Category Archives: Benedictines

Keeping Belmont Abbey green

The weather at Belmont Abbey was terrific today: it was a bright, sunny and a cool day perfect for relaxing work outside. I loved it because the weather here beats the weather my parents have in New England. I consider today to be a wonderful grace. But I digress. Four of us planted some fruit trees (3 pears and a cherry) and 3 blueberry bushes. Father John ordered these things and is now unable to work in the garden so we volunteered our time assist a senior confrere. Working in the garden is preferable to painting!

Gardening proves to be a relaxing things for me plus it demonstrates my attentiveness to the environment which I think is increasingly critical for humanity if humanity hopes to continue to thrive well into this and the next millennium. In recent years the Pope and other respected theologians have been considering an appropriate approach to the issue of climate change and related matters and how best to proceed in protecting the environment. One example of the Pope’s commitment to protecting the environment was his agreeing to install a brand system of solar energy on the Pope Paul VI Auditorium back in the autumn; it was a generous gift of a German solar energy company.

Salesian Father Manilo Sodi, theology professor of Pontifical Salesian University, has said that we “need to counter the position of those who consider nature to be above or at the same level as the human person.” Moreover, Sodi said that “man should not abuse nature,” and added that “the transcendental nature of the human person and his relationship with the Creator and with other creatures, favors an ecological use of nature that does not dehumanize the person nor degrade the environment.”

Planting 4 trees and 3 bushes wouldn’t t be considered a giant leap forward in keeping the earth green and protecting the environment from toxicities; but it is a small step in a right and good direction. Other Benedictine monasteries in the USA and abroad do considerable more than we do in “greening” the property, including the living space of the monks. And so the effort continues….

For now, I am satisfied with keeping the Abbey “green” by planting a few new trees and bushes, which was relaxing after the Holy Synaxis and brunch. This is the good example of Benedictine monks.

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Communion & Liberation at Belmont Abbey

Today about 25 friends who follow, that is, are a part of Communion & Liberation from around the Carolinas came to Belmont Abbey Basilica to celebrate the Sacrifce of the Mass on the occasion of the 4th anniversary of death of Monsignor Luigi Giussani and the 27th year of the recognition of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. Redemptorist Father Joseph Dione, a local pastor, was the celebrant of the Mass.

After, John Neill, the CL Responsible for the Carolinas, led us on a walk around the grounds of Belmont Abbey College stopping at the Saint Joseph Adoration Chapel and at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes to offer a prayer of thanksgiving for the graces received today and in the past year. This was especially important to recognize since Our Lady of Lourdes is important to the life of CL  because it was something that Giussani taught us: go to the BVM. So we feel very connected with the history of our charism. The group then went to dinner at a local restuarant but I had to ring bells and pray Vespers. Our group joined about 30 other groups in the USA and countless others around the world who did the same thing for the same reason.

It was a beautiful day in which we gave came together as friends to give thanks to God. Our gathering keeps the companionship and the Benedictine roots of CL alive. Some photos follow.

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Life in the abbey today

In the monastic world one can sometimes be sheltered from some of the concerns of “outside world”: the “fast life” for example. But for many of us the true living of reality never goes away. How could it?  Like the rest of the world the monks have to be concerned about some external things like family, friends, keeping the apostolate alive if it is for God’s great glory, concern for one another, etc. The added feature to our life, as it is similar to all serious Christians is that we have see the about the seriousness of living the balance of prayer, study, work and holy leisure, the monastic way of life while keeping reality (God & humanity) in front of with the concern for the healthcare for the elderly, formation of the young, the maintenance of the buildings and grounds, diet and exercise, communication of the charism to our students, colleagues, benefactors and alumni, concern for the welfare of the poor and the ill, care for the environment and so on. As I progress in this life I am learning better the dynamics of interpersonal relationships, my own need for happiness, love, development of the intellect & affect, and other things that contribute to happy and truth-filled living.


Yesterday (Thursday) we met for our weekly meeting with the abbot to discuss Lectio Divina, a practice of reading/praying/contemplating the Scriptures from within the heart of the Church’s Liturgy. We are reading the book Praying the Bible: An Introduction to Lectio Divina by the late Archbishop Mariano Magrassi, OSB. It is a wonderful synthesis of all the elements that contribute to this experience of coming to know Christ through the ancient yet ever contemporary practice of holy reading of Scripture.  I am ever mindful of Saint Jerome’s didctum: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” More on this topic later but I have to say, read this book!


House work is never done, ask my mother, or ask anyone who owns a home. We spent the last week painting various parts of the abbey and today we spent the morning preparing the guest rooms.

Caution sign.jpgThis afternoon we went to the US Olympic training facility for white river rafting. It was a very pleasant afternoon away from the monastery with confreres enjoying time in the fresh air and sun with a brief walk in nature before having a beer and kettle chips.


Tonight, we are watching the 1964 classic “Becket” with Sir John Gielgud, Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole; this is one my favorite movies of all time.

These are the things which make life in the abbey.

Pope Benedict speaks on Saint Bede

St Bede.jpgThe saint on whom we reflect today is called Bede. He was born in Northeast England, in fact in Northumbria, in the year 672/673. He himself narrates that, when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the abbot of the neighboring Benedictine monastery, to be educated. “In this monastery,” he recalls, “I lived from then on, dedicating myself intensely to the study of Scripture, while observing the discipline of the Rule and the daily effort to sing in church, I always found it pleasant to learn, teach and write” (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, V, 24). In fact, Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages because he was able to make use of many precious manuscripts that his abbots, who went on frequent trips to the Continent and to Rome, were able to bring back to him. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to have many friendships with the principal personalities of his time, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited. Falling ill, he did not cease to work, always having an interior joy that was expressed in prayer and song. He concluded his most important work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with this invocation: “I pray, O good Jesus, who benevolently has allowed me to draw from the sweet words of your wisdom, that I may reach you one day, source of all wisdom, and to always be before your face.” Death came to him on May 26, 735: It was Ascension day.

