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Oblate Blog: March 2014

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Dear Oblates,

We have managed to stay busy in spite of all the snow and cold, though I hope not too busy to appreciate one another. Here are a few of the things that have been going on.

 

On February 1 we had our Theology of the Body Workshop, presented by John and Patty Purk (pictured with me). In spite of some poor weather which caused some to cancel, it was a resounding success, with 25 participants who are now qualified to be facilitators for the Imago Dei discussion method. Many thanks are due to Maité M. Rodriquez-Mora, who was both an attendee and worked as Oblate Host (formerly called Oblate On Call) for the weekend and helped with registration and running of the workshop.

Last Thursday, February 20th, Archbishop Rino Fisichella came to talk on the New Evangelization. He spoke in room A109 which was filled with students, monks, guests from as far as Kansas City, and of course there were represented a number of oblates present. His emphasis was on developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is of interest to us because I perceive that many of you become oblates precisely because you want to deepen your relationship with Christ. Our Benedictine emphasis on balance of work and prayer, on how to live in community, on hospitality, on encountering Jesus in private prayer like lectio divina, and a number of other practices help you to deepen that relationship. I would like to hear from you on what it is that you have found fruitful in that regard, both in planning future activities and retreats and in designing a formation program for the Oblate Novitiate.

Last weekend the Abbey Guest Center conducted a retreat for couples on how to pray together. There were 17 couples, and of course a number of oblate couples who attended. Notable among those were Virgil & Rose Burke (oblate novices) and Bob & Rita-Marie (Cain) Reid (newlyweds), as well as Ron & Bonnie Orcutt along with other couples from a variety of locations and backgrounds. Working and attending the weekend were Paul & Sandy Tarro, and George & Barb Appleby, whom we see fairly often as Oblate Hosts. It seems that as the Abbey Guest Center offers more retreats for couples, we get more and more couples coming.

This is getting to be longer than I wanted, but there are three more things to mention before signing off: 1) a reminder of the upcoming Oblate Retreat: "Feasting on the Psalms" by Abbot Gregory. If you have not registered as of yet, please don’t wait much longer, as it promises to be full. We are fortunate to have in Abbot Gregory a scholar who both studies and prays the psalms, so he is eager to share both his knowledge and his love and enthusiasm for the psalmody. 2) Thank you for renewing your oblation this year. I am working on getting email addresses corrected and files updated, so your input has been appreciated. 3) Lent is upon us, and with that time comes the penance of preparing for Easter. It is a holy time of year, sometimes somber yet joyful in our anticipation of the fulfillment of our hopes in the resurrection at the end of the season. May we walk together this path of penance in preparation for the glorious celebration of Easter.

In St. Benedict,

Fr. Albert J. Bruecken, OSB
Director of Oblates

 

Keep in your Prayers

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Oblates,

Please remember in your prayers Mr. George Riley who passed away January 14th, and his family, especially his wife Mary, an oblate of Conception Abbey.

His obituary can be found in the St. Joseph paper, or just click here.

May he rest in peace.

Fr. Albert, OSB

 

Oblate Blog: January 2014

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Dear Oblates of Conception Abbey, 

In the year 2014 we have several activities planned for you to attend.

  1. February 1: Workshop on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body
  2. March 21 – 23: Abbot Gregory’s retreat, Feasting on the Psalms.
  3. July 11 – 13: Oblate Work and Prayer Weekend
  4. Oct. 31 – Nov. 2nd: Fr. Adam Ryan’s retreat, Daily Sounds of Silence & Speech: Biblical Base & Monastic Art.

The first activity is a new event that I would like to explain to you. It is an opportunity to study the Theology of the Body (TOB) by John Paul II in an understandable and accessible way. TOB provides a beautiful vision of sexuality which is Catholic, sacramental, and spiritual – the Church, and in particular John Paul II, sought to present what marriage can be at its best as well as how sexuality fits into all our lives – married or single. If you are married or have children or grandchildren, it gives you a language with which to talk about the beauty of sexuality and marriage with loved ones. I know from speaking with many of you that you are concerned about how our Catholic men and women are (or are not) succeeding at married life. This approach is not just about rules, but about understanding the ultimate vision the Church has for marriage.

The problem is that many people who are curious about TOB start reading the book and find it daunting. The book is over six hundred pages long and very dense, and most people do not finish it. But there is an easier way.

An organization called Imago Dei (http://imagodei-tob.org/) has put together a workbook for the purpose of bringing people together in groups to discuss TOB without reading the whole book. The workbook, A New Language: A Study Guide on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, develops the proper language to express the beauty of human sexuality as God created it. There is also a separate study guide for high school students.

Imago Dei requires that each study group have a trained facilitator, and only facilitators may acquire the workbooks and study guides. That is why we're hosting this workshop, to train facilitators, for either adult or high school groups. The study guides are designed so that the facilitator does not have to be a theological expert, only guide the group and keep people “on task.” 

The workshop will be given here at Conception Abbey on February 1, 2014 from 9 AM to 4 PM. John and Patty Purk will be the presenters. They will explain TOB from 9 AM to noon, then break for lunch. In the afternoon, they will teach how the discussion sessions work, so from 1-4 PM we will break into groups and learn by doing a study session. The cost will be $35 per person or $50 per couple, which includes the cost of lunch. Please call the Abbey Guest Center, 660-944-2809, or email them at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , to register for the workshop. Ask for the Workshop on John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

Though the workshop is being sponsored by the Oblates of Conception Abbey, it is open to all who are interested, in particular parishioners and college students in the area as well as seminarians. If you want to know more about TOB, if you want to deepen your understanding of the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality, or if you are willing to facilitate a group discussion of either youth or adults on TOB, this workshop is for you. 

May God grant you a joyful Christmas season and a blessed New Year!

In St. Benedict,

 

Fr. Albert J. Bruecken, O.S.B.
Director of Oblates

 

Oblate Blog: October 2013

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Dear Oblates of Conception Abbey,

As the newly appointed Director of Oblates, please allow me to introduce myself. I joined Conception Abbey as a novice 43 years ago last August, and was ordained in 1977. I have worked mostly in the Seminary College, where I currently work as a chaplain and a teacher of mathematics and natural science. As some of you know from looking at the skies thru one of our telescopes during a visit here, my favorite course is Astronomy. I love working in the seminary helping to form young men into mature priests.

My predecessor, Fr. Kenneth, often described his work with the Oblates as his most enjoyable assignment. After meeting with some of you at our recent retreat, I am beginning to understand why he would say that. It is indeed a privilege to be your Oblate Director, and to be able to work and relate with you. Please feel free to contact me about your concerns and ideas for what the Oblates can do as a group or what you would like to do as an individual Oblate. I look forward to working with you, finding ways to translate Conception’s Benedictine spirit into a viable expression of the Holy Spirit in each of your lives, as we walk together on our pilgrimage to heaven.

In St. Benedict,

Fr. Albert J. Bruecken, O.S.B.

Director of Oblates of Conception Abbey

 

 

Oblate Blog: May 2013

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I know it has been a very long time since I last wrote an entry for the Oblate Blog. Sorry about that but I did want to write a few words before I leave my position as Director of Oblates. As most of you should know by now I have been appointed as chaplain for the Benedictine Missionary Sisters in Norfolk, Nebraska, effective June 1. So someone else will be appointed as oblate director and at the present time I am not sure who that will be.

I have certainly enjoyed my time as oblate director. I actually have served two times as director of oblates. The first time I was oblate director from 1963 to 1969, and my present term began in 2003, although I was actually associate oblate director from 2001-2003 and then director since then. I have appreciated this opportunity to get to know so many of you good people and have always enjoyed visiting with you either personally or by e-mail or other means. Thank you for all you have done for me in those years.

As we all know obedience is a part of each of our lives. We cannot go through life without being obedient to various rules, or people. Our first duty of course is to be obedient to God, but we know that God so frequently works though other people, whether that is our spouse, for those who are married, our friends or our relatives. For those of us who are monks God’s will is presented to us so frequently by the Abbot or other superiors. I have always tried to do whatever the abbots I lived under have asked me to do. As I told the abbot I was not planning to change that now.

So they needed a priest to serve as chaplain at Norfolk and the abbot asked me to go. So I am responding to God’s call by accepting the assignment. I hope I will be able to serve the sisters well.

My present plans are to drive up there on Sunday, June 1 so I can be there for the Sunday Mass.

Pray for me as I will for you. And may God continue to bless you in your life as oblates and as good and faithful Christians.

Fr. Kenneth, O.S.B.

 

 

Oblate Blog: February 8, 2013: Lent

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THE OBLATE OFFICE
CONCEPTION ABBEY
CONCEPTION, MO 644333

February, 2013

My Dear Oblates,

Greetings as we approach the season of Lent! To quote from the Liturgical Press booklet, Give Us this Day, for Ash Wednesday, “Each year, our Church calls us to the three great actions of Lent. Pray—acknowledge that God is the center of our lives. Fast—trust that, with God’s help, we can work to control the disorder of mind and body that pulls us away from him. Help others—show that we are members of a living body in which each part supports the others.” (February, 2013 issue, p.144)

In order to prepare ourselves for the celebration of the Triduum, the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, we use these forty days of Lent to turn more and more to Jesus Christ as the center of our lives. Each of us, as St. Benedict reminds us in the Rule, should do something extra during these days. If you would like to receive a blessing on these good works from the oblate director, you can mail them to me with a stamped and addressed return envelope, presuming you would like to have them returned to you.

RENEWAL OF OBLATION: At this time of the year I usually send out a renewal of oblation form. Each oblate that has made final oblation should renew their oblation once a year. If you have some special date when you would like to do this that is fine. Otherwise, I encourage you to take care of this as soon as possible. We have a new card to sign and return this year and please use the provided reply envelope to return your card to the Oblate Office.

Donation: As you know there are no dues connected with being an oblate. However, there are some expenses connected with the oblate office. So if you can send a donation to help with these expenses it will be much appreciated, but please do not feel obligated. I would much rather have you send in your renewal form without a donation, than have you simply neglect to send it in at all. May God bless you, whatever you are able to do.

Oblate retreats: We do have a couple of oblate retreats coming up this year and then of course the Pray and Work weekend in July. You can send in your reservation at anytime, especially for the April retreat. Reservations should be made directly with the guest department, e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or phone 660-944-2809 during regular business hours. Here are the dates:
• April 5-7, 2013
, oblate retreat. Those who have e-mail have already received information about this retreat. If you did not receive this, and are interested, please let me know and I will send you a copy.
• July 12-14, 2013, Pray and Work weekend.
• October 4-6, 2013, oblate retreat given by Brother Thomas Sullivan, O.S.B.

I pray that this Lent will be a special season for you this year. May God bless all your good works as we all look forward to the glorious celebration of Easter – a little earlier this year on March 31. This year during Lent I am going to try to put more frequent little brief meditations on the Oblate Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/ConceptionAbbeyOblates

With gratitude and blessings,
In Christ and St. Benedict,

Director of Oblates

 

Oblate Blog: January 9, 2013: Retreat for Oblates of Conception Abbey: April 5-7, 2013

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Some of you have expressed an interest in knowing more about the retreat we are planning for the oblates in April, 2013. The Tower Topic had a brief outline. With this e-mail Karen and Fr Kenneth will broaden that outline and ask you to prepare along with us for this retreat. Your input is very important. We will share briefly for about 15 min. at each conference of the retreat and then turn the discussion over to small groups of eight. Each group will provide the large group insights from their sharing.

Three Questions to ponder before the retreat:

1. How has being an oblate had an effect or brought about a change in your Prayer Life?

  a. What does St. Benedict say about prayer in the Rule? (public prayer and personal prayer)

  b. Lectio in your prayer life? What does that involve – how, how often, results

  c. Does your prayer carry over into other parts of your day/week/life?

  d. How does your work and prayer complement one another?

  e. What about family prayer? Remembering that most of you live in a family community rather than a monastic community.

2. Has being an oblate had an effect or brought about a change in the way you approach your Daily Tasks or Work?

  a. What does St. Benedict say about work in our lives?

  b. What does balance look like for your life (work, prayer, leisure)

  c. How does your work become a part of your prayer life?

  d. How do we bring Christ to others who work with us?

3. Has being an oblate had an effect or brought about a change in the way you participate in your Parish Life/Community Life?

  a. Think about the various communities you are a part of

  b. Reflect upon your Conception Abbey Oblate Community – we are world wide, of different faith backgrounds – how does our common ground as oblates bring us together. In other words what is our role in ecumenism? How can we learn from one another?

 

THERE IS STILL MORE WE ENVISION FOR THIS WEEKEND!!!

We will have multiple bulletin boards set up in the conference room to post even more ideas. Things to bring to add to these bulletin boards or to work on while on the retreat:

  • Your stories – your journey – how being an oblate of Conception has changed, enriched, challenged your daily life of prayer, work, community, friendships and spiritual life.

  • Perhaps you wish to express your reflections in a poem, an essay, a drawing.

  • Perhaps a picture has motivated you and speaks more words than any essay-bring it along

  • Bring pictures, sayings, art supplies – we have some here for you as well

THE VISION EXTENDS BEYOND THIS WEEKEND: WHAT WE HOPE TO DO WITH ALL YOUR THOUGHTS AND IDEAS

We would like to publish a booklet that can be useful for all our oblates, and future oblates and anyone inquiring about the oblates. We envision not only your thoughts and words, but your art, your photos and ideas. As a community we can all share what being an oblate of Conception Abbey is all about.

A final thought – keep in mind and prayer these questions prior to this retreat

"What does being an oblate of Conception Abbey mean to me?" "How has my life changed since I became an oblate?" "What do I want others to know about this life to help encourage and invite them to this community?"

 

Oblate Blog: December 17, 2012: Last Week of Advent and Christmas 2012

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The Advent season is rather brief this year. In fact it is only about three weeks long. Today, when I am writing this blog, it is the 3rd Sunday of Advent, frequently referred to as Gaudete Sunday. Next Sunday, December 23, is the fourth and last Sunday of Advent. The day after that will be Christmas Eve.

As we prepare for the Christmas feast this year it is good to remember that Christmas is not about receiving and giving gifts. The original Christmas was the time when God poured out his deepest wealth to those of neediest poverty. Jesus brought the Gospel to the poor. The birth of Jesus was prophesied, delivered and honored by the poor. When he was grown, baptized and ready to begin his ministry, he announced that his greatest gift, the gospel, would be for the poor. He was sent to preach the good news to the poor and for St. Luke this meant a number of marginalized people.

Remember that Jesus was born in poverty. Joseph and Mary could not even find a room in the inn for this birth. They ended up using a cave, a place where animals were housed and there Jesus was born. Who were the first to come and see this very special child? The poor shepherds who were out in the fields with their flocks guarding and protecting them, they were the first to whom the angels announced the birth of Jesus, our Savior and Redeemer.

It seems like in his life Jesus poured out his deepest wealth to those who had very little. Today God calls both the individual and church to Christ like love and generosity. Giving and receiving gifts is not what Christmas is all about. Of course it is a way of showing love to others and we hope and pray our gifts convey that to others.

The greatest gift we give and receive at Christmas is the gift of the Gospel, The gift of God Himself.

And finally I would like to recommend that we each remember to pray for the families of those little first graders and adults who were killed in the school in Newtown, Connecticut. I think we can all feel with and for them and especially their families. Our prayers are with them.

 

 

Oblate Blog: November 27, 2012: Advent 2012 - Is it Christmas yet?

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If you walk into almost any store now, or in recent weeks, you get the impression that Christmas is already here. You will hear Christmas music, see Christmas decorations and you will see many things that are suggested to you as gifts to give to others.

We cannot fight that of course. It seems to me that the commercialism of Christmas is here to stay. So it is all the more important for each of us, even in the midst of all this, to remember what we are preparing to celebrate. I’m afraid that some of our children will grow up today not even knowing the true meaning of Christmas. And so, the Catholic Church, and also many other churches, observe a season of preparation, called the season of Advent. This year, 2012, that season begins on December 2 and continues for four Sundays.

Advent is a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. In earlier days of the Church Advent was a season of prayer and fasting, very similar to the season of Lent. It was Pope St. Gregory VII (1095) who formalized the season into four Sundays and later the first Sunday of Advent was designated as the beginning of the Church year.

This much is for sure – the season focuses on the coming of the Lord. The word advent, comes from the Latin word for "coming." The new Catholic catechism tells us: "When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year, she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing in the long preparation for the Savior’s first coming, the faithful renew their ardent desire for his second coming." So during Advent we reflect back and are encouraged to celebrate the anniversary of the Lord’s first coming into this world. We ponder again the great mystery of the incarnation when our Lord humbled himself, taking on our humanity and entered our time and space to free us from sin. At the same time we look forward to his coming again to "judge the living and the dead" and that we must be ready to meet him.

And finally we prepare to welcome Christ in our lives through grace. We open our hearts to receive him and welcome him. In a special way we want to be ready to welcome him when we are called to come to the end of this life and enter into eternal life with God at the time of our death.

So in the midst of all the hustle and bustle this time of the year, I encourage you, especially as oblates, to remember what the feast of Christmas is all about. Take time for prayer; perhaps take time to read the daily readings that are used in the liturgy at Mass. These can be found by going to the web site of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops at: http://www.usccb.org/ on the right side of the page you will see a calendar of the month. Click on the date and the readings for that date will be shown.

 

Oblate Blog: November 12, 2012

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"America’s hope is not in a donkey or an elephant, but in a Lamb."

A few days after the election a friend posted this phrase on my Facebook page. I began to think about that phrase and realized how true it is. Our hope is not in this or that party but always first of all in the Lamb, Jesus Christ. In the first letter of John, Jesus is twice referred to as the Lamb. St. John the Baptist first pointed out Jesus to his disciples saying: "There is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world." To understand this phrase we need to go back to the Old Testament. The whole sacrificial system established by God in the Old Testament set the stage for the coming of Jesus Christ, who is the perfect sacrifice God would provide as atonement for the sins of the people.

The sacrifice of lambs played a very important role in the Jewish religious life and sacrificial system. The Passover feast was one of the main Jewish holidays and a remembrance of the Israelites being led from bondage in Egypt. Recall how the Jews were told in the Book of Exodus, to kill a lamb and apply some of the blood to the doorposts of their houses. Thus when the angel of death came the angel would pass over those houses, while killing the first born in the other houses.

Daily, morning and evening, a lamb was sacrificed in the temple for the sins of the people. These daily sacrifices, like all others, were simply to point people towards the perfect sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The prophets Jeremiah and Isaiah had foretold the coming of the One (the Messiah) who would be brought "like a lamb led to the slaughter." His sufferings and sacrifice would provide redemption for Israel. That person was none other than Jesus Christ, "the Lamb of God."

While we do not offer bloody sacrifices like that today, we are still sinners and because of our sins, we are separated from God, and we stand guilty before him. The only hope we can have is if He provides a way for us to be reconciled to God, and that is what He did in sending His Son Jesus Christ to die on the Cross.

It is then through His death on the cross as God’s perfect sacrifice for sin and His resurrection three days later that we can now have eternal life if we believe in Him. Jesus died for us and for our sins, just as the lamb was offered in sacrifice for sin in the Old Testament.

It is to this Lamb then that we look to for salvation and hope for eternal life. The elephant or the donkey cannot bring us salvation but Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, can and will bring us salvation if we put our trust in Him. We do not lose hope.

 

Oblate Blog: October 30, 2012: Solemnity of All Saints

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It is quite amazing that we who have faith and believe we will live forever in God’s Kingdom can sometimes allow ourselves to be influenced or contaminated by the unspiritual viewpoint of our culture. Someone has said "we could have heaven on earth, but sometimes we create hell on earth." Who really are we? That is a good question. St. John answers that beautifully in the 2nd reading for this feast. "We are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed. We do know that when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." In so much of our television today and in so much of our culture we are not pictured as spiritual beings.

If we know who we are, we will also know how to act. The Solemnity of All Saints today reminds us of who we are and what a bright future can be ours. On this feast we celebrate not only those saints who have been canonized by the Church but also those who are unknown. We are joyful that they have reached their goal, eternal life in the kingdom of heaven. They remind us to keep our sights fixed high, to remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us.

The saints encourage us in our own struggles because they, like us, have endured struggles. They grew from day by day through these struggles; they matured in the Lord as they grew in years. We see that in the great people presented to us in the scriptures, as well as in the saints of our own time. We see it in people like St. Peter who was so impulsive and didn’t want the Lord to suffer. How many of the saints struggled in their lives. Think of St. Augustine of Hippo and how he talks about the impure life he formerly lived as a youth. St. Teresa (the Little Flower) speaks of her struggles in her autobiography. So many of the saints remind us of what John said: "We are God’s children now, what we shall be has not yet been revealed."

So let us keep our sights high. Let’s remember who we are and the glorious possibility that God offers us. These saints, many of whom we knew in this life (family members, relatives, friends) are praying for us. We have every reason to hope.

November 2nd, commemoration of all the faithful departed, a day when we pray for our deceased brothers and sisters who perhaps are not yet enjoying the fullness of God’s Kingdom.

 

Oblate Blog: October 10, 2012

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Pope Benedict XVI declares a year of faith, beginning on October 11, 2012, and concluding on the Feast of Christ the King in November, 2013. Faith is a great gift from God. We are grateful for that gift and want to foster it throughout our lives. I would encourage you to read the document of Pope Benedict declaring this year of faith. You can find the document by clicking on this link. The Latin title of the document is "Porta Fidei." http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_ben-xvi_motu-proprio_20111011_porta-fidei_en.html. The New Catechism (#26) tell us that: "Faith is man’s response to God, who reveals himself and gives himself to man, at the same time bringing man a superabundant light as he searches for the ultimate meaning of his life."

The weekend oblate retreat on October 5-7, was given by Father Frowin Reed, O.S.B. and covered the topic of faith and the year of faith.

 

Oblate Blog: August 16, 2012

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New members and professions:
It is always a joy for any monastic community to receive new members into the community. Especially for those of us who are older, it gives us promise that the prayer and work we do will continue after we are gone.

So it was a happy occasion to receive Novice Jonathan Pund and Novice Stephen Watson into the novitiate on August 14. The brief ceremony took place in the basilica in place of daytime prayer that day. We are grateful to God for continuing to give us vocations. Everyday at morning prayer that is one of the intentions we pray for daily.

Next Sunday, August 19, two of our young monks will make their solemn professions at the 10:30 AM community Mass. Brother Placid Dale and Brother Maximilian Burkhart will make their solemn professions and thereby become permanent members of the community. That too is of course is a blessing for the entire community.

