Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Stillness of Mystery. A Benedictine oblate blog

My Lent took a turn into more silence — my soul into contemplation of Jesus’ life — drawing everyone to him. For the past few days a peaceful meditation stays with me constantly.

I think my spirit was moved here after reading two readings from “Benedictine Daily Prayer — A Short Breviary” [link is to book publisher] for the Annunciation, March 25, and one reading for the fifth Sunday of Lent.(1)

My thoughts about Advent often were about hope. My thoughts about Lent are about mystery.


The picture is "stillness" by Vanessa.

(1) The three readings mentioned in this blog are the following from “Benedictine Daily Prayer — A Short Breviary” (BDP)


From the letters of Pope St. Leo the Great to Flavian,

The mystery of Our reconciliation.

Majesty humbled itself, power became weak, and eternity mortal. To pay the debt inherent in Our estate, the inviolable nature of God was united to Our passible nature so that, as Our healing required, the one Mediator between God and people, the man Jesus Christ, might be both subject to death because he was a man and yet free of death because he was God.

The true God was thus born a full and complete man, wholly divine and wholly human. By "human" we mean What the Creator made in the beginning and What he made his own in order to redeem it. Whatever the deceiver introduced into us and deceived humanity accepted, had no place in the Savior.

He shared our weaknesses but not Our sins. He took the status of a servant, therefore, but of a sinless one, exalting the humanity without lessening the divinity. For this self-emptying in which the invisible One became visible and the Creator and Lord of all things willed to become a mortal creature was the stooping of pity, not the failing of power. Thus he who as God created humanity became a man himself in the form of a servant.

The Son of God enters Our lowly world, descending from his heavenly throne but not putting off the glory that he has from the Father. He is reborn in a new way — new, as man; though incomprehensible, he willed to be comprehended; existing before all time, he began to exist in time; the Lord of the universe hid his majesty and took the estate of a servant; the impassible God did not disdain to become a suffering man, and though immortal, to subject himself to the law of death.

He who is true God is also truly a man, and in this unity there is no illusion, lowly though human is and lofty the Godhead.

For as God is not changed when he takes pity, neither is the human nature absorbed by the divinity. Each nature does, in communion with the other, what is proper to it: the Word does what belongs to him as Word, and the flesh what belongs to it as flesh.


READING I Second Option

From a Sermon on the Nativity of the Lord by St. Odilo of Cluny

I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, as the firstborn before all creation. He who spoke through Solomon, saying: I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, as the firstborn before all creation; and again, The Lord possessed me when his purpose first unfolded, before the earliest of his works; from everlasting I was firmly established; he who said through Isaiah: Do I not fill heaven and earth? — he it is who, in the mysterious plan of his own providence, took flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary.

While Solomon's words teach us that Christ was eternally in existence before the world began, Isaiah's declare that there is no place in the whole of creation from which he is absent. And if he exists always and everywhere, he cannot be absent from ourselves. The testimony of the ancient prophets to Christ's eternal being and his boundless divine presence is indeed trustworthy and true, and is confirmed by the resounding call of that inspired heavenly trumpet: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today, the same forever. Our Savior himself tells the Jews in the gospel: Before Abraham ever existed, I am.

With God the Father from all eternity, before Abraham existed (more accurately, before anything existed) he had his eternal being; and yet he chose to be born in time from the stock of Abraham — Abraham who was told by God the Father: In your posterity all the peoples of the earth will be blessed.

The blessed patriarch David was also granted the sublime privilege of a similar promise. Revealing to him the hidden secrets of his wisdom, God the Father told him: The fruit of your body I will set upon your throne. These two received the promise of the Savior's coming more plainly than any of our other forebears, and so they deserved to be given the first and most important place in the records of our Lord's ancestry according to the evangelist Matthew, the opening words of whose gospel are: The genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. With these sacred words of the evangelist both the prophetic oracles and the apostolic
preaching are in accord. It is evident that when the prophet Isaiah said in the person of God the Father: And so, Israel my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend in whom I took possession of you, his message was that the mediator between God and humankind would be born according to the flesh from the stock of Abraham.

