Tuesday, August 30, 2005

St. Benedict and St. Francis

In 1972, a group of young girls from an exclusive Catholic school, ages ranging from 10-17, in their desire to seek holiness, lived together in community. Since most of them came from a Benedictine School, they adopted the Rule of St. Benedict. Strange that they did not simply joined the Benedictine sisters who ran their school. They had nothing against them. They simply felt they had to start a new community.

At first they felt they would need a means of income for their sustenance. So they made stuff toys. It sold fast....bought by their own families to support their effort. But of course, you could not sell stuff toys to your family for all eternity. It was not such a good idea. Being mostly undergraduate students, they knew of no other means of income. Actually they did not need because their families were supporting them. A religious order supported by their own families? Not a bad idea!

From the beginning, their families supported them. And the community progressed. They had their first community house and later on a small 4-hectar land gifted by a friend.

Then, at the closing of the centenary of St. Benedict which coincided with the start of the centenary of St. Francis of Assisi, the Pope, John Paul II, speaking to the Franciscans hurled a challenge. He said we needed a new order in the Church that will combine the discipline of St. Benedict and the poverty of St. Francis. A new order, with so many new orders sprouting up like weeds? But the suggestion was coming from a Pope and was worth noting. The Benedictines today do not have the poverty of St. Francis. In fact, the Benedictines had an Asian meet wherein they discussed the nature of Benedictine poverty and came up with nothing. On the other hand, the Franciscan are not noted for the poverty of St. Francis. A practice they had given up long ago, if my observation is not betraying me.

The Pope's challenge was a tempting idea. This community of undergraduates had been existing for several years without any means of income. They were supported by their families; but now they were growing, their needs were increasing and another source of support was in order. So they decided that their next means of support would come from the poverty of St. Francis. What? Are you serious? Yes. St. Francis, practicing the poverty of Christ, not by living penniless, but in complete dependence on God and as a result, literally, lacked nothing. In fact Francis had more than what he needed. Now, that was a good idea. So the young girls adapted the poverty of St. Francis with the Rule of St. Benedict. They would depend completely on God.

Ascetically speaking the poverty of St. Francis is spiritually included in the monasticism of St. Benedict. The Benedictines did not have any means of income. Of course, they worked with their hands, thus "Ora et Labora." But the work was not a means of income but an ascetical exercise. This was literally the poverty of St. Francis where the monks depended on God completely that they did not know where their next meal would come from.

The idea of fusing two difficult Holy Rules was unthinkable, impractical, preposterous if not outright disastrous. But it is still working in this community after more than 30 years! Come to think of it wasn't this how the first Christian communities were. Beginning with Christ, He had nothing, not even a place to lay His head. He died with nothing and was buried in a borrowed grave. The apostles, when they preached, brought nothing with them, no wallet, no haversack, no credit card. The first Christian communities were described as selling all their things and laying them down at the apostles' feet. It seems everyone had nothing. And Ananias and Saphira who kept a little dropped dead.

This is not the common practice in religious communities today. All have some means of income for their sustenance. It is required by their constitutions and statutes. The Congregation in Rome requires that a community must have a means of secure income to be recognized.

Visitors to this community get the impression that they are so wealthy. But they completely depend on the providence of God....without any means of livelihood, and does no solicitation. Most of their members are still undergraduates with no skill to earn an income. They live in poverty, not in penury, in complete dependence on God. The lesson is clear: all religious communities in the service of God can concentrate on being holy and exert no effort in earning a living bearing in mind what Christ said: "Seek first the kingdom of God and all the rest will be given you." Just like Christ, just like the apostolic community, just like the first Christian communities.
(Painting above is "St. Francis in Ecstasy" by Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, 1729)

Sunday, August 28, 2005


World Youth Day is over. The musings are over. What now? Well, there were some mishaps, of course. There was the pagan invocation, there were the altar girls, the jazz interludes during moments of silence from the electric organ, a few bad music from the choir that massacred some Gregorian songs, the three kings two of which were women and that nun dancing acrobatic with her legs around a missionary... the delegates heard speeches in German which sounded Greek to them. One commentator sighed: "what a waste of time." That was from his point of view.

