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August 28, 2008

SVA and Rome


One of the great apostolates that a number of our monks are involved with is the Benedictine School in Rome, Sant' Anselmo (Our Fr. Edward Mazich, O.S.B. is the President of the St. Benedict Education Fund which helps Benedictines from around the world study at Sant' Anselmo and our Archabbot Douglas R. Nowicki, O.S.B. sits on the board of incorporators and the board of directors) (here is a little more about the school from their website):
Founded in 1887 by Pope Leo XIII, students including Benedictine men and women come from all corners of the world to study at Sant' Anselmo, receiving degrees at both the baccalaureate level and the graduate level. As an educational center, Rome houses many of the pontifical schools and faculties of the church, and opportunities for students to learn in a setting at the heart of the Catholic Church. Sant' Anselmo, while an ocean away from the United States, has had a major impact on the Catholic Church, educating cardinals, archbishops and bishops, from Cardinal Paul Augustin Mayer to Archbishop Wilton Gregory to Bishop J. Peter Sartain, recently appointed as the new shepherd of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois by Pope Benedict XVI.

The Saint Benedict Education Foundation, Inc., was formed in the United States to provide support to one of the best-kept secrets in Rome, our international Benedictine University. Sant' Anselmo continues, as it has for many years, to educate both lay and religious students ministering throughout the world in Christ's name.

August 26, 2008

Vows 2008

Check out this slide show of the first profession and renewal of Monastic Vows which occurred at the Abbey on the evening of July 10, 2008. (Click on the arrows to scroll through the show)

August 24, 2008

MC Sisters

Recently our Father Boniface Hicks, O.S.B. conducted the perpetual vows retreat Missionary of Charity Sisters in Washington, DC. Here the professed sisters pose with Fr. Boniface at the convent following their profession which was held at the Basilica National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Note: the Crucifix in the background was a gift to the sisters from our Fr. Paschal, O.S.B.)

August 23, 2008

Anniversary of the Dedication of the Archabbey Basilica

The Basilica is a modification of Rheinish Romanesque architecture by New York architect William Schickel. The Basilica is 230 feet long and 75 feet wide at the nave and choir, and it is 112 feet wide at the crossing. The sanctuary and monks' choir occupy nearly half the space of the building. In 1996 and 1997 renovations of the Basilica were undertaken, including a new roof, cleaning the exterior bricks, replacing the original steps, painting the interior, restoring the artwork and all of the stained glass windows, restoring the stations of the cross, gilding the cornices, and replacing the old lighting and sound systems. The altar rail was removed, as were the side altars. The altar in the eucharistic transept was replaced by a sacrament tower containing the tabernacle with the Blessed Sacrament. In 1999 and 2000 two spires and a bell tower were added to the front of the Basilica and the two back spires were re-roofed.

August 22, 2008

"Come and See" Dates Released

Mark your calendars for the 2008-09 St. Vincent Archabbey "Come and See" Weekends. This year our program will be October 31 - November 2, 2008, February 6 -8, 2009, and our Triduum Retreat which will take place April 8-12, 2009. As you can see, we have created a flyer that you can post on your refrigerator, computer, desk, etc., wherever it can serve as a reminder. We also ask that you spread the word about these weekends by printing out our flyer (it's a jpeg image, just save it to your desktop and print it out) and asking your local parish, campus ministry, or Catholic discernment clubs if you can post it.

August 20, 2008

SPO Outreach Program

140 Catholic college students from around the country spent 10 days in Christian community at Saint Paul's Seminary Archdiocese of St Paul/Minneapolis studying Pope John Paul II call for a new springtime in the Church brought about by a new Evangelization. Father Fred Byrne, O.S.B. (St. Vincent Archabbey Vocation Director) was on hand at the event and brought with him 6 St. Vincent college students to participate in the event.

August 19, 2008

St. Bernard of Clairvaux - (1090-1153), Abbot of Clairvaux

From: http://www.ccel.org/

Bernard's spiritual writing as well as his extraordinary personal magnetism began to attract many to Clairvaux and the other Cistercian monasteries, leading to many new foundations. He was drawn into the controversy developing between the new monastic movement which he preeminently represented and the established Cluniac order, a branch of the Benedictines. This led to one of his most controversial and most popular works, his Apologia. Bernard's dynamism soon reached far beyond monastic circles. He was sought as an advisor and mediator by the ruling powers of his age. More than any other he helped to bring about the healing of the papal schism which arose in 1130 with the election of the antipope Anacletus II. It cost Bernard eight years of laborious travel and skillful mediation. At the same time he labored for peace and reconciliation between England and France and among many lesser nobles. His influence mounted when his spiritual son was elected pope in 1145. At Eugene III's command he preached the Second Crusade and sent vast armies on the road toward Jerusalem. In his last years he rose from his sickbed and went into the Rhineland to defend the Jews against a savage persecution.

