With profound thanks to our Texan friend Joseph Gutierrez.
+ The psalms are full of surprises—even for the monk upon whose lips the entirety of the psalter (all 150 psalms) can be found, according to the injunction of Our Holy Father, Saint Benedict, each week. Indeed, they contain so much that a lifetime of monastic observance is barely enough to digest all that they contain and all that the Fathers of the Church and other orthodox writers have found in them. The psalter is the prayer book of the monk, indeed of the Church, and it is our privilege as monks to draw anew each day from its riches.
More than half of the psalter is prayed at the office of matins (12 differing psalms–or parts of the longer ones–each day). That is quite a lot of psalmody and Saint Benedict wisely instructs that those who need it should spend the time after matins in their study (Rule, ch. 8), for we are to “sing knowingly/wisely,” with mind and voice in harmony (Rule, ch. 19). In truth, there are few amongst us, or in any monastery, who can exempt themselves from this command. Whilst there are many other truly good resources for our precious hours of lectio divina after matins, the monk who uses that time to immerse himself in the psalter cannot be going far wrong at all.
One recent ‘surprise’ was yielded by the psalter early in matins one Saturday morning—in its first psalm in fact, psalm 101. Perhaps I had not been sufficiently awake to appreciate it before, or perhaps God the Holy Ghost had been keeping it in store for His own good purposes. "Percussus sum ut fœnum, et aruit cor meum: quia oblitus sum comedere panem meaum,” we sing in the fourth verse (I am smitten as grass, and my heart is withered: because I have forgotten to eat my bread).
Who forgets to eat their bread? What is this about? How is it in any sense prayer?
But what is our bread? “What else is God’s Word but bread for the soul?” asks Saint Augustine (Exposition of Ps. 101, 5). And how many of us, monks by no means excluded, “forget” to eat our bread when we should, putting other things, even seemingly important ones, before that nourishment without which our hearts shall indeed wither?
Going further, grounded in the reality of the Christological nature of the psalms, Saint Augustine teaches us that “the True Bread has come, He in whose Body you can recall your forgetful condition,” and enjoins us: “cry to Him now from your poverty, that you may receive His riches. Eat now, for you are within the Body of Him who said ‘I am the Living Bread which has come down from heaven’ (Jn 6:41). You had forgotten to eat your bread, but now that He has been crucified all the ends of the earth will be reminded and will return to the Lord. Let remembrance succeed forgetfulness…” (Exposition of Ps. 101, 5).
In his chapter on the observance of Lent (ch. 49) read at the beginning of this Chapter, Saint Benedict directs us to “expiate the negligences of other times” in this sacred season. If we have forgotten to eat of the bread that is God’s Word, if we have partaken of it too lightly, I ask, I urge, that this Lent be the time that we correct that lest we wither from within.
The psalms sometimes proffer seemingly bread that requires quite some digestion. This is particularly true of the imprecatory (or “cursing”) psalms. We may prefer simpler, more straightforward, fare thank you very much, to something so nasty.
I confess that, whilst understanding its historical context, and accordingly its content, the penultimate psalm of this evening’s vespers, Super flumina Babylonis (Ps. 136), has always been one I would rather not spend that much time on pondering… It was, no doubt, an appropriate prayer upon the lips of the People of God during the harsh vicissitudes of the Babylonian captivity, but how one could pray words wishing babies heads dashed to pieces against rocks in a Christian context is something that always seemed difficult to say the least. Perhaps this psalm is even best avoided? (We know that the reformers of the breviary following the most recent Ecumenical Council induced the then pope to decide that this was a too difficult a problem and simply to edit the Word of God in the breviary he promulgated.) This seemingly indigestible bread is, however, capable of providing the most extraordinarily rich nourishment.
A good Christian layman, unfortunately never received into the Catholic Church, wrote much that is good, the good of which perdures. In his Reflections on the Psalms, Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963), reflects on the “horrible passage…about bashing the Babylonian babies against the stones.” I apologise for some of the language, but the author does nothing than reflect the gravity and reality of the issues under question:
“I know things in the inner world which are like babies; the infantile beginnings of small indulgences, small resentments, which may one day become dipsomania or settled hatred, but which woo us and wheedle us with special pleading and which seem so tiny, so helpless that in resisting them we feel like we are being cruel to animals. They begin whimpering to us ‘I don’t ask much, but,’ or ‘I had at least hoped,’ or ‘you owe yourself some consideration.’ Against all such petty infants (the dears have such winning ways) the advice of the psalm is best. Knock the little bastards’ brains out. And ‘blessed’ is he who can, for it is easier said than done.” (Reflections on the Psalms, Geoffrey Bles, London 1958, p. 136)
Saint Benedict, of course, is in prior agreement instructing us in the Prologue of the Rule to grasp evil suggestions as they arise and to dash them against the rock that is Christ. Decisive action is sometimes absolutely necessary. Perhaps even this Lent.
