Saturday, March 31, 2012

Friday, March 30, 2012

From the martyrology: St John Climacus (March 30)



From the martyrology:

"On Mount Sinai, Abbot St. John Climacus."

St John Climacus (c525-606) is famous for his work The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which is traditionally read during Lent in Eastern monasteries.

Pope Benedict XVI gave a General Audience on him in 2009:

"...And I am proposing the figure of John known as Climacus, a Latin transliteration of the Greek term klimakos, which means of the ladder (klimax). This is the title of his most important work in which he describes the ladder of human life ascending towards God. He was born in about 575 a.d. He lived, therefore, during the years in which Byzantium, the capital of the Roman Empire of the East, experienced the greatest crisis in its history. The geographical situation of the Empire suddenly changed and the torrent of barbarian invasions swept away all its structures. Only the structure of the Church withstood them, continuing in these difficult times to carry out her missionary, human, social and cultural action, especially through the network of monasteries in which great religious figures such as, precisely, John Climacus were active.

John lived and told of his spiritual experiences in the Mountains of Sinai, where Moses encountered God and Elijah heard his voice. Information on him has been preserved in a brief Life (PG 88, 596-608), written by a monk, Daniel of Raithu. At the age of 16, John, who had become a monk on Mount Sinai, made himself a disciple of Abba Martyr, an "elder", that is, a "wise man". At about 20 years of age, he chose to live as a hermit in a grotto at the foot of the mountain in the locality of Tola, eight kilometres from the present-day St Catherine's Monastery. Solitude, however, did not prevent him from meeting people eager for spiritual direction, or from paying visits to several monasteries near Alexandria. In fact, far from being an escape from the world and human reality, his eremitical retreat led to ardent love for others (Life, 5) and for God (ibid., 7). After 40 years of life as a hermit, lived in love for God and for neighbour years in which he wept, prayed and fought with demons he was appointed hegumen of the large monastery on Mount Sinai and thus returned to cenobitic life in a monastery. However, several years before his death, nostalgic for the eremitical life, he handed over the government of the community to his brother, a monk in the same monastery.

John died after the year 650. He lived his life between two mountains, Sinai and Tabor and one can truly say that he radiated the light which Moses saw on Sinai and which was contemplated by the three Apostles on Mount Tabor!

He became famous, as I have already said, through his work, entitled The Climax, in the West known as the Ladder of Divine Ascent (PG 88, 632-1164). Composed at the insistent request of the hegumen of the neighbouring Monastery of Raithu in Sinai, the Ladder is a complete treatise of spiritual life in which John describes the monk's journey from renunciation of the world to the perfection of love. This journey according to his book covers 30 steps, each one of which is linked to the next. The journey may be summarized in three consecutive stages: the first is expressed in renunciation of the world in order to return to a state of evangelical childhood. Thus, the essential is not the renunciation but rather the connection with what Jesus said, that is, the return to true childhood in the spiritual sense, becoming like children. John comments: "A good foundation of three layers and three pillars is: innocence, fasting and temperance. Let all babes in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 3: 1) begin with these virtues, taking as their model the natural babes" (1, 20; 636). Voluntary detachment from beloved people and places permits the soul to enter into deeper communion with God. This renunciation leads to obedience which is the way to humility through humiliations which will never be absent on the part of the brethren. John comments: "Blessed is he who has mortified his will to the very end and has entrusted the care of himself to his teacher in the Lord: indeed he will be placed on the right hand of the Crucified One!" (4, 37; 704).

The second stage of the journey consists in spiritual combat against the passions. Every step of the ladder is linked to a principal passion that is defined and diagnosed, with an indication of the treatment and a proposal of the corresponding virtue. All together, these steps of the ladder undoubtedly constitute the most important treatise of spiritual strategy that we possess. The struggle against the passions, however, is steeped in the positive it does not remain as something negative thanks to the image of the "fire" of the Holy Spirit: that "all those who enter upon the good fight (cf. 1 Tm 6: 12), which is hard and narrow,... may realize that they must leap into the fire, if they really expect the celestial fire to dwell in them" (1,18; 636). The fire of the Holy Spirit is the fire of love and truth. The power of the Holy Spirit alone guarantees victory. However, according to John Climacus it is important to be aware that the passions are not evil in themselves; they become so through human freedom's wrong use of them. If they are purified, the passions reveal to man the path towards God with energy unified by ascesis and grace and, "if they have received from the Creator an order and a beginning..., the limit of virtue is boundless" (26/2, 37; 1068).

The last stage of the journey is Christian perfection that is developed in the last seven steps of the Ladder. These are the highest stages of spiritual life, which can be experienced by the "Hesychasts": the solitaries, those who have attained quiet and inner peace; but these stages are also accessible to the more fervent cenobites. Of the first three simplicity, humility and discernment John, in line with the Desert Fathers, considered the ability to discern, the most important. Every type of behaviour must be subject to discernment; everything, in fact, depends on one's deepest motivations, which need to be closely examined. Here one enters into the soul of the person and it is a question of reawakening in the hermit, in the Christian, spiritual sensitivity and a "feeling heart", which are gifts from God: "After God, we ought to follow our conscience as a rule and guide in everything," (26/1,5; 1013). In this way one reaches tranquillity of soul, hesychia, by means of which the soul may gaze upon the abyss of the divine mysteries.

The state of quiet, of inner peace, prepares the Hesychast for prayer which in John is twofold: "corporeal prayer" and "prayer of the heart". The former is proper to those who need the help of bodily movement: stretching out the hands, uttering groans, beating the breast, etc. (15, 26; 900). The latter is spontaneous, because it is an effect of the reawakening of spiritual sensitivity, a gift of God to those who devote themselves to corporeal prayer. In John this takes the name "Jesus prayer" (Iesou euche), and is constituted in the invocation of solely Jesus' name, an invocation that is continuous like breathing: "May your remembrance of Jesus become one with your breathing, and you will then know the usefulness of hesychia", inner peace (27/2, 26; 1112). At the end the prayer becomes very simple: the word "Jesus" simply becomes one with the breath.

