Community and Abbot in the Rule of Saint Benedict.
It would seem anachronistic to present D. de V.’s book, fifty seven years after its publication, in addition to which, we have had the subject dissected and addressed in several prestigious journals in international circulation. Valid as a justification by the fact of having been found virginally intact in some library, or with its pages only half cut and pasted in some other …
D. de V., in his dense introduction, saves us half of the work, when he realises that his purpose is none other than to meditate on the meaning of the relations that mediate between the Abbot and his monks, and of the society that is formed with them (p.11) “Theology of the abbacy and the particular station of the Abbot,” he states sometime later (p.14). The examination of the nucleus aspect, so to speak, of the Rule of Saint Benedict, converged on the axis of evangelical obedience, could not be done without the critical study of the extensive literature that preceded on the same subject. It is here ‘in the first place, where we begin to perceive by what prudent modesty and natural defect of perspective that the author could neither grasp nor manifest. The criticism of the commentators that precede it – and in particular the most modern ones – is of an exceptional objectivity, precisely because the informing criterion of which it consists by filling the hiatus introduced between the Rule and its sources, and it is this aspect, this objectivity in addition to exceptional we would say that it is really “raw”, which places us in front of a brave and faithful book, without ever falling into polemical tone. D. de V . wrote:
“The spirit with which we approach the RB is by no means the same as our predecessors did … An intense filial piety is the common denominator of all these modern works, mostly the work of Benedictine monks. But the cult that is thus paid to St. Benedict is not without its drawbacks in terms of the exact interpretation of his thought. Often, in fact, veneration leads to magnify its historical role and the scope of its rule. There has been a real inflation here, extremely detrimental to the interpretation of the RB; it is exalted systematically, at the expense of everything that proceeded to it; an innovative intention is lent to its author; it is placed in opposition to all previous legislators or theorists.” (p.15).
Consistent with this severely critical attitude, D. de V. does not hesitate to analyse —or, more accurately, to question — the notes of the “founder” and the “Roman”, traditionally attributed — and we would almost write “totemically” – to the Patriarch. But, above all, as a methodical patrologist, his review of traditional commentaries — without excepting the most illustrious, some of which inspire him the denomination of “historical novels” — tends to save the disconnection “introduced” between the RB and his sources, which, in his opinion, obeys the desire to “bring the Patriarch closer to us.”“The Benedictine monasticism of our times,”D. de V. states, “seeks to justify itself in this way. It is believed that Saint Benedict can be attributed the tendencies that have in fact prevailed. For our part, our preoccupation to edify (in the noblest sense of the term), which could be that of Abbot Paul Delatte OSB, Fr. Alban Butler, Abbot Ildefons Herwegen OSB, must remain alien to the comment we undertake to express. There is no intent on our part, like those great abbots, to extract from the Rule what seems to best suit the possibilities and needs of a contemporary monastery.And even less, write a “mirror of abbots!” (P.19).
In the same way, driven by the historical rigour of D. de V., we will see other “certainties” disappear.Thus, for example, that Saint Benedict gave his monastery a “family appearance”which was missing from the Egyptian monastery, “faithful heir — in this sense —of Saint Basil.” “This feature, in our opinion, does not characterise the Benedictine community more than that of Pacomio … The ideal of monasticism — continues D. de V. — has not evolved towards a more complete cenobitism, but is still dominated, as in the past, by an eremitical aspiration. It is the misery of men, and care to ensure the minimum of honesty, which have led to the development of common life.” (p. 26)
One could resist the persuasion of D. de V. — a risk, of course, to ignore his erudition, not share their conclusions on these aspects; but no one could fail to recognise, serenely, without obfuscation, that he had seldom heard a language so loyally addicted to the truth without partisanship.
At this point of the question it could be believed that we are in the presence of another iconoclast, and that, following the same method, D. de V. will turn, after the figures, the concepts. None of that. His exegesis of the holy Rule is very far from the spirit of novelty.Boasting of erudition, it is at the same time boast of fidelity to the “per ducatum Evangelii;”and if we discover some new approach, it is also situated in the line of fidelity to the “nova et vetera.” Commenting on the two Gospel texts (Luke 10:16 and John 6:38) in which Saint Benedict refers the monastic obedience to Jesus Christ, which sometimes makes the Abbot theexample of the Lord, D. de V. writes this comment evenly and beautiful (which we transcribe by way of example — or indication if you prefer — of that fidelity):
“The first (Luke 10:16) presents Christ as the one who is obeyed. In this perspective, it is the Abbot. His mission is to transmit the divine word, to speak in the name of Christ who sent it. We find here the abbot who was conceived as a ‘vicarious’ authority, as a ‘doctoral’ charisma, as a hierarchical authority … .”
“The second text (John 6:38) presents Jesus Christ as one who imitates obedience.In this perspective, Jesus Christ is no longer the one who orders, but the one who obeys: the command word no longer being asked for, but an example of obedience … .” (p. 266)
Was it the critical apparatus or was D. de V.’s stance in front of his predecessors on the subject, so daring in the first approach, which muffled the resonance that this book deserved? Or perhaps it is one of those books written before their time, and intended for future generations? Perhaps his mission consisted in destroying the prisms through which we had habitually become accustomed to “think,” in prefabricated terms, the holy Rule, paving the way for its rediscovery. Opposing the “inflation” which he denounces and highlighting the dependence upon the RB with respect to the RM and its predecessors, far from undermining the merit of the Patriarch and the value of the holy Rule, it is restored in all its authenticity. “Fructus enim lucis est in omni bonitote, et justitia, et veritate ….”
