Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas at St. Benedict's

Someone asked - what is Christmas like in the Monastery?

Christmas is a very special time here (as you would expect). We are going to find and cut down a Christmas tree (from our property) this afternoon! We will decorate it tonight (Tues, Dec 22) during our community recreation (which we have every Tuesday night).

We will decorate the church on Thursday afternoon (Dec 24). And we will have our Christmas vigil Mass at 8:00 PM that night.

We will have a GREAT meal (dinner) on Christmas day in the monastery. It will be cooked by monks (to give the staff the day off)... and we have some very good cooks here! Lots of the monks who are in parishes will be home for the meal (which will be eaten in the evening to give everyone time to get home).

From December 17 until it is empty, there is a table just outside of the refectory (our dining room) which is affectionately called "The Gluttony Table" because it houses all the goodies given to us over the Christmas holidays. I have been somewhat tempered until now... but that dam could break at any time (as most of you know)... thankfully, there is no ice cream on that table!!

Those are some of the things we do. I am sure there are more which I will find out as we do them...

God bless you all and if I don't post again before the big day...

Have a very Mary Christ-Mass and a Blessed New Year!!

2 weeks into the Novitiate

I entered the Novitiate 2 weeks ago and have been asked - how it is going? I must say that it is going GREAT! The accommodations are good (little bigger room than in the postulancy and I have a sink in my room)... the Novice Master is a solid teacher of the monastic way of life and the Rule of St. Benedict.

It reminds me of my first year in the seminary - and I have the same sense of peace that I had then. There is some good time to pray, reflect and grow in the possibility of a monastic vocation. The classes (M-F, 8:00-10:00 AM) are educational and challenging (not hard to understand, but to put into practice). The work remains about the same - approximately 15 hours a week.

If it gets much better, they may have to pry me out of the Novitiate next December! (Just kidding, I think that I will be ready to get back to active priestly ministry by then!)

God bless you all,

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pictures from Novitiate Ceremony

Check out the pictures: http://www.kansasmonks.org/index.php?option=com_phocagallery&view=category&id=7:novice&Itemid=77

And the Abbot's homily: http://www.kansasmonks.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=92:novices&catid=49:news

If you have trouble with the links above, go to: www.kansasmonks.org and click on "photos" on the menu bar. The Novitiate Ceremony is the last entry.

Monday, December 7, 2009

And the new names is.... DrummmmRolllllll....

I received my first choice - Father Justin Damien

In my letter to the Abbot I asked for "Justin Damien" and I wrote that though officially (on the record) I would have the double name, I would simply go by “Father Justin” in house.

The names which I requested are in honor of the following saints:

St. Justin (Martyr) РSt. Justin is an apologist and martyr Рboth of which appeal to me (especially as a Southerner). I love his First Apology (from the middle of the 2nd century) with its defense of the Eucharist and expos̩ on the Mass. I was ordained to the priesthood on his feast day (June 1, 1991), which is another reason he is so special to me. Since the first time I started to think about religious life, Justin was the name I desired the most.

St. Damien (of Molokai [Hawaii]) – I have had a devotion to this wonderful, godly priest for years. His selfless service in very difficult circumstances (isolated on an island populated with lepers to the point of contracting leprosy himself) is an inspiration. In commemoration of his recent canonization (October 11, 2009), I am honored to have his name as part of my own.

Friday, December 4, 2009


It's supposed to get up to 36 degrees today... we will see. It was 22 for most of the morning and its now only 24.

Just like Montgomery, Alabama!!

Priestly visitor...

I was recently visited by a priest friend who is interested in the Benedictine life. He is not from Alabama, so stop guessing because you don't know him. Please pray for him and his discernment!

What's in a name?

When I enter the novitiate on Monday evening (Dec 7th), I will receive my Benedictine habit and a new name. They go together. It will be the start of a new life as a Benedictine novice. New clothing covering the old self and a new name to be identified by - both are signs of a transition, a change and a reminder of the constant Christian calling to die to the old self to live a more faithful life in Christ (and in this case to live by the 1500 year old Rule of St. Benedict - one of the vows being conversion to the monastic way of life). There will be some changes in my lifestyle and the habit and new name will tangible be reminders of them.

When someone is given a name (or names) at birth, it is usually a compliment to the holder of the name. Parents are usually saying that I hope that my son/daughter has some of the good qualities of the person who shares the same name. I was named after people on both sides of my family (my godfather - Jimmy Azar, my Uncle Bud [James] and from my grandfather I got my middle name [Norman]).

A Catholic takes a Confirmation name (I took the Apostle, St. James, the son of Zebedee). In this case, the saint is to be a model to imitate and as an intercessor to pray for you, the confirmandi - especially as you become a soldier for Christ (and we are engaged in warfare in this world - with eternal casualties and eternal victories)!

In the Religious Life a greater change takes place as someone dedicates their entire life to God, especially by living the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. That requires a lot of grace and it is good to have friends in high places to intercede for you and to be a role model.

Of course, the name change does not change the person (no more than the clothing/habit does). As Shakespeare wrote (in Romeo and Juliet), "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet". It is just another incarnational way to help the Religious (aspirant in my case) to strive to allow God to work more fully in his life, to die to self and live more for God.

So PRAY for me - that God's will will be done in my life!!

One of the good things about being a diocesan priest for the past 18+ years and going by Fr. "last name" (which most diocesan priests do) is that the change is only the first name... so Fr. Dean will still be appropriate (or Fr. "newname").

(I will find out my new name on Monday evening!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Spiritual Life...

In my description of this blog I said I would keep everyone posted on my activities "inside" the monastery and inside me. I have posted numerous times about the manual labor of the postulant life here at St. Benedict's Abbey. Now a short word about me...

When I got here I lived as a diocesan priest for about a month and a half. Enjoying the community and praying together, the food, the classes and the many other good aspects of monastery life. But I really did not take advantage of the opportunities to grow spiritually nor exercise the the monastic practices of Lection Divina (Sacred Reading - primarily the Bible) and solitude/personal prayer. Around that point I decided I should make some changes. I have tried to get in bed earlier (but have not always been successful) and get up early. I am watching less TV, eating less and exercising more. And I have added some extra prayer time and spiritual reading to my morning activities.

It has truly been a blessing and I pray (and I hope that you are too) that the will of God for my life will become clear in the coming days... months... and years! The novitiate will surely be a time of grace and discernment.

Know that all of you are in my prayers!


I begin the Novitiate on the evening of December 7th (this Monday). By Canon Law it is required to last at least 1 year and 1 day - and that is how long it will last as it ends on Dec 8, 2010.

It has been called a Spiritual Boot Camp! In the old days, they would shave the heads of the men entering the novitiate (they were called "baldies"). They did that so that they would not leave at the first discouragement - they would want to stay at least until their hair grows back! ;-)

I will be making a short (2 1/2 day) silent retreat with my fellow postulants in preparation for Novitiate. We start tonight at 8:00 PM and it ends on Saturday morning. Please keep us in your prayers.

I plan to update this blog a few times in the coming week...