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  • SPECIAL: Saturday November 7: Oblate Spirituality
    Morning Retreat and Open House
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    Full-day Retreat with Susan Stabile
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  • Pray at the monastery any day!

Summer Reading: Old Favorites

2 August 2015
fictional books in The Lion, the Witch and the...

Illustration by Pauline Baynes from CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe  (Photo: Wikipedia)

When we look at books for “summer reading” we’re often seeking one of two things, both of them related to the idea of being on vacation. I want a book that

  1. …takes me someplace new or
  2. …doesn’t make me work too hard

Finding the new in the old

Why not re-read an old favorite?  Just like re-visiting your home town, you already know many of the good parts and can get to them easily.  They may be even better the second time around, because you have the pleasure of anticipating them too.

With spiritual reading, the unexpected delight in re-reading an old favorite is that you have changed — and the book will offer you new Read more…

Radical Hospitality (Oblate Summer Reading Program)

14 July 2015

For introverts and people of a solitary bent, whose home is their quiet retreat, the Benedictine Rule’s charism of hospitality might seem intrusive. And a book called “Radical Hospitality” could, for them, imply more a way of penance than a way of love.

Anyone who has ever discussed the Rule knows that hospitality refers to more than inviting people into your home. It’s an openness of heart that can be accomplished in many small ways. That can be of comfort to those quiet people, especially when noting that the first chapter of this book is The Taming of Hospitality. Other appealing chapters–although they all are–include Companionship and Intimacy, Making Room for Yourself, and Listening: The Deep Truth of Hospitality.

One of the best parts of this book is that it includes the perspectives of both a book covermonk and an oblate–Fr. Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt. They each bring their own experiences of hospitality that differ because of their different stations in life, but both contain examples of showing and sharing Christ’s love for all people.

This book emphasizes that a hospitable way of life needn’t be intrusive, or even against anyone’s nature. Nor are its strengths unique to monasticism. But, as the book’s introduction notes, “Monasticism is a healthy way of creating a life that values what is most important.”

“Radical Hospitality” is full of small stories, each of which will easily resonate in any reader’s heart. It was published by Paraclete Press.

The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (Oblate summer reading)

12 July 2015

This week’s selection for the summer reading series is a book that is more than 20 years old:  The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham.  Some might think this an odd choice to suggest to Benedictine Oblates: it chooses to introduce and study spirituality through the lens of Alcoholics Anonymous, and has been called by some “a recovery book.”

That designation – and the implication that it only has value for the group of people who are “in recovery” – is completely contrary to the primary message of the book. Rather, the authors are at pains to show that Alcoholics Anonymous was the route that people in the 20th century needed to recover an ancient spiritual tradition, one that contrasts with our modern emphasis on appearing perfect, even being perfect. They are reclaiming the ancient tradition that begins with a profound acknowledgement of our imperfection – and from that stable connection to reality, builds a connection to the divine.

The Desert Fathers and Mothers – abbas and ammas

Rather than a dry discourse comparing the meaning of imperfection across religious traditions, Kurtz and Ketcham tell stories that catch us by surprise, make us think, open new perspectives. The stories are memorable, drawn from the ancient Jewish, Greek, Buddhist, Sufi and Christian traditions. They move through a series of topics, illustrating and expanding on them.

In the Christian tradition, Kurtz and Ketcham primarily draw on the Desert Fathers and Mothers – those wild people who fled from the comfort of society to live deep in the Egyptian desert, following a life of prayer and work. Those same abbas and ammas are one of the main sources of our Benedictine monastic tradition – and this is not an accident.

After reading The Spirituality of Imperfection, your eyes will be opened to read St. Benedict‘s Holy Rule in a new way. Where his frequent use of phrase “the discipline of The Rule” might have seemed daunting or threatening, you will now see his recognition of imperfection. His Rule provides the principles by which his monks will live – and at the same time, provides the path by which they make amends and return to favor in the community when they fall down. Those provisions help each person to recognize and acknowledge faults and failings, to ask forgiveness and help – and then to start again on a new day.

