Category Archives: Benedictines

Photographer Monk: Abbot Barnabas engages in contemplation through photography

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!

Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori –new Abbot General of the Cistercian Order

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 the ecclesial movement 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!).

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Abbot 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

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…

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Dad & Mom with Merkel Sept 2 2010.JPG
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Cistercians and Dominicans meet in General Chapter

Generalkapitel.jpgPrayers are requested for the members of the General Chapters of the Cistercian monks and the Dominican Friars who begin their meetings today in Rome. In the coming days both Chapters will deal the Order’s business and hold an election for new leadership: the Cistercians will elect a new Father General and the Dominicans a Master General.

You can follow the Cistercians here and here.
You can follow the Dominicans here.

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Our Lady of Perpetual Help, pray for us.
Saints Robert, Alberic, Stephen and Dominic, pray for us.

Abbot Thomas Confroy, RIP

Abbot Thomas Confroy.jpgA week ago today the monastic community of St Mary’s Abbey (Morristown, NJ), indeed the Church, lost a faithful monk, priest, abbot and friend. Abbot Thomas Confroy made his final passover to the Lord, his Destiny at the abbey on August 23. News of Abbot Thomas’ death can be read here.

When I lived with Abbot Thomas I knew him to be dedicated in praying the holy Rosary and his various oblations on behalf of others. But I didn’t make all the extent of his prayer life and how much it was spent interceding for others, especially his prayer for me, for those who struggle, for those who just needed prayer. How blessed we were that he lived his sacred priesthood! Striking to me was the cursus he followed:
  • Sundays: St Mary’s Abbey, especially those in most need of strength;
  • Mondays: those in religious life;
  • Tuesdays: the faithful departed and the poor souls in purgatory;
  • Wednesdays: his natural family and special requests made to him;
  • Thursdays: the pope, cardinals, bishops, suffering priests, deacons, pastoral ministers, seminarians and vocations to the priesthood;
  • Fridays: for missionaries
  • Saturdays: for himself, for forgiveness if any of his actions harmed others spiritually or emotionally.
Plus, his quite example of suffering patiently and quietly from depression since his retirement and relying upon the Way of the Cross written by Saint Alphonse Liguori.
What can we learn from Abbot Thomas? I believe his witness to Christ as a merciful good shepherd who cares intensely for the sheep, near and far, whole and broken, happy and miserable. Perhaps we ought to take his daily intentions?!?!

Benedictine Oblate and friend Lynn Gordon Latchford wrote a fine panegyric to Abbot Thomas, “God Family Country: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Monk, that can be read here: Abbot Thomas Confroy 2010.pdf.
May Abbot Thomas rest in the arms of the Good Shepherd.
Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, husband of Mary, pray for us.
Saint Benedict of Nursia, pray for us.
Saint Thomas the Apostle, 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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