On Humility (13)

The ninth degree of humility is, that a monk restrain his tongue from speaking and, maintaining silence, speak not until questioned, for the Scripture teaches: “In the multitude of words there shall not want sin,” and: “The man full of tongue shall not endure on the earth.”

Today’s reading hearkens back to Chapter VI. As written previously, even good conversation can quickly degenerate. Chapter VII is, in a sense, a program for our own interior Passion, of uniting ourselves spiritually with Our Lord’s own kenosis, His own self-emptying. If this interpretation  is correct, that St. Benedict is putting forth a program for our own Passion in this chapter, then one can surmise that our Holy Father is thinking in this step of Our Lord’s silence before the Sanhedrin, only speaking when spoken to, and even this when absolutely necessary.

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Talking much can be a form of self-love, of calling attention to one’s self, of pride, and I think that is what our Holy Father St. Benedict is getting at in this degree of humility. How many times in conversations do we not try to parade ourselves, puffing ourselves up, trying to be more than we really are? We love to get the last word in in an argument or a debate (“that’ll teach you to mess with me!”); we love to speak about all the wonderful things we’ve accomplished (“I’m so productive”; “I’ve just made my company so much money”; “I can juggle a job and family life”; “just look at my bank account”); our amazing holidays (“bet you wish you could go there”); put our encyclopedic knowledge on display (“don’t you wish you were as smart and as well read as me?”); make a witty remark (“I’m so smart and funny”). And this need not be the case only in worldly things; one can even fall into this in spiritual conversations as well! I think it needless to say that this step can be applied to social media as well. We live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… My voice will be heard, whether you want to hear it or not! I will give my unsolicited opinion on every matter that tickles my fancy, and will give you a list of reasons why I am right and you are wrong (and will lambaste you if necessary).

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It’s all about me, myself, and I. I have succumbed to pride. I make an idol of myself and expect others to burn the incense of approval at my feet.

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One who cannot stop talking is necessarily one who cannot not listen, either to others or to God. Is it forcing the parable to see this spirit of talkativeness in the Pharisee who enumerates before God his apparent qualities? He goes on and on about how holy he is, uninterested in what the Lord may have to say to him. He has gone up to the Temple to worship not God, but himself. The parable tells us that he “prayed thus with himself“.

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Today’s feast of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary reminded me that we have as an example of this step the Blessed Mother. The Creature with the most reasons for boasting, for not keeping silent, is the one who, though present throughout the Gospels, is hardly ever heard. She, who was born without the stain of sin, who is “full of grace”, who during her earthly life may have had the greatest spiritual insights, the loftiest thoughts, remained silent, pondering things in her Immaculate Heart. She did not speak until God questioned her via St. Garbiel. When she answered, it was with few words and in a spirit of humility. Let us ask of Our Most Holy Mother and Queen to help obtain for us this gift of humility of the tongue.


Am I restraining my tongue in conversations? Am I dissipating myself, forgetting to keep the Lord before my eyes, with my vain conversations? Am I giving my opinion when it is not called for, either at work or in other circumstances? Am I leading others into pointless conversations as well? Do I know how to listen?

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Ostende faciem tuam

Today I offer a final collection of loose thoughts on my retreat at Silverstream.


Before going I inquired of friends and acquaintances if there were any intentions they would like me to bring before Our Lord while on retreat. I was quite surprised at the amount of prayer requests that I received. “If I, being a simple, sinful layman, am asked to pray for all this, then how much more are those in the religious life solicited!”, I thought to myself. These requests brought to my mind another aspect of the communion of the saints which I normally don’t associate too much with the concept – the communion of those here below, in the Church Militant – and the power of intercessory prayer. I often tend to forget that if any prayer I offer is efficacious, it is not on any of my own merits, but on account of my participation through Baptism in the Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Our Lord.
As I came before the Eucharistic Face, bringing Him all these pleas, enjoining to them my own prayers, I was reminded of what I once heard from an anchorite: that a man at prayer is an awesome and terrible thing to contemplate. At that moment I was, in a sense, an icon of all those who had entrusted me to “deliver” their prayers. How could the crushing weight of such a responsibility not bear down upon me? How could I not be reminded of my unworthiness, of my failings, of my sins? How could I not think of my need for conversion of life? There, before His burning sacramental gaze, I felt small, humbled, speechless. Carried away by this feeling, the only appropriate response (when I was alone in the oratory) seemed to be to prostrate myself before the King of kings.

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Prologue (VII)

We are, therefore, about to found a school of the Lord’s service, in which we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But even if, to correct vices or to preserve charity, sound reason dictateth anything that turneth out somewhat stringent, do not at once fly in dismay from the way of salvation, the beginning of which cannot but be narrow. But as we advance in the religious life and faith, we shall run the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love; so that never departing from His guidance and persevering in the monastery in His doctrine till death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and be found worthy to be coheirs with Him of His kingdom.

