Conversion, A Decided Struggle

St. Benedict inspired the name of the Black Monks Rugby Team

St. Benedict inspired the name of the Black Monks Rugby Team at Benedictine College

The decision to struggle is part of conversion.  It is a conscious decision to push yourself toward a greater good.  For rugby players and all athletes, the good is a victory.  The struggle is against the opposing team.  For Catholics, the good is radical discipleship in Christ.  The struggle is against sin, especially when the flesh burns.

Like an athlete, a disciple understands there is a cost associated with victory.  Like an athlete, a disciple’s decision to struggle demonstrates his belief that there will be a victory.  Eternal life is worth it.

Saint Benedict made the decision to struggle against sin.  He wanted a deeper conversion.

As a young man,  Saint Benedict “was seized with an usually violent temptation.  The evil spirit recalled to his mind a woman he had once seen, and before he realized it his emotions were carrying him away.” (Dialogues, p. 7)  Has this ever happened to you?

Temptations against chastity, sobriety and excellence are common.  It is consoling to read St. Gregory the Great’s encouraging words, “that temptations of the flesh are violent during youth, whereas after the age of fifty concupiscence dies down.” (Dialogues, p. 9)   Good news, it gets better.  Bad news, what to do before fifty?  Before you realize it, your thoughts and emotions, mind and flesh are racing.  Sin is promising you comfort and freedom from the struggle in your own mind and body.  It is confusing.  It is tempting to not struggle.  At the same time we know when we chose not to struggle we become a spiritual couch potato, not a spiritual athlete.  Don’t be a potato.  We often forget, when you take hold of sin, it will soon take hold of you.  Struggle to reject sin.

Saint Benedict was even tempted to quite discipleship.  Temptation makes discipleship look like the problem.  How often are we tempted to cave to a craving of the flesh?  Vacation from sexual purity or sobriety?  Or, quite a Bible study?  Or, step away from serving those who follow us?

Saint Benedict conquered sin by deciding to struggle.  As his flesh was burning with passion, “he noticed a thick patch of nettles and briers next to him.  Throwing his garment aside…he rolled and tossed until his whole body was in pain and covered with blood.  Yet once he had conquered pleasure through suffering, his torn and bleeding skin served to drain off the poison of temptation from his body.”  (Dialogues, p. 8)  This sounds extreme until you remember the last rugby match, football game, wrestling tournament or cross country competition you competed in.  Athletes and people in every profession constantly decide to struggle.  A disciple decides to struggle against sin in order to align his priorities with God’s priorities.

The decision to struggle!

The decision to struggle is worth every bruise and bloody nose.  Are you holding you back?

What can strengthen you when you decide to struggle?  What can you do when your flesh burns?

When tempted against chastity or sobriety?
-Find people and hang out.  Someone once said if you find yourself alone, surfing the internet, with a beer in your hand…go find the people who love you and spend time with them.
-Go for a walk, run or work-out.
-Walk to a public space.  Pray in chapel.  Study in a lounge.
-Get enough sleep.
-Join a men’s or women’s group and consistently go.

When tempted against excellence?
-Remember Christ was all in.  Ask yourself if you are growing in your love of God?  Am I all in?
-Is there an aspect of my…job, relationships, finances, free-time…where the Lord does not have first place?
-Evaluate if you are motivated by love of God or the need for another’s approval?

Saint Benedict realized the decision to struggle was worth it.  With the help of God’s grace ask yourself if it is your time to decide to struggle in another area of your life.  This is conversion.

Saint Benedict Prayer for the Struggle

Blessed Benedict…
Help me!  I beg you to be my protector.
Dig me out from the mass of sin that buries me,
free me from the ropes of sin that bind me,
loose me from the wickedness that entangles me.
Lift up him who is cast down, strengthen the wavering,
prepare the helpless with spiritual weapons of virtue,
lead and protect him who is fighting in the battle.
Bring me to the victory and lead me to the crown.
-Prayer by Saint Anselm, Benedictine Monk

Conversion, Discipleship and Saint Benedict

Saint Benedict on Subiaco Workshop of Fra Angelico 1400 ; 1455

Saint Benedict at Subiaco
Workshop of Fra Angelico 1400 ; 1455

A first step in conversion is deciding to follow Christ.  The Lord says, “follow me” because he wants to give you a new beginning.  He made you.  He wants you to be happy.  Your decision to follow Christ marks a new beginning for you.  This is called conversion.  Saint Benedict can help us deepen our own personal conversion.

