Tag Archives: Oblates

People of the Psalms

This past week I spent some time Portsmouth Abbey. My time at the Abbey was a beautiful time of grace. Following the rhythm of the house is vital: the silence, personal prayer, communal prayer, reading, Lectio, leisure, conversation, listening, enjoying a meal. While the life of the monks life cannot be romanticized it is worth noting that you grow in awareness in following. The point of this post, however, is digging more deeply into the psalms.

Praying the Divine Office with the monks had me reflecting on importance of the place of the psalms in our lives. When you pray the Office you become very aware of how the day gives God glory and challenges us to attend to reality as it is. The unfolding of the day is God’s revelation to us. Psalmody dives into our humanity in a radical way that other literature can not because it is here with the Psalms we speak to God, the Psalms speak to us of Him, and they speak of Jesus, image of the invisible God Who fully reveals the Father’s face to us. As Oblates, I believe we need to be real people of the psalms.

The experience of prayer in community, whether with the monks/nuns or with others, you come to see that the Psalms are both personal and communal. As St. Augustine says: “if the psalm prays, pray. If it laments, lament. If it rejoices, rejoice. If it hopes, hope. If it fears, fear. For everything which is written here is a reflection of us.” My own experience mirrors what is said by the Church, “the Psalms mirror human emotions and simultaneously reveal God’s heart for us.”

Psalms express all human experience. Pope Benedict once said, “All the truth of the believer comes together in those prayers, which first the People of Israel and later the Church adopted as a special way to mediate their relationship with the one God, and as an adequate response to His having revealed Himself in history“. Thus Christians, by praying the Psalms, pray to the Father in Christ and with Christ, seeing those songs in a new perspective which has its ultimate interpretation in the Paschal Mystery”.

At Matins this week we were listening to the Book of Esther and St Augustine’s Letter to Proba on prayer.

What is your experience of praying the psalms?

Blessed feast of All Saints!

Benedictine Spirituality II: The Master’s Instructions

The other day Part I in Benedictine Spirituality –Silence– given by Dom Boniface Hicks, monk of St Vincent’s Archabbey. Now in Part II of the Benedictine Spirituality, Dom Boniface explores The Master’s Instructions and our developing the sensitivity to the divine Presence. Where is your heart? Who is your God? How docile are you to the Lord’s promptings?

Those who follow Communion and Liberation and who live as Oblates will want to attend to this essay as there are points of convergence.

The Divine Presence – “The Master’s instructions”

Saint Benedict exhorts the monk to listen to the “Master’s” instructions. Who is the Master? On the one hand the Master is God. On the other hand, it refers to those who hold divine authority, such as the Abbot, but also to other authorities like parents, government leaders, teachers, elders, etc. In other words, God certainly instructs us directly, but He also instructs us through other people. This principle is repeated several times in the Rule of Benedict and it is an extremely important one for our Christian lives. Blessed Columba Marmion, OSB noted that the central theme of the whole Rule of Benedict is expressed in this idea found in Saint Benedict’s exhortation: “We believe the divine presence is everywhere…but beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office” (RB 19:1-2).

The beginning of our awareness of God generally happens in a religious experience. Our communal celebrations, including the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours and the other Sacraments, are important points of contact with God. It is critical that they be celebrated in a reverent and devoted manner. When these great times of prayer are beautiful and prayerful, they can be a cause for conversion. They should be bright with music, but balanced with times of silent reflection. They must be led confidently, reverently and prayerfully. These are the expectation of Saint Benedict when he reminds us that “beyond the least doubt we should believe” the divine presence is to be found in the divine office (RB 19:2). We must conduct ourselves in communal prayer and in the Church as we would conduct ourselves in the presence of a mighty ruler: “Whenever we want to ask some favor of a powerful man, we do it humbly and respectfully, for fear of presumption” (RB 20:1). Rather than carrying on raucous conversations or irreverent worldly activities in Church we must always act in a manner that reminds ourselves and also shows others that the One True God is present there in His Flesh reserved in the Tabernacle.