The man in the gospel who was freed from the darkness of ignorance and enlightened by faith addressed God's Son as Son of David. Not only did he receive spiritual insight, but he also deserved to have his bodily sight restored. Christ the Lord desires to be called by his name, knowing that there is no other name by which the world can be saved. And if we ourselves wish to be saved by him who is the one and only Savior, each of us must also say to him: Lord, son of David, have mercy on us. Amen.


Fifth Sunday of Lent

READING I Tract 49

From the Homilies on John by St. Augustine

If all things were made by him, what wonder is it that one was raised by him? Among all the miracles performed by our Lord Jesus Christ, the resurrection of Lazarus holds a foremost place in preaching. But if we consider attentively who did it, our duty is to rejoice rather than to wonder. A man was raised up by Him who made humanity: for he is the only One of the Father, by whom, as you know, all things were made. And if all things were made by him, what wonder is it that one was raised by him, when so many are daily brought into the world by his power? It is a greater deed to create people than to raise them again from the dead. Yet he chose both to create and to raise again; to create all, to resuscitate some.

You have just heard that the Lord Jesus raised a dead man to life; and that is sufficient to let you know that, were he so pleased, he might raise all the dead to life. And, indeed, this very work he has reserved in his own hands till the end of the world.

For while you have heard that by a great miracle he raised one from the tomb who had been dead four days, "the hour is coming:' as he himself says, "in which all who are in graves shall hear his voice, and shall come out of them." He raised one who was putrid, and yet in that putrid carcass there was still the form of limbs. At the last day he will by a word reconstitute ashes into human flesh.

It was, however, necessary then to do only some such deeds, in order that we, receiving them as tokens of his power, may put our trust in him, and prepare for that resurrection which shall be to life and not to judgment. So, indeed, he says, "The hour is coming, in which all who are in graves shall hear his voice, and shall come out of them; those who have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, unto the resurrection of condemnation."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities. A Benedictine oblate blog

St. Leo Abbey is located in the town of St. Leo, Florida, USA. But St. Leo is very tiny, there is not a town with shops or a gas station. The town of St. Leo has the St. Leo Abbey, the Holy Name Monastery (a Benedictine sisters community — Benedictine Sisters of Florida ), a couple of small residential areas, and St. Leo University which has about 1000 students living on campus.

The nearest town to St. Leo is the adjacent small town of San Antonio, Florida, with a historic downtown and a restful town park near the middle of town. Its sleepy feel belies one of the most interesting small-town histories in Florida.

San Antonio was founded in 1881 by Judge Edmund Dunne as part of a 100,000-acre Catholic-only colony in west-central Florida. Judge Dunne acquired the land in payment of services to Hamilton Disston whose purchase of land from the state of Florida helped save the state from bankruptcy in 1881.

The Catholic-only part of the colony lasted six years, but Catholic settlers remain a major part of the area even to this day.

Indeed, it was the need for priests for the German-speaking Catholics in the Catholic colony of San Antonio that brought Benedictine monks to San Antonio at the request of Judge Dunne in 1889 to found what would become St. Leo Abbey and the town of St. Leo.

The area remained known as a Catholic enclave and during the World War I era, Florida Governor Sidney J. Catts capitalized on the strong anti-German and anti-Catholic sentiments in the state.

Governor Catts spread and fueled anti-Catholicism throughout the state by claiming the “German” St. Leo Abbey was a hidden guns and munitions arsenal that the Benedictine monks were planning on using to arm the Florida Negroes to overthrow Florida and install Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II.

But, according to Governor Catts, what was more ominous in the plot was the next part of the plan in which the German Kaiser would allow Pope Benedict XV to take over Florida and relocate the Vatican to San Antonio, Florida. Of course, such claims were false, but fed a public gullibility.

Although the anti-Catholic opinion caused some Catholics and Protestants to leave the San Antonio area, other Protestants, showing an earned respect for the monks and their abbey, made public displays of their association with their Catholic neighbors.

It is difficult to believe that St. Leo Abbey would be at the center of such political controversies, but these incidents are just one more part of the long-history of the Benedictines since 530 AD. And besides that, if Pope Benedict XVI needs to move the Vatican, I know just the place.


Picture is St. Peter's by lostajy.

