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July 2019

Feast of St. Henry: Patron Saint of Oblates

Happy Feast of St. Henry, patron saint of Benedictine Oblates!

Saint Henry II was born in 973 in the village of Hildesheim, Bavaria, German. (Note: Hildesheim is the same hometown as Fr. Mauritius Wilde, Prior of Sant’ Anselmo formerly of Christ the King Priory. They also attended the same school!) Henry served as the Duke of Bavaria (995) and as the Holy Roman Emperor (972-1024), crowned by Pope Benedict VIII. As emperor, Henry, who had considered the priesthood, was devoutly religious. He shared his faith by rebuilding the many churches that had been destroyed,  building monasteries, and supporting them with both money and land.

According to the Life of Saint Benedict, as told by Saint Gregory the Great, Oblates were received by Saint Benedict in Subiaco even before the monastery at Monte Cassino was founded. A monk during the 11th century wrote:

“There are a great many of the faithful, both poor and rich, who request confraternity with us. We give unto all of them participation in whatever good is done in our monastery, be it by prayer or almsgiving. Let us make special prayer for them, both while they live and after their death.”

According to historians, many people committed themselves to God and to follow the Rule of St. Benedict by uniting themselves to famous monasteries such as Cluny, Hirschau, Saint Blase, and others. St. Henry II was one such individual. Tradition states that Henry wanted to be a Benedictine and lived as an Oblate. Once when he was suffering from a severe illness in the monastery of Monte Cassino, St. Benedict cured him by a wonderful miracle (depicted on the side of his tomb, below.)

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I was fortunate on my recent pilgrimage Germany to visit the first Cathedral of Bamberg, founded by Saint Henry in 1002. The Bamberg Cathedral (German: Bamberger Dom) was constructed by King (and later Emperor) Henry II (Henrich ) and consecrated on his 39th birthday, May 6, 1012. The Cathedral and town of Bamberg, Germany were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993. 

The Cathedral holds the double tomb of Henry and his wife, Cunigunde, created by Tilman Riemenschneider in 1513.  The slab cover portrays the imperial couple and the side panels depict scenes from their lives including Henry’s cure from kidney stones (pictured above), the weighing of his soul after his death, and Cunigunde at Henry’s side at his death.

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Here Lie Two People: a poem about Saints Henry and Cunigunde

Here rest the benefactors,
Here they lie close together, as saints,
Here is the foundation of the diocese of Bamberg.
Their names are inscribed
In our history,
Their work is
Still felt today.
They are ahead of us,
We follow in their footsteps.
They have arrived,
We are still traveling.

The Cathedral also includes the Chapel of the Heads, dedicated in 1997, located beneath the northern spire of the west choir. The heads of Saints Henry and Cunigunde lie resting in a glass shrine.

IMG_3699St. Henry was more celebrated for his holiness and generosity than for his military and political career. Henry died in 1024 and his body was buried in the church of the blessed apostles Peter and Paul at Bamberg (pictured throughout). He was canonized in 1146 by Pope Eugene III. Henry showed such great love and veneration for the Order that he has been chosen the special patron of the Oblates.

Benedictine Oblates continue to commit themselves to seeking God by following the Rule of St. Benedict as their daily life permits. This includes making promises of stability, obedience,  and the conversion of life. Oblates “connect to God all their encounters, their words and deeds, all events of their lives; thereby they want to honor Him, fulfill His will, and dedicate their whole lives to Him (Beil).”

Sources:

Catholic Online
 St. John’s Abbey
Church of St. Henry, Excerpted from The Liturgical Year, Abbot Gueranger O.S.B.
Catholic News Agency
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, Abbey of St. Walburga, Virginia Dale, CO, 2014.
Bamberger Dom Virtual tours and information
Bamberg Cathedral—Treasure of faith, A Meditative and Art-Historical Guide, Archdiocese of Bamberg

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Happy Birthday, St. Benedict!

St. Benedict is pretty special to me for a few reasons.

First, we share a birthday. I have to admit that I was pretty disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth or Mary, Theresa or Christine (my confirmation name) would be my special saint. A lovely woman saint with a beautiful name—I had hoped.

confirmation

Instead, I beheld an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary looking bird, some sort of walking cane and an unusual name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor.

July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said.

I had never heard of this saint and surely did not know what an Abbot was. Through the years, I returned to these pages about St. Benedict often, thinking that I should have some connection with this man, my patron saint.

Fast forward 26 years. I am married with a seven-year-old daughter, a high school teacher, and club sponsor. I live a full and busy life, but have a deep desire for silence and prayer. I respond to an advertisement in our local newspaper for a silent contemplative prayer retreat and discover an oasis of peace called the St. Benedict Center in Schuyler, Nebraska.

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St. Benedict Center

And then I remember St. Benedict. My saint. Continue reading “Happy Birthday, St. Benedict!”

A Benedictine Pilgrimage: The Soul of a Pilgrim, Part 1

“A pilgrimage is an intentional journey into the experience of unknowing and discomfort for the sake of stripping away preconceived expectations. We grow closer to God beyond our own imagination and ideas.” The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within, Christine Valters Paintner

Recently my Spirit Circle chose to read Christine Valters Paintner’s “The Soul of a Pilgrim”, a book that explores pilgrimage as both an inner and outer journey. Several of us were preparing for “Footsteps of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica,” a Benedictine pilgrimage to Germany, Austria, and Switzerland sponsored by the Benedictine Oblates of Christ the King Priory.

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By definition, a pilgrimage is a sacred journey or holy expedition, but we do not need to travel a great distance to go on pilgrimage. It is more about choosing to be “attentive to the divine at work in our lives through deep listening, patience, opening ourselves to the gifts that arise in the midst of discomfort, and going out to our own inner wild edges to explore new frontiers.”

The purpose of going on a journey “is always to return home carrying the new insight back to everyday life,Paintner writes. “When we take inward and outward journeys, we can be pilgrims as long as we stay open to new experiences.”  A week of hard work, becoming a new parent, losing a loved one, resolving a relationship conflict, or going on a spiritual retreat can all be a pilgrimage if one seeks to learn, reflect and be transformed from the experience.

These insights from the first few chapters and the book “The Soul of a Pilgrim” travel with me on my two-part pilgrimage. First, I visit cousins in Germany and then I join thirty-six other pilgrims to learn more about St. Benedict and to visit sacred sites including churches, monasteries, abbeys, castles, small villages, and large cities.

Three weeks, three days I will be gone. As I journey from Nebraska to Europe, I reflect on both my outer and inner experiences—the people, places, feelings and insights that I encounter on the journey. Continue reading “A Benedictine Pilgrimage: The Soul of a Pilgrim, Part 1”

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