But there is God's point of view. The WYD showed the glory of the Catholic Church in general and of the Papacy in particular. No religious leader can gather such a crowd. And make them come on their own free will; and from all over the world. That was a spectacle for the world to see.

And the delegates saw Catholic Europe.... I mean the shell with little meat left.... but still impressive.

God's ways are not man's ways. There are many things, really, happening that are outside the scope of man's vision but very much within God's vision. And what is happening and will happen after the WYD will be outside man's vision.

The Holy Father outlined what he was hoping to happen during WYD using the figure of the Magi who left Persia in search for the new born king, who found and worshipped the king and went back to their homeland to preach the wonder they have seen. In some way, Pope Benedict's hopes were echoed in the parable of the prodigal son.

A few left their country to go to Cologne. They saw Christ through His Vicar, the Pope. Gladdened by the sight they will go back to their own countries to proclaim what they saw with their eyes of faith. The parable of the prodigal son shows a more complete picture of a son who had left his father's house and is now returning to the same after an experience of conversion. Many of the youth were never in the father's house.

The youth who made the journey were few, just like the Magi. What did they do to deserve to find the Christ? They were sitting in darkness and looking for the star. They knew they were in darkness and were yearning for the promised star. G. K. Chesterton mentioned something similar; in that he rejoiced he was in darkness because he saw the light. And the Magi were reported to have rejoiced in seeing the star. The prodigal son, too, realized his misery and in the darkness of his humiliation saw the joy in his father's house.

The first step towards conversion is for the young to discover that they are in darkness (of relativism and consumerism). This is not yet obvious and takes time to sink deep. It will occur quietly. Right now they would be enjoying this darkness.

But when conversion begins, by a pure act of grace, it will go all the way, usually, towards the desire to live a monastic-contemplative life. Some will desire to become priests. Other young girls will desire to enter convents, usually the strict and conservative kind. Indeed, a laboratory for vocation! Conversion leads to giving up all to follow Christ - like Edith Stein, John Newman, and Ronald Knox. Graham Greene muttered in his old age that he would had been happier if he became a priest.

And by a pure revelation from God, the young will see that their present life is like living in a pig sty, as the prodigal son realized. This is the first step of conversion towards the Catholic Faith and is seen among those undergoing conversions in that they noticed everything around was going wrong. That's fine as long as they know that it is the pigsty.

G. K. Chesterton warned us of rash judment, or better still erroneous judgment in "The call to the Barbarians." The example he gave was some Nordics who claimed that the Catholic Church was to be blamed for the dark ages. That was a totally erroneous judgment. The Church was accused of being the cause of the dark ages; when the only light during those dark times were in the monasteries while the darkness was caused by the Nordic Vikings who plundered the land. The youth must see who caused the darkness and where is the light.

Never mind the mishaps and the speeches in foreign tongues. The spiritual benefits from the WYD will be purely the acts of God. And He does not need anytbody to accomplish these though ordinarily he uses His Popes as instruments.

The desire to return to the father's house "treat me as one of your hired servant," is a desire for the contemplative life and to live in poverty. This will rise in their hearts but not in those exact words

Pope Benedict XVI wanted to reinvigorate Christianity in an increasingly secular Europe. He hopes to kick start the wave of new faith among young people. WYD was formerly a private invitation from the Pope to the youth to come to Rome for a personal dialogue. It would be nice for him to restore the idea to its original. This way he can complete or perfect what had been gained in this meeting in Cologne minus the undesirable extras.

Saturday, August 20, 2005


History repeats itself, because men never learn from his mistakes. This seems to be the case with regard to the Jewish temple and the Church. The temple was the center of worship in the Jewish context or the Old Testament. The Catholic Church would be the center in the New Testament.

In the Old Testament, God had a problem in teaching man how He wanted to be worshipped. He first gets them out of Egypt and brings them to an ideal place for learning, the desert. There God tries to teach the Jewish people how He wanted to be worshipped . And even while He was still talking, the people down by the base of the mountain started their own liturgy and danced around a golden calf. This angered God and He destroyed their little man-made liturgy.