An extra note:

I like St. Leo Abbey. I like to see visitors come and sense the peaceful tranquility and beauty of the Abbey’s Church of the Holy Cross.

As an oblate, I too am only a visitor to the Abbey, but with a great many such visits under my belt and the warm welcome of the monks, I often think of it as my abbey too. It is a remarkable place.

Anyway, on a recent afternoon I was alone in the Abbey church when a well-dressed couple came in and showed what at first seemed to be great interest in looking at all parts of the Church’s interior. To me, the church is beautiful.

As the couple walked by me, I heard the woman say in a I-am-wasting-my-time-here-tone, “This is just like the churches in Rome I’ve toured.” Huh? I almost laughed out loud. We are here in Florida at a small Abbey and she’s disappointed because the only thing the monks can pull off is being equal to the historic churches in Rome?!

Too funny.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Two Candles, One Light. A Benedictine oblate blog

I am reading “Saint John Cassian on Prayer," translated by A.M. Casiday for my Lenten reading.

Reading a book for Lent is an oblate practice borrowed from chapter 48 of the Rule, written for monks in monasteries by our Holy Father St. Benedict.

I read in my chair reserved for Benedictine prayer or reading books like “Saint John Cassian on Prayer."

A friend set up an entire prayer room in her house and that got me thinking that I could do a better job at making my prayer time more secluded from the world.

I use my prayer chair even though being an oblate has also made my “regular work time” much more a part of my “spiritual life.”

As an oblate, I see all my time as being devoted to God whether I am working or praying. On good days, the whole day seems consecrated to God — there is not one part for work and another part for spiritual contemplation.

I recognize that there is an apparent conflict in saying that my spiritual life is enhanced when I use my separate prayer chair and then also saying that my oblate practices merge the worldly and spiritual compartments of my life.

But from where I sit, either in my prayer chair or in front of my computer working, I can now see more clearly that there is no conflict and no separations.


Picture is Candles by SeaN Rozekrans.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Monastics Listen. A Benedictine oblate blog

An elderly Benedictine monk from Nebraska, USA, said, “Many people think of monasticism as a high-toned, complex life only for the elite. It isn’t. The monastic life is a simple Christian life. The monastics take the gospel as their guide and live it in a committed and serious way.”(1)

That’s a great quote for a good understanding of the monastic life. My current favorite explanation of where monasticism can be first distinguished from the other charisms(2) in the wider Church is the word St. Benedict used to begin his famous Rule. He used the word Listen. Monasticism is marked by listening.

Monastics begin their life in community and in seeking God with the idea of not talking, not expressing what they want God to hear. Instead they are ready to hear the word of God. And that concept may be at the core of the monk’s quote about the monastic life not being high-toned or for the elite — those who are marked by their own efforts and works, but rather the elderly monk says that monasticism is a simple life, oops, that is not what he said, he inserted the word “Christian” between “simple” and “life.”

The simple life must be a Christian life. We all stand before God. For the monastic and those with the monastic spirit, they will first and forever listen.



The picture is "Earphones," by surely.

(1) Father Frederic Schindler (1921-1999), monk of the Benedictine community at Mount Michael Abbey in Elkhorn, Nebraska, quoted from “The Wisdom of the Benedictine Elders: Thirty of America's Oldest Monks and Nuns,” by Mark W. McGinnis.

(2) Charism is the spirit or “any good gift that flows from God's benevolent love,” New Advent, Charismata.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

St. Benedict on my mind. A Benedictine oblate blog

For Benedictines, yesterday, March 21, was the solemnity of the Passing of Our Holy Father Benedict. “Benedictine Daily Prayer — A Short Breviary” has a fine divine office for the day.

It is common to gain an understanding of religious orders by studying the life of the order’s founder or reformer. But we have little, if any, of what we would consider biographical material for St. Benedict. Perhaps one of the reasons is that St. Benedict is so ancient compared to the other founders of the major religious orders. For example, St. Dominic (Dominicans) and St. Francis of Assisi (Franciscans) lived about 700 years after St. Benedict. To get a sense of how long 700 years is, if St. Francis was born today, Benedictine monks would have been around since about the year 1350.

St. Ignatius Loyola (Society of Jesus — Jesuits) lived 1,000 years after St. Benedict.

