Category Archives: Benedictine saints & blesseds

St Hildegard of Bingen

st-hildegard

Saint Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179) is a most attractive person with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, a keen intellect and good zeal of a Benedictine nun. Knowing her history you would say she is a polymath. She said once, “There is the Music of Heaven in all things, and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing.”

For many years it was hoped that Hildegard would be officially raised to the altar and be declared a Doctor of the Church. In deed, it was Pope Benedict who gave the Church this supreme gift of this saintly woman a witness to the new evangelization. Benedict stated:

In Saint Hildegard of Bingen there is a wonderful harmony between teaching and daily life. In her, the search for God’s will in the imitation of Christ was expressed in the constant practice of virtue, which she exercised with supreme generosity and which she nourished from biblical, liturgical and patristic roots in the light of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Her persevering practice of obedience, simplicity, charity and hospitality was especially visible. In her desire to belong completely to the Lord, this Benedictine Abbess was able to bring together rare human gifts, keen intelligence and an ability to penetrate heavenly realities.

Hildegard’s eminent doctrine echoes the teaching of the Apostles, the Fathers and writings of her own day, while it finds a constant point of reference in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastic liturgy and the interiorization of sacred Scripture are central to her thought which, focusing on the mystery of the Incarnation, is expressed in a profound unity of style and inner content that runs through all her writings.

The teaching of the holy Benedictine nun stands as a beacon for homo viator. Her message appears extraordinarily timely in today’s world, which is especially sensitive to the values that she proposed and lived. For example, we think of Hildegard’s charismatic and speculative capacity, which offers a lively incentive to theological research; her reflection on the mystery of Christ, considered in its beauty; the dialogue of the Church and theology with culture, science and contemporary art; the ideal of the consecrated life as a possibility for human fulfilment; her appreciation of the liturgy as a celebration of life; her understanding of the reform of the Church, not as an empty change of structure but as conversion of heart; her sensitivity to nature, whose laws are to be safeguarded and not violated.

For these reasons the attribution of the title of Doctor of the Universal Church to Hildegard of Bingen has great significance for today’s world and an extraordinary importance for women. In Hildegard are expressed the most noble values of womanhood: hence the presence of women in the Church and in society is also illumined by her presence, both from the perspective of scientific research and that of pastoral activity. Her ability to speak to those who were far from the faith and from the Church make Hildegard a credible witness of the new evangelization.

(Pope Benedict XVI, 7 October 2012)

St Gregory the Great

Throne of Pope Saint Gregory the GreatToday is the feast of Saint Gregory the Great, monk and Roman Pontiff. In the Mass Collects for Saint Gregory there is reference to truth and charity. The connection is inseparable to the point of being real clear for our own apostolic life.

Here is a picture of the Throne of Pope Saint Gregory the Great inside his former home now called the Church of San Gregorio on Clelian Hill, Rome. The throne is a visible sign of the teaching authority of the Pontiff. Several years I had the chance to sit in the chair for a brief second. And guess what: I am still not a pontiff. There is a message here don’t you think?

The Clelian Hill monastery has a colony of Benedictine Camaldolese monks with a convent  the Missionaries of Charity next door.

Saint Gregory pray for Pope Francis, and for us.

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster –man of God, man of holiness

Schuster osbWe commemorate the 62nd anniversary of the death of the Blessed Cardinal Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, Archbishop of Milan.

Cardinal Schuster was born in Rome in 1880 to German parents, entered the Benedictine Abbey of St Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. After ordination to the priesthood of Jesus Christ, he served his community as master of novices and prior before being elected abbot and appointed procurator general of the Cassinese Congregation of Benedictines (now the Subiaco-Cassinese Congregation. He is also served as president of the Pontifical Oriental Institute. In 1929, Pius XI named him to See of Milan, the same episcopal See as Saint Ambrose and St Charles Borromeo. Schuster had a rapid rise in the Church structure by being created a Cardinal less than a month after his appointment to Milan; he was consecrated bishop by the Pope in the Sistine Chapel.

Schuster had several difficult years as the Shepherd of Milan with rise of Fascism and then advent of WWII. What is keenly recalled of Schuster as bishop is his solicitude of the people having visited every parish of the diocese five times, holding several diocesan synods, writing several pastoral letters and founding a seminary in Venegono. Monk or not, he was a true apostle for the good of the Church’s holiness and engagement in the world.

The funeral Mass was offered by the Cardinal Roncalli, now St. John XXIII. In 1985, the cardinal’s his tomb was opened and his mortal remains were found to be intact; the monk-bishop-cardinal-man of God was beatified by Saint John Paul II on May 12, 1996. The relics were given for the veneration of the faithful in one of the side-altars of the Duomo.

