Friday, May 30, 2008

Passing on the Fire

Wil Derkse writes: "Presently my abbey, after spring, summer, and fall, appears to be in its winter season, though there are the first signs of spring. Such a winter season appears worse than it is. Winter is also a respectable season, in which germs are kept which quietly survive for the spring which follows, which will be different from the previous. It is like that old Irish custom which is called grieshog, where at the end of each day a few glowing coals are hidden under a layer of ashes. When the night is over, the coals may be uncovered to kindle a new fire. To continue with this metaphor: those who would, as an outsider, meet the small and largely gray little company of abbey dwellers for the first time, might think: a lot of ashes here. But I know that there are glowing coals under the ashes. I know because each time, also in winter, I am "turned on" every time and I am certainly not the only one. There are even a few signals that the glowing coals under the ashes have ignited others to such an extent that they wish, as monks, to pass on the fire."

Above quote from:

"The Rule of Benedict for Beginners," by Wil Derkse, Liturgical Press, 2003

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ordinary Time - Definition

I used to wonder about why some parts of the calendar are called ordinary time. Ordinary Time gets its name from the word ordinal, meaning "numbered," because the Sundays of Ordinary Time are designated numerically.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Calendar Comfort for Oblates

I feel better knowing what day it is. When I have been very busy or very inactive, I sometimes forget to keep track of both the day and day of the week. Is this the 8 or 9, and is it Monday or Tuesday?

Knowing where I am in the Church calendar and within each days’ Divine Office gives me a fuller sense of that same satisfaction that comes from knowing what day it is.

Knowing that a time is, for example, the eighth Sunday of the year, in Psalm week 4, and Sunday cycle A, that it is ordinary time, and it is time for Vigils keeps me close to the life of Christ revealed anew each year. My calendar is not set to a number, it is set to a life.

And of course, within a day this might not only 2:00 pm, but it will also be None too soon. ;)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Find Beauty and Silence

I am just like everyone else, I enjoy God’s beauty. In the first picture, I am writing a blog at one of the many pretty spots at Historic Bok Sanctuary, in Lake Wales, Florida.

For praying the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office, or Opus Dei — work of God), I like a place a little distance away from most visitors.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Vatican Splendors Exhibition Cleveland, Ohio, and St. Paul, MN.

The Vatican Splendors exhibition will be at:

Western Reserve Historical Society in Cleveland, Ohio
beginning May 31, 2008, and

Minnesota History Center in St. Paul
beginning September 27, 2008.

“Experience 2,000 years of Vatican art and history — Michelangelo, Bernini, Giotto, and others. Artwork dating back to the third century. This exhibit comprises one of the largest Vatican collections ever to tour North America. Many items have never before been on public view.”

Vatican Splendors web site.

My wife and I went to see Vatican Splendors when it came to Florida. It is wonderful — just like the description. We were there about 2 and half hours.

You walk through the exhibition with an audio device giving a general overview of the major sections of the exhibit. Each piece in the exhibition, however, has its own written description on a display card on the wall. The Vatican Splendors’ written explanations/descriptions were particularly well done. With adjoining items, the written display cards often tell a little story. So, this is not 2.5 hours of only reading, “Baroque painting 17th century ” — we did not see 200 separate ancient items, but we traveled along a time path with interesting stops along the way and read about their place in the history of the Vatican.

For example, I learned that the name Vatican was simply the Roman name of that particular hill. When the Christians began praying there, they called it what it was. They and everyone in Rome called it Vatican hill, and not as I had guessed because it was a Latin word for some Roman Catholic function.

In the remainder of 2008, Vatican Splendors will be in Cleveland and then in St. Paul, MN.

We have been to two other similar exhibitions when they came to Florida. One was on the close Jewish connection of the earliest churches and the other was on the written transmission of the Bible.

I often have images from those two exhibitions: “Cradle of Christianity” and “Ink and Blood” come to mind whenever I think about those topics and times. I am sure it will be the same for the Vatican Splendors. Vatican Splendors had a small 2-inch square chunk of rock taken from a wall near Peter’s tomb. Written on the block is: “Peter is here.” Every time I think of St. Peter’s Basilica, that tiny carving comes to mind.

