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La Messa proteiforme: a modest proposal. Risposta e proposta al Prof. Grillo

Il Prof. Grillo ha voluto gentilmente confrontarsi (v. qui ) con il nostro commento critico alla sua intervista (in cui, lo ricordiamo, el...

sabato 6 luglio 2024

Norcia: a word from the Abbot

We receive from our friend Marco Sgroi this short report from Norcia, enriched by the interview that the Abbot of the new Abbey, Father Benedict Nivakoff OSB, kindly granted him. Originally published in Italian, we publish here a translation for the benefit of our English-speaking readers. (Italian version).
In recent weeks, I have had the grace of spending two unforgettable days at the Abbey of S. Benedetto in Monte, in Norcia: the first, on 15 June, on the occasion of the celebration of the Community's 25th anniversary, but also of the inauguration of the new building, constructed in record time after the 2016 earthquake, and of its erection as an Abbey shortly before, on 24 May; the second, on 29 June, when Father Benedict Nivakoff, OSB, successor to Father Cassian Folsom as Prior of the Monastery, received his blessing as the first Abbot of the new Abbey.

I do not want to dwell too much on the time line of the two days. I will only say that the crowd on 15 June was truly overflowing: over 1200 people, demonstrating the devotion of so many people to this community. We can see up close how even today Providence entrusts to St Benedict—and, thus, to his monks—the task of preserving and defending Christianity in the worst moments of crisis that it has known through the centuries.

This was confirmed the following 29 June, with Father Benedict's abbatial blessing. In the sublime framework of the traditional liturgy, the symbols used in the rite to manifest the authority of the Abbot - magnificently explained in the homily delivered by Father Cassian - gave us a real understanding of how one of the fundamental principles of Benedictine life—Nihil amori Christi praeponere (do not put anything before the love of Christ)—translates into paternal love for souls: first and foremost of the monks, specifically entrusted to the Abbot; but then of all the faithful, in service to their salvation.

For the rest, I rely on the eloquence of the images, for which I thank the Abbey from the bottom of my heart; and I give the floor, finally, to Father Abbot, who, with his usual amiability, agreed to grant me a brief interview, intended for Messa in Latino.
The monastic community of Norcia celebrated its first twenty-five years of life. What have been the highlights of this now long period, that is, those in which you have been able to discern the intervention, guidance and protection of Providence over the monks and the Monastery?

It’s said often that the most stressful moments in life are death and moving. For monks, who are really just normal men, trying to live a somewhat unusual life, this has also been true. In the year 2000, shortly after the community was canonically erected (12 June, 1999) it lost its first home. Initially conceived as a monastery at the service of Rome’s Sant’Anselmo, which has no stable monks, God showed he had other plans for our young community. The then Archbishop of Spoleto–Norcia, Riccardo Fontana, was desperately searching for monks to take over the just-restored Basilica at St Benedict’s birthplace. The fledging community in Rome was praying for a permanent home. God’s hand brought the two together. 

A second moment, had to do with near-death and our much-admired founder’s battle with cancer. The monks watched in some shock as the chemotherapy and stem cell transplants (from his own cells) gradually brought him near to death and then back to life again. Watching a close family member go through this either brings one closer to God or far from Him. In our case it meant really trusting that our community was in God’s hands and that our founder’s purification in sickness was also part of our own conversion. 

Then of course there was the earthquake of 2016 which touches on both moving and death. The quake destroyed the basilica and the monastery: our home for 16 years, and more importantly St Benedict’s home. In less than 6 seconds, everything we thought was “ours” disappeared. From that day we had to start completely over again and while this was difficult in many ways, it allowed us to constantly reflect on the mystery of Christ’s death, of losing everything, and of hoping in new life from Him, and not from ourselves. 

These years were also marked by the earthquake, which hit the community hard, depriving it of the Basilica. What did this dramatic event represent for the monks, from a practical and spiritual point of view?

I believe my answer above already touches on this question. I might only add that we were helped by thousands of people throughout the world. An apparent tragedy brought many people to St Benedict and to God. They prayed for us, they donated to our rebuilding funds and they purchased our beer. For this last one they got something immediately in return!

On 24 May last, the Monastery became an abbey: what is the significance and scope of this important change?

Becoming an abbey meant that we elected our first Abbot, but traditionally it is really because one has an Abbot that one is an abbey. And this word has its origins in Abba, a word which means in scripture both Christ’s Father and Christ Himself as a father. In this latter sense it means the man who leads the community is not simply a superior, a boss or administrator, but a man called to leave the 99 sheep and go looking for the lost one, a man called to die for his monks, to die for the Truth. 

Could you tell us a few words about the figure of Father Cassian, founder of the community?

He remains a spiritual father for monks and so many people in the world. His interior and exterior stability have acted as an icon of what the Church should be: a rock that stabilizes, a doctor that cures, a father that encourages, a mother that consoles. 

The celebration of the 25th anniversary, attended by more than a thousand people, and the erection of the abbey, proved that the community of Norcia is particularly flourishing, and particularly loved by the faithful. What can be the role of traditional monasticism, according to the rule of St. Benedict, for the ecclesial resurgence we all await?

Our experience (also that of St Benedict himself if one reads his life closely) is that only when one is truly ready to lose all can one receive, and what one receives is not always what one wants. We had to stop planning for the next 1000 years, or next 100 years, and try to be content with just this one year, just one day. For a long time we’ve been preparing for the new springtime for the church, the resurgence as you call it, but at least in terms of numbers—which were important to Christ too since told us to baptize all the nations—the long winter still pursues us. We need to begin again from the Cross and from the empty tomb. Uniting our sufferings to those of the early disciples, whose hopes in a worldly triumph were not apparently met, we can learn to put our trust not in men, but in God. He alone can bring about the resurgence of the Church, but perhaps only after we have accepted losing everything.
June 15, 2024

The Abbot's speech

Part of the public

The ribbon cutting

The faithful queuing up to visit the Abbey

The Abbey church

The refectory

The Chapter room

The scriptorium

The cloister

The evening party

June 29, 2024

Father Cassian's homily

Father Abbot blesses the faithful

Elevation of the Host

The new Abbot imparts his first pontifical blessing