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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Tuesday, 26 August 2014

TOLKIEN AND BEOWULF by Jerry Salyer

August 23, 2014


Tolkien’s newly published translation of the Old English epic beautifully demonstrates that there is more reality in folklore than in the perverse fantasies by which many live today.
Jerry Salyer


At morn King Hrothgar on his thronefor his lieges slain there mourned alonebut Grendel gnawed the flesh and boneof the thirty thanes of Denmark.A ship there sailed like a wingéd swan,and the foam was white on the waters wan,and one there stood with bright helm onthat fate had brought to Denmark.— “Beowulf and the Monsters,” J.R.R. Tolkien

   Heathen or no, Beowulf does the Lord’s work, and knows full well that there is a higher power to Whom all must answer. So believed the anonymous eighth-century Christian poet who saw fit to set down Beowulf’s adventures; so too believed the late scholar and novelist J.R.R. Tolkien, whose long-awaited translation of the greatest of Old English epics has finally been released. 
If Professor Tolkien and the ancient Anglo-Saxon storyteller are right, then Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) should interest not only philologists and Tolkien fans but the inquisitive Catholic layman, too. Perhaps northern European folklore is more relevant to the Faith than we might think? Perhaps modern Christians can derive wisdom and inspiration from what Tolkien called “point[s] of contact between Scripture and Germanic legend”?
In Tolkien’s view, the first noteworthy “point of contact” is manifested through the Beowulf monsters—particularly the ogre Grendel.  By terrorizing the realm of the good King Hrothgar and devouring Hrothgar’s subjects at night,  Grendel stands as a representative of Cain, that first killer from whom, in the Beowulf mythos, “all evil broods were born, ogres and goblins and haunting shapes of hell, and the giants too, that long time warred with God.” 
What attracts Grendel’s hostility is the music coming from Heorot, as the sound of Hrothgar’s minstrel singing joyfully of Creation rings hatefully in the creature’s ears.  This loathing for Christian civilization is extremely important for understanding the poem, for as Tolkien observes in his commentary on the Old English text Grendel is the ultimate féond(enemy), in a permanent state of enmity—fæhÞ—with mankind:

What is implied here is that there was never any hope of […] settlement. Grendel was an “alien”, not recognizing the authority of Hrothgar or of any human law. Nor was it possible to hold any conference with him, and arrange terms: and indeed he would not have been willing to offer any. Nay, he piled fæhÞ upon fæhÞ, killing fresh Danes whenever he could.
Seeking truce with Grendel is absurd, for his hatred of Heorot’s music and what it evokes is not only relentless but insatiable.  He has, in the words of the poet, “a feud with God.”
Enter the Geatish hero Beowulf, whose father had once been a fugitive sheltered under Hrothgar’s authority. The son now returns the favor, offering to guard Hrothgar’s royal hall, and when Grendel noiselessly slips into Heorot once again that night he is delighted to discover more sleeping victims to slake his insatiable appetite. Delight turns to dismay, however, when the nocturnal fiend discovers he has met his match:

Onward and nearer [Grendel] stepped, seized then with hand the valiant-hearted man upon his bed.  Against him the demon stretched his claw; and swiftly he laid hold on it, and with hate in heart he propped him on his arm.  Straightway that master of evil deeds perceived that never had he met within this world in earth’s four corners on any other man a mightier gripe of hand.

A fantastical wrestling match ensues, one so catastrophic that it nearly destroys Heorot. Beowulf triumphs, and—after seeking out and defeating Grendel’s monstrous dam, accepting Hrothgar’s gratitude, and celebrating the victories—returns home. In time Beowulf inherits the Geatish throne, and rules benevolently for 50 winters. 
He is destined to go out with his boots on, however.  As an old man, he gets word that a dragon—an “alien creature fierce and evil”—has been disturbed from its slumber, and is venting its hot wrath upon his subjects:

Now did the invader begin to spew forth glowing fires and set ablaze the shining halls—the light of the burning leapt forth to the woe of men.  No creature there did that fell winger of the air purpose to leave alive.  Wide might it be seen how the serpent went to war, the malice of that fell oppressor, from near and far be seen how that destroyer in battle pursued and humbled the people of the Geats. 