Here are the other exhibitions' web sites -- I think they are not touring now, but the web sites are good resources:

Ink and Blood web site

Cradle of Christianity — The Israel Museum

If you have the opportunity go see Vatican Splendors. An oblate's thumbs up for Vatican Splendors.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Oblate Monasticism — One Life, not two

Wil Derkse writes that the Benedictine life joins the sacred and profane life at the abbey. Nothing I have experienced captures this goal of the Christian living as does the Rule of St. Benedict applied in the life of the lay person — a person like me who is not a monk and who does not live at an abbey.

The Rule of St. Benedict became the most widely used rule for monks during the past 1,500 years because it does not seek flights of super spirituality or harsh solitudes away from the world. Rather, the Rule has been astonishingly effective because of how the ordinary is sanctified as part of the world.

For me, in my chair reserved for prayer, the Divine Office is a very effective way of joining prayer to my hours of work.

With typical Benedictine balance, one of Derkse’s example is the following Zen encouragement: “Before the enlightenment: cut wood and draw water; after the enlightenment: cut wood and draw water.”

"The Rule of Benedict for Beginners," by, Liturgical Press, 2003, page viii.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Divine Office -- Structure of Beauty - Benedictine Oblate

The Divine Office helps structure my day of work and evenings of more work — yes, just like your day.

I often hear Protestants who come to the Catholic monastery near my home and begin praying the Divine Office say they like the structure of this manner of prayer common among the earliest first-century Christian communities.

I agree and I think it is the Divine Office’s beauty and antiquity that creates the structure in my heart. The beauty of the Divine Office sets it apart in my mind as a means of devotion.

Others, of course, will find none of the forms of the Divine Office to fit their spirit — that’s OK. Don’t force your life into a practice for which it is not suited.

For those who enjoy the Divine Office, they say its practices are flexible and supporting of a busy lifestyle — not an extra burden.

Wil Derkse writes, “opportunities for the improvement of quality are often the first we let go when we become busy and important: silence and recreation are eliminated as a matter of course; we become noisy and turbulent and with our unrest we affect others. The Benedictine attitude is precisely the reverse. Those who receive extra responsibility need to listen more, like the brother who became prior and then doubled his time for daily meditation.”

The above quote is from "The Rule of Benedict for Beginners," by Wil Derkse, Liturgical Press, 2003.

If you are just beginning to explore Benedictine monasticism, I recommend here the above book as a first book you might read. Its 87 easy-to-read pages give a good overview of oblate monasticism -- defined here on the Oblate Spring web site.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Monastic Garden for Benedictine Oblate -- Part 2

In the blog, “A Monastic Garden,” I wrote about how it is hard to relax in my own backyard garden — because I see what needs to be done rather than peace the garden was intended to create.

For me, the best solution is to avoid places (for the Divine Office) that are most often places of work (like our garden) and to have a place in the house that is dedicated primarily as a place of prayer — in my case it’s a comfortable brown chair and footstool in a corner of my home office. Some oblates have a separate prayer or reading room.

For me, lighting a candle helps move me from being in work to being present in prayer. If you have a practice that helps you move into a time of prayer or that helps your prayer time — please add it as a comment -- Thank you. If it includes eating ice cream, I just might try it! :)

Monday, May 12, 2008

"God Bless You."

The life expectancy of an act of kindness is forever.

I recall what happened in the parking lot as I was getting ready to drive home after my first visit to a monastery — I was putting my camera and hat into the back of the car, a man in his 30s spoke to me as he unlocked his car which was next to mine. He said, "I have been on a retreat here. These monks pray five times a day. When people hear that a group prays five times a day, it is typically not a Christian group that first comes to mind, but it should be because this Benedictine tradition goes back 1,500 years, it is very old. Is this your first time here?" Yes, I said, and he replied, "God bless you."

This blessing from a stranger is one of the treasures I received from the monastery.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Santiago de Compostela -- The Roads that unified Europe

"Historians credit the building of a unified European culture to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela."

