Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Carol Barry

In this penitential season of Lent it may be appropriate to think of trust, what it is and how well we do it. I heard a sermon recently about Peter walking on the water. Good old Peter, he was the one who recognized Jesus and took the leap of faith. Sure, he thought better of it and started to sink. But he was the only one who got out of the boat. The other apostles held back. Is that really Jesus? Maybe I should wait to be sure. Maybe I should see how things go with Peter. Surely God doesn’t mean for me to walk out there to meet Him.

Our own choices seem less dramatic at times, but they can still require a leap of faith, and our courage often fails us. We think God is calling us to do something, but good sense gets in the way. Sometimes we just need to get out of the boat. The worst that can happen is that God will know that we listened and trusted in Him. He will take it from there, even coming to rescue us if we find ourselves sinking.

A Lenten Journey

Sister Phyllis Hunhoff

One of my favorite things to do is to browse through the Sunday scripture readings to get a sense of the journey we will be on in the upcoming weeks. So with Lent upon us, I am taking us on this pilgrimage so we might walk with Jesus as he readies himself for his death and resurrection. So sit back, make yourself comfortable and try to put yourself in this environment.

As we begin this journey, with the First Sunday of Lent, we will find ourselves in the desert with Jesus. Mark’s gospel says, “The Spirit drove Jesus out into the desert and he remained there for 40 days.” Jesus had just been baptized by John in the Jordan, with the Spirit descending upon him. The Spirit is with Jesus! Here in the desert, imagine the temperature, the bleak surroundings and the contemplative stance of Jesus! Can we last 40 days in this desert with our Lenten practices?

Then we follow Jesus as he emerges from the desert and begins proclaiming the Good News. His time away, the cloister, the silence of the desert has filled him with the reality of God’s love and he is eager to let us know that the reign of God is here. Any one who has made a 30 day retreat realizes it is invigorating. We enter Lent, the 40 days, to reaffirm the guidance and power of the Spirit in our lives, and we ready ourselves to listen to God’s word for us and our mission to spread the Good News.

As we move into the Second Sunday, Jesus takes us up to the mountain top and there we experience this incredible happening. Jesus becomes dazzling white and we hear God’s voice saying to us, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.” Such a moment be experienced in our own spiritual lives only in times of prayer and personal reflection. We find that Jesus, with the power of God, is speaking to us. Jesus gives this gift of Himself to us so we can now move on, so we can walk with him as he sets out for Jerusalem. We need the strength of that awesome moment to help us understand why Jesus must lay down his life for us.

Then in the Third Sunday, we find ourselves with Jesus in a temple in Jerusalem at the time of Passover. Being in the temple is a little like our own day, when we find a bit of excess in the casinos maybe, looking for ways to find a quick dollar. The rowdy conditions in the temple are obviously not good and Jesus shows his anger as he drives out those who are causing the problems in this sacred place. Jesus says, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.? No one can really understand what he is saying, but now Jesus is beginning to reveal that the temple he is speaking about is His own body. His dramatic effort in purifying the temple is his way of telling us that life can come from death. Our own commitment must be the same as Jesus. Our bodies must be destroyed by self-giving and in this way we, too, are raised to new life.

In Sunday Four, we are still in Jerusalem but we take time to pause. This is what we call Laetare Sunday, a time to rejoice. We have come two-thirds of our way through the 40 days. Now we are listening to Nicodemus, a great teacher in Israel. He knows that Jesus has been sent by God but he has many questions and so we get to hear what Jesus is saying to him. Jesus says, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that all of us who believe in him may not die but will have eternal life…the light has come into the world, but people love the darkness rather than the light…whoever does what is true comes to the light.” Jesus is telling us of God’s love for us. Jesus is here with us; he will be proceeding on to be lifted up on the cross for us. We must demonstrate our love in return, conforming ourselves so completely in Christ Jesus that all we do will be witness to Jesus’ work of salvation in us.

And lastly, as we come to the Fifth Sunday, we are among those who are asking to see Jesus. Some Greeks are here who had come up to worship. They came to Philip and asked: “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” So, Philip went to tell Andrew. The two of them went over to tell Jesus. Jesus doesn’t respond to them as we might expect. He says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” We learn that this hour marks the beginning of Jesus’ glorification, but it also marks the beginning of his painful road to betrayal, torture and death. We are fearful. We are afraid and do not want to hear this. But Jesus assures us that with death comes life. The seed that dies, the life that loses itself, and the servant who follows glorifies God as Jesus did.

