I’ve had the great joy of spending two weeks in 2016 and then again in 2018 in Norcia, Italy participating in programs of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies – an organization dedicated to the promotion of sacred theology undertaken according to the mind and method of the great scholastics.
The programs involved a close reading of Thomas Aquinas’ commentary on scripture. In 2016, we studied Aquinas’ commentary on Hebrews and in 2018, his commentary on Job. In addition to the convivial study of texts with interesting participants from around the world, we also had the opportunity to join the Monks of Norcia for the chanted Office and Holy Mass.
The prior of the Monastery has written this blog meditating on St. Benedict’s exhortation to, “Keep death daily before your eyes.” In it, the Very Rev. Dom Benedict Nivakoff, O.S.B. writes:
For centuries, it was not possible to see up-close the mysteries of the altar. In certain periods, curtains were drawn at the most important moments of the Mass. Still today, the solemn prayers of consecration are said in the lowest of tones – a whisper – as the drama of the liturgy unfolds. The hiddenness intrinsic to the Mass (with an iconostasis in the Byzantine rite) was common to all in some form for many hundreds of years; it summoned an atmosphere of mystery. In our age, which demands to see in order to believe, God is offering us a chance to rediscover mystery – the mystery of the Mass’s unseen efficacy (2 Cor 4:18). We must rely on an invisible medicine for our ultimate salvation in the face of this invisible threat.
And in this article, the prior offers two key lessons from monastic life that could help people quarantined in their homes:
1. Practice charity when living in the midst of others.
“This really calls for lots and lots of patience, [and] to remember that patience with others always begins with patience with ourselves. Accepting our sins, accepting our faults, accepting that God is patient with us, and being patient with ourselves, helps us to be more patient with others.”
2. Set goals that depend on you.
“We have a lot more control over whether we say our prayers at noon than whether the government stops the lockdown in one week. The ways to combat sadness are this: to make goals that depend on me, and to put our trust and hope in God.”
The Monks of Norcia continue to brew beer and to sell it online. The prior reflects:
“And thank God, that model has really been blessed at this time because with so many people not being able to leave their home, many have taken it as an occasion to sample some monastic beer. We continue to export from Italy to the United States and beer is available and it seems to delight many hearts there and we are very happy.”
I’m happy to remember the monks now and to think of them steadily praying, brewing, and walking the beautiful Umbrian hills.