Sollemnitas Sancti Tomás de Villanueva MMXVIII September.
We must all make an effort and enter into and adopt a more authentic Gospel process of reasoning. It teaches us that the place in which we have been placed by God’s will is primarily a service to be carried out for the common good of all, for a better, more humane world and for peaceful coexistence. The concept of service to the common good must be able to precede everything else and prevail over a mentality of profit and gain, for which we often selfishly work toward. This impoverishes us, it makes us petty and detaches us from the reality in which we are engulfed thus preventing us from seeing the face of Christ in our brother who is right next to us.
My dear Bishops, brothers in the priesthood, Deacons, Religious, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord and always dear to me!
Perched 1,970 feet above the Tyrrhenian Sea and the city of Palermo, the Grotto Sanctuary of Santa Rosalia on Monte Pellegrino is one of Sicily’s two primary Catholic shrines.I grew up in the shadows of Monte Pellegrino in Palermo, it was visible from my grandmothers balcony window. Our patron Saint (La Santuzza – The Little Saint) Santa Rosalia († 1166), is known by all who originate from Sicily.Many years ago on the celebration, called the festino, which is still held each year on July 15, and continues into the next day, I made my first and only pilgrimage to the top of the Mount, bare footed, frankly exhausted yet exhilarated by the achievement and the view was stunning.As a hermit I had a slight tinge of admiration in Santa Rosalia finding a perfect spot for her desert.On the cave wall she wrote “I, Rosalia, daughter of Sinibald, Lord of Roses, and Quisquina, have taken the resolution to live in this cave for the love of my Lord, Jesus Christ.”
In the churchyard of the Sanctuary of Mount Pellegrino in Palermo, crowded on that day that I made my pilgrimage there were so many people, the sun was glaring, you could hear the people whispering their prayers or singing during the ascent, these are the faithful who never cease to pray to her and who annually bring her their pure and heartfelt devotions, Santa Rosalia welcomes them with her inner story even today, her life and her fervent and passionate witness is palpable to all.
At the front of the Grotto of Mount Pellegrino, in which Santuzza lived in her hermitage in the last years of her earthly life – as evidenced by the discovery of her relics – she passed away on a morning whilst the celestial light that she had always enjoy so much began to enter her cell: “O God, my God, to thee do I watch at break of day. For thee my soul hath thirsted.” (Psalm 62:2)
These days, and especially tonight, the Sanctuary, which is a highly significant place not only for worship but also in the history of the city of Palermo, becomes a destination for the usual pilgrimage that the faithful offer as a sign of their devotion to the Santuzza.The traditional “acchianata” (climbing up) sees thousands of people who dissolve their promises or implore a grace through the intercession of the saintly virgin hermit.
As a priest and hermit of this beloved portion of God’s people who grew up in Palermo, I too could not but resist to find myself among you in the past, a pilgrim among pilgrims, to share in the joy of this celebration, to raise perfect praises to God and bless Him in the figure of Saint Rosalia, which her infinite goodness wanted to donate to the Church.
Climbing this mountain, and even more arriving at the churchyard which is always so crowded with the faithful, I was impressed by the number of faithful, which bears witness to the affection and devotion that the people of Palermo and from around the world nurture towards this Patron Saint of the city.
Of course all this is positive. It is a devotion that we have a duty to transmit to the next generation, to discover evermore the message that Santa Rosalia communicates to her faithful.
When I ascended, my examination of Jesus turning provocatively toward the crowds flowed from the depths of my heart – and I have heard the repeated echoes – when recalling the prophetic and steadfast figure of St. John the Baptist: “What went you out into the desert to see?” (Cf. Matthew 11:7).It is a question that i address to you today, gathered together to celebrate Santa Rosalia.What did you come to see? What moved you to come? Why are you here? What are you asked to contemplate during your ascent on Monte Pellegrino?
La Santuzza, my grandmother Concettina used to tell me, freed Palermo from the Peste (Plague). Today luckily through science this disease is under control with antibiotics and can be cured if diagnosed in time; yet today there is another form of plague, one that is within us, which destroys our dignity; yet she can heal us, if we make a true commitment. It is an inner pestilence, imposed by a dominant secular culture, where there is no respect for oneself – drug and alcohol abuse to which many young and older people look for an quick fix and false happiness – there is no respect for each other, a lack of loving your neighbour, vandalism, theft much of it brought about by these consumeristic and secular attitudes. It is as if modern society has become the new Sodom and Gomorrah, yet no one is doing anything to stop it dead in its tracks.
I remember that when I was serving the UN as a young officer and had chance to drive to Hebron in Palestine a city located in the southern West Bank, 19 miles south of
Jerusalem and nestled in the Judaean Mountains and when returning to Sicily, I was struck by the enormous waste done everywhere.It often happened that I’d see a lot of food or bread thrown away in streets, whilst still carrying and remembering the faces of thousands of undernourished and homeless children and people who died of hunger and hardship deep within my heart.It is something that still haunts me and is forever unforgettable.
