Category Archives: Benedictines

St Benedict’s Legacy on Work

Our Catholic Faith, I believe, has something important to say to the concerns of post-modernity, especially regarding matters of faith and reason AND faith and the public order. Work –our labor– is one of those things that Catholicism speaks eloquently about. We still live with the legacy of Marx and his kind when it comes to understanding the role and place of work. Contrary to Marxism’s theory of alienation, we would say, human labor does have meaning and there is a dignity to the process of work and the worker.

The following is an excerpt of a 1980 letter sent to the Benedictines by John Paul II on the 1500th anniversary of monastic life. John Paul writes:

Man’s face is often wet with tears impelling him to pray, but these tears do not always spring from sincere compunction or excessive joy. For often tears of sorrow and disturbance  ow from those whose human dignity is disregarded, those who cannot achieve what they justly desire, and who cannot do the work that suits their needs and talents.

St Benedict lived in a civil society deformed by injustices. The human person frequently counted for nothing and was treated as a criminal. In a social structure drawn up in orders, the most wretched were segregated and reduced to slavery. The poor grew poorer, while the rich grew richer and richer. Yet this remarkable man willed to found the monastic community on the prescriptions of the Gospel. He restored man to his integral condition, no matter what social order or rank he came from. He provided for the needs of each according to the norms of a wise distributive justice. He assigned significant duties to individuals, duties which cohered aptly with other duties. He considered the conditions of the weak, but left no room for easy laziness. He allowed space for the cleverness of others lest they feel hemmed in, or rather, so that they might be stimulated to give their best. Thus he removed the pretext of a light and sometimes justified murmuring, and brought about the conditions of true peace.

Man is not reckoned by St Benedict as a kind of nameless machine, which someone uses to get the maximum profit, providing no moral justification to the worker and denying him a just wage. It should be noted that in his time work was usually done by slaves who were denied the status of human beings. Benedict considered work, however it happens to be done, as an essential part of the life and obliges each monk to it, making it a duty in conscience. This labor is to be borne ‘for the sake of obedience and expiation’, since indeed pain and sweat are attached to any truly efficacious effort. But this distress has a redemptive character when it purifies a man from sin, and it ennobles the things carefully worked on and also the environment where the work is done.

St Benedict, leading an earthly life in which work and prayer were properly balanced, in this way happily inserts work into the supernatural way of considering life. By doing so, he helps man to know himself as God’s fellow-worker, and truly he becomes such when his person, acting with a certain creative energy, is enhanced in an all-round way. Human action is carried out in a contemplative manner, and contemplation attains a certain dynamic quality. It influences the work itself and throws light on the ends proposed for the work.

Work is, therefore, not performed solely in order to avoid the idleness which enfeebles minds, but also and indeed chiefly, to enable a man to grow gradually as a person mindful of his duties and careful about them. Also, talents perhaps concealed deep inside the person may be discovered, and brought to fruition for the common good, ‘so that in all things God may be glorified’.

Work is not relieved of its burden of the harsh clash of forces, but a new interior impulse is added to it. The monk is united to God not in spite of his work but through it, because ‘while working with hand or mind he continually raises himself to Christ’.

Thus it happens that even lowly and insignificant work is done with a certain dignity, and becomes a vital part of ‘that sovereign effort by which God alone is sought in solitude and silence, so that to such a life is added the vigor of continual prayer, the sacrifice of praise, celebrated and consummated together, under the influence of cheerful fraternal charity’.

Europe became a Christian land chiefly because sons of St Benedict gave our ancestors a comprehensive instruction, not only teaching them arts and crafts but also infusing into them the spirit of the Gospel which is needed for the protection of the spiritual treasures of the human person. The paganism which was formerly drawn over to the Gospel by the many hands of missionary monks is now spreading more and more in the Western world, and it is both the cause and the effect of the loss of the Christian way of esteeming work and its dignity.

