St. Bernard of Clairvaux – Promoter of the Religious Life Par Excellence

St. Bernard of Clairvaux inspired many vocations to the newly founded Cistercian Order. Famously, he managed to bring his uncle, his brothers, and a group of young nobleman to the same vocation. He even convinced his sister to leave her husband and become a nun. His charisma transformed Europe in the 12th Century. Benedictine Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. (1911-1993), known for his magisterial The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, wrote this informative paragraph as part of an introduction to Bernard of Clairvaux: Selected Works (this paragraph shows you how much a contemplative can do):

“In 1115, just three years following his arrival at Citeaux, Bernard was sent to found a monastery at Clairvaux in Champagne, to which he led his brothers and companions, and attracted many other young men as well. Soon he was in a position to make other foundations, in 1118, 1119, 1121, and almost every year after that. He made 68 foundations in thirty-five years and was the principal promoter of his Order, which, at the time of his death, comprised some 350 houses, of which 164 were answerable more or less directly to his authority. They extended across the whole of Europe, from Scandinavia to southern Portugal, from northern England to central Europe. A spiritual motivation had to be ensured in each monastery, beginning with the motherhouse. It has been estimated that between 800 and 900 monks had been part of the community of Clairvaux before Bernard’s death. Some of them were sent to daughterhouses that, in turn, made other foundations. Thus, there were thousands of men, generally young, who left society and often a military career to take up cloistered life. If to this number one adds the members of some 290 other Cistercian monasteries founded during Bernard’s lifetime, one has some idea of the tremendous peace corps, with tens of thousands of members, that Bernard helped to establish. What architect of peace has played such a role in his century or in any other?”

A Moment of Catechesis

Many people have a vocation to the religious life but simply do not know that the religious life exists or what it is. I find that many of my students never heard of the religious life. They think that everyone gets married with the exception of the parish priest, and once they learn that it is not that narrow they are confused why anyone would live that way. This is why now is moment to catechize the young on the nature of the religious life and give them resources to help them discover an order suited to their vocation.

Many youth sense that they are not called to marriage and family. Most girls sense that that is their only option, other than single life. Boys know about the diocesan priesthood but do not know where to look if they feel called to something more. I try to present the religious orders to my students to make sure that they know all the charisms to which they may be called. Soren Kierkegaard grew up in a Protestant country that did not have active religious orders. Famously, Kierkegaard called off his marriage. He sensed that he was not called to the married state. Most likely, if he lived in a Catholic culture he would have become a religious. However, that was not available to him. While America has religious orders, the Catholicism most American teenagers grow up in is without religious. In order to serve them and them find their place in the Church, we must introduce them to the religious life. That is partially why the Institute on Religious Life exists. Consider becoming a member of the Institute to help us foster a growing awareness of religious life, especially amongst the young.

Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter Take on New Apostolate

The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a clerical society of apostolic life of pontifical right (a community of Roman Catholic priests who do not take religious vows, but who work together for a common mission in the world) has been invited to take on a new apostolate in Archdiocese of Baltimore.

St. Alphonsus Church

They have been entrusted with St. Alphonsus Church, their first entree in the Baltimore/Washington, DC, area. And what an historic church it is! St. John Neumann served as pastor from 1848-1849, and Bl. Francis Seelos, C.Ss.R., was pastor from 1854-1857. It is also the National Shrine of St. Alphonsus Ligouri.

The particular charism and mission of the Fraternity is to offer the Sacred Liturgy, including the Holy Mass and the Divine Office, as well as the sacraments, in all of their traditional solemnity, according to the Latin liturgical books of 1962.

The Fraternity is excited to be in this new mission field “for the promotion of our liturgical heritage for the glory of God and the sanctification of souls.”

 

 

First Federation of the Visitation Order Elect New President & Council

We have just celebrated the Feast Day of St. Jane Frances de Chantal on Saturday, so it is wonderful to learn of the recent election results from the Assembly of the First Federation of the Order of the Visitation held  on July 26-28, 2017.

Meeting at the Visitation Monastery in Rockville, Virginia, the Assembly participants elected a new Federation President and Council. Sister Sharon Elizabeth (Toledo, OH) was elected Federation President. She will be assisted by her Council comprised of Mother Rose Marie (Mobile, AL), Mother Marie de Sales (Toledo, OH), Sr. Mary Emmanuel (Tyringham, MA) and Sr. Frances Marie (Rockville, VA). Mother Miriam Rose (Tyringham, MA) and Mother Teresa Maria (Snellvile, GA) were elected as alternate councilors.

St. Jane Frances was the co-foundress of the Order of the Visitation along with St. Francis de Sales. Founded in 1610,  in Annecy, Savoy (France), their desire was “to give to God daughters of prayer, and souls so interior that they may be found worthy to serve His infinite majesty and to adore Him in spirit and in truth.”

The Visitation Order was founded for women who could not handle the austerities of the traditional cloistered life but who truly had a call from God to give themselves entirely to God as a spouse of Christ. They also traditionally accept belated vocations (check each community for the information).