Three oblates begin new web site:
Three of our oblates began a web site as I mentioned in one of my last e-mails to you. I really encourage you to go check out this site. It was started by Jennifer Phelps, her son, Matthew Phelps and a friend and another oblate from California, Tami Paladino. I invite and encourage all of you to take a look at the site. You will find it interesting and helpful. Go to: http://www.turningtogodsword.com/

They have also published a book titled: SCRIPTURE AND THE
ROSARY. The book will be available in the gift and bookshop
here at the Abbey, but you can also order it through the
website address given above. I am always very happy when I
hear of the good work for the Church that our oblates are
doing in various places. And of course to all of you for the
good example you give to so many others. I hear how so
many of you volunteer in your parishes or at other institutions
or charitable works. If you let me know of some of these
good works I will be happy to mention them in this oblate
blog. Of course I know you are not doing these things to get
attention but they can be helpful to others who would like to
do some volunteer work.

Recently Earl and Jean Harper brought a pick-up load of stone
to donate to the Abbey grounds department and stayed for
Mass and lunch. They mentioned that since Earl has retired
they are now giving a lot of time to their parish doing volunteer
work. They are both oblate novices from Johnston, Iowa. We
are grateful to all of you.

And of course we cannot forget all that so many of you have
done for the Abbey, especially at the Pray and Work weekends
held for the last ten years.

God bless you all.

Next oblate retreat is scheduled for October 5-7, 2012.
Make reservations through the guest department: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 660-944-2809

 

Oblate Blog: July 16, 2012: Chapter 72 of The Rule

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Chapter 72 of THE RULE OF ST BENEDICT

In the next to the last chapter of St. Benedict’s Rule he speaks of "The Good Zeal of Monks." Here Benedict tells us that: "Just as there is a wicked zeal of bitterness which separates from God and leads to hell, so there is a good zeal which separates from evil and leads to God and everlasting life."

Some commentators say that here in this chapter we find the essence, the deepest dimension, the core of the Rule. Perhaps here in this chapter is where we meet the man, Benedict himself. Here we see his concern with the inner dynamic of this life, telling us a lot about himself, his own attitudes and motives. In some ways we can see this as the culmination of all that Benedict has been saying about the interior disposition of the heart.

How can any of us live a good life in community and find joy and happiness in that life unless we try to follow this little chapter of the Rule? To quote: "They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other, supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior…" Who of us is without weaknesses or an inclination to sin? Who of us can live in any community, family, church community, neighborhood, etc., without this virtue of showing respect for one another and patiently supporting one another and our weaknesses? We have to wonder how many leave community or break up a marriage or a family because they cannot accept what they see as a weakness in another person in that community. How many marriages break up because there is no longer respect for one another?

Benedict goes on to say: "No one is to pursue what he/she judges better for him/herself, but instead what he/she judges better for someone else." Most of us have some tendency toward selfishness. So often we see ourselves as number one. What a different world this would be if everyone would try to be less selfish and truly try to seek the good of others rather than just what is good for ourselves. I tend to think that in our culture we have lost some of that respect and reverence for others. We have become so much a "me" society. We tend to, at times, use other people for our own enjoyment. We sometimes think that others owe it to us to make us happy.

But the fact of the matter is that when you get down to it only God, Jesus Christ, can satisfy all our needs. Once we start looking to others to make us happy, to satisfy all our needs, we usually get in trouble. Only with a deep love for God and then for others can we find happiness. As St. Benedict says in this chapter: "To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers…" And finally at the conclusion of the chapter St. Benedict reminds us once again: "Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ…"

I suggest we all go back and read and reflect once again on this chapter 72 of the Rule of St. Benedict.

 

Oblate Blog: May 24, 2012

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What role does the Holy Spirit play in our lives, in my life, or in your life? We no doubt all believe in the Holy Spirit and we probably say the Spirit is active in our lives. But, do we recognize that presence? This Sunday, May 27, is the SOLEMNITY OF PENTECOST, the feast that celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit.

One of the reasons for this feast is to enhance our understanding and appreciation of the Holy Spirit. I think each of the readings for this feast gives us a rich insight into the meaning of the Spirit for us.

Scholars tell us that one of the purposes for which St. Luke wrote both his account of the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles was to show the universal nature of Christianity. Its offer of God’s saving love is for everyone everywhere and in every age. The agent of this worldwide expansion is the Holy Spirit. It is especially in the Acts of the Apostles, sort of a history of the early Church, that Luke shows clearly the Spirit’s power at work. Luke understands the experience of the first Pentecost as the official beginning of the Church and of the Church’s commitment to evangelize the world through the power of the Spirit. As Peter will bring out in his first discourse, this was all due to the saving activity of Jesus Christ. The Spirit brings Christ’s saving love to us.

If we can truthfully say that we believe in Jesus Christ, then we know that the Holy Spirit is at work in us. St. Paul tells that "…no one can say: Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit." In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we note two characteristics of the Spirit’s work. First, the bestowing of special gifts on the believer, some of which are extraordinary (for example, speaking in tongues), but many are simply the ordinary tasks of everyday life, such as teaching, assisting others, and doing our ordinary duties. The point is that anything we do as Christians to help one another is the Spirit’s power working in us; it’s a gift of the Spirit. If it helps others, it is a true gift and from the Holy Spirit. The Spirit’s gifts are for all of us, not just for a chosen few, and Paul reminds us that the greatest gift of all is love.

The Holy Spirit is so important in our Christian life. Our gifts of service to others, no matter how small, our oneness with others all over the world, our ability to say "I forgive," to others – all these and many more are proofs of the Spirit dwelling in us.

Let us rejoice and celebrate and give praise and thanks to God for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

 

 

Oblate Blog: April 26, 2012: The Joy of Easter

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St. Benedict in his Rule, chapter 49, On the Observance of Lent, says, and I quote:

"In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing."

Now that we have celebrated the solemnity of Easter and continue to celebrate this special feast until the solemnity of Pentecost on May 27, 2012, can we truly say that we are experiencing the joy of Easter during all these days? St. Benedict also says at the beginning of Chapter 49 that "The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent." If that is true, surely St. Benedict also wants those who follow his Rule to also experience the joy of Easter, not only during the Easter season, but all throughout the year. Every Sunday of the year can be said to be a "little Easter." as we recall the resurrection of Jesus.

So often in the liturgy during the Easter season, the word joy is used. I would like to from part of an Easter Homily that was given by an ancient author. It can be found in the Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, the Lenten and Easter volume, within the Octave of Easter, office or Readings.

"St. Paul rejoices in the knowledge that spiritual health has been restored to the human race. Death entered the world through Adam, he explains, but life has been given back to the world through Christ. Again, he says: The first man, being from the earth, is earthly by nature; the second man is from heaven and is heavenly. As we have borne the image of the earthly man, the image of human nature grown old in sin, so let us bear the image of the heavenly man; human nature raised up, redeemed, restored and purified in Christ."

Later the author goes on to say in this homily: "Here, then, is the grace conferred by these heavenly mysteries, the gift which Easter brings, the most longed for feast of the year; here are the beginnings of creatures newly formed; children born from the life-giving font of holy Church…. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad."

Easter is the day that brings us real life and, yes, even eternal life. What greater need is there for finding joy in our lives?

I have always liked these words from St. Paul (I Cor. 15:-12-19) "But, if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty is our preaching; empty too, your faith…..For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain, you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only, we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all."

These are some pretty strong words from St. Paul. Words, however, that should help us to rejoice during these days of Easter and know what great love God has shown to us.

 

 

Oblate Blog: April 2, 2012: The Sacred Triduum

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I had intended to continue with my blog from the last time but since this is the beginning of Holy Week perhaps it is more important that I say a few words about the Triduum. As we go through these days during this week, I wonder how many of us think about the suffering that Jesus underwent so that we could be saved from our sins.

At the conclusion of the Last Supper, and the discourse of Jesus to his disciples, we are told in St. John’s Gospel that Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives. St. Luke in his Gospel tells us: "Then going out he went, as was his custom, to the mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him." Or in St. Matthew’s Gospel we are told: "Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here while I go over there and pray." Jesus, taking with him Peter, James and John, begins to pray, "My soul is sorrowful even to death, remain here and watch with me." After praying he returns to the disciples and finds them asleep. Again he prays, "My Father, if it is not possible that this cup pass without my drinking it, your will be done." What great love there is between Jesus and the Father.

And we need to also remember the hurt and disappointment at the two disciples who would betray him. Judas, one of the twelve, had already worked out an arrangement with the Jewish religious leaders, to betray him for a few silver coins. Jesus knew this and announced it at the last supper. How much suffering that must have caused Jesus. One of those so close to him was now going to betray him. And then there was also St. Peter, who said he would follow Jesus even to death, but when Jesus was arrested, denied he even knew Jesus.

In fact, as far as we know from the Gospels, only one apostle followed Jesus to his death on the cross, namely, St. John. John, and the mother of Jesus and a few women evidently followed him and stayed with him until his death on the cross. What a disappointment that must have been to Jesus.

Why did Jesus suffer so much? The answer is obviously, because it was the will of the Father that he suffer. He did it out of love for you and me, out of love for all of us. Human beings had sinned and continue to sin, but God wants us to be with him forever in heaven. So Jesus went through all this and much more for love of us.

In the end of course he rises from the dead. He wants to show us the victory that is ours also if we are faithful. We too look forward to resurrection and new life. What a wonderful gift!

This Holy Week then, and especially during the Triduum (from the Holy Thursday evening Mass, through Vespers on Easter Sunday evening) should be days of love and gratitude to our God. In general our sufferings are rather minimal in comparison to what Jesus suffered – all for love of us.

 

Oblate Blog: March 13, 2012

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As we approach closer and closer to Easter during this Lenten season, we look ahead already to Holy Week and the Triduum. Jesus experiences loneliness in the garden. He no doubt longed for consolation and support, but he had to face this crucial moment alone. Are there days when we also feel alone and see ourselves as facing problems and life alone?

"Stay here," Jesus told his apostles, "while I go over there and pray." Jesus always prayed before the important events in his life. Prayer is the center of his life. Only in prayer do we too find the strength to know and fulfill the Father’s will. Jesus also needed human consolation. He invited his three favorite apostles, Peter, James and John, to come with him for prayer. He wanted them to be close at hand, to pray with him, to be close to him at this time. These three had been with him at other important and favorite times; for example, at the Transfiguration. Now he needed them in a special way and yet they failed him. Jesus seems to be denied any human consolation at this difficult time. Even his Father seems far away. He had to face this great crisis alone. We too need human sympathy and companionship in times of stress and suffering. Jesus knew loneliness in this hour. Do we not feel this too at times – but we need to always realize that Jesus is always with us.

"My heat is nearly broken with sorrow. Remain here and stay awake with me." Jesus wanted his closest friends to remain with him. This is an ideal prayer posture. Prayer is not only addressing our words and thoughts to God. It is not only thinking about God and all his goodness. Prayer is "just being with God" and letting him "be with us." He is there just to warm us, nourish us, encourage us, and cheer us. This is prayer—just to be with God. Prayer is longing for a deeper, more personal relationship with God our Father. Prayer is resting in his presence in wordless communication.

To be continued in the next oblate blog.

 

 

Oblate Blog: February 20, 2012: Lent

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 Lent, 2012, begins on Wednesday, February 22, what is usually referred to as ASH WEDNESDAY. The Rule of St. Benedict is usually considered to be a rather brief rule of life for monks. However, in this rather brief rule St. Benedict devotes one brief chapter to THE OBSERVANCE OF LENT. This is chapter 49 – I encourage each oblate to try to go to this chapter and re-read it before the season of Lent begins or at least at the beginning of Lent.

St. Benedict begins by saying that: "The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligence’s of other times."

How do we do that? St. Benedict devotes part of the chapter then to telling us how he sees the monks and followers of his Rule can do that – and this includes also the oblates who also try to follow the Rule as best you can in your state in life.

St. Benedict seems to be saying in this chapter that Lent is the model for the whole of life, but that this season of Lent brings an annual opportunity for extra effort. What happens in Lent should in principle happen in all our life. Many times in his Rule St. Benedict shows that the individual should never do anything on his own that makes him look better or holier that the other members of the community. In other words, one should not do things that draw attention to him or herself. So here in this chapter also St. Benedict speaks of the entire community doing something to keep its manner of life most pure, but also indicates the need for an individual to do something to help accomplish this.

So he tells the monks to share with the abbot what he or she plans to do extra during the Lenten season. We do not let the entire community know how much I am fasting or giving to charity. To do that makes it something public and even competitive. "I fast more than you do". What is most important during Lent is an interior transformation. Oblates are welcome to send your Lenten works to me in the oblate office, if you wish, for a blessing. But, more important I think, is that you share them with your husband or wife, with a good friend, a spiritual friend of someone who knows you quite well. I do encourage each oblate to write down what they are trying to do during Lent and then put that someplace where you see it off and on during Lent, but not in a public place where everyone can see it who comes into your office or home.

Lent of course points toward Easter and St. Benedict here in this chapter 49 speaks of the forty days preparing for Easter as a time of looking forward "with joy and spiritual longing." Esther deWaal in her commentary on the Rule speaks of compunction being an important part of Lent. Compunction, she says, "brings a sense of sharp pain, a stinging that I experience as I am touched, overwhelmed by this love, which reaches out to love and forgive and to end all that separates us. ….Compunction draws from me a positive response to the love of God flooding my life and drawing me on to fuller and better things."

We might explain it by saying it is…" the comparison between what we are and what we could be that constitutes the triggering cause of compunction." This is what we try to accomplish during Lent. We try to be more of what we could be, realizing what we are at present.

I pray that you have a blessed and holy Lent. Let us pray for one another in a special way during this Holy Season.

 

Oblate Blog: February 6, 2012: Obedience

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For your information the new guest house being built at the present time will be called: ST. GABRIEL GUEST HOUSE.

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Have you, as an oblate of St. Benedict, ever asked yourself what "obedience" means to you as an oblate of St. Benedict? In chapter 5 of the Rule St. Benedict it specifically talks about obedience, although he also talks about it in some of the degrees of humility. In fact I think we could say very definitely that obedience has to be associated with humility. I remember well our novice master telling us that obedience would probably be the most difficult of the vows for us. He said it is always with us, day in and day out. We are constantly acting under obedience.

Esther de Waal, in her commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict says with regard to this chapter on obedience: "He (Benedict) starts by looking at obedience, but all three (obedience, humility and silence) are closely linked, for humility is essentially the emptying of my own self-love and self-will, and obedience is listening to God that will never be possible without interior silence" (p. 45 of her commentary).

I think it helps a lot to see obedience as a way of listening. And of course it is difficult to listen if we are always talking; that is, we need silence to help us to listen. Obedience is more than just someone telling us what to do or what not to do. We only know what the Lord wants of us by listening to him. As an oblate you only know what your spouse wants by listening to him or her. Perhaps that is one thing that is lacking in many marriages. There is not enough listening. Hearing what each wants or needs as well as sharing our own wants and needs.

St. Benedict in this chapter seems to see obedience as something done without hesitation. In verse 4 of this chapter St. Benedict uses the word promptly and at other times he uses quickly. On the other hand we know that true obedience has to come from the heart. It should be a joyous and generous response.

All of us are called to obedience. As oblates of St. Benedict, your goal should be to listen intently. We discover the will of God by listening to God (especially in the scriptures), by mutual listening to one another, by listening to homilies, by listening to God in books we read, and by listening to God in nature.

Obedience is not an easy task but it is the way we return to God which is the purpose of our life here on earth.

 

 

Oblate Blog: January 17, 2012: The Call to Follow the Lord

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Last Sunday, January 15, the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time, WE had some beautiful readings at our Eucharistic celebration, with the theme seeming to be "The Call" from God. Recall that the first reading was from I Samuel, chapter 3. Samuel had been taken by his parents at a very young age to serve in the temple. He was serving the priest Eli. At night while Samuel was sleeping in the temple, not far from Eli, he heard a voice call his name. Thinking Eli had called for him he jumped out of bed and went to Eli and said: "Here I am. You called me." Eli responded that he did not call him and told him to go back to bed. This happened three times and then Eli realized that it must be God calling the youth so he told him: "God back to sleep, and if you are called, reply, Speak Lord, for your servant is listening." And then the Lord did call Samuel again and Samuel replied: "Speak, for your servant is listening."

Then in the Gospel, we heard John the Baptist say to two of his disciples: "Behold the Lamb of God.," as he watched Jesus walk by. The two disciples followed Jesus. Jesus turned around and saw them and said to them: "What are you looking for?" They replied that they wanted to see where he was staying. Jesus simply replies, "Come, and you will see."

There is so much in these readings for us to reflect on and meditate on--especially so much for us to put into practice in our own lives. It is so much about listening. How do we know if we are doing what the Lord wants of us? I think we can say by listening. We listen to the Word of God in the scriptures, we listen to homilies, we listen to others who are part of our lives, and we listen as we see the beauty in nature. It is only by listening that we can then put into practice what we hear the Lord telling us.

Would it not be a wonderful thing for each of us each morning as we awake and crawl out of bed to say those words that Eli taught Samuel: "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening." Or perhaps better: "Speak Lord to me today and help me to always be open to listening to your voice." So often we close our minds, not only to other people, but even to God. We hear the Word of God, but it passes away almost immediately.

This next weekend we observe the anniversary of the Supreme Courts decision to allow abortion in our country. Can we not pray that everyone will be open to listen to God? God wants us to respect all life from conception in the womb to natural death. God made all human beings in his own image. Is there not an obligation for us to respect and reverence that life? But, obedience to God and his laws can only come if we first listen. We need to take God’s word into our hearts and, if we do that, there is little doubt in my mind that we will also put it into action in our lives. Obedience follows from listening. So let us as oblates, pray this coming week (and hopefully everyday) for a true respect for life. At the same time we need to pray for healing for those who have had an abortion and perhaps are now suffering because of that.

God bless you all and remember those words: SPEAK, LORD, FOR YOUR SERVANT IS LISTENING.

 

Oblate Blog: January 3, 2012: Feast of the Epiphany

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Yes, we have celebrated the Solemnity of Christmas with great rejoicing, singing of carols, exchanging gifts and praising God—and possibly eating more than we should. Was it a happy and blessed celebration for you, for me, for all of us? We pray it was and that the joy of the feast will be with us throughout the New Year.

The next big feast before the Christmas season ends will be the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Formerly in the U.S.A., and still in many places in the world, the feast is celebrated on its traditional date of January 6. However, the bishops of the United States decided some years ago to transfer the feast to the following Sunday so more people would be able to participate and celebrate this important feast. So this year the Epiphany is celebrated on January 8.

Epiphany is actually one of the oldest Christmas feasts. It was celebrated since the end of the second century and even before the Christmas feast was established. It is commonly known as the 12th night or 12th day. The word Epiphany means "manifestation" or "showing forth."

This feast commemorates the first occasions on which Jesus’ divinity was manifested. The antiphon for evening prayer or vespers for this feast summarizes what we are celebrating. I quote:

Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation. (Roman breviary 2nd vespers of Epiphany)

In the first mystery the Magi who come from a foreign country and are not Jews, come to visit the child Jesus, showing us that Jesus came for all people, not just the Jews. The second mystery shows us that Jesus is more than a mere man since he turned water into wine, he is God and man. The third mystery at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, when Jesus came up out of the water and the Spirit, like a dove, descended upon him. And a voice came from the heavens: "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

Normally the feast of the Baptism of the Lord is celebrated on the Sunday after Epiphany, but this year, since Christmas occurred on a Sunday, the feast of the Baptism is celebrated on Monday, the day after the Epiphany, January 9. That will conclude the Christmas season.

 

Oblate Blog: December 14, 2011

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WE WAIT IN JOYFUL HOPE:

What do you think about when you think of the coming of Christmas? As you look back on your life what did you think about when you were a youngster, when you were in the teens, and finally when you became an adult and gradually as you become an older person.

As I think back on my early life, at least as far back as I can remember, I can’t deny I would get very excited about Santa Claus. What would I get for Christmas, what would Santa bring me? Had I been a good boy? When I was quite young and we lived on a farm a couple times during the weeks before Christmas, Santa would suddenly look into the window of our house. That in itself scared me and my younger brother into trying to be good as Santa was watching.

As I became school age I remember always going to midnight Mass on Christmas. That became very important in my life and our life. We had a Catholic grade school and we had a pastor who liked solemn ceremonies so we would all have to serve at midnight Mass in some capacity. The Sisters would make a special effort to prepare us for this feast.

So from that time on, while I still looked forward to the gifts that Santa would hopefully bring, I began to see more and more that Christmas was about a lot more than just receiving gifts. It was about celebrating that greatest gift of all, God giving himself to us, sending his Son to bring us salvation. And at what a price! Eventually that little child whose birthday we celebrated at Christmas had to die and suffer much in order to bring us forgiveness of sins and new life.

But, we all know Jesus was born over 2000 years ago. How then is he going to come again this year and every year until the end of time? I think we can say that he comes again, especially in grace, every year. In other words at this Christmas in 2011, Jesus hopefully will come more perfectly into my heart. Jesus should mean more to me after this Christmas than he did a year ago. He loves me; hopefully I love him more than I did last year. We wait for this to happen in joyful hope.

When we take Jesus Christ out of Christmas then this feast simply becomes another holiday that comes and goes each year. As oblates I encourage each of you to make every effort to make Christmas the feast it is meant to be. If there is any feast that is a feast of love, it is this feast. God sends the Son out of love for us. We love God the Father and the Son for this, and we then try to take that same love to all those we know – family, friends, relatives and even strangers.

To each and every one of you, your families and friends, I wish a very Merry and Blessed Christmas! I will certainly remember you in my prayers and in my Christmas Masses.

Fr. Kenneth

 

Oblate Blog: November 28, 2011

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With this blog I will begin posting the conferences given at our oblate retreat October 7-9, 2011.  As you who were present know, the retreat was on the last six degrees or steps of humility as found in chapter seven of the Rule of St. Benedict. For those not able to attend the retreat perhaps you can read them on the blog.

Fr. Kenneth

Conference 4, Retreat: October 2011 - The Last Six Degrees of Humility

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday, October 9, 2011, 9:15 a.m. Paul Tarro gave the last conference for the oblate retreat On Humility. He and his wife Sandi also made their final oblation on Saturday, October 8, 2011. I had asked him to give a report on the book: Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility, by Stephen Cherry.

