Friday, February 15, 2008

Praying in the Cave...

Our pilgrimage yesterday took us to both Subiaco and Monte Cassino. I'm going to give each place it's own day in the blog. They are both so special and important in the life of Saint Benedict. The second blog will appear on Sunday as Sister Veronica and I will go into the city tomorrow. The Lateran and the Vatican environs are the plan, but we're both into feeing free and wandering without a schedule or a "to do" list. We'll be home two weeks from today. (YIPPEE!) Two Saturday's left for sight-seeing or wandering about.
Subiaco...the name means "under the lake." It is a breathtaking valley high in the mountains east of Rome. We left the Casa at 6 AM and arrived at Subiaco at around 8:30. The drive itself is a small wonder given the size of a tour bus and the narrow, winding roads up...up...up.
The monastery itself is built into the side of a mountain. It marks the spot where Benedict came as a young man in search of solitude and silence - in search of GOD. He did what many did in those days. After meeting a wise old monk who gave him the habit, Benedict found a little cave in the side of the mountain and became a hermit. Tradition tells us that he spent three years in this cave welcoming pilgrims, teaching the local shepherds and honing the skills of the spiritual life - most especially, attentive listening to the Word of GOD.
Subiaco is significantly colder than the city of Rome. We were freezing cold when we got off the bus and pretty much stayed cold until we left. I kept wondering how Saint Benedict could make in through three Roman winters...lots of sheepskin, I think! Our rather large group of pilgrims celebrated the Eucharist together in a small chapel below ground - directly across for the holy cave. It was a powerful liturgy. It was as if all our communities and loved ones where gathered with us in that single ray of light Benedict describes as the love of GOD. Very moving... Then, we took turns going inside the cave where a life-size statue of young Saint Benedict sits in the curve of the rock. Many sat in silence, others on their knees. Still others went forward and kissed the feet of the Man of GOD. It didn't feel right to take pictures inside the cave. I am still struggling for words to describe the energy in that space - a holy of holies for daughters and sons of Benedict.
After the cave, we had about two hours to gaze on the frescos that cover the interior of the Sacro Speco. I have never in my life seen such beauty! It is miraculous how the art literally covers every inch of wall and ceiling - like the Sistine. Along with scenes from the life of Benedict, there are numerous frescos on the life of Christ and the Blessed Mother. Too beautiful for words... (Look left for a personal favorite.)
As our time at Subiaco came to an end, the sun was just warming the mountainside. I had the thought that this is a place I could return to time and time again, and never tire of it or cease to find new aspects of its haunting beauty. I thought about all those caves in the mountains there and all the hermits who inhabited them. Most of all, I thought about our Holy Father, Benedict who was so young when he first heard the voice of GOD beckoning...whispering love. Fifteen-hundred years later, his daughters and sons are still listening...with the ear of the heart...for the voice of the LORD (RB Prol.1). And, as Benedict suggests in the The Rule, there can be nothing sweeter (RB Prol.19).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

The Priority of Love...

Today we had a guest instructor, Rev. Emmanuel Alvarez, OSA, a professor of Patristics at the Augustinianum here in Rome. Father's topic was the relationship between the Rule of Augustine and the Rule of Benedict. (Nancy Oliphant's icon can be found at
The more I learn about Augustine, the more I like him. Yes, I know his works have been cited to shift the concern of the Church in areas that affect sexuality and the dignity of women in GOD's creation. In all fairness to this friend of GOD, he was a hopeless sinner burdened with shame who found his strength in the bottomless pit of GOD's grace. So, while many might want to focus on the consequences of his personal issues, I choose to see Augustine as a companion in my own struggles for holiness. One can learn much from reading The Confessions. We can know more of his heart from reading his rule - a document written to instruct his community in the common life. It is eight short chapters - in monastic studies, a quick-read!
What is most gratifying is his emphasis on the Gospel mandate of love above all else and that the brothers " oneness of mind and heart" (Rule of Augustine, 3.). We know Saint Benedict read this rule and significant pieces of it found their way into his seventy-three chapters. Many of the teachings I most love in RB are directly from this fourth-century source. The prioress should "strive to be loved more than feared" (RB 64:15). Likewise, Benedict's concept of distribution according to need and the need for immediate, mutual forgiveness also find their root in Augustine's wisdom. I am grateful to the Bishop of Hippo for his contribution to our Holy Rule. May he pray for the Church - that we might grow in understanding and reverance for the gifts of women. I must be getting old. I really do find comfort in the thought that "nobody's perfect."
Peace and love... - Sister Vicki
PS - We're off to Subiaco and Monte Cassino tomorow. Next "blog"... Friday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

"Lazarus, come out!"

