Tag Archives: St Benedict

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!

From whom do you take counsel?

The reading at Lauds this morning was from Sirach 8. You’ll recall that the Book of Sirach is also called the Liber Ecclesiasticus (that is, the “church book”) because of its wide use in catechetics and in the sacred Liturgy. There is nothing in Sirach that is not applicable to us today! Monks, nuns, priests and laity who do the Office of Readings will read the entire book in the course of 2-3 weeks. As a point of comparison, Sirach is one of those books that Protestants do not include in their version of the Bible; Catholics consider Sirach to be both inspired and canonical and worthy of prayer and meditation.


In general one may say that the author Sirach is concerned with interfacing of all parts of our lives: family, friendship, economy, politics, worship, good public order, etc. The Catholic term here would be communio, while the Protestants are inclined to use the concept of fellowship, but to be fair at today’s writing, Catholics use the word “fellowship” in the Liturgy and that is mistaken. For the Catholic, communio is not merely the horizontal relationship with sisters and brothers –mere humanitarianism– but first communion (relationship) with the Blessed Trinity and then communion with sister and brother. Communion with the Trinity and with neighbor leads to one’s greater freedom (think of Msgr Giussani’s work in Communion & Liberation movement). To take this idea one step further, there is no hard separation between communion with the Trinity and neighbor. Catholics hold fast to the both/and of reality: we are to live in communion with the Trinity, basing our life analogously on the inner life of the Trinity and serving our sister and brother. Saint Benedict in his Rule shows us this is the way to God. What struck me today was the question: To whom do we go for counsel? How do I live in a more perfect freedom with the Trinity and my neighbor? In what ways do I serve the Lord well? How have I looked with tenderness on my humanity, and that of others?


Certainly, I have not always been served well by the advice offered by those placed over me. Superiors, whether secular or religious, have not always been too attuned to the Divine Will through prayer, fasting and lectio that their own issues have been the source of counsel rather than the Will of God; I am amazed that I’ve survived as well as I have. In profound ways, I have to say, the people I was told to have confidence in turned out be frauds when it came to working with one’s humanity, discernment of Spirits, the spiritual life, interpersonal relationships, ecclesial politics, etc. After praying on what Sirach has to say today, I wonder if we as members of the Body of Christ have paid too little attention to the Wisdom literature of the Bible.

Jesus, son of Eleazar, son of Sirach writes:

Contend not with an influential man, lest you fall into his power. Quarrel not with a rich man, lest he pay out the price of your downfall; For gold has dazzled many, and perverts the character of princes. Dispute not with a man of railing speech, heap no wood upon his fire. Be not too familiar with an unruly man, lest he speak ill of your forebears. Shame not a repentant sinner; remember, we all are guilty. Insult no man when he is old, for some of us, too, will grow old. Rejoice not when a man dies; remember, we are all to die. Spurn not the discourse of the wise, but acquaint yourself with their proverbs; From them you will acquire the training to serve in the presence of princes. Reject not the tradition of old men which they have learned from their fathers; From it you will obtain the knowledge how to answer in time of need. Kindle not the coals of a sinner, lest you be consumed in his flaming fire. Let not the impious man intimidate you; it will set him in ambush against you. Lend not to one more powerful than yourself; and whatever you lend, count it as lost. Go not surety beyond your means; think any pledge a debt you must pay. Contend not at law with a judge, for he will settle it according to his whim. Travel not with a ruthless man, lest he weigh you down with calamity; For he will go his own way straight, and through his folly you will perish with him. Provoke no quarrel with a quick-tempered man, nor ride with him through the desert, For bloodshed is nothing to him; when there is no one to help you, he will destroy you. Take no counsel with a fool, for he can keep nothing to himself. Before a stranger do nothing that should be kept secret, for you know not what it will engender. Open your heart to no man, and banish not your happiness (Sirach 8).

Saint Benedict


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Come! Lift your hearts to God on high,

That we be joined in praise this day,

For God has called this blessed man

Who leads us in Christ’s narrow way.

From youth he sought to know God well,

Preferred, to all things else, Christ’s love

That, freed within the three-fold vow,

His heart be set on things above.

He founded, in his holy zeal,

A school of service of the Lord

Where all might leave self-seeking cares,

That God in all things be adored.

His sons and daughters he has formed

To run the way of God’s commands

Within the cloister and the world,

Through common life in many lands.

To men and women, monks and nuns,

Who strive within their rule to grow,

Give purity of heart; grant joy;

That in all thorns, Christ’s peace they know.

O Father, Son, and Spirit blessed,

With Benedict we sing your praise.

All glory be, until that time

We join the saints for endless days.

 

J. Michael Thompson

Copyright © 2009, World Library Publications

LM; DUKE STREET, DEUS TUORUM MILITUM

Being in God’s…according to Saint Benedict

In the days leading up to the feast of Saint Benedict (Jul 11) I thought I’d look at some reflections on his influence on us today. The Saint has set the stage for so much in the Church today, especially for the spiritual life, that we need to pay clear attention to what he has to say.