I feel somewhat like a little red Ford escort I use to own and I’m trailing behind a double-bottom UPS tractor-trailer rig. Fr. Kenneth has proven an aspect of, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, longevity having its value. Length of time living with something gives you a kind of familiarity that moves that thing from your head to your heart, and as Jesus said, out of the heart flow the issues of life. Fr. Kenneth has spoken to us so eloquently from his heart, something most of us are just now struggling to get into our heads. May God give us the time and grace to get it from here (head) to here (heart). Thank you Fr. Kenneth for all you’ve given to us this weekend.

Let’s begin this conference with prayer. The Lord be with you….

Shine within our hearts, loving Master, the pure light of your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our minds that we may understand your teachings. Instill in us also reverence for your blessed commandments, so that having conquered sinful desires we may pursue a spiritual way of life, thinking and doing all those things that are pleasing to you. For you, Christ our God, are our light, and to you we give glory, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

We want to talk about "this" book, but I want to begin at a different place.

I wish I could tell you a story. I wish I could read you a book. But time won’t allow me to do either, so I’ll summarize the story and read just one page from the book. The story is of Euphrosynos, a 9th century monk of the Eastern Church, a different tradition from the Rule of Benedict. His tradition was informed by the work of Saint Macrina and her brothers, the Saints Basil and Gregory. The summary of Euphrosynos’s story is on the back of this reproduction of his icon.

Euphrosynos was a simple man, but a man of God. He served as the cook in an Amorean monastery [Mt. Athos, Greece] in the ninth century.

One night, the spiritual father of this monastery saw himself in Paradise, and saw Euphrosynos there as well. Euphrosynos picked and gave him three apples from Paradise.

When the spiritual father awoke, he saw three unusually beautiful and fragrant apples by his pillow. He quickly found Euphrosynos and asked him: "Where were you last night, brother?"

"I was where you were, father,'' the blessed God-pleaser replied.

The spiritual father then revealed the entire incident to the monks, and all recognized the sanctity and godliness of Euphrosynos.

But Euphrosynos, fearing the praise of men, immediately fled the monastery and hid in the wilderness, where he spent the remainder of his life.

Bishop Nikolai Velimirovch, The Prologue from Ohrid

The book I wish I could read to you is The Boy, A Kitchen, and His Cave by Catherine Contopoulis. On September 11 (9/11), which happens to be Euphrosynos’s feast day, twenty-one of us, including Earlene, crowded into the living and dining rooms of our house and together read this children’s book. And then we ate 20 pounds of baklava. Here is what Contopouolis writes about the abbot telling the story of his dream to the monks of the monastery.

"That dawn at matins, the Abbot brought the apple branch back with him and excitedly described his vision of Euphrosynos to the other monks."

"Dear brothers, I prayed last night for answers following our great discussion. And the Lord has answered my prayers."

"What could that peasant boy possibly teach us,’ said one monk, with some indignation."

"Brother, that simple peasant boy who cooks our meals and cleans our kitchen lives his life in the true spirit of Christ. He is content with all that is before him. He sees plenty in everything, even when he has nothing. He appreciates all the small things of his day – how well his spoon ladles our soup, the sweetness of a carrot. And he praises the Lord at every turn!"

"Yes, it’s true,’ said the monk who had slipped on Euphrosynos’ soapy water. ‘Even when he spilled water from his bucket and made a mess, he thanked God for teaching him a new lesson. I was so annoyed with his carelessness, yet he was able to transform the mishap into a gift from above."

"You see, brothers,’ said the abbot. ‘Our cook asks for nothing more than what is given to him. Everything in his life, each new day, is a chance to participate in the Kingdom of Heaven. Is this not what Jesus meant – that God’s Kingdom is in our midst on earth?"

"I am convinced,’ continued the Abbot, ‘that God has blessed us by bringing Euphrosynos here to us. It is we who must learn from Euphrosynos, brothers! God’s love knows no distinction of rank. Who are we to decide what or who is holy in God’s eyes? Are we not all worthy of his grace? The apple branch is a sacred sign of the boy’s place in the eyes of God. Euphrosynos’ virtues run deep – his kindness and mildness, his modesty, his pure way of thinking. Yes, he is simple, but he is honest and full of love. Is this not what God intended for us? And are we so full of ourselves that we cannot see it?"

"The monks scratched their heads and tugged on their beards as they considered all that the Abbot had said. And one by one they each agreed that the dream was a sign from God. They each kissed the apple branch in respect and sang a hymn of thanks to the Lord for Euphrosynos."

Contopoulos, Catherine K., The Boy, A Kitchen, and His Cave (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002)

There is much about Euphrosynos which illustrates to us the degrees of humility which Benedict presents and which Fr. Kenneth has so carefully and helpfully discussed with us, both this weekend and in 2008. Look at the two hymns to Euphrosynos.

"Thou didst live righteously in great humility, in labors of asceticism and in guilelessness of soul, O righteous Euphrosynos. Hence, by a mystical vision, thou didst demonstrate most wondrously the Heavenly joy which thou hadst found. Deem us also worthy to be partakers thereof by thine intercessions."

"We laud Saint Euphrosynos, the most wondrous ascetic, who took up the Cross of Christ and shone forth in humility; for by the vision of Paradise his Christ-like virtue by God was made manifest."

Asceticism and guilelessness, the heavenly joy, took up the Cross of Christ, shone forth in humility, Christ-like virtue; Euphrosynos puts flesh on the bones.

This is the value of personal testimonies: they breathe life into principles. However, because Euphrosynos lived such a long time ago it’s easy to "fictionalize" his life, distancing his experience from ours. The value of a book like Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility is that Stephen Cherry is our contemporary and his personal testimonies of encounters with himself, God, church and culture could easily be our own. As we read his words, we easily project ourselves into them and they become our own.

I confess that it took me many months to read this book for that very reason. My reading became a form of lexio as I, again and again, had to pause and digest and apply before moving on. I began reading it on Ash Wednesday in February and finished it during the Oblate Work Weekend in July. You may breeze through it in a couple of sittings, but that was not my experience. It seems Fr. Kenneth may be taking a bit longer. I believe I gave him a copy in April and by his own testimony he’s only one-third of the way through it! The book was commissioned by Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, for the Anglican Communion’s reading during this year’s Lenten season.

Cherry’s metaphor is that of the determined journey of a pilgrim, intent on his goal and consumed by the passage. The pursuit of a holy humility is deliberate and not accidental or incidental. I officiated last weekend at the funeral of a much-loved uncle who, in my homily, I described as someone who lived the life of long obedience in the same direction. That is the cause of the development of humility in the life of the pilgrim who Cherry describes: a long obedience in the same direction.

I cannot read the entire book to you, or even do an adequate survey of each of the chapters. As Fr. Kenneth said last night, it is not a systematic study of the Rule, as some of the other books we have available. But Cherry isn’t shy about quoting the Rule and making it clear that his perspective has been formed by Benedictine spirituality. So let me unpack just a few bits of his writing which hopefully will complement what we’ve discussed with Fr. Kenneth.

Throughout the book, Cherry speaks of humility in terms of discipleship, both in the sense of the process of becoming Christ-like, that is, the humility required to be a student without a portfolio, and the goal, Christ’s nature, toward which we are moving.

"Being humble, then, is like trying to catch air in our hands. The faster we close our fingers around it, the faster the air spurts away. The slower that we close our hands, the slower the air spurts away. But if we hold our hands, palms up, arms outstretched, then air will come to rest in our hands. To experience humility, then, is not to grasp or strive towards it, but to rest as we seek to bless others. When we are moved from within, a humble spirit can descend upon us like that air resting in the open hand."

Worthington, E. L., Humility: The Quiet Virtue (West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, 2007; pg. 103)

"It is a beautiful and telling image with much to teach us about the acceptance, patience and imagination that are integral to developing humility, and which are all present in the person who has become truly humble. We will need to bear this in mind as we reflect on the kinds of activities, experiences and processes that might help us learn humility and grow in Christlikeness. For growth in humility does not come through a kind of sanctified self-help program. Rather it comes from the realization that in the deepest, most important and fundamental matters we do not have the capacity to sort ourselves out. Growth in humility happens through a process not of instruction or education as such, but through openness and vulnerability. That is to say, it is grace that makes us humble. Our humility, if it exists at all, is nothing less than the grace of God in us."

Cherry, Stephen, Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility (New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011; pgs. 14, 15)

In the chapter titled ‘A Terrible Force’ Cherry uses material from Bernard of Clairvaux and Michael Ramsey to talk about the false humility of the proud, which Fr. Kenneth has already walked us through. Cherry counters with the ancient hymn of the Church which St. Paul quotes in his letter to the church at Philippi: "Let this mind be in you, which also was in Christ Jesus…" This "mind" provides us with a different way to respond to life, which he illustrates with a quote from Dostoyevsky’s Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov.

"At some ideas you stand perplexed, especially the sight of other men’s sins, asking yourself whether to combat them by force or by humble love. Always decide, ‘I will combat it by humble love.’ If you make up your mind about that once and for all, you will be able to conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force; the strongest of all, there is nothing like it."

Dostoyevsky, F., The Brothers Karamoazov, trans. David Magarshack (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982) pg. 376

One of my sons is a US Marine. The uncle I just buried was a US Marine, as were several of his brothers. With that having been said, I ask some understanding from any Marines present for the following statement. I frequently see on the side of semi trailers an ad for the Marines which shows an ornate dress sword. You’ve probably seen it, too. The wording on the trailer is "Earned. Never given." The way of humility turns our world upside down. The grace of God is "Given. Never earned." It is because its source is in the grace of God that humility is indeed "a terrible force," as Father Zossima says, "the strongest of all, there is nothing like it."

Cherry talks about childlike maturity: Sandi and I spent better than 17 years working in a mission which had Matthew 18:14 as its motto: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingom of Heaven." The Church has understood that the "of such" was, in a clear way, at the top of the growth scale for adults. Whatever it was that Jesus knew about children was his expectation about all Christians. We can perhaps name some of these qualities, including being trusting, teachable and, of course, humble. Christian humility is not a matter of adults living out the characteristics of babies, infants or children. That is childishness, which we are to mature from. But Christian humility is found in a personality that is willing to be reshaped and renewed by relationship with God. What makes Christian humility radical is not its immaturity. We may call it childlikeness or we may call it Christlikeness. What is at stake is the quality of the maturity.

Cherry talks about giving up grumbling and about living generously: Perhaps one of Cherry’s most powerful chapters is about shocking our systems by placing oneself in the position of a stranger. What do we do when we are no longer in control? When we don’t know the language? When we don’t know which direction is the right turn? Immersion in culture other than our own and experiencing the total dependency which we must place with others can be an experience which brings us to a new level of humility. To discover and learn about others can be a great source of bringing down the arrogance level in our own lives.

All of Cherry’s work has to do with intentionality, deliberateness about our lives, which has to do with the title, Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility. There should be a purposefulness in the steps we take.

Sandi and I actually have twin sons. As they were approaching the end of high school, I took them with me on a trip to the UK and we did a pilgrimage to those two great centers of missionary monks, Iona, off the western coast of Scotland, and Lindisfarne, on the northeast corner of today’s England. Both are islands, though Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, is accessible by car much of the time when the tides are out.

With the tides out, many of the pilgrims to the relics of the site of the community formed by Saint Aiden choose to walk across the tidal plain, known as the ‘Pilgrims’ Way’. It is marked by several dozen posts, so you can’t get lost and a few ‘crow’s nests’ for pilgrims who don’t quite make it before the tide comes in.

Disembarking from tour busses or parking their cars in the car park, people set off on the plodge, as it’s called locally, across the causeway, usually after removing their shoes and boots, making the pilgrimage with bare feet.

The plodge is a wonderful metaphor for the Christian life.

Would-be pilgrims who think they are going to be walking across pleasant sands soon find that they are walking across slippery mud.

Occasionally there is a little stream of ice-cold North Sea to wade through or a gritty stretch with lots of broken shells. In other spots, you have no choice but to go ankle deep in thick green seaweed.

"What the Lindisfarne pilgrim finds on the causeway, so all Christian pilgrims find on the journey of life. We hope to walk across warm, firm and golden sand but often find ourselves in slippery mud or mysterious seaweed. At such times it matters very much that there are people ahead of us, behind us and beside us. We need people who will stand by us when we slip and who will risk slipping to help us when we fall. Another point derives from the fact that this Pilgrim Way is tidal. For this reason it must be one of the very few footpaths in the world which is never marked by the erosive impact of many feet. However many pilgrims walk across, the foot prints are washed away every time the tide comes in…. There is a lesson in this too. Some people like to think that they are walking a new path. Others prefer the assurance that they are following tradition. Both are true when we walk the pilgrim way through life. The way of Jesus is simultaneously the way of the saints and our own special journey."

Cherry, S., Barefoot Disciple, pg. 20

In the final chapter, Cherry brings us back to the beginning of Fr. Kenneth’s talks with us, back to being humus – dirt, dust. Thou we are not yet dust, we are in between. We walk barefoot through the dust, carefully examining our steps, deliberately placing them. We are purposeful, intentional in our barefooted pilgrimage in pursuit of humility, following the Rule, as we approach the one who we wish to become like, the one who himself ended his life on earth barefoot.

 

Oblate Blog: November 16, 2011

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With this blog I will begin posting the conferences given at our oblate retreat October 7-9, 2011.  As you who were present know, the retreat was on the last six degrees or steps of humility as found in chapter seven of the Rule of St. Benedict. For those not able to attend the retreat perhaps you can read them on the blog.

Fr. Kenneth

Conference 3, Retreat: October 2011 - The 11th & 12th Degrees of Humility

This blog includes the 3rd conference given at the oblate retreat on the weekend of October 7-9, 2011. It covers the 11th and 12th degrees or steps of humility from the Rule of St. Benedict. Read the 11th degree from the Rule, p. 37

The 11th Degree of Humility:

This again is a very brief degree and at first sight seems to differ little from the 10th degree. But, I think there is a real distinction between the two. We do at least two things with our mouth – we laugh and we talk. Of course we also use the mouth to eat and for other things. This degree of humility is certainly built on the preceding two degrees. If a monk or oblate has the two preceding degrees; that is a certain seriousness and thoughtfulness about them, then he or she will probably have this degree of humility also. A person who has learned silence and control of the emotions will usually speak wise words. Such a person is one we will probably tend to go to for advice. It will usually come later in life. We tend to acquire this degree through a rather long life and a long time of work and trying to follow it. Such a person says few words but they are usually words of wisdom. This practice is usually acquired through years of practice. Wisdom of speech does not just come on its own. We have to work at it throughout our life.

It is interesting that Carol Bonomo in her book Humble Pie calls this degree "brevity." She says that "When Benedict’s monks do speak – silence has already been placed before them – they speak briefly, reasonably and quietly. They are men or women of few words." One monk writes that "Humble persons won’t make braying jackasses out of themselves." Another monk says: "the eleventh step of humility is to be expected only at the eleventh hour." In other words you can’t force it on newcomers; it’s the normal outcome of a lifetime in search of wisdom.

Carol Bonomo says: "For Benedict, brevity isn’t just the briefness of words, but where those few words come from—the good walk with Christ, along the road to the New Jerusalem. I think it’s like the companionable quiet of the old couple, still deeply in love, still caring and courteous, long beyond the limitations of words." (My own parents)

When Pope Paul VI visited Monte Cassino in October, 1964, he called attention to a certain "elegant gravity" of style which typified the sons and daughters of St. Benedict. The idea of gravitas as a virtue associated with humility and silence occurs six times in the Rule. Michael Casey in his book on humility says: "Benedict probably intended more than a certain stateliness of gait and demeanor. For him gravity was a sign of a solid monk: one who weighs his words and avoids whatever lacks substance."

Father Casey thinks that the key to understanding this step of humility is to appreciate that Benedict is itemizing the qualities of an elderly person who has attained a measure of wisdom: gentle, serious, humble, grave, taciturn, low-voiced, and sparing of words.

The eleventh degree is not to be expected until later in life. It is not a code of monastic etiquette to be forced on newcomers. It comes from a lifetime spent in search of wisdom. What Benedict presents here in this eleventh step is the external form of one who has made much progress in prayer. Without the inner substance the humble exterior is a sham. Obviously the older monks have to learn to put up with certain abrasiveness among the younger members. Father Casey says that we need to remember that "Most people will soften over the next forty years." We might all remember this quotation from St. Augustine: "Let us not forget what we were once, and then we will not lose hope for those who are now what we used to be."

The 12th Degree of Humility: (Read the Rule p.37)

I remember our novice master telling us it is difficult to find a single word to indicate this degree. It is complete humility. In a way it summarizes all the degrees. All humility of course must come from the internal spirit, but that internal spirit must be expressed by external observance. Our novice master told us that in this last degree gratitude, humility and love all become one. In the first paragraph of this degree gratitude especially receives attention. St. Benedict adopts the publican, the tax collector, in the Gospel to illustrate this degree. The spirit of this man, who could only say before God "Lord, I am a sinner and not worthy to raise my eyes to heaven." This spirit is impossible without real gratitude. He is like the sinner before the cross. How should that sinner feel? He should feel so wretched as to not to dare raise his eyes to heaven, because it is he that has crucified God; and yet at the same time the sinner should have joy and gratitude that God would do this even for me, the sinner. Somebody once said that if we really understood what the Cross meant, we would die from sorrow and from joy. That is what this degree of humility means. Both gratitude and humility must be present. Our eyes in a sense are cast down to earth but also raised to God at the same time – sorrow and joy.

Our novice master told us that the last part of this degree shows us what St. Benedict has been talking about in all of chapter seven. We ask if that is humility? Yes, of course, but more perfectly perhaps he has been talking about love. Any of these degrees of humility done without love is useless. Following these degrees, like other things in the following of Christ, can be difficult. But, they are only hard to help us grow in love. We no longer do these things out of fear, but out of love. Love of God and others, this should make following the Rule of Benedict, or living the Christian life, easy and joyful.

Let’s take a look now at what Father Michael Casey says about this degree. He says that when the monk reaches this degree the person is wedded to his or her earthliness, and rid of the pervasive temptation to get above him or herself. The Christian saint after all, remains one of us, without glamour or high reputation. Think of the book of Isaiah where the prophet says: "He had no form or grace to draw our gaze, no beauty to attract our desire. He was despised and rejected, a man of sorrow, no stranger to grief." Even at the summit of the spiritual ascent there is no escaping the Cross of Christ. But what has changed is that the monk or oblate following the Rule of St. Benedict has learned by experience to stop kicking against the goad. He or she has begun to accept that God is present even in the worst of human experiences, and the search for God is longer postponed by ill-advised campaigns to improve his temporal lot. It is important to remember, Fr. Casey says, that "spiritual progress brings no guarantee of temporal fringe-benefits.

As we approach the end of life it is the mercy of God that is our song. The remembrance of all our misdeeds is grist for the mill. But, the fact that God should shower grace on one so clearly undeserving is a thought that brings much consolation. In the first degree the monk tries to avoid falling into forgetfulness of ultimate realities. At the end no effort is needed: mindfulness is second nature. We are simply filled with an awareness of God’s love and we are filled with gratitude for that love. God’s love has not wavered no matter how often we may have failed him. Every problem and sin becomes a song of praise for a love that is undeterred by human weakness, blindness or malice. No matter where the person is, he or she stands in the presence of God.

St. Benedict expects humility to overflow from within and to stamp its character on his followers.

And finally a few words from Carol Bonomo’s book: She calls this degree constancy. Here she says, in this last degree, Benedict asks of us that we manifest our humility externally as well as internally, that it becomes who we are no matter where we are or what we’re doing. She says that: "For Benedict, the summit of this ladder, so carefully constructed and painfully ascended, is perfect, fearless love. Humility is a slow business, she says, at least if it’s authentic humility."

We need to remember that it is worth the effort. With the daily exercise of humility we will finally reach the summit of perfect love.

 

Oblate Blog: November 2, 2011

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With this blog I will begin posting the conferences given at our oblate retreat October 7-9, 2011.  As you who were present know, the retreat was on the last six degrees or steps of humility as found in chapter seven of the Rule of St. Benedict. For those not able to attend the retreat perhaps you can read them on the blog.

Fr. Kenneth

Conference 2, Retreat: October 2011 - The 9th & 10th Degrees of Humility

This blog includes the 2nd conference given at the oblate retreat on the weekend of October 7-9, 2011. It covers the 9th and 10th degrees or steps of humility from the Rule of St. Benedict.
Read the 9th degree from the Rule, p. 37
Please refer to the included chart to see what various writers call this degree. (click here to view chart)

Basically St. Benedict is telling us here that the monk or the oblate or perhaps, we can say, any Christian, should be thoughtful before he or she acts or speaks. The follower of the Rule of St. Benedict does not just blurt out whatever comes to his or her mind. Most of us know this not as easy as it may sound. St. Benedict spends a whole chapter on silence but here he very briefly states the need for silence. In our age of course silence is not very much encouraged. Silence is usually looked upon as something negative, but really it is a positive thing. The mere absence of speech is negative but absence of speech for a purpose is positive. What is the purpose of silence? I think there are many purposes but perhaps here we can just mention two – namely so that the mind can work or so that we can be thoughtful. Secondly for the sake of listening whether that be to listen to God, a teacher, a brother or sister – whoever. Do we give God a chance to talk to us? Do we listen to the Word of God? So often this is spoken to us by others in our lives.

This degree of humility teaches us not only how to be silent but also how to speak. Prudence dictates when someone is to talk and when not to talk. It teaches us when to answer a question or when to be silent. It teaches us to think before we speak. It is so easy to talk as we all know. And you know once we say it, we cannot really take it back. If the word or words we speak hurt someone how do we repair that damage? We can say we are sorry and we need to do that, but that does not remove the fact that we said what we said. In a way the damage has been done and we cannot undo it. Acquiring a spirit of silence is not easy. I know from my own experience that one of the most difficult times for me to keep silent is when I am accused of something. Then immediately self-defense takes over and I can be adamant in trying to prove to the other person that I am not the one at fault.

