Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, and the brothers gathered with him, represent the best of the monastic life. They are moving their entire community to Ireland, a land which once gave the world monks, missionaries, and martyrs. They are doing so in order to help bring about the healing of a wounded Irish Church.
CHESAPEAKE,VA. (Catholic Online) - In March of 2010, Pope Benedict XVI wrote a letter to the Catholics of Ireland. It can be read in its entirety here. I encourage you to read this letter for two reasons.
First, because it counters the nonsense caliming the Church has not acted in the face of this crisis. But more importantly, because it gives us a profound insight into the gift of the Catholic Church and the quality of her leadership.
Pope Benedict XVI "pulled no punches" as they say in writing this strong letter. The Irish Church is undergoing a time of profound purification. She is in need of repentance and renewal.
However, the Pope also laid out a vision for the future. He reaffirmed the history of the Church in Ireland and her missionary accomplishements around the world. He encouraged the Irish faithful by rekindling their hope. He knew their hearts had been broken and expressed his fatherly concern for their well being as well his solidarity.
He ended his pastoral letter with a prayer he composed, telling the faithful, "I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has occurred in our beloved Church."
Here is the Prayer: "God of our fathers, renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation, the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal, the charity which purifies and opens our hearts to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters."
"Lord Jesus Christ, may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society."
"Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide, inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland."
"May our sorrow and our tears, our sincere effort to redress past wrongs, and our firm purpose of amendment bear an abundant harvest of grace for the deepening of the faith in our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace within the whole human family."
"To you, Triune God, confident in the loving protection of Mary, Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints, do we entrust ourselves, our children, and the needs of the Church in Ireland. Amen."
Today, I discovered one of the ways in which that beautiful prayer is being answered. This extraordinary story takes us to Oklahoma. To a group of Benedictine Monks at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle.
These contemporary sons of St. Benedict, show us all that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Church today. The same Holy Spirit which has used monks and monasteries throughout Church history is bringing about a monastic renewal in our day - for the sake of the whole Church.
As they did in the first and the second millenniums, monks and monasteries will serve a significant role in the mission of the Church of the Third millennium.
The powerful story of this new Benedictine community must be read by my readers. You can find it in its entirety here. Here is a short excerpt:
"The Monastery of Our Lady of the Cenacle is a community of men dedicated to the traditional monastic life according to the Rule of Saint Benedict, and to intercession for the sanctification of priests, in adoration and reparation before the Eucharistic Face of Christ.
"We were established during the Year of the Priest (2009-2010) in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tulsa, Oklahoma, by His Excellency, Most Reverend Edward J. Slattery.
"By the grace of God, we have been invited by His Lordship, the Most Reverend Michael Smith, Bishop of Meath, to move our fledgling community to County Meath, Ireland. God willing, we will complete this move in February-March 2012.
"You can read more about our plans in the first issue of our newsletter.
This Benedictine Prior, the Very Reverend Dom Mark Daniel Kirby, and the brothers gathered with him, represent the best of the monastic life. Clearly, they have heard the Lord. He has called these monks from Oklahoma to a special vocational response in a new missionary age. They are moving their entire community to Ireland, a land which once gave the world monks, missionaries, and martyrs.
They are doing so in order to help bring about the healing of a wounded Irish Church. I believe they are also a first fruit of her restoration and a sign of her future contribution in a new missionary age. God has not abandoned the Church in Ireland. The Purification of the Church always precedes her healing, strengthening and renewal. So it will be in Ireland.
The insights of the Prior on the connection between the charism of St. Benedict and the Pope who chose his name confirmed what I have long believed. After Benedict was elected I wrote of the prophetic significance of that connection. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger had visited Subiaco, the cave where St Benedict prayed, before his elevation to the Chair of Peter. That was no accident.
Those who watch the early days of Popes tell us to watch for two things at the very beginning of their service, the name they choose and the content of their first homily for "clues" to their pontificate. Our new Pope chose the name Benedict to signal his mission. The Prior of Our Lady of the Cenacle writes of this connection here.
Over the years of Pope Benedict's service, his teaching on monks and their essential contribution to the Church has been extraordinary. When I read of the mission of the Monks of Our Lady of the Cenacle, I saw the dots connecting.
