wedding ring on Abbot Robert's finger will not deny us the grace of a fruitful intimacy with her Most Pure Heart. It is with His Mother, and through her, that Our Lord fulfills the promise made to Saint John on Patmos: "Behold, I make all things new" (Ap 21:5).

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Happy Onomastico to novice Brother Stephen of the Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank! Be sure to visit him at Sub Tuum today!

Collect

Almighty and ever-living God,
who are Yourself the reward exceeding great
of those who leave all things for the sake of Christ Your Son,
grant, we beseech You,
that by the example and prayers
of the holy abbots Robert, Alberic, and Stephen,
we too may hasten with all fervour and zeal
to the fullness of eternal life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Preface

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Knit together in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
the blessed abbots Robert, Alberic, and Stephen
chose to be poor with the poor Christ,
and so went forth to a desert wilderness
to abide in the place you had prepared for them.

Schooled in all things by the Rule of Saint Benedict, their father,
they sought only to live in peace
according to the truth of the Gospel.

Setting nothing before the love of Christ,
and zealous for the praise of your Majesty,
their example drew many
to take up the strong and glorious weapons of obedience.

And so, on their feast day, we join with them to adore you
and with heart and mind in harmony with our voices,
in the sight of the angels
we sing the ageless hymn of your praise:

A Grand Monastic Feast

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Pioneers of A Fresh Start

For Cistercians and Benedictines, January 26th is the feast of the Holy Abbots of Cîteaux, Robert, Alberic, and Stephen. They were the pioneers of a new beginning, men "careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen were indomitable believers in the possibility of beginning again. When they went forth to start afresh at Cîteaux, they were already seasoned monks, "men truly wise" (ExC, I).

A New Beginning in Compunction

The account of their deliberations is given in the Exordium Parvum, a chronicle dating from about the year 1119: "Inspired by the grace of God, these men, while still living in Molesme, often spoke to each other, lamented, and were saddened by the transgression of the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Father of Monks" (ExP, III). Their new beginning was conceived in compunction. Every hope of starting afresh enters through a heart pierced by the Word and brought by the Holy Spirit to a godly sorrow.

They Came to Cîteaux

They realized that they themselves and the other monks had promised by a solemn vow to observe this Rule, yet they had by no means kept it; and therefore they had knowingly committed the sin of perjury (ExP, III).
They spoke amongst themselves and asked one another how they were to fulfill the verse: 'I will fulfill my vows to you, vows which I made with my own lips' (Ps 65:13-14). . . . After common deliberation together with the father of that monastery, Robert of blessed memory, twenty-one monks went out to try to carry out jointly what they had conceived with one spirit. Eventually . . . they came to Cîteaux, which was then a place of horror, a vast wilderness (ExP, I).

Exodus and Transitus

The exodus from Molesme to Cîteaux took place on Palm Sunday 1098, coinciding that year with the feast of the Transitus of Holy Father Benedict on March 21st. Every new beginning is at once an exodus a going forth, and a transitus, a passing-over: a reliving of the Paschal Mystery. This is as true of the many secret new beginnings prompted by grace as it is of the more visible ones.. To leave behind what is old -- especially old hurts, resentments, and prejudices -- is to seek God in poverty of spirit.

An Act of Love

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My confessor said something to me today that reminded me of a prayer that impressed me back in the days of my monastic youth, and still does: The Act of Love of Father Jean-Baptiste Muard (1809-1854), founder of the Society of Saint Edmund and of the Benedictine Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. Thirty-seven years ago, if I am not mistaken, my excellent Novice Master told me that he said this prayer every day after Holy Communion. It is extraordinary the way certain things lodge themselves in one's memory.

Père Muard's Act of Love


Desiring to love Thee, my God, as much as is possible to a feeble creature,
I desire that all my thoughts, all my wishes, all my sentiments,
all my aspirations, all the pulsations of my heart,
all my movements, be so many acts of love.

I desire that every character I trace in writing,
every word, every letter, I read be to me so many acts of love.

Would that I could offer Thee each day as many acts of most fervent love
as there are grains of sand on the sea-shore,
leaves on the trees of the forest,
atoms in the air, and created things, and multiply them to infinity.

I offer Thee, my God, in compensation for my weakness,
all the acts of love of all the angels and all the saints in heaven and earth;
all the acts of love. of the most holy Virgin and, above all,
the acts of love for Thee of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Alas ! my God, that I cannot love Thee as Thou deservest to be loved;
give me, then, the heart of a Seraph or, rather,
fill my heart with the love of all the Seraphim,
the love of all the Saints, the love of all hearts,
and increase it ever more and more
that I may love Thee as much as I desire to love Thee. Amen.

Festinate, for Crist luve

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The Cross: A Way of Life

Saint Aelred, the English 12th century abbot of Rievaulx, has long been a dear friend. "Our order", he wrote, "is the Cross of Christ." In saying this, Saint Aelred uses the word order to signify, not an institutional organization, but a way of life. For Saint Aelred, the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very pattern of monastic life.

The Spacious Peace of Charity

Plagued all his life by bad health, Aelred administered his abbey of more than six hundred monks from the infirmary, often gathering the brethren around his bed for familiar spiritual chats. Saint Aelred used to say:

It is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the infirm and compassion with others in their necessities. All whether weak or strong should find in Rievaulx a haunt of peace, and there, like the fish in the broad seas, possess the welcome, happy, spacious peace of charity.

Christ, the Dearest Friend of All

Saint Aelred saw friendship not as a threat to community but as the cement of community. For Aelred, every true friendship opens onto the sweet love of Christ, the dearest friend of all. "God is friendship," he said, "and he who dwells in friendship, dwells in God and God in him."

The Bruised Reed

One cannot read what Holy Father Benedict says in the Rule concerning the abbot without thinking of Saint Aelred: "Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken" (RB 64). Saint Aelred's Pastoral Prayer reveals a man conscious of his own infirmity and full of confidence in the mercy of Christ:

You know, Lord, my heart. You know that my desire is to devote wholly to their service whatever you have given your servant; to spend it completely for them. You know also that I am ready to be myself wholly spent, poured out, for them. May all I perceive and all I utter, my leisure and my occupation, my thoughts and my actions, my prosperity and my adversity, my life and my death, my health and my sickness, yes all that I am be spent on them, be poured out for them, for whom you yourself did not disdain to be poured out. Grant me, Lord, through your grace that is beyond our understanding, grant that I may bear their infirmities with patience, that I may have loving compassion for them, that I may come to their aid effectively. Taught by your Spirit may I learn to comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak and raise the fallen. May I be myself one with them in their weaknesses, one with them when they burn at causes of offense, one in all things with them, and all things to all of them, so that I may gain them all. And since you have given them this blind leader, this unlearned teacher, this ignorant guide, if not for my sake then for theirs teach him whom you have made to be their teacher, lead him whom you have bidden to lead them, rule him who is their ruler.

His Last Words

Saint Aelred's biographer and friend, Walter Daniel, describes the abbot's death. Saint Aelred's last words were, "Festinate, for Crist luve." Walter Daniel explains: "He spoke the Lord's name in English, since he found it easier to utter, and in some way sweeter to hear in the language of his birth." "Festinate, for Crist luve." Hasten, for Christ's love! I want to make Saint Aelred's words at the hour of his death my own as I approach the adorable mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. Holy Father Saint Aelred, obtain for us today a threefold grace: willingly to go to Christ our Physician, tenderly to love Christ our Friend, and fervently to adore Christ our God.

Saint Aelred of Rievaulx

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For study and meditation: proper texts for the Mass of Saint Aelred, Abbot.

January 12
Saint Aelred, Abbot


Entrance Antiphon

MR
The Lord is my inheritance and my cup; he alone will give me my reward.
The measuring line has marked a lovely place for me;
my inheritance is my great delight (Ps 15:5-6).

or GR, Caritas Dei, 248.

The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts
by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
V. My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name (Rom 5:5; Ps 102:1).

Collect

O God,
who gave the blessed Abbot Aelred
the grace of being all things to all men,
grant that, following his example,
we may so spend ourselves in the service of one another,
as to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Prayer Over the Oblations

Most merciful God,
who, in the Blessed Abbot Aelred,
deigned to make an end of the old self
and to create a new self according to your own desire,
mercifully grant
that we also, renewed in like manner,
may offer this, the acceptable sacrifice of our atonement.
Through Christ our Lord.

Preface

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Tenderly you drew Saint Aelred
to the school of your service
where, having tasted of the sweetness of your love,
he became the gentle father of many sons,
a merciful shepherd to the weak,
and a model of spiritual friendship.

Inflamed by the love of Christ,
he embraced the Cross
as the pattern of monastic conversion,
and so attained the repose of those who love you,
the true and eternal Sabbath of the blessed.

And so, on his feast day, we join with him to adore you,
and with all the company of Angels and Saints,
sing the ageless hymn of your praise:

Communion Antiphon

MR
What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,
with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake (2 Cor 4:5).

Postcommunion

Almighty God,
we beseech you
that, fortified by the strength of this sacrament,
we may learn, from the example of the Blessed Abbot Aelred,
to seek you above all things,
and to bear, while we are yet in this world,
the imprint of the new self.
Through Christ our Lord.

Iesu, Rex Admirabilis

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I was fifteen or sixteen years old when, thanks to a fervent Trappist laybrother at Saint Joseph's Abbey, I discovered a lovely English translation of Dulcis Iesu Memoria in a small black-covered volume called The Cistercian Day Hours. The laybrother in question encouraged me to pray the hymns of The Cistercian Day Hours as he did, savouring them and learning them by heart. I no longer have a copy of The Cistercian Days Hours at hand, and suspect that it is long out of print.

The second section of the Iubilus Rithmicus de Amore Iesu was assigned to Matins. The translation here is Father Caswall's.

At Matins

O Jesu, King most wonderful!
Thou conqueror renowned!
Thou sweetness most ineffable!
In whom all joys are found!

Stay with us, Lord, and with thy light
Illume the soul's abyss;
Scatter the darkness of ournight,
And fill the world with bliss!

Jesu, thy mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousandfold
Whatever we can say.

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A Friend in Heaven

Today, December 16th, is the dies natalis (heavenly birthday) of the Servant of God, Father Lukas Etlin, O.S.B., a monk of Conception Abbey. I made a novena to Father Lukas last month beginning on November 16th. On the evening of December 8th, feast of the Immaculate Conception, I was given a picture of Father Lukas. I slipped it into the pocket of my habit before driving home. Less than fifteen minutes later I was the astonished and grateful surviver of a terrible automobile crash. No bumps, bruises, scratches, aches, or pains.

From Switzerland to Missouri

Father Lukas was born Alfred Etlin, on February 25, 1864 in Sarnen, the capital of Canton Obwalden in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. In 1886 young Alfred left the natural beauty of his homeland for the new monastery founded by Abbot Frowin Conrad in Conception, Missouri. Clothed in the Benedictine habit, Alfred became Frater Lukas. He made monastic profession on November 13, 1887 and was ordained a priest on the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1891. He offered his First Mass at the Benedictine Convent of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri on the Feast of Saint Bernard, August 20, 1891.