Tolkien was especially fascinated by the dragon’s backstory, which relies upon the image of the dragon making its nest in an ancient ruin where “forgotten lords [had] placed their gold in the hoard, and then died one by one.” The treasure in this tomb has drawn the dragon even though, as the Beowulf poet reflects, ne byð  him wihte ðy sél (“no whit doth it profit him”). Per Tolkien, this remark regarding the creature’s pointless gold-greed may be taken as “the last word on dragonhood.” 
Standing at a pole opposite the one occupied by the hoarding dragon, an aged Beowulf shows that self-sacrifice is the last word on kingship. Abandoned by his terrified soldiers, he meets the beast aided only by a single retainer, the spirited youth Wiglaf. Together the two heroes slay the serpent, but at a high price: Beowulf suffers a mortal wound during the battle. Thus the epic concludes with Wiglaf and the Geats lamenting the passing of their just and gracious lord, the “shepherd of the people.”
Surveying the tale from beginning to end, Tolkien raises a powerful theological question: “What are we to think of the nobility and heroism of the heathen past?  Was it all just evil, damned?” This question defined a serious controversy in the newly-Christian England of antiquity, and the consensus of Old English scholarship is that the Beowulf poem is, in part, a response to them. As Tolkien observes, the poem implicitly takes a side: “[T]he mere fact that the poet wrote a poem about the pagan past shows in general that he did not belong to the party that consigned the heroes (northern or classical) to perdition.”  Like Dante—who acknowledged Virgil as his guide and portrayed the pre-Christian Emperor Trajan in Paradise—the Beowulf poet recognizes that heathen expressions of truth, goodness, and beauty do have their place in the life of the Church.

For his part, Tolkien believed northern paganism to be in certain respects more compatible with Christianity than is the Mediterranean variety, insofar as northern myths allude to a grand conflict whereby gods and men fight together against inhuman monsters. This conflict between light and darkness is a far cry from Homer’s Iliad, wherein aloof and often whimsical Olympians treat mortals as chess-pieces; for that matter, it is a far cry even from Greco-Roman philosophical traditions, which sometimes tend to equate godliness with detachment. Of course I do not mean here to belittle the classical inheritance, recent neglect of which has had a dire impact on Western civilization. The point, rather, is that the Anglo-Saxon inheritance to which Tolkien was so devoted likewise has something to commend it. 
At the least, we can say that there is more reality to Old English folklore than in the perverse fantasies by which Americans now live. When a society promotes disloyalty and monstrosity so far as to celebrate dragons and vampires and witches, when respectability-craving “conservatives” can always find reasons to compromise with the next phase of an ongoing anti-Christian revolution, when piles of gadgets and toys and luxury goods are offered in compensation for the loss of faith, family, and roots—why, in such times we could do worse than to recall Beowulf’s trusty kinsman Wiglaf, who lives by the dictum that “[k]inship may nothing set aside in virtuous mind.”
Indeed there are many reasons to see the 21st-century West as twisted and bleak. Yet, from another point of view, it cannot be that bad—not if J.R.R. Tolkien is still putting out books decades after having passed on. Thanks to his latest publication, it is clear that reclaiming the forgotten pagan legacy must be a priority for those who aim to preserve something of Christendom.

Beowulf:  A Translation and Commentary
Translated by J.R.R. Tolkien; edited by Christopher Tolkien
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014

About the Author
Jerry Salyer 
Catholic convert Jerry Salyer is a philosophy instructor living in Franklin County, Kentucky.

Monday, 25 August 2014

MONASTICISM, CLERICALISM & THE PRIESTHOOD OF ALL BELIEVERS by Abbot Nicholas

The essence of monastic life is not clerical service which is possible only for some - but a radically converted way of life, available to all.

my source: Catholic World Report
“In the church, the [consecrated] religious are called to be prophets in particular by demonstrating how Jesus lived on this earth, and to proclaim how the kingdom of God will be in its perfection. A religious must never give up prophecy … Let us think about what so many great saints, monks, and religious men and women have done, from St. Anthony the Abbot onward. Being prophets may sometimes imply making waves.” — Pope Francis, La Civilta Cattolica interview, September 2013. 

“When there is no prophecy among the people, clericalism fills the void.” — Pope Francis, daily Mass homily, December 16, 2013. 

In an unusual, perhaps surprising turn of events, we now have a pope who speaks often and explicitly against clericalism: that is, against the erroneous assumption that the Catholic clergy are spiritually superior to the laity and automatically more important to the Church’s mission.

