Monastic: January 2009 Archives

I Love Them that Love Me

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San Bernardo alle Terme

One of my favourite churches in Rome is San Bernardo alle Terme. It is a luminous round church, built in 1598 on the site of the hot steam baths of Diocletian. Immense paintings by an artist named Odazj dominate the two side altars: the one on the right is dedicated to Saint Bernard, the one on the left to Saint Robert of Molesmes, the first abbot of Cîteaux. The first time I visited the church of San Bernardo I was so taken by the magnificent painting of Saint Bernard in the embrace of Jesus Crucified that I failed to understand the significance of the one depicting Saint Robert. It was on a later visit that I discovered it. It has, with the passing of time, become rich in meaning for me.

Saint Robert of Molesmes and the Virgin Mother

Saint Robert, whom we celebrate today with his two immediate successors, Saints Alberic and Stephen, was the founding abbot of the New Monastery at Cîteaux in 1098. The painting in the church of San Bernardo alle Terme shows Saint Robert clothed in his white cowl. Abbot Robert's face is entirely recollected; his head is bowed, illustrating the twelfth step of humility in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule. At the center of the painting we see the Virgin Mother of God in all her beauty. Her face is radiant. She wears a rose coloured dress with a blue mantle and pale brown veil. The Infant Jesus, leaning on her knee, is in conversation with an angel. Angels surround the Queen of Heaven on all sides, fascinated and thrilled by what she is doing.

Mystical Espousal to the Virgin Mary

Our Lady is placing a wedding ring on Saint Robert's finger. Robert, overwhelmed by so tender a love, offers her his right hand. The painting depicts the Mystical Espousal of Saint Robert to the Virgin Mary, a theme not often represented in art. Even in the annals of holiness, mystical espousal with the Virgin Mary is not encountered very frequently. We hear of it in the lives of Saint Edmund of Canterbury, of the Premonstratensian Saint Hermann-Joseph of Steinfeld, and of the Dominican Alain de la Roche. In the seventeenth century, Saint John Eudes wrote of Our Lady as the spouse of priests, and bound himself to her by means of marriage contract. Does not the liturgy attribute to Our Lady the words of Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs: "love them that love me" (Prov 8:17)?

Saint Joseph

In the painting I am describing it is clear that the initiative is Our Lady's. She appears to have drawn Saint Robert upward to herself to receive this ineffable grace binding him to her. Now, the most extraordinary detail, to my mind is this: just above Saint Robert and a little to his right, none other than Saint Joseph is looking on! He is pointing to his staff, the top of which has flowered into a pure white lily. What does this mean? Saint Joseph is saying that intimacy with the Virgin Mary is the secret of holy purity. He is pointing to his flowering staff to say that one bound to Mary, as if by a marriage bond, will be pure. She is the Virginizing Bride. One who obeys the injunction of the angel to Joseph -- "Joseph, son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her, is of the Holy Ghost" (Mt 1:15) -- will find that she communicates the grace of a fruitful purity to those who bind themselves to her in a permanent and exclusive way.

Not Good for Man to Be Alone

Already in the second chapter of Genesis, God said to Adam, "It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself" (Gen 2:18). The complement to this word of God to Adam is the word of Jesus Crucified to John: "After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own" (Jn 19:27). Every union of a man with a woman, even, and I would say especially, the union of hearts and souls, is ordered to a spiritual fecundity. "Whoso findeth me, findeth life," says Our Lady, "and shall obtain favour of the Lord" (Prov 8:35).

Saint Benedict

Perhaps this is why the artist shows the Patriarch Saint Benedict, the father of a progeny too great to be numbered, accompanied by an angel holding his pastoral staff and the open book of his Rule, in the lower left hand corner of the painting. Saint Benedict gazes upon what is happening to Saint Robert with an expression of gratitude and wonder.

New Beginning and Authentic Renewal

What exactly is the message of this extraordinary painting? You may recall what Pope Benedict XVI said on the occasion of his visit to the abbey of Heiligenkreuz in September 2007:

Where Mary is, there is the archetype of total self-giving and Christian discipleship. Where Mary is, there is the pentecostal breath of the Holy Spirit; there is new beginning and authentic renewal.

Saint Robert's mission was to launch a new beginning at Cîteaux; it was to foster an authentic renewal of life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict. He could not do this apart from Mary.

