Tag Archives: Benedictine saints and blesseds

Saint Anselm sought to raise the mind to the contemplation of God, Pope reminds

Biffi.jpg

Pope Benedict
XVI wrote to
Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, retired archbishop of Bologna, on the
occasion of the ninth centenary of the death of Saint Anselm. I find this letter
to be an amazing testimony to the operative graces at work in the Church 900
years ago and
today.
What is said by the Holy Father is a great reminder of what our aim ought to be
as faithful Christians,
and for those called to ministry, what our
responsibilities are.

In view of the
celebrations in which you, venerable brother, will take part as my legate in
the illustrious city of Aosta in honor of the ninth centenary of the death of
St. Anselm, which took place in Canterbury on 21 April 1109, I would like to
give you a special message in which I wish recall the main features of this
great monk, theologian and pastor of souls, whose work has left a deep mark on
the history of the Church.

The anniversary
is indeed an opportunity not to be missed to renew the memory of one of the
brightest figures in the tradition of the Church and in the history of Western
European thought
. The exemplary monastic experience of Anselm, his
original method of rethinking the Christian mystery, his subtle philosophical
and theological doctrine, his teaching on the inviolable value of conscience
and on freedom as the responsible adherence to truth and goodness, his
passionate work as a shepherd of souls, dedicated with all his strength to the
promotion of “freedom of the Church,” have never ceased to arouse in
the past the deepest interest, which the memory of his death is happily
reigniting and encouraging in many ways and in different places.

In this memorial
of the “Magnificent Doctor” — as St. Anselm is called — the Church
of Aosta cannot but be recognized, the Church in which he was born and which is
rightly pleased to consider Anselm as her most illustrious son. Even when he
left Aosta in the time of his youth, he continued to carry in his memory and in
his heart the bundle of memories that was never far from his thoughts in the
most important moments of life. Among those memories, a particular place was
certainly reserved for the sweet image of his mother
and the majestic mountains of his
valley with their high peaks, and perennial snow, in which he saw represented,
as if in a fascinating and suggestive symbol, the sublimity of God
. To
Anselm – “a child raised in the mountains,” as Admero his biographer
calls him, (Vita Sancti Anselmi
,
i, 2) – God appears to be that of which you cannot think of something bigger
[the translator probably meant “greater”]: perhaps his intuition was not
unrelated to the childhood view of those inaccessible peaks. Already as a child
he thought that in order to find God it was necessary to “climb to the
summit of the mountain” (ibid.). In fact, he will realize more and more
that God remains at an inaccessible height, located beyond the horizons
which man is able to reach
,
since God is beyond the thinkable. Because of this, the journey in search of
God, at least on this earth, will never end, but will always be thought and
desire, the rigorous process of the intellect and the imploring inquiry of the
heart
.

The intense
desire to know and the innate propensity for clarity and logical rigor will
push Anselm towards the “scholeae” [schools] of his time. He will
therefore join the monastery of Le Bec, where his inclination for dialectic
reflection will be satisfied and above all, where his cloistered vocation will
enkindle. To dwell on the years of the monastic life of Anselm is to encounter
a faithful religious, “constantly occupied in God alone and in the
disciplines of heaven” — as his biographer writes — in order to achieve
“such a summit of divine speculation that would enable him by a path
opened by God to penetrate, and, once penetrated, to explain the most obscure
and previously unresolved questions concerning the divinity of God and our
faith and to prove with clear reasons that what he stated belonged to
sure Catholic doctrine” (Vita Sancti Anselmi
, i, 7). With these words, his biographer
describes the theological method of St. Anselm, whose thought was ignited
and illuminated in prayer
. It is he himself that confesses, in his famous
work, that the understanding of faith is an approach toward a vision, which we
all yearn for and which we all hope to enjoy at the end of our earthly pilgrimage,
“Quoniam inter fidem et speciem intellectum quem in hac vita capimus esse
medium intelligo: quanto aliquis ad illum proficit, tanto eum propinquare
speciei, ad quam omnes anhelamus, existimo (Cur Deus homo
, Commendatio).

