Our Lady and Sheen

Benedictine Spirituality

Over the last few months, I have had cause to examine my feelings towards the spirituality of different Orders (as a broad term) within Holy Mother Church.  The Jesuit spirituality is on one level, the Dominican is on another, etc., each with their own charism.  I had the luxury of being brought up at Penn State by Benedictine priests, and have visited three abbeys, each different within the “OSB” grouping.

While trying to explain to someone how I felt about the spirituality of Benedictines, I kept trying to get the words out of my mouth to the definition that Benedictine spirituality seemed “natural,” or “like a ground spring.”  All of my definitions have felt inadequate. Michael Casey, OCSO, explains monastic life in a much better way.  Because he is a follower of the Rule of St. Benedict, his version of monastic life is what I was trying to find:

Those who embrace the monastic means as the determining elements in their behavior gradually acquire a new identity.  This is something that grows from within.  It is not a temporary phase that will soon be abandoned.  This monastic identity accompanies monks and nuns wherever they go, whatever they do.

Because Benedictine monasticism is the oldest form of monastic community in Western Christianity, it did not have a direct “reason” for its existence, like the Dominicans or Jesuits.  Instead the “reason” for these monks was to pursue a life of holiness.  That life of holiness takes on different forms.  To support themselves the monks took on different tasks.  Some monasteries run schools, others universities, others stay with more traditional farming, some observe stricter silence than others, and some provide iPhones as a tool for their brothers.  No matter what kind of monastery you visit, you find that the spirituality of the place feels natural, unforced, and driven towards God.

If you are interested in reading more by Michael Casey, please purchase his book here or here for Kindle.

Note: I have had the fortune of going to abbeys which did not offend good Christian values, there may be some that have fallen away from the path.  So, please know going into it, that if you visit a monastery, every community is different.


April 11, 2012 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , | Leave a comment

Benedictine monasticism and our life in Christ

Michael Casey, in his book Strangers to the City, a meditation on the Rule of St. Benedict in the world, gives us a chance to examine our personal motives in life through the view of a “male, a monk, and Australian, and probably in the final quadrant of [his] life.  [He] speak[s] as one formed in a specifically Cistercian approach to the Rule.”

His first chapter involves a section on the question, “Why are you here?” (Quid petis?)  While asking that question of a candidate, he brings up the point that, “Whatever brings a person to embrace the monastic way, it is unlikely to be sufficient for a lifetime.”  How true this is for us as well, no matter where we are on our faith walk.

Monastic life is different than the secular life for a great many reasons, “Nobody slips unthinkingly into the monastic life for the lack of a better alternative… The train is running on tracks to a single destination; if you don’t want to go there, you had better get off at the next stop.”  In our life, don’t we have a modicum of choice in where we end up, if it were left up to us.  Most of us, and I pray all of us, want to go to Heaven, the monastic life makes this “mission statement” much more firm, and thus if I remember from the movie Beckett, “How easy it is to be a saint in a monastery.”  (I’m sure Brother Michael would disagree, but you’ll have to buy his book to find out.)

My friend, recently said that he didn’t want to have to choose, when it came to a matter of deep theological importance.  How right he is!  If I get to make up my own mind in what I believe, that’s great.  I personally must choose to follow Christ, or not; to follow His Church, or not; to accept salvation, or not.  Beyond that, do I want to decide every piece of theological minutia that there is a debate on?  NO!  I want to concentrate on my soul.  I know that sounds selfish, but I were to gain the whole world and lose my soul, what profit would I gain?  In that case, should I wish to gain my soul for God?  Having internal debates on every item that the Church has debated publicly for 2,000 years is a waste of my time, and usually not a good academic exercise.