The last step of the ladder (30), suffused with "the sober inebriation of the spirit", is dedicated to the supreme "trinity of virtues": faith, hope and above all charity. John also speaks of charity as eros (human love), a symbol of the matrimonial union of the soul with God, and once again chooses the image of fire to express the fervour, light and purification of love for God. The power of human love can be reoriented to God, just as a cultivated olive may be grafted on to a wild olive tree (cf. Rm 11: 24) (cf. 15, 66; 893). John is convinced that an intense experience of this eros will help the soul to advance far more than the harsh struggle against the passions, because of its great power. Thus, in our journey, the positive aspect prevails. Yet charity is also seen in close relation to hope: "Hope is the power that drives love. Thanks to hope, we can look forward to the reward of charity.... Hope is the doorway of love.... The absence of hope destroys charity: our efforts are bound to it, our labours are sustained by it, and through it we are enveloped by the mercy of God" (30, 16; 1157). The conclusion of the Ladder contains the synthesis of the work in words that the author has God himself utter: "May this ladder teach you the spiritual disposition of the virtues. I am at the summit of the ladder, and as my great initiate (St Paul) said: "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love' (1 Cor 13: 13)!" (30, 18; 1160).

At this point, a last question must be asked: can the Ladder, a work written by a hermit monk who lived 1,400 years ago, say something to us today? Can the existential journey of a man who lived his entire life on Mount Sinai in such a distant time be relevant to us? At first glance it would seem that the answer must be "no", because John Climacus is too remote from us. But if we look a little closer, we see that the monastic life is only a great symbol of baptismal life, of Christian life. It shows, so to speak, in capital letters what we write day after day in small letters. It is a prophetic symbol that reveals what the life of the baptized person is, in communion with Christ, with his death and Resurrection. The fact that the top of the "ladder", the final steps, are at the same time the fundamental, initial and most simple virtues is particularly important to me: faith, hope and charity. These are not virtues accessible only to moral heroes; rather they are gifts of God to all the baptized: in them our life develops too. The beginning is also the end, the starting point is also the point of arrival: the whole journey towards an ever more radical realization of faith, hope and charity. The whole ascent is present in these virtues. Faith is fundamental, because this virtue implies that I renounce my arrogance, my thought, and the claim to judge by myself without entrusting myself to others. This journey towards humility, towards spiritual childhood is essential. It is necessary to overcome the attitude of arrogance that makes one say: I know better, in this my time of the 21st century, than what people could have known then. Instead, it is necessary to entrust oneself to Sacred Scripture alone, to the word of the Lord, to look out on the horizon of faith with humility, in order to enter into the enormous immensity of the universal world, of the world of God. In this way our soul grows, the sensitivity of the heart grows toward God. Rightly, John Climacus says that hope alone renders us capable of living charity; hope in which we transcend the things of every day, we do not expect success in our earthly days but we look forward to the revelation of God himself at last. It is only in this extension of our soul, in this self-transcendence, that our life becomes great and that we are able to bear the effort and disappointments of every day, that we can be kind to others without expecting any reward. Only if there is God, this great hope to which I aspire, can I take the small steps of my life and thus learn charity. The mystery of prayer, of the personal knowledge of Jesus, is concealed in charity: simple prayer that strives only to move the divine Teacher's heart. So it is that one's own heart opens, one learns from him his own kindness, his love. Let us therefore use this "ascent" of faith, hope and charity. In this way we will arrive at true life."

Thursday, March 29, 2012

From the martyrology: St Eustasius, March 29


a c7th document from Luxeuil
From the martyrology:

"In the monastery of Luxeuil, the death of Abbot St. Eustasius, a disciple of St. Columban, who had under his guidance nearly six hundred monks.  Eminent in sanctity, he was also renowned for miracles."

Saint Eustace of Luxeuil (c560? - 629), also known as Eustasius, was the second abbot of Luxeuil from 611. He succeeded after his teacher Saint Columbanus, to whom he had been a favourite disciple and monk, was exiled by Theuderic II. He had been the head of the monastic school.

Luxeuil represents the Irish school of monasticism that was increasingly adopted in Gaul during this period, but whose extreme asceticism was rapidly softened by the adoption of much of the Benedictine Rule.


During his abbacy, the monastery contained about 600 monks, and practised the 'laus perennis', with successive choirs ensuring that the Office was continually celebrated.   The monastery as a well-known seminary that produced both bishops and saints.

St Eustace was noted for his humility, continual prayer, and fasting. During his administration, as well as during the rule of his successor Saint Waldebert, Luxeuil acquired a high reputation for learning.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

St John Capistrano (EF memorial: March 28)



From the martyrology:

"St. John Capistrano, confessor, a priest of the Order of Friars Minor, who is mentioned on the 23rd of October."

St John Capistrano (1386-1456) was an Italian Franciscan Friar who was famous as a preacher, theologian, and inquisitor.  At the age of 70 he led a crusade against the invading Ottoman Empire, successfully raising the siege of Belgrade along with the Hungarian military commander John Hunyadi, even leading his own contingent into battle.

St John is one of those saints who if he lived today would surely be a blogger: when he was not preaching, he employed himself in writing tracts against heresy of every kind. He also assisted St Bernardine of Siena in the reform of the Franciscan Order.

He died of the plague in the wake of the battle against the Ottomans.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A saint of Syria: St John Damascene, Memorial (March 27)




From the martyrology:

"St. John Damascene, priest, confessor, and doctor of the Church, whose birthday is commemorated on the 6th of May."

Today is the feast of St John Damascene (645-749), a fascinating figure because he is the only Father and Doctor who lived and worked under Muslim rule - he was a public servant to the Islamic ruler of Damascus before becoming a monk. 

Indeed, living under Islamic rule, unsatisfactory though it was for contemporary Christians in terms of the ability to freely worship and more (the saint regarded that religion as essentially a Christian heresy), actually allowed him to continue his efforts despite the Iconoclast heresy that had taken hold in the Eastern Church of his time.

He is often regarded as the last of the Fathers, and was a contemporary of St Bede the Venerable (d735).

Here is Pope Benedict XVI's General Audience on the saint from a few years back:

"Today I should like to speak about John Damascene, a personage of prime importance in the history of Byzantine Theology, a great Doctor in the history of the Universal Church. Above all he was an eyewitness of the passage from the Greek and Syrian Christian cultures shared by the Eastern part of the Byzantine Empire, to the Islamic culture, which spread through its military conquests in the territory commonly known as the Middle or Near East. John, born into a wealthy Christian family, at an early age assumed the role, perhaps already held by his father, of Treasurer of the Caliphate. Very soon, however, dissatisfied with life at court, he decided on a monastic life, and entered the monastery of Mar Saba, near Jerusalem. This was around the year 700. He never again left the monastery, but dedicated all his energy to ascesis and literary work, not disdaining a certain amount of pastoral activity, as is shown by his numerous homilies. His liturgical commemoration is on the 4 December. Pope Leo XIII proclaimed him Doctor of the Universal Church in 1890.