Although he suffered from constant physical debility and had to govern a monastery that soon housed several hundred monks and was sending forth groups regularly to begin new monasteries (he personally saw to the establishment of sixty-five of the three hundred Cistercian monasteries founded during his thirty-eight years as abbot), he yet found time to compose many and varied spiritual works that still speak to us today. He laid out a solid foundation for the spiritual life in his works on grace and free will, humility and love. His gifts as a theologian were called upon to respond to the dangerous teachings of the scintillating Peter Abelard, of Gilbert de la Porree and of Arnold of Brescia. His masterpiece, his Sermons on the Song of Songs, was begun in 1136 and was still in composition at the time of his death. With great simplicity and poetic grace Bernard writes of the deepest experiences of the mystical life in ways that became normative for all succeeding writers. For Pope Eugene he wrote Five Books on Consideration, the bedside reading of Pope John XXIII and many other pontiffs through the centuries.

Bernard died at Clairvaux on 20 August 1153. He was canonized by Pope Alexander III on 18 January 1174. Pope Pius VII declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1830.

August 15, 2008

The Assumption of Our Blessed Lady!!!

Here is a nice clip but out by the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate who run a media apostolate explaining the Assumption of our Lady...Ave Maria!!!

August 9, 2008

Preview of our New Vocation Video!!!

So here it is, a year in the making but its finally finished: check out this preview of the St. Vincent Archabbey Vocation Video: "I Only Show you the Cross." Contact the vocation office via e-mail or by phone (724) 532-6655 for a free copy of the finished DVD.

August 8, 2008

Diaconate Ordination

(St. Anthony - considered the Father of monks and St. Stephen, Deacon and first martyr for the faith)

Please remember in your prayers our Brothers Joseph Adams, O.S.B. and Benoit Alleggia, O.S.B. who will be ordained transitional deacons tomorrow at 10:00 AM in the Archabbey Basilica. All are invited to attend to support our brothers as they draw closer to priestly ordination.

August 7, 2008

Lectio Divina

Here is a nice article by our Fr. Campion, O.S.B. on Lectio Divina which was published on our College website for our students...yet it is great or anyone who wants to learn more about Lectio.


What should a properly educated college graduate of the early 21st century know? A Harvard University task force issued a report on October 3, 2006, which attempts to respond to this question. The proposal, if adopted, would require that every student take one course in the category entitled Reason and Faith. Thanks to a confrere, Tom Hart, OSB, I was able to read the 39-page report soon after it was issued. The report notes that Reason and Faith is “a category unlike any that Harvard has included in its general education curriculum…” Further, the report notes: “When they get to college, students often struggle – sometimes for the first time in their lives – to sort out the relationship between their own beliefs and practices, the different beliefs and practices of fellow students, and the profoundly secular and intellectual world of the academy itself” (Preliminary Report, Task Force on General Education, October, 2006, pp. 18-21).

It has been a given in the philosophy of Saint Vincent College that to be properly educated in any century, education must include the search for truth both through faith and reason. In his encyclical Faith and Reason, John Paul II wrote the following: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth – in a word, to know himself – so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves” (Prologue). “The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason mutually support each other; each influences the other, as they offer to each other a purifying critique and a stimulus to pursue the search for deeper understanding” (100).

One of the things that a student at Saint Vincent might rightly expect to learn as part of general education is the meaning of Catholic theology. Some of the things I do to explain its meaning in the classes I teach may be of interest to others. There is no necessary order in the remarks that follow. I approach the task of explanation differently each time I try to make the meaning of theology clearer to myself and to others.

The classic definition of theology that has stood the test of time is a good place to begin. It is the definition of Saint Anselm, a monk of the Benedictine abbey of Bec in Normandy, then abbot and archbishop of Canterbury. Anselm lived from 1033 to 1109. His definition of theology is simple and easy to remember: Fides quaerens intellectum (Faith seeking understanding). Persons of faith and communities of faith trying to understand and to organize their faith are doing theology. This is the understanding of theology that Benedict XVI used in his lecture to the science faculty of Regensburg University last September: “…theology rightly belongs in the university…not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, an inquiry into the rationality of faith.”

I do not know if Saint Anselm of Canterbury was influenced by a letter of Saint Peter, but his definition resonates with the thinking of Peter: “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence…” (I Peter 3:15). In the context of the letter, faith and hope are synonymous: there is no faith without hope; and there is no hope without faith.

When you get to the root of Saint Anselm’s definition of theology, you realize that all of Scripture is theology. It seems that the Jewish people, as soon as they became aware of the divine presence in the events of their history through faith, sought to explain its meaning in a great variety of literary forms. What does faith in the divine presence mean in all the circumstances of life, good and bad? What may we hope for? What is the nature of God?