We learn this also from those who follow the Rule of Benedict:

“His most pressing task, therefore, is purity of heart.  This means he uses anything that reduces the level of inner division.  He embraces a disciplined lifestyle, he allows many of his options to be decided by others, he opens his heart to an experienced mentor, he submits to the providential disturbances that he meets on his journey.” (Location 217, Kindle)

Doesn’t that sound like a wonderfully trying experience?  Turning your life over, so that you can concentrate on your soul.  The chapter talks about a great many of the challenges of this area, but we should start to implement in our lives a simplicity of purpose that will gain us first and foremost the beatific vision.

Our Lady of Einsiedeln, pray for us!

April 11, 2012 Posted by | Book Review | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mardi Gras!

Recently I was down in southern Louisiana for the end of the Mardi Gras season, and I had a great time! It was one of the best trips that I have taken in a while!  I celebrated with friends and strangers for the weekend before Mardi Gras and Lundi Gras.  I saw five parades, played lots of games, enjoyed New Orleans twice.  Drank a bit, ate a whole huge sampling of king cakes over the weekend, probably 6 different kinds, and enjoyed getting into the “season.”

Mardi Gras has a huge stereotype about drunk, crazy, and sinful encounters.  And… it is true.   That happens a lot, but, in certain parts of the city it’s just a small increase over the normal.  It also has a LOT of family togetherness.  I met so many of my friend’s family that I can not keep them straight in my head, not to mention all the friends and friends’ friends who opened their doors (or their bathrooms) to us.  It is a joyous celebration in the guise of getting ready for Lent.

But wait! On Thursday, just two days later, I was sitting in the Abbey of Subiaco and it dawned on me that all of Lent is looking towards Easter. It probably dawned on me because of a reading, homily or passing comment by one of the holy monks.  Here, on my left hand, we have Mardi Gras.  A celebration with names like “Bacchus” and “Proteus” and “Rex” and “Isis” and other idol names, parades in which beads, coins, toys, and various other things are thrown to the people who are out watching their friends, community and strangers parade.  Looking at these “gods” we see the anticipation of what all the Faithful look forward to: gifts from our God.

Mardi Gras ends and the Faithful fast, abstain, and pray for Lent.  Even the non-believers will sometimes take Lent as a time where “giving something up” sounds like a good idea.  To quote Archbishop Sheen about philosophies of life: There is the Christian philosophy which says, “First the fast, then the feast;” The world’s philosophy is, “First the feast, then the hangover.”  When we look at Mardi Gras as a secular celebration, we harken back to the days before the Eternal Gift of the Cross, when our pagan and heathen ancestors worshiped trees and themselves.  “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die,” as 1 Cor 15:32 tells us.

So, where are we?  Looking at the microcosm of February-April, we see first the celebration, missing the mark… the Lord.  Then, we have the great fast of Lent, the purging of ourselves, the turning toward God, the anticipation of the Victory over the Dead.  Then, on the other side of that forty days, looking  across the rich wasteland of the desert journey we see the True Feast… the true reason for joy and hope… we have Easter.  A feast dedicated to true celebration, focused not in some pagan afterthought, but rather, rooted in the Hope of Christ.  Salvation.  For we know the dead will be resurrected to Eternal Life or eternal death, and we have seen the first fruits.

Easter is a purified Mardi Gras, so to speak, because it is in redirecting our purpose that we find Truth: not in beads thrown from floats, but in beads given to us by Our Mother; not in drink poured from bottle or can, but in Drink poured from the veins of our Savior;  not in king cakes made of sugar and fillings, but in the Bread of  Life given by our King; not in crying out, “throw me something, mister,” but in crying out, “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER!”  And finally, not a feast followed by a hangover is this Lent and Easter, but rather, a fast followed by the Feast, as this life will be when we enter into the Heavenly Banquet.


February 25, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A great sign for our times

A priest friend of mine has told me a few times of the wonder and beauty (natural and divine) of Our Lady of Clear Creek Monastery.  Then on EWTN this past Saturday night/Sunday morning I saw a documentary on the monastery and the Benedictines who ore et labora there.  Today, NLM has a brief review and posting of the movie.

Check it out!

August 25, 2010 Posted by | Religious Link | , , , , | Leave a comment