Tag Archives: Belmont Abbey

Sun and Seed

Weather-wise, the day was spectacular. The day was spent at the modest lake house the abbey has had for many years on Lake Norman, just north and west of Belmont Abbey. Among many things the five of us did together today was to plant grass seed to cover the bare spots in the “lawn.” The day away also afforded us the opportunity to foster the companionship and devotion (to the Lord): we prayed the Office of Sext and had lunch. By the way, are you aware that a bale of straw costs $4.75? I think it’s a little expensive for straw! But I suppose the farmer is worth his wage.

Brother Anthony was tired of sowing seed so he showed the inspirational video “The Everyday,” a narrative about the monkish life at Mount Savior Monastery in New York state. Mount Savior was founded in 1950 by Father Damasus Winzen in order to live a monastic life without an outside work like a school or parish and to be most devoted to the Divine Office.

In all the day was a nice getaway with confreres. And let’s hope that it rains soon and that the birds don’t get fat on the seed.

Enticing things to grow with nature to help (at the abbey)

Spreading…makes life more interesting, or a least it makes the flowers grow. Yesterday Gail, the abbot’s administrative assistant, brought me a gift, a token of appreciation. Well, I requested it so it’s technically not a gift. Gail brought me a feed bag of mature horse manure from her own horses; it’s mature manure I am assured. I got a phone call from Brother Anthony saying that I had a bag of … manure on the front steps. Not wanting to offend guests I quickly moved the bag to the Saint Francis garden.

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Before the night rain fell and after vespers but before the total loss of daylight, I made a mad-dash to the garden to spread the “garden tea.” I couldn’t help but remember -and laughing riotously– at what a senior Jesuit friend of mine said of Jesuits and horse manure: if you keep Jesuits together they stink; if you spread them around, they fertilize. I think you get the point. Besides hoping for the cooperative intercession of Saint Francis, I am expecting the manure to heighten the garden’s capacities.

Much of last week I had my friend Brother Michael visiting me. It was nice to have him here. As it is said, “Hospes venit, Christus venit.”  A stranger comes, Christ comes. This saying is part of the Rule of Saint Benedict and we often find it on signs at Benedictine monasteries:  “Let every stranger be received as Christ himself.” Brother Michael is not a stranger to me but he was to members of the community for a very short time. The others we edified by his presence and I got a chance to share life with a friend.

Last Saturday we had the privilege of welcoming back to the Abbey and the College Father Dwight Longenecker, an Oblate of Saint Benedict, to speak to interested parties on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and her “little way” as a fitting approach to living Lent. His blog, Standing on My Head is a popular read.

These last days have been interesting and boring at the same time. More painting is taking place. This time we’re doing the Compline room, the place where Night Prayer is prayed; it badly needed some fresh paint on the walls. We also did some garden work in a neglected area of the monastery gardens and we did some odds-and-ends.

One of the postulants decided to leave the abbey thus ending his discernment in following a monastic vocation. Mary, Help of Christians – Belmont Abbey is much the poorer. Andrew is 24 and a recent grad of Belmont Abbey College and Saint John’s in Annapolis. We wish him well and many blessings.

My fun reading this week is a book on the Solesmes and Dom Gueranger: 1805-1875 (Paraclete Press, 1996).

Out of service.jpgLife in a monastery is fun. Oh, yea, the flowering trees are working hard to push out the color!!!! AND now I need more manure.

Saint Katharine Drexel

Thumbnail image for St Katherine Drexel.jpgThe outline of Katharine Drexel’s life is:

Born in Philadelphia, PA on Nov. 26, 1858

First sister to profess vows as a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament on Feb. 12, 1891

Died on March 3, 1955

Beatified on Nov. 20, 1988

Canonized on Oct. 1, 2000

With the Church we pray,

Ever-loving God, You called Saint Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to the African American and Native American peoples. By her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed, and keep us undivided in love in the eucharistic community of Your Church.

Saint Katharine’s connection to Maryhelp – Belmont Abbey is that she used a portion of her personal wealth to help build a number of churches, including the abbey church, for the first abbot of Maryhelp, Abbot-bishop Leo Haid. She also visited the abbey. So, we can say that a saint walked on this soil! A sign in the Abbey Basilica narthex commemorates this fact. May Saint Katharine continue to intercede for us and help us to know the Lord.