St Anselm in Rome.jpg

The saint
desired to achieve the vision of the logical relationships inherent to
the mystery, to perceive the “clarity of truth,” and thus to
grasp the evidence
of the “necessary reasons,” intimately bound
to the mystery. A bold plan certainly, and it is one whose success still occupies
the reflections of the students of Anselm today. In fact, his search of the
“intellectus” [intellect] positioned between “fides”
[faith] and “species” [vision] comes out of the source of the same
faith and is sustained by confidence in reason, through which faith in a
certain way is illuminated. The intent of Anselm is clear
: “to raise the mind to
contemplation of God

(Proslogion
,
Proemium). There remain, in any event, for every theological research, his
programmatic words: “I do not try, Lord, to penetrate your depth, because
I cannot, even from a distance, compare it with my intellect, but I want to
understand, at least up to a certain point, your truth, which my heart believes
and loves. I do not seek, in fact, to try to understand it in order to believe
it, but I believe in order to understand it.”[Non quaero intelligere ut
credam, sed credo ut intelligam] (Proslogion
, 1).

In Anselm, prior
and abbot of Le Bec, we underline some characteristics that further define his
personal profile. What strikes us, first of all, is his charism as an expert
teacher of spiritual life
,
one who knows and wisely illustrates the ways of monastic perfection. At the
same time, one is fascinated by his instructive geniality, which is expressed
in that discernment method

— which he names, the “via discretionis” (Ep. 61) — which is a
small image of his whole life, an image composed of both mercy and firmness.
The peculiar ability which he demonstrates in initiating disciples to the
experience of authentic prayer is very peculiar: in particular, his
“Orationes sive Meditationes,” eagerly requested and widely used,
which have contributed to making many people of his time “anime
oranti” [praying souls], as with his other works, have proved themselves a
valuable catalyst in making the Middle Ages a “thinking” and, we
might add, “conscientious” period. One would say that the most
authentic Anselm can be found at Le Bec, where he remained thirty three years,
and where he was much loved. Thanks to the maturity that he acquired in a
similar environment of reflection and prayer, he will be able, as well in the
midst of the subsequent trials as bishop, to declare: “I will not retain
in my heart any resentment for any one” (Ep. 321).

The nostalgia
of the monastery
will
accompany him for the rest of his life. He confessed it himself when he was
constrained, to his deepest sorrow and that of his monks, to leave the
monastery to assume the Episcopal ministry to which did not feel well disposed:
“It is well known to many,” he wrote to Pope Urban II, “the
violence which was done to me, and how much I was reluctant and contrary, when
I was brought as a bishop to England and how I explained the reasons of nature,
age, weakness and ignorance, which were opposed to this office and that absolutely
detest and shun scholastic duties, which I cannot dedicate myself to at all
without endangering the salvation of my soul” (Ep. 206). He confides later
with his monks in these terms: “I have lived for 33 years a monk —
three years without responsibility, 15 as prior, and as many as abbot — in
such a way that all the good people that knew me loved me, certainly not by my
own merits but for the grace of God, and the ones that loved me most
were those that knew me most intimately and with greatest familiarity
” (Ep. 156). And he added: “You
have been many to come to Le Bec … Many of you I surrounded with a love
so tender and swee
t
that each one had the impression that I did not love anyone else in the same
way
” (ibid.).