Saint Benedict expects us to develop a sensitivity to the divine presence by celebrating the liturgy well and taking the words of God on our lips seven times a day. “Let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices (mens concordet voci)” (RB 19:7). Normally we first form words in our minds and then we speak them out with our voices. When we pray the psalms, however, the words are given to us to speak, but then they begin to form our minds. In this way, we allow the Word to form our way of thinking, which in turn can form our way of acting. After repeating the words of the psalms, the liturgical prayers and the readings from Mass, our hearts become more and more sensitive to the divine presence. We start to see his fingerprints and footprints all around us. We see His presence in the lives of others—in the lives of other monks and in the lives of the guests who come to the monastery. We see His Presence in our work. We see His presence in the sick members of the community. We see His presence in the Abbot. We see His presence at our meals. By becoming sensitized to the Word of God and taking on the mind of Christ, we start to see the divine presence everywhere in our lives.

This brings us back to the question, “Who is the Master?” The Master is God and we must take time in liturgical prayer and in personal prayer in order to begin hearing God and to sensitize our hearts to His presence. As we do that, however, we also start to see Him in everything. The monk is the one who arranges His day around repeated acts of attention to the divine presence. He regularly interrupts every other activity because “nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God” (RB 43:3). With his visits to the oratory and his celebrations of the liturgy of the hours at the center of his day, the monk makes acts of recollection throughout the rest of his day to renew his awareness of the divine presence. In Saint Benedict’s time it was already encouraged by St. John Cassian to recite the verse of Psalm 70: “God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” Cassian identified that verse as a defense against every attack of the Enemy and as a simple way to return one’s attention to God throughout the day. In the subsequent centuries, the Jesus Prayer served a similar purpose, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” With these brief prayers, the monk can bring his awareness of the presence of God, which is especially strong in the places of prayer, out into the rest of his life. He can learn to hear the instructions of the Great Master through every other little “master”. Even in sinful men or atheists, the prayerful monk can learn to be aware of the Presence of God.

Part I

Benedictine Spirituality I: Listen

Father Boniface Hicks, OSB, a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He is trained in computer science and in spirituality. Currently, Father Boniface is part of the formation team training men for the Catholic priesthood at his abbey’s seminary and the work of spiritual direction. Since I am interested in Benedictine Spirituality periodically you will see essays on this subject here on Communio. As a side note, those of us who follow Communion and Liberation ought to recognize a connection with what is said here and with what Father Julián Carrón has been teaching in months. That is, the importance of listening, centering on Jesus Christ as a Lord and Savior, and that silence is crucial method. How we respond to the Lord’s invitation to be in friendship with him requires us to be in relation to Him and listen to His promptings through prayer, fasting, alms-giving, sacred scripture, the worthy reception of the sacraments and knowing the faith.

What is said of monks is also true for the Oblates. Attend!

by Photos8.com


“Listen my son to the Master’s instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart” (Prologue 1). These are the first words Saint Benedict speaks to his monks through his Rule of life. The Rule of Benedict (RB) establishes three important spiritual attitudes already in the first verse. The first instruction is that Saint Benedict requires the monk to listen, which requires the monk to cultivate silence, humility and obedience. The second is that God, the Master, speaks to us—both directly and through those in whom He has invested authority, and even more broadly through the circumstances of reality itself. The third is that there is a kind of listening that one can only do and must do with the ears of the heart.  In this post, we will reflect on the first part and take up the next two parts in the following posts.

Listening – “Listen, my son”

Listening is the foundational attitude of the monk and to do it well it requires silence, obedience, and humility. This explains the three chapters of the Rule on these principal monastic attributes—chapter 5 on obedience, chapter 6 on silence and chapter 7 on humility. All are necessary for listening: only the humble man listens, while the proud man believes he already knows everything; listening requires exterior silence to hear with the ears in one’s head and interior silence to hear with the ears of the heart, and obedience treats listening as a path of potential action, not merely a matter of taking in idle words.

