The American Monastic Newsletter

Volume 33, Nr. 1, February 2003             Richardton, ND 58652

Inside this issue:

Convention 2004

On the Internet

On the Horizon

News Omnibus


Threat of War

Membership Renewal


Brief Book Reviews




AMN Online


ABA Index


Issue Contents




AMN Online


ABA Index





Issue Contents


AMN Online


ABA Index


Issue Contents

Sister Aquinata Böckmann's
Teaching Tour

This past summer, Benedictines around the United States were privileged to have the opportunity to study the Rule of St. Benedict under the tutelage of Sister Aquinata Böckmann, OSB. A sister of the Missionary Benedictines of Tutzing, Germany, Sister Aquinata lives at her community's generalate in Rome and has given instruction to Benedictine sisters participating in the Rome renewal program sponsored by the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses.

Through that group, arrangements were made for her to give a week-long workshop at communities in different parts of the country so that as many as possible could share her wisdom. According to Sister Mary Agnes Patterson, former president of the prioresses' group, "The prioresses realized how much the sisters in Rome were benefiting from Sister Aquinata's instruction on the Rule. We realized that the only possible way for many American sisters to experience her unique method of teaching was to invite her to come to us."

Benedictine women and men from many communities were able to attend presentations at Lisle, IL; Atchison, KS; Covington, KY; Colorado Springs, CO; and Weston, VT. The following is an interview with Sister Aquinata to give those who were unable to attend a small taste of her wisdom.

How did you get interested in studying the Rule?

It was just needed. I was doing ongoing formation for our congregation in the 1970s. We were putting aside some of our "traditions" but this left a void. We were lacking the study and understanding of our source, the Rule of St. Benedict. We had become focused on the ascetical practices of the nineteenth century but needed to understand and reinforce our whole charism.

I became involved in the practice of exegesis, the slow process of discovering the depth of the text. I had studied literature and loved studying text in and of itself. It was a breakthrough to discover Vogüé, who was both historical and critical. I dived into it, applying both the biblical and the poetic methods of criticism. I began to stay patiently with the words and to let them speak. There are different steps to looking at, studying and "owning" a text.

With all your familiarity with the text, how do you see Benedict? What do you think he would most want us to get from the Rule?

It's hard for me to picture him. I would portray him as having many ears, or maybe just one large one listening everywhere. He would have great eyes looking mercifully and more deeply than just our miserable reality. His contemporary eyes would look to all, but especially with respect towards the least. He would have an expanded heart, a communal mind and a radical love of Christ. He would not water down the Gospel. He would have his feet firmly planted, have a well-integrated feminine side, and his arms around the whole world.

He would say to us, I think, that his essential message is the radical love of Christ. He would want us to run together with Christ. He would remind us that lectio and silence are not to shut us off from others, but to respect them. They give us the space to see Christ in our culture. He would want us to use our creativity. It is harder to know what his model for our action would be.

Many would say that all this analysis of the Rule is just so much scholarly debate about nuances of words. Why do you care and why should "ordinary" Benedictines care about this kind of study?

From the beginning, I realized that there was a human author, fascinated by Christ, behind the text, and that both he and Christ were living and speaking to me with spiritual wisdom through the text. The better we can see the message as it was given, the better we can see our own situation. As missionaries, we sometimes tended to see the Rule as a "hindrance" to our work, for example. The more I read the chapter on hospitality, with its sources, the more I see Benedict as enthusiastic for openness. Thus our Rule is a help, not a hindrance. I realize that Benedict's Rule is more about love and community than it is about little details of behavior. It has opened me a lot and Benedict brings me back to essentials in times of crisis.

The scholarly debate does touch us. Look at the way we have come to understand conversatio and change our translation from "conversion" to some notion of fidelity to the monastic way. I think we are all happy for the more integrated approach. We used to talk about "zeal for humiliations," which could be a kind of masochism. It helps to know that opprobrium was not such a negative, but that the word referred to the daily tasks which bind a community together. We know now that "boisterous laughter" in his language really meant ambiguous or sexual humor and not that we should never laugh. These all have practical consequences in community so that we don't end up following a distorted way.

You said in your presentation that we must "let the sixth-century text challenge us today, when we like it to say what we want it to say." What do you think are some of the challenging passages for us?

It is easy to become totally disassociated from the text and to say that, since we don't do some of these things anymore, we can put them away and have just a skeleton spiritual text. We like to squeeze it until it is the shape that fits. I think it is better to be challenged than comfortable. So we don't practice the office of vigils—what is the value that was being expressed there? These obstacles that the text puts to our understanding can make the text more alive. We can then occupy ourselves with looking for the meaning instead of just thinking about the practice. Leave the letter as it is and let it challenge our thinking.

It's like a trellis. Some things wither; new sprouts come out. We need to learn to think for ourselves and concentrate on reading and experiencing the text before we read about it. We can always add to our knowledge later, but we have to go to the source, to drink from the fountain.

Why do you think Benedictinism is so popular with the laity today?

First of all, some eminent people have discovered it and made it known to others. There are also new communities forming around the spirituality that are attractive. It is a very human and Christlike wisdom. It is Christ-centered and is about how to live well with each other. The dignity of humans is so important in our time, this hospitality vs. xenophobia. The balance of it is also attractive. The essential values are radical but moderate, and the world seems to need that kind of orientation. Mother Teresa did great things, but her way wasn't the most practical for lay people. The Benedictine way can be applied to families, to everyday life.

What are some of your impressions of American monasticism?

I admire the honesty and the courage to seek and to be challenged. Some of the European monasteries with longer histories are at risk of being too static. I like the way you treasure the healthy tradition but open the door to the future. It is hard in this country because of the focus on individualism. The Rule is based on relationships, on protecting those relationships by the rhythm and asceticism and discipline. Americans can tend to want community that's not so "costly." You have to dive in, and not be wishy-washy. It's not always nice and smiling and comfortable, and that is countercultural.

It is always amazing that people continue to come and persevere. There are new ways of spreading the charism and even new forms of community. I believe that as long as we are needed, there will be Benedictines in the church in some form. We can't be assured that any one particular congregation will last, but Benedictines will still contribute in some way if it is the will of the Spirit.?

[Sister Aquinata's frequently revised "Bibliography for Students of the Rule of St. Benedict" is online at <>.]


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