Category Archives: Saints

This sacrifice, prepared for the glory of Thy holy Name

Last evening at recreation, one of the brethren mentioned that he had read something recently in which Lenten fasting was presented, before all else, as a means of cutting down on expenses in order to practice the corporal works of mercy. Let me say, from the outset, that I am altogether favourable both to cutting down on expenses, and to practicing the corporal works of mercy. Saint Benedict himself makes the connection explicitly in the Instruments of Good Works set forth in Chapter IV of the Holy Rule: “To relieve the poor” comes immediately after “To love fasting”. Not for nothing was Catholic social activist Dorothy Day a Benedictine Oblate of Saint Procopius Abbey. Like Saint Anthony of the Desert, no sooner did Dorothy Day hear the Gospel read at Holy Mass, or follow it in her missal, than she was out the door of the church to put it into practice.

For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. (Matthew 25:35–36)

The particular view of fasting that sees it more or less exclusively in terms of a practice calculated to facilitate humanitarian relief is, nonetheless, seriously skewed. In our community exchange, several of us made the connection of this view of fasting with the view of celibacy taken by a popular Jesuit author:

Celibacy is a complex topic, but it is one that I can speak about from experience—30 years of experience. It is a different way of loving people—freely and deeply but without the attachment of what we call an “exclusive relationship.” One has many friends, and one gives and receives love, but one is not committed to a single person. (Father James Martin, S.J.)

If fasting—or the celibacy of the priest or monk—is viewed, presented, and practiced primarily in terms of an horizontal pragmatism, i.e. more money for good works and more time for  people, in my book, it misses the mark completely. In fact such things put me in mind of the “Americanism” condemned by Pope Leo XIII in 1899:

These single notable acts to which we have alluded will frequently upon a closer investigation be found to exhibit the appearance rather than the reality of virtue. Grant that it is virtue, unless we would “run in vain” and be unmindful of that eternal bliss which a good God in his mercy has destined for us, of what avail are natural virtues unless seconded by the gift of divine grace? Hence St. Augustine well says: “Wonderful is the strength, and swift the course, but outside the true path.” (Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, January 22, 1899)

If one’s fasting merely allows one to hand on to needy people the fruits of one’s economies, it is not the fasting of the saints. It is, as Saint Augustine says, “outside the true path”. And if one’s celibacy is no more than “a different way of loving people” it exhibits, as Pope Leo XIII says, “the appearance rather than the reality of virtue”.

Saint Thomas teaches that fasting has a three–fold purpose: (1) in order to bridle the lusts of the flesh, wherefore the Apostle says, “In fasting, in chastity” (2 Corinthians 6:5-6), since fasting is the guardian of chastity; (2) in order that the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things: hence it is related of Daniel that he received a revelation from God after fasting for three weeks; (3) in order to satisfy for sins: wherefore it is written,”Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning” (Joel 2:12)”

As for the celibacy of a priest, monk, or religious of any stripe, Saint Augustine sees it, first of all, as a an act of mercy to one’s own soul and a sacrifice offered to God:

Mercy is the true sacrifice, and therefore it is said, as I have just quoted, with such sacrifices God is well pleased. All the divine ordinances, therefore, which we read concerning the sacrifices in the service of the tabernacle or the temple, we are to refer to the love of God and our neighbor. For on these two commandments, as it is written, hang all the law and the prophets. Thus a true sacrifice is every work which is done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship, and which has a reference to that supreme good and end in which alone we can be truly blessed. And therefore even the mercy we show to men, if it is not shown for God’s sake, is not a sacrifice. For, though made or offered by man, sacrifice is a divine thing, as those who called it sacrifice meant to indicate. Thus man himself, consecrated in the name of God, and vowed to God, is a sacrifice in so far as he dies to the world that he may live to God. For this is a part of that mercy which each man shows to himself; as it is written, Have mercy on your soul by pleasing God. Our body, too, as a sacrifice when we chasten it by temperance, if we do so as we ought, for God’s sake, that we may not yield our members instruments of unrighteousness unto sin, but instruments of righteousness unto God (Romans 6:13). Exhorting to this sacrifice, the apostle says, I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.If, then, the body, which, being inferior, the soul uses as a servant or instrument, is a sacrifice when it is used rightly, and with reference to God, how much more does the soul itself become a sacrifice when it offers itself to God, in order that, being inflamed by the fire of His love, it may receive of His beauty and become pleasing to Him, losing the shape of earthly desire, and being remoulded in the image of permanent loveliness? (Saint Augustine, The City of God, Book X, Chapters 5 and 6)

A man fasts for the same reason a priest, monk, or religious vows celibacy: in order to be “united to God in holy fellowship”. Both fasting and clerical or monastic celibacy are sacrificial in character, in that both are ordered to the worship of God and, therefore necessarily, to the altar from which Christ, Priest and Victim, reigning from the Tree of the Cross, draws all men to Himself (cf. John 12:32).