We know very well that a pilgrimage is not done out of sheer curiosity, nor a habit that is repeated annually by pure impulse of vague religious sentiments. People go on a pilgrimage because they are attracted to Santa Rosalia who chose the Lord as the only Spouse in her life, making Him become the entire reason of her love, full of His joy, the reason for her freedom and from personal and social conditionings. A full freedom with which Santa Rosalia, like the young girl in Solomon’s Song of Songs, runs to meet His love, and embraces Him for the rest of her life.
This is who we came to see! The virgin who gave everything of herself and for this she made her life a shining example of the sanctity of our Creator who from the beginning chose her as a witness by her goodness. The pilgrims have come to see Christ in love, to the point of wanting to be totally his. We have come to see a lionhearted young woman, who defied her time bringing into fulfilment of how much intimacy the Holy Spirit had placed in her heart, this path is traced through listening to the Word and to its deepest desires.
This fundamental choice of God, the place that God occupies in our lives commits us all, according to the duty of our own state.To us priests, called by the Lord and representing his ministry, and who are called to centralise of our prayers, our faithfulness to our priestly commitments, our unconditional dedication in administering the sacraments, listening to confession and serving our communities loyally.To you, wives, husbands, a commitment to remain faithful to the love you have promised to each other and the gift of the sacrament you exchanged.Just as grace sustained Santa Rosalia’s gift of life with fidelity to her husband, we all have to rely on grace as the force which helps us conquer our difficulties and moments of crisis.
But we did not simply come to “catch a glimpse of” the testimony of eight hundred and fifty-two years ago.Pilgrims do not make a pilgrimage just to be spectators at a feast.One cannot call themselves an authentic devotees of Santa Rosalia if we allow this experience to pass by without it leaving an indelible mark on our lives, without the Santuzza having pierced a clear message in our way of life and in our times.
Santa Rosalia had lived in the Grotto the idyll of divine love, her own Garden of Eden whilst choosing a hard, rigorous, stringent and unyielding life, comprised of prayer and self-abnegation.The act of denying her own wishes, of refusing to satisfy her desires, especially from a moral, religious and altruistic motive, bares witness to us of her total surrender to the will of God.With her we celebrate, not so much the rejection of a comfortable and carefree life that she as a noble woman could have lived, but rather a love so strong, so unique and so boundless for her Lord that she had not been seduce by material things or anyone.Her life was entirely Christocentric, not in a manner that surrounded her with riches but in absolute poverty, which she lived as a hermit.This is concomitant of the fact that when loving the One who created everything, and making Him the centre of your life, she would not need anything else at all.We have been taught this in the Gospel of Matthew when the apostle Peter said to Jesus “Behold we have left all things, and have followed thee: what therefore shall we have?” (Matthew 19:27-28)Jesus knowing that with God all things are possible replied “Amen, I say to you, that you, who have followed me, in the regeneration, when the Son of man shall sit on the seat of his majesty, you also shall sit on twelve seats judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”Too often today we expect rewards there and then, being disappointed when our efforts seem to have been ignored by our peers or employers.I once overheard a young student I was teaching at Oxford say “I’m only doing this charity trip thing because it will look good on my resume for the firm I want to join”.This disheartened me greatly, it was for her a purely self-seeking motive and not as she had written on her application to help others less fortunate than her and be of use to the community.Too many of us these days seek rewards for the small things that we do and this is purely egocentric, unchristian and soul destroying.
This is why the example of Santa Rosalia’s austere and unwavering life still calls to us today, because we can all be encouraged to experience more and more the cruciality in which we discover and rediscover, every day, the absolute primacy of God and the beauty of the authentic values of life that He has given us and that He has committed himself to in redeeming us from evil and darkness of this world.
The socio-economic crisis that the world is facing these days are visible to all of us.How many of us waver with the effort just to get to the end of the month, coping with the various commitments and finding the means to be able to provide.How many of us look to the future with desolation over the many social instabilities that look like dark clouds on every skyline.We are told as children that every cloud has a silver lining, then we grow up and realise that the silver liningdo not exist.But the promise of our Lord’s future gifts do exist and our deposited in our heavenly bank account awaiting our withdrawal once we have joined him.
When I looked on the internet for “Global Crisis effecting humanity” the only images that came up in my search were matters concerning the financial industry, corporations, economy, investments. Have we really sunk so low that we cannot recognise the human global crisis beyond the financial. Surely human life is more valuable than a bank? We live in times when the crisis for mankind has become present at many levels, as evidence of a social context in which possessions and merriment seem to prevail over every logic rather than dedicating and donating ones life to service and helping our neighbour. Yes there are many risks. particularly for the next generation and those to follow. They are all connected to the serious possibility of corroding all beauty and the full and authentic sense of life for those things that are non-essential, trite, worthless, even purposeless and fraught with danger.
We see it in the inability to serve the common good, to do one’s duty seriously, determined only by one’s selfishness, self-interests and egocentrism. We all have responsibilities, because each of us has a duty to our neighbour, even the ones we do not like.