The saints decided to follow Christ in a deeper personal conversion before they were saints.  Saint Benedict did this.  Like college students today, Saint Benedict is studying in Rome.  He realizes he is standing between the world of pleasure and the promises of Christ.  In Rome, he had an all access pass to the best of everything.  He could walk to the Circus Maximus (Nascar), the Colosseum (Super Bowl), or the Forum (Mall of America).  Yet, Benedict’s biography says, “he found many of the students there abandoning themselves to vice…In his desire to please God alone, he…gave up home and inheritance and resolved to embrace the religious life.”  (Dialogues, p. 1-2)  Like so many heroic college students today, Saint Benedict made the decision to follow Christ.

St. Benedict follows Christ and leaves studies in Rome

Benedict decides to follow Christ

Saying yes to Christ, means saying goodbye to worldliness no matter what vocation you are called to.  This is part of conversion.  You may question your decision.  Friend groups, someone you are dating and even family may question your decision.  You might hear them say, “you’ve changed.”  Or, “I like the old you.”  Saint Benedict can help you remember the decision to follow Christ is worth it.  He faced similar judgments.  What did he do?  His biographer, St. Gregory the Great, writes:

“Benedict, however, preferred to suffer ill-treatment from the world rather than enjoy its praises.  He wanted to spend himself laboring for God, not to be honored by the applause of men.” (Dialogues, p. 4)

If you choose God over the applause of the world, Jesus promises you a new beginning.  Here are some ways you can strengthen your decision to follow Christ and deepen your personal conversion:

-Begin meditating 10-15 minutes each day, push for consistency
-Get to confession at least once a month, live free
-Sunday Mass of course, but daily Mass will take you places
-Find friends who support your decision to follow Christ
-Pray for your own conversion in Christ.  Ask St. Benedict for help. Maybe his conversion experience can help you.  Try this prayer:

Saint Benedict Prayer for Conversion

Jesus, good Lord,
consider my affliction and my trouble
and forgive me all my sins.
Hear, O Lord, do not cast me off or forsake me,
but lead me and help me to do your will,
so that my life may attest
what my heart and mouth confess so freely.
Hear the voice of my prayer, my King and my God,
by the merits and intercession of Saint Benedict.
-Prayer by Saint Anselm, Benedictine Monk

St. Boniface and the Virtue of Magnanimity

St. Boniface Evangelizes German Peoples

St. Boniface Proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ

While reading the letters of the Benedictine monk, St. Boniface, you sense the virtue of magnanimity.  The Latin meaning of magnanimity translates as “greatly generous.”  The Benedictine monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, exist in the 21st century because of the great generosity of St. Boniface and his monks in the 8th century.

How did great generosity create a lasting impact?

Around 720AD, St. Boniface founded his first Benedictine monasteries in Germany.  In 739AD, St. Boniface founded the Diocese of Regensburg and in 766AD, St. Michael’s Abbey, our grandmother house, was founded in Metten in the Diocese of Regensburg.  The founding of these centers of evangelization demonstrate the great generosity of St. Boniface.  Even more we find St. Boniface writing the Abbot of Monte Cassino in 750AD:

“May the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ and that way of life which we are bound to show to the heathen, walking therein ourselves, not be dimmed or hidden within us. We earnestly pray that there may be between us an intimate tie of brotherly love with common prayer for the living and, for those who have passed from this life, prayers and celebrations of Masses, the names of the dead being mutually exchanged” (Source: The Letters of Saint Boniface, Columbia University Press, p.158).

The magnanimity of St. Boniface shows in his letter.  A Benedictine monk, the Apostle of Germany guides each Benedictine monk and every disciples of Jesus toward greater generosity:

He shares his hope to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to unbelievers.  He prays for brotherhood with the Benedictine monks of Monte Cassino.  He is devoted to the power of the Mass.  He promises to pray for the needs of the living and the dead.  If we do the same, Christ will also make us greatly generous.

Fourth Week of Advent Meditation

 

Abbot Martin Veth, c. 1940

Abbot Martin Veth, c. 1940

Advent reminder….God will take care of you!

Jesus comes to take care of you. Benedictine monk, Abbot Martin Veth, writes, “‘Throw thy care upon the Lord, and He will have care of you’ (Psalm 54:23). He came to take care of you and all your infirmities and sins, if you will only let Him, believe in Him, and hope in Him. He will do for you. We do him wrong when we mistrust Him, the power of His passion and death, of His Mass and Sacraments. How kind of him to say to us: … don’t worry about anything — count on me and I will look after you. Behold our joy! Faith and hope in him!”

