"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Sunday 30 June 2013



The following is from Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki. Saint Gregory lived in the 1300s and is a very important Saint of the Greek Orthodox Church. He is another patron Saint of Thessaloniki, the great city that has produced many Saints - most notably Saint Demetrios the Great Martyr. In future posts down the line, I hope to share more about Saint Gregory.
Given that Paul made the same confession of faith as Peter, and had the same zeal, humility and love, surely they received the same rewards from Him Who measures everything with completely just scales, yardstick and plumbline. Anything else would be unreasonable. That is why the Lord told Peter, "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18), whereas He said to Ananias of Paul, "He is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles and kings" (Acts 9:15). Which name? Clearly the name we have been given, the name of Christ's Church, which rests on the foundation stone of Peter. Notice that Peter and Paul are equal in prominence and glory, and both hold up the Church. Consequently the Church now bestows one and the same honour on both, and celebrates them together with equal esteem. As we consider the outcome of their lives, let us imitate how they lived, or at least how they were restored through humility and repentance, even if we cannot attain to their other great and exalted achievements, which are appropriate to great men and fitting for great men to emulate. In fact, some aspects of their lives are probably impossible for anyone to imitate. Amendment through repentance, however, is more appropriate for us than for the great, since we all sin many times every day, and unless we lay hold of salvation through continuous repentance, we have no hope of it from any other source.
Repentance is preceded by awareness of our sins, which is a strong incentive to mercy. "Have mercy upon me", said the Psalmist and Prophet to God, "for I acknowledge my transgressions" (Ps. 5 1:1, 3). Through his recognition of sin he attracted God's compassion, and through his confession and self-condemnation he obtained complete forgiveness. "I said", the Psalmist tells us, "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my heart" (cf. Ps. 32:5), because acknowledgment of our sins is followed by condemnation of ourselves, which in turn is followed by that sorrow for our sins which Paul calls "godly sorrow" (2 Cor. 7:10). After godly sorrow confession and prayer to God with a contrite heart come naturally (Ps. 51:17), as does the promise to keep away from evil from now on. This is repentance.
This is how Manasseh escaped being punished for his sins, even though he had fallen into many great and serious transgressions, and wallowed in them for years on end (2 Chr. 33:1-20). As for David, the Lord set aside his sin because of his repentance, nor did he deprive him of his Prophetic gift. When Peter resorted to repentance, he not only recovered from his fall and obtained forgiveness, but was also appointed to protect Christ's Church. As you see, Paul too was rewarded with this role after his conversion, once he had made progress and become more closely God's own than the others. Repentance which is true and truly from the heart persuades the penitent not to sin any more, not to mix with corrupt people, and not to gape in curiosity at evil pleasures, but to despise things present, cling to things to come, struggle against passions, seek after virtues, be self- controlled in every respect, keep vigil with prayers to God, and shun dishonest gain. It convinces him to be merciful to those who wrong him, gracious to those who ask something of him, ready with all his heart to bend down and help in any way he can, whether by words, actions or money, all who seek his assistance, that through kindness to his fellow-man he might gain God's love in return for loving his neighbour, draw the divine favour to himself, and attain to eternal mercy and God's everlasting blessing and grace.

-"Homily Twenty-Eight" from The Homilies of Saint Gregory Palamas, Volume Two, translated by Christopher Veniamin (St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2004), from www.oca.org


Your Eminences,
Your Eminence, Metropolitan Ioannis,
My Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are celebrating the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles, principal patrons of the Church of Rome: a celebration made all the more joyful by the presence of bishops from throughout the world. A great wealth, which makes us in some sense relive the event of Pentecost. Today, as then, the faith of the Church speaks in every tongue and desire to unite all peoples in one family.
I offer a heartfelt and grateful greeting to the Delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, led by Metropolitan Ioannis. I thank Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomaios I for this renewed gesture of fraternity. I greet the distinguished ambassadors and civil authorities. And in a special way I thank the Choir of the Thomaskirche of Leipzig ? Bach?s own church ? which is contributing to today?s liturgical celebration and represents an additional ecumenical presence.
I would like to offer three thoughts on the Petrine ministry, guided by the word “confirm”. What has the Bishop of Rome been called to confirm?
1. First, to confirm in faith. The Gospel speaks of the confession of Peter: “You are Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:16), a confession which does not come from him but from our Father in heaven. Because of this confession, Jesus replies: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church” (v. 18). The role, the ecclesial service of Peter, is founded upon his confession of faith in Jesus, the Son of the living God, made possible by a grace granted from on high. In the second part of today?s Gospel we see the peril of thinking in worldly terms. When Jesus speaks of his death and resurrection, of the path of God which does not correspond to the human path of power, flesh and blood re-emerge in Peter: “He took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him … This must never happen to you” (16:22). Jesus? response is harsh: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (v. 23). Whenever we let our thoughts, our feelings or the logic of human power prevail, and we do not let ourselves be taught and guided by faith, by God, we become stumbling blocks. Faith in Christ is the light of our life as Christians and as ministers in the Church!
2. To confirm in love. In the second reading we heard the moving words of Saint Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tm 4:7). But what is this fight? It is not one of those fights fought with human weapons which sadly continue to cause bloodshed throughout the world; rather, it is the fight of martyrdom. Saint Paul has but one weapon: the message of Christ and the gift of his entire life for Christ and for others. It is precisely this readiness to lay himself open, personally, to be consumed for the sake of the Gospel, to make himself all things to all people, unstintingly, that gives him credibility and builds up the Church. The Bishop of Rome is called himself to live and to confirm his brothers and sisters in this love for Christ and for all others, without distinction, limits or barriers. And not only the Bishop of Rome: each of you, new archbishops and bishops, have the same task: to let yourselves be consumed by the Gospel, to become all things to everyone. It is your task to hold nothing back, to go outside of yourselves in the service of the faithful and holy people of God.
3. To confirm in unity. Here I would like to reflect for a moment on the rite which we have carried out. The pallium is a symbol of communion with the Successor of Peter, “the lasting and visible source and foundation of the unity both of faith and of communion” (Lumen Gentium, 18). And your presence today, dear brothers, is the sign that the Church?s communion does not mean uniformity. The Second Vatican Council, in speaking of the hierarchical structure of the Church, states that the Lord “established the apostles as college or permanent assembly, at the head of which he placed Peter, chosen from their number” (ibid., 19). To confirm in unity: the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the primate. Let us go forward on the path of synodality, and grow in harmony with the service of the primacy. And the Council continues, “this college, in so far as it is composed of many members, is the expression of the variety and universality of the people of God” (ibid., 22).
In the Church, variety, which is itself a great treasure, is always grounded in the harmony of unity, like a great mosaic in which every small piece joins with others as part of God?s one great plan. This should inspire us to work always to overcome every conflict which wounds the body of the Church. United in our differences: there is no other Catholic way to be united. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit: to be united in our differences. This is the way of Jesus! The pallium, while being a sign of communion with the Bishop of Rome and with the universal church, with the Synod of Bishops, also commits each of you to being a servant of communion.
To confess the Lord by letting oneself be taught by God; to be consumed by love for Christ and his Gospel; to be servants of unity. These, dear brother bishops, are the tasks which the holy apostles Peter and Paul entrust to each of us, so that they can be lived by every Christian. May the holy Mother of God guide us and accompany us always with her intercession.
Queen of Apostles, pray for us! Amen.

