|PHOTO from "White Monks" exhibition.
© 2013 Guardian News and Media.
|SOME OF Kendall Ketterlin's fudge.
I've tried it and it's darned good.
In one the NRVC will develop a conversational tool to enable religious institutes to engage in a deeper exchange about the findings of the landmark 2009 NRVC/CARA study on recent vocations to religious life and their implications for apostolic life with respect to community, visibility, communal prayer, and celebration of Eucharist.
The second project will convene three gatherings for women religious in the eastern, middle, and western regions of the U.S. The purpose of these unprecedented gatherings will be for women religious to study the research regarding recent vocations and discuss and reflect on the combined implications of this information for religious sisters as they work together to increase their membership both individually and collaboratively.
|PAINTINGS from "Heritage in Stone."|
When a wildfire threatened the Monastery of St. John the Forerunner in south central Washington State, the Greek Orthodox nuns who live there went out and did what most property owners would: They helped fight the fire.
There are monasteries of Trappistines—the women’s branch of the Trappist Cistercian order of monastics—all over the world, but in Ireland there is only one: St. Mary’s Abbey in Glencairn, which is home to 37 sisters.
The community is diverse, with sisters from India, Nigeria, and the Philippines as well as Ireland. And more sisters are on the way: Six women are in formation, and the abbey’s vocation director Sister Sarah Branigan says she is “occupied . . . with inquiries from people of all different ages, people from 20 to late 60s, so there are a steady flow of inquiries about this kind of life.”
|SISTERS at prayer,
St. Mary's Abbey
The monastic life, Mother Fahy adds, is “the opportunity to live close to God and close to one’s self and have time for prayer and have time for leisurely walks and good reading and reflection on God’s word, and I think living at a deeper level.”
Sister Fiachra Nutty, who joined the community five years ago and expects to make her solemn profession of vows next year, describes the fit between herself and the community’s life. “I felt I needed space to be with God,” she says, “and that’s not very easy, I’ve found, for me in the outside world, because I am quite an extrovert, and I get involved in an awful lot of things, so enclosure was important to me, but at the same time I have a horror of restriction, as in claustrophobia. So here we are absolutely truly blessed. We have 200 acres within which to wander, you know, so that was a huge factor for me. Also the enormous welcome and warmth I felt from the community on my very first visit. That was just so wonderful.”
BRAZILIAN Archbishop João Bráz de Aviz, 64, was appointed in January as the new prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, the Vatican body responsible for overseeing Roman Catholic religious life.
Bráz de Aviz
Commenting on the Vatican visitation of of women’s religious congregations in the United States, the archibishop said: "That, too, has not been an easy matter. There was mistrust and opposition. We’ve spoken with them, and their representatives have come here to Rome. We’ve started to listen again. That’s not to say there aren’t problems, but we have to deal with them in a different way, without preemptive condemnations and by listening to people’s concerns. By now, we’ve received many reports which we have to work through. There’s also the relationship with Mother Clare Millea [the Vatican-appointed head of the visitation], which will be important."
From John L. Allen, Jr.'s report on the NCROnline blog.
Benedictine University, an apostolate of St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois outside Chicago, is offering an “Illinois Back to Work” program in which unemployed Illinois residents earn a college degree and have their remaining tuition and fees covered after all eligible state and federal aid is applied.
See the local news report.
Last Monday Republican presidential hopefuls descended on Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire to debate in the U.S.’ first presidential primary state. The school has hosted Republican and Democratic presidential debates in previous election cycles, and while it has sometimes drawn criticism for appearing to get involved in partisan politics, a professor of politics at the college, defended the school's role as being a great example of Benedictine hospitality.
“The Rule of St. Benedict says every visitor should be treated as Christ himself,” said Prof. Dale Kuehne. “If you talk to people about the events at Saint Anselm, they would’ve felt that hospitality . . . regardless of their political or religious position.” Thirty Benedictine monks live in the abbey at Saint Anselm.
In the 2008 edition of the VISION Annual Religious Discernment Vocation Guide, there was an article by Brother Dismas Warner, O.C.S.O., a Trappist monk of Our Lady of Mepkin Abbey in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina, about “A day in the life of a monk.” In it he wrote of the monks' early morning prayer: “At 3 a.m., I enter the church. Brother Gregory, my 80-something neighbor in choir, has beaten me there and has set up my songbook. With a smiling bow of my head, I make the Trappist sign for ‘thank you.’ He smiles back and pats his belly: ‘You’re welcome.’ In two years I have had fewer than ten verbal interactions with Gregory, yet I wouldn’t hesitate to consider him a friend.”
The “Trappist sign for ‘thank you’”? I was reminded about this article and the mysterious sign language it alludes to when I was recently contemplating the purchase of some Trappist fruitcake from Assumption Abbey in Ava, Missouri (see the upcoming 2012 edition of VISION, available at the beginning of August 2011, online on this site and in print for an article about this cake and other good things religious communities produce).
The rule of life that Trappists and other members of the Benedictine family follow limits speaking in the community in order to emphasize contemplative silence. To allow for communication during periods of silence, monks (as well as other religious communities outside the Benedictines) developed a sign language to communicate basic information (like the ‘thank yous’ and ‘you’re welcomes’ Brother Dismas exchanged with Brother Gregory ). This practice goes back to at least the Middle Ages, and while its use has varied over the centuries, some forms of it still exist in Trappist monasteries today.
The language uses symbolic gestures for basic concepts. Some examples:
The famous Trappist monk Thomas Merton of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky was so good at this sign language he could tell jokes in it.
|I DON’T KNOW if there’s a Trappist sign for "fruitcake,"
but there is one for "cheese" (above): “Place palms of hands
together and twist them gently against each other a few times.”
For demonstrations of Trappist sign language, go to this page on the website of the Virtual Museum of Canada and look through the links under “What is Monasticism?”