The study of someone else’s theology may lead to faith – as in reading the theology that is Sacred Scripture – but that study of someone else’s theology is itself not doing theology. You have something of the same idea expressed at the conclusion of the fourth gospel. John writes, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20: 30-31). John could also have added: “And if you come to believe, and are so inclined, you may also do theology by writing a gospel as I have done.”

Tacitus in his Annals (about the year 115) wrote that: “Christ the founder of this sect [popularly known as Christians] had been put to death by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, when Tiberius was Emperor.” About the same time, Pliny the Younger in a letter to Trajan reported that the Christians “on an appointed day had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath not for the commission of any crime, but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery and breach of faith…” Though they wrote about Christ and the meaning of Christ for Christians, they were doing history not theology because they were not persons of faith seeking to understand the meaning of their own faith in Christ.

A few years ago I ran across a report of an experience that nicely illustrates the distinction between theology and other disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, or history, which also talk about God. These disciplines seek to discover the meaning of God, but with different presuppositions that determine their perspectives. The incident involves a Harvard professor who had been invited to give a lecture on God at a conference in California. In preparation of his lecture he had examined what the great philosophers and theologians had written about God. On the plane back to Cambridge he was feeling good about the lecture and the positive response that it had elicited. Then the thought struck him: “I talked to everyone about God, except God.” He had done an excellent job, perhaps in history of philosophy and theology, but he had not been doing theology.

While going over my notes in preparation for writing this paper, I had the feeling that there was too much material on the meaning of theology. But now, after reading a number of articles like one entitled “Theory in Particle Physics: Theological Speculation versus Practical Knowledge” by Burton Richter, former professor in the physical sciences at Stanford University, I have come to the opposite conclusion – the more that is clearly and explicitly said about the meaning of theology, the better. Only then is there something of substance with which to agree or disagree. (The Richter essay may be found at http://www.physicstoday.org/vol-59/iss-10/p8.html.)

Professor Richter, like others who use the term, never bothers to define what exactly he means by theology. In his understanding, any affirmation – say about alternative universes – that cannot be proven by scientific evidence is theology. As for “theological speculation” not being practical knowledge, it may turn out that good or bad theology will determine whether or not we will blow ourselves and the planet back to the original stardust. Knowledge does not get more practical than that.

Two respected Catholic theologians are worth quoting on the question: their explanations of theology are quite clear and explicit. Richard P. McBrien in his book Catholicism, new edition (San Francisco: Harper, 1994, p. 41) writes the following: “Theology is not the interpretation of someone else’s faith, but of one’s own, or of one’s own community of faith. Theology is not simply talk about God, or about Christ, or about the Bible, or even about faith. Theology happens only when there is an effort to come to a better, clearer, more critical understanding of one’s own faith in God and in Christ, as that faith has become available to the inquirer in the Bible, in the Church, or in some other sector of human experience. When “theology” is done without faith, it isn’t theology at all. It is a philosophy of religion. The theologian reflects on his or her own faith-commitment and that of his or her faith-community; the philosopher of religion reflects on the faith-commitment of others.”

Avery Dulles, in an essay entitled “The Faith of a Theologian” (Believing Scholars: Catholic Intellectuals, edited by James L. Heft, S.M., New York: Fordham U. Press, 2005, p. 157) writes: “I am aware that some authors have maintained that theology can be done without faith. Nonbelievers, I suppose could discuss what they might hold if they believed that there was a God or that he had spoken through Christ and the Church. But this would only be a kind of hypothetical discourse, based on a contrary-to-fact condition. No one but the believer is in a position to affirm theological propositions as true. The same propositions might be affirmed by the nonbeliever on other grounds, but in their case the affirmation would not be theological. Faith is what distinguishes theology from other disciplines such as philosophy, history, psychology, and sociology, which deal with some of the same material. All theologians, then, must be believers, but not all believers are theologians.”

Hans-Georg Gadamer provides an insightful analogy that is useful to illustrate the relation between faith and theology. He speaks of various kinds of knowledge, using the knowledge of dance as an example. The levels of knowledge are distinct, related, and occur in no necessary order in experience. There is the theory of dance (choreography that can be learned); there is identification with a dancer (a different kind of knowledge upon seeing a dancer perform); and to know “dance” in still another way can be had only if one actually dances. One may study the theory or creed of a religion; one may even admire the saints who perform it; but unless one is doing the dance of faith, one is not doing theology when seeking to understand its creed, or when admiring someone who is doing the dance.

Gadamer’s distinctions in regard to ways of knowing is helpful in talking about the academic study of religion. In class, I explain to students, we are concerned with knowledge of the theory or the creed of a religion. The grade in the course depends on gaining this knowledge and upon the skill of expressing it. The persons the student identifies with, and the decision to practice or not to practice a religion is beyond the scope of the academic study of religion. However, if a student does decide to do the dance of a particular religion, he or she would know something of its choreography.

