Friday, August 29, 2008

An Ancient Spirit Lives — Incline the ear of your heart.

[Note: Under the label “An Ancient Spirit Lives” are blogs and web sites speaking directly about the most ancient monastic principles. These are blogs I hope I never forget and ones that directly shape my understanding of monastic life.]

One of Sr. Janet’s blog posts is “A Different Path” of August 20, 2008, telling much about the Poor Clares Colettine Community at Ty Mam Duw — located in Wales, Great Britain.

The Poor Clares Colettine Community is a praying community. They pray much of the day and late into the night. And they also know when to pray more. You might think that it is odd to make such a distinction — knowing when to pray more. But the Poor Clares are given a lamp unto their feet and a light unto their path that shines farther into the unknown — but this is typical of great praying communities and individuals.

Sr. Janet wrote in “A Different Path”:

“Yet speak to any of the Sisters and their sense of joy is real, their inner freedom tangible. There is no sense that the long hours spent in prayer are burdensome. The Sister I interviewed After all, these are the very moments when they can be close to the sick, the dying, those in any kind of need, as one story goes to show…

“Not long ago, late at night, the dog started to bark, without any obvious cause. There was a feeling that someone was dying and so the Sisters immediately sprang into action, praying throughout the night hours on that person’s behalf. The dog continued to bark into the early hours of the morning and then, suddenly, stopped, allowing the Sisters a few hours of sleep. Next morning, they learned that the moment of the dog’s silence was the very time at which the mother of a nearby camper, died. Thanks to the dog, the Sisters and a good dollop of Divine Inspiration, the old lady did not die alone… and they have many stories just like that, when they have somehow known that there was somebody in urgent need of their prayerful companionship at a crisis point in their life.”

Incline the ear — there is something worth listening to.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Oblate Sunday, Part 4 of 4. A Benedictine oblate blog

The River Brings Life

By Cynthia R.G.

The picture was painted by Cynthia R.G. who kindly allowed me to post it here as the final picture for this four-part description of an oblate Sunday at the abbey. The River Brings Life portrays perfectly why I attend oblate Sundays.

As a recap, Part 1 was about tradition and memory (along with giving the schedule of oblate Sunday). Part 2 was about the encouragement I receive from other oblates. Part 3 was about what books we are reading in the two oblate classes held during oblate Sunday, but how the oblate classes are for gaining insight rather than information.

Which brings me to Part 4, Summary. What is an oblate Sunday? It is being part of an ancient monastic tradition as it moves quietly — always onward and always sustained in His love.

Thank you Cynthia R.G.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Now You’re Welcomed. A Benedictine oblate blog

A Young Globular Cluster Forms New Light

Recently, I spent all night reading spiritual blogs to add to my list of interesting blogs — see the sidebar list titled, “Blogs and Web Sites for Monastics.”

While I was sleep deprived and surfing all over the Internet, I had many good thoughts about the blogs I was reading — it was inspiring. There is an ancient spirit moving in the lives of many people and communities.

In just a few cases, I found myself wanting to have an easier way to get the main idea behind the blog. That led me to take a look at my own blog. I decided that I probably would have the same feeling about this blog — where is the introduction of what’s this blog about?

So, I added a Welcome box in the top right sidebar. It contains the famous Benedictine principle that all guests are to be welcomed as Christ (Chapter 53 of the Rule). The Welcome box also has links about questions first-timers might ask.

I also expanded the first blog entry (linked as “More about this blog” in the Welcome box) telling a bit more about the blog and why I write it and how it is related to my web site, Oblate Spring.

If any sleepy Internet surfers find this blog, they will quickly be able to know about this blog just by reading the 65 words in the Welcome box.

Here are the new blogs I added to the “Blogs & Web Sites for Monastics” on the sidebar.

Blogs & Web Sites for Monastics

Oblate Spring's list of Handy Oblate Resources
Added Catholic Encyclopedia -- The best all-around source of learning about monasticism
The Order of Saint Benedict
Added Prince of Peace Abbey --- excellent concise information on the life of a monk and oblate
Added Crescat -- Keep beauty before you at all times in your monastic life
Added Monastics on a Journey --- Many women have taken advantage of this optional opportunity to live with the community for an extended period of time, while remaining financially independent and either continuing their current employment or volunteering in community ministry.
Holy Trinity Monastery
Fr. Boniface Patrick Hicks
Oblates of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
Added A glimpse into the life of a Benedictine novitiate
Added Contemplative Horizon
Added Wisdom of the Church Fathers
Added Subiaco Abbey -- Arkansas, USA
Added The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic
Added Monastic Mumblings, a Friar's Journey
Added MONASTIC SKETE---notes from the hermitage
Quarr Abey Oblates
Added Me Monk. Me Meander
Added At the edge of the enclosure -- Living alongside a monastic community
Chant Blog
Added Notes from Stillsong Hermitage
St. Gregory's Abbey
Added Take with You Words
Added Monk's News
Added A Nun's Life
Abbey of Saint Walburga
Desert Pilgrim
Haligweorc - liturgy
St. Louis Abbey
Carmelite spirituality and the practice of mental prayer
Other than Being
Added Rome Is Where the Heart is
Added Oblate Offerings
Amy Weldon Saint Books for Pre-teens
Catholic Blog Directory
Sacred Destinations -- Maps & Photos



