On June 12, the monastery celebrated 20 years since its canonical founding in 1999. For this historic anniversary, it seems right to me to finally add a motto to the crest of the monastery: Nova Facio Omnia (“I Make All Things New”). Taken from the Book of the Apocalypse (Chapter 21, verse 5), it describes the New Jerusalem in all its splendor. I believe this verse captures both the spirit of our first twenty years and provides an orienting principle for the future. The search for what is new springs from the deep desire in the human heart for New Life, untouched by Original Sin.
Newness and youth go together, bringing joy to the soul which has yet to experience some of the harsher realities of life. The Church herself calls us always to renew that youthfulness, beginning the Mass with a reminder of how God blesses youth with joy: Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam ("To God who gives joy to my youth"). Sin makes us old, taking away our innocence and joy. One of Fr. Cassian’s first principles of the new monastery was the Restoration of Man through the Worship of God. Once established in Norcia, St. Benedict’s birthplace, the community knew that an old building would only find new life through the worship of God.
Youth and newness also have a great deal to do with Truth. As Pope Benedict XVI said so aptly, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us, too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful." Truth never grows old since Truth is Christ Himself. It is ever fresh, new and innocent, sinless as He was without sin. It is we who lose heart, who lose faith and in these recent years, look not to Christ but to man for the signs of Spring. Man without Christ, however, can never bring the New. What men make new grows old before the ink is even dry. Nova Facio Omnia will keep this insight present in our minds.
St. Benedict knew well that exterior change, of discipline or location, never in itself brings new life. For this reason, he gave his monks the vow of stability as a gift. Even when it seems that all external circumstances are against him, the monk must stay and grow in Faith. That’s because frenetic desires - to change, to move, to “adapt to the times” - are expressions of a wish to be in charge of our own lives. Such a will fears submitting in faith to God and accepting the timelessness of His Commandments. But God really is in charge. He is the only One who can truly bring about the newness and rebirth that we seek. God is the subject, after all, in Nova Facio Omnia.
With this motto in mind, I am pleased to share our latest newsletter with you. Inside you will find Brother Augustine discussing his next step toward the priesthood, progress on our monastery reconstruction project, and an interview with Fr. Cassian recounting the foundation of the monastery 20 years ago. Our work here relies on your prayers and material support. Please consider a gift to our rebuilding efforts or consider signing up to be a monthly donor. Every amount, small or large, is a help to us as we press on raising the walls of our new monastery, hoping that through our work God will, at least on this mountainside, offer a foretaste of what it will be like when He finally makes all things new. In Christ, Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
We wish you and all of your loved ones a holy Easter week.
The Easter Solemnity this year brings us face to face with the mystery of death, new life and Christ’s sacrificial act which brings those two together. First with news of the fire at Notre Dame in Paris and then the stories of the hundreds of dead and wounded Christians in Sri Lanka, we try to unite our prayers at the foot of the Cross, with all those suffering from these tragedies, and we pray that the light of the Resurrection will come through the darkness of sin and death.
Our most recent print newsletter has just been sent to press, and in it, we have included some photos of the Easter Triduum at the monastery, details about our new canine guardians, and our progress in learning monastic sign language to maintain silence within the clausura. But because we want to share these many good things with you during this time of holy celebration, we’ve included a digital copy of the newsletter in this e-mail. You can view it by clicking here.
To close on a lighter note: Those of you who have been regularly following developments “in Monte” will recognize the name Tertullian; not the early Christian Latin author but the monastery’s tortoise who freely roams our cloister. Dug into the ground hibernating, as is his custom during the winter months, we had started to worry that we had lost him because he had been “away” for an unusually long period this year. However, recently, he emerged from his hole and is now trotting about (at a turtle’s pace) again, much to the delight of the monks.
May God bless you and reward you for your prayers and help as we, renewed with light from the Paschal mystery, continue to work to bring new life to Norcia through the rebuilding of our monastery.
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
Construction has started on the new monastery, but on the most unlikely of sections: the laundry room! While washing our monastic habits and linens is indeed important, the reason that the building work is starting here is nearly 500 years old. When the Capuchin monastery was first built, the laundry room was constructed in a retaining wall which also channeled fresh mountain water to the monastery. We are trying to rebuild the monastery as faithfully as possible according to the ancient plan. That means that we too are building the laundry room in conjunction with the retaining wall.
