Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gold Frankincense Myrrh

Gold Frankincense Myrrh

[Click picture to enlarge]

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I am Pro Antiphon. A Benedictine oblate blog


I have been thinking about the parts of the divine office. The antiphons, psalms, hymns, canticles, readings, Benedictus, Magnificat, responsory, Nunc Dimittis, litanies, prayers — and there may be some elements of the divine office that I have overlooked.

While I enjoy the entire divine office, I especially enjoy the antiphons and the longer readings in Vigils when the readings are from an early church father or later saint. And if pressed to give my favorite part of the divine office, it would be the antiphons because they are packed with so much of why I enjoy all of the divine office in the first place. Antiphons are like compact divine offices — full of deep spirituality and poetic imagery while also conveying the most profound truths about God.

Monday, December 22, 2008

I like Advent. A Benedictine oblate blog


I have enjoyed every day of Advent. I understand Christmas better because I participated in Advent — Reading, study, following the Advent sections in Benedictine Daily Prayer, a book for praying the divine office.

My focus on Advent helped me avoid spending time on distractions that often fill my time before Christmas. Advent served as a shield. I knew what I would be doing with much of my free time — using the time in Advent to prepare and wait.

Advent has allowed me to see the essential parts of Christmas, the Biblical accounts and our praise for God’s love. It’s a decluttered Christmas that I approach.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Monastic Christmases. A Benedictine oblate blog


I have been thinking about monks/nuns/sisters (Religious) and how they spend their Christmases. I have no first-hand knowledge. My imagination tells me that if I wanted to enjoy a historic Christmas, I should visit a monastery during Christmas time.

I searched some of the blogs by Religious that are linked on the right sidebar of this blog. I searched for blogs that gave a glimpse of what happens in the life of a Religious during Advent/Christmas time that may be different from other times of the year. I found four such blogs, two by monks, one by a novice sister, and one by a nun.

In summary, their Christmases seem exactly like the Christmases many Christians talk about: relevant, noncommercial, focused on Christ and his coming — who could have guessed?

The monastic life is an ancient form of Christian living that withstood countless barbarian invasions in centuries past. Monasteries helped rebuild Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire. Today monasteries quietly offer a much different form of Christmas than is popular in today’s commercial culture.

The Pope said, above all else monasteries are places of spiritual power — and with good reason. If you want to see the spiritual power that can withstand the dark ages, attend a Christmas-Eve Midnight Mass at a monastery. Thank them for tending the flame.

Here is an excerpt from a blog by a monk at Subiaco Abbey in the state of Arkansas, USA:

During Advent “music is markedly both more somber and melodious than during other periods. In contrast to the jubilation of Easter or the penitence of Lent, the music of Advent inspires a feeling of being called to meditate on the Miracle of Christ’s birth.”

Here is an excerpt from a 2007 blog by a monk at Conception Abbey in the state of Missouri, USA:

“Yesterday we had first vespers of Christmas at 4:45 PM. Then at 6:00 PM we had our Christmas dinner, a banquet. At 7:45 PM we had Vigils and then at midnight we had Mass. I myself did not attend the midnight Mass here as I went to Clyde Monastery and had Mass for the Benedictine Sisters at 9:00 PM. That is when they have their Christmas Mass. When I got back it was about 11:00 PM so I went to bed. This morning we had Lauds at 9:00 AM and then most of the monks went to the infirmary as the monks who live there opened their gifts. At 11:00 AM we had a second Christmas Mass. This afternoon at 5:00 PM we have vespers and then at 7:00 PM Compline or night prayer.”

Here is an excerpt from a 2007 blog of a novice sister at Colwich Abbey in England:

“On Christmas day we came to breakfast and found a large scented candle at each of our places - a gift from a friend of the community, Chris - and a bag of goodies given by our Oblate Edna and friend Audrey. We have lit the candles at our evening meal each day and the bags which were full of individually wrapped things such as gardening gloves, hand cream and socks gave us lots of enjoyment. Later in the day we came together for festive recreation with tea, cakes and crackers.”

Here is an excerpt from a blog of a cloistered Passionist Nun in the state of Kentucky, USA:

“Happy Advent to all of you! Advent is always an adventure for our new members who are used to Christmas decorations going up shortly after Thanksgiving Day (or even before!). Here in the monastery we are grateful that we are protected from the immense commercialism of this time of the year. Instead, we try to spend more time in prayer and Scripture reading, thinking of our Lady and how she prepared for the Light of the World about to be born.

“Currently, they are joyfully anticipating Christmas Eve Midnight Mass where they will help to welcome the Divine Infant by offering him their musical talent through their arrangements of organ and violin. If you live nearby [Passionist Nuns, 8564 Crisp Road, Whitesville, KY 42378] we invite you to join us on that Holy Night as we worship and give thanks to the Eternal Father for the gift of Christ his Son. The Carols begin at 11:30 p.m.”

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nothing’s new except seeking the old. A Benedictine oblate blog


I try to read a few pages in a monastic book each day, but I neglect this practice more often than I enjoy it.

After the morning office a few days ago I got my current monastic book(1) and opened it to where I stopped reading, but I got called away and it was not until late at night that I saw the book again, still there, opened and unread.

Happily, yesterday and today I was able to read several pages. The book is now summarizing the role of monasticism and particular monks in the Carolingian renaissance (about 790 AD to about 900 AD). That renaissance was brought about by Charlemagne’s efforts to bring order to the West.

Charlemagne “attacked disorder in every domain: doctrine, morality, worship, and monastic observance.”

In terms of the liturgy, Charlemagne wanted to restore the older liturgical practices and to accomplish that, “it was thought closer contact with Roman liturgy had to be renewed.” And to bring about such renewal, Charlemagne encouraged the study and learning of Latin. It was thought that if priests did not know Latin, they could not properly understand the “Sacred Scriptures.”

Monks served as major teachers of these renewing activities. Their works led to more learning, reading, and the spread of Latin.

The desire for renewal by the use of Latin in the liturgy is a discussion topic today (both pro and con) as a result of Pope Benedict XVI’s actions, but the 21st century is the not the first time a similar work has been started, it also happened in the 800s AD during the Carolingian renaissance and was moved ahead by monks who also took the Benedictine name.

These early works by Benedictine monks further solidified the monastic tradition in the West on its three pillars: sacred reading, liturgy, and work.

___________________________

Footnote:

The Love of Learning and The Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture, by Jean Leclercq

Friday, December 19, 2008

Demanding what’s lacking. A Benedictine oblate blog


One of my favorite commentaries on Benedictine monasticism is the little book, "The Benedictines," by Dom David Knowles(1). St. Benedict’s Rule for monks written in about 530 AD has wisdom to impart to today’s world and writers like David Knowles do a good service in showing that truth.

A family is used in "The Benedictines" to illustrate how monks live together in harmony, because family-type relations are often spoken of in the Rule.

