Tag Archives: Benedictine saints and blesseds

St Mechtild of Mageburg

In one week we have two diamonds in the crown of Benedictine (Cistercian) sanctity: St Gertrude and today, St Mechtild of Magdeburg (c.1210 – 1280).

The witness of St Mechtild is striking because it conveys a personal experience with the Lord. Far being abstract and vague, Mechtild relates her experience of the love she and God shared. These experiences are what we all are after in our relationship with the Lord. Mechtild’s biography notes that she was 12 when these mystical experiences began. When she was 18 she joined a community of Béguines. After forty years, she moved to the Cistercian convent of Helfta. Her prose showed poetic sensitivity in direct and simple language.

In another place I wrote of St Mechtild, “According to some scholars, this Cistercian-Benedictine nun and poet, theologian and mystic was the inspiration of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Interesting that her liturgical memorial comes at the end of the liturgical calendar given her visions of heaven, hell and purgatory! Some people register a doubt about her status as a canonized saint in the Church but she is remembered in the Roman Martyrology (2004) and venerated as such by many, including the Cistercian-Benedictines and that’s good enough for me. The Martyrology speaks of Saint Mechtild as a woman of exquiste doctrine and humility, and supernatural gifts of mystical contemplation.”

The words in the picture mean:

Das fliessende Licht der Gottheit
The flowing light of the Godhead

Herr himmlischer Vater, du bist mein Herz.
Lord Heavenly Father, you are my heart.

Herr Jesus Christus, du bist mein Leib.
Lord Jesus Christ, you are my love.

Herr Heiliger Geist, du bist mein Atem.
Lord Holy Spirit, you are my breath.

– St Mechtild von Magdeburg
Picture: (c) Initiativkreis Kloster Helfta.e.V. Durach

St Benedict

Today is the summer feast of the Holy Patriarch Benedict.

It is a day to heed the advice of Benedict: seek the Lord and listen to him. It is also a day to celebrate the feast with beer made by monks.

Benedict’s vision for monastic life is that the monk/nun live in community. One’s life in a stable, permanent community locates and lives the reality of the Lord’s Incarnation. We are keenly reminded that in Benedict’s experience human interaction shows an experience of Christ: the abbot holds the place of Christ; Christ in the guest, in the young monks, and in the seniors. Ultimately, no one is excluded in the Benedictine vision monastic life: every human interaction the monk/nun meets the Lord, in the flesh. This is keenly true for the Oblate and every other person.

I am remembering the words of Saint John Paul II had for the sons and daughters of Benedict: “May every Benedictine community present itself with a well-defined identity, like a “city on a hill,” distinct from the surrounding world, but open and welcoming to the poor, to pilgrims and to all who are searching for a life of greater fidelity to the Gospel!”

As with all solemn feasts in the Tradition of the Church there is an octave. It is a way to continue to enjoy and relish and to attend to the graces of the feast! Over the next 8 days how will you celebrate St Benedict? What grace will you beg from the Holy Spirit? How will you live the charism bequeathed to us by Benedict and his children through the ages?

St Frances of Rome and her Oblates

Today is the liturgical commemoration of Saint Frances of Rome, patron saint of the Oblates who live the Rule of Saint Benedict and who strive to serve. She died in 1440.

Along with Frances, we have King Saint Henry, as co-patron saints of the Benedictine oblates. Frances is also revered as the patron saint of motorists and motorcyclists because her path was always lit by her holy guardian angel. Some monasteries have their cars blessed today in memory of Saint Frances of Rome.

In Frances’ time in Italy is similar to ours today in that the monasteries are in decline: men and women are not seeking God through the monastic profession and the communal life. Her innovation was to gather women to serve the poor informed and formed by Benedictine spirituality. The Olivetan monks in Rome were helpful.

At first the women continued to live in their homes, but eventually found a house where they could gather and live in community without having to profess monastic vows. The oblate group that Frances for was seen as a hybrid, transforming the medieval practice of children’s oblate in monasteries, combining features of monastic life with secular life. At the same time similar groups surfaced and thrived in various places in Europe that became known as tertiaries. In some ways you can see the form of life that Frances had in the ecclesial movements of today, namely, Communion and Liberation and the Manquehue Apostolic Movement.

Frances therefore, created a new way of Benedictine life that was the union of the laity with Benedictine spirituality, grafting into the lives of the secular the call for this vocation in Benedictine life. A spiritual secularity is a gift of God to society and the Church. Unfortunately, what Frances did for the laity of the time didn’t gain widespread traction —at least not yet.

Who is interested in this form of life?

In everything may God be glorified.

St Scholastica

Our venerable mother, Scholastica, the twin sister of the holy Benedict.

Scholastica guided a community of nuns near Monte Cassino, where her brother, Benedict, organized his community of monks. When she died, sometime around the year 543, the nuns and monks carried her body to Monte Cassino, and Benedict laid her in the tomb which had been prepared for himself. Benedict’s remains were placed in the same tomb, so that, as the saying went, “death would not part the bodies of this brother and sister, who had been of one mind in the Lord.” Her icon rests on the inside of the south arm of the icon screen. (NS)

Prayers for the nuns, and those named for our venerable mother.

Benedict’s sole concern

The Church invites us today, through the figure of St. Benedict, to choose the path of an uncompromising holiness: to forsake our own treasures, so as to receive in  return the hundredfold promised by Jesus, and as our inheritance, eternal life.

If the Church applies to St. Benedict the reading from the Book of Ecclesiasticus we have just heard, it is because it bears witness to the fruitfulness of the offering of one’s life. Already before his life of retreat, Benedict did not leave indifferent those who came in contact with him, as testified for instance by the miracle of the sieve broken and made whole. This shining forth led Benedict towards retreat, so as to consecrate himself to God alone.

But even under the bushel, the lamp kept shining. Benedict became the Father of Western monasticism, and also the Father of Europe. After Benedict’s death, Europe was to become covered by thousands of monasteries and priories. During unsettled times, they appeared to many as places of shelter, places where one could live reconciled with one’s brothers, reconciled with God, and reconciled with nature. In these schools of the Lord’s service, monks would dwell so as to serve God alone.

Were the times in which Benedict was living more unsettled than the times we are living in today? One could not claim that. Yet, it is certain that in today’s monasteries Benedict’s disciples still have to give the testimony of their faithfulness to the answer they gave to the Lord on the day of their solemn consecration, that answer which is the one the rich young man should have given, “Uphold me, O Lord, according to Thy word, and I shall live.” In return, the Lord promises not that which is merely just, but a hundredfold, and as our inheritance, eternal life.

This hundredfold promised to the monk is from now on already a life of fraternity inside the community; it is a peace conducive to seeking God. This hundredfold is also the grace to be able to gather to sing the praises of God in choir, or also to gather in the daily manual work.

Benedict’s sole concern was to seek God, and as he did that, he became one of the main evangelizers of Europe. Today, Europe has grown old, its faith has grown cold. In the eyes of our contemporaries, the world no longer appears as the splendid work of a loving Maker, but as the fruit of a cold and soulless chance. Although telescopes may bring our eyes ever farther towards the ends of the universe, our hearts no longer know how to consider our closest friend as a being who is loved by God, or creation as a gift to be respected. The eyes of our hearts have grown dimmer, and have eventually become obscure.

Amidst silence and darkness, the monastery bell should still resound, a messenger of divine Love in a world no longer able to love, a messenger of the monks, who pray for those who no longer pray.

Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT, follows the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, and is an Oblate of Saint Benedict, works as a monastery farmer and a keeper of honey bees. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]yahoo.com.
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