Tag Archives: Benedictine Oblate

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.

Dorothy Day’s vision of being a saint

Dorothy DayThere are some among the Christian faithful who would prefer not to spend resources, personal and financial, on the sainthood investigation of the Servant of God Dorothy Day. As we know the US bishops have recently given their approval for the process to move forward. The for Day’s cause for canonization is being promoted by the Archdiocese of New York; Cardinal Timothy Dolan is a very strong supporter, as is Cardinal Francis George among others.
For what it is worth, I am in favor of Dorothy Day’s cause advancing because I think she faithfully points out in concrete ways that living the Gospel of Jesus Christ is possible, reasonable, even for sinners like me. That is, she reminds us, the living, that the Church is a hospital for the sick (that is, for sinners), and not a museum of the self-righteous. Spare me the people who think they have the Christian path to salvation all figured out. PLUS, Dorothy Day is a Benedictine Oblate [of Saint Procopius Abbey] and that is a terrific witness of the laity taking the spiritual life seriously and humanely. Day’s sainthood makes no difference to her; it does make a difference to me; men and women declared saints by the Church –infallible statements of faith– aren’t sainted for their own benefit but those who are a part of the living Church today.
Many have heard it said that Dorothy Day said, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.” But did she, and what did she mean?
It is true that we have to be concerned with what it mean for someone to be given the recognition “Blessed” or “Saint.” All the more if the one proposed made some declaration about her personal sanctity in public. Setting out to understand the origin and implication of Day’s declaration, Jesuit Father Jim Martin contacted Robert Ellsberg, publisher of Orbis Books and a contemporary thinker of Day’s impact today.  Ellsberg sheds some necessary light on the subject. He said in part,

I bear a burden of responsibility for publicizing that line, which I quoted in the introduction to an anthology of her writings almost thirty years ago. Where did it come from? I can’t honestly say. I do remember one time sitting at the kitchen table with her at St. Joseph’s house, looking at an issue of Time magazine in which she was included in a list of “living saints.” “When they call you a saint,” she said, “it means basically that you are not to be taken seriously.”

Whatever the provenance of her famous “quote”–the important question is: What did she mean?

Dorothy’s own relationship with saints was anything but cynical. Both her daily speech and her writings were filled with references to St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Teresa of Avila. She treasured their stories. For Dorothy these were not idealized super-humans, but her constant companions and daily guides in the imitation of Christ. She relished the human details of their struggles to be faithful, realizing full well that in their own time they were often regarded as eccentrics or dangerous troublemakers.

But she didn’t just study their life and writings. She also firmly believed in their role as heavenly patrons. Whenever funds or provisions ran low she would “petition” St. Joseph. She would pray to St. Therese for patience and understanding. She would pray to St. Francis to increase her spirit of poverty.  For many years, the Catholic Worker was largely illustrated by woodcuts by Ade Bethune depicting the saints in everyday dress, performing the works of mercy. She devoted many years of her life writing a life of St. Therese of Lisieux. I have no doubt she would have delighted in the news that St. Therese was named a Doctor of the Church. It is unthinkable that she would have responded by saying, “That means basically that Therese is not to be taken seriously!”

Furthermore, long before Vatican II took up the theme of the universal call to holiness, Dorothy Day taught that “we are all called to be saints.” As she noted, “We might as well get over our bourgeois fear of the name. We might also get used to recognizing the fact that there is some of the saint in all of us. Inasmuch as we are growing, putting off the old man and putting on Christ, there is some of the saint, the holy, the divine right there.” In other words, Dorothy Day regarded sanctity as the ordinary vocation of every Christian–not just the goal of a chosen few.

What Dorothy certainly opposed–and what saint wouldn’t?–was being put on a pedestal, fitted to some pre-fab conception of holiness that would strip her of her humanity and, at the same time, dismiss the radical challenge of the gospel. “Dorothy Day could do such things (live in poverty, feed the hungry, go to jail for the cause of peace). She’s a saint.” For those who said this sort of thing, the implication was that such actions–which would be out of reach for ordinary folk–must have come easily for her. She had no patience for that kind of cop-out.

Father Jim Martin’s full article/interview can be read here. Somewhat connected is what Saint Teresa of Avila saind about convent life: “May God protect me from gloomy saints.” I’d say it this way: May God protect the Church from plastic saints.

Benedictine Oblate promises renewal

Today is the day on which the Oblates of St Benedict of St Meinrad Archabbey renew their oblation at Mass. It is not a public gesture but it is one of significance because it keeps in front of us our offering to God through our attention to the Scriptures, Tradition and the Rule of Benedict.

Today is also the day that the Pope has asked the Church to support in friendship and with finances the contemplative life. Please consider making an offering of prayer and money to a local monastery. They need our prayer and financial support.
The text of the renewal of Oblate promises is noted here.
Mary, mother of Benedictines, pray for us.
Saints Benedict and Scholastica, pray for us.
Saint Henry, pray for us.
Saint Frances of Rome, 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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