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It is often difficult to find good, non-syrupy books about the lives of the saints. Therefore, it is a real joy to read a new book about the life of Saint Benedict that stays true to the biographical details known to us through the writings of Pope St. Gregory the Great.
Entitled The Life of Saint Benedict, the book was written by a son of Saint Benedict, Br. John McKenzie, O.S.B. Brother John is a monk from the Monastero di San Benedetto in Norcia, Italy, the birthplace of Sts. Benedict and his twin sister, Scholastica. A native of Michigan, Brother John entered the Benedictines in Norcia in 2005 and made his solemn profession in 2009. He is currently studying theology in Rome.
The 48-page, hardcover book is charmingly illustrated by Mark Brown, a lay oblate of the monastery, with pictures that are engaging enough to enthrall a small child yet full of rich details to interest adults. What child doesn’t like a story with a dragon in it? Featured in the book is the close relationship between Benedict and Scholastica, the founding of the Benedictine family, the miracles attributed to Benedict, and his virtuous life, totally dedicated to God.
Brother John explained why he embarked upon this project: “The Life of Saint Benedict is filled with great imagery and authentic monastic wisdom. The Benedictine monastic life expands over 1,500 years of lived tradition and it has a home on all continents of the world! This book was simply put together so that families, most especially kids, can get a chance to understand the greatness and uniqueness of my holy founder, not to mention his twin sister Saint Scholastica, who also plays a central role in this book.”
The Life of St. Benedict can be purchased from Ignatius Press (1-800-651-1531, ignatiuspress.com). In this year dedicated to the Consecrated Life, this book is a great introduction to one of the giants of the Church whose way of life remains as attractive and vital today as it was 1,500 years ago.
Did you know that Sun Yat-sen, the founder of the Chinese Republic, and his successor, Gen. Chiang Kai-shek, were Christians? And that a Foreign and Prime Minister of China, Lu (Lou) Tseng-tsiang, became a Benedictine monk under the name of Dom Pierre-Célestin? We think of China as a non-Christian country but there are illustrious men and women who carried the banner for Jesus Christ. Lu himself was a reformer who tried to simply the bureaucracy and institute fairness into government.
Lu was born a Protestant in Shanghai in 1871. Due to the influence of his father, he developed a love for the Bible and good literature. In 1892, he was sent to Russia as part of the Chinese delegation where he served for 14 years. An impressive man that he worked for old him:
“The strength of Europe is not to be found in her armaments; it is not to be found in her science; it is to be found in her religion. In the course of your diplomatic career you will have occasion to study the Christian religion….Take the most ancient branch of that religion, that which goes back most nearly to its origins. Enter into it. Study its doctrine, practice its commandments, closely follow all its works. And later on, when you have ended your career, perhaps you will have the opportunity to go still farther. In this most ancient branch, choose the most ancient society. If you can do so, enter into it also. Make yourself its follower, and study the interior life, which must be the secret of it. When you have understood and won the secret of that life, when you have grasped the heart and strength of the religion of Christ, bring them and give them to China.”
It was in St. Petersburg that Lu met his Belgian-born wife, Berthe Bovy, and they were married in 1899. The same priest who presided at their wedding would receive him into the Church in 1912. After the war, Lu became involved in famine relief work but when his wife became ill, they moved to Europe where he became China’s ambassador to Switzerland. After her death, he surprised everyone by becoming a Benedictine monk at the abbey of Abbey of Saint-André-lez-Bruges in Flanders. He was ordained a priest in 1935 in his 64th year! He died on January 15, 1949 at the abbey, never to return to China. His prayers for his country must now be entrusted to Our Lady of China.
Many people are aware that the Franciscans are an ever-present presence in the Holy Land. The familiar Jerusalem cross above a door indicates that the Franciscans are the guardians of that particular (usually) holy site and all are welcome to come in.
But the Benedictines are also in the Holy Land at the Church of the Dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes on the Sea of Galilee (Tabgha Priory), and at Abu Ghosh, where the Ark of the Covenant rested for twenty years. Fittingly, the Church in Abu Gosh is called Notre Dame de l’Arche d’Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant). Mary can be seen at the top holding the infant Jesus in her arms.
The National Catholic Register recently interviewed Fr. Mark Sheridan, a Benedictine monk at Dormition Abbey on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. He will celebrate 50 years in the priesthood in February 2015. In the lengthy interview, Fr. Sheridan describes the complex and fascinating life of a Benedictine in Israel.
In 2012, he founded Friends of the Benedictines to “provide financial support the religious, charitable and educational activities of the canonically established monastic communities following the Rule of St. Benedict in the Holy Land.” Their life in Israel is precarious. They rely on pilgrims to support their activities including special assistance to those in need. In unsettled times like today, they suffer.
If you are fortunate to go to Israel and can get away on your own, I highly recommend checking out a stay at the Tabgha guesthouse on the Sea of Galilee. It is located in one of the quietest and most beautiful places in Israel. In the 1930’s, this site was excavated and lo and behold they discovered a 1000+ year old Byzantine Church. The ancient mosaics can still be seen in the new Church erected on the site. Also in Tabgha are the Benedictine Sisters from the Philippines from the Congregation of the Benedictine Sisters of the Eucharistic King. They care for the many Filipino workers in Israel.
