Monday, July 11, 2022

July 11: The Solemnity of St. Benedict


Today the Benedictine world celebrates the memory of Our Holy Father Benedict.  He appears on the daily Catholic liturgical calendar as an optional memorial, but for us here at the Abbey, this day is a solemnity.  We invite you to join us in spirit as we give thanks for St. Benedict, for his Rule, for his wisdom, and for his constant care for all of us who live under his tutelage and patronage, both monastics and oblates.

 A key part of St. Benedict’s legacy is his vision of a life of prayer and his invitation to all of us to take part in it.  We have only to read his chapters on lectio divina and the Divine Office to recognize what a large portion of the monastic day is devoted to prayer.  Oblates cannot, of course, follow St. Benedict’s schedule, but oblates and monastics alike are encouraged to make regular prayer a serious part of our lives.  Commentators often note that St. Benedict tells very little about how to pray. He describes the appropriate attitude with which to pray, especially (but not only) when we pray the Divine Office: “1We believe that the divine presence is everywhere and that in every place the eyes of the Lord are watching the good and the wicked (Prov 15:3). 2But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office. 3We must always remember, therefore, what the Prophet says: Serve the Lord with fear (Ps 2:11), 4and again, Sing praise wisely (Ps 46[47]:8); 5and, In the presence of the angels I will sing to you (Ps 137[138]:1). 6Let us consider, then, how we ought to behave in the presence of God and his angels, 7and let us stand to sing the psalms in such a way that our minds are in harmony with our voices” (RB 19).  But he offers no instruction about a particular method of prayer beyond is general references to “reading,” which we presume refers to lectio(See Note 1 below)

 St. Benedict knew and belonged to the rich tradition of writing about prayer by the ancient Christian writers and, assumed his monks were also conversant with that literature, so he referred to it often but did not repeat it. (See Note 2 below) What he gives more specifically is instruction not in how to prayer specifically but in how to live a life that frames and inspires prayer.  A great deal of the Rule teaches us how to live with others in the spirit of the gospel.  He encourages respect, charity, concern for others, and especially the pursuit of peace.  He describes, in other words, a life governed by the two-fold law of love of God and neighbor set forth by Jesus (Matthew 22:36-40) as “the one thing necessary,” as it were.  In such a context, we will find it possible to grow more and more deeply into the habit of God-focused prayer that seeks a personal relationship with God but also the well-being of the world around us.  It’s a bit hard to contemplate the person and life of Christ, whom we are to prefer beyond all else, when are focused on our own wants, our own gripes, and our own interests. We can grow into the traditional monastic goal of unceasing prayer (a goal not reserved for monks but enjoined on all Christians)  because our energies will not be sapped by mutual competition for power and reputation,  internal grumbling about what is wrong with everyone else,  and me, me, me!  St. Benedict offers ways and means  to switch to "you and You".

 As we very well know, some of the specific ways and means St. Benedict describes for reaching this end have changed over the centuries, both in monasteries and in oblate life, but the essential gospel framework for living in growing love for God and neighbor has not.  And that perennial vision of life we still find in St. Benedict’s Rule and the tradition of spirituality it has fostered and maintained.

 Today is a good day to give thanks to God for the gift of his wisdom!


 Note 1: Note that in RB 19, St, Benedict does speak about praying with humility and brevity:” 2How much more important, then, to lay our petitions before the Lord God of all things with the utmost humility and sincere devotion. 3We must know that God regards our purity of heart and tears of compunction, not our many words.  4Prayer should therefore be short and pure, unless perhaps it is prolonged under the inspiration of divine grace. 5In community, however, prayer should always be brief; and when the superior gives the signal, all should rise together.”  The phrasing suggests he is referring primarily to prayers of petition. 

Note 2:  Annotated editions of the Rule such as the large red RB1980 provide references to the many works upon which  St. Benedict seems to have drawn.

Copyright 2020  by the Abbey of St. Walburga


Saturday, May 28, 2022

The Ascension


On Sunday, May 29, many dioceses in the United States celebrate the Solemnity of the Ascension.  Others keep to the original tradition of celebrating the Solemnity of the Ascension on the Thursday prior to the Sixth Sunday of Easter, which would have been last week.  The Archdiocese of Denver, where the Abbey is located, follows the custom of celebrating the Ascension on Sunday.


The Ascension always seems to me to carry a small note of sadness among all the alleluia’s.  Jesus’ disciples have spent a long, intense time with him since they were first called.  At his invitation, they have been in his company almost constantly.  Even after his death and resurrection, he has spent time with them personally, although we have no real count of how much.  Now they are gathered with him for the last time on the Mount of Olives near Bethany for a final farewell as he is taken from their sight by a cloud.  The cloud calls up memories of the cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt and through their long desert years to the Promised Land.  It is a powerful biblical image of the Presence of God.  In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus’ final words to the disciples is this promise: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).


