Monastic: July 2012 Archives

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The Reception of Brethren

We are blessed, at the moment, to have with us two men who are discerning the possibility of a monastic vocation here at Silverstream Priory. Two more men will be arriving tomorrow. With them, all our temporary cells will be filled: a good occasion to review Saint Benedict's teaching on The Discipline for the Reception of Brethren in Chapter 58 of the Holy Rule.

The Difficult Entrance

"When anyone newly cometh to be a monk, let him not be granted an easy admittance; but as the apostle saith: Test the spirits, to see whether they come from God." Today, more often than not, admittance is made difficult not so much by a lack of encouragement coming from within the monastery, as by criticisms, discouragements, and challenges coming from without.

There is nothing prestigious about coming to be a monk. The world often deems the monastic way of life useless, a flight from responsibility, a sign of mental imbalance, emotional maladjustment, or religious obsessions. There is, more often than not, a whole chorus of voices saying, "Do something useful. Make a contribution to society. Don't bury your talents. What are you running away from? Why are you afraid of having a wife and family? Maybe you just need counseling. You are really exaggerating this whole God thing." Or again, there are voices saying, "Stay where you are. Don't take such a foolish risk. You can know, love, and serve God in the world. At least be a parish priest, a missionary, or a teacher. What if it doesn't work out? It's only a passing phase; you'll get over it."

Sacred Scripture, on the other hand, says:

My son, if thy mind is to enter the Lord's service,
wait there in His presence,
with honesty of purpose and with awe,
and prepare thyself to be put to the test.
Submissive be thy heart,
and ready to bear all;
to wise advice lend a ready ear,
and never be hasty when ill times befall thee.
Wait for God, cling to God and wait for Him;
at the end of it, thy life shall blossom anew.
Accept all that comes to thee,
patient in sorrow, humiliation long enduring;
for gold and silver the crucible,
it is in the furnace of humiliation men shew themselves
worthy of His acceptance.
Trust in Him, and He will lift thee to thy feet again;
go straight on thy way,
and fix in Him thy hope;
hold fast thy fear of Him,
and in that fear to old age come thou.
(Ecclesiasticus 2:1-6).

The Treasure Hidden in the Field

One called by God to the monastic life realizes that it is "a treasure hidden in a field" (Mt 13:44). Having been led to it, or having discovered it, for the joy thereof, says the Gospel, a man goes, sells all that he has, and buys the field. Setting out in monastic life is a costly decision. It does mean "selling all that one has." It means leaving what is familiar, in some way comfortable, and secure, and taking the frightful risk of a new beginning.

The Pearl of Great Price

Or again, the monastic vocation is like finding a pearl of great price (Mt 13:46). The practiced merchant recognizes its value, sees its beauty, can't get it out of his mind. And still, in order to make it his own, he must risk selling all that he has to buy it. If a man called to monastic life hesitates, debates within himself, or delays his decision, he may be forfeiting the grace of the moment, a grace that will never again be offered in quite the same way.

The Father Master

Saint Benedict would have the novices be in the care of a Father "skilled in winning souls." His task is win the soul of the new brother, not for himself, but for Christ alone. The Father Master (as novices would address him) is, like Saint John the Baptist, a friend of the Bridegroom. He rejoices at the Bridegroom's voice, and trains his young disciple's interior ear -- the ear of the heart -- to recognize that voice, to hold fast to the words it utters, and, renouncing himself, to obey them. The Father Master willingly decreases, by claiming nothing of what belongs to Christ alone for himself. Thus does Christ increase in the heart of the man newly come to be a monk, and in the monastic community as a whole.

Dura et Aspera

The Father Master is not to sugarcoat the hardships and trials by which a man travels to God. The journey is long and, more often than not, the road is rocky. A healthy realism goes hand in hand with an unshakable confidence in the grace of Christ. The monk is traveling to God in company with other travelers. Itur ad Deum: this expression of Saint Benedict hearkens back, I think, to the first chapter of the Rule of Saint Augustine, in which the Bishop of Hippo describes his monastic community as being "together on the way to God." By traveling to God in the company of brothers, one will more easily fight off the wild beast who prowls about seeking the ruin of souls, and the marauders and brigands who prey on the weak, and sometimes leave them half-dead by the side of the road.