This development is not wholly novel. Past popes have also known that giving laypersons a second-class status causes paralysis, not healthy order. The opposite of clericalism is not chaos, but responsibility: it means a Church in which all believers take responsibility for learning, living, and transmitting the faith.

The backlash against clericalism has spawned false solutions, however. Some laypersons think they should oppose clericalism by taking on priest-like functions, or demanding access to ordination. But this “clericalized” behavior feeds into the very error it opposes.

To overcome clericalism, we must recover some deep truths of faith. Among these truths is the Catholic doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers,” or the “universal priesthood.” Different from the ordained priesthood, but no less important, this is the share in Christ’s priesthood which all the baptized possess.

Aspects of this universal priesthood are already implicit in Christian prayer and practice. But many faithful seemingly do not grasp the importance of the priesthood of all believers, or they lack models for living it.

We need not invent new spiritual models to fill this gap. Christian tradition already contains the resources for understanding and living this universal baptismal priesthood. One resource is the monastic tradition.

For cultural and historical reasons, monasticism has typically not served as a model for lay spirituality in the Christian West, at least in recent centuries. This is a significant loss—especially since monasticism originally developed among laypersons, as a means for living out their baptismal calling to its fullest.

Monasticism is fundamentally a lay movement. Its great founders, like St. Benedict and St. Anthony of Egypt, were not priests, and did not envision communities of priests. The essence of monasticism is not clerical service—which is possible only for some—but a radically converted way of life, available to all.

Many Western Christians see monasticism as remote and inaccessible, very different from ordinary Christian life. Often they associate monasticism with the ordained priesthood—as though ordination were the goal of monastic life, at least for men. Women’s monasticism, meanwhile, is almost off the radar.

All of these impressions are incorrect. Monasticism is a way of life for both men and women. Its goal is not ordination, but the fulfillment of one’s baptismal consecration to God. This is why monasticism can, and should, be a model for the “priesthood of all believers.”

In our Eastern Christian tradition, monastic life is more readily understood as a universal spiritual paradigm—a model of discipleship for all Christians, in any state of life. Not all are called to formal monasticism, but all believers can take lessons and inspiration from this spiritual path.

St. John Paul II noted this in Orientale Lumen, his apostolic letter on the Eastern churches: “…in the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition, proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized…a symbolic synthesis of Christianity” (9).

As representatives of Eastern Catholicism, we believe monastic spirituality can help the laity to live out the priesthood they possess by baptism. This, in turn, can help solve the problem of clericalism in the Church, as laypersons come to understand the holiness and importance of their baptismal calling.

In a deeper sense, too, monasticism is antithetical to the spirit of clericalism that would divide the Church into “superior clergy” and “inferior laity.” Monasticism is profoundly egalitarian: open to both sexes (albeit separately), placing all on the equal footing of humility before God.

Clericalism will not be overcome by shallow or politicized measures, but by a deeper consciousness of our identity in Christ. The monastic tradition offers a means of growing in this awareness—not only for consecrated monastics, but for anyone committed to a shared life of prayer and spiritual discipline.

Clericalism and the “clericalization of the laity”

Though our focus is on this universal application of monastic spirituality, we must begin elsewhere: with a synopsis of clericalism, as well as the false solution that has been called the “clericalization of the lay faithful.”

Clericalism is based on a distortion of certain truths. The ministerial priesthood, conferred by ordination, does convey responsibilities and rights which do not belong to laypersons. The ordained priesthood differs, not just in degree but in kind, from the priesthood of all the baptized (Lumen Gentium, 10).

Nonetheless, Christianity is not a religion centered on the clergy. The baptismal vocation of laypersons is not inferior to the vocation of those ordained. A differentiation of roles in the Church is not a stratification of “important clergy” and “unimportant laity.”

Still, clericalism makes some laypersons feel like spectators—rather than protagonists in salvation history—simply because they are not ordained, and often cannot be ordained, to the ministerial priesthood.

Even consecrated life has suffered from clericalism. Deviating from tradition, medieval Western men’s monasteries became clericalized: divided into “choir monks” chosen for ordination, and lower-ranking “lay brothers” focused on manual labor. This division has long affected the Western Church.

Along with the problem of clericalism, the Church now also faces a misguided backlash against this phenomenon.

Unfortunately, this overreaction to clericalism has not promoted a proper understanding of gifts and vocations within Christ’s Body. Instead, we have witnessed power struggles, confusion about the priesthood, and what St. John Paul II called the “clericalization of the lay faithful” (Christifideles Laici, 23).