As God instructed the Jews how to worship, they surrounded their worship with elaborate liturgies. Of course, by the time Christ was born they could not connect the external liturgies with the spirit or meaning of their liturgies.

Even in the Old Testament God was emphasizing that He did not want sacrifices and holocausts but obedience and a broken spirit. And God gave the chosen people commands, precisely to give them occasions for obedience. God also gave them prophets to remind them of their sins thus giving them occasions for a broken spirit. But they did not seem to get it and concentrated on the holocausts and sacrifices that made the temple a place for trading and bloody mess.

When Christ came, He insisted that he wants true worshippers. And described them as worshippers in spirit and in truth... which is very much God's message in the Old Testament.

With the death of Christ, the worship of the temple of the Old Testament was terminated (It was without the true spirit for a long time). So the veil of the sanctuary was split and eventually the temple would be destroyed. The destruction of the temple was just the externalizing of the destruction of the spiritual worship demanded by God of His people. This ended the Old Testament worship. This is what is happening in the Catholic Church today as seen in Catholic Church Conservation .

So Christ instituted the worshipping in spirit and in truth. He had to preach the truth. In fact, He was the truth. And the Old Testament temple that was destroyed was now substituted by the new temple, the Catholic Churches. Worshipping in spirit and truth, the Catholic congregation begun to surround themselves with an elaborate liturgy and art to express their beliefs; and there rose the great civilization of Europe. At that time, the spirit and the truth were the life of the arts and the cathedrals.

But then, like the Jews, the Catholics lost the 'spirit and the truth.' Their liturgies and art lost their meanings and the Churches begun to close and crumble. The spirit and the truth, the true worship of the Catholic Church, like the temple, was partially being destroyed. "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." Just as the Jews destroyed their spiritual temple(worship) symbolically seen in the physical destruction of the temple, the Catholics have destroyed their spiritual worship (worshipping in spirit and truth) as may be seen in the prevalent ignorance of the truth and ignorance on how to live the spirit of the Gospel; but when will Christ raise our Catholic Church up?

Now, and under the Petrine office of the present Pope, Benedict XVI had pressed all the right buttons. The Church should go up, again, by the power of Christ. After Christ was crucified ("Destroy this temple"), His Resurrection was witnessed by a very small group. Now after we have destroyed God's temple, His Church that worships in spirit and truth, His new rising will be witnessed by a small Church, just as at the beginning. ("In three days, I will raise it up") . [Picture is a model of the second temple built by Herod and destroyed by Titus in 70 A.D.]

Monday, August 15, 2005

Monasticism as Inner Temple in the Apocalypse

Christ made provisions for His Church by giving us the "Apocalypse", narrating series of events that "must soon take place (c.1)" showing the future of the Church up to the end times. It is really a big help to know what would befall the Church in the future (which is now) so we are forewarned and forearmed for all eventualities. Of course, many christians are so interested about the signs of the end times. It is a popular topic that catches attention and used often by preachers to gain attention. Novels, making atrocious claims, have become instant best sellers. But I have not seen much serious attempts to explain present events as fulfillments of the Apocalypse. Even the Fathers of the Church, apart from Victorinus, hardly commented on the Apocalypse.

Bloggers had shown the state of the physical Church, the buildings. In Europe, grandiose Churches are turned from art shops to garages; in the United States, some are demolished to give way to supermalls and new ones look like glorified shoe boxes. Seminaries and convents are closing down by the hundreds. Stores sell beautiful altar appointments for profit, instead of those same things being used for the worship of God. What's going on?

Allow me to try and explain what is going on, and show how this is one of the fulfillments of the prophecies of the Apocaplypse.