Ava Trappists on VISION.
|BROTHER PAUL, O.C.S.O. at Gethsemani Abbey|
The novitiate is the period of time when new members of religious orders learn the spirit and work of their community, its history, and way of life.
Father Harry Hagan, O.S.B. of Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, Indiana has put together an online 20-Minute Novitiate in which he talks about six hallmarks of the monastic life in order to present an overview of the life:
1. The Rule and the Tradition;
3. Fidelity to the Monastic Life;
5. Prayer and Work;
Learn more about the Benedictine Monks of Saint Meinrad Archabbey.
|BROTHER LUKE'S St. Agnes,
an acrylic in the Byzantine style
commissioned by a Philadelphia parish.
In the 1930's, before becoming a monk, Brother Luke earned a living as a bookkeeper and took dance classes in the evening at the wonderfully named Boris Volkoff School, which performed at a festival in Berlin in 1936 in conjunction with the Olympics. He served in the Canadian army medical corps in Europe in World War II and after the war studied art at the Central School of Art in London and then became an interior designer, helping the National Ballet of Canada as a costume designer. In 1952 he entered Mount Saviour and among other activities continued his art studies and painting, taking up subjects like portraits, landscapes, farm scenes, buildings, and flowers.
A PAINTING Brother Luke completed at the age of 90.
The Christopher Awards recognize TV programming, feature films, and books for adults and children that "affirm the highest values of the human spirit."
Father Garramone is a priest and monk of St, Bede Abbey in Peru, Illinois.
In 2010 Father Andrew Torma, M.S.C., vocation director for the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, formed two parish vocation committees in parishes the M.S.C.’s serve. The purpose of these committees is to reach out to parents and others in the local church to assume the responsibility of supporting young men and women who hear a call to serve God, the church, and others by becoming a religious brother or sister or through ordained ministry.
The process includes asking the pastor to identify and encourage 12-15 people who would have an interest in learning about the need for a vocation committee. Father Torma makes a presentation to them explaining the importance of forming a “culture of vocation” in the parish to inspire young men and women to consider consecrated life. The committee brainstorms possible parish activities to promote a vocation culture and chooses two or three activities to be implemented in the parish immediately.
Finally Torma asks three people to be the committee for three years, with a chairperson for two years. This committee can add members as they are able to recruit others from their parish. After the meeting Torma sends the committee ideas and keeps in contact with them to encourage their work.
Why this story made msnbc.com’s “Weird news” is beyond me. Maybe they think anything religious is weird. At any rate, Svyturys-Utenos alus, Lithuania’s largest brewery, had recently run a billboard advertising campaign showing a Franciscan friar holding a glass of beer. Their idea was, friars and monks had been producing beer and other alcoholic beverages since the Middle Ages, so what was the problem?
The problem was Lithuania's conference of monks and nuns, who said in a statement the advertisement made them feel "insulted and trampled upon." They wrote a protest letter to Svyturys, who apologized and withdrew the ad.
Source: Thomson Reuters via msnbc.com
The French, and no doubt some Trappist monks, are disappointed that the second-place winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Of Gods and Men ("Des hommes et des dieux"), failed to make the 2011 list of Oscar nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category.
The film, which has enjoyed wide critical and commercial success, is based on the true story of French Trappist monks living in an Algerian village in the 1990s who must decide whether or not to remain in their monastery despite a wave of Islamic extremism. In the process of making their final decision, they are forced to examine their consciences and the nature of their vocations, writes Philip French in the Guardian. "In a beautifully staged walk through the countryside, passing an emblematic flock of sheep, and sitting beside a lake, Christian [the abbot] appears to be examining himself in the light of Christ's teaching. We inevitably think of Thomas Beckett's self-questioning in T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral and those key lines: 'The last temptation is the greatest treason/ To do the right thing for the wrong reason.' . . . The subject matter is urgently topical, the themes raised eternal and universal."
The archaeological remains of an ancient Nestorian Christian monastery and church on Sri Bani Yas Island in the United Arab Emirates have been opened for public viewing, providing an important glimpse into the pre-Islamic history of the region.
The site was unearthed in the early 1990s and is believed to be the only permanent settlement ever established on the island, which is 160 miles southwest of Abu Dhabi. The complex includes monks’ cells, kitchens, and animal pens surrounding a courtyard dominated by a church. At least eight houses have been unearthed. The monastery is thought to have been an important destination for pilgrims traveling along a trade route to India.
|TOURISTS visiting the excavation site of the monastery
on Sir Bani Yas Island off Abu Dhabi.
Christianity spread throughout the Persian Gulf between 50 and 350 A.D. The inhabitants of the settlement were probably part of the Nestorian Church, also known as the Church of the East. Nestorianism denied Mary the title of “Theotokos” or “Mother of God” and was considered heretical by the early orthodox Christian Church because of differences between the two groups regarding beliefs about the true nature of the person of Jesus Christ.
A mixture of people from along the Gulf and local residents who spoke Syriac and Arabic made up the community on Sri Bani Yas. Artifacts at the site suggest the monks had ties to the regions of modern-day Iraq, India, and Bahrain.
The settlement appears to have been peacefully abandoned in about 750 A.D. The spread of Islamic influence probably diminished the monks’ ability to find new recruits, Archaeology Daily suggests.
“Am I to live the sacrament of marriage? If so, when? Am I to live the single life? Live as a chaste single person? Am I to be a priest? Am I to be a lay minister? Part time? Full time? Am I to be a religious brother? A religious sister? Am I to be a consecrated lay person? Is it time to make a first step toward commitment? To this person? To the church? To this religious order? To this organization?
“When discerning about something, it is important to be a person of faith. Believe that God has a plan for you. Each of us does the hard work of dating, inquiring, studying, volunteer activities, prayer, and searching. We must be engaged in the process. Passivity is not discernment. God will not spoon-feed us into a life commitment. Yet, when we turn our action over to guidance from God, situations, persons, and circumstances will be tools to illuminate the direction. Prayer is necessary. In prayer, mention the person or the actions or the circumstances around the process of one’s search.