If a man, by fasting, finds himself better able to relieve the necessities of the poor, this benefit accrues to the sacrificial significance of fasting as something “done that we may be united to God in holy fellowship” (Saint Augustine) and derives from it. Similarly, if a man, by vowing celibacy, finds that he is freer to serve the members of Christ, this affective and material freedom accrues to the sacrificial character of celibacy and derives from it. For a Christian, neither fasting nor celibacy are anthropocentrically driven; both, rather, are theocentrically driven and, radically ordered to the latria (divine worship) of the altar. The sublime prayers said with regard to the holy oblations in the Offertory of the Mass can be said just as truly with regard to the sacrificial offerings of fasting and celibacy:

Accept us, O Lord, in the spirit of humility and contrition of heart, and grant that the sacrifice which we offer this day in Thy sight may be pleasing to Thee, O Lord God.
Come, O almighty and eternal God, the Sanctifier, and bless this sacrifice, prepared for the glory of Thy holy Name.

On this point, Dorothy Day—a woman as intimately familiar with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as she was with sacrifice in all of life—would, I think, heartily agree.

Pope Saint Gregory the Great

Westminster_Cathedral_Non_Angli_sed_Angeli_si_Christiani

Your Servants Through Jesus

The feast of Saint Gregory the Great, falling in the midst of Lent on March 12th, brings joy to the whole Church and, in a special way, to the Benedictine Order. Like Saint Paul, Saint Gregory had a passion for preaching “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Cor 4:4). “For we preach not ourselves, but Jesus Christ our Lord; and ourselves your servants through Jesus” (2 Cor 4:5).

Father and Doctor

Saint Gregory the Great takes his place among the Fathers of the Church, alongside of Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine and Saint Leo the Great. Saint Gregory is a father in the power of the Holy Ghost, sowing the seeds of contemplation even today by means of his writings. The writings of Saint Gregory allow us to hear his voice and to thrive on his teaching. Thus does he continue to help us grow up to maturity in Christ. Saint Gregory the Great is the Doctor of Lectio Divina, the Doctor of Compunction, and the Doctor of Contemplation.

Illumined by the Love of Jesus Christ

Saint Gregory was born into a patrician family in the year 540. His prestigious family background and education prepared him to do great things in Rome. His place was among the learned and esteemed. By the age of thirty-five, he was well on the way to a successful life, according to worldly standards. And then, like so many saints before him and like so many after him, Gregory was illumined by the love of Jesus Christ in so intimate a way that it changed the direction of his life. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:6).

The Monastic Haven

The Gospels and the Psalms became his inseparable companions. Gregory became a monk, a disciple in the school of the Holy Patriarch Saint Benedict, although not without a struggle. “Even after I was filled with heavenly desire,” he says, “I preferred to be clothed in secular garb. Long-standing habit so bound me that I could not change my outward life…. Finally, I fled all this with anxiety and sought the safe haven of the monastery. Having left behind what belongs to the world (as I mistakenly thought at the time), I escaped naked from the shipwreck of this life.”

Servant of the Servants of God

Saint Gregory was acutely aware of his own fragility. Again, Saint Paul reveals the soul of Gregory: “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us” (2 Cor 4:7). Benedictine obedience, silence, and humility, together with the daily round of the Work of God, prepared Saint Gregory to become the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff and, to use his own expression, the Servant of the Servants of God.

All Pope and All Monk

Saint Gregory did not live the cloistered life for very long, but it marked him indelibly, almost painfully, and this for life. His talents and learning did not go unnoticed. Pope Gelasius sent him as his special delegate to Constantinople where he remained for six years. Upon his return to Rome, he was elected Pope. All his life, Saint Gregory longed for the silence of the monastery. All his life, he lamented that the affairs of the Church consumed him, leaving him with little time for prayer and contemplation. Outwardly, Gregory was all pope; inwardly, he was all monk.