In the East, his best remembered works are the three Discourses against those who calumniate the Holy Images, which were condemned after his death by the iconoclastic Council of Hieria (754). These discourses, however, were also the fundamental grounds for his rehabilitation and canonization on the part of the Orthodox Fathers summoned to the Council of Nicaea (787), the Seventh Ecumenical Council. In these texts it is possible to trace the first important theological attempts to legitimise the veneration of sacred images, relating them to the mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God in the womb of the Virgin Mary.

John Damascene was also among the first to distinguish, in the cult, both public and private, of the Christians, between worship (latreia), and veneration (proskynesis): the first can only be offered to God, spiritual above all else, the second, on the other hand, can make use of an image to address the one whom the image represents. Obviously the Saint can in no way be identified with the material of which the icon is composed. This distinction was immediately seen to be very important in finding an answer in Christian terms to those who considered universal and eternal the strict Old Testament prohibition against the use of cult images. This was also a matter of great debate in the Islamic world, which accepts the Jewish tradition of the total exclusion of cult images. Christians, on the other hand, in this context, have discussed the problem and found a justification for the veneration of images. John Damascene writes, "In other ages God had not been represented in images, being incorporate and faceless. But since God has now been seen in the flesh, and lived among men, I represent that part of God which is visible. I do not venerate matter, but the Creator of matter, who became matter for my sake and deigned to live in matter and bring about my salvation through matter. I will not cease therefore to venerate that matter through which my salvation was achieved. But I do not venerate it in absolute terms as God! How could that which, from non-existence, has been given existence, be God?... But I also venerate and respect all the rest of matter which has brought me salvation, since it is full of energy and Holy graces. Is not the wood of the Cross, three times blessed, matter?... And the ink, and the most Holy Book of the Gospels, are they not matter? The redeeming altar which dispenses the Bread of life, is it not matter?... And, before all else, are not the flesh and blood of Our Lord matter? Either we must suppress the sacred nature of all these things, or we must concede to the tradition of the Church the veneration of the images of God and that of the friends of God who are sanctified by the name they bear, and for this reason are possessed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not, therefore, offend matter: it is not contemptible, because nothing that God has made is contemptible" (cf. Contra imaginum calumniatores, I, 16, ed. Kotter, pp. 89-90). We see that as a result of the Incarnation, matter is seen to have become divine, is seen as the habitation of God. It is a new vision of the world and of material reality. God became flesh and flesh became truly the habitation of God, whose glory shines in the human Face of Christ. Thus the arguments of the Doctor of the East are still extremely relevant today, considering the very great dignity that matter has acquired through the Incarnation, capable of becoming, through faith, a sign and a sacrament, efficacious in the meeting of man with God. John Damascene remains, therefore, a privileged witness of the cult of icons, which would come to be one of the most distinctive aspects of Eastern spirituality up to the present day. It is, however, a form of cult which belongs simply to the Christian faith, to the faith in that God who became flesh and was made visible. The teaching of Saint John Damascene thus finds its place in the tradition of the universal Church, whose sacramental doctrine foresees that material elements taken from nature can become vehicles of grace by virtue of the invocation (epiclesis) of the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the confession of the true faith.

John Damascene extends these fundamental ideas to the veneration of the relics of Saints, on the basis of the conviction that the Christian Saints, having become partakers of the Resurrection of Christ, cannot be considered simply "dead". Numbering, for example, those whose relics or images are worthy of veneration, John states in his third discourse in defence of images: "First of all (let us venerate) those among whom God reposed, he alone Holy, who reposes among the Saints (cf. Is 57: 15), such as the Mother of God and all the Saints. These are those who, as far as possible, have made themselves similar to God by their own will; and by God's presence in them, and his help, they are really called gods (cf. Ps 82[81]: 6), not by their nature, but by contingency, just as the red-hot iron is called fire, not by its nature, but by contingency and its participation in the fire. He says in fact : you shall be holy, because I am Holy (cf. Lv 19: 2)" (III, 33, col. 1352 a). After a series of references of this kind, John Damascene was able serenely to deduce: "God, who is good, and greater than any goodness, was not content with the contemplation of himself, but desired that there should be beings benefited by him, who might share in his goodness: therefore he created from nothing all things, visible and invisible, including man, a reality visible and invisible. And he created him envisaging him and creating him as a being capable of thought (ennoema ergon), enriched with the word (logo[i] sympleroumenon), and orientated towards the spirit (pneumati teleioumenon)" (II, 2, pg 94, col. 865a). And to clarify this thought further, he adds: "We must allow ourselves to be filled with wonder (thaumazein) at all the works of Providence (tes pronoias erga), to accept and praise them all, overcoming any temptation to identify in them aspects which to many may seem unjust or iniquitous, (adika), and admitting instead that the project of God (pronoia) goes beyond man's capacity to know or to understand (agnoston kai akatalepton), while on the contrary only he may know our thoughts, our actions, and even our future" (ii, 29, pg 94, col. 964c). Plato had in fact already said that all philosophy begins with wonder. Our faith, too, begins with wonder at the very fact of the Creation, and at the beauty of God who makes himself visible.

The optimism of the contemplation of nature (physike theoria), of seeing in the visible creation the good, the beautiful, the true, this Christian optimism, is not ingenuous: it takes account of the wound inflicted on human nature by the freedom of choice desired by God and misused by man, with all the consequences of widespread discord which have derived from it. From this derives the need, clearly perceived by John Damascene, that nature, in which the goodness and beauty of God are reflected, wounded by our fault, "should be strengthened and renewed" by the descent of the Son of God in the flesh, after God had tried in many ways and on many occasions, to show that he had created man so that he might exist not only in "being", but also in "well-being" (cf. The Orthodox Faith, II, 1, pg 94, col. 981). With passionate eagerness John explains: "It was necessary for nature to be strengthened and renewed, and for the path of virtue to be indicated and effectively taught (didachthenai aretes hodòn), the path that leads away from corruption and towards eternal life.... So there appeared on the horizon of history the great sea of love that God bears towards man (philanthropias pelagos)".... It is a fine expression. We see on one side the beauty of Creation, and on the other the destruction wrought by the fault of man. But we see in the Son of God, who descends to renew nature, the sea of love that God has for man. John Damascene continues: "he himself, the Creator and the Lord, fought for his Creation, transmitting to it his teaching by example.... And so the Son of God, while still remaining in the form of God, lowered the skies and descended... to his servants... achieving the newest thing of all, the only thing really new under the sun, through which he manifested the infinite power of God" (III, 1, pg 94, col. 981c-984b).

