Dear Friends of the Kolbe Center,
In a previous newsletter I promised to tell you more about my visit to a Trappist “laura” (a type of monastery consisting of a cluster of cells or caves for hermits) in Norway, and I would like to do it now, so that you can keep this holy community in your prayers and spread the word to any young men you know who might have a vocation to this kind of monastic life. I have corresponded with Brother Miikael, one of the Trappist monks, on and off for the last ten years, and it was he who arranged for me to speak at a conference in Tallinn in Estonia ten years ago. After becoming a Catholic as a boy in Estonia, he eventually learned of a Norwegian-American Trappist priest monk who had been invited by a Norwegian Bishop, John Willem Gran, OCSO, himself a Trappist monk, to establish a hermitage in the Diocese of Oslo, so he went to visit him and received the habit from him.
The Norwegian-American priest monk, Fr. Robert Anderson, had had an amazing life. He was brought up in Connecticut, and his mother was an oblate with Regina Laudis Abbey where two of our daughters are novices. When he was seventeen years old, he entered a Trappist monastery in Rhode Island, and was ordained to the priesthood six years later. Four days before he entered the monastery in Rhode Island , the Feast of St. Benedict, he went to Regina Laudis Abbey (where he had had the pleasure of visiting several times in his youth) and Mother Benedict Duss, OSB, put her hand through the grill to greet him and promised the support of her prayers and those of her sisters. He was very gifted at languages, and after holding important positions in several Abbeys in the United States, he was sent to help found an Abbey in Argentina and later to Chile. During this period, he began to discern a call to the eremitical life, and he wrote to Thomas Merton who put him in contact with Dom Jacque Winandy, former Abbot of Clairvaux, Luxemburg, who became his spiritual guide, by post. After a fairly long period of testing, his superiors allowed him to follow his calling, and he eventually went to Norway, the land of his paternal ancestors, at the invitation of a Trappist bishop.
Norway and Uganda
The history of the Church in Norway is as fascinating as it is heart-breaking. After Norway was evangelized and converted to the Catholic Faith, for centuries each village had its own magnificent wooden church, constructed with the most amazing timber-frame workmanship. When the protestant revolution was imposed on the Norwegian people, virtually all of these magnificent churches were destroyed. Not far from the hermitage where I stayed with the monks, there was a wooden crucifix that for a long time after the protestant revolution secreted a miraculous oil which brought healing to innumerable sick people who visited it at night and in secret. Eventually, a protestant informer alerted the authorities, and the miraculous crucifix was taken away and stored in a museum, since which time, needless to say, it has not secreted any more of that miraculous healing oil.
When I arrived in Oslo, I could not help being struck by the stark contrast with Uganda. Oslo is a clean, efficiently-run, high-tech city, full of attractive adults, intent on pursuing a life of enjoyment, little encumbered by small children, working hard and playing hard, but acting for all the world as if God did not exist. Kampala on the other hand is a low-tech city, inefficiently run, but bursting with children, and full of a spirit of piety, hospitality, and faith in God. Oslo center’s beautiful church buildings and ancient architecture preserve the memory of the Catholic civilization that once thrived there, and its beautiful gardens, full of magnificent trees and flowers, continually lift the receptive heart and mind to praise the Creator, but the omnipresent western music and immodesty, and the almost total lack of piety, announce that this is a city whose people have abandoned the God of their Fathers, the One who so richly endowed their homeland with extraordinary natural beauty.
