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Posts Tagged ‘monasticism’

Benedict4

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

BenedictI

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This is a repost from last year, but I thought since the Benedict Option talk reached a peak of sorts this year, it was worth repeating. 

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict of Norcia.

Buy some beer!

Listen to some music!

Pray!

Blog-Ma-2

There is much talk about St. Benedict these days, as people consider how to live in a culture increasingly hostile to the Gospel. You might come away from these conversations thinking that Benedict and the Benedictine Way is essentially about “withdrawal.”  I don’t think that is correct.  Looking at the origins of Benedictine monasticism might help understand why.

Christian monasticism did, indeed, begin with withdrawal from the world. In the 3rd century men and, to a lesser extent, women, began heading to the desert to live in solitude. But even these anchorites did not shut themselves off from interaction with others, as they accepted visitors seeking to benefit from their wisdom and assist them.

But Benedictine monasticism was different, of course. Cenobitic, as opposed to anchorite, monasticism, was a call to live in community, together, with brothers. But is this “withdrawal?”

In fifth century Europe, most people lived their lives in small communities of extended family and small settlements. Most people did not travel far from where they had been born, unless driven to do so by war or natural catastrophe. As towns developed, they built walls, and in general, one could not just pop into any walled settlement you happened to be passing by. The walls were there for a reason, and access to all communities  was guarded and controlled.  These kinds of restrictions on travel and entrance into unfamiliar towns is not just a feature of medieval life, either. Last year, I read a history of hotels and tourism in the United States, and was quite interested to see how serious travel restrictions were even in the US, up to the mid-19th century and the development of the railroad. The traveler, in short, was usually viewed with suspicion before welcome.

My point is this, moving back to 4th and 5th century Europe. Benedictine monasticism developed on a  continent in serious, violent transition, parts under constant siege, and it was radical and transforming, but the basic instinct – to form a community with a strong sense of self-identification vis-a-vis the outside world was a fundamental paradigm of social organization of the period. 

One could even say that during this period, all communities that valued their survival and identity were, in a sense, semi-cloistered, guarded against the influence of the outside world. 

The difference is that Benedictine monastic communities were intentional, with ties rooted, not in family or geography, but in brotherhood in Christ. A new family, a new community in a continent of other communities formed out of different paradigms.

I also think the argument could be made that Benedictine communities, while they were certainly withdrawing from worldly influence in terms of turning from marriage, familial ties and the political arrangements of the world, they were probably more open to the world than your average family-based walled settlement down the valley from the monastery. They were more open to learning, more open to visitors from other areas, more cosmopolitan and just as economically engaged – at least before the growth of commerce.  

So to position Benedictine monasticism as an option that, at heart, is a means of protection from the world, period, is a simplistic misunderstanding of the origins of this movement that misses the opportunity to explore what St. Benedict and his monks really have to say to us today. It is about community, yes. It is about cutting ties with some aspects of the world and intentionality, yes. It is about expressing the instinct that human beings are made, fundamentally, for communion with God and that aspects of the world actively work against spiritual growth and fully human life as God desires. That is fundamental to Christian spirituality, as we can see from St. Paul on. But withdrawal from everything, pushing away and closing-off? No. 

From Pope Benedict XVI, in 2008:

Throughout the second book of his Dialogues, Gregory shows us how St Benedict’s life was steeped in an atmosphere of prayer, the foundation of his existence. Without prayer there is no experience of God. Yet Benedict’s spirituality was not an interiority removed from reality. In the anxiety and confusion of his day, he lived under God’s gaze and in this very way never lost sight of the duties of daily life and of man with his practical needs. Seeing God, he understood the reality of man and his mission. In hisRule he describes monastic life as “a school for the service of the Lord” (Prol. 45) and advises his monks, “let nothing be preferred to the Work of God” [that is, the Divine Office or the Liturgy of the Hours] (43, 3). However, Benedict states that in the first place prayer is an act of listening (Prol. 9-11), which must then be expressed in action. “The Lord is waiting every day for us to respond to his holy admonitions by our deeds” (Prol. 35). Thus, the monk’s life becomes a fruitful symbiosis between action and contemplation, “so that God may be glorified in all things” (57, 9). In contrast with a facile and egocentric self-fulfilment, today often exalted, the first and indispensable commitment of a disciple of St Benedict is the sincere search for God (58, 7) on the path mapped out by the humble and obedient Christ (5, 13), whose love he must put before all else (4, 21; 72, 11), and in this way, in the service of the other, he becomes a man of service and peace. In the exercise of obedience practised by faith inspired by love (5, 2), the monk achieves humility (5, 1), to which the Rule dedicates an entire chapter (7). In this way, man conforms ever more to Christ and attains true self-fulfilment as a creature in the image and likeness of God.