During Christmas time when some of us may have more family visits, the following quote from "The Benedictines" may help explain how to have a Benedictine relationship with all family members. This is a commentary on monks, but we can see every family here too:

“As a member of a family the Benedictine comes to realize that charity is often better than zeal and sacrifice; that it is ill quarreling in a small boat on a long voyage; that he must accept from his brothers what they have and not demand from them what they lack; that many things are healed by time. As a superior, he may have realized that here too he cannot escape from the limitations of his medium; that it is in and with and for his family that he must work; that neither hand nor head could exist without the body; that he is the head or the hand of this definite body and cannot leave it behind or tear it in pieces or transmute it into something rich and strange.”


___________________________________


Footnote:

(1) "The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns
By Dom David Knowles
Monk of Downside Abbey
Introduction by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B.
Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey
The Abbey Press
Saint Leo, Florida
1962
Here is an incomplete, online version of this classic work.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Icon Workshop


Icon Workshop

[Click picture to enlarge]



St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, Monday, February 9, 2009 to Sunday, February 15, 2009, will be the site for an Icon Workshop with Master Iconographer Philip Zimmerman.

I have a growing understanding of icons and that has led to a much deeper appreciation of their place in my life.

I received the flyer for the workshop at the last oblates' meeting at St. Leo Abbey — I have no association with the workshop in any way — and am just passing it along to those on the Internet who might not have heard about this workshop.

The sheet gives these contacts for more information:

Web site: Philzicons.com

E-mails:

Philip Zimmerman
icon53@verizon.net
(724)-235-9784

or

Virginia Crippen
icons.vc@tampabay.rr.com
(352)-567-6570

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Vatican on Monasticism. A Benedictine oblate blog


The Oblate Spring web site is the companion to this blog. Today I revised the page containing links to "Vatican Documents on Monasticism." Some of the Vatican's statements have been extracted and added as quotes below the links.

A summary of the documents linked on the "Vatican Documents on Monasticism" page might be the following from Pope John Paul II in 1996:

"In the heart of the Church and the world, monasteries have been and continue to be eloquent signs of communion, welcoming abodes for those seeking God and the things of the spirit, schools of faith and true places of study, dialogue and culture for the building up of the life of the Church and of the earthly city itself, in expectation of the heavenly city."

I especially think the following from Pope John Paul II in 1995 helped me understand the total call of being part of the faithful baptized. What is sometimes thought of as being “monastic” can also be sought by all:

"Moreover, in the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized, according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord; it was presented as a symbolic synthesis of Christianity.”

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hoping 911 does not arrive. A Benedictine oblate blog


This happened tonight as I was arriving at the monastery for compline so it’s fair commentary under the topic of My Oblate Life.

In the five years I have had my cell phone I have been very careful not to let the battery run low. But I have been noticing that the battery has less charge so I had a good idea that on a day of especially heavy cell phone use (today I talked for 2.5 hours) I might have a call interrupted because a dead battery. Well, it happened tonight at the monastery.

Compline is at 8:00 pm and I arrived at the abbey about 7:40 pm. I had talked on the phone during the 45 minute trip to the abbey. The phone was on the passenger’s seat.

Now, I also need to tell you a bit about excellent Pasco County, Florida, where the monastery is located. It is rapidly growing, but around the abbey it is still somewhat rural — plus the abbey has been there for 119 years — everyone knows about and cares about this great local institution.

So, as I am getting out of the car at the abbey, I pick up the phone from the passenger-side seat, remove the keys and start to get out of the car. I hear the cell phone dialing in my earpiece.

Hmm, I think, the phone should be locked, oh, but wait. I look at the phone, sure enough “Dialing Emergency Number” is on the screen. Ooops. I quickly click on cancel the call and after about 2 or 3 rings, the call is cancelled — I hope.

Ten seconds later, as I am walking to the abbey, the phone rings, it’s a number I don’t recognize. I wonder if it could be 911 calling back.

If you use a cell phone “they” are able to tell where you are located, who you have been calling, maybe even what version of the Rule of St. Benedict you prefer — all I know is that they know a lot from cells phones.

I decide to let the call go to voice mail and then listen to the voice mail to see if it’s from 911. I reason that if the voice message is from 911 and they say something like — “we know you’re at the abbey so we’ll be sending the police and an emergency medical team right over” I will just call back and apologize for calling them and let them know that everyone is OK.

Yep, in just about the length of time it would take for 911 to leave the “we’re-heading-on-over-to-the-abbey” voice mail, I see the little voice-mail icon on the cell phone screen.

I replay the voice mail.

Yes, it was the 911 operator who left the voice mail message. His voice is professional, direct, concerned: “This is the 911 operator, we just received a hang-up call from this number and ........”

“And...” what? The 911 operator’s call back to my phone suddenly stops in midsentence. What comes after “AND.....” The police are rolling? The medical helicopter has been summoned from the regional medical center? The SWAT Team has been called? I need to remember to stop at Publix and buy some tea on the way home?

I look at the phone, the battery is dead, but the little hourglass rebooting icon is showing on an otherwise blank screen. I try to turn the cell phone off, it won’t turn off.

I take out the battery while I am standing at the steps of the abbey ready to go in for compline’s peace and prayer. I put the battery back in — same thing — the spinning hourglass.

I do it again, this time leaving the battery out longer. Same thing happens again. I listen for the sounds of approaching sirens, nothing yet.

Then I take out the battery and the SIM card. When I replace them, the hourglass is still spinning on a blank screen and I still cannot turn the phone off.

I wonder if I should wait to see if the phone will reset or just go on into compline.

Oh, yes, I picture it in my mind, the monks are beginning their Gregorian chant and the heavy doors of the abbey burst open as the fire fighters and Emergency Medical Personnel rush into the abbey church and point to me: “There is the guy who called, what’s your emergency?”

I decide to go into compline and take my chances. If you have read the Rule of St. Benedict you might recall the punishments under the Rule. What do you suppose the punishment was for “False 911 call during compline”? I didn’t want to think about it either.

I walked up the church stairs, looking back to see if I could see any blue or red lights off in the distance. I went in to a quiet, very dark church.

Fortunately, all I heard during compline were the 8:00 pm church bells and the blessed singing of the monks.

When compline was finished, I checked my phone and it had reset itself. I checked the voice message when I got back home to listen to the rest of the message. The end of the message was, “and if you have an emergency, please call back.” Whew!

Pope Benedict said in 2007 “A monastery is above all this: a place of spiritual power. ...Take advantage of these springs of God’s closeness in your country; treasure the religious communities,... and make use of the spiritual service that consecrated persons are willing to offer you!” Well spoken Pope, but you should add my own tip about visiting an abbey — don’t call 911 just before you enter compline.

______________________________

Photo credit: All Health Care

Source of Pope quote:

APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI TO AUSTRIA ON THE OCCASION OF THE 850th ANNIVERSARY OF THE FOUNDATION OF THE SHRINE OF MARIAZELL

VISIT TO HEILIGENKREUZ ABBEY

ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Sunday, 9 September 2007



.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Silence. A Benedictine oblate blog


I have been thinking about spirituality. And I think that many people from different backgrounds seek a more spiritual life. But where to start, what can mark the way, and where to end up?

For me the best single piece of advice was to pursue silence daily, even minute by minute as best as my situation in life will allow.

The silence that marks my way is not like going into a sound-proof booth, instead I seek silence I can enter — like seeing trees in a quiet park, or at night when ancient stars speak, in prayers with the mountains, in feeling a symphony by the sea, or in the beauty of the desert. Or my favorite, a dark monastery before compline(1). In all those places silence is given its voice.

