Saturday, May 30, 2009

Spirit in the Garden. A Benedictine oblate blog

Jesse’s Hermitage and Art Studio

[Click picture to enlarge]

Jesse, a monastic spirit, kindly sent some photos of the garden hermitage and art studio he created. Thank you.

I wanted to use the pictures on a blog and thought they would illustrate the topic of this blog.

Gardens are places of the Holy Spirit’s power and rebirth. In a garden I feel God’s beauty and clearly see the invisible attributes of God (Romans 1:20).(1) We are meant to make such connections when in God’s creation, especially when in the beauty of a garden.

Pentecost is the feast celebrating the descent and bestowing of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles fifty days after the resurrection of Jesus Christ from a tomb in Jerusalem.

At Pentecost I am reminded that we see the empowering and enlightening work of the Holy Spirit throughout God’s creation. “The Word of God and his Breath [Holy Spirit] are at the origin of the being and life of every creature. It belongs to the Holy Spirit to rule, sanctify, and animate creation... Power over life pertains to the Spirit, for being God he preserves creation in the Father through the Son.”(2)

The word “garden” is mentioned about 50 times in the Bible and gardens are part of God’s most direct works with mankind. Gardens in the Bible were often walled by a hedge or rocks or some other division between the garden and the world — not unlike the wall of a monastery.

God created man out of the dust of the ground (Adam means red -- as in earth -- hence his name) and then created a garden (Genesis Chapter 2). I like to imagine that some of the earth that formed Adam was taken from the place that became the Garden of Eden -- the first fruit of that first garden.

God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden — and in the garden they could have the closest communion with God (Genesis Chapter 2).

Jesus sought a garden as a place of prayer (John 18:1).

Jesus was crucified in a garden (John 19:41).

Jesus was resurrected from a garden (John 19:41).

In Revelation 22, in God’s eternal kingdom the water, the tree of life, and the absence of any curse are once again part of our close communion with God — as they were in the Garden of Eden.

The Holy Spirit works new birth in baptism. “Through the Holy Spirit we are restored to paradise, led back to the Kingdom of heaven...”(3)

In our own gardens we work to care and tend God’s creation, but many gardeners know that it is the Holy Spirit that does most of the work — as He did at Pentecost.(4)


(1) Romans 1:20. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” New American Standard Bible

In the Greek text for Romans 1:20 there is a play on the sound of the two Greek words for “invisible attributes” (Greek = aórata) and “have been clearly seen” (Greek = kathorátai). The sense is that the invisible becomes clearly visible in creation.

Paul was in Corinth, Greece, in about 58 AD on this third missionary journey when he wrote his letter to the Roman Christians. He had first been in Athens on his second missionary journey in about 51 AD. Regardless of where Paul might have become familiar with the writings of Aristotle (384 to 322 BC), Romans 1:20 is similar to what Aristotle wrote in “De Mundo,” 6 [“On the Universe”]: “In every mortal by nature the invisible God becomes by those very works visible.” (from Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

(2) Catholic Catechism Paragraph 703

(3) Catholic Catechism Paragraph 736

(4) Pentecost occurred on the Jewish feast of Pentecost which was "the feast of harvest of the firstfruits" (Exodus 23:16). With the Holy Spirit everything comes at the right season.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A visit by rather than to Monte Cassino. A Benedictine oblate blog

St. Scholastica
at Monte Cassino Abbey, Italy

[Click picture to enlarge]

A display case at St. Leo Abbey in Florida, USA, contains a small piece of block labeled “Monte Cassino.” The display case is in the main waiting area of the monastery and the piece of block is unique among the historical memorabilia that St. Leo Abbey has available to view.

I assume the piece of block was obtained after the USA’s WWII destruction of Monte Cassino — and I have been led to stop and remember the long history of all the Benedictines rebuilding monasteries all over Europe (and now the world) after invasions, fires, earthquakes, and government acquisitions. When you have been around since the dust was still in the air after the collapse of the Roman Empire, ora et labora (prayer and work) covers a lot of labora in 1,500 years.