Regardless of that, we consider that we “know” St. Benedict and become Benedictines by living according to his Rule — a small book. (And, of course, members of other religious orders also follow the written guidance and teachings of their founders.)

With yesterday being a St. Benedict solemnity(1), I spent more time than usual thinking about his life.

Judging by the Rule of St. Benedict, he thought the Bible. When a thought came from his mind (or out of his heart) that thought was the Bible. His Rule is filled with either quotes of God’s word or allusions to sacred scripture. St. Benedict's Rule also describes how his monks could live in loving harmony with each other.

St. Benedict’s love for God’s truth and desire that his community be based in love are simply the two greatest commandments in the law — love for God and love for our brothers and sisters.

St. Benedict crafted those two great pillars of the Christian faith into a practical guide for daily community life.

The Rule’s power helped cast a new European civilization and the Rule's deep spiritual mysteries are still bringing people into the Benedictine family today.



This blog was revised March 24, 2009 to modify the example of 700 years. It took me a couple of days to think of a better example than the one in the original blog!

The picture is of one of the fragrant annual orange blossoms at St. Leo Abbey in Florida, USA, this time of year.

(1) “A solemnity is a principal feast in the Liturgical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church. Solemnities commemorate an event in the life of Jesus, Mary or the saints.” Reference.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Do you know who passed this way? A Benedictine oblate blog

"Six days before [St. Benedict] died he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally on the sixth day he had his disciples carry him into the chapel, where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and as he prayed he breathed his last.

"That day two monks, one of them at the monastery, the other some distance away, received the very same revelation. They both saw a magnificent road covered with rich carpeting and glittering with thousands of lights. From his monastery it stretched eastward in a straight line until it reached up into heaven. And there in the brightness stood a man of majestic appearance, who asked them, 'Do you know who passed this way?' 'No,' they replied. 'This,' he told them, 'is the road taken by blessed Benedict, the Lord's beloved, when he went to heaven.'"


Quote from, “Life and Miracles of St. Benedict,” (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, n.d.) Adapted and quoted in "Benedictine Daily Prayer," p. 1830.

Picture is The Snowflake Cluster versus the Cone Nebula Credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech, P. S. Teixeira (CfA). Astronomy Picture of the Day.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Respect for the Influence of Monasticism. A Benedictine oblate blog

Michael writes an interesting and substantive blog called “The Catholic” which is a “journal of [his] experience as a Catholic and a Benedictine oblate.” Michael is becoming an oblate novice tomorrow, March 21, 2009, on a feast day for St. Benedict. Congratulations Michael.

His comments on this blog are equally thoughtful. Recently I wrote a blog on the current society’s loss of its memory of monasticism.

In contrast to the state of the current culture, I quoted Dom Knowles in his 1929 book “The Benedictines” that in 1929, in England, “The past glories of monasticism are deeply imbedded in the historical consciousness of us all.”

In my blog, I bemoaned that before becoming an oblate, I had no historical consciousness of monasticism at all.

Michael’s comment was that “The author [Dom Knowles] writing in England in the 1920's was definitely writing from a place and time where things spiritual were still held in respect by much of society even if they didn't practice it themselves.”

Michael’s comment gave a good insight into another way in which monasticism was a part of the culture in the past: the effect of presence. In addition to any direct involvement of a monastery in the lives of its surrounding community, monasticism can also impart its presence to those who may not have any desire to know about or enter into the monastic spirit.

Monasticism can touch lives without any contact at all:

In 1309 "three busy officials of the King of England, Edward I.... had been sent to the last remaining fragments of the King's regions in France, and specifically to the island of Jersey, to enquire into the state of Royal property. [The officials heard about] two monks, by birth loyal to the King of France, by monastic vow attached to a Norman monastery and by chance of appointment abandoned on a remote outcrop of rock between Jersey and the Cherbourg peninsula. Their rock was truly tiny - at high tide little more than a break in the waves — but the King of England was nevertheless interested in who owned it, and, more particularly, in what its only two residents did. Their answer [provides a good insight into Benedictine life]:

'He who is called Prior and his companion ... dwelling in the chapel throughout the whole year maintain a light burning in that chapel so that the sailors crossing the sea by that light may avoid the peril of the reef ... where the greatest danger exists of being wrecked. These two always perform the divine office.'” From "The Benedictine Handbook," by Anthony Marett-Crosby, Editor.