It is important that students understand the meaning of theology, and thus understand that it is a personal decision of a student or teacher whether the material of any course is approached from the perspective of theology or some other perspective. The same material, say the events as described in the Old and New Testaments, may be studied from a variety of perspectives – Catholic or other Christian theologies, sociology, political science, history, psychology, and so forth.

A student can do any course as theology. In a physics or biology course, for example, if one approaches the study of how the universe or life is evolving in the context of faith that God is the creator and guides creation toward an ultimate purpose, the student is doing theology. This is precisely the meaning of theology: faith seeking understanding through the methods of physics or biology. Physics and biology are not abolished as sciences; rather, they attain fulfillment in the service of faith. In their scientific methods, however, those disciplines are independent of faith and at times serve to purify faith. Rather than producing fragmented chunks of valuable information about a portion of reality, they are now incorporated with all the arts and sciences in search of a unified understanding of the whole.

On the question of theology as a perspective to integrate the various disciplines, an essay worth reading is that of the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre (“The End of Education: The Fragmentation of the American University,” Commonweal, October 20, 2006, pp. 10-14). His short essay, in my view, is more substantial and thought-provoking than the Harvard Task Force report on general education. This is what MacIntyre wrote about theology as a central element of education: “Newman argued that it is theology that is the integrative and unifying discipline needed by any university, secular, Protestant, or Catholic. And it is in the light afforded by the Catholic faith and more especially by Catholic doctrines concerning human nature and the human condition that theologians have a unique contribution to make in addressing the questions that ought to be central to an otherwise secular curriculum. It is not just that Catholic theology has its own distinctive answers to those questions, but that we can learn from it a way of addressing those questions, not just as theoretical inquiries, but as questions with practical import for our lives, asked by those who are open to God’s self-revelation. Theology can become an education in how to ask such questions” (p. 14).

It is interesting to note that the Harvard Task Force in its report also recognizes the importance of integration of education and life beyond the classroom: “General education is the place where students are brought to understand how everything that we teach in the liberal arts and sciences relates to their lives and to the world that they will confront” (p. 4). Unless I missed something, however, the report does not explain exactly how this integration is to be accomplished. The “Reason and Faith” category, for example, simply adds one course requirement: typical courses mentioned are “the Scopes Monkey trial,” “Galileo’s condemnation,” “the Vatican as a religious and secular institution.” The central idea of the present essay is that lectio divina provides a structure which integrates personal faith, critical study, prayer, and the way we live our lives.

To illustrate the possibility of approaching the material of a course from perspectives other than theology, I suggest to students that it would be an interesting exercise to examine biblical texts or other texts from the perspective of Marxist philosophy or evolutionary biology. The Jewish people and the Christians who followed certainly did many things that in hindsight enabled them to change and to survive – often against seemingly great odds in hostile environments. Does this adaptation illustrate the principle “survival of the fittest”? Is determinism (no free will) in all living species a presupposition of evolutionary biology? I believe it is so – even in those scholars who apparently freely choose to write books to explain what it is about.

The October 22, 2006, issue of The New York Times Book Review has a review of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion in which he attempts to explain the origin of religion in the categories of evolutionary biology. As an example (quoting the reviewer): “Dawkins attributes religion to a ‘misfiring’ of something else that is adaptively useful; namely, a child’s evolved tendency to believe its parents. Religious ideas, he thinks, are virus-like ‘memes’ that multiply by infecting gullible brains of children.” Students must often be reminded that there is a wide chasm between observation of the fossil record and interpretation of that record. There is likewise a very wide chasm between evolutionary biology as science and “evolutionary biology” that is used as a vehicle for Dawkin’s secularist philosophy.

Distinctions between faith and theology or the distinctions among the various ways of knowing may appear abstract, but in fact they affect the educational life of students and faculty in very practical ways. Saint Vincent students represent at least 25 different religious traditions. To be certain that students in my classes understand the meaning of the academic study of religion (the theoretical knowledge of Gadamer’s triad of the possible ways of knowing), I point out that a devout believer may do poorly in the academic study of religion, while a non-believing, morally corrupt person may do very well. Academic success depends on intellectual acumen and industry, not on one’s personal faith or moral style of life.

In the classroom there are no second-class students based on religious faith, or lack thereof. Saint Augustine made the observation: “I believe in order to understand; and I understand, the better to believe.” Gadamer would agree with Augustine’s view on the relations that exist among the various ways of knowing. I dance in order to understand the theory of dance; and I study theory, the better to dance. Nevertheless, at least at the classroom level, a student of Catholic belief has no academic advantage in studying the concepts of Catholic theology; a student of Jewish belief, no advantage in studying the concepts of Jewish theology; a student of Protestant belief, no advantage in studying the concepts of Protestant theology; a student of Hindu belief, no advantage in studying the concepts of Hindu religion.