Seeking God

What does Saint Benedict look for in one seeking admission to a monastery? First of all, that he "truly seek God." The Benedictine quest for God is not the search of the pantheist who identifies God with every blade of grass, with the leaves of every tree, the sands of the seashore, and the stars of the firmament. In all these things, the Benedictine monk sees the handiwork of God, displaying His glory and revealing His wisdom; but for all of that, they are no more than creatures, brought into existence and held in being by the Creator who alone is God. There is more. Nor does the Benedictine monk equate his search for God with the philosopher's application of human reason to the exploration of what is true, and good, and beautiful. Again, there is more.

The Face of Christ

The monk, being, first of all, a Christian, a soul illumined by Divine Revelation, vivified by sanctifying grace, and, in some way, "reaching God" by mean of the theological virtues, is one who has discovered "the knowledge of the glory of God shining on the Face of Christ" (2 Cor 4:6). "It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek; hide not Thy Face from me" (Ps 26:8) is the prayer-song of his heart by day and by night. The monk seeks the Face of Christ and, in the contemplation of that Face -- the Human Face of God -- discovers the secrets of His Sacred Heart. In Silverstream Priory, in addition to the means of seeking God common to all Benedictines, we give a privileged place to the contemplation and adoration of the Face of Christ hidden beneath the sacramental veils in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Loving Choir

Secondly, Saint Benedict would have the would-be monk demonstrate an effective zeal for the Sacred Liturgy, the Work of God. This, the novice will do, not by entertaining a fascination with rubrics, vesture, and the niceties of ceremonial -- seldom do sacristy rats make good monks -- but by embracing the manly discipline of fidelity to choir, and by eschewing a spirituality that, being subjective and fanciful, rises and falls with one's moods and sentiments. A Benedictine loves choir because it is the place and means of his communion with the filial and priestly prayer of Christ to the Father.

A Host for the Oblation

Finally, the aspiring monk will not shrink from obedience and humiliations. In fact, he will be eager for them, for by obedience and humility he is certain of being configured to Christ in the mystery of His victimhood. One comes to the monastery to become a hostia, that is, a host, a victim, an oblation, a lamb for sacrifice. Like the wheat that is ground into flour, then mixed with water, and baked in a fire in order to become a host for the Holy Sacrifice, one who would follow Christ as a monk is eager to be ground into a pure wheat, moistened with living water and, then, baked in the fire of the Holy Ghost. He makes his own the words of the martyr Saint Ignatius of Antioch: "Frumentum Christi sum, I am the wheat of Christ." The monk is ground into a fine flour, not between the teeth of wild beasts, as were the martyrs of old, but by the obedience and humiliations that are never lacking to one who has set his face toward Jerusalem.

Resplendens Stella

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Here is a translation of the message our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI sent to the bishop of Avila, Spain, Mons. Jesús Garcia Burillo, on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the founding of the convent of Saint Joseph in Avila and the beginning of the Carmelite Reform. The subtitles and commentary in italics are my own. I dedicate my own little commentary to my dear friend here in Ireland, Father John of Jesus Hogan, a true son of Saint Teresa.

To the Venerable Brother

Monsignor Jesus GARCIA BURILLO
Bishop of Avila

What is a Saint?

1. Resplendens stella. "A star that would give of itself great splendor" (Book of Life, 32, 11). With these words the Lord encouraged Saint Teresa of Jesus to found in Avila the convent of Saint Joseph, beginning of the reform of Carmel, whose 450th anniversary will be observed next August 24. On the occasion of this happy circumstance, I wish to unite myself to the joy of the beloved Avila diocese, of the Order of Discalced Carmelites, of the People of God on pilgrimage in Spain and of all those in the universal Church who have found in Teresian spirituality a sure light to discover that man obtains the true renewal of life through Christ. Enamored of the Lord, this illustrious woman wished to please Him in everything. In fact, a saint is not one who carries out great feats based on the excellence of his human qualities, but one who allows Christ to penetrate his soul, to act through his person, He being the real protagonist of all their actions and desires, who inspires every initiative and sustains every silence.

"A saint is not one who carries out great feats based on the excellence of his human qualities, but one who allows Christ to penetrate his soul." Christ alone is the life of the soul. Saint Teresa of Jesus is not a private possession of Carmel, nor is she a treasure held in reserve for a select few; she is a gift to the whole Church Catholic. Her message brings fire and light to Benedictines as much as to her own Carmelite sons and daughters. Blessed Abbot Marmion, for example, quotes Saint Teresa often and refers to her teaching. I find it especially significant that the Holy Father writes that Christ sustains every silence in the life of His saints. A silence sustained by Christ cannot but be the silence created by the Word, the silence of unitive love, the silence of adoration, and the silence of repose in the bosom of the Father.