“Talk with people. The gospel uses the image of the lamp on the lamp stand which illuminates the entire room. We cast light onto our experience when we talk about it. Parish marriage preparation or Engaged Encounter helps a person to see clearly that this person is choosing me as her or his life partner. Sharing our spiritual journey with a mentor helps to clarify God’s will for our lives. A trusted friend or an experienced person can help clarify confusing experiences. Searching for a call to serve as a priest or a consecrated person is nourished by the lives of the saints, involvement in ministries, making sacrifices, and living with sisters, brothers, or priests for a short time."
Illustrating the continuing fascination with Hildegard is a new film, Vision (like the title!), from German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta and starring Barbara Sukowa as Hildegard. Filmed in medieval German cloisters, Vision follows Hildegard’s life from her childhood entrance into a convent to her becoming its leader 30 years later. The film is in German with English subtitles.
Watch the film’s trailer, and watch what I guess you could call a Hildegard music video:
|A compilation of spirited
food, drink, and travel
Wisconsin journalist Madeline Scherb recently published A Taste of Heaven: A Guide to Food and Drink Made by Monks and Nuns (Tarcher, 2009), part cookbook, part travel guide.
According to her Amazon biography, Scherb, a Catholic and member of St. Bernard Parish in Middleton, WI, first came up with the idea for A Taste of Heaven while completing a journalism fellowship in 2003. Financing her efforts with her personal savings, Scherb took six years to complete the book and traveled to more than a dozen abbeys in the United States and Europe.
She offers many insights into religious life, including this observation from her introduction:
Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned from the example of monks and nuns is that a life lived simply can be both rewarding and sustainable. Monks and nuns don't live to work, they live to pray. They work only as much as they need to, but they give it their best effort every day. They work whether they are young or old according to their abilities (an octogenarian nun was recently spotted making chocolates at Bonneval, while monks of a similar age staff the reception desk at Gethsemani).
Looking for a scary place to visit on Halloween or for a Day of the Dead celebration? How about the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo in Sicily featuring thousands of well-preserved corpses of the souls of the faithful departed.
Located below a Capuchin Monastery, the underground cemetery was dug in the late 16th century initially to house deceased monks. Later, the Capuchins, an order dedicated to service to the poor, opened the catacombs to the general populace and took in those who otherwise could not afford such a burial. According to recent AP story, some 8,000 mummies are stacked ceiling-high in the corridors of the catacombs, lying in open niches, or propped up in a standing position, many still dressed in their original clothes. Monks wearing dark frocks, priests in sacred vestments, aristocrats in their best Sunday dress, and the poor in rags as well as young children resting in their cribs were all buried in the catacombs.
Today, the mummies may give visitors the creeps or encourage sobering reflections on mortality, but in the cemetery's heyday they were a comforting presence for relatives and friends who could visit their loved ones, pray by their side, and care for the body.
You can find the Capuchin Catacombs at Piazza Cappuccini, 1, Palermo, Sicily. They're open daily, 9 a.m.-12 p.m. and 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Entrance fee is €1.50. More info at Sacred Destinations website.
For information of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars in the U.S., view their VISION listing by click here, and typing in keyword "Capuchin" or code 091.
I was at the Paluch Seminar on Vocations this past week and met some young adults who had never met a religious sister until they were well in their teens or 20s—even though they had attended Catholic schools. It made me realize that many people may not know or see the value of nuns, sisters, brothers, and religious priests.
I'd love to hear from others on what they see as the value for themselves and for the church of having people choose religious life. For myself I would say that I have been inspired by the fact that priests, brothers, sisters have been at the forefront of every major social movement in the U.S.: child labor laws, civil rights, peace, social justice. They helped establish our extensive Catholic school and healtchcare systems. They are now leaders in the immigration and healthcare reform movements.
I do believe their witness and dedication to the church is essential to the life of the church. Please let me know what you think.
A Study on Recent Vocations was just published by the Center for the Applied Research in the Apostolate on behalf of the National Religious Vocation Conference (the group which holds the copyright for VISION Vocation Guide). The study shows an increase in ethnic diversity among new entrants and a desire for prayer, communal living, and Catholic identity, which correlates with the VISION VocationMatch.com annual trend surveys and reader statistics.
For full details of the study, click here.
Best practices gleaned from the study for attracting and retaining new members:
Parishes, religious educators, and families also play a role in promoting vocations. Let's hope the study spurs more vocation awareness among all Catholics.
“We were trying to do something to really connect monastics with students this year,” said Sister Molly Weyrens.
Click on the must-see video of Sister Eunice Antony and student Megan Priebe performing.
"Our numbers fell and we were forced to cut back, and in 1996 we stopped making it completely when the last brother who knew the recipe died," explained Zvonko Topic, one of two surviving Trappist monks at the Marija Zvijezda, or “Star of Mary,” monastery near Banja Luka. "But we've now decided to bring it back to consumers here, and we'll be opening a small shop soon for tourists and visitors."
The recipe, traditionally known only to a single monk, had been rediscovered by another Bosnian Trappist in the 1970s while a novice at a monastery in Normandy, where the order was founded in 1664.
The cheese will be made at a farm belonging to the Catholic charity Caritas at Aleksandrovac, 12 miles from Banja Luka. Topic said the monastery currently has only three postulants and has been maintained by funding from the local Catholic bishop. Marija Zvijezda Monastery played a key role in Catholic life in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Topic said he hoped the community would slowly rebuild.
Cistercians of the Strict Observance, who follow the Sixth Century Rule of St Benedict, the Bosnian monks began making the Trappist cheese when the order returned to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1872 after fleeing Turkish rule. The monastery's 200 monks produced it on a mass scale, while also running a brewery, sawmill, craft school, brick and cloth factories, until their property was seized by Yugoslavia's communist regime after the Second World War.
Hmm . . . How about some Trappist ale to go along with that gourmet cheese. Yum.