Everyone is different — is at a different place. Regardless of those differences some people may find that an additional manner or connection with silence is on their way into a deeper spirituality.

_______________________

Footnote:

(1) Compline is part of a series of daily prayers and readings known as the divine office.


Picture Credit:

National Park Service Digital Image Archives
Dry Tortugas
National Park
(Florida)
I think the picture is part of Fort Jefferson. Construction on the fort began in 1846. "Fort Jefferson remains one of the largest masonry structures in the Western Hemisphere. Taking up the entire 16-acre Garden Key, one of seven islands constituting the Dry Tortugas." Source.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A single ray continues, monastically. A Benedictine oblate blog


The last two blog posts were about St. Benedict and the shepherds who both saw the bright glory of the Lord in the night sky.

In addition to seeing the glory shine all around, St. Benedict also had a very monastic vision at the same time. He saw the entire world represented in a single ray of light. This event may have helped guide or confirm St. Benedict’s vision in the Rule of St. Benedict(1) of a Christian life that combines the material and spiritual into one life devoted to seeking God.

Benedictine monasticism for monks, nuns, and sisters is well known for its ordered, humane, yet deeply spiritual ways.

Ora et labora (prayer and work) — although the specific term is not used in the Rule of St. Benedict — is often used as the guiding principle of those living by the Rule — particularly oblates.

I hope I see all my ora et labora — all my world — in that single ray of light — that would be very Benedictine during this Advent.

_________________________

Footnote:

(1) St. Benedict’s Rule became the foundation of Western monasticism and that monasticism preserved and then was a major cause of the development of Europe. It has been said that other than the Bible, the Rule of St. Benedict has been the most important book for the development of Western civilization.

St. Benedict who saw the whole world during the dark nights of the collapse of the Roman Empire might be the perfect person to help rebuild and redevelop Europe in the light of Christ that combined prayer and work.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

St. Benedict & the Shepherds. A Benedictine oblate blog


When Jesus was born shepherds living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flocks saw the glory of the Lord. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone all around.

About 500 years later, the mighty empire that crucified that glory was dying and could not keep a candle lit in Rome, while Jesus continued to give new birth in everlasting light.

St. Benedict was born into the darkness of the collapsing Roman Empire, but like the earlier shepherds, he too saw the glory of the Lord one night - the light filled the entire sky like the day. Then immediately, St. Benedict also saw the whole world represented in a single ray of light.

The earlier shepherds were afraid when they first saw the glory of the Lord, St. Benedict was not. St. Benedict wrote in Chapter 7 of the Rule on the illumination of love:

"Having climbed all these steps of humility,
therefore, the monk will presently come to that
perfect love of God which casts out fear."

In lectio divina and silence my wife and I prepare to celebrate Christ's light during this Advent. We pray to see the world only by Christ's singular light and to praise his glory with all our love.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The world in a ray of Light. A Benedictine oblate blog


The Rule of St. Benedict does not mention Advent, but the Life of St. Benedict, by St. Gregory the Great gives this account of St. Benedict when he saw the whole world in a single ray of light:

"CHAPTER 35
"How the whole world was represented before his eyes:

"Another time, Servandus, Deacon and Abbot of that Monastery which was built by Liberius, sometime a senator, in the Campania, used often to visit him, for being also illuminated with grace and heavenly doctrine, he repaired divers times to the Monastery that they might mutually communicate one to another, and, at least with sighs and longing desires, taste of that sweet food of the celestial country whose perfect fruition they were not as yet permitted to enjoy. When it was time to go to rest, venerable Benedict went up to the top of the tower in the lower part of which servandus the Deacon had his lodging, and from which there was an open passage to ascend to the higher. Over against the said tower was a large building in which the disciples of both reposed. While as yet the Monks were at rest, the man of God, Benedict, being diligent in watching, rose up before the night office and stood at the window making his prayer to Almighty God about midnight, when suddenly, looking forth, he was a light glancing from above, so bright and resplendent that it not only dispersed the darkness of the night, but shined more clear than the day itself. Upon this sight a marvelous strange thing followed, for, as he afterwards related, the whole world, compacted as it were together, was represented to his eyes in one ray of light."


_______________________________

Picture Credit:

APOTD, May 1, 2003
The Energetic Jet from Centaurus A
Credit: M. J. Hardcastle (Univ. Bristol), et al.
X-ray; Chandra Observatory, NASA / Radio; NRAO, VLA

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Long praying, short prayer. A Benedictine oblate blog


I went to St. Leo Abbey (near our home) for 8:00 pm Compline which is part of the divine office. The monastery’s Romanesque (massive with rounded arches) Church of the Holy Cross was very dark, but the crucifix was illuminated from high above so that all of its details could be seen.

The church’s crucifix is a large sculpture of Jesus. The face of Jesus is a replica of the Shroud of Turin — it is a focal point of the church even during the day when the church is well lit.

As I walked into the church for Compline, I could not see anyone, but I could hear some monks praying the rosary. There is a statue of Mary in a small side chapel.

I could hear only a few of the words being prayed by the monks. They were praying quietly tucked away in the light of the Blessed Virgin Mary chapel.

Silent stillness is different from complete (sound-proof) silence. (Here is my blog when I discovered this.)

Silhouettes of the church’s architectural forms, its many arches, and windows added their own soft voices.

I think people need this glorious stillness. I just sat in silence for about 15 minutes. There was plenty of silent space in the church.

For a prayer, people might need just as much silence as praying. I learned this ancient monastic principle today in a blog I read.

Today I read the Subiaco Academy blog which gives one of the easiest to understand explanations of St. Benedict’s encouragement in Chapter 20 of the Rule of St. Benedict that prayer should be short and pure:

“In St. Benedict’s time, it would have been common for monks to spend four or more hours a day in communal prayer. We may wonder what St. Benedict is talking about when he says that “prayer should be short and pure.” Early Christians, particularly the Desert Fathers and monastics, made a distinction between saying prayers and the prayer itself. In many traditions there was a period of silence following the recitation of a prayer. This silence made room for spontaneous prayer from the heart—the short, pure prayer that Benedict recommends.”


_________________________________

December 12, 2008 Correction to this blog.

I went to St. Leo Abbey for Compline on December 11 (after the Compline visit described in this blog) and when I sat in the very dark church again, I looked around to see if my description of the Church of the Holy Cross that I had included in the above blog was, in fact, accurate! Well, it is not. The light on the crucifix is not from high above as I wrote. The light is from below, just like it was on night written about in this blog. I thought that it was interesting that the effect on my memory showed another aspect of the artist’s work in sculpting this beautiful crucifix. And I prefer good artist to poor memory!




.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Good News, it’s really dark. A Benedictine oblate blog


November is the month in the liturgical year to remember the dead — to remember those whose life on earth is complete. November ends the liturgical year. Advent start the year. But Advent has increasing darkness until the light of Christ appears. It is Advent’s growing darkness that has occupied me recently.

Advent’s darkness is good because it further separates us from the former year, our former lives.

As that old life ends, and for those seeking to put off the old self in a new day, this is good news, a good night. Advent’s darkness moves us day by day away from the past year.