SS Peter and Paul 2013 

            Both Peter and Paul were called by Jesus to follow him as disciples and to proclaim the Gospel as apostles. Jesus calls us, as he did them, to be and to do. He calls us for ourselves and for others, for our own good and for the good of all. Abraham was called to be the father of a multitude of nations; his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore. All that is true, but to begin with he was called simply to be God’s friend, our father in faith. It is our personal relationship with God that transforms our lives and enables us to share in his work of bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.

            Caesarea Philippi was the turning point in the ministry of Jesus and in the lives of the disciples. It was there that Jesus asked the Twelve to stand up and be counted, to set themselves apart from the crowd. “But you,” he asked, “who do you say that I am?” It was Simon Peter who spoke up, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” to which Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. It was not flesh and blood that revealed this to you but my Father in heaven. So now I say to you, you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.”

            Peter proclaims his faith in Jesus, a faith which is gift and revelation, not opinion or intuition. In return Jesus proclaims his faith in Peter, a faith such as only God can have in a human being. A vocation is the fruit of faith, our faith in God and his faith in us. In recognising Jesus for who and what he is, Peter comes to the realisation that he can no longer believe without sharing his faith, that faith without mission is no faith at all. Faith can be and is a most personal thing; no two people have the same relationship, the same friendship with God. We are all different, but faith can never be private, tucked away, of no consequence to our lives. Faith shows us the path we should take, the way we should live. It is what makes us the salt of the earth and the light of the world. That is why Jesus says to Peter, “On this rock I will build my Church.”

            Writing to Timothy, Paul leaves us in no doubt as to the source of his vocation. “The Lord stood by me and gave me power, so that through me the whole message might be proclaimed for all the pagans to hear.” The Lord stood by me. A vocation is a gift made to those who search for the truth, who search for God with a sincere heart, but you can only respond to God’s call and fulfil his vocation if you allow the Lord to stand by you. In other words, stability depends on humility. And another thing, our vocation belongs to God, it is not ours. It is not our right but his free choice.

Paul also wrote, “I have fought the good fight to the end. I have run the race to the finish. I have kept the faith.” Perseverance and obedience go hand in hand, they cannot be separated. Indeed, there can be no obedience without perseverance. Living the Christian life, doing God’s will, listening to his voice cannot be a sporadic thing dependent on our whims and mood or on fashion. God’s call, the gift of a vocation demands our all: there has to be total commitment.  

            Now the essential, the basic vocation we all share is that of being a Christian. “Repent and believe the good news.” May the Lord bless us abundantly and may we continue to respond generously and lovingly to God’s call, recognising the faith he has in each one of us and the trust he has placed in us. To him alone be praise and glory now and for ever. Amen.

In his meeting with the Orthodox representatives, led by Metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas, Pope Francis spoke of important progress in the official dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox, which has already produced many joint documents. The Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, co-chaired by Metropolitan Ioannis, and Cardinal Kurt Koch, is currently studying the key question of primacy and collegiality in the Church of the first century, one of the main obstacles on the road to unity and reconciliation between the East and Western Churches, which divided in 1054. 

In his address to the delegation, Pope Francis said “It is significant that today we are able to reflect together, in truth and love, on these issues, starting with what we have in common, but without hiding that which still separates us. This is not merely a theoretical exercise, but one of getting to know each other's traditions, in order to understand, and sometimes to learn from them as well. We know very well,” the Pope said, “that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, of cultivating the soil of the heart, so that this extraordinary grace can be received.”

Please find below a Vatican Radio translation of the full text: 

Dear Brothers in Christ,

I am particularly pleased to greet you with a warm welcome to the Church of Rome, which is celebrating its patron saints Peter and Paul. Your presence in this circumstance is a sign of the deep bond that unites the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Rome in faith, hope and love. The beautiful custom, which began in 1969, of exchanging delegations between our Churches for their patronal feast days , is for me a source of great joy: fraternal encounter is an essential part of the journey towards unity. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Your Holiness Bartholomew I and the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who wanted to once again send a high level delegation. I remember with fraternal affection the gesture of exquisite attention shown to me by Your Holiness Bartholomew, when you honored me with your presence at the celebration of the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of Rome. I am also very grateful to Your Eminence, for your participation in this event and I am happy to see you again on this occasion.

The search for unity among Christians is an urgency which, today more than ever, we cannot ignore. In our world, hungry and thirsty for truth, love, hope, peace and unity, it is important for our own witness, to be finally able to announce with one voice the good news of the Gospel and to celebrate the Divine Mysteries of the new life in Christ! We know very well that unity is primarily a gift from God for which we must pray without ceasing, but we all have the task of preparing the conditions, of cultivating the soil of the heart, so that this extraordinary grace can be received.

A fundamental contribution to the search for full communion between Catholics and Orthodox is offered by the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue, co-chaired by Your Eminence, Metropolitan Ioannis, and by my venerable brother Cardinal Kurt Koch. I sincerely thank you for your valuable and tireless commitment. This Commission has already produced many common texts and is now studying the delicate issue of theological and ecclesiological relationship between primacy and synodality in the life of the Church. It is significant that today we are able to reflect together, in truth and love, on these issues, starting with what we have in common, but without hiding that which still separates us. This is not merely a theoretical exercise, but one of getting to know each other's traditions in order to understand, and sometimes also to learn from them. I refer for example to the reflection of the Catholic Church on the meaning of episcopal collegiality, and the tradition of synodality, so typical of the Orthodox Churches. I am confident that the effort of shared reflection, so complex and laborious, will bear fruit in due time. I am comforted to know that Catholics and Orthodox share the same conception of dialogue that does not seek a theological minimalism on which to reach a compromise, but rather is based on the deepening of the one truth that Christ has given to His Church, which we never cease to understand better as we are moved by the Holy Spirit. For this, we should not be afraid of encounter and of true dialogue. It does not take us away from the truth, but rather, through an exchange of gifts, it leads us, under the guidance of the Spirit of truth, to the whole truth (cf. Jn 16:13).

Venerable Brothers, I thank you once again for being here with us for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. We confidently invoke their intercession and that of the Holy Apostle Andrew, the brother of Peter, for our faithful and for the needs of the whole world, especially the poor, the suffering and those who are unjustly persecuted because of their faith. Finally, I ask you to pray for me and to ask others to pray for me, so that the Lord may help me in my ministry as Bishop of Rome and Successor of Peter.

Text from page http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2013/06/28/pope_to_orthodox_delegation_from_ecumenical_patriarchate/en1-705667 

of the Vatican Radio website 

Friday 28 June 2013

DOROTHY DAY, SAINT AND TROUBLEMAKER, a Lecture given by Jim Forest

This lecture was presented 8 June 2013 at the Portsmouth Institute, held at Portsmouth Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Rhode Island. Photos taken at the monastery are included in this set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jimforest/sets/72157634051717182/. This is an revised version of a lecture first written for a conference held on Marquette University in 1997 that marked the 100th anniversary of Dorothy Day's birth.]

by Jim Forest

Let me begin by mentioning that Dorothy Day had a special link with the place of our meeting, having been a Benedictine oblate of this monastery. The connection was made thanks to her friend and fellow oblate Ade Bethune, the Catholic Worker’s principle artist for decades. It was Ade who designed the widely-recognized symbol of the Catholic Worker movement — Christ embracing two workers — and did countless illustrations for the paper, many of them during the years she was teaching art here at the priory school. I understand Ade is buried in the monastic cemetery and hope to visit her grave later today.