The obedience of the disciple must correspond with the wisdom of the Abbot who, in the monastery, “is believed to hold the place of Christ” (2, 2; 63, 13). The figure of the Abbot, which is described above all in Chapter II of the Rule with a profile of spiritual beauty and demanding commitment, can be considered a self-portrait of Benedict, since, as St Gregory the Great wrote, “the holy man could not teach otherwise than as he himself lived” (cf. Dialogues II, 36). The Abbot must be at the same time a tender father and a strict teacher (cf. 2, 24), a true educator. Inflexible against vices, he is nevertheless called above all to imitate the tenderness of the Good Shepherd (27, 8), to “serve rather than to rule” (64, 8) in order “to show them all what is good and holy by his deeds more than by his words” and “illustrate the divine precepts by his example” (2, 12). To be able to decide responsibly, the Abbot must also be a person who listens to “the brethren’s views” (3, 2), because “the Lord often reveals to the youngest what is best” (3, 3). This provision makes a Rule written almost 15 centuries ago surprisingly modern! A man with public responsibility even in small circles must always be a man who can listen and learn from what he hears.

Benedict describes the Rule he wrote as “minimal, just an initial outline” (cf. 73, 8); in fact, however, he offers useful guidelines not only for monks but for all who seek guidance on their journey toward God. For its moderation, humanity and sober discernment between the essential and the secondary in spiritual life, his Rule has retained its illuminating power even to today. By proclaiming St Benedict Patron of Europe on 24 October 1964, Paul VI intended to recognize the marvellous work the Saint achieved with hisRule for the formation of the civilization and culture of Europe. Having recently emerged from a century that was deeply wounded by two World Wars and the collapse of the great ideologies, now revealed as tragic utopias, Europe today is in search of its own identity. Of course, in order to create new and lasting unity, political, economic and juridical instruments are important, but it is also necessary to awaken an ethical and spiritual renewal which draws on the Christian roots of the Continent, otherwise a new Europe cannot be built. Without this vital sap, man is exposed to the danger of succumbing to the ancient temptation of seeking to redeem himself by himself – a utopia which in different ways, in 20th-century Europe, as Pope John Paul II pointed out, has caused “a regression without precedent in the tormented history of humanity” (Address to the Pontifical Council for Culture, 12 January 1990). Today, in seeking true progress, let us also listen to the Rule of St Benedict as a guiding light on our journey. The great monk is still a true master at whose school we can learn to become proficient in true humanism.

 

 

 

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Welcome Catholic Herald readers!

For those of you interested in pursuing the question of the impact of the Protestant Reformation on women, there is a wealth of resources.

As I said in the article, the weight of scholarly opinion now tilts to the view that the impact of the Reformation on women was largely negative. Any “gains” from an increased respect for the vocation of marriage (which was not, of course disrespected in Catholicism anyway!) and an emphasis on literacy (for Bible-reading) were outweighed by the constriction of woman’s proper sphere to the domestic and the stripping of the feminine from the spiritual realm. I am in the process of writing another, longer and perhaps even more heated article on this subject that will be appearing in another online venue next week or the following, so look for that.

Here are just a few resources you might find interesting. They treat not only the specific issue of the Protestant Reformation’s impact on women, but also women in pre-Reformation Europe as well as women in the context of early modern, or “Counter-Reformation” Catholicism.

Don’t be put off by the thought of reading a scholarly, academic book on this subject. Those that I’ve highlighted here are well written and completely accessible to the non-scholar. They tell intriguing stories, the reading of which will illuminate not only the past, but the present as well.

Note that these works are not by Catholic apologists, but rather by historians and even Lutheran theologians.

Nails in the Wall: Catholic Nuns in Reformation Germany looks specifically at the experience of "amy welborn"religious women in Strasbourg. Historian Amy Leonard expertly establishes context and writes very well. What I particularly appreciated about Leonard’s work is her fair-mindedness. She gives individuals the benefit of the doubt and trusts them in their own account of their actions. That is to say, when a Dominican nun expresses deep faith, Leonard doesn’t inform us that there must be more to it than what the woman is saying, and it is probably sexual. I would say if you’re interested enough in this topic to want to read one book – this is a great one.

Women and the Reformation contains very helpful introductory chapters on Catholic and Protestant women, then tells the stories of several of them.

The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg by Lyndal Roper is a bit more technical in thesis than the others. Roper is arguing a point about the role of the guilds in shaping Reformation notions of gender and domesticity, and therefore, she suggests, the shape and direction of the movement itself. You may not have deep interest in that particular argument, but Roper’s examination of women and the Reformation in Augsburg can be appreciated even outside the context of her thesis.

