Life in a Monastery: March 2009 Archives

This place was made by God, an inestimably holy place. It is without reproof.


Most people are accustomed to celebrating anniversaries: wedding, ordination, religious profession, moving to a new place, etc. From time immemorial the Church has celebrated the anniversary of a church's dedication; there are notable examples of this in the liturgical calendar, e.g., Dedication of the Lateran Basilica. Today, in the life of the Diocese of Charlotte and the monks of Mary Help of Christian - Belmont Abbey, the Abbey Basilica is honored because of it consecration in 1965 by Abbot Walter Coggin, abbot nullius. Dom Agostino celebrated the conventual Mass. The wonderful drama of the Liturgies since first Vespers last evening has been the 12 dedication candles lit. They are rearely lit even in the most liturgically sensible places that seeing them glow is just wonderful. Wouldn't it be a good thing if pastors lit the dedication candles on all the feasts of the Lord and the feasts of the apostles!


BAC Abbey Basilica.JPGIn 1892 Abbot-Bishop Leo Michael Haid blessed and laid the cornerstone for the abbey church which in time became the cathedral for the Apostolic Vicariate (founded in 1910). This church had two significant uses: it was the church in which the monks daily prayed and it was the heart of Catholic life for the state of North Carolina. According to the monks, the cathedral was only blessed in the 19th century because there was a mortgage and it had a wooden altar. The cathedral was renovated in 1964-65 and it needed to be properly consecrated which was done on this date in 1965. As history would have it, the abbey church was still the cathedral but by 1960 the territory had been reduced to the land on which the abbey and cathedral sat. The Diocese of Raleigh had been established in 1924 and preparations for the erection of the Diocese of Charlotte were on the way, ultimately coming in 1972.


The point of the festive Mass on such an anniversary and the use of special antiphons used in the Divine Office is honor God by keeping sincere our worship in the saving love of this church. It is also a keen reminder that we find our refuge in the Lord while praying in spirit and truth.


Some points from recent ecclesial documents may help focus our attention on the meaning of the Church:


The church building is a sign and reminder of the immanence and transcendence of God --who chose to dwell among us and whose presence cannot be contained or limited to any single place. ...Churches are signs of the pilgrim church on earth; they are images that proclaim the heavenly Jerusalem. (Built of Living Stones, no. 50)


The dedication of a church, especially a cathedral, is a significant and rare event in the life of a Christian community. It involves more than merely setting aside a building for the celebration of sacred things, since the people who plan, build, and dedicate a sacred

place are themselves the Church, "that is, the temple of God built of living stones, where the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth. Rightly, then, from early times the name 'church' has also been given to the building in which the Christian community gathers to hear the Word of God, to pray together, to celebrate the Sacraments, and to participate

in the Eucharist." (Rite for the Dedication of a Church and an Altar, chapter 2, no. 1)

This building is both the house of God on earth (domus Dei) and a house fit for

the prayers of the saints (domus ecclesiae). (Built of Living Stones, no. 16)


In the end, the text from a hymn used at a church's dedication speaks volumes: 


O how amiable are thy dwellings: thou Lord of hosts!

My soul hath a desire and a longing to enter into the courts of the Lord:

My heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

Yea, the sparrow hath found her a house,

and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young:

even the altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be always praising thee.

The glorious Majesty of the Lord our God be upon us:

prosper thou the work of our hands upon us.

O prosper thou our handywork, O prosper thou our handywork.

O God our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.


(Text Psalms 84 & 90; Isaac Watts (1674-1748))

James Cardinal Gibbons

Archbishop of Baltimore

Cardinal Priest of Santa Maria in Trastevere


James Gibbons.jpg23 July 1834, born

30 June 1861, ordained priest

3 March 1868, Vicar Apostolic of North Carolina & later ordained bishop

30 July 1872, bishop of Richmond

20 May 1877, archbishop of Baltimore

7 June 1886, created cardinal

24 March 1921, died


Of the many things the Cardinal is known for is the arranging for the possession by the Benedictines of Caldwell Place in Gaston County, North Carolina, on which Mary, Help of Christians - Belmont Abbey sits. He also ordained Abbot Leo Michael Haid, a bishop and arranged for him to be the vicar apostolic of North Carolina. Haid prayed one of the absolutions for the Cardinal at his funeral. The monks of Belmont Abbey remembered the Cardinal at Mass today.

Sun and Seed

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Weather-wise, the day was spectacular. The day was spent at the modest lake house the abbey has had for many years on Lake Norman, just north and west of Belmont. Among many things the five of us did together today was to plant grass seed to cover the bare spots in the "lawn." The day away also afforded us the opportunity to foster the companionship and devotion (to the Lord): we prayed the Office of Sext and had lunch. By the way, are you aware that a bale of straw costs $4.75? I think it's a little expensive for straw! But I suppose the farmer is worth his wage.