Laundry is a fitting theme to start this update since during Lent the monks try in a particular way to clean up, not our outer clothing but our inner souls. They can become dirty and tired through our negligence throughout the year. The monk’s life, St. Benedict teaches, is a continuous Lent, but we grow weak and tired and need a season dedicated to penance. Aware of the continual stream of bad news about the scandals in the Church, we use this time to do penance for our personal sins as well as to pray for those affected by things happening in the wider Church and world.
With the coming of Spring, we see the hope of new life both in nature and for ourselves. We are happy to share that our monastery farm is growing. Shortly after we built the chicken coop last year for our chickens, we realized we needed help to protect them from the wild boar, wolves and foxes that roam our woods. Help is now on the way in the form of Umbrian sheep dogs, born last month on a nearby farm. Their names will follow an ancient Roman custom: Primus, Secundus, Tertius and Quartus.
The arrival of this breed of protective sheep dogs means that we’ll soon be able to acquire a few goats. We need their help to clean the underbrush in the vast forest we have inherited from our Capuchin forefathers. As we grow, other animals will join the farm. A monastery, says our holy Patron, should have everything inside of it so that the monks don’t need to leave unnecessarily. This takes time to build and set in order, but with your help, our fundraising will advance successfully and we will be able to complete the construction.
And yet, as we plan for new life and growth, we must also plan for death. In the past two months, three monks lost a parent. The close proximity of these passings was difficult but nevertheless a powerful reminder to keep death before our eyes daily, as the Rule says. All of this present suffering, as well as the chaos and confusion in the world and in the Church will pass away and we must be ready for our own judgement. Along with our slow construction of the farm, we are also laying the ground for a monastic cemetery, a traditional place to pray for the souls not only of monks who will leave us (as of yet we have had no deaths) but for all our loved ones, family, friends and benefactors.
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
This year’s beautiful feasts of Christmas and Epiphany brought more snow than we have had in many years in Norcia. Despite the weather, construction of the new monastery is still on course. Cement trucks and bulldozers arrive daily, adding a new variety of sounds to this mountaintop usually known for its bells and Gregorian Chant.
The ongoing reconstruction brought hope to all the monks who worked hard to make Christ’s arrival in the manger in Norcia warmly felt. We like to think we are rebuilding the “inn” so that He can have a room here!
Meanwhile, our temporary wooden chapel has been enhanced by sounds of another sort: the blessing and inauguration of our first real pipe organ on December 26.
Built from scratch by Claudio Pinchi Organs (http://www.pinchi.com/) of Trevi in Umbria, the new organ, with a gentle gothic exterior, houses a muscular set of 567 pipes, 11 ranks, 2 manuals of 54 keys, a pedalboard of 27 keys and is cased in local chestnut. Claudio Pinchi exceeded all our expectations and we warmly recommend him to any church or monastery building an organ.
The new organ will eventually be moved to the church when construction is finished, making this instrument a permanent feature of our home. We are immensely grateful to Andy Mozisek of Dallas, Texas for his donation, which will enhance the ancient liturgy for generations to come.
The Christmas feasts brought many moments of joy. While most of those took place in the chapel, one took place outside: the monks scaled a snow-covered mountain trail for exercise and to appreciate God’s creation. We are blessed that Norcia is situated in Italy’s largest national park. All around us, the beauty of nature parallels the beauty of the liturgy that occurs inside our wooden walls.
This note cannot be sent without a word of thanks to all of you for your support this Christmas. For the first time in the history of our Birra Nursia (http://birranursia.com) venture in the United States, our beer sold out of our California warehouse. This meant that some of you who would have liked to celebrate the holidays with it were unable to do so. We are extremely grateful for your understanding, but most of all for the support you give us by buying our beer. By the end of the week a new container will have arrived allowing old orders to be fulfilled and new ones to be made.
Many of you sent in Christmas donations, greeting cards and assured us of your prayers. We can repay you only by promising you our prayers. As we continue to celebrate Christmas until February 2, be assured we will remember you all at the Holy Crib for the kindness and generosity you show to our monastic community.
