Monastic: August 2012 Archives

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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.

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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