Some people have direct control of the ship by their hand on the wheel. Others may offer their influence indirectly by tending a light.


The picture is "Porthcawl Harbour Storm" by nick_russill

I missed finishing this blog last night when we lost the electricity for 2.5 hours. But I had some quiet time -- mostly by the light of a flashlight.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Loss of Monasticism Memory. A Benedictine oblate blog

I read a few paragraphs from the "The Benedictines,"(1) nearly every day. This small, seldom mentioned book, was originally published in 1929, eighty years ago. If we use 20 years as a cultural generation, we are about four generations past the generation of the book.

The reason I mention the passage of time is because of the following paragraph from "The Benedictines":

“The past glories of monasticism are deeply imbedded in the historical consciousness of us all. Who has not heard of Canterbury and Westminster, Bec and Cluny, Montserrat and Monte Cassino? Their very names have a beauty and associations which rival the names of myth and romance enshrined by Virgil and Milton.”

The answer to the question is: me!

Prior to becoming an oblate, the glories of monasticism were NOT deeply imbedded in my historical consciousness. I had heard of Canterbury and Westminster, but only in the context that they were places in England and without any thought that they were related to monasteries or monasticism.

More embarrasing is the fact that I had never heard of Bec, Cluny, or Montserrat.

In fact, Monte Cassino, is the only place I knew was a monastery, but I did not associate it with the common-knowledge glories of monasticism, but rather I knew it as the “Italian” monastery bombed to smithereens by the allies during World War II.

Although the "The Benedictines" was written in England and I live in the United States, the comment about what everyone knew in 1929 as part of the “historical consciousness of us all” and the knowledge of the glories of monasticism always strikes me as one of the many fascinating passages from the book because of what paragraph says about my own education and how much I had not known about monasticism until I visited St. Leo Abbey in Florida, USA in 2006.

What the rest of the world may know about the glories of Canterbury and Westminster, Bec and Cluny, Montserrat and Monte Cassino I do not know, but I think the author of the “The Benedictines" would find that the modern world has lost much of the memory of monasticism.



(1) "The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns
By Dom David Knowles
Monk of Downside Abbey, 1929

Here are previous blogs about "The Benedictines":

Friday, December 19, 2008
Demanding what’s lacking.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008
What oblates do.

Sunday, October 26, 2008
1,500 years together — Attachment and Detachment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
What’s So Special About Ordinary?

Sunday, August 17, 2008
A Jewel Paid Into the Church Treasury.

Sunday, March 23, 2008
Oblate Spring launched today.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Freedom in the Light. A Benedictine oblate blog

I visited St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, recently to pray with the monks at vespers.

I arrived early so I could sit in the church. The church was filled with beautiful light — from the new lighting installed as part of an interior painting/improvement project, but also from the stained-glass windows that filtered the bright sunlight. The effect gave the light inside the church a rich texture that I enjoyed as I sat quietly. The right light, like the right silence, can speak to a heart.

The Church of the Holy Cross (St. Leo Abbey’s church) has statues of saints along the walls. One statue is of St. Leo the Great (who in 453 convinced Attila the Hun not to attack Rome — way to go Pope!). This great Pope also is honored in the name of St. Leo Abbey.

As I was leaving the church after vespers, the statue of St. Leo, encircled by green light, caught my eye. I took the picture shown above.

Green is the color for hope, bountifulness, and freedom from bondage.

On this visit to pray with the monks, St. Leo the Great and the St. Leo Abbey used light for their lessons in history, Lent, and Easter.

Lectio Divina. A Benedictine oblate blog

St. Leo Abbey Church
Lectio Divina Wall

[Click photos to enlarge]

St. Leo Abbey in Florida, USA added a lectio divina wall in its Church of the Holy Cross. The lectio divina addition is part of a painting and improvement project for the church’s interior.

The picture of the text is part of the description of the wall visitors will read in the lectio divina display case below carvings representing the four Gospels, (St. Matthew, a divine man; St. Mark, a winged lion; St. Luke, a winged ox; and St. John, a rising eagle). The carvings were made by a monk of the abbey.