Saint Walburga

St Walburga Belmont Abbey.JPG

O God, the boundless generosity of your favor is proclaimed by the wonders you have worked in your holy women. As we are taught by your holy virgin Walburga’s example of purity and rejoice in the glory of her miracles, may she be our patron to gain for us your unfailing love.


One of the important Benedictine saints in the Church is the 8th century Saint Walburga and yet she is relatively unknown to many outside the world of monks and nuns. Her story is found here. You might find it interesting to note that Saint Walburga’s relative is the Apostle to Germany, Saint Boniface, and her brother was the abbot and later bishop, Saint Wunibald.


In Colorado, there is a rather significant monastery of Benedictine nuns under the patronage of today’s saint, The Abbey of Saint Walburga (founded in 1935). The nuns at this monastery are a great group of women who live the monastic life with seriousness and a great of humanity (that is, humor). Most importantly the life they live is attractive to young women which has untold blessings from the Church in Colorado and beyond. Two of the nuns from this abbey serve the Vatican’s monastery, Monastero Mater Ecclesiae at the moment (they’ll be home in just over a year’s time).


St Walburga at Belmont Abbey.jpgSince 1857, the Benedictine sisters of Elizabeth, NJ, also claim Saint Walburga as their patron.


Also, we should mention the venerable witness of Saint Walburg Monastery in Covington, Kentucky. The sisters there directly descended from Saint Walburga Abbey in Eichstatt, Germany and are celebrating the 150th anniversary of their founding this year.


Belmont Abbey’s secondary patron is Saint Walburga. No fewer than two statues, one in the monastery and one in the grotto honor the saint. Plus, the monks honored the saint with a beautiful stained glass window in the Abbey Basilica.


The novena prayer to Saint Walburga


Holy Walburga, you dwell in the glory of heaven, gazing upon the face of the Triune God in the company of all the saints.  I turn to you, full of trust in the words of Jesus Christ, “Amen, amen I say to you, the one who has faith in me will do the works I do, and greater far than these” (John 14:12).  God has granted you the gift of healing; help me in my need, which I bring before you (mention petition).  Beg God to grant healing, consolation and strength to me and to all those for whom I pray.  Implore Him to let me recognize His love and know His presence, whatever He may have in store for me.


Ask this for me through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns in the unity of the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Silence: in the Christian life and not just for the monks

Silence in the monastery confuses the world; it sometimes confuses me and there are times that I am frustrated by silence. The practice of silence is often misunderstood by those who live in monasteries because of an insufficient understanding of a “theology of silence.” Family and friends think monks take a vow of silence. They get this idea from the clichés of the TV and movies where they see monks and nuns piously walking the halls of the abbey in silence with a mean looking superior hovering over the shoulder waiting for someone to slip-up.  While I don’t deny that this understanding may be rooted in some truth, or a least a vague sense of truth, it nonetheless lends itself to gross misunderstanding of the role of silence in the monastic life, indeed the need (and desire for) for silence in all people’s lives.

What did Saint Benedict say about the practice of silence in his Rule? In one place he says:

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Let us do what the Prophet says: “I said, I will take heed of my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I have set a guard to my mouth, I was dumb, and was humbled, and kept silence even from good things” (Psalm 38[39]:2-3).  Here the prophet shows that, if at times we ought to refrain from useful speech for the sake of silence, how much more ought we to abstain from evil words on account of the punishment due to sin.

Therefore, because of the importance of silence, let permission to speak be seldom given to perfect disciples even for good and holy and edifying discourse, for it is written: “In much talk up shall not escape sin” (Proverbs 10:19). And elsewhere: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). For it belongs to the master to speak and to teach; it becomes the disciple to be silent and to listen. If, therefore, anything must be asked of the Superior, let it be asked with all humility and respectful submission. But coarse jests, and idle words or speech provoking laughter, we condemn everywhere to eternal exclusion; and for such speech we do not permit the disciple to open his lips (Ch. 6).

