Category Archives: Silverstream Priory, County Meath

Correspondence on the Monastic Vocation 11

1024px-Portrait_of_an_Olivetan_Monk_-_Battista_Franco_(attributed)

Disclaimer: The series of letters entitled “Correspondence on the Monastic Vocation”, while based on the real questions of a number of men in various places and states of life, is entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, institutions, or places is purely coincidental.

Letter 11: Anthony

Dear Father,

Thank you for taking the time to answer some of my questions. I especially appreciated what you wrote me concerning the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in your Benedictine life. Somehow, I had never made the connection between Our Lady and the Rule of Saint Benedict. You gave me an entirely new insight into the role of Mary in the monastic life. Up until now, I understood devotion to Our Lady in terms of saying the rosary, wearing the scapular or the miraculous medal, and going on pilgrimage to Knock and to Lourdes. I am familiar with the total consecration to Mary as Saint Louis de Montfort taught it and, at different moments in my own journey, I have tried to make it.

What strikes me, about in what you wrote about devotion to Mary in the monastic life, is that you see it, not merely in terms of certain outward practices and prayers, but as something really essential. As you wrote, Mary is the pattern of monks. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that a monk does exactly what Mary is described as doing in Saint Luke’s Gospel: “But Mary kept all these words, pondering them in her heart”. I shall continue to pray about this. I feel that new horizons are opening before me.

Now, Father, may I ask you to explain further the place of Eucharistic adoration in your life? My sense is that “perpetual adoration” at Silverstream is not exactly what comes to mind when I think of “perpetual adoration”. I also heard from friends who visited Silverstream that you do not, as a rule, have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament every day. I find this confusing. I always thought that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament required exposition. In my parish, for example, there is exposition every day in an “adoration chapel”. An extraordinary minister (or the sacristan) opens the tabernacle and places the Host in the monstrance. This is all I have ever known and I assumed that adoration and exposition always go together. Why is this not the case at Silverstream Priory? Sorry, Father, for assailing you with questions, but I really do want to understand better what you monks are about.

I hope to visit Silverstream soon. Things are busy in my life and it is not easy for me to get away for a few days, but the more I learn about you the more I want to visit. I will try to get out to Silverstream before the end of the year.

Anthony

Dear Anthony,

You do persevere in seeking answers to your questions! I shall try to respond to your questions concerning adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament as we practice it at Silverstream. We Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration see in the Sacred Host the radiant divine icon of what we are called to become. A man becomes what he contemplates. So it is with us: the more we contemplate the Sacred Host, the more do we begin to resemble what we contemplate. Saint Paul says, “We all beholding the glory of the Lord with open face, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

The hidden Christ, the silent Christ, the humble Christ of the Tabernacle models the virtues of the Rule of Saint Benedict in the most astonishing way, and communicates those same virtues to those who linger in His company. Far from being a baroque adornment detracting from some mythical primitive Benedictine sobriety, Eucharistic adoration is the wellspring of the holiness that Saint Benedict describes in his Rule.

Adoration of the Sacred Host is the school of hiddenness,
— of silence,
— of solitude,
— of humility,
— of obedience,
— of servanthood,
— of an abiding love that calls no attention to itself,
— of ceaseless prayer to the Father,
— of the Work of God,
— of compassion for sinners,
— of burning love for souls,
— of gentleness towards the weak,
— of Divine Hospitality,
— of monastic perfection, that is, the passion for God alone.

All of these things are found in the text of the Holy Rule, and all of them are found in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, as in their very source. The Rule of Saint Benedict describes the fruits of grace in a monk; the Sacred Host shows forth and, even more,causes the same fruits of grace in a monk.

The word “Host” means sacrificial victim, it refers to “the Lamb, which was slain from the beginning of the world” (Apocalypse 13:8), the very Lamb who, at Knock here in Ireland, standing in front of the Cross, showed Himself surrounded by the Angels. Saint Thomas says, “This sacrament is called a “hostia” (victim) inasmuch as it contains Christ, Who is a “hostia suavitatis”, that is a sacrificial victim of sweetness, in reference to Ephesians 5:2: “Christ also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness” (Summa III, q. 73, art. 4).