The easiest way for us to restrict conversation is to be alone. In community, and it would seem that the same applies to a family, silence is sometimes necessary for the sake of charity. When we disturb others we are not being charitable. But silence for St. Benedict, seems to be more than that. Silence promotes a life of prayer and contemplation. The practice of silence needs to be governed by an awareness of how it can contribute to the contemplative dimension of the monastic day. All of us, I am convinced, need to try to find some time for silence in our day, obviously, if we have a family that is not easy. We especially need silence if we are to learn to listen. How many homes do we go in today and find the television always on or perhaps loud music always playing? I am not at all against watching television but here I am simply emphasizing the need also for some silence. Silence is an important reality. Each of us needs to find our own silence. Definitely we should not be afraid of silence or uncomfortable with silence. Fr. Michael Casey says in his book that unless we find silence, we will never find our hearts. He goes so far as to say that we sometimes need to make a deliberate decision to be quiet. We have all had the experience perhaps of being around someone who just needs to always be talking. No matter what is said that person always knows the answer or has already had that experience and sometimes it is difficult for someone to complete what they are saying before that one person breaks in and leads the conversation. Notice that St. Benedict here in this degree does not rule out speaking, he simply says that we must learn to control the tongue, to practice restraint.

Carol Bonomo has some good insights with regard to silence in her book Humble Pie. She says about herself, that there have been times when I’ve filled the quiet with scornful, solitary judgment. Such restraint of speech, as she says, follows the letter of the rule on silence, but has no community and probably no God in it either. She reminds us that within the steps of humility practicing silence involves others. It definitely involves listening. One of the old desert fathers said: "Every man who delights in a multitude of words, even though he says admirable things, is empty within. If you love truth, be a lover of silence. Silence like the sunlight will illuminate you in God and deliver you from the phantoms of ignorance." The silence this desert father speaks of is not the glaring silence of self-absorbed anger. We can spend times of silence judging others, condemning others and internally going through a lot of anger toward others. Obviously this is not listening. At many meetings we go to or listen to there is a lot more talking than thinking, and a lot more talkers than listeners and hardly any humble silence.

Let’s go on now to the 10th Degree of Humility:

Read p.37 

Father Patrick gave this degree the title of "gravity."

For some this is a difficult degree to understand for it speaks of laughter and quoting from the book of Sirach it says: "Only a fool raises his voice in laughter." How are we to understand this? I remember our novice master explaining this to us as follows: He said that this degree means control. St. Benedict does not condemn all laughter. He doesn’t say that the tenth degree of humility is not to laugh, but says that we should not be on the verge of laughter all the time because such a spirit is a superficial one. Our novice master told us, that with regard to all the degrees of humility, Jesus Christ is our model. I don’t think many of us can think of Jesus as one who never laughed, but also we don’t usually imagine him as a person who went around all the time telling jokes and laughing about everything. Our novice master told us that St. Benedict is here setting forth a prescription to control our whole emotional life which he saw as centered around the two – laughter and tears or perhaps better, joy and sorrow. There must be a balance between the two

Father Michael Casey sees this particular degree as the least popular of all the degrees. He points out that scholastic philosophy saw laughter as the most distinctive activity, present in every human culture yet denied to both angels and animals. Benedict seems to regard it as a vice. No doubt he tends to see, especially loud laughter as contradicting the whole tenor of monastic life as Benedict understood it. Laughter undermines seriousness, mindfulness, diligence, sobriety, moderation and kindness and acceptance of others.

Carol Bonomo in her book Humble Pie suggests that maybe it is easier to see this degree of humility through the lens of its opposite, what St. Bernard of Clairvaux calls giddiness. In a lovely act of humility, Bernard took the ladder metaphor and the steps ascending to humility, and went down them to show our steps of pride. I quote from St. Bernard, "The proud always seek what is pleasant and try to avoid what is troublesome," and he goes on: "You are scurrilous, over cheerful in appearance, swaggering in bearing, always ready for a joke; any little thing quickly gets a laugh." Carol Bonomo calls this degree soberness. And so she concludes that both soberness and its opposite – giddiness—are the ways we respond in community, ways that either set us apart in humility (soberness) or bring us together in the blind cheerfulness of denial and good will (giddiness). She suggests that we can approach this degree by paying attention, by listening deeply.

For myself who has been a monk in vows now for over 57 years, I can say that I cannot believe that St. Benedict wanted to rule out all laughing in the monastery. I believe he wanted us to have a gravity about us, a soberness about us that was not always looking for ways to be funny and make others laugh. You know when we are always looking for jokes to tell and trying to be funny, that can be a way of being proud. We all like attention, don’t we? And such behavior can easily lead to that attention. St. Benedict wants a spirit of quiet, a spirit of peace, a certain spirit of seriousness about us. And this I think includes also the oblates who are trying to follow the Rule of St. Benedict.

In brief I think St. Benedict wants us to have a certain emotional stability about us. We can be funny at times, but we can also be serious, we can also listen to others and how important that is to all of us.

 

Oblate Blog: October 18, 2011

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With this blog I will begin posting the conferences given at our oblate retreat October 7-9, 2011.  As you who were present know, the retreat was on the last six degrees or steps of humility as found in chapter seven of the Rule of St. Benedict. For those not able to attend the retreat perhaps you can read them on the blog. This blog includes the first conference only, the seventh and eighth degrees of humility.

 Fr. Kenneth

 

Pictured above: On Saturday, October 8, 2011, six new oblates began their novitiate year to prepare for final oblation. Pictured from left to right are Donald Kazmaier, from Larned, KS, Pamela Murphy, from Urbandale, IA, Fr. Kenneth, Lou and Elaine Gardner, from Urbandale, IA and Ron Burson from, Anniston, AL

 

Pictured above: Six oblates made their final oblation during the retreat on October 8, 2011. Pictured from left to right in the front row are: Donald Costello, from Lincoln, NE, Julia Schenk, from Des Moines, IA, Paul and Sandra Tarro, from North Kansas City, MO. Pictured from left to right in the back row are: Robert Vornberg, from St. Charles, MO, Fr. Kenneth, and Earlene Koons, from Kansas City MO.

 

Conference 1, Retreat: October 2011 - Introduction and the 7th and 8th degrees of Humility

Way back in the fall retreat of 2008, we talked about the first six degrees of humility. Probably most of us have forgotten what we said at that time. So let’s go back and consider just a bit of what we said at that time. 

As we begin to talk about humility, I suppose the first thing to do is ask ourselves: what is humility? There is an old phrase you sometimes hear: I’m proud of my humility, which I suppose is a contradiction.  I think most of us would agree that humility is a beautiful quality to find in a person. It is a characteristic feature of those who have not forgotten their roots. The very word “humility” is related to the word humus which is the Latin for earth or dirt. A humble person then is down to earth; they are not alienated from their own nature. They accept their origins and are content to be what they are. 

Those who are humble experience no shame. They do not need lies and evasions to inflate their importance in the eyes of their associates, or to buttress their self esteem. They have overcome the tendency to regard others as competitors or rivals and so they work with whatever they have and waste no time envying those who possess different qualities. The humble are equally content with both the gifts and the limitations that come from their nature or their personal history. Humility brings with it a fundamental happiness that is able to cope with external difficulties and sorrows. The humble are those who Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount: the poor in spirit, the meek, and the oppressed. Jesus himself of course is the model of this quality to which we give the name humility. Growth in humility can be said to be powered by the simple desire to become like Christ.

In the little booklet: Benedict’s Way, by Lonni Collins and Fr. Daniel Homan, OSB, they define humility as follows: “It is that habitual quality where by we live in the truth of things: the truth that we are creatures and not the Creator; the truth that our life is a composite of good and evil, light and darkness; the truth that in our littleness we have been given extravagant dignity….Humility is saying a radical ‘yes’ to the human condition.” Actually this a quote they used from Bishop Robert Morneau. Thomas Merton emphasized that “humility is a virtue, not a neurosis.” 

We are dust – we know that, but we are also someone. A desert father is credited as saying that in life we need two stones. One says, “I am a worm,” the other says, “For me the universe was made.” We need to remember both and that, we can say, is humility. 

St. Benedict, as we know, has his longest chapter in the Rule on humility. For him it seemed to be basic and is needed before we can acquire any other virtues. Someplace I read within the last year, and I cannot remember where this was, but the writer said that in many ways all the virtues depend on humility and that St. Benedict realized that. Just recently I read a quote from St. Thomas of Villanova, which sort of says the same thing. He says, “Humility is the mother of many virtues because from it obedience, fear, reverence, patience, modesty, meekness and peace are born. One who is humble easily obeys everyone, fears to offend anyone, is at peace with everyone, and is kind to all.”  So we find St. Benedict writing more about this than any other topic I believe. When you think of it the statement above is probably true. Take Love for instance which St. Paul says is the greatest gift, how can we love others or even God, without humility. If we think we are perfect, if we think we are the center of the universe we will always see others as lower than us. We will always see ourselves as better, as holier, as stronger, as smarter or whatever and so we cannot truly love unless we first have humility.

So let’s begin and take a look at these last six of the degrees of humility as St. Benedict has them in the Rule.  We begin with #7.  (read from the Rule, p36)

We can notice that these last six degrees of humility tend to be shorter than the first were. But, that is not to say they are unimportant. First of all, look at your chart that you were given. The different ways different writers designate this degree in one word or a brief phrase. During the discussion on each of these degrees I would ask you to keep in mind what you would call each of these degrees, either using one word, as Father Patrick Cummins, tends to do, or in a brief phrase as Michael Casey and St. Bernard tend to do.

Some have called this 7th degree the most mysterious of the 12 degrees. That in simple truth a man or a woman thinks less of himself or herself, the higher or holier he or she gets. In St. Benedict’s mind he tends to see that the holier we get, the more we realize that God has done so much for us and so we feel, if anything littler. Everything we have, we know is from God. Carol Bonomo, in her book Humble Pie, calls this degree “Littleness.” In the Gospels Jesus tells us, “Learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart.”  Think of it, we can look at Jesus on the cross and say to ourselves, this is God. Yet that very part of him said, learn of me for I am meek and humble of heart. His heart, his human nature, realized that it wasn’t entitled to this; it was a gift from God. As God of course he was everything, but Jesus seemed to realize that his human heart was a gift of his Father, so he was humble. Look at St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 2.  (Go to this, and read it)

I always liked Father Patrick’s ability to bring in nature, or very simple things, to make a point even though he was such a brilliant man. He said about this degree, it’s like a tree in the winter time when the tree has no leaves; it is only ugly and has dry branches. If the tree could speak, if it had reason, it would say, now you see me as I really am just brush and dry branches. God gives me all my beauty in the summer; of myself I am only dry and ugly. The same holds for us, Father Patrick would say, of ourselves we so are ugly and dry. Realizing and really believing this in our heart is real humility and is the truth. Of course we also know we are beautiful, but that is the gift of God to each of us. We are God’s beloved. 

Just a word in conclusion, there is a difference between humility and humiliation. Sometimes we can get the idea that if we are humiliated we are holy and some even seek for humiliations. I think we have to be careful about this. For example, to make a mistake on purpose in order to suffer the humiliation can be pride rather than humility. Humiliations are not opposed to humility. It can be an important source of humility or it can be a source of pride. Look at anyone who slips in the snow, for example. Almost immediately we will look around to see if anyone saw us. If no one saw us, we think “Thank God” but in reality other people seeing us could be a source of realizing our humanness and a source of humility - presuming of course that we did not get hurt. In that case we better hope someone saw us. For the most part humiliations will come enough in our lives without our going out to look for them. Thomas A. Kempis in The Imitation of Christ suggests: “If you want to learn an art worth knowing, you must set out to be unknown and to count for nothing.” In our culture we tend to climb the ladder, but not always the ladder of humility. Everyone wants to get ahead of his or her neighbor, to make more money, to become the boss, to have better clothes, a bigger car, etc . . . . We can, in the end, try to do more than we are able and fall to the bottom.

Michael Casey points out that this degree is not the same as a low self-image. He says that it is a deliberate and sustained effort to be rid of the persistent delusion that I am guiltless. My trust must always be in God. My neediness is the counterpart of the divine abundance.

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Let’s move on now to the 8th degree.  – read from page 37 or the Rule.    

Nothing really seems terribly difficult in this degree, but in some ways it is more difficult than the 7th degree. Here, we are told by some at least, that St. Benedict changes from the spiritual degrees and adopts a new line of thought. Here he changes more to the physical degrees, those pertaining more primarily to the body. In other words St Benedict is saying that humility of the heart must express itself visibly in the body until the external expression is really conformed to that humility of heart. Until then it is very imperfect. To be really humble we must be so inside and show it on the outside.

This degree means that we must try to be one of the family, so people can know us by our spirit. It means fitting ourselves into the community, adjusting ourselves to it. It means doing what we are supposed to do, not what we think would be more profitable. For a monk it means doing only what the common rule or example of the superiors dictate to us. We do not try to stand out just to be different or just to be noticed. As a Benedictine, either as a monk or as an oblate, we will become holy by living the Benedictine life – not by trying to follow other religious leaders such as St. Francis, St. Dominic, St. Ignatius Loyola or others. They are also good of course but we claim to follow the Rule of St. Benedict and cannot or should not forget that in our daily lives.

This degree has caused some problems with some leaders. It seems like St. Benedict is saying the status quo must always prevail. In other words, a monk or a Benedictine oblate is always to do what is endorsed by the common rule, so nothing ever changes. Obviously things do change in the monastery and in the observance of the Rule. But, here Benedict is saying it is most important that we try to follow the custom of the house that is there. If someone comes into our monastery and starts advocating that we drop the Liturgy of the Hours, of course we are going to say to him that he needs to conform to the custom of house and the custom of the Rule or find another place to go. Father Michael Casey, in his book on Humility, says that young people today do not see why they should model their behavior on that of others or be influenced by community precedent. He says that there is no need to try to change such an attitude immediately but that change will come with experience. So this degree of humility can be a challenge for these young people. They can see this degree as simply a place where the need for self-expression will become less. 

Father Casey relates the following story:  “I once heard an interview with the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. The conductor upon being asked if he were an elitist replied, no, I am a super elitist. He explained further that he would not admit into his orchestra any who did not fulfill two essential conditions. They must have the music within them and they must play in time with others. Monastic life is perhaps the same – we must be in contact with our own unique sources of inspiration, but simultaneously we need to trim the expression of our own gifts so that there is no discord with others. It is harmony that is the ideal of a Benedictine community, not conformity, or uniformity.”

It is so easy for any of us to separate ourselves from any community, including our family, friends or fellow workers. 

In closing I would like to quote from St. Bernard of Clairvaux in his treatise On the Steps of Humility and Pride -- go to page 156 of the book “Living in the Truth” by Michael Casey. 

 

 

Oblate Blog: October 10, 2011

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I have been doing some work preparing for the oblate retreat on the weekend of October 7-9, 2011. This retreat will consider the last six degrees of humility in St. Benedict’s Rule, chapter 7. At the October, 2008 retreat we considered the first six degrees of humility, some of the oblates also made contributions to the conferences at that time. Since many of you were not able to be present for the retreat in 2008, and many will not be here for the retreat this October, 2011, I thought I would publish the conferences from the 2008 retreat as part of the oblate blog and then after the retreat this year I will also publish those conferences as part of the oblate blog.

Fr. Kenneth

Conference 4, Retreat: October, 2008 - Degrees of Humility

The fifth step of humility is that a monk does not conceal from his abbot any evil thoughts entering his heart, or any evils secretly committed by him. Instead he confesses them humbly. Father Patrick called this degree openness, Fr. Michael Casey calls it self-revelation and St. Bernard simply says: we should humbly confess any sins.

Our novice master again used nature as a symbol of this step of humility. Especially here we pay special attention to the leaves on a tree or any plant. For a tree or plant to be healthy most of them need to be out in the open, out in the light. A plant that hides in the shadows tends to whither and even dies. This can be seen as a symbol of the soul. The soul, even the human person, needs light. It needs to be open, especially of course to the light of God. At first this step or degree seems to be very simple. In fact it seems easy only to those who have never tried it. It is the heroic person who needs it and it requires heroism to pursue it.

The need for this step of humility arises especially when the danger of pride becomes greatest. And the danger of pride is greatest when a person has become truly heroic or we could say, truly patient. When a person has proved to himself, as well as to others, that he can do it – he or she can be obedient and even in difficult times, and then the temptation to pride always comes. We as novices were told that this danger would come especially after final vows or perhaps after ordination when a person can tend to think they now know it all. The danger then is to start hiding things and, you know, the devil loves this as he hates openness more than anything else. But, openness is still very necessary just as light is necessary for the plant. True progress is found in being more and more open. We have to learn to take advice about all sorts of things.

This can be difficult. Sometimes we much more love to give advice than to listen to others. We need sometimes to ask questions so that we hear others opinions. Father Michael Casey in one of his books mentions some things that seem to make openness so difficult for some. First of all, he lists mistrust. We can find it difficult to trust another person with our secrets. Secondly, he lists fear of intimacy. What is kept secret is intimate and to share that secret presupposes either anonymity or intimacy with the other person. Thirdly, he lists shame. Many of us do not want to be exposed. Shame relates to privacy—to those aspects of our existence that have not yet been validated by the affirmation of another. Fourth he lists self-sufficiency. Some of us think we are better qualified than others to judge our own situation. For such persons no purpose is served in revealing their secrets. And finally he lists avoidance of challenge. Some hold back because they do not want to be challenged. They are not interested in having another person interpret or offer advice on their actions.

My own experience has proved that openness is very necessary, not only in the monastic life but in the lives of all of us. Of course we are not open to just anyone and everyone. We choose those to whom we will be open – a spouse for instance, a spiritual director, a good and trusted friend. But it is important.

Finally then, the sixth step or degree of humility is: that a monk is content with the lowest and most menial treatment, and regards himself as a poor and worthless workman in whatever task he is given, saying to himself with the Prophet…………

Father Patrick called this poverty. Father Michael Casey simply calls it: contentment with the least of everything, and St. Bernard says: that we should esteem ourselves unworthy and useless in all respects.

Our novice master used as a symbol of this degree a fruit laden tree at harvest time. At first sight this is a tree or picture of wealth and riches. But, in fact it is a picture of poverty; because the fruit does not belong to the tree. Soon the harvesters come along and pick the fruit. The tree does not produce fruit for itself. The same is true of every human being. Somewhere in mid-life many of us begin to think of all we have done for the community or all we have done in life. There is the danger of saying: "Look at all the good I’m doing," or "what would they do without me," or "look at the fruit I’m producing. It is then that it is all important to know that all this is God’s. That the fruit is not ours. True we cooperated with God in producing good fruit, but we must still be satisfied with the meanest and lowest of everything.

It is said that we get to this point by being open. If a person is open then they will see themselves as unworthy of anything. The follower of St. Benedict, or simply the true Christian, does not deserve the best of everything. What we have accomplished has been accomplished by God’s grace.

I guess what really counts is that the monk or any Christian, at this point, is content. The real monk, the real Christian, is a person whose happiness is not dictated by changes in outward prosperity. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be." What we try to do in this step is to deny to external realities any automatic domination over our state of mind. The word "content" bespeaks a happy state of mind that is deeper than sensual gratification or mere high spirits. It is as though the heart were able to leap frog present reverses and find its joy in what is invisible and intangible.

I hope these thoughts during these two days have given us some little appreciation for these degrees of humility given to us by St. Benedict. I encourage you to continue to reflect on them and read them again and again. They are steps to holiness. I don’t think any of us can say "I am now perfect in the first six degrees." We kind of go back and forth. We will spend an entire life time seeking to grow in holiness. The moment we begin to think "I now have it made," we probably need to start over. That would be a sign we have not yet reached true humility.

 

 

Oblate Blog: September 26, 2011

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I have been doing some work preparing for the oblate retreat on the weekend of October 7-9, 2011. This retreat will consider the last six degrees of humility in St. Benedict’s Rule, chapter 7. At the October, 2008 retreat we considered the first six degrees of humility, some of the oblates also made contributions to the conferences at that time. Since many of you were not able to be present for the retreat in 2008, and many will not be here for the retreat this October, 2011, I thought I would publish the conferences from the 2008 retreat as part of the oblate blog and then after the retreat this year I will also publish those conferences as part of the oblate blog.

Fr. Kenneth

Conference 3, Retreat: October, 2008 - Degrees of Humility

"The fourth step of humility is that in this obedience under difficult, unfavorable, or even unjust conditions, his heart quietly embraces suffering and endures it without weakening or seeking escape." Father Patrick calls this heroism. Father Michael Casey calls it patience in enduring difficulties with equanimity. St. Bernard says, "Should be very patient, as, in obedience, we meet with difficulties and contradictions."

Our novice master back in 1953-54, saw as a symbol of this degree of humility, a tree in the Rocky Mountains. It has to weather many contrary storms but it becomes stronger with each one. The same thing will come to the soul (temptation and trials) and we need heroism to over come them. What do we need to do? Obviously, we need to cling to Jesus Christ. As the tree grows roots deeper and deeper with each storm so should we cling more and more to Christ. These storms are for the purpose of making us stronger, not to destroy us.

St. Benedict says that we need to be obedient even when there is injustice. We have to obey even in hard times as well as easy times. Even when our confreres or neighbors annoy us we have to remain patient and not judge others. It has been said by many spiritual writers that it is usually the things in others that annoy us that reflect our own faults.

We have to remember that the heroism or patience that is part of this degree is from God and that any kind of heroism that would pretend to come from self, is false. In fact this is a basic part of humility, to realize that everything comes from God. We are nothing of ourselves. The heroism that comes from God usually is a joyful thing. Joy in some ways is a characteristic of heroism or patience. Things that sometimes seem ridiculous at the time, later can be the greatest cause of joy. It is also said that this degree demands a great sense of humor. This heroism or patience grows out of obedience.

Some spiritual writers say that those who enter monasteries and many others who seek to live a more intense spiritual life often climb the first degrees of the ladder of humility very quickly. St. Bernard is of the opinion that the first two steps have to be taken even before entering the monastic life or, perhaps we can say, before making final oblation as an oblate. The way of obedience demands that we go beyond the limits we have drawn for ourselves. In the monastic life as well as in many other vocations in life, we may consider ourselves as victims of inefficiency, mismanagement, exploitation, or unfairness. Anger and sadness can easily enter into our lives. These are often fueled by a wounded pride. This is when the temptation comes to give up or at least to rethink what we are doing. St. Benedict says this is when we need heroism, or what Father Michael Casey usually calls patience. St. Benedict wants the newcomer to the monastery, as well as those who are trying to follow him as oblates, to be warned of the hard and difficult things to be encountered on the way to God.

As already mentioned St. Benedict links patience or heroism with the demands of obedience. Having given such a priority to obedience, it is not surprising that St. Benedict recognizes that it will be in this area that the monks will be insistently tempted. Following the Rule of St. Benedict can sometimes be hard, as any human life can be. We will encounter many troubles in this life and in order to survive these, we need patience, we need heroism at times.

