The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 42, Nr. 1a,   February 2011                  Richardton, ND 58652

President's Message

Come, Join in the Dialogue on Our Benedictine Heritage

Again tragedy strikes. In Tucson, an alienated young man, filled with irrational, demented hatred bred in isolation, targeted and shot a generous and compassionate congresswoman, Gabrielle Giffords. He wounded thirteen and killed six innocent bystanders. His assault pierced our hearts, touching a nerve deep within our individual and collective souls. Why? Because his actions made us face once again that we have, for too long, been a self-righteous and angry society, polarized to the point of near splintering. Our anger is nurtured by fear and distrust. American culture is inevitably suffering.

Tucson gives witness to the power of compassionate non-violence and the whisperings of resurrection. Witnesses ran to cover one another and to attend to the wounded. Citizens gathered for prayer. Testimony to the dead and injured praised their character and lives. President Obama asked why, and challenged us that we can do better because we are capable of better.

Congresswoman Giffords knew she was someone’s target, fearing she’d be shot one day. She did not hide and apparently had refused some of the protection offered her. Giffords did not want to give in to fear and remove herself from her constituents. She arranged opportunities to meet with them and hear their concerns. Hers was fierce courage in the face of cowardly distrust and hatred. Gabriella Giffords is one of Benedict’s peacemakers.

In Sudan, after years of civil war and the shame of Darfur, Bishop Macram Max Gassis’ tenacious negotiations have led the nation toward the possibility of a more just future. Gassis endured years of war, standing firm in his vision of a better Sudan, and seasons of exile. He persevered. Macram Max Bassis is one of Benedict’s peacemakers.

In Tunisia a young generation, having seen that life can be more equitable and humane, took to the streets. A tyrant fled. Now begins the slow work of visioning justice-making. In Egypt the young and old alike have taken to the streets in the hope of change toward what remains to be seen. There is global upheaval because the “what is” is simply too painful to endure any longer. There is global upheaval in the hope for new life, for a better life. Where is the hope?
Seeking peace is not easy; it requires prayer and action. Seeking peace requires trust in oneself, others and God. It pulls from us the sweat of hard work, an openness to learning from our “enemy,” and compromise . . . tenacity and perseverance, embedded in prayer.

We are peacemakers when we engage life, concerned for the welfare of others and our environment. We are peacemakers when we prioritize our time and talent and resources to bring forth the possibility of new life. The risk, of course, is that we may be called to change, and change can be uncomfortable. We are each challenged to seek peace and pursue it. Obsculta

Laura Swan, OSB
ABA President

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Taking Counsel

Do everything with counsel and you will not be sorry afterward (Sir 32:24/Prov 31:3/RB 3.13).

Both the Rule of Benedict and the Code of Canon Law require the abbot/prioress to seek advice from the members of the monastery. The entirety of chapter 3 of the Rule is devoted to this topic. Benedict demands seeking counsel in matters of importance as well as in matters of lesser importance. Interestingly, Benedict doesn’t demand that the abbot follow the advice of the majority of the members. After all, it is only advice, consultation. Rather, the whole purpose of the abbot’s/prioress’ seeking counsel from the members of the monastery is “not to ascertain the majority view but to try to discern the will of God” (RB 1980, 179, footnote 3.1). Benedict directs that, “after hearing the advice of the members, let [the abbot/prioress] ponder it and follow what he/she judges the wiser course.”

Clearly, Benedict recognized that the monastic leader did not have a corner on wisdom, but rather believed that the wisest course would be to seek the wisdom of all. (See Terrence Kardong, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary, p. 71.) Benedict also is careful to direct that the counsel of the youngest member (RB 3.3) as well as of visiting monastics (RB 61.4) be heard. What may be considered unlikely sources of wisdom – the newest member or a stranger – are nevertheless possible sources of revelation of God’s will. “On the part of both [monastic members] and abbot [prioress], this process demands . . . a genuine humility and self-effacement, and an opening of one’s mind and heart to the mysterious action of God” (RB 1980, 179, note 3.1).

Canon 633, found in the canons dealing with religious life, assumes that there are bodies within the religious institute whose function it is to give counsel to the religious superior. According to this canon, these bodies “are to express the care and participation of all the members for the good of the whole institute or community.” One of the longer canons in the code (canon 127), found in Book I on General Norms, describes in some detail the way in which the members of the religious community are to be called together and how their advice or consent is to be sought and received. Unlike the Rule, the Code requires that the religious superior seek and get consent, not just consultation, of the members or some part of the members, such as the council, in certain types of matters. For example, consent of the council is required for transacting certain financial matters, and even consent of the entire chapter is required for financial matters exceeding a certain amount.

