Tag Archives: conversion

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.

Traditional Latin Mass instrumental in conversions, still

The form of the Mass offered according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII, the 1962 Missasl (known also as the Extraordinary Form [EF]) is a misunderstood theology, manner of worship and experience. It is this form of the Mass that has been heart of the Church’s prayer and sacramentality for generations, that has produced saints, and that has worshiped the Triune God.

The EF was freed from the shackles of ideology by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2007 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum. You can read the Pope’s Letter to the Bishops about his motu proprio here. Also of interest is Cardinal William Levada’s Instruction on Summorum Pontificum. These three documents are required reading if you want to know what the Magisterium is teaching.

Let it be said that there are many, even among our clergy and supposedly educated types, who have a profound distrust and one could claim, hatred, for the EF that they act uncharitably toward those who may love the EF. In the ecclesiastical provinces of Hartford, Boston and New York have deacons, priests and bishops who actively work against the laity and clergy who have an affection for the John XXIII’s Missal. Knee-jerk reactionaries is not what you would expect from educated people! Experience tells me that it is not an exaggeration to say that there is still a great prejudice toward the adherents of the EF. I also know of seminarians harassed by seminary formation people and pastors for, and some have been dismissed from seminary formation for wanting to know, serve and pray the 1962 Missal, side-by-side the the Ordinary Form of the Mass.

I have found that attending to the Mass in this form to be beautiful, coherent, faithful, and challenging. The 1962 Missal has expanded my categories of faith and life. I generally attend the Ordinary Form; I do attend the EF regularly for several reasons: the Church in which it is offered is a beautiful place to worship; the Liturgy is often well-done (though not always), I want to know more about this Liturgy as a coherent form of worship, theology and as a way of life; I want to know why people feel the need to discredit and be obstructive of those who have dedicated themselves to this portion of the Church’s liturgical tradition.

The title of this post uses the word “still” because I want to emphasize that the EF can facilitate one’s conversion, even re-version, to Jesus Christ and life in His Church. The Mass of the Ages, as some will call the EF, brought humanity for millennia to Christ, and continues to do so.

Read this article, “Old form of Mass attracts new generation,” citing the experience of a former anti-Catholic and another who was an avowed atheist who are now a practicing Catholic due to grace and the liturgical praxis of the EF.

My purpose in writing on this subject is not to defend the the EF. I hope that the above article will expand your view that conversions to Christ, our own and new ones, is possible through one’s praying of the older form of the Mass. That is, we don’t have to be so rigid to exclude others without good reason. Furthermore, it is my hope that we all act with faith, hope and charity toward others who think a little differently from whatever criteria of the “norm” we happen to utilize. In short, may we be truly Catholic according to the mind of the Church and not our own measure of what it means to be Catholic. My desire is to have a reasonable celebration of both rites of the Mass that’s coherent with what the Church has done, with what the tradition as given to us over the years, and with what the Church hopes to be as a Christian people with eyes set on the Lord. I happen to think we need to continue with vigor the work of the Liturgical Movement and do things in the sacred Liturgy that are truly Catholic and not ape what our Protestant brothers and sisters do. Catholic Liturgy is not Lutheran Liturgy, and we ought to resist blurring the lines.

Saint Benedict, and all Benedictine saints, pray for us.

The unexpected grace of Matushka Magdalena

We need witnesses. This is an idea that I am echoing from the teaching of Paul VI. Who are the witnesses that lead you to a deeper relationship with the Other, with friends, and with oneself?

A friend sent me the story of Matushka Magdalena who faced persecution wreaked by the Khruschev’s regime. What this story gets at, I think, is that nothing is given to us by happenstance. That is, in some strange yet beautiful way we ought to attribute the circumstances of our life to Divine Providence. Nothing is by accident. At least that’s what I think the article “An Amazing Story of Betrayal and Repentance” gets at.
Eastern Christians need our support through prayer and friendship. Let’s pray for the Catholic and Orthodox Churches in lands of the Rus.

Vice and good works: where’s the salt of true life?

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick's cathedral, Ne...

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC

Let me be presumptuous for a minute: I think few people spend much time considering a life of vice, sin, evil in their own lives. Personal darkness, “dead” salt as Pope Francis mentioned today in homily, is not high on people’s list of things. Many are quick –and I can be accused of this, too– point out the sin in another ignoring the fat elephant of in the living room in need of a wash or a diet. Do you think this is reasonable to say? My friend Henry told me once that people don’t like going to confession because they like their sins. True enough. I agree. But I also like reconciliation. Something new, something happens to my soul after a good confession of sins that no other experience is capable of imparting.

The point of conversion is to develop the better self, not to remain entrenched in a bitter way of seeing things. Lent was supposed to help me seeing things differently; now, perhaps Ordinary Time will lead me in the right direction.

I am across this paragraph from the Prologue from Ochrid that I found interesting and thought I would share. Chrysostom’s insight about vice and good works is correct from my own experience and from what I observe in others. Chrysostom is a heavy hitter.

We see that vice is something shameful and sinful in that it always hides and always takes upon itself the appearance of good works. St. John Chrysostom beautifully says: “Vice does not have its own particular face, but borrows the face of good works.” This is why the Savior said: “they come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (St. Matthew 7:15). Call a liar, a liar; a thief, a thief; a murderer, a murderer; an adulterer, an adulterer; a slanderer, a slanderer and you will infuriate them. However, call a man whatever you want: honest, honorable, unselfish, truthful, just, conscientious and you will make him light up with joy and please him. Again, according to Chrysostom, I quote: “good works are something natural in man while vice is something unnatural and false.” If a man is even caught in a vice, he quickly justifies his vice by some good works; he clothes it in the garments of good works. Indeed, vice does not posses its own particular face. The same is true of the devil, the father of vices!

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The contrite heart

Symeon the New Theologian

The conversion we have entered into this lent, in a full way I hope according to circumstances, likely to be an intense experience this week. Holy Week is a rather unique experience for each of us that works on us, and it is a work in which we have to engage in.

Some years I find myself happy with what has been accomplished, and others, not so. Much of this judgment is based on the awareness of the context in which we find ourselves: health and sickness, wealth and poverty, power and weakness, intellectually sensitive and those living with diseases of the mind. 

Whatever it is that captures our heart, whatever ambit it is that we find ourselves. Dying to self, I have to recognize is not done on my own terms.
“Let us acquire a contrite heart, a soul humbled in mind, and a heart that by means of tears and repentance is pure from every stain and defilement of sin. So shall we too be found worthy in due time quickly to rise to such heights that even hear and now we may see and enjoy the ineffable blessings of the divine light, if not perfectly, at least in part, and to the extent to which we are able. So shall we both unite ourselves to God, and God will be united to us. The to those who come near us we shall become ‘light’ and ‘salt’ (cf. Mt. 5:13-14) to their great benefit in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Discourses, (Paulist Press, 202-203)

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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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