We may imagine the comfort and joy which these words, so rich in fascinating images, poured into the hearts of the faithful. We listen to them today, sharing the same feelings with the Christians of those far-off days: God desires to repose in us, he wishes to renew nature through our conversion, he wants to allow us to share in his divinity. May the Lord help us to make these words the substance of our lives. "

Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Feast of the Annunciation (March 26)


Jacopo Da Montagnana, c1494-7


Saturday, March 24, 2012

St Gabriel the Archangel (March 24, Extraordinary Form)

c14th Georgia
From the martyrology:

"The Feast of St. Gabriel Archangel, who was sent by God to announce the Incarnation of the Divine Word."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

St Benedict (March 21)


From the martyrology:

"At Monte Cassino, the birthday of the holy abbot St. Benedict, who restored and wonderfully extended the monastic discipline in the West, where it had almost been destroyed.  His life, brilliant in virtues and miracles, was written by Pope St. Gregory."

St Benedict Novena Day 9 (March 20): The Tyburns and Australia


And on this final day of the novena of St Benedict, can I beg your prayers for Australia?

While Australia does have a number of Benedictine monasteries, Australia has no Benedictine monasteries using either the traditional Mass or Office.

The Tyburn nuns

The country has one conservative monastery of Benedictines, in the form of the Tyburn Nuns, aka the Benedictine Adorers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus of Montmartre. 

This is a rapidly growing Congregation dedicated to Eucharistic Adoration, with monasteries in a number of countries, including a number of new foundations.  The Congregation does not practice stability, but moves sisters around the Order's monasteries as needed.

Benedictine Monasticism in Australia

But most monasteries in Australia are struggling, with relatively few vocations, and an ageing demographic.

The Monastery of New Norcia in Western Australia, which played a key role in Australia's catholic history, struggles on having literally turned itself into a living museum. 

There is also the Monastery of Arcadia in New South Wales.

And for women, the Monastery of Jamberoo in New South Wales, gained some fame a few years back through a reality tv show called 'The Abbey'. 

Please do keep Australia's monasteries, and Australians in Benedictine monasteries around the world, especially in your prayers for the recovery of traditional religious life!

And please pray for the restoration of traditional Benedictine religious life around the world...

Novena Prayer

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

SS Cuthbert and Wulfram OSB (March 20)



Today I'd like to draw your attention to two saintly monks mentioned in the martyrology, SS Wulfram of Sens, and St Cuthbert.

St Cuthbert

From the martyrology:

"In England, the death of St. Cuthbert, bishop of Lindisfarne, who from his childhood until his death was renowned for good works and miracles."

St Cuthbert (634-687) was an Anglo-Saxon monk, bishop and hermit whose life was written by St Bede.

Cuthbert was in the Kingdom of Northumbria in the mid-630s, some ten years after the conversion of King Edwin to Christianity in 627.


He decided to become a monk after seeing a vision on the night in 651 that St Aidan, the founder of Lindisfarne, died, but seems to have seen some military service first. He was quickly made guest-master at the new monastery at Ripon, soon after 655, but had to return with Eata to Melrose when Wilfrid was given the monastery instead. About 662 he was made prior at Melrose, and around 665 went as prior to Lindisfarne. In 684 he was made bishop of Lindisfarne but by late 686 resigned and returned to his hermitage as he felt he was about to die, although he was probably still only in his early 50s.

St Cuthbert had a reputation for piety, diligence, and obedience. After the Synod of Whitby, St Cuthbert seems to have accepted the Roman customs, and his old abbot, Eata, called on him to introduce them at Lindisfarne as prior there. His asceticism was complemented by his charm and generosity to the poor, and his reputation for gifts of healing and insight led many people to consult him, gaining him the name of "Wonder Worker of Britain". He continued his missionary work, travelling the breadth of the country from Berwick to Galloway to carry out pastoral work.

St Wulfram

From the martyrology:

"In the monastery of Fontanelle in France, St. Wulfram, bishop of Sens, who resigned his bishopric, and after having performed miracles, departed out of this life."

St Wulfram (640-703) was a Frank. He became Archbishop of Sens in 692, but resigned from the see in 695 and retired to the Benedictine Monastery of Fronenelles (probably in Rouen).

He went on mission to Frisia, where he proved extremely effective.  Acorrding to the wikipedia:

"...in Frisia, St. Wulfram converted the son of King Radbod and was allowed to preach. The custom was that people, including children, were sacrificed to the local gods having been selected by a form of lottery. Wulfram, having remonstrated with Radbod on the subject, was told that the king was unable to change the custom but Wulfram was invited to save them if he could. The saint then waded into the sea to save two children who had been tied to posts and left to drown as the tide rose. According to the story, the turning point came with the rescue of a man, Ovon, who had been chosen by lot to be sacrificed by hanging. Wulfram begged King Radbod to stop the killing, but the people were outraged at the sacrilege proposed. In the end, they agreed that Wulfram's God could have a chance to save Ovon's life, and if he did, Wulfram and the God could have him. Ovon was hanged, and left for a couple of hours, while Wulfram prayed. When the Frisians decided to leave Ovon for dead, the rope broke, Ovon fell - and was alive. Ovon became Wulfram's slave, his follower, a monk, and then a priest at Fontenelle Abbey. The faith of the missionaries (and their power to work miracles), frightened and awed the people who turned from their old ways, and were baptized."

He subsequently retired back to his monastery, and died there in 703. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

St Benedict Novena Day 8 (March 19): Flavigny and Le Barroux


Continuing today this novena for traditional Benedictine religious life, I want to mention today the monasteries of Flavigny and Le Barroux in France.

Patronal feast of Flavigny

Today is in fact the patron feast of the Monastery of Flavigny, which is bi-ritual, was founded in 1972 and today has around 50 monks. 

The monastery has an unusual charism (for Benedictines), of running Ignatian Retreats, not only at the monastery itself and in various locations around France, but around the world, including England and Australia.

Among its many works to note are the excellent newsletter, featuring inspiring stories of saints and others which you can subscribe to, as well as a web facility to arrange for masses to be offered.

Le Barroux

And of course, this series would be incomplete without a mention of the monasteries of Le Barroux.

