Tag Archives: Benedictine Oblate

Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Presentation of Mary in the TempleThe feast of the Presentation of Mary is a contemplation on we relate to the Temple following Mary as the Perfect Disciple (the paradigmatic believer), relate to us. This feast asks the question of how we, in our bodies, are meant to live in the Temple of the Lord. Our bodies are meant for the Lord. You ought to read Saint Paul’s First Letter to Corinthians in the 6th chapter: our bodies are members of Christ. So, what is it that we are called by the Lord? What is Mary’s place in the economy of Salvation and how do we relate to the same economy? What has happened to us in Christ?

We the Church we pray:

As we venerate the glorious memory of the most holy Virgin Mary, grant, we pray, O Lord, through her intercession, that we, too, may merit to receive from the fullness of your grace.

We need to appeal to the Byzantine Liturgy which proclaims,

“Today is the prelude to God’s munificence, and the announcement of salvation: in the Temple of God the Virgin is seen openly, foretelling to all the coming of Christ…The most pure temple of the Savior, his most precious bridal chamber, the Virgin, sacred treasury of God’s glory, enters today into the house of the Lord, bringing with her the grace of the divine Spirit. Wherefore the angels of God are singing: “Behold the heavenly tabernacle!…Wherefore let us cry out to her with all our strength: ‘Joy to you fulfillment of the Creator’s plan!'” At the moment when the young girl Mary was presented in the glorious Temple “everything that humans build was already diminished by the praise in her heart” (Rilke)

As a Benedictine Oblate, today is the day we renew our Oblation to our particular monasteries. As Through the intercession of Mary of the Temple may we Oblates recognize our true end in Christ. The hymn verse says it all: “Today, this day, is the day of the Lord. Rejoice, people, for lo, the bridal chamber of the Light, the book of the Word of Life, the Temple of the living God, has come forth from the womb, and the gate facing east, newly born, awaits the entrance of the great High Priest. She alone brings into the world the one and only Christ for the salvation of our souls.” God became flesh through Mary. So we should also be the Temple of the Lord today.

Here is an exposition of this feast by the Orthodox priest Father Thomas Hopko on Ancient Faith Ministries.

Saint Henry, king and Benedictine Oblate

St Henry Benedictine oblateToday we liturgically honor memory of the emperor, Saint Henry. He is the Patron of Benedictine Oblates. Those who are Benedictine oblates will also recall that Saint Frances of Rome (who feast is in March) is the other holy patron of Oblates. This King Saint Henry II is not the same person of the English or French Henry II of those monarchies. He is the only German monarch canonized saint. His wife was Saint Cunegonda. Saint Henry’s feast day, falls within the Octave of Saint Benedict reminding us of the bond that united him with our Benedict.

The Henry we honor today was crowned Emperor in Saint Peter’s Basilica by Pope Benedict VIII in AD 1014. Henry had the reputation of visiting Benedictine monasteries, often singing the Divine Office with the monastic community and spending time in prayer. His manner of life was centered around the Divine Office and living according to the Rule of St Benedict.

One of the miracles of Saint Benedict did for Henry was to cure him while at the famed monastery of Monte Cassino. Saint Henry was an oblate of the Abbey of Cluny and then asked to make profession as monk at the Abbey of Saint-Vanne. The abbot received him as a monk, and then ordered him, in the name of obedience, to return to the throne.

The Mass speaks of Saint Henry as person who meditated the revelation of Divine Wisdom and held the Word of God in his heart. Likewise, history tells us that he was not obsessed with the accumulation of wealth; he used his goods as alms for the poor; that he resisted temptation and relied on the truth and mercy of God when his subjects lied to him.

“Set your minds on things that are above,” says Saint Paul, “not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:3).

Saint Frances of Rome

Frances of RomeThe Church prays at Mass today: O God, who have given us in Saint Frances of Rome a singular model of both married and monastic life, grant us perseverance in your service, that in every circumstance of life we may see and follow you.