Can you think of a word that describes a person who devoted much of her life to being with people many of us cross the street to avoid? Who for half a century did her best to make sure they didn’t go hungry or freeze on winter nights? Who went to Mass every day until her legs couldn’t take her that far, at which point communion was brought to her? Who prayed every day for friend and enemy alike and whose prayers, some are convinced, had miraculous results? Who went to confession every week? Who was devoted to the rosary? Who lived in community with the down-and-out for nearly half-a-century? Whose main goal in life was to follow Christ and to see him in the people around her?

A saint.

Can you think of a word that describes a person who refused to pay taxes, didn’t salute the flag, never voted, went to prison time and again for protests against war and social injustice? Who spoke in a plain and often rude way about our “way of life”? Who complained that the Church wasn’t paying enough attention to its own teaching and on occasion compared some of its pastors to blowfish and sharks?

A troublemaker.

And there you have Dorothy Day in two words: saint and troublemaker.

Mostly saints lived in the distant past, that is before we were born, and have been presented to us with all blemishes removed. We are not surprised to learn that Saint Wonderbread of the North Pole, daughter of pious parents, had her first vision when she was four, joined the Order of the Holy Pallbearers at the age of 11, founded 47 convents, received the stigmata when she was 55, and that when she died 20 years later, not only was her cell filled with divine light but the nuns attending her clearly heard the angelic choir.

That’s hagiography. It presents Saint Wonderbread as only one percent less perfect than the Virgin Mary. But what about the actual Saint Wonderbread? What the hagiographer failed to mention is that she ran away from home, had a voice that could split rocks and a temper that could melt them back together again, experienced more dark nights of the soul than celestial visions, was accused of heresy by her bishop, narrowly escaped being burned at the stake, and, though she lived long enough to be vindicated, felt like a failure on her deathbed. But all these wrinkles were ironed out after she died. Who needs facts that might dull or dent her halo?

If Dorothy Day is ever canonized, the record of who she was, what she was like and what she did is too complete and accessible for her to be hidden in wedding-cake icing. She will be the patron saint not only of homeless people and those who try to assist them but also of people who lose their temper.

She may have been a saint, but Dorothy Day was not without rough edges.

To someone who told her she was too hot-headed, she replied, “I hold more temper in one minute than you will hold in your entire life.” To a college student who asked a sarcastic question about her recipe for soup, she responded, “You cut the vegetables until your fingers bleed.” To a journalist who told her it was the first time he had interviewed a saint, she replied, “Don’t call me a saint — I don’t want to be dismissed that easily.”

On the other hand, as she said time and again, “We are all called to be saints.” She didn’t believe saints had different DNA than anyone else. Sanctity is merely loving God and your neighbor. It’s not that hard. Sanctity is something ordinary. The scandal is not being a saint.

I was nineteen years old the first time I met Dorothy. She was ancient, that is to say 62 years old — nine years younger than I am today. This means that for more than half-a-century she has been encouraging and scolding me on a daily basis. The mere fact of her having died in 1980 doesn’t seem to get in the way.

I met her at the Catholic Worker Farm on Staten Island in the days when the island still had rural areas and its only link to the rest of New York City was by ferryboat. I found her sitting with several other people at the battered table where the community had its meals. Before her was a pot of tea, a few cups, none of them matching, and a pile of letters that I had been charged to deliver from St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality in Manhattan. The Catholic Worker received a good deal of mail every day, much of it for Dorothy — and every now and then a letter for Doris Day. She often read the letters aloud, telling a story or two about the people who had written them. This was the Dorothy Day University in full swing, though I didn’t realize it at the time. She wrote countless letters and notes in response every year, but some letters she gave to others in the community to answer either because a personal reply wasn’t needed or because she wanted to connect the correspondent with someone else on staff. A good part of Dorothy’s life was spent reading and writing letters — even her monthly column, “On Pilgrimage,” was usually nothing more than a long letter. If ever she is canonized, she will be among the patron saints of letter-writers.

People sometimes think of her as the personification of the simple life, but in reality her days tended to be busy, complicated and stressful. Often she was away traveling — visiting her daughter and grandchildren, visiting other Catholic Worker communities, speaking at colleges, seminaries, local parishes, getting around by bus or a donated car on its last spark plugs.

Before an audience, she had a direct, unpremeditated, story-centered way of speaking — no notes, no rhetorical polish, a manner that communicated a certain shyness but at the same time wisdom, conviction, directness, modesty, faith and courage. She was never the kind of speaker who makes those she is addressing feel stupid or without possibilities.

Her basic message was stunningly simple: we are called by God to love one another as He loves us. Love one another. No exceptions.

One of the ways we love one another is by practicing hospitality. For Dorothy a house without what she called a “Christ room” was incomplete, as was a parish without what night be called a “Christ house.” For Dorothy, hospitality is simply practicing God’s hospitality to us with those around us. Christ is in the stranger, in the person who has nowhere to go and no one to welcome him. “Those who cannot see the face of Christ in the poor are atheists indeed,” she often said. Her words were similar to those of St. John Chrysostom, one of the great voices of Christianity in the fourth century: “If you fail to recognize Christ in the beggar outside the church, you will not find him in the chalice.”

Judging by the synoptic Gospels, the Last Judgment was not a topic Christ often addressed during the several years of public ministry that led up to his execution. The one place in the New Testament where we hear him speaking in detail about who is saved and who isn’t occurs in the 25th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Welcome into the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of all ages, because I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was homeless and you took me in, I was sick and you cared for me, I was in prison and you came to be with me. I tell you solemnly that what you did to the least person you did to me … and what you failed to do for the least person, you failed to do for me.”

It’s an astonishing text. It turns out that we are not saved because we excelled at theology or were amazingly clever or received great honors or wrote books about sanctity or never got in trouble or never made mistakes. We are saved because we attempted to be channels of God’s love and mercy. Period.

It is a life inspired by the Gospel and sustained by the sacraments, the church calendar with it parade of saints, the rhythm of feasts and fasts.

The corporal works of mercy — each of them an aspect of hospitality — were at the center of Dorothy’s life and the basis of the Catholic Worker movement. In addition there was also the day-after-day practice of what the Catholic Church calls the spiritual works of mercy: admonishing the sinner, instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, comforting the sorrowful, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving all injuries, praying for the living and the dead.

Dorothy helped us understand that a life of hospitality has many levels: there is hunger not only for food but also for faith, not only for a place at the table but also for a real welcome, not only for assistance but also for listening, not only words said as if recited from a script but kind words. There is not only hospitality of the door but also hospitality of the face and heart. Hospitality of the heart transforms the way we see people and how we respond to them. Their needs become important to us.

A new words about Dorothy’s remarkable life:

From birth onward, nearly all of Dorothy’s adult life was spent in or near New York City. In 1916, when she was eighteen, she was hired as a journalist by The Call, a radical New York daily newspaper. Next she was on the staff of a radical monthly journal, The Masses, until it was closed by the federal government for its opposition to World War I. During the war, she trained as a nurse at a Brooklyn hospital and worked twelve-hour shifts during the great influenza epidemic.