The Friendship of Christ

2. To let oneself be led by Christ in this way is possible only for one who has an intense life of prayer. In the words of the Saint of Avila, this consists of "friendship, being very often alone with Him whom we know loves us" (Book of Life 8, 5). The reform of Carmel, whose anniversary fills us with inner joy, was born of prayer and tends to prayer. On promoting a radical return to the original Rule, moving away from the mitigated Rule, Saint Teresa of Jesus wished to foster a way of life that favored a personal encounter with the Lord, for which it is necessary "to be in solitude and to gaze at Him within oneself, and not to be surprised by such a good guest" (Way of Perfection 28, 2). The convent of Saint Joseph was born precisely so that her daughters would have the best conditions to find God and establish a profound and intimate relationship with Him.

The friendship of Christ is a theme dear to the heart of Pope Benedict XVI. He returns to it again and again. For this friendship to develop there must be not only silence, but also solitude. Monastic life in all its expressions is ordered to the "heart-to-heart and face-to-face" encounter with Christ. All monastic life is "born of prayer and tends to prayer." For the Carmelite, the privileged form of this prayer will be oraçion; for the Benedictine it will be the choral celebration of the Divine Office, and lectio divina, and in Silverstream Priory, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In every monastery the focus must be on creating and sustaining "the best conditions to find God and establish a profound and intimate relationship with Him."

Strong Friends of God

3. Saint Teresa proposed a new way of being a Carmelite in a world which was also new. Those were "harsh times" (Book of Life 33, 5). And in such times, said this Teacher of the spirit, it is necessary "to be strong friends of God to support the weak" (Ibid., 15, 5). And she insisted eloquently: "The world is burning, they want to sentence Christ again, they want to knock down his Church. No, my Sisters, it is not the time to treat with God matters of little importance"! (Way of Perfection 1, 5). Is not this luminous and challenging reflection, made more than four centuries ago by the mystic Saint, familiar to us in the circumstance in which we are living?

These too are harsh times for Christ and for His Church, especially here in Ireland. Strong friends of God are indeed needed to support the weak; the wonder of God's condescending mercy is, however, that he chooses his strongest friends among the weakest of all. The grace of Christ is deployed in weakness, and the strength of Christ shines most brightly in those marked by infirmity and failure in the eyes of the world.

Genuine Personal and Ecclesial Reform

The ultimate end of the Teresian Reform and of the creation of new convents, in the midst of a world lacking in spiritual values, was to protect with prayer the apostolic task; to propose a way of evangelical life that would be a model for those seeking the way of perfection, stemming from the conviction that all genuine personal and ecclesial reform is affected by reproducing increasingly in ourselves the "way" of Christ (cf. Galatians 4:19). The Saint and her daughters had no other commitment. Neither did her Carmelite sons, who did no more than try "to advance in all the virtues" (Book of Life 31, 18). In this connection, Teresa wrote: Our Lord "appreciates more a soul won, through his mercy, by our industry and prayer than all the services we can render Him" (Book of the Foundations, 1, 7). In face of forgetfulness of God the Holy Doctor encouraged praying communities, which with their prayer protect those proclaiming the Name of Christ everywhere, supplicating for the needs of the Church, and taking to the Savior's heart the clamor of all peoples.

The agenda promoted by the ACP in Ireland, and by similar groups elsewhere, is fatally flawed in its principles, its means, and its goals. The true reformers of the Church begin with the reform of themselves in prayer and in the cultivation of the virtues. Reform is the fruit of prayer, of suffering, and of union with the oblation of Christ, Priest and Victim, by whose intercession the Holy Spirit falls anew upon the Church to purify her in the living flame of love. Curiously, the method and discourse of the ACP bears all the marks of the Americanist movement condemned by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical, Testem Benevolentiae Nostrae.

The Heart of the Apostolate

4. Today also, as in the 16th century, amid rapid transformations, it is necessary that confident prayer be at the heart of the apostolate, so that the message of the Redeemer Jesus Christ will resound with crystal clarity and forceful dynamism. It is urgent that the Word of life vibrate harmoniously in souls, with sonorous and attractive notes.