The Invitatory: Venite adoremus

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Prepare Thy Soul

One might say that, in the structure of monastic Vigils, Psalm 3 (see my previous entry) corresponds to the porch of the vast temple of the Night Office; it is an act of preparation. Does not the wise Sirach say, "Before prayer prepare thy soul: and be not as a man that tempteth God? (Sir 18:23)?

Call to Adoration

Immediately after Psalm 3 comes the Invitatory Antiphon; it is, as its designation suggests, a pressing invitation to adoration. Venite, adoremus. It constitutes the narthex or vestibule of the Night Office; from the narthex the soul peers into the temple and sees, in the distance, the altar and the tabernacle of the Divine Presence, the object of all her desires.

The Invitatory Antiphon is sung twice before Psalm 94, and then repeated in whole or in part between the strophes of the psalm and after the doxology (Glory be to the Father).

The King Who Is to Come

During the first part of Advent, that is, until December 17th, the Invitatory Antiphon is: Regem venturum Dominum, venite, adoremus. "The Lord, the King who is to come: O come, let us adore." The first part of the Invitatory points 1) to Christ whose advent in the flesh will be re-presented (made present again!) in mystery by the sacred liturgy at Christmas; 2) to Christ whose secret advent in the souls of the faithful occurs so often as they are visited by his grace; 3) and to Christ, the Bridegroom-King, whose advent in glory we await. We acclaim Him as our Lord and King; one must listen for the resonances with the entire Advent liturgy and, in particular, with Matthew 25:1-46.

A Masterpiece of Three Notes

The Liber Hymnarius gives two melodies for the Invitatory Antiphon (see p. 4): one for weekdays and one for Sundays. The one for weekdays, in the Sixth Mode, is a masterpiece of musical composition. It makes use of only three notes! Yes, three notes: fa, sol, and la! And yet, musically, it is anything but poor. One never tires of repeating it. Its chaste simplicity is a suitable overture to the Night Office during the week.

Wake, Awake, for Night is Flying

The melody given for Sundays is a trumpet blast in the Fifth Mode. In fact, if you sing the first part attentively, you can hear the beginning of the hymn tune of J. S. Bach's "Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme."

Wake, awake, for night is flying;
The watchmen on the heights are crying:
Awake, Jerusalem, at last!
Midnight hears the welcome voices
And at the thrilling cry rejoices;
Come forth, ye virgins, night is past;
The Bridegroom comes, awake;
Your lamps with gladness take;
Alleluia! / And for His marriage feast prepare
For ye must go and meet Him there.

Sung Contemplation

The melody of the Invitatory Antiphon given for Sundays emphasizes three key words with a rich melismatic development: Dominum (Lord), venite (O come), and adoremus (let us adore). This is sung contemplation in its purest form.

Repetition: Sing It Again

Note that the text of the Invitatory Antiphon does not change; it is the same on Sundays as on weekdays, and this until December 17th. This is one of the key principles operative in the liturgy of the Church: repetition. The repetition of the same liturgical texts is indispensable; one takes to heart what one learns by heart. The modern craze for variety and options is fundamentally inimical to "the spirit of the liturgy."

The Ve-níghty

Now, for the Venite, Psalm 94 (95) itself: for over 1500 years this psalm has opened the Church's daily round of praise. I will never forget hearing an English lady -- very C. of E.-- share her pious enthusiasm for what she called "The Ve-nighty" at a meeting some years ago of the Barbara Pym Society of North America. Ve-nighty or Vay-née-tay, it is, day after day, the Church's glorious entrance into the the great work of adoration in spirit and in truth.

When the psalm is sung to any one of the melodies given in the Liber Hymnarius, the text is that of Saint Jerome's old Roman Psalter, translated from the Septuagint. Even after Saint Jerome revised his translation, giving us the Vulgate, the Church retained the older version of Psalm 94.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

Psalmody

In choir, it is customary to have two cantors sing the Invitatory Antiphon once; then the whole choir takes it up. The cantors sing the psalm by strophes; the choir repeats the Invitatory Antiphon in whole or in part after each strophe. The Church's tradition of psalmody admits strophic psalmody (i.e. four, five, six, or more lines) only for the Invitatory Psalm and now, more recently, for the Responsorial Psalm when it is sung at Mass. The usual psalmody at the Divine Office is sung by verses of two lines (mediant and ending) with an occasional verse of three lines requiring a flexus for the first line.

Lectio and Meditatio

This interplay of voices is significant; the sacred liturgy obliges us to listen (lectio) and to give voice to what we have heard. The repetition of the Antiphon is a meditatio, in the ancient sense of the word, that is, a repetition in view of the appropriation of the text by the heart.

A Choir of One

In solitary recitation one has to make the necessary adaptations. I sing the Invitatory Antiphon, and recite the strophes of Psalm 94 quietly, except for the doxology, which I sing to the chant indicated in the Liber Hymnarius. It is one of the loveliest moments of my day.

Come, let us exult unto the Lord,
let us raise a jubilant song to God our Saviour:
let us come before His Face with thanksgiving,
and with joyful psalms sing out to Him.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A great God is the Lord, and a great King above all the gods;
[for the Lord will not cast off His people]:
For in His hand are all the ends of the earth,
and the peaks of the mountains He beholds.

O come, let us adore!

For the sea is His and He made it,
and His hands founded the dry land?

[Here it is customary to kneel. This engagement of the body is integral to Catholic worship. One should feel adoration in one's muscles and joints!]

Come in, then, fall we down before God in adoration,
let us weep before the God who made us.

The Old Roman version and the Vulgate have us weeping, whereas the Hebrew text has us kneeling. With few exceptions, the entire corpus of Catholic and Orthodox commentaries on this psalm address "let us weep before the God who made us." For this reason, the Church holds to it in the sung Office. Saint Peter Chrysologus says that these are "tears of joy, for gladness brings weeping, as well as sorrow, and then grief for our past sins is blended with the hope of blessing and glory to come."

For He is the Lord our God,
and we are His people
and the sheep of His pasture.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

Would you but listen to his voice today!
Do not harden your hearts,
as they were hardened once at Meriba, at Massa in the wilderness.
Your fathers put me to the test, challenged me,
and had proof of my power.

O come, let us adore.

For forty years was I nigh to that generation
and said, These are are ever wayward hearts,
and they know not my ways,
[so] to them I took an oath in my wrath:
They shall never enter into my rest.

The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

A profound bow -- hands crossed on one's knees -- accompanies the first half of the doxology, and thIs throughout the entire Divine Office Again, there is a physicality to Catholic and Orthodox worship. Even when the Divine Office is prayed in solitude or outside of a choral context, one ought to make the effort to include the traditional gestures that are integral to its make-up.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the begining, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.

O come, let us adore.
The Lord, the King Who is to come; O come, let us adore!

To be continued.

In the School of the Lord's Service

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Food for the Soul

Over the past several weeks I have been reading two fascinating and inspiring biographies by Dom Guy-Marie Oury, O.S.B. The first is Dom Guéranger, moine au coeur de l'Eglise, and the second, Lumière et force, Mère Cécile Bruyère, première abbesse de Sainte-Cécile. Both books are published aux Éditions de Solesmes. (Yes, rather like a Carthusian, I do attempt to read during my main meal with the book balanced on a stand in front of me. Most of the time, it works.)

Approaches to Prayer

One of the controversies that marked the restoration of Benedictine life at Solesmes had to do with the new -- but, in fact, very ancient -- approach to prayer that both Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère practiced and taught. In the nineteenth centuary and even, to a certain extent today, the greater number of Catholics seeking Divine Intimacy are oriented towards the doctrines and methods of prayer that flowered during the glorious Catholic Revival of the Counter-Reformation, following the Council of Trent (1560-1648).

Simple Adhesion to the Sacred Liturgy

To these relatively "modern" methods and systems of meditation and personal prayer -- prayer in secret, oraison, or oración -- Dom Guéranger and Madame Bruyère fostered a simple adhesion to the sacred liturgy of the Church as it unfolds hour by hour and day by day in the Mass and Divine Office. They saw no need to look elsewhere for direction, method, inspiration, or light. Their approach is at once childlike and confident because its rests on the certainty that Our Lord, having sent the Holy Spirit upon the Church, His Bride, has provided her, in the sacred liturgy, with everything necessary for the growth of her children in Divine Intimacy and in holiness. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit Himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings. And He that searcheth the hearts, knoweth what the Spirit desireth; because He asketh for the saints according to God" (Rom 8:26-27).

Source and Summit

When I finished the long Office of Vigils this morning I was struck anew by the wisdom of a simple surrender to the prayer of the Church, the Spouse of Christ. It is -- at least for souls willing to commit themselves to immersion in it, and adhesion to it -- the simplest and, I daresay, most fruitful way of growing in Divine Intimacy. While I respect and honour the various schools of holiness that, over time, have grown up in the Church, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, I find in the sacred liturgy the source and summit of them all.

Office of Vigils Revisited

Review with me, if you will, the structure of this morning's Office of Vigils. It began with the sign of the Cross traced over the lips and the threefold invocation taken from David's psalm of spiritual resurrection: "O Lord, open Thou my lips. And my mouth shall declare Thy praise" (Ps 50:15). God Himself opens our lips for prayer, and places within our hearts the very praise of the Son, the Eternal High Priest facing the Father, in the Holy Spirit. Prayer begins from above. It is, first of all, God's gracious gift to us before becoming our gift to Him.

With Confidence to the Throne of Grace

One enters prayer profoundly aware of one's poverty and creatureliness. The cross traced on one's lips, united to the opening verse from Psalm 50, signifies that it is by "the Blood of the Cross" (Col 1:20) and by the grace of the Holy Spirit that we are rendered capable of addressing the Father with a holy boldness. "Let us go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace: that we may obtain mercy, and find grace in seasonable aid" (Heb 4:16).

Psalm 3, A Daily Prayer

Saint Benedict prescribes straightaway the recitation of Psalm 3, and this every day. It is a prophecy of Our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection. Addressed to the Father, it is the prayer of Christ, "Who in the days of His flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was able to save him from death, was heard for His reverence" (Heb 5:7).

Spiritual Combat

Each day begins on a battlefield; each day is a new engagement in spiritual combat. "For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places" (Eph 6:12).

Spiritual Adversaries

See how they surround me, Lord, my adversaries,
how many rise up in arms against me;
everywhere voices taunting me,
his God cannot save him. (Ps 3:1-2)

My Glory and the Lifter Up of my Head

And, yet, in the thick of spiritual combat one grows in confidence, in abandonment to the Father's faithful love. "I am not alone, because the Father is with me" (Jn 16:2). "And Jesus lifting up his eyes said: Father, I give thee thanks that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always" (Jn 11:41-42).