Abbot Celestino Maria Colombo (1874–1935), whose eightieth anniversary of death we celebrated on 24 September 2015, spoke of his desire to see monks who would be “sons of the Host for the Host”. Abbot Celestino prophesied the vocation of men in whom the influence and power of the Sacred Host — contemplated, adored, and received — is such that they are “ravished unto the love of things invisible” (Preface of the Mass of Christmas) and so become, with Christ, one single sacrificial offering to the Father.

Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament carries us along in the same direction as the Mass itself — toward the Kingdom: to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Ghost. Eucharistic adoration is essentially a prayer of desire, a prayer of hunger, of readiness, and of waiting. It is a response to the “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) of the Holy Ghost inviting us to the Son, and through the Son into the bosom of the Father, and into the glory of the Kingdom.

Like all Christian worship, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is a pass–over to the Father, with and through the Son, in the Holy Ghost. “No one comes to the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6). The monk kneeling in adoration before the tabernacle, or before the Sacred Host exposed in the monstrance, is caught up into the great circular movement of the liturgy: from the Father, through his Son, Jesus Christ, in the Holy Ghost, to the Father.

Every good thing comes to us from the Father, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, by means of the presence in us of the Holy Ghost; and likewise, it is by means of the presence of the Holy Ghost, through the mediation of Jesus Christ, that everything returns to the Father.

Eucharistic adoration, Anthony,  is a prayer that desires, prepares, and hastens the advent of the Kingdom of God. The adorer grows in awareness of the dawning fulfillment of the prophecy in the psalm intoned by Jesus from the cross: “The poor shall eat and shall be filled, and they shall praise the Lord those who seek him. . . . All the ends of the earth shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall adore in his sight” (Psalm 21:27-28). Made in this spirit, adoration of the Sacred Host delivers the soul from a narrow preoccupation with self and, stretching it to Catholic dimensions, inflames it with the apostolic zeal of the Heart of Christ. “I came”, says Our Lord, “to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled” (Luke 12:49).

“After this I looked, and lo, in heaven an open door! And the first voice, which I heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up hither’” (Apocalypse 4:1). Adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament is, at once, the open door and the invitation. It is faith’s response to the promise made by Our Lord to the one who conquers: “I will grant to him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (cf. Apocalypse 3:21).

Praying before the Blessed Sacrament enclosed in the tabernacle or exposed in the monstrance, the adorer catches a glimpse of the glory that lies “beyond the veil” (Hebrews 6:19). The experience of the saints through the ages attests to this, Anthony. The Most Holy Eucharist is “ a pledge of future glory.” Adoration of the Sacred Host is a way of seeking and of discovering “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God” (2 Corinthians 4:6) in what Saint John Paul II called  “the Eucharistic face of Christ”.

At Silverstream, although we have prolonged periods of adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament each day, we reserve exposition of the Sacred Host in the monstrance to Thursdays, to the Octave of Corpus Christi, and to certain solemn festivals of the liturgical year.

Until the late 1970s, Anthony, exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance was always considered a particularly solemn and festive occasion, a kind of condensed expression of the jubilant feast of “Corpus Christi. Exposition called for an array of candles, flowers, incense, and sacred ministers. It was considered special — something out of the ordinary — and the occasion of a lavish outpouring of graces for those who would come to adore.

Perpetual adoration neither requires nor presupposes perpetual exposition. Historically, the first religious and monastic congregations vowed to perpetual adoration, practiced it before the Blessed Sacrament concealed in the tabernacle. Such was — and remains today in most monasteries — the custom of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, founded by Mother Mectilde de Bar in 1653.

