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Living the Rule of St. Benedict in Daily Life

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Planting Trees is a Big Deal: 150 Years of Arbor Day!

“If one tree fruits, they all fruit–there are no soloists. Not one tree in a grove, but the whole grove; not one grove in the forest, but every grove; all across the county and all across the state. The trees act not as individuals, but somehow as a collective….what we see is the power of unity.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

Planting trees is a big deal in Nebraska…so important that the planting and preservation of trees are celebrated with an actual holiday. Arbor Day, which started in my home state of Nebraska, has been celebrated for 150 years and is now observed in all fifty states and in several countries.

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Each generation takes the earth as trustees.

—J. Sterling Morton

The founder of Arbor Day, J. Sterling Morton, was a transplant to the Nebraska Territory from Detroit in the mid-1850s. He was a journalist and newspaper editor, who later served as President Grover Cleveland’s Secretary of Agriculture. Morton understood the importance of trees to agriculture, for windbreaks to keep soil in place, for fuel and building materials, and for shade from the hot sun.

He believed in getting everyone, particularly students, involved in planting trees. An estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska on April 10, 1872, encouraged by contests between counties and promotion in schools. “Students of different grades met at their respective school rooms in the morning for the purpose of planting at least one tree. Each tree that was planted was labeled with the grade, the time planted, and was to be specially cared for by that grade.” (The History of Arbor Day)

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On the final Friday of April every year thereafter, Arbor Day has been celebrated, and this year for the 150th time! Throughout the year the Arbor Day Foundation works to “help others understand and use trees as a solution to many of the global issues we face today, including air quality, water quality, a changing climate, deforestation, poverty, and hunger” through conservation and education programs.

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Arbor Day Lodge is open for tours–we were just there a few months ago! Many activities and, of course, lots of trees in Nebraska City, Nebraska.

Celebrating Arbor Day is a reminder of our interconnectedness with all living things. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis encourages taking responsibility for the health of our planet by cooperating “as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents” (Laudato Si, 14)

St. Benedict encourages us to “listen with the ear of the heart,” to see all of life as sacred, and to experience the connectedness we have with all of creation. Consider spending time listening to the trees. Perhaps we can be reminded that what happens to one, happens to all.

“There is now compelling evidence that our elders were right–the trees are talking to one another. They communicate via pheromones, hormonelike compounds that are wafted on the breeze, laden with meaning…The trees in a forest are often interconnected by subterranan networks of mycorrhizae, fungal strands that inhabit tree roots…They weave a web of reciprocity, of giving and taking…Through unity, surivial. All flourishing is mutual.”

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

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Trees fall with spectacular crashes. But planting is silent and growth is invisible.

-Richard Powers, The Overstory

The Overstory, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Powers, is a reminder of how destructive humans have been and how significant non-human elements are to the survival of our planet. The novel weaves together the stories of nine characters, their relationship to trees, and their awareness of and desire to stop the destruction of forests. The characters, each with a short story of their own, are the backdrop of a narrative that is less about them and more about trees.

“There would be neither an economic crisis in the world today, nor an ecological threat, were it not for the evil done by greed. Monastic poverty means being content with the simple things that sustain human existence in its inherent goodness. This poverty allows man to live in harmony with field and forest, without feeling the need to brutally strip the earth of her resources in order to realize an immediate gain.”

(Brother Philip Anderson, Prior Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey )
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In honor of Arbor Day, I share “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibben. This prayerful song is a recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.

Benediction of the Trees

From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt

Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees

Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide

Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees

A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong

In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees

As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say

In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees

© Jodi Blazek Gehr

Benedictine Life: A Vision Unfolding

The Benedictine women’s Federation of St. Scholastica is celebrating its 100th anniversary this June by stepping into the future of monasticism. The Rule of St. Benedict is not only for monks and sisters, but available to all spiritual seekers; written in the 6th century, but is relevant to life in our current challenging times.

You can be a part of opening the door into that future by participating in “Benedictine Life: A Vision Unfolding,” a Colloquium open to all followers of Benedict: women and men who are professed, oblates, or spiritual seekers. The Colloquium will take place at Mount Saint Scholastica in Atchison, KS, June 21-24, 2022, and virtually.

