Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Saint Whose Own Holiness Began Reform of the Church

The Basilica of San Appolinaire in Classe, the one
time monastic church where Saint Romuald began
his journey of holiness that contributed to the
Gregorian Reform
  One of earliest contributors to the “Gregorian Reformation” was Saint Romuald of Ravenna, a monk of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries.   Romuald is actually a bridge figure between the Ottonian and Gregorian Reformations.  As a young man, just out of his teens, he was appalled at the violence he saw around him, including in his own family—having seen his father kill a man in a duel—and he embraced the monastic life at the Monastery of Saint Appolinaire in Classe, a monastery just outside Ravenna that followed the Cluniac Reformation.  Desiring a more austere life, Romuald left Sain Appolinaire and  became a hermit with his spiritual master, a monk named Marinus whose vision was rooted in the austere eremitical life of the Irish monks who had Christianized much of what is today Switzerland and the Alpine areas of France, Italy, and the Austrian Tyrol.  This style of monasticism was much closer to the ideals of the desert abbas and ammas than the more cehobitic Benedictine monasticism.   
      Romuald’s fame spread and the Emperor Otto III asked him to reform several monasteries in his realm.  The monks in these monasteries were not anxious to be reformed however and Romuald quit in disgust, hurling his abbatial crosier at the Emperor in a fit of pique.  He retired to a hermitage at Fonte Avellana in Tuscany and then, as a monastic community grew up there, established a second hermitage at Camaldoli—also in Tuscany—and then a third, Val di Castro.  The hermits at Camaldoli eventually formed their own distinct branch of the Benedictine Family, the Camaldolese monks.  Romuald died in 1027.      
         Romuald’s monasticism was highly disciplinary but never rigid.  Like such later saints as Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and Francis de Sales—Romuald understood that holiness, not austerity, was the virtue to which monks are called and what he really wanted his monks to learn was the path of contemplative prayer.   In this he veered somewhat slightly from the Cluniac ideal for Romuald did not short-change the liturgical services but neither did he let them take over and dominate the monastic life.  To the contrary—silence and solitude, not ceremony and ritual were the heart of the life that he envisioned for monks.  Drawing on the ancient monastic practices he taught his monks how to sit in silence, leaving their hearts empty for God to fill.  This principle of monastic spirituality is called vacare deo—to empty (oneself) for God.   “Sing the psalms in your heart and understand them with your soul” was his advice.  Today such spiritual masters as Abbot Thomas Keating, Father William Menninger, and the late Dom John Main draw on these same spiritual techniques, referred to as “Centering Prayer,” or “Christian meditation.”                       
      Romuald’s focus was not the Reform of the Church, but reform as spiritual renewal of the individual monk but his communities, especially Fonte Avellana, would become centers of spiritual renewal that would not only engender a monastic reform but reform of the Church.  In our next posting we are going to look at Peter Damian, a monk of FonteAvellana who will have tremendous impact on the Church and its reform in the 11th century, more impact than any other individual including Pope Gregory himself.   When we speak of the need for Reform in the Church, we must remember that it begins with individuals who have a quest for holiness.  The reform of structures comes after the change of heart.  Holiness is neither moral righteousness--though there is always a need to mature in integrity if the holiness is to be real and not merely superficial--nor is it mere piety.  Indeed, as we mature in holiness piety becomes almost an impediment to genuine prayer; it gets in the way of the deep and silent prayer--the cor ad cor loquitor (heart speaks to heart) with which God is anxious to fill us.  You don't have to be a monk or a nun to mature in contemplative prayer.  Indeed the monk or the nun is nothing other than an ordinary woman or man who trusts God enough to open the deeper recesses of his or her being to the profound grace, the fullness of Grace, of the Indwelling Trinity.  This requires not the fuss and bother of busy prayer, but the stillness, solitude, and silence of deep prayer.   There are those who fear contemplative prayer, who discourage people from practicing it, who claim that it is only for the clergy or the monks. They only betray their lack of knowledge of our Catholic mystical tradition.  Any renewal of our Catholic faith must be rooted in a spiritual renewal of the Catholic faithful. 
Romuald's Sayings:
Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it. 
If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.
And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.
Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.


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