Tag Archives: Benedictine Oblate

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.

Benedictine spirituality for the laity

Oblates Vows at St MeinradThe charism (the gift given by the Holy Spirit) of Saint Benedict, a layman, who is known as the Father of Western Monasticism, was to provide the Church a method and ultimately a culture by which we all can meet the Triune God. The central aim of the Rule, however, is to encourage the adherent to focus attention on seeking God at all times and educate to maturity the person who desires to know and love the Lord in this life, and in life eternal. Benedict’s holy Rule has been a source of inspiration, guidance, self-examination since the sixth century.

It is very true, Benedictine spirituality isn’t just for monks. The laity since the beginning have oriented themselves to the life of a monastery while keeping their secular vocation intact. This vocation of the baptized person in the Catholic Church is fittingly explored in a church documentby John Paul II in Christifidelis laicior more recently in an essay by Father Julián Carrón, “Life as Vocation” (you can select the text in various languages).

Among the many things that the laity have experienced and been educated to, are things like praying in common the Divine Office (the Liturgy of the Hours), the practice of lectio divina — or sacred reading of Scripture — a theology and practice of work, and a method for ongoing conversion to Jesus Christ. Like the monks and nuns, the lay person is given instruction in the Rule of St. Benedict, the guiding principle behind Benedictine life, but the lay person is given a way of thinking that is oriented to life precisely as a lay person. However, secular priests are also Oblates. A good example may be the steps of humility of chapter 7 of the Rule are lived differently by a lay person than by a monk or a nun without reducing the content.

There is more to being an Oblate that is beautiful and fitting for many people can be said at this moment. It is , indeed, a proposal that we ought to make to others because it is a source of inestimable graces. In a recent article on Benedictine Oblates connected with the Illinois monastic community of St Bede, opens a door, “‘Monks Outside the Walls’ Oblates bring monastic spirituality to secular life.” In the article we learn that,

The interdenominational group [of oblates] boasts a membership of about 100 from across Central Illinois and the Chicago suburbs, with an average of 20 attending the meetings each month. The most recent numbers from the Vatican’s website for International Benedictine Oblates from 2008 indicated there were 25,481 oblates in 50 countries, with 42 percent of those in the U.S., and the numbers are growing.

Saint Frances of Rome

S Francesca Romana Clothed by the Virgin.jpg

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.

This painting given here for today’s lectio is attributed to Antonio del Massaro da Viterbo, depicts Saint Frances of Rome (1384-1440) being clothed by the Mary in the white veil of her Benedictine movement that, even today, characterizes the Olivetan Benedictine Oblates of Mary she founded in 1425.

Mary, Mother of God wears a mantle of gold, which Saint Paul at the left wraps around Frances Romana. The presence of certain saints is instructive: the great evangelizer, Saint Paul, Saint Mary Magdalene (the Apostle to the Apostles and dressed in red) and Saint Benedict,  the Father of Western Monastic Life, with the various ranks of angels, including Francesca’s Guardian Angel.  Magdalene and Benedict wrap/invest the mantle on the gathered Oblates.

The angel below the Gothic windows is busy carding golden threads with a warp and loom. Nearby are two frisky dogs and two cats, a frequent sight in Rome. The Oblate Congregation, commonly thought to be woven together by heavenly graces and harassed by evil spirits. The evil one is given flesh in the form of cats and dogs. As a testimony of grace the Oblates flourish today at Tor de’Specchi. Several years ago I had the privilege with many others to pray in this monastery opened to the public only Saint Frances’ feast day.

I have longed hoped that the Oblates of Saint Frances of Rome would found a house in the USA. We are ready for this witness.

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Dorothy Day’s 32nd anniversary of death


Day's Funeral procession.jpgToday is the 32nd anniversary of death of the Servant of God Dorothy Day. The Benedictine Oblate from Brooklyn Heights, NY, who is remembered for her conversion to Christ and His Church and with Peter Maurin founded The Catholic Worker Movement.

In recent days we’ve learned that the bishops of the USA are standing behind Day’s cause for canonization advancing it to the next canonical stage. While the process may be protracted for some, it is a good and substantial process to ascertain the claim of sanctity of the person in question. As an editorial, I tend to think 30 years is a good amount of time between the death of a person and the study process commencing; in my humble opinion I think it was far too short of time for Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II beatifications; both are saints in my opinion, but I think the process can’t be shortchanged because of cosmic popularity.

Day was a Benedictine Oblate of St Procopius Abbey.

The Archdiocese of New York is in charge of the cause of canonization. You can contact the office at 212-371-1000, ext. 2474.

The following letter to the editors by Kenneth Woodward regarding the funeral of Dorothy Day which sheds some light on the New York Archdiocese’s involvement. Many are falsely led to believe the Church was callous because no bishop was present at the funeral Mass. Apparently, truth prevails. Read the letter.

To the Editors:

Your story on Dorothy Day and the bishops ignores a number of facts concerning her funeral, which I attended.

As it happened, Cardinal Terrance Cooke of New York wanted her funeral held in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where the congregation would certainly have included many bishops, but the Catholic Worker community insisted that the funeral held in the neighborhood where Dorothy had lived so the poor could attend. Few actually did. At the church door each mourner was greeted by Cooke himself, not dressed in a cardinal’s finery but in a simple black cassock. Cooke did not stay for the mass because he did not want his presence to draw attention away from the woman for whose sake we mourners had gathered. Later, he held a memorial mass for Dorothy at the cathedral.

Cooke was a conservative churchman. So was Cardinal John O’Connor who formally initiated the cause on behalf of Dorothy Day’s canonization. Paradoxically, it was Father Daniel Berrigan and other members of the “Catholic Left” who opposed the effort to canonize Dorothy Day. Details can be found in my book, “Making Saints,” first published in 1996. Berrigan feared that in the canonization process the narrative of Day’s life would be stripped of its radical Christian elements. Those fears would indeed be realized if “Saint Dorothy” were to be venerated solely for her remorse for having had an abortion in the years prior to her conversion to Catholicism.

Kenneth L. Woodward

You also be interested to read the Eulogy given by the former Dominican Friar Geoffrey B. Gneuhs on December 2, 1980.

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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