Personally, Anthony, I fear that, in many places, a kind of minimalistic approach to exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament has rendered it altogether too banal. At Silverstream we treat exposition of the Sacred Host as an exceptional privilege, a “feast of faith” for the eyes, and a solemn homage to Our Lord calling for all that we can offer Him: candles, incense, flowers, and song.

This is a very long letter, dear Anthony. I have tried to answer your questions thoroughly. Do pray that we Benedictines of Silverstream may live faithfully the Eucharistic vocation that I have attempted to describe in writing to you.

With my blessing,
Father Prior

Our Lady of the Cenacle in Armenian Iconography

After his brilliant latest essays on Julien Green, and on Saints Benedict and Philip Neri, Mr Rick Yoder, only recently graduated from The University of Virginia, offers this one on Our Lady of the Cenacle in Armenian Iconography. Do read the whole essay at The Amish Catholic.

Throughout the Latin Church, Saturday in the Ascension Octave is kept as the Feast of Our Lady of the Cenacle. On this holy day, we remember the Mother of God keeping vigil with the Apostles in the Upper Room, or “Cenacle.” The place is significant. Here, Christ gathered the Twelve on the night of his betrayal, Maundy Thursday. At that time, He instituted the priesthood and the Eucharist. Later, on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit will descend upon the congregation and truly constitute the Church as such, confirming its sacramental essence and mission in the world of time.

Mary’s position in this unique place at this unique time is captured in the title, “Our Lady of the Cenacle.” But that name conceals a much deeper mystery. What, precisely, was she doing in the Cenacle? Why was she there? And does her presence, never mentioned in the Bible, nevertheless retain important meaning for us today?

Vestition of Brother John Baptist

This morning in the Chapter room of Silverstream Priory, Mr Joseph DeCant, a native of Toledo, Ohio, received the habit of Saint Benedict and officially began his monastic journey, receiving the name Brother John Baptist. The noviciate of Silverstream now numbers four men (see the photo above) representing Denmark, Australia, Missouri, and Ohio. Father Prior gave the following sermon:

My dear son, last evening at Vespers we sang the Magnificat Antiphon for the holy Apostles Philip and James: one of the loveliest and one of the most comforting of the whole year:

Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. Alleluia, alleluia.

I took this liturgical word as the message Our Lord would have me address to you today. In the course of our conversations, you shared with me that you have learned that whenever God speaks to a soul, it is to encourage that soul. Yes, it is true. Our Lord comforts the weak man and gives strength to the weary man. You have searched long, dear Joseph, and in many places, leaving many things behind for the sake of the One Thing Necessary. You have been relentless in your search and if, overtaken by weariness along the way, you had only to open the ear of your heart to the words of the prophet Isaias:

It is he that giveth strength to the weary, and increaseth force and might to them that are not. Youths shall faint, and labour, and young men shall fall by infirmity. But they that hope in the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall take wings as eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaias 40: 29–31)

After the prophet, our Lord Jesus Himself, the Divine Comforter, speaks these words:

Come to me, all you that labor, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Matthew 11:28–30)

Our Benedictine tradition, in one of the great consecratory prayers of solemn profession, repeats this saying of Our Lord and proposes it to the new monk on what is, in effect, the first day of a new life, that he might take it to heart and taste its sweetness. This is not to say, however, that a novice, or even a monk, will never feel troubled in his soul, nor does it mean that the man who feels troubled in his soul is somehow outside the will of God for him. Our Lord Himself was mortally troubled in Gethsemani. Saint Mark recounts Our Lord’s very words:

My soul is sorrowful even unto death; stay you here, and watch. And when he was gone forward a little, he fell flat on the ground; and he prayed, that if it might be, the hour might pass from him. And he saith: Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee: remove this chalice from me; but not what I will, but what thou wilt. (Mark 14:34–36)

Gethsemani — the name, the place, and the mystery — has been a constant in your life for a long time. Your pilgrimage to the Holy Land sealed this constant for you in a particular way. A man enters the monastery as Jesus entered Gethsemani: to watch and to pray; to wrestle with the powers of darkness; to persevere in prayer and, at length, to know the passage of the comforting Angel and the taste of the chalice drunk to the last drop. A man enters the monastery because he has understood that there is but one thing that he must do in life and this one thing is to follow the Lamb. A man enters the monastery drawn on by the fragrance of love: «Draw me: we will run after thee to the odour of thy ointments» (Canticle 1:3). The man who enters the monastery has left the city behind; he has crossed the Kidron valley, and entered into the place of the oil press.