The famous foundation of Dom Gerard Calvet in southern France started from just one monk, whose books are all well worth reading (some are available in English).  The monks live stream a number of their offices, so if you are in their time zone, do listen in!

The monks have also made a foundation at La Garde, where they are in the process of building a monastery.

As well as the monks there is also an associated Monastery of Nuns.  Founded in 1979 they now have around 30 nuns, and recently put out a CD through Decca.

Novena Prayer

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

St Joseph (March 19)



From the martyrology:

"In Judea, the birthday of St. Joseph, spouse of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Confessor and Patron of the Universal Church.  Pope Pius IX, yielding to the desires and prayers of the whole Catholic world, declared him Patron of the Universal Church."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

St Benedict Novena Day 7 (March 18): Emerging communities in France and Italy



Today in this novena series for the revival of traditional Benedictine religious life, I wanted to highlight two emerging communities of men.

Monastère Saint-Benoît, La Garde-Freinet

The first is the very new indeed Monastery of St Benedict in the tradition friendly diocese of Frejus-Toulon.  It was founded just last December. 

The community, like their website, is bilingual, and the Prior is actually English (you can read an interview with him on the New Liturgical Movement blog), and its monks include Dom Alcuin Reid who did most of the editing of the Farnborough Monastic Diurnal while he was there. 

The website includes a new page which has some nice pictures, and seems to be being updated regularly, As a new community it is particularly in need of material support!

Benedictines of the Immaculate, Italy
The second group is the Benedictines of the Immaculate, a breakaway group from the Monastery of Le Barroux (which I'll talk about tomorrow), seeking a stricter observance. 

Sadly, despite Summorum Pontificum and subsequent legislation, it sometimes seems that the battles of the last forty or so years have to be fought over and over again though.  Certainly that seems to be the challenge facing the Eponymous Flower blog records details of a "discussion" going on with the diocesan bishop over attempts to impose the novus ordo and concelebration on members of the community.

Novena Prayer

Do keep both of these communities, and other emerging groups, in your prayers.

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Monasteries of Jouques and Rosans - St Benedict Novena (Day 6), March 17



Continuing this series on the renewal of traditional Benedictine religious life, today I want to highlight the Monastery of Jouques, located near Aix-en-Provence in France.

Jouques Nuns

Jouques is the most successful by far of the traditional monasteries of Benedictine nuns with the Extraordinary Form mass and full traditional chant Office, certainly in terms of vocations.

The monastery was founded in 1967, and achieved abbey status in 1981.  It has around 60 nuns, and generally has several novices and postulants.  Their founding abbess retired last year, and her successor, Mother Teresa Dardaine, received the abbaliale blessing in June 2011.  The monastery supports itself through the sale of its products.

It has also made two foundations. 

The first, the Monastery of Rosans, located in the hautes-Alpes region of France, achieved abbey status in 2002.

The third is in Benin in Africa.

Please do keep these wonderful nuns in your prayers.

Novena Prayer

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

Friday, March 16, 2012

St Patrick (Class I in many places); St Joseph of Arimathea


From the martyrology:

"At Downpatrick in Ireland, the birthday of St. Patrick, bishop and confessor, who was the first to preach Christ in that country, and who became illustrious by great miracles and virtues."

Also in the martyrology today:

"At Jerusalem, St. Joseph of Arimathea, noble senator and disciple of our Lord,. who took his Body down from the Cross and buried it in his own new sepulchre."

From the martyrology: Canadian Jesuit martyrs (March 16)



From the martyrology:

"In the territory of Canada, Saints John de Brébeuf, Gabriel Lalemant, Anthony Daniel, Charles Garnier, and Noel Chabanel, priests of the Society of Jesus, who in the mission of the Hurons, on this and other days, after many labours and most cruel torments, bravely underwent death for Christ."

St Benedict Novena Day 5: Fontgombault and its daughter houses


Today in this novena leading up to the feast of St Benedict, I want to highlight the efforts of Fontgombault Abbey in France.

Founded in 1948, Fontgombault is a Solesmes Congregation monastery that has retained the EF Mass and is by far the most successful of any of the traditional Benedictine communities when it comes to vocations.

This is a monastery that has truly fought the good fight for the cause of traditionalism. It was briefly forced to utilize the new Mass under threat of excommunication – but reverted back to the traditional missal the instant it became possible to do so!

The monastery itself has over one hundred monks.

And it has made four foundations – Randol (1971), Tiers (1984), Gaussan (1994), and Clear Creek in the United States (1999).

Clear Creek Monastery

Most readers here will perhaps be most familiar with Clear Creek, which is now an abbey in its own right. I mentioned earlier in this series in relation to its associated sisters. Clear Creek is in the process of building a monastery, and needs your support…

Fontgombault itself recently elected a new abbot, and there is a nice story about Pope Benedict XVI greeting the new abbot and his predecessor over at Eponymous Flower Blog.

Novena prayer

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday in the Third Week of Lent: halfway there!



Pope Felix offers the Basilica of
SS Cosmas and Damian to the saints.

Thursday of the Third Week of Lent is the official half-way point of Lent, though we defer any real celebration of it until the coming Sunday (Laetare).  In fact we are really already past the mid-way point, due to a number of 'get out of Lent' solemnities coming up (St Patrick's Day in many places, St Joseph, St Benedict and the Annunciation).

Nonetheless, the collect of the day is of SS Cosmas and Damian, reflecting the official Station Church in Rome of the day (there is one for each day of Lent where pilgrims are supposed to go, singing the litany of the saints).  Their actual feast day is September 27.

According to Dom Gueranger's Liturgical Year, these saints are thought to have been physicians, and so were deemed particularly suitable to offer their aid to us, fatigued as we must be from fasting...

Regardless of the extent or otherwise of of our fasting, Dom Gueranger urges us to pray to the two martyrs for strength to persevere in our Lenten disciplines.  Sounds like good advice!

St Benedict Novena Day 4: The Monks of Christ in the Desert

Continuing today my series highlighting monasteries around the world and the cause of the revival of Benedictine religious life, I wanted to focus today on the monks of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert.

An intriguing community who share their wisdom...

This is a monastery I find fascinating firstly because it is one of the few thriving Novus Ordo monasteries.  It has continued to attract vocations and grow, and at the same time has a group of about eight other monasteries that are associated with, either as their own foundations, by assisting groups to get started, or helping existing monasteries who are struggling.  Some of these include the relatively new Nuns of Our Lady of the Desert, who are now formally associated with Australia's Jamberoo nuns, and a Vietnamese foundation in the US.