The conference will focus on three themes: Wisdom, Witness, and Way Forward.

WISDOM
GOAL: Make our Benedictine way of life visible and accessible in new ways to today’s seekers by celebrating our history and envisioning our future.

WITNESS
GOAL: Share our lives as Benedictine women, past and present, what we stand for, and why we do what we do as we invite others to experience our charism and good zeal and to join us in “running while we have the light of life.” (Prologue, Rule of Benedict)

WAY FORWARD
GOAL: Support Benedictine life today so that it can continue to be the same kind of stabilizing presence in our cities and towns and light for spiritual seekers that it has been for more than 1500 years.

We are breaking new monastic ground. Please join us.

Continue reading “Benedictine Life: A Vision Unfolding”

Not To Be Served, But To Serve

November 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Lectio Divina, Mark 10:35-45

Book Discussion, Always We Begin Again by John McQuiston II, “Service”, page 53-54

Morning prayer

Saint of the Day: Francis Xavier Cabrini is a beautiful example of service to others and service to God. She humbly comforted the sick and infirm in the hospital and lent a helping hand to immigrants. She is a role model for our topic of service. For more information about Mother Cabrini.

Women Saints: St. Frances Cabrini Icon | Monastery Icons

Lectio Divina Reading: Mark 10:32-45

Some oblates meeting in person and some on Zoom.

Discussion

You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

On their way to Jerusalem, Jesus shares with John and James what will inevitably happen to him. They certainly do not understand what they are requesting, to share in the glory of Jesus, and they do not want to believe that Jesus’ life will include suffering. “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” We must ask ourselves: Can we drink from the chalice that Jesus drinks? Or are we driven by ego, desiring the glory and honor for ourselves? Can we really DO life as Christ did? We may desire a journey with Jesus, the choice seat with God in glory and honor, but are we ready to face great suffering that accompanies it?

This applies to any part of our prayer life when we seek to follow Christ. We don’t know what we are in for! We must put ourselves wholly in the presence of Christ and be there for whatever happens–thy will be done. In the popular Christian song, Lord of the Dance, James and John are featured because they responded to the call of the Lord. With each passing verse, from morning to Sabbath to Good Friday, Jesus is the “Lord of the Dance.” We are called to that dance as well, as James and John were—we will have suffering. We are part of the dance, even when we find it difficult to consider the other first, to be more forgiving than self-centered, to accept that we aren’t just here for ourselves but to be of service to others.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,

I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,

And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be,

And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said he

Lord of the Dance, Ronan Hardiman
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We are not in a good place spiritually when we are telling God what should be done, that we know what is best, our own power and glory. Bishop Barron addresses James and John’s ego-driven request in a Sunday Sermon, “Do You Really Want What God Wants?” Power and honor in themselves are not bad, but the problem is using power, not for God’s purpose, but for our own ego. Honor for its own sake is not helpful to others. Jesus flips the story on James and John…it isn’t all about you! You are here to serve. That is the dance you are called to.

Continue reading “Not To Be Served, But To Serve”

From This Day Forward, To Have and To Hold

“We have gathered today to celebrate the union of Jessica Gehr and John Holland. Marriage is a sacred blessing and this morning we celebrate the love shared between two special individuals.”

–Joyce Schmeeckle, wedding officiant and dear friend

We gathered—John and Jessica’s community, their friends and family—to support and bless their marriage. A wedding day conjures images of hearts and flowers, vows and wedding rings, first kisses and champagne toasts. Marriage is a sacred commitment where two people commit to journey through life together, so it is appropriate that the focus of the day is on the bride and groom. It is their BIG DAY!!

My daughter, Jessica, had her fairytale, storybook, dream-come-true wedding on July 17, 2021, and yes, indeed, she married her Prince Charming—we absolutely love our new son-in-law, John, and are so grateful that he adores our daughter. I remember when my husband and I got married, there was very little choice in what the day would look like. Tradition said this, the parents said that, the Catholic Church said this…but what I loved about John and Jessica’s wedding is that they created their own ceremony and carefully planned what their first day as husband and wife would look like.