Mediatrix of All Graces

In the Gospel given us for this feast, Our Lord says: "I have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain" (Jn 15:16). Robert's mystical espousal with the Virgin Mother is the promise and guarantee of spiritual fruitfulness. The same Jesus who says, "Without me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5), wants us to understand that, by reason of the Father's mysterious over-arching plan, without Mary, the Mediatrix of All Graces, we can do nothing. "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent his Son, made of a woman" (Gal 4:4). Just as the first creation required the presence and collaboration of Eve at Adam's side, so too does the new creation, and every particular manifestation of it, be it personal or corporate, require the presence and collaboration of Mary, the New Eve, at the side of Christ, the New Adam.

Our Lady and the Holy Spirit

Cîteaux was a new creation, a particular corporate manifestation of the Kingdom of God in all its newness. The same may be said of every authentic reform and renewal of monastic life, sacerdotal life, and apostolic life in the history of the Church. Whenever and wherever the Blessed Virgin Mary is welcomed and loved, she attracts a mysterious descent of the Holy Spirit. Our Lady prays for us at every moment, saying, "Thou shalt send forth thy spirit, and they shall be created: and thou shalt renew the face of the earth" (Ps 103:30).

Saint Robert's Legacy

In 1099, one year after the foundation of the New Monastery at Cîteaux, Saint Robert was obliged, by a bull of Pope Urban II, to return to the abbey of Molesme as abbot. He remained there until his death in 1111. Saints Alberic and Stephen Harding succeeded him as abbots of Cîteaux. Abbot Robert's love for Our Lady, the Virgin Mother who had placed a ring on his finger, was part of his legacy. Cîteaux flourished because Mary was present there, present as she was in the house of Saint Joseph, her most chaste spouse; present as she was in the house of Saint John, the Beloved Disciple; and present as she was in the midst of the apostles on the first Pentecost.

Earthen Vessels

Weakness, fear, tribulation, and humiliations are unavoidable in the Christian life. Each of us carries the precious gifts of God in his own peculiar frailty. Saint Paul says:

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency may be of the power of God, and not of us. In all things we suffer tribulation, but are not distressed; we are straitened, but are not destitute; we suffer persecution, but are not forsaken; we are cast down, but we perish not (2 Cor 4:7-9).

The Blessed Virgin Mary is accustomed to carrying earthen vessels. The secret of holiness is to place our weakness in her immaculate hands.

All Things Made New

She who placed a wedding ring on Abbot Robert's finger will not deny us the grace of a fruitful intimacy with her Most Pure Heart. It is with His Mother, and through her, that Our Lord fulfills the promise made to Saint John on Patmos: "Behold, I make all things new" (Ap 21:5).


Happy Onomastico to novice Brother Stephen of the Abbey of Our Lady of Spring Bank! Be sure to visit him at Sub Tuum today!


Almighty and ever-living God,
who are Yourself the reward exceeding great
of those who leave all things for the sake of Christ Your Son,
grant, we beseech You,
that by the example and prayers
of the holy abbots Robert, Alberic, and Stephen,
we too may hasten with all fervour and zeal
to the fullness of eternal life.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.


Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Knit together in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
the blessed abbots Robert, Alberic, and Stephen
chose to be poor with the poor Christ,
and so went forth to a desert wilderness
to abide in the place you had prepared for them.

Schooled in all things by the Rule of Saint Benedict, their father,
they sought only to live in peace
according to the truth of the Gospel.

Setting nothing before the love of Christ,
and zealous for the praise of your Majesty,
their example drew many
to take up the strong and glorious weapons of obedience.

And so, on their feast day, we join with them to adore you
and with heart and mind in harmony with our voices,
in the sight of the angels
we sing the ageless hymn of your praise:

A Grand Monastic Feast

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Pioneers of A Fresh Start

For Cistercians and Benedictines, January 26th is the feast of the Holy Abbots of Cîteaux, Robert, Alberic, and Stephen. They were the pioneers of a new beginning, men "careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4:3). Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen were indomitable believers in the possibility of beginning again. When they went forth to start afresh at Cîteaux, they were already seasoned monks, "men truly wise" (ExC, I).

A New Beginning in Compunction

The account of their deliberations is given in the Exordium Parvum, a chronicle dating from about the year 1119: "Inspired by the grace of God, these men, while still living in Molesme, often spoke to each other, lamented, and were saddened by the transgression of the Rule of Saint Benedict, the Father of Monks" (ExP, III). Their new beginning was conceived in compunction. Every hope of starting afresh enters through a heart pierced by the Word and brought by the Holy Spirit to a godly sorrow.

