On September 8, 2016, Pope Francis received in audience some 250 participants in the congress of Benedictine abbots and abbesses gathered in Rome to reflect on the monastic charism received from St. Benedict and their faithfulness to it in a changing world.
This theme acquires special meaning in the context of the Jubilee of Mercy since, as Francis affirmed, “if it is only in the contemplation of Jesus Christ that we perceive the merciful face of the Father, monastic life constitutes a privileged route to achieve this contemplative experience and to translate it into personal and community witness.”
Today’s world clearly demonstrates the need for a mercy that is the heart of Christian life and “which definitively manifests the authenticity and credibility of the message of which the Church is the depository, and which she proclaims. And in this time and in this Church, called to focus increasingly on the essential, monks and nuns safeguard by vocation a peculiar gift and a special responsibility: that of keeping alive the oases of the spirit, where pastors and faithful can draw from the wellsprings of Divine Mercy.”
With the grace of God and seeking to live mercifully in their communities, monks and nuns “announce evangelical fraternity from all their monasteries spread out in every corner of the globe, and they do so with that purposeful and eloquent silence that lets God speak out in the deafening and distracted life of the world.”
Therefore, although they live separated from the world, their cloistered life “is not barren: on the contrary, an enrichment and not an obstacle to communion.”
Their work, in harmony with prayer, enables them to participate in God’s creative work and shows their “solidarity with the poor who cannot live without work.”
Their hospitality allows them to encounter the hearts of the “most lost and distant, of those who are in a condition of grave human and spiritual poverty,” and their commitment to the formation of the young is highly appreciated. “Students in your schools, through study and your witness of life, can too become experts in that humanity that emanates from the Benedictine Rule. Your contemplative life is also a privileged channel for nurturing communion with the brothers of the Oriental Churches.”
“Your service to the Church is very valuable,” the Holy Father concluded, expressing his hope that the Congress may strengthen the Federation so that it is increasingly at the service of communion and cooperation between monasteries and urging the Benedictines not to be discouraged if their members age or diminish in number. “On the contrary,” he emphasised, “conserve the zeal of your witness, even in those countries that are most difficult today, with faithfulness to your charism and the courage to found new communities.”
It was Thomas Cromwell, through two parliamentary resolutions, who transferred the ownership of abbeys, churches, monasteries and other possessions of the Catholic Church in England to the hands of the English crown. Among these, countless manuscripts, libraries and works of art, but especially farms and other productive buildings were taken over by the government. In particular, of course, monasteries and abbeys. Those that were not destroyed, expropriated or simply shut down were handed over to the political allies of Henry VIII.
But why was Henry VIII so eager to get his hands on northern English monasteries? According to historian Stephanie Mann, basically for two classic, too-well-known simple reasons: money and power. These expropriations would provide Henry VIII with an extraordinary, unexpected income without resorting to deeply unpopular measures (such as higher taxes), while also eliminating the influence of the Roman papacy over the English crown.
Now, about 500 years later, in a series of photographs published in the Daily Mail, we can see Cistercian monks, Father Joseph and Brother Bernard, visiting the ruins of one of these great abbeys: the Abbey of Rievaulx.
Rievaulx had been founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey in France (the foundation of Saint Bernard), and soon was considered one of the greatest British abbeys. At its peak, 650 people actively lived and worked at Rievaulx, including monks, direct and indirect employees and other officials associated with the maintenance of monastic activities. On December 3, 1538, Henry VIII ordered them all to leave the building, expropriating every valuable object in it (particularly the lead used in stained glasses).
Today, a museum is housed in the abbey, led by English Heritage, a company/charity that is responsible for the preservation of more than 400 historic sites across England. The museum exhibits some of the artifacts monks once used at the abbey, and chronicles of the history of the Cistercian Order in England.
Restoration of Norcia’s Benedictine monastery and basilica will cost millions of dollars, following the recent devastating earthquake, according to the community’s monks.
