Vocations: December 2008 Archives

By David Olson dolson@PE.com


Cist1.jpgLong before dawn in the remote desert south of Barstow, the only light for miles around is a faint glow from a triple-wide trailer.


Inside, several monks chant in Vietnamese. Then there is silence.


The trailer is home to the first cloistered Catholic monastery in the Inland area. The white-robed monks pray and chant together seven times a day and silently meditate twice. Here in Lucerne Valley, off a dirt road and at the foot of barren mountains, there is little to disturb them.


"There is God in this deserted place," said Brother Matthew Nguyen. "There are not many people here, but God is here."


San Bernardino Diocese Bishop Gerald Barnes celebrated the opening of St. Joseph Monastery on Aug. 17, but for now, the two cream-colored trailers, a water pump and solar panels are all that sit on the 80-acre site.


The monks hope to one day erect permanent buildings to house a chapel, retreat center and living quarters.


Peter Pham, a Cistercian monk, delivers food at sunrise outside the St. Joseph Monastery in the Lucerne Valley south of Barstow. Six Vietnamese members of the Cistercians devote their lives to contemplation there. It will also serve as a Catholic retreat.


St. Joseph is the second U.S. outpost of a Vietnamese congregation of Cistercian-order monks, who seclude themselves in monasteries to devote their lives to contemplation. The other opened in June near Sacramento.


There are nearly 7,000 Cistercian monks and nuns worldwide. Most sites are open to the Catholic faithful for retreats, as St. Joseph's visitors trailer will be in a few months.


The monks and nuns in Cistercian monasteries typically spend little time outside them, except for shopping for groceries and other necessities, and for special events such as ordinations.


Although the number of monks and nuns in U.S. monasteries has declined over the past few decades, experts say the drop has not been as steep as the fall in non-monastic priests and nuns.


Proportionately more people choose a monastic life than before as a reaction to secularism and an increasingly fast-paced U.S. lifestyle, said Sister Patricia Wittberg, a professor of sociology at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.


There are about 200 Catholic monasteries in the United States, but there is no reliable count of how many people live inside them.


Cist2.jpgLike the parish priests who minister to their congregants and the nuns who serve the poor and sick, Cistercians and their devotion to intensely contemplative lives form a vital part of the Catholic church, said the Rev. Thomas Rausch, a professor of Catholic theology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.


"It's a special vocation," Rausch said. "The church needs people who energize it from within with their prayer."


The monks of St. Joseph rise each morning at precisely 3:55 a.m.


Twenty minutes later, they gather in the dim light of the trailer's chapel to chant for a half-hour. Then comes 30 minutes of meditation broken by the ringing of a bell announcing daily Mass.

The rest of the day is dedicated to prayer, meditation, singing, Bible-reading, study and work. They speak to each other as little as possible, said the Rev. Anthony Pham, the monastery's superior.


"Most of our time is for God," Pham said, as he ate a breakfast of fried eggs topped with soy sauce.


Pham said that, while he is meditating, he reflects upon God's love and the meaning of his calling as a monk. Work is an integral part of monastic life. As much of it as possible is manual labor, to leave the monks' minds free for contemplation.


The monks are now clearing brush, digging trenches for pipes, grading land and performing other tasks to build and adorn their monastery.


Like other monasteries, St. Joseph must be self-supporting, so the monks are discussing possible business ventures.


Other monasteries make products such as beer, fruitcake or cheese, and one in Wisconsin sells toner cartridges under the name Lasermonks.


The St. Joseph monks are thinking of opening an on-site gift shop featuring Vietnamese religious articles that they would also sell online. Or perhaps they'll make tofu for Vietnamese markets.


The 12-bed retreat center that will open in several months is why the monastery exists. A Vietnamese priest from Santa Ana, who attended a Cistercian boarding school as a boy, contacted the Cistercian order to convey the need for a retreat house geared toward Vietnamese immigrants, Pham said.


Many older Vietnamese Catholics do not speak English and would not feel at home or get the spiritual nourishment they seek if they were to attend a retreat at an English-speaking monastery, he said.


They and many other Catholics yearn for a place to recharge, to take a break from their busy lives to focus on their relationship with God, Pham said.


The retreat guests -- visitors who are not Vietnamese will be welcome as well -- will participate in the same prayers, singing, meditation and other devotions as the monks, Pham said.


If asked, the monks will guide them, suggesting which Biblical verses to read. But much of the benefit of a retreat will be the example the monks set, Pham said.