Humility is a key theme throughout the Rule of Saint Benedict. The longest chapter in the rule (chapter 7) is devoted to the virtue of humility. Humility is expressed in the beginning of the rule as the call to listen. A person only listens when he believes he has something to learn. Otherwise, he will talk excessively, thinking everyone else has something to learn from him. That is why Saint Benedict warns the talkative man: “in a flood of words, you will not avoid sinning” (RB 7:57 quoting Proverbs 10:19). He also notes that when we think we know everything and never cease talking, we end up going in circles, never making progress: “A talkative man goes about aimlessly on the earth” (RB 7:58 quoting psalm 140:12). Those scriptures are quoted in the ninth step of humility which requires “that a monk controls his tongue and remains silent” (RB 7:56).

The silence of Christian monasticism is not merely an asceticism of self-control or emptying our desires, but rather a posture of listening to a God who speaks. We do not silence ourselves for the sake of being silent, but rather for the sake of hearing more clearly. Our silence is not a matter of isolating ourselves, but rather of opening ourselves. It is relational. Silence is the necessary pre-condition for hearing God and encountering Him in prayer and in life. Too often we make the mistake of getting lost in the world and never slowing down enough or silencing ourselves enough to meet God, to hear Him, and simply to be with Him. God has revealed Himself as the divine Word who has spoken from all eternity and continues to speak to us in a personal relationship. When we slow down, humble ourselves in prayer and open our hearts, we can hear His voice. That has a way of humbling us even more, reducing our inflated egos to nothing. We find ourselves saying like Saint Paul, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8).

Furthermore, Saint Benedict understands listening as leading to action. He is not content with ideas that never turn into action nor with knowledge that never becomes love. “’Knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up” (1Cor 8:1). “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). It is through obedience that knowledge becomes love and that the Word becomes flesh. That is why Jesus is the ultimate example of obedience. In Him, the Father’s will was made tangible and visible at every moment of His life (cf. 1 Jn 1:1-4). “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ’Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me’” (Heb 10:5). The Word was made flesh so that the Father’s will could be visible in a human body. Furthermore, the ultimate sacrifice is made through that same human body. There is no love without sacrifice and Christ revealed the ultimate love by offering the ultimate sacrifice. He laid down His life for us, allowing His crucified Body to proclaim, through suffering, all of the Father’s love for us. When Jesus listened to the Father, He opened His life to the greatest potential. This potential became a reality as His Body participated in and revealed the fullness of divine love. This is true obedience and Saint Paul glorifies it by singing: “Christ…became obedient unto death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8).

We can now apply to ourselves Saint Benedict’s teaching on listening through silence, obedience, and humility. We must create places of silence and we must intentionally include in our lives extended periods of silence for prayer. In the rule, Saint Benedict prescribes 4-6 hours of silence for monks to spend each day in personal prayer. This sets a high standard that few can follow given the demands of daily life, but at least an hour of daily silent prayer is necessary for real spiritual growth.

Beyond our dedicated times of silent prayer, it also helps to create spaces of communal silence. Benedictine monasteries have done this since the 6th century, making a place not only for the personal sanctification of the monks but also for other members of the faithful to enter into. Saint Benedict had extensive regulations in the Rule to provide for guests, noting that “monasteries are never without them” (RB 53:16). The service of hospitality is a key feature of Benedictine spirituality. When Benedictine monasteries consist of monks that are prayerful and cultivate silence, these monasteries can become a spiritual oasis for the faithful. That depends on the personal decision of the monks, however. We must all choose how we will respond to the call of the Christian faith. When we respond with humble silence and holy love, our hearts are set aflame and we can warm the hearts of others. When we allow the noise of the world to come in and to corrupt our souls and make us busybodies, our hearts grow cold and so do those who would seek the warmth of Christ in us.

This post originally appeared on fatherboniface.org

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.

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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