Dorothy was close to many artists and writers, including Eugene O’Neill. She used to hang out at a Greenwich Village saloon locally known as the Hell Hole. It was an adventurous time in her life but without much of an anchor. She had a lover who wanted neither marriage nor children. In a desperate effort to preserve their ill-fated relationship, she had an abortion. Her lover abandoned her anyway. Dark times! Dorothy tried to commit suicide but a neighbor smelled the gas and saved her life.

By the time of her conversion to Catholic Christianity, in 1927 when she was 30, she had experienced and survived a great deal. By then, thanks to money from the sale of film rights for a novel she had written, she bought a beach house on Staten Island, a small dwelling heated by a cast iron stove in which she burned driftwood. It was in that small house that, with her lover Forster Batterham, she once again conceived a child. This time she was determined not to cut short her pregnancy, which she saw as nothing less than a first-class miracle as she thought she had been made sterile by her abortion. As her belly swelled, she was filled with longing that she and her child would cross the border into the Catholic Church. As a young mother-to-be walking on the beach or going to the post office, rosary in hand she prayed her way through her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, prayed her way through the Baltimore Catechism, prayed her way through the collapse of her relationship with her unborn child’s father, prayed her way to her daughter Tamar’s birth and baptism, and then to her own baptism, prayed her way through the incomprehension of her atheist friends who regarded all religion as snake oil, prayed her way through a good deal of loneliness.

If baptism was the first turning point, the second came six years later — a desperate appeal to God she made in the crypt of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. In her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, she wrote: “There I offered up a special prayer, a prayer which came with tears and anguish, that some way would open up for me to use what talents I possessed for my fellow workers, for the poor.”

Occasionally prayers are answered quickly. The very next day Dorothy met Peter Maurin, an immigrant from France who was something of a modern-day St. Francis. It was Peter’s proposal that Dorothy found and edit a newspaper to make better known papal teaching on the social order and encourage its readers to build, “a new society within the old, a society in which it would be easier for people to be good.” Dorothy took to the idea like a duck to water. The first issue of The Catholic Worker was distributed five months later, the first of May 1933, and that December, the first house of hospitality — in fact initially an apartment of hospitality — was started. By December the paper’s print run, which had been 2,500 for the May issue, reached 100,000. Houses of hospitality were soon being founded in other cities.

In 1961, when I arrived, St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality was on Chrystie Street — a decrepit three-storey building a block from the Bowery, in those days one of the city’s grimmest areas, now the much yuppified East Village. As there wasn’t enough room inside, the down-and-out were often lined up at the door waiting their turn either for a place at one of the three bench-like tables or access to the clothing rooms on the next floor.

In the period I was there, Dorothy’s office at the Catholic Worker, just inside the front door, was hardly big enough for her desk. I served as managing editor of the paper for a short time, and it was in that office that she and I would sometimes discuss — occasionally argue — about what should be in the next issue. It wasn’t the easiest place for conversation. The ground floor was where food was prepared and meals served. From morning till night, it tended to be noisy. Sitting at her desk one afternoon, talking about the next issue, we could hardly hear each other. On one occasion, Dorothy got up, opened her office door and yelled “Holy silence!” For a minute or two, it was almost quiet.

On the second floor, site of the two clothing rooms, one for men, one for women, there was an area used for daily prayer — lauds, vespers, compline — as well as recitation of the rosary every afternoon. None of this was obligatory, but part of the community was always present, the community being a mixture of “staff” (as those of us who came as volunteers were called) and “family” (people who had once come in for clothing or a bowl of soup and gradually become part of the household).

It wasn’t a comfortable life. At the time I joined, Dorothy had a sixth-floor, $25-a-month, cold-water flat in a tenement on Spring Street — two small rooms, a bathtub next to the kitchen sink. There was a toilet in the hallway the size of a broom closet. This may sound uninviting, but Dorothy regarded the neighborhood as luxury enough. With an Italian bakery across the street, the smell of bread in the oven was often in the air, and there was always the intoxicating perfume of Italian cooking. The San Genaro Festival was celebrated annually just around the corner — for a week, our part of Manhattan became a neighborhood in Naples.

When climbing those five flights of stairs finally became too much for Dorothy’s aging knees, we moved her to a similar apartment on Ridge Street that was only one flight up. It was also $25 a month, but in a seedier neighborhood. The place was in appalling condition. Two of us went down to clean and paint the two rooms, dragging box after box of old linoleum and other debris down to the street, including what seemed to us a hideous painting of the Holy Family — Mary, Joseph and Jesus rendered in a few bright colors against a battleship grey background on a piece of plywood. We shook our heads before depositing it with the trash along the curb. Not long after Dorothy arrived carrying this primitive icon. “Look what I found! The Holy Family! It’s a providential sign, a blessing.” She put it on the mantle of the apartment’s bricked-up fireplace. It’s an example of Dorothy’s talent for finding beauty where others, in this case Jim Forest who has since written a book on praying with icons, saw only rubbish.

If Dorothy was one of the freest, least fear-driven persons I’ve ever known, she was also one of the most disciplined. This was most notable in her religious life. Whether traveling or at home, it was a rare day when Dorothy didn’t go to Mass, while on Saturday evenings she went to confession. Sacramental life was the bedrock of her existence. She never obliged anyone to follow her example, but God knows she gave an example. When I think of her, the first image that comes to mind is Dorothy on her knees praying before the Blessed Sacrament either in the chapel at the farm or in one of several urban parish churches near the Catholic Worker. One day, looking into the Bible and Missal she had left behind when she was summoned for an emergency phone call, I found long lists of people, living and dead, whom she prayed for daily. She had a special list of people who had committed suicide.

Occasionally she spoke about the importance of prayer: “We feed the hungry, yes,” she once explained. “We try to shelter the homeless and give them clothes, but there is strong faith at work. We pray. If an outsider who comes to visit us doesn’t pay attention to our praying and what that means, then he’ll miss the whole point.”

She was attentive to fast days and fast seasons. It was in that connection she told me a story about prayer. For many years, she said, she had been a heavy smoker. Her day began with lighting up a cigarette. Her big sacrifice every Lent was giving up smoking, but having to get by without a cigarette made her increasingly irritable as the days passed, until the rest of the community was praying with fervor that she would resume smoking. One year, as Lent approached, the priest who ordinarily heard her confessions told her not to give up cigarettes as usual but instead to pray daily, “Dear God, help me stop smoking.” She used that prayer for several years without it having any impact on her addiction. Then one morning she woke up, reached for a cigarette, and realized she didn’t want it — and never smoked another. Moral? God answers prayers but one often has to be persistent.

People sometimes tell me how lucky I am to have once been part of the community led by Dorothy Day. They seem to imagine a group of more or less saintly people having a wonderful time doing good works. In reality Catholic Worker community life in Manhattan in the early sixties had much in common with purgatory. The “staff” was made up of people with very different backgrounds, interests, temperaments and convictions, some quite pious, some on the borderline between Catholic and ex-Catholic. We ranged from the gregarious to the permanently furious. Agreement among us was as rare as visits by the President of the United States.