Kampala, on the other hand, boasts the most important Catholic pilgrimage site in Sub-Saharan Africa, the shrine of the Uganda Martyrs in Namugongo, a suburb of Kampala. Year after year, the number of pilgrims to the Ugandan Martyrs Shrine increases, many of whom walk from points as distant as Mombassa, covering hundreds of miles on foot, over periods as long as thirty days. On the feast of the Uganda Martyrs, June 3rd, of this year, three million pilgrims converged on Namugongo, from all over Uganda and other parts of Africa, to honor a group of mostly young men who died because they would not violate Our Lord’s teaching that God created one man for one woman for life from the beginning of creation, and that any use of sexuality outside of holy marriage between one man and one woman for life was not only a grave sin but a sacrilege. Like his father before him, the Kabaka, or king, of Baganda, the central kingdom of what is now Uganda, had become addicted to homosexual vice under the influence of Muslim traders from Zanzibar, and in the culture of that time, his word and whim were law for all of his subjects. Most of the martyrs were court officials or young men – the youngest, St. Kizito was 14 – being trained for positions in government, and their refusal to give into the King’s desires was the proximate reason for their being burned alive by the king’s executioners at Namugongo.
The Builder Monk
After four or five hours of driving, the Norwegian-American founder and a third monk, Brother Seraphim, who also hailed from Estonia, brought me to the gates of the laura where a beautiful statue of Our Lady and the Infant Jesus welcomes you and beckons you in. The laura sits on the side of a steep valley, next to one of the deepest lakes in Europe, over 1500 feet deep at its deepest point. As a young man, Brother Seraphim excelled in a vocational program for builders and engineers and became a close friend of a devout Orthodox Christian. He began attending the Divine Liturgy at the Orthodox cathedral in Tallinn, but when he saw that the priests and lay leaders had embraced the work of a mystic who combined eastern religious practices with Christianity, he left, and joined the Catholic Church, eventually discerning a call to the monastic life, that led him to seek out the Norwegian-American Trappist monk in the Norwegian wilderness. Later he was followed by Brother Miikael, who was also attracted to the Eastern Church and had visited the Divine Liturgies at the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in Tallinn.
Brother Seraphim and Fr. Robert founder set about building a chapel and monastic cells with wood that they found on the steep hillsides overlooking the deep lake mentioned above. They had no electricity and no power tools. Every timber was cut, dressed, and put in place with hand tools. Brother Seraphim showed me the amazing craftsmanship bestowed upon the wooden churches of the Catholic period of Norwegian history before the protestant revolution. It is amazing to see the amount of work that went into the construction of those churches.
Silence and Plain Chant
Fr. Anderson is a bi-ritual priest and has permission to offer the Divine Liturgy in the Tridentine form or according to the Byzantine tradition. The monks come together once a day for a meal, and once to celebrate the Divine Liturgy, usually in the Gregorian form, as Pope Benedict XVI rightly called it. The official liturgical hours of the monastery are chanted in Norwegian or English, but at the present moment each monk prays individually in the language that he prefers. Brother Miikael says the Psalms in his native language, Estonian. Brother Seraphim also chants all of the hours in Latin in Gregorian Chant and invited me to join him in the chapel, so for the three days that I spent with the hermits I joined him to chant the hours – except for the 2:30 a.m. hour.
Brother Seraphim has a beautiful baritone voice and chants the Latin chant so musically, it was a great joy to accompany him. But the main thing that I noticed after a day or two was that the words of the psalms were effortlessly repeating themselves in my mind. In that laura there is no electricity, no running water, no telephone and no internet, so that whatever one puts into one’s mind lodges there much more firmly than in an ordinary worldly environment. After a day or two, the Word of God in the Psalms begins to circulate like blood in one’s soul, bringing all kinds of healing. Participating in the chanting of the hours day after day, it became easy to understand why priests who work in the ministry of deliverance and exorcism testify that Gregorian Chant – or it could be Byzantine, Coptic or Armenian Chant, as long as it comes from an authentic Christian liturgical tradition – greatly helps to heal the victims of demonic oppression and even possession. What treasures God and our ancestors in the Faith have handed down to us! Yet we so often prefer to fill our minds with worldly noise that disturbs our souls and leaves us agitated and anxious.
