Benedictines: September 2010 Archives

Thumbnail image for IMGP1279.JPGFor a number of years now, when I am in Rome, I stay at the Benedictine Abbey of Sant'Anselmo on the Aventine Hill. The Benedictine monks have been on the Aventine since property was purchased from Pope Leo XIII in the late 19th century. Technically, Sant'Anselmo is not a functioning abbey as other abbeys with a stable monastic community but it's a house of studies for monks and others.  There is an order for the day of prayer, Mass, study, and work but one does not become a monk of Sant'Anselmo as you would become a monk of Saint Vincent's. At the Anselmo you'll find a "permanent" faculty and staff, and a group of monks who work in the Abbot Primate's offices and some monks who work at other universities or at the Vatican, but no monk vows stability to Sant'Anselmo.

Sant'Anselmo serves as the home of several entities: the Abbot Primate (Abbot Notker Wolf), the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, the Mabillion Institute, and the College of the Theology and Philosophy.

On Ash Wednesday the pope begins the season of Lent by starting with prayer at Sant'Anselmo before making a procession with the Benedictines and Dominicans to the nearby Santa Sabina for the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Two videos will give you sense of the Anslemo: video 1 and video 2. Sorry, the first one is in Italian but the images are good and it gives a good walking tour of the house, while the second gives a sense of other places on the Aventine but video footage includes the Anselmo.

This week in Rome the Communio Internationalis Benedictinarum (CIB) for a congress, their 6th, on "Hope in Benedictine Spirituality."

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Benedictine nuns and sisters from Europe, Africa and America are attending the meeting. The CIB is meeting on the Aventine Hill at the Primatial Abbey of Saint Anselm (known in Italian as Sant'Anselmo), home to the Abbot Primate , Notker Wolf (pictured left) who heads the confederation of Benedictine monks and nuns, the Pontifical Liturgical Institute, the Mabillion Institute and the college for theological studies for those preparing for ordination, earning degrees in theology and monastic studies (the general link for all these institutes for higher learning is here).

Zenit ran an interview today with Sister Maricarmen Bracamontes de Torreon, a Benedictine sister from Mexico who talked to aspects of hope and how understanding this virtue is key in Benedictine spirituality, and thus for all Christians. Sacred Scripture instructs us to look at how God works with us, that is, He gazes on us with faithfulness, compassion and mercifully. Looking to the holy Rule, Saint Benedict tells us "not to despair of God's mercy" (4.74). Sister Maricarmen said the participants are keenly aware that there is "only one Benedictine heart beats at the bottom of our universal diversity, and on the other, there is no doubt that we are going through a historical moment of darkness and we need a light, precisely like St. Benedict, which shines on high and gives us clarity in the midst of darkness." 

Two questions of the interview are worth thinking about here on the Communio blog:

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ZENIT: Can we then speak of a reflection from a holistic-rational perspective?

Sister Bracamontes: The Benedictine way leads to a process of integration that embraces the different dimensions of the human conscience: cognitive (the mind), affective (the heart), ethics and morals (the will and all its capacities), religious (the soul).

This integration enables us to love in a unified way and it is the condition to advance on the path of conversion. "However, the workshop where we must practice all these things diligently is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community" (Rule of Benedict, 4.78). The monastic dynamic animates the processes of integration in those who live in the "monastery," which is the place where we ask God with the most insistent prayers to bring to completion the divine work of our lives: that they all may be one.

If we persevere, trying to live in the "conversatio," the experience of God's unconditional love gradually integrates all the dimensions of our being, and thus we become unified in ourselves and in the diversity and plurality that characterizes us. The result of all this is that we live with transparency and consistency, that we do not separate our judgments from our feelings, or our conduct from our belief. In this way, our integrity and social and personal responsibility will not allow us "to say one thing and do another," or to establish ourselves in a life of contradictions and inconsistencies.

ZENIT: At present the Church is facing difficult moments. Does it call for hope?

Sister Bracamontes: Obviously. I think that some sectors of the Church have slipped up in the dialogue with the signs of the times that was so encouraged by the Second Vatican Council.

Those signs have revealed that for centuries, both in the society as well as the Church, efforts were dedicated to contain diversity and plurality, so characteristic of humanity. There are many human groups, with different views of reality; they are arriving on the first plane and ask that they be recognized, respected and integrated. The new methods of understanding and of discovery of humanity leave antiquated the old systems of relationship based on dominion, submission and marginalization. These systems of the past considered some human beings superior to others, based on race, gender, social class, ideology, religion, etc.

In face of a clearer awareness of the common dignity of all human beings, the absence of dialogue between those who are open to the signs of the times and those who continue to adhere to visions of the past and close their mind and heart to the historic change that we are experiencing, calls for hope.

From a perspective of faith, we are conscious and are convinced that the whole of humanity, with its differences, has been created with equal dignity in the divine image and likeness. We are children of God and sisters and brothers among ourselves in Christ, who is our peace (Ephesians 2:14), and in him all discrimination and marginalization is overcome (Galatians 3:26-28). From this awareness we hear the call and we open ourselves with wisdom and maturity to our world with its urgent need to recognize diversity, to promote integration and to encourage dialogue and participation. Hence, many challenges arise.

I love photography. There is something attractive in looking at old and new, color and black-and-white photographs. And every photograph tells a story because each picture is the result of a friendship with reality. In photography I see a quality of the beautiful that is drawn out the subject: there is an innate sense of the sensual that leads me to an act of contemplation; it also leads me to a deeper sense of my own humanity and to God; the same can be said of music and taking in an art show of the renaissance period (as I did last week at the Yale Art Gallery). I think back to my friend Kevin Locke who had a wonderful eye for the beautiful as well as my friend Brother Mark Kammerer, a Benedictine monk of St Louis Abbey in St Louis, MO, who himself is an excellent photographer who discerns the beautiful in images. Kevin and Brother Mark see life with a keen eye for grace's activity.