From, Custody of the Heart:  Selected Spiritual Writings of Abbot Martin Veth, O.S.B., Edited by William P. Hyland, PhD., page 14

Third Sunday of Advent Meditation

Abbot Martin Veth, c. 1940

Abbot Martin Veth, c. 1940

This Advent visualize your soul as a crib for the baby Jesus.  Abbot Martin Veth writes, “The Lord is nigh in Holy Communion.  Here our soul becomes another crib of Bethlehem.  ‘He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath life everlasting,’ said our divine Lord, and ‘I will raise him up on the last day.’  Do we believe this?  Then why be solicitous?  Let us have more faith and hope in our prayers, in Mass and the Sacraments.”

From, Custody of the Heart:  Selected Spiritual Writings of Abbot Martin Veth, O.S.B., Edited by William P. Hyland, PhD., page 15

Second Week of Advent Meditation

Abbot Martin Veth, c. 1940

Abbot Martin Veth, c. 1940

Advent during WWII must have been interesting.  Imagine the patience exercised by so many Catholic families as America united, suffered and sacrificed for freedom.  The Benedictine monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey served as military chaplains and suffered in the cause of freedom.  Christ fought for freedom too.  Abbot Martin Veth said Advent is a penitential time, “To will what God wills and because He wills it, this is the essence of patience.  Patience does no relieve us of our natural feelings of aversion, irritation, and indignation, but it controls and rises above these feelings.  Merely to grin and bear suffering in sullen silence with stoic and passive indifference is not Christian patience; we must willingly accept the cross and offer it, as Christ did on Calvary.  We must offer our sufferings, at the foot of the altar.  Our Lord felt the natural impulse to avoid suffering, but He set aside and refused to listen to this feeling:   “Father not my will but Thine be done.…Where does this patience show itself?  It shows itself in the way you put up with the many things of your daily life, sickness, death, war, persecution, mishaps and misfortunes of every kind.”

From, Custody of the Heart:  Selected Spiritual Writings of Abbot Martin Veth, O.S.B., Edited by William P. Hyland, PhD., page 9-10

First Week of Advent Meditation

Abbot Martin Veth's Advent Meditation

Abbot Martin Veth, c. 1940

Abbot Martin Veth invites us to meditate on the first week of Advent in a reflection he delivered in 1942.  The abbot wrote:  “It takes power, the power of an Almighty God, to save us from our sins and infirmities and to bring about a change in us and in all those from whom we pray.  It is hard work to “Cast off the works of darkness” (Epistle), to put to death our vanity, pride, sensuality, sloth and disobedience, and to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” –meekness, humility, obedience, charity, religious perfection, the conversion of our morals.  “Holiness”, says St. Catherine of Genoa, “Consists primarily not in the absence of faults but in the presence of spiritual energy, grace, virtue, faith, charity.””

From, Custody of the Heart:  Selected Spiritual Writings of Abbot Martin Veth, O.S.B., Edited by William P. Hyland, PhD., page 7-8

List of Benedictine Saints

Why is finding a list of Benedictine saints so hard?

Benedictine monks are devoted to the saints.  St. Benedict said prayer is to be elevated on the anniversaries of saints.  “On the feasts of saints, and indeed on all solemn festivals, the Sunday order of celebration is followed” (RB 14:1-2).  A Benedictine monk makes his vows before the assembly and, “God and his Saints” (RB 58:18).

So, why the challenge?

One Benedictine monk explained it this way in an issue of The Tablet (August 29, 1936).  Benedictine saints, blesseds and venerables are from centuries, countries, abbeys and convents so they create a vast list.  What a great problem to have.  Too many Benedictine saints!  To this day, the Ramsgate Benedictine Monks of St. Augustine’s Abbey, England, publish a very handy reference guide on the saints, especially the Benedictines, called The Book of Saints.  For your reference here is the link to the 1936 letter (English spellings) with some minor edits for its presentation below:

The Tablet
August 29, 1936, page 22
http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/article/29th-august-1936/22/benedictine-saints-sir—may-i-also-ask-the-hospit

Sir, -May I also ask the hospitality of your columns to show the continuity of saints in the Benedictine Order? Separate Benedictine lists of this kind could indeed be compiled for almost every Western European nation. The following list is a cosmopolitan selection, in which Englishmen will recognise many of their own countrymen. I suspect that there are a good many people who think that the Benedictines ceased to produce saints sometime during the thirteenth or fourteenth centuries. It is true that, owing to their lack of centralisation, they have been rather slow in uniting to promote the canonisation of their saints; in fact, of those Benedictines who, in recent years have been raised to the altar, several were almost forced upon their confreres. Nevertheless, the fact remains that, even so, the catalogue of Benedictine monks who have died in the odour of sanctity, is not only a very full one, but moreover continues unbroken from the time of St. Benedict to our own day. In the following list, a single date without further comment refers to the Saint’s death. It will be obvious from these that the lives of Benedictine Saints have never ceased to overlap.