Profession of faith is not a prerequisite for admission to courses the Religious Studies Department offers. One of the best students I have ever had was an atheist who excelled in her understanding of Catholic theology, and was able to express her understanding at a very high level. It was clear, too, that without a personal sharing of Catholic faith, she appreciated the intellectual vigor of Catholic theology.

In the second part of this essay, I want to explain how the ancient monastic idea of lectio divina (“divine reading”) is an exercise of faith and theology. If you google lectio divina, you will find about 700,000 sites, with a large diversity of explanations about what it means and how to do it. There are plenty of opportunities for personal adaptation within the structure it provides. Some authors, for example, speak of lectio divina as a procedure or technique for a prayerful reading of Scripture, to be distinguished and even separated from a critical study of scripture. My own view is that lectio divina provides a structure for a way of life, which of course may include a set time with a procedure for a prayerful reading of Scripture.
I also believe that the “reading” should go beyond the reading of Scripture – all the world and everyone in it is a “sacrament” through which God desires to speak to us. Moses experienced the divine presence while tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro (Ex 3). The Lord sought out Elijah while he was taking shelter in a cave, and spoke to him in the “sound of silence” (I Kings 19: 9-13). Guigo, a Carthusian monk (1140-1193), in his Epistola de Vita Contemplativa, writes: “One day while I was occupied with manual labor I began to reflect on man’s spiritual work, and suddenly four steps for the soul came into my reflection: reading, meditation, prayer, contemplation.” (You can find the Latin text with English translation if you google Guigo II, The Ladder of Monks.)

In other words, there is a kind of micro lectio divina, a prayerful, meditative reading of a text for a set period of time. There is also a macro lectio divina that extends over a lifetime – a way of life characterized by the four aspects that Guigo names in his classic formulation. The sometimes arduous task of study is emphasized in youth; sharper focus and action in mature years; the Sabbath rest of contemplation in older age. Lectio divina as a method and a structure for a way of life thus may be considered a response to the injunction of Saint Paul to pray always (1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18).

The usual starting point is a text of Sacred Scripture. The approach to the biblical text in lectio divina presupposes faith that God is sacramentally present in the text to speak in a personal way. If one can say “Thanks be to God” to the affirmation “This is the Word of God,” one can do lectio divina. More broadly, in terms of experiencing any moment of creation, if one can say, “It is the Lord,” one can do lectio divina. The assent of faith makes the difference between reading a letter received from a loved one, and reading the same letter by someone to whom the letter is not addressed.

The structure of lectio divina is simple: lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio. The order, much like Gadamer’s levels of knowledge, should be imagined as circular, not as a linear, chronological progression. One may begin anywhere…perhaps the gift of experiencing the divine presence in a moment of silence may begin a lifetime of study and prayer. One aspect may predominate during one period of life, less so in another. To pray, whatever the way, is always a divine gift.

First is lectio. This means to read the text with every possible critical method that the scholars have developed. The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church (1993) provides an excellent summary of these critical methods. Lectio divina as a way of life means a life devoted to study: languages, the critical methods, comparative religions, history, literature, and so forth. Here, of course, the person examining a text in the perspective of faith uses every resource and insight available.

Although the critical methods are indispensable tools for responsible interpretation, it is important to remember their limits. As far as I have observed over years of study, there is no text of any significance whose interpretation all scholars agree upon. There is not even agreement among scholars about what constitutes “evidence.” For these reasons, among others, it is important to do one’s reading in the context of Catholic faith. The Compendium Catechism of the Catholic Church offers the following guidelines on what this means: “Sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted with the help of the Holy Spirit and under the guidance of the Magisterium of the Church according to three criteria: (1) it must be read with attention to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture; (2) it must be read within the living Tradition of the Church; (3) it must be read with attention to the analogy of faith, that is, the inner harmony which exists among the truths of the faith themselves” (p. 19).

In my experience with students, there is one critical method that is essential to understand, regardless of the level of engagement with a text. It is the necessity of understanding the meaning and significance of literary form. To illustrate the importance of correctly identifying a literary form, I ask students if they can identify the literary form of a text that begins, “Have you heard the one about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter?” Students correctly respond that it is a joke in which a gullible girl is unfairly taken advantage of. If someone reading the text identified that text as a factual report, he might hurry to the nearest police station so that the police might find and arrest the perpetrator. A factual report communicates the truth of an incident; a joke or a parable may be a vehicle to communicate an even more universal truth about the possibility of betrayal.