During the time between Jesus’ resurrection and his ascension, he has in fact taught them how to see and hear him differently even when he is no longer visibly present among them.  He warned a weeping Mary Magdalen when she wanted to cling to him in the garden that she will have to let him go now.  But, “apostle to the apostles,” as she is now known, she would also be included in his promise to be always present, even though not in his familiar bodily form.  He didn’t explain, but when he met the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, he gave them two ways in which he would be with them in the future:  in the Word of God—which he taught them to hear differently now, as assurances of his presence and love—and in the breaking of the bread—which the Church from the time of the Book of Acts has celebrated faithfully.  To St. Paul he broke open in a new way the command to watch how we treat people because “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). To St. Paul the risen Christ explained, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5)  St. Paul himself broadened this into his vivid (and, to be, honest, humorous) description of all of us actually (and really) baptized into the Body of Christ ( 1 Cor 12:12=36; Gal 3:28).


The scene of the Ascension gives us to imagine that Christ has left, but in fact he never has.  True to his promise, he has always been with us and always will be.  But the New Testament passages quoted above set out our post-Easter agenda:  to look for him and listen for his voice (RB Prologue 1!) not in long-ago Palestine but in our own household, our own workplaces, our own streets, our own Churches now—and also, painfully, in the all those places torn apart by disease, violence and war.  Ukraine remains  a continuing vivid example, but, as I write, so does the devastated community of Uvalde, Texas, the scene of the most recent school shooting.


Whatever the scene, whatever the joys and sorrows, whatever the welcome peace of humdrum realities, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ is with us always!  It is in the context of this faith that we are called to live the wisdom of St. Benedict and share it with one another.  Alleluia!


Copyright 2022, Abbey of St. Walburga

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Easter Mystery of the Cross: Holy Week 2022


Today, as I write, it is Holy Thursday.  This evening the holy Three Days of Easter open with a focus on Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, on the eve of his crucifixion.  The Three Days (Triduum) moves from darkness into glorious light at the Easter Vigil, where we proclaim Christ our Light.

 But the darkness between, filled as it is with Jesus’ intense suffering amid his disciples’ desertion, the trials before Herod and Pilate, the way of the cross that follows, and finally that terrible time when the darkness seems to win out at last.  As Jesus hangs on the Cross, “From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. And about three o’clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:47).   

 That apparent triumph of darkness over even the Light of the World, Jesus Christ himself, seems appallingly relevant as we read the news of the escalating war in Ukraine, with its horrifying violence.  As people and families are subjected to wrenching separations, hideous torture and agonizing death, we are shaken by the darkness that covers the land, with no immediate relief in sight.  And the victims with and for whom we agonize are only a part of the picture of humanity wiped out.  The perpetrators are the other part.  “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” is prayer we might say with and for victims and perpetrators alike. 

 Those who inspire our prayer and energize it might seem far away and long ago.  Millennia have passed since the events of that first Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday in Jerusalem.  And thousands of miles stand between us and the war in Ukraine.  But a line from the Catholic Church’s Good Friday liturgy seems to me to call us to our very real responsibility in the midst of this tragedy: “We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”  Please bear with me as I try to spell out at least bits of the mystery that is really beyond words.

 The Triduum condenses into intense, powerful confrontation with the truth that the Cross, instrument of horrible torture and death, is in fact a not an end to the human story—either Jesus’ or ours or our brothers’ and sisters’ in Ukraine and all other places of violence and war. The Cross is a doorway that opens out into unending life at its full.  At the Easter Vigil, as the lighted Candle, with the sign of the cross drawn upon it enters the darkened Church, the Catholic liturgy invites us we to hail Christ, the light of the world. Those of you from other churches may experience this differently, but it is nevertheless the backbone of Easter prayer for all believers. It is God’s promise that through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the closed container of mortality to which we seem to be confined is broken open into a life we cannot yet even imagine.