I wish I could tell you all about the celebration of Saint Scholastica. Unfortunately, I missed the whole thing. I've been sick again. Nothing serious...just a 24-hour bug of some kind. (May GOD spare you such an adventure!) I spent about 36 hours in my room (Sunday evening until Tuesday morning). I ate nothing substantial. Yesterday afternoon, Sister Veronica brought crackers and 2 real COKE's and that seemed just right. This morning, as I left my room at 6 AM for Morning Prayer, I felt REALLY good - surprised to be feeling so much better and grateful for a taste of the resurrection in miniature. Like Lazarus with the glare of another sunrise in his eyes, I wondered at how good it feels just to be alive (and vertical!)

Our study group presented this morning. After being sick again, I really just wanted to get through it with a modicum of poise. Sister Veronica and Sister Maria Goretti both shined in presenting their pieces of the project. Sister Maria covered the scriptural background for our section of Chapter 4 (only one actual reference in the text, so she really worked on the premise that Benedict knew Holy Scripture inside and out - the presumption of consumption - and combed the Old and New for every reference that was applicable.) Sister Veronica discussed the correspondence of RB to the Rule of the Master and did a splendid survey of key Latin terms. (She really loves working with the primary sources and differing translations.) I offered a few thoughts on the structure of the text we were given - more like imaginings, really. It was a difficult task given that the verses were eviscerated from the whole of the chapter. I had to keep putting the piece back within the whole. All in all, I think it went just fine. Thank you, Sisters and friends, for your prayers. Grace flows freely across the ocean...praise GOD!

Tomorrow, we have a guest lecturer and Thursday, we're off to Subiaco and Monte Cassino. Next week, we have the possibility of a Papal Audience. This has been an incredible experience - truly, a priviledge. FYI...We've learned that Sister Aquinata will teach the course again next year in English, but after that, she will teach it in other languages. (Portugese is next.)

Blessings and love to you all... - Sister Vicki

PS - The Internet was down again here on Monday. Sick as a dog, I probably would have crawled to the laptop. GOD is very wise...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Piazza della Repubblica...

Sister Veronica and I had a marvelous adventure yesterday. We took the train to Saint Peter's to visit some church goods shops and
then....THEN...we boarded bus #64. This is the infamous cross-town route where strangers become rapidly aquainted in a crowded mass of bodies. The stories we've heard about this particular route make some visiting sisters blush and others ready to defend their personal space. The bus, at that hour of the morning, was full when we left the station. I kept one had on the strap of my bag, the other on the handrail, and closed my eyes. Nothing happened! Nothing. Not a bump or a learing stare or even the dreaded pinch. Sister Veronica sensed my disappointment and offered to pinch me. I declined. It's good to have sisters...

We investigated two international bookstores in the Piazza della Republica - a grand, ancient piazza that is home to the Basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli. We window-shopped and even wandered in to a couple of stores. Then, we made our way to the Quirinal neighborhood for lunch. Although there were many lovely trattorias on our route, I had a plan (BIG surprise!) [My Dear Old Dad was a research analyst for 40 years. It's no wonder that I love to research everything - especially restaurants!)

Antica Birrea Peroni is a landmark among native Romans. It was opened in 1909 and continues to serve hearty local fare and Peroni beer to regulars and tourists who wander off the main drag into its ancient environs. We had to wait for a table - quite normal at the lunch hour on a Saturday. Once we were seated we could finally see the scope of the place. There were at least two large rooms filled with tables that were so close, you could make some new friends.

It was bustling with activity...waiters swooshing by....weilding trays of beer in tall, glass steins...serving plates of goulash and gnocchi. I nearly swooned. To make a short story long takes no effort on my part when the subject is the table. So, I will control my urge to wax poetic and say that we had a wonderful meal - Italian steak with fries, cold beer and good house wine. We were both longing for some red meat. This was DEFINITLEY the right place to come. Before I close Sister Veronica and I want to thank our friends whose generosity made this second special meal possible. We prayed you a blessing in our table grace. I have plenty to write about in my food journal now...and wonderful memories to revisit...and few new tricks to try in the monastery kitchen!

Blessings and love to you all... - Sister Vicki