We need to remember that it is through sharing the cross of Christ that we die to self and enter more deeply into Christ’s life. After all Jesus does tell us in the Gospel that "if we want to be his disciples we must take up our cross daily and follow him."

Now we need to remember that patience or heroism is not mindless endurance. It is an acceptance, in union with the sufferings of Christ, of whatever pain life brings. It is not the amount of suffering borne that sanctifies, but the willingness to relive in one’s own situation the form of life chosen by Jesus for himself. What matters most is our practical acceptance of the way of Christ. In so many ways suffering is the real test of discipleship. Fair weather followers are easy to find. It is only fidelity in hard times that proves the genuineness of love. That is why Benedict wants to know how novices handle difficulties and humiliations. Bearing with misunderstanding and harshness not only witnesses to inner steadfastness; often it has the effect of concentrating effort and strengthening the soul. To go back to our symbol of the tree, a young tree that is too protected from the wind never develops a sturdy root system, whereas the apparent callousness of leaving the seedling somewhat exposed makes for stability and growth in its maturity.

True patience is marked by tranquility in all circumstances. Sometimes of course we know it is most difficult to remain calm when we deal with small matters. Major disasters bring to the surface our best qualities. I remember our novice master telling us of a monk who got really annoyed with a confrere because he squeezed out his toothpaste from the middle of the tube. Such little things can really annoy us in other people. I remember a monk who got very upset because others would put a new roll of toilet paper on the roller, in such a way that he considered backwards.

So what are we seeking in this step or degree of humility. I think in one word we are seeking tranquility, a calm spirit. It is good for us to remember that the patience and heroism Benedict speaks of here is not a specific monastic trait, but is common to all Christians. The kingdom of God is such a rich gift that it superabundantly compensates for the loss of goods or the need to endure the effects of evil.

 

Oblate Blog: September 16, 2011

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I have been doing some work preparing for the oblate retreat on the weekend of October 7-9, 2011. This retreat will consider the last six degrees of humility in St. Benedict’s Rule, chapter 7. At the October, 2008 retreat we considered the first six degrees of humility, some of the oblates also made contributions to the conferences at that time. Since many of you were not able to be present for the retreat in 2008, and many will not be here for the retreat this October, 2011, I thought I would publish the conferences from the 2008 retreat as part of the oblate blog and then after the retreat this year I will also publish those conferences as part of the oblate blog.

Fr. Kenneth

Conference 2, Retreat: October, 2008 – Degrees of humility

As I mentioned the last conference we could well spend the entire retreat on just the first degree of humility. But, we may never get through if we do that. So this conference we will move on to the 2nd and 3rd degrees of humility. They are related. "The second step of humility is that a man loves not his own will nor takes pleasure in the satisfaction of his desires…" Father Patrick calls this step or degree mortification. Father Michael Casey calls it renunciation of self-will and desire. St. Bernard: should not love our own will, nor delight in fulfilling our own desires.

In looking back at the first degree we could say that recollection makes the soul attentive to God at all times. The second degree, mortification, makes the soul submissive to God. Both of these belong to the springtime or the beginning of our spiritual life. The seed must die to self and live to God. The young plant must allow itself to be pruned by God. (Chapter 15 St. John’s Gospel). This second step, the doing of God’s will does not explicitly involve obedience in the sense of submitting to and conforming to external commands. The initial means of doing the will of God is unseating alternative powers. This means, above all, countering the pervading influence of passions on our conduct, thus the need for mortification. So again we see the double thrust of Benedict’s teaching, progress depends both on rejecting sin and embracing goodness. We need to remember what St. Paul says in Romans, 13: "Let us conduct ourselves decently as in daytime: not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and permissive behavior, not in fighting and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh to satisfy its demands." Positive attachment to Christ necessitates a corresponding detachment from those sub-personal forces which hold us in bondage.

So the question each of needs to ask is: Who is my master? Since it is impossible to serve two masters, my life needs either to submit to God or consciously to reject divine control and aim at some specious autonomy. There is no possibility of sitting on the fence for more than a brief interval. A choice has to be made that involves the elimination of one option. Most of the Epistle to the Romans concerns the "obedience of faith." St. Paul notes that this obedience requires of us that we quit or get ride of sin. This is the kind of obedience that St. Benedict is referring to this second step of humility. Read Romans: 6:16-18.

At the end of this degree St. Benedict urges us to follow Christ. "Rather he imitates by his deeds the Lord’s saying: I have come not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me." Being a follower of St. Benedict means first of all being a Christian. It is simply one way of following Christ. Fervent discipleship is at the heart of Benedictine spirituality. One is fired by a great love for Christ; open to being guided by Christ and willing to deny personal inclinations in order to put Christ’s teaching into practice. When asceticism or self-denial or mortification is involved in following this way this serves only as an instrument to safeguard the primacy of the person’s Christian discipleship. A monk or a nun or an oblate is, above all, a person who is loyal to Christ.

So it is closely linked to humility. It involves submission to Christ as master—not being oneself the controller of one’s life. Self-control and self-denial are significant because, when they are authentic, they indicate that love is beginning to displace selfishness in the details of daily life.

The third step of humility is that a man submits to his superior in all obedience for the love of God, imitating the Lord of whom the Apostle says: He became obedient even to death.

I remember being told as a novice that obedience is hard and always will be. I would say in general that is correct. We don’t like to give up our self-will. We can say that this third degree of humility is a concrete application of the second. It also involves doing God’s will and the setting aside of one’s own desires in imitation of Christ. After all Christ was obedient even to death. In this third step the means to imitate Christ is given as obedience to a superior. Obedience as St. Benedict sees it makes a man into a monk not because doing what one is told is per se monk-making, but because it is part of a relationship that allows a person to be formed into a monk. For St. Benedict the abbot’s task is not only to give orders but, by instruction and example, to create a climate of meaning in which monastic priorities are paramount.

The authority that Benedict gives to the abbot is a power to facilitate growth in the monks. The Benedictine Abbot is not the source of God’s will but merely the mouthpiece. One of his principal tasks is to weigh up situations with a view to discerning which course of action may be more in conformity with Gospel priorities. If humility requires submission to authority, the quality of that action will be determined by the quality of the authority to which one submits oneself. To submit to wise and enlightened leadership is common sense and to rebel against it is immaturity. Benedictine obedience cannot be assessed without appreciating just how much the Rule requires of those who exercise authority in the name of Christ. The motive power of obedience is the desire for eternal life.

Now I hope some of you will bring up examples of how you can practice this step of humility. To whom are you obedient? Or are you in charge of others whether that be children or people you work with etc. How do you and can you live this step of humility and be obedient to others?

 

Oblate Blog: August 25, 2011

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I have been doing some work preparing for the oblate retreat on the weekend of October 7-9, 2011. This retreat will consider the last six degrees of humility in St. Benedict’s Rule, chapter 7. At the October, 2008 retreat we considered the first six degrees of humility, some of the oblates also made contributions to the conferences at that time. Since many of you were not able to be present for the retreat in 2008, and many will not be here for the retreat this October, 2011, I thought I would publish the conferences from the 2008 retreat as part of the oblate blog and then after the retreat this year I will also publish those conferences as part of the oblate blog.

Fr. Kenneth

Chapter 7 of the Rule of St. Benedict: On Humility – Conference 1, October, 2008

As we begin to talk about humility, I suppose the first thing to do is ask ourselves: what is humility? There is an old phrase you sometimes hear: I’m proud of my humility, which I suppose is a contradiction. I think most of us would agree that humility is a beautiful quality to find in a person. It is a characteristic feature of those who have not forgotten their roots. The very word "humility" is related to the word humus which is the Latin for earth or dirt. A humble person then is down to earth; they are not alienated from their own nature. They accept their origins and are content to be what they are.

Those who are humble experience no shame. They do not need lies and evasions to inflate their importance in the eyes of their associates, or to buttress their self esteem. They have overcome the tendency to regard others as competitors or rivals and so they work with whatever they have and waste no time envying those who possess different qualities. The humble are equally content with both the gifts and the limitations that come from their nature or their personal history. Humility brings with it a fundamental happiness that is able to cope with external difficulties and sorrows. The humble are those who Jesus spoke about in the Sermon on the Mount: the poor in spirit, the meek, and the oppressed. Jesus himself of course is the model of this quality to which we give the name humility. Growth in humility can be said to be powered by the simple desire to become like Christ.

Humility is perhaps not seen as a desirable virtue by many today. Many would not agree with St. Benedict in making humility the very heart of his presentation of the way to God. Deliberately seeking lowliness does not seem something we should seek after, at least for those of us in modern times.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux clearly affirms that humility is grounded in truth; truth within oneself, in one’s relations with others and with regard to God. This is, in a way, a more positive way of approaching humility, and one which enables us to appreciate its importance. The truth is that we are all creatures, created by God and all given gifts and talents to use. The truth is that our brothers and sisters have also been created by God and have gifts and talents. The truth is that God is the creator and if I am blessed with what seems like more gifts than someone else, then that is a gift from God. We acknowledge the gift but remember it is a gift. St. Bernard wrote: "The pursuit of empty things amounts to a contempt for the truth, and it is this contempt for the truth that causes blindness." Truth filled living is the soul of humility. In the Garden of Eden the first temptation succeeded because it promised that we should become gods. This desire is the essence of pride. We want to deny our earthly origins with their consequences of vulnerability, weakness, labor, social constraint and limitation. The recognition of our earthly nature leads us to affirm that our fundamental relationship with God is one of dependence. To remember this is to be humble.

St. Benedict compares the degrees of humility to a ladder. He says: "Now the ladder erected is our life on earth, and if we humble our hearts the Lord will raise it to heaven. We may call our body and soul the sides of this ladder, into which our divine vocation has fitted the various steps of humility and discipline as we ascend."

The first step of humility, then, is that a man keeps the fear of God always before his eyes and never forgets it. He must constantly remember everything God has commanded, keeping in mind that all who despise God, will burn in hell for their sins, and all who fear God have everlasting life awaiting them," St. Benedict spends the most time on this first degree. In the outline I gave you Fr. Patrick named this degree recollection and this was what I was taught as a novice. Fr. Michael Casey called it: fear of the Lord, making a serious effort to live a good life and St. Bernard called it a holy fear of God that should help us keep from sin throughout our life.

St. Benedict was attempting to translate the New Testament exhortation to humility into behavior terms. Jesus instructed his disciples to imitate him in being "meek and gentle of heart," but what does this mean in practice? So the monastic teachers, including St. Benedict, began to formulate signs or symptoms that the process of conversion and transformation was under way. The various signs or indicators were considered to mark stages in the journey from fear to love. The ladder is a traditional monastic way of describing stages of development.

St. Benedict builds on another monastic writer who lived about two centuries before him; namely, John Cassian who died about 435. John Cassian composed a book of Institutes for the monastic communities he had founded. Here Cassian says: "The beginning and end of our salvation as well as its safeguard is fear of the Lord. It is through this that those who give themselves to the way of perfection acquire the beginning of conversion, the cleansing of vices, and the safeguarding of virtues." Fear of the Lord is perhaps difficult for us to understand but it is the foundation on which many of the early monastic writers based their thoughts and writings. We begin with fear of the Lord and end with love.

As I said when I was a novice we gave the name of this first degree recollection. In other words to avoid all forgetfulness, to live in the presence of God and to see all things as God sees them. To see things according to their true value and to see all this more and more continuously. Our novice master used the seed to illustrate this first degree of humility. The seed is put into the ground; it is a picture of recollection. It’s a very insignificant thing, it’s very silent and so are we when we are recollected. The little seed has the power or the potential to become a tremendous tree or plant and so each of us also has that power and potential. The seed needs nourishment and moisture and sunshine and so we need the grace of God. The great desire of the seed is toward the sun. We put it under the ground but it wants out in the sun. So must our tendency be to seek the light of God. In order for the seed to accomplish this need it has to die to itself. So also for us, just as the seed has to die in order to change its old nature and in order to go towards the sun, so do we have to die in order to throw off our old nature and so reach God. So to be recollected we need to do what the seed does – hiddeness, silence, death etc. The fear of God is a help in our doing this. It’s trying to be constantly aware of God’s presence. It’s not a fear that keeps us away from God but a fear that helps make us aware of God’s presence.

Recollection always seeks to make aware that all things were made by God. It’s a way of forgetting self and looking at God. A constant searching for the will of God.

 

 

Oblate Blog: August 8, 2011: Oblate on Call

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In this blog I want to spend a little time talking about our "Oblate on Call" program. This program has been going on now for oblates affiliated with Conception Abbey for about four or five years, I believe. It is a very helpful program and one we certainly want to continue. The program has no purpose or meaning unless you keep in mind the Rule of St. Benedict, where our founder tells us that: "All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me." So the purpose of the "Oblate on Call" program is to help us at Conception Abbey to carry out this injunction of St. Benedict. At the same time it gives the oblates an opportunity to participate, not only in our prayer life at the Abbey, but also in caring for our guests.

Oblates are of course not monks but they do believe they truly have a special calling to live within the guidelines contained in the Holy Rule "according to their state in life.’

The first duty of an oblate who serves as an Oblate on Call is to welcome all guests as Christ regardless of who they are or of what religious affiliation. The majority of our guests at Conception are probably Roman Catholic but we do have many of other religious affiliations and some who probably have no religious affiliation. So as an Oblate on Call your first duty is to welcome the guest, make them feel welcome, listen to them etc. In other words of first importance is simply HOSPITALITY.

For the most part any oblate who wants to serve in this capacity should have been here at least a couple times for a retreat and should know what each of the buildings is for. Guests, for example, are not allowed in the monastery, the monastic cloister. Certainly the oblate on call should know this and be able to point out the building that is the monastery. Guests are also not allowed on the student residence floors so it would be good for you to know what buildings are used by the seminarians. In general, the more you know about the place, the more helpful you will be.

I do want to emphasize that the oblates on call do have a program and in general you should follow the program. However, if there is something on that program that you simply cannot do, don’t try to do it. We don’t want anyone hurting their back or doing something which could injure them.

Since we have many youth on campus here it is also important you have gone through the program "PROTECTING GOD’S CHILDREN" before you take on this work. This is the Virtus program that is approved by most dioceses in the United States.

We have found the Oblate on Call program to be very helpful to us here at Conception Abbey and we appreciate so very much the oblates who offer themselves for this work when they can. Please let us know if you are able to participate in this program and are interested in doing so. Contact Sheri Reid, the oblate coordinator for the program, Karen Ceckowski or Father Kenneth.

 

Oblate Blog: July 18, 2011: Spiritual Reading

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As Benedictines we all know that we emphasize lectio divina. Lectio divina is primarily the prayerful reading and reflection on the sacred scriptures. I encourage that of course for all of you who are oblates. Try to read some scripture everyday. It will gradually become a part of you and something you want to do as much as you can. If you are able to attend daily Mass it is a good practice to read the scriptures for each day beforehand.

However, besides the sacred scriptures which always take first place, there are many good spiritual books available today. I encourage our oblates to read some of these books also. I know some people like to read more than others. Sometimes, as we get older, our eyes become weaker and we cannot read for long periods of time. But, reading is a wonderful way to expand our minds and hearts and to help us keep abreast of newer developments in spirituality.

What books to read? That is always difficult to decide. We know we cannot read every book that becomes available. We cannot even begin to read all the spiritual books that are available. In the course of the years that I have been Director of the Oblates, I have acquired some books for the oblate office and some of the oblates have also given me books that they have read.

I am now putting those books in some order and will make them available to all the oblates to read. Soon I will be sending you a list of the books that are available in the oblate office. Unfortunately the oblate office is in the monastery itself so I cannot open up the office to all the oblates. However, if you have a list of the books that are available there, you can tell me or give me a note that you would like to read a particular book and I will hold it for you. The list you will receive will be in alphabetical order according to the last name of the author or editor.

I would prefer not to get into the mailing business but when you visit Conception or come for retreat, you can check out one or two of these books and take them home with you and return them when you visit again or come for the next retreat. For those who live far away or are not able to visit at Conception or come for retreats, I will be happy to mail you a book you would like to read and you can send it back when you finish the book.

I hope this will be a service that the oblate office can render to you as faithful oblates of Conception Abbey. I will send the list of books available by e-mail, but you should be able to print a copy from that. For those who do not have e-mail I will be happy to send you a paper copy of the list.

With this very hot weather we are having in the Midwest I hope you are all taking care of yourselves and trying to keep cool as best you can. They keep telling us to drink lots of water in this kind of weather.

Thank you again to all you oblates who were able to come for the "Pray and Work" weekend. That is very much appreciated.

God bless you.

 

Oblate Blog: June 23, 2011: Eternal Life - Knowing the True God

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St. Benedict in his Rule makes it clear that his followers are to put Christ first of all in their lives. To give just a couple of examples: chapter four of the Rule, "The Tools For Good Works," St Benedict says, "Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way; the love of Christ must come before all else." He then later says, "Place your hope in God alone." At the conclusion of chapter 72 St. Benedict says, "Let them prefer nothing whatever to Christ…" These are just a few examples among many that we could find in the Rule.

Recently an oblate sent me a meditation from Venerable Louis of Granada, who died in 1588, a Spanish Dominican priest. It says in different language the same thing as St. Benedict emphasized in his Rule.

I quote from the mediation by Louis of Granada: "No creature can enjoy perfect happiness until it attains its ultimate end, that is, the last perfection that is due to it according to its nature. Until it arrives at this state, it is necessarily restless and discontented, as is anyone who feels a need for that which he yet lacks. Now what is the ultimate end of man, the possession of which constitutes his complete happiness? Undoubtedly, it is God, who is man’s first beginning and last end. And just as it is impossible for man to have two beginnings, it is likewise impossible that he have two ultimate ends, for that would necessitate the existence of two gods."

"Moreover, if God alone is man’s last end and true happiness, it is impossible for man to find true happiness outside of God….so the human heart, created as it is for God, cannot find rest in anything outside of God. In him alone is it content; without him it is poor and needy….It follows from this that no created thing, not even the possession of the entire universe can satisfy our heart, but only him for whom it was created – God."

So all of us who are Benedictines and Christians are called to place Jesus Christ first in our lives. Whether we are monks or oblates that is our calling and that is what St. Benedict wants of us throughout his Rule.

 

Oblate Blog: June 12, 2011: Pentecost - The Coming of the Holy Spirit

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What role does the Holy Spirit play in your life or in my life? How often do we express our belief in the Holy Spirit in the Creed or in simple ways like the sign of the cross? This Sunday (June 12) is the Solemnity of Pentecost. The feast itself should help to enhance our understanding and appreciation of the Holy Spirit.

Scholars tell us that one of the general purposes for which St. Luke wrote his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles was to show the universal nature of Christianity. Christ came for the salvation of all people. God offers his saving love for everyone, everywhere and in every age. The agent of this worldwide expansion is the Holy Spirit. It is especially in the Acts of the Apostles, in the history of the early Church, that Luke shows clearly the Spirit’s power at work, the power to evangelize all kinds of peoples.

St. Luke understands the experience of the first Pentecost as the official beginning of the Church and of her commitment to evangelize the world through the power of the Spirit. As St. Peter brings out in his first discourse after the coming of the Spirit, this is all due to the saving activity of Jesus Christ. The Spirit brings Christ’s saving love to us.

To all of us who believe, if we can truthfully say that we believe in Jesus Christ, then we know that the Holy Spirit has been at work in us. St. Paul reminds us in the 2nd reading for this feast…."no one can say: Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit." Anything we do as Christians to help one another is the Spirit’s power working in us; it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. It can be said that one major criterion for recognizing the possession of a gift is if it helps others, or, as St. Paul puts it, if it is "for the common good." The Spirit’s gifts are not for a chosen few; they are for all who believe; and who act on their belief. And St. Paul reminds us that the greatest gift of all is love.

The Holy Spirit is indeed important in our Christian life. Our gifts of service, no matter how small, our oneness with others, our ability to say, "I forgive," to one who has hurt us – all these and many more are proofs of the Spirit dwelling and acting in us.

Blessed and joyful feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit.

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Reminder to all oblates: The oblate "Pray and Work" weekend is coming us on July 8-10, 2011. Please make your reservation through the guest department: 660-944-2809 or e-mail: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

Oblate Blog: May 21, 2011: Oblates & Stability

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Special note: The oblate retreat that was scheduled for April 13-15, 2012, has been changed to April 27-29, 2012 and will be given by Abbot Gregory on the "Revised Grail Psalms." Please mark the dates on your calendar. The fall retreat this year will be on the dates already published – October 7-9, 2011 and will be given by Fr. Kenneth.

How do oblates follow the vow that we monks take called "stability?" What is the meaning of this vow in our day? In his rule St. Benedict in chapter 58 talks about the reception of new members into the community. In this chapter he says: "When he is to be received, he comes before the whole community in the oratory and promises stability, fidelity to monastic life, and obedience." These are still the vows we make today in the monastic life at Conception Abbey. In other words poverty and chastity, or celibacy, are not mentioned but are included in the three vows that are taken.

The oblates do not use these same words in your act of final oblation but you do promise to be faithful to the rule of St. Benedict in so far as you can in your state in life. So what does stability mean for the oblate?

Obviously stability does not mean we never move or go anyplace. I see stability first of all as saying to me that I am to be faithful to the promises I make. In other words I don’t take these vows and then in five or ten years or more decide this is not for me. And I would see the same as applying to an oblate. You do not of course take vows, but you do make promises. Since I have been oblate director I have tried to emphasize that these promises should be taken seriously. So when, as oblates, you read the rule of St. Benedict and come across this word stability, to me that means you are going to try to be faithful to your commitment.

A person who is forever changing his/her life work or spiritual life, eventually you begin to wonder what the person is looking for. Sometimes I think we are looking for heaven on earth but we know very well that nothing will ever completely satisfy us, except God. Sometimes a change has to be made. But, think of the people who you know who have perhaps changed their work time after time or changed their church time after time. Stability I think means we are going to center our life on God and be faithful to the commitment we have made.

My commitment was and is to Conception Abbey. You as oblates have also made a commitment to Conception Abbey. Of course you can get out of that. Of course it is not a sin to change that in your life. But still it seems to me that St. Benedict wants stability in his monks and I would look for the same in oblates who are affiliated with Conception Abbey.

The purpose of the oblate novitiate is to decide whether or not you want to follow this life. And for a person to tell me he or she no longer wants to be an oblate at this stage is fine. It does not bother me at all. But, it does bother me to have oblates tell me later on that they no longer want to be an oblate. Of course I will do it at their request but it still bothers and I want to pray for them. Now sometimes because of an oblate moving to another locality they want to change their affiliation to a monastery closer to them. I certainly understand that.