Seeing Jesus is more than a matter of physical sight. It has to do with our faith. This faith unites us “like a grain of wheat” with Jesus in his death. Jesus will rise again, a tree ladened with much fruit.

And so we continue on our Lenten pilgrimage. We have been with Jesus. We are with Jesus. To know him is to love him. The more time we spend with Jesus the more we begin to resemble His image. May we have the courage to really be with Jesus in these next days of Lent, along with our own struggles, and to see it as a pattern for our own lives, rejoicing finally in the glory of the Risen Lord.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Saints Maur and Placid

Sister Phyllis Hunhoff

In the Benedictine tradition, January 15th is the Feast Day of the young disciples of Saint Benedict, Saints Maur and Placid. I decided to spend some time seeing what they meant to St. Benedict.

It has actually been four years ago that I introduced you to some of the miracles of St. Benedict – when our community, studied Adalbert de Vogue’s commentary on The Life of St. Benedict as given to us by St. Gregory the Great. You may remember that Gregory is the only source – and a very good one – that we have of St. Benedict. Adalbert de Vogue is a Benedictine monk in an abbey in France. He is considered the foremost expert on the Rule of the Master and also on the other pre-Benedictine Rules. He has authored the Cenobitic Rules of the West and is able to give dates to their existence.

So what do we know about Maur and Placid? Gregory the Great introduces them in his Life of Saint Benedict. (Note the small book – Dialogue II of St. Gregory – if anyone would like one of these, I do have a few on hand and I could order them for you.) Gregory explains that after Benedict had established his twelve monasteries at Subiaco (near Rome in Italy), noble Christians came from Rome presenting their sons to be raised and educated among the monks. These boys were offered by their parents to God – we could say that they were the first “oblates.” Among them were Maur, an adolescent, the son of Euthicus, and Placid — practically a toddler — son of the patrician Tertullus. Maur quickly became Abbot Benedict’s helper whereas Gregory specifies that Placid was in “early childhood.”

Before I explain the miracles more fully, it is interesting to think about the idea of Roman aristocrats flocking to Benedict. Benedict left Rome to search for God, now Rome comes to him. Benedict decided against making a career there, now the elite of the city bring their sons to him. Benedict despised studies, now they bring children to be educated. If the building of the twelve monasteries looked like the immediate fruit of Benedict’s contemplative escape, this influence over the Roman nobility seems to correspond to the first conversion of this young Benedict. So Benedict became an educator – not only with the youth brought to him but also with the monks of the monastery.

Maur and Placid are involved in a series of four miracles which Gregory locates at Subiaco. In the first, Benedict goes to help a monk who could not sit still during prayer. Maur, the servant of God was there then and during that time, he saw the same vision of the devil that Benedict did, which was distracting the monk. By a gift of clairvoyance Benedict immediately perceives the invisible and satanic source of the evil. Maurus prays with this monk for two whole days. Seeing this monk having difficulty, Benedict strikes the monk with a rod – and de Vogue suggests this is just like the rod of Moses in the miracle of the water flowing from the rock. The devil is opposed to prayer and this brings the opposition to light. Even for us, instead of the divine and eternal work we are to do in prayer, we know only too well, the temptations that distract us.

In the second miracle, a Goth, who had become a monk, lost the metal part of his brush cutter when it flew off into the lake. He went trembling to tell Maur, who told Benedict (6.2). Benedict took the handle and threw it into the lake. At once the iron returned from the bottom of the lake and came back to the handle. Above all, we see the goodness of the abbot is added to the power of the miraculous events.

Now the third miracle: Three of the monasteries that Benedict founded in that region were up among the rocks on the mountain. The monks felt they had to change the place of their monastery because they could find no water and prayed that they might have water (5.2). During one night, Placid accompanied Benedict and went up on this rocky summit. The next day, Benedict said to the monks, “Go up to that rock where you will find three stones placed on top of one another and do a little digging.” They found the water to be flowing.

Again, Gregory points out that Moses in the desert was faced with a possible revolt when the people had no water. Moses struck the rock before all and the water flowed.

Finally, on another day, as Placid was getting water from the lake, he fell in and was swept out from shore. In a vision, Benedict saw what was happening and sent Maur to save Placid. Maur walked across the water without realizing it and brought Placid back to shore. When he came back to the shore Maur attributed the miracle to Benedict’s command; Benedict said it was because of Maur’s obedience. There is competition in humility between the disciple and the master where each seeks to ascribe the merit of the miracle to the other.

