Tag Archives: St Benedict

Understanding Saint Benedict

San Benedetto.jpg“St. Benedict’s is best understood as the spirituality
of ordinary life… The Benedictine is a spirituality of work: man’s by labor,
God’s by prayer.” (John Senior)

Saint Benedict (480-543) “If one wishes to
understand in depth his personality and life, he can find in the disposition of
the Rule the exact image of all the actions of the master, because this saintly
man is incapable of teaching other than he lived.” (Saint Gregory)

A bold abbot, Communion and Liberation, the BVM and Saint Benedict

CL logo.jpgToday is the 31st anniversary of the foundation of Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. The narrative of the Fraternity’s founding is told in “The Greatest Grace in the History of the Movement” by Giorgio Feliciani (Traces, February 2007). Here’s the story.

A priest in the direct service of the Holy See, Monsignor Mariano De Nicolò, currently Bishop of Rimini [he retired 3 July 2007], happened to review, as part of his official duties, a file that illustrated and documented the Movement’s desiderata. Feeling that these aspirations deserved attention and further study, he suggested to Father Francesco Ricci, who at the time was sharing responsibility for the Movement with Father Giussani [for more about this priest, who died in 1991, see Francesco Ricci. Una passione, cento passioni,
San Martino in Strada
, Lit. Citienne,  1996], that he consult with Monsignor Giuseppe Lobina, an expert in Canon Law who, along with a solid formal training, had an unusual amount of experience with ecclesiastical praxis.

This advice was promptly taken and, only a few months later, Monsignor Lobina, after acquiring all the necessary information in various meetings with CL figures and Father Giussani himself, was drawing up what would soon be the Statute of the Fraternity, which has remained largely unchanged up to now.

Monsignor Lobina also undertook to find the ecclesiastical authority willing to approve the Movement, and found him in Abbot Martino Matronola, who, as provost [abbot] of the monastery of Montecassino, had the same powers over the surrounding territory as the bishop of a diocese. This acceptance was even more welcome because Father Giussani felt that the concept of his Movement was very close to that of the Benedictines (see Giussani, op.cit., pp. 74-75).

The formal establishment of the Fraternity came shortly thereafter in a very discreet, unassuming way. On July 11, 1980-the solemnity of Saint Benedict, Patron of Europe, on the fifteenth centenary of his birth-a small group of twelve stood together with Father Giussani in front of the Abbot to be constituted as a canonical association. On that same day, Monsignor Matronola,* by a specific formal decree, granted juridical status in the Church to the ecclesial movement called “Fraternity of Communion and Liberation” and approved its statutes and “works of apostolate and individual and social formation,” placing it under the “protection of the Immaculate Virgin and our Patron Saint Benedict” (see the Bollettino Diocesano di Montecassino, no. 3, 1980, pp. 223-224).

Thus, the Fraternity was born as a reality in the Church, recognized to all effects by the ecclesiastical authority and by virtue of this formal empowerment to act, in communion with its respective bishops, not only in Montecassino but also in the other dioceses. Indeed, in the same decree, the Abbot expressed his “fervent wish that wherever the Association exercises its apostolic activity, it may be benevolently welcomed, aided, and encouraged by their Excellencies the Ordinaries.”…

Despite the lack of any kind of organized promotion, adherence to the Fraternity was growing rapidly, to the point that within a year the number of members went from the original 12 to almost 2,000. …

The Abbot of Montecassino was certainly aware that his decree would provoke harsh criticism from those bishops who did not view CL with a favorable eye. One of the leading figures in the Italian Bishops Conference went so far as to state that the decree had been illegally extorted from him. And, realistically, an attentive Canon lawyer noted, “The Abbot of Montecassino was brave (some would say bold) to approve an association that is not diocesan, but evidently multi-diocesan.” In this situation, the recognition generously and courageously granted by the Abbot of Montecassino was no longer sufficient to give the association a juridical form that corresponded with its actual reality. By now, the approval of a higher authority was needed, which could only be the Holy See, and more specifically the Pontifical Council for the Laity, the dicastery set up by Pope Paul VI to handle matters concerning the participation of the laity in the life and mission of the Church.