Unless Christ endows human action with a constant lofty meaning, the worker becomes the slave –a special kind of slave unique to modern times– of profit and industry. On the contrary, Benedict affirms the urgent necessity of giving a spiritual character to work, enlarging the purpose of human labour so that it can escape the excessive application of the technical arts and the excessive greed for what is useful to one’s self.

(An excerpt from Pope St John Paul II’s 1980 Apostolic Letter for the Fifteenth Centenary of the Birth of St Benedict)

Organic Vinegar –monastic style

brother-victorOutside Poughkeepsie, NY there is a Benedictine Hermit, Brother Victor-Antione d’Avila Latourrette who lives his vocation with intensity. His residence is called Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery.
 
You may know Brother Victor from his various books, including “Twelve Months of Monastery Soups”, “From a Monastery Kitchen: The Classic Natural Foods Cookbook” and “Sacred Feasts: From a Monastery Kitchen” among others.
He is quite the monk and son of St Benedict.
 
Here is a nice write-up in yesterday’s Poughkeepsie Journal:
 

Dorothy Day and the Benedictines

I found the following file on my computer this morning by accident –I wasn’t looking for it, but I was happy to find it. I’ve been harping on the Benedictine influence upon Dorothy Day and the importance the Rule of Benedict and the influence various monks had Day. For example, we have a good example of Dom Virgil Michel working with Dorothy Day at the Catholic Worker. Another is Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila Latourrette. Day’s sainthood cause is being studied at the moment and these things matter, in my opinion.

Virgil Michel, O.S.B., and the Benedictine Influence on the CW Movement:

Virgil Michel, Fellow Worker in Christ
by Dorothy Day

To us at the Catholic Worker, Father Virgil was a dear friend and adviser, bringing to us his tremendous strength and knowledge. He first came to visit us at our beginnings on East Fifteenth Street. He was like Peter Maurin in the friendly simple way he would come in and sit down, starting right in on the thought that was uppermost in his mind, telling us of the work he was engaged in at that particular moment and what he was planning for the future. He was at home with everyone, anywhere. He could sit down at a table in a tenement house kitchen, or under an apple tree at the farm, and talk of St. Thomas and today with whoever was at hand. He had such faith in people, faith in their intelligence and spiritual capacities, that he always gave the very best he had generously and openheartedly.

He was interested in everything we were trying to do, and made us feel, at all the Catholic Worker groups, that we were working with him. When he came in it was as though we had seen him just a few weeks before. He was at home at once, he remembered everybody, he listened to everybody.

Orate Frates, January, 1939

St Scholastic Priory Come and See

Come and See

A Come and See is prepared for 17-19 June at St. Scholastica Priory, Petersham, MA.

Benedict Option is misunderstood

The Benedict Option is, in my opinion, is misunderstood. Here is another perspective to consider.
 
There is a dizzy-ing amount of thinking now in the public. My first inclination is to say that not all of it is worth one’s time. It is, however, true to say that an educated person is going to want to deeply think about the issues raised in the Option. Whether you believe the line written by Alasdair MacIntyre “We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict,” should have ever been written, or that the author regrets writing it is now in the public form and people need to digest it appropriately and reasonably.
 
Rod Dreher is opening the door to deeper understanding of the Christian life and our engagement in it. Of course, we nee to be docile (to have some discernment with) to the Holy Spirit –this is required. What I see are knee jerk reactions and romanticisms. There is no doubt that an “option” needs to be interrogated, verified, and subjected even to ecclesial review and insight.
 
As Dom Gérard once said, “Monks built Europe unintentionally. Their adventure is primarily, if not exclusively, interior. They are moved by thirst for the absolute, thrust for another world. Thus monasteries, pointing silently to heaven, are an obstinate reminder that there is another world of which this world is but the image, the herald, and the prefiguration.”
 
One way to deepen your thinking on the Benedict Option is to read St. John Paul’s work on the vocation of Christians, Christifidelis laici and the Benedict Option material together. Then look at the way we worship, then come together to speak about the Dreher proposal.

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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