Tag Archives: Rule of St Benedict

Saints Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany

Raising Lazarus Martha and Mary Hunterian PsalterOn the Universal liturgical calendar of the Church today’s feast is for Saint Martha of Bethany. Yet, on the Benedictine liturgical calendar the Church honors the three of Bethany: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus  described in the Gospels as saints. Revealed in sacred Scripture, these people are acclaimed as the much-loved friends of Jesus (according to Luke and John). In the Gospel of Luke ewe read the well-known story of hospitality noting Martha as a symbol of the active life and Mary of the contemplative. The Lord holds both women in tension of what the disciple is to be: a contemplative in action.

The Lord’s raising of Lazarus from the dead is an anticipation of resurrection and a sign of eternal life for the rest of us who are baptized into the Mystical Body of Christ. Resurrection from the dead becomes, with this pericopy a powerful “game-changer” in the life of every human being. The death and subsequent raising of Lazarus evokes in each of us the acknowledge that we do not make ourselves, that God is the only Creator of who we are and what we are about as persons (not as individuals). This gesture of the Lord’s invites each of us to a deeper faith in the Messiah.

So, why is honoring all three characters crucial in our Christian life? Each person: Mary, Martha and Lazarus are convicted in the friendship with Jesus. If friendship, then fidelity, and perseverance, gratitude and hospitality.

Why is this a true feast for Benedictine monks, nuns, sisters and Oblates (laity)?

Saint Benedict sees all persons as a gift of God. The greatest gift was the person of Jesus who received as the giftedness of each person when he said: “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Our Holy Father Saint Benedict is quite direct in how we treat the stranger, how welcome the person who presents himself at the door, we definitive statements. In Chapter 53 of Rule of Saint Benedict we read:

All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims. Once a guest has been announced, the superior and the brothers are to meet him with all the courtesy of love. First of all, they are to pray together and thus be united in peace, but prayer must always precede the kiss of peace because of the delusions of the devil. All humility should be shown in addressing a guest on arrival or departure. By a bow of the head or by a complete prostration of the body, Christ is to be adored because he is indeed welcomed in them. After the guests have been received, they should be invited to pray; then the superior or an appointed brother will sit with them. The divine law is read to the guest for his instruction, and after that every kindness is shown to him. The superior may break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it is a day of special fast which cannot be broken. The brothers, however, observe the usual fast. The abbot shall pour water on the hands of the guests, and the abbot with the entire community shall wash their feet. After the washing they will recite this verse: God, we have received your mercy in the midst of your temple (Ps 47 [48]:10). Great care and concern are to be shown in receiving poor people and pilgrims, because in them more particularly Christ is received; our very awe of the rich guarantees them special respect.

The hospitality shown by the the Holy Three is what we come to know as their personal mission given by God, their personal “I Am” and not mere kindness to the other. In the person of Jesus we meet his enjoyment of their company because it show us how the beauty of human friendship and love is at the core of our DNA. The Church’s honoring Saints Mary, Martha and Lazarus is a sign of hope and promise for all who are in Christ Jesus.

Can we live as the Saints of Bethany? Can we live as Saint Benedict shows us?

Saints Mary, Martha and Lazarus: Christian examples of friendship and hospitality

The Church universal celebrates the liturgical memorial of Saint Martha today. However, for those who live the Benedictine charism, the ordo (notes for Mass and the Divine Office) is much more expansive by observing the feast of Saints Mary, Martha and Lazarus. Even though these holy siblings predate Benedict and his blessed Rule, they are easily considered Benedictines.

The reason being is that Benedictines see all three siblings as Christian examples of interpersonal friendship and mutual obedience, hospitality (openness) and friendship with the Lord. But there is a deeper meaning in keeping the holy siblings together in the liturgical act. Each of the protagonists represent a fullness of the Christian life: penitence, service and contemplation (awareness). You could easily include confession of faith as when Martha declares her belief in Jesus’ radically claim of resurrection.

As Brother Emmanuel, a newly ordained Deacon at St Joseph’s Abbey (Spencer said),

Our Father, Saint Bernard, compares the monastic community to a family, like the one Jesus visited at Bethany. In the monastic community we find Lazarus, the penitent; Martha, the active servant and Mary, the contemplative. All three are necessary to make the monastery what it ought to be. For Saint Bernard true monastic perfection consists in ‘the union of all three vocations: that of the penitent, the active worker and the contemplative.’ (Sermon for the Assumption) Thomas Merton agreed that while the contemplative life was to be  preferred to the active life, the ‘most perfect souls’ would combine the vocations of Lazarus, Martha and Mary.

