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