The psalms are true bread indeed. They may take some digestion, but they yield the necessary nourishment for those who would live from the bread of God’s word now and for eternity. My brothers, this Lent, and beyond, let us not forget to eat our bread, and to digest it well, for this is the very food of the path of salvation. +
Vous trouverez ci-dessous notre lettre aux amis pour le Careme 2020.
Our Lent 2020 newsletter is published below.
De plus, une mise à jour importante sur l'appel aux dons du monastère est jointe. Veuillez le lire et le partager avec les autres.
In addition, an important update on the monastery's appeal for donations is appended.
Please read it and share it with others.
Un formulaire de réponse peut être téléchargé dans la barre latérale à droite.
A reply form can be downloaded from the sidebar on the right.
Our USA Foundation, the Monastère Saint-Benoît Foundation USA, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) IRS-approved tax-exempt organization) is holding a Lenten Fundraiser & Buffet Dinner at the Lakewood Event and Conference Center 1200 Viridian Park Lane, Building A. Arlington, Texas, 76005, on Friday, 28 February 2020, from 6.30 – 8.00 pm.
The evening will feature a presentation by the Prior of the Monastère Saint-Benoît, Dom Alcuin Reid, on “Our monastic contribution to the Church of today,” and the premiere of a film on the monastery produced by Frozen Wave Productions.
Admission is free of charge. Donations may be made at the event. You are welcome to invite other guests. An RSVP is requested for catering purposes.
The evening's reflection will include the premiere of a short film on the monastery by Frozen Wave Productions, food, wine, and a request for support to the Benedictine community. Please see the invitation details below and please feel free to share this invitation to friends who may wish to be part of the event. RSVP to the postal or email address on the invitation (above) by Feb 26th. We hope to see many friends there.
In the light of the number of vocation enquiries arriving, we publish the following response to an enquirer to assist those considering whether Almighty God is calling them to a monastic vocation with us.
Thank you for your interest. It is a great sign of hope for the Church that young men and women in our day take the question of the possibility of a monastic vocation seriously. Almighty God will bless and reward you for so doing.
You ask what type of Benedictines we are. To be sure there are many types, and in recent decades some could be regarded, even in the broad sense, as quite astonishing interpretations of (or even, sadly, departures from) the Rule of St Benedict.
We seek to live a classical monastic life according to the Rule, centred around the solemn celebration of the opus Dei (the worship of Almighty God through the Divine Office, Holy Mass, the sacraments and other liturgical rites). We exist in order to live the liturgy, in the monastery church and through every element of our lives, to give glory to Almighty God and thereby to pray for the Church and the world. Like any monastery we provide hospitality for those who wish to share in something of our life. We promote liturgical study and celebration through practical formation, teaching and publications. So too, as much as we can, we live by the work of our hands, providing what food we can and taking daily care of the monastery ourselves.
We don’t seek to run parishes or schools, but a monastery. And there is more than enough to be getting on with in that. So too, there is a great deal that we can give to the Church and the world if our attentions and energies are given first and foremost to the worship of Almighty God. It may seem strange, but in ‘apparently’ not doing very much, in seeking the cloistered life, as Benedictine history reveals monks can do a very great deal indeed for the Church and the world.
We are “monk-monks” if you want. Or of you must, “Benedictines of the Sacred Liturgy” (which, of course, for classical monasticism is pure tautology). Some monastic communities do have a particular charism or devotion which defines them. Apart from the classical living of the Rule of the St Benedict in the circumstances in which God’s Providence places us, we do not.
Are we “traditionalists”? Well, no. We are Catholics. And we are monks following the Rule of Saint Benedict in its classical observance. But that, of course, places us in the very heart of Catholic Tradition. A monk lives from the Church’s living Tradition, from her Sacred Liturgy and the Word of God alive and acting in it, from the Fathers, the teaching of the Councils, etc., not as a museum curator, but as one drawing ever new from these great riches in attending to the daily duty of the further conversion of his own life, in addressing the circumstances and times in which his monastery finds itself, and in providing the contribution God’s Providence has in store for it in the Church and in the world.