“Both the church and the monastery are too dangerous to live in,” Benedictine Father Cassian Folsom, prior of the Monastery of St. Benedict and a Massachusetts native, said. “So we’ve put up two tents; one is a dormitory, and the other is a chapel.”
The tents are located about a mile away, outside the city walls, next to a medieval monastery the monks have been restoring but which was also badly damaged by the natural disaster; it will need to be rebuilt.
The 6.2-magnitude earthquake that struck the region Aug. 24, and its continued aftershocks, forced the monks to transfer to Rome for three days, leaving two of their brethren to camp out in tents so they could mind the basilica and monitor developments. Almost all of them have since returned and will be living in the makeshift accommodations until buildings are made safe.
The birthplace of St. Benedict, the patron of Europe, Norcia was just eight miles from the quake’s epicenter. But it remarkably escaped with relatively little damage and no loss of life, compared to the nearby towns of Amatrice and Accumoli. Although just 25 miles by car from Norcia, they and a number of surrounding medieval mountaintop villages were closer to the fault line and had many buildings that were not earthquake-proof, and so were practically wiped out by the natural disaster that took 291 lives, many of them children.
The true extent of the damage won’t be known until a full analysis can be carried out once the aftershocks have ended, but Father Cassian predicts it will be a “huge rebuilding project.”
The Monastery of St. Benedict, which has only been in Norcia since 2000 (Napoleonic laws forced the previous community to flee in 1810), has become well established and much loved by the local people. One of the few religious communities in the world to celebrate both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman rite, the monastery draws thousands of visitors every year. It recently became famous for its brewery, opened in 2012, which produces its popular “Birra Nursia.”
Norcia is part of the beautiful region of Umbria, the so-called “Land of the Saints” because of the many holy men and women born there, and the “Green Heart of Italy,” on account of its verdant, alpine scenery. August is the height of the tourist season there, but the town was practically deserted the weekend after the quake, except for emergency vehicles and some television vans. Many of the citizens who remained in the town camped outside in fields or slept in cars.
The town and some of its surrounding villages have been rebuilt several times over the centuries, most recently after the town was struck by an earthquake in 1979 and reconstructed using earthquake-resistant techniques.
Subprior Father Benedict Nivakoff said the earthquake “sadly served as a healthy reminder” for modern society, where “people can get so used to things being exactly how they expect them to be” that they cannot “control everything.” He said it will take some time for the town to get back to normal, and as it is very hard to obtain earthquake insurance, those hardest hit, including the monastery, will apply for government grants to help rebuild.
But for the monks, too, who take a vow of stability to live the rest of their lives where they took their vows, the event will serve a useful purpose, helping them to “root” themselves even more in the locality. “When you lose something that you’ve come to love, and we’ve been restoring this place for the last 15 years, one has to really dig in more; and so that’s what we’re doing, renewing and expanding our commitment,” said Father Nivakoff.
He said people can help by praying for them, the people in Norcia and the people hard hit in Amatrice and Accumoli. “That’s the most important thing: supporting us with prayers, sacrifices, acts of charity,” he said. He also said people can also help the rebuilding efforts by buying a best-selling CD of Gregorian chant that the monks produced last year, buying their beer and also making donations.
Father Nivakoff said the monks will also be giving around 15%-20% of whatever they raise to the people who most need it.
“The vow of stability means you love the place,” said Father Cassian. “We love the place, and so it needs to be rebuilt.”
The first thing a visitor to Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in Lafayette, Oregon, notices is the deliberate pace of liturgy. Compared to the way these 30 or so monks savor their psalms and hymns, the average parish Mass runs at squirrel velocity.
This is also a place of work and close community that radiates holiness, but holiness built on utter honesty. “Any time you strive to lead a serious spiritual life, you will be stripped of all pretensions and your ego,” says Father Dominique, the 67-year-old prior.