Note on photos.

The lectio divina wall is outside the chapel for St. Joseph. His statue can be seen in the background of the middle picture.

To the right of the wall is a door to the cloister walk along the east side of the church of the Holy Cross.

By the door you can also see the the holy water font (or "stoup").

I took the photos March 16, 2009 on a visit to pray vespers with the monks.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bok Tower. A Benedictine oblate blog

Sunday I spent several hours at Bok Tower in Florida, USA. It is a remarkable place for walking in a beautiful garden on top of the 295-foot-high Iron Mountain. It has a famous Carillon (bell tower). I often hear people walking on the tranquil grounds and saying “This is so relaxing.”

Anytime I visit a place that is rich in natural beauty, one of my first reactions is to be silent and then I want to contemplate God’s power and love for his creation.

Silence and contemplation sound like monastic practices don’t they?

I encounter God’s world and I am turned to his divinity. I might say that God’s creation moves the heart in the direction of monasticism — at least for me.

This may not be surprising because seeking God is often given as a mark of the monastic life.

There is a God-created relationship between a heart seeking God and his creation.

St. Paul described the same link when writing about people at the opposite end of the spectrum — people who were not seeking God — people who wanted nothing to do with God.

St. Paul says that awareness of God is so fundamentally tied to the creation that even the wicked cannot claim they never were aware of God existence. “For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse.” Romans 1:19-20.

How much more does the monastic person see those same invisible attributes and divinity in the natural world. The monastic person encounters God in creation as a way to help form a silent, contemplative heart.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Monastic Diurnal Lauds. A Benedictine oblate blog

SOS by Collect Call

Today I prayed Lauds from the Monastic Diurnal I received recently. All I did was open the book and turn to the Saturday section for Lauds and started reading. Near the end of the office I saw a note to turn to Monday for the Benedictus and conclusion. I have no idea if I missed anything.

A couple of weeks ago, I found some good help notes for the Monastic Diurnal which I have linked on the right sidebar of this blog under the section called “Monastic Diurnal Helps” but have not read them yet.

I enjoy the hymns in the Monastic Diurnal and I much prefer the translation of the psalms in the Monastic Diurnal to the translation in the “Benedictine Daily Prayer — A Short Breviary” (which has many great features and which I use.)

All in all my prayer of Lauds from the Monastic Diurnal today was a good experience. Now all I need to know is whether I read the correct material!

Part of my problem as I mentioned here is that much of the terminology in the rubrics (the instructions/headings for the praying the divine office — often written in red-colored ink — hence the name) of the Monastic Diurnal is unknown to me — I need to learn what a “ferial” is and what's a “collect.” Help, who or what am I going to call Collect?


Picture is SOS by Collect Call by Bill Smith1

Comparison of "Benedictine Daily Prayer" and "The Monastic Diurnal" here.


Friday, March 13, 2009

Lent with John Cassian. A Benedictine oblate blog

I am reading “Saint John Cassian on Prayer," translated by A.M. Casiday as my Lent reading. I have read this small booklet before, but this Lent reading is going much slower. Lent is a time of purification and I have tried to focus on the the parts illustrated by the following quote:

Abbot Isaac “I take it that all types of prayers cannot be grasped without tremendous purity of heart and soul and the illumination of the Holy Spirit.”

As a result when I read a passage from the book I often see some relationship I had not seen before. That causes me to stop reading and start thinking.

Recently, I have emphasized silence and now the Cassian book has placed my silence in a context of working on purity of heart and soul.

I am not sure if these relationships — silence before God matched with work on purification of heart and soul — will become illuminated more clearly to me, but that’s what has been on my mind tonight.


Picture is Monastery of St. Simeon in Egypt by upyernoz.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Themes for Spiritual Retreats. A Benedictine oblate blog

Before one of our spiritual retreats at St. Leo Abbey in Florida, USA, my wife and I adopted a theme and thought about that theme in the weeks before our weekend at the abbey.

Contemplating the retreat theme kept us focused. We moved our lives away from excessive activity — a pre-retreat flight from the world (fuga mundi) — a theme also found in the lives of the earliest desert monks.

The theme helped direct our attention to the silence we looked forward to at the retreat.