I think of those who work in public services or offices. The politicians that have been elected, chosen by the people to serve the common good. You have this responsibility toward everyone and not just yourself.Just think what a better place we would live in if a politician actually really genuinely cared, was honest to a fault, truthful at all times.Your responsibility is and always will be to God, the state and those who elected you.At the same time everyone must also do their duty.Think of the mothers who provide nurturing care for the family, teach us how to pray, encourage and nurture spiritual growth and development, and are living examples of the meaning of sacrificial, self-giving love which is the genesis and source of an authentic spirituality. Through the lens of the Blessed Virgin Mary, “we see [in all motherhood] the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-sacrificing totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement” (Pope John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater, 46).
A father should strive to be to his family everything that is revealing and in reliving on earth the very fatherhood of God, a man is called upon to ensure stability and harmony within the family.He does this by exercising generous and selfless responsibility for the life conceived in the womb of the mother; by taking a more active role in, and making a more serious commitment to his children’s education and prayer life, a task that he shares equally with his wife; by working in a job that is never the cause of division within the family but promotes and provides for its security and unity; and, most importantly, by being a living witness and example to his children of what it means to live and act as a man of God, showing his children first-hand what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and how that relationship is lived-out daily by loving the truth, goodness, and beauty of our Catholic faith.
I think of you the educators, who recognises that the human heart is created with an
innate yearning to seek, find and rest in God in this world and the next and will therefore develop the whole person intellectually, physically emotionally and spiritually.The educator does this by respecting each child of God, preparing their students as much as possible to attain their immutable destiny.An exceptional educator at whatever level of schooling they teach at encompasses and frames for other a Catholic perspective of the world structure by reflection, prayer, action, service, teaching and sacramentality.This is expressed and developed through the physical space, choice of activities, allocation of time, and the kind of relationships that are fostered.The educator’s tools are the rich moral, artistic, scientific, spiritual and intellectual treasury of the Catholic church (see The Excellent Catholic Teacher).
The Gospel page of the parable of the ten virgins “The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.”Jesus is talking about our spiritual preparation and conditioning.The parable gives us some strong indications of what needs to be in place here and now.We must not wait to be sure our lamp is lit and that we have plenty of oil.It almost seems that the lethargy that affects young people today also concerns our civilisation, which has forgotten to live in waiting for our encounter with God.More and more people lean towards secularism, stopped believing that the Lord is ever present in every moment of our lives and in which we must be watchful to recognise HIs signs, vigilantly listening for His call and be ready for action.
The numbness of our society manifests itself in forgetting the essentials of life and many idolise and to turn to new false god, innumerably propagated by commercial entities who are advocate and sell that false happiness that leaves only a bitter taste and disappointment.In our youth today there seems to be an increasingly weak sense of personal responsibility, an extremely potent example is the increasing number of traffic accidents due to speeding, the use of drugs and alcohol where alcohol is cheeper than food and encouraged by the “buy one get one free” culture, without the slightest responsibility being taken by those who drive a vehicle carelessly and irresponsibly.
For this very reason today, I would like you all to look at Santa Rosalia’s austerity, her strong and decisive choices, to always remain conscious and wait to welcome her Lord in her daily and mystical meetings with him. I would like Santuzza to be the stimulus for all to become more responsible from now on, for all the occasions in our lives and situations in which the Lord has by his will placed us, to be prepared, to be aware, to be responsive and responsible.A time, which in Christ has become kairos (right, critical, or opportune moment), an occasion for personal sanctification, which is one of the instruments that God’s mercy gives to us to enable us to reach him. It is a benefaction given to us, so much so that none of us can waste a single minute to our lives.Therefore let us not waste it in that which does not lead us to the truth.
The occasions, the circumstances by which we always judge the positive or negative, depending on whether they correspond to our schemes or not, are in fact opportunities that the Lord offers us so that we can appreciate and love Him in everything.From this stems or responsibility toward duty, to respond to the task to which we are called for the common good.I wholeheartedly endorse it because it is worth it!Doing your duty well is a requisite on account that through it one arrives at the realisation of one’s self, being fully content, which gives a credible witness to one’s encounter with God in the workplace, among our co-workers, often non-believers or like many just indifferent.Santa Rosalia, adhering to the will of the Lord fulfilled her duty in such an exemplary manner as to be a model for us even today after so many centuries.
We must all make an effort and enter into and adopt a more authentic Gospel process of reasoning.It teaches us that the place in which we have been placed by God’s will is primarily a service to be carried out for the common good of all, for a better, more humane world and for peaceful coexistence. The concept of service to the common good must be able to precede everything else and prevail over a mentality of profit and gain, for which we often selfishly work toward. This impoverishes us, it makes us petty and detaches us from the reality in which we are engulfed thus preventing us from seeing the face of Christ in our brother who is right next to us.
Everyone is invited to do his part.However small or large, it is the part that belongs to each member of the Mystical Body of Christ which is the Church.The essentiality of Santa Rosalia’s austere life shows us the responsibility with which we are called to bring our faith to life, to transfer the beauty of our encounter with Christ into our daily lives whilst walking among men.
And it will be one of the most beautiful pilgrimages ever undertaken. It will be the most significant one you have ever done, because it will enable you to reach the full significance of our existence and to prepare us for our heavenly goal which is the eternal Kingdom in which Santa Rosalia, together with the angels and saints, enjoys the face of God for eternity.Surely that is what we all seek and desire?