Living a version of the 4th century Rule of St. Benedict, the Trappists rise before dawn, put on their yeomanly habits and begin with prayer. The day is full of worship in the church, punctuated by labor on the grounds, in the book bindery and in the fruitcake kitchen. Monks offer spiritual direction. They are vegetarians who grow much of their own food and must work side-by-side. No one owns anything.
After Mass, as the sun rises, the mustachioed Brother Dick hefts the crucifix from in front of the altar to the tabernacle, a journey he makes every morning. All the monks here carry crosses of one kind or another, but they seem glad.
Brother Brian, a 56-year-old native of Ireland, transferred in 2013 from a waning Irish Trappist monastery. He found the Oregon abbey’s website and “something popped.” Our Lady of Guadalupe, he says, is characterized by “an excitement about the interior life.”
As they grow in authenticity, monks feel wobbly in face of God’s faithfulness. When he first became a Trappist, Brother Brian wanted to be a saint. After almost three decades, he rises each day and says to God, “I can’t believe you love me.”
The monk’s task, he says, is to connect with Jesus’ self-emptying love. That begins with refusing to put your brothers to shame. If another monk leaves some dirty dishes, for example, don’t excoriate him; Brother Brian just does the dishes and offers a kind correction later.
“Every time you say, ‘I am glad I am not like that brother,’ God comes along and shows you you are ten times worse. It’s a spiritual kick in the rear end,” Brother Brian concludes with a guffaw.
“Jesus says you’ve got to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself,” says Brother Martin, 90. “The only reason I’m here is because this is the best place for me to do that.” A World War II veteran, Brother Martin was part of the group that came from New Mexico in the mid-1950s to found Oregon’s Trappist abbey.
Over the years, he has become the abbey’s ambassador, able to chat about deep matters with anyone.
“The monastic restrictions free you,” Brother Martin says. “Material intensity kills the spirit. You need time and space. You need stillness.” And, he declares, forget the illusion of perfection. The monastery is a place where the only way to grow is to admit your imperfections.
“Don’t send us any angels or saints,” Brother Martin says. “They aren’t going to make it.”
Brother Chris, a 43-year-old California native, arrived in 1998, a trained forester who had recently re-appropriated his faith. In addition to prayer, he has helped restore a rare oak savannah.
Brother Chris invites men — single or married — to consider a 30-day retreat in which the guest lives as a monk in the cloister. “It’s a transformative experience and a time of growing in self knowledge,” he says. “A vocation as a monk lets all your gifts flower.”
He values the intergenerational community, where he considers men in their 90s as brothers. Many monks here recall Trappist life before the Second Vatican Council, when silence was strict. Silence is still the rule much of the time, but there are periods for conversation, which has enhanced fellowship.
“It’s not just me and God, it’s me and the community, too,” Brother Chris says.
Father Todd, ordained last March, has been a Trappist since 2004. At 39, he considers himself a monk first, then a priest to serve his brothers.
Monastic life, he says, tends to shine God’s light into a person, increasing self knowledge, including awareness of wounds. The exposure leads to healing. As for him, he is more joyous.
The life is full and active, not just sitting and meditating. Father Todd, who grew up north of Spokane, works in the bindery and the kitchen and like everyone here needs to put out the garbage.
“If your whole life is blissed out poetry, it wouldn’t have any meaning or foundation,” he says.
Critics accuse monks of escaping from the world. Father Todd knows better, saying that the life is indeed a separation, but one that allows the monk to be united with everyone. “People who come on retreat are trying to get into that,” he explains. “The monastery is a different kind of immersion into human experience. There is a human need for silence and acknowledgement of the divine and we hold space open for that here.”
Father Dominique, the lighthearted prior, walks into the guest house and embraces several volunteers. A piano prodigy and scholar before entering the abbey, Father Dominique as a child knew he wanted to be the kind of priest who kept God company all day.
At 14, he read “The Seven Storey Mountain” by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton and immediately called the Oregon abbey. Advised to continue his education, he attended UCLA and developed his music, along with Latin, French, history and English literature. His vocation persisted and he came to Oregon.