A new book sheds light on a little-known branch of Catholic religious life: cloistered Dominican sisters. In fact, the book’s introduction says, they make up the oldest part of the Dominicans, predating the order’s official founding by 10 years.
A collaboration of Dominican monasteries in the United States under the sponsorship of the Association of Dominican Nuns of the U.S.A., Vocation in Black and White: Dominican Contemplative Nuns Tell How God Called Them has 23 stories of calls to this kind of religious life.
The book hopes, it says, “to aid those discerning a call to the monastic life, to recall the ‘first love’ of those who have chosen it, and to raise awareness of Dominican contemplative life. The following accounts are told by the nuns themselves. They are all true, although a few sisters prefer to remain anonymous. Given the many contributing factors and the mysterious element in every vocation, selection in what to tell is necessary. This choice was left to each nun.”
The book is available from iUniverse; a community of Dominican sisters; and the major online booksellers.
“All guests who present themselves,” Saint Benedict of Nursia wrote in his Rule for monks, “are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matthew 25:25).” Fifteen hundred years later, a group of monks on Chicago’s South Side are continuing the Benedictine tradition of hospitality: a Benedictine Bed and Breakfast.
The Monastery of the Holy Cross’s Benedictine Bed and Breakfast has won national awards from the hospitality industry and is listed on several travel and food websites. Most nights from spring through early winter the bed and breakfast, which is housed in a former parish complex the monastery occupies, operates at full capacity. It is also available year-round. Drawing on an international as well as national and local clientele, the B&B has welcomed guests from countries on almost every continent, including New Zealand, Brazil, Singapore, Australia, Denmark, Russia, Finland, Wales, Croatia, Switzerland, the Philippines, Japan, the Middle East, South Africa, Italy, Germany, France, Spain, Ireland, England, Canada, and Austria.
For more information on the monastery, visit www.chicagomonk.org
Vision Vocation Guide just sent out a press release on Trends in Catholic Vocations based on the very encouraging statistics we've gathered from Vision Vocation Match and two recent vocation surveys we conducted among discerners and vocation directors. All of the statistics are fascinating; be sure to check them out.
Here's one stat I'm betting will change in the coming year: In answer to the question: What resources have you found most helpful in gathering vocation information?, 42 percent of respondents rated Discerners' blogs "Not Important at All." My prediction: That percentage will completely flip within a year, with at least 40 percent rating discerners' blogs as an essential resource. Please pass on links to discerners' blogs you already know to be helpful to those exploring a religious vocation.
Universal Music was looking to get on the Gregorian chant bandwagon, but where to find monks to record some? Then company execs ran across a YouTube video (see below) featuring the Cistercian monks of Austria's Heiligenkreuz Monastery, and it was a deal. The monks join a Universal artist roster that includes Amy Winehouse and Eminem.
I first felt the call of the Lord to follow him more intimately at the age of 10. At that time I participated enthusiastically in the various religious activities of my parish. As I grew older, I did volunteer work at a nearby orphanage and got involved in children’s catechesis. I was also a member of the Catholic Youth Action. The Lord’s call became clearer to me when I was 15, at World Youth Day 2000 in Rome with Pope John Paul II, when I heard interiorly with a soft and irresistible voice the “come, follow me” of the Lord. God called me to be His ‘sentinel of the dawn’. Moved by immense joy I responded, “Here I am, Lord, may your holy will be done in me!” The One and Triune God had captured me with His love.
From that time on I understood that God had chosen me to consecrate myself totally to Him. I did not yet understand, however, where He was calling me to live this vocation. And I did not know how I was going to communicate this choice to my family, who, though devout and practicing Catholics, had other plans for my future.
For about four years, I prayed for discernment to understand where the Lord wanted me to live the religious vocation to which he was calling me. I always remained open to others, and always had the desire to work with others. But I desired above all to pray and to be in the constant presence of God. At first I never thought of my vocation to be a monastic one. But truly, our thoughts are not His thoughts, nor our plans His plans.
Gradually, I understood the basic points of my vocation to be the life of prayer, community life, faithful witness of the gospel, devotion to the Blessed Mother of God, and the religious habit as a sign of my special consecration to God. That which touched me most was the biblical example of the “narrow gate” and the words from the gospel, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world . . . freely you have received, gratuitously you give.” These words gave me the courage and the strength to offer myself to God in a radically evangelical life without reserve. Surely there were always problems, but the Lord sustained me always by his grace.
During my philosophical studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, I met the Basilian monks of the Exarchic Greek Abbey of St. Mary of Grottaferrata. This is an ancient Catholic Monastic Order of Oriental rite and traditions that has ecumenical dialogue as its specific mission within the Church. The monks live and pray to bring about Jesus’ ardent prayer to the Father at the Last Supper “so that they all may be one” and the words of St. Paul, “so that God may be All in all.” In fact, the Byzantine rite is a great help for the Orthodox brethren to draw closer to the Catholic Church, and the Latin Catholics to approach more easily to the Oriental Christianity.
Immediately I was touched by the monks’ lifestyle, marked by prayer. I was particularly struck by the spirituality of Saint Basil the Great and the Byzantine tradition. I was also captivated by their interesting activities, their profound and joyful fidelity to the monastic life, their fraternal life, and their openness to life in Christ. In short, my contact with the monks was a spark of light that ignited in me great happiness and serenity. I finally understood that it was here that God was calling me. “You have called me? Here I am, Lord, I come to do your will: You are my highest Good forever!”
After an experience of about 20 days in the monastery, I entered as a postulant in August of 2005. On June 28, 2006, during the feast of the Apostle Saints Peter and Paul, I made the monastic investiture and then entered into the novitiate. The first year of novitiate was a year of abundant graces. Guided and accompanied by the novice master Fr. Antonio, I began to deepen my relationship with God. I studied the monastic Typikòn (our Holy Rule), the Byzantine liturgy, the Greek liturgical language, the writings of Saint Basil the Great, the ascetic life, and the spirituality of the holy fathers and the Holy Scriptures. I have served in our laboratory for the restoration of ancient books and in our infirmary, serving the sick in the community. I am presently a second year novice and God willing, I will make my solemn vows next year. As part of the ascetic-monastic formation, I am studying theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and at the same time doing diverse duties in our community.