So let us continue to pray for one another. As you know I send out many requests from oblates asking for prayers and I want to continue that. At the same time we here at Conception also want you to know that you are prayed for everyday in our prayers, at the celebration of the Eucharist and in our own private prayers. We hope you always do the same for us. That is what it means to be a part of the family of Conception Abbey.

Thank you. To go to my personal blog – click here

 

Oblate Blog: May 9, 2011: Easter Season Continues

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During this Easter season most of the first readings for daily Mass and the Sunday Mass are from the Acts of the Apostles. St. Luke, the writer of Acts, describes how the salvation promised to Israel in the Old Testament and accomplished by Jesus has now under the guidance of the Holy Spirit extended to the Gentiles. In this book Luke provides a broad survey of the church’s development from the resurrection of Jesus to Paul’s first Roman imprisonment, the point at which the book ends.

On this 3rd Sunday of Easter, May 8, 2011, we hear in the Gospel the story of the two disciples of Jesus on the road to Emmaus. Jesus suddenly walks with them but they do not recognize him. After the resurrection we see this again and again. Jesus suddenly appears in a room or to some of the disciples, but they do not at first recognize him. He is different. He now has a risen, glorified body. And so that happens again today in the Gospel event. Jesus is with the two disciples but they do not recognize him.

What does this tell us? Somehow we need these readings to remind us that the risen Lord is also with us. We are not alone on our journey. So often we do feel alone. We encounter difficulties in trying to live a good Christian life. It’s not always easy to be good disciples and followers of Jesus. We sometimes feel abandoned. At times in our life we are so committed to following Christ, but somehow, like the disciples in today’s Gospel, we have been disappointed. It is then that we need to realize that the Risen Lord continues to be with us.

In today’s Gospel Jesus manifests himself to his disciples in two ways. First in the scriptures in the Word of God. He explains to these two disciples how the scriptures foretold all these things about the Messiah and how these scriptures were fulfilled in Jesus himself. But this was not alone enough to help them recognize him. So he also manifests himself in the breaking of bread, this was an act of love, of fellowship. Whether we break bread with others here in the Eucharist or at table in our homes, it should be an act of love and friendship. And so the disciples recognized him in this act.

Jesus manifests himself to us today also, especially in these two ways – in the scriptures, in the Word of God and, in a very special way, in the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread and sharing his body and blood in the Eucharist.

Are we open to recognize him? I think if we recognize and realize our need for Jesus in our lives, we are more likely to also recognize his presence, whether that is in his Word, in the Eucharist or in our brothers and sisters.

Continue to have a happy and blessed Easter Season. Christ is risen, alleluia.

Note well: Des Moines oblates – I will be in Des Moines next Sunday, May 15, for the oblate meeting at St. John Basilica. Hope to see you there for vespers, pot luck dinner and our meeting.

 

Oblate Blog: April 18, 2011

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ALLELUIA, ALLELULIA
CHRIST HAS RISEN INDEED. ALLELUIA

                    

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Pictured above are those who attended the oblate retreat April 8-10, 2011.

The oblate retreat was directed by Brother Cyprian Langlois, O.S.B. and was well received. The weather was beautiful that weekend so God blessed us for sure. For more photos of the retreat go to: http://kennethosb.smugmug.com/ and scroll down to the album "Oblates 2011."

And now it is Palm Sunday and the beginning of that great week that we call HOLY WEEK. And that week concludes then with those greatest holy days called the THE SACRED TRIDUUM—Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday when we celebrate our salvation. The Latin word Triduum means "three days." The Triduum officially begins with the Holy Thursday evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper and concludes on Easter Sunday evening with vespers.

It celebrates the events of our salvation, the days when God so wonderfully shows His love for us. Giving us on Holy Thursday the Eucharist, His body and blood to eat and drink, as well at the priesthood. On Good Friday Jesus Christ dies for us, for our salvation. All his suffering was for one purpose – for us and for our salvation. On Holy Saturday Jesus is in the tomb and then rises from the dead on Sunday morning. Easter is indeed considered the greatest feast of the year. Christmas only has meaning when we celebrate the Triduum and Easter. That is why God took on our human nature, and of course with the Resurrection Jesus even won victory over death. Death is no longer seen as the end but as a passage to a new life. We received that new life already at our baptism but celebrating this feast each year helps us to realize even more what a gift God has given us. What greater gift is there than victory over sin and death.

I pray you all have a blessed and joyful feast of Easter. May Easter joy touch your heart and fill your life.

You are remembered daily in my prayers and in the celebration of the Eucharist.

 

Oblate Blog: April 4, 2011: Laetare Sunday

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Laetare Sunday, half-way through Lent

As I write this blog today on Sunday, April 3, we are today half-way through Lent. Today, the fourth Sunday of Lent is Laetare Sunday. The Latin word Laetare means "to rejoice." Do I have a good reason to rejoice today? Have I come closer to Jesus Christ thus far in Lent? These are good questions for us to look at today.

In his Rule, St. Benedict devotes chapter 49 to the observance of Lent. Here he tells us: "In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking, idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing." And so it seems to me that St. Benedict wants us to observe Lent so we can truly look forward and be ready to celebrate "our new life" at Easter and to do this with joy.

A good question might be: "Why do I look forward to Easter?" Perhaps I look forward to Easter primarily because it is the end of Lent. We can then go back to our habits of eating, drinking, talking and whatever else, with Lent behind us and out of the way. Easter is a joyful feast. Let’s take a moment to look at why Easter should be such a happy feast for each one of us.

In an address that our Holy Father Benedict XVI gave in 2010, shortly after Easter, he said:

"In these days, in fact, the Church celebrates the mystery of the Resurrection and experiences the great joy that stems from the Good News of Christ’s victory over evil and death….In the whole history of the world, this is the "Good News" par excellence, it is the Gospel proclaimed and passed over the centuries, from generation to generation."

He goes on to say: "The Lord’s Easter is the supreme and insuperable act of the power of God. It is an absolutely extraordinary event, the most beautiful and mature fruit of the ‘mystery of God.’"

For us to fully appreciate the feast of Easter we too must enter into the PASCHAL MYSTERY, the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. We must learn to say NO to our desires and inclinations at times in order to die with Christ that we may also rise with him. As St. Paul reminds us in chapter 6 of his Letter to the Romans: "For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection." In other words, if we die to sin, if we experience the Paschal Mystery, we shall also rise with Christ.

In chapter 15, of St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians he says: But, if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, then empty too is our preaching; empty too, your faith.’

Pope John Paul II said the following about Easter:

"The Easter event—the bodily resurrection of Christ—pervades the life of the whole Church. It gives to Christians everywhere strength at every turn in life. It makes us sensitive to humanity with all its limitations, sufferings, and needs. The resurrection has immense power to liberate, to uplift, to bring about justice, to effect holiness, to cause joy."

Here are some things for us to think about as we approach Easter in just over two more weeks. Easter is indeed a feast of great joy, but only if we prepare during this Lenten season. There are still three weeks remaining, let us all seek to die to sin, and to die to ourselves so that Christ may truly live in us. Then the words, HE IS RISEN, will mean so much to us on Easter Sunday.

 

Oblate Blog: March 18, 2011: Oblate Bible Project Accomplished

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OBLATE BIBLE PROJECT ACCOMPLISHED.

With much gratitude to our beloved oblates affiliated with Conception Abbey, I am happy to be able to announce that all our guest rooms now have a New American Bible, Catholic Edition in the room. I want all of our oblates to see this as an oblate project and one that each of you supported in whatever way you were able. We pray that many of our guests will use the bibles while they are on retreat or visiting here at Conception.

In each bible is a note that states the following: (A picture is above but it may be hard to read in the picture.)

GUEST HOUSE:
This bible is placed in this room by the generosity of Oblates of St. Benedict affiliated with Conception Abbey. Please use it while you are a guest here and leave it in the room for the next guest when you leave. God bless you.

It is a great addition to our guest rooms and the oblates can all be proud that you were all able to be a part of this project. We collected a total of $1,779.50. And here is how it was spent.

Cost of bibles for Marian Hall…………. $958.75
Cost of bibles for St. Benedict Hall……. $513.00
Balance left……………………………..$307.75

Since we have a balance left of about $300.00 I am thinking of ordering about five large print bibles. All the above bibles were ordered from Fireside Catholic Publishing, Wichita, Kansas. The same edition of the bible that we have for the rooms can be purchased in large print for $17.45 each, so five of them would cost $87.25. We would leave these bibles in the lounge on each floor and ask people to return it there when they finish using it. Does that sound like a good idea to you? Let me know please.

I also want to express our appreciation to Constance Huard, a Wichita oblate, who picked these bibles up at the publishing house and then sent them back with her son and daughter in law, Joe and Jenny Huard. Joe and Jenny now live in this area and were able to bring them back after visits to Wichita. That of course saved all shipping charges. I am sure we all grateful to them.

I also want to mention that our next retreat is April 8-10, 2011; Brother Cyprian will be giving this retreat. If you have not yet sent in your reservation please do so soon. You need to contact the guest department to make reservations. You can e-mail them at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or phone them during business hours at 660-944-2809. The Pray and Work weekend is scheduled for July 8-10, 2011 so mark your calendars now.

God bless each one of you and I pray you continue to have a blessed and holy Lent.

 

Oblate Blog: March 4, 2011: Lent (Ash Wednesday is March 9, 2011)

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Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

The priest or deacon can use either of these formulas when you receive ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday.

 

This year the Lenten season begins about as late as it can begin, because Easter is about as late as it can be. Someone mentioned to me that it is possible for Easter to be a day or two later than it is this year. I have not checked that out myself.

At any rate next Wednesday, March 9, is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. We all know that St. Benedict spends a chapter in his Rule to speak to us about Lent. Chapter 49 is entitled "The observance of Lent." Benedict begins the chapter by saying "The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times." (Chapter 49, vss 1-2)

I would like to suggest that each oblate go back and read again this chapter of the Rule as Lent begins. To me this chapter speaks to all of us who try to follow the Rule of St. Benedict and so I see it as also applying to our oblates. We monks each take our Lenten resolutions or "good works" as we prefer to call them, into the Abbot and receive a blessing. Just this morning I did this during a twenty minute visit with the Abbot. Obviously the Abbot is not able to see each oblate but I do encourage you to try to talk to someone about what you are planning to do this Lent.

The Pope, Our Holy Father, each year writes a special message to all of us for Lent. I would like to quote a few passages from that letter for this year, 2011.

"The Lenten period, which leads us to the celebration of Holy Easter, is for the Church a most valuable and important liturgical time, in view of which I am pleased to offer a specific word in order that it may be lived in due diligence."

Later he goes on: "A particular connection binds Baptism to Lent as the favorable time to experience this saving Grace. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council exhorted all of the Church’s Pastors to make greater use ‘of the baptismal features proper to the Lenten liturgy’. In fact the Church has always associated the Easter Vigil with the celebration of Baptism…."

And later: "In synthesis, the Lenten journey, in which we are invited to contemplate the Mystery of the Cross, is meant to reproduce within us the pattern of his death, so as to effect a deep conversion in our lives, that we may be transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit, like St. Paul on the road to Damascus…"

I pray you will have a blessed and holy Lent and be ready then to celebrate Easter with great joy.

To read the full text of Pope Benedict XVI Lenten letter for 2011 go to:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/lent/documents/hf_ben-xvi_mes_20101104_lent-2011_en.html

To read more about the history etc. of Lent, go to:

http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/religion/re0527.html

Go to Fr. Kenneth’s personal blog at: http://kennethosb.blogspot.com/

 

Oblate Blog: February 18, 2011: Verbum Domini: The Word of God

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The Oblates of St. Benedict affiliated with Conception Abbey, took on the project of trying to put a bible in each room in the guest houses here at Conception. Up to the present we have been able to purchase 65 bibles and these are now in the rooms in Marian Hall. Eventually we hope to purchase 34 more to put in the rooms in St. Benedict Hall. We purchased the bibles from Fireside Catholic Publishing, Wichita, Kansas. They retail for almost $24.00 each but we were able to purchase them for $14.75 each. They are hard bound copies of THE NEW AMERICAN BIBLE. The picture above shows some of the bibles as they were being marked and prepared for the rooms in Marian Hall.

We all know how much emphasis St. Benedict puts on the scriptures and lectio divina. It is good to know that in 2008 when the Synod of Bishops met in Rome they discussed the very topic of the scriptures. After the synod Pope Benedict XVI in November, 2010, published a document entitled Verbum Domini (Word of God). If you would like to download the document or read it you can do find it at this web site. http://www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=17113
At the top of this link you will find the link that will take you directly to the document. It is 56 pages excluding the index.

I would like to quote from it here. In this particular section the Pope speaks of "The prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and ‘lectio divina."

The prayerful reading of sacred Scripture and "lectio divina"
The Synod frequently insisted on the need for a prayerful approach to the sacred text as a fundamental element in the spiritual life of every believer, in the various ministries and states in life, with particular reference to lectio divina. [290] The word of God is at the basis of all authentic Christian spirituality. The Synod Fathers thus took up the words of the Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum: "Let the faithful go gladly to the sacred text itself, whether in the sacred liturgy, which is full of the divine words, or in devout reading, or in such suitable exercises and various other helps which, with the approval and guidance of the pastors of the Church, are happily spreading everywhere in our day. Let them remember, however, that prayer should accompany the reading of sacred Scripture". [291] The Council thus sought to reappropriate the great patristic tradition which had always recommended approaching the Scripture in dialogue with God. As Saint Augustine puts it: "Your prayer is the word you speak to God. When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God".[292] Origen, one of the great masters of this way of reading the Bible, maintains that understanding Scripture demands, even more than study, closeness to Christ and prayer. Origen was convinced; in fact, that the best way to know God is through love, and that there can be no authentic scientia Christi apart from growth in his love. In his Letter to Gregory, the great Alexandrian theologian gave this advice: "Devote yourself to the lectio of the divine Scriptures; apply yourself to this with perseverance. Do your reading with the intent of believing in and pleasing God. If during the lectio you encounter a closed door, knock and it will be opened to you by that guardian of whom Jesus said, ‘The gatekeeper will open it for him’. By applying yourself in this way to lectio divina, search diligently and with unshakable trust in God for the meaning of the divine Scriptures, which is hidden in great fullness within. You ought not, however, to be satisfied merely with knocking and seeking: to understand the things of God, what is absolutely necessary is oratio. For this reason, the Saviour told us not only: ‘Seek and you will find’, and ‘Knock and it shall be opened to you’, but also added, ‘Ask and you shall receive’".[293] p. 41 of the Pope’s document.

If we read this paragraph alone we can see why it is important that a Benedictine monastery have a bible in each guest room. I am so appreciative of the oblates for taking on this project. By the way we presently have a little over $100.00 in this fund for bibles in St. Benedict Hall. We will need about $500.00 to obtain bibles for those rooms. Once again I want to remind you that this is not part of your being an oblate. Only help if you feel you can and want to do so. Names of donors will not be published.

God’s blessing be with each of you.

To read Fr. Kenneth’s personal blog, go to: http://kennethosb.blogspot.com/

 

Oblate Blog: February 7, 2011: What makes us Benedictines?

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It’s good for me and it’s good for you to reflect now and then on what makes me a Benedictine, whether a professed monk in vows, or an oblate who has made final oblation but continues to live in the world?

What is essential to our being followers of St. Benedict? First of all in reading the Rule of St. Benedict, we see that Benedict wanted his followers to first of all be good Christians, good followers of Jesus Christ. Look at all the times he either quotes directly from scripture or refers to a scripture passage. Obviously, we can say that as Benedictines we are to follow the Word of God, especially the Gospels.

I have frequently emphasized to the oblates that they should be active in their parish. Being an oblate is not to withdraw you from parish activities but hopefully to make you even more active in the parish. First of all being present for Mass as frequently as possible and especially on Sundays, but also volunteering in various ways as ushers, readers, Eucharistic ministers, etc. etc.

But, that does not answer the question of what specifically makes us Benedictines. What does St. Benedict seem to emphasize in his Rule. Certainly for him humility is very important. Chapter 7 is the longest chapter in the Rule and it is on humility. A few years ago in a retreat I gave here for the oblates we covered the first six degrees of humility. This coming fall in October, we will cover the last six degrees of humility. We soon learn that humility is sort of an all encompassing virtue for Benedict and one that he sees as very important for his followers. Most of us could spend the rest of our lives reading this chapter and reflecting on it.

St. Benedict also seems to emphasize the need for obedience. As you have probably heard or read the word obedience has the same root as the Latin word "to hear" or "to listen." So obedience is more than just following commands, it’s a matter of listening in the heart. Listening of course to the word of God in the scriptures, in the homilies we hear, in nature, in our hearts. And then it means seeing all these as ways that God is speaking to us. We listen and then we obey because in our hearts we know God is speaking to us. Calling us perhaps, to conversion, to change our way of life, to respond to a special vocation, to be faithful in my marriage, to be more loving parents etc. In so many ways in our lives we practice obedience if we are truly listening.

Of course St. Benedict also wants his disciples (both monks and oblates) to be men and women of prayer. We all know the emphasis he puts on the "Work of God." It is part of our day. We try to put a balance in our daily lives. Not just all work and no prayer or relaxation, but a place for everything that is important for a good and healthy life style. This is not easy to do in our busy world. Frequently we Benedictines hear ourselves described as men and women of "Prayer and Work." We hope that is true. If it is true it is because St. Benedict in his Rule insists on a balanced life. That is so important in our lives. Many of us professed monks as well as many of our oblates, I am sure, need to reflect on that and see where we could have a better balanced life.

So these are a few things that I see make us Benedictine monks and Benedictine oblates affiliated with Conception Abbey. Perhaps we can talk more about this at a later time

My pre-lenten letter will be in the mail by around the middle of February. Don’t forget to return your renewal of oblation form. And go to my personal blog at: http://www.kennethosb.blogspot.com/

 

Oblate Blog: January 18, 2010: Some News from Conception Abbey

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I first of all want to let you know that we now have two new postulants in the monastery. While they are at this time just in the postulancy stage, we are still happy to see people looking at the monastery and considering a monastic vocation. Both have come since Christmas and are now here and living in the monastery. Pray for them that they will persevere if such is God’s will for them.

One of our faithful oblates for many years and a good friend of Conception Abbey, Mary Walter, celebrated her 90th birthday about a week or so ago. Mary received enough birthday cards to fill her table (see picture below)!

Bibles in guestrooms project:
By now you who are oblates and have e-mail, have probably received from me an e-mail concerning something that was presented to us oblates last summer. One of our oblates suggested we try to supply a bible for each room in the guest house. We will begin with Marian Hall and that alone has 62 rooms. To obtain good hard bound bibles we have been given a price of $14.75 each by the publisher. For 62 bibles that would come to $914.50. We have already received from a generous oblate $500.00 so our aim is to get the remainder of the money so we can at least begin with bibles in each of the rooms in Marian Hall.

If by chance you are an oblate and do have e-mail but did not receive this information by e-mail, let me know.

Thank you.

Fr. Kenneth

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictured above is Mary with her table filled with cards
that were given or sent to her for this special occasion.


Pictured above are the two postulants: on the left Manuel Santarriaga
from the El Paso, Texas area, and on the right Daniel Friedel from East
Alton, Illinois.

 

Oblate Blog: January 6, 2011: Conclusion of the Christmas Season

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Have you taken down your Christmas decorations yet? That’s o.k. if you have. You probably left them up longer than the retail stores who could hardly wait to take them down. However, in the Church the Christmas season does not officially end until the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, this year on Sunday, January 9.

Why did Jesus come to John the Baptist and ask John to baptize him? First of all we need to remember that John’s baptism was not the same as our baptism. It indicated a desire to conform your life to God, to live according to the commandments, and to repent of sin. It did not, as our Christian baptism does, make the person who received it a child of God.

Many of the faithful Jews were going to John to ask for this baptism. John the Baptist seems to have been a very impressive figure, a convincing person, one who attracted people to listen to him. Even Herod, we are told, enjoyed hearing him preach. John preached the need for repentance, and he preached to the people that they should prepare for the Messiah.

Jesus too was a devout Jew and so he went to be baptized by John. John the Baptizer did not want to baptize him but Jesus insisted that it be this way for now. Then the Father used the occasion to reveal that this is indeed his son, the Messiah. "This is my beloved Son, my favor rests on him."

I like to think that when we received the baptism that Jesus gave to his followers, that we too heard these words spoken to us by God. Here is my beloved son or daughter. We became his beloved, his chosen ones at the time of our baptism. We truly became God’s children. We must remain his beloved children throughout our lives. We have to live like his children.

This of course is not always easy. Frequently to remain faithful requires some suffering. When it becomes difficult we need to look to Jesus for help and strength. He wants to help us.

I pray this Christmas season has been a blessed time for you. And I wish each of you many blessings during the year 2011.

Finally, a reminder to go to the top of the home page for the Conception Abbey web site and click on "picture gallery," and see many new pictures that have been added recently.

 

Oblate Blog: December 20, 2010

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May the peace, joy and love
of that wonderful night
be with you today and always 

 

At this time of the year when we celebrate God’s love for the world in sending His only Son, we all rejoice and give thanks to God for this wonderful gift.

Abbot Gregory, Fr. Kenneth (oblate director) and all the monks of Conception Abbey join in wishing you a Blessed and Happy feast of Christmas. We appreciate each one of you as oblates of our Abbey and are grateful for your prayers and other help you give us.

Be assured you are all in our prayers as we celebrate this wonderful feast. God bless you and your families.

 

Oblate Blog: December 9, 2010: Advent & Patience

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In many ways the liturgical season of Advent is a season to learn patience. On the third Sunday of Advent (December 12) we hear St. James in the second reading telling us: "Be patient, until the coming of the Lord." He reminds us that "The coming of the Lord is at hand. See! the Judge stands at the gate."

The season of Advent reminds us of our place between the two comings of Jesus, and urges us to continue to wait patiently for him to come again. Our hearts need to beat with courage to make these last days of Advent a special time of prayer. We know not the day nor the hour when He will come – at the time of our own death or at the end of time.

We tend at times to be very impatient people. We want things to happen right now or at least we want to know the plans. When is this going to happen? When exactly is he coming? So many things now days are instant – instant coffee, instant food, instant cereal, instant news etc. And this also carries over sometimes to our prayer life, our spiritual life.

