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Why are we here?
To abide in Thy presence, O Jesus, and to adore Thee.
The column is a sign of our resolve to abide before Thee permanently.
It marks the place that Thou hast prepared for us,
and to which Thou callest us
at every hour of the day and night.

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The column is the symbol of monastic stability,
by which we are anchored in the presence of the Lord.
The column is to adoration
what the choir-stall is to the Divine Office;
the Benedictine Monk of Perpetual Adoration is his best self,
his truest self, his finest self
in his choir-stall and at the column.

In his choir-stall he is the singer of the praise of God,
doing in the Church on earth what the angels do in heaven;
and at the column he is a victim offered to the Divine Majesty
in reparation for sins
and in the willing sacrifice of himself as a fragrant holocaust to God;
fragrant because his oblation is united to that of the Lamb,
and because it mingles with the sweet odour of Christ Jesus
rising from the tabernacles of the world
to glorify the Father.

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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Three Saints

Three saints -- all three educators, founders, and spiritual fathers to children and young men -- share a common feastday on July 20th in the Benedictine calendar: Saint Jerome (Girolamo) Emiliani, 1481-1537; Saint Joseph Calasanctius (José de Calasanz), 1557-1648; and Saint Jean-Baptiste de LaSalle, 1651-1719.

Saint Jerome Emiliani

The first of these, Saint Jerome (Girolamo) Emiliani, was born in Venice. After a military career that included imprisonment and a miraculous liberation, he went on pilgrimage to the Madonna of Treviso in fulfillment of a vow and, for a time served as a local magistrate, all the while attending to the education of his nephews and studying theology on his own.

Father of the Poor

In 1528, a year marked by plague and famine, Jerome discovered his true vocation: total fatherly devotion to the poor, the sick, and orphans. He established orphanages, administered one hospital, and saw to the building of another. In 1532, together with two priests, Saint Jerome founded a religious congregation, the Servants of the Poor, at Somasca in northern Italy; members of the congregation came to be called Somascans, after the place of this first house. The principal mission of the Somascan Fathers is the fatherly care of orphans, of the poor, and of the sick.

The State of Holiness

As a member of the Oratory of Divine Love -- a veritable school of holiness inspired by Saint Catherine Fieschi Adorno (+1510) in Genoa -- Saint Jerome entered into the Counter-Reformation's renewal of the Church with a burning zeal. He longed to see the faithful of Christ restored to the state of holiness that marked the Church in the time of the Apostles, and even composed a prayer to this end:

O our gentle father, Lord Jesus Christ,
we pray Thee, of thine infinite bounty,
to reform the Christian people in that state of holiness
that was theirs in the time of Thine Apostles.
Hear us, O Lord, because Thy mercy is kind,
and in Thine immense tenderness, turn Thyself towards us.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on us.

May I be guided and protected in the way of peace, of charity, and of prosperity
by the power of God the Father, the wisdom of the Son,
and the strength of the Holy Spirit, and of the glorious Virgin Mary.

May the Angel Raphael, who was always with Tobias
also be with me in every place and road.

O good Jesus, O good Jesus, O good Jesus,
my love and my God,
in Thee do I trust, let me not be disappointed.

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Religious Life Today

As I offered Holy Mass this morning, I thought of the need here in Ireland for religious congregations that are reformed, revitalized and ready to engage in the restoration of the faithful to "a state of holiness." When one takes the measure of the bountiful harvest of holiness, priestly discipline, monastic reform, liturgical consolidation, service of the poor, instruction of the ignorant, care for the sick, and zeal for the glory of God that renewed the Church of the Counter-Reformation after the Council of Trent, and compares it with the paltry, disappointing, and bitter fruits that mark the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, one is left with the impression of a massive failure at many levels.

Outdated Religious

It is paradoxical that the very religious congregations that resolutely embraced "renewal" fifty years ago have become outdated, sterile, and moribond. Their one common characteristic appears to be an unwillingness to change (again) and an irrational attachment to the failed experiments of the 1960s, 70s, and 80s.