And yet, Lord, thou art the shield that covers me,
thou art my glory and the lifter up of my head.
I have but to cry out to the Lord,
and my voice reaches his mountain sanctuary,
and there finds hearing. (Ps 3:3-4)

The following verse is, without any doubt, the reason for Saint Benedict's choice of Psalm 3 at the beginning of each day. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who before dying, said, "Father, into thy hands, I commend my spirit" (Lk 23:46), can also say, "Safe in my Father's hand, I lay down upon the wood of the Cross, and slept the sleep of death, and rose up again." One baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, and nourished with the mysteries of His immolated and glorious Body and Blood from the altar, is, at every moment, immersed in the Paschal Mystery, the ongoing work of redemption. I too can say, with Christ and in Him, "Safe in my Father's hand I lay down, and slept, and rose up again." Sleep and rising, sanctified by the prayer of the Church, are images of our participation in the death and resurrection of Our Lord.

Safe in God's hand I lay down, and slept,
and rose up again. (Ps 3:5)

I Will Not Be Afraid

This participation in the mystery of the Cross is the exorcism of fear and the ground of one's confidence in the triumph of Love. "For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 8:38-39).

Thy Benediction Upon Thy People

And now, though thousands of the people set upon me from every side,
I will not be afraid of them.
Bestir thyself, Lord; my God, save me;
thine to smite my enemies on the cheek, thine to break the fangs of malice.
From the Lord all deliverance comes;
let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people. (Ps 3:6-8)

The psalm ends on a note of assurance and so inspires one to begin the new day in hope. There is a final petition: "Let thy benediction, Lord, rest upon thy people." Even when one prays in the first person singular, even when one prays alone, as I do in the little oratory of my anchorhold, one prays in communion with the whole Church, asking the blessing of the Lord upon all His people and, in my particular vocation, especially upon His priests, my brothers.

To be continued.

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The Suitable and the Unsuitable

There is much discussion in ecclesiastical and monastic circles about the discernment of vocations. One gets the impression, at times, that sinners -- even repentant ones -- are to be severely excluded as unsuitable. A monastery, or so it seems to me, is by its very nature a hospital for those afflicted with maladies of the soul. One enters a monastery to get better! My table reading of late is Dom Oury's biography of Dom Prosper Guéranger, Moine au coeur de l'Eglise. The following excerpt from one of the Abbot's letters to Madame Swetchine (13 January 1838) struck me. The translation from the French and the phrases in italics are my own.

As for the good Catholics of the Faubourg Saint-Germain who think that Solesmes is not a place of penitence, I have but one little word to say; it is that, like my Divine Master, I have not come to call the just, but sinners and that our house is at the service of all those touched by grace. Let them all come. I am quite ready to bear the reproach of eating with sinners, for I am a sinner myself and not just, like the One to whom this reproach was made.
O woman of little faith! Why did you think that? You don't know what a monk is. May this house of ours perish if there be in the world a single repentant soul to whom the statutes would close it. ( . . .)
Oh! I admit that I was humiliated to the quick to discover that our house was considered a house for the learned, but I am even more humiliated to learn that one thinks it open only to saints! Alas! If it were so, it would have nothing in common with heaven, which our Saviour opened so widely to the little ones and to the ignorant, but also to sinners and to women of wicked life: He spoke thus. Like Saint Paul, I do not blush on account of the Gospel.

Ut gaudium meum in vobis sit

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At Today's Second Nocturn

This is what I read at the Second Nocturn of Matins this morning. It is a good example of what gives the writings of Blessed Abbot Marmion their distinctive unction. They have a comforting, penetrating quality that comes from His extensive use and repetition of the words of Sacred Scripture. In this brief passage of less than two pages, he quotes Sacred Scripture eleven times. Abbot Marmion had the habit of giving the same text twice, once in English (or French), and then in Latin, the language of the sacred liturgy in which the Word of God came to him by dint of repetition in the Mass and Divine Office.

Marmion and the Year of Saint Paul

Abbot Marmion is a worthy companion for this Year of Saint Paul. He, more than any other popular spiritual writer of the last century, made the teachings of Saint Paul come to life for his readers. Not surprisingly, Saint Paul and Saint John are the two biblical sources that appear most frequently in his writings; the Abbot knew them practically by heart.

A Reading from Christ in His Mysteries by the Blessed Columba Marmion, O.S.B.

Let us remain faithful to Jesus in spite of everything.
We have heard that He is the Son of God, equal to God;
His words do not pass away: He is the Eternal Word.
Now, He affirms that he that follows Him shall have the "light of life":
Habebit lumen vitae (Jn 8, 12).
Happy the soul that listens to Him, and Him only,
and listens always, without doubting His word,
without being shaken by the blasphemies of His enemies,
without being overcome by temptation or cast down by trial!
We know not, says Saint Paul, what a weight of glory is laid up for us
in return for the least suffering borne in union with Christ Jesus (cf. 2 Cor 4, 17).
"God is faithful" (1 Cor 1, 9; 10, 13, 2 Thess 3, 2);
and in all the vicissitudes through which a soul passes,
God infallibly leads her to this transformation
which makes her like unto His Son.

Thus our transformation into Jesus is inwardly brought about,
little by little, until the day comes when the soul will appear radiant
in that company of the elect who bear the mark of the Lamb,
those whom the Lamb transfigures because they are His own.

Our Lord Himself promised this to us.
"The world shall rejoice" (Jn 16, 20), He said before leaving us,
but here below you shall be in sorrow and trial as I was
before entering into my glory:
Opportuit pati Christum et ita intrare in gloriam suam (Lk 24, 26).

That is necessary, it is the way of My providence;
but remain steadfast.
"Have confidence," confidite (Jn 16, 33).
"I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Mt 28, 20).
Now your faith receives Me each day in the mystery of My self-abasement,
but I will come one day in the full revelation of My glory.
And you, My faithful disciples, shall share this glory,
for you are one with Me.
Did I not ask this of My Father when about to pay the price of it by My Sacrifice?
"Father, I will that where I am, they also whom Thou hast given Me
may be with Me; that they may see My glory which Thou hast given Me,
because Thou hast loved Me before the creation of the world":
Pater, VOLO ut ubi sum ego, et ill sint MECUM,
ut videant claritatem meam quam dedisti mihi (Jn 17, 24).

As for you whom I have called My friends,
to whom I have confided the secrets of My Divine life, as My Father ordained;
you who have believed, and have not left Me,
you shall enter into My joy, and live by Me.
Full life, perfect joy, because it will be My own life and My personal joy
that I will give you.
My life and My joy as Son of God,
Ut gaudium MEUM in vobis sit,
et gaudium vestrum
IMPLEATUR (Jn 15, 11).

Quaerere Deum

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Pope Benedict XVI
Collège des Bernardins, Paris
12 September 2008

The Holy Father's discourse today at the Collège des Bernardins (a familiar way of referring to monks of the Order of Cîteaux) in Paris, must be read in relationship to the equally masterful discourse he gave on September 9, 2007 at the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria. The Holy Father's presentation of the monastic culture of The Word, and of the role it played in the development of letters and of learning in Europe, is simply brilliant. I was particularly taken by His Holiness' treatment of the birth of Christian liturgical chant: a music whose worthiness of God resounds in purity.

Built by the Sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux

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Dear friends, we are gathered in a historic place, built by the spiritual sons of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, and which the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger desired to be a centre of dialogue between Christian Wisdom and the cultural, intellectual, and artistic currents of contemporary society. In particular, I greet the Minister of Culture, who is here representing the Government, together with Mr Giscard d'Estaing and Mr Jacques Chirac. I likewise greet all the Ministers present, the Representatives of UNESCO, the Mayor of Paris, and all other Authorities in attendance. I do not want to forget my colleagues from the French Institute, who are well aware of my regard for them. I thank the Prince of Broglie for his cordial words. We shall see each other again tomorrow morning. I thank the delegates of the French Islamic community for having accepted the invitation to participate in this meeting: I convey to them by best wishes for the holy season of Ramadan already underway. Of course, I extend warm greetings to the entire, multifaceted world of culture, which you, dear guests, so worthily represent.

The Culture of Monasticism

I would like to speak with you this evening of the origins of western theology and the roots of European culture. I began by recalling that the place in which we are gathered is in a certain way emblematic. It is in fact a placed tied to monastic culture, insofar as young monks came to live here in order to learn to understand their vocation more deeply and to be more faithful to their mission. We are in a place that is associated with the culture of monasticism. Does this still have something to say to us today, or are we merely encountering the world of the past? In order to answer this question, we must consider for a moment the nature of Western monasticism itself. What was it about? From the perspective of monasticism's historical influence, we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. But how did it happen? What motivated men to come together to these places? What did they want? How did they live?

Searching for God

First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: "quaerere Deum". Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential - to make an effort to find what was perennially valid and lasting, life itself. They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. It is sometimes said that they were "eschatologically" oriented. But this is not to be understood in a temporal sense, as if they were looking ahead to the end of the world or to their own death, but in an existential sense: they were seeking the definitive behind the provisional.

The Culture of the Word

"Quaerere Deum": because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow. This path was his word, which had been disclosed to men in the books of the sacred Scriptures. Thus, by inner necessity, the search for God demands a culture of the word or - as Jean Leclercq put it: eschatology and grammar are intimately connected with one another in Western monasticism (cf. "L'amour des lettres et le désir de Dieu"). The longing for God, the "désir de Dieu," includes "amour des lettres," love of the word, exploration of all its dimensions. Because in the biblical word God comes towards us and we towards him, we must learn to penetrate the secret of language, to understand it in its construction and in the manner of its expression. Thus it is through the search for God that the secular sciences take on their importance, sciences which show us the path towards language. Because the search for God required the culture of the word, it was appropriate that the monastery should have a library, pointing out pathways to the word. It was also appropriate to have a school, in which these pathways could be opened up. Benedict calls the monastery a "dominici servitii schola." The monastery serves "eruditio," the formation and education of man - a formation whose ultimate aim is that man should learn how to serve God. But it also includes the formation of reason - education - through which man learns to perceive, in the midst of words, the Word itself.

Compunction

Yet in order to have a full vision of the culture of the word, which essentially pertains to the search for God, we must take a further step. The Word which opens the path of that search, and is to be identified with this path, is a shared word. True, it pierces every individual to the heart (cf. Acts 2:37). Gregory the Great describes this a sharp stabbing pain, which tears open our sleeping soul and awakens us, making us attentive to God (cf. Leclercq, p. 35). But in the process, it also makes us attentive to one another. The word does not lead to a purely individual path of mystical immersion, but to the pilgrim fellowship of faith. And so this word must not only be pondered, but also correctly read. As in the rabbinic schools, so too with the monks, reading by the individual is at the same time a corporate activity. "But if "legere" and "lectio" are used without an explanatory note, then they designate for the most part an activity which, like singing and writing, engages the whole body and the whole spirit", says Jean Leclercq on the subject (ibid., 21).

