Category Archives: Benedictines

A day at … La Cascinazza Monastery

The Benedictine monks of the Monastery of Saints Peter and Paul have captured my personal, spiritual and theological imagination. Why? Because they seem to be attentive to the “right things” in the Rule of St Benedict and they are asking the right questions when it comes to their desires. Their history and on-going life as Benedictine monks is lived in light of the charism given to the Church in Communion and Liberation is strikingly beautiful and “on target” as far as I am concerned. They, though not perfect by any means, are attentive to their humanity; the monks are are attentive to their “I”, the whole person. Plus, any group of monks to make beer (see this link for an Italian article/photos) can’t be all that bad, can they? Visit the monks’ website for their beer.

Below is the most recent article on the La Casinazza monks was published in the April issue of Traces; other articles on them con be found at the Traces webpage.

In front of Him: Silence, liturgy, work.

We spent 24 hours at the Benedictine monastery founded in 1971 on the edge of Milan, Italy. It is a place where, from bottling beer to plowing the fields, everything has value, because “it is in relation to Christ,” and contributes to generating a people-even in Japan.

by Fabrizio Rossi

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“Do you see this fork? You might not even notice it. Or you might be amazed, because someone placed it on the table. Nothing can spare you from having to move: in the monastery or in any other place, you are the one that makes the difference.” The heart of this place is summed up in these words. At La Cascinazza, the Benedictine monastery in the countryside outside of Milan, supper has just finished. The iron gate that separates this farm from the pastures, the fields, and the Milanese lowlands, is closed. By reciting the “Deo gratias,” the monks have broken their silence.  Out of the 24 hours of the day, “recreation” is the only moment in which they can speak freely. And each word is precious, as I have just been shown by Giorgio, who was among the first men who founded this community almost 40 years ago (today there are 15 of them, including 2 Spaniards and a Brazilian, all with diverse backgrounds). As they gather together in the chapter room at the end of a day spent in silence, a certain confusion might be expected. Instead, no one talks over the other; they speak of how the work went, or they help each other to judge certain facts, or share prayer intentions.

“It is not by chance,” explains Fr. Sergio, the Prior, “that it is in the free moments that what we care about most emerges. In any case, there is no lack of arguments…” Just like a family. Then, at 8:40 pm, all arguments must give way. As silence returns, a monk reads aloud two pages of a work by Fr. Giussani (lately, it is Qui e ora [Here and Now], a collection of dialogues with university students), before closing the day in the chapel with Compline and the singing of “Ave, Regina Caelorum” with the lights out, before the icon of the Virgin Mary.

The life of these men is like the sun rising in the world, for “it is the moment in which humanity begins to be itself,” as Fr. Giussani, who always felt close to the Benedictine experience, used to say to them. From the very beginning, he supported the vocations to the monastic life that began to spring up in the Movement, like those of the CL high school students who-having first lived at Subiaco, one of the monasteries founded by St. Benedict himself-were at the origin of La Cascinazza. These are men who are like a seed in the earth, destined to grow into a great tree-like the two cedars planted in the first years of the monastery, which now dominate the courtyard, facing the central wing of the farmhouse with the chapel on one side and, on the other, the tractor sheds.

Ora et labora. On the side, at the entrance beneath a small colonnade, is a schedule of the hours. Every day is the same: wake-up at 5:00am. At 5:15, Divine Office in the chapel. Breakfast. Lauds at 6:50. Mass at 8:30. Then work. The Angelus at noon, then Sext. Lunch. At 3:00 pm, None. Study. Some work. The Angelus again. Vespers at 7:00 pm. Then, supper, recreation, and Compline… A routine? “The point is not to be constantly doing something different,” says Rafael, from Spain. For a dozen years, he has been tending the garden, the orchard, and now also the monastery beehives. “Just as with a married couple, there is newness if they relive the fascination of the day they first met.”

It is the newness that the monks are experiencing, also ever since they began to make beer, in the old stable converted into a brewery, the result of a search that took years. Ever since they discovered that what they grew themselves was not enough to sustain them, they have tried out a number of trades, even soldering microchips.