c.550, St. Benedict
c.570, St. Simplicius, third abbot of Montecassino
604, St. Gregory the Great
619, St. Lawrence, monk of St. Andrew’s, Rome, second Archbishop of Canterbury
644, St. Paulinus of York and of Rochester
c.665, St. Walbert, third abbot of Luxeuil, under whose abbacy St. Benedict’s Rule was adopted at the abbey
690, St. Benet Biscop
735, St. Bede the Venerable
754, St. Boniface, Apostle of Germany
786, St. Willibald, Bishop of Eichstatt
803, St. Anselm, abbot-founder of Nonantula
826, St. Adhelard, abbot of Corbie
851, St. Paschasius Radbertus
865, St. Ansgar, Apostle of Denmark
884, St. Bertharius, abbot of Montecassino
912, St. Notker Balbulus
942, St. Odo, second abbot of Cluny (from 910 to 1109 all the abbots of this monastery were saints)
988, St. Dunstan
1012, St. Elphege
1050, St. Alpherius, abbot founder of La Cava in Italy. All the abbots of this place from 1011 to 1295-almost three centuries-have been officially declared either Sancti or Beau)
1073, St. Dominic of Silos
1095, St. Wulstan
1109, St. Anselm of Canterbury
1140, St. Malchus, monk of Winchester, Bishop of Lismore
1178, St. Frowin, abbot of Engelberg
1219, St. Donatus, abbot of Montevergine
1243, Bl. Lawrence of Fanello
1248, Bl. Jordan Forzater, monk of Padua
1262, Bl. Beatrix II, nun of St. Lazarus, Ferrara
1267, St. Silvester Guzzolini, abbot of Montefano
1295, St. Thomas of Dover
1302, St. Gertrude the Great
1348, Bl. Bernard Tolomei, abbot-founder of Monteoliveto
1370, Bl. Urban V, Pope
c.1400, St. Sergius of Amalfi, monk of Montecassino
1436, Bl. John Bessand, Celestine
1440, St. Frances of Rome
1469, Bl. Eustochium of Padua, nun of St. Prosdocimo
c.1500, Bl. Raphael of Dalmatia, monk at Barula in Apulia
1510, V. Garcias de Cisneros
1529, Bl. Catherine Bognora
1539, Bl. Richard Whiting
1548, V. Gregory Cortese, Cardinal
1566, V. Louis de BloisBlosius
1582, Bl. Ann Toschel, abbess at Riga
1599, V. (others call him Blessed) Sebastian de Villoslada, abbot of Valvanera
1601, Bl. Mark Barkworth
1610, Bl. John Roberts
1616, Bl. Thomas Tunstall
1632, V. Rupert of Weingarten
1636, V. Placid Christopher Aresti, Archbishop of Buenos Aires
1641, Bl. Ambrose Barlow
1646; Bl. Philip Powell
1670; Bo. Jane Mary Bonomo
1679, Bl. Thomas Pickering
1698, V. Mechtilde of the Bl. Sacrament
1713, -V. Mary Crocifissa Tommasi, nun at Palma, Sicily, sister of Bl. Joseph M. Tommasi, Cardinal, who introduced her Cause
1723, V. Joseph of St. Benedict, a Belgian laybrother of Montserrat
1749, V. Dom Hyppolitus Pugnetti, priest of Subiaco
1792, Bl. Augustin Ambrose Chevreux, last Superior General of the Maurists (the causes of over two hundred other Benedictines, martyred during the French Revolution, have been, or are shortly to be, introduced)
1830, V. Dom Constans Rousseau, professed before 1790
1854, V. John Baptist Muard, abbot-founder of La-Pierrequivire (his cause is proceeding)
1894, Joseph Benedict Dusmet, Cardinal, Archbishop of Catania (his cause has been introduced)
1915, Dom Placid Riccardi, monk of St. Paul outside the Walls (his cause has also been officially introduced)
1922, Sister Fortunata Viti, an Italian lay-sister, who died aged ninety-five years, after seventy-three years of religious life (her cause is being actively proceeded with in the Roman Curia)

Yours faithfully,
St. Augustine’s Abbey,
ROMANUS Rios, O.S.B.,
Ramsgate

Monk Vs Wild

Man Vs Wild is a survival television series hosted by Bear Grylls.  He navigates remote locations and teaches strategies on how to survive in the wild.  The show taps into every man’s primal passion for the wilderness.  St. Benedict would be a fan of Man Vs Wild but he might call it Monk Vs Wild.  Why?