They Came to Cîteaux

They realized that they themselves and the other monks had promised by a solemn vow to observe this Rule, yet they had by no means kept it; and therefore they had knowingly committed the sin of perjury (ExP, III).
They spoke amongst themselves and asked one another how they were to fulfill the verse: 'I will fulfill my vows to you, vows which I made with my own lips' (Ps 65:13-14). . . . After common deliberation together with the father of that monastery, Robert of blessed memory, twenty-one monks went out to try to carry out jointly what they had conceived with one spirit. Eventually . . . they came to Cîteaux, which was then a place of horror, a vast wilderness (ExP, I).

Exodus and Transitus

The exodus from Molesme to Cîteaux took place on Palm Sunday 1098, coinciding that year with the feast of the Transitus of Holy Father Benedict on March 21st. Every new beginning is at once an exodus a going forth, and a transitus, a passing-over: a reliving of the Paschal Mystery. This is as true of the many secret new beginnings prompted by grace as it is of the more visible ones.. To leave behind what is old -- especially old hurts, resentments, and prejudices -- is to seek God in poverty of spirit.

An Act of Love

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My confessor said something to me today that reminded me of a prayer that impressed me back in the days of my monastic youth, and still does: The Act of Love of Father Jean-Baptiste Muard (1809-1854), founder of the Society of Saint Edmund and of the Benedictine Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. Thirty-seven years ago, if I am not mistaken, my excellent Novice Master told me that he said this prayer every day after Holy Communion. It is extraordinary the way certain things lodge themselves in one's memory.

Père Muard's Act of Love

Desiring to love Thee, my God, as much as is possible to a feeble creature,
I desire that all my thoughts, all my wishes, all my sentiments,
all my aspirations, all the pulsations of my heart,
all my movements, be so many acts of love.

I desire that every character I trace in writing,
every word, every letter, I read be to me so many acts of love.

Would that I could offer Thee each day as many acts of most fervent love
as there are grains of sand on the sea-shore,
leaves on the trees of the forest,
atoms in the air, and created things, and multiply them to infinity.

I offer Thee, my God, in compensation for my weakness,
all the acts of love of all the angels and all the saints in heaven and earth;
all the acts of love. of the most holy Virgin and, above all,
the acts of love for Thee of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Alas ! my God, that I cannot love Thee as Thou deservest to be loved;
give me, then, the heart of a Seraph or, rather,
fill my heart with the love of all the Seraphim,
the love of all the Saints, the love of all hearts,
and increase it ever more and more
that I may love Thee as much as I desire to love Thee. Amen.

Festinate, for Crist luve

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The Cross: A Way of Life

Saint Aelred, the English 12th century abbot of Rievaulx, has long been a dear friend. "Our order", he wrote, "is the Cross of Christ." In saying this, Saint Aelred uses the word order to signify, not an institutional organization, but a way of life. For Saint Aelred, the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the very pattern of monastic life.

The Spacious Peace of Charity

Plagued all his life by bad health, Aelred administered his abbey of more than six hundred monks from the infirmary, often gathering the brethren around his bed for familiar spiritual chats. Saint Aelred used to say:

It is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the infirm and compassion with others in their necessities. All whether weak or strong should find in Rievaulx a haunt of peace, and there, like the fish in the broad seas, possess the welcome, happy, spacious peace of charity.

Christ, the Dearest Friend of All

Saint Aelred saw friendship not as a threat to community but as the cement of community. For Aelred, every true friendship opens onto the sweet love of Christ, the dearest friend of all. "God is friendship," he said, "and he who dwells in friendship, dwells in God and God in him."

