St Antony of the Desert

January 17, 2010

One of the Saints who made a big impression on me when I was a teenager was St Anthony. It was a real joy for me as a monk to study his life. I remember the class so clearly, we worked through his life line by line and then reading several commentaries. It was deeply fulfilling. The study of the Holy Rule of St Benedict and the Life of St Anthony are things I remember with great happiness and gratitude. Today we celebrate the feast of St Anthony, it seems appropriate to remember him here.

From the New Liturgical Movement: ‘today marks the feast of St. Antony of the Desert (A.D. 251 and 356), who has often been called the Father of Monasticism — though he was not necessarily the first Christian monk. He was one of the famed Egyptian Desert Fathers. (Those interested in the Desert Fathers may like to acquire a copy of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers published as part of the excellentCistercian Studies series.)

One of the most famous early lives of St. Antony, written around A.D. 360, was that attributed to another great saint, St. Athanasius; the Vita Antoni.

About St. Antony, Catholic Culture notes: “At age 18, the gospel text ‘If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all that you have and then follow me’ so moved him that he left everything behind and retired to an inaccessible place in the wilderness where he dedicated his life to God in manual work and continual prayer. In his old age, he imparted wisdom to his disciples and encouraged them to lead a monastic life.”

Some of this wisdom, short sayings attributed to Abba Antony, have come to us today. Here are just a few examples:

Abbe Pambo asked Abba Antony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust in your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

Abba Antony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, “You are mad, you are not like us.”

Abba Antony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love Him. For love casts out fear.” (Jn 4:18)

Abba Antony said, “Whoever hammers a lump of iron, first decides what he is going to make of it, a scythe, a sword, or an axe. Even so we ought to make up our minds what kind of virtue we want to forge, or else we labor in vain.”

Liturgically, the Feast of St. Antony of the Desert is celebrated in the Roman calendar on this day in both forms, as well as in the Byzantine liturgical calendar.’


The wise shape their minds

January 17, 2010

‘As irrigators lead water where they want, as archers make their arrows straight, as carpenters carve wood, the wise shape their minds.’

The Buddha

From Zenit:

During his visit to the Jewish community of Rome this Sunday, Benedict XVI will honor the more than 1,000 victims of the Nazi deportation of 1943. The program of the Pope’s trip was reported today by Vatican Radio.

His first stop will be at the plaque that recalls the Oct. 16, 1943, raid ordered by SS commander Herbert Kappler of occupied Rome, at the request of Berlin. More than 1,000 Roman Jews were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. Only 16 people, among them one woman, were able to return. The Holy Father will place flowers before the plaque honoring those victims.

The next stop on the Pontiff’s program is to honor another victim of violence: a child who was killed in the 1982 terrorist attack on the synagogue. Stefano Tache, age 2, lost his life in that attack; 37 others were wounded.

Benedict XVI will be received at the foot of the stairs of the synagogue by Grand Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. As they enter the synagogue, the choir will sing Psalm 126 and the Holy Father will greet civil authorities. After discourses from the presidents of Rome’s and Italy’s Jewish communities and the grand rabbi, the choir will intone Psalm 133. Then the Pope will give his address. Before he returns to the Vatican, the Pontiff will meet privately with the grand rabbi and will also visit the Jewish Museum.

Sts Maurus and Placid

January 14, 2010

From from Various traditions have developed about these two saints, but the only valid historical data available is what we read in the 2nd Dialogues of Pope St.Gregory the Great. In chapter 3 of the Dialogues, two Roman noblemen brought their sons to St. Benedict for schooling in the Lord’s service.

Euthicius brought his son Maurus and Tertullus, his son Placid. Maurus was the older boy and had already begun to develop a sense of virtuous living.
Placid was still a young child. In chapter 4, Benedict asks Maurus if he sees the devil leading a young monk out of the chapel during private prayer time. After praying for two days the young boy does see him. St. Benedict then chastises the monk and he returns to prayer.