The most bitter dispute I experienced had to do with how best to use the small amounts of eggs, butter and other rarities that were sometimes donated to us. Should we use them for “the line” (people we often didn’t know by name who lined up for meals) or the “family” (people who might once have been on the line but gradually became part of the household). It had been the custom to save the treats for the family. Though we worked side by side, saw each other daily, and prayed together, staff tension had become too acute for staff meetings. Dorothy or office manager Charlie Butterworth handed out the jobs, and once you had a job, it was yours until you stopped doing it. The final authority was Dorothy Day, not a responsibility she wanted or enjoyed, but no one else could make a final decision that would be respected by the entire staff. (Tom, Cornell has remarked that Dorothy Day was well-suited to be an anarchist so long as she was the chief anarch.)

In this case, when Dorothy returned from a cross-country speaking trip, she told the two people running the kitchen that the butter and eggs should once again go to the family, which led to their resigning from kitchen work and soon after leaving the community trailing black smoke, convinced that the actual Dorothy Day wasn’t living up to the writings of Dorothy Day.

One of the miracles of Dorothy’s life is that she remained part of what was often a conflict-torn community for nearly half a century. Still more remarkable, she remained a person of hope and gratitude to the end. She often spoke of “the duty of hope.”

Even though the Archdiocese of New York launched a process in Rome for the formal recognition of Dorothy as a saint, and Rome has since given her the title Servant of God Dorothy Day, Dorothy was and remains a controversial lady. There was hardly anything she did which didn’t attract criticism and the criticism still lingers. There us something about her to both challenge and irritate anyone who considers her life, witness and writings. Even hospitality scandalizes some people. We were blamed for making people worse, not better, because we were doing nothing to “reform them.” A social worker asked Dorothy one day how long the down-and-out were permitted to stay. “We let them stay forever,” Dorothy answered rather testily. “They live with us, they die with us, and we give them a Christian burial. We pray for them after they are dead. Once they are taken in, they become members of the family. Or rather they always were members of the family. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Dorothy, who never seemed to be overly anxious about how little money there was in the community bank account, frequently set an example of passing on what was given as quickly as possible. In a memorable instance, a well-dressed woman visiting the Worker house one day gave Dorothy a diamond ring. Dorothy thanked the visitor, slipped the ring in her pocket, and later in the day gave it to an unpleasant old woman, a bitter complainer second to none who was known in the community as “the weasel.” We paid her rent each month. One of the staff suggested to Dorothy that the ring might better have been sold at the Diamond Exchange on West 47th Street and the money used for paying Catherine’s rent. Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity and could do as she liked with the ring. She could sell and buy whatever she wanted or take a trip to the Bahamas — or she could enjoy having a diamond ring on her hand just like the woman who had given it to the Worker. “Do you suppose,” Dorothy asked, “that God created diamonds only for the rich?”

What got Dorothy in the most hot water was her social criticism. She pointed out that nationalism was a more powerful force in most people’s lives than the Gospel. While she hated every kind tyranny and never ceased to be thankful for America having taken in so many people fleeing poverty, repression and conscription, she was fierce in her criticism of capitalism and consumerism. She said America had a tendency to treat people like Kleenex — use them, then throw them away.

She had no kind words for war or anything having to do with it — for Dorothy war was simply murder wrapped in flags. She reminded us that the total number of people killed by Jesus and the apostles is zero. Dorothy was convinced Jesus had disarmed all his followers when he said to Peter, “Put away your sword, for whoever lives by the sword will perish by the sword.” A way of life based on hospitality and love, including love of enemies, left no room for killing. You couldn’t practice the works of mercy and healing with one hand and the works of violence and destruction with the other, giving drink to the thirst on Monday and on Tuesday bombing the water works. One must battle evil, as so many saints’ lives demonstrate, only by nonviolent means. Even the best of wars is a disaster.

No stranger to prison, she was first locked up as a young woman protesting with suffragettes in front of the White House in 1917, when she was nineteen, and was last jailed in 1975 for picketing with striking farm workers at the edge of a grape field in California. She took pride in the young people of the Catholic Worker who went to prison rather than be drafted — “Being in prison is a good way to visit the prisoner,” she pointed out. But she also welcomed back others who had left Catholic Worker communities to fight in the Second World War. They might disagree about the best way to fight Nazism, but the door was wide open for those who wished to return.

Dorothy was sometimes criticized for being too conservative a Catholic. How could she be so radical about social matters and so conservative about her Church? While she occasionally deplored statements or actions by members of the hierarchy and once picketed the New York chancery office in support of a strike by Catholic grave diggers, she was by no means an opponent of the bishops or someone campaigning for dogmatic changes in the Church. What was needed, she said, wasn’t new doctrine but our living the existing doctrine. True, some pastors seemed barely Christian, but one had to aim for their conversion, an event that would not be hastened by berating them but rather by helping them see what their vocation requires. The way to do that was to set an example.

“I didn’t become a Catholic in order to purify the church,” Dorothy once said to Robert Coles. “I knew someone, years ago, who kept telling me that if [the Catholic Workers] could purify the church, then she would convert. I thought she was teasing me when she first said that, but after a while I realized she meant what she was saying. Finally, I told her I wasn’t trying to reform the church or take sides on all the issues the church was involved in; I was trying to be a loyal servant of the church Jesus had founded. She thought I was being facetious. She reminded me that I had been critical of capitalism and America, so why not Catholicism and Rome? … My answer was that I had no reason to criticize Catholicism as a religion or Rome as the place where the Vatican is located…. As for Catholics all over the world, including members of the church, they are no better than lots of their worst critics, and maybe some of us Catholics are worse than our worst critics.”

Pleased as she was when the Liturgy was translated into English, she didn’t take kindly to smudging the border between the sacred and mundane. When a priest close to the community used a coffee cup for a chalice at a Mass celebrated in the soup kitchen on First Street, she afterward took the cup, kissed it, and buried it in the back yard. It was no longer suited for coffee — it had held the Blood of Christ. I learned more about the Eucharist that day than I had from any book or sermon. It was a learning experience for the priest as well — thereafter he used a chalice.

Dorothy’s sensitivity for the sacred helps explain her love, rare at the time, of the Orthodox Church, famous — or infamous — for its reluctance to modernize, rationalize, speed up or streamline its liturgical life. (A joke: How many Orthodox Christians does it take to change a light-bulb? Answer: none. “Change!? What is this ‘change’? And, by the way, what is a light bulb?”) Dorothy longed for the reunion of the Church. She occasionally took me to the meetings of a small group in New York City, the Third Hour it was called, that brought together Catholic and Orthodox Christians, as well as at least one Anglican, the poet W.H. Auden. It was Dorothy who brought me to visit the Russian Orthodox cathedral up on East 97th Street where she introduced me to the Russian priest serving there, Father Matvei Stadniuk, who was later appointed dean of the Epiphany Cathedral in Moscow and secretary to the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. In 1988, it was Father Matvei who launched the first project of Christian volunteer hospital service in what was still Soviet Russia, and it was he, not I, who recalled our first meeting 26 years earlier, but only when I had given him a copy of my biography of Dorothy. “Dorothy Day? Did you know her?” And then he looked more closely at my face and said, “I knew you when you a young man, when Dorothy brought you to our church.”

