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The New Norcia Institute for Benedictine Studies was launched at 2pm on Sunday 6th May of 2012. The “Launch Day” consisted of a guest speaker and panel conversation. Our guest speaker was Dr Michael Casey ocso. Fr Casey is a monk of Tarrawarra Abbey, Victoria. He is a world renowned scholar of monastic spirituality and a much sought after retreat master. He holds a degree in Scripture from Leuven and a doctorate from the Melbourne College of Divinity. Fr Casey has published many books exploring the Benedictine way of life including “Strangers to the City” (Paraclete Press, 2005), “A Guide to Living in the Truth” (Liguori, 2001), and “Sacred Reading” (Liguori, 1996). His latest publication is The “Road to Eternal Life: Reflections on the Prologue of Benedict’s Rule” (Liturgical Press 2011). The paper given by Michael at the Launch and the other short papers given by Abbot John Herbert osb, Sr Carmel Posa sgs, Sr Margaret Malone sgs and Dr Katharine Massam, can be downloaded from the following PDF files:
In 2012 the Institute will offer two study weekends. These weekends will aim to deepen participants’ awareness of the Benedictine Tradition and the possibilities it holds for enriching one’s faith and ministry. The key text for the 2012 series will be Gregory Collins osb, Meeting Christ in His Mysteries, Liturgical Press, 2011. This text will be available for purchase at the Launch Day in May or from the Museum shop. The Week-ends will be held on 3rd – 5th August and 2nd – 4th November.
First Study Weekend Report
The New Norcia Institute for Benedictine Studies held its first Study Weekend from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th August. There were 16 participants for the weekend. It was a wonderfully varied group; married, single, monks, nuns, seminarians, differing denominations, and ranging in age from wise seniors to the eager young.
All participants had obviously worked hard at preparing for the weekend, reading the text by Gregory Collins, “Meeting Christ in his Mysteries: A Benedictine Vision of the Spiritual Life” and bringing along their notes, questions, reflections and insights to share.
The Group gathered casually in the guesthouse sitting room on the Friday night to meet each other, discuss the plan for the weekend and set the tone of the conversation and interaction during the study sessions. The participants also joined in the liturgical life of the Monastic Community – the ritual meeting of Christ in his mysteries.
On the Saturday the group gathered in the Seminar Room of the Education Centre for the first session which focused on clarifying the central principle of Collins’ book – that we are all called into union with God through the mystery of Christ and that this mystery is made manifest in the sacramental mysteries of the church’s worship. There was a lively discussion during this time, on the meaning of “mystery” and its central place in understanding the spiritual journey in the Christian and Benedictine life.
Following morning tea the second session focused on unpacking some of Collins’ specific concepts and unique terminology such as “disclosure zones”, “mutual-self-presencing”, kenosis, the meaning of the Incarnation and Salvation, the centrality of the Cross, and the notion of sacramentality. It was an intense morning, working with the text and guided by a series of visual summaries provided by the Sr Carmel’s PowerPoints.
The early part of the afternoon was left free for further reflection, reading and rest in preparation for the third session. From 3pm – 5pm the group then examined the three central sacramental mysteries discussed by Collins: Scripture, Baptism and Eucharist. These were presented as the “primary acts of mediation”. Of particular importance to the group was the discussion of the power of symbol in our understanding of the mysteries and their ethical implications and applications to communal life in world.
In the evening there was a review session to share the significant learnings of day.
On Sunday morning a further session concentrated on what Collins identified as “three lesser mysteries” or mediations: The Church’s Year of Mysteries, Icons and Personal Prayer. Of specific note here was the centrality of the Easter event/Paschal mystery in all liturgical celebrations. Collins pointed out the tension between a linear or “chronological/historicising” understanding of the liturgical year and a more “eschatological vision of time” where Easter is THE feast from which all other feasts and celebrations spiral.
There was also great interest in Collins’ focus on the icon as a “privileged disclosure zone” of the mystery of Christ. The sacramental nature of the icon and its recovery in western spirituality was of particular appeal.
Finally there was attention paid to the Benedictine tradition of lectio divina through discussion of personal prayer in which Christ’s mystery is disclosed in the deepest recesses of the heart.
The afternoon was devoted to a short summary of the weekend with a sharing of what all participants were taking away with them from the study, reflections and sharing. There was a expression of enthusiasm for the second part of the study of Collins’ book which will take place in November of this year.