In chapter 5, St. Benedict takes the young boy Placid up the mountain with him to a rocky place where they spend a long time praying for some monks who needed a closer source of water. The following day these monks dug at the spot where Benedict and Placid had prayed and a stream began to flow.
In chapter 6 we again meet Maurus who intercedes for another monk whose work tool had broken, the blade falling into the deep part of the lake. Maurus
goes to St. Benedict to intercede for the man and St. Benedict comes down, puts the handle into the lake, and the blade reattaches itself to the

In chapter 7 of the Dialogues we hear the famous story of Placid’s rescue, in which the boy goes to the lake for water, and filling the jug too
quickly, he looses his balance and falls into the lake. St. Benedict in a vision sees what is happening and sends Maurus to rescue Placid. Maurus runs
across the water and grabs Placid by the hair and runs back to shore. When he reaches the shore he realizes that he had been running across water not
land. This miracle is attributed to St. Benedict.

In chapter 8 we meet the infamous priest Florentius who out of jealousy tries to get rid of Benedict by giving him a “gift” of poisoned bread. When
this fails he tries to entice the monks to sensual sin. St. Benedict leaves to prevent further harassment to the monks. As he is leaving the valley,
Florentius is standing on his balcony jeering at St. Benedict. The balcony collapses and Florentius is crushed to death. Maurus runs to overtake St.
Benedict and tells him that he can return to the monastery because his enemy is dead. Benedict’s response is to severely chastise Maurus for taking
pleasure in this happening.

The Dialogues primarily focus on the life and miracles of St. Benedict, so this is all the factual knowledge we have of Placid and Maurus. Because
there is no further mention of them after Benedict goes to Monte Casino, it is believed that they both remained at Subiaco and subsequently Maurus was
appointed superior of one of the monasteries there.

There has been a tradition which places Maurus at Glanfeuil, France, as its abbot, based on the finding in the 9th century of a parchment describing a
monk and deacon named Maurus who arrived in France at the time of King Theodebert and who died on the 18th of February. There is also a tradition which places Placid in Sicily as abbot of a monastery there. The historic details of both of these traditions is uncertain.

What is more important than biographical details is that both of these young men chose a life in the “School of the Lord’s Service,” which was what Benedict called the monastery. It was a life whose sole focus was to “seek God.” One might ask, “Is this what God is calling me to?”

The Abbess should always remember what she is 
and what she is called, 
and should know that to whom more is committed, 
from her more is required (Luke 12:48).
Let her understand also 
what a difficult and arduous task she has undertaken: 
ruling souls and adapting herself to a variety of characters.
One she must coax, another scold, another persuade, 
according to each one’s character and understanding. 
Thus she must adjust and adapt herself to all 
in such a way that she may not only suffer no loss 
in the flock committed to her care, 
but may even rejoice in the increase of a good flock.

In her teaching 
the Abbess should always follow the Apostle’s formula:
“Reprove, entreat, rebuke” (2 Tim. 4:2); 
threatening at one time and coaxing at another
as the occasion may require, 
showing now the stern countenance of a mistress, 
now the loving affection of a mother. 
That is to say, 
it is the undisciplined and restless
whom she must reprove rather sharply;
it is the obedient, meek and patient
whom she must entreat to advance in virtue;
while as for the negligent and disdainful,
these we charge her to rebuke and correct.

And let her not shut her eyes to the faults of offenders; 
but, since she has the authority, 
let her cut out those faults by the roots 
as soon as they begin to appear, 
remembering the fate of Heli, the priest of Silo (1 Kings 2-4).
The well-disposed and those of good understanding 
let her correct with verbal admonition the first and second time. 
But bold, hard, proud and disobedient characters 
she should curb at the very beginning of their ill-doing 
by stripes and other bodily punishments, 
knowing that it is written,
“the fool is not corrected with words” (Prov. 18:2; 29:19), 
and again, 
“Beat your son with the rod,
and you will deliver his soul from death”(Prov. 23:13-14).