The wedding guests, John and Jessica’s community, were an integral part of their wedding day—from who the officiant was, to parts of the ceremony, to the events planned to celebrate after the wedding. As a Benedictine oblate, it reminds me that for St. Benedict, everything that is written in his Rule takes place within the context of community; whether giving instruction about prayer, relationships, or work, the monk is reminded he or she is a part of a community. It is through community, not just as monks or oblates but within families and our community of friends, that we grow in understanding of self and God and learn to love one another more deeply.

“Benedict’s genius was in recognizing the power of journeying together. There is power and empowerment, healing and strength in living together and recognizing our mutual interdependence.”

Engaging Benedict: What the Rule Can Teach Us Today, Laura Swan

Judith Valente writes, “My friend Sister Thomasita Homan of Mount St. Scholastica once described a monastic community as ‘a place where people agree to link arms, support one another, and help each other grow’ (How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community).” The guests of John and Jessica’s wedding are linking arms with them, will support them, and as community does, will challenge them and help them grow.

When creating their wedding ceremony, John and Jessica carefully chose who would be part of the ceremony and the words that would be spoken. When they talked about who they wanted to marry them, they knew they wanted someone who shared their own spirituality and values and would deliver a message filled with insight and wisdom. They asked my own “anam cara,” soul friend, Joyce, who also hired Jessica for her first job in high school, quickly becoming a spiritual mentor to Jess as well. This is a newer phenomenon, to choose your own officiant, but my heart is full that they chose so wisely. (See script throughout this post.)

The ceremony also included a family blessing shared by each mother. I was deeply touched to be able to contribute some words about what I hoped John and Jessica’s marriage might hold for them. I shared the following blessing:

Blessing for John and Jessica Holland Wedding

When Jessica was just a toddler, I created a bedtime prayer that I blessed her with each night. Some nights, in a hurry, it was shortened to “God bless Jessica’s mind, body and spirit. Amen.” But the lengthier version has remained my prayer for Jessica as she has grown up.

This special prayer I say now includes BOTH Jessica and John as they join their life together in marriage.

God bless Jessica, and John’s minds, so that they make good decisions and choices.

God bless Jessica and John’s bodies so that they grow strong and healthy and safe.

God bless Jessica and John’s spirit so that they know the love of God and others. Amen.

It is said that the only thing that prepares you for marriage, is marriage.  It will not always be easy, but more often it will be better than you could have imagined. Every day you will make choices about what kind of person you want to be and the kind of relationship you will continue to build with God and each other.

A marriage is made of moments. When you string them all together, you get a picture of a life built together. A marriage is not made, once and for all, when the I-dos are exchanged. A marriage is constantly being recreated; it is always in the process of becoming.

In your becoming, take time for solitude—pursuing your individual passions knowing you are always supported by the other. Listen with the ear of the heart, as St. Benedict writes, listening to each other’s words but also to what lies between the words, seeking to understand the silence too.

May you be patient with each other, keeping a sense of humor, apologizing, and forgetting quickly.

May you be a joyful giver and treat each hour as the rarest gift with gratitude for each other. May you build traditions and rituals that are uniquely yours as a couple.

May you have a marriage that embraces all seasons.

God Bless Jessica’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless John’s mind, body, and spirit.

God Bless the marriage of John and Jessica. Amen

Family was an important part of the wedding ceremony and weekend. Both dads and John’s brother shared toasts and the mothers shared a blessing.

A reading from Romans 12: 9-18, instruction for sharing love and hospitality both in marriage and in community, was followed by a message from Joyce.  Friends and family were asked to participate in a community vow, agreeing to love and support John and Jessica in their marriage, offering them love and friendship.

This community vow mirrors the importance of The Rule of St. Benedict, written 1500 years ago as a guide for those who desired a spiritual life of prayer and work, learning to love others as Christ. It was not a guide for individual pursuits, but for living in community. It is a given that the community is important, an integral part of growing in holiness and happiness. John and Jessica see clearly that they have the support of friends and family, that they are part of a community that they will also share their gifts and hospitality with. This was followed by a moment of silent prayer for their marriage.

“The words community and communicate share the same Latin root. They are related by root to another word, compassion, which means to “suffer with”, or more loosely, to “walk beside.”

Judith Valente, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning and Community.