"As an Oblate" blog reminds us that: “Advent is a good time for those who have been away from the Church to return.” Even though they may have traveled through the night, they return just in time for the start of a new day, in a new light.

And the Monastic Skete blog reminds us that we can see farther in darkness than during the daytime. If we want to find the same destinations that occupied us in the old year, we can use the world’s light, but if we seek the most distant horizon, we will want to look farther in the darkest nights in December.

There is another aspect of this time of year. Advent’s darkness is a canvas of life — none of the light is from us. Our own light does not matter, and we are shown this during Advent. Our light slips away. It is against this backdrop that Christ’s light appears.

With Advent’s darkness also comes the cold. On a soul’s dark night and because we wear Advent’s heavy cloak, we come to know that only Christ’s love can warm us. The Abbey of the Arts blog also celebrates the source of our light.

The long nights of Advent are best for the night office of vigils prayed by all who pray the divine office, the liturgy of the hours. Stillness is best for lectio divina in the dead of night — a time that amplifies God’s quiet speaking.

While thinking about Advent’s darkness, I read Amy’s poem, “Illumination,” at A Square Peg Breaks Free blog. The poem elegantly describes our relation to darkness and light.

Amy’s poem ends (is completed) with Hope. Everyone has lived in nights of grief and dark hardships, Advent promises to complete those nights in Hope.

Hope is there from the first day of Advent. It may seem odd that the new liturgical year begins while the nights are still getting longer. The new liturgical year begins with Advent, not Christmas or January 1.

The new liturgical year does not avoid the growing darkness. The calendar does not pick a first day for Advent that has the long nights left behind in the old year. It is precisely by and in Advent’s darkness that we are carried to the new light. Counting the days of growing darkness is also counting the days getting closer to our eternal Hope.

Advent’s darkness allows us to starkly separate ourselves from the old self. Advent’s long nights allow us to see farther to a new point of light. Advent is the best backdrop for the new light of Christ. Advent’s cloak proves our need to be wrapped in Christ’s love. Advent begins with Hope. We arrive at the manger when the shepherds do, at night. That’s good.


____________________________

Picture source:

APOTD July 7, 1999 M80: A Dense Globular Cluster
Credit: F. R. Ferraro (ESO /Bologna Obs.), M. Shara (STSci /AMNH) et al.,
& the Hubble Heritage Team (AURA/ STScI/ NASA)


REVISED:

December 10, 2008 to add link and comment about "As an Oblate" blog.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Oblate Christmas Party. A Benedictine oblate blog


My wife and I attended the oblate Christmas party Sunday at the monastery. At last month’s oblate meeting we drew a monk’s name so we could buy a gift for that monk and give it to him at the party. We drew the same name we drew last year — how about that?

One of the most enjoyable parts of getting the gift is that the gift for “our” monk is the first Christmas gift we buy, give, and see opened.

We wrapped his gift Saturday night — by itself — that small gift is on its own track through our house. Saturday night it was the time to wrap one gift for one monk and deliver it Sunday at the party.

We enjoy talking with the other oblates (oblate defined) at the Christmas party because we have much in common with them and those common interests are about the most important parts of our lives — seeking God in prayer. That creates a strong bond.

It was also good that all the gifts are for the monks. They do so much for us and the community in which they live — not the least of which is their daily prayers of the divine office they have been saying during each day, every day, for the past 119 years at this location and for about 1,500 years at other monasteries in the world. Their continuing gift to us is that they preserve an essential part of the Church — their monasteries and their conversatio morum (fidelity to the monastic life).

Pope Benedict XVI called monasteries “places of spiritual power.” We are most aware of that gift to us every time we visit. We were welcomed as Christ (from ch. 53 of the Rule). Thanks Benedictine monks.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Returning Catholics Blog — A new blog enters the Blogosphere


Jim is a Roman Catholic — returning to the Church. He writes in the Welcome post to his NEW blog, Returning Catholics:

“I grew up as a Roman Catholic and left the church when I was about 20 years old. I wandered through life searching for "THE ANSWER" to life. Eventually, I attended seminary and became a Protestant pastor.”

And he is becoming a Benedictine Oblate!

OK, let’s recap the author of this new blog by a Benedictine oblate:

Brought up Catholic.
Left Church and thought he could not return.
Attended seminary.
Became a Protestant pastor.
Still felt there was something else.
A friend invited him back to the Church.
He returned to the Church.
He is becoming an Benedictine oblate.

All of those items on the list are important parts of his life, but the friend who invited him back to the Church stands out to me.

Everyone should welcome Jim and go read the rest of Jim’s first blog entry, he has begun his interesting story of a Protestant pastor who made the journey home to the Catholic church.

But I am also saying a thanksgiving prayer for the friend too.

St. Basil: No wall of separation between Church and monastery.



And, there is a welcoming door between the community and the monastery.

St. Basil’s monasticism “was not closed to the community of the local Church but instead was open to it. His monks belonged to the particular Church; they were her life-giving nucleus and, going before the other faithful in the following of Christ and not only in faith, showed a strong attachment to him - love for him - especially through charitable acts. These monks, who ran schools and hospitals(1), were at the service of the poor and thus demonstrated the integrity of Christian life.”(2)

“In speaking of monasticism, the Servant of God John Paul II wrote: ‘For this reason many people think that the essential structure of the life of the Church, monasticism, was established, for all time, mainly by St Basil; or that, at least, it was not defined in its more specific nature without his decisive contribution.’"(3) (4) (5)

From the earliest days, monasticism was integrated into both the life of the Church and life of the community. When God gives a person to the monastic life, that person becomes a gift to both the Church and community, from a life centered in God.

____________________________

Footnotes:

(1) St. Basil built hospital facilities that were a key step in the development of the modern hospital concept where people are admitted for medical treatment. A classic example of monastic activity — charitable, practical, innovative.

(2) Benedict XVI, General Audience, 4 July 2007, on Saint Basil.

(3) Apostolic Letter Patres Ecclesiae, n. 2, January 1980; L'Osservatore Romano English edition, 25 February, p. 6).
Quoted in Footnote (2).

(4) St Basil died in 379 AD, 101 years before St. Benedict was born. St Basil lived in what is now modern-day Turkey — the East, and St. Benedict lived in Italy — the West. St. Benedict used many of St. Basil’s monastic principles when St. Benedict compiled the Rule of St. Benedict — the Rule that serves as the foundation for all Western monasticism.

(5) St. Basil was born into a family of saints, a Domestic Church, where he received the upbringing in the spirit of God, his older sister is St. Macrina. He studied in Athens and Constantinople. He became a priest and later a bishop of Caesarea—Cappadocia (Turkey). St. Basil is a Doctor of the Church. Long New Advent article on St. Basil the Great.



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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Life as Advent. A Benedictine oblate blog

[Click picture to enlarge]


My wife and I are new to the Catholic church and we are one-year-old oblates at a Benedictine monastery in Florida.

Advent is a new, important time for us. What exactly is happening with Advent? We are just beginning to understand its depth and scope.

But Advent did not take us by surprise this year because we were alert enough to grasp that in November we were coming to the end of the liturgical year (my blog on the subject) and the beginning of a new one (no more waiting for a dropping crystal ball).