“I know I am not running away from anything,” says Father Dominique. “I am running toward Jesus.” The monks’ prayer, he says, does not stay at the abbey, but “redounds around the world.” Contemplative life, he insists, is the heart that pumps life through the whole church.
Steve Bernards, who grew up in nearby Carleton, comes to 6:30 a.m. Mass with the Trappists every day. He recalls making the trip as a boy with his father in the 1960s, listening to the beautiful chant. After Mass, he often chats with the gregarious Brother Martin, who works in the guest house. He always walks away with some wisdom, often resolved to slow down and notice God’s presence in his life.
“People are so tied up and they go, go, go,” says Bernards. “They don’t take time. I have been very blessed to be with the monks.”
When Pope Francis was named and showed himself to be so extroverted, the Trappist abbot wondered what the Holy Father might say about monasticism. But the pope quickly made it known that he considers contemplatives “wombs of mercy” to the local church.
“The reality of who you really are, that reality is the one God is totally in love with,” says Abbot Peter, 68. “When we touch our real selves, immediately we touch mercy. God wants you, not who you want to be. This is at the heart of contemplative life.”
The need for spiritual sanctuary will never go away, says Abbot Peter, who wears a fishing vest over his habit. He was elected by his brothers as their leader 22 years ago. Back then, it seemed like the worst day of his life. He was not a scholar and did not think of himself as a very good monk. But he knew he loved his brothers and has found that is enough.
“This community lifts me,” he says. “They are my way. Monasteries and marriage both take work, but make you a better person.”
For more information visit here.
Featured in National Catholic Register— BY BRIAN O’NEEL
On Feb. 2, Pope Francis ended the Year of Consecrated Life with a special Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. But what fruits has the year delivered, in terms of highlighting cloistered religious communities and fostering more vocations there?
When the Holy Father, himself a consecrated religious, opened the special year on Nov. 30, 2014, he said he was doing so because he hoped the “shining witness of [the consecrated] life will be as a lamp,” placed where it can “give light and warmth to all of God’s people.”
As reported by the Register, His Holiness urged religious to “‘wake up the world,’ illuminating it with their ‘prophetic and countercurrent witness.’”
And yesterday, he praised the joyful witness of consecrated men and women: “How beautiful is it when we encounter the happy face of consecrated persons.”
By all accounts, religious’ response to the Pope’s call has led to a greater awareness of consecrated life.
Most of that attention was understandably focused on active religious, through congregations engaged in works such as teaching, outreach to the poor and health care.
The narrative of the last few decades tells of orthodox religious orders whose members wear habits as a distinct witness, reaping a great harvest of new members. Witness the phenomenal success of such congregations as the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist (Ann Arbor Dominicans), the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia (Nashville Dominicans), the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity (SOLT) Sisters and even Mother Angelica’s cloistered Poor Clares.
Cloistered communities, however, didn’t get as much exposure.
As Mike Wick, executive director of the Institute on Religious Life, put it, “They oftentimes seem to be forgotten,” adding that this stems from the “nature of their vocation.”
To read the entire article click here.
Iconography is the oldest tradition of Christian sacred art, embodying the work of thousands of iconographers, many of whom were themselves saints.
Unlike other approaches to painting, the creation of an icon does not begin in the artist’s imagination. Rather, the iconographer’s first work is to study how the subject at hand has been traditionally depicted in this rich artistic tradition.
Through the centuries, many monks and cloistered religious, especially in the Eastern tradition, would write icons which serves as an intense form of prayer. Much prayer and fasting goes into creating this sacred art.
Here is an amazing link to a video of how the icon “O Holy Night” was conceived and painted, and below that a step by step walkthrough of the stages in the creation of an icon, in this case of St. John the Baptist.
For more information on how icons are written, visit here.
The ancient city of Norcia in central Italy is known for its wild boar sausages and black truffles, but now it’s known for something else: Its singing monks.