Other than the name, Monte Cassino, the small irregular piece of block in the display case at St. Leo Abbey is not explained. Those familiar with history know the significance of this bit of rubble that is resting far from its origins and sacrifice, but I also know that many visitors who look into the display case do not know what they are looking at. They see, but do not understand. This always leads me to the frequent self-evaluation: I am the one who sees many pieces of art, sculptures, paintings, stained-glass windows, clothing, documents, artifacts, and carvings at St. Leo Abbey — and in the abbey’s Church of the Holy Cross — yet, I have no clue what many of them mean. And like that piece of Monte Cassino, I know those items have much to say — that is why someone thought they should be part of what we see when we visit the monastery — someone long ago thought I should know "just in case" so that everything is illuminated. I appreciate that. Being able to see with understanding is on my list!


The picture is "Statuadi Santa Scolastica nel monastero di Montecassino," by Beatrix and is used subject to and may not be used except according to the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 license, which is gratefully acknowledged.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Chimes: Time’s Poetic Parallelism. A Benedictine oblate blog

The Bok Carillon (Bell) Tower, Florida, USA

The Big Ben chimes in our home mark every quarter hour (listen to the chimes software we use).

Hearing the chimes throughout the day turns my mind to see God’s call and opens my heart to hear His voice.

The progression of chimes through each hour creates a kind of time parallelism. This is similar to the way Hebrew parallelism in the Psalms organizes and structures ideas. Read the rest of this blog here.


The picture is Bok Tower copied from a post card. Bok Tower is in Florida, USA.   Bok Tower was built in 1929 as a sanctuary for the American people.  It is a favorite place we visit often.  This Bok Tower picture was suggested for this blog by my wonderful wife.  Thank you, good choice.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Hid with Christ in God. A Benedictine oblate blog

Dom David Knowles wrote about the Catholic Church's long history:

“Hence it has come about that the Catholic Church, though ever one and the same in spirit, has shown in the course of the centuries an almost infinite variety of aspects and developments. Though her deepest life is always hid with Christ in God, she has presented mankind with a more impressive pageant of external activity than has any civilization or empire.” (1).

Before becoming an oblate, I had an overall incorrect view of the Catholic Church. Any correct knowledge I possessed was limited to a surface glimpse of the Church’s “impressive pageant of external activity.”

As I became familiar with the Catholic Benedictine monks at St. Leo Abbey and the ancient practices of monastic life, I realized that one of the Catholic Church’s best kept secrets is that “deepest life.”(2). One part of that deepest life in the Church is preserved and treasured in Benedictine monasticism.

In Sunday Vigils (part of the divine office), I always enjoy reading this ending part of Psalm 27 (26) from the Grail translation:

“13 I am sure I shall see the Lord's goodness in the land of the living.
14 Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the Lord!”

I am thankful for the Catholic Church — beyond any doctrine I may know, the strength of the Church continues to live in its deepest truth — hid in Christ. In a life hid with Christ we can live in greatest hope.



Picture is "Vatican" by slava.

(1) The quote from Knowles comes from the following passage:

“ALTHOUGH Christianity is essentially a religion of the spirit, it has always maintained the closest touch with the material world. Though its truths are eternal and unchangeable, they were revealed to the world at a definite moment of time, they have been understood more perfectly in this age than in that, and they have influenced in different ways different races and generations of men. Hence it has come about that the Catholic Church, though ever one and the same in spirit, has shown in the course of the centuries an almost infinite variety of aspects and developments. Though her deepest life is always hid with Christ in God, she has presented mankind with a more impressive pageant of external activity than has any civilization or empire. Even the most hostile minds have acknowledged the fascination of such a spectacle to one who looks back over the ages.”

Above quote from "The Benedictines," A Digest for Moderns, By Dom David Knowles, Second Edition, page ix. Forward by Marion R. Bowman, O.S.B.Abbot of Saint Leo Abbey, The Abbey Press, Saint Leo, Florida, 1962
Online version (but this online version omits chapters 5 and 6, the last two chapters).

