Twice a year, St. Scholastica Priory hosts what we call “Monastic Experience Weekends”. These events are opportunities for young women to enter into the spirit of monasticism “on site” for about 48 hours—just enough time to gain exposure without being overwhelmed! Last weekend, we had the pleasure of hosting three young women, welcoming them into our guesthouse, choir stalls, refectory and workplaces. It is a time for prayer and reflection, conversation with sisters and discernment of vocations. We hope to witness to the beauty of a life lived for God alone, and to act as guideposts for those on the journey. It takes courage to try something new and “launch out into the deep” (cf. Lk 5:1-11), and yet what divine blessings are in store for those who do. May Our Lady of the Way lead us all along the right path—the path into the heart of Christ!
Hospitality is a central aspect of Benedictine life that has its roots in the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and ultimately in the Scriptures. Most Benedictine monasteries have some form of lodging for guests. It is a beautiful part of our lives to receive all guests with a loving, welcoming spirit. Here at St. Scholastica we receive many different guests from various religions, cultures, ages, socio-economic backgrounds. It is a deeply enriching experience for our community. Laypeople as well as priests and religious often find here a place where they can quiet down and be renewed for their continuing path in life. Guests often say that this is an oasis for them, a place they can find some quiet and peace. It is an honor for us to share our liturgy and way of life with others. In turn, we are also inspired by our guests.
For Benedictines, hospitality goes beyond mere social courtesy. In his Rule, St. Benedict devotes an entire chapter to the reception of guests (Ch. 53), in which he says that guest are to be “received like Christ,” and that to them “the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received.” When we encounter guests, we encounter Christ. This part of our monastic charism is to me a symbol of the eschatological nature of religious life. Our world finds it difficult to open a door to strangers. This call to hospitality that we live is a foreshadowing of life in heaven, where we will live as one, unified in the joy of seeing Christ.
St Benedict, help us to see Christ in everyone and everything!
In the afterglow of the Solemnity of Pentecost, many of us are still contemplating the gifts of this third Person of the Trinity. As children in Catechism class, we dutifully chanted aloud the seven gifts in unison: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. How contented we felt in completing the list! And yet, as the years pass by we find ourselves desiring to know them more fully, so as to truly embody them.
The “first and highest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit,” as Fr. John Hardon, S.J. describes it, is wisdom. In the New Testament Scriptures, there are numerous “wise” men and women: the three Wise Men (cf. Mt 2:1-12), the wise man who built his house on rock (cf. Mt 7:24-27), the five wise virgins who kept their lamps trimmed and full of oil (cf. Mt 25:1-13). We may gain a better understanding of this virtue by looking at what these biblical examples have in common: a search for and faith in God.
As Benedictine nuns, our purpose is twofold: to seek God and to be witnesses of his existence and presence in the world. We hope to be led as well as to lead others into a greater sense of wisdom—the wisdom that perceives the purpose of human life in light of the spiritual reality and pursues it!
Happy Pentecost! This wonderful feast is the birthday of the Church. Today’s readings speak of the role of the Holy Spirit within the Church and in our everyday lives. It is the Spirit that enabled the Apostles to speak of the the wonders of God in many tongues (Acts 2:11). It is the Spirit that enables us to discern God’s will, to listen to God, and to have the courage to respond to that call.
The work of the Spirit is vividly shown in religious life. There are “different forms of service” (1 Co. 12:4), but the same Lord and the same desire: Christ. And so, the Church is enriched with active communities of nurses and teachers, missionaries and social workers, as well as contemplative monastics and hermits, monastics. Different forms, but serving the same Lord and working toward union with God—the goal of religious life. The Spirit is in our midst daily. I can only speak from my own experience: in my few years as a nun I can see the work of the Spirit in our daily lives. It is the Spirit that enables us to “listen with the ear of our hearts” (RB Prologue); to obey without delay (RB 5); to “abandon whatever is at hand and hasten with the greatest speed” to the Divine Office (RB 43). And the Spirit helps the juniors to honor the seniors, and the seniors to love their juniors (RB 63). It is with our hearts full of gratitude and joy that we join the Church today in singing: Come, Holy Spirit, come!