In the early Church, there was the hierarchical Church; these were the bishops and priests in their dioceses and parishes. It was part of the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church and I would add, the external structure of the Church. It was tangible, it could be experienced. But there was, also, an inner structure of the Church that seems not to be part of the external structure of the Church; and this was the monastic communities. These communities were extra-judicial. They were in some sense outside the direct jurisdiction of the bishop. It is difficult to see them as part of the diocese or parish. They live in caves or individual huts, called hermitages or cells. While the grandeur of the Church was in the pageant of the Popes, Cardinals, Bishops, priest and altar boys, the monastic communities were in the margin, estranged from the rest. Alone. The bishops were to interfer in the monasteries, only, if some problems arose in the monasteries. Otherwise, the Bishops are hands off on the monasteries. That is how the monasteries progressed. With their great degree of independence from hierarchical domination. But it was the monks who lived the Gospels; the rest simply expressed the Gospel message in their rituals or liturgies. We can say that the monks lived the spirit of the Gospel while those in the cities performed the external liturgies.

Since the monks had the spirit, it was just right that they would be fit to celebrate the liturgies best. So The monks who lived in caves and cells began to build great monasteries with great Churches where the liturgies were developed in their splendor. The Spirit of the Desert, the monastic life which essentially is worshipping God in spirit and truth, without the externals of ceremonials was suddenly married to these external sacramentals of the Church. But these are two separate entities, glorious when they are together but each can exist independently from one another as in the early times of monasticism. It shouldn't be separated but, once upon a time, they were.

Today, we see a crumbling of the exterior of this structure. The internal structure exist and Pope Benedict, though attempting to reform the external Liturgy is, in more sense, interested in developing the original internal structure, the spirit of monasticism (particularly the monasticism of St. Benedict.).

What's going on? Right now there seems to be a collapse of the apocalyptic outer Church, i.e. the external structure of the Church, of which the Church building is a symbol. There is a melt down in the handing down of the true faith from the Church, down to the Bishops, through the priests and down to the faithful. Nothing is being handed down! But definitely, there are souls who are getting the message; though clearly, not through the ordinary means which is the external structure of the Church. I am amazed at the knowledge of a Gilbert Chesterton or a John Newman seeing that they were not instructed by the external structure of the Church (namely, by catechist, priests, nuns or bishops). This, in fact, is common among converts. They seem to possess a knowledge that surpass even those of born Catholic priest-theologians. That's the way monks acquired their Divine knowledge. By living the interior life of the Church and not by a mere life within the structure of the Church.Today, sadly, I do not know, monastic orders are canonically within the structure of the Church. Would this be the reason why it has weakened the internal life of the Church? Pope Benedict is looking seriously at small lay religious communities with the hope that these groups are initiating what the first monks initiated during their time...true worshippers who worshipped in spirit and truth.

Now, let's go back to the Apocalypse and see if these events we are witnessing had been prophesied in the Apocalypse. Like all prophesies, it is impossible to interpret prophecies unless it is actually being fulfilled.

Chapter 11 states:"Then I was given a measuring rod like a staff, and I was told 'rise and measure the temple of God and the altar and those who worship there, but do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample over the holy City for forty-two months.'"

Note those who are pleasing to God: those who are worshipping in the temple and the altar. These are those who are worshipping in spirit and in truth minus the external structures of dioceses, parishes and Liturgy in the Churches. And those who are in the court outside the temple are those in the external structure of the Church which we see collapsing today; the bishops and priests who have failed to do their jobs of teaching and sanctifying their flocks, the Liturgies, the Diocesan and parish structures and the church buildings. And this outer court of the temple will be given to the gentiles, those Catholics in words but not in deed, who will trample over the holy Religion for forty-two months (three and a half years, the time alloted to the anti-christ to rule the earth).

It is, therefore, with great wisdom, that Pope Benedict is looking back at the time when monasteries were the places where worshippers worshipped in spirit and in truth independently from the external Structure of the Church, and as in times past, to build a sound external structure and Liturgy on that inner structure. The possibility in succeeding in the first is great but the prophecy of the Apocalypse shows that the second will be difficult, "for it was given to the gentiles to trample upon the holy temple." (Picture above is Mt. Quarantel, the site of the temptation of Christ. A monastery stands at the cave where Jesus stayed.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2005


Pope Benedict XVI had been quoting St. Benedict of Norcia under whose patronage he had put his Petrine office. From the very first talk he gave as Pope, he already quoted from the writings of the Patriach of Western monasticism. And he had not stopped.