Non Angli Sed Angeli

Zeal to make known “the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus” (2 Cor 4:6) compelled Pope Gregory to send the Roman monk Augustine together with forty others to preach the Gospel of Christ in England. Saint Gregory had a special affection for the English. Saint Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History, recounts the origin of the English mission:

Nor must we pass by in silence the story of the blessed Gregory, handed down to us by the tradition of our ancestors, which explains his earnest care for the salvation of our nation. It is said that one day, when some merchants had lately arrived at Rome, many things were exposed for sale in the market place, and much people resorted thither to buy: Gregory himself went with the rest, and saw among other wares some boys put up for sale, of fair complexion, with pleasing countenances, and very beautiful hair. When he beheld them, he asked, it is said, from what region or country they were brought, and was told, from the island of Britain, and that the inhabitants were like that in appearance.

He again inquired whether those islanders were Christians, or still involved in the errors of paganism, and was informed that they were pagans. Then fetching a deep sigh from the bottom of his heart, “Alas! What pity,” said he, “that the author of darkness should own men of such fair countenances; and that with such grace of outward form, their minds should be void of inward grace.” He therefore again asked, what was the name of that nation, and was answered, that they were called Angles. “Right,” said he, “for they have an angelic face, and it is meet that such should be co-heirs with the Angels in heaven.”

Pray today for the Ordinariates established by Pope Benedict XVI for Anglicans returning to full communion with the See of Rome! Saint Gregory is the “father in Christ” of the Ecclesia Anglicana. Pray that, through his intercession, the Ordinariates may flourish unimpeded in their mission, and so accomplish that which Pope Benedict XVI had in view when he made them possible.

The Word of God

Saint Gregory preached incessantly. He knew that the Church would flourish only if the faithful were nourished with the Word of God. His homilies and other writings were read and copied throughout the Middle Ages and, in this way, came down to us. Saint Gregory continues to feed us with the Word of God. He calls us to a heart-piercing, life-changing reading of the Scriptures. Blessed John XXIII read and re-read Saint Gregory’s Rule for Pastors so as to better fulfill his own mission as Servant of the Servants of God. The saints engender saints. We are known by the company we keep and by the books we read!

The Sacred Liturgy

Pope Saint Gregory was deeply concerned with the dignity and beauty of the Sacred Liturgy. In this he was a worthy son of Saint Benedict. He encouraged the study of liturgical chant and the formation of singers for the glory of God. Seek Saint Gregory’s intercession at the present time, so that the measures taken by Pope Benedict XVI to restore beauty, reverence and dignity to the celebration of the Holy Mysteries may continue to be fostered in the Church. The Holy Father spoke of Saint Gregory the Great in Summorum Pontificum. This is what he said:

Up to our own times, it has been the constant concern of supreme pontiffs to ensure that the Church of Christ offers a worthy ritual to the Divine Majesty, ‘to the praise and glory of His name,’ and ‘to the benefit of all His Holy Church.’

Since time immemorial it has been necessary – as it is also for the future – to maintain the principle according to which ‘each particular Church must concur with the universal Church, not only as regards the doctrine of the faith and the sacramental signs, but also as regards the usages universally accepted by uninterrupted apostolic tradition, which must be observed not only to avoid errors but also to transmit the integrity of the faith, because the Church’s law of prayer corresponds to her law of faith.’

Among the pontiffs who showed that requisite concern, particularly outstanding is the name of St. Gregory the Great, who made every effort to ensure that the new peoples of Europe received both the Catholic faith and the treasures of worship and culture that had been accumulated by the Romans in preceding centuries. He commanded that the form of the sacred liturgy as celebrated in Rome (concerning both the Sacrifice of Mass and the Divine Office) be conserved. He took great concern to ensure the dissemination of monks and nuns who, following the Rule of St. Benedict, together with the announcement of the Gospel illustrated with their lives the wise provision of their Rule that “nothing should be placed before the work of God.” In this way the sacred liturgy, celebrated according to the Roman use, enriched not only the faith and piety but also the culture of many peoples. It is known, in fact, that the Latin liturgy of the Church in its various forms, in each century of the Christian era, has been a spur to the spiritual life of many saints, has reinforced many peoples in the virtue of religion and fecundated their piety.

Teach Us to Sing Wisely

Saint Gregory the Great, Servant of the Servants of God, be present to us today as Father, Shepherd, and Teacher. Teach us to sing wisely, that the words on our lips may pierce our hearts, raising us to the love of heavenly things, and to the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, now and always and unto the ages of ages.