The "A Young Globular Cluster" is from
Credit: Diedre Hunter (Lowell Obs.) et al., HST, NASA

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oblate Sunday, Part 3 of 4. A Benedictine oblate blog.

Here is Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog on my typical experience at an oblate Sunday at the abbey.

The abbey gives oblates and visitors a great gift by allowing us to meet at the abbey each month. My wife and I remind ourselves that we are being allowed into someone’s home when we go to the abbey — it is the monks’ home.

My wife and I attend the two oblate classes held at the monastery on oblate Sunday. One class is for oblate novices and the other is for oblates. But it is OK for anyone (including visitors) to go to both classes. Many oblate novices and oblates attend both classes.

In the oblate novice class we are going through the Rule of St. Benedict and in the oblate class we going through Sacred Reading, by Mike Casey.

As a Protestant for many years, I have been in many excellent Bible studies. But I have changed my approach to such religious “studies” as a result of oblate Sundays. I am looking at them less and less as academic instructions — less as something new to learn. (Old dogs probably view new tricks the same way.)

In the past I viewed classes as a way to acquire the correct knowledge, but now I attend oblate classes seeking how to live life as a Benedictine oblate. I am looking for insight rather than information.

For me this new approach to a class setting takes more effort and concentration than acquiring knowledge. An analogy is that I may use several ways of thinking and comparisons to see all the meanings in a poem, while reading the same poem simply to know the facts is a less complex task. Certainly there are overlaps when we try to understand a poem or a set of facts, and neither method of thinking or evaluation is exclusive of the other.

Because I approach oblate classes differently than an academic-type class, I spend more time trying to link ideas to other ideas. I also find myself resting in new insights.

But in addition to resting in some insight acquired on oblate Sunday, I also find that my life is carried along through the coming weeks by what happens in the oblate class. And it is not only what happens in the classes — it is the entire oblate Sunday. It is one Benedictine experience.

I am already looking forward to the next oblate Sunday when we will be invited back to the monks’ home.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vigils - the night office. A Benedictine oblate blog

I went to sleep at about 6:00 pm tonight and woke up at 2:00 am. I was very tired and am still tired.

I read several new web sites, a comment from one of God’s messengers, several of the blogs I follow, and checked the Weather Channel to track the path of Fay — no danger to us apparently — we are north of where damage is expected.

And I prayed vigils at its “correct” time accompanied by Gregorian chant of Brazilian monks — not a bad way to enjoy songs in the night.



The picture is an artistic impression of the Cygnus X-1 binary star -- a black hole candidate. The picture is from the APOD (Astronomy picture of the day).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Jewel Paid Into the Church Treasury. A Benedictine oblate blog.

I recently had one of those moments when what I “knew” about monasticism was changed into what I “understood” about monasticism.

I have always known that secluded monks pray often throughout the day. But after reading "Saint John Cassian on Prayer" and "The Benedictines," by Dom David Knowles, it became clearer to me, a flash of understanding — monks do not go into the desert primarily so they can be alone, they go to be alone so they can “pray without ceasing.”

Praying without ceasing is the charge by Paul in I Thessalonians 5:17. The heart of monasticism is living to fulfill that command.

Saint John Cassian wrote, “The whole purpose of the monk and perfection of his heart tends toward continual and uninterrupted perseverance in prayer.” 1

Origen wrote, “He prayers ‘without ceasing’ who unites prayer to the necessary deeds and fitting actions to prayer, since virtuous deeds or fulfilling the commandments are included as a part of prayer; for we can only accept the command to ‘pray without ceasing’ as meaning something possible if we mean that the saint’s whole life taken together is one great prayer.” 2

Dom David Knowles wrote about the monk, “He must realize that as a monk he owes this praise to God as his day's piece-work, and that apart from exceptional circumstances it is not a question whether missionary or teacher or student serves God better than he does. This prayer, liturgical and contemplative, is what God wants of him as a Benedictine monk, the peculiar talent that is his, the special jewel which Benedictines pay into the treasury of the Church.”3

This truth about monasticism — a life of prayer — rather than a life as a hermit — helps explain why oblates have always been a part of the larger monastic community and why in the 21st century the number of Benedictine oblates is increasing rapidly.