I leave you all with my humble prayers and blessings, and ask for the intercession of Santa Rosalia to help you in your daily service for the common good.In Jesus and Mary.Amen
Translation of the Prayer to Santa Rosalia:
Oh admirable Santa Rosalia, who resolved to imitate within herself the most perfect image of Your only good, the Crucified Redeemer, you applied yourself to all the rigors of the most bitter penance in the solitude of a cavern, where you always delighted ‘to extol with vigils and fasts, the scourges which macerated your innocent flesh, a grace to us all the grace to always tame by the exercise of evangelical mortification all our rebellious appetites, and to always pasture our spiritual meditations the most devoted of those Christian truths, which alone can bring us true well-being in this life and eternal bliss in the other. Pater, Ave and Gloria
Holy card which my Grandmother gave me when I left Italy in 1974
Fifth prior of the Grande Chartreuse, legislator of the Carthusian Order and ascetical writer, born at Saint-Romain in Dauphiné in 1083; died 27 July, 1137.
He became a monk of the Grande Chartreuse in 1107, and three years later his brethren elected him Prior.
To Guigues the Carthusian Order in great measure owes its fame, if not its very existence.
When he became prior, only two charterhouses existed, the Grande Chartreuse and the Calabrian house where St. Bruno had died; nine more were founded during his twenty-seven years’ as Prior. These new foundations made it necessary to reduce to writing the traditional customs of the mother-house. Guigues’s “Consuetudines”, composed in 1127 or 1128, have always remained the basis of all Carthusian legislation.
After the disastrous avalanche of 1132, Guigues rebuilt the Grande Chartreuse on the present site.
A man of considerable learning, endowed with a tenacious memory and the gift of eloquence, Guigues was a great organizer and disciplinarian. He was a close friend of St. Bernard and of Peter the Venerable, both of whom have left accounts of the impression of sanctity which he made upon them. His name is inscribed in certain martyrologies on 27 July, and he is sometimes called “Venerable” or “Blessed”, yet the Bollandists can find “no trace whatever of any ecclesiastical cultus”.
Guigues edited the letters of St. Jerome, but his edition is lost. Of his genuine writings there are still in existence, besides the “Consuetudines,” a “Life of St. Hugh of Grenoble”, whom he had known intimately, written by command of Pope Innocent II after the canonisation of the saint in 1134; “Meditations”, and six letters (P.L., CLIII). These letters are all that remain of a great number, many of them addressed to the most distinguished men of the day. Guigues’s letters to St. Bernard are lost, but some of the saint’s replies are extant.
“By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to his name. And do not forget to do good, and to impart; for by such sacrifices God’s favour is obtained”. – Heb 13:15-16
It should not surprise us why so many religious communities today have declined. We must remember that we are now living in the midst of one of the greatest trials in Church history. The shear number of 20th-century apparitions and miracles far outnumber all the previous centuries combined. According to modern apparitions, our common adversary is becoming more and more desperate, attempting to drag more souls with him. To say that the moral state decay of our society is worse than it has ever been, would not be an unreasonable statement. Like old Israel, we too have allowed paganism and hedonism to become the law of our land, worshipping the three-headed idol of pride, lust, and avarice. And God has granted our desires, just as He did with Israel. He has handed us over to our enemies, to the tyranny of a foreign ruler. And we have been held captive for so long, that we have become accustomed to our slavery, as if it is the normal way of life. And yet, there is still hope. Satan’s reign is coming to an end. And just like Josiah in the Old Testament, who tore his garments after rediscovering the long-lost Scriptures (2 Chr 34:14-15), it seems we too are on the cusp of rediscovering our true identity once again. But let us be clear about this. The answer is not in a certain “brand” of Catholicism, whether “traditional” or “charismatic”, which can lead to polarisation and division. But it is in one thing only; love; to love God by loving what He loves; His children, His lost sheep, His Holy Mother and His Church.
Monastic obedience is not a carrying out of an order, but a total giving of self to God through a monastic community. Such giving sometimes does involve pain and hurt because the individual cannot ‘march merely to his own beat.’ But then neither can a spouse in a marriage or a child in a family. Obedience within the monastery today rests upon the idea that the cenobium, the community, is a society of persons who, through mutual love, sanctify each other. Obedience is the Yes of community living.” If we obeyed and were faithful to our own vocations and duties, the Church (and the world) would be in a wonderful state. Far too often though, we Christians want to live our Christianity according to our own ideas. We may be doing good things but that doesn’t mean we are fulfilling our first obligations and submitting our will to God.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola stated “If a person thinks of embracing a secular life, he should ask and desire more evident signs that God calls him to a secular life, than if there were question of embracing the evangelical counsels; for Our Lord Himself has evidently exhorted us to embrace His counsels.”
In our Western culture, we have been raised from infancy with an inwards gaze toward self and want; to self-seeking pleasure, convenience, and instant gratification, pacified by ceaseless noise, shiny flashing lights, and candy floss. Unfortunately, many people import this mindset into their vocation, expecting always to find the sweet taste of consolation and spiritual transports. But the way toward purification is a rugged one, especially at the beginning when the soul is still divided and pulled at by the world. It is therefore easy to become discouraged and abandon the path to perfection altogether. If we only knew of the great joy and peace that we could experience even in this life, we would never get sidetracked from this path! Never forget that holiness is not so much a sudden burst of fire that quickly dies, but rather a small and steady flame unceasing in its intensity and constant in its light. Padre Pio was once asked ‘what is necessary to become a saint?’ His response was candid and unambiguous; “One thing alone is necessary. You must will it.” According to the revelations given to the Venerable Mary of Agreda, many souls fail precisely because they flee from the cross; especially during the first stage of purification, from dying to self-love.