Here is a portion of Saint Frances’ biography from a life of the saint by Sister Mary Magdalene Anguillaria, superior of the Oblates of the Tor’ de Specchi:

God not only tested the patience of Frances with respect to her material wealth, but, as I have said before and will reiterate, he also tested her own body in a variety of ways, especially through long and serious illnesses which she had to undergo. And yet no one ever observed in her a tendency toward impatience. She never exhibited any displeasure when she complied with an order, no matter how foolish.

Through the premature deaths of her sons whom she loved dearly, Frances proved her constancy. With peace of soul she always reconciled herself to the will of God and gave him thanks for all that happened. With the same constancy she endured the slander of those who abused and reviled her and her way of life. She did not show the least hint of aversion toward them, even though she knew that they judged her rashly and spoke falsely of her way of life. Rather, returning good for evil, she habitually prayed to God for them.

God had not chosen her to be holy merely for her own advantage. Rather, the gifts he conferred upon her were to be for the spiritual and physical advantage of her neighbor. For this reason he made her so lovable that anyone with whom she spoke would immediately feel captivated by love for her and ready to help her in everything she wanted. Divine power was present and working in her words, so that in a few sentences she could bring consolation to the afflicted and the anxious, calm the restless, pacify the angry, reconcile enemies and extinguish long-standing hatreds and animosities. Again and again she would prevent a planned revenge from being carried out. She seemed able to subdue the passions of every type of person with a single word and lead them to do whatever she asked.

For this reason people flocked to Frances from all directions, as to a safe refuge. No one left her without being consoled, although she openly rebuked them for their sins and fearlessly reproved them for what was evil and displeasing to God.

Many different diseases were rampant in Rome. Fatal diseases and plagues were everywhere, but the saint ignored the risk of contagion and displayed the deepest kindness toward the poor and the needy. Here empathy would first bring them to atone for their sins. Then she would help them by her eager care, and urge them lovingly to accept their trials, however difficult, from the hand of God. She would encourage them to endure their sufferings for love of Christ, since he had previously endured so much for them.

Frances was not satisfied with caring for the sick she could bring into her home. She would seek them out in their cottages and in public hospitals, and would refresh their thirst, smooth their beds, and bind their sores. The more disgusting and sickening the stench, the greater was the love and care with which she treated them.

She used to go to the Campo Santo with food and rich delicacies to be distributed to the needy. On her return home she would bring pieces of worn-out clothes and unclean rags which she would wash lovingly and mend carefully, as if they were to be used for God himself. Then she would fold them carefully and perfume them.

For thirty years Frances continued this service to the sick and the stranger. While she was in her husband’s house, she made frequent visits to Saint Mary’s and Saint Cecilia’s hospitals in Trastevere, and to the hospital of the Holy Spirit in Sassia and to a fourth hospital in the Campo Santo. During epidemics like this it was not only difficult to find doctors to care for the body but even priests to provide remedies for the soul. She herself would seek them out and bring them to those who were disposed to receive the sacraments of penance and the Eucharist. In order to have a priest more readily available to assist her in her apostolate, she supported, at her own expense, a priest who would go to the hospitals and visit the sick whom she had designated.

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca RomanaThe Church gives us the liturgical memorial of Saint Frances Rome (1384-1440) today. However, her feast is obscured by the fact that it is the First Sunday of Lent. Yet, we cannot move from today without a mentioned of such a terrific witness to the Lord.

Saint Frances is the patroness of Benedictine Oblates and car drivers; and as one of the patrons of Rome along with Saints Peter and Paul and Philip Neri. She is proposed by Mother Church as a clear model of the tenderness of married life and motherhood, but also as a person who devoted her life to the poor and the sick (works of Mercy). Hence, her saintly example is much in need today.

In 1433, Frances founded the Benedictine Oblates of Mary as part of the Olivetan Benedictines. The Mass Collect for Saint Frances of Rome  gives us the lex credendi:

O God, Who in Saint Frances of Rome, has given us a model of holiness in married life and of monastic conversion, make us serve You perseveringly, so that in all circumstances we may set our gaze upon You and follow You.

