Reflection Masthead
Issue 170 - Visiting Monasteries - March 2018
We are both Benedictine Oblates, affiliated with St. Scholastica Monastery, a community of Benedictine Sisters, in Boerne, Texas. At our monthly Oblate gathering on March 11, we presented a program about Benedictine Monasteries that we have visited in Europe. Our presentation was well-received, so we decided to share some of our presentation with you, our readers.  

"Richer than our Imagination"
As we prepared for our presentation in Boerne, reviewing our photos from monastery visits, the memories flooded back:
  • Beautiful sculpture on the grounds of Maria Laach Abbey in Germany.
  • The sound of the monks of St. Pierre Abbey in Solesmes, France, chanting the psalms in Gregorian Chant. (See video below.)
  • The conversation in the guest-house dining room at Kloster Niederaltaich (Germany), with the iconographer who was painting a large icon on the wall at the end of a corridor, outside the byzantine chapel.
  • The ordination mass in the gorgeous baroque church at Einsiedeln Abbey in
    Switzerland. We just happened to be there at the right time to experience that marvelous space not simply as a monument of baroque architecture, but as a house of worship: to observe the ancient rituals, and to hear the magnificent organ.
Many years ago, I became acquainted with the Rev. John Thomas, who at the time was serving as the chief ecumenical officer of the United Church of Christ. Rev. Thomas said that he spent about half of his time arranging for ecumenical meetings and participating in ecumenical dialogs. The other half of his job, he said, was to go to congregations of his own denomination, to remind them "that the church of Jesus Christ is bigger than this place, older than our memories, and richer than our imagination."
If you want to be reminded of that, there is no better way than visiting monasteries, spending time in monastery guest houses, especially in Benedictine guest houses; as the Rule of Benedict states, "Let all guests that come be received like Christ himself."

                                                                    ~ Bill
Labora and Learning
               It's hard to believe that many of the delights we enjoy today flourish in the U.S. because of ancient efforts of Benedictines in Europe. Yes, bottles of Benedictine liquor bear the initials "D.O.M", Deo Optimo Maxima, a dedication to "God, most good, most great." Other libations made at abbeys include B&B (Benedictine and Brandy), beer, and wine. To complete the menu, there are, cheeses, sausages, fruitcakes, candies, and then, interestingly, caskets. But more importantly, Benedictines, and later religious orders, were the civilizing force of the developing European world.
                Benedictines developed the monastic system in central Europe based on the writings, the Rule of Benedict, which St. Benedict of Nyssa established in the 6th century as a simple and balanced way for religious communities to peacefully live together. Their motto later became " Ora et Labora" (pray and work) based upon Chapter 48 of the Rule, "Idleness is the enemy of the soul, therefore all the community must be occupied at definite times in manual labor and at other times in lectio divina, (holy reading)." 
         Melk Abbey, Austria
                Visiting abbeys that are active today gives one a glimpse of just how important the European monastic system was during the 6th to 16th centuries. When overrun by invading barbaric tribes: Goths, Visigoths, Huns, Lombards and others, the civilizing and settling factor was the refuge and safety of the monastery. Communities grew up around the monasteries which eventually developed into great centers of learning. Abbey libraries protected rare and precious manuscripts and contributed to the advancement of liturgical, literary, and historical storehouses.
                Bill and I have visited many of these monastic centers on our travels and self-directed pilgrimages to Europe and elsewhere. It was a delight to share pictorial history, information, and impressions with our fellow Benedictine Oblates and Sisters. The presentations were designed to inform and inspire participants about the ancient Benedictine communities which are part of our religious heritage. I highlighted the Labora activities at Cluny, France; Iona, Scotland, Maria Laach, Germany, and Einsiedeln, Switzerland; also Learning activities at Vezelay, France; Metten, Germany; and Melk, Austria. Final comments illustrated Benedictine influences on some later saints: St. Therese of Lisieux who was schooled at the Abbey of Notre Dame de Pre, Lisieux, France, and St. Ignatius of Loyola who made a radical conversion at the Benedictine Abbey at Montserrat, Spain.        --by Jan

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Bill Howden and Jan Davis
Soul Windows Ministries