I’m not sure what had given Dorothy such a warmth for Orthodox Christianity, but one of the factors was certainly her love of the books of Dostoevsky, most of all his novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Perhaps the most important chapter for Dorothy concerned a conversation between a wealthy woman and an elderly monk, Father Zosima. The woman asks him how she can be certain that God exists. Fr. Zosima tells her that no explanation or argument can achieve this, only the practice of “active love.” There is no other way, he assures her, to know the reality of God. The woman confesses that sometimes she dreams about a life of loving service to others — she thinks perhaps she will become a nun, live in holy poverty and serve the poor in the humblest way. It seems to her such a wonderful thought that it makes tears comes to her eyes. But then it crosses her mind how ungrateful some of the people she is serving will be. Some will complain that the soup she is serving isn’t thick enough, the bread isn’t fresh enough, the bed is too hard, the covers too thin. She doubts she could bear such ingratitude — and so her dreams about serving others vanish, and once again she finds herself wondering if there really is a God. To this Fr. Zosima responds with the words Dorothy often repeated: “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” So important was that sentence to Dorothy that I think of Dostoevsky as being among the co-founders of the Catholic Worker.

Another writer important to her was Georges Bernanos. Dorothy often repeated a sentence from his novel, Diary of a Country Priest: “Hell is not to love anymore.”

From time to time she quoted St. Catherine of Siena, a woman who had much in common with Dorothy: “All the way to heaven is heaven because He said, ‘I am the Way’.”

Perhaps Dorothy Day’s main achievement is that she taught us the “Little Way” of love. It was chiefly through the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux that Dorothy had been drawn to the “Little Way.” No term, in her mind, better described the ideal Christian way of doing things. As she once put it, “Paper work, cleaning the house, dealing with the innumerable visitors who come all through the day, answering the phone, keeping patience and acting intelligently, which is to find some meaning in all that happens — these things, too, are the works of peace, and often seem like a very little way.”

“It is the living from day to day,” Dorothy remarked, “taking no thought for the morrow, seeing Christ in all who come to us, and trying literally to follow the Gospel that resulted in this work.”

I’m sometimes asked, “Dorothy Day gives a fine example for people who don’t have a family to take care of and mortgages to pay, but what about the rest of us?”

The rest of us includes my wife and me. We have six children and, at latest count, eight grandchildren. We have too much and give too little. But, in my own life, every time I have thought about the challenges of life in the bright light of the Gospel rather than in the gray light of money or the dim light of politics, Dorothy’s example has had its influence. Every time I try to overcome meanness or selfishness rising up in me, it’s partly thanks to the example of Dorothy Day. Every time I defeat the impulse to buy something I can get along without, Dorothy Day’s example of voluntary poverty has had renewed impact. Every time I give away something I can get along without — every time I manage to see Christ’s presence in the face of a stranger — there again I owe a debt to Dorothy Day. Every time I take part in efforts to prevent wars or end them, or join in campaigns to make the world a less cruel place, in part I am in debt to Dorothy. What I know of Christ, the Church, sacramental life, the Bible, and truth-telling, I know in large measure thanks to her, while whatever I have done that was cowardly, opportunistic or spiteful is despite her. She has even shaped my reading life — one could do worse than to get to know the authors whose books helped shape and sustain Dorothy’s faith and vocation.

It isn’t that Dorothy is the point of reference. Christ is. But I can’t think of anyone I’ve known whose Christ-centered life has done so much to help make me a more Christ-centered person.

She died 33 years ago but it seems more and more people are aware of her. This past Ash Wednesday, preaching in St. Peter’s Basilica, Pope Benedict described Dorothy Day as “a model of conversion.” At a meeting I had with Cardinal Dolan a few days ago, he spoke of her as “a saint for our times.”

Writing in The Catholic Worker some years ago, one of her grandchildren, Kate Hennessy, talked of the impact on her own life of her remarkable grandmother: “To have known Dorothy means spending the rest of your life wondering what hit you. On the one hand, she has given so many of us a home, physically and spiritually; on the other, she has shaken our very foundations.”

I am one of the many whose foundations were shaken. I too am still wondering what hit me.

* * *

Photo courtesy of the Dorothy Day/Catholic Worker Archive at Marquette University.

Excellent web link: http://www.catholicworker.org/dorothyday — a treasure chest of Dorothy’s writings.

Thursday 27 June 2013



I have decided to balance this post with an account of Confession by a Catholic; but pride of place belongs to Father Thomas Hopko's lecture.

   Perhaps one of the most important set of circumstances leading up to Vatican II was the presence in Paris of a significant number of Russian Orthodox theologians, refugees from Soviet Russia, at the same time that France had a significant number of Catholic theological giants.   Both groups were under a cloud, the Russians because they lived in the West and were, therefore, under the corrupting influence of Rome, and the French because they were suspected of "modernism", an all-embracing heresy that the Vatican could use against anyone it didn't like or felt uncomfortable with.   As time went on, the Russian theologians grew in stature in the Orthodox world, and Pope John XIII invited the French theologians to Vatican II where they were joined by other theologians like Dom Christopher Butler of Downside, Joseph Ratzinger and Archbishop Wojtyla from Cracow.   They were largely responsible for the main documents of the Council, and two of them went on to higher things.

This made their discovery of Orthodox Tradition as a different version of their own Tradition in their years of informal meetings with their Russian colleagues, especially in the annual Liturgical Week organised by the Institut Saint-Serge, very important for the internal life of the Catholic Church.    They discovered, , in the words of Father Georges Florovsky, that both Catholic and Orthodox theologians, however much they disagree on certain points of doctrine, are arguing from within the same Tradition. Of course, this makes the differences sharper and more painful; but it holds out the hope that our differences can be overcome.

I hope that, listening to Father Thomas Hopko on Confession, Catholics will find what he says surprising, because what he says comes out of an ecclesial experience different from our own;  enlightening, because he is looking at the sacrament from a different angle than ours; and helpful because you will have a fuller understanding of what it means to go to confession.   What is clear to me is that we are talking about the same sacrament, and what is demonstrated is that we have two different versions of the same Tradition. This is a great discovery that I want to share with you.   If Tradition is the fruit of the synergy between the Holy Spirit and the Church, fundamental agreement will eventually be reached.


Tuesday 25 June 2013



As you well know, General Chapter begins in two weeks’ time. Normally, we don’t think too much about it, as it takes place in another monastery and there is neither a great deal of preparation for it on the part of the Community nor a great deal of feedback afterwards. This time there is slightly greater interest and Fr Brendan will be holding a meeting or two with the resident community before Chapter begins. We were all invited, of course, some time ago to put our thoughts, suggestions and petitions in writing. The input of every member of the Congregation will be given due consideration.

Few of us like change and, as Chapter approaches, some of you have expressed disagreement with and even fear of what you imagine could be possible decisions of Chapter. Although Belmont is an autonomous house, we are part of a Congregation of monasteries with an interdependent history and similar vision (call it essence and charism), lifestyle, needs, difficulties and so on. Chapter tries to reach decisions that are best for all the monasteries, whether of monks or of nuns, decisions that will help us develop and grow, if not in numbers at least in holiness, in the age in which we find ourselves, with all its uncertainties and general lack of stability. It is an age in which our monastic vows are more difficult than ever to keep, an age that presents us with many new challenges as the Church of Christ, the Barque of Peter, sails through uncharted waters, an age nevertheless which is God-given, the era in which God has chosen and called us to bear prophetic witness to him in and through the monastic life. We are not alone. Not only is God with us: we are surrounded by lay people who not only wish to support and encourage us, but would like to walk with us and be led by us. I think of the three French families who are sending their boys to us this Summer, the two lads who are with us at present and another who will come in August. Their parents believe so much in the monastic life, that they want their sons to experience it with us here at Belmont, discovering the way of St Benedict.