One need not have absolute certainty of a calling to the religious life in order to have a genuine vocation. If there is but a seed of desire within the soul, then this is enough reason to water and cultivate this seed, to see whether is takes root or not. And the best way to have greater certainty, is to visit the communities in person (many of them, if necessary), as well as your diocesan vocations office.
When the father of all monks, St. Anthony the Great lived in the desert he was beset by accidie (spiritual or mental sloth; apathy), and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, ‘Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?’ A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, St. Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, ‘Do this and you will be saved.’ At these words, St. Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
Someone asked St. Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what I tell you: whoever you may be, always have God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it. Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.’”
Monasticism is a radical living out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Following in the footsteps of the Apostles and the early Desert Fathers, religious have heard Christ’s words to the rich young man, “Jesus saith to him: If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me.” (Mt 19:21.) Striving to love God “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment.” (Mk 12:30), monks leave all things, “Furthermore I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ my Lord; for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ” (Phil 3:8.) Being a monk is to be “Dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God.” (Col 3:3) so that we can be “alive in Christ”.
It does not mean that the monks spurn others in their pursuit of God! As Evagrius the Solitary, said, “A monk is separated from all and united to all.” They realise that the unity of all in Christ and their life becomes one of prayer for the whole world. Praying together includes the cry, the invocation, the aspiration, the desire for peace, the healing and salvation of the men and women of this world. Prayer is never in vain; it rises ceaselessly to the Lord so that anguish is turned into hope, tears into joy, despair into happiness, and solitude into communion. May the Kingdom of God come soon among people!
Historically monastics have always had hospitality as an important aspect of their life, to share a bit of their life with the faithful. At other times, monks have been called out of their monasteries to do apostolic ministry when needed. All over the world people gather in the various places of prayer and lay before the Lord the hopes and the sufferings of the tired, exhausted crowds of which the Gospel speaks. In these crowds we can see the Brobdingnagian of the modern cities, millions of refugees who continue to flee their war torn countries, the homeless and poor, relegated to the very fringes of society and life and all those who are waiting for someone to take care of them. Even Saint Anthony the Great abandoned his beloved solitude when it was called for. In whatever situation the monk finds himself, his goal is always to live “in Christ”.
The heart of the life of any monastery is prayer, and the heart of prayer is a deep and intimate relationship with Christ. Christ is encountered in a great number of ways in the ordinary life of the brotherhood: in public prayers, in the life of discipline and spiritual efforts, the interactions between brothers, and in the way they, in turn, associate with the outside world. Most notably, Christ is encountered in the seemingly endless hours of private prayer which each monk undertakes each day, both in his cell rule and as he goes about his daily work. Here we call to mind 1 Th 5:17 to “Pray without ceasing”. The Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to see prayer as a weapon to use in fighting spiritual battles (Eph 6:18). As we go through the day, prayer should be our first response to every fearful situation, every anxious thought, and every undesired task that God commands. A lack of prayer will cause us to depend on ourselves instead of depending on God’s grace. Unceasing prayer is, in essence, continual dependence upon and communion with the Father. To facilitate this encounter, the monastery has to be a sanctuary. This sanctuary is created through the common life of the monks, based on the vows of traditional monasticism. These are the vows which the monks take when they become ‘cross bearers’.
The vows made are to obedience, conversion of life and stability. Poverty and charity are inferred in the vow of conversion, although the vow contains so much more. Officially and canonically there are three vows. Morally and religiously the observance is of the five vows. Just what these words signify is an important question, and one that each monk will face from time to time throughout his life.
The discipline and silence necessary for prayer are a reminder that consecration by the vows of religion requires a certain asceticism of life “embracing the whole being”. Christ’s response of poverty, love, and obedience led him to the solitude of the desert, the pain of contradiction, and the abandonment of the cross. The consecration of religious enters into this way of his; it cannot be a reflection of his consecration if its expression in life does not hold an element of self-denial. Religious life itself is an ongoing, public, visible expression of Christian conversion. It calls for the leaving of all things and the taking up of one’s cross to follow Christ throughout the whole of life. This involves the asceticism necessary to live in poverty of spirit and of fact; to love as Christ loves; to give up one’s own will for God’s sake to the will of another who represents him, however imperfectly. It calls for the self-giving without which it is not possible to live either a good community life or a fruitful mission. Jesus’ statement that the grain of wheat needs to fall to the ground and die if it is to bear fruit has a particular application to religious because of the public nature of their profession. It is true that much of today’s penance is to be found in the circumstances of life and should be accepted there. However, unless religious build into their lives “a joyful, well-balanced austerity” and deliberately determined renunciations, they risk losing the spiritual freedom necessary for living the counsels. Indeed, without such austerity and renunciation, their consecration itself can be affected. This is because there cannot be a public witness to Christ poor, chaste, and obedient without asceticism. Moreover, by professing the counsels by vows, religious undertake to do all that is necessary to deepen and foster what they have vowed, and this means a free choice of the cross, that it may be “as it was for Christ, proof of the greatest love”.