One of the mottoes of St. Benedict is "Ora et Labora." Three simple words and yet it contains the entire theology of the spiritual life. "Ora" is the whole theology of prayer life, specially contemplation and "Labora" is the foundation of the theology of "Rerum Novarum."

"Ora et Labora" is the marriage of the spiritual and the natural. With the spiritual invigorating the natural while the natural defending the spiritual. It is, in fact, a combination of Mary and Martha; the mystery of the Incarnation.

"Labora" is not work as we ordinarily understand it. In Christian asceticism we do not work to sustain ourselves. We do not get a job so we can eat. We depend completely on the providence of God for our sustenance, for He had promised to provide all our needs if we seeked His kingdom first. In Christianity, we work to be able to provide for the needs of others. Christians do not work to sustain themselves, they work so they can do good works or works of charity for their neighbors.

"Ora" is the more important part. "Ora," or prayer is love of God; "Labora," or work is love of neighbor.

When Prayer invigorates Labor, the land is transformed into a garden and a city becomes a city of God. Labor, on the other hand, raises a soul to the heights of contemplation. This was the movement that created the most splendid civilization in the world...Christian Europe. . . something Our Holy Father hopes to re-create in a smaller degree.

The central point of St. Benedict's Rule of Life (which is the New Testament summarized and simplified) is the Divine Office, the Liturgical prayers. And in between these prayers are schedules of work which were not meant for the sustenance of the community, but for the deepening of the monk's spiritual life. The moments of prayer were the leaven that sanctified their work. Of course, when they worked, they had produce. Well, might as well consume them. But that was not the purpose.

See a similar illustration in Exodus. The jews left Egypt to go to the desert to worship God through prayer. In their journey, they did not have to work for their sustenance, though they brought their cattle. God fed them along the way.

Picture this in a sort of extra-terrestial vision; through "Ora" God beams on earth graces from heaven. Then the beams of graces transform the earth into an earthly paradise. That is how things are supposed to work. And that was what precisely happened to Western Europe except that everything went crashing down before it was completely transformed into a City of God. Today, our present Pope is content to have a little suburb of God. And there is no other way of going about it than through "Ora et Labora."

Most religious movements contain the element of sanctifying the workplace. A movement closer to "Ora et Labora" is the return of the converts to the fields. It is happening in the U. S. It happened in England during the springtime of Catholicism in the beginnings of the 19th century in the Dichtling community. It bloomed during the time of the guilds in the middle ages shown by the fact that the laborers were freer, more contented and had more food than now. Attempts to revive it were made by the Distributist movement of Belloc and Fr. Vincent McNabb O.P. This movement had the right idea of what "Ora et Labora" should be. Definitely it would never enrich any national economy. And as Chesterton, one of its proponent, quipped: it was not tried and found wanting, it was found too difficult and never tried again. But it was definitely very successful when tried at first.(Painting above is St.Benedict's sermon to the inhabitants of Montecassino by Stefanelli)

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Little Children

An act is good or bad dependng on whether it is in obedience or disobedience to the commands of Christ. So far abortion is being condemned because it goes against the child's right to life. For Catholics the basis for our condemnation is because it goes against the commands of Christ. What commands?

Children are important because it is from them that we learn how to be children again, a requirement to enter the kingdom of God. Of course, we can always learn from our own youth but at age 65 we can't remember what happened when we were 40, how much more our youth. The whole New Testament teaches us how to become children again; and to have children around us is a great help since we have an actual demonstration how it is done.

And so if Moloch, (I mean the devil), would want to prevent us from learning how to become children againt, all he has to do is convince us to get rid of those "fetuses." No children to teach us how to become children again; no chance for us to be great in the kingdom of heaven.

Then Christ adds: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me." Christ identifies Himself with those "fetuses." He who receives and welcomes a conceived child receives and welcomes Christ. And he who rejects through family planning or abortion one of those "fetuses" rejects Christ. Now tell me what more serious sin can you imagine that can plunge us to hell than to reject Christ? Maybe crucifying Christ? But disobeying Christ's command is liken to crucifying Christ!

Christ continues; "See that you do not despise one of these little one, for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." That's like saying if you abort that child his guardian angel will stand witness against you in heaven. With an angel on the side of the prosecution what chance do you have.