At the Origin of Liturgical Chant

And once again, a further step is needed. We ourselves are brought into conversation with God by the word of God. The God who speaks in the Bible teaches us how to speak with him ourselves. Particularly in the book of Psalms, he gives us the words with which we can address him, with which we can bring our life, with all its highpoints and lowpoints, into conversation with him, so that life itself thereby becomes a movement towards him. The psalms also contain frequent instructions about how they should be sung and accompanied by instruments. For prayer that issues from the word of God, speech is not enough: music is required. Two chants from the Christian liturgy come from biblical texts in which they are placed on the lips of angels: the "Gloria", which is sung by the angels at the birth of Jesus, and the "Sanctus", which according to Isaiah 6 is the cry of the seraphim who stand directly before God. Christian worship is therefore an invitation to sing with the angels, and thus to lead the word to its highest destination. Once again, Jean Leclercq says on this subject: "The monks had to find melodies which translate into music the acceptance by redeemed man of the mysteries that he celebrates. The few surviving capitula from Cluny thus show the Christological symbols of the individual modes" (cf. ibid. p. 229).

Music Whose Worthiness Resounds in Purity

For Benedict, the words of the Psalm: "coram angelis psallam Tibi, Domine" - in the presence of the angels, I will sing your praise (cf. 138:1) - are the decisive rule governing the prayer and chant of the monks. What this expresses is the awareness that in communal prayer one is singing in the presence of the entire heavenly court, and is thereby measured according to the very highest standards: that one is praying and singing in such a way as to harmonize with the music of the noble spirits who were considered the originators of the harmony of the cosmos, the music of the spheres. From this perspective one can understand the seriousness of a remark by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who used an expression from the Platonic tradition handed down by Augustine, to pass judgement on the poor singing of monks, which for him was evidently very far from being a mishap of only minor importance. He describes the confusion resulting from a poorly executed chant as a falling into the "zone of dissimilarity" - the "regio dissimilitudinis". Augustine had borrowed this phrase from Platonic philosophy, in order to designate his condition prior to conversion (cf. Confessions, VII, 10.16): man, who is created in God's likeness, falls in his godforsakenness into the "zone of dissimilarity" - into a remoteness from God, in which he no longer reflects him, and so has become dissimilar not only to God, but to himself, to what being human truly is. Bernard is certainly putting it strongly when he uses this phrase, which indicates man's falling away from himself, to describe bad singing by monks. But it shows how seriously he viewed the matter.

The Culture of Singing is the Culture of Being

It shows that the culture of singing is also the culture of being, and that the monks have to pray and sing in a manner commensurate with the grandeur of the word handed down to them, with its claim on true beauty. This intrinsic requirement of speaking with God and singing of him with words he himself has given, is what gave rise to the great tradition of Western music. It was not a form of private "creativity", in which the individual leaves a memorial to himself and makes self-representation his essential criterion. Rather it is about vigilantly recognizing with the "ears of the heart" the inner laws of the music of creation, the archetypes of music that the Creator built into his world and into men, and thus discovering music that is worthy of God, and at the same time truly worthy of man, music whose worthiness resounds in purity.

The Scriptures and the Journey Toward Christ

In order to understand to some degree the culture of the word, which developed deep within Western monasticism from the search for God, we need to touch at least briefly on the particular character of the book, or rather books, in which the monks encountered this word. The Bible, considered from a purely historical and literary perspective, is not simply one book but a collection of literature, which came into being in the course of more than a thousand years and in which the inner unity of the individual books is not immediately recognizeable. On the contrary, there are visible tensions between them. This is already the case within the Bible of Israel, which we Christians call the Old Testament. It is only rectified when we as Christians link the New Testament writings as, so to speak, a hermeneutical key with the Bible of Israel, and so understand the latter as the journey towards Christ. With good reason, the New Testament generally designates the Bible not as "the Scripture" but as "the Scriptures", which, when taken together, are naturally then regarded as the one word of God to us. But the use of this plural makes it quite clear that God's word only comes to us here through the human word and through human words, that God only speaks to us through the mediation of human agents, their words and their history. This means again that the divine element in the word and in the words is not self-evident. To say this in a modern way: the unity of the biblical books and the divine character of their words cannot be grasped by purely historical methods. The historical element is seen in the multiplicity and the humanity. From this perspective one can understand the formulation of a medieval couplet that at first sight appears rather disconcerting: "littera gesta docet - quid credas allegoria ..." (cf. Augustine of Dacia, "Rotulus pugillaris", I). The letter indicates the facts; what you have to believe is indicated by allegory, that is to say, by Christological and pneumatological exegesis.

A New Challenge to Every Generation

We may put it even more simply: Scripture requires exegesis, and it requires the context of the community in which it came to birth and in which it is lived. This is where its unity is to be found, and here too its unifying meaning is opened up. To put it yet another way: there are dimensions of meaning in the word and in words which only come to light within the living community of this history-generating word. Through the growing realization of the different layers of meaning, the word is not devalued, but in fact appears in its full grandeur and dignity. Therefore the Catechism of the Catholic Church can rightly say that Christianity does not simply represent a religion of the book in the classical sense (cf. par. 108). It perceives in the words the word, the Logos itself, which spreads its mystery through this multiplicity. This particular structure of the Bible issues a constantly new challenge to every generation. It excludes by its nature everything that today is known as fundamentalism. In effect, the word of God can never simply be equated with the letter of the text. To attain to it involves a transcending and a process of understanding, led by the inner movement of the whole and hence it also has to become a process of living. Only within the dynamic unity of the whole are the many books one book. God's word and action in the world are only revealed in the word and history of human beings.

Christ the Lord Shows Us the Way

The whole drama of this topic is illuminated in the writings of Saint Paul. What is meant by the transcending of the letter and understanding it solely from the perspective of the whole, he forcefully expressed as follows: "The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3:6). And he continues: "Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (cf. 2 Cor 3:17). But one can only understand the greatness and breadth of this vision of the biblical word if one listens closely to Paul and then discovers that this liberating Spirit has a name, and hence that freedom has an inner criterion: "The Lord is the Spirit. Where the Spirit is ... there is freedom" (2 Cor 3:17). The liberating Spirit is not simply the exegete's own idea, the exegete's own vision. The Spirit is Christ, and Christ is the Lord who shows us the way. With the word of Spirit and of freedom, a further horizon opens up, but at the same time a clear limit is placed upon arbitrariness and subjectivity, which unequivocally binds both the individual and the community and brings about a new, higher obligation than that of the letter: namely, the obligation of insight and love. This tension between obligation and freedom, which extends far beyond the literary problem of scriptural exegesis, has also determined the thinking and acting of monasticism and has deeply marked Western culture. It presents itself anew as a task for our generation too, vis-à-vis the poles of subjective arbitrariness and fundamentalist fanaticism. It would be a disaster if today's European culture could only conceive freedom as absence of obligation, which would inevitably play into the hands of fanaticism and arbitrariness. Absence of obligation and arbitrariness do not signify freedom, but its destruction.

Monastic Culture of Work

Thus far in our consideration of the "school of God's service", as Benedict describes monasticism, we have examined only its orientation towards the word - towards the "ora". Indeed, this is the starting point that sets the direction for the entire monastic life. But our consideration would remain incomplete if we did not also at least briefly glance at the second component of monasticism, indicated by the "labora". In the Greek world, manual labour was considered something for slaves. Only the wise man, the one who is truly free, devotes himself to the things of the spirit; he views manual labour as somehow beneath him, and leaves it to people who are not suited to this higher existence in the world of the spirit. The Jewish tradition was quite different: all the great rabbis practised at the same time some form of handcraft. Paul, who as a Rabbi and then as a preacher of the Gospel to the Gentile world was also a tent-maker and earned his living with the work of his own hands, is no exception here, but stands within the common tradition of the rabbinate. Monasticism took up this tradition; manual work is a constitutive element of Christian monasticism. Benedict in his "Rule" does not speak specifically about schools, although in practice, he presupposes teaching and learning, as we have seen. He does, however, speak explicitly about work (cf. Chap. 48). And so does Augustine, who dedicated a book of his own to monastic work. Christians, who thus continued in the tradition previously established by Judaism, must have felt further vindicated by Jesus's saying in Saint John's Gospel, in defence of his activity on the Sabbath: "My Father is working still, and I am working" (5:17). The Graeco-Roman world did not have a creator God; according to its vision, the highest divinity could not, as it were, dirty his hands in the business of creating matter. The "making" of the world was the work of the Demiurge, a lower deity. The Christian God is different: he, the one, real and only God, is also the Creator. God is working; he continues working in and on human history. In Christ, he enters personally into the laborious work of history. "My Father is working still, and I am working." God himself is the Creator of the world, and creation is not yet finished. God is working. Thus human work was now seen as a special form of human resemblance to God, as a way in which man can and may share in God's activity as creator of the world. Monasticism involves not only a culture of the word, but also a culture of work, without which the emergence of Europe, its ethos and its influence on the world would be unthinkable. Naturally, this ethos had to include the idea that human work and shaping of history is understood as sharing in the work of the Creator, and must be evaluated in those terms. Where such evaluation is lacking, where man arrogates to himself the status of god-like creator, his shaping of the world can quickly turn into destruction of the world.

The Monastic Journey

We set out from the premise that the basic attitude of monks in the face of the collapse of the old order and its certainties was "quaerere Deum" - setting out in search of God. We could describe this as the truly philosophical attitude: looking beyond the penultimate, and setting out in search of the ultimate and the true. By becoming a monk, a man set out on a broad and noble path, but he had already found the direction he needed: the word of the Bible, in which he heard God himself speaking. Now he had to try to understand him, so as to be able to approach him. So the monastic journey is indeed a journey into the inner world of the received word, even if an infinite distance is involved. Within the monks' seeking there is already contained, in some respects, a finding. Therefore, if such seeking is to be possible at all, there has to be an initial spur, which not only arouses the will to seek, but also makes it possible to believe that the way is concealed within this word, or rather: that in this word, God himself has set out towards men, and hence men can come to God through it. To put it another way: there must be proclamation, which speaks to man and so creates conviction, which in turn can become life. If a way is to be opened up into the heart of the biblical word as God's word, this word must first of all be proclaimed outwardly. The classic formulation of the Christian faith's intrinsic need to make itself communicable to others, is a phrase from the First Letter of Peter, which in medieval theology was regarded as the biblical basis for the work of theologians: "Always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason (the logos) for the hope that you all have" (Logos must become Apo-logia, word must become answer - 3:15). In fact, Christians of the nascent Church did not regard their missionary proclamation as propaganda, designed to enlarge their particular group, but as an inner necessity, consequent upon the nature of their faith: the God in whom they believed was the God of all people, the one, true God, who had revealed himself in the history of Israel and ultimately in his Son, thereby supplying the answer which was of concern to everyone and for which all people, in their innermost hearts, are waiting. The universality of God, and of reason open towards him, is what gave them the motivation--indeed, the obligation--to proclaim the message. They saw their faith as belonging, not to cultural custom that differs from one people to another, but to the domain of truth, which concerns all people equally.