I believe there is something prophetic about these monks, their response to the call of the Lord and the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI. I believe they are a seed of a great renewal of the Catholic Church and he is the Pope who is leading it. Just when naysayers count the Catholic Church out; she again rises, refreshed and equipped by the Holy Spirit, to change history.
After all, the Church is God's plan for the whole human race. He has not changed His mind. As the Catechism expresses so beautifully, borrowing from the writings of the early fathers, "To reunite all his children, scattered and led astray by sin, the Father willed to call the whole of humanity together into his Son's Church.
"The Church is the place where humanity must rediscover its unity and salvation. The Church is "the world reconciled." She is that bark which "in the full sail of the Lord's cross, by the breath of the Holy Spirit, navigates safely in this world." According to another image dear to the Church Fathers, she is prefigured by Noah's ark, which alone saves from the flood." (CCC#845)
My favorite definition of a theologian was given by a monk of the fourth century, Evagrius of Pontus. He wrote in his reflections entitled "Mirror for Monks": "The Knowledge of God is the breast of Christ and whoever rests on it will be a theologian".
The Image evokes the beloved disciple John, the author of the fourth Gospel, depicted at the Institution of the Eucharist, the "Last Supper", with his head on the chest of Jesus the Christ. His Gospel narrative was the last to be written and is the most theologically reflective. Clearly, John was a theologian. He learned that theology in the school of prayer.
That has been my own personal experience of monks. As a 'revert' to the Church, I had the privilege of spending 21 months in a Benedictine monastery as a very young man. There, I began a lifelong journey of prayer.
There I also began what has become a lifelong study of the writings of the early fathers of the Church. I was taught by a wonderful monk. He was the first of several monks who have graced my life with their gift of holy presence, making Christ so palpable by their interior life - one which overflows in a genuine transfigured humanity.
From my encounters with monks immersed in their unique and vital vocation, no matter how much formal theological study they have, their depth of prayer makes them the best theologians. It is out of that storehouse of grace that they are able to help the faithful find the longing of every human heart, communion and intimacy with the God who has revealed Himself fully, in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, as the "human face of God" in Jesus Christ.
A part of monastic life and spirituality is labor, immersed in prayer. Monks support themselves through hard work, dedicated to God and caught up in the ongoing redemptive work of Jesus Christ in and through His Church. They follow a "Rule", a Way of Life.
Too often, people mistakenly believe that the monk retreats from the world because of its "corruption". In fact, the monk retreats (in differing ways in accordance with their particular monastic response) precisely in order to transform the world by his prophetic witness and powerful prayer.
The dedicated monk is an essential part of the Lord's plan for the Church. The Church is what the early Fathers called the "New World", being recreated in Christ. We who have been baptized never again leave the Church. We actually live in the Church and go into the world to bring all men and women home.
The monastic life is one of the greatest treasures of our Church. Monasticism in the first millennium gave us the treasury of theological wisdom which still inspires the Church.
Those who went into the desert became the great teachers, fathers, confessors and prophets. Their prayer and witness kept the Church in the Divine embrace so that she could effectively continue the redemptive mission of the Lord.
In the second millennium, their work and witness continued. Sadly, the Church had been torn in two with the first split, East and West. In the East, the Monks continued to be a resource for the kind of theology which brings heaven to earth and earth to heaven. From their ranks the great Bishops of the Church were chosen and the Church was continually renewed.
In the West, the great Monasteries of Europe became the beating heart of the emergence of Christendom. The extraordinary intellect exhibited in the emerging theological tradition birthed in the monasteries enabled the Church to contend with daunting challenges, welcome them without fear, contend for the faith and offer the claims of Truth Incarnate.
Now, in the Third Christian Millennium, Monks are once again being raised up as a resource. Men like the dear brothers at Our Lady of the Cenacle need our prayer. They also need our financial contributions. Moving their entire community to Ireland is not only a prophetic action, it is an expensive endeavor. You can contribute here.
Finally, if there are men reading this article inspired by the monastic life and interested in discerning a vocation, you can begin the process here. The summary of the monastic vocation, written by Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is one of the most beautiful and honest I have ever read.He is a true theologian precisely because he rests his head on Christ. Thank God for monks and monasteries.
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