The monastic life is a mystical experience which someone enters only through God’s invitation. The solemn vows are evidence. But it is an invitation that requires our attention. Yes, because the Lord Jesus calls many, but some people do not listen, do not realize that their names are uttered by the lips of God. My invitation to all youth like me is this: If you feel this attraction towards God, don’t put off the flame of Love that the Creator has ignited in you. Respond generously and readily and you will never regret it! God is love!
I belong to: The Exarchic Greek Abbey of St. Mary of Grottaferrata. For more information about the Basilian Monks, contact Father Antonio Costanza, O.S.B.M. at 0039-06.9459309 or write to: Basilian Monks—Exarchic Greek Abbey of St. Mary, Corso del Popolo 128, I-00046 Grottaferrata (Rome) Italy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mother Dolores Hart, prioress of the Abbey of Regina Laudis, a Benedictine monastic community in Bethlehem, Connecticut, has helped bring about an arts and crafts renaissance of sorts at the monastery. The community has released its fourth CD of chant. It hosts a 200-seat open-air theater. Steel sculpture created by Mother Praxedes Baxter—a former printmaker who also helped designed the abbey’s church—adorns the grounds.
But then Regina Laudis is not Hart’s first foray into the arts. She gave Elvis Presley his first onscreen kiss.
Before entering monastic life in 1963 at age 24, Hart had appeared in 10 films, including Loving You—in which she kissed Elvis— King Creole, and Where the Boys Are. She had begun visiting Regina Laudis while performing on Broadway in The Pleasure of His Company, for which she received a Tony nomination.
“Acting was what I thought I always wanted to do, and there was nothing about it I didn’t like,” Hart said in a December 30, 2007 New York Times story by Cynthia Wolfe Boynton. “I loved the idea of playing different parts, of learning about other people’s lives. But then I came to visit the abbey and realized I belonged here. Like the theater, the monastery gives people a different view of life and inspires them to come alive, to fully live their story.”
The monastery combines contemplative life not only with the arts but also with with making products from the animals the sisters keep on the grounds: raw-milk cheese, ice cream, honey, jellies, leather, and other things that help support the community. Cheese-making is supervised by Mother Noella Marcellino, who has a doctorate in microbiology. “As an enclosed community, we have the time to contemplate, create and nurture our crafts, and then send the results out into the world,” she said. “That’s our gift to people.”
“She encourages us,” Marcellino said of Hart, “to tap into our emotions and to find a positive way to express them. Mother Dolores taught us that emotions are universal—that everyone experiences happiness, sadness, anger, joy, and passion—and that we can use them to better connect with people outside the abbey through our art, whether it be in the plays we host, in the songs we sing, or in the ways we celebrate God as we chant and read prayers during worship.”
“Music and the arts help people come alive,” Hart said. “They lift people’s minds and spirits, and in that enlightened state help people find God. God isn’t a whiskered old man. He’s alive and can be experienced in things that move us to feel love or beauty. That’s why we use the arts as a form of prayer, and then try to share those prayers with other people.” The sisters have also recorded several "Women in Chant" CDs (see their website).
Despite 45 years of religious life, however, Hart is still a voting member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and, according to the rules, keeps her Oscar votes a secret.
“I went from a lead role to a supporting role,” she said, describing her transition from actor to religious sister, “but it’s where I belong.”
How would the arts help you express your faith?
For 900 years the Augustinian monastery of Klosterneuburg has risen above the banks of the Danube just north of Vienna. Though it is one of oldest monasteries in Austria, it has, since 2003, become a leader as well in a quite modern enterprise: the environmentally friendly heating of its immense facilities.
Two state-of-the-art biomass furnaces have replaced a number of obsolete heating systems or systems fired with fossil fuels in the monastery, a leisure centre, the hospital, and two municipal buildings in the city of Klosterneuburg. This new equipment has reduced CO2 emissions by 97 percent.
Installed underground to preserve the monastery’s façade, the construction of the biomass boilers also allowed the monastery to build a new a wine storage hall (the region is famous for its winemaking) and new underground visitor parking.
About me: James Joseph Alois Marty was born in Switzerland in 1834, the son of a shoemaker. Before the age of two, his mouth and face were both severely burned when he drank from a bottle of acid in his father’s shop. The acid caused swelling that nearly suffocated him and would leave his face permanently disfigured.
In 1847 Marty enrolled in the Benedictine school attached to Einsiedeln Abbey. After graduation, he entered the Benedictine novitiate at Einsiedeln and took the name Brother Martin Marty when he made his vows. He was ordained to the priesthood a year later and began teaching moral theology at the monastery school.
In 1860, at the age of 26, the abbot of Einsiedeln sent Marty to Southern Indiana to help solve the problems of the fledgling missionary community of Saint Meinrad. Marty facilitated peace between conflicting factions in the small Benedictine house and articulated a vision for the new community.
My vision: He envisioned a Benedictine abbey that would serve as a spiritual and liturgical center for the area, educate priests in a seminary, and provide pastoral assistance to the local people. This vision of monastic life, combining a life of prayer and work with support for the pastoral work of the church, has remained the mission of Saint Meinrad Archabbey o this day.
Although the assignment was intended to last only one year, Marty was elected the first abbot, and under his leadership Saint Meinrad flourished, becoming one of the cornerstones of Benedictine life in the United States. After a decade and a half of monastic leadership, Marty was named to lead the church in the missionary territories of the Dakotas. He became bishop of the Dakota territories and later the second bishop of St. Cloud, Minnesota, where he lived the rest of his life and demonstrated great enthusiasm in his work with the Sioux.
I belong to: The Benedictine Monks of St. Meinrad Archabbey.