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Heritage Rooms

The 2009 C.A.R.A. report on religious life documents what young people of the Benedict XVI generation are looking for in religious life: community life; daily liturgical prayer (Divine Office), Eucharistic adoration, and Marian devotions; a common unified apostolate; the clear visibility of the religious habit, etc. Aging protagonists of the Vatican II generation, in Ireland, in the U.S.A., and elsewhere, wring their hands about the dearth of vocations to their congregations and, at the same time, would rather die than embrace corporate reform, renewal, and revitalization. Their opportunity for reform -- and for choosing life -- will soon have passed them by, leaving their spiritual patrimony sealed in "heritage rooms."

The People in Charge Now

It would seem, at least from anecdotal evidence, that the greatest (and often most strident) resistance to the reform of religious life comes, not from those who made profession sixty, or seventy years ago, but from those who made profession early in the late 1960s, and in the 1970s and 80s. These would be people who entered religious life and committed themselves to it shortly after or during the seismic changes of the 1960s and 70s. They adjusted, sometimes with heroic generosity, to the changes imposed or legislated by their elders, and were, for the most part, content to serve Christ and His Church in a kind of hybrid model of religious life marked more by compromise with the world than by the resolve to reform. Having attained positions of responsibility and, often, of power, they are unwilling to risk a new wave of change that would, necessarily, call into question the very principles that they suffered and worked hard to implement and maintain.

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Reform and Revitalization?

Will the people currently in charge of the great apostolic congregations of men and women that were founded in the 19th century, and came to maturity in the 20th, rise to the challenge of a vigorous reform? Or will they stay the course taken over the past 50 years and await the inevitable extinction of their species? These are questions that go beyond than the internal affairs of aging religious communities; they pertain to the present and future revitalization of the Church, especially here in Ireland.

Not Too Late to Choose Life

It may be the Eleventh Hour, but it is not the Twelfth; it is not too late for a few brave religious to choose life and, like Abraham and Sarah, to revel in the joy of a wondrous generativity. Saints like Jerome Emiliani make me long to see this happen. The "state of holiness" that he saw in the Church of the Apostles can yet be restored to the faithful of Ireland, and may be coming soon to a monastery or convent near you.

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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.

What seek you?

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Men Called to a Hidden Life

Our Lord continues to call souls to a hidden life of adoration and reparation. Jesus desires to have, close to His tabernacles on earth, men who will imitate His own hidden sacramental life in the adorable Mystery of His Real Presence. He is calling these men from a variety of backgrounds, saying to each one, "Come and see" (John 1:39).

The Hidden Dynamism of the Most Blessed Sacrament

The work of such men, their role in the Mystical Body of Christ, is, and will always be to seek the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, and to allow Him to reproduce the traits of that Face in their souls. Without leaving the enclosure of their monastery, without much speaking, and without appearing to do anything of value in the eyes of the world, such men enter into the hidden dynamism of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

The Little Way

A man called to this life will beseech the Our Lord to unite him inwardly to His Eucharistic humility, to His silence, His hiddenness, and His ceaseless prayer to the Father. A man called to this life will ask Our Lord to unite him to the uninterrupted oblation that, in the Sacrament of His Love, He makes of Himself to the Father. And then, he will go about the ordinary and often monotonous routine of monastic life, content to apply himself to the practice of obedience and to the service of the brethren in love. He will talk sparingly, smile readily, forgive promptly, love chastity, and, at the sound of the bell, move on to the next thing in the order of the day and embrace it manfully as the concrete expression of God's will for him. It's simple. It's the little way.