St Anselm4.jpg

Appointed
Archbishop of Canterbury and beginning, in this way, his most troubled journey,
his “love of truth” (Ep. 327), his uprightness, his strict loyalty to
conscience, his “Episcopal freedom” (Ep. 206), his ” Episcopal
honesty” (Ep. 314), his tireless work for the liberation of the Church
from the temporal conditionings and from the servitude of calculations that are
incompatible with his spiritual nature will appear in their full light
. His
words to King Henry remain exemplary in this respect, “I reply that in
neither baptism nor in any other ordination that I have received, did I
promised to observe the law or the custom of your father or of the Archbishop
Lanfranco, but the law of God and of all the orders received” (Ep. 319).
For Anselm, the primate of the Church of England, one principle
applies
: “I
am a Christian, I am a monk, I am a Bishop: I desire to be faithful to all,
according to the debt I have with each

(Ep. 314). In this vein he does not hesitate to say: “I prefer to be in
disagreement with men than, agreeing with them, to be in disagreement with God
” (Ep. 314). Precisely for this
reason he feels ready even for the supreme sacrifice: “I am not afraid to
shed my blood, I fear no wound in my body nor the loss of any material
good” (Ep. 311).

It is
understandable that, for all these reasons, Anselm still retains a great
actuality and a strong appeal, in as much as it is fruitful to revisit and
republish his writings, and together meditate continuously on his life. For
this reason I have rejoiced that Aosta, on the occasion of the ninth centenary
of the death of the saint, has distinguished itself with a set of appropriate
and intelligent initiatives — especially with the careful edition of his works
— with the intention to make known and loved the teachings and examples of this,
its illustrious son. I entrust to you, Venerable Brother, the task of bringing
to the faithful of the ancient and beloved city of Aosta the exhortation to
remember with admiration and affection this great fellow citizen of theirs,
whose light continues to shine throughout the Church, especially where the love
for the truths of faith and the desire for their study by the light of reason
are cultivated. And, in fact, faith and reason — “fides et ratio
” — are united admirably in
Anselm
. I send, with these heartfelt sentiments through you, venerable
brother, to the Bishop, Monsignor Giuseppe Anfossi, the clergy, the religious
and the faithful of Aosta and to all those who take part in the celebrations in
honor of the “Magnificent Doctor,” a special apostolic blessing,
propitiatory of an abundant outpouring of heavenly favors.

Blessed Maria Gabriella dell’Unità (Sagghedù)

…that they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (John 17:21).

In simplicity of heart I gladly offer everything, O Lord.
The Lord put me on this path, he will remember to sustain me in battle.
To His mercy I entrust my frailty.
I saw in front of me a big cross…,

I thought that my sacrifice was nothing in comparison to His.
I offered myself entirely and I do not withdraw the given word.
God’s will whatever it may be, this is my joy, my happiness, my peace.
I will never be able to thank enough.
I cannot say but these words:” My God, your Glory.”

Blessed Maria Gabriella

Blessed Maria Gabriella Sagghedu.jpgPraying for unity is not a matter reserved only to those who actually experience the lack of unity among Christians. In the deep personal dialogue which each of us must carry on with the Lord in prayer, concern for unity cannot be absent. Only in this way, in fact, will that concern fully become part of the reality of our life and of commitments we have taken on in the Church. It was in order to reaffirm this duty that I set before the faithful of the Catholic Church a model which I consider exemplary, the model of a Trappistine Sister, Blessed Maria Gabriella of Unity, whom I beatified on 25 January 1983. Sister Maria Gabriella, called by her vocation to be apart from the world, devoted her life to meditation and prayer centered on Chapter 17 of St. John’s Gospel and offered her life for Christian Unity. This is truly the cornerstone of all prayer: the total and unconditional offering of one’s life to the Father; through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. The example of Sister Mara Gabriella is instructive; it helps us to understand that there are no special times, situations, or places of prayer for unity. Christ’s prayer to the Father is offered as a model for everyone, always and everywhere.

(Pope John Paul II, Ut unum sint, 1995, 27)

Read more of the blessed’s life here and here.