Many thanks to Brother Christian Raab of St. Meinrad Archabbey for information on Bishop Marty. Information also drawn from Wikipedia.
“Ever since I was a kid, I devoured books on history,” says historian Father Cyprian Davis, O.S.B. of his journey to the Catholic Church. “I would never describe my odyssey as being an intellectual journey,” he said. “It was more or less a falling in love with history. It made me fall in love with one of the things history talks about and that would be the Catholic Church.”
Davis received the University of Dayton’s Marianist Award in recognition of his contributions to intellectual life, including his groundbreaking book, The History of Black Catholics in the United States. A Benedictine monk for more than 50 years, Davis is professor of church history at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in Indiana and also the archivist for the Benedictine abbey there and other organizations.
In addition he has advised the U.S. Catholic bishops on the pastoral letters having to do with the African American Catholic experience, Brothers and Sisters to Us (1979) and What We Have Seen and Heard (1984). Davis himself, said Father Paul Marshall, S.M., rector of the University of Dayton, has a “presence. He carries the sacred with him. You can see God within him.”
The next time you receive communion, there's a chance the original wafer came from the hands of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. Maintaining a tradition of making altar bread the sisters have passed down through generations, these Benedictines produce 2 million breads each week in their Clyde, Missouri monastery.
The sisters began baking altar bread in 1910, using an open fire and cast-iron baker. Now they distribute wafers to churches in the United States, several other countries, and, they say, “on the high seas.” By baking breads, the community supports its contemplative lifestyle and also participates in the liturgical and spiritual life of the church. They have been featured on television program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.
Not long ago, the sisters addressed a pressing need that seemed to have no satisfactory solution. In keeping with the belief that Jesus used a wheat bread at the Last Supper, Catholic teaching has required that communion bread be made with wheat and contain gluten, a protein found in wheat. At the same time, as many as one in 133 people suffer from celiac disease, which prevents them from consuming gluten. In an attempt to create a gluten-free bread, the sisters found a company that produced wheat starch, which is wheat with the most of the gluten removed. After much trial and error, they finally produced usable altar bread that held together, was edible—and contained only 0.01 percent gluten, or 1/270 of the maximum amount of gluten a celiac can consume each day. Problem solved!
Forgiveness was central to Jesus’ ministry and mission. And the Benedictine monks of Conception Abbey in Conception, Missouri have made it central to their own mission in the five years since gun violence tore their peaceful world apart.
Lloyd Robert Jeffress, a 71-year-old retiree, walked into the abbey 90 miles north of Kansas City on the morning of June 10, 2002 and opened fire with an AK-47 assault rife, killing two monks and leaving two others seriously injured. Jeffress later killed himself.
The doors at Conception Abbey are still unlocked and open and forgiveness continues to be the reigning theme as the members of the rural monastery quietly marked the fifth anniversary of the tragedy this week. Since the shootings, little has changed in terms of how the monks go about their daily routines and interact with visitors. Father Gregory Polan, the monastery's abbot, said ending the monastery's practice of openly welcoming strangers would defeat their purpose of living Christ's teachings.
If anything, said Polan, the shootings helped reinforce the teachings of Saint Benedict, the founder of the abbey's religious order, who instructed monks to keep death always before their eyes as a way to gain perspective on how to live their lives.
Local law enforcement has also kept a close relationship with the monastery, a bond that began on the day of the shooting. “The unbelievable strength and faith . . . have overwhelmed us,” said Nodaway County Sheriff Ben Espey. “We're always welcome. . . . It brought a lot of people closer together.”
* Source: An article for the Associated Press
This important newsflash from Ecumenical News International—perhaps the good monks will want to give it up for Lent!
"A small band of Benedictine monks in the south of England has come under fire for producing a fortified wine that critics describe as the 'scourge of Scotland' for its high alcohol content. The tipple, officially known as 'Buckfast tonic wine' but nicknamed 'commotion motion' or 'wreck the hoose juice' by devotees in Britain's far north, is turned out at Buckfast Abbey, a monastery in the Devonshire hills of southwest England, Religion News Service reports. But 'Buckie' has become a national favorite brew in Scotland--doubtless in part because it contains about 15 percent alcohol by volume. In other words, it packs a punch, as the police report."
by Father Paul Weberg, O.S.B.
If someone would’ve told me when I was in high school that I would end up being a Benedictine monk, a priest, a high school teacher and chaplain, and an Army chaplain, I’m not sure if I would’ve laughed or cried, but I’m sure I would’ve been surprised! Somewhere in Saint Augustine’s Confessions he prays to God, saying something like: “When I was young, I wanted marriage, money, and prestige, and You laughed at me.” I think we have two lives: the one we plan for and the one we get, and if we’re in touch and in tune with the Lord, the one we get is always better for our eternal happiness and holiness. That has definitely been the case for me.
|Father Paul Weberg, O.S.B. in Iraq|
All of these “parts” or “layers” make up my vocation. Some have said: If you’ve met one Benedictine, you’ve met one Benedictine! There are truly no two monks alike, and rarely do monks live out their call to seek God in exactly the same way. Saint Benedict doesn’t even expect that—and with the chapters in his Rule on diet and artisans in the monastery, maybe he even discourages it. Being a monk and priest has opened so many doors for me. For me, the Lord has called me to seek him and to glorify him in the monastery, high school ministry, and the military. If you’re following the Lord, be ready for an adventure!
|St. Scholastica Chapel at Mount St. Scholastica|
That’s the question that spoke to journalist and poet Judith Valente from the Rule of St. Benedict, which has guided Benedictine monastic life for about 1,500 years. The 17th-century bishop Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet called the Rule “an epitome of Christianity, a learned and mysterious abridgement of all the doctrines of the gospel, all the institutions of the Fathers, and all the counsels of perfection"—or, as Valente reported in an October 30, 2009 Religion & Ethics Newsweekly story, “It’s been said everything one needs to know about living the spiritual life is contained in this little book.”
