Saturday, July 3, 2010


Welcome to the "Benedictine Beacon," which focuses on
how ancient monastic thought might impact upon the issues
and interests held in our own time. Likely it would be more
beneficial to go to the earliest input--which is the "Introduction"
and then move your way forward.

[This blog is dedicated to the memory of an esteemed friend,
the late Rt. Rev. Leonard Vickers, third abbot of St. Anselm's
Abbey, Washington, D.C., and eighth abbot of Douai Abbey,
Woolhampton, England.]

Thursday, June 17, 2010

(63) School for the Lord's Service

"The term 'school' as it is used in 'school for the Lord's service'
is misleading if it carries any suggestion of a formal education.
Originally the word was used for a room or a hall in which people
assembled for a common purpose, and in the Rule it's usage
means a group who have come together for the common purpose
of seeking God...But the learning process is more analogous to
that of apprenticeship by which one person learns a skill from
the Liturgical Press, 1984, p. 130.]

Comment: Esther de Waal is a well-known spiritual writer, who
has written several treatises on Benedictine Spirituality. Her
above paragraph hits upon a subject that has long interested
me, especially when it comes to my own experience.

I can appreciate the idea that "apprenticeship" is applicable,
when it involves becoming a Benedictine monk. At first there's
the Novice Master, than there's more formal schooling by a
Master of Studies that focuses more on monastic and religious
studies, and later some monks might attend a special house
of studies or a university.

And there's also the basics of the Rule, especially including
Lectio, Meditation, Contemplation (all related in a special way).
But most especially there's the education that comes living in
the close quarters of a monastery. That might be the hardest
part of an apprenticeship, getting up in the face of the other--
and keeping civilized, humane, humble, and sane.

Most of us outside the walls don't really have this kind of
focused learning experience, which is basically learning how
to be a monk whose priority is Seeking God and growing in
God. But there are some who surely try, such as the oblates
attached to a monastery but who usually live outside.

I have found the Oblate Formation program somewhat limited,
when it comes to any formal training within the monastery. It
usually consists of a few hours once a month, on a given Sunday.
There can be occasional seminars and retreats. And there are
handouts and book lists. More importantly, for some, is acquiring
a Benedictine spiritual director with whom one can meet more
directly at appointed meetings.

Overall this "School" for those other monastics (oblates or
non-traditional) is somewhat tenuous--in that what one learns
are the *fundamentals* of Benedictine life. For some, perhaps
the fundamentals would seem enough; but, for others who wish
to move farther along in this special School, it's pretty much left
to their own volition as to how far they might wish to progress.

There usually is the experience of some sort of community,
whether in a local church, or at the workplace, or other forms
of communal organizations. But if one learns in the School of
the Lord's Service, I should think a person would have to focus
on St. Benedict's specifics in his Rule--and somehow integrate
them into their behavior. That behavior surely carries out into
the world, into all those other countless communities beyond
the monastic confines. In other words this integration of the
monastic behavioral forms into one's own life is about
conversion, about becoming more a Benedictine soul that
can carry forth out in the greater world.

As for the academic learning, like in the monastery there are
different steps. Some remain at one stage, others move on to
other stages. This, too, can be achieved outside the walls.

There's always the huge repository of monastic books available,
wherein one can get a better grip on the Benedictine Way.
Beyond this, there's the "Seeking of God." How, where do we
find Such? There's Theology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies
available at all academic levels of learning.

Most importantly, however, is the working "within." It's about
trying to find God through prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
And, just maybe, it's also about finding your True Self. This
term is oft used in monastic and religious circles. Sometimes
it is related to another term, "True North." From what I can glean,
it's about discovering your spiritual self or the Great Self of
depth psychology. It can involve one's "personal myth"--our
archetypal infrastructure--and following the flow of such. But
especially for those monastically oriented, it's the discovery of
the Spirit Within.

Finally, at least for me, this special School is about where we
might be heading in this monastic process. Over the centuries
the goal has been defined, but in our own time we are once again
looking into new definitions that edge into our modern knowledge-
base when it comes to both outer and inner Reality.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

(62) Being Eccentric

"Paradoxically, though monks are said to be 'formed' into one way
of life, monasteries are full of people who feel free to be themselves,
often to the point of eccentricity..."
[Kathleen Norris, DAKOTA: A SPIRITUAL GEOGRAPHY, Tucker &
Fields, 1993, p. 115.]

Comment: Kathleen Norris is an ecumenical Benedictine Oblate,
who writes about community and monastery in the Great Plains,
where she lives. Her spiritual experience is her own, like those
monks who "feel free to be themselves."

As for eccentric monks, no doubt they are around. I haven't met
any personally, but I have read some of their ideas in books they
have written. There are monks who have expanded their spiritual
horizons to the point of being mind-boggling. Sometimes when I
read their material, I feel like an "old foggy."

I must say that I feel better when I come across the occasional
(published) eccentric monk, mainly because I certainly qualify
towards attaining eccentric status myself. But whatever might
"eccentric" mean within a monastic environment?