One of the psalms that we recited every day in Latin is psalm 32 in the Vulgate – Psalm 33 in the Douai Rheims:
|By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the power of them by the spirit of his mouth:||verbo Domini caeli facti sunt et spiritu oris eius omnis ornatus eorum|
|Gathering together the waters of the sea, as in a vessel; laying up the depths in storehouses.||congregans quasi in utre aquas maris ponens in thesauris abyssos|
|Let all the earth fear the Lord, and let all the inhabitants of the world be in awe of him.||timeat Dominum omnis terra ipsum formident universi habitatores orbis|
|For he spoke and they were made: he commanded and they were created.||quia ipse mandavit et factus est ipso praecipiente stetit|
|The Lord bringeth to nought the counsels of nations; and he rejecteth the devices of people, and casteth away the counsels of princes.||Dominus dissolvit consilium gentium irritas fecit cogitationes populorum|
|But the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever: the thoughts of his heart to all generations.||consilium Domini in aeternum stabit cogitationes cordis eius in generatione et generatione|
|Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord: the people whom he hath chosen for his inheritance.||beata gens cuius Dominus Deus eius populus quem elegit in hereditatem sibi|
|The Lord hath looked from heaven: he hath beheld all the sons of men.||de caelo respexit Dominus vidit omnes filios Adam|
|From his habitation which he hath prepared, he hath looked upon all that dwell on the earth.||de firmissimo solio suo prospexit ad universos habitatores terrae|
|He who hath made the hearts of every one of them: who understandeth all their works.||fingens pariter cor eorum intellegens omnia opera eorum|
|The king is not saved by a great army: nor shall the giant be saved by his own great strength.||non salvatur rex in multitudine exercitus nec fortis liberabitur in multiplicatione virtutis|
|Vain is the horse for safety: neither shall he be saved by the abundance of his strength.||fallax equus ad salutem et in multitudine roboris sui non salvabit|
|Behold the eyes of the Lord are on them that fear him: and on them that hope in his mercy.||ecce oculus Domini super timentes eum et expectantes misericordiam eius|
|To deliver their souls from death; and feed them in famine.||ut eruat de morte animam eorum et vivificet eos in fame|
|Our soul waiteth for the Lord: for he is our helper and protector.||anima nostra expectavit Dominum auxilium nostrum et clipeus noster est|
|For in him our heart shall rejoice: and in his holy name we have trusted.||in ipso enim laetabitur cor nostrum quia in nomine sancto eius speravimus|
It is no wonder that these monks who live in such intimate contact with God’s creation firmly believe in the sacred history of Genesis and in the true Catholic doctrine of creation, proclaim it to all who visit them, and testify to the joy that it brings to those who embrace it. Indeed, since both of the younger monks have a strong background in natural science and engineering, they are also able to expose the fatal flaws in the molecules-to-man evolutionary mythology. And this conviction, strengthened first and foremost by supernatural faith, but confirmed by their intimate relationship with God’s creation and their extensive knowledge of natural science and philosophy, makes them passionate supporters of the work of the Kolbe Center.
Fr. Robert Anderson is a little man, no more than five feet six five inches tall in his eighty-sixth year. But he is a true ascetic who has worked hard all his life, not only at prayer and study but in manual labor of all kinds. In one of the most absurd rulings in modern history, beginning in the late eighteenth century the governments of several Western European nations ruled that all contemplative orders were “useless” because they did not do any useful work, and the French Trappists who were the ancestors of the founders of the first American Trappist foundations were forced to wander over the face of the earth, moving from place to place, and even having to take refuge for a time in Russia. The suppression of the Trappists for being “useless” was especially foolish, not only because their prayers and sacrifices were the greatest source of heavenly blessings for the nations that welcomed them, but also because the Trappists were the hardest-working communities of all, raising their own food, constructing their own buildings, and generally providing almost all of the necessities of life by the work of their own hands.
The spiritual father of the hermits is like Moses, the “meekest man on the face of the earth,” but the other monks testify that when he is convinced that anything is the Will of God, he is unstoppable. Brother Miikael showed me photographs of people who have received Miraculous Medals blessed by the priest who have experienced immediate miraculous healings. I consider it an immense privilege that I could spend so much time with him and his two monk disciples, and to commend the work of the Kolbe Center to their prayers.