Above is a quote in the "Those-Influential-Benedictine-Monks Category" about the "El Camino de Santiago" (The Road of Saint James) which is the road pilgrims traveled (for months and sometimes for years) in the middle ages to get to Santiago, Spain, where the remains of St. James the Apostle are enshrined after having been discoved there about 800 AD marked by a falling cloud of stars over a field (a compostela).

The shrine in Santiago de Compostela — St. James of the Starry Field — is in northwestern Spain. The word Santiago is Spanish for a shortened version of Saint James ("Saint James" ("Sanctus Jacobus") became "Sant' Iago," which became "Santiago").

Here is the connection to Benedictine monasticism. It was the influence of Cluny, the Benedictine monastery, that sparked the great interest in making a pilgrimage to Santiago, Spain, during the middle ages and that made Santiago, along with Rome and Jerusalem, one of three great pilgrim destinations.

Today pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela along the various routes of the El Camino de Santiago are rapidly increasing.

First quote above from: Catholic Culture

For a good overall summary of the El Camino de Santiago geared for the modern pilgrim see the "Ideal Spain" web site.

For a description of the various routes taken by pilgrims and the ancient non-Christian traditions that may have influenced traditions adopted by the pilgrims see Europe in the UK Culture

For an account of a 2004 pilgrimage made by monks from Papa Stronsay monastery (most northerly early Christian monastery ever found, situated on see Papa Stronsay, an island in Orkney, north of Scotland).

Keithpp's Blog has another excellent overview of the Compostela pilgrimage.

For a long and excellent discussion see the "2000 Years of the Camino de Santiago: Where Did It Come From? Where Is It Going?" prepared by the Confraternity of Saint James.

The above article concludes with the following quote about those who show hospitality to the pilgrims today in much the same way as it was done in the Middle Ages, often by the Benedictines:


"And that brings me to the end of this over-lengthy address. There is an old saying that one's pilgrimage does not end in Santiago - it begins there, and I am sure that all of us have discovered the truth of that through experience. We return to the lives we left; we are the same, yet not the same; we have gained new perspectives, our experience has reaffirmed some fundamentals that we knew all along. The values we come to appreciate on the Camino and which, I assume, are what have brought us together here today, transcend all the barriers: age, language, race, religion, economic status and educational level. The world - our society - so often seems at odds with those values. To me, and, I suspect, to you also, the pilgrimage to Santiago offers a hopeful vision of how things might be different."

"Well, we are in good company. I recently heard a story about Don José María Alonso, the priest at San Juan de Ortega, whom some of you may remember, who has been attending pilgrims in his particular spot on the Camino for more than 40 years. When Larry Boulting and his crew were there in 2002 filming "Within the Way Without", which is being screened on Sunday afternoon, his crew - described to me as "a pretty irreligious and hard-boiled bunch" - was somewhat confused and sceptical about what the Camino was all about. They could understand what the pilgrims were doing, or thought they could, but they didn't understand what a life-long hospitalero got out of it. So, over some of the famous garlic soup, they asked Don José María to explain what he thought that he and everyone else connected with the Camino were doing. He, in that characteristic way of his, merely shrugged and
replied "Oh, just changing the world, that's all...". Amen."



Update July 7, 2010: added link to Keithpp's Blog.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Br. Joachim October 13, 1916 – May 9, 2007

From the Abbey's web site: "Br. Joachim [October 13, 1916 – May 9, 2007] died at the Pasco Regional Medical Center in Pasco County, Florida [about 30 minutes north of Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida, USA], after a surgical procedure to improve blood circulation to one of his legs."

"Br. Joachim was celebrating his 50th Jubilee of Service this year (Professed: December 15th, 1957)."

In March 2007 Brother Joachim had fallen and broken his hip. Brother Joachim went through rehabilitation and was back at his Abbey in a relatively short time after his fall.

According to monks who knew him, Brother Joachim "is one of the gentlest and humblest people..."