Nothing renders a soul pliable in the hands of God and utterly subject to His action as does the humble acceptance of suffering, disappointment, loss, infirmity, pain, loneliness, fear, and helplessness.

[Jesus], in the days of his flesh, with a strong cry and tears, offering up prayers and supplications to him that was able to save him from death, was heard for his reverence. And whereas indeed he was the Son of God, he learned obedience by the things which he suffered: And being consummated, he became, to all that obey him, the cause of eternal salvation. (Hebrews 5:7–9)

This is the mystery of Gethsemani: there the Son of God learned obedience, probed its cost, and drank its bitter cup. You have come to this monastery, Joseph, for no other reason: to learn obedience by the things which you will suffer. Is this not the very language of Saint Benedict in Chapter 58 of the Holy Rule?

Let a senior, one who is skilled in gaining souls, be appointed over him to watch the novice with the utmost care, and to see whether he is truly seeking God, and is fervent in the Work of God, in obedience and in humiliations. Let all the hard and rugged paths by which we walk towards God be set before him.

The Lamb goes before you, Joseph, in order to open before you the way to follow Him in His surrender to the action of the Father, which action — know this and believe it firmly — culminates in the glory of the Resurrection and Ascension. Gethsemani was the beginning of Our Lord’s glorification. It is the mystery by which souls are brought to a simple and trusting acceptance of the Father’s work in them. The evangelists says nothing of the Virgin Mother during her Son’s bloody agony in the garden, but it is permitted, I think, to believe that while He suffered there, she, in her hidden place, kept watch and prayed. The prayer of the Mother of God is perpetual. At no moment, not even in your most shameful humiliations and sin, will she be far from you.

Gethsemani was and remains even now as necessary for the configuration of souls to the Lamb as is the Cross. When a soul feels crushed, forsaken, and utterly drained of its own life and resources, Christ descends to that soul, like the comforting Angel sent to Him in His own agony. He opens that soul to a divine infusion of grace by which the soul rises and ascends with Him to the altar of the Cross. There upon the altar of the Cross, in ara crucis as we sing in the Vespers hymn of Paschaltide, the soul consummates its immolation in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ. This happens, not by a flight of the imagination, but by the flight of faith by which a soul goes out of herself like an arrow shot in the dark and plants herself in God.

The monk who feels crushed, forsaken, and drained of all his resources, must not despair. Rather, he must begin to hope with a supernatural and triumphant hope, for such annihilation is for him, as it was for the Lamb, the beginning of glory. Why do I speak of these things to you today, dear Joseph? It is because a Benedictine Monk of Perpetual Adoration cannot adore the Lamb, nor eat the Flesh of the Lamb without sharing in the annihilation of the Lamb and, so, in the glory of the Lamb. There is no other way for those whom Our Lord calls not servants but friends.

The holy habit that you will receive says only this to you and to those who will see you clothed in it: «For to me, to live is Christ: and to die is gain» (Philippians 1:21). The holy habit says, here is a man who holds nothing dearer than Christ; here is a man who prefers the love of Christ to all else; here is a man who has staked his life on the Lamb of God. At certain seasons of your monastic journey, your path, dear son, will be rough with jagged rocks and thorns. You will, at certain hours, feel a burning thirst under the midday scorching heat. You will, on certain nights know darkness and cold. In all of these things, stop and be still. Listen for the voice of the Lamb, unmistakable in its sweetness, asking, «Lovest thou me?» Answer Him, again and again, as did Peter on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias: «Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee». Do this, dear son, and you will arrive, as our father Saint Benedict says, «under God’s protection, at the lofty summits of doctrine and virtue» set forth on every page of the Holy Rule.