Placid, however, gave the deciding consequence and said that when he was being pulled from the water, he saw the abbot’s goatskin over his head. The controversy is absolutely decided—by God himself—in favor of the master.

This last miracle is considered more complex. Among the various elements, it is the walking on the water which Gregory wishes to emphasize; a prodigy (unusual circumstance) whom he says was unheard of since St. Peter. Thus Maur represents the Apostle Peter when he runs on the water. Maur simply obeys his abbot. Peter did not walk on the water except by the virtue of the will of Jesus, so Maur owes his great deed to the will of Benedict. An ecstatic grace takes hold of Maur.

Thus these four miracles exalt Benedict, the abbot of Subiaco. First Benedict makes Maurus see, then he gets him to act. The first miracle is in praise of prayer, the last exalts obedience. Between them are two miracles inspired by goodness. The first is obtained by Benedict after another long prayer, the second he works without apparent effort in favor of a monk who is particularly humble. Here we have prayer, humility and obedience, the criteria for our conversion

What is most significant, I think, in the story of Maur and Placid is that these two young men persevered in seeking God and whether we realize it or not, Gregory, like his informers, was indeed a son of Benedict.


Father Mark: a priest of the Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma

Fr. Hugh Feiss: a monk of the Monastery of the Ascension, Southern Idaho

The Life of Saint Benedict, commentary by Adabert de Vogue, OSB

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


We are happy to feature Sister Phyllis Hunhoff's reflection on wisdom in Scripture and Tradition as our first personal blog entry. We invite others who wish to share their thoughts on Benedictine spirituality to post as well. Please contact Hastings Oblate Daniel Deffenbaugh if this is of interest to you. Also, we invite you to offer your comments after each posted reflection.

Wisdom in Scripture and Tradition

In the last month or so I seem to have been coming across various readings on Wisdom. Now I see that our Chapter meeting is just a few days before December 17 when we have the first of the “O” Antiphons, which is Wisdom. So for this inaugural blog reflection I would like to talk about Wisdom.

Wisdom in the Scriptures

First, we look at the Old Testament, as there is a rich tradition of wisdom literature that we find here. What it says is that there is a thirst, a desire in every person to make sense of the various experiences of daily existence and to direct one's life in the most profitable and worthwhile way. This search for wisdom is centered on faith in the Lord, the God of the Exodus, and is due to the conviction in the history of the chosen people that only in God is perfect Wisdom to be found.

After the exile there was a clearer understanding that human wisdom is a reflection of the divine Wisdom which God "has poured forth upon all his works, upon every living thing according to his bounty" (Sir 1:9-10). Wisdom appears as God's mysterious design which is at the origin of creation and of salvation. Wisdom is the light which illumines all, the word which reveals, and the power of love which joins God with creation and with his people.

In the light of this wisdom tradition we have a better understanding of the mystery of Jesus the Messiah. A prophetic text of Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of the Lord which shall rest on the King-Messiah and it describes this Spirit especially as "the spirit of wisdom and understanding," and finally as the "spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2).

Various texts of the New Testament present Jesus as full of divine Wisdom. St Luke's infancy gospel suggests the important significance of Jesus' presence among the doctors in the temple, where "all who heard him were amazed at his understanding" (Lk 2:47), and Luke summarizes the hidden life at Nazareth in the words, "and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52). During the years of Jesus' ministry his teaching occasioned surprise and amazement, "And many who heard him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him?'" (Mk 6:2).

St. Paul says: "I do proclaim a message of wisdom to those who are spiritually mature. But it is not the wisdom that belongs to this world or to the powers that rule this world. …The wisdom I proclaim is God’s secret wisdom, which is hidden from mankind, but which he had already chosen for our glory even before the world was made (I Cor. 2:6-7).

When we look at our own spiritual lives we can say that wisdom is loving knowledge. It is a kind of knowledge which comes from our personal relationship with God. It is coming to know God as much as is humanly possible in this life. It is the experience of love where we come to know the greatness of God. This experience of God remains a mystery and it comes through faith. We do not get it through any process such as reasoning or analyzing. We receive wisdom through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Generally our minds are very cluttered, but through our grace from God we receive wisdom, although it may be subtle and elusive. We can come to realize we have received wisdom and comprehend some aspect of it after some particular event. As we have seen in lectio, divine wisdom comes from listening to God; the more loving the listening, the purer the wisdom. Then when our inner disposition is ready, the Holy Spirit grants us some particular insight or knowledge.

