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Bands of Brothers

Hermits of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel in Texas

Last week the National Catholic Register published an article entitled “Surprising Revival for Men in Religious Life,” which the emergence of new religious communities for men despite the sharp overall decline in the number of men in consecrated life.

Michael Wick, the executive director of the Institute on Religious Life, was quoted at length in the article. He affirmed that there are many young men today who take religious life seriously and who joyfully accept the necessary sacrifices that are a part of it.

Wick addressed the popular misconception that religious brothers are men who are not smart enough to be priests: “Catholics tend not to have a problem with women religious, but when it comes to non-ordained men religious, they are a bit uncertain. What they might not realize is that a religious brother has just as legitimate a consecrated vocation by striving to be a brother to all.”

Wick sees the various thriving men’s communities as unique expressions of the Holy Spirit in the Church. “There are so many different charisms,” he said. “We have the older, more established orders, newer communities in the tradition of an older order, and then altogether new orders. There’s something for everyone, but a common thread among the communities doing well is their faithfulness to the Magisterium.”

Why Monks?

Last week Catholic Online published a delightful piece by Fr. Dwight Longenecker on the vocation to monastic life. Here is a sampling:

“Now the thing I have always loved about the monastic founders–whether it was St Anthony of Egypt or Pachomius, or Benedict–is that they didn’t set out to start a ‘movement.’ They just did what they had to do.

“They were faithful to their vocation and calling. That others joined them, and that a movement developed was not only an unexpected growth, but often an unwelcome one at that. . . .

“You thought monks were just cutting themselves off–doing something radical and a little bit misanthropic. In the meantime they were doing something beautiful for God.

“Hidden away in the desert, they are cultivating the power of prayer and planting the seed of God in the world.”

New Canadian Monk

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.

“[Our parents] pulled us out of school because they wanted to bring us up in our faith,” said Frater Caesarius. “They taught us solid doctrine.”
The family went to Mass every morning. “We actually went to the Pastoral Center at the 8 o’clock Mass for quite a number of years.” On weekends the family attended Mass at their home parish. Frater Caesarius was homeschooled untill Grade 9 and completed high school at Austin O’Brien Catholic School.
The road to discovering his vocation was not an easy one, but thank God for his parents, who obviously made his formation in the faith a priority.

Improving the “Climate”

Last week Pope Benedict XVI visited the Carthusian monastery of Sts. Stephen and Bruno at Serra San Bruno. Outside the monastery, he addressed the faithful from the local area who had gathered there to see him, reminding them of the great privilege of having a “citadel of the Spirit” in their region. The Pope added:

“Monasteries have an important, I would say indispensable, role. Their purpose today is to ‘improve’ the environment, in the sense that sometimes the air we breathe in our societies is unhealthy, it is polluted by a non-Christian mentality, at times even a non-human mentality, because it is dominated by economic interests, concerned only with worldly things and lacking a spiritual dimension.

“In such a climate not only God but also our fellow man is pushed to the margins, and we do not commit ourselves to the common good. Monasteries, however, are models of societies which have God and fraternal relations at their core. We have great need of them in our time.”

The Holy Father concluded his remarks by exhorting the faithful “to treasure the great spiritual tradition of this place, and seek to put it into practice in your daily lives.”

For videos from the Holy Father’s visit, including the celebration of Vespers, click here. Story courtesy of the Vatican Information Service.

The Family that Overtook Christ

Tomorrow is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153), the great Cistercian monk. For many people, unfortunately, St. Bernard is merely a big, lovable breed of working dog. Even those of us with Catholic sensibilities might not know too much about him. Maybe we remember that he was devoted to Our Lady (which saint wasn’t?), and that he is believed to be the author of the prayer commonly known as the Memorare (”Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary . . .”). But even that’s probably pushing it.

It’s a shame we don’t know more about him, because Bernard was no ordinary monk. His singular holiness, his amazing zeal, his prolific spiritual writing, his founding of dozens of monasteries, his decisive, godly impact on ecclesial and world affairs during his incredible life are all a matter of historical record.

We have twice read as a family The Family That Overtook Christ (Daughters of St. Paul, 1986). It’s the story of St. Bernard’s remarkable family. His father Tescalin has been declared “Venerable” by the Church, and his mother, Alice, his sister Humbeline, and his brothers Guy, Gerard, Andrew, Bartholomew, and Nivard have all been declared “Blessed.” It’s one of the most edifying things I’ve read in a long time. One of the most challenging, too. The holy siblings frequently attributed their exceptional religious formation to their parents, who truly raised a generation of saints. Isn’t that the goal of all of us Catholic parents? May we single-mindedly lead our families in pursuit of Christ.

Bernard was no ordinary monk. In fact, he is no ordinary saint. Read the rest of this entry »