Starting in June of 2008 the Rule had become Valente’s constant companion. She had been invited to share as a layperson in the life of Mount St. Scholastica, a Benedictine monastery for women in Atchison, Kansas (and a VISION Vocation Network advertising-community), for a book she’d been asked to write. “I admit I questioned at first what practical wisdom a monastery might hold for a modern, married, professional woman like me,” Valente said. “It turns out I’ve learned plenty.
“I used to think of monasteries as outmoded remnants of a past era,” Valente said. “But now, when I enter Mount St. Scholastica, I feel as if I’m peering into the future, a future our world so desperately needs—one that stresses community over competitiveness, service over self-aggrandizement, quietude over gratuitous talk, and simplicity over constant consumption. The Mount is a place where those who listen are valued as much as those who speak up; a place where people forgo personal wealth but want for nothing; where prayers are said for the victims of violent crime and bells are tolled when a Death Row prisoner is executed.”
Valente found another countercultural example in the monastic idea of stability. “At Mount St. Scholastica there are sisters who have lived together for as many as 75 years. Having moved from state to state here in the U.S. and lived in three European cities over the course of my career, the notion of spending one’s entire life in the same place seems quite foreign to me. In fact, the whole concept is alien to our highly mobile American society. Stability reminds us to grow where we’re planted.
“I suppose,” she said, “I am just one of the many Benedict has spoken to through the ages who yearns for life and desires to see good days. ‘Run, then,’ Benedict reminds me and all of us, ‘while you have the light of life, that the darkness of death may not overtake you.’ ”
In April of 2008 I posted a blog item about the Monastery of the Holy Cross, an urban Benedictine monastic community on Chicago’s South Side. Specifically I talked about the award-winning bed-and-breakfast they operate out of one of the monastery buildings.
The community has an interesting history, tracing its roots to three founding brothers who had done mission work and felt called to form a community of prayer. In 1991 they were invited to Chicago in order to establish a contemplative presence in the city and were given a parish church that had been closed. They began renovations of the church and over the next few years were able to purchase several adjacent properties, allowing them to welcome more guests and accommodate more monks. In the mid-1990s the community sought to affiliate itself with the Subiaco Congregation of the Order of Saint Benedict, and in May of 2000 the founding members made their solemn professions as Benedictine monks. On the same day the first new member made his first vows.
The story of the current prior of the community, Father Peter Funk, O.S.B., is as interesting as that of the community itself. Coming from a musical family, Funk studied music theory at the University of Chicago and was getting hired as a cantor at Chicago parishes and leader of music at the university’s Catholic campus ministry. With his childhood friend Jon Elfner, Funk formed a jazz-rock fusion band called Om in 1994, which also included bassist Aaron Kohen and a rotating group of other local musicians. They played their last gig at the Taste of Chicago in 1997. “I wasn’t surprised at all,” Elfner said of his friend’s decision to enter monastic life. “Knowing him as long as I did, he always vested a lot into his religious life.” Funk was prepared to give up music to focus on his monastic formation but got lessons with a voice coach instead.
These days, besides the community’s liturgical music (they devote three and a half to four hours a day to communal sung prayer), Funk also plays in a trio with fellow Benedictines Brother Brendan Creeden, Funk’s former novice master, and novice Ezekiel Brennan. The group performs at social functions the monastery hosts. While he doesn’t listen to much modern music anymore, Funk is still a fan of Steve Reich and Steve Coleman.
Source: ChicagoCatholicNews.com and the Chicago Sun-Times
A few months ago discerner Jon Perrotti wrote VISION to say that at the time he was "taking part in an 'observership,' a noncommittal residential experience of monastic life, at Mount Saviour Monastery in Pine City, New York." And so," he said, "if sharing my experience can ever be of any help to other men or women considering a monastic vocation, this is the time to capture it with words. . . ." Here’s some of what he said.
"My life has afforded me a great deal of travel and adventure, and I have had much contact and rich encounters with people of other faiths, and indeed even religious experience outside of Christian tradition. I first meditated in a Zen Buddhist temple when I was a 17-year-old exchange student in Japan and practiced meditation off and on into my adulthood. I have done Hindu kirtan chanting and took part in a sweat lodge ceremony on an American Indian reservation. I have had conversations with and been impressed by the intellectual honesty and integrity of atheists, taken part in interfaith dialogue and prayer with Muslims, and danced and drummed with pagans. Yet, for me, [my] vocation would not be remotely possible if I could not bring my heart and mind into exclusive loyalty to one faith.
"I happen to have been born and raised Catholic, and something consistently drew me back to a Catholic expression of Christian faith, but the major turning point of my life that brought me to where I am today happened at the ecumenical monastic community of Taizé. There, the fragmented church, the broken Body of Christ, comes together to declare that Jesus Christ is the Light of the World. I learned there that the monastic life is not lived just for the sake of the life itself and its consequences to the monk. It is a radical life of following Christ courageously focused on powerful prayer and powerful witness.
"What a gamble it is to act on the hope that I can make . . . a difference in the world with prayer . . . . Do I really believe in God enough to take such a risk with my life? I don't want to be wasted! Can I trust God to hear my prayers? Where do you start? The problems of the world are so great. Am I running away from the challenge by going off to pray? Not if I believe the words of our Lord. He promised us that we would move mountains with our prayer. By the grace of God, that is what monks are doing and are called to do—move mountains."
He has some important questions. "How about proclaiming the gospel? The Lord told us: ‘No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house’ (Matthew 5:15). . . . The risk of failing to proclaim the gospel is the same for monks as it is for any other Christian. But the monastery has a unique and powerful opportunity for witness in the modem world, perhaps more than it has in any time in the history of Christendom, because as the world becomes more outrageous in its injustice, depravity, greed, and insane pace, the anomaly of the monastery stands out in stark relief for simply not following suit. More importantly, something happens when believers come together and dedicate their full lives to prayer and praising God. The Holy Spirit makes its presence known. An encounter with real holiness has got to be the most powerful witness to the existence of God that anyone, believer or nonbeliever, will find.