John and Jessica have created a community that will walk beside them, people they have known all their life as well as those who they have met along the way. As a couple, they will continue to gather new friends as well. My husband gave a nod during his toast to all those in John and Jessica’s community who have helped them become who they are:

When you raise your kid, you hope to instill your hopes, dreams, and values in them and that when they go out into the world, they make all the right choices and remember the way they were raised. Lots of people have told Jodi and I what a great job we did in raising our daughter. That is partially true, but I think we learn and form who we are from those around us. Jessica and John have had many positive role models in their lives. They have taken a little bit of each one of those people to become who they are today. So, when people tell me, you did a great job in raising your daughter, it has as much to do with all the relationships she had with others. I want to thank everyone for helping me raise my daughter. Everyone here can take credit for the beautiful person she is today. Many can take credit for John being a kind, loving and caring person. They are who they are today because of all the people in their life.

“The Benedictine spirituality of community is based on life with other persons in the spirit of Christ: to support them, to empower them, and to learn from them.”

Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today

John and Jessica vow to journey through life together—to support and empower each other and to continue to learn and grow in their relationship. They are community to each other, first and foremost. I am so proud of and happy for them!

As part of their wedding gift, I created a SoulCollage® card called “John and Jessica Becoming.” A wedding photo will be added to the card soon.

We are grateful that Jessica’s friend, Tarah, videotaped the wedding ceremony! You can watch the video HERE.

Other blog posts on marriage and family:

What Makes a Happy Mother’s Day?

The Vow of Stability: A Marriage Made of Moments

Jessica Becoming

Top 20 Benedictine Blogs

In 2014, I started this blog/website to share my writing and reflections on Benedictine spirituality. I recently learned that Being Benedictine has been identified as one of the Top 20 Benedictine Blogs by Feedspot. THANK YOU for following, sharing, commenting and supporting Being Benedictine for these years!

You can follow new posts and see over 100 entries in the archives HERE.

Find Being Benedictine on Facebook HERE.

You can follow Christ the King Priory, where I am an oblate, HERE.

And for more blogs on Benedictine spirituality, click HERE.

St. Benedict Center, Schuyler, NE. My first visit was in 2002. In 2013, I became a Benedictine Oblate.

The Feast of St. Scholastica and Spiritual Friendships

 “Friendship is the linking of spirits.  It is a spiritual act, not a social one.  It is the finding of the remainder of the self.  It is knowing a person before you even meet them.”  

Joan Chittister

St. Scholastica, whose feast we celebrate on February 10, is the twin sister of my patron saint, St. Benedict. Legend holds that Scholastica and Benedict had a close relationship and were both deeply committed to God, despite not being able to spend much time together.

The story of St. Scholastica, from the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great, shows the commitment they shared to God and each other: 

“Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”

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When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” 

Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.”

On the Feast of St. Scholastica, I remember my dear friend, Colleen, whose birthday was on this day. It is such a special connection to know that Colleen and I were spiritual twins (since my birthday is July 11, the feast day of St. Benedict.) In 2002, Colleen and I met at St. Benedict Center, both of us seeking a contemplative prayer practice. We quickly became “anam caras,” soul companions–we read spiritual books and prayed together and could talk for hours about our spiritual journeys. I was blessed by my friendship with Colleen, Joyce and so many other soul friends in the years since then.

The lessons I have learned from my spiritual friendships, and the lives of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica are many:

Spiritual friendships never end.  ♥  Neither death nor distance can separate us from the love of another.  ♥  There is no such thing as loving too much.  ♥  Spiritual friendships are a gift from God.  ♥   We support each other in living out God’s purpose in our life.   ♥   Spiritual connections with friends enrich one’s prayer life and guide the other back to God when one is temporarily lost.   ♥   Spending time together is important, but friendship resides in the heart.   ♥   We pray for and with each other.   ♥  We cry with each other.   ♥  We laugh together.   ♥  We listen to, plan with, comfort and challenge each other.   ♥  We are grateful for each other and we say it.   ♥  “Our minds are united in God.”

Joyce, Colleen and me at St. Benedict Center.