St. James on this third Sunday of Advent gives us some examples. He says Advent patience is like the farmer waiting patiently while the soil receives the winter and spring rains. Or perhaps like the parents waiting patiently for nine months for their first child to be born, or waiting in a hospital for a word from the doctor after someone dear to us has had serious surgery. In all these instances we learn to wait. And this is the kind of waiting that characterizes Advent.

St. James also reminds us of the prophets of the Old Testament. He says: "As your models in suffering hardships and in patience, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord." The prophet Isaiah we hear from so often in Advent. He never saw the day that the words he spoke were fulfilled, but he patiently waited for the Lord to fulfill his promises.

John the Baptist too prepared the way for Jesus by preaching repentance and change of lifestyle. He went to jail finally and ended up losing his head. Throughout his life he spoke the Word of God fearlessly and patiently.

So we do have models of patience during Advent. We too in our day need this patience as we wait for the Lord to come. The Lord is coming, be patient and wait for Him.

Many blessings continue to be yours during the Advent season and hopefully all of us will be ready to welcome Christ our Lord at Christmas.

To read my personal blog, click here.

 

Oblate Blog: November 23, 2010

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I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all thy wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9)

It is Thanksgiving week and we are, hopefully, all taking some time to thank God for all his blessings, as well as taking time to thank one another, family, friends, neighbors etc., for all they do for us. Here at Conception most of the monks are home and on Thanksgiving Day we will take time to thank those who are celebrating jubilees this year – Father Anthony Shidler, 70 years professed, Brother Blaise Bonderer, Father Quentin Kathol, Father Allan Stetz and Father Isaac True, all fifty years professed. And finally Father Timothy Schoen, twenty years professed. For photos of these monks who are jubilarians this year go to my personal blog -- click here.

When we think of it our liturgy expresses this theme everyday. The psalms, for example, so often express gratitude and thanksgiving as their theme. Look at psalm 9 which is quoted above at the beginning of this blog. Everyday at Mass, thanksgiving is so much a part of that liturgical prayer. The very word Eucharist means "thanksgiving."

Every preface begins with words like the following: "Father, all-powerful and ever living God, we do well always and everywhere to give you thanks." Eucharistic prayer I – "We come to you, Father, with praise and thanksgiving…". In the words at the consecration: "…he took bread and gave you thanks" or "When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again he gave you thanks and praise…." And so in every Eucharistic prayer the words "thanks" and "gratitude" are mentioned.

Gratitude to God and gratitude to others is such an important virtue. Something we all need to cultivate and develop. Without gratitude we begin to take things for granted or we begin to think that everything I have or obtain is my due, including what comes from God. Thanksgiving and gratitude help to keep us humble.

So this week, Thanksgiving Week, take time to give thanks – give thanks to God first of all and most importantly, but do not forget to also thank your family and the many others you work and live with daily. I myself want to take this opportunity to thank all of you oblates for your affiliation with Conception Abbey. We are happy to have you as oblates, we are happy to have you praying with and for us, as we also pray with and for you.

May God bless us all, not only this week but also throughout the Advent season which also begins on Sunday, November 28. In our stores Christmas seems to already be here, but for the Church and the Christian, we are just beginning our time of preparation for this wonderful feast of God taking on our human nature.

With love and prayers to all,

Father Kenneth Reichert, OSB

Director of Oblates

 

Oblate Blog: November 5, 2010

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Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.

First of all in this blog I want to apologize to the oblates in the Des Moines area and the oblates in the Wichita area, for not being able to come for scheduled oblate meetings. I was scheduled to be in Des Moines for an oblate meeting on Sunday, October 24. I just got released from the hospital at Maryville on Saturday mid-afternoon and just did not feel well enough for the trip on Sunday. I have for many years had high blood pressure but for some reason it went up very high and so I was in the hospital for a day or so. The doctors and I are still working on getting it stabilized so I thought it best not to make the trip to Wichita where I was scheduled to meet with the oblates this Sunday, November 7.

Hopefully I will be able to visit both of these groups of oblates in the spring of 2011.

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We have just finished celebrating two very important days; namely, All Saints Day on November 1 and the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed on November 2. On All Saints of course we celebrate a feast of all the saints; that is, those who are canonized as well as those who are not canonized but are enjoying eternal happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven. I like to see it as a day when I celebrate the feast of my parents, deceased family members and confreres and friends who are now in heaven.

Then on November 2, we commemorate all the faithful departed. That means we are remembering those who died in God’s grace and friendship but who are not immediately ready for the Beatific vision. The Catholic Church calls the purification of these people, purgatory. The Catholic teaching on purgatory essentially requires belief in two realities: 1) that there will be a purification of believers prior to entering heaven and 2) that the prayers and Masses of the faithful in some way benefit those in the state of purification.

The Church prays for, and remembers, the faithful departed throughout the entire year. However, All Souls day (November 2) is the general, solemn day of commemoration, when the Church remembers, prays for, and offers Masses up for the faithful departed in the state of purification.

Christians have been praying for their departed brothers and sisters since the earliest days of Christianity. Early liturgies and inscriptions on catacomb walls attest to the ancientness of prayers for the dead, even if the Church needed more time to develop a substantial theology behind the practice. Prayers for the dead is actually borrowed from Judaism as indicated in 2 Maccabees. St. Paul prays for mercy for his departed friend Onesiphorus. Early Christian writers like Tertullian and St. Cyprian testify to the regular practice of praying for the souls of the departed. St. Augustine further developed the concept of a purgation of sins through fire after death.

So during this month of November especially, but all throughout the year, let us not forget those who have gone before us. They have done a lot for us. We remember to pray for them and with them in our daily lives.

 

Oblate Blog: October 15, 2010: Retreats

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What is a retreat? We hear the word used a lot these days. There are of course many different types of retreat. Among Catholics we hear of group retreats where a number of people come together, have conferences (2 or 3 a day usually) and spend some extra time in prayer. There are also private retreats, where an individual or perhaps a group of individuals go to a retreat house just to spend some time in quiet and prayer but do not have conferences. There are directed retreats where an individual arranges for someone to see them at least once or twice a day for direction. Usually the director is a priest or someone trained in giving such retreats. There are also thirty day retreats where an individual is directed by someone through the Spiritual Exercises as explained by St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits.

The weekend of October 8-10, about forty of our oblates gathered at Conception Abbey for their fall retreat. We have such a retreat for the oblates in the spring and another in the fall. In the summer we schedule a "Pray and Work" weekend where the oblates also spend some time in work here at the Abbey. These retreats are "group retreats" where someone gives them some conferences, usually four for the weekend and the retreatants are encouraged to take part in the monastic prayer, both the Liturgy of the Hours and the daily Eucharist, as well as take time for some private prayer and reflection.

We are always happy when any of the oblates can come and spend time with our monastic community living here at the Abbey. Oblates too are members of this family but in a more remote way than those of us who live here. We are grateful to our oblates for joining us in prayer whether it is here at the Abbey or in their homes. Together we are all working for the same thing – to live a good Christian life, and finally eternal life in the kingdom of Heaven. As Benedictines we promise to do this especially by following the Rule of St. Benedict as best we can in our own state in life.

We were happy during this oblate retreat to receive two new oblate novices: Earlene Koons and Gail Frost. Five oblate novices made their final oblation: Margaret Gardner, Mark Roesel, Cynthia Switzer, Constance Huard and Suzanne Crowley. 

the group here for the Oblate Retreat October 8-10, 2010.
The group here for the Oblate Retreat October 8-10, 2010.
Two new Novices are received into the Oblate Novitiate - Earlene Koons and Gail Frost.
 
Five Oblate Novices make their Final Oblation in the Basilica - Margaret Gardner, Mark Roesel, Cynthia Switzer, Constance Huard, and Suzanne Crowley.  
 

Oblate Blog: October 4, 2010

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"Do not…run away from the road that leads to salvation."

St. Benedict seemed to realize that sometimes monks would be tempted to run away from the monastery even after they took vows for life. Already in the Prologue of the Rule (45—50) St. Benedict speaks of this and encourages us to be faithful to the life which we have been given by God and which we have promised to live. To quote from the Rule:

Therefore, we intend to establish a school for the Lord’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love….But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. Never swerving from his instruction, then, but faithfully observing his teaching in the monastery until death, we shall deserve also to share in his kingdom. Amen (prologue)

While St. Benedict is speaking directly to the monks here; that is, those who have chosen the monastic life, these words apply to each of us and especially to those who are oblates. Whether you live in the monastery or in the world it is important to be committed and to be faithful to the commitment which you have made. Certainly married people make a commitment to each other and that commitment is for life. Others make a commitment to the single life in the world, oblates certainly make a commitment to the Benedictine life, not by vows of course but by a promise to God made at the time of your final oblation. That commitment is made for life and it is made to a particular monastery. Obviously there can be good reasons to break any commitment but in general commitments are meant to be kept for life.

A week ago I had a chance to visit my brother and his wife overnight in Kansas City. I was so impressed with the way they continue to be committed to one another. I know they would not want me to say this, but it was an inspiration to me. Both of them are almost 84 years old. They are in their 59th year of being united in marriage. My sister in law has not been in good health for the last two or three years as she suffers from osteoporosis, and a couple years ago got a bad case of shingles from which she still suffers a great deal. Then this summer she had to spend about a week in the hospital with bronchitis and lung problems. One day while in the hospital the phone rang and she could not reach the phone so she got up, fell, and broke her arm. She is now back home and it is an inspiration how my brother is devoted to taking care of her. When she gets up from sitting he has to help her. He has to help her or be with her when she walks, helps her to dress etc. In the morning at breakfast, before my sister in law got up, he stepped outside where they have a lot of flowers and picked a couple of beautiful blossoms, brought them in and put them each in a small glass and put them on the table. His wife says he does that everyday.

I mention this, not to brag, or embarrass them, but because I think that is what St. Benedict talks about in the prologue I quoted.

All of us want to grow in our lives, be faithful to our commitments, and grow in love whether we have been married, or professed or ordained, for one year or fifty or sixty or more years. If for some reason we have had to break a commitment in our own life or someone has broken it for us, we can still live a life of commitment to God and to the service and love of other people. Living in this way will bring us to everlasting life which is what we are all seeking.

God bless you.

I invite you to check out my personal blog at http://kennethosb.blogspot.com

 

Oblate Blog: September 14, 2010: Hospitality

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Recently I received an e-mail from Paraclete Press offering a book on Benedictine Hospitality to all Directors of Benedictine Oblates at a reduced price. The book is entitled Benedict’s Way of Love, Radical Hospitality, by Father Daniel Homan, O.S.B., and Lonni Collins Pratt, an oblate.  Father Daniel is a member of the Roman Catholic St. Benedict Abbey at Oxford, Michigan and Lonni is an oblate of that abbey. 

I ordered 20 copies and will be offering these to the oblates at the October retreat at the very special price of $7.00 each. The book regularly sells for $16.95. It is 233 pages in length. I will simply set them out and you take the book if you want and leave payment in a box that I will provide. If I hear from many of you that you will want one of these I will probably order some more and hope to have them here by the retreat.

To quote from the Rule of St. Benedict: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say:  ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Chapter 53 of the Rule)

Here are a few quotes from this book: 

“Hospitality tops the list of what is valued in a monastery because people are valued, and an equal dignity for all is assumed. Monks view people positively. Every human is sacred; every life is holy ground.” (Introduction, xxviii)

“When we speak of hospitality we are always addressing issues of inclusion and exclusion. Each of us makes choices about who will and who will not be included in our lives.” (p. 2)

“Benedictine hospitality prevents us from living either desperately or indifferently.  Hospitality requires not grand gestures, but open hearts. When I let a stranger into my heart, I let a new possibility approach me.” (p. 16)

“Opening yourselves to the stranger is not equivalent to leaving your door unlocked and bringing strangers into your home. Hospitality does not mean you ignore obvious threats to personal safety. Hospitality means bringing strangers into your heart, which may or may not result in inviting strangers to the table.” (p. 21)

“Part of the internal work hospitality requires is setting boundaries. You do no one a favor if you allow people to involve you in destructive behaviors…. You can be accepting of people without trying to make everyone your best friend. It is not even healthy to try to be intimate with everyone.” (p. 49)

Some of the other chapters in the book include:

Welcoming the Other

Companionship and Intimacy

Making Room for Yourself

Being a Companion Through the Hurt

Listening:  The Deep Truth of Hospitality

Hope to see many of you here for the oblate retreat October 8-10, 2010. Make your reservation by calling the guest department:  660-944-2809 or e-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

You are invited to read my personal blog at:  http://kennethosb.blogspot.com/

God bless each of you.

Fr. Kenneth, O.S.B.

 

Oblate Blog: September 1, 2010

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"I am the Beloved of God."

Last Sunday, on the 22nd Sunday in ordinary time, the Gospel spoke of being invited to a banquet and also of inviting others to a special meal or banquet. In the first case Jesus says not to go to the best place or the highest place at the banquet. In the second instance Jesus says to not invite only those people who most likely will be able to repay you or invite you at a later time to a banquet.

Jesus is not teaching us a lesson in proper etiquette here but he is teaching us the proper way to view ourselves and others. He is teaching us about how we are to honor, and respect everyone. Or simply put he is teaching us about humility.

I think in this Gospel Jesus speaks to us about who we are before the Lord. We are told about who we are before the Lord. We are told that we should not think so highly of ourselves that we put ourselves over other people, or as more important than other people. It’s all about humility and realizing that all these other people at this banquet are just as important as me,

Then Jesus warns us about honoring people for favors we hope to receive later. In other words looking for pay backs. It reminds us to be sincere. As Christians we care genuinely about others. We are not trying to buy them. If we are concerned with who they are, not what they can do for us, then we are honoring the Lord who is present in them.

We are called as Christians not to look down on others, or for that matter, to put ourselves down. Father Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest who wrote many spiritual books in recent years, but who is now deceased, talks about how we all need to remember – I AM THE BELOVED OF GOD. If each one of us can remember that then I think we are humble. Because not only am I the beloved of God, but you also are the beloved of God. So each of us individually are loved, we are each the "beloved son or daughter of God."

So recognize the presence of the Lord in yourself and also the presence of the Lord in others. This I think is humility. Humility is to rejoice in who we are in the presence of the Lord. If we live in this way we can all look forward to also being exalted by the Lord.

You may also be interested in reading my personal blog. Click here.

Peace

Fr. Kenneth

 

A Word of Thanks!

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After having back surgery in Kansas City on July 27 and then spending some weeks in a rehab center, Father Joachim Schieber is now back in St. Stephen Health Care Center.  He wants to express his thanks to all of you who remembered him in prayer, sent cards, phoned him or stopped by to see him.  He appreciates that very much.  Father Joachim is our oldest member in the community, going on 92 years old.

 

Oblates blog: August 17, 2010: Profession of Vows

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Novice Eric and Novice John 

Pictured above are Novice Eric on the left and Novice John on the right, as they listen to the admonition of Abbot Gregory at the beginning of the profession rite.

 Abbot Gregory, Br. Basil, Br. Etienne, and Br. Bernard

After the profession: Abbot Gregory, former Novice John Bosco and now Brother Basil, former Novice Eric Huard and now Brother Etienne (French for Stephen) and Brother Bernard.

Sunday, August 15, was a happy day for the monks of Conception Abbey as they welcomed two new members to the community. During the solemn Mass for the feast of the Assumption, celebrated by Abbot Gregory, Novice John and Novice Eric professed vows of obedience, conversion of life and stability for three years. The profession ceremony took place after the reading of the Gospel as Brother Bernard; the novice master led the two before the abbot;

As is our monastic custom both of them received new names as they begin their life now as members of the Conception Abbey community. Brother Basil is from Omaha, Nebraska and his parents and sister were here for the ceremony. Brother Etienne is from Wichita, Kansas and his mother and brother and some other friends were present. His father is deceased.

I know all the oblates join us in rejoicing with these two new members.

To go to Fr. Kenneth’s personal blog click here.

(Photos by Jenny Huard & Br. Macario)

 

Oblate blog: July 27, 2010: Prayer

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Pray & Work weekend 2010

Pray and Work weekend, July 9-11, 2010 --- To see more pictures of the "Pray and Work" weekend go to:  http://kennethosb.smugmug.com/Conception-Abbey/Oblates-of-Conception-Abbey/Oblates-2010/11800836_6UNUd

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In the Gospel last Sunday the disciples asked Jesus to "Teach us to pray…" Perhaps these are words we too ask of Jesus at times. How can I pray better, or teach me to pray better than I do. Jesus simply taught the disciples by telling them to pray as follows. And then he taught them the so called "Our Father" or "Lord’s Prayer." We recite this prayer so often both in the liturgy and in our private prayer. Some have suggested that it is less a prayer to be recited than a list of things around which our prayer should be centered. Each phrase can stand on its own and be a topic of prayer in its own right.

Of course it begins with that simple phrase which we use so often: "Our Father." We do not begin by addressing God as Lord, or Master or Judge etc. We call him by a very personal name, Father, Abba, Papa etc. By calling God Father we are also all children and so brothers and sisters of each other. Unless we accept this fact, it will be difficult for us to call God Father. He is always "Our Father" and not my Father alone.

This is emphasized even more when we ask forgiveness for our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. This links us once again to those around us. We pray to share in this most beautiful of God’s qualities—His readiness to forgive again and again and again.

And Jesus emphasizes how we are to persevere in prayer: seeking, asking, and knocking again and again. God does not always give us what we want, for our wants are often short sighted and self-centered. Perseverance in prayer can help us become more aware of what we should really be asking for.

God hears our prayer, he wants to help us.

 

 

Oblate blog, July 6, 2010: FEAST OF ST. BENEDICT

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As many of you already know there are actually two feasts of St. Benedict in the calendar for Benedictines. On March 21, we celebrate the Transitus of St. Benedict. This means his "passing," or his death. That is normally the day when we celebrate the saints days; that is, the day they pass from this life to eternal life. On July 11, we celebrate another feast of St. Benedict. This is the day the universal Church celebrates the feast of St. Benedict, primarily because March 21 usually comes during lent. The Benedictines have been given permission to celebrate one of these days as a solemnity and the other as a feast. Each monastery makes that decision. Here at Conception we celebrate the solemnity on March 21. That works better for us as most of the monks are at home, the students are here, classes are canceled for the day etc. Therefore, we celebrate July 11 as a feast. This year July 11 comes on a Sunday. A feast cannot take the place of a Sunday, a solemnity does take the place of the Sunday Mass in ordinary time. Thus, this year we here at Conception will not celebrate July 11 as a feast at all. I hope this is clear to all of you. A number of you will be here for the "Pray and Work" weekend but we will on Sunday simply celebrate the regular Sunday Mass and not the Mass of St. Benedict.

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Now just a few words about St. Benedict even though we do not celebrate his feast on July 11 this year. All of us know that St. Benedict frequently makes use of scripture in the Rule. In an appendix of RB80, an author writes:

" Whatever other factors may have been involved in the rise and development of the monastic movement, there is no doubt that the central factor, without which the monastic movement is simply unthinkable, is the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. The monastic way of life was conceived as a response to the precepts of Scripture. St. Athanasius portrayed Anthony as taking up the monastic form of life in simple obedience to hearing the words of Scripture."

Through the Scriptures one of our primary goals in the monastic life has to be to conform our lives more perfectly to Jesus Christ. To become more Christ like. We are "to put nothing before our love of Christ." That is why we come to the monastery, that is why we become oblates.

Jesus Christ is so much the center of our monastic life that St. Benedict tells us "the Abbot is seen to hold the place of Christ" in the monastery. We are also to serve Christ in one another, and especially in our guests, in the sick, in the poor. We are in short to prefer nothing whatever to Christ.

May God continue to bless us, may he help us to be faithful to the Scriptures and always to serve Christ in all we do.

 

Oblate blog, June 18, 2010: The Instruments of Good Works

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Cassian Heath
Oblate Cassian Heath in St. Stephen's newly renovated chapel. Cassian built the furniture for the Holy Cross Oratory in the Seminary as well.

In Chapter four of the Rule St. Benedict list the instruments of good works. Number 22 through 33 of these instruments could be called "The love of enemies."

To quote from the Rule: "You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting or peace or turn away when someone needs your love. Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue. Do not repay one bad turn with another. Do not injure anyone, but bear injuries patiently. Love your enemies. If people curse you, do not curse them back but bless them instead. Endure persecution for the sake of justice."

Love of others and even love of our enemies has a place in everyone’s life, even sometimes in monastic life. St. Benedict was very human. He knew the human situation. Of course we will all have enemies in life, those who do not like us because the life we live, or because we live a life in contradiction to their life.

The first thing to take to heart of course is to try to not be anyone’s enemy ourselves. But if we do have an enemy then these practical suggestions that St. Benedict lists here should be taken in hand.

Not to yield to anger. The first thing we want do when we have an enemy is to get angry. While this is natural, this must be stopped immediately and not nourished. Not to nurse a grudge is a good way to get away from anger. We must step in and try to stop the object of the anger or the anger can easily become uncontrollable. The more we nurse the grudge the greater will become our anger.

St. Benedict also encourages us: not to hold guile in our heart, not to make a false peace. Remember that sincerity and truthfulness are of first importance in dealing with others. They are of first importance if we are to love others.

It seems to me that St. Benedict in this section gives us some very good advice in how to deal with others, whether that be our confreres in the monastic life, our friends, our co-workers and, yes, even our enemies. Let us reflect on these words of the Rule and see how we can put them into practice in our day to day life.

 

 

Oblate blog: June 1, 2010, Pentecost, Ordinary Time, Holy Trinity

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I apologize for not having written on this blog since early May. Since that time we have closed out the school year, had our community retreat, celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost and this past Sunday celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity.

The school year closed with graduation on Sunday, May 16. So another group of students move on, many of them to theological studies in schools of theology, while others will decide that the priesthood is not their vocation so will go into another field of work. Already the prospects for next school year look good as more young people seem to be considering the priesthood as a possible vocation in life. Pray for them.

On Monday evening, May 17, we began our community retreat. Our retreat master this year was Father Ronald Witherup, P.S.S., a Sulpician priest. This community was founded in France after the Council of Trent, especially to train young men for the priesthood. Father Witherup was a wonderful retreat master. His retreat was entitled: Paul and Benedict: The Christ-Centered Life. He has been studying the Rule of St. Benedict in recent years and he is already a well known scripture scholar in the Letters of St. Paul. He is seeing how often Benedict uses Paul and obviously was well acquainted with his Letters.