(2) Knowles’ reference to being hid with Christ in God may be to this great passage from Colossians 3:1-17, in which we might also see the hidden elements of monastic life:

“Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with him in glory.

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, lust, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is the service of idols. For which things the wrath of God cometh upon the children of unbelief, In which you also walked some time, when you lived in them. But now put you also all away: anger, indignation, malice, blasphemy, filthy speech out of your mouth. Lie not one to another: stripping yourselves of the old man with his deeds, And putting on the new, him who is renewed unto knowledge, according to the image of him that created him. Where there is neither Gentile nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free. But Christ is all, and in all.

“Put ye on therefore, as the elect of God, holy, and beloved, the bowels of mercy, benignity, humility, modesty, patience: Bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if any have a complaint against another: even as the Lord hath forgiven you, so do you also. But above all these things have charity, which is the bond of perfection: And let the peace of Christ rejoice in your hearts, wherein also you are called in one body: and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you abundantly, in all wisdom: teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual canticles, singing in grace in your hearts to God. All whatsoever you do in word or in work, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Our Chimes are Back. A Benedictine oblate blog

My wonderful wife and I try to keep our home monastic quiet except for bell sounds that chime the time — like the chimes we hear from the bell tower at the monastery where we are oblates.

We use and highly recommend PC Big Ben Chimes Computer Software by Aquarius Soft to create such bell chimes if you do not have a resounding grandfather’s clock. The sound from the program is remarkable. We play the sounds on a set of Altec Lansing VS4121 speakers with great resonating bass and one Acoustic Research wireless speaker. We can hear the rich sound throughout the house.

Some time ago we used an old laptop computer to run the PC Big Ben chime program to constantly remind us to pray without ceasing. And of course it reminded us of our visits to the monastery because the chimes from this super program sound just like the ones at the monastery.

OK, so everything was working fine until the old laptop computer broke leaving us in the dark — sound-wise.

A couple of days ago we got a used computer for $75 and now have chimes back in our quiet home. We are very happy and have missed the structure of the day marked by the chimes — like guardrails for our monastic spirits.

“Listen” is the first word in the Rule of St. Benedict. But equally important is the next part of the first sentence in the Rule:

“LISTEN carefully, my son, to your master's precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).

The chimes help incline the ear of our hearts to the precepts of quiet living and prayerful meditations.



The picture is "Bell of Reconciliation" in Berlin. Photographed by ThunderChild5, thank you.

The picture is "one of the Bells from the Reconciliation Church on Bernauer Strbleepe, Berlin [built in 1884]. This church formed part of the infamous Berlin wall until it was blown up by the East German Army in the eighties.... A new church was built after reunification on the existing site, the bells are now housed in a wooden slatted structure."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Fuga mundi, Free at Last. A Benedictine oblate blog

This blog is about how I was freed from an incorrect application of fuga mundi.

Fuga mundi (flight from the world) is sometimes used to describe the distinguishing characteristic of the monastic life as it developed long ago. For example, the excellent “RB 1980" states:

“The ascetic tradition in Christianity, on which the monastic movement is built, can of course, be traced back to the New Testament.... What distinguishes the monastic movement from the earlier tradition of asceticism within Christianity is the practice of withdrawal from society... This distinction ...provides virtually the only way of distinguishing the monastic movement from the earlier period.”1

As a former atheist until I was 37 years old and then Protestant for 20 years, many of my views about the monastic life were incorrect or placed too much emphasis on a few characteristics. For example, I had known for over 30 years that there was some kind of Catholic monastery near my home, but I thought incorrectly that no one could visit it (even if someone was foolish enough to want to), that the monks never left the monastery, and that none of the monks spoke because they had all taken a vow of silence because that’s what being a monk meant. Of course, all of that is wrong, but it illustrates the great divide existing between the real world of monastic living and the sheltered world of the uninformed — like I was.

