Feast of All Benedictine Saints

Scripture Readings: Is 61:9-11, Jn 15:1-8 

In the history of New Melleray there are monks whose holiness has enriched our Benedictine/Cistercian heritage. This morning I want to remember two great men of prayer who lived and died here not so long ago. 

The first is Br. Conrad, a monk of New Melleray for 39 years. When growing up in County Cork, Ireland, he liked to walk barefoot through every puddle on the dirt roads, but he didn’t like to attend Stations of the Cross as was the Irish custom, especially on Good Friday.  His sister reproached him saying, “Even crippled people go to Church today!” That boy became a monk of deep prayer.  When guests asked him for advice he gave it in two words: “Pray more.”  In 1947, an article appeared in the Denver Register saying, “Br. Conrad of the Trappists of New Melleray Abbey has an idea that may save many souls. He suggests that the act of contrition be printed on the back of every airplane seat, so that when disaster threatens passengers will have an opportunity to express sorrow for their sins.”  Goofy, perhaps, but Br. Conrad was a branch on the true vine.  He had his eyes fixed on heaven.

The second monk is Br. Joachim, the humble, happy guest house porter, who was always ready with a story to tell for the amusement of guests. In the days when women were not allowed inside the monastic enclosure he teased them saying it was because they couldn’t keep silence. Once a group of women were gathered around him, talking and enjoying his company. Passing by, another monk took in the familiar scene and said, “Br. Joachim, blessed are you among women.” One of Brother’s favorite stories was about a lady named Mrs. Hunt who found $100 in a money clip on the church floor. Helen asked the pastor to announce it next Sunday. So, after his sermon, Father said, “Whoever lost a money clip in church last Sunday can go to hell and hunt [Helen Hunt] for it.”  Br. Joachim was a fruitful branch on the true vine. He radiated the joy of being in love with Christ.   

Today is the feast day of these two monks, along with all the other monastic saints of our Orders.  May they intercede for each one of us, so that we will also come to share Christ’s life in the kingdom of heaven.




Feast of All Benedictine Saints

[Scripture Readings: Is 61:9-11; Jn 15:1-8]

Today we honor all the monks and nuns who became saints by following the Rule of St. Benedict.

St. Bernard writes, “I think there is no one in the monastery who would not be reverenced as a saint and esteemed as an angel in the world, if he did there a quarter of what he is doing here; and yet here he is rebuked every day for his negligence,”1 St. Bernard goes on to describe monastic life as a process of “being put to death all day long by many fasts, by frequent labors, by vigils above measure, by sorrow for sin and multifold temptation.”

But living the Benedictine way of life is not only a path of renunciation. It is also a path of shared holiness. Charles Dumont writes that a basic theme in the works of St. Aelred of Rievaulx is that “what belongs to each one personally belongs to all, and all thing belong to each one.” This theme occurs many times in St Aelred's writings. In his third sermon on St. Benedict he writes:

“Each one of us has his unique gift from God, one this but another that. One person can make an offering of more work; another , more vigils, another more fasting, another more prayer; and another more lectio or meditation. Our legislator commands: No one shall say that anything is his own but all things are common to all. This is to be understood not only of our cowls and robes but far more of our strengths and spiritual gifts. … whatever anyone does belongs to all and whatever all do belongs to everyone.”2

Once a famous organist was giving a recital on a tracker organ that had no electricity, The bellows had to be pumped by hand, and a young boy was engaged to do this. Everything was going along fine. During a pause between pieces, the boy looked around the side of the organ and whispered, “We're doing pretty good, aren't we?” The organist objected, “What do you mean by 'we'?”. A little while later, in the middle of Bach's beautiful Fugue in D Minor, the music stopped. Then the organist saw the face of the young lad smiling at him from around the corner of the organ, and the boy said, “Now you know what I meant by 'we'!”

The glory of the organist belongs to the young boy as well, but more than that, the organist depends on the young boy for the exercise of his gifts. So, too, our strengths and spiritual gifts belong to everyone else in the community, but more than that, each one of us depends on others for the ability to exercise the gifts we have.

How beautiful it is when we dwell together in unity, sharing all we have with one another, even our merits, and humbly rejoicing in our dependence on others for all the good that grace has made it possible for us to accomplish as sinners on the way to sanctity!

1. St. Bernard, Sermons, vol. 1, Commentary on Psalm 90, Carroll Press, Westminster, 1950, p. 158.
or, Lent with St. Bernard, Mowbrays, London, 1954, p. 29.

2. Aelred of Rievaulx on Community Life, The Liturgical Sermons, Third Sermon on St. Benedict 9-11; Cistercian Fathers Series, #58, Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo, 2001, p. 149-150.

Feast of All Benedictine Saints

[Scripture Readings: Is 61:9-11; Jn 15:1-8 ]

St. Bernard has said that when we honor the saints, we add nothing to their glory or their happiness. They see the face of God constantly and so need nothing from us. We honor them for our good. Today, we honor the men and women who have gone before us in living by the Rule of St. Benedict. We honor them for at least two reasons: 1) it should give us confidence in this way of life, and, 2) it provides inspiration for our perseverance. The vine and branches gospel selected for today particularly emphasizes the need for inspiration (taking in the Spirit) for perseverance.

Jesus is the vine; we are the branches. Apart from Him—apart from the nurturance, the empowerment of His Spirit—our monastic life is bound to flounder. St. Benedict knew this and designed a way of life that requires us to live deliberately, to live intentionally toward remaining on the vine. As we recall Benedictine saints we recall the importance of the example of those who have gone before us. The example of others will keep us on the vine if we let them inspire us. To do this we must admire them as they admire God. That will help us persevere. To persevere is to live toward a goal. It is to evaluate all of our experiences according to its contribution to the goal. If we don’t admire them we will resent their example and the principle’s that guided them. We will downplay the meaningful and settle for the practical. We will, at best, endure monastic life. To endure is to put up with what cannot be avoided.

