October 30 marked the five-year anniversary of the earthquake that destroyed the ancient monastery in town and launched the community of monks on the new path in Monte (on the mountainside). It is an anniversary that does not pass without our remembering all those who suffered throughout the region, and the thousands of people who helped us in those first days and weeks. We are ever grateful and pray for you.
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Now that the walls are rising at the monastery, it is possible to walk around to get an idea of where the monks will eat, sleep, study and pray.
In an 1849 discourse on the Catholic mission, John Henry Cardinal Newman reminded us to “build upon the old foundations and you are safe: begin nothing new, make no experiments … lest in old age you bring your Mother (the Church) to shame.” Although Newman was not a Benedictine, here he articulates a principle dear to the monk’s heart: faithfulness to one’s history is assurance of stability for the future.
As the walls of the new monastery grow on the very same footprint of the old monastery, albeit with some new anti-earthquake technology, we try wherever possible to give deference to what came before. Are we so sure the friars who inhabited this land centuries ago were wrong about where to put the refectory and kitchen? Let us try it the old way first and see. How can we judge correctly without trying it?
That same spirit of reverence for the past helped us return to our annual visit to the Benedictine nuns of Norcia, following in the footsteps of our founder. You may recall the story of the time the holy twins, St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, were together one evening, and their visit was prolonged by rain. While for us there was not a cloud in sight, good cheer, good pizza and good beer (Nursia!) kept us together after a long pandemic pause.
We know many of you are still suffering with the ongoing material and spiritual effects of the pandemic. All of us can see that the world and the Church are in the midst of great trials. May the enclosed photos which bring the good news of the priestly ordinations of Dom Augustine Wilmeth (from South Carolina) and Dom Bernard Baca (from Louisiana), offer you some consolation and joy.
Dom Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
Dear friends and family,
For many, August is a time for vacation -- or at least a little leisure. Thus, it easily brings to mind the words of the philosopher Josef Pieper: “The celebration of divine worship is the deepest of springs by which leisure is fed.” And worship, he says, “is either something ‘given’, foreordained -- or it does not exist at all.” In true worship, a spirit of contemplation allows one to completely forget what is merely necessary or useful and allows the soul to soar, “to be rapt in love of the invisible reality through the visibility of that first and ultimate sacrament: the Incarnation.” A vacation without contemplation would come up short.
The traditional Gospel for the Feast of the Assumption could not better express this spirit of leisure and contemplation. “Martha, Martha! Mary (who has been simply listening) has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” What gives true worship -- and true leisure -- its eternal orientation and lasting effect is that it cannot be taken from us. It places the soul at the feet of Christ, like Mary.
The Christian (and monk) is called to be at leisure even when he works, orienting what he does to that ultimate principle which gives it meaning. In applying this principle to our life on the mountainside, we certainly haven’t been left idle! While we don’t all have green thumbs, we’ve studied up on plants and trees, adding cypresses, shrubs and new lawns to the property. Many of the goats have had kids which we are trying to teach (with mixed results) to eat the weeds in the great forest that surrounds us.
July brought with it the summer Feast of St. Benedict and, for the first time in Monte, we received the Benedictine Peace Torch, carried by runners from a great distance. In the flame of the torch one remembers that peace is found through purification. The great patriarch of monks knew that without the personal conversion of his monks, no peace could reign inside the monastery. Hundreds of people came for Vespers, which concluded with a little Birra Nursia to gladden the heart!
Over the past month, many have communicated their support and gratitude for the liturgical life of the monastery. St. Benedict tells the monks they should “Prefer nothing to the work of God,” and that they should “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ”. With this admonition, the monks of ages past always knew that the life of prayer and the life of Faith in Christ are intimately connected. May we follow their example in sharing the light of Christ wherever darkness and doubt still reign.
Dom Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
The external walls which will be those of the future sacristy and chapter room will soon be covered with local stones.
New marble decoration, decorative Corinthian columns and a painting of the Coronation now adorn the restored church on the mountainside.