The Incarnation

The fundamental structure of Christian proclamation "outwards" - towards searching and questioning mankind - is seen in Saint Paul's address at the Areopagus. We should remember that the Areopagus was not a form of academy at which the most illustrious minds would meet for discussion of lofty matters, but a court of justice, which was competent in matters of religion and ought to have opposed the import of foreign religions. This is exactly what Paul is reproached for: "he seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities" (Acts 17:18). To this, Paul responds: I have found an altar of yours with this inscription: 'to an unknown god'. What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you (17:23). Paul is not proclaiming unknown gods. He is proclaiming him whom men do not know and yet do know - the unknown-known; the one they are seeking, whom ultimately they know already, and who yet remains the unknown and unrecognizable. The deepest layer of human thinking and feeling somehow knows that he must exist, that at the beginning of all things, there must be not irrationality, but creative Reason - not blind chance, but freedom. Yet even though all men somehow know this, as Paul expressly says in the Letter to the Romans (1:21), this knowledge remains unreal: a God who is merely imagined and invented is not God at all. If he does not reveal himself, we cannot gain access to him. The novelty of Christian proclamation is that it can now say to all peoples: he has revealed himself. He personally. And now the way to him is open. The novelty of Christian proclamation consists in one fact: he has revealed himself. Yet this is no blind fact, but one that is itself Logos - the presence in our flesh of eternal reason. "Verbum caro factum est" (Jn 1:14): just so, amid what is made (factum) there is now Logos, Logos is among us. Creation (factum) is rational. Naturally, the humility of reason is always needed, in order to accept it: man's humility, which responds to God's humility.

The Search for God and the Readiness to Listen to Him

Our present situation differs in many respects from the one that Paul encountered in Athens, yet despite the difference, the two situations also have much in common. Our cities are no longer filled with altars and with images of multiple deities. God has truly become for many the great unknown. But just as in the past, when behind the many images of God the question concerning the unknown God was hidden and present, so too the present absence of God is silently besieged by the question concerning him. "Quaerere Deum" - to seek God and to let oneself be found by him, that is today no less necessary than in former times. A purely positivistic culture which tried to drive the question concerning God into the subjective realm, as being unscientific, would be the capitulation of reason, the renunciation of its highest possibilities, and hence a disaster for humanity, with very grave consequences. What gave Europe's culture its foundation - the search for God and the readiness to listen to him - remains today the basis of any genuine culture.

Le père humilié

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Saint Thérèse and Her Father

Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, reflecting on Isaiah's prophecy of the Servant, related it to the humiliation of her own father's suffering. When Thérèse was seven years old she had a vision of a man in the garden, dressed like her father, but going about with his head veiled. Only later did she realize that this was a mysterious prophecy of her father's mental illness. Profoundly affected by her father's suffering, Thérèse lived it as an opportunity to deepen her understanding of the humiliation of Christ in His Passion. Thérèse made some profound connections: she related her father in his sufferings to the humiliation of Christ in His Passion, and related the humiliation of Christ in His Passion to the Fatherhood of God.

The Holy Face

The violence against the Face of Christ in His Passion was, at the deepest level, an attempt by the Evil One to disfigure the Fatherhood of God. Our Lord says, "He who has seen me has seen the Father; how can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father in me?" (Jn 14:9-10). From the beginning, the Evil One has sought to discredit the Fatherhood of God by sowing suspicion and doubt in the hearts of His children. The cruel disfiguration of the Face of Christ with blows, bruises, spittle, and thorns was the Evil One's mad attempt to vilify the Father.

War on the Family

The Evil One pursues the same agenda today. He seeks by every means to humiliate the father and to disfigure the face of fatherhood in society. John Saward, in his splendid book, The Way of the Lamb, The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age, writes: "The modern western world seems to have declared war on the family in all its members. It is destructive of the child, disparaging of the mother, and derisive of the father. Feminism, now complacently installed as the worldly wisdom of the West, tends to regard fathers as oppressive monsters . . . . All that is male, even the masculine pronoun, offends the feminist rulers of this age. Sometimes it seems as if the head of every father is veiled in shame, un père humilié."

The Father Under Attack

Every attack on the father is an attempt from below to undermine the headship of Christ, "the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15) in Whom, "all things hold together" (Col 1:17). Just as Christ holds all things in the universe together, so too does the father hold all things together in the family. Abandoned by the father, the family disintegrates. Nothing so damages the wholeness of the family as the absence of the father.

Forty Years After Humanae Vitae

While pursuing the disgrace of the father, the Evil One continues to pursue the degradation of the mother. The widespread rejection in 1968 of Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae drove a wedge between conjugal union and openness to the gift of life. As a result, the bride was no longer seen as a woman honouring within herself that most radiant of gifts: potential motherhood. The image of the mother was separated from that of the faithful spouse. By disfiguring the woman -- an image of the Church in her dignity of virgin, bride, spouse, and mother -- Satan seeks to discredit the Church, the Spouse of Christ and ever-fruitful Mother of the faithful.

Dissent from the teaching of Humanae Vitae paved the way for the widespread acceptance of artificial birth control, casual sexual relations, abortion, and the militant homosexual agenda that, seeking to parody marriage between one man and one woman, replaces conjugal fruitfulness with a self-indulgent sterility. The acceptance of abortion leads, inexorably, to the acceptance of parricide (the killing of parents) and infanticide. The society that kills its children becomes patricidal and matricidal. The society that discredits fatherhood and motherhood becomes sterile and dies.

The Consecrated Life

The poisonous trends of the culture of death have not spared the consecrated life itself. The crisis around Humanae Vitae corresponded exactly to the moment when religious began to speak naïvely of "openness to the world." The spirit of the world, the flesh, and the devil seeped through the cracks in the cloister and, in the most pernicious and subtle ways, infected religious and monastic life with the prejudices of the age against the father, the mother, and the child.

The Abdication of the Fathers

Rejection of the father began to manifest itself in the contestation of all paternal authority, focusing on that of the Pope. This was just another manifestation of what Von Balthasar so aptly calls Der Antirömische Affekt, "The Anti-Roman Complex." The very name of Father, in use from the Apostolic Age and honoured in the monastic deserts of Egypt and Palestine, fell into disaffection. Superiors felt the need to be "a brother among brothers," failing to see that by doing so they were abdicating the very grace of state constitutive of their spiritual authority.

The collapse of the religious or monastic family ensued, just as the collapse of the natural family would follow any father's abdication of his paternal authority. The most extreme manifestation of this disaffection for the Father is the kind of cultural patricide we see in society today. The same patricide holds sway in the religious community bent on eradicating every vestige of fatherhood in the name of liberty, fraternity, and equality.

The Mother Under Suspicion

Rejection of the mother was, if anything, even more vicious. The years immediately following the Second Vatican Council saw a widespread critique of the consecrated woman as sponsa Verbi -- bride of Christ -- and a decline in practices of devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. The anti-motherhood propaganda of radical feminism, based on the lie that motherhood limits a woman's freedom to be herself, combined with the rejection of Humanae Vitae to cast suspicion on every expression of maternal authority and spiritual motherhood.

Virtual Matricide

The failure of a few women religious to live the grace of spiritual motherhood wisely and tenderly became an excuse for the extermination of the mother, setting in motion a matricidal revolution. Immature religious women dealing with unresolved emotional conflicts within themselves found in this trend a justification for the expression of an anti-maternal animosity. Superiors were coerced into abdicating their maternal authority or, deceived by the lies of the age, did so willingly, contributing thereby to the disintegration of the spiritual families entrusted to them and to their inexorable descent into sterility.

The anti-maternal lies perpetrated by the culture of death were received uncritically by many religious. The name of Mother, like that of Father, had to be erased at all costs. Meanwhile, Satan laughed in scorn, knowing full well that the extinction of the mother leads to the extinction of life itself and not just to sterility, but ultimately to death.

The Wasteland of the Fatherless and Motherless

A Church without spiritual fathers and mothers will become like a society without fathers and mothers: a barren wasteland populated by an angry people, strewn with the aborted remains of lives that could have been, and defiled by every manner of abuse and by the triple sin of patricide, matricide, and infanticide.

Nihil Amori Christi Praeponere

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Saints Benedict and Paul

This Solemnity of Our Father Saint Benedict, falling in the Pauline Year, invites us — I want to say, compels us — to reflect on the relationship between the Apostle of the Nations and the Patriarch of Monks. Saint Benedict was imbued with the Epistles of Saint Paul; he quotes the Apostle 23 times in the Holy Rule.

Saint Benedict’s choice of Pauline texts reveals a knowledge of the Apostle that could only have come from years of assiduous lectio divina: the words of the Apostle heard, repeated, prayed, and held in the heart. One finds a similar knowledge of Saint Paul in the writings of Blessed Columba Marmion. The author of Christ the Life of the Soul, Christ in His Mysteries, Christ the Ideal of the Monk, and Christ the Ideal of the Priest was steeped in the writings of the Apostle.

This Year’s Lectio Continua

The Pauline Year offers each of us a unique opportunity to become, like Saint Benedict, imbued with the message of the Apostle Paul. This is the year to let Saint Paul make a difference in your life. This is the year to hear his message with the ear of the heart as if for the first time. This is the year to undertake a lectio continua of his thirteen Epistles, adding for good measure the Letter to the Hebrews, which by an ancient ecclesiastical and liturgical tradition, was also attributed to the Apostle.

Begin with the Letter to the Romans and make your way through the Apostle’s writings. It is better to read several short passages a day, and one before falling asleep. You may want to read a passage before or after each of the Hours of the Divine Office. Find the system that works best for you, but do not let this Pauline Year pass you by without receiving the grace it offers you.

Saint Paul in the Rule of Saint Benedict

Prologue

1. Romans 13:11 And that knowing the season; that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. 12 The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light.

2. 1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God, I am what I am; and his grace in me hath not been void, but I have laboured more abundantly than all they: yet not I, but the grace of God with me.

3. 2 Corinthians 10:17 But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.

4. Romans 2:4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness, and patience, and longsuffering? Knowest thou not, that the benignity of God leadeth thee to penance?

Chapter 2: What Kind of Man the Abbot Should Be

5. Romans 8:15 For you have not received the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the spirit of adoption of sons, whereby we cry: Abba (Father).

6. Romans 2:11 For there is no respect of persons with God.

7. 2 Timothy 4:2 Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine.

Chapter 4: The Tools of Good Works

8. 1 Corinthians 2:9 But, as it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him.

Chapter 5: Obedience

9. 2 Corinthians 9:7 Every one as he hath determined in his heart, not with sadness, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.

Chapter 7: Humility

10. Philippians 2:8 He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.

11. Romans 8:36 As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

12. 1 Corinthians 4:12 And we labour, working with our own hands: we are reviled, and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it.

Chapter 25: Very Serious Faults

13. 1 Corinthians 5:5 To deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Chapter 27: The Concern the Abbot Must Have for the Excommunicated

14. 2 Corinthians 2:7 So that on the contrary, you should rather forgive him and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow.

Chapter 28: The Incorrigible

15. 1 Corinthians 5:13 Put away the evil one from among yourselves.

16. 1 Corinthians 7:15 But if the unbeliever depart, let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases. But God hath called us in peace.

Chapter 31: What Kind of Man the Cellarer of the Monastery Should Be

17. 1 Timothy 3:13 For they that have ministered well, shall purchase to themselves a good degree, and much confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus.

