Wednesday, April 12, 2023

New website for Contemplative Life is my new website on all aspects of contemplative life for lay people, men and women.  The website was launched on Easter Sunday 2023.

The first two posts are the definition of contemplative life and how to do lectio divina.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Three great paintings for Advent and Christmas

The Annunciation, 
by Henry Ossawa Tanner, American (but he painted in France), Picture was painted in Paris, France in 1898.  Tanner painted The Annunciation after returning from a trip to Palestine.  Mary is wearing conventional peasant clothing, wrinkled and without any adornment. That is soon coming.  Gabriel is there too speaking to Mary, but he is enveloped by the brilliance of the star that would soon guide the Magi. The picture is in the collection of Philadelphia Museum of Art where it has been since being purchased in 1899.

 Journey of the Magi, by James Tissot, c. 1894
The picture is at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts

The Star of Bethlehem
by Sir Edward Burne-Jones depicting the Adoration of the Magi with an angel holding the star of Bethlehem. The Star of Bethlehem was the largest watercolour of the 19th century. It was completed in 1890 and was first exhibited in 1891.
The painting is at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Birmingham, England.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

New website for Oblates at Saint Leo Abbey

Bell tower windows at Saint Leo Abbey church

Oblates at Saint Leo Abbey have a new website.  Those is Florida looking for a deeper spiritual life will find the site gives an overview of the Oblate program at a particular Catholic Benedictine monastery, Saint Leo Abbey, in Pasco County, 45 minutes north of Tampa.

The site also has general Benedictine information that should interest anyone interested in knowing more about how Oblates follow the Rule of Saint Benedict.

The site is

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Benedictine Spirituality

The divine office
The Rule of Saint Benedict
Purity of Heart
Seek God (Quaerere Deum)

Silence (stillness and quietness of heart)
Renouncing our own will
Seeing Christ in everyone
Consecrating all time to God
Praying without ceasing

Conversatio Morum ----(monastic fidelity)
Lectio Divina
Awareness of our death

Footnotes: The list is in Introverted (or Inverted) Parallelism. Defined.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Saint Leo Abbey
Saint Leo Abbey Oblates are having their annual Oblate Program retreat November 2-4, 2012. The retreat conferences will be led by Abbot Isaac. The retreat welcomes anyone wanting a weekend on monastic time -- we pray on the monks' schedule -- and interested in learning more about Benedictine spirituality. The cost is $215 per person.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Today's Coptic monks: See 1,700 years into the past. A Benedictine oblate blog

Coptics are from Egypt

As a Protestant I wondered about early Christianity. How did early Christians live, what did they believe, how did they view the world? I thought acquiring knowledge of those early Christians would help in understanding the Bible's written words, but I also wondered whether it was possible to peer that far back in time. The means of preserving and transmitting knowledge of the early believers to the present was full of hazards.

After becoming a Benedictine oblate, I discovered that today's desert monk in Egypt is remarkably similar to his ancient brothers. I did not need to look back in time — just in the right place today — to the Coptic monks of the Egyptian desert. [Overview of the Copts]. Seeing the lives of these modern-day monks is just like looking back 1,700 years to some of the earliest Christians.

Journey Back to Eden and Sacrifice in the Desert are two books about the author's year of living with Coptic monks in 1986-1987 as part of his doctoral research in anthropology. Two Oriental Christians highly recommended Gruber's books, which was good enough for me. They were correct. I highly recommend these books too.

Father Mark Gruber, O.S.B., is a Catholic Benedictine monk at St. Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, USA. St. Vincent Archabbey is the first Benedictine monastery in the USA.

Journey Back to Eden is the personal journal of Father Mark Gruber's time living with the Coptic monks while Sacrifice in the Desert is his anthropological study of the monks during the same time in the desert.

Just before the conclusion of Sacrifice in the Desert, Gruber writes, "Religion has a grammar of which language has no knowledge."1 After previewing both books and with a slightly better sense of the monastic charism, I start the books with the hope that acquiring knowledge will be the least of the results.



Picture is *100_3398.JPG by cohdra and is used subject to license.