Women and the Counter Reformation in Early Modern Munster.  Interesting in a lot of respects, including Laqua-O’Donnell’s use of women’s wills to explore their spiritual priorities.

Devout Laywomen in the Early Modern World is an anthology edited by Alison Weber. The articles deal mostly with what we would call post-Reformation issues, but of course most of the time the scholars must consider the Reformation in establishing context. I am still working my way through this excellent collection, but one of the more striking articles so far has been “Nursing as Vocation or Profession? Women’s Status and the Meaning of Healing in Early Modern France and England” in which historian Susan Dinan compares nursing in both countries post-Reformation and finds that the forced collapse of women’s religious life in England was detrimental to nursing as a profession, health care in general and women’s role in it. “Devout laywomen did important work inn France serving the sick and poor. They were trained as professionals, usually lived in supportive communities, and did valued work in their towns and villages. Their liminal status between nuns and wives offered them a place that women in Protestant nations did not have…”

A Companion to the Reformation  has helpful articles reflecting newer scholarship.

I’ve been reading a number of scholarly articles – as many as I can with the limitations of access – about various aspects of the period. For example, this article on the controversy over declaring Teresa of Avila a co-patron of Spain got me thinking about the role of authoritative female figures in the spiritual and social landscape.

More to come. It’s a fascinating subject, and a good entry point for thinking about the realities and mythologies of the Protestant Reformation.

 

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On this feast of St. Bruno, founder of the Carthusians, you might want to read this talk that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI gave in 2011 at the Charterhouse of Serra San Bruno:

I chose to mention this socio-cultural condition because it highlights the specific charism of the Charterhouse as a precious gift for the Church and for the world, a gift that contains a deep message for our life and for the whole of humanity. I shall sum it up like this: by withdrawing into silence and solitude, human beings, so to speak, “expose” themselves to reality in their nakedness, to that apparent “void”, which I mentioned at the outset, in order to experience instead Fullness, the presence of God, of the most real Reality that exists and that lies beyond the tangible dimension. He is a perceptible presence in every creature: in the air that we breathe, in the light that we see and that warms us, in the grass, in stones…. God,Creator omnium, [the Creator of all], passes through all things but is beyond them and for this very reason is the foundation of them all.

The monk, in leaving everything, “takes a risk”, as it were: he exposes himself to solitude and silence in order to live on nothing but the essential, and precisely in living on the essential he also finds a deep communion with his brethren, with every human being.

Some might think that it would suffice to come here to take this “leap”. But it is not like this. This vocation, like every vocation, finds an answer in an ongoing process, in a life-long search. Indeed it is not enough to withdraw to a place such as this in order to learn to be in God’s presence. Just as in marriage it is not enough to celebrate the Sacrament to become effectively one but it is necessary to let God’s grace act and to walk together through the daily routine of conjugal life, so becoming monks requires time, practice and patience, “in a divine and persevering vigilance”, as St Bruno said, they “await the return of their Lord so that they might be able to open the door to him as soon as he knocks” (Letter to Rudolph “the Green”, n. 4); and the beauty of every vocation in the Church consists precisely in this: giving God time to act with his Spirit and to one’s own humanity to form itself, to grow in that particular state of life according to the measure of the maturity of Christ.

In Christ there is everything, fullness; we need time to make one of the dimensions of his mystery our own. We could say that this is a journey of transformation in which the mystery of Christi’s resurrection is brought about and made manifest in us, a mystery of which the word of God in the biblical Reading from the Letter to the Romans has reminded us this evening: the Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and will give life to our mortal bodies also (cf. Rom 8:11) is the One who also brings about our configuration to Christ in accordance with each one’s vocation, a journey that unwinds from the baptismal font to death, a passing on to the Father’s house. In the world’s eyes it sometimes seems impossible to spend one’s whole life in a monastery but in fact a whole life barely suffices to enter into this union with God, into this essential and profound Reality which is Jesus Christ.

This is why I have come here, dear Brothers who make up the Carthusian Community of Serra San Bruno, to tell you that the Church needs you and that you need the Church! Your place is not on the fringes: no vocation in the People of God is on the fringes. We are one body, in which every member is important and has the same dignity, and is inseparable from the whole. You too, who live in voluntary isolation, are in the heart of the Church and make the pure blood of contemplation and of the love of God course through your veins.

Stat Crux dum volvitur orbis [the cross is steady while the world is turning], your motto says. The Cross of Christ is the firm point in the midst of the world’s changes and upheavals. Life in a Charterhouse shares in the stability of the Cross which is that of God, of God’s faithful love. By remaining firmly united to Christ, like the branches to the Vine, may you too, dear Carthusian Brothers, be associated with his mystery of salvation, like the Virgin Mary who stabat (stood) beneath the Cross, united with her Son in the same sacrifice of love.