Spending time each evening meditating on our theme caused us to realize that many spiritual joys of a retreat are available at home — or anywhere there is a monastic heart.

When we arrived at the abbey Friday evening we felt as if we had been there for days. As it turned out, the retreat was nothing like we planned, it was better — leading us to think that God also enjoys planning how to direct and layer seemingly unrelated events to unfold precisely on one particular weekend in Florida.

Pick a theme, plan a retreat. Live the joy of God.

The picture is Lamp by zenobia_joy

Computer Lent. A Benedictine oblate blog

This past week or so the Oblate Spring web site was offline — being moved to a new server — and for some reason it went offline again a couple of days ago after another fix by the hosting company, and after my dear wife spent time on the phone with hosting company they found their problem and everything on the Oblate Spring web site is working.

My computer also decided to give up working on Tuesday morning about 1:00 am which was about 15 minutes after I posted about my Terce in the morning sun.

I called the great folks at Dell computers who had a new mother board shipped to Tampa (a mother board is the big thing that makes the computer work) and a very courteous repairman arrived at my home at noon on Wednesday.

I appreciate the good works of the hosting company and Dell computers, and I spent a few hours on Tuesday and Wednesday morning in extra Lenten reading.


The picture is "Early Spring" by Blanka7

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Web Site Down.

A housekeeping note, the Oblate Spring web site is down again and the hosting company is working to fix the problem. Sorry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Silence at Terce. A Benedictine oblate blog

One of my additional services for Lent is to spend more time in silence during the middle of day. I seldom take time for silence while I am working.

I rarely honor the day by stopping for terce, sext, and none (the three little hours of the divine office during the day, such as at 9:00 am, 12:00 pm, and 3:00 pm)(1). It is a constant regret in my oblate life even though I know oblates are to pray the divine office as our situation in life allows. I want my oblate life to allow it.

Lent is a training time of extra effort for me to stop and spend time in silence. A good time for silence is after one or more of the three divine offices during the middle parts of the day.

Today I did terce at about 11:30 am. It was WONDERFUL. "Why don't I do this everyday?" is what I repeat to myself on each of those rare occasions when I do pray the little offices (terce, sext, none).

I stopped for an early lunch today and found a still, quiet place outside near a garden. Here in Florida the weather is about 80 degrees (27 degrees Celsius), with clear skies, and with a slight breeze that is more like a conversation with God.

Terce today was a garden doorway into a warming light.



The picture is "Cat napping in the midday shade in Marpissa" by Varmazis. This was the state of my heart after my terce in the late morning sun today.

(1) "The origin of Terce, like that of Sext and None, to which it bears a close relationship, dates back to Apostolic times. ... According to an ancient custom of the Romans and Greeks, the day and night respectively were divided into four parts of about three hours each. The second division of the day hours was that of Terce from nine o'clock until midday. These divisions of the day were also in vogue among the Jews at the time of Christ. In the New Testament we find mention of the sixth hour in Matthew 20:5; 27:45; Mark 15:33; John 19:14; of the ninth hour, in Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:25; the Holy Ghost descends upon the Apostles on the day of Pentecost at the third hour, Acts 2:15.

"Some of these texts prove that these three hours were, in preference to others, chosen for prayer by the Christians, and probably also by the Jews, from whom the Christians appear to have borrowed the custom. We find frequent mention in the Fathers of the Church and the ecclesiastical writers of the third century of Terce, Sext, and None as hours for daily prayers." From "Terce" in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Silence before Vespers. A Benedictine oblate blog

Vespers is at 5:00 pm at the abbey that is about 40 minutes from my home. I arrived about 4:45 pm today so I had a few minutes to sit quietly and shed the world for this briefest of “things given up for Lent.” But in terms of drawing closer to Jesus’, that short time in silence before Vespers was more effective than the other things I am doing/giving up for Lent.


The picture is of Jesus by *clairity*. It is not of St. Leo Abbey in Florida, but the picture is somewhat similar to some of the stained-glass windows at the abbey church.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Labora et labora. A Benedictine oblate blog

An often used phrase — almost a motto — of the Benedictine way is “Ora et Labora” (prayer and work).