Belmont Abbey’s Father Abbot, Placid, put in our mailboxes the community’s custom of silence that had been formulated in consultation with the community in 2006. Essentially it is outlines what’s permitted and what’s not. To me, it is less of a “wagging of the finger” as it is a way to focus our life yet again on a venerable practice that leads to freedom but yet takes discipline and freedom to engage our mind, hear and will. So what’s expected? Following Vespers (c. 7:30 pm) to the conclusion of breakfast (c. 8:00 am) silence is carefully observed throughout the monastery. Extended conversations may be had in designated areas like the common recreation areas, the formation study and the guest dining room. “A spirit of silence should be maintained in the hallways of the monastery at all times, and any conversation should be carried on in a quiet tone of voice.” Another place where we attempt to maintain silence is in the sacristy, the basilica and in the passage way between the abbey and the basilica. A stricter sense of being silent exists in the church prior to the Mass and the Divine Office, in the refectory before the evening meal which includes the brief reading of a chapter (a few lines really) of the Rule of Saint Benedict and during table reading (only 15 min.) and in “statio” (the order of seniority) prior to Sunday Mass and Vespers.

This work of silence is neither rigid and nor is unreasonable. In fact, I appreciate the periods of silence the community has worked out and I hope that my confreres will help me live by what’s expected.

When I am participating in community days of the Communion and Liberation (CL) movement I practice silence with the group. We don’t do this to shut up the incessant talker (though it’s a nice by-product of the silence) or to force an agenda as it is a method to help us (me) to appreciate the beauty of God the Father’s creation which is in front of us. So, it is not uncommon to walk in the woods, climbing a mountain, or sitting by the seashore and not talk to your neighbor. Sounds goofy? Perhaps for the uninitiated or the person who can’t grasp the need to soak in the beauty of life, indeed all of creation, without the distracting noise of talking all the time, silence would be difficult or unhelpful or somewhat silly.

Way of the Cross.jpg

Another example of the witness of silence is the Good Friday Way of the Cross that starts at Saint James Cathedral (Brooklyn) and ends at St. Peter’s Church (Barclay St., NYC–ground zero) but crosses the Brooklyn Bridge and makes other stops to pray, listen to Scripture and sing spiritual songs. Imagine 5000+ people making the Way of the Cross in silence in the chilly air! People in NYC walking in silence following a cross in silence! What’s the point? The point is: How does one understand, that is, judge (assess, evaluate, understand reality) the impact of the Lord’s saving life, death and resurrection if all you hear is chatter? The gospel is made alive by the witness of 5000+ people walking in silence.

 One last example are my friends in the Fraternity of Saint Joseph (I call them CL’s contemplatives-in-the-world who follow the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation) who spend a portion of each day in silence and at least one other day in an extended period of silence. For me, this is a witness to the presence of Christ and one’s relationship with the Lord. Their discipline of silence is not merely turning off the radio, not speaking, not writing email or updating their blog, nor the simple absence of distracting noise but the intentional focus on the work of the Lord in prayer and study. How do you discern (verify) the will of God in the hussle-and-bussle of life? How do you hear the voice of the Lord calling you, as the Lord called Samuel or the apostles if all you encounter is the blaring of the stereo, the train or your mother yelling for you to answer the doorbell?


Theologically, I think Patriarch Bartholomew I (of Constantinople) said it well in an address a year ago:

 The ascetic silence of apophaticism imposes on all of us — educational and ecclesiastical institutions alike — a sense of humility before the awesome mystery of God, before the sacred personhood of human beings, and before the beauty of creation. It reminds us that — above and beyond anything that we may strive to appreciate and articulate — the final word always belongs not to us but to God. This is more than simply a reflection of our limited and broken nature. It is, primarily, a calling to gratitude before Him who “so loved the world” (Jn 3:16) and who promised never to abandon us without the comfort of the Paraclete that alone “guides us to the fullness of truth.” (Jn 16:13) How can we ever be thankful enough for this generous divine gift?

So, in my context silence is not punitive or a burden but way of living with an awareness that would otherwise be minimized and likely forgotten.

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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