Tag Archives: Benedictines

The freshness of Saint Bernard

Saint Bernard was the brother of Saint Humbeline. At 22, he and four of his blood brothers with 25 friends, entered the new form of monastic life at Citeaux; at some point later, another brother and his father joined him. The monks at the Abbey of Citeaux were reformed Benedictines. In a short time Bernard became the abbot of Clairvaux with a constituency of nearly 700. One of his spiritual sons became Blessed Eugene III, pope.

Bernard (+1153), Cistercian abbot, saint, and Doctor of the Church, is no easy thinker to face alone. You really do need God’s grace to help you get through his works. Challenging is a good word when thinking of Saint Bernard.

History credits Bernard with the foundation of no fewer than 163 monasteries in his lifetime. When Bernard died, historians labeled the Cistercians as the first true Order in the Church with nearly 343 communities. He singularly did more than any other for the Cistercian order than any.

As one Benedictine nun said of Saint Bernard, he was angry a lot of the time, a brilliant writer even when he nothing to say, at odds with Abelard, condemned for preaching the Second Crusade, and kind to Jews at a time when no one was kind to Jews (we know of a German rabbi saying his community received help and protection from the holy abbot).

Bernard’s love of family, affection for others, and capabilities are well-known, but so are his limitations. One of the power-broker churchmen of the time, Cardinal Haimeric, thought that Bernard was meddling in matters above above his competence. The Cardinal cleverly said, “It is not fitting that noisy and troublesome frogs should come out of their marshes to trouble the Holy See and the cardinals.”

And Bernard’s response, “”Forbid those noisy troublesome frogs to come out of their holes, to leave their marshes . . . Then your friend will no longer be exposed to the accusations of pride and presumption.”

One of the theological positions Bernard held was not holding to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. This doesn’t make Bernard a questionable man of the Church because the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not defined until the 19th century. And yet, he sang eloquently of the Virgin Mary.

Questions of the parameters of justification John Calvin to quote Bernard in his heretical teaching. Bernard was a solid theologian that led Pope Pius VIII to name him a Doctor of the Church and the “last of the Fathers.”

Benedictine monasticism according to the observance of Le Barroux

I just watched a very fascinating video on the life of the Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Saint Mary Magdalene of Barroux, in short they are referred to as the monks of Le Barroux. It is a young community in history and in membership. An exemplary life according to an older and venerable way of being a Benedictine.

The documentary, “Watchmen of the Night” (2008), covers all the aspects and then some of Benedictine life, or may merely say, a life of truly living the New Testament. A viewer is intensely engaged in an hour long video that’ss in French with English subtitles.

Their work is “to pray in silence, and to pray to God in heaven.” With a clear ultimacy, monks serve no purpose; monks serve a someone. This is a difficult concept to accept for many people in this era: 5-6 hours of prayer, study, and work all for God. It’s a life totally and unconditionally oriented to the Eschaton.

The monastic life is one of many facets in Christian discipleship; it’s a vocation not given to all; and yet it’s an essential vocation in the life of the Church because of a definitive focus on the contemplative life. While all Christians are called to a life of contemplation, not all are called to a seriously focused life as a monk or a nun; all are called to be in relationship with the Lord though liturgical prayer, study, sacraments, mental prayer, and work, but not all are called to live this way in a community.

As the founder of Le Barroux, Dom Gerard (1927-2008) once said, “The monks unintentionally built Europe. It is an adventure that is primarily if not exclusively interior. They are moved by a thirst for the absolute, a thirst for another world. These monasteries, pointing to heaven, an obstinate reminder that there is another world of which this world is but an image, the herald, and the prefiguration.” So we follow the path given to us Christ.

The monks of Le Barroux are unique in some ways, others not so. In the American context Benedictines generally don’t (can’t, won’t?) do what these monks do, which is OK.  I have to say, though, Le Barroux’s observances are beautiful. We don’t have to be clones but we have to have a freedom for excellence, which is not what we get in many American Benedictine monasteries. Too many are lackluster and ideological and unwilling to change. I happen to think we would do well to honestly look at Le Barroux to understand their way of proceeding, thus making an examination of conscience, not for the purpose of being “Barroux in the USA”, but to see how we all can walk more closely to what is proposed for salvation in the New Testament, the tradition of Holy Mother the Church and what the Benedictine sensibility-through-the-ages (the Holy Rule and the historical Benedictine charism) have to say today. In my limited knowledge Le Barroux gives a hermeneutic of continuity. The point, then, is to understand the contours of Grace and not to be too zealous by going beyond the grace God has given. Immature zeal will always frustrate the good in front of us.