But your question may well have been prompted by the common use of the term the “traditional Mass” or by people who self-identify as “traditionalist” Catholics, or similar. To be sure we celebrate the older forms of the Roman and Monastic rites, in Latin with Gregorian chant. We have received the Holy See’s permission to use the pre-Pius XII form of Holy Week and of the Pentecost Vigil. The use of these great riches of the Church’s Tradition is not a political statement, however. It is a conviction, certainly, which we will not compromise, that their full and integral celebration best sustains and nourishes monastic life, that they go hand in hand as it were. This is nothing at all extraordinary, but something quite natural and life-giving.
Of course, these rites have their place in the wider Church. They must not be confined to monasteries. Thanks be to Almighty God they are becoming more widely known and available. In 2007 Pope Benedict XVI wrote “It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” What better place to do this fully, beautifully and fruitfully on a daily basis than in a monastery?
Whatever of the use of the term “traditionalist”, we are not interested in placing ourselves in a box or in building a ghetto — that tendency can be rather sad and limiting. Rather, we seek to take our rightful place as a faithful Benedictine monastery in the local Church in hierarchical communion with the diocesan Bishop and through him with the Bishop of Rome, as must any Catholic of any age.
How do you know if you should apply? In truth, initially that is probably something impossible to know. If in your heart and soul there is some interest in the monastic life, and what you know about us seems to confirm or enhance that interest (please do look at the news page on our website, and download the PDF files of our newsletters, or scroll back through our Facebook page), then you should probably find out more. Writing to us, as you have, is a good first step. You may have questions arising from your own life, situation and discernment to date to discuss. We can do that. At an appropriate stage you can come and spend some time living with us, praying with us and working with us. One doesn’t usually “apply” to a monastery and then wait for a letter of acceptance or refusal by return as one might with employment or a programme of study. Rather, one grows into a monastic family gradually, indeed naturally, so that the application letters and references, etc., whilst necessary, should be more of a formality by the time they need to be done.
Of course, knowledge of the Rule of Saint Benedict, of the life of St Benedict written by St Gregory the Great, and of other monastic literature, would be good. We can give you some suggestions for reading. So too, your practice of the basics of Catholic life – participation in Holy Mass and the worthy reception of Holy Communion as frequently as possible, regular confession, daily prayer (if possible, from the Divine Office), is essential if you are to be open to the promptings of God’s grace in respect of a possible monastic vocation.
Our formation? It is fairly standard in respect of monastic life. Men accepted for formation spend at least three months as a postulant before clothing as a novice. Noviciate is a minimum of one year but may be extended as necessary up to two. At least three years are spent in simple vows before solemn profession.
Novices study of the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Psalms, monastic history, Gregorian chant, Latin, English and French as necessary according to the candidate and their education to date and learn appropriate practical skills. After simple profession the junior monk will continue his formation and studies according to his abilities and the monastery’s needs, some commencing philosophical and theological studies with a view to ordination, others in more specialised areas. Our community is open to men who have the desire and ability to become monk-priests and to those who seek the monastic life without ordination. Solemnly professed monks are encouraged to continue appropriate study and formation.
Whilst this is a basic structure – which certainly includes essential elements of formation laid down by the law of the Church – it is not a contract. If you join us there will be prayer, work, the practice of fraternal charity, and much more besides. God’s Providence will fill out the details. Perseverance in the daily generous and faithful living of the monastic life alongside your brethren is the best and most essential formation. If you are able to commit to the daily exigencies of that the formal stages or steps in monastic formation will occur naturally, in their proper context, in God’s good time.
Of course, entering monastic formation involves the renunciation of many freedoms (real or apparent) that one has in the world. Postulants and novices must put aside any internet or social media presence and whilst they are free to write to family and friends, or telephone family occasionally on greater feasts, their first duty is to grow into their new family in the monastery. Appropriate contact is possible, and family can visit – though not every week! It’s a question of stepping back sufficiently even from some good things, breaking bad habits where they exist (particularly in respect of the internet), using the space that this affords to grow in one’s monastic vocation, and then in due course of reengaging from the perspective and with the discipline of a monk. Our professed monks can visit their families when this is appropriate, and it always a joy to welcome their families to the monastery.