In a creedal environment, being eccentric can sometimes be
dangerous. Back in the bad old days, people could be burned
at the stake or condemned. Toeing the line still has its adherents.
But here now, in our own time, it would seem that we are in the
Days of Diversity. Lots of different outlooks, even in the monastic

One shift I began to notice quite awhile ago was what is called
the "Monastic Inter-religious Dialogue." Perhaps it started with
Thomas Merton, the great Trappist, when he was allowed to
study Zen Buddhism and meet with Buddhist contemplatives.
After Merton's death, this dialogue with Benedictines and
Buddhist monks deepened. I remember while attending a
ceremony at a nearby monastery, I suddenly looked up after
hearing the swishing of saffron robes. There they were in
living color, genuine Buddhist monks present in a Benedictine

This monastic dialogue has served to enrich Western monks,
especially bringing depth to their prayer life.

Probably the dialogue with the Buddhists was the beginning
towards probing into other religious outlooks. For example,
there are Benedictines who have examined the shamanic
experience both in Asia and North America. Other monks are
"seeing" how the Spirit might extend into our world in a myriad
of ways and events, far beyond any creedal system.

And, goodness, there's the occasional monk who fiddles in
the realm of Science Theory--toying with how new theoretic
insights might impact on our spiritual life. One spinoff is our
accruing knowledge of Natural Systems, leading to what is
now called "Eco-Spirituality."

But, in the end, I have to wonder whether dealing with the
modern Diversity of ideas is actually "eccentric." Keeping up
with the New Knowledge Base would seem most intelligent
when it comes trying to discern Ultimate Reality or the

On the other hand, the Benedictines are the keeper of a special
Treasure--their Monastic Tradition. Admittedly, this Tradition
rose up and out of Medieval Thought. And some of this ancient
thought is wise and smart. So it would seem the challenge for
our more eccentric monks and lay monastics might be how to
*integrate* their Past Heritage (of thought) with the Modern
Information and Ideas that beckon new ways of thinking--and
even of be-ing.

Friday, April 9, 2010

(61) Seeds of Calling

"The vow of *conversatio morum* implies an intention and
desire to seek and to find God in the monastic its
traditional wholeness, simplicity, and soon as the
vow of *conversio morum* is interpreted in the light of authentic
tradition, its inner meaning begins to be apparent. It is an
awakening to the sound of God's voice, calling us to the path
of life, to the way of humility and obedience..."
[Thomas Merton, MYSTICS & ZEN MASTERS, 1961, p. 156.]

Comment: The great Trappist believed that once we understood
*Conversio Morum," as interpreted in the light of authentic
tradition, intimating the monastic life, all will become apparent.
And he said, also, outside this authentic tradition that the
"calling" might be misunderstood, leaving a person tangled
in chaos.

At first I was inclined to dispute this approach by Merton, but
upon second thought I am now disposed to believe that he
might have been right.

I believe that in some unique way that everyone in this world
is "called" to their own particular path of life. But like the famous
Seeds Parable of Jesus, well that calling drops on different kinds
of soil. Some of the seeds are able to unfold successfully unto
their fullness, other seeds only measured by the circumstances,
and some die upon arrival.

The easy answer to this is to blame the person who cannot
bring forth their "calling". However, a deeper question might be
how aware is one to this calling, how much value do they place
in such?

In this world of ours today, the seeds of calling might die
outright because of ignorance. Merton recognizes that there
is a need for structure that enhances a person's awareness to
their sense of calling.

I don't necessarily believe that "authentic tradition" has to be
the monastic life when it comes to understanding more clearly
one's sense of calling, but it does seem need being enhanced
within a certain context.

Speaking for myself, before I moved more into a monastic
understanding of life, I embarked on a life that emphasized
Nobility. No not inherited nobility, but rather a life nobly lived.
As to where I got such ideas, they came from a structure
called Classical Philosophy--i.e., Platonism and Stoicism,
both based on Virtue.

I've been told by some Benedictines that forever so long,
the Order's monks have honored Classical Philosophy. Indeed
the Benedictines retrieved lost pagan books from the Muslims,
and saved them by copying them in their scriptoriums. It wasn't
only philosophy, but also naturalist and medical manuals that
they saved. And over time these earlier medieval Benedictines
started incorporating Classical Wisdom into their own spiritual

But I digress! In the final analysis, I do believe it more profitable
following one's calling through a structure that can carry it forth.
Just a tidbit here, if I may. I once heard a football coach actually
talk about his particular calling that led to his personal vocation,
and within the NFL he found the structure in which to unfold the
seeds of his calling unto their fullness.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

(60) Love Qualified

"The longer I live, the more I am aware of a reaching out for the
intimacy of a man-woman relationship. I am not thinking simply or
primarily of physical loving, but of the more wide-ranging trust or
intimacy which is at the heart of companionship, which involves
our affective sexuality, but which is distinct from physical intimacy."
[Dominic Gaisford, OSB, "Cast Your Bread on the Waters," in
Publications, 1982, p. 164.]