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
The First Sunday of Advent brings the sense of a new beginning to the Church and the monastery. We see over and over again in the spiritual life that though we make progress, we often make the same mistakes. So, with God’s grace, we need occasions to start afresh. Sacramental Confession is one of those occasions but so is the new liturgical year, which recalls the prophecy of Christ’s arrival, His birth, life, Cross and Resurrection.
This new beginning also marks the anniversary of the monks’ arrival in Norcia in the year 2000. Then, on a cold winter afternoon, the town was flooded with well-wishers (and the merely curious!) who wanted a look at the first monks to live in Norcia since 1810 when the monastery had been closed. Fr. Cassian led a procession with two other courageous brothers down the corso (main street) to the Basilica built at the ancient birthplace of our holy father, St. Benedict.
A generous benefactor from Michigan sponsored the project to install water, sewer and gas from Norcia to the monastery, allowing everyone along the 1.5 mile road access.
Little did we know that 16 years later, God would lead us yet further on the path of our Patron, up to the mountain, withdrawing as he did into the wilderness to be discovered and surrounded by many monks in the years to come. We’re happy to report that three men were clothed in the habit today, formally becoming novices.
And, mirabile dictu (a wonder to say) we have broken ground on the foundations of the monastery and work is progressing steadily despite the weather. As if this were not enough, a new organ will soon be delivered to our little wooden chapel and installation will follow so it can be played at Christmas for the first time!
To help us in 2019, you can buy a bottle or a case of our beer (now available with less expensive shipping to local Walgreens stores), you can purchase our CD on Amazon, or maybe even consider a major gift to help us build the walls. Whether a gift is small or large , God uses it for the good of His plan. When the monastery is finally built one day, whether a small gift gave a brick or a larger one an entire floor, all will be cherished as one whole, so that God can be sought and adored on this holy mountain in Norcia.
With our prayers for you this Advent and at the crib with our Lord this Christmas,
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
Some have compared the recent scandals and controversies in the Church to a spiritual earthquake, one bringing destruction and uncertainty. If that is true, then I am glad to share the main lesson that the earthquakes of 2016 taught — and continues to teach — us: When the Church seems damaged and disfigured we must take that as an invitation from God to a deeper faith in Him, in his Mysteries, in the Tradition of the Church. This Faith is hard but there are good and beautiful fruits, some of which we share here below.
I wrote to you this summer with a request to help us fund our rebuilding project. As the construction site now opens, two years from the time the monastery and church were destroyed, I am glad to say many people responded generously to our appeal, both in life and in death. In life, several families made significant pledges to help build the walls. In death, a priest who departed this life unexpectedly left us a generous gift in his last will.
Besides the obvious material help that such a bequest offers, the gift allows the monks and the donor, in this case a priest, the chance of a timeless spiritual connection to the monastery. We offer Mass for his soul regularly and he will be remembered in the monks’ prayers as long as the monastery exists.
This gift, from a priest, was also timely as we were blessed with three men who moved to the Altare Dei. With Fr. Martin standing by to represent the monastery, our Fr. Gregory was ordained to the sacred priesthood by his bishop, Mons. Rifan, in Campos, Brazil on September 16th and offered his first Solemn Mass in the monastery on October 7th.
Meanwhile, two other men moved closer to that holy day when His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke came to Norcia to give tonsure and the 4 minor orders. Br. Augustine Wilmeth and Br. Bernard Baca, though still a few years from priestly ordination, already live in their souls the call to suffer with Christ on the Cross.
We also continued our tradition of all day hikes into the beautiful mountain range that surrounds us, four times per year. In September, we scaled Mt. Vettore and the Cima del Redentore, two mountains near our monastery which help bring the soul closer to God. For mountain climbing enthusiasts, the height is a little over 8,000 feet.
The continual flow of prayer requests which come to our door suggests that the spiritual earthquake in the Church is not yet over. In our daily lives as monks we carry the pain that so many of you experience in this time of purification. In the timeless words of Our Lady we renew our Faith and find our courage: Fiat.
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
It is not without reason that Benedictine monks have been known for many centuries for their hospitality. St. Benedict dedicates a long section of his Rule to remind the monks that every guest who shows up at the door should be treated like Christ. Their hands and feet should be washed and the Abbot should even break his fast in order to eat with them. The damages of the earthquake notwithstanding, the Monastery of San Benedetto in Monte is blessed to have shared its refectory with many pilgrims, tourists, family members or those simply passing through Norcia.