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Malt and valves. “Then a friend suggested, ‘Why don’t you try beer?'” recounts Fabrizio, 41, an architect from Alessandria, Italy. “This was a  job that would allow us to maintain our rhythms, in addition to carrying on a tradition that owes a lot to monks.” So Fabrizio and Marco, an economist from Como, Italy,  in 2005 traveled to a Trappist Monastery  in Flanders to learn. After several attempts (“We started out in the kitchen with a pot!”), the first Italian monastic beer was born: “Amber,” to which the dark version, “Bruin,” was later added. “But the real novelty is what is happening amongst us.” In the brewery, along with Fabrizio and Marco, are Quique, who arrived from Madrid in 2000, where he was a diocesan priest, and Pietro, who entered a little over a year ago, fresh from completing medical school. So, an architect, an economist, a theologian, and a doctor… “Each of us is different from the others. But it is the work that makes us grow in communion. That is how Sergio proposed it to us: ‘Get together for one minute a week and ask yourselves why you are together.’ It is a continual discovery.” And there is no lack of struggle: “Think about the person that cleans the bathrooms,” recounts Quique, who spent the first six years armed with gloves and a cleaning rag. “It is not what you would choose… But, as Sergio said to me one day, “in obedience, everything corresponds to you even if nothing corresponds.” Sure, he needed time to understand: “Just as when I was asked to make beer. I objected for a year. ‘I studied philosophy and theology; what do I have to do with malt and valves? The most fundamental thing, however, is not to keep from rebelling, but to give in to the relationship with that You. Now I see that to face someone is worth my while.”

To face someone, in each instant.  The psalm sung a few hours ago, before the world had awoken, comes to mind: “To You I cry out day and night…” Or Mass, celebrated today by Fr. Claudio-who came from the city of Varese 35 years ago and who has the task of guiding the novices-in which one by one the monks brought the intentions that relatives and friends have asked for: “For Silvia’s studies,” “For those without work,” “For Paolo and Pino’s journey in Novosibirsk,” “That Your face may illuminate the desperate…” Behind these walls, where news enters only if someone brings it, such attention to what is happening in the world-in real time-is striking, even if, apparently, not even L’Osservatore Romano or the Italian Bishops Conference newspaper ever arrive on time!

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“We are here to carry the cry of each man to Christ,” explains Fr. Sergio who, in the 1970s, worked on the railroads and, hoping to respond to his own desire for meaning and for justice, threw himself into politics as a labor union activist. “The point is to be serious with one’s own question; otherwise, you can look at any tragedy and remain indifferent. It is what I told the monks this morning in the chapter, reading a letter of St. Bernard: we cannot care for others if we forget ourselves.” Hence, the value of silence: “To help each other recognize Someone present. Far from being mortification, it is what you do when faced with something beautiful: you are speechless. Imagine if Fr. Giussani lived upstairs: you would never hear the vacuum cleaner, but we would always be tensed toward his presence.”

We are interrupted by the bell for lunch. It rings seven times a day just for prayers. And it reminds everyone of the same thing: “It is the Mystery calling. Perhaps you were in your cell, meditating on a wonderful text, and then the bell rings and you are provoked to look at something even greater.” On the way to the refectory, we pass a painting by Letizia Fornasieri: two sunflowers on a table. It is like an offering on the altar: “This is why we are here. And those sunflowers remind us that even eating is a liturgy.” In fact, when the horseshoe-shaped table is full, with the Prior at the center, the food is blessed. Today, there is tomato pasta along with a potato and walnut soufflé, thanks to Pippo, an architect who has lived here since 1985. While the other monks pass the dishes in silence, one of them reads aloud a passage from the Bible or from the Rule, along with other texts for meditation (for the record, today it is Fr. Claudio’s turn, and the texts are some articles from the latest issue of Traces). Everything is for the glory of God. Whether you eat, whether you drink…