"In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be love" wrote Saint Teresa's worthiest daughter, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Dom Chautard, O.C.S.O., writing of the same reality, called it The Soul of the Apostolate. Without confident prayer no one can do anything of enduring value. In his Prologue to the Holy Rule, Saint Benedict enjoins his monks to begin every good work with a most instant prayer. Persevering and humble prayer is the wellspring of apostolic fecundity.

Christ: The Only Way to Attain the Glory of God

In this passionate task, the example of Teresa of Avila is of great help to us. We can affirm that, in her time, the Saint evangelized without lukewarmness , with ardor that was never extinguished, with methods that were far removed from inertia, with expressions radiant all around with light. This keeps all its freshness in the present circumstance, centered also following the dictate of the Avila mystic, on contemplation of the Most Sacred Humanity of Christ as the only way to attain the glory of God (cf. Book of Life 22, 1; The Abodes [Las Moradas] 6, 7). Thus genuine families will be able to be formed, which discover in the Gospel the fire of their abode, living and united Christian communities, cemented on Christ as their cornerstone and thirsting for a life of fraternal and generous service. Also to be desired is that incessant prayer promote the urgent cultivation of vocational pastoral care, stressing particularly the beauty of consecrated life, which must be properly supported as the treasure that it is of the Church, as torrent of Graces, both in its active as well as in its contemplative dimension.

"Contemplation of the Most Sacred Humanity of Christ is the only way to attain the glory of God." This was the teaching of Saint Paul before it became that of Saint Teresa: "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). This too is the teaching of the whole Benedictine tradition beginning with Saint Benedict and Saint Gregory, and continuing through Saint Anselm, Saint Bernard, Saint Gertrude and a host of other saints and mystics including Ireland's own Blessed Columba Marmion.

Friends of the Master, Putting Nothing Before His Love

The strength of Christ will also lead to redoubling initiatives so that the people of God recover their vigor in the only way possible: making room in our interior for the sentiments of the Lord Jesus (cf. Philippians 2, 5), seeking in every circumstance a radical living of his Gospel. This means, above all, to allow the Holy Spirit to make us friends of the Master and to configure us with Him. It also means accepting his mandate in everything, and adopting in ourselves criteria such as humility in conduct, giving up the superfluous, not wronging others, acting with simplicity and lowliness of heart. Thus, those around us will perceive the joy that stems from our adherence to the Lord, putting nothing before his love, always being ready to give a reason for our hope (cf. 1 Peter 3:15) and living, as Teresa of Jesus, in filial obedience to our Holy Mother the Church.

Our thoroughly Benedictine Pope could not resist quoting Saint Benedict here: "Thus, those around us will perceive the joy that stems from our adherence to the Lord, putting nothing before his love, always being ready to give a reason for our hope." The wisdom of the saints cannot be divided into closed academies. The friends of the Master are also friends among themselves, humbly receiving a diversity of gifts from the Lord, and sharing His gifts across time, and place, language, and culture. Saint Teresa emphasized filial obedience to the Church; any movement of reform that does not bear the mark of filial obedience to the Church comes not from the Spirit of God but from the spirits of darkness and confusion who ceaselessly incite men to rebelliousness, pride, and disobedience.

Totally to Jesus, Only to Jesus and Always to Jesus

5. We are invited today to that radicalism and fidelity by this illustrious daughter of the diocese of Avila. Taking up her beautiful legacy, at this moment of history, the Pope calls all the members of that particular Church, but in an intimate way young people, to take seriously the common vocation to sanctity. Following in Teresa of Jesus' footprints, allow me to say to those who have the future before them: aspire also to belong totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus. Fear not to tell Our Lord as she did: "I am yours, for you I was born, what do you want me to do?" (Poem 2). And I ask Him to enable you to respond to his calls illumined by divine grace, with "determined determination," to offer the "little" that is in you, trusting that God never abandons those who leave everything for His glory (cf. Way of Perfection 21, 2; 1, 2).

The Holy Father provides young people with the perfect prayer of vocational discernment: "I am yours, for you I was born, what do you want me to do?" One who makes this prayer sincerely will aspire to belong "totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus." In much contemporary promotional material for religious vocations it is precisely this that is conspicuously absent: "totally to Jesus, only to Jesus and always to Jesus."