While the term ora et labora is not used in the Rule of St. Benedict, the combination of prayer and work into a unified day that is consecrated to God was one of the ancient strengths of Benedictine monasticism after the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 AD.

Distinctions are important, and at least some Benedictines cringe at the thought of putting “labora EST ora” (work is prayer) into the mouth of St. Benedict.(1)

But this past week for me has been “labora et labora.” Work and work. I know you have had weeks like that. Maybe your life is like that — and I know what that is like too — it's one of the reasons I am now a Benedictine oblate.

I am glad I have this weekend of rest. This past week of nonstop and late-night work proved the wisdom of St. Benedict — work needs its proper place — after ora.



Picture is Fatigue by Robert.

(1) Kardong’s 1995 article, “Work Is Prayer: Not!”


Friday, March 6, 2009

Meditation. A Benedictine oblate blog

Someone asked what I know about how to meditate. My wife knows much more than I do about techniques/practices and I do not know very much by comparison, but I passed along the following:

My “coming home” to meditation was when I walked onto the grounds of a 120-year-old Benedictine monastery (yes, one of the new ones!). The ancient spirituality of monasticism — dating back to the earliest desert fathers in Egypt — changed my life. What is surprising is the number of other oblates who mention experiencing the same spiritual awareness when they first visited the monastery.

Eventually, I found that my long-standing practice of slow contemplative reading was called lectio divina.

My favorite form of doing meditation is silence — not in the sense of a soundproof booth, but what I call God’s silence — hard to find. The dimly lit abbey church in the evening, a mountain, and a small island were the last three places I entered such silence. None were soundless, but all were completely still. Fortunately, the quiet, soft lights of the abbey are only about 45 minutes away. Weekends are a good time for a visit.


The picture is "Heaven" by truebador. The photo is: "sun behind the clouds, and the cross of the "N.D. des eclaireurs" church, near "Baskinta" village-Lebanon"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Web-site brick wall. A Benedictine oblate blog

The Oblate Spring web site is offline because it is being moved to a new server and the web hosting company we use to host our sites had some minor, correctable glitches in doing their part of the moves.

My wife takes care of working with our hosting company and moving the sites. The move of Oblate Spring should have taken about 24 hours over the weekend. But the hosting company had some problems which delayed our republishing the Oblate Spring site.

All is well, but my dear wife has spent hours on the phone trying to get the problems identified and then fixed. My wife talked yesterday with a supervisor with the hosting company and thinks we should be back online by Wednesday night at the latest. If the Oblate Spring web site is not back by Wednesday night, you will know we have hit another brick wall — and we may be hitting our heads against one too!


The picture is from here

Monday, March 2, 2009

Oblate Sunday & Compunction. A Benedictine oblate blog

I attended the Saint Leo Abbey's oblate meeting on Sunday. St. Leo Abbey is in Florida, USA.

During the novice class we began a study of the Rule of St. Benedict.

In the oblate class we discussed the liturgical year. I learned something in each class, but most importantly, my mind and heart finally got reset to Lent.

I had difficulty in fully entering into what I believe is the proper attitude for Lent. I had accomplished the tasks for Lent (picked a book, decided on extra prayer, fasting and charity), but task-doing does not necessarily direct my inner spirit to the “character of a Lenten observance” spoken of by St. Benedict in the Rule.(1)

The key thought for me in St. Benedict’s urgings for Lent are these very monastic words at the end of Chapter 49 of the Rule:

“...give ourselves up to prayer with tears,
to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.”

After Oblate Sunday ends, one of my favorite times is to sit alone in the light and saint-filled abbey church in the late afternoon before vespers. This past Oblate Sunday was no different except it is Lent and I returned home with a bit more of a Lenten character.


Picture is of "Jesus, Stained Glass Detail Of The Church St Etienne Fecamp, Normandy, France" by Photographer mamjodh

(1) Chapter 49 of the Rule of St. Benedict.
On the Observance of Lent:

Although the life of a monk
ought to have about it at all times
the character of a Lenten observance,
yet since few have the virtue for that,
we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent
the brethren keep their lives most pure
and at the same time wash away during these holy days
all the negligences of other times.
And this will be worthily done
if we restrain ourselves from all vices
and give ourselves up to prayer with tears,
to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.