Even a coffee. St. Benedict had not foreseen it, but even this is part of his “welcome guests as you would Christ.” The Prior offers it to us after lunch. And, in the meantime, he tells us the story of this place, about the two who had been CL high school students and how in 1968 they entered the monastery of Subiaco, about those who weren’t accepted in 1970, about the esteem of the Abbot-President of Subiaco, Gabriel Brasó, for the experience of those young men and Fr. Giussani. And about this farm south of Milan, discovered by their mutual friend, Paolo Mangini, that would be the place for the monastery, born as a result of all these factors and the proposal of a new community. The proposal came from Bernardo Cignitti, an abbot from Savona who, on the heels of the Council and the exhortations of Paul VI, was deeply concerned about the rebirth of the Benedictine experience: “God writes straight with crooked lines,” comments Bruno, one of the young men not accepted at Subiaco, who 40 years ago was a book binder and now does the same thing in La Cascinazza.  On June 29, 1971 (Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul, to whom the monastery is dedicated), eight monks attended the Mass that inaugurated La Cascinazza. During the homily Fr. Cignitti said, “I offer my life as fertilizer for this community.” In September he died of a tumor. “For us, the relationship with Fr. Giussani was fundamental, above all in those years,” remembers Fr. Sergio. “He always repeated to us that at the center of monastic experience there is no particular practice other than Baptism: if Christ is everything for me, He is for everyone.” In the 1980s, the relationship with the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan, Carlo Maria Martini, was also decisive. He granted recognition to the community and in 1990 erected it as a Priory sui iuris according to diocesan law.

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The shadow of the moon.  With time, a whole host of relationships has been added to these ones, relationships one would least expect, like the Buddhist monks from Mount
Koya in Japan who come to visit them annually, and like the friendship with the American painter William Congdon. Two of his paintings of La Cascinazza by night are hanging on the walls: “The monastery represents the self. The moon is the Mystery present, which illuminates it. From there, the shadow cast onto the courtyard-because out of that relationship a people is born.” In 1959, after a long quest, Bill-as they all refer to him-met the faith, and lived the last 20 years of his life in a small house on the monastery grounds. “He was like one of us: a wounded man, facing the Mystery.”

A wounded man. But a man in relation with that You.  Or, precisely because he was in relationship with that You: “When you fall in love, you are restless until you see that woman again,” explains Rafael. “You miss her, precisely because she exists. She is part of you. That is why we experience nostalgia to the extreme: we are wounded because He exists.”

Time is up. The monks have to return to work. As I pass by the two sunflowers, only one sound breaks the silence: silverware. In the refectory, someone is setting the table.

The holiness of created matter … an appreciation of the Benedictine approach

Carving-Candle.jpgThe Benedictine nuns of The Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, have for several years run a monastic intern program where people come to live the life of the nuns, explore their vocation, gain a fuller appreciation of creation and experience healing (even if the healing isn’t sought). The rhythms of life the nuns have are suited to being more humane and educative. The participants in the monastic internship program are not necessarily thinking of becoming nuns and priests, many pursue their life’s calling as they know it by being teachers, doctors, lawyers or farmers.

A recent monastic intern, Brenna Cussen, wrote an essay on her experience, her desires and the calling she’s received in “Craft and the Holiness of Matter.” Scroll to the bottom of the webpage for the essay.

Being in God’s…according to Saint Benedict

In the days leading up to the feast of Saint Benedict (Jul 11) I thought I’d look at some reflections on his influence on us today. The Saint has set the stage for so much in the Church today, especially for the spiritual life, that we need to pay clear attention to what he has to say.

Living in the presence of God, according to Benedict, shapes
all realms of human life: prayer, work, interaction with creation, and
relationships with other people. “Fellowship,” that great slogan of
our time, was for Benedict no contradiction to a devout love of God. The social
dimension is always already religious, for in the brother as in the sister we
encounter Christ himself.

Faith in God is made concrete for Benedict in a
belief in the good core of the fellow human being. There faith is expressed in
a new way of being with one another. That, for Benedict, is the basis of true
humanity. It is not an uplifting ideal, but reality that confronts us again and
again in daily situations.