Consequently, as early as April 7, 1981, less than a year after the decree issued by the Abbot of Montecassino, Father Giussani, with the continued encouragement and advice of Monsignor Lobina, sent the President of the Council, at that time Cardinal Opilio Rossi, a formal application for pontifical recognition of the Fraternity. …

In the end, the Holy Father, John Paul II himself, intervened: after being fully informed about the question, he encouraged the Pontifical Council to proceed to grant the desired approval without further delay (according to the Decree of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, p. 235).

Thus, we come to the Decree, issued on February 11, 1982, the liturgical feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, which “establishes and confirms as a juridical entity for the universal Church” the Fraternity, “declaring it to all effects an Association of Pontifical Right and decreeing that it be recognized as such by all.”

As is known, February 11, 1982, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes,  is recognized as the establishment of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation. It is this date that CL prays the Mass for the good of the Fraternity. Historically, as noted above, the Archabbot of Monte Cassino, on Saint Benedict’s 1500th birthday, recognized the CL as an ecclesial movement, an act that caused much criticism for being perceived as taking authority not his own. Two years later Pope John Paul II addressed the criticism, and on the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes had the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation recognized by the Pontifical Council for the Laity under the leadership of Opilio Cardinal Rossi. Hence, Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Benedict are patrons of the Fraternity Communion and Liberation.

Martino Matronola.jpg

*Martino Matronola (1903-1994) was born in Cassino, Italy, the city below the great Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino where he was elected the archabbot in 1971 and appointed bishop in 1977. The Abbey of Monte Cassino is known as the archcoenobium because it is the one of the monasteries founded Saint Benedict; the abbey is also distinguished for being an abbey-nulius (a territorial abbey, meaning the abbey is responsible for a number of parishes). Therefore, the man elected the archabbot of Monte Cassino is also the Diocesan Ordinary of the Diocese of Cassino which has 53 parishes, 68 priests and 79,000 faithful to care for (according to 2004 stats). He retired from the position of abbot-bishop of Monte Cassino in 1983.

Saint Benedict and his friend the raven

St Benedict with the Raven.jpg

One of my favorite parts of the Saint Benedict’s hagiography (iconography) is the narrative of the “man of God” (Benedict) and the raven. It is related by Saint Gregory the Great (+603) that in the wilderness Benedict fed a raven with some a portion of his bread.  When a jealous and wicked priest tried to kill Benedict with poisoned bread, Benedict coached the raven to take the deadly bread to place where it couldn’t harm another. The raven complied.

In his Dialogues Gregory writes, “Then the raven, opening its beak wide and spreading its wings, began to run around the bread, cawing, as if to indicate that it wanted to obey but was unable to carry out the order. Again and again the man of God told him to do it, saying, ‘Pick it up, pick it up. Do not be afraid. Just drop it where it cannot be found.’ After hesitating a long time, the raven took the bread in its beak, picked it up and flew away. Three hours later it came back, after having thrown the bread away, and received its usual ration from the hands of the man of God.”

Saint Benedict through the eyes of Saint Anselm

c. 1437-1446

Image via Wikipedia

A reading from a sermon by St. Aelred

As today we
celebrate the passing of our holy Father Benedict, I am obliged to say
something about him, especially because I observe that you are eager to listen.
Like good sons you have come together to hear about your Father who, in Christ
Jesus, gave birth to you in the Gospel. Because we know that he has passed
beyond, let us see where he came from and where he has gone.

He came from where
we still are, of course, and he has gone on to that place to which we have not
yet come. And while we are not physically there where he has gone, we are there
in hope and love, as our Redeemer has told us: Where your treasure is, there
also is your heart. Thus the Apostle said: Our dwelling place is in heaven.
Indeed, Saint Benedict himself, while he lived physically in this world, dwelt
in thought and desire in the heavenly Fatherland.
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Photographer Monk: Abbot Barnabas engages in contemplation through photography

I love photography. There is something attractive in looking at old and new, color and black-and-white photographs. And every photograph tells a story because each picture is the result of a friendship with reality. In photography I see a quality of the beautiful that is drawn out the subject: there is an innate sense of the sensual that leads me to an act of contemplation; it also leads me to a deeper sense of my own humanity and to God; the same can be said of music and taking in an art show of the renaissance period (as I did last week at the Yale Art Gallery). I think back to my friend Kevin Locke who had a wonderful eye for the beautiful as well as my friend Brother Mark Kammerer, a Benedictine monk of St Louis Abbey in St Louis, MO, who himself is an excellent photographer who discerns the beautiful in images. Kevin and Brother Mark see life with a keen eye for grace’s activity.