Transitus of Saint Benedict: a glorious and festive day

Transitus of St BenedictLet the whole multitude of the faithful exult in the glory of our beloved Father Benedict; but most of all let that army of monks be glad who on earth are celebrating the feast of him with whom the Saints in heaven are rejoicing. (Magnificat antiphon)

Today was a glorious day. The weather was particularly beautiful and the grounds of the Abbey and College were manicured on Friday plus the flowering trees are bursting forth with color. Our many guests attested to value of the charism of Saint Benedict and the witness of the monastic community here in the Charlotte metro area. We can say that the monks and friends are intertwined in a very real way.

The 4th bishop of the Diocese of Charlotte, the Most Reverend Peter J. Jugis, JCD, presided his choir robes and many priests of the diocese concelebrated the Mass with Father Abbot Placid Solari, celebrating. All of the monks and guests staying at the abbey were present. It was particularly fitting to have some of the priests of the diocese who in some way collaborate with the abbey here because of the strong connection that exists between the abbey and the diocese: the abbey was the seat of the diocese and the monks either founded and staffed some of the parishes or provided weekend assistance. Heartwarming for me was the clear sense of fraternal love and unity with Saint Peter in the Episcopal office with the presence of Bishop Jugis because there are monasteries live in friction with the local bishop and by extension the Holy Father. Hence it was evident to me that there’s been a genuine affection between the bishop and the monks. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the presence of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. They’ve held a close relationship with the monks of this abbey since the 19th century and the monks continue to be their chaplains down to today.

As an historical note, the Holy See erected the Diocese of Charlotte on January 12, 1972. But beginning in 1944 and then again in 1960 the territory of the abbey nullius was gradually restricted before being suppressed on January 1, 1977, at the request of the US bishops.

In the homily Father Abbot spoke of Saint Benedict personally hearing the voice of Christ calling him to follow. As Benedict listened with the ear of his heart, so we should listen to the call of the Master (Christ). We know that through baptism we are reborn as adopted children of God and our lived experience tells us that we are being formed into saints, or at least the hope is that we’d become saints. Being a saint, however, is not being a plastic sort of character but a person who really lives what his conviction in Christ is. It’s the saint that lets know that God is real and that His love and creative power endures; it’s the saint that knows and shows us that the divine promise is a fact. Two aspects of this the divine promise bear mentioning because they are constituent parts of Benedict’s life: forgiveness (mercy) and providence (life will be set right). In forgiveness our sins are forgiven and we are given the grace to transform our lives from ugliness to beauty. Providence tells us that we don’t hold others hostage for their sinfulness toward us; just as the Lord forgives, so ought we to forgive. Providence is the revelation of hope, that there all of us have a destiny based on faith in Christ.

St BenedictThe abbot also noted for us that Benedict is an example of being “watchful” in the face of grace and sin; he was attentive to sustaining others in the struggle against Satan. One can say, therefore, that Benedict is a living Gospel: he lived the Gospel faithfully and his witness to Christ was substantial. While it seems odd that on a joyous occasion such as this feast to tell people to keep death before our eyes as Benedict admonished his monks, it is nevertheless true that we ought to do so because it is an expression of Christian hope: we desire our destiny, we desire the infinite. As Pope Benedict reminded us in last encyclical, the distinguishing mark of the Christian is that we know we have a future. Just as Saint Benedict was converted, the abbot said, by the Paschal Mystery of the Lord, so by that same Mystery shall we be transformed if we give ourselves over the Lord without reserve.

One may note in the Ordo for liturgical services that March 21 is a liturgical memorial of Saint Benedict, co-patron of Europe and Father of Western monasticism. The ritual form of today’s sacred Liturgy takes on different observances in the various worldwide congregations of Benedictine monasteries. That is to say, some monasteries observe today as a solemnity even though it is Lent; let us not forget that March 21st comes between two other solemnities, Saint Joseph (March 19) and the Annunciation of the Lord (March 25). Monasteries who don’t keep today as a solemnity will keep liturgical memorial as a simple feast and celebrate July 11 as a solemn day.