“We sing the praises of God nine times a day. So if you add all that up, it’s probably five hours every day, rain or shine, 365 days a year,” said Cassian Folsom, the American-born priest who leads St. Benedict’s Monastery in Norcia.
People no longer need to travel to this birthplace of St. Benedict to hear the monks, because their chants and hymns are on a CD that’s topped the Billboard charts this summer in classical, traditional music.
“There’s a great hunger and thirst that people have, even non-believers, for something or other which they generally call spirituality,” said Folsom, 63. “If the CD can respond to that need, then we’d be very pleased.”
The gentle tones of a Gregorian chant—and the many voices singing as one—creates a calming, ethereal quality that at its core is not a performance—it is prayer.
“You have to believe in what you’re singing,” said Folsom, who studied voice at Indiana University when he felt the call to life in a monastery.
The monks’ CD, Benedicta, is music based on Scripture, especially Psalms and the life of the Virgin Mary, plus passages from the 1,500-year-old guide for monastic living, The Rule of St. Benedict.
“Some of these are very, very dear to us and very familiar prayers,” said Basil Nixen, 33, an Arizona-born priest and choirmaster of the monastery. “I simply hope that the beauty, the order and the peace of the music will lead all who listen to it to seek the source of that peace.”
Christopher Alder, a Grammy-winning producer from England, traveled to Norcia to oversee the recording sessions.
“The chant that we record means something to them,” Alder said. “You can hear that in the sincerity of their singing. It does have something in the best sense that’s hypnotic, or meditative. It has something eternal to it.”
Although Norcia is a centuries-old city nestled beneath the mountains of Umbria, no monks had lived there for nearly 200 years — until they moved back 15 years ago.
In the early 1800s, the monks were evicted under Napoleonic laws in a wave of anti-clericalism. About 15 years ago, nearly everyone in the city—about 5,000 people— signed petitions asking the global leader of the Benedictines to bring them back.
Of the monastery’s 17 monks, 12 are American.
“The townspeople, they look to the monks if they have problems, if they want to talk to somebody about their family life,” Folsom explained. “To have the monks back after almost 200 years helps to complete the identity of the town.”
For more information on St. Benedict’s Monastery, visit here.
To sample their chant, click here.
The rebirth of a medieval Cistercian monastery building here on a patch of rural Northern California land was, of course, improbable. William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, brought the dismantled Santa Maria de Óvila monastery from Spain but failed to restore it. The City of San Francisco, after some fitful starts at bringing the monastery back to life, left its stones languishing for decades in Golden Gate Park. The Great Depression,World War II and lethargy got in the way.
A medieval chapter house was rebuilt using stones from a 12th-century Spanish monastery. The monks spent years pursuing the project, even teaming up with Sierra Nevada Brewery, in nearby Chico, to produce Trappist-style premium beers.
The house’s stones were bought in Spain by William Randolph Hearst in the 1930s, then abandoned in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for decades.
But an aging and shrinking order of Cistercian monks in Vina, California, have accomplished what great men and cities could not: the reconstruction of Santa Maria de Óvila’s most architecturally significant building, a 12th-century Gothic chapter house. The monks ascribed the successful restoration to their faith, though years of tenacious fund-raising, as well as a recent alliance with a local beer brewer, also helped.
“The meaning that this holds for us, and the link to hope, is that it may take generations,” the Rev. Paul Mark Schwan, the abbot of the New Clairvaux monastery, said of the restoration. “What appears dead, or almost dead, rises again.”
With the major work complete, the chapter house was opened to the public last year.
“We got into possession of the stones, and they’ve come home — a long ways from Spain, but back on Cistercian land with Cistercian monks returning it to sacred space,” Father Schwan said on a recent chilly afternoon, standing just inside one of the arched entrances, his voice resonating off the limestone walls and vaulted ceilings. “I look at this, and it’s remarkable we’ve come this far, that this is actually all put back together.”