The Most Holy Virgin and Saint Joseph

6. Saint Teresa knew how to honor the Most Holy Virgin with great devotion, whom she invoked under the sweet name of Carmel. I place under her maternal protection the apostolic endeavors of the Church in Avila so that, rejuvenated by the Holy Spirit, she will find the appropriate ways to proclaim the Gospel with enthusiasm and courage. May Mary, Star of evangelization, and her chaste spouse Saint Joseph intercede so that the "star" that the Lord lighted in the universe of the Church with the Teresian reform, will continue to radiate the great brilliance of the love and truth of Christ to all men.

Just as the Word of God became flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and under the protection of Saint Joseph, so too will the rejuvenation of the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, take place by the Holy Spirit, in the Immaculate Heart of Mary and under the protection of Saint Joseph. Wheresover the Blessed Virgin Mary is present, there one will find newness of life, and a shining star to guide one in the darkness of the night.

With this yearning, Venerable Brother in the Episcopate, I send you this message, which I pray you to make known to the flock entrusted to your pastoral vigilance, and very especially to the beloved Discalced Carmelites of the convent of Saint Joseph of Avila, that they may perpetuate in time the spirit of their Founder, and of whose fervent prayer for the Successor of Peter I have grateful certainty. To them, to you and to all the faithful of Avila I impart with affection the Apostolic Blessing, pledge of copious heavenly favors.

Vatican, July 16, 2012



This is the view tonight from my window at the Monastère Sainte-Anne-de-Montmahoux in France. Although I planned to remain until Friday, I received news this morning of the death in County Leitrim of my dear old Cousin John McKeon. I last saw John on the occasion of his 89th birthday only a few weeks ago. I am John's next-of-kin in Ireland, and so must return there tomorrow to make arrangements for his funeral and burial. I would ask the readers of Vultus Christi to say a prayer for the happy repose of his soul.

Meeting the Saints

How and when did Saint Benedict come into my life? He was not among the saints whom I came to know as a small boy in my parish church. Little children readily engage with images. The statues that graced my parish church -- I can still see them in my mind's eye from left to right -- were of Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Patrick, Our Blessed Lady, the Sacred Heart, Saint Joseph, Saint Thérèse, and Saint Anne. There were five stained glass windows: the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Stigmatization of Saint Francis. These were the images that, at a very early age, drew me into the mysteries of the faith, bringing heaven very close to earth, and making it possible for me to hold conversation with the saints in glory.

Enter Abbot Marmion

Saint Benedict came into my life when I was about fifteen years old. The monastic ideal had already laid hold of my soul, and my search was well underway. Visiting Saint Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, U.S.A., I was introduced to Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, by Blessed Abbot Columba Marmion. Heavy reading for a fifteen year old in the torment of the 1960s! I remain grateful to Father Marius Granato for putting Dom Marmion's classic into my hands, It was in Christ, the Ideal of the Monk that I came to know Saint Benedict in the best way possible: by coming to know his Holy Rule.

Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule

Blessed Abbot Marmion and Saint Benedict joined me on my journey, then, at the same time. I still remember the fire that burned in my heart as I turned the pages of Christ, the Ideal of the Monk, and received the impression of its teaching, like letters engraved on a clean wax tablet. In reading Saint Benedict, as transmitted by Blessed Abbot Marmion, I could almost hear the sound of the Master's voice. The Rule began to fascinate me and to fashion me. For me, as for Bossuet, it was un mystérieux abrégé de l'Évangile, "a mysterious abridgment of the Gospel".

Stormy Years

By the time I had turned eighteen -- a mere three years later -- I had resolved to become a monk, a son of Saint Benedict. These were, of course, frightfully stormy years in the Church: not at all a good time for a young man desirous of engaging with an ideal in all its shining purity. The very things that I thrilled to discover in my reading were, at the same time, being contested and rejected by those to whom they had been given in heritage.

The storms unleashed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council, and by the tumultuous events of 1968, tore through the cloisters of nearly every monastery in North America and, in so doing, tore through the very hearts of those who dwelt in them. One had the impression that nothing was absolute, nothing immutable, nothing sacred. The tyranny of relativism replaced the tyrannies of legalism and rubricism that the reformers decried so bitterly. Things happened and attitudes prevailed that were in no way compatible with the vocation that Thomas Merton had described so eloquently in The Silent Life.