One of the things I treasure of Blessed Schuster is his scholarship in the Liber Sacramentorum, known in its English translation as The Sacramentary. It was written while he was Benedictine monk with the supreme reverence for tradition, adoration and intellect. With some things the volumes are dated yet the work remains an invaluble reference point for liturgical scholarship today.

To the seminarians of Milan he taught in a characteristically Benedictine manner of the futility of ministry without personal holiness:

I have no memento to give you apart from an invitation to holiness. It would seem that people are no longer convinced by our preaching; but faced with holiness, they still believe, they still fall to their knees and pray. People seem to live ignorant of supernatural realities, indifferent to the problems of salvation. But when an authentic saint, living or dead passes by, all run to be there. Do not forget that the devil is not afraid of our [parish] sports fields and of our movie halls: he is afraid, on the other hand, of our holiness.

With the Church we pray,

Almighty God, through your grace, Blessed Alfredo Ildefonso Schuster, by his exemplary virtue, built up the flock entrusted to him. Grant that we, under the guidance of the Gospel, may follow his teaching and walk in sureness of life, until we come to see you face to face in your eternal kingdom. 

Blessed Ildefonso Schuster, pray for us!

St Bernard of Clairvaux

St BernardI always look forward, for some reason, to the feast day of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Not sure why, but it may have something to do with marking the progress of the summer (just like the Transfiguration and the Assumption does) but also because his youthful calling to serve God in a profound way is a true inspiration.

Of the saint it is said:

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

The historians tell us that Bernard, at 22, together with his four  brothers, and 25 friends, joined the relatively new abbey of Citeaux; we also know that his father and another brother joined him.

Early in his monastic life he was called upon to be an abbot founding the Abbey of Clairvaux. In time, his abbey had over 700 monks with 160 daughter houses. Bernard was the one to give the Cistercian reform of Benedictine monasticism its vitality.

His doctrine was clear and straight-forward. His sermons were of the highest quality. His pastoral work included fighting the Albigensian heresy, helping the Second Crusade, ending the schism of anti-Pope Anacletus II, and teaching monks among whom was the future Blessed Pope Eugene III. Bernard was an ardent lover of the Blessed Virgin Mary and called himself “Beatae Mariae cappellane” – the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Chaplain.

Pope Pius VIII called Bernard the “Mellifluous Doctor” for his eloquence and named him a Doctor of the Church

Here is a sermon:

I love because I love, I love that I may love

Love is sufficient of itself, it gives pleasure by itself and because of itself. It is its own merit, its own reward. Love looks for no cause outside itself, no effect beyond itself. Its profit lies in its practice. I love because I love, I love that I may love. Love is a great thing so long as it continually returns to its fountainhead, flows back to its source, always drawing from there the water which constantly replenishes it. Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return; the sole purpose of his love is to be loved, in the knowledge that those who love him are made happy by their love of him.

The Bridegroom’s love, or rather the love which is the Bridegroom, asks in return nothing but faithful love. Let the beloved, then, love in return. Should not a bride love, and above all, Love’s bride? Could it be that Love not be loved?

Rightly then does she give up all other feelings and give herself wholly to love alone; in giving love back, all she can do is to respond to love. And when she has poured out her whole being in love, what is that in comparison with the unceasing torrent of that original source? Clearly, lover and Love, soul and Word, bride and Bridegroom, creature and Creator do not flow with the same volume; one might as well equate a thirsty man with the fountain.

What then of the bride’s hope, her aching desire, her passionate love, her confident assurance? Is all this to wilt just because she cannot match stride for stride with her giant, any more than she can vie with honey for sweetness, rival the lamb for gentleness, show herself as white as the lily, burn as bright as the sun, be equal in love with him who is Love? No. It is true that the creature loves less because she is less. But if she loves with her whole being, nothing is lacking where everything is given. To love so ardently then is to share the marriage bond; she cannot love so much and not be totally loved, and it is in the perfect union of two hearts that complete and total marriage consists. Or are we to doubt that the soul is loved by the Word first and with a greater love?

St Benedict –our Father

Sts Benedict, Placid and MaurusAt the Introit, we sing today on the feast of Saint Benedict:

Let us all rejoice in the Lord, celebrating the feast in honor of Benedict, in whose happy solemnity. The angels rejoice and praise the Son of God.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised In the city of our God, on his holy mountain. (Ps. 47:2)

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI wrote this about this man of blessings:

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with his Rule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

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]yahoo.com.
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