Of course, when Christ refers to children in the Gospels, He usually means innocent children or grown ups who have become like little children again. So His condemnation will apply to old people who have become like little children whom we refuse to take care and/or subjected to euthanasia.(The painting above is "Madonna con bambino" by Pompeo Batoni)

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Not by Flesh and Blood.....BUT MY FATHER IN HEAVEN

1. Not by flesh and blood.
The Catholic religion is a religion revealed by God; in fact, the only one revealed by a god. As such only God can teach and explain it. Let's recall the dialogue between Christ and His apostles: "Who do people say I am?" And Peter answered; "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God." And Jesus praised him saying: "Flesh and blood had not revealed it to you but My Father in heaven."

2. Theological schools were doing it wrong.
Hey, wait a minute. You mean we cannot learn the things of God from teachers or preachers of flesh and blood? We can only learn from the Father in heaven? Right! So seminaries and theological and even religious houses had been doing things wrong all these years and you are wondering why very few know the Catholic Faith? Most Catechist, priests, nuns and parents had been doing a bad job? Right! And they had been doing it for the last three known generations. No wonder the world is like this.

3. How do you learn to lay a deep foundation of the Gospel Doctrine?
The book of Wisdom states that the word "wise" in Scriptural language has often been used to refer to craftiness, like the unjust steward is praised because he acted wisely, and the children of this world are often wiser than the children of light. That's one kind of wisdom.

4. The wisdom of children.
There is another wisdom which is used to describe the innocent, gullible and simpleton which the business smart guys often missed. This is the wisdom that comes from God and given to children. Peter, after three years training under Christ, acquired this wisdom which consists in being "like little children." It is the method by which we learn through Pope Benedict's "New Evangelization." And this is different from the way used by seminaries and theologiacal schools.

5. The truths are learned through a way of life.
The truths of Christ are learned not in the classroom like other subjects. They are learned through living a way of life.... a life of humility. The book of wisdom repeats interminably that wisdom is given to the humble. "Learn from Me for I am meek and humble of heart. Learn My humility and I'll teach you My Theology.

6. Acquire wisdom through humility; learn humility through obedience.
Did I fail to mention books, classes, professors, etc. I sure did! You only need humility acquired through obedience. Christ asked His disciples who men said He was, to remove the false opinions or ideas they got before He revealed Himself. Most of us have learned our theology through flesh and blood, like in theological schools and have learned little. Living a life of obedience according to the Rule of St. Benedict and acquiring humility (St. Benedict enumerates 7 degrees of humility) is the way to be worthy to receive the gift of wisdom. Humility is the classroom from where we learn the things of God. That's why St. Benedict calls his monasteries the school of the Lord's service. The steps: obey that you may become humble. God expresses His Will to the humble and gives the knowledge on Who He is and how to glorify Him.

7. What is man's and what is God's.
The things of men can be discussed by men but the things of God can only be discussed by God. The opinion of men about Christ was close to the truth but still far below the true dignity of God. When Christ questioned Peter much more was expected of him to see beyond the appearances.

8. Christ was asking for what was concealed which is only revealed to believers. The answer must combine natural knowledge of the Son of Man and a supernatural knowledge of the Son of God. One without the other offers us no hope of wisdom or salvation.

Christ invites them to higher thoughts concerning Him. "Whom say ye that the Son of Man is. You being men think of Me as man, ye who are gods, whom do you think of Me. Christ had asked for the wrong opinions of the common men. Now He questions those who are recipient of His revelation. For the opinion of men, all the disciples answered. For the true opinion, only Peter answers. The Jews knew He was the Son of Man but did not know He was the Son of God. "Thou are the Son of the Living God". A living Son of God.

"Blessed are you Simon Bar Jona for flesh and blood has not revealed this unto thee, but my Father who is in heaven." That which flesh and blood could not reveal, was revealed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Peter had received a revelation from the Holy Spirit. Not from the words of the mouth of flesh and blood but by the grace of God.