You’ll get a better sense of what I am talking about if you watch the Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly article called the “Photographer Monk,” which highlights the good work of Abbot Barnabas Senecal. For him, the photographer engages in a practice of monastic mindfulness that finds him being aware of God’s presence today, with me and with the world as Saint Benedict tells us to do. He’s spiritually, fraternally and intellectually nourished by taking and gazing upon pictures because they are tools to communicate, but gifts for seeing the daily activity of God and man and woman. For him, and certainly for me, photography helps us to see something God wants us to see anew. What does Christ want me to see in thus-and-such image?

abbot barnabas.jpg

There’s also an extended interview with Father Abbot Barnabas here.
The great thing about this story is that it reminds us of the need for beauty in our lives. Something Father Michael Morris at Dunwoodie Seminary always reminded me of. Plus, Abbot Barnabas keeps a live the tradition of monks doing art and advancing cultural sensibility. Where would we be without our monastic artists?
This story about the abbot made me think of the last talk the Pope gave to artists in 2009. At that time Benedict reminded us that an artist has a vocation (ministry?) to know and to engage infinity: the true, the beautiful, and the good; the artist’s vocation is about an engagement with reality that scientists don’t have because art shows us humanity’s desire for its ultimate destiny. The artist, unlike any other vocation save for the priesthood, shows the life of the soul and its that reaches out, grasps and desires to understand. My experience and perhaps yours too, is that an artist lives in friendship with his or her artwork. It is not mere blood-sweat-and-toil but a genuine flourishing of communion. Likewise, the artist is contemplative in his or her search for God and happiness and shows us the horizons –if there are any limits of the search–  in their medium. For the Pope, and I hope for us, there is a belief that an artist lives a vocation given by God. Hence, the making of art is not a career opportunity for money, power and fame, it is not about a person’s escape into an irrational, deceitful, superficial realm but art “fills us with new hope, gives us the courage to live to the full the unique gift of life.”
Abbot Barnabas’ brief interview doesn’t talk about transcendent power of beauty in art, but I think he would agree that nothing replaces beauty’s search for the infinite in our lives and the transformative power it has for heart and mind, faith and reason of humanity. My intuition is that the abbot’s sensibility tends toward the harmony between being truly human and the reality of the beautiful is made concrete in snapping a photo for the sake of whole person and not just for the sake of being creative.
Let me draw this reflection to a close by appealing to the Pope’s closing closing remarks to the artists when he said something important that I think bears repeating about art because the abbot also intimated it, and it is useful for our lectio:
… it opens up and broadens the horizons of human awareness, pointing us beyond ourselves, bringing us face to face with the abyss of Infinity, can become a path towards the transcendent, towards the ultimate Mystery, towards God. Art, in all its forms, at the point where it encounters the great questions of our existence, the fundamental themes that give life its meaning, can take on a religious quality, thereby turning into a path of profound inner reflection and spirituality. This close proximity, this harmony between the journey of faith and the artist’s path is attested by countless artworks that are based upon the personalities, the stories, the symbols of that immense deposit of “figures” –in the broad sense– namely the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures. The great biblical narratives, themes, images and parables have inspired innumerable masterpieces in every sector of the arts, just as they have spoken to the hearts of believers in every generation through the works of craftsmanship and folk art, that are no less eloquent and evocative.
The Abbey of Saint Benedict (Atchison,KS) founded in 1857 is home to 50+ Benedictine monks who, among many things, run the well-regarded Benedictine College.
The College is getting the more and more recognized as a place to live the Rule of Saint Benedict in the formation of the whole person. Recently, Benedictine College dedicated its new nursing center in honor of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and they’ve broken ground for a new academic building. May Saint Benedict and Saint Scholastica intercede for the monks and laity at BC!

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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