Thus Benedict says in the chapter on the monastic
counsel that the abbot is to call all the brothers to counsel because “the
Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” For Benedict, then, it
is clear that the Lord speaks to us through people, that he can speak to us
through anyone, even a younger person who may have less experience and
knowledge.

Anselm Grun, OSB, Benedict of Nursia: His Message For Today

Fr John Brahill elected 5th abbot of Marmion Abbey

John Brahill.jpgFather John Baptist Brahill, 61, was elected by his confreres of Marmion Abbey (Aurora, IL) to the 5th abbot. Abbot John succeeds Abbot Vincent de Paul Battaille who has served Marmion’s abbot for the last 18 years.

The newly elected abbot of Marmion Abbey is a 1967 graduate of Marmion Academy and has been a member of the Benedictine community since 1978 and a priest since 1982.
A little more than a year ago Abbot John returned to Marmion Abbey after serving for many years (1992-2009) as prior of San Jose Priory in Guatemala. Most recently he has served as the master of novices and as the liaison for Abbey Farms.
Abbot John will serve an indefinite term as abbot. The election was confirmed by Abbot Peter Eberle, the Abbot President of the Swiss-American Congregation. He’ll receive the abbatial blessing from the Bishop of Rockford, Thomas G. Doran, at some point in the future.
Abbot Vincent has oversee many significant projects at Marmion including the building of the abbey church (St Augustine of Canterbury), various renovation projects at the same and at the Academy. Likewise the community has grown with a number of vocations.
Marmion was settled by monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in 1933. The monks of operated a military acdaemy, staffed a few parishes and founded a community of monks in Guatamala at the request of Pope John XXIII who asked religious communities to sacrifice 10% of their community to do missionary work. Since 1965, Guatemala’s San Jose Priory educates high school seminarians in the Benedictine spirit.
You may be familiar with the name Marmion, the 19/20th century abbot who is now known as Blessed Columba Marmion. Marmion lived in the years of 1858-1923. Of Irish and French heritage the young Marmion was first ordained a secular priest for the Dublin Archdiocese before becoming a Benedictine monk at the Abbey of Maredsous in Belgium. His gifts recognized Marmion was a founder and later appointed prior of Mont Cesar (Louvain) and later elected abbot of Maredsous 1909, a position he held until his death.
For me, this is amazing series of events because a saintly abbot whose cause for canonization was not begun until 1957 and yet not 10 years after his death Marmion caught the eye of a monk of Saint Meinrad enough to name a monastic foundation for. Now we ask the Lord raise Blessed Columba to sainthood.
You may be interested in viewing the Abbey’s vocation video: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Fidelity to the Monastic Way of Life, Stability, Obedience and Monastic Priesthood.

Fr Austin Murphy elected 10th abbot of St Procopius Abbey

Abbot Austin.jpgToday, the solemnly professed monks of Saint Procopius Abbey, elected Father Austin G. Murphy as their 10th abbot.

The process of electing an abbot follows the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Constitutions of the American Cassinese Congregation (the grouping of monasteries to which St Procopius belongs). Archabbot Douglas of the Archabbey of St Vincent (Latrobe, PA) confirmed the election.
Abbot Austin, 36, assumes the office of abbot immediately and will receive the abbatial blessing from the bishop of Joliet at some point in the future. Before leaving the chapter room, the Abbot President will witness the profession of faith and oath of fidelity required of all major superiors.
Abbot Austin was born in Huntington, NY, on March 25, 1974, professed simple vows on September 6, 1997 and was ordained on July 3, 2004. He prepared for priesthood at the Dominican House of Studies earning the STB/MDiv. Of late he was doing doctoral studies in Theology at the University of Notre Dame.
Abbot Austin succeeds Abbot Dismas Kalcic who has served for the since 2002. He will be moving to Marmion Abbey and Academy to teach in the economics in the school.
Saints Benedict & Scholastica and Saint Procopius, pray for us.

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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