The Bruised Reed

One cannot read what Holy Father Benedict says in the Rule concerning the abbot without thinking of Saint Aelred: "Let him keep his own frailty ever before his eyes and remember that the bruised reed must not be broken" (RB 64). Saint Aelred's Pastoral Prayer reveals a man conscious of his own infirmity and full of confidence in the mercy of Christ:

You know, Lord, my heart. You know that my desire is to devote wholly to their service whatever you have given your servant; to spend it completely for them. You know also that I am ready to be myself wholly spent, poured out, for them. May all I perceive and all I utter, my leisure and my occupation, my thoughts and my actions, my prosperity and my adversity, my life and my death, my health and my sickness, yes all that I am be spent on them, be poured out for them, for whom you yourself did not disdain to be poured out. Grant me, Lord, through your grace that is beyond our understanding, grant that I may bear their infirmities with patience, that I may have loving compassion for them, that I may come to their aid effectively. Taught by your Spirit may I learn to comfort the sorrowful, confirm the weak and raise the fallen. May I be myself one with them in their weaknesses, one with them when they burn at causes of offense, one in all things with them, and all things to all of them, so that I may gain them all. And since you have given them this blind leader, this unlearned teacher, this ignorant guide, if not for my sake then for theirs teach him whom you have made to be their teacher, lead him whom you have bidden to lead them, rule him who is their ruler.

His Last Words

Saint Aelred's biographer and friend, Walter Daniel, describes the abbot's death. Saint Aelred's last words were, "Festinate, for Crist luve." Walter Daniel explains: "He spoke the Lord's name in English, since he found it easier to utter, and in some way sweeter to hear in the language of his birth." "Festinate, for Crist luve." Hasten, for Christ's love! I want to make Saint Aelred's words at the hour of his death my own as I approach the adorable mysteries of Christ's Body and Blood. Holy Father Saint Aelred, obtain for us today a threefold grace: willingly to go to Christ our Physician, tenderly to love Christ our Friend, and fervently to adore Christ our God.

Saint Aelred of Rievaulx

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For study and meditation: proper texts for the Mass of Saint Aelred, Abbot.

January 12
Saint Aelred, Abbot

Entrance Antiphon

The Lord is my inheritance and my cup; he alone will give me my reward.
The measuring line has marked a lovely place for me;
my inheritance is my great delight (Ps 15:5-6).

or GR, Caritas Dei, 248.

The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts
by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.
V. My soul, give thanks to the Lord,
all my being, bless his holy name (Rom 5:5; Ps 102:1).


O God,
who gave the blessed Abbot Aelred
the grace of being all things to all men,
grant that, following his example,
we may so spend ourselves in the service of one another,
as to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever.

Prayer Over the Oblations

Most merciful God,
who, in the Blessed Abbot Aelred,
deigned to make an end of the old self
and to create a new self according to your own desire,
mercifully grant
that we also, renewed in like manner,
may offer this, the acceptable sacrifice of our atonement.
Through Christ our Lord.


Truly it is right and just, our duty and our salvation,
always and everywhere to give you thanks,
Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God,
through Christ our Lord.

Tenderly you drew Saint Aelred
to the school of your service
where, having tasted of the sweetness of your love,
he became the gentle father of many sons,
a merciful shepherd to the weak,
and a model of spiritual friendship.

Inflamed by the love of Christ,
he embraced the Cross
as the pattern of monastic conversion,
and so attained the repose of those who love you,
the true and eternal Sabbath of the blessed.

And so, on his feast day, we join with him to adore you,
and with all the company of Angels and Saints,
sing the ageless hymn of your praise:

Communion Antiphon

What we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord,
with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake (2 Cor 4:5).


Almighty God,
we beseech you
that, fortified by the strength of this sacrament,
we may learn, from the example of the Blessed Abbot Aelred,
to seek you above all things,
and to bear, while we are yet in this world,
the imprint of the new self.
Through Christ our Lord.

Iesu, Rex Admirabilis

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holyfam Francesco da Mura.jpg

I was fifteen or sixteen years old when, thanks to a fervent Trappist laybrother at Saint Joseph's Abbey, I discovered a lovely English translation of Dulcis Iesu Memoria in a small black-covered volume called The Cistercian Day Hours. The laybrother in question encouraged me to pray the hymns of The Cistercian Day Hours as he did, savouring them and learning them by heart. I no longer have a copy of The Cistercian Days Hours at hand, and suspect that it is long out of print.

The second section of the Iubilus Rithmicus de Amore Iesu was assigned to Matins. The translation here is Father Caswall's.

At Matins

O Jesu, King most wonderful!
Thou conqueror renowned!
Thou sweetness most ineffable!
In whom all joys are found!

Stay with us, Lord, and with thy light
Illume the soul's abyss;
Scatter the darkness of ournight,
And fill the world with bliss!

Jesu, thy mercies are untold,
Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousandfold
Whatever we can say.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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