Stability is one of the three Benedictine vows and the foundation that makes the other two possible. This is clear by what St Benedict has to say about gyrovagues in Chapter 1, the Kinds of Monks. Whereas the sarabaites do not practise conversatio morum, the gyrovagues cannot practise obedience. They are “slaves to their own wills and gross appetites,” and “in every way worse than the sarabaites.” Stability is really all about standing still, beginning with standing still in your choir stall and staying put in your cell. It is about being rooted in a particular place and, therefore, with a particular group of people. It is about commitment and self-giving. St Benedict concludes Chapter 4, the Tools of Good Works, by saying, “the workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.” Stability, then, for St Benedict, has reference to a community as well as a place. It’s not just any choir stall or choir stalls in general and not just any cell or monastic cells in general. Monastic vows commit us to one place and one group of people, rather like marriage vows. Our wife and children are the brethren with whom the Lord has called us to share all things, both spiritual and material.

Today, particularly in Western Europe, we live in a society that has little time or respect for stability. My grandfather looked after his overcoat; when he died it was over 40 years’ old. It then passed to my uncle, who wore it until he died two years’ ago. I doubt it will be worn again. Ours is a society that throws things away. Who repairs a camera any more or a kettle? And when it comes to relationships, we do the same. Why make the effort to repair a marriage when it’s so easy to divorce and remarry? And we take short cuts: why marry at all? This is the spirit of the age in which we live and, although we all know that saying of Dean Inge, “ the man who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower,” nevertheless we are all affected by that spirit. And this is what is devastatingly dangerous to the integrity of monastic life today, lapsation into the relativity of stability. It’s the danger that stares us in the face each morning as we look in the mirror to shave.

What, then, can we do to help keep our vows? Aircraft need vertical and horizontal stabilizers to stop them falling out of the sky. We need God and our brethren to stop us from going off the rails. Likewise we need prayer and lectio to keep us anchored in Christ. We need to live fully in the present moment without dwelling on the past or projecting ourselves onto an imaginary future. By opening our hearts to the love of God and allowing Christ to live in our hearts through faith, we can remain rooted in God for all eternity, an eternity which begins in the here and now of daily life with all its ups and downs, its passing joys and momentary disappointments. No matter how rough the storm, no matter how great the temptation, God will keep us safe in his embrace. The secret is knowing that God is with us always, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. He will not let go and he will not let us down, because he loves us. “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” Amen.

There are two major approaches to obedience within religious life: the monastic tradition and the apostolic tradition. It is important to realize that even though monastics and apostolics include obedience in their respective ways of life, and even if the tangible everyday results may often seem similar, or even the same, the basic theology, rationale and attitudinal direction are different.

Monastic Obedience

Monastic obedience begins with a personal relationship, not an organizational structure. Monastic obedience is a relationship between the monastic and the monastic leader, and then extends to the relationship with all of the monastic community in mutual obedience. The object of monastic obedience is the seeking of God. The monastic leader is a "director of souls," not a work boss nor a manager nor a torturer. Rather, all that is done by the leader with each individual is meant to help the individual move forward in the seeking of God. When the superior commands, it is because the command is a tool for this monastic's search for God. It is not a matter of "we need it and, as a side benefit, your doing it also will help you find God." The seeking of God is not a byproduct of a command and an obedient response.

Monastic obedience involves a discerning by the monastic leader of the needs of the individual monastic. On the part of the monastic it involves a trust in the spiritual mastery and discernment of the leader. Of course, this can only happen if the leader knows the monastic, which is why the fifth step of humility is for the monastic to reveal his/her inner self to the monastic leader so that the leader knows where the monastic is on the journey to God.

When the monastic feels wronged in obedience or that the leader has not discerned correctly that person's place on the spiritual journey, the monastic is to go to the leader and discuss the matter. The leader must respond according to RB 2 as a director of souls, accommodating and adapting self to each one's character and intelligence. Thus the leader is to discern the command with the person to see if it truly fits into the monastic's journey. In this process, then, the leader must be open to the individual's journey and the monastic must trust the leader. If the final decision goes against the wishes of the monastic, the Rule then directs the monastic to trust and to identify with the Crucified Lord in obeying. The latter, however, should be a rare experience.

Apostolic Obedience

As we know, apostolic communities refer to their profession as "taking vows" or some similar phrase with the word vows in it. The basic vows are termed the "evangelical counsels" since they are derived from the teachings and commands of Jesus in the gospels. Obedience, however, is the most difficult vow to locate in the gospels as a precise command. There are no words of Jesus highlighting submission to another human being as a distinguishing trait of being a follower of Jesus. Yet in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries it was included as an evangelical counsel for the emerging apostolic communities because it was seen as the pervasive value of Jesus' life-Jesus' total obedience to God even unto death. Thus obedience as a vow identified the religious with Jesus and his life. This, of course, was not dissimilar to one of the aspects of monastic obedience.

But there were three other aspects of apostolic obedience which distinguished it from monastic obedience. First, obedience, like chastity and poverty, was a distinct vow which could be separate or connected with the other two vows. It was not dependent upon them. Monastic obedience, on the other hand, was not a vow, but an articulation of a way of life, a response to the monastic way of life-listening. Monastic obedience was inseparable from cenobitic monasticism because without it, self-will, which was the vice of the sarabaites and gyrovagues, could emerge and destroy the listening which led from self-centeredness to God-centeredness.

Secondly, apostolic obedience, like the other evangelical counsels, was meant to counteract the vices of the times in Europe: power, expensive lifestyles, opulence in buildings and art, treachery among rulers (including the popes), excessive sensuality, oppression of the poor. Thus religious life as a counter-movement renounced all of this through the evangelical counsels. Chastity counteracted sensuality; poverty counteracted wealth; and obedience counteracted power. On the other hand, the monastic equivalent of these vows was directed toward listening to God and the renunciation was aimed at self-will, not at the societal ills of medieval society.

Thirdly, apostolic obedience was functional. Augustine of Hippo, in his communities, saw obedience as a primary element of the community to bind the people together and to help society function. The functional aspect became more fully emphasized with the nineteenth-century religious congregations. Obedience was directed toward the apostolic work of the congregation since the congregation was founded for a specific work and it was through the work that the sanctification of the member would be achieved. Since monastic life was not apostolically oriented, obedience was not directed toward ministerial work nor was work the primary method of sanctification. It would seem that within the monastery, obedience was not even directed toward work unless the work assigned was part of the individual's path to God or part of the mutual obedience shared among the members of the monastery.

Effect of Apostolic Obedience 
on Monastic Obedience

It seems that over the centuries, the notion of vows became accentuated within the monastic tradition. This was highlighted by canon law which classified all religious, whether apostolic or monastic, as having professed the evangelical counsels. Some monastic groups changed the traditional profession formula of the Rule to include an explicit statement of the evangelical counsels.