Transformed Into the Same Image

There is no moment in which Our Lord is not offering Himself, no moment in which the immolation of the Cross is not being re-presented to the Father from the silence of His tabernacles all over the earth. A man united to the mystery of Our Lord's Eucharistic life will find himself, even when he is not singing in choir, or kneeling before the tabernacle, in a state of perpetual adoration in spirit and in truth. In such men the Father takes delight because on their faces He recognizes the Face of His Son and in their voices His own Son's voice. And all of this is the work of the Holy Ghost, according to the word of Saint Paul: "But we all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:18).

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Not a Pious Pastime

Saint Benedict treats of the daily Lenten reading in Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule, "On the Daily Manual Labour." For Saint Benedict, reading is a labour, not a pious pastime. It requires a resolute application of the mind and engagement of the heart. The word received in reading becomes the word repeated and savoured. The word repeated and savoured becomes the word sent back to God as the expression of one's prayer. God responds to that prayer, born of hearing and repetition, with the grace of a quiet and loving adhesion to His indwelling presence.

From Chapter 48 of the Holy Rule
During Lent, let them apply themselves to reading from morning until the end of the third hour, and then, until the end of the tenth, labour at whatever is enjoined them. And in these days of Lent let each one receive a book from the library, and read it all through in order. These books are to be given out at the beginning of Lent.
Above all, let one or two seniors be appointed to go round the Monastery, at the hours when the brethren are engaged in reading, and see that there be no slothful brother giving himself to idleness or to foolish talk, and not applying himself to his reading, so that he is thus not only useless to himself, but a distraction to others.

Lenten Book Recommendation for 2012

Given that we are in the midst of moving, and that I am writing quickly, and in a less than optimal environment --see packing boxes and stacks of unsorted things all about me -- I will recommend but a single book this year to our Oblates and the men in vocational discernment with our monastery.

Oblates and men in discernment with us, this is my Lenten recommendation for 2012. It is available either from the publisher, New City Press, or from Amazon.


15 Days of Prayer with Saint Benedict

by Dom André Gozier
New City Press, Hyde Park, New York, 2008

I should be very happy to receive from you echoes of your response to this excellent introduction to Saint Benedict and to his "school of the service of the Lord." I bless each one of you as you set about your Lenten reading, asking Our Lord to illumine your minds and warm your hearts with the light of His Face.

VOCATIONS

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Vocational inquiries are not uncommon. I receive telephone calls, letters, and emails asking for information about our way of life. It occurred to me today that I ought to write something more than what is found on the sidebar of Vultus Christi. I decided to write this "something more" in the form of a personal letter. A few photos accompany it. Tell me what you think.

Dear Friend,

If you have come to this "Vocations" page, it is because in your heart you are searching for something more. For a monk, that something more is, more precisely, SOMEONE who is ALL: Our Lord Jesus Christ. He is the pearl of great price, He is the treasure hidden in the field, for which one is ready to renounce all else.

Truly Seeking God

When Saint Benedict, in his Rule for Monasteries, reviews the qualities needed in a man who comes to be a monk, he would have us examine, before all else, whether the candidate is truly seeking God (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 58). While this may seem self-evident, it needs to be said clearly and unambiguously. One comes to be a monk because God alone has become, or is becoming, the one and only desire of one's heart.

The Face of Christ

For a Benedictine, this search for God focuses on the adorable Person of Our Lord Jesus Christ or, if you will, on His Face, for Jesus Christ is the Human Face of God.

Philip saith to him: Lord, shew us the Father, and it is enough for us. Jesus saith to him: Have I been so long a time with you; and have you not known me? Philip, he that seeth me seeth the Father also. How sayest thou, shew us the Father? Do you not believe, that I am in the Father, and the Father in me? (John 14:8-10)

For a Benedictine Adorer of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus, this same search leads to the altar, where, concealed in the tabernacle or exposed to our gaze in the monstrance, the Face of Christ, hidden beneath the sacramental veil, is turned toward him, revealing the infinite mercy and loving friendship of His Sacred Heart.