With two-thirds of the original stones and modern earthquake-resistant reinforcements, Óvila’s chapter house now sits, perhaps incongruously, in an open field near the abbey’s modest church and vineyards, a couple of hours north of Sacramento.
It was in 1167 that King Alfonso VIII of Castile founded Santa Maria de Óvila in the province of Guadalajara, an area that he had reconquered from the Moors and that he hoped to populate with Christian settlers. For centuries, the monastery thrived as a home to Cistercian monks, a Roman Catholic order that hewed to the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict and its emphasis on self-sufficiency, manual labor and prayer.
The monastery declined, however, and by the time it was shuttered by the Spanish government in 1835, there were only four monks left. The monastery fell into disrepair — the chapter house was being used as a manure pit — and was forgotten until it caught the eye of Hearst’s art dealer, Arthur Byne, in 1930.
Hearst, the larger-than-life newspaper publisher, wanted to build an eight-story medieval castle facing the McCloud River, and parts of the Spanish monastery would fit right in. According to American Heritage magazine, Spanish farmers and laborers from surrounding villages were hired to dismantle and haul the monastery’s most important buildings. A rail track was laid, and roads and a bridge were built to transport the massive stones. Eventually, 11 ships containing much of the monastery arrived in San Francisco.
But Hearst, whose fortune was dented during the Depression, ultimately abandoned the project and gave the monastery to San Francisco. The city’s plans to use it as part of a museum of medieval art in Golden Gate Park went nowhere. They could not raise the money for the project.
Over the decades, the monks here had watched the situation with growing despair. A chapter house serves as the heart of an abbey, the place where monks gather daily for readings and meetings. What’s more, Cistercian architecture, in its simplicity and austerity, was a reflection of the order’s faith.
“Our architecture was considered part of our prayer, and it still is,” Father Schwan said. “It’s not just the matter of a building. It expresses that vision of what we desire to strive for in our relationship with God.”
After years of lobbying, the monks in 1994 persuaded San Francisco to give them the stones on the condition that they begin the restoration work within a decade.
It was not easy. Like other Cistercian abbeys in developed nations, this one was losing members. When Father Schwan, now 56, entered the monastery here in 1980, there were 35 to 37 monks. Now there are 22, with half of them 80 or older.
“When I entered, there were two people buried in the cemetery,” he said. “We’ve got 16 or 17 in the cemetery today. I’ve actually helped bury every one of those monks, except one.”
Workers broke ground on the reconstruction in 2004, and the monks eventually raised $7 million for the project. A couple of years ago, the monks also teamed up with Sierra Nevada Brewing, in nearby Chico, to produce a series of premium Trappist-style beerscalled Ovila. To cut down on costs, the monks chose to buy limestone from Texas instead of Europe to supplement the original stones.
Though the monks are working to raise an additional $2 million to put the finishing touches on the restoration, they are already able to use the chapter house the way their Spanish predecessors did.
For more infomration on the Abbey of New Clairvaux visit here.
I write these words on the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton, one of the greatest spiritual writers of the twentieth century and a man who had a decisive influence on me and my vocation to the priesthood. I first encountered Merton’s writing in a peculiar way. My brother and I were both working at a bookstore in the Chicago suburbs. One afternoon, he tossed to me a tattered paperback with a torn cover that the manager had decided to discard. My brother said, “You might like this; it’s written by a Trappist monk.” I replied, with the blithe confidence of a sixteen year old, “I don’t want to read a book by some Buddhist.” With exquisite sensitivity, he responded, “Trappists are Catholics, you idiot.”
The book in question was The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton’s passionate, articulate, smart, and deeply moving account of his journey from worldling to Trappist monk. Though much of the philosophy and theology was, at that time, over my head, I became completely caught up in the drama and romance of Merton’s story, which is essentially the tale of how a man fell in love with God. The book is extraordinarily well written, funny, adventurous, and spiritually wise. In one of the blurbs written for the first edition, Fulton Sheen referred to it as a contemporary version of St. Augustine’s Confessions, and it was fulsomely praised by both Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene. Moreover, it contributed massively to the startling influx of young men into monasteries and religious communities across the United States in the postwar era.