1. Gruber, Mark, and M. Michele Ransil. Sacrifice in the Desert: a Study of an Egyptian Minority through the Prism of Coptic Monasticism. Lanham, MD: University of America, 2003. Page 191.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Who avoids trials, avoids God. A Benedictine oblate blog

Coptic Egypt

An Arab proverb says, "Man fears Time, Time fears the Pyramids." The Coptic church may be the pyramid among Christian traditions. The Coptic Church's stability stands through the centuries despite plunder and persecution that have gradually eroded the church built on other lands.

It may be no coincidence that Christian monasticism was founded by the enduring Copts in the same Egyptian desert where their ancestors built the pyramids.
"Coptic missionaries reached as far as the British Isles long before the arrival of St. Augustine of Canterbury in 597 AD. Stanley Lane-Poole, the well-known historian, wrote:

'We do not know yet how much we in the British Isles owe to these remote hermits. It is more than probable that to them we are indebted for the first preaching of the Gospel in England, where, till the coming of Augustine, the Egyptian monastic rule prevailed. But more important is the belief that Irish Christianity, the great civilizing agent of the early Middle Ages among the northern nations, was the child of the Egyptian Church. Seven Egyptian monks are buried at Desert Uldith, and there is much in the ceremonies and architecture of Ireland in the earliest time that reminds one of still earlier Christian remains in Egypt. Every one knows that the handicraft of the Irish monks in the ninth and tenth centuries far excelled anything that could be found elsewhere in Europe; and if the Byzantine-looking decoration can be traced to the influence of Egyptian missionaries, we have more to thank the Copts for than has been imagined.'" From The Coptic Orthodox Church.

"Irish monasteries became centre of learning and centres for the training of missionaries who went out to evangelise in Britain and on the European mainland." From the beautiful Under the Oak blog by Brigit
The ancient Copts gave monasticism to their Christian brothers and sisters, recognized as the greatest contributions from Egypt to the world (another blog on this topic and the Scetis community).

Copts (meaning Egyptian) are Egyptian Christians who are members of the Coptic Church founded by St. Mark. According to the Copts and some other Christian traditions, the book of Mark is the oldest Gospel narrative.

Copts are ethnically the same as most Egyptians. The Copts look like their Muslim neighbors and speak the same language, but the Copts are Christians who are members of the Coptic Church.

The word Copt is English for the Arabic word Gibt or Gypt. When the Arabs came to Egypt in the early 600s A.D., they called the Egyptians they conquered Gypt which is from the Greek word Egyptos or Egypt. "The Greek word Egyptos came from the ancient Egyptian words Ha-Ka-Ptah or the house or temple of the spirit of God Ptah, one of the major ancient Egyptian Gods."1

I met a Copt online recently. He is a member of the Coptic church (general info on the Coptic church and its ecumenical relations with the Catholic church here and here.)

My Coptic online friend speaks about the past and present persecution of the Coptic church. When I consider the hardships those devout Christians faced and are still living with today, it is humbling.

I also asked him about monasticism. He knows about the lives of many Coptic monks. He said he was named after Father Bola who lived for nearly 90 years in a place where today there is a monastery bearing his name.

He told me that there is only one aphorism still remembered from Father Bola, "Who avoids trials, avoids God."

The implication of Father Bola's saying might be a fitting description of the Coptic Church through time — they have not avoided trials and stayed close to God. In that closeness to God they have been preserved through suffering.

Philip Jenkins author of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia — and How It Died, HarperOne, 2008 studied Christian churches that exist today only as remnants in many formerly Christian lands.

Philip Jenkins said in an interview with Christianity Today the Coptic church is his personal selection as the greatest example of Christian survival in history.

For the Coptic church to be recognized as the leading example of successful faithfulness during prolonged attacks gave me a lot to think about. What is there in the Coptic church that has infused such strength and stamina? I don't know.

From the little interaction I have with Coptic Christians online, there seems to be a greater intensity — but certainly the Copts might describe something else. Parents naming their sons after a monk whose only saying carried down through the years is, "Who avoids trials, avoids God" may be a good place to start looking for the answer.

As you know, my wife and I are studying John Cassian's Conferences and that has caused us to look more into the early Coptic desert monastic fathers.

Much of what endures in the wider church is associated with monasticism and its sheer endurance in the lives of faithful men and women. They return to the desert — not to avoid trials of the world, but to engage the enemy with the only weapon that lasts throughout time — God alone.



Picture is Coptic Egypt by ctsnow and is used subject to license.