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In the Here and Now

Our little monastery is still in its embryonic stage. Should you come to visit us, you will find nothing of what one would expect to find in an established monastery with a numerous community. The beginnings of a monastery require, not only that a man truly seek God, but also that he be willing to seek Him in the midst of something that is still being built, in the midst of uncertainties, surprises, challenges, and seemingly endless opportunities for self-sacrifice.

In the very near future our little monastery will be relocating to a more suitable setting. This transition will require a readiness to let go of much that is familiar, comfortable, and settled. Benedictine stability is, more often than not, purchased at the price of a certain initial mobility. Even Saint Benedict relocated more than once!

Men with a romantic vision of what monastic life ought to be, need not apply. Our search for God unfolds in the humble reality of what is here and now. While we do not lose sight of what may develop later on, in God's good time, we cannot indulge in idealistic daydreaming. God comes to meet us in the real, not in the cherished ideals that we have nurtured of ourselves and by ourselves.

A Family

We do not aspire to become a grand abbey. Our aim is to grow to the size of a large family, that is between fifteen and twenty-five members. A diversity of talents and aptitudes are needed: manual, intellectual, artistic, and technological. If you come to us, be prepared to stretch and be stretched. My own life experience has taught me that monastic obedience often allows a man to discover and develop gifts that he never knew he had.

Flexibility

There are days when our life seems like a series of interruptions. There are always people at the door; Saint Benedict says that they must be welcomed as Christ Himself (cf. Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 53). Things go wrong. Technology fails. In a small community, the horarium (daily time-table) must be adapted and re-adapted to accommodate the human weaknesses of fatigue, illness, and unforeseen demands on time and energy.

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This readiness to adapt is integral to the Benedictine vision of things. Saint Benedict would have the Abbot be "discrete and moderate . . . so tempering all things that the strong may have something to strive after, and the weak may not fall back in dismay" (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 64).

Confidence in the Love of Christ

In a community still at its beginnings, the monastic journey does not always flow smoothly. There are bumps in our road. There are spiritual potholes. There are detours and wrong turns. For all of this, I can still say with complete confidence, "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." (Romans 8:38-39).

Where Do You Fit In?

Experience has shown that after one's mid to late thirties, it is difficult to adapt to monastic life, to submit to the process by which one yields to the demands of life "under a Rule and an Abbot" (Rule of Saint Benedict 1:13). Similarly, men with a previous experience of religious life, find it hard to enter into a new experience with the freshness, sense of wonderment, and discovery that should characterize those taking their first steps in a monastery.

If a man brings with him a cheerful, flexible disposition and the ability to adapt to changes in routine, he will do well with us. If, on the other hand, he is rigid, legalistic, all bound up in personal patterns of piety, and incapable of adapting himself to the exigencies of a new foundation, he will not thrive with us. It goes without saying that anyone with a disposition that is chronically critical, judgmental, or arrogant is unfit for monastic life.

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Guests and Friends

There are other things that you should know. While we cherish our silence and enclosure (separation from the outside world) we are welcoming towards all sorts of people, including families; sometimes families have noisy little children. Saint Benedict says that, "guests, who are never lacking in a monastery, [sometimes] arrive at irregular hours" (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 53). Apart from the courtesy and reverence incumbent upon all people of good will in the House of God, we do not expect our guests to conform to our monastic disciplines.

We have a very gentle dog named Hilda, for Saint Hilda of Whitby. If you are not dog-friendly or are easily shocked when a dog acts in a very doggy fashion, you will not be happy among us. My experience is that a dog can help monks to be more human. One of the Desert Fathers said, "Even a dog is better than I, for a dog loves and does not judge."

And Now?

I have no desire to lead anyone on by presenting a picture of our way of life that does not correspond to its reality. You can read about some of the characteristic elements of our particular monastic charism below. If, after reading, you want to get to know us first hand, call or email me. My contact information is at the bottom of this page. If you have read this far, you will probably want to continue!

In lumine vultus Iesu,

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, O.S.B., Prior

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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