Ironically, the backlash against clericalism often proceeds from the same basis as clericalism itself. Many opponents of clericalism implicitly accept the false premise that ministerial service within the Church—in liturgical, sacramental, and pastoral contexts—signifies superiority and importance.

Rather than rooting out this error, these opponents demand that such ministries be open to laypersons. They desire to take up priestly or priest-like duties—distributing Communion, serving in the sanctuary, or exercising pastoral governance—in order to prove their importance and worth in the Church.

In the worst case, this mindset generates tension between clergy and clericalized laity, who see themselves as competitors for status and influence. Such misunderstandings reach their height in the demand for women’s ordination, often framed in terms of “equal dignity” or “equal worth.”

Sadly, these protests stem from basic misconceptions: not only about the ordained priesthood, but—more fundamentally—about the source of dignity and worth in the Church, which is found not in ordination but in our common baptism.

Holiness is one single reality, the reality of our transformation in—and into—Christ. By baptism, all are called to this holiness. Yet the Lord desires the differentiation of gifts and roles in his Church: “that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers” (Eph. 4:11).

Laypersons should not try to approximate or appropriate the clerical state—either by demands for ordination, or by the “soft clericalism” that demands special roles in the sanctuary and the parish.

Instead, all Church members—clergy and laity—should reflect on the tremendous baptismal calling of all the faithful. Our shared baptismal vocation is a priesthood in its own right, the “priesthood of all believers” in the authentic, Catholic sense.

Though different from the ordained ministry, this priesthood is not inferior. Indeed, it is more fundamental: the whole Church comprises “a royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9). This universal priesthood is a participation in the mystery of Christ, who is “priest, prophet, and king” (CCC 783-784).

The consecrated monastic vocation emerged as a way for both men and women to live this universal priesthood. Later developments or distortions notwithstanding, this is still the essence of monasticism.

Furthermore, it is the reason why monasticism can serve as “a reference point for all the baptized.” To see how this is possible, we must first examine the priesthood of all believers.

The universal priesthood of the baptized

Though it is an authoritative teaching of the Church, many Catholics seem unaware that there is a universal priesthood of all believers, in which we share because of our baptism into Christ the Eternal High Priest.

This priesthood—like the entire reality of Christ and his Church—is a great mystery. But we can grasp several of its essential aspects. These include: intercession, sacrifice, mediating grace to others, offering creation back to God in thanksgiving, and the contemplative work of “standing before God.”

Individually, these aspects of the universal priesthood will be more or less familiar. What is lacking is a vision of the whole, connecting these spiritual practices through our participation in Jesus’ priesthood.

Our intercessory prayer is a participation in the priesthood of Christ, “who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34). Hebrews 7 makes this clearer: “[H]e holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (v. 24-25, RSV-CE)

Since the Church prays “in Jesus’ name,” our prayers are joined with that single, definitive divine-human intercession which Christ makes before his Father for the world. Since Christ is both God and man, we pray both to him and, in a sense, with him—in union with this eternal intercession.

Likewise, our sacrificial acts and redemptive sufferings are a participation in Christ’s priesthood. Jesus suffers in the members of his Mystical Body (Acts 9:5); and while his sacrifice alone redeems us, our struggles can sanctify the Church and bring the grace of Christ’s Passion into the world (Col. 1:24).

Similarly, our share in the priesthood of Christ makes us mediators of God’s grace. We become “sacraments” of God’s love: signs which embody the very reality that they signify. Baptized into Christ, we live for others as tangible manifestations of the grace given to us.

Jesus himself is the singular, absolute “sacrament” of God’s love in this sense. But we, in him, are transformed into reality-bearing signs of the same grace. Through our incorporation into Christ the One Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), our presence also becomes a conduit of grace between God and the world.

Another universally-shared aspect of Jesus’ priesthood is the work of thanksgiving: to receive God’s creation as a gift, and to respond by rendering it back to God, with gratitude and rightful use.

In this respect, Jesus—in his incarnate priesthood—succeeds where Adam failed. Creation was made for man’s use and God’s glorification, with the intention that all gifts would be referred and offered up to the divine Giver. But mankind shattered this relationship by transgressing against God’s generosity.