Living in the presence of God, according to Benedict, shapes
all realms of human life: prayer, work, interaction with creation, and
relationships with other people. “Fellowship,” that great slogan of
our time, was for Benedict no contradiction to a devout love of God. The social
dimension is always already religious, for in the brother as in the sister we
encounter Christ himself.

Faith in God is made concrete for Benedict in a
belief in the good core of the fellow human being. There faith is expressed in
a new way of being with one another. That, for Benedict, is the basis of true
humanity. It is not an uplifting ideal, but reality that confronts us again and
again in daily situations.

Thus Benedict says in the chapter on the monastic
counsel that the abbot is to call all the brothers to counsel because “the
Lord often reveals what is better to the younger.” For Benedict, then, it
is clear that the Lord speaks to us through people, that he can speak to us
through anyone, even a younger person who may have less experience and
knowledge.

Anselm Grun, OSB, Benedict of Nursia: His Message For Today

Saint Benedict (and his 12 degrees of humility)


God our Father, You made Saint Benedict an outstanding guide
to teach men how to live in your service. Grant that be preferring your love to
everything else we may walk in the way of your commandments.

St Benedict a Bohemian artist.jpg

Famous for his work on the 12 degrees of humility, Saint Benedict proposes the following for those who want to advance in the spiritual life. The degrees of humility are given below.

The first degree of humility, then, is that a man always
have the fear of God before his eyes (cf Ps 35[36]:2), shunning all
forgetfulness and that he be ever mindful of all that God hath commanded, that
he always consider in his mind how those who despise God will burn in hell for
their sins, and that life everlasting is prepared for those who fear God. And
whilst he guard himself evermore against sin and vices of thought, word, deed,
and self-will, let him also hasten to cut off the desires of the flesh.

The second degree of humility is, when a man love not his
own will, nor is pleased to fulfill his own desires but by his deeds carried
out that word of the Lord which said: “I came not to do My own will but
the will of Him that sent Me” (Jn 6:38). It is likewise said:
“Self-will hath its punishment, but necessity win the crown.”

The third degree of humility is, that for the love of God a
man subject himself to a Superior in all obedience, imitating the Lord, of whom
the Apostle said: “He became obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8).

The fourth degree of humility is, that, if hard and
distasteful things are commanded, nay, even though injuries are inflicted, he
accept them with patience and even temper, and not grow weary or give up, but
hold out, as the Scripture said: “He that shall persevere unto the end
shall be saved” (Mt 10:22). And again: “Let thy heart take courage,
and wait thou for the Lord” (Ps 26[27]:14).

The fifth degree of humility is, when one hides from his
Abbot none of the evil thoughts which rise in his heart or the evils committed
by him in secret, but humbly confesses them. Concerning this the Scripture
exhorts us, saying: “Reveal thy way to the Lord and trust in Him” (Ps
36[37]:5). And it said further: “Confess to the Lord, for He is good, for
His mercy endures forever” (Ps 105[106]:1; Ps 117[118]:1). And the Prophet
likewise said: “I have acknowledged my sin to Thee and my injustice I have
not concealed. I said I will confess against myself my injustice to the Lord;
and Thou hast forgiven the wickedness of my sins” (Ps 31[32]:5).

The sixth degree of humility is, when a monk is content with
the meanest and worst of everything, and in all that is enjoined him holds
himself as a bad and worthless workman, saying with the Prophet: “I am
brought to nothing and I knew it not; I am become as a beast before Thee, and I
am always with Thee” (Ps 72[73]:22-23).

The seventh degree of humility is, when, not only with his
tongue he declares, but also in his inmost soul believeth, that he is the
lowest and vilest of men, humbling himself and saying with the Prophet:
“But I am a worm and no man, the reproach of men and the outcast of the
people” (Ps 21[22]:7).

The eighth degree of humility is, when a monk doeth nothing
but what is sanctioned by the common rule of the monastery and the example of
his elders.

The ninth degree of humility is, when a monk withholds his
tongue from speaking, and keeping silence doth not speak until he is asked; for
the Scripture shows that “in a multitude of words there shall not want
sin” (Prov 10:19); and that “a man full of tongue is not established
in the earth” (Ps 139[140]:12).

The tenth degree of humility is, when a monk is not easily
moved and quick for laughter, for it is written: “The fool exalts his
voice in laughter” (Sir 21:23).

The eleventh degree of humility is, that, when a monk speaks,
he speak gently and without laughter, humbly and with gravity, with few and
sensible words, and that he be not loud of voice, as it is written: “The
wise man is known by the fewness of his words.”

The twelfth degree of humility is, when a monk is not only
humble of heart, but always lets it appear also in his whole exterior to all
that see him; namely, at the Work of God, in the garden, on a journey, in the
field, or wherever he may be, sitting, walking, or standing, let him always have
his head bowed down, his eyes fixed on the ground, ever holding himself guilty
of his sins, thinking that he is already standing before the dread judgment
seat of God, and always saying to himself in his heart what the publican in the
Gospel said, with his eyes fixed on the ground: “Lord, I am a sinner and
not worthy to lift up mine eyes to heaven” (Lk 18:13); and again with the
Prophet: “I am bowed down and humbled exceedingly” (Ps 37[38]:7-9; Ps
118[119]:107)

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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