This past weekend, a group of 20 men from the famous Tipi Loschi company along with their associates spent the weekend helping us with long overdue projects. Their ages ranged from 18 to 70. Some came to vigils at 3:30 AM, all came to prayers throughout the day and to one of the most important parts of our life: Pranzo (our main meal of the day).
Our Holy Father St. Benedict is careful, however, to warn that before a guest is received and the Peace of Christ shared with him, the monks must pray with him, “on account of the devil’s deceptions” (Chapter 53). This cryptic admonition might have referred to the dangers posed to monks by visiting Arian Christians who were an existential threat to the Church of the time due to their false teachings.
The lesson is this: charity without truth is no charity at all. When St. Benedict says that we should prefer nothing to the love of Christ, he also means not to prefer even the flattery of the culture or the pomp of the world, that is, those things that suggest that truth is relative and changeable. Charity of hospitality could never mean, for the great Patron of Europe, that one denies the truth.
Men today who come to Norcia to become monks — and at present 4 have requested to enter this fall — come looking for a world where they can be truly free to love Christ as the Incarnate God, a truth that a modern day version of Arianism once again tries to reject. They come wounded by a society which has tempted them with the idea that either no happiness on this earth is possible at all, or that it is completely possible if one only pursues it by the standards of the world. But when their vocations flourish they find the opposite of both. They find a foretaste of joy here on earth, and then later, in death, that joy complete.
As we enter now into a phase of more vigorous fundraising for construction of our permanent monastery, we ask your support to help us reach our goal of 1 million dollars so that we can raise its walls. We pray that, with your support, men might have a permanent home here where God can be found.
To help us raise the walls, click here.
You can also help us by purchasing our beer or CD of Gregorian chant.
Prior Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B.
Only a few days before the Church celebrates the summer feast of St. Benedict on July 11, we write to share good news so that you can toast with a bit of Birra Nursia (http://birranursia.com/purchase) on that special day. Our Holy Patron was a great builder — of buildings and saints — and the news comes for us in these two forms as well: the spiritual and material.
Materially, we are pleased to share drawings for the construction of the new monastery in Monte, finally approved by the Italian historical society with construction to begin this September. The project will restore the former Capuchin monastery destroyed in the final earthquake to a fully functioning monastery with room for at least 30 monks.
In an area of Italy where the devastation of the earthquake brought an end to so much beautiful Church architecture, we are pleased to be able to take part in the rebuilding by bringing back to life a former monastery of the town.
Funds are still needed to complete the large building project, which will be constructed on a foundation of earthquake-resistant isolators. We have enough to begin the foundations but we need 1 million dollars to raise the walls. Can you help (http://en.nursia.org/donations)?
The construction project means moving away from the phase of emergency building and into the phase of building our new permanent home. As a symbol of this step, we also share spiritual good news. A few weeks ago our monastery was elevated by the Holy See to the status of an Independent Priory, sui iuris, within the Benedictine Order. This blessing from God took place 19 years to the day from the initial canonical approval and 20 years after Fr. Cassian Folsom, O.S.B. courageously founded the monastery in a little apartment on the Aventine Hill in Rome in 1998.
This important milestone for us could not have happened without the prayers and support of so many of you over the years, but in particular we thank the three Abbot Primates who have guided our initial history, Abbot Marcel Rooney, O.S.B. who presided over the birth and founding, Abbot Notker Wolf, O.S.B. who saw that our little fledging group would be given a roof and path to stability, and now the present primate, Abbot Gregory Polan, O.S.B. whose faith-filled charity brought us to this final moment of canonical stability. In a special way, too, we thank Archabbot Lambert Reilly, O.S.B. of St. Meinrad for entrusting Fr. Cassian with this mission and a Benedictine Cardinal of the Church, Paul Augustine Mayer, O.S.B., no longer with us on earth but whose guidance and protection have brought us to this day.
With this new important canonical status, the Church entrusts to the monastery its own governance and so our constitutions called for an election of the first Conventual Prior.
Today, the reigning Abbot Primate, Gregory Polan, O.S.B, visited us and presided over the proceedings where Fr. Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B., was elected to lead the Priory.
Thanking God and asking for St. Benedict’s continued intercession on this hallowed ground of his birth home, we remain grateful to all of you.
The Monks of Norcia