Wisdom in St. Benedict's Rule

When we look at the Wisdom of St. Benedict, we find him as a great teacher handing on to us, selectively, from the Rule of the Master. We see now that he chose traditional monastic wisdom that he had received from others. In those days it was important to cherish the insights of the past. The whole body of early monastic literature resembles the body of literature in the Old Testament. It is intended to be a guide to wise living in all the practical situations of our lives.

In the 1980 anniversary issue of the Rule of St. Benedict, it says that in order to gain spiritual wisdom it takes practice. It says that in order to gain, for instance, the wisdom of silence, obedience and humility, these need to be practiced. Having mentors is also helpful. The Benedictine tradition is counter-cultural.

Monasticism that is authentic must offer a way of life that provides an alternative to the values of contemporary society. Our great challenge today is to show that the wisdom of a monastic life of renunciation and self-discipline does help us to achieve spiritual peace and simplicity of heart in the midst of an increasingly complex world.

What Benedict wants to bring about is not simply knowledge but a total personal conversion; not intellectual wisdom but sapientiae doctrina et vitae meritum or “goodness of life and wisdom in teaching” (RB 64:2). Benedict’s school for the Lord’s service directs us to cultivate daily habits and wisdom. Scripture in the Rule and tradition are made vital through the living presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. A wide open heart is our goal, for the more we can receive from God, the more we can experience the fullness of life for which we are made.


Benedict of Nursia, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: Litrugical Press, 1981).

Pope John Paul II, Jesus Christ: Messiah and Divine Wisdom.

Francis Kelly Nemeck and Marie Theresa Coombs, The Way of Spiritual Direction (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Verse and Voice

The problem is that we must learn to distinguish between purpose and meaning in life. ...Purpose has something to do with being productive and setting goals and knowing what needs to be done and doing it. It is easy to have purpose. To write seven letters today, to wax the floor, to finish this legal brief, to make out those reports, to complete this degree, that's purpose. Meaning, on the other hand, depends on my asking myself who will care and who will profit and who will be touched and who will be forgotten or hurt or affected by my doing those things. Purpose determines what I will do with this part of my life. Meaning demands to know why I am doing it and with what global results (Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 102).


From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Verse and Voice

The goal of the spiritual path is not the great ascetic, not the indefatigable faster, not the consistent person, but the meek and gentle one. ... Gentleness is for [The Desert Father] Evagrius the source of knowledge of Christ. Without gentleness, we can read the Bible as much as we like and engage in the harshest ascetical practices, but we will never understand the mystery of Christ. Thus he writes to a disciple: "But above all don't forget gentleness and calm, which purify the soul and bring us closer to the knowledge of Christ" (Anselm Gruen, Heaven Begins Within You: Wisdom from the Desert Fathers, pp. 116-17).


Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavey burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Verse and Voice

Benedict perceives God as present immediately and actively within the ordinary materials and interactions of each day. Every encounter, every incident during the day is grist for the mill of the ongoing God-human communication. No activity is too small or too unimportant to mediate the holy. Living one's faith this way results in a much deepened attentiveness to each moment, for we learn that the specific ordinariness of a thing or a person also reveals a more "dense" reality, that is, its glory. Benedict's Rule always celebrates the simple daily interactions of one person with another, and of human hand with pot and pan, all as potentially carrying a wonderful message (Norvene Vest, No Moment Too Small, p. 19).


I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this worl, but be transformed by the reewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God -- what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Verse and Voice

Lectio can certainly be a source of faith-building, enlightening the mind as much as any study and motivating the will through powerful impulses of love. But neither of these is primary in lectio. We come to lectio not so much seeking ideas, concepts, insights, or even motivating graces; we come to lectio seeking God himself, and nothing less than God. We come seeking the experience of the presence of the living God, to be with him and to allow him to be with us in whatever way he wishes. It is a time for listening... (M. Basil Pennington, Lectio Divina: Renewing the Ancient Practice of Praying the Scriptures, p. 27).


How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law (Ps. 119:103-109).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Verse and Voice

Your way of acting should be different from the world's way; the love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of 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 (Rule of Saint Benedict 4:20-28).

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name (Psalm 63:1-4)