St Aelred of Rievaulx

January 12, 2010

New Advent: ‘Abbot of Rievaulx, homilist and historian (1109-66). St. Ælred, whose name is also written Ailred, Æthelred, and Ethelred, was the son of one of those married priests of whom many were found in England in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. He was born at Hexham, but at an early age made the acquaintance of David, St. Margaret’s youngest son, shortly afterwards King of Scotland, at whose court he apparently acted for some years as a sort of page, or companion to the young Prince Henry. King David loved the pious English youth, promoted him in his household, and wished to make him bishop, but Ælred decided to become a Cistercian monk, in the recently founded abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Soon he was appointed master of novices, and was long remembered for his extraordinary tenderness and patience towards those under his charge. In 1143 when William, Earl of Lincoln, founded a new Cistercian abbey upon his estates at Revesby in Lincolnshire, St. Ælred was sent with twelvemonks to take possession of the new foundation. His stay at Revesby, where he seems to have met St. Gilbert of Sempringham, was not of long duration, for in 1146 he was elected abbot of Rievaulx. In this position the saint was not only superior of a community of 300 monks, but he was head of all the Cistercian abbots in England. Causes were referred to him, and often he had to undertake considerable journeys to visit themonasteries of his order. Such a journey in 1153 took him to Scotland, and there meeting King David, for the last time, he wrote on his return to Rievaulx, where the news of David’s death reached him shortly afterwards, a sympathetic sketch of the character of the late king. He seems to have exercised considerable influence over Henry II, in the early years of his reign, and to have persuaded him to join Louis VII of France in meeting Pope Alexander III, at Touci, in 1162. Although suffering from a complication of most painful maladies, he journeyed to France to attend the general chapter of his Order. He was present in Westminster Abbey, at the translation of St. Edward the Confessor, in 1163, and, in view of this event, he both wrote a life of the saintly king and preached a homily in his praise. The next year Ælred undertook a mission to the barbarous Pictish tribes of Galloway, where their chief is said to have been so deeply moved by his exhortations that he became a monk. Throughout his last years Ælred gave an extraordinary example of heroic patience under a succession of infirmities. He was, moreover, so abstemious that he is described as being “more like a ghost than a man.” His death is generally supposed to have occurred 12 January, 1166, although there are reasons for thinking that the true year may be 1167. St. Ælred left a considerable collection of sermons, the remarkable eloquence of which has earned for him the title of the English St. Bernard. He was the author of several ascetical treatises, notably the “Speculum Charitatis,” also a compendium of the same (really a rough draught from which the larger work was developed), a treatise “De Spirituali Amicitiâ,” and a certain letter to an anchoress. All these, together with a fragment of his historical work, were collected an published by Richard Gibbons, S.J., at Douai, in 1631. A fuller and better edition is contained in the fifth volume of the “Bibliotheca Cisterciensis” ofTissier, 1662, from which they have been printed in P.L., vol. CXCV. The historical works include a “Life of St. Edward,” an important account of the “Battle of the Standard” (1138), an incomplete work on the genealogy of the kings of England, a tractate “De Sanctimonialide Watton” (About the Nun of Watton), a “Life of St. Ninian,” a work on the “Miracles of the Church of Hexham,” an account of the foundations of St. Maryof York and Fountains Abbey, as well as some that are lost. No complete edition of Ælred’s historical opuscula has ever been published. A few were printed by Twysden in his “Decem Scriptores,” others must be sought in the Rolls Series or in Raine’s “Priory of Hexham” (Surtees Society, Durham, 1864).’


