Summer 2018 In Norcia
Here’s some very good news about the Catholic Church, and a sign of the Benedict Option in action. Above, a procession of the Monks of Norcia, outside their new monastery on the side of the mountain overlooking the town. Father Benedict, the prior, writes to say that they had help in doing some construction work this summer:
This past weekend, a group of 20 men from the famous Tipi Loschi company along with their associates spent the weekend helping us with long overdue projects. Their ages ranged from 18 to 70. Some came to vigils at 3:30 AM, all came to prayers throughout the day and to one of the most important parts of our life: Pranzo (our main meal of the day).
Here is Father Benedict speaking to the Tipi Loschi building crew:
Father Benedict continues:
Men today who come to Norcia to become monks — and at present 4 have requested to enter this fall — come looking for a world where they can be truly free to love Christ as the Incarnate God, a truth that a modern day version of Arianism once again tries to reject. They come wounded by a society which has tempted them with the idea that either no happiness on this earth is possible at all, or that it is completely possible if one only pursues it by the standards of the world. But when their vocations flourish they find the opposite of both. They find a foretaste of joy here on earth, and then later, in death, that joy complete.
The Norcia monks are raising money to build their monastery on the mountainside. If you read The Benedict Option, you’ll recall that their old monastery, on the piazza in Norcia, was destroyed by the 2016 earthquake. Here’s how the book ends:
With dust still rising from the rubble, Father Basil knelt on the stones of the piazza, facing the ruined basilica, and accompanied by nuns and a few elderly Norcini, including one in a wheelchair, he prayed. Later amateur video posted to YouTube showed Father Basil, Father Benedict, and Father Martin running through the streets of the rubble-strewn town, looking for the dying who needed last rites. By the grace of God, there were none.
Back in America, Father Richard Cipolla, a Catholic priest in Connecticut and an old friend of Father Benedict’s, e-mailed the subprior when he heard the news of the latest quake. “Is there damage? What is going on?” Father Cipolla wrote.
“Yes, damage much worse,” Father Benedict replied. “But we are okay. Much to tell you, but just pray. I am well, and God continues to purify us and bring very good things.”
The next morning, as the sun rose over Norcia, Father Benedict sent a message to the monastery’s friends all over the world. He said that no Norcini had lost their lives in the quake because they had heeded the warnings from the earlier tremors and left town. “[God] spent two months preparing us for the complete destruction of our patron’s church so that when it finally happened we would watch it, in horror but in safety, from atop the town,” the priest-monk wrote.
Father Benedict added, “These are mysteries which will take years—not days or months—to understand.”
Surely that is true. But notice this: the earth moved, and the Basilica of St. Benedict, which had stood firm for many centuries, tumbled to the ground. Only the facade, the mere semblance of a church, remains. Because the monks headed for the hills after the August earthquake, they survived. God preserved them in the holy poverty of their canvas-covered Bethlehem, where they continued to live the Rule in the ancient way, including chanting the Old Mass. Now they can begin rebuilding amid the ruins, their resilient Benedictine faith teaching them to receive this catastrophe as a call to deeper holiness and sacrifice. God willing, new life will one day spring forth from the rubble.
“We pray and watch from the mountainside, thinking of the long three years Saint Benedict spent in the cave before God decided to call him out to become a light to the world,” wrote Father Benedict. “Fiat. Fiat.”
Let it be. Let it be.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the churches.
See? New life is arising from the rubble. I hope all American Catholics who are grieving over the scandals emerging in their church will see this and find hope. But notice that the new life is not just happening spontaneously. These monks and their lay followers are praying and working it into existence.
The people I wrote about in the book — monastic and lay — are real, flesh-and-blood folks. You can go to Italy to meet them, to pray with them, and to participate in their life. If you want to build ancient monastic Christianity in Norcia, and make a place for future monks to come to pray, work, and serve God as traditional Benedictines, direct your tithe here.