Founders of Citeaux.jpg"The way we live has a special effect and impact on other people, in the way that we get closer to God," Pham said. "When we are closer to God, we love God more."


Even more than parish priests, the monks forgo worldly goods. Because they rarely leave the monastery, they have few material needs. They do not eat meat, as a way of sacrificing for God.


"If we put too many things in ourselves, we cannot serve other people," Pham said. "If you're willing to throw things like the good car, like status in the community away, you come back to only being a human being, nothing more. We try to empty ourselves, so God can pour his graces into us."


When a permanent monastery is complete, Pham will spend almost all his time there.


Until then, Pham is busier than he would sometimes like. He regularly interrupts the contemplative life of Lucerne Valley to drive to Victorville. There, he fills out forms, applies for permits and talks with county bureaucrats. Even monks can't avoid San Bernardino County land-use and building codes.


He has a studded ring on his right hand that he rubs while driving, so he can pray the Rosary while on the road.


Thumbnail image for Cist3.jpgAll six monks who live at the monastery spent at least six months at a Benedictine monastery in Pennsylvania to improve their English and acculturate themselves, Pham said. Two more monks are now in Pennsylvania, preparing to move to St. Joseph. The goal is to have 13 monks by the end of 2009.


The monks receive several-thousand dollars a month to support themselves and the monastery. Most money comes from Vietnamese immigrants in Orange County. Further donations, along with revenue from the monks' forthcoming business, will fund the construction of the permanent monastery.


The trailer chapel where the monks now spend much of their time is spare. The monks sit on white plastic chairs or kneel on a blue-and-white carpet before a crucifix and a wooden altar carved in Orange County by a Vietnamese craftsman. Statues of St. Joseph and Our Lady of La Vang -- an apparition of the Virgin Mary in 18th century Vietnam -- stand near a plaque commemorating Bishop Barnes' visit.


Outside, there is little but sand and desert brush. Lucerne Valley was chosen for the monastery because it is remote enough to foster contemplation but within driving distance of the huge Vietnamese community in Orange County.


The land cost $80,000. Pham started paying for it with his $200 monthly stipend, along with donations from Vietnamese families.It was a risk. Pham knew the money wasn't enough to pay the entire cost of the land. But he trusted in God.


Then a Vietnamese family took him to Florida with them on vacation. By chance, he met a wealthy Vietnamese Catholic there. Pham mentioned the monastery he was building. He didn't ask the man for money. But by the time he left Florida, the man offered to pay the remaining cost of the land.


"I didn't know this person, and I didn't have the money to pay for the land," Pham said.

"But everything comes together with God."




Cistercian arms.jpgThe Cistercian order to which the monks at St. Joseph Monastery in Lucerne Valley belong dates from 1098, when it was founded in Citeaux, France, by St. Robert of Molesme. The English word "Cisterican" comes from "Citeaux."


Their creed is "Ora et Labora," or "Prayer and work." Most of a Cistercian monk's day is spent in contemplation.


The monks at St. Joseph are called Common Observance Cistercians. Perhaps better known is the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, commonly known as Trappists. The Trappists initially had a stricter interpretation of monastic rules, but today differences between the Common and Strict Observance Cistercians are negligible and there are discussions to unite the two orders.


There are nearly 7,000 Cistercian monks and nuns worldwide.


The mother abbey for St. Joseph Monastery, Phuoc Son Abbey, is outside Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.


SOURCES: The (Common Observance) Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Break, Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia


Father, son and Holy Church

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Ruth Gledhill of the Times Online (of London) posted this story today on a very unique circumstance: a father & son who poped and are now Catholic priests. 


In what is believed to be a first, a father and son, both former Anglican clergy, have been ordained as Catholic priests and are now working for the same archdiocese, Birmingham.


Father & Son Poped and ordained.jpgFather Dominic Cosslett, 36, and his father, Father Ron Cosslett, 70, were both ordained by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, pictured above by Peter Jennings. Nichols is the favourite to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor as Archbishop of Westminster when he steps down early next year and the latest ordination of Father Dominic on 20 December shows he is continuing in the tradition of true Catholicity to which the British church has so long been witness.


Father Dominic was formerly an Anglican priest at the Church of Christ the King at Lourdes in Coventry. His father, Father Ron Cosslett, aged 70, also a former Anglican priest, was ordained as a Catholic priest by Nichols 3 July 2005. He is now priest-in-charge at St Joseph's, Darlaston in the West Midlands.