Many people are seeking a life of deeper spirituality and they are finding it in an expanded and structured life of praying the Psalms as part of the daily Divine Office.



1. Page 11, "Saint John Cassian on Prayer," translated by A.M. Casiday

2."Saint John Cassian on Prayer," footnote 25

3. Page 46, "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.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Crescat, a beautiful blog.

Early this morning after vigils, I made my morning rounds of visiting web sites, blogs, message board, online Catholic forums (fora for you purists), somewhere I came across a link to Crescat, a beautiful blog.

The art is wonderful, the text informative, and the sidebars are amusing. It is a comprehensive blog and resource.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Oblate Sunday, Part 2 of 4. A Benedictine oblate blog.

Part 1 is Here.

It refreshes my spirit just to see the other oblates at oblate Sunday at the abbey. Sometimes because of our schedules, I have not seen them in months.

But of course it is not just seeing the other oblates that is an encouragement to me — it is talking with them about what is happening in their lives. It is easy to talk with other oblates because of our common monastic-based practices and interests in Benedictine monasticism.

In Part 1 of this blog, I wrote that oblate Sundays gave me a sense of being part of an old tradition. But from knowing the other oblates, I also have the sense of movement into the future.

Blessings to all oblates, thank you.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Crafty Oblate. A Benedictine Oblate blog.

[Revised Aug. 13, 2008 11:20 to reformat the material]

This blog is about a common practice among oblates — personalizing the books and materials we read for the Divine Office. This blog is about my recent project to replace card-stock section dividers I made for the book Benedictine Daily Prayer. See the footnotes for background information.

Anyone who is familiar with the book Benedictine Daily Prayer will tell you — often with a groan and a little smile — that if you use this book and similar books, there is a lot of flipping back and forth between sections. BDP does not have all the material needed for each day in one place. If it did, the book would be several volumes instead of one handy volume.

BDP comes with ribbons, but I found them difficult (I could never remember what section each color represented).

I eventually decided that ribbons did not work for me and I needed a better solution.

I tried some stick-on tabs, but while that helped find the various sections of the book, I still needed movable dividers.

About a year ago I made a set of 12 card-stock dividers with tabs. I typed particular Psalms or antiphons on some of the dividers. I loved the way it made finding things so much easier.

Through time, the card-stock tabs became worn and recently I replaced the 12 dividers I made a year ago and even added four new dividers for new texts or sections. The new-improved version of dividers still uses card stock, but now I use tabs from Tabbies. I use an ultra-thin Sharpe permanent colored marker to write the name of the section on the Tabbies. I use Tabbies all the time in my work, but originally thought Tabbies would be too big and bulky, but recently my wife suggested using plastic tabs. She was right.

So, the Benedictine Daily Prayer I use has been spiffed up with some new section dividers that will make it easier for me to have the text I read at hand with less flipping.

I felt downright monkish as I took card-stock, scissors, a ruler, pencil, and made the new hand-made dividers with often-read material. OK, I also used the computer to type the text. But if there were computers in the middle ages, I am sure every monk would have had one too.


Footnote 1

Benedictine Daily Prayer is a breviary — a book of prayers for daily use. The prayers are primarily the Psalms and Hymns and Bible readings placed in a structure based on ancient monastic traditions.

Another book I use is the very user friendly (no flipping) "Benedictine Weekly Psalter," by Scott Knitter (who has a liturgy blog). Scott's book has the Psalms and canticles in daily order — it is wonderful companion to the BDP because BDP does not use all the Psalms.

Benedictine Daily Prayer is in the tradition of previous books published by monasteries (in this case St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota) “which sought to provide the English-speaking world an unofficial ...edition of the Divine Office for those who sought to pray with the Church in a more simplified manner.”

You can see the Table of Contents and some of Biblical readings in BDP at AmazonOnline Reader. Thank you

Here is an overview and example of a Divine Office. In Footnote 2 is a brief history of the Divine Office and why it is prayed. Its roots go back about 3,000 years.

Footnote 2:

“The custom of reciting prayers at certain hours of the day or night goes back to the Jews, from whom Christians have borrowed it. In the Psalms we find expressions like: "I will meditate on thee in the morning"; "I rose at midnight to give praise to thee"; "Evening and morning, and at noon I will speak and declare: and he shall hear my voice"; "Seven times a day I have given praise to thee"; etc. (Cf. "Jewish Encyclopedia", X, 164-171, s. v. [see article on "Prayer in the Jewish Encyclopedia" and the paragraph heading Number of Prayers in that article]). The Apostles observed the Jewish custom of praying at midnight, terce, sext, none (Acts 10:3, 9; 16:25; etc.). The Christian prayer of that time consisted of almost the same elements as the Jewish: recital or chanting of psalms, reading of the Old Testament, to which was soon added reading of the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles, and at times canticles composed or improvised by the assistants.”