When we were on our retreat last month at the abbey we bought a tall candle. We also bought a $1.00 little sheet giving suggested Bible readings during Advent. My wife suggested that we light the candle and read the story of Jesus’ birth, read the suggested verses from the little Advent sheet, and then have a meditation in silence.

Each day in the evening, we read the appropriate passages from the Bible after lighting our tall candle. My wife also reads a section or two from the Catechism. She discovered that the Catechism has a large amount of material on Advent — who knew?

After the readings are finished we pray and meditate in silence.

That’s our new Advent practice. We like it.

In my study times, I have been learning more about Advent. The most interesting thought I came across today is that we might see our whole lives on earth as an Advent to eternal life with Christ. The passing from our darkness into his light.

Maybe that idea had extra meaning to me because of this wonderful quote on Plain Catholic’s blog:

“Death is not extinguishing the light. It is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.” Tagore




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Picture:

From the APOTD, November 30, 2008 (also the start of Advent this year).

Apollo 15, launched July 26, 1971. David Scott looks at a large moon rock. The top of the 11,000-foot Mt. Hadley Delta is ahead of him.



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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Monastic life. A Benedictine oblate blog


Lay people living a monastic life: For many people it is the desire for a deeper spiritual life that causes them to follow this little-known and ancient part of the Catholic church.

Benedictine spirituality drew me and my wife to the Catholic Benedictine monastery near our home. We knew something was there for us the minute we walked on the abbey grounds.

Benedictine spirituality is peace, tranquility, and rest in God. For us, we had travelled many years on a spiritual path, and this was like coming to the headwaters of the stream.

Benedictine spirituality is not something added to our lives, it was the conversion of our ordinary lives into a life for God: an oblation.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Early Church Fathers Internet Radio. A Benedictine oblate blog.


“In the Orthodox Christian tradition, monasticism is often called the 'barometer of the spiritual life of the Church.' So great has the influence of and appreciation for this way of life been, that its existence and status have been equated with those of the Church as a whole. As flourishes the monastic life, so flourishes the Church.”

Monachos.net is pleased to announce that, in partnership with Ancient Faith Radio, a new series of weekly internet broadcasts has been launched on 1st December 2008. Called A Word From the Holy Fathers, after the section of the Monachos.net web site of the same name, this weekly 'podcast' offers a reflection on a specific writing from the Fathers of the Church, with a brief summary of its history, meaning, and application for today.”

Well, how about that?

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Buy Benedictine World-Wide. A Benedictine oblate blog


Consider giving a gift from a Benedictine monastery this Christmas.

Yes, I know it is a problem to get in your car or board your plane to find Benedictine monasteries with gift shops. What will you do, what will you do?

Not to worry. Here are six Benedictine monasteries on three continents with online gift shops, three from sisters and three from monks. How about that?

Sisters' Online Shops


1.
Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Clyde, Missouri

2. The Benedictine Sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, Cottonwood, Idaho.

3. Jamberoo Abbey, Australia

Monks' Online Shops


1.
St. Leo Abbey Pilgrim Gift Shop, St. Leo, Florida

2. St. Benedict Monastery in Oxford, Michigan

3. Ampleforth Abbey, United Kingdom

You will find special and unique gifts for your family and friends. Many gifts have that distinctive Benedictine monastic style.

You will also be supporting the ancient monastic traditions of monks and sisters selling products to help maintain their monastic way of life — think of it as your double gift.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

What's New -- Oblate Spring web site housekeeping


This oblate blog is the companion of the Oblate Spring web site. The Oblate Spring web site has handy information for people who have never heard of Benedictine oblates, but who are looking for a deeper spirituality in their busy lives. That was me a few years ago and I might be able to help others who think an oblate is only an odd-shaped spheroid.

Well, recently I reorganized the Oblate Spring web site to make finding information easier. After I worked for hours and thought the revisions were good, it occurred to me that another revision might be to designate the first page you go to after entering the web site as Page 1 and the next page could be called Page 2. So the key pages you should visit to get the essential information could actually be numbered in the order you should read them!

This insight was like a light dawning in my head. I thought that this concept of numbering each page in order might even be used in other media like books, magazines, and newspapers!

So, it was back for several more hours of work on the web site to incorporate this innovation.

In addition, there are more links on the oblate resources page of the web site and the two indexes are now easier to use because the index entries are now the links to the topic.

There is a What’s New page where the changes are tracked.

I also added a page about What I am doing.

For those who have about a minute to just get the highlights of being a Benedictine oblate, there is a Mini Index giving you what you need to know fast.

For those who want more in-depth materials on monastic topics, in addition to the other resource links, such as booklists and online messages boards, there are now links to about 20 major monastic articles in the New Advent encyclopedia.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

End of the Year. A Benedictine oblate blog


The month of November is devoted to remembrance of the dead. Or in a larger view, to remembering those saints and people who have completed life on earth. This makes sense because November also completes the liturgical year.

This year, it is on November 30 that we start anew with Advent leading to the birth of Jesus.

I use the book Benedictine Daily Prayer (BDP) to pray the divine office and on November 26 the book has its last saint of the liturgical year to be honored. He is St. Silvester Gozzolini (“Born at Osimo, Italy, 1177; died at Monte Fano, 1267").

St. Silvester Gozzolini founded “the Silvestrine Benedictines, known as the Blue Benedictines from the color of their habit.” They followed a stricter interpretation of the Rule of St. Benedict. The small Silvestrine congregation still exists today after over 750 years and they have monasteries located on several continents, including at least two Silvestrine monasteries in the USA.

I was particularly drawn to the story of St. Silvester Gozzolini because, like St. Gregory, he was another active contemplative.

Early in St. Silvester’s adult life he became a “canon of the Cathedral (canons were the priests who assisted the bishop in running his diocese; their parish was the Cathedral church).” But he also longed to fulfill another dream — that of a contemplative.

Although it was St. Silvester’s desire to enter the solitary contemplative life, he continued in his duties at the diocese until his objection to the immoral life of the bishop caused the bishop to threaten Silvester’s removal. At about the same time, St. Silvester saw “firsthand the decaying corpse of a local nobleman who had been renowned for his physical beauty.”

St. Silvester left the diocese and went to live near the ocean in seclusion. However, disciples began to seek his guidance. That led to the formation of a group which later became a monastery and the Silvestrine congregation of Benedictine monks. Over his long life (he entered the heavenly realms at age 90) he founded 11 monasteries.

St. Silvester Gozzolini is another example of how the contemplative and active life are not in conflict.

BDP has this fitting final prayer to honor St. Silvester Gozzolini as the last saint in November, as we honor all who have gone on, and as we near the end of the liturgical year:

“Lord our God, you inspired blessed Silvester, your abbot, with the desire for monastic solitude and zeal for the active ministry. May we seek you always with true sincerity of heart and through our service in humility hasten toward our eternal home. This we ask of you.”


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Sources:

St. Silvester at St. Patrick Catholic Church

The picture is of a flying raven from IHeartVector Thank you!