The deeper doctrines of the Catholic Faith are received by revelation. That's why the first monks learned their theology by living a life of silence

Peter was blessed because to have looked and to have seen beyond human sight is matter of praise, not beholding that which is of flesh and blood, but seeing the Son of God by the revelation of the heavenly Father. And this revelation can grow as one's faith increases.

In short, the way to learn the doctrine of our faith is by acquiring the virtue of humility. All the Holy Rules of the founders of religious orders contain this. The defect is oftentimes in the exectuion of the rules. It is upon the acquisition of humility that we become deserving of the knowledge given to the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church. We are reminded of the Cure of Ars who was almost always in danger of failing his seminary courses. His homilies were comparable to the great Fathers of the Church. And St. Therese of Lisieux who never attended a theological seminar nor read many books is now a doctor of the Church.

(The picture above is the monastery of Saint Catherine at the foot of Mt. Sinai. The early monks believed that to learn the things of God, they must live a way of life as Moses did, waiting by the foot of Mt. Sinai.)

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

St. Benedict, St. Basil and the New Evangelization

Evangelization is the process by which we teach men the way to God as taught by God, Himself. Since God's ways are never man's ways, the search for this knowledge could cause some distress. Well, not really. It can look complicated as found in the New Testament, but St. Benedict of Norcia, a saint Pope Benedict referred to as "my Patron since my election to the Petrine ministry", simplified it. Sort of "How to go to heaven for dummies."

St. Benedict had no intention of evangelizing Europe or saving Roman civilization. He was guiding simple peasants who wanted to seek God, by writing a summary of the New Testament with some explanations from the Fathers of the Church on what are the commandments of Christ and how to put those commandments into a way of life that leads to union with God. He wrote the "Rule" intending it to be a way of life for the "male peasants he was guiding." Thus his monasteries for men. Evangelization begins with oneself seeking God. Only after you have found God can you show Him to others.

When these men became fervent in their faith, their families, wives, sons and daughters wanted to follow. So St. Benedict gathered them in small towns at the borders beside but outside his monasteries. As the young men progressed in their spiritual life he would allow them to enter the monastery proper; and in the case of the young women, he placed them in their own monasteries, similar to that of St. Scholastica.

The families living at the border towns of the monasteries followed,also, the Rule of St. Benedict in their own homes. And note the wisdom of this arrangement. This was the beginnings of a miniature Catholic Church...many Christian homes united by one way of life based on the New Testament and Fathers of the Church. We could almost see the Catholic Church existing and expanding, living one, holy, Catholic and an apostolic life. The brilliant arrangement and the continuous expansion would eventually become Christian Europe. Our Holy Father, Benedict XVI is praying the same thing would happen today.

Let us look at Monte Cassino, one of St. Benedict's more popular monastery. The monks were within the monastery walls living according to the Gospel. We also know St. Scholastica, Benedict's twin sister, was living with other women within a monastery. The question was: what was the way of life of the families with their sons and daughters in the border towns of the monasteries?

St. Benedict was not ignorant of the Tradition of the Catholic Church. His Rule was for monasteries exclusively for men or exclusively for women. It was applicable for those living as a family, too. But the Rule had no provision for several entire families living in community. Benedict did not have to write a separate Rule because there was the Long Rule of St. Basil for the purpose. In Chapter 73 he reminds us that the monastic community could grow to a point where there will be many families who would want to live together as a monastic community. There must be provisions for sons and daughters. St. Basil had disciplinary rules for these.

While St. Benedict's Rule is for individuals living together, it is also for a family Christianizing its home. The Rule of St. Basil is for several or many entire families living together the Gospel. Both Rules are essentially the same. The slight difference is that St. Basil made disciplinary rules for entire families.

Like the writings of all the Fathers of the Church, the Rules of Sts. Benedict and Basil were for evangelization...to make good Christians of men and women. All the Rules of the founders of religious orders were for the same purpose; to be holy. This was the classical way of evangelization. Today. Benedict's monasticism has not been tried and found wanting. It was found difficult and never tried again, as Gilbert Chesterton would say. It is fitting that our present Holy Father is bent on trying it..... for just one last time? (Picture above is St. Benedict with the Blessed Virgin Mary and the child Jesus by L. Giordano.)