In Christ—and subsequently, his Church—the relationship is restored: creation shows forth its meaning as a sign of God’s grace, and mankind can offer creation back to God. Though it is not among the Seven Sacraments, our grateful reception and blessing of God’s gifts is “sacramental” in this broader sense.

We end our summary of the priesthood of all believers, with the work that St. Edith Stein called “standing before God for all.” Rooted in the Old Testament and Christian mysticism, this is the simple yet profound task of bringing the world into God’s presence, and God’s presence into the world, within oneself.

Because of the original unity and solidarity of the human race (cf. CCC 404), one person’s presence before God brings grace, in some way, to the whole world. All prayer, and especially that prayer which consists in simply “practicing the presence of God,” is implicitly offered “in behalf of all and for all” (Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, Anaphora).

But what makes this possible? Again, it is the grace of Christ—in whom we are united with one another and with God. Belonging fully to eternity and time, to the world and the Trinity, he makes each present to the other. It is the Eternal Word who first “stands before God for all.” Yet in him, the same work is ours.

Monasticism and the universal priesthood

A deep connection exists between monasticism and the “priesthood of all believers.” In the West, this link was obscured by the later clericalization of men’s monasteries—the ordination of nearly all monks judged capable of priestly service—and by the functional specialization of later, semi-monastic religious orders.

These developments are at variance with the original monastic tradition—which was devoted to prayer, and involved celibacy, but which had no essential connection to the priesthood or any other ordained ministry. Early monks were in fact strongly discouraged from seeking or desiring ordination.

Open equally to both men and women, in a spirit of true Christian egalitarianism, monasticism is not essentially ordered toward the ordained priesthood. But it is very much ordered toward the universal priesthood shared by all believers through their baptism.

Having enumerated some central facets of our common priesthood—its intercessory, sacrificial, mediational, offertory, and contemplative aspects—we can see how this is so. For we find the same elements present in monastic life, only in a more developed and explicit form.

Every Christian can offer intercessory prayer in union with Christ “who indeed intercedes for us.” The intercessory prayer of monks has no more inherent power than that of laypersons; but both derive their strength from our share in Jesus’ priesthood and his divine-human mediation.

Monastics offer intercession regularly, in the daily cycle of services. But any layperson can perform the same work—by praying some of the canonical hours, or simply following a personal prayer rule with an intercessory dimension. Indeed, intercession for others should be part of the laity’s daily prayers.

Through physical asceticism, and especially the discipline of fasting, monks and nuns learn to consecrate the entire experience of human life—including its inevitable struggles and sorrows—to God through Christ. Yet this work, too, belongs just as properly to all the baptized.

The Christian East and West offer fasting traditions which should be robustly revived among Catholics and other Christians. But asceticism is not an end in itself, either for laypersons or monastics: through it, we share in Christ’s priesthood, by entering into his solidarity with the sufferings of all humanity.

It is said that consecrated religious men and women are “signs of grace” in the world. This is more deeply true than some realize: for they should be “signs” in the sacramental sense, encapsulating and transmitting the reality they signify. Yet we must not think this task belongs only to consecrated religious.

Every Christian is, by baptismal adoption, a “son of God” (CCC 460, 654, 2782). Thus, all believers—not only consecrated religious—ought to be, like the eternal Son of God, a “light to the nations” and a channel of grace between God and mankind. Christian life and social activism should be rooted in this awareness of our status as channels of grace.

The material simplicity of monastic life has an ascetical purpose; yet it is also oriented toward the original “offertory” purpose of creation, in which we receive all things as gifts from God and offer them back to him in gratitude. Simplicity reminds us that all things are gifts, to be received with appreciation.

Non-monastic laity share equally in this sacred task. By cultivating a measure of monastic simplicity in their lives, all believers can participate more deeply in Jesus’ incarnate priestly work of receiving and blessing creation. Every gift of God can be received and offered back, in a “sacramental” spirit.

Even the contemplative work of “standing before God for all”—bringing the world into the Lord’s presence, and vice versa, within oneself—is not limited to a particular group or class of Christians. It is an aspect of Christ’s priesthood which he shares with all members of his Mystical Body.

The essence of inward prayer is simply being present to God, opening ourselves to his transcendent love. Yet one cannot really do this without including, in some way, the whole of humanity in the same act. All true prayer is prayer for all: even a simple prayer—such as, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”—includes all people, in all times and places, when offered “in spirit and truth.”