Qualifications necessary? It’s probably better to speak of dispositions than qualifications. The basic spiritual dispositions were mentioned above, and one needs to be in good health. If one reads the Prologue of the Rule of Saint Benedict it is clear that the monastic vocation is a call to return to the faithful and fruitful living of the Christian life. It is about the conversion of my life in the disciplined “school of the Lord’s service”, as Saint Benedict describes the monastery. This is perhaps the most fundamental qualification: my desire and will to leave behind my sloth, my sins – small or large – and to learn through my observance of the Rule and perseverance in charity how to “run with unspeakable sweetness of love in the way of God’s commandments.”
To be sure Benedictine monks are literate, intelligent disciples and a good education is helpful. An openness to, indeed a thirst for, further learning is important. But monastic history teaches us that many a monk who may never have been able to author a learned tome was nothing less than an accomplished professor in the school of the Lord’s service. Generosity of heart and soul, humility, good will and indeed good humour are all necessary for the monk—and we must all learn them. Indeed, we must come to have all those things which contribute to a tangible fraternal charity which truly loves and respects our brethren as we seek that conversion of our lives to which we are called.
What work do we do? For the monk the first work is that of prayer – to pray the Sacred Liturgy as fully and as efficaciously as he is able, day in day out, for the salvation of his own soul and for the good of the Church and the world, from early morning until night. That may sound daunting, but in fact it is the most natural and life-giving thing in the world for one with a monastic vocation. Rising at a ‘ridiculously’ early hour (we sing matins at 03h30) to worship God is natural for a monk (we do have a siesta after none each afternoon). So too, the precious time between matins and lauds (06h00) in which we engage in Lectio Divina – that divine reading in which we listen to, digest and contemplate the voice of God in the words of his inspired and privileged friends – sustains us. And in this space and silence as the night ends and the dawn breaks, as the world busies itself for another day, we are able to pray for all those who seek our prayers, whose vocations are elsewhere, who need our intercession to sustain their good and rightful activities in the world. This is a most beautiful element – and apostolate – of monastic life.
Our ‘day jobs’, which commence with the office of prime (07h30) and are permeated by the ‘little hours’ of terce, sext and none, vary between manual, intellectual and even monastic pastoral work. Every monastery has guests, and their care practically and pastorally as necessary, occupies us. The brethren work at their studies at whatever level, usually in the mornings. We encourage higher studies where appropriate of course, but one’s first task when entering a monastery is to become a monk—once that is the case all that we do, from doctorates to dishes, must be in harmony with the new man, clothed in the habit of Saint Benedict. Work away from the monastery can only be justified in that context for duly proportionate reasons.
Different brethren work in beekeeping, raising poultry for eggs and meat (we abstain from the flesh of quadrupeds, according to St Benedict’s Rule, apart from the great feasts), cultivating the land at our disposal (olives, lemons, herbs, vegetables, etc.), we have begun a small publishing house (see the Editions Pax inter Spinas page of our website), and the international Sacra Liturgia conferences and summer schools are coordinated from the monastery – the summer schools are hosted by us. We tend towards manual work in the afternoons before vespers (18h00), though this varies according to seasons and needs. We take turns in cooking and in the normal household chores. Compline (20h00) sees us end our day and, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary and cleaned with the sprinkling of holy water by the Father of our monastic family, we retire into the great silence of the night until matins.
Each new member of our monastic family brings with him gifts and talents – and opens himself to the opportunity of developing more as a monk – which augment what, as a monastery, we can do for the glory of Almighty God. So long as that activity does not eclipse, but arises from, what we are called to be – monks seeking ever to be more faithful to the Rule of St Benedict in our day – we can do very much indeed.
How to proceed with your discernment? Well, be careful not to become caught up in the popular pelagian “discernment” process where what “I” am looking for is at the centre, rather than an openness to discovering what God may be calling me to become (there’s an article on this in our Advent 2018 newsletter - PDF on the news page of our website). “I” am not at the centre of my vocational discernment. Rather, in following the prompting that Almighty God may want me to serve Him in a particular way, I must place myself and my will at His disposition and be prepared to go and become and do that which He calls me to be where He wills. If you seek His Will with these dispositions, and are truly ready to abandon your own, you shall not go wrong: his grace will sustain you (cf. 2 Cor. 12:7-10). Indeed, you will begin to be able to respond to and realise the challenges and possibilities He has in store for you.