Benedictine monks, nuns, sisters and oblates are known for offering hospitality to pilgrims. In the Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 53 on The Reception of Guests, we read: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for him himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25-35).” You could easily include, You must honor everyone (1 Peter 2:17). This chapter is a manner of being, a path of meeting the Lord through a relationality with the person in front of us. Hence, hospitality is way of living communio, as way of engaging in friendship, as way of extending and receiving invitation to be a better person, as way to walk a journey with the other given to us to care for.

So, the feast of Saints Mary, Martha and Lazarus is a feast of friendship and hospitality. We are friends with Christ he first called us His friends, and friends open us to Him.

We need Saints Mary, Martha and Lazarus to show us how to live. They open show us to be Christians. Mary, Martha and Lazarus show us how to be a new Benedict and Scholastica.

New roots in ancient soil, the Cistercians revive monastic life in Norway

hotellerie croix.gifThe Cistercians of the Strict Observance –the Trappists– are busy reviving monastic life in Norway after an absence since a fire destroyed the ancient monastery. Monks and nuns are taking up with great seriousness the invitation of the Pope Benedict XVI to share the spiritual, intellectual and cultural traditions of the monastic Rule in places where the need is great even new: to bring a light to darkness. Cistercian monks and nuns, hence, are founding separate monasteries bringing with them observances of the traditional vows of stability, conversion of manners, and obedience to a part of the world that’s been basically secularized for a long time even though the Norwegian Lutheran Church is the “state church.” In 2009, monks of Munkeby Priory are the first foundation of the great Cistercian house of Cîteaux since the 15th century, and in 2000 the American nuns arrived. Cistercians first came to Norway in the 12th century.

This 15 minute video gives a good introduction into the Monkeby and Tautra Cistercians.
The Cistercians join the Dominicans and Poor Clares in establishing new contemplative houses in Norway, the North country. The Benedictines have returned to Denmark and Sweden and the Brigittines and Carmelites in Iceland.

Lenten Reading according the Rule of St Benedict

During this time of Lent each one is to received a book from the library, and is to read the whole of it straight through. These books are to be distributed at the beginning of Lent (RB 48:15, 16)

This portion of the Rule of Saint Benedict gives a real good sense of what monks, nuns, sisters and oblates practice during Lent: they savor the good Word, they taste the wisdom of those seeking God. Reading is very important to Saint Benedict, and to his spiritual children done through the ages. Reading enlivens the imagination and transforms the heart and informs one’s behavior.

Lenten books are distributed to the members of a Benedictine community by the superior usually at “chapter meeting” just before Lent begins. Oblates ought to speak with their Oblate Director or their spiritual director for guidance. In most monasteries and in many of the Oblate programs there is a “Bona Opera” (Good Works) card that is filled out, given to the superior for approval. On the card one would name the book to be read.

To help make the Lenten experience of reading more profitable, Lenten reading may be a community exercise beginning shortly after supper until Compline. Or, you can adjust your schedule accordingly.

Pick a good spiritual book!

St Benedict’s Prologue to the Holy Rule: orienting 2013

The new year needs a proper orientation: may I propose that we need to listen, that is, to be silent (once in a while) and to attend to what the Lord, the Church, friends and family are saying. Here I think we would do well to hear what a master has to say about our work. A few years ago Pope Benedict spoke about an ancient form of the spiritual life, Benedictinism, that is often misunderstood, and yet it corresponds to the heart. Known as the Patriarch of Western monasticism, Benedict of Nursia, is the father of compassion, a man of blessing, a forthright teacher. The Pope said that,

St. Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God’s gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his  mission” (April 9, 2008).
A tender word from Saint Benedict’s Holy Rule is important for all of us to reflect upon as we begin 2013. The saint is clear that the Rule is not for the holy people or for people who are well-versed in the spiritual life. On the contrary what we see here  in the Prologue we read that our following (listening), our friendship with Christ is a work of which we ought to be diligent in doing if we are to reach our goal: heaven. Only in doing the hard work, some will say rightly so, doing battle, the distance between ourselves and God be lessened. Benedict is truly a father with an emphasis on mercy and honesty. His approach cultivates in all of us, I hope, a humane and reasonable way of living.
What distances the self from God? The truthful assessment of our life is our personal sin, the “slothful disobedience” we engage in. Overcoming sin, by Grace, is the work of each one of us, pope to peasant, PhD-holder to high school student. All we need to do is begin. Notice the emphasis I’ve placed for your concentration.

St. Benedict of Nursia writing the Benedictine...

Saint Benedict of Nursia writing his Rule ~a 1929 portrait at Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria by Herman Nieg.

L I S T E N carefully, my child, to your master’s
precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20). Receive willingly and
carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of
you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may
be, who are renouncing your own will to do battle under the Lord Christ, the
true King
, and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first
of all, whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer
to perfect it
, that He who has now deigned to count us among His children may
not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds. For we must always so serve Him with
the good things He has given us, that He will never as an angry Father
disinherit His children
, nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment as wicked servants who would not follow
Him to glory.
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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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