To intercede with God in prayer; to be a mediator of grace, and a “living sacrifice”; to receive and offer up creation as a sacramental gift, and to “stand before God for all”: these tasks belong to monks and nuns, but also to all believers. They are priestly works, but not the privilege of a particular subgroup. They are the extraordinary, grace-filled, eternally-consequential tasks of the ordinary, everyday Christian life.

Monasticism offers a structure in which those works—the works of the universal priesthood—are the main substance of life. Yet such a life is always possible—for all who, in baptism, “have put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). This is how monasticism serves as a model for the priesthood of all believers.

Overcoming clericalism, appreciating baptism

Lived out on a Church-wide scale, this spirituality of the universal priesthood would render clericalism obsolete.

Clericalism is, above all, a diminution of baptism and an over-valuing of ordained ministry. The answer to clericalism is not in “clericalization of the laity,” or struggles about who may be ordained. Without diminishing the ordained priesthood, we must take a higher view of baptism.

Sharing actively in Christ’s priesthood, as well as his royal anointing and prophetic office, laypersons would feel no need for special, quasi-clerical tasks within their parishes. Nor would they be inclined—alternatively—to rest in complacency, letting priests and bishops do the spiritual “heavy lifting.”

As a “reference point for all the baptized,” monasticism offers the means for a true, spiritual empowerment of the laity: not a usurpation of ministerial duties, but a growth toward “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

The Church needs men and women who will follow God’s call to formal, consecrated monastic life. But the Church also needs those who, without renouncing property or marriage, will look to the monasteries for inspiration in living as baptized members of Christ, participants in the mystery of his priesthood.

Monks and nuns are not a special, elite class of Christians. Fundamentally, they are baptized believers who have renounced certain natural goods to pursue the supernatural end to which all people are called: union with God, and with one another, in Christ.

Their vocation, in that sense, is simply the one Christian vocation—the universal human call that went out from the Upper Room at Pentecost:

In practice…there is only one vocation. Whether you teach or live in the cloister or nurse the sick, whether you are in [consecrated life] or out of it, married or single, no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to a deep interior life, perhaps even to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others. And if you cannot do so by word, then by example. (Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain)


Saturday, 23 August 2014

HOMILY ON PERSEVERANCE IN STABILITY By Abbot Paul of Belmont (UK)


Second Perseverance of Br Augustine Primavesi            22nd August 2014

            Dear Br Augustine, you have been granted your Second Perseverance and, in fact, are now more than halfway through your Noviciate. You appear to be happy and settled at Belmont and making the most of this year of grace the Lord, in his infinite mercy, has granted you in calling you to try your monastic vocation among us. We pray that you will continue to persevere not simply to First or even Solemn Profession, but for the rest of your life, that you become a true monk and a good monk, a man of prayer, a community man, a man of God. Do not despair or give up, for whatever reason, for nothing is impossible to God. This evening, I wish to encourage you to give yourself wholly to God, to surrender your life entirely to him and to trust in him with your whole heart, mind and soul. He loves you and has called you to experience that divine love fully as a Benedictine monk, a man whose heart is fixed on God alone. So perhaps it would be appropriate to say a few words about stability, which is, after all, one of the three monastic vows and the one that really binds together obedience and conversatio morum and makes it possible to live them out on a daily basis at Belmont as in every other monastic community that follows the Rule of St Benedict.

            Speaking of the Tools of Good Works, St Benedict says that, “The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.” This contrasts radically with the gyrovagues, who are “in every way worse than the sarabaites,” spending, as they do, “their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests in different monasteries, never settling down, but living as slaves of their own wills and gross appetites.” Because of our frail human nature, we are conscious of the constant tendency in each one of us to drift from inner discipline and the serenity of God’s presence within us towards allowing our passions to take over and dictate our actions, leading us to chaos, destruction and total disorder. Our daily crisis, indeed our daily martyrdom, is that of having to choose between heaven and hell, for we cannot take both paths and live. Today, the feast of St John Kemble, the Herefordshire martyr, we ask his intercession to be given the grace always to make the right choice and decision, even in the face of death.