"Is all this vow-taking biblical? I was always particularly impressed with Jesus' admonishment about making oaths: ‘Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black’ (Matthew 5:36). This always rang true for me—live in the now, man! I didn't even like to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag because I thought, why should I pledge allegiance to my country? Who knows what our government will do tomorrow! Someone pointed out to me that vows are really statements of hope. A couple who make vows of marriage join in a common statement of hope that, with God's grace, their love will survive. I can conceive of taking vows because I have hope in Christ . . . and if I believe he is calling me to a particular life, I can make a vow as a statement of hope that I may be able to answer that call to the end.
"The more daunting fears are the fears of one who has made his bet with Christ. . . . If my choice to follow the Lord puts a wedge, or even a world of distance, between me and others, be they strangers whom I would have befriended or members of my own dear family, will that sacrifice have been for nothing? Would God let me make such a mistake? What if there's not a God, and my choice to live a life of prayer is a choice to waste my life? The greater fears about a monastic vocation are human ones. Surely there will be days when God seems to be absent. I think that is true for any pope or street-corner preacher, as it is for all who seek him through their lives. . . . So I will do my best on those days to sing with the psalmist, ‘O Lord . . . . why do you hide your face from me?’ (Psalm 88:14). I pray such days will be few. I believe they will be few, because so far God keeps showing up, amazingly."
According to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, a number of contemplative communities in the Holy Land are now accepting e-mail prayer requests, says the Zenit news agency.
In a statement, the patriarchate—the diocese for about 70,000 Latin Rite Catholics in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Cyprus—acknowledged these prayer intentions "may be very important to you and this is the reason why you want to entrust them to the people who have devoted their life to God and who live and pray in the Holy Land."
The statement also quoted the upcoming synod of bishops for the Middle East, which states that "the first mission of the monks and moniales [cloistered religious] is the prayer and intercession for society."
The patriarchate invited the faithful to send their prayer requests to one or several of the religious communities. It noted: "You can entrust them your prayers, specifying the details you want to communicate. All this will stay private and only be known by you and the community!"
Here are the communities' email addresses given by the patriarchate:
• Poor Clares, Nazareth: email@example.com
• Carmelites, Mount Carmel, Haifa: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Nuns of the Emmanuel, Bethlehem: email@example.com
• Bridgettine Sisters, Bethlehem: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Silent Workers of the Cross, Mater Misericordiae, Jerusalem: email@example.com
• Benedictines, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Poor Clares, Jerusalem: email@example.com
• Carmelites of the Pater, Jerusalem: firstname.lastname@example.org
• Nuns of Bethlehem, Bet Gemal, Bet Shemesh: email@example.com
• Little Family of the Resurrection, Jerusalem: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hagia Maria Sion Abbey, a Benedictine abbey in Jerusalem just outside the walls of the Old City near the Zion Gate:
|Sister Angela with miniature horses|
Originally a community of 20 sisters, it has dwindled to three: Sister Angela Chandler, 54, who oversees the convent and runs the place with Bill Chandler, her brother, and his wife Becky, and two sisters Chandler cares for: 95-year-old Sister Holy Spirit Aleman and 89-year-old Sister Joseph Palacios.
“It’s gotten to be a lot just to try to keep up. It’s too much for us,” Chandler told the Associated Press. “We’ve reached a burnout phase, I think, and so much of our energies have gone outward and it’s time to focus them inward before we totally die out. It feels like it’s time for us to move on without the horses and without the tourists.”
The monastery is worth nearly $2 million with the horses, $1.7 million without, and includes a gift shop, commercial kitchen, chapel, 18-bedroom residence, and several smaller buildings. Chandler has received inquiries from potential buyers interested in creating a retreat center or an assisted living facility.
Miniature horses have been bred for over a century after owners selectively mated their smallest horses. Standing at about 34 inches at the shoulder, the animals can weigh as much as 350 pounds and pull carts carrying two adults. They are not strong enough to carry a rider.
The idea to raise horses first came to Chandler’s predecessor, the late Sister Bernadette Muller (coauthor of Sister Bernadette: Cowboy Nun from Texas, a copy of which you reporter, who has also visited the monastery, is a proud owner). Muller oversaw a cat- and bird-raising business but switched to miniature horses once she discovered their earning potential. A trained mare can sell for $3,000, and gelded yearlings start at $500. In 1985 the monastery outgrew it 20-acre site in Corpus Christi and moved to Brenham.
“We were just expecting to—as with the birds—just quietly raise horses and sell them to a few people here and there,” Chandler says. Instead, tourists came from across the country and as far as Tasmania and Russia to see the horses. Chandler estimated the monastery has welcomed 20,000 tourists and earned about $250,000 each year through admissions, donations, and sales from horses and the gift shop.
She says the plans are to bring more sisters into the monastery and focus on the nuns’ spiritual life. The monastery also gets income from selling altar breads, and Chandler plans to expand her desktop publishing and design business.
“It’s been wonderful and we’ve loved meeting these people,” Chandler says. “But at the same time, all good things must come to an end. It’s time for us to change focus.”
|ABBOT Barnabas Senecal, O.S.B.
with some of his photographs
“Taking photographs reminds me of the positive,” Senecal told Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly (Sept. 10, 2010). “Monastic mindfulness is pursuing what [Saint] Benedict taught about being aware daily of your presence of God with you and in the world. It’s mindfulness of creation and of sharing that with others.
“I am nourished by taking pictures,” he said. “Yes, it’s a spiritual exercise in that I don’t just take a picture and store it. I will reflect on it. Entering into these moments of photography is a conviction that I’m seeing something that I didn’t make, the other person didn’t make. It’s there . . . because it’s part of God’s creation.”
Senecal is also known as the “Singing Abbot” for his fine baritone voice, which he uses not only at abbey liturgies but also at Confirmation Masses he celebrates at the request of Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann throughout the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.