Although I have now been a Benedictine oblate at that very same Catholic monastery for a couple of years and have a better understanding of monastic life, fuga mundi has had an unwelcome grip on my understanding of what it means to be monastic. And for the past year or so I have tried to flee its hold on my mind.

I have “felt” that fuga mundi is a term that camouflages a fuller view of monasticism, but a clear insight that set fuga mundi in its proper place in my understanding has been just beyond my reach — I have wrestled with this for a long time.

Recently I read the following article on which is an Orthodox web site. This fine article finally cleared away the last hold fuga mundi had on my thinking.

The article is “A Gospel motivation for the monastic life,” by M.C. Steenberg and it sought to answer the question of why people seek the monastic life. Here is the key part of the article:

"In the final analysis, D. Chitty's words in the Epilogue to his great work come again to mind. There are many factors for, many reasons behind the eager flight of thousands into the Egyptian deserts; yet if we are to discover the truest and most fundamental answer to the question of ‘why?', we must seek for it in ‘the search for personal holiness, the following of the Lord Jesus' in the life of the individual Christian. Perhaps the most succinct statement to this effect comes from Paul the Great:

"Abba Paul said, ‘Keep close to Jesus.'

“This is the goal of the monastic, both of ancient Egypt and of the modern day.

“In closing, a short story from my own experience. I met with an old monk and spiritual mentor some years ago, and our conversation quickly turned to the monastic life. I said to him, ‘Father I don't know if I am ready to become a monk; I don't know if I can so easily run away from the world.' He replied, ‘No, indeed you are not ready. No one is ready for the tonsure until they stop seeing it as running away from the world, and start seeing it as running toward Jesus Christ.'”

Amen, Jesus, a good place to start and finish.


Picture is "Start | Finish at Madison St. at the Giro di Burnaby," by sillygwailo

1. “RB 1980,” page 4 and footnote 3. I have understood the limited purpose of the RB 1980 quote for some time as a result of my reading of the “Life of Anthony,” 11 (“Vita Anton.” 11) by Athanasius:

“He goes to the desert and overcomes temptations on the way.

“11. And on the day following he went forth still more eagerly bent on the service of God and having fallen in with the old man he had met previously, he asked him to dwell with him in the desert. But when the other declined on account of his great age, and because as yet there was no such custom, Antony himself set off forthwith to the mountain. And yet again the enemy seeing his zeal and wishing to hinder it, cast in his way what seemed to be a great silver dish. But Antony, seeing the guile of the Evil One, stood, and having looked on the dish, he put the devil in it to shame, saying, 'Whence comes a dish in the desert? This road is not well-worn, nor is there here a trace of any wayfarer; it could not have fallen without being missed on account of its size; and he who had lost it having turned back, to seek it, would have found it, for it is a desert place. This is some wile of the devil. O thou Evil One, not with this shall you hinder my purpose; let it go with you to destruction. Acts 8:20 ' And when Antony had said this it vanished like smoke from the face of fire.”

Saturday, May 9, 2009

St. Benedict Song. A Benedictine oblate blog

I have been watching Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the Holy Land on Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN).

The Holy See has a Missal for his Apostolic Journey which contains the liturgical material for the various places and events he will be attending. I found the Missal very interesting reading. It’s like a program for “how things are done.” The next time the Pope is on the TV, I will open the Missal and try to follow along.

This evening I watched Pope Benedict XVI celebrate Vespers at the Greek Melkite Cathedral of Saint George, Amman, Jordan. The energy of the church was remarkable and I think Pope Benedict XVI was genuinely pleased with the huge outpouring of affection he received. It was clear the people knew they were a part of a history-making event and they wanted to treasure each moment.

As I read parts of the 286 page Missal for Vespers, I came across this part near the end of Vespers May 9:


“The flute of pastoral divinity has been louder than the trumpets of the speakers. You have touched the depths of the spirit. You were granted the grace of an eloquent tongue. Pray, Father Benedict, to the Lord Jesus, for the salvation of our souls”.