However, wisely, the drafters of the code exercised the guiding principle of subsidiarity in writing almost all of the canons governing religious, including the canons for religious superiors seeking consent and consultation. One commentator explains: “It was advisable to maximize the principle of subsidiarity in view of the fact that although there are many forms of participation, not all are equally suitable to all the institutes. This explains why the canons . . . leave to the institutes’ proper law and to their nature, the development and adaptation of the general principles . . . as to the different ways in which the principles of participation or consultation are expressed.” (Code of Canon Law Annotated, 2004, often referred to as the Navarra commentary or the “red book”: Caparros, et al, ed. at p. 510. Readers may wish to refer to the canon law column of February 2008 on the topic of “proper law.”)

In the Rule, St Benedict begins with the directive “Listen.” He directs the monastics to listen with the ear of their heart to the master’s instruction (RB Prol. 1). Benedict also directs the abbot to listen not only to the master’s instruction (e.g., RB 2.4), but also to the members of the monastery for the voice of the divine will (e.g., RB 3.3). The abbot’s “consultation, then, is not a matter of assembling human opinions, but of listening to all the sources through which the divine will may manifest itself, and then discerning which of these has made known an authentic communication of the Spirit” (RB 1980, 179, note 3).

In the Code this requirement of seeking counsel, and sometimes consent, is so essential that if taking counsel does not occur when required the superior’s act sans counsel is invalid (Canon 127 §§1 & 2). This clearly illustrates the value of the wisdom that resides in the community as well as in the superior. The Code directs that, besides those items about which the universal law requires counsel to be taken by the superior, the proper law of the institute, i.e., its constitutions and/or other supplementary documents, is to determine what other cases require the superior to seek either consent or counsel (Canon 627 §2). So, as in all things, it is important that not only the direction of the Code be sought but also the law that is proper to the religious community in order to determine which types of business about which the religious superior must seek counsel before acting validly.

It is instructive to do a digital search of the Code of Canon Law for the word “consult.” It is readily seen how central this concept of going beyond oneself for direction is in the law. Numerous times a bishop or other ordinary or a religious superior must take counsel with, e.g., the College of Consultors in a diocese (Canon 502). Canon 627 §1 directs that religious “superiors are to have their own council, whose assistance they are to use in carrying out their office.”

As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together and himself explain what the business is; and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it and follow what he judges the wiser course. . . . If less important business of the monastery is to be transacted, he shall take counsel with the seniors only, as it is written: Do everything with counsel and you will not be sorry afterward (RB 3.1-2, 12).

Readers are reminded that the canon law columnist welcomes ideas for exploration in these columns. These may be submitted by email to or by post to

Lynn McKenzie, OSB
Sacred Heart Monastery
916 Convent Road NE
Cullman, AL 35055

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Seek Peace and Pursue It:
Monasticism in the Midst of Global Upheaval

2-5 August 2012

St. Scholastica Monastery
Duluth, Minnesota


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Sister Laura Swan, president of ABA, announced that she would be seeking “some poignant, thought-provoking pieces on the theme Seek Peace and Pursue It for this newsletter over the next five issues” leading up to the 2012 convention with that theme. Below are the first two of these essays.

Seek Peace and Pursue It

“Receive me, O Lord, as you have promised and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my hope” (RB 58.21).

I am forty-nine years of age, and I will be celebrating my twentieth year in monastic profession at St. Paul’s Monastery. I presently serve my community in leadership positions: assistant to the prioress and member of the monastic council. I am a councilor for the Federation of St. Benedict. I also minister part time in a local parish working with youth, and I care for my father, who is blind and has diabetes. In the midst of these ministries, I cannot help but feel stretched, knowing the many levels of peace that are needed for a balanced life.

Sometimes it is hard to reach a level of peace with so many distractions. In my heart, I know and understand that the quest for peace is one of the hallmarks of monastic life. Feeling the lack of peace is not external, but internal. In prayer, I yearn for a sense of harmony that can be long preserved. This is why I believe each monastic lives a life of formation from the day he/she enters the monastery until death. There are many wise monastics who have demonstrated peace with a moderation and transformation in the midst of their mission who have helped form our communities of today.

“Only when you follow the Holy Rule will you attain, with God’s protection, the higher peaks of doctrine and virtue that we have pointed out. Amen” (RB 73.9).

 In my search for God’s peace, I have experienced inner violence from anger, resentments, and a lack of self-compassion. Seeking peace, I tap into my spiritual tool box that has been handed to me through my parents, families, friends, and monastic community. I live out my monastic vocation when the tools can be seen and are alive as my guiding principles. Through prayer I come to understand that peace is a gift from God. The Liturgy of the Hours is one of those tools. If my inner peace is not of God, then how can I support outer peace in a troubled world? How can I be called to love my neighbor, and show compassion and seek justice for the poor? Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and this is a challenge when the enemy can be within one’s self.  Without inner peace, our external work holds little value.

“Therefore we must establish a school for the Lord’s service” (RB Prol. 45).

At St. Paul’s Monastery, the members of our monastic community resonate harmony among and through each other and to the guests we receive. It is meeting God within others that brings me back to God whom I desire in my heart. I cannot look back, but to the present. Like monasticism, we learn from the past, stay in the present, as we look into the future. We are to be messengers of peace, and without a messenger there is no peace!

Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 33:14).

We have the tools to seek and pursue peace, but first we need to ask for it through perseverance, so that in all things God may be glorified!

Linda Soler, OSB
St. Paul Monastery
St. Paul, MN

Seek Peace and Pursue It:
Monasticism in the Midst of Global Upheaval

This January on a brilliant cold afternoon, Benedictine sisters under the age of fifty-five from across the continental United States and Puerto Rico gathered at Mount St. Scholastica in Atchison, KS. The leadership of their federations and congregation had invited their younger sisters to gather for the good purpose of drawing strength from the history of their tradition and of strengthening the bonds among these younger Benedictine women.

Upheaval was present in many of the stories shared in conversations large and small in Atchison: sudden deaths, estranged relationships, financial problems, and the ever present dilemma of having few sisters who are able-bodied enough to support their elders while also honoring their own spiritual and physical needs. We could have easily skidded on those upheavals in our conversations with our presenters and with one another, landing in the ditch and spinning our wheels in the ice and mud. We could have ended up standing on the side of the road not knowing what to do next. Such bewilderment may have been understandable since it is those sisters present who will soon be, if they aren’t already, attending to all of the above upheavals with their communities.

Yet in the midst of that upheaval, monasticism thrives. It thrives in the cooperation of the younger sisters and their communities who worked hard to open the time and space for them to come to Atchison. It thrives in the abundant hospitality of the Atchison community and the willingness of all four federation and congregation leaders to remain with their younger sisters for the duration of the conference. It thrives in sacraments and prayer, in the tambourine that accompanied the last hymn for the vigil Mass on Saturday, as well as the clink of toast after toast during the social afterwards. It thrives in the laughter and tears of good friends who live far apart. It seems simple, and perhaps it is. Upheaval and a thriving monastic commitment can, perhaps must, be lived all tangled together.

When one participant asked the panel of leaders what the next step for these younger generations ought to be, Sister Pat Nyquist of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration quietly replied, “Perhaps you can tell us.” For the moment, the next step is to be grateful for the clear grace of the Holy Spirit during four days in Kansas. More steps will come, yet for now, the younger sisters who came to Atchison can take in that grace, bring it home to their sisters, and share it with the wider Benedictine world, including the members of the American Benedictine Academy.

We, your younger sisters, are here. We want to be faithful and we want to serve. How can that be anything less that thriving? How can that be anything less than making peace, the peace that thrives in the midst of upheaval, the peace that is the Paschal Mystery, our quest and our aim?

Hilda Kleiman, OSB
Queen of Angels Monastery
Mount Angel, OR

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Monastic News Omnibus

The Byzantine Benedictine Sisters of Queen of Heaven Monastery in Warren, OH, have received permission from the Sacred Congregation for Eastern Churches to change their status to that of a dependent monastery of Sacred Heart Monastery in Lisle, IL.

A private Ceremony of Change of Status was held on Sunday, November 21. Prioress Judith Ann Heble, OSB, of Lisle and Sister Glenna Smith, OSB, president of the Federation of St. Scholastica, were present. This was the culmination of a decision made by the Byzantine Benedictine Sisters in 2007.

Sister Judith Ann appointed Sister Margaret Mary Schima, OSB, the administrator of the dependent monastery. According to a 14-point agreement with the Lisle community, the sisters in Warren will continue to function as a Benedictine monastery of the Byzantine Church in matters of spirituality, traditions, and liturgical life. They will follow their own norms, administer their own finances, and retain their Ohio civil corporation. The sisters plan to move to smaller accommodations in Warren and continue their ministries to the Byzantine people.

* * * * * *

The Alliance of International Monasticism (AIM), an organization which supports Third World monasteries, welcomed Susan Hutchens, OSB, president of the Federation and Anne Wambach, OSB, prioress of the Erie Benedictines, as new board members when the AIM USA board of trustees held their annual meeting at Mount St. Benedict Monastery in Erie, PA. Fond farewells were shared with Kathryn Huber, OSB, outgoing board president, and Susan Doubet, OSB, former executive director. The board has appointed Sister Stephanie Schmidt, OSB, of the Erie community as the new executive director of the secretariat.

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The Grey Yellow Pages

My husband and I operate a Catholic used-book ministry in South Carolina and have had contact with many Benedictine sisters. We offer books to people around the world who are interested in good Catholic books. It is a pleasure and blessing for us to find a book for someone who is looking into the Catholic faith or someone who is a “cradle Catholic” who wants to defend the faith.

At the present time we are in dire need of books for our ministry. For this reason, we ask for books you no longer want and for your prayers. We work on a small budget but can always pay all the shipping costs and offer a small donation for the books.  Please call or e-mail us if you should require more information or references.

Linda Mayntz
St. Anthony’s Books
461-B Fleming Road
Charleston, SC 29412
(843) 588-9906


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