Chapter 40: The Measure of Drink

18. 1 Corinthians 7:7 For I would that all men were even as myself: but every one hath his proper gift from God; one after this manner, and another after that.

Chapter 49: The Observance of Lent

19. Romans 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.

Chapter 53: The Reception of Guests

20. Galatians 6:10 Therefore, whilst we have time, let us work good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith.

Chapter 63: The Order of the Community

21. Romans 12:10 Loving one another with the charity of brotherhood, with honour preventing one another.

Chapter 70: That No May Hit One Another

22. 1 Timothy 5:20 Them that sin reprove before all: that the rest also may have fear.

Chapter 72: On the Good Zeal Which Monks Ought to Have

23. Romans 12:10 Loving one another with the charity of brotherhood, with honour preventing one another.

The Experience of Being Loved by Christ

What exactly do Saint Paul and Saint Benedict have in common? A personal experience of the love of Jesus Christ. The Apostle himself could have counseled his spiritual children to “set nothing before the love of Christ” (RB 4:21). He could have instructed his disciples “to prefer nothing whatever to Christ” (RB 72:11). Saint Benedict, for his part, surely said with Paul, “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

The apostolic vocation of Saint Paul and the monastic vocation of Saint Benedict spring from the same experience of the love of Christ. Allow me, then, to borrow from the Holy Father’s homily for the opening of the Pauline Year, modifying it to bring home my point:

“In the Letter to the Galatians, Saint Paul gives a very personal profession of faith in which he opens his heart to readers of all times and reveals what was the most intimate drive of his life. "I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2: 20). All Paul's actions and all Benedict’s begin from this centre. Their faith is the experience of being loved by Jesus Christ in a very personal way. It is awareness of the fact that Christ did not face death for something anonymous but rather for love of him - of Paul, and of Benedict - and that, as the Risen One, he still loves Paul and still loves Benedict; in other words, Christ gave himself for each of them. Paul's faith, Benedict’s faith is being struck by the love of Jesus Christ, a love that overwhelms them to their depths and transforms them. The faith of the Apostle, like the faith of our glorious Patriarch, is not a theory, an opinion about God and the world. Their faith is the impact of God's love in their hearts.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Homily at Vespers for the Opening of the Pauline Year, Saturday, 28 June 2008)

The Most Holy Eucharist

Through the adorable Sacrament of Our Lord’s Most Holy Body and Blood, may it be given each of us to participate today in the experience of Saint Paul and of Saint Benedict. It is in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass that Jesus Christ loves us still, and gives Himself anew, inviting us, inciting us to set nothing before His love.

Saint Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx

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Jocelin of Furness, a contemporary of Saint Aelred, gives the following account of the saintly abbot in his Life of St Waldef:

"He was a man of fine old English stock. He left school early and was brought up from boyhood in the court of King David with Henry, the king’s son, and Waldef. In the course of time he became a monk, afterwards abbot of Rievaulx. His school learning was slight, but as a result of careful discipline in the exercise of his acute natural powers, he was cultured above many who had been thoroughly trained in secular learning. He drilled himself in the study of the Holy Scripture and left a lasting memorial behind him in writings distinguished by their lucid style, and wealth of edifying instruction, for he was wholly inspired by a spirit of wisdom and understanding. Moreover, he was a man of the highest integrity, of great practical wisdom, witty and eloquent, a pleasant companion, generous and discreet. And, with all these qualities he exceeded all his fellow prelates of the Church in his patience and tenderness. He was full of sympathy for the infirmities, both physical and moral, of others."

The photo below shows the ruins of the Abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire as they stand today. The Abbey was founded in 1132 at the direction of Saint Bernard. Three of its monks are acclaimed as saints: William, the founding abbot; Aelred, the third abbot; and Waldef, founder of the daughter-house of Melrose.

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Preface of Saint Aelred, Abbot

Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Tenderly you drew Saint Aelred
to the school of your service
where, having tasted of the sweetness of your love,
he became the gentle father of many sons,
a merciful shepherd to the weak,
and a model of spiritual friendship.

Inflamed by the love of Christ,
he embraced the Cross as the pattern of monastic conversion,
and so attained the repose of those who love you,
the true and eternal Sabbath of the blessed.

And so, on his feast day, we join with him to adore you,
and with all the company of Angels and Saints,
sing the ageless hymn of your praise:

And the Virgin's Name Was Mary

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The Most Holy Name of Mary

Sirach 24:17–21
Luke 1:46–48, 49–50, 53–54
Luke1:26–38

Victory in the Name of Mary

In 1683 Pope Innocent XI extended the existing Feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the universal Church to thank Our Lady for the victory of John Sobieski, king of Poland, over the forces of militant Islam. On September 11th, 1683, Muslim Turks attacked Vienna, threatening the Christian West. The next day, Sobieski, invoking the Blessed Virgin Mary and placing his forces under her protection, emerged victorious.

A Feast Restored to the Roman Missal

In the culture of the Middle East one thinks more readily in terms of centuries than in terms of years. It would seem that Osama Bin Ladin chose September 11th for the attack on the United States in memory of that attack on the West on September 11th, 1683. Symbolic dates are important. Pope John Paul II restored the feast of the Holy Name of Mary with the publication of the Third Typical Edition of the Roman Missal in 2002, one year after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.

The Invocation of the Name of Mary

The Holy Mother of God is no stranger to the struggles of her children in this valley of tears. She is attentive to every situation that threatens this world of ours, to every assault against the Church and, when we invoke her Holy Name, she is quick to intervene. When it comes to calling upon the Name of Mary, there is no struggle too global and too enormous, and no struggle too personal or too little. In the Bible, the name wields a mysterious power. Names are not to be pronounced casually or lightly. Names are not to be taken in vain. The invocation of the name renders present the one who is named. So often as you pronounce the sweet Name of Mary with devotion and confidence, Mary is present to you, ready to help. So often as you pronounce the sweet Name of Mary, you have her full and undivided attention.

As Oil Poured Out

The saints, drawing on a verse from the Song of Songs, compare the Name of Mary to a healing oil. “Thy Name is as oil poured out” (Ct 1:2). Oil heals the sick, gives off a sweet fragrance, and nourishes fire. In the same way the Name of Mary is like a balm on the wounds of the soul; there is no disease of the soul, however malignant, that does not yield to the power of the Name of Mary. The sound of Mary’s Name causes joy to spring up; the repetition of Mary’s Name warms the heart. If you would touch the Heart of the Father, pronounce the Name of Jesus; if you would touch the Heart of Jesus, pronounce the Name of Mary.

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Monday of the Twenty-Third Week of the Year I
Votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Good Counsel

Colossians 1:24–2:3
Psalm 61:5-6, (R. 7a)
Luke 6:6-11

Warning and Teaching

After listening to the teachings of the Holy Father over the past three days, it occurred to me that what Saint Paul says concerning himself in today’s First Reading applies also, by the grace of God, to Pope Benedict XVI:

“We proclaim Christ in you, the hope of glory,
warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom,
that we may present every man mature in Christ.
For this I toil,
striving with all the energy
which he mightily inspires within me” (Col 1:28-29).

To Present Every Man Mature in Christ

For the past three days the Holy Father has given himself tirelessly to an intense proclamation of Christ, the Hope of Glory. He called upon all Catholics, and not just those of Austria, to fix their gaze upon the Face of Christ and upon His open Heart. He warned every man. He taught every man in all wisdom. His teaching addressed all the members of the Church: bishops, priests, deacons, religious, monks, nuns, and lay faithful. His desire was none other than that of the Apostle: to present every man mature in Christ.

The Thoughts of God’s Spirit

Like those who watched Jesus teaching in the synagogue, there were those who watched the Holy Father “so that they might find an accusation against him” (Lk 6:7). The secular media, largely hostile to all things Catholic, cannot be trusted to provide objective coverage of the Holy Father. In First Corinthians Saint Paul says: “Mere man with his natural gifts cannot take in the thoughts of God’s Spirit; they seem mere folly to him, and he cannot grasp them, because they demand a scrutiny which is spiritual. Whereas the man who has spiritual gifts can scrutinize everything, without being subject himself, to any other man’s scrutiny” (1 Cor:15-16).

Yesterday evening, the Holy Father closed his apostolic journey with a visit to the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz. There he pronounced a discourse that was nothing less than his Charter for Monastic Life in the Third Millennium. Pope Benedict XVI addresses point by point the substance of Benedictine life for this generation and for all generations to come. It is a text that one needs to read on bended knee with profound humility and docility.

At the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, O.S.B., September 4, 5, and 6 will be marked by a triduum of Votive Masses in honour of the Holy Spirit.

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The triduum is being celebrated in supplication for the forthcoming General Chapter of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, which will be held in Brou-sur-Chantereine, France from September 19th until October 2nd.

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11
Psalm 26: 1-4, 13-14
Luke 4:31-37

Come, Holy Spirit

We begin today a triduum of Votive Masses in honour of the Holy Spirit in supplication for the forthcoming General Chapter of the Congregation of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, which will be held in France from September 19th to October 2nd. In a certain sense, a General Chapter must have the same characteristics as the apostolic assembly that preceded the first Pentecost in the Cenacle. What exactly are these? From the description given us by Saint Luke in the Acts of the Apostles 1:13-14, we can learn quite a lot.

In the Light of the Eucharistic Face of Christ

The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Apostles went into retreat in the Cenacle immediately following the Ascension of the Lord from Mount Olivet. Each one carried in his heart the memory of that last glimpse of the Face of Jesus, and each one longed to see His Face again. In the time that stretches from the Ascension to the return of Our Lord in glory, His Face is turned toward us in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist. It is in the Eucharist that our gaze meets His. The Eucharist celebrated, adored, and contemplated must be at the heart of the General Chapter, just as it must be at the heart of our life from day to day.

Under the Leadership of Peter

The second characteristic is a reference to the unique mission of Peter in the Apostolic College. Saint Peter is named first in the list of those who went into the Cenacle. The successor of Saint Peter is the Pope, the bishop of Rome. If we consider the example of the saints through the ages, we see that the most accurate measure of one’s attachment to the Church, one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, is the degree of one’s attachment to the Holy Father. Saint Catherine of Siena referred to the Pope as her “sweet Christ on earth.”

Hans Urs von Balthasar warned prophetically of the critical danger of the “anti-Roman complex.” The core of the Protestant heresy was and remains the assertion of the individual’s perception of truth over the “Splendour of Truth” taught and defended by the Successor of Saint Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. The individual Protestant persists in saying, “I know, I choose, I prefer, and I believe,” over and above what Christ teaches and defines through the mouth of Peter. The Protestant body or sect does the same thing; it is a group of individuals who persist in saying, “We know, we choose, we prefer, and we believe,” over and against what Christ teaches and defines through the mouth of Peter.

When Blessed John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council, he composed a beautiful prayer to the Holy Spirit; in that prayer he affirmed that a second Pentecost could take place only “under the leadership of Peter.” We must be wary of a certain kind of creeping Protestantism that sets parts of the body against the whole; it causes certain members of the Body to resist the direction given by the Head. Positively, we must renew the vow of obedience in all its ecclesial implications. History demonstrates that religious institutes flourish in proportion to their attachment to the See of Peter; they decline in proportion to the degree to which they are infected with the “anti-Roman complex.”