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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Two steps forward and one farther look ahead. A Benedictine oblate blog


It’s been about two years since my wife and I first visited the monastery near our home — the abbey is about 45 minutes away on the Interstate — an easy drive and it’s just enough time to help us fully arrive when we get there physically.

We spend the drive-time talking about spiritual matters — often more in-depth discussions about topics we shared with each other at home. “I have been thinking more about what you said about ......”

Two years is also just enough time to think about where I was and where I am now since first visiting the monastery.

My current life has not changed direction from my pre-oblate life. The difference is more like the difference between partial and greater fulfillment, or between being at mile marker 10 previously and knowing I am now at mile marker 20.

I am more content, happier, and closer to God in daily life — I might say that in the two years since I began visiting the monastery I have taken two large steps forward — the greatest progress since I became a Christian. Great, right?

Yes, but having taken two steps forward has brought me to a place where I can now see farther down the road — I can see better how far away I am from the Christian soul I should have or now desire to have.

Two years ago I would have pointed to a much closer horizon.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The protection of silence. A Benedictine oblate blog


I spent most of the weekend listening to EWTN TV shows I recorded (Scandal of the Cross and Its Triumph — Bob and Penny Lord) and I played them over and over as I worked on revisions to the Oblate Spring website associated with this blog.

The TV show is on the history of church heresies. I like the Scandal of the Cross series because of its overview of large blocks of time in church history. We are more closely related to those events of long ago than ever reported in today’s press. And reading a paper from the 11th century would probably better prepare me to understand my world.

I also enjoyed thinking about a wonderful postal poem by a Square Peg Breaks Free. For me, her super poem is about time and noise. I liked the poem and the photograph by Mikey G. Ottowa.

Life has lots of noise — not the TV shows, they actually helped me see that much of what passes as news and happenings and things to follow really have little effect except as distractions today.

The postal poem and photograph helped remind me that silence’s first protection is from the noise of empty time.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

When is a retreat over? A Benedictine oblate blog


In the past two years my wife and I have had four weekend retreats at the monastery located about 45 minutes from our home. For each retreat we prepared more than the previous one. And after returning home from each retreat, we have spent more time “still being there” than the previous one. We enjoy them very much and our periodic retreats have a greater and greater influence in our lives.

With Advent coming soon, we have another reason to focus on prayer, silence, and God’s love.

And it is easier for me to know how to do the divine office, because I have more experience with it. I spend less time trying to learn what to do with the Benedictine Daily Prayer book I use for the divine office.

And I have been fortunate to have several books that have captured all of my interest in monastic history and thought. With the enjoyment of a Thanksgiving feast, I am reading three books “Benedictine Biographies” which was written in 1912; “The Love of Learning and The Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture” which is a series of lectures given in Rome in 1955; and “Saint Benedict” which is a readable version of the life of St. Benedict.

And my wife and I have been discussing many EWTN TV shows recently. Maybe it is just us, but in the past month we have seen wonderful shows. I am still listening to EWTN Live on the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (Audio), and another EWTN Live show on a new traditional church design in Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. EWTN Audio of Show and Church website showing pictures of this Romanesque style church. This new church is going to be opened soon and if we lived closer we would be there. I think it will be opened in a few weeks. This new great church is at the intersection of I-75 and I-40.

All of the following has also caused me to realize how little I know about monastic history and Catholic church/saint history — and how far I am away from the monastic life I can see dimly.

But, if direction rather than perfection is the test, in that alone I have ample reason to be thankful for God’s mercy.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

MONASTERIES: OASES OF ASCETIC LIFE. A Benedictine oblate blog


Here is a long quote from Vatican Information Service (VIS)

MONASTERIES: OASES OF ASCETIC LIFE(1)

VATICAN CITY, 20 NOV 2008 (VIS) - The Pope today received participants in the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, which is celebrating its hundredth anniversary this year. The assembly was held from 18 to 20 November.

Having recalled the theme of the meeting - "Monastic life and its significance in the Church and the world today" - the Holy Father indicated that "consecrated persons are a special part of the People of God. Supporting and protecting their faithfulness to the divine call is the fundamental role you play", he told the members of the dicastery.

Benedict XVI expressed the view that the work of these days, "which focused particularly on female monastic life, may provide useful guidance to monks and nuns who 'seek God", practising their vocation for the good of the whole Church". In this context he recalled how during his address last September to the world of culture in Paris, France, he had "highlighted the exemplary nature of monastic life in history, and underlined how its aim is both simple and essential: 'quaerere Deum', seeking God and seeking Him through Jesus Christ Who revealed Him, seeking Him by fixing one's gaze on the invisible truths that are eternal, in the expectation of the glorious manifestation of the Saviour".

"When consecrated people live the Gospel radically, when people dedicated to an entirely contemplative life profoundly cultivate the nuptial bond with Christ, ... then monasticism can, for all forms of religious and consecrated life, become a reminder of what is of essential and primary importance for all the baptised: seeking Christ and placing nothing before His love.

"The way indicated by God for this search and this love is His own Word", the Pope added, "abundantly present in the books of Sacred Scripture for mankind to reflect upon".

The recent Synod on the Word of God "renewed its appeal to all Christians to root their lives in listening to the Word of God as contained in Sacred Scripture, and invited religious communities in particular, and all consecrated men and women, to make the Word of God their daily sustenance, especially through the practice of 'lectio divina'".

The Holy Father concluded by expressing the hope that "monasteries may increasingly become oases of ascetic life, where the allure of the nuptial union with Christ is felt, and where the choice of the Absolute ... is immersed in a climate of constant silence and contemplation".

AC/MONASTIC LIFE/... VIS 081120 (420)

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Footnote

(1) All links in the above article are to Vatican documents, but the links were add by me in this blog post.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Retreat Compline. A Benedictine oblate blog

Guesthouse where we stayed


My wife and I are back home from a long weekend retreat at wonderful St. Leo Abbey in Florida, USA (about 45 minutes north of Tampa/St. Petersburg).

We had a wonderful time. We prayed with the monks during all their divine offices (defined), attended Mass, read old books about St. Benedict, stared out over the Lake Jovita next to the monastery, and had some tasty food served by talented cooks at the monastery.

Orange trees and Lake behind guesthouse


The days are structured perfectly in monastic life, the entire day is focused on prayer and it is easy to stay close to prayer.

Yes, Florida is warm & beautiful


We walked a lot, walking is a good way to fill some time before or after a divine office. The weather did turn coolish on Sunday, but we still read outside in the white chairs in front of the guesthouse, we just moved the chairs into the sun.

We returned home much rested in our hearts and saying to ourselves, ok, tell me again, what are the drawbacks of that type of life?

May the divine assistance remain with us always,
And with our absent sister.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

What I did this week. A Benedictine oblate blog


I was inspired by all the oblate, monastic, and spiritual blogs I read this week. All the blogs I link to were particularly meaningful to me this week. Each one described some aspect of God’s love, mercy, grace or my relation to it and a path to a more spiritual life. I found myself saying, “oh yes, now I see that more clearly than I did before.”

I have also remembered the saints this week, with a focus on the Benedictine saints. I have thought about saints, read about them, watched EWTN shows(1) on saints, and prayed the divine offices about saints this week — all those activities were particularly meaningful to me this week.