The Red Shoes

Colleen, loved red shoes. But I didn’t know this about her until her Aunt Bea shared a story at her funeral. What a silly thing to say at a funeral! But for “some reason” I told Aunt Bea that I loved the beautiful red shoes she had on. Sometimes words fly out of my mouth without thinking how they might sound—and today was no exception.  But, of course, there was a reason.

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SoulCollage® card remembering Colleen.

Without missing a beat, Aunt Bea shared that just a few months earlier, Colleen had borrowed those red shoes on an evening when she and her sisters were going out dancing, something they loved to do together.  Aunt Bea commented how much Colleen loved to dance; telling us that Colleen believed when you dance you have to wear high-heeled shoes.  It was a lovely story to imagine a time when Colleen was joyful and doing what she loved most—dancing.  There is comfort in storytelling and remembering.

Continue reading “The Feast of St. Scholastica and Spiritual Friendships”

In Humility, We Begin Again

January 2021 Lectio Divina and Oblate Reflections

Sources: Mark 1:7-11; Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (Preface-p. 14)

For our Lectio Divina practice, we read more deeply Mark 1:7-11, the baptism of Jesus.

Words and phrases that resonate with us, shared in our discussion:

It is with great humility that John proclaims there is one more powerful than I. In an area of rabid individualism, it is hard to turn things over, to admit that I am not the fount of all wisdom. Even if we feel called to speak truth to power, to share our faith or ideas that may differ from another, we must humble ourselves as John did. John admits he is not to untie the sandals of Jesus, and even stoops down to show his humility. Indeed, there is one more powerful than I.

Both John and Jesus show humility. By going down into the water, Jesus foreshadows going down into the tomb. It is a descent, a submission to the obedience of the will of God, and then a rising.  Jesus chose to be baptized; he did not have to be, but he chose to be weak, to become humble. This is the beginning of his service. He has been chosen to be Messiah. Jesus did not shy away from this service.

As part of Jesus’ baptism—the heavens were torn apart. Jesus’ identity was affirmed by the father; this is how we get our identity too. The heavens are torn apart for us as well. We live our lives in the balance of humility and knowing that we are made in the image of God.

Always We Begin Again—A new year, a new book.

We begin 2021 by reading the introduction and first section of Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living by John McQuiston II (Preface through page 14.) The Rule of St. Benedict provided guidelines for monastic living by giving order to the monk’s day with a balance of prayer and work. Although it may be impossible to follow the Rule strictly while maintaining a life in the world, it is the longing of the Benedictine oblate to have a “creatively balanced framework for life.”

Continue reading “In Humility, We Begin Again”

You Are Not Alone: My Peace I Give to You

August 2020 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina

Topic: Seek Peace and Pursue It, Rule of St. Benedict: Prologue 17

Sources: John 14:27 and John 16:29-33; Study Guide for The Rule of St. Benedict, pages 13-15, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB

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Fr. Volker shares reflections and music for our August meeting.

The questions that guided our discussion were: How can we remain peaceful despite the anxiety caused by the pandemic and political division? And in light of our Lectio Divina readings: What did Jesus mean by the gift of peace? Oblates of Christ the King Priory met in person at St. Benedict Center for our August meeting, respectfully following safety guidelines of physically distancing at least six feet apart and wearing face coverings. Those who were not able to make the drive had the option to Zoom in.  All are encouraged to follow the 11th Commandment:

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Continue reading “You Are Not Alone: My Peace I Give to You”

Feast of St. Henry: Patron Saint of Oblates

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

Falling within the Octave of Saint Benedict, only two days after the Solemnity of St. Benedict, we are reminded that a commitment to following the Rule of St. Benedict was and is not restricted to monks and sisters, but also open to Benedictine Oblates.

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Saint Henry II was born in 973 in the village of Regensburg, Bavaria, German. As a child he went to school in Hildesheim. (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. In 1006, he founded the See of Bamberg and built its great Cathedral that was consecrated by Pope Benedict VIII in 1020.

St. Henry lived a married life with his wife, Cunigunde, founding and visiting monasteries and praying the Liturgy of the Hours. Henry was canonized in 1146 by Pope Eugene III and Pope St Pius X declared him the patron saint of the Benedictine Oblates.
Continue reading “Feast of St. Henry: Patron Saint of Oblates”

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