The Church Forever Young

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Here are the novices (wearing the white scapular) of the Cistercian Abbey of Heiligenkreuz in Austria. Pope Benedict XVI will be visiting the abbey next month. Heiligenkreuz is famous, among other things, for the splendour of the sacred liturgy.

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Guercino did this drawing of the martyrdom of Saints John and Paul in 1630-32. He used a pen and brown ink, a brush and brown wash. The decapitated body of one of the martyrs lies prostrate, while the other, kneeling, awaits his death. The executioner is seen from behind; his face is hidden from the viewer.

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Friends and Martyrs of the Church at Rome

Today is the memorial of Saints John and Paul, named both in the Martyrology and in the Roman Canon. John and Paul were Roman soldiers in the service of Constantia, the daughter of Constantine. They chose the friendship of Jesus Christ over the favour of Julian the Apostate. The liturgy draws on the imagery of the Apocalypse to describe them as “two olive trees and two candlesticks shining before the Lord” (Ap 11:4). The texts of their Proper Mass speak of the bonds of friendship and true fraternity.

The Church and Monastery of Saints John and Paul are on the Coelian Hill, a mere twenty minute walk from Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. One can also visit there the cell of Saint Paul of the Cross, founder of the Passionists.

The Mass and Office of Saints John and Paul left their mark on the soul of Suzanne Wrotnowska (Mother Marie des Douleurs), foundress of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified, and, over the years, provided her, again and again, with food for meditation and exhortation.

Safely Through a Hundred Trials

The Introit of the today’s Mass spoke to her heart; in some ways it was strikingly prophetic of things to come: “Multae tribulationes . . . Though a hundred trials beset the righteous, the Lord will bring them safely through them all. Under the Lord’s keeping every bone of theirs is safe, not one of them shall suffer harm” (Ps 33:30-21). Suzanne’s writings, even at this time, reveal her capacity to attend to the texts of the Mass and Divine Office, and to draw out of them light for the conversion of her life, fortitude, and joy.

True Brotherhood

Writing on the feast of Saints John and Paul in 1932, Mother Marie des Douleurs offered her daughters a teaching from the Alleluia verse of the Mass: “This is true brotherhood, that triumphed over the reproaches of earth and followed Christ, laying hold of the glories of a heavenly kingdom.” The youthful foundress, writing after a little more than six months of life in community, was demanding, uncompromising, and realistic:

The holy martyrs John and Paul found in their common martyrdom a brotherhood deeper than that of blood.
For us, without having been called to the honour of martyrdom, we will find true brotherhood not in natural affection, nor in a community of tastes, occupations, and life, but in the total immolation of ourselves.
Here, in the perfect unity of the divine Heart, is where we will find one another: in the complete sacrifice that we promise, translated into a continual, smiling, and courageous abnegation.
This brotherhood of ours is very sweet, very intimate, very true if it is above ourselves. Otherwise, not only will it be disappointing and mediocre, it will not be able to last. We will love one another to the extent that we are sacrificed, insofar as we will have shared in the dispositions of the divine Victim.

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The June 20th daily edition of L'Osservatore Romano contained an article on the ordination of two Olivetan Benedictine Monks of the Abbey of Santa Maria del Pilastrello in Lendinara. The title caught my attention immediately: Chiamati a riflettere il Volto di Cristo e la sua misericordia come figli di San Benedetto Called to reflect the Face of Christ and His Mercy as Sons of Saint Benedict.

Addressing Dom Nicola Bellinazzo and Dom Gabriele Ferrarese, the two monks to be ordained, one to the priesthood and the other to the diaconate, His Excellency, Mons. Lucio Soravito de Franceschi, bishop of Adrio-Rovigo, said:

Remaining Monks

You must never forget that, first of all, you are and you remain monks. The Council, in the decree on religious life, Perfectae Caritatis, affirms that "the principal duty of monks is the humble and noble service of the Divine Majesty within the walls of the monastery, either by dedicating themselves entirely to divine worship in a hidden life, or by taking on some legitimate work of the apostolate or of Christian charity."

To France

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I leave early tomorrow morning for la doulce France via Geneva. I will be giving some conferences in two monasteries of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified. I will return to Rome on May 25th.

First, I will go to the Monastère Saint–Benoît; then I will go to the Monastère de l'Incarnation. Fra Michel–Marie, our novice from Bénin, was supposed to accompany me but, at the last minute, he was denied admission to Switzerland. Such things are very complicated here. I don't know whether or not I will be able to write from France. I will bring my computer along and hope for the best.

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Allow me to recommend a book for the month of May: Mary Most Holy, Meditating With the Early Cistercians, edited by E. Rozanne Elder, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 2003. Dr. Elder presents Marian texts of the twelfth and thirteenth century drawn from thirteen Cistercian authors: Adam of Perseigne, Aelred of Rievaulx, Amadeus of Lausanne, Baldwin of Forde, Bernard of Clairvaux, Geoffrey of Auxerre, Gertrude the Great of Helfta, Gilbert of Hoyland, Guerric of Igny, Isaac of Stella, John of Forde, Stephen of Sawley, and William of Saint–Thierry.

Along the same lines, I should like to add my own (rather limited) presentation of devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary in Cistercian tradition and practice. If any one thing drew me to Cistercian branch of the great Benedictine family, it was its cherished tradition of love for Mary.

Saint Bernard, Citharista Mariae

Cistercian devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is at once strong and tender. It is lyrical — is not our Saint Bernard, the Abbot of Clairvaux, called the Citharista Mariae, Mary's Player of the Lyre? Cistercian devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary is also quotidian — finely woven into the fabric of every hour of every day.

The Holy Name of Mary, Virgin and Mother

At the beginning of the Order, the Blessed Virgin Mary, Queen of heaven and earth was declared for all time the Lady and Protectress of each of its monasteries. To this day, every Cistercian monastery bears a title of the Blessed Virgin and celebrates her glorious patronage on August 15th, the Solemnity of the Assumption. In 1335 the Cistercian General Chapter decreed that the seal of each abbey should bear the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is The Lady of the monastery: mother, sovereign, advocate, and protectress. This corporate dedication to the Mother of God is personalized by the custom of conferring upon every monk and nun of the Order at the time of his or her clothing in the habit, the sweet name of Maria.

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The White Cuculla

The white Cistercian choir habit — the cuculla or cowl — honours the purity of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the glory that is hers in the mystery of the Assumption where she is seated next to her risen and ascended Son. The white cowl is a sign of her protection, rather like the scapular of the Carmelites. When the Cistercian monk puts on his cowl before going to choir to sing the praises of God, he is, symbolically, clothing himself in the virtues of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his Mother.

In the Sacred Liturgy

In every Cistercian monastery the festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary are celebrated with a gladsome solemnity. The Cistercian liturgical calendar further elevates to the rank of solemnity days which the Roman calendar keeps with the rank of feast: February 2nd, the Presentation of the Lord/Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary; May 31st, the Visitation; and September 8th, the Nativity. For Cistercians, the highest Marian festival is the glorious Pasch of Summer, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary on August 15th. Much of the Office on that day is drawn from the sublime poetry of the Canticle of Canticles.

Until the liturgical upheavals that followed the Second Vatican Council, it was customary to provide for a daily celebration of the Mass De Beata (in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary) and to chant the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary daily in choir, alongside the Canonical Hours of the Great Office. The present practice is to sing an antiphon in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary at each of the Hours of the Divine Office. At every liturgical Hour Cistercians the world over praise the Blessed Virgin and seek her intercession. Individual monks and nuns may, of course, continue to pray the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on their own in addition to the Divine Office in choir.

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The Salve Regina

The Cistercian day ends with the solemn singing of the Salve Regina in a darkened church. Two candles illumine the image of the Mother of God: the life, sweetness, and hope of her children. According to tradition, the last three cries of the Salve ReginaO clemens! O pia! O dulcis Virgo Maria! — were added by Saint Bernard himself in a rapture of love for the Mother of Christ.

The Rosary

One last note: the roots of Mary's Psalter, the Holy Rosary, lie deep in Cistercian soil. In his book entitled, Louange des mystères du Christ: histoire du rosaire, Dr. Andreas Heinz of the Theological Faculty of Trier, presents the pre–history of the Rosary in its native Cistercian context. Already in the twelfth century, Cistercian monks were meditating the mysteries of Christ and of His Virgin Mother while repeating the Angelic Salutation, the Ave Maria. For five centuries the Rosary was a work in progress; it began in the silence of Cistercian (and Carthusian) cloisters before being popularized by the Order of Preachers. For the early Cistercians the meditation of the mysteries of our Lord and of His Mother was a kind of lectio divina, a way of extending the influence of the Sacred Liturgy and of holding its treasures in the secret of one's heart.

No Peace Without Chastity

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A Holy Abbess

The Benedictine–Cistercian calendar commemorates today Saint Franca of Piacenza, virgin (1173–1218). Franca was an intrepid monastic reformer. After enduring sufferings and persecutions as abbess of the Benedictines of San Siro, she became abbess of the Cistercian monastery of Plectoli, ruling her monastic family with maternal love. Franca was accustomed to spending entire nights in prayer to God in the oratory of the monastery. She died on the feast of Saint Mark the Evangelist, 25 April 1218.

The Collect of the Day

Only recently did I discover the beauty of the Collect given for the feast of Saint Franca. I don't how it escaped my notice until now.

Tua nos, omnipotens Deus, protectione custodi,
et castimoniae pacem mentibus nostris atque corporibus,
intercedente beata Francha virgine tua, propitiatus indulge,
ut veniente sponso Filio tuo Unigenito,
accensis lampadibus, eius digne praestolemur occursum.

Here is my translation:

Keep us safe, almighty God, by thy protection
and through the intercession of Saint Franca, virgin,
grant to our minds and to our bodies
the peace of a life that is chaste
,
so that at the advent of the Bridegroom,
thine only–begotten Son,
we may hasten forth to meet Him
with lighted lamps.

Chastity Produces Serenity

The Collect makes us ask, "for mind and body the peace of a life that is chaste." One might also translate the phrase as "for mind and body the peace that comes from living chastely." Serenity, or peace of mind and body, is one of the benefits of chastity.

That Terrible Itch

Those who have lived in unchastity — I am thinking, in particular, of Saint Augustine these days, but one might also allude to Mary of Egypt, to Charles de Foucauld, and to Julien Green — know the "itch" of restlessness that torments the mind and body. If you would know peace of mind and body, be chaste.

The Chaste Person: An Instrument of Peace

Rarely in our culture is chastity presented as a positive virtue. It is almost always mocked or disdained as the appanage of the inhibited personality when, in fact, the chaste person is wonderfully free and, therefore, at peace in mind and in body. Serenity is a fruit of chastity. The chaste person becomes an instrument of peace at home, in the Church, and in society. The unchaste person sows trouble wherever he goes.