In the Rule of St. Benedict it says that all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ (Chapter 53). The Benedictines in the Holy Land continue this practice, receiving pilgrims, Christian and non-Christian alike, showing them the door to Christ.
The Benedictine monks at St. Procopius Abbey in Lisle, Illinois, are offering a FREE, five-part online course in Benedictine Spirituality. Anyone can register on the St. Procopius Facebook page. Five emails, one sent each day, will cover the life of St. Benedict, Benedictine life and vocation stories. There will also be emails asking the students to reflect on each class. You can sign up for two sessions: the first one will run October 14-18, 2013, and the second, October 28 – November 1.
“We feel that St. Benedict’s way of life, which includes living in community, common prayer, work, and private prayer, is just as important today as when St. Benedict was alive,” said Fr. James Flint, OSB, vocation director of the abbey. St. Procopius Abbey was founded in 1885 and has 26 monks today. Prayer and conversion are at the heart of their life. At the same time, they serve in outside apostolates, especially in the schools that they founded: Benet Academy and Benedictine University.
For more information, contact Fr. James Flint, OSB, at 630-969-6410, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are the words of Peter in the Dialogues as he thirsts for more miracle stories about St. Benedict. They are pertinent today too for the Benedictine Monks of Norcia who inaugurated a brewery this summer to help sustain the monastery, located on at the birthplace of St. Benedict of Nursia. The beer is called appropriately enough Birrra Nursia and has the motto: Ut Laetifect Cor (from Psalm 104 – how wine is a gift from God to gladden men’s hearts).
The Archbishop reminded those in attendance of the miracle of Cana where Christ performed a miracle which brought joy to the hearts of the wedding party.
Fr. Cassian Folsom, O.S.B., the founder of the monastery, has been undergoing treatment for cancer which, thanks be to God, is now in remission. He joyfully celebrated with Bro. Evagrius as Brother professed solemn vows on August 11th. In July, four young men participated in a discernment program. May God bless them with holy vocations.
If you are interested in becoming a Benedictine oblate associated with the monastery at Norcia, contact Brother Anthony, the Oblate Director. It is necessary to come to Italy for an initial retreat and then begin the Oblate Novitiate which lasts one year.
Oblates are people who are attracted to Benedictine spirituality but those whose state in life obliges them to live in the world. The monks remember all of the oblates in prayer at the closing of the Divine Office: May the Divine assistance remain always with us, and with our absent brethren.
Here’s an uplifting story from The B.C. Catholic, the publication of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, on a young man who just made his perpetual vows as a Benedictine at Westminster Abbey in Mission, British Columbia.
John Marple (now known as Frater Caesarius) was the fourth of eight children, who began homeschooling when he was in second grade.
“Tyburn Convent Gloria Deo” brings viewers within the cloisters of the order’s nine monasteries, starting with the motherhouse in England, and ranging through Oceania and South America.
The order was established in 1903 near Marble Arch, London–the site where dozens of English martyrs were killed during the Protestant Reformation.
Michael Luke Davies created the work. He and Mother Xavier McMonagle, the mother-general of the Tyburn Nuns, presented the documentary last Thursday.
“I was moved to tears many times by the beauty of what I was filming,” Davies said. “For me, it exceeded my expectations of what I could film. It was an incredible experience I shall never forget for the rest of my life. The things I have seen and the moments I have shared with these beautiful religious people I will keep with me forever.” Read the rest of this entry »
Earlier this month, fittingly on the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, His Excellency Edward J. Slattery, Bishop of Tulsa, established the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope as a Public Association of the Faithful, in view of their becoming an Institute of Consecrated Life.
The foundress of the community, Rosalind Moss, is a noted convert from Judaism who is well-known in the Catholic world through her work with EWTN and Catholic Answers.
In religion, Rosalind Moss is now Mother Miriam of the Lamb of God. On this happy occasion, she received the traditional Benedictine habit, given that the Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope have begun to follow the age-old Rule of Saint Benedict.
For more on this wonderful story, click here.
Check out this entertaining article about some Benedictine monks who, to make ends meets in post-Katrina Louisiana, have gone into the business of using downed trees to manufacture simple, inexpensive caskets.
Some monks make brandy, others make coffee. Every religious community has to support itself somehow.
What makes the story interesting is that their new business led to the monks’ being threatened with jail time because of regulations that serve to protect a powerful industry cartel. So far, the monks have prevailed in the courts, but not without a fight. Read about it here.
As time permits, Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is translating into English some of the writings of Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-98), the foundress of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament.
In this recent post at Vultus Christi, he published a little more than half of the Preface to the Constitutions of her Institute. After each section he adds, in italics, a little commentary of his own.
I hope you enjoy Mother’s spiritual insights and Fr. Mark’s commentary.