1. Quote is from

For more extensive information on the Coptic church see the Coptic Encyclopedia at

Thanks to Joe Rawls whose blog is The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic, I learned about a Coptic monastery in the USA. It is the St. Antony's Monastery in Barstow, the California desert. The monastery's website has a good Coptic overview.

Monasticism is a well-organized and detailed description of Coptic monasticism compiled Mark Mikhael and edited by Father Daniel Al-Anthouny in Australia.

Coptic Cairo is a beautiful site about Coptic culture.

I blogged about the Valley of Natron — Scetis — where a prominent early monastic settlement was established and still exists.

Here is the beautiful home page of the website (not in English) of St. Mary Monastery (El Sourian Monastery)- Wadi El Natron. I found a page of fabulous pictures and videos (at the bottom of the screen) here.

Additional Coptic monasteries.

If you came from Facebook and saw Saint Cecilia's picture, for some reason Facebook got the picture at the bottom of this blog rather than the one at the top. You can read about Saint Cecilia at the bottom of the screen, that's where her picture is.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interesting Benedictine Thing of the Day. A Benedictine oblate blog

Antique Russian Icon

The Benedictines (530 AD) were the only religious order(1) existing prior to division of the church into Eastern and Western parts in 1054(2). The Franciscans (1209 AD), Dominicans (1216 AD), the Augustinians (1244) and Jesuits (1540 AD) were founded after the Church divided between East and West.(3)

The significance of the antiquity of the Benedictine order is that prior to the division of the Church in 1054 there were Benedictine monasteries in Russia which retained their Benedictine traditions after the division. They may have rejected the Western Church and its pope, but they saw no reason to depart from the Benedictine way. Even today there are Orthodox Benedictine monasteries. One is in Canada. It is the Monastery of Christ the Saviour in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.



Picture is IMG_1891, Antique Russian Icon for sale at Izmaylovo Market, by beggs and is used subject to license.

(1) The term Benedictine Order is described as follows in the New Advent Encyclopedia:
"The term Order as here applied to the spiritual family of St. Benedict is used in a sense differing somewhat from that in which it is applied to other religious orders. In its ordinary meaning the term implies one complete religious family, made up of a number of monasteries, all of which are subject to a common superior or "general" who usually resides either in Rome or in the mother-house of the order, if there be one. It may be divided into various provinces, according to the countries over which it is spread, each provincial head being immediately subject to the general, just as the superior of each house is subject to his own provincial. This system of centralized authority has never entered into the organization of the Benedictine Order. There is no general or common superior over the whole order other than the pope himself, and the order consists, so to speak, of what are practically a number of orders, called "congregations", each of which is autonomous; all are united, not under the obedience to one general superior, but only by the spiritual bond of allegiance to the same Rule, which may be modified according to the circumstances of each particular house or congregation. It is in this latter sense that the term Order is applied in this article to all monasteries professing to observe St. Benedict's Rule."

(2) The Great Schism: The Estrangement of Eastern and Western Christendom is an article describing the division from the Orthodox aspect. From the Orthodox Christian Information Center website.

(3) The Western church is generally called Catholic and the Eastern church is composed of several churches, the largest being the Orthodox, but the Eastern part of Christianity also includes, for example the Coptic Church. See the several Eastern churches described and listed.

However, there are many Catholic churches in the same areas in the East where the "Eastern" churches are the primary form of Christianity. These are real Catholic -- in communion with the Pope. These churches are called Eastern Catholic churches. See list of Eastern Catholic rites and churches.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

St. Meinrad sandstone. A Benedictine oblate blog

St. Leo Abbey

[Click picture to enlarge, then click on enlarged picture]

Recently I found Bryan Sherwood's blog on which he writes about liturgy, monasticism, and Benedictine spirituality. He's a Benedictine oblate.

He is also a good photographer. Today I saw he had posted a picture of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana, USA. Look at the entrance structures in the picture of St. Meinrad. What pretty yellow sandstone. It sure looks familiar. Alert blog readers will spot that St. Leo Abbey has the same St. Meinrad-quarried sandstone. St. Leo's yellow sandstone came from St. Meinrad.

In the 1940s when the St. Leo Abbey was building its Church of the Holy Cross, St. Meinrad trucked its sandstone down to Florida and in return, St. Leo Abbey sent back orange juice from its groves.

Bryan Sherwood's picture is the best example of the same stone used at St. Meinrad. Thanks!