Comment: "Love" is a word bandied about at so many levels of
human experience. Most of us love, fall in love, love in so many
expressed ways that such is hardly countable. On the other hand,
I have noticed in religious writings these tiers or categories of
Love as expressed by theologians, religious, and monastics.

And Fr. Dominic had the courage to write about his need for a
certain kind of love. At the time he wrote this article, he had been
long a monk at Worth Abbey, in England, as well as having had
served in Peru for a time. In other words, he was a seasoned
monk who had worked in a number of monastic capacities.

However, reading his sentences about his need for intimacy, it
was as if he were attaining towards a different kind of maturity,
not just going up the service ranks of being a monk. But because
he had declared living the celibate life, he needed to *qualify*
the terms of any love relationship he might hope to encounter.

Being outside the walls, though I can never count myself "wise"
when it comes to love, I rather imagine that it would be difficult
for a man and a woman to love one another without some sort
of physical intimacy. It's accomplished, of course, but it's far
from complete. Underneath any qualified love between the sexes
there's the glow burning away.

This *glow* stokes love, but under special circumstances I can
only presume that it's burn is controlled by a certain behavior
towards one another. No doubt it's do-able, but surely there
must be some sort of understanding between the two parties.
And maybe it's enough, though I suspect one side of the bond
will suffer more from the relationship than the other.

But one thing for sure, Love is a need whether a monk or not.

Monday, March 8, 2010

(59) Work

"Work...must be congenial and satisfying if the spiritual life is to
develop normally: it cannot be all Cross and austerity."
[Cardinal Basil Hume, O.S.B., SEARCHING FOR GOD, Paulist
Press, 1977, p. 94.]

Comment: The late Basil Hume, once a Bendictine abbot, was
called to be the Catholic archbishop for England. He was well
loved, probably because he was gentle and wise. And I feel
quite lucky to have found this little pearl of wisdom as stated above.

Like the countless billions of other folk on this planet, I have worked.
I'm old enough to have seen my way through two careers, and now
I am embarking on a third life phase.

I have to admit to some considerable good fortune, in that my two
earlier careers were indeed "congenial and satisfying." But I have
to admit, also, that the times were right when I found myself in the
workplace. Coming from a small generation, too, I no doubt didn't
have the competition for positions that younger people now face.

So probably "luck" plays a big part when it comes to our work
situation. But luck isn't always with every person. Bad luck can
give one a raw deal. On the other hand, bad preparation nearly
always guarantees a poor hand when it comes to work. But
not everybody has the inclination towards academic study. Still
there's technical or vocational training. However, this presupposes
that a person *knows* the kind of effort or work that best suits him
or her. School testing, other forms of personality tests might help--
if one wants to bead-in more expertly where their talents lie.

Yet, not every one in this world has access to tests, to job availability,
etc. Our world lives on multiple tracks of existence, from the ultra-
urban to the agricultural realm to tribal societies. So finding that
good creative work that suits might be an impossibility.

Nonetheless, Cardinal Hume is surely on the mark when it comes
to work and its impact on the spiritual life. We are not necessarily
talking Religion here, but really more about our own personal human
spirit. If our work is creative and pleasant--and especially meaningful--
then we possess a happy spirit. And usually happy spirits spread
and share their happiness!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

(58) Balance II

"Balance is the word--and the way to Benedictine balance is
simply to live the life."
[Wulstan Mork, OSB, THE BENEDICTINE WAY, St. Bede's
Publications, 1980, p. 55.]

Comment: At the time of publication, Fr. Wulstan was a monk
at Marmion Abbey in Illinois. And though he wrote this book,
and several other books, the one small sentence above carried
within it the whole of the Benedictine Way!

I can only say that I am grateful, finally, to grasp this insight.
"Balance" can be very elusive, as I can well attest. Perhaps
the duration towards this condition might be easier inside the
monastery, where formation and fellow monks are there to
illustrate better their way of life. Outside the walls, the
challenge towards achieving balance surely is more demanding.

Without going into the precise details of the Benedictine Way,
I believe that I have formulated--at least for myself--a scheduled
approach to my day. It's about taking time out for certain
procedures, if you will. This kind of balance can prevent the
little cracks of chaos that might seep into one's day. On the
other hand, this kind of balance relates to an ordered life
that--in turn--holds the possibility for positive creativity.

However, there's a danger even here. I cannot presume for
others, but I (myself) have fallen afoul of *rigidity.* Living a
Benedictine life should flow as naturally as possible, gentle,
meaningful, satisfying. But learning one's way into living this
kind of balanced life might not only take time, but considerable

Consequently, I found that I had to be very patient with myself.
And figuratively not slap my hand every time I failed to follow
specific forms of the Benedictine Way. What worked for me was
when I finally reached a point towards understanding that the
process was *beneficial* for me. At that point I started to realize
the flow of the Benedictine Way far more easily.

Balance, too, lends very much towards Stability and Peace.