Tag Archives: Benedictines

Pope Benedict speaks on Saint Bede

St Bede.jpgThe saint on whom we reflect today is called Bede. He was born in Northeast England, in fact in Northumbria, in the year 672/673. He himself narrates that, when he was seven years old his parents entrusted him to the abbot of the neighboring Benedictine monastery, to be educated. “In this monastery,” he recalls, “I lived from then on, dedicating myself intensely to the study of Scripture, while observing the discipline of the Rule and the daily effort to sing in church, I always found it pleasant to learn, teach and write” (Ecclesiastical History of the English People, V, 24). In fact, Bede was one of the most illustrious figures of erudition of the High Middle Ages because he was able to make use of many precious manuscripts that his abbots, who went on frequent trips to the Continent and to Rome, were able to bring back to him. His teaching and the fame of his writings enabled him to have many friendships with the principal personalities of his time, who encouraged him to continue in his work, from which so many benefited. Falling ill, he did not cease to work, always having an interior joy that was expressed in prayer and song. He concluded his most important work, The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, with this invocation: “I pray, O good Jesus, who benevolently has allowed me to draw from the sweet words of your wisdom, that I may reach you one day, source of all wisdom, and to always be before your face.” Death came to him on May 26, 735: It was Ascension day.

St Bede symbol.jpgSacred Scriptures were the constant source of Bede’s theological reflection. Having made a careful critical study of the text (we have a copy of the monumental Codex Amiatinus of the Vulgate, on which Bede worked), he commented on the Bible, reading it in a Christological vein, namely, re-uniting two things: On one hand, he listened to what the text was saying exactly, he really wanted to listen and understand the text itself; on the other hand, he was convinced that the key to understanding sacred Scripture as the unique Word of God is Christ and with Christ, in his light, one understands the Old and the New Testament as “a” sacred Scripture.

The events of the Old and New Testament go together, they are together the path toward Christ, though expressed in different signs and institutions (it is what he calls “concordia sacramentorum”). For example, the tent of the covenant that Moses raised in the desert and the first and second temple of Jerusalem are images of the Church, new temple built on Christ and the Apostles with living stones, cemented by the charity of the Spirit. And, as was the case for the construction of the ancient temple of Jerusalem, even pagan people contributed, making available valuable materials and the technical experience of their master builders, thus apostles and masters not only from ancient Hebrew, Greek and Latin stock contributed to the building of the Church, but also new peoples, among which Bede is pleased to enumerate the Iro-Celts and the Anglo-Saxons. St. Bede witnessed the universality of the Church grow, which is not restricted to a certain culture, but is made up of all the cultures of the world which must open themselves to Christ and find in him their point of arrival.
Eccl His.jpgAnother topic loved by Bede is the history of the Church. After having taken interest in the period described in the Acts of the Apostles, he reviewed the history of the Fathers of the Church and the councils, convinced that the work of the Holy Spirit continues in history. In the Cronica Maiora, Bede traces a chronology that would become the basis of the universal calendar “ab incarnatione Domini.” Up to then, time was calculated from the foundation of the city of Rome. Bede, seeing that the true point of reference, the center of history is the birth of Christ, gave us this calendar that reads history beginning with the Lord’s Incarnation. He registered the first six ecumenical councils and their development, presenting faithfully the Christian, Mariological and Soteriological doctrine, and denouncing the Monophysite and Monothelite, iconoclastic and neo-Pelagian heresies. Finally, he wrote with documentary rigor and literary expertise the already mentioned Ecclesiastical History of the English People, for which he is recognized as “the father of English historiography.” The characteristic traits of the Church that Bede loved to evidence are: a) its catholicity, as fidelity to tradition together with openness to historical developments, and as the pursuit of unity in multiplicity, in the diversity of history and cultures, according to the directives that Pope Gregory the Great gave to the apostle of England, Augustine of Canterbury; b) its apostolicity and Romanness: In this regard he considers of primary importance to convince the whole Iro-Celtic Churches and that of the Picts to celebrate Easter uniformly according to the Roman calendar. The calculation elaborated scientifically by him to establish the exact date of the Easter celebration, and thus of the entire cycle of the liturgical year, became the text of reference for the whole Catholic Church.
Bede was also an illustrious teacher of liturgical theology. In the homilies on the Sunday Gospels and those of feast days, he develops a true mystagogy, educating the faithful to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of the faith and to reproduce them consistently in life, while expecting their full manifestation of the return of Christ, when, with our glorified bodies, we will be admitted in offertory procession to the eternal liturgy of God in heaven. Following the “realism” of the catecheses of Cyril, Ambrose and Augustine, Bede teaches that the sacraments of Christian initiation make every faithful person “not only a Christian but Christ.” In fact, every time that a faithful soul receives and guards the Word of God with love, in imitation of Mary, he conceives and generates Christ again. And every time that a group of neophytes receives the Easter sacraments, the Church is “self-generated,” or to use a still more daring expression, the Church becomes “Mother of God,” participating in the generation of her children, by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Thanks to this way of making theology, interlacing the Bible, the liturgy and history, Bede has a timely message for the different “states of life”:

a) For scholars (doctores ac doctrices) he recalls two essential tasks: to scrutinize the wonders of the Word of God to present it in an attractive way to the faithful; to show the dogmatic truths avoiding the heretical complications and keeping to the “Catholic simplicity,” with attention to the small and humble to whom God is pleased to reveal the mysteries of the Kingdom.

b) For pastors, that for their part, must give priority to preaching, not only through the verbal or hagiographic language, but also valuing icons, processions and pilgrimages. Bede recommends to them the use of the vernacular, as he himself does, explaining in Northumbria the “Our Father,” and the “Creed” and carrying forward until the last day of his life, the commentary to John’s Gospel in the common language.

c) For consecrated people who are dedicated to the Divine Office, living in the joy of fraternal communion and progressing in the spiritual life through ascesis and contemplation, Bede recommends to take care of the apostolate — no one has the Gospel just for himself, but must regard it as a gift also for others — either by collaborating with the Bishops in pastoral activities of various types in favor of the young Christian communities, or being available to the evangelizing mission to the pagans, outside their own country, as “peregrini pro amore Dei.”
Placed in this perspective, in the commentary to the Canticle of Canticles, Bede presents the synagogue and the Church as collaborators in the propagation of the Word of God. Christ the Spouse desires an industrious Church, “bronzed by the fatigues of evangelization” — clear is the reference to the word of the Canticle of Canticles (1:5), where the Bride says: “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am brown, but beautiful) — attempts to till other fields or vines and to establish among the new populations “not a provisional bell but a stable dwelling, namely, to insert the Gospel in the social fabric and the cultural institutions. In this perspective, the saintly Doctor exhorts the lay faithful to be assiduous to the religious instruction, imitating those “insatiable evangelical multitudes who did not even give the Apostles time to eat.” He teaches them how to pray constantly, “reproducing in life what they celebrate in the liturgy,” offering all actions as spiritual sacrifices in union with Christ. To parents he explains that also in their small domestic realm they can exercise “the priestly office of pastors and guides,” by giving Christian formation to the children and states that he knows many faithful (men and women, spouses and celibates) “capable of an irreproachable conduct that, if suitably pursued, could approach daily Eucharistic communion (“Epist. ad Ecgbertum,” ed. Plummer, p. 419).
St Bede2.jpgThe fame of holiness and wisdom that Bede enjoyed already in life, served to merit him the title of “Venerable.” He is thus called also by Pope Sergius I, when he wrote his abbot in 701 requesting to make him come temporarily to Rome for consultation on questions of universal interest. The great missionary of Germany, Bishop St. Boniface (d. 754), requested the archbishop of York several times and the abbot of Wearmouth to have some of his works transcribed and to send him to them so that they and their companions could also enjoy the spiritual light he emanated. A century later Notkero Galbulo, abbot of St. Gall (d. 912), being aware of the extraordinary influence of Bede, equated him with a new sun that God had made arise not in the East but in the West to illumine the world. Apart from the rhetorical emphasis, it is a fact that, with his works, Bede contributed effectively to the making of a Christian Europe, in which the different populations and cultures amalgamated among themselves, conferring on them a uniform physiognomy, inspired by the Christian faith.