Men originated in the wild.  Benedictine monks originated in the wild.  St. Benedict first lived in a cave.

Like Adam who was made “of dust from the ground” (Genesis 2:7) in the wilderness.  Jesus, the new Adam, battles Satan in the wilderness for 40 days.  St. Benedict lived in the wilderness, a cave and a mountain, when he began the Order of St. Benedict.  Adam was created in the wilderness to shamar the garden.  Genesis 2:15, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till and keep it.”  St. Benedict establishes the Order in the wilderness to shamar, to till and keep, the faith revealed by Jesus Christ and his bride, the Church.

Benedictine monks live in the wilderness.  Benedictine abbeys are often built in mountain and desert places.

Like Moses, Benedictine monks meet God in the wilderness.  Acts 7:31-32, “When forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him [Moses] in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush.  When Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came, ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.’”

Like John the Baptist, Benedictine monks proclaim Jesus Christ from the wilderness.  Mark 1:3, “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

Like Christ, Benedictine monks battle the devil in the wilderness.  Matthew 4:1, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.  And he fasted forty days and forty nights…”

Imitating Christ, Benedictine monks pray in the wilderness.  Luke 5:16, “He withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.”

Dying with Christ, a Benedictine monk offers up his life in the wilderness.  John 3:14, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up.”

St. Benedict makes his monks watchmen in the wilderness.  “Let him keep watch over his own soul, ever mindful of that saying of the Apostle:  He who serves well secures a good standing for himself (1 Tim 3:13).  He must show every care and concern for the sick, children, guest and the poor, knowing for certain that he will be held accountable for all of them on the day of judgment.” –RB31:8-9

A man’s mind is like a wilderness.  You can battle the devil by guarding your thoughts.  St. Benedict says, “Day by day remind yourself you are going to die.  Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.  As soon as wrongful thoughts come into your heart, dash them against Christ and disclose them to your spiritual father.” –RB 4:47-50

St. Benedict would be a fan of Man Vs Wild.  On the other hand, Bear Grylls, would probably be a fan of Monk Vs Wild.  Watch him make the Sign of the Cross in this episode of Man Vs Wild.

Clear A Pathway for the Faith

In Mark 9:14-29 Jesus creates a clear pathway for the faith.  The father of the possessed boy says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  Jesus replies, “‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”  He exorcises the evil spirit and cures the boy.  Jesus creates a clear pathway for the faith.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, St. Benedict also created clear pathways for the faith.  St. Benedict said, “But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments.” (Prologue:49)  That’s what Benedictine monks do.  Benedictine monks create clear pathways for the faith.

St. Benedict, cleared a forest of olive trees that pagans were worshiping when he built Monte Cassino.  The people converted to the Catholic faith.  St. Benedict created a clear pathway for the faith.

St. Boniface, chopped down an oak tree that the German people were worshiping.  They martyred him, and his example created a clear pathway for them to accept Christ.

Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, carried the Gospel from Bavaria, Germany, to Pennsylvania, the New World.  In the American Cassinese tradition, he built a monastery, started schools, served in parishes and sent his monks west to start places like St. Benedict’s Abbey in the geographic heart of the United States.  Archabbot Boniface created a clear pathway for the faith.

Our founding Abbot, Innocent Wolf, brought the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this spot, St. Benedict’s Abbey, Atchison, Kansas, before it was a state….in the middle of a civil war….Abbot Innocent Wolf created a clear pathway for the faith.

We are black monks, meaning our habit is black.  Our tradition of the black habit traces back to our founder, St. Benedict.  As black monks and members of the American Cassinese Congregation, we serve Christ by creating clear pathways for the Gospel.  That is one of our jobs.  We are Benedictine monks who, today, are creating clear pathways for the Gospel in the New Evangelization.  St. Benedict, pray for us.  St. Augustine of Canterbury, pray for us.  St. Boniface, pray for us.  Holy Apostles, pray for us.

The Central Flyway of the United States is a clear pathway traveled by Snow Geese annually.  It extends from Mexico to Kansas to Canada.

The Central Flyway of the United States is a clear pathway traveled by Snow Geese annually. It extends from Mexico to Kansas to Canada.  This was the view from St. Benedict’s Abbey this week.  Like these Snow Geese, we each need clear pathways to travel.