The Renewal of the Church
After leaving the laura and arriving in the UK, I had occasion to reflect on the fact that in times of crisis, the Church has continually been renewed by holy monastics who have stepped into the breach and obtained from God through their prayers, sacrifices, and holy example, the grace of widespread repentance, conversion and the renewal of Catholic civilization. When I arrived in London, I stumbled upon a book about some of the great saints who built – or re-built – our Christian civilization, often arising in the midst of almost total physical, cultural and spiritual devastation when the Church hierarchy, clergy and monastic orders themselves had become (seemingly) hopelessly corrupt.
St. Romuald, the founder of the Camaldolese hermits, was typical of these heroic reformers. Born around 950, his father was the Duke of Ravenna, and he was raised in luxury and indulged so much that he was not even made to learn to read or write. But when a property dispute arose within his family, it was decided to settle it with a duel. When Romuald saw his own relative slain by another member of his family, he renounced the world, repented of his life of sin and selfishness and entered a nearby monastery for three years.
Like the Norwegian monks, and like St. Benedict, his ideal was that of St. Anthony and the Desert Fathers (and Mothers), and he lived the rest of his life in contemplation, mortification and intercession for his fellow men, especially for those who were the victims of oppression and injustice. The historian Christopher Dawson writes, “In men such as St. Romuald, the lawless feudal nobles who cared nothing for morality or law, recognized the presence of something stronger than brute force – a numinous supernatural power they dared not ignore.” According to St. Peter Damien, in the words of another writer:
one day a poor peasant approached St. Romuald and asked for his help. A rich count had stolen the man’s only cow, and wanted to know if St. Romuald would get it back for him. St. Romuald approached the count – note here how an obscure monk could find his way into the presence of a local ruler to obtain justice – and after pleading with the count to return the cow to the peasant, the count refused. That night, the count sat down to his rich banquet, and as he savored his fine food and took the first bite, he choked to death.
An abundance of stories like that reveals why St. Peter Damien could say that not even the Holy Roman Emperor Otto III could put such fear into a man as could the eye of St. Romuald. St. Romuald died at the age of 77. More than 450 years after his death, his body was exhumed and found incorrupt.
After spending three days with the Trappist hermits, it seemed clear to me that the renewal of the Church in this, the “worst crisis of faith in the history of the Church,” in the words of Cardinal Raymond Burke, will not be any different. In these three men of God in the Norwegian wilderness, one can see the first sparks of what will – in the not too distant future – become an explosion of grace and the greatest time of renewal and evangelization in the history of the Church, in that “era of peace” that has been promised to us by Our Lady of Fatima.
Unlike the promise made to the King of France in the seventeenth century through St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the fulfillment of the Fatima promise is certain. It is certain because Our Lady of Fatima said, “In the end my Immaculate Heart will triumph, the Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, Russia will be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world.” But the timing of that triumph depends entirely on each and every one of us, because the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart is an interior triumph. And that is why every thought, word, and action that we do in the state of grace, in, with and for Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and for the good of our neighbor, is literally hastening the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
Please remember the Norwegian Trappists in your prayers, and please mention them to any serious Catholic young man you know who might have a vocation to the monastic life. Finally, please continue to pray for our videographer Keith Jones and his family, as Keith works day and night to complete the final editing on our 16-part DVD series, “Foundations Restored.
Yours in Christ through the Immaculata,
P.S. If anyone would like to write to the monks in Norway, you can send an email to Brother Seraphim at firstname.lastname@example.org or post a letter to:
N-3652 Hovin Telemark
P.P.S. We are trying to discern God’s Will in regard to the best location for our annual leadership retreat in June of 2020. If you know of a retreat center in a beautiful natural setting, somewhere in the central or central-eastern United States, where we could hold our leadership retreat at a reasonable cost, please let me know.