You will know what Almighty God is calling to do when you sense – and test appropriately over time in the different stages of formation – that thirst, that excitement, that romance even, for a monastic ideal that with God’s grace seems somehow realisable in you, and through your own cooperation with God’s call, with this or that particular group of people. It is not unlikely that the sensation of this possibility will come as a quite a surprise: it will not come as the product of a ‘safe’ or calculated discernment, but will be a prompting of God’s grace in your heart and soul that is indeed pure grace. Its working out over time may well be very different from what you imagine at the beginning, and will certainly not be without difficulties and real challenges, but as you grow and mature in your vocation, its authenticity will be clear, and perseverance in fidelity to it will bring you salvation (cf. Mt 24:13).
Concluding his insightful survey of Benedictine history, The Benedictine Idea, Dom Hubert Van Zeller asserts the essentials of “silence, enclosure, the opus Dei carefully performed in choir, corporate and personal poverty” and the eschewing of activism for the success of Benedictine life. If we add to that familiar fraternal charity, you have the basics of what we have to offer. If we live that as faithfully as we are able, Almighty God will do much in us and through us and we shall help to build up something true and beautiful and good at a time when much in the Church and the world seems to be anything but. By all means come and see if Almighty God wishes to do just that through you, here, with us. There is nothing to be lost in finding out. Indeed, there is everything, not the least your salvation, to be gained. Be assured of our prayers.
+ Amidst the busyness of Advent, howsoever necessary that may be, this Ember week invites us to a more recollected preparation for the coming feast of Christmas. Today, a week before the Vigil of Christmas, the Sacred Liturgy itself becomes more intent, as it were, raising the rank of ferial days from third to second class, providing proper antiphons for the hours each day and, most notably, commencing the singing of the great and ancient ‘O’ Antiphons around which, in history, so many beautiful monastic customs have arisen over more than a thousand years.
“O Sapientia quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae,” [O Wisdom, who come from the mouth of the Most High (Sirach 24:5), you extend to the ends of the earth, and order all things with power and sweetness (Wisdom 8:1): come and teach us the way of prudence (Proverbs 9:6).] we sing tonight.
Which of us does not have need for further tuition in the way of the Cardinal Virtue of prudence? Who amongst us has perfected the exercise of right reason applied in practice? How well am I able to judge in any given situation what is virtuous and what is not, and to know how to achieve the former and avoid the latter?
Certainly, it is to be hoped that gradually we are growing in this, and in the other virtues; that we are making progress in them and not regressing. That is the very business of perseverance in the Christian life. Our Holy Mother the Church sings this antiphon each year not by way of quaint reminder of already achieved, or even of seemingly unachievable, ideals, but as a wise mother who calls her children to perseverance in this the practice of this virtue in the real, even difficult, circumstances in which we find ourselves in this Advent of the year of the Lord 2019. She shall do so again, if God spares us, in 2020. Please God she shall then be a proud mother having seen at least some progress made in us through our cooperation with that tuition for which we plead as we sing “O Sapientia” this evening.
This same principle of growth in virtue through faithful, even gritty, perseverance applies to every aspect of our Christian discipleship and without doubt to the living of our monastic vocation. Please God we are at least somehow in a better position in respect of both tonight than we were a year ago. We may have much, much more progress to make, but by God’s grace and mercy, tonight, we find ourselves persevering and seeking to move further forward, opening ourselves to the means of grace that Our Blessed Lord makes available to us in His Holy Church, above all in the sacraments, but also in and through the many riches of the Sacred Liturgy that it is our privilege as monks to celebrate as fully and as beautifully as we are able.
In this final week of Advent then, let us be intent upon opening ourselves ever more widely to His grace. Let us, make the words of the Collect of the Third Sunday of Advent our own, begging the Lord to incline His ear to our prayers, and to enlighten the darkness of our minds by the grace of His visitation this Christmas.
We may not yet be perfect come Christmas day this year, or even next. But let us make the effort to open our hearts, minds and souls to the grace Almighty God wishes to give us so that we, and our benefactors, friends and relatives whose intentions we carry with us into our choir stalls, shall nevertheless be somewhat further along the path of virtue and holiness.
That is a most worthy and beautiful gift we can each give to the Christ-child, to the Church, to our brethren—indeed to ourselves—this Christmas. +
Thinking of a monastic vocation? Please read:
Am I called to be a monk?
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