Searching for Saint Joseph

Silverstream Priory is searching everywhere for a suitable stone statue of Saint Joseph to be placed in the rose garden in front of the monastery. We want something in stone, capable of withstanding the harsh winds that blow up from the Irish Sea, life–size or nearly, and of real artistic merit. Too many statues of Saint Joseph are sentimental and kitschy. Our ideal is the magnificent statue of Saint Joseph of the Benedictine Abbey of Gerleve depicted in the photo. If you, dear reader, have a lead, please contact us here.

The Great Feast of Vocation

St DominicCall and Response
Not a week goes by when I do not meet or correspond with young men who are considering monastic life at Silverstream Priory. Today I find myself thinking of all of them, because the Annunciation is the great feast of vocation. Every vocation is a mystery of call and response. With the call comes the grace to respond. The greeting of the Angel Gabriel communicates what it signifies: Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη!  One could exhaust oneself in attempting to express all that the angelic salutation contains: Grace upon thee whom God hath filled full of grace! Joy upon thee who art become the joy of Him who has filled thee with joy! Loveliness upon thee who art lovely in the eyes of Him who has made thee so lovely!

And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’ s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.

The Monk’s Starting Point
To open one’s ear to the greeting of an Angel, to one who comes bearing the Word of God, is to open oneself to a life–changing grace. In Psalm 44 the royal prophet addresses the Daughter of Sion, the Virgin of Nazareth: ” Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: and forget thy people and thy father’ s house” (Psalm 44:11). Our Lady of the Annunciation is the Virgo audiens (the listening Virgin) whose portrait, I have always thought, shines through the text of the Prologue of the Holy Rule: “Hearken, O my son, to the precepts of thy Master, and incline the ear of thine heart” (Prologue 1). Every monastic vocation begins with listening to the Word of God. A certain silence and separation from the world are required of a man even before he crosses the threshold of the cloister. Saint John Paul II calls the Word of God the monk’s starting point.

The starting point for the monk is the Word of God, a Word who calls, who invites, who personally summons, as happened to the Apostles. When a person is touched by the Word obedience is born, that is, the listening which changes life. Every day the monk is nourished by the bread of the Word. Deprived of it, he is as though dead and has nothing left to communicate to his brothers and sisters because the Word is Christ, to whom the monk is called to be conformed. (Orientale Lumen, art. 10)

The Risk
Our Lady listened, and her life was forever changed. She listened, and the life of her people was forever changed. She listened, and all creation was forever changed.  The Virgin listened and, in the word addressed to her, she was offered all that would be necessary to respond to that word. In every vocation and, in particular, in every monastic vocation, there is an element of risk. A monastic vocation engages a man not only in a life marked by conversion of manners and obedience, but also in a life defined by stability and circumscribed by a real enclosure. One who enters a monastery risks living until death in one specific place and in the company of men who have already committed themselves to that one specific place. The risk is daunting, but the rewards of monastic life are well worth the risk.

Notre–Dame–du–RisqueThere is, over the portal of the abbey of Boquen in Brittany, a charming old statue of the Virgin Mary called Notre–Dame–du–Risque, Our Lady of the Risk. This title of the Mother of God has always fascinated me. The man who desires to risk his life listening to the Word of God must do so close to the Virgin Mary. One who lives with Mary will quickly come to understand the immense import of prophecy entrusted to Isaias:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts. And as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and return no more thither, but soak the earth, and water it, and make it to spring, and give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: So shall my word be, which shall go forth from my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall do whatsoever I please, and shall prosper in the things for which I sent it. (Isaias 55:8–11)

In praying for the men who are considering monastic life at Silverstream Priory, I can only ask that they hearken to the Word of God and, with Our Lady of the Risk, incline the ear of their hearts to the call that is addressed to them. By the prayers of the Virgin Mary, the Word of God shall not return to Him void; it shall prosper in the things for which God sent it forth.

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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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