 It seems to me that we who acclaim that truth in the safety of our churches and our homes bear a responsibility to carry it into all those places, like Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia, where death seems to conquer all (and in so doing, though we rarely say it out loud, make all our life’s efforts pointless in the end).  The death of faith is death indeed.  The task seems Quixotic—Quixote being that deluded old knight who tilted at windmills, mistaking them for jousting opponents.  And it would be, if it were not for our belief that we, all of us, everywhere, are together members of Christ.  St. Paul assures us that whatever happens to one member of the Body affects the whole body (see 1 Corinthians 12:24-26).  So, if we, even amid our securities, hold fiercely to the claim that the Light of Christ triumphs over every darkness in the end, we are surely feeding that truth into the whole Body, even those trapped in unendurable nigh and, in so doing, offering them the strength to abide.  And, if only at moments, abide without returning hatred for hatred, drawing however briefly and slightly from Jesus on the cross praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

 Before those of you who have known combat from any perspective--military, medical, chaplaincy— or have done policing tell me this will do nothing for those who live in the neighborhoods become battlefield (and I honor your experience and your courage in embracing it), I own again that it seems Quixotic.  And all of us who have suffered the dark streets of suffering and loss that are not confined to battlefields, can readily agree.  But faith deals in realities we believe exist but cannot see, taste, touch or feel.  And the reality of the Cross as ever-open doorway from awful night into glorious day is the most important of them all.

 So as we sit, stand and kneel in our churches during the holy days ahead of us, or as we sit before the daily news reports, let us at least dare Quixote’s venture and pray with all our strength: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross, you have redeemed the world!”  And let us pass it on through the invisible strands that bind us inexorably to all those everywhere held tightly in the unconquerable love of God made flesh in Jesus Christ.


©2022 Abbey of St. Walburga

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Lent's Best Weapon


The question asked by Lent is often read as, “What will you give up this year?”  St. Benedict focuses on this question when he directs us: “let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting” (RB 49:7).  Most of us have memories of caffeine free, sugar free, or snack free Lent, with accompanying withdrawal pains—not all of them physical!  Refusing our own stubborn self-will whatever its little heart desires, even craves, is a salutary exercise, open to expansion into other areas of life such as habits of judgement, criticism, and complaint.  And, of course, their often-hidden companion, gossip.

 However, I would like to suggest a different image for self-denial.  We do not have to look very far or very deep to discover the issue of “too-muchness” in our lives and in the world around us: too much food and drink, too much money, too much “stuff,” too much activity, too much of everything except time!  Lurking behind all this too-muchness is the specter of unchosen deprivation: too little food and drink in countless places at home and abroad, too little money for necessities, too little clothing, too little shelter, too little education, too little employment.  Lent does not forget these harsh realities:  one of the strong traditional practices of the season is alms-giving in all its forms. 

 However, for many of us “too-muchness” deafens us to the sufferings of those who have too little.  Lent sharpens our attention on what hinders generosity at its root: the tiny world of me and my personal too-muchness in all its forms.  For Benedictines, devoted to and defined by the Scriptures as we are, St. Paul points to a powerful tool for addressing correction imbalance in ourselves, before we try to take on the world’s problem and our own contribution to them.  After reminding us that the real battle in which the cosmos is immersed is not with flesh and blood but with the powers of evil that so often manipulate humanity to its mutual destruction.  The monastic tradition, since all the way back in its desert days, has always taken that battle very seriously.    And so must we.  St. Paul proposes a list of armor and weapons that is well worth pondering in this season (Ephesians 6:10-17, to which I would add vs.18), but among them is one that particularly strikes my attention: “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

 The Letter to the Hebrews adds: “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12). Further, it penetrates “between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and [and is] able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (also v. 12),  Surely at one time or another, all of us, in the course of our lectio or praying of the Hours have had the experience of being cut to the heart by a word, a phrase, an image, a story from this bottomless well of life that is always at our fingertips.  As we travel through Lent, we can make ample use of this very powerful weapon, not of our own design but of God’s, to cut through the layers of our life, exposing various cherished bits of too-muchness, and, deeper, exposing what needs or desires drive us to accumulate them.  We may sometimes want to make use of those needs and desires as excuses—hark back to Adam and Eve in the garden, hiding in the bushes and defending their “little” dietary transgression by all sorts of finger-pointing (Gn 3)!  It can be very enlightening and empowering to uncover the deeper reasons for our too-muchness in our past, but translating reasons into excuses is just finding a better set of bushes to hide in.  The Sword will free us by cutting away all the bushes, if can find the courage to see ourselves naked, stripped of all our subterfuges, disguises and, yes, excuses.

 This Sword comes with no instruction manual.  There is only one real instruction we need in the process of our Lenten conversion from slavery in all its varied and sometimes subtle forms to the freedom of the Spirit.  It’s the one St. Benedict himself puts in our hands: “Listen!”  Not, of course, with the ears attached to the sides of our head, but with “the ears of the heart”.   While sharp objects are not generally recommended for dealing with wax-deafened ears, the Sword that is God’s Word cannot be bettered as a remedy against self-chosen deafness! 