Let us pray that also today there be personalities of Bede’s stature, to keep the whole Continent united; let us pray so that all of us are willing to rediscover our common roots, to be builders of a profoundly human and genuinely Christian Europe.


(Wednesday General Audience, Rome, 18 February 2009)

Past days in the monastery

Life in a monastery is never boring. Living our lives seriously hardly leaves room for idleness. The abbey welcomes Christ in the visitors, including vocation guests, we receive. The presence of guests reminds us that we Christ is among us. And I am of the opinion that a religious house should rarely be without guests. The round of prayer, work, reading, dining (feeding is crude, so we politely dine) and private time is a lot. At the moment, time for self is not as plentiful as I want or need especially since I have to prepare for teaching and I want to do some study.


mask wall.jpgOne of my least favorite domestic chores is painting. Actually, I hate painting (probably because my father never really liked it either) and I only initiate the task when it is needed, or asked. I’d rather pay professionals to do the job of preparing the walls, painting and cleaning up. Here at Mary, Help of Christians (Belmont) Abbey I’ve been asked along with two others to paint a few hallways and a room. The companions are fine to work with, though one drives the work, getting mucked up with paint isn’t my idea of fun. BUT the walls do look good and the abbot and other monks are pleased. Happy to oblige. I am just hoping that we don’t have to paint the very long outside porch. The passage from Saint Paul comes to mind: if you don’t work, you don’t eat. Hmmmm, I like to eat….

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Anointing Father John Oetgen

This afternoon the Benedictine monks of Belmont Abbey, with whom I am currently living, gathered in the room of Father John Oetgen to celebrate the Rite of Anointing of the Sick. Father John is one of the senior monks of this monastic community spending a lifetime serving the Lord as a monk, a priest and a professor literature. He’s in 80s and he’s been infirmed for the last 4 months. He’s received this sacrament before, but Father Abbot Placid thought it best to celebrate the sacrament now as Father John has grown weaker in body. What comfort there is when brothers “gather in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who is present among us” to pray and show affection for a brother.

If you have been present for the sacrament of the sick you know how moving it is. I was moved to tears several times during the rite probably for no other reason than what I was experiencing was a great theology at work: God’s praise and our conversion. While I don’t know Father John well, the humanity of act of gathering in prayer and companionship was beautiful.

The rite, recalling the words of sacred Scripture, remind us that the sick came to Jesus for healing; moreover, we recall that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is what sets us free from sin and death. This is the faith we have professed, this is the faith we gave witness to today with Father John, it is the faith that comforts and sustains Father John.

Addressing the faithful, the Saint James exhorts us to care for the ill in this manner: “Are there any who are sick among you? Let them send for the priests of the Church, and let the priests pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up; and if they have committed any sins, their sins will be forgiven them.”  This we did and it was beautiful.

With the laying on of hands and prayer, we asked God to grant Father John comfort in his suffering, courage in the face of fear, patience if distressed and hope when sad and the support of the brothers (and all others) when feeling alone. So, I ask you to pray that God will do the loving thing for Father John and to assist the monks here in all ways that Providence sees fit.

Community of spirit in Saint Benedict, Don Luigi Giussani & Pope Benedict XVI

spirito 1.jpgOn this the feast of the great Saint Scholastica, the twin sister of Saint Benedict, I thought it would be appropriate to hear a few words about the significant connection between the Benedictines (Sts Benedict & Scholastica and Pope Benedict) and Father Luigi Giussani.