John F. Haught in his book God after Darwin: A Theology of Evolution (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2000, pp. 17-18) remarks that it is “becoming increasingly routine for biologists to claim that all the diverse phenomena of the life-world can be explained in sufficient depth through purely naturalistic concepts of evolutionary biology.” Thus, Gavin de Beer in an Encyclopedia Britannica article states: “Darwin…showed that evolution was a fact contradicting scriptural legends of creation…” Gavin de Beer obviously had identified the two Genesis accounts of creation as pages from a biology textbook. He would also, in his (willful?) ignorance of the meaning of literary form, criticize the police for their ineptitude in failing to find and arrest the traveling salesman who had harmed the farmer’s daughter.

Lectio is not simply a 15 or 20-minute period of reading a biblical text as part of a procedure of meditation and prayer, however valuable that practice may be. Lectio includes critical study, and that takes both time and effort. The literary form and the meaning of many of Jesus’ parables are quite evident. However, when one reads more difficult texts, such as those involving the “signs” in the fourth Gospel, it is helpful to read an explanation like that offered by Demetrius Dumm, OSB, in his book A Mystical Portrait of Jesus; New Perspectives on John’s Gospel (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2001). Readers of the Sunday Homily reflections on the Saint Vincent Archabbey web site (a quick link from stvincent.edu) will recognize the debt of gratitude I owe to dozens of biblical scholars like Raymond E. Brown, John P. Meier, and Brevard S. Childs.

Biblical scholars are able with skillful use of the critical methods to help us understand the radical impact of Jesus in the social conditions of his time. Unless we have some understanding of that, we are unable to translate the unredeemed situations that Jesus encountered into meaningful categories of our own time. Unless we do this correlation, Jesus becomes a rather Quixotic figure of the past rather then the living redeemer of our own time. Some years ago I wrote an article attempting to show how important that correlation of past and present is for understanding the actualization of Jesus’ saving events in the liturgy (“Theology of the Sermon as Part of the Mass,” Worship, March, 1964, pp. 201-207).

These days the task of interpretation for all of us is made easier because of the availability of many excellent biblical commentaries and dictionaries. The homilies of Benedict XVI, now so readily available on the internet, give every indication that they are products of critical study in the context of faith, practiced over a lifetime.

The second aspect of lectio divina is meditatio. This means reflecting upon part of a text that attracts attention in a personal way. The metaphor that is traditionally used to describe “meditation” is that of chewing and digesting the words as if they were food and drink, both as delight and nourishment of body and soul. This way of describing divine wisdom as food and drink has its roots in the biblical tradition. Wisdom says, “Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed! Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9: 5-6). The fourth gospel presents Jesus as the Father’s gift of bread – in his person, as wisdom, and as the sacramental bread of life. Then there is the text of Ezekiel (3: 1-4): “He said to me: Son of man, eat what is before you; eat this scroll, then go, speak to the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth and he gave me the scroll to eat. Son of man, he then said to me, feed your belly and fill your stomach with the scroll I am giving you. I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. He said: Son of man, go now to the house of Israel, and speak my words to them.” Here we see that receiving the gift of God’s word is not for ourselves alone; its purpose is also action for others. This leads us to the third aspect of lectio divina – oratio (prayer).

Prayer is conversation with God. What does God expect of me in the circumstances of my life? The use of the critical methods of reading the Scriptures, a great achievement of the university, regrettably got separated from the Church. This separation has some practical consequences. For example, which conclusion of the critical methods does one use in preparing a homily for the liturgy, or in forming one’s conscience? As I have already observed, there is no interpretation of any significant text in Scripture that scholars using the critical methods agree upon.

Separated from the Church, the critical methods also gradually got separated from the way we live our lives. Lectio divina provides a structure for bringing faith, critical reason, prayer, and moral life back together where they belong. The structure reflects the mutual relations of lex credendi, lex orandi, and lex agendi. The models of oratio related to the moral decisions of life fill the pages of Scripture – Moses’ and Jeremiah’s dialogues with God, Mary’s prayer at the Annunciation, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Contemplatio (contemplation), the fourth aspect of lectio divina, chronologically may be the first gift of a contemplative life – an unexpected experience of the divine presence without effort or words on one’s own part. Guigo in his Epistola de Vita Contemplativa writes: “Contemplation is the mind suspended somehow, elevated above itself – in God so that it tastes the joys of everlasting sweetness.” This is the Sabbath Rest of eternal life with God, experienced even now in the silence of one’s soul.

