A talented monk performs well in various roles in his monastic community and over time gains the confidence and admiration of his brothers, to the extent that he seems to some of them, (and more and more to himself), an excellent candidate for abbot. The community has an election – and he is not elected abbot. Surprised and hurt by the vote, the monk succumbs to sadness and sadness issues into a kind of sloth or lethargy which lingers for months. This was among a number of graphic illustrations shared by Abbot Austin Murphy by way of inviting the monks to reflect on emotions and how we as monastics are sometimes challenged to integrate them into our intense enclosed life together. Abbot Austin has done advanced scholarship with the writings of St. Augustine and was able to illumine stories of the actual human struggle of monks with profound, coherent and ancient theological insights. Besides conferences offered each morning after Lauds, our retreat master met with monks individually to discuss personal experiences. Cistercians, who are reformed Benedictines, find we often benefit from encounters with our Benedictine brothers more involved in active ministry. Abbot Austin’s experience as a school teacher imbues his monastic spirituality with a human warmth and realism which was appreciated by the New Melleray monks. He himself commented more than once how he was restored and deeply appreciated the silence and solitude of New Melleray Abbey.
How does practice of the virtues inform and support a life of contemplation? This is the subject of our Guest Lecturer this week, Fr. Mark O’Keefe, O.S.B. of St. Meinrad Archabbey. Distinctive as a Benedictine monk who specializes in the spirituality of the two great Carmelite Doctors of the church, St. Theresa of Avila, and St. John of the Cross, Fr. Mark argues that the insights of these two great saints are a gift to the whole church and all who desire to attain to intimate union with God. The New Melleray monks were impressed by certain insights of Theresa which reflect those of St. Bernard, the spiritual father of our own Cistercian order. Theresa taught there are three indispensable virtues a person must exercise consistently in order for the heart to be prepared for intimacy with God in contemplation: Detachment, Humility, and Love of Neighbor. Fr. Mark emphasized that the soul is formed to be a friend of God by means of many, many choices, one choice at a time, our accumulated choices making us the person we are. Making our own, these acquired virtues, God responds by gifting us with the infused virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. Thus we arrive at the garden of contemplation by a kind of dance of passive and active cooperation with the infinite God. Monks reflecting on these mysteries feel a renewed gratitude for a way of life that supports our own exploration of these enduring mysteries.
On September 4 at 6:30 in the evening, Professor David G. Rethwisch PhD will speak to the monastic community on “Science and Faith at a Secular university.” Professor Rethwisch has aPhD in Chemical Engineering from the University of Wisconsin and a B.S. degree in Chemistry from the University of Iowa, where he currently teaches. Every Monday of odd-numbered weeks, as the light of dawn begins coloring all the windows in church, the monks are heard singing: “For I own all the beasts of the forest, beasts in their thousands on my hills. I know all the birds in the sky, all that moves in the field belongs to me.” The Good we monks pray to is the God of creation who not only brings all that exists into being out of nothing, but “knows” all that he has created to be good; the birds in the sky and everything else. Our interest in science is informed by this awareness monks cultivate of God’s presence in His creation and our desire to understand how God works in all the events unfolding around us. Professor Rethwisch’s thoughts concerning the relationship between faith and science is of particular interest to us at a time when many of our contemporaries have become so enamored of the insights and acheivements of science that they over look the Divine source and Mind from which creation arose in the beginning.
From July 16 to 19, Abbot Mark and Brother Nicholas attended a colloquium on the “Charter of Charity” at “Our Lady of Dallas” Cistercian monastery in Dallas Texas. The event was conducted in celebration of the 900th anniversary of the Carter of Charity. Thirty guests from twelve countries and four continents gathered for several days of conferences and informal sharing among participants. Speakers included superiors, monks, nuns and lay experts. Participants discussed the history of the Cistercian Order, as well as its spirituality and theology. The “Charter of Charity”, written by St. Stephen Harding in 1119 stated as its purpose to elucidate “by what covenant, or in what manner, indeed, with what charity their monks throughout abbeys in various parts of the world, though separated in body, could be indissolubly knit together in mind. They considered that this decree should be called the Charter of Charity, because, averting the burdensome levying of all exactions, its statue pursues only charity and the advantage of souls in things human and divine.” Superiors of the Order of Cistercians and of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, (Trappists), both offered updates on the situations of their monasteries. Our Abbot offered reflections on the present condition and future of Trappist communities in the U.S. Abbot Mark, on his return remarked especially on the gracious and lively hospitality offered by the monks of Our Lady of Dallas and how well organized and conducted the colloquium was.
From May 13 to 16, Fr. Steve Avella, Professor of History at Marquet University, offered lectures to our monastic community. Fr. Avella’s area of expertise is the study of the complex interactions of the Catholic church with communities of the western United States. He has been a full member of the faculty since 1991. Fr. Avella began by reviewing the history of the Catholic church in America with emphasis on the drama of Irish immigration and notable prelates like Bishop John Carrol who gave American Catholicism a distinctive character. He then accompanied us through the controversy concerning “Americanism” which was pointedly challenged by pope Leo XIII. The “Modernist” controversy and then the era of “bricks and mortar” bishops in the 40’s and 50’s were described in colorful terms and at times related to challenges faced by American Catholics in our own day. Fr. Avella has great appreciation for our Trappist communities in this country and has visited several of them. He concluded his lecture series by inviting the monks to reflect on the history of our own monastery with confidence concerning the beauty and importance of our monastic witness for the future.