Bernadette

BernadetteBest.jpgHer Feast
Today, February 18th, is the feast of Saint Bernadette.  I have long cherished the Collect for her feast:

O God, protector and friend of the humble, Who filled Thy servant, Mary Bernard, with joy by the apparition and conversation of the Immaculate Virgin Mary: grant, we pray, that by the simple way of faith we may be counted worthy to see Thee face to face in heaven. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son, Who, with Thee, liveth and reigneth in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God forever and ever.

When Saints Are Lovers
My book on a flight to Ireland nine years ago was When Saints Are Lovers, The Spirituality of Maryknoll Co–Founder, Thomas F. Price by John T. Seddon III. Father Price was very taken with Saint Bernadette. The little Saint of Lourdes and Nevers became his confidante and intimate companion. His relationship to Jesus and Mary was inextricably bound up with his love for Bernadette.

Father Price “met” Saint Bernadette on the occasion of his first visit to Lourdes in July 1911. He passed through various stages in his relationship with Saint Bernadette; these might be compared to what a man and woman experience in friendship, courtship, betrothal, and marriage. Father Price went so far as to wear a wedding band inscribed with his name and that of Bernadette. The culmination of this Father%20Price.jpgmystical relationship was in the marriage of Father Price and Bernadette together to the Divine Bridegroom, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mary’s Priest: The Journey of a Heart
In 1918, Father Thomas Price left the United States with the first three Maryknoll missionaries to China. A year later Father Price died there. His body was laid to rest in China but his heart was, as he requested, removed from his body to be placed close to his dear Bernadette in Nevers, France. Father Price’s life was profoundly marked by devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He attributed his survival from a shipwreck off the coast of North Carolina in 1876 to a miraculous intervention of Our Lady. In 1908, Father Price adopted the practice of writing a daily “letter” to the Mother of God. It became a kind of written conversation with her, a complement to the daily Rosary and Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary to which he remained faithful all his life. In 1923, Father Price’s heart was carried from China to Nevers by a French missionary and placed next to the body of Saint Bernadette. His body was exhumed in 1936 and returned to Maryknoll in Ossining, New York.

A Remarkable Discovery

A LScholastica.jpgetter Attributed to Saint Scholastica, Virgin and Abbess

A certain researcher in Rome recently uncovered the manuscript of a late medieval copy of an earlier copy of a letter attributed to Scholastica, abbess of Plombariola. The original letter appears to have been written to another abbess, named Flavia, in about the year 535. It treats of the observance of Lent.

Salutation
To my beloved sister in Christ, the Lady Flavia, abbess of the handmaids of the Lord near Benevento. Grace and peace from Scholastica, abbess in the school of the Lord’s service that is at Plombariola.

The School of the Lord’s Service
Your letter brought me much joy and, bound by the sweetness of affection that unites us in holy friendship, I hasten to respond to your questions “with sincere and humble charity” (RB 72:10). Know that I have no teaching of my own; from the time of my veiling (velatio) the commands and teaching of my brother, blessed by grace and by name, “have mingled like the leaven of divine justice in my mind” (RB 25). In truth, dear sister, he who is my brother according to the flesh, has become my father in the Spirit. It was he who named me Scholastica, saying that, like him, I was destined to remain in the “school of the Lord’s service” (RB Pro:45). In this school I have found “nothing that is harsh or hard to bear” (RB Pro:46). On the contrary, through the continual practice of monastic observance and the life of faith” (RB Pro:49), my heart is opened wide, and even now I am running in the way of God’s commandments in a sweetness of love that is beyond words (cf. RB Pro: 49).

The Yearly Visit
I see my venerable brother but once a year, and even then he refuses to come to me, not wanting to leave the enclosure of his monastery. I am obliged to go to him at Monte Cassino, inspired by the example of the Queen of the South who traveled far to sit at the feet of Solomon and listen to his wisdom. My brother himself says that “we must hurry to do now what will profit us forever” (RB Pro 44). I will continue to go to him as long as I am able to make the journey, trusting that he who formed us together in our mother’s womb will one day bring us “together to life everlasting” (cf. RB 73:12).