Abraham Heschel indirectly gives us an insight into the meaning of contemplation in his book The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1951, pp. 22-23). In Genesis we read that on the seventh day God finished his work (Genesis 2: 2). “Just as heaven and earth were created in six days, menuha was created on the Sabbath. After the six days of creation – what did the universe still lack? Menuha. Came the Sabbath, came menuha, and the universe was complete…What was created on the seventh day? Tranquility, serenity, peace and repose. To the biblical mind menuha is the same as happiness and stillness, as peace and harmony.” Lectio divina, like the work of creation, is complete only with the divine gift of being at rest in the Lord on the “seventh day” – in happiness, stillness and peace. In later times, Heschel observes, menuha became a synonym for eternal life. One could say the same thing about the meaning of contemplation in the Catholic tradition – it is the beatific vision of faith, the substance of what is hoped for (Hebrew 11:1).

There is a vast literature on the subject of mystical or contemplative prayer. One of my favorite books is The Cloud of Unknowing by an anonymous fourteenth century English author. One insightful excerpt: “But in the real contemplative work you must set all this [concepts of God] aside and cover it over with a cloud of forgetting. Then let your loving desire, gracious and devout, step bravely and joyfully beyond it and reach out to pierce the darkness above. Yes, beat upon the thick cloud of unknowing with the dart of your loving desire and do not cease come what may” (edited by William Johnson, Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1973, p. 55). The text reminds me of an observation of Saint Augustine: “One does not enter into truth except through love.”

In this final part of my essay, rather than illustrating the method of lectio divina with a biblical text, I will use a work of art, Andrei Rublev’s Icon of the Holy Trinity. I will do some things that pertain to the first step, lectio, and invite the reader to do the personal work of completing the procedure with meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio.

What can one say about the icon from the perspective of an art historian and biblical exegete? Andrei Rublev was a monk of the monastery of Saint Sergius, located in a village about five miles northeast of Moscow. Rublev painted the icon in approximately the year 1420 as the central piece of the iconostasis of the monastery church. The icon measures 142 by 114 centimeters, that is roughly five by four feet. At the present time the icon is at the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow. You can get an image of the icon if you google “Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity.”
The time when Rublev was painting the icon was a period of constant feudal wars in Russia. The internal strife was undermining the economy of the principalities, thus making them easy prey for the Mongol invaders. Contrary to what one might expect in such a precarious situation, Rublev did not depict God as a powerful war-lord who would repel the invaders and unite the principalities by the sword. He chose rather to depict the three persons of the Trinity inviting all to participate with them at the common table of love. The figures of the Trinity form an open circle at the table that is to be completed by those who freely accept their invitation to the Eucharistic banquet of eternal life.

In depicting the three persons of the Trinity, Rublev transposed the three messengers of God who were offered hospitality by Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18: 1-8). Regrettably, I have never been to the Tretiakov Gallery to view the icon close-up, and cannot tell from reproductions what the content of the cup is. One commentator sees the head of the calf that was prepared by Abraham and Sarah for the feast. Biblical interpreters understand the calf to be a prototype of Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God. The cup thus acquires its Eucharistic meaning. One commentator sees a miniature blood-red lamb’s body as the content of the cup. Interpretations of this and other elements of the icon can readily be found if you google “Rublev’s Icon of the Trinity.”

The figures of the Trinity are united as one by what seems to be a harmonious movement among themselves. Each wears the blue color of one divine nature. Each bears the staff of equal dignity and authority. The middle figure is Christ. The color brown of earth and human love predominates. Behind him, in the same movement toward the Father, is the tree of the Garden of Eden, the tree of Mamre, the tree of his death that became the tree of life. Behind the Father is a house – the temple of the universe, the tent of Mamre, the Church, and the heavenly house of many rooms that Jesus speaks of (John 14: 2). The Holy Spirit points to the rectangular opening in front of the altar-table and to the Eucharistic cup as the way to communion with Christ in the life of God. Behind the Holy Spirit is a mountain symbolizing closeness of the divine presence – Moriah, Sinai, Tabor, Calvary. The color green predominates: the Spirit is the creative gift of life. Both the Son and the Holy Spirit are inclined toward the Father who is the originating self-giving love in the “inner” life of God. The divine wisdom of inviting all humanity to the banquet of divine life is thus also said to originate with the Father. One commentator notes that the “ethereal red” of the Father’s robe symbolizes this divine wisdom of love.

The rectangular opening of four corners suggests that all people from the four corners of the world are invited to the heavenly banquet. At the same time, the smallness of the opening suggests the narrow way of love – thus making a vertical line to the Eucharistic cup, to Christ, to the tree upon which Christ freely gave up his life for his friends.

If one “reads” the icon as a person who believes it to be a “sacrament” of the divine presence, one can continue to do the personal work of meditatio, oratio, and contemplation as described above. In examining the icon with students, I remind them that one of the most important life-decisions we make is what we choose to look at. Saint Benedict would make the same observation in regard to what we listen to: “Listen carefully, my son, to the master’s instruction with the ear of your heart…The labor of obedience [listening] will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience [not listening]” (Prologue to the Rule).