There has been a long debate within the Church about the differences between monastic-v-religious vows, and of the differences in the monastic and religious states of life. Prior to Vatican II it was said there were two main types of consecrated states of life: the monastic and the religious. The monastic life was generally viewed to be something more involved and demanding than the religious life. We used to see this principally in the differentiation between Nuns and Sisters. Nuns had solemn vows and were rigidly cloistered; whilst the Sisters has simple vows and were not cloistered and could move around the town and community in which they lived.
Each vow has an obvious and uncomplicated meaning, and it is this uncomplicated meaning which governs the daily life of the community, its customs and traditions. Be that as it may, in the observance of the vows there is also a deeper, distinctive importance which each monk must contemplate in terms of his own life and condition.
These vows, then, create a sanctuary in which the monastic life is possible. To elucidate how this works, it may be helpful to think in terms of a four-dimensional space, with each vow providing one of those dimensions. Taking the imagery a little further, it is possible to say that the space which is created by those four dimensions is one in which the love of God is expressed. Each monk lives within this ‘matrix of love’ simultaneously taking from, and contributing to, the experience of the brotherhood as a whole. Living a life of total inter-dependence, where each person of the monastic family depends upon everyone else, the monk learns to surrender to the will of God at a yet more and more heartfelt level. In return for surrendering all that he is, all that he has, and all that he might become, the monk receives all that he needs (but not necessarily all that he wants!) including a subtle, yet essential, quality of trust in God. As this trust develops he feels more and more able to surrender his own self worth, whilst living in a state of total surrender, albeit in total security. With the surrender of the self worth, the monk can even reach a level of living in which the concept of his own “wants” ceases to exert any power over him.
Religious criticism asserts that materialist consumerism interferes with the connection between the individual and God, and so is an inherently immoral style of life; From the Roman Catholic perspective, Thomas Aquinas said that “Greed is a sin against God, just as all mortal sins, in as much as man condemns things eternal for the sake of temporal things”; in that vein, Francis of Assisi, said that spiritual inspiration guided him toward simple living.
Some adapt to monastic life effortlessly, others less so. There is a great need to spend some time in unhurried and un-pressured contemplation of whether or not monastic life in general, and monastic life certain religious order in particular, is suitable for a given candidate. Thus, built into the structure of monastic life the various stages at which the individual is confronted by his own decision to remain in the monastery. While it is possible to see monasticism as a “vocation” or calling, should be viewed as the self-offering of an individual. That self-offering then has to be accepted by a particular monastic community in order for it to bloom and come to fruition.
The importance of the monastery is not, however, limited to the members of the brotherhood. The reality which the monks experience on a daily basis becomes available to friends, pilgrims and visitors who come to the monastery for longer or shorter periods of time. Even the experience of being around the monastic community for a few hours can effect great changes in people’s lives. Since a monastery is ‘de facto’ a place of healing, the life of the community spills over into the lives of the greater community, affording many opportunities for repentance, healing and a deep abiding sense of spiritual happiness.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux once estimated that about one out of three Catholics (~33%) have a vocation to the consecrated life. Today, less one in every twenty-thousand Catholics (~0.005%) are consecrated religious. These statistics, if even remotely accurate, help us to better understand the difficulty Catholics face today when discerning a religious vocation, that is; that many either do not hear the call of God, or they hear it but do not listen.
Saint Teresa of Los Andes OCD stated: ” We no longer belong to the world. Jesus has taken us from the world, that we may follow Him more closely, and He says to us: “If anyone would come after Me, let him take up his cross and follow Me.” And so, Sister, let’s walk after Him. Love demands this, since He has chosen us to make us entirely His own; And when the weight of the cross weighs us down, let us call upon Jesus to help us. […] We do not belong to the worldly spirit any longer, for Jesus has taken from us the spirit of the world in order to clothe us with His Divine Spirit. And what is that spirit…? The spirit of the Cross, the renunciation of our selfish impulses and demands of the flesh; the denial of our appetites and tastes, comforts, etc.”
Realising that discouragement is a tool of our common adversary, we must remind ourselves that all things done for the love of God will bear abundant fruit, especially if the sacrifice is great (“And every one that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands for my name’s sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall possess life everlasting.” – Matt 19:29). Thus, we need not fear our own weaknesses, for the grace we will receive will suffice for us to become saints. But we must correspond with grace. As Our Lord told Saint Maria Faustyna (Kowalska) of the Blessed Sacrament, OLM; “Do not be guided by feeling, because it is not always under your control; but all merit lies in the will.” Indeed, becoming a saint or, loving God to the point of total conformity to His will requires nothing more than a persistent good will to do so. To become a saint, only three things are necessary; love, prayer, and mortification.
With every blessing, and love in JESUS Christ and our Mother The Blessed Virgin MARY,
Given on the Feast of Saint Augustine of Hippo
Dom Ugo Maria er. dio.
St Mary’s Hermitage near Canterbury
To the praise of the glory of God, Christ, the Father’s Word, has through the Holy Spirit, from the beginning chosen certain men, whom he willed to lead into solitude and unite to himself in intimate love. (Prologue of the statutes of the Carthusian Order.)