Try it!  You might not like it—I often don’t! —but you will certainly come to hear more and more clearly St. Benedict’s encouraging words: “What, dear brothers and sisters, is more delightful than this voice of the Lord calling to us? See how the Lord in his love shows us the way of life…. Do not be daunted immediately by fear and run away from the road that leads to salvation. It is bound to be narrow at the outset. 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"  (RB Prologue 19-20.48-49).

Oh, and when you take up this sword in the form of your Bible or book of Hours, remember that it is “living and active” because the Word is not primarily a book.   The Word of God is a Person, the Person we are called to prefer above all else:  Jesus Christ (see John 1:1-14).  

©2022, Abbey of St. Walburga


Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Lent 2022


Lent is upon us.  Ash Wednesday is March 2.

Every year, Lent looks toward Easter, when we hope to celebrate what the prophet Micah promised “the sun of justice will arise with healing in its wings” (Mal 3:20). In RB 49, the chapter of the Rule dealing with Lent, St. Benedict describes that moment as one of “joy”.

This year, neither daybreak nor joy is much apparent as we continue to live under the dark clouds of pandemic and now war.  Of course, St. Benedict and his monks knew long-ago versions of both.  But then as now, Easter light—not a “thing” but the person of Christ, the “light of the world”—refused to succumb to the darkness of danger and fear (see John 12:12). As St. John assures us, that light has never yielded to the suffocating clouds of long nights like the ones we are living through (see ; John 1:3-5).

The stories which lie ahead of us in the Easter gospels suggest that when the risen Christ appeared to his disciples, whether the grieving Mary Magdalene in the garden near the tomb or the two disheartened disciples on the road to Emmaus, what he gave them was a new way to see and to hear in the wake of what seemed so disastrous a death.  As you likely remember, Mary Magdalene mistook him for a gardener (a very biblical mistake, as we will explore some other time) and was forced to see him differently.  The disciples, who are never named, were baffled by the conflicting news of his death and his startling appearance, alive, to various people.  As he walked with them, he set out again the meaning of the Scriptures till their hearts burned with new life—and fire gave light as well as warmth on their cold, dark journey (see John 20:11-18; Luke 24:13-32). .

In RB 49, St. Benedict offers us various traditional ways of refocusing our attention and centering it on the living Christ, in line with his admonitions to prefer nothing to that Christ, the epicenter of love.  Reading the Word with renewed fidelity will banish the darkness that leads us into a confusion of priorities caused by so many uncertainties about the future.  Compunction of heart—the traditional monastic description of a door opening onto the road to conversion—allows us to regret and walk away from all the forms of selfishness inspired by fear and loss such as those that still surround us.  Cutting down on some of the ways we comfort ourselves without reference to the love of God and neighbor frees us to see more clearly what really does matter when we look with Gospel-washed eyes. All of these simple tools ready us to see the reality of the presence of the risen Christ burning around us and within us, clouded but undimmed by the suffering that seems to prevail over all else at times like this.  Lent offers us an invitation and concrete ways to look again, see again, and strengthen one another in faith, hope and love, despite the terrible damage wrought by the despair caused by sickness, violence, power struggles, and utter disregard for any good but their perpetrators’.  By the light of Christ, we can look through and past all of these devastations to the real human love, generosity, service and self-forgetfulness that are also there but less dramatic to observe. 

At Easter, the candidates for baptism will be washed clean in the life-giving waters that flow, ultimately, from the pierced heart of the crucified Lord (John 19:34, with Ezekiel 47:1-12, Revelation 22:1-2)  , but even on the way, those waters wash over all of us, making blind eyes see, despair-constricted hearts expand, and lamed spirits too timid to walk the paths of God kick free and run the way of the gospel, as St. Benedict promises we will.  And, to put it at its simplest, the way of the gospel is always love, no matter how fierce the forces against it may seem.

One of St. Benedict’s key values is community, so let us join forces with one another to strengthen us on that gospel journey and to inspire us to invite others to come along toward the Easter sunrise on the horizon, beyond whatever obstacles attempt to block it! And let us raise our prayer together for all of those caught in the dark nights of disease and war, with all their consequences.

For Reflection:

These are not in the order to which the reflection cites them, nor are they the only references possible. As you read some or all of them, think and pray about how God might be calling you to translate them into the reality of your life during this Lenten season.