Saint Frances’ congregation of Oblate sisters exist today in Rome, Le Bec-Hellouin, France, and at Abu-Gosh in Israel. In addition to the characteristic devotion to the Divine Office and the fraternal life, is the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Guardian Angels which gives rise to the service of the Church in Rome. Their habit remains the same as their Mother Foundress of a black habit and long white veil. The Roman monastery is open to the public once a year for Mass and interaction with the sisters. I was privileged to be in the monastery with two friends a few years ago.

It is interesting to see how God works in the lives of the unsuspecting. In the period in which Frances lived and in movement of her heart, the Holy Spirit identified a new form of life with some of the Roman widows. Frances discerned a new form of Benedictine life never previously proposed before: women living under the Rule of Saint Benedict, not as enclosed nuns, but as Oblate Sisters of the Roman monastery of the Olivetans at Santa Maria Nuova.

Frances’ followers left the monastery following prayer to serve the poor and sick; the foundress, though, did not limit the sisters to this form of ministry allowing for other skills and talents to give glory to God. Nevertheless, Frances was clearly inspired by Chapter Four of Benedict’s Rule, the Instruments of Good Works:

To relieve the poor, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick, to bury the dead, to give help in trouble, to console the sorrowful, to avoid worldly behavior, and to set nothing before the love of Christ (RB 4:14-21).

The beauty of the vocation attracted the attention of the Roman people that  Frances, a widow, a servant of the poor, a mother to the sick, a spiritual daughter of Saint Benedict, and a mystic was an attractive witness. Frances has also been a favorite saint of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Her practical approach to the spiritual and apostolic life has been noted in her saying that “Devotion in a married woman is most praiseworthy, but she must never forget that she is a housewife. Sometimes she must leave God at the altar, to serve Him in her housekeeping.” Perhaps we all can find inspiration here.

Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home and Living Faith

Judith Valente’s Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home and Living Faith (Ave Maria Press, 2013) is a spiritual memoir noting her pilgrimage points to Mount St. Scholastica monastery in Atchison, Kansas. As many of us Ms Valente is in search of God, meaning, encouragement in the faith, and spiritual healing in a world where these things are hit-and-miss. We desire at the deepest level freedom and a stability of heart. Atchison Blue is about our eternal destiny (Cf. the Rule of Benedict); the book’s value is to help us recognize where we have met Christ, where we meet Christ, through the lens of the ancient and ever new Benedictine charism as it is rooted Rule of St Benedict. The Rule orients the process of becoming more human and a faithful disciple of the Lord.

If you have ever been to a monastery to pray the Divine Office or to spend time as guest you will likely be struck by several things you find absent in the world: order, holiness, courage, zeal, patience, silence, the desire for an honest search, the willingness to cultivate a life of virtue, facing reality as it is (and not as we want it to be) and conversion of mind and heart. We know these in contrast to the substance of the way we live: freneticism, addiction, noise, curt speech, bits of anger, pride, and a divided tongue and heart.

Atchison Blue is about the spiritual and human process with ears of the heart open. That is, when we speak of the process of searching for God means that we engage in an evaluation of life, a judgment of what we experience, an examination of how sin and grace lead us: we are not exempt from the hard work of conversion if we belong to Jesus Christ. Valente goes to the heart of the Church by going to a group of women, Benedictines who take their spiritual life seriously and desire to be people fully alive. Being fully alive is the way we know grace is at work in our life. We are attracted by a presence and the sisters make this presence recognizable. The title ‘Atchison blue’ is a reference to the color blue in the windows of the chapel of Mount Saint Scholastica Monastery in Atchison where the author spent time in contemplation.

Judith Valente is a Benedictine Oblate, poet, reporter; she and her husband live in the Chicago area. Valente’s professional work is reporting on religion for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly and other PBS works. She’s a former staff writer of The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal and a 1992 Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Benedictine wisdom is attractive for Valente and she is attempting to make this wisdom accessible for the laity. She is neither romantic nor critical. Atchison Blue is based on relationships and not abstractions. If you want to understand the contours of your own spiritual life then read in a sensitive way Judith Valente’s Atchison Blue.

Vist Ms Valent’s website.

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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