It is intriguing secondly because of the often confrontly honest weekly epistles of its abbot, whose wisdom I've personally learnt a lot from, both from his Abbot's notebook editions, and his commentary on the Rule (also available from their website).

And thirdly because this is a monastery that started out seemingly as a new agey experiment of the kind only too common in recent decades, but has gradually found its way back to the mainstream of Benedictine practice!  Abbot Lawrence has described this process as follows:

"In my early years as a monk in this community, we experimented all the time…At one point we had only Buddhist cushions on the floor of the Church and not a single place to sit, except on the floor. We went through a phase when we sang only four part harmonies as in the Russian Orthodox tradition and we had icons everywhere… We went through a period of trying various practices of the Native Americans. At one time we did not even let the priest presiding at Holy Mass wear vestments... Out of all of that experimentation, slowly our community took shape. We began to make choices that put us into the heart of the Church instead of always on the fringes. For some, those choices made us appear much more traditional and perhaps more rigid."


The monastery eventually adopted traditional habits, rediscovered Gregorian chant and Latin, returned to the use of the full weekly psalter in the Office, and made other changes toward recovery of the tradition.  

Accordingly, this monastery provides hope that the many seemingly lost monasteries out there can yet be reformed and recover the tradition!

The monks are about to put out a new CD of Gregorian Chant, and in the lead up to it, are releasing a series of videos on their home page.  The introductory one can be found below.

Please keep the monks and their associated communities, and their efforts more generally in your prayers.


Novena Prayer

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.


Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.

SS Longinus, Leocritia, Matrona and Louise de Marillac (March 15)


James Tissot, c19th

There are a few saints of particular interest in the martyrology today.

A very early convert indeed...

"At Caesarea in Cappadocia, the martyrdom of St. Longinus, the soldier who is said to have pierced our Lord's side with a lance."

Victims of persecution

Many of the saints in the martyrology were victims of the pagan persecutions of the early years of the Church.  But it is also important to remember the victims of Jewish and Islamic persecution, both recent and not so recent, such as these:

"At Cordova in Spain, St. Leocritia, virgin and martyr.  She suffered various cruel tortures and was beheaded for the faith of Christ during the Arabian persecution."

and

"At Thessalonica, St. Matrona, servant of a Jewess, who, worshipping Christ secretly, and stealing away daily to pray in the church, was detected by her mistress and subjected to many trials.  Being at last beaten to death with large clubs, she gave up her pure soul to God in confessing Christ."

St Louise de Marillac, co-founder of the Daughters of Charity

"At Paris, the birthday of St. Louise de Marillac, a widow of Le Gras, co-founder with St. Vincent de Paul of the Society of the Daughters of Charity.  Outstanding for her virtues and miracles, her name was inscribed on the roll of the saints by Pope Pius XI."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

St Benedict Novena Day 3 (March 14): Monasteries of the United Kingdom and Ireland



I want to continue today, promoting my intention of praying this novena for the restoration of traditional Benedictine religious life by asking for your prayers for the United Kingdom and Ireland, a country in dire need of the restoration of religious life!

Traditionalist monasteries

These countries have but one Benedictine monastery using the traditional missal as far as I know - and that the very recently arrived indeed Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle, highlighted by a commenter yesterday, which until a few weeks ago was based in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The monastery, founded by Vultus Christi blogger, Fr Mark Kirby, is engaging in a bit of reverse missionary effort, and so is especially deserving of our prayers as they settle into their new home.

Traditionally inclined monasteries

The United Kingdom does, though, have a number of monasteries that essentially retain the traditional Benedictine Office, and take a conservative view of monastic life, and I wanted to particularly mention a three monasteries in particular in this category.

The first is the Solesmes Congregation monastery of nuns of Ryde on the Isle of Wight.  This is one of the few communities of women in the UK that has consistently attracted vocations, and for good reasons.  Do take a look at their beautiful website, and if you have a chance to visit them, do so!

The second is the monastery of Pluscarden in Scotland (I'd provide a link to its website, but either it is not working in general, or, as the message I get suggests, for some reason dislikes my computer in particular...).  Pluscarden's former abbot is now Bishop of Aberdeen, an appointment widely applauded, and the monastery is also the motherhouse of the American monastery of Petersham (notable amongst other things for its shared Church and co-location with a monastery of Benedictine nuns).

The third is of course Farnborough Abbey, who have done us such a great service by putting out the Monastic Diurnal!  Farnborough's buildings are a rather splendid mix, including a part replica of Solesmes, reflecting its origin as the foundation of the Empress Eugenie and its origins as a refuge from France's moves to suppress the monasteries (again) in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  You can follow their doings at their blog.

Traditionalist monks!

None of the monasteries I've mentioned so far however are members of the ancient English Congregation which has played, historically at least, such a key role in the is history of both England itself, directly in countries such as Australia where I live, and indirectly in many others.

Sadly, the English Congregation has suffered badly from its decisions to drop Latin and the traditional form of the Benedictine Office and generally 'update' itself, and continues to suffer a number of scandals.

Yet despite this, there are a number of traditionalist monks (one or two of whom are Australians), in these monasteries who say the EF mass or are strongly sympathetic to it.  So I would particularly ask you to keep these monks of Downside, Douai and Ealing in particular (do add to the list if you know of others) in your prayers, and pray for the restoration of the Congregation to its former fervour more generally.

Novena Prayer

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

St Matilda (March 14)


From the martyrology:

"At Halberstadt in Germany, the death of blessed Queen Matilda, mother of Emperor Otto I, renowned for humility and patience."

Saint Matilda (877 – 968) was the wife of King Henry I of Germany, the first ruler of the Saxon Ottonian dynasty and Queen from 919 until 936.   Her eldest son Otto succeeded his father as German King and was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 962.