As a Benedictine oblate, finding references and praises for St. Benedict is always enlightening. I have no idea if that Song of the Canonization is part of the Greek Melkite practice, or whether it was a special addition, or whether it is what the Pope does in other settings — but it was interesting to see a reference to St. Benedict.



Melkites are the present day Catholics:

"•Who are the Church of Antioch (Patriarchate [See] of Antioch)
"... and it was at Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians." (Acts 11:26)
•Who are in Ecclesiastical Communion with the Holy See of Rome"

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Walking Prayers before Prayers. A Benedictine oblate blog

On my visit to the abbey today, I arrived early to spend some time in the church before 8:00 pm compline (the last divine office of the day).

The monks begin entering the church about 7:30 pm. The monks come in at different times and through any one of several doors into the church. Although even the young monks have done many complines, the monks are not rushed as they walk in — they are not distracted. The monks have already set their time to an ancient liturgical clock. They are like walking prayers before the community begins praying together.

The monks coming into the church are a proper example of John Cassian’s comment, “we need to prepare ourselves before the time for prayer to be as we would wish to be found when we pray, since the mind is shaped in its petitions by its previous state.”1



1. "Saint John Cassian on Prayer," translated by A.M. Casiday, page 12.

The picture above is of the new interior remodeling of the church without the large lift scaffold that blocked my getting a full picture before.

On Sundays and other special days the monks walk into the church in two columns, but on days like tonight, the monks walk in on their own. They are dressed all in black in floor-length cloaks. They have hoods, but do not pull them over their heads until the end of compline when they all put on their hoods at the same time — they enter the great silence until morning laudes at 7:00 am.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

New Church Interior, Near and Far. A Benedictine oblate blog. Part 3 of 3

Inside painting of the Church of the Holy Cross at St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, is nearly finished.

Materials originally used to build the Church of the Holy Cross came from near and far. Some materials remind me of Jesus as the chief cornerstone or of the great antiquity of Celtic monks. The recent remodeling project reminds me of what can be accomplished with one small paint brush.

This last of three blogs on the recent interior remodeling of the church describes where the church got some of its stone material to build the church (1936 to 1948). This blog begins with comments on the 2009 remodeling project’s most noticeable feature — painting of the inside.

The paint color is gold/yellow with highlights painted by one man using a 3" brush. I think the painting work has taken him about four months. During that time he has virtually painted the complete interior with that small little brush.

The textured/aged feel of the painting is one of the most striking effects of the several remodeling changes to the Church (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series).

I think I will always remember the painter’s patience and attention to detail as I sit in the Church with its soft golden color. His work brings all of the Church’s beauty near to everyone who visits St. Leo Abbey.

Although the abbey was founded in 1889, construction of the Church of the Holy Cross began in 1936 and was completed in 1948. The builders were patient too through 12 long years and the second world war.

While most of the original construction materials came from Florida, St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana supplied Saint Leo Abbey with sandstone from St. Meinrad's quarry.

Saint Meinrad's sandstone began making the 850 mile one-way trip to Florida by truck in 1939.

St. Meinrad's quarried sandstone can be seen today as part of the Saint Leo Abbey Church's entrance archway, window settings, side altars and exterior stone trim. It’s a pretty golden/yellow color.

St. Meinrad also supplied Saint Leo with carved oak furnishings for the church interior as well.

In return for St. Meinrad's deep yellow sandstone and oak-wood furnishings, Saint Leo Abbey for many years trucked back to St. Meinrad loads of yellow oranges and sweet grapefruits picked from St. Leo Abbey's large groves of citrus trees.

My wife and I are among the abbey visitors who still take home bags of oranges and grapefruit and drop our bills in the honor-system box where the bags are set out unattended.

Although St. Leo trucked its "Abbey Brand" oranges and grapefruit to St. Meinrad as whole fruit, because of the unique barter arrangement between the two distant abbeys, stone for fruit, it is often said that the Church of the Holy Cross is the "church that orange juice built."