Stranger in Babylon

These years corresponded, as well, with the emergence of the charismatic renewal among Catholics. It was, as I remember it, rather Protestant in ethos and in sensibility. While I saw many souls opened to a deeper experience of prayer, I saw just as many distance themselves from the sacraments, from the liturgy in all its richness, and from devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to Our Lady. (Some of these elements later came back into focus in charismatic circles.) Having found my soul's true voice in Gregorian Chant as a small boy, and having been nourished from my adolescence on the Divine Office in English, and on Pius Parsch's The Church's Year of Grace, the experience of the charismatic renewal left me feeling like a stranger in Babylon. I was far more interested in the grace that, for me, seeped out of the antiphons at First Vespers of a particular feast than in what I experienced at prayer meetings. It was all very disconcerting.

The Threshold Once Crossed

At nineteen I had my first experience of Benedictine life, completing a novitiate of two years, wrestling, like Jacob, with angels in the night, and humbled by recurrent health problems. During that time my love for Saint Benedict and the Holy Rule grew exponentially. It was clear, in spite of all the halts and detours, that Saint Benedict had taken me into his family, that he recognized me as his son, and that he would not abandon me.


All these many years later, I can say that Saint Benedict has been a patient companion and loving father through my life. Amidst the choices, changes, and challenges that have marked my route, one phrase from the Holy Rule, the last of the Instruments of Good Works in Chapter IV has kept me on course: Never to despair of the mercy of God. For this alone I am grateful to Saint Benedict this evening, and for this I hope to thank him one day in paradise.


The Grace of the Liturgic Word

In offering Holy Mass and in preaching here at the Monastère-Sainte-Anne de Montmahoux, I am profoundly moved at the gracious condescension of God who deigns to speak to us though the texts and chants of the Sacred Liturgy. How important it is to go to the Holy Sacrifice fully expecting to hear the Word of God and to experience an inbreaking of His merciful love. Yesterday in my homily I reminded the Sisters of that life-changing episode in the life of Saint Antony of Egypt, the Father of Monks: entering church at the moment of the Holy Gospel, he heard the word of Jesus addressed to him personally and was compelled, by the grace that always accompanies the liturgic Word, to leave church straightway and conform his life to what he heard.

A Long and Crucifying Fidelity

The Sisters here at Montmahoux are embarking on a new phase of their monastic development. The story of a vocation unfolds over a lifetime; it is a story written by the hand of God in a series of chapters, each one of which is rich in surprises, in sorrows, and in joys. More often than not the development of a vocation over a lifetime involves setbacks, contradictions, and apparent -- I say apparent -- instability. Happily, God does not judge the changes and chances in one's life as men do. Good people, and even members of the monastic establishment, can be harsh in judging as instability what God may well see as a long and crucifying fidelity to the underlying values of Benedictine life: the search for God in humility and obedience, perseverance in His praise, and the resolve never to despair of His mercy.

The Germination of New Life

Each of the Sisters here began her monastic journey in a different monastery. Each one was led, after a number of years, to embrace another expression of the same fundamental Benedictine vocation. And each one found herself again, after a number of years, called to collaborate in giving life to a new monastery, a mature expression of the seed of life that, silently and imperceptibly, has been germinating for so long in her heart. I am sympathetic to the monastic journey of these women because it so closely resembles my own. As I discern the provident Hand of God in their life, I am able to see more clearly that same provident Hand in my own.


Just as an apparent stability can veil an underlying instability, so too can an apparent instability veil an underlying stability. Many years ago, when I was very young, foolish, and immature, I encountered, at Subiaco in Italy, a wise old monk of the French Abbey of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire. I opened my soul to him, and told him of my search for place and a community in which and with whom I could, as the Holy Rule says, "truly seek God." The wise old monk comforted me, explaining that, at the end of the day, the only stability that matters is stability in the Heart of Jesus.


There are those who look upon new monasteries with suspicion, forgetting that, in every generation, the age-old and deeply rooted Benedictine trunk puts forth new shoots and branches. Some of these will thrive and become strong; others will flourish for a time and then be pruned away. Some of the grand abbeys that are today renowned for their solidity and prestige began as little nuclei of risk-takers advancing step by step in obscurity, in poverty, and in uncertainty.

Spiritual Contraception

Far more dangerous to the Church than the burgeoning of new monastic communities is the systematic practise of spiritual contraception by which every fragile manifestation of new life is either thwarted or aborted. While prudence, discernment, and a healthy scrutiny are always necessary, it is equally necessary to reject the mentality of spiritual contraception by which new endeavours of life for God alone are snuffed out while still in their embryonic stage, thereby depriving the Church of signs of vitality that are, at the same time, signs of an irrepressible hope.

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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