What we choose to look at or listen to does seem to leave its imprint within us. Saint Thomas Aquinas made the observation: Cognoscens in actu fit cognitum in actu (In the act of knowing, the knower becomes the object known). In some manner, the images we choose to carry around in our heads do affect us – for good or ill.

A final note to conclude my essay: The chronicle of the monastery of Saint Sergius mentions that when Andrei Rublev rested from his work on a feast day, he would sit for long periods in front of the “divine and venerable icons and look at them without distraction.”

Campion P. Gavaler, OSB
November, 2006

A Prayer to St. Dominic


(Attributed to Blessed Jordan of Saxony who is pictured below)
Oh Blessed Father St. Dominic, holy priest of God, beloved Confessor, renowned preacher, man of the Lord's own choosing: In your day you were pleasing and beloved of the Lord above all others-glorious in your life, teaching, and miracles. We rejoice to have you as our gracious advocate before the Lord God.
I cry to you from the depths of this vale of tears, because I venerate you, among all the saintly elect of God, with particular devotion. Merciful Father, help, I pray, my sinful soul, so destitute of all grace and virtue, so covered with the stains of many sins and vices.

Come to my wretched and unhappy soul, thou happy and blessed soul of the man of God, endowed with such blessings by divine grace. Not only has it raised you to happy peace, quiet rest, and heavenly glory, but, by your praiseworthy life, it has drawn uncounted others to the same happiness. It has incited them with your sweet admonition, instructed them with your winning teaching, and aroused them with your fervent preaching. Be attentive, then, Oh Blessed Dominic, and bend a merciful ear to my pleading voice.

Turning to you, my poor and needy soul falls at your feet. As far as, in humble mind, it can, it sluggishly labors to place itself before you. As in living death, my soul strives with all its power to pray to you. It begs, through your powerful merits and virtuous prayers, that you will kindly restore it to life and health, and fill it with the ample gift of your blessing.

For I know, truly know, that you can do it. I am certain of it. From your great charity I am confident that you want this. I hope, from the immense mercy of the Savior, that you can bring about, before Him, whatever you wish.
I rely, too, on your great friendship with Jesus Christ, so loved by you, whom you chose out of ten thousand. It is my hope that He will deny you nothing; rather, that whatever you ask you will get from Him. For, though He is the Lord God, yet He is your friend. What could He deny to you who put all else aside and did not hesitate to give yourself and all you had to Him. This is why we speak as we do; this is why we have great veneration for you.

In the full flowering of your manhood, you dedicated your virginity to the radiant Spouse of all virgins. White-robed from Baptism's sacred font, adorned by the Holy Spirit, you vowed your soul in chaste love to the King of kings.

After long training in the combat of the regular life, you set your heart on a still higher goal. You grew from virtue to virtue, you went always from what was merely good to what was better. You offered your body as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God. Formed in the divine plan, you consecrated your whole self to God alone. Undertaking the way of perfection, you left all things and, stripped, followed the poor Christ -- preferring heaven's treasures to those of the earth. Denying yourself vigorously, you manfully took up your cross and successfully tried to follow in the footsteps of our Redeemer as your true captain.
Your strong love burned with heavenly fire and Godlike zeal. With all the fervor of an impetuous heart and with an avowal of perfect poverty, you spent your whole self in the cause of the Apostolic life. To further this work, you established the Order of Preachers, guided from the beginning by counsel from on High. You brightened Holy Mother Church throughout this world of men with your glorious merits and example. At last you left behind this bondage of the flesh. Taken up into heaven's army, you rose to the heights of glory.

So now I pray that you, who wanted the salvation of the human race with tremendous zeal, will come to help me and those I hold dear. I pray, too, for all mankind: the clergy, the people, religious women.

After the Blessed Queen of virgins, you are my sweet hope and solace -- before all other saints. You are my special refuge; bend favorably to help me. You are the one to whom I fly. You alone do I dare approach. I put myself at your feet, I invoke you as my patron, I implore and devoutly commend myself to you. I ask you, kindly and favorably receive, keep, protect, and help me. May I thereby merit receiving from God, through your intercession, the grace I desire, finding mercy, and salvation's remedy now and hereafter.

O Blessed Dominic! Master! Famous Captain! Loving Father! So may it be! So let your prayers obtain!

Then come to me, I pray, and to all who call on you. Be truly for us the Lord's Own as your name implies, the watchful keeper of His flock. Keep and rule us who are committed to your care at all times. Make our ways straight and reconcile us with God. Then, after this our exile, joyfully present us to the blessed Lord, God's dearly loved Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ -- whose honor, praise, glory, unutterable joy, and eternal happiness, together with that of the glorious Virgin Mary and the whole company of heaven's citizens, endure without end, forever and ever. Amen.

Pax et Gaudium

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness

O.S.B. Vocation Awareness