During our reading of the Holy Rule this past week, one verse in particular grabbed my attention:

[…] so that never departing from His guidance and persevering in the monastery in His doctrine till death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and be found worthy to be coheirs with Him of His kingdom.

Perhaps it was because we had recently been reading the Gospel of St. Luke, and just a week before an antiphon from the feast of St. Bartholomew, taken from Luke, had caught my attention as well: In patientia vestra possidebitis animas vestra – In your patience you shall possess your souls. A somewhat cryptic verse. What does it mean? What’s this business of possessing one’s soul and what does patience have to do with it? In context, Jesus is speaking about the destruction of Jerusalem, as well as the end times and enduring until the end. Etymologically, “patience” is linked to “suffering”. The Fathers seem to be in agreement that this verse means that those who suffer, who endure until the end, will enter the Kingdom. Maybe we tend to understand “patience” linked to simply “waiting”, but in this context “endurance” drives the point home. The Scriptures exhort us time and time again about enduring. Endure what? Endure the straight and narrow. Read more

“Console your God”

During my retreat at Silverstream I was always reminded of home every time I stepped into the oratory, as the first thing I would see was an image of Our Lady of Fátima. It is to the topic of Fátima that I will return again today, but perhaps in a way unexpected (but, hopefully, not fanciful). Today I wish to share some thoughts on Silverstream’s connection (in my opinion at least) with Fátima.

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OLoF in the oratory.

It was while at Adoration, under the gaze of the Queen of Portugal, that I had an epiphany. While offering my time of adoration in reparation for priests I suddenly remembered the apparitions of the Angel of Portugal to the three young shepherd children.

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“[…] thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to the little ones.”
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Reflections on a retreat – Part II (or, Martha and Mary)

As mentioned in the previous post, I will now try to describe a bit of my experience of the Liturgy at Silverstream.


Retreats at a monastery are quite different than what most Catholics would be used to. There is no “structure” to the retreat as there is in ones based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola; there are no conferences given by a priest/religious; no general confession; etc. The only structure is that of the Opus Dei, the Divine Office. The monks simply invite you to take part, as much as possible, in their liturgical life; you may also speak with a monk seasoned in the spiritual life if you wish; silence also plays a large role. The exterior silence, in my case, helped to notice that the interior was not silent at all. There are all these thoughts floating around, distracting, dissipating one’s attention from the one thing necessary which we in the world don’t notice most of the time due to all the exterior noise. Silence is not a commodity the world seems to appreciate; in fact, it seems to abhor it. Silence, many times, puts you face to face with yourself, with your weaknesses and brokenness. It’s the realization of our own littleness that allows us to open  up and hear the voice of God. The fight against dissipation – our forgetfulness of God – is a lifelong one, and silence is a necessary part of it.

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Reflections on a retreat – Part I (or, You can(‘t) go home again)

I recently arrived back home from a retreat at Silverstream Priory. The next few blog posts will focus on the fruit of prayers and reflections during those days; for now, this one will relate my experience of the residing monastic community.


As I caught the bus from my house to the airport at 5 in the morning my head was full of thoughts about the journey I was embarking upon. While I had been eagerly looking forward to this retreat, now thoughts of leaving my wife and children – my home – behind, if even just for a few days, began to make me question my decision. These doubt-filled thoughts continued to loom in the back of my mind, even as Giovanni (a friend of the monastery, who collected me at the airport in Dublin) and I talked on our way to the monastery. Yet, as the car pulled up in front of the Gatehouse and I saw D. Finnian’s familiar and friendly face, the “buzzing” of those lingering thoughts went silent. I was home.

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Shortly after greeting D. Finnian, the guestmaster D. Cassian, a young monk hailing from Australia, came out to meet me; it was the first time we met in person. D. Cassian took me to visit Our Lord, and as we made our way up the stairs to the house, and then inside to the oratory, I saw that things were the same as I remembered them since my last visit, yet much had changed as well. Shortly thereafter I returned to the guesthouse; D. Cassian appeared with some coffee, we spoke for a bit, and I had the chance to make the acquaintance of a young man who is currently an “inquirer” at Silverstream. I was then shown to my room. Not too long after that the bell rang: it was time for Terce followed immediately by Mass.

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I met the rest of the monks over the next day or two. It was impressive to see the community’s current size. When last I visited, nearly four years ago, there were just four monks; since then Silverstream has grown threefold! It was nice to finally meet face to face all our monastic brothers who we had only seen in pictures online and prayed for, recalling them with “…et cum fratribus nostris absentibus.” I had a chance to speak with most of them, to a greater or lesser degree. I tried as much as possible not to get in their way, or distract them with idle chatter.