Holy Lent
You ask me to tell you how we observe Lent here at Plombariola. My venerable brother, in his “little Rule written for beginners” (RB 73:8), says that “a monk’s life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character” (RB 49:1). He is also the first to admit that “such strength is found only in the few” (RB 49:2). Following his teaching, I urge my sisters to “keep the holy days of Lent with a special purity of life, and also at this holy season to make reparation for the failings of other times” (RB 49:3). I try to order Lent in my monastery with “discretion, the mother of virtues” (RB 54:19) in such a way that “the strong may desire to carry more, and the weak are not afraid” (RB 54:19). The task of ruling souls and serving women of different characters is, as you know well, arduous and difficult (cf. RB 2:31). I must adapt and fit myself to all. Dear old Nonna Fabiola needs to be encouraged. Sister Petronilla, thick-skinned as she is, responds only to sharp rebuke, whereas Sister Anastasia has to be persuaded. With some, I have to be tough, and with others lovingly affectionate. This is my brother’s way, and by following it, I have “not lost any of the flock entrusted to me, and rejoice as my good flock increases” (RB 2:32).

But I digress, dear Mother Flavia. Your question was about Lent. My venerable brother says that we are to “guard ourselves from faults” during this holy time. To do this, one must “always remember all God’s commandments, and constantly turn over in one’s heart how hell will burn those who despise him by their sins and how eternal life has been prepared for those who fear him” (RB 7:11). My brother calls this the first step of humility. As for me, my faults appear daily in the bright mirror of the Scriptures. I have no excuse for putting off the labour of my conversion. As the psalmist says: “Thou hast set our evil-doings before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance” (Ps 89:8).

Four Lenten Practices
My venerable brother recommends four Lenten practices: “prayer with tears, reading, compunction of heart, and abstinence” (RB 49:4). The first, prayer with tears, has always come easily to me. God has never refused me anything I asked of him with tears. I have no doubt that he “has set my tears in his sight” (Ps 55:9). Tears in prayer are no cause for alarm. The heart pressed by the hand of God in prayer weeps just as a sponge held tightly in your hand or mine gives forth water.

Sacred reading is my brother’s second Lenten practice. He considers it so important that he completely changes the horarium of his monastery during Lent to make more time for it. Here we do the same. Nothing is done at Monte Cassino that we do not do here at Plombariola. In Lent our hours of reading are “from the morning until the end of the Third Hour” (RB 48:14). This means we do not begin work after Prime, as is the custom at other times, but consecrate to sacred reading the best three hours of the morning. We are alert then, and the early morning light in the cloister is wonderfully clear and bright.

When your letter arrived I was, in fact, choosing Lenten books from our library for my nuns. My venerable brother says that this is one of the most important tasks of an abbess. When a sister chooses her own book she is all too often swayed by personal prejudices and taste. It is easy to avoid the book that will prick the soul with compunction. And so I choose carefully for my little flock, imitating Nonna Lucia, our infirmarian, an expert dispenser of medicines for every affliction. In choosing the Lenten books, I try to offer a remedy for the sick soul, a comfort for the weary, a joy for the downhearted, a light for the path of the one who seems to have lost her way. Following my brother’s practice, I will give them out on the First Sunday of Lent. Each sister will come forward to receive her book from my hand, seeing in it a provision of daily bread for the forty days of the Great Fast. After Pascha, the nuns will return their books in good condition, having read them through from the beginning (cf. RB 48:15).

Human weakness being what it is, I am obliged nonetheless to appoint two seniors to go round the monastery during the hours set aside for reading to see whether perchance they come upon some lazy sister who is engaged in doing nothing or, God forbid, in chatter, and is not intent upon her book. Such nuns are not only profitless to themselves but lead others astray too (cf. RB 48:17-18). Every year I hope that such will not be the case, but I must tell you, dear Mother Flavia, that one Lent I had to reprimand a certain chatterbox once and a second time. Finally, I had to punish her in accordance with my brother’s Rule, so that others might be warned (cf. RB 48:19-20). Happily, she has made progress since then and I pray that this Lent she will attend to her reading in quiet and in peace.

My venerable brother says that during this sacred season we are “to increase in some way the normal standard of our service, as for example, by special prayers, or by a diminution in food or drink” (RB 49:5-6). It is edifying to see Nonna Aquilina lingering in the oratory after Compline. Even Pulcheria, our littlest oblate, asked me if she might give up the sweet bread and butter given her after None each day. Nonna Marcellina asked me if she might pray the Beati immaculati (Psalm 118) daily through Lent. She knows it by heart, of course. Ah, dear Mother Flavia, joys such as these compensate abundantly for the anxieties and sorrows that an abbess so often carries within her heart.