Signs of spiritual friendship

by Don Giacomo Tantardini (In 30 Days, May 2005)


…The hundredfold is not the outcome of a project, of a program. My real program of government is that of not doing my own will, of not following my own ideas, but of setting myself to listen, with the whole Church, to the word and will of the Lord and let myself be led by Him, so that it is He Himself who leads the Church in this hour of our history, Benedict XVI said again in the sermon of the mass opening his ministry. The hundredfold here below, like the eternal life, has a beginning, a “permanent” source (each word from the first appearance of Benedict XVI in St Peter’s Square, that was packed with Romans hurrying to see the new Pope, remains in the memory: Trusting in his permanent help). The permanent beginning is Jesus Christ, the Lord risen.


The Church is living because Christ is living, because he is truly risen (Easter Sunday 24 April). And on Sunday 1 May, when, addressing the Churches of the East which were celebrating Easter, he repeated with force Christós anesti! Yes, Christ is risen, is truly risen!, the immediate applause that rose from the square packed with faithful up to that window was very fine.


Here the communion of mind and heart among Saint Benedict, Benedict XVI, Don Giussani and the most ordinary believer is luminous and total.

Giussani detail.jpgDon Giussani always kept the gaze of his life and heart fixed on Christ (Cardinal Ratzinger, in Milan Cathedral, at Don Guissani’s funeral). We need men who keep their eyes looking at God, learning from there true humanity (in Subiaco). And, again in Subiaco, Cardinal Ratzinger concluded his lecture by quoting the more beautiful phrase that Saint Benedict repeats twice in the Rule: Put absolutely nothing before Christ who can lead us all to eternal life. Here, chapter 72: Christo omnino nihil praeponant. In chapter 4: Nihil amori Christi praeponere/ put nothing before the love of Christ.

Arrived at Belmont Abbey, Charlotte

Today, I began a phase of my journey in discernment: life for a few months at a Benedictine abbey. I arrived today from New Haven, Connecticut, leaving 50 degree weather and arriving in 70 degrees. What a nice change from the New England winter; no snow here in Charlotte.

Belmont Abbey Basilica.jpg

Belmont Abbey is a small group of Benedictine monks who follow the Rule of Saint Benedict. There 17 solemnly professed monks with 5 in some stage of formation. The age range is 24 to 88. The head of the monastery is Abbot Placid and the Prior is Father David.

The Abbey was founded in 1876 by Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, the founder of monasticism in the USA, who sent monks from Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, PA, to Charlotte. While the abbey is typically called “Belmont” after the town in which it’s situated, the religious title of the abbey is “Mary, Help of Christians”, sometimes just called Maryhelp; the feast day we observe is May 24.

The monks run a small liberal arts college called Belmont Abbey College.

A quick note on schedule:

7:00  – Morning Prayer

7:30 – breakfast in silence

8:30 – 11:30 work, study, lectio, prayer (whatever you’re assigned)

11:45 – Midday Prayer

Noon – lunch followed by work

5:00 – The Sacrifice of the Mass

5:45 – Dinner in silence for most of the meal with readings from the holy Rule & a book

7:00 – Vespers

Compline is in private for most of the monks but some of the formation monks pray Compline together at 9:30.

The Abbey Basilica of Mary Help of Christians is central to the life of the monks, friends, visitors and the college community. The architecture is German Gothic-Revival. The church was the largest Catholic church in the state at the time of its construction. The monks of the abbey did much of the construction work themselves (with Brother Gilbert Koberzynski crafting the ceiling in the style of a sailing vessel).The interior of the church was renovated in 1964-1965.

The windows were designed and executed by the Royal Bavarian Establishment of Francis Mayer and Company (Munich). The windows were displayed at the Columbian Exhibition, the World’s Fair of 1892 winning four gold medals. The abbey church was the cathedral from 1910-1977 and it was elevated to the rank of a Minor Basilica on July 27, 1998. The Basilica has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973.

Let us pray for each other.

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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