Lastly, I watched several EWTN TV shows (I had recorded previously) on Catholics in Russia and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church under the Soviets.

These TV shows gave me just a glimpse at how many people have suffered and died for their faith in the recent past.

The movement of the Church from decades of underground existence to more public expressions and the rebuilding of Catholic churches and institutions such as seminaries is one of the major Church events happening in the world today. It is a big deal.

To help document the time when the Church in Ukraine was underground, about 100,000 pages of interviews have been taken so that this chapter in history will not be lost.

Being underground meant that nothing was written, no pictures were taken, everything was secret, no buildings were built, no media campaigns were conducted, no one blogged about being a Catholic, no conferences were held, because to do so meant imprisonment or death.

All worked far more than me, they faced suffering that I cannot imagine, but they never turned their backs on Truth or God’s love.

Doesn’t everything happen in or in relation to the United States? To me, as I live in the United States, I was wrong to think that those courageous Christians in Russia and the Ukraine were somehow disconnected from the life of the Church, instead I think that it was through their hands that the Church was brought to the third millennium. It was their hands on the line, not mine.

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Footnote

(1) “Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) is now “the largest religious media network in the world, transmitting programming 24 hours a day to more than 148 million homes in 140 countries and territories on more than 4,800 cable systems, wireless cable, Direct Broadcast Satellite (DBS), low power TV and individual satellite users.”

EWTN's web site, has extensive written materials on Catholic topics. EWTN's reference materials are some of the best on the Internet.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Monastic Myths. A Benedictine oblate blog


I read the following today about St. Gregory the Great (a pope and doctor of the Church who lived from c. 540-604 AD):

St. Gregory the Great "exercised a decisive influence on the share given in monastic culture to the spiritual tendency .... St. Gregory was a great pope, a great man of action; his Pastoral Care and his Letters have become sources of moral theology, canon law, and medieval pastoral theology. But he was also a great contemplative, a great doctor of the life of prayer." (1)

My pre-oblate view was that the contemplative life meant a life that was not involved with the world. I think my previous ideas were part of the modern view that faith/religion are private matters not related to action in the world. My reasoning might have been: if a religious life tended to diminish a person’s involvement in the world compared to a nonreligious person, then a contemplative religious life would tend to diminish a person’s activity even more.

This was all part of my general sense that monastic contemplative living was marked out primarily on a scale in which the "contemplative life and less worldly involvement" were on one end of the scale and the "noncontemplative life and more worldly involvement" were at the other end of the scale. The test of the contemplative life became simply where a person was placed each day on that one dimensional scale. On days when there was more worldly involvement, the person became less contemplative.

Somehow I think St. Gregory would not have viewed his life this way. And I think that this great man who worked fully in the world might still be good example for a simple oblate today.

I think that St. Gregory lived the Christian life, deeply spiritual and contemplative, full of prayer, and because of such direction and strength, he was able to be fully involved in God’s world. Where else would he be?

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Footnote

(1) The Love of Learning and The Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture by Jean Leclercq. Fordham University Press (1982), Edition: Rep Sub, Paperback, Page 25

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lectio for our retreat. A Benedictine oblate blog


I have been preparing for an upcoming retreat at a Benedictine monastery in the same way as I prepared for the annual oblate retreat of several weeks ago. I have selected an idea or spiritual practice as my theme during the weeks before the upcoming retreat.

My focus for our upcoming retreat is divine reading — the slow contemplative reading of scripture where I let God talk to my heart and mind. This type of reading is called lectio divina (pronounced lex-ee-oh dih-vee-nuh).

Lectio divina is an ancient spiritual practice — it is not a practice of learning. It is not reading for the details of a theological system or for history. It is divine reading formed in silence. It is listening beyond the words. It is a wonderful way for me to prepare for the next retreat.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The line forms at the beginning. A Benedictine oblate blog


My wife and I went to the monastery recently for a special 5:00 pm vespers. For this vespers, the monks walk into the church in a slow procession — side by side in two lines. They are not gloomy or stiff. They are not hesitant, they are not hurried.

The monks convey the confidence of flowing grace. It is a regular part of what they have done many times — but they know that this is something important — they are together, walking in as one community. The entire procession is a single, free, and purposeful gesture.

The monks are cloaked in their black robes as they always are. As they move into the church and up the center aisle, I think about the stability of this ancient form of monastic worship, the divine office.

As each pair reaches the top of the few steps to the raised area where the altar and choir stalls are located, the first two monks bow to the altar in unison and then turn and bow to each other. Then the monk on the left goes to the choir stalls on the left and monk on the right goes to the choir stalls on the right. The monks are now looking across the altar — seeing Christ in each other.

This graceful movement of coming up the steps, bowing twice, and walking to their seats continues until all the monks are seated and the divine office is about to begin.

But for me, as the last two monks walk into the church, in my mind’s eye I can still see the line of monks continuing on back — more than a 1,000 years into the past — day after day of monks who also walked silently into a church and sang the psalms — those ancient songs to God. The monks in this abbey church today deserve much respect in my view, and I know that I am very fortunate to be here to watch and pray with them.

“O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.”

Everyone bows.

“Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen”


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Notes:

The verse:

“O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me”

comes from Psalm 70 and was quoted by St. John Cassian (360-435 AD) as the verse that should be repeated frequently by a monk to keep his mind fixed on God. According to Cassian the psalm-70 phrase was used by the earliest desert fathers to help them in all situations.

John Cassian’s accounts and interpretations of the most ancient wisdom of the desert fathers were important in the “transmission of the culture of Egyptian monasticism into the early medieval west.” It’s a long procession of monks.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Balance: the answer to all questions? A Benedictine oblate blog


I searched the Vatican’s web site for materials on monasticism. I found about 80 documents. Many of the documents are written by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

I have been reading more materials from the Vatican because of their quality, depth, and insight.

Regarding the topic of monasticism, I have learned that the Vatican documents do not treat monasticism in isolation from the rest of the Church, instead monasticism is part of the whole. This image of an integrated monasticism might help me to see that monasticism should also NOT be treated in isolation from the wider world.

It is a fascinating question for me: How have monasteries lived apart from their communities yet have become great influences on those communities? I think "Balance" will be part of the answer!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Liturgy/Lectio is a window. A Benedictine oblate blog


Ora et Labora (prayer and work) is a well-known theme for the Benedictine balance in the lives of monks, nuns, and sisters. But that is exactly why I, as an oblate, also like Benedictine spirituality for my regular life in the world where I have a job, spouse, extended family, and bills like everyone else.

It is not so much that I want to be a secluded monk, but I want a deep spirituality in my regular, ordinary life. Oblate monasticism gives me that balance. And as you can tell, I have been thinking a lot about that lately.

I wrote in the previous blog post that the first word in the Rule of St. Benedict, “Listen,” is the recurring link in the cycle of prayer and work.

And there may be a more elemental way for me to see the Benedictine balance between my life of detachment in prayer and my life of attachment to this world in work.

Liturgical prayer and lectio divina serve as a window. On one side they open my spiritual life to God and on the other side they open the same spiritual life to this world.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Listening. A Benedictine oblate blog

[Click picture to enlarge]


The picture is of the version of the Rule I read and the beads were given to me by a very generous and kind oblate at the retreat held a few weeks ago.