The cross referred to in the Church’s name is the massive crucifix with the carved image of Jesus (the face is the same as the face on the Shroud of Turin). But before I enter the church another smaller cross always catches my attention. When I arrive at the abbey I like to see the Celtic cross that greets visitors. It is on the top of the church. A picture of that Celtic cross is shown below.

A Celtic cross is one with a circle, loop, or disk at the cross arms. While it is common to hear many explanations for the symbolism of the Celtic cross, no one knows for sure what the circle/disk symbol means and any one explanation is perhaps no better than the others. If this is the "church that orange juice built" maybe it represents a golden Florida orange (I am kidding, of course).

Some people say the circle of a Celtic cross represents eternity, others say it is the sun which was incorporated from pagan times and whose meaning was transformed by Christianity, and some have said the circle was borrowed from the Egyptian crux ansata (Ankh).1

Regardless of any special meaning of the first Celtic Cross, I am pleased that the builders of the Church of Holy Cross wanted to show all passing visitors a symbol that might bring to mind those ancient Celtic monks who had such a profound impact on the spread of Christianity to a chaotic and pagan Europe.

The tradition of keeping the flame of Christianity amidst collapsing civilization and then bringing the good news of Jesus to a pagan society is a long tradition of the stable, resourceful, and spiritual-minded Benedictines.

The Benedictine monks of St. Leo Abbey preserve one of the most ancient spiritual practices — living by the Rule of St. Benedict and praying the divine office several times a day. They also welcome guests who are invited to join them in the divine office. Hospitality and welcoming guests has always been a major element of Benedictines. That’s what the Celtic cross at the church means to me.

If you have any interest in spiritual matters whether you are Protestant (like my wife and I were when we first visited the abbey in 2006), or follow other traditions, you may enjoy a visit to see the newly remodeled Church of the Holy Cross. You will be welcomed as Christ. Monasteries are "places of spiritual power."2

Most of my visits to the church involve some time sitting alone in the church. I watch the face of Jesus on the crucifix, the stained glass windows of sixteen saints, or the movement of light. I listen for the voice of God on the interior of my heart. “Listen” is the first word in the Rule of St. Benedict. A church is a good place for me to listen, not because of what happens quickly, but because of what happens slowly over time. Each visit to the Church of the Holy Cross changes me, little by little, much like that small brush applied with such patience.



Picture is Paint Brush by sandralise. Thank you.

1. History of the Celtic Cross. Reference to the Egyptian crux ansata (the Ankh) as a possible source for the Celtic cross is near the end of this Catholic New Advent article.

2. Pope Benedict in 2007 at HEILIGENKREUZ ABBEY


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Church Interior, Same Romanesque Style. A Benedictine oblate blog. Part 2 of 3

Saint Leo Abbey, Saint Leo College, and Holy Name Convent are Catholic institutions founded in 1889 on some of the most beautiful land in Florida. They are located in one of the few places in Florida with low rolling hills. This year on Saturday, June 13, 2009, the abbey will celebrate its 120th anniversary. If you live in Florida, a good historical event to attend.

Saint Leo Abbey is part of American-Cassinese Congregation — a group of Benedictine abbeys founded from Metten, Bavaria (Germany). The Benedictines are monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict written about 530 AD by St. Benedict as the Roman Empire was disintegrating.

Saint Leo Abbey’s Church is the Church of the Holy Cross which took 12 years to complete (1936 to 1948).

The church is in the massive, rounded-arch style known as Lombardic-Romanesque — a style that developed in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy about 850 AD.

Lombardic-Romanesque style is sometimes called First Romanesque because of its place in the development of the later Romanesque style appearing in the 1100s AD which in turn evolved into the well-known Gothic style — pointed arches, ribbed vault, and the flying buttress. Gothic style gives a feel of height and light.

The Church’s interior has been painted for the first time, but the color scheme used existing colors from the Church. The effect is to enhance all architectural features and tie all elements together.

The Church of Holy Cross's Lombardic-Romanesque style conveys stability, peace, stillness, and quiet — just what I want when going on a spiritual retreat for the weekend or just a few hours to pray the divine office with the Benedictine monks.