After her husband died Matilda established Quedlinburg Abbey in his memory, a convent of noble canonesses, where in 966 her granddaughter Matilda became the first abbess.  Renowned for her devotion to prayer and almsgiving, she at first remained at court after the death of her husband, but her charitable activities led to accusations that she was weakening the royal treasury unduly.  After a brief exile at her Westphalian manors at Enger, where she established a college of canons in 947, Matilda was brought back to court at the urging of King Otto's first wife, the Anglo-Saxon princess Edith of Wessex.
Matilda died at Quedlinburg, having outlived her husband by 32 years.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

St Benedict Novena Day 2 (March 13): US Women's monasteries


Joseph Ignaz Mildorfer, altar painting

Continuing today, my series highlighting the efforts of some contemporary Benedictine monasteries, I wanted to highlight in particular two relatively new communities, the Oblate sisters of Clear Creek, and the Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

Benedictines nuns follow exactly the same Rule as monks, and feminised versions of the Rule can be found dating back very early indeed.  And because of the link between St Benedict and his twin sister, St Scholastica, abbess of a nearby community to Monte Cassino, the ties between men's and women's monasteries are often very close indeed.

Clear Creek Sisters

The Clear Creek Oblate Sisters are a small emerging community whose Mary, Queen of Angels Convent sits within the grounds of the Monastery of Clear Creek, near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

They were established in 2005 under the authority of the Abbot of Notre-Dame de Fontgombault (France) and the guidance of the Clear Creek Superior, with the blessing of Bishop Slattery of Tulsa.

As such the sisters have the great aid of the spiritual guidance of the monks, and access to the monks' liturgy!

The sisters are strictly contemplative, and support themselves through handcrafted items, religious articles and books and other items.

Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles.

The now Missouri-based Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles started in 1995.  They support themselves through the production of vestments and altar linens.  The sisters have a particular charism of praying and caring for priests.

Please keep these two groups in your prayers, and keep in mind that women's monasteries often find it much harder to survive financially, since they have no mass stipends to fall back on!

Novena Prayer

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.


Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

Monday, March 12, 2012

St Benedict Novena Day 1 (March 12): The monks of Norcia, Italy


Fresco from St Benedict's, Norcia
As flagged yesterday, today is the day to start your Novena to St Benedict! You can find the novena prayer below.

I also invite you to join me through this novena in praying for the restoration of traditional Benedictine religious life, and to that end, want to highlight a few monasteries of particular interest.

And what better place to start than the birthplace of St Benedict himself, where a relatively new foundation of American monks are working for the restoration of monastic life there.

Monastery of St Benedict, Norcia

The monks of Norcia will be familiar to many readers of this blog because of their wonderful service in making their daily EF Mass, Lauds, Vespers and more available online.

This is a monastery that is growing quickly, but needs your help!

First, their Prior, Fr Cassian Folsom who was chosen as Inside the Vatican Magazine's person of the year for 2011, has unfortunately suffered a relapse in the cancer that had been in abeyance since treatment a few years back. Please pray for his recovery.

Secondly, they need help meeting the everyday expenses of the monastery, and their site gives you a number of options to make donations, depending on where you live.

Thirdly, they have purchased a ruined sixteenth century Capuchin Monastery as the site for their future monastery as they expand beyond their current accommodations, and need help to restore and build!

And to learn more about them, do watch the excellent video recently made about them posted below.

The St Benedict Novena Prayer (and the special intention)

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

And if you would like to read more about the saint himself, please do take a look at my previous novena series on the saint.




St Gregory the Great, Class II (March 12)



St Gregory dispatches St Augustine and his monks to England
 From the martyrology:

"At Rome, St. Gregory, pope and eminent doctor of the Church, who on account of his illustrious deeds and the conversion of the English to the faith of Christ, was surnamed the Great, and called the Apostle of England."

St Gregory I the Great, was born in 540, and was pope between 590 and 604.

He became a monk after meeting refugees from St Benedict's Monte Cassino, who had fled to Rome after the destruction of the monastery, and established a monastery in his home on the Caelian in Rome. 

He was sent as Ambassador to Constantinople by Pope Pelagius II in 579, and engaged there in the always vigorous theological disputes of the Eastern Church! 

As Pope he is credited with the revision of the liturgy (hence the naming of the chant for him), the conversion of the English and many important writings. 

The most important of his works from a Benedictine perspective though, is Book II of his Dialogues, which is the Life of St Benedict, which you can read more about by clicking here.

And for more on the life of the saint himself, go here.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Novena to St Benedict for the restoration of Benedictine religious life: starts March 12



c17th  SS Benedict and Scholastica are depicted in the upper panel
alongside the Transfiguration

The feast of St Benedict is on March 21, so if you would like to make the traditional novena to the saint, you will need to start tomorrow (March 12). 

A copy of the novena prayer can be found below, but I'll also include it each day in a post for the novena.

Pray for the restoration of Benedictine religious life

And this year, as well as for our own sanctification, I'd like to ask you to join me in praying for the restoration of traditional Benedictine religious life.

It is my conviction that Catholicism will fall in the West unless religious life is restored.  Without the splendid monastic liturgy, the sacrifices, and the example of truly committed religious, how can priests and the laity go on, how can the West be won?

The laity can help in this battle, first and foremost by supporting those monasteries already out there, and also by praying for new monasteries to be established in places and countries that lack them.

In terms of existing monasteries, they generally need:
  • our prayers above all, for their success;
  • vocations - so consider whether you have properly discerned your own, or can do more to encourage a family member of friend;
  • financial support - some few are well-endowed, or have schools and other business activities which more than pay for them, but these days, particularly in the case of the traditionally inclined monasteries, these are few and far between and most live pretty much hand to mouth!  So consider buying their products through their website, visiting them for a retreat, or making a donation outright;
  • some monasteries have specific needs for goods which you may be able to help out with; and
  • free (or cheap) labour - some monasteries have work days or other ways of volunteering your services....
If you are an oblate, your first obligation is of course to the monastery to which you made your oblation and whose spiritual benefits you share in especially.  But most of us can spare at least a prayer for other monasteries.  Some monasteries offer goods and services you might benefit from.  And some monasteries - particularly the newer ones in the process of just starting out, or building a monastery - are worth your consideration more generally.

Monasteries to note

In order to highlight this intention, and the ways in which we can help, I plan to highlight a number of Benedictine monasteries each day through the novena period.

Each day I'll provide a little information and some links on a mix of traditionalist monasteries, conservative monasteries that are doing good things, monasteries I know of that have some traditionalist monks amongst them, and monasteries that particularly need our practical or spiritual help one way.

I'm obviously going to have to be pretty selective here, as there are only nine days to cover them all, so you are mostly going to get my selected favourites!  But do feel free to contact me and let me know of any you think should be highlighted, or to add the name of the monastery you are an oblate of, or should otherwise be highlighted in the comments box.