A monk and his Coke at 92


Father Bernardo Francesco Gianni, a Benedictine monk of the Olivetan Benedictine tradition posted this image of one the monks with whom he lives, Don Nicola. This witness of Christ and the Benedictine charism is 92 years old celebrating 75 years of monastic profession. He’s enjoying pranzo with a Coke.

Our Lady, Queen of monks, pray for more vocations.
Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica, pray us.
Saint Bernard Tolomei, pray for Don Nicola.

May God bless Don Nicola today, and in the years to come.

Sister Marie-Zita –50 years of Benedictine monastic witness

The 6th century rule of life by Saint Benedict states that a monk (nun) vow stability, obedience and conversatio morum (fidelity to a monastic manner of life). A Benedictines’s “fidelity to a monastic manner of life” frequently spoken of as “conversion” instead of “fidelity,” so as to echo a centuries-long tradition of concept of conversio rather than conversatio. (Scholars have various opinions about the right word conveying what Benedict really meant and what was in the water at the time; conversatio means in our context monastic manner of life.)

Theologically for those who follow the Benedictine charism, conversatio means a person’s ongoing conversion to the Triune God lived in the monastic life which deepens virtue and extroverts grace. Conversatio, conversio, brings to mind that person seeks a return, a moral conversion, an upright moral life, an intense relationship with the Lord. The true conversatio is a recognizable sign of Christian maturity.

A sign of one’s maturity as a Christian is a life of generativity. That is, the adult Christian is going to be a witness to others of that particular union he or she has with the Trinity in a way that fruit is produced. The mature person does not live a life of reductions, but is filled with wonder and awe, and is willing to change even when it is difficult. Moreover, the mature Christian knows that he or she is not defined by the sins of youth, or the sins of the present. Grace in an a mature Christian, therefore, always is extroverted in some way.

The adult Christian comes his or her maturation in fidelity to the gospel, the sacraments, Church teaching and tradition, and mutual obedience by following (listening). The trouble is, most of us are asleep. We are converted when we can say with certitude that we are awake and that in Christ Jesus lives in me.

With outstretched hands the monk or nun sings the Suscipe (Psalm 118:116): Suscipe me, Domine, secundum eloquium tuum et vivam, et non confundas me ab expectatione mea. (Receive (or, sustain) me, O Lord, according to thy word and I shall live, let me not be disappointed in my hope.)

Today, a friend, Benedictine Sister Marie-Zita of the Heart of Jesus celebrated the 50th anniversary of professing her Benedictine vows as a nun of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified. Her stability is lived at the Monastery of the Glorious Cross, Branford, CT. She gave thanks, we all gave thanks to God for a life of seeking the face of God in community. With hands held up in prayer Sister Zita stated her prayer to be sustained according to the Word.

Mass was offered by Dominican Father Jacob Restrick and the homily preached by Father Damien Schill with concelebrating priests Abbot Caedmon Holmes, OSB, of Portsmouth Abbey, Father David Borino, Father Robert Usenza and Father Gerry Masters. Deacon Sal assisted. About a 100 family and friends were in attendance.

I am grateful for the friendship I share with the nuns of this School of the Lord’s Service; I am elated that God has given Sister Zita the grace to mature in the monastic way of life.

Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus.

The Digital Nun: A Benedictine continuity in social media

Can you believe that Benedictines can do anything in addition to prayer, and more prayer? Well, I hope so. Benedictines and nuns to boot, have given the world lots of innovative things that continue to use today. For example, writing, singing different forms of music, social communications, different forms of alcohol, etc.

The Benedictines are always interesting people, whether in the 9th century, 18th century or the 21st century. Sister Catherine Wybourne, OSB, and the nuns of Holy Trinity Monastery (Howton Grove, Herefordshire, UK).

Sister Catherine is the prioress of the Benedictine nuns at this small monastery with competencies in the secular world and in the world of God and the Church.

Sister Catherine and the nuns of Holy Trinity Monastery engage us on level of faith formation, the Benedictine Charism and social communications. Her disposability for the sake of Christ’s Gospel and His Church.

Listen to Laura Lynch’s interview of Sister Catherine. You won’t be disappointed.

And if you are still interested in social media and the search of God, or least the perspective of this Benedictine nun, Dame Catherine, may I suggest:

  1. How Many iPhone Developers Wear Wimples?” (WSJ, May 2, 2011)
  2. Catherine Wybourne: The Digital Nun
  3. Prayer and Work (1994) with Dom Columba Cary-Elwes (who by the way is the founding prior of St Louis Abbey)

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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