Monday, May 4, 2009

New Church Interior, Same Spirit. A Benedictine oblate blog. Part 1 of 3

[Click any picture to enlarge]

If you have not visited St. Leo Abbey in the last five months you have not seen the repainting and remodeling of the interior of its Church of the Holy Cross. Well, the work is almost finished! It looks great.

St. Leo Abbey is located in west central Florida, USA. This Catholic Benedictine monastery is located about 45 minutes north of Tampa. Benedictine monks welcome guests and you can join the monks in praying the divine office daily in the church.

The abbey’s church’s interior has been repainted with a soft gold/yellow color with highlights. It's beautiful.

The remodeling of the church included eliminating about half of the raised platform (chancel) where the choir stalls for monks and guests had been located.

Previously, the platform had four steps. Now, (top picture) the platform (chancel) of three steps begins much farther back (toward the crucifix) and the platform now contains only the altar, chair, oil lamps, and the ambo (speakers’ podium) and organ, both the ambo and organ are on the left side and out of view in the first picture above. I read a New Advent article on altar steps indicating that there should be an odd number of steps leading to the altar. Now that St. Leo has three direct steps to the altar, the church is more in step with that tradition as well.

The overall platform’s first step still begins where the four-step platform used to begin, so there is plenty of room for the monks’ choir stalls on this lowered part of the old platform. The platform is so low, the monks’ choir stalls have been moved much closer to the edge of the platform because the platform is only one small step for a monk. This creates a feeling that the monks are much closer to the people who sit in the pews — which they are, but being lower also gives a feeling of closeness. The picture below is of the new one-step platform for the monks' choir stalls:

The choir stalls for guests which used to be behind (toward the wall with the crucifix) the monks’ choir stalls have been moved off of the platform and now form the front pews in the nave (where the congregation sits). Here are two pictures of the new location of the choir stalls for the guests:

The picture below is what the platform used to look like — the picture below was taken in 2008 during our retreat (well before any changes) and picture was taken from the right side of the crucifix looking toward the entrance to the church. The choir stalls in the foreground are where the guests used to sit to participate with the monks in the divine office.

The new location for the guest choir stalls means that the guests now face the front of the altar and the large crucifix.

Interestingly, Jesus’ face on the large crucifix is a sculptured version of the face on the Shroud of Turin. The St. Leo Abbey crucifix makes quite an impression on me and I like the new layout of the choir stalls for the guests. Praying with the monks as they sing the divine offices during the day is always a spiritual blessing. And now I face the monks, the altar, and the crucifix of Jesus and I am reminded of obedience, holiness, and love.

In other changes to the interior, the main lights in the nave have been moved to the arches and new lights have been added to the columns.

I blogged previously about the new lectio divina wall in the church.

The remodeling of the church is not totally finished and will include cloth material behind statues on the side walls, but the church already contains a new emblems on the walls. Some of the emblems came from the previous altar carved by Brother Paul — a good link with the past.

The previous interior of the church gave me a feeling of simplicity and a welcoming spirit — very Benedictine. With as much change as has taken place in the church, I was very pleased that those two feelings still exist as strong as ever in the Church of the Holy Cross. But the new interior now gives me more of a feeling of simple elegance and a welcoming spirit of beauty. Yes, the interior now has more to say. Those involved in the planning and carrying out of the work on the church’s interior are hereby given my public thanks. They were able to add elegance to simplicity and beauty to a welcoming spirit — very Benedictine still.



Part 2 of this series.  Part 2 of this series of posts is on the historical background of the church.

Part 3 of this series.  Part 3 of 3 is about why the abbey church is called the "church that orange juice built."

In the second picture from the bottom, alert blog readers will notice a green thing on the left side of the picture. That's the huge lifting scaffold for the painter. I shot all the pictures of the new interior to avoid the scaffold, except I wanted just a bit of it for reference.

I have been spending much time in quiet contemplation after Easter, but am back at blogging now. I have been very thankful, Alleluia.