The St Benedict Novena Prayer (and the special intention)

O glorious St. Benedict, sublime model of all virtues, pure vessel of God's grace! Behold me, humbly kneeling at thy feet. I implore thy loving heart to pray for me before the throne of God. To thee I have recourse in all the dangers which daily surround me. Shield me against my enemies, inspire me to imitate thee in all things. May thy blessing be with me always, so that I may shun whatever God forbids and avoid the occasions of sin.

Graciously obtain for me from God those favors and graces of which I stand so much in need, in the trials, miseries and afflictions of life. Thy heart was always so full of love, compassion, and mercy toward those who were afflicted or troubled in any way. Thou didst never dismiss without consolation and assistance anyone who had recourse to thee. I therefore invoke thy powerful intercession, in the confident hope that thou wilt hear my prayers and obtain for me the special grace and favor I so earnestly implore (mention your intentions here), if it be for the greater glory of God and the welfare of my soul.

Help me, O great St. Benedict, to live and die as a faithful child of God, to be ever submissive to His holy will, and to attain the eternal happiness of heaven. Amen.

[For the special intention (Magnificat antiphon of the feast): O pattern of heavenly life, our guide and teacher Benedict, whose soul is now rejoicing with Christ in heaven: protect thy flock, dear shepherd, and by thy holy prayer support them; and with thyself as leader showing that brightened way, make them enter the heavens.]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Forty Martyrs, Memorial (March 10)


From the martyrology for March 9:

"At Sebaste in Armenia, under the governor Agricolaus, in the time of Emperor Licinius, the birthday of forty holy soldiers of Cappadocia.  After being chained down in foul dungeons, after having their faces bruised with stones, and being condemned to spend the night naked, in the open during the coldest part of winter, on a frozen lake where their bodies were benumbed and covered with ice, they completed their martyrdom by having their limbs crushed.  The most noteworthy among them were Cyrion and Candidus.  Their glorious triumph has been celebrated by St. Basil and other Fathers in their writings.  Their feast is kept tomorrow."

The story of their martyrdom in 320 is very well-attested to, being the subject of a sermon by St Basil of Caesarea around fifty or sixty years after the event. 

Forty soldiers who had openly confessed themselves Christians were condemned by the prefect to be exposed naked upon a frozen pond near Sebaste on a bitterly cold night, that they might freeze to death. Among the confessors, one yielded and, leaving his companions, sought the warm baths near the lake which had been prepared for any who might prove inconstant.

One of the guards set to keep watch over the martyrs beheld at this moment a supernatural brilliancy overshadowing them and at once proclaimed himself a Christian, threw off his garments, and joined the remaining thirty-nine. Thus the number of forty remained complete.

At daybreak, the stiffened bodies of the confessors, which still showed signs of life, were burned and the ashes cast into a river. Christians, however, collected the precious remains, and the relics were distributed throughout many cities; in this way, veneration of the Forty Martyrs became widespread, and numerous churches were erected in their honour.

Friday, March 9, 2012

St Francis of Rome OSB, Memorial (March 9)



From the martyrology:

"At Rome, St. Frances, widow, renowned for her noble family, holy life, and the gift of miracles."

Famed both as a mystic and for her charitable works, St Francis is patron of Benedictine Oblates.  You can read more about her and the group of oblates she founded here.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

From the martyrology: St John of God (March 8)

Murillo, 1672

From the martyrology:

"At Granada in Spain, St. John of God, founder of the Order of Brothers Hospitallers, famed for his mercy to the poor, and his contempt of self.  Pope Leo XIII appointed him as heavenly patron of the sick and of all hospitals."

St John (1495-1550) was born in Portugal, his mother died when he was only a small child, and his father joined a monastic order.  As a young man, John worked as a shepherd for a farmer who was very pleased with his strength and diligent work. John had an offer to marry the farmer's daughter and become heir to the property; he refused because he wanted to pursue a spiritual life in the service of God.

He moved to Spain and became a soldier, then worked for a time disseminating spiritual works.  He had a major conversion after listening to a sermon by St John of Avila, which initially saw sent to an insane asylum.  He thereafter organised an Order to assist the poor and particularly the sick.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

St Thomas Aquinas, memorial (March 7)

Fra Battolommeo
From the martyrology:

"In the monastery of Fossanova, near Terracina in Campania, St. Thomas Aquinas, confessor and doctor of the Church, a member of the Order of Preachers, famous for his noble family, for the sanctity of his life, and for his knowledge of theology.  Pope Leo XIII declared him the heavenly patron of all Catholic schools."

You can read more about this most important of the theologian-saints here.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

SS Perpetua and Felicity, Memorial; St Conan (March 6)



From the martyrology:

"SS Perpetua and Felicity, who on the day following this, received from  the Lord the glorious crown of martyrdom."

Tomorrow's entry adds:

"At Carthage, the birthday of Saints Perpetua and Felicity, martyrs.  St. Augustine relates that Felicity being with child, her execution was deferred , according to the law, until after her delivery.  He states that while she was in labour, she mourned, and when cast to the beasts, she rejoiced.  With them suffered Satyrus, Saturninus, Revocatus, and Secundulus, the last of whom died in prison; the others were delivered to the beasts, all during the reign of Severus.  The feast of Saints Perpetua and Felicity was celebrated yesterday."

St Perpetua's autobiographical account of the events leading up to their martyrdom, completed by friends, was one of the most widely read documents in the early Church. You can read more about them, including some extracts from the work here.

Also on this day:

"In Cyprus, in the time of Emperor Decius, St. Conon, martyr.  He was compelled to run before a chariot, with his feet pierced with nails, and falling to his knees, he died in prayer."

Friday, March 2, 2012

From the martyrology: St Chad (March 2)

From the martyrology:

"At Lichfield in England, St. Chad, bishop of Mercia and Lindisfarne, whose excellent virtues are mentioned by St. Venerable Bede."

St Chad (died 2 March 672) was abbot of several monasteries, Bishop of the Northumbrians and subsequently Bishop of the Mercians and Lindsey People.  He was the brother of St Cedd, and is credited, together with Cedd, with introducing Christianity to the Mercian kingdom.

According to St Bede, St Chad was a student of St Aidan at Lindisfarne.  He later travelled to Ireland as a monk, before he was ordained.  Made the archbishop of York by King Oswy, Chad was disciplined by Theodore, the newly arrived archbishop of Canterbury, in 669. Chad accepted Theodore’s charges of impropriety with such humility and grace that Theodore regularized his consecration and ap­pointed him the bishop of Mercia. He established a see at Lichfield.