I was so thrilled by my first encounter with Merton that I dove headlong into his body of writing. The Sign of Jonas, a journal that Merton kept in the years leading up to his priestly ordination, became a particular favorite. That work concludes with an essay called “Firewatch: July 4, 1952,” which Jacques Maritain referred to as the greatest piece of spiritual writing in the twentieth century. In this powerful meditation, Merton uses the mundane monastic task of walking through the monastery checking for fires as a metaphor for a Dantesque examination of the soul. The Sign of Jonas is marked by Merton’s playful and ironic sense of humor, but it also gives evidence of the enormous range of his reading and intellectual interests. To devour that book as a nineteen year old, as I did, was to receive an unparalleled cultural education. For many people of my generation, Merton opened the door to the wealth of the Catholic spiritual tradition: I first learned about John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, Bernard of Clairvaux, Odo of Cluny, the Victorines, Origen, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Hans Urs von Balthasar from him.
Perhaps the central theme of all of Merton’s writings is contemplation. What he stressed over and again in regard to this crucial practice is that it is not the exclusive preserve of spiritual athletes, but rather something that belongs to all the baptized and that stands at the heart of Christian life. For contemplation is, in his language, “to find the place in you where you are here and now being created by God.” It is consciously to discover a new center in God and hence at the same time to discover the point of connection to everyone and everything else in the cosmos. Following the French spiritual masters, Merton called this le point vierge, the virginal point, or to put it in the language of the fourth Gospel, “water bubbling up in you to eternal life.” In his famous epiphanic experience at the corner of 4th and Walnut in downtown Louisville, Merton felt, through le point vierge, a connection to the ordinary passersby so powerful it compelled him to exclaim, “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”
And as craft beer continues to rise in popularity in the United States, author Dr. R. Jared Staudt in a recent article in Catholic World Report notes the ones responsible for creating western brewing practices are reclaiming their own.
This renewal is important for monastic life in providing another opportunity for monks to produce their own goods and to sustain their monasteries (in an age when many of their traditional farming practices are in decline). St. Benedict affirms the necessity of the monk’s work: “When they live by the labor of their hands, as our fathers and the apostles did, then they are really monks” (Rule, ch. 48). Benedict also states that “the monastery should, if possible, be so constructed that within it all necessities, such as water, mill and garden are contained, and the various crafts are practiced” (ch. 66).
Although this self-sufficiency is meant, in part, to insulate the monks from the world, the crafts Benedict mentions are important to provide an opportunity for the monks to witness to society. St. Benedict foresees the contribution of the monk on society: “Whenever products of these artisans are sold, those responsible for the sale must not dare to practice any fraud. . . . The evil of avarice must have not part in establishing prices, which should, therefore, always be a little lower than people outside the monastery are able to set, so that in all things God may be glorified (ch. 57, quoting 1 Pt 4:11). Though speaking of prices in particular, Benedict wants the monks to glorify God when they enter into contact with the outside world through their products.
This combination of bolstering monastic life and creating a more dynamic engagement with our culture has the potential for what has been called a “Brew Evangelization.”
The New Evangelization is a renewed proclamation of the treasury of the Christian faith to meet the needs and challenges of modern culture, especially for those Christians who have fallen away from the faith. The revival of brewing is also a small recovery of monastic tradition. Monastic brewing can be considered a part of a general need for Catholics to reassert our presence and influence in modern culture.
Brew Evangelization. Is this an exaggeration? Well, it might be, but only a bit. Of course, evangelization applies primarily to the direct proclamation of the Gospel. However, in our day it is becoming ever clearer that we need to evangelize—spread the good news—about the goodness and integrity of nature.
Read entire article here.