THE AIM : CONTEMPLATION
Union with God in intimate love is the aim of every Christian life; what singles out the Carthusians is that they strive more directly toward this goal (cf. St 10:1: rectius). The entire life in Charterhouse is geared to this, that “we may the more ardently seek, the more quickly find, the more perfectly possess God himself in the depths of our souls; and thus, with the Lord’s help, we may be enabled to attain to the perfection of love – which is the aim of our Profession and of the whole monastic life – and through it, to obtain beatitude eternal”(St 1,4). To attain ‘the one necessary thing’, the Carthusians developed their own characteristic way of life marked essentially by solitude and silence.
About the importance of contemplation as the ultimate goal of a human being, a Carthusian wrote, in a letter to Thomas Merton : “Most men find their balance in life through action or creation. A totally contemplative life demands a special grace and a special faithfulness. It also requires a maturity, a richness of soul not often found among the converts. At least this seems to be the case from our experience. But to contemplate, in the first sense of the word, i.e. to gaze upon God while staying immobile, repose and purity being both the condition and the result of such a gaze, is truly speaking the real life, the eternal life for which we have been created.”
Contemplative life requires a continual conversion. Each day anew a Carthusian monk tries to make himself transparent for God, to give himself to God with open hands, and with a mind free of worries and concerns. He thus keeps himself in a state of spiritual virginity.
In the interior and exterior silence of his solitude, the monk lives for God, and for God alone. The members of other monastic Orders also seek God in silence or solitude, but for Carthusians silence and solitude are the principal means to find Him. Inner silence – poverty in spirit – creates the empty space necessary to experience God’s presence in our heart, which transcends all words. “Let him make a practice of resorting, from time to time, to a tranquil listening of the heart, that allows God to enter through all its doors and passages.” (St 4,2)
Solitude and silence help the Carthusian monk ‘in a special way’ to become aware of a great mystery that is present in every Christian (St. 2:2). The whole of Carthusian life helps the monks to live in God’s presence: liturgy, work, study, community; everything is done in a climate of solitude and silence.
SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD
“Since our Order is totally dedicated to contemplation, it is our duty to maintain strictly our separation from the world; hence, we are freed from all pastoral ministry – no matter how urgent the need for active apostolate is – so that we may fulfill our special role in the Mystical Body of Christ” (St 3,9).
Carthusians have no special prayer method or technique; the only way is Jesus Christ. In the contemplative life it is not so much what we do but what God does in us. Our task is only to purify our longing of all that is not God, to seek “that purity of heart, to which alone is it promised to see God” (St 6,4).
The holy liberty is characteristic of our vocation. The Order’s rule prescribes few prayers or devotional exercises other than the sacred liturgy, so that each – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and with the help of the superior or spiritual director – may freely choose which means suits him to best attain the goal. On the other hand, whatever might hinder him or prove unprofitable, needs to be let go off, however good and holy it might be in itself.
The Statutes impose a strict observance, within which one is free to follow any Catholic spirituality, as has been done in the past with the Desert Fathers (Egypt, 4th century), Rhineland Mystics, Devotio Moderna, Saint Ignatius, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Theresa, Saint Francis of Sales, and others.
The greatest hindrance in the search for God is without any doubt one’s own will. We attempt to renounce our self-will with the help of the vow of obedience. Obedience comes from a Latin word which means ‘to listen’. Over the years a life of obedience brings about a thorough emptying of oneself, which enables us to open ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit with simplicity and trust. At the same time, this relieves us from all kinds of unrest and distress.
Our life takes place in the darkness and light of Faith. In solitude, we enter the depths of our Faith, which we have received from the Church. With time, the darkness of Faith changes into the light of Faith. We do not see what we believe, although the content of Faith becomes to us so present that we can live from it. When we let the Holy Spirit lead us, He will make us understand the depth and splendor of that, which lives in our hearts.
THE CARTHUSIAN VOCATION: A WORK OF GOD
What distinguishes the life of a Carthusian is not his works or his accomplishments, it is what God does in him, as he abandons himself to His Love. A Carthusian vocation is a work of God.
« Nil tibi laboriosus est quam non laborare,
id est contemnere omnia unde labores oriuntur,
universa scilicet mutabilia »
(Meditationes Guigonis, Meditatio L)
(There is no more urgent task for thee than to be without tasks, that is to leave off all changing reality, from which all tasks emerge. The Meditations of Guigo Ist)
THE JOY AND REWARD OF SILENCE AND SOLITUDE
Here strong men can return into themselves as much as they wish, and abide there; here they can with eager earnestness cultivate the seeds of virtue, and with gladness eat of the fruits of paradise.
Here is acquired that eye, by whose serene gaze the Spouse is wounded with love; that eye, pure and clean, by which God is seen.
Here the solitary is occupied in busy leisure, and at rest in tranquil activity.
Here God rewards his athletes with the longed-for prize: peace that the world does not know, and joy in the Holy Spirit. (St 6,16 – from Bruno’s letter to Raoul)
“vivo autem, jam non ego, qui eram secundum legem, sed vivit in me Christus, id est, vivo ego ipse factus Christus per conformitatem: et per hanc partem habemus operari bonum.” (sanctus Bruno, Expositio in epistolam ad Galatas, Cap. II)