Therefore, when anyone receives the name of Abbess, 
she ought to govern her disciples with a twofold teaching.
That is to say, 
she should show them all that is good and holy 
by her deeds even more than by her words, 
expounding the Lord’s commandments in words 
to the intelligent among her disciples, 
but demonstrating the divine precepts by her actions
for those of harder hearts and ruder minds. 
And whatever she has taught her disciples 
to be contrary to God’s law, 
let her indicate by her example that it is not to be done, 
lest, while preaching to others, she herself be found reprobate (1 Cor. 9:27),
and lest God one day say to her in her sin, 
“Why do you declare My statutes 
and profess My covenant with your lips, 
whereas you hate discipline 
and have cast My words behind you” (Ps. 49[50]:16-17)?
And again,
“You were looking at the speck in your brother’s eye, 
and did not see the beam in your own” (Matt. 7:3).

The Year of St James

January 10, 2010

Courtesy of the New Liturgical Movement: 2010 is a Jacobean Holy Year (Año Santo Jacobeo) in Santiago de Compostela (the Holy Year is celebrated every year in which the Feast of St. James the Greater – 25 July – falls on a Sunday; thus the frequency is every 6-5-6-11 years). On the 1st of January, the Archbishop of Santiago, H.E. Msgr. Julián Barrio Barrio, inaugurated the Holy Year by opening the Holy Door. This ceremony still invloves the breaking down of the walling blocking the Holy Door by a silver hammer which was unfortunately discontinued at the last Roman Jubilee of 2000 (the booklet of the ceremony is available online, you will be pleasantly surprised to note the inclusion of several pieces of Gregorian chant and polyphony). Here are some images of the ceremony.

The vesting (note the fine antique vestments worn by the Archbishop, the chapter, and the deacons throughout):

The key and hammer used in the opening ceremony:

The archbishop and his cathedral chapter walking to the Holy Door:

The Archbishop knocking upon the door three times with the silver hammer, singing the versicle “Open unto me the gates of justice” etc.

The wall comes down:

The archbishop prays in silence before the newly opened Holy Door:

The deacons wash the newly opened Holy Door:

Msgr. Barrio takes the archiepiscopal cross and enters as the first through the Holy Door:

The procession also included relics of the Apostle:

Mass begins:

Towards the end, the famous botafumeiro, the giant thurible of Santiago Cathedral, was swung:

Image sources: encaminate2010user “ESPENUCA” of the

 forum “Ceremonia y rúbrica de la Iglesia española”flickr account of jm salaber

I’m still struck by that phrase from yesterday, “the leaven of divine justice.” What a wonderful image for those in leadership. We are called to gently “knead” the “leaven of divine justice” into those we lead and serve. 

Here is the reading from the Rule today, more on the Superior:

Let the Abbess always bear in mind 
that at the dread Judgment of God 
there will be an examination of these two matters:
her teaching and the obedience of her disciples. 
And let the Abbess be sure 
that any lack of profit 
the master of the house may find in the sheep 
will be laid to the blame of the shepherd. 
On the other hand, 
if the shepherd has bestowed all her pastoral diligence
on a restless, unruly flock 
and tried every remedy for their unhealthy behavior, 
then she will be acquitted at the Lord’s Judgment 
and may say to the Lord with the Prophet:
“I have not concealed Your justice within my heart;
Your truth and Your salvation I have declared” (Ps. 39[40]:11).
“But they have despised and rejected me” (Is. 1:2; Ezech. 20:27).
And then finally let death itself, irresistible,
punish those disobedient sheep under her charge.

It reminds of a homily given by Cardinal Hume when he was Abbot of Ampleforth. He was clothing monks in their habits and reminded them that being in the novitiate is like coming to a hospital. The difference with the monastery is that it is not only the patients who are sick. The doctors and nurses are also ill. Thomas Merton develops this theme when he describes the early years in a monastery as a “convalescence.” I remember when I was a novice reading Dorotheus of Gaza, a book I loved and still have with me. The section on the role of the infirmarian is deeply inspiring, I will save it for when Benedict talks about the same role. For more on the wonderful Dorotheus please read this.