Beginning on Thursday, the community will host Professor Dr. Brian Patrick McGuire, Professor Emeritus History of Roskilde University for three days. Professor Emeritus History of Roskilde University for three days. Professor McGuire has a B.A. in history and Latin from the University of California at Berkely and became a Fulbright Scholar at Balliol College, Oxford University, England where he has granted a D. Phil. in history. He emigrated 1971 to Denmark and joined the Institute for History, Copenhagen University in 1972. In 1966 McGuire moved to Roskilde University, as professor in medieval history. During his stay he will offer talks on questions such as: “Who was St. Bernard?”, “Is it possible to make use of Bernard today?”, and “What have I accomplished in ten years of writing “An Intimate Biography of Bernard?”. Such lecture series are part of what we call the “on-going formation” of the monks of New Melleray. Our vow of conversion implies a commitment to continuous intellectual “conversion” and deepening of our understanding of the Catholic and Cistercian tradition. Over the course of many years, Dr. McGuire has become a friend of our Trappist communities in the U.S. who have hosted him as a lecturer again and again.
The community of New Melleray is currently making our annual retreat from March 24 to 30. This year our Retreat Director is Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville Texas. Bishop Flores, ordained a priest in 1988, has been a teacher of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Galveson Houston Archdiocese, as well as Director of Formation at St. Mary’s Seminary. Made Auxiliary Bishop of Detroit in 2006, he was made Bishop of Brownsville by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Bishop Flores, educated by Cistercian monks in Dallas, has a longstanding love and appreciation for Cistercian monasticism. The monks are being offered spiritual conferences each morning from 8:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. and invited to sign up to talk to the Bishop privately if we wish. Among the thought-provoking reflections the Bishop has offered the monks: What is the cause of the positive hatred for poverty we note in so many of our contemporaries, what but the recognition that poverty limits the options of those who believe all options should be open to them and that wealth and technology can make them so? But “survival of the fittest”, is not the pattern of human salvation revealed by Christ. Rather, we might look to the mysteries of the life of Mary as revealing the essence of Christian salvation: Mary who was immaculately conceived, who bore a son as a virgin, who shared her son’s agony at the foot of the cross of Christ, who witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, who was assumed into heaven and who the church now looks to as the woman “clothed with the sun” The bishop likewise cautioned us concerning the temptation to a certain “objectivity” by which the Christian stands back and observes the suffering of others with a stony heart; a heart unwilling to let that suffering be felt and become a motivation to act in love. Finally, he ventured a definition of the “New Evangelization” as grappling with this question: “How to invite to the heavenly banquet a world full of people who prefer to eat alone?” The monks are most appreciative of the Powerful theological and spiritual reflections Bishop Flores is sharing with us. who is offering us a precious glimpse of the life of the larger church and of our own insertion in that church as enclosed contemplative monks.
From October 22 to 24, Fr. John Markey, O.P. offered the monks of New Melleray several conferences on the theology of the Holy Spirit. Among some of the more interesting “take-aways” – an interesting and helpful distinction between natural gifts and charisms. Charisms, it was pointed out, are natural gifts taken up by the Holy Spirit with a person’s consent and employed in the service of God through the members of Christ’s body, the church. Fr. Markey is a professor at the Oblate School of Theology where he offers classes on spirituality and theology. He is the author of several books including “Who is God? Catholic Perspectives Through the Ages.” Trappist monks take a vow of “conversion of manners” and consider spiritual conferences such as these a concrete way of living out our promise to God to cooperate with his grace to conform us more and more to Christ under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
On October 4 a number of monks of New Melleray will take part in an all morning intensive workshop on leadership in the context of our monastic tradition and way of life. Professor Dan Ebener, teaches at St. Ambrose University in Davenport Iowa, is known for his “Masters in Organizational Leadership” program. As he has done for many years in collaboration with religious communities, Professor Ebener will conduct six workshops over the course of the next several months offering training in leadership skills. The morning will be spent reading scripture, reflecting on God’s Word concerning leadership in the church, instruction from Professor Ebener, and exercises to practice leadership skills. All monks in the community under the age of 71 are asked to take part and any others in the community interested in taking part are invited to do so. These workshops fulfill one point of our five year Strategic Plan by which we committed ourselves to educating and training the brothers in the area of leadership.
Dr. Michael E. Moore is an Associate Professor of Medieval and European History at the University of Iowa. This weekend he will present to us a couple of conferences on the philosopher Emmanuel Levinas. This evening’s conference is titled “Emmanuel Levinas: His Life and Philosophy of Ethics.” Tomorrow evening’s conference is titled “Emmanuel Levinas: His Bible and Talmud Commentaries.”
Dr. Moore received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1993. At Michigan he studied with Czeslaw Milosz and Hans Kung.
Dr. Moore’s research centers on ecclesiastical, legal, and scholarly traditions of Europe from late antiquity through the Carolingian Empire. His work encompasses the history of medieval politics, the history of scholarship, the papacy, liturgy, royal law, canon law, and the “history of history.”
from Constitutions and Statutes: of the Monks and Nuns of the Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance
C. 58 – Continuing Formation
After solemn profession and throughout their lives, the brothers continue to learn “the philosophy of Christ”. Continuing formation is to be made available to the whole community … based on the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Cistercian patrimony and is to draw from the riches of biblical, patristic, liturgical, theological and spiritual sciences.