St Bede symbol.jpgSacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede’s theological reflection. Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which Bede worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a Christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: On one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as “a” sacred Scripture.

The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions (it is what he calls “concordia sacramentorum”). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones, cemented by the charity of the Spirit. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Iro-Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bede witnessed the universality of the Church grow, which is not restricted to a certain culture, but is made up of all the cultures of the world which must open themselves to Christ and find in him their point of arrival.
Eccl His.jpgAnother topic loved by Bede is the history of the Church. After having taken interest in the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviewed the history of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the Cronica Maiora, Bede traces a chronology that would become the basis of the universal calendar “ab incarnatione Domini.” Up to then, time was calculated from the foundation of the city of Rome. Bede, seeing that the true point of reference, the center of history is the birth of Christ, gave us this calendar that reads history beginning with the Lord’s Incarnation. He registered the first six ecumenical councils and their development, presenting faithfully the Christian, Mariological and Soteriological doctrine, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, iconoclastic and neo-Pelagian heresies. Finally, he wrote with documentary rigor and literary expertise the already mentioned Ecclesiastical History of the English People, for which he is recognized as “the father of English historiography.” The characteristic traits of the Church that Bede loved to evidence are: a) its catholicity, as fidelity to tradition together with openness to historical developments, and as the pursuit of unity in multiplicity, in the diversity of history and cultures, according to the directives that Pope Gregory the Great gave to the apostle of England, Augustine of Canterbury; b) its apostolicity and Romanness: In this regard he considers of primary importance to convince the whole Iro-Celtic Churches and that of the Picts to celebrate Easter uniformly according to the Roman calendar. The calculation elaborated scientifically by him to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, and thus of the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the text of reference for the whole Catholic Church.
Bede was also an illustrious teacher of liturgical theology. In the homilies on the Sunday Gospels and those of feast days, he develops a true mystagogy, educating the faithful to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of the faith and to reproduce them consistently in life, while expecting their full manifestation of the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we will be admitted in offertory procession to the eternal liturgy of God in heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ.” In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is “self-generated,” or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes “Mother of God,” participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different “states of life”:

a) For scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of the Word of God to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the “Catholic simplicity,” with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.

b) For pastors, that for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the “Our Father,” and the “Creed” and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John’s Gospel in the common language.

c) For consecrated people who are dedicated to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life through ascesis and contemplation, Bede recommends to take care of the apostolate — no one has the Gospel just for himself, but must regard it as a gift also for others — either by collaborating with the Bishops in pastoral activities of various types in favor of the young Christian communities, or being available to the evangelizing mission to the pagans, outside their own country, as “peregrini pro amore Dei.”
Placed in this perspective, in the commentary to the Canticle of Canticles, Bede presents the synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the propagation of the Word of God. Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, “bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization” — clear is the reference to the word of the Canticle of Canticles (1:5), where the Bride says: “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am brown, but beautiful) — attempts to till other fields or vines and to establish among the new populations “not a provisional bell but a stable dwelling, namely, to insert the Gospel in the social fabric and the cultural institutions. In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to the religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat.” He teaches them how to pray constantly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy,” offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that also in their small domestic realm they can exercise “the priestly office of pastors and guides,” by giving Christian formation to the children and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) “capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion (“Epist. ad Ecgbertum,” ed. Plummer, p. 419).
St Bede2.jpgThe fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede enjoyed already in life, served to merit him the title of “Venerable.” He is thus called also by Pope Sergius I, when he wrote his abbot in 701 requesting to make him come temporarily to Rome for consultation on questions of universal interest. The great missionary of Germany, Bishop St. Boniface (d. 754), requested the archbishop of York several times and the abbot of Wearmouth to have some of his works transcribed and to send him to them so that they and their companions could also enjoy the spiritual light he emanated. A century later Notkero Galbulo, abbot of St. Gall (d. 912), being aware of the extraordinary influence of Bede, equated him with a new sun that God had made arise not in the East but in the West to illumine the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that, with his works, Bede contributed effectively to the making of a Christian Europe, in which the different populations and cultures amalgamated among themselves, conferring on them a uniform physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith.

Let us pray that also today there be personalities of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole Continent united; let us pray so that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a profoundly human and genuinely Christian Europe.


(Wednesday General Audience, Rome, 18 February 2009)

Past days in the monastery

Life in a monastery is never boring. Living our lives seriously hardly leaves room for idleness. The abbey welcomes Christ in the visitors, including vocation guests, we receive. The presence of guests reminds us that we Christ is among us. And I am of the opinion that a religious house should rarely be without guests. The round of prayer, work, reading, dining (feeding is crude, so we politely dine) and private time is a lot. At the moment, time for self is not as plentiful as I want or need especially since I have to prepare for teaching and I want to do some study.


mask wall.jpgOne of my least favorite domestic chores is painting. Actually, I hate painting (probably because my father never really liked it either) and I only initiate the task when it is needed, or asked. I’d rather pay professionals to do the job of preparing the walls, painting and cleaning up. Here at Mary, Help of Christians (Belmont) Abbey I’ve been asked along with two others to paint a few hallways and a room. The companions are fine to work with, though one drives the work, getting mucked up with paint isn’t my idea of fun. BUT the walls do look good and the abbot and other monks are pleased. Happy to oblige. I am just hoping that we don’t have to paint the very long outside porch. The passage from Saint Paul comes to mind: if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Hmmmm, I like to eat….

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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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