Then on Sunday, July 23, we celebrated the Solemnity of Pentecost. The Abbot was celebrant for the Mass. With this feast we of course concluded the Easter season and began so called Ordinary Time. Ordinary time simply means we do not have a special emphasis on a particular event in the life of Christ during this time. This season of the Church Year will run all the way to Advent now. This is year C in the lectionary so the Gospel readings will be from the Gospel of St. Luke until Advent, 2010.

Sunday, May 30, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity. A beautiful feast which helps to remind us that God is a family of love. God is one, but there are three persons. That is a mystery which we cannot fully understand. Perhaps an important lesson we can learn from this feast is that we have a relationship with that Trinity and so we need to enter into a relationship with the three Persons. The Father sent the Son to redeem us, and then the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit who continues to be with us until the end of time. God is a community of perfect sharing and equality. May we too become more and more a part of that community.

To read Fr. Kenneth personal blog go to: http://kennethosb.blogspot.com/

God bless all our oblates and all of you who read this blog.

 

Oblate blog: May 11, 2010 Ascension of the Lord

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Next Sunday, May 16, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension. This feast was formerly celebrated on Thursday and was frequently called "Ascension Thursday." Now, at least in the U.S.A., it is celebrated the following Sunday in most parts of the country. With this feast we also approach the conclusion of the Easter Season in the Church. The following Sunday, May 23, will be the Solemnity of Pentecost and that feast marks the conclusion of the Easter Season as we return the following day to Ordinary Time.

As we reflect on this feast of the Ascension many of us think of Jesus saying "goodbye" to his disciples. At the Last Supper and after his resurrection he gave them many instructions. Some of us as human beings find it difficult to say "goodbye." When our chances are slim of seeing that person again in this life, it is more difficult. Sometimes it is interesting to see how different people deal with this. Sometimes a person will laugh about it, sometimes a person will just avoid saying "goodbye." I personally have always found it rather difficult to say goodbye.

How did the disciples feel when they observed their Lord and Master ascending into heaven? On one hand they had some reason to feel sad and to fear. Jesus was returning to the Father, and while he had told them he would continue to be with them, they probably found it difficult. However, they also were very much aware of the mission Jesus had given them and that they were to preach the Gospel to the whole world. They did not yet understand so many things. But, after the Ascension, we are told they went back to Jerusalem full of joy to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

We too sometimes would like for Jesus to be with us in the flesh. We want to see him to touch him and have him answer our questions, and give us all we need. But, hopefully, we, like the disciples, realize we must stop looking into the sky and must go to our villages, towns, and to the whole world, to spread the Good News. We now must carry on the mission initiated by Jesus Christ. We must continue to try to make the kingdom of God a reality in our world.

Jesus sent the Holy Spirit and that Spirit gave the apostles and disciples a new strength and new energy to preach the word of God. May we, too, then prepare ourselves to receive that Spirit so that by our example, our lives and our words may bring the Gospel message to all we meet.

To read Fr. Kenneth’s person blog click here.

To view Fr. Kenneth’s photos on his web site click here. You will find oblate pictures here under the album "oblates 2010," or a couple earlier years.

God bless all of you.

 

Oblate Blog: 3rd Sunday of Easter

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Listen to the Voice of Jesus

Listen to the voice of Jesus

First of all I have added a few more photos from the oblate retreat and other oblate pictures. Click here. Pictures were taken by Kevin Heim, Novice John, Karen Walts and Fr. Kenneth

If you want to read more about the approval of THE REVISED GRAIL PSALTER, translated by Abbot Gregory and the monks of Conception Abbey, go here.

In the Gospel for this 3rd Sunday of Easter, it seems like the Apostles who were fishermen before being called by Jesus, had pretty well decided to go back to their regular work after the death of Jesus. Perhaps they were not yet convinced that he had risen. So they go out to fish at night. They spend most of the night fishing but catch nothing. But then this person appears on the shore (they did not know it was Jesus) and he tells them to throw the net off to the right side of the boat. Peter and the others, professional fishermen, must have wondered about this man telling them how to fish. But, it is interesting that Peter listened to this man. And then they made a great catch of fish. Only then did the "beloved disciple" say "It is the Lord." Peter immediately jumps in the water to swim to the shore.

Peter had of course denied he even knew Jesus at the trial. But now after they had eaten the breakfast that Jesus served them, Jesus questions Peter three times: "Do you love me more than these?" and each time Peter answers "Yes," and each time Jesus tells him to "feed my sheep." This was the way Peter and the other apostles would show their love for Jesus, the Risen Lord. In the readings from the Acts of the Apostles that we hear after Easter we see how the Apostles, and first followers of Jesus, carried this out. They preached the Word, they preached the Gospel, to others.

What is important for us is that we listen to the Lord. Peter, who probably thought he knew all that could be known about fishing, still listened when told to cast the net to the other side of the boat. We also need to listen to the Lord and to respond to that Word. We cannot feed others unless we first nourish ourselves. This we do especially at the Eucharist but also by listening. Listen carefully to the Word of God. Listen carefully to the scriptures when they are read. And we need to listen carefully with the heart. Listen to God in one another, in nature, in our crosses and sufferings, as well as in our joys. The Risen Lord Jesus continues to be with us. Only by listening can we go out and take the message of the Gospel to others.

God bless you all during this Easter season.

 

Oblate Blog: April 12, 2010

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Easter Octave:

The entire past week we have been celebrating the feast of Easter and actually will celebrate it for another six weeks or so until Pentecost. But, this past week we have celebrated the Octave of Easter. Formerly there were a number of feasts that had octaves but now the Church has reduced it to two feasts – Christmas and Easter. These two feasts of course celebrate the great events of our salvation and redemption. The birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, and the suffering, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This Sunday is also observed as Divine Mercy Sunday. This devotion was fostered by St. Faustina and is encouraged to pray for the forgiveness of our sins or the forgiveness of the sins of others, especially those who may be dying today. Coming immediately after Easter we can see that we are celebrating the Divine Mercy of God in a special way during this season. The whole Paschal Mystery is an expression of God’s mercy and his desire to forgive us and bring us to eternal life.

This Easter Octave weekend was a busy weekend here. The students return today to complete the school year. Graduation is scheduled for May 15, 2010. Spring seems to have arrived and the temperatures have risen and the trees are blooming sending forth their leaves.

This weekend we also had an oblate retreat. There were about forty oblates here for the weekend. The retreat was given by Father Pachomius and he seemed to be well received and appreciated by the oblates. His retreat was entitled: "Conformed to the Image of Christ."

I am posting a group picture of the retreat here on the blog. For more pictures go to my smugmug photo web site here.

That should take you directly to the pictures from this retreat. Or you can go to http://kennethosb.smugmug.com/ and then look for the album "Oblate events 2010."

This picture is a group picture of the oblates here this weekend.Oblate retreat 2010

 

Oblate blog for March 29, 2010: Holy Week and Sacred Triduum

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A magazine that a friend gave me a subscription to a year or two ago is one I would highly recommend and that I use everyday. It is called LIVING WITH CHRIST, Your Daily Companion for Praying and Living the Eucharist. It is published each month with an extra issue for Holy Week and the Triduum. It has some very good articles and also has the entire Mass text for each day, including the readings. I find it an excellent way to prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist each day. Click here to go to their web site.

In the Holy Week booklet this year on the very first page the editor, Sr. Margeret Palliser, O.P., writes: "Our special Holy Week issue of Living With Christ contains a wonderful variety of resources and suggestions that we hope will enhance your own personal prayer, reflection, and participation in the liturgy during this holiest of weeks." In the first article entitled "Walking with Jesus this week" the author writes: "What would it have been like to spend that final week with Jesus? And then we are reminded that this week on each day we will have an opportunity to listen to one of the persons who actually had that experience. On Monday, Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. On Tuesday, Judas Iscariot, the disciple who would betray Jesus. On Wednesday, "A certain man" who provided Jesus with a place to celebrate the Passover meal. On Holy Thursday, the "beloved disciple, St. John. On Good Friday, Simon of Cyrene, a visitor to Jerusalem who was enlisted to help Jesus carry his cross. On Holy Saturday, Mary, who stood at the foot of the cross as her son suffered and died for us. And on Easter Sunday, Simon Peter, the impulsive fisherman, the rock upon which Jesus would build his church.

What a great week this is. It begins with the blessing of palms on Palm Sunday when the people welcome Jesus into Jerusalem with great joy, honoring him as a King. But, then on that same Sunday we hear the Passion read according to St. Luke and we see how they soon afterwards sought his death. Holy Thursday evening until vespers on Sunday is the actual Triduum. However, it is really just one feast we celebrate. In so many ways we cannot celebrate Good Friday without Holy Thursday and then we need a day of rest on Saturday while we reflect on that time that Jesus spent in the grave. On Easter Sunday we celebrate that great victory over sin and death that Jesus won for all of us in the SOLEMNITY OF SOLEMNITIES, EASTER SUNDAY. THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS CHRIST FROM THE DEAD.

As you know we celebrate the Octave of Easter, an entire week of celebrating this feast. The Octave day is the Sunday after Easter and that day is now, since the time of Pope John Paul II, called DIVINE MERCY SUNDAY. When we think about it the Triduum and the whole feast of Easter is a feast of mercy. God gives his Son and the Son suffers and dies for us. How could God possibly show his love and mercy in any greater way than in this great act? So, yes, this is a feast of God’s mercy. Let us celebrate and rejoice that we have such a loving God.

May each of you who read this blog have a very BLESSED AND HAPPY EASTER. May the love of God be with you and may we all look forward to giving praise and glory to God for all eternity in the heavenly kingdom.

The two photos attached to this blog are from Holy Week of past years.

 

Oblate blog, March 17, 2010: Lent is bringing us to Easter

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This past Sunday was Gaudete (rejoice) Sunday and so we have passed the half way point of the Lenten season. That means that we need to make good use of these last two or three weeks so we are ready to rejoice and celebrate the Paschal mystery.

It seems to me that one of the primary purposes of Lent is conversion. Conversion means a change, or a turn around in our life. We have been doing extra and special things and have been trying to turn more and more to Jesus Christ. We have been trying more and more to turn away from sin.

Last Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Lent we heard the story of the prodigal son. Jesus seems to have always been gentle with sinners as long as they realized they are sinners. So he tells this story of the prodigal son. The youngest son goes off with his part of the estate and spends it all on things that he thought would bring him happiness. Finally he ended up working for a farmer helping to take care of the swine. When he was very hungry he realized that he had left a good and happy home and found only unhappiness. So he returned home and what does the father do, but welcome him with open arms, and then he has a party to celebrate the return of the son.

And what about the older son who stayed at home? He was bitter that his father was so forgiving. He had stayed at home and worked and tried to please his father, but now he feels his brother is getting all the attention. But, who goes out to try to get him to come in to the party? The loving father of course. Does the son come in? We do not know.. Where would we have fit in the story? Are we, during this lent, the loving and forgiving father, or the younger son who wants to go off and have a good time or perhaps are we the older son? We all have a tendency to want to make "things" our gods. When we place things before God we are in trouble.

This coming Sunday, the fifth Sunday of Lent, we have the Gospel about the woman who was found committing adultery. The leaders brought her to Jesus. They wanted to see if Jesus would condemn her. Their law said a woman should be stoned to death for such a sin. Jesus does not condemn but turns things around. "Let the one who is without sin cast the first stone," and then he writes on the ground. Neither does Jesus condemn her but he tells her to go and sin no more.

Sometimes Jesus gets himself into trouble because he associates with sinners. They ask questions like; "Why does he eat with sinners." Jesus associated with sinners because he came for sinners. We are all sinners and he came to bring forgiveness and reconciliation to each one of us. And of course we are to have that same forgiveness of one another.

Have we grown in love and forgiveness during this Lenten season? Have we ourselves made an effort to turn away from sin?

Prayers and love to each of you.

Father Kenneth, O.S.B.

To read my personal blog click here.

 

Oblate Blog, Second Sunday of Lent: The Transfiguration

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Sunday, February 28, is the 2nd Sunday of Lent and the Gospel for this Sunday related the event of the Transfiguration. This is related shortly after Jesus had foretold his passion and death, telling his disciples that he Mass of the Transfigurationwould have to endure great suffering. But then he goes on to tell them that his followers would also have to take up their cross in order to be his disciples.

And then he takes three of his disciples, Peter, James and John and goes up on a mountain to pray and then the disciples witness his Transfiguration. What does this Gospel tell us about our living the Lenten journey this year in 2010? I would suggest that since this Gospel reading comes so close to the beginning of lent it’s purpose just might be to show us what lent is supposed to do in us and for us as individuals and as a community. We are to follow Christ this lent along his paschal journey, along the way of the cross, all the way to another mountain and Calvary. Lent is meant to transform us so that we like St. Paul can say: "I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I live now is not my own; Christ is living in me."

As we know the purpose of lent is to bring Jesus more and more into our consciousness so that we and our daily life will be transfigured. It is our daily life that we seek to transform, not just our lives when we are in church or at prayer. Our daily life is to be transformed more and more by Christ’s grace.

Certainly an important part of our lent is prayer. In prayer Jesus is present to us in a special way and we frequently are conscious of his presence. It is in and through prayer that Jesus manifests himself to us, speaks to our hearts, loves us, becomes a part of our consciousness.

We are told that Jesus took Peter, James and John and went up a mountain precisely to pray. It was in that prayer that Jesus was transfigured. The disciples were so overcome that they wanted to remain on the mountain and build three tabernacles there.

We too sometimes would like to stay on the mountain with Jesus. But we have to come down, as the disciples did, and minister to others. Our experience on the mountain, just like our experience of this lent, must end up helping others. We hope to experience the Lord’s presence this lent and we hope then to be able to share that with others.

The photo posted on this blog is a photo of our pilgrimage group celebrating Mass on Mount Tabor in the Church of the Transfiguration on June 10, 2006. I was celebrant for the Mass. It was a wonderful experience.

To read Fr. Kenneth’s personal blog go to: http://kennethosb.blogspot.com/

 

 

Mount Tabor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oblate blog February 15, 2010: Ash Wednesday

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CrucifixI have already written a recent blog on this site for Lent. However, I thought it would be good to again mention that the beginning of lent is coming this Wednesday, February 17. What do you want to accomplish this Lent? Is lent just a time of penance and without any joy?

Perhaps a better first question would be: what do you want God to accomplish in your heart this Lent? After all it is God who is at work within us. We do not accomplish our salvation on our own. That is God’s work. I myself hope that God will help me this Lent to above all "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." I hope that at the end of this Lent God will be more a part of my life and I will be more conformed to the Gospel and living the Gospel in my daily life. That means that, first of all this Lent, I must give up anything that might be taking me away from God, or at least keeping me from growing more in the living of the Gospel. In truth that means, first of all, giving up sin or all that might lead me to sin.

While it would be good if I would lose some weight this Lent, that in itself is not the purpose of Lent. If I were to lose weight but not grow closer to God, nothing would be accomplished. As St. Paul says in his 1st Letter to Corinthians, if I do anything it must be accompanied by love or it is nothing.

Lent is not just a joyless time when we give up things that we normally enjoy. If we give up such things it must somehow help us to grow in love of God and our brothers and sisters or it accomplishes nothing. Of course if I am so attached to something that it has become, as it were, a god for me then I do indeed need to give it up as it is keeping me from the love of God as well as my brothers and sisters. Giving up something, in other words, can be a good way of learning to say "no" to ourselves, of learning to say "no" to sin.

In the end Lent is a time of looking forward to the joy of Easter. How can we rise with Christ unless we have learned to die with him? How can we rise with Christ unless we have learned to love him? To me, that above all, is what I am trying to accomplish this Lent. I can of course only do that with God’s help so I hope that God will accomplish that within me this Lent. Whether I give up some food or drink or other pleasure, or spend more time in prayer, or read a holy book, or give alms, I want to grow in Christ. Hopefully by Easter I can say a little more truthfully with St. Paul – "I have been crucified with Christ, and it no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me."

God bless you this Lent, 2010

To read my personal blog click here.

 

 

Oblate's blog: February 2, 2010- Love

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If we went to a Catholic Church this past Sunday, January 31, the 4th Sunday of ordinary time, we heard in the 2nd reading, St. Paul’s beautiful passage on love. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, after speaking in chapter 12 of the gifts that we all receive from the Holy Spirit, today in chapter 13 he encourages us to strive eagerly for the greatest of spiritual gifts. Then he says: "But I will show you a still more excellent way."

The more excellent way that St. Paul speaks of is of course LOVE. I remember in one of my early years in the seminary at Conception our religion teacher, I believe it was Father Bede Scholz, asked us to memorize this chapter where St. Paul speaks so eloquently of love.

The Christian community at Corinth evidently had a number of divisions in it. Their hierarchy of values tended to foster factiousness. Paul points out that whether a person has the gift of prophecy, or of tongues or whatever gift, these are nothing without love. Even almsgiving and martyrdom are nothing without love. As Paul points out, prohecies, tongues, knowledge, have limits, but love does not. Love perfects knowledge. Paul tells them that even the clearest knowledge is like a shadow compared to love. He urges the Corinthians to put aside childish ways and pursue love as the greatest wisdom. Only love lasts.

There are other spiritual gifts, but love is the one essential gift that characterizes the community worthy of the name Christian. Love is the criterion for judging the relative value of all other gifts, since all gifts are given for the sake of building up the community.

"Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests…" Love will prompt us to forgive, it will teach us to hope. Paul is saying that the divisions in Corinth would not exist if the community had been mindful of the primacy of love.

What about us? Does love exist in our community, in our family, in our world? We can only look at ourselves and ask whether love is the most important in my life.

I would suggest that each of us read again that second reading from last Sunday’s Mass. (I Cor. 12:31-13:13)

 

Oblate's blog, January 25, 2010: Lent is Approaching

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Lent this year begins on February 17th. While that is still a few weeks off, it is good to begin thinking about what practices would be good for us to take on this Lent, 2010.

To quote from the Rule of St. Benedict, chapter 49:

"The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits, and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial."

While probably not many of us are able to live according to the ideal St. Benedict presents for Lent on a daily basis, the implication of St. Benedict is that what happens in Lent also applies in principle throughout the year. The reward of any Lenten observance of course has nothing to do with outward display but with the reward of the kingdom. So it’s a matter of motive. If I let it be known, or even brag about how much I fast, or give to charity, it becomes something public and even competitive. What really makes a good Lent is interior transformation. We are to "rend our hearts and not our garments," as St. Paul reminds us.

Lent always points toward Easter and so there is a note of joy in the Lenten season. During the Lenten season we look forward with joy and spiritual longing to Easter.

So as we all look forward to the Lenten season we need to reflect what extra works would be good for me to take on this Lent. What would help me to transform my life, to turn more to Jesus Christ, to know his love? St. Benedict urges us to devote ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. Father Michael Casey says that compunction is a dual sensitivity. It places before us both the reality of our sinful condition and the urgency of our desire to be totally possessed by God. It is precisely the comparison between what we are and what we could be that constitutes the triggering cause of compunction.

So let us use these coming weeks to prepare ourselves for the Lenten season. This week, probably about Tuesday, January 26, I will be mailing you a letter and a card for renewing your oblation. Sometime during the year you are asked to return signed card to the oblate office. If you would like to have a blessing on your Lenten works, you are welcome to send them to me. However, if you wish them to be returned, please include a stamped self-addressed envelope for this purpose.

Thank you and God bless you.

To read my person blog CLICK HERE.

To see photos on my personal web site CLICK HERE.

 

Oblate's blog, January 13, 2010: Oblates active in their parish life

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In our little brochure that we have here at Conception Abbey as an introduction to the oblate life, we mention that the oblate should "participate frequently in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation. Oblates who are not Roman Catholic should be faithful to their denominational beliefs and practices." I would include with this that an oblate should be active in the parish to which they belong. In other words I see the Oblate of St. Benedict as taking a leading role in the life of the parish. Not that the oblate should try to come across as holier or better than others in the parish but he or she should "participate" in the life of the parish.

Each of you will have to do that of course in your own particular way. A few of the oblates are permanent deacons. They of course are usually given a specific parish and way to be active in their parish life. Other oblates volunteer as lectors at Mass, as communion ministers, as ushers etc.. But, of course the most important way you can be active in the parish is by "participating frequently in the sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation." In other words when you participate in the Eucharist and sing and pray with the community then you are truly oblates.

Some of you I know try to participate in the Eucharist on a daily basis. For others that is not possible because of your work and other duties. What I think is important is that our oblates and others in the parish, know that you are not withdrawing from the parish but rather that your association with Conception Abbey and the oblates is a help for you to live a good Christian life and to take an even more active part in your parish life.

 

Oblate's blog: January 4, 2010, Epiphany

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What are we celebrating on the feast of Epiphany? The word “Epiphany” is of Greek origin. It means manifestation or disclosure. In the ancient Greek mystery religions, an epiphany occurred when one of the gods appeared and manifested himself or herself to someone. While the word is not used in the Gospels, we find it already being applied to Jesus Christ in the third century. It could be applied to him in it’s truest and fullest sense. Jesus Christ is indeed “God manifest” in a way no pagan god could ever be. 

Originally it was celebrated, especially in the Eastern Church, in the context of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan. It was then that the voice from heaven proclaimed “You are my beloved Son.” Here the Father makes manifest for the first time who Jesus really is, the Son of God. Next Sunday, January 10, we will celebrate the baptism of the Lord and conclude the Christmas season.

When Rome and the Western Church adopted the celebration of the Epiphany, about the beginning of the 4th century, it was the visit of the Magi that was emphasized. The Magi of course represent a non-Jewish or Gentile people and so prefigure the acceptance of Jesus by all the world.  Another manifestation of who Jesus is was at the wedding feast of Cana when he changed water into wine.

St. Matthew in his account is especially making the point that the Magi could not have found the infant Savior unless God had manifested him to them. The Magi can be said to represent all of us. We also cannot find the Savior, cannot find Jesus, unless God manifests him to us.

And so the Epiphany celebrates three events as is stated in the antiphon for 2nd vespers of the feast: “Three mysteries mark this holy day: today the star leads the Magi to the infant Christ; today water is changed into wine for the wedding feast; today Christ wills to be baptized by John in the river Jordan to bring us salvation.” 

Have a HAPPY AND BLESSED NEW YEAR as we begin the year 2010. 

To read Fr. Kenneth’s personal blog and see some photos of the renovated St. Stephen Health Center go to:  http://kennethosb.blogspot.com/