Many of our saints have done great things in history. Men and women like Sts. Anselm, Meinrad, Gertrude, and Bernard, had great impact on their times. They are certainly to be admired. Others like Joseph Cassant, Rafael, Cyprian Michael Tansi, and Gabriella were examples of simple perseverance… “simple” in the sense of focused on One Thing, not in the sense of “ease.”

Each of these—like each of us—had a “demon“, a sensitivity that hounded them most of their lives. They couldn’t think it away or will it away. It would have been easier for them to leave the monastery and go back to the world where they could either indulge their demon or lose themselves in diversions. But they persevered instead.

So it seems they went to God awkwardly. So do I! I like to think that most of us do that: we go to God awkwardly. We fall, get up, fall, wonder if we should get up, get up, and go on and on like that. But however awkwardly and ungracefully, we do persevere. These examples of awkward, ungraceful perseverance—in spite of personal demons—have been a great source of inspiration to me. These are monks and nuns I admire. They manifest the workings of grace; its dependability and gift of resilience.

What makes perseverance—whether in marriage or religious life—so awkward, so hard? Why is perseverance the work of grace, rather than a strong, well-directed will?

My own experience is that it is hard to renounce the defense of the ego. Before I began the spiritual journey, it was not second nature to me to admit my shortcomings… and then be willing to change in directions about which I am clueless. In the Christian life this is called repentance. It is at this that we persevere. As Abba Ammonas said, “Repentance is like a fiery circle encompassing us that protects us from sin.” It prevents complacency and even love of our shortcomings. It makes us think about our lives the way God thinks about them rather than the way humans do. Deep repentance—the kind we are called to and that the saints exemplify—is prompted by one or both of two experiences: That of our own sins or the feeling that one cannot live up to the greatness of God’s calling. It is these two experiences that we do awkwardly. But they are crucial because the first asks us to consider what we have set our hearts on; the second asks us to be decisive about what we will set our hearts on. Facing up to these or avoiding them is the difference between perseverance and endurance.

Making mistakes will not shut out the sunlight of the Spirit; defending our mistakes will shut out the sunlight of the Spirit.

Feast of All Benedictine Saints

[Scripture Readings: Is 61:9-11; Jn 15:1-8]

Fr. StephenToday we celebrate all the monks and nuns who became saints by following the Benedictine and Cistercian way of life. The story of one of these saints, a branch on the true vine, deserves to be remembered. He was a rich young man named Henri Mauriffe who heard the call of Christ and followed him.

Henri was a wealthy French count who traveled to Ireland in 1832. Count Mauriffe was 24 years old when he visited the newly founded monastery of Mount Melleray in county Waterford.

Sixty-four monks had been expelled from Melleray Abbey in France by an anti-clerical government. They were building a new monastery in Ireland but were extremely poor. A life of poverty and simplicity Henri Mauriffe was so impressed by their practice of the Benedictine-Cistercian way of life and their love for each other that he asked to join them and was accepted. After making the necessary preparations he was like another Abraham, leaving his own country, his father’s house, and his native language and customs to become a monk in a foreign land. He was 26 years old when he took the name Br. Julius, and he gave his wealth to the struggling community of Mount Melleray so they could complete their building.

Mount Melleray,  IrelandSixteen years later, in 1850, Abbot Bruno asked Br. Julius if he would go to the struggling foundation of New Melleray in Iowa. He was one of six monks chosen to take the place of the six monks who died from cholera a few months earlier when they were traveling up the Mississippi river. He knew it was a dangerous journey and a much harder life than he was living at Mount Melleray, but Br. Julius said yes. For the second time in his life he left everything to follow Christ—his adopted home and country and the security of a well established monastery. By traveling across the Atlantic ocean and sailing up the Mississippi River into the heart of a very foreign land he knew that he would never see his relatives again. In place of a beautiful stone abbey he would have to live in a small wooden monastery exposed to the bitter cold and fierce winds that swept across the Iowa countryside in winter.

During a very rough voyage across the Atlantic ocean an eighteen year old sailor slipped overboard and drowned. One of the monks, Br. Hilarion, fell and broke his collar bone because of the severe pitching of the ship during three weeks of extremely stormy weather. Br. Julius fell sick for the entire six week journey on the ocean. The oldest monk, Br. Francis, who was 63, became so ill he died and was buried at sea. Finally, they reached the Mississippi delta and began sailing to New Orleans. But a sudden storm with the force of a hurricane tore the sails away and drove the ship back into the Gulf of Mexico where it nearly sank. When calm returned the ship had to be towed to shore and up to New Orleans.

The first monastery built by the monks of New Melleray Br. Julius and the monks with him finally reached the humble wooden building of New Melleray eight weeks after they left Ireland. He was 42 years old, and lived another 13 years in great poverty. Twice in his life time, he showed that a powerful, rich young man of noble birth could also be a wise young man and follow Christ with his whole heart as a Cistercian monk living under a rule and an abbot in far from ideal conditions.

Without the wisdom and love taught to us by St. Benedict and handed on to us by Saints Robert, Alberic, and Stephen there would be no New Melleray, no Mount Melleray in Ireland, no Melleray Abbey in France; no Mississippi Abbey, or Wrentham, or Glencairn; no foundations at Ava in Missouri, or Tautra in Norway.
We have received a great gift from our father St. Benedict. Today we express our gratitude, and ask for the grace of perseverance, and for the generosity of saintly monks like Br. Julius Mauriffe.