RB 49

John 1:3-5

John 12:12

John 19:34 (with Ezekiel 47:1-12, Revelation 22:1-2)

John 20:11-18

Luke 24:13-32

Matthew 22:34-40

Copyright 2022, Abbey of St.Walburga


Thursday, February 10, 2022

The Scholastica Strategy

Today Benedictines celebrate the feast of St. Scholastica, St. Benedict’s twin sister.  Our only record of her is found The Dialogues by Pope St. Gregory the Great ( ). There we read the story of their last meeting, and quite an entertaining one it is, especially for those of us who have siblings!  The twins were accustomed to meet once a year at a place near the gate of St. Benedict’s monastery.  With some of Benedict’s disciples, they spent the whole day praying together and discussing “holy things.” When evening came, they had supper together and went on with their spiritual conversation till it grew late.

St. Benedict must started looking at what would have been his watch in later times, though St. Gregory does not say.  St. Scholastica evidently knew what he was thinking and  pleaded with him not to leave her but to continue their conversation until morning.  St. Benedict was horrified!  “Sister,” he said, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.” (He was, after all, the great western monastic rule maker!) His sister didn’t argue. She simply joined her hands on the table, put her head down, and prayed, apparently along the lines of, “O God, do something!”. 

And what an answer she got!  “There were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated.”  She didn’t say, “so there!” but she might have been thinking it!  Again her brother was horrified:  “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” (His lack of logic tickles me—the God he is asking to forgive his sister, who actually did nothing but pray, is the God who sent the storm!)  St. Scholastica spells it out clearly for him: “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen.” 

This is what I call “the Scholastic strategy.”  If you are caught in a dilemma and are seeking a God-inspired solution, and the people around you dig in their heels and refuse to cooperate, just ask God.  I find this especially helpful when I catch myself brooding over all the things I could say to get others to do what I think would be the right thing and rehearsing the necessary conversations in my head—only to realize that the only one who has a biblical right to brood over challenges and resolve them is the Spirit of God (see Genesis 1:1).  This is a development of a sort of mantra I used to recite to myself often: “I am not the Messiah.  I only “work for him!” Unfortunately I was often apt not to listen to myself, but “the Scholastica strategy takes it out of my (non-messianic) hands and puts the responsibility where it belongs: in God’s ear.  And, of course, God sees much farther and deeper into matters than I ever could.

Try it sometime.  You might like it!  I hope even St. Benedict went home chuckling at the two of them.

 ©2022 Abbey of St. Walburga



Thursday, December 23, 2021



The birth of Christ our Savior at Christmas is a mystery that draws us into contemplation of the beloved Word Made Flesh.  However, as we all know, it is only a start, a first step into the mystery of God’s love that grows deeper and overflows with wonder as this holy season unfolds into a new year..

 Here is a small suggestion to inspire your prayer:

 Picture the scene of Christ in the manger surrounded by those who loved him – and that delightful ox and ass, which are borrowed from Isaiah 1 (a text not so complimentary to us who enjoy their presence in Christmas are!)   

Put the scene next to some of the statements Jesus made about himself and his work as an adult already plunged into his public ministry.  See what insights that juxtaposition leads you to!  (I’ve been doing this myself and have had some surprises—I wish the same to you! I’ve tucked in some examples in case you need a jump start! They’re pretty random, and spur-of-the-moment, but this reflection is one more pre-Christmas case of “finished is better than perfect”!)

Here are those  examples to start your reflection.  You probably have favorites you can add to the list for yourself.

 (These are all from the Gospel of John, which emphasizes that Jesus is, as the Nicene creed says, “God from God”.  The “I am” phrase always summons up the memory of Exodus 3, where the God who appears to Moses in the burning bush claims the name/title: “I am”.)

 I am the bread of life… (John 6:35)

 I am the Light of the world (John 8:12 …think of all those Christmas cards that depict the baby in the manger surrounded by light).

 I am the gate for the sheep (John 10:7 == the gate of the sheepfold, where the Shepherd leads us to safe refuge.)

 I am the good shepherd (John 10:10).  Think of the shepherds summoned to the Child in the crib the message of the angel. What would this image have said to them if they had lived long enough to hear it from the lips of the adult Jesus? What does it say to us, who read about the angel’s announcement to the shepherd during Christmas?

 I am the way (John 14:6)

 …to which he adds elsewhere, “unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven” (see John 3).

 I am the truth (John 14:6)   In himself, God’s Word made flesh, Jesus reveals both the truth of who God is and the truth of who we were made to be.  See what happens when you set that idea against the nativity scene and Jesus’ later life.

 The list goes on and on in Johns’ gospel—the resurrection and the life (John 12), the vine (John 15), the very different king (John 19), and probably more that I have missed in John’s text but also elsewhere in the gospels.  Watch out!  If you do a bit of this exercise, they may pop up all over! 

Copyright 2021 Abbey of St. Walburga