I first saw Brother Joachim on the cover of the Abbey brochure when I first visited the Abbey. The picture shows 22 of the Abbey's monks on the steps of the Church of the Holy Cross. Brother Joachim was in front on his electric scooter. A monk is standing behind Br. Joachim with his hand on the scooter's head rest. It was a hand of: "I will take care of you."

The little story within the picture was one of those little things that caused me to become interested in the Abbey, and the Rule, and that led me to being especially sad when I learned that Brother Joachim had been taken to the hospital and a couple of days later that Brother Joachim had gone home to the Lord.

When I began attending the Divine Offices during my visits to the Abbey, I saw the "elderly monk on the scooter" expertly going in and out of the church. At times I was surprised by how quickly and precisely he could maneuver.

The monks had a special place for Brother Joachim during the Divine Offices. Next to the east choir stall by a column a little table was where his books were kept. He would just roll up and turn his scooter around and be ready.

Before the evening prayers Brother Joachim would be in a chapel praying with a few other monks and then his scooter would hum across the church to take his place before vespers began.

After the Divine Office, I would see Brother Joachim as he went out the back of the church with the other monks.

His 90+ year old face showed a heart at peace and filled with the knowledge of God. I never spoke to Brother Joachim, but that's what seeing him said to me.

Then in March 2007, after visiting the Abbey, I learned that Brother Joachim had been hospitalized after the fall.

The first time I saw Brother Joachim after he returned from the hospital, he looked a little drained, but I actually did not expect to see him back at the Abbey so soon. When he rolled past me in his scooter at the end of vespers, I looked up and smiled at him, he smiled back.

He always looked like the humble, gentle monk described by the monks who knew him.

He was old and his body was failing, but his smile was full of the Holy Spirit. He was certainly one of the memories I took with me on my way home after visiting the Abbey — all the monks and everything that happens is interesting, but a 90- year-old monk scooting around before and after the Divine Offices on his scooter and the care obviously shown to him by the other monks was all very Benedictine to me.

Actually, because I had absolutely no knowledge of being Catholic or Benedictine, it would be more accurate to say that it was seeing Br. Joachim's 50-year dedication to the monastic way of living and the other monks' support for him that helped define in my mind what it means to be Benedictine.

I will probably not have any direct association with any other Abbey. We know of the common ground of the Rule and the Catholic Church, but to some extent, for me, especially because I am not yet a Catholic and have no Catholic background — a particular Abbey is the Rule and is Benedictine life to me.

That is where I saw it lived by a particular group of brothers including that 90-year-old monk who rode on a scooter.

All this will be a topic for thought — the interaction between the Rule as a universal standard and its coming to life and being lived at a specific place by the particular monks. Many things are now different for Br. Joachim, but there is one thing that has remained the same — an outreached hand: "I will take care of you."

I still miss Brother Joachim.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Two books: "Elmore Oblates Handbook" ---- "Prayer and Community"

Here is a recommendation for two books on oblates and Benedictine spirituality. This recommendation comes from Lucie Johnson who wrote the following in 2003 in St. John's Abbey "The Oblate" newsletter:

"When I look on my bookshelf for what might complement the "Benedictine Handbook" in the areas of spirituality and living the Rule as Oblates, two small volumes stand out. One is Columba Stewart's "Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition" (Orbis Books, 1998) a very readable and excellent presentation of Benedictine spirituality. The other is "Oblates: Life with St. Benedict" (Elmore Abbey, 1992) by Dom Augustine Morris, who wrote this little book for the oblates of Elmore Abbey. I found it very useful when I was trying to figure out what it means to be an Oblate and how to take into my life a Rule that was composed for medieval monks. I return to it now and again, because I never quite "get" it.

I can use all the help I can find and thus I am grateful to now have the "Handbook" on my shelf of essentials as well."

The above quote from "The Oblate," Vol. 47, No. 5a, Nov. - Dec. 2003, published by oblates of Saint John's Abbey Collegeville, Minn.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Ordered Hours

Praise for God’s grace, thankfulness, and trust in His care — these are all part of why I pray the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office, or Opus Dei — work of God).

This ancient practice helps order the day.