Father Dominic, who is not married, has from a young age felt called to a celibate lifestyle. "Although as an Anglican marriage was open to me the way I live my life is naturally a celibate one," he told me yesterday. His mother converted five years ago at the same time as his father and his sister and their children followed them over about a year ago.


Father and son concelebrated, celebrating the eucharist at the older Father's parish, for the first time at Christmas.


"Both of us were in the Catholic tradition of Anglicanism," said Father Dominic. "Like a lot of us in that tradition, we had always felt the Catholic Church was the rock from which we were hewn. It was always part of our journey, our faith, to seek unity with Rome. We came to the point where we felt we could not exercise our understanding of Catholicism within Anglicanism. It was time for us to go home."


His father started out in Monmouth, South Wales and then moved to Burslem, one of the Five Towns in the Potteries in the Lichfield diocese. The family returned to Wales and his father's last Anglican parish was St Paul's in Swansea.


royal Eng College Valladolid.jpgUnder the guidelines agreed in the Catholic church for the reception of Anglican clergy who wish to become Catholic priests, Father Dominic, who studied theology at Llampeter and trained for the Anglican priesthood at the high church Mirfield College of the Resurrection before being priested in 1997, underwent a shortened training as to be a Catholic priest. He spent a year in the Spain at the Royal English College at Valladolid and then went to seminary at St Mary's Oscott.


As an Anglican, he served his curacy in Abergavenny in the Monmouth diocese when his bishop was Dr Rowan Williams, now Archbishop of Canterbury.  He moved to his own parish in the Birmingham diocese when its bishop was Dr John Sentamu, now Archbishop of York. He speaks highly of both men, but neither was enough to make him stay.


"I realised my own journey was to seek unity with Rome. Balanced with that was the awareness that the Anglican Church was going in a very different direction with various decisions it was making. I just felt I could not agree with those decisions. It comes down to authority. As an Anglican, it was sometimes very difficult. One parish might believe one thing, another might believe something else.


"There is an incredible rainbow of thought in the Anglican Church. Perhaps I was looking more for a central authority of teaching that the Catholic Church has. It was something I had always been looking for."


He recognises his situation, with his father as a priest, might appear unusual to some but for him it feels normal. There is a long tradition in the Anglican church of father-and-son priests. The ministry often runs in families.


Asked whether he believes all Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, he said: "That is not my decision. The teaching of the Church is there. The Holy Father has graciously allowed those who are former Anglicans who are married to become priests.  The teaching remains the same and that is certainly not for me to comment on."


But he was careful to emphasise that his new path was not a reaction against Anglicanism.

"Becoming a Catholic is not so much about being disatisfied with being an Anglican as about having a positive engagement with the Catholic Church. I am very grateful for my Anglican days. But I realised there is something else in the Catholic Church. That is very much what lay behind my decision."


Vincent Nichols Arms.jpgArchbishop Nichols, in his words of welcome at the start of the ordination, said: "This situation a unique occasion and a great day in the life of the diocese.  Both a father and his son - after his ordination - will be serving as Catholic priests."


More than 60 Catholic priests, including Father Dominic's father, witnessed the ceremony.


Archbishop Nichols continued: "Just as the Angel Gabriel told Mary, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow', so also this will manifest for Dominic.


"How else, except through this gift could Dominic ever make Christ present in the life of the Church? It is the same gift given all those centuries ago in Nazareth that is given in Coventry today.


"It is only our unity in the Church which ensures that we are faithful to what we have been given. This Ordination is part of a great Tradition - a great handing on - from one age to the next of his gift of the Holy Spirit in the Sacrament of Holy Orders.


"Indeed, this sense of Tradition is crucial - Apostolic Tradition. The vital question for all of us and for Dominic is where is it to be found?


"We rejoice in the answer during this Ordination Ceremony. It is to be found, with utter reliability, in union with Peter the first Apostle, and in union with his Successor the Bishop of Rome.


"It is this visible unity which gives the Church the sure capacity to be faithful in the Apostolic Tradition; to hand on whole and entire, and to explore and develop its Doctrine in a faithful and secure manner. This unity is a great joy and a pearl of great price.


"So today we thank God for Dominic's life and ministry as a priest in the Church of England. We rejoice as he steps into the priesthood in this full Communion of the Catholic Church through his ordination in this visible Apostolic Tradition."