Above material is from the classic 1917 Catholic Encyclopedia in the article on the Divine Office.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Oblate Sunday, Part 1 of 4. A Benedictine oblate blog.

The monthly oblate meeting was this past Sunday at the abbey.

My wife and I had our 1-year-old grandson stay with us on Saturday night and we were not able to get up Sunday morning after a late night with him not wanting to go to sleep, drop him off at his parent’s house in the morning, and drive the 45 minutes to the abbey by 10:00 am — but we should have.

The sequence of events at the abbey on oblate Sundays is:

1. Mass at 10:00 am
2. Oblate novice class at 11:15 am
3. Midday prayer with the monks at about noon.
4. Lunch
5. Oblate class 1:30 pm to about 3:00 pm

These times may not be exact, I do not pay any attention to the time while there, I arrive and move with everyone to each next event.

[Bookstore browsing 3:00 pm to 4:00 pm — this is not part of the planned activities, but many people like to spend time after the oblate meetings looking through the well-supplied book and gift shop at the abbey — often we will hear of a new book in class and want to buy it.]

Most everyone leaves for home between 3:30 pm and 5:30pm.

On most oblate Sundays my wife and I usually stay for vespers at 5:00 pm, because we typically are in the abbey bookstore until it closes at 4:00 pm and we walk the abbey grounds or sit in the front of the church until about 4:40 pm when we go into the church to prepare for prayers at 5:00 pm. So, for us we are usually heading home at 5:30 pm on oblate Sundays.

However, last Sunday we left the abbey to come back home at about 3:45 pm because we were very tired and when we got home we went to bed about 8:30 pm — and we are night owls by nature.

So that's the typical schedule. I included it for those who might not have any idea about the overall structure of an oblate Sunday -- at least at the abbey we know.

One of the primary feelings I have on oblate Sundays is the sense of being part of an old tradition. While memory is a friend to many religious institutions, memory is the guestmaster of monasticism.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Odd things happen when least expected. A Benedictine oblate blog.

I have written in the past about spending time alone in the abbey church before the monks come in for the Divine Office.

Oddly enough, the few unusual things I have experienced in church happen in those alone times before the Divine Office — in that time of preparation — not during the mass or the Divine Office.

For example, I remember one afternoon before 5:00 pm Vespers (part of the daily Divine Office), when I had a fraction-of-a-second, but very strong sense that several of the saints were present. I know that others have similar experiences, but I thought such encounters were most often the results of prayer — not part of what prepares one’s mind for prayer. Regardless of whether my relaxing mind missed a shift and went into the wrong gear for a second, reading and rereading “Saint John Cassian on Prayer” has caused prayer-preparation to be on my mind for some time now — no matter who else is around!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Yes, YouToo can watch YouTube. A Benedictine oblate blog.

This is my first try at including a video. If this works you are watching Monte Cassino, the most famous Benedictine monastery. It was founded by St. Benedict in about 529 AD.

In its 1,479-year history, Monte Cassino Abbey has been destroyed three times by armies, including the 1944 bombing by the Allies during the World War II Battle of Monte Cassino. [The decision of the allies to bomb Monte Cassino is controversial to this day.]

The Abbey was rebuilt by the Italian government and consecrated by Pope Paul VI in 1964.

While at Monte Cassino Abbey, in about 530 AD Benedict wrote and compiled the Rule. Its influence spread over all Western monasticism and it has been said that the Rule written at this abbey -- other than the Bible -- has been the most important book for the development of Western civilization.

When I say prayers today, it will include a remembrance of the many monks known only to God who have lived quietly within its walls — but who never let the fire go out.

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

Friday, August 1, 2008

Cassian — from the desert to the Internet. A Benedictine oblate blog.

I appreciate John Cassian’s simplicity and his linking of ideas which later were woven into the Rule of St. Benedict.

The monastic life is to be prepared for prayer. This is key because the monk’s or oblate's life is structured to promote prayer without ceasing.

Prayer without ceasing is a foundational part of what monasticism is all about.

As a Benedictine oblate who lives in the world and has a full time job, the Rule of St. Benedict and the Divine Office provide that structure for me. Others rightly will find a different spirit or charism in the Church for them — a way other than oblate monasticism — it is a big Church.

But Cassian set out to bring the monasticism of the earliest Egyptian desert fathers to the West — he succeeded very well and I am now blogging about it on the Internet.