Second Study Weekend Report
The New Norcia Institute for Benedictine Studies held its second Study Weekend from Friday 2nd to Sunday 4th November. There were 8 participants for this weekend which focused on the second half of our text by Gregory Collins, “Meeting Christ in his Mysteries: A Benedictine Vision of the Spiritual Life”. The program was similar to the first study weekend held in August but as the group was smaller we had more intimate and intense conversations on the material both in the sessions and around the meal table.
In our first weekend we studied the mystery of Christ as revealed to us in Holy Scripture, baptism, Eucharist, the icon, the church’s year and personal prayer. We began our second weekend with a reflection on this material by remembering the focus of the book as Collins suggests:
- Remembering that the goal of participation in the liturgical feasts is to focus us on the mystery of Christ, so as to transform our hearts. (130)
- Remembering that an icon is written not painted and is a locus of presence, a focus for vision and an in-breaking of the one great mystery of Christ – his saving death and resurrection. (130)
- Remembering that in the Benedictine Tradition the liturgy is understood as a kind of vision – a participation in the heavenly liturgy (131)
- Remembering that Benedict’s project is clearly stated in RB 72: “And may he bring us all together to everlasting life” – the liturgy is central to this aim – it is our foretaste of the future and our participation in the present of all the promises of Christ’s mystery.
- Remembering that the true centre of all the liturgy and the Work of Salvation history is the Paschal mystery. (132)
We turned our attention to the individual mysteries in more detail – the subject of the second half of the text – the mystery of Christ revealed in contemplation of image, text and worship/action. Using the icons which Collins provides in his text, we contemplated the mysteries of the Exaltation (in the feasts of Easter, Ascension, Pentecost), Passion (in the raising of Lazarus, Palm Sunday, the washing of the feet, the Last Supper, Gethsemane, the Death and burial of the Son of God and the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross) Manifestation (at Christmas, the Presentation, Baptism and Transfiguration of Jesus), Mary (at the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, the Annunciation and the Dormition) and the Celestial Altar.
Finally we ended with a reflection on the Trinity, where Collins tells us that: “The rhythm of give and take pulsating perpetually at the heart of the Trinity is the hidden heart of all reality” (288) and that Jesus is “the definitive exegesis of the hidden God” (282) Truly a rich and treasured experience of “Meeting Christ in his Mysteries”.
Annual Institute Lecture
The New Norcia Institute for Benedictine Studies Annual Lecture was held on Sunday 15 July at 2.00pm in the Seminar Room of the Education Centre here at New Norcia. Approximately 35 people attended the lecture this year. Our guest speaker was Dr Elizabeth Boase. Liz is Co-Director of Biblical Studies at Uniting College for Leadership and Theology, a member college of the Adelaide College of Divinity. She lectures at Flinders University in Old Testament and her research interest is in the Book of Lamentations and the lament psalms. She has a variety of publications including The Fulfilment of Doom, which focuses on the interpretation of the Book of Lamentations. She is currently working on Trauma Studies and Eco-Theology and the Bible and has recently returned from a sabbatical which included conference presentations in both the UK and Denmark. Liz is also involved in ministerial formation for lay and ordained ministries in the Uniting Church and is a regular preacher within the Uniting Church of Australia. The topic of her lecture to the Institute was: The Cursing Psalms: What are they, why are they there and how do we pray them today? Appropriately, we began the lecture with the chanting of Psalm 139.
Liz gave us an exceptionally clear, engaging, and focused critique of the imprecatory psalms and their place within our private prayer, communal liturgy and public worship. Her presentation was challenging and moving, drawing us both into the potential dangers of the use of the cursing psalms and their integral place in mature worship and personal prayer. Of particular note was the application of these psalms to the violence we experience in our modern context and the traumatic effects it inflicts not just on individuals but on whole communities. In relation to this, Liz also mentioned the research into the therapeutic use of the imprecatory psalms in the field of psychology. Question time proved to be lively and further extended our understanding of the importance of these psalms in our relationship with God.
The lecture also coincided with the end of the Annual Benedictine Experience week-end retreat at the Guesthouse which also focused on Benedict’s use of the psalms in the Rule and was thus an apt conclusion to the retreat run by Abbot John Herbert osb and Sr Margaret Malone sgs.