"A Prayerful Advocate"
From Catholic New York
By John Woods

Like many of you, I occasionally ask someone to keep me or a member of my family in their prayers. And when someone makes a similar request of me, I take it seriously.

This week, I made such a request of someone the first time I spoke to her, and I have a good hunch that she'll follow through.

Her name is Jenna Marie Cooper. She is 23 years old and a graduate student in theology at Ave Maria University in Florida. On Saturday, Jan. 3, she will be consecrated to a life of virginity at an 11:30 a.m. Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Newburgh to be celebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Dominick J. Lagonegro, co-vicar for Orange County and pastor of Sacred Heart.

As a consecrated virgin, the oldest form of consecrated life in the Church, Ms. Cooper will spend much of her time in prayer. (A Vatican II document called for a revision and revival of the Rite of Consecration to a Life of Virginity for Women Living in the World, restoring the ancient vocation in the life of the modern Church.) It will not be a great departure from her current daily life, which includes praying the Liturgy of the Hours five times, attending Mass and spending other time in prayer.

Chief among her intentions are the Church and people of New York. Cardinal Egan granted permission for Ms. Cooper to be consecrated and she will remain directly under his authority as Archbishop of New York.

She said she felt privileged to be invited to attend the Mass for clergy and religious that Pope Benedict XVI celebrated in St. Patrick's Cathedral in April. "That was such a wonderful and awesome experience. I couldn't talk about anything else for a week afterward," she said.

When the Holy Father thanked those present for their prayers on his behalf, it made a firm impression on her. "That sense that prayers were needed and appreciated was very meaningful to me," she said.

She will be the youngest person in the United States living as a consecrated virgin, and one of four active in the archdiocese, according to Father Bartholomew Daly, M.H.M., who as co-vicar for religious is in charge of their oversight and meets with them regularly.

During our phone interview, Ms. Cooper said she had felt a religious calling since she was about 12. She is part of a devout Catholic family that includes her parents, Douglas and Judith, and two younger siblings, Joseph and Tess. They are parishioners of St. Thomas of Canterbury parish in Cornwall-on-Hudson. She assumed that she would eventually join a religious congregation. She met with several during her undergraduate days (she holds a bachelor's in philosophy from Seton Hall University), but didn't feel like that was the right choice for her. Still, she continued to feel a call to serve the Church in a special way.

In 2004 she met Father Luke Sweeney, now the vocation director for the archdiocese who was then serving at Sacred Heart in Newburgh, where Ms. Cooper at times attends Mass. He gave her information about different religious orders and showed her a copy of the rite for consecrated virgins. She said that she was familiar with the lives of some of the consecrated virgins of the early Church, including some who were martyred for their faith.

"The courage they had to live a Christian life in such a hostile culture made me realize what a foundation they were for the Church," she said. "I wanted to be able to imitate that courage and love in my own life."

Eventually Father Sweeney arranged for her to meet with Father Daly. Last year, she began meeting with him on a more regular basis in pursuing her vocation. She had to formally request Cardinal Egan's permission for her consecration, which was given shortly before the papal Mass.

The prayer request I made of Ms. Cooper was for Catholic New York and its readers. It's only fair that we return the favor as she enters consecrated life.

In a recent talk to the students, staff and faculty of Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, the newly Metropoliotan Jonah2.jpgelected Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America, Jonah, said:


"All leaders of the Church, who take up the yoke of Christ must have a clear vision of theological education, which consists in four things: first, we must present the gospel of Jesus Christ; second, we have a mission to evangelize all people, regardless of color, ethnicity, or socio-economic status; third, we must bring integrity to the gospel message; and fourth, we must take up the task of bearing the presence of Jesus Christ to those around us."


Apparently, he is big on the need to imitate the sacrificial path of Christ and his mother, the Virgin Mary. "To become the living presence of God, the living temple of God, requires us to crush our ego and shatter our will," he said, "so that we might conceive God within us and become his presence in this world."


"Seminarians," he asserted, "do not come to theological schools to become 'professionals' and to be 'respected,' but rather to be crucified and thereby shine forth the light of Christ." His Beatitude reminded the seminarians that his own title of "episkopos" means not "master of the house," but "slave of slaves."


This guy has a backbone. Watch out. I predict we're going to hear more good things from His Beatitude. Are YOU on board with this view of Church, formation, and service?

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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This page is a archive of entries in the Vocations category from December 2008.

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