One of the most striking aspects of a contemplative Benedictine life is its silence. While it is not a formal vow that consecrated religious take, the humble, loving practice of silence is indispensable for the monk or nun seeking God in a monastery. For at the beginning of every spiritual search is some sort of self-denial, a quieting down of human desires that oppose the Spirit. “Whoever wishes to be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” (Mt 16:24).
Restraint of speech is one such example of turning away from the inclination to assert oneself, so as to create space for God. It fosters an atmosphere of holy reverence for divine things and encourages the interior prayer to which all religious are called to practice unceasingly. Within this silence, the soul is able to discern the “still, small voice” (1 Kgs 19:12) of God and perceive his ever-so-gentle presence.
A common favorite hymn of those in monastic life is one adapted from the ancient liturgy of St. James, entitled “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence”. This hallowed piece evokes an increasing sense of reverence with every stanza, drawing the listener into the awe of Christ’s presence in his Incarnation, in the Holy Eucharist, and in every grace-filled soul. As we read the words to the hymn below, may each of us be drawn ever more deeply into this sacred stillness—the very atmosphere of God.
Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
set your minds on things eternal,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descended,
come our homage to command.
King of kings, yet born of Mary,
once upon the earth he stood;
Lord of lords we now perceive him
in the body and the blood.
He has given to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.
Rank on rank, the host of heaven
stream before him on the way,
as the Light of Light, descending
from the realms of endless day,
comes, the powers of hell to vanquish,
clears the gloom of hell away.
At his feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim with sleepless eye
veil their faces to his presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Lord Most High!”
The Solemnity of the Ascension of Christ is quickly approaching on the liturgical calendar. It arrives on Thursday of this week, forty days after Easter. This day is a joyful celebration of Jesus’ victory, although the joy is so often missed; many of us are tempted to feel a bit lonely, much like the apostles must have felt as they watched him disappear into the clouds. And yet we know that our Lord consoled his disciples with the words “I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Mt 28:20). A right understanding of this heavenly feast, then, requires a closer look at its meaning.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Dogma and Preaching, delivers a clear response to the common misunderstanding of the spiritual significance of the Ascension. He reminds us that we, in our humanity, also enter into heaven; man now has a permanent home in God’s presence. And what’s more, he says,
Heaven is not a place beyond the stars, but something much greater, something that requires far more audacity to assert: Heaven means that man now has a place in God. …Christ, the man who is in God and eternally one with God, is at the same time God’s abiding openness to all human beings. Thus Jesus himself is what we call “heaven”; heaven is not a place but a person, the person of him in whom God and man are forever and inseparably one. And we go to heaven and enter into heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. In this sense, “ascension into heaven” can be something that takes place in our everyday lives.
As we enter spiritually into Christ, then, so too do we enter heaven. And as we are certain of the indwelling of Christ in our souls, we can now truly understand the Scripture, “The kingdom of heaven is within you” (Lk 17:21)!
The “Work of God” is one of several names used for the Divine Office, the official prayer of the Church. All consecrated men and women, whether priest or religious, celebrate the Work of God, and by doing so partake of the prayer of Christ to the Father on behalf of the world. This daily worship is comprised mainly of the recitation of the psalms, which sanctifies each day.
In the Thesaurus Liturgiae Operis Dei, the Work of God is described as “a prayer that transcends every other kind of prayer. It is distinguished from them all because its specific character is the celebration of the mystery of Christ. Like the Eucharist, with which it is intimately linked, the Work of God is not simply calling past events to mind; it is making present that saving history whose beginning, middle and end are Christ.”