You'll get a better sense of what I am talking about if you watch the Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly article called the "Photographer Monk," which highlights the good work of Abbot Barnabas Senecal. For him, the photographer engages in a practice of monastic mindfulness that finds him being aware of God's presence today, with me and with the world as Saint Benedict tells us to do. He's spiritually, fraternally and intellectually nourished by taking and gazing upon pictures because they are tools to communicate, but gifts for seeing the daily activity of God and man and woman. For him, and certainly for me, photography helps us to see something God wants us to see anew. What does Christ want me to see in thus-and-such image?

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There's also an extended interview with Father Abbot Barnabas here.

The great thing about this story is that it reminds us of the need for beauty in our lives. Something Father Michael Morris at Dunwoodie Seminary always reminded me of. Plus, Abbot Barnabas keeps a live the tradition of monks doing art and advancing cultural sensibility. Where would we be without our monastic artists?

This story about the abbot made me think of the last talk the Pope gave to artists in 2009. At that time Benedict reminded us that an artist has a vocation (ministry?) to know and to engage infinity: the true, the beautiful, and the good; the artist's vocation is about an engagement with reality that scientists don't have because art shows us humanity's desire for its ultimate destiny. The artist, unlike any other vocation save for the priesthood, shows the life of the soul and its that reaches out, grasps and desires to understand. My experience and perhaps yours too, is that an artist lives in friendship with his or her artwork. It is not mere blood-sweat-and-toil but a genuine flourishing of communion. Likewise, the artist is contemplative in his or her search for God and happiness and shows us the horizons --if there are any limits of the search--  in their medium. For the Pope, and I hope for us, there is a belief that an artist lives a vocation given by God. Hence, the making of art is not a career opportunity for money, power and fame, it is not about a person's escape into an irrational, deceitful, superficial realm but art "fills us with new hope, gives us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life."

Abbot Barnabas' brief interview doesn't talk about transcendent power of beauty in art, but I think he would agree that nothing replaces beauty's search for the infinite in our lives and the transformative power it has for heart and mind, faith and reason of humanity. My intuition is that the abbot's sensibility tends toward the harmony between being truly human and the reality of the beautiful is made concrete in snapping a photo for the sake of whole person and not just for the sake of being creative.

Let me draw this reflection to a close by appealing to the Pope's closing closing remarks to the artists when he said something important that I think bears repeating about art because the abbot also intimated it, and it is useful for our lectio:

... it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God. Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality. This close proximity, this harmony between the journey of faith and the artist's path is attested by countless artworks that are based upon the personalities, the stories, the symbols of that immense deposit of "figures" --in the broad sense-- namely the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures. The great biblical narratives, themes, images and parables have inspired innumerable masterpieces in every sector of the arts, just as they have spoken to the hearts of believers in every generation through the works of craftsmanship and folk art, that are no less eloquent and evocative.

The Abbey of Saint Benedict (Atchison,KS) founded in 1857 is home to 50+ Benedictine monks who, among many things, run the well-regarded Benedictine College.

The College is getting the more and more recognized as a place to live the Rule of Saint Benedict in the formation of the whole person. Recently, Benedictine College dedicated its new nursing center in honor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and they've broken ground for a new academic building. May Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica intercede for the monks and laity at BC!
Generalabt Maurus Lepori von Hauterive .jpgThe General Chapter of the Order of Cistercians elected Dom Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori, 52, as their new Abbot General, succeeding Abbot Mauro Estevez. It is reported that Lepori received 109 of 134 votes. His work as abbot general will last for the next 10 years with about 1700 monks and nuns of the Order of Cistercians throughout the world.

Abbot Mauro-Giuseppi, until now has been a monk and the abbot of the Abbey of Hauterive. He entered the abbey in 1984 and was elected abbot on May 16, 1994 when he was 35 years old. The Cistercian of Hauterive is outside of Fribourg, Switzerland. Abbot Mauro earned a licentiate in philosophy and theology from the Catholic University of Fribourg. The new abbot general is a Swiss-Italian born (from Lugano) monk who, before his entrance into the cloister was an active follower of Communion and Liberation (but entrance into the monastery only meant that he didn't attend all the meetings of CL but he kept up with work of the Movement!).

Simon called peter.jpg Mauro-Giuseppi is the author of Simon, Called Peter: In the Company of a Man in Search of God. The Forward to the book was written by Angelo Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice, a close friend of the late Monsignor Luigi Giussani and who continues to be active in following Communion and Liberation.

A 2003 interview with Abbot Mauro at the CL Rimini Meeting can be read here and a brief article in Traces by the abbot can be read here.

Saints Robert, Alberic, & Stephen, pray for us.
Saint Bernard, pray for us.
Saint Aelred, pray for us.
Saint Alice, pray for us.
Saint Jeanne de Lestonnac, pray for us.
The English Cistercian Martyrs, pray for us.

Some pictures today

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I went to Mass this morning at the Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT and then spent the morning meeting with Mother Lucia. We had a wonderful conversation about life, God, Church, monastic life. My father brought home the finished replica of the 1910 Flying Merkel. Some pictures follow (more of the abbey on the flikr page)

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Dad & Mom with Merkel Sept 2 2010.JPG
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About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]



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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Benedictines category from September 2010.

Benedictines: August 2010 is the previous archive.

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