Quadragesimal Joy
My venerable brother says that Lenten joy is the most important thing of all. Some would make of Lent a time of gloom and lamentation. Not my brother! When I asked him on my last visit to Monte Cassino how my nuns were to keep Lent, he smiled broadly and said, “Let each one spontaneously in the joy of the Holy Spirit make some offering to God concerning the allowance granted her” (RB 49:6). My brother is known for his gravitas, but to me he reveals a heart brimming over with joy in the Holy Spirit. It is true that he has no time for silliness, or giddy laughter, or talkativeness — he has always loved silence more than talking, even from the time we were children — but that silence is the seal of his joy. He pours out his joy like a fine wine, with discretion; but his joy itself is boundless.

Oblation
Often my venerable brother speaks of offering. He wants our Lenten practices to be a holy oblation offered to God (cf. RB 49:6). I saw him once standing close to the altar at the moment of Holy Communion with his hands raised in prayer, completely taken up in the offering of Christ to the Father of infinite majesty. This, I think, is why he prescribed the singing of the Suscipe before the altar on the day of my monastic consecration.

With the Abbot’s Blessing
This epistle is already too long, dear Mother Flavia, and I am obliged to write now with smaller letters in the margins of the parchment, but there is still one important thing on which my venerable brother insists. Before my first Lent as abbess, he said that “every sister should propose to me whatever she intends to offer, and it should be performed with my blessing and approval” (cf. RB 49:8-9). This was very humbling for me, I hardly felt equal to the task, but he reminded me that I should “always bear in mind what I am called, and fufill in my actions the name of One who is called greater” (RB 2:1-2). I give you the same counsel, dear sister in Christ: “Anything done without the permission of the spiritual mother will be put down to presumption and vainglory, and deserving no reward” (RB 49:9). Do then as I do, following the example of my venerable brother. “Everything must be carried out with the approval of the abbess” (RB 49:10).

Closing
I have tried to answer your question, reverend Lady — always my dear sister in Christ. I greet you and those who, being with you, “truly seek God” (RB 58:7) with a holy kiss. Let us now “with the joy of spiritual desire, look forward to holy Pascha” (RB 49:7).
+ Scholastica, abbess

Saint Antony of the Desert, Father of Monks

anthonySaint Antony and Signor Siciliano
Isn’t this a wonderful painting of Saint Antony? Flemish Jan Gossaert painted it in Rome in 1508 as the right panel of a diptych. The left panel (not shown) depicts the Mother of God. What interests me is the tender spiritual relationship that the artists depicts between Saint Antony and the donor, one Antonio Siciliano.

The Ear of the Heart
Notice the holy abbot’s right hand gently touching Signor Siciliano’s shoulder. In his left hand Saint Antony holds the book of the Scriptures and his prayer beads. Antony’s face is sweet and gentle. Does he not have a lovely smile? His ear is exposed: that ear through which the Word of God entered his mind and descended into his heart.

Precocious Piety
The donor, in contrast, appears sincere, but stiff; he is looking toward the Madonna on the other panel. His rigid piety lacks the seasoned humanity of the old abbot, tried by temptation and marked by compassion. I have known many young men, precociously pious and fascinated by the monastic life, but harsh and rigid in their piety and perfectionism. It takes, sometimes, years — even decades — of humiliating failures and falls before one learns the secret of abandonment to the mercy of Christ that makes one patient, compassionate, and tender.  Signor Siciliano’s handsome dog is wearing a stylish red collar. He (or is it she?) is gazing at his master, fascinated by what is going on. Picture yourself in the place of Signor Siciliano. Let the hand of Saint Antony bless and guide you today.

Jan_Gossaert_-_St_Anthony_with_a_Donor_-_WGA09762A Certain Primacy Among the Saints
The sacred liturgy makes it clear that Saint Antony of the Desert holds a certain primacy among the saints. The 1970 Missal gives a complete set of proper texts; the reformed Lectionary gives proper readings. (Is there a possibility of mutual enrichment here?) Saint Antony is a primary reference, a model of how we are to hear the Word of God, an inspiration in spiritual combat, a radiant icon of holiness for the ages.