This attitude toward obedience changed from a search for God after both the monastic leader and the individual listened, to an attitude of functionalism. In other words, obedience was used to accomplish work or ministry. If a ministry required personnel, the leader assigned a person, even away from cenobitic living, whether the person wanted to do the work or not, wanted to leave or not, or even whether the person was qualified or not. Little attention was paid to the effect of the assignment on the personal journey of the monastic to God. The work itself, as in the apostolic tradition, would lead the person to God. Blind obedience to authoritarian commands suggested that merely because the person was obedient, the person was holy. The ancients, however, saw obedience as an expression and a step toward holiness, not the holiness.

Obedience became dissociated from the monastic journey because it lost its personal aspect. It was managerial and when this amounted to hardship it was justified because it permitted the monastic to identify with the Crucified Lord. Monastic leader and disciple became superior and subject, which led to a breakdown in the personal relationship between the monastic leader and the individual monastic to the detriment of the personal care of souls envisioned in RB 2.

Modern Consideration on Obedience

Maturity, autonomy, and responsibility are some of the buzz words of our day. We no longer believe that childlike, blind, and non-responsible obedience is healthy and spiritually rewarding. We would not interpret the "ready step of obedience" in RB 5 to mean that we would be out watering sticks before the superior finished the command. Nor are we so willing to be sent unquestioningly to missions away from the monastery against our desire to live the cenobitic life. Thus have we lost the sense of obedience handed on to us from the Rule? I do not believe so. I do believe, however, that we have corrected a misconception of obedience which emerged gradually over the centuries and developed into authoritarianism, especially during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and which seems to be trying to reassert itself within the Church today.

An attitude change has been taking place within the Church since the Second Vatican Council. Since almost the beginning of the Church, especially due to the Greek influence, life has been viewed dualistically. This dualism affected early monasticism as evidence in the neo-Platonism of John Cassian, who was a conduit to the West of the teachings of the Desert Fathers and a great influence on Benedict. Neo-Platonism had a mistrust of matter, of the world and of the body, especially its sexuality. Hierarchical structures and attitudes which held that some realities were good and others bad, and that some things were "better than, higher than holier than" others found their basis in dualism.

The God of dualism, as Sister Barbara Fiand has pointed out in Living the Vision (NY: Crossroad 1990), is a patriarchal ruler, different from a parent in his wrath and remoteness (though called Father), exacting love, holding obedience as primary. . . . The God of dualism is a "mighty fortress," a "bulwark," Lord of lords, King of kings. Only consecrated ministers (men) can approach his sanctuary, and consecrated fingers touch him. His love for us is an issue of faith. He sends suffering as chastisement for "our own good" and because he loves us.

The spirituality of dualism views our body as distinct from our soul, in fact, as the soul's prison. Acts of humility and self-abnegation, as well as overall punishment of the body, are encouraged or at least suggested.

Since the Second Vatican Council, however, a different vision of the world has been emerging, one in which God's reign (basileia) is present, love is the emphasis, the world is good, and mystery and ambiguity do exist. This vision of the world was reflected in the spirituality of Benedictine mystics such as Hildegard of Bingen and Mechtilde of Magdeburg.

Obedience of Leadership

This changing vision must be reflected in attitudes of both the leader of the community and the members.

First, it seems to me that the leader must take seriously RB 2 which describes the monastic leader as a director of souls, not a manager of institutions. Thus the leader as Christ in the monastery realizes that authority is what its Latin root means: augere-to empower, build up, edify. As Christ, the leader is teacher, but teacher because he/she listens to the Lord's instructions. The teaching and the commands resulting there from are like the leaven of divine justice. Obedience is not a good itself but rather a means toward realizing conformity with the divine will. The accent of obedience actually falls not so much on the individual monastic's act of obeying as on the conformity of the leader's command with the Lord's instruction.

Second, the leader must realize that obedience is personal, involving a personal relationship between the leader and the monastic. It is a leadership of discipleship. This necessitates a knowing, caring, and loving of each member. This is especially true for abbots because males often find it difficult to know, care and love in a personal way. Nevertheless, the guidance of persons, individually and collectively, has been entrusted to the monastic leader, whether male or female.

Third, leaders need to learn from the Desert Fathers and Mothers that leadership is often exercised by use of a story and a question. The gift of a leader is to be able to ask the question, not necessarily to give the answer. Each person's journey to God is slightly different and Benedict recognizes this when he states that the monastic leader must adapt "to each one's character and intelligence." The monastic leader cannot have all the answers but can help focus the disciple on the path.

Fourth, the dialogue established between RB 68 and RB 2 needs to be respected. The monastic, as an adult, discerns the will of God through lectio, common prayer and work, the three pillars of monastic life. This must be respected and taken into account by the monastic leader when the monastic comes to discuss his/her life or some decision of the leader.

Obedience of the Monastic

Adult obedience is the response of giving up self-centeredness. A person can only give up self-centeredness if one is mature enough to understand the decision and then to decide consciously to move from self-centeredness to God-centeredness through obedience to the monastic leader and the community.

It is important to remember that Benedict does not follow the Rule of the Master in transferring all responsibility of the monastic to the leader. RB drops those lines from RM which indicate that it is the leader who accepts responsibility for actions which the individual does in obedience. There is no substitution of wills in RB. Therefore Benedictine monastic obedience requires certain elements.

First, there is the responsibility of the monastic to seek God through listening. The monastic must discern his/her way to God and recognize that the monastic leader is a guide to assist on the journey.

Second, the monastic carries primary responsibility when asking for permissions. Merely because the leader gives a permission does not justify the matter. For example, if a monastic asks permission to fly to Europe on a vacation and receives the requisite permission, the monastic has observed neither monastic obedience nor monastic poverty merely because he/she sought the requisite permission. RB emphasizes that it is the inner spirit which counts not the outward observance.

Third, monastic obedience is not merely obedience to the monastic leader, but also obedience to the community. It seems that in our day, this aspect of obedience is primary. The individual must be responsive to the cenobitic life in its common prayer, chapter meetings, mealtimes, retreat, common gatherings, work and mutual support. It is not enough to seek from the monastic leader exemptions from the cenobitic aspects of life, not to hold oneself excused because of work. The obedient monastic is the person who is honest and acts with good intentions toward the common life of the monastery and observes that common life.

Fourth, for obedience to be a discernment to seek God, the monastic must be capable of sharing his/her journey with the monastic leader. If the leader must make decisions about a monastic in a vacuum, it is often because the monastic does not share his/her journey to God with the leader. This could be because the monastic has not arrived at an adult stage of self-image and communication. It also could be because the leader is not capable of listening to a person with the ear of his/her heart.

Fifth, the members of the community must realize that the leader of the community must make certain decisions and be responsible for them. An insistence that each member of the community partake in every decision affecting the community transforms obedience into consensus. Obedience presupposes trust. If trust is lacking within a community, the foundational relationship of a Benedictine monastery-namely living under a Rule and an abbot-has been lost. At the root of monastic obedience must be a trust, a trust toward the leader and a trust among the members of the community. Both are important and must be respected and balanced within the monastery.

Monastic obedience is not a carrying out of an order, but a total giving of self to God through a monastic community. Such giving sometimes does involve pain and hurt because the individual cannot "march merely to his/her own beat." But then neither can a spouse in a marriage or a child in a family. Obedience within the monastery today rests upon the idea that the cenobium, the community, is a society of persons who, through mutual love, sanctify each other. Obedience is the Yes of community living.

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