Here at St. Scholastica Priory we pray the Divine Office seven times a day. It is our main work. In it we bring with us all of the intentions and needs of the world. We thank God for the gift of his creation. It is the monastic response to all things and circumstances in our lives because the psalms themselves are the human responses to all of life. In the psalms, we find all the emotions that we experience: anger, longing, hope, despair, joy and sorrow. We bring our humanity into this prayer every day, seven times a day, year after year. It is humanity and divinity coming together. Jesus is praying for the world and we join him in his uninterrupted prayer to the Father. This is a mystery that is incomprehensible, yet I think God gives us a glimpse of this mystery through the structure of the liturgy: every single day, regardless of how difficult the day is or how wonderful, how much the whole world suffers or how much it is rejoicing, we sing “Laudate Dominum” (praise the Lord). And we don’t just sing it once, but consecutively in three psalms (Pss. 148-150). We praise God, believing deep within that he is all in all and that the world is in his loving and merciful hands. “Let everything that lives and breathes give praise to the Lord” (Ps. 150)!
In the wake of the Centennial Anniversary of the first appearance of Our Lady at Fatima, the whole Catholic world (and hopefully beyond!) is aglow. The grace that God has given the world through this miraculous event flows on, touching believers today as much as it did one hundred years ago.
Some say that Mary’s appearances in recent years are irrelevant to their lives, that they don’t see a place for private revelation. Indeed, the Church does not require that any member believe in these extraordinary events; she leaves her people free to accept or reject the message of Fatima, as a reflection of God himself who so greatly values human freedom. Yet the Church herself embraces and promotes those apparitions she determines to be authentic. What, then, should we believe?
Someone recently asked the question: “Why does Our Lady always appear to children?” Well, perhaps she approaches them in order to act as a mother, which is her most prominent role in the history of salvation. It could also be that she finds the greatest faith in these little ones who are not inclined to question the validity of what they see. “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mk 10:14).
The Church has confirmed the gift that God has given the world: a sign of his loving presence through his Mother. Let us then become children of this gift, children of God who embrace with joy and gratitude all that he bestows!
A lovely woman is with us for a month making an observership, so she’s seated in choir in the front row along with our two postulants. Over the course of the last two months it has been a wonderful experience for all of us to pass on our house and monastic traditions to these women. Handing down the traditions and customs of a community has always been deeply embedded in monastic life.
The skills and crafts of older monks and nuns are inherited by the new ones: everything from weaving to gardening tips to woodworking. A manual isn’t given to a newcomer to learn these; instead time is spent slowly learning the craft, the tools, the skills, and working hand in hand to gain more expertise, and to how to pray as one works.
But even more so, this touches all of Benedictine life, not just work. The whole of monastic life is a learning of practices and instruction for living the life of the Gospel. Benedictines are in “the school of the Lord’s service” (Prologue 45)—a lifelong education! Even the hymns and chants we chant in choir at the Divine Office were handed down: we’ve been singing some of them for over 1,500 years! And the Sayings of the Desert Fathers have been passed down from one generation to another. Why? Because what at core is transmitted from one nun to another, whether work or chants or counsel, is actually an experience of God. And now, I too, though a young monastic, have the opportunity to hand down to these newcomers what I have been given. We do this, not because we want everyone to be a masterful singer, or woodworker, or ascetic, but for one simple reason—to give glory to God.
“The love of God sometimes follows paths one could never have imagined, but it always reaches those who are willing to be found.” These words of Pope Benedict XVI for the 50th World Day of Prayer for Vocations reveal that a vocation is a gift so great that it often reaches beyond our ordinary, self-made plans—a gift that requires an open heart in order to be received. Here Pope Benedict explains what is means to experience the beauty and fullness of a life with Christ:
“[Jesus] lives now among the community of disciples that is the Church, and still today calls people to follow him. The call can come at any moment. Today too, Jesus continues to say, ‘Come, follow me’ (Mk 10:21). Accepting his invitation means no longer choosing our own path.
Following him means immersing our own will in the will of Jesus, truly giving him priority, giving him pride of place in every area of our lives: in the family, at work, in our personal interests, in ourselves. It means handing over our very lives to Him, living in profound intimacy with Him, entering through Him into communion with the Father in the Holy Spirit, and consequently with our brothers and sisters. This communion of life with Jesus is the privileged “setting” in which we can experience hope and in which life will be full and free.”