May 2 and Reading the Rule

May 2 is when reading of the Rule of St. Benedict completes its first course around the garden and returns to the beginning — at least in my version of the Rule, the “Rule of St. Benedict.”

So, I am spending a little extra time in the courtyard for now and getting ready for the walk through the summer flowers.

John B.

Thursday, May 1, 2008


All of the following is from Vatican Information Service (VIS):


VATICAN CITY, SEP 9, 2007 (VIS) - Shortly after 4.30 p.m. today, the Holy Father arrived by car at the abbey of Heiligenkreuz, 30 kilometers from Vienna. It is the largest Cistercian monastery in Europe and the oldest in the world to have remained open uninterruptedly since its foundation, in 1135.

The name Heiligenkreuz (Holy Cross) is due to a relic of the True Cross which was donated to the monastery in 1188 by duke Leopold V and which is still venerated there. Under the Nazis, the monastery was almost completely expropriated and many of the monks were imprisoned, Following World War Two, the abbot Karl Braunstofer reformed the liturgy in accordance with Vatican Council II and created a Latin breviary in which particular importance was given to the Gregorian Chant.

In the abbey is the Pontifical Theological Faculty, founded in 1802 as a teaching center for philosophy and theology. It currently has more than 100 students.

On his arrival, Benedict XVI paused in prayer before the relic of the True Cross in the abbey church together with the monks, teachers and students. Then, after a greeting from the abbot Fr. Gregor Henckel Donnersmack, he delivered a talk to those present.

"The core of monasticism is worship," said the Pope. "But since monks are people of flesh and blood on this earth, St. Benedict added to the central command: 'pray,' a second command: 'work.' ... Thus in every age monks, setting out with their gaze upon God, have made the earth life-giving and lovely. Their protection and renewal of creation derived precisely from their looking to God."

"Your primary service to this world must therefore be your prayer and the celebration of the Divine Office. The interior disposition of each priest, and of each consecrated person, must be that of 'putting nothing before the Divine Office.' The beauty of this inner attitude will find expression in the beauty of the liturgy," of which "the determining factor must always be our looking to God."

"Whenever in our thinking we are only concerned about making the liturgy attractive, interesting and beautiful, the battle is already lost," said the Pope. "In the light of this, I ask you to celebrate the sacred liturgy with your gaze fixed on God within the communion of saints, the living Church of every time and place, so that it will truly be an expression of the sublime beauty of the God Who has called men and women to be His friends."

The Holy Father then quoted a traditional pun which defines Osterreich (Austria) as Klosterreich (a realm of monasteries), and he called on the faithful to consider the abbeys and monasteries not as "mere strongholds of culture and tradition, or even simple business enterprises. Structure, organization and finances are necessary in the Church too, but they are not what is essential. A monastery is above all this: a place of spiritual power."

The Holy Father had words of praise for the Pontifical Theological Faculty, which is 205 years old and which the current abbot has named after Benedict XVI. It is important, he said, "that there should be academic institutions like your own, where there can be a deeper interplay between scientific theology and real spirituality."
Christian theology "is never a purely human discourse about God, but always, and inseparably, the 'Logos' and 'logic' of God's self-revelation."

In this context, the Pope recalled how St. Bernard, the father of the Cistercian Order, "fought against the detachment of an objectivizing rationality from the main current of ecclesial spirituality." Today, the Holy Father added, "in its desire to be recognized as a rigorously scientific discipline in the modern sense, theology can lose the life-breath given by faith" and "end up as an array of more or less loosely connected disciplines."

Turning to consider the question of vocations, the Pope pointed out that if they are "to be sustained faithfully over a lifetime, there is a need for a formation capable of integrating ... the entire personality.

Neglect of the intellectual dimension can give rise all too easily to a kind of superficial piety nourished mostly by emotions and sentiments, which cannot be sustained over a lifetime.

Neglect of the spiritual dimension, in turn, can create a rarified rationalism which, in its coldness and detachment, can never bring about an enthusiastic self-surrender to God."

After visiting the abbey museum, Benedict XVI returned to Vienna for his meeting with volunteer associations in the city's "Wiener Konzerthaus."

070910 (750)