Brother Anthony was tired of sowing seed so he showed the inspirational video "The Everyday," a narrative about the monkish life at Mount Savior Monastery in New York state. Mount Savior was founded in 1950 by Father Damasus Winzen in order to live a monastic life without an outside work like a school or parish and to be most devoted to the Divine Office.


In all the day was a nice getaway with confreres. And let's hope that it rains soon and that the birds don't get fat on the seed.


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The Benedictine monk vows obedience, stability and conversion of life.


Stability = God is not elsewhere; being in one place allows you to live your vocation in love and grace over the long haul, rejecting the novelty of moving here-and-there

Obedience = When my will is cracked open grace comes in

Conversion of Life = Our true selves are oriented toward the Divine Mystery. Why not be transformed into a living flame of love?

Spreading...makes life more interesting, or a least it makes the flowers grow. Yesterday Gail, the abbot's administrative assistant, brought me a gift, a token of appreciation. Well, I requested it so it's technically not a gift. Gail brought me a feed bag of mature horse manure from her own horses; it's mature manure I am assured. I got a phone call from Brother Anthony saying that I had a bag of ... manure on the front steps. Not wanting to offend guests I quickly moved the bag to the Saint Francis garden.


Mon flower.jpgBefore the night rain fell and after vespers but before the total loss of daylight, I made a mad-dash to the garden to spread the "garden tea." I couldn't help but remember -and laughing riotously-- at what a senior Jesuit friend of mine said of Jesuits and horse manure: if you keep Jesuits together they stink; if you spread them around, they fertilize. I think you get the point. Besides hoping for the cooperative intercession of Saint Francis, I am expecting the manure to heighten the garden's capacities.


Much of last week I had my friend Brother Michael visiting me. It was nice to have him here. As it is said, "Hospes venit, Christus venit."  A stranger comes, Christ comes. This saying is part of the Rule of Saint Benedict and we often find it on signs at Benedictine monasteries:  "Let every stranger be received as Christ himself." Brother Michael is not a stranger to me but he was to members of the community for a very short time. The others we edified by his presence and I got a chance to share life with a friend.


Last Saturday we had the privilege of welcoming back to the Abbey and the College Father Dwight Longenecker, an Oblate of Saint Benedict, to speak to interested parties on Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and her "little way" as a fitting approach to living Lent. His blog, Standing on My Head is a popular read.


These last days have been interesting and boring at the same time. More painting is taking place. This time we're doing the Compline room, the place where Night Prayer is prayed; it badly needed some fresh paint on the walls. We also did some garden work in a neglected area of the monastery gardens and we did some odds-and-ends.


One of the postulants decided to leave the abbey thus ending his discernment in following a monastic vocation. Mary, Help of Christians - Belmont Abbey is much the poorer. Andrew is 24 and a recent grad of Belmont Abbey College and Saint John's in Annapolis. We wish him well and many blessings.


My fun reading this week is a book on the Solesmes and Dom Gueranger: 1805-1875 (Paraclete Press, 1996).


Out of service.jpgLife in a monastery is fun. Oh, yea, the flowering trees are working hard to push out the color!!!! AND now I need more manure.

Your prayers are requested for the peaceful repose of Benedictine monk Father Conall R. Coughlin who fell asleep in the Lord on 1 March 2009.


Father Conall was a monk for 58 years and a priest for 51; he was given the obediences of being a teacher and a decorated Navy chaplain.


A Mass of Christian Burial was offered this morning with burial in the abbey cemetery at the Abbey of Saint Mary-Delbarton, Morristown, New Jersey.


Father Conall's obit

Saint Katharine Drexel

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Thumbnail image for St Katherine Drexel.jpgBorn in Philadelphia, PA on Nov. 26, 1858

First sister to profess vows as a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament on Feb. 12, 1891

Died on March 3, 1955

Beatified on Nov. 20, 1988

Canonized on Oct. 1, 2000


Ever-loving God, You called Saint Katharine Drexel to teach the message of the Gospel and to bring the life of the Eucharist to the African American and Native American peoples. By her prayers and example, enable us to work for justice among the poor and the oppressed, and keep us undivided in love in the eucharistic community of Your Church.


Saint Katharine's connection to Maryhelp - Belmont Abbey is that she used a portion of her personal wealth to help build a number of churches, including the abbey church, for the first abbot of Maryhelp, Abbot-bishop Leo Haid. She also visited the abbey. So, we can say that a saint walked on this soil! A sign in the Abbey Basilica narthex commemorates this fact. May Saint Katharine continue to intercede for us and help us to know the Lord. 

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]



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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Life in a Monastery category from March 2009.

Life in a Monastery: February 2009 is the previous archive.

Life in a Monastery: April 2009 is the next archive.

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