By the use of the word “solemnity” I mean the use of festive hymns and antiphons for the saint or the Lord are sung, incense and white vestments are used, and the Gloria is sung and the Creed recited at Mass. The above Magnificat antiphon is a good example. Therefore, the special Mass texts written and approved for the liturgical memorial are used in conjunction with the sung Ordinary of the Mass. On days of solemnity the community will have a festive meal with special foods and prepared and often wine is served. The opposite would be true for a day in Lent or an average in Ordinary Time where things are much more sober. I savor today as a solemn break from the joy of Lent!

For the monks of Belmont solemnities never end: the anniversary of the Dedication of the Abbey Church falls on March 28 but that day, even though it is a solemn occasion, will be simplified I can assure you. All these special celebrations can obscure the sober liturgical sense that’s supposed to be followed for Lent and yet there is a particular Catholic sense of the Incarnation that’s manifested when we properly observe feasts on their proper days. Given that Mary, Help of Christians – Belmont Abbey is a monastery of the American-Cassinese Congregation of Benedictine monks it’s keeping to a privilege granted in 1972 by the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship.

At the solemn Vespers last eve, the Father Abbot was suitably decorated in mitre with crosier, symbols of his office as a head of the abbey. A special vesperal hymn for the Transitus of Benedict, “Whate’er of Yore,” was sung. According to Father Prior this hymn is of unknown provenance and yet highly revered. It speaks of the prophets and the Law, Abraham and Moses, perfect virtue, especially asceticism, obedience and peace viz. the witness of blessed Benedict amidst the storms of era.

The lyrics bear our attention:

Whate’ver of yore the tuneful prophets teach
Or Law of olden days,
Great monarch of ascetic multitudes,
Thy life displays.

A glorious progeny is Abram’s boast;
Meekness in Moses shone;
Faultless obedience and a beauteous spouse
Were Isaac’s crown.

But our exalted heav’nly Patriarch,
Immeasurably blest,
Concentrates all their glory, virtue, praise,
In his sole breast.

O may his arm of might that caught us up
From the world’s stormy tide,
Here keep us evermore where halcyon calm
And peace abide.

Glory eternal to the Father be,
And sole-begotten Son,
With Thee Great Paraclete: eternal Three
And trinal One.

Saint Frances of Rome: Patroness of Benedictine Oblates


St Francesca Romana.jpgO God, who in Saint Frances of Rome, have 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 prayer given by the Church calls to mind the fact that Saint Frances was both married and later lived a monastic vocation! This doesn’t happen too often but it shows that it can be done.

Saint Frances is depicted in this picture with an angel resembling her eight-year-old son, Evangelista, who died from the plague. After his death he appeared to her announcing the death of his sister, Agnes.

 

The trauma of losing one child is great and so imagining the loss of two children would be devasting for a parent but anyone with true humanity. The Lord gave Saint Frances an unusual grace as a result to her faithfulness: that of always seeing her guardian angel. Liturgical scholars will note that the angel is wearing a dalmatic like the deacon at Mass reminding us of the service the angels provide just for the asking. As Pope Benedict mentioned a week ago, the guardian angel is continuously with us, assuring us of the love of Jesus Christ, giving us counsel and providing us with that which is part of the Divine Will. For me and for countless others I think THE grace the guardian angels provide is a guiding light through the darkness of life.

 


SFR3.jpgThe first intention I am placing before Saint Frances of Rome, the patroness of Benedictine Oblates, is to petition the Lord that the vocation of the Benedictine Oblates be lived with seriousness so that it can be a witness to the Gospel before the world. The second intention is that as Saint Frances had the grace of actually seeing her angel visibly at every moment of every day, so may we come to rely on our guardian angel for living life with the integrity of the Gospel before our eyes.

 


Sr Barbara & PAZ.jpgTwo years ago I had the privilege of visiting the monastery of Saint Frances of Rome on her feast day. Notice the lemon trees the nuns care for in the above photo. The visit to the monastery was with my friends Father Mark and Sister Barbara.

Read more on the saint.

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.

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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