It is sometimes forgotten that St. Thérèse of Lisieux had a fifth sister, Léonie, who was not a Carmelite. Léonie was a difficult child and a poor student who nevertheless desired to enter religious life. Her mother once wrote that unless a miracle was worked, “my Léonie will never enter a religious community.” St. Thérèse predicted that after her death, Léonie would enter the Visitation Order and take her name and that of St. Francis de Sales. Indeed it came to pass. Léonie’s name in religion was Sr. Françoise-Thérèse  and her cause for canonization was opened in  Caen, France on July 2, 2016, the anniversary of her profession (1900).

The six monasteries of the First Federation (which are cloistered) are located in Mobile, AL, Snellville, GA, Rockville, VA, Philadelphia, PA, Tyringham, MA and Toledo, OH.  The four highlighted are IRL affiliates.

 

St. Dominic and the Salvation of the City

The major religious orders of the first millennium of the Church were monastics. They sought stability outside the false order of the city. Hence, they did not live in cities. But mendicant orders did. They sought to transform the order of the city into the order of Christ, something they witnessed to in radical poverty and preaching. Instead of leaving the City of Man to itself, they would bring the City of God to the City of Man, transforming it from within.

My wife and I were recently in Krakow. At the heart of the city are the Dominicans and the Franciscans (two mendicant orders), which is fitting because the city was founded around the rise of the Mendicant Orders. Maybe that is why the city seems to be alive with Christ. The orders were there to help guide the development of the city. A city is like an organism. It informs its many parts. Its laws, customs, and beliefs lead individuals to the way of life or the way of death. Today we are so accustomed to thinking of ourselves as atomic individuals artificially brought under the influence of the city and its ways. However, this was not so to the medieval mind. For them, everything was interconnected within a natural hierarchy. Some things took precedence to others just as, using an organic analogy, the heart is more important than the limbs. For them, the beliefs of the city were very important, for at issue was its salvation (life) or damnation (death). The spread of heresy within a city was like the spread of a disease. Experts needed to be brought in to help with a cure. The Dominicans answered such a need.

When St. Dominic came to Toulouse in Southern France he was amazed and saddened by the spread of the Albigensian heresy. The lavish lives of the Catholic preachers offended many people, prompting them to turn to the austere heretics. This experience prompted St. Dominic to found the Order of Preachers (Dominicans) who would live austere lives yet preach true Orthodoxy. They would combat heresy with great learning. This was not for the sake of superiority and dominance but the truth. Life lived in the truth is always better than life based on a lie. On this Feast of St. Dominic, let us pray for zealous, well-informed religious who can preach and witness to the Gospel in the heart of the city. The conversion of a city may just happen to begin from the houses of the mendicants like the Dominicans. Theologian C.C. Pecknold agrees. He wrote a great little piece in First Things on what he calls the “Dominican Option”, an alternative to the popular “Benedict Option.” Here is a part of his piece:

Better to speak of the Dominican Option. When I see them in the white habits at prayer, or giving lectures, or playing guitars and banjos on the subway, I have a plausible image of a “contrast society” that is very much engaged with the world—an evangelistic witness which is joyful, intellectually serious, expansive, and charitable.

St. Dominic founded the Order of Preachers after a long contemplative season which, in the words of one biographer “burst into flame” when he encountered Albigensians (ancient Manichean dualists) on travels through southern France. Dominic stayed up all night arguing with one Albigensian, and by morning the man turned away from his heresy and turned towards the Catholic faith. Dominic’s missionary zeal flowed directly out of cloistered contemplation, but it convinced him of the need for a new evangelistic order.

Dominic told his men to go into the world without fear. They should study, they should pray, and they should preach. His Order harmonized the life of a contemplative with the activity of an evangelist. This meant intellectual training. One only needs to think of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris to understand the impact this had. Dominicans studied other languages, and other religions, in order to preach more effectively. Aquinas himself wrote the Summa Contra Gentiles precisely to assist the brothers’ preaching to Muslims.

This is what we need today as well: the right pattern of formation and evangelistic witness. Not every Christian will be a Dominican, of course. But we all have something fundamental to learn from the Dominican pattern of life. 

 

Feast of the Transfiguration: The Primacy of Prayer

Right after the announcement of his resignation, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reflected on the role of Peter at the Transfiguration. The lesson of the Transfiguration is the primacy of prayer and communion, the center of all activity. All this comes prior to activity. Contemplative religious are witnesses to this hierarchy. On this Feast of the Transfiguration, let us not lose sight of this ordering. Here is part of the Pope’s address:

Peter’s words “Master, it is well that we are here” represent the impossible attempt to put this mystical experience on hold. St Augustine commented: “[Peter]… on the mountain… had Christ as the food of his soul. Why should he have to go down to return to his hard work and sorrows while up there he was filled with sentiments of holy love for God and which thus inspired in him a holy conduct? (Sermon 78,3: pl 38, 491).

In meditating on this passage of the Gospel, we can learn a very important lesson from it: first of all, the primacy of prayer, without which the entire commitment to the apostolate and to charity is reduced to activism. In Lent we learn to give the right time to prayer, both personal and of the community, which gives rest to our spiritual life. Moreover, prayer does not mean isolating oneself from the world and from its contradictions, as Peter wanted to do on Mount Tabor; rather, prayer leads back to the journey and to action. “The Christian life”, I wrote in my Message for this Lent, “consists in continuously scaling the mountain to meet God and then coming back down, bearing the love and strength drawn from him, so as to serve our brothers and sisters with God’s own love” (n. 3).