            Abbot Alan always liked quoting Psalm 126, v. 2, “In vain is your earlier rising, your going later to rest, you who toil for the bread you eat; when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.” Yes, we believe that everything is God’s gift, but the good Lord wouldn’t be particularly happy with us, were we just to sit back and take things easy in the hope that God do everything for us. Without falling into the error of Pelagianism, we should live by the maxim of St John of Kronstadt, who wrote, “We must pray, believing that God alone can do all things for us, but we should also work as though he could do nothing at all.” How do we practise stability, then, if not by working at it, while, at the same time, trusting in God? From the beginning, God made us both to cooperate with him in the on-going work of creation, and to work with one another in order to form a community, a society and an ecclesia, which reflect the order, love and unity of the Holy Trinity. We have to work at stability, then, just as we have to work at obedience and conversatio morum. How do we work at stability? Above all and to begin with, by focussing our hearts and minds on God himself rather than on ourselves and on others, by which I mean this monastery and the monks that make up this monastic community. The brethren can become a terrible distraction if we start focussing our attention on them rather than on God and we ourselves can easily become an even greater distraction if our spiritual life is reduced to navel gazing rather than dedicated to the search for God. God, then, is the very anchor of our stability and, like the disciples descending from Tabor and the experience of the Transfiguration, our point of focus should be “Jesus only.”

            Hence, it is prayer and the concentration of all our energies on prayer and a life of prayer that should be the prime movers in our quest for stability. The word, of course, derives from “stare”,  the Latin verb for to stand, to stand still, to remain standing, to be or to stay motionless, to remain unmoving. Strangely, in modern English usage, stability usually refers to the economy, to political or social situations and to the state of someone’s health. In monastic use, it may well have referred originally to the custom of standing in our places in choir. Although today we tend to do an awful lot of sitting in choir, until fairly recently monks mostly stood in their stalls, thus the need for a misericord and the name given to it. We also use the word statio for the place and act of standing and waiting for the procession to move into church. Choir is where we pray together as a conventus and celebrate the Divine Office and Conventual Mass. In some monasteries the monks like to do their mental prayer in choir, but ours in rather cramped and exposed for that. Even so, we are anchored to God and to each other in choir when we come together to pray and that anchoring continues when we dedicate ourselves to personal prayer and lectio divina. So, that is how and where stability begins.

You will ask, “But what about those monks who live outside the monastery or those who are away for whatever reason?” The Theology of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is the Church, teaches us at they are not separated from us. When they pray and when we pray, we are mystically united to one another in Christ. It is not absolutely necessary to be physically together in order to be spiritually united. It is obedience that forges true stability in the life of a monk. If one day you, Augustine, are appointed Parish Priest of Whitehaven or Chaplain to the Poor Clares, by your very obedience you will be fulfilling the vow of stability, and everything you do, think or say, every prayer you make, your very being as a monk will be integrated with the lifeblood of the Belmont Community. And this will be possible if we are all focussed on the One God and all dedicated to the adoration of our one Lord and Saviour. The vow of stability is not to a place or a building but rather to the God who lives in this place and to the community of living stones who together, through his grace, make up the Mystical Body of Christ.

            It’s time to draw these reflections to an end. I have only touched on one or two aspects of this fundamental vow: there are many more, so rich is God’s goodness and mercy towards us. Our prayer for you this evening is that you will grow deeper into its mystery and practice and that through your monastic stability, like Christ nailed to the Cross, you will be a source of grace and salvation to yourself, to your brethren and to the world. Amen.



Our righteous father John of Kronstadt (Иоанн Кронштадский; October 19, 1829, in Sura – December 20, 1908, in Kronstadt) was an archpriest of the Russian Orthodox Church.
He was born as Ivan Ilyich Sergiyev (Иван Ильич Сергиев) in 1829. From 1855, he served as a priest in St. Andrew's cathedral in Kronstadt. Here, he greatly committed himself to charity, especially for those who were remote from the church, and traveled extensively throughout the Russian empire. He was a member of the right extremist movement Sojuz Russkogo Naroda (Alliance of the Russian people) but did not commit himself politically. He was already greatly venerated at the time he died. He was glorified by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in 1964 and by the Russian Orthodox Church on June 8, 1990. St. John Maximovitch of Shanghai and San Francisco played an active role in preparation of St. John's canonization.
Many churches around the world and Ioannovsky Convent, the second largest monastery in St. Petersburg (by community size) are dedicated to St. John of Kronstadt.
His feast days are commemorated on December 20 and October 19.

Note: The quotation by St John of Kronstadt is a free rendering of a quotation by St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and was also used by Admiral Nelson as a message to the fleet before one of his (successful) battles against Napoleon: it just happens to be true!!  - Fr David

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