No Rest From Spiritual Combat
The feast of Saint Antony, falling between the Christmas festivities and Septuagesima, is an invitation to shake off the sluggishness that comes with winter, a bracing reminder that there is no rest from spiritual combat, and that “the monk’s life ought at all seasons to bear a Lenten character” (RB 49:1). It is the custom in some monasteries on the feast of Saint Antony to go out to the barn to bless the animals. He is the patron of horses, pigs, cattle, and other domestic animals. Icons of Saint Antony often show his little pet pig nestled in the folds of his tunic. Our little staffie, Hilda, will undoubtedly receive her Saint Antony Day blessing very meekly.

Ice on the Holy Water
Making a trip to the barn in the mid-January cold may be as much of a blessing for the monks as for the animals. It is a wake-up call. One has to use the aspergillum to break the ice that forms on the Holy Water. One sees the animals shudder when the cold water hits them. These are very physical reminders of a spiritual truth. We cannot afford to become cozy and comfortable in a spirituality of feather comforters for the soul. From time to time we, like the barn animals, need the salutary shock of cold Holy Water splashed in our face!

The Life of Antony
More than forty years ago dear Trappist Father Marius Granato (+ 10 November 2003) of Spencer introduced me to the Life of Antony by Saint Athanasius. Heady reading for a fifteen year old boy! Shortly thereafter a wise Father told me that one should read the Life of Antony once a year. These seasoned monks knew exactly what they were doing: they were proposing a model of holiness perfectly adapted to the ideals of a youth starting out on the spiritual journey. After all, the Life of Antony begins with an account of his boyhood. He was about “eighteen, or even twenty” when, going into church one day, he heard the Gospel being chanted, and understood that it was Christ speaking to him. “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell what thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come follow me” (Mt 19:21).

A Book For All Ages
Why counsel an annual reading of the Life of Antony? Because it is a text that, in some way, grows with us. If it is suitable for the eager young seeker, it is just as suitable to the Christian wrestling with the oppressive noon-day devil or with the cunning demons of midlife. For the Christian faced with the onset of old age, it is a comforting book. The Life of Antony belongs on the bookshelf of every priest; it should be within the reach of all monks,  and even of our Benedictine Oblates.

0117anthony.jpgHe Never Looked Gloomy
The portrait of Saint Antony at the end of his life shows a man transfigured: “His face,” says Saint Athanasius, “had a great and marvelous grace. . . . His soul being free of confusion, he held his outer senses also undisturbed, so that from the soul’s joy his face was cheerful as well, and from the movements of the body it was possible to sense and perceive the stable condition of the soul, as it is written, ‘When the heart rejoices, the countenance is cheerful.” Antony . . . was never troubled, his soul being calm, and he never looked gloomy, his mind being joyous” (Life of Antony, 67). This serenity of countenance is what monastic life is supposed to produce!

The Lectionary
The Proper Readings given today in the reformed lectionary provide us with a rich lectio divina. Even those who follow the 1962 Missal would do well to search out the Proper texts given in the reformed lectionary.

Spiritual combat (Eph 6:10-11).
Struggle with the powers of darkness (Eph 6:12-13).
Constant prayer in the Spirit (Eph 6:18).
Watchfulness (Eph 6:18).
God as chosen portion and cup (Ps 15:5).
God present and giving counsel, even in the night (Ps 15:7-8).
The voice of Christ calling to disappropriation (Mt 19:21).
The perfect life that leads to treasure in heaven (Mt 19:21).
The camel and the eye of the needle (Mt 19:24).

But With God All Things Are Possible
And finally, there is the very last line of the Gospel, the one line that fills us with an irrepressible hope: “With men this is impossible: but with God all things are possible” (Mt 19:26). Hold this in your heart today: “With God all things are possible.”

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Founded in 2012 in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland, and canonically erected in 2017, Silverstream Priory is a house of monks living under the Rule of Saint Benedict. The monastery is under the patronage of Our Lady of the Cenacle. The monks of Silverstream Priory holding to the use of Latin and Gregorian Chant, celebrate the “Opus Dei” (Work of God, the sacred Liturgy) in its traditional Benedictine form and Holy Mass in the “Usus Antiquior” (Extraordinary Form) of the Roman Rite. As Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, they aspire to assure ceaseless prayer before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation. Praying and working in the enclosure of the monastery, the monks of Silverstream offer their life for the sanctification of priests labouring in the vineyard of the Lord. They undertake various works compatible with their monastic vocation, notably hospitality to the clergy in need of a spiritual respite, and a publishing house, the Cenacle Press.

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