While The Spirituality of Imperfection was not written as a book for monastics, it has a lot to say to all of us. Especially for readers who grow from reading the parables of many different traditions, it will be an intriguing book to read.

This book is available from the Duluth Public Library on CDs and from the Arrowhead Library System’s  



Profession Day for Benedictines

11 July 2015

Sister Luce Marie makes her profession

Today is the Solemnity of St Benedict – actually the second such solemnity of the year.

On March 21, we celebrated Benedict’s Passing into Eternal Life – the usual day on which the Chuch venerates a saint. But that day is always during Lent and often during Holy Week, when the practices of fasting and simplicity would clash with the requisite abundance of celebrating our founder. At a point in distant history, a second solemnity commemorating the “translation” of Benedict’s bones to the Abbey at Fleury in France was added — in July, when the weather is warm and people eager to celebrate. While this translation probably did not happen, the Church retained the Solemnity to mark the extension of Benedict’s cultus beyond Italy.

For much of the history of our community, July 11 was the day on which Sister’s made their first profession, having entered the novitiate on July 9.  It is the date from which they will tally their monastic life; 25 years later, they will mark their Silver Jubilee on July 11, and then their Golden Jubilee. In recent years, though, sisters enter the monastery one or two at a time, and do not wait for a single day in the year — so first professions too are made on a variety of days.

This year, though, our community celebrated a Perpetual (final) Profession in place of the Jubilees. Sister Luce Marie spoke the three monastic promises prescribed in The Rule of Benedict: stability, obedience, and fidelity to the monastic way of life, and signed her profession on the altar. Surrounded by members of her family and, of course, the love of her community, we welcomed her as a full member of this monastic communities.

We share this day with Benedictines around the world, and wish an outpouring of grace upon all who honor and follow the “little rule” written more than 1500 years ago which still guides us today.

The Sisters of Sinai (summer reading for oblates)

4 July 2015


SistersSinaiTwo Scottish women, identical twins both recently widowed after short-but-happy  marriages, arrive in Cairo in January of 1892. They are on a mission, planning to travel by camel deep into the interior of Egypt, to one of the oldest remaining monastery’s: St. Catherine‘s in Sinai. Skilled in several ancient languages, including Old Syriac (a near cousin to the Aramaic spoken by Jesus), they are hunting for early Biblical manuscripts, ready to photograph whatever they cannot transcribe on site.  Tipped off by an Oxford don, they hope to gain entry to a small dark closet underneath the archbishop’s quarters to peruse a chest filled with Syriac manuscripts no Western scholars had been allowed to study.

Sounds like a monastery mystery story, something like Downton Abbey meets Brother Cadfael. But The Sisters of Sinai: How Two Lady Adventurers Discovered the Hidden Gospels by Janet Soskice is the true story of Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis, twin daughters of a wealthy Scottish businessman.  Agnes’ late husband, Samuel Savage Lewis, was a librarian and keeper of manuscripts at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge as well as an active and learned scholar.  Through her husband’s Cambridge associates, Agnes and her twin Margaret participated in the world of biblical scholarship.

Without revealing the amazing adventures of these two women culminating in important and surprising discoveries, it is worth noting that the immensely important Codex Sinaiticus Syriacus was known for quite a while as the “Lewis Codex.”  I am also taken with the coincidence of dates: 1892 is the year in which a group of intrepid women came north from St. Joseph to Duluth, Minnesota to found what is now St. Scholastica Monastery.  This book provides us another glimpse into the culture of that time, and the energetic women who weren’t bound by its strictures.

“We compliment some non-fiction books by saying they read like novels, but The Sisters of Sinai reads better than a novel. Filled with tales of derring-do, arcane knowledge, persistence in the face of extraordinary odds, and the acquiring of and preservation of priceless knowledge, The Sisters of Sinai does what the best books do—makes you want to know much more.” —The Daily Herald (Utah)

Sister Margaret James highly recommends this book.  She was so excited about it that she showed it around at our4th of July Ice Cream Social – and several of us at the table are in line to read it when she’s done.

This book is available at the Duluth Public Library (Call Number: 229.9 So73s) 

Wonder if you’ll like the book? The New York Times book review gives a flavor of the story.



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