How many readers of Vultus Christi have seen those bumperstickers in the U.S. that read, No peace without justice? Wouldn't it be splendidly subversive to have them read No peace without chastity?

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An Offering to the Father

Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagghedu, a Cistercian nun of Grottaferrata in Italy, died on April 23rd in 1939. Pope John Paul II beatified her in 1983 and in his encyclical on Christian Unity, Ut Unum Sint, presented her again to the whole Church as a model of “the total and unconditional offering of one’s life to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit."

Silence Turned to Praise

Blessed Maria Gabriella is one of those who, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, having heard the Word, held it in silence: in the silence of awe; in the silence that confesses God present; in the silence that allows the Word to sink into the deep and secret places of the heart. For Maria-Gabriella, this silence turned to praise: a praise that she found expressed in the priestly prayer of Christ given in the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. At the end of her life she murmured: “I cannot say but these words, ‘My God, your Glory.’”

A Discerning Abbess

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The Trappist Cistercian monastery of Grottaferrata (moved to Vitorchiano in 1957) was governed by Mother Maria Pia Gulini (1892–1959), an intelligent and discerning abbess with a broad vision of all things Catholic. She corresponded with the Abbé Paul Couturier (1881–1953), the Apostle of Christian Unity. The Italian abbess nurtured a passion for Christian Unity and communicated that passion to her community. Maria Gabriella was receptive to Mother Gulini's spiritual teaching. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, she asked permission of her abbess to offer her life for the Unity of Christians. The Father accepted her offering, drawing her into the prayer of Christ and into His sacrifice.

The Priestly Prayer of Christ

Blessed Maria Gabriella’s monastic life was brief; she entered the abbey of Grottaferrata in 1935 and died in 1939. She suffered from tuberculosis for fifteen months. The Bridegroom Christ came for her at the hour of the evening sacrifice on Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel of Mass that day had been from Saint John: “There will be one fold, and one shepherd” (Jn 10:16). After her death, her little New Testament, worn from use, opened by itself to the seventeenth chapter of Saint John’s Gospel. The pages of Jesus’ priestly prayer, so often touched by Madre Maria Gabriella’s feverish hands, had become almost transparent.

Unity

Blessed Maria Gabriella’s offering for Christian Unity witnesses to the fundamental thrust of every monastic life. Monastic conversion is a movement from the divided, fragmented self to the whole self, healed and unified in the love of Christ. The restoration of unity is the great monastic work; it is the end and fruit of every Eucharist. Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that the end proper to the sacrament of the Eucharist is the unity of the Mystical Body. Blessed Maria Gabriella, pray for us that we may go to the altar, letting go of the things that damage the unity of the Body of Christ, and ready to receive the gifts by which unity is repaired.

Ciao, Paolo!

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Paul Zalonksi of New Haven, Connecticut recently finished a month long experience of monastic life at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. While here he helped prepare the Mass booklet for Laetare Sunday and accompanied a group of us to the Curia Generalizia where we sang for the ordination to the diaconate of two monks from the Cistercian Abbey of Szczyrzyc in Poland. The ordaining bishop was Cardinal Franc Rode. The Abbot General Dom Mauro Esteva, O.Cist. concelebrated.

Monastic Etiquette

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Naming

Maria Elena Vidal will love this. I decided to write something about monastic forms of address and etiquette. There has been a fair amount of confusion over my use of the title Don. It is not the short form of Donald. The same confusion arises with the title Dom used by English and French–speaking monks; it is not the short form of Dominic. A number of folks think that Don is my Christian name and Marco my surname! In my monastic community in Rome and among my Italian relatives and friends I am known and addressed as Don Marco; in the United States people call me Father Mark or, to use my two Christian names, Father Mark Daniel.

Don and Dom

Cistercian–Benedictines in Italy, as well as other Benedictines and Carthusians, are usually addressed as Don. The same title is given to secular priests in Italy. In other countries monks (and some Canons Regular) use the form Dom, but it means the same thing. The title derives from the Latin Domnus, a form of Dominus, and passed into Italian use under Spanish influence. It is perhaps best translated as Messer or as Sir. It expresses respect. In Southern Italy the title is also given to men of some social standing and to those of noble background. The title Donna, meaning Lady, is still given in Italy to Cistercian and Benedictine nuns; it is also the correct form of address for women of noble background, especially in Southern Italy.

Rule of Saint Benedict

The Rule of Saint Benedict orders that no one is to be addressed by his Christian or monastic name alone. "Even in the manner of addressing one another, let no one presume to call another simply by his name. The seniors are to address their juniors as Fratelli, and the juniors are to address the seniors as Nonni, which means "Your Paternal Reverence" (RB 63). In practice, all solemnly professed priest monks came to be addressed as Don, while novices and juniors were called Fratello. In a few monasteries the title Nonnus, meaning Reverend Father Elder, is still used on formal occasions or in documents.

Cistercian Martyrs of England

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I was deeply moved when the martyrology for today, March 8th, was read in Chapter. Hearing the names of these English Cistercian martyrs read out here in Rome was a truly Catholic Moment.

From the Romano–Cistercian Martyrology:

In England, in the sixteenth century, the passion of a number of Cistercian monks cruelly put to death for different pretexts by order of King Henry VIII.

In the months of March and May 1537, died for the Catholic faith:

— the Lord Abbot of Kirkstead, Dom John Harrison and his brethren Dom Richard Wade, Dom William Small, and Dom Henry Jenkinson;

— the Lord Abbot of Whalley, Dom John Paslew and his brethren, Dom William Haydock and Dom Richard Eastgate.

Also died: the Lord Abbot of Fountains and a monk of Louth Park.

In the following year 1538, were martyred:

— the Lord Abbot of Woburn, Dom Robert Hobbes and the monks Dom Rudolph Barnes and Dom Laurence Blunham.

Recognized as authentic confessors of the faith:

Dom Thomas Mudd, monk of Jervaulx, who died on September 7, 1583;
Dom John Almond, who died on April 18, 1585,
and Dom Gilbert Browne, the last Abbot of Sweet Heart (Dulce Cor), who died on March 14, 1612.

He Who Has an Ear, Let Him Hear

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New York Again

Yesterday I returned to the Italian Consulate in New York City to pick up my visa. The magnificent Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste at Lexington and 76th Street is just a short walk from the Consulate. Sister Barbara Ann, A.S.C.J. and I were there for the 12:15 p.m. Mass. I concelebrated with Father Bernard Camiré, S.S.S., and Deacon Richard Russo assisted. The late John Cardinal O'Connor described Saint Jean–Baptiste as "quite possibly the most beautiful church in New York."

Church of Saint Jean–Baptiste

The beauty of Saint Jean's is more than the effect of its architecture and gorgeous appointments. The church has a spiritual beauty that is the radiance of holiness: the effect of nearly a century of daily adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament exposed. The church is staffed by the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament, spiritual sons of Saint Peter Julian Eymard.

Saint Peter Julian Eymard (1811–1868)

After Mass there was a prayer to Saint Peter Julian Eymard and the veneration of his relic by the faithful. Last August 2nd, on his liturgical memorial, I preached on this saint who has become for me an intercessor, a model, and a friend.

Saint Peter Julian’s Eucharistic vocation unfolded amidst sufferings of the heart and painful detachments. God called him out of the religious family he loved — the Marist Fathers — to begin a new work, a Cenacle entirely devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. From the beginning this new Eucharistic work comprised priests, consecrated women, and laity. He challenged his little family of adorers to set souls ablaze with Eucharistic fire.

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For Peter Julian, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament had an apostolic dimension. He reached out, in particular, to poor adolescents and adults who, for one reason or another, had not received their First Holy Communion, and to “fallen priests,” those unfortunate priests who, out of weakness, found themselves cut off and living in a state of spiritual, emotional, and often material, misery. The very same needs exist today, one hundred-fifty years later.

The number of baptized Catholics who have never received their First Holy Communion is staggering. Who will reach out to them? Who will take them by the hand and lead them to the altar? The preparation of young people and adults for their First Confession and Holy Communion is an urgent work, and one that the Heart of Jesus burns to see carried out.

And what of so many “fallen priests” cast aside, and living in dejection with no one to care for them spiritually? Saint Peter Julian understood that Our Lord was asking him to minister to troubled priests and guide them back to the altar, that is, to spiritual health and to holiness. Jeremiah’s prophecy holds out a series of consoling promises for priests who have fallen: “If you return I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jer 15:19).

In the Blessed Sacrament Saint Peter Julian Eymard recognized “the treasure hidden in the field” (Mt 13:44) and “the pearl of great price” (Mt 13:46). He gave up all that he had to possess the mystery of the Eucharist and to be possessed by it. Peter Julian Eymard is a saint for the Church today: a Church called to rediscover Eucharistic adoration and to live “from the altar and for the altar”; a Church that will be incomplete so long as so many of the baptized are not receiving the Sacred Body and Precious Blood of Christ; a Church suffering in priests who broken and wounded with no one to care for their souls. Saint Peter Julian, share with us your passion for the Eucharist, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ!

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A New Shoot On An Old Tree

About twenty years after the death of Saint Peter Julian Eymard. one of his disciples, Père Bernard Maréchal, Assistant General of the Congregation, sought to have the Fathers of the Blessed Sacrament adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict so as to become "The Congregation of Cistercian Adorers of the Most Blessed Sacrament." When Maréchal's proposal was refused by the General Chapter of 1887, he left the Blessed Sacrament Fathers to pursue his aspirations.

In 1891 Dom Maréchal founded the Cistercian Adorers of the Blessed Sacrament at Pont–Colbert in France. The Congregation joined perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to the traditional Benedictine observance. From France it spread to Holland and to North America. Dom Maréchal's Congregation was weakened greatly by the First and Second World Wars. By 1950 its remaining houses had, for various reasons, abandoned their specifically Eucharistic characteristics.

Monasteries of Adoration Today?

Since that time, especially in the wake of Pope John Paul II's Year of the Eucharist, there has been a revival of interest in Dom Maréchal's project. While there are many monasteries of adoration for women — I am thinking of the Tyburn Benedictines and of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration — there are very few for men. The Monastery of Santa Cruz in Guadalajara, Mexico, a foundation of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome, has, in fact, made Eucharistic adoration a defining characteristic of its identity. Will other monasteries of Eucharistic adoration sprout from the ancient Benedictine–Cistercian tree? "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Ap 2:29).

A Brightness in the Night

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My very dear Poor Clares at Bethlehem Monastery in Barhamsville, Virginia have inaugurated a splendid website and blog. Mother Abbess is the keeper of the blog and I hope that she will continue to let her light shine.

The vocation of the Poor Clares is to reflect as in a mirror the radiance of the Face of Christ, the Poor One, the Crucified, the Beauty of Heaven and of Earth. This they do by seeking Him ceaselessly in the Scriptures, in the adorable mystery of the Eucharist,
and in the communion of life together.

The Barhamsville Poor Clares have a profound love of the sacred liturgy. Lectio divina and daily adoration of the Most Holy Eucharist are integral to their life. They hold a very special place in my priesthood and in my heart.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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