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Besides myself, the inquirer, and one of the monk’s parents, there were two other people staying at the guesthouse – two priests. One is an oblate of the monastery, and I believe was just there for a few days; the other had been there for quite some time now, and would be staying for an indeterminate amount of time. This priest mentioned to me that he had never heard of Silverstream before; he had mentioned needing a retreat to an ordained friend, who replied he knew just the place for him. And so this priest found himself far from the country where he was ministering in, praying and waiting, taking his time listening to the Lord (which, apparently, is not part of his character, being the type of person more inclined to action. [If you are reading this, Father, I hope I haven’t misrepresented you, or said anything I shouldn’t have.]). This is not the first time I have met a priest here in such a situation. It seems to me that Silverstream is a place of healing, most especially for priests, a fact which does not surprise me given the place’s charism. I will try to say some more about this, perhaps, in the next post.

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Dame Hilda Benilda was not seen out and about as much as last time; it seems her age is catching up with her. However, I chanced upon Constance and Mildred; the former seems to be taking her monastic vows seriously and avoiding contact at all costs with visitors, while the latter has no problem interacting with guests (or perhaps she’s just vying for D. Cassian’s role as guestmaster?). On my daily walk within the enclosure I would quite often pass by the chickens, which seemed to think I was one of their own after I clucked to gain their attention (the rooster did not seem amused with this).

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A verse from Chapter LIII, On the Reception of Guests, came to mind during my stay:

[…]guests, who are never lacking in a monastery […]

I never understood why monasteries should be busy places, but after a few days of seeing people coming and going, it finally made sense. It is not the easiest place to arrive at (and this is a good thing, especially for the monks), yet people managed to find their way there. While the World Meeting of Families was going on, people would happen to find their way to the monastery. People from all over the world seem to find their way to this secluded monastery, and many times someone will know someone in common with another visitor.

The house no longer resounded with the bustling noise of renovations, as it did four years ago. Nonetheless, works were still being carried out, with the new novitiate cells being built, as well as the new church (aptly named Bethlehem). Silverstream has a vocational problem: it’s a growing family, yet does not have enough space to take in all those who “persevere in knocking” at the door. If you can help this growing community, please consider making a donation here.

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In the second part I will say a bit about my experience of the Liturgy during my stay.

“The world is passing away…”

This blog’s purpose is not to comment on current events, but I felt impelled to say a word or two on the sexual abuse scandal that has recently come to light within the Church in the USA, as well as in England.

Corrupt priests are nothing new, and it should come as no surprise to those who know Church history. In times when discipline and morals become lax priests fall into sins of simony, fornication, sodomy, pride,… There is nothing new under the sun. I don’t say this to lessen the gravity of the sins committed; I’m only pointing out the obvious for those who might think this is something “new”. While hearing about these things always saddens and grieves me greatly, it does not surprise me. I am not surprised, not because I think there is something wrong with the Church’s structure (as some seem to believe is the origin of this crisis), but because I believe in concupiscence and the scars of Original Sin. If one doesn’t fight the good fight, if one does not cooperate with grace, should it be any surprise that one falls into vices and sins of all sorts? As a saint (whom I can’t recall) once said “if you are not advancing in the spiritual life, you are moving backwards”.

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A homily

A wonderful homily by Father Prior, wherein he speaks of points in common between the monastic and married life, touching upon that of witness.

I am not my own

We’ve recently been reading a collection of homilies by St. John Chrysostom on the topic of Matrimony. A common theme throughout them – husbands and wives bodies are not their own – brought to my mind Chapter XXXIII of the Holy Rule, a chapter which, perhaps due to a superficial reading, I never thought had anything to say to those in the married state. That has changed since reading these homilies. It was the following verse that came to mind while reading the saint’s words and which, in my opinion, shows a common thread between the monastic and married life:

[…] since they are not permitted to have even their bodies or wills
at their own disposal.

The homilies are based on some of St. Paul’s epistles. The Apostle reminds us that our bodies are not our own, that we who have been baptized are incorporated into Christ as His members and that we have been bought at a great price. Our bodies, therefore, belong first and foremost to the Lord. Read more

Love in obedience

In last Sunday’s Gospel we hear Our Lord say:

If anyone love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me, does not keep My words. And the word that you have heard is not Mine, but the Father’s Who sent Me.

This talk of words [speech], hearing, obedience and acting brought to mind a couple of chapters of the Holy Rule, specifically the opening Prologue and Chapter V.

I was immediately reminded of:

Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. Receive willingly and carry out effectively your loving father’s advice, that by the labor of obedience you may return to Him from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

One could almost say that these opening words were those of Christ Himself: He is the Master (Jn 13:13) and father of all baptized, they being the fruit of His nuptial embrace on the Cross with His mystical bride, the Church; He asks His children to obey Him so that we may return to the Father Who loves mankind. He requires of us the faith of a child (Mt 18:3), to trust as a child trusts in their parents. As the eyes of the servant are upon their master’s hands, so too are those of the child on their parents’. Children tend to listen to and watch their parents (even if most of the times it doesn’t seem like it), and end up emulating them.

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Magister

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