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Benedict4Today, we celebrate a great, fascinating saint. First entry today will be alerting to you what I’ve written about him for children. Another entry will follow.

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints under “Saints are people who teach us new ways to pray.” Here are some excerpts – click on images to get a fuller view.

BenedictI

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Please check out this fantastic video on St. Bernard’s Abbey, just up the road in Cullman. Unfortunately “just up” is not quite close enough for us to use the school. But honestly, watch it and share, please. It offers a lovely summation of monasticism and Christian discipleship.

The Benedictine Monks of St. Bernard Abbey from Electric Peak Creative on Vimeo.

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Now, I have no huge interest in the castles of poor mad King Ludwig II, but I thought…can we really be this close (30 minutes from Linderhof, an hour from the other two major ones)  and not see any of them?  I mean, didn’t almost everyone who knew we were coming this way ask, “Oh, are you going to see the castles?”

So today was the day.  The journey to see all three of them plus Oberammergau in a single day is beyond the capabilities of public transportation, so I began the day at the local Avis being nicely but firmly informed that I was very lucky they had a car in stock for me, and witnessing the most careful, thorough pre-rental vehicle inspection I’ve ever witnessed in the five countries in which I’ve rented.

But as has been the case in all of those countries, I drove away realizing that once again, I hadn’t bothered to glance at the “road signs” section of the guidebook.

"amy welborn"

So this was the route.  Doubled, because once we got down to Neuschwanstein, we had to return the same way.  There’s another route between that area and Garmisch, but it requires you to go through Austria.  Germany doesn’t require an IDP (International Driving Permit – easy to get at AAA, but I didn’t bother this time), but Austria does…so I had to stay away from Austria lest there be an International Incident.

First stop, barely 30 minutes from Garmisch, was the Ettal Monastery – an enormous Benedictine structure that now houses a boys’ high school.  Our first taste of some hard core Bavarian Baroque.

"amy welborn"

I particularly liked the images on the penitents’ sides of the confessionals, clearly meant to provoke thought and scrape consciences.  Now that I think about it…I wonder if there were also images in the confessors’ sections….

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

Makes you think…..

The mist was rapidly thickening.

"amy welborn"

Not far from Ettal, we took the turn to Linderhof, which was Ludwig’s favorite castle and the one in which he spent the most time.  We took a tour, which was an excellent decision – the lovely older German guide shifted easily between German and English – plus we all had folders with details about the rooms written in our own language.  No photos inside, of course, but Ludwig’s obsession with the Bourbons comes through loud and clear in this (very) mini-Versailles.  No portraits of Ludwig or his family, but every room, in addition to crazy layers of gilted woodwork, thick, luxurious 3-d embroidery and porcelain..everything…featured portraits of Bourbons or images of Versailles.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

If we’d gone in the summer, we’d have seen the place in serious action, with fountains going and so on, but this is November, so….

….to Oberammergau, where…we hardly spent any time aside from lunch.  It was fairly dead. Yes, there were shops open, but most weren’t and neither the Passion Play museum nor one of the major woodcarving exhibits were open, and the one shop we went into had such crazy prices (30 E for a little owl I have no doubt took about 15 minutes to carve), I lost interest.

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

This was outside one of the shops, evoking, I imagine, the days when Oberammergau folk crossed Europe, selling their town’s work.

"amy welborn"

So it was on to Wieskirche.  

Plopped out in the middle of nowhere, and by the time we arrived, enshrouded in fog – to the extent that we didn’t even see it until we’d walked right up to it – it’s a pilgrimage church built around a statue of the scourged Christ that purportedly wept tears.  Another stunning example of Bavarian Baroque.

"amy welborn"

By that time it was three, and the mist/fog was obviously heavy.  Should we even bother with the other castles?  I was torn, the rest of the crew was good either way, so I thought, well, what else do we have to do?  So we ventured forth.

By the time we arrived, the last tour tickets had been sold, but we decided to hike up the hill anyway just to see what we could see.

"amy welborn"

You know? It was worth it.  No, it wasn’t that perfect Neuschwanstein image we all know and which supposedly inspired Walt Disney, but there was something about it, anyway.  There was something about the rather strenuous hike up the hill which we took while everyone else – mostly Asian tourists – were streaming down. And there was something about seeing what little we could make out – we could stll comprehend its massiveness, perched up there on the mountain, and having heard all about the sad, delusional king earlier in the day, we could connect some more dots and ponder once again the selfish folly that we humans are subject to..no matter who we are…building castles in the air…..why?

"amy welborn"

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