Many editions of the Rule of St. Benedict have date notations so you can read through the Rule three times in a year. And in chapter 66 St. Benedict wrote that the Rule should be read to monks frequently. It is a practice that oblates also try to follow.

The Rule of St. Benedict begins with the word Listen, perhaps the most significant word in the Rule.

Certainly it is the word that immediately comes to mind when I think of the Rule.

Ora et labora (prayer and work) are the ideas (some would say the theme of the Benedictine life) that are often used to identify Benedictine practices. I think that “Listen” — the first call of the master in the Rule — is the recurring link between prayer and work in our daily lives. Visually, it might look like a strand of beads:

Listen — Pray — Listen — Work — Listen — Pray — Listen — Work

Blog housekeeping


The right sidebar has been reorganized so that blogs are listed as blogs and I can see when they have been updated. Web sites have been listed separately.

I like this better and hope you do too.

Trip to library. A Benedictine oblate blog


I did not go to the monastery for compline tonight, but I was able to spend about an hour in the excellent university library next to the monastery. I checked out three Benedictine books — published in 1912, 1937, and 1954.

Each book has material on early monasticism and I want those sections to enlighten my heart. In my mind I think I have an incorrect view of the earliest practices and I want to go back to the beginning and make sure I build on a solid foundation.

I missed going to compline tonight, my favorite office, but you can be sure I was well aware that an elder monk opened the front door of the church about 7:50 pm and walked through the darkened church as he has done for over 60 years at this abbey.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Children, knowledge and light. A Benedictine oblate blog


Yesterday I visited a Catholic Benedictine monastery for 5:00 pm vespers and 8:00 pm compline.(1)

Between vespers and compline I went to the excellent library of the university that is adjacent to the monastery.

I used the time in the library to write yesterday’s blog while sitting in one of the out-of-the-way study carrels by the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Lake Jovita.

As it got dark outside I could tell that the library was filling with students. A few talked or chatted on their cell phones. All had notebook computers.

About 7:35 pm, I packed up from my work and had to walk the full length of the library to get to the front door. There was a low hum of student activity. One student was staring ahead, a couple of students appeared to be getting needed rest.

As I looked around the library, it was 40 years ago for me and I knew what they were feeling — college students working on a paper at night and on themselves when they had time.

I realized that the students were so young and that 40 years gives more experiences from which to learn the meaning of life and to find love. Ironically, these students were sitting in a place filled with knowledge, yet the knowledge to treasure might be found years ahead.

I wondered what I would have thought if a 60-year-old oblate had approached me while I was a student 40 years ago and asked if I wanted to hear about the things he once thought were true, but now knows to be dead ends? Yep, he would have been the last person I would have listened to.

I wondered about the path each of those students in the library last night would take in the next 40 years of their lives. I thought, they are young, will they gain true knowledge?

I walked to the abbey church and arrived there about 7:45 pm which gave me some time alone in the quiet, dark church before the monks came in one by one for 8:00 pm compline, the last divine office of the day.

After several minutes, I heard the solid click of the church’s heavy front door. There was no other sound, but after a little while, a black-robed monk walked slowly past me.

He is a monk in his 80s (at least). He is typically the first to enter the church before the divine offices.

This monk has been at the abbey since before WWII. Those years of monastic life came with him as he glided past me in the darkness.

He got to the steps at the front of the church. He stopped, he bowed deliberately to the altar. He took a few more steps and then stopped again to shift his weight slightly to the left to take the first step for the short climb to the choir stalls.

As I sat staring ahead, I wondered what this elder monk might have been thinking about me as he walked past in the dark. Could it have been: “He is young, will he see the light?”




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Footnote

(1) Vespers and compline are two of the daily divine offices.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Oblate Sunday. A Benedictine oblate blog


Oblate Sunday was like we had never left the weekend retreat from last month. This oblate Sunday was deeply humbling and provided new spiritual guidance. Both the retreat and this most recent oblate Sunday had conferences on God’s love and mercy given by the Abbot.

I like oblate monasticism because I sense that I am moving little by little to a life closer to God, to a more obedient life, and to a life secluded by a peaceful heart.

The Abbot’s teaching might be thought of in one of two ways depending on your view of the spiritual growth. For instance, I see the Abbot painting the grand structures and main forms of a picture on a large canvas which we can then fill in with the details of our own lives. Or, I might be seeing the Abbot using fine brush strokes to paint the most intricate details of the painting while leaving it to us to color-in the easier parts of our own Christian life.

So, I returned home with a clearer picture of what the result should look like in my own life and a greater confidence that I know where to work.

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PS

I looked at the ceiling tile in the St. Leo Abbey Lake Room to see if it matched the tiles from another monastery. (see previous blog). Yes, both ceiling tiles are WHITE! But, beyond that they are totally different! I added the a picture of the St. Leo Abbey ceiling tile to the previous blog so you can see how off my memory was.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Benedictine detective. A Benedictine oblate blog


The Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration are renovating their monastery in Clyde, Missouri, USA.

They have a blog at which they record their progress. And they have a picture of a ceiling tile from their old monastery. It is the picture at the top of this blog. The tile seems similar to tile in the St. Leo Abby — at least the way I remember it.

My wife and I are going to St. Leo today for oblate Sunday and I will take a picture of the St. Leo Abbey ceiling tile to see if they are the same. The tile is in the room the oblates meet — called the Lake Room because it overlooks the beautiful lake next to the abbey.

I will let you know.

November 4, 2008. Well, we went to the St. Leo Abbey and here is their ceiling tile:



Hey, they are both white!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Oblate Sunday. A Benedictine oblate blog


This Sunday my wife and I will drive to the abbey for oblate Sunday. This is the first oblate meeting after our oblate retreat weekend — the peaceful spirit from that retreat is still a light in our hearts.

We have so much to be thankful for from that retreat, the abbey monks who welcomed all the oblates into their home for the weekend, the deep spirituality of the conferences we attended — all led by the wonderful abbot, the other oblates (defined) whose interest in oblate monasticism is like our own, and OK, I will also add — the great food we had all weekend.

My sense is that lectio divina should occupy much of tomorrow and serve as preparation for oblate Sunday (example of the schedule from a previous oblate Sunday).

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The prison is that way. A Benedictine oblate blog


Before I became an oblate (defined), I had only vague ideas about monastic life — most of those ideas were incorrect. I had thought that the significant fact to know about monasteries(1) is that they were places secluded from the surrounding population. As in: prisons do for criminals what monasteries do for monks and nuns.

But I was wrong.

A more accurate view is that monasteries interact with the surrounding population in many intended ways.

Monasteries are part of a community just like the local fair grounds or the blacksmith.

Monasteries organize the lives of their members in particular ways, but those organizational forms are also particular ways of becoming part of the surrounding community.

And that is exactly how our local monastery affects my life. The monastery is not a prison that locks life away, the monastery is the freedom of a life in God. For prison, you will need to look elsewhere.
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Footnote

(1) A monastery is where monks or